HC Deb 17 January 1967 vol 739 cc271-304
Mr. Hawkins

I beg to move Amendment No. 52, in page 38, line 26, at the end to insert: including machines used solely in agriculture under contract". The purpose of the Amendment is that a catgory of tractors, possibly small in number, should be added to those which attract the lump sum grant. In my district these are tractors owned not by farmers but used solely by farmers and entirely for farm work. The cases in my constituency to which my attention has been drawn are those in which a contractor owns and leases a tractor, or tractors, for the whole of its economic life, maintaining and servicing it for so much per annum or so much per hundred hours' running time.

I should have thought that obviously this category was included in the Clause, but on doing a valuation in my constituency, I was told by a farmer who has several of these tractors on a leasing agreement that he had been told by the contractor who owned them that the charge per tractor would have to go up as he, the owner, would not get the new 10 per cent. grant.

3.45 a.m.

I spoke to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the matter and he replied by letter. I hope that he has a copy of it, because we want a clear explanation of the reason for the conclusion come to in the letter, which I was grateful to receive.

The letter, written on 20th December, says: You inquired whether contractors who purchased tractors for hiring out to farmers would be able to claim the proposed 10 per cent. investment grant on new tractors. I am afraid these grants will not be payable on machines which are leased or hired. A contractor whose business is devoted exclusively to agricultural work will be able to claim the grant on tractors which he himself uses exclusively for that work. I understand from the National Association of Agricultural Contractors that their members do not normally lease or hire out their machines but it will in any case he a condition that grant-aided machines are not hired or leased. I do not understand the argument behind this. Why should a tractor sent out to farm A and farm B and then in another week to farm C, which is taken back to headquarters, attract the grant, while that contractor who puts a tractor on a farm for most of its life, where it is solely doing agricultural work, not receive the grant? Why should he not get the 10 per cent. grant which will enable him to lease it more cheaply? It seems incredible that there should be this distinction. I know of farmers who have 15 or 20 of these tractors. There are some hundreds in West Norfolk. We have found this system of the greatest importance for young farmers with limited capital. Young farmers are extremely pressed to raise the necessary capital to make their farm during the first few years, to buy the equipment, manures, seed corn and so on.

A lot of capital is needed by the young man going into farming today, particularly if he has to buy his farm on mortgage, and it is a great advantage if he can save capital by getting somebody else to allow his capital to work for him. The smaller farmers, also, want to use their capital which would be put into tractors. They can save £1,500 to £2,000 and put the money with which they can ill afford to buy tractors, into some other money-making unit on their farms. They could use it to put up a deep-litter hut, or a poultry or pig unit. The Minister can understand the importance of this to younger farmers, and smaller farmers, who are very hard-pressed for capital. This again means that this contractor can specialise in maintenance work. In all of these leasing arrangements the contractor maintains the tractors, and services them. Usually this means that, as one type is normally used, spare parts are readily available, whereas through an agent they might have to be obtained from some other part of the country.

I do not want to misquote the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, particularly as he is not here, nor do I want to read into his remarks anything that was not intended, but I understood from the letter he wrote to me on 20th December, and he saw me afterwards, that he could not give any good reason why there should be a difference between these two types of contractors, that is, the one doing 100 acres ploughing here and 200 acres cultivating there, and the other contractor who puts his tractor out on a particular farm to do any job that the farmer wants done, under the control of the farmer.

Surely the grants are meant to be for the assistance of the farmer. To stop giving grants to contractors leasing out tractors will make the farming of land relying upon these contractors more expensive. They are just the kind of farmers who ought to receive help. I hope that the Minister, having looked at this again, if he cannot give a good reason for differentiating between the two types of contractors, has reached a different conclusion from that given to me on 20th December.

Mr. Prior

The time has come for the Government to give way on an Amendment, and this provides them with the opportunity. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland will reply to the debate because, when one looks back a year or two ago, he had a lot of criticism to make about the old system of investment allowances, and one presumes that he, amongst others, had something to do with the Government's policy of substituting the new investment grants for the old investment allowances. I well remember at the time that he said that he thought that some companies were receiving a refund of Income Tax which they had not paid.

The point is that we have a particular section of the industry which is now singled out for unfair treatment. Until the passing of the new Act a company such as this, leasing out tractors, qualified for investment allowances.

This was of immense help in trying to modernise British farm machinery. We are always hearing the Minister praising the contribution which British agricultural machinery is making to the export drive, and patting agriculture on the back for its investment and modernisation of British farming. If he really knows his stuff, which I doubt, and if he listens to some of his officials, he will know that the practice of leasing out farm machinery is one that has been growing very rapidly in the last few years.

It has been growing rapidly for a very good reason. What really set off this whole business of leasing out farm machinery were the attractions which the old investment allowances gave to farmers. This has happened not only in agricultural machinery, but also in all forms of plant, particularly civil contracting and civil engineering plant. This was development which allowed greater investment to take place. It allowed for better repairs and maintenance to be carried out on the machinery, and it made for much greater efficiency in the operation of the contractors of the machinery itself. It seems quite remarkable that this should now be denied to the agricultural industry.

My hon. Friend pointed out that this has had a particularly marked effect on the younger farmer, the farmer who starts off with little capital and who does not want to have to put down the cash for buying a lot of expensive equipment straight away. What are his alternatives? He either leases machinery or he buys secondhand machinery which is generally pretty unreliable. One of the reasons why small farmers have found it so hard in recent years to compete is because they cannot afford to have modern machinery. The young farmer has to buy machinery on hire purchase. If, for example, he buys a £1,000 tractor on hire purchase, he has to pay something like 5½ per cent. on that purchase. In other words, he pays the loan off over a year and he incurs a charge of something like £55 or £60 for that tractor. The interest rate is in the region of 12 per cent.

This alone gets rid of all the grant which the Minister announced today. The hire-purchase charges wipe out the grant that the farmer might expect to get for buying a new tractor. Therefore, the young farmer with little capital is put in a very difficult position. Hire purchase is really no answer to him. He is denied the investment allowance. If he goes in for a hire system he is faced with the increased costs which will now be put on, because there is no grant or investment allowance.

This will hit the small man again. I have heard the Government pledge time and time again that they want to help the small farmer, that they want to keep the small man in business. Yet this is the sort of move designed to make life more difficult for him. What the Government never realise, when passing all this legislation of one sort or another, is that it does not catch the big man. The big man can always find ways around the legislation, or he is big enough to ride the storm. It is the small man who suffers. This is another example of it. We have been debating the Bill for 12 hours, but not one concession have we had from the Government. We have not been trying to fillibuster or keep the debate going. We have put forward points on which we feel strongly. This is another one. Is it too much to expect the Minister and the Secretary of State to see the logic of our case and accept the Amendment?

4.0 a.m.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

This very question was raised with me during the Christmas Recess when I met representatives of the National Farmers' Union in my area. In many rural areas of Scotland and elsewhere, there are contractors of one kind and another who are wholly engaged on agricultural contract- ing work. I recognise that difficulty can arise in the case of contractors' investment allowances when they are engaged in agriculture and in other work as well, land moving specialists, for example, but I am concerned about those who work solely in agriculture.

Senior members of the National Farmers' Union in my area brought up the case of an agricultural drainage contractor who does nothing but farm drainage work. He had made tentative inquiries regarding his investment grant position—they were preliminary inquiries only, of course, because the Bill is not yet law—and he was given to understand that he would not qualify for special agricultural investment grant. He felt very sore about this because he understood that contractors engaged purely in forestry work would qualify.

The local N.F.U. put forward his case because it felt that there was discrimination against this contractor who was serving the interests of agriculture but who might, if he did not have the benefit of the investment grant, have to raise the charges for the work he was doing for agriculture. It was a clear-cut case of a small firm doing purely agricultural work and nothing else.

Apart from that specific question, there are the wider implications to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) referred in detail. Farmers are coming increasingly to rely on agricultural contractors, especially now that more sophisticated forms of farm machinery are being developed. Machinery is more expensive, and, on farms below a certain size, it is not an economic proposition for the farmer, even if he has the finance available to buy the machinery for himself. In many cases, it is far better to rely on the services of a contractor. Not only is there the question of high capital cost, but there is also the question of labour.

In our debates during the past 12 hours we have heard of the problems of getting farm labour in certain areas. In many cases farmers have had to cut their staff, for other reasons as well, to the absolute minimum necessary to keep routine work going. I know of farms where staffs have been cut to what is absolutely necessary for the running of the livestock enterprises. This has left insufficient staff to carry out the arable operations.

For weather reasons, arable operations often come at peak periods of the year. The farms then have to rely on a contractor when they do not have sufficient staff of their own to carry out operations such as ploughing and harvesting. In these circumstances, the agricultural community is becoming more and more reliant upon the services of contractors.

That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West has done agriculture a service in putting forward the Amendment. Agriculture is more and more calling for contractors to do the work. I hope, therefore, that the Minister can see his way to give us the concession, for which we have been looking for so long, that contractors solely occupied in agriculture should qualify for these investment grants.

Mr. Hoy

It might be right that I should intervene at this stage to say a word or two. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had spoken sometime about people getting back tax which they had not paid. I had not the pleasure of being present when my right hon. Friend delivered that speech but I have a vivid recollection of the Public Accounts Committee saying that when I was a member. Therefore, if my right hon. Friend followed that precedent, it was a very good one.

Let us consider the aim of the grant. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) was very eloquent about it. It is true that the letters which have been sent were written with the best intention and were intended to be explanatory. I am grateful to the hon. Member for thanking us for the courtesy which we always endeavour to show to any hon. Member who writes to our Department.

The aim of the grant, as of the grants under Clauses 31 and 33, is to provide investment incentives on a selective basis to replace the investment allowance for those owning agricultural land or engaged in agricultural production. They are not intended to replace allowances lost by finance houses which lease out agricultural machinery. Lessors will, however, to be able to claim instead a 30 per cent. initial allowance.

The farmer who hired machinery received no investment allowance in the past —I hope that hon. Members opposite are not arguing that one—and will continue to be able to claim his rent for the machine as a business expense. This has always been available to him.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that he is doing the farming community something of a favour by allowing farmers to continue to charge their rental as a cost of doing business.

Mr. Hoy

I was doing nothing of the kind. I was pointing out the position. Hon. Members opposite sought to convey that this was something which had been taken from the farming community. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] Oh, yes. And they meant an investment allowance if they meant anything at all.

I was pointing out that a farmer who hires machinery does not receive an investment allowance. He received no allowance in the past, and that will continue. It is not something new. I went on to say that he would continue to be able to claim his rent for a machine as a business expense. In other words, that arrangement will also continue; and I did not claim that that was something new, either. He will be able to claim a 30 per cent. initial allowance, and that is the proviso we have written in. In all the circumstances, I should have thought that that was a reasonable provision, and we are not prepared to go further than that.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Having listened to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I have the vision of there being two tractors in a field, both doing exactly the same job but one of them owned by the farmer, for which he is receiving a grant, and the other on hire by the farmer, for which he is not receiving a grant. This cannot be a sensible arrangement.

There is bound to be more hiring of machinery by British farmers. This will happen for obvious reasons, as it has happened in the United States. To begin with, modern farm machinery is becoming bigger and more expensive. Anybody who looks at an 18 ft. combine harvester in the fields of West Suffolk will appreciate how enormous these machines are. It is obviously wrong to insist that each farmer should, as far as possible, tie up large sums of capital in such equipment. It is far more sensible to spread the capital efficiently by hiring these machines on contract.

This course is sensible because modern combine machinery can reap barley and wheat at such a speed that the entire crop of even the largest farm can be disposed of in a few days or weeks. It is absurd to ask farmers to buy more and more expensive machinery, merely to have it standing idle for the greater part of the year. It must be more efficient to hire these machines on contract.

Farm machinery is also becoming more specialised. Indeed, we are on the brink of having the sort of machinery that will do to the crops that are now picked what is being done to the crops that are reaped. There will soon be machines to pick peas, carrots, blackcurrants and so on. This is highly sophisticated machinery, but it is used for only a limited part of the year. It would be absurd to ask farmers to tie up their capital in this equipment.

Another consideration is the speed of technological development. Whereas it used to be, say, five years between one type of mechanism being introduced and an improved model being developed, today even one year makes the most profound changes in agricultural technology. If the Bill goes through in its present form, farmers will have all their capital tied up in machinery of this type and will not benefit fully from the accelerating rate of development in farm technology. Only by contract hiring can that be done, for the contract hirer can ensure that he has the biggest, best and most sophisticated machinery. None of these things is possible if we insist on each individual farmer financing his own machinery, owning it, and keeping it in his own garage. This is the experience in the United States: I have seen something of it in California and in the Middle West. It is coming to Britain as well.

4.15 a.m.

In my submission, the Minister's Clause as presently drafted stands in the way of this movement, this technological shift that is taking place in British agriculture. I ask him to recognise that it is illogical to distinguish between two machines in the same field, one of which is hired and the other of which is owned. Will the Minister please look at the Amendment again?

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I could not understand the Parliamentary Secretary when he said that under the old system the owner of the machine did not get any investment allowances and therefore was no worse off today. The argument put by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) was that owing to the fact that the owner of the machine does not get this grant he is compelled to put up his hire charges. That seems to me to be the illogical part of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Under the old system the man got an investment allowance, and presumably, therefore, kept his hire charges on a moderate footing. If we have one tractor under the disability of having no grant its owner will be in a far worse position than the company, as I demonstrated earlier in this debate, buying tractors; a demonstration which the Minister quite rightly corrected by showing the position to be worse than I had thought.

It must be wrong again to produce this distortion, because the Minister's own National Agricultural Advisory Service, Cambridge Branch, produced for the Eastern Region a long paper on replacement policy for farm machinery in the light of the new arrangements, trying to explain them, and putting forward criteria that would assist farmers to make decisions whether or not to replace machinery.

One of the important sections deals with the question of whether it is worth hiring or leasing machinery. The N.A.A.S. stresses that this is a very good system where a machine is needed for a comparatively short period. It states: If an additional tractor is required during one month of the year only to accomplish vital operations, it may be cheaper to hire this machine than to carry a spare tractor for the whole year to complete the required work in the critical period. It goes on to point out that most of these hired machines are used very intensively. If the owner of the machine is any good at arranging his hirings, he sees that he does not get many blank periods.

From the point of view of the national interest, it is desirable that agricultural tractors should be used to the full, and every tractor that is made to work out its life fast is using the manufacturing potential that has gone into it to the very greatest national advantage.

The Minister should therefore support any move which tends to make for the efficient and economic use of machinery. To leave in this new system a disability that operates against the hirer of machinery is a gross economic misjudgment, because all that will happen will be that the hirers of machinery will find their own replacements more and more expensive and will, therefore, have to charge very much greater hiring fees, and the farmers wishing to make economic use of hiring will probably be driven back to purchasing the machinery, which is much less economical from the national point of view.

Mr. Godber

I think that I should intervene at this stage. I was surprised when the Parliamentary Secretary rose to his feet earlier in the debate for I thought that he was going to accept the Amendment. He then gave a brusque reply which gave the impression that he wished to curtail the debate. I am sure he would not wish to do that.

Mr. Hoy

I did nothing of the kind. I said that I thought it might be advisable if I were to say what I did say; but I had no intention of curtailing the debate.

Mr. Godber

I am grateful for that assurance. But I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that when a Minister intends to accept an Amendment he usually rises to his feet early in a debate, and that when he does not intend to accept an Amendment he does not rise early. We therefore thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to accept the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman had not heard all the arguments, and I hope that when he and his right hon. Friend have heard all the arguments they will appreciate the full effect of this Amendment. The arguments advanced by my hon. Friends have been extremely powerful, but they have not been sufficient as yet to convince the Parliamentary Secretary. Perhaps he will bear with me while I reemphasise some of the points and express the serious attitude that we on this side of the House take to this Amendment.

This ties up with what the Minister himself said when we started our debate some 12½ hours ago. He brought forward a new Clause which was intended, as I believe he said, to provide more flexibility in investment grants. I think he took credit for what he was doing, and he announced the higher rates, which we were glad to hear. But, in doing so, he drew our attention even more to the harshness of the cases where these grants do not apply. If they have been increased for some people, the fact that they are not provided for others makes the distinction harsher still. This makes the relevance of this Amendment even greater than when it was first put on the Order Paper.

My hon. Friends have made a very powerful case for the Amendment. It must be illogical for the Government to wish to dissuade farmers from following a course which is obviously very suitable in present conditions. The Minister will not require me to remind him that it is not many months since we were talking about agricultural credit. The whole purpose of this system which my hon. Friends have been describing has been to relieve farmers of the need for so much credit as they would require if they had to buy these expensive machines themselves. The Minister must know that the amount of borrowing in farming today is very high, and fie ought to be sympathetic to any means which will reduce the total overall borrowing. He should be helpful in a matter of this sort.

These Clauses relating to grants, and Clause 32 in particular, are intended to replace the old investment allowances, and they do so in a selective and discriminatory way. We did not ask, nor did the farmers ask, for the old investment allowances to be withdrawn and for these investment grants to be substituted for them. The Minister said that these matters had been fully discussed with the industry, but I am sure that he would not suggest that had the industry been given the opportunity to decide whether to retain the investment allowances or to choose investment grants, the farming community would have chosen the new investment grants in preference to the old investment allowances. That is not my impression. My impression is that the farmers are worried about these investment grants because they are not so satisfactory for them, but they accept them simply because the grants are all that they will get.

What the Minister should remember is that they should not bear more harshly on one section of the farming community than on another. There is a growing tendency in some areas for machinery to be leased, and these investment grants, operating as they do, have a relationship here.

I propose to extend the charge in some degree. I wrote some months ago to the Minister because it had been pointed out to me that in the Industrial Development Act there was provision—it is in Section 4—for ensuring that owners of plant hired out in industry generally had the full benefit of the investment grants. Hon. Members know that there was plenty of criticism of that Act in so far as it affected industry, but industry was given an advantage where plant was leased out.

For agriculture, there is no such provision, and this shows an unfairness, not only as between farmer and farmer but as between farmers and industry. Surely the very first duty of any Minister of Agriculture is to see that agriculture gets at least as good a deal as industry. I have already said that I wrote to the Minister. That was in July last year, and he replied in his usual courteous way, but based his reply on the argument that leasing of machinery plays an important part in, for example, the construction industry, but not in agriculture. That is not so, and the Minister would do well to accept what has been said in the House about the spread of desire to lease machinery being not only one of the best ways of keeping that machinery in condition, but also of getting value for money from it.

The old argument about the girl's baby being only a small one and therefore not important is not a just argument for the Minister to produce in regard to the matter now under discussion. Although many are not affected, that is no argument at all for not letting them have the benefit of these grants. This is an expanding industry which is operating in accordance with accepted standards for the most efficient use of machinery and of credit facilities, and all this should be encouraged by the Minister and not actively discouraged.

So we have the set of arguments resulting from a comparison with the old investment allowances, and the other arguments of the comparison as between agriculture and industry. There is a very strong argument for providing the same facilities for both. It is the Minister and the Government of which he is a member who have taken away the more flexible investment allowances and provided instead these investment grants which are discriminatory in their effect and which cause unfairness as between one person and another.

We have now been talking for l2½ hours but have received not a single concession of any kind in relation to the Amendments we have put on the Paper. There is obviously a very strong case and I ask the Minister to concede the point and to let us have the Amendment so that we can proceed further with the Bill.

4.30 a.m.

Mr. Baker

I strongly support my hon. Friends. I consider that the Government Front Bench is not really au fait with the present farming position, particularly in the context of the Amendment. More and more farmers, especially in the north of Scotland, are turning to a new farming economy, in that we are trying to produce more home-grown foodstuff, particularly in the livestock-rearing area, and our whole economy is based on that.

As a result, our labour shortages, which are becoming more prevalent, are not confined to normal farm labour but include casual seasonal labour. On my farm we grow a great deal of grass for silage and hay, and our whole economy is based on the breeding and rearing of cattle. Right up until the end of April, and perhaps even into May, it is necessary to feed silage and hay to the out-wintered cattle. That is also the time when seeding, sowing and other cultivation must be going on.

It is therefore clear, in view of the shortage of labour, that it is essential that I utilise hired farm machinery, driven and operated by the hirer. It is not only finance houses that let out agricultural machinery. It is the small man in a small way in a small village who is helping me and many more farmers like me in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves.

That situation applies equally at the other end of the farming calendar at the time for cropping. We crop a minimum oat or cereal acreage in the kind of economy of which I am taking. We merely crop enough to enable our rotations to be kept on and the ground kept in good heart, and it is therefore uneconomic for us to own and operate combine harvesters. After the disastrous season we had during the latter part of last year it is essential that every possible opportunity should be taken to harvest the crop when the weather is right. There were previous few days last year when the weather was right.

It is therefore essential that we have the services of the hirers—not the big finance houses, but the smaller hirers who serve a very good purpose in letting out their machinery. If we do not give them incentives the whole farming economy, particularly of northern Scotland in the breeding areas, will suffer.

For those reasons, I strongly support he Amendment and even at this early hour of the morning I hope that common sense at least will come to the Government's rescue and they will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Kimball

When the Joint Parliamentary Secretary rose to reply, I, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), thought that he would at least give way on the very important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins).

There can be no doubt that in June last the Government still had serious doubts about the application of Clause 32 and the point raised by my hon. Friend. In June the Minister published, as we had asked him to do in the Second Reading debate, a yellow booklet entitled "For your information" about all the grants that are available for farmers under the Bill. The booklet listed the amalgamation grants, the beef cow subsidy, grants for bracken control, building grants, the calf subsidy and many other grants. They numbered 47 in all, and I am glad to say that most of them were introduced by the Conservative Government. The present Government admit to having brought in only two.

The Government published the booklet as an up-to-date guide to all the grants available to farmers, but the one that they did not include in the booklet—which is helpful so far as it goes—is that towards expenditure on agricultural tractors and harvesters, and the only reason why they did not put it in was that they had not made up their minds how it was to be applied and on the full content of the Clause and how it was to be worked.

The covering letter with the booklet tells one all about the leaflet relating to the farm improvement schemes and states that applications for investment grants cannot be accepted before the passing of the Bill but that the grant will be payable retrospectively on assets purchased on or after 17th January, 1966. The Government are perfectly clear in their mind that they are not going to pay the grant until the Bill is through, but, equally, they are not clear in the booklet about who will be able to get the grants and to what extent. I hope that the uncertainty that is reflected in the booklet will be cleared up by the Minister agreeing to put the matter right when the Bill goes to another place.

Mr. Monro

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) was right when he said that the Government were being particularly short-sighted in making no concessions here. Also, my hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) and Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) were right in stressing the point about the utilisation and productivity of machinery. We are all saying that times are changing and that more and more farmers are using fewer and fewer of the big machines because of the services offered by contractors. This is why it is so important that the Minister should accept the Amendment.

We ought to have accurate information —the Government have had plenty of time to produce it—about the trend of contracting. I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has information about how many contracting hirers there are, how many general agricultural contractors and how many forestry contractors. I know that the officials of the Department of Agriculture are desperately overworked. They are doing a magnificent job, and we praise them to the sky, but they are being given far too much work.

What is the position of a farmer at this moment when he is considering the situation concerning his machinery for the year? He has only a few choices. We know that today we are not going to get the grant for secondhand machinery, which has been so valuable particularly for the smaller farmer. Most farmers have no spare capital at the moment for new machinery. Certainly a 9 per cent. overdraft rate means that they do not want to borrow any. That rules out new machinery. There is also an extremely high rate of hire-purchase interest. That, too, is ruled out. One is reduced to contracting as the only alternative for getting on with the job, particularly at times of pressure at the beginning of the season and at harvesting in the autumn.

Two things are in desperately short supply in agriculture—confidence and capital, or credit. This is due to the Government's policy. They may well have devised this Bill in 1964, when they took over and the economy was buoyant. Now the economy is far from buoyant. Things can be done in a buoyant economy which cannot be done in the present situation of squeeze and depression.

It is very important that the Government should do all they can to help farmers by helping the contracting industry. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that these grants were for agricultural production. Surely agricultural contracting is purely to make agricultural production. The Ministry's thinking is muddle-headed on what is, to the farmers, a simple issue.

The hon. Gentleman said there would be discussions with the industry. We always hear about discussions with the industry. The N.F.U. is always being consulted. We never hear whether it has given agreement. We only hear about the Government's decision. We never hear detail about the discussions. We have had no concession from the Government today and it is high time the Minister took this matter seriously. He laughs with his colleagues but he does nothing to help the ordinary farmers. I strongly support the Amendment.

Mr. Hoy

Perhaps I may speak again.[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think it might be convenient to the House if I do. There has been considerable exaggeration. I hope that when the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) helps to pick the Scottish team he will use more intelligence than he did in his speech just now. Apparently he thinks that the £800 million deficit we inherited represented a buoyant economy. It was a distortion that he surely does not really believe.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) made a great fuss about the yellow booklet. It was produced at the request of the farming community. It asked us to collate this information so that it could be easily seen and understood. Why he should have made such a speech about it I do not know.

I cannot say much more to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) except to remind him that, when he talks about two tractors working in adjacent fields, an investment grant could be paid on the one which was bought outright while 30 per cent. initial allowance could be claimed on the other.

4.45 a.m.

The right hon. Gentleman took the argument a little further and said that there was a distinction between industry, which was supported by the Board of Trade, and agriculture. There are differences. Board of Trade grants for industry and these incentives for agriculture cater for different needs and there are, therefore, essential differences between them. If this were not so, there would be no grants at all for tractors, because Board of Trade investment grants for industry do not extend to tractors.

I have listened to the argument for a fairly long time and I am willing to see how much further we can go to meet the request of hon. Members. I do not want to be stubborn. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite say that we have not given way on any issue, but I must point out that I have moved three or four Amendments to meet requests which where made in Committee and I have received the thanks of hon. Members for doing so. I am willing to have another look at this matter to see whether we can meet this request. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, if we can, I shall certainly see that an Amendment is moved when the Bill goes to another place.

Mr. Godber

I am grateful for the undertaking which has now been given. If serious consideration is to be given to conceding on this point, then that is a useful development to which we shall look forward in warm anticipation in the hope that: in another place an Amendment will be introduced to meet the substantial case which has been made by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Peter Mills

Although the Parliamentary Secretary has said that he will look into this again, we have had that assurance before and nothing concrete has resulted. I may have a suspicious mind, but this looks like fobbing us off.

Mr. Monro

We had the most categorical promise about my march fence Amendment, but not a thing came of it.

Mr. Prior

I have a feeling that the only reason why the Government have given it to us is to get the business on.

Mr. Peter Mills

That is exactly what I felt, although I hope that it is not true.

Mr. Hoy

I can tell the hon. Gentleman now that that is not true. I never rise to say that I shall look at something without seriously meaning what I say. All hon. Members know that I have never done so. It is only when an hon. Member like the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) makes that innuendo and insinuation, which is uncalled for, that I reply.

Mr. Prior

On a point of order. The Parliamentary Secretary has now made an insinuation against me which is quite unfounded and untrue. When my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) was speaking, the right hon. Gentleman was saying that the Government would withdraw their concession.

Mr. Peart

indicated dissent.

Mr. Prior

That is what it sounded like to my hon. Friend and to me. That is why I interrupted my hon. Friend to say that the Government were only trying to please us and not the farmers. That is what we were saying. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to withdraw his remarks.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I do not think that that was a point of order. I think that the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) should continue his speech.

Mr. Peter Mills

I should like to continue my speech. I was suspicious, but I will leave it at that.

I should like to support the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) is a man of great experience. He always puts a case clearly and well. He is a spokesman for East Anglia. We in the West Country have not caught on to the idea of leasing or hiring tractors. I congratulate him on moving the Amendment. I am convinced of the importance of this new conception and I am prepared to encourage it now that I have heard the advantages, but one cannot do this if there is to be no grant for the tractors. That is why it is important that the grant should be extended to this way of using tractors.

If, as my hon. Friend says, the Americans are using it, then we shall be using this method all over the country before long and it is vital that we should have the grant. This is a good Amendment and I hope that the Minister will not only look into it, but will give a definite assurance that something will be done.

I can see that this would be a great help. Many small farmers in the South-West might hire a tractor for part of a year. This would help them in the difficult time they are going through. It would enable young farmers to avoid spending a lot on new tractors.

Many people, like the small farmer, the poor farmer and the younger farmer, have to make do with second-hand and worn-out tractors which are constantly breaking down and causing difficulty for them.

The conception of hiring or leasing tractors is excellent and the Government must be prepared to accept it. I hope they will encourage it. Many of the newer tractors on the market cost about £1,000. This is a tremendous amount for a young farmer to spend. I like the idea of a specialised maintenance service which the hirer will obviously do. It means that repairs can be carried out quickly because large stocks of spare parts will be carried, and breakdowns will be overcome more quickly. This is an excellent idea which I can recommend to many farmers in the South-West, with the proviso that the Government are prepared to give a chance of a 10 per cent. grant.

If this were extended, I believe that profitability would rise. I wonder whether the agricultural community would be interested in this being pushed throughout the country.

Mr. Hawkins

By leave of the House I should like to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to clarify the point that he was making. Is he now saying that he considers that his letter written to me was wrong and that he will reconsider my Amendment and not only the new point which my right hon. Friend raised? I cannot understand how, on 20th December, after a remark of mine, I was told categorically by letter that these grants will not be payable on machines leased or hired and now he can say that he will give way. If that is not the case and the Government will not reconsider this Amendment, I should like to vote upon it.

Sir Frank Pearson

I hope that the House will forgive me for intervening at this rather late stage, but I feel that I would be failing in my duty if I did not make a few comments on this Clause. I wish to take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) for having moved this vitally important Amendment. On many occasions in the past, in discussing agricultural matters I have, as a Member representing smaller, pastoral farms, cast rather jealous and envious eyes on the broad acres of East Anglia. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having brought to my notice, as he brought to the notice of my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills), with very much the same type of constituency as myself, this extremely important lacuna in the drafting of this Bill.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Will my hon. Friend accept that in agricultural matters what East Anglia does today the rest of the country gets on to tomorrow?

Sir Frank Pearson

The hon. Member is possibly parodying the phrase that Lancashire manufacturers know only too well, and in another sphere we would certainly claim to lead the rest. But in agriculture, certainly from the point of view of arable production, I am prepared to admit that many areas of the country can learn many lessons from that extremely fine farming community.

I trust that I have the attention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary because I want to put to him what I think is the first view that has been expressed on this Amendment from the north-west of the country. If I am wrong in this I apologise, but I believe it to be the first view that has been expressed.

5.0 a.m.

From an agricultural point of view, the north-west area of the country has in the past always carried a great deal of weight. It has its own particular problems. One of the main problems of farming in the North is the size of the farms, where one finds a relatively small acreage, often farmed by people who may well be short of capital. As my hon. Friend, the Member for Torrington pointed out, the cost today of buying a new tractor can be very considerable. Machinery is becoming more sophisticated. Many operations demand crawler tractors. I am pointing out the importance to the small farmer of the tractor that is hired out by machinery firms. It is this type of tractor which has been omitted from this Clause.

Although this Amendment has been proposed by a farming member from an East Anglia constituency, it is of the highest importance to the pastoral section of the country. I do not wish to delay the House or to over-labour this point, but I wish to thank the hon. Gentleman for the indication he has given us. We on this side are extremely grateful for the hint that he is prepared to have an entirely fresh look at this. I know that when he gives those assurances he means them. I know that at a later stage we can confidently expect that our point will largely be made, because had he not intended to do that, I cannot believe that he would have tried to fob us off with the statement that he was just going to look at this again.

Although we may have taken some little time in debating this Amendment, hon. Members on this side of the House will consider that their time has not been wasted. I shall look forward to the moment when the hon. Gentleman tables his Amendment and shows us in quite clear terms that the pressure we have put behind this Amendment has been very worth while.

Mr. Kitson

As I have the largest constituency in England, with land similar to that of my hon. Friends the Members for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) and for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson), and also some good land like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill), I feel that I should say a few words. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) hit the nail on the head when he told us a little about trends in American farming. I was sorry that he did not go on to say something about farming methods in Australia.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. It would be quite out of order to deal with that on this Amendment.

Mr. Kitson

I was pursuing the question of the increase in the hiring of heavy machinery, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds referred. Only last year, when he came back from Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) had to call on hired equipment to lift his potato crop because of the difficult season we had had. There is a growing shortage of labour on many farms today, and there will be a continuing tendency to hire farm machinery. This is why we on this side are extremely grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for accepting the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Godber

I beg to move, That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned.

I move this Motion to enable the Government to state their intentions in regard to the Bill. We have had about 13 hours' debate so far. We all want to get on, but it is clear that there are strains. After one has carried on a debate for a considerable time, strains do develop, and I think that we should make better progress on a future occasion and b able to complete our discussions.

The Government have had difficulty in fitting the Bill into their timetable. They have their programme problems. But I remind them that we were ready to debate this Measure before Christmas, and we are ready to continue at the first convenient time. There is no need to go on with such enthusiasm with the Iron and Steel Bill, for instance. Time can be found for this Measure.

It is bad for our discussion of legislation if, after a certain period of time, there is difficulty in maintaining concentration. We have done extremely well today. We are now past Amendment No. 50. The number put on the Notice Paper was intolerably burdensome for one day. We have done our best so far, and we are perfectly willing to continue if the Government so desire, but they ought to consider whether advantage is gained by continuing for very long periods of time.

If the Government wish to go on, we are quite ready to do so, but they should have some regard for the problems in trying to deal with important legislation in this way. The Third Reading is to come as well. I ask them to take into account the point we have reached and consider whether it would be appropriate to adjourn now. They could fit this business in again at the earliest possible moment, so that we could then discuss these matters further and give our full and undivided attention to the complicated provisions involved.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) assumes that some of his supporters are getting rather tired.

Mr. Godber


Mr. Peart

This is what he said. If his hon. Friends are tired and lack concentration, I am very sorry. For my part, I am anxious to have this Bill. There are important grants and subsidies to be accorded to the farming community when it goes through. I hope, therefore, that there will be no attempt to delay the Bill. We have plenty of time now. I am anxious to discuss sensibly, as, I hope, all hon. Members will be, further important provisions which are on the Notice Paper, and I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Prior

It is a bit much for the right hon. Gentleman to take that line. We do not want to delay the Bill. We recognise only too well that there are a great many provisions in it which are needed by farmers today. The Government introduced the Bill as long ago as well before the Summer Recess. We are now left one day to discuss all these important outstanding items. Only in the last 20 minutes have we had any concession from the Government. It is all very well for the Minister to accuse some of my hon. Friends of prolonging the discussion. The Ministers could have given way earlier in the debate without any trouble.

Members of the Opposition do not have the resources that the Government have behind them. What is more, we have to be in the Chamber, whereas hon. Members opposite can go wherever they like to sleep. It is not unreasonable that at ten minutes past five in the morning we should ask to adjourn the debate and come back to it when we are fresh and can give more serious consideration to it tomorrow.

The Government could easily give another day for the Bill. They have brought us back a week early from the Christmas Recess. They have a majority of 100. No one will believe the Government when they say that the Opposition are obstructing the Bill. With a majority of 100, the Government know very well that they can get the Bill through quickly. All that the Opposition are asking for is reasonable time.

The farming community cannot say as a result of what has happened during the debate today that we have been in any way unreasonable. The country cannot believe that it is necessary for the Government to push all this through in one night. I therefore strongly support my right hon. Friend's Motion.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I support the Motion to adjourn at this stage. I feel it my duty to my constituents to give to the matters still before us in the Bill the most serious and careful consideration. It must be common ground between both sides of the House that it is humanly impossible at this hour to give the Bill the care and attention that our constituents, in particular our farming constituents, expect of us.

I must protest strongly at the Minister's suggestion that the farming industry might be delayed in receiving the grants that are its due on account of what has happened here tonight. The Minister knows very well that there is all the Parliamentary time in the world for the Bill to be achieved. The simple fact is that the Government Chief Whip is not prepared to let him have the time to complete the Bill in the manner that it deserves. The problem, as the Minister well knows, is not the Agriculture Bill. It is not the agricultural industry that the Government are considering. They are considering their timetable on steel and nothing else.

It is impertinent for the Minister to suggest other than that my right hon. and hon. Friends have shown in their speeches tonight and in the long Committee stages, which I have read, genuine concern for the agricultural industry. It does not lie in the mouth of the Government to say of the Conservative Party that we are in any sense holding up the agricultural in-industry's desserts in this matter. It is steel, and steel alone, that is getting in the farming industry's way.

Sir Frank Pearson

I should like to take this opportunity to support the Motion. I feel somewhat aggrieved when, time after time, we hear the Minister say that he has got to get the Bill through because the farming industry wants its grants. I have listened to the Minister say that for the past six months. He was very quiet on this point when, at the beginning of the Session, there was a delay of about three weeks before the Bill went into Committee—[An HON. MEMBER: "Six weeks".]—but we heard it the whole time that the Committee was debating the Bill.

5.15 a.m.

The Minister asked us to complete the Committee stage by a certain date. We did that. He then promised that the Bill would have completed its journey through Parliament before Christmas. What went wrong? Other Government business intervened, and the right hon. Gentleman's business was pushed to one side. The agricultural industry is beginning to appreciate that it has in the Minister a man who is incapable of standing up to the Government, on this occasion to the Chief Whip. That being so, the right hon. Gentleman cannot now steamroller the Measure through, particularly since many of the Amendments are Government proposals. [Interruption.] I am pleased to see the Patronage Secretary entering the Chamber. The time has come when the Opposition should demand that the Bill be given adequate time for debate. Despite the important business—the proposed nationalisation of the steel industry—to be discussed tomorrow, there is no industry more important to Britain than agriculture. If necessary we will debate the Bill not only during the remainder of the night but right through tomorrow.

This Measure is of the utmost importance to the agricultural industry and must be given detailed consideration. The right hon. Gentleman cannot expect us to consider all these Amendments and then complete the Third Reading in one day.

Mr. Peter Mills

I strongly support the remarks of my hon. Friends, particularly as it is obvious that agriculture is rapidly becoming an Aunt Sally to be pushed around. The Government seem continually to be saying "It is only agriculture. It does not matter".

At one sitting we are expected to consider 120 Amendments, many of them tabled by the Government. We have dealt with 52 of them, or have not even got half way through them. Some vital issues will arise later. If the Minister thinks that he will get away with the rural development boards in an hour or two he is much mistaken. I regard that proposal as a nonsense and, like many of my hon. Friends, will want to debate that subject at length. Amalgamations, forestry and many other important issues will arise later and we must be given adequate time in which to debate them.

Mr. Jopling

It is well to go over the Government's delays and mistakes in respect of this Bill during the last 13 or 14 months. First of all, there was the delay in getting it into Committee last June. Then there was the help the Government received—

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sunderland)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a gross abuse of the procedure of this House to delay the debate on this admittedly important Bill by repetitious haverings over mattters that have been discussed ad nauseam?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is perfectly in order in a debate on the Question, "That further consideration of a Bill be now adjourned" to give reasons why further consideration should be adjourned. I do not think that anything said so far has been out of order.

Mr. Jopling

I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your Ruling.

I remind the House of the occasion last August when the Minister wanted to adjourn the Committee on, I think, the last Tuesday before the House rose for the Summer Recess. It was only the actions by hon. Members on this side that gave us that extra day. So do not let any hon. Member opposite start pretending that this Bill has been delayed in any way by hon. Members on this side.

We also had the delay in December, when we were told that we would have this Report stage. Then that was shuffled off, and here we are. It is quite unreasonable for the Government or any hon. Member opposite to suggest that after a Committee stage that lasted for 25 mornings, plus—and one cannot ignore this fact—a previous 14 sittings in the previous Parliament on a very similar Bill. There would have been considerably more than those 25 sittings in this Parliament had all those Amendments been taken from scratch again. The Minister knows very well that many arguments and discussions were not deployed a second time. There was no suggestion of our going over old ground again. We made faster progress in Committee in this Parliament with the earlier Clauses of this Bill because we had discussed them before.

This Bill had had a very long Committee stage. I have been doing a little arithmetic about our progress today. We have so far dealt with 16 Government Amendments. According to my count, which is not exactly accurate but is near enough, there are about 40 more Government Amendments to be discussed. Already, of the other Amendments listed we have taken 24 and there are 23 to come. In total we have roughly 40 Amendments of one sort or another, both Government Amendments and others, and there are about 63 to come. The 40 Amendments we have so far taken have taken us roughly 13 hours, or a little longer—it was about that amount of time when I worked it all out. As it seems that there are still 63 Amendments to come, it would seem by my arithmetic that the remaining rather more than 100 Amendments will take us, at the present rate of progress, which has not involved any filibustering on this side—

Mr. Prior

Would not my hon. Friend agree that it is almost unprecedented for an Opposition, at this time of night, and with this sort of Bill, not to have sought to move the adjournment of the debate until after 5 o'clock in the morning? I think that shows that we have made a real effort to get this Bill through.

Mr. Jopling

That is an extremely fair point, and one well worth making.

If the present rate of progress with the Amendments is maintained, we shall not finish with the Bill until 1 o'clock on Thursday morning. If that is what the Minister wants, I hope that he will tell us. I am sure that we will be quite happy to go on. But I cannot think that the Minister believes that we shall get the best discussion and thought on the remaining 63 Amendments if we have to go all through the hours of Wednesday, today, and on to tomorrow, Thursday morning. It is quite unreasonable, and I thoroughly support the proposition, which I hope the Minister will accept.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I think that an agriculture Bill is rather different from other Bills because those of us who are rural Members are expected to know all the details of such a Bill and to be information officers to a large number of our constituents. This is unlike other major industrial Bills, when people actually working in the industry have all sorts of experts to turn to and do not expect from their Members the kind of detailed knowledge that our rural constituents expect.

That means that we need individually to follow the Bill as best we can. If we happen not to be on the Committee, as I was not—for the first time, I believe, since I came to the House—it means that the Report stage gives one an opportunity to understand the arguments and to find out the Government's intentions when the Bill becomes law. This Bill is at least three Bills in one. Therefore, it throws a great burden on the non-Standing Committee agriculture Members. There are 1,200 columns in HANSARD of the Committee stage, and I must say that the extracts that I have read are pretty concise for a long Standing Committee. One can ascertain the arguments very well by reading HANSARD. Even so, it is surprising how many points were not taken in Committee—no doubt, because of a desire to make progress.

It is surprising how many ambiguities still remain in the Bill, about which we shall be asked; and it is also surprising, considering the length of time that the Bill has been in the House and in the Department, how uncertain the Government's own mind is as to the effect of the legislative proposals. This is a very great worry. The Government think they have an aim, and then generally they produce legislation which in practice is likely to produce results far removed from their intentions or expectations. Unless we go through the Bill on Report in some detail and get the Government's explanations, we are not in a position to fulfil our duty to our constituents.

This is particularly hard on the very first day after the recess, because most of us have had a lot of work awaiting us on our return. There are the usual beginning of term arrangements to make, with all the appointments and so on to be sorted out, and therefore to start off with an all-night sitting, to be followed by two of the most intensive days, and possibly nights, on the Steel Bill is a very poor start for us.

However, we are free to come and go as we like; and I should like to make a plea for the staff. The staff are being landed with an all-night sitting on their first day back after the recess. They, too, know what lies ahead of them for the rest of the week. I cannot help feeling that in the interests of the House as a whole, and not just of the Members who are in the Chamber at the moment, we should consider adjourning the proceedings. Those of our colleagues who have an important Measure to debate will want to be as well served by the staff as can be. It seems to me to be foolish as well as inconsiderate to tire them out at the very beginning of what is to be as hard a time as they can expect to have in the whole year.

5.30 a.m.

Mr. Monro

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) and make a plea for those hon. Members who were not on the Standing Committee which considered this Bill. Those from agricultural constituencies who did not serve on that Committee should, because of that very fact, have the opportunity to take as full a part as possible in our present discussions. Yet, having said that, I must point out that to ask hon. Members to be in the Chamber without a break for so long a period means that one cannot possibly keep a proper grasp on all the matters in this most complicated Bill. To ask hon. Members to keep their noses to the grindstone for hour after hour after hour is wrong.

I do not want to be controversial, but the Government were warned of what would happen. In the last business statement made before the Christmas recess, hon. Members opposite were told that it would be impossible to complete this Report stage in one sitting. Yet here we are, less than half way through the Report stage, with still the Third Reading to come. It is time that the Patronage Secretary came forward from wherever he has gone and told the House that we have done enough for one night. We should be relieved of the onerous duty of completing this stage of the Bill.

Earl of Dalkeith

We have still to reach one of the most complex parts of the Bill; that is, the part dealing with forestry and, in that connection, I accept some small amount of blame because some of the Amendments which I have tabled were put down after the programme for this stage of the Bill was announced. Perhaps I should personally take a share of blame, but I think it important that we should adjourn now and start again at a more reasonable hour because some of the Amendments are complicated. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite, as well as we on this side of the House, should be fresh if there is to be a proper assessment of these Amendments.

I must not discuss any of my own Amendments, but I would say that they do not deserve the very cavalier treatment which has been shown by the Government at times in this highly important debate. The Government should be more forthcoming than they have been so far and I hope now that the Patronage Secretary has something to tell us. I would conclude by telling him that if a free vote was allowed on this Motion, I am certain that hon. Members opposite would be only too willing to support us.

Mr. William Edwards

I think it is often thought by some people that any debate in this House on the subject of agriculture is the prerogative of hon. Members opposite, but, so far as the tactics which have been employed by the Opposition tonight are concerned, I think one could say that the farmers will not look upon hon. Members opposite as the true friends of agriculture. I wish to pursue no party point, but the farmers' interests should have been served long ago as they are being served by the second part of this Bill. The farmers have been waiting for that for a long time. While I readily agree that hon. Members opposite are completely sincere in their farming interest, it is very wrong for them to try to ruin this debate by trying to use it as an attempt to frustrate the passing of the steel nationalisation Bill.

It is obvious to some of us on this side of the House that the brave country and county Members on the Opposition benches are being bullied by their new type of party tacticians to try to use this debate to frustrate the passing of the Iron and Steel Bill. That shows how out of date they are. It is obvious to me that the Opposition have now abandoned the policy of trying to frustrate the passing of the Government's business by filibustering and are now relying on the smear tactics followed by their sycophantic friends in the Press.

Mr. Godber

We have had a discussion on the Motion, which I moved in the most reasonable terms in the hope of encouraging the Government to accept it straight away. It seemed to me that we had made very good progress. I do not propose to follow some of the extravagant remarks made a few moments ago, because they do not bear any relation to what we have done on the Bill. We have bent over backwards all the time to facilitate its passage. It was not our fault that it was delayed for two months before going to Committee, and it was not our fault that this stage was not taken before Christmas. We cooperated with the Minister in getting the Committee stage completed on the day he wanted.

We have carried on until after five o'clock before we even tried to inquire whether the Government would leave over the rest of the business to take at a more reasonable hour. We tried all the time to help, and made that abundantly clear. We feel the need for the Bill; we are in contact all the time with the farmers and know that, although they are not particularly in favour of some of its provisions, the Minister has tied certain grants to it, and naturally we want to see no delay over that.

We feel that with co-operation we can make progress and complete the Report stage, if that is what the Minister wishes to do, before we rise today. If he can do that and give us the Third Reading debate on another day—we think that we should have at least half a day for it—I think that that is a reasonable proposition to put to him and we can then withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Peart

I accept that. I think that one should be reasonable. We will get the Report stage now; and we will have Third Reading another day.

Mr. Godber

I understand from the Minister that he accepts that we shall have a half-day debate following this to deal with the Third Reading, provided that we finish this stage. We will aim to get the remainder of the Report stage before we rise this morning. If we can go ahead on that basis I think that that should give us time to complete the Report stage and then take Third Reading another day.

In the light of that assurance from the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion [HON. MEMBERS: "No".]

Question put and negatived.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Am I right in thinking that as a result of a deal that has been made behind Mr. Speaker's Chair those of us who sit on the back benches are now advised that we have a certain amount of time to discuss our constituents' affairs but no more, and that at some future stage, again as a result of a deal, we shall have a half day for the Third Reading? I want to ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. That is not a point of order. The convenience or the conduct of the usual channels is not a matter for the Chair. The Amendment to be discussed is Amendment No. 53.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must ask if you will be so kind as to answer a question. Am I right in understanding that the position is that any further discussion of the matter will be terminated today when the Report stage is finished, and that the only other opportunity that I shall have to put the point of view of my constituents in the House will be on some halfday yet to be determined?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sorry. I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, but this is not a matter for the Chair. The Chair must proceed with the business until such time as a Motion is accepted by the House which terminates the business.

Amendments made: No. 53, in page 38, line 29, at beginning insert: Subject to any order under section (Power to vary rates, and extend scope, of grants for agricultural investment) of this Act".

No. 54, in line 41, leave out from beginning to end of line 9 on page 39. — [Mr. Pearl.]