§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill deals with many topics but has a single intention. That intention is the reform, in certain important fields, of the structure within which the agricultural industry produces and markets its goods. It is not generally directed to particular problems in the short term. It is, for the most part, a longer-term reforming Measure. In the Bill we look to the 1970s and put forward practical solutions which are based on detailed study. These are necessary reforms, and I believe that the House should welcome them.
These are the broad intentions of the Bill. First, I will deal with the framework of investment. We intend to make changes in the framework within which capital is invested in the industry. When I became Minister, 18 months ago, I gave my particular attention to the grants which the Government make for capital improvement in agriculture. The agricultural industry competes for resources with other parts of the economy. It is essential that those resources should be used to the best advantage. Any scheme or schemes must make sense for the 1970s and not simply be continued because they were useful in the past.
I called for a review of the existing scheme of capital grant for agriculture. There were 11 schemes. That is too many. Many of them had different conditions. That is too complex and makes administration unnecessarily difficult and expensive. In the Bill we are taking power to make one simple scheme which will replace the present somewhat outdated and cumbersome system. We do not intend by this streamlining legislation to change the total level of assistance to the industry for capital investment.
We simply intend that the industry should make the best use of the available money and that there should be savings on paperwork and administration. We must have proper care to protect the public from fraud or waste, but some of the conditions of existing grants were far too grandmotherly. The new approach will be more cost-conscious.
1195 Secondly, there is the framework of production. In the Bill we are implementing our policy for the reorganisation of smallholdings. The last major legislation which dealt with local authority smallholdings was the Agriculture Act of 1947. We need now to help this sector of agriculture to make some changes. In framing our proposals we have had the very great benefit of the reports of the committee chaired by Professor Wise. We believe that smallholdings will play an even more useful part, particularly for new entrants to the farming industry, if they are reorganised to form more viable units. That is why the Bill would require each authority to make a comprehensive review of its smallholdings and to submit to Ministers its plan for reorganisation.
Thirdly, there is the framework of marketing. Here, we propose important changes in the marketing of eggs. I made a background statement on this on 22nd January, as the House will recall. It is well known that there have been great developments in recent years in this sector of the agricultural industry ; we want to see a marketing system which matches the egg industry in its new form. This is not only a question of scale, although it is important that about three-quarters of the laying flock on agricultural holdings is now concentrated on 6 per cent. of those holdings. It is also a question of finding a system which best meets the needs of the consumer. The House will know that we had last year a very full analysis of the egg industry and recommendations on its future pattern from the Reorganisation Commission for Eggs.
We believe that the egg industry is now in a position to take over a greater share of the responsibility for the marketing of its own products. The Bill provides for the egg marketing scheme to be revoked on 31st March, 1971. The British Egg Marketing Board will then be dissolved. Egg marketing, including, if necessary, market support to iron out fluctuations in price, would then be the responsibility of the industry itself. To help the industry through this period the subsidy will not be phased out until three years later. The Government consider that a central authority would still be valuable in the new conditions after the egg marketing scheme is wound up. The 1196 Bill provides for the new authority and I shall speak later about its functions and financing.
Fourthly, we do not forget that within the framework of investment, production and marketing the industry is, in the final analysis, made up of people. The farm-worker has a fine record of increasing productivity. To keep up and to improve these results, he needs to have the advantages of good training and of being fairly treated. I am very glad that we have in the Bill a Clause which will make possible the new method of financing the Agricultural, Horticultural and Forestry Industry Training Board.
We are also taking powers which will give a worker and his family in a tied cottage six months' possession from the time when he ceases employment, unless the farmer can satisfy the court that certain important conditions are met. We went some way to meet the worker's legitimate concern when we passed Section 33 of the Rent Act, 1965. I believe that we are now drawing a fairer balance between the interests of the worker and his family and the interests of the owner or farmer.
I have set out a number of reasons why this is a good Bill. I should like now to tell the House how the Bill carries out these intentions and what else is covered by the Bill.
Part I of the Bill deals with egg marketing, to which I have referred. The Bill amends the Agriculture Act, 1957, to enable the subsidy to be phased out by 30th March, 1974, and eggs to be removed at that date from the guarantee. I would stress that this is a longer transitional period than was recommended by the Reorganisation Commission, but I attach considerable importance to our decision to keep eggs within the guarantee for this longer period. We can thus make sure that the change is a steady and smooth one, and can review its effects with the industry each year till 1974. This is why I decided to amend and extend the recommendations of the Rowland Wright Commission on this point.
The Bill provides for the revocation of the egg marketing scheme on 31st March, 1971, and the replacement of the board by a new Eggs Authority to be appointed by Ministers. I should like to pay tribute 1197 to the approach of the board to the practical and operational problems of the transition to free market conditions. The board's attitude has been influenced throughout by considerations of what is best for the future of the industry as a whole. I very much appreciate this approach.
One special problem which will follow the dissolution of the board will be that the arrangements for the equalisation of transport costs will cease. This will place producers in Northern Ireland and the Orkneys at a disadvantage. What we are doing, therefore, is seeking powers in the Bill to make Government contributions towards the cost of sea transport of eggs from those areas to the mainland of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Anthony Stodart
Could the right hon. Gentleman possibly help us at this early stage? There is a reference to a total figure for the cost of subsidy to Ulster and to Orkney. Could he by any chance discriminate between the two, as to how much each is to get?
§ Mr. Hughes
No. I cannot do that at this stage. These are matters of continuing discussion with the Government of Northern Ireland, and I think I can do no more than refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraph 67 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on the Bill. I cannot, at this stage, be precise on the question the hon. Gentleman raises, but I think it is a question which can be appropriately raised in Committee on the Bill, when we shall be going into that subject in more detail.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Could the Minister, before he leaves this point, explain why producers in remote areas in England will have to be penalised by their competitors in Northern Ireland receiving subsidy from the Exchequer, while they have to suffer from the full harshness of the market?
§ Mr. Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman will have read the recommendations of the Rowland Wright Commission on this point. One would wish, of course, to include many more areas than one is including here, if that were believed to be absolutely necessary. Indeed, there is an island called Anglesey in which I am extremely interested, but the short answer 1198 to the right hon. Gentleman's point is that one has to draw the line somewhere.
In place of the board, the Bill provides for the establishment of the Eggs Authority, which will be available to support the market, if this should be required. It will also be able to undertake research and development, collect market intelligence and submit schemes for quality testing or weight grading of eggs. The Reorganisation Commission recommended that the whole of the authority's expenditure should be financed by levies on the industry. That was the recommendation of the commission Improvements in the marketing of eggs will be in the general interest as well as in the interest of the industry itself. We have, therefore, decided that a Government contribution to the authority would be justified.
We think it right, however, to distinguish between the authority's expediture on market support and advertising from which the industry should derive direct benefit and other expenditure where the benefit derived by the industry may be less immediate. The Bill, therefore. provides power for the Government to contribute to the authority's expenditure other than on market support and advertising. We are thus, in the Bill, going further than my statement of 22nd January last. I am glad that the National Farmers' Union has welcomed this as "a significant improvement ". The remaining expenditure, and the cost of support buying and advertising, will be financed by a levy on the industry, initially by deduction from the egg subsidy payments and eventually by direct collection. The Bill gives the authority full discretion to decide for itself on the most effective and equitable arrangement.
I sum up this part of the Bill as follows. In the egg industry we have a new situation which is fully documented in the report of the Reorganisation Commission. We are here setting up the new marketing structure in two phases. We are bringing the present egg marketing scheme to an end and introducing a basically free marketing system—a system in which consumer demand will be reflected directly back to the producer. It will be for the industry to decide whether to remove short-term fluctuations in the market through support buying. But the machinery will be there with the setting up of the new authority.
1199 Secondly, and at a later date, we shall have completed the phasing out of the subsidy and eggs will cease to be within guarantee. The Bill does not deal with imports because the necessary powers are already available in the Agriculture and Horticulture Act 1964. But the new marketing system will be buttressed by minimum import prices both for eggs and egg products, which are an integral part of the new arrangements. We are pressing on with discussions with overseas suppliers and will introduce minimum import prices in good time.
Part II of the Bill deals with capital and other grants. I have told the House what we intend here. We provide for the making of a single farm capital grant scheme, to be subject to affirmative Resolution. The new scheme will replace the existing farm and hill land improvement schemes, the field drainage and water supply schemes, and the ploughing, orchard grubbing, scrub clearance and investment grants. It will also incorporate the grants for remodelling works presently made under the amalgamations and boundary adjustments scheme.
The conditions for grant will be considerably simplified. That has always been my intention. The number and variety of tests and the amount of supervision will be reduced. In addition, grants will now be made with the needs of the farm business as a whole in mind, instead of just the benefit of the land. I understand that the N.F.U. extends a considerable welcome to this. This will enable us to help farmers who do not have enough land to meet the present requirement that they must grow half the food for a reasonably-sized livestock unit. This is an important advance. There are many small farmers for whom intensification may well be the best policy.
The powers contained in the Bill will also permit a scheme to provide for a ceiling on grants going to any single farming unit, as a safeguard against disproportionately large demands on public funds from a single source. This, again, is an important safeguard.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Can the Minister tell us what a unit is? If an enormous broiler house is registered as a separate private company would it constitute a separate unit? That 1200 is the sort of abuse that we all want to see avoided.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is the kind of abuse to which this provision would apply. This matter is within the discretion of the Minister at any given time. This is a point that we shall require to look at in greater detail in Committee.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
Another abuse occurs in the case of a hill farm improvement scheme, where Government money is expended and within a year the farm is bought up and entirely planted with trees, so that all the expenditure is lost.
§ Mr. Hughes
I know the kind of case that the hon. Member has in mind. This is something that we can look at carefully.
We expect to maintain the present rates of grant for field drainage, for the broad range of works now carried out under the farm and hill land improvement schemes and for remodelling works under the amalgamation scheme. The grants for this wide range of works will now all be on a continuing basis. At the same time, there will be some other adjustments of grant rates. In particular. we have concluded that we should end the 10 per cent. investment grant on tractors and self-propelled harvesters. This is a small grant with limited effect, since this equipment is normally acquired as a necessary part of the business.
The grant has also proved to be both complex and expensive to administer. We think that the funds would be better used to extend the scope of grants under the new scheme. For example, we hope to extend grant to a number of movable items which do the same job as items already aided under the existing farm improvement scheme. We do not want to restrict grant to a fixed machine if a movable machine would be more efficient.
We do not propose to alter the total level of grant funds. But we do want to use them more productively and to have a simpler scheme to deal with them. This is the object of this part of the Bill. We shall be reviewing the scheme from time to time to ensure that these objectives are achieved.
In this part of the Bill we also provide the finance necessary to continue 1201 the horticulture improvement scheme. We are raising the upper limit on expenditure. This will be welcomed by the horticultural industry. The 1964 Act provided £24 million which could be increased to £27 million. The Bill provides £42 million which may be increased to £47 million—a very substantial increase. This increase is some measure of the response to the new improvement scheme introduced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in 1966. The conditions in this scheme will also be simplified. We have deliberately kept the scheme separate from the other capital grants in recognition of the part it has to play in our separate and distinct policy towards horticulture.
We are also making important changes in the measures which we introduced in the Agriculture Act, 1967, to improve farm structure by encouraging the voluntary amalgamation of farms. We shall now be able to approve a wider range of amalgamations, including those which involve land subject to a settlement or trust. We intend to reduce from 40 to 15 years the period for which land amalgamated with grant aid must be kept together in agricultural use.
We have been carefully looking at the way in which this scheme is working. In my visits to various parts of the country I have been investigating the working of the scheme and I have come to the conclusion that this reduction is necessary if we are to make better progress with amalgamations. Our grants for amalgamations were a pioneering step which will almost certainly become of much greater importance in the next decade. The changes which we are now making will make the schemes more attractive. I believe that they will be widely welcomed.
Part III of the Bill deals with smallholdings. It is a real tribute to the Wise Committee that its principal recommendations have been recognised as the right solution and are now included in the Bill.
Many local authorities are already reviewing their smallholdings. The Bill requires them to do so and to submit a plan of reorganisation to Ministers for approval. Smallholdings authorities will. of course, be able to look for financial assistance—as can other landowners—to the farm structure and farm capital grants 1202 which I have already mentioned. But during the first five years these authorities will be facing a big task of reorganisation.
We are, therefore, proposing supplementary amalgamation grants for certain smallholdings and a preferential rate of grant for improvements. The cumbersome system of annual contributions towards authorities' losses will be brought to an end.
We have also had in mind the need for a clearer and more effective division of responsibility between central and local government. We have tried, therefore, to give authorities who are responsible for running smallholdings a greater degree of autonomy in the day-to-day administration of their holdings. The close relationship between smallholdings policy and national farm policy does make it necessary for me to be able to exercise some supervision over authorities' reorganisation plans, and I will also retain my general reserve powers. But more detailed controls, though no doubt appropriate at the time of the 1947 Act, no longer play a useful part and do not appear in the Bill.
I am sure that the Bill will help smallholdings authorities to provide opportunities more in keeping with what is needed for new entrants wanting to farm independently. We want to be able to be sure that there will be viable holdings which will afford them the prospect of a good living.
I come to Part IV of the Bill, which deals with sales of fertilisers and animal feedingstuffs—a section of considerable interest to some hon. Members. Broadly, this is a measure of consumer protection. We are bringing the law up to date and, if enacted, this will replace the Fertilisers and Feedingstuffs Act 1926. We aim to protect users of fertilisers and feeding-stuffs by ensuring, first, that they are given accurate information to enable them to judge the value of the goods which they are buying and, secondly, that the feedingstuffs are wholesome and free from harmful ingredients.
Since the 1926 Act was passed, the pattern of trade has moved from mainly local production to bulk manufacture of products which are nationally distributed. Materials are far more complex and far more sophisticated than in 1926. 1203 Farming practice itself has changed. It has been possible to keep pace with many of these developments by means of regulations made under the 1926 Act. But in several respects the basic provisions of the 1926 Act are now outmoded. We seek in Part IV to remedy this situation. At the same time, it will bring the legislation into line with the Trade Descriptions Act and other consumer protection legislation.
The scope of the legislation has been widened to cover all types of fertiliser and feeding stuff used in modern farming, and to amplify the information given to purchasers. Enforcement procedures have been made simpler and more effective. In particular, we introduce a "bypassing" procedure to enable offences to be passed back to the persons concerned—in my view, a very important provision.
All these and many other detailed changes have been thoroughly discussed with the various interests concerned. There is a very wide measure of agreement. Again, the National Farmers' Union have extended a welcome to this section. I believe that this will be a very well worthwhile addition to the work of consumer protection carried out by the present Government.
The object of Parts V and VI of the Bill is to provide the necessary powers to pay grants to river authorities in England and Wales and to local authorities in Scotland—where there are no river authorities—to encourage the extension of flood warning systems to all vulnerable communities and industries. Many river authorities in England and Wales already operate such systems but the severe floods of last summer and autumn revealed inadequacies.
We gave thought to the need for and the method of improving the system. Effective and timely warning of floods can go a long way towards safeguarding life and property. It is right that the Government in these cases should make their contribution. My right hon. Friend and I propose to provide grants in respect of flood warning systems approved and installed from the beginning of this year. Again, this provision will be welcome.
I know that the House has always had an affection for Agriculture (Miscellane- 1204 ous Provisions) Bills. I have not been able to indulge this fancy in the Title of this Bill. The draftsman has, however, included a part entitled "Miscellaneous Provisions ". This includes the important Clauses on tied cottages and the financing of the Training Board. These are matters in which I know the House is extremely interested.
Clause 98 deals with agricultural tied cottages. In 1965, we included measures in the Rent Act which gave occupiers of tied cottages a considerable measure of protection from eviction. We promised to review these measures and we have done so. We believe that the 1965 Act has worked well in preventing evictions. But a Labour Government must care—I believe that any Government should care—about the farmworker's anxiety and fear of immediate eviction if he should lose his job. We are, therefore, proposing to strengthen Section 33 of the Rent Act 1965, so that an occupier of an agricultural tied cottage will have the assurance that, if necessary, he can remain in his cottage for at least six months after his job has ended and if he should die, his widow will have the same assurance.
The assurance is subject to what we believe to be a proper safeguard for the farmer. If it is not reasonably practicable for him to carry on his business without the cottage, the farmer can apply for earlier possession. But he has to prove his case to the court—this is right —and, if he claims possession on false grounds, the court may subsequently order him to pay compensation to the former occupier.
Clause 100 gives effect to the new proposals for financing the Agricultural, Horticultural and Forestry Industry Training Board. The House will know that the intention is that the costs of the board, in regard to its work in agriculture, should be taken into account in the annual Farm Price Review.
My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State is in consultation with forestry and other interests about the financing of the board's work for forestry and other activities outside agriculture. Throughout all the controversy which has surrounded this board over the last 12 to 18 months, no responsible organisation has denied the importance of developing training in the agricultural and forestry 1205 industries. I believe it to be essential. I very much hope that, as these new arrangements are implemented, there will be a new spirit abroad and the board will be able to go ahead with its job in cooperation with the industries which it exists to serve.
Finally, Clause 101 stems from two recommendations in the first Report of the Northumberland Committee on Footand-Mouth Disease. It gives explicit power to make the import of meat and meat products from all sources subject to revocable conditional licences. We also take powers which we should need if we were to put into effect contingency plans for ring vaccination, which we have already discussed. It does not, of course, follow that ring vaccination would be undertaken in any outbreak. That decision would have to be taken at the time.
I confidently commend the Bill to the House as a Measure which makes important improvements in the framework within which the agricultural industry will invest, produce and market its goods in the 1970s and beyond. I believe this to be a good Bill. It is a long Bill, and it will provide us with a good deal of work, but it is important to the industry and I hope that it will command general support.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
The Minister introduced his Bill in a most agreeable way and we are grateful to him for his explanation of its provisions, which will be of great help to the House.
I fear that that is about the only agreeable thing which I shall be able to say to him this afternoon, and that before I sit down I may have to say one or two severe things to him. But he will know that they are not meant in any personal sense and that they are more out of sorrow rather than in anger.
May I, first, say a word about an issue of which we read in this morning's Press —the information about farmworkers' pay, which, I think, is generally welcomed on both sides of the House. We are all pleased to see some advance in the position of farmworkers in that respect. The trouble is that when they get pay awards, so often others seem to get bigger awards, and so the disparity between farmworkers and workers in other industries widens 1206 rather than narrows. That is a serious problem for agriculture.
I recall the present Leader of the House, in the last heady days of Labour opposition, before he became a Minister, talking about the income of both farmers and farmworkers moving rapidly towards the incomes of their industrial equivalents. But the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) knows only too well that exactly the reverse has happened. I hope that on this occasion these people, who do such good work on our farms, will not have their increase eroded as a result of what happens elsewhere.
We must consider the Bill against the background of the Queen's Speech. That is a very appropriate way in which to look at it, because it is one of the first Bills of the Session and we may therefore take it that the Government attach maximum importance to it. If that is so, heaven help the country, because it is not exactly an inspiring Bill.
Try as he would, the Minister was unable to make it inspiring to the House. The Gracious Speech told us :
My Government will continue to encourage the selective expansion of home agriculture",and immediately went on :
Legislation will be introduced to implement the Government's proposals on the marketing of eggs ; to rationalise the grants payable to assist fixed capital investment in agriculture ; to reorganise smallholdings ; and to modernise the law relating to sales of fertilisers and feedingstuffs.Where does this Measure fit into all that? How will it
…encourage the selective expansion of home agriculture."?I completely fail to see how it will achieve that end. The real truth, of course, is that the Bill contains 108 rather weary Clauses which have nothing whatever to do with expansion, selective or otherwise.
I wondered how to describe the Bill. It is not worth describing as a monstrosity. It is too insignificant for that. I suggest that it is a pettifogging irrelevance to the needs of agriculture today. I am sorry to have to tell the Minister that, but that is how it strikes me.
When speaking to a branch meeting of the N.F.U. on 22nd October, the right hon. Gentleman—I have his Press handout with me—made some interesting comments about expansion ; and as I have tried to put the Bill in that context it 1207 might help if I were to remind the House of some of the remarks he made. He said :
…farmers and growers need to consider very carefully their management and investment decisions. In order that they get these decisions right, it is essential that they know the broad objectives of Government policy for the next few years. This is a need which never seemed to have been recognised in the 1950s and early 1960s when support policy appears to have been guided entirely by short-term considerations. This is what I call the yo-yo approach '.As far as 1 can see, the right hon. Gentleman's yo-yo has run down and is at the bottom all the time. The purpose of a yo-yo is to go up and down. The Minister has got his yo-yo at the bottom and has not found a way of getting it up again.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that we abolished standard quantities, a measure which hon. Gentlemen opposite introduced, despite the fact that standard quantities placed a considerable restriction on production?
§ Mr. Godber
The right hon. Gentleman is doing his best, but he will have to do a great deal better before I am finished with him.
I was talking about the right hon. Gentleman's yo-yo approach to these matters. One can see from his White Paper how his yo-yo hangs at the bottom of its string and says there. The position of the farmer is the same as the right hon. Gentleman's yo-yo. Everything is at the bottom and the right hon. Gentleman does not know what to do to put matters right. Farmers' income and the purchasing power of that income is lower than it has been for many years, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that as well as I do.
It is difficult to know how to approach the Bill, for it does not seem to give any incentive or encouragement. It was during that speech to the N.F.U. on 22nd October that the right hon. Gentleman also said:
… I have set out the guidelines"—he was referring to the selective expansion programme
and your Union has welcomed them".That was a wonderful piece of effrontery on the part of the Minister. The union 1208 did not welcome those guidelines after the Price Review in March, when the right hon. Gentleman was supposed to be implementing them. The N.F.U. told him what it thought about the whole thing. I recall a leading farming journal describing the Price Review and saying that there had never been such a rejection of an established policy by any Minister since the 1920s.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that we allocated £37 million to the three main commodities for expansion.
§ Mr. Godber
I am aware of all these things. I contained myself while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking and I trust that he will do the same during my remarks. He must sit back and take it, for there is a lot more to come.
The right hon. Gentleman did certain things, but he knows that when one reads the small print—one must always do that with Ministerial announcements nowadays—of the Price Review White Paper one sees that the additional resources provided by the Government are not as great because they have mostly come from the market, the cost of deficiency payments having gone down. I will later give the right hon. Gentleman an exact quotation from the White Paper to enforce this point.
One agricultural journal has described the Bill as…a sort of ragbag of legislative bits and pieces which the Ministry of Agriculture has been accumulating in its attics over recent months. Of concrete, constructive new policy-making for agriculture there is nothing, here or on any horizon.That is one view of the Bill, and it is not even my view.
This is not a particularly good background against which to discuss the Measure, but discuss it we must. The Minister took us through various aspects of the Bill. Part I, which deals with eggs, received considerable attention from the right hon. Gentleman and in Committee we will wish to consider the matter with care, having digested his remarks. We shall probably wish to probe a number of issues in connection with Part I very deeply.
After repeatedly taunting my hon. Friends and me with wanting to run away from the guarantees of the 1947 1209 and 1957 Acts, the Government have specifically taken one commodity out of them without giving any warning to the industry. This is an essential consideration in discussing Part I of the Bill. Whatever the Government may say about our policies, they can never say that we did not tell the industry precisely what we proposed to do. On 17th March, 1966, the then Minister—remember this was just before the last General Election—said :
Labour firmly believe that the best form of support for agriculture in this country is one founded on the principles of the 1947 Act ".In its manifesto the Labour Party was even more explicit, and I will quote the words used if hon. Gentlemen opposite want me to do so.
When all is said and done, it must be admitted that hon. Gentlemen opposite had no mandate to remove eggs from the guarantees. It therefore does not lie with them to accuse us on matters of this kind. However, having decided—I acknowledge that the Government had the report of the Reorganisation Commission—to make this change, something similar to what they are proposing was inevitable. If they were to get rid of the Egg Marketing Board, something had to be put in its place. We will, therefore, in Committee, want to know a lot more about the powers of the new authority and about the way in which it will run its affairs.
There are two basic points that must be raised when considering the question of eggs. Once the Government decided to abandon the guarantees, one must question them about the minimum import price. I was glad of what the Minister said on this score because he and I are in agreement about it. We are agreed that the minimum import price must cover shell eggs and egg products.
The second important question concerns the issue of support. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has not given an assurance of help. He said that the Government would contribute to certain aspects of the new authority, and estimates are given in the Financial Memorandum, which says :
It is thought probable that a Government contribution of the order of between £100,000 and £200,000 will be required in the first full year of the Authority's operation ".The other figures mentioned refer to administrative costs—that is, the costs of 1210 administering something which the Government would have had to administer anyway—which means that we are not considering in this context the provision of cash.
The £100,000 to £200,000 must be compared with the figure given in paragraph 66 of the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill which refers to the current year's payments being estimated at £14 million. That is the degree of support which the egg industry is having taken from it. Support to which it was entitled. An additional figure of £300,000 for the Orkneys and Northern Ireland is mentioned, but when one considers the total figures—of between £100,000 and £200,000 as well as that of £300,000—one sees that they are insignificant compared with what producers have been getting.
Just before coming into the Chamber I received a letter from the N.F.U. 1 assume that the Minister also received a copy, although he has not referred to it. The letter bears today's date, and reads :
Dear Mr. Godber,
I have today sent the following message to Mr. Cledwyn Hughes, Minister of Agriculture :' Having considered Part I of the Agriculture Bill at its meeting this morning the N.F.U. Poultry Committee unanimously concluded that subject to the Government agreeing to contribute an adequate and reasonable share of the proposed Egg Authority's total costs including market support, the N.F.U. would welcome in principle the establishment of the Authority which could be of service to the industry.Yours sincerely,B. A. Cook,Chairman, Headquarters Poultry Committee.'That is the N.F.U.'s real attitude to Part I. It would welcome the authority, with an undertaking in relation to minimum import prices provided that the Government agreed to contribute an adequate and reasonable share of the proposed Egg Authority's total costs, including market support. But that is just what the Minister has told us he is not willing to provide. The House should be aware of that. There should be no equivocation about it.
I have said on many occasions on behalf of my party that we would be quite prepared, if producers wished it, to consider with them, when we return to office, 1211 the provision of support buying and participation with them in its cost. We have always said that. We would have to consider the conditions, but this is the position we have always taken up. The Government are failing in their duty in not so providing. They are getting out of a liability which, on their own estimate, at present costs the Exchequer £14 million, but they are not willing to provide any part of the support buying costs. This is unreasonable, and we shall press them in Committee.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that his party, if returned to office, would make a contribution to support buying. He has spoken of the kind of financial assistance we propose in the Bill. Will he tell the House how much his party would contribute to support buying in the unlikely event of its assuming power?
§ Mr. Godber
It is a very interesting question. I have made it perfectly clear we are willing to participate in the cost. I said that we would discuss it with the N.F.U. If the right hon. Gentleman tries to belittle what we are offering, I suggest that he gives exactly the same undertaking as I have, and says now that he is willing to participate in the cost. Let him talk with the producers about it. But, on the basis of his own policy, he is in a very poor position to belittle what we do.
As I say, we shall press him on this subject very much further in Committee. remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is his policies that are affecting the farmers now, and his policies in the Bill that must be justified. That is the big failure in this part of the Bill. I will not deal with the many detailed points, as there are quite a number of larger issues to which I want to refer.
The Minister tells us that in Part I he is seeking to tidy up the whole arrangement about investment grant. I am not against any tidying up, but one of the things he has told us in that connection did not increase my confidence. He has said that he intended to remove, as I understood him, investment grants on tractors and combine harvesters. When we were in office, we did not have investment grants for tractors and combine harvesters, it is quite true, but we did 1212 have investment allowances which were much easier to administer and which were much better liked by the farming community.
Both agriculture and industry regarded it as a nonsense when the Government removed the investment allowances and substituted investment grants. We were told at the time by the Prime Minister and others that it would be an advantage. Now we see what sort of an advantage this is. The investment allowances for these two important items of equipment having first been turned into investment grants, are now to be abolished altogether. If they had been left as allowances, I doubt very much whether they would have been abolished. We shall certainly want to look at this matter when we are returned to office. It does not give us much confidence in Part II when the first announcement under it is the taking away of important grants.
Clause 29 is very bad from many points of view. It is very bad because it is so general in its nature that it gives the House no indication of what is in the Government's mind as to the extent of any capital grants. The Minister talked of tidying things up, but a Clause drafted in such terms is an affront to Parliament because all it does is to put control into the hands, to quote the Clause, of "the appropriate authority ". It is as wide as that.
The Clause starts:
The appropriate authority may with the approval of the Treasury …and that is the real authority. It is the Treasury that will determine these capital grants. It is quite true that in the past the Treasury has had a very important hand in these matters, but when Parliament passes Acts stating specific things that have to be done, the Treasury has to find the money—even though it may, of course, try to find the cheapest way of doing so. With a Clause like this, no Minister can say to the Treasury, "Parliament is forcing me to provide money for this purpose and you, the Treasury, must find the money for me ". There is nothing to say that some grant must be made.
This wording weakens the position of any Minister of Agriculture and of any Secretary of State for Scotland in their relations with the Treasury—and Ministers know that they cannot afford to have 1213 their relationship with the Treasury weakened. It is a bad Clause from that point of view. It is also bad from the point of view of Parliament, because hon. Members have no means of saying what type of grant they want. We shall be confronted later with an Order—though I am glad to see that it will be under the affirmative Resolution procedure—but we shall have no means at all of amending it.
Clause 32 is an admission, if ever there was one, of the bad drafting of a previous Measure. It is a horrible conglomeration of things that ought to have been put right in the 1967 Bill. We certainly tried hard then to help the Government put it right.
I was very glad to hear the Minister tell us that in Clause 33 they are seeking to revise from 40 years to 15 years the amalgamation period. I do not blame this Minister, but I do blame his Parliamentary Secretaries—and, of course, the Secretary of State for Scotland must be included, too. They must be blamed because when the former Bill was introduced it had in it the words "sixty years ". We criticised that length of time, and when the Bill was reintroduced after the 1966 Election it contained the words "forty years ". In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) moved an Amendment to reduce the term to 20 years. It was rejected.
So, again and again, we proffered advice that the suggested period of years was nonsensical if that Part of the Measure was to work. Now the Minister tells us that he realises that we were right. How much time would be saved, and how much better would the farmers be served, if only the Government would listen to us more. We welcome the revision. We are always glad to assist the Government with their Bills, and if only they would pay more attention to what we say we could save time for all, and pain and worry for our farmers.
We shall have criticisms to make of Clause 29. I still think that the Minister has done a disservice to agriculture in allowing the Clause to come forward in this form. He has done a disservice to agriculture in agreeing to take out the investment grants for tractors and combines, though he has made some small 1214 amends in connection with the points to which I have just referred.
I do not propose to spend long on Part III of the Bill. We shall study it more fully in Committee. It is based on the report of the Wise Committee and it contains a good deal that is useful. My impression, having read Part III, does not tie in with what the Minister said in his speech. He told us that it would reduce the degree of Government control and he took some credit for this. But my impression is that, instead of reducing the degree of Government control, these provisions will increase it.
I would call attention to Clause 39, which says:
Every smallholdings authority who immediately before the commencement of this Part of this Act hold any land for the purposes of smallholdings shall review the authority's smallholdings estate …and later it says :
For the purposes of this section each smallholdings authority shall in particular consider to what extent (if any), …and the provision goes on to specify various changes. Those provisions do not contain anything to give back very much power to the local authorities. They are being told that they must submit proposals to Ministers and that arrangements must conform with the national pattern.
My knowledge of smallholdings goes back many years—I served on a county smallholdings committee long before I came to the House—and I know that there are immense variations in different parts of the country. In some counties the sort of matters which are proposed in this part of the Bill will be good and will be welcomed, but in other pants of the country—and my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) has strong views on this matter —there is a continuing demand for small smallholdings, as well as for part-time smallholdings.
I hope the Minister—and also the Secretary of State when he replies—will be able to assure the House that his Ministry will have special local requirements in mind and will not compel people to conform precisely to the general provisions and proposals of the Wise Report.
It is a great pity that the Government are not giving greater power to local 1215 authorities, when the country hears so much from the Government about proposals for local government reorganisation, the Redcliffe-Maud Report and the need to make local government effective. Although, on the one hand, the involvement of central government is very small —it can be seen from the financial memorandum that that involvement is of a limited nature—the Government then appear to be saying that they must keep a tight control. This is a wrong attitude if we are to encourage local government development. Again we shall return to this matter in Committee.
I come to Part IV of the Bill, which deals with fertilisers and feedingstuffs. I welcome the provisions in general and I am sure that they will be welcome to the farming community, but there is some bad drafting in these provisions. It would appear that no statutory statement is required about any fertiliser or feeding-stuff. In the definition Clause one sees that a "statutory statement "
has the meaning assigned by section 67(1) of this Act.But that section refers to a statutory instrument
in such form, if any, as may be prescribed …It does not even say how it will be prescribed, or by whom, nor does it say that it must be prescribed by Order.
It is extraordinary that on this important part of the Bill we are not even told that any information will be given about the form of the Statutory Instrument. I would ask the Minister to look at this point. Certainly, if it were an affirmative Order it could be debated by the House to see that it contains the right requirements. I do not blame the Government about their intentions, but the point as a matter of drafting needs examining.
The main clauses in Part IV are Clauses 74 and 75. One important point to which we shall want to refer is the right to have samples taken and analysed after the fertiliser or feedingstuff has been delivered to the farmer. This point must be looked at with caution. The development of bulk delivery means that once material has been delivered in bulk, there is no check or help of any kind given to the farm. If it is delivered from a bulk 1216 container there is no means of proving from where the material originated or that the bulk holder was empty before delivery. The powers which are taken here could cause difficulty unless there is some limitation.
I should like to deal with the remaining parts of the Bill. I welcome the provisions about flood warnings. The Minister also attached some importance to the provisions on the tied cottage but, having read the Clause, I cannot see that it changes the situation very much. The Agricultural Workers Union is not enthusiastic about it. This matter has long been a bone of contention. The A.W.U. has been over-sensitive and they have strong feelings about this matter.
However, if a farmer—this applies particularly to a livestock farmer—is to run his farm properly, he must have workers on the home ground. I am all for adequate safeguards and, if it is felt that this is an improvement, well and good. But this appears to have been put in as a sop to cover up the fact that the Government are not carrying out the promises they made to the Agricultural Workers Union in the past.
I turn to Clause 100, which deals with the position of the training boards. This has been an unhappy story. I do not blame the Minister, but this has been a matter which has caused a great deal of damage in the industry because of the bitterness of feeling aroused. I was the author of the Industrial Training Act and I feel in a special position to speak upon this provision. When I introduced the Act in late 1963, I laid particular stress on my view that it was permissive in nature and should not be used automatically right across the industry.
I was concerned to get effective training in industries where there were large groupings of labour and where training could be carried out by the means which were proposed in the Act. But when the Act began to be applied to industries which are widely fragmented and where the labour force is in small groups, it was found that the cost of organising under the Act, particularly with regard to the levy system of collection, was expensive.
The Government as a whole bear responsibility for pressing the provisions of the Act into purposes for which they 1217 were not designed. This has led to the troubles of the Agricultural Training Board and in due course may lead to trouble in some other fragmented industries. It is a pity that this is happening, but it is no good going back over what has happened in the past. One must deal with the situation which has arisen. In today's circumstances it may be that the existing board, with the methods which are proposed for collection of funds, will provide the best solution. But if it does not work satisfactorily, it eventually will mean going back to reliance on the farm institutes, the county colleges and other bodies to carry out training in agriculture.
I agree with the stress laid by the Minister on the importance of training. But the question is : what is the best way to organise it. Mistakes have been made, and this is an attempt to put it right. I hope that it will succeed, but I am doubtful about it in some respects. We shall certainly not oppose what is proposed in this Section, but we shall want to watch how things go.
The very fact of changing in this way will take away one of the disciplines which was intended in the Industrial Training Act, which proposed a tripartite system between employers, workers and educationists. This was a general provision for each board, but we said that only employers' and workers' representatives should vote on the levy, and the levy is the point at issue here. Where only two groups vote on the levy, if there appears to be waste, the employers would, quite properly, vote against the levy and there would be deadlock. It would then be for the Minister of Labour, as he then was, and for the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity now, to determine which was right. That was a very important discipline on the waste of funds, and was intended as such.
Now, the responsibility is put elsewhere and the Minister and the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity will be responsible for seeing that money is not wasted. Otherwise, it would be easy for an organisation which is preempting for its requirements to have no incentive to avoid waste. So much for the provisions of the Bill.
I come now briefly to talk about what should in my view have been in the 1218 Bill, bearing in mind, as I said in opening my remarks, the context of the Bill in the Queen's Speech :
My Government will continue to encourage the selective expansion of home agriculture.First, there should have been positive proposals for the eradication of brucellosis. The Minister must move further on this before long. As a minimum, he should have imposed a restriction that once a reactor with brucellosis has been declared, that reactor should have its ear punched to distinguish it, and should not then be sold through an auction except for slaughter. As such animals go to slaughter at roughly their market prices, this does not impose a great strain on farmers. Most reactors are pushed back into the market and reinfect other herds. I would hope after that before long to go to a system of area eradication, which the Minister said yesterday he had been considering. I know that this is expensive, in that one has to start with some degree of compensation, but the degree of compensation would be much less for the simple reason that on slaughter there would be little wastage and the animals could be used. My first proposal would cost practically nothing, except for administration. The second proposal would cost more, but the Minister must come to it before long and I would have preferred to see it in the Bill.
The second point which should have been covered in the Bill is the problem, which is worrying farmers more and more, of how to get over the difficulties of the cumulative effect of estate duty and capital gains tax which this Government have aggravated. When the scheme for amalgamations was brought in, I told the then Minister that, while we were not opposed to it, we were opposed to a Government which, on the one hand recommended amalgamation and. on the other, pursued fiscal and monetary policies which would force fragmentation on the death or retirement of farmers. The combined effect of estate duty and capital gains tax is one of the biggest worries of the average-sized farmers. This does not apply just to the rich ; the rise in the value of the land means that it is an acute problem, and it will have to be tackled before long.
The third point which should have been in the Bill concerns rating. We 1219 are told that the Secretary of State for Scotland is to bring in a Bill about the rating of agricultural property. I do not say that I welcome that Bill ; I am not sure that I approve the principle of it ; but at least it will prevent the continued unfairness as between farmer and farmer. I would prefer to go back to the position which was always intended under the 1929 Act, that agriculture should be generally derated.
The Minister must face up to the question in relation to England and Wales. It is not enough merely to say that we must wait until new arrangements for local government come into force as a result of consideration of the RedcliffeMaud Report. This will mean more confusion and unfairness between farmer and farmer. At the very least, the Government should do what has been suggested by the N.F.U. and call a halt to any further changes until the new legislation on Redcliffe-Maud is brought in. If the Minister is using that Report as a reason for not acting, he should at least halt the position where it is.
The really important issue which should be in the Bill is a change in basic policy, and here I challenge the Minister on policy matters. Whatever he or his colleagues may say, it is impossible for him to make a success even of his own modest selective expansion programme. If he cannot find the funds in that way, he must find another way of doing it. We are told again and again that he will succeed, but we see in his Press release of 31st October reports of the September census which show that where there are increases they are nothing like up to the requirements of the selective expansion programme.
We see that the total breeding herd of cattle is up by 2.1 per cent., the dairy herd showing an increase of 1.7 per cent., the beef herd 4 per cent. The significant figure is the number of dairy-type heifers in calf and the number of beef-type heifers, because they are the only ones which reflect a change in farmers' policy since the last price review. The Minister reminded me of the commodities into which he had injected most, and beef was one. If that had had effect, the number of beef-type heifers should be up sharply and the total number of heifers should be up, but the number of dairy- 1220 type heifers has fallen over the year by 40,000, the number of beef-type heifers has risen by 9,000, so there is a fall in the number of heifers in calf for the first time of 31,000 over the year, and this does not achieve his expansion.
The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the sheep-breeding flock is down, and so is the number of lambs. There is a slight rise in pigs, and within the breeding herd the number of gilts in pig showed the normal seasonal average. The poultry flock is down and turkeys are down. There is one increase which he can chalk up ; the number of ducks has increased by 6,000. If that is the Ministers selective expansion, it does not get us very far.
I must challenge the Minister on an Answer which he gave yesterday and which has a direct bearing on what I am saying. Every time I talk about our new policy, he says that the cost to the consumer is much too high. Only yesterday when I put this point to him in the House he said this:
…none of us was ever satisfied with the figures produced by the Opposition on the cost of Conservative Party policy, which we know would put the price of food up without our entering the Common Market."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1969 ; Vol. 790, c. 991.]I tried to ask another question, but Mr. Speaker felt that he must move on so that I did not get the opportunity to do so. This has given me the opportunity to look up his precise answer on this point :Mr. LEADBITTER asked the Minister at Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the increase in the price of food on the basis that the cost of agricultural support is passed to the consumer.Mr. CLEDWYN HUGHES: It is not possible to give a precise estimate because many variable factors are involved ; but to raise market prices to the levels of the current guarantees to the agricultural industry would result in an increase of some 4 to 7 per cent. in the cost of food. If the cost of production grants were also transferred to the consumer, food prices would, of course, rise further."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1968 ; Vol. 767, c. 75.]The Minister knows as well as I do that we have never talked of transferring the cost of production grants ; we have been concerned precisely with deficiency payments. The estimate which we made was 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. The estimate which the right hon. Gentleman's 1221 experts produced was 4 per cent. to 7 per cent. In a speech made since then he tried to qualify that, but those are the figures produced by his experts and they cover exactly the range which we stated. His answer yesterday was misleading to put it at its lowest and there is no wonder that I tried to intervene to correct him. No doubt he wishes to say that he is sorry that he misled the House on this point. He does not rise to do so—
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman must realise that there is a difference between 6 per cent. and 7 per cent.
§ Mr. Godber
Is that the Minister's considered answer? Then I will also tell him that there is a difference between 4 per cent. and 5 per cent. His figures go from 4 per cent. to 7 per cent. Mine go from 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. If he likes to take any credit for that intervention, he is welcome to all he can get. How pathetic can we get!
The point is clear, and the Minister has endorsed our figures. The complaint which I make against him, and against the Prime Minister, too, is that they are continually trying to distort this issue in the minds not only of hon. Members but also of the general public. On the very day before the Minister said that in the House, the Prime Minister was explaining the position about our application to join the European Community.
I have here two Press cuttings from yesterday. The Prime Minister talked about higher food prices in the Community. He said:
Of course the present form of the common agricultural programme of the Common Market means higher prices and levies on imports of cheaper food, but this is a matter for negotiation.He did not tell the public what I have tried to bring out many times, as I did in the supplementary question yesterday —that the cost of going into the Common Market would be at least three times the cost of the change-over which we would make if we changed the agricultural policy.
My purpose in bringing that out is to show to the House and the country once more that the cost of going over to our policy is not unreasonable and that it is certainly not prodigious, the word which the Prime Minister used in the House in 1222 July—and that this has been a matter of misrepresentation again and again by the Government. In the House earlier this week the Chancellor of the Exchequer waxed indignant about charges of misrepresentation. I thought that he was effectively answered the next day by Lord Cromer, in another place. But there has certainly been misrepresentation about our position in agricultural policy, and now that I have reminded the House and the Minister of the figures provided by his own Department, I hope that he will be more careful about it in future.
I have established that the cost would not be unreasonable. When I make a comparison with the effect of devaluation on the cost of living and the cost of food, may I remind the House that the latest figure which is available—mid-September —shows that in the 21 months since devaluation the price of food has risen by 9.33 per cent. That is the increase over the figure immediately before devaluation.
In discussing our policy we are talking about a rise of under 2 per cent. a year each year for three years, so that the total effect of devaluation has been far greater than would be the total effect of changing to our policy. If the Minister wants expansion he ought to have been willing to adopt a system which will enable expansion to take place without the limiting hand of the Treasury being there to prevent it. This is the message which we give to the Government—that if they believe in expansion, let them stop talking so glibly about it and do something effective about it. My contention is that agriculture could help the balance of payments far more than it is helping today.
I believe that the Minister wants that, too. But in my view he has failed to get the cash for it from the Treasury because the present system will not allow it. I know the difficulties. I, too, have been involved in Price Reviews. But he cannot sustain the argument that the cost of the change-over would be too high, for the figures which I have given refute that argument. He therefore ought to have introduced by the Bill a change to that system if he believes that expansion is right. He has failed to do so. We have instead this unhappy and somewhat weary-looking pile of insignificance. We shall not oppose it. It is not worth opposing. We do not object to many of 1223 the things in it. We say that it is no attempt to meet the needs of agriculture today, and that is what we regret.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies (Conway)
I am disappointed that what was promised to be a massive indictment by the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) turned out to be quite inadequate to the claim made for it at the beginning. Very often he dealt with such trifling details as points of wording and drafting in the Bill. It was very disappointing.
I see a great deal to welcome in the Bill. One point in particular to which I would draw attention, and which has not received much publicity, is that which deals with flood warning systems in England and Wales. I make no apology for emphasising it because it is very relevant to my constituency. Indeed, throughout the country it affects a great many of our citizens, and I am glad that this problem is being given the attention which it deserves. In the late summer of last year we had widespread flooding, and it is right that we should do everything possible to relieve this distress. I understand that in December last year the Minister convened a conference and reviewed the operation of the flood warning systems. One of the main recommendations of that conference was that river authorities should be pressed to extend the coverage of all flood warning systems to all vulnerable areas. That is common sense, but, clearly, it costs money and it may be difficult to do.
I will give an example. In the Conway Valley we have one of the worst areas in Wales for flooding. There is not a farmer in the lower Conway Valley who does not carry with him a timetable of high tides. He knows when the danger times are likely to occur and he can then prepare to remove his livestock. But the watershed of the Conway is widespread, and if there is very heavy rain in remote parts of the area floods can arise unexpectedly. Farmers are often caught out. I am pleased that in that area there has been great co-operation between the N.F.U., the police and the Gwynedd River Authority, and excellent warning procedures have already been devised. They have not yet been put to the test because we have not yet had need of them, but 1224 I am delighted that this Bill will strengthen the efforts being made to protect farmers from losses to livestock through flooding.
I particularly welcome the way in which the Bill will simplify capital and other grants. This should save farmers from a great deal of time spent in making applications, which is a complex problem in their lives. I was talking on the telephone yesterday to the secretary of the N.F.U. in my constituency, and I asked him to list the forms which a farmer has to complete for various grants. I wanted to make some notes of these, and it took him over 10 minutes, speaking very quickly, to run through the various forms which at different times of the year had to be completed in order to make application for grants and subsidies. I therefore welcome any steps taken towards simplification. The Bill takes a formidable step, and there is much more which can be done. I had a distressing case recently of a farmer who had failed in complete in time an application form for a grant. As a result he stood to lose a lot of money. It is true that in the end that case was sorted out, but the pressure on the farmers is considerable and any move in this direction is most useful.
I confess that there are aspects of the Measure with which I am disappointed. They fall into the category of omission rather than of the positive content of the Bill. I do not want to go into detail, but provision has been made for egg producers in Ulster and the Orkneys to have their transportation costs paid. We have not been given the detailed costing of this exercise, and at this stage it is to some extent based on surmise, but I suggest that the transportation costs of producers in other remote areas can be very considerable. I am not at all happy with the suggestion that passage over water is a criterion sufficient to give a clear advantage through the Bill to producers in Ulster and the Orkneys. I very much hope that later, perhaps in Committee, the Minister will break down the costs so that we may see whether people in such areas as the far end of Caernarvonshire have equal problems. There are people there who have committed all their capital to egg production, and we should like to see whether they will not be at considerable disadvantage because of the cost of transportation.
1225 I am delighted that the period during which an amalgamated new unit must be held together is to be reduced from 40 years to 15 years. That will make an enormous difference. I know of several potential amalgamation schemes which have been held up on that issue, and I dearly wish that the change could be back-dated to the publication of the Bill, for we should then see an immediate response.
I have one great worry—and this is my last, and perhaps most important, point. I hoped, as did many of my hon. Friends, that something would be done at this stage to guarantee the tenancy for the decendants of a tenant farmer. This is a very serious problem and it has been discussed often in the House. Indications have been given—indeed, promises have been given—which made us feel that by now the time had arrived when some action would be taken in this direction. The situation to which I refer is quite different from that of an ordinary tenancy of, say, a council house where the rent is paid at the end of the week in respect of residence in the house. I refer to a situation in which a tenant farmer's son has spent his whole life on the farm and contributed a lifetime's work. He may be 50 or 60 years of age. If his father, who may be 80 or 90 years of age, dies, the son has no guarantee of succession to the tenancy.
I can think of several cases in Caernarvonshire. Some have already been mentioned in the House, and I will not go over them again. There were cases of the iniquitous dispossession of able young farmers whose standard of husbandry has not been in question but who were not allowed to continue the tenancy after the death of the father. Perhaps even more pernicious is the strain and tension of the uncertainty, of not knowing what the position will be when the tenant dies. This may be even more harmful than finding when it comes to the issue that the son will not be allowed to continue in the tenancy.
The position in Scotland is somewhat different. I do not know that it is very successful there, but at least a close relative of a tenant after the tenant's death cannot be dispossessed automatically. At least he can make a counter-notice before 1226 the Scottish Land Court. I am sure that when the Minister replies to the debate he will say that the situation in Scotland is rather different and results from the introduction of provisions in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1968, which merely reintroduced a right of appeal which had existed in Scotland previously and by which a close relative of a tenant could appeal, a provision which was laid down in the Agriculture Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1949. I am not sure that that is the point. While it is true that this provision existed in Scotland for all these years, the justice of the matter is not affected ; it should apply equally everywhere.
This issue was discussed during the Committee stage of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1968. It was then suggested that arrangements similar to those in Scotland should be introduced into England and Wales, although I concede that they do not always operate successfully in Scotland since a landlord can often secure termination of a tenancy by indicating that he wishes to bring about amalgamation. However, at least in Scotland the law leans towards the right side, although it cannot always be enforced.
§ Mr. Brewis
Is there not another side to the argument—that it dries up the number of farms to let for young men who wish to start farming?
§ Mr. Davies
That is true, and that is one of the counter-arguments. Another, to strengthen the hon. Gentleman's case, is that there can often be a situation in which it may be said that there is a doubt about whether a succession of tenants without an interest in the freehold would be responsible in their husbandry. These arguments have some validity, but I have seen so many of these cases of dispossession that I am convinced that the argument of hardship to the would-be tenant who is evicted is far stronger.
I was referring to a Committee stage when my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elysian Morgan), supported on that occasion by my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards), put forward a new 1227 Clause. The previous Minister of Agriculture, now the Leader of the House, said:
The whole field of agriculture holdings legislation, including its security of tenure provisions, is a difficult subject, but I assure my hon. Friend that it is already under review …In addition to that, I am—as I must—consulting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales …I am consulting my right hon. Friend because we recognise that this is certainly a subject of importance in the Welsh context It is, however, a question of some magnitude and we shall need proper consultation before coming to a final conclusion.
In view of what I have said I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that I am aware of the problem, that it is very complex and has to be viewed in a context of wider legislation, and that we are discussing it with the bodies concerned…with that assurance, I hope that he will not press his Clause.My hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan then said:
I gratefully welcome the assurance given by my right hon. Friend … I would however press on him the request that the discussions should not be allowed to continue interminably, and I hope that we can look forward to a decision within a matter of months rather than years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 8th February, 1969 ; c. 662.]That was nearly two years ago, and I think that the time has now come.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is very interested in this question and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is. In Wales responsibility is shared between the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State. I have looked at the breakdown in the Transference of Powers Order but I am not sure how it works out in practice. Because this tenancy succession issue is much more a Welsh than an English problem, this may be an excellent opportunity for the Secretary of State for Wales to show that he is in a significant position in this relationship between Ministry of Agriculture and the Welsh Office. Perhaps he will be able to do something to introduce fairly rapidly the long-awaited, long-necessary legislation to right this iniquity. I ask my right hon. Friend to bear this closely in mind.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
My reactions to the Bill are much the same as those of my right hon Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) 1228 He referred to it as an irrelevance and I am sure that he is right. My main criticism is of the extent to which it is vague. I cannot help feeling that important parts of it are only enabling Clauses which allow the Minister to do something through orders or through other methods which are not described. The right hon. Gentleman did not throw much light on how he means to go about operating some parts of the Bill which are vague, and I want specifically to deal with some of them.
Part II refers to capital and other grants. We are told that it is proposed to amalgamate certain grants and the Minister tried to describe them. Most of us on this side of the House would welcome the amalgamation of grants in that it would mean that applications could be made in a simpler way and on a simpler form. I hope that that will reduce costs considerably, but we have not been told how much public money will be saved.
Nor have we been told in the Preamble to the Bill how many civil servants will be saved by this change. I find this very strange, because a logical outcome of amalgamating grants would be the amalgamation of Ministry services. What is being done about amalgamating the National Agricultural Advisory Service and the Agricultural Land Service? If the grants are to be amalgamated under one head, it would seem logical to amalgamate the services, too.
We have read reports in the Press that this is to be done, and I suppose that matters have not yet reached a conclusion. But in this context the Minister should tell us what is proposed for his officers who will deal with the new applications. Are the two services to be combined? Is the matter still being debated, or have discussions within the Department finished? Why is it that the Minister finds it impossible to tell us in the Explanatory Memorandum how many civil servants will be saved? What is his thinking about this matter? He has not told us anything about it and it seems to be a fundamental outcome of amalgamating the grants.
The Minister told us of a number of the grants which were to be amalgamated, and the Explanatory Memorandum says that they will amount to about £35 1229 million. We welcome the fact that the total amount to be spent, however, is not to be reduced.
One of the grants included in the list is the ploughing grant, which seems a strange capital grant. I should like some explanation why the ploughing grant is included among the capital grants. I am not against pushing as many grants under the single umbrella as possible, because this may be of the greatest use in future. If the time comes when we want to join the European Economic Community and we have to justify some of our production grants, it will be much simpler to justify them if we have them under an umbrella of this sort, and it may be possible to push through some which might be considered by the Commission to be on the borderline of Article 92 of the Treaty of Rome. If that is so, this may be helpful if we join the Common Market.
I suggest that the Minister considers some other grants to see whether he cannot include them, too, under the umbrella. If he can include the ploughing grant, why not the grant for farm business records? It could be held that that is given for only a limited time and that, in the same way as the ploughing grant, it is a capital injection to try to reorganise a farm on better lines.
We have not been told anything about rates. If rates are to be unified under one, two or three headings instead of there being individual rates of grant, some of the grants would probably be reduced, and if some of the grants for certain of the improvements are to be reduced we should be told now.
Part IV of the Bill is very vague. It deals with fertilisers and feedingstuffs. The Minister said that it was intended to protect consumers, but I am not certain that it will be effective in that. The Minister said that it would provide accurate information to farmers to judge the quality of what they were buying. For many years I have been making an annual fuss when the fertiliser Orders have been debated. I have complained about the wide limits of variation in the analyses of fertilisers. I hope that the Bill means that the permitted variations are to be tightened up.
I was delighted when I saw the Bill. and I even wrote to the Minister to say 1230 so when I saw that this subject was to be dealt with, but on reflection I am not sure that the Government intend to tighten up the tolerances. At present, manufacturers of fertilisers, with which I am particularly concerned, are allowed a 10 per cent. variation either way, which means that if the advertised amount of nitrogen is 10 per cent. it may be 9 or 11 per cent., so that there is a total 1.75 per cent. variation allowed in earth-plant nutrient.
This variation is far too wide. The theoretical discrepancy between the value of the article as advertised and as it can legally be at the lower end of the tolerance variation means that it can be worth £4 a ton less than the farmer is paying, and the farmer is "done" to that extent without the manufacturer transgressing the law.
Worse than that, a degree of public money is involved in the subsidy to a maximum of 17s. 2d. a ton of fertiliser, which can amount to a great deal of money in the course of the year. The present level of tolerance is much too wide because it has been on the Statute Book for 30 years and is tied to an old-fashioned form of fertiliser manufacture which is now out of date.
In support of my argument, I want to quote from an article which appeared in the current issue of the British Farmer. It was written by Mr. Charles Miller, Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures for the North Riding of Yorkshire. He says:
A survey carried out in the North Riding showed that most suppliers were regularly in slight excess of the analyses claimed, but others took advantage of the wide limits of analytical variation to turn out products consistently at the less favourable end of the tolerance.It came to my knowledge that one firm demanded very fine limits of error when they bought ' straight ' for compounding so that their own product could safely remain just within the law. The losses on these legalised shortages were costed out on several farms and, on one, as much as £105 was lost in a season solely on the nitrogen content of compound fertiliser.I regard this as quite wrong. Manufacturers can manufacture fertiliser to tolerances much tighter than a maximum of 1.75 per cent. I have seen it done myself. I have looked at the figures of one of our largest manufacturers on a manufacturing run.
1231 The larger fertiliser manufacturers would welcome a tightening of the limits. They might not admit it, because the market is already dominated by the giants and they would not like to be accused, as they would be, of putting a further squeeze on the smaller manufacturers, who may be tempted to do things of this sort. I do not know what the Bill intends, because it is so vague, and we have not been told, but I am certain that the Minister must reduce these tolerances which are so wide as to constitute a scandal.
I know that the National Farmers Union has been pressing for this for many years, and so have I, as the Minister knows. It is no good the Minister making a token overall reduction to, say, 5 per cent. in aggregate. The situation is scandalous and the Minister must not fudge it. I hope that we shall have a proper explanation of the provisions dealing with fertilisers.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie): On the point about fertiliser, is the £105 quoted in that article the difference between the maximum and the minimum or between the lower point and an average?
§ Mr. Jopling
Perhaps I should read it again. It is the legalised shortage on the advertised analysis. Taking the advertised analysis of nitrogen, after analysis was taken and one saw what it actually was. the short-fall of nitrogen was worth £105. That is the one matter about which I am concerned. It is vague. I hope that this vagueness will be cleared up by the end of the debate.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)
Before making my comments on the Bill, I should like to say how interested I was in the remarks of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) concerning the proposed increases in the wages of farm workers, announced this morning, in the negotiation of which I played some part. I was particularly interested because, unfortunately, I do not think that the proposals will be big enough to stop the outflow of labour from the land that has been and is likely to be disastrous to the future of agriculture.
But we must appreciate that in spite of what the new rate will bring by way 1232 of earnings in the industry, the gap will still be far too wide to encourage young men to enter agriculture as a way of life and as an occupation. This gap emerged during the years when the Tory Party was in power. In recent years we have been struggling to close it somewhat. I hope that the award now announced will tend to close it. Everyone in the industry recognises that unless we can show the young farm worker of the future opportunities and possibilities of advancement within the industry, we shall not be able to get or retain youngsters, who are so vital in the long term to British agriculture.
We are considering a miscellaneous Bill for the agricultural industry. It is the second miscellaneous Agriculture Bill on which I have spoken in this House. This one has tar more ramifications than the previous miscellaneous Bill which became an Act of Parliament. Indeed, during the five years that I have been privileged to serve my constituency in this House, I do not think I have come across a Bill that has so many mixed ingredients. Almost every aspect of agriculture is touched on from one point of view or another.
It is obvious that a Bill with such wide ramifications will have parts with which we shall agree, but there will be other parts—I am sure that my right hon. Friend appreciates this—about which we shall be highly critical. That does not mean that the House will not welcome the Bill. Of course it will, because there will be a good deal of tidying up in agriculture when it becomes law. Nevertheless, because of its wide ramifications, we shall be critical of certain aspects affecting particular matters with which some of us are very closely connected.
I could go in some detail into the proposals for eggs, but I will not, because there are other aspects to which I want to give a little more attention. I make only one comment on the proposals affecting eggs. I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend has departed from the principle set out in the 1947 Act, based on the recommendation of the Commission set up to advise on the future of the egg-producing industry, by deciding to set up an Eggs Authority.
I think that the Egg Marketing Board, despite all the criticism that has been 1233 levelled against it and the difficulties with which it has had to contend—because not all eggs passed through the medium of the Egg Marketing Board, and that undermined its influence to a considerable extent—has done a good job during the period that it has functioned. We have seen the price of eggs stabilised over the years. There are few commodities for which we can claim, as can the poultry industry and the Egg Marketing Board in particular, that there has been virtually no change in price over the past ten years. I know that new methods of husbandry and so on have played a vital rôle in enabling this to be achieved. Nevertheless, the Egg Marketing Board, through its extensive advertising campaign, which can never be undertaken on the same scale by the new Eggs Authority, has been able to create an expanding market for eggs and egg products and at the same time hold a consistent price to consumers in this country. That is no mean achievement. We can all hope that the new Eggs Authority will be as successful, but I have my doubts. I am pretty certain that the price of eggs will rise as the Eggs Authority will be as successful, but subsidies that the Government will make to it during the formative years gradually disappear.
The other items to which I want to refer directly affect farm workers, whom I have been privileged to serve in one way or another for practically the whole of my working life.
I turn, first, to the part of the Bill dealing with smallholdings. There is a proposal that local authorities shall submit to the Minister their views on reorganisation over a relatively short period. Reorganisation of smallholdings under local authorities has been going on for a very long time. I believe that the best judges of reorganisation must be the local authorities which know the types of smallholdings, the types of land, the general set-up and, at the same time, know the scores of applicants on their waiting lists who will never have a chance of acquiring a smallholding under a local authority. This knowledge must cause local authorities to think twice before putting two smallholdings into one, thus depriving a would-be applicant of the opportunity of getting on a ladder of advancement so 1234 far as the applicant sees advancement in that direction.
I served for many years on the West Riding of Yorkshire Smallholdings Committee. I know the disappointments of farmers' sons and farm workers who make application after application for a smallholding, confident that on the limited acreage that might be available they can make a go of things because of their knowledge and their experience, but who, because of the many applicants, unfortunately stand very little chance of securing the unit for which they seek a tenancy.
I can see a case for merging in many cases, and if my right hon. Friend had been a little more positive in this part of the Bill and brought in proposals to stimulate local authorities to go out and acquire more land to enable additional holdings to be set up when amalgamations of existing holdings too place I should have had a great deal of sympathy with them, because then I should have thought that lost opportunities would not have any great impact, thanks to the new land that could be acquired.
I hope that the Government will not lose sight of the fact that to many young people interested in agriculture the possibility of a holding of their own acts as a beacon to them, and that in many cases it is the only thing that keeps them within the agriculture industry. They have their eyes on the future. They are optimistic about the possibility of getting a holding under a local authority, but as I read this part of the Bill that possibility will he extremely remote.
I turn now to the Agricultural Training Board. I agreed with the right hon. Member for Grantham when he spoke about the unhappy existence of the board since its formation. I recall the occasion when, apart from the Minister responsible for the Bill, I was the only speaker in favour of the training board. The Opposition got on the bandwagon of those farmers who, rightly or wrongly, opposed the idea of a training board directly financed by the industry through the medium of a levy.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that one or two of us—my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) in particular, and others—started the bandwagon, rather than got on it?
§ Mr. Hazell
I do not think that that is any cause for pride, because if there is an industry which requires a training board because of all the changes that are taking place, it is agriculture. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's viewpoint gives him any cause for self-congratulation. It is no cause for pride that he started a bandwagon to oppose something which, in the long run, will have lasting benefits for agriculture.
§ Mr. Hazell
The board has been faced with political difficulties which have hampered it in its work. Now that these difficulties appear to have been resolved I hope that the board will be able to get on with the job for which it was created.
Perhaps I might remind the House in passing that it was the N.F.U. as an organisation which sought in the first instance to have the board created. The N.F.U. approached my organisation and asked us whether we would jointly go to the Minister in an effort to secure the appropriate legislation for the establishment of the training board. We did this because we as a union felt that it was the right thing to do. No one questioned at that time that a levy system was wrong, certainly not the N.F.U. It recognised that the industry had to finance its own training scheme, just as other industries do. But the history since then has been very unfortunate, and it has had the unhappy result that the staffs employed to do a job have been looking over their shoulders to see whether the board might be wound up because of the tremendous number of problems with which it was confronted.
If as a result of the arrangements proposed in the Bill the industry as a whole gets together, as I believe it is now anxious to do, to work out schemes which will enable training to go forward undiminished, I think that the contribution which the board can make to the future of agriculture will be very real indeed.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
The hon. Gentleman must be fair about the historic situation when referring to the approach of the N.F.U. The N.F.U. approached the Minister jointly with the hon. Gentleman's union, but it did not do so in an effort to have set up the 1236 board that has been created. The N.F.U. approached the Minister to set up some sort of reasonable training board.
§ Mr. Hazell
I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's comments, because my knowledge of Government Departments is such that I know that when an approach is made to a Department to do something, before any legislation is proposed discussions usually take place, and in this instance they did. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's comments. He obviously does not know about the discussions that took place before the legislation was placed before the House.
About two weeks ago we discussed codes of practice within the agriculture industry. Feelings ran quite high about the care and attention, or lack of it, that we bestowed upon animals and poultry, but one thing that emerged from both sides of the House was the need for good stockmanship, and I agree 100 per cent. with that. If we can encourage new young entrants into the industry, I believe that the training board can play a vital role in creating good stockmen for the future under the new conditions that have emerged, and will continue to emerge in the industry.
I must refer to Clause 98, which deals with the tied cottage issue. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for bringing in this new provision. I am sure that he will appreciate the reasons behind what I am about to say. I would have wished that he might have gone further. Over the years the Labour Party has expressed its views about the policy of the tied cottage for the farm worker. The undertaking by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) some time ago has been stated over and over again. I would have hoped that by now the Government would have gone all the way and made it compulsory that before a man, his wife and family could be evicted from their cottage suitable alternative accommodation should be made available.
We have always said that this is what we mean by the abolition of the tied cottage. This year the T.U.C. unanimously supported this point of view. I am not unmindful that the proposed provision is a step in the right direction, and we welcome it. I know that the 1965 Rent Act eased the situation over evictions. In this connection I have to thank many 1237 people, not least the local authorities, for the manner in which they have co-operated in finding alternative accommodation when an eviction order was granted by the courts.
But evictions are only the tip of the iceberg. The problem confronting farm workers is that when something happens on a farm and they are occupying a service cottage they immediately have the threat of eviction when the job ends. The anxieties of the wife, in particular, and the family have to be seen to be appreciated. In the course of my quarter of a century as an official of my trade union I have had to go into scores of cottage homes where this anxiety has existed. One has to bring some measure of solace to a family to appreciate the depth to which the system has sunk in the minds of farm workers.
While the 1965 Rent Act has reduced the number of evictions, the number of applications to the courts, unfortunately seem to have increased. Our experience, and I speak on behalf of my trade union, is that judges over the last 12 months or so have granted shorter periods of stay within the cottage. At first they used to grant three months before a man could be evicted, and then a further extension and perhaps another extension. Now the matter has become one of a few weeks. It is with appreciation that I welcome the fact that under this part of the Bill six months, with certain exceptions, is likely to be the period allowed in which to seek other accommodation.
I hope that the courts will interpret the wishes of the Minister in this respect, because unfortunately they have not been interpreting the views of the Minister in dealing with the 1965 Act as he would have wished. I am interested to see that, so far as I can gather, the hostility to the tied cottage issue which used to come from the other side of the House seems to have subsided. I am glad, because I believe that both sides recognise that the tied cottage system as it affects the farm worker is a blot on the countryside. I would have wished my right hon. Friend to go further but I welcome this provision as a step towards the ultimate that we as a trade union have in mind.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am glad to have the good fortune to 1238 follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell). I wanted to talk about practically all the matters he has raised. He rather surprised me when, as I thought, he implied a criticism of the courts for the way in which they have been administering the 1965 Act in respect of tied cottages. He made a point which Ministers all too often overlook. They can say what they like when introducing a Bill about their intention, but what matters to the court is how the law is drafted. It is the duty of the court to abide by the law as drafted. What the Minister may have said was his intention may have been his intention, but unless it is written into the Bill the courts cannot implement it.
I have always felt that one of the most unjust things which has been done to the memory of Neville Chamberlain has been the lack of recognition for what he did in the 1925 Housing Act when as the Minister of Health—probably one of the greatest Ministers of Health this country has ever had—he introduced the Act which enabled rural district councils to build in rural areas. Until then if a person wanted to live in a certain village and work on the land it was inevitable that he would have to work for one man and that his family would have to work in that man's house as domestic servants. It was largely this which built up the antipathy to the whole system, and there is still a slight hang-over from it today.
In my constituency the greatest number of people living in tied cottages belonging to large farmers would be about 25 per cent. More and more farm workers live in the nearest town or village. In those villages they are all too often paying rents far beyond their means when one compares them with those who go to work in towns and cities such as Peterborough and Cambridge. Such people are putting in four or five hours less per week and getting something like three or four times more than the agricultural worker.
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, North on his success in the latest wage negotiations. I only hope to goodness that the London dustmen have a look at them. When one thinks of what the London dustmen were striking for and compares it with what the agricultural worker gets, the London dustmen can think themselves jolly lucky. I shall 1239 go on all of my life trying to persuade those who live in towns of the great injustice all too often done to agricultural workers because of the minimum wage they are expected to accept.
If trade unionists in other unions use this latest award to agriculture to begin a new chain reaction for wage claims they will simply put the agricultural worker back where he started in relation to the cost of living. I hope that we shall see sense prevailing and that more of the other unions will want to see the agricultural workers raised to the level that they enjoy before they all go on together. If we can get this we shall have much better co-operation between town and country. Ever since I have been a Member it has been my desire to say nothing which would alienate town from country or country from town.
I now turn to the Wise Report on that part of the Bill which deals with smallholdings. I bitterly regret the fact that we did not have a debate on the report before the introduction of the Bill. I congratulate Professor Wise and his team on the report, and not least Professor John, of the London School of Economics, who wrote the historical introduction. Too many people forget how far back in parliamentary history the desire for smallholdings goes. My own maternal grandfather is mentioned on page 6 of the report. It says that Lord Carrington, who owned Willow Tree Farm, let it to an association of small holders way back in 1889. He was also one of the Minister's predecessors in a Liberal Government. At least he had the courtesy to pay tribute to the work that the Conservative Government had done before him in introducing the earlier Smallholdings Act.
It is worth remembering the objectives of the Parliament of 1906 in relation to the introduction of the Bill of 1907, which was finally consolidated with the Allotments Act in the Act of 1908, which achieved considerable fame. My grandfather said:
What we are trying to do by the Bill is merely to restore to the agricultural labourer some of the conditions under which he lived in the earlier part of last century.He was referring to the beginning of the 1800s. He then quoted his own paternal grandfather—also a President of the
1240 Board of Agriculture—as having, in 1801 or 1802, sent a Commissioner down to the Ancaster Estate at Grimthorpe, who reported back to the effect that
every labourer had from three to 15 acres, all had at least two cows, several ewe sheep and a pig or two. Their rent was from 10s. to 20s. an acre and each labourer also had a cottage and a garden for which he paid from 20s. to 40s. a year.It is important to recognise that this historical background to the smallholdings approach has considerably changed over the years. There would have to be a very different approach if we were to try to restore to the farm worker an opportunity always to do a little farming on his own account—at any rate to keep him in milk and pigs, and so on. Great changes have occurred over the years. The biggest mistake was made when we tried to use the smallholdings procedure to provide resettlement for ex-Servicemen at the end of the First World War. We did not make sure that the land on which they were expected to start up was suitable. The personal tragedies that followed were deeply regretted. We must not make that mistake again.
The Isle of Ely contains the largest smallholdings estate of any of the English counties. We are no longer a separate county, alas, but the Isle of Ely parliamentary division contains a larger smallholdings estate than exists in any other county, although the majority are part-time holdings. I find the recommendation of the Wise Committee on that aspect of the matter most grievous, because it seems to imply that the part-time holding is on the way out, that it is not desirable to retain it, that its usefulness has been served, and that we must move on.
If we are to use the smallholdings estate for an entirely different purpose from that for which it was created there is force behind that argument. Let us examine what the Wise Report recommends and what I gather the Minister has accepted, which is that from now onwards smallholdings shall be used not to meet local demands, part-time or full-time, but to ensure that those coming out of the agricultural educational establishments all over the country shall have a chance of getting a farm to start on before they would get one in the ordinary course of events if they were lucky enough to have a father who would hand it on to them. 1241 This is a major change, and the Minister as as yet given us little justification for it.
We have never debated this report fully enough. Reading the Bill against the report, it is difficult to see to what extent the regulations which will be laid in due course will contain specific recommendations of the Wise Committee, or whether quite a lot of the Wise Committee's recommendations have already been put in train. I understand that already smallholdings authorities—county councils—are refusing to allow widows to stay in the holdings or the sons of previous holders to have priority in terms of applying for the holdings. That is all part of the Wise Committee's recommendations, but there is no mention of it in the Bill. We do not know whether the regulations will contain these recommendations, or even take them further.
We have had a quite inadequate explanation of Part III of the Bill by the Minister, and I hope that he will elaborate a good deal more upon the major recommendations of the Wise Committee which he intends to implement in the Bill. I remind him that not long ago a group of my hon. Friends and I reported to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the feeling that existed about various matters in the East of England. I have a copy of the report with me. I know that it has gone to some Government Departments, but I do not know whether the Minister has seen it. We gave a good deal of attention to smallholdings policy, and I should like to read a short quotation from the report in order to give some idea of the measure of the problem.
We said that the Wise Committee's Report had met considerable opposition in the constituencies having the largest number of county council smallholders:
These in order of numbers of holdings are the Isle of Ely with 1,300 of which 1,028 are on a part-time basis ; Norfolk with 1,165 of which 494 are part-time, Holland (Lincs.) with 1,036, of which 750 are part-time, Cambridgeshire, with 812, of which 542 are part-time, Huntingdonshire with 455, of which 208 are part-time, West Suffolk with 219, of which 78 are part-time, Essex with 216 of which 23 are part-timegradually dwindling away in numbers, until we finish with East Suffolk, with 87, of which 11 are part-time. These are all East Anglian counties. The main ground of objection that we had to the Wise Report was that in future county 1242 council smallholdings would no longer be able to be let to local applicants, but, rather, would let to the best of the new entrants to farming from wherever they came. As I understand it, the Bill empowers authorities to insert advertisements in national and certainly farming newspapers if a holding becomes vacant in their county. Thus, councils will presumably invite applicants from all over the country.
The Wise Committee deplored the continuing idea of local county waiting lists. I do not see why it should deplore that. Every day about a thousand people go out of my constituency to work in Peterborough, King's Lynn or Cambridge. I have never thought for a moment that the proposal about smallholdings was simply part of farming policy. I have always seen it as having another important purpose—to try to keep town and country together, with the townsman understanding the countryman's problems, and vice versa.
Indeed, I see nothing regrettable in a man who works at a lathe in an engineering factory also having a part-time smallholding which he farms in his spare time. What I deplore—and admittedly this became rather an abuse—is a tenant of a part-time holding sub-letting to somebody else or getting the work done by somebody else. That I would stop, and it could be handled by the administration of the county land agent and the local smallholdings committee. I believe that there is a sociological value in a man who works in one of the engineering factories in one of our bigger towns surrounded by rural areas also being able to farm on his own account to a small degree. After all, we have the everlasting drift from the land. It is useful for those who drift away to earn their main living elsewhere to maintain some link with the industry in which they started. That is why I had hoped that we should have the opportunity to thrash out the Wise Committee's Report before having thrown at us this legislation, which I find obnoxious.
The trouble about the training board was that Agriculture House got out of touch with the branches. The Isle of Ely branch remains adamantly opposed to the training board even under these new arrangements. The reason is that farmers have yet to be persuaded—and I believe that this applies to the vast 1243 majority of farmers in the country—that the closeness of their contact with those working for them is not sufficient to make this board unnecessary. They feel that it would be better to boost the apprenticeship scheme and ensure that the apprentices are encouraged to go to those farmers best able to instruct them and most modern in their technology. The training board set-up may be essential —I think it is—for those industries which have thousands of men working every day under the same roof and involved, for example, in highly sophisticated electronics. But the contact between the employer and the worker on the average farm is sufficiently close for a farmer to know when he has a man whose potentiality clearly lies in technical work. He can always get one of the big tractor manufacturing firms to provide a course, and he can handle the matter better on a more personal basis.
That is why I think that from many points of view the board is a mistake. Of course, Agriculture House first asked for it, but then Agriculture House had to think again, having discovered what the branches thought about it. At least the Minister has gone a long way to meet objections by saying that he will finance the board, but I do not wish to give all the tribute to the Minister because it means simply that the taxpayer will pay. I wish that we could get it firmly into the minds of people in farming and in other industries that the Government have no money except that which the taxpayers let them have.
This is why I have always objected to production grants and why I feel that the whole basis of our agricultural policy since the war has been wrong. This is not the time to go into that, but I believe that until farming is able to do what every other industry has to do—make its way, with adequate protection against imports—we shall not get the right answer. But that is another story for another day.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House has been reminded that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Brief speeches will help.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I hope that hon. Members with agricul- 1244 tural constituencies will bear with me if I make one or two comments on the Bill from the consumers' point of view. There are many aspects of the Bill which I welcome, but it is rather unfortunate that the debate has to take place so soon after the publication of this very long and complex Bill, because that means that we probably have not had as many comments from consumer organisations and others affected by the Bill as we might have had. The debate, therefore, may not perhaps be as informative as it might have been, for that reason.
But I welcome very much the setting-up of the new Eggs Authority, although it is disturbing from the consumer point of view that out of 12 members of that authority there is to be only one person
who in the opinion of the Ministers is specially conversant with the interests of consumers of eggs.The chairman and the deputy-chairman will be independent of any trade or producer interest, but it seems doubtful whether one person can deal adequately with the consumer representation side of the authority.
I am assuming that the consumer committees which were appointed under the Agriculture Marketing Act will have no jurisdiction with the new Eggs Authority, but I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will look at that situation and see whether those consumer committees, which have a great deal of experience of agricultural marketing schemes, including the egg marketing scheme, might be authorised to continue to look after consumer interests in relation to the new Eggs Authority. I have a particular interest in this matter because, as the Ministers know, they were required to consult the co-operative union in the matter of appointments to consumer committees. That was very valuable. I should like to see it continued in some way if that can be done.
The continuance of quality control of eggs is extremely important, because one of the great benefits brought to consumers by the old marketing scheme was the grading system for eggs and the strict quality control which helped to raise standards to a high level. Although Clause 25 gives the Minister power by order to make provision for the grading and marketing of eggs, I wonder what is to happen in the interim between the 1245 winding-up of the Egg Marketing Board and the coming into existence of the new Eggs Authority. It would be a great pity if there were a deterioration in the situation relating to the grading of eggs during that period. Will the Minister comment on that point?
It is a pity that Clause 25, which makes this provision, is only permissive, because from the consumers' point of view there is a demand for such information as is provided by the date-marking of eggs. Whether that is possible or not, it is desirable that at any rate the Eggs Authority should have some obligation to see whether anything can be done to meet his consumer demand. In this connection, I wonder whether the Eggs Authority will have any power to help in the sale of free-range eggs or whether this will be left to the individual producer. Again, there is considerable consumer demand for a scheme of this kind.
Clause 6, which enables the authority to
submit to the Ministers schemes with respect to the quality testing or weight grading of eggs for sale by wholesaleagain is only permissive instead of being a statutory requirement and that seems to be a pity because there is a demand for greater nutritional quality in eggs. I wonder whether the new Eggs Authority will have any requirement laid on it to look at the possibilities of some determination of nutritional quality. This is difficult to define and determine, but consumers are very much interested in the nutritional quality of eggs and I hope that this will be taken into account in the new arrangements.
It is important that all packing stations, and not just the big ones, should be registered. This will protect consumer interests. Whether eggs are sold direct to consumers or through retail outlets, other than over the farm gate, they should be subject to the minimum quality and weight requirements as will apply to the registered packing stations.
After 30th March, 1974, the new Authority will have to be financed by a direct levy on the industry. My right hon. Friend will remember that the Horticultural Marketing Council collapsed shortly after the Government withdrew their financial support. In regard to the levy which supports the Meat and Livestock Commission, the distributive 1246 side feels that it is carrying the whole burden of the levy while producers escape. Be that as it may. I hope that the levy for the Eggs Authority will be imposed on all sections of the industry and not merely on distributors, for unless justice is done in this matter the future of the authority may be at risk.
§ Mr. Godber
I reinforce the hon. Lady's remarks and remind her of what happened to the Cucumber and Tomato Marketing Board. A levy was raised for that purpose and the board failed because it had no other means of finance. The hon. Lady has raised an important matter in connection with the future of the new authority and I am grateful to her for doing so.
§ Mrs. Butler
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and I hope that this matter will be considered in greater detail. I also hope that the buying and selling powers of the new authority will be used in a manner which will not be detrimental to consumers.
I welcome the provisions in Part IV relating to fertilisers and feedingstuffs, and I do not share the gloomy predictions of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) who felt that these provisions were so vague as to be ineffective. When made, will the regulations provide for non-nutritive additives in feedingstuffs to be declared, such as dyes put into poultry feed to make yokes more yellow or chemical flavourings such as chicken-taste extract? Will systematic insecticides used in this way have to he declared?
More important, however, is the use of antibiotics. For example, will a drug like chloramphenicol, which is used as a mass feeding additive for broiler chickens and which has also been used as a growth promoter in calves—but which also happens to be the only effective antibiotic for use against typhoid in human beings—have to be declared if used in feedingstuffs?
With the Swann Committee's report due, will it be possible for its recommendations to be included in the Bill? An hon. Member earlier referred to a report about smallholdings having been produced. It is unfortunate that when we debate agriculture we often discuss a subject as the main topic of debate at 1247 the time when a report on another sub. ject has just been published. I fear that we are in this position over the Swann Report on antibiotics and that the same can be said of the report which the Minister is expecting on D.D.T.
I have been studying the Bill with a view to finding a peg on which to hang some remarks about D.D.T., although I would like to hang the substance literally! I cannot find one, but I trust that my right hon. Friend has noted the recent snap sampling done by the Daily Express. The eggs they tested contained 58 parts per 1,000 million of D.D.T., as against the accepted safety level of 50 parts. This subject is not, therefore, completely irrelevant to the debate, and it is important that we be informed as quickly as possible what is to be done about D.D.T.
If antibiotics are not covered by Part IV of the Bill, can some provision be made for implementing in the miscellaneous provisions the recommendations of the Swann Committee, should its report advocate restrictions on the use of antibiotics? Equally, if the Committee which is considering the use of D.D.T. makes recommendations restricting its use, could they be embodied in the Bill?
I think that the answer will be in the negative. It is a pity that these reports could not have been received before the Bill was published or that the two could not have been synchronised—their publication and the preparation of the Bill —so that this could have been an all-embracing Measure, the miscellaneous provisions of which could have covered the points I have made, which are very much in consumers' minds at the moment.
§ Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)
Would not the hon. Lady agree that the subject of cross-drug resistance and the publication of the Swann Committee's report represent such important matters that it should be possible for a new Clause to be added to the Bill to cover these matters ; that is, if the Minister really wishes to deal with them?
§ Mrs. Butler
I am hoping to be told that that will prove possible, but if there is no means by which Part IV can cover any suggestions made by the Swann Committee, then perhaps the miscellaneous provisions can be worded in such a way 1248 as to cover any recommendations that the Swann Committee may make, and the same goes for the views of the Committee studying D.D.T.
I welcome the Bill. I would have welcomed it still more had it extended to the substances of which I have spoken. I can but hope that these substances will receive urgent attention as soon as the relevant recommendations are before the Government.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
I always look on the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler) as an excellent watchdog for the housewife. She speaks with real knowledge of these matters on behalf of the consumer. She raised some interesting points about eggs and, like her, I wish to see the present high standards maintained.
Like the hon. Lady, I want to know more about the financing of the new authority. I welcome some parts of the Bill, especially the new provisions for flood warning systems. The new provisions are much improved and more easily workable.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) pointed out, there are some regrettable omissions from the Bill. As the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950 is mentioned in the Bill the Minister could have done something to speed up the eradication of brucellosis, which is also a human health risk in rural areas. It is regrettable that so many reactors are being pushed on to the market, and soon the country could be riddled with the disease if we are not careful.
A Clause should have been introduced for the interim suspension of rating of farm buildings because the present situation is causing concern throughout the agricultural industry. It is my duty to pass on the comments of my farmers in Herefordshire on Part 1, and especially their comments on the removal of the eggs guarantee.
I am sure the Minister realises that he has raised suspicion and doubt in their minds. They now feel that the door has been unbolted, and slightly opened, because the price guarantee on one commodity included in the 1947 and 1957 Agricultural Acts has gone. If the 1249 Government do away with the guarantee on eggs by a stroke of the pen, farmers wonder what commodity will go next. Will it be potatoes? Or cereals? Or milk? Now I would like to ask the Minister what he foresees happening to the 400-odd packing stations, because they will not know until April 1971 what is expected of them.
Does the Minister think that the Government's intended contribution of £100,000 or £200,000 will be enough to get the authority started? I believe that to get the authority off the ground the Minister will have to be more generous, otherwise the scheme will not get the producers' support. I hope, too, that the Minister will soon be able to tell us whom he is going to appoint as chairman and deputy chairman of the authority. I trust that they will be "men of great persuasion ", because they most certainly have a difficult job ahead of them.
Next I turn to flood warning systems, the provisions contained in the new draft Bill are much better. They are more easily workable than those in the Land Drainage Act and the Water Resources Act of 1963. Clause 87 clearly sets out what a river authority may do. Clause 88 empowers the Minister to make grants towards approved flood warning systems, and states what can be included in them. It appears to give river authorities a fair amount of latitude, and for that they are grateful. The new system is a great improvement, because the Minister will now be able to approve future schemes. In the past, it was very often the case that the Minister of Housing and Local Government had to be consulted, and this caused unnecessary delays.
But I have one criticism to make. Having seen the Wye River in flood in September, 1960, up to 19 ft. 7 in., and in January, 1968, up to 16 ft. 4 in., I feel that in view of the national importance of flood warning systems throughout the catchment areas the whole cost of installation of the river recorders and other apparatus should be borne by the Government. A flood warning system does not help only the farmers. It also helps property owners, motorists and owners of heavy industrial vehicles. It is a national problem, and the cost should be borne entirely by the Government.
Grants are now payable on a percentage basis. The Wye River Authority 1250 receives just over 50 per cent. of the cost of its river recorders and other installations, but even after these electrical recorders have been housed and installed they need continual maintenance and supervision, which is a heavy charge on any river authority. I hope that the Minister will seek to relieve the river authorities of this initial heavy expenditure.
Clause 98, in Part VII, refers to tied cottages. 1 am sorry that the Government want to revive this old political argument. I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) had to say. I, like all my hon. and right hon. Friends, want to encourage farm workers to remain on the land, and we are willing to do everything we can to that end. I was delighted yesterday to see that the farm workers had got a small award in their pay.
The six months' security of occupation following the termination of employment is a provision that is just not needed. The courts already have plenty of power to safeguard the farm workers. Farmers are human beings, and they will behave humanly. The average Herefordshire farm is of about 150 acres, and usually employs only one farm worker. If the man and his family remain in the cottage for six months after leaving his employment, farmers will find it well nigh impossible to get a replacement. One can argue so many ways—council house tenants have no security of tenure ; if they do not pay their rent out they go.
On the other hand, farmers have a case here which makes sense. Could they not be given more latitude to be able to get their tied cottages freed for "temporary letting "? If a farmer cannot use one of his cottages and it is empty—and more and more of these dwellings are becoming available as fewer men are required on the land—he should be allowed temporarily to let his cottage to a young married couple working in a nearby town or village who prefer living in the country. Incidentally, these wives might well be willing to help at harvest time, and at other seasons of the year.
In Clause 100, which deals with training boards, the Minister has to be more realistic and give the farmers a new deal. Many farmers were never in favour of the training board scheme as it was. The Herefordshire farmers thought that 1251 they were not getting value for money. Of course, some form of training is required—I am all for it—but I doubt whether the farmers will be willing to pay their arrears, and that is where the trouble will arise. I even foresee some famers actually enjoying a visit from the bailiff, and offering him a pig in lieu of the money! In the first year 1967–68, 88 per cent. of farmers paid the levy, but it left £100,000 still to be collected from the other 12 per cent. In the second year, only 30 per cent. have paid the levy due in August, leaving £800,000 still outstanding. It would be much more realistic if the Minister just called it a day. Refund 30 per cent. who have paid, rather than try to summon over 60,000 farmers. The administrative cost of collection could be extremely high, and in some cases it could cost nearly 30s. to get back £1. If farmers are further summoned it will put their backs up against any form of training schemes—and the Minister will know that farmers can be very stubborn fellows. They do not mind standing up to him, or having a stand-up battle with the board.
As it now stands, two-thirds of the farmers will be summoned and chased and will not apply their minds or energy to helping to get training schemes started in their counties. The Minister must think very carefully about these arrears, otherwise farmers in many areas will be awkward about co-operating. Our biggest problem is encouraging the young workers who unfortunately describe these schemes as going back to school—to take these courses. So it is important that farmers should encourage them.
Clause 101 touches on disease. What a splendid opportunity has been missed. We know that the Minister is worried about the eradication of brucellosis. In answer to a Parliamentary Question yesterday he said that we must get the eradication scheme speeded up. The only way to do that is to offer greater incentives. The present scheme is not attractive to the ordinary farmer, and human health is at risk in the rural areas. Lots of reactors have been pushed on the market, and in time the country could be riddled with disease. The Minister told us yesterday that he was seeing how he could help farmers in his constituency of Anglesey. The worry is that the herds 1252 in the national scheme represent only 6 per cent. of the total. In Herefordshire, only 62 out of about 2,000 herds are registered. I agree with the Minister that a full-scale eradication scheme would prove too expensive, but I believe that farmers will co-operate if he introduces an area by area eradication scheme and a system of marking all known reactors by ear punching. There is growing concern amongst farmers and vets and we would all want to see faster results. There is considerable concern in some quarters about efficiency of the S.19 vaccine. From reports it seems that the degree of protection afforded by the S.19 vaccine is not as good as it was. I hope that the Minister will seek expert advice, make the scheme more attractive and, if possible, add a clause to the Bill.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Monmouth)
The Second Reading of an Agriculture Bill is an opportunity for looking at the detailed provisions, for looking at the context in which the industry operates and for speculating about those features which we would all like to see included in the Bill but which are not included.
The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) lost some credibility by overdoing his expressions of woe and claiming that the Bill was nothing more than a pettifogging irrelevance, but large sections of the Bill have been warmly welcomed by the industry, while on other features the industry has expressed some dismay and suggested individual improvements which might be made.
The reply given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister to a Parliamentary Question about the preliminary returns from this year's harvest suggests that the industry is now operating in a much more favourable climate than one would have thought from his statement last November about the selective expansion programme and the import-saving role of the industry, and in March this year at the time of the Price Review. The semi-justified scepticism shown by the industry in March was because of the poor returns for last year, which was an exceptionally bad year, and much less scepticism is now justified in the light of this year's better output record.
Another feature which is relevant to the aims of my right hon. Friend for 1253 import substitution is the long expected wage award for agricultural workers which was agreed yesterday. It is a tribute to the pressure brought both by my right hon. Friend and by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), who has worked so hard on behalf of his members. One of the most obvious Achilles heels of the selective expansion programme was the fleeing from the land of so many agricultural workers. I have recently seen the returns for Wales, which show the drop in the number of agricultural workers over the past years. This is quite worrying and one hopes that yesterday's award will be sufficient to stem the tide and make more possible the objectives of the selective expansion scheme. It is a propitious time to maximise the import-savings role of agriculture, and in the light of the improved returns this year, I am sure that the long-term view taken by my right hon. Friend will be much more justified.
In the not too distant future there is the likelihood of E.E.C. negotiations, and we need to press ahead while we still retain our freedom of action. This point was put in relation to the sugar industry in a recent article by M. Sturrock in the National and Westminster Bank Review which argues that whilst we still retain our room to manoeuvre we should press firmly ahead on import substitution.
Many hon. Members have said that Agriculture Bills are too long and too tedious, but they have nevertheless suggested additions which, if accepted, would make them even longer and more tedious. Accepting that I am guilty of this, may I suggest two omissions which have caused concern. One is the uncertainty about the rating of farm buildings. Farmers bring to me most frequently their problems about the anomalous decisions which have been reached by the courts, and a positive Government directive is needed to clear up the uncertainty. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider removing this pressing uncertainty, which is bound to affect productivity.
Another omission is the failure to deal with the transmission of a tenancy in England and Wales on the death of the existing tenant. This matter was raised in Committee on the 1967 Act by my 1254 hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan). The 1967 Act remedied the position in Scotland and the status quo ante was installed so that it was possible under certain conditions to transmit a tenancy from father to son. This provision does not prevail in England and Wales, and many difficulties arise at local level. There has been considerable pressure in Wales about this. ft is arguable that the whole question of the transmission of tenancies needs to be considered in the context of a much larger review of land tenure, possibly not by the Ministry of Agriculture but by the Department of Local Government and Regional Planning. I hope that when the review is near completion my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will press strongly on behalf of the tenant interest.
I am always a little sceptical about consumer interests on boards of this sort. My mind boggles at the thought of a person to represent egg eaters. Having heard the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler), my doubts on this score have disappeared. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that there is considerable local doubt about the new,Eggs Authority being able to ensure stability at times of seasonal overproduction. I hope that this is only the traditional conservatism of the industry and that as soon as the new scheme gets into its stride these doubts will be removed, although the replacement of an elected board by an unnominated board will perhaps not help in ensuring local willingness to co-operate and in removing those doubts.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) voiced suspicions that the new scheme might be applied not only to eggs but to a whole series of other commodities and be the thin end of the wedge. It is a common point made in local agricultural circles and it might be worth my right hon. Friend making some reference to these local suspicions and fears when he winds up.
Coming to smallholdings, I am very glad that the Government are taking action in the Bill. We had those two substantial reports from the Wise Committee in March, 1966 and July, 1967, and it would clearly have been a very 1255 grave omission had action not been taken after those very exhaustive surveys.
Taking up the point made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) about the sociological role of smallholdings in cutting down the divisions between town and country, I do not entirely follow him in his thinking and in his reference to the possibility of a man being a fitter during the day and a part-time smallholder in the evening. There are much more likely means of cutting down that gap between town and country. The motor car is likely to play a much more important role in achieving this than smallholdings ever have done or will do. I would not give much weight to that sociological factor which the hon. Gentleman stressed.
Clearly, however, smallholdings represent a major national asset to agriculture. A fundamental plank in the proposals of the Wise Committee was that the statutory smallholdings provided by local authorities in England and Wales should have a new purpose, that they should be reorganised to provide what the Committee called a gateway for the best new entrants to farming. Clearly, for historical and financial reasons, it is not easy to get a start in agriculture, and for many younger men coming from the agricultural colleges without capital it must appear that the bottom rungs of the ladder do not exist, that they have to have a considerable amount of capital and connections before they can hope to enter the industry.
This is not helped by the technical changes within the industry which demand much larger holdings, making it even more beyond the grasp of the normal lad from the agricultural college, who has either to go out of the industry or to go abroad if he is not fortunate enough to have the capital available to enter the industry. Smallholdings can be made useful for this purpose, and they would be more useful if they were reorganised to meet modern farming needs. Obviously, the local authorities themselves must have the expertise on the ground and it is reasonable that they should put forward their proposals for reorganisation. I am glad, therefore, that the Bill requires Ahem to do this.
1256 Clause 39 states :
before the end of the period of eighteen months beginning with the commencement of this Part of this Act or such extended period as in any particular case the Minister may allowsmallholdings authorities must
submit to the Minister proposals with respect to the future management…I hope the Minister will exercise his discretion in this respect generously for it is impossible for smallholdings authorities to engage extra staff for these purposes. I am sure my right hon. Friend would not wish them to do so.
In particular, I notice that Clause 46(3) dealing with co-operation in smallholding schemes, commences with the words :
To such extent as appears to a smallholdings authority to be expedient "—again stressing the importance of local knowledge. My own local authority, for example, has had its fingers burned twice in the fairly recent past in such co-operation schemes. In Monmouthshire, two Welsh land settlement schemes have failed, one at Leechpool, where a scheme similar to that indicated in Clauses 3 and 4 failed through mistrust and bad management, and the smallholdings authority was forced to take over the land and amalgamate the majority of the smallholdings. The sale of the produce was, in this case, the final straw that caused the plan to fail. The second example in the fairly recent past was in the Court House Estate. Even when administered by the Ministry and when all the results were pooled, this type of co-operation scheme failed and the county council purchased the farm from the land settlement and split it up among its own smallholders. This experience of the local authority in having had its fingers burned twice recently illustrates the need for putting the greatest possible weight in the hands of the smallholdings authorities.
Coming to Clause 52, the move from the Ministry to local authority loans will be very unpopular at the local level. Local authorities dislike long-term loans, and most local authorities are unlikely to have much cash available for smallholding tenants. On the interest rates point, what use is a loan of, say, 10¾ per cent. plus ½ per cent. if the tenant requires the full three-quarters as set out in the Bill to stock his holding? He had better 1257 give up before starting, unless there is some source of cheaper finance available to him. I want the smallholdings in this country to make their full contribution to agriculture and providing the opportunities which they should. I hope that by the time the Bill emerges from Committee we shall have enabled the smallholdings authorities to make better use of this not inconsiderable asset.
Turning to capital and other grants, in Part II of the Bill, it seems to me that we are making sense of a system which has done a lot of good but is, as my right hon. Friend said, by now a little jumbled. Recently my right hon. Friend was described in the Economist as "streamliner Hughes ".
§ Mr. Anderson
As one would expect, his constituents in Anglesey changed it to "Hughes the tidier" or something similar. However, it is in this field that my right hon. Friend has made his influence felt clearly. The proposed single scheme has been well received by the industry. It ought also to be well received by the British taxpayer since it will clearly save a lot of money on administration. May I make one last point which does not seem to have been stressed so far. As I understand it, some of the present grants are on a continuing basis. An example of this is the farm improvements scheme. Under the new arrangement these grants will be put on a continuing basis. This surely will be welcome to the industry, and demonstrates the intention to help productive investment in the industry.
Many of the proposals will, no doubt, be improved to a greater or lesser extent in Committee. I welcome the Bill particularly because of the Wise implementation and because of the administrative streamlining which, I am sure, for a long time will be linked with the name of my right hon. Friend.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
I hope to be able to touch on some of the points which the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson) raised, but time is short, and I shall begin by dealing with some slightly different subjects which interest me.
The new proposals for eggs have been received in Scotland with considerable 1258 misgiving because nobody likes to see a producer marketing board being wound up or the guaranteed price being phased out without any definite and certain knowledge of what will be the level of minimum import prices and whether, indeed, there will be any support buying to help the price of eggs when the guaranteed price has gone. The difficulties of the remote area producers are being recognised in Northern Ireland and the Orkneys but they are receiving a transport subvention to compete with producers who are also remote, such as those in Kirkcudbright and Banff. One wonders why the Orkneys were chosen alone of the Scottish islands. They are, of course, the biggest producers of eggs but there are commercial egg producers in other islands like Lewis and Shetland also, which is usually mentioned together with Orkney.
Sometimes I wonder if the Government appreciate the contributions that agriculture makes to the economy of the areas remote from the big conurbations. They are doing a great deal to promote manufacturing industry in the development areas but it will be a retrograde step if existing industries such as hill farming and egg production are run down. Egg production in Scotland last year was valued at fill£11.1 million compared with £12.7 million in 1963. As prices have risen by about one-quarter since 1963 a more realistic figure for 1963 would be £16 million. It would appear also that there could be a worse run-down on one reading of Clause 29, which deals with grants, if the existing criterion for farm improvement schemes, namely, that the improvement must be for the benefit of the land, is being withdrawn. If that is right, it could mean that factory farms with no particular connection with land would be getting grant. I am sure this would be entirely wrong. We should look rather further. The French, for example, a logical if not particularly sentimental people, have already begun restrictions on new factory farming enterprises and such enterprises must receive permission from the local prefect before they can be started. A simple provision is being considered in Germany at the moment.
We need more information before we can welcome Clause 29 in regard to consolidation of the various grants. It was 1259 a shock to me to hear that the investment grant on tractors was being withdrawn and I hope that the Minister who is to reply will tell us what the Government intend to put in its place.
I hope there will be no reduction in the drainage grant and the water supply grant in particular. As the Minister knows, farmers in Scotland are being put to considerable expense at the moment in dealing with slurry disposal. Could it not be considered whether this business which is so similar to drainage, could also qualify for 50 per cent. grant?
We have heard already from my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) of the big omission from the Bill, that there is no improvement in the brucellosis eradication scheme. It has only just been realised how prevalent is undulant fever in human beings. As well as knowing several cases myself, which have only recently been diagnosed, I have some figures from the medical officer of health of Aberdeenshire showing that there are approximately three people per 1,000 affected in this area. What is more, in a sample of 2,000 blood samples taken in his laboratory, no fewer than 600 showed up that the individuals concerned had been affected by undulant fever at some time or other. We should regard this disease as very serious.
The figures given in an Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) of the number of herds now accredited in Scotland, at 2.2 per cent. over all, seem to me extremely disappointing considering the scheme has been in being for more than two years. We are already behind many European countries and the rate of progress is not nearly good enough. Surely the right procedure is to eradicate the disease on an area to area basis, starting with those areas mainly concerned with dairying. If the Government cannot afford a slaughter and compensation policy, can they not at least pay a premium on milk from herds in an area where the disease has been eradicated? But above all, there must be the system of preventing known reactors getting back to the auction room and I agree with the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham that there should be some mark on such beasts, such as an ear punch 1260 hole. But the best thing of all would be a slaughter and compensation policy on an area-to-area basis.
My last point is the Training Board levy. I welcome the provision for funding it through the Price Review, but how is the burden to be spread on non-reviewed commodities? Timber prices, for example, are not included in the review but there have been so many modern advances recently in forestry, such as the general adoption of the mechanical chain-saw, that training courses are very much needed.
It would seem very much more appropriate that forestry should continue to be included with agriculture as they are both rural industries and both share similar machinery like the tractor, rather than that it should be lumped with some other Training Board such as woodworking or furniture making, as I understand has been suggested. There are several other points in the Bill which undoubtedly merit criticism and I am sorry that I cannot give the Bill more than a very halfhearted welcome.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)
I know that the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) will forgive me if I do not follow him directly on the points which he raised.
First, I must say something about the rather surprising speech we had from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber). Coming into a debate expecting to make one or two points on what I consider a useful Bill, I was surprised by the right hon. Gentleman's pyrotechnics at the beginning of his speech. He threatened dire consequences to my right hon. Friend. Even when my right hon. Friend, with his characteristic meek Welsh modesty, attempted to interrupt to put him right, he threatened that there was much worse to come, that he had not even begun to attack the Bill and the Government's policy.
I listened enthralled. I waited. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was a pettifogging irrelevance to agriculture today. If that be so, I thought, surely he must have some very severe criticisms and indictments of various 1261 parts of it. We did not hear them. We had some drafting criticisms, and one or two points which might be dealt with in Committee.
§ Mr. Anderson
Does it not speak volumes for the Opposition that they speak in far more extreme terms than the leaders of the pressure group directly involved, who have given the Bill a general welcome?
§ Mr. Oakes
My hon. Friend is right. I shall come to that in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman, if he makes such criticism of the Bill, ought to damn it very precisely where he considers it wrong, not just make Committee points or suggestions for amendment to various parts of it. More than that, if he is so explosive in his criticism that he is thinking of blowing up my right hon. Friend and his Bill, we are entitled to have from him, as the Front Bench spokesman, the Opposition's alternative agricultural policy and some idea of the Bill which they would have introduced.
We did not get that either. I suggest that we did not get it because this Bill is welcomed as a useful Measure for the industry. The industry accepts it ; so there is no ammunition for the right hon. Member there. As to his own policies and those of his party, the less said to the agricultural community about them the happier the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are, because the industry does not like them. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not want discussion of their policies.
It is not without significance that in the last half century there have been two major Agriculture Acts affecting the land in Britain and the agriculture industry. One is the 1947 Act, which was one of the greatest landmarks in agriculture in any country, introduced by a Labour Government, and the other was the 1967 Agriculture Act. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh at it now, but the effects of it will be seen over the next decade and it will be recognised as an important Act which will have very great benefits for agriculture.
§ Mr. Godber
Since the hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to refer to me, and I am always very interested in what hon. Members opposite think of me, would he comment on the 1957 Act, which is the only Act under which farmers are really getting security today? If he says that the 1947 and 1967 Acts are the only ones that matter, he is not in agreement with the farming community which is most concerned about the 1957 Act. in which I played a part.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman must not tempt the hon. Gentleman to get out of order.
§ Mr. Oakes
I am tempted, but I will resist the temptation. I merely say to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom have a high regard, that his speech was so explosive that one realises that today is the day after bonfire night.
I turn now to Part IV of the Bill. We always think of farmers as producers, but here they are being dealt with as consumers. I am certain the agriculture industry will welcome this Bill, which gives it the benefits which the Trade Descriptions Act gave the consumer generally. It is right that this protection should be given, that this system of inspection should protect the farmer from unscrupulous dealers or mistakes made by the dealers, making certain that the farmer knows what he is buying and gets what he believes should be given.
In this connection we had an interesting speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler). She may well have been right that more than fertilisers and feeding-stuffs should have been included in this Part. I can see no reason why under the long Title of the Bill pesticides should not also have been included. I would agree with her about her attack on D.D.T. I would not agree with her when she said that she would ban D.D.T. She should realise when making criticisms—let us not forget that the report has not yet been published—that D.D.T. has been a useful insecticide in agriculture since 1945. No one has ever died from D.D.T.
There is no evidence that D.D.T. has affected any human being. The worst that can be said of it is that it might have affected the fertility of predatory birds. Against this criticism should be 1263 put the fact that D.D.T. has saved the lives of millions because of the eradication of malaria in huge areas. It has been of great benefit to British agriculture as an insecticide. It may he that our chemical industry is producing substitute chemicals, but while they may be cheaper than D.D.T. in the long run, they will certainly be dearer now. When my hon. Friend speaks of D.D.T. so disparagingly we should set the balance right and consider that, like many things which come under criticism, it has its good points as well as its bad ones.
The other part of the Measure which interests me is that referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) and the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom)— Clause 98, which improves that is all I say it does—security of tenure for agricultural workers in tied cottages. I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether this Clause could not go further and stop up another way in which an agricultural worker can be evicted. Many such workers live in rent-free cottages or in cottages the rent of which can be under £20. In those circumstances there is an ancient Act on the Statute Book, passed in 1838, allowing the landlord of such a cottage to take the tenant not to the county court but to the magistrates' court.
This is used not extensively in the agricultural world, but, I regret to say, extensively by local authorities, and they should he ashamed of it. If the tenant is taken to the magistrates' court, with the best will in the world the magistrates must grant an eviction order unless there is some defect in the notice.
There can be no consideration of the tenant's rights against the landlord. The court is concerned in such cases only with the technical point whether the notice of eviction was properly served, the proper period has expired, and the words are correct. If that is so, the tenant has to be evicted. I hope that my right hon. Friend will stop up this possible escape route whereby the very few unscrupulous landlords on being blocked by Clause 98 might decide to use this method to evict the holder of a tied cottage.
The hon. Member for Leominster said that he did not think that this was neces- 1264 sary. I could not disagree with him more. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North told us how important it is to the agricultural worker. When I was a law student the definition of a serf was a man who was tied to the soil. Is not a man tied to the soil if through the prospect of giving up his job or of having a row with his employer he will lose not only his job but his home? Of course he is tied to the soil in such circumstances. My hon. Friend and his union are right to fight tooth and nail on this issue so that there is security of tenure for the agricultural worker, so that he is not at the mercy of his employer.
It may be that a few farmers use this, but some can, and the fact that they can gives a sense of insecurity to a skilled worker. Even after yesterday's massive increase which the union and my hon. Friend obtained for the industry, that skilled worker receives a minimum wage of £13 3s. for a 43-hour week. It is not the Government whom the farm workers have been fighting over this for 50 years ; it is the representatives of the farmers. There are a number of useful provisions in the Bill but none is more useful for the farm worker and his status than Clause 98, which at least gives additional security to a man to remain in his own home even if he loses his job.
I support the Bill and commend it. It is not a "pettifogging irrelevance to agriculture." It is a collection of a number of useful provisions which will be of great benefit to the industry.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Like all miscellaneous provisions Bills, this Measure is in many ways a hotchpotch. Nevertheless, it includes many important provisions. I am sure of their importance, but I am not sure that I support all of them. I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) now into the points he has made, but I will come to them in turn.
I turn, first, to the provision with regard to smallholdings. The most valuable contribution to the debate so far has been that of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). I agree that it is a pity that the House has not had the opportunity to debate the Wise Report at length before the Bill was introduced, because the Wise Committee's 1265 findings are important not only from the point of view of agriculture but from that of the social pattern of our country. I was with the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) all the way when he spoke about smallholdings. I represent a county which has a large number of them. I think that it has the highest acreage of smallholdings of any county of England and Wales.
It is astonishing that, whenever the tenancy of a smallholding is available in the county, there is always a large number of applicants for it. We should not underestimate the importance of the hope of getting a smallholding. It means to, say, the fourth son of a small farmer or to a farm worker who has no other means a way of getting his foot on the rung of the farming ladder. The economists would not understand, but people who have lived in the countryside do, that very often these men prefer to work fantastically long hours in order to have the independence of their smallholdings than to go, as some of their brothers have done, to Coventry and earn three times what they could on the smallholdings. If the Minister does not understand that, he does not understand the countryside and what makes it tick. I do not know what the views of the Secretary of State for Scotland are on this matter.
I am in favour not only of full-time smallholdings but of part-time smallholdings. In my area, because of the distances involved we do not have people who are, say, mechanics, with part-time smallholdings, but the men who look after our roads want them.
One of the most enlightened and successful farmers I know once bought a farm in a hill area of Wales. There was a small estate with a very large farm and four adjoining smaller farms, varying between 70 and 90 acres. He gave one to each member of his staff as a smallholding and they worked four or five days for him. It was a happy arrangement which ran very successfully the whole of the time that man farmed there.
I am certain that we should be careful not to intervene too much with the local authorities in relation to smallholdings. If the Labour Party wants to lose virtually every vote among the farmworkers and farmers' sons in Wales, let it do away with the bottom rung of the farm- 1266 ing ladder, which is what it is in danger of doing.
The Wise Report was in many ways very valuable, and I agreed with much of it. But I disagreed fundamentally with certain of its approaches. I would like to see the smallholdings authorities enlarged for Wales. I will tell the Secretary of State for Scotland what is happening in that part of the country.
Many marginal farms coming on to the market are being bought by such organisations as Economic Forestry Ltd., consisting of a number of rich people investing money in order to avoid death duties. Because of restrictions on credit and so on, it is difficult for young farmers to compete for these farms. The Forestry Commission cannot because it is controlled by the Ministry. But private forestry interests are not so controlled and they are taking over these farms which otherwise would be admirable starting places for young farmers.
I would like to see the smallholdings authority in an area like mine empowered to buy some of these farms in marginal land when they come on the market. Often, farms of 100 to 150 acres become available. These are larger than the normal ideal of a smallholding but, because of their situation, they are about as productive as smallholdings of 30 or 40 acres on better land. I have the greatest misgivings about the Bill's provisions with regard to smallholdings.
Something about which I not only have misgivings but which I am completely against is the Agricultural Training Board. The compromise solution provided in the Bill does not answer the point. I think that it was a mistake for the Government to extend a scheme which had been drafted for large industries to such an activity as agriculture. Thousands of skilled men are leaving the land every year. It is not that they lack skill. What they lack is an economic return for their labours. It is not that farmworkers need greater skill. They need greater returns.
The Agricultural Training Board has set up a large and expensive headquarters. The overheads are fantastically high and our return from the project is going to be very small. I would have preferred the Minister to bring in his own scheme, using the courses of the 1267 county agricultural colleges and such establishments as the projected Welsh Agricultural College. One need only open a farming paper to realise how many admirable courses are run in farming institutes and colleges which can meet the needs of the industry. The board is an expensive luxury and we would be well-advised to do without it.
One very important provision in the Bill deals with eggs. I do not think that it is sufficiently appreciated that we are, for the first time, dealing with a departure from a basic principle of the Agriculture Act, 1947. Credit for that Act has quite rightly been claimed by the Labour Party but it was supported by all parties in the House. Yet what we are witnessing in this Bill is a rejection of a basic principle with regard to eggs. It is therefore a very important matter.
One can discern the trend in the industry. The larger farmer, the man who is able to set up his own selling organisation or to take part in one, the man in the more favoured areas, is looking favourably upon and is being more and more attracted to the idea of a free market with import controls. The small farmer, however, the man in the remoter areas, realises how vulnerable he is and much prefers to cling to the security of what he knows. That is the dilemma to be found in the debates in all parties at the present time.
I could not understand much of the chiding of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) against the Minister because, really, they are running along the same road, although at different speeds. I agreed with the criticism that it was almost like hearing distant thunder with the storm never coming. As I have said, there is a basic dilemma here. I believe I speak for most of the farmers in my part of Wales and, I think, in Scotland, in saying that the Egg Marketing Board, with all its many deficiencies, would be preferred to the proposals now before the House.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
But farmers did not support it.
§ Mr. Hooson
They were critical of certain aspects of the board, and rightly. Whether it was a deficiency of personnel or policy, it is not for me to say now. Many aspects of the board were criticised 1268 but, with all its shortcomings, it did provide the means whereby people in the less favoured areas of the country could get their eggs to market at a reasonable price. It is the technical developments in egg producing—the vertical integration—which has made the situation so difficult to deal with. There is always the difficulty that what is a fair return for the small farmer when marketing is organised by a large Government board may be a killing for the large integrated producer. Now the Government are contracting out of the guarantee for eggs and the small man's future, particularly that of the man in the remote areas, is pretty bleak.
A concession has been made for Northern Ireland and the Orkneys, although not for Shetland. It is difficult to understand why the Shetlands should be excluded in this regard. But the point that the less favoured areas other than the Orkneys and Northern Ireland will suffer enormous disadvantage is true. If the new Eggs Authority is to be a success —and I have considerable doubt as to whether it will be—it is vitally important to provide some form of stability for the market.
Surely the first thing necessary to do is to have adequate control of imports, which so affect the egg market. It may be 'that we are almost entirely self-sufficient in eggs, as we are, but the 2 or 3 per cent. importation of eggs makes all the difference to the stability of the market. I have never been in favour of a minimum import price. Why pay the foreigner an additional price for his eggs when by means of a variable levy on the imports themselves, this country could benefit rather than the countries from which we are buying? It is important that, however it is done, the new Eggs Authority should have adequate control in that respect.
It is important that support buying should be substantial and that there is no time lag. The Secretary of State will know that there is considerable experience on the Continent of support buying and the criticism I have always heard there is that it is all very well having in theory a floor on the market but that, when there is a time lag, it is particularly pronounced as between the distant areas and the main agricultural centres. In other words, the price may not have dropped overall 1269 sufficiently to warrant the support buying agencies operating, although in the remoter areas the prices in the markets may be below the average at which the buying agencies would normally intervene.
It is the experience of the Common Market countries that, in the remoter areas, the support buying technique does not fulfil the idea of a guaranteed minimum price to the producer. Unless this aspect is looked at carefully, and unless the Eggs Authority is going to have the money and power to establish genuine stability in the market, we may as well say that we would be better off without it.
I disagree with many members of my own party on agriculture. I say that either we should go for a free market in agriculture with no trimmings except for import control on price, or we should have a system which is virtually based on the principles of the 1947 Act. I think that this country has moved in the direction of the support price—the levy system —simply in order to adjust its system to the Common Market.
It would be the height of folly for the country to go over to that system unless we were to have some great benefits—and that is arguable—out of the Common Market. To go over to that system without any guarantee that we would get in would be to take the worst of all worlds. The farming community would lose its guarantees and the consuming public would be faced with far higher prices than we have been used to paying. If there is one thing the country cannot afford if it is excluded from the Common Market it is a high price food policy. I am sure that this is the basic consideration for many people.
There are many other comments which I should like to make on the Bill, but many of them are about Committee points. It is a very important Bill in many ways and I envisage long periods having to be spent in Committee in consideration of some of its provisions, but I have considerable misgivings about many parts of it.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) said that farm workers were over-sensitive on the subject of tied 1270 cottages. If there is any subject that makes people sore, it is housing. I want to refer to Clause 98, which deals with tied cottages.
Farm workers in my constituency will undoubtedly welcome the extra security which the new provision for six months' security of tenure will give them. But I am not certain that this will close the loophole which arises because of the Small Tenements Act, 1838. The use of this Act was attempted in my constituency not two weeks ago. A man and his wife and nine children were served with a notice to evict them from their farm cottage.
They had been evicted from a council house for arrears of rent nine years before. A farmer, who was generous and kind-hearted, allowed them to go into an empty cottage. He did not charge them any rent. The man suffered from long periods of chronic sickness, but he did some work around the farm, and his wife also worked on general maintenance on the farm—painting, tidying up and so on. They did not receive any wage for the work, and they lived rent-free but paid the rates. They had no rent book.
The philanthropic farmer died, unfortunately in a state of bankruptcy—whether due to his generosity I do not know. His son took over and served the eviction notice under the 1838 Act.
I took up the matter with the Ministry of Housing, which said that undoubtedly the eviction would go through the county court and there was very little that the Ministry could do about it.
§ Mr. Ashton
I checked on this. In the past such cases have gone to the magistrates' court, but the letter from the Ministry of Housing refers to the county court. Because the case was being heard in the wrong court, there has been an adjournment. In the meantime, as a result of various pressures, the local council has offered the family a council house, although where it will find a council house able to accommodate nine children in satisfactory conditions is another problem.
What matters is that this is an instance in which the 1838 Act will eventually be used. It is a loophole open to farmers or other employers where there is no rent paid and where there is no rent 1271 book. There is not much point in giving six months' security of tenure if the 1838 Act can be used. I hope that the Minister will examine this difficulty in Committee with a view to altering the 1838 Act.
§ Mr. Hooson
I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the 1838 Act has been left on the Statute Book by successive Governments because local authorities have used it to obtain evictions.
§ Mr. Ashton
I am grateful for that explanation. This may well be true. A provision in the 1838 Act says that the Act cannot be applied when the holding has been occupied for longer than seven years, but when there has not been a rent book the question is whether there has been a holding. I am in some difficulty about this because I do not have any expert legal knowledge, but this is certainly a matter to be considered in committee.
I was glad to hear the Minister's assurance that widows would also have the six months' security of tenure. This is a little more generous than three months' security, but a widow may still often be left in a desperate situation.
A widow came to see me. Her husband had died of cancer, having worked for a farmer for 17 years. The farmer had allowed her to stay in the tied cottage and had applied no pressure. But she is obviously in a difficult position because the farmer needs the cottage for an incoming worker. She has a job and, because the cottage is rent-free, she can manage. But if she is offered a council house and she has to leave the cottage, she will have to pay rent, and, because she is working, she will not be able to claim social security benefits. Her financial position will then become precarious.
It is clear that the wages-rent structure in this sort of farming economy is completely wrong. There are advantages on both sides, of course. If a farmer does not charge £3 a week for his cottage and does not give the farm worker £3 a week increase in wages to pay the rent, both sides do not have to pay income tax. An addition of £3 a week on his wages would probably mean that the farm worker would have to pay tax, and 1272 the farmer would have to pay tax on the rent income.
Nevertheless, the situation should be straightened out. Proper rents should be paid and proper increases to pay the rent should be given to farm workers. They would then be on the basis of others who live in tied cottages, such as railway workers, co-operative workers, or even the managers of pubs. This situation is a blot on agriculture, and the extension to six months' security of tenure will not stop the bitterness from creeping in. I hope that the Committee will consider this matter in detail and try to make some alteration of the law.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler) is not in her place. Listening to her speech—unless I misunderstood it—I thought that she seemed to be nervous lest the 12 members of the Eggs Authority were not consumers of eggs. She feared that the consumer interest would be under-represented. I should have thought that it would be difficult to find anybody to go on such an authority who was not himself a consumer. I can imagine a marvellous dialogue between the Minister and a number of eminent people whom he was considering for appointment to the egg Authority, with the Minister asking. "How many eggs do you eat in a week? Do you like them boiled or fried?" If they said that they did not mind and that they ate many eggs, anyway, it could be argued that the consumer interested was over-represented. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will define to a nice degree what constitutes over-representation or under-representation of the consumer interest on the Eggs Authority.
I do not want to be unkind to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, for whom I have a high regard, but I do not think that the Bill is one of the great landmarks in the agricultural story. I defy any farmer who has read the Bill, or Part II on capital grants, or the comments in the agricultural press on Part II, to have any idea so far of exactly what sort of schemes and grants the Minister has in mind, or what the rates of grants are to be. None of us was greatly enlightened by his speech today. His attempt to 1273 simplify what he said had hitherto been a rather complicated system was not very successful.
Very little progress has been made with amalgamation, with which Clause 33 deals. This is due to a number of reasons. The conditions have been too complex and they have often been too stringent. Very high interest rates have affected the whole set-up. There is a fear, which is by no means an unreal fear, that capital gains tax will fraginentate an amalgamated holding.
For example, if three uneconomic holdings are amalgamated into one economic holding, there are almost bound to be two surplus farm houses. The owner would not want to leave them empty and, if he had no one whom he wanted to put into them, the sensible thing would be to sell at least one as a "desirable" residence. But once he embarks on that process the incidence of capital gains tax resulting from the sale of a surplus farmhouse may often exceed what he gets in grant for amalgamating the three uneconomic holdings. That has been the biggest disincentive to the success of the scheme.
Perhaps the second biggest—and this is something which the right hon. Gentleman has done his best to remedy—has been the unreal qualifying period. It was originally 60 years, but, as a result of representations by the Opposition, the period became 40 years. When the period was 60, a farmer would be 80-plus before qualifying, even if he started farming at the very early age of 20. But even with the qualifying period at 40 years, a man who started farming at 20 would be 60 before he could qualify. The period of 15 years makes much more sense. What a pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not take our advice a little sooner!
Clause 98 deals with tied cottages, to which the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) referred. I listened with interest to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about this subject. One thing that puzzles me is why this provision is in a Bill dealing with agriculture. If the present legislation in respect of tied cottages needs to be amended, the amending legislation should be in a housing Bill.
It is moonshine to suppose that the problem of tied cottages is mainly, let 1274 alone exclusively, connected with agriculture. There are about 750,000 tied cottages in England and Wales, about 100,000 of them in agriculture. That is the measure of the agricultural problem. The others are owned by the Coal Board, the railways, the Services—in the form of married quarters—by hospitals, schools, including approved schools and boarding schools, the police, clergy, the prison service.
In many occupations there is the problem that accommodation must go with the job. If a policeman wishes to go to another job or retire, he cannot stay in a house which has been earmarked for his successor. The same is true of a resident doctor in a hospital. The number of examples can be multiplied. The problem is not pecular to agriculture.
Tied cottages are necessary in agriculture as in these other occupations, particularly when livestock have to be looked after and especially when a cowman is needed to milk a dairy herd. If he cannot live nearby, he will not come. A farmer who tries advertising for a cowman and putting in the advertisement in brackets "No accommodation available" will get no answers. We all know this. This is the measure of the problem.
What has to be balanced is what is called the hardship to the outgoing occupant with the hardship to the incoming occupant who cannot get into the house.
Broadly speaking, the courts interpret the 1965 Act with extreme fairness. The National Farmers Union and the National Union of Agricultural Workers each allege that the courts are favouring the other. I should think that was pretty good proof that the courts are operating the 1965 Act with compassion, fairness and common sense.
§ Mr. Ashton
The hon. Gentleman is right in what he says about tied houses generally, because the National Coal Board, for instance, has 100,000 or more. But will he answer the point about a proper rent structure? The police, approved school employees, miners and all the other people in tied houses have a proper rent structure. They do not live rent-free or at a nominal 4s. or 5s. a week.
Sir C. Mott-Raddyffe
Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. Quite frankly, the rent structure is irrelevant to the argument. What rent is deducted from wages by reason of occupation of what is called a tied cottage is irrelevant. It has nothing whatever to do with this argument.
I think that the courts have operated the old Act with compassion and, as is to be expected, with common sense and fairness.
The right hon. Gentleman, for some reason, omitted to mention that the 1965 Act gave the agricultural occupant of a tied cottage a concession, protection, privilege—call it what you will—which was not given to occupants of other types of tied cottage, because the 1965 Act gave the courts power to suspend an eviction order indefinitely. That cannot be done for occupants of tied cottages in other occupations. This is a big concession. A lot of heat is engendered in this argument. I own tied cottages. I have made attempts to persuade occupants of my tied cottages, when a council house has been available, to move into that council house, but nothing will induce them to go.
This has all blown up into a kind of inflammable atmosphere. The average farmer, land owner and occupant of a tied cottage get on very well. Each treats the other with extreme fairness. When somebody dies and a widow is involved, or when a man wants to leave his job and go to another, everybody leans over backwards to find alternative accommodation and leave the widow in occupation as long as possible. But there comes a point when the farmer must have a replacement to carry on the work on the farm. Then he may have to deal with the rare case where, particularly near big towns, a man comes and takes a job as a tractor driver, stays for a fortnight, and then goes off to drive a bulldozer on a building site for £40 a week and still wishes to stay in the tied cottage. That is when the trouble comes, and that is when the courts have to act. But Clause 98 makes no substantial difference to the system operated under the 1965 Act.
I know the problem, and so does the right hon. Gentleman. We all know that unwise promises were made in the election, particularly by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown). This 1276 is simply an attempt by the right hon. Gentleman to get off the hook. If it takes a little of the heat out of the controversy —and most of it is pretty synthetic, in my view—good luck to him.
Hon. Members on both sides have mentioned the wage award about which we read this morning, which is to operate in February. I think that a far higher degree of intelligence and skill is required of any agricultural worker today, and has been for a long time, than is required of a great many of his brethren working in heavy industry. Far more intelligence and skill is required and obtained on the land than in many sections of heavy industry. Everybody who knows anything about farming knows that this is true. To that extent, I welcome the wage increase. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said, we do not want the only result to be one more turn of the screw, one more repetition of that sickening technique—shortly after the minimum agricultural wage goes to £X, along come the heavy industrial unions saying, "All right. If the minimum agricultural wage is £X, we want another £X plus to maintain the differential." In that event all that has happened is that the agricultural worker, for all his skill, is still on the bottom rung of the ladder, although the ladder may be more steeply tilted. This will do no good to anybody. This is why the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) and others must try to persuade the industrial unions to allow agriculture to reach something like parity. Otherwise, merely to increase the minimum wage simply sets off a spiral which will not do anybody any good at all.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that he will, rightly, be under fire from the National Farmers' Union that the increase in wage costs, whatever it is, must be taken into account in the Price Review in February. Many farmers are heavily indebted to the banks. Unless this is compensated for to some extent in the Price Review, workers will be stood off who ought not to be stood off and there will be an element of unemployment in agriculture which nobody wants.
The economy of the industry is not good. Agriculture needs long-term confidence. This it has not got. The credit squeeze has operated very hard, and it is 1277 to some extent aggravated by S.E.T. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying that the farmer pays S.E.T. but gets it back. Of course he does ; but he has to pay it out interest-free to the Government for three or four months before getting it back. If he is borrowing money from the bank over those three or four months, then it is not interest-free. So S.E.T., which is interest-free to the Government but not to the man who pays it when he is indebted to the bank, aggravates the credit squeeze. So in many aspects of farming does capital gains tax. One of the major factors in removing any feeling of long-term security from agriculture is the present rate of estate duty in relation to the value of agricultural land. The right hon. Gentleman may look surprised. He ought not to be. He ought to be briefed by his Department about this. For instance, a 300-acre owner-occupied arable farm, which is the minimum viable unit for that kind of farming, where the owner has no capital invested except in the farm, is sunk when he dies because his widow will have to pay a rate of estate duty which will fragmentate it. So, when that man dies, the viable holding will go. The only security that he has is during his lifetime. There is no security for his widow.
These are some of the matters about which the right hon. Gentleman should think carefully. These are some of the chilly winds that are blowing across the agricultural community. The farmer wants security. He wants to feel that he can plan long. The right hon. Gentleman exhorts more efficient farming in one breath, but much of his legislation and much of the legislation of his colleagues is going precisely in the opposition direction.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
Before I move to the main points of the Bill I should like to clear up the issue of the Agricultural Training Board as far as it concerns myself. I fully admit that I was one of the first to oppose the board with all that it means. I do so, not because I am against training, but because 1 am opposed to a heavy bureaucratic heap of nonsense, which is exactly what we had at the beginning. Admittedly, it is being licked into shape, but more needs to be done. I am opposed to any organisa- 1278 tion which spends nearly £½, million on administration, and which has a chairman who is virtually not prepared to listen to what the industry wants. That is why some of us opposed it, and rightly so, but we are not opposed to training.
I want to confine my remarks chiefly to the egg proposals. The Minister is proposing some really radical changes in the industry, and these will have a profound effect, perhaps more than even he realises. I am not against the proposals in principle, but I am concerned about the time-scale, and what I call the climate that ought to be created for the egg industry to flourish.
With these changes in the support system—for that is what it is—it is vital to create conditions for the industry as a whole, and of course the egg industry, to flourish. I want to give a warning to the Socialist Party, and even to my party, and for that matter to any party that is interested in agriculture. The industry is prepared to accept changes, but there should be no change without a proper transitional period, and without control of imports. That is essential.
Agriculture cannot accept these changes without the conditions that I have mentioned. Indeed, agriculture is not in the mood, nor has it the strength, to accept radical changes without the conditions that I have mentioned. There is time for a change, but there must be certain safeguards, and any further change like this, which is a fairly dramatic one, without these safeguards can only lead to what I call a real sapping of the confidence of the industry. If this is the start of the unscrambling of all the support that we have had, and it is being done fairly drastically, I believe that this is very serious indeed. I am not against it, but I am saying that if the Minister makes these changes he must do something about the climate of the whole of the industry, such as having a fairly long transitional period. and control of imports.
Agriculture has had belt and braces for a long time. It is not prepared to have its trousers whipped away overnight. We must have safeguards until we can support ourselves. This is a serious matter, and the Minister must watch the position very carefully if he is to go on making changes without the proper safeguards that I have mentioned.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
This is a matter about which the hon. Gentleman feels deeply, and we have heard him on this subject on many occasions. I wonder whether he heard me say that we were negotiating minimum import prices, and phasing out to 1974, which is a longer period than that recommended by the Rowland Wright Commission?
§ Mr. Mills
I admit that, but I am sounding a warning on agriculture as a whole, besides the egg industry. These are important matters, and at the moment agriculture needs safeguards. Confidence in the industry can very quickly be sapped.
I welcome the idea of an eggs authority with its prime aim of improving the marketing of home-produced eggs, but I do not believe that it will work properly unless it is given sufficient powers and sufficient finance. It must have enough money to carry out its functions properly, otherwise it would be better not to have it at all. It is no good having a bastard body. It must have finance, and it must work properly, otherwise there will be no future in it.
I regret that there is no mention of any Government assistance for support buying. This is not a step that one can take lightly or encourage, but I should like to have seen the power there for this to be done when it was expedient in the interests of the producer and the consumer.
I am glad that the Minister mentioned minimum import prices. I believe that this is right, for surely a reduction in subsidy must be tied to some sort of import control. This is only fair to the producer, and is in the interests of the consumer as well.
I regret that there is no mention of any target price in this new set-up, an annual determination of what should be the fair price, taking into account the extra costs. It is important year by year to give industry a guide to production costs, and what is roughly the target price for the industry.
I regret that there is no real mention or encouragement of the contract system. This may come out later. This may be the work of the authority. I believe in the contract system. It is important for the small producer, because it gives him strength if he is prepared to work in 1280 co-operation with others, and it guarantees a steady flow of eggs to the consumer.
I regret, too, that no real emphasis is placed on the problem of egg products. I believe that these are the products of the future, and that the demand for them will continue to grow as housewives demand eggs in a convenient form. In this connection, it is important to control the import of egg products. The Egg Marketing Board has done its best—it has made mistakes—to put the egg product industry on a proper basis, and I hope that the authority, too, will encourage this.
I believe in an eventual free market, but, bearing in mind the long period of support that the industry has had, there must be a proper transitional period between the ending of the egg board and the eventual free market. After all, we are having the maximum cut in subsidies, and this is hardly fair to many of the small producers who have spent, and even now are spending, a lot of capital on getting their houses in order and making themselves into viable units. They need time to adapt themselves to the new climate and the changing conditions, and to make contract arrangements. There is, of course, a social element in this—it would be silly to deny it—in the remoter areas, and with the smaller producers, and this needs watching very carefully.
I turn, briefly, to the question of quality control. This again is vital to the industry if it is to succeed. It is vital to produce the sort of egg that the housewife wants, and I believe that quality control should take place at the retail stage. One has only to realise how long the shelf life of some eggs can be to realise how the eggs must deteriorate inside. If this authority is to carry out any work on quality control, that should be done at he retail stage, when checks can be made on quality.
Levies present a difficult problem. They have almost become a dirty word. This is unfortunate. I believe that levies will always be difficult to collect, but, after a lot of thought and research, I have come to the conclusion that the levy should be put on the chick. This is the easiest way in which one can put on the levy and administer it. Chick producers will, of course, create about that suggestion, but that is the easiest point at 1281 which to put on the levy. The problem is there, but the industry must accept the principle of levies. Just because we have had one disaster it is no good saying that the collection of levies is out. I hope that the Minister can assure us that the levy will be imposed on the chick.
These proposals are probably right, but why not Cornwall? That is almost as far away as Northern Ireland. Why not Wales? Why not Scotland? This is a real social problem. Until alternative ways of earning a living can be found, small producers will be in serious trouble. I hope that the Minister will pay special attention to the situation in the remoter areas. We shall see larger and larger units nearer the bigger cities. That is inevitable. I am concerned about what is to happen in the intermediate stage, before they are fully set up. I believe that just as many social problems will arise for the industry in Cornwall, Wales and parts of Scotland as in Northern Ireland and the Orkneys.
Egg producers can be divided into three categories. I have no doubt that the large producer will be able to look after himself. I am not sure, however, that it is in the interests of the consumer or of the nation to have only four, five, six or seven producers. Real dangers arise from such a situation, not merely in terms of health. It is quite wrong to give grants to large slabs of concrete to set up these units.
The tiny producer will also survive, because he will be able to produce the sort of eggs that can be sold over the farm gate—the brown eggs. He will survive because he will produce the eggs that many people want. It is the small man about whom I am worried—the man with between 5,000 and 10,000 birds. He will be in the most difficult position, especially if he is in one of the remoter areas. That is why I say that there should be a longer transitional period for him to enable him to adjust himself.
He will have two courses open to him. The first is to join with others in a cooperative unit. By this means he will be able to obtain all the advantages of buying and selling, and getting himself organised with others. I hope that the authority will give help and encouragement to this type of producer, so that he will co-operate. His second course is 1282 to join a much larger private enterprise organisation, where he can contract to provide so many eggs or so many birds.
We shall probe the Bill carefully in Committee. I hope that at that stage many of the problems raised and fears expressed tonight will be dealt with by the Minister. I can assure him that we shall probe deeply many of the matters that we have raised.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)
The part of the Bill that especially concerns many of my constituents is that which deals with eggs. They are particularly worried about the transport subsidy for eggs coming from Northern Ireland. One of my constituents is a director of what he tells me is the largest agricultural co-operative society in the United Kingdom which deals exclusively with eggs. My hon. Friend mentioned the difficulties of the egg producers with between 5,000 and 10,000 birds, and said that they ought to join co-operatives. The Yorkshire :Egg Producers Limited—the co-operative that I am talking about—addressed a letter to the Minister earlier this month, and in case it has not yet been brought to his attention I want to quote from it. The co-operative accepts the recommendations of the Reorganisation Commission for eggs, published in 1968, but says:
There is one provision in the Bill which causes us great anxiety and that is the provision for the reimbursement of the cost of sea passage of eggs from Northern Ireland to the mainland. This will enable Northern Irish eggs to be sold to retailers in Great Britain at a considerable advantage over Great Britain egg packers. For example it will be possible for eggs from Northern Ireland to beshipped to Great Britain ports, e.g., Glasgow, Preston, Liverpool and London, etc. with sea passage reimbursed, whereas we and other Great Britain packers will have to bear the road carriage on eggs from their packing stations to their own subsidiaries in these port areas. One example of this will be that we ourselves will have to bear the carriage on eggs packed by us relating to the journey to our subsidiary…where, from wartime days and since, we actively compete with Northern Irish eggs. Similarly we shall have to bear the carriage from our packing stations to the Liverpool, Manchester and Preston markets…We most respectfully suggest that this priority payment to Northern Irish packers and shippers is grossly unfair to Great Britain packers, and not capable of justification.Those are the views of my constituents who will be affected by the subsidy—because that is what it is—given to Northern Irish producers.
1283 There is one aspect of the new Eggs Authority about which some of my egg producers are concerned. They express the hope that there will be a reasonable number of nominated members on the authority, because they are afraid lest it should fall into the hands of the monopoly producers. The small producer feels that in such a case his interests would not be fully protected. The Minister mentioned the question of minimum import prices. We shall be interested to see what figure has been arrived at. Although there are powers to control imports now, egg producers for many months have been far from satisfied at the way in which these have been operated.
I am pleased at Part IV of the Bill, which deals with fertilisers and feeding stuffs, and I want to refer to some correspondence that I had with the Parliamentary Secretary a year ago in connection with the import of fertilisers.
This refers to a substance called Calseamin imported from France. An agricultural merchant in my constituency went to the trouble of having this substance analysed, and as far as he could discover it largely consisted of sand with about a 31 per cent. calcium content. He wrote to me enclosing a sample of the material which I sent to the Minister. I hope that he has had it analysed. If he has it may have had some influence upon him in introducing this provision. My constituent said:
This material works out at £15 6s. 8d. per ton delivered to the farm. As you can see it is hardly equal to one-third of a ton of ground limestone which we deliver and spread in this area, after deduction of the lime subsidy, at from 17s. to 18s. per ton.I understand that Calseamin is from France and it seems to be a great pity, that we should be spending foreign currency on this particular substance.
§ Mr. A. W. Wiggin (Weston-superMare)
Calseamin is based in my constituency, and it has made representations to me on the fact that the analysis used for ordinary fertilisers does not apply to its product. I would ask my hon. Friend to bear this in mind and to recognise that, perhaps, if the Ministry tries this product out it will not be necessary to make an issue of its chemical constituents.
§ Mr. Drayson
I am glad that my hon. Friend has had an opportunity of putting his remarks on record. Perhaps when the Bill is passed, if the Minister has not tested this substance in the past, he will do so. It appeared to my constituent that to pay £15 a ton in foreign currency for a commodity about which he was doubtful was something to be avoided.
In his reply the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Government did not pay any contribution towards the farmers' purchases of this product and added:
…but there are no grounds for prohibiting its import and offer for sale If in fact the product is not worth the price the remedy is in the farmers' own hands.Of course the remedy was not in the farmers' hands then. They could have it analysed, but few farmers go to that trouble. The remedy may exist in future.
Poultry breeders have brought to my attention a matter concerning feeding stuffs. A constituent of mine was very surprised to learn a little while ago that chicken droppings were incorporated in a compound feed which he was buying from his poulterer. I do not know whether it was done deliberately but one naturally wonders what else is incorporated in this product. Part VI of the Bill will deal with this.
I have been asked by my hill farmers to bring a matter concerning the single capital grant scheme to the attention of the Minister. Under the present regulations, drainage grants provide that drains should be laid rather farther apart than the farmers in my constituency on certain land have been accustomed to do. They have suggested that as they are paying part of the cost of the work, if they decide, with their knowledge of the land, that drains should be closer together, they should be allowed to do this and receive the full grant.
While there are a number of useful features in the Bill, it does not meet the needs of agriculture nor does it contribute much to the selective expansion about which the Minister talked. It will require close scrutiny in Committee. Like so many Government Measures it does not get to the root of the problem.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
There are a number of points about what 1285 is and what is not in the Bill which I wish to draw to the attention of the Minister. Eggs are being taken from the umbrella of the 1957 Act but in his speech recommending this Bill the Minister did not describe to the House what the effect on the remaining provisions of the 1957 Act would be.
Let us take the provision for Special Reviews. If there is an increase in costs of the specified percentage, for review commodities, a Special Review can be demanded. But as I understand it—and I am open to correction by the Minister in winding up the debate if I am wrong—the effect of taking eggs out of the umbrella of the 1957 Act is that a massive increase in the costs of poultry food will no longer count as a component in agricultural costs for the purposes of a special review. It follows as night follows day.
If that is so, the Minister should state it clearly. Whereas lie may be thinking of egg production in terms of a massive factory-egg farm, to many people egg production is still a part of a balanced agriculture. It is still a significant proportion of the income of a balanced agricultural enterprise. If there is a massive increase in the cost of chicken food, the balance of the agricultural enterprise is destroyed, but the farmer has no recourse to the specific remedies put into the 1957 Act by a Conservative Government. My predecessor in the House, Lord Amory, as Minister of Agriculture, was responsible for putting that specific protection into the Act. This is not a change which we should pass over as if it does not matter, least of all at a time when agriculture is almost unable to get credit at any price or, if it can get credit, has to pay a price which no profit which it can possibly produce will service.
Clause 66 deals with
Enforcement authorities and appointment of inspectors and analysts ".The last time Devon Members of Parliament met Devon County Council, the latter stressed the urgency of not passing more legislation which placed further costs upon local authorities without providing them with any extra source of income to meet those costs. Many of the roads in Devon are literally falling into potholes and disrepair. They are breaking up, such is the shortage of funds 1286 for road maintenance following the Government's cut-back. Every time the House, which means the Government, passes legislation which imposes more and more expense on local authorities for which they are stautorily bound to allocate funds, something else has to suffer—welfare services for the old, the roads or something else. No one should imagine that by Clause 66 we can impose additional expenses on local authorites, with no extra source of income, without something else being cut back. It is fair to throw the ball back into the Miniser's court, and to ask him what he thinks ought to be cut back.
We should also note that under Clause 100 the proposals for financing the Agricultural Training Board mean that those who derive no benefit whatever from the board, and who are probably in a worse financial position than any other agricultural producer—the one-man farmers—will pay partly for the training board. It is to be financed out of the Price Review fund. This means that it is not only those who employ labour and who hypothetically derive benefit from the board who will finance it. Let it be stated openly that it is now to be financed partly by those who derive no benefit from it whatever and that the board is partly to be financed by these people, allegedly for the benefit of their better-off competitors. Let no one tell us that the majority of farmers have voted for this board, because they have not. The ordinary farmer has had no vote in the matter. It has been done by county delegates to the National Farmers' Union in London. It has not been subjected to the votes of the ordinary farmers. Do not let anyone tell us the monstrous lie that the majority of farmers are in favour either of the existence of the Agricultural Training Board as things stand, or of its being financed in this way, for there is no justification for anybody advancing such a view.
The Bill bristles with Statutory Instruments. The disadvantage of such a Measure is that whereas if the Minister's proposals had been written into the Bill explicitly, they could have been amended in Committee or on Report, that cannot happen to Statutory Instruments. I have with me a letter from the Road Transport Industry Training Board to a constituent agreeing that he is being unjustly treated 1287 but bewailing the Board's powerlessness to do anything about it. It writes:
We regret that the relevant legislation makes no provision for any exemption from the terms of the levy order, nor does it allow for any abatement of levy.Under the Bill the Minister—he is not the only Minister to do this—will produce an Order. It will probably contain a number of matters which had not previously occurred to him and which, along with other issues, are criticised by hon. Members. Having put the Whips on, he will say, "Unless hon. Members vote for the whole Order, they will not get any of it. It is not subject to amendment." For this reason it is highly undesirable for the Government to introduce a Bill so many provisions of which depend on action by Statutory Instrument for their implementation.
At one point I began trying to count how many potential Statutory Instruments were lurking in the Bill's 102 pages. I had to give up because of shortage of time. Does the Minister know how many? I would be surprised if he could answer me off the cuff, although I will willingly give way if he wishes to do so. I do not see any athletic movement on the Government Front Bench, and I do not blame the Minister, because to find the answer to my question would be a Herculean task.
Delegated legislation has become one of the banes of existence these days. Indeed, it has become more powerful than the Ministers who introduce Measures. However, Ministers have the power to withdraw Orders, amend them and reintroduce them, as was done with the Instrument applying to the Agricultural Training Board. But on that occasion the House rose in a dramatic revolt. That, for many reasons, is rare, the main reason being the shortage of time in the House for re-laying Statutory Instruments.
When a miscellaneous provisions Measure of this kind is before us, the Minister has the duty to do his legislating overtly, in the Bill, and not covertly, hiding behind the sort of procedures to which I have referred and to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) referred and by which we must wait to see the form in which Orders will be laid.
1288 Even at this late hour the Minister should try to reduce the number of Statutory Instruments to which the Bill is to be the bastard father, and give birth to some children whom we can examine before we christen them.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. A. W. Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I find the Bill a tasteless dish, which is not surprising when one considers that the main ingredient is eggs, flavoured with a dash of maize and flood water.
The provisions relating to the new Eggs Authority lead one to ask why the Egg Marketing Board failed in its functions. The answer is twofold. First, far too small a proportion of eggs were being handled by the board and, secondly, the powers under which the board operated were not substantial enough from the first instance. I accept that the blame for that may not be entirely attributable to the present Administration.
The new authority's assistance in the market must be strong and must be seen to be strong, and the finance must be readily and quickly available. I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) reading a letter from the N.F.U. in which a Government financial contribution to support buying was definitely one of the conditions.
The question of minimum import prices has been bandied about in the political arena but what matters to the egg producer is the level at which the Government of the day is to cast them. This is what the argument must be about. I urge the Government to make sure that these minimum import prices apply. The damage that was done to the barley market last month by the temporary slipping of a quantity of grain into the country below the minimum import price was serious, and if a similar thing happened with eggs the effect on producer prices could be disastrous, and enormously important to a large number of people.
I was interested to hear the suggestion about the levy made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills). The difficulty here lies in the small producer. the backyard man, the person who sells brown eggs over the gate because although the vast quantity of 1289 eggs is not produced by him it is increasingly the wish of the public to buy his eggs and their value rises all the time.
What interests me most is the simplification of bureaucracy in Part II. That is a most commendable object, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) that Government by Order is rather a two-edged sword. Many farmers would like to know how the Minister proposes to bring about this streamlining ; how he intends to cut out or cut down the vast quantities of paper work, the time wasted in inspection, and the multitude of checks, perhaps for even a single order.
The right hon. Gentleman quickly reeled off a number of schemes, but I could not make a note of them all. However, I was horrified, as were other of my hon. Friends, to hear that there will be no more allowances for tractors and combines. When we were in power we had the most sensible method of assisting capital investment—the capital allowance. The tax inspector agreed the accounts, and made the allowance. That method encouraged investment by the high taxpayer and, above all, it helped to provide capital. Judging by some of the utterances of hon. Gentlemen opposite, one wonders whether capital is any longer important, but we know that it is the lifeblood of the country. It is desperately short in agriculture and the Government of the day must encourage capital investment by all possible means, as this will help to preserve the industry for the future.
In my part of the West Country the flood warning provisions will be greatly welcomed. The disastrous floods of the summer of 1968 are still very much in everyone's mind there. I would welcome any further assistance which the Minister might be able to make not only for warning systems and their financing, but for flood protection, particularly where flash floods can occur.
May I mention two matters under Part VII, the miscellaneous provisions. The first is the inclusion of maize under the brief for the Home-Grown Cereals Authority. I am not clear what thinking lies behind the Clause, but, if I am right in thinking that the Ministry wishes to see maize or alternative crops to continuous barley and wheat being grown, it 1290 would be highly desirable for such other crops as beans and rape also to be included in the brief of the Home-Grown Cereals Authority, which could best deal with these crops.
I am sure that farmers are most hurt by the unpleasantness that is inevitably involved in an eviction. I have never had to do this, but I know that it is a most unpleasant business. The protection under Section 33 of the 1965 Act, as I am advised, will give the tenant at least three months from the date of the end of his employment, since the eviction has to take place under a county court order, and I think that the question of the 1838 Act is rather a hare. This is not really an agricultural provision, and I am sorry to see it included in the Bill. I understand that representations have already been made to the Minister on this subject by responsible organisations.
The thought that comes to all of us in the agricultural industry when we hear that there is a new Bill is, what will it mean financially to us? Think any way I can, I cannot see that the farmers of this country will be one penny better off as a result of the passing of this Bill, and this I believe to be a great mistake.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on the Bill, which is about the fourth Agriculture Bill that I have spoken on since I have been in the House, and, to be quite honest, I think that it is one too many. I had hoped that the Bill would have been of more importance to the industry and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) has said, that it would produce more cash income to the industry. Although many of the provisions in the Bill may well be useful, that is what the industry needs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) made an interesting speech. I have served on the county council, and in the last three years we have had to have about 1,200 extra staff. My hon. Friend mentioned the additional inspectors who would be required. and we need to pause before passing Bills which result in more staff being necessary for county councils and Government offices. Although the artificial manure industry needs closer checks, 1291 I hope that bigger staffs will not be necessary to check the analyses.
I do not know a great deal about the egg industry, but I do not feel that the substitution of an Eggs Authority for an Egg Marketing Board will do much good. I should like to see the total banning of imports of eggs. We produce about 98 per cent. or 99 per cent. of the eggs we need, and we could easily produce 100 per cent. I believe that if we banned all imports of eggs we could do without this appointed authority, which will mean more offices and more employees, and it could well be a burden on the country and, for that matter, on the industry.
I do not believe we should support-buy any eggs. I do not believe support-buying of any food acts properly because of the storage and the trouble of having a surplus hanging over one's head, which is inclined to reduce the price of the food coming on to the market. If one knows that there is a very large quantity of wheat, meat or eggs in store bought by an authority, one knows that it has got to be turned into some form of food, such as dried eggs or something of that sort, and it still acts as a drug on the market.
I wish to refer to the financing of the training scheme. As I think the Minister knows, I was opposed to this training scheme. I am not opposed to the training of agricultural workers. I think that is highly important. We have a diminishing number of agricultural workers on our farms, where each man has to be highly skilled. But the financing of this training scheme in the way proposed in the Bill is very unfair. It penalises the very small man working on his own. I believe that it will not be conducive to saving money because under this scheme one will not know exactly how much is being spent on the training.
I would much prefer to see the scheme closely linked with the education authorities. In Norfolk we have some extraordinarily good agricultural and horticultural training schools. The whole of this training scheme should and could have been carried out by expanding some of our training schools and agricultural colleges in certain places, and putting 1292 the money which it is proposed to be expended on this scheme into those training colleges and expanding the facilities where necessary, because they are closely in touch with the farmers in their districts who know what sort of training is required. In addition, many large firms concerned with the manufacture of tractors, harvesters and so on are running first-class training schemes for their own men and clients, and they are much closer to the job than this authority will be.
When we come to the change in the financing, to have the money taken out of the subsidy arrangements instead of imposing a levy on the farmers is quite the wrong way to do it. In East Anglia we have some first-class stockmen's clubs which have done a wonderful job. The best way of using the limited amount of money available for a scheme of this sort is to support the sort of clubs that I have referred to instead of duplicating courses as will be done under this proposed training scheme.
I now wish to refer to tied cottages. This has been a very thorny problem in East Anglia for many years. North Norfolk and my own constituency probably is the area where the N.U.A.W. started many years ago, and the tied cottage has always been a thorn in everybody's flesh. It has created a lot of ill-feeling in agriculture for many years. I should like to see conditions in which one could do away with all tied cottages, but one has to look at this question from a practical point of view. If one has a cowman living in a cottage and after a year or two he takes a job in a factory in a small town 10 or 15 miles away but continues to live in the cottage, what is the farmer to do? How is he to have his herd of cows looked after, and what will happen to the cowman who wants to come into that cottage? Though a lot of noise has been made about the Clause concerning tied cottages, I do not believe that it will alter the situation very much.
My near neighbour, the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Derek Page), I believe resigned, or partially resigned, the Whip because he was not obtaining satisfaction over the tied cottage position. I am sorry that he is not here. I do not know whether he is satisfied with the present position, but I have a feeling that he is not.
1293 What suggestions can be made to meet the problem of the cottage now occupied by a lorry driver or factory worker and really needed for the cowman? This question is bound up with solving the housing problem as a whole. Until we have sufficient houses in our rural areas I do not see how we can do without the tied cottage in a few places. Although my constituency has very strong branches of the N.U.A.W., with which I am on pretty good terms, I have not found more than two or three cases of real trouble over this problem in the time I have been a Member. I sincerely hope that an improvement in the housing position will enable us to do away with tied cottages before long.
One omission from the Bill that has already been referred to is the question of brucellosis. I hope that the Minister can step up the campaign against brucellosis. It is an important matter, but it is moving far too slowly. I am convinced that if the Minister said that those animals found with brucellosis were to be marked and had to go to the market for slaughter within 14 days there would not be a great outcry from farmers, even if there were no compensation, because as a general rule there are very few brucellosis animals whose meat has to be wholly condemned. I hope that something can be done to speed up the campaign.
Finally, I should like to say a word about smallholdings. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) has spoken of his authority's being the largest in Norfolk. I had a feeling that we were.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I believe that that is so. But I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says about the importance of bare land, as we call it, or part-time holdings. This land gives a start to the man who is not quite sure whether he has enough capital. It enables him to acquire a little capital and obtain good experience, and then he can move up the ladder to a full-time holding if he wishes. If he does not, it provides him with a very good healthy occupation, and there is extra money coming into the household. We should encourage this and not cut it back.
1294 My predecessor in the House, the late Mr. Sidney Dye, who sat on the other side of the House, was very much in favour of part-time holdings. We have a great deal of good land in our district, but it is land where nobody wants to live—the black lands of Southery, going away to the Isle of Ely, where men live in the villages and want five or 10 acres out in the country to grow crops and keep a certain amount of stock. I hope that the Minister will not turn his face against bare land holdings, as the Wise Committee did.
One of my hon. Friends wishes to speak, and I am sorry if I have kept the House too long. There are many good points in the Bill, but it is not the Bill that agriculture wanted today to meet its problems.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
There is little to say about the Bill from the horticultural point of view except to ask the Minister to be a little more specific about the exemptions and changes proposed in Clause 31. Would he expand on what the Minister said?
It is fair to remind the House that not only was the horticultural improvements scheme brought in by Mr. Christopher Soames, but it has been furthered oy Ministers of both political complexions. That scheme is here to stay, and for that reason I welcome Clause 31(2). However, I feel a little sad that the Minister did not use the opportunity when speaking about the Clause to offer from the Government benches a pledge comparable with that given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) in May two years ago when he told the horticultural industry that if this country were to join the E.E.C. could reasonably expect compensation in any section in which it had not a fair chance of competition. With the horticultural improvements scheme going along its present way, I believe that the glasshouse industry, which was probably uppermost in my right hon. Friend's mind two years ago, can well compete today, but the apple section of the industry is in grave difficulties, as we saw at Question Time yesterday, when two of my hon. Friends were given very unsatisfactory Answers. I therefore urge the Minister to do what he can to match my right hon. Friend's pledge.
1295 The Agricultural Training Board will not be paid for by horticulture at all. It will be paid for out of the Price Review. Most horticulturists feel that they do not want the board. They would much rather have an expansion of educational arrangements such as has been mentioned by several of my hon. Friends and by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). The present chairman of the board, Mr. Basil Neame, who has had a very bad Press, and to whom many of us have been consistently unpleasant, has always done what he could to differentiate between education and training. We must be fair to him in this respect—that in trying to move to the county colleges we should particularly bear in mind the kind of thing which my hon. Friend mentioned when he spoke of courses run by tractor firms, which represent training as opposed to education. Such training is particularly valuable in horticulture where we have far more technical machinery, which is scattered in certain specific horticultural districts. I hope that the newly constituted board will bear in mind the great advantage which can be obtained by using manufacturing firms' schools, at no cost to the taxpayer.
In discussing the provision concerning smallholdings, I go a long way with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) who deplored the fact that there were to be amalgamations without any new holdings being added. Some of the greatest success stories in smallholdings are to be found in horticulture. I am not at liberty to talk about people's bank balances, but I am aware of a man who paid over £50,000 out of his own money for a farm, having started in quite a modest way in horticulture in a county council smallholding—and that was in recent years.
A great deal of emotive nonsense was talked about tied cottages by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). Hon. Members fail to realise that most good farmers want to treat their workers fairly. It is when the ex-worker takes the farmer for a ride that we are in trouble. In horticulture there has been a substantial run-down in the number of workers, and there is therefore a surplus 1296 of cottages. Most horticultural growers leave the widows of their workers and their pensioners in these cottages. This enables the young farm worker to see that he will get a fair deal when he is old and that his widow will get a fair deal when he is dead. I believe that horticultural growers are leading the way in the proper treatment of the workers in tied cottages.
Finally, I turn to flood warning, which is particularly important to horticulture. Many of us in the South-East live in areas where there is massive urban runoff from the new concrete deserts surrounding our holdings. The rivers rise and fall much more quickly than used to be the case. There is unlikely to be a long-term solution for many years, and flood warning is therefore particularly important to us.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
With the best will in the world, it is slightly difficult to make a tidy speech which embraces all aspects of a Bill which darts from flood warning to the Training Board and from weed seeds going into Northern Ireland to many other things. I have been trying to find a theme in the Bill. Many smallholders produce eggs, but apart from that somewhat tenuous link between Part I and Part III, there is no theme running through the Bill. The Minister apologised for not giving us an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I cannot think why he apologised, because that is precisely what he has given us. With all the respect due to its predecessors, this Bill is not in the same class as the 1947 or 1957 Acts or even the 1967 Act, although it was difficult to find a theme in that Act, too.
Speaking with all the objectivity towards agriculture of which a farmer is capable, I suggest that the Bill is quite irrelevant to the assurance of further encouragement to selective expansion which was promised in the Gracious Speech. All that the Bill can claim is that it is the longest since 1947 — 108 Clauses, which, with great respect, has frightened many of the right hon. Gentleman's friends away this afternoon. There is no sign of the agricultural activists on the Labour benches. There is no sign of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), no sign of the hon. Member for Caithness and 1297 Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and no sign even of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards). The reason is obvious—they are dead scared that they will be put on the Committee. That is a fate which I dare say the hon. Member for Merioneth appreciates. The momentum of legislation grows while the ability of agriculture to contribute to the national economy declines, and let us be absolutely fair and square about this. [HON. MEMBERS : "Nonsense."] I genuinely wish that I could agree with the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson) when he painted even a faintly rosy picture of the present state of the industry ; I cannot.
I listened on Friday morning on my car radio to a hill sheep farmer from Wales speaking on an agriculture programme and declaring that the hill sheep industry was at the end of its tether. I read The Scotsman on Saturday morning and I shall quote from an article written by its agricultural editor, because I think that he is knowledgeable and probably more dispassionate than I am. He said :
In the county of Fife, there are 35 farms for sale at the moment, mainly as a result of the credit squeeze …In Fife and neighbouring potato-growing counties many merchants are cutting back their acreages severely. One merchant had cut his acreage from 700 to 200.These are just three of the many stark facts emerging about the crisis of capital shortage …With less capital available from the banks farmers are trying to increase their credit with their suppliers or the marts, but the squeeze is on here, too, and limits have had to be imposed.How long has this crisis got to grow until it will be too late, not only for thousands of farmers from the hills to even the best of the fertile lowlands, but for the national good at a time when balance of payments is still a national problem?To none of those people does the Bill show even a chink of daylight.
I do not wish to add anything to my right hon. Friend's general comments on Part I, but I want to refer to the provisions for the remote areas. If egg production is assessed as an important feature of farming in conjunction with remoteness, there is no doubt that Orkney is right out on its own. The Government have accepted the recommendations of the Reorganisation Com- 1298 mittee on Transport Costs for Orkney and Northern Ireland.
In his intervention in the Minister's speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked about the remote areas on the mainland. My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) referred to the letter which has been sent to the Minister by the Yorkshire egg producers and there is no need for me to refer to it. But if Yorkshire will find difficulty in selling eggs in the London market, what about Buchan in the north-east of Scotland, Galloway, Cornwall and Wales, to take four examples?
§ Mr. Stodart
If remoteness together with the importance of egg production is taken within the spectrum of general farming, the north-east of Scotland will probably be harder hit, because of remoteness, than any other part of Britain —because of its remoteness and because of the enormous importance of egg production in its brand of farming. Farmers there will clearly face very hot competition from eggs from Northern Ireland in the central belt of Scotland.
That is why I intervened in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to ask him whether he could give certain figures. I do not think that the transport subvention is a Committee point. It transcends the Committee stage in importance. That is why I shall give one or two figures, with some of which I have been provided and others of which I have worked out. They are extremely significant.
I am thoroughly in favour of competition, provided that it is fair. I am extremely doubtful about whether the effect of this transport subvention will be fair for those who have to compete with these producers. What is the cost of getting a case of eggs from Banff, which produces as many eggs as the Orkneys, to Glasgow? The answer is 2s. What is the cost of transporting a case from Belfast? The answer is 2s. The distance is almost the same.
The numbers of cases of eggs involved in this transport subvention are as follows. From Northern Ireland 3.3 million a year : from Orkney 50,000. If the £300,000 mentioned in the Bill is to 1299 be the total transport subvention, the overall average per case is almost 2s. Even if the subvention to Orkney—this may well be so, and I hope it is—were doubled, its 50.000 cases within the global 3¼ million would not change the overall payment at all significantly. This must mean, therefore, that eggs from Belfast will be landed into Glasgow, carriage paid.
Frankly, I think that this is overdoing it a bit. I accept the need for a transport subvention, and I see the Minister's difficulty. Once he gets on to the mainland and tries to draw lines between counties, I do not think that he will be able to contain it. But, with all the difficulties that I foresee for these overseas producers, if that is how I might describe them, we ought not to make it excessively difficult for people who are far away from the markets to whom eggs are an important part of their agricultural economy. No wonder the farmers in North-East Scotland are perhaps more worried than those anywhere else by what lies ahead for them as a result of this legislation.
I am absolutely convinced that if these new proposals are to have any chance of success there has to be a real and genuine demonstration by the Government, much more sincere and vigorous than we have had hitherto, of their determination to control imports and to maintain a sensible and realistic minimum price. The way that they have fiddled about with cereals must be putting fear into the hearts of many egg producers. Unless a minimum price system is applied with more determination than the Government have so far shown, I do not think that the scheme will work. Nor will it work unless there is participation by the Government in support buying.
I do not think that Part I could in any conceivable way be reconciled with an expansion programme without these conditions being fulfilled.
On Part II, I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) and Galloway (Mr. Brewis) that a tremendous amount of explanation is needed before I shall feel happy about it. I think that the Minister is asking for a blank cheque on this part. It is true that paragraph 68 of the explanatory and Financial Memorandum states that no 1300 change is expected in the expenditure of about £35 million a year, and the right hon. Gentleman confirmed that this afternoon. But the provisions of Part II are entirely enabling in character. It may be that I have got a deeply suspicious mind, but I am not wildly impressed—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman should not get desperate when he is getting knocked about like this. But I am not wildly impressed by the simplifications claimed for this new system.
I gather from the Minister that there is to be a single general rate of grant and that many of the existing eleven will have to be moved either up or down. Indeed, at the moment one has percentage and acreage rates featuring in the grants, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to explain how one reconciles these.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland expressed surprise at the ploughing grant being in the list of eleven. If ploughing is in, why is the winter keep acreage one out, because they sit next to one another in the present guarantee White Paper table. What has happened to the winter keep grant?
I was astounded by the casualness of the right hon. Gentleman in announcing, rather like a throw-away line, that £10 million worth of investment grant is to disappear. The swiftness with which it has been done alarms me considerably about this part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Stodart
Yes. That is the amount of investment grant. That was the figure to which I thought the Minister was referring, but if I misunderstood him I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland will explain it. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that instalments of grants which are still due—because some of them are paid in two parts—will be honoured, despite what the Minister said this afternoon.
As regards amalgamation grants, and the change from 40 years to 15 years, will the new condition be made retrospective to cover agreements which have already been come to? I think that there is a strong, fair, and reasonable case for that provision applying to them.
On Part III, I listened with the greatest attention to the speeches of my hon. 1301 Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell). I agree with my hon. Friend that the Wise Report merited a debate before we embarked upon the Bill this afternoon. There seems to be an apparent anomaly between Clause 45, which deals with smallholdings, and Clause 29, which deals with grants. Under Clause 29 the existing criterion for grant aid, that the improvement must be for the benefit of the land, is to disappear. It will now be based on the agricultural business. But in Clause 45 the benefit to the land is one of the main considerations which authorities must bear in mind when they are grant-aiding smallholders. Why the anomaly between these two Clauses?
We shall want to take a pretty sharp look at the intentions behind Clause 44.
On Part IV, my only criticism at the moment is largely of a Committee nature. It is right that the analysis of foodstuffs and fertilisers should receive this statutory recognition. It seems, however, that the Government have allowed themselves to think that a ton of bulk feedingstuffs is something like an hermetically sealed tin on a shelf in a shop. I do not need to detail the many outside agencies which can interfere with the one and not with the other. I think that the Government are going too far in suggesting that manufacturers or last sellers should be put in the dock because something which has been lying under bad conditions for six months is not up to its original warranty. Nor do I see why an inspector should be allowed to analyse material in my farm steading unless I ask him to do so, although if I have a complaint it is eminently desirable that he should be available. I am glad that statutory recognition is being given in this matter. All I can say is that the Bill presented by the Government would be right out of the usual pattern if it contained no Clauses entitling inspectors or officials to enter private property.
I have nothing to say on Parts V and VI. We shall certainly wish to discuss Clause 98, in Part VII. The right hon. Gentleman described his intentions here as striking a fairer balance. I recall remarking, on Clauses about Scottish security of tenure in another Bill, that I believed that the wisdom of Solomon was 1302 needed to arrive at a solution which would give fair and reasonable consideration to each side. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North would not agree with that. He sees the matter as comparatively simple. He says, "Do away with the tied house." I thought that the comment of the vice-convenor of the Labour Committee of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland was one which we would be well advised to follow when thinking about this matter in Committee. He said, the other day :
In our experience there have been no complaints in Scotland from farm workers over the present position regarding tied houses. …Nevertheless, we recognise that the subject of tied cottages is a most emotive one and the union will examine the new proposals most carefully and sympathetically.If that is the attitude that we take up we shall be adopting the right approach to this matter.
Many things have been said about the Bill. I shall say no more on that line. It will obviously occupy us for some time in Committee. The Secretary of State would wish me to give the assurance that we shall do our best, in the Opposition, to scrutinise it in the same sort of way as, when he was in Opposition, he scrutinised Bills.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
That means that the Bill will have a very speedy passage through Committee.
I have been very disappointed and not a little amused by the debate. Many hon. Members opposite have said that this was a terrible Bill and have then gone on to say, "There are many important points in the Bill. We agree with this, we agree with that, and we agree with the next thing ". The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who finds it easy to be disagreeable in agriculture debates, was sorely put to it today. He was not his usual self. My feeling is that many people would have liked a debate on agriculture as such. Perhaps they thought that it was a little too early to start a Price Review debate. Had it been a month later we might have had that. I propose as far as possible to deal with the Bill and with the important points that have been raised.
There is no doubt that one of the most important parts is Part I, concerning 1303 eggs. The right hon. Member said, "You did not give any warning to the industry. You did not have a mandate for this ". I wonder what kind of a mandate he had in 1958, when the tenant farmers of Britain lost their security of tenure. That is beside the point. What happened was that we were faced with reports about this industry that no Government could ignore.
People were by-passing the Egg Marketing Board, and complaining about the packing stations. I think that nearly 50 per cent. of the eggs were not going there. One cannot ignore such a situation. The egg industry has undergone a profound technological and structural change, a revolution, in recent years. The number of producers registered with the board, after reaching a maximum of 454,000 in 1962, had fallen to about 194,000 by 1968. The number of commercial producers is probably now only about 75,000.
We have had indications of concern about this and the changed structure of the industry in other debates in the House. With the agreement of those concerned, we set up a Reorganisation Commission in 1967. It reported, I think, in 1968, and we are now dealing with the policy outlined by my right hon. Friend in the House last January. So it is wrong to say that the industry did not know anything about it or suggest that we should do nothing about the situation. I think that one of my hon. Friends put his finger on the truth of the matter when he said that it would have been all right if the right hon. Member for Grantham had been introducing this, but that it was all wrong for us to do so, that he would have welcomed our going even further than this and tearing up our whole agricultural policy and introducing a new one. The right hon. Gentleman was not so hot today.
What we have done, after discussions with the Egg Marketing Board and all concerned, is to put forward the new Eggs Authority. We have made it clear that there will be a certain measure of financial support from the Government for certain of the functions of the new authority. But support-buying and the more commercial aspects are rightly a matter for the industry, especially bearing in mind the changed nature of the industry.
1304 It has been suggested that we should have continued the guarantees. This would have been quite wrong in the light of the report. It has also been suggested that we should have turned to the actual support-buying. But this, too, would have been quite wrong. I am satisfied that the industry and the consumer will benefit from what has been proposed.
Several hon. Members raised the question of the equity of providing a transport subvention for Northern Ireland and the Orkneys. The simple fact is that egg production is a major element in the agricultural economy of Northern Ireland, which has a tremendous export trade in eggs. If it is put at a disadvantage compared with areas on the fringes of the main market, we shall not be doing our duty in the proper supervision of agriculture throughout the United Kingdom.
The same is true of the Orkneys. I think that it was the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) who asked, "What about Shetland?" I hope that he asked his right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who would have given him the answer.
§ Mr. Hooson
Why should the few producers of Shetland be at a disadvantage against the many producers of Orkney?
§ Mr. Ross
They are not at a disadvantage. They can sell their eggs locally, whereas it is a matter of considerable commercial concern to Orkney, although it is true that even its production is declining. One must remember that eggs are not produced in Belfast. The Northern Ireland farmers have to deal with transport and handling to the docks and very often there is much further handling at the arrival point and transport from there. That is equally true of Orkney. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) said that we should deal with this on Second Reading. I think that it is a committee point whether or not we look at other mainland areas which are distant. But when we do so, let us take into account how much they depend on getting the eggs to the larger markets.
§ Mr. Stodart
Can the right hon. Gentleman at least confirm whether the figures I quoted are correct?
§ Mr. Ross
Not without notice. The hon. Gentleman quoted them only in his winding up speech.
I dealt with the point made by the right hon. Gentleman about the guaran- tee warning. There was adequate warning. As he well knows, we are giving an additional two years for the tapering-off process. It is to take until 1974. I have had apologies from several hon. Members who are unable to be present during the reply, and I appreciate their courtesy. One hon. Member has suggested that this is the thin end of the wedge ; but that is not true. We have no plans for removing any other commodities sharply and suddenly from the guarantees. Eggs are a case on their own. It was the circumstances of the industry that inevitably led us to take this action. It should not be taken as the thin end of the wedge.
§ Mr. Godber
I do not want to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman but he has not mentioned the letter from the N.F.U. I thought that this had some relevance in relation to eggs.
§ Mr. Ross
I have not mentioned it because I have not received it. If it is in my office, I have not yet received it. I do not want to be discourteous about it.
I am surprised that so little has been said about capital grants. We have eleven grants which are related to the long-term capital development of farm businesses. What we are doing here is comprehending these facilities within one scheme. There will be one form. I well remember the kind of speeches we used to get from hon. Members opposite, particularly in the 1945 — 50 period, when they went around complaining of the number of forms the farmers had to fill in. When they took office they added to the number of forms, so they soon stopped that ploy. But we appreciate the difficulty, and so we are to have one scheme, though not for winter keep. It is not there because it is not a capital grant.
§ Mr. Ross
The ploughing grant is construed as capital expenditure, and 1306 winter keep is regarded as income. The hon. Gentleman had a lot to say about credit and the difficulties of the farmers. I do not deny that there are some difficulties but if there were tremendous difficulties it would be reflected in the take-up of these grants.
The hon. Gentleman also quoted Mr. Robert Urquhart, of the Scotsman, who is a sober, reliable man. But Mr. Urquhart did not say what the hon. Gentleman says he did. Mr. Urquhart was quoting a speaker who had said something. The hon. Gentleman should be more careful. I have the cutting from the Scotsman here.
Capital investment in farm buildings and other improvements is running at a high level. In the 12 months up to the end of August work estimated to cost £64 million was approved under the Farm Improvement Scheme, an increase of more than £4 million on the previous year. In the same period work estimated to cost £11½ million was approved for drainage, just over £1 million more than the previous year. The corresponding figures for the Hill Land Improvement Scheme were just under £6 million this year as against about £3½ million last year.
I trust that hon. Gentlemen opposite appreciate that there is buoyancy in the figures, although I admit that one cannot describe the figures for tractors as buoyant. I appreciate the figure of £10 million that was mentioned in this connection, but the one that I have is just over £5 million ; that is, for the investment grant for tractors and self-propelled vehicles. The figures for this sector have been dropping, but that is not the story applying to the figures for other investments.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite want to know what we will do with the money that is saved. The answer is that it will go into other grants. There will, therefore, be no loss, as it were. If £5 million or £6 million is saved, that will be £5 million or £6 million available to be used for other grants. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should appreciate the help that we have given to small farmers in connection with the 50 per cent. feed formula. Smaller farmers were ruled out from getting some of these grants, and I am 1307 disappointed that hon. Gentlemen opposite did not probe this matter today. I hope that they will do so in Committee, when we will be pleased to give them the facts.
We are considering 30 years of schemes. It is right that this reform should be made and that the whole procedure should be streamlined. I would not like it to be thought that the percentage of grants mentioned by the hon. Members for Edinburgh, West was right. There will be a scale, but we can discuss this and other matters concerned with the grants at length in Committee.
I was slightly annoyed at the way in which the right hon. Member for Grantham grasped at small straws in debating a major matter on the Floor of the House. His speech resembled the sort of remarks one might hear in Committee. What was all this business of questioning phrases like "with the consent of the Treasury ", when he must know that this is routine in Bills? He must be aware that when a scheme is introduced and is given the approval of the House, thereafter the Minister has as much authority and freedom as he has under a Bill which specifies the actual amount. When one wishes to add to or make changes in such a scheme, one is able to do so by this means without having to wait for another miscellaneous provisions Bill. The procedure which we propose is better and quicker.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to make great play with a drafting point concerning the word "prescribed ". If he had read the Bill more closely, he would have found the answer, because the Measure distinctly refers to things being prescribed in regulations ; and in earlier parts of the Bill he would have found out all about the regulations and what must be laid down. I appreciate that it is sometimes difficult to follow the Civil Service draftsmen's jargon, but when one thinks of the sort of language in which some Measures were cast when the hon. Gentleman was in office, he should not complain about the language used in this Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman also got the whole question of rating in Scotland wrong. We are now putting one farmer as against another in a position of equity in Scotland. It is wrong that farmers 1308 with certain types of unit should have to pay more in rating even than industry. It should be remembered that the 50 per cent. derating formula still applies in Scotland. While 50 per cent. relief is afforded to Scottish industry, producers do not get 100 per cent. relief from the point of view of agricultural subjects right opposite. In reaching conclusions following the announcement made by the Minister of Planning and Land, the Government took into account all the factors known to them, including those that have been put to us today. Had we been able to come to conclusions satisfactory to the other side, not an Agriculture Bill but a rating Bill would still have been the right place to deal with it.
There are those who are for the use of D.D.T. and those who oppose it. We have been reminded of the benefits that it has brought to mankind, but provisions for the marking of foodstuffs would be inappropriate to Part IV, which is concerned with commercial safeguards rather than health matters. Pesticides legislation is a separate problem, requiring different treatment, and that subject is now being explored with the parties concerned. The uses of D.D.T., and other chemicals within the persistent organochlorine group, have been reviewed by the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and Other Toxic Chemicals, whose report has been received by Ministers. This will be published as soon as possible and a statement will be made then.
One hon. Member after another referred to the Agricultural Training Board, and I really was staggered at some of the attitudes displayed. We have heard proclaimed in the past the merits of the farm worker, and the need to train him and equip him to get up the ladder, but evidently now this is all to be done on a farmer-to-man relationship. That point was made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. It was also suggested that we should use agricultural colleges, but those colleges do not exist in every part of the country. There are considerable gaps in this provision.
Who wished all this on the Government and the House? It was the agriculture industry itself. It is no good hon. Members saying that the people in Agriculture House were out of touch with those concerned : to whom should the Government 1309 have listened? Right hon. and hon. Members opposite have their briefs from Agriculture House, and they asked us to listen to Agriculture House. We have listened to Agriculture House, and the decision that the cost will be taken into account in the Price Review is probably right. Here I am glad to have the support of at least one Scots Member—the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis). This is not a matter to be left to chance.
The tied cottage is an emotional subject, and I appreciated very much the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Haze11), and a Norfolk Member opposite said almost the same thing. We cannot by speeches wipe out the fear that has been engendered over the years. The series of evictions cannot be laughed away or removed by the sort of speeches we have heard today from some hon. Members —and certainly not by the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the agricultural workers were over-sensitive. With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I thought that he was rather more than unusually patronising when he spoke in that way, and he was being unfair. I welcomed the approach of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West.
We must appreciate the difficulties and the fears involved. That is why the Government took a step with the Rent Act of 1965, and why we have decided to take this additional step now. The Bill does not go all the way : we appreciate that certain safeguards are still needed in some cases. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North will appreciate that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler) asked whether the reference in Part IV applied to nutrient additives ; for example, antibiotics in feedingstuffs. Yes, the action which can be provided under the Bill can include such a substance. That is only a matter of giving information and letting the purchaser know exactly what is there.
I was asked whether the Bill does not establish too tight a central Government control over smallholding authorities, and I was asked for an assurance that authorities will not be compelled to follow the Wise Committee's recommendations too readily in drawing up their plans. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of 1310 Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) made a rather touching speech about this, taking us back, and he has a considerable hereditary interest in this. Ministers will have a general power over authorities' reorganisation plans so that they may be kept in line with the national farm structure policy, and I gladly give the assurance on behalf of my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Wales that they will not be unduly rigid in this. The circumstances of each local authority are different, and there will be no question of dictation by Ministers as to what the reorganisation plan should contain, and no insistence on adherence to a rigid plan. The authorities which do not believe that their estates lend themselves to reorganisation may seek exemption from this duty under Clause 39(4), and Ministers will no longer have all the detailed controls which have in the past proved so irksome to the local authorities. People forget that we have so much detailed control, and one of the hopes of the exercise is that we shall be able to get rid of this.
On the selection of tenants, I agree to a certain extent with the right hon. Gentleman, and I interrupted my hon. Friend because this Clause does not apply to Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland is the landlord of all the smallholdings in Scotland—1,600 in the Lowlands and over 1,800 in the Highlands. We have been engaged in reorganisation since 1962 or 1963. The hon. Gentleman participated in this, and I took over the programme in midstream.
When my right hon. Friend spoke on the Wise Report he said that he would not insist on formal technical education. We wanted someone with actual experience and to combine experience with the right kind of qualifications. We wanted to ensure that no one would be excluded because he did not have the formal education.
I was disappointed in the right hon. Gentleman's selective gloom. It is worth noting that the cereals harvest is 1 million tons above last year and second only to the record year of 1967, cattle numbers are going ahead, British bacon production is up, between June 1968 and June 1969 the national beef herd rose by 6 per cent. and in the same period calf retentions were up 100,000. We are 1311 doing well, we are looking to the longterm, and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).