HC Deb 27 May 1970 vol 801 cc1936-9


Lords Amendment: No. 15, in page 88, line 36, at end insert new Clause " C "— C. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may, instead of maintaining the National Agricultural Advisory Service provided for by section 1(1) of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944, give effect to the purposes for which that Service was established (which relate to the provision of advice and instruction on agricultural matters) through such other organisation as he may consider appropriate and accordingly, the said section 1(l) shall be amended by substituting, for the words shall, as from the appointed day, establish and maintain a National Agricultural Advisory Service ', the words ' shall make provision through such organisation as he considers appropriate '.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The new Clause is designed to facilitate the proposals which I announced on 9th April for the unification for the Ministry's professional, scientific and technical services. The proposal is, subject to consultations with those concerned, to unify the technical services, and if this takes place the names of the separate services will need to be replaced by a new name for the service as a whole. The name of the N.A.A.S. is, however, enshrined in Section 1 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1944, and there is no comparable legislative provision involving the names of the other services affected by the proposals for unification.

The purpose of the Clause is simply to remove the name of the National Advisory Agricultural Service without in any way changing the obligation upon the Minister to continue to provide an agricultural advisory service, and to provide an impartial service. This is the sole purpose, and I stress again that it will continue to be the duty of officers engaged in advisory work to give impartial advice.

Mr. Stodart

As a Scot and a Scottish farmer who is serviced by an entirely different system which some of us venture to think is perhaps a better system, although there is great disagreement about that, may I say that the N.A.S.S. has won itself a tremendous reputation. Although it has not been of assistance to me, I have observed its workings from across the Border. It has done a tremendously good job for the industry as a whole, and I for one will be very sad to see the name go.

Mr. Jopling

On Second Reading, I asked, with reference to Part II, how the Minister intended to deploy his advisory services. With the various capital grants involved in Part II, some of the advisory services deal with grants and some deal with other matters.

Will the Minister tell us the effect of this amalgamation? Will there be a saving in manpower and, as I would hope, in money? I should have thought that, as a result of amalgamating the advisory services and having them all under one roof, there would be considerable savings in manpower and money. If there are to be no savings in manpower and money, we should have an explanation.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

With leave, I should like to reply briefly to the points which have been made. This matter was not debated on Second Reading, but some important questions have been asked to which I shall try to reply.

There are two main reasons for unification. First, with farming becoming increasingly capital-intensive, neither farmers nor the Ministry can afford to consider problems in isolation. No aspect of the work of the Ministry's professional and technical services in the advisory or grant sectors can satisfactorily be tackled except in the context of the development policy of the farm as a whole. That is the philosophy behind the proposed change. Only through a unified service can we ensure that individual problems, whether of drainage, building or husbandry, are examined from the whole farm point of view or that the full range of expertise in the Department can be placed quickly and economically at the disposal of the farmer.

Secondly, after their survey of our regional organisation, the management consultants who advised me recommended unification as a more efficient and economic method of organising the services.

I should not like to say precisely at this stage what savings might be made. I should not wish to see any redundancies, but if there is a reduction in staff it can be accounted for by natural wastage over a period.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) for the tribute which he paid to the N.A.A.S. On behalf of my two colleagues at the Ministry and myself, I reinforce what he said. The N.A.A.S. has given exemplary service to the farmers—a service which is unexampled anywhere else in the world. The field officers of the Service can feel very proud of the work which they have accomplished since the organisation was set up over 20 years ago.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West became patriotic about his native country. As a Welshman who is quarter Englishman, may I say that we in England and Wales think that the N.A.A.S. has served us well. Comparisons between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain are, in these circumstances odious. Nevertheless, I take the point he made.

I regard the impartiality of the advice which the N.A.A.S. gives as vital. At the moment, things are in a tentative stage in that the consultations I have referred to have to be carried out properly. I want all the professional services to understand clearly that these consultations are not a facade. They are genuine. If the proposals materialise, my belief is that the unified service will serve the industry better than the present fragmented services and that the N.A.A.S. will continue, under the new name, to give the same high standard of service, perhaps even an improved service.

Question put and agreed to

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