HL Deb 09 December 1919 vol 37 cc812-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I am torn between a desire to afford your Lordships the fullest information with regard to the details of this Bill, and the desire to relieve those of your Lordships who are desirous of proceeding to other business. Therefore I somewhat hesitate to explain the provisions of the Bill as fully as I should have wished to do, and which I should be perfectly prepared to do if it is your Lordships' desire to remain to hear me. Perhaps I may say briefly that the principal objects of the Bill are firstly, to bring the Departments charged with the agricultural interests of England and Wales more closely into touch with agricultural opinion generally throughout the country, and secondly, to co-ordinate local administration. The first part of the Bill effects a change which is perhaps not of very great importance. It changes the Board of Agriculture so-called into a Ministry, and the President of the Board into a Minister. That is really an effort to give the Board the status in name, at any rate, which it has been denied in emolument, and I hope that it will be generally acceptable to your Lordships. It is rather a farce that a Board consisting of ten eminent persons who have never met in the whole course of its history should be maintained, and that any differentiation should be made between this Ministry and others of the same importance.

The second part of the Bill indicates the purpose of the Government to assist the Minister of Agriculture by two advisory bodies. There will be a Council of Agriculture, which will be a large body representing all agricultural interests, and which will meet only twice a year or thereabouts to discuss matters of general agricultural interest. There will be partly elected and partly nominated a much smaller working advisory body—an Advisory Council—that will be always, so to speak, available to the Minister, to give him advice before any serious change of policy is undertaken. In the original Bill it was proposed that there should be a similar organisation with regard to fisheries, but at the request of the whole of the fishery interest of the United Kingdom it was decided to withdraw that portion of the Bill, and to introduce a separate Bill next session. I do not think that Your Lordships would wish me tonight to enter into the details of the composition of those councils. It is all set forth clearly in the first schedule to the Bill. I understand that some of your Lordships who are particularly interested in agricultural matters propose to move certain Amendments, which I shall of course be prepared to consider with a desire to meet them so far as possible.

The third Part of the Bill sets up the County Agricultural Committees, a feature to which very great importance is attached by His Majesty's Government as being the bodies which will conduct the real administration of the agricultural policy in the counties themselves. These Committees will have numerous sub-committees dealing with such matters as small holdings and allotments, diseases of animals, and so on, and as in many of these cases these committees and sub-committees will be actually expending public money which is not on the rates but is charged against the Exchequer, it is thought desirable that a third of the strength of these Committees shall be nominated by the Minister. There is an important provision which is perhaps somewhat of a departure that the travelling and subsistence expenses of members attending these Committees should be paid out of the rates. That has been put in with the full concurrence of the Ministry of Health, which foresees that that practice will inevitably become universal. But it is a somewhat novel principle introduced into this particular Bill. In Clause 8 there is a provision for co-ordinating the various schemes for rural development which are now being undertaken by numerous bodies. It is felt that it is very important that their activities should be brought into one focus, and the county committees are specially charged with the task of formulating schemes with this object in view. At the Ministry itself there will be a special branch for the purpose of assisting in the co-ordination of this very important reform.

I think that those are the general principles of the Bill. The details, which are perhaps almost equally as important as the principles, are all set forth in the Schedule, and as I have said I shall be glad to consider such Amendments with regard to the details as your Lordships may think fit to put forth. There is only one special point to which I feel bound to call attention, as it is of a somewhat novel character. It is in (3) (e) of the First Schedule. Provision is made for the representation on the Advisory Agricultural Committee of Scotland, but only for the purpose of the consideration of matters arising under the Diseases of Animals' Act. As your Lordships are aware, the Board of Agriculture for England and Wales is still responsible for the administration of the Diseases of Animals' Act in Scotland, and in those circumstances it is thought only right that Scotland should be able to send representatives to attend the Advisory Committee on the occasions, and on the occasions only, when matters of that kind are under discussion. I do not know whether your Lordships wish me to deal further with the Bill on Second. Reading, but I hope that a fuller opportunity of discussing all its provisions will occur in Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lee of Fareham.)


I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a moment, partly owing to the hour and partly to the state of the House, and also because I know that the presence of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Lee of Fareham) is required elsewhere on an occasion connected with the office which he holds. I merely, therefore, say that if some noble Lords interested in agricultural matters are here when the Committee stage is put down, and if they desire to make some observations on going into Committee, I hope that they will be allowed to make them with the approval of the noble Lord.

This is, of course, not an Agricultural Bill in the full sense. It is a machinery Bill, and as such ought to be welcomed if it contributes to the efficiency of the central and local agricultural management. I have no doubt that agriculturists generally welcome the promotion of the noble Lord's office from the status of a Board to that of a Ministry, and I take it that there is not likely to be much difficulty on that point. Also I think that the creation of central bodies—the Council of Agriculture and the Agricultural Advisory Committee, more particularly the latter, to which, of course, the greater importance is to be attached—will be welcomed.

As regards the local constitutions, the noble Lord is no doubt aware that for some time there was a certain uneasiness expressed by many people interested in agriculture that a system of over-centralisation was likely to be introduced. I think there was also a different fear that there might be a tendency to replace, for the purposes of local committees, the elected representatives of the different counties by an excessive number of nominated persons who might in the long run prove to be at any rate co-opted if not absolutely self-elected. I hope that these fears will have been dissipated by the provisions of the Bill which, I think, in this point will meet with the general acceptance of your Lordships' House and those interested in agriculture. I will not attempt to touch on any further points in the Bill, merely to add that I think the provision which the noble Lord mentioned in the Schedule, regarding the partial admission of Scotland on the one point on which the two Boards are concurrently concerned, will be regarded as a useful provision.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.