HL Deb 08 May 1923 vol 54 cc21-4

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—[The Earl of Ancaster.]

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Power to require returns.

1.—(1) The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries may, in any year by notice served on the occupier of any agricultural land in England or Wales or the person having the management of any such land, require him to make within such time as is specified in the notice, and in such form and to such person as tile Minister may prescribe by regulations made under this Act, a return in writing for that year with respect to the cultivation of the land, or the crops or live stock thereon, or the persons employed on the land, and, if the occupier is also the owner of the land, that fact shall be stated in the return.


My Lords, there is one point upon this clause which I should like to bring before your Lordships for the purpose of ascertaining what meaning is attached to the word " cultivation " in subsection (1). What I understand is required by this measure is to get statistics of the area under cultivation and the crops which grow upon that area; but the term " cultivation " may have a very much wider meaning, and may include such matters as the method of cultivation, or the. rotation of crops, or the manure used, ft seems to me very unnecessary for the purposes of the Ministry that such a question should be asked, and there is a real objection to bringing into this Bill anything in the nature of a difficult question to answer, or, indeed, more questions than are absolutely required. As the noble Earl in charge of the Bill is aware, there is great difficulty in getting questions answered at all. If it is necessary to bring in detail? of these matters it would be of very great advantage if the form which is going to be sent out could be included in the Schedule of the Bill. But if the noble Earl can tell us what is the actual meaning attached to "cultivation" it may be unnecessary to proceed further in the matter.

There is a further point I should like to raise, namely, as to the meaning of "agricultural land." In the Definition Clause "agricultural land" is said to include woodlands. It is rather important to know what questions with regard to woodlands the Minister of Agriculture proposes to ask. The Forestry Commission is now gathering statistics upon the area of woodlands, and the nature of the crop, and I do not want to see those questions duplicated unless it is absolutely necessary. I hope that before any Regulations with regard to woodlands are laid before the House the Minister will take steps to consult the Forestry Commission and see if we can work closely together in the matter.


My Lords, the noble Lord partly answered his own question, because I understand that the word "cultivation" would refer to such land as woodlands or rough pasture which would not come under the heading of crops. His whole question is answered by subsection (7) of Clause 1, because he will find there the provision that any Regulation as regards these Returns is to be laid on the Table of the House, and, of course, that would afford the noble Lord, or any other noble Lord interested in the subject, an opportunity of discussing the form of these Regulations. At the present moment I may say there is no intention of altering the present Regulations, which are already being sent out for these Returns under the voluntary system.


My Lords, this is an example of the advantage of not taking Bills in the hurried way in which they have lately been taken in your Lordships' House. This Bill was read a second time last Tuesday, and it was put down for the Committee stage last Thursday. The noble Earl in charge of it was good enough, when I remonstrated, to put it down for to-day, and I am very much obliged to him. It has allowed the noble Lord to get an explanation about the Bill which is very valuable. I think it would not have been a bad thing if the Bill had been postponed even a little longer. The noble Lord has not put down any Amendment—probably because he had no opportunity and no time for putting down an Amendment—but, at any rate, owing to the delay, he has been able to get an explanation, which I am sure he is glad to receive and which, to a great many agriculturists throughout the country, will also be a matter of satisfaction.


My Lords, the noble Earl harps upon this point, and he drives me to say that I do not accept the charge of undue haste in respect of this legislation, which he brings against the Government. There was, undoubtedly, a case in which, by inadvertence, a Bill was hurried on too much, and I wrote to the noble Earl and expressed to him my apologies for what had happened; but it is not by any means true of all the Bills which the noble Earl has in his mind. I have taken the trouble, since the incident to which he refers, to acquaint myself with the history of several of these Bills, and I find that they have been a much longer time before your Lordships' House than the noble Earl had any idea of. This Bill itself was read a first time on April 19. I do not think the noble Earl realises that. The fact is that the noble Earl, who is a man of very many occupations and employments, probably has not time always to read the Notices of the House which are circulated to him and so he omits to observe that the Bill is before your Lordships' House.

But we are most anxious to defer in every way not only to the noble Earl but to any noble Lord in any part of your Lordships' House, and I can assure your Lordships that whenever any noble Lord desires the postponement of a Bill, unless it really interferes with the public interest we shall be only too delighted to comply. I only ask for the co-operation and assistance of the House in carrying out what I think is their wish.


I am very much obliged to the noble Marquess. I realise how good he is in always postponing an Order when anybody asks him to do it but that is not altogether the point. There are noble Lords who do not know—and I do not think they are expected to know—the contents of a Bill until it has been explained by the Minister in charge and this Bill, though it was read a first time on April 19, only came before your Lordships' House for Second Reading on Tuesday last. It was put down for Committee on Thursday. The interval between the two stages really did not allow members of your Lordships' House sufficient time to go into the question of amendment, and the noble Marquess was good enough to postpone it. But on the same evening there were put down other Bills. There was the Petroleum Bill to which the noble Viscount, Lord Long, also referred, complaining that he had not had an opportunity of contributing the question; and there was the Dangerous Drugs Bill which has also been postponed and on which we have been obliged to take all our Amendments on the Third Reading.

Now that, I venture to say to the noble Marquess, really is not a very convenient form of dealing with Amendments. Whenever possible Amendments ought always to be dealt with in Committee of this House. That affords your Lordships a very much better opportunity for discussing them. On Third Reading we cannot speak more than once, and it is obvious that Amendments which are passed in Committee are very often the better for being considered and, perhaps, amended on Third Reading. If we got into the habit in this House of taking our Amendments on Third Reading I am sure it would be a very bad practice. I venture to hope that it will become the normal practice of your Lordships' House that a Bill read a second time in one week should not be put down for Committee until the week after.


I agree.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment.