HL Deb 23 July 1953 vol 183 cc870-2

3.5 p.m.

LORD CARRINGTON rose to move, That the Agriculture Act (Part I) Extension of Period Order, 1953, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Thursday last, be approved. The noble Lord said; My Lords, this Order is made in order to extend the operation of Section 4 of the Agriculture Act of 1947. Section 4 of the Act gives the Agricultural Ministers powers to make administrative arrangements necessary to carry out the policy of guaranteed prices and assured markets where there is no existing arrangement which can be used for this purpose, or where existing arrangements are inadequate or unsuitable. The Order is for one year and expires on the 5th August, 1954. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Agriculture Act (Part I) Extension of Period Order, 1953, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Thursday last, be approved. —(Lord Carrington.)


My Lords, I should like to make one brief comment on the method of obtaining the power for which the Minister is asking in this Order. I will be extremely brief, because we all want to complete the business by a quarter to four and we have several important matters on the Order Paper. Apart from the validity of this particular criticism, it raises an important issue of policy arid I hope the Government will consider it. Your Lordships will remember that the guarantee given in the 1947 Act of prices and markets for the bulk of our agricultural products is now settled policy. This guarantee has been implemented by different Governments since 1947, and it is the intention of all the political Parties—this has been stated by responsible political leaders in both Houses of Parliament—that it shall continue.

If everyone accepts that premise, it therefore seems logical that the Minister should be given whatever power he requires to set up the administrative machinery which may be required for carrying out the guarantee. Under Section 3 of the 1947 Act, the Minister is given power to fix prices after an annual or a special price review. This, of course is a permanent power embodied in the Statute, which can be taken away from him only if the Act is amended or repealed. The Minister does not have to come before Parliament every year before the Annual Price Review in order to get power to fix or vary agricultural prices. But under Section 4, to which the noble Lord opposite has referred, when the Minister wants power to make supplementary arrangements for exactly the same purposes, to provide assured markets and guaranteed prices for these products, the power lapses after a year, and the Minister would lose it altogether if it were not renewed annually by an Affirmative Order approved by both Houses of Parliament. I believe that this Order has been approved on three successive occasions, and this is the third year the Minister has come to Parliament to get the power required. I hope the noble Lord will consider this point. I suggest that it is wasteful of Parliamentary time that the Minister should have to ask for an Order to do something which everyone wants him to do.

I should like to ask the Government to consider the possibility of introducing an Amending Bill which would give the Minister the same permanent statutory authority to make supplementary arrangements for assured markets or guaranteed prices under Section 4 of the Act as he already has under Section 3. I know that amending legislation would be difficult if the Bill were confined to such a limited purpose, but there are a number of other matters in the 1947 Act that need to be tidied up in the light of experience since the Act was passed six years ago. I suggest that a comprehensive Amending Bill is urgently needed, and I hope the noble Lord will give that matter his consideration. It may be argued that this power has been used to set up only one marketing board—the Wool Marketing Board. I do not think that argument is valid, because, whatever may have been the practice in past time, there is no doubt that that power will have to be used more frequently in time to come, as the Ministry of Food is likely to shed its responsibility for the purchase of agricultural products, and other marketing arrangements will have to be made. Therefore, this power is likely to be used more often in the future than it has been in the past.


My Lords, if I might answer that, I am afraid that the noble Earl's last point is rather wide and goes much further than the Order which I moved a moment ago. I am afraid I cannot state at this moment whether there is any likelihood of any amendment of the Agriculture Act, 1947. I would point out that Section 4 of the Agriculture Act is used only for interim arrangements, and at the present time only the guarantees which the Exchequer underwrites for the Wool Marketing Board are operated under Section 4 of the Act. All the other arrangements for guaranteed prices and assured markets are operated under the much wider powers which the Ministry of Food has. This section is at present used for the Wool Marketing Board only.

I do not think it follows that in the future it will be necessary to use these powers any more widely than they have been used in the past. At the present time we must have the interim powers in case any Minister has cause to use them What we should strive for is to put permanent legislation on the Statute Book which would put all these different marketing schemes in order; but at the present time I do not think that we need these particular powers to be permanent To make them effective we should need to go much wider than the powers which are provided in Section 4, and I doubt whether Parliament would allow the Minister of Agriculture to have such wider powers in these general terms.

On Question, Motion agreed to.