HL Deb 19 December 1955 vol 195 cc255-7

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether a statement cannot be made in clarification of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's reference to agricultural subsidies in his Budget speech on October 26, 1955.]


My Lords, the reference to agriculture subsidies was part of a review by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the state of the whole national economy. He was concerned to point out that the criteria of economy and efficiency must be applied to the agricultural subsidies as much as to any other sector of Government expenditure. Their application to the agricultural industry will be worked out during the course of the Annual Review, which will be carried out next year on normal lines. I cannot anticipate the results of that Review. Her Majesty's Government will continue to aim at maintaining a stable industry giving a fair return for efficient and economical production, and able to meet the needs of the market and to assist our balance of payment problems. The aim will be to keep the total subsidy bill as low as is consistent with these objectives.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply, but may I ask him whether he feels that it quite fulfils the semi-promise made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in our Economic Affairs debate, when he indicated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement did need clarification? He agreed that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and myself had produced forceful argument as to the need for clarification and promised that, if possible, it would be forthcoming. May I suggest that we have not had that clarification.


My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord I think the clarification is there. I do not think my noble friend the Leader of the House said anything more than that he wanted to make quite certain there was no change in policy; and that is what I am saying this afternoon. I do not think the noble Lord can ask me more than that; he cannot ask for any anticipation of what the Review may be next spring, and I think that is as far as it is possible to go at the present time.


I do not want to press the point unduly, but may I ask the noble Earl whether he remembers that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement was that this necessary economy would be dealt with at the right time—in other words, at the time of the Price Review. Economy in administration does not have to wait for the Price Review. Does that not mean an implication of economy other than economy in administration? If it does not mean that, if it does not mean a change in policy, what meaning does it have?


If any.


The point the noble Lord is making is, I think, beside the point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reviewing expenditure, reviewed defence and said that in due course estimates would be placed before another place. He then went on to say that the agricultural prices would be reviewed. If I may, I will quote what my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture said on this point. He said: We shall, therefore, when the time comes for the Annual Review, examine them with a stern and critical eye to ensure that every pound is justified and used to the best advantage. I suggest to the noble Lord that that type of review is really as much in the interests of agriculture as of anyone else, because agriculture does not want to feel that it has an advantage over other sections of the community.


I entirely agree with what the noble Earl has said about the view of agriculture in this matter. But I would ask him whether he would agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement either had a sinister point or had no point at all.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that it has no sinister point, and that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaks of a proper review of economy he means that and no more.

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