HL Deb 26 July 1962 vol 242 cc1123-31

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name: that Standing Order No. 44 be amended by leaving out the words, "shall not any longer appear among the Bills in Progress and". The Motion gives effect to a recommendation of the Procedure Committee embodied in their First Report which the House agreed yesterday. The existing Standing Order No. 44 states: When a Bill brought from the House of Commons shall have remained on the Table of this House for twelve sitting days without any Lord giving notice of the Second Reading thereof, such Bill shall not any longer appear among the Bills in Progress, and shall not be further proceeded with in the same session, except after eight days' notice given by a Lord of the Second Reading thereof. The Committee recommended that a Bill which is subject to this Standing Order should not be removed from the Bills in Progress as it sometimes causes confusion when a Bill which has been removed reappears in the Minutes of Proceedings. The Committee therefore proposed that the Standing Order should be amended by leaving out the words which I read out when I first rose. If this Amendment were made the Bill would appear in the Bills in Progress as Waiting for Second Reading subject to Standing Order 44. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That Standing Order No. 44 be amended as follows: Leave out the words ("shall not any longer appear among the Bills in Progress, and").—(Viscount Hailsham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Standing Order amended accordingly.


3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Order be approved. It is proposed to make the Small Farmer (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1962, which is the second scheme to be made under the Agriculture (Small Farmers) Act, 1959. This Order is similar in most respects to the existing one which it replaces. Apart from a number of small amendments, the major difference is that the new Order raises the upper limit of the man-day requirements for the Small Farmer Scheme from 450 to 500 standard man-days a year. This implements the decision announced at the last Annual Review.

As your Lordships will be aware, the purpose of the Small Farmer Schemes is to make small farm businesses more profitable by giving the farmer advice on a plan to improve his business over a period of three to five years and by providing him with grants to help him to put that advice into practice. Under the existing schemes an eligible small farm business is defined by reference to the acreage of the farm, which must be not less than 20 nor more than 100 acres of crops and grass, and by reference to the standard labour requirements. These are the annual requirements of manual labour needed on average for the production of crops and livestock with an addition for essential farm maintenance and other necessary tasks. They are expressed in terms of "standard man-days" per acre of crops or per head of livestock. A standard man-day represents 8 hours manual work for an adult male worker under average conditions. At present a farm business must have not less than 250 standard man-days on application, or toe capable of 275 standard man-days on completion of a plan, and it must not have more than 450 standard man-days on application.

Under the new schemes the upper man-day limits will toe raised from 450 to 500. We do not propose to raise the upper acreage limit at the same time, since we consider that priority should toe given to those farmers who, while farming only a small acreage, have by their own exertions increased their cropping and stocking to such a high level that they are outside the present standard man-day limit.

The lower limits for the schemes will also remain the same. We could not reduce the lower limit of the standard man-days test, since the Agriculture (Small Farmers) Act, 1959, provides that grants should toe made only for a farm business capable with reasonable management of giving an adequate return to a person carrying it on as a full-time occupation. Any lower standard man-days limit would not be consistent with this requirement. Nor do we wish to reduce the lower limit on the acreage of the farm, since this would bring into the Scheme some very small enterprises which might not prove to toe viable in the long run and would mean a wasteful dispersal of the available advisory services.

The only change in the eligibility tests in the new Schemes, therefore, is the increase in the upper standard man-day limit to 500. This makes eligible a further 13,000 small farmers. The Ministry estimate that the additional cost for the United Kingdom will be about £2½ million in a full year. The total additional cost over the whole life of the Scheme is expected to be about £10 million. About 66,000 farmers are eligible under the existing Scheme. Extending the Scheme will therefore bring the total up to 79,000 farmers, an increase of about 20 per cent.

The only other important difference between these Schemes and the existing ones is that farms on which there is an uncompleted improvement scheme under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts, 1946–56, will no longer be excluded from assistance. This ban was originally imposed because there seemed a danger that we might pay double grant on items included in both a farm business plan under the Small Farmer Scheme and in a Livestock Rearing Improvement Scheme. However, we are now satisfied that we can prevent double grants toy administrative means without this sweeping prohibition and the ban should therefore be lifted. Except for the changes I have mentioned, and a few other minor and consequential alterations, the new Schemes are in all respects the same as the existing ones.

May I refer here to the Report of the Special Orders Committee and ask my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack to speak to your Lordships about this later, as it is on a purely legal point that it will have to be considered. These new Schemes will be brought into operation on 1st August, and will extend for five years from that date. The last date for approving farm business plans under the existing Schemes will be 31st July. All approvals after that date will be under the new Schemes. This does not mean, of course, that we are revoking the existing Schemes, since payments under them will continue for about five years, but only that the Schemes will be closed so far as new applicants are concerned.

Your Lordships will be pleased to hear that the Schemes have so far been successful, although it is still too early to make an overall judgment. Farmers have responded to the scheme very well, and by May 31 this year 40,809 farms had entered the scheme in the United Kingdom and £13 million had been paid out in grants. When the farm business plans already approved have been completed they will receive a total of over £29 million in grants. The progress being made on the approved farm business plans is very satisfactory, and in some cases has even exceeded expectations.

Some farmers have not been able to carry out their plans, but the proportion that has had to be cancelled is gratifyingly low, being only about 6 per cent. The main reasons for these cancellations have been changes in the occupancy of farms or the farmers' ill-health and only a very small minority are cases where the farmer has not carried out his work properly or has lost interest. In general, the progress achieved so far shows that the schemes are likely to prove successful in making a large number of small farms more efficient and more profitable, and it also shows that the schemes have been welcomed by the small farmers, who recognise that this help is really worthwhile. I hope your Lordships will agree that we should extend the benefits of the scheme, and that you will approve these Orders to put this change into effect. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Small Farmer (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1962, be approved.—(Lord St. Oswald.)


My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack replies, I am quite sure that on this side of the House we welcome this Scheme. The Minister has given us much helpful information, and it was interesting to hear that the Scheme as at present in vogue has been successful. The noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, also dealt with a point I was going to make, the question of the change of tenancy; but as he has dealt with it I do not wish to mention it further. I do not wish to raise any point on what has happened in regard to the Special Orders, in view of what is to take place in a moment or so; but, generally, we on this side of the House welcome the Scheme and wish it success.


My Lords, I should like to add my protest at the language of the Ministry of Agriculture. I did not follow all the statement made by my noble friend, but the Government, I gather, have been unable, so far, to form an "overall judgment". What on earth is an "overall judgment"? I believe that the word means absolutely nothing, but is in accordance with this modern habit of distributing the adjective "overall" over the whole of English prose Whether it means anything or nothing. Then I think I heard for the first time the word "occupacy" of farms. Is this another example of the language of the Ministry of Agriculture, or is it a bold bid for the illiterate vote?

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if I dealt with the points raised by the Report of the Special Orders Committee; and I shall endeavour to do so without making new inroads into the customary use of the English language. The first point to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is that under the Act itself, the Act of 1959, there is power given to the Minister, by Section 1, to make payment of grants to any person for the time being carrying on a small farm business of any such class or description as may be specified in the scheme …". The words "small farm business" are defined by Section 6 as a business which "does not exceed 150 acres" and which falls within such other limits as may be specified in the scheme in. question". So when one looks to see what payments can be made one must turn to the Scheme. But no Scheme made under this Act could enable the Minister to make payments in respect of farm businesses exceeding 150 acres in extent. There is that limitation of the power to make grants cleanly and emphatically stated in the Bill.

The Report of the Special Orders Committee has drawn attention to the words of the Scheme, and states: The Committee are of opinion that the draft scheme purports to enable the Minister to pay grants to a person who at the time of the payment is no longer carrying on a small farm business. The reason, if I understand it correctly, for the expression of that view, is that, in paragraph (4) of that Scheme, the definition of "a small farm business" for the purposes of the Scheme is linked to the time of application for the grant; and paragraph 5 makes provision for payment to a person carrying on the business. I would respectfully submit to your Lordships that the Scheme cannot enlarge the Minister's powers as prescribed by the Act of Parliament, and that, therefore, there can be no question of the Scheme's giving the Minister a power to make grants to farms in excess of 150 acres. If I may say so, I think the Special Orders Committee has served a very useful purpose in drawing attention to the wording of this Scheme. It follows the wording of the previous Scheme, to which my noble friend, Lord St. Oswald, referred.

I have discussed this matter with my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and I have received his assurance that, if any further Schemes have to be prepared under this particular Act, the wording will be very carefully considered in the light of the Report made by the Special Orders Committee. No one, I think, can say that the Scheme in its present language is not capable of some improvement. I hope that what I have said will satisfy your Lordships that the Scheme cannot, in fact, operate so as to enable the Minister to make grants in respect of farms exceeding in acreage 150.


My Lords, might I put to your Lordships for a moment the point which influenced the Special Orders Committee on which I served—the question of the vires of this Order. Paragraph 4 of this singularly dull and unattractive Order provides that: A small farm business to which this scheme applies is a trade or business consisting in, or such part of any trade or business as consists in, the carrying out of agricultural operations on land comprised in it where on the day on which a farm business plan is submitted to the Minister for approval the amount of that land … is not more than one hundred acres. … Then in paragraph 5 it is provided that: Subject to the provisions of this scheme, where the person carrying on a small farm business to which this scheme applies has … submitted to the Minister for approval a farm business plan … the Minister … may pay in connection with the carrying out of the plan … grants. … The point is this, my Lords. On the day on which the farmer submits his plan he may be carrying on a farm business of only 80 acres. He therefore will qualify for a grant. But supposing between the time he submits the plan to the Minister and a time when the Minister is considering whether to approve it, and so on, the farmer has bought or agreed to buy an extra 100 or 150 acres. There is no provision in this Order which makes him disclose that. I quite agree that if the Minister knows he has increased his holding to over 100 acres, he will not, of course, pay the grant. But supposing he does not know that, the man gets the money. He has done nothing illegal. The whole trouble is caused by the insertion in the Order of the words: on the day on which a farm business plan is submitted to the Minister …". It is very significant that in the Scots Order, which is the next Order for your Lordships' consideration, those words do not appear. If those words were left out the Order would be unobjectionable from the point of view of vires. I venture to think that there is a loophole here, which I daresay no one will take advantage of, and that is the reason why the Special Orders Committee thought that they were bound to call your Lordships' attention to the doubt which they had.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, it seems to me very undesirable, in view of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, has just told us, and also in view of what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has told us, to pass this Order at all to-day. If there is something in it which is palpably—I will not say incorrect but open to misunderstanding, it may very likely mean that there will be legal proceedings as a result of it. We do not know. I think the position is very unsatisfactory when the House is told by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that these words could be improved and, in fact, that the Minister of Agriculture has promised him that in any future Order they will be improved. I have never heard a statement like that before from the Government Benches, or from the Woolsack. It is not the noble and learned Lord's fault at all; he has had to try to put right something that his colleague has done. But it seems to me a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, whether it is possible for him even at this late stage to withdraw this Order and to get it right. People are always complaining about the state in which legislation comes up here. I think it is appalling if it goes away from here as bad as it comes. One of our main tasks is to be a revising Chamber. Let us revise for once, and ask the Government to withdraw it and bring back an Order in proper form.


My Lords, by leave of the House, I should like to say a word in reply to what the noble Lord has just said, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard. Lord Goddard has drawn attention to the reasons why the Special Orders Committee made its Report, and I am grateful to him for the explanation he gave of those reasons. The noble Lord who has just spoken suggested that this Order should be withdrawn and redrafted. I must say that I do not myself see that there is any need for that. I would have thought that the Order could be worked, as indeed the previous Order has worked, without any trouble. I rose before, on the purely technical points, to submit to this House my view that the language of the Scheme, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, referred, cannot and does not enlarge the Minister's powers under the Act. The Minister will in fact be acting ultra vires if he makes a grant to someone who at the time is carrying on a small farm business in excess of 150 acres. Therefore, while, as we often find when we bring in amending legislation, one could improve the wording, and while the wording of this draft Scheme, or of any future Schemes, could be improved in the light of the report made by the Special Orders Committee, I would suggest to your Lordships that there is really no good reason for its withdrawal at the present time.


My Lords, I do not suggest that the Minister's powers are being increased under this Order. The difficulty is that if a man applies on a particular day, and he is only farming under 100 acres, he is within the scheme. He applies on the footing that he is farming 100 acres. However, before he gets his grant he may have bought another 150 acres and, if the Minister knows that he has done that, then, of course, he will not give him the grant. But if the Minister does not know that he has done it, and still gives him a grant on the Scheme that has been put before him, there is no earthly means by which to get back that money. That is the point.

On Question, Motion agreed to.