HL Deb 19 March 1963 vol 247 cc1034-48

3.55 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clauses 2 to 5 agreed to.

Clause 6:

Grants towards construction of certain buildings used by farmers' machinery syndicates

6.—(1) The appropriate Minister may make grants towards the cost of constructing, enlarging or adapting buildings for occupation and use by farmers' machinery syndicates for the following purposes or any of them, or mainly for such purposes, that is to say—

and of providing such buildings with such services, means of access and other works as are reasonably required to enable them to be so used.

THE DUKE OF ATHOLL moved, in subsection (1), after paragraph (b) to insert: (c) the housing of livestock, belonging to members of a syndicate, provided that such a building would have been eligible for a grant had it been owned by an individual and not by a syndicate.

The noble Duke said: This seems to me to be such an obvious Amendment that I am surprised the Government did not include it in the Bill originally. Clause 6 enables the appropriate Minister to give grants to syndicates for the housing of agricultural machinery and for the drying, cleaning or storage of grain produced by members of a syndicate. It does not cover the housing of livestock. If, therefore, three farmers were to get together and decide they could farm more efficiently if they converted one of their milking parlours into a common parlour to take all their cattle, presumably they would be unable to get a grant for this, even though it might be a considerable improvement.

I was most interested in an article which appeared last week, in a magazine called Sport and Country, in which a man had amalgamated three herds—he was lucky enough to have the use of three farms—which he milked centrally under one roof. His productivity increased from £10 to £11 per cow per annum to between £40 to £45 per cow per annum. Because he was lucky enough to have the use of the three farms he was not "a syndicate" within the meaning of the Improvement Acts. I cannot see why if three different farmers agree to do exactly the same thing they should not be able to get grants for this purpose. I would therefore ask my noble friend to consider this Amendment very carefully.

I realise that Clause 6 merely brings into legal form what has so far been done under the Agriculture Appropriation Act, and that up till now no case has been made out for syndicates milking centrally. I think this sort of thing will come in the future, particularly as the cost of labour rises and the milking parlours become more efficient. Nowadays 180 cows can be milked by two men—so, with a relief, that means you can have three men milking 180 cows. This will be a thing of the future, and Parliament should try to move ahead and make it possible for people to get these grants. I hope that this, or some other similar Amendment, will be accepted. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 38, at end insert the said paragraph.—(The Duke of Atholl)


I would strongly support the Amendment moved by the noble Duke. He has put the reasons for it very forcibly, and I will not repeat them, but I should like to reinforce his argument somewhat by pointing out that the section of farming which is suffering the most difficulty at the present time is not mat group of farmers who concentrate primarily on arable production, but the livestock farmers. They are the people who have felt the progressive "squeezes" more acutely than any others, and they are the section most in need of assistance in order to overcome their difficulties.

In general, one can say that the livestock farmers operate in very small units, whereas the arable farmers tend to cover somewhat larger acreages. I am not suggesting that there is no need to give assistance to arable farmers to cooperate in the housing of machinery, and so on. That is a good thing. But any need they may have is considerably exceeded by the need of the small livestock farmers, particularly those in the Western areas of England and certain parts of the North. By extending this particular grant to cover them, not only would it be giving considerable assistance to the small number of such farmers who are already thinking on these lines and who would be prepared to take advantage of it, but, what is more important, it would put the idea into the heads of many small livestock farmers who have never thought on these lines at all.

In other words, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would be doing what it should do and in certain cases does do. It would be giving a lead, rather than simply fulfilling a need after a case has been made out for that need by the farmers themselves. I very much hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, will be able to tell us that this Amendment can be accepted, if not in its actual wording, at any rate in principle, because I feel it will be of great benefit to just the particular group of farmers whom it is, I understand, the Government's wish, and certainly our wish, to help.


My noble friend has moved to extend Clause 6 to cover buildings occupied by farmers' machinery syndicates and used by them for housing members' livestock. He has put forward arguments to which, naturally, I have listened with interest. Indeed in commending this clause to your Lordships on Second Reading I confirmed the Government's support for the broad principle of farming syndicates and its application in suitable cases. But it remains the case that these syndicates are a comparatively new idea. A few years ago we were specially asked to provide grants for grain syndicates and for buildings to house farm machinery, and we were shown the merits of syndicates of that kind. The noble Duke has flown an intriguing kite this afternoon. It will be interesting to see whether other currents of interest will keep it aloft. It has already had one encouraging gust from the noble Lord, Lord Walston.

May I suggest, however, at this stage, that the proper approach is to wait and see whether livestock rearing lends itself to collective management? Collective dairying is also quite a new idea, and, as the noble Duke himself pointed out, the case he mentioned of the farmer collectivising his own three farms was not a syndicate. I am sure noble Lords will agree that I should not commit the Government to making grants—or indeed ask your Lordships to agree—unless a really detailed case has been made up. This is not a matter of dragging our feet. People in general, and Parliament in particular, are very quick to point to failures, and it is not necessarily any encouragement to co-operation to put public money behind what are still doubtful ventures. I hope the noble Duke will forgive me, but we have to work these things out before legislating. The Government are unwilling to put Exchequer funds into the provision of buildings—necessarily of solid construction and likely to last at least fifteen years—without reasonable certainty that the communal livestock enterprises to be housed in those buildings can be managed successfully, and so be likely to endure as enterprises.

But we are very willing listeners, and I ask your Lordships, and my noble friend, to accept that all we can properly do to-day is to give statutory footing to the grants already agreed for farmers' syndicate buildings for grain drying and storage and machinery housing. If any of the organisations concerned in the industry like to put forward evidence of a need for extending syndicate grants we will look very carefully at what they have to say. With that firm assurance I hope my noble friend will withdraw his Amendment.


I thank my noble friend for that assurance. I am disappointed that he is not prepared to go ahead on the suggestion. I should have thought that the proviso at the end of my suggested Amendment would have covered the Government, if they considered that it was a bad or outrageous scheme, for I believe that if a syndicate found they could not get a grant, they would come to some arrangement whereby one person took over all the milking herd and the livestock. However, with the assurance of my noble friend I have no hesitation in asking your Lordships' leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clauses 7 to 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Winter keep grants]:

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?


I considered whether it would be worth putting down an Amendment to this particular clause, but although it would have been possible to do so in such a way, at any rate, as to have made the particular point I have in mind, I did not think it would have been worth doing, because it clearly would have run counter to the views expressed by the Minister in charge of that particular section in the Committee stage in another place. It had been the hope of many of us, I think, when we first heard of this grant for winter keep, that it would be evolved in such a way as to give encouragement, if possible to all farmers throughout the whole country, but, failing that, to farmers in specified areas, for the more efficient growing or harvesting of particular crops which would enable them to keep and feed their own stock in winter. In other words, such grants or subsidies should, in my opinion, be such as to increase the efficiency of that particular section of the industry.

However, on studying the wording of the Bill as it stands now in Clause 10, and in particular on studying the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in the Committee stage in another place, it is quite clear to me that that was not the intention, and is not the intention, of Her Majesty's Government. In fact, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland specifically said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Standing Committee E, 11th December, 1962, col. 171]: The purpose of the winter keep proposal … is, to help the farmers who, from the natural conditions and circumstances of their farms, have had difficulty in providing winter keep for their livestock". I have no objection whatsoever to the Government's decision to help certain farmers who, because of the natural conditions of their land—or, one might also add, because of the deliberate actions of the Government over the past few years—find themselves in difficulties. A great deal of sympathy is deserved by such people, and we should not grudge financial assistance to them. But we should be quite clear in our own minds what form of financial assistance we are giving, and why we are giving it.

There are two very distinct forms of assistance that can be given. One is the economic form of help, which is designed to make a holding more viable, to enable a farmer, in a relatively short period of time, to overcome certain disadvantages to which he is subject, so that thereafter he can continue to farm without special help from the Government, making his contribution to the economy of the country. That is the correct function, as I see it, of a farming subsidy. I had hoped that the winter keep grant would be of that sort, to enable the farmer—just as the silo grant was to teach him how to use silage, and how to put up a proper silo so that he would eventually make his silage more efficiently—to make his hay more efficiently, or in other ways to produce silage or any other form of winter keep.

But it is manifest, both from the wording of this Bill and from what the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, said on Second Reading, that that is not the way this particular clause is designed to work. It clearly falls under a completely different heading: what I may call the social subsidy, as opposed to the economic subsidy. In other words, the Government are saying, "Here is a group of farmers who, for one reason or another"—and I will not labour the point whether it is due to the faults and errors of the present Government, or to the natural causes under which these farmers find themselves operating—"cannot make ends meet. For social reasons, we do not want them to suffer harm or difficulties, and therefore we shall give them a particular sum of money which is not going to make them more efficient farmers but which will enable them to grow certain crops". And I think that on Second Reading the noble Lord specified turnips, which experience has already proved are uneconomic and, in normal circumstances, too expensive.

I think it would be far more honest, far less misleading, and would give to the world at large, and to the consumer and taxpayer in particular, a much more just impression of the true state of agriculture if grants of this sort were entirely taken out of the Vote of the Ministry of Agriculture—certainly taken out of the economic side—and regarded for what they are (valuable they certainly are); that is, as social grants made to particular crops or to particular districts. While I imagine that it is too late to hope that this Bill, and this particular clause, can be modified to make that absolutely clear, I very much hope that the Government, and the noble Lord in particular, will consider this point, not only for the sake of the farming industry in general but also in order to ensure that, when the Government have to make a decision, they are clear in their own mind whether they are making it on economic grounds or on social grounds.


The scheme for winter keep grants is a straightforward one to assist farmers in hill areas. The noble Lord has taken this point, and we agree on it. It is intended to enable the livestock-rearing farmer to organise his operations so as to be able to carry more stock over the winter. It is limited to livestock-rearing farmers because of their special difficulties and because, as I mentioned during our debate on Clause 1, they have not the same access to the price guarantees as their colleagues in the lowland areas. I might, of course, remind the noble Lord and the Committee that the services of the National Agricultural Advisory Service are available to all farmers, both those in the hills and those in the lowlands, to advise on the planning and management of their winter keep, as in other matters. Where I differ from the noble Lord, and where I think the noble Lord has a misconception, is that this will, I believe, make the particular hill farmer a more efficient farmer in that he will be able to feed his stock better. That is the purpose of this clause.

Under the scheme, the number of crops which will attract grant has to be extensive so as not to omit any which farmers may find useful, and so that they can in fact choose that which best suits their stock and the conditions of their farm. Whether or not a particular crop is economic will depend entirely on the circumstances of the particular farmer's holding. Fairly obviously, farmers will not continue to cultivate a crop which does not pay its way. It appears necessary for me to emphasise that the winter keep grant is a measure of assistance towards cultivation: it is not intended as a contribution towards the cost of machinery—that is to say, for silage-making or for hay drying. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, wanted a scheme which would point the way to more and better silage-making, and this is in fact precisely the major object of the present silo subsidy scheme.

I would say, in conclusion, that the clause is, of course, only an enabling measure, and that a detailed scheme will later be submitted to your Lordships in a statutory instrument requiring an Affirmative Resolution. No doubt the noble Lord will then scrutinise that scheme with his characteristic thoroughness, and will perhaps return to the charge in due course if he thinks this scheme itself, when drawn up, falls below his expectations.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clauses 11 to 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Fees]:

4.16 p.m.

THE DUKE OF A.THOLL had given Notice of two Amendments to subsection (4), the first being after "Table" (where that word occurs a second time) to insert: but shall be subject to a limit of four times the amount set out in column 2 of that Table".

The noble Duke said: With the permission of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 at the same time. Amendment No. 4 covers the general point and Amendment No. 5 the particular point that I wish to bring out. The general point is that, as I understood one of the tenets of the policy of the Conservative Party, they did not like sums of money being raised by Orders but preferred it to be done by a proper Act of Parliament. Therefore, when these two Acts—the Improvement of Live Stock (Licensing of Bulls) Act and the Horse Breeding Act—were originally passed, in 1931 and 1958, the cost of a licence or permit was laid down in the Acts themselves. I agree that certainly the 1931 Act is hopelessly out of date with regard to the sum of money, and that it needs amendment. I am quite prepared to admit that the 1958 Act is exceedingly generous in the small amount of charge for a licence or permit to keep a stallion. But I think that to allow this clause to go through without any limit at all would be a great pity, because it would enable the Minister, by an Affirmative Order in the other place (I think I am right in saying "an Affirmative Order in the other place"), to insert any sum he liked as a fee for the licence or permit to keep a stallion. The purpose of this Amendment is to prescribe a limit.

Amendment No. 5 is put down because the various pony societies are very worried that, with the removal of these limits, many people will start keeping stallions which are not licensed. At the moment a man is permitted to keep, without a licence, a stallion which is under four years old, which he uses only on his own land and which he never advertises, shows or displays in any other way. I cannot remember the exact words of the Act, and unfortunately I did not write them down; but that is the gist of it. The point is that if the licence fee went up to, say, £5 or £10, many people who now make use of a. properly registered and approved stallion would be tempted to cease to license their stallion, and either their neighbours would be allowed to use it illegally or they would be deprived of the services of this particular stallion and, presumably, would have to keep one of their own.

I think it a great pity that every stallion in the country—every stallion over four years old, that is—does not have to be licensed. If that were the law, we should get a really high-class breed. But, accepting the present situation, I believe that if the sum charged for licences or permits is too high it will only aggravate the tendency to reduce the quality of the stock. I believe that to make this a commercial proposition the sum charged would have to be in the neighbourhood of £20. I cannot see anyone who owns a pony stallion, with the exception of the champions of the shows, paying such a sum for a licence, and that would be a great pity.

Amendment No. 5, therefore, places a limit of three guineas on the fee to be charged for any pony stallion of a breed officially recognised by the National Pony Society. This would, of course, exclude all the thoroughbreds and various other forms of stallions whose owners, I think, are quite capable of paying the charge for licensing. When one thinks of the difference in the service fee charged for thoroughbred racehorses and that charged for Highland and Welsh pony stallions, it will be agreed that it is out of all proportion that the owners should have to pay the same for their permits. I feel, therefore, that perhaps my noble friend will be able to offer me something of comfort on this particular Amendment. I beg to move Amendment No. 4.

Amendment moved— Page 11, line 36, after ("Table") insert the said words.—(The Duke of Atholl.)


The purpose of removing the obsolete existing limits on sire licensing fees is to enable new fees to be prescribed at levels which will serve something nearer full recoupment of the costs; and to permit the fees to be kept under review and, if necessary, varied without further legislation. I think my noble friend appreciates the need for this. Assurances on both these points were given to the Public Accounts Committee in March, 1961. It has long been recognised—and recognised by my noble friend —that the present fees, fixed over thirty years ago, are quite unrealistic to-day, and during the Committee's discussion the point was made that the current and more satisfactory practice is to put the fee-levying power into the Statute and to control the actual fees charged by Statutory Instrument. That is what we propose to do, and when the fees have been decided they will be prescribed by Statutory Instrument which will be subject to annulment by either House.

To restrict the size of any increases to the degree proposed in the Amendment would be to preclude us from securing full recoupment on present-day costs, and any future increase in costs would aggravate the position still further. In either event we should have to face up to a further round of legislation to put matters right. Although we do not propose to make full recoupment at the outset in the case of bulls and boars, the figure for bulls which has been mentioned in exploratory discussions with the industry is two guineas. This is, of course, beyond the limit proposed in the Amendment, but we shall still not cover our costs. With boar licensing we propose to recover an even lower proportion of our costs, since we feel the lower average value of the animals is something we should take account of in this case. The boar licensing fee may well be set at about the level my noble friend has in mind, but we should not wish to be tied indefinitely to such a limit. I do not foresee that we shall need to raise any of the appeal fees to the extent of four times the present figures, and I hope his mind is set at rest on that point.

For stallions the present licence fee covers less than 5 per cent. of the cost of inspection. As I mentioned in our Second Reading debate, we are contemplating simplifications in procedures which, by reducing costs, will limit the increases it is necessary to make. But, even so, a substantial increase would be needed to secure full recoupment of costs, and there seems no justification for not going nearer to this.

The subsection as it stands provides flexibility to vary the fees in relation to the actual costs. There is no intention to charge more than is needed to recoup our costs, and we do, indeed, propose to charge rather less than this. There is no intention of profiting from these services. In earnest of this, my noble friend will be mindful that elsewhere in this clause, and in the Schedule to the Bill, there is a kind of self-denying ordinance under which my right honourable friend is foregoing his power to levy fees for a whole range of services which he regards as a fair charge upon the State. The actual sire licensing fees will be included in a Statutory Instrument which can be discussed by the House. In view of these considerations I hope my noble friend will withdraw his Amendment.


I should like to make one correction. I think I am right in saying that this will be subject to annulment by the House of Commons only. The Bill appears to say this, and it seems reasonable as it is a purely financial matter. My noble friend said that we should have the chance to discuss it. Of course I should be happier if, in fact, we could.


I stand corrected. My noble friend is quite right. It is, in fact, an Affirmative Resolution of the House of Commons. I am sorry to have misled the Committee.


I think also that I am right in saying that Affirmative Resolutions of the Commons are inclined to go through rather late at night and without much discussion. It seems, therefore, to be an unsatisfactory way of doing this. I am also not very happy about the pony stallion point. But, by your Lordships' leave, I beg to withdraw Amendment No. 4.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.27 p.m.


I should like to say a little more on Amendment No. 5. I do not think that my noble friend made any attempt to reply to the argument that the fee for stallions covers horses of value varying from a quarter of a million pounds down to those whose value as stallions is between £100 and £150. It seems to me very unsatisfactory to charge the same amount of licensing fee in both cases, and I feel that the pony stallion licence fee should be regarded, to a certain extent, as a charge on the State. I am not at all happy when he says that economies may be made. This will presumably either mean that standards will go down or that the number of inspections will go down. I cannot think of any other way in which economies can be made. I would point out that this Act was passed only in 1958 and people who have started keeping pony stallions, or stallions of any sort, since then may have done so with the theory in mind that the degree of inflation over the five years since 1958 was not quite as great as from one guinea to twenty guineas. I should therefore like a further explanation from my noble friend about the stallion aspect of this clause. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 11, line 50, at end insert— ("Notwithstanding the above, the maximum fee which shall be charged under section 2 (1) or section 3 (1) of the Horse Breeding Act 1958 for such licence or permit to keep a stallion of a recognised breed of pony shall be three guineas. For the purpose of the above any breed recognised by the National Pony Society shall be deemed to be a recognised breed of pony.") —(The Duke of Atholl.)


In the particular case of licence fees for pony stallions, my noble friend is reviving the plea that he made on the Second Reading debate. At that time I explained that we did not feel able to differentiate in favour of pony stallions although we would do what we could to cut costs by simplification of procedure. We have looked again at this matter in the light of the noble Duke's Amendment, but I am afraid that we cannot offer any further comfort to my noble friend this afternoon. While I recognise the desire that lies behind his Amendment, that a lower licensing fee should be charged for pony stallions and other stallions because of their generally lower value, I do not feel able to accept it. Though the value of and the service fees for pony stallions tend to range lower, they are often at least as high as those of other stallions and I do not think any general case for favourable treatment can be sustained. I would remind my noble friend that many pony stallions, mountain and moorland ponies, which are not travelled, are already exempt from licence in their native districts.

As I told your Lordships on Second Reading, the costs of licensing the remainder are the same as those involved in the case of these other stallions, and I believe that we should be right to recoup those costs to the same extent. I understand that the service fees for pony stallions range from 5 to 50 guineas, set against values between 50 and 600 guineas, which compares with service fees for thoroughbred ranging from 20 to 200 guineas, set against values between 200 and 2,000 guineas.

What we are setting out to do in the case of stallion licensing is to bring our costs down to a minimum, although I said earlier this month that we must complete our consultations with the industry before we can settle upon the level of fees. It is, I know, the initial veterinary examination for soundness to which most importance is attached by the industry, and whilst retaining this essential feature we hope to economise on routine re-inspections and arrive at a licence fee for all stallions, which will cover the remaining costs without placing too great a burden upon the owner. I hope that this explanation will act as some sort of reassurance to my noble friend and that he will feel that he can withdraw his Amendment.


I wonder whether, in due course, the Minister can write the noble Duke a letter saying what pony stallion fees amount to £50. I have never in my life heard of any pony stallion fee amounting to more than 50 per cent. of that figure.


I am not at all happy about this position, but at this stage I will withdraw my Amendment, in the hope that there will be more comfort before the Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 agreed to.


There is another debate due to follow at this moment—we have over-run by only two minutes—and I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord St. Oswald.)


By leave of the Committee, I would ask the noble Earl the Chief Whip a question on Business. As a very modest juvenile in your Lordships' House, I am aware of how little I know about Business; that is why I am going to put this question. It seems to me extraordinary to place a Bill such as the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill on the Order Paper to start after Prayers at 2.30 or perhaps at 3.0 p.m. but to cease at 4.30, so that some other discussion may take place, and then by arrangement, presumably through the normal channels (if there were any channels), for it to be restored on Thursday, but with a Private Member's Bill on drainage to be taken in front of it. Perhaps we may get some explanation of this extraordinary procedure from the Chief Whip.


I do not think that it is as extraordinary as all that. We do not conduct our Business in this House in quite the same way as they do in another place, as no doubt the noble Lord has appreciated by now. We arrange these things through the co-operation of the various Parties in the House, and often it is the case that the Opposition would prefer not to do too long a period at one time on the Committee stage of a Bill, but to take it in limited periods of a couple of hours or so spread over several days. That has worked extremely well up to now, and that was the arrangement which was entered into on this Bill, with the agreement of all the Parties concerned. The noble Lord queried whether there were any channels. I can assure him that there are most excellent channels.


Of course, the noble Earl will appreciate that I am concerned only because the next Amendment was mine.


I fully appreciate that.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.