§ 3.42 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
LORD ST. OSWALD
I should first of all like to say what great delight it gives me to see my noble neighbour Lord Williams of Barnburgh in his seat from which he has been missing for so long, missed by both sides of the House. His noble colleagues said it felt like an old boys' gathering. It may be that on Wednesday week there will be a Yorkshire confrontation.
LORD ST. OSWALD
So I suspected. I was also grateful to various noble Lords opposite for saying what I felt myself, that there was certainly no great chasm separating our principles. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, echoed by various other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Hawke, said that there could not be too great difficulty, insuperable difficulty, in finding the right words for framing something more satisfactory to them than this term of "related products". I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Hawke is right in thinking that a Chinese hieroglyph may do it, but if a Chinese hieroglyph would do it I think it would not be incorporated in our legislation.
LORD ST. OSWALD
It might well be. I cannot really give noble Lords opposite a great deal of encouragement as regards looking into this again. The fact is, as I said in my first intervention, that this matter has been looked at very deeply, both before and since it was discussed in another place. Of course, the noble Lord is right in saying that, because it has passed through another place, that does not mean it is not open to discussion here; the very opposite is of course the case. But all I can tell him is that the searching and ingenious minds of the Parliamentary draftsmen have been applied to this particular problem and they have not found an answer.
Various references have been made to the sweeping powers of the Minister, but I think I must correct again this use of language. It seems to me wrong to call the powers the sweeping powers of the Minister; they are the sweeping powers and decisions (to such extent as they are sweeping) of Parliament, because they are submitted to Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, suggested that we should produce a White Paper on every occasion. I really cannot give an undertaking to produce a White Paper before laying these Orders. On cereals, for example, the Government's general intentions have been explained during the passage of the legislation itself. But what I can say—and perhaps I am to blame for not having stressed this sufficiently already—is that the initial Order laying down the range of commodities to be covered by the 657 arrangements will be laid for Affirmative Resolution; this will give a full opportunity for debate in both Houses of Parliament, and any misgivings which either House of Parliament may feel about the use of the powers can be fully brought out.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Walston, wishes me to comment on his rather fanciful description of cabbages and asparagus being related products, but I prefer to think he did not intend me to take that too seriously. I do not know whether I could strengthen my argument, which has already been greatly strengthened to my gratification by my noble friend and predecessor Lord Waldegrave, by giving another example of why we think the powers in this form are necessary. Apart from the need to be able to specify related products because of the direct effects of not doing so on the maintenance of a stable market in the primary products—that is to say, for example, flour—it is also necessary to be able to do so because of the possible repercussion on the minimum import price arrangements of processing industry in the United Kingdom. If, for example, the minimum import price arrangements were applied to maize and not to maize meal, a processor of maize meal in the United Kingdom would have to obtain his raw material, that is maize, at or about the minimum import price, whereas maize meal could come in at prices below the minimum import price for maize. This would, of course, jeopardise the position of our own processors.
I am grateful for the extremely reasoned and reasonable way in which the Opposition's objections have been argued. I hope they will not think it cavalier of me not to give them any undertaking, any promise, to look at it again; it is simply because I think I should be misleading them by suggesting that any further scrutiny would elicit anything closer to what they require. I think the fullest possible scrutiny has been applied already to this question.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ 3.49 p.m.
LORD STONHAM moved to add to subsection (2):
Provided that if the Minister is not satisfied that the market import price for any
specified commodity is the actual market price in the country of origin plus reasonable insurance and freight charges, he may prohibit importation.
§ The noble Lord said: The Committee may recall that I made this point as strongly as I could during Second Reading when I referred to our very important, in fact almost dominating, position as a food importing country, and I then gave it as my opinion that in fixing a minimum British import price we were in effect fixing a minimum world export price. There would thus, as I reason, be an artificial raising of prices which would inevitably mean dearer foodstuffs for the farmer and dearer food for the housewife. If, for example, the market price of barley in France was £17 a ton and the Minister's minimum import price was £20 a ton, the importing merchants and dealers would get together, buy on the French market at £17 a ton and sell it to us at £20. They would not be such fools as to sell it at £17 and lose the chance of making this huge extra profit which a benevolent Conservative Government—benevolent to the dealers—had provided for them.
§ The memorandum issued by our own home millers and merchants confirms this up to the hilt. In effect, the trade says that once the Government declare a minimum price for a commodity no one will sell below that price. I think that is almost indisputable. There would thus be no levy collected because there would be no imports at below the minimum price. We should be simply making a present to the foreigner of the difference between their market price and our minimum. This Amendment would prevent that. It would enable the Minister to ascertain the market price in the country of origin, and if it is lower than the minimum import price, to say in effect to the importers, "You either import at the market price plus the charges mentioned in the Amendment, or you do not import at all."
§ When a similar Amendment was moved in Standing Committee in another place the Minister of Agriculture produced what I regard as the wholly fallacious argument that it was an anti-dumping Amendment which was in conflict with GATT. I have heard this argument about GATT produced many 659 times. I think it is much like "related products." Civil servants produce the GATT argument when they can think of no reasonable and convincing argument to a point. I think it is because almost no one outside Whitehall—or they think that almost no one outside Whitehall—understands GATT, and few people inside understand it.
§ But I do not think that it will work on this occasion. The provisions in Clause 1 are fiscal provisions, and this is a fiscal and not a quantitative Amendment. It has nothing to do with antidumping, which has already been provided for in other legislation, imperfect though it is. This Amendment is expressly designed to ensure that when prices overseas are lower than the minimum import price fixed by the Minister we should get some income from import taxes and the floor will still be there and the home market undamaged; but if the Bill remains unaltered the floor will be there all right but it will be littered with squatters, the squatters being sturdy foreign exporters seated comfortably on the floor we have provided for them and enjoying these extra, uncovenanted profits that we shall have showered on them.
§ I know that outside this Bill the Minister of Agriculture has reached agreement in principle with our four major overseas suppliers of cereals for their co-operation in the proposed minimum import prices. Just how they co-operate is apparently to be left to them. I must emphasise a fact that the Government constantly run away from. This Bill and the Amendment deal not not only with cereals but with all agricultural and horticultural produce and with related products. To talk about a partial agreement on cereals with four of our main suppliers as if it were the whole answer is, in my submission, nonsense. It is not a twentieth part of the whole answer. In any case, the four-country agreement on cereals is not in conflict with this Amendment, nor does it render it unnecessary, because if the agreement is in operation the market prices in those countries, in my submission, will not be below the international minimum. I do not see how they possibly can be.660
§ In the agreement which he seeks on cereals, the Minister is not proposing quantitative limitations for the foreigners; he is proposing to impose standard quantities which are quantitative limitations only on British farmers. That is an essential part of the bargain which he eventually hopes to make with overseas suppliers. He will say to them, "You agree to a minimum import price into Britain, see that it is observed, and, in return, we will impose quantitative restrictions on the production of British farmers." It would be intolerable, while we ask our farmers to limit their output and their income—in other words, to make a sacrifice—as part of the price we think they should pay for a stable market, at the same time to present foreign farmers and dealers with an unearned extra profit. I think that would be quite fantastic.
§ Another fantastic effect of Clause 1 as it stands is the position of those countries—and there are some—which refuse to enter into quantitative agreements: the non-agreement countries. It is the Government's intention to impose a levy on imports from them. The levy will be the difference between the world market price and the British minimum price. But that means they will certainly be getting as extra profit the amount by which the world price exceeds their own market price, and we shall be paying that much extra. In fact, we shall be putting a premium on non-co-operation, and the non-agreeing countries will be making these extra profits.
§ When this Amendment was moved in Standing Committee in another place, it was carried against the Government; but during the Report stage the Amendment was defeated without, in my view, any kind of satisfactory explanation. I hope that, not for the first time, your Lordships will put the record straight by supporting this Amendment, accepting it, and thus ensuring that although the floor remains in British agriculture, we shall be buying overseas at the lowest possible price, and when the produce has emerged it will, whenever appropriate, be subjected to import levies. That, I would submit, is expressly following the first words in this Bill, in the interests of a stable British agriculture, and in the interest of the nation as a whole. I beg to move.661
Page 2, line 9 at end insert the said proviso. —(Lord Stonham.)
§ 3.59 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, recalled that when this Amendment, or a similar Amendment, was being debated in another place my right honourable friend on that occasion took it to refer to dumping. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has made it clear that it does not refer to dumping; but I ought to point out—this is not a debating point—that in point of fact until he spoke the Amendment as worded by him and his noble friends was still open to that interpretation. However, he has made it clear that his Amendment is designed to enable the Minister to prohibit imports from being sold here at a price above the internal price of the exporting country, presumably allowance having been made for insurance and freight charges.
LORD ST. OSWALD
Importing at a price above the internal price in the exporting country. I think that was the intention of his noble friend.
LORD ST. OSWALD
This is a point which was also considered at great length in another place, once the interpretation had been made clear to my right honourable friend when fears were expressed about the possibility of traders making a "killing" by buying at low prices in exporting countries and making big profits by reselling to the United Kingdom at our minimum import price and so avoiding any levies. I think this fear still remains in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham.
The levy arrangements which the Government propose to introduce for cereals would, in fact, safeguard us against this sort of thing happening. In circumstances where levies were being applied, the individual trader could put up his price artificially to our minimum import price only if he could, in so doing, evade the levies. If he were unable to evade the levy, the effect of charging a higher price than the general 662 market level would be to price him out of the market. That is why it is proposed in the case of cereals to depend primarily on two types of flat rate levy: the general levy and the country levy, and not on levies related to the invoiced prices of individual consignments. As I explained on Second Reading, this will be charged if necessary, but only if necessary, on imports from non-co-operating countries and co-operating countries respectively.
In the case of those countries—I really am hopeful of setting the noble Lord's mind at rest on this—which are unwilling or unable to co-operate with us, there will in fact be no premium on non-co-operation, as the noble Lord thought. The general levy would be applied, if necessary, at a rate related to the difference between the minimum import price of the commodity and the lowest representative prices at which supplies of that commodity were available for import into the United Kingdom from all non-co-operating sources. I do not know whether the noble Lord had fully understood that.
§ LORD STONHAM
That is precisely what we are asking for in the Amendment. There is no reason, therefore, why it should not be accepted at once.
LORD ST. OSWALD
What the noble Lord has in effect said is that his Amendment is unnecessary. Am I right?
§ LORD STONHAM
I want the words written into the Bill. You have only told me what is the Minister's intention.
§ LORD WALSTON
This is a terribly important point. Could the noble Lord repeat what he has said so that we get it quite clear?
LORD ST. OSWALD
Yes, willingly. I said, rightly as it turned out, that I should be setting the noble Lord's mind at rest. In the case of those countries which are unwilling or unable to cooperate with us, the general levy would be applied, if necessary, at a rate related to the difference between the minimum import price of the commodity concerned and the lowest representative prices at which supplies of that commodity were available for import into 663 the United Kingdom from all non-cooperating sources. I am sure I do not need to spell that out to the noble Lord. But what this could mean is that there might be two non-co-operating countries, one selling, let us say, barley at £17 a ton, and another selling barley at £16 a ton. If the non-co-operating country, with an offering price of £17 a ton, sold at that price to Britain, the difference of the levy would be not as between £17 and, let us say, £19, but between £16 and £19. I think that perhaps I should not waste any further time of the Committee if I have satisfied the noble Lord on that aspect—although I have a great deal more to say, if required.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
I should like to ask my noble friend one question. The noble Lord said "all the non-co-operating countries". Is that the same as "each of the non-co-operating countries"? I expected him to say "each"; and I was rather perplexed by "all".
LORD ST. OSWALD
There is a distinct difference. This is perhaps what was disturbing the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. The world will be divided, as it were, into two parts: the co-operators (for whom there might be a country levy though we hope it will be unnecessary, because they are co-operating) and the non-co-operating countries, the rest of the world, for whom there will be a flat-rate levy based on the lowest representative price at which the particular commodity is available from those other countries.
While the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, appears to me to be utterly impracticable, I must say that the system outlined by my noble friend seems to be equally impracticable. I do not know whether the grain trade has changed a great deal since I knew something about it, but I cannot see that the cargo brought to Falmouth for orders, for instance, will ever have any place in the world's markets again. The great grain merchants of the world, having brought forward their cargoes, would see that those cargoes would not be destined specially for this country, but destined for whichever port in Europe happened to be paying the best price when the ship was nearing the Channel approaches. How 664 one could make a special levy based on the price of the commodity in one particular country when one is probably having to buy it from another country, I just cannot understand. The full quantity which this market requires may not be available in the cheapest country. In fact, the cheapest country might be a small exporter. Yet apparently you are going to make a levy on the grain bought from perhaps your main source but based on the price current in a smaller market, and temporarily a cheaper market. I think that to have this levy varying according to the lowest price in any part of the world is a most extraordinary method of trying to conduct this operation. But, as I have already said, I think that Lord Stonham's Amendment is still equally impracticable.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
Do I interpret the noble Lord aright when he refers to a co-operating exporter? Does he interpret a co-operating country as the one which, for example, is going to sell us barley at £17 a ton, and we think it is not enough, and very kindly agrees to charge us £20.
§ LORD WALSTON
I am most confused by this, and I hope that I shall not exhibit my ignorance too publicly by speaking now. As I understand it from what the noble Lord has said, there are the four co-operating countries, Canada, United States, Argentine and Australia, which have agreed to charge us rather more than they otherwise would for the produce which they are going to send us, and we are truly grateful for that. We then have the non-co-operating countries—say for argument's sake, Iraq, France, Chile and possibly Russia.
LORD ST. OSWALD
I wonder whether I could explain the situation at this point. There is no question of blackballing any countries who wish to co-operate with us on fair trading terms.
§ LORD WALSTON
No, certainly not. But let us try to see what happens in those countries. Suppose that Iraq has a big surplus of barley—very dry, very hard barley, rather sought after by some of our feeding-stuffs manufacturers—which they are prepared to sell to us at £12 a ton (that has not been unknown in the last few years); that Russia has a huge surplus of barley, or possibly they are short of barley but, for various other reasons, they are prepared to sell to us at £10 a ton; that France has a small surplus of barley which they will let us have at £18 a ton as opposed to the £30 a ton that their local producers are getting; and that merchants are prepared to buy from those different countries. They buy on different days and different months; at different times. They do not know how much they will have to pay in the form of levy for that barley when it eventually arrives at Hull, London or Liverpool—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said, very often the ship receives instructions while at sea as to which port, or even which country, it is to go to.
Now at what stage does the noble Lord's Ministry draw the line and say, "The price to-day is the Iraqi price of £12 a ton. Therefore, the £18 a ton barley coming from France, which has been shipped from Brest and is about to to go to Liverpool, will have to pay a levy as if it were being bought at £12 a ton"? When does it say that? How does it work that out? Does it do it weekly, monthly or daily? I think these are very important points, because the whole working of this Bill, if it becomes an Act, depends on matters of that kind; and whether in fact it collapses entirely and becomes a complete shambles, whether it interferes entirely with the normal import processes, which I believe noble Lords opposite are very anxious to sustain, or whether it is going to result in the British compounder and the British farmer having to pay infinitely more than he otherwise would, are all very relevant considerations. Perhaps the noble Lord would explain to us just how this is going to work.
LORD ST. OSWALD
The minimum import price is fixed as an early move in the succession of Orders that this process entails; but, as regards the levy to be fixed for an individual country, the 666 arrangements for making or applying this levy will in fact be included in the Order required to specify this. I do not know whether the noble Lord was aware of that. This is to be specified, laid before Parliament and, if necessary, debated in Parliament; so I cannot possibly say at this stage what an individual Order will contain, or what would be proposed in an individual Order laid before Parliament.
§ LORD WALSTON
Does that mean, then, that an importer is free to buy his Iraqi barley at £12 a ton and bring it into this country without any levy being paid on it until such time as the Government have decided on a levy and it has been debated in Parliament, by which time the barley may have been not only landed but actually consumed?
LORD ST. OSWALD
I cannot help feeling that the grain producers in Iraq are not quite as naive as the noble Lord thinks they are. I think that, perhaps knowing and having studied the provisions as deeply as the noble Lord will have studied them by that time, they will have something to say about the price at which they sell, as will the grain producers in other countries.
I should say, perhaps, to my noble neighbour, Lord Williams of Barn-burgh, who made this very fair point, that we are, it is true, if he wishes to look at it in that way, inviting these cooperating countries to sell us grain at prices higher than they normally might; that what we are trying to do and what we are succeeding in doing, we hope, by these measures is to cut out the deep and embarrassing troughs in price due to there being unloaded on our market low-priced cereals; which have been the bane of agricultural Ministers since his time.
May I ask this question of my noble friend—we are beginning to get a little more light on this matter now. Apparently we are going to have an Order which the Minister will make saying that the levy on, say, barley—we are using barley as an example—is £3 a ton. That Order, presumably, has been based on information about the market some time before the Minister has made the Order. What happens when the market goes up again, and we find we cannot import and pay 667 a levy and, at the same time, satisfy the producers?
LORD ST. OSWALD
I am sorry. I cannot quite see at what point I misled my noble friend, but it is clear that I have misled him. The levy is not fixed rigidly. The levy fluctuates according to the representative price of offering. It fluctuates as between the minimum import price as an upper limit and the representative price in the country of origin, according (in the case of cooperating countries) to which country it may be and what that price may be.
On the date the cargo arrives in this country the Ministry ascertains the market price in Argentina or Iraq, or anywhere else, and the levy on that cargo is based on that price. Is that it?
LORD ST. OSWALD
No. It is unlikely that it will fluctuate daily. I cannot say, until in fact the Orders are made, exactly what the method of making arrangements for the levy will be, but it is, on the whole, improbable that it will change, at any rate daily, although we do not exclude the possibility of needing a consignment levy if, in the course of practice, this proves necessary.
§ LORD WALSTON
Again, I must have misunderstood the noble Lord on one thing, either in his last remarks or in his earlier remarks. I thought he said earlier that the levy was going to be based, not on the individual country's price but on the lowest price at which it was being sold in the world, in all the exporting non-co-operating countries.
§ LORD WALSTON
But in his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, he has just said it is going to be based on the price in the country from which the export is being made.
LORD ST. OSWALD
So far as cooperating countries are concerned, it will be based on the individual country's price, but how often that price will be changed, or the way in which that price may move, I cannot foresee. The noble Lord is quite right in having followed me as saying that the representative price of the non-co-operating countries will 668 be, as it were, the lowest representative price among them, but I also cannot say that that price will remain fixed.
§ LORD STONHAM
The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said just now that the discussion had shed more light on the subject. It certainly has not shed more wisdom. In fact, the light which has been shed has shown one thing beyond any kind of shadow of doubt: that these proposals with regard to the non-cooperating countries cannot possibly work at all. There is no possibility of their working.
§ LORD STONHAM
The noble Lord's silence represents the fact that he has run completely out of arguments, and I think that was the reason why he halted suddenly in his first speech when, as he said himself, he had a great deal more to say. I have listened with very great care, as indeed have all your Lordships, and I do not dispute that, with regard to the co-operating countries, the price of their co-operation will be a very substantial bonus that we shall give them merely for their kindness in charging us more than they otherwise would have charged. Well, if that is the way the Government want it, it is perfectly clear; but so far as the non-co-operating countries—
LORD ST. OSWALD
I wonder whether I might interrupt once more. I realise it is appalling to keep on doing so. But I am sure the noble Lord does not want to give the impression that we are getting absolutely nothing in exchange for what he describes as a "bonus" to the co-operating countries. The fact is that in this understanding, they have agreed with us, in principle, as the noble Lord himself said, to limit their imports through the medium of minimum prices.
§ LORD STONHAM
I was a member of the Standing Committee on the 1947 Agriculture Act; so I do not need convincing of the fact that a stable market is a first essential for British agriculture, and any steps which will assist in achieving that object will have our full support. It is the method that the Government have chosen to achieve that object with which we do not agree. We 669 do not agree that it is necessary with the co-operating countries, our friends, to raise the price and pay them more than they would otherwise have charged. In other words, we should achieve a stable method by other means; but I will not pursue that point at the moment. Leaving aside what I regard as folly—to pay millions and millions of pounds for nothing—let us come to the other side of the medal: the non-cooperating countries. The noble Lord said that we shall fix a levy which will be equal to the difference between the lowest market price operating in any one of the non-co-operating countries and the British minimum import price. If that is wrong I will certainly give way.
LORD ST. OSWALD
This remains to be arranged in the Order applying to a given commodity. I was naming simply one possible arrangement. I do not like to keep repeating this; but these things remain to be worked out in the Orders.
§ LORD STONHAM
I appreciate that. I am trying to be absolutely fair and to give the picture accurately. Therefore, what I said was right, at least in relation to the one commodity—cereals—which the Government have for the moment considered, and we will confine ourselves for the time being to that.
Having accepted that as accurate, the noble Lord and, apparently, the Government—because the noble Lord is well briefed on this subject and has studied it deeply—have no answer to the position which must, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said, obviously arise with prices because of fluctuating demands. In fact, prices can and do change while shipments are on the High Seas and can he diverted to other ports. It is useless to argue that the alterations are not as radical as that, because prices are altered every day. So what the noble Lord is saying in objecting to, or, if you like, rejecting, my Amendment, is, "We are proposing to do most of what the noble Lord wants"; but, in fact, you are not proposing to do anything of the kind. You are only proposing to make free gifts to one set of suppliers; and to the other set of suppliers you propose to make things completely unworkable so that at most times they will not export to us at all.
The noble Lord is entitled to say he does not like this method; but he is not entitled to say, as he keeps on saying, that this system will not work. That is quite a different matter. What is envisaged in this system is that there should be an import price below which grains will not enter this country. That can work quite well, even though the noble Lord does not like it and even if he thinks it may give undue profits to international traders or, as the noble Lord said, a bonus to other countries. That may, or may not be so. I do not know that it is wrong that a trader should occasionally make a profit. But the system is workable.
§ LORD STONHAM
The noble Earl will know that I have read the Bill and I was aware that one of its sheet anchors was a British minimum import price. Of course I am aware of that.
§ LORD STONHAM
I do not say that a British minimum import price will not work. In other words, you can prohibit the entry into this country of produce at less than a certain price. Of course you can. I have no doubt that the Bill will do that. Why I think it will not work is that a good many times in a year, in different circumstances, it will be virtually impossible for these non-cooperating countries, even if they want to, to export to us, because we shall have made it impossible or, if you like, unprofitable, for them to do so; and we shall not get the consignments. That is my belief; and I am entitled to give my opinion though the noble Earl is right in saying that I should not state it as a fact. I have been thinking deeply about this for the last few years, and again and again I gave it as my opinion that the Government will have to come to the Dispatch Box and put forward a managed market or a form of managed market and will have to advocate a form of import control. To-day, that is a fact. So; what I am now giving as my opinion may in due course come about.
The noble Lord thought in his first speech that he had satisfied me; and then he sat down. I regret to have to say that he has failed to satisfy me; because, 671 however good or bad they may be, or however workable or unworkable, a Minister's intentions are not law. We want to see a provision in the Statute. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said that the proposal in the Amendment was completely impracticable. I do not agree; because it would be possible to ascertain the actual market price in the country of origin with in a few minutes. Therefore, this Amendment is practicable. But the other, and major, reason why I cannot accept the noble Lord's method, or his reply, as being satisfactory, is that, so far as I can see, the Government have up to now applied it only to cereals, or thought about cereals, in applying their method. But of course, as the noble Lord is well aware, it will cover a whole range of staple agricultural commodities, and almost certainly the review commodities.
§ 4.39 p.m.
LORD STONHAM moved, in subsection (10), after "horticulture" to insert:
as specified in Schedule (Produce to which Part 1 of Act applies) to this Act
The noble Lord said: I trust that nothing has gone wrong with the Government, and that there have been no resignations since our last debate. I beg to move Amendment No. 4, and I hope that it will meet the convenience
§ Therefore the Minister could not possibly conclude international agreements in respect of all review commodities and have some of the countries co-operating at a price and others non-co-operating, and also have this utterly absurd arrangement with all the non-co-operating countries, with perhaps a dozen different commodities. I do not believe there is a single member of the Committee who agrees that the Government reply is a satisfactory one, or that their proposal will work in a satisfactory way. Therefore we will press this Amendment to a Division, and I hope noble Lords will support us in the Lobby.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 21; Not-Contents, 45.671
|Alexander of Hillsborough, E.||Kinnoull, E.||Stonham, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Lawson, L.||Summerskill, B.|
|Burden, L. [Teller.]||Lindgren, L.||Walston, L.|
|Champion, L. [Teller.]||Listowel, E.||Williams, L.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Peddie, L.||Williams of Barnburgh, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||St. Davids, V.||Williamson, L.|
|Hobson, L.||Shepherd, L.||Wise, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Ferrers, E.||Lyle of Westbourne, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Fortescue, E.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Malmesbury, E.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Greenway, L.||Margesson, V.|
|Amory, V.||Grenfell, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Bossom, L.||Hastings, L.||Mills, V.|
|Carrington, L.||Hawke, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Horsbrugh, B.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Crathorne, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Iddesleigh, E.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Denham, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Somers, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Lansdowne, M.||Strange of Knokin, B.|
|Dilhorne, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Long, V.||Swinton, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Lothian, M.||Waldegrave, E.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ of the Committee if I discuss with it Amendment No. 5 and Amendment No. 20, to the new Schedule. In discussing a previous Amendment, the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, hoped that I would have dealt with one of these Amendments at the same time, and in his speech he had something to say about it, so perhaps this discussion will not take quite so long. As I hope I have made plain, we on this side of the Committee are willing and anxious to support control of imports of staple agricultural commodities and horticultural produce 673 under proper conditions. We think that these three Amendments provide a completely satisfactory way of doing all that the Government say they want to do, while excluding powers contained in the Bill, which the Government say they are not going to use. The Minister has made it clear that the quid pro quo for agreement on import prices by overseas suppliers is an agreement on standard quantities by British farmers. The only products for which we are likely to seek agreement with overseas supplies are the review commodities. The whole arrangement, therefore, is likely to be closely linked with the Annual Price Review. As your Lordships will have noticed, our Amendments have been framed to cover all these points.
We seek to continue in this Bill, with adaptation, the provisions of the 1947 Act, which have worked very well. The words of Amendment No. 5—
The Minister may after consultation with such bodies or persons as appear to him to represent the appropriate interests by order direct that Schedule (Produce to which Part I of Act applies) to this Act shall have effect for the purposes of all or any of the provisions of this part of this Act, with the addition thereto of any such produce as may be specified"—
are, in fact, taken straight from the 1947 Act. They provide means of adding, if necessary, to the list of major commodities specified in our proposed new Schedule. It can, and I am sure will, be said that the Schedule is not sufficiently comprehensive; but I would say that this presents no real difficulty. The Schedule that we are proposing is, in fact, the one to the 1947 Act, plus the addition of fresh horticultural produce and maize. Maize is added because, although it is an imported and not a home-grown cereal, the price and quantities of maize imports could affect the market for home-grown cereals.
§ I know that there are many other commodities—for instance, rice, sorghum and flour come to mind—which could be added. We are prepared, if the Government so wish, at a later stage in the Bill, to enlarge the list, if they come to the conclusion that a Schedule of this kind is a better way of achieving their object than the words "related products". But, in my view, it is not necessary to add to the Schedule now, because it already covers all the commodities 674 about which farmers and horticulturists are concerned. If minimum import prices, backed by levies, really provide a floor for all these commodities, the Schedule will be wide enough to ensure a prosperous British agriculture; and if at any time a related non-indigenous product threatens to endanger the floor of home-grown produce, then it can be added to the Schedule and brought within the orbit of minimum import price controls.
§ I submit that acceptance of these Amendments will give us an immeasurably improved Bill, because it will then do all the things the Minister wants to do and none of those things he does not want to do. It will also remove the very understandable anxiety of people who are perturbed because powers are to be taken which would have repercussions far beyond agriculture and horticulture, and who are not reassured by being told that the powers will never be used. They say: "If you do not want them, why take them?" We all know that this Bill springs from the urgent need to limit the cost to the Exchequer of deficiency payments; from the desire to save the taxpayer from having to pay so much in subsidy; and to stabilise the floor prices of the review commodities. In our submission, these Amendments will enable us to do all these things, and to be clearly seen to be doing them. I urge the Government to follow the only possible logical course and to accept the Amendments. I beg to move.
Page 3, line 26, leave out from ("horticulture") to end of line 34, and insert the said new words.—(Lord Stonham.)
LORD ST. OSWALD
The effect of these Amendments, as the noble Lord has made clear, would be to list the produce to which the powers in the clause may be applied and give the Minister power to specify any other produce to which he may wish to apply any of the provisions. There were two alternatives open to the Government when preparing this legislation. We could have brought forward a clause drafted in terms of cereals alone as the sector for which the powers are required immediately. The alternative was to draft the clause in terms of general enabling powers, applying to agricultural and horticultural commodities generally, and to provide for these to 675 be exercised by statutory instrument. The Government decided that it was right, in the circumstances of to-day, to take the second of these courses and to put before Parliament general enabling legislation on minimum import prices and levies. There is, it seems to us, no logically defensible halfway house between these two alternative approaches.
If some products are covered and others omitted from the scope of the powers, there must be, it seems to me, some reason and basis for distinguishing in this way. The noble Lord's new Schedule lists, in what appears to be a rather arbitrary way (I am not saying that it is more arbitrary than it need be, but, of course, any list of this kind is bound to be arbitrary), certain products and omits others. Maize is included, though in terms of the definitions in the clause this would be a "related product" of a like nature. Nevertheless, if maize is to be included in this new Schedule it seems equally important to include grain sorghums, which also compete with home-produced feeding grains, and which will need to be covered by the import price arrangements. I know that the noble Lord said he would have no objection to adding to the list if the Government thought it advisable. Moreover, the list in the Schedule also covers certain products of United Kingdom agriculture and horticulture while omitting others. Yet there appears to be no justification for this distinction in the context of this general enabling legislation.
I realise that in the noble Lord's mind there are certain criteria, but we do not find them satisfactory. As I understand the position, it is not the wish of noble Lords opposite to limit the powers to the produce listed in the Schedule, since the second Amendment we are considering gives the power to specify any products other than those listed. The effect of these Amendments taken together would, therefore, enable the Minister to specify any produce. This, of course, is precisely what the clause as drafted achieves. I must therefore confess that I find it difficult to see how the total result of these Amendments alters the range of produce to which the Minister would be empowered to apply the provisions in Clause 1. Indeed, as I have explained, the Government can see no justification for including in the 676 scope of these general enabling powers certain products of agriculture and horticulture and excluding others.
I suggest to noble Lords opposite that the clause as drafted achieves the same objectives as the Amendments, and in a rather more straightforward and satisfactory way. In these circumstances, I hope—though with rather less confidence since the last Amendment—that noble Lords opposite will be ready to accept the clause as drafted. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, spoke of people being perturbed by the idea that anything could be covered; but I should have thought that, in so far as they are liable to perturbation, they would be more specifically perturbed by reading the list put down by the noble Lord.
§ LORD STONHAM
I just cannot understand how people will be more perturbed when they read a limited list than they would be if they realised that the list of commodities was all-embracing. The way the noble Lord wants it, everything is in; everything is subject to this machinery. The way we have it in our Schedule, the only commodities put down would be those thought necessary and helpful, and in the interests of the stability and prosperity of British agriculture. Surely no member of the N.F.U. would be alarmed if he saw in the 1964 Agriculture and Horticulture Act the same commodities with which he has lived under the 1947 Act for the last seventeen years. I cannot see anything in that argument, and I am sorry that the Minister should use it. Nevertheless, I am grateful to him for his valiant attempt to do the impossible and give a satisfactory answer to our Amendment other than accepting it. I have to tell him that we are completely unconvinced.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
This clause is such an important one, and there are so many important matters which it is not possible to discuss in the form of Amendments, that I should be grateful if the noble Lord could deal with one or two of them, and perhaps in the course of his reply he may be able to give us some information. The first point I want to put to him is that the 677 clause deals with conditions which will arise from over-supply. I think he will agree with that. It deals with avoiding the unfortunate consequences to the British farmer of over-supply on the world market. But its defect is that it does not ensure supplies. It is proposed to make an agreement with the countries that are co-operating for minimum prices. But there is no certainty that they will supply given quantities. Indeed, so far as meat is concerned, it has been impossible to come to any agreement about quantities and I should like to know what the Government intend to do about this, if anything.
For example, on Saturday the Daily Express editorial said that beef was up a shilling. The editorial went on:You must not blame the butcher or the Government, but the Argentinian suppliers who have decided to send their beef to more profitable markets.I went to my butcher to check, and found that Scotch sirloin was 7s. per lb. and topside was 6s. 6d.; so that on this occasion, at least, the Daily Express was right. Import levies may raise the prices in glut condition, but they will not ensure supplies, and price agreements with foreign countries are not agreements to supply. They are no sort of substitute for the long-term bulk purchase agreement which Labour Governments have made in the past in order to ensure supplies at fair, stable prices. All this Bill will do is to put prices up to the housewife while giving no certainty that the supplies will come.
The second point I want to put to the noble Lord is that the Minister's hoped-for bargain with the National Farmers' Union is to fix with foreign suppliers, on the one hand, minimum import prices and to agree with our own farmers standard quantities. That, I submit, is one of the main reasons for Clause 1. Where will the standard quantities start and what arrangement is it intended to make for growth to meet the natural increase in home demand? In other words, what arrangements will be built into these standard agreements so that home farmers will be able to benefit from an increase in demand at home?
I hope that the Minister will give us some assurance on this point, otherwise it seems that Clause 1 presages a policy 678 of restriction of home production—a semi-managed market based on scarcity and much higher prices to the consumer. In fact, it seems that the Government are bartering a saving to the taxpayer of deficiency payments with a vastly increased food bill to the taxpayer as a consumer. This semi-managed market will depend on price control administered by a machine which does not yet exist.
Finally, what machinery have the Government in mind to keep home suppliers and overseas suppliers under control? What machinery do they envisage to phase supplies, and what machinery will there be to secure information? I feel there must be a separate, highly placed organisation, under, of course, the control of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to keep these matters under constant review. I do not think it can be done by a sub-department of the Ministry, and I think he will agree that we—that is, the farmers and the public—are entitled to know how it will be done.
LORD ST. OSWALD
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, put three questions to me. I do not think he would expect me to answer them at great length, since they were very straightforward basic questions. He says that the Bill deals with a condition of over-supply, I thought he was going on to visualise a near-famine, but this was not so: he was not being as imaginative as that. However, I think he would agree that in fact one can foresee a general level of world prices a year ahead: not, as we know, from month to month, but likely world prices, as commodities are made available to this country; and of course the minimum import price is not rigidly fixed. It can be altered again by another Order laid before Parliament. Therefore, this is not a level of import prices fixed for ever and unalterable, whatever the market conditions in the rest of the world.
The noble Lord referred to the fact that minimum import prices and standard quantities went together, and this, of course, is quite true. This is the conception of the new policy. He asked me when the standard quantities would start and what he knew I was going to say was that this, as has been made known, will emerge in the Agricultural Price Review, so that I cannot tell him that to-day. When the Review is pub 679 lished it will include references to that. The noble Lord foresaw a vastly increased bill to the consumer. We cannot see this vastly increased bill to the consumer. We do not think it will work like that. The fact is that the bonus, as he and his noble friend Lord Williams of Barnburgh like to think of it, to foreign suppliers will be to some extent compensated because the supplies will not be made available as fast at a time of low prices and they will, conversely, be made available more freely at a time of high prices. The thing should therefore balance to some extent.
§ LORD STONHAM
I should be grateful if the noble Lord would explain that again. I am not clear what he meant.
LORD ST. OSWALD
The fact that there will be a mimimum import price means that the foreign exporter to this country will not be able to take advantage of our market as he has done in the past, and will not be able to drive down the internal prices. This will affect, we think, the general level of prices and also the general level of supplies. Then the noble Lord asked about the arrangements made with foreign suppliers regarding the phasing of supplies. Of course, in the agreement on import prices—the agreement in principle on import prices—the importance of phasing our market was comprehended as well, and this assurance I can give the noble Lord.
§ LORD WALSTON
I will not go over the arguments which we have had on Second Reading, and which my noble friend Lord Stonham has put forward to-day, though I think one can legitimately say at this stage that, so far as the actual mechanism conceived for bringing about this regulation of the markets is concerned, there is, to put it at its lowest, a certain amount of doubt about how it is going to work. It is also quite clear, I think, that, while the Government have made a bargain with foreign producers and suppliers of our food, getting them to restrict their imports to us (which in some ways we consider is a reasonable thing to do) they have at the same time given away a very strong bargaining position. While, if there were going to be con 680 tinuous gluts and low prices there might not be anything more than an academic argument against that, if we are, as some of us believe, entering on a period of shortages in certain commodities, the Government have let the consumers of this country in for far higher prices in years to come than we might otherwise have obtained by having something much more clear-cut in the way of long-term contracts for certain commodities.
There is only one other point that I should like to put to noble Lords, and it is with regard to the future. How is it envisaged that new arrangements are going to be made? Is this negotiation with our co-operators or non-cooperators of foreign providers to be an annual process? Are we to find every year, at the same time as the Price Review, that there has to be a renegotiation with the exporting countries? As the noble Lord himself said on Second Reading (I do not think I am misquoting him), the actual level of the import prices will depend to some extent upon the level of price we offer in the Price Review to our own farmers. In other words, we are going to have an annual haggling, not only between the Government and the National Farmers' Union, but between Government and foreign suppliers, too, which will be based, not on any sound economic criteria, but solely on the bargaining strength, the political requirements, and so on, between the two countries. It seems to us that this is how it is going to work out. There, I think, the Government are possibly even more vulnerable than on other counts.
It is curious for a Government of the political complexion which our present Government say they are, that they do not base the future negotiations, or even the present negotiations, on economic criteria. They do not say, "If in years to come you importing countries, cooperators"—as we might call Canada and Australia—"are able to provide us with wheat at a lower price, you therefore get a larger share of the market". It is not in any way tied up with the price at which they are prepared to offer us our food. It is based on something entirely different—on back-room negotiations into which all sorts of other factors come. Surely, it would have been far better if this 681 management of the market—and I repeat that we are in no way in disagreement with the management of the market—had been to some extent tied up with the actual prices at which over a long period, several years ahead, they would have been prepared to provide us with that food. Had that been the case, there would be a far stronger argument in favour of this whole concept than has been put forward in this new Bill. That, I believe, is one of the weakest parts of the whole theory—or lack of theory perhaps—which lies behind this Bill as it now stands.
LORD ST. OSWALD
I regret that I have given the noble Lord a completely wrong impression. The fact is that these are long-term policies. There is not the system of bargaining, still less yearly bargaining, which the noble Lord visualises. What has happened is that both sides—that is to say, our domestic agriculture and our suppliers—have agreed to play fair with each other. Of course, both will be watching to see how the scheme works. We believe—because the negotiators on both sides are composed of sensible men—that it will work well. But it is certainly a long-term policy, and it is not going to jib and change. This would certainly inhibit its success almost disastrously. This is to be seen in the light of the future, and of the two parties appreciating each other's difficulties and needs.
§ LORD WALSTON
May I interrupt to clarify this point? Let us leave out the British farmers for the moment. If the Danes are able, in the years to come, to provide us with butter at a lower price than the New Zealanders, does it mean that they will automatically, because their price is lower, get a higher share of the market? That is what I mean by using economic criteria. Or is the share of the market between the Danes and the New Zealanders to be haggled over year by year on a political basis, as opposed to an economic basis?
LORD ST. OSWALD
I do not think either. There will be no automatic changes in the sharing of the market, nor do I foresee haggling. The noble 682 Lord will remember that this is against the general background of the Kennedy Round that we look forward to. This will be a degree of international cooperation in trade, and a desire to assist rather than to compete, which will be to the benefit of both producers and consumers.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
I do not like to intervene, even for one moment, in this debate on a highly complicated measure. I appreciate fully the desire of the Minister and the noble Lord to try to provide what we all call a stable market for a variety of imported commodities. What I should like to know from the noble Lord is this. So far as I understand it, there is only one exporting Government with whom our Government could make any bargain, or in respect of whom they could know anything about the export or import price—. namely, Russia.
Looking further afield to the U.S.A., South America, Canada, New Zealand, or wherever we may import from, I should like to know whether the noble Lord has any idea with whom our Government will negotiate when trying to ascertain what the prospective import price is going to be. Will Her Majesty's Government's representatives try to negotiate with individual exporters from Canada or British importers from Canada, or will they negotiate with the Canadian Government? If I judge aright from the noble Lord's assent to that question, they are going to ascertain what are the prospective export prices on which to base Her Majesty's Government's decision only from the various Governments of exporting countries. Am I right in that assumption?
LORD ST. OSWALD
Yes. Negotiations are with Governments, and it is supposed that Governments of exporting countries will have their means of ensuring that co-operation works. Of course, there are, as the noble Lord well knows, such bodies as the Argentine Grain Board and the Australian and Canadian Wheat Boards, which will assist their Governments to carry out their undertakings in this co-operative system.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.683
§ Clause 2:
§ PART II
§ FURTHER GRANTS FOR HORTICULTURAL IMPROVEMENTS
§ Extension of system of grants under Part 1 of Horticulture Act 1960
§ Grants for improving efficiency of small production businesses
§ (6) In this section "small horticultural production business" means, in relation to any scheme, a horticultural production business which is conducted on land not exceeding in extent such area as is specified in that behalf in the scheme, and which satisfies such other requirements (whether as to minimum area or otherwise) as may be so specified:
§ Provided that a horticultural production business shall not, so far as concerns a programme relating to the business submitted at any time for approval under a scheme, be treated as ceasing to be a small horticultural production business by reason only of any increase after that time in the area of the land on which the business is conducted.
§ 5.12 p.m.
LORD WISE moved to add to subsection (6):
Provided that notwithstanding the inability of an applicant to comply with one or more conditions of the scheme the Minister if satisfied that in all the circumstances it is reasonable so to do may approve the payment of a grant to that applicant, and".
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment is not nearly so contentious or intricate as the one which we have been discussing throughout the afternoon. We now come to Part II of the Bill which deals with further grants for horticultural improvements. It is an extension of the system of grants under Part I of the Horticulture Act, 1960. The Amendment which I am proposing refers primarily to Clause 2(6), which deals with the small horticultural production business. The Amendment seeks to remove the restriction which is imposed upon the Minister and enables the Minister greater freedom of action. We do not propose that the Minister should have the sweeping powers which have already been referred to this afternoon, but that he should be able to deal in a common sense way with problems that do arise in the course of the working of the new scheme.
§ I am aware of schemes which may already be in existence under previous Acts, but I take it that under this new 684 clause a new scheme will come into operation after the passing of the Bill, and that the Minister, under the new scheme, will have certain new powers. I do not seek to restrict these powers by a hard and fast rule in accordance with what the scheme may lay down literally, rather than that the Minister may be able to adapt himself to the working of the scheme and make revision or alterations if necessary. Noble Lords will notice from subsection (2) of Clause 2 that certain powers are given to the Minister to modify or supplement a scheme with other provisions. He can also amend a scheme and, by a later subsection, has the power of variation and revocation, if necessary. It would seem, therefore, from this that the Minister will have certain powers, which possibly he does not have at the present time, to deal with the scheme according to what may arise in its operation.
§ This particular Amendment which I am proposing will be of great benefit, I hope, to the small business operator. It seeks to give to the Minister the right to bring into operation something different from what is actually in the scheme if he has been so advised by his advisers, such as the National Agriculture Advisory Service or anything else. He can amend the scheme so that he brings into the operation the small man who otherwise would not be within the scheme. I think that is a very laudable matter for the Minister to consider. It would enable a small horticultural producer to obtain advantages which otherwise would not be open to him if the powers of the Minister were strictly limited to the wording of the Bill. I think it is important that we should try to ensure to the small man a fair livelihood and confidence in his future; and those are words which were used only a few days ago by the Prime Minister, who also said that our purpose is to keep a healthy and virile population on our soil. We undoubtedly and heartily agree with that from this side of your Lordships' House, and I believe that what we are now proposing by our Amendment would seek to do that.
§ I have referred to previous schemes, and it is interesting to notice some figures which were stated, I think, in another place in regard to what happened up to 685 the end of last year in connection with those particular schemes. Up to the end of December there were 444 schemes dealt with by producers with between 4 and 7 acres; 1,242 schemes for acreages between 7 and 20; 1,974 schemes for acreages between 20 and 100; and 1,058 schemes for over 100 acres. This means that over 5,000 schemes have been dealt with during the period of the operation of that particular Act, but only one-seventh had been granted to the small occupier. I suggest, therefore, that, whatever the acreage or the conditions may be in a new scheme, we should, in all fairness to the small occupier, deal with him in a considerate manner and make it possible for him to have a fair livelihood and an enjoyable future. I beg to move.
Page 5, line 28, at end insert the said proviso. —(Lord Wise.)
LORD ST. OSWALD
As noble Lords will be aware, this Amendment was debated at considerable length in another place. I can well understand and sympathise with many of the points that have been made, but I cannot see how the Amendment can be accepted. The intention of the Amendment is clear: it would enable the appropriate Minister to give a grant, under Clause 2, to a business which, although it does not fulfil the minimum conditions, is in his opinion viable. Therefore, under the Bill it is not grantworthy, but in the Minister's opinion it is. This would mean giving Ministers power to break the rules of the scheme, a scheme which has been approved by Resolutions of both Houses. In other words, there would be in practice no conditions of eligibility for the scheme as a whole. Even though Parliament had laid down the conditions there would be no limitations, because Ministers would in fact be free to ignore them. This would be very hard to justify, and I am forced to conclude that in the interests of the growers themselves and the efficient operation of the scheme some minimum conditions must be laid down in the scheme itself, and once laid down in the scheme must be kept to.
We are not deciding here what those minimum conditions should be; that is a matter for the scheme which will in due course be laid before the House and debated. But we are certain that mini 686 mum conditions there must be. My right honourable friends are responsible to Parliament for administering a scheme creating rules that Parliament approves. It is right that those rules should be approved by both Houses, as the clause provides, and it is right that Ministers should be bound by them; otherwise, Ministers would be free to do as they pleased. The question at issue is whether minimum conditions laid down in the existing Horticulture Improvement Scheme are the right ones for the proposed business grants scheme. The horticulture scheme provides that the holding should consist of a minimum of four adjusted acres—and by that we mean that the area of glasshouses and mushroom and rhubarb sheds is multiplied by twenty and the area of other sorts of lights and watercress beds is multiplied by four. We fixed this minimum of four acres because we found that the vast majority of fundamentally economic businesses were above this size—not less than four adjusted acres—and I think that the experience of the scheme has shown this estimate was right. When we discussed the present proposals with the National Farmers' Union, they accepted that this was so.
Nevertheless, I can understand the concern of noble Lords who have in mind that some individual growers could reasonably claim to be viable even though the size of holding may be under the four acres limit. I am not arguing with the noble Lord in his submission that this could be so. Consequently, while it would be wrong to nullify Parliament's intentions by giving complete discretion to Ministers to ignore conditions laid down in the scheme, it is right we should do our best to find conditions which would bring those growers within the scheme whilst still excluding very many with less than four acres which would not be viable.
As I have indicated, anxiety was expressed in another place about the same issue. My honourable friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary undertook to consult with the National Farmers' Union to see whether any solution could be found. Those consultations started almost at once and they are continuing. I want to emphasise, however, that there are enormous difficulties. This is a problem which has been looked at very closely in the past and has proved to be 687 intractable. I am sure the noble Lord knows of the efforts which have been made, and the impossibility so far of overcoming the difficulties. But if a solution can be found—and we are trying very hard—without creating even greater problems, suitable provisions will be made in this section. I cannot agree with the noble Lord that his solution of enabling Ministers to overrule the provisions of the clause could be the right ones. We are, in fact, looking for another one.
§ LORD STONHAM
We find this reply extremely disappointing. The noble Lord has made very heavy weather of this point about the Minister, as it were, breaking the conditions. He swallowed the whale of Clause 1 and is now straining at this minnow. The noble Lord said that everyone has sympathy with the object of this Amendment, I am quite sure that is true. But sympathy will not help these chaps; they really want to qualify for the grant just as any other horticulturist or small farmer. We agree that there must be minimum conditions, but if the conditions are going to be hard and fast ones of acreage, minimum or maximum acreage, and there is going to be nothing else, obviously the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's assurance in another place is quite worthless, and that is why we are persisting with this Amendment.
Surely the problem is not as great as the noble Lord makes out. Why could we not have an assurance from him that it will not be merely acreage limitation? Why could it not be considered that if the Minister finds that the holding would be viable, even though the acreage is less than the minimum, then the grant could be available? Surely that is the object we all have in mind. The Amendment moved by my noble friend proposes only to give the Minister discretion if he is satisfied in all the circumstances that it is reasonable to do this; and surely if Parliament agrees to give the Minister power in this Bill, then this is acceptable. I hope the noble Lord will say that he will look at the matter again before Report stage, so that we can return to it in this form or in an amended form; otherwise, we will have to press it, because we feel so strongly about it.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
It seems to me, with all possible respect, that it is the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who is making rather heavy weather. I really think that the terms of the actual Amendment must be unacceptable. To lay down in the Bill certain conditions and then in the same Bill give the Minister power to ignore those regulations seems to me to be something that this House could not consider for a moment. I should have thought the Minister had gone some way when he says that he has some sympathy with the spirit of the Amendment, and discussions are going on at the present time to see whether some of the points which have been raised can be met in the spirit of the Amendment. I think noble Lords who have spoken should be satisfied with what 1 should have considered a rather forthcoming attitude on the part of the Minister.
§ LORD WISE
I am extremely sorry that the noble Lord cannot accept this Amendment. He said that negotiations were still going on with the National Farmers' Union in regard to this matter. I wonder whether he can give the House any information as to the nature of those negotiations or what they are likely to produce. If so, we could hold it over until the Report stage. If that is not possible, and if he is not prepared to reconsider it. I must withdraw the Amendment and possibly raise it again later on.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I understood through the usual channels that we were to adjourn the Committee stage at 5.30 p.m. I wonder whether it would be convenient to my noble friend to postpone his next Amendment to the second day?
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord St. Oswald.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.