§ 2.54 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill will importantly affect the framework within which the agricultural industry will work during the 1970s. I shall touch briefly on the main points and then go into details. The proposed changes affecting structure and investment are of a long-term and fundamental character. The Bill provides for changes in the farm structure schemes to make them more attractive to potential amalgamators and outgoers. These measures are intended, of course, to lead to the formation of larger units, and particularly to provide the new entrant and the smaller farmer with a business large enough to give him a reasonable living. The Bill also provides for a reorganisation of the various schemes for capital grants to the industry. The Government are proposing to take powers to make one simple scheme covering the whole range of farm capital grants.
Secondly, the Bill is intended to improve the quality of the farmer's raw materials. It modernises the protection given to him as a consumer of fertilisers and feeding-stuffs, and brings that protection into line with other recent consumer protection measures. And it takes some major steps forward in the legislation to improve animal health. Thirdly, the Bill provides for improvements in the framework of marketing. In previous legislation the 620 Government have developed a more effective framework for improvements in the marketing of cereals, meat and livestock. The Bill provides such a framework for eggs. The Bill contains two measures of importance to the agricultural worker. It proposes to give him and his family in a tied cottage six months' possession from the time when he ceases employment, unless the farmer can satisfy the court that certain specified conditions are met. The Bill also makes provision for the financing of the Agricultural, Horticultural and Forestry Industry Training Board.
My Lords, I have described the general objectives of the Bill, and I should now like to comment in a little more detail on some aspects of it. Part I of the Bill deals with egg marketing. It gives effect to the domestic element in the Government's decisions on the future marketing and subsidy arrangements for eggs, which were originally announced in January, 1969. These decisions follow from our acceptance of the conclusion reached by the Reorganisation Com-mission for Eggs that in the changing circumstances of the egg industry it would now be right to move to a free marketing system and to phase out the subsidy. Part I therefore provides, first, for an amendment of the Agriculture Act 1957 to enable the subsidy to be phased out by March 30, 1974, and eggs then to be removed from the guarantee arrangements; secondly, for the revocation of the British Egg Marketing Scheme with effect from March 31, 1971, and hence the winding up of the Egg Board; and, thirdly, for the establishment of a new Eggs Authority charged with the duty of improving the marketing of home produced eggs under basically free market conditions.
Your Lordships will recall that the Reorganisation Commission recommended that the Board should be wound up as soon as practicable and the subsidy brought to an end by March, 1972. The Government believe, however, that the industry needs a longer transitional period to make an orderly adjustment to the new conditions. The Board were therefore asked to continue until March, 1971, and we are providing in the Bill for the subsidy to remain until March, 1974. We attach considerable importance to our decision to retain eggs within 621 the guarantee arrangements for this longer period. We can thus make sure that the change is a steady and a smooth one. The revocation of the British Egg Marketing Scheme on March 31, 1971, will lead, as I have said, to the winding up of the Board. The Minister of Agriculture has paid a tribute in another place to the helpful and constructive approach which has been adopted by the Board to the problem of the transition to free market conditions, and I am sure that your Lordships will agree that that tribute was well deserved.
It has I think been generally recognised that the new Eggs Authority will have a very useful role to play. Its powers in relation to market support, market intelligence and quality control at the wholesale stage are likely to be of the greatest importance under free market conditions. There has, however, been some debate on the Government's decision on the financing of the Authority. The Reorganisation Com-mission recommended that the Authority should be wholly financed by levies: on the industry. The Government, however, consider that improvements in the marketing of eggs will be in the general interest as well as in the interests of the industry. We have therefore decided that a Government contribution would be justified. We are therefore providing in Clause 12 for a Government contribution towards the Authority's expenditure on functions other than market support and advertising. That contribution will be at the rate of 50 per cent.
As I have said, in addition to the provisions in the Bill there is a second main element in our policy for egg marketing —the introduction of minimum import prices. We have emphasised from the beginning that we regard these import prices as an integral part of the new arrangements. The necessary powers are available under the Agriculture and Horticulture Act 1964, and, as noble Lords are aware, minimum import price arrangements were introduced with effect from March 31. The necessary Orders were approved in this House last week. I shall, after this Second Reading, invite your Lordships to approve another Order which gives effect to two changes in the basis of the subsidy payments to the Egg Board. The first change is to bring the excess import compensation 622 arrangements to an end. The second change is in the standard quantity arrangements. I am hoping that your Lordships will agree to taking this Order formally after our debate on the Second Reading of this Bill.
Part II of the Bill deals with capital and other grants. Its main provision is to replace the eleven existing farm capital grants by a single, much more simple, general Farm Capital Grant Scheme. The schemes to be replaced are the existing Farm and Hill Land Improvement Schemes, the Field Drainage and Farm Water Supply Schemes, the Ploughing, Orchard Grubbing and Scrub Clearance Grants and the Investment Grants and Supplements; and the new Scheme will also incorporate the grants for remodel-ling works currently made under the Farm Amalgamations Scheme.
The conditions for grants will be considerably simplified and the number and variety of tests and amount of supervision reduced. In particular, we are proposing to focus the scheme on the farm business and to move away from the concept of "the benefit to the land" which is the basis of some of the existing schemes. It has become increasingly apparent that this rule is less fitted to the modern conception of the farm business. We have come to recognise that there is no merit in an objective of self-sufficiency for individual farms as an end in itself. The agricultural industry derives marked benefits from specialisation and this is particularly so in the case of the small farmer. The man who buys his feed is not for that reason to be less encouraged than the man who grows his own. The new scheme will allow those producers who can grow little or none of the feed required for their stock to qualify for the full range of capital grants for the first time. Such producers now have a significant share of the production of some products; many of them have shown that they can make efficient use of resources; and they could make a major contribution to the expansion of production of the livestock, particularly pigs, that we need.
At the same time, we recognise the desirability of having a safety net against the possibility that a few very large producers might make excessive and disproportionate demands on grant funds. We shall therefore continue to apply under 623 a Farm Capital Grant Scheme the ceiling on grant which was introduced concurrently with the recent increase in the rate of the agricultural investment grant on buildings and fixed equipment. The limit, which is subject to review at any time, has been set at £ 100,000 of investment by an individual farm unit over any period of two years, and investment in excess of this limit would not be approved for grant.
Until March 19,1972, when the recently announced special increases in grant rates will end, it is proposed to have a standard rate of grant of 40 per cent. of approved expenditure on the broad range of buildings, land operations, plant and machinery currently assisted under the Farm Improvement Scheme and to extend this rate to all types of producer and to all types of expenditure that can satisfy the simplified set of conditions. It is also intended to pay special rates of grant of 60 per cent. for field drainage, hill land works and facilities currently grant-aided under the Hill Land Improvement Scheme, and for remodelling works in connection with amalgamations and boundary adjustments, and 70 per cent. on field drainage benefiting hill land.
It is not proposed to continue the existing small grant on tractors and self-propelled harvesters. This proposal has caused some concern, but I do not think it has been fully understood that there is no question of reducing the amount of grant going to the industry. We simply intend to use the grant funds to better effect. Even after the special increase in grant rates ends, there would be no reduction in the normal level of total grant payments as a consequence of the unification exercise and there has never been any intention of reducing the amount of grant paid to the industry. Indeed, the industry stand to benefit from the change, since the present tax arrangements would enable the majority of fanners to claim the initial tax allowance in respect of purchases of tractors and harvesters. This would represent a net gain to the industry, equivalent to about half the value of the present 10 per cent. investment grant to those paying income tax at the standard rate. Anyone paying tax at a higher rate would benefit still more.
But there is another aspect of this question. The taxpayer can reasonably 624 ask that the funds he provides should be used to good effect. There is no evidence at all that the grants on tractors have had any significant effect on tractor purchases. We do not expect the substitution of the initial tax allowance for grant to make any significant difference to the number of tractors purchased. But the ending of the tractor grants will allow us to grant-aid a wider range of plant and machinery, such as movable loaders, blowers, augers and plant for mechanised feeding, which can make a major contribution to improved productivity. It will also allow us, as I have said, to assist all those producers, particularly the small men, who can grow little of the food required for extra livestock so that they will be able to obtain grant for the first time in respect of investment to expand their livestock production. And it will allow us to relax a number of the restrictions and conditions imposed under existing schemes. We get over 80,000 applications a year under the existing schemes, so that a very wide range of farmers are likely to benefit from the changes.
These proposals must of course be viewed in the context of the arrangements announced in the Annual Review Statement to make substantial increases in grant rates on the whole range of items to be covered by the Farm Capital Grant Scheme until March 19, 1972. These increases in grant rates will give a major incentive to new capital investment and will themselves constitute a substantial injection of additional capital into the industry, benefiting all progressive producers—large or small.
Turning now to the improvement of farm structure, noble Lords will remember that in the Agriculture Act 1967 we introduced a number of measures to en-courage the voluntary amalgamation of smaller farms. These were our first steps in this field and not surprisingly our experience in operating them has suggested some ways in which they might be improved. The main changes now proposed are: to reduce from 40 years to 15 years the period for which land amalgamated with grant aid must be kept together in agricultural use; to amend the Amalgamations Scheme to take in a wider range of amalgamations and to simplify the treatment of those involving 625 land subject to a settlement or a trust; and to amend the Outgoers Scheme to make it attractive to farmers in a wider range of financial circumstances.
The third main measure in Part II deals with the horticultural grants. These have been kept apart from the other capital grants in recognition of our distinct and separate policy towards the horticultural industry. By raising the upper limit on grant expenditure, Clause 31 fulfils an undertaking given by the Government in 1966 that the necessary funds would be found. We are also pro-posing to simplify the provisions of the Scheme on similar lines to those proposed for the other capital grants.
Part III of the Bill represents an important stage in the development of statutory smallholdings in England and Wales. It follows the thorough examination of the modern purpose of these holdings carried out by the Wise Committee and the detailed consultations we have since had with local authority and farming interests. There is general agreement that smallholdings can do much to help meet the demand for small tenant farms. Part III will enable authorities to make the necessary changes to do this effectively. By requiring them to review their smallholdings and draw up plans for improving the structure of their estates under the general oversight of the Minister, it provides an opportunity to assess the capabilities of the present national smallholdings estate and to place its future development on a sounder economic footing.
Once Ministers have approved these plans, authorities will be free to implement them in their own way. To facilitate this, the closely controlled system of annual contributions towards authorities' losses is being ended. Instead, authorities will be eligible for general farm structure and farm capital grants, and for an initial period for supplementary amalgamation and capital grants for certain smallholdings. Greater independence from Ministerial control is being given in other ways. For example, authorities are being freed from the present controls over their administration of smallholdings and will make their own loans to smallholders. The purpose of all these changes is to help authorities to provide smallholdings capable of 626 giving a good living to their tenants under to-day's competitive conditions.
My Lords, I come now to Part IV, which deals with fertilisers and feeding-stuffs. The effectiveness of the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Act 1926, which Part IV will supersede, has been reduced by the passage of time. We have had long and detailed discussions with the interests concerned to determine the revisions needed to cater for modern requirements. Part IV is the outcome of these discussions. The new provisions have two main themes. They are intended to provide purchasers of fertilisers and feeding stuffs with accurate information to enable them to judge the value of these goods; and they should help to ensure that feedingstuffs are whole-some and free from harmful ingredients. By comparison with the 1926 Act, the new provisions will bring substantial improvements, principally by extending the scope of the legislation to include all types of fertiliser and feeding stuff used in modern farming, by amplifying the information given to purchasers, and by introducing more effective enforcement procedures. These and the numerous other improvements of detail which Part IV incorporates will substantially increase consumer protection in respect of these two important fanning commodities.
Parts V and VI of the Bill provide powers to pay grants to river authorities in England and Wales and to local authorities in Scotland—where there are no river authorities—to encourage the setting up and extension of flood warning systems. Although many river authorities operate limited systems, the severe floods of July and September, 1968, revealed inadequacies. I am glad to say that many river authorities have already responded to the message in this Bill and have prepared plans for new and improved systems. Part VII of the Bill covers a number of miscellaneous matters, and I will mention just a few of them. Clause 99 is intended to extend the protection given to occupants of agricultural tied cottages. We have been concerned to meet their anxiety that loss of the job means the imminent loss of the home. We have therefore provided for a minimum of six-months' security of tenure after the right of occupation ceases. But we have also provided that the period may be reduced on one of 627 four grounds: that suitable alternative accommodation is provided; that the cottage is really needed for running the farm; that the balance of hardship is against the occupant; or that his record of behaviour is against him. We hope that these provisions will be recognised as drawing a fairer balance between farmer and worker than exists at present.
The Bill gives authority in Clause 101 for the arrangements agreed with the industry for financing the Agricultural Training Board in Great Britain through the Annual Farm Price Review, instead of by levy. Clause 102 implements four recommendations made by the Northumberland Committee on Foot-and-Mouth Disease. The main provision is that which gives the Minister powers to carry out ring vaccination should the need for this arise. My Lords, there has been a certain amount of misunderstanding about our intention to ring vaccinate against foot-and-mouth disease. I should therefore like to make it quite clear that we would vaccinate only in the most exceptional circumstances and that this is no more than a power which we shall hold in reserve. We shall continue to eradicate foot-and-mouth disease by slaughter, but in the light of our experiences in the last epidemic we must have contingency plans for ring vaccination in readiness against the possibility —which we hope is a remote one—of an outbreak of disease that threatens to spread rapidly and widely.
Finally, Clause 103 will, I am sure, be of special interest to those in this House who have been expressing increasing anxiety about brucellosis and who have been understandably anxious to step up the measures against this disease. The clause confers the enabling powers that are needed both to start compulsory eradication and to accelerate voluntary registration. Next year's area eradication projects will rest largely upon the pro-visions of the Diseases of Animals Act, but these need some strengthening to meet the special problems of brucellosis. The Government are also seeking all the powers necessary to make payments—in-cluding disbursement by the Milk Marketing Boards of milk premiums— under the new voluntary Incentives Scheme. A broad outline of the Scheme was given in the Annual Review White 628 Paper, but we still have many details to work out and the Ministry of Agriculture has set up a special division to deal solely with problems of brucellosis. Appropriate arrangements are being made in Scotland. Urgent discussions on these matters are being held with the unions, the boards and others, and full details will be published as soon as possible.
There is one other point that I should like to mention. Your Lordships may have seen the announcement made by my right honourable friend on April 9 concerning the action which he proposes to take, subject to consultation with those concerned, on the various recommendations made by the management consultants who have been examining the Ministry's organisation. He then said that he is proposing to unify the professional, scientific and technical services of the Ministry, including an integrated veterinary service. This will call for a small change in existing legislation; and I should like to give notice that we propose to introduce a provision for this purpose at a suitable stage in your Lordships' later consideration of the Bill. My Lords, this is a long Bill, but it is a good one. I beg to move that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Beswick.)
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his interesting and agreeable presentation of the Bill, and assure him that we are going to give it a Second Reading. To start with, let me acknowledge that some of the measures in this long and rambling Bill will bring some marginal benefit to the agriculture industry—if I may say so, the very hard-pressed agriculture industry. But I can-not fail to comment on the contrast between this gentle, rural rivulet of agricultural legislation and the roaring Niagara of fanners' complaints at the present time. In all the forty years that I have been connected with the farming industry I have never seen the farmers so angry and disillusioned as they are now. The fact is that, whatever the benefits of this Bill, they will do little or nothing to relieve the major grievance of the farmer at the present time; his acute shortage of cash to finance his farm and cash to live 629 on. The farmer is smarting under a grievance. He has seen all other sections of the community helping themselves over the last year or two to increasingly large incomes while his income has remained virtually stationary; and that is the basic trouble of the industry.
The point must be made now, when we are being asked to consider a Bill which does something—I agree with the noble Lord—to strengthen and improve the main structure of the industry, that it is going to be of little benefit unless we look at the main cause of the farmers' troubles. The Price Review which has recently been announced goes only a small distance, in the light of rapidly rising costs, to meet the farmers' basic trouble. Simply stated, it is that since 1964 farm incomes have risen by about 12 per cent.—that is, to March of this year—while the incomes of the rest of the community have risen about 38 per cent. When this is corrected to constant figures, the community as a whole have increased their incomes by a net 8 per cent., while the farmers' income has gone down by a net 17 per cent. That is a very poor reward for the industry which has the best industrial record of any industry in the country and among the highest records of increased productivity. It really is a grim outlook for farmers to-day and it cannot but affect the capacity of the industry to respond to the policies of noble Lords opposite which are asking them for increased home production from their farms. Certainly there is little, if anything, in this Bill which will restore the shaken confidence of the farmers in the Government of the day.
The Bill, as the noble Lord stated, starts by removing eggs from the guaranteed price schedule of the 1947 and 1957 Acts. At this point I think that I should declare a strong personal interest. As it would not seem to be of immediate benefit to egg producers, I feel like Socrates, presenting the poisoned chalice to my own lips; but the proposal does, in fact, have my support, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, will be glad to know. I think that I should make the point, however, that while this action will save the Government approximately £13 million a year by the time it is completed in 1974, at the same time the price of eggs to the housewife in the shops will rise by approximately 3d. to 6d. a dozen, 630 depending on how the market goes. Despite my own belief in the measure, I must record that the National Fanners' Union are 100 per cent. opposed to abolishing the price guarantee for eggs. As the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, knows, they are deeply shocked that a Labour Government, in the light of their electoral pledges in 1966, should be removing this main commodity from the guaranteed price schedule.
The fact that my Party is in favour of the change, and indeed said so in 1966, does not absolve noble Lords opposite from the sin of conscience in which they are involved. We, having declared a different faith, cannot give absolution to noble Lords opposite, any more than a Buddhist can give absolution to a Mohammedan. We have a different faith in these matters, and their sin remains to haunt them, I hope, severely. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, who took so much trouble in explaining this proposal, that he has been wise in giving the longer transition of three years that the Commission recommended. I am sure that this is going to be of benefit to all concerned.
The Bill abolishes the present Egg Marketing Board and sets up a new Eggs Authority. I should like, in passing, to pay a small tribute to the Egg Marketing Board, which was born—or should I say hatched—about twelve years ago. I had something to do with its progeniture when I was in the Ministry of Agriculture and I should like to say a word of thanks to the Board for what they have done. When they started to be responsible for the marketing of eggs the position was very different from what it is to-day, and undoubtedly they have served the country well, both producers and consumers. The fact that they are being wound up to-day is no reflection on their ability; it is being done because the situation has basically changed. We have here a commodity which at the drop of a hat could be doubled in quantity in twelve months, and therefore, in my judgment, it is quite unsuitable to maintain a Government guarantee for it. This will tend, I was going to say in the long run but even in the short run, to disturb the balance between supply and demand and therefore the turn of the market; and so I am sure that what is proposed is the right move. I hope that that will 631 be some consolation to the noble Lord, though I cannot give him absolution.
Turning to the new Eggs Authority, I have some critical words to say. In my judgment its financial structure is not a happy one, even though the Government are prepared to pay half the administrative expenditure. I take the point made by the noble Lord that the Commission recommended that the whole of the financing of the new Eggs Authority should be found from the industry, but, with all respect to the excellent job they did, I do not believe the Commission understood just what it means to take a commodity out of the price guarantee sys-tem. This, to the fanning world, as the N.F.U. have shown, is traumatic, and therefore it is not reasonable to set out to require the industry to pay half the administrative expenses, as this Bill does.
The half that producers have to pay is to be raised by a levy on the registered producers. I should have thought that after the Government's experiences of raising a levy from farmers for the Agricultural Industry Training Board they would have hesitated to set up an-other levy-raising scheme on farmers. In Clause 111 of this very Bill the Government have accepted that they cannot raise the levy. They have capitulated, very wisely in my judgment, and from now on, because farmers by their tens of thousands refused to pay levy, the Government are going to pay it out of the Agricultural Price Review and finance it in that way: and very sensibly, too. But here they are setting out again in the hope that this new Eggs Authority—this poor little newly-hatched chick—is going to raise half of the money for its administrative expenses by this levy. My word, the Government are going to run into trouble! It seems to me a little rash that they should be starting out like this, and against the background of a saving of £13 million a year to the taxpayer. I should have thought that it was prudent and decent that the Government should have said to themselves that, as it was going to cost only a few hundred thousand pounds a year to run this new Authority, they would pay for it out of the very big saving they were going to make to the whole Exchequer. They have not done so.
632 That is bad enough, but there is worse to follow. Clause 3 of the Bill provides that the new Eggs Authority may operate as a reserve buyer of eggs and may enter into the processing business. For this, the Government do not pay half; the producers pay 100 per cent. The re-serve buying of eggs is a risky business and likely to be a very expensive one. It is likely to cost the Eggs Authority, if they ever do such a thing, several millions a year. A levy for this purpose would be a significant amount falling on registered producers. Yet in this Bill there is not one syllable requiring consultation with the producers. The Eggs Authority, not elected by the producers but 100 per cent. appointed by the Minister, will decide entirely on their own discretion if a scheme to raise a levy for this purpose of trading in eggs is to be introduced, and the Minister will then make an Order to be approved by Parliament. I can only suppose that the authors of the Bill imagine that the Government of the day would then exert their majority in the Lobbies and the scheme would become law. But in practice it is likely to be different from that. The outburst there would be from the producers up and down the country would be such that every Member of Parliament in the Opposition of the day, and I should think a good many on the Back Benches of the Government of the day, would be there to shout at and attack the Minister for such an undemocratic process. I believe that the Minister of Agriculture of the day would react so strongly that he would rue the day that this scheme had ever been thought out. It is the most impractical arrangement that one could possibly have. I can only imagine that the admirable Minister who is there to-day foresees a future when he will not be there and somebody else will have to do this. But it would be a time bomb to leave for another Government if there was a change at the next Election.
The principle on which this Parliament is founded is no taxation without representation. Yet this is just what this is. Here it is proposed to raise quite a sizable levy from these hundreds of thousands of producers without giving them any say in it at all. This proposal completely breaches the principle on which all our business is done. Further-more, in the context of the Agricultural 633 world, it is in breach of the spirit of the Agricultural Marketing Acts, which cover a number of farm commodities. Invariably these Acts for the different commodities which they cover provide machinery for consulting producers.
I should interpose that, frankly, I am doubtful about the wisdom of this kind of trading for an Eggs Authority. On the whole, I think that it may do more harm to the market than good. But this is a matter of opinion. My belief is that when you are getting back to a free market it is better to let surpluses work themselves out by the natural movement of the market. Be that as it may, my advice is that if the Government want to keep this provision in the Bill they should provide machinery for a poll of registered producers; and if the Egg Authority in the future wish to intro-duce such a scheme, then the authority can consult the producers by means of a poll and find out if they want it put on, if they thought it would be for their benefit. What I am saying now applies particularly to the period after March, 1974, when the transitional arrangements will have completely run out. Let me say that I intend to put down Amendments on the Committee stage to provide for a poll for these purposes, and I very much hope that the Government will accept it. I am sure that such an arrange-ment would be very acceptable to the industry.
Similarly, but to a far lesser extent, Clause 8 empowers the new Eggs Authority to engage in schemes of national advertising. Again I would advise a poll first. National advertising for a commodity is a doubtful business. It is quite expensive—it costs at least £1 million a year, and probably more—and many people consider that it will be better for a commodity to advertise new brands rather than to try to promote the commodity as a whole. Certainly this is my view. But if the producers have to pay 100 per cent. for it, then ask them first; and if they want it, they can then pay. My Lords, I have spent some time on Part I of the Bill because it is of fundamental importance to this large section of the farming world which produces something between £100 million and £200 million worth of eggs per annum, but I do not intend to spend very long on the remaining Parts of the Bill.
634 Part II of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has explained, abolishes all existing statutory rates of capital grants for agriculture and gives the Minister power to make schemes varying the rates of grant from time to time, item by item. Previous Acts have laid down statutorily what the rate should be—33⅓ per cent. for fixed equipment on the farm, 50 per cent. for land drainage and so on. There could be dangers in leaving the whole of this to the Minister's discretion. There was some advantage in farmers' knowing specifically what the rates would be because they were written into the Act of Parliament. Indeed, the Minister's original intention, which was to set the basic rate at 30 per cent., illustrates, I think, just what this danger is. I am glad to say that my right honourable and honourable friends in another place resisted this so vigorously and so success-fully in the interests of the farmers that on Committee stage in another place the offending Clause 29 was taken out of the Bill. This gave the Government time to reconsider the situation, and by the time that they came to the Report stage they put the basic rate up to 40 per cent. At this level, of course, it became more acceptable. This is a slightly different version from what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, gave, but I am sure that noble Lords on this side of the House will wish to congratulate our right honourable and honourable friends in another place.
We are still not entirely happy about the Government's intention to exclude combines and tractors, and this is a point that we should like to discuss on the Committee stage. But with the new basic rates so substantially improved, I cannot quarrel with the basic principle. May I gust add that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, dealt with the fact that the Government intend to remove the 50 per cent. homegrown feed test as a qualification for grants for fixed equipment on the farm? I have a personal interest in this subject, but if I can remove that interest from my mind I believe that they are right. This is the trend of livestock keeping to-day. For better or for worse, livestock are being kept in larger and larger units, and it is only realistic, in my view, that the Government should do what they are doing.
The Bill then rambles on through an-other 70-odd clauses, discussing many 635 things, like the dialogue between the walrus and the carpenter—"Shoes and ships and feedingstuffs; and foot-and-mouth and rings"—but, alas! no succulent morsels of oysters to reward us at the end of our long journey. Smallholdings, feedingstuffs and fertilisers claim some 50 clauses of the Bill. All I should like to do on that is to convey my warm thanks to Professor Wise and his admirable Committee for their Report on the smallholdings. I have no other comment to make. Grants for flood warning systems are welcome. They would have been even more welcome a year or two ago, when most river boards were setting up such systems. But still, as I say, the scheme is welcome.
Clause 99, with which the noble Lord dealt with his customary cogency, changes the security of tenure for farm cottages from the Government's "last word" on the subject in 1965—and they declared that it was their last word on it in 1965. In my judgment this is really falling a little below the level of responsible government, even in Election year. We shall certainly want to discuss this point on Committee stage. The two clauses on diseases of animals, to which the noble Lord referred, will both be welcomed by me. Clause 102 gives the Minister power to implement some of the Northumberland Committee's recommendations on foot-and-mouth; and Clause 103 gives the Minister power to take the next step in brucellosis eradication. We should like on Committee stage to discuss both of these matters: they are of great interest, and I suspect that there may be more than one view on the brucellosis scheme. But my advice would be to accept it as a useful step forward.
This Bill, which includes almost every-thing, concludes, astonishingly, by giving the Northern Ireland Parliament powers to deal with injurious weeds. Even that will have my support if it includes some-thing to check the growth in Northern Ireland of wild parsley—give or take an "r" for an "i", or a tooth for a tooth. My Lords, I support the Bill warmly.