§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Second Reading debate resumed.
My Lords, after that interesting constitutional interlude, may I bring you back to the Agriculture Bill. I do not think I have ever heard the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in such splendid form. He treated what he described as the gentle rural rivulet to an absolute torrent of abuse and demolished a great deal of it. I am interested, however, that having done so he ended up by saying that he gave the Bill a very warm welcome. I do not think that that was altogether ironic. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Nugent (I say this by implication), find this an extremely difficult Bill on which to make a Second Reading speech. The noble Lord devoted the first part of his speech to attacking what is not in the Bill—I think this was significant—and he spent most of the next part of his speech destroying Part I, which deals with eggs. But the Bill in fact covers ten different issues and it is impossible, as I say, to make a Second Reading speech embracing the whole of the Bill. One can pick out only one or two points and make one or two remarks about various criticisms which have been made about the Bill.
It has been suggested that the Bill has no central theme, no general policy statement. It has been suggested that some of 641 the provisions are provisions that should not necessarily be in an Agriculture Bill at all—like the issue of service cottages. With regard to the first of those criticisms (that there is no central theme and nothing in the Bill designed to further the Government's agricultural policy), I wonder, giving the Government the benefit of the doubt, whether it is not perhaps wise that a certain cautiousness is demanded of any agricultural policy this country puts forward. The European Economic Community's common agricultural policy is in tatters. That makes it all the more difficult to make up our minds what our policy should be.
I yield to no one in my desire that we should and must go into Europe, but I also am beginning to suspect that some-how or other the European Economic Community will have to accommodate their policy with some sort of compromise with ours, because I suspect that in fact ours is the better one. Theirs has proved to be totally unworkable and it is they who are going to have to accommodate to us agriculturally, rather than the other way round. This means that we ourselves are going to have to devise something perhaps a little nearer them. What this amounts to is that probably we shall all wait and see. Possibly the fact that this Bill is a mass of miscellaneous provisions, and not a central policy document, is because of this difficulty of deciding where exactly we are going to go; and I sympathise with the Government.
With regard to the other issue—having something in the Bill which should not be in an Agriculture Bill at all: the service cottages—I would say that, after all, so far as agricultural service cottages are concerned they amount to only a very small part, something like one-seventh, of the total number of service cottages in the country. Nevertheless, if the Minister of Agriculture feels he ought to bring this issue into the Bill, I rather congratulate him. It seems to me that he was forced to do this by statements which I regard as unwise or unfortunate; and, having done it, he has, I hope, taken the "heat" out of the matter for some time to come.
I, and a lot of other people like me, felt that Section 33 of the 1965 Act was working very well, and that when the 642 opponents of that section were asked to produce evidence of hardship, they were not really able to produce anything at all. The same applies to evictions. There were almost no evictions when it came to the point, and very often those that there were proved to be evictions which had been deliberately induced, perhaps to bring pressure on local authorities to house the evicted persons. At any rate, so far as this issue is concerned, we cannot treat it in isolation. There are some-thing like 100,000 service cottages in the agricultural industry and something like three-quarters of a million in the rest of the community—coal, railways, schools, the Services, prisons, the clergy and so on. We cannot deal with agriculture in an Agriculture Bill without dealing with all those other things as well.
Furthermore, let us not forget that agriculture has a special privilege in the 1965 Act as well which is not enjoyed by the other occupiers of service cottages; that is that, under the Act, the courts can suspend an eviction order indefinitely. So, as I say, Section 33 already gives a privilege to the occupiers of agricultural ser-vice houses which other occupiers of service houses do not have. It has worked well and I think it was probably quite unnecessary to do anything about it. But, as something has been done about it, I congratulate the Minister on having taken the "steam" out of the issue. What he has done in fact is to add about six months to the time it takes to gat a cottage. I have every sympathy with the N.F.U. in this issue, but I suggest that it is better to let it go. A small point has been won against them, but I do not think I should worry too much about that.
So far as the Bill as a whole goes, and so far as what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said at the end of his speech is concerned, I think the industry in general welcome most of the Bill. They have very strong criticisms and we have heard some of them expressed in the most forcible language; and they have certain reservations. It is a negative Bill, but it is a negative Bill with a lot of minor positive things in it. It does not do very much towards a selective expansion, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that a good deal of the criticism of the Bill relates to what has been left out of it.
643 It seems strange—does it not?—that we have an industry with the best production growth record of any industry in this country, the only one that can hold its head up on equal terms with the American industry, and which has better labour relations than any other, yet it is the only industry which is getting poorer in terms of income and finding it more and more difficult to get capital. This Bill is not going to help very much in that direction, but, as I say, it will help in a number of quite minor ways. We are going to have four days on the Committee stage of the Bill, which seems to me an awful long time. I hope that we are not going to discuss too much what has already been discussed at very great length in the Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, tells me that he alone has two days of Amendments; I do not know what the other two days are going to amount to. Luckily, I shall not be here myself.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, may I say, in case Parkinson's Law develops here, that there is no question of saying that we must fill up four days. It is a matter of accommodating such Amendments as are put down. The fewer the Amendments, the fewer the working days.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention.
On Part I, eggs, I dare not say anything more about that after what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has said. But it is within my recollection that when the principles of this change of policy —which is a major change of policy— were announced some months ago, both he and I from our respective Benches rather welcomed it. I have not looked up exactly what the noble Lord said, but that was my impression. So something must have gone seriously wrong with the details since that time.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I intervene in the noble Lord's very interesting speech to point out that, among the criticisms I had of the egg section, I said that I still supported the general change?
Good. I am very glad to hear the noble Lord say that, because it seems to me that it is a very 644 useful experiment. If it goes wrong, no doubt we can put it right. What is interesting, of course, is that eggs have almost ceased to be an agricultural issue at all.
On capital grants, again the noble Lord said all there was to be said about them. I welcome very much, by the way, the recently announced increase in the rates. Most of them were increased 10 per cent.; some were increased 20 per cent., which the Government have announced. In principle, I welcome the tidying up of a number of grants into one grant, but it remains to be seen whether that will inject into the industry the capital that is necessary. Tidying up in itself is no good; it is merely an administrative convenience. It will be a great help to a great many farmers, but I shall wait to give it my blessing until I see what has in fact happened.
Three-quarters of the capital in the agricultural industry is fixed capital; that is to say, land and buildings. So I should like to correct an idea which has been given some voice, though not this afternoon, that so far as the tenant is concerned he obtains no advantage from these grants, and therefore it is all the more important that the tractor grant and the combine harvester grant should remain. This is not true. Any occupier of land benefits from the injection of capital into that land, whether he is a tenant or an owner-occupier, and I hope that that will be clearly understood.
For the rest, my Lords, there are an-other half dozen issues concerned with this Bill, and I am surprised that there are not another 18 speakers to deal with them. So far as it goes, and within its limits, I too give this Bill a welcome. I hope that it will not be long before we begin to see our way through the maze of difficulties of the E.E.C. common agricultural policy and how our own agricultural policy ought to be aligned to it; how the two ought to be changed and modified together, which will give us the confidence to be able to devise a policy which will give confidence to the industry, which it so badly needs.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ BARONESS PLUMMER
My Lords, this is a wide-ranging Bill, but as a strictly arable farmer I should like to devote my remarks largely to the clauses in Part II which deal with the capital 645 grants. I would also devote a few remarks to, and in support of, my noble friend Lord Beswick. Existing capital grant schemes are the product of piecemeal development since before the war. Naturally enough, each scheme was pre-pared to meet a new need, and each was drafted in the light of circumstances at the time. Successive Ministers have made efforts to review the schemes, to keep them in step with developments in the industry. But inevitably they have gone along their separate ways.
As I know only too well, the present grant system makes considerable demands on the time and energy of farmers and landowners. There are now 10 or so capital grant schemes, each with its own set of rules and conditions. No two of them are alike. There are even differences in the form which some of the rules take from one scheme to another. The fanner has to try to understand and meet all of these requirements, and he has to fill in a separate form, or forms, for each scheme. Therefore there is a great deal to be said for putting these schemes together and simplifying them, so that the administrative burden on farmers can be reduced.
I am glad to see that, as the Minister has said in another place, the Agricultural Departments are trying to become some-what less "grandmotherly" in their approach to the schemes. The agricultural industry has come a long way since the schemes were first introduced. Thanks to the Advisory Services, farmers and landowners now have very consider-able opportunities to stay abreast of technical developments. Not the least important result of this is that the great majority of farmers are becoming increasingly management conscious, and from these points of view we might therefore say that the industry has come of age.
At the same time, we must recognise that the farmer invests a good deal of his own money in the various projects which are grant-aided, and this gives him a considerable stake in them. We can therefore rely on the great majority of farmers having both the competence and the incentive to make wise investment decisions, assisted as they are normally by the advisory services. No doubt some safeguards will remain necessary for 646 accountability purposes and to ensure that grant funds are not wasted. But in general it does now seem to be desirable for the Agricultural Departments to reduce the supervisory element in the administration of the capital grant schemes.
Relaxation of supervision is important in more than one respect. It should permit the Agricultural Departments to make savings in administrative costs. At a time when, generally speaking, the Government's administrative machine is increasing its scope it is essential that every opportunity should be taken to economise wherever possible on administration. But, in addition, it should also make it unnecessary for the farmer to alter his proposals for investment from what he thinks best merely in order to qualify for grant. In this connection I am glad to see that the Minister has said that he hopes to drop the requirement relating to the worthwhileness of an investment, leaving the farmer to weigh up for himself the balance of costs and benefits; and also that he is proposing to extend grant to some movable equivalents of items currently grant-aided. Many of us have heard of instances of fixed machines being purchased, or movable ones being bolted down, in order to get grant, when a movable machine would have done the job better.
My Lords, I have mentioned these aspects of the proposed scheme because from my own experience I believe that they are of interest and importance to fanners and landowners who make use of the grants, and, secondly, because I do not think they have received the attention which they deserve. I know that fears have been expressed about the ending of the tractor grants. But in view of the availability of the alternative of initial allowances, and the fact that the total amount of grant being paid to the industry is not going to be reduced, I do not think that these fears are justified. But they have received a very full airing.
My Lords, I suggest that we should also welcome; the first serious attempt by any Minister of Agriculture to simplify, rationalise and modernise a substantial sector of the grant and subsidy system. I hope your Lordships will agree that this is something that we can all find highly desirable.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said (or at least words to this effect), this is certainly rather a hotchpotch of a Bill, although I am pleased to see that there does not seem to be so muchDouble, double, toil and troublein it as I feared there might be.
I should like for a few moments to say something on the new Eggs Authority. It would appear that this Authority will be larger than is really necessary, and I should have thought a smaller Authority would have been preferable. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that the Government would provide 50 per cent. of the administration expenses. True enough; but even allowing for that, is it really necessary to have such a large Authority? Also I should have preferred to see, as in the old Egg Board, the producers being better represented on the new Authority. In my view the producers of the eggs should have the major representation. But I would back up most strongly what my noble friend Lord Nugent said regarding support buying. So far as I can see, in this Bill the Government are not going to assist at all in support buying; therefore there will be very little support buying. It is logical to presume that if there is no support buying there will not be a stable market. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that the Government were going to help with support buying. As my noble friend Lord Nugent said, there will be a levy, but we have seen what happened to the Horticultural and Agricultural Training Board and all the efforts of the Government to raise a levy for that. I think it will be doomed to failure.
Before concluding my remarks on the subject of eggs, I should like to ask a question, although it may be rather a stupid one. In regard to Clause 23, while I welcome the sea transport subsidy for egg producers in the North of Ireland and the Orkneys—though personally I never realised that anybody in the Orkneys sent eggs to the mainland; I should have thought the Orkneys were too cold for the hens—why, of all the islands round our coast, have the Orkneys been singled out? We have many other islands—the Isle of Man, and I must mention the Isle of Mull, though we do not produce many eggs there, but somebody might 648 produce eggs for the mainland if they got subsidy on sea transport. We have many other islands. Why is it only the Orkneys? I should like to hear the answer to that question.
May I say a few words about capital grants? We saw in the Price Review that we are to have an increase in capital grants. That is extremely welcome, but I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, say, regarding capital grants, that there is to be a ceiling. I have known of cases where farming estate companies and some individuals have, in my opinion, received too much grant. It is the small man who ought to get the grant, the poorer man; but the trouble is that the poor man often cannot afford to take the grant because he cannot raise the capital for his share of the grant. I agree that it is probably true, though it is not always so, that the richer farmers are the more efficient farmers and therefore ought to get greater help. There are, however, a great many very efficient small farmers on poor land who deserve every help, but because they are poor and the land is poor they cannot afford to apply for the grants. I am also rather worried about doing away with the grants on self-propelled harvesters and tractors, but I appreciate the reason for it. Here, again, I consider that these grants have been very useful to the small tenant fanner, and provided that the Government, as Lord Beswick said, are going to make the grants apply in a wider category, per-haps it will not be so bad for the small farmer.
When we come to the question of amalgamations, while I agree with and am quite happy about Clause 20, especially the provision reducing from 40 years to 15 years the period during which the land has to remain agricultural, I think that the Government are really inconsistent—it is owing to their tax doctrine—because they do rather give with one hand only to take away with the other. Taking into account the capital gains tax (and the high rate of interest also goes against amalgamations) one may find that while a man may have built up quite a holding through amalgamation it can all be destroyed in capital gains tax.
I welcome Part III, on smallholdings. I agree that smallholdings do not necessarily make economic sense, but for social 649 reasons one must have smallholdings. From smallholdings and small farmers generally I think you get some of the best people in the country; you breed very self-reliant and sturdy people. Therefore it is, I think, very necessary, for social reasons, to support the small fanners. If we did away with all small farmers urban pressure would have its own way. Small farmers help to keep a rural population in areas of the country that are subjected to great urban pressure.
With regard to fertilisers, which are dealt with in Part IV, I welcome the pro-posals, but I should like to make one point which was raised on a Question in this House a short time ago. It would be a great help if the Government could at some future date—perhaps they do not have a very long future—treat potash in the same way as other fertilisers, because it is a fertiliser which is lacking on a great many of our farms in this country. It would be a tremendous help to the fertility of our land generally. I agree that on the whole potash has to be imported, but it can be obtained from seaweed. If the Government could encourage industry to produce potash from seaweed we should not have to import all our potash.
I now come to what I think is the most important Part of the Bill: Part VII, tied cottages. I intend to speak on that, and then to stop. When the 1965 Rent Act was going through Parliament I raised my voice in protest regarding the provisions concerning tied agricultural cottages. I think that I was the only one in this House to point out some of the dangers that might ensue to damage the efficiency of the farming industry; and, of course, true enough, what I foresaw has happened. We have had people who have come into tied agricultural cottages, chucked up the job in a few days and gone and taken a job in the nearest manufacturing town—or perhaps not even taken a job; they may have gone on National Assistance. But they have used the Rent Act to obtain a rent-free house. Such people are a minority of course, but it is very annoying when it happens to a farmer. There are these people, rogues, who have used the Rent Act to get a free house. Owing to the legal procedures, even under the existing law it can take eight or ten months to get somebody 650 out of your house. No employer ever likes to evict. It is a very rare occurrence.
Under the Bill we are now discussing we are now to have this period extended by six months. From my experience, if it is extended by six months that will mean eighteen months, if a farmer has a former employee who is determined to remain in the house. Under the existing Act he can appeal twice to the court, and of course he can get long extensions. And even after he has appealed twice the court may say that he can remain in the house. As I read the Bill, it is fairly obvious that even after the six-months period laid down in Clause 99 the existing provisions of Section 33 of the 1965 Act will apply. This does not matter very much if a man is farming a big unit of 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 acres. Then he will have a large number of employees, and to lose one or two cottages does not greatly matter. But the average farmer in this country is a small man, and on the average farm at present the labour force consists of only one or two paid agricultural workers. There may sometimes be three, but I under-stand that the average number is one or two.
Suppose that after this Bill becomes law a farmer has a man come into his cottage. He may throw the job up after three or four days, and the farmer may have that man in the cottage probably for over a year, so that he has lost half his labour force. What is he going to do? He can hire a contractor. But con-tractors are very expensive, and do not always come when you want them to come. He can try to employ somebody who does not require a house. He may fail in that. The other great disadvantage from which he will suffer is that he will have a lot of capital tied up in plant that he cannot fully utilise; the farm-worker has more capital per capita behind him than any worker in the country. It is quite true that we have to legislate for the bad employer; but bad employers account for only 5 per cent. of employers: 95 per cent. are good. I repeat that it will be dangerous for the efficiency of farming if this six months' period becomes law. It will encourage local authorities to drag their feet even more than they do at present as regards providing alternative housing.
651 I do not wish to say any more about this matter, but I hope that on Committee stage we may have an Amendment acceptable to the Government, to the effect that if an employee has not worked on the farm for six months then he cannot gain the protection of Clause 99, if that clause becomes law. I think it would be fair to have such a proviso because, after all (I speak from memory) the 1965 Rent Act laid down that use of tied cottages by a former employee must not jeopardise the efficient working of farms.
The great drawback for farmers in this country is lack of capital. I have often thought that if only farmers in this country, as in other countries, such as France, could have cheaper money it would be of great benefit to them. The other point I should have liked to see in the Bill, but which is not there, concerns compensation for farmers when their land is compulsorily taken over. At the moment the money they receive for their land when compulsorily taken over for a New Town or other public use will certainly not be sufficient for them, with to-day's inflation, to acquire a new farm and to stock it. Having made those two points on Part VII of the Bill in connection with service tenancies, I should like to conclude by saying that, on the whole, I welcome the Bill, but I hope that in Committee the Government will accept some Amendment in relation to tied cottages in order that we do not jeopardise the farming industry.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, I hoped that your Lordships would have a general debate on this year's Agricultural Price Review, as there is much that I should have liked to say on that subject. But as it is not to be I shall try to confine myself to a few general observations on the Bill. Like all previous speakers I welcome this Bill so far as it goes. In regard to capital grants I, and I think the industry generally, would have preferred it had the 10 per cent. increase on capital grants been placed upon the end price of our products.
Generally, farmers' overdrafts are as high as they possibly can be, and as the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, has said, there is not sufficient capital available for the smaller farmers to take advantage of this higher rate. 652 They are unable to finance their share of the cost, and until their incomes improve this must inevitably always be the case. If it were possible to obtain a higher loan, one wonders whether, with the present high rate of interest, extra return would even service the loan. There may be a case here for preferential treatment in the form of cheaper credit, as is adumbrated by many, and as I believe is happening in other industries. But surely that is not the right answer, for farmers should be allowed to earn a high enough income to pay the interest rate in force at the time of any borrowing that they may wish to make.
I welcome the provisions within the Bill for the reorganisation of smallholdings. I think I understand them correctly, and I welcome them as an effort to try to make these smallholdings more viable units. Again I emphasise that this 10 per cent. increase on capital grants appears to be giving the thin end of the stick to the smaller farmers, which I regret. I cannot accept that the larger units are necessarily more productive either per man or per acre, although probably they are more efficient solely by virtue of the fact that capital is more readily avail-able to them.
I am dismayed by the trend towards larger and larger units, and the build-up of large farming companies and the gradual decline in the number of family farms, for we must remember that the medium farm of to-day is the small farm of to-morrow, and with the ever-increasing capital required to start farming there must be a consequential lessening of opportunity for the young man wanting a farm of his own. I think we must en-courage co-operation between farmers in the sharing of modern and sophisticated equipment in order that they may be able to compete and their holdings become more viable, and yet retain their separate identities.
Regarding the amalgamation scheme, I wonder whether it is possible for a large farmer, or indeed a fanning company with a considerable acreage, to take over a small farm and obtain a grant for so doing. This surely should not be so, but I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, when he replies, could give some indication as to whether or not this is the case. With regard to the amendment of the Agriculture (Ploughing 653 Grants) Act, I have always considered that the withdrawal of the three-year ploughingup grant was an unfortunate step. In substitution, I should have welcomed provision made for a substantial grant for re-seeding long-term lays.
Over the years farmers have been forced by economic pressures to abandon less favourable enterprises and switch to continuous arable cropping as being the most profitable; and the effects are now becoming disastrous. Land fertility is getting lower, soil structure is failing, and the farmer following an all-corn system is trying to combat a steadily rising over-draft with steadily falling yields. The only course open to him to restore the balance is long rotation grass, but this must be used advantageously and to the fullest extent in order that fertility may be built up to be turned into cash by subsequent corn crops. This again brings us to the vexed question of capital requirements. Stock are needed for this purpose, and for this reason I think that a grant to-wards the cost of growing this grass would be extremely beneficial in the long term: it would work in more or less the same way as the old ploughing-up grant.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and the Minister of Agriculture in another place referred to the withdrawal of the tractor grants. They stated that there was no evidence that the grants for tractors had any significant effect on purchases. This is probably so, for obviously tractors are essential. There-fore, why remove the grant in order that more may be paid on less essential equipment? Once again it seems to me that the smaller farmer is being hit. This grant was something tangible and not part of some mythical amount which he would receive if he invested a consider-able sum of money on equipment that he did not really need. In his speech in another place, the Minister went on to say that he hoped to include items that would benefit the small producers as well as the large, but he did not elaborate this.
May I conclude with a simple comparison. After twenty years, I under-stand that production of that grand little car, the Morris Minor or 1,000, is going to cease. The price of that car twenty years ago was approximately £400; to-day it is approximately £700. Even allowing for changes in purchase tax, that 654 seems a reasonable increase. When the Minor was first produced the price of barley—one of the main agricultural commodities—was 30s. 3d. per hundred-weight; this year it is only 27s.—and that is an increase of 1s. on last year. Can one wonder at the bitter disappointment and apprehension within the industry at the present time? It is playing a tremendous role in the economy of the country, and it deserves a far greater reward. I think the Government had the opportunity within the Review and in this Bill to dispel the doubts and fears of the industry. They had the opportunity to give it the boost that it so desperately needs, and to my mind is entitled to. But the Government have failed in so far as they have taken only a short step in the right direction when what was required was a gigantic stride.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
My Lords, I must first make an apology in that after speaking for a very short time I have to leave almost immediately to fulfil an engagement of long standing. Secondly, I must remind your Lordships of my own interests in dairying and fruit, an case I get too involved in those subjects.
May I say, first of all, that the in-creased return to farmers as a result of the Review is of the order of 2 to 3 per cent., and even since that very recent time the farmer has suffered. In our case in Kent, for example, feedingstuffs for cattle have gone up since the Review. Auctioneers' fees have gone up since the Review; and now, to add insult to injury, telephone bills are going up, for the reason (I dare not quote because I shall get it wrong) that the Government have instructed nationalised industries that in arriving at price structures a proper level of capital return must be obtained. My Lords, that is exactly what we, the farmers, want to do, nothing more, and nothing much less. We realise that the difficulties at the present time are immense and that throughout the world—certainly in Europe and America, and soon also in Australasia—we shall be overproducing everything except beef. Clearly, as a result of that great problems are arising. But at least we can stop saying, on the other hand, that we must stop the population increasing because we cannot feed them. There is no question whatever of 655 our not being able to feed an increased population: it is the distribution of what we produce that is going to be difficult.
I think the brucellosis eradication scheme must be welcomed by all, although there are obviously defects in it. From personal experience of the cost of going in for this on my own farm (my herd became accredited only last week) I know that it is very expensive. One has to have separate isolation boxes for cows that do abort, or that may abort. In my case it cost about £120 to convert some stables into these isolation boxes. One requires double fencing between one's own farm and any other farm on the boundary which has cattle that are not accredited, or are not brucellosis-free. The cost of this may be over £100, with-out the labour. Then when a cow aborts, as one of mine did on Saturday, into the isolation box it goes; and the whole system of milking 115 cows on a herring-bone, day and night, "goes for a burton". One man has to milk this one sick cow separately, so that labour charges go up, and there are labour problems.
There is not much encouragement to farmers to become accredited when all they have is the promise of payment for the cows that have to be slaughtered, and a l¼d. increase per gallon of milk produced. I think that something stronger and firmer will be required if we are really to rid this country of brucellosis, as we must do in the long term. Northern Ireland has very nearly done it, whereas the position in the South of Ireland is very bad; and we are getting cattle in every day from the South, with heaven knows what results. Another problem is the markets of this country, which are supposed to have some parts set aside for cattle accredited as free from brucellosis, while other parts are for normal cattle. But do not forget, my Lords, that very often cattle which have aborted are sent into the markets in order to get rid of those animals, even before testing. Separate markets must be arranged in future for accredited cattle.
Perhaps one day milk production and sales will have to be limited to accredited herds, but those people who are trying to make a go of it will need an extra financial contribution. To insure one's 656 cattle, if one takes the milk payment and not the compensation for slaughter payment, is getting more difficult and expensive. We did have help—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in particular, helped—in making it easier to keep bull beef, which I am sure is the pattern of the future, as most of Europe already does this. But I know from practical experience that it is not yet easy enough. We do not get the calf subsidy until the bull beef has been slaughtered and weighed out to see what the form is, whereas with steers we can kill at any time, within the right periods, and this is very much easier. It would be of help if this point could be considered, because I am sure we should get more and cheaper bull beef if the procedure were made simpler.
I have already touched lightly on the milk position, which is really desperate because we are over-producing. Although thousands of people are going out of production, those who are rich and big are increasing the size of their herds, and, I suppose, getting rid of some of the costs that we smaller farmers have to endure. I cannot see how one can go on doing this very much longer, except perhaps by persuading people to drink more milk and to eat less margarine, and by stopping some of the dumping of foreign milk powder that has occurred. We know that milk powder comes in here for £10 less than the price at which it is sold in the country it comes from.
I suppose that in the future, when we are in a bigger organisation, this country will be best for the breeding of pedigree livestock of proven record: our grass and our climate seems to suit this. But if we are not careful we shall find our-selves following the advice of Mr. Jay, the economic correspondent of The Times, who would depopulate the countryside and do away with farming altogether. This is where the matter of policy comes in, and where we farmers are longing for a lead from the Government.
If I may digress a little, and refer to something that many of us were distressed to see is not in the Bill, I should like to talk about top fruit— apples, pears and that side of farming. Last year we had a disastrous year. We had late frosts; we had Australian and foreign fruit coming in in the middle of 657 the British selling season, and we mistakenly allowed some of our un-graded fruit to be sold on the market. We have in this country 58,000 acres of dessert apples, 27,000 acres of culinary apples and 15,000 acres of pears. There are 30,000 businesses involved, and 150,000 people are employed in this; industry. Yet this is the one part of farming that is going to be destroyed if we go into the Common Market. If that happens—and all Parties seem to be determined to get into this frightening Market—should we not have a lead from the Government to tell us to cut down these trees? It is really as simple as that.
At the moment, the apple market in the E.E.C. is dominated by France, and the pear market is dominated by Italy. France has already bent and broken the rules of the Common Market by subsidising transport, by giving loans for fruit planting and by a variable assistance on tax returns from fruit farmers. Her last gambit has been virtually to destroy the Dutch fruit farmer. Although the Dutch were the most expert fruit growers in Europe, one-third of the Dutch fruit has been grubbed out, and there has been a grant of between £80 and £100 per acre for every bit of fruit grubbed out, accompanied by a promise not to replant for five years.
The last move of all is the one that will be fatal to British fruit farming. The E.E.C. have now decided that, because of the surplus of fruit produced, which is a menace and goes for industrial alcohol after pulping, they must have another system of grading in Europe. They are increasing the size of the mini-mum grade. This will keep out the Cox apple when we go into the E.E.C., and that is the only apple that we can grow better than anyone else in the world. I hope that this fact will be borne in mind when negotiations are started.
I suggest that, from the fruit farmers' point of view, we must not go into the Common Market. If we do go in, there must be a long interim transitional period, the same as they had (which I believe was 12 years), and there must be adequate compensation for those of us who plough up. There must also be a warning now, because a fruit farm has on it gas stores and cannot be used for anything except storing hard fresh fruit, My 658 own farm has 26 acres of planted, varied fruit, and I cannot suddenly change, as I could do if I were going from a dairy farm to beef. I should have to take those trees out of the ground and the value of the farm would not be the same. To-day its value is £700 an acre, but if the trees were removed it would be only £250 an acre.
British Government money was involved, grants were given, when those buildings were put up. Is anyone going to see that "go for a burton", or are we going to negotiate a reasonable method for the British fruit farmer to have a chance in the E.E.C.? At the moment, I doubt it. And even though I am speaking from this side of the House I simply do not know where to look, because all three Parties seem to be utterly and completely committed to this idea. I wonder whether the farmers' interests have really been thought about in sufficient detail. If they have been thought about, let us be told so that we may know.
I should now like to touch on Clause 99 and the tied cottage. Again I am sorry to bring in my personal experience, but the tied cottage is a practical method and it is worth while. I have four chaps working on the dairy farm. Because I knew my National Union of Agricultural Workers representative well, and admired his work and liked him, I said to those four chaps, "I should like you all to join the Union. How many of you belong already?" One of them had already joined and two others then decided to join. But the fourth chap, the herdsman, refused, and I asked him why. He said, "Do you ever think you will get another herdsman if I refuse to leave this cottage when I retire?" and I said that I did not think so.
No farmer wants to turn out a worker, and if one had enough cottages one would like to see them and their sons staying there as long as possible. But one cannot get chaps who are going to work a 57-hour week, as my herdsman does, without a first-class cottage to go into. Even the occupant of No. 10 will have to go one day, and there is no six months' grace about that. I look forward to the day when the National Union of Agricultural Workers and the National Farmers' Union join up, because we are not going to save British agriculture while they are 659 separate. We can do it only if they work together. I should not mind if the Country Landowners' Association also came in and made it a trio, because there is little hope for us on the land unless that happens.
We are not owed a living, and no fanner believes that he is owed a living. But he should be given a chance to make a living, and the way things are going we are not going to get that chance. My Lords, we want a lead, and we want guidance. We want to be told. If we are to get out of milk we will do so and the farmer will grow beef or some-thing else; but we must have guidance and a lead. At the moment, in our case, we are reluctantly going ahead into Europe, but we arc going completely unknowing into the future.
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, I wonder whether I may ask this question. He mentioned the risk of importing brucellosis from the Republic of Ireland. I admit to a personal interest in this, because I raise cattle in Ireland, but is he not aware that over 99 per cent. of the cattle exported from the Republic are store cattle in which the disease is practically unknown?
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
Yes, my Lords; the noble Lord is quite right. But, without wishing to be offensive, I would point out that they attract a subsidy for coming over here, and the Republic is treated as part of Great Britain, which I have never quite understood.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will not mind my intervening at this point, but the noble Baroness on the Woolsack and I have made an arrangement whereby we swap places in the batting order. She is going to play a little later on, when I was down to play, and I am going to say just a very few words now, if I may. We have all listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley. It was a most thoughtful and a most interesting speech. I agreed with almost everything he had to say. When I first read the Bill, I asked myself the two questions which I suppose all farmers 660 ask when they see an Agriculture Bill coming before Parliament. First of all, does it encourage more production, more food, or does it encourage less food? In other words, do the Government want farmers to produce more, or less? The second question is: what will be the ultimate price of the commodity we are producing? That, in a great many cases, governs the amount of production that anybody is prepared to carry out. Reading the Bill, I think (although it is a little difficult, perhaps, to be quite sure) that it means to encourage farmers. I think it means to encourage them because there are many aspects of the Bill which are encouraging and which will help us very much indeed. That is the reason, I am sure, why we on this side of the House are going to support it. On the other hand, there are things in the Bill which I find not so encouraging, and which will make it difficult for us to continue production, or to increase production.
I think your Lordships all know that I speak for hill farmers and hill farming in Scotland. One of the things that is happening in Scotland today is that people are going out of hill farming. They are doing so for the simple reason that they cannot make it pay. Lord Monckton has given an analysis of some of the costs in connection with dairy farming, and Lord Wise also gave us some comparisons on the question of costs. I can only tell your Lordships that if the prices at which hill farmers sell their lambs this year do not rise a great deal, there will be more and more hill farms going over to trees. That is what is happening in the Borders and in the Upland area of Scotland. Last year, farmers were selling their produce, their lambs, at the same price as they sold them for in 1957—and that is a good long time ago. We all know how costs have risen since then, my Lords. If that continues, then people will simply go out of business: if the prices of the end commodity remain the same as they were 11 or 12 years ago they cannot carry on.
In this House there are a number of great enthusiasts for forestry. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, who is to wind up this debate from this side of the House, is one of the great enthusiasts for trees. The enthusiasm of those people is such that they perhaps would not consider that the situation where I live is one which one 661 should lament, as I do. The situation is that every month, almost every week, one hears of farms up for sale; and those farms are being bought either by private forestry companies or by the Forestry Commission. My Lords, we cannot eat trees, and we have never been able to eat them. If you want more production, if you want more mutton and more beef, you will have to see to it that the land which produces the requisite type of animal does not go over to trees, because if it does the food which I imagine the Government want will not be produced. I repeat the same question: do the Government want more production and more food, or less? If they want less, then what is happening in the Uplands of Scotland is exactly what they want; but I hope very much that I am wrong in thinking that they want to turn the whole of the South of Scotland and the Upland areas into trees.
I was going to say a word about tied cottages, but that has already been dealt with, and I think Lord Monckton has said the last word on that subject. But I support all that he has said. On the question of brucellosis, I am a very strong supporter of the committee and of the work that is being done by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, and his committee on the subject. I think we are going to discuss this in detail in Committee, so I will not discuss it now. I do not think the Government's brucellosis scheme goes far enough. It is very much better than no scheme, and the Government should be encouraged in every way, but in point of fact, my Lords, I do not think the scheme goes far enough.
On the question of capital grants, I was very interested to hear the reactions of your Lordships to these grants. I wonder whether I might ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who is to wind up this debate, a question—because he and I once had a long correspondence together on the subject of whether or not I could get a grant for a piece of machinery which was on wheels and was not fixed. Do I gather now that if I buy mobile machinery under this new scheme for the purposes of improving agricultural production, he and I will be in agreement, and that it will come in under the new grant scheme? If that is so, nobody could be more happy than I.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOT-TISH OFFICE (LORD HUGHES)
My Lords, can the noble Baroness refresh my memory? Was it a grain drier?
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
Yes, it was a grain drier. It was a Lister blower. The last thing I wanted to mention was this question of the E.E.C. A fortnight ago there was a meeting in Cambridge of the Anglo-German Society, which I have belonged to for many years and which generally meets at Konigs-winter, and which I know as the Konigs-winter Conference. I attended a meeting of a special committee on the problems of Britain joining the E.E.C. I was enormously interested in what took place in this committee. We had one of the German Commissioners there who had been 12 years in Brussels and was very experienced. We also had Sir Con O'Neill, who is our great expert on the E.E.C. I listened for two days, and took a mild part in the discussions on agriculture and the E.E.C. What the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, has said seemed to me to be absolutely accurate; and this, indeed, has presented us with a really difficult problem. It is not only that we have got a difficult problem with agriculture and the E.E.C.: the E.E.C. countries have a difficult problem.
When I was listening to the debate which took place, and the discussions which went on, I realised that among the Six there was an enormous difference of opinion as to how agriculture should be handled. Their present methods are to create this huge surplus of butter, milk and a variety of different commodities in Europe; added to which, as we know, the cost of food in Europe is extremely high. They themselves have not yet found the right programme for agriculture in Europe. That is not to say that they may not find it, and that if we go into the Common Market—and I am in favour of going into the Common Market—we may not help them to find it. But it would be quite wrong to think that at the present moment the E.E.C. countries have found the answer to agricultural production, because they certainly have not. As the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, has suggested, we in this country ought to be told what is going to happen to agriculture in this country if we go into the E.E.C, and whether 663 we shall be able to influence those countries to change their present policy in any way. I was told that they would not change. I was told caegorically that they would not—which is the sort of thing one may hear people say when they are discussing a situation. But it is often a very different matter when one is sitting round the conference table as part of an organisation.
This Bill has been described variously as a hotchpotch of this, that and the other. It may well be. But I think it has some good things in it; there are parts of it which will be very helpful to us in the farming industry. But there are warning lights of matters which still have to be dealt with. I hope that when the Minister winds up that he will be able to advise us farmers on whether the Government want us to increase production. If they do, are we going to see anything approaching the kind of prices for our end products that will enable us to enlarge our production? Many of us would like to do so; but it is difficult if you are selling your goods in 1970 at the prices you received in 1957.
§ 5.1 p.m.
My Lords, I see that this Bill is intituled:An Act to make provision with respect to agriculture and related matters …Therefore I do not think that one can complain too much about its being a hotchpotch; because "and related matters" covers a multitude of sins—which is fortunate for me, for I want to raise a point which is not in the Bill at all, and I do so on those grounds. The result of the Price Review, so far as I am concerned, is that if I am extremely lucky with the weather and with other things, in a year's time I shall recoup my recent wage increases. That is all. I am not grumbling about the wage increases; they are richly deserved, even not enough. But the industry just cannot give more pay unless there is cash coming in at the other end. So far as sheep and trees are concerned I am neutral, because I grow trees and also sheep; but I must admit that this is probably the last year that I shall be able to grow sheep. The growing of trees, on the other hand, is either the act of a lunatic or the act of one of incredible faith. I do not know under 664 which heading I come; but there it is. That is the situation as it affects me.
I want to talk a little about tied cottages, although the subject has already received much attention this afternoon. Also I want to ask a question (to which I should probably know the answer) about agricultural training; and further, I want to raise the question of the transport of livestock, which is giving a great deal of worry to local people in my part of the world. Clause 99 of the Bill deals with tied cottages. I would say, in general, that if tied cottages were not essential to the running of a farm or an estate, no landlord farmer would be seen dead with them. They are an absolute loss; there is nothing to be gained by them. In my case, admittedly, owing to having to amalgamate, having to cut my labour and having to economise, I have nine tied cottages which have been improved and which are inhabited by pensioners of one sort or another. They have complete security of tenure because they pay either a nominal agricultural rent or are under a sort of "grace and favour" rent; but they have complete protection under the normal Rent Acts, which is right and proper.
This matter of tied cottages is thoroughly understood by the older generation. They do not abuse the system and there is no urge from them to alter the conditions of the tied cottages. In what I say I am backed not solely by my own area branch but by the whole Scottish N.F.U. They are not happy about the provisions in this Bill extending the tenure of tied cottages. How are you to run a farm if you cannot house the workers? You cannot stop farming for six months. If that were possible there would assuredly be a lot of strikes. Perhaps it is a pity that it is not. But this is proof that in many parts of Scot-land you cannot get on without housing your workers. I think that the extension envisaged in this Bill is quite unnecessary and so also does the Scottish N.F.U.
Why can we not leave the matter as it was? It was quite a reasonable arrangement. Unfortunately what hap-pens now is that some of the younger generation of farm workers—not all, by any means—are quite capable of taking a job on your farm, and once they have got into the house for a week, staying 665 there and looking for another job. They are quite prepared to go on the dole, sitting in your house while they are looking for a job, for better paid work— for example, on tractors on the roads, working with contractors on timber work or working in factories. Every farm worker these days, although he is so poor that he does not know where his next meal is coming from, is nevertheless the owner of a very good car which he uses in certain cases to abuse this position and to exploit the difficulty of housing. I do not think we should subscribe to that. I do not want to say that all farm workers do this; but it is not a thing that we should encourage.
The next question I want to raise—and I apologise for raising it for perhaps I ought to know the answer—concerns the levy for agricultural training. This is now part of the Price Review. I would point out, in passing, that in Scot-land we paid our levy; it was only in England where farmers did not. Although it is N.F.U. policy, we have severe reservations of the wisdom of this scheme; for many of us in Scotland consider ourselves able to organise our own training, without wasting as much money as would some obscure Government Department. We may yet turn out to be right in that. My question is: As the whole of the farming industry under the Price Review is paying this fee (or whatever it is called) is the whole of the farming industry entitled to benefit? I do not think that the owner-occupier, the self-employed fanner, is entitled to benefit. But as he pays, he should be so entitled. I may be wrong on this point; but I should like the noble Lord to let me know.
My Lords, now I come to the real "related matter". Clause 26 deals with the transport of eggs. I do not want to deal with the transport of eggs; but I do want to deal with the transport of live animals. Great concern has been ex-pressed recently in one of the leading newspapers of my part of the world, the Press and Journal, and also in our own Kincardineshire County Council, over the effect of the Transport Act in producing cruelty to farm animals. This is a matter that was not contemplated in the Transport Act, otherwise we should have taken care that provision was made. No one can say that one Party is inhumane and the other is not; that is rubbish. I 666 do not think that the problems which have arisen were visualised at the time of the passing of the Act, and that is why, with your Lordships' indulgence, I am raising this matter now, because it is giving a great deal of worry to farmers and haulage contractors.
The basic trouble is that animals have to be taken to the market early in the morning. The cattle floats in which they are conveyed are parked in the market yard and the drivers sit on their behinds and have a nice rest and a cup of coffee, and so on. Then at night, when the sale is over, the animals have to be taken to wherever the farmer who has bought them happens to live. That is the nor-mal procedure. What is happening now is that drivers are saying that the sitting time is recognised as part of their working day, and as they have done a day's work they cannot convey the animals home. Either a driver has to break the law or the animals must be left hanging about a mart in unsuitable conditions, because the marts were not constructed to accommodate the animals in that way. Often there is no adequate water supply or fodder, let alone accommodation, for keeping the animals for a long period. They were meant to be at the market for only a few hours; not, as has happened in recent cases, for a couple of days and a night before being taken away.
The answer that more cattle floats and drivers should be provided does not apply in Scotland, because there is a limited number of that specialised type of vehicle available. The smaller man in the trans-port business has been driven out by the rigours of the Transport Act, and the situation is threatening. Stock sales reach their climax in the autumn. Recently we had a considerable amount of trouble when 4,000 sheep were sold in the northern markets. I think that a total of four sheep died and another three had to be destroyed, simply because they had to be kept under unsuitable conditions—which no one wanted to do—over periods of time, as the drivers had run out of working time.
That had not been visualised by any-body, but it is a fact which has arisen. There is provision, to a certain extent, in Section 96 of the Transport Act 1968, which deals with hours. There is a sort 667 of exemption but I do not know whether it covers this point. Subsection (9) states:For the purposes of subsections (1) and (7) of this section no account shall be taken of any time spent driving a vehicle elsewhere than on a road if the vehicle is being so driven in the course of operations of agriculture or forestry.I do not know whether that may be interpreted to cover the time when a lorry is parked in the precincts of a mart, but I suggest that if it could be made clear, that would help. Later on, in subsection (10) powers are given to deal with emergencies. You have to ring up the Ministry of Transport, and you have a good deal more to do. How people are to do it all in an emergency I do not know, and I do not think that the drafts-men knew either, because they provide something in this subsection to be granted retrospectively; so they visualise that you cannot get on to the Ministry of Transport in an emergency to get per-mission to break the law.
If it could be made clear that these two provisions, which I think were meant to cater for agricultural problems, could be adjusted to meet the situation, or if, in some way, provision could be made to cover this awkward situation and give the farm animals a better deal, I think it would be worth doing. We ought not to let animals wait on Parliamentary time for putting through Bills, or for bureaucratic arrangements to be made. We should try to do something, if we can, during the stages of this Bill, as I think that this is a related subject.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships long, but I wish to refer to the clauses in the Bill by which the Minister reserves the power to ring vaccinate against foot-and-mouth disease. I know that a statement has been made from the Ministry that they do not intend to put the power into operation with every outbreak of the disease. It is true that under the law as at present the Minister has power to order to be vaccinated such animals as have had contact with infected animals; and I am thankful to say that the Ministry did not use this power during the great emergency of 1967–68.
The Northumberland Committee care-fully considered this matter and were of 668 the opinion that if the importation of foot-and-mouth disease virus could be practically reduced or, better still, eliminated, there would be no necessity to contemplate vaccination against foot-and-mouth disease. But in the face of the continuing importation of infected meat, further outbreaks must be regarded as a possibility and in these circumstances it might be necessary to supplement the slaughter policy with that of ring vaccination.
My Lords, it is obvious that the maximum benefit from the use of ring vaccination will result only if it is put into force at the earliest possible moment before subsidiary outbreaks have had time to establish themselves. I understand that the Northumberland Committee were greatly influenced by what they had seen of the control of foot-and-mouth disease by ring vaccination in Denmark. It is therefore pertinent to observe that after an outbreak of the disease in Denmark last December seven subsidiary outbreaks occurred in vaccinated stock within 14 days of vaccination. The Danes are disturbed by the possibility of healthy vaccinated cattle excreting foot-and-mouth disease virus a few days after vaccination and this in itself creating subsidiary outbreaks. There is a dangerous period for some days from excretion after vaccination and during a period of 14 days before vaccination be-comes effective. Thus it would be necessary to impose a standstill order on all vaccinated animals for a prescribed time in order to prevent them from being sold or from coming into contact with other non-vaccinated animals.
The disadvantage of the policy of ring vaccination is that past experience shows that secondary outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease can occur 10 to 15 miles away from the original outbreak, and therefore in certain densely stocked areas of the country it would entail the vaccination of large numbers of animals. Vaccination would undoubtedly adversely affect our exports of livestock. I am informed, and it coincides with my own opinion, that our export trade with certain agricultural countries, particularly Eire and New Zealand, would be adversely affected. Had this question of vaccination been discussed, say, ten years ago, there would have been much greater arguments against it than there is now, 669 because in the last decade there have been very great advances in the preparation of vaccine and the class of stock which can be protected. For instance, before then we could not have protected pigs but now it is believed that the vaccination of pigs would be a practical business. Also, we now have trivalent vaccine which can protect pigs against the three dominant types of virus, and the cost of vaccine has dropped enormously.
When this Bill was considered in another place, Amendments were pro-posed to delay the coming into force of the Minister's powers of ring vaccination for a period of twelve months. The reasons for this proposed delay were that up to this date there has not been any real national or international consultation or study of the full implications of ring vaccination. Therefore, I would strongly advocate such a delay in order to give an opportunity for these consultations to take place and a full study made of what it would entail. I trust that your Lordships will give your support to such an Amendment moved on Committee stage.
§ 5.20 p.m.
My Lords, I am not among those who are disappointed that the Government have so much Parliamentary time that they could introduce a miscellaneous Bill about agriculture of this great length, ending, as has already been remarked, with a small and amusing topical clause enabling the Parliament of Northern Ireland to deal with, among other things, noxious weeds. I know how difficult it is to obtain a place in the Parliamentary timetable to introduce the shortest miscellaneous Agriculture Bill, and it is fair to ask: when are we going to have a chance of debating issues which are really important to British agriculture at this time, and perhaps even see another Bill?—because there are bigger problems than those we are discussing this alter-noon.
There is the expansion of production, not least in the interest of our balance of payments, and there are steps to put us in a stronger position as we get closer to Europe and to entering into the Community. In this long Bill there is little that is relevant to either of the big problems now facing us. Just one 670 example: there is no mention that I can see of the dairy industry. The prices to the producer have actually been falling over the last few years, and are still falling, a situation which must be unique in this country in the middle of raging inflation. The Fanner and Stock Breeder this week says:The basic milk production price for March is 84d. per gallon below those for March, 1969",which, in turn, is less than it was in March, 1968; and all the time, of course, costs were rising.
Producers of milk in March, 1970, will have received something like 3s. 6d. per gallon for milk of average quality. Last week, on my way home, I went to the buffet car of the British Rail train in which I was travelling and asked for a glass of milk. I was given a small cardboard cup which must have held about one third of a pint, or, giving them the benefit of the doubt, a little more, and I worked out that I had paid at the rate of 24s. per gallon. There must be some-thing wrong here. These are hardly the circumstances in which the dairy industry is going to be encouraged to put more money into more efficient production.
I am going to make only one brief reference to Part I, because my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has spoken about it so effectively. I should like to say how much I agree with him when he deplored the extension of patronage. Clause 2 gives the Minister power to appoint all members of this new Eggs Board, which is a great departure from the principles of the old Agricultural Marketing Acts. Apart from that, it is most unfair to deny the producers any choice of the men who are to sit on this Board. From the Parliamentary point of view, I think that this matter of political patronage has gone far too far recently and ought to be brought to an end. There are too many recent examples where the appointments of Chairmen of such Boards have been little more than political appointments, and I sincerely hope that we are not going to see another one here.
On Part II of the Bill, I am all for simplifying the administration of agricultural grants. To many people the idea of one omnibus statutory instrument embracing the whole range of grants which up to the present have been handled 671 separately may well be attractive, but to Parliamentary ears it has a sinister sound, and I am surprised that our pre-sent Minister, whose approach to this is well known to those who sat with him for any length of time in another place, should now be proposing this step. No doubt the Minister will say that Orders are more flexible than Bills and will save Parliamentary time; and no doubt some officials will rejoice that there could be less trouble. Certainly Parliamentary Secretaries of the Ministry of Agriculture will be thankful that they can get most of their business done in one evening, instead of attending the House night after night. But we must not overlook the fact that if we take this step we are depriving Parliament of the power to amend these Orders, and, further, that this House will find itself in an extra difficulty, because we are always reluctant to refuse such an Order. We shall find ourselves in the position of having to approve the omni-bus Order which will certainly include some proposals of which we disapprove, and we shall find ourselves greatly inhibited.
It is possible that when the Minister replies he may say that by taking this power we shall be putting ourselves in a much stronger position to adapt our administration, step by step, towards the thinking on the Continent. I do not know. But we must beware of the "Brussels disease", where the Ministers are bossed by the High Commission and Parliaments are reduced to a shadow. This is said to be a temporary situation, but it has been going on far too long already and I can see few signs of major change.
There has been another condition attached to these grants for capital improvements which I am sorry to see changed. Here I disagree fundamentally with my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. The farm improvement grants scheme included a test that capital work to be grant-aided must be for the benefit of agricultural land. There was a sort of unwritten sense of proportion between the amount of grant and the area of land in the same enterprise. That was partly a safeguard to the taxpayer and partly common sense; and I think that it was an extremely valuable condition. I have had experience of this scheme at both 672 ends, both receiving and from the administrative end, and I would say that I do not regret any of the cases put before me as possible cases which might have to be turned down and where it was decided not to give a grant. I kept my eye on some of them, and if I had thought I had made a mistake, I would have told the Department. But I have not regretted any such cases.
The essence of all such improvement was to encourage production, through good husbandry and land management, and to help overcome the shortage of capital in the industry. By definition we cannot divorce agriculture from the land. But it seems that enterprises which could be set up in disused cotton mills on the edge of Lancashire towns, and entirely dependent on imported feeds, are now to be allowed to make claims on the taxpayer, provided that they do not ask for more than £100,000 over two years. What happens if such a scheme collapses after two years? No land has been improved. Are the taxpayers just going to lose their money? By all means let us think more of the business and management side of farming; but do not let us forget that, ultimately, farming depends on land and good husbandry, which means looking after the land well.
I come now to my last and quite short point. Here I must admit that I had some contact with one of the noble Lord's advisers just before we met this afternoon—it was before the Statement made by the Leader of the House, and I hope that I did not commit any great mistake. I asked him to tell the noble Lord that I proposed in my final sentence to ask a question which I would think appropriate to ask on the Second Reading of this Bill. The question is: what line do the Government propose to take at the World Food Congress of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations which is to take place at The Hague in June—that is to say, seven weeks from now, which is not a very long time? I have a particular interest in this meeting, as I was a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the last World Food Congress in Washington in 1963. Therefore I know how important our agricultural policy is, not just to us here in this country but to the whole world.
§ 5.31 p.m.
My Lords, I think this Bill can be fairly described as a standstill order. However, I am not going to discuss that. What I propose to do is to discuss two aspects of agriculture: first, the agricultural industry and the Common Market, which will affect everyone in these Islands; and secondly, the eradication of brucellosis, which will benefit the farming community and the small proportion of humans suffering from the disease.
On the first point, I would ask: have we got our priorities right? It seems to me that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is under the thumb of the Treasury, and maybe to a certain extent under the thumb of the Board of Trade, as to how far agriculture is to be encouraged. Surely this should be a Cabinet decision. Entry into the Common Market is going to put up the price of food very substantially—I saw in the Daily Express that fillet of beef is going to be 10s. lb. In addition, all food imported to this country will be subject to the levy of the Common Market Agricultural Fund. What is the answer? Home production, I estimate, can be put up by £1,000 million a year during the next five years. Should not the Ministry make a start now by increasing subsidies and support by a further £300 million a year? This contribution would be felt throughout the country; it would help the farm machinery producer, the building trade and the fertiliser industry, be-sides the whole farming community; and when we enter the Common Market we can meet them on our own terms.
With regard to brucellosis, I have read the White Paper and also what is in the Bill. There are three points that I should like to bring out. First, brucellosis should be a notifiable disease in cattle and in humans. Stamping reactors on the hide with a "B" so that they can be recognised in markets should be a "must"; and the disease in humans should qualify under industrial diseases for compensation. Eradication should not wait until 1971, but should be started now. I have the feeling that the Ministry are saving face by not starting now.
The present scheme has failed, and I welcome the announcement that the Ministry are setting up a department on brucellosis. The all-Party Committee of 674 your Lordships' House on brucellosis, under the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, of which I am a member, is to meet the Ministry on May 8, and therefore I do not propose to put any more of my proposals to your Lordships now.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, for having kindly changed places with me on the list of speakers in order to enable me to fulfil certain other duties. I think that some of your Lordships may be rather surprised, and possibly even shocked, at my temerity in intervening in an agricultural debate. I should like to say straight away that I make no pretence of doing so in any sense as an agricultural expert. It is true that I cultivate about one-third of an acre with my own unaided hands, and without benefit of subsidy or grant of any kind. If I were to receive a grant, I think it would not be an improvement grant, but probably a deterioration grant. But, my Lords, as perhaps the first per-son in this country to advocate an incomes policy, I have a great interest in the distribution of income throughout the community, and as a country dweller I have a great concern for the welfare of the agricultural community among whom I live. It is from that point of view that I hope your Lordships will allow me to make a few observations about this Bill.
The most interesting Part of the Bill from that point of view is that which deals with capital grants. Capital grants, I understand, are to be rationalised. May I say, in passing, that every time agricultural grants or subsidies are rationalised or integrated I have a renewed shock of discovery at what an enormous number of individual grants there are, and I wonder whether there is anything that can be done upon the land, except the sort of thing that I do, for which a grant is not payable. I sometimes suppose that the fanner gets a grant when he goes into the shed, another grant when he picks up the fork, and a grant when he takes the fork and puts it into the ground. But, of course, he does not use forks. I should have said tractors: and for that I think he has been in the position of getting a grant.
I gather that the general tendency of grant proposed in this Bill is not only 675 to be rationalised, but in some degree to be liberalised; and, of course, quite apart from the Bill, there is a temporary liberalisation (that is a Conservative word for increase) of capital grants already contracted. Notwithstanding this, we know that the farmers are very discontented; they are very cross. Even the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, seemed to be quite cross at the beginning of his speech, although by the end he had returned to what is his normally equable temperament. The farmers are cross, and they are demonstrating to show their crossness. Like other demonstrators and protestors, they hope that by making themselves a public nuisance they will win public sympathy, which I have always thought to be a rather curious form of logic. They are, and have been, obstructing the roads with their tractors and their cars. The farmers themselves, like the agricultural workers referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, sometimes have quite good cars; and I do not know whether the petrol that they use in their cars when they are on protest is petrol that counts as part of the cost of their farming enterprise. But they are protesting, and they have threatened to do still more protesting which will cause still more public inconvenience.
I raise no objection to this at all; what I raise objection to is that they have given the general public like myself no information on which to judge how far their protests are justified. I say this because I think I have done everything that the ordinary layman could be expected to do. I do not read the professional farming and agricultural Press, but I listen regularly every day to the early morning farming programme on the B.B.C., and to the slightly longer programme on Saturday mornings. I admit that I do so because it is my alarm call, and slightly better timed than the religious programme which follows it. I have found it an extremely educative experience. From many weeks of listening to this programme I have heard about the farmers' complaints, the farmers' suffering and the farmers' falling prices, but I have never heard a single fact that enabled me to judge the validity of their complaints, because I have never heard a single fact about the impact of this upon their incomes. The only fact that 676 I have been able to gather from weeks of listening to this programme, before the Price Review, was that the farmers thought that the aggregate income of the industry ought to be increased by about £148 million. It has been increased, I believe, by something rather more than half that sum. This seems to me to be an extremely serious omission.
I read an article not so long since in New Society, which gave a very interesting picture of the whole situation of the farming industry in a rather wider con-text than the special interests of the farmers. This article mentioned in passing: "The farmers, one of the wealthiest sections of the community." I waited to see the National Fanners' Union rise indignantly to refute the suggestion that they were "one of the wealthiest sections of the community". But there was silence; nothing happened. When other groups of people ask for more money, the ordinary person reading the ordinary Press gets a pretty good idea of what they are asking for and how much they hope to receive. This is true of wage earners, but it cannot be true in the same sense of farmers—I recognise this— because they do not earn wages; they live on a business and make profits. Comparable information could be given. Comparable information undoubtedly is possessed by the National Fanners' Union, information that would tell us what has been the trend in farming in-comes, the spread of farming incomes, the income of the large, successful, efficient farmer; and what the income is of the small and unsuccessful and possibly in-efficient farmer. It was only when the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, spoke this afternoon that I heard for the first time any figures about farming incomes. He told us that the farmers' incomes had gone up by 12 per cent. since 1964 and other people's incomes by 38 per cent.; that the net incomes of the rest of the world had gone up by 8 per cent., and the farmers' incomes had gone down by 17 per cent. I hope I have quoted the noble Lord correctly.
The information must be given if we are to form a judgment as to whether this Bill goes far enough, or whether it goes too far, and to form a judgment about the whole agricultural policy of the Government. There will be Amendments to this Bill in Committee, and we 677 are urgently in need of information on this kind of concrete picture of the economic position of the farming community before we can judge whether we should or should not sympathise with those Amendments.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Baroness for one moment. I should have liked to go into more de-tails to justify my figures, but that was really outside the scope of the debate, and I felt that I should be taking a liberty with this noble House. I think that the noble Baroness has a point here, but it really requires some occasion for a general debate when we could then bring out these figures in detail.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will understand that I am not making the slightest criticism of him for not having given the figures to-day; indeed he went perhaps further to-day than we had a right to ask. 1 am merely saying that this Bill is in a sense a platform which enables me to say that this information is not being given outside this House. What the noble Lord gave to-day within this House will have some general circulation, but we all know that it does not have a very wide circulation. Before we can make up our minds about this Bill and about Amendments to this Bill (which the noble Lord is going to propose apparently on a very extensive scale) and about agricultural policy generally, we must have concrete information as to what the farmers' position is. All we know—and all I knew until the noble Lord spoke to-night—is that the farmers are very cross, and I do not know whether I ought to be very cross, too. I am quite prepared to be cross on their behalf if they will show me that they have good reason.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I had hoped to take part in this debate, by which I mean not only to speak in it but also to listen to all the speeches that have been made and will be made. Unfortunately, I was unable to come into the Chamber until very recently, and so I have not been able to listen to earlier speeches. I therefore intended not to take any part in the debate, but having listened to the noble Baroness I 678 have been stimulated to rise to my feet just for a brief moment. There are many things I should like to take up from her speech, but as she and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, have correctly pointed out, it would be straying too wide from the actual terms of the Bill which we are discussing.
However, just in passing I would say to the noble Baroness that I share with her the anxiety about farmers' protests, and I should be very unhappy to see them to go further. I am afraid that farmers are increasingly learning the lesson that even with a Socialist Government the rewards for contribution to the community are not always distributed according to the social services that are performed, or to the desserts of the people, but are, even with the present Government, distributed in large measure according to the noise that people are able to make. We have seen many examples of that in the past and 1 am afraid that that is the reason why farmers are now moving towards this rather novel form of attempt to obtain higher prices for their produce.
I can assure the noble Baroness that the margin of profit that farmers have been enjoying (if that is the right word) over the past ten or even 15 years, has been steadily declining. The stage has now been reached where a large section of the farming community, apart from a few extremely favoured farmers (favoured because of the actual formation of their farm or the fertility of their soil, or other circumstances, or because of their innate high skill), are not able now to make a profit, by which I mean to produce accounts which, after a nor-mal chartered accountant had finished manipulating them, would show any profit for the shareholders in that particular enterprise. That does not mean to say that they are not able to pay their bills, for they are able to pay their bills.
One of the great dangers about farming from the national point of view—not from the farmers' point of view so much —is that: there are many ways of cutting corners and trimming off a little bit here and there which does not immediately affect the productivity of the farm or the standard of living of the farmer but over the years has a slowly eroding effect. So at the end of ten or twenty years—and we are approaching the end of that period 679 now—the fertility of the national farm has been significantly impaired. It is for that reason, rather than for the reason of the actual profit of the farmers themselves as individuals, that we must take very grave concern at the situation.
So far as the farmer himself is concerned, it is perfectly correct to say that if he does not like the conditions under which he is farming, nobody is compelling him to stay in the industry. That is a harsh, economist's point of view, and there are many social and personal reasons why it is difficult for a farmer who has been on a farm for twenty or thirty years, or even longer, to move out and go and do something else. But it is a legitimate argument, which I accept, that if he thinks that the margin of profit in the present circumstances is too low for the standard of living he would like, and does not give him a fair reward for the skill and hard work he is putting in and the money he is investing, he should move out into something else. I hope that that will not happen, but that is an economist's argument and I would not attempt to refute it. However, I would say to the Government and all those who are responsible for farming policy that it is not only hardship to the farmer and those engaged in agriculture which should exercise our minds; the damage which is being done to the fertility of the soil of this country—which is very limited and growing smaller every day—should give us the greatest cause for concern.
To come to this particular Bill, my noble friend mentioned the various grants and subsidies which are being made to agriculture. It is perfectly true that there are a great many of them. Other industries, of course, receive grants of different kinds as well. Even the hotel industry, for instance, receives a grant for enlarging premises and modernisation, which is in the national interest because it encourages our invisible exports. It is fair; it should be done and it is right. I think it is a wise move. But it would be un-fortunate if people had the idea that farmers were the only ones who received such special credits.
However, one point should be brought out (and I apologise if other noble Lords have dealt with it earlier when I was not here) and that is the low return on capital in agriculture to-day. My 680 noble friend asked about farm accounts. Unfortunately, I have not any in my pockets; I have not any absolutely clearly in my head. In any case, individual accounts are of no great significance. The reports of the provincial agricultural economists are far more important and they are readily available. But there is one point which those who are not conversant with agriculture must bear in mind: the differentiation between ownership of land and the cultivation of that land. The ownership of land may be in the same hands as the cultivation of the land; in other words, the tenant farmer may be his own landlord. But in about 50 per cent. of the cases in this country he is not and he pays a rent to a landlord, a separate person. But when we are talking about profits we must clearly differentiate between these two functions and distinguish between the return on landlord capital and the return on tenant capital.
Return on landlord capital to-day is a difficult matter to assess because the price of land, for reasons entirely unconnected with the productive capacity of that land, has been rising steadily. But if one takes the return on land as something between 3½ and 4 per cent., and charges the owner-occupier, the farmer who is his own landlord, with that as a rent charge in the first instance, that I think gives a pretty fair division. I do not think it encourages very many hard-headed financiers with an eye only to return on capital, or even to capital appreciation, to invest in land, although there are many who for various other reasons do so.
We are then left with what profit comes after that. I do not think there are many farmers—large farming companies or small, individual farmers—who, after paying a fair charge for their own managerial work or their own manual work (a small farmer may milk his own cows and drive his own tractor) will be able to show on their balance sheet, properly audited and prepared by a qualified accountant, a return of more than 10 per cent. on capital. And I am putting it very high indeed. I know none myself who can do that. Over the last few years I think 8 per cent. has been a very average figure.
Now if any of your Lordships were to go along to a merchant banker in the City and say, "I have here a project for keeping cows,"—or for growing barley 681 or producing potatoes, or whatever it may be; any agricultural project you like— "These are my accounts over the past few years and I want to expand. I have been making 8 per cent. on capital. Will you put up another £10,000"—or £100,000, or half a million—" for this project?", he would politely laugh you out of his room, because merchant bankers do not work on a margin of 8 per cent. with luck. So far as I know, they want: at least 20 per cent. and possibly 25 per cent. for operations which are a good deal more secure than is agriculture, with all the hazards not only of Government policy but of climate, disease and the other factors which affect farmers. Therefore, one has to accept the fact that farming to-day is working on an infinitely smaller margin—about a 10 per cent. margin—of return on capital, com-pared with the margins in almost any other risk industry.
If farming is to raise the capital which in the national interest is needed for efficient production, there are three courses open to the Government. One is to raise the margin of profits so that 8 per cent. becomes 20 per cent., which would mean a very significant rise in farm prices and a considerable rise in food costs to the consumer, too. The second course is one they have very largely adopted: grants for certain specified capital improvements, so that 20, 30 or 40 per cent. of the cost of a capital improvement is put up, which in effect means that one can borrow money at 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. of the going rate because that proportion has been put up by the Government interest free. But that has the drawback of selecting only certain activities and leaving a large range of farming activities entirely un-helped in this connection. It also has the drawback that only those fanners who have the remaining 60 or 70 per cent. themselves, or have sufficient credit-worthiness to be able to borrow it, or (shall I say?) sufficient rashness to be prepared to borrow it, can benefit in these matters.
The third possibility, which I would urge upon my noble friend to consider with real willingness, is to adopt a policy which has been pretty successful in certain Continental countries: that is, to provide the facility of special agriculture credit banks which will lend at cheap rates 682 of interest to fanners, not only for capital improvements but for certain aspects of (their working capital, too. That, in effect, would give a considerable easing of the financial burden to farmers, with a relatively small burden on the Exchequer and a relatively small burden on the officials who have to implement capital grants and such facilities. I believe that we can learn quite a bit about how to deal with these matters from studying the experience of some of our neighbouring countries. It would, incidentally— this may appeal to some of your Lord-ships, although not to others—help to bring us rather more closely in line with common agricultural policy against the time when we enter the Common Market. I believe that provision of this facility is (I will put it no higher than this) well worthy of close study.
The only other point I wish to make on this subject, altough I may be straying a little wide of the Bill, is to impress largely upon my noble friend, again, the problems which arise in the agricultural industry as a. result of the Annual Price Review. As she may remember, this all stems from the 1947 Agriculture Act, introduced by my late dearly loved friend, Tom Williams, which was of inestimable benefit to agriculture at the time. But in times of rapidly rising inflation a guarantee that prices will not fall more than 4 per cent. is of very little value indeed; and to attempt both to control the profits of farming and, at the same time, to direct farm production in the way the Government wish, by an annual manipulation of prices, has now been shown to be completely useless. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Hughes replies he will be able to give some encouragement to the thinking which has been adumbrated recently: that farming policy may in future be directed by a longer-term policy than is possible under an Annual Price Review, and that the rewards to the farmer should be treated in an entirely separate way.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down may I say that I am most grateful to him for having educated me, but this is not really the point of my remarks. The point of my remarks is that the information he has given—as well as some of the information given by the 683 noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford —is of vital importance to the wider public, whose sympathies the farmers are trying to get. Will the noble Lord please publicise very much more widely than within the four corners of this House what he said?
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, this is a wide-ranging Bill and the discussion on it this afternoon has been wide-ranging. Indeed, the noble Baroness opposite got well off on to the related topics mentioned in the Short Title, and in fact got beyond any close relationship.
I intervene only to draw attention to two rather esoteric aspects of the problem of foot-and-mouth disease, dealt with by the Northumberland Committee, and to a certain extent in another place. It has also been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, who objected to the ring inoculation to which the Government seemed to be rather loosely com-mitted—because the noble Lord who introduced the Bill seemed to deprecate ring inoculation almost as much as did the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, suggesting that it should be used only in exceptional circumstances. What worries me, and leads me to intervene now, when I had intended not to speak, was that very statement of the noble Lord when he introduced the Bill. In my experience, things which are intended to be used only in exceptional circumstances receive only exceptional consideration—which means very little consideration at all; and I am somewhat nervous that the fullest preparations may not be made. As the 1968 epidemic swept northwards we were all worried by the disasters which were befalling a number of fanners. But biologists, in particular, were very disturbed as the area of the epidemic grew closer and closer to the wild white cattle which are kept by the noble Earl, Lord Tankerville, at Chillingham. If not descended from the original wild cattle —the urns referred to by Julius Caesar —they are certainly descended from feral cattle which were hunted in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Chilling-ham herd is unique. Its disappearance would be almost as disastrous, so far as science is concerned, as was the disappearance of the dodo or the great auk; 684 and many of us made representations to the Minister about what was going to happen.
By and large, the sort of feeling one had was that the Ministry were throwing their hands into the air and saying, "All we can do is to shoot the lot if anything happens." That would seem to be the sort of place where some form of vaccination might be essential. Technically, of course, there would be the difficulty of getting close to semi-wild animals; but from the veterinary point of view these animals are genetically very close to, and related to, the ordinary cattle which are inoculated, and there would be no difficulty.
There is also the related problem of the exotic animals kept in zoos and parks up and down the country, many of which —primarily of course the wild oxen, the wild sheep and the wild pigs—are as prone to foot-and-mouth as are their domestic relations. Many other animals, such as deer, antelope, gazelles and the like—indeed, all the cloven-footed animals—are also susceptible to the disease. In a number of places there are herds of animals which, from the point of view of the scientist, are as important as the Chillingham cattle. In a number of zoos there are herds of animals that are extinct, or nearly extinct, in the wild, and the loss of even the small amount of captive stock that exists in this country could be very serious indeed. The out-standing ones, of course, are the Pè e David's deer, which belong to the noble Duke, the Duke of Bedford, and are to be found at Whipsnade. They are extinct in their native country and were kept for posterity only by the late Duke of Bedford.
There is not only the problem of bringing under control the animals which are wild, many of them highly nervous (some of them can die of shock if they are roughly handled), but there is also the fundamental difficulty—and it is one that requires a great deal of research—that they are not so closely related to the animals for whom the vaccine is pre-pared as are the wild cattle at Chilling-ham. One does not know the dose, and in particular there is a grave danger that part of the inoculant can do a great deal of harm. The vaccine used is a dead vaccine and, as such, is unlikely to do 685 any harm to anything, but it usually has in it an inorganic substance which activates the tissue to make antibodies in the presence of the dead vaccine. Nobody really knows the full effects of this inorganic addition which makes the vaccine operative.
It is into these points that I would urge the Government to encourage more and more investigations. The Zoological Society of London gave evidence to the Northumberland Committee, and its scientific officers are now engaged, with the virus research station at Pirbright, in investigating the problems involved. But I must confess that, if the sort of deprecatory attitude towards inoculation which we have heard this afternoon is fundamental policy, I am nervous in case in the heat of the next invasion of foot-and-mouth this problem is dealt with without proper preparation beforehand. I would therefore urge Her Majesty's Government to take full steps to see that this research is not only allowed—it is allowed already—but is definitely encouraged, because the scientific results would be important, and the preservation of some of these strains of animals is important, too.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, a misfortune which befell me this morning will perhaps be your Lordships' good fortune this afternoon. Shortly after falling out of my sleeper, I discovered that I had left my notes in the train, and in spite of persistent efforts this morning, at 12 o'clock I received a message from British Rail to say that the notes had been consumed in a British Rail incinerator.
There has been mention this afternoon on a number of occasions of the poor remuneration of the farmer, and this has been challenged. I am sorry that the noble Baroness is no longer with us: what she has said prompts me to make some comments. No one has denied, however, the very poor remuneration of our workers; and I think this must be borne out by the extreme difficulties we now have in securing good agricultural workers They are all going to other work where they get much better remuneration. Something must be done about it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, referred to the lack of information for the public. Just before the Price Review, 686 the N.F.U. published, I thought very widely, the average return on farms. Farmers were holding sales at the prices they receive as producers. I cannot quite follow why the plight of the farmer has not got home to the public. I hope the N.F.U. will consult the noble Baroness, and perhaps she will help us in getting over to the public the information that we should all like them to have. One always hears the "crack" about the fanner's car. A car is an essential piece of machinery for most of us. I should have liked to give the noble Baroness a ride in my car; she would have found it rusted by salt outside and chewed by a dog inside. I am sure that many other farmers' cars are much the same.
There has been mention of re-vaccination for foot-and-mouth disease. It was only this morning that I heard of this possibility. I agree with the Government, as my noble friend Lord Cranbrook did, that there should be much wider examination of this before it becomes law. As my noble friend said, in the heat of the moment it could easily be implemented, perhaps without due consideration, and I would beg the Government to consult the industry about this matter before they proceed further.
On the vexed question of Clause 99, I would name it the Rural Rogues Charter. I think: it is typical of the Government, who have constantly aggravaled the fanners' lot and throughout their term of office aided the layabout and the lazy. However, this clause is perhaps not quite as bad as it at first appears, and I do not think it is as bad as my noble friend Lord Massereene feared. Already it takes at least six months, possibly nine months, to get someone evicted. Therefore, to give a compulsory six months may not greatly alter the present situation. It means, however, that perhaps for a day's work a man can get six months' security in a house rent free, possibly rate free. I cannot believe that this is a fair piece of legislation. The effect of being unable to occupy one's house has been mentioned by other speakers, and it must be a serious detriment to farming if one can-not have one's houses occupied for the purpose for which they are there.
This also raises the question of being able to let houses which are perhaps not required at the moment. There are a considerable number of houses lying 687 empty throughout the rural areas simply because the farmer dare not let them if there is any chance of his wanting them again. Once he has received the rent for them he is tied by the Rent Restriction Act. There is one phrase that I should like to have clarified. It speaks of, "other suitable accommodation". Suitable for what? I wonder if the Minister can tell us. I am not quite clear on that.
Finally, we have the question of brucellosis. There are one or two points I should like to add to Lord Nunburnholme's remarks. In spite of considerable pressure in both Houses from all sides, and almost unanimous demands from the industry and from the medical and veterinary professions, there has been scandalous delay over implementation of this eradication scheme. The Government have been complacent, parsimonious and half-hearted over this disease. I may seem heated over this. We are still awaiting confirmation, but it seems almost certain now that a second member of my family has contracted this disease, so I have some grounds for feeling strongly. My wife has nearly re-covered, but it now appears that my daughter has nearly all the symptoms of the disease. The majority of farmers, even with infected animals, are now hanging back waiting for replacement grants by way of hillage payments as announced by the Government on March 24.
I welcome the action so far as it goes, but it is not nearly enough. One point which has arisen, particularly from the dairy farmer, is that once you have the disease on your ground you are advised to keep no more breeding stock on that ground for six months for fear that they will pick up the disease again. If you are going to have a dairy herd off the ground for more than six months you must be able to plan ahead. Would the Government announce those areas which are likely to be clearance areas in the very near future, but at least in 1971? This will be a considerable help to the agricultural community. Again it comes out absolutely unanimously from all those interested other than, apparently, the Government, that it should be an offence to expose for sale other than for slaughter an animal known to be a reactor. Research 688 on the effect of the disease on sheep worries me. We have heard about this in cattle, but there is some doubt about the amount in sheep. There have been alarming reports. If one is looking at the disease, I feel that sheep should also be considered.
§ LORD MONK BRETTON
My Lords, I should like to intervene very briefly to ask one question which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, may be able to clear up. It concerns Clause 101, the Agricultural Training Board levies. Is the whole cost of the uncollected levies to be recovered from the body of farmers through the Price Review? If this premise is correct, I am wondering whether there is justification in a proposal to secure justice for those who paid previously, to give them a refund. Otherwise it might be felt that they were paying more than once. That is the one point I wanted to raise, and I am sorry not to have mentioned it earlier.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is always very conscientious and painstaking in replying to a debate. I know how often he is torn grievously between his desire to be polite to everybody and his desire to make a short speech. I do not think I shall add anything to his problems this evening, because I do not intend to ask him to answer any questions. All I am going to do is to allude briefly to what seem to me to have been the salient points in this debate which we shall probably have to talk about a good deal more in Committee, whether the Committee stage takes only two days, as I hope it may, or whether it takes four days, as Lord Henley feared it might. But I do not expect any reply from the Government now.
I thought, and I am sure that most of your Lordships agreed, that the remarks of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford were a really brilliant analysis on Part I of the Bill. His criticism was trenchant, but it was balanced with praise for what he approved of, and I certainly could not add anything to what he said about Part I. But I should like to stress one thing he said. If the new Eggs Authority are going to organise a scheme for selling eggs or for creating a reserve, if the expenses of that scheme are to 689 be paid for 100 per cent. by the producers of eggs, and if the Board are not even elected by the producers but appointed by the Government, surely it is at least right that there should be a poll among the producers of eggs to decide whether, and how, this scheme shall be conducted. I should have thought that this would be a beneficial change in the Bill which the Government might well make, and that it would be very much in the Government's interest and in the interest of everybody else that they should do so. It seems to me that if this were not done, then Part I of the Bill, so far as this aspect of it is concerned, would probably not work, because it would cause so much resentment; whereas I think we all want it to work. Therefore, I hope that the Government will favourably consider on Committee stage making what seems to me to be a wholly beneficial change in the Bill.
The change which has probably caused most concern among farmers in relation to this Bill, and which many of your Lordships have discussed, is the removal of the investment grant on tractors and combines. Until four or five years ago investment allowances were made to farmers. We on this side of the House think, for reasons which I will not argue now, that they were better than the in-vestment grants which replaced them in 1966. Now the investment grants for tractors and combines are to be taken away, and the farmers are anxious to know how they are going to be compensated, as the Government say they will be.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that the same total amount of money would be paid in investment grants but that it would be distributed in a different way. We must bear in mind that since the disappearance of the farm horse (which I think is greatly to be regretted aesthetically, but is one of the things which have happened) the tractor, particularly, but also the combine harvester, have become the principal working implements of the small and the medium farmer, who may find it a little difficult to understand how he is going to be compensated for the loss of the investment allowance (now the investment grant) on these essential parts of his machinery.
690 I do not know whether I understood Lord Beswick correctly or not—no doubt he will correct me if I am wrong—but I think the noble Lord said that it would be compensated for partly by raising the grant on other things from 30 to 40 per cent.; and then I thought he said that it would be partly made up by a reduction in taxation, presumably on the depreciation allowances. This puzzled me a little, because the reason why the present Government changed the allowances from investment allowances to investment grants was that they said that the investment allowances operated in favour of the rich farmer, who paid a lot of income tax, whereas the poor farmer, who might not be within any income tax bracket, got nothing. Now the noble Lord seems to be arguing that the poor farmer will get benefit of tax rebate although he pays no tax, which seems to me not to make sense and to be a contradiction of the reason for having changed these investment allowances to investment grants.
The next point which I think has raised most anxiety among many of your Lord-ships is Clause 99 of the Bill, which changes the legal reasons for which possession of a service tenancy farm dwelling-house may be recovered after the occupant has ceased to be employed by the farmer. This is a difficult matter. The Scottish National Farmers' Union stated through their labour relations officer that they knew that this was an emotive subject, and they said that they would examine carefully and sympathetically this change which the Government proposed. But what we have not yet heard, either here or, I think, in another place, is any reason why Section 33 of the 1965 Act has not been entirely adequate and satisfactory in carrying out this purpose, and why there is any need to change it.
This is a question of particular con-sequence to Scottish farming, because it so happens that in Scotland, as com-pared with England, an unusually large proportion of farms are comparatively remote from any centres of population and therefore depend for their efficient working on having attached to the farm itself service dwelling-houses which must be occupied by people who are working the farm. What worries me particularly about Clause 99 of this Bill is the change 691 of wording defining the reasons why a dwelling-house may be recovered. Under the 1965 Act a fanner can recover his service tenancy house if it is proved to the court that this is necessary for the "efficient management" of the farm. That is a phrase which seems reasonably simple and easy for a court to interpret, and for a layman to understand. In this Bill it is changed. Instead of having to show that this is necessary for efficient management, the farmer has to show that the continuance of the farm will not be reasonably practicable unless he recovers possession of the house. What is intended to be the difference in shade of meaning between "efficient management" of a farm, and the "reasonable practicability" of carrying on a farm? Surely, in ordinary common sense, whatever the interpretation, it must mean lowering the standard of farming which is expected to be fulfilled by the occupier of the farm.
At the present time a Scottish farmer in a remote upland district can recover his service tenancy house if he proves to the court that it is necessary for the efficient management of his farm. Under this Bill, if it is shown to the court that he can, somehow or other, get along, limping on one leg, in a less efficient way, with lower production, and can man-age somehow to carry on in a second or third grade way, he is not then allowed to recover possession of the service house. If the change of wording does not mean that, what is the point of having any change in the wording at all? It seems to me not to make sense; or, if it does make sense, to mean that the Government are deliberately envisaging the lowering of farming standards by preventing farmers from recovering a service tenancy house.
I think that in Committee we must press for something more to be said by the Government on two points. The first is, what is the evidence against the working of the 1965 Act? Is there any reason to think that the 1965 Act has operated harshly or unfairly against farm-workers whose employment has ceased? I have not seen any such evidence. If there is any, I hope that the Government will give it. Secondly, what is the meaning of this change of words? I think that that also is important.
692 There are other points which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and others have mentioned on Clause 33, which changes the terms of amalgamation—a change which I always thought was bound to occur. Even in an agricultural backwater it is not humanly possible to pre-scribe what shall be done to a farm for the next 40 years. If you do, people will not pay attention to you, and it will be changed anyhow in the next 20 years. I am glad the Government have taken this early opportunity of making the term 15 years instead of 40. I think that is much more sensible.
Many of your Lordships have mentioned brucellosis. Most of your Lord-ships have welcomed what the Bill does, but some have said that it does not go far enough, and that a great deal more ought to be done. I entirely sympathise with this impatience, but with the best will in the world, these things often take a long time. Some of us are old enough to remember how long it took to eradicate tuberculosis from our herds. Scotland was far ahead in this: she had finished long before England in eradicating tuberculosis from cattle. The reason why I think these things cannot be carried out by means of a "crash" programme— though we should all like to see one— is simply that there are not enough vets in the world, or in this country, to do it as quickly as we should like it to be done.
Finally, I believe that my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood was right when she said that the test of everything should be, "Will it increase production or not?" My noble friend seemed to think that I might disagree with her about the desir-ability of replacing sheep farms with trees. Well, I never disagree with the noble Baroness about anything; it is a most unwise thing to do, and also most distasteful to me. I always agree with what she says. But I think that in the case of land which is afforested at the moment, however much you dislike it, you have at least the consolation that you are increasing production in a certain way which will—although you cannot eat it—save millions of tons of shipping, and hundreds of millions of pounds on our balance of payments. What I am thinking of is the land which will not be afforested, which is not intended by any-body to be afforested.
693 I think I have perhaps more than once argued in your Lordships' House that farming is the only industry in this country which has, for a very long time, 25 or 30 years, voluntarily submitted to, and carried out, a continuously controlled in-comes policy without any strikes—although lately there have been a few demonstrations which have, at last, been provoked by a sense of unfairness. But the incomes policy has worked, and I am afraid no one can deny that it has worked to the disadvantage of the farmers, who have seen the standard of living of other people go up by 8 per cent. over a period in which their own has fallen by 17 per cent.
I wonder whether we could apply an incomes policy according to the principle which is supposed to be applied to other industry, that higher productivity is re-warded by higher wages, by more money: because the farmer has been increasing his productivity, been growing more food with less labour, and has been getting less money for it, and that is the cause of his discontent. I doubt if we shall ever by our present methods bring about a really satisfactory increase in agricultural output that will bring the farmer a satisfactory reward. There is no hope, in the present circumstances, of achieving the November, 1968, programme of expansion: the farmers have not the cash to do it. Even now the Bank of England claims great credit in bringing the bank rate down to 7 per cent.; but we always used to think 6 per cent. was a crisis rate of interest. In Scotland, where the banks charge 2 per cent. above bank rate, the 7 per cent. means that a farmer has to pay 9 per cent. on his bank overdraft, which is pretty prohibitive when a man is trying to improve the quality of his farm and can only raise capital from the bank.
I do not think we shall break through this situation until we change the system by which agricultural prices are maintained or improved. Personally, I have no doubt that there would be an immense improvement in the prosperity of British farming if (a subject which some of your Lordships have mentioned in this debate) we were to become members of the Common Market. I know that there are misgivings in Scotland; they are afraid that hill farming might not be entitled to the subsidies which it is now getting. 694 I think this is a point which was always discussed by our representatives who negotiated from 1961 to 1963 and who have tried to negotiate since; and my understanding is that they have always been told by the people with whom they were negotiating, or with whom they would be negotiating, that there would be no difficulty at all in arranging an agreement by which our special treatment for hill farming would be continued.
That is how I understand the position, and the Six certainly have had no difficulty in making arrangements of a special kind among each other in the past. I was very sorry to hear about the apples of my noble friend Lord Monckton of Brenchley. I am afraid that I do not know enough about "pomiculture" (if there is such a word) to give him an answer. But I sympathise very much with his feelings and I hope that, if there is an answer, the Government will give it to him at some time.
To sum up this Bill, it obviously does not contain any coherent theme. It is really an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, partly good and partly less good, and with 110 clauses it is unconscionably long. It is rather like a sermon preached by a minister who has a few laudable ideas in his head, but who is dreadfully longwinded and discursive. It is a Bill whose good points we all welcome, but its merit is not commensurate with its length.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I should, first of all, like to express my thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and say that their contributions are valuable to all of us. Agriculture is, of course, a subject which particularly enables this House to fulfil in a very special and useful way its function as a Second Chamber. I shall try to deal with as many points as possible, but I am sure the House will forgive me if I have to exercise a certain measure of selection in the interests of a reasonable length of speech.
It was the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who referred to the fact that there had been a certain amount of criticism that there was no central theme in this Bill, although he made it clear that he did not subscribe to that criticism. The Bill covers twelve subjects, and the noble 695 Earl, Lord Dundee, said that it was too long. But with twelve subjects 110 clauses is only a little over 9 clauses per subject; and of all the subjects which are contained in the Bill the only one which anyone has suggested should be omitted is the one on tied cottages. So I take it that there are something approaching 100 clauses dealing with subjects which are perfectly acceptable to every noble Lord who has spoken. So the criticism that the Bill is too long surely falls on that score.
If we are dealing with twelve subjects, of which eleven are almost entirely accepted, then, obviously, there can be no common theme. What is there in common between the creation of an Eggs Authority, the regulation of smallholdings, the eradication of brucellosis and giving assistance to the Government of Northern Ireland in connection with weeds? It was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that he intended to put down quite a number of Amendments, and I look forward to finding out whether his contribution to the problems of the Government in that troubled Province is the substitution of the word "Paisley" in the way he suggested. A number of noble Lords were not at all dismayed by the fact that the Bill covers twelve subjects, because they suggested that it ought to cover more.
A considerable amount of time was devoted to references to the Annual Price Review. That, of course, is not strictly relevant to this Bill, but I think it would be wrong if I did not refer, perhaps somewhat briefly, to some of the points that have been made. My noble friend Lady Wootton allowed herself to be deceived by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, into thinking that he was cross at the beginning of this discussion. As a matter of fact, he very soon abandoned the pretence of being cross and reverted to his usual helpful, equable self. I, unlike my noble friend, was not deceived at all.
He opened his remarks by referring to the current position over the net income of the industry and the measures which were taken by the Government following the recent Annual Review. A comparison of income trends and the figures which the noble Lord mentioned does not take full account of important factors, such as the decline in the number of fulltime 696 farms, and a percentage decline in the total industry does not necessarily mean a similar percentage decline in even the average income of the farmers who remain in the industry. Income per farm is certainly not as bad as was suggested.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to ask him whether he will give us the numbers of the decline in fulltime fanners, as given in the White Paper? They are not all that many. I looked them up myself.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, we know that it has been part of the Government's policy to encourage amalgamations and it has not been entirely unsuccessful. So far as I gather, amalgamating a number of farms into larger units does not increase the number of farms; I think it diminishes them. So whether the number is small or large, the figure is a diminution, as the noble Lord well knows.
This Government have done much for the agricultural industry. Over the five Reviews from 1965 to 1969 we have recouped nearly 80 per cent. of the increases in costs. Over the previous five Reviews less than 30 per cent. of the increases in costs were recouped. One wonders why the demonstrations did not take place at the end of those five difficult Reviews. This year costs have again been more than fully recouped. This is the second time that this has happened in six years, but in the thirteen years—I hesitate to use that fateful figure, but it is straight arithmetic and not politics—from 1952 to 1964 that was done only once; full recoupment took place only in 1964.
The sum of money allocated by the Government this year is greater than at any Review in the past. Special measures have been taken beyond the usual range of determinations, in order to meet this year's circumstances. Farmers will have the opportunity to expand their production, increase their productivity and earn higher incomes. I am sorry if we have not satisfied every farmer. I should be even more sorry if I believed that we had not satisfied any farmers. What I am quite certain is that no Government this side of time will ever be in the position of satisfying all farmers.
A number of noble Lords referred to the prospect of entry into the Common 697 Market, and to the implications that this would have for the country as a whole and for agriculture in particular. We had a debate on this subject only a month ago, and I do not want—and I am quite certain that noble Lords would not wish me to do so—to go over the same ground again. The Government's position remains today as it was then. The application is in, we recognise that entry would bring about certain problems, and we await negotiations.
The noble Lord, Lord Wise, suggested that at the Annual Review commodity end prices should have been further increased instead of our making increases in the agricultural capital giants, and some other noble Lords also put forward that point of view. The increases in the capital grants were specifically designed to meet the current situation. There were signs of a downturn in investment which needed to be corrected. It seemed better to use the funds available specifically for this purpose, and so show the Government's wish to get the investment which is needed for the selective expansion programme. The Government have of course taken a series of measures to help farmers find their share of the finance for investment. They have injected £54 million on the end prices of seven important commodities and £10 million on the fertiliser and lime subsidies. Interest rates have been reduced, and the forecast for net farm income in 1969–70, at £535 million, is already a record figure.
If I may come to the Bill itself, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, devoted a good deal of his remarks to the provisions of Part I of the Bill dealing with the Government's proposals on future subsidy and marketing arrangements for eggs. This is a field in which the noble Lord speaks, if I may say so, with special authority, and we therefore attach very great weight to his own endorsement of our general policy for establishing a basically free market for eggs and removing eggs from the guarantee arrangements. That being the case, I was all the more sorry to learn that he does not agree with our proposals for the financing of the new Eggs Authority. As my noble friend Lord Beswick explained in his opening speech, the Reorganisation Commission recommended that the Authority should 698 be financed wholly by levies on the industry. In our view, a Government contribution would be justified, and we have therefore provided in Clause 12 for a Government contribution towards the Authority's expenditure other than on advertising and market support. I appreciate what the noble Lord had to say about the value of national advertising, and obviously there is no specific "Yes" or "No" that can be put forward one way or the other. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, would wish us to go further than we are going, I have no doubt, but I am afraid that at the end of the day it is going to be a matter on which we shall get agreement only if we agree to differ.
Your Lordships will not expect me at this stage to comment on the principle of any Amendments which may be put down, particularly Amendments which require polls of registered producers to be held before levies are raised by the Authority either for market support or for advertising. All I would say is that I look forward to the usual pleasant eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, when we come to those Amendments.
My Lords, on the financing of the Eggs Authority, the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, had some misgivings, particularly in relation to sup-port buying, but our position was set out very clearly by my noble friend in his opening speech. The noble Viscount asked why we are making provision in Clause 26 of the Bill for a sea transport subvention in respect of eggs from the Orkneys as well as from Northern Ireland. I am not quite certain whether I heard the noble Viscount aright, because I thought he expressed surprise that eggs should be of any special interest in the Orkneys; but I may have misheard him. In any event, the answer is that it was recognised by the Reorganisation Commission that these are two areas which will be placed at a very special disadvantage when the Egg Board's arrangements for equalisation of trans-port costs on a United Kingdom basis come to an end. In Northern Ireland, as in the Orkneys, egg production is an element of special importance in the farming economy, and that is the reason why these two are singled out from the rest for this special treatment. Of course, 699 there are many islands on which eggs are produced, but they do not need a transport subvention because they eat them all themselves.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, may I just point out that I was not criticising the transport of eggs in Northern Ireland at all; I was just asking regarding the Orkneys, because I was curious as to why the Orkneys were singled out. But I was not criticising at all, in fact; I was only curious. Regarding Northern Ireland, I was in full support.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I could have understood it better if the noble Viscount, with his Scottish connections, had been criticising the position concerning the Irish and praising what we were doing in the Orkneys. It is a surprise to find that it is the other way round.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, ex-pressed some concern that the rates of grant under the farm capital grants pro-vided for in Clause 29 are not to be included in the Statute. I think he implied that this was a departure from the present practice, although I may be wrong in this. Although it is not proposed to include grant rates in the Statute, the Government are proposing to increase the degree of Parliamentary approval for changes in grant rates in some important respects, and I particularly bring that to the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. The grant rates must be included in the Scheme, which is subject to Parliamentary approval of both Houses. Your Lordships will remember that the recently announced increases in grant rates were made without any change in any Act of Parliament. Instead, they were made either by Order or by changes in the administrative arrangements. We think it is important that this flexibility should be maintained. It allows us to adjust rates according to the needs of the situation without waiting for up to a year for legislation. But, equally, we think it is highly desirable that the rates should be subject to Parliamentary approval. This, my Lords, is what the Bill provides.
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? Was I not right in saying that the Minister would say that this was 700 flexible? Secondly, when he speaks of flexibility, does he not think it would be really more flexible if Parliament were allowed the right to amend?
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, the noble Lord must not take it as a reproach to me that he correctly forecast at one stage what I might say. I would only reply that if it occurred to him that this is what I might say, it was because it occurred to him that this was the right answer.
The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, was concerned about the effect of ending the tractor grant on the position of the small farmer. More than once the Government have been twitted for changing ground on certain aspects. If I remember rightly, the term which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, used was that he could not grant us absolution. He seems at the present time to be in the position that he does not welcome converts. He would much rather be the Buddhist who was able to complain to the Mohammedan, "You are still a Mohammedan", rather than to be able to congratulate him and say, "You have become a Buddhist". The Opposition spends most of its time putting points of view forward to the Government, hoping that they will be accepted; and if, two or three years later, they are accepted, that appears to be yet another subject for reproach. If we have seen the light in certain ways, if we have conceded that, on the law of averages, the Opposition must be right once in a while, even though it is only once in two or three years, why should that be the subject of com-plaint? My Lords, it is correct that we have come round to Opposition arguments on some of these points.
Obviously, all farmers who pay income tax will be eligible, in relation to tractors, for the alternative of the initial tax allowance. Those small farmers who do not pay income tax are those who are least likely to be buying new tractors in the first place. In this respect, they may well benefit from the proposed changes. They would then be able to take advantage of the opportunities for grants in respect of investment in intensive production—and this could well be their best chance to obtain a more viable business. My Lords, I give the Opposition this: we have come completely round to their point of view. It is a very small consolation, perhaps, 701 if this is the only time we are admitting that, even in agriculture, they were right.
The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked about the provision of amalgamation grants for large farmers, who may be limited companies, and who take over small farms. In these cases amalgamations are eligible for grants, but it is important to remember that one of the main purposes of the farm structure grants is to help the man who wants to relinquish his land so that he can retire or direct his abilities to other fields. We do not want to restrict the outgoer's opportunities for selling his land, and getting a fair price for it, by imposing restrictions on the amalgamations which qualify for the benefits of the schemes so that sale to a large farmer is put outside the scope of assistance. The schemes are based on the voluntary principle, and we leave the outgoer to decide to whom he will sell his land. If the transaction brings about the absorption of a non-commercial unit and results in a unit which is fully commercial, then it can qualify for the farm-structure grants.
My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome given to Part III on smallholdings. I should particularly like to associate myself with the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, to Professor Wise for his two Reports on statutory smallholdings. I am quite sure that both the Government's and the local authorities' dealings with smallholdings will benefit from these very clear, full and closely reasoned Reports. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, expressed some dismay about the tendency to ever-larger farms, and urged the need to encourage co-operation between smaller producers. Statutory smallholdings are expressly designed for the relatively small producer, and Part III sets an upper limit to the size of smallholding for which local authorities' reorganisation plans should provide. The noble Lord will be glad to know also that Clause 47 enables smallholdings authorities to further the formation of co-operative bodies for the benefit of their tenants.
As I have said, only one section of this diverse Bill has received any strong opposition this afternoon. That was on the subject of tied cottages. A number of noble Lords were concerned about the possibility that a worker might take a 702 job for the sake of getting into a cottage and might then change his job, relying on the increased security given by the clause. It would be idle for me to deny this possibility, but I think that it was agreed, even by those who put it forward, that it would be a highly exceptional thing to happen.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, it is un-fortunate that the noble Viscount should have said that before my next sentence; because I was going on to say that I know that farmers generally try very hard to make sure that they engage only genuine farmworkers. But more than one noble Lord, when talking about the possibility, first excluded most of the older farm workers. It was stressed as something which applied only to the young farmworkers, and it was not wished to include all young farmworkers in this category: there were only a few. So I think I am right in saying that it is accepted that this would be an exceptional position.
The difficulty about trying to deal with this possible kind of abuse is that the kind of remedy proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, would be arbitrary and quite uncertain in its effects. A minimum qualifying length of service, such as six months, could easily be met by a worker's carry-ing on for seven months. But it could be very hard indeed on a genuine worker who had to give up his job within the six months for reasons which might be outside his control. Once we begin to consider the motives for which a worker gives up his job, we are outside the scope of legislation. I do not believe that this measure of security for farmworkers will be as damaging as the noble Lord fears. There was instanced the case in which a small farmer asked for possession of a cottage for the running of his farm. This is just the situation for which provision is made in the clause, and the courts will have to consider the facts of each case. If the farmer really needs the cottage he should get possession in less than six months. If he does not really need it, then the occupant's claim to a roof over his head is one which should prevail.
703 My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Burton, asked what was meant in this connection by "other suitable accommodation". The provision of other suitable accommodation is one of the grounds on which a court may give less than six months' security of tenure. If the court decides that less than six months shall be given, it is for the court to decide whether the other accommodation offered is suitable. It is to give the courts suitable discretion that we use that particular wording.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, what I was wondering was whether it was the type of building that had to be suitable or the situation of the building. A landlord might be able to provide a house, say, 50 miles away.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, if a man is being dispossessed from a tied cottage in Inverness-shire I doubt whether any court would regard it as suitable accommodation if he were offered a house in Wigtown. The alternative accommodation must be related to the needs of the man who has to live in it.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I ask whether there was not one difficulty in England—not in Scotland: that a great many housing authorities would not give a man a house unless he had actually been evicted?
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, that may be so; but on the other hand we are constantly being told that there are very few cases where eviction takes place. We cannot have it both ways. If there are only a few cases in which eviction takes place, or court action is sought, obviously there are going to be equally few cases in which the position is changed by this clause. What the clause does is to try to find out where the balance of hardship is going to press greater, whether on the farmer or on the farmworker; and to try to give assistance where it is most needed, either to the farmer or to the worker.
My Lords, I turn now to the subject of brucellosis. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, referred to the costs of participating in schemes for establishing brucellosis-free herds. It is true that these can arise in cases where it is necessary to make certain improvements 704 —and I must emphasise this—to prevent the introduction and spread of the disease in the herd. But the response to the old Accredited Herds Scheme sug-gests that many farmers saw the benefits of accreditation as outweighing the costs. I believe that the new incentives we are offering will provide added attractions, particularly to those with clean herds, and will give the stimulus that we need to voluntary accreditation as we stand on the threshold of compulsory eradication. The noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, raised a number of points on brucellosis. I would remind the noble Lord that these were essentially covered in the winding-up speech made by my noble friend Lord Hilton, when we had a very full debate on this subject on January 20. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not reply to him in detail to-night, particularly as he will be putting these points to the Parliamentary Secretary at a meeting early next month.
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
My Lords, the Minister refers to "standing on the threshold of compulsory eradication". Could he go further with the definition of the word "threshold"?
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, a threshold is a door. It is easy to define; you can say that you recognise it when you see it. But a "threshold" in time is perhaps a little more difficult to define. It does, I hope, imply some degree of urgency.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, asked about grants for movable machinery. The precise coverage of the scheme has not yet been finally deter-mined, but it is intended to avoid the sort of difficulty in which she was placed. Movable blowers, she will be glad to read in due course, are likely to be included among the items eligible for grant.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, made a number of points about the difficulties of arranging transport from markets for animals. As he recognised, it is not a point which arises in the Bill but, notwithstanding, I will certainly look into what he has said.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, referred to the Second World Food Congress which takes place at The Hague in June of this year, under the direction of the Food and Agriculture Organisation 705 of the United Nations. It was very pleasing to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, so speedy a confirmation that what was said in the Statement repeated by my noble friend the Leader of the House was borne out by the fact that he had, in fact, sought information from civil servants, and no civil servant said to him, "I am very sorry; the Prime Minister has told me not to answer you".
The Director-General of the F.A.O. asks Governments to make wide-ranging nominations of individuals to represent every aspect of national life concerned with food. The Minister of Overseas Development, who has overall responsibility for relations with the Food and Agriculture Organisation has in consultation with the Voluntary Committee on Overseas Aid and Development and the United Kingdom Committee for the Freedom From Hunger Campaign, responded to this request by nominating representatives from voluntary organisations, farmers' organisations, youth groups, business, industry, the trade unions and scientific and academic institutions. The Director-General is in the process of making his own choice of participants and will issue personal invitations to those selected. All individuals will attend in their personal capacity and there will be no national delegation as such. The Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Overseas Development is expected to be at the head of the United Kingdom contingent, and he will be supported by a small party of officials.
Finally, my Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, asked a question which I think must have occurred to quite a number of noble Lords, though he was the only one to raise it. The use of the Annual Review machinery to finance the Agricultural Training Board will apply only for the operations of the Board from September 1, 1969. There will therefore be no question that farmers who have paid their levies for previous years will be paying twice; nor is there any possibility that farmers who have not yet paid their levy will get away with it.
My Lords, the Government regard this as an important Bill which in a number of ways establishes the framework for the industry's operations over the next decade. It has been pleasing 706 to hear, in the many contributions to our debate this afternoon, a wide measure of support expressed. Of course, different points of view have been put forward on some aspects, and no doubt we shall have ample opportunity to go into these in detail during the Committee stage. I think I shall look forward to that, but for the time being I commend the Bill as it stands to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.