§ 3.50 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
May I make a brief comment on the new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent? I acknowledge an interest of an indirect kind, in that I was chairman of the British Egg Association when the evidence quoted by the noble Lord was given. Naturally, I agreed with the evidence we gave then, which is the same as the present Association is giving now, so I feel that I must ask the Government to look very carefully at this clause. We objected to two things that the old Egg Board did. First, we thought that advertising on a national scale was money very ill-spent. In fact, we had a number of figures, which I have not brought with me, which showed that the increase in egg consumption before the Board began advertising exceeded the increase after they had expended a good many millions on it. One can draw nothing positive from this fact, but nothing negative, either.
Secondly, we are absolutely convinced that support buying in order to stop a long-term falling market is not only money absolutely wasted but in fact makes the situation worse. Of course, as the Common Market proposals for controlling 30 the prices of vegetables at the present moment are working, it is perfectly sound to intervene for a short term glut; but the idea of pouring in money and keeping prices up when prices are falling is simply economic nonsense. I therefore feel, without wanting to endorse the whole of the clause which the noble Lord has proposed, that it has in it one or two things which need very serious consideration, and I hope they will get it.
§ LORD SAINSBURY
The purpose of my brief intervention is to oppose the noble Lord's Amendment as regards taking polls. Before doing so, I should declare an interest in the egg trade extending over many years. The intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, seem to be that producers only should vote in the proposed polls, but in view of Clause 16 of the Bill to a layman it is not clear whether, by his Amendments, the noble Lord achieves this result. I feel that the Amendments go against the spirit of the Eggs Authority as provided in the Bill, for the Authority is composed of representatives of all sections of the trade as well as a number of independents. This composition of the Authority should enable it to fulfil its functions in a way which is fair, and it should not, in my opinion, have to seek permission from interested parties before it can make certain decisions.
Something that has not been mentioned to-day, but is mentioned in the circular that some of us received from the National Farmers' Union, is that poll-taking is a costly business. As the N.F.U. say:This would considerably increase the Authority's administrative costs".In any case, although I share many misgivings about the efficacy of support buying, and also some doubts whether value is received for large-scale advertising, I would point out that support buying activities will be under Ministerial control through Clause 13; and this, in my view, removes the danger of indiscriminate support buying. I would therefore appeal to the noble Lord not to press the Amendment—I think he indicated that he would not do so—because he and I, strange as it may be, agree with the view that on the whole this is a very desirable Bill, and I feel that it would be a great pity if its progress was 31 delayed by what I consider to be an unnecessary Amendment.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in moving the new clause, indicated that he was not prepared to stand by the clause as now worded, and that he might need some assistance in drafting a suitably phrased clause in the event of the principle being accepted. I think that perhaps I might go so far as to say, since the Government of the day appear to have stated a principle here, that if the Opposition are in difficulties we shall be prepared to make available a Minister for the purpose of helping them out, either in drafting the clause or in working it out. However, I do not think it will come to that, because I propose to try to persuade the noble Lord that it would be wrong in principle to have the poll for which he asks. Indeed, part of the difficulty in which he found himself when drafting the clause is inherent in the proposition that we should have a poll at all.
For example, there is the provision in the new clause requiring the Authority to estimate the annual amount to be raised by levy for market support under a scheme which, if approved by a poll of producers, would operate for a period of three years. I have no need to tell the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that in the egg industry three years is quite a long time within which to estimate at all meaningfully what amount of market support would be required. It would not be possible, I suggest to noble Lords, to put down a figure that was anything near the probable out-turn at the end of three years. And, if not three years, what sort of period is it proposed the poll should cover? There is no point in having a poll saying yea or nay to a levy unless those who are voting in the poll have some idea as to the amount of money it is proposed to raise. But if one cannot prophesy over a period of years how much money is going to be needed, then how often are we to have a poll? As my noble friend Lord Sainsbury says, a poll is expensive. The N.F.U. themselves make that point. It would be a very expensive exercise in democracy to have a properly conducted poll in this field. Yet unless there were regular polls, I cannot see that they would be valuable.
32 I would refer to the three activities which the noble Lord says should not be provided for by the Eggs Authority unless they have the prior sanction of a favourable poll. There is the expenditure under Clause 9. The additional functions there are narrowly defined in the clause; but, in any case, even if there were certain new functions it would be necessary to have an order specifically approved by Parliament before these additional functions could be undertaken. As for advertising and market support, the noble Lord himself certainly has been very fair about market support and has said that both in this case and in advertising he does not feel that the case for expenditure is justified. But I think it is fair to say that there are others in the industry who do not agree with him. They believe that a degree of market promotion and some market support is required. So we have this argument as to who is to provide the money.
The noble Lord, I thought, was at one time suggesting that the Government should provide the money. But surely if the Government are providing the money for this market support, we are back to square one; we are going back virtually to the old subsidy basis. If we are to have the Eggs Authority moving in to prevent prices from falling below a certain level at the expense of the taxpayer it will mean that we are virtually back in the position of having a guaranteed market price. Therefore it is sensible to suggest that if we are to have a levy the money should be found out of the industry itself. The noble Lord uses some rather harsh terms: he speaks of a charge on the industry; of the industry being mulcted. He said again that we are making them pay for it. But, after all, this is a case of the industry raising certain money to be spent in their own interests; this is not a matter of taxing them for some other purpose altogether. This is a question of raising money for purposes which the majority of the industry agree are worthwhile and in the best interests of the industry.
The noble Lord asked me to give him some precedent for a statutory authority which had trading powers. My advice is that the Home Grown Cereals Authority, established by the Cereals Marketing Act 1965, did give trading powers to a statutory authority. That was a measure which, although it was 33 introduced into the House by this Government, was nevertheless agreed, both as to the constitution and the financing of that authority. No-one challenged the fact that that body should have trading powers, and I suggest that to a large extent the principle accepted in that case is being applied here.
The noble Lord made one or two points which I think are reasonable, as did my noble friend Lord Donaldson, when he pointed out that there have been cases in this industry of expenditure on advertising which many people thought was a little excessive. I am not disposed to argue against that. Nevertheless, the mere fact that something has not been done within the limits which, on reflection, we might have thought ought to have been observed is no reason for saying that the new Authority which it is proposed to establish, after proper consultation with all the various interests in the industry, will not be capable of running the affair. This would be a defeatist attitude to adopt from the start. We are establishing an Eggs Authority. We are giving the Authority certain powers; we are providing for the appointment of individuals, nine of whom will be appointed only after proper consultation. Surely we ought to invest in them a degree of confidence.
In any case, the accounts of the Authority will be susceptible to Parliamentary inspection. Under Clause 13, the Authority will be required to submit estimates, the three kinds of expenditure to be shown separately. The orders determining the rate of levy which will be made by the Ministers in the light of these estimates will show separately the rate of levy attributable to the three kinds of expenditure and the distinction will be maintained in the Authority's financial arrangements throughout, including provision for reserve funds under Clause 17. Therefore it will be made clear to the industry at all stages precisely where the funds to be raised by the levy are going. These levy orders will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny under the Negative Resolution procedure.
Therefore, I am suggesting to the Committee—and in particular to my noble friend Lord Donaldson, who said that we ought to watch this carefully—that there is ample provision here for proper Parliamentary scrutiny. If we are to 34 establish this Authority then we ought not to restrict them in the way proposed by this new clause. Moreover, if one has any doubts about the new venture upon which the Authority will be embarking, if one feels that there is not sufficient experience to ensure that it will be done properly in the first year or so, here again there is a safeguard in the Bill, because in the first year, at any rate, the money to be raised will come out of the subsidy which the Government will be paying. Therefore the Authority will have the opportunity of feeling their way, after proper contact, of taking soundings, of seeing how things work out. And I suggest to the Committee that if we proceed in this way, a sensible practical way, then it ought to work out in the long run in the best interests of the industry. I ask therefore that the noble Lord on reflection should not press this clause.
§ LORD BURTON
When the Minister referred to excessive advertising, I am not sure whether he was thinking of the circulation of "Bunny Girls" around the country—the egg "Bunny Girls" form of advertising.
I think it would be a pity if this particular subject were dismissed too lightly, because I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in his fear and dislike of taking polls and trying to find how much money is required, how many producers there are, keeping registers and so on. It is a difficult matter. There have been problems with polls. I believe that the Potato Marketing Board ran into difficulties over trying to take polls of their producers. One often finds in these cases that the tail wags the dog. I can sympathise with the noble Lord's hesitation. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, I think, said that the Authority would consist of many people other than producers. He asked why they, too, should not be consulted. That is understandable; but I think that the real problem which haunts my noble friend is the fact that in the end when the levy is to be made it is the producer who is going to be called upon to pay it. That is also understandable; but if the producer is to pay the levy it is not unreasonable to see whether it is possible to build into it some form of protection or some form of participation—could one put it that way?—so that the producer 35 who is in fact the person on whom the levy will be made will have some sort of say over what sum it is to be or the way in which it is to be disposed of.
At the moment this levy will be imposed by the Eggs Authority over which the producer, who will finance the requirement, has no say at all. He has no say about who is to be a member of the Authority; all the members are to be appointed directly by the Government. I think that this is the point which my noble friend had in mind, and it is one which ought to be considered seriously. Even if it were not possible for the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, to accept the Amendment as a whole, could he not look at it again to see whether there is some way in which those who are responsible in the end for producing the money to be required by the Authority will have some form of interest over the way it is to be levied and the amount which is to be levied?
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
May I express the hope that the noble Lord will reconsider this matter, because by moving the Amendment my noble friend is trying not to obstruct or to delay Government policy but to help them. He has moved this Amendment because we think it would be more likely to make the Government's policy in this part of the Bill work. It is an open question, which we are not asked to decide at this stage, whether it would be a good thing in general to have a reserve buying scheme in the egg industry, or whether it would be a good thing to have an advertising scheme. We understand that the N.F.U. are in favour of having a reserve buying scheme while at the moment the producers appear not to be in favour of it. That is a question which ought to be discussed after the machinery we are now talking about has been set up. But what we are thinking of now is how to make it work well.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, spent some little time arguing against the idea that the Government should pay for a project like a reserve marketing scheme. That is not proposed at all in the Amendment, although there may be some farmers who would like that to happen. That is not what we are proposing; and 36 it is because we are not asking for the Government to pay the price of reserve buying that makes it, in our view, all the more desirable that producers should be consulted as to the nature of any scheme which may be worked out by the Board.
The noble Lord said that we ought not to adopt a defeatist attitude, but I think that is exactly what we are not doing. The first reason for moving this Amendment is that we want to make this part of the Bill work effectively as a practical proposition. We think that it is much less likely to work at all if there is no machinery for taking a poll of the producers. That is our main reason for strongly requesting the Government to consider this Amendment more favourably than they are doing. The noble Lord said what seems to us the exact opposite of the way in which we ought to look at this matter. He said that we are taking a defeatist attitude. We are not; we are taking an attitude designed to try to achieve victory and not defeat.
The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said that machinery for having a poll would be contrary to the spirit of this Part of the Bill. I wonder what exactly is the spirit of this Part of the Bill. It seems to me that the spirit of the Bill is that a whole lot of people are appointed by the Government—it is 100 per cent. bureaucratic. That does not mean that bureaucracy is always wrong. Bureaucrats may sometimes be right; but they are not always very popular, and it is a good thing, and they are much more likely to get what they want, if they act in co-operation with the people whose affairs they are managing. Here you have a board appointed 100 per cent. by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, says that there is machinery for Parliamentary control. I know that there is machinery for Parliamentary control, but that is not going to have the effect of making the actual producers cooperate, and we feel that there is a much better chance of this being successful if they are given the opportunity of free co-operation. It has so often turned out, in cases similar to this, that if the producers refuse to co-operate with the people you appoint to manage their affairs, it does not matter what legislation you enact, it will not work and it will have to be dropped.
37 The other reason is that, for some reason which I do not quite understand, this proposal does not appear to have been discussed at all in another place. Although they had an unconscionably long Committee stage, no one appears to have brought forward any proposal for including a poll in the machinery of this Bill. I think it would be a good thing that they should at least have the opportunity of considering it. It is in an entirely constructive spirit that we beg the Government to reflect upon this subject and either to accept the Amendment now or consider it more favourably later on.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
I do not intend to follow the noble Lord opposite who accused the Egg Marketing Board of wasting money by sending "Bunny Girls" all round the country—nor do I intend to follow the "Bunny Girls". I do not think they were "Bunny Girls"; I think they were "Chicks". Whether there is any difference I will leave to the noble Lord to tell us.
On this question of levy, there was something rather whimsical, I think, about the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and those which have been repeated by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. I get a demand for a levy every year. I am asked first of all to fill up a form and then I am told they want so much money from me. It comes from a levy-imposing organisation known as the Inland Revenue. I do not get on my hind legs and go marching round Hyde Park saying, "Let's have a poll on what tax we pay". I am a patriotic citizen: I say that Parliament and Government have decided that I shall pay this. and therefore I pay it. Why cannot the egg producers do the same?
On the question of machinery, if you had to take a poll on every levy that it was sought to impose upon producers you would need Three-Line Whips to require them to vote. You would be having different polls on supplementary estimates three or four times a year. No, my Lords, this proposal under the Bill is a sensible one. It sets up a sensible piece of machinery, it sets up a sensible arrangement for financing these particular activities, and I sincerely hope the Government will stand by the original clause in the Bill.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
Certainly, but not every year. This Parliament, I believe, is going to last for nearly five years—I have no inside information. But after that first gesture of confidence in the Ministers I obey whatever the Minister and the duly elected Parliament tell me to do each year and surely the farmers and egg producers are no less patriotic than I am.
§ LORD BALERNO
May I ask whether the noble Lord has heard of the Agricultural Industrial Training Board and its complete lack of success? It proved to be an authority that was unpopular with the farmers, and the farmers refused to pay the levy.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
If the noble Lord seeks to draw me into an argument about the virtues on the one hand, and the failings, on the other, of the farming community, I refuse to be drawn.
VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FER-RARD
May I further point out that the egg producers will not have a majority on this Board anyway, so that the noble Lord's argument regarding Parliament surely falls by the wayside because there is a majority in Parliament.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
I take it that noble Lords wish to give egg producers, who have not a majority, the right to have a poll to say what the Board is to do, which is far from being democratic.
§ LORD BESWICK
We seem to have ranged a little widely. I am not an authority on "chicks" or "bunnies" and therefore not able to sort out what kind of females they were who went round inviting us to "eat more eggs". Nor do I think it would really be profitable to look too closely at the experience we had with the industrial training board. I wonder what would have been the position had this proposal for a poll been applied in that case. Should we have had the farmers agreeing to pay a levy? Would it have made things any easier? Would it have been better for the industry? Is there any member of the farming community who is prepared to say that there is not scope for proper 39 training? Can we really say, if the matter had been put to a vote of the farmers, that we should not have got a constructive outcome? When we look at the experience of the training board, I think we can say that there is little chance of raising any levy if we had a poll. If we are going to have a poll, we should have to say how we are going to construct the ballot paper and what we are going to ask the voters to decide. I have a good deal of sympathy with certain aspects of the case put forward by noble Lords opposite, but I really do not think that they have put a practical proposition before us.
§ LORD BALERNO
May I pick up the noble Lord on that point? With regard to the industrial training board, I do not think that the opposition by the farmers was to the idea of training young agriculturalists. What they were against was the great expenditure incurred in setting up the authority, because overheads were such a great part of the total expenses. Now that the overheads are being reduced, I think we shall find that there is a reasonable prospect that the farmers will come round and will be much happier about the whole situation. I think that the farmers had a right at that point to protest against wasteful expenditure.
§ LORD BESWICK
I do not think that anyone will quarrel with that. Of course everybody has a right to protest against wasteful expenditure. But here noble Lords are suggesting that egg producers should have a right to say Yea or Nay about raising money. I must say that before they could make an intelligent decision, we should have to put before them the amount of money and the circumstances in which it would be spent, and it is quite impossible to devise a ballot paper which would give a reasonable result.
If it were at all possible for me to be responsive to the appealing demeanour of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and give him a firm undertaking to look at this again I would do so, but I really cannot. The noble Earl was arguing two cases. In the first place, he was arguing that the Authority was going to be bureaucratic, although he was not merely against this but against the whole idea 40 of an authority established by Parliament. If we are not to have these people appointed by the Minister, how can we appoint them? Are we going to have an election? There is a case for this, one might say. It would be an interesting experiment, but how are we to work out a form of election for this Authority so that it could not be described as bureaucratic? We are setting up an Authority composed in this way. It has been agreed by another place and the clause concerned has already been agreed to by your Lordships. I am suggesting, therefore, that we should see that this body has an opportunity to conduct its affairs in a businesslike way.
The noble Earl made one point which I fully accept. He said that there has to be a proper relationship between the Authority and the industry it serves. That I accept. It is something we should all accept. The success or failure of this Authority will depend in large measure on the success or failure with which they get the co-operation and confidence of the industry. We have had experience in the past which will enable them to avoid mistakes that have been made. I hope very much that we shall be establishing a body capable of administering its affairs efficiently and of maintaining that degree of contact with the industry it serves which will ensure that it will carry on with the confidence of the whole industry, from producers to distributors.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
We have heard a useful debate on this difficult point and I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, does not feel able, on behalf of the Government, to accept the principle of a poll. He gave me a substantial part of my case in his reference to the industrial training board, when he asked whether, if there had been a poll, there would have been an affirmative vote. Very likely there would have been. We all agree that the industrial training board was a good thing for most farmers, as my noble friend Lord Balerno has said. If in a good case it was unlikely that there would be a poll in favour, and if we know that it has been impossible to collect the levy, how much more difficult is it going to be in this case? This is part of the argument I have put to your Lordships. We know 41 this, not only from my own views and from those of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, but also from the fact that specialist organisations in the industry have serious doubts as to whether reserve buying and a national advertising scheme are wise moves. They feel that both would be wasteful and the reverse of beneficial.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is commending what is at best a doubtful cause, that the new Authority should collect a levy from what will obviously be a reluctant industry in order to finance the Authority's activities. The noble Lord has really condemned himself out of his own mouth. Whatever happens, I doubt whether the Eggs Authority will be able to collect a levy for these purposes. Consider how these people are placed. There has already been the comment, which is perfectly fair, that the Authority will be bureaucratic. The Authority will be appointed by the Minister, and will not be representative in any way. I quite accept this. But the Authority are not going to feel in a very comfortable position, having to go out to an industry, which will be shouting pretty loudly, to tell them that they have to pay and have no way of consulting.
Here I must take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, that he thought there was a direct analogy between this and the demands made on all of us by the Inland Revenue every year. But this is not the same. The point was made by my noble friend Lord Dundee that the people who decide this are the people whom we have elected: they have a direct mandate from us, and they are providing a whole lot of functions of which we all approve. But here we are concerned with two specific functions. What the Eggs Authority are going to say is: "These things would be good for you. We think therefore that we ought to do them for you, and you will have to pay for them." This poses the question of how far an Authority should be allowed to go in telling people what they think is right for them, and that they must pay for it. This is a substantial point.
On the administrative functions, amounting perhaps to £200,000 a year, all I can say is: if the Government are unwise enough to make the Authority 42 try to collect the levy, let them do it; and I wish them luck! That is something the Authority must have in order to exist. But when it comes to trading functions, and these national advertising functions, one is in a totally different field. It will be necessary to raise large sums of money, and already we know that these things are controversial. This really is different. It is so different in degree that it becomes different in principle. This is the point that I am making to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and I am sure that I am right.
I admit that my clause is defective, and if it will enable the noble Lord to look more favourable upon it I will gladly accept his offer of help to redraft it, with the assistance of his experts. And if, again, it would make the clause more acceptable to noble Lords opposite, I would take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, that the distributors also ought to vote in the poll. I am willing for that to happen. I also agree that the instruction should be in any form which the Department think best: it is quite fair that everybody who is to be affected should come in on it. But this is going to raise the price to be charged in the shops, and it will raise the cost for the producers. Therefore it is going to affect everybody.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
Would the noble Lord include the consumers as also taking part in the poll, especially as he says that it will raise the price?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
That would be a little more difficult. But if the noble Lord, with his great knowledge of public affairs, could assist us further with the drafting of this clause, I should be happy to accept his help.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, made a point (I will not delay too long on this, because I fear that we are not going to reach agreement) about the difficulty of estimating what the cost will be. Clearly, an estimate can be made firmly for the first year. For subsequent years of the three-year period that I have suggested should be the life to be given for raising a levy for this purpose (though I do not stick to three years; it might be four or five years, but it should be a definite term), clearly you can go firm on the first year, and after that the estimate would have to be within a range. But this could be done.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
No; I am not arguing for an annual poll at all. I recognise that an annual poll would be ridiculous. I am putting this proposal forward, as my noble friend has said, in a perfectly constructive way, because I do not believe that this Authority will ever raise a levy for this purpose unless they carry the producers with them. The Authority must have some machinery for this purpose, and all experience up to date has shown this. I do not see that there would be any insuperable problem in estimating, when the Authority came forward with a scheme for this purpose, what the range of expenditure would be over these years, and therefore what the range of levy would have to be to enable the Authority to carry out their functions. This would not seem to be an insuperable problem.
The point the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, made about his precedent of the Home Grown Cereals Authority is possibly true on paper. But, of course, the Home Grown Cereals Authority is not allowed to use its reserve buying function, and never will be, so long as the Treasury have to finance it. It is much too risky—everybody knows that—and could cost millions of pounds a year. But not only that: when the Authority is holding a heavy stock over the market it is always
§ difficult to know when to discharge it. And whenever it discharges it the Authority gets into hot water from the producers, because if it tries to get a high price they say that it has spoilt the market, and if it gets a low price it is criticised because it means a bigger cost to the Exchequer. So the Authority is always wrong. Everybody knows that this is a fatal thing to do. Therefore the Home Grown Cereals Authority would never be allowed to do it.
§ The Home Grown Cereals Authority is not squarely on all fours in any way with the Eggs Authority, because, in so far as there is extra cost to the cereals growing industry arising out of the setting up of that Authority, this comes out of the enormous deficiency payment of £70 million a year which the Government put in in order to make sure that the cereal growers get their price. Therefore this does not provide a precedent. What is proposed here is something quite unique. I ask the noble Lord to take this back and to look at it again; to reconstruct it in any form that he likes, but to find some machinery for consulting producers before they are asked to bear these heavy financial burdens.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 56.45
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Eccles, V.||Molson, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Effingham, E.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Napier and Ettrick, L. [Teller.]|
|Ashbourne, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Erroll of Hale, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Barnby, L.||Falkland, V.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Ferrers, E.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Forbes, L.||Poltimore, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Fortescue, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Boston, L.||Glasgow, E.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Rockiey, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Gowrie, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Gray, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Grenfell, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Burton, L.||Hacking, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Carrington, L.||Hastings, L.||Somers, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||llford, L.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Craigavon, V.||Inchyra, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cratnorne, L.||Lansdowne, M.||Teviot, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Teynham, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Loudoun, C.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Margadale, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Merrivale, L.||Wise, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Milverton, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Addison, V.||Fulton, L.||Phillips, Bs.|
|Archibald, L.||Gaitskell, Bs.||Popplewell, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Arwyn, L.||Garnsworthy, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Henderson, L.||Royle, L.|
|Birk, Bs.||Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.]||Rusholme, L.|
|Bowles, L. [Teller.]||Hughes, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Jacques, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Brown, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Samuel, V.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Leatherland, L.||Segal, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, Bs.||Lindgren, L.||Serota, Bs.|
|Champion, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.||Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Chorley, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||McLeavy, L.||Stocks, Bs.|
|Collison, L.||Maelor, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Crook, L.||Meston, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Morrison, L.||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Douglass of Cleveland, L.||Moyle, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Francis-Williams, L.||Pargiter, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I beg to move Amendment No. 6.Page 10, line 39, leave out ("(b) and (c) respectively").—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I beg to move Amendment No. 7.Page 11, line 10, leave out ("(b) or (c), as the case may be,").—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I beg to move Amendment No. 8.Page 11, line 21, leave out ("(b) or (c), as the case may be,").—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I beg to move Amendment No. 9.Page 11, line 38, leave out subsection (4).— (Lord Nugent of Guildford.)
§ Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.
§ After Clause 13, insert the following new clause:
§ Schemes for purposes of Authority's functions under section 3, 8, 17(1)(b) or (c) or additional functions under section 9(1) of this Act"
§ .—(1) Where the Authority proposes to raise a levy under the last preceding section for the purposes of its functions under section 3, 46 8 or paragraph (b) or (c) of section 17(1) of this Act, or for the purposes of any additional function prescribed by the Minister under section 9(1) of this Act, they shall prepare a schemes or schemes for these purposes with estimates of the annual amount required to be raised by levy and submit them to the Minister.
§ (2) As soon as practicable after submission of the scheme or schemes to the Minister, the Minister shall determine the rate of levy required to be raised and shall publish a notice setting out the scheme or schemes and the rate of levy proposed.
§ (3) Every scheme made under this section proposing a levy, shall require a poll of registered producers to be taken within such time as may be specified in the scheme. No such scheme shall come into force until a poll has been taken.
§ (4) In this section "registered producer" means a person registered in accordance with a scheme made under section 16 of this Act.
§ (5) Every scheme shall provide for the manner in which polls are to be taken for the purposes of this Act, and in particular but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision—
- (a) may apply with any necessary modifications any enactments (including the penal provisions thereof) relating to parliamentary or local government elections and to the prevention of corrupt and illegal practices thereat;
- (b) may prescribe the manner in which the volume of production or trading which any registered producer is capable of producing or conducting is to be determined for the purposes of the poll;
- (c) may prescribe the information relating to production or trading which is to be furnished by every registered producer before or at the time of voting, and the manner in which the information is to be furnished, and may require the rejection of the vote of any producer who fails to furnish the prescribed information in the prescribed manner, and may impose penalties for furnishing false information;
- (d) shall prescribe the manner in which the result of the poll is to be declared and published.
§ (6) A scheme for the raising of a levy for these purposes shall not be introduced unless the result of the poll shows that there have voted in favour of the scheme:
- (a) more than half the total number of registered producers voting on the poll, and
- (b) such number of registered producers as are together capable of producing or conducting more than half the production or trade which all the registered producers voting on the poll are together capable of producing or conducting.
§ (7) Every scheme shall be limited to a period of three years from the date of introduction and shall not be renewable without a further poll.".—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)
§ Clauses 14 to 24 agreed to.
§ Clause 25 [Power to regulate retail sales of eggs]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 25 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD MERRIVALE
I should like to ask a question regarding consumer protection. In paragraphs (a) and (b) there is a reference to weight gradings, standards of quality and the weight of eggs. This clause refers to the protection of the consumer, and I am concerned whether paragraph (c) would enable the Minister to impose requirements as to the freshness of eggs. I have particularly in mind the practice in Harrod's, for there the container holding the eggs has a slip of paper in it which gives the date on which the eggs were produced. That is extremely useful, and when one buys the eggs one knows to what extent they are fresh or not. I have not found similar indications in other establishments as to the date when the eggs were produced. This would be a very useful requirement from the point of view of protection for the consumer. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether in effect paragraph (c) would enable the Minister to impose regulations which would make it possible for the Authority to insist that containers should have in them these slips of paper which give the date on which the eggs were produced.
§ LORD SOMERS
Before the noble Lord replies, I wonder if I might ask him to tell the House whether it is a practicable possibility to ensure that eggs are marked as to whether they are free 48 range, deep litter or battery? I am not speaking now from a humanitarian point of view, but merely because the taste of the eggs is so different that the public should know what they are buying.
§ LORD BESWICK
The answer to both noble Lords is that we are moving on to a free market. I should be happy to have the confirmation of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, who I am sure will know the answer to these two questions better than I do. But if an egg producer wishes to let it be known that the eggs are the products of free-range birds, or if an organisation wishes to have the date on them, there is absolutely no reason why they should not do so. The only protection here is that one has power to ensure that the date put on is in fact the date when the eggs were laid. That is the answer.
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
§ Clauses 26 to 28 agreed to.
§ Clause 29 [Farm capital grants]:
§ 4.51 p.m.
LORD BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 23, line 33, after ("nature") insert ("including expenditure on tractors and self-propelled harvesters")
§ The noble Lord said: Under Clause 29 the Minister has announced his intention of abolishing the 10 per cent. grant on tractors and combines. As the Minister has specifically singled out this grant for comment, the intention of this Amendment is specifically to single it out to show the wish of Parliament that it might be continued in the future. Following the Minister's announcement last autumn, we now realise that the Government have moved in this matter from the Conservative's 30 per cent. investment allowances to investment grants—first 10 per cent., then 15 per cent., then back to 10 per cent., and now deletion. I suppose vacillation has been concluded by extinction.
§ If the Government draw any comfort from this, I am afraid that that is more than people in farming can do. For to almost every farm the tractor really is essential, not only on arable land but in beef and pig units, where so many of the new ideas need mechanical mucking out. Certainly there are parts of Southern England, and my part of the 49 world, East Anglia, where it is not so easy to keep sheep and one needs tractors for food transport and the movement of equipment as the sheep are folded over the different fields. It is, it seems to me, the one grant that the small farmer, and in particular the tenant farmer, could avail himself of.
§ On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said that the Government had completely come round to the Opposition's point of view in this matter. For the man who is making a big profit, perhaps; but for the small man who is hardly paying income tax at all and finding life very difficult, I should hardly have thought that the abolition of a 10 per cent. grant could be equated with the giving of a 30 per cent. investment allowance. The noble Lord was also of the opinion that the small farmer not paying income tax would be a man unlikely to buy new tractors. Of course, under the old system of investment allowances there was a real incentive for the bigger man to change his tractor frequently, and good machines with only a few hours on the clock were to be found in plentiful supply for the smaller farmer to pick up when he wished.
Also on Second Reading, in column 624 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of April 21, 1970, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, told the House—and this was, I think, not the noble Lord's personal opinion; he is not in the House at the moment but this has appeared in three Government statements at different stages of the Bill—that this removal of grant-aid would give a chance for grant-aid to a wider range of plant and machinery, and he specified:
Such as movable loaders, blowers, augers and plant for mechanised feeding".
Once again, doubtless the bigger farmers will welcome this move—I can think of many men who will—but, for the small man as well, all these things assume buildings of sufficient space, which are waterproof, with walls sufficiently strong to resist the pressure of bulk storage, all facilities which the small farmer simply does not have. It is a very sad commentary that, at a moment when machinery prices are again rising—this is not synthetic indignation—and the poor farmer is poorer than ever before, the Government have suddenly decided, as it were, to draw the rug away from under
a great many people's feet. Combines, of course, are in the same category, but in a special category because of their enormous expense and the very brief period of annual use.
§ For the manufacturers this move comes at a time of decline in home sales, as paragraph 10 of the Review White Paper told us. We in this country are, I believe I am right in saying, the biggest exporters of agricultural machinery in the world. I should have thought that a flourishing home market was essential as a firm base for our exports. There is no doubt that this Government proposal will destroy the existing forward planning of manufacturers which is needed for a secure home base. On those grounds, I beg to move.
I sympathise with the Amendment which my noble friend has put down, and indeed I sympathise with the way in which he put forward his case, which I thought a strong one. I understand the disappointment of the removal of any grant, particularly one of this nature, at a time when the agricultural community is going through a period of very severely restricted cash flow. Obviously, if one removes a direct grant like this, it is going to have a material effect upon a number of people. But I am bound to say that my sympathy for the Amendment is mellowed by the fact that I, for one, have always thought the grant was bad. I do not believe it has ever done agriculture any good, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said at Second Reading just exactly that: that there had been no increase in tractor purchases as a result of this grant.
Nor has it done the appearance of agriculture any good. It is one of those factors which led the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, to say that she thought—I think she said "knowing nothing about farming"—that farmers collected a grant when they walked into their shed, collected another grant when they picked up a fork, and collected another when they put it into the soil. This possibly was a slight over dramatisation of the facts. But it is this type of grant that makes this type of impression upon people who are not well acquainted with the difficulties of agriculture. Therefore, as that is the case, I have always thought that this particular grant was not good.
51 Why did this grant come about? In the old days there was always an investment allowance on the purchases of tractors and combines. This was a simple figure which could be worked out by any accountant in about five minutes. The present Government changed this. They did away with the investment allowance and substituted an investment grant. The result is that when a farmer purchases a tractor he has to fill in a huge form with a whole host of details, which then has to be sent to the Ministry of Agriculture, where it is shunted to and fro for no less a period than two years. At the end of 12 months, after more forms have been filled in, one half of the grant is paid; then at the end of a further period of 12 months, and more to-ing and fro-ing of forms, the second half of the grant is paid. I have always thought this to be the most cumbersome and inefficient method of placing a grant that one could imagine. One sometimes wishes that the Ministry of Agriculture would do a work study on some of the ideas which their economists devise, to work out the cost effectivness of their proposals. I thought at the time that this grant was bad, for that very reason.
Of course the reason put forward by the Government at the time, and by my noble friend this afternoon, is that it will help the small farmer. That is a thoroughly plausible and understandable argument, but I hope that if that is the intention then a grant or some form of help will be directed straight to the small farmer, and that the whole of agriculture will not be lumbered with a colossal amount of form filling and paraphenalia for the giving of grants to one part only, and possibly a small part, of the agricultural community. If it is the small farmer to whom this grant is directed, then the grant should be so framed as to affect the small farmer and not every farmer.
Therefore, I am bound to say that my opinions on this Amendment are threefold: first, in the short term I should be sorry to see, at a time of financial stringency, the direct cash grant disappear; secondly, in the long term I believe that the Government are quite right to remove a grant which I believe was always bad; and thirdly, if the Government do remove this grant they should have replaced it with the investment allowance 52 and so encourage farmers of their own volition to replace their machinery.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I support this Amendment, but I should also like to endorse to a certain extent what my noble friend Lord Ferrers has said. If the Government take away this grant from small farmers it will really hurt them. Every small farmer, no matter how small, must have a tractor. He may not have a self-propelled combine harvester, but he must have a tractor. Therefore if his grant is taken away he will be badly done by. I cannot see why it should be so difficult to draft a clause that will help small farmers but will not apply the grant to the big farmers. It could probably be done on the basis of giving grant to every farmer who employs only one man, or just to family farms. That should not be impossible.
I was very surprised to hear that this grant did not help the agricultural machinery manufacturers. I cannot understand that. I should have thought that a grant for tractors and combine harvesters would definitely help the home market. If we do not have a strong home market it is not so easy for our manufacturers to export. I beg the Government to think carefully before they deprive small farmers of this grant. How they are going to differentiate between small and big farmers I leave to them, but I can assure the Committee that small farmers are worried that this grant is to be taken from them. As we all know, in agriculture the capital required is far more per man than in any other industry in the country, and if we do away with this grant it will bear hardly on the small farmer, who works for far less income than the agricultural worker. I do not support the Amendment for all farmers, but I definitely support it in the case of small farmers.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I think my noble friend who moved this Amendment put forward a sound and persuasive argument, but on the other hand I cannot help feeling that it was a little unsatisfactory—and I think he almost said this himself—to insert two particular pieces of agricultural machinery into a clause which gives the Minister general power to make grants. The reason this has been done is really due to the fact that the 53 Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has specifically excluded tractors and self-propelled harvesters.
On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Ferrers came very near to the solution, although I would not agree with him entirely. In the Second Reading debate the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said—and I quote from column 623 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for April 21:Indeed, the industry stand to benefit from the change, since the present tax arrangements would enable the majority of farmers to claim the initial tax allowance in respect of purchases of tractors and harvesters.I am not sure whether he is correct in saying the majority of farmers would be able to claim: certainly many of them, and all the better-off ones would. But when we consider Appendix 4 to the Annual Farm Price Review, we can see, on page 41, line 5, "Average Farm Income", that, of the many scores of small farmers, these people would not be in a position to take advantage of the initial tax allowance. Most of them have a wife and several children, and then there is also the earned income allowance. Therefore at the very moment when the Government say they wish to pump more cash into agriculture they are, in effect, depriving the small fanner of cash.
The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, is perfectly right when he says that every farmer must have a tractor. Whether or not we sell more tractors overall is beside the point. Every farmer must have a tractor, but he does not necessarily require to have, or to be able to afford, other accessory plant and machinery. This statement by the Minister of Agriculture that tractors and self-propelled harvesters will be specifically excluded from grant will undoubtedly damage the small farmer, and the present is not the time to do that. I should be quite happy now if the Minister could make another statement and say that the Government will give the farmers a choice of whether they take the initial tax allowance or claim a grant. I believe that this might get over the difficulty, because then the small farmer who cannot take advantage of the tax allowance will be able to get his grant on the tractor; and the others, who may well prefer to have the initial tax allowance, will be able to do so.
For these reasons, I am not particularly in favour of accepting this Amendment 54 or of inserting these words to force the Minister's hand. I should hope that the powers given in the clause would be sufficient for the Minister to operate them fairly and efficiently to the benefit of agriculture as a whole, if only he will take back that statement and say that he will allow the small farmer to have the choice of the initial tax allowance or the grant.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
I wonder why we specify tractors in this particular clause. In my view, Clause 29 effects a big improvement on the way in which capital grants were given for farm machinery before this Bill was drafted. It is much wiser to give capital grants for any type of machinery which is vital to a farmer in the pursuit of his activities and his business. I hope that I am not being too optimistic, but as I understand the position under Clause 29 that is indeed the case. There is no discrimination about fixed machinery or movable machinery: if the machinery is vital to a particular project or a particular type of farm, that machinery can be grant-aided. That is a good idea. But what I do not understand is why tractors should be singled out for not being grant-aided, since, as every speaker has quite rightly said, they form a vital part of every single farm in the country. In the old days a farmer had to have horses; now nobody has a horse but he has to have one tractor. Of course many farmers have a great many more than one. In this Part of the Bill, in which the scope of farm capital grants is considerably widened, the number of different types of machinery that can be grant-aided is considerably increased, and it seems a great pity to take away the one that is vital to every farmer, large or small, namely, the tractor.
§ LORD CRAWSHAW
May I also say a few words in support of this Amendment? The noble Lord the Government Chief Whip said in his speech on the Second Reading that the removal of the tractor and combined harvester grants would allow grants on a wider range of plant and machinery, and it would increase production and help small producers. I welcome that, and I realise that plant of this sort will be increasingly important in the future of agriculture. But there are two points I wish to make. One is that such equipment is very much in its embryo stage; some of it 55 works and some does not, some is well made and some is badly made. I recently bought some from Northern Ireland, and when it arrived it seemed to incorporate all the problems of that particular part of the world and bring them right on my doorstep. All that has happened is that we have been able to do with one less cowman but had to put on a full-time mechanic, so it has not helped very much. I am a little worried that by spending too much money on equipment of this sort until it is fully developed and tested we may be wasting money.
My second point is that this equipment is often part of a large modern layout and also requires large modern buildings, and many small farmers, particularly in my area of the East Midlands, who have had a hard time lately because of the climate, are not now feeling like large investment in anything, in spite of the 40 per cent. grant proposed. I think they suspect, not feeling very charitable at the moment, that they will be forcibly reminded of this 40 per cent. grant when commodity prices are discussed at the next Price Review. While I welcome the grant for this plant, I do not like it at the expense of tractors and combine harvesters, which are much more flexible machines, often vital items, and are easily realisable, which is quite a point in these rather hard times.
§ LORD BALERNO
I feel rather sorry for Her Majesty's Government, because in the changeover they are obviously trying to do something, and in fact they are doing something for the good of agriculture as a whole; but they are hitting the small farmer in a very hard way indeed. I would join my noble friends in making this plea, that the Government should extract this nail from the coffin of the small farmer.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD HUGHES)
I am very glad that I did not dive in to reply to this Amendment immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, had moved it, because he must have rather mixed feelings about some of the support that he has received from his colleagues, ranging from almost outright condemnation of the idea of giving a grant on tractors to the method which 56 he has chosen to attempt to get it continued, ostensibly for some people. All the reference has been to the value which this grant has had for small farmers. But, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, pointed out, the Amendment does not distinguish the small farmer from any other. The Amendment's effect is to continue to give the grant on tractors and self-propelled harvesters. As the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, pointed out, it is quite unnecessary for this to be put in the Bill in order for it to be done. The power which the Minister has is a wide-ranging power to give grants over the whole field, including tractors. There is nothing in the Bill which says that the Minister will not give grants for tractors.
What has been stated is that the Minister, I think in complete fairness, has gone out of his way to make it plain that he is not going to continue this grant, so that people are not under any misapprehension that the grant has been increased, or is going to be increased, from 10 per cent. to the general level which is being paid throughout. The reason why the grant is not to be continued is that we have come to the conclusion, in the light of experience, that it is not the best way of using the money, even in the interests of small farmers. It would be bad administration, having done something against the advice of noble Lords opposite and of Members of the Opposition in another place, when experience has shown that the faith which we placed in this grant was not in fact justified by results, just to carry on with it rather than say we think we can do the thing in a better way.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
May I ask the noble Lord what are the results to which he is referring? He said, "not justified by results". What results?
§ LORD HUGHES
If the noble Lord will permit me to make my speech, I will come to his point—indeed I can give the answer right away. The figures are very simple, and they will astound the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, who could not believe that the grant could have had a result of this kind. In the four years since the grant started—the grant applied to expenditure after January 17, 1966—the number of tractors registered in the United Kingdom 57 was 34,878 in 1966, 37,381 in 1967, 40,366 in 1968 and 34,424 in 1969. In the three years before the grant was payable, the figures were 36,905, 32,519, and 32,226. So the difference is marginal; it is no more, on average, than 10 per cent. It would therefore be quite unreasonable to say that this grant has made any serious impact on the operations of agriculture.
We are not taking the grant away without putting something else in its place. We have come to the conclusion that the funds used for this purpose are being used in a way which does not stimulate to any great extent the purchase of tractors: they will be purchased whether or not the grant is paid, and therefore it is better to use the money in other ways which will better help agriculture. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, pointed out, to get this 10 per cent. over two years is a fairly cumbersome process. But in ending the grant we are not suggesting that there should be any reduction in the total amount of money. This is not a case of taking away the amount of money that is being spent on tractors and keeping it from the industry; it is going to be spent in other ways. The total amount of grant available for the industry will not be diminished. Indeed, the industry stands to get more, since the present tax arrangements would enable the majority of farmers—not all, but the majority—to claim the initial tax allowance in respect of purchases of tractors and harvesters. This would represent a net gain to the industry equivalent to about half the value of the present 10 per cent. grant. If we are going to maintain the grants at the present figure and the value of the initial tax allowance is worth half of the present grant, it is pretty nearly equivalent to 105 per cent. of what is being given at the present time. There is another aspect of this question. The taxpayer can reasonably ask that the funds he provides should be used to the best advantage. There is no evidence that the tractor grant serves this purpose.
In ending the grants we shall, however, be enabled to get rid of restrictions which have precluded a number of farmers from obtaining help under the Farm Improvement Scheme. For example, we are bringing to an end the "brought in feed" rule, and under the new scheme producers who grow little of the food 58 required for extra livestock will be able for the first time to obtain grant in respect of investment to expand their livestock production. Similarly, farmers who own part of their farm and rent the rest will no longer have their applications restricted to what would benefit the land in single ownership and occupation. This is a direct advantage to quite a number of small farmers.
As well as providing the funds that will cover a widening of the scope of the grant, the ending of the tractor grants will also allow us to grant-aid a wider range of plant and machinery—the famous grain dryer to which the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, has referred—and other equipment, such as movable loaders, blowers, and augers and plants for mechanised feeding, all of which can make a major contribution to improved productivity. We hope, as a result, to include items that will be of benefit to small farmers as well as large farmers, and our expectation is that under the new scheme we shall get over 80,000 applications a year. So certainly we are taking advantage of the money which has been badly used under the tractor grant to apply it to much better advantage over a very wide field.
All these arguments must be considered in the context of the arrangements announced recently, to make substantial increases in grant rates on the range of items to be covered by the proposed farm capital grants scheme until March, 1972. The original proposals would have left the industry better off. These increases in grant rates will give a major inducement to new capital investment and will provide a substantial injection of additional capital into the industry, benefiting all progressive producers, whether they are large or small. It is therefore the firm conviction of the Government that these proposals are sound and beneficial to the industry as a whole. Large and small farmers will direct the investments into those fields which are going to make for still better productivity. I suggest to your Lordships that while the new methods may encourage and enable people to invest in other fields, this will not result in a single farmer failing to get a tractor if he needs one.
We shall be doing what I think we always ought to try to do, but which no Government will ever succeed in doing 59 all along the line; namely, to direct the injection of public money into those fields where it will produce the best results. We are prepared to admit that what we have been doing in relation to the tractor grants over the last four years does not produce the best results, and therefore we are seeking to depart from it. I strongly advise your Lordships not to accept this Amendment.
Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask what the average grant in pounds, shillings and pence came to in regard to tractors and combines during the past four years?
§ LORD HUGHES
I am sorry, but I cannot give the noble Lord an answer to that question. He has the figures which I quoted. I can give him the total amount which has been paid out, and if he applies his own mathematics to that he will get the answer. For the last financial year, April, 1969, to March, 1970, the amount of investment grant paid on tractors and harvesters was £6,948,000. The figures for 1969 were for tractors £34,400, and for self-propelled harvesters £3,053. I am sorry that I cannot help the noble Lord on how to divide that money by £34,000 for one kind and £3,000 for another.
Arising out of that answer, and in regard to this saving, may I ask how much these improvement schemes are going to cost, or how much money the Government are putting into the new schemes?
§ LORD HUGHES
I have stated that we are not diminishing in any way the total amount of money which is made available. The total grant will be the same, but instead of part of it being earmarked for self-propelled harvesters and tractors it will be available to help over a much wider range of agricultural equipment.
§ LORD HASTINGS
If I may intervene for a second time, we seem to be agreed entirely on the objective but not on the likely effect of this clause. I was not as impressed by the statistics of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, as perhaps he hoped I would have been. Of course, 1969 was 60 one of the worst farming years we have had for a long time, and it may well be that many people could not afford to buy or to replace tractors in that year. Secondly, a great deal of land was not even ploughed up at all. Thirdly, one has to remember that all the time tractors are getting larger and do more work individually, and therefore one might expect at some stage to see a fall in the number of tractors being employed. What is much more relevant is the total cost in subsidy for these tractors over the years and, in particular, how much of that subsidy was received by the small farmers. I do not expect the noble Lord to be able to answer that question, but I hope that he will go back and do this sum——
§ LORD HUGHES
If the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, perhaps I can help him. I have since received the information that the average grant is £100 per tractor, and the poor farmer presumably benefits to the extent of £100 because he buys one.
§ LORD HASTINGS
The sum of £100 is a very relevant sum for the small farmer. It is not so much the total to the industry which matters—I accept absolutely that the industry is going to be as well off, and perhaps better off—but the total to the individual and to the small man. I do not think that all of us on this side are yet convinced that it is going to be of benefit to him. That is why I suggested that he at least should be secure from losing the benefit of this average £100, or whatever it may be, and be quite sure that he is going to get it in other ways; and, if he cannot, that he should still be able to claim it on his tractor. That is why I suggested that he should have an option. I do not know how it could be done. We are simply anxious to make sure that the small farmer will not lose.
§ LORD HUGHES
The obvious consequence of doing anything such as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, suggests, is that if we are going to earmark a special amount of money as being available for the continuation of tractor grants to certain farmers, assuming we can agree on a definition for "a small farmer", and we accept that the total amount of money available is to be the same as 61 before, it obviously means that the Minister will not be able fully to apply his objective of widening the range of machinery which is going to be available for grant; and if I may use a collective expression, our noble friend Lady Elliot may find that her grain dryer again disappears from the scheme because there is not enough to widen the full range and earmark money for these tractors.
If we had thought that even selecting a section of the industry in this way and cutting something else out in the other direction would have been beneficial, I am quite certain that we Should have done it. Obviously, it would be much more acceptable politically for the Government to say, "Our scheme has been a complete success so far as certain fanners are concerned, and we are going to continue it for them; but we are going to discontinue it for others." We do not think that, even on that ground, we can justify it. We think that all farmers will benefit much better by what we are doing; and I would suggest that the very fact (that we are going back so completely on what we argued before is the best possible justification for asking your Lordships to believe that we think that this is the right way to do it.
§ 5.30 p.m
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has rightly pointed out, and as was also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, under this clause the Minister can authorise investment grants to be given for anything which he thinks is suitable. One of the difficulties, of course, in moving an Amendment of this kind is that it can be said that you are doing something which is unnecessary because there is nothing in this clause to prevent the Minister from giving grants for tractors or for combines. The reason why some of my noble friends have tried to insist on writing into the Bill that grants for these particular machines shall be given is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, remarked, that the Minister has taken the trouble to state publicly that he does not intend, if this Bill is passed into law and if he continues to be Minister of Agriculture, to give grants for machinery of this kind.
Another difficulty which the movers of this Amendment are obviously under 62 is that we do not want, in a discussion of this kind at the Committee stage of an Agriculture Bill, to have a debate on the question of investment allowances versus investment grants. That perhaps would be straining the rules of order too far, and therefore we cannot spend too much time in arguing that general question. We can only make it plain that in our view investment grants are in any case a second best expedient, and that we have always thought, and always argued, that investment allowances do far more good for agriculture than the present system of investment grants.
However, we have to assume that under this Bill we are not dealing with allowances; we are dealing with grants. Even in these circumstances my noble friends are right to deplore the fact that tractors and combines should be omitted from the grants, although, as I have said, the grants are a second-rate method of doing it compared with allowances. The Government claim that, so far as tractors and combines are concerned, the grants have not been very effective. It is difficult at short notice to draw conclusions from the figures which the noble Lord has just quoted; but the impression they made on my mind was that if these figures represent what is happening in agriculture it is not a very hopeful sign for the fulfilment of our increasing production programme which was agreed between the Government and the farming industry a year and a half ago, in November, 1968.
The noble Lords, Lord Beswick and Lord Hughes, have both assured us that as much money, or more money, is going to be spent, and that although some money is being taken away from the farmers by stopping these grants on tractors and combines it is being given back in other ways. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, told us just now of two ways in which this was being done. He said that one way was that farmers would get more money in tax rebates on the machinery than they had been getting before. But the whole point about this is that a great many of the most efficient and hard-working small farmers with large families are not within an income tax bracket: they are not paying income tax, and therefore they cannot benefit in the way in which the noble Lord has said they will benefit. Perhaps the richer farmers will benefit a 63 little more; but the smaller people—some of them with fair-sized farms, though even a man with a fair-sized farm may not be earning a large profit—may well not come within any income tax bracket at all. Therefore, I think that in this the Government are discriminating against the small and medium farmer.
Then the noble Lord said that another way in which they would get back the money that was being taken away was that higher investment grants were going to be given on a wider range of things, which he said would encourage the more progressive farmers. That, of course, depends on what particular objects qualify for the grants. No doubt it would take too long to specify all such objects, but nearly all small and medium farmers have to use tractors, and a great many fairly small or medium farmers either have a combine of their own or share one with someone else, and these are such universal tools of agriculture that one feels a little doubtful when one is told, "If you put in a grain dryer, you will get a bigger grant on that instead." For every man who can manage, on a medium-sized farm, to put in his own grain dryer, there are a hundred more who cannot have a grain dryer, but who can have, and do have, a combine or tractor, or both. For that reason I deplore, and I think it ought to be stated that we deplore, the termination of these grants.
There is one reason why, so far as I am concerned, it would seem not to be a good thing that we should press this Amendment to a Division. This is a matter of finance, and I think (I may be corrected if I am wrong) that constitutionally the other place could reject our Amendment, because it would be a financial matter, without giving any reasons. Of course that does not prevent your Lordships from voting for the Amendment if you wish to, but I think that it would possibly be regarded in another place as a financial matter.
Another reason is that they did have an unusually long discussion on this point in another place—in fact two discussions, owing to one of those accidents which will happen in the best-regulated families. The Government failed to produce enough supporters at the right moment, and the whole of Clause 29 was thrown 64 out at the Committee stage. So, after a very long debate in Committee, it then had to be debated all over again on Report (it took up a whole day) so we cannot complain here that the other place have not had a sufficient opportunity to examine with great thoroughness and care all the arguments for and against this proposal. It seems to me that your Lordships may feel that it would perhaps not be a particularly appropriate occasion on which your Lordships should exercise your revising functions, which are usually exercised when we feel that another place has not had enough opportunity for giving proper consideration to the matter. Therefore, I would say that we ought to deplore this step which is being taken but that we probably, for the reasons I have just given, ought not to divide upon it.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
I thank my noble friend Lord Dundee for his advice, which I shall take. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes (I apologise for interrupting him in his speech, but I thought he was slipping on to another point and I did not want him to escape), for giving us quite a long exposition—and of course there was another one in another place—of how there is to be a reshuffling of the pack with these grants. The point is, of course, that the benefit of the grants for all people in agriculture will go to the people who have some capital, and I only hope—I really do only hope—that the Government, at the end of this current year, are not going to have an unhappy outcome. Undoubtedly, they are trying to be generous over grants, and I am worried that there is not the capital there. That is also the view of my noble friends.
From what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, told us, this grant is worth about three shillings in the pound in relation to all the grants, so it is worth quite a bit. We were interested in the statistics—marginal, the noble Lord called them—and I wondered what it is that grants are supposed to do. Surely there are two objects; one, to increase expansion, and the other sometimes—let us admit it—to put some money into the pockets of people who really need it for a specific purpose. Listening to die noble Lord, Lord Hughes, one wonders what the Government mean when they say that the results are bad. I have a nasty feeling 65 that if the figures had gone up we might have been told that the grant was no longer needed. As the figures have remained the same—and, incidentally, we were not given the figures to show whether they were the same as between now and the time before investment allowances were started—they are said to have been an utter failure, and therefore the grant must go. As my noble friend Lord Dundee said, it is not a very good outlook for the forthcoming expansion programme.
§ LORD HUGHES
The noble Lord said that he did not get the earlier figures, but I gave the figures for the three years before, under the old system.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
I am sorry. I meant before the investment allowances. I do not think you can do a proper comparison, unless you take the figures from before the investment allowances started until to-day. I was particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Crawshaw for stating that, although we welcome the re-shuffling of the pack for augers and blowers and mechanical feeders, these are things which need a modern layout and the bigger farmer may not be able to afford it. Before leaving that, I think it would not be wrong to say that some of us have been a little puzzled by the very strong stance which the Government have taken on this matter. One was a little amused to look at the Report of the proceedings in Committee in another place on the 1967 Bill, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said:We recognise the importance of encouraging investment in tractors as a power unit on the farm."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Standing Committee A, 10/11/66, col. 967.]So, in triumph, the allowance went and the grant came in, and now we are being told that we are very stupid to be standing up for the grant.
Before I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment, there is one general point that I should like to make, if I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who went a little wide—and we were most interested to hear him do so. Let us be quite clear that Clause 29 is an enabling clause. No longer, as under the 1957 and 1967 Acts—as your Lordships who have far longer experience 66 than I have will know—will it be known which operations are going to qualify for grant, and what the rate of grant is going to be. This may well be right; it will give greater flexibility, and it will certainly give a more pleasant time to Ministers. But it means that henceforth schemes will be at the whim of the Minister of the day, and at the mercy of the economic winds which happen to prevail. In this case it is the Minister's wish to remove this 10 per cent. grant, and he will, of course, do it in a Statutory Instrument which neither House will be able to amend. All I can say to that is that I am fortified by the fact that this clause is broad. It does not prevent the Government from continuing, or bringing in, some special help for these machines, and, with a Minister such as we have at the moment, who so obviously has the good fortune of agriculture at heart, I hope that perhaps he will look kindly on this matter for the future. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment,, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.
§ Clause 30 agreed to.
§ 5.45 p.m.
LORD NUNBURNHOLME moved Amendment No. 12:
After Clause 30, insert the following new clause:
§ Grants for seeding arable land
§ ". The appropriate authority may with the approval of the Treasury by scheme provide for the making of grants in respect of the seeding, for grass for a lay of at least three years, of land which has been arable for at least five years:
§ Provided that, if it appears to the appropriate Minister that the relevant land has been ploughed, without his consent previously obtained, within three years of the seeding for which a grant was paid under this section, he may recover an amount equal to that payment."
The noble Lord said: I should like to give your Lordships some clarification of this new clause. It states at the end of the first paragraph:
… of land which has been arable for at least five years".
It has been pointed out that "arable" can include grass, and that according to the English dictionary it is land which is capable of being ploughed. So if your Lordships pass this Amendment I
think that the word "arable" will have to be deleted and the words altered to:
… ploughed consecutively for at least five years".
§ This Amendment is simply a suggestion for the Government to act. I cannot put it down as a money clause, because we are not allowed to move money clauses in this House. But your Lordships know that endless corn cropping is becoming more and more expensive, and with ever-increasing agricultural manure applications the soil structure is deteriorating. The natural fertility of the ground is diminishing and in this Conservation Year the Government should surely give us a lead in improving both soil structure and fertility. That would benefit the nation as a whole and would also help the farmer, and a subsidy to the farmer will encourage this aim.
§ This is a constructive measure. Capital grants for building and drainage do not increase crops or livestock, and fertility must be improved. I went to Ten-terden sheep fair this morning, and every farmer to whom I spoke was in favour of this Amendment and said that he hoped the Government would do something on these lines. Therefore I beg of the Government to agree to this Amendment to increase fertility, and I recommend the Committee to approve it. I beg to move.
§ LORD WISE
I am pleased to associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, in moving this Amendment, although I suspect that in doing so he and I are possibly ploughing a rather lone furrow. Nevertheless, I hope that it will promote some discussion and at least give the Government food for further thought. The noble Lord has told me that he first advocated this step a couple of years or so ago and I am in entire agreement with him, for I firmly believe that it is a desirable step and one which would be extremely beneficial to agriculture in the long term.
I do not wish to speak at any great length or to reiterate all that I said on this subject during the Second Reading debate, but I am concerned for the arable farmers who, through economic circumstances, have been forced into continuous corn cropping over the past ten years or so. Even ten years ago farmers were experiencing difficulty in making ends meet 68 when they were assessing the returns at the end of the year—possibly many were participating in the farm business record scheme—and it is very easy to understand why they decided upon a simple arable system if their land was suitable. At that time the ploughing subsidy for three or four-year leys was still in operation, the fertility built up by this rota-ional system was there to be used, and the yields were relatively good. Then the ploughing grant ceased, and with it the widespread sowing of leys. Now these farmers have discovered that their records show differently; and they have also discovered, to their cost, that it is impossible continually to grow barley successfully on the same ground, even with the aid of all the modern techniques in the way of fertilisers, sprays and so on.
We must put some balance back into these particular farms, and I am convinced that a return to the ley system with heavy stocking is the answer. That has to be made possible; and there is a danger that some of the farmers who are now practising this continual corn cropping are experiencing real difficulties. The fertility of their land has to be restored; but, again, the capital requirements are considerable. The farmers will be hard pressed to find the capital, especially as with cattle, which they will need, there is no financial return for approximately 18 months or so, and even then the profit from them may do little more than service the loan. But—and this is my point—by so doing the fertility of the land would be gradually restored, in order that it could subsequently produce good, clean, healthy corn crops. I think a grant such as is proposed in this Amendment would greatly assist in attaining this end, and I feel that the industry would derive real and lasting benefit from it. I hope the Government will feel able to give it favourable consideration.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I am in favour of this Amendment, but there is just one point I should like to emphasise. As your Lordships know, there are some good grass mixtures and some bad grass mixtures, and there might be some farmers Who would reseed their land with a poor grass mixture and yet receive the same grant as a farmer who reseeded his land with a good grass mixture. Therefore I would suggest that if this proposal ever 69 became law, before the grant was paid an inspector from the Ministry of Agriculture should ensure that the grass mixture being sown was the night grass mixture to sow on that particular land. Having said that, I support the Amendment.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I think this Amendment is interesting. I hope that it commends itself to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and that he will refer it to the Minister of Agriculture for serious consideration. I believe—the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will correct me if I am wrong—that this matter of soil structure and soil fertility is at the moment the subject of investigation by the Agricultural Research Council. I do not know if he has any forward information as to how that is working out, but no doubt the Government would like to know and to have that report before taking any decision.
As to the Amendment itself, I am not sure whether my noble friend (and, incidentally, cousin) is referring to land which is just ploughed up every year, or whether he is trying to get at continuous corn cropping, which I think must be the case, because, after all, land is ploughed up when you put in sugar beet, brussel sprouts or any root break crop which is supposed to maintain and restore fertility to the land. So that little point would need consideration. But I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us what the Government feel about this matter, because it is an important point which will have to be dealt with in due course, and probably sooner rather than later.
This Amendment is certainly interesting, and the case for it has been put well and, indeed, is a plausible one; but I hope, for all that, that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will not be taken in too far by it. I have always thought that of all the grants that are available to agriculture, the best ones are the farm improvement grants, because their effect is felt over a period of years, and on principle one would like to see less of the subsidies and less of the basic cash grants, whose effects are felt over only one year. But the grant here suggested is apparently one for encouraging the ploughing of grass and for the encouragement of fertility in the land, and we have heard how the structure of the 70 land deteriorates. If the structure of the land is deteriorating through bad farming, then the particular practice of farming which causes that deterioration should be altered, and that should be the responsibility of the farmer. If his method of farming is such as to make the land deteriorate, then I do not see that he should require a subsidy in order to make him alter his ways. I should have thought that his ways would automatically be altered by his own realisation that he is practising a bad form of farming.
We used to have the ploughing grant, which meant that you could get a grant whenever you ploughed an acre. I always thought that that was rather an absurd grant. I could not see why you should collect money from the Government just because you had ploughed a certain field. The same applies here. This Amendment reminds me very much of about two years ago, when the Government introduced a grant to farmers who grew field beans. I remember that, much to the annoyance of my colleagues, I put down an Amendment suggesting that the Government did not give a grant to people for growing field beans. The Government took no notice, and went on with the grant. I see they have now stopped it. Perhaps they have come to the conclusion that that grant also has not been effective, or is not a very good one. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said earlier on that they had come to the conclusion that the grant on the tractors was not very good, and they have stopped that. I must say that I commend this Government: they are certainly making a meal of their own words—and I think it was Churchill who once said, "Not a very unwholesome diet, either!" I only hope the noble Lord has been enjoying the experience.
But I would ask the noble Lord not to get too involved with the Ministry of Agriculture manipulating, almost, the type of farming that farmers wish to practise. I do not think that that is right; I do not think it is the purpose of grants, and it should not be. Certainly we want to have the fertility of farms as high as it should be and as high as it can be, and this, I would respectfully suggest, is done by making the enterprises themselves sufficiently attractive to the farmer and not by manipulating the type 71 of fanning he undertakes by form of grant.
§ LORD BURTON
I also appreciate the sentiments of this Amendment. I think the intention is obviously good; but I am a little worried that in our part of the world we very often plough out a ley in two lots of corn followed by roots and then another lot of corn. If this Amendment was passed and we had to plough out for five years, it would have the reverse effect to that which the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, wants, because farmers would undoubtedly put it down to a further year of corn, instead of sowing out grass as we usually do, so as to qualify for grant. That would nullify the desire of the noble Lord. I feel the answer is to make stock production as profitable as grain growing. I think, as was said just now, that if you made the enterprise attractive, that would meet the requirements.
§ 6 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
I think perhaps it might be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to allay the fears of those noble Lords who think I am going to be too sympathetic to this Amendment. Before doing so, I must comment on what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. It is one of the joys of being in Government that you know that at any given time the Opposition will accuse you of being wrong and will press you to do something else. If you refrain from doing it, then you are being dogmatic or you fit the description of any other of the nasty words used in the context. If in due course—it occasionally happens to all Governments—the Government change their mind, they are then accused of going back on what they have said. No one refers to the fact that the Opposition have done the same. On the previous issue what we did was to swap sides—obviously both sides were wrong but at different times.
In this case I have great sympathy with what was put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Nunburnholme and Lord Wise. I also think that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was correct when he said he thought that it was an excess of growing cereals which was in the minds of the movers of this Amendment. I do not think that there can be any doubt that 72 some people are worried about the effect on land fertility of a continuous policy of growing corn on particular land. Quite obviously, if this policy were pushed to the extreme the consequences could be very undesirable. But we have no evidence to justify hasty action in this matter.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, suggested that we ought not to be embarking on a policy of intervening too much, as telling farmers what to do. This is a field where we do not need to do it. Any good farmer will be aware of the risk of flouting the rules of good husbandry. If, as the noble Earl has said, a farmer wishes to do so, it is only reasonable that he should do so at his own expense. He ought not to be paid a subsidy by the Government to encourage him to do the thing that he ought to be doing in the first place. That does not mean we can be complacent about it. Clearly, we could not rest on that basis, since farmers who did that—perhaps because they were unduly greedy or stupid—would be wasting not only their own resources but the country's resources; and we might have to do something about it if it went too far.
But, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, indicated, this is one of the matters which the Minister asked the Agricultural Advisory Council to look at urgently. We hope to get their Report on this matter in the autumn, and it would be wrong to anticipate what the Council may recommend. In any event, we see great difficulty in doing what the Amendment asks. The re-seeding to grass of land which has been under tillage crop for a period of years can undoubtedly be beneficial to soil structure and fertility; but it is a practice which good farmers naturally adopt. If land is to be sown down to grass for a minimum period of three years, the grower must have livestock to consume it. I suggest that it is precisely on the mixed arable and livestock farm that any problem associated with continuous corn growing is least likely to arise. On the other hand, on a predominantly cereals farm, the farmer could use the temporary grass only if he expended capital on livestock and specialised fixed equipment.
Leaving out of account the effect on the farmer, we must consider also the effect on the administrative arrangements 73 and consider whether this is an administratively practical proposition. Under the arrangements proposed in the Amendment it would be necessary first for the Agricultural Departments to establish that the land had been arable for at least five years. Secondly, it would be necessary to operate machinery to ensure recovery of the grant if the land after re-seeding were not kept under grass for a minimum of three years. Either of these is a pretty formidable task in itself. Putting both together, we are undoubtedly placing a considerable burden on the Agricultural Departments. I think I am putting it mildly when I say that it would be a matter of extreme difficulty for them. It would certainly call for a very heavy manpower commitment. No Government have been more regularly pressed to reduce the number of civil servants than this Government. I am certain that it would not be the wish of the Committee that we should greatly add to the strength of the Agricultural Departments by accepting this Amendment. I hope that in due course, when we get the Report of the Agricultural Advisory Council, noble Lords who have expressed fears about this matter may have some reassurance either in what the Report may have to say or in what may come as a consequence of what it says. I therefore invite the noble Lord not to press this Amendment.
Before withdrawing this Amendment I should say that I am grateful to all sides for supporting this idea. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, made a point about some land which never goes back to grass. I realise that; the great crop is beans and roots or what-have-you. There was the point made by Lord Hughes about administrative difficulties. I do not see that these should arise—after all, they had no difficulty in working the ploughing grants. Nevertheless, I think that this debate has been of some use, and I hope that Lord Hughes will mention it to the Minister of Agriculture for his further consideration. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 31 agreed to.74
§ Clause 32 [Amendments as to grants in connection with alterations of farm structure]:
LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 31, line 20, at end insert ("and in section 35(f) (under which a scheme may contain such incidental and supplemental provisions as appear to the appropriate Minister expedient for the purposes of the scheme) for the words ' for the purposes of the scheme' there shall be substituted ' including transitional provisions treating as having been done under or in pursuance of the scheme anything done under or in pursuance of a previous scheme'.")
§ The noble Lord said: The main purpose of the Amendment is to avoid a possibility in paying grant under the Farm Amalgamation and Boundaries Adjustments Scheme at the increased rate of 60 per cent. in accordance with the Annual Review announcement. The rate previously was 50 per cent. As the Bill stands at present, we should pay the extra 10 per cent. by approving the amalgamation a second time under a revised scheme to be made later this year under Section 26 of the Agriculture Act 1967 as amended by Clause 32 of the Bill. Before giving such a second approval, however, we should once again have to get everyone with an interest in the land to consent to Schedule III conditions, even though they might have already applied to the land by virtue of some payment already made following the first approval under the existing scheme. The Amendment will allow us to include in the new scheme under Section 26 a provision treating an approval given under the existing scheme as an approval for the purposes of the new scheme and thus obviate the need to obtain new consent to the application of Schedule III conditions. Briefly, the man approved for 50 per cent. will, as a result of this Amendment, get the 60 per cent. without further bother.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I thank the noble Lord for explaining to us the purpose of this Amendment. I am bound to say that I understand best the last sentence of his speech, rather than the earlier part, and I am happy to support it.
§ Clause 32, as amended, agreed to.75
§ Clause 33 agreed to.
§ Clause 34 [New provision as to standard costs, etc. for certain grants]:
§ LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 14A:
Page 34, line 29, at end insert—
("(3) Section 1(4)(c) of the Agricultural Improvement Grants Act 1959 (which authorises standard cost regulations for the purposes of section 3 of the Pests Act 1954) shall cease to have effect.")
§ The noble Lord said: This is a minor tidying-up Amendment which will enable us to repeal the whole of the Agricultural Improvement Grants Act 1959. Section 1(4)(c) of that Act authorises standard cost regulations for the purposes of Section 3 of the Pests Act 1954. Section 3 empowers Ministers to contribute towards the cost of the destruction of pests or the taking of preventive measures, for example, scrub clearance. The provisions of Section 1(4)(c) of the 1959 Act have not been used at all in the past and there is no intention of using them in the future. Standard costs for work which might have been dealt with under those provisions—for example, scrub clearance or destruction of cover for rabbits—can be made available under Clause 29 of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 35 to 38 agreed to.
§ Clause 39 [General aim of statutory smallholdings]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 39 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I should like to raise a short point. Clause 39 sets out the Government's general policy with regard to statutory smallholdings and defines in statutory terms the Government's policy as reconstructed in the light of the Wise Report. As I understand it, the broad effect of this is to endeavour to modernise statutory smallholdings to meet the changed conditions of the day. This is particularly difficult to do on many smallholding estates which were constructed with houses, fixed equipment and so on, on relatively small plots of land in circumstances very different from those of to-day and when the thought was more sociological 76 than industrial. Therefore there must be a great range of difficult problems which the statutory Smallholding authorities, the county councils, will have to face.
I understand that the broad intention is to require that a statutory smallholding shall be bigger in size than it used to be. Broadly, the concept used to be that it should have the agricultural or horticultural capacity to provide a living for a man, and it would have a house on it for the man and his wife and family to live in. Now, as we see from subsection (2) of the clause, it is intended that the smallholding shall providefull-time employment for not more than two men (including the person to whom it is let).There is evidently the intention to go further, and I think it would be of general interest to hear a few words from the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, about the Government's policy in this matter and what they see as the ideal size and equipment of a holding, both as a general farm holding and a horticultural holding; whether they visualise any specialist livestock holdings and, if so, what sort of equipment, and generally how they see this provision being met. I know from past experience when I used to be Chairman of my county smallholding committee the problems of a local authority in these matters, and I can also visualise in my mind's eye the range of smallholdings that we had—that indeed we still have—in Surrey. I am sure that other noble Lords have had a similar experience and that therefore the whole Committee would be grateful to the noble Lord if he would say a word of general explanation of the policy.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, set out the general purpose of Clause 39. As he said, the Wise Committee pointed out that the objectives of Part IV of the 1947 Act were no longer relevant to the needs of agriculture and in practice were incapable of achievement. Clause 39 provides that in carrying out their functions under this part of the Bill smallholdings authorities shall have regard to the general interests of agriculture and of good estate management and shall make it their general aim to provide 77 opportunities for persons who meet the requirements of Clause 44 to be fanners on their own account. Authorities are to do this by letting holdings, and it is to be part of their general aim that the holdings should not be larger than is reasonably necessary to provide full-time employment for the occupier and one other worker, whether or not someone else is employed part-time. Some larger holdings may be provided in exceptional circumstances.
These provisions provide ample scope for small holdings of a wide variety of sizes and types. For example, authorities have the special function of catering for new entrants to the industry whose capital and experience may not always be equal to taking on immediately one of the larger holdings on an authority's estate. Indeed, it is one of the functions of the supplementary grants for which provision is made in Clauses 50 and 51 to help authorities to make provision for prospective tenants in these circumstances.
The whole concept of a smallholding, however, is one which the tenant and his family can work with only limited outside help: a three-man farm would not be consistent with this. It is not the aim of smallholdings policy to provide substantial farms whose incoming tenants would require extensive farming experience and considerable financial resources. That is why there is a ceiling on the extent to which the size of individual smallholdings can be developed—to prevent the transformation of existing holdings into a quite small number of very large farms which would provide very limited opportunities for new entrants. At the same time, it is intended that reorganisation should produce a balanced structure of viable, full-time holdings including a good proportion of larger holdings; and the Minister will have this in mind when he comes to approve the authority's reorganisation proposals. I hope that general statement gives the sort of picture that the Minister will have before him when he comes to approve—as he will have to do—the various proposals.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I thank the noble Lord for his helpful explanation which I shall consider with close interest.
§ Clause 39 agreed to.78
§ Clauses 40 to 51 agreed to.
§ Clause 52 [Contributions under previous enactments]:
LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 49, line 11, leave out from ("1947") to end of line 13 and insert ("in a case where the land sold, exchanged, appropriated or let is land which has been or formed part of—
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 16 standing in my name on the Order Paper. Clause 52 also deals with the reconstruction of smallholdings, and the powers in it are those which the Bill gives to the Minister with regard to the reduction of payments to local authorities consequent upon the implementation of the Government's new policy for smallholdings by the local authorities concerned; where, for instance, land or houses are sold off. As drafted, Clause 52(2) gives the Minister very wide powers to reduce the Exchequer contributions to local authorities who are running smallholdings. The County Councils Association, speaking for the smallholdings authorities, has called my attention to the point that subsection (2)(b) goes rather too wide. I understand that there have been some discussions between the Association and the Ministry of Agriculture on this matter.
§ The effect of my Amendment would be to limit the reductions which the Exchequer could make to land in certain categories only to the two matters in sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) of my Amendment. Broadly, the effect would be to make it clear that if the land sold has never been the subject of Exchequer contributions or payments—and that is the case where a county council has bought land without assistance from the Exchequer—the Ministry of Agriculture would not be entitled to reduce the Exchequer contributions paid in respect of other land. I think that this is a fair point and I hope that the noble Lord will be willing to accept it.79
§ LORD BESWICK
There have been discussions with the County Councils Association and certain assurances have been given to them, but there remains this point to which the noble Lord has called our attention. I should not have thought that there are many cases where the point made by the noble Lord would apply, but there is a point of principle here. Since I have not had the pleasure of agreeing to anything he has so far put, I am very happy to accept this Amendment.
§ Clause 52, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 53 [Loans and guarantees by smallholdings authorities]:
§ 6.22 p.m.
LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 50, line 24, at beginning insert ("(a)")
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 17 and by leave of the Committee I should like to discuss with it No. 18. I only hope that it will fare equally as well as the last Amendment when the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, comes to reply. This Amendment deals with the administration of statutory small holdings and particularly with the point of loans of working capital to approved smallholding tenants. Again this point has been raised by the County Councils Association, who have drawn my attention to it.
§ Clause 53 gives the smallholdings authorities the necessary power to make loans to tenants for working capital and the Association think that the clause as drafted is too rigid. The Wise Committee drew attention to the fact that in practice smallholding tenants have seldom made use of this facility for getting a loan from the County Council concerned for the purpose of financing the working of their holdings. It is thought that among the reasons for this was the fixing of the interest rate at the time when the loan was raised and the absence of any provision for varying the interest rate during the period of the loan. For instance, any tenant getting a loan during the last twelve months, when interest rates have been so exceptionally high, would obviously be in an unfavourable position after a period of years, when, as we hope, interest rates may come down to a 80 more normal level, perhaps 2 or 3 per cent. lower.
The Wise Report refers to this and I think it worth quoting what they say. Paragraph 10 says:
Beyond saying that the loan or guarantee schemes should be so devised as not to involve a loss to public funds, we should leave the authorities free to devise their own schemes.
In other words, the Wise Committee gives the fairly strong advice that local authorities should be as free as possible in devising their schemes for giving loans.
The main objective of the Amendment is to give the tenant applying for a loan the choice of taking it at the rate set out in subsection (3) of this clause:
… at a rate of one-half of one per cent. above the rate which, on the date of the agreement to make the loan, is the rate for the time being determined by the Treasury in accordance with section 5 of the National Loans Act …
§ or at the rate set out in my Amendment, if the tenant wants it this way. This would still give the smallholdings authorities (the county councils) exactly the same margin for administrative expenses of ½ per cent. and it would give the tenant, especially at a time of very high interest rates as at present, the prospect of a lower interest rate some time in the future, when he would be paying 1 or 2 or perhaps 3 per cent. less than he would be at the start. Of course, it could be that he would be paying more. That would be something for him to decide.
§ In the light of experience, it would seem that this form of loan would be a help to smallholding tenants, who are usually pretty short of cash when selected to take on a statutory smallholding, and it is surprising that they have rarely made use of this provision. One cannot help feeling that the rigid rate of ½ per cent. above the official rate could be a deterrent factor and it might be more helpful if the prospective borrower had the choice. It is entirely for this reason, as a practical alternative, which is not going to commit anybody to anything because there is no additional financial commitment, that this Amendment has been commended by the County Councils Association.
§ LORD BESWICK
Taking the two Amendments together, as the noble Lord has said, the County Councils Association have taken an interest in this matter 81 as well as in the previous Amendment. I understand that on Committee stage in another place an Amendment was moved to enable authorities to charge a varying rate of interest ½ per cent. above the P.W.L.B. rate, instead of at a fixed rate tied to the P.W.L.B. rate current at the time the loan was granted. It seems that they have realised that a fluctuating rate tied to the P.W.L.B. rate would produce confusion both to the authorities and to the tenants, as well as a considerable increase in administrative work, since the P.W.L.B. rate changes far more frequently than the bank rate, so that the smallholders would not know from one week to another what was their rate of interest.
The present Amendment appears to be an attempt to improve on the previous attempt. But I put it to the noble Lord that in fact there are even greater disadvantages, since the Authority would have no option but to grant the loan at the lower rate of ½ per cent. above bank rate if the tenant requested it, whatever the tenant's creditworthiness was. The noble Lord complained about rigidity in the situation as it would be unamended. But here, surely, there is a degree of rigidity which is quite unacceptable. The tenant could say, "I want a preferential rate of interest", and by Act of Parliament the Authority would have to grant this.
If the Amendment were in force to-day smallholders could at their option borrow at 7½ per cent. from the Authority, as compared with 9 to 10 per cent. from a bank or 9¾ per cent. from the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. I did not quite understand what the noble Lord meant about not placing any further financial responsibility upon the Government because the difference between the cost to the Authority of borrowing the money at market level and the lending rate would in these circumstances have to be borne by the ratepayer. In any event, a fixed interest rate is more customary practice in long-term loans for agriculture. Those made by the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation certainly enable the borrower to know just what his obligations are.
I do not think it is feasible for a tenant by his own request, by his own option, to put himself in this preferential rate category. I am sorry, but I cannot 82 recommend the Committee to accept this Amendment.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his answer. I am bound to take his point that certainly the county council cannot afford to lend at a rate below what it would cost the council: it must charge ½ per cent. above the cost to the council. It may be that this Amendment is wrongly constructed, and that it should be perhaps 1½ per cent. above bank rate. I should expect that in practice a county council would probably borrow at 1 per cent. over bank rate, and then charge an extra ½ per cent. That point I entirely take from the noble Lord.
With regard to the creditworthiness of the tenant, this is entirely a matter for the judgment of the county council, in its smallholdings committee; or the council might decide that it could not lend anything. So we are really talking about a case where the county council considers that the tenant is to a certain extent creditworthy, and about what facilities can be provided.
I accept that the Amendment as drafted is faulty. However, I should have thought there was still something in the point that a variable rate of interest related to the bank rate could be a convenient arrangement. Bank rate is not always jumping about; as a rule, it remains for a good many months, at one level, and as the noble Lord has already observed, everybody knows about it. The Public Works Loans Board rate would be quite impossible, I agree. I should like to raise this matter again on Report stage and to increase the rate to 5 per cent. in order to cover the financial point which the noble Lord has quite rightly made. Perhaps I may ask him if, in the meantime, the Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food will give some thought as to whether, in those circumstances, the original flexibility might be worth giving in order to get a little more use made of what should be a useful facility but one which, for some reason, is not used. I thank the noble Lord for pointing out the defect in the second Amendment, and in the light of what he has said to the Committee I beg leave to withdraw the present Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 53 agreed to.83
§ Clauses 54 to 65 agreed to.
§ Clause 66 [Interpretation of Part IV]:
§ 6.36 p.m.
LORD BALERNO moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 58, line 34, leave out ("bird insect or fish") and insert ("vertebrate animal, insect or shellfish,").
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is——
§ LORD BESWICK
It might be for the convenience of the Committee, if the noble Lord is agreeable, if we took Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 together.
§ LORD BALERNO
Amendment No. 20 is on a different subject from No. 19, but I should be prepared to take Nos. 19 and 21 together if this is convenient. The object of Amendment No. 19 is to persuade your Lordships that it is important that Parliament, in making legislation, should be consistent in the meaning of the words it employs. I want to draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that you now have a chance to return to being consistent in the interpretation of the word "animal". In the great Act which dealt with animals about a hundred years ago, which was a famous vivisection Act, the framers had the good sense and vision to understand that legislation would be better based if it faced up to natural facts, and realised that the animal kingdom is divided into two parts—the vertebrates and the invertebrates. In that Act animals were defined as animals, excluding invertebrates. In the various Animal Acts enacted for many years thereafter this main distinction was maintained, but gradually there crept in a tendency to use the word "animal" in a whole variety of ways according to the whims of the framers of any particular Bill at any particular time.
I drew attention to this situation when we were discussing the Bill for the better ordering of the veterinary profession, when I endeavoured to amend the Bill by suggesting that we stuck to invertebrates. But the Government were determined that the veterinary profession was on no account to be allowed to have any dealings with fish. I cannot say that the arguments which they adduced at that time were particularly cogent, because by allowing the veterinary profession at that time to deal with fish it did 84 not preclude fish scientists who are not veterinarians from dealing also with fish. So, to my mind, the then Government took up a completely illogical position. However, they got their way. What do we see now? We see fish returned and made respectable, and fish are included with animals. If only they had stuck to their vertebrate and invertebrate distinction, that would have been all right.
But what further has happened under the new use of "animal" is that reptiles may be excluded. Reptiles were included, if I remember aright, in the Bill for the veterinary profession, so we are getting into a muddle. I would beseech your Lordships to accept this little Amendment, which merely states in a different way exactly what the Government want to do. I ask that we should leave out "bird, insect or fish" and include "vertebrate animal, insect or shell fish". All this does to alter what is already in the sentence is to include reptilia which are not all excluded; it makes their position clear in the general legislation. That is why Amendment No. 21 is a consequent Amendment on No. 19, if that should meet with your Lordships' approval.
§ LORD BESWICK
I do not recall all the Acts to which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, made reference, but I have a vivid recollection of some of the debates we have had on the definition of animals or creatures. I see that the noble Lord disagrees. I am sorry, but I thought I had a clear recollection—
§ LORD BESWICK
I thought that was the famous occasion when the noble Lord quoted the words of the well-known hymn:All creatures great and smalland thought that that was sufficiently comprehensive to go into an Act of Parliament.
I agree that consistency is necessary, but the noble Lord would accept that clarity also is a virtue in legislation. The wording, as set out in the Bill after a good deal of thought, has been put there because we believe it gives the maximum clarity. The wording was considered again most carefully after the noble Lord's Amendment was put down, and we still feel, with respect to him—and I know of his great interest in these 85 matters, and great authority in definitions in the animal kingdom—the present wording is to be preferred. The purpose of the definitions of "animal", "feeding stuff" and "fish" is to set out the classes of animal whose food will fall within the scope of Part IV. The actual species of animals will be defined, by regulations. Thus, "feeding stuff" is defined as food for prescribed animals kept for the purpose of commercial farming.
Regulations made under the Bill will work within the framework of this definition and set out the actual species of animals; that is to say, cows, pigs, poultry and so on. We have taken care to ensure that we have adequate power to cover not only old-established farm animals of the type I have quoted, but those reared in new farming developments, such as trout and shellfish farms. We also wish to be able to cover food for bees. Creatures of this sort are not always thought of as animals. In order to avoid any possibility of confusion, "animals" have been defined as including birds, insects and fishes, and "fish" as including shellfish. In this way, we believe we have achieved what we set out to achieve; namely, maximum clarity.
I accept that the Amendments seek to achieve greater clarity. In my opinion they fail in a number of respects: first, "animals" are defined as being vertebrate animals. I do not quarrel with that, for they are; but surely it is unnecessary, as "animal" is generally understood to include the majority of farm animals which the Bill seeks to cover. Again, although it may be technically correct that birds and fish are covered by the words "vertebrate animals", I do not think that the adoption of those words would be as helpful in removing doubts as to what is included in the word "animal" as the definition in the Bill as it now stands. Although I have no doubt that the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, would be quite clear if we accepted the wording that he proposes, he will agree that if we have a definition which leaves no shadow of doubt for the ordinary person—and, with the deepest respect, in this field I do not regard the noble Lord as an ordinary person—we have achieved what we set out to achieve; namely, maximum clarity.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
May I ask the noble Lord one question—there are very few questions that he has left unanswered in his very comprehensive reply. I wondered how a frog would be defined. Although we have not yet begun to eat frogs' legs, our imminent entry into the Common Market no doubt will make this a dish which we shall soon have put before us. Some enterprising persons will probably then have frog farms. What would a frog be? Clearly it is not a bird; equally clearly it is not an insect, and equally clearly it is not a fish. I wonder what it is? It will be most interesting to hear the noble Lord on this point.
§ LORD BESWICK
I would say—and I speak without being able to consult anyone—that a frog is a frog. If it was eaten or farmed it would find a place in the Bill; but it is not eaten and it is not farmed, so far as we know.
§ LORD BALERNO
That is the perfect example of why we should put down "vertebrate" and "invertebrate". The frog is a vertebrate, and I mentioned reptilia. We are making matters difficult. I said you did not know where you were with the frog—although I did not say "frog", I said "reptile". This is exactly the point I am trying to clear up. We do not know what is going to be farmed in the future. I cannot accept Lord Beswick's statement that people cannot distinguish between an animal that has a backbone and one that does not have a backbone. It is something which is extremely easy for a person with the lowest intelligence to understand, especially when one thinks of what certain people of low intelligence manage to do with motor-cars. I think they could manage to distinguish between an animal with a backbone and one without a backbone. Therefore, the point that people cannot understand the difference between a vertebrate and an invertebrate animal falls to the ground. I am very reluctant to give up this Amendment, and I wonder whether the noble Lord would give it another thought before it comes up on Report stage.
§ LORD BESWICK
I will certainly read most carefully what the noble Lord has said, but I doubt whether we shall come 87 up with any different view. Nevertheless, I will look into it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.49 p.m.
LORD BALERNO moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 58, line 41, at end insert ("or water")
§ The noble Lord said: This is a rather different subject from the previous Amendment. This Amendment is to add the words "or water" for the purpose of the animals' use in the farming of land or water. It is a comparatively recent conception that one farms water, and as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has informed us that this is a forward-looking Bill, I think attention should be paid to this matter. The use of the animal for the farming of land—and this governs the feedingstuff for the animal for the farming of land—was inserted chiefly because of the equidae, which are the horses or donkeys and suchlike. They might also be oxen—the word covers a fairly wide field. There is a possibility that animals will be U6ed in the farming of water; that is to say, in fish farming. Animals are used to a certain extent already, and it may be necessary to provide feedingstuffs for their use. The sentence we have just been discussing includes insects. Well, we all know that flies are very useful for the feeding of fish, and flies can be bred. Even if it is only a question of breeding them on the right diet of bananas, that may well have to be controlled. How that particular feed is being made up for the breeding and rearing of flies, for the feeding of fish, may require control. Similarly, fish live on other fish to a certain extent and it may be necessary to provide feed for the rearing of fish to feed the fish which are the main product of the farm. Any water farming almost inevitably requires maintaining a balance of different species in the water, and therefore having to put into that water other species which have been grown artificially and for which feeding-stuffs have been provided.
§ I put this Amendment forward to carry on the forward-looking ideas of the Government in this matter, which I commend, and I would in conclusion say this. There is, among those concerned with fish farming at the present moment, a very real concern as to whose "baby" fish farming 88 really is; which Department of Government is really taking an interest in it. A very trenchant article appeared in the Scotsman on this subject last December. It would help to clarify the position if this small section of the matter—the words "or water": that is water farming—were included. I do not think it can do any harm whatsoever to anybody, and it would give great encouragement to those people who are putting their money, intelligence and foresight into this, as I am sure it will be in the future, very important development of fish farming.
§ LORD BESWICK
I waited with great interest to hear what the noble Lord would say about this. On the face of it, it means that if one included the words "or water" we had in mind some form of aquatic farm horse, some animal which actually farmed the water. The noble Lord asked about the position of flies, which as he said are used for the purposes of feeding fish. Of course, if they are used for the purpose of feeding an animal which is used for food, they are covered; and flies fed to fish would in fact be covered by the Bill as it now is. If flies, or other insects, were used in some sort of way to cleanse the water, not for the purpose of feeding the fish and not for the purpose of being produced for food for humans, then they would not be covered as things now are.
If the noble Lord has reason to believe that it is likely that we shall get some creature which will be put into the water for the purpose of fulfilling some useful function, then I will certainly be happy to consider the Amendment which he has in mind. But, as at present advised, although he says it would do no harm to include the words, it is not the general rule that we put into a Bill words simply because they do no harm; they must have an immediate use. If the noble Lord can tell me that developments in this area are likely to lead in the direction he suggested then I will certainly consider it before the Report stage.
§ LORD BALERNO
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for what he has said. When I said that the inclusion of the words would do no harm, I meant that as only a very subsidiary argument. That was by no means my principal argument at all. The noble Lord was quite right in what he said about the cleansing of the water. It is the 89 oxygenation of the ponds which is important. While I am no trout fisherman myself, I understand that the success of trout in many of the lochs and lakes depends upon having the proper proportion of pike. Pike are not the food of the trout—I say this with caution; this is not my line—but it may well be necessary to arrange for extra pike to go into a lake in order to maintain the right balance, so that the trout may be extracted. Many of these fish farms in the future will be for trout farming and the provision of trout for the rivers and the lakes which are being normally fished now.
§ LORD BESWICK
I gather that the noble Lord is saying that the pike is a kind of decoy for the trout. I must consider this fascinating point before the Report stage.
§ LORD BALERNO
My impression is that the pike is there to help keep the water aerated, but I say this with great reserve. I am sure there are some more piscatorially-minded persons in this House than I am who can pronounce on that with greater authority. When the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, mentioned cleansing it occurred to me as being the proper answer. I wonder whether it would be possible for the noble Lord to give another thought to this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD BESWICK moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 60, line 14, after ("this") insert ("Part of this").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 22. Its purpose is simply to correct an omission from subsection (5) of Clause 66. That subsection, which relates only to fertilizers and feedingstuffs supplied under spreading and rearing contracts, has no relevance to other parts of the Bill, and the effect of the Amendment is to limit its application in the manner required of it.
§ Clause 66, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 67 agreed to.90
§ Clause 68 [Duty of seller to give statutory statement]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 68 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD BELSTEAD
I wonder whether I might ask the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, a point which I do not quite understand. In subsection (2) of Clause 68 we are told that subsection (1) does not apply tosales of two or more materials which are mixed at the request of the purchaser.We then turn to subsection (1) and find that what does not apply is that one does not have to give a statutory statement. Am I right in thinking that this means that the manufacturer does not have to give a statutory statement if two or more things have been mixed specially at the request of the buyer?
One then looks on to Clause 71 and finds that:A person shall not … sell for use as a fertiliser or feeding stuff any materialwhich has an attribute,unless the statement, document or mark as the case may bestates what that attribute shall be. What is worrying me about this is whether I am to understand that if you have mixed two or more things for fertiliser or feed, you do not have to give a statutory statement, though on your mark or your label you do have to say what the attribute is, whereas if on the other hand you are producing a fertiliser or feeding stuff which is one single thing, then you do have to give the statutory statement. I am sorry to shoot that one at the noble Lord, Lord Beswick; possibly he may like to reply on the next Amendment.
§ LORD BESWICK
The noble Lord is no more sorry than I am. I will certainly get him the information, and if not on the next Amendment I will let him have it later.
§ Clause 68 agreed to.
§ Clauses 69 to 74 agreed to.
§ Clause 75 [Purchaser's right to have sample taken and analysed]:
§ 7.2 p.m.
LORD BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 69, line 5, leave out ("six") and insert ("three").
§ The noble Lord said: Clause 75 allows a sample of fertilisers or feedingstuffs to be taken for up to six months from the time of delivery, or six months after receipt of a statutory statement, whichever is the later. So the period may be a little longer than six months. With the leave of the Committee I should like to discuss with this Amendment Nos. 24 and 25. The Committee will see that the three Amendments provide for a three months time span for fertiliser and a one month time span for feedingstuffs, and after that a sample may not be taken. The present period, under the 1926 Act, is two weeks only.
§ Dealing first with fertilisers, I think my noble friends will agree that farmers ought to try to avail themselves of the early order rebates which are offered by manufacturers; indeed, many fertilisers are bought in the autumn and spread in the spring. But should we not consider why a farmer would have fertilisers analysed at all? Would not the only reason be a bad crop? If the farmer had ordered early I would suggest that he would in any case be over the time limit; and if he had ordered immediately prior to drilling, three months would still give plenty of time for investigation.
§ The Amendments show that we take a much more serious view in regard to feedingstuffs. These are normally delivered in paper bags and rarely in polythene, and there must be few farmers who would encourage the storage of animal foods for longer than necessary. The 1926 Act did not provide for the sampling of vitamins: to-day vitamins A, D3 and E are to be found in many foods, particularly in pig and poultry foods. These, particularly vitamin E, are essential for animal health, quite apart from their effects on the performance of animals. Even in capsule form these three vitamins deteriorate when they are mixed in quantity, and deterioration tends to accelerate between one and two months after mixing has taken place. Some cattle and sheep food for the summer months may not have these three vitamins, but in winter foods they will almost certainly be included, and this deterioration is one reason why we believe that the six months sampling period for foods ought to be reduced.92
§ Antibiotics are also included in patent animal foods. It is true that as a result of the Swann Report only permitted antibiotics will be allowed in future, and I believe the Swann Report recommended an allowance of up to 100 grammes of antibiotics per ton for the future. I am advised that after three to four months food containing antibiotics would lose half their advertised level, and of course there will also be occasions when antibiotics will be specially mixed according to the veterinarian's prescription. This formed the basis of my question a moment or two ago to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick.
§ I agree that special foods should be used up quickly, but the point is that the Bill gives a period of six months, and we suggest that this will not allow for antibiotics deterioration. Mould growth, which is a storage problem, can also accelerate vitamin deterioration. Also oil content will deteriorate under damp conditions. If the Government feel that the six months period is absolutely right, the storage conditions on many of our farms will have to alter.
§ I realise that the Government may well tell us that regulations under Clause 79(1) will specify matters affecting the state of the material—for instance, storage conditions—and that it will be for the purchaser to prove that the goods as delivered were faulty, and it will not be a question of proving it six months later. But the six-month period would surely present special problems in enforcing these two safeguards. After such a long lapse of time, however accurate the analysis, how can the analyst know whether, for instance, damp deterioration has occurred after or before delivery? Six months or more later, how will the purchaser be able to prove that a material was faulty at the date of delivery? This is a matter, on both fertilisers and feedingstuffs, on which we on this side of the Committee do not seek to be dogmatic. But we feel that this provision is not quite right, and we hope that the Government will agree to look at the matter again. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I should like to support my noble friend on this Amendment, especially with regard to feedingstuffs. As he said, if the period in which a farmer can have a sample taken is going to be 93 six months, a great many of the farms I know will have to improve their storage capacity very greatly. I consider that the period of six months for feedingstuffs is far too long. But from my experience the average farmer does not order feeding-stuffs—apart perhaps from hay, which of course is different—or feeding compounds to hold for six months. On the other hand, it is extremely unfair for the manufacturer to be at risk for this period of six months. It would be much fairer if the period were to be only three months.
§ LORD BALERNO
I wish to support my noble friend Lord Belstead in this Amendment. There are some additional difficulties which arise in the case of the bulk deliveries of both fertilisers and feedingstuffs. It is virtually impossible to ensure that the location where they are placed, whether they are in liquid or solid form, is clear of the previous stuff that occupied that space, and therefore they are very easily contaminated, whether they are liquid or granulated. That is an additional reason for reducing this period. So far as I know, there has been no demand on the part of farmers (and I have made some inquiries) to have this six months period which is in the Bill. I think that for feedingstuffs most fanners would feel they were more than adequately protected if the period were one month; and, so far as I know, none has complained in recent years about the existing period of a fortnight.
It seems to me that the Amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is an extremely moderate one, and I hope that the Government will give it consideration. I asked the Farmers' Union of Scotland what their reaction was to this particular Amendment, and they thought it a most sensible one: they could not see any objection to it whatsoever. I presume the six-month period is there to protect the interests of the farmer. It is very kind of the Government to be so strong in the farmer's interest, but there is no need for such a stringent regulation.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has reported to us the views of the N.F.U. of Scotland, but I am bound to tell him that my information is that there have been no representations at all from the farming interests for a reduction of this proposed period of six 94 months. There have been—as one would expect—certain representations from other interests, from the fertiliser people, but the farmers can have no objection at all to this proposal.
§ LORD BALERNO
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, may I say that this is another case where it does not do any harm, and therefore the farmers did not pay any attention.
§ LORD BESWICK
I will endeavour to show that in fact this can do some harm. It is an important matter which did attract a good deal of attention in the other place. It was discussed quite extensively, and as a result of that discussion we have looked at this again very carefully. And I submit to your Lordships that the conclusion we have reached is reasonable on two main grounds. First, we thought it was unnecessary to have the reduction now proposed; and, secondly, it could be quite undesirable, or, to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, even harmful, in certain cases.
For fertilisers there would appear to be no necessity for any reduction in the sampling period. Given reasonable storage conditions, over 80 per cent. of fertilisers in current use retain their condition for a year or more, and the remainder for six months. On the other hand, some feedingstuffs can deteriorate more rapidly than this. I accept that it would be unreasonable for sellers to be faced with possible proceedings simply because the condition of the goods had changed since delivery. But it does not follow from this that, because some types of material may be expected to deteriorate more quickly than others, the period of sampling should be geared to them. The noble Lord mentioned particularly certain feedingstuffs containing antibiotics. It may well be that they deteriorate in less than six months, but some feeds, and those not containing antibiotics, will not so deteriorate, and therefore I suggest to the noble Lord that that there is no reason for the shorter period for all feedingstuffs.
There are two answers to this apparent problem. The first is that the taking of a sample does not in itself place the seller at risk, even if the analysis is unsatisfactory. To substantiate a claim it must be proved that the goods as delivered were defective. If the material 95 concerned were of a type known to deteriorate comparatively quickly, this would clearly be impossible. These matters have to be proven in court if a case is brought against a firm. All the factors which the noble Lord himself set out will, of course, have to be taken into account.
Secondly, the regulations to which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead referred, will be made under Clause 79(1), and they will specify matters concerning which inspectors must satisfy themselves before sampling. These could contain requirements relating not only, for example, to the method of storage, but also to the date of delivery of the goods in relation to the time of sampling and the type of material concerned. If the inspector was unable to satisfy himself on these points, he would not be permitted to draw a sample. We shall of course be discussing these regulations with the interests concerned, including the fertiliser and feed-ingstuff trades, before making them, and shall be able to include all necessary factors to make them effective. I hope that, considering all this, your Lordships will agree that the sellers are not placed unreasonably at risk by the time limit contained in the Bill.
Dwelling a little more on the undesirable effects of the Amendments, there are two main points that I would make. First, with the development of methods for bulk storage and feeding, farmers are tending increasingly to buy in as large quantities as possible in order to keep down transport and handling costs. This, of course, is done only when the nature of the goods is suitable. Thus there should be maximum opportunity to sample material which represents a substantial allocation of farmers' resources.
Secondly, and equally if not more important, some defects in a feeding stuff would be suspected only after it had begun to be used—for example, because of the effect on the stock to which it was being fed. In our view, it would be quite wrong that in these circumstances a farmer should not be able to arrange for the analysis of the remainder of the feed in order to determine whether it was in fact the cause of the trouble. It could, of course, be that the safeguards to which I referred earlier would, quite rightly, prevent sampling forming the basis of a 96 claim. But it would be quite unreasonable in these circumstances for the timing alone to make sampling impossible. I hope that, with that explanation, noble Lords will feel able to withdraw the Amendments.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
May I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I feel that he has disposed of the fertiliser point, but I am bound to say that he has not convinced me on the feeding stuff point. The quantities of feed involved with these relatively unstable ingredients, vitamins, antibiotics and so on, is very large indeed, running into millions of tons a year. Pretty well all pig and poultry feeds are in this category, and while it is true that almost all of it is delivered in bulk, no sensible pig or poultry fanner would ever dream of keeping those feeds for months. Indeed, he would not like to keep them for more than a few weeks, because of the inevitable damage there would be to these very refined ingredients.
Frankly, in that light a period of six months looks ridiculous. I accept the noble Lord's point that there are some feeding stuffs, such as whole grain (wheat or barley or maize), which would certainly keep for six months, probably twelve months, so long as the storage was good; and there are also forms of cattle cake which would keep for long periods. But by far the biggest proportion of the total feed would not keep for anything like six months. With one month or two months I would not quarrel too much. I think two months is stretching it. But it seems to me out of balance to have in the Bill a provision of this kind.
I accept the noble Lord's point that where a complaint is made and a sample is taken the farmer concerned has still to prove in court his case that the feed was in this defective condition when delivered. Even so, I should have thought that the courts would be puzzled. They would look at it and ask "Why did Parliament fix six months for feed of this kind when it could not possibly keep for that period?" That is a weakness in the Bill as it now stands. I also take the point of the Minister that the regulations will be made in consultation with the trade. That will help. But I still think 97 that this is out of balance, and that the Bill will not look right and will puzzle the courts when they come to enforce it. I hope that if we withdraw the Amendment now the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, will be willing to look at it again before the Report stage, to see whether there is some way of covering this substantial point with regard to feeding stuffs. I wonder whether he could respond by saying that he would be willing to do that.
§ LORD BESWICK
I am always willing. But I wonder whether I could help the noble Lord in another way. Clause 79(1) would enable regulations to be made to restrict the sampling of prescribed materials to within a specified period from delivery. The difficulty which the noble Lord poses me in the argument that he presents is that if there is a lesser period than six months some feeding stuffs that ought to be sampled could not be sampled because the time limit has expired. I have already said that if one has a period of six months it does not mean that five months and three weeks within that period someone is going to try to bring a case although all the evidence is against the assumption that the stuff was delivered in a faulty condition. Six months seems to me to be reasonable in certain circumstances, but I accept that in other circumstances it could be that a more restricted period would be more sensible. I can tell the noble Lord that when the provision is discussed with the interests concerned, before the regulations under Clause 79(1) are made, the possibility, at any rate, of a period of less than six months for certain feeding stuffs will be considered. I hope that that assurance will meet the case which the noble Lord has put forward.
While I am on my feet, may I tell the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that I gather than the provisions of Clause 71 are quite separate from those of Clause 68. The exemption referred to in Clause 68(2)(a) does not exempt from the requirements of Clause 71, which apply if, and only if, attributes are claimed. I hope that answers his question, and that my explanation gives some satisfaction to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I think it does. I wonder whether I may 98 just ask the noble Lord for one further word of amplification. Is the noble Lord certain that Clause 79(1) would give the necessary latitude to shorten the time—that is to say, is the noble Lord sure that the six months' period laid down in Clause 76 does not govern Clause 79(1) and that the provisions that can be made there do not therefore have to be subsidiary to it? If he can assure me that there is that flexibility on time, then I shall be quite happy myself to see this point catered for in regulations.
§ LORD BESWICK
What I am saying is that Clause 79(1) provides the power, although I am making no commitment as to whether that power will be used.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
I think we all thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for that full reply. I should like particularly to thank my noble friend Lord Nugent for putting the matter, as it were, in capsule form so that we could understand it. There is just one matter to which I should like to refer. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that the Government want a six months period and that if the ingredients have deteriorated in the meantime, that must be taken into account in the courts. But I feel a little sad, in that I have put to the noble Lord the case not just of antibiotics but also of vitamins, and also of air damage. I had hoped that the Government might consider the matter on the basis that if there were not antibiotics there might be vitamins, and if there were not vitamins possibly there was damage by air, and that we had put our finger on not one but three points.
To follow that line of thought, I looked at the proceedings in Committee in another place, to see what the Government said to justify the six months period. In reply to a query the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said this, at col. 700:I am delighted to do so. In good storage conditions the following can be kept up to 12 months: dried beet pulp, cereals, of up to 15 per cent. moisture content, stored as whole grain, and liquid feeding stuffs in drums.I hope it does not appear disrespectful if I say that I scratched in the margin, "Not much of an answer!" In fact it is not. But we have had a full answer this evening. We still feel that it may not be quite right. Perhaps we may be allowed to withdraw the Amendment on 99 the understanding that we shall read what the noble Lord has said, and possibly will leave it for the regulations. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 75 agreed to.
§ Clause 76 [Inspector's power to enter premises and take samples]:
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 69, line 27, at end insert—
("( ) Admission to any premises shall not be demanded as of right under this section unless 24 hours notice of the intended entry has been given to the occupier of the premises.")
§ The noble Lord said: This is a short point. I do not want to make too much of it. The point is that before the inspector calls at a farm in order to take a sample he should give notice to the farmer at least 24 hours before of his intention to call for the sample. Let me acknowledge immediately that there is not here a great, massive point about the protection of private premises, because the inspector is coming to suit the purpose and to protect the interests of the farmer who has asked for the sample to be taken. This is a practical point. Unless the inspector warns the farmer that he is coming, almost certainly he will not be able to find him and therefore will not know where to go to take the sample. This is a simple, practical point. We have used the words which are common to many other Acts. I beg to move.
§ LORD HUGHES
I must say that I have sympathy with the Amendment, particularly with the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has spoken to it. Nevertheless, we have to remember that it is desirable, in the enforcement of legislation designed to protect the interests of consumers, that care should be taken not only to ensure that due regard is paid to their convenience, but to see that in achieving this we do not put unnecessary obstacles in the way of enforcement, and thus undermine the main objective. Part IV substantially extends the protection afforded to farmers compared with that provided under the 1926 Act. Under the earlier legislation penal enforcement applies only to goods 100 held for sale; Part IV extends protection to material which has been purchased—for example, fertilisers and feedingstuffs held on farms—and I do not need to remind noble Lords on the Benches opposite that this is an extension for which farming interests have been pressing for a very long time indeed.
The Committee will appreciate that responsibility for the enforcement is placed upon local authority inspectors. The extension of their activities to include sampling on the premises of purchasers will extend the scope of their duties, and it is important, therefore, that there should not be any needless obstacles. Your Lordships will understand that it would add to the difficulties of organising a round of visits to farms, some remote, if arrangements also have to be made to give prior notice. The powers of entry contained in the clause can only be exercised at all reasonable times, and I am quite certain that we can rely on the inspectorate to operate this in a reasonable way. After all, they are doing something in the interests of the farmers, and if when they drive up the farmer is three miles away on the hills, they will just say, "It's a pity; it's a wasted visit, but I will have to come back some other time".
The information I have is that the National Farmers' Union are quite confident that the Government are right in the way they think this will work, and they are in fact opposed to the Amendment. I do not think the reason why they are opposed to it is because they are worried about what might happen on the farm. This sampling is not only going to take place on the farm. I think perhaps the noble Lord has overlooked a possible consequence if this Amendment were made. Its effect would be that notice of intended entry would have to be given not only to the farmers and other purchasers, but also to the sellers and the manufacturers whose goods were to be sampled. I hesitate to use an analogy which would imply that the manufacturers or the sellers were potential criminals, but in a way it would be like the police giving notice to motorists that on the following day they intend to set up a speed trap.
Under Part IV most sampling will continue to take place at sellers' premises, and enforcement is rendered effective by 101 the fact that although the number of samples that can be taken is necessarily limited, sellers are of course aware that their goods may be sampled at any time. It would be quite wrong to suggest that the trade would deliberately set out to mark their goods incorrectly, but nevertheless we think it would be unwise to invite non-compliance with the law by providing an opportunity of putting things right after they had received the notice of the intended inspection.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, did not labour the point, and I do not want to say any more. The absence of notice at the farmer's own premises is apparently a price which he is quite happy to pay, provided he has the benefits of inspection without notice at the premises of the sellers. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that it is a necessary safeguard for enforcing the legislation, and that no one, particularly the farmers, will be unduly inconvenienced by it.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his lucid and convincing answer. Of course I have to accept his point that the inspector must have the right to inspect in sellers' premises without notice. I suspect that, in practice, he probably will telephone the farmer the day before to make sure he is there. But I accept that it must be common to the whole clause and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 76 agreed to.
§ Clause 77 [Division of samples and analysis by agricultural analyst]:
§ 7.35 p.m.
LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 27:
Page 70, line 39, leave out from ("name") to ("before") in line 40, and insert (", or any address of the manufacturer in the United Kingdom, and is unable after making reasonable inquiries to ascertain that name, or, as the case may be, any such address").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a simple Amendment. The purpose of the Amendment is to avoid placing an unnecessary requirement upon enforcement authorities. By Clause 77(2) an inspector taking a sample of a fertiliser or a feedingstuff on premises other than those of a manufacturer 102 is required to send a part of the sample to the manufacturer. The objective of the provision is to enable manufacturers, who in the event of an unsatisfactory analysis might be proceeded against under the "by-passing" provisions of Clause 81, to use their part of the sample to prepare evidence for their defence. Your Lordships will appreciate, however, that proceedings cannot be instituted under United Kingdom legislation against overseas manufacturers, who thus have no need of a sample. It would therefore serve no useful purpose to require inspectors to send a part to those companies overseas. The Amendment takes away this unnecessary burden from local authorities by limiting the obligation to manufacturers in this country. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 77, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD BELSTEAD
Under subsection (4) of this clause, the agricultural analyst shall analyse the part of a sample which is sent to him under subsection (1)(a) in such manner as may be prescribed. The Government may be aware that samples of feedingstuffs containing oil can lose their oil content if the sample is placed in a glass container; and of course it is not unusual, when samples are taken, for them to be put in small glass pots such as a honey pot, or something of that kind. Apparently the critical factors are storage in glass and the small-ness of the amount. If those two factors are present, then for some unexplained reason oil will deteriorate from a sample of feedingstuff after about a month. I wonder whether I can ask the Government if we can have some undertaking that a time limit might be set for analysis in regulations. I ask this particularly because Clause 77(5) allows for samples to be passed from one appointed analyst to another, and this of course is something which could be time consuming. If the noble Lord could refer to this at a later stage, I should be most grateful.
§ LORD HUGHES
I did not like the noble Lord's request at all, until he added the words, "at a later stage". I must confess that I sit here and am amazed at the vast fund of knowledge which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has acquired about fertilisers and 103 feedingstuffs. If I may say so, the details of the feedingstuffs and the way in which he went into the subject of fertilisers, did not strike me as being particularly suitable so near dinner time. However, if we may leave it, I will be delighted to look into the point. On the face of it, it seems reasonable, but I do not know anything at all about it—I do not know whether it seems reasonable because of the charming way in which the noble Lord has put it, or whether there is something in what he says.
On the subject of loss of oil, I am informed that sampling regulations, with which we are already familiar under the present Act, will take care of the problem. I do not know whether I have met all the points which the noble Lord has raised. I am not certain I have, but afterwards I shall have the opportunity to acquire some of the information which the noble Lord possesses, so that I may be able to write him an intelligent answer.
§ Clause 77, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 78 and 79 agreed to.
§ Clause 80 [Institution of prosecutions]:
§ 7.40 p.m.
LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 28:
Page 75, line 29, at end insert ("or in the place where any material of a prescribed description is delivered to the purchaser.")
§ The noble Lord said: This is another small point on which the County Councils Association have felt anxiety. Clause 80 deals with the institution of prosecutions where there have been breaches of feed-ingstuff and fertiliser regulations. As the Bill is drafted, the proceedings can be taken in the place where an offence is committed or in the place where the person charged resides or carries on business, and the purpose of the Amendment is to enable appropriate action to be taken by the enforcement authority for the administrative area in which an offence is detected. Without such an Amendment, enforcement may in certain cases be difficult and already, with the various developments of merchanting in the modern 104 farming world, the county authorities are having a certain number of such oases.
The difficulty that arises is that in arranging for investigations to be carried out by authorities in other areas—sometimes in several areas—and in arranging for prosecutions in areas sometimes far removed from the original enforcement area, due to the widespread operations of some farmers' trading organisations, serious geographical problems can be involved. I have here a number of examples of where difficulty has occurred. I think that the Committee is at one in wishing to see this Bill effectively enforced, and it seems that the addition of this Amendment, which would enable a county authority to prosecute, in the terms of the Amendment
… in the place where any material of a prescribed description is delivered to the purchaser",
would undoubtedly facilitate the process of the law. I beg to move.
§ LORD HUGHES
Like the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, we are anxious to ensure that the provisions of Part IV are such as to enable enforcement to be carried out in the most practical and efficient manner, and because of that we are grateful for the opportunity of looking again at these provisions. As the noble Lord said, the effect of Clause 80(1) is that proceedings may be taken where the offence is committed or where the person charged resides or carries on his business. Thus in normal circumstances the hearing will be at the place of the commission of the offence. We have studied the suggestion that provision should also be made for prosecution to be taken at the place of delivery to the purchaser—that is, where the offence is discovered—but, for reasons which I should like to explain, we have come to the conclusion that on balance the better course is to leave the Bill as currently drafted.
There are two main reasons for this conclusion. The first is that in almost all cases the discovery of the offence and the place of its commission will be the same. The main offences involving goods which have been delivered—for example, the provision of a false statutory statement—will normally occur at the place where the material is delivered and, therefore, sampled. It is accepted that there will 105 be some instances where offence and discovery may occur in different localities—for example, where a statement is sent to the headquarters of a group of farms, but the goods are delivered to a holding elsewhere—but I would emphasise that such cases will be very much the exception.
I now come to the second main point. Noble Lords may take the view that if cases can arise, however seldom, in which offences may occur outside the area of the authority who took the sample, it is desirable, in the interests of efficient enforcement, to make provision for proceedings to be taken at the place where they were discovered. This is the point which the noble Lord made. I think I must admit right away that if efficiency were the only criterion to be considered then the case would be complete. I accept that it is preferable for the authority concerned to be able to follow a case through to its conclusion, and that it is obviously more complicated and inconvenient to have to ask another authority to mount the prosecution. But there are other considerations, besides convenience, that arise.
I think it is not going too far to say that there is a point of fundamental principle; that is, that in providing that hearings are to be held at the place where the offence is committed a balance is struck between the interests of the prosecution and the interests of the defence. Sometimes the site will be more convenient to one party than the other—it will depend on the circumstances—but neither party is given preference at the expense of the other. The effect of this is that in one case the defendant has to travel and perhaps bring witnesses from one part of the country to another; in another it will be the prosecution that is faced with the inconvenience. The vast majority of offences under Part IV will in practice, as I have said, occur at the place of discovery. This will mean that if there is any inconvenience involved it will be that of the defendant. It will be unreasonable to tip the balance further, so that in all cases it is the defendant who is discriminated against. For this reason we feel bound to resist the Amendment.
We are as eager as the noble Lord to promote efficiency, and to accomplish in 106 the best possible form the objects of Part IV. But we believe that if we were to do this we should in some cases be sacrificing fairness in the interests of efficiency to an extent that would not be justified. I am quite certain that when the local authorities consider this aspect of the matter they will not wish to oppose the point. I am quite confident, also, that where the transfer of a prosecution or other forms of cooperation are necessary, their sense of responsibility to the public will ensure that the matter is effectively carried through.
In the course of the discussions that we have had on some of the earlier Amendments, there has been a feeling that we have been leaning too hard in the direction of the interests of the consumer, and too much against the manufacturer or the seller. In this case the feeling is that we are not necessarily leaning in the direction of the interests of the consumer or the seller, but are not paying enough attention to the convenience of local authorities. This is a case where we think that fairness to the manufacturer or the seller of the goods is a consideration which ought not to be ignored. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord will feel that we are justified in preferring the way the Bill is drafted.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for answering the Amendment so persuasively and, indeed, for deploying such an attractive argument to keep the right balance between defendant and prosecution, which certainly appeals to me. After the interchanges to which he has referred, when we were apparently fighting on the other side, I have to congratulate the noble Lord on finishing in such a very good light and I think that he should sleep very well to-night with a halo around his head. I should like to study the noble Lord's reply, and if I do not feel satisfied with it I can always put the Amendment down again on Report. But at this moment of time I feel that the right balance has been achieved, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 80 agreed to.
§ Clauses 81 to 90 agreed to.107
§ LORD BESWICK
If it is convenient to do so, I would suggest that we have in fact done very well—and the last batch of clauses put by the Lord Chairman rather supports this view. If noble Lords opposite are content now to call it a day, I would suggest that we now leave the rest of the Committee stage until to-morrow.
§ House resumed.