§ 3.48 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I understand that this is the first time for nearly twenty years that an agricultural Bill has started in this House, and it is for this reason that I feel a considerable responsibility in presenting it to your Lordships, not least because I think your Lordships will agree that it certainly lives up to its Long Title. At first sight it appears to cover a very wide range of measures which appear to have little relation to each other. However, I hope your Lordships will agree that it is wise to tackle those provisions that require legislation as agriculture develops rather than to wait to include them in some major Bill. I shall try to explain not only the provisions but the reasoning behind them, and any detailed matters which are raised in debate will be replied to by my noble friend Lord Denham.
The Bill can be divided into three broad groups. The first, Clauses 1 to 9, contains measures concerned with live-stock. The second, Clauses 10 to 13, relates to grants and loans. The third group, Clauses 14 to 21, is miscellaneous provisions, designed to improve administration or reduce Government intervention. The first group begins with three clauses which introduce changes in the scope of the Diseases of Animals Act 1950. Clause 1 prepares the way for 591 compulsory eradication of brucellosis next year. I am sure that we can all agree on the vital importance of doing all we can to eradicate this disease, for it is not only a threat to the farmers' business but also to human health. At the present time, one-third of the United Kingdom dairy herds are infected, causing about £2 million a year in losses, and there are about 1,000 human beings every year who contract this difficult disease.
Considerable progress has already been made since the introduction of voluntary incentive schemes in July, 1970, and over one-third of the cattle in Britain are now in an accredited scheme. This is a very fine response to the Government's policy of giving every encouragement to voluntary action. We now feel that we must reinforce this success by compulsory eradication in selected areas, which will start in November, 1971, and the proposals before the House include a number of features of the successful incentive schemes, but we want in particular to try to encourage owners to take sufficient interest in their own herds to do all they can to keep their own stock free of the disease. Therefore, two legislative amendments to the 1950 Act are necessary. First, to require owners, rather than officials, to arrange for the slaughter of reactors, because under this arrangement the owner retains the carcase value of the animal. and in addition our scheme provides that he will receive incentive payments on his clean animals. Nevertheless, we recognise that he may need further assistance towards the cost of buying a replacement, and we therefore propose to pay a flat rate replacement grant. There are some doubts, however, whether the existing provisions of the Diseases of Animals Act permit such a flat rate grant to be paid, and the purpose of the second amendment is to make it clear that Ministers may prescribe such grants in respect of the brucellosis reactors. As the House may know, the National Farmers' Union have agreed to this arrangement, subject to review in the middle of 1972 of hard cases where there are a large number of reactors. I should like at this stage, if I may, to pay tribute to the number of noble Lords and noble Baronesses in this House who have given so much personal study to this very difficult disease.
592 Clause 2 extends the powers to protect human beings from the risk of contracting disease from animals and birds. It gives Ministers powers to require designated diseases or infections in animals to be reported to their Departments. It also empowers veterinary inspectors to enter premises, where disease or infection is thought to exist, in order to take samples. In practice, these powers will be used to deal with salmonellosis, or, as a layman, as I like to describe it, food poisoning. This is on the increase in some species of farm livestock and it can, of course, be passed on to human beings from animal products and through direct contact.
Clause 2 also enables Ministers to use the powers that are already contained in the Diseases of Animals Act to place restrictions on the movement of livestock, and to require premises to be disinfected when human health is seriously endangered because of infection. Naturally, there will be very close consultation with local health authorities and the Secretary of State for Social Services.
Clause 3 extends the scope of the Diseases of Animals Act to other animals so that regulations can be made for their welfare during transit. I find this of particular interest as I had the honour to serve on the Balfour Committee on this subject in 1954, together with the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I am sure that your Lordships will welcome the Convention of the Council of Europe, which is designed to safeguard the welfare of all warm and cold-blooded animals and birds during international journeys. Her Majesty's Government have signed this Convention, but it cannot be ratified without regulations for all species. Existing regulations for animals associated with agriculture are being extended to cover air transport, but provision must be made for other categories. and also nowadays to cater for their carriage by hovercraft.
Clauses 4 and 5 are measures affecting milk. Clause 4 carries out a recommendation of the Northumberland Committee on Foot and Mouth Disease. It adds milk, and a number of milk products, to those objects which Ministers are able to seize and destroy to prevent the spread of diseases, and for which compensation must be paid. Clause 5 will enable Ministers and other authorities to use the 593 results of Milk Marketing Board tests of milk bought in their areas, so that their inspection programme can be concentrated on farms whose milk hygiene is below standard. Your Lordships will no doubt note that information obtained from the Boards may not be used as evidence in proceedings for any offence under any regulation, order, or by-law mentioned in the clause.
Clauses 6 and 7, which pertain in the first case to England and Wales and secondly to Scotland, bring in important changes in the law covering the operation of slaughterhouses. Clause 6 will give private owners in England and Wales more freedom to develop facilities to meet current and future needs in the changing circumstances of the meat industry. Subject to planning limitations, the granting of licences will depend in future solely upon the need to conform with regulations to ensure hygienic production. Therefore, local authorities will be relieved of any duty to ensure the adequacy of slaughtering facilities, and they will be given full discretion in the matter of public slaughter charges. In Scotland. the proposed changes in Clause 7 and Schedule 1 will let both local authorities and private interests decide the extent to which they should provide slaughterhouse facilities.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness will forgive me if I interrupt her at this moment before she leaves Clauses 6 and 7? Can she tell me what consultations took place with the local authorities (who spent many millions of pounds in establishing municipal slaughterhouses), before these clauses were put in?
§ BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE
My Lords, there were considerable consultations. The local authorities were not entirely happy with these clauses because it is true that, on the whole, the local authority slaughterhouses are usually not operating at a profit. That is why they are being given far more discretion in the prices they will charge within their slaughterhouses. which of course up until now have been rather carefully regulated.
Clause 8 is also Scottish, and should be read together with Schedule 2. It introduces changes in the legislation relating to the slaughter of animals in Scot- 594 land. The changes have three aims: first, which is already the case in England and Wales, to enable pigs to be gassed before slaughter instead of being stunned; secondly, to give authorised officers of the Secretary of State powers of entry into premises covered by the Slaughter of Animals Act; and, thirdly, to give Scottish local authorities the explicit duty of enforcing the provisions relating to the slaughter of animals.
A final clause in the first group concerning livestock as a whole, Clause 9, brings legislation concerned with live-stock improvement into line with modern requirements. For many years the Government have kept a detailed control over livestock breeding. There is no intention to relax or remove any controls which affect this country's veterinary security. However, detailed controls over breeding quality involve using the Government's technical judgment instead of the judgment of farmers and breeders whose business it is to breed and raise stock. The Government have discussed these matters with the livestock industry and have concluded that it is possible to ease the present rules in three main ways. First, Clause 9 ends boar licensing and licensing of semen exports. Second, it eases the restrictions of bull licensing so that any bull will be eligible for a licence if it is certified free from disease or defects of conformation. Third, it removes the requirement that breeding animals may be imported only for exceptional purposes. These measures represent a broad consensus of opinion among the Government and industry.
In the second group of provisions in this Bill, Clauses 10 and 11 are particularly important to the future of the industry, because they aim to give more effective encouragement for farm amalgamation. With the wider powers in Clause 10 it will be possible to give grants towards amalgamations or boundary adjustments on an acreage basis. The grant will no longer have to be related to expenditure on modernisation or incidental expenses. It will also be possible to approve a slightly wider range of amalgamations. Your Lordships will be glad to see that Schedule 3 is designed to show the necessary amendments to the 1967 Act in as clear a form as possible. Clause 11 simplifies administration of the grants. In future, instead of using land charges 595 to prevent the sub-division, or non-agricultural use, of units amalgamated with grant-aid, Ministers may deal with these matters by applying a condition of grant. This would last for five years and would be binding on the recipient. It will require him to repay his grant together with a sum related to any payment to the outgoer, if the condition was breached in that period. In cases where the present arrangements apply, the period of restriction will be reduced from 15 years to 5. This should, we feel, ensure that schemes are more effective and give an incentive for many potential amalgamations where the main problem is not so much the need for buildings as the need for more working capital.
Clause 12 brings up to date the administration of the Agricultural Marketing Funds and ends three Advisory Committees established in 1931 which are no longer needed. The sum standing to the credit of the two funds which Ministers may reduce by payment into the Consolidated Fund total £176,486. Clause 13 will give the necessary backing up to an extra £5 million to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation to continue issuing debenture stock over the next two or three years up to a further £67 million. Farmers can borrow this money to buy, enlarge, or improve their farms. The importance of this measure can be gauged by the fact that the A.M.C. supplies a substantial proportion of longterm finance to the agricultural industry.
The third group of clauses contains miscellaneous provisions designed to improve administration or reduce Government intervention. The safety of agricultural workers and children on farms is an important responsibility of the agricultural Ministers. For nearly twenty years the maximum penalty for contravening safety regulations has stood at £50. After consultations with all the interests concerned, the Government propose in Clause 14 to raise the maximum penalty to £100. This is because it will restore it to a level close to the original value and similar to those for similar offences in other industries. Clause 15 makes two useful minor changes in the arbitration proceedings between landlord and tenant in England and Wales. First, it ends a division of jurisdiction between the county courts and the High Court which 596 has had unfortunate consequences for litigants and has been the subject of judicial criticism. Second, it provides for arbitration on matters arising under the Statutory Maintenance and Repair Regulations. This will ensure a comprehensive review of regulations to which the industry in England and Wales attach considerable importance.
Clause 16 gives enabling powers for financing the Home Grown Cereals Authority other than by a levy deducted from the cereals deficiency payments due to growers. Direct levies may in future be charged on first-hand buyers of cereals as well as or instead of on growers. These new arrangements will not be used without the prior agreement of growers and buyers. They should provide an efficient means of financing the forward contract bonus scheme through one or both of the principal beneficiaries. Clause 17 withdraws the requirement that dealings in corn must be in hundredweights. Clause 18 will enable reliable information about the industry to be obtained on a selective basis with, we hope, the minimum of form filling by busy farmers. Ministers will continue to consult representatives of the industry about the method of collection of this information.
Clause 19 ends the county agricultural executive committees in England and Wales and the agricultural executive committees in Scotland. As the House will know, they all started work in 1948 and they have given valuable service to successive Ministers and to the industry. I should like here to pay tribute to the help and effort that so many individuals have given. However, over the years they have shed most of their more important functions and we felt that we could make more economical arrangements. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has already announced that he intends to set up nine regional panels, and to-day he is announcing the chairmen of these regional panels—seven in England and two in Wales. In Scotland we propose to transfer certain of the advisory and review functions of the agricultural executive committees to the panel which at present deals with the Winter Keep Scheme. The proposed new arrangements will be discussed shortly with the National Farmers' Union of Scotland 597 and the Scottish Landowners' Federation. This clause also ends the Bee Disease Advisory Committee, but will not, of course, affect the work undertaken in this respect by the agricultural colleges.
The Bill ends with two purely Scottish clauses. Clause 20, read with Schedule 4, ends the 11 district agricultural wages committees in Scotland. Their few remaining functions will in future be carried out by the Departmental Wages and Safety Inspectorate of the Secretary of State. However, it is not proposed to disband the corresponding 46 committees in England and Wales because they will have extra work in conciliation in connection with a new statutory wages structure scheme which comes into operation early in 1972. Lastly, Clause 21 clarifies the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland as regards two gardens connected with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. These are at Logan and Benmore and are operated for scientific research.
The Bill as a whole will mean certain direct savings in manpower arising mainly from Clauses 5, 9 and 19. Some measures will result in indirect savings in manpower. These will result in lower administrative expenses of about £400,000 every year. Subject to the course of animal disease, we expect very little increase in public expenditure. My Lords, this Bill contains a wide range of measures which we believe will help the industry in a variety of ways. Therefore it gives me great pleasure to commend the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to the House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Baroness Tweeds, nuir of Belhelvie.)
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, I should like to express to the noble Baroness the appreciation of your Lordships for her explanation of the Bill. Normally when a Bill of this Title comes before either House it has a tag put on it—one that I will not use; I will leave it to the noble Earl who normally occupies one of the Benches opposite to repeat what he has said on every occasion about the "Miscellaneous Provisions" Bills.
I am certain that all of us will support the action which the Government are taking to speed up measures to deal with brucellosis. I see opposite a noble Lord 598 who played a most important part in this respect, when we were both in another place and when the Government of which I was a Member took steps to deal with the matter. But anything that can be done to get rid of this appalling disease will be welcomed, not only by the whole House but by the farming industry and by many people who are affected by it.
I was interested to hear the noble Baroness say that the Government propose to take powers to inspect premises. I sometimes wonder how people can turn around between one Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and another, because I remember that on the last occasion when it was my responsibility to ask for these powers all the horrors were portrayed of the part that was going to be played by inspectors of one sort or another and by policemen. It was even said that policemen might appear in blue uniforms, with whistles hanging down on their chests and with batons at the alert. But that picture is complete nonsense, and I say to the noble Baroness that she will not have to put up with such arguments during the Committee stage. If it is essential to do a job in the interests of health, then it is essential for the Government to have the necessary powers to do it.
The noble Baroness divided the Bill into three sections, but she could hardly say that they covered three specific items. There are about eight items in each section and we are dealing with an item in each clause. I want to raise a question in connection with Clause 4. It is true, as the noble Baroness said, that this clause adds milk and milk products to the list of items for which a farmer may be compensated in the event of confiscation. She said that this point was first raised when the Northumberland Committee were appointed to deal with foot-and-mouth disease. But I am sure she will also remember that the agricultural workers said that if compensation is to be paid then the position of those workers whose livelihood is dependent upon the product concerned should also be taken into consideration. What the Government are now proposing to do is to take similar action in regard to replacements of cattle affected by brucellosis, and this may affect farm workers. The farm workers are therefore saying, as they said in evidence to the Northumberland Committee, that 599 although they are not objecting to the Government's proposal they feel that some provision should be made for those whose wages are dependent upon those items.
May I move quickly to Clauses 6 and 7? Here, I think, the noble Baroness is on much more difficult ground. She said that local authorities did not altogether see eye to eye with the Government, but what she meant was that they almost totally objected to the proposal. The National Farmers' Union displayed a fair amount of modesty when they said that it gave rise to some concern, and in a letter they spelled out four objections. They said that if this proposal is to be carried out by the Government as it stands in the Bill, then it can be envisaged, first, that complications will arise when local authorities refuse planning consent for a private slaughterhouse; secondly, that there will be no right of appeal against the levels of charges made by local authorities for the use of municipal abattoirs; thirdly, that there will be no appeal against the decision of a local authority to close or dispose of a municipal abattoir; and, fourthly, that it is vital that adequate slaughterhouse facilities should be available, and that it should not be overlooked that there is still a significant amount of trading which is dependent upon public slaughterhouse facilities.
I was a little surprised to hear the noble Baroness say that under this proposal the Government intend to give more freedom to slaughterhouses in regard to fixing charges. We all know that if charges go up they will have to be borne by someone in the country, and obviously that will be the consumer. That is what this proposal means. The Government have just replied to-day to a Question in another place, pointing out that the cost of food has already gone up 11.3 per cent., and if we arc going to add to these charges, then Heaven knows what price meat is going to be! I can tell the noble Baroness that there are many housewives who feel that meat has already reached a price so high that they can hardly afford to buy it. So it is not giving freedom to say that, as a result of Government policy which may create more competition, slaughterhouses can increase their prices. Local authorities have an intense dislike of this proposal. As my noble friend Lord Royle said in 600 an earlier interruption, what all Governments have been doing over the past fifteen years is to say to local authorities. "You provide up-to-date abattoirs and we will give you help". Local authorities have, accordingly, spent some £l1 million at the request of Government. By spending this sum they have given the country up-to-date and hygienic abattoirs and have not only given a service to the industry but ensured that consumers get clean meat, which is important. I simply cannot understand the reason for the Government's proposals.
I can well remember, when we were having a little trouble with one of our foreign suppliers, that it was frequently said that if they had had abattoirs which were the equal of our own then most of the troubles would not have arisen. I think most noble Lords will agree that by this concentration there has been a tremendous improvement in the abattoirs of this country, and I cannot understand why the Government now propose to create a free-for-all in this part of the industry. I know that many local authorities have made representations to the Government over this matter, and they want to know whether it is the Government's intention to publish the evaluation of the modern developments and trends of the changing patterns of slaughtering demand and of the marketing techniques on which this policy is based. If constructive criticism is to be made it is absolutely certain that the Government must at least publish the reasons for introducing a change which no one anticipated.
May I turn to Clause 9, which deals with the import of animals? The Bill suggests that the import of breeding animals will no longer be the subject of control by the Minister, but will have to comply with veterinary standards. This proposal is laid down a little loosely in the Bill, and I should like to know whether the veterinary service will be able to deal with the throughput. Anyone who has been in any way associated with this subject—and sitting opposite there is a noble Lord who had a very distinguished career as a Minister of Agriculture—will remember that we have always been told that the veterinary service was not sufficiently large and was not expanding quickly enough to cope with new measures. The feeling of the 601 N.F.U. on this matter is that not only will it be necessary to have an advisory panel to vet import applications and all relevant functions, but such a panel should have statutory status. This, I think, calls for a little further explanation. We know that the Minister is going to say, "I am going to get rid of this control". What we should like to know, and what I hope the Minister will fill in when he winds up, is what the Government propose to put in its place.
On amalgamations, I would say to the noble Baroness that I do not think anyone would take exception to what is included in the Bill. Indeed, I think she will agree that when the first conditions were laid down for amalgamations they were generally agreed by all Parties in this House, but it was always felt that if, in the working of the scheme, it turned out to have any defect or shortage, or that encouragement was required, then this would be put right. I personally think that this is a further encouragement, and I hope it will have good results. But there is one question that arises in connection with this, and I should be grateful for an explanation. A grant having been made and a farm then having been hived off, could a grant in fact be paid twice in respect of the same piece of land, for two separate amalgamations? I ask this because it seems to me that this is an anomaly which might well be created. I may be mistaken, and I should be glad if I am; but perhaps the Minister will tell us what it all means.
I liked that one little sentence that the noble Baroness used to describe Clause 17. What she was saying was, "We are abolishing hundredweights". Yes, indeed. The noble Baroness was saying, "We are going to get rid of hundredweights because everybody knows we are about to go into the Common Market, and another measure will be used." Indeed, I thought it was just a little unkind of her not to pay a gracious tribute to the hundredweight, which was laid down in the Act of 1882. If it has served us all that time, a little pat on the back in saying farewell to it would not have come amiss. But I feel I must remind the noble Baroness that in much more recent legislation—the Agricultural Regulations of 1969—certain limitations are laid down with re 602 gard to the weight that can be handled by the workers in the agricultural industry. I would ask her to remember this when these new regulations have to be made, and to see that attention is paid to this particular point.
May I now turn, as briefly as I can, to the latter part, which is the greater part, of the abolitionist section of this Bill? We have abolitions right through the Bill but Clauses 19 and 20 propose the abolition of agricultural executive committees and their sub-committees. In my experience, I was always indebted to the work of the agricultural executive committees. I thought that they were doing a first-class job, and at least gave Ministers the opportunity to go and meet with a wide selection of opinion, and to find out what the farmers themselves were thinking of their problems. It was a ready-made meeting point. The cost was not all that great, as the noble Baroness could tell the House: it was minimal in connection with an industry of this size; so I must say that I regret to think that they are being put out of existence. I should like to ask what is to be the position of the liaison officers, because throughout the country the liaison officers, the appointees of the Minister, have played a very useful and forthright part. They were in no way puppets of the Minister who came to report only what the Minister wanted to hear. They came and told the Minister, in a forthright but friendly way, what were the feelings of the agricultural communities throughout the country. I cannot see any mention of them, so I should like the noble Lord, Lord Denham, when he replies, to tell us: has the chopper fallen on these gentlemen as well? Arc they to go, along with the committees?
There is also the abolition of the agricultural wages committees in Scotland which were appointed under the Act of 1949. It may be true that they have not had a tremendous part to play inside industry, but here again they had an important part to play because their views were taken into consideration when wages were being considered, and there is nothing like giving people a real interest, by allowing them to attend and express their opinion, to get over difficulties that sometimes follow from lack of consultation. The noble Baroness said: "Well, we are just going to abolish them 603 in Scotland; we are going to retain them in England and Wales". My Lords, even if they did nothing, anybody who proposes to abolish these committees in Scotland while keeping them in England and Wales is very courageous indeed. The Scots, I have no doubt at all, will make this view known, not only to the noble Baroness but to the Secretary of State. She said, "When we abolish them we will transfer certain functions of the committees to the Secretary of State", but she did not seek to spell out the functions. What in fact is the Secretary of State going to do that the committees already do? The Bill does not even inform us of this. So I think we require far more information about this proposal, and certainly we shall want to know what functions the Secretary of State is now to take over that were previously the right of these wages committees.
These are the questions that occur immediately to me, because not only has this Bill, as the noble Baroness says, come to your Lordships' House, which is most unusual, as she herself concedes, but it has also come a little speedily. But I have no doubt that as a result of to-day's debate we shall have a great many more representations, and certainly I can assure the noble Baroness that in Committee we shall have many Amendments to put down for discussion. I have no doubt, too, that when the Bill goes to another place there will also be a few Amendments there. The last Bill of this kind took, I think, 27 meetings of the Committee. Considering the fact that we had already dealt with a part of it and then adjourned and did 14 over again, so that we had some 41 meetings, I can assure your Lordships that these "Miscellaneous Provisions" Bills certainly provide work. However, we shall look at it carefully, and I hope constructively.
Before I sit down, my Lords, may I be permitted to say one more word? Very soon—in fact, as soon as I sit down—we are to listen to a. maiden speech. All I want to say is that it will be the maiden speech of a son not only of a very distinguished father but also of a very distinguished mother, and one whom it has been my pleasure to know for many years, I hope in the most friendly way, both in another place and in this House.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT DAVIDSON
My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise to address your Lordships' House for the first time, and I would ask your Lord-ships to show me your customary tolerance and indulgence for the next few minutes. This is a relatively uncontroversial Bill, being concerned with tidying up a wide range of agricultural matters, most of which, but obviously not all, have been agreed in principle with the various interested parties. At the same time as it reflects some very important advances in the field of animal health and hygiene, it looks forward to preparing the way for harmonising certain aspects of our agricultural legislation with that of the Common Market when the time comes.
My Lords, there is little doubt that the eradication of brucellosis among cattle in this country will be seen as a major milestone in the continuing struggle to improve the health of our national herd. It will rank second only to the elimination of tuberculosis. Together, both these contagious diseases have in the past been responsible not only for severe economic losses but for considerable human suffering. It is to the credit of successive Governments that the campaign has been pursued vigorously and successfully. As with all issues which are really worthwhile, it has been a costly business, both for the taxpayer and for the cattle farmer in terms of frustration and disappointment when breakdowns occur and cattle have to be slaughtered. But the end of the road is in sight and we can look forward to the day when the scourge of the bacillus brucella abortus is a thing of the past.
My Lords, may I move swiftly to Clauses 10 and 11 which seek to improve the workings of the farm amalgamations scheme. No doubt they are intended also as a preparation for our entry into the Common Market so that we shall be in a position to bring our proposals for structural reform in line with those which are at present being worked out by the E.E.C. Council of Agricultural Ministers. But, without knowing anything about the expected levels of grant and the method by which the grants available will be distributed, it is difficult to express an opinion as 605 to whether the proposed improvements to the scheme will be effective or not. The difference in the system of land tenure between this country and the Continent has already resulted in a much speedier improvement in farm structure here through the normal commercial processes than has been possible in the E.E.C. I do not believe that the farm amalgamation scheme, as originally drafted, with its complicated procedures, its not very practical restrictions and unrealistically low level of grant, had any more than a marginal effect on the improvement of farm structure; and it is more than likely that any national financial benefit has been negatived by the costs of administering the scheme.
Having said that, my Lords, is not to deny the need for a continuing improvement in farm structure. There may well be a case for using more than one method in order to achieve this. I should like to stress, however, that where grants are to be paid over for any purpose, they should be directed to those areas where they will bring in the greatest benefit to the national economy in the long term. In the case of farm amalgamations, this would best be done by concentrating investment by the Government in fixed equipment rather than by increasing working capital, which could, and should, be provided through the usual commercial agents.
My Lords, may I now jump to Clause 19, which abolishes the County Agricultural Executive Committees. As the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, has said, these Committees no doubt have served a very useful purpose in the past, but it is generally agreed that they are no longer viable—and I think I am using that word in its correct meaning—and that the decision to abolish them is basically right. Their most important function in recent years has been not their statutory one but to provide regular liaison between the Minister and local agricultural opinion; and I should like to reinforce on this point what the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, has been saying. I am concerned about the disappearance of this valuable channel of communication and information. I fear that unless this aspect of their work is replaced by some other representative organisation—and I am not altogether convinced that the new regional panels will achieve this—a vacuum will 606 be created and a vital link in the chain which serves to influence policy-making decisions will be lost.
May I briefly comment, and not too seriously perhaps, on Clause 17. I have never been very keen on the hundredweight. It has always seemed illogical that it should weigh 112 lbs. But apart from that, the introduction of decimal currency seems to have ended any usefulness it might have had as a unit for pricing corn. Gone are the days, which I can remember, when corn was measured by volume rather than by weight; when a bushel of oats weighed 42 lbs., a bushel of barley 56 lbs. and a bushel of wheat 63 lbs. As I am sure your Lordships will remember, there were four bushels to the sack or coomb and two coombs to the quarter. And the quarter, in fact, was not a quarter of anything. But at least everyone seemed to understand the system. It worked.
But, more seriously, perhaps, may I conclude by taking the subject of weights and measures a stage further and looking into the future for a few moments? There is a deeply felt and genuine concern among farmers at the thought of the introduction of the metric system into agriculture. Those of your Lordships who are still having some trouble with decimal coinage, will feel some sympathy towards this view. But weights and measures represent a fundamental part in the everyday life and work of a farmer. If good farming can be assessed, it is by the attention which is paid to detail and the application of precision to each and every job; and this is measured at present in pints, gallons, hundredweights and tons per acre. It is the thought that all these units of measurement are to be changed into litres, kilogrammes and tonnes per hectare at one fell swoop which causes the feelings of apprehension which have been so widely expressed. No doubt we shall have to go metric in due course and the farming industry will, as usual and as always, adjust itself as it does to any change—although I doubt that they will ever get used to spelling "tons" as "tonnes"—but perhaps at the same time we can learn a lesson from the confusion which has existed for so long over the changeover in the recording of temperature from Fahrenheit to Centigrade. When the time comes for this change I hope that the Government will remember 607 the words of Macbeth—spoken, I must admit, in a somewhat different context:If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere wellIt were done quickly.
§ 4.36 p.m.
BARONESS SUMMER SKILL
My Lords, I am happy to have the opportunity of following the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, on his maiden speech. I congratulate him on his choice of subject—for he is, after all, talking about the most important industry in the country—and on his ability and knowledge. It is said that we are the product of our genes and environment. Those who are fortunate choose their parents well. In the case of the noble Viscount he has been doubly blessed. I knew his father and I served with his mother in both Houses of Parliament. I think that the politician who has had the opportunity of learning his politics at his mother's knee is a very fortunate individual. I hope that we shall have the pleasure of hearing the noble Viscount on many more occasions. Incidentally. I should again congratulate him on his opinions on a subject in which I have a special interest, namely, brucellosis. That is why I am speaking on this occasion. I am not a farmer; but I am very interested in diseases which can be traced to the transmission of the causative organism from the animal to the human being. Our knowledge of brucellosis during the last 50 years has increased tremendously. and to-day it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, on having what I feel to be the privilege of introducing this Bill which at long last contains a clause which we hope will lead to the eradication of brucellosis.
I do not wish to repeat what I have said on many other occasions—we have a very powerful group here, on my right, who have worked untiringly with the object of getting legislation framed for the purpose of eradicating this disease—but I would remind the House (and those who do not know it are very few) that brucellosis has cost the farmers millions of pounds during and before the last century. Hitherto we were ignorant of its cause. It has caused untold misery and suffering to thousands of people.
608 It is nearly 30 years since the veterinary profession called for immediate and urgent steps to eradicate brucellosis in cattle, and ten years since leading medical authorities estimated that human beings were contracting the disease undulant fever at the rate of 1,300 a year. I must say that it has astonished me that successive Governments in this country have accepted the complacent attitude of the Ministry of Agriculture in this matter. It is an attitude which would never have been tolerated, and has not been tolerated, in the smallest countries in the world where they have eradicated this disease. We hear about Ireland every day, and some of us are inclined to think that the Irish must be a little primitive in their approach to life. But Northern Ireland has already eradicated brucellosis, and the same is true of most of the European countries; yet Britain has dragged her feet for many years.
Despite what has been said, I still feel that the Government are not seized with the urgency of the matter, and I should like to have a few questions answered. If the noble Baroness cannot give me the replies now, perhaps she will write to me. I should like to know whether the Government are now prepared to schedule brucellosis as an occupational disease, having regard to the serious risks run by the agricultural worker who is one of the most poorly paid workers in the country. Surely he should have the financial security which we give to so many other workers in other fields when we recognise that they are exposed to occupational hazards. Why the agricultural labourer should be deprived of this protection, I do not know. No one would deny that he contracts the disease through handling an abortion, the foetus and the afterbirth of the foetus. The farmyard gets infected and, of course, the man gets infected. Why are we not giving this man, who is exposed to risk in his work, the same financial protection and security as another man in some other field of employment would get?
Furthermore, my Lords, it has been well known that this disease is transmitted through milk. I am pleased to say that pasteurisation protects the individual. But not all milk is pasteurised, and there is no way for any person, in the country or in the town, to know whether they are drinking pasteurized 609 milk, if the vendor is perhaps not so honest as he might be. Are the Government prepared to have this disease notified? I think the only way to trace the source of the disease is for doctors to be compelled to notify it. I agree, of course, that a doctor will not always be able to diagnose it, but in itself the need to notify will keep a doctor on his toes. We know that this disease is associated with varying kinds of symptoms, but a blood test will generally indicate whether a patient is suffering from it. I ask the noble Baroness to use her power in the Department, if she finds that there is still an inclination not to take every step possible to see that this disease, which may be transmitted through milk, is notified. This seems to me the most effective way to trace the source of the complaint.
There is another point I should like to make, about which again I would say that there does not seem to be the sense of urgency that there should be. Surely at this stage it is folly to postpone the introduction of the slaughter policy with compensation until November 1972. We are all the time putting off the necessary action, and now it is to be postponed for another year. I cannot speak from the point of view of a working farmer, but I was very impressed by a letter which was sent to me recently by a highly efficient Scottish farmer. So on the question of farming may I quote him? On the decision to postpone the introduction of the slaughter policy with compensation until November 1972, he said:Instead of this postponement sparing ' the best blood in the country 'which has been argued—the very opposite is likely to be the case, because for over four years the best blood in the country has been clearing their herds, and those who had not taken the opportunity which was theirs for four years had done nothing and had been re-infecting others, with all the heartbreak that this entailed.For a farmer to write the word "heartbreak" indicates, I think, how deeply he feels, and how frustrating it must be to clean a herd and then to have some irresponsible individual re-infect it. The farmer goes on in his letter to say:I am sorry to say that in Ayrshire this is exactly what has happened. One insurance agent had 60 accredited dairy herds on his books. No less than nine have suffered breakdown. Two of the most successful herds in both pure show and production are at present under a cloud. One had, a month or two ago, already lost 29 cows and was seriously 610 considering going out of the Scheme. The other has managed, so far, to keep the infection to only one of his three units. Another accredited herd of long standing and of the highest repute has sold off his whole herd, I believe, and has gone out of cattle meantime because he could not face the financial consequence.I believe that in Northern Ireland they found that they had to tackle the heavily stocked and heavily infected areas before they could make much progress and the sooner this is undertaken the sooner will real progress be made and the end be in sight. Admittedly there are problems, and at the present time the greatest is that of compensation. That offered by the Government is niggardly.He goes on to say:It is all very well talking about clearing up herds on the Outer Isles and the very lightly stocked areas. If we are to rely entirely on these areas for replacements, it will be a long, long process. There are many heavily stocked areas in which 30 or 40 farms are included in a ring fence in which only one or two farms are not accredited, and where a dealer is bringing admittedly infected stock every week. I think that by hook or by crook we must get rid of these infective nuclei in the interests of the Scheme as a whole, as well as in the interests of those who have, at great expense, cleared their own herds.My Lords, I have read that letter because I feel that it speaks for itself. It is from a farmer who has been farming for many years; a man of the greatest integrity. who would not think of writing such a letter if he did not feel deeply about the whole position. So, my Lords, my final word is. that after years of delay here we have the Government introducing certain measures but they are failing because they are not being implemented with all possible speed.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie on the lucidity with which she introduced this somewhat miscellaneous Bill which covers a number of small but important points. Also. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Davidson on his admirable maiden speech. I look forward with great pleasure to hearing him often again. I cannot pay him a higher tribute than to say that he does credit both to his very distinguished mother and also to his very distinguished father.
My Lords, I wish to make three short points. The first relates to brucellosis about which the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has spoken so cogently. I 611 should like to pay tribute to her tenacity in pushing forward a campaign with this Government and the previous Government in order to bring about an eradication policy. I welcome the Government's announcement of their intention to introduce eradication areas with slaughter and compensation. We all wish to see this dangerous and damaging disease eliminated in the interests of farming and also of human beings. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, was a little hard on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when she attacked them so severely for their complacency. It is a fact, which I am sure is well known to her, that this campaign would have started two or three years earlier had it not been for the preoccupation of the Ministry veterinary surgeons with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease at Oswestry. Maybe that was late, too, but in any event they have been making haste latterly with the voluntary scheme.
As noble Lords on both sides of the House know, this is a most distractingly difficult disease to pin down. If there is one thing that the voluntary scheme has taught everybody it is that the Minister's cautious approach is now more justified and his intention to allow a year before he commences the compensation for slaughter in the eradication areas, I should have thought was right. The farmers in those areas will require time to prepare themselves for this policy, and even then it may have some very disturbing effects. It is particularly difficult to diagnose and eradicate a disease on which the epidemiology is so incomplete at present. I notice that the Minister's intention is to make a review next summer, after the initial nine months of starting the eradication areas. This again seems to be very wise. We do not know whether the compensation terms are right. We do not know for sure whether the voluntary control arrangements are going to be adequate. Both of these matters must be got right.
I would not go along with the noble Baroness in the quotation that she made from the letter and say that compensation was niggling. I just do not know. I hope that it will be enough. Thirty pounds, plus the carcase value, may be 612 sufficient. We must not throw money away on this. On the other hand, it may not be enough, especially where there is a heavy incidence of brucellosis in a particular dairy herd. Therefore I welcome my noble friend's words that the Minister would be prepared to look particularly at hard cases. I suspect that some further provision may be necessary. Prosecuting this campaign will take some years. I can remember being in the Ministry of Agriculture as Parliamentary Secretary when we were still engaged on the clearing up of tuberculosis in the herds. That campaign, if my memory serves me well, took at least ten years. I reckon that this one will be at least as long and in many ways more difficult. It is vital to get the terms right, because we must win the full co-operation of dairy farmers. They must feel that they are being fairly and adequately treated, so that they cooperate fully with the Ministry's vets and their own vets in the campaign to eliminate this disease. If we can get the basic rules and conditions of this eradication campaign right, it will go all that much faster in the future. Heaven knows!, I am 100 per cent. with the noble Baroness in wishing to see it go just as fast as it can.
The second point I want to make, quite briefly, is to welcome the intention of the Minister to abolish boar licensing. To my mind, this is long outmoded and a complete waste of money. Nowadays livestock selection is related to the performance of the progeny and not to the look of the sire, and the best commercial production is achieved by using the genetic phenomenon of heterosis in hybrids. The prospect of picking a reliable sire by this method is an enormous improvement over the old-fashioned method of examining the outside appearance of the sire. This applies to bull licensing as well. I must welcome the small distance that my right honourable friend the Minister has gone in relaxing bull licensing. I wish he had not been deterred by what I regard as the timidity of the breed societies and had gone the whole way in abolishing bull licensing. It really is completely outmoded. I hope that he will carry it out at the next step.
My third point refers to the farm structure schemes in Clause 11. Here I 613 welcome the simplification that my noble friend explained; that is, the removal of the restrictions on the land which has been grant aided in an amalgamation scheme. I agree with my noble friend Lord Davidson that the first shot at this legislation was not being fully effective. It is perhaps interesting to recall —and here I would say how glad I was to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, welcome these improvements—the history of this legislation. In 1965 the Labour Government introduced an Agriculture Bill, and the restrictions then on land which had been brought into amalgamation were to last for a sixty-year period. There were loud protests that this was far too long. That Bill fell with the 1966 General Election. The Labour Government brought in another Bill (the 1967 Agriculture Act), and the sixty years was then reduced to forty years. Well, this was an improvement; but there was a pretty heavy representation from the Opposition Benches against that period. To the credit of the Labour Government, they were obviously learning, because by 1970—and this must have been due to the influence of the noble Lord, Lord Hoy—they introduced another Agriculture Bill, and the forty years was then reduced to fifteen years. So they really were coming on. Now my noble friend proposes that we should remove the restriction altogether, and that with the old scheme we should reduce the period from fifteen years to five. The fact is that experience has shown that this kind of restriction inhibits farmers from joining in these schemes which we so much wish to see. Again, I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, welcoming this improvement that we made to the good idea that he had. We have now made it workable.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
Well, better. Other things could be done, and I am coming on to those. I suggest to my noble friend that she should not weary of well-doing, and in order to make this scheme even more attractive it would be wise to abolish capital gains tax which has to be paid on approved amalgamation schemes: it has to be paid on the property which is brought into the amalgamation. This Government have already had the wisdom in the 1971 Finance Act to remove capital gains tax 614 on death, and it would be sensible, if we want to see this kind of development going ahead, to remove it on these transactions as well.
As my noble friend Lord Davidson said, we are fortunate in that our farm structure is, on the whole, better than that of the Common Market countries. The average size of farm is something like double the average size there, or even more, and this gives us a significant advantage in cost structure. The fact is to-day that in all forms of husbandry, particularly crop husbandry, the prizes go to the big units. The unit cost is progressively reduced and efficiency is progressively experienced in the bigger units. This goes for livestock production as well. Therefore we should be concerned to do everything we can to see that units come together into as large farms as possible in order to reduce the cost of food production. Finally, I should like to pay my tribute to the county agricultural executive committees, with whom I have had many years' happy experience in the past, formerly serving on one, and latterly, when I was in the Ministry, working closely with them. Here we have men and women throughout the country who gave their devoted and expert services in order to encourage and help food production in this country: and a very fine job they have done. I should like to place on record my thanks and congratulations for what they have done.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those that we have already heard in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, on his maiden speech. Unfortunately, those who have spoken before me have said most of the things that I had intended to say in praise of his speech. But, refreshing my memory with this Bill, it seems that Clause 9(2) has some relevance. The noble Viscount undoubtedly would come up to any requirement of licensing for speaking in this place on the grounds of conformation; and I imagine, without too much prying into his private life, that he is also disease-free. But he does add an additional argument to those who say that pedigree has some effect upon performance—not just pedigree as such but also, obviously, the record of the sire and the dam. And here, even if those conditions were still required, he would undoubtedly qualify with great ease. I 615 share with many noble Lords and Ladies the privilege of having known both his parents and him, and I very much look forward to his perfect contributions, not only on agriculture, on which he is an acknowledged expert, but also on other subjects, on which he is an expert, though perhaps not quite such an acknowledged one.
My Lords, this is, in general, a good Bill so far as commission is concerned. I do not give it quite so many marks when it comes to omissions, but going briefly through a few of the clauses I commend particularly Clause 3. As a member of the Agricultural Committee of the Council of Europe, I can say that certainly it makes my task very much easier when my own country has taken steps to conform to a very worthwhile regulation that has been proposed there.
Clause 9 I have already, rather lightly, dealt with. I agree with that and I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said in regard to the licensing of bulls, boars and so on, though I would say, particularly in the case of non-pedigree bulls, that it is enormously important, whether it is done by Statute or simply by exhortation, that the performance of the sire and the dam should be shown and should be realised. By all means let us get away from the fetish of breed societies that only pure-bred animals can be used, but do not let us go back to the idea that only an animal which looks well and is disease-free is automatically going to produce good stock. We must do all in our power to keep up the good work. It has been accepted by all good livestock breeders that it is the performance of the ancestors that counts, and that is something to which attention should be paid.
I have nothing but praise for Clause 10. The amalgamations scheme, which I am happy to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and my noble friend Lord Hoy have pointed out, was introduced by a Labour Government. It is a good scheme. It got off to a slow start and more money was needed. We have that, and the present Government have learned from us. It is very nice when they learn from us—they could perhaps learn more, but we are grateful even when they learn in this sort of case—but it is something we must push 616 ahead with. The idea is right, and they are moving in the right direction.
Now I come to Clause 13, on the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and the additional funds. Of course it is right to make additional funds available for the acquisition of land and the improvement of fixed equipment, but I am sad to see here one big omission which has constantly been a source of comment. It is important that more capital should be made available for agriculture in general, but why must we confine that capital solely to landowners—the owner-occupier or the landowner who has tenants farming his land? The need is every bit as great, if not greater, for the tenant farmer himself. I suggest to your Lordships that a formula for efficiency in any form of industry, but in agriculture in particular, lies in the combination of security plus squeeze on profits, plus capital. We need all those three things in order to promote efficiency, and over the past 25 years or so we have had to a pretty large degree (although we have grumbled about its absence from time to time) a far greater measure of security than the industry has ever enjoyed before in times of peace. We have also had squeeze, and over the past ten or twelve years, to my mind, the squeeze has been overdone—though I am not complaining about the fact that the squeeze is there. But what we have not had in sufficient quantity is capital. In the past, and up to the present time, this lack of capital has impeded efficiency, and in the future will impede it far more.
I do not think that enough people appreciate the enormous increase that has taken place in the capital needs of the farmer, whether he be a tenant farmer or an owner-occupier. As to machinery in general, it is hard to compare prices over the last twenty years. But if one looks at the price of ploughs, of drills, of grass-cutters, one sees that, though they have not changed enormously in technical ability and performance, the prices have gone up by some 400 per cent. The price of a combine harvester has virtually doubled in the last four or five years. A combine harvester which in 1967 or 1968 cost about £3,000 now costs £6,000. Wages (and I will come to them later) have also gone up by something like 500 per cent. in the last twenty years. 617 Rents, too, have risen by approximately the same amount. All these make up the tenant's capital requirements. Therefore today, instead of needing £10 to £12 an acre to farm, as was the case in the years immediately following the war, we now need between £70 and £80 an acre. Now where does that money come from and where will it come from in the future?
I am not going into an historical discussion, interesting though it might be, as to where it came from in the past, but we must look to the future and unless we are satisfied (as none of us can be) that the rate of inflation is slowing down, we must accept the fact that for the next ten years the amount of tenant capital will rise from the present figure of £70 or £80 to something like £100 or £120 an acre. And as we are to increase the size of our farms and to improve their structure and mechanisation, not only will the need for capital per acre increase, but the amount of capital needed per farm will increase as the farms get larger. It is incumbent upon the Government, if they wish to see an increasingly efficient agricultural industry, to keep up a certain amount of squeeze (and I shall not complain if they do that); to keep up security (and I should complain very much if they did not do that), and also, by some means or other, to make available the capital necessary to marry together those other factors and produce efficiency. It may well be that the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation is one of the better vehicles for doing this.
I will now move on to Clause 19. Many noble Lords have spoken about the proposed abolition of the agricultural executive committees. I think that is a right decision. I do not believe that they have had sufficient work to do during the last years, though I would join in the tributes which have been paid to them for their earlier work. I share the fears expressed by my noble friend Lord Hoy and by the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, concerning the liaison with the actual farming community. I have the greatest respect for the regional officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, but I think they would be the first to agree that something more than purely official information coming in to the Ministry and to the Minister is needed if we are to get a worthwhile and understanding agricultural policy. Some form of liaison is necessary, and I hope that 618 the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, may be able to tell us a little more about what the Government have in mind on that point.
My final point concerns Clause 20, which deals with the amendment of relevant sections of the Agricultural Wages (Scotland) Act, 1949, and the abolition of agricultural wages committees. I would not dare to trespass into a matter North of the Border such as that. I am only sorry that the opportunity has not been taken on this occasion to go very much wider than this and to abolish the whole system, as at present constituted, of regulating agricultural wages. In far distant days when we had, as it were, confrontation between master and man, haggling between worker and farmer as to what wages should be, the agricultural wages boards were probably the right way of dealing with it with their independent members. But to-day the position is entirely different. I will not go into it—your Lordships know all the changes that have taken place—but it is now a farce to have this ritual sitting down at a table and one side demanding higher wages and the other saying, "We cannot afford to pay them", and the independent member then striking a balance between them.
What is needed, above all, to-day in agriculture, is a wages structure which is, in the words of all the pious platitudes which every politican who speaks upon agriculture has trotted out more than once, comparable with wages structures in industry. There is no point in pretending that agriculture has that to-day. At a rough guess, wages in agriculture are something like 30 per cent. below those of industry. Not only that, but it had been laid down that in order to live above the poverty line an average family with two children under 11 years of age should have a basic take-home pay, after all deductions, of £17 a week. If that rate is not reached, then the family is entitled to call on the family incomes supplement. Yet the basic agricultural wage to-day is £14.80 per week. We cannot expect to have an efficient and developing industry if we still adhere to this archaic system of fixing wages which results in wages that are themselves archaic. The end result can only be a drift from the land.
619 In the twenty years between 1946 and 1966 the agricultural labour force dropped from something over a million to something under half a million, and it is still dropping. The basic reason for that is lack of comparability of wages. The only answer to this is that wages in agriculture must rise substantially. I would suggest that they rise by 10 per cent. per annum over the next three years, regardless of any other increments that are given to meet the rising cost of living, so as to bring agricultural wages into line with industrial wages. That can be achieved only if farmers and workers together work for this wage. It is just as much in the interests of farmers that wages should be high—because otherwise they will not have the necessary good labour—as it is in the interests of the workers themselves. Above all it is in the interests of the country that this should be done, and if it is in the interests of the country then the country must ensure that agricultural prices are adjusted so as to take account of wages which are in fact, and not just in words, comparable with those in industry.
My Lords, those are, as I see it, the two major omissions from this Bill. Apart from them, I think it is in the main a good Bill. It may be modified—I think it will be modified—in Committee; but by and large the agricultural industry will be somewhat better off as a result of it.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he tell me whether he actually knows any farm worker who receives a basic wage of only £14.80 a week? That is certainly not my experience. The average farm worker receives certainly £17 or £18 a week, and if one adds on overtime he may be getting £25 or £27 a week. It is a great mistake always to think of the wages structure on the basis of the basic minimum wage because in fact no employer ever pays it. If he offers only the basic wage he will not get anyone to work for him.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
And, my Lords, may I 620 ask the noble Lord a further question? If agricultural wages were to rise by 10 per cent. a year, would that not bankrupt two-thirds of the farmers in the country? One cannot mechanise in agriculture as one can in industry.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I do not want to enlarge too much in reply to the noble Viscount's questions. His first question was whether I actually know of farm workers who are receiving the basic minimum wage, and the answer to that is, Yes. He may not know any; I do. His second point was that my proposal would bankrupt farmers. I made it clear (I hope the noble Viscount was listening to what I was saying as he was sufficiently interested to ask questions about it) that it would entail raising farm prices to take care of this rise in wages. That is essential, and it must be a combined effort on the part of farmer and farm worker, the National Farmers' Union and the National Union of Agricultural Workers, to bring this about.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, this Bill covers a great multitude of subjects, and I think your Lordships are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie for the clarity and brevity with which she explained the whole of such an extensive Bill. I have time to make only three very small points, one of which is not contained in the Bill. The first is on farm amalgamations; the next is on brucellosis, and the third, on which I do not expect any reply in this debate, is about the grave apprehension now existing among Scottish farmers, particularly in the East, on account of the probable impending destruction of the sugar beet industry.
Clauses 10 and 11 of this Bill amplify to a small extent the Act of 1967 which provided compensation to the occupiers of small, uneconomic farms, which are defined by measurements of both area and output laid down in the Act, if they surrender their holdings for the purpose of amalgamation with some other holding. I suppose that our views about the usefulness of smallholdings and small farms have probably all changed a little since the growth of our modern affluent society. Before the war I was tremendously keen not only on having more 621 smallholdings but also on forest holdings for senior employees of the Forestry Commission; I thought it was a fine thing that these forest workers should have a permanent stake in the country. But now, of course, for reasons which we can easily understand, a skilled forester earning a high wage, for which he works very hard indeed, does not always want to spend his spare time looking after half a dozen cattle or cultivating a patch of turnips; he prefers to have some recreation with his wife and family. For similar reasons, a growing number of small farmers are seeking either a larger farm or a new occupation with a larger wage.
Some of your Lordships may remember that a few years ago, when Mr. Callaghan was Home Secretary, he got into rather serious trouble on a visit to Wales because he told a small Welsh farmer who was having difficulty in making ends meet that he ought to give up farming. I think most of your Lordships will agree that if a small farmer wants to go on living a spartan life, earning an income which is considerably lower than the minimum agricultural wage, but at the same time remaining his own master and keeping his right to cultivate and walk over his fields and hills, he ought to be honoured and encouraged and given all the Government help that is appropriate to his circumstances. But if, on the other hand, he prefers to seek a new occupation with a higher standard of life I think it is then in the national interest that he should be given generous compensation for abandoning his uneconomic holding.
My noble friend Lord Davidson, whose admirable maiden speech was so much enjoyed by your Lordships, and whom we all hope to hear often again, made a most interesting point when he said that the Common Market countries, which we are soon to join, were contemplating having some similar measures of buying out small, uneconomic farmers. That is a most interesting point, because those countries which are soon to be our partners in the Common Market have a preponderance of these uneconomic farmers, and this is the main factor in raising the price of food, which has so much deterred many people in this country from joining the Common Market. I do not know when the scheme will start, but we are 622 interested to see that plans are being made for buying out large numbers of these uneconomic farmers, not only for the purpose of amalgamating them with other agricultural holdings but also for the purposes of forestry. I understand that the Six contemplate planting no less than 12 million acres, not of hill ground but of marginal agricultural ground, within the next generation, which happens to be about four times as much as all the woodlands in Britain put together. We can do that, too, of course, in a scheme under this Bill and the 1967 Act, if the Agricultural Department concerned agrees.
However, there is one point that I would particularly like to put to my noble friend. I hope that wherever possible the Department will be willing to agree, so long as it does not adversely affect the amalgamation, and if the retiring occupier wishes to do so, that it should be arranged, if possible, that he should keep the farmhouse in which he had been living if that farmhouse is not essential (which usually it is not) to the new amalgamated holding. I say this because I had the impression a year or two ago that the Department of Agriculture were a little suspicious of this idea. They sometimes seemed to think that the outgoing farmer was trying to have it both ways. Of course one must take care that the compensation facilities are not abused. The Act precludes anybody who receives compensation from taking another holding and getting compensation for that later on. To begin with, this was misunderstood by a number of small farmers in Scotland. They thought that if they gave up their holding they would never be allowed to take up another farm again. Of course this is not so. A man leaving one farm may take on another, large or small; all the Act prohibits is that a man should make a regular living by going round the country, taking one uneconomic farm after another and getting a present of £2,000 when he goes out of each of them.
With regard to the possibility of keeping the house, I think that is a desirable thing. If the outgoing farmer is going to get paid employment in the district, or if he is proposing to set up a small business of his own, in either case I believe it to be a good thing that he should go on living in the same house. 623 Also, provided that it does not upset the economy of the new farm, I believe it to be a good thing if he is able to retain a few acres round his house. I think it is a good thing that he should be encouraged and enabled to go on with his new occupation in the same locality where his family have lived, perhaps, for generations.
Turning to brucellosis, I would say that this has always been a scourge and lately it has become a scourge of such widespread dimensions that we have had to take national steps to eradicate it. I welcome what the Government are doing in this Bill and I only wish that it could go on a little faster than is happening under the present arrangements. When I was a Minister at the Scottish Office in the 1930s one thing the Department of Agriculture was particularly proud of was that it was so far ahead of England in eradicating bovine tuberculosis. At the beginning of the War, except for one or two counties near the Border, Scotland was entirely tubercular-free, and this work was completed soon after the War. Now it seems that we are going in double harness with England, and of course it must be appreciated that one cannot eradicate brucellosis overnight. We must take time to ensure, for instance, that compulsory slaughter is really necessary before it is enforced. On the other hand, we must also remember that a great many farmers in all parts of the country have suffered terrible depredations to their herds. Many of them would now like to try to rebuild their herds, or perhaps to start from scratch with a new herd, but they can only do that to a limited extent, even in the voluntary accreditation areas, where stock-proof fencing may often be difficult and expensive. The extent to which they can progress is often severely limited because of the danger of infection if everybody is not obliged to come into the scheme.
I think your Lordships will have seen —and most of us with approval—the statement last March by the English Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on behalf of both England and Scotland, in which he described the programme up to 1972–73 and said that he and the Secretary of State would select the next main areas as soon as possible in the light of the response to voluntary 624 accreditation. I wonder whether my noble friend could tell us whether since March any further progress has been made in mapping out a future programme, because I think that we ought before long to set ourselves a target date when the whole of Britain shall be compulsorily accredited and universally freed from this disease.
I will conclude with a word on the great gloom and apprehension at the moment among Eastern Scottish farmers about the sugar beet situation. To put it as simply as possible, the position is that the Government have agreed that they will allow a private consortium to buy the sugar beet factory in Fife and to carry on with the necessary facilities, if they can agree on the price with the British Sugar Corporation. The consortium has offered a price of £200,000; the Sugar Corporation has said that it will not take less than £700,000, and the Government have said that they cannot interfere or try to influence the Sugar Corporation to be more reasonable. We ought to be told—not in this debate, of course. but at some time—whether or not the British Sugar Corporation is really expecting to get, or is likely to get, £700,000 from somebody else, or whether it intends to let the factory become derelict or be demolished; because if that happens the only conclusion that everybody will draw will be that the British Sugar Corporation is deliberately asking a price which it knows to be impossibly high in order that nobody else may be able to process beet manufacture in Scotland and that the Corporation may continue with its monopoly on a more restricted scale in England.
As for the Government's reply to the representations which have been made, they have said that they cannot prevail on the Corporation to change its views because the Government own only 30 per cent. of the shares and it might be unfair to the other 70 per cent. of the shareholders if they interfered with the freedom of bargaining in this matter. That is all very well; but supposing that the factory is not sold at all, supposing it becomes plain that the Sugar Corporation had no serious intention of selling it and were determined only to ask too high a price, and supposing the industry is then closed down: everybody is bound to ask, and everybody will ask—the British Sugar 625 Corporation has maintained its monopoly and prevented anybody else from competing with it in Scotland—is this really the present Government's idea of free competition in a free market? That is the question which will be asked. I do not want any reply now—it would be unreasonable because the matter is not dealt with in the Bill—but I would appeal to my noble friend to put it to his colleagues that if this industry is destroyed simply because the Sugar Corporation, by asking an impossibly high price, has refused to sell the factory at all in order that they may carry on a monopoly else. where, it will bring neither any benefit to Scottish agriculture nor any credit to the Government.
§ 5.32 p.m.
My Lords, before I start my speech may I be permitted to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, on his maiden speech. It was witty; I enjoyed it, and I only wish he sat on this side of the House.
This Bill is too vague; it tries to do too many things without describing specifically what it aims to do and the methods proposed to achieve its purpose. I must say I understand the Bill far better after hearing the explanation of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, but I still do not think it goes far enough.
My one subject to-day is brucellosis. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has taken my first point, about making brucellosis an industrial disease, so I will say nothing more on that. She has also taken most of my second point. I ask both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture to make this a notifiable disease, for both cattle and humans. The disease can be caused through drinking infected milk which has not had heat treatment to make it safe. This is especially applicable to the producer-retailer of milk, but it can also apply to farm workers who receive milk, either free or in payment from an infected herd. If the farmer or the vet had to report an outbreak to the medical officer of health, then the officer could place on that farm an order that all milk should receive heat treatment and thus be made safe.
626 I come now to my main point, which is compensation for slaughter. This is entirely inadequate. A slaughtered animal averages about £40 in revenue. Government compensation on an unvaccinated animal, £15, and on a vaccinated one, £30, is quite inadequate. These figures add up to a total of only £70 per animal. Replacement costs are going up every day, and to replace an in-calf heifer costs between £150 and £250. The sum is 50 per cent. under the total cost.
May I put to Her Majesty's Government three points: first, that vaccinated and non-vaccinated animals should receive the same amount of compensation. It may seem illogical, but I think that would simplify matters. Then, I suggest that compensation should be raised to £60 a head, and the difference between the slaughterhouse sale price, of say £40, of compensation £60, a total of £100, and the cost of replacement, up to another £50 per head, should be loaned to the farmer free of interest for five years to be repayable to the Government by the farmer in five equal yearly payments, provided the farmer's bankers will guarantee the repayment. This will not give the farmer the full replacement value. But I do not see why it should; because he is going to get valuable animals and be able to breed valuable animals. If he comes into the scheme fairly soon he will benefit.
My noble friend Lord Kilbracken, who is unable to be here to-day, has asked me to give notice that he wishes to move an Amendment at Committee stage to delete Clause 9(2)(a). One other clause I object to. It is Clause 9(5), which allows the import of animals for breeding purposes. We in this country have no knowledge of the surroundings or the environment of these animals before importation; they may come from a foot-and-mouth area. I think that this clause needs re-examination.
Before I sit down I should like to congatulate the noble Lord, Lord Walston, on his able speech in putting the case for the farmworker. I think that farmers to-day could afford to pay more to the farmworker than they are paying. I am a small farmer, and although I do not employ anybody, on my 22½acres I have made £1,000 this year because of 627 the increase in the value of sheep. I expect that many other livestock farmers have had the same benefit as I have. I want to see the farmworker better paid, and in times of unemployment I want to see men return to the land.
§ 5.41 p.m.
My Lords, I should like most heartily to congratulate my noble friend Lord Davidson on an admirable and knowledgeable maiden speech. We shall look forward to having him as a stalwart on our side when we next have a debate on brucellosis eradication. I want to deal with only one point. Some speakers have been saying for many years that, of those not yet in it he Government scheme, probably 60 per cent. could easily have qualified for it but were too lazy or too unambitious to get the accreditation certificate. I want to make it clear that it is not due to either idleness or lack of ambition. The reason is that, while the present so-called advantages are all very well for those of us who can achieve accreditation and maintain it, the noble and learned Lord who sat on the Woolsack in the last Government said very accurately during the animals debate that those who achieved accreditation had created a risk for themselves.
Some of us have seen men and their families who have built up a herd, in some cases over generations. What will be the effect on them, and on those around them, when they see that the axe has fallen? They are not allowed to get rid of the animals on their farms except for slaughter; their compensation is small. They suffer the "death of the thousand cuts" which they talk about in China—not perhaps in the United Nations, although it looked like it the other day. One animal goes down; on the next test the farmer has two going down; after that they may be perfectly clear for a couple of tests, but back come two or three the next time. Gradually, his herd is slaughtered, and he is not allowed to restart it elswhere. If such farmers go out and have the specified injection they are entitled to no compensation whatsoever, and their outlook is absolutely catastrophic.
My Lords, I have seen it happen to families through no fault of their own. 628 The Government have not given them the slight compensation or the protection that will come when the day arrives—probably in about 1974, in my own case—when they are protected from the man who has taken no trouble over his herd and whose cattle perhaps break through the fence. If such farmers are given some hope for the future that their status will be protected when the dark days come, we shall see a great many of that 60 per cent. coming in; and that, as I believe, is what your Lordships and I wish for. But it will not happen while the Sword of Damocles—there are plenty of other weapons I could name—hangs over their heads. It is not worth their while. I know the two farms to which the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, referred. The farmers have worked hard all their lives, and it is just about the end for one of them. It will take a long, long time, and many hundreds, possibly thousands, of pounds, before they can get in the clear again, and take advantage of any of the great gifts and compensations which the Government are willing to pay them. I beg that something should be done for these people; that they should be allowed, after a certain stage, to have their cattle slaughtered and to start again. They cannot do it at present. They have to go on and on, with their compensation dwindling and their income gradually getting less and less, and the future getting darker and darker. It will continue to grow darker until the Government show that they appreciate the situation, and that they wish to help those who have been among the pioneers to avoid being condemned to death.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, may I, too, congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson. Congratulating him gives me an opportunity to say something that I have never dared to say before—what a lovely lady his mother is. Her ready smile has been a joy at Westminster as long as I can remember.
I want briefly to take exception to Clause 6, which repeals the present policy for the licensing of slaughterhouses embodied in the Slaughterhouses Act, 1958. I do not know anything about the remainder of this Bill, but I do know something about this particular item. In my opinion it is a free-for-all. It will benefit the big boys and they will be the 629 only ones who will get any benefit out of it, because the small men are on the side of the municipal authorities, and they do not want the change on Clause 6. It cannot be the consumer who wants Clause 6 because the consumer is being subsidised in a massive way by the authorities. Manchester alone subsidised the consumers to the extent of £341,000 in the course of one year.
What I would point out to the Government is that it took some time to put into operation in many of our cities the recommendations that were made in the 1958 Act. In fact, Glasgow does not bring its abattoir into existence until 1972. How much money the Glaswegians have spent on the abattoir there I do not know, but Manchester has spent £4,160,000 on theirs, and all the others—about 14 of them, as far as I can make out—sums amounting to £10,990,000. The Minister, who so ably explained the Bill, was asked what lay behind this clause. I understand that when the small traders and the consumers and the local authorities came to Westminster to see the Minister, they were unable to get any kind of reaction to their demand for an explanation of the policy. That is all I intend to say at this juncture, because this matter will probably be far better explored at the Committee stage, when, perhaps, leaders on this side of the House will be putting down Amendments. Until then, I desire to reserve any further comments.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, I had not intended to speak this afternoon because I thought I should not be able to attend your Lordships' House. Furthermore, all the questions that I wanted to ask have already been asked on many occasions by previous speakers. However, I should like to support the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for making A.M.C. capital available to tenant farmers. The noble Lord was absolutely right in his estimate of the greatly increased capital requirements of tenant farmers, and another source of available capital would be greatly appreciated. I am glad that A.M.C. interest rates have recently fallen slightly, but I think they are still far too high and I hope they will fall even more as the bank rate is 630 falling. I should also like to place on record my appreciation of the valuable work carried out by the executive committees. I regret their passing and am apprehensive of the lack of liaison which may now ensue. Many Members of the committees have freely and willingly given their time and energies for the benefit of the industry, and I am sure that all farmers must be grateful to them. In conclusion, I should also like to express my admiration of the very fine maiden speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson. I hope we shall hear him again frequently.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, we have had a useful and extremely wide-ranging debate, which has enabled your Lordships to cover a good deal of ground. I think it fair to say that, in general, this Bill has received the approval of the House. Before I go on to deal with the various points that have been raised, may I add my congratulations to those of your Lordships on the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Davidson? I hope we shall hear him on this subject many times in the future, because he has a great deal of practical experience of the agricultural industry and I am sure that in these matters he will add a great deal to the knowledge of your Lordships' House. If this Bill is a hotchpotch—and it certainly is—I am afraid that my winding-up speech is going to be more of one, because so many points have been raised that it is more important to try to answer your Lordships' questions than to try to introduce some sort of conformity. So I must apologise in advance if I dash from one point to another.
The first point, which was on Clause 1 —and it provoked more interest in your Lordships' House than any other concerns brucellosis. There were diverging views on this subject. For instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, thought that the Government did not have quite enough of a sense of urgency in dealing with the matter, whereas my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford thought that probably their sense of priorities was about right, since it was necessary to get the full co-operation of farmers and they would give it only if they felt they had been fairly treated. 631 I think the noble Baroness was worried about the voluntary year. I know that she discussed this problem with my right honourable friend when he met the House of Lords' Brucellosis Committee in March of this year. She will therefore be aware that the voluntary year was agreed, in the initial areas, to meet the strong arguments put forward by the industry and by the veterinary profession in favour of giving farmers an adequate period of notice before introducing compulsory slaughter powers.
I should like to emphasise two points. The voluntary year is a once-for-all procedure, which applies only to the initial areas of Western Scotland, North-West England, South-West Wales and the Isle of Wight. It will not apply to the extension zones which have already been announced, because herd owners in these areas have already been given ample warning of compulsory eradication; nor will it apply to any areas which may be declared eradication areas in future. During the voluntary year, all herds in the initial areas will be subject to the restrictions and controls imposed by the area eradication order. For example, every herd will be compulsorily blood-tested during the first three or four months of the voluntary year. If a herd is found to be infected and the herd owner is not willing to take part in our voluntary scheme, the Ministry's local veterinary staff will, if necessary, be able to impose controls on the herd if it is thought to constitute a risk to neighbouring herds. For example, a herd owner could be prohibited from using certain fields for grazing his infected stock, or he could be prevented from sending such animals on to common grazings. So that even if a herd owner does not want to co-operate voluntarily, we have full powers to prevent the spread of infection from his farm.
The noble Baroness read out a letter from a farmer. While we sympathise with farmers in heavily infected areas, we must tackle the eradication on a systematic basis, area by area; and it surely makes sense to start in the lightly infected areas, so that we can build up a reservoir of clean stock as replacements for infected animals which will have to be slaughtered in the worst affected areas. The noble Baroness looked across to Ireland; but 632 the position there is quite different, because they have smaller herds which have been less heavily affected. But I can assure the noble Baroness that we are going as fast as our veterinary resources allow. We must not overlook the voluntary incentive scheme where 2,500 herds a month are coming in, with over one-third of the eligible cattle already in the scheme.
My noble friend Lord Dundee was also worried about the pace of eradication. He referred to my right honourable friend's statement in March last year about the eradication programme. As my right honourable friend has made clear, the pace of eradication must depend largely on the response of the industry to the voluntary incentive scheme. The response so far has been most encouraging and we, for our part, intend to make sure that the compulsory programme keeps pace. My right honourable friend announced recently that Norfolk and Suffolk will become eradication areas as from April 1, 1973. New areas will be added from time to time as more herds become accredited in those areas.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his reply. But on the question of powers, may I ask him whether the Government have powers to stop a bull from swimming across a river when it notices some cows on the other side?
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have a great many powers, but I do not know whether they have influence in those quarters. The noble Baroness asked whether we would make brucellosis a notifiable disease. I assume she has in mind that it should be notifiable in human beings. I know that from this Dispatch Box one answers for Her Majesty's Government and not for a particular Ministry, and I really cannot pass the responsibility for this answer on to another Department. But this is an Agriculture Bill and the question is really one for the Department of Health. I am sure that that particular right honourable friend of mine will take note of the point made by the noble Baroness, but, as she has pointed out, there are difficulties in diagnosis and, although I am not an expert, I understand that the interpretation of blood tests is a complicated matter. The noble Baroness also 633 suggested making brucellosis an occupational disease. This question is being examined by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Social Services, who has referred it to the commit. tee responsible for advising on industrial diseases. But as the noble Baroness is aware, again there are difficulties in diagnosing brucellosis in human beings.
The noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, asked about infected milk sold by producer-retailers. Only about 2 per cent. of milk is sold unpasteurised. Even so, a very close check is made on milk from producer-retailers. As soon as infection is found, the Ministry of Health requires the milk to be heat treated. This is standard practice under the existing public health regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, made a very powerful speech about the difficulties where there was reinfection by brucellosis. I sympathise very much with owners whose herds are reinfected. At present, about 3 per cent. of accredited herds become reinfected, but as eradication progresses this figure is expected to reduce to something nearer the Northern Ireland figure of one-half per cent. For accredited herds, the answer lies in insurance. Herd owners should allocate part of their incentive payments to cover insurance premiums—only about 75p for each animal a year.
My Lords, it is not entirely a question of compensation for animals killed: there is the loss of business. It is a very serious thing if the farmer cannot buy anything new and cannot sell anything out.
§ LORD DENHAM
Yes, my Lords, I of course recognise this position; but insurance is a help even though it is not the entire answer. Under the compulsory scheme we have promised a review of heavily infected herds, the hard cases, in mid-1972, and cases such as those mentioned by the noble Lord will be considered in this review. My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, was concerned about the adequacy of compensation given. He was worried to a certain extent about the flat-rate compensation. I assure him that the replacement grant is only one element in the financial assistance available to owners. Owners will also receive incentive pay- 634 ments on clean animals, and of course will retain the sale price of reactors, which should be considerably enhanced because of the recent decision to permit their sale in markets.
My Lords, if I may turn from Clause 1 to Clause 2, zoonoses does of course have a great deal of bearing on brucellosis. I think only one noble Lord mentioned that fact, the noble Lord, Lord Hoy. I am glad to know that the noble Lord supports the provision made in the Bill for entry on to premises to deal with disease. On Clause 4, the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, asked about compensation for farm workers who lose wages because of the slaughter of diseased animals. I have every sympathy with workers who may be affected in this way, but we must distinguish between direct losses by farmers, by slaughter of cattle or destruction of milk, and consequential losses by others in the industry. Successive Governments, including that in which the noble Lord served, have made it clear that they cannot accept responsibility for consequential losses of this kind.
Many of your Lordships were concerned about Clause 6, which deals with slaughterhouses. The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, asked whether the Government assessment of the future development of the meat industry was going to be published. Her Majesty's Government have not attempted an assessment of the future development of the meat industry, and they are not concerned to influence developments in one direction or another. The present policy of holding the balance between the public and private sectors is serving neither sector. It impedes the freedom of development of the private sector without giving a sufficiently privileged position to the local authorities who make their public slaughterhouses economic. The Government do not, therefore. consider it right to continue to operate controls which might increasingly inhibit the natural economic development of the industry as a whole. I think the noble Lord then went on, on this clause, to raise various points that were worrying the National Farmers' Union.
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, and I hope he will forgive me, but I really cannot understand how the Government can make a decision about this question if in 635 fact they do not evaluate what is going to happen to this industry in the future —its slaughter technique, its distribution aspect and so on. How are they going to solve it by having a free-for-all in slaughterhouses? There must be a better reason than that, because that is no reason at all. I would have thought that if they were going to do this they had better come to the Committee with a better argument; and I give the noble Lord due notice now That he and the Minister will have to come with a better answer than that if he wants the Committee to accept it.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, I shall certainly await the noble Lord's onslaught in Committee. if I may leave it there for the moment, we can come back to it at a later stage in the Bill. May I deal with the other point which was made by the noble Lord on this clause—the worry about the refusal by local authorities to give planning consent for new private slaughterhouses. The change in Government policy for the licensing of slaughterhouses does not affect the current position with regard to planning permission. If a request for planning permission is refused, an applicant has the right of appeal to the Department of the Environment. The noble Lord's second point concerned an appeal against the level of charges made by local authorities. If the Government are going to allow freedom to private slaughterhouses, they cannot in fairness continue to exercise control over the charges of local authority slaughterhouses. But many local authority slaughterhouses are operating at a loss, and one of the main contributing factors is under-use of facilities. Local authorities are therefore unlikely to raise their charges more than is essential to meet the costs. In short, the normal forces of competition will apply here.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment on that point? I cannot quite understand the logic of his reasoning if present facilities are being under-used. Perhaps he could expound a little on that matter, because it is an important point.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, the local authorities have power to sell if they want to.
636 The next point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, was the matter of an appeal against a decision to close a slaughterhouse. Local authorities who decide to give up their slaughterhouses will no doubt first try to dispose of them as going concerns. Some may close, but this will not happen overnight. If the Government's policy is to be effective and facilities are to be provided at the best economic advantage, then it would be wrong to compel local authorities—
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is now telling us what Government policy is? When he says that local authorities can sell their assets, has he not decided in his own mind that this is what is going to happen?
§ LORD DENHAM
Certainly not, my Lords. There is nothing in what I have said which should give your Lordships that idea.
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt again, but the point is this. If in fact these abattoirs are closed, I am not worried so much at the moment about any loss which might be incurred by a local authority. What the N.F.U. is saying is that if you take this away they then have no right of appeal, and they then might be deprived of the facilities which are there at the present time. This is the point of the matter.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, the view of Her Majesty's Government here is that where there is a demand for the facilities those facilities will be supplied, either by the local authority or by private enterprise. May I come on to this point: the number of slaughterhouses has fallen steadily in recent years. The Government have no reason to expect that the change of policy will lead to an increase or to a lowering of hygiene standards. The objective is that the slaughterhouses should in future be located in those areas where they are clearly needed and where they will be economically viable.
I turn to the next clause, Clause 9, mentioned by your Lordships—and I apologise for the "bittiness" of this answer. The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, again asked how scarce veterinary resources will be allocated to the increased demand for the import of 637 breeding stocks. He suggested the need for a statutory advisory panel. My right honourable friend and his colleagues have recently written to the chairman of the three Royal Agricultural Societies inviting them to set up a panel representative of the industry organisations to advise on the allocation of scarce veterinary resources which are insufficient to satisfy the rising demand for import facilities. Replies have not yet been received from the three societies and it will be inappropriate for me to say more about the panel proposal at this stage.
My noble friend Lord Nugent wished that the Ministry had gone the whole way and abolished bull licensing altogether instead of simplifying it. Bull breeders were concerned that the complete abolition of licensing would lead to harm to the industry through the use of scrub bulls, bulls with hereditary defects or diseased bulls. They were particularly concerned that some dairy farmers would retain scrub bulls and use them on their cows simply to get them in milk, regardless of the quality of the calves and the fact that they were using bulls with defects which might cause genetic damage. The relatively long life span of the bull and the long breeding cycle of cattle increases the possibility of genetic damage from inferior or defective bulls. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, stressed the importance of performance standards in selecting bulls and boars for breeding. I agree that it is important to take account of performance tests and progeny tests in selecting sires for breeding; but Her Majesty's Government consider that it is for the industry and for individual farmers to decide how they select, and that the Government should not impose their own technical judgment in substitution for the judgment of farmers and breeders whose business it is to breed and raise stock.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I do not want to be difficult; but that seems to be the exact contradiction to what the noble Lord said in answer to Lord Nugent: that farmers must he controlled so that they do not use scrub bulls and bulls with congenital deformities.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, if the noble Lord had been following, he would have seen that there is a certain measure 638 of control left as far as bulls are concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, objected to Clause 9(5) on the ground that it would prejudice veterinary security. This is not the case. Stringent veterinary precautions will continue to be imposed on the import of breeding stock. I now turn to Clause 10, the farm amalgamation clause. This clause has aroused a great deal of interest. The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, asked whether there was any danger or whether it would be the case, that a grant could be paid twice on amalgamation. I am not quite sure whether he meant by that a case of where two amalgamations take place (for instance, two small farms are amalgamated and then that amalgamated farm amalgamates with another), or a case where an amalgamation had taken place already and had become severed and one of the bits amalgamates with another. In the former case, where a larger amalgamation had taken place, there would be a case for additional grant. In a case where an amalgamation had come "unstuck" and then had reamalgamated with itself or with another unit there would not be a case for additional grant.
The noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, suggested that assistance should be concentrated on fixed equipment rather than on working capital. In the view of Her Majesty's Government, it is the amalgamator who is in the best position to decide what investment is needed to make a success of the enlarged farm. The normal rate of grant under the Farm Capital Grant Scheme will continue to be available for fixed equipment needed on amalgamated farms. We intend in addition to provide an acreage payment on the extra land absorbed and the amalgamator will be free to use this as he thinks best. By making the grant in the form of an acreage payment, it will be able to be paid much sooner and it will be possible for the amalgamator to calculate in advance what he will get. The present system of special rate of grant on buildings and works, the consequence of amalgamation, involves delays and uncertainty; the amalgamator often takes time to decide what buildings he wants, and he cannot tell in advance whether they will be accepted as consequential. Acreage payments which can be paid 639 quickly and which he can use as he thinks best for fixed equipment or working capital will be more effective, especially since the normal rate of grant under the Farm Capital Grant Scheme will still be available.
My noble friend, Lord Nugent suggested that capital gains tax should no longer apply to transactions which lead to an amalgamation. There is no evidence so far that the effect of capital gains tax is slowing down amalgamations. The impact of the tax would depend on the price obtained by the vendor and the relative stability of land prices in the last few years will reduce the effect. But we shall continue to keep a close watch on any effects of the tax on land transactions. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, asked whether there was a possibility of the outgoer staying on in the farmhouse. It is possible for an outgoer to give up land but to retain the farmhouse except in the relatively few cases where the house is essential for the proper working of the enlarged farm.
The noble Lord, Lord Walston (I am passing to Clause 13), asked whether the tenant farmer could borrow from the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. There is nothing to prevent a tenant farmer from applying for a loan from the Corporation provided that he can provide adequate security. The Government are aware of the importance of credit for agriculture in this respect. On Clause 17, the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, suggested that the hundredweight was being abolished by this clause. He thought that this was possibly because we were going into the Common Market. He said that we should not throw out the hundredweight without giving it a "pat on the back." I can tell the noble Lord that we are not abolishing the hundredweight; we are abolishing the necessity to deal in hundredweights. This is rather a different matter. The noble Lord may laugh; but if it is said that one can deal only in hundredweights that means that the hundredweight must be the measure used; but the fact that we abolish the necessity of dealing in hundredweights does not necessarily mean that it is no longer possible to deal in hundredweights. They can deal in some other form of measurement.
640 The noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, spoke about the difficulties facing farmers over the introduction of metrication in agriculture generally. Perhaps it will help if I set out the current position. A White Paper giving the Government proposals for the future will soon be published and this will deal, among other things, with the position in agriculture. The White Paper will be on metrication generally. I can say in anticipation of this that the Minister will consult industries on any proposed timetable for general transition in the agricultural sector and the views of the agricultural supply and marketing organisations will be taken into account. The Minister is currently awaiting clarification of the views of local farming communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, asked about the fate of the liaison officers. Their role of helping to interpret to the agricultural industry Government agricultural policy is to be assumed by the chairmen of the new regional panels. I may say for the information of Lord Hoy, that four of the chairmen of the regional panels were liaison officers.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords. I do not think it would be of great help to the noble Lord if I read out the entire list. But if he will allow me, I will let him be one of those who know later, after the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, also asked what had been the cost of the executive committees. The abolition of executive committees will lead to a saving in administrative costs of some £150.000 yearly. I think I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised with regard to the Bill itself —
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, and to the House, as I have not the note on that to hand. If I may I will write to him on that point. As I was saying, I think I have now dealt, at very great length for which I apologise, with most of the points on the Bill. If I may, I will just deal with the point, raised by my noble friend Lord Dundee, about sugar beet. The Government recognise the extreme concern about this subject felt by the farming community in the East of Scotland. Nevertheless, it must be repeated that the Government have no powers to instruct the British Sugar Corporation how to dispose of its assets. It does not propose to seek them. Despite the noble Earl's concern that I should take time to give an answer to his point, I think it fair to state that the Government have already made their position clear to all the parties involved. The present position is that the owners of the factory at Cupar, the British Sugar Corporation. are having discussions with a group who hope to acquire the factory. These discussions are the commercial concern of the parties involved, and the Government have made it clear that in these circumstances they will not interfere.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, when introducing the Bill, said that it covers a wide range of measures on the domestic agricultural scene; and so it does. Several of the measures introduce changes of more than passing importance. Probably the most significant are the two clauses which put the amalgamation grant on a new basis. The response by the industry to the original measures introduced in the Agriculture Acts 1967 and 1970 has been disappointing. We believe that the changes we are making will put fresh life into the Scheme for the long-term benefit of the industry. The 642 changes in the livestock position are also significant. The shift of responsibility for the disposal of reactors and the introduction of flat-rate compensation are part of the preparation for the introduction next year of compulsory area eradication of brucellosis, and livestock improvement measures will give our breeders more scope to run their commercial affairs without unnecessary Government interference. Finally, my Lords, the changes in the legislation to do with slaughterhouses should simplify licensing arrangements and help the meat industry North and South of the Border to cope with the changing pattern of trade.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Denham, before he sits down, whether I am right in assuming that anybody who goes in for a voluntary brucellosis eradication scheme and has a reactor may pass it for sale in the market? If so, is not that an absolute scandal?
§ LORD DENHAM
Well, my Lords, there are safeguards which I think have been dealt with fairly thoroughly, and in those circumstances I do not think that it is a scandal.
§ LORD DENHAM
Yes, my Lords. The technical answer is that these reactors are not reactors which show that they are infectious from their excreta. I cannot tell the noble Lord any more at the moment, but if he wishes I will write to him further on this point.
§ On Question, Bill read 2% and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.