HC Deb 07 December 1944 vol 406 cc762-5W
Lieut.-Colonel Boles

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether his attention has been directed to a report issued by the Hampshire branch of the N.F.U. criticising the action of his Department and of his agents, the Hampshire War Agricultural Executive Committee, for unnecessary interference with the farming activities of Mr. Rex Paterson, of Hatch Warren, near Basingstoke; and what action he proposes to take in the matter.

Mr. Hudson

I am glad to have an opportunity of making the position clear in this case, about which there has been a good deal of misunderstanding.

The salient facts are as follow: Mr. Paterson is a large farmer. He farms a number of different holdings amounting in all to about 9,000 acres in Hampshire and he has large herds of dairy cows. He is graded as an "A" farmer. The Hampshire War Agricultural Executive Com- mittee as my agents are responsible for seeing that the farms in their county are farmed in accordance with the nation's war-time needs. While it is not their practice to serve cropping directions on "A" farmers, they agree a detailed cropping programme with each "A" farmer which will fit in with national requirements. This has been done each year with Mr. Paterson. The system obviously depends on farmers carrying out the detailed cropping programme as agreed with the Committee, and the great majority of farmers have loyally done so. Mr. Paterson has, however, made considerable variations from the agreed programme, and in respect of only a small part of these has he had the Committee's authority to make the changes.

It appeared to the Committee, and to my Department when the matter was reported to them, that these variations in Mr. Paterson's cropping amounted to a deliberate defiance of the Committee. It is clear that neither the Ministry nor the Committee could agree that a large farmer, however capable, should be a law unto himself, and after reaching agreement with the Committee about the cropping of his farms required in the national interest, should feel free to vary it without authority from the Committee if this course appeared more convenient or profitable to himself. It was accordingly decided, both in the national interest and in fairness to other farmers in the country who were loyally complying with the requirements of Executive Committees, that directions should be served on Mr. Paterson covering the detailed cropping programme which he had already agreed with the Committee, and instructions were issued to the Hampshire War Agricultural Executive Committee to serve the necessary directions. I would emphasise that these were not directions to Mr. Paterson to do something which he had not already agreed to do; they were merely designed to ensure that he should comply strictly with the agreement which he had made.

Subsequently, at the request of the Headquarters of the National Farmers' Union, officials of my Department had an informal meeting with the President and Vice-President and certain members of the Hampshire Branch of the Union, when it was represented that the situation which had arisen between Mr. Paterson and the Executive Committee may have been due to misunderstandings. At this meeting it was indicated that the Ministry would be willing to withdraw its instructions for the service of directions on Mr. Paterson provided that it was accepted by him and the National Farmers' Union that he, like other farmers, must meet the requirements of the County War Agricultural Executive Committee in the national interest and that he should not in future vary his cropping programme thus arranged without authority in writing from the Committee. From what transpired at this informal discussion my Department were led to expect that the necessary assurances would be immediately forthcoming from the National Farmers' Union and Mr. Paterson which would have justified my withdrawing the instructions to serve directions on Mr. Paterson. Instead, the Hampshire Branch of the N.F.U. decided to publish a report which had previously been prepared by one of their sub-committees attacking the Hampshire War Agricultural Executive Committee and the Ministry. At the same time they included a statement to the effect that the Ministry's instructions to the Committee to serve directions on Mr. Paterson were to be withdrawn, without any reference to the conditions which had been laid down.

I frankly do not understand why the Hampshire Branch of the N.F.U. took this course. I can only regret it, as the result has only been to mislead the Press and public into supposing that I had been using my powers arbitrarily in the direction of interfering with the operations of Mr. Paterson, an "A" farmer, by requring him to do something which he had not agreed to do, whereas all that was being done was to ensure the carrying out of a programme to which Mr. Paterson had already agreed. In this matter the Hants. War Agricultural Executive Committee have throughout acted in accordance with my authority and full approval. I am glad to say, however, that assurances on the lines originally agreed have since been received on behalf of the N.F.U. and Mr. Paterson, and subject to the settlement of some points of detail with the War Agricultural Executive Committee I propose to withdraw the instructions I issued to the Committee to serve detailed directions on him.

I may add that the report of the subcommittee of the Hampshire Branch of the N.F.U. contained certain vague in- sinuations against members of the Executive Committee's staff. These insinuations were a repetition of similar allegations which were made two years ago by Mr. Paterson, and which, at an independent inquiry which I caused to be held by a Past-President of the Surveyors' Institute, were found to be entirely without foundation. I am glad to say that the N.F.U. has informed me that it dissociates itself entirely from any insinuations contained in the Report. Finally, I hope that the settlement arrived at will put an end to any difficulties which have arisen.