Agriculture (Fertilisers)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th June 1957.

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The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory):

May I reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) on potash first? The reason is that our potash is all imported, and a very big proportion of it is from one cartel. The amount at present available from Israel is a very insignificant proportion of the total. At present, it would be very difficult to give a subsidy on potash fertilisers since we have little assurance that the effect would not be an immediate or subsequent increase in the price of imported potash. I should like to assure my hon. and gallant Friend that it really is not true to say that horticulturists get no benefit from the other fertiliser subsidies. They are important to horticulturists, and we are quite satisfied that they are obtaining very considerable benefits from the existing subsidies.

It is also a fact that if we take the three main fertilisers—nitrogen, potash and phosphate—the proportion of potash fertiliser used, according to my advisers, is nearer the optimum than in the case of either of the other fertilisers. It is also increasing, without a subsidy, faster than either of the other two at the present time.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) raised a very relevant question, and I agree with him that I ought to have referred to it. The point he raised was that of the comparatively sharp increase in the subsidy on nitrogen, and he asked what was the reason for that. Broadly speaking, the reason is that we believe that we shall get more benefit from a still more rapid increase in 'the rate at which nitrogen fertiliser is used than in the case of either of the other two. It is very important, as the hon. Gentleman knows, for the further improvement of our grassland.

We have increased this subsidy on previous occasions, and we would have been willing to do so even more if the productive capacity had made it possible. But the increases in productive capacity in this country are now going ahead and we thought that this year it was safe to stimulate and provide an incentive for a further improvement in consumption which, the year before, we had not thought it wise to do.

The hon. Gentleman then asked me whether I was satisfied that the fertiliser manufacturers would not recover the value of the subsidy in increased prices. We have no price control at present over the prices charged for fertilisers in this country, but we keep a close eye on them. I can say that, in general, the prices charged for fertilisers in this country compare very favourably with the prices current in the countries of Western Europe. The hon. Gentleman also knows that the Government have referred the case of the fertiliser manufacturing industry to the Monopolies Commission, which has the matter under consideration at present, but which has not yet made its report.