Agriculture Act (Disciplinary Provisions)

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd December 1957.

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Mr. Wiley:

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what organisations made representations to him urging the total repeal of the disciplinary provisions of the Agriculture Act, 1947.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

Representations against dispossession have been received from the Farmers' and Smallholders' Association. The recommendations of the Franks Report, which have an important bearing on the Government's decision to repeal the powers in question, were, of course, concerned with procedures and not powers: but the Wilson Committee, in April, 1956, said, "It would be unrealistic not to mention the growth of a body of public opinion very hostile to the use of disciplinary powers by the State".

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

Does not the Parliamentary Secretary recognise that this is a thoroughly evasive reply, and that in view of the views of the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union and the trade unions catering for agricultural workers, he should announce the intention of the Government to repeal this Part of the 1947 Act and cease causing dismay and despondency throughout the whole of the industry?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I cannot accept that the reply is evasive. Last week my right hon. Friend gave the hon. Gentleman the information in relation to the three main organisations. I have not sought to evade that in any way. As regards the legislation, there are real practical problems involved here. The Franks Report has certainly brought it to a head, and it was for this reason that we had to take action.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport , Knutsford

Are not the Government principally moved by the widespread disquiet at the use of these powers, as evidenced by the speech of Lord Justice Denning in another place last week?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

Yes, Sir, I think I can say that this speech was evidence of the general tone of public opinion in many parts of this country in relation to those disciplinary powers, of which we have had to take note.

Mr. T. Williams:

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the association to which he has referred, which has opposed the continuation of Part II of the Agriculture Act, consists of fewer than 1,000 members, while the National Farmers' Union, which has well over 200,000 members, prefers that Part II should continue? Why does he or his right hon. Friend take notice of an obscure little organisation which represents practically no one?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I did not say that we were taking notice of it. I should not have mentioned the organisation but for a direct question asked on that point. We have taken this decision on the Government's own initiative, and we rest on the Government's initiative. In the main, the criticism of the National Farmers' Union arises because it feels that Part II is related to Part I and it has not realised the full significance of the 1957 Act, which has strengthened and improved the previous Measure.

Mr. T. Williams:

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, both in correspondence with his right hon. Friend and in evidence given to the Franks Committee, the National Farmers' Union, representing more than 200,000 members, was utterly opposed to the removal of Part II of the 1947 Act?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I would not accept that the National Farmers' Union was utterly opposed to it. It has a right to give the reason why it has felt doubtful about it. It is because we have changed the position by putting the 1957 Act on the Statute Book that the whole situation has changed.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I presume that this matter will require legislation and that there will be a Bill later on. I think we might discuss the matter then.