Orders of the Day — Agricultural Improvement Grants Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th April 1959.

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Order for Third Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

Photo of Mr Marcus Kimball Mr Marcus Kimball , Gainsborough

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I hope that this Bill will be passed speedily, in view of the interest which there seems to be in a Bill in slightly lower place on the Order Paper and of whose merits it may take some time to convince hon. Members. The Bill has been welcomed by the Government, who have provided a Financial Resolution for it, by the farming community throughout England, Scotland and Wales, and by the three National Farmers' Unions, and the whole of the farming Press.

It is purely a tidying-up Measure giving the right to people who are already drawing grants under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts to apply for those grants under the system of standard costs which already apply and which are so popular under the Agriculture Act, 1947.

As the House knows, standard costs have the great merit that they cut out paper work and time sheets and the need for farmers to produce invoices, which, after the passing of the Cheques Act, is sometimes somewhat difficult to do in country areas. The main point about standard costs is that a farmer's own labour now ranks for grant. The Bill contains a provision which will be welcomed especially in Lincolnshire because it extends the system of standard costs to other Government grants already in existence, notably for field drainage, measures against pests—and we have in mind capital improvements such as the construction of rabbit proof fences—and reclamation and grubbing up of scrub.

The adoption of standard costs will not involve the Government in any additional expenditure. In fact, standard costs are the cheapest way of getting the work done, because they make no allowance for profits or overheads, and the agreed charge on which each standard cost is based is the actual cost of the material and labour. The House will agree that this is the most economic way of getting improvements made.

I am most grateful for the support and co-operation which I have had from hon. Members opposite. It is only because of their support that the Bill has had such a speedy passage in its early stages. I am also very grateful for the forbearance of my hon. Friends who represent agricultural interests and who are very enthusiastic in their support for the Bill, but who have allowed it to pass on Fridays without saying much about it I am particularly grateful for the encouragement and enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend, who have given their blessing to the Bill, and for the unofficial and private help which I have had from the officials in their Department.

In view of the current uncertainties of the political situation, I hope that we may speedily send the Bill to another place so that it can reach the Statute Book during the life of this Parliament and not fall victim to any changes in the political situation.

11..9 a.m.

Photo of Sir Leslie Plummer Sir Leslie Plummer , Deptford

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) has had considerable success with the Bill, and I congratulate him on that success. It is not given to every hon. Member to get a Bill through "on the nod" quite as effectively as he has done. He will forgive me if I raise a few points, because I want some elucidation from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary rather than from the hon. Member himself.

The hon. Member rightly said that the Bill had the approval of the Government, the farmers and the farmers' unions. Those are not necessarily wise supports. The Government, farmers and farmers' unions have made mistakes. In my view, the Government have blundered from mistake to mistake, particularly over agriculture. It is because of their record that I put these points in the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will enlighten me about them.

I must declare an interest in that I am both a farmer and a farmer who applies for grants from time to time. My experience has been that there is a time lag between real costs and costs laid down by regulations. Real costs can be influenced very much by the weather. For example, in the last nine months, drainage work in East Anglia has, in my own bitter experience, cost much more than the regulation cost. The actual cost has been much more because the land has been absolutely saturated. The land drains have been running full bore. Even today, on 10th April, the land is still soaked. The heavy clay land has had such a saturation that when one comes to do drainage work and tries to estimate its cost on the basis of regulation, one is hopelessly out.

For example, I know farmers who have on their fields at present literally tens of thousands of land drainpipes which they bought last year in the hope that they would be able to complete their drainage operations. The appalling weather which we had last summer, and which was the experience of every hon. Member, was such that it was not possible to continue the work. Bank charges on the land drainpipes have been clicking on with absolute regularity, almost with the regularity of the rainfall. These charges have represented a considerable increase in the cost which cannot be reckoned in the cost laid down by regulation.

I agree that the weather is the risk of the farmer and is not the concern of the taxpayer or of the Government, but I should have thought that it would be a long time before the Government would say that this increased cost due to the weather should be included in any regulations which are laid down according to the cost of the job. On the other hand, if the farmer were putting in his actual charge he would be entitled to this extra money. Indeed, I think that the Ministry ought to be in favour, when a delay of this kind occurs in an operation approved after the most careful investigation by the Ministry and by the local agricultural executive committee, of including charges of this kind.

I have dealt only with the question of things like drainpipes. The ordinary physical ability of the labour on the land, the ability of the agricultural worker to perform what the regulation would regard as a normal week's work, has been very materially affected by the weather. Who knows that better than the farmer himself? I am quite sure that as time goes by representatives of the Ministry discussing with the Treasury would be able to take into consideration these increased costs. But there is a long gap between the cup of the work and the lip, as it were, of the subsidy. Therefore, this presses quite hardly on the farmer.

On the reverse side of the medal, we get the situation that there are circumstances where the regulations, because of the slowness in adjusting the regulations to the facts of the expenditure, might be unfair to the taxpayer. For the life of me, I cannot see why it is not possible for the farmer to produce the actual figures of his expenditure, allowing for a bit of give and take one way or another, in proper consultation with drainage officers, with forestry officers and the rest. I still think that it is reasonable for the farmer to do this.

I know that the small farmer, the man who does not keep any books and who keeps his accounts stuck on a skewer, as it were, and who has to go to someone to prepare a statement for the Inland Revenue, generally gets assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture's inspectors in making out his charges. But the normal, competent farmer, who, in any case, has to have some sort of professional advice, seems to me fitted to be in a position to produce the necessary information to fill in the required forms.

A great deal of nonsense has been talked about the farmer being inundated with forms. The forms which the farmer has to fill up do not tax his intelligence unduly, nor do they take up so much of his time. It is true that the forms are necessary for the information of the Ministry, of the Treasury and of any money-expending organisation, and are a proper safeguard, but I do not think that one should magnify the burden which they constitute.

I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to satisfy me, at least, that in accepting and supporting the Bill he has given due consideration to the point which I have raised, the lag between the actual cost and the cost as prescribed by regulation meeting each other, and is satisfied that the Bill, in the words of its promoters, is an improvement on the general situation.

11.16 a.m.

Photo of Sir Peter Kirk Sir Peter Kirk , Gravesend

I, like the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) on his success with the Bill, a success which I welcome all the more because I hope that it will not attend other Measures which he may choose to promote from time to time.

I think that the Bill is slightly more than a tidying-up Measure, which was the rather modest description given to it by my hon. Friend. It is certainly a Measure of great interest to my constituents, many of whom are small farmers who work on extremely difficult and barren land. Many of them work on clay soil which, as the hon. Member for Deptford said, has suffered very severely in the past year or so. They will benefit by the field drainage provisions in the Bill.

There are one or two points which I should like to put to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, as we have not had an opportunity of discussing the Measure before, concerning some of the matters in the Bill. The first is the one about which the hon. Member for Deptford complained, I think with some justice—the delay between the increase in the actual cost and the time when any payment which might be made is made. Will the Bill lessen the gap between increasing cost and payment to any appreciable extent?

I believe that that is a point about which farmers all over the country would like to hear something from the Parliamentary Secretary. It is an important point because, as the hon. Member for Deptford said, charges on the equipment. particularly on some of the heavier and more complicated equipment which farmers have to have nowadays, can mount up very heavily over the months as they wait for any money which they may get from the Ministry and for which, I am sure, they are all very grateful.

I am particularly interested in Clause 1 (4, c) concerning pests. In my part of Kent we are suffering from a very strong revival of the rabbit pest, which is a matter of very great concern to farmers. It appeared at one time that the myxomatosis resistance strain had been brought into that part of the country, but it now appears that the rabbits are subject to a milder form of the disease and will die out once again. I think that experience has shown that it is perfectly possible for rabbits, particularly, to get over what appears to be fatal diseases and to breed in large numbers as before.

What additional grant will the farmer get for preventive and destructive measures with regard to pests? I followed as carefully as I could the very clear exposé given by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, but it does not seem to me that in this case the change will be of very great benefit to the farmer. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some idea of the difference in payments and the speed of payments which farmers will receive for pest destruction. This is a matter of the very greatest concern to farmers in my part of the country and one in which, I am sure, they are extremely interested.

In general, it would be interesting, if the Parliamentary Secretary has the figures, to know how this system will work in these three rather restricted cases. Presumably, the Ministry now has considerable experience of working a system of standard costs and I hope that it will be possible to show how it has worked in other cases and how the Ministry expects it will work in this case.

I welcome the Bill. I do not share the mild fears of the hon. Member for Deptford, and, unlike him, I cannot blame the Government if it rains, though I know that that point of view is widely held. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough in having succeeded in getting through a Bill which contains so much italic type. I recall what happened to a modest Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), which had little more italic type in it, but which was roundly trounced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

11.21 a.m.

Major W. Hicks Beach:

I should begin by declaring an interest because, among other activities, I farm an area of Gloucestershire of which you, Mr. Speaker, will be well aware. I welcome the Bill and I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) on his success in getting it through so far "on the nod". On general principles, I disapprove of Bills going through the House without any discussion. It is true that my hon. Friend has given a limited explanation of the Measure today, on this Third Reading, but I regard as limited an explanation which took only four minutes, and I hope that we shall hear more from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about the purposes of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough made the rather sweeping statement that additional expenditure would not be incurred by the taxpayer because of the provisions contained in the Bill. I find that difficult to understand. Presumably, its object is to make it easier and quicker for farmers to get grants. I should have thought that some charge to the taxpayer would he created, which makes it all the more important that we should consider what safeguards are provided in that direction.

It was stated that this Measure will enable some small farmers to get the third grant for rabbit-proof fencing. That may be so, but I wonder whether, in the long run, that will be a good thing. As a farmer, I am an adamant opponent of the rabbit, but I think that it would be better for the Government to assist farmers to keep down the rabbit pest rather than to give grants for rabbit-proof fencing.

Photo of Sir Peter Kirk Sir Peter Kirk , Gravesend

Surely it would be better to do both.

Major Hicks Beach:

That is correct. and I hope we may have an assurance later that it is intended to interpret the Bill in that way.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

Would the hon. and gallant Member be content to have the same provisions for rabbits as are proposed in the Government's Bill relating to red deer in Scotland?

Major Hicks Beach:

I should have thought that it would be more expensive to put up fencing which was proof against red deer than against rabbits, but I do not pretend to be an authority on the matter. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give a ruling on that point, as I do not feel competent to advise or to assist the House about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough mentioned that various bodies had been consulted. That is all very admirable. I hope that the C.L.A. has been consulted. If it is proposed to consult the N.F.U. I think that we should consult the C.L.A., which has a great interest in this matter. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what he reckons will be the additional expenditure, because there must be some, and it is no use pretending that there will not be. I am not offering any criticism about that.

Although I am not against what we call charging for direct labour, or allowing that to stand in estimating the cost for the purpose of improvement grants, I feel that the onus lies on the Parliamentary Secretary to explain what are the safeguards to ensure that this practice is not abused. Obviously, it is fairly easy for there to be abuses. I am not criticising the farming community—I am a farmer myself—but I think that adequate safeguards in this direction should be provided not only in respect of these grants but for all grants, so that the interests of the taxpayer may be protected.

11.25 a.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is unable to be present today and I am deputising for him. My name appears in support of the Bill along with that of my right hon. Friend and I am glad to note that the Bill has all-party support. I welcome it and I think that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) is to be complimented. He has been fortunate in the sense that this is the first time that the Bill has been discussed. It has had an easy passage.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) that a Bill should not have a quick run in the sense that it is not discussed and, therefore, it is only right and proper that the hon. Member for Gainsborough should explain the purposes of the Measure, even though he has to do so during the Third Reading debate. It would create a bad precedent were a Bill to go through the House without discussion.

This may he a small Measure, but it is important because it is designed to improve administrative arrangements whereby the farming community receives grants. The farming community has the procedure which now operates through regulations approved by legislation which the Government sponsored relatively recently, and it is as a result of the experience of the farming community that we wish to bring in a Bill which will improve the regulations and the facilities enabling farmers to claim grants.

An important point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). I do not wish to inject any political controversy into our discussions, but it has been said that the Bill aims at reducing the number of forms, or the amount of form filling, which farmers have to endure. I remember when hon. Members opposite made great play with this subject during the period of a Labour Government.

Indeed, the party opposite issued special propaganda leaflets in an endeavour to show that legislation promoted by a Labour Administration was really farming from Whitehall and that the farmers were over-burdened with form filling and unable to get on with their job. Now hon. Members opposite have realised that there was no truth in that propaganda. We did not wish to farm from Whitehall, but merely to decide policy there. I am glad, therefore, that hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friends can now combine to support this Measure by means of which we seek to reduce the amount of form filling.

The question is whether the farmer will still have to contend with the weather which affects his real costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford mentioned the experience of farmers in East Anglia owing to the wet weather and the consequent drainage trouble. But that will still be the case and it will still be difficult to assess the real costs. Indeed, the weather may well cause a rise in costs and, therefore, the work of the farmer may be impeded.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give the Government's view. It is important to answer the very relevant question put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Cheltenham: Will this Bill result in additional cost to the taxpayer? I think that it will not. The physical aspect of the grants will not be affected. If the Minister or the farming community wish to spend more on drainage, which was the example quoted by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) and others, it can be done without this Bill, which is purely a tidying-up Measure.

The Bill is useful in that it will enable the farmer to fill up less forms. As the hon. Member for Gravesend said, in his area there is the problem of pests, and the hon. Member for Gainsborough pointed out that we wish to introduce into legislation covering pest control the new process of costing. In that case, the farmer will benefit and, in turn, he will himself be able to do more work on the farm in relation to pest control. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm that this will not be affected by this small Bill, which is designed to reduce form-filling and, above all, to speed up grant payments.

Anything which will help the farming community will, I hope, have the support of the House. Anything which would improve the efficiency of the farming community must have the support of the House, because anything which will increase agricultural production is important.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman nodding, because I am rather worried. I do not want to go beyond the bounds of order, Mr. Speaker, but there is this remarkable statement in paragraph 38 of the Economic Survey: In agriculture the main object is greater efficiency rather than an increase in total output. I should have thought that we would wish to increase total output. I should think that the sole purpose of Government policy is not only to have efficiency, but to have it for the purpose of increasing agricultural production. Yet there is that argument against this principle in the Economic Survey. I support any legislation whereby the farming community can benefit as regards the payment of grants and loans made under previous legislation, and can, therefore, not only increase efficiency by better drainage and better pest control but can step up production.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will reject the principle laid down by the Treasury in the Economic Survey. I give the Bill my own personal approval. I am certain that every hon. Member will welcome it and hopes that it will work well.

11.38 a.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words in relation to this Bill. First, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) both on his introduction of the Bill and on what I can only say must be his personal charm, because he has got it through the House so extraordinarily well to reach its Third Reading so promptly.

I am grateful to those hon. Members who have spoken this morning for giving me this opportunity to speak on behalf of the Government about the Bill. We welcome it. We believe that it will be useful and that it will continue a process which is of only recent introduction, that is, the use of standard costs in regard to certain Government grants. It is on this point that I want to say one or two words of explanation in the light of some of the comments made this morning. Perhaps it will be helpful if I give the House briefly the history of standard costs so that hon. Members can see it in perspective.

Until fairly recently we did not feel it would be possible to safeguard taxpayers' money being spent on grants unless we could do it against actual costs incurred and on evidence of receipted accounts. However, in the Silo Subsidies Act, we introduced two or three years ago a new principle of standard costs. We laid down certain definite operations which could be allowed for this grant, as we were dealing with a uniform matter and we felt it could he introduced in this way. This proved to be more successful than had been anticipated. It proved to be more simple in its application, it was welcomed by the farming community and it enabled farmers in certain circumstances to use some of their own labour.

Accordingly, during the passage of the 1957 Agriculture Act we were pressed by both sides of the House, particularly by some of my hon. Friends, to introduce the same principle in regard to the grants made under the Farm Improvement Scheme. During the Committee stage of the Bill we promised to look at this point but we did not feel confident enough to introduce it at that time. Subsequent experience led us to believe that it was possible, so nearly twelve months ago we introduced some standard costs under the Farm Improvement Scheme, and they have proved extremely popular.

It is important to remind the House, however, that standard costs are not laid down as the one and only way in which farmers can apply for grant under the Farm Improvement Scheme, nor will they be under this Bill. There is an alternative of actual costs at the choice of the farmer. That is why I want to take up the point of the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), who was afraid that the rate of grant we allowed would lag behind in certain circumstances which he instanced, and with which I can readily sympathise. He was thinking of exceptionally difficult weather conditions which put up costs. In those circumstances, there is no need for a farmer to opt for the standard costs. He may opt for actual costs, in which case he will receive his grant on the expenditure incurred.

Photo of Sir Leslie Plummer Sir Leslie Plummer , Deptford

Will the farmer have the option to decide before he operates the scheme or after the scheme has been completed?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I am afraid he must make his choice beforehand.

Photo of Sir Leslie Plummer Sir Leslie Plummer , Deptford

That defeats the argument I was putting. The weather may change. The conditions may become intolerable, as they did last year. The man believes the weather forecasts and does not understand that under the Tory Government the weather has been simply dreadful, and will continue to be dreadful, so he opts for the standard costs. He cannot be responsible for what has happened, nevertheless he is the loser. Is that fair to him?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I accept that is so, but it is unavoidable. We cannot have a system where a chap can change horses in midstream—perhaps that is an appropriate metaphor in this case. He must choose beforehand. If he is apprehensive of the weather the question of drainage arises, and he would naturally wish to be cautious. Incidentally, weather has always been a risk which the farmers have accepted. Under whatever Government there is bad weather, so I do not think either party can accept responsibility or take credit for the weather.

I am talking about grants under the Farm Improvement Scheme, in respect of which we have introduced standard costs. It is less than a year since we introduced this procedure, and I can inform the House that one-third of the applications now coming forward are made under the standard costs procedure. That shows that they have been appreciated and farmers have made use of them. In the light of that, when my hon. Friend brought forward this Bill we thought this was something on which it might he possible to extend the standard costs procedure. We have accepted the Bill and welcomed it because we believe it can be helpful, particularly in connection with the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts.

These Acts are mentioned specifically in Clause 1 (1). We go on to a mention of other possibilities—I emphasise possibilities—in subsection (4). We can see how this can be operated in regard to the Livestock Rearing Act, but we foresee difficulties with regard to the other Acts. The power is permissive and as we go along the Minister will have to decide for which, if any, of these purposes under subsection (4, a, b, c) he can introduce standard costs. It is our desire and wish to introduce standard costs for all of them if we can, but we must feel our way. Power is given under this Bill to do so. and we should be in a position to make use of standard costs in this regard without further legislation.

I give a word of caution that it may not be possible to use standard costs in all cases. One such case is drainage, but we shall look at that as sympathetically as we can. Working out the standard costs for some of these things is not easy. We have to find a basis which is fair both to the taxpayer and the farmer, and standard costs can be introduced only if the figure bears some relation to the cost on most farms. In drainage there is considerable variation in the cost. Standard costs could be introduced only at the lower rate so that there would not be waste of public money on a number of farms to enable full recoupment for the more expensive operations. That is a warning I give, but we shall take it as far as we can.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) asked if the gap between completion and payment could be lessened. In general, where standard costs are in operation we have found it easier to speed the process, because we do not then have to wait for receipted accounts. The matter is agreed and we can obtain effective evidence and make the payment. At present, in many cases there is delay in presentation of accounts which have to be examined, whereas when standard costs are used the matter is more simple and can be speeded up.

Photo of Sir Peter Kirk Sir Peter Kirk , Gravesend

What proof does the Ministry require if receipted accounts cannot be presented?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

There can, of course, be inspection by our officers to see that the work is completed. At present, we not only have to see receipted accounts but have to be satisfied that they are cleared in all respects. With standard costs, cases can be easily checked and we would not have to go into such great detail as we do in existing circumstances.

My hon. Friend also asked about rabbits, which, he pointed out, are covered by subsection (4, c).>I have already given the warning that we shall have to see how we go along and whether we can introduce standard costs in this respect. My hon. Friend pointed out that the trouble with rabbits is getting worse again and asked what we were doing about it. We are encouraging to the utmost the formation of rabbit clearance societies. They have been rather slow in getting going, but the formation is speeding up now and societies are being established all over the country. A most useful thing that any hon. Member can do, if he knows of this difficulty in his constituency, is to urge landowners and farmers to band together in such societies which receive grant for their expenses at the rate of a pound for a pound. They are doing good work in a number of areas. If we can get them all over the country, they will do much to deal with this difficult and troublesome pest.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) asked specifically what additional expense would be incurred by this Bill. That is a very difficult question to answer. The probability is that there will be no increase in expenditure, but we cannot be certain. That is why a Financial Resolution had to be introduced. If standard costs are introduced there might be more applications than there are at present because standard costs have the attraction for the small farmer in that his own labour is included in respect of some work. Therefore, in some cases they have come forward more readily with applications, so that the introduction of standard costs would increase the number coming forward and increase total expenditure.

On the other hand, utilisation of standard costs could bring down expenditure in certain cases where at present farmers are unable to charge for their own work and have to bring in contractors to isolated places with the result that inevitably the costs are high in getting the contractor to the farm. While there might be a bigger number of applications, quite a number of the individual cases could be less in amount and at the end of the day, the total could be slightly less or slightly more. I think there would not be a material difference from the total at present involved. The application for a Financial Resolution was a precautionary step in case it could be said that further expenditure would be stimulated.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) gave a welcome to the Bill. We are glad to have all-party agreement on it, particularly at a time when political temperatures are rising. The only controversial note which was introduced was the mention of red deer. I do not know whether there was any political implication in that. The hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) has now left the Chamber, and as I am responsible neither for Scotland nor for red deer and Scottish hon. Members are dealing with this problem at some length, I do not wish to become involved in it, although I am sure it is a most interesting topic.

The hon. Member for Workington made a particular point of some interest with which I should like to deal. He referred to the Economic Survey and the question of increasing agricultural production. This is also referred to in the White Paper on the Price Review in which we have said that we do not think an increase in gross production is required. What we have said there, and I think over the last two or three years in the Annual Price Review White Papers, is that we believe further increase should be in net production rather than in gross production. That is a point we must get over. We are certainly not against increased production from farms where it can be said that net production is increased, but an increase of production based solely on imported feedingstuffs is of no value to the country, nor the farming community generally.

Where production might be helped by a certain amount of foreign feedingstuffs used in conjunction with home-produced feedingstuffs, that is the best solution for the individual farm and for the farming community as a whole. We are faced with the fact that last year imports of feedingstuffs—speaking from memory—rose from 5·4 million tons to 6·1 million tons, involving an extra cost in our balance of payments of £20 million. That will not be altogether healthy if it is carried too far. That is why we want to see more of that food produced at home and to have an increase in net production rather than in gross production. That is what has been said in the Economic Survey as well as in the White Paper on the Price Review.

I have dealt with these points at some length because hon. Members have shown a clear interest in them. I wish in no way to inhibit discussion, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough does not wish to inhibit it, either. I hope, however, that in the light of what I have said hon. Members will realise that this is a valuable Bill which has been welcomed by the farming community and supported on both sides of the House. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

In the debate in Standing Committee and on Report on the Agriculture Bill, 1957, the only discordant note struck, as far as I remember, was that struck by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells), who raised the question of agricultural workers being called on to do tasks strictly outside their work. He was speaking as a representative of a trade union which has a large number of agricultural workers in its membership. I have raised similar issues at Question Time in respect of consultations with trade unions catering for building trade workers to see that no difficulties arose about the kind of work done. Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary assure the House that there will be consultations with the appropriate trade unions to see that this work, which we all want to see done, as far as possible is done without any difficulty of that sort?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I do not recall the occasion to which the hon. Member refers. We have already instituted this procedure and as far as I am aware are using it without difficulty under the Farm Improvements Scheme. The Bill seeks merely to extend it. I will look at the point which the hon. Member raised, but I should not have thought that fresh consultation was called for in what is merely an extension. I do not wish to cut out consultation, and I am always ready to take part in it, but I do not think that the Bill calls for new consultation. I will gladly took at the point which the hon. Member has made.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.