Order for Second Reading read.

Part of Orders of the Day — Agriculture and Horticulture Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th December 1963.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington 12:00 am, 12th December 1963

The hon. Gentleman should await the development of my speech. I was taking up a point made by the Minister and was pointing out how refreshing it was that a Conservative Minister should pay tribute to the 1947 Act. It is refreshing because hon. Members opposite divided against Part I of the Bill in Committee. [Hon. Members: "No."] It is true.

The Agriculture Act, 1957, passed by the present Administration, reaffirmed general support conditions. We claim that we played a substantial part in the establishment of a sound agricultural policy affecting both the farmer and the consumer. But, inevitably, there must be control in the support, and on that there is general agreement on both sides of the House. This was announced not only by the Minister, but by the previous Prime Minister, who stated that we must somehow control Exchequer support. In the Bill there is emphasis in Part II on direct grants, which may really be expressed as production grants in that they will amount to several million pounds over the next 10 years. Production grants will continue.

The right hon. Gentleman is seeking to control the deficiency payments system. I have always argued that the deficiency payments system cannot properly operate in a free market. We put this argument two years ago, when he presented increased Estimates, and it still holds. Now the right hon. Gentleman accepts that we must have a controlled market and that is a major change in Government policy.

However, this is a very big problem, because it affects both the farming community and the consumer. The small farmer, however, has not been affected so much by deficiency payments, because he does not get the benefit enjoyed by the larger farmer. Indeed, there has been a crisis in farm incomes. Hon. Members must know, through correspondence with their branches of the National Farmers' Union, and from their own study of the industry, that this is true. I have here figures which I believe to be reliable and have quoted them before.

These figures show the trend in one section of the industry—among the small farmers. Let us take the small milk producer as an example. In 1954, the number of registered milk producers in the United Kingdom was 173,740; this had dropped to 170,440 in 1956, to 162,600 in 1958, to 151,700 in 1960 and to 143,000 last year. On average, about 4,500 producers have left the industry over the past eight years. This figure was given to me by Agriculture House and shows that there has been difficulty for the small man.

The same is true of the poultry producer. Let us remember that for many of our small people no benefits have been forthcoming for a long time.