Amendment made: In page 23, line 10, at end insert:
together with proposals as to—
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill has been carefully scrutinised in Committee where a number of Amendments were made. Most of the further Amendments which have been agreed during the Report stage follow on points which were raised during the Committee stage. This illustrates the contribution which hon. Members on both sides of the House made to the deliberations on the Bill. At the same time, they show that the Government have displayed a reasonable and receptive attitude throughout. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have the approval of hon. Members opposite. The Government have been very reasonable.
Although the Amendments are important and have undoubtedly improved the Bill, the main structure has remained substantially unchanged. The Bill was generally welcomed when it received its Second Reading. There was a unanimous desire on the part of all hon. Members to see it complete its stages and that we should create a Home-Grown Cereals Authority and go forward towards the more orderly marketing of home-grown cereals. Closer examination has confirmed the view held by hon. Members on both sides that the principles on which the Bill is based are sound and that its detailed provisions to give effect to them are reasonable and practical.
At this stage of the Bill's progress I wish only to emphasise a few main points. We must recognise that the success the Bill will achieve depends very largely on a continuation of the co-operative efforts made by the representatives of the producers and the various sections of the trade which led up to the agreement last September on which the Bill is based. I think that we can achieve that partnership. That is why I was anxious, during the Report stage, to stress its importance and the need to allow the Authority to do its job quickly.
In legislating for the establishment of the Authority, we are providing for representation of all the interests directly concerned with the production, marketing and first-hand processing of homegrown grain, together with a nucleus of independent members. A great deal of responsibility will rest on their shoulders and I intend that we should get the best men that we can for the job.
It follows that if we have the right men and representatives of the various sections of the trade who can co-operate in bringing their expertise to bear on the problems of cereal marketing, we shall leave the Authority with a reasonable degree of discretion in the exercise of its functions. Throughout the Committee and Report stages I have pressed that we must give the Authority a measure of responsibility to enable it to do its practical job. With the properly balanced representation for which the Bill provides there should be no fear that the Authority will act in an arbitrary or irresponsible manner.
The Authority will be empowered, upon its establishment, to carry out the important non-trading functions provided for in Part 1 of the Bill. Its powers to encourage the development of forward contracting by means of financial incentive and arrangements for loans to growers and to promote better marketing intelligence, research and demonstration and improvements in trade procedures should be of the greatest value. Then there are the reserve trading powers for which provision is made in Part II of the Bill. We have had arguments about matters of principle and fears have been expressed. Without going into detail, I wish to emphasise what is the true purpose of these powers. It is to help further, if necessary, the matching of supplies and requirements over the year. That is why the Authority will not be allowed to hold stocks over from one cereal year to the next.
We must recognise that although the prices of imported cereals cannot fall below the level of our minimum import prices, it is still possible that an excessive home crop could have the effect of depressing the price which the home farmer can expect to obtain. The Authority's task would not be to prevent that from happening, but to ensure that the farmer gets the best price consistent with the disposal of the total crop. We do not want to start to build up surpluses from one year to another. That would be fraught with danger for both producers and for the trade.
The object of the Bill and the main provisions received a wide measure of support from hon. Members on both sides of the House during the Second Reading debate. We are conscious of the need to improve the marketing of home-grown cereals and there is general recognition of the contribution which the provisions in the Bill can make to meeting that demand. The Authority will have many problems, but I believe that it will be able to count on the wholehearted co-operation of all the interests concerned. Both in its composition and powers the Authority will be well equipped to carry out its task. For all these reasons, I commend the Bill to the House with every confidence.
I suspect, as I have often been heard to mutter in these last years, that Third Reading debates on non-controversial Measures, or Measures which are not very controversial, often take up more time than perhaps they should.
I should like to elaborate a little further the point made during the Report stage discussions by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) regarding the fact that there has been some criticism in the farming Press and elsewhere that the Bill was unduly delayed by the criticisms of members of the Opposition during the Committee stage.
If I may say so, this shows a considerable lack of appreciation of the function of Parliament. I think that we are all agreed that there has not yet been a Bill brought into this place, however uncontroversial, which was not amenable to sensible amendment. There is no question at all that this has been proved by the fact that the Minister, as he has said himself, has brought forward most useful Amendments, based on points raised in Committee. Our critics from outside might think it strange that a Bill conceived by one party and given birth to by another could yet be subject to amendment, but it is not strange to us who know this place. We can only pray that we have not left in it a fault, not yet discovered, which may prove to give rise to difficulty at a later stage.
It is perhaps not irrelevant to what I am saying to say that the same sort of worry from outside came to my attention today in another connection. I was rung up by a constituent this morning who was anxious because he had understood that the Government would shortly be defeated on this day on the Plant Breeders' Regulations. I hastened to assure him that, much as I would like to defeat the Government, I did not regard this as a suitable issue and I hope that I set his mind at rest.
I think that it has been acknowledged often enough on both sides of the House—with varying generosity, but nearly always with generosity—that the possibility of legislating on agreed lines in the Bill was greatly due to my right hon. Friend, the Minister's predecessor, but that does not detract from our pleasure that the Minister himself has shown that he knows a good thing when he sees one.
As I have said, I have studied the OFFICIAL REPORT Of all the stages of the Bill with more care than I have given to any other matter in this House for a long time. I noticed that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie) made some discouraging remarks on Second Reading. As far as I know, he has not been seen since in connection with this matter. What amazed me was that in reading this speech, I found in his approach something very familiar. It may well be that Caithness and Sutherland produces in all its representatives the same slightly carping attitude of criticism which was so much my concern in past years when I sat on the Government Front Bench. I would only say to the hon. Member, if he were here, that we shall look forward to the next election, to see what that will bring forward from that quarter.
I am a good deal out of practice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I beg your pardon. Fortunately, I have finished that point.
We believe, all of us, that this is a good Bill. Of course, the proof of it will be in the working of it, and perhaps the real proof of its excellence will be that Part II does not need to work at all. That is an optimistic outlook, but it would be satisfactory that it should be so. Equally, it may be a pattern by which we shall set our course for other commodities, although I would suspect that, in respect of other commodities, our future task of legislation may be even more complicated than they have been in this case.
At least, it may be said that we in the House have done our best by the Bill, and when the other place have done with it we will wish good luck to those whom it is designed to serve.
It it with pleasure that I rise to speak after the progress of the Bill to its Third Reading. The whole purpose of the Bill is to enable more orderly marketing of home-grown grain and I think that the industry welcomes this step. As one who, at one time, was a farm worker, I have vivid recollection of the days when we used to store our grain in the stacks, but when the combines came, the whole pattern changed. The purpose of the Bill is to deal with the problem which, in years gone by, never existed—the flooding of grain on to our markets at harvest time. This was largely due to the introduction of the combine and the fact that so many farms had little storage capacity.
The principle of the Bill, as has been said on Second Reading and in Committee as well as today, is one which was agreed last September among the agricultural industry, the trade and the Government of that period. One has often heard the expression used that the Bill was "fathered" by the Opposition. Being on the Committee of the Bill was a new experience for me. It was the first Standing Committee on which I had been privileged to serve.
I must confess that, at times during our debates, I thought that the Opposition, though accepting fatherhood of the Bill, must have felt that the Bill was something of a weakling. Certainly, the discussions which took place covered a very wide range. At times we were talking about rat catchers and mole catchers, which were far from the subject of cereal marketing. However, this was a new experience for me and I suppose that one has to become accustomed to a wide range of discussion taking place when a Bill goes through Committee.
I am aware of the fact that, during the early sittings of the Committee, there was considerable criticism by representatives of the National Farmers' Union about the delays which occurred. On more than one occasion, I had it put to me that perhaps the Opposition were filibustering. I do not think that that was the intention of the Opposition. I believe that they deliberately entered into the spirit of the terms of the Bill with a determination to aid its progress, to simplify it, as far as possible within legal jargon, and, at the same time, to improve it by various Amendments—though there were periods when, as a new member of the Committee, I felt that a good deal of time was being wasted.
Nevertheless, on reflection, I think that we must agree that the Bill has been improved as a result of discussions between both sides in Committee. It is true that my own contribution in Committee was limited to two or three points, but this was due to the fact that I wanted to be very careful of procedure, as a new Member, and, in the course of time—if I served on a Committee again—to know the procedure which is followed when a Bill goes before a Standing Committee.
I am hoping that my right hon. Friend will, in due course, introduce further Measures which will cover other aspects of our agricultural industry. I, also, regard the Bill as being somewhat weak. I should have liked to have seen set up a commodity commission for the cereals which are produced on our farms. I think that the success of the Bill will largely depend on imports. I should have liked to have seen regulations brought within the terms of the Bill to control a measure of imports. I recognise, however, that the Bill did not set out to achieve that. It was a Bill of agreement between the industry and the trade, and, as such, we have to accept its limitations. However, I hope that in new legislation which I am sure my right hon. Friend will be introducing in due course—
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I merely wanted to stress the point that I should have liked the Bill to be wider in concept. I hope that that point will be borne in mind in future.
So far as the Bill is concerned, the principle of loan payments and loans in respect of forward contracts will help to do something to spread the load on the market, and, as such, it ought to assist the agricultural industry considerably. Agriculture is a great industry and its achievements have been recognised. I hope that the Bill will further expand the production of cereals. The knowledge that the machinery is there to be used will encourage farmers to step up their production even higher. I hope that the Bill will succeed in doing it.
When the Minister is making his appointments from agriculture and the trade to the Authority I hope that he will recognise the place of the agricultural worker. My right hon. Friend has the right to appoint three to five representatives. I ask him to consider very seriously that at least one of those appointments should be representative of the workers in the industry.
I congratulate the Minister on bringing the Bill forward and, with his Parliamentary Secretary, in piloting it through the Committee and the House. I hope that it will stimulate agriculture and will be the forerunner of other Measures covering all the produce of our farms.
Right hon. Members and hon. Members will recollect that on Second Reading my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie) gave a qualified welcome to the Bill, because, while it is a worthy Bill, in our opinion it is not adequate to deal with the wider aspects of marketing.
The aims of the Bill, as I understand, are to arrange more orderly marketing of cereals and to reduce the Exchequer liability. Those are worthy aims. This is not a controversial Bill, because it originated with the previous Administration, and that has helped to give it a smooth passage through Committee. As the Minister rightly pointed out, the success of the Bill will depend on co-operation from both sides of the industry, including the merchants. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) welcomed the fact that Scotland would have a representative on the Authority, and I add my pleasure at that fact.
I wish to refer to certain aspects of the Bill as it affects the north of Scotland, and particularly the livestock rearing areas as distinct from those areas where cereals are grown for marketing on a large scale. In my constituency we have such an area. In the main livestock areas the amount of grain sold is very small. Under the Winter Keep Scheme all grain qualifying is required to be fed on the holding unless a very good reason can be given for not doing so.
Barley is not included in the Winter Keep Scheme so far, but we are hopeful that it will be included after the present Price Review. We may be optimistic but we hope that that will be the case. We think that barley should be included, because it is being used on an ever-increasing scale for livestock feeding. It is also a fact, and this is very important, that because of high liming and improved drainage on many holdings, barley can now be grown successfully on land where, 20 years ago, only a poor crop of oats or rye could be grown.
Though oats are not included in the marketing scheme so far, they may well be included at a later date. Here I come to the main point, which is the question of the proposed levy on growers and how it is to be imposed. If it is to be imposed on an acreage basis, it will have a very adverse effect on the class of growers to whom I have just referred. There are many thousands of crofters and small growers in my area who never sell grain at all and who even buy in seed for sowing every year. I am afraid that under an acreage levy those small growers would be subsidising the large growers—or that is their impression.
While we do not know at this stage what the levy will be, we do know that under certain conditions it could well be very considerable. That being so, it seems that the only fair way would be to impose the levy on the tonnage of grain marketed. While this might not be as simple to administer, I am convinced that it would have many advantages for the man whose main enterprise is livestock rearing, and it would mean fewer anomalies all round.
I hope that it will be found possible to make the necessary alterations, if alterations are needed, to cover the points which I have raised. I congratulate the Minister on having brought forward the Bill so early in the Session.
It is a great pleasure to follow in the debate the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie). Those who have been associated with Scotland in any way realise that the rams which he has produced have made a tremendous impression on the whole of the sheep stock throughout the north of Scotland. I hope that he will appreciate that I cannot hope that his political career will make such an impression in that area.
The Bill is especially welcome in north Lincolnshire and constituencies such as my own, because it will ensure that we shall get the best value for annual harvests that we can possibly get. The forward-buying contracts will be of enormous value, particularly to the large farmers. The Bill will also have the effect of helping the small farmers to get a better market at an early stage during the harvest. We help people through various grants to put capital equipment on their farms, but the trouble is that the one-third grants encourage people almost to over-capitalise.
I hope that the Bill will strengthen the hand of the officers of the National Agricultural Advisory Service and others when they advise people that it is not always necessary to install grain-drying equipment, and that, particularly on small farms, it would be far better to rely on the Bill to help the small farmer to get a better return from the market at an early stage.
If the Bill succeeds, I hope that we shall see throughout the farming community a slightly more responsible attitude towards certain contracts. This is essential. We all know that there is a tendency, particularly if the market goes up after contract has been made, to try to discover devious ways of avoiding an unhappy commitment to sell below the current price.
I hope that the effect of the Bill will not be to spread cereal growing to other areas. This is happening at the moment, because unquestionably this is the most profitable type of farming. I agree with what the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty said about livestock rearing. Until we get more livestock in this country we cannot increase the amount of cereals coming forward because we need a bigger head of livestock to eat them. I hope that this trend will be put right in the Price Review.
I could not help noticing, in going about the countryside during the winter, particularly in the Midlands, that there is still a spread taking place of the tillage acreage. I am not certain that this is right under present conditions, and I hope that we shall see the trend reversed. I have seen some lovely old pastures in my right hon. Friend's constituency being ripped up and I hope that we will see some of these pastures retained.
It is clear that we must face up to the strength of the agricultural and corn merchants. They are now in big and powerful groups. They say, therefore, that they want big contracts. However, they also say that they are buying from comparatively small producers in varying lots of varying qualities. These big groups of merchants have made a compromise in the Bill. Undoubtedly more science and research is needed to overcome the difficulty of the varying qualities and quantities coming forward.
Hon. Members will be aware of the newest maltings in Gainsborough. These maltings can take barley of practically any quality to make good malt. This is happening because of the science and research that has gone into the process in this firm, with the result that really reliable malt can be produced from barley of varying qualities. Indeed, we send a trainload of malt from Gainsborough to Perth every night to make the famous Scotch whisky. I believe that they just add a little peat and water to make their whisky from Lincolnshire malt.
With these few remarks I give the Bill my sincere welcome on behalf of the industry in Lincolnshire, which is the principal grain-growing area.
I wish to add my support to that expressed by other hon. Members to the Bill. I thank the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) for the remarks he made about the time we spent on the Bill in Committee. I agree that there had been criticism about our having taken too long. It should be remembered that when the Chairman summed up the Committee's proceedings he said what a pleasure it had been to take the Chair, that he had not had to intervene on many occasions and that the Committee had worked well. We could not help it if the Minister of State filibustered in his speeches, as he used to when in opposition.
There was a certain amount of ill-informed criticism outside Parliament, by the Press, about the amount of time we took in Committee. In fact, we took nearly eight sittings, the importance of which were borne out by what happened on Report, when a great many of the Government Amendments were made as a result of the points which my hon. Friends and I made in Committee. I hope that the people outside who criticised our deliberations in Committee will have the good sense and decency to retract some of the things they said about us.
We are concerned with a new and important pattern of marketing and we hope that it will succeed. I hope, at the same time, that the farmers will not expect miracles overnight. I have the impression that the farming community are expecting a lot of the Home-Grown Cereals Authority. If it does not come up to all that they expect straight away I hope that they will no decry it. The Authority will need to take it easy at the beginning. It will need to find its feet and I hope that it will have the support of the farmers, even if in the coming harvest it does not achieve all that it sets out to do. I hope that it will be judged not on its activities over a period of weeks—perhaps during the coming harvest—but over a period of years because it could form the basis for the establishment of other authorities for other products.
One of the tasks which it must perform is that of collecting information, a difficult job for any organisation to do, as is amply borne out by what is happening at present. The reports after the last harvest were that we were in for a glut of barley. Reports were coming off the farms, from the information collected by the Ministry, that that would happen. We now find that we are, if anything, short of barley. This proves that it is easy for even the best obtained information to be wrong. This is probably because nowadays so much combined harvesting is carried out in tanker combining and it is not easy to assess the amount of grain in store. Thus, the information which the Authority will collect will, for a year or two, have to be treated with a certain amount of reserve. The amount of barley and grain on farms is also influenced very much by the consumption of those products.
I support the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) about farmers keeping their contracts. I mentioned this to the Minister, to whom I apologise for missing his reply. I had to leave the Chamber, having been handed a green card. It is vital that farmers honour their contracts.
While rereading the Bill today I was struck by the fact that it does not contain a provision in Clause 2 or 3 covering penalties if contracts are not honoured. If they are not, would the provisions of the law in regard to the making of contracts apply and, if not, do we need a special provision in the Bill? I hope that the Minister will answer this question.
The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie), who speaks with such charm, referred to the levy and the question of its being raised on an acreage basis. It is a pity that the Liberals did not see fit to put down an Amendment to that effect on Report, because the hon. Member will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) spoke at some length on this subject in Committee and was supported by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter). As we know, the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire has far more influence in the present Government than even the Scottish Ministers. That was amply borne out in Committee.
Had the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty joined with the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire in tabling an Amendment along those lines he might have managed to persuade the Government to change their mind. I am delighted that the Government were not faced with such a predicament, although it is something which the Liberal Party should bear in mind.
This is a good Bill. It sets the pattern for the future of cereal marketing and I am sure that all hon. Members give it their support and hope that it will be given a chance to work. All concerned must not expect it to achieve miracles overnight. I feel certain that it goes forward from the House with the best support and intentions of us all.
I hope that I will not be ruled out of order if I mention how much I enjoyed serving on my first Committee. My only disappointment this afternoon is that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) is not in his place. I am sure that he was very close to me in thought in Committee on many matters. That he seemed to think along the same lines as a West Country hon. Member is saying quite a bit.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty spoke today, since he represents the Liberals. I thought earlier that the Liberal Party was not interested in cereal marketing, which would have been something we would have noted carefully in the West Country. However, it took a Liberal who represents a Scottish constituency to put that party's point of view. That will be noted in the West Country.
I welcome the Bill very much and I will deal briefly with the subject of the people who will be appointed to the Authority. I hope that all interested parties would be consulted in the selection of the members of the Authority. It is very important that much time should be given to finding the right men, and those men must be suitably rewarded. Once again, I stress the importance of the need for the small farmers and for the co-operative movement to be well represented—as well, of course, as the country miller. The net must be spread far and wide in order to gather in the best men. I do not wish to be unkind, but I hope that the search will not be confined to the large compounders and, perhaps, the large growers. Though I dare not mention any area in this respect, I hope that note will be taken of this point.
I want the Authority to become a pattern for other such bodies. I know that this has been said before, but it is most important that we all understand that this will probably be the prototype of others. It is, therefore, vital that its composition is right, and that it is made to work. That will mean a certain amount of trial and error, of give and take, and of adjustment as the organisation proceeds with its work. I trust that all concerned will be prepared to make such changes as prove necessary.
I hope, too, that the Minister will make it a very important part of his job to explain the duties of the Authority carefully and simply to all concerned. Trouble must be taken over that, and a certain sum of money set aside for it so that people understand the aims and objects. It is important that the N.A.A.S. is well briefed to explain to our farmers what this is all about. The Press, too, and other means of communication must be enlisted. I do not want there to be any suspicion in the mind of any farmers. All must know what is happening and what the aim of the Authority is.
I hope that the Authority, in spite of possible difficulties, by next harvest, will be under way and able to exercise most of its powers. No time must be lost in getting it started.
Information given by the Authority should be in the very simplest terms so as to be easily understood, and it is to be hoped that this body will frankly and fully give all the information required by the farmers so that they may take advantage of it, and market accordingly. If it is not put in the simplest terms, the information will fail to achieve the results we all wish to see. Information passed by farmers to the Authority must be accurate—that is vital to success. As a farmer, I know well that I have not always accurately filled in returns. When one comes home from work and sees several forms waiting to be filled in, it is easy not to be accurate, but simple forms will help the farmers to be accurate. Farmers will have to accept a certain amount of discipline although, speaking again as a farmer, I know that discipline is irksome to us.
The Authority must also be concerned with imports. The Minister tends to shy away when the word "imports" is mentioned in connection with the Bill, but it is vital that the Authority knows what is coming into the country. If it knows the timing and the quantities coming in, it will probably be able to give general advice to importers. Perhaps my mind may be set at rest by the Minister on this aspect.
Storage could be a very great problem in the successful working of the Authority, which will seek to encourage and help farmers to store grain, will provide grants and plans for the building of silos, and so on, and will encourage group handling and storage. That will be a very important part of its function, and though I may be out of step with some hon. Members on this side, I suggest that it may well have to provide some storage in the future, or even to hire silos in an emergency. That side must not be forgotten.
On the question whether the levy should be raised on an acreage or on a tonnage basis, I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty. In the South-West we have many small farmers, and I still favour the tonnage basis. So much grain is used on the farms in the West Country—quite a lot is still fed to stock. Then there is the farmer who changes his mind and cuts the growing grain for silage because of difficult weather conditions. A levy raised on an acreage basis might be very unfair to small farmers in the South-West, in Scotland and in similar places.
As a West Country Member who represents a constituency with an ever-increasing number of grain growers, I welcome the creation of the Authority and wish it every success. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the few points that I have mentioned.
I should like, first, to refer to a remark made by the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) about the complexity and the number of the forms with which farmers have to contend at present. I join him in his plea that any forms that may be issued on behalf of the Authority should be couched in simple language and produced in as simple manner as possible, so that it is not necessary for a farmer to spend a goodly part of each day at the desk doing more and more paper work.
I cannot, perhaps, go all the way with the hon. Member in his reference to the desirability of providing the Authority with greater powers. The Authority must first prove itself. When it has proved that it really is a boon to the farming industry, as I believe it will be, we may then consider extending it in some way or other.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) raised a plaintive cry a moment or two ago that he was the only Member for a Suffolk constituency who was not on the Committee, but there was not a single hon. Member on it from the great grain-producing counties of Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that intervention. It must have been a privilege to have been on a Committee which produced a Bill which, as has been said earlier today, may yet be a corner-stone in the agricultural industry.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary a couple of questions on the working of the Authority. What sort of staff will it have to start with? We must remember that the Authority will be a non-productive element in farming life, rather like the office of the Controller of Plant Variety Rights which we shall be considering in an hour or two. Bearing in mind that the administrative expenses of the Potato Marketing Board are now about £1 million a year, we must be certain that during the early stages of the working of this Authority value for money is obtained and that it is shown to be a definite advantage to the industry. Will the Cereals Marketing Authority be a self-supporting body, or is it intended that it should make its purchases through agents, rather like the Potato Marketing Board, with the aid of a certain amount of Government money, a proportion being found by the industry?
I apologise if one or two of the questions I have put are obvious to those hon. Members who served on the Committee, but I should be most grateful for an answer to them. While I welcome the Authority as a necessary and desirable step, nevertheless I cannot help feeling that some of the authorities and marketing boards in agriculture at the moment have to some extent perhaps exceeded their powers. One can go to prison if one does not comply with certain rules and regulations relating to the Potato Marketing Board. One can be heavily fined if one disposes irregularly of eggs laid by one's poultry. In addition, the Milk Marketing Board has assumed monopoly powers in the milk industry.
I would welcome this Authority, but before its powers are extended in any way and before it becomes too much of a burden on the industry I should like to see it prove itself in practice so that it will help to develop the farming industry and not dominate it.
I support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that the regulations issued by the Authority should be of the simplest and clearest variety. As a pig farmer I have great difficulty in understanding a great deal of the literature which is issued from time to time by the Ministry of Agriculture. I hope that in this context an effort will be made to see that the forms to be filled are of the simplest and clearest kind.
The Bill is a testimony to the achievements of the British cereal grower. It is not long ago, and I certainly remember it well, since we imported more or less all the cereals we needed and left the home agricultural industry to fend for itself. I am glad that those days have gone and that today we not only produce a large proportion of our own grain, a good deal in East Anglia, but we do it in a fashion that is the most efficient in the world. How efficient it is one can appreciate when one sees in the grain-growing districts new machines, especially fast-moving harvesters.
This efficiency is transforming the countryside, not always for the better. We have wider gates and fewer trees and in many parts of East Anglia we are moving towards having a countryside not unlike the Middle West. There are those who feel that whilst we must move towards greater efficiency with bigger machines and larger buildings this does not always improve the landscape which people in this country have enjoyed for many centuries. Along with the increasing efficiency of cereals production we are seeing a vast improvement in the efficiency of storage of cereals. I have seen some of the huge dryers used in certain areas where 500 tons and even up to 1,000 tons of cereals are in store. This storage enables the cereals grower to be more flexible in allowing his grain to go on to the market. He is not to the same extent the victim of market forces. Indeed, his storage capacity makes him a force in the market.
It is the extent of cereal growing that has made the Bill a matter of urgency. It is not too much to say that Britain has become a major agricultural nation. Sometimes this is forgotten. We think of ourselves as an industrial or commercial Power and forget that the enormous expansion of agriculture has transformed this country from a basic importer of food to a marginal importer and a major grower of food. If other industries had been able to match the expansion in agriculture and the increasing productivity of agriculture I have no doubt that our present economic situation would have been a great deal better than it is. As a representative of a farming constituency I therefore welcome the Bill. It is a good Bill. It is the best Measure that the Labour Government have brought in. We all know why—it was a Bill from the outgoing Administration.
There are one or two points of a more technical kind on which I should like to ask for the Parliamentary Secretary's guidance. The first concerns the composition of the Authority. There are nine representatives from the trade. There can be no quarrel with that. There are three to five representatives of the public, and there can be no quarrel with that either. However, the nine members from the growing side are to be divided between those who primarily grow cereals and those who primarily use cereals. The precise language is that of those nine
such number as appears to the Ministers to be adequate
shall be appointed as also capable of representing the users of home grown cereals for feeding livestock.
This worries me and my constituents, many of whom are very large cereal growers, because there is always the possibility that that number of the farming representatives on the Authority who consume grain—the livestock producers, of which I must admit I am one—can on occasion gang up with the representatives of the trade and indeed of the public, with the result that the cereal growers on the Authority may find themselves in the minority. I do not contemplate that situation arising, but I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to underline in his reply that he has no fears on this score. This is a real question among farmers in the Suffolk area.
Next, I have a question about market intelligence. When the Bill was first brought forward we were told that one of its big steps would be to improve the whole quality of market intelligence. This is fundamental, of course, and I go so far as to say that it is probably the most important single operative factor in the Bill. But as I read the Clauses which deal with market intelligence, I am somewhat disappointed. There is nothing in them to which exception could be taken, and I am sure that all the authority for the new marketing people is there provided for, but nothing precise is said about how the information is to be made available to farmers. I asked this question on Second Reading, and I raise it again now in the hope that we shall have a better reply tonight.
Whereas the Authority has power to compile and prepare information and power to disseminate it, the question from a practical farming point of view is: how is the dissemination to be done? Is the information to be sent out by post, in large numbers of new forms each day—the market moves extremely rapidly—or do the Government contemplate that the Authority will use the radio or the newspapers? I am concerned not so much about the compiling and dissemination of the information for which power is given, but about precisely how it is to reach the hand of the farmer. This is of crucial importance. Farmers do not at present know how the mechanism is to work.
In my view, there ought to be urgency in the setting up of the Authority. I cannot altogether agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) that a great deal of time should be taken in finding and selecting the members of the Authority. I agree that the search should be sufficiently thorough to ensure that we have the best men for the job, but I am quite sure that there will be disappointment among farmers if it is not possible soon to name and appoint the members. In my own area there is great expectation and curiosity about when the Minister will be able to establish the Authority, how soon he will "get cracking" on it, and who these estimable gentlemen will be. We are very eager to know the answers to these questions, and, now that the Bill is in its final stages, I hope that it will not be long before announcements can be made. I trust that, in any event, we shall have a functioning Authority well before the next harvest.
I have two questions on Clause 6(5) under which the Authority is empowered to conduct research and experimental work. We all welcome this, but I have a point to raise on paragraphs (a) and (b). Paragraph (a) provides that the Authority may conduct research in
the collection, storage, conservation, testing and distributing of home-grown cereals".
All those activities are of vital importance, but why is nothing said about the breeding of new types of cereal? It may well be that this comes under the plant testing station and the Minister felt that it would not be right to put it in here, but it seems a little strange, when so much else is given to the Authority, that this is left out.
My second question arises on paragraph (b), which provides that the Authority may conduct research in the
invention, development or assessment of new uses of … home-grown cereals".
This is a very wide power. I wonder whether, under the heading of the development of new uses of home-grown cereals, the Authority might have power
to look into how to use cereals in, for example, sausage manufacture. I do not know whether power to do that is intended to be conferred by this Clause, but it is an extremely wide power which has been given to the Authority.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important steps of the past 18 months in the whole business of cereals marketing was the agreement on agriculture which was arrived at by the six member countries of the European Economic Community. This has been a major step forward, and it will be something which we in this country will live with, perhaps with difficulty, for many years to come. Although this may be somewhat outside the limited ambit of the Bill, I hope that the Minister will encourage those who serve on the Authority to liaise as best they can, if necessary going to Brussels occasionally, to see how the Europeans are managing their cereals market. I believe that the day will come when this country's cereals marketing and, perhaps, all our agricultural marketing will have to be done in co-ordination with that of Western Europe. I hope that opportunity will be taken by the Authority and the Minister to keep in close touch with the Europeans on the whole subject of cereals marketing.
With those thoughts in mind, I strongly welcome the Bill and wish it every success.
This has been a very interesting if rather short debate which has concentrated on the importance of this Measure. We have heard a number of well-informed speeches, mostly from this side of the House, and we have had one from the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie), making two speeches now from the Liberal benches throughout the whole course of the Bill so far.
We are all agreed that the procedures which we follow in the House ensure the improvement of any Bill, no matter what it is, and this is most beneficial to all concerned. I have totted up the Amendments which the Government have accepted. They have today brought forward 12 Amendments, accepting the purpose of Amendments which we moved in Committee. It is now a much improved Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) for his very courteous remarks about the progress we have made and the improvements we brought about in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman was, perhaps, a little critical earlier about some of our arguments and the length of our discussions in Committee.
It has been a basic principle that the Bill has come forward as a result of consultations among the parties concerned, that is, the trade, the producers and the Government, in this case the previous Government. Because of the agreement which was reached, the Bill is now before us in this form, and I hope, as my hon. Friends have said, that what has happened in this case will act as a pattern for future marketing advances. I hope that there will always be consultation and that Bills will come forward, after agreement with all the parties interested in the product, in an effort to improve marketing processes. I hope that we shall never have a system imposed for doctrinal reasons against the wishes of any section of the trade or of producers.
If the Bill is to be effective, there must be co-operation from all sides. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) said, if the trade or the growers have any suspicion in their minds, if they start looking over their shoulders, the Authority will have a very hard time in trying to take effective action and to use the powers given to it under Parts I and II of the Bill.
From the outset, the words of the Minister will set the tenor of operations. We all want an effective Authority. The right hon. Gentleman was sweet reasonableness all the way during the Report stage and, as he said, it is the Government's intention to see that the Authority sticks to the agreement reached by all parties concerned.
The main points of the Bill are of great importance and constitute a big step forward. Among the most important are the bonus payments for forward contracts. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) mentioned what happens when breaking of these contracts takes place and I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will answer the point, which is one of substance. As to the establishment of the Authority, we have pressed the Government extremely hard to bear in mind the interests of the feeders of grain as well as the growers.
We note that the Government have remained adamant about the composition of the Authority. Nevertheless, it is right to express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appoint persons of the highest calibre and that their own personal interests and those of the sections they are selected to represent will not have a paramount influence in their deliberations as members of the Authority.
When will the Minister be able to announce the names of the chairman and members of the Authority? Is he hoping to do so within the next few months, perhaps before Easter? The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) on this is of substance. Both farmers and the trade want to know as soon as possible who is to be chairman of this very responsible body. I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary cannot give the names now, but perhaps he can give an idea of how soon we can expect such an announcement.
Part I also includes loans to growers and market information. My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) made a strong point about this, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and Bury St. Edmunds. This is that the information given and received and the form to be filled in by farmers, and the information given and received by the Authority, must be up to date, easy to understand and easily accessible to those concerned.
In Committee, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not commit himself as to the method of publication. He said that it would be available and I assume that it will be made available to the daily Press, the farming Press, radio and television as and when required. Would it be worth while to have a special publication by the Authority in conjunction with the Ministry? I accept that, since there are so many trade papers, this might not help all that much, but I must stress the need for the maximum publicity in the initial stages of the fact that this information is available to the trade and to farmers. Perhaps in the early stages the most sensible way would be to have the information available at divisional headquarters of the Ministry. These are centres known by most of the farming community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds also referred to research and development. We discussed this exhaustively upstairs. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will allay the worries my hon. Friend referred to and assure the House that there will be no duplication of effort, that the N.A.I.R.D. will be consulted, along with various other organisations concerned with pure research and other types of research before any new operation is undertaken by the Authority. It would be foolish to duplicate effort.
Part II is perhaps the controversial part of the Bill and it is a fundamental feature of the Measure that the Authority should possess reserve buying powers. My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington thought that these powers should be implemented at once, but I would point out to him that they are reserve powers and, as such, are not to be used at once. The Authority will want to know how the Bill is operating and what the situation is before it considers using such powers.
If we had wanted to bring these powers into effect at once it would have been simpler to have written them in as a Clause to take effect as soon as the Bill became law. Listening to the other Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. John Mackie) earlier tonight, I thought that he wanted the Authority to have these trading powers as of right but that he had been overruled by the Minister. It would have been a great mistake to have allowed these powers to be operated at once, for this was far from the agreement between the two sides of the trade and the Government. I must emphasise because this is of great importance, that these are reserve powers.
The powers in Part I surely must be given a chance to operate. The whole purpose of making forward contract bonus payments and loans is to facilitate orderly marketing. If we do not give the scheme a chance to work, there will be no way of knowing whether or not Part I is worth while and is able successfully to operate. I invite the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) to state clearly that the Government hope—I know that he can go no further because the Authority must be independent—that the Authority will operate the powers under Part I, see how they work and will only ask the Minister for the reserve powers to be brought into effect if they do not and the market goes well below the minimum basic price.
If the Authority does not do this, it will be difficult to persuade the two sides that the purpose of the Bill is to promote orderly marketing, rather than to set up an organisation in competition with them.
I was drawing the attention of the House to the difficulties which could arise from the use of these reserve powers and I was saying that I very much supported the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) when he hoped that the farmers would not expect too much of the Authority in the early days of its operation. I join with him in hoping that it will have a great effect in the longer term and I am certain that it will.
Perhaps for the third time of trying I can draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft. I hope that the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) will not go on muttering from a sedentary position.
I hope that the farmers and producers will not set too great a store by the Authority in the first few months of its operation. I am convinced that it will be of lasting benefit in due course when it has got into its stride and its various functions under Part I—research and development, credit facilities, loans and so on—are in full swing. It will have a tremendous effect on the marketing of cereals and will help with the level of the prices of home-grown grain and will promote an orderly flow of grain from the farms to the merchants and millers.
I also hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will note that we do not want the Authority to build up large reserves of cash. This was a matter which we did not mention on Report, because the Amendment concerned with it was not called. The Authority could build up such reserves only if it were using its reserve powers under Clause 8, and it might then be in a position to buy at the bottom of the market and sell later in the season at the top of the market, so that a considerable profit would accrue. I do not say that that would always happen, but it could. As the Minister is to supervise the level of the levy at any one time, I hope that he will always bear in mind the level of trading profits or reserves which the Authority may have accrued.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether there is any machinery whereby, if the Authority makes a great profit over a period of two or three years, the money can be distributed back to the growers from whom the levy has been raised in previous years? I do not see any authority for that in any provision in the Bill, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can explain.
It would be remarkable, but my hon. Friend must remember that that is something which has been negotiated by a Conservative Administration and not imposed by a Socialist Government.
Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to say something?
The right hon. Gentleman may have been speaking a little too loudly. If he wishes to intervene, I will gladly give way.
The last point I want to make concerns the use of trade channels, about which we have had earlier debate. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to bear in mind what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) in that debate and the feelings expressed in Committee. I hope that he will bring to the notice of the Authority the fears of hon. Members and some trade channels that the Authority might use Clause 8, regardless of other considerations, to engage in trading and even the transporting and storing of grain. I hope that he will assure us that that is not what the Government expect the Authority to do, other than in exceptional circumstances, and that in every kind of normal circumstance the Authority would be expected to use the normal trade channels for all its activities, perhaps the storing and drying of grain and certainly the buying and selling of grain.
I am sure that the Bill will be beneficial to farmers and traders. It was conceived by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) and delivered—perhaps that is the right word—by the present Minister. I am sure that it will succeed in its object and I ask my hon. Friends to give it a Third Reading.
May I express the thanks of my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends for the co-operation which we have had in dealing with the Bill. If the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) thought that my right hon. Friend and I were interrupting him towards the end of his speech, I can tell him that we were not. What we take objection to is an hon. Member, like the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams), arriving in the House after having not been here all day, coming in for a minute and seeking to bring the proceedings to a halt. We consider that to be discourteous and we do not regard it as very encouraging when he persuades one or two hon. Members to leave the Chamber in the hope that the proceedings can be halted.
May I say one word in reply to the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne)? I have no doubt that Ross and Cromarty and Caithness and Sutherland have been a little trouble to him. I look back with some affection on the previous occupant of the seat for Caithness and Sutherland and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), who, unfortunately, has had to leave, for a reason which many hon. Members know, paid a compliment to the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). The hon. Member for Lowestoft made his third speech complaining about people who had complained about him. He must not be so susceptible to this criticism. There was no secrecy about the letter. If my recollection is right, I saw a cyclostyled copy of it, and I believe that each of us had a copy. We all get criticised in the House of Commons. While it is not so bad being criticised for something one has done, it is worse to be criticised for something one has not done. The hon. Gentleman made three protests and I do not think that we need go further.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter, because the corn merchants wrote to me in high dudgeon to the effect that no leak about the letter had come from them. I am interested to know that there were duplicated copies of the letter.
I do not know whether it was in high dudgeon or low dudgeon, but it was so unimportant that I do not know why the hon. Gentleman has made so much noise about it.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) said some nice things and extolled the virtues of barley. If he can send good quality material of that kind which we can turn into liquid production which we can sell at a competitive price and earn exports for Britain, I am all in favour of that. If he wants to link up with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty in this way he has my approbation. I am delighted if he carries on in this way.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft said that the farmers should not expect too much from the Bill. I do not think that people should expect too much of it from the start. When these new authorities are set up we must have some patience until they get a code of practice. I assure the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that we are not taking powers in the Bill to imprison people. We do not propose to imprison people under the Bill, nor does the Authority, for things which they have not done. There are no powers of that kind in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) spoke about the selection of members for the Authority. Great care will have to be exercised in this respect. We have been asked when we will be able to make an announcement about the chairman and members of the Authority. We must have a little more patience until the Bill becomes an Act. After it leaves this place, the Bill must go to another place, and it would he invidious to anticipate the Act, as it will have to be before these appointments can be made. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that there will be no delay on the part of my right hon. Friend in the appointment of the people who will fill these positions. This is terribly important for the Authority, because we have to get it started quickly if it is to meet the needs of the new season. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that this will be done.
The hon. Member for Harborough said that we should use simple language in explaining what the Authority would do. I could not agree more. My Department is not the worst offender in this respect. I could name others which are worse than us. This has gone on for many years; it is not a new development. I have always been told in any Committee with which I have been associated in this House that the great thing is to have simplicity of language so that people can understand what the authority concerned is attempting to do and what responsibilities are being placed on it. This we will do.
On the question of staff, I imagine that the Authority will want a secretary, treasurer and assistant secretary, but it will be for the Authority to make up its mind on what staff it requires so as to operate. I am sure that it will be very careful in dealing with the matter. I agree that we must always exercise care because all too often we see large institutions growing up to do what started as a simple job. The Authority will act responsibly because the money for this operation will be contributed to by the levy on the growers, and obviously they will want to look after their own cash. This is the best way of ensuring that the matter is dealt with efficiently.
The hon. Member for Torrington and others asked about the collection of information and how it will be disseminated. It is difficult in a Bill to lay down how this shall be done. Every possible means, such as wireless and television, will be adopted to disseminate it so that all the participants in the scheme will know what is taking place. Marketing information is essential, and it should be accurate information if the scheme is to work successfully. I noted the suggestion of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North about the use of Ministry offices for this purpose. This is a suggestion which the Authority might well consider.
I turn once more to what the hon. Member for Harborough said. He asked whether the Authority would receive Exchequer money for use in purchasing cereals. I can assure him that it will not. That is made perfectly clear in the Bill; there is no doubt about it. The Government's share will be for other expenses. I think that I can say that nearly every member of the Committee agreed that this should be so.
On the question of research, it was pointed out on Second Reading and in Committee, certainly by one or two hon. Members opposite, that there should not be duplication and waste of research. We have certain agricultural research institutions which are doing a good job, and there would be no purpose in the new Authority establishing another research organisation duplicating this type of work and possibly at a cost which would place a further burden on it. I gave that assurance before, and I repeat it tonight.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft asked about the penalties provided for in the Bill. He knows that there are no penalties as such laid down in the Bill. If a contract is broken, the bonus is not payable. If there were a break, say, between the grower and the merchant in the event of non-fulfilment of a contract, I think that this would be a matter for the parties and their legal advisers. A bonus is paid on the forward contract. If that forward contract is not fulfilled, obviously the bonus is not paid.
Is it not desirable that there should be some sanction to make growers hold to their contracts rather than that the Authority should get involved in a costly legal procedure, because the presumption would be that all the legal costs would have to be paid by the body of growers supplying funds to the Authority which, by definition, would be those growers which had adhered to their contract?
I can see the difficulty. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North has just been saying to me, "What you must not do is to give the Authority greater power than it has to imprison people and to impose penalties". Now the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) is saying that I should not pay attention to what his hon. Friend said and that we should put penalties in the Bill. Under the scheme, I should think that the number of people who, having entered into a contract, intentionally broke the contract would be infinitesimal. This is the whole purpose of the scheme. I see hon. Members opposite smiling. They say, "You do not know the farmers". I have a great admiration for them and lived among them for many years on the borders of Scotland, and I am pleased to think that my opinion of them is perhaps a little higher than that of hon. Members opposite. What I do not want to do is to impose more penalties. We are always being told that the Government are taking power to impose more penalties. This can be avoided.
From the beginning, hon. Members opposite have said that the Bill is the product of my right hon. Friend's predecessor. I do not dispute that. All I say is that, having claimed the parentage, they have asked a lot of questions about the child. I hope that the Authority will set out to do the function for which it is established. It is for the cereal grower—let there be no mistake about it—but if it can function successfully it will be a remarkable step forward.
I conclude by again thanking hon. Members who, in Committee and at other stages, have made it possible to achieve what we hope now to do—give the Bill its Third Reading.