Orders of the Day — Agriculture

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd November 1966.

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4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I beg to move, That this House expresses grave concern at the loss of confidence which is spreading through the agricultural industry as a result of the failure of Her Majesty's Government's policies, and calls on Her Majesty's Government to give the farming industry the necessary encouragement to attain the higher levels of production of which it is undoubtedly capable and so to play its full part in assisting the nation's balance of payments. If anyone had had any doubt about the need for a debate in this House on a Motion of this nature he should have been here at Question Time yesterday to hear the deplorable way in which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food answered Questions. The impression left on us by those Answers showed that he was either ignorant of or indifferent to the problems facing agriculture today. A number of farmers had come to see me and to listen to the Answers to those Questions. They were not men of high political feeling, but when I met them after Question Time they were so full of rage about the Minister's replies that I could not quote in this House what they said about him. This, I think, is typical of the Minister and of the Government's attitude at present.

The keynote of this debate is quite simply loss of confidence—loss of confidence in the Minister, and loss of confidence in the Government. No one can pretend it does not exist, and not on one subject alone but on many. The evidence is overwhelming. First, I refer briefly to the note which the National Farmers' Union has sent round for this debate. In the first paragraph the note says that it does not wish to exaggerate the difficulties. It goes on to say: the industry, certainly the store rearing and fattening section, needs a good deal more than reaffirmations of the agricultural section of the National Plan to restore the confidence and obtain the cash without which the Plan cannot be fulfilled and production and investment cannot be expected to expand".

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

Would the right hon. Member read the first paragraph, which was circulated to hon. Members?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I mentioned the first paragraph. It will be open for the hon. Member to read it. I have given a fair indication of the real concern of the members of the union.

Turning from that, one has only to look at the farming Press of the last few weeks. The Farmer and Stockbreeder of 25th October, on the first comment page, deals with a whole bulk of issues which are worrying farmers at present. It says: The hill man, still nursing his financial bruises from the breeding ewe sales, has been hit again in the suckled calf ring … and there is nothing he can do about it. He can neither take his lots home, nor switch his production lines; and amalgamation of hill farms is no answer. On bacon, we are reminded that This is the curers' biggest crisis. On fat cattle, we are told that prices have dropped 10 per cent. in the last six weeks. To use the editor's telling phrase, "it has a snowball's chance in hell of success". The final sentences on that page, which I think the Minister must have seen, say: Depression is now universal. No, only 99·9 per cent. There is always Our Very Own Mr. Micawber, The Rt. Hon. Frederick Peart. But the only thing likely to turn up is still more Irish beef. The Farmers' Weekly, in an article addressed: To AU M.P.S—For Action", although it is possible only for the Minister to take action, uses its whole argument in calling attention to the urgent need and says: What, for instance, is happening about the National Plan? It was supposed to do so much for farming—and through farming, for the nation as a whole. Is the Government prepared to let the tremendous technical development in British agriculture contribute its full whack to economic recovery? You all say that we can do it. But where is the action to match the words? Mr. Wilson says, 'We are stepping up food production to save imports.' Are we? If so, who is? Is this or is it just a hope? I could go on through a whole pile of quotations.

The next week the Farmers' Weekly had even more damning comments on the meat market. This is evidence of very real concern. That is true and the Minister must know it, although yesterday he pretended that it was not there. I shall give a quotation from a resolution by a county branch of the N.F.U. I have seen countless such resolutions in the last few days. The Norfolk Branch says that it views with grave alarm the rapidly deteriorating condition of the agricultural industry and considers that the Government have utterly failed to implement their avowed intention of their policy for the industry as set out at the last Election in the National Plan and at the last Price Review. It goes on to criticise the Government further. There are plenty of such quotations, I wish that I had time to quote many more. There is no question whatever that there is grave concern in the agricultural industry at present.

I say to the Minister and to the House that this is not the same as the sudden outburst of anger after a Price Review. The Minister has had experience of that, and so have I. I do not pretend that we always had agreed Reviews, but this is entirely different. What we are seeing now is something much more significant, the steady welling up of alarm, indignation, despondency and genuine fear as farmers in one section of the industry after another see the prospects before them withering away. Livestock rearers see their livelihood disappearing overnight, as the Secretary of State for Scotland will know with reference to Highland owners.

This general malaise is something real whose consequences are being felt now. Unless urgent action is taken on a number of fronts grave harm will be done to agreat industry. At a time when agriculture could undoubtedly help Britain's balance of payments by increasing production, the industry is being given neither the opportunity nor the encouragement to do so. I shall deal with some of the specific details, but I must say a little about the general background.

I start with the National Plan. One of the last things which the Present Foreign Secretary did before he left his previous office, was publicly to discard the National Plan. The Minister of Agriculture has never had that courage and still pays lip service to the Plan for agriculture. Only last week, with depressingly low prices for store cattle and calves for rearing being almost given away, calf slaughtering was almost 50 per cent. up on last year, with the dairy herd virtually static instead of rising by 100,000 a year as set out in the Plan, I asked the Minister if he would give an assurance that it is still the policy of the Government to increase home production of beef to the limit of the technical possibilities between now and 1970. The Answer he gave was at least clear. He said: Yes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1966; Vol. 734, c. 175.] If he could say "Yes" in relation to the conditions which exist today, how can he possibly reconcile that Answer with his conscience? I suppose that only the Prime Minister would know how to do that.

This Question related particularly to beef and the need to build up the beef herd as set out in the Plan. This was the one clear pledge of a maximum increase in production in the Plan but all we see is static production and heavy losses by rearers throughout the industry. I never saw any value for agriculture, or for any other industry, in the Government's plans being given in a Plan. I could never understand why leaders of industry thought it particularly valuable, either. The so-called selective expansion was, in fact, selective restriction as it postulated a slowing-down of the expansion achieved in the previous five years. The only value of that Plan was in the factual report on the industry. It was this which showed that agriculture had a productivity record in the post-war years which was second to none.

However, the Plan was there and many farmers set some store by it. They are disillusioned now as a result, and their disillusionment is ever greater when it is shown to be valueless. This is one specific factor in the present loss of confidence, but there are many others. The attitude of Ministers has some real bearing here. That is why I was so depressed after listening to the Minister yesterday. The Prime Minister, has at least been true to form. In his statement to farmers he said: We shall not solve our economic problems without a vigorous import substitution policy through agricultural expansion.

This was said and designed to serve the immediate moment, with no thought for its implementation. We in this House have long known how much value to set on the Prime Minister's speeches. Farmers thought he meant it, but now they have been disillusioned.

What about the Chancellor, whose real hostility to farming slipped out with that unguarded phrase in the House about farmers at Ascot? He tried to hide that phrase in a typically disgraceful way. He tried to cover it up in this House. Then there was all the muddle over farming and the Selective Employment Tax. Anyone with the least knowledge of farming knew that repayments could not properly be made through the Price Review. That was the original proposal, and it was the outcry from these benches that brought about a change.

Mr. Robert Maclennen:

Would the hon. Member acknowledge that there were a number of hon. Members who spoke from this side on the same point and expressed their views just as trenchantly as he did?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

That is perfectly true. The hon. Member did speak up and I was glad to hear it. We shall welcome him over to this side of the House at any moment now. I am sure that even he will agree that the bulk of the complaints came from this side of the House. It was the very vigorous protest which we made which, I think, had this effect. Nevertheless, it took those protests to bring it about.

Then the story was put about that the Minister of Agriculture had not seen the proposal in advance. If that was the case, it speaks volumes for the relations between Ministers in this Cabinet. It seems more likely that the Minister did see it, but was not strong enough in Cabinet to get it changed. He can tell us about that when he speaks later this afternoon, because we shall be interested.

Even though we forced the Government to ensure proper repayment of S.E.T. to farmers, there was one other aspect of this that farmers did not forget. Farming was publicly classified as of less importance than manufacturing industry—than in any manufacturing industry. And it was not just that farmers did not get the premium, though many of them could do with it. They were classified as being a second-class industry when they believed they could and should be in the forefront of import saving. The general impression has grown among farmers that the Government has little interest in or sympathy for British agriculture.

Now a word about the much-debated question of farmers' credit. [Interruption.] That is quite right. That shows the interest they showed. Bank managers in many rural areas did a great deal to limit the harm which had been done by Ministers which began with the statement which the Chancellor made in early August. The Chancellor gave no reassurance to the farmers. The very next day I tried to question the Minister elsewhere in the building, but he will recall that he tried to hide behind the rules of order at a time when he could have given a clear reassurance, if one could have been given at that time.

More than a month later, after I had chased him around the houses, he said something at Harper Adams. He dealt with seasonal credit and went on: … It has been made quite clear to the banks that their total ceiling on credit can be exceeded in the short term to cover seasonal credit required. My right hon. Friend challenged him shortly after that to elucidate that statement. He did not do so and the agricultural Press took this matter up at the time. I am wondering whether the Minister has seen the statement in the Farmer and Stockbreeder of 27th September: No directive on credit for farmers had gone or was going out to the clearing banks, said a spokesman for the Bank of England the day after Mr. Peart's speech … Broadly, Mr. Peart had put things in perspective. The spokesman agreed that there might have been an element of double talk on medium-term credit. Chief confusion … would have arisen over seasonal credit. To highlight the position, in the way the Minister had, looked like a half truth. When we have a reference about double talk and half truth from the Bank of England, it is a pretty disgraceful thing to be said about a Minister of the Crown.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Would the hon. Member listen carefully to this quotation from the Financial Times of 21st September this year?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. An intervention must be brief, and the quotation must be very brief.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Yes, Sir. The article states: The farming community as a whole has, in fact, been getting the credit. In mid-August advances to farmers were at an all-time peak.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

That is precisely what I said earlier. I said that bank managers had done their best to limit the harm done by the Minister. Although these advances were at an all-time peak they were little more than 12 months ago. They rose sharply from £300 million to £400 million. The figure was £518 million last year and it will be £518 million this year. I am speaking from memory. I think I am right within a figure of £2 million.

It is quite clear that what the Minister was saying really had no effect at all. We have now at least been given a clear inclusion of agriculture in the priorities and we are grateful for this. We are also grateful for the slight relaxation for these classes. But it has taken from 10th August to 1st November to achieve it, and during that time a great many farmers in livestock areas have suffered from the refusal of the Government to give a clear and unambiguous statement in August. These farmers will not get recompense from guarantees. Store cattle and store sheep are affected but they will not get any advantage thereby. This is a serious aspect, for which the Minister has to bear responsibility.

While the availability of credit has been cleared up to some degree, it is sheer cost of credit that is pressing down on farmers. It affects all industries at present. It is one of the disadvantages we are suffering from because of the Government's financial policies.

I wish to draw the Minister's attention to what I think he will agree is one of the most damaging statements we have seen. I refer him to the Farmer and Stockbreeder of 18th October where, on page 3, there is reference to a farmers' club meeting. He will remember that Mr. Williams made an important speech. I quote as follows: One other comment that stuck in the mind came from Harry Thomas, N.A.A.S.'s unconstrained farm management man in the Midlands, who fears that the nation's food production line is running down and rusting from lack of financial lubrication, and of confidence; and could take years to regain momentum. One of the right hon. Gentleman's own officials said that. What will the Minister tell us about that one? Surely that is a clear indication from the man in the field, the man who knows farmers and their problems.

I turn now to commodities, first, bacon and bacon pigs. I hope that we all are aware of the serious position in the bacon industry. Pig numbers are down, and they are still falling. The latest figures that came from the September census show that pig numbers are still falling. This is depressing and in the Minister's speech at Harper Adams he commented on this. The pig cycle is something which has been with us for some time. We had our difficulties in regard to this. The present method of trying to stabilise the situation, one which we brought forward, is based on the middle band in addition to the guaranteed price. These are the ways in which we were trying to stabilise the situation.

The Minister said that he would raise the middle band again at the next Price Review. This is one positive step that he has taken. He means that he misjudged things at the last Review either in regard to the middle band or to the guaranteed price, or both. To await further action until the next Review is to hand a still higher proportion of our market for bacon to the foreigner.

Since Question Time in the House yesterday I have received a note from the British Bacon Curers' Federation, commenting on what the Minister said yesterday. It says: The Minister must recognise from the urgency of the crisis in the bacon industry that such increase in total pig supplies as may result from the promise to raise the middle band by 400,000 next April will be too little and too late. Today, I have also received from a farmers' co-operative bacon factory a telegram saying: Trust you will emphasise urgent plight of British bacon on behalf of this farmer co-operative. Tell Minister increasing middle band has not restored farmers' confidence. Farmers know that curers will be unable to buy their pigs next year. Cost to nation of extra subsidies, imports and higher prices will be his responsibility. That comes from the people directly concerned. It is the fact, therefore, that the offer the Minister has made is not enough to restore confidence and relieve fears about the very critical situation in the bacon industry.

At a luncheon recently the Minister heard Mr. Shephard, the retiring chairman of the curers, ask for a direct subsidy. Yesterday, the Minister told us that this request had been turned down. I know that when the suggestion was put forward in the past it was always turned down, but are the reasons so strong for turning it down now? In the past, those in office have all talked of the need to have a free flow of pigs into or out of the fresh meat market. It has been used as a sort of balancing factor. Is that argument a very good one now, because pork has usually risen in price when beef has been in short supply?

Today, thanks to the Minister's blunders on another issue, which I shall come to soon, beef is certainly not in short supply. A subsidy to curers on a sliding scale based on the market price of pigs and of bacon would certainly be possible. The Minister can at least concede that. Further, it could be related to a maximum number of pigs within our share of the bacon sharing agreement. This is the new factor that the Minister must appreciate. If this were done, our foreign suppliers could not possibly complain. After all, the Minister should realise that there must be something basically wrong with a pig subsidy system when bacon and pork interests can both be kept happy only when £30 million or more is being paid out on pig subsidy every year. The Minister could get the result at a much cheaper cost if he would do some fresh thinking on this matter.

Such a subsidy as Mr. Shephard advocated might well secure the future of the British bacon industry more cheaply. It would make no more difference to the Danes if our curers got a straight subsidy than if this is done by bringing about an artificial surplus of pigs in both pork and bacon. That merely makes it more expensive for the support system here.

In saying this, I certainly do not advocate shoring up the Wiltshire cure as against the heavy hog. There is room for both. Both must have equal opportunities. The main point, however, is that everybody else is worried about pigs, except the Minister. His only gesture is to raise the middle band for next March. Such action, as I have pointed out, must happen now if it is to be of any real benefit.

I turn from pigs to another unhappy story, namely, cattle. I have already reminded the House about the reference to beef production in the National Plan. The words in the Plan are: expansion to the full extent of the technical possibilities". I have also given a thumbnail sketch of the present position. From fresh-dropped calves to forward stores confidence has gone. Calves are being slaughtered. The traditional rearing areas have had an utterly disastrous season. It is no exaggeration to say that many are in acute financial difficulties.

I do not propose to go into the question of the serious state of hill farmers or the problems of sheep, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), who will wind up the debate, is much better qualified than I am to deal with this subject. The House will not have forgotten either the very strong case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) in an Adjournment debate the other day.

Cattle rearers, wherever they are, have lost confidence and money. The House will expect from the Minister today a clear statement of what he intends to do to honour the Government's pledges and to make some reality of the pledges in the National Plan. [An HON. MEMBER: "We shall not get it."] One of my hon. Friends says that we shall not get it. We can at least still hope.

Not many months ago the beef trade was booming. What has gone wrong? I suppose there are various factors. The stopping of the sale of cattle abroad during the seamen's strike had some effect. The trade which was lost then has not been recovered. Nor do I remember hearing the Minister thank the farmers for the way in which they co-operated so well at that time, though they lost a lot of money. The Minister may have thanked them. I do not know; I never heard him. The farmers who co-operated so well with him at that time lost a lot of money.

Latterly, we have had to face the new threat to cattle going into the Common Market. Mr. Buitelaar, who exports cattle from Britain to the Continent, had a good deal to say in reference to this. In the Farmer and Stockbreeder of 25th October there is this report of precisely what Mr. Buitelaar said: Prospects for cattle exports to the Common Market were described as bleak by Mr. Francz Buitelaar. … To illustrate the effect of the tariff situation, Mr. Buitelaar described how he had bought big cows last week for £52 which he would have paid £114 for last March. This piece I especially commend to the House: He urged the N.F.U. to press for a mission to go to the E.E.C. to negotiate sensible terms for U.K. supplies. Why did he do so? The Government was not, he considered, interested in taking action. There we have it from a Dutchman who has no interest in political affairs in this country. He is a trading man. This is the opinion he has formed in relation to the present Government and the present Minister. Could there be a more damning condemnation of the Government's attitude than that? I shall be coming on to deal with the Common Market and with the Minister's attitude before I close. Whatever the Minister's attitude, surely he is not too proud to trade with them now, or does he want the trade to be all in one direction?

The biggest scandal is surely the Irish Agreement. I questioned the Prime Minister on this when it was first announced. I and my colleagues expressed grave concern when we saw the details. Why in heaven's name did the Minister ever agree to it? The Minister challenged me, in a typically flamboyant way, at Question Time yesterday, to say whether we would repeal this Agreement. I tell him in response that, while we would not unilaterally tear up an international treaty entered into by our predecessors, if conditions such as exist now still obtain when we return to office, we shall take early steps to renegotiate this Treaty, having particular regard to the agricultural provisions. That is a clear answer to the Minister's challenge.

The position in regard to this Agreement is: really quite deplorable. The Irish managed to pull the wool over the eyes not only of the Minister, but of the Prime Minister, last year, or else the Prime Minister forced the Minister to do something which he would not otherwise have done. The Prime Minister's honour is involved here, too. On 14th December last year, when the Agreement was announced in the House, I asked the Prime Minister a question in regard to agriculture. I asked him whether he would tell us a little more about the agricultural side of the Agreement? I went on to talk about the problem of the carcase meat trade and of live cattle.

At that time we had not seen the Agreement. We knew nothing of its conditions. We had to rely on what the Prime Minister told us. He said: … I can certainly say that the Agreement will not in any way harm or prejudice the position of our own farmers and the plans announced for their future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1965; Vol. 422, c. 1095–6.] That was a clear indication. What do the Government intend to do about it? What does the Minister intend to do about it; what will the Prime Minister do about it, for these farmers who are losing heavily at the present time?

Yesterday, the Minister claimed that we had not protested. I protested as soon as I found out something about the details after I left the Chamber on 14th December and there is a record of my protest in the Daily Telegraph of 15th December last year.

I went further in criticising the Agreement. I am not claiming that I had special vision. I say that the Minister had a complete lack of vision. In a speech I made at Shrewsbury on 7th January, three weeks after the Agreement was announced, I said: It is certainly right that we should maintain cordial trading relations with … Eire, but I am bound to say that I think that the Minister of Agriculture did not stand up sufficiently for our own farmers in those negotiations. Particularly do I deplore the extension of our guarantee payment to carcase meat imported from Eire. I see no justification whatever for this. What this country wants, and what we have in the past relied on, has been a high number of Irish store cattle coming in to be finished off in this country. Any preferential arrangement for carcase meat is a direct encouragement to Eire farmers to retain their cattle on their farms, and this must be inimical to our own farmers. That is the warning I gave him then and that is what he should have known if he had known anything about farming problems at that time. Even worse than that, two of my hon. Friends, Ulster Unionist Members, asked to see the Minister of State, Board of Trade, the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) at the end of November to put to him their fears about this matter, because they felt that too much might be given away. He refused to see them at that time. My hon. Friends therefore sent him a memorandum in which they warned him that these very things would happen which now have come to pass. There were warnings in advance, the Prime Minister gave a definite assurance at the time, and now we have seen the deplorable results.

Something must be done by the Government to safeguard our own farmers from the mess that the Members of the Treasury Bench have created.

Photo of Sir John Langford-Holt Sir John Langford-Holt , Shrewsbury

Does my right hon. Friend say that a Minister of the Crown refused to see two hon. Members who requested to see him personally on a matter?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

That is the information I have been given. One of my hon. Friends told me that the Minister said that it would be embarrassing for them to see him during discussions. One can understand now what the embarrassment would have been. It is indeed deplorable.

The result is that we have not only this mass of stuff coming in but subsidies being paid to the Irish to enable them to pay a subsidy on every fat beast exported to us. The Minister said yesterday that he had a guarantee that this would stop at the end of the month, but, even so, it has done very grave harm. What will he do to ensure that our farmers are recompensed for what has happened by the switch of Irish fat cattle, here aggravated by Common Market levies? Those levies hit the Irish no less than ourselves, but were they not taken into account when the agreement was negotiated? It must have been known that these levies would be imposed, but no account was taken of this very serious situation.

What will the Minister do now? Does he remember what he and his colleagues told farmers earlier this year in their election manifesto, "Labour—Time for Decision"? They said: To maintain price stability and orderly marketing, imports of foodstuffs must be integrated with home supplies … the Government must retain responsibility for integration. Some integration when there was an increase of 18 per cent. in September as compared with September last year, brought about by the folly of the Government!

Fat cattle prices have dropped £10 a head in six weeks. The Minister may say that farmers will get the deficiency payments, but they will not get them all because of the abatement which he has written in and which is becoming increasingly high every week. This has an effect not only on fat cattle. Confidence has gone, stores are down, calves are unwanted and yet he still expects to increase beef to the full extent of the technical possibilities he said last week. What a pious hope! It is a sorry story.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

Could my right hon. Friend press the right hon. Gentleman to inform himself on whether his colleague refused to see hon. Members? There is real importance in this, because we on the back benches have always felt that although we could not always get into debate to make constituency points we always had access to Ministers. I should like that point to be answered in the debate.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a very important matter and I hope that we shall have a clear statement from the Minister concerned. I have said what I understand to be the position on this.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

This is the first time I have heard of this. Speaking for myself as a Minister, I meet my Northern Ireland colleagues, as they know full well. I do not know the facts about this, but I shall certainly look into it. There may be good reasons why, in the middle of very delicate negotiations, a Minister may have said, "Please do not press me on this now." I will find out the facts. What was the date?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

The date on which my hon. Friends wrote to the Minister was 30th November. For the reasons I have said, I understand that he was not willing to meet them.

I wish to give one more serious warning and to make a further proposal on the problems of the livestock side of the industry which is taking a very severe pasting. If livestock numbers go down, as I believe they will, the next area of trouble will be with cereals. The country depends on a balanced agriculture. If the Minister, by his blunders, puts back livestock numbers, what will happen to all the extra cereals we are growing?

The proposal I make on livestock is that in view of the serious concern in the industry the Minister should consider having a special Price Review, to enable him to put into effect new measure on pigs and consider emergency steps to help with both cattle rearing and sheep. I do not make this proposal lightly. I know all the disadvantages of special Reviews, but I also know the deep concern through the industry. I should like to dwell on a number of other commodities, but I have tried to cover those which are most seriously hit.

A significant point which I wish to take up, as an indication that all is not well on the arable side either, is what has happened this year in regard to lime. In this year's price review £1¾ million was knocked off the lime subsidy, and in the White Paper the Minister said that he wanted to maintain an adequate use of lime. I have before me the figure of lime consumption on farms in the first six months of this year—before the cut came into effect—and it shows a drop of nearly 25 per cent. in the consumption of lime on the farms as compared with not only the previous year but the average over the previous 10 years. This is not just a drop in the bucket. It is a substantial decline and must show a lack of confidence and farmers cutting back. This is a most damaging thing that one could possibly have in the long term on the arable side. It is very significant.

I now turn from the Government's present blunders to the possibilities that exist. We speak in our Motion of obtaining higher levels of production and further assisting the balance of payments. One thing on which we can all be agreed on both sides of the House is that there can be little doubt about the industry's capacity for further expansion. The last two decades have seen an impressive advance, as the President of the N.F.U. pointed out in a notable speech to the Farmers' Club the other day. But what we have achieved already is only a staging post on the way to attainment of our full potential. The ability to expand is there, and everyone must acknowledge that. What is needed is an acknowledgment of the economic soundness and political wisdom of expansion. Once that is conceded it is for the Government to provide the background of confidence against which expansion can take place.

The National Plan claimed to be providing for expansion, but was, in fact, restricting the rate of expansion which had been going on before. We want more than that. There have been some very significant pointers in one or two comments recently from responsible people, including Sir Roy Harrod, who said in a B.B.C. Third Programme broadcast on 30th August: Why, in headlines and Ministerial speeches, is there so little stress on agriculture, which has contributed much the most towards redressing our external balance of payments since before the war? British agriculture is one of the most efficient agricultures in the world. I believe that if a topped-up incentive were given to farmers to produce still more they would produce enough extra to solve, by reducing our food import bill, a major part of our present problem. On 16th October there was a very interesting editorial in the Sunday Times, which took the same view. After pointing out that there have been two opposing schools of thought on this, it came down clearly on the side of those who say that there are real advantages in increasing substantially the amount produced in this country. The article says that, if world supplies continue to dwindle as they are, Britain could find herself bidding for wheat, meat, bacon and animal feed stuffs in a vastly more competitive and expensive world market. And the penalties for not growing as much as we can will become very heavy indeed". The Minister is fond of saying that he is Minister of Food as well as of Agriculture. Let him remember that warning. If he does not encourage expanded food production in this country, it will be the housewives who eventually suffer.

There was the statement by Dr. Sen, of the F.A.O., recently that the world food situation is now more precarious than at any time since the war. That is still further indication of the need for those countries which are in a position to do so to step up their home production, and, of course, we as a nation who import a larger proportion of our food than any other are more vulnerable than anyone else.

I say that we can increase production, and it is in our interests to do so both as a saving on the balance of payments and as a safeguard against the future needs of the nation. We can increase production under the present system of agricultural support. I do not deny that, though it is true only if we have a Minister strong enough to argue the case and a Chancellor of the Exchequer willing to accept that a considerable expansion of subsidy might result.

But I know how much the Treasury hates these open-ended commitments, and I know, too, the lack of vision in the present Cabinet, the lack of sympathy with British agriculture on the benches opposite and the lack of drive of the present Minister. I see little hope, therefore, of a real expansion drive under this system with the present Government.

Expansion is worth while under the present system, but it would make even more sense under the system which we advocate on this side of the House and which we first proposed a year ago. I spelt it out in a number of speeches, and I do not propose to go into detail now. Our basic proposal is to raise the price of the various commodities at present covered by the guarantee by degrees through the means of levies on imports. Eventually, this would have the effect of raising the market price of the home product to a level designed to give the farmer a full return from the market.

If such a system were now operating, it would, I believe, have prevented the sudden collapse of the beef trade and it could also have avoided the serious difficulties in the bacon market. What is more, it would provide a sound background for expansion which would not be thrown out of gear by a sudden change in world supply conditions.

The right hon. Gentleman has tried hard to discredit our policy both with farmers and with housewives. He has certainly not succeeded with the fanners, and I doubt that even among housewives there are many who would call him the housewives' friend. I take him to task here only on his most blatant misrepresentation, namely, that we would put up the cost in the shops by alarming amounts.

Taking his own figure, which I consider too high, of £400 million as the cost of our programme, and spreading it over a five-year period, it comes to an increase of £80 million a year, which is much less than half the increased expenditure on food between 1964 and 1965, according to the National Income Blue Book, reinforced by the Annual Report of the National Food Survey Committee published by the Minister's own Department on Monday of this week. The figures there show that very substantial increases took place. Moreover, there would be available from the reductions in the subsidy bill sums which the Chancellor could use to help those in need to cushion the effect of the price rises which did take place. I hope, therefore, that we shall have no more gross distortions about that.

On the subject of food prices, I was very interested in an article which appeared in last Sunday's Sunday Citizen, which I shall bring to the attention of the House now for the benefit of those hon. Members who did not see it. On the front page of the Sunday Citizen there was the headline: Prices: Fighting Talk by Mr. Food. I was interested to know who this was, and I find that "Mr. Food" is the right hon. Gentleman.

The reporter says: I asked the man responsible for dealing with these matters, the man who, as well as being Minister of Agriculture is also Mr. Food, Fred Peart. The fact highlighted here is that the Food Price Index dropped 1·1 points between July and September of this year. How has this been achieved? By a combination"— says the reporter— of Government planning and voluntary cooperation from food traders, plus the fact that some foodstuffs are usually cheaper at this time of year. The reporter asked the Minister whether food prices had risen, and the Minister replied: No. If you take the Food Price Index you will find that in July it was 116·2, while in September it was 115·1. There has been a downward trend. Food prices … have fallen by over a point … That is very good. The reporter asked, "Can you hold this position?", and the Minister replied: Well, there are seasonal changes in many food prices. Some go up in winter. A great statement.

The right hon. Gentleman was asked about special steps taken, and he replied: Yes. Food and drink accounts for well over one-third … of consumer spending in Britain. Arrangements have now been worked out between the Ministry and the food trade to cover virtually all food and drink. We have strengthened our new early warning arrangements"— and he goes on to say what he is doing to hold food prices steady.

I thought that a fall of 1·1 points between July and September was something which might have other explanations, so I asked the statisticians in the Library to tell me what the position was in 1964, at a time when we did not have all these wonderful early warning arrangements, and so on. We did not do quite so well then, but there was a fall of one point, without all the cumbersome arrangements for which the Minister tries to take credit in bringing down prices. The fall was almost identical, one point instead of 1·1.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

Was not 1964 also a year characterised by a fair return to producers, which is more than can be said for 1966?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

A very fair point. The price of beef, of course, was much higher then that it is now. To paint the full picture, the increase in the Index of Retail Prices has been very much greater during these last two years; in fact, the cost of living index has gone up by 8·5 per cent. since the present Government came into office. So let us have no more nonsense about "Mr. Food" and the wonderful things that he is doing.

Having dealt with the right hon. Gentleman's distortions, I say a word now about the Common Market. If the right hon. Gentleman is guilty of distortion on the matter I have just been discussing, he and his whole party are guilty of complete dishonesty about the assurances on the Common Market which they gave to farmers at the last election. This is what they said in their manifesto at that time: We shall not shake their confidence by substituting for the well-tried deficiency payments the levies on imported foodstuffs advocated by the Conservatives. This would reduce the farmers' security. … They gave a firm pledge then that they would not get rid of the present system. Does that pledge still stand? The Prime Minister told us a lot today, or used a lot of words to tell us very little, about the Government's attitude to the Common Market. He talked about the balance of payments problem in relation to food. He talked about the Commonwealth. He even talked about the Argentine. But I did not hear him say one word about the British farmers, or where they stand in all this.

There have been all these promises, and votes were sought at the last election on the issue of the support system for farmers, but we do not now know—we should be glad to hear—where the Minister stands. We want to know precisely where he stands because we have been told that he is an anti-marketeer. Will it be his intention to resign rather than eat his words on this matter? He has talked many times to the farmers about the importance of this system, but he knows as well as we do that he cannot maintain it and go into the Common Market as well. Will he resign, or will he come to the House in a white sheet—he will need a very white one to cover him—and apologise?

We know a good deal more about agricultural policy in the Common Market now that the Community has completed the bulk of its agreements. But where do this Government stand? British farmers are very interested to know. They are not nearly so opposed to it as the Minister at one time thought they were. Many of them have taken the view, rightly, I think, that we can hold our own very well in the Common Market. All we want is a reasonable transition stage and certain safeguards which, I am sure, can be negotiated. The Government are telling us nothing about that.

The farmers' position is very insecure if the Government pretend that they will carry on the present system while knowing that they will not. We know nothing of their proposed arrangements to safeguard British farmers. We are entitled to know, and the farming community is entitled to know where it stands.

There is the further point that if the Government should decide—wrongly, in my view—not to try and enter the Common Market—what will they do to safeguard British farmers against all the additional food which will come up against the levies from the Common Market and be diverted here? This is what is happening at present with beef. We want to know, if they have decided not to seek entry, what further proposals they have to safeguard our farmers in that regard.

I apologise for the time I have taken. I have of necessity ranged widely. But this is the first major debate on agriculture in this Parliament. I have tried to show that, while there is deep concern in the countryside today, Britain has in her agriculture a priceless asset. At a time when we are in no position to squander our assets, this one is not being fully utilised. It would be a tragedy if, through the folly of little men in temporary charge of the nation's affairs, our greatest industry should suffer lasting damage.

It is for the right hon. Gentleman the Minister to show that he sees the opportunities and will seize them. But it is because he and the Government show no sign of seeing those opportunities, or of seizing them, that I move this Motion.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

It would be appropriate to mention now that more than 30 hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. I hope, therefore, that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will bear that in mind in making their speeches and will keep them as short as possible.

4.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I always accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I wish that you had given it at the beginning of the debate. Many hon. Members wish to speak and I am sure that hon. Members opposite and even the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) will agree that it is important that I should state the Government's policy and survey the position of agriculture. I welcome the debate. [Laughter.] I hope that hon. Members opposite will treat an agricultural debate seriously.

The right hon. Gentleman spent most of his time hurling abuse, which was a pity. Nevertheless, I believe that what matters at the end of the debate is the facts. All that emerged from his speech was that we should have a special review. We have heard the arguments about the Tory Party's policy on the levy system. We know how irresponsible this was when it was first issued. However, I will concentrate on the facts and the main criticisms. I will deal specifically with some of the main points in relation to the problems we face.

I believe that we should approach this debate in the spirit of the N.F.U. document which has been quoted. The document, which was sent to all hon. Members, said that they are anxious not to exaggerate or encourage loss of confidence in the farming industry by making or supporting alarmist statements about the livestock situation.

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman and many hon. Members opposite, although claiming to have the interests of agriculture at heart, are much more doctrinaire and partisan than they will admit. In an admittedly difficult situation they make party capital and invite their friends outside to do likewise. As a politician, I do not complain about that, but do not let them pretend, as they often do, that agriculture is above party politics because today the right hon. Gentleman exaggerated his case so much and indulged in abuse of a personal kind which is unworthy of reply.

I will continue with my arguments. I believe that sometimes hon. Members opposite by their speeches help to create a feeling that there may be a falling off of confidence in the industry. I believe that they themselves have in many cases actually talked the market down. I made that accusation yesterday.

Comments have been made about the credit situation. This was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and by me in my Harper Adams speech. Many speeches by hon. Members opposite have served to create alarm and gloom. My speech was welcomed by the industry. The right hon. Gentleman says that he chased me all over the country but I do not think that that matters. I would not worry about that in any case. What matters is that my speech was welcomed by the producers. Since then, the arrangements for bank credit to agriculture in the difficult national economic circumstances have been working satisfactorily and this has been confirmed by the Bank of England's statement on Tuesday which recognises this fact. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too late."] It is not too late. We have no complaints about credit now. The Bank of England's statement recognises that productive investment in agriculture comes within the priority categories and will be treated on the same basis as productive investment in manufacturing industry.

What I should like to do now is to look at the facts of the situation, because it is on these facts and not on alarmist misrepresentations that the Government's policies for agriculture ought to be judged.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be basing his comments on the fact that statements made were party political and alarmist. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) was doing too much quoting. I thought that he should rather make his speech. Now I see how wise he was in quoting farmers and farmers' journals. That was not party political.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

The right hon. Gentleman's speech was a long series of quotations from distinguished journalists whom I know well, but it was not a good speech.

I want now to analyse the situation in each particular commodity and to remove some of the misrepresentations that have been made. I have great respect for the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls)—he was once attached to the Ministry—and I am sure that he will agree that the Government's policy for agriculture should be judged in the light of the facts. First, I want to give the facts about the objectives the Government have set the industry and about the progress the industry is making towards them.

Great play was made by the Minister about the National Plan—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are the Minister."]—the shadow Minister. The right hon. Member for Grantham has been a Minister and is now the shadow Minister. Long may he dwell there.

Let us take the selective expansion programme. This was welcomed by the industry, despite what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He could not understand why it was welcomed. I will tell him why. First, for the first time in many years the green light was given to expansion. Secondly, the programme made crystal clear that the Government view is that agriculture has a vital part to play in import savings. This was quite different from the policy of restrictionism which the right hon. Gentleman pursued when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. He will remember that period. He was then called the hatchet man, but I never use such abusive terms. Here, for the first time, objectives were laid down in a plan for the industry, showing that we wanted home agriculture to make a major contribution to providing £200 million worth more food by 1970. For that reason the Plan was welcomed by the industry.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

Mr. Godber rose——

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

The right hon. Gentleman spoke for a long time and this is rather early in my speech, but I will give way to him.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about me as a restrictionist, but the rate of expansion during those years and right up to 1964 was greater than is provided for in the National Plan.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

Certainly not in the years that the right hon. Gentleman was at the Ministry, as he should well know. He can check it up. This is the first time that the industry has had an objective for a period of as long as up to 1970.

Let us consider how the industry is meeting the challenge of expansion. Let us consider the arguments about saving imports by meeting a major part of additional demand. Today we have an opportunity to examine the problem, and I hope that we shall do so objectively. The best way of doing so is by an examination of individual commodities. I want first to take cereals, which are by far the best example, because they are most important for import savings.

The Government made it clear that their objective for cereals in the selective expansion programme was that increased production should meet a substantial part of the increase in consumption foreseen by 1970. To give growers confidence to expand, we gave them the assurance that the standard quantities for wheat and barley would not be reduced for three years, but would be increased in relation to the growth of the market. This we have done. In 1964, the right hon. Gentleman introduced the standard quantities and the figure for wheat and barley taken together was 9·8 million tons, which was regarded by the industry at that time as too low. Since then we have raised the total standard quantities by 1·2 million tons. All of this additional amount now qualifies for the full guaranteed price.

Cereal growers have been helped by that and they have been getting on with the job. When the National Plan was drawn up, the industry thought that, while maintaining a reasonable balance in agriculture, it would be technically possible over the six years to 1970 to increase production by about 4·75 million tons. What are the facts? In the last two years, the cereals acreage has increased by 900,000 acres and total production has risen by an estimated 1·5 million tons. Therefore, the progress has kept pace with what the industry thought was technically possible. The Government's objective of meeting from home production a substantial part of the increase in consumption has been fully met. Production has risen with demand and has been a great help in relieving the pressure on our import bill.

What is more, over the last two years cereals have been making a healthy contribution to our exports and this year we hope to export a full 750,000 tons of barley, an all-time record. We are now examining the target, the expansion of production, which has been denied by the right hon. Gentleman. I can argue about the prices later. Not only have we achieved a target, not only are we achieving success, but with one special commodity, barley, we have exported 750,000 tons, an all-time record which I would have thought hon. Members opposite would have welcomed. All this does not seem to demonstrate any lack of confidence.

I will take the examples of other crops. The sugar-beet acreage has, as usual, been over subscribed. Potato production, although acreage is slightly down, is likely to meet our requirements for main crop potatoes, thanks to high yields.

We regard horticulture as a very important part of the industry. In the two years of the present Government, there have been tremendous progress and initial response to what we have done. I refer to the extension of the Horticulture Improvement Scheme. Applications since our new scheme was begun have averaged 680 a month compared with 420 a month in the two years of the previous scheme. Horticulture is now dynamic and there is none of the gloom or woe spread today by the right hon. Gentleman. This is a thriving industry ready to accept challenge.

It is very irresponsible of any hon. Member to paint a picture of gloom throughout the livestock sector. I do not disguise the fact that there are problems about cattle, sheep and pigs, and I will deal with them as fully as I can in the time at my disposal. But there is no general faltering or falling back in this most important part of the industry.

We intend to be virtually self-sufficient in eggs and to meet the expected increase in demand over the years. That is what our egg producers have been doing and are continuing to do, and there is no sign whatever that we shall not continue to produce at home all the eggs we need. I have tried to introduce better and more orderly marketing and that is why, after discussions with myself and the industry, the Egg Board introduced a new contract scheme. We are anxious to have orderly marketing. There is no sign of woe in this industry.

Last year, production of poultry meat rose by about 7 per cent. and is keeping pace with the growth of demand. We are producing almost the whole of our needs and we took action on imports last year when there was a substantial increase in supplies from Denmark at unduly low prices. Hon. Members will remember that the Danes acceded to my request for a ceiling on their exports to us. This stopped the threat to the market and the poultry industry is now going ahead with full confidence.

The right hon. Gentleman had a good deal to say about fat cattle and beef. I did not agree with what he said and I will now explain way. Beef is in the forefront of our selective expansion programme. We have not been getting enough home-produced beef and we want more. We have wanted to change the state of affairs which we inherited in 1964, when we were facing a shortage of beef with consequent high prices to the consumer. I assure hon. Members that that is not the situation today, even though there are difficulties. We have taken the necessary action.

In the last two Annual Reviews we raised the price of cattle by 14s. a cwt. The right hon. Gentleman's party took its last seven years of office to do as much and that is one reason why we were short of beef. We have also increased the rate of the calf subsidy and extended its scope. We have increased the rate of the hill cow subsidy and this year introduced the new beef cow subsidy, the influence of which has yet to be felt. Those are the positive measures which we have taken. We are already seeing a welcome and continuing expansion of the beef herd spreading through all areas of the country. The figures of the beef breeding herd in England and Wales in September this year were nearly 8 per cent. higher than the year before, a better record than the party opposite was ever able to attain. I do not deny that the market is weaker. I believe that it is a temporary situation.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

No I will not give way. I want to finish my case. The right hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity to speak. I believe that this is a temporary situation. Market prices have fallen considerably since early summer.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

Mr. Noble rose——

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

There is always a marked seasonal decline in prices at this time of year. This year it started from an exceptionally high level, due in part to the seamen's strike. Incidentally, I have paid my tribute to the part that producers played during this period. Even so the fall is greater than might have been expected.

There has been some increase in home production, but this has not done much to account for the fall in market prices. Undoubtedly the main cause has been the virtual closure of the market on the Continent to imports of cattle from any source. As a result we have lost a useful trade which I agree it is right to build up. More important, so have the Irish, who in turn have put more of their fat cattle on to our markets. What I want to emphasise is that these are temporary difficulties. Our beef expansion programme remains unchanged and the industry can plan in confidence on the basis that more beef is needed.

The right hon. Gentleman has grossly over-exaggerated the troubles of those who market fat stock. Anyone would think that they are getting no more than the auction price. The truth is that they have the protection of the guarantee and their total return from the market and the guarantee is no more than 4s. 10d. per hundredweight below what they were getting at this time last year, when market prices were well above the weekly guaranteed price.

Hon. Members ignore the fact that the guarantee operates. There are problems here which I do not deny but I believe that our system of guaranteed prices has achieved its objective of protecting the producer at a time of falling prices. Of course the additional fat cattle from Ireland have made the position worse, and since here too the facts have been misrepresented, let me state what has happened.

The right hon. Gentleman responded to my challenge about the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement. His opposition to it was pretty poor. The Tories never really made a major attack upon the agreement.

An Hon. Member:

Did you?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

It was our agreement, and I believe that it is a good one. That is a rather asinine remark to make.

Photo of Mr Henry Clark Mr Henry Clark , North Antrim

Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North) rose——

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I never heard the Leader of the Tory Party officially protesting against this agreement in the House or in the country. I should like to ask him now if he wishes me to repeat what I asked at Question Time—will he repeal this agreement? The right hon. Gentleman hedged his case. Do the party opposite agree with the agreement or not? The right hon. Gentleman equivocated.

Let me deal with the Irish situation. First, we have had more fats and less stores from Ireland. Secondly, the Irish Government introduced, in September, a temporary subsidy on fat cattle exported to Britain. This was not contrary to the agreement and we were not consulted in advance about it. I have since made clear to the Irish Minister of Agriculture my objections to this arrangement, and he has undertaken to stop the arrangement at the end of November. The Irish Minister——

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

—told me that he is anxious to restore access to the European Market as well as to expand trade with the United States. He is also going to have talks, at my request, with the trade on the distribution of Irish fat cattle in our market to ensure, as far as possible, that individual markets are not overloaded. I am going to have similar talks in this country.

To come to the question of stores, store prices also fell sharply in the late summer of this year. The market is now improving and good forward stores in particular are getting higher prices.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

Hon. Members who say "where", especially the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling)——

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

No, I will not. If the hon. Member will make remarks from his seat he must not expect courtesy.

Photo of Mr Julian Ridsdale Mr Julian Ridsdale , Harwich

On a point of order. Would it not be reasonable, as many hon. Members wish to speak, for the Minister to give way, so that they could at least make some small point?

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

That is not a point of order. It is a matter for the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I always welcome interventions, as hon. Members know, but there are obviously times in a debate when hon. Members intervene deliberately to spoil the case deployed by a Minister, and I am not falling for that. The hon. Member for Westmorland knows that he can make his speech, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye.

Store prices fell sharply in the late summer. There is an improvement in the market, especially for good forward stores. Those who sell stores and breeding stock do not enjoy the direct protection of the price guarantee and I sympathise with those producers, particularly those on the hills, who have been getting lower returns. The store rearer has the support of the hill cow, hill sheep and beef cow subsidies and may also benefit directly or indirectly from the calf subsidy.

Some fluctuations in returns are unfortunately inevitable, because store and fat cattle prices must interact upon each other. The market for stores was very strong over the last year or two and it was the fatteners who then felt the pinch. There has been a rebound and now the rearer has been feeling the pinch. This is another feature of the situation of shortage that we inherited.

There is a way in which the stores producers can help themselves, and this is by co-operation. Something has already been done by those who have organised themselves into selling groups. Much more can and will be done with the help that we are providing under our new Bill for extended co-operation.

The depression in the fatstock market is, I believe, temporary and I am confirmed in this belief by my recent talks with my Joint Consultative Council on the industry. Meanwhile I have taken a number of steps to improve the immediate situation. First, my discussions with the Irish Minister of Agriculture will, I hope, help to correct some of the distortion in the Irish trade, which will be welcome.

Secondly, I am having talks with the retail butchers. I am naturally glad that the consumer is paying less for his beef but I am seeing the butchers' representatives to discuss what further part they can play in stimulating demand for beef still more. This is in line with what I am doing all round the food front, to see that the consumer gets the full benefit, in the economic sense, of our support system for agriculture.

Although the right hon. Gentleman poked fun and poured scorn on what we were trying to do, in a wider sense, I believe that the industry is co-operating well. It is our aim to achieve in a difficult period a genuine prices and incomes policy in which food prices achieve stability. This is what we are trying to do with the co-operation of the industry.

Thirdly, I am going to make a change, for this year, in our guarantee arrangements for fat cattle which I think may be operating unfairly on producers. At this time of the year many producers have no choice but to market their stock. They feel aggrieved at the abatement from the deficiency payment, made because the market price is so far below the guaranteed price. These abatements are expected to lead to an end-of-year payment next spring to make up the full value of the guarantee. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well how this system works.

In distributing that money I am proposing, in full agreement with the Farmers' Unions, to give preferential treatment, within the limits of the funds available, to those who have marketed their cattle in the period of market depression through which we are passing. The details will be worked out in full consultation with the unions. I am sure that this will be welcomed on both sides of the House.

I turn to the question of milk. This comes next because the selective expansion programme requires that the dairy herd, from which we get two-thirds of our beef, should be expanded. To secure our objectives we have increased the guaranteed price of milk at the last two Annual Reviews by the equivalent of 2d. a gallon in all. We also gave an assurance in the last Review on the milk price, recognising that dairy farmers were anxious lest the pool price were reduced, as a result of expanding the dairy herd for beef. We have fully discussed with the farmers' unions how this important assurance should be implemented.

Earlier this year it seemed that the dairy herd was pretty static. But the September census shows an encouraging increase of 5 per cent. in dairy type heifers in England and Wales compared with September last year. I am glad to say that milk production is also improving. As a result of the bad spring, milk production between April and August was lower than the year before. But production in September recovered to the 1965 level and we expect that in the current year milk production will be up to the level of the previous year and will probably be somewhat higher.

We can, therefore, already see signs of a response to the objective we have given the dairy farmers and to the steps we have taken to improve the milk price. There is, therefore, nothing to justify the expression of grave concern at the loss of confidence with which the Opposition charge us in the Motion.

Turning to the sheep industry, the expansion programme calls for modest expansion of sheep production by 1970 to meet part of the small but steady increase in demand. This has been fully reflected in our determinations at the last two Annual Reviews. We have increased the guaranteed price for the first time since 1957; and, most important, we have also put the hill sheep subsidy on a permanent basis and fixed it at a generous rate.

As with cattle, market prices have fallen in recent months from the high level which they reached in the summer. But the guarantee arrangements and the price increase at the last Review have secured to producers a return only a little lower than a year ago. Indeed, the returns on the lighter lambs, which mainly come from the hills, are slightly better.

The fall in the price of fat sheep has been reflected in the store markets, where prices up to a week or so ago were down on last year. But more recently—and I say this to hon. Members who represent areas affected—the tone of the market has improved, especially for the better quality store sheep. I therefore see no reason why our objective for sheep in the National Plan should not be reached. But we shall be looking closely at progress in this section of the industry at the next Annual Review.

We face a difficulty with pigs, and I do not deny it. The breeding herd has fallen too far from the very high level of last year. I accept this. We are now short of pigs as a result, and this will take time to put right. These production swings up and down have always bedevilled the pig industry—the Conservative Party knows full well that it was never free from that in its period of office—and we have still to find the complete remedy.

But it is not the producers who are in difficulty. It is those who use the pigs, notably the curers. The curers have asked me for some form of subsidy to meet the losses which they are now making. I have told them that I cannot agree to this. The curing industry is not unique in finding itself in difficulty when raw material costs are too high in relation to the price which it can get for its products. I do not think that it can reasonably be singled out for some special subsidy and thereby enabled to claim a larger share of the available pigs. The result would be to ease the supply position on the bacon market at the expense of a greater scarcity of pigs for the pork market and manufactured products. The pork price and the bacon price would then move alike against the curers, and we should have the vicious circle that subsidy would generate the need for still greater subsidy. For these reasons, I do not believe that subsidy is the answer.

The remedy for the present troubles is simply more pigs. This is what I want to bring about. The way to do it is through the flexible guarantee arrangements. Following the last Annual Review, the returns to producers under the guarantee were improved. But it has since become clear that something more is required. That was why, in September this year, I took the exceptional step, in advance of a review, of announcing that we would raise the middle band by another 400,000 pigs at the next review.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I was asked that yesterday. I believe that the Review is the right place. But with the working of the flexible guarantees, without revealing the amount, the position of the producers is improved. Above all, producers can expand production by over 1 million pigs above the current rate of marketing without fear of a price cut on that account. I believe that this promise will restore confidence and help to bring about the renewed expansion for which we are looking. This is the prerequisite of better times for bacon curers and others dependent on the pig.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Would the Minister answer one question?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington


I have not closed my mind if other solutions can be found for the troubles of the curing industry, and when I met representatives of the curing industry recently I told them so. I have not yet heard—even today—from the right hon. Member for Grantham that we should do anything other than give a direct subsidy to the industry. In the end, it will benefit by my announcement, and confidence will be established if hon. Members do not try to talk the industry down. There will be a go-ahead. I believe that we are at the bottom of the cycle and that the situation will improve.

Photo of Mr Julian Ridsdale Mr Julian Ridsdale , Harwich

Would the right hon. Gentleman say what the difference in cost would be by raising the middle band now rather than waiting until the Review?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I do not think that there will be any difference. One can argue whether it will be 9d. a score, but it would be unwise for me to predict at this stage. However, the producers can go ahead. I am sure that what I have said has been broadly welcomed by the industry. There should be no lack of confidence in this respect.

The number of pigs is influenced by the flexible guarantee arrangements. This system was introduced by hon. Members opposite. Detailed arrangements are settled in consultation with the industry. I am prepared to look at the working of the system. I think that we must have consultations. We shall do this now with the industry, and at the next Annual Review we shall see whether we can make the arrangements a better instrument for promoting stability in pig numbers.

I have covered a very wide range of commodities. I have been challenged on specific things, like the Common Market——

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the challenge.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I have been challenged by the right hon. Member for Grantham on a wide range of commodities such as pigs and fat cattle. I have dealt with other matters—cereals, the egg industry, the poultry industry. There is no lack of confidence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The figures show that we are expanding. The industry is challenging. There is no doubt about that.

Let me examine the facts. First, for cereals, there is no question at all of any lack of confidence or failure. There has been an increase in production, and there has been a record increase in exports. There has been significant progress in horticulture. There is no sign of faltering on eggs and poultry meat. Milk production is picking up again after a poor spring, and I see no reason to think that we shall not achieve our objective for sheep. We all know that there are difficulties facing the industry on pigs and cattle prices, but they are only temporary and producers can plan ahead with confidence. I am certain that the Opposition's attempts to spread gloom and despondency do a grave disservice to the industry.

The record of the industry over this year in particular gives the lie to the Motion. There is no question of our policies failing; and there is no question of the industry lacking the means to achieve the policies. I have shown for individual commodities what we are doing. But I say this to right hon. and hon. Members opposite and to my hon. Friends. Let us not forget the many other Measures which we have brought in in the short space of two years to assist and encourage the industry. Think for a moment of the long-term assurances on beef, milk and productivity.

Think of the way in which we have extended the Horticulture Improvements Scheme. We have given further help to small farmers through the Small Farm Business Management Scheme. It was we who set up the Home Grown Cereals Authority. We are encouraging improvements through the new Farm Records Scheme. We have strengthened the N.A.A.S., our advisory service We have made new provision for animal health services, and we are tackling brucellosis. I am sure that hon. Members saw my announcement yesterday.

Finally, in the Agriculture Bill, we have put forward radical proposals for reforming farm structure, for expanding co-operation and for improving meat marketing by creating the Meat and Livestock Commission, and, very important, we are tackling the long-standing problem of farm workers' pay during sickness.

In doing all this, we are not forgetting the interests of the consumers. I always detect a powerful farming lobby in right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. In debates on agriculture, it is hon. Members opposite who forget the consumers, and it is often my hon. Friends who seek to protect their interests. That is why we have stressed so often the need for improved marketing. That is why in my major Agriculture Bill, in regard to the Meat and Livestock Commission, I laid great stress on the need for orderly marketing which would not only benefit the producer but the consumer as well.

In doing all that, we are bearing in mind the consumers. As Minister of Food, I am doing all that I can to keep food prices stable. Naturally, there will be some fluctuations with supply and demand, but I have had great co-operation from all concerned, and I am surprised that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should jibe at this when the food manufacturing industry in particular has shown spendid co-operation.

The Government's record on the agricultural and food front is a good one. I believe in the agricultural industry. I am proud of the achievements of our farmers and farm workers, whose efforts have made such a notable contribution to the industry and the nation. We stand by the objectives that we have set for the industry. We have shown how it can best make its contribution to the economy by cutting down the import bill. We are determined that it will fulfil this vital role. I have every confidence that the industry will continue to progress and fulfil the objectives which we have set. I therefore ask the House to reject the Motion.

5.34 p.m.

Photo of Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris , Nantwich

I am sure that many of us on this side of the House listened to the Minister's speech with ever-growing astonishment. It is one of the most audacious speeches that even he has ever made. How he can come to the House and say that we have a prosperous agricultural industry I do not know. Let him get out in the hills and dales of Scotland and see for himself the state of affairs to which the Government are bringing the industry.

I want to say a few words on behalf of the sheep industry. My reason for doing that and my right to do it, if I may humbly put it that way, is that I am President of the National Sheep Breeders of Great. Britain and am in fairly close touch with all branches of the sheep industry throughout the country. I have myself been a flockmaster for 17 years, so that I have some claim to the attention of the House and particularly the right hon. Gentleman in that regard.

It is a state of affairs which goes back beyond the years of the present Government, but during the last years the sheep industry has not been prospering, and the rate at which it has declined under the Government opposite in the last two years is quite catastrophic.

The prices which are being obtained in markets throughout the country show this only too clearly. I am not going to bore the House with a lot of figures, but I will just point out one or two salient instances of what I mean.

The fall in prices of wether sheep and feeding ewes between 1965 and 1966 in the lowlands of Scotland has been no less than 12 per cent. In mid-Scotland, it has been no less than 20 per cent. In the Highlands, it has been as much as 46 per cent. That should show the right hon. Gentleman that he is quite wrong in thinking that he has on his hands a prosperous sheep industry.

Into the bargain, there was the disastrous winter of last year which resulted in a 15 per cent. drop in the ewe lamb population in one part of Scotland. I know that because I have seen a report from 280 hill farmers in the south-west of Scotland which shows it to be the fact. If it took place there, it must have taken place in other parts of the country.

Let us look, for instance, at what has happened in the South-West. There, one breed sale alone has dropped in a single year from £3,570 for rams down to £1,039, which is a drop of no less than two-thirds. That is only one breed of sheep in an area where there are many, and hon. Members who come from that part of the country will be able to assure the House that the same applies to all breeds. The plight of the border country is similar to that of Scotland, and also the north of England and the whole country taken together.

May I quote from the sombre words uttered only the other day by the President of the British Wool Marketing Board, Mr. John Drinkall, speaking to the annual meeting of the producers. He said: I feel I must refer in particular to those warnings the report contains as to the dangers which threaten the future of sheep production in the United Kingdom. It has been clear for some time that in both political and economic terms, a tide in gathering strength is flowing against British farmers and that those who earn the most part of their livelihood from sheep are especially vulnerable. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says that under his wise guidance the sheep industry is doing well.

Does he think that taking 2d. off the price of wool is a way to make the sheep industry prosper? Has he never heard the old saying that a premium on wool is a premium on life, and a premium on mutton is a premium on death? Let him remember that, if he wants to keep up the sheep population of this country, wool and the encouragement of wool is the finest way in which he can do it.

Then there is the insidious effect that S.E.T. is having upon the sheep industry, if one may bring that into a debate on agriculture. The artificial fibre manufacturers get all the advantages of the Socialist Government's policy on S.E.T., to the complete detriment of the sheep industry. Let the right hon. Gentleman remember that when he tells us how well the sheep industry is doing.

One hears of the Ministry mumbling that it is again going to reduce the price of wool. If it does, I for one shall not be surprised, because if it can be mad in one year, it can be as mad, or twice as mad, in the following year. The whole industry is in a desperate economic position today. The hill farmers are suffering the worst, and it seems to me that when the country has spent so much on hill farming subsidies, to let these men go to the wall, as they are doing, is an extremely foolish and absurd policy for any Government to follow.

I shall not detain the House any longer. I have said, and I am sure it is true, that never in the memory of man has the sheep industry been in a worse state than it is today. Unless something is done by the right hon. Gentleman, either in a special Price Review, or in some other way, to alleviate what is happening, many men in the industry will go out of business altogether. In the past we as a nation have done well out of our sheep industry. We have supplied the world with our hardy breeds and improved stocks all over the world. Is this valuable export to be allowed to perish? This is certainly what will happen if the Government proceed with their present policy. I hope that the right hon Gentleman will think before it is too late.

5.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bertie Hazell Mr Bertie Hazell , North Norfolk

I rise to oppose the Motion. I listened with considerable interest to the arguments of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) in support of it. I had thought that there would be much fiercer opposition than proved to be the case in the comments that he made. It is interesting to note how anxious hon. Gentleman opposite are to speak this afternoon. They will no doubt speak with fervour on behalf of the farmers, yet they were not so forthcoming when they were the Government.

There is no doubt that the agricultural industry had little or no confidence in the Tory administration, and their faith was particularly shaken in the latter days of negotiations to enter into the Common Market, when it appeared that the interests of British agriculture would be thrown out of the window. There is no doubt that as a result of those negotiations the farming fraternity of this country recognised that it could have no confidence in a Tory administration, and I repeat that it is interesting to note, now that they are in opposition, how keen they are to take up the cause of the British farmer.

Perhaps I might remind hon. Gentlemen opposite of the impact of the 1957 Act, which they were responsible for putting on the Statute Book. Under this Act, which was brought before this House for the purpose of reducing the liability of the taxpayer, which had increased quite substantially, an agreement was made whereby year by year at Price Reviews the guarantees could be reduced by 2½ per cent. Had my right hon. Friend, in the most recent Price Review, acted in accordance with the terms of the 1957 Act, he could have reduced the guarantees by about £6 million, whereas in fact, when the overall guarantees were arrived at, it was found that they had been increased by about £23 million. This does not show the farming industry or the country that the Labour Government have no interest in British agriculture. On the contrary, it is convincing proof that the Government intend to maintain their support for this great industry.

Furthermore, the Agriculture Bill which is now before the House is of major importance. It will have far-reaching effects when ultimately it becomes an Act of Parliament. The Government can justly be proud of this Measure, and I am sure that the industry is waiting for its ultimate fulfilment through the process of legislation.

It is true that the bacon industry is passing through a pretty difficult time. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have received reams of publicity and many documents from those directly affected, but, as the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon, bacon and pork have always been a problem to successive Governments, and therefore bacon curers find themselves in a position different from what they have experienced in the past.

I regret that my right hon. Friend is not able to increase the middle band forthwith. I say this bearing in mind what he said. He is probably justified in taking the action that he proposes in his next Price Review, namely, to raise the middle band, but if be could bring forward that adjustment a little it might have a tonic effect on those who are finding things difficult at the moment in the bacon curing industry.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that a direct subsidy to the bacon curers is the wrong way to tackle this problem, because, if they were given a direct subsidy, inevitably the price of pork would rise, and there would be a vicious spiral, with all the consequential substantial increases in the cost of bacon to the consumer. I hope, however, that my right hon. Friend will consider whether he can raise the middle band earlier than March of next year.

One of the things that is holding back the growth of the livestock industry is the lack of skilled workers. During the last few years there has been a continual and substantial drift from the land. I recognise that the National Plan allows for the movement of labour from agriculture into industry—and this is something to which we have been accustomed in the past—but the pace at which this movement has gone on has been rather quicker than most people expected. It was reported to me last weekend that farmers in North Yorkshire were going into South Yorkshire to see whether they could bring back into their industry workers whom they had lost over the past few years. I doubt whether they will succeed.

One of the problems which helps to militate against the measure of expansion which we should like to see in the livestock industry is the shortage of skilled labour. Not everybody is cut out to be a pig man, working seven days a week, or to look after cattle for that length of time.

In the more arable areas there has been a vast switch-over to cereal production. This does not show any lack of confidence in the production of cereals. It calls for less manpower, and, as a result of having repetitive crops, substantial profits can be made thereby, but how long this can go on without detriment to the soil is another matter.

If we are to get, and to retain, the skilled men whom we require for an expansionist livestock policy, we must make sure that basic wage levels within the industry rise, and rise substantially above what they have been in recent years. A form of wages structure must be developed to assure young men of a future in agriculture. I know that we now have an industrial training board, which has a great potential, but, having trained these young men, as we hope we can do, we must be sure that we keep them after they have acquired the skills.

One of the unfortunate features of the last 12 months has been the fall in the numbers of young boys coming into agriculture. The future of the industry depends upon its ability to attract youngsters, give them skills and retain their services. This is why I am so anxious that wage levels and a wage structure will not be put off time and time again. Time is not on our side if we are to get the skilled men who will be needed for an expansionist policy of livestock production.

I was delighted, as I am sure was the whole House, to hear the Prime Minister assure us this afternoon that the interests of British agriculture are not likely to be overlooked by the Government if and when we join the Common Market. This is essential, to assure the small farmers who may be affected.

Perhaps, when more information is available, the Minister will take the House into his confidence about the problems which might affect the small producer when we enter the Common Market. There is no doubt that the very large farmer will be able to hold his own, but of course this country is largely one of small farmers and their interests must be considered.

We recognise, of course, that there must be a considerable amalgamation of farms, and the Bill provides for this. This development will occur, but even this is a slow process and will take some years. Therefore, the needs of the small farmer will, I am sure, receive the fullest consideration of the Government when we enter the Common Market.

This country—certainly my union and, I believe, farmers as a whole—has the utmost confidence in the ability and energy of the Minister of Agriculture. I believe that their confidence in him is not misplaced, despite what we have seen and heard here this afternoon. I believe that the future is bright. I believe that agriculture has the opportunities and the possibilities to develop and I believe that, under a Labour Government, it will expand and develop in accordance with the National Plan.

5.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

I am sure that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) will forgive me if I do not comment on every point which he made. What he did was to draw attention to one aspect of our farming affairs which is most important—the small farmer.

I have already accused the present Minister, as a part of a deliberate policy, of getting rid of a large number of people from the land and thus affecting the small farmer. I asked him not long ago. I pointed out that the National Plan planned for 142,000 people to leave the land. In Wales, the figure was 5,000.

I challenge the Minister again to explain to us how he can expect to get this many people off the land as a part of deliberate Government policy, at a time like this, particularly when confidence in industry as a whole is at a low level——

Photo of Mr Bertie Hazell Mr Bertie Hazell , North Norfolk

The 140,000, of course, included men from fishing and forestry as well as agriculture.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

That is a perfectly fair point, which I accept.

Every hon. Member, on both sides of the House, realises what the farming industry can do towards solving our balance of payments problem. I do not believe that the actions of the Government are giving farmers adequate scope to carry out that determination. The men are there, the "know-how" is there, the stock is there and the land is there and over a period there is no industry which has made greater steps than farming.

The Minister talked about many things and it would perhaps be better if I drew a veil over them. What he said cast a blight over his own benches and will cast a blight over agriculture when farmers read it tomorrow. Only one good thing emerged from the collection of crashing howlers which could cheer us up. That was that, at last, brucellosis will be tackled. I thank him for that, but I would remind him of the many times that he has refused to act. I urge him to go ahead and tackle it in the interests of health. Until this is done, any proper export of livestock from Britain will be extremely difficult.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), who is to wind up the debate for this side of the House, and I share the honour of having once been chairman of the Livestock Export Council of Great Britain. The previous Conservative Government supported us in the biggest and most far-reaching exhibition abroad, that in Moscow in 1964. This is the first chance I have had of thanking them publicly for the help they gave us in that successful venture.

In the great number of breeds and herds which sustain this export trade, my constituency of Hereford is as famous as any in the country for being the home of the Hereford breed and it would not be out of place here to refer to the recent and lamented death of Captain de Quincy, who was probably one of the greatest breeders of British livestock. We were sad to read of his death and proud of his achievements.

I come from an area which is particularly dependent on livestock, that is, sheep, cattle, fatstock and store stock. This is not the only crux, as other hon. Members have spoken about the problem of pigs, but this is the matter which affects my part of the country, both in Wales and in the border counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Monmouthshire. The particular difficulty for farmers in this area is over their sales in the markets lately. I was not able to put this point to the Minister today, as he was clearly not in a giving way mood.

The point I put to him from a sedentary position, which, although out of order, is the only way to make any point to the right hon. Gentleman, was that when he made his speech at Harper Adams, which was moderately well received by the farming community, about farm credit, he made it: too late. The date, 20th September, was too late. By that time, the vast majority of the markets in sheep and cattle were over. He is now trying to take great credit for the fact that he has as last said that the Government are instructing the banks to take a lenient view of farmers' borrowing. If he had done that on 15th or 20th August, I might have taken my hat off to him. But he did not, so I will not.

I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) infer by a quotation from the Financial Times that he was satisfied with the present position over credit. Can he say that Cardiganshire fanners are satisfied with today's credit position? I do not think that he can.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Mine was the purely legalistic point that the peak of bankers' advances had been reached in mid-August, which was wholly in contrast to the case put by hon. Members opposite. I was not expressing satisfaction.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

I am not being purely legalistic. I am looking at the problem from the point of view of the men on the spot trying to sell their stock—the fanners in Radnorshire, Montgomery, Shropshire, and other areas that I know so well.

This branch of the industry is suffering in a threefold way. First, the farmers have had to put up with the credit problem. There are those of us, and here I declare an interest, who sell sheep. The dealers and farmers who come from the Midlands and the East Midlands buy from us when they have sold their corn crop and have the cheque in their pocket.

This year they did not have the cheque. Partly as a result of credit restriction, the corn merchant has had to say, "I am sorry, Mr. Jones. I will buy your corn, but pay you in two months' time." That is what Government policy has done. As a result, we did not have what I call the corn farmer coming to buy in any quantity. This year, once he had cleared his harvest—which was, in any case, slightly late—he did not have the money to buy store sheep and cattle.

The dealer was in exactly the same position. My local auctioneer told me that the amount of bankers' credits he had a year ago before every big market took place was enormously larger than now. This lack of credit applied to dealers as well as farmers. He told me that the worst case was at Llanwyrtyd Wells, where 2,000 sheep and pigs were offered and only 200 were sold.

We have been accused by the Minister of spreading gloom and despondency. Like all my hon. Friends, I wish that this gloom and despondency could be dispelled, but it cannot be disputed that Government action and the Minister's lateness in tackling the bank position have dealt a grievous blow to the store cattle and store sheep situation which will take a great deal to get over.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) refened to the Continental position and the difficulty that has caused in the cattle market. He was quite right in what he said, and I shall not add to it. He refened also to the Eire Agreement. The Minister said that when the Irish Government put on the extra levy subsidy to encourage their producers to export their cattle to this country, he immediately discussed the position with the Irish Government. That should have been done when the agreement was being negotiated. Any Government, when negotiating a trade agreement with another country, must keep in mind just this sort of eventuality.

We know what happened with that agreement. We know that the Minister of Agriculture was not very keen about it. We know that the President of the Board of Trade was not very enthusiastic. We know, too, that, for obvious reasons, the Prime Minister was overwhelmingly in favour of it. I leave things there, but the agreement must have safeguards, because it is causing the livestock industry a great deal of difficulty.

Prices have dropped anything between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. for store sheep and cattle this autumn, and fat-stock, too, and that is substantiated by correspondence I have here from N.F.U. offices in Shropshire—in the Ludlow division—and in other countries. What we are really talking about is the effect of this drop in prices on the farmer's family. The N.F.U. this year carried out a survey to find out what percentage of the income of farmers in Radnorshire—which, incidentally, is where I live; the smallest county in the country—came from sheep. It is estimated by the National Agricultural Advisory Service that 50 per cent. of the farmers' income comes from hill sheep, so the percentage drop to which I have referred does reflect a very severe impact upon these families.

I urge the Government to take immediate and more constructive steps towards solving these very difficult problems in this most important sector of our industry. Agriculture is probably the most difficult of our industries to tackle both in the long term and in the short term, but I urge the Government to take time by the forelock, and to do something—not to leave it too late, as they have done with credit and as they have done with the Irish Agreement, but to get to work to solve these problems, and then bring the results before Parliament and to the British farmer.

6.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Edwards Mr William Edwards , Merionethshire

I am grateful to have a further opportunity to debate a subject close to my heart and to the hearts of my constituents. As a member of the Standing Committee which is now discussing the Agriculture Bill, and having this morning heard the bon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), I think that I have discovered the author of the many speeches delivered by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) on every Clause of the Bill so far, and on every Opposition Amendment. It is a very good speech, it covers every point, but it is vague, and we are likely to hear it again and again in the Committee until we reach the very last Clause.

I have been surprised to hear hon. Members bemoaning the fact that we are not trying to change agriculture. I have listened to Labour Members and spokesmen in the farming constituencies leaning on the tremendous change the Labour Government made in agriculture with the 1948 Act, and I have grown rather tired of hearing about its great benefits. There was time for a change in agriculture, and some change will also come about as a result of the Agriculture Bill, but hon. Members opposite are not very anxious to see those changes put on the Statute Book.

During the life of the previous, and short, Parliament, the Standing Committee dealing with the Agriculture Bill had reached only Clause 12 after very many sittings. I have been sitting there patiently waiting for that part of the Bill that would benefit my constituency to be dealt with, but we have so far only reached Clause 30.

I like that Committee. It is very pleasant to be on it, much better than sitting on the Iron and Steel Bill Committee, or the Land Commission Committee, but at the rate at which the Committee is proceeding we shall not finish the Bill until next winter. Farmers in my constituency are waiting for the benefits that that Bill will give them when it reaches the Statute Book.

Hon. Members opposite speak about giving a positive lead and taking Britain into the Common Market. I declare my interest in this subject—I am a Common Marketer—but we cannot take the country and the farming economies of marginal areas in Wales into the Common Market until we have the proposals made in that Bill carried out. We shall not have them carried out if we have the kind of delay to which the Committee has been subjected in the last few months.

I have some comments to make on matters raised this afternoon. Some of them may be slightly critical. I urge the Minister to consider very seriously the position of the livestock producer. There is no doubt that one of the commodities which we can produce in British agriculture, and for which there is a market in Europe, is beef.

Hon. Members opposite complain about the position relating to sheep. That position is very difficult. Possibly there is only one thing we could do—cut the importation of lamb from New Zealand. If hon. Members opposite are prepared to do that, let them say so. There is a great deal of sympathy for New Zealand in this country and in the Common Market countries. If we went in, no doubt New Zealand would be granted a special position by the Common Market countries.

Small farmers in my constituency are engaged in milk production because there is a certain market and they can get a fair return, a quick return, a monthly return. Those who are being urged to turn over to livestock production have had a series of setbacks in the last few months. They need to have long-term working capital. When turning from milk to beef production a farmer cannot get a return on his capital investment for two years, or perhaps longer. How can farmers in these days raise working capital and living capital and pay rates of interest of 8 per cent. or 9 per cent.?

Another matter about which I am very much concerned and on which I may be critical, but I may also make a constructive suggestion, concerns the high cost of agricultural land. It is extremely difficult for young farmers to buy land at present prices bearing in mind the low return they will get from capital investment in the present state of farming. I make this suggestion to my right hon. Friend. It is time for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the urging of my right hon. Friend, to look again at Estate Duty in relation to agricultural land.

It is very often said that the benefit of the death duty allowances which holders of agricultural land have benefits the son of a farmer. I do not think that this benefit now goes to farmers and sons of farmers. It is well known among farmers that death duty is a tax on distrusting parents. If a farmer wants to ensure that his son does not pay death duty he can easily avoid it by transferring the interest in the land to his son a reasonably long time before he retires. The benefit of death duty, however, goes to very wealthy people who are still coming into farming. They are buying vast tracts of land and farming them indifferently.

This is happening in my constituency. I know of a case there of a large property owner who is buying farm after farm simply because of the death duty advantage. He is so wealthy and the advantage he is getting is so great that he does not care whether the land is farmed or not. Any small farmer trying to buy land in that part of the constituency has not a hope of doing so. It is possible to reduce one's death duty assessment on an estate of nearly £1 million to as little as £100,000 by judicious buying of forestry land and agricultural land and other simple devices. The benefit to agriculture of investment in agricultural land saving death duty has long since gone.

I always try to speak briefly, but I wish to mention one aspect of the Irish Treaty, which has particularly affected my constituency. The Minister said that the effect of the treaty on the store cattle position is not as serious as people have suggested. I have seen today a circular sent out by the Irish Ambassador in regard to the number of store cattle sent to this country.

I have considered carefully the comment I make on this treaty. The trouble with the treaty is not that it is a free trade agreement, but that it is a free trade agreement with the Irish. The statistics that the Irish Government have given us about the number of cattle coming here for killing are not correct. They are, in fact, sending fat cattle to this country supposedly for killing, and getting a subsidy from those cattle which are then sold as stores.

This is happening in my constituency, in Caernarvon and in Anglesey. I know of large numbers of cattle supposedly coming here for killing and being sold as stores.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

Does my hon. Friend presuppose that there will be a double subsidly on these cattle, one in Ireland and one here, in fact a treble subsidy with the Irish subsidy of £45 per head?

Photo of Mr William Edwards Mr William Edwards , Merionethshire

I am not as concerned as some hon. Members opposite about the effects of the Irish Treaty on the beef market. It is some consolation to the British farmer that the cattle are sold at a guaranteed price, but the subsidy is being paid supposedly on cattle which will be sold at the guaranteed price while it is paid on cattle which are competing with store cattle in my constituency. They are not getting two subsidies, but a subsidy on cattle competing in the free market. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider this when having further deliberations about the Irish Agreement.

I am grateful for the opportunity of speaking in this debate. I ask my right hon. Friend that when thinking about the long-term future of agriculture he will consider the real possibility that in the near future we shall be approaching the European Common Market countries and asking for membership. I hope there is that possibility.

I have heard criticisms by hon. Members opposite that farmers have agreed on their attitude, the Opposition has agreed on its attitude, and we should now agree on our attitude. I wish it were the case that farmers had agreed on their attitude. It may be that the Opposition has agreed on its attitude now, but the time has come when all of us—farmers and Government alike—should examine the conditions they are prepared to accept if they go into a European Common Market agricultural community.

I recently went to Brussels as a member of a delegation, and I returned confused about the terms we would be allowed if we made an unconditional application for entry into the Common Market. There is one fact which the Opposition have overlooked when talking about the conditions of entry which we would be allowed. There is deep-rooted opposition in the Community to the retention of the Milk Marketing Board, the Egg Marketing Board and the Wool Marketing Board.

The Community's opposition to the Wool Marketing Board is less strong than its opposition to the other two. It would not be in the interest of farmers in this country, or of those of us who are in favour of going into Europe, to overlook the fact that we cannot possibly accept membership of the European Community for our farmers if we have to lose the Milk Marketing Board.

I am certain that that is the attitude at the present time of Common Market countries. They are not prepared to allow this country to enter the Common Market while we have a purchasing monopoly for milk. They will not allow us to retain this monopoly. This is one of the things on which we can negotiate, but it is time that we on this side of the House and the National Farmers' Union got together to decide on the minimum acceptable terms upon which British farmers can enter the Common Market.

There is no doubt that on the last occasion when the Tory Government tried to negotiate entry into the Common Market they went to those negotiations unprepared. There is no doubt that negotiations for our entering the Common Market were forced upon the Government. They did not negotiate out of an inherent love for the Common Market.

This might sound critical of the Government, but those of us who are interested in agriculture—including the National Farmers' Union—should never close our eyes to the very real possibility of our entering the Common Market in the very near future, and we must prepare agriculture for that eventuality.

6.23 p.m.

Photo of Sir John Gilmour Sir John Gilmour , Fife East

The tone of the debate was set by the Prime Minister when answering Questions earlier today about the Common Market. He spoke of the need to protect for all time our right to buy cheap food from the Commonwealth. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) spoke about conditions of entry into the Common Market. In a world which will be increasingly short of food, we would be deluding ourselves if we thought we would always find cheap food in other parts of the world. This is a misconception of the way in which the present Government are looking at the crisis facing agriculture.

We know that we shall pay increasingly more for all those types of food which we have to import and which we can never produce here. If we have a rising population we will spend even more money on that. In view of the present situation, surely it is right for the Government to urge, prepare and allow the British farming community to play its full part in the development of its industry so that it can help our balance of payments.

From listening to the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon one would have thought that everything that was happening was following a general direction and was in accordance with the plan. I do not believe that that is so. Farmers are being forced to grow those crops on which they are able to get some return. As a result, we have an increase each year of the barley acreage, which is rising by 1 million or 1¼ million tons a year. If this is happening at a time when we have a falling off in the livestock population, including a falling off in the bacon industry, what is the use of growing this grain if we will not have the pigs to eat it?

The Minister showed himself to be totally unaware of what is happening to the agricultural industry. It is essential that we have an integrated agriculture. The present policy of the Government has forced people into cereal growing, because this is the only way they can see any return. The Selective Employment Tax places an extra burden on those people who employ stockmen working seven days a week all the year, as compared with someone who can put his ploughing out to contract and hire a combine. Unless the Minister takes a grip on what is happening to the amount of cereals which are being grown—and we can expect another 1 million tons next year and the year after, as well as a fall-off in livestock production—the country will be in very serious difficulties.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) suggested that we should have a special Price Review. This was turned down. There are surely two things which could be done immediately to bring back some of the confidence into the farming industry. The first is that the Selective Employment Tax should be refundable to farming in the same way as it is to the manufacturing industry. I feel this strongly, because I have been corresponding recently with the Minister of Labour about people in manufacturing industries who are on short-time working.

Even if they work only three or four days a week, they still qualify for the premium, and I cannot imagine anything more senseless than to allow the imposition of the Selective Employment Tax on the farming industry, thus putting a tax on food, and at the same time pay a premium to people who are working only part time. There are people in the farming industry working full time seven days a week all the year. That is something that could be done immediately.

Each year at the time of the Price Review there is always a reference to increased efficiency and it appears in last year's price guarantee determinations at paragraph 13 on page 8. It says there that the revised figure for Review commodities should rise to £30 million. It would be a good thing to explain to the farming industry exactly how this £30 million is made up and how it can be applied to efficiency. I can see how we could have increased efficiency by producing a combined harvester which could harvest five acres where we previously harvested only two.

I can also see how we could increase efficiency from the potato harvest, and through spring mechanisation, but I cannot see how anyone who is running a hirsel in the Highlands will get increased efficiency at a time when he has to pay increased petrol tax and other increases in respect of obtaining money on credit and the cost of marketing. Surely it is possible to isolate this efficiency and see that it applies only to commodities that deserve it and not in the global and overall way that it is done at present.

A matter which is of particular interest to those in my constituency and in the east of Scotland is that of sugar beet. One factory—Cupar, in Fife—is now working at about half-capacity. We have recently had a change in the conditions for growing potatoes which might easily mean that many people who grew sweet potatoes in the past will not be able to do so in future. As it has been found possible to give special consideration for hill cows and sheep, I suggest that there is a real case, at least for a temporary period of a year or two, as a result of the changing conditions of potato growing, to give encouragement to the sugar beet industry in Scotland.

There are, as the Secretary of State for Scotland will know from the demonstrations and researches which have been conducted in this field, considerable ideas on the progress which can be made, particularly in transplanting the beet. Experiments are taking place at present, but if encouragement is not given this year to the sugar beet growers in Scotland, it seems likely that the industry will fold up altogether. It is not easy to ask for support for an industry for all time.

I ask merely that support should be given now for two or three years to keep this factory going through this particular period. We would be doing a great service to agriculture in Scotland without committing the Government to saying that for all time they will pay a much higher price for sugar beet in Scotland than they do in England.

I urge the Government to encourage the farming community at least to the extent of deciding that agriculture is a productive industry which deserves the premium in the same way as does any other industry which is serving the country well. Such a decision would go a long way towards restoring the farmers' confidence.

6.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

I was astonished to hear the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) forcefully express his disappointment at what has taken place under the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman seemed not to recognise the simple facts of life. If it had not been for this Government and previous Labour Governments, agriculture would not be as prosperous and as viable as it is at present. No Member can dispute that statement. Any impartial farmer—I hope that I am one—would agree on this point.

The 1932 Act started the Milk Marketing Board, which the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) spoke about. Everybody agrees that that and the 1947 Act was the basis of our whole agricultural policy. The present Government have given at least a degree of hope to the farming community—not much more than that, but it is at any rate a little more than the Conservative Government gave to them. The industry would not be as it is at present if it had not been for previous Labour Governments.

This is our largest industry. It is a most important industry. I have looked up some of the facts and figures pertaining to it. Its total production reaches almost the same figure as that for our armaments bill—£2,000 million a year. This is a considerable industry. It is larger than the whole of the New Zealand and Australian agricultural industries put together. It is double the size of the coalmining industry.

We hear so much talk about redundancy in the motor car industry. Yet this industry produces more than double that which the motor car industry produces. Since 1946, due to increased efficiency, there has been a reduction in the agricultural labour force of 425,000. This figure should be viewed in the light of the problem of redundancy in the motor car industry of 10,000 or 15,000. During the period in which 425,000 people have left the agricultural industry, production has increased by approximately 86 per cent. This is some indication of the size and character of the agricultural industry. The industry spends approximately £1,000 million a year on fertilisers, machinery, and so on. This gives our engineering industry a basis on which to surge forward into export markets.

This is one reason why I support the contention of the hon. Member for Fife, East that the advantages which accrue to manufacturing industry by virtue of the Selective Employment Tax should be given to agriculture. If this were done, a spur would be given, not only to the export side of agriculture, which runs at about £50 million a year, but also to the tractor and farm implements side. I do not know where we should be if we did not have a viable and expanding agricultural industry. If anything is done, by whichever party it may be, to undermine the industry, we may see the price of our foodstuffs rise by at least 100 per cent.

There is much glib talk about the Common Market. Hon. Members should consider the full implications of the Common Market as they may affect British agriculture. There would undoubtedly be certain advantages for those connected with the fine fields in certain parts of England and on the east coast of Scotland, where a considerable amount of grain is grown. I come from an area in Scotland where there are many hills and difficult farming conditions. Entry into the Common Market would pose problems, for the agricultural industry in this area and in the Highlands of Scotland, and also in many parts of Wales and in certain parts of England. Many of the smaller farms would disappear. I counsel hon. Members to pay a little attention to this question and not be too keen to get on to the bandwagon of urging our entry into the Common Market at all costs.

I suggest, for the consideration of the House at a later date, that there are alternatives to the Common Market. If we do not remember our great investment in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, to mention but three countries, shame upon us: we may undermine not only our present economy, but the whole future of Britain as an important nation in the world at large. So much for my views on the Common Market.

Photo of Sir John Gilmour Sir John Gilmour , Fife East

The hon. Gentleman is making an impassioned plea, but is it not true that the Labour Government are limiting our investment in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and that the proportion will go down and down?

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

The difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves are primarily due to the maladministration of the previous Tory Government. When I was in opposition I was shocked and amazed—all the Conservative papers shared my views on this—that we had nothing but a waffling Government in power for five years. Nobody can gainsay that. We could not get a decision from "waffling Mac" when he stood at the Dispatch Box.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not broaden the debate.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

I appreciate that, Sir, but I was tempted by an interjection to go a little further than was desirable.

We hear much about the difficulties we are in in relation to fat cattle, but are not these difficulties partially due to our friends in the Common Market putting a higher tariff on Yugoslavian, Argentine and Irish beef? Shame upon us for permitting those countries to dump their beef in this country and, by so doing, to undermine our fat cattle trade to a great degree. We allow this to be done, rather stupidly.

Many years ago when the formation of Cereal Marketing Board was suggested I proposed that an export/import board should be formed with executive powers to promote exports and regulate imports. My suggestion was not accepted. I predict that the day will come when something on those lines will have to be introduced.

I listened to the excuse of my right hon. Friend the Minister about the Irish agreement. I am not against this agreement. It must be recognised that Eire is a very important nation which purchases a great deal of our basic engineering goods. However, we cannot permit Ireland or any other country to undermine our agricultural interest. We must take a serious view of this open door if it causes a draught which will kill our own farming industry.

This open door which has been allowed troubles me the more so in view of my right hon. Friend's statement. If the fat cattle which are sent over here from Ireland, having received the £4 Irish subsidy, and also the British fat cattle subsidy, instead of being slaughtered, are sold as store cattle in this country and they again go on to the market, they will receive a further British fat cattle subsidy. This matter must be looked into at the earliest possible moment.

We talk about barley production and how it has increased. This has an indirect effect upon sales of store cattle and suckle calves. The simple facts of life are that the barley subsidies are far too large. Too much is given to the barley producer because he does not now bother to keep his forage for store cattle or suckle calves and therefore we are restricted in the market for suckle calves or store cattle.

Photo of Sir John Gilmour Sir John Gilmour , Fife East

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the last payment one receives under the barley subsidy usually comes on the day when one starts harvesting next year's crop, so that the Government are keeping the money and it is a year before one gets it?

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

This is nothing new. What I am trying to point forward is the trend of events in the barley producing areas. The right hon. Gentleman was quite right in saying that production is increasing by leaps and bounds every year, and all I say is that this has an indirect effect upon the selling of suckle calves and store beasts. If the hon. Member disagrees he is entitled to do so, but that is my contention.

As our aim is to increase production of most farm produce, farmers have naturally been producing more than usual over the past year, putting more heifers to the bull and so on and we have a larger amount of calves. Because of the drop in fat cattle prices, the difficulties of credit and various factors, such as barley, the whole bottom has fallen out of the suckle calf market. One finds poor people from the Highlands of Scotland bringing their calves to the market, where they used to get £30, £32 or £33, and now getting about £17 for those suckle calves. They cannot keep those calves and must let them go. The calves are not killed, of course, for the dealers and those who can keep the calves are getting the benefit of this glut on the market.

This is a very serious matter for many of those poorer people who are farming difficult farmland. The Government might consider a recommendation of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, which is briefly what I have advocated in the House for some time: We believe that the long-term prospects for hill and upland farming are such that Scotland must have an increase in the hill sheep and hill cattle subsidies to the same effective rate as are payable in the rest of the United Kingdom. This, however, does not detract one whit from the absolute necessity to continue in addition the present Scottish acreage winter keep scheme. This is but reasonable. The per head basis on the English method of calculation should be paid to the Scottish farmers under the winter keep scheme.

Sheep have been mentioned and I could not agree more that many Highland farmers are having great difficulty in this respect. I shall not go over the ground which has been covered, but in Perth the other week I saw lambs sold for less than £1 a head. Something must be done about this. My right hon. Friend should give it every consideration.

The question of bacon pigs and pork pigs must also be urgently looked at afresh, not only from the farmers' but from the bacon curers' point of view. This is a very important industry. I had a meeting with a bacon curer recently, and he said that his undertaking, which is not very large but passably so, has lost about £26,000 in the past six months. The farm marketing corporation has lost about £¼ million over the past six months in this operation. It is imperative, if we are to keep this industry in being—and it is absolutely essential to do so for the nation's well-being—that we do something immediately to look at the problems before us. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am quite astonished. I did not think that I was so popular on the benches opposite.

Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I should like to say a lot more, but shall add only that we must see in the near future that the new Bill now going through Parliament—I was not permitted to serve on the Standing Committee for some reason or other—brings a certain degree of hope. But I still think that the time is opportune for a special committee of investigation into all the ramifications of agriculture, perhaps considering its relationship to the Common Market and so on. It should be wide enough to give us some guiding principles for the future.

The report received by the MinisterLord Williams of Barnburgh as he now is—provided the basis of the 1947 Act. The time is ripe for a new review, and I should like the present method of assessing agriculture on a yearly basis to disappear once and for all. A great opportunity presents itself to the nation now. We need to do what we can not only for our own sake but to produce more food for the starving people of the world. We may be in that position before long. Who knows? Circumstances can change so suddenly. We should be rather remiss and un-Christian in our attitude if we did not do all in our power to increase our agricultural production to the greatest degree for the sake of mankind as a whole.

6.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I hope that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument too closely, but I am still in a state of shock from listening to the speech of the Minister of Agriculture. I have never heard any Minister of Agriculture make such a disappointing speech as the right hon. Gentleman made today. It seemed to some of us, not only on this side of the House, that the Minister had no idea of the problems which are facing the industry.

The right hon. Gentleman gave us a speech from a written brief—I am sorry that he is not here now—and what he said was simply not good enough. The country will tell him so tomorrow. He showed in his very uninteresting and abysmal performance that he has no grasp of the problems now facing the industry.

Time is very brief and I shall refer specifically to a topic of great concern in my part of the country, namely, the very low returns which fat cattle producers and graziers are getting from the stock they send to market. Through my constituency run the wonderful vales of Leicestershire which traditionally for generations have produced the best beef for the British market. The Welland Valley runs through the constituency. As a result of disappointing Price Reviews in recent years some of the traditional graziers have found it necessary over the past few years to change from exclusive dependence on turning out the best of fat cattle. The return has not been there. But even so, that part of the country still makes its living predominantly by turning out fat cattle for the British market.

The Minister showed no sensibility whatever for the dreadful position in which many graziers find themselves. How could he, only 17 or 18 months ago, paint the future of fat cattle production in the way he expected it to go so inaccurately? On 31st March, 1965, he told the House: We believe that these steps will provide the incentive for the expansion which we want in beef production—without the danger of over-supply after, say, another four-year period."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March, 1965; Vol. 709, c. 1684–5.] How great a miscalculation can a Minister of Agriculture make and get away with it? Beef producers are in a very critical position now, little more than a year after the Minister made that statement.

In that debate, he asked what this party would have done. His is the party supposed to be governing. His is the Government who produced the National Plan. No one but a genius could have brought our great beef industry to its knees as this Minister and his Government have done. Tonight, for the first time for a number of years, we shall go into the Lobby against the Government and their policy for agriculture. It is high time that we did, because the path they are pursuing is attended by disaster for British farmers.

I have here a sheaf of illustrations, with which I shall not weary the House, of the predicament in which my constituents find themselves. Two or three lines from one letter will suffice to show the picture in Leicestershire. This farmer says that this week—he wrote on 26th October—his fat cattle made £6 10s. a live cwt. compared with £9 4s. a live cwt. in July, and his 46-1b. estimated deadweight lambs made £5 16s. that week compared with £7 7s. in July. He goes on to say that subsidies will not take care of these savage cuts". Of course they will not.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I hear the Minister ask, "Why not?". Has he never heard of the abatement scheme?

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the great slice out of the subsidy which the present abatement scheme takes? Is he not aware that for cattle going to market now at, say, 10 cwt. live weight about 4s. a live cwt. is being deducted from the deficiency payment, and, moreover, if cattle prices do not improve, by next January or February those amounts will almost certainly increase to about 15s. a live cwt. deducted or £7 or £8 a beast? Does he realise that? If he does, what does he propose to do?

Earlier today, in what I have described as a very poor and most unsatisfactory speech, the Minister made a vague statement—I could not really grasp the gist of it—indicating that those who marketed cattle in a period of depression will receive some special compensation in relation to the abatement scheme. That is the only concession or hope of improvement which he could hold out to us today. It is only toying with the problem. If he thinks that a garbled statement of that kind will be seized as a great gift to the industry as a whole, he is in for a rude shock tomorrow and next week.

Farmers in Leicestershire and the great fattening lands of the country consider that there are four main reasons for the present decline in fat cattle prices, and we lay responsibility for three of them directly at the Government's door. The first, the one that started the rot, was the hostile direction from the Treasury to bank managers demanding that they reduce farmers' overdrafts. The farmers' reaction was to take the only course open to them, to realise on ready capital rapidly by the accelerated marketing of cattle. Did not the Minister appreciate at the time of that direction the effect which it could have on a very sensitive market?

The second reason is the present low level of exports of fat cattle to Europe. We do not lay blame for that necessarily at the Minister's door, but we want to know whether he is concerned about it, and if he is, what he is doing? He said that he did not think it was his responsibility, but he showed no great concern about opening these markets for the nation again.

The third is the heavy importation of fat cattle and beef from Ireland and the Argentine. From correspondence which I have been having with him, the Minister knows that we would like a phased scheme of imports of fat cattle and beef from both the Argentine and Ireland. We are pleased to know that the export subsidy imposed in Dublin is to be removed at the end of this month, but this, again, is a case of too little and too late. Why was it not removed at the end of last month? Did the Minister realise only in the last few days what a serious effect it was having on the imports of fat cattle from Ireland?

The fourth reason for the steady undermining of demand for beef in this country—again, a Government responsibility—is the steadily decreasing purchasing power of the British people. Slowly, day by day, especially in the Midlands, more industrial workers are being laid off. Various burdens such as rates and taxes continue to increase while wages remain the same. All this is having an effect upon the demand for beef. The Minister has got himself in a dreadful muddle about beef. The situation is bad today, but it is likely to be considerably worse in a year or so.

Under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, we are committed to take about 636,000 store cattle every year, and store cattle imports from Ireland today are running at an annual rate of only 435,000 or so. Next year, we are likely to be expected to take our full quota, and, at the same time, we are likely to have a big increase in home grown stores on the market as a result of the new beef cow subsidy.

We have no confidence in the present Minister. We are thoroughly dissatisfied with him and with his policy, and we relish the opportunity to vote against the Government tonight.

I press for an assurance at the end of the debate that some sort of import phasing scheme will be worked out and that some control or restriction be put on imports of Argentine beef, which seems to flow into this country willy-nilly, regardless of the fact that the Argentine exports about £80 million of goods to us in a year, compared with our paltry exports to the Argentine of about £20 million. Cannot we fill the gap which would be created by the cessation of imports from the Argentine and do our balance of payments problem a good turn at the same time? We are not satisfied on this side, and we plead with the Minister, "Good or bad, do something to justify your position".

7.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The Motion is a transparent and typically clumsy attempt by the Opposition to turn a genuine crisis in farming into a display of political partisanship calculated only to divert attention from the true root causes of the industry's present difficulties. It is my sincere hope that the Government, in rebutting the undeserved charges against them, will not, however, attempt to belittle the seriousness of the present predicament of livestock producers.

If I speak tonight of hill and uplands farming and, in particular, of sheep farming, it is because no section of the agricultural economy has been harder hit by the severe slump in the prices of live-stock at the autumn sales and by the appalling harvest conditions. For the store breeder, the position is now acutely difficult. It is universally recognised, nevertheless, that, however many worries the hill sheep farmer has, enterprise in selection is not one of them. Soil and climate decree that the grazing of livestock, in particular of sheep, must be the principal use of his land. Thus, when prices collapse calamitously, as they have done, in some parts of the Highlands, stark indeed is the prospect for the hill farmer and the crofter.

Where, as at Lairg, the prices of lambs and draft ewes have dropped by almost 50 per cent. this autumn, the fears are not for the future, but for the present condition of the men and women affected. In view of the information given already by hon. Members and the Scottish N.F.U., I do not propose to follow the dismal round of the autumn sales. But, even apart from the sale prices, I would draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a number of other pointers which suggest that, in Scotland at least, the sheep breeder's future is uncertain.

Whereas Scotland's breeding ewe numbers fell from close on 3 million in December, 1964, to 2,895,000 in December, 1965, those of New Zealand are on the increase. Although our imports of New Zealand lamb have remained roughly static since 1963, the prospect is that the British market will be faced with the absorption of about 30,000 extra tons of New Zealand lamb next year—an increase of almost 10 per cent.

There is perhaps some significance in the fact that, in the discussion about the imports of foreign livestock, we have heard little today or any other day about the New Zealand position. Scottish Unionists and other hon. Members opposite have preferred to pursue their traditional hatred of the Irish Republic rather than draw attention to this fact. Nor are the export prospects for the sheep industry any rosier, at least in the short run.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I would prefer not to give way.

The absolute ban on live imports by France, Belgium and Holland following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Northumberland has rendered the export position extremely serious. Furthermore, the increase in the slaughtering of sheep—up at September by 176,000 to 1,664,000—has, in turn, contributed to the sharp drop in market prices for fat lamb of, I believe, 9d. per lb. since July.

The clamping down by the Common Market on imports not only of our own livestock but of those from our trading partners in E.F.T.A. will also have a resultant depressing effect upon the price of mutton and lamb and we must expect these countries, particularly Denmark, to start trying to unload their surplus beef export upon this country. Nor, regrettably, is there any marked rise in domestic consumption of lamb, which appears to have remained static at about 23 to 24 lbs. per person for a number of years.

If the targets of expansion set by the National Plan are to be met, they appear to rely largely upon the natural increase in population of about 0·8 per cent. This cannot be of great encouragement to sheep breeders. We look for something rather more from the Government, possibly an all-out publicity campaign to bring home to housewives the top quality of the domestic lamb product.

Scotland at present provides approximately 24 per cent. of the United Kingdom output of sheep and the Highlands, in particular, provide a large proportion of the Scottish output. Thus, Scotland has most to fear from a slump in the profitability of sheep rearing. No one on this side of the House will lose sight of the necessity to balance the long-term security of the farmer against the interests of the consumer in a reasonably priced product, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to recall that not merely the present dependence of the north and west Highlands upon the sheep industry is at stake, but also his own commitment, made in my constituency six months ago, to review urgently the special problems of marginal and hill fanning, where growing seasons are short, where the risk of damage to crops such as occurred in the gales of 6th September is great, and where distance and the cost of food renders it impossible for the farmers to bring their stock to the market only when the demand is high.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

The hon. Gentleman should not be ungrateful to the Secretary of State for Scotland. After all, the right hon. Gentleman won the hon. Member his seat. But that is the last time he will do it.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) recently made a pilgrimage round the Highlands. I think that it was rather in the nature of a penitential pilgrimage. At least, it should have been. The right hon. Gentleman himself cleared up not at all the viewpoint of the Opposition on this present crisis. He promised in a vague and generalised way—and it was reported in the Press of 21st October—that if—which heaven forfend—his party is returned to power, it would look after the interests of the fanners and give them a fair return on capital. The point is that he did not say how. He said that it would be by means of a subsidy, or by means of increased prices.

We are left with the impression that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman for Scotland apparently has not come to terms with his party's position on the future of agriculture in this country. This ambivalence of attitude among hon. Members opposite pervades virtually every statement which they make.

What is to be done about the sheep industry? The Opposition have chosen blandly to disregard what has been, and is being, done in the two years since the Government came to office. First, there has been a welcome commitment to expansion in the National Plan and in the White Paper on the Scottish Economy, widely welcomed by Scottish farmers. The hill sheep subsidy has been placed on a new basis and the rate now stands at more than twice the average for the preceding five years. There has also been the first increase in the price of fat sheep and lambs for several years. There are the other proposed measures for hill improvements and for the restructuring of farming and the encouragement of the development of more economic units, and there are the many other measures in the highly important Agriculture Bill now being help up in Standing Committee by the verbose repetitiveness of the Opposition.

Photo of Mr James Stodart Mr James Stodart , Edinburgh West

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West) rose——

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I will not give way.

Is this enough? Are the Government doing enough for the sheep industry? Hon. Members opposite and some of my hon. Friends will be glad to hear that in my view, because of the international pressures, which are largely responsible for the present crisis, there is a grave risk that we will fail to meet the targets of expansion which we have set ourselves unless the profitability of livestock production is enhanced.

I do not propose to follow the example of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who, in proposing remedies for the hill sheep crisis, shot so widely around with so many different proposals that he was bound to hit the mark with at least one. I suggest that the Government give a firm and clear assurance that at the forthcoming Price Review prices of fat stock sheep will be substantially increased and, as an immediate measure, there should be an interim payment of a special hill sheep subsidy.

The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) was singularly short of concrete suggestions in this situation and singularly full of abuse for my right hon. and hon. Friends. He ended his speech by asking where the Government stood on the vitally important issue of the Common Market. I return the question and return it with interest. Where do hon. Members opposite stand on the Common Market issue? From the statement of the right hon. Member for Grantham one gets the impression that we have a tough row ahead of us to hoe if we are to get into the Common Market on terms acceptable to farming. He made his position quite clear at the Conservative Party conference, when he said: It will be up to the Government of this country to ensure that we do get a fair return in relation to this"— that is, agricultural support— I see no problem in regard to this other than some hard bargaining". On the other hand, the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) took a somewhat different line. He said in his turn: The British Government must recognise that there are some things on which there can be negotiations and others which have got to be accepted and that includes the Treaty of Rome, the common tariff, the agriculture policy. In view of that ambivalence and contradiction in attitude, the charges being made about the difficult negotiations in which the Government are now engaged fall far wide of the mark.

7.16 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Stephen Maydon Lieut-Colonel Stephen Maydon , Wells

I am sure that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will forgive me if I do not comment on what he said. I want to take up some of the remarks of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter), who, I am sorry to see, is not in his seat. It was interesting to listen to him, a practical farmer, valiantly coming to the aid of his Minister and then for the remaining three-quarters of his speech grilling him with sound agricultural facts and the reasons why and where he had gone wrong.

I must confess—and I say this more in sorrow than in anger, for the Minister is an old friend of mine—that seldom have I heard such a lamentably lame and halting defence. No wonder, for he had a very weak case! He started by putting great stress on what was going on in the cereal-growing areas. Naturally for that is the result of the new standard quantity scheme brought in by my own Government. He then stressed the improvement in horticulture and the further improvement which his Government have made on the improvement grants, a natural corollary of the trend which the Tory Government have set. His Administration cannot take much credit for either of those.

The right hon. Gentleman then said that there was no falling back in livestock and in almost the next sentence he started to contradict himself. He might have read the statement issued on 31st October by the British Bacon Curers' Federation. It said: Home production this year has already fallen by 20 per cent… representing a loss of outlet for 12,000 pigs per week." If the right hon. Gentleman calls that no falling back in livestock, he has to go to school again. The right hon. Gentleman ended by saying that there was no lack of confidence in the industry. As he is an old friend of mine, if he would give me the privilege of coming to my constituency, I will take him around and let him see how much confidence there is. I will do my best to protect him, but I will not protect his policies.

I want to deal with the problems of the West Country. We have heard a great deal about meat and sheep and wool, but so far very little about milk. The West Country, especially my county of Somerset, is predominantly a dairy area. It is also the land of small farmers. The small farmer may be small but he is not unimportant. There are many of these people working a very good living. They are very intensive, highly skilled and efficient; they have to be to get a living out of such acreages. They are not to be trifled with. I agree that some of these farms are too small or too fragmented and I commend the Government for their scheme to promote amalgamations but I make this caveat—I doubt whether the application of the Capital Gains Tax will help foster this scheme.

Our main concern in the West Country is dairying, with the rearing of stores and fattening in second place. Pigs and poultry are ancillary to the business. After all, who today would go in for pigs or poultry alone, unless they are specialists in a very big way? The profit is too thin and one is always liable to get one's fingers burned. What I want to stress is that not one of those branches of agriculture which we practise widely in the West Country is profitable today, let alone prosperous.

I know the Minister well enough, as I have said. We spent some happy weeks together in the United States some years ago. He is a nice easy-going chap for a trip like that, but I doubt if he knows how to put the interests of the agricultural industry first. [An HON. MEMBER: "He does not know what they are."] Farmers, certainly in the West Country, do not think that he fights their case for them hard enough. We recognise that he is a member of a cut-throat bunch in the Cabinet. We want him to take his knife and sharpen it up and cut a few throats in the interests of agriculture. We do not think that he fights hard enough to get terms for our farmers, and he certainly did not do so at the time of the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. We talk about getting terms; they were hardly terms at all in that Agreement. It was a sell-out for farming.

We realise that when the negotiations were at a critical stage the Prime Minister came, breathing down his neck, and ordered him to settle at any price. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that Prime Ministers, as well as Ministers of Agriculture, are expendable and that the threat of a resignation in support of a worth-while cause is a truly powerful weapon, particularly when the Cabinet is like a leaking cockleshell.

Last month, in London, we had the Dairy Show, with a disastrous slump in its attendance. Otherwise, it was an excellent show. The reason for the slump in attendance was not far to seek. Mr. Harry Mills, the Deputy Director, said: Dairy farmers have not the cash or the confidence … at the moment". That is not surprising.

We turn to the other side of our industry and find that Mr. Stratton, the Chairman of the Fatstock Marketing Corporation, said: Government had been warned repeatedly that the system of paying for pigs must be altered. He went on to say that the F.M.C. loses 30s. on every pig that it handles.

I need not tell the Minister what has happened in the beef market, either. He can read, see and listen to far more expert advice than I can ever give him. He must know the adverse effect that this has on the stores and fatstock trade. He must know the lack of confidence that this creates, the unhappiness and discontent. A previous speaker mentioned that this is not just a business concern; it brings great hardship and unhappiness to the families of the farmers and to the families of the men who work on the land to see the industry going down-hill and the prospects for continued employment vanishing. The Minister knows that the falling-off in employment in the West is at a far greater rate than the average for the rest of the land.

I was going to say something about the agricultural section in the National Plan. When I reread it yesterday I wondered whether I was going through "Alice Through the Looking Glass" again. So much of the high purpose has been overtaken by catastrophic events. The National Plan, and certainly the agricultural section of it, apart from the statistics, which are now out of date, is not really worth the paper that it is printed on.

I hear that the Egg Marketing Board is to undergo a thorough reorganisation. That will be very welcome indeed. Much good can come of it. But I implore the Minister to take a close look at the shape and form of the Milk Marketing Board, too. The Milk Marketing Board has done a darned good job over the years, but it was devised for conditions of long ago. Over the years it has been very little modified and it could with advantage be completely revamped, with benefits both to the producer and the consumer.

We have a Monopolies Commission, which we did not have in the 1930s, when the Board was first formed. Why, if in those days, without any Monopolies Commission, without any legislation necessary to control prices, was the Milk Marketing Board allowed to set its own retail prices and why if it was possible to do that then, without those safeguards, can it not be trusted to do so today when it has proved itself to be a thoroughly responsible body, and when these new measures of control or supervision are in existence?

If the Minister wants to improve prospects in the dairy industry he must restore to the Milk Marketing Board the full powers that it once enjoyed. While he is looking at the set-up in the Board I would like him to take a close look at the farmhouse cheese scheme which has some very grave inconsistencies in its working, causing considerable unfairness as between the maker of one type of cheese and another.

I will not mention S.E.T.—I have already spoken for too long. It has done farming grave harm, fortunately not such very grave harm to Somerset farmers, because they are small farmers and not great employers of labour. Nevertheless, the damage has been there. Finally, I urge the Minister to persuade the Government to allow agriculture a far greater share in the home market. This has been said before, but it cannot be said too often. There is a great shortage of food throughout the world. We have had statements from responsible people in the United Nations, the F.A.O. and similar organisations, about a world shortage of food and moreover, an increasing shortage. Why, in heaven's name, do we not go ahead and produce more and use our own production in this country?

7.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

I am very grateful, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to catch your eye in this debae, which is of great importance to my constituency, to the land of Wales and to Britain as a whole.

Few would deny the harshness of the problems and the magnitude of the challenge facing agriculture. imports of food are 57 per cent. of the total food consumed in this country. They cost us £1,500 million per annum. It is calculated that by the end of the century the population of Britain will have increased by 20 million. Together with a fairly constant rise in the living standards of the people of this country, it is likely that the demand for food will be even greater.

The task of the British farmer is made even more difficult by the consideration that between now and the end of the century, new towns, new roads and the growth of industry will have eroded the available agricultural land by 1½ million acres—much of it the best agricultural land in Britain. The target set in the National Plan of British agriculture to produce £200 million worth of food more by 1970 gives some indication of the tremendous increases which have to be made. Researches recently published by Wye College show that, if this target is to be met, it will be necessary to increase production per acre by anything from 11 to 17 per cent. taking the decade 1960–70 as a whole. It is in such a context that we have to consider the matters of which we have heard tonight.

Much has been said about the recession in the beef, mutton, wool and pig trades. Indeed, from the blood-chilling threats of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), we have perhaps much worse to fear, but there was an air of anti-climax, for all his indictments were full of sound and fury but signified very little in real attack on the Government's policies and record. Although the right hon. Gentleman drafted his indictment widely, there are many ameliorating features which he failed to mention.

For example, the right hon. Gentleman did not say that during the last six months the sale of liquid milk has reached an all-time record. There are words by the German philosopher Fichte to the effect that "the greatest enemy of truth is not falsehood but conviction". I have been impressed by the depth of conviction on the benches opposite that it is sheer effrontery on the part of a Labour Government to try to administer agricultural policy, and supported by that conviction they fly in the face of the most incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. I believe that the Minister has put the case clearly and fairly. The facts speak for themselves. They cannot be challenged and they have not been effectively challenged by any hon. Member opposite.

Nevertheless, I should be the first to admit that there is no case for complacency. I am well aware of the tremendous problems which have been created by the recession in the beef and mutton trades. It is likely that these have hit the farmers of Wales harder than the farmers of any other part of Britain. The marketing conditions there are difficult, probably more difficult than in any other part of the United Kingdom. The general level of prices has tended to be lower than in any other part of Britain.

It is, therefore, easy to understand the feeling of disquiet which exists in certain areas. Nobody disputes that. Here is a situation in which people have to invest their money for a substantial time before gaining a return. That is why this setback, which is only a temporary reverse, can be very damaging. It can have long-term effects, and the particular long-term effect which most of us fear is that there might be created a vacuum which can be filled by other countries which now find their markets, which at one time were in the European Economic Community, blocked by high tariffs and who seek to find fuller markets in Britain. That is the danger which agriculture faces.

The responsibility for this situation has been placed by right hon. and hon. Members opposite at the door of agricultural credit. All is not perfect in the realm of agricultural credit. There are great problems about long-term agricultural credit. I am a firm believer in the principle of a land bank, which has been advocated in the House for upwards of 80 years. But the evidence is incontrovertible, that the peak level of advances made by the banks to agriculture was reached in mid-August this year.

It is perfectly clear from all the evidence that the real culprit is the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement. It is no coincidence that at the peak of this crisis in September a record number of 25,000 head of fat cattle were being imported from Ireland—about twice the number imported in September last year. In fact, the bulk of cattle concentrated in British markets now is about 18 to 20 per cent. higher than it was at this time in 1965.

I was glad to hear the Minister say that his Irish counterpart, Mr. Haughey, stated that the subsidy on fat cattle would be discontinued at the end of this month. Perhaps whoever winds up the debate will confirm that this was not an assessment but a definite and irrevocable undertaking. I am sure that farmers in this country would welcome a statement to that effect. This subsidy, which runs at a substantial level—last week it was £6 10s. a head on bullocks and £5 15s. a head on heifers—has created a situation of dumping of Irish cattle on the British market. It has been termed thus by Mr. G. T. Williams, President of the National Farmers' Union. Nobody would dispute that it is a classic case of dumping.

I do not condemn the Irish treaty. Up to 1922, Eire and the rest of Britain were one kingdom. Since 1938 there has been, in effect, some form of free market between the two countries. The Conservative Government, in 1960, were responsible for an Anglo-Irish agreement, and, although I was not in the House in 1965, I believe that I am correct in saying that the Conservative Party did not vote against the agreement of that year.

Nevertheless, looking to the future and trying in every possible way to ensure that these sudden plunges of fortune in the meat and mutton trade do not again occur, it is right for us to consider that there are certain built-in safeguards in the treaty. Yesterday, at Question Time, I mentioned Article 13(2) of the Treaty, which reads: If the application of any aid by either party frustrates the benefits expected from the removal and absence of duties or quantitative restrictions on trade between their territories or otherwise frustrates the achievement of conditions of fair competition in that trade the parties shall enter into consultations in accordance with the provisions of Article 23". Article 11 states clearly: Nothing in this agreement shall prevent either party from taking action against dumped or subsidised imports consistently with other obligations. In what has occurred in connection with this Anglo-Irish Agreement, we have the first real taste of what the Common Market can mean.

It is rather ironic that the very people who denigrated the Anglo-Irish Agreement when it was negotiated are the ones who gesticulated wildly, jumping about like excited apes, in their exhortations concerning the possible entry of Britain into the European Economic Community. There is a bold and shattering inconsistency in their standpoint in that respect.

I am not ashamed to say that I have very severe reservations about Britain's entry into the Common Market. Beyond the many general considerations, there is the question of Britain sinking her sovereignty in a condominium of European States which is not the whole of Europe but only a fraction of Europe. There is the consideration of Britain's own policies and her right to plan her own future as a kingdom being vested in a Council of Ministers. It is likely that in that Council we should have four votes out of a total of 21. She would be trusting her affairs to a European Community which is probably the most non-Socialist assembly in the whole Western world. There may be some crumb of comfort for hon. Gentlemen opposite in such a consideration.

Above all those considerations, there is no field where there is such fundamental objection to Britain's entry as that of agriculture. There are factors here which go down to the very root of the situation with which we are confronted. The very structure of our farming economy has been based and built upon considerations which are wholly different and opposite from those of the European Economic Community. Those countries have concentrated upon the production of such raw materials as cereals at the expense of pig-meat, eggs, and so on. Britain has followed the opposite course and has relied for her raw materials in the main from the Commonwealth countries. She imports something like 40 per cent. of her foreign food from the Commonwealth.

Again, the whole structure of our economy is different. In Britain, 4 per cent. of our labour force is engaged in agriculture. In Italy, the figure is 31 per cent., and in France it is 23 per cent. As for the proportion of food which we produce ourselves, Britain is responsible for 43 per cent. of her food, whereas Italy and France produce 90 per cent. of theirs, and Holland practically the whole. These European Economic Community countries are very often exporters of substantial amounts of their surplus agricultural products.

In the proportion which agriculture takes of gross national product, there is also a great difference. Entry into the Common Market would mean the abolition of Annual Reviews, the abandonment of the security of prices and ceasing the policy of subsidising the small farmer. Food prices would soar.

Photo of Mr James Davidson Mr James Davidson , Aberdeenshire West

I think that the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) has made a very unfair comparison, and I speak as a working farmer. If we went into the Common Market, the concentration of Danish pig-meat and Irish cattle which at present come entirely to the British market would be spread over the Common Market countries. As for any rise in prices, it is estimated at about 4 per cent., which could very easily be spread over four years and mean little increase in food prices.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

There is every evidence that the rise in food prices would amount to something like £400 million. That, after all, was the policy upon which the Conservative Party fought the last election, and it suffered a very severe setback. It fought an election in 1906 on exactly the same policy and suffered a shattering defeat.

If Britain enters the Common Market, it will mean that she will have to put up a tariff against food from countries outside the European Community. Those levies will amount to about £250 million per annum, nearly the whole of which will have to be handed over to the coffers of the European Community. It will be used for many purpoes, but the main purpose will be in the shape of an agricultural export subsidy, and the one country in the European Community which will not need and not be able to use an agricultural export subsidy is Britain herself.

Britain's entry into the European Community is not a matter of bargaining over minutiae. If we are to enter, it will be a matter of renegotiating in toto the agricultural provisions of the Treaty of Rome of 1957. To do less would be a complete betrayal of the vast bulk of Britain's farmers.

7.45 p.m.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) has obviously been reading some pamphlets containing figures, but I suspect that he has not given them a great deal of consideration. The figure of £400 million which he quoted is the same as that which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. John Mackie) quoted, when I had the privilege of meeting him twice on television and radio during the election. I asked him then to justify the £400 million and to say where it came from. The hon. Gentleman was unable to do it then, and I suspect that the hon. Member for Cardigan cannot do it now.

As I understand, the right figure is something like £150 million. If that was phased over a period of years, I cannot see that it would make a very great difference.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

When I asked the hon. Gentleman to give way earlier, he would not offer me that facility, but perhaps I should be a little more courteous than he.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. After all, he did mention me in this connection. The figure of £400 million is the figure which was given by the then Conservative Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart). With respect to the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine), I do not think that he can go back on that.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

I do not want to go back on any figure given by the Conservatives, anywhere. What I want to make clear to the hon. Gentleman is that when his hon. Friend and I were discussing the matter before a national audience, he was unable to justify the £400 million, which was the figure that he used. I said then that the figure was £150 million, and I went away with the impression that he agreed that it was probably the right one.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

I hesitate to intervene in the debate, but surely the picture is this. The average going out in subsidies to British farmers over the past four or five years is £300 million, and that must be made up. Then another £200 million of temperate food must be levied to raise those prices. If the two are added together, it comes to £500 million. That is the figure which I gave on television, and I said that it might be kept down to £400 million.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

If he looks at the figures in the last Annual Review White Paper, the hon. Gentleman will agree that the figures which he was using are not substantiated. However, I cannot see any point in going on with this argument for the rest of the debate.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

The Parliamentary Secretary says that he did not raise it, but it started with the speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan. I was pointing out that the figure which he was quoting was from his own Front Bench, though it suggests that he reads Conservative speeches with greater attention than those by members of his own party.

We heard from the Minister, when he opened the debate, that the gloom and despondency in the country had been generated almost entirely by speeches from Conservatives. The hon. Member for Cardigan said that the facts which we put out were quite wrong and that there was incontrovertible evidence to contradict the suggestion which we are making about the lack of confidence, and so on.

The extraordinary thing is that we have heard speeches from hon. Members representing the north and west Highlands, and West Stirlingshire, and the same considerations apply there as in Sussex. This seems to be a strong point in our favour when we suggest that we are representing what the farmers think and say.

I came into this House in 1955. On every major agricultural debate from that day to this I have tried to catch the eye of the Chair. This is the first occasion on which I have had an opportunity to speak in a major debate on this subject, and I am grateful for the privilege. On the last occasion when we debated this subject my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Loveys) said that he had been trying for seven years to catch the eye of the Chair. I refrained from mentioning that I had been trying for quite a while myself.

I come back again to the speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan. He referred to the figures which had been given about the amount of expansion that we are to have, in population, and so on, and what we ought to do to increase our agricultural production. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the National Plan. If he does, and if he applies the figures which he has given, he will see that the Plan is quite inadequate, and that even if we keep up to the figures set out in that Plan they will not meet our requirements as outlined by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman said that to meet population requirements by 1970 we would need an 11 to 17 per cent. increase.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

Yes. The hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulties which we will encounter in getting an adequate amount of land. What are the other possibilities? One is to increase our imports, but I cannot imagine that that is what the hon. Gentleman would recommend. So we are left with the last line of approach, which is that we must do something about output, and if we are to increase output, we must increase it by at least 25 per cent. This is why this debate is so significant, and why I say that the Minister has completely missed its importance. In so many sectors of the economy we are not getting the growth which we should be getting, and which we need.

I shall speak only briefly, because I know that many of my hon. Friends, and one or two hon. Gentlemen opposite, wish to take part in this debate. I want to tell the Minister why it is that the agricultural industry has not the confidence in him that he would like.

Many hon. Members have referred today to the financial situation in which this country has found itself having an effect in agricultural areas. If anyone talks to agricultural co-operatives to see whether they are doing increased business, and whether their bills are being paid with the regularity and speed which they would like, he will inevitably find that they are not getting as much business now as they were before. Let anyone who is interested talk to machinery salesmen. How many farmers are going round asking for new machinery? Equally, one finds that prices for secondhand machinery are well below those that one would expect. I was told the other day that a tractor, having been used for about 600 hours, was sold for £380. Anybody who knows the proper value of a tractor will realise that that indicates a loss of confidence on the part of the farmers.

The second reason why farmers have no confidence in the Minister is the Capital Gains Tax. This tax was designed to catch speculators, but if anybody examines the effect which it is having on the agriculture industry, he will find that a farmer who spends his life on a piece of land cannot in the present circumstances ever hope to meet his Capital Gains Tax when he hands over to his son.

Those matters have been placed firmly and squarely before the Minister, and I think that he ought to pay more attention to those representations. I know that in another part of the House he has said that he will look favourably at the question of selling off a bit of the land for tax purposes from an approved amalgamation. But he is unable to see the conflict between having farms split up to pay this tax, and the policy of amalgamations which he is trying to encourage.

The third reason why the industry has no confidence in the right hon. Gentleman's Administration is the way in which he has been treating productivity. One of the important things about the National Plan is that it surveys 45 sectors of industry. Out of those 45, only three have had greater increases in productivity than agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman knows that over the last two years agriculture has increased its productivity by 12 per cent., and that the income of farmers has gone up by only about 3 per cent.

The right hon. Gentleman might care to compare that situation with what happens in his own Department. In 1961–62 the total amount paid out in farming grants and subsidies was £333 million. In 1965–66, it was estimated to be £232 million. In other words, there was a drop of about one-third, and yet the cost of administration in his Department went up from £8·7 million to £10 million. If the right hon. Gentleman were to apply similar principles to the agriculture industry, farmers might be a little more grateful to him than they are.

Beef production has been discussed at some length, and I shall therefore refer to it as briefly as I can. The National Plan says that meat will have a most important part to play, and on page 8 of Part II it says: Moreover in the first half of 1965 supplies continued at a low level mainly because imports of fresh and chilled meat had fallen to about one-half of the level in the corresponding period of 1963. That was in September, 1965. The National Plan then says: To meet this situation, which shows no signs of changing, the possibilities have been explored of expanding domestic beef production to the full extent which is technically feasible including the fattening of imported Irish store cattle. Although only a year ago the situation showed no sign of changing, it has changed very materially, and the importing of Irish store cattle which were going to do so much is not standing up to the requirements of the National Plan. I have already said that expansion in ordinary sectors of the agricultural industry will not be enough to meet our requirements in any event, and here we are falling behind the beef requirements of the National Plan.

If we are to have confidence in the agricultural industry, let the right hon. Gentleman look, for example, at the latest figures which have been produced from Wye for 1964–65 in respect of a farm of less than 250 acres carrying sheep, cattle, and arable. The capital per acre for a farm of that size is £41 9s. If my arithmetic is correct, and it is a farm of 250 acres, it means that more than £10,000 capital has to be put into it. According to this report, the return on the capital is 0·7 per cent., and again if my arithmetic is correct, that comes to £175. That farm income is £3·3 per acre, which gives a net farm income of £825, so that the total for a farm of 250 acres producing beef is under £1,000 a year. That is the foundation, but another factor enters into our consideration. In my part of the country, store cattle prices have, since the beginning of the year, gone down by about 50 per cent. That is a dramatic drop and no one has confidence in circumstances like that. When we asked the Minister about stores, he went on to say that the position was improving and that any difficulties would be only temporary. He said that it was a shortage which he had inherited from the "wicked Tories."

Let us consider this Irish Agreement, what was envisaged and what has happened under it. I think that it was a bad bargain and that if the right hon. Gentleman had foreseen the difficulties which would arise, we should not have the troubles which we face at the moment. According to the negotiations, the figure for Irish stores was envisaged at the level of 1964 or 638,000 in a year. Up to September, in the first nine months of 1964, the total which came in was 526,000. To September of this year, it is 315,000 and in the month of September itself, comparing 1964 with 1966, it has dropped from 38,000 to 25,000.

In the face of those figures, can the Minister seriously contend that this is due to something which the "wicked Tories" did before they left, that farmers are not buying stores in 1966 because of something which the Minister inherited?

The real truth of course, is, as the Minister knows, that it is because the farmer has not the confidence or the money that he is not buying Irish stores. They are kept in Ireland and are given a subsidy, they come back here and then we get the increase in Irish fat cattle here. To refresh hon. Members' memories, in September, 1965, we were getting 8,000, whereas in July, August and September this year the figures were 7,000, 9,000 and 25,000 respectively. So we are getting these cattle back again which we might otherwise have had as stores.

All these considerations make it clear that farmers believe that factors beyond any control of theirs have affected the situation in such a way that confidence is gone. I should like to quote a few sentences from a letter which I received this morning from one of my constituents. He begins by referring to the price of meat sold in markets, goes on to refer to the abatement which had started in December, and then says: This figure has now reached 7s. 7d. per cwt. The original idea of introducing the imposition of an abatement was to try and discourage producers from selling animals when the market was depressed or overstocked. This year the overstocking of the market has not been due to any overproduction on the part of the home producer, but due to the large increase in imported meat.By the end of October of this year I had sold some 238 animals spread evenly over each week. The cost to me by the abatement for the two months, September, October when I sold 50 animals is £76 16s. I estimate that by the end of December, if the present abatement of 7s. 7d. continues when I will have have sold a further one hundred animals the amount deducted from the guarantee will have reached £340.The figures are hardly in keeping with the Government's professed intention of encouraging beef production. At the moment calves are available in quite large quantities and I have the means of an annual throughput of some 400 animals spread evenly throughout the year, but in view of the above I have great doubts as to the prudence of continuing when increased production is only met by penalties of this nature. I do not believe that that constituent of mine has heard any speech which I have made about farming. This is his view about what is happening to the beef industry.

I know that other hon. Members intend to talk about pigs, but I ought to mention to the Minister part of the last sentence of a letter which I have received from the Sussex Bacon Producers' Association, whose headquarters are in my constituency. After talking about the difficulties of pig production and the losses on each pig, which they estimate amount to aproximately 50s. to 60s. per pig, the chairman, who is also a very active and successful farmer, says: … I would just like to say how difficult it is to glean one little ray of hope out of the Government policy towards any livestock enterprise. If we are to gear ourselves to the production target for the 70s it is completely suicidal to pursue the Government's present policy …". In a journal which I am certain the Minister reads with the greatest care—the Sussex Express and County Herald, there is an agricultural column which tells the truth about agriculture and which I am sure I can commend to him in the most favourable terms. Called "A Sussex Farmer's Notebook", one issue read: Just about a year ago we heard, with pleasure, the Government beseech us to produce a lot more beef. Not only was it necessary to expand the beef herd, we were told, but it would also be necessary to boost our dairy herd numbers, if enough of our 'roast beef of old England' was to be forthcoming.Within a few months of this request, beef prices had risen and everything seemed set for expansion. The writer then took a look at the situation which we have been discussing today, so I need not repeat what it said.

He then looked at the pig situation and commented in these terms: Bringing lots of happiness? Not a bit of it. The bacon curers are on their beam ends. One firm—it could be the first of several—has given up the struggle.This means that if things stay as they are at present, there will be no contracts next year. And then pigs will quickly go the way of beef and lamb.Come, come, Mr. Peart, you really will have to do better than this, you know. That is the headline—"You really will have to do better than this, Mr. P.". That is the message which I should like to pass on to the right hon. Gentleman.

8.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Mackintosh Mr John Mackintosh , Berwickshire and East Lothian

I find this a somewhat depressing occasion, for the same reason as hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the first instance, it is sad that we should have this kind of debate about an industry which is one of the most successful in the country. It is a tragedy that we have to talk in these terms. However, I also find it depressing because of the amount of partisan propaganda injected by hon. Members opposite into the discussion.

The Motion refers to the lack of confidence in the industry as being due to the failure of Her Majesty's Government's policies, but in effect the policy which has produced this difficulty, in the long run, has been pursued by both Front Benches over the past 10 years.

It stems from the 1957 Act, which cut down prices year by year in the farming industry over a 10-year period. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite have recently abandoned this policy, but they should agree that the Government have gone on with their policy of reducing the dependence of agriculture on the Exchequer, and that this has narrowed profit margins until the industry is in a difficult position.

I was surprised also to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite claiming so much credit for being expansionist. They say, for instance, that if their policy of going into the Common Market is followed this will mean an expansion for British agriculture. I hope that this is true, because I am a Comomn Marketeer, but so far I have not seen it maintained in any of the agricultural journals—I mean the serious studies of the subject—that going into the Common Market would necessarily bring an expansion of British agriculture. If that can be shown, I should be glad to have it demonstrated from any part of the House.

I was somewhat amazed when the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) claimed credit for the 6 per cent. increase in agricultural output in the 'sixties. That increase was achieved despite his own Government's policies. It was done by the farmers, despite lower prices. It is a little ironical for hon. and right hon. Members opposite now to claim the credit. Why the National Plan was so welcomed by farmers was that it was the first time that a Government avowedly said, "We want expansion". The farming industry can do better than the National Plan targets, but it needs the prices to enable it to fulfil those targets.

I am a little sorry about the line adopted by hon. Members opposite, because it allowed the Minister to make the kind of speech he did make. It allowed him to point to the facts of the Government's programme—things like the increase in the price of fat sheep, and putting the sheep subsidy on a permanent basis. They are all true points, but they do not help materially in the present crisis, which has happened in spite of them. I am sorry that hon. Members opposite did not concentrate the whole debate on the crucial question of the collapse in livestock prices in the last three months. That is the key to the whole problem, and we should not get carried away into discussing generalities of Government policy.

Those who, like myself, wish to support the farmers' case, should concede at once that there is here a difficulty of analysis. With the guaranteed price system, farmers are getting not much less than they were last year—and in some cases just about the same—for the end product. I have here the certified prices for sheep and cattle. I do not propose to read them in detail but I should like to point out that in the third week of October—the last for which I have complete figures—the market price was 28½d. per lb. which, with the 6¾d. guarantee, meant that the actual price for the final seller was 35¼d., which is only 1d. below last year's price, and only 1½d. below that of the year before——

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torrington

I am following the hon. Member's argument with a good deal of attention, but he must agree that, because of various Government measures, farmers' costs have rocketed, and not just because of fuel tax and the Selective Employment Tax. The general cost of repairs and everything else has gone up tremendously. That is what is hurting.

Photo of Mr John Mackintosh Mr John Mackintosh , Berwickshire and East Lothian

I will come to other things that hurt and I will follow the line of the hon. Gentleman's argument if he gives me a moment. One has to concede a further fact if one wants to be fair. To the 134s. 11d. paid for cattle in the third week of October, one adds the 27s. 4d. guarantee. That comes out at 162s. 3d. which is 5s. 2d. below last year's price and 2s. more than the 1964 price. This debate should have been about the problem of why, when these are the end prices, there has been this disastrous fall in prices at the autumn market sales.

We find here a good deal of difficulty in analysis. The only study I have seen is in this excellent production "Scottish Agricultural Economics" for 1964, where there is an attempt to draw a correlation between the farmers' selling price and the autumn market price. It shows that in prices for Blackface Wedder lambs over the last 10 years there was a 90 per cent. correlation between the end price and the prices of store animals. That means that something has gone very wrong this autumn, because the 10 per cent. fluctuating factor is really much greater than the article says. We have to get at the root cause if we are to produce cures, not only now but for future years. The problem has nothing to do with quantities, because plenty of animals have come on to the market. We are here dealing with a complex group of factors.

I think, and this is why I was a little sorry about some of the terms of the Minister, that in a classic sense, the trouble is due to lack of confidence. Because the farmers have had squeezed margins over 10 years they have become increasingly worried, as any one knowing the farming community will attest. On top of that, they have felt grave alarm that they will not get the proper price for the next set of lambs when fattened. Many farmers have learned to do their sums. They know that they do not do well in sheep, and have gone into barley on the lower ground. That means that there has not been the purchase of store lambs to fatten. On top of that there has been the credit problem. That has been cleared up now, but I thought that some hon. Members opposite put too much emphasise on the credit aspect.

There is, in addition, the cost problem, which the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) has mentioned, although we have to admit that, including cost, the net income of sheep farms in Scotland has risen over the last two years but it has not risen enough to restore confidence or give the necessary margin of capital for this particular set of difficulties.

I have said that this is a general crisis of confidence, and I do not use the word "confidence" in the political sense used by hon. Members opposite. Many farmers are quite clear that something has gone wrong with the structure of the industry. They have no particular confidence in either party—and, given the sort of speeches we have had tonight, I do not blame them if they are cynical about both parties. They are not bothered about the political kind of confidence. Their concern is confidence in their own industry, and the future of the livestock product. We must do something pretty immediately to restore the confidence that has been lost.

Now there are Members on both sides of the House who are very deeply committed to the free import policy. They want maximum free imports. Consumption of mutton has not gone up in this country significantly since the 1930s, and people may well take the view that we can afford a declining sheep industry. I think that this would be a mistake. May I give three reasons why this would be a mistaken policy.

First, I think that the present grave difficulties in the industry may lead to a cut back so that we do not achieve the expansion targets the Minister set out. I would ask the Minister, when thinking about this, to look at the difficulties in Scotland, where there was a set back in the ewe flock. Figures recently released by the Ministry show that the number of lambs has gone down from 3·8 million last year to 3·6 million this year. If the present rate of slaughter goes on there is considerable danger of a severe fall in the lamb crop next year and the year after.

The Minister must also reconsider his position in the light of the possibility of import substitution. There has been too much over-simplification of this aspect of expanding production. No economist has adequately worked out how much one gains on the balance of payments for a given rise in agricultural production, and the cost this would represent to the community. I see that the President of the National Farmers' Union says that if we achieved the National Plan targets it would save £200 million on the import bill, but a most distinguished Oxford economist, using the same figures, has said that the saving would be £50 million. If the Minister has some one in his Department doing research, perhaps we could be given the figures of the import saving we could expect from various levels in capital injection. Until we have that information, we cannot form our judgment on whether or not this would be valuable to the community. My own view is that it would be worth while, but that is just a hunch.

I suggest as a third reason for action the fact that trading patterns are changing so rapidly. We have only just felt the full impact of the Common Market tariff. We have seen its effect on Anglo-Irish trade. If we decide to go into the Common Market in the near future, this again will affect trading patterns. There is therefore a sound case for protecting this highly desirable section of our industry on social grounds until we see the final outcome of the immediate changes in trading patterns.

Having given reasons why the Minister might reconsider his attitude to the industry, I wish to go over what action he could take immediately. I say this sincerely as I think this is in large part not a crisis of end prices but one of confidence. One of the things which he could do would be to say that there is a problem, that he is concerned about it, and that he is worried. He should say this, not once or twice, but three or four times. We know in the farming industry that he has done many good things. We want to know what he is going to do now, and that he is worried by the recent price falls.

I know that he cannot put up the end price of mutton to a great extent. I know that every penny up in the price per pound costs the Exchequer £2 million in the Price Review. If on both sides of the House we fight without too much party propaganda we might squeeze £20 million out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the next Price Review, but it would be a mistake to ask for more than 2d. or 3d. on the price for sheep as there are so many demands from other sections of the industry. Now the Minister has been able to give some comfort to pig producers by promising to consider them favourably—leaving out the totals—in the next Price Review. Could he not say the same tonight to sheep producers—that he will give them favourable consideration in the next Review?

Could he not do the same as he has done for beef producers and say that the support for sheep will not be diminished over the next three years? Could he give sheep farmers confidence that they have long-term security? I should also like him to get rid of the supplement and abatement scheme because, as was pointed out by an hon. Member opposite, it has completely failed in the purpose for which it was produced by the Conservative Party, to regulate the flow of home-produced meat on to the market. We might as well recognise that and abolish it.

I should like him to examine the whole question of hill sheep production. If he finds that hill farmers are in difficulty, he should give them an immediate injection of cash. In my area April may be too late. We want a cash injection right away and we are prepared to have a quick examination to see where and how it is necessary.

Photo of Mr James Stodart Mr James Stodart , Edinburgh West

Speaking as one of "his" farmers to whom the hon. Member has referred, may I say how much I agree with much of what he has said, particularly his most recent plea. But is it not a fact that the action of the Government in putting the hill sheep subsidy into the Price Review, which was never so before, makes what the hon. Member is now asking—an immediate injection—impossible?

Photo of Mr John Mackintosh Mr John Mackintosh , Berwickshire and East Lothian

That may be the case, but I think it might be possible to devise methods for an immediate injection of cash. Is the hon. Member saying it is impossible? I do not want to give reasons why it is impossible.

We have heard about the Anglo-Irish trade agreement, but would the Minister consider the agreement with New Zealand? There is an escape clause in it which allows imports to be regulated and allows other arrangements for orderly marketing designed to prevent market disruption. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who pointed out that 2 million more lambs are coming on to the market from New Zealand—an extra 30,000 tons of meat. We should consider whether we can go on importing lamb from New Zealand without permanent damage to our own industry.

I wish to put a special plea to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who is to wind up the debate. He has made his name as an advocate for ending regional imbalance in Britain and for building up Scotland, Wales and other areas which have not had the same level of income as the more prosperous central sections. At the last General Election, the Labour Party made a further very important point. That was to press for the ending of imbalance within those regions. As part of this programme we had the Highland Development Board and the Border Development Board, designed to build up the whole of Scotland, not only the central belt. Agriculture is the predominant industry in these sub-regions. If agriculture is run down there will not be the purchasing power to support small factories in these areas, there will be too few consumers for farm machinery, and for local engineering shops. If we are to make a reality not only of regional but of sub-regional policy, a healthy agriculture is essential. I remind the Secretary of State that the emigration rate from Scotland is from the agricultural areas even more than from the industrial areas. I, therefore, hope that he will take note of this matter.

I hope that in winding up the Secretary of State for Scotland will not tackle the Opposition, because that is too easy. To wrap them up would be too easy and my right hon. Friend has done it often to everyone's general pleasure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is a general temptation in view of the kind of speeches which hon. Members opposite make. I could have spent my whole speech knocking holes through the speeches of hon. Members opposite. I want my right hon. Friend not to speak to the Opposition or to this House but to the farmers, to tell them of his concern and to assure them that we want to see agricultural expansion in this country.

8.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alasdair Mackenzie Mr Alasdair Mackenzie , Ross and Cromarty

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this very important debate, not only because I represent an agricultural constituency but also because most of my hon. Friends on this bench also represent agricultural constituencies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who said that he did not want to deal with this question on a partisan basis, but rather with immediate problems facing the industry. That is what I wish to do.

No one who is even remotely connected with fanning can have any doubt about the gravity of the present situation or the prospects facing the industry. In my constituency everyone benefits when farming is prosperous and when farming is in a depressed condition as it is at the moment everyone suffers.

When the Government produced the National Plan, and, later, produced the Agriculture Bill—which, as the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) told us, is wending its way slowly through its Committee stage—we were certainly encouraged to believe they wanted a real expansion programme and much more food produced on British farms. Then, in August of this year, as everybody who is interested in farming knows, there was a serious drop in the price of livestock and we began to wonder whether the Government really wanted increased supplies and where, in fact, they stood in this. On 20th September the Minister made a very good speech, a speech which is now commonly referred to as the Harper Adams speech. He said this: I want to re-emphasise the importance that the Government attach to agriculture and to say again what I said when the present economic Measures were introduced. This is that the serious economic position of our country only serves to underline the importance of agriculture to the country, both because it can make a direct contribution to import saving and because it can help by releasing manpower and improving productivity. I hope that anyone who had any doubts about the Government's intentions has noticed what the Prime Minister told the T.U.C. only a fortnight ago—we are stepping up food production in order to save imports. Those are very fine words, and I think it fair to say that farmers were encouraged by that speech. However, when the industry is facing the sort of crisis it is facing at the moment—at least, in my part of the country—fine words are not enough. We need immediate action. We know that the Minister has his experts and his economic advisers, including those who compile the Price Review statistics. Therefore, he must know that the industry cannot expand unless more capital is made available to it. The industry has set a fine example over other industries in increased production. This has happened because advantage was taken of all modern techniques and the judicious use of fertilisers.

Farmers, having ploughed everything back into the land, now find themselves with little or no ready cash to carry on at a time when prices are falling rapidly. This puts him in an intolerable position. If farmers are to increase production as the Minister wishes, they must be given two things: they must be given confidence and they must be given credit, and we who are intimately connected with the industry know that both are in short supply at present. For the same reason, there is this lack of confidence in the industry.

While stressing the importance of credit facilities, I must point out that it is not the main cause of the present depression. The more credit facilities which a farmer gets from the bank, at the present rates of interest, the more it will simply mean that he is putting a millstone around his neck unless he gets an economic price for what he is producing. The industry needs to be revitalised.

I should like to refer to the grim prospects facing hill and upland farmers in all parts of the country. Here, I must declare an interest, because I am an upland farmer and had been for many years until I came here, two years ago. Scotland, the North of England, Wales, and the West Country are all experiencing the same fall in the price of upland sheep and cattle. It is fair to say that at present the morale of crofters and farmers is very low indeed. This section of the industry has been losing ground for 10 years, because costs have almost doubled in a period when prices in the store market are substantially below the figures which were ruling then.

We have been asked to absorb costs by increased efficiency. Surely it is clear to everyone that no enterprise, no matter how efficient, can carry on under present conditions.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) put in the case for the hill farmer. I was interested in all that he said. The only way we can help the hill and upland farmers is to make a substantial payment for hill ewes immediately. I hope that conditions will improve by next August, by the time that next season's lambs come on to the market. That is a long time to wait. This year's cattle and sheep sales are over and nothing more will be coming in until next August. The Minister should bear this in mind. The most effective answer would be to increase the end product at the next Price Review, but that would not meet the immediate needs of hill farmers.

It will be generally agreed that there is a vast potential for increasing food production on our hills and uplands. As our bill for food imports is now running, I understand from figures given recently, at £1,500 million per annum, of which £1,000 million relates to temperate foodstuffs which could be grown at home, it is time for the Government to make a reappraisal of the whole situation. Given a proper marketing system, it should not require any significant rise in food prices if we grew much more of our own food.

Another important consideration is that, as so many people, including nursing mothers, are living on a starvation diet in many under-developed countries, it would be both humane and Christian if we produced more of our own food so that much of what we now import could be passed on to them.

I greatly deplore the fact that this debate has to be conducted on a party political basis. The subject is far too serious for that. Looking back over the past 40 years, I must in all sincerity say that each time the Conservatives went out of office they left a pretty poor legacy in regard to hill and upland farming. I say this in all respect to members of the Conservative Party who are in the House at the moment, and who are just as concerned as I am about the state of the industry.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

The hon. Gentleman has said that he is sorry that the debate has to be conducted on a party political basis. Could not one say that the debate has not been conducted in a party political atmosphere, in that the Minister has been roundly criticised by nearly everyone who has spoken?

Photo of Mr Alasdair Mackenzie Mr Alasdair Mackenzie , Ross and Cromarty

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I was just coming to that.

I repeat that I say this with all respect to hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies and whom I know are just as concerned about the present situation as I am. This being so, I am convinced that this is the time to have another look at the situation and a reappraisal. It is time to remove this great industry from the cockpit of party politics. Let us have a deal on a nonparty basis. I have always been convinced that this is the answer. After this debate I am more convinced of it than ever.

Many farmers would welcome such a move. If this were agreed to I am sure that Members on this bench could make a very valuable contribution. This would be my long-term answer to the problem. In the meantime, I once again appeal to the Minister to do something urgently for hill and upland farmers.

8.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

If one listened only to the speeches of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and one or two other hon. Members opposite, one would think that all agriculture's troubles could be laid at the Ministry's door. One would believe that agricultural setbacks were always the fault of Government policy and that agricultural conditions were always entirely under the Government's control.

This is simply not the case. If hon. Members opposite believe that it is, they would themselves have to account for the rundown in the beef herd from 1961 to 1964 and for the sharp fall in milk production in 1963–64. They would also have to account for the sharp drop in pigs from 1958 to 1960 and for the very sharp drop in farming income in 1958—and they might account for it. This was largely a consequence of the 1957 Agriculture Act.

It is a game that two can play, and the game is not worth playing. Not only are agricultural setbacks not always to be laid at the door of one party, but they are not always the Government's fault. One can see this clearly enough by looking at the reverse case. How did we recover from the setbacks in pig production in the early 'sixties? There was a rise through 1964–65 to a record total of cattle on agricultural holdings in June, 1966, and no doubt the Government can take some credit for this. But there has also been a rise in most other Western countries.

Part of the explanation is that the rise was a response to a drop in Argentine slaughter in 1962–63, that is to say, it is not necessarily a result purely or entirely of the Government's policy. If the Government cannot take the entire credit for something that is desirable, neither should setbacks in the industry always be laid at their door, precisely because the situation is not entirely under our domestic control. It is clear that forecasts of the future are very difficult to make.

Some hon. Members jeered at the National Plan tonight, but the estimates for the Plan were prepared not by the Minister, but by the National Farmers' Union, the Natural Farmers' Union of Scotland, and the Ulster Farmers' Union. In one of the passages from page 8, Part II of the National Plan, quoted by the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine), one finds that … special attention has been given by the industry to the present world shortage of beef. It says, later: To meet this situation, which shows no signs of changing, the possibilities have been explored of expanding beef production to the full extent which is technically feasible. … As the hon. Gentleman said, the situation showed no signs of changing. It has changed dramatically, but the industry foresaw no change and could not be expected to. The National Farmers' Union does not exist to be a latter-day Cassandra, but to represent the farmers. It is unfair to expect the Minister, any more that the N.F.U. to foresee such changes in agriculture's future which are not in the Government's control. [AN HON. MEMBER: "It is his job."] Nevertheless, the industry's present problems are real enough. I hope that the Minister will take some immediate action, perhaps without waiting for the next Annual Review.

The fall in beef prices since the end of July, which is as much as 27 per cent., has led, as my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said in the different context of hill sheep, to lack of confidence by the beef industry not in the Minister but in the market and the market's long-term prospects. Inevitably, returns to producers will be down this year, even though the operation of the guarantee will ensure that there is no dramatic drop in income. For this reason, there is a crisis of confidence—a crisis of confidence in the market which jeopardises the fulfilment of the National Plan.

It is an irrational crisis. The Plan points out that consumer expenditure on food will probably rise by 8·4 per cent. by 1970. That may seem over-precise, and probably it is, but it will certainly rise by some amount of that order for the simple reason that the population is increasing. Furthermore, the Plan points out that there is room for beef and veal sales expansion up to the level of £30 million per annum without reducing imports at all. Therefore, even if imports continue to run at the 1964 level, there is still room for that degree of expansion.

It is an irrational crisis also because of the measures taken at the Price Review this year. Presumably, the Opposition are not pleading that the guaranteed price for fat cattle should not have been raised, that the beef cow subsidy should not have been introduced and that the guaranteed price and standard quantity for milk should not have been increased.

There should be confidence in the beef producing industry. But there is not, and the reasons why are many and complex. Basically, the reason is not the import of Irish cattle. This is another symptom of what is amiss. The basic trouble is, partly, the tariff barrier set up by the European Economic Community blocking foreign supplies, including our own, into the Community. We used to sell quite a substantial amount in the E.E.C. It is partly the expansion by most countries of their cattle herds in response to the international beef shortage of 1963–64. It is partly, also, the increase in home supplies at the same time, as witness the fact that we had a record number of cattle on agricultural holdings in this country in June this year.

The Irish reaction to this, of course, has been one which we all deplore. It is an irresponsible reaction for them to give an export subsidy, albeit for three months. If other countries were to behave in this way when they could not sell their cattle abroad, there would be chaos in the international market. We all deplore it, but, on the other hand, we can in a sense understand what has happened. The Irish have suffered as much from the world situation as we ourselves, and their reaction to it has been the last nail—or, rather, the last blow to the British beef producing industry this year.

What Government action is now necessary? Conceivably, we may require a further increase in the guaranteed price for beef as a measure to restore confidence. I hope that, if this is to happen, it will be announced before next year's Price Review even if it will not take effect until after the Review. But I believe that, in the long term, apart from this short-term crisis, what we need is a more planned market in the sense that we need a Commission with powers wider than are envisaged for the Commission about to be set up under the Agriculture Bill, a Commission which, above all, can handle the marketing of domestic supplies and also indulge in bulk buying from foreign sources as a method to regulate the market.

The answer does not lie in import levies and a rush into the E.E.C. Just to consider the Irish problem alone for a moment, it is highly likely that, if we were in the E.E.C. the Irish would be in, too. It is no good saying that they could sell to other Western European countries as well. Clearly, the British market will always, in circumstances like that, be the most attractive market for the Irish simply because of our geographical proximity. Furthermore, the Irish farmer would inevitably benefit much more than the British farmer from the E.E.C. agricultural guidance and guarantee fund into which the levies would be paid. His position, in other words, would become steadily more competitive vis-à-vis the British farmer.

Even if the Irish did not go into the Community, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan), the problem facing us is that of Irish dumping on the British market at the moment. Whatever the limits of one's tariff barrier, if a foreign Government are prepared to give a short-term subsidy to their exporters they will always be able to dump over that barrier, so we shall not be able to solve the problem simply by import levies and entry into the Community.

I do not want to say much about pig meat. We all know the situation. The output of certified pigs this year will be very much below that of last year and curers are having to pay very much more for them. This is a serious situation, not only because of the effect on curers, which is bad enough, but also because it may lead to a sharp rise in prices of bacon in the shops, and we should think of the interests of the consumer, which have been mentioned little enough today. We want to avoid price rises, especially at a time when we are trying to hold prices and incomes steady.

It may also lead to a rise in imports—that is to say, a rise in the expenditure of valuable foreign exchange. That is why I hope that my right hon. Friend will act in this situation with some expedition.

Photo of Mr Daniel Awdry Mr Daniel Awdry , Chippenham

What action is the hon. Gentleman asking the Minister to take? What does he suggest should be done to help the bacon trade?

Photo of Mr Gerald Fowler Mr Gerald Fowler , The Wrekin

I am coming to that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to reach it in my own time. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is getting late."] I am well aware of the time, but I have been speaking for only 10 minutes. The hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine) spoke for 25.

The cause of the situation is essentially that we had a record number of pigs last year which led inevitably to lower returns to pig producers and hence we have a lack of confidence not in the Minister but in the future of the market. It is a precisely similar situation to that of the livestock trade. Again, it is irrational, because the National Plan provides for an increase in pig meat production of 125,000 tons by 1970 and this is within the capacity of the industry. The bacon agreement guarantees that share of the home market and, furthermore, the middle band was raised by 400,000 at the Price Review. By July, the average return to producers was 2s. 3d. higher than last year so there is no reason for lack of confidence in the pig trade.

These factors should provide conditions for reasonable expansion but crises of confidence are not always rational. They are often quite irrational. One sees this in the crisis of confidence in sterling. That is why I am glad that my right hon. Friend announced in his Harper Adams speech, in my constituency, that he will raise the middle band by 400,000 by the end of March and that yesterday and today he gave an assurance that it can be increased by one million above the present rate without fear that the flexible guarantee will operate against them.

I think that this should lead to restoration of confidence but, as I have said, conceivably it may not be enough because one is dealing with an irrational phenomenon. I would like my right hon. Friend to implement the rise in the middle band now. I do not think that it would make much financial difference. He should bear in mind the consideration that it could make a difference to confidence.

While I accept the Minister's arguments today for not giving any subsidy to the curers—they were powerful arguments—perhaps he would be prepared to make available or to arrange some system of credit, short-term or middle term, for curers who find themselves in extreme financial difficulties because of the present short-term situation.

The problem in the pig meat market is, of course, partly that import prices for bacon, particularly from Denmark, are lower at the moment than our own curers can produce bacon for. I do not think that the answer is to impose levies, as the Opposition presumably wish, simply because, in this situation, we would be forbidden to do so by the terms of the International Bacon Agreement, which was signed, I remind them, by the Conservative Government.

In any case, in the case of pig meat, levies would mean a general price rise. Furthermore, if we were in the Community inevitably Denmark would be as well. We would not benefit in any degree in terms of our bacon trade through protection from Danish imports and, furthermore, there is no internal support inside the Community for pig meat. Entry into the Common Market without renegotiating agricultural policy would lead to the collapse of British pig farming.

I want briefly to refer to cereals, simply because I want to re-emphasise a point made somewhat halfheartedly by the Opposition earlier today, namely, that in July stocks of animal feedingstuffs were very much higher than at the same time last year. We must increase our meat herds, both pigs and cattle, in line with the increase in cereal production, or we shall face a serious situation with cereals in a year or two. We cannot go on stock piling for ever. But it is worth pointing out that balance would be much more difficult to achieve without renegotiation of the agricultural policy of the Common Market, were we to enter the Market, because of the individual commodity character of the approach of the Market countries to agriculture.

There has been some discussion today of the rundown in the labour force in agriculture. I want to make one comment connected with the old problem of tied cottages. The Minister of Housing and Local Government is trying to persuade local authorities to encourage redeployment by accepting people from other areas on to their housing lists and housing them rapidly without giving undue pointing weight to residents of long-standing.

There is a similar problem in moving from agriculture. Some people omit to put themselves on housing lists and find, when they want to leave agriculture—and inevitably we will find that many thousands will continue to do so over the next few years—that they are not in a position to be rehoused rapidly by a local authority. Publicising the fact that they should put themselves on a list is all very well, but some still do not, and I wonder whether the Minister could urge local authorities to give some priority to those moving out of agriculture on to their housing lists.

In connection with the price freeze, landlords of agricultural land have been urged to keep agricultural rents steady. The N.F.U. has said the same thing and so has the landlords' association. Some are still not responding and, of course, it will not make the situation for the tenant farmer, in already difficult conditions, any easier if he finds that his rent is being increased. I hope that over the coming months of the freeze my right hon. Friend will be able to give more publicity to this problem and to the desirability of keeping rents steady.

Agriculture faces a serious problem and action is urgent and I hope that it will come before the Price Review. However, after listening to today's debate, I do not think that the answer will come from the Opposition. I do not believe that we should accept the Conservative answer to the recurrent problem of British agriculture, an answer which is the imposition of import levies and rushing into the E.E.C. without satisfactory terms and without an attempt to get satisfactory terms, just as we saw last time when right hon. Gentlemen opposite attempted to enter the Common Market.

I refer hon. Members opposite to an article in The Times of 28th October, by Mr. G. T. Williams, President of the N.F.U. and a constituent of mine, in which he points out that the cost to the consumer of entry into the Common Market in his calculations and those of the N.F.U. is certainly not the figure given by right hon. Gentlemen opposite today and not even that given from these benches, but something very much higher. He points out that if there were an increase in cost to the consumer of this order, or anything like it, there would be a great growth of consumer resistance to the more expensive agricultural products and a corresponding fall in the country's dietary standard.

I cannot accept this as an answer. Today, we have talked about pigs. Hon. Members opposite on occasion put me in mind of the swine of Gadarene in their haste to rush over the precipice into the Common Market. We must hope that they do not have the opportunity to impose their collective death wish upon British agriculture.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

On a point of order. One of the greatest agricultural areas of this country is East Anglia. I give notice that, in the last agricultural debate and this one, East Anglia has been shut out, and my constituents and those of many of my hon. Friends believe that this is not a fair reflection of the agricultural interests of the country.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

In answer to that point of order, I must say that I am sure that the hon. Member will have noticed that a great number of hon. Members have tried to take part in the debate. Unfortunately there was not time for more than a certain number of those who wished to take part to participate in the proceedings. The Chair does its best to see that all shades of opinion are represented. I think that it is pertinent to observe that speeches during this debate have taken rather longer than Mr. Speaker hoped they would when the debate began.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

Further to that point of order. I should like to support entirely what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has said with regard to East Anglia, and also to record that in the whole of this debate there has not been one speech representing horticultural interests. This seems to be altogether unbalanced.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I cannot accept any reflection upon the Chair for the way in which various hon. Members have been called. The Chair does its best to see that all shades of opinion are represented within the availale period.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I should like to make it plain that I intended no reflection whatsoever upon the selection of the speakers that you have seen fit to make, Sir, but it is worth recording that from those who have spoken we have had some interesting speeches concerning the outer edges of Scotland, Wales and elsewhere. Their collective agricultural output is a fraction of that of East Anglia.

9.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

I appreciate, as much as all of those hon. Members who have not been able to get into this debate, the importance to them and their constituents of their trying to get a word in and I feel very greatly for my hon. Friends who have been unable to express the views that their constituents undoubtedly would have liked them to express.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who opened this debate, made what I thought was a very carefully considered statement of the reasons why the agricultural industry has lost confidence, and suggested some methods which the Government might adopt in order to restore that confidence. As I think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister finally admitted, my right hon. Friend very carefully quoted from many different distinguished people outside of this House and outside politics in order to strengthen his case that confidence was missing, and so that it should not be thought, as the Minister had suggested during Question Time yesterday, to be purely a party beat-up operation.

We listened with interest to the Minister when he gave his answer to the debate. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut-Commander May-don) said, we were at times embarrassed because we like the Minister very much outside this Chamber. In the Chamber yesterday and today his performance was literally disastrous. He claimed that the N.F.U., in its report which it had sent to all Members of Parliament, said that it was important not to exaggerate the lack of confidence and the damage to confidence which had been created in the farming industry.

That was no excuse for the Minister making what was certainly the most totally complacent speech that I have heard for a very long time and it was certainly no excuse for him, during the whole of his 45 minutes, when every speaker on this side has accurately represented the representations made to them by their farmer constituents—[Interruption.]—If the Minister wants to argue about that, I hope that he will very carefully read HANSARD tomorrow. He will find that every speaker on his side of the House talked in exactly the same terms, with one exception, and that was the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), who said that he had confidence in the Minister but not because of anything said in the House; and, my goodness, he had a point.

I should like to take up some of the more important points made and comment on them before I turn particularly to the problems of the hill farming areas which my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham promised I would speak about at the end of my speech.

The Minister said—and he was right—that there was not a great deal of trouble in cereal growing. I do not say that cereal growers are having a very easy time. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) had been able to speak he would have dealt with some problems in East Anglia. Cereal growing has been a fairly profitable operation and the acreages have been increasing very fast. There were the points made by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), who has left the Chamber. Unless we can balance livestock and cereal growing, there is liable to be danger and damage to the farming industry as a whole.

When the Minister talked about beef, with his usual courtesy, he refused point blank to let me interrupt; and I wished to do so for only a moment. In the document issued this morning by his Ministry he talked about cattle and took great credit for the fact that the beef herd had risen by 8 per cent. This was a typical piece of Ministerial waffle, because the document issued this morning said: Compared with September, 1965, the breeding herd, the total of beef type and dairy type cows, was up by 33,000–1 per cent.". The Minister did not mention that. He said that the beef herd was up by 8 per cent., but did not mention that the dairy half of the industry, which produces a lot of beef for us, has dropped very considerably. He was not interested in giving the House the true picture. He was trying to give one facet of it which did not show him in such very bad terms.

We were delighted that the Minister said that there would be some changes in the policy of abatements so that those selling cattle this autumn and who are suffering particularly badly may—and that was all that the right hon. Gentleman could promise—may get some benefit next spring. For the Minister to talk about the National Plan and sheep and say that he hopes we will reach our sheep target is not very encouraging for those of us who have spent our lives breeding sheep, because the National Plan sheep target is so tiny that if the Government cannot hit that they cannot hit anything.

The Minister accused the Opposition of forgetting the consumers. That comes remarkably from a member of a Government which in two years has put up the cost of living by 8·5 per cent. and during which time the cost of food has gone up by over 6 per cent.—a great deal more than the figures with which the Minister was trying to terrify the electors as the possible rise in the cost of food if we went into the Common Market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) talked about sheep and wool. If I may, I will come back to his points later in my speech.

The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards), whom I do not see in the House, complained a good deal about the length of time which the Agriculture Bill is taking in Committee. That may be so, but is it not very largely the Government's fault that it is not going through as quickly as it might? I have heard references to large numbers of questions that are not answered, but, over and above that, the Second Reading of the Bill, if I remember correctly, was on 6th May. The Bill did not go into Committee until 30th June, nearly two months later. It seems to me to be quite incorrect for hon. Gentlemen opposite to blame my hon Friends who, I am certain, are doing what they consider to be their duty for their constituents and for the industry.

If the Minister feels that two months is too long a time, let me advise him that very often his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland expects us to take a Bill in Committee within a week or 10 days of taking it on Second Reading, and we do it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) made what I thought was a very important speech, and kept the really salient points before the House when he talked about the importance of the men whom we have in our livestock industry and the stock which we have bred. I agree with him very much in his tribute to a very great Hereford breeder in his constituency who has just died.

I know only too well the problem this year of the dealers and the credit which they did not have, and what my hon. Friend described as the corn farmers who come up with money in their pockets and spend it in the store sales.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

To put the record straight, I should perhaps make it clear that Captain de Quincey was a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom).

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster for having had such a distinguished breeder in his constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) raised the problems of barley and sugar beet growing. At times, I know that it is a little boring for some hon. Members when a debate which covers the whole of agriculture concentrates too largely on one subject. I think that both these two, which are important in my hon. Friend's own constituency, should rightly have been mentioned.

The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter), who has spoken in both debates which I have had to wind up today, once again made a fairly strong attack on his own Government. He is a practical person who knows the problems, and though, with proper courtesy, he did his best to conceal his contempt for his own Minister, one could see it bubbling out from time to time as he spoke.

When I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), it is difficult to be entirely unpartisan. He said that this was a genuine crisis. I was in his constituency recently, and I heard what his farmers were saying about him. Therefore, I know why he made the speech that he did. Then he said, "But this is a party political exercise". Will the hon. Gentleman not consider that if his own constituents are telling him, me and anyone else who goes there that this is a serious crisis, and when he uses phrases like "prices have collapsed calamitously", is that not something which should be debated in the House?

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

I would prefer not to, to use the hon. Gentleman's own phrase when he was refusing to give way to any of my hon. Friends. I will give way to him in a moment, when I have dealt with his speech, but it must be a short intervention.

He then talked about the tremendous effect which New Zealand lamb could have on his constituency and on Scotland as a whole if, as he forecast, exports to this country were 10 per cent. up next year. Whose fault is that? It is directly the fault of the Minister of Agriculture who has negotiated a treaty with New Zealand which allows her free access to this market for another five years. The hon. Gentleman was wrong, however, when he talked about the Scottish percentage of home-killed lamb and mutton. He said that it was 25 per cent., whereas it is 33 per cent. Lastly, if he is so keen on the courtesies of this House, perhaps I might tell him that it is normal for an hon. Member to wait for the speech following his own, and not to leave the Chamber straight away.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The right hon. Gentleman has asked that my intervention should be brief. As there are so few points of substance in his attack on me, I am prepared to leave my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with them, but I particularly disclaim a lack of courtesy on my part. I waited for some minutes after the hon. Member who followed me——

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Interventions at this stage must be brief.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The hon. Member who followed me said he did not propose to deal with my speech.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

That does not alter the fact that it is the normal courtesy of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. There is far too much noise at the moment.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

If the hon. Gentleman had shown any courtesy to the rest of the House during his speech today, I would certainly have withdrawn my comment, but I shall not do so.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells stressed again the variety of farming which at the moment is suffering from varying shades of lack of confidence. He spoke about the pig industry, the egg industry, the poultry industry, and the milk industry in his area. He said—which is the feeling of a large percentage of farmers in the country—that farmers today do not believe that the Minister is fighting their battles for them, or at least if he is he is not winning any of them, and the same might be said of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) put his finger on one, and only one, reason why the agriculture industry is unhappy at the moment. He said that the culprit was the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and he accused this side of the House of not having voted against it. The hon. Gentleman may not know, but it is not very easy to vote against international treaties, and particularly it is not very likely that the Opposition will vote against a treaty when we hear the sort of thing that was said on that occasion. In answer to my right hon. Friend who opened the debate, the Prime Minister said: … my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has been very much in the centre of these negotiations, and I can certainly say that the Agreement will not in any way harm or prejudice the position of our own farmers and the plans announced for their future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1965; Vol. 722, c. 1096.] In view of the Prime Minister's words, would the hon. Gentleman have voted against it? Yet today he says that this is the main culprit for the lack of evidence.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

I am awfully sorry. The Minister spoke for 45 minutes without giving way more than once. [Interruption.]

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. This debate has proceeded in a very orderly manner. I hope that we are not going to spoil it.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

The point is made. If the hon. Gentleman does not like having his own Prime Minister quoted against his argument I cannot help it.

The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) spoke, I am afraid, when I was out of the Chamber to get something to eat. But the hon. Member for The Wrekin said quite openly that this was a crisis of confidence and that it was affecting the Minister's chance of achieving his National Plan targets. That being so, all the evidence from all the speakers on the Minister's own side has reinforced the crisis of confidence of which we have spoken.

In the last few minutes, I should like to turn particularly to the problems in the hill and upland country. I should like to mention the cattle trade there only briefly, because so much has been said about the cattle trade in the country as a whole. When replying to an Adjournment debate the other day, the Minister of State said that he did not believe that the average in suckled calf sales in the country was down by more than £5. The N.F.U. figures from Wales, Northern Ireland and everywhere else which I have collected suggest that the average is a good deal higher than that.

But whether this is so or not, the important point is that the average conceals the fact that although the big calves, generally coming from comparatively good ground, have sold fairly well, anyone who has been to calf sales in the areas where the hill calves are sold has seen drops of £10, £12 and £15 and in some cases no price at all being offered for the calves.

On the subject of wool, I should like to take up the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich. It is important that the House should realise that just as agriculture is such an important import-saver, so wool is part of that picture. We imported, in 1964, £146 million-worth of wool and, last year £115 million. If the Minister continues massacreing the sheep industry, there will also be a big bill to pay for the extra wool which we will need. Wool is an important raw material for many of our exports, whether in knitting, carpets or many other things. If we can build up a greater number of sheep, we shall have more wool and shall have to import less. Perhaps we will have a better balance of trade figure there as well.

I now turn to sheep. I agree with those who have said that, from 1957 to 1964, there was no increase in the price of mutton. This is true and so far as I was a Member of the Conservative Party, I must obviously take my fair share of the blame which is going for that. However, during that period, the "league tables" published year by year in White Papers of how different sections of the farming community are doing at a particular time show that there were many years when the hill sheep industry was far from the bottom of the table, when there was greater need to support, for instance, milk or pigs or some other part of the industry. Certainly, up to 1964, the sheep industry, although not entirely content—as they made clear to me very often—was not in despair.

But what has happened since then? They were certain that, after the big rise in 1964 to meet what they believed was the main problem—that of the low return for agriculture as a whole—which did not help them, they were confident that they would get something substantial in 1965. They did not, and they have had only ¾d. in 1966. From the fact that in the low ground sheep stocks have been sold off it is perfectly clear in order to grow barley, because there is more money in barley, that this, starting on the low ground, is beginning to back right up the hills now. Figures have been quoted many times in this House of the sort of drop in income that has occurred in the whole of the country this year—lambs varying from 10s. to £1 down, cast ewes from 10s. to £3. I have figures for Scotland, Wales and all over the country showing that the pattern is pretty uniform wherever one goes. That being so, it is difficult to see how the industry can have any real confidence.

I do not believe that this is entirely due to the credit squeeze—it is not. One problem was the weather—and even the Secretary of State for Scotland at his best cannot control that. The lambing percentage, down 15 per cent. this year, is not to be put at the door of the Secretary of State. [Laughter.] He has some very active rams just outside Kilmarnock.

It was after the middle of July that the real problem set in, and it was due partly to the credit squeeze, and partly to the accumulated lack of money in the agricultural industry which has been going on, alas, for the whole of the last two years, when farmers' incomes have not been fully recouped. It has been due partly to very large increases in taxation affecting agriculture—petrol duty, increases in licences, the Selective Employment Tax.

Incidentally, I did not think very much of the remark of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. John Mackie) yesterday that the interest involved in the Selective Employment Tax means only 4d. per week per man. The real problem, as he knows—if he employs a number of people and happens to have an overdraft—is that the bank has probably been told not to lend the money at all. It is therefore not a question of finding the 4d. per week but of persuading the banker, and the banker has been told that this is not something for which he can lend money.

We have heard a fair bit about the Irish Cattle Agreement, but I would remind the Minister that the picture is not particularly good in regard to sheep, either. In 1964, we imported in the form of carcases 2,000 tons of Irish mutton and lamb. This year, in those two agricultural months when our market is always very neatly balanced between glut and shortage, the figure was 3,600 tons. Again, in 1964 we imported 1,400 tons of fat sheep, and this year the tonnage is 5,400. These are not big figures, but they show the Government's bad housekeeping in arranging for these imports to come in at the critical moment when our own markets are always in some difficulty.

These, broadly, are the facts spoken to in all parts of the House and in every branch of the industry today. What do we expect the Government to do in the face of what is a serious problem, whatever the Minister may say, and one that is affecting all farmers in all parts? We do not expect the Minister to say that we can do nothing until the next Price Review, because the situation is serious. The right hon. Gentleman talks of the credits that the banks are now prepared to give to farmers but, as has been said from this side, it is months too late. Nor is this a question of the banks giving credits to farmers just for nothing. They charge a very handsome amount for that service.

The Secretary of State will realise, as well, that there is a particular problem in a number of Scottish islands where, on top of the extra trouble it always is to get sheep off the islands, they had, earlier in the year, a very considerable loss of money due to the shipping strike. They have an extra reason for needing special help.

It is not just that the farming industry is annoyed because Selective Employment Tax is not coming back to farmers, as to other industry, in the form of a premium. They know that the money they are paying in Selective Employment Tax today will come back in February, but they cannot use it. Particularly in the hill and upland areas there is no other money coming in until June and this money has to be kept to pay the next three or six months Selective Employment Tax with no relief to them.

What worries me is that at the moment there is a very serious squeeze at both ends of the industry. The right hon. Gentleman is looking at the clock, but I was interrupted a number of times and I shall still give sufficient time for a Secretary of State to reply to the debate. At both ends of the industry there is trouble. At the smaller end farmers have not the resources because the money is not coming in and they are facing a very difficult winter and spring up to next June, but at the other end a large number of farmers with some resources and real ability are talking today of going out of the industry because the return is so bad. This is much the more serious, in the long-term, for our agricultural industry.

The Secretary of State has a very difficult task for, if the Minister could tell us nothing in 45 minutes, I do not believe he will be allowed to tell us much. But I beg him to realise that this is a serious problem. We shall need cash now. Re-strictionist policies, if they ever made sense, do not make sense today. We have to go in for real import substitution. If the right hon. Gentleman can come with us on this the whole way, I can almost guarantee that the sheep industry—which is very near some important breakthroughs in new techniques and knowledge—will be able in 10 years to provide all the mutton and lamb coming from New Zealand today, if that is his wish.

9.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

If the tone of the speech from the Front Bench opposite which opened the debate had been the same as that of the speech at the end, we might have had a much more constructive debate. It was unfortunate that the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) began his speech in the way he did. "Waffle" is not the word, because what he did was to ascribe to the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—in respect of a statement my right hon. Friend made today, a failure to appreciate the importance of agriculture in respect of the Common Market.

If the right hon. Gentleman looks at HANSARD tomorrow—it is not available to us all, or to any of us except the person who replied to the Question—and refreshes his memory, he will see that the Prime Minister did make actual reference to the importance of agriculture as one of the interests we could not let go.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman quoted in reference to Ulster Unionist hon. Members who are not present some incident about an interview they wanted with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is not here."] He has been here. We have been talking of courtesies of the House tonight. One of the things which is done, or used to be done, is that if an hon. Member wishes to attack an hon. Member in this way he should give him notice. The circumstances are that the two Unionist Members approached my hon. Friend for an interview. He met one personally and told him that he was sorry that he could not accede to the request, because the Government were in the middle of negotiations, and by agreement they submitted a memorandum. That memorandum was considered during the negotiations.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I did not make a personal attack. I mentioned this in passing. The basis on which I made it was a letter which was in my hand, a copy of which I have now, written on 30th November by the two Members in question. The first sentence says: Dear Mason,We regret that you were unable to meet us on the subject of Anglo-Eire trade on Thursday and so we are adopting the only other course open to us, namely your suggestion that we should send you a memorandum. They got no reply to that until after the agreement had been signed.

Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The only person who has anything to withdraw is the right hon. Gentleman. One does not read letters "in passing". It was not just a case of happening to have it with him, and it would have been fairer to the Minister whom he mentions if he had given him notice, and the Minister in question would rightly have been there.

Hon. Members:

Get on with it.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I will get on in my own time.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. We shall not get any further by these silly noises.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The right hon. Gentleman was speaking to a Motion which refers to loss of confidence spreading through the agricultural industry—not one section of it, but the whole of it. There is a spate of censorious motions on which the party opposite has been coming unstuck. The National Farmers' Union says that it is anxious not to exaggerate or encourage loss of confidence in the farming industry", but the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was designed to lose confidence.

Hon. Members:

Read on.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I propose to speak on as well as read on. Hon. Gentlemen will not silence me by their post-prandial prattlings.

There is evidence here of either panic or partisanship in the opening speech in this debate. The right hon. Gentleman forgets that in 1961 cattle prices fell to 98s. 6d. One hon. Gentleman said that things were never worse in the memory of mankind. He must have a very short memory. What did the Tory Government do? They did nothing but offer delay, and eventually they set up a committee.

They did nothing practical. Their concern at that time was not for the farmer but for the Chancellor, and it might well be that today's falling prices in the stock market is related to the fears of what happened then. After all, it is not prices that the fat stock men are entirely dependent on. We have to take into account what they get under the guarantees. The guarantees have not been reduced. What they may be afraid of—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about the abatement scheme?"] I will come to that. [Interruption.]

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I should not like to have to call an individual Member to order.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

—is the fact that they may be concerned at the reactions of the Chancellor in respect of increased efficiency payments. That is what may concern them. But there is no loss of confidence and, indeed, in respect of the fat cattle dealers they have got their guarantees. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) started by saying he was still in a state of shock, and he went on to prove it.

The hon. Gentleman said that they would not get the guarantee because of the abatement system. It was the right hon. Member for Grantham who introduced the abatement system. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that, in agreement with the unions, he would concentrate the end of the year payment on those who suffered loss. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hot air."] It is not hot air. It will be money in their hands. The farmers will appreciate it far more readily than they will the irrelevant speeches made by hon. Members today.

The bacon and pig problem was referred to. This is not something new in the industry. Because of the inability to cope with this and to be able to calculate and anticipate all that happened here, the flexible guarantee system was introduced. It was the Tory Government who did that. They had their difficulties. There is no doubt about the position which has arisen in relation to high prices at present and the attraction of pigs into the pork market.

It is suggested that we should subsidise the curer. It is not on high prices that we should start subsidising, because that is what it would mean. My right hon. Friend has done the right thing; he has announced in advance that he will raise the middle band by another 400,000 at next year's Price Review. We are just completing the normal quarterly examination under the flexible guarantee. If this shows a lower forecast of marketing, automatically 9d. per score will be added to the price.

It should be appreciated that, even within our present system, we can cope to a certain extent with certain happenings to the market. We should not seek to make panic changes at the moment.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I am sorry I have only 18 minutes left. I was late in starting, but I did not mind that, because the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) made a good speech.

I come to the question of the Irish Agreement, of which far too much has been made. There has been an element of irritation about the £4 per head of the export subsidy. If it was not given, would the cattle have come here? I am sure that they would, because what other market have the Irish got? This would have happened even if there had been no agreement. So it is wrong to start blaming the agreement. There is, and always has been, free entry here for Irish cattle. If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to state that the Tories would stop this as well as renegotiate the agreement, we had better tell the Irish this.

There was a good deal of mix-up and argument. It was alleged that we were under an obligation to take so many stores from Ireland. We are not. The whole point is that we want to take them. The hon. Member for Harborough seemed to think that we did not want them. A considerable part of our livestock industry would be in a pretty bad way if they had not come, and our concern is to get more, although we do not want their fat cattle.

It may well be that the frustration of their exports on this occasion has caused them difficulties in the same way as when we had thrown back on to our markets our own frustrated exports. Anyone who thinks that there is an easy way of anticipating this is quite wrong. But our safeguard on this is the guarantee. As my right hon. Friend has said, he has already got an assurance from Eire's Minister of Agriculture that the export subsidy is coming off this month. I am sure that this difficulty will prove to be temporary. There is not a wholesale loss of confidence in the livestock industry because of this, and we are already getting expansion here.

I turn now to the point made by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) about sugar beet. We have been giving very careful consideration to sugar beet growing in Scotland in the light of the considerable drop in the acreage for the Cupar factory. This is not new. At one time there was free transport for this, but the hon. Gentleman's Government placed a penalty on that and passed on the burden of, I believe two-thirds, to the growers. The present Government gave back 50 per cent of that, so we have gone some way at considerable cost here. That was for one year, and we have decided to carry it on. While we know the exact figures for the uptake of contracts in England for sugar beet we do not yet know what they will be for Scotland, but we hope they will show an increase, because in the long run that is the only way we can save the position.

I shall not minimise my concern or the difficulties of hill cattle and hill sheep in Scotland. I should be very grateful if hon. Members opposite would not make the position more difficult by repeating——

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

It is not only in Scotland.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I know that it is not only in Scotland, but if the hon. Gentleman looks at this matter he will see that as one goes north the position gets worse.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

Hill cattle and sheep farmers are also subject to the special difficulties of which the right hon. Member for Argyll spoke, concerning fringe markets where we could probably do something to improve the marketing, which might help. He was right and fair in saying that what has happened this year is not entirely because of credit. But the credit position has been considerably exploited by some people who should know better and who have been spreading rumours about failure to get credit.

There was an interesting article in the Scotsman today about rumour spreading. It was suggested that auctioneers were insolently demanding cash, even from credit-worthy fanners and that cheques were supposed to be bouncing all over the country. The Scotsman made an investigation and here is the result: 'It's a lot of nonsense—just a lot of rumour', said James Barclay of Aberdeen & Northern Marts. 'It's nonsense', confirmed Lawrie & Symington of Lanark. 'The rumours started in North Aberdeenshire', said Mr. Fraser of Macdonald, Fraser of Perth. 'By the time they reached Perth they were very good, and no doubt when they got to Edinburgh they were even better.' … The auctioneers say that they are having to give a little more credit, but nothing very significant. The banks, they say, are treating farmers fairly well.

Photo of Mr Paul Hawkins Mr Paul Hawkins , South West Norfolk

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West) rose——

An Hon. Member:

The hon. Member is an auctioneer.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

If the hon. Gentleman is an auctioneer, and disagrees with these named auctioneers, I suggest that he takes it up with them.

Hon. Members:

Give way.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

It must be appreciated that, quite apart from credit, the weather has played a considerable part. [HON. MEMBERS: "Windy."] We had a protracted winter and a cold wet spring. [Laughter.] How otherwise do hon. Gentlemen explain, first, the falling quality and the falling quantity of lambs? They had better stop laughing at this. It was one of the facts of the situation. One of the calamities in the fall in price was that it was not made up by numbers, because there was also a fall in the number of lambs marketed.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

I have been in this industry for a very long time. One of the astonishing features of this year is that, for the first time in my recollection, when there was a drop in numbers there was also a drop in price. Generally, when there is a drop in numbers the price comes up and the farmers are not quite so badly off.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

That is exactly the point I was on. But hon. Members opposite did not seem to accept that there had been a drop in numbers. The drop in quality itself may have been reflected in the lower price, but, with the drop in numbers, one would have expected a price rise.

We come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Fife, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), that this must be our concern. We are seeing a breakdown in the interdependence of the hill man and the lowland man. If the lowland man will no longer fatten sheep, if he is going in for barley, this is a change in the pattern of agriculture which will throw us into considerable difficulty in maintaining the position on the hill. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Then help the hill farmer."] Yes, but it cannot be done through price. The hill man is dependent on various factors. There are some things which he can do nothing about. It is not only the Secretary of State who can do nothing about the weather. The hill farmer can do nothing about it, either. He can do very little about the market, unless he gets himself organised and unless he changes the pattern.

The right hon. Gentleman himself spoke about changes in hill farming. We may well be forced into this, but there was very little evidence of it in the speech with which the right hon. Member for Grantham opened the debate. This is related not to Government policies, but to fundamental changes in the structure of agriculture. It is to this that we must pay attention.

This is why I regret that the Bill now in Committee, through which we might be able to do something in respect of marketing, structure and co-operation, has taken so long. The reputation which used to be given to the Scottish Grand Committee has now passed to Standing Committee A, which is considering the Agriculture Bill. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What does the Secretary of State propose to do for the farmers?"] I am just pointing out one way by which we in the House could help, by hastening that Bill on to the Statute Book.

In agreement with the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, we have been going into the question of what has happened this year and what can be done about it.

The suggestion has been made for a payment in advance. This is not so easy, because we are bound by statute in relation to how the matter is calculated and I doubt whether the saving would be any more than a few weeks. But what we learn from the inquiry will be taken into account in the Price Review next year. The right hon. Gentleman attacked us when he suggested that the scheme for levies would only cost £80 million a year. What he failed to make clear was that this sum is cumulative—£80 million in the first year, £160 million in the second and so on. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes.

We had better get this right. His hon. Friends behind him shout "No" while the right hon. Gentleman nods in agreement with me. All he is doing is spinning it out, but the facts are there. The cost would be £400 million and if he thinks that our consumers would be able to meet a bill of that kind, and meet it with a smile, he does not know the problems.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose——

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I have only four minutes left to me.

Some hon. Members asked questions and have a right to answers. My hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards), in a very good speech which was careful and well-balanced, spoke of the difficulties in the same kind of lands in Wales that we have in Scotland. We appreciate the capital difficulties. [Interruption.] I do not expect to be interrupted by a Chief Whip, especially a Scottish one. My hon. Friend spoke about the high cost of

agricultural land. This is one of the surprising aspects. We hear talk of loss of confidence. If there were really a loss of confidence, where would it show? It would show in the unwillingness of people to go into agriculture but there is no such unwillingness. I have had the benefit of being able to read the advertisements and the results of sales. In West Stirlingshire, £200 an acre was being paid last week.

What the Opposition have failed to do is to convince even themselves that what they are saying is true. There may be temporary difficulties. The problem, however, has been with us a long time. [Interruption.] Right hon. and hon. Members opposite did nothing. The silent sentinels never opened their mouths. How many speeches did the right hon. Member for Argyll make on the back benches through 1961 and other years? He only made one speech in the House before becoming Secretary of State for Scotland. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was a Whip."] Not all the time. His silence was emulated by other hon. Members opposite. This Motion is not related to reality, but to partisanship. As the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson Watt) rightly said——

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly:

The House divided: Ayes 237 Noes 320.

Division No. 196.]AYES[10.0 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Brewis, JohnCrosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Brinton, Sir TattonCrouch, David
Astor, JohnBromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. Sir WalterCrowder, F. P.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)Bruce-Gardyne, J.Cunningham, Sir Knox
Awdry, DanielBryan, PaulCurrie, G. B. H.
Baker, W. H. K.Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M)Dalkeith, Earl of
Balniel, LordBuck, Antony (Colchester)Dance, James
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyBullus, Sir EricDavidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Batsford, BrianBurden, F. A.d'Avigdor-Goldemid, Sir Henry
Bell, RonaldCampbell, GordonDean, Paul (Somerset, N.)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Carlisle, MarkDeedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)Carr, Rt. Hn. RobertDigby, Simon Wingfield
Berry, Hn. AnthonyCary, Sir RobertDodds-Parker, Douglas
Bessell, PeterChannon, H. P. G.Doughty, Charles
Biffen, JohnChichester-Clark, R.Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Biggs-Davison, JohnClark, HenryDrayson, G. B.
Birch, Rt. Hn. NigelClegg, Walterdu Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward
Black, Sir CyrilCooke, RobertEden, Sir John
Blaker, PeterCooper-Key, Sir NeillElliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
Body, RichardCordle, JohnErrington, Sir Eric
Bossom, Sir CliveCorfield, F. V.Eyre, Reginald
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnCostain, A. P.Farr, John
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir EdwardCraddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Fisher, Nigel
Braine, BernardCrawley, AidanFortescue, Tim
Foster, Sir JohnKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Price, David (Eastleigh)
Galbraith, Hn. T. G.Kitson, TimothyPrior, J. M. L.
Gibson-Watt, DavidKnight, Mrs. JillQuennelt, Miss J. M.
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Lambton, ViscountRamsden, Rt. Hn. James
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)Lancaster, Col. C. G.Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Glyn, Sir RichardLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRees-Davies, W. R.
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.Legge-Bourke, Sir HarryRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Goodhart, PhilipLloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Goodhew, VictorLloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)Ridsdale, Julian
Cower, RaymondLongden, GilbertRippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Grant, AnthonyLoveys, W. H.Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Grant-Ferris, R.Lubbock, EricRoots, William
Gresham Cooke, R.McAdden, Sir StephenRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Grieve, PercyMacArthur, IanRoyle, Anthony
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)Russell, Sir Ronald
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.Maclean, Sir FitzroySt. John-Stevas, Norman
Gurden, HaroldMacleod, Rt. Hn. IainSandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Hall, John (Wycombe)McMaster, StanleyScott, Nicholas
Halt-Davis, A. G. F.Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)Sharples, Richard
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Maddan, MartinShaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)Maginnis, John E.Sinclair, Sir George
Harris, Reader (Heston)Marten, NeilSmith, John
Harrison, Brian (Maldon)Mathew, RobertStainton, Keith
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Maude, AngusSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Harvey, Sir Arthur VereMawby, RayStodart, Anthony
Hastings, StephenMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Stodart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Hawkins, PaulMaydon, Lt.-Cmdr. s. L. C.Summers, Sir Spencer
Hay, JohnMills, Peter (Torrington)Talbot, John E.
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir LionelMills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)Tapsell, Peter
Heath, Rt. Hn. EdwardMiscampbell, NormanTaylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Heseltine, MichaelMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Higgins, Terence L.Monro, HectorTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Hiley, JosephMore, JasperTemple, John M.
Hill, J. E. B.Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Hirst, GeoffreyMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Thorpe, Jeremy
Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir JohnMott-Radclyffe, Sir CharlesTilney, John
Hogg, Rt. Hn. QuintinMunro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir HughTurton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Holland, PhilipMurton, Oscarvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Hooson, EmlynNarbarro, Sir GeraldVickers, Dame Joan
Hordern, PeterNeave, AireyWalker, Peter (Worcester)
Hornby, RichardNicholls, Sir HarmarWalker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Howell, David (Guildford)Noble, Rt. Hn. MichaelWall, Patrick
Hunt, JohnNott, JohnWeatherill, Bernard
Hutchison, Michael ClarkOnslow, CranleyWells, John (Maidstone)
Iremonger, T. L.Orr, Capt. L. P. S.Whitelaw, William
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Orr-Ewing, Sir IanWills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Osborn, John (Hallam)Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Page, Graham (Crosby)Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Johnson, Russell (Inverness)Page, John (Harrow, W.)Woodnutt, Mark
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)Worsley, Marcus
Jopling, MichaelPercival, IanWylie, N. R.
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir KeithPeyton, JohnYounger, Hn. George
Kaberry, Sir DonaldPike, Miss Mervyn
Kerby, Capt. HenryPink, R. BonnerTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kimball, MarcusPounder, RaftonMr. Pym and Mr. R. W. Elliott.
Abse, LeoBoardman, H.Corbet, Mrs. Freda
Albu, AustenBooth, AlbertCraddock, George (Bradford, S.)
Alldritt, WalterBoston, TerenceCrawshaw, Richard
Allen, ScholefieldBowden, Rt. Hn. HerbertCronin, John
Anderson, DonaldBoyden, JamesCrosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Archer, PeterBraddock, Mrs. E. M.Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Armstrong, ErnestBradley, TomDalyell, Tam
Ashley, JackBray, Dr. JeremyDarling, Rt. Hn. George
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Brooks, EdwinDavidson, Arthur (Accrington)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. AliceBrown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)
Bagler, Gordon A. T.Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W)Davies, Harold (Leek)
Barnes, MichaelBrown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Barnett, JoelBuchan, NormanDavies, Robert (Cambridge)
Baxter, WilliamBuchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)de Frietas, Sir Geoffrey
Beaney, AlanButler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Delargy, Hugh
Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Dell, Edmund
Bence, CyrilCallaghan, Rt. Hn. JamesDempsey, James
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodCant, R. B.Dewar, Donald
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)Carter-Jones, LewisDiamond, Rt. Hn. John
Bidwell, SydneyCastle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraDickens, James
Binns, JohnChapman, DonaldDobson, Ray
Bishop, E. S.Coe, DenisDolg, Peter
Blackburn, F.Coleman, DonaldDonnelly, Desmond
Blenkinsop, ArthurConcannon, J. D.Driberg, Tom
Dunn, James A.Kelley, RichardPerry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Dunnett, JackKenyon, CliffordPrentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Eadie, AlexKerr, Russell (Feltham)Price, William (Rugby)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Leadbitter, TedProbert, Arthur
Edwards, William (Merioneth)Ledger, RonPursey, Cmdr. Harry
Ellis, JohnLee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)Rankin, John
English, MichaelLee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)Redhead, Edward
Ennals, DavidLee, John (Reading)Rees, Merlyn
Ensor, DavidLestor, Miss JoanReynolds, G. W.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)Lever, Harold (Cheetham)Rhodes, Geoffrey
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Faulds, AndrewLewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)Roberts, Goronwy (Caenarvon)
Fernyhough, E.Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Finch, HaroldLipton, MarcusRobertson, John (Paisley)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan)Lomas, KennethRobinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Luard, EvanRobinson, W. O. (Walth'stow, E.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Rodgors, William (Stockton)
Floud, BernardLyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Roebuck, Roy
Foley, MauriceMahon, Dr. J. DicksonRogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)McBride, NeilRose, Paul
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)McCann, JohnRoss, Rt. Hn. William
Ford, BenMacColl, JamesRowland, Christopher (Meriden)
Forrester, JohnMacDermot, NiallRowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Fowler, GerryMacdonald, A. H.Ryan, John
Fraser, John (Norwood)McGulre, MichaelShaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)McKay, Mrs. MargaretSheldon, Robert
Galpern, Sir MyerMackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Gardner, TonyMackie, JohnShore, Peter (Stepney)
Garrett, W. E.Mackintosh, John P.Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Garrow, AlexMaclennan, RobertSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Ginsburg, DavidMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.McNamara, J. KevinSilverman, Julius (Aston)
Gourlay, HarryMacPherson, MalcolmSilverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)Skeffington, Arthur
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. AnthonyMahon, Simon (Bootle)Slater, Joseph
Gregory, ArnoldMallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield. E.)Snow, Julian
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Manuel, ArchieSpriggs, Leslie
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)Mapp, CharlesSteele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Griffiths, Will (Exchange)Marquand, DavidStewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.Mason, RoyStorehouse, John
Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)Maxwell, RobertStrauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Mayhew, ChristopherSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)Mellish, RobertSwain, Thomas
Hannan, WilliamMendelson, J. J.Swingler, Stephen
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Mikardo, IanTaverne, Dick
Hart, Mrs. JudithMillan, BruceThomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Hattersley, RoyMiller, Dr. M. S.Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Hazell, BertMilne, Edward (Blyrh)Thornton, Ernest
Healey, Rt. Hn. DenisMitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)Tinn, James
Heffer, Eric S.Molloy, WilliamTomney, Frank
Henig, StanleyMoonman, EricTuck, Raphael
Herbison, Rt. Hn. MargaretMorgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)Varloy, Eric G.
Hilton, W. S.Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Hooley, FrankMorris, John (Aberavon)Wallace, George
Horner, JohnMoyle, RolandWatkins, David (Consett)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMulley, Rt. Hn. FrederickWatkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)Murray, AlbertWeitzman, David
Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)Neal, HaroldWellbeloved, James
Howell, Denis (Small Heath)Newens, StanWells, William (Walsall, N.)
Howie, W.Norwood, ChristopherWhitaker, Ben
Hoy, JamesOakes, GordonWhite, Mrs. Eirene
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Ogden, EricWilkins, W. A.
Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)O'Malley, BrianWilliams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Orbach, MauriceWilliams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Orme, StanleyWilliams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Hunter, AdamOswald, ThomasWilliams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Hynd, JohnOwen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)Owen, Will (Morpeth)Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)Padley, WalterWilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)Page, Derek (King's Lynn)Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Janner, Sir BarnettPalmer, ArthurWinnick, David
Jay, Rt. Hn. DouglasPannell, Rt. Hn. CharlesWinterbottom, R. E.
Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St. P'cras, S.)Park, TrevorWoodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Parker, John (Dagenham)Woof, Robert
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)Wyatt, Woodrow
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Pavitt, LaurenceYates, Victor
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Jones, Rt. Hn. SirElwyn(W. Ham, S.)Pentland, NormanTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)Mr. Lawson and Mr. Grey.
Mr. William Hannan discharged from the Accommodation and Housekeeping Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services); Mr. Urwin added.—[Mr. Lawson.]