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Clause 3—(Variation Of Factors Determining Operation Of Arrangements For Providing Guaranteed Prices And Assured Markets)

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1947

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I beg to move, in page 2, line 29, to leave out "appropriate Minister," and to insert "Minister."

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Am I to understand that you have passed over my proposed new Clause—[Co-operation among producers]?

The hon. Member's proposed Clause has not been selected by Mr. Speaker.

We had a discussion in Committee on the points raised in the Amendment which I have moved, but for the benefit of hon. Members who were not members of the Standing Committee I should mention that the "appropriate" Minister whom we wish to see removed from Clause 3 and from subsequent Clauses is either the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Home Secretary in relation to Northern Ireland, or the Minister of Food. Those who have studied the Bill will realise that in these Clauses very wide powers are given to the person described "the appropriate Minister", who I take it will be either the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Food. That Minister will have power, when it appears to him expedient or in the public interest, to vary the guaranteed price for any particular agricultural commodity He can also limit the quantity to which the price is applied and can vary the methods by which the price is paid. I think hon. Members will agree that questions of price and method of payment are essentially agricultural matters, and should be the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture.

In the Committee, the Minister answered the case which we put forward with a very plausible, and in some ways a reasonable argument. He said that in the conditions we have in the country today, rationing being in force, many questions as to price had been settled by order or by regulation under the authority of the Minister of Food. That Minister had power to do it, and it was administratively convenient that he should do so. The Minister of Agriculture went on to say that he, as Minister of Agriculture, took full responsibility although he may not have made the orders himself. On this side of the House we hope that existing conditions will not prevail for very much longer, and that we shall soon see the end of the present system of rationing. We feel that it should somehow be made clear in the Bill whether the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Food is responsible on these vital questions affecting the agricultural industry. If the Minister cannot accept this Amendment and the consequential Amendments, we hope that he will give us some firmer assurances than we have had so far that this procedure will not be extended indefinitely. We hope that he will take the earliest opportunity to get back for the Minister of Agriculture those powers which, in the opinion of hon. Members on this side of the House, should be vested in him, and in him only.

5.0 p.m.

This Amendment brings up the very important question of the power of the Minister in relation to other Ministers. The essential thing is co-operation. I had down a new Clause relating to co-operation among, smallholders which was not called. Here I am talking about the co-operation of the Minister. All will agree that Ministers working separately will not do so effective a job as Ministers working in close co-operation with one another. If the Ministers are co-operating they will be anxious to see that the smallholders are co-operating. I hope the Minister will accept this suggestion and see that a great deal of co-operation takes place. We are often told that those en- gaged in agriculture work "from see to can't see," from early dawn till the last hour of night. They have to exploit their own living to make a livelihood, and it is hard work. I have had some experience of this. I remember on a hot summer's day standing with the sweat running down my forehead watching the wife cultivating the garden. Recently she has revolted and she now does the watching and I do the groaning. The smallholder can only hope to make a success of his smallholding if we have co-operation between the Ministries and co-operation to the utmost among the smallholders.

I know from the Debate we had in Committee that hon. Members opposite do not like the Ministry of Food. They made that very plain, but their reasons, I thought, were very thin. The effect of this and other Amendments on the Order Paper is to preclude the Ministry of Food from taking any action under the Bill. It is clear to me that hon. Members are not quite seized of how the Clause will work. Certain actions under the Bill which are of vital importance are reserved exclusively for the agricultural Ministries, and there is co-operation between those three Ministries. The three agricultural Ministries are responsible for conducting the annual price reviews and for extending the powers under Clause 4, should that be necessary to give effect to their reviews. They are also responsible for fixing the periods during which minimum prices for livestock shall apply. The remaining functions and duties are concerned with the carrying out of the decisions taken by the three agricultural Ministries following upon these price reviews. Those functions may devolve upon any one or all three of the agricultural Ministers, or upon the Minister of Food. It is right that it should be so. I must repeat my statement in Committee that while food rationing remains, it is absolutely necessary that the Minister of Food should make the appropriate orders when prices have been fixed for various commodities. It is necessary for the Minister of Food to continue to purchase or control practically all rationed foodstuffs but he only makes an order following a price review. The Minister of Food purchases practically the whole of our meat. Therefore, once a price has been fixed for meat it is for the Minister of Food to make an Order giving effect to that decision. Similar considerations apply to milk and cereals.

This Amendment would, quite unnecessarily, complicate food administration in this country. This Amendment and the 13 or 14 Other Amendments on the same subject are therefore pointless. It is true that if at a later date it became necessary for the agricultural Ministers to make arrangements for the payment of guaranteed prices, it would still be inconvenient if they had in all cases to act jointly. Methods sometimes differ between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Therefore, the Bill distinguishes between those functions which are part of the determination of guaranteed prices which are a joint responsibility of the three agricultural Ministers and those other functions which are concerned with carrying out the various decisions taken. I could not possibly accept this Amendment. While the Minister of Food is responsible for purchasing and controlling all rationed foodstuffs he is the right and proper person to take action under Clause 3 following upon the price reviews. I hope hon. Members will see the wisdom of not pressing this Amendment, since it would completely upset the rationing system of this country.

I am sure that the Amendment has served its purpose in getting the explanation which has just been given—

Is the hon. Member asking a question? He has already exhausted his right to speak.

I am informed that the hon. Member seconded the Amendment. That being so, he has exhausted his right to speak. If he wishes to ask a question, that would be permissible.

May I ask the Minister a question? I do not think he was quite accurate when he said that the Minister of Food will only make orders as a result of annual reviews. The Subsection reads that the appropriate Minister can vary prices and so on:

"… when it appears to him expedient so to do in the public interest."
There are, later, certain safeguards to the effect that he cannot reduce the prices. Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is not quite accurate to say that these orders can only be made as a result of annual reviews and that he is, therefore, directly responsible for the orders.

May we take it from the Minister of Agriculture that the Minister of Food will, definitely, be the servant of the Minister of Agriculture in all matters connected with agriculture?

I should be very sorry to employ any servants, let alone a Ministerial servant. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that my right hon. Friend would not willingly become the servant of myself or any other Minister.

But as the Minister of Food has already said that he will buy the food in the cheapest market, how can he be anything but the servant of the Minister of Agriculture in these matters?

The hon. and gallant Member seems to have forgotten that once the review has been conducted and the price fixed, it is the Minister of Food alone who provides the order to give effect to the conclusions.

Can my right hon. Friend clarify the position with regard to the fixing of prices for horticultural products? There is no question of any annual price review, but horticulture is covered by the Bill, and is the responsibility of the Minister. It appears, however, that there is no relationship in the fixing of horticultural prices, and that no responsibility attaches to the Ministry of Agriculture. There is, then, the extraordinary position that, for example, the price of tomatoes is fixed at 2S. 5d. a lb. Can my right hon. Friend tell us to what extent horticultural prices will come under review by the Ministry of Agriculture?

I also would like to ask a question about horticultural prices. Horticulture is to receive a certain amount of direction and supervision, but it is not to receive any guarantee in regard to the commodities that have been mentioned. Some hon. Members who were not members of the Standing Committee that considered this Bill, and who come from horticultural districts, are very perturbed about the matter, as is also the National Farmers' Union.

I am afraid that if I were to attempt to reply to these questions, I should be out of Order, since the price review affects only the commodities mentioned in the First Schedule.

I should like to refer to what I think my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) might have said a few moments ago if he had not already exhausted his right to speak. This short Debate has been well worth while in that it has drawn from the Minister an assurance that there will be no statement with regard to prices made by the Minister of Food without prior consultation with the Minister of Agriculture. That, of course, is what the farmers throughout the country want to know. If they were under the impression, as a result of reading the Bill and not knowing Parliamentary procedure too well, that the Minister of Food could one day make an announcement without having previously consulted his colleagues in the Government, they might feel unhappy about their future. It is clear from what the Minister has said that that is not likely to happen, and I hope that will reassure the farmers that their position will be safeguarded by the Ministers in conference, and that the appropriate Ministers will invariably consult with the Minister of Food before any announcements are made.

Amendment negatived

5.15 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 3, lint 13, to leave out "as nearly as may be."

The purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that in fixing or varying prices and quantities, all the factors shall be taken into account by the Minister at the time. We are anxious that the Minister in using the machinery of price fixing, should make a clean job of it once a year, and not have it at the back of his mind that he can fiddle about with one or other of the factors in the price structure and thereby alter the effects of the price settlement which in future years, we hope, will have won the approval of the farming and consuming community. We want to make sure that the Minister will make a clear job of price fixing once a year. It is very necessary that the farmers should be able to look ahead with confidence to definite guaranteed prices and markets. In the past it has been the curse of the agricultural industry that it was so often left open to the whims of imports, and that the farmers never knew how the market would settle down six, 12 or 18 months ahead. One of the virtues of the Bill is that it puts stability into the market for the British farmers and, therefore, for the British farm workers, so that they will know where they will stand 12 or 18 months ahead. I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment. In Committee he went a good deal of the way to meet us and expressed a good deal of sympathy with us, and, therefore, I have some confidence that he will accept the Amendment.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I cannot see why the words "as nearly as may be" are necessary in the Clause. I should have thought it would have been quite possible in the price review to fix the quantity as well. Personally, I hope it will never be necessary for quantities to be specified. It has always been the contention of hon. Members on this side that there should be no limitation of quantity as long as the farmers are able to produce at a reasonable price. I would like to point out a difficulty that might arise if prices and quantities are not fixed at the same time. For instance, would it be possible for the Minister to fix the price of, say, sugar beet in a February price review, and then at some later date before the beet was harvested to limit the quantity of beet that was to be accepted for sale?

If the Minister says it would be impossible, that helps, but I still think that the words "as nearly as may be" are unnecessary, and I hope the Minister will agree that, when fixing prices, he should fix the quantity at the same time.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture said in Committee that he viewed a similar Amendment with sympathy, and would consider whether it might be administratively possible to agree to the exclusion of these words without causing administrative inconvenience. My right hon. Friend has considered the matter again with great sympathy. I think hon. Members recognise my right hon. Friend's desire to do his best at all times in price fixing, to safeguard the interests of the producers, but he finds that it would be administratively inconvenient to remove these words. The effect of the Amendment would be that, if the appropriate Minister found it necessary to limit the assured market quantitatively, he would not only have to announce his decision on this point at the same time as he announced the prices and other factors, but would have to include it in the same order as that relating to prices and other factors. It is here that the point of administrative inconvenience arises. My right hon. Friend does not feel certain that it would at all times be possible for him to do this, and if it were difficult for him to do it, surely the effect would be that when he was ready to announce a price he might have to hold up the announcement of the price until the other Minister engaged in the consultation was fully ready to make an order concerning quantity. Surely that would be a disadvantage to the producers? Surely they would like to know as early as possible what the price is to be, instead of having to wait for some short interval to see if there is to be any change of quantity? My right hon. Friend has already given an assurance that he will, wherever possible, do this at the same time or make the interval as short as possible, and therefore we feel unable to accept the Amendment.

I do not think my hon. Friends on this side of the House are at all satisfied with that reply. The Minister must make up his mind what quantities of any commodity he wants and, having decided on the amounts, he fixes a price

Division No. 231.]

AYES.

[5.25 p.m.

Adams, W. T, (Hammersmith, South)Bacon, Miss A.Berry, H.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Balfour, A.Beswick, F.
Alpass, J H.Barstow, P. G.Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)
Attewell, H. O.Barton. CBing, G. H. C
Austin, H. LewisBattley, J. R.Binns, J.
Ayles, W. H.Bechervaise, A. EBlackburn, A. R.
Ayrton Could, Mrs BBenson, G.Blyton, W. R.

upon which he hopes he will get that quantity. If he does not adopt such a policy, I am quite certain we shall be in a serious state before many years have passed. The whole basis of Part I of this Bill is the price structure and the Government policy of giving the agriculturist a guaranteed price and a guaranteed market. Unless the Government know what quantity they require produced, it is impossible for them to decide what price should be given to the farmer, because upon the price will depend the quantity produced. For that reason I shall ask my hon. Friends to divide the House on this Amendment.

There is another point. In Committee the Minister made sympathetic reference to this subject, and so did the hon. Gentleman just now, but they were not able to accept the Amendment because it is said to be administratively inconvenient. All farmers will be affected tremendously by the question of whether the Amendment is carried or rejected. If it were carried, the farmers would know that when a price was fixed; a quantity limitation would be fixed at the same time, and therefore they would know how to plan. It is not good enough to say that these words cannot be deleted, because it is not administratively convenient to do so. The Minister went so far to say previously that he was in sympathy with the proposal, and although it was inconvenient administratively, yet it was not impossible.

I will read out exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said:

"I am informed it would be administratively inconvenient, though perhaps not utterly impossible. [OFFICIAL REPORT, STANDING COMMITTEE A, 18th February, 1947; c. 124.]
Now time has passed and the Minister has looked at this point again. He has failed to meet us on this side of the House and I feel that we should register our protest.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 235; Noes, 103.

Boardman, H.Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Porter, G. (Leeds)
Bowden, Flg-Offr. H. W.Herbison, Miss M.Proctor, W. T.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaten)Hewitson, Capt. MPryde, D. J.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M (L'pt Eton ge)Hicks, G.Pursey, Cmdr. H
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Hobson, C. RRandall, H. E.
Bramall, E. A.Holman, P.Ranger, J.
Brook, D. (Halifax)House, GRees-Williams, D R
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Hoy, J.Reeves, J.
Brawn, George (Belper)Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Reid, T. (Swindon)
Brown, T. J (Ince)Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pten, W.)Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Bruce, Maj. D. W. THynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Rogers, G. H. R.
Burden, T. W.Irving, W. JRoyle, C.
Burke, W. A.Janner, BSargood, R
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Jay, D. P. T.Scott-Ellict, W.
Carmichael, JamesJeger, G. (Winchester)Shackleton, E. A. A
Castle, Mrs. B. AJeger, Dr. S. W. (St Panoras. S.E.)Sharp, Granville
Champion, A. J.John, W.Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Chetwynd, G. RJones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Shinwell, Rt. Han. E.
Cluse, W. S.Jones, P. Asterley (Hitohin)Shurmar, P
Cooks, F. S.Kenyon, CSilverman, J. (Erdington)
Coldrick, W.King, E. MSilverman, S S. (Nelson)
Collindridge, FKinley, J.Simmons, C. J.
Collins, V. J.Kirby, B. V.Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.
Colman, Miss G. MLang, G.Skinnard, F. W.
Cemyns, Dr. L.Lee, F. (Hulme)Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Cook, T. F.Levy, B. W.Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)
Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.Lewis, A W. J. (Upton)Soskice, Maj. Sir F.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camberwell, N.W.)Lewis, J. (Bolton)Stamford, W.
Corlett, Dr. J.Lewis, T. (Southampton)Stephen, C.
Cove, W. G.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Crossman, R. H. SLyne, A. W.Stokes, R. R.
Daggar, G.McAdam, W.Stross, Dr. B.
Davies, Edward (Burslem)McGhee, H. GStubbs, A. E
Davies, Harold (Leek)Mack, J. D.Swingler, S.
Davies, Hadyn (St Pancras, S.W.)McKay, J. (Wallsend)Sylvester, G. O.
Deer, G.McKinlay, A. S.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Delargy, H. J.Maclean, N. (Govan)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Dobbie, W.McLeavy, F.Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Dodds, N. N.Mainwaring, W. H.Thomat, D. E. (Aberdare)
Driberg, T. E. NMailalieu, J. P. WThomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Dumpleton, C. WMann, Mrs. J.Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Dye, S.Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Manning, Mrs L. (Epping)Thurtle, Ernest
Edelman, M.Marquand, H. A.Titterington, M. F.
Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Mathers, G.Tolley, L.
Evans, John (Ogmore)Medland, H. MTomlinson, Rt. Hon G
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Mellish, R. J.Turner-Samuels, M.
Fairhurst, F.Middleton, Mrs. LVernon, Maj. W. F.
Farthing, W. J.Mitchison, G. RViant, S. P.
Foot, M. M.Monslow, W.Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Forman, J. C.Montague, F.Wallace, H. W (Walthamstow, E.)
Gallacher, W.Moody, A. S.Warbey, W. N.
Ganley, Mrs. C. SMorgan, Dr. H. B.Watkins, T. E.
Gibbins, J.Morley, R.Watson, W. M.
Gilzean, A.Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Glanville, J E. (Consett)Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Gooch, E. GMorrison, Rt. Hon H. (Lewisham, E)White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Goodrich, H. E.Mort, D. L.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Gordon-Walker, P. C.Moyle, A.Wilkins, W. A.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon A. (Wakefield)Murray, J. DWilley, O. G. (Cleveland)
Greenwood, A. W. J (Heywood)Nally, W.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Grenfell, D. R.Neal, H. (Claycross)Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Grierson, E.Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)Noel-Buxton, LadyWilliams, W. R. (Heston)
Gunter, R. J.Oldfield, W. H.Willis, E.
Guy, W. H.Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Wills, Mrs. E. A
Haire, John E. (Wycombe)Palmer, A. M. F.Wise, Major F. J
Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Parkin, B. T.Woodburn, A
Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Paton, J (Norwich)Yates, V. F.
Hardy, E. A.Peart, Capt. T. F.Young, Sir R (Newton)
Harrison, J.Piratin, P.
Hastings, Dr. SomervillePorter, E. (Warrington)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Pearson and Mr. Snow.

NOES.

Amory, D. HeathcoatBuchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ.)Butcher, H. W.Crowder, Capt. John E.
Baldwin, A E.Byers, FrankCuthbert, W. N.
Barlow, Sir J.Carson, E.Darling, Sir W. Y.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.Challen, C.Davidson, Viscountess
Birch, NigelChannon, H. Donner, Sqn.-Ldr. P. W.
Boothby, R.Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.Drewe, C.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.Dugdale, Maj. Sir I. (Richmond)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Cole, T. L.Duthie, W. S.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Cooper-Kay, E. MElliot, Rt. Hon. Walter

Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. OSanderson, Sir F.
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.McKie, J. H. (Galloway)Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Gage, C.Maitland, Comdr. J. WSmithers, Sir W.
George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)Marsden, Capt. A.Spense, H. R.
Glyn, Sir R.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Grant, LadyMorris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Granville, E. (Eye)Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Gruffydd, Prof. W. J.Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)Studholme, H. G.
Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Mott-Radolyffe, Maj. C. E.Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Neven-Spence, Sir B.Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir CNicholson, GVane, W. M. F.
Henderson, John (Cathort)Nutting, AnthonyWadsworth, G.
Hinohingbrooke, ViscountOrr-Ewing, I. L.Walker-Smith, D.
Hollis, M. C.Osborne, C.Ward, Hon. G. R.
Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)Peto, Brig. C. H. MWebbe, Sir H. (Abbey)
Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J,Pickthorn, K.White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Hurd, A.Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Hutchison, Li.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)Prescott, StanleyWilloughby de Eresby, Lord
Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Prior-Palmer, Brig. OWinterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Kendall, W. D.Raikes, H. V.York, C.
Lambert, Hon. G.Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Lancaster, Col. C. GRoberts, Emrys (Merioneth)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)Major Conant and
Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)Major Ramsay.
Low, Brig A. R. W.Ropner, Col. L.