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Agriculture (Annual Price Review)

Volume 499: debated on Thursday 24 April 1952

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The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

52. Mr. JOSEPH T. PRICE,—To ask the Minister of Agriculture whether his offer of an additional £50 million to farmers has been accepted; and what proportion of this sum will be passed on to the domestic consumer in increased prices.

57. Mr. ANTHONY HURD,—To ask the Minister of Agriculture if he can now announce the outcome of the annual price review of farm products.

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I should like to make a statement on the result of the Annual Agricultural Review. I am glad to be able to inform the House that a schedule of farm prices has been agreed which, in the current national circumstances—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are we to understand that the time which the right hon. Gentleman will take up will be taken into account?

The statement is in answer to Question 57, and it comes before the business questions.

May I start again? I am glad to be able to inform the House that a schedule of farm prices has been agreed which, in the current national circumstances, is considered both by the Government and by the leaders of the three National Farmers' Unions to be properly related both to the economic condition of the industry and to the task before it. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a full statement and a schedule of the agreed prices.

Agriculture will have its full share of the nation's economic resources. Because the majority of our farms are small and the men who farm them find it particularly difficult to finance expansion in output in the face of rising costs, we have tried to mitigate where possible the adverse effect of cost increases and so avoid the need for undue increases in farm prices.

The Government have decided to hold unchanged until 31st March, 1953, the basic release prices of feedingstuffs. We propose also to lay before the House a scheme for continuing ploughing-up grants; and a scheme to extend the subsidy on fertilisers. Subject to the necessary statutory authority, we propose to authorise the renewal of a calf subsidy.

The increases in farm prices, together with the subsidy arrangements I have mentioned, should enable the industry both to meet the higher costs which have arisen during the year and to finance the programme for the further expansion of output.

The country's economic difficulties, coupled with the actual and prospective world shortage of food, especially meat, make it essential that more food should be raised from our own soil. The just and constructive award which I am now announcing provides a firm foundation for the long-term policy which the Government are working out in conjunction with the leaders of the industry. It should lead to significant improvement in the supply of home-produced food for the consumer, and I see no reason why by 1956 net output should not have been raised by at least 60 per cent. above prewar.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have just had a statement which, unless some figures are given in it, seems to me to be a gross abuse of the normal custom of the House. The point of order I am anxious to raise is this. Upon what grounds was it decided that a statement of that kind should be made which, in point of fact, conveys no real information whatsoever?

I understand that this statement was in answer to Question 57. It is quite customary for long answers to have the figures and details put in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is clearly understood that it is within your discretion that, if a Minister desires, for purposes that seem to him proper, it is possible for him to rise and make a statement in answer to a Question, particularly when that Question is of great importance. That has always been well understood in the House. But the Minister when he rose made no reference whatsoever to this statement being in answer to a Question. I think I am right in saying that. Therefore, this statement was made to the House without any relevance to any Question on the Order Paper. If it was such a statement and you, Sir, in your discretion, thought fit to allow that statement to be made, I say it is an intolerable impertinence that that statement should not include any single fact which we want to know.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I distinctly heard you say that the statement was to be made in answer to Question 57, in my name.

I would point out to the House that it is often very difficult for a Minister and for the Speaker to draw the line about voluminous statements. There is a danger both ways. Either it is so long as to consume a great deal of the time of the House or it may be unduly short, we are all liable to make mistakes.

On this point I am bound to say that I think the Government have laid a trap for themselves. There have never been a more inadequate statement on the result of the farm price review than that offered this year. The Minister of Agriculture has given me every facility, and I exempt him from any part in it, but somebody has treated the House with a good deal less than the courtesy that we normally have. I will be as interrogative as I can. This is a most important statement. Are the Government not aware that an announcement of the farm prices, involving a very large measure of recoupment of public money, really ought not to be conveyed to this House without the figures being mentioned? Are the Government aware that, although I may not necessarily criticise the figure if I knew it, I am entitled, as is the House, to know what it is, as indeed is the whole country?

I want to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman some specific questions. I warn the Leader of the House that the use of this form of statement is bound to add to the great number of questions which one has to ask in order to get at the truth. First of all, may I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman if he will be good enough to tell us what is the total recoupment made by the Government to the industry? Secondly, how much of the increased cost this year is the industry itself being asked to bear? Thirdly, within that recoupment, what is the actual split between the straightforward increase in farm prices and the new or extended subsidies? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned some four subsidies which are either new or extensions of old ones. How much, in fact, of the recoupment is being covered by those subsidies and how much by straightforward increases of prices?

May I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman how much of this total recoup- ment, which I guess to be a round £50 million altogether, is being charged against the consumers' food subsidies? The policy may or may not be right, but we really must know. Would I be right in thinking that it is £50 million and that it is not being charged against the food subsidies? If so, will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us, on the basis of the Chancellor's answer that £150 million reduction in the food subsidies represented an increase of 1s. 6d. per head in the cost of food, what this particular charge represents? Would I be right again in guessing an additional 6d. per head from now on? I should like to ask one or two other questions arising out of such details. We must really get at this. For example, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, at the end of his statement, referred to the fact that he sees no reason why the net output in 1956—

On a point of order. All these questions are completely and absolutely irrelevant. I should like to submit one point for your consideration, Mr. Speaker. It is well known in the House' that a smallish but growing group of Members on this side have certain strong views in relation to the farming subsidy policy. I want to ask you whether those hon. Members on this side of the House who are going to rise to ask further questions will be accorded exactly the same type of privileges as are now afforded to other hon. Members.

Further to that point of order. May I respectfully point out that the Minister said that he would circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a full statement, with a schedule? Surely it is perfectly within the powers of hon. Members thereafter to ask any questions arising from that statement after they have had proper time to consider it.

I am rising to a point of order which is a very short one. I should like to ask the Minister, when he replies to the rather voluminous points which have already been raised, to explain to the House why, in giving the report he has already given, he has elected to do so in answer to Question No. 57 which is of general concern, and at the same time has ignored Question No. 52, standing in my own name and referring to specific figures which are germane to this subject.

I want to suit the convenience of the House. I have other questions to put, but perhaps it would be as well at this stage if I asked the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to answer the questions on general cost which I have put, and then I should like to put some more specific questions on the details of the statement.

I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the last time the Labour Government were responsible for announcing the result of the Annual Price Review, it was not announced in this House at all. It is my purpose to try to give as much information as I can to the House and to answer the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The first and the main point in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks was the actual cost in recoupment of this Review. This is a complicated figure to give: it can only be done in three parts.

The starting point must be the schedule as announced by my predecessor this time last year. Following on that, the Special Review of last November added £16 million in respect of labour in a full year to the price schedules determined by my predecessor. Following upon that the once-for-all additions made to these schedules in fulfilment of the Special Review of 1950 have to be taken off. That is a sum of £2½ million.

The particular award which I am announcing today adds to the price schedule of a year ago, as adjusted in these two ways, £39 million. I want to emphasise to the House that this award is not a bonus to farmers. This award will enable farmers to maintain the present level of income and will give help to mitigate the cost increases which might otherwise have made it particularly difficult for the small farmers to expand production.

With regard to the second point made by the right hon. Gentleman, as to the cost of the award to the consumers of this country, I would say that the cost of the award will, in the normal way, be taken into account by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food in announcing the retail price increases necessary to bring the food subsidies down to the rate of £250 million a year announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget proposals. It is the intention of the Government to issue a White Paper dealing with all the very difficult and intricate figures which surround this Review and giving further details as to the exact extent of recoupment and where it becomes effective. I would ask the House to await the publication of that White Paper.

On a point of order. I am sorry to take up the time of the House, Mr. Speaker, but this is something which I do not think either you or hon. Members should tolerate. It was perfectly well known last night, or late yesterday afternoon, by members of the Press upstairs—one of whom gave me the details—that the figures that we have been asking for this afternoon have already informally been given to the Press. Why should not the House be informed that the total figure it will cost the consumer is £52 million? It is really disgraceful and outrageous.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has sought to give the impression that he has answered the points I have put. With very great respect, he has not. The main issue which we must know in order to form a judgment is simply what is the total cost of the whole recoupment. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said £39½ million, with the other things. In point of fact, am I not right in saying that when one allows for the feedingstuffs subsidy and the other subsidies, the total recoupment is of the order of £50 million?

Further, am I not right in saying that the whole of that £50 million, subsidies as well as price increases, is to be charged against the consumer subsidies? Therefore, am I not right in saying that there is something of the order of 6d. per head to be paid by every consumer per week for this increase in farm incomes? It may be right or wrong; but we must have it.

In the whole of this announcement there is no indication of an agricultural food policy. Reference was made to a figure of 60 per cent. over pre-war by 1956, which represents, if achieved, an increase of 2½ per cent. per annum between now and then, as against the increase of 7 per cent. per annum achieved under the Labour Government. I am very glad to hear that we are to have a White Paper. In view of the inadequacy of this announcement and the impossibility of discussing it intelligently before we get the figures in the White Paper, will the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House arrange for us to have a debate on this White Paper, this award and the apparently non-existent Government food policy for which we have waited so long?

May I put a simple point which I think the House wants to know and is entitled to know, and which certainly the housewives of this country are entitled to know: how much does this mean in terms of the food prices? Will some Minister on the Front Bench opposite tell us exactly how much the prices of the foodstuffs—the meat and the milk and the bread—will go up to the housewives as a result of this arrangement? That is a simple question.

I have already answered that question. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think that, on reflection, the House will agree that it is absolutely impossible to assess exactly what it will mean in retail figures and prices. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is it roughly?"] I stand on what I have said—that the cost of this award will be taken into account by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food in announcing the retail prices necessary to bring the food subsidies down to £250 million.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he was consulted by his right hon. and gallant Friend before his right hon. and gallant Friend made this extraordinarily incomplete statement to the House? There are many precedents for statements having been made, in the House or outside it, on the result of these considerations of farm prices, but I have never known a statement of this kind made which was so incomplete and yet so tendentious, and containing no figures. May I further ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of that, he will afford an opportunity to the House to discuss the whole of this matter?

I was waiting until we came to the business Question. If, however, it suits right hon. Gentlemen for me to deal with the matter now, it seems to me that, as my right hon. and gallant Friend has said there is to be a White Paper, then we had better wait and see what the White Paper says before we decide on what further action the House would like to take.

May I ask the Minister how far, in agreeing on these prices, the extra freight charges which affect certain parts of the country very severely were taken into account? Secondly, may I ask him whether, in view of the fluctuation in various prices which farmers have to pay, it is his intention to undertake an interim review of prices in the current year if that should be necessary?

My answer is that we have taken into account all cost increases arising since the last Annual Review, other than the wages award, which has been dealt with separately.

As the Minister has no authority to speak for agriculture in Scotland, may I ask whether the Secretary of State for Scotland is not to be asked to clarify the situation as far as Scotland is concerned?

Could the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give an assurance that the White Paper will contain full details, including a clear picture of the price burden which will fall on the consumer as a result of this award? Can he also give an assurance that that White Paper will be published before the local government elections?

The White Paper will give all the information which is available to my Department. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] As soon as we can make it available.

When we are considering the detailed figures, which no doubt we shall have in HANSARD tomorrow, may we at the same time be given an assurance from my right hon. and gallant Friend that the stage is now set for a really effective forward drive for increased food production, thus reversing the trend of the last two years?

Following is the statement:

  • 1. On behalf of the three Ministers responsible for agriculture in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, I am glad to be able to inform the House that after a full review of the economic condition and prospects of the agricultural industry a schedule of farm prices has been agreed which in the current national circumstances is considered both by the Government, and by the leaders of the three N.F.U.s, to be properly related both to the economic condition of the industry and to the task before it.
  • 2. The results of this Review and the decisions arising from it must be seen in their proper perspective. They provide a firm foundation for the long-term policy which the Government are working out in conjunction with the leaders of the industry and should create that confidence in the future which is essential if the industry is to respond effectively to the national need. At the same time the Government recognise that this price award is not, of itself, a comprehensive programme covering all the many aspects of farming on which farmers have to plan ahead. The Government are, therefore, pressing on urgently with discussions on these other aspects of policy and I shall announce our conclusions as and when they are reached.
  • 3. One aspect we shall immediately discuss with the National Farmers' Unions is the minimum prices for livestock and livestock products for 1954–55 and 1955–56. The Government intend to raise minimum prices for livestock products from their present unrealistic level to something much nearer current prices.
  • 4. The Agriculture Act provides for varying the methods by which its objects are achieved. By this award we are fixing prices for livestock products up to 31st March, 1953, and for the 1953 crops, and we shall shortly be fixing minimum prices up to 1956. In respect of any of these prices it may become possible and desirable to vary the methods of implementation. Any variation will, of course, be the subject of consultation with the industry and our object will be to maintain therein the value of the awards now made.
  • 5. I come now to the Review itself. There is general agreement as to the character of the task ahead. It is, in broad outline, to produce not only more feed for our livestock but also as much wheat for our own consumption as we reasonably can and enough potatoes to satisfy consumption demands; to maintain our supplies of milk and eggs; but above all to do our utmost to produce more meat.
  • 6. The extent to which the industry can respond to this call will depend upon its economic condition, upon its efficiency, and upon the tools which can be made available for the job. Above all, it will depend upon the farming community's appreciation of the national need, its sense of responsibilty and its adaptability.
  • 7. Agriculture will have its full share of the Nation's economic resources and we look with confidence to the men and women in the industry to raise still further the efficiency with which they produce food from our resources of land, labour, capital, equipment and knowledge. The Government intend, with the full support of the leaders of the industry and with all the emphasis it can command, to inaugurate a special drive to increase output and make the fullest use of the land. We shall take vigorous action to ensure that the limited area of agricultural land in the country is neither used inadequately nor misused through incompetence.
  • 8. Responsible and representative agriculturists agree with the Government that with the resources that are or will be made available a valuable increase in net output of food can be achieved by improvements in the production and use of grass, in the yields of crops and in the management of livestock and by a further substantial increase in the tillage acreage. By 1956 the industry can be reasonably expected not only to have reversed the present downward trends in production but to have raised net output to at least 60 per cent. above pre-war.
  • 9. Because the majority of our farms are small, and the men who farm them find it particularly difficult to finance expansion in output in the face of rising costs, we have tried to mitigate where possible the adverse effect of cost increases and so avoid the need for undue increases in farm prices.
  • 10. We have decided to hold unchanged until 31st March, 1953, the basic release prices of feedingstuffs. We propose also to lay before the House a scheme for continuing ploughing-up grants; and a scheme to extend the subsidy on fertilisers; and, subject to the necessary statutory authority, to authorise the renewal of a calf subsidy. For this last purpose we have allocated a total of £4½ million and we have agreed with the industry that we shall jointly work out a scheme under which this amount will be devoted not only to a subsidy on suitable steer calves but also to its extension to heifer calves of recognisable beef types.
  • 11. There will be increases in farm prices as set out in the schedule which I am circulating. These, together with the subsidy arrangements I have mentioned, and the continuance of the price increases announced in November as a result of the Special Review then held, should enable the industry both to meet the higher costs which have arisen during the year and to finance the programme for the further expansion of output.
  • 12. The cost of the award will in the normal way be taken into account by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food in announcing the retail price increases necessary to bring the food subsidies down to the rate of £250 million a year announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget proposals.
  • 13. The country's economic difficulties, coupled with the actual and prospective world shortage of food, especially meat, make it essential that more food should be raised from our own soil. The just and constructive award which I am now announcing should lead to significant improvement in the supply of home produced food for the consumer. It should remove from the industry any hesitation about future prospects and provide a real incentive for every farmer to go vigorously about his job of raising output and thus playing his full and indispensable part in strengthening the country's economy and the nation's defences.
  • CROP PRICES FOR 1953

    Present 1952 price (approximate annual average)*

    Addition for 1953 harvest to existing price schedules

    s.d.s.d.
    Wheat, millable, per cwt.29613
    Barley, minimum price per cwt.23616
    Oats, minimum price per cwt.21210
    Rye, minimum price per cwt.22030
    Sugar beet, per ton‡112246
    Potatoes, average per ton§239050

    * Price fixed after 1951 Annual Review plus Special Review Additions (November, 1951).

    †Existing schedules are as announced on 29th March, 1951 and 29th November, 1951 subject to grade and seasonal variations.
    ‡Average for beet of 15·5 per cent. sugar content. An alternative method of payment in relation to sugar content is to be negotiated for 1953.
    §The discount for substandard ware potatoes of the 1953 harvest is to be negotiated. The 1952 price quoted is for standard ware.

    PRICES OF LIVESTOCK AND LIVESTOCK PRODUCTS

    Prices to operate for the livestock year to 31st March, 1953

    (with provision for retrospective payments as announced)

    Approximate average annual price for 1951–52

    *

    Addition for 1952–53 to existing price schedules

    s.d.s.d.
    Milk, pence per gallon‡36·601·54
    Fat cattle, per live cwt.§120836
    Fat sheep and lambs, per lb. dressed carcase weight including headage payments21
    Fat pigs, per score dead weight≑53816
    Hen eggs, per dozen sold through packing stations4
    Duck eggs, per dozen, minimum price3
    Wool, per lb. (from 1st May, 1952)60½ minus1

    * Including November, 1951, Special Review additions calculated over a full year, but not including elements included in 1951–52 prices as once-for-all additions in respect of a deferred Special Review in 1950.

    † Existing schedules are as announced on 29th March, 1951 (excluding the once-for-all additions) and 29th November, 1951, subject to grade and seasonal variations.
    † Part of the price increase will be used for additions to the production bonuses. The 1951–52 price quoted includes production bonus, quality premiums and attestation bonus.
    § The price increase will be limited to adult clean cattle. The 1951–52 price quoted relates to steers, heifers and cow-heifers only, and includes quality premiums.
    ║ The average increase of 1s. 6d. will be concentrated on clean pigs. The 1951–52 price relates to the quality weight range.