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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 3 November 1965

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Farm Amalgamations (Land)

1 and 2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) how he proposes to assess the rents to be charged for agricultural land after it has been bought by the Government on a voluntary basis under the proposed new scheme; and how the tenants will be selected if there are numerous applicants for one particular farm;

(2) on what principle he will allot agricultural land bought by the Government on a voluntary basis under the proposed new scheme for amalgamation with other land to form holdings of a commercial size.

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he plans to farm himself, as Minister, any of the land which the Government may purchase in course of the proposed farm amalgamation programme.

The present intention is to let rather than farm such land until it can be used for an amalgamation to improve farm structure. The method of selecting tenants, and the rent to be charged are matters of everyday land management which will be decided in the light of the circumstances of each case.

Is the Minister aware that there will be many competitors for each of the farms, when they are available, and that these will include many of the neighbouring farmers? What steps is he taking to ensure that a procedure is adopted which is fair to all concerned, so that there can be no repetition of the error of judgment in his Department which culminated in Crichel Down?

I was not responsible for administration then, but I would agree that any administration must be fair and must also appear to be fair. I will try to achieve that. I think that it is very important. We have a very effective land service, and I am quite certain that, as they have been in my other estates, they will be efficient and fair in these cases.

This kind of letting—would it be of a terminable kind, not a fully protected agricultural letting? Would it be done on something like a year's notice so that the Minister would be able to have the land available for amalgamation when he wants it?

I hope that the hon. Member will not tie me down to give a definite answer on that. As he knows, I am preparing legislation, and I am having discussions, on this very important matter. I will take careful note of what the hon. Member has said, as I believe he has said it in a constructive spirit.

Departmental Staff

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what increase or decrease in staff there was in the Department under his control in the period 16th October, 1964, to 15th October, 1965; and what increase or decrease he anticipates in the period up to 15th April, 1966.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. John Mackie)

Mid-month figures are not available, but the staff of the Department is estimated to have fallen by 66 between 16th October, 1964, and 15th October, 1965. It is estimated that it will then increase by about 130 by the 15th April, 1966.

Can the Minister explain why he was unable to achieve the decrease of 110 which he forecast six months ago?

The decrease is 66 and the total figure of my Department is 15,542. It is not a very big error.

Food Labelling Regulations

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will introduce new food labelling regulations.

Comprehensive proposals for new regulations on food labelling were issued to interested parties on 27th September. Comments were asked for by 3rd January next. It will be necessary to consider the comments received and I cannot therefore yet say exactly when the regulations themselves will be made, but it will be as soon as possible.

While thanking my hon. Friend for this welcome news, may I ask whether he appreciates that consumer demand, and education, have increased considerably, even since the Standards Committee reported? Does he further appreciate that there will be great disappointment if the regulations do not provide for disclosure of all the contents and exact constituents of food, on the labels, particularly colourings which are especially suspect—

Order. That is too long. That is enough of the question. Answer please.

I take note of what the hon. Lady says. On the question of colour, we know of this point and it will be added to the comments from the interested parties.

Pesticides

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will introduce regulations to require the composition of farm and garden insecticides to be clearly stated on the label or container.

The Advisory Committee on Pesticides and Other Toxic Chemicals is reviewing the existing voluntary arrangements for the safe use of toxic substances in agriculture, home gardening and food storage. When its report and recommendations are received, we shall consider future policy over the whole field of pesticide use, including labelling.

In view of the fact that the nature protection organisations have discovered that the residue of pesticides in birds has trebled in the last year and the concern of public analysts and local authorities who are reviewing residues in food, could the Minister treat this as a matter of urgency and make the present voluntary ban mandatory and introduce labelling which will protect the farmers and gardeners who use the chemicals to remind them of the dangers?

I do not think that we can do anything until the Committee reports, much as we should like to do so. This is a very complicated subject and it is a big job for the Committee. I should not like to indicate how long it may take to report, but it should be before the end of the coming year.

Trawler Fleet (Grants)

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the present position on building subsidies for distant-water trawlers.

16.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will state the manner in which he will allocate the £800,000 now provided as grant to the distant-water section of the trawling fleet.

A sum of £1·6 million has been allocated for grants for fishing vessels to the end of the financial year 1966–67. Of this sum, approximately £860,000 will be available for the trawler fleet as a whole. The distribution of this total will, of course, depend on the approval of individual applications.

Would the Minister agree that the sum is totally inadequate? Would he also agree that the White Fish Authority is bogged down by building grants and, as a result, owners are not able to carry on with forward planning? Can the right hon. Gentleman say how much of the sum which he mentioned is as yet unused?

I cannot do that. I do not believe that the sum is inadequate. I think that the balance is right. It is often difficult to make comparisons with the past, but I think that what we have done is reasonable.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that applications for new vessels total a little over £2 million and that we in West Hull, the capital of the deep sea fishing industry, thank him for a wise decision? We can plan ahead now until 1970.

There has been very considerable delay in this matter, whatever feelings there are about the figures—and I share the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). The owners are very concerned and they need to carry out long-term planning in this sort of industry. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman ensure that they are made more clearly aware of exactly where they stand in regard to the grants?

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his first appearance at the Box as shadow Minister of Agriculture. The Authority will consider the applications. We must leave this matter to the Authority. I think that that is sensible. I would not try to destroy that practice.

In view of the unsatisfactory reply to the Question, I beg to give notice that I will try to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Fisheries (Faroese Agreement)

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the limits and effects of the agreement made on 1st October, 1965, between the British and Faroese fishing industries resulting from the unilateral extension by the Faroese Government of fishing limits around the Faroe Islands to 12 miles from base lines on 11th March, 1964, and recent relevant British legislation; and if he will indicate the consequences of this new agreement on the British fishing industry and British fish consumers.

This agreement allows an increase in fish imports from the Faroes from £850,000 to £1 million a year. There should be no significant effect on total supplies since imports from the Faroes have not in any year supplied as much as 2 per cent. of the market.

Does the Minister realise that, owing to the events set out in my Question, the fishing industry faces "an uncertain and challenging future," to quote the words of that authoritative journal the Aberdeen Press and Journal? Does he also realise that the fishing industry is as important to the people of this country as the farming industry and deserves to be just as generously treated?

Of course, I appreciate that the fishing industry must be recognised as much as the farming industry. But the agreement has been made by the catching side of the industry. The industry has made this agreement, and I should have thought that my hon. and learned Friend would approve it.

Australia And New Zealand (Minister's Visit)

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his recent tour of Australia and New Zealand.

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his official visit to New Zealand; and what discussions he held there on the question of Great Britain entering the Common Market.

With permission, I will answer Question Nos. 10 and 11 together. [Interruption.] I recognise that the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) is not here. I was merely being courteous to him.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) on Wednesday, 27th October. I held no discussions on the question of Great Britain entering the Common Market.

I did not ask about the Common Market. Arising out of the Minister's reply, would he place in the Library a copy of the speeches which he made in Australia and New Zealand? Would he now further elaborate on what is meant by "a substantial share"—I gather that those were the words which the right hon. Gentleman used—of the rising demand in this country which he promised to New Zealand and Australian farmers? How much does this mean, and what does he intend?

I will be delighted to put a copy of my speech in the Library. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read it and not distort it. I have repeated time and again in the House, even in reply to the hon. Gentleman, and I said over and over again in Australia and New Zealand, that the British farmer will make the major contribution to the increase in demand for food in this country by 1970. Before the hon. Member seeks to continue this line of thought, I hope that he will carefully read my speech.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply, in which he said that he held no discussion on this important subject, mean that the Government do not intend to discuss the Common Market in any way? Should not he have discussed this extremely important subject when he was in New Zealand?

I did not discuss the Common Market. It is true that from time to time I was asked questions informally, but I had no formal discussions on this subject.

On a point of order. It looks as though we are departing from an established practice. If an hon. Member is not here to ask a Question, he cannot have it answered. In fact, Question No. 11—

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not waste valuable Question time. Two Questions were to be answered together. The hon. Gentleman who tabled the first one was not here. The hon. Gentleman who tabled the second one was here. What happened was in order.

May I pursue my point of order? It is within the recollection of the House that the Answer given by the Minister was the answer to Question No. 10—

Order. I would ask the hon. Gentleman not to waste the time of the House on trivialities. As I have said, two Questions were answered together; and there the matter must remain.

May I come back to the Question and the Minister's charge that my hon. Friends have been distorting? The right hon. Gentleman is grossly unfair. There were Press reports in this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."]

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. May I ask the Minister whether he is aware that there were Press reports while he was in Australia and New Zealand which certainly gave the impression that he had been speaking with two voices? If he says that that is not so, we accept it. I am asking him why he charged my hon. Friends with distorting what he said when they were relying on Press reports.

Last week I asked the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) for a categorical assurance that he would withdraw. He has not withdrawn. I ask him again to do so. I shall be delighted to put a copy of my speech in the Library.

Cereal Harvest

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the loss to cereal farmers caused by the bad harvesting season this year.

The cereal harvest this year has been a difficult one, but, according to the latest reports, almost all of the cereals acreage has now been harvested to the extent that this year's weather conditions have allowed. It is not possible to make any precise estimate of possible losses.

When it comes to the next Price Review, will the Parliamentary Secretary bear in mind that certain areas, such as the West Country, have had a very long and costly harvest, and will he try to take account of that in the Review?

Any review will take account of all increased costs which farmers are likely to have had. If it is proved that that is the case, they are always taken into account.

Agricultural Workers (Wages And Hours Agreement)

13.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will consider introducing a supplementary price review in order to compensate farmers for the most recent wage and hours agreement for agricultural workers.

No, Sir. The effect on farmers' costs is not sufficient to call for a special review under the terms of the agreement reached with the farmers' unions in 1956. But it will be taken into account at the 1966 Annual Review, together with all other relevant factors.

Intensive Animal Husbandry

14.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to receive the report of the Brambell Committee on intensive animal husbandry; and when he expects the report will be available to the House.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor) on 1st November.

Does the right hon Gentleman still adhere to the promise which he gave me a year ago in reply to a Question in the House that as soon as the report was received he would publish it and act on it?

Certainly. But I must have the report published so that organisations in the country will be able to express opinions, since a considerable section of the agricultural industry is involved, apart from people who have other interests, and I think that we must wait for those discussions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the minds of some people, including myself, the term "intensive animal husbandry" conceals something slightly disgusting?

I cannot accept that. My predecessor set up the Brambell Committee and one must fairly assess the report when one has read it. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will carefully read it when it is published.

Inshore Fishing Vessels (Grants And Loans)

15.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what extent the sums available to the White Fish Authority for offering grants and loans towards the cost of boats built for the inland water fishing fleet have been or will be curtailed by the Government's economy measures.

The Government naturally took account of the financial situation in deciding what funds could be made available for grants and loans for building fishing vessels, but the sums available for inshore vessels in fact represent an increase over the average in the past three years.

Is it not a fact that the White Fish Authority asked to be able to spend up to £1 million in grants over the next three years, and do not the figures which the Minister has given the House represent a big cut? Is he aware that this is having a serious effect upon the small building yards in many of our fishing ports?

The hon. Member must not have heard what I said. I said that the sums available for inshore vessels represent an increase over the average of the past three years. The provision for grant approvals for inshore vessels in this financial year and next average over £280,000 compared with approvals averaging about £160,000 during the last three years. I could give other figures for the herring industry.

Corned Beef (Stocks)

18.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what stocks of corned beef he now holds; and how he will dispose of these stocks.

I cannot give details of Government stocks of corned beef because they are held for defence purposes. Stocks nearing the end of their storage life are normally sold, but I have recently announced that no Government stocks known to have been produced under unsatisfactory conditions will be released.

Now that the Government and the main importers have agreed not to retail the corned beef that was withdrawn from the market after the Aberdeen typhoid epidemic, will not the Government go one stage further, ban the sale of the remaining stocks in private hands and provide complete security to the public by dumping the whole lot in the sea?

I have stated my position concerning the stocks which I hold. I cannot go beyond that.

Small Farms (Amalgamation)

19.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what developments have taken place in the amalgamation of small farms since he announced his plans to assist this process.

It is only three months since we announced our proposals. Our discussions with the interested organisations have not suggested that there have been any special developments during this period.

Farming Industry (Import Saving)

20.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the savings to the import bill which have been contributed by the farming industry so far this year; and how this figure compares with the previous year.

Reliable comparisons of import saving by the farming industry from one year to the next cannot be readily prepared from the available statistics. There is, however, every reason to expect that, as envisaged in the National Plan, agriculture will continue to increase its substantial contribution to import saving.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the savings to the import bill contributed by the agricultural industry are an important achievement? Should not the industry be encouraged by a far greater share in the home market than merely a part of the increase in demand which is caused by the natural increase in population?

If the hon. Member would read carefully the appendix to the agricultural section of the National Plan, count the figures carefully and subtract the amount of grain from what the industry has said it is technically possible to provide, he will find that the two figures are not far apart.

Will the hon. Gentleman kindly expand a little on his reference to the National Plan? Will he say a little about what is meant by a "major part" of the increased production and what will be the percentage which is produced from home farms?

Milk Marketing Board (Discussions)

21.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made in discussions, started with the Milk Marketing Board after the Price Review, on the marketing powers of the Board.

The discussions which have been taking place at the request of the Milk Marketing Boards and the farmers' unions on their proposals for introducing a greater degree of marketing flexibility are continuing.

Can the Minister give any idea when these discussions are likely to be concluded?

I cannot give a specific date, but I hope that it will be as early as possible.

Dieldrin

23.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he has taken to make known the dangers to wild birds and animal life of the use of dieldrin for sheep dipping; whether he is aware that in spite of the ban on production of this chemical many farmers have laid in several years' supply; and whether he will now take action to prohibit the use of dieldrin.

Apart from the original announcement of restrictions on the use of dieldrin, further Press notices have been issued reminding farmers of the restrictions and warning against stockpiling. I have heard allegations that some farmers have laid in supplies of dieldrin sheep dip, but these allegations have not been substantiated.

My right hon. Friend has at present no statutory powers to prohibit the use of dieldrin. The Advisory Committee on Pesticides and other Toxic Chemicals is considering the need for further controls on all pesticides and will also consider the remaining uses of dieldrin in 1967.