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Agriculture (Selective Employment Tax)

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 12 May 1966

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asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the proposed Selective Employment Tax, he will give an assurance that he will still hold talks with the National Farmers' Union.

If, as I assume, the hon. Member is referring to the hope I expressed in a speech to the National Farmers' Union on 5th April, that representatives of the union would attend the National Productivity Conference which I hope to call soon, the Answer is "Yes, Sir".

Would the Prime Minister recall that in this speech he paid tribute to the fact that agriculture had the most superior record in labour productivity? Will he personally examine the claim of home food producers to be treated no less well than manufacturers? Will he please resist any temptation, despite his great verbal adroitness, to claim that the Selective Employment Tax is fulfilling the first half of the Government's policy of selective expansion of agriculture?

I was not proposing to make the latter claim. This is a bit too complicated for me and I would have to study the matter before I said what the hon. Gentleman said. I would certainly stand by what I said on 5th April to the National Farmers' Union about productivity in British agriculture. The effect of the Selective Employment Tax was very fully debated in the House last Friday and will no doubt be debated again.

Would the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that it is the whole effect of the Selective Employment Tax which he intends to take into consideration at the annual Price Review?

I do not think that I have anything to add to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture on this question last week. Of course, as I have said, there will be facilities before very long for further examination of this problem when we come to consider the tax and the exemptions from it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the farmers are worried not only about the Selective Employment Tax, but about the heavy increases in rent imposed by landlords, who are so well represented on the benches opposite? Will he keep in mind that there is a strong demand among farmers that legislation should be introduced to prevent the exploitation of the farmer by the greedy landlord?

That raises a very wide field, which was not dealt with either in the Question or in my speech of 5th April, because I omitted to mention these considerations on that occasion. I think that perhaps I had better not try to answer it now.

Does the right hon. Gentleman include horticulture within the general framework of the word "agriculture", because no Price Review covers horticulture?

This is a point of which the House is well aware. It is a point to which attention was paid in the debate to which I have referred and will be paid, no doubt, again, when my right hon. Friends discuss this with other hon. Members in subsequent legislation.

In view of the many protests from many quarters about the Selective Employment Tax, would my right hon. Friend say whether he has had any representations from organisations of Surtax payers and Income Tax payers offering to relieve the Chancellor by taking the burden on themselves?

No, Sir. These organisations, if they exist—I think that there is one for Income Tax payers, although I do not know that there is one for Surtax payers, apart from certain political organisations—have made no representations to me on this or any previous Budget.

I hope that supplementary questions will not go too wide of the original Questions.