AGRICULTURAL RETURNS BILL.

THURSDAY, 12th MARCH, 1925.

1255

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Mr. Samuel Roberts (Chairman)

*Alexander, Mr. A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Attlee, Mr. (Stepney, Limehouse)

Balniel, Lord (Lancaster, Lonsdale)

Barnes, Mr. (East Ham, South)

Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-(Nottingham, South)

Bromley, Mr. (Barrow-in-Furness)

Brown, Brig.-General H: C. (Berks, Newbury)

Buxton, Mr. (Norfolk, Northern)

*Cautley, Sir Henry (East Sussex, East Grinstead)

*Courthope, Colonel (East Sussex, Rye).

*Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)

*Davies, Mr. Ellis (Denbighshire, Denbigh)

Edwards, Mr. Charles (Monmouth, Bedwelty)

*Elliot, Captain (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Fenby, Mr. (Bradford, East)

*Graham, Mr. William (Edinburgh, Central)

Greenwood, Mr. William (Stockport)

Guest, Mr. John (Yorks, W. R., Hemsworth)

*Guinness, Mr. (West Suffolk, Bury St. Edmunds)

Hall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Frederick (Camberwell, Dulwich)

Hanbury, Mr. (Dorset, Northern)

*Hannon, Mr. (Birmingham, Moseley)

Harvey, Major Samuel (Devon, Totnes)

Haslam, Mr. (Lindsey, Horncastle)

Henderson, Captain Robert (Oxford, Henley-on-Thames)

Henderson, Mr. Thomas (Glasgow, Tradeston)

Holbrook, Colonel Sir Arthur (Hants, Basingstoke)

Holland, Lieut.-General Sir Arthur Northampton)

Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel (Gloucester)

Hurd, Mr. (Wilts, Devizes)

Iliffe, Sir Edward (Warwick, Tamworth)

Jephcott, Mr. (Birmingham, Yardley)

*Lamb, Mr. (Staffs, Stone)

Loder, Captain (Leicester, East)

Luce, Major-General Sir Richard (Derby)

Macdonald, Captain Peter (Isle of (Wight)

Maclean, Mr. Neil (Glasgow, Govan)

Mason, Lieut.-Colonel (Croydon, North)

Nelson, Sir Frank (Gloucester, Stroud)

*Neville, Mr. (Norfolk, East)

*Newton, Sir Douglas (Cambridge)

Penny, Mr. (Kingston-on-Thames)

Perkins, Colonel (Southampton)

Peto, Mr. Geoffrey (Somerset, Frome)

Radford, Mr. (Salford, S.)

Rawson, Mr. Cooper (Brighton)

Ritson, Mr. (Durham, City)

Rye, Mr. (Leicester, Loughborough)

Sandon, Viscount (Salop, Shrewsbury)

Scrymgeour, Mr. (Dundee)

Shaw, Mr. Reginald (Yorks, West Riding Sowerby)

*Shepperson, Mr. (Hereford, Leominster)

Sinclair, Major Sir Archibald (Caithness and Sutherland)

Sinclair, Colonel (Belfast University)

Stephen, Mr. (Glasgow, Camlachie)

Stuart, Lord Colum Crichton- (Chester, Northwich)

Styles, Captain (Kent, Sowerby)

Sugden, Sir Wilfrid (The Hartlepools)

Thorne, Mr. William (West Ham, Plaistow)

*Thurtle, Mr. (Shoreditch)

White, Lieut.-Colonel (Southport)

Wignall, Mr. (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

Williams, Mr. C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)

*Wood, Mr. Edward (Yorks, West Riding, Ripon)

Wood, Sir Samuel Hill- (Derbyshire, High Peak)

*Wright, Mr. (Lanarkshire, Rutherglen)

* Added in respect of the British Sugar (Subsidy) Bill, the Importation of Pedigree Animals Bill, and the Agricultural Returns Bill.

SIR J. HORSBRUGH-PORTER, Committee Clerks.

CAPTAIN DIVER, Committee Clerks.

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1257 STANDING COMMITTEE B Thursday, 12th March, 1925.

[Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS in the Chair.]

AGRICULTURAL RETURNS BILL.
[OFFICIAL REPORT.] CLAUSE 1.
—(Power to require returns.)

(1) The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries may from time to time, by notice served on the occupier of any agricultural land in England or Wales or on the person having the management of any such land, require him to make within such time as is specified in the notice, and in such form and to such person as the Minister may prescribe by Regulations made under this Act, a return in writing of the acreage of land in cultivation, specifying the acreage of the several crops thereon, and of the acreage of land in fallow or used for grazing and the live stock thereon, and of the persons employed on the land, and, if the occupier is also the owner of the land, that fact shall be stated in the return.

The return shall be made with respect to the conditions existing on such date as may be specified in the notice.

(2) No individual return or part of a return made under this Act shall be used, published or disclosed, except for the purposes of the preparation and publication by the Minister of agricultural statistics or of a prosecution under this Act.

(3) (a) Any person who refuses, or without lawful excuse, neglects to make a return required under this Act to be made by him shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds.

(b) If a return made under this Act is untrue in any material particular, the person by whom the return was made shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds, unless he proves that he made the return innocently and without negligence.

(4) Any person who uses, publishes, or discloses contrary to the provisions of this Act any individual return or part of a return shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds.

(5) This Section does not apply in any case where the total acreage of the agricultural land occupied by a person does not exceed one acre.

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(6) Any notice under this Act may be served on the person to whom it is addressed either personally or by post, and, in the case of a notice to an occupier, may be addressed to "the occupier" without naming him.

(7) The expression "agricultural land" includes land used as grazing, meadow, or pasture land, or orchard, and any land used wholly or mainly for the purpose of the trade or business of a market-gardener or nurseryman.

(8) Any Regulation made under this Act shall be laid before each House of Parliament forthwith, and if an address is presented to His Majesty by either House of Parliament within the next subsequent twenty-eight days on which that House had sat praying that the Regulation may be annulled, His Majesty in Council may annul the Regulation, and it shall thenceforth be void, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.

Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "from time to time," and to insert instead thereof the word "annually." I move this Amendment because it is felt it is a great deal of bother to have to fill up these returns too frequently—

Mr. WOOD: If it will help my hon. and gallant Friend, perhaps it will save time if I say that I accept his Amendment.

Sir HENRY CAUTLEY: Before the Minister accepts this Amendment, I would like to suggest that I think my Amendment is worded better, because it gives the Minister more free scope. Is it really necessary to have these returns every year? I agree that we do not want to be bothered more than is necessary with having to make out these returns each year, because such returns are on the increase, and they involve considerable labour on the part of the occupiers and farmers of land. My Amendment secures that these returns shall be made "at intervals not being less than of twelve months." The Amendment which has been moved by my hon. and gallant Friend secures that the returns shall be made annually.

Mr. WOOD: I do not think there is a great deal in the point which has been raised. The Amendment suggested by my hon. and learned Friend, I notice, is open to a technical objection, which is that if owing to 4th June falling on a Sunday, the return was required to 1259 cover the 5th June, it would be impossible in the following year to require the return to be made on the 4th June, and this might cause some inconvenience. Although I agree that it would be possible to avoid that, it is quite certain that we shall want these returns at least once a year, and for these reasons I prefer the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend.

Amendment agreed to.

Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "agricultural" ["agricultural land"]. My object in moving this Amendment is to obtain additional information which would be relevant to the conditions of agriculture in this country. If the return is confined to land now cultivated the information will not be full. The object of the Bill is to obtain information with regard to land and to obtain full agricultural returns. If this Amendment is passed, the total agricultural resources of the country will be ascertained. In these returns we try to measure the production and the supply of food. For the year 1923 the figures have been given, and they show that the total area of land in England is 37,136,000 acres, and under crops nearly 26,000,000 acres. The amount under rough grazing is 5,000,000 acres. These figures give a total of 30,825,000 acres, and that leaves a gap of 6,311,000 acres. The figures for Scotland are even more striking. The total area in Scotland is 19,070,000 acres, and the total area under crops, including mountain land and heath land, is 14,402,000 acres, showing a gap of 4,608,000 acres, or 25 per cent. of the whole of the land of Scotland. I do not think this information can be regarded as being adequate. In America, they do not regard such returns as adequate, and the American agricultural statistics are generally regarded as the best in the world. The Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Statistical Society in January, referred to the fact that in the United States farmers are called upon for the returns of unimproved land as well as of improved land. It is the object of this Amendment to obtain returns of the un- 1260 improved land which contains agricultural possibilities, which are part of the agricultural resources of this country, information which must greatly raise the economic value of the returns.

Mr. THOMAS HENDERSON: I would like to ask, Mr. Chairman, if this Amendment is in order? I understand that the title of the Bill is "to facilitate the preparation of agricultural statistics," and if you wipe out the word agriculture, you interfere with the object of the Bill.

Sir A. SINCLAIR: I submit that it is impossible to obtain the fullest information required as the Bill is drawn. The object of the Bill is to obtain the fullest possible statistics relating to agriculture and this Amendment is designed to carry out this object.

The CHAIRMAN: I think the Amendment is in order, on the grounds stated by the hon. Baronet.

Mr. WOOD: I have considerable sympathy with the desire of the hon. Baronet to obtain information as accurate as can be obtained. It is also true, as he says, that the information at present does not completely cover the ground. Although I have not made such careful analysis of the figures as that with which he has delighted the Committee, yet I have no doubt there is considerable force in that portion of his argument. I am afraid, however, he is asking the Committee in his Amendment to do a good deal more than he himself altogether appreciates. By his Amendment, as pointed out by the hon. Gentleman behind him, he would impose upon all those occupying land the obligation to make a return of all kinds of land to the Ministry of Agriculture. That is a very wide undertaking. That means that you include all building land, the railways, pleasure grounds; and that every kind of industrial and other land right through the country has got to be entered, checked, and returned. That, really, is a new Doomsday Book. It has just been decided by this Committee that we are to have these Returns annually. What the hon. Baronet would do by his suggestion is that, in future, in this country, we should have a Doomsday Book survey once a year. I do not profess to be much of a historian, but my recollection is that we have only had 1261 one Doomsday Book in 800 years. He is, therefore, going to impose a very heavy task on the people of this country. I would suggest to him that he is bringing in rather foreign matter into a fairly humble little Bill, which deals with agricultural returns. If he wants to do the wider business that he has in his mind, and with which I have considerable sympathy, I suggest to him that this should be done by a separate Bill. The Amendment is not relevant to the actual business in view, which is just making a return annually of the actual production from, and employment on, the land that is being used for agriculture in order to have a general view of the situation in agriculture. For these reasons, I cannot, therefore, admit to my Bill the very wide obligation to which the hon. Baronet invites me to commit myself.

Sir A. SINCLAIR: The returns I suggest are not very complicated. They have to be made by the farmers, though they are more complicated in the case of the farmers than they would be in the case of railways or houses. The latter would merely be returned as being house property or railway property. I do not, therefore, think there would be a very large burden on the other occupiers of the land. The Minister, quite rightly, says that the object of these returns is to ascertain what land is being used for agricultural purposes, but that fluctuates very much from year to year. It would be extremely useful if we could ascertain what I suggest, and would show what land was being brought into agricultural development and what was going out of cultivation. For instance, no less than 40,000 acres of land have been brought under grazing last year in Scotland.

Amendment negatived.

Brigadier-General BROWN: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "management" ["the management of any such land"], to insert the words "on behalf of the occupier."

Mr. WOOD: My hon. and gallant Friend spoke to me about this Amendment. I understand the purpose of it is to exclude in most cases the estate agent of the land from the receipt of the notice where the notice ought not properly to go to him. I see no objection 1262 to the Amendment, and I am quite prepared to accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Brigadier-General BROWN: I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), after the word "disclosed," to insert the words "without the authority of the person making it or of the occupier on whose behalf it is made."

Mr. WOOD: I have much pleasure in accepting this Amendment also. The first half speaks for itself. The second half is really consequential on the acceptance of the previous Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Sir H. CAUTLEY: I think it is unnecessary to put in these exceptional words. As the Bill stands now, there is a direct obligation upon the Ministry to make the only use that it can make of these detailed particulars which are given for the purpose of statistics. We are now going to put in a qualification which will lead to all sorts of confusion. Nobody will know who is or is not given authority. I cannot for the life of me see any advantage that is to be gained by the Amendment. At the present moment the particulars required are certainly of an inquisitorial nature, but they are given readily, in the interests of agriculture as a whole, so that the Department may have clear statistical information, showing the numbers of live stock in the country, the state of cultivation, and the number of persons employed on the land. The individuals who give this are protected by this wide Clause, which says that no individual returns shall be published or disclosed except for the purpose specified. It does seem to me foolish beyond words to put in unnecessary words of this kind at all. If an individual wishes to publish his own returns, there is nothing to prevent his doing so—

Colonel COURTHOPE: I think my hon. Friend is quite wrong As the Bill reads at present, if it is strictly interpreted and enforced, the figures which might be inserted in these returns could not be used even with the wish of the owner or occupier for such purposes, we will say, as a lecture on "The Cost of Sugar-Beet Cultivation." I think you must have some qualification. A body like the Farmers' Club, which has constant dis- 1263 cussions at which figures and statistics are used, could not publish these. I think the Amendment is really necessary.

Amendment agreed to.

Major HARVEY: I beg to move, in Sub-section (3, b), to leave out the words "unless he proves that he made the return innocently and without negligence," and to insert instead thereof the words "if it be proved that he knowingly made such untrue return." I suggest that these words should be put in as a safeguard for a man who unwittingly sends in a mistaken return.

Mr. WOOD: The object of the Amendment appears really to be to throw the burden of proof on to the prosecution, but it is also, I think, in construction, designed to enable the maker of an inaccurate return to escape punishment if his inaccuracy is solely due to negligence in ascertaining the facts. I am entirely at one with my hon. and gallant Friend in the desire to protect any farmer making a return from any unfair penalty, but I cannot myself but feel that he is protected by the words of the Clause if he proves that he used due caution. It cannot be said that the words are not adequate protection for any bona fide farmer. I think it is not unreasonable to require that in such a case he should prove that he exercised due caution, and really tried not to seek to evade the obligation this law imposes upon him. The Amendment does not add anything to the Bill, except tilt the balance in the wrong direction, and I trust my hon. and gallant Friend will withdraw it.

Colonel Sir ARTHUR HOLBROOK: This Amendment, dealing with the keeping and the breeding of poultry interests my constituents. I should like—

The CHAIRMAN: The hon. and gallant Gentleman is speaking to the wrong Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Major HARVEY: I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (7), and to insert instead thereof, a new Sub-section— "(5) The expressions 'agricultural land' and 'cultivation' include land used as grazing, meadow and pasture land, horticulture, and any purpose of husbandry, 1264 inclusive of the keeping or breeding of livestock, poultry, or bees, and the growing of fruit, vegetables, and the like." This suggested alteration has been put forward by the National Union of Farmers.

Mr. WOOD: I am not quite sure that I entirely appreciate the object of my hon. and gallant Friend in moving this Amendment. The wording as it appears in the Bill is the result of an Amendment made in the Bill when it was under discussion in another place last Session. I think the words as they stand are the best, but I have an entirely open mind about it, so perhaps the Committee would feel that the most convenient course would be that my hon. and gallant Friend and I should take the opportunity of discussing it between now and the Report stage, and that then we should make, as it were, a joint recommendation as to the form of words. I do not think there is a great deal between us.

Sir A. HOLBROOK: There is something in this Amendment, and I support it for the reason that poultry farmers to-day are assessed under a different Schedule for Income Tax purposes as compared with agricultural land, and, seeing that we want to encourage the growth of food in this country, it seems to me a very extraordinary thing that the Government Departments do not agree to encourage it in every possible way. A poultry farmer to-day may take a part of a big agricultural holding and turn it into a poultry farm, and, although the farmer himself may on other parts of the land continue to establish a poultry farm, he is assessed under Schedule B for Income Tax, while the poultry farmer proper is assessed under Schedule D, and his trade is very much handicapped. I know of instances myself, as in the county of Hampshire, where a man has started this industry as a pioneer and, owing to pressure from the Income Tax authorities, he has been compelled to close his farm and move to the Channel Islands. It seems to me very stupid that we cannot encourage poultry farmers in every possible way, and I support this Amendment, because it would bring in a clear definition of poultry farms and agricultural land.

Major HARVEY: I think, perhaps, my hon. and gallant Friend who has just 1265 spoken did not understand that the Minister will consult with a view to bringing in those people who are excluded by the words "market-gardener or nurseryman." I desire to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir A. SINCLAIR: I beg to move, in Sub-section (7), to leave out the words "includes land used as grazing," and to insert instead thereof the words "means land which is or has at any time been or is capable of being used as arable." There are objections, as the Minister has said, to imposing obligations on people who are not the owners or occupiers of agricultural land, and I think it is only in this way or some way like this that we can obtain that information, that the Minister himself says he thinks would be of value, information about land which is capable of being used as agricultural land, information, in short, which corresponds to information which is obtained in the United States of America when they find out not only the improved but also the unimproved value of the farms.

Mr. WOOD: I had rather taken the view that this Amendment would have grouped itself in the mind of the hon. and gallant Member as consequential to an earlier one, but, I quite appreciate that he has a perfect right to move it. Here again I do not in any way quarrel with his desire, but I cannot believe that this Amendment would ever prove practical in working. What does he invite? He invites that somebody shall make a return of all land which has at any time been used as arable. Let him cast his mind over the part of agricultural England or Scotland that he knows best, and let him ask himself whether he has not often heard old inhabitants of that district say that they remember when so and so was under the plough. How are you to ascertain that kind of information? I do not think that part of the Amendment, anyhow, would work. Then, again, who is to say whether land is or is not capable of being used as arable? My hon. and gallant Friend may have one view, I might have another, and the man who has to farm it might have a third, and it is no good getting returns unless they tell you what you want. 1266 Really, what the hon. and gallant Member is after here, if I may suggest it to him, is something quite different. What he wants, if it were possible, is to have a survey of the land of England by agricultural experts, who would be working on one common standard of cultivation and utility, but to ask a farmer there and a farmer here to make a return of what land they think is suitable for arable is to bring upon yourself, I am afraid, a mass of returns that will be perfectly valueless when you have them. Therefore, while not betraying any hostility to the desire of the hon. and gallant Member, I am bound to point out that I think the Amendment is worse than useless, and it is because I have up till now seen no way of overcoming these difficulties and enabling us to get a really satisfactory survey, that I have not been able to associate myself with those who seek to do it. Really, the practical difficulties, as soon as you look into them, are immense.

Amendment negatived.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 (Application to Scotland and extent) and 3 (Short title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be reported to the House."

Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON: On the general question of the preparation of sheets of Amendments, may I suggest that a little more ingenuity might be exercised in their preparation, not only in connection with this Bill, but generally? As we saw this morning already, one hon. and gallant Member was unable to follow the course that was being followed, and it is very easy to make a mistake. I would like to suggest that all Amendments should be given a number, so that it would be easy to say from the Chair that No. 6 or No. 16, as the case might be, was being taken. I would suggest, further, that spaces should be left between the different Amendments, that two sizes of type used, with possibly a less black ink. These are very simple things, but from year to year we go on with these pages of Amendments, which it is very difficult to follow, 1267 simply because our fathers and our grandfathers have done it before us.

The CHAIRMAN: I am afraid that that question has nothing to do with this particular Committee.

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Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly ordered to be reported to the House.

Committee rose at Ten Minutes after One o'Clock

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Roberts, Mr. Samuel (Chairman)

Attlee, Mr.

Balniel, Lord

Barnes, Mr.

Brown, Brigadier-General Clifton

Buxton, Mr.

Cautley, Sir Henry

Courthope, Colonel

Hall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Frederick

Hanbury, Mr.

Hannon, Mr.

Harvey, Major

Henderson, Captain Robert

Henderson, Mr. Thomas

Holbrook, Colonel Sir Arthur

Holland, Lieut.-General Sir Arthur

Hurd, Mr.

Iliffe, Sir Edward

Jephcott, Mr.

Luce, Major-General Sir Richard

Macdonald, Captain Peter

Nelson, Sir Frank

Neville, Mr.

Newton, Sir Douglas

Penny, Mr.

Perkins, Colonel

Peto, Mr. Geoffrey

Radford, Mr.

Ritson, Mr.

Sandon, Viscount

Shaw, Mr. Reginald

Sinclair, Major Sir Archibald

Stuart, Lord Colum Crichton-

White, Lieut.-Colonel

Wignall, Mr.

Wood, Mr. Edward