This Bill is essentially a Bill to incorporate in the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Acts certain temporary legislation, mainly relating to wheat, which came into existence during the war and post-war years. If not so incorporated, this temporary legislation would lapse on expiration of the Supplies and Services (Temporary Provisions) Acts. It consists for the most part of Orders which are the concern of the Minister for Agriculture but also includes some Orders administered by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who is concerned with wheat after it has reached the mill floor. The Bill contains nothing that is new in principle, and does not interfere in any way with the machinery established by the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Act, 1935, to ensure that all home-grown millable wheat is purchased by the mills, as it comes on the market, and is subsequently milled.
The most important section of the Bill is Section 2, with which is linked Section 15, under which certain repeals are provided for. The object of Section 2 is to enable the Minister for Agriculture to make an annual Order controlling the price, marketing and disposal of wheat on the same general lines as the Wheat Order, 1955. An Order similar to the Wheat Order, 1955, has been made in every year since 1942. The main provisions of the annual Wheat Order, as made in recent years, are as follows:—(1), Legal effect is given to the decision of the Government in regard to the price for millable wheat of the harvest in question; (2), purchase of wheat from growers is restricted to certain categories of purchasers, including licensed mills (purchasing directly or through licensed agents), licensed wheat dealers and holders of seed (wheat) assembler's permits; (3), control is exercised over the use of wheat by purchasers thereof; (4), certain commission, handling or storage charges payable to licensed agents or persons collecting wheat on behalf of mills are fixed, and also resale prices for wheat sold by licensed wheat dealers.
Before 1942, wheat was bought directly by the mills and also by a large number of registered wheat dealers who resold wheat to the mills. In that year, each registered wheat dealer actually in business (with the exception of about 30 firms) was required to become the licensed agent of a particular mill, for which he was authorised to purchase a specified maximum quantity, on a commission basis. Approximately 30 firms were permitted to retain an independent status as dealers entitled to purchase and resell wheat. These firms were dealers equipped with drying and storage facilities who, because of the large scale of their dealings in wheat or because they had multiple branches, could not suitably be attached to a particular mill. The changes introduced in 1942 were designed to secure equitable distribution of available supplies between the mills, avoidance of undue competition and transport, and elimination of unnecessary handling and storage of wheat on the way to the mills.
The wheat marketing system established by the Order has, in general, remained unchanged since. Broadly speaking, apart from wheat purchased from the limited number of independent dealers, wheat is now purchased by the mills themselves, either directly or through some 300 licensed agents acting on a commission basis. These arrangements have operated satisfactorily since they were introduced and result in more economical handling of wheat.
The Emergency Powers (Cereals) Order, 1941, introduced a system of control over the assembly of seed wheat by purchase from growers. This, with modifications, has been incorporated in successive annual Orders made in the meantime, including the Wheat Order, 1955. It is considered advisable to retain these arrangements, with a view to ensuring that seed wheat is assembled in suitable premises, that minimum standards of quality are maintained, and that accurate information of stocks held is available. The system also makes it possible to allocate import licences for seed wheat in proportion to native assembly. There is not now the same need as during the emergency period to control the resale, disposal or use of wheat purchased from growers, but it is considered advisable to retain the general powers in this regard conferred by Article 10 of the Wheat Order, 1955.
The annual Wheat Order made in recent years has also fixed certain commission, handling and storage charges payable to licensed agents or sack distributors, and also prices for wheat resold by wheat dealers. It is proposed to retain power to fix these charges and prices in order to maintain uniformity of remuneration to licensed agents, etc., in respect of the services rendered by them and to ensure that wheat dealers receive a fair price for wheat sold by them (whether artificially dried or not).
Sections 12 and 13 of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Act, 1935, were suspended by the Emergency Powers (No. 39) Order, 1940, and the Emergency Powers (No. 201) Order, 1942. Section 15 of the Bill makes this suspension permanent. Section 15 also revokes sub-section (1) of Section 62 of the 1933 Act. This sub-section limited the purchase for resale of wheat to persons registered under the Act as wheat dealers. Retention of this provision would not serve any useful purpose now that the arrangements for wheat marketing which have been in operation in recent years are being put on a permanent basis.
Section 5 of the Bill replaces the Emergency Powers (Storage of Grain) Order, 1942. This Order was made at a time when it was particularly important to prevent loss or deterioration of grain. It has not been found necessary to make much use of the powers conferred by the Order, but it is considered advisable to retain them, particularly as grain stores are exempt from certain provisions of the Food Hygiene Regulations, 1950.
Section 9 of the Bill provides for the determination of moisture content in wheat in accordance with a method which has been prescribed in the annual Wheat Order since 1943. Under the Wheat Order as made in recent years, price deductions fall to be made in respect of excess moisture content in wheat purchased from growers. I am advised that there are on the market various types of rapid-action moisture testing apparatus but that these do not give uniformly accurate results, particularly in the higher moisture ranges. It is, accordingly, considered advisable to continue to specify the oven method, which gives accurate results and is reasonably simple of execution.
Sections 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 of the Bill are primarily the concern of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and I propose to indicate very briefly their purport. Section 3 is designed to permit the Minister for Industry and Commerce to vary milling quotas in circumstances where his present powers under the Cereals Acts are inadequate. It has been necessary in recent years to have resort for this purpose to the making of Orders under emergency legislation. Section 4 of the Bill replaces Article 6 of the Wheat Milling Order, 1953, and is designed to permit the Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the concurrence of the Minister for Agriculture, to relieve the holder of a milling licence from the obligation to mill the national percentage of home-grown wheat if there are special circumstances which justify that course.
Section 6 alters the method of calculating the quantity of wheat milled by licensed millers as provided in sub-section (2) of Section 14 of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Act, 1936, which is now being repealed. The new method is designed to overcome the difficulty of fixing a relationship between artificially dried wheat and green wheat for record purposes. The effect of Section 7 is to place wheat milled into wheatenmeal for biscuit-making on the same footing as wheat milled into flour for the same purpose.
Section 8 of the Bill gives permanent effect to an import concession first granted in the Flour and Wheatenmeal (Importation) Order, 1947. The remaining sections of the Bill do not, I think, call for any special comment.