HC Deb 10 September 1942 vol 383 cc300-2

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

85. Mr. Hunter.

—To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he is aware of the concern at the serious position of the hill sheep industry in Scotland; that the price of cross lambs has dropped by 10s. each and the price of B. F. lambs down 7s. 6d. each; and whether it is proposed to continue the subsidy at the level necessary to enable sheep farmers to continue in business?

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps the House will allow this Question to be answered, as it is of considerable interest to agriculture in Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)

I am aware that prices of lambs at the markets have so far been disappointing, though the average fall of price is not, according to my information, so great as the figures quoted in the Question. It is clear that a subsidy on hill sheep flocks in the United Kingdom will again be necessary in the current year. Such a payment will be made but the amount cannot be determined until fuller returns of market prices are available. The purpose of the subsidy is to encourage the maintenance, and where possible the increase, of foundation stocks of hill sheep, and with this end in view the Government are considering the possibility of basing this year's subsidy on the breeding stocks on farms at 4th December, 1942.

Mr. Hunter

Has my right hon. Friend in mind the fact that 1942 may not be one of the best years for sheep farmers?

Mr. Snadden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is the only branch of British agriculture producing sheep in which economic returns are unobtainable in spite of the fact that it produces an important national commodity; and will he consider consulting the Special Committee set up by him to examine this problem with a view to the abolition of doles and the introduction of economic prices in line with all other branches of the farming industry during the war as well as after it?

Mr. Johnston

With reference to the last Supplementary Question, as the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, there is a Committee already sitting on the whole question of hill sheep, and we hope that the report of that Committee, or at least an interim report, will be speedily available. As to the first Supplementary Question, I have taken note of the point made by the hon. Gentleman, with which I am in some sympathy.

Mr. De la Bère

What has that to do with prices which are uneconomic?

Mr. Robertson

Is it a fact that the Government are the sole buyers of the hill farmers' produce, and ought not fair and proper prices to be paid instead of a subsidy? Surely, the position is ridiculous.

Mr. Johnston

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the problem here is the problem of the sheep producer who sells his sheep at the autumn sales to other farmers, and not to the Government, for feeding purposes. It is at a later period that the Government come in.