§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I understand that there is to be a general discussion on the group of Amendments standing on the Order Paper.
§ The Chairman
I think it would be for the general convenience of the Committee if we had a general discussion and then had Divisions on any Amendment on which that was desired by right hon. and hon. Members.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)
How many Amendments is it intended that we should include in the proposed general discussion? Is it proposed that such discussion should embrace the Amendments down to the one standing in my name, in page 2, line 32, after "extent," to insert "of milk for sale liquid"? I ask that because the three following proposed Amendments to Clause 1 are on rather different points.
§ The Chairman
I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, if that is agreeable to the Committee.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield. Heeley)
Might I point out that the Amendments which stand in my name, in page 2, line 28, after "heath," to insert:or has within the last fifteen years keen heath.and, in page 2, line 33, to leave out from "cattle," to the end of line 35, are slightly different. Could we have a discussion on the first group of Amendments and leave the second group of Amendments until later because I suggest that the last three proposed Amendments to the Clause are on very different points? I would agree to the first set of Amendments being considered in a general discussion if we could leave open the question of the discussion of the second of my Amendments at a later stage.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
Do I understand that the last three Amendments are to be discussed separately or all three together, as they cover rather different points?
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
With reference to what was said by the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts), may I suggest that while the Amendment to which he referred differs wholly from the other three in that they refer to particular forms of agriculture whereas his refers to a particular kind of land, they are almost identical since on the particular kind of land to which his Amendment refers a particular form of agriculture can be undertaken?
§ Mr. P. Roberts
If that observation refers to the first set of Amendments I agree. I was referring to the second set.
§ Mr. Grimond
I beg to move, in page 2, line 27, to leave out "predominantly," and to insert "to a substantial extent."
This Amendment and the others upon which we have agreed to have a general discussion have in view the giving to the Minister of rather wider discretion as to the kind of land to which this Bill will apply, and to the type of agricultural activity to be carried on on that land. The Bill, as drafted, states, in Clause 1 (3,a):'livestock rearing land' means land situated in an area consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heath, …That is a vital definition in regard to the Bill as a whole. It is absolutely vital to the whole intention and construction of the Bill to know what we mean by the term "livestock rearing land." We were assured on Second Reading that the intention was to widen the scope of the Bill as compared with the Hill Farming Act, and to allow tracts of land which might not have been eligible under the Act to qualify for grants under this Bill if they fulfil other conditions.
The word "predominantly" seems to me to mean that a farmer or landowner who is applying for assistance under this Bill will have to show not only that he can usefully draw up a scheme for an area of "mountains, hills or heath" but that his farm or estate is largely confined to "mountains, hills or heath." What 1548 concerns me is lest certain farms in which there is an upland area and a considerable amount of low arable ground which would clearly not qualify under the Bill, will be ruled out. By that I mean that the farmer might be told, "We cannot agree to your scheme for your upland area because you have not shown us that your farm consists predominantly of that type of land."
I believe that this Bill can do a great service in that part of the country and outlying areas of Scotland where there is a great deal of upland which can be greatly improved. I do not believe that it can be the intention of the Minister to exclude from the operation of the Bill the farmer who might be using with his heathland or upland a fairly large area of arable lowland ground. I do not see the logic of that position nor do I see that it would be in the interest of what the Bill seeks to encourage.
My other point is very much the same. As I read the Clause, the benefits of this Bill are denied to farmers who carry on various types of farming. The second Amendment with which I and my hon. Friends are concerned, in page 2, line 32. to leave out "to any material extent," and to insert "predominantly," envisages that the Clause is designed to allow a farmer who is raising some fat stock to apply, and, if he fulfils the conditions, to succeed in his application for help under this Bill. We propose, by the change of words our Amendment suggests, that instead of excluding the farmer who is engaged to any material extent in the production of fat sheep or fat cattle we should modify that provision and only exclude the farmer who is predominantly and principally engaged in the rearing of fat stock.
There is another Amendment down which I think is designed to cut out this part of the Bill altogether and to allow the farmer engaged in fatstock rearing to qualify under the Bill. Candidly, I should prefer that, but I see that the Government designed this Bill for a certain kind of farmer and the man who is engaged purely in fatstock rearing or dairy farming benefits in other ways; it is not their intention to help him. The reason we have proposed a modification in this Bill is that we appreciate that point. But we ask the Minister to note that this Bill could do great good to 1549 farmers who are raising fatstock, and farmers farming the type of land which would be enormously benefited by a scheme under this Bill. Therefore I believe we are giving the Minister a little more discretion to help certain classes of farmers who might otherwise be excluded from this Bill.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Molton)
The Minister dealt with some of these questions on the Second Reading debate and said it was the intention that this Bill should exclude from benefit milk production and the production of milk products, such as butter, cheese or cream, and farms devoted mainly to stock rearing. I hope that is the intention of the Minister, and there is not a great deal of difference between the two sides of the Committee about this matter.
I wish to take the legal point which is of less importance although in the drafting of a Bill it is of some importance. This Bill excludes the man who is carrying on dairy farming. Up to now we are excluding the production of certain crops; here we are excluding the carrying on of dairy farming, which I believe to be the wrong approach. It is the product which should be excluded and not the carrying on of certain types of farming.
I have tried to find a definition of dairy farming, in previous Acts and the only definition I have found—I hope the Minister or his legal advisers will correct me if I am wrong—is in the Food and Drugs (Milk and Dairies) Act, 1944. In Section 8 both "dairy farm" and "dairy farmer" are defined; and it is clear from the definitions that a dairy farmer is a man who produces milk from cows. It is the production of milk, and not what happens afterwards to the milk that is the deciding factor. That would make it appear in my view, and I hope in the view of the Minister, that however we may differ in intention the wordsthe carrying on…of dairy farmingdo not carry out the intention he expressed on the Second Reading of this Bill.
We cannot escape from the conclusion that, if we are to produce more meat in this country, we have to tackle those areas which are now and will, probably until 1953, be engaged in milk production. I put in the year 1953, because I believe that will be the year when the Act which 1550 I have quoted will operate; and farmers with unsatisfactory cow byres will be guided from milk production into store rearing and will not be producing milk for liquid sales. In that interregnum it is important that those farms should be improved, so that in addition to their milk production, they are producing the cattle we are so urgently requiring for our meat ration every week. At the present time under the Hill Farming Act the Minister's administration is not assisting the improvement of those hill farms.
I do not know what is the experience in Scotland, but I know what is the experience in my own county. It may well be that it varies from county to county. I have been distressed to find that farms, where a certain amount of improvement under the Hill Farming Act could have meant a very large increase in the production of mutton and beef, have been prevented from receiving help—or hindered from receiving it—on the excuse that they were mainly engaged in milk farming.
I will give the Minister two instances. There was a farm of 95 acres in my constituency which had a right of stray for 50 sheep. That farm had on it six to eight cows in milk and the farmer was rearing only his heifer calves. Application was made under the Hill Farming Act for improvements to roads, the erection of a Dutch barn and part of the cost of improvement to the house. The Ministry refused that application on the ground that his milk sales for the year approximated to £900 from his six to eight cows, whereas his income from his sheep stray, wool clip, lambs and draft ewes amounted to £350.
That seems a wrong way to tackle this problem. It should not be whether milk is more remunerative at the present time than sheep and wool, because after all the price of wool alters. It should be whether a farm is suitable for the production of livestock, whether hill sheep and cattle under that Act, or livestock rearing under this Bill, and whether there is more meat for the nation as a result. In the particular instance I have given, although the Minister refused the grain it happened that there was a change of tenancy; and by ordering that the incoming tenant should abstain from milk production another application succeeded. 1551 I believe that that attitude on the part of the Ministry is very dangerous at the present time.
I have another farm in my constituency, of 188 acres, where just at the time of the Hill Farming Act a road had been constructed by the landlord at a cost of something like £2,500. Immediately that happened the farmer engaged in selling milk, because the milk lorry could get up to his farm. At that time that was the most backward farm in the whole of the hill farm area, and we had the curious position that, because it had a road to the farm and was selling a little milk in order to pay its way—because of the monthly cheque—all the other farms in the areas succeeded in getting a hill farm grant, but that farm was excluded; because it had a good road and therefore the farmer could sell milk. I hope the Minister will realise there is something wrong with the basis of administration if things of that kind can happen.
I would remind the Minister of two other matters which I think are clear from the Hill Sheep Farming Committee Report, the De La Warr Report. From the Table VII of Appendix II, it will be seen that the position regarding milk production on the upland farms varies tremendously from one county to another. That Table indicates how in Northumberland the proportion of income from sheep and wool was 86 per cent. with 14 per cent. from other sources including milk. But in Swaledale we find it is 71 per cent. from other sources and only 29 per cent. from sheep and wool.
The other bit of evidence about which I would remind him appears in the Exmoor Survey where they show in that area how on the smaller farms the dairy has displaced the traditional livestock farm; that is from page 6 of the National Farmers' Union booklet on this matter. There is a grave danger that unless this Bill is amended, the smaller farms, which are in such urgent need of the monthly cheque, will suffer. The large farms will escape. They have not got quite the same need of the monthly cheque. They have very large areas of hill sheep and hill cattle. By this close drafting, we shall shut out from benefit the small man.
I am certain that that is not the Minister's intention. I firmly believe that the 1552 future of these men is in livestock rearing with, as a side line, the production of butter and scalded cream, or Devonshire cream. That is the future we ought to build up. I hope that the Minister will consider the Amendment in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), in page 2, line 32, after "extent" to insert "of milk for sale liquid." That is where I believe the exclusion should be based. What really matters is the instructions which the Minister sends out to those who will administer this Bill. Those instructions, at present, are not right. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at our point of view.
§ Mr. Snadden (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I wish to add a few words in support of what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said about the type of land which will benefit under this Bill. Probably the reason why he put his Amendment on the Order Paper was to clarify his mind as to the type of land or country which will benefit under this Bill. In the Minister's statement to this House last July, and again in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to this Bill, the words "upland areas" are used. The Memorandum refers to:'livestock rearing land' which in addition to hill farming land includes land in upland areas.I am really concerned with those two words, "upland areas." In my part of the country—and I think that this is common in other parts, particularly in Wales—many farms are of what we call an upland nature. Yet they are located at, or very little above, sea level.
The word "predominantly" suggests to me that, conceivably, altitude is to be the yardstick under this Bill. But even in Scotland which has much mountainous country, especially in the north-east in Caithness, Aberdeenshire and Ross and Cromarty, where stock raising is the principal form of husbandry—which, after all, is the objective of this Bill—scores of farms are located either at or near sea level although they are what we call in Scotland of an upland nature.
I want to make sure that we do not exclude these holdings by reason of altitude, because if we do that, a very large number of stock-rearing farms in so called upland areas will be denied the benefits 1553 of this Bill. I recognise that in introducing legislation it is extremely difficult to draw the line when attempting to define anything. I admire the work of the agricultural executive committees. They try to do the best they can and to avoid any sort of discontent about people being disappointed when they submit schemes. I do not want the agricultural executive committees to be confused over this. It is difficult when dealing with what are known as upland or marginal farms to draw the line between those and what are called semi-upland or poor arable farms.
There is confusion here as to the intention of the Government. Altitude should not be the yardstick. In the hill cattle scheme, the Government ventured to define what was meant by the word "uplands." If the right hon. Gentleman can tell me that the definition upon which the Government will base the administration of this Bill is the same, I shall be satisfied. That definition said:'Uplands' means in upland districts land forming units which are not used wholly or substantially for the production of milk, for stock or crops for sale.If that is the definition, then I, and, I think, most people in Scotland, would be satisfied. My experience is similar to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) on the question of excluding people who are selling a considerable amount of milk although they may be situated in an upland area.
One of our problems today, which no doubt will be referred to when we debate the meat famine on Thursday, is the complete disappearance from our herds of an extremely useful animal called the dual-purpose animal. We have gone milk crazy. The result is that we have specialised in dairy produce and the dual-purpose animal has almost ceased to exist. We want many of these farmers to go back into the dual-purpose breeding business, so that they will contribute to our meat supplies as well as to our milk supplies. But they will sell milk.
I should like a reply from the Minister stating perhaps some sort of percentage of sales—I should imagine somewhere between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. If farmers are not selling more than that, they should come under this Bill and enjoy the benefits of these improvement schemes. I hope that we shall get an 1554 answer, particularly to the first part of our discussion.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
Perhaps it will be convenient if I intervene now and explain the attitude of the Government towards these Amendments. I do not think that there is very much between the Government and those who want to make these Amendments, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said. Hon. Members seem to fear that if the word "predominantly" remains in this part of the Clause, a farmer who produces any fatstock or any milk will automatically be ruled out. That is not so. We tried to make that clear during the Second Reading debate. I hope that we may make it a little clearer now.
We have in mind that many of these upland farmers, who would qualify for assistance for an improvement scheme under this Bill as it is worded, will in fact be producing some fatstock or milk. Hon. Members must remember that the amount of money that we have available to spend under this Bill is not without limit. There is some £20 million to be spent. I think hon. Members would wish that it should be spent for the purpose set out in the Bill; that is to say, for the improvement of land which is being used or is capable of being used for the purpose of rearing livestock. That is the purpose of the proposed expenditure of this £20 million.
If we widen the definition, if we bring in great areas of land which would not come in under our definition, manifestly the Ministers' responsibilities will be more difficult in selecting the schemes which they will approve for grant, and it might very well be that they might be giving part of this £20 million to farmers who are not mainly concerned with developing their stock rearing at all. I do not think hon. Members would want that.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) feared that, if a farmer with a considerable upland area—land which was wholly upland or heath land—but who also had a considerable area of low-lying land which he could use for fatstock or milk production, and milk production in particular, he would not, because he had this good arable 1555 land, be able to qualify for an improvement grant under the existing definition. I hope to convince the hon. Gentleman that he is wrong, because, even under the parent Act, the Hill Farming Act, 1946, we have been able to consider applications from farmers on these mixed farms, which have very considerable hill farming interests and also arable farming interests on the same farm. If it is a very small farm, it is difficult to separate the two; if it is not such a small farm, it becomes comparatively easy to separate them, and I can say to him that we are willing to consider an improvement scheme which applies to that part of the farm which is upland farming.
Likewise, we would be able to consider applications for assistance for the provision of buildings and all the other things mentioned in the Schedule of the parent Act, insofar as they are necessary for the improvement of the land and of the productive capacity of that part of his farming interest which is devoted to the breeding of livestock, but we would exclude any buildings or improvement works calculated to improve the other part of his farming interest, which is that part of his farm given over to the feeding of fatstock, the production of crops or the production of milk. Of course, if the production of milk is a very small part of the farmer's interest, if the crops which he grows are consumed on the farm, it is possible, under our definition, that an improvement scheme which provided for works on the arable part of his farm might also be included, if they are a minor and secondary consideration in the total economy of the farm.
I doubt whether there is very much between us. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) thought that if we did not amend this definition—he was following up a point made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland—altitude might very well be the criterion. I do assure him that there is no intention at all of making altitude the criterion, and that is not the case under the parent Act. In some of our Highland districts, we have land which is a little above sea level but which qualifies under the parent Act, and of course, land, no matter what its altitude, whether heath land or land of an upland nature, would also qualify under the definition in this Bill.
1556 The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) mentioned the case of the small farmer who really needs his monthly milk cheque, and he wanted to see that that type of man was assisted. I think it would be a mistake for hon. Members to wish to see some part of the £20 million provided in this Bill spent on improving the ability of these small farmers to make their monthly milk cheques still bigger cheques. After all, that man does receive his regular monthly milk cheque, and he also has some guarantees under Part I of the 1947 Act, under which he has assured prices and markets and so on.
If his main interest in his farm is the production of milk, and if he needs to be assisted, another way should be found of doing it. If, however, the sale of milk is a small item in the economy of his farm, and if his farm is mainly devoted to, and is mainly suitable for, the rearing of livestock, he would come in. It is a matter of emphasis. If we set out under this Bill to spend public money in order to assist landowners and farmers in improving and rehabilitating the land which is used mainly for the production or rearing of livestock, I do not think we should amend the Bill in order to give the Ministers power to spend any part of that money on land which is really being used for another purpose.
§ Mr. Turton
I think the hon. Gentleman has got the position wrong. I gave him a clear instance of an actual case, where part of the man's income comes from the monthly milk cheque and part of it from hill sheep and hill cattle. In that case, that man was not allowed certain improvements because he was engaged in milk production. The point we are making is that the monthly milk cheque is part of the process of improvement. We want to see that man get into livestock rearing, but he must go through that process of milk production before he can get on to livestock rearing, which we all want to see.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, wherever the line is drawn, the Ministers who are administering the Act will be subjected to some criticism, because some people fall on one side of the line and some on the other. In the case which he mentioned, it was clear that the farmer who first applied was ruled out because of his milk 1557 production, and his successor on the same farm was successful because he had gone over from milk production to stock rearing.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Minister's advisers must have been satisfied that the best use to which to put this land was that of hill farming and not that of milk production, and that is the test and will be the test, no matter how this Clause is altered by any of these Amendments. That would have to be the test that the Minister would apply, and which he would have to ask his committees to apply, in deciding which schemes to approve and which not to approve.
Another point was made about the desirable development of the dual-purpose animal, the breed which would give some beef and also some milk. The hon. Member for West Perth said that it was very desirable that we should encourage the keeping of these animals. We do not disagree, but let us again have in mind whether the farmer who is going in for these dual-purpose animals is producing a certain amount of milk and some beef. In very many cases, though not all, he is producing milk and obtaining stock for the market, but he is not rearing livestock.
§ Mr. Donald Scott (Penrith and The Border)
There are a great many farms in Cumberland which fit into this argument very well indeed. There are farms where there are dual-purposes shorthorns reared primarily to supply heifers to lowland dairy farmers, where the cows are sold as stores and where little, if any, milk is sold off the holding. They are a most wonderful reservoir of the dual-purpose animal.
§ Mr. Fraser
I entirely accept that, but I should have thought that the picture of the Cumberland farm which the hon. Gentleman has just given us is quite different from that of the farm about which his hon. Friend the Member for West Perth told us. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Very well, let us agree that both hon. Gentlemen have the same thing in mind. If the land in question is predominantly utilised for the purpose of livestock rearing, then it would be in under our definition. The hon. Gentleman opposite said 1558 that he would be perfectly happy if he could have the assurance that that was the definition of this Bill. That is precisely what we have in mind.
We ask the Committee, however, not to insist on putting in the words "to a substantial extent" and on removing the word "predominantly," and then, later on, to remove the words "to any material extent," and to substitute the word "predominantly," because then we should be altering the emphasis altogether, and the only consequence would be that the Minister concerned would be asked to consider applications for improvement grants from a very large number of farmers. He would have no money to pay out at the end of the day, and in making his selection he would require to say "No" to very many people. If he includes the types of farms that have been mentioned in the course of the discussion so far, he could only do so at the expense of the well-established livestock rearing farms in the country.
I should have thought that what we want to do is to build up livestock rearing and to encourage it all we can by providing buildings and bringing about all the improvements possible in the areas given over substantially to the rearing of livestock, and to allow the other people who get their income in the main from the monthly milk cheque or from the sale of fat stock to be without any part of this £20 million. That, I think, is the correct approach, and I would repeat that, in any case, even if the Amendments were carried, the Minister must exercise discretion. He has to make a selection from cases within the Clause as it ultimately emerges. He will not be given any more money, and in the circumstances he might very well mis-spend the money. Therefore, I think it better that we should make it quite clear in the statute that it is livestock land which will be improved under this Bill. In the circumstances, I hope hon. Members will not press the Amendments.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Fort (Clitheroe)
Having listened for some time to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, I am still not clear, first of all, about the word "predominantly," and am in even more difficulty over the words "material extent" with regard to dairy farming and other agri- 1559 cultural activities. Towards the end of his remarks the Under-Secretary of State sounded as though he wished to encourage large farms already engaged in stock-raising and farms in areas where stock-raising is already going on.
I certainly understood from the Second Reading debate that the intention was to bring in areas which may in the past have been stock-raising areas, but which, owing to the attraction of the monthly milk cheque and the demand for milk over the last 15 years or so have now gone over largely to dairy farming. The hon. Gentleman's last remarks have certainly produced confusion in my mind, and perhaps also in the minds of other hon. Members of this Committee.
It seemed to me that the Under-Secretary did not deal with the point about the dual-purpose shorthorn so cogently put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). In the area which I have the honour to represent, we have a large number of these animals, and there is no doubt at all that purely from the point of view of the geographical description in Clause 1 we would certainly come within the scope of this Bill. But my farmer friends in the district are greatly concerned as to whether the shorthorn raisers who are increasingly selling animals for beef purposes, are going to be able to get any benefit at all under the Clause as it has been interpreted so far in this debate.
I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies we shall hear from him a statement of the sort of percentages of profit from milk which he has in mind in instructing his county committees when they are having a look at the words "to any material extent." As I say, I hope we shall have some clear guidance on that point so that those of our farmers who are raising the dual-purpose shorthorns will have some idea how far they have to go before they can receive grants under this Bill.
§ Sir Harold Roper (Cornwall, North)
So far, in this debate our discussions have been concerned with the north of the country, from Yorkshire up to Scotland. May I bring the Committee for a moment or two farther south to Devonshire and to the county which I represent, Cornwall? I am now speaking of land which is not 1560 mountainous land like that of Scotland, but definitely high land which has always been regarded as livestock rearing land, and which runs to the height of 1,000 feet or so.
In recent years, a number of the farmers in that area have been trying to turn over to milk production because, as one hon. Member put it, the country has gone milk crazy at the present time. I am thinking of one farm in particular where the imported milk producer does not thrive, but where they find it possible to make milk production profitable by rearing their milk cattle on the spot in these exposed places. I shall be glad if the Minister will tell me whether the farms in these areas farther south, the land of which has always been regarded as livestock rearing land, will be included for the purposes of this Bill.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
As I understand it, this discussion has really two prongs to it. First, there is the definition of the type of land to which this shall apply. Secondly, there are the various provisions as to the product of the land. I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the geographical point—the type of land—at the moment. I refer to the word "heath." As far as I understand it, schemes can be submitted from lands which are neither hills nor mountains but are in fact heath.
That brings me to the brecklands of Norfolk, where there are miles of heath stretching from Sandringham in the north down to Thetford in the south. I have a farm in that area, but I hope I am not being influenced by the hope of pecuniary gain. In this land, which is sand, heath, pine and bracken, there are many acres which can be used for the production of beef. Much of this land has been ploughed up in the past under the ploughing grants and the Lime Subsidy Act, and much has continued to be ploughed up since the ploughing grants ceased. Whereas at the moment, it might be difficult for the Minister to say that this land was now "predominantly" or even "to any material extent" heath because of the ploughing that has taken place, nevertheless the character of the land remains the same.
I have an Amendment on the Order Paper, in page 2, line 28, after "heath," to insert "or has within the last fifteen 1561 years been heath." The object of that Amendment is to ask whether he will take into account in making up these schemes the fact that this land has been ploughed up in the last three, four, or 10 years. My experience and that of most farmers who have dealt with this type of land is that there is hidden fertility in the soil which lasts for four, five, or six years. After that time one gets to the hard sand and flint and it may well be that the condition of the land is worse at the end of that period than at the start.
By modern methods of agriculture it is possible to maintain on this land herds for the production of beef, but it needs a great deal of capital to turn this heath-land in the Norfolk brecklands into cattle rearing land. There are some large farmers who have done it successfully, but it is practically impossible for the small farmer without help, because the capital needed for building, for fences and for shelter-belts is very great.
When I read the Bill I was unable to to come to a conclusion whether this type of land would be within the powers of the Minister or not. I am glad of this opportunity of putting a specific question to him. If schemes are put forward for land which either is heath now or was heath in the last 15 years in the brecklands of Norfolk, will he be able to approve them by the powers conferred upon him in this Clause? I hope his answer is, "Yes," because in support of this he will remember that his Ministry, through the Forestry Commission, have taken many acres of this land and have recently instituted proceedings to clear it. The reason given by his Ministry is that the land is so poor that it is only good for the growing of trees. Secondly, the War Office have claimed this land and have been successful in securing requisition of it because it is so poor that it is only useful for a battle-range or something of that kind.
Therefore, I suggest that we have evidence that this type of land needs the assistance that this Bill can give. In my experience, and in that of farmers in the area, if this land can be turned into useful land, by the use of lucerne, cocksfoot and kale, it is capable of producing store beef. I do not think it can produce fat cattle, but thousands of tons of beef can be produced from this land if farmers can get the help towards capital costs that this 1562 Bill provides. I should like to ask the Minister whether I am right in assuming that this land comes within the definition which is before the Committee.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)
I hope that, when he comes to reply, the Minister will deal with the specific question put to him about the interpretation of the definitions in the Bill. I thought he assured us that the definitions applied to the Hill Farming Act were put into effect very widely, and that all lands capable of being developed and of a marginal character were included. He mentioned, too, that on certain islands lands are classified for development under the Hill Farming Act where the farms are nearly at sea level.
I should like to put a personal question relating to my constituency, where there is a great deal of this type of land, lying between agricultural land and the actual sea-shore. We have many square miles of of that land, north of the Don in Aberdeenshire, which have been proved by experiment to be capable of raising cattle. I should like to have the Minister's broad opinion whether such land would be eligible for a grant under the provisions of the Bill, provided the other conditions were fulfilled.
The purpose of the Bill is to increase livestock, and we all support that purpose. It should apply particularly to land where good results can be obtained, land such as this near the sea, where one gets away from the hard frost and snow in winter and it is possible to take the cattle right through. That cannot be done on hill land.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
The debate on the Amendment centres round the question of the extent to which the boundaries of land which it is proposed to benefit by the Bill can be pushed further than hitherto. The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) has referred to land in the Eastern counties. I should have thought that the definition of a farm and the fact that a farm must be predominantly livestock rearing in character would preclude most of the brecklands. These brecklands consist of very large estates, and it would be practically impossible for a small farmer to make a living if his farm was predominantly livestock rearing.
1563 4.30 p.m.
It is quite true that there are farms in that neighbourhood which have gone in for livestock rearing in recent years and have made a success of it. It is also true that for the best part of a century some of the best lambs were reared in that area. No doubt, it would be possible to do that again, but the successful farming of this land today is based on a much wider system, taking into account the growing of fruit, vegetables and asparagus, as well as a certain amount of dairy farming and a great deal of poultry farming. The very nature of the soil and the fact that the climate is on the dry side for a great deal of the year would make it difficult to breed livestock successfully, since a regular rainfall is required in order to Lye a plentiful supply of grass.
On the other hand, I do not think that the definition should be too tightly drawn, because in all parts of the country we need farmers to produce milk for the local inhabitants. We do not want all the milk which is produced locally to be sent away so that the producer has to say to his neighbours, "I cannot supply you with milk, however much you need it, because I have accepted a grant under this Act which prevents me selling it to you." I rather gather from what the Minister said earlier that it would be possible for farmers to supply their neighbours with milk.
I would remind the Committee of the milk shortage the year before last when, at great expense, we imported milk from Northern Ireland. It may be that conditions in the hill districts of Cumberland and Yorkshire—we do not want to go quite as far as Scotland—are favourable for producing milk when other parts of the country are short, and it would be wrong to prevent the farmers selling their milk to make up for that deficiency. It is silly of hon. Members opposite to talk about the country having gone "milk crazy." It is nothing of the sort. Our milk production policy has been very good indeed, and that is reflected in the better health of the nation. It is true that we need to supplement our milk supply with an adequate beef, pork and mutton supply, but it would be wrong to ask great numbers of farmers who have been 1564 producing milk successfully, merely by inducing them to take a Government grant, to go back to the old system of cattle rearing.
I do not think that the Minister intends the definition to be too tightly drawn. It would be equally wrong, of course, to widen the boundaries in such a way that people all over the country would be seeking grants under this Measure, and it would involve a great deal of work in preparing schemes. I hope the schemes in the hill farming districts will be pushed ahead quickly so that we can look to those areas for a bigger and better supply of store cattle.
§ Mr. Lambert (Torrington)
I disagree with the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) when he says that he does not think this country has gone "milk crazy." All one has to do is to look at the present meat ration. The Minister himself said during the Second Reading of the Bill that there were between three and half and four million acres of livestock rearing land which, if they could be improved, would produce about 140,000 tons of beef a year. Would not everyone in the country welcome that at this moment?
§ Mr. Lambert
I feel that if we had not devoted so much energy to encouraging farmers to produce milk on land which is far better used for rearing beef, things would be much better today. The Minister said that he had only sufficient money to provide improvements for a quarter of that land—about one million acres. I think he would be wise to ensure that the money is spent on the land that will give the quickest return. The present Secretary of State for War took a long-term view and spent £36 million on groundnuts. Had we got that £36 million now we could have developed all our livestock rearing land.
I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will make certain that some of the particularly fine livestock rearing land in Devonshire is utilised. I refer particularly to land at Okehampton, Hatherleigh and Holsworthy. Before the war beef cattle of a dual-purpose nature were raised there, and the farmer, to get ready money which he needed in those 1565 days, sold a certain amount of butter. Now he cannot sell it; owing to our economic system it would be uneconomic for him to do so. I feel that although to a certain extent those farmers are going over to the production of milk, it would be most unwise in the national interest, to produce beef as quickly as possible, not to include them within the scope of this provision. I hope we may have an assurance from the Minister that the land which is suitable in Devon, between Dartmoor and Exmoor, will qualify for the grant.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland began his speech by saying that he did not think there was much between him and hon. Members who had supported various Amendments; but as he went on, it appeared that whereas a number of hon. Members who had spoken supported those Amendments wholeheartedly, he was standing on exactly the opposite side. There is a great deal between him and hon. Members on this side of the Committee. However, the hon. Gentleman made one point which we should bear in mind, and that is that wherever this line is drawn there will be certain ministerial discretion, and that we should try to leave the Clause in such a shape that that discretion is not exercised invidiously.
There are two tests as to whether any proposal for a scheme under the Bill will be excluded or not—first, as to the type of land, and, second, as to the type of farming. As to the type of farming, the trouble about the line which the Government have drawn here is that they are likely to exclude the best farmers in such areas as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Scott). There may be several farms on very similar land, but the best farms are nearly always those which are rearing dual-purpose cattle and such cattle as pedigree shorthorns.
It would surprise some hon. Members to know how many high yielding pedigree cattle are reared on extremely high lying land. It may be that the Minister will argue that those are exceptional cases, but I think there are more of them than would justify treating them as exceptional cases. Before the Report stage the Minister should look into the wording of the Clause to see whether he can be cer- 1566 tain that in these districts it is not the better farmers who will fail to qualify for this grant and the less progressive but, no doubt, equally worthy in other respects who will benefit.
On the question of improving sheds for cattle, surely the standard which the Minister will set will be the same whether the cattle are for breeding stores or for producing milk for sale. The sort of improvement carried out will be more or less the same in the end. I would suggest that the Minister looks again at the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), to see whether the use of words limiting this qualification to the sale of liquid milk or some similar words would not improve the drafting of the Clause.
§ Mr. Nugent (Guildford)
My name is on the Order Paper in support of one of the Amendments which would deal with the milk qualification in the Clause. I imagine that the reply given by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was intended to meet our anxieties, but it did not go very far in that direction. I congratulate him upon his courage in entering the discussion on the difficult problem of what is a dual-purpose animal and what it does. That has always been rather a confused matter and I must admit that by the time he had finished, it was still a confused matter. The fact is that where dual-purpose cattle were kept they would produce milk and also produce steers, but it is extremely improbable that they would be fattening animals.
The point I want to emphasise is this. Back in the 'thirties, and perhaps in the late 'twenties, those with stock-rearing land in such parts of the country as Wales, where stock-rearing was still being carried on for a living, were in very great difficulty and the result was that, as the Milk Marketing Board got going, in the 'thirties, those little farms gradually went into milk production. Now nearly all those farmers are making their living from milk production. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) brought out this point extremely well.
Those farms are potentially stock-rearing farms—[Interruption.] In connection with this farmyard atmosphere in the Chamber, I am reminded that the 1567 Parliament Buildings in Northern Ireland have a farmyard alongside them. It struck me earlier how useful it would be to go out and have a practical demonstration of dual-purpose cattle, but we are getting a practical demonstration already.
The point I was making was that those farms in the upland areas which used to be stock-rearing farms are now used for milk production; the farmers are making their living in that way. A great many of the farms could usefully be employed rearing a certain number of beasts, but as the Bill is now drawn none of them will be able to come within the scope of it. I believe the right hon. Gentleman intends to interpret the Bill liberally. I hope he does, because I am sure that this is a potentially productive beef producing area. If the Minister will make it possible for these farms, at present to a considerable extent dependent on their milk production, to benefit by the Bill so that they can improve their buildings and go in for a little stock-rearing, I am sure we shall get additional cattle from that land.
If the reply is that because there is only £20 million available it is not possible to extend the Bill beyond the very limited extent indicated by this qualification about milk, then I must bow my head to that decision. Nevertheless, I think we should point out that the former stock-rearing areas of the country have now gone into milk production and that if we want to resuscitate those stock-rearing areas this Bill will not do it; it will need a more generously framed Measure. I hope that within the limits of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman will be as liberal as possible in his administration.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I find myself in the same position as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), who said that the Joint-Under Secretary of State for Scotland had remarked at the beginning that he doubted whether there was very much between the two sides of the House but who, as he continued his speech, seemed to become more confused all the time.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I was merely agreeing with what had been said by the hon. 1568 Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who doubted very much whether there was much between us. I said that, since hon. Members on both sides were anxious to support the passage of the Bill, that was probably so, and I went on to show that if hon. Members wanted the Minister to be selective in his approval of schemes, they could best assist in that by leaving the wording of the Bill as it is. Further, I pointed out that if the words were amended to widen the discretion it would make it much more difficult for the Minister to be selective.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I quite agree with the principle of that, but we are becoming more confused all the time, and my purpose is to try to reconcile the various speeches that have been made and to ask the Minister to look at the wording of the Bill again. The two Amendments of the many which are down in my name, together with the names of other hon. Members, propose to eliminate the term "dairy farming" and insert in its place "milk for sale liquid." We think that is a very different thing because our conception of this scheme, if it is to be a success, is herds of dual-purpose dairy cattle becoming the nursery for the stock rearing farms in the lower parts of the country as well as the reservoir of heifer calves to go to the dairy herds, as suggested by one of my hon. Friends.
If we can help these upland areas, and indeed the hill areas, to produce more steer calves to join the beef herds and more heifer calves to join the dairy herds, I think we shall have accomplished what we seek to accomplish, and this will then be an extremely useful Measure. Several hon. Members have referred to the fact that this cannot all be done in a day and that there have been certain areas in the country where, during the last 20 years, the whole emphasis has been on an increase in milk production. In those areas the economy of small farmers has been based upon milk production and it would be disastrous if, through the operation of the Bill, they were to be cut off overnight.
I think that is a real danger unless the words of the Clause are widened by the Minister before the Bill becomes an Act. I think my hon. Friends will agree on this point: we do not in any way wish to encourage an extension of milk produc- 1569 tion in the upland areas, but we do want to enable those whose economy is based on milk production to continue their business and gradually to turn not only to producing milk but also to producing the steer calves which will eventually become beef and will help our meat ration.
For that purpose I want to ask the Minister two specific questions. Will he give the Committee the assurance that, if the improvements in any particular scheme will increase the livestock rearing capacity of the farm but are not likely to increase milk production, they should be accepted? That is one of the principles which I hope he will accept. The other question I should like to put is this. There are farms, and there will continue to be farms, which still sell a considerable quantity of milk to the Milk Marketing Board, as liquid milk, and I gather that, under the Clause, those farms will probably not benefit from the Bill. I want to ask the Minister to what extent a farmer may carry on the sale of liquid milk and yet be eligible for grants under the Bill. Has he any figure to send out to his committees as advice to them in deciding whether they should select or turn down any improvement schemes?
It is has been put to me from certain parts of the country that there are certain areas where, if those who produce milk are excluded, it will cause very great hardship indeed. The question has been put to me, would it not be possible for the Minister, in the directions he sends to the committees, to indicate that they may make a wider interpretation in certain areas than they do in others? I perfectly understand that that would be quite impossible for the Minister to do, because he must send out a general directive to those who are to be responsible for approving the schemes a general directive on the lines upon which they are to work.
If, however, the Bill is to be the success we hope it will be, we hope that the Minister will see his way before the Report stage, before we conclude our discussions on the Bill, to widen the phraseology in this Clause and make it abundantly clear that, whilst we do not want to increase milk from those particular areas, we want to help those who are at present engaged in producing a limited supply of milk gradually to turn over to 1570 producing beef and store cattle for the beef herds of the country.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I think it would be as well, perhaps, if I recalled to hon. Members the content of Clause 1 (3,a). Lots of questions have been put during the debate as to what is or ought to be in this subsection. The definition here was designed strictly in accordance with the terms of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, and, I think, is beyond any state of confusion of mind except that confusion that is natural and with which we sympathise. It says:(a) the expression 'livestock rearing land' means land situated in an area consisting predominately of mountains, hills or heath, being land which is, or by improvement could be made, suitable for use for the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle but not for the carrying on, to any material extent, of dairy farming, the production … of fat sheep or fat cattle or the production of crops …It seems to me there is only one cause for hesitation or doubt there in that definition, and that is the expression "to any material extent." I do not think "predominantly" is in doubt, since it is clear that by that must be meant the major part of the farming undertaking, and that is and always has been contended.
Hon. Members will agree with me, I am sure, when I recall to their minds that we are not without experience, since we have been operating the Hill Farming Act for some years now. We have our Hill Farming Advisory Committee, on which are represented hill farmers in various parts of the country, and we have the county executive committees, almost all of them with one or more representatives of the hill farmers; and there has been a sympathetic approach to the acceptance of schemes. It has been our desire that improvement schemes should be introduced. It has been our desire to help every applicant, and the fact that the whole of the £4 million made available for the purpose has been absorbed by schemes is a fair indication that we have administered the schemes not only reasonably but, indeed, very sympathetically.
§ Sir H. Roper
Could we have a clearer definition of the intention in the use of the word "hill"? The expression used is "hills or heath," not "high heath land."
That is exactly what the subsection says— 1571… predominantly of mountains, hills or heath. …I think that on Second Reading I explained that under the Hill Farming Act, 1946, we interpreted that to mean "high hills"—if you will. This Bill is to extend the same sort of improvement schemes, but slightly farther down the hills.
The only other object was not to encourage, as some hon. Members today have suggested, including the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), the production of milk, but really the production of livestock. Now, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton wanted us rather, I thought, among some of what he termed the "smaller farmers" in the hilly areas, to allow milk to remain primary. He quoted the case of a person who had an income of £900 from milk and £300 from other sources. He thought that that was the right kind of person to encourage. That is strictly beyond the pale of this Bill.
§ Mr. Turton
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to get this clear? I think, too, that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was under a misapprehension on this point. The argument I am addressing to the Minister is that is frequently the case in the upland areas that it is a derelict farm that finds the production of milk useful during the stage of rehabilitation, and that, as the Minister is at present administering the Hill Farming Act, and as, I gather, he proposes to administer this Bill, he debars the most derelict farms from livestock, while the larger farms will get the benefit.
I beg to differ from the hon. Member. It has not been so, and will not be so, either. I am going to try to give the hon. Member what, I think, are fair reasons for the view we take. The hon. Member also said that, if we pursued this policy, it would be dangerous. I cannot see how it could be dangerous for the Government to give anybody who qualifies for a grant 50 per cent. of the money expended on improvement. There cannot be much danger in that. There may be a difference of opinion with one particular farmer, but nothing dangerous in it from the Government's point of view, if we are putting £20 million into the schemes.
If the hon. Member has been asleep since 1947 I can only sympathise with him. He has not yet awakened to the fact that we have—well, I would not be certain about the numbers, but over a million more cattle than in 1939, when his Government were in office—over one million more cattle in this country today than in 1939.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton says that our policy has failed. He cannot lay that at my door since, as he must know, thanks to the calf subsidy scheme we have reared, over the past three years, 400,000 more calves than would have been reared, perhaps, if a Government of his party had been in office. So that I do not quite see—
Do not let us have an argument about that, because I do not think that the hon. Member has a case that he could sustain either here or, indeed, anywhere else. What we are dealing with at the moment is a Bill in which the Government are offering inducements to people farming on hilly land to produce improvement schemes; and the taxpayer is willing to pay 50 per cent. of the total cost. "Predominantly" is, I think, the right word to use in this connection.
The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts), has an Amendment which refers to heath land, but he admits that for the past 15 years that particular type of land has been ploughed up and cropped.
Ploughed up and cropped. If land, after improvement, is useful for cropping, then it does not come within the terms of the Bill. It does not come within the terms of subsection (3,a) since it could, to a very material extent, produce crops other than rearing livestock. The answer to the question he put to me directly, whether the sort of land in Suffolk which he described would come within the confines of this definition, is "No."
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
If heathland or heather and bracken is ploughed up and sown with the only things they will grow, and thereby maintains twice or three times as many head of cattle as before, surely that comes within the definition?
I think I have explained very clearly that it was never intended that it should; that we were merely extending the Hill Farming Act by coming still further down the hillside. If we were to include the sort of land the hon. Gentleman thinks we ought to include, it is clear that little or no money would be left for hill farming, since there is heathland in every country and we should miss the very purpose for which we set out to improve typical livestock rearing land.
§ Mr. Roberts
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but surely there should be some Amendment to the third line of this subsection, because it quite clearly says it is land which is either mountains hills or heath. It refers here to land which is heath, and it is that which led me to put down my Amendment. If the Minister's intention is that it shall be a small hill of some kind he should say so. What he says, in fact, is that any land which is heath comes within the Clause.
I have already explained that if, after improvement, that land is capable to any material extent of producing other crops it falls outside the terms of this definition.
Well, that is the interpretation we place upon it, and it is beyond argument.
The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) asked whether we had in mind any percentage when we say that a person who is producing milk or processing milk into butter, cheese or cream would not be disqualified from an improvement scheme merely on that account so long as that part of his undertaking was not the major part. We have not in mind any fixed percentage, such as 31, 32 or 33 per cent. We try to apply common sense through the county executive committees, with the advice and guidance of the Hill Farming Advisory Committee. They know in every case whether or not the rearing of live- 1574 stock is the major or minor part of the undertaking, and if livestock rearing is clearly the major part it obviously qualifies for a grant.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland made it perfectly clear—although it seems to have been misunderstood, at least by hon. Gentlemen opposite—that if milk production for the processing of milk forms the major part of a farmer's undertaking, but he does do some livestock rearing, then it is not impossible for him to put up a scheme for the improvement of that part of his farm which is devoted to livestock rearing. It may very well be that some part of his scheme, perhaps roads, bridges, or something like that, could not be undertaken in a minor scheme of that description.
But if the farmer decided, later, to change from milk production to more and more livestock rearing, then any part of the first scheme that was not complete and perhaps could be completed under a subsequent scheme once he had gone back and made livestock rearing the major part of his undertaking—
Does the hon. Gentleman mean if he now does livestock rearing and goes into milk production?
I hope there is still a bit of honesty among the farming community. I should think that even in Westmorland there are some elements of honesty yet.
This is not a joke but a very serious point, because types of farming change. What happens in the course of time is that a man keeping store cattle or breeding cattle may, not with any wish to be dishonest in any way, transfer to dairy cattle, perhaps because of road improvements or a change of tenancy.
The hon. Gentleman will readily understand that if a person who has put forward a scheme and contributed 50 per cent. of the total cost of a scheme feels disposed, a few years later, to return to milk production, or some 1575 form of farming other than livestock rearing, there is nothing we can do about it. I do not see what we can do about it, unless we import into the Bill some sort of repressive Clause in case that contingency arises. I should not like to import that into the Bill.
The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), asked me several questions. First, he asked whether an improvement grant could be made available where it could be shown that the improvement would be an improvement in the livestock rearing side of the farm. I think I have just answered that. Second, he asked what could be the proportion of milk production on any such farm where an improvement scheme was desired. I could not give him a percentage. We should have to take all the circumstances into account. It may very well be in the 'forties or it may be in the 'thirties according to the circumstances of the particular farm. If the major part of the undertaking were livestock rearing nothing could disqualify him from applying for and obtaining a grant.
A good deal has been said about milk production, and perhaps I ought to say, if only to clear the minds of hon. Members, why the Bill does not set out to assist in the production of milk. The reasons are very simple. First, milk production has already passed the target we set for it even for 1952. It is, therefore, not necessary to stimulate the production of milk in the uplands, particularly as much of this land is wholly unsuited to milk production in any case.
Second, milk producers benefit to a much greater extent than the producers of store stock from guaranteed prices and assured markets. In particular, a substantial proportion of the increase in milk prices in 1947 was intended to provide capital for the improvement of dairy farms. Small milk producers were not forgotten, for they received substantial assistance in 1950 in the shape of an increase of 1½d. on the bonus payable on the first 400 gallons sold in each of the winter months. I agree that this was to compensate them to some extent for the increased cost of feedingstuffs.
Third, if farms which are primarily milk producing were included in the 1576 scope of would increase substantially the area of eligible land, and increase the competition for the limited sums of money available. While the farm primarily engaged in milk production will not normally qualify for grants under the Bill. The words "to any material extent" assure that a person producing some milk will not necessarily be debarred from enjoying the grant.
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) was quite right when he said that there are only two tests under the Bill. First, the type of land, and, second, the type of farming. I think that in all the circumstances, and particularly in view of the fact that we have already passed our milk target for 1952, and that our meat supplies are so short, it is the duty of the Committee to concentrate on a far greater production of meat from our own acres. That is exactly what the Bill is designed to do. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will agree that we are trying to do this fairly and squarely.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
So far as I can see, the Bill does not say what the Minister intends. If he looks at the benefits under the First Schedule of the Hill Farming Act, he will see set out quite clearly that what could happen under this Bill is the removal of bracken followed by reseeding and regeneration of grazing or the laying down of permanent pasture. That is a scheme which must come within the scope of the Bill. Therefore, I put it to him again that if there is heath land which could be regenerated by putting it down to permanent pasture, which would improve it for the benefit of rearing cattle, it would come within the definition which we are now discussing. It may be that it is not the intention of the Minister that it should do so, but I think that any lawyer, looking at this Clause, would advise his client that what I have said could happen. Surely it is not the intention of the Minister to waste the time of farmers by their, having to put in claims which are obviously permissible under the Bill but not in the intention of the Minister. What is the point of making application to put down to permanent pasture heath land if it does not come within the terms of the Bill?
I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this matter again. I hope that he will not be influenced by the hon. 1577 Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), who tried to deny his constituents these benefits, because I can assure him that there are a large number of small farmers in West Norfolk who urgently need this assistance, and who could produce cattle on very bad land—land which the Ministry has already said is sub-marginal—and which, in fact, is heath land. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter because, otherwise, it will lead to frustration and disquiet in that part of Norfolk and Suffolk to which I have already referred.
I wholly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The Hill Farming Act has been in operation for four years, and I have never had a complaint from Suffolk or Norfolk. The definition in Section 1 (3) of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, states that hill farm land means "mountains, hills and heath," almost exactly the same words as we use in this Bill. Therefore, where is the confusion, except in the mind of the hon. Member?
§ Mr. Grimond
In view of the assurance given by the Minister that the Bill will be interpreted reasonably widely, and that, in particular, it will deal with the poorer land, of whatever altitude—
§ Mr. Grimond
I understand that it does. Even if it is of low altitude, it will still come within the Bill. Because of that and because where, on a farm, there is an area of livestock rearing land within the interpretation of the Bill the farmer may put up a scheme with some chance of success, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. York (Harrogate)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 32, to leave out from "extent," to "of," in line 33.
The purpose of this Amendment is to allow the production of fat sheep in particular and also of fat cattle off the hills. If the Amendment were accepted, the Clause would read:For the carrying on, to any material extent, of dairy farming, the production, to any 1578 material extent, of crops in quantity materially greater than …I think it is clear from that that the purpose which I have in mind is to allow the continuance—and it is a continuance—of the present practice in some upland areas of fattening lambs and grading them in the nearest market. I have a particular interest in this matter, because, in my former constituency, I was instrumental in setting up a grading centre. The effect of that was to produce meat straight off the hills and a number of farmers in that dale would be excluded from the benefits of the Bill as it now stands.
I suppose that the guiding words are "to any material extent," and perhaps the Minister may have something to say upon that matter which may set my mind at rest. It seems to me to be a retrogressive step to cut out from any help under this Bill the more progressive farmers in the hill areas. It is obvious that only the more progressive and better farmers are able to produce, to any material extent, fat lambs off the hills.
In the Second Reading debate, it was made quite clear by the Minister that he wanted quick returns. He referred to the Hill Farming Act, 1946, when he said:This land is often of intrinsically better quality and more favourably situated than hill farming land.Later, he said:If we are … to increase the output of meat,and, in the next column, said:One can readily envisage the possible loss of 750,000 acres of land. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1950; Vol. 482, c. 822–44.]These three quotations make it quite clear to me that the Minister has in mind the quick increase in meat production, and yet, in the wording of the Bill, he is cutting out the production of direct meat to the market from the hills. I think that the Committee will agree wih me that that is certainly a retrogressive step. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept the Amendment and allow the continuance of the fattening of lambs direct to grading centres. If that is encouraged, then, in due course, there will be the fattening in summer of some of the beef or dual-purpose steers which will be reared on these farms.
§ Mr. Scott
I am glad to have the opportunity to support this very valuable Amendment. I am very worried about the words "fat sheep." It seems to me that in drafting the Clause, particularly the definition of livestock rearing land, it has been forgotten that high land and heather land are capable of producing fat lambs in summer time. For a long time, particularly in some parts of Northumberland, Cumberland and Yorkshire, it has been the custom to take lambs from the ewes as soon as they are weaned straight to the fat stock market, or nowadays to grading.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. York) has said, arrangements have been made by the Ministry of Food to take in these lambs at the grading centre. It may seem an extravagant thing to do, but it will be appreciated on further consideration that it is a very economical and quick way of producing mutton and lamb for the country, for the simple reason that little extra food is needed and the long process of fattening is avoided. If the Clause is allowed to stand as it is, it will mean that this valuable source of mutton will be missed. I hope that the matter will be regarded sympathetically by the Government.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
I think we are tending to get away from the main purpose of the Clause. It is indulging in a good deal of obvious exaggeration to say that if the Clause is allowed to go through unamended this source of mutton will be lost. It has, after all, been applied to hill farming for some little time. It is an obvious exaggeration to say that this Clause will stop the practice which has grown up because we are extending it to a different sort of land and, therefore, increasing the amount of Government assistance. We are not stopping the fattening of lambs and sheep on the hills, and we are not stopping the fattening of lambs and sheep lower down the hillside. We are extending a special measure of Government assistance to those forms of livestock production which do not directly benefit from the guaranteed prices and assured markets.
§ Mr. Brown
I think not. We will have a look at it, and if I am wrong I will withdraw. I am quite certain that the Hill Farming Act never applied these grants to land used for fattening sheep straight off the land.
§ Mr. Brown
I think we are mixing up hillfarming grants with hill cattle subsidies. I am not dealing with that at all. However, I am making inquiries to see whether there has been any change in practice, although I do not think that is the case. In any case, it does not affect my point.
The main part of the argument is that the farmer who sells fat sheep gets the direct benefit of guaranteed prices and assured markets, whereas the farmer who raises lambs and passes them on to someone else does not get the same benefits. Therefore, special assistance is needed for him, and it is for that limited purpose that we are introducing this extension. It can always be argued that there are farms where the one runs into the other, but I do not think there is any difficulty, in practice, in deciding whether the main purpose is rearing or fattening. In any case, it can be settled locally by the committee. Therefore, I do not think there is any difficulty in deciding that kind of borderline case, that is to say, that the main function is not fattening but rearing. The intention will always he to admit that particular holding.
In general, we have not the money available, nor would it be regarded as desirable, to extend this special assistance to farms that have the direct benefit of guaranteed prices and assured markets. I think that we are right to limit it to those farmers who, because they are on land that is exceptional for rearing, have not the same guarantees.
§ Mr. Brown
I am assured that the answer is that the substance of what I 1581 said is perfectly correct, that under Section 1 of the Hill Farming Act land that produces fat sheep and fat cattle is not necessarily disqualified for grants. Therefore, what I said about this being a continuous practice stands.
§ Mr. York
The only point is whether we are spending money on a method likely to produce any results in the lifetime of some of us here. I have offered a solution to the Government that I consider will produce meat in a greater quantity in a shorter time. The Government have rejected that, and I record that they have rejected it. As I understand that They intend insisting upon their reactionary point of view, the only thing I can do is to beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I beg to move, in page 2, line 33, to leave out from "cattle," to the end of line 35.
The reason I put this Amendment down is to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he would look at the words which I am asking should be left out; this sentence, in other words, is the definition of "arable farming." To my mind the definition is not clear, and if it is followed to its logical conclusion it will have the effect of penalising the good and efficient farmer. May I explain how I arrive at that? Here, we are defining land by saying, first, how many cattle shall be produced on it; and, second, how much food shall be produced on it. There are these two factors. First, the number of cattle; second, the amount of food to be grown on the land.
What I should like to ask the Minister is: How does he propose exercising his powers? How many cattle will he decide can be kept to an acre? Assuming that 20 steers are kept on 10 acres, then obviously the amount of food grown on that farm would not be sufficient to maintain that number of steers. If, on the other hand, the number of steers was five, it might be possible to bring the farm within the definition. Obviously, then, it depends on how many cattle are on the farm. The only logical way the Minister can do this is to decide roughly how many steers or sheep can be kept per acre on a farm. Once he has done that, the eligibility of the farm then 1582 depends on how much food is grown on that farm, and that depends on its efficiency.
Let us look at an example. If there is a farmer on hill land who makes application, the Minister will say that to qualify there should be a certain number of head of cattle or sheep. Then he will look at the production from that land, which may be very small, and see how much is given over to food production. This may be a very efficient farmer. For instance, experiments are being carried out for the production of lucerne, both in Holland and in this country. It has been shown that by using six to seven cwt. of artificial manure to the acre, as much as four to five tons of silage or hay can be obtained. Assuming that the farmer efficiently increases the amount of food on his farm, that fact will be against him because he is now producing more food than the cattle can eat. But if he is a bad farmer, not putting artificial manure on his land and leaving his hay out, there is not enough food for the cattle to eat, and he will, therefore, qualify.
Also, assuming if he grows kale to feed his cattle, then he, is all right, but if he grows sugar beet or a catch crop which he sells off the farm there is not enough for his cattle to eat. Under this definition it will be practically impossible to decide between one farm on the side of a hill and another next door to it, each having the same number of sheep and head of cattle. One will not get a grant because by growing an extra amount of fodder he does not come within the definition in the Clause; while another farmer, less efficient, will get the grant, because he does come within that definition. Is that the intention? I wonder if the Minister would look at it again to see if the definition could not be better expressed so that a clear line can be given to the farmers who have to make an application.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment because, if carried, it would make the Clause look ridiculous. It would mean that we would exclude—
§ Mr. Roberts
I think I have made clear what I wanted. I am asking for an explanation of these words; I want a clear statement.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman apparently does not want us to accept his Amendment; he merely wants an explanation. Surely he has imagined arable land being used for the advantage of production and the crop being sold off the farm. I think it was made quite clear, earlier, that it would be the intention of the Minister that the committee, in administering the scheme, would of course, approve of a scheme where the crops grown on the farm were mainly used for consumption on it, including the feeding of livestock being reared on that farm.
If, as the hon. Gentleman imagined, it is possible to produce crops in very great quantities so that a considerable part of the farm's income comes from the crops produced on this land, it would be inappropriate that a grant should be made under the provisions of the Clause towards the purchase of fertilisers for carrying out that work, which might be necessary for improvement in the production of crops from the land.
The committees concerned will, we believe, display considerable common sense in interpreting the instructions which will be given to them. They will not exclude the farmer, who has proved just a little more efficient than his next door neighbour in making use of his low-lying land. They will exercise common sense and not exclude a man because of his efficiency. In view of the explanation given I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. Roberts
The undertaking which has been given by the Under-Secretary meets the point which I made, that in the administration of the scheme if a man is efficient in producing extra quantities of fodder he will not have that held against him. That is the only point I wanted to make, and as it has been answered I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 35, at the end, to insert:or in compliance with a cropping programme requested by the Minister in the national interest.When I read the report of the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill—I was in the country at the time when the Bill was debated—I was concerned to find that 1584 the Minister had, it seemed, excluded downland farms from the terms of this Bill. As the Minister well knows, there are very large areas in the counties of Berkshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, which are typical stock-rearing lands and which need improvement in the way of hard roads, better cattle sheds and better cottages. Many of these farms are isolated farms where it is today difficult to keep content a good staff of labour because of the poor housing conditions and the lack of hard roads. There is scope for improvement on those farms, and they are typical stock-rearing farms.
This Amendment seeks to make it quite clear that although they are temporarily growing crops, they will not thereby be excluded from applying for grant to make improvements under this Measure. As the House will know the wheat acreage—and I am speaking particularly of Berkshire, Wiltshire and Dorset—has been greatly increased compared with pre-war days. Today the Minister of Agriculture appeals to farmers to maintain their acreage of wheat barley and they have responded well. If the Minister looks at the county figures, be will see that a large part of that increased output which is made in response to the national interest, is being grown on the chalk land. I am concerned to see that the powers under this Bill do not debar the granting of assistance to these farms, which are typical stockfarms. I am encouraged by the line the Minister took over the matter of milk, and I hope he will be prepared this afternoon to tell us that typical stock rearing downland farms can apply to get assistance under this Bill.
§ Mr. Hollis
I support the Amendment which my hon. Friend has moved with his customary clarity. All sides of the Committee have approached this Bill with every desire to understand what it means in every detail. We have had some difficulty in getting our minds clear on certain points. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to ascribe that fact to a natural deficiency on this side of the Committee but it cannot be denied that he, too, had made a certain contribution to the difficulty of understanding the subsection which we are now discussing.
When the right hon. Gentleman was defending the subsection, on three occasions he spoke of land being excluded 1585 which was capable of doing various things. If hon. Members will look at the Bill they will see that the word used is not "capable" but "suitable," which is quite a different word. Land may be capable of being used for certain purposes without being really suitable. My hon. Friends and I are trying to draw attention to that matter at this moment. There are plenty of farmers who are growing wheat in response to the right hon. Gentleman's appeal where they otherwise would not be doing it. We want an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that they will not be penalised for their patriotism and that it will not be the case that where there may be two farmers side by side, one of whom has not responded to the appeal and the other has, the one who has not responded will receive money and the one who has responded will not receive money. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman wishes that to be the situation.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that the Minister's discretion under the Bill should be as limited as possible, and he was also good enough to say that if the right hon. Gentleman had discretion how he should spend money he might misspend it. We are not so censorious of the right hon. Gentleman as is his colleague—perhaps it is the space between us that is responsible—but we do not think that the Bill can be made a success unless there is reasonable flexibility. We hope that the Minister will give us an assurance on this point.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
There is considerable disappointment in the three counties that have been mentioned, because the Bill does not appear to cover them. I hope that the Minister will say that there is some hope for them.
§ Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)
In the past, before the emergency of some 10 years ago, this type of land carried a lot of store cattle and was used for rearing purposes. The position today is that, as a result of the patriotism in answering the call that was made, a lot of store cattle have to be brought from very long distances from the north of England. We ask that the Minister should accede to our request that the land be used again for the purpose of rearing store cattle.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The intention here is not that all the land which is ranched and not farmed properly, and does not carry store cattle, should come within the terms of the Bill. It really is stretching things to suggest that some of the land of which we have heard in Wiltshire, Dorset and even the downland—which I know quite well from walking over it in recent years many times—is only suitable, after improvement, for raising store cattle. That is to do both the land and those who farm it considerable injustice. The land in Wiltshire, about which we heard from the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) and in Dorset, referred to by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), will produce crops, and very good crops.
It is ridiculous to suggest that this land needs the direct benefit of the livestock rearing grant which is intended for land only suitable for the raising of store cattle and store sheep. As to the down-land, it is perhaps a little nearer to marginal land than those other areas, but not much. On the downland I walked over last year and the year before, I have seen magnificent crops of wheat growing. If that land were to attract this sort of grant there would be a whole lot of the Midlands and of Derbyshire which it would be very difficult to leave out.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are trying to import something into the Bill which the Bill is not intended to do. The Bill is intended to make grants available for the rehabilitation of marginal land contiguous to and in the neighbourhood of hill farm land which, even after improvement, will be suitable only for carrying on the rearing of store sheep and store cattle. All that other land, as we know quite clearly, is able to do an altogether different job, to grow magnificent crops. For this reason I suggest that the Government are right in resisting the admission of this land to the Bill.
§ Mr. Hurd
I cannot let the Parliamentary Secretary get away, after airing his views about the downland country, without some little correction. The Parliamentary Secretary has no doubt seen fertile stretches of the three counties, but there are many thousands of acres of poor stuff which are only fit for stock rearing. If the Minister wants more livestock rearing in this country we should admit them 1587 within the terms of the Bill. We shall be very disappointed in the South-West counties, on the chalk lands, if the Minister does not agree with our point of view that we there have a reservoir for the rearing and breeding of the healthy livestock which this country urgently needs to develop.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
I should like to say a further word on this point. The remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary were exceedingly sweeping. We do not get such great stretches of territory all capable of producing the same value of commodity.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I submit, with diffidence, that it has to do with marginal land. That is exactly what marginal land is, land where we get a difference between land which can continuously produce crops and land which cannot continuously do so. That is where we get the margin. It is most accentuated on those downlands. If we seek to work them intensively, as we have done in the past, they can carry crops such as the Minister described and said he had seen, particularly, I suppose, during the war. The land is worked out, and is no longer fit for anything except the minimum of stock raising. That is exactly what marginal land is.
I am certain that if the hon. Gentleman will consult his county committees they will be able to show him areas coming within his definition of marginal land in the middle of good productive land which would not, and would never be intended to, attract this grant. The hon. Gentleman has made far too sweeping a statement and I hope that he will be persuaded to reconsider the matter in the interests of production, because by a little ingenuity and a little extension of the principle he will be able to attract a far greater degree of production to the agricultural industry than if he leaves out all these possibilities.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
An important matter is the flexibility of the administration which the Minister and his colleagues seem to contemplate. We believe that at least in one thing he has made a considerable advance, and that is in the question of the comprehensive nature of these schemes. Whether he said it on purpose or not, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is now on record as saying that there can be variation in these schemes where there is a mixed economy in certain upland farms, that is to say, where part of the farm is engaged in livestock rearing pure and simple and part in milk. He said that in these circumstances grants could be made to the livestock rearing section of the farm. We consider that at least some advance on what we were told before.
The Minister will remember that during his Second Reading speech he went into some detail on the necessity for making the schemes comprehensive. We are glad that there has been this improvement. But hon. Friends of mine from all parts of the country have pointed very clearly to the immense variety which must exist in dealing with any farming of this sort. They have included hon. Members from the vales of Yorkshire, the downlands, and the heath land. In all these cases there may be a possibility of an extension of the grant in order to raise our livestock figures even faster than they are being raised now. There was also the question of the dairy shorthorn and the dairy shorthorn cross. It is apparent that for the moment the Bill must be something of an experiment. Therefore, the greater the variety of experience which can be undertaken the better it will be. I feel certain that if at a later stage the Minister has to come for more money—if the Bill works—he will get it from a grateful nation: at least, grateful to his Department.
Another important thing is carrying the variation even further in administration. In considering these schemes, perhaps the Minister could turn his mind to making grants for certain features in individual 1589 schemes at a higher rate than for others. We all know that in most of the schemes undertaken there is one salient characteristic which should be reinforced. It is often a pioneering activity. It may be a matter of a road or a fence or a matter of draining, and not all the 23 items which can be supported by Government grant.
We hope that, when looking at the Bill before the Report stage, the Minister will consider the possibility of varying the grant. He may say that that would be difficult to administer, but what has clearly emerged today is that more authority must be given to the agricultural executive committees in this matter, among other things, for speeding up the process. By the time the farmer has filled in the two forms, H.F. 24 and 25, and sent them to the Land Commissioner and they have gone to the Ministry and returned, a great deal of time has been wasted.
If the Minister gave more authority to the agricultural executive committees and the Land Commission he could expedite the schemes, because if they were administered locally there would be more probability of success and of more people coming forward. These people are often poorish farmers, not bad farmers but men without large resources, and the nearest thing to "feather-bedding" that most of them have experienced is a blizzard or a snowstorm. If such people could have a higher grant than the basic grant for certain critical items in a scheme, such as fencing or a road, they would participate, whereas they might otherwise not do so.
The Minister may think that this is impracticable, but what happens about grants from the central authority to the road authority? Most roads get a varying grant over 55 per cent. In a grant-aided water scheme, his Ministry has authority to vary the grant considerably. Variation of grant is not a principle unknown to administration. I hope that the Minister will consider this. There seems to be in his speeches and the speeches of other hon. Members opposite a perhaps natural fear of the Treasury. I hope that because they have burnt their fingers over the groundnuts the Socialist Government will not freeze off their strong right arm of British agriculture by unnecessary parsimony in these matters.
§ Mr. Snadden
This is perhaps the most important Clause in the Bill and I want to support what has been said about the possibility of varying the grants. In these schemes we have to pay out a great deal of money on extremely expensive items. I have found that roads are probably the most expensive items, and it is apparent that roads are more important than anything else. If roads are not decent we shall not get labour to stay on a holding in the remoter parts of the country and grocery vans will not come up to the farms. It is also extremely difficult to get heavy lorries loaded with fertilisers and so on up to such farms.
We put down an Amendment, which was not called, in an attempt to secure a variation in the grant for these reasons. To find the other 50 per cent. to meet the cost of a road—it may run into thousands of pounds—may well be beyond the financial capacity of the farmer, unless he happens to be a millionaire, and I do not think many of them are left now. We have had a good discussion about the definition, but I am still far from clear whether or not certain land which I should regard as of an upland nature will be included in the Bill.
There are one or two points which I should like answered before we leave the Clause. Some anxiety has been expressed to me by those interested in the Bill in case the procedure adopted under the Hill Farming Act in regard to the size of holding should apply now. I put this question particularly to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Under the Hill Farming Act, 1946, certain applications for improvement schemes were rejected by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland on the ground that the holding was too small and, therefore, not of an economic size.
That may have been justified in connection with that Act, and I supported the idea of the comprehensive scheme because I realised that we had to get enormous tracts of land into fertility, but under the Bill we are dealing with very much smaller units and men who probably have less money to throw about. I want to be quite certain that, in regard to selection, the smallholding and the small farm will not be ruled out in the same way as it was ruled out of the Hill 1591 Farming Act. If the Minister can answer that point I shall be grateful.
Another point was put to me which I could not answer and which I pass on to the Minister. What is the position of an owner who would be prepared to go to a great deal of trouble and expense in reclaiming land to be occupied in conjunction with the existing owner or let for grass or seasonal grazing? Would that rank for grant under this Clause? We can see that, if an economic value is too strictly applied, many upland farms with poor buildings and poor equipment may be ruled out in preference for other farms which have good equipment and which require little to be done for them in order to increase their stock rearing capacity. I hope that in the administration of this Clause we shall secure, through the considerable experience of the working of the Hill Farming Act, a proper uniformity of application. The agricultural executive committees will have great difficulty in eliminating discontent unless clear and uniform instructions are sent to them and each county applies the same yardstick.
In winding up the discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill I put a question to the hon. Gentleman but it was not answered. In Scotland an excellent survey has been made of a large section of the so-called marginal land. I asked if it would not be possible to complete that survey to include all of it, then to notify the people who rank for grant under this Bill, who are known to the agricultural committees. Then, if there were discontent about one man being ruled out and another coming in, they should be allowed to appeal to a tribunal to settle the question. In that way we should prevent a large number of Parliamentary questions and correspondence to the Departments, and we should have a clear-cut scheme which would go a long way towards making this Bill a success.
I do not imagine that any hon. Member is envious of the duty of the Minister under this Clause to try to distinguish between the man who is eligible for grant and the man who will not be eligible, although the right hon. Gentleman laid down the clear and fair principle that a farmer who is dependent to any great extent on his monthly milk cheque 1592 will be on the wrong side of the dividing line. While the Minister was explaining that, I was perturbed by a possibly fresh injustice which appeared and which he did not treat with sufficient importance.
Imagine two equal farms, one equipped to sell milk and the other not. The second is eligible under this Bill to receive substantial grant aid towards bringing it up nearly to the same high standard of equipment as is necessary for the production of milk. There is no dishonesty whatever in that, although the Minister mentioned that word in the course of an earlier debate. It is the equipment that a stock rearing farm would need, and dishonesty does not come into the question. Then the farm changes its occupier and the new man wants to go in for milk, and the Minister says there is no way of meeting that situation. One dairy farm has been helped and another refused.
On the other hand, Clause 10 of the principal Act, which deals with the regulations governing the occupation of new and improved cottages, gives the Minister power, which I think is exercised, by which up to a period of 20 years after improvement has been carried out certain conditions must be fulfilled or the grant repaid. Will the Minister look into this question again? We are dealing with public money. We may wish the sum was a great deal larger and could, therefore, extend further, but we are only doing our duty if we see that this Bill contains reasonable safeguards.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) mentioned roads. These are more important to the dairy farm than to any other because milk lorries call at least once a day. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider what it costs to improve the farm roads? I believe his Department at the Royal Welsh Show last year had an exhibit which included the model of a section of a suitable road for a hill farm. Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the estimate of the cost of making up that road? It was £3 10s. a yard run, that is nearer £6,000 than £5,000 a mile.
It is perfectly possible under this Bill for the farmer who is producing milk not to get any aid towards the upkeep of his farm road, and for the next door farm perfectly honestly to get assistance on a substantial scale and then turn over to 1593 milk. Will the Minister remember, too, that in days when most farmhouses and premises were sited in hill areas it was not the electric main or the main road which was considered important but shelter and local water supply. Therefore many of these premises lie a very long way away from the public road. If one thinks of the cost of repairing on a simpler scale than £3 10s. a yard run—
Subsection 1 on page 1 of the Bill deals with the various works which can be carried out according to the first Schedule of the principal Act, Sir Charles. I was representing to the right hon. Gentleman that at the present moment there is a possible element of injustice, perhaps substantial, between farmer and farmer. I should like the Minister to look into that to see whether he cannot meet it, and whether he cannot distinguish between the items in the Schedule to the principal Act where 50 per cent. is not sufficient grant aid and those where 50 per cent. is over generous. We want to see that under this Bill money is not wasted but spent to the best advantage.
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
I have felt extremely uncomfortable this afternoon because, for the first time since I have been in Parliament, I have been on the side of the Government throughout the debate on this Clause. I may be biased, but I have felt that this little Bill is intended to encourage beef and not milk.
§ Brigadier Peto
Having felt that extreme discomfort in my inner man, I thought I must declare it. I must complete my remarks by saying that if there were to be any fresh encouragement given to milk, it should only be given to clean milk and not to non-attested milk. Surely the national policy must be to encourage clean milk production and not to encourage small farms on hill land which have no facilities for producing milk of the required standard. They would do much better to return to beef production as they used to do.
§ Captain Duncan (Angus, South)
I want to raise a point of selectivity because I have not been satisfied up till now, although I have listened in silence to what has gone on this afternoon, about the methods by which the Government will choose the schemes for acceptance. Some £20 million is allotted over the next five years. Will this be allotted by the Government at the rate of £4 million a year over the next five years? How is that to be divided between England and Scotland? And in Scotland how is the amount allotted centrally to be given to the counties? Is it to be "first come, first served"? If so, there will be an unholy rush to get in application forms. It seems to me to be a real administrative headache for His Majesty's Government. It is worth while asking the Minister to explain in greater detail how it is proposed to plan, within the limits set by the Bill, the schemes to be refused and accepted. I, like my hon. and gallant Friend, have been supporting in silence His Majesty's Government all this afternoon.
It seems to me that it would have been very much better, even if it meant narrowing the definition even more than it is narrowed now, not to have any selectivity at all—that, provided the schemes met the terms and conditions of the Bill, every scheme should be accepted. After all, if we run short of money, it may not be the right hon. Gentleman who would have to come back to the House to ask for more; it might be my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) and as far as we on this side are concerned such a proposal would have our unanimous support.
§ Mr. Turton
I have been asked to raise what I think is an important point. Grants are to be made in 50 per cent. of cases to landowners and not to the tenants. The qualifications limiting the grants are the standard of farming of the tenant. What is the position where the landlord lays down to his tenant a certain type of farming practice which would have entitled him to a grant under the Clause, but where the tenant on his own initiative makes a tenant's improvement, approved or not approved under the Agricultural Holdings Act, connected with milk farming, and thereby prevents the landowner from getting a grant for his land? In that case, would the Minis- 1595 ter allow the livestock rearing plan of the landlord to proceed, and if so, how?
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I must support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan), in what he said. We have put into the hands of the Minister some £20 million to be distributed by him. As far as I can see, the farmer has in fact no right to receive any of this money. It is entirely in the hands of the Minister, and everything depends upon him and his advisers. That is not a good precedent. Surely the better way would be to increase the price of beef, to make quite certain that those who submit claims which conform to the provisions laid down will have their claims met.
Mr. T. Williams
It would be regarded as discourteous if I failed to make one or two observations in reply to the submissions that have been made. The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), referred to the word "comprehensive." I am sure he is aware that two committees have dealt with this question. The Earl De La Warr Committee and the Lord Balfour of Burleigh Committee have both laid very strong emphasis upon the necessity for every scheme, if a scheme was called for, to be comprehensive enough to ensure that the land would be brought up to a stage which would be worthy of the money spent upon it. That really is all that we can ask for.
The hon. Member spoke also of the possibility of varying grants for any one of the 23 items. I do not know whether he has thought out the implications of this. It might involve a special schedule fixing a particular percentage or price for each one of the 23 items. If that was not so, then clearly comparisons between scheme and scheme and between county and county would be so odious as to make the thing almost unworkable. Furthermore, delay would be caused if we had to decide whether a scheme was worth 572 per cent., 521 per cent., or whatever the percentage might be. If we were to accept any suggestion on those lines, we should be blown off this Front Bench by Questions about the wretched delay in getting things through. We are not submitting ourselves to that sort of thing.
The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) referred to the cost of roads. 1596 Of course, the making of roads is excessively costly. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) asked whether I recalled the example at the Ministry's exhibit at the Royal Show. Of course I do. I am not sure exactly what the cost of making a road would be, because conditions vary enormously farm by farm and area by area, but I do know this. If we start to allocate a particular percentage for roads or for some other one of the 23 items, then, quite obviously, if we lift the price for one, we reduce it for the others. It seems to me therefore, not only for purposes of administration but in equity, that to give a block grant of 50 per cent. for all the items necessary to produce rehabilitation is the best and most equitable scheme.
The hon. Member for Westmorland, curiously enough, whilst making those observations, was thinking of something else. He found a "fresh" injustice. Where is the first injustice? I cannot for the life of me see where any injustice arises when the Government are giving a 50 per cent. grant of the total cost of a scheme. There may be an apparent difference in the treatment between farmer and farmer, but there cannot be any injustice so long as we are making a grant for an improvement scheme. I quite understand what the hon. Member means, but it cannot be an injustice. There could be an apparent difference between two farmers with land that is either comparable or slightly different. What we try to do is to be as humane and as reasonable as we can, since we are anxious that improvement schemes shall be undertaken to the extent of the money which is made available.
The hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto), with his usual good sense, agreed with the Government. He, at least, had read the heading of the Bill and knew that it was intended for livestock rearing. It is not a milk producing Bill at all. The hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan), asked how the money was to be distributed to Scotland, England and Wales. One thing which is certain is that Scotland will get her share, and if I am not sadly mistaken, from a good deal of experience, Scotland will get a little more than her share.
1597 The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked a question which may arise between a landlord and tenant. I am afraid that it would remain a question for the landlord and tenant to resolve themselves, but so far as we or those responsible for approving schemes are concerned, it would be a question, not of what the landlord or the tenant thought, but of the suitability of the land. I hope that I have dealt with the various points—
Mr. T. Williams
In Scotland that is a question for the Scottish Office, and presumably they in their scheme will determine what they deem to be right before a scheme could qualify for a 50 per cent. grant.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.