HC Deb 30 June 1952 vol 503 cc197-200

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Agriculture (Field Drainage and Water Supplies) Continuation of Grants Order, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th June, be approved.—[Mr. Nugent.]

12.11 a.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

I certainly do not intend to take anything like the time my hon. Friends took over the last Scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought that that would be a very popular statement to make at this time of the morning. They obviously had a very different thing to deal with than I have. This is a continuation of something that was part of the Act of 1947, and We on this side welcome the continuation of these grants, because, obviously, they serve an essential agricultural purpose.

I do not think anyone, however he does his farming, even if he does it from the window of a railway carriage, can have any doubt about the necessity for the continuation, particularly of the field drainage grant. Much has been accomplished. Much remains to be done. But we should welcome a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary—and I rather hoped he would give it in introducing this Order—giving some idea of the extent of the land covered by these grants over, say, the last five years, the cost to the Exchequer of these grants, and if he could give us any useful estimate of the land that might be brought under the scheme during the two years this is going to be extended.

I think it right that the House should have that information on the introduction of an Order such as this. It is absolutely essential to clean milk and sound farming that we should have clean water brought to the farms and that we should make grants for this purpose. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), in talking about subsidising fertilisers, suggested it was rather a subsidy to the manufacturer than the farmer himself. I am sure that he would not say in this case that we were making a subsidy to the water authority rather than the farmer, who will receive the benefit of the water.

In this connection I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us if there is that co-operation and consultation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Local Government in connection with the supply of domestic water and water for agricultural purposes which obtained under the last Government; and whether they are, in fact, getting together to make this form of grant a joint grant in cases where the supply being laid on does serve the double purpose of the domestic supply and the supply for agricultural purposes.

The last point I would like to ask him is the simple one of what sort of piped supplies are they now receiving. Are they making up any deficiencies, any accumulation of delay, and so on, or are they getting deliveries of pipes which are diminishing rather than adding to the length of time that it takes to get these Schemes completed?

I understand that the rate of grant in these Schemes is fixed by the Minister, in consultation with the Treasury; that is, subject to Treasury approval. Is it the Minister's intention to continue these grants at about the same level as my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was applying them? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reply to these questions briefly for the sake of us all. If he does that, I am sure we shall be able to part with this Order.

12.16 a.m.

Mr. Nugent

I can reply briefly to the points that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) has raised. I have got the figures for the last 11 years, 1941–51, during which time over 200,000 ditching schemes were completed and grants totalling £4¾ million were paid. During that period 70,000 tile schemes were completed and nearly £2¾ million was paid in grants. Nearly 22,000 mole draining schemes were completed in the same period, with Exchequer grants of nearly £600,000. It is proposed to carry on the grants at the same rate as has existed up till now.

Mr. Grimond

Do those figures include Scotland?

Mr. Nugent

Yes, they do. I cannot give an estimate for the land which might come under cultivation as a result of the work over the next two years, but I have every reason to think that the rate of application will continue at about the same rate that we have been having. But I am anxious to try to get some sort of spot check to give us a picture of what is happening on these drainage schemes.

Up to the end of last year over 53,000 water supply schemes had been approved for grant aid and about 42,000 of these had actually been completed. Grants approved amount to just over £5 million and payments to £4¼ million. The posi- tion with regard to pipes seems to be fairly satisfactory for these water schemes. We have a national pipe emergency pool at Peterborough, and where there is a scheme of special priority we draw upon that in order to ensure that the work is done without delay.

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that, on his last point, exactly the same system for co-operation and consultation as existed under the previous Administration still exists between my Department and the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I hope that the House will now be ready to approve the Order.

12.18 a.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

May I renew a plea which I have already made to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, relating to the position of drainage in Shetland? We got a slightly larger percentage there for drainage than was given for other parts of Britain. That percentage has recently almost disappeared. We possess in these islands of Orkney and Shetland up-to-date machinery for land drainage—the only up-to-date machinery outside the mainland of Scotland. It can do a lot of work which is particularly urgently needed in Shetland, which is a crofting county with a lot of waterlogged land. That work is now being jeopardised because the owner cannot operate the machinery at an economic rate with the present rate of grant.

If we could even have the old differential between Shetland and the mainland restored, I am certain it would be well worth it, not only from the point of view of Shetland itself but from the point of view of the country in regard to extra food production. It is not a question into which steel supplies enter very much as much of the work can be done with plastic drains. The equipment is there and the material for the drains is there. All that is holding us back is the lack of a slightly increased grant which would make this work economic.

Resolved, That the Agriculture (Field Drainage and Water Supplies) Continuation of Grants Order, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th June, be approved.