HC Deb 18 March 1953 vol 513 cc121-45

7.55 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

The main item of Class VI, Vote 8, which concerns the eradication of diseases of animals, requires a Supplementary Estimate of £3,250,000. I expect that the Committee would like a brief explanation of why we need that very large extra sum. The details given show that the first item for which we require additional money is for the attested herd scheme, in respect of which we require an additional £600,000. This scheme is going ahead rather faster than we estimated, and by the end of last year we had about 3.7 million cattle attested. That is nearly 40 per cent. of the total cattle of the country. I am sure that hon. Members will be very glad to have that information.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Are they dairy cattle only?

Mr. Nugent

No, all cattle. It is because the scheme has been going ahead rather faster than we expected that we require this extra money.

The second item under this head is additional compensation for foot-and-mouth disease. The Estimate provides for a token figure of £110,000, and we are asking for a Vote of £2,400,000. This is a story with which all hon. Members are familiar. We had an exceptionally heavy incidence of foot-and-mouth disease during 1952, particularly in April, May and June. It was one of the heaviest that the country has ever experienced. We have had 458 outbreaks in the 11 months up to February. I am glad to be able to say that there has been a very substantial reduction in the incidence of outbreaks in the past five months though they are still enough to cause anxiety.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Can the hon. Gentleman say what has been the average cost of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease over a number of years?

Mr. Nugent

I have some figures for the cost over the past few years which may be the figures which the hon. and learned Member may like to have.

The cost in 1947–48 was £68,000, in 1948–49 £86,000, in 1949–50 £54.000 and in 1950–51 £72,000. These are all round figures. In 1951–52, when the recent outbreak started, the cost went up to £439,000. and this year it is up to the figure which is now before the Committee. It is an incidence of very exceptional severity, and we sincerely hope that it will not recur.

The next item for which we require a Supplementary Estimate is for compensation for fowl pest. There again the incidence of the disease has been higher than we expected, especially in the latter part of the year—in December and January—when we had more than 400 outbreaks. Perhaps I should tell the Committee that the incidence has been even higher than we expected when we prepared the Supplementary Estimate so that even now that Estimate may not quite cover the full cost of compensation. In addition, there are miscellaneous items for dealing with these outbreaks—expenditure on disinfection, slaughter, etc. On the other side of the picture, under Subhead Z, "Appropriations in aid," there is a recovery of £370,000 for carcases which have been salvaged, and that to some extent meets the considerable additional expenditure.

The other items are of a minor nature. The item relating to salaries, £100,000. is mainly on account of increased salary scales in the National Agricultural Advisory Service and the National Milk Testing Service. A certain amount of additional veterinary staff were kindly seconded to us from Eire and Northern Ireland to help with the outbreaks of disease.

Mr. Woodburn

Could the hon. Gentleman separate the figures for milk cattle and give an idea of what progress is being made with tubercular-freed cattle for milk?

Mr. Nugent

I am not quite clear about the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. If he would define his question more clearly I should be glad to try to answer it.

Mr. Woodburn

There are certain areas in the country completely free. I was wondering if they had been extended to any considerable degree.

Mr. Nugent

I dealt with that question in my opening remarks about the attested herd scheme, when I explained that the rate of eradication had proceeded more rapidly than we had expected. The areas in which there has been complete eradication are, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, in his country, and we hope that that will extend to areas in this country in due course. Very good progress has been made in Scotland.

I was about to mention that the additional travelling expenses were mainly on account of the additional cost of dealing with the eradication of disease on the animal health division's account, and partly on account of the increased rates which have been introduced during the year. On J.7 the Agricultural Land Commission require an extra £20,000, but the Committee will notice that there is a recovery of £100,000 under the appropriations in aid, so that on balance they are up.

Turning to Class VI, Vote 9, the main items for which we require Supplementary Estimates are the grants on the calf rearing subsidy. We are asking for an additional £1,700,000. The original Estimate of £1,800,000 was the estimated cost of meeting the subsidies on the 1949 calf subsidy scheme, which terminated officially on 30th September, 1951. Calves born before that date qualify for the calf subsidy under that scheme, as amended, when they become nine months old during 1952–53. Therefore, in the original Estimate a sum of £1.8 million was put down to cover that cost.

No provision was made in that Estimate for the new Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Act which we intended to introduce during the past 12 months. Therefore, we are now asking for an additional £1.7 million in order to cover the costs of the calf subsidy scheme under the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Act, 1952, which fall in the current financial year ending this month. As the Committee will remember, that Act was put on the Statute Book last October, and therefore payments and certification under it have only been able to take place in the last two or three months. These are early days yet to say just how that scheme is proceeding and how successful it will be, but there is some encouragement to be obtained from the figures in the quarterly agricultural returns of last December, which showed an increase in calves of about 128,000.

The evidence shows that there has been a greater retention of calves during the past 12 months. The main evidence of that is the lower figures for the slaughtering of calves. It is too early to tell from the figures how the scheme is going, but, for what they are worth, I will give them to the Committee. During January, 23,600 calves were certified, and during February, 116,400 calves were certified, making a total of 140,000 calves in two months. We know that there are about 47,000 applications which are still waiting to be dealt with, and they probably account for something between 300,000 and 400,000 calves.

The considerable backlog is being worked off, I think, quite rapidly. I am satisfied that in the next two months the arrears will have been completely worked off. The Committee might wish to know that the initial difficulty, which was mentioned in the House last December, of the standards relating to certification has been overcome, and there now seems to be no difficulty in that respect.

The other large item in Vote 9 is the Supplementary Estimate of £1 million for the ploughing-up subsidy. The amount put in the Estimate was £3.8 million, and we require a further £1 million. The explanation is that the response to that first scheme was rather greater than we expected in our most optimistic moments. The figures have been stated here before, but I might state them again. For England and Wales there was a total acreage of 610,000, for Northern Ireland 150,000 and for Scotland, 280,000, making a total of 1,040,000 acres.

The second ploughing-up scheme, which ran on from the end of the first one and started on 1st June, 1952, for £5 an acre and a special £10 an acre subsidy for land which involves particular expense in ploughing-up, has not yet incurred a large sum in payments. The Committee will recollect that one of the conditions of the Act is that in addition to the actual ploughing-up of the land, further operations, which normally mean the sowing of the crop, have to follow before there is qualification for the subsidy. The natural result of that is that payment has so far only been made for land which was ploughed for autumn sowing.

Up to 28th February, payment had been made in respect of 87,000 acres under the second ploughing scheme. At this time, of course, large numbers of applications are coming in following spring sowing, which has been done throughout the country. The additional sum of £1 million will be needed to meet the response that we have had from the two schemes.

The smaller item on this Vote—assistance for the white fish industry—is, of course, due to the fact that the inshore and middle water vessels have had a much more difficult year than was originally expected, and rather more payments have been required for the near and middle water vessels. A much larger weight of fish was landed and, therefore, the subsidy of 10d. a stone was required on a much larger weight, and more money is needed. Under that heading we are asking for an extra £100,000.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

The Parliamentary Secretary has given us, as usual, a very full, detailed and clear explanation of the figures, and it makes my task of following him a good deal easier.

I am bound to follow up what he said by putting one or two questions to him on Class VI, Vote 8. I think that I ought to apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Wood-burn) because when I accused him of invading the home rule territory of England and Wales I overlooked the fact that the eradication of disease is a matter for the United Kingdom and not only for England and Wales, and I gladly withdraw the remark I made.

The sum of £600,000 which we are being asked to vote for the eradication of tubercular diseases of animals is, in my opinion, a very good figure. It is rather different from the rest of the figures lumped together under H.1. I am not quite sure that I followed the hon. Gentleman's figures, but I understood him to say that the number of cattle now attested for England and Wales, or for the United Kingdom, was 40 per cent. of the total. If that is so, it is a very encouraging figure. It is so high that I was a little surprised that we have got so far as we have, and I think that for the part which he has had in pushing this on the hon. Gentleman ought to receive the congratulations of the Committee.

Could the hon. Gentleman take this matter a little further and tell us how many herds are now attested? There used to be a very interesting table published which showed the positions of the counties, at any rate, in England and Wales. Would it be possible to have those figures published in the OFFICIAL REPORT? It would be interesting now that we have had some excellent progress to see how this is split up about the country, and how the various counties are doing. If we could be told the number of herds that were attested, I should be very grateful.

I now turn to the less encouraging and gloomy business of the £2,400,000 which has been thrown away in respect of paying people for cattle which we had to slaughter on account of disease. There the story is altogether different. The hon. Gentleman gave us comparative figures for some years past, and this is an outstandingly black year. I do not think that he told us how many animals the compensation payment of £2,400,000 represents. It would interest some of us if he could tell us how many animals have had to be put away for this reason, and how many of these are dairy cattle, so that we could see more clearly the extent of this scourge in terms of cattle rather than in terms of money.

I would also like to be told a little more —since we are bearing the whole cost here—about what is now being done to get to grips with the things at the bottom, as it were. We were concerned when we had all these cattle die, and a good deal was said about what was being done and about a committee being set up, but that all seems to have drifted away a little, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman tonight would tell us what we are doing in the international field, and what steps we are taking with regard to other people who are also affected. We should be also glad to know the particular cause as to why so many animals were infected and how much of the disease was flown in by migrant birds.

Under the heading of General Services —salaries, etc.—the hon. Gentleman said that this covered some extra "vets" and improvements for some other people. Many of us have felt that the N.A.A.S. and the scientific services of the Ministry are extremely thin on the ground that they tend to attract the young men coming out of the colleges, but do not hold the good experienced fellows who go off elsewhere. Can he tell us how much of the £100,000 has gone in the improvement of salary scales for that kind of work? If he could also say which classes have had improved salary scales, I should be very grateful to him.

Under the heading J.7—Agricultural Land Commission—we are asked to vote an extra £20,000 to pay for the increase in the area of land under the control of the Commission. I vote that with great pleasure, and I am glad to say that the Conservative Party will no longer be able to make the sort of gibe which the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) made to me the other day about nationalising the land, now that they are asking us to vote £20,000 in order to do it.

I want the Committee to look at the next Vote Class VI, Vote 9.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers)

We must dispose of Vote 8 first. I allowed the Minister to make his speech on Vote 9, but we must first dispose of Vote 8.

Mr. Brown

They are both Votes of the Ministry. A division between the food production services and the Ministry itself is clearly an artificial one; they cannot be divided. The administrative services are much the same, and I think that it would take up less time if I were allowed to continue.

The Temporary Chairman

That is impossible. It is the ruling that the Votes are taken separately.

Mr. Brown

In that case, I shall have to get my breath back and do much better the next time. I think that I have raised the two matters to which I particularly wanted to refer. No doubt other hon. Members have points to raise on various items on Vote 8, and I hope that we shall get an answer from the hon. Gentleman on the various questions I have asked.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

I wish to direct attention to Vote 8, H.1, eradication of diseases of animals. The incidence of foot-and-mouth disease struck my constituency particularly heavily. Can the Minister give a division of the cost of the additional Estimate as between Scotland and England and say how much of the compensation was paid in the south-western counties of Scotland?

This is a loss which falls on the community as a whole, and the loss was infinitely greater than is reflected in the Supplementary Estimate. One of the difficulties about such a loss is that, by statute, we can only deal with compensation for the animals which are destroyed. But to some extent it is possible to give additional compensation. Whether such compensation is included in the Vote or not. I am not clear, but it seems to me that where an official of the Ministry gives a specific order which results in a loss, compensation should be given for that loss as it is in the case of the destruction of cattle.

The subhead reads: Compensation to owners of animals slaughtered…. I take it that that compensation is intended to relate to the replacement of animals which are destroyed; in other words, compensation is paid in the hope that the herd will be built up again as soon as possible. In many cases, the compensation payable for the destruction of a herd falls for taxation in one year; that is, the difference between the value of the herd as shown in the books and the compensation paid has to fall for taxation in one year, and, therefore, the purpose of the compensation, which is the replacement of the herd, is frustrated. If the Exchequer takes the compensation away in taxation in the one year it is plain that the purpose of the compensation payment cannot be realised.

I know that my hon. Friend is well aware of the problem. I know also that it needs legislation to remedy the position. There will be a very appropriate opportunity for such legislation in the very near future. I hope that my hon. Friends the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland are bringing the strongest possible pressure to bear on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make certain in his Budget that the anomaly is remedied.

My information is that the Committee who are at present studying the problem —the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) referred to it—are sitting extremely assiduously, meeting fortnightly or oftener. One would expect that by now their labours are almost reaching fruition. Can the Minister tell us when we may expect their report to be made available to him? I take it that when it is made available to him it will not be very long before it is laid before the House.

I hope that this very sad and destructive outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease will not lead to a further restriction on movement over the Border, because it would be very unfortunate if that were to happen. It would result in a very great restriction in trade and it would damage farmers on both sides of the Border to a considerable extent. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say something about this when he replies.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) should have raised the subject of foot-and-mouth disease and the need for continued research and further information about the various Committees which have been dealing with the matter.

Under the heading "G. 9—Agricultural Research: Grants in Aid," there is a revised Estimate of £1,345,000. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give me a comparable figure for last year and also the amount which we have spent on research each year since the war? We all agree that this part of agriculture is of vital importance, especially when we consider the specific problem of the eradication of the diseases of animals.

The Parliamentary Secretary gave the figure of 458 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease to the end of February. I saw in this week's "Farmer's Weekly" a report of another outbreak in Bedfordshire affecting 71 cattle, so it is obvious that we are not yet on top of the disease. On a number of occasions I have pleaded the cases for research into the disease. Here we have a specific heading dealing with foot-and-mouth disease and the necessity for research. The sum of £2,400,000 in compensation emphasises the magnitude of the problem.

I should like to know whether the Vote contains any item covering our contribution to European and other international organisations. I understand that the organisations which deal with foot-and-mouth disease from a wider point of view are the International Office of Epizootics, the O.E.E.C. and the F.A.O. What is our financial contribution to these bodies? Have we increased it over the year? To what are we committed financially in relation to the European plan which has been sponsored by F.A.O.? We had a lengthy debate on this some time ago and the Minister gave certain details. I should like to know how much progress has been made by the Departmental Committee, and I hope that a report will soon be forthcoming and that we shall find out how we can successfully prevent a recurrence of last year's tragedy. It is important to have information on this point.

Under subhead G.9 we deal with additional grants in aid of annual expenditure of colleges, institutions, etc. I should like to know how the amount compares with last year. I should have thought there would have been a considerable increase. In reply to a question in March last year the Minister said that we should have two more agricultural colleges, and, therefore, we should expect a considerable increase in expenditure to meet their costs. What is the position? However, perhaps we should not be too optimistic in that direction because in March last year the Minister said that plans for other colleges would proceed as soon as economic conditions allowed. I know what has happened in other fields of education outside agriculture where, as deliberate policy, the Government have made certain cuts. I hope that the policy pursued in directions affecting general education will not apply to our agricultural colleges.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

The hon. Gentleman says that education grants have been cut, but does he not agree that the amount of money being spent on education this year is greater than it has ever been before?

Mr. Peart

It is not true to say that a greater amount of money is being spent on the education of each pupil when we realise that there has been a great increase in the school population. I would be going out of order if I pursued the matter with which I am greatly concerned. There have been economies, and the Minister responsible produced Circular No. 245, which I invite the hon. Member to read.

On agricultural research, I merely say that I hope that that policy, which has pursued in other directions, will not filter into the Ministry of Agriculture, which always has had a good name in this sphere. I trust there will be no parsimony in relation to the meeting of costs to run these colleges and institutions which are so important.


Mr. G. R. H. Nugent

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) asked me how many attested herds there were as distinct from the 3.7 million cattle. I am glad to say that I have the number here. It is now 96,000 herds that have become attested, and in addition some 3,000 are being supervised on the way to being attested. I entirely agree with him that this is a very good story. I am not able to give him the county distribution tonight, but I will see what I can provide for him from the Department in the course of the next few days.

The right hon. Gentleman also wished to know how many cattle had been slaughtered. I am not able to give him that figure because I do not have it here, but I will let him have it. He wanted to know, also, what was being done in the international sphere to co-operate with the near European countries. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend has already said to him of the measures that we have been taking to co-operate with F.A.O. and other European bodies on epizootic research.

Mr. G. Brown

If the hon. Gentleman does not manage the figures, he manages the word all right.

Mr. Nugent

I think I deserve congratulations on that.

We are most anxious to co-operate as closely as we can with these bodies, because there is no doubt at all, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that the disease has come over here from France, where there has been a very great incidence of the disease. Not only does it come by birds carrying it, but quite possibly the virus is carried over in the wind.

The right hon. Gentleman and others have inquired about the Gowers Committee. They have been assiduously dealing with this matter, but I cannot forecast when they will be making their report. I know they felt it necessary to take a great deal of evidence in this country, and before they finish they wish to visit the main countries where foot-and-mouth disease is dealt with in an effective manner, including the United States and the Argentine as well as European countries. I think we can be confident that when their report is submitted to my right hon. Friend it will be something really comprehensive and authoritative.

I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman what proportion of the additional sum for salaries was to go to members of the Advisory Service. The answer is, £105,000. That is more than the total Supplementary Estimate, but the reason is that there have been savings in other directions and the total amount that is required is, in fact, something like £150,000. The greater part of it is for additional salaries for the advisory service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) asked whether I could give him the number of outbreaks in Scotland. I would not be sure to an outbreak, but I think the figure is 86 for the current 12 months. I cannot give him the precise cost of compensation in each outbreak, but I can give him some indication by telling him that the average cost of an outbreak is about £5,000.

Mr. N. Macpherson

What was the total cost?

Mr. Nugent

No doubt my hon. Friend can calculate, if there were 86 outbreaks, and if the average cost of an outbreak was £5,000, some indication of the cost of the Scottish outbreaks. I entirely agree that it is most desirable to bring this scourge to an end as soon as we can and to avoid movement bans on cattle across the Border. It is desirable to have the greatest possible movement over the Border both ways.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) asked me for research estimates for the year. I am not sure how far you would allow me to go in answering him, Mr. Rogers, because the business before the Committee is only a Supplementary Estimate, but I can give figures if I am in order in doing so. The actual expenditure on agricultural research for the year 1949–50 was £1,164,000; for 1950–51, £1,251,000; and for 1951–52, £1,547,000. The comparable figure for 1952–53 is £1,930,000. The figure before the Committee is for current expenditure only, excluding capital expenditure. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be glad to note that there is continuing development in agricultural research, which will bring great benefit to the industry.

He asked me for information on the contributions to international bodies connected with foot-and-mouth disease, but there is no provision in the Supplementary Estimates for that, and I have no information to give him. He further asked the position in regard to the additional agricultural colleges. I regret that that is also not in the Supplementary Estimate, and that I have no information on it. I think that deals with the various questions that have been asked.

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

I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us how much has been spent during 1952-53 on actual compensation for foot-and-mouth disease. We have only the figure for the increase.

Mr. N. Macpherson

Could the hon. Gentleman also mention the question of taxation on compensation benefits?

Mr. Nugent

I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries on his particular point, but I am not in the position to deal with it tonight. I can assure him that it is receiving careful consideration in my Department, but I cannot tell him the outcome of that consideration. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), the cost of compensation for foot-and-mouth disease is approximately £2,257,000 for the year.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum. not exceeding £2,975,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1953, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants, grants in aid and expenses in respect of agricultural education and research; services in connection with live stock; land settlement; land drainage; purchase, adaptation, development and management of land; agricultural credits and marketing; the guarantee of a minimum price for home-produced wool; the prevention of food infestation; agricultural training and settlement schemes; fishery organisation, research and development; and sundry other services.



Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,632,500, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1953, for certain food production services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

Time is getting a little short, and so I shall not take up too much, although this is an important Supplementary Estimate to which I would have liked to have devoted rather more time. I shall, therefore, deal with only three items and ask the hon. Gentleman some questions on them. He referred to the grant in regard to the rearing of calves and explained that the figure of the revised Estimate has gone up to £3½ million, requiring us to provide an extra £1,700,000.

Everywhere I go I hear complaints about the delay that exists in paying out the subsidy to applicants on the calves put forward for certification. The figures given by the hon. Gentleman himself must be worrying. He said that in January they certified 23,600, in February 116,000, and that they now have outstanding applications covering 300,000 or 400,000 animals. How far does this situation turn on the number of certifiers now being employed?

The hon. Gentleman has changed from the system that used to apply, and to which I am not particularly wedded, of the part-time, fee-per-head examiner, to a system of Ministry full-time certifiers. One would be tempted to think from those figures, and the complaints, that he is trying to achieve a saving by not employing enough full-time certifiers to do the job, and is leaving applicants to carry the burden by having to wait a good deal longer for the money. Will he please tell us how many full-time certifiers there are employed by the Ministry? Then we shall get some idea of how far he and his right hon. Friend are trying to reduce the enormous number of 400,000 calves still waiting at the end of the first three months.

The hon. Gentleman has told us how many were certified in January and February, but how many were turned down? He says that the difficulty about the standards which we set in the early days is now quietly settled and is not worrying anyone. That could mean a number of things. It could mean that the standards have been so whittled down that this has become a farce. On the other hand, it could mean that everybody now knows what the standards are and are not putting in so many calves that obviously will not make the grade. I could form my judgment better if the hon. Gentleman would tell me how many were rejected in those months because then I could measure them against the numbers that have been accepted.

Turning to ploughing-up grants, the hon. Gentleman will not want to be worried about my general view on that subsidy, which I still do not like and which I still feel is the wrong way of getting what he wants. He gave us some figures which I found both interesting and frightening. He said that 610,000 acres were brought in—something over one million as regards the United Kingdom—in respect of the first ploughing-up scheme. That is the explanation of nearly £5 million total cost in the year as against the original estimate of about £3.4 million mentioned at the time of the last Price Review.

I am still concerned to know how much of that million acres represents a gain to the food-producing land of this country. When we discussed this matter in December last on the Maximum Tillage Pasture Acreage Order, the hon. Gentleman gave some astonishing figures. Do they relate to this one million acres, or should they be slightly amended? The hon. Gentleman then said he had an increase of tillage of 156,000 acres, so we have paid, on those figures, £5 an acre on a million acres to get a tillage increase of 156,000 acres; or, if the 156,000 acres represent England and Wales, we have paid £5 on 600,000 acres to get 156,000 acres.

Then the hon. Gentleman went on to say that the area of permanent grass had decreased by only 50,000 acres; so that we have paid £5 an acre on a million acres, or 600,000 acres, according to whether the figure originally given was for England and Wales or for the United Kingdom, and have paid out nearly £5 million, or £3 million at the best, to get a net reduction in the area of permanent grassland of 50,000 acres. That does not represent a payment of £5 an acre, but represents a payment varying from £60 to £100 an acre.

There is no marginal land in the country that cannot be brought into cultivation for that amount of money, and a whole lot of it, as I saw in East Anglia the other day, could be brought into cultivation for a good deal less. Do the figures which the hon. Gentleman has given today and the figures that he gave the other day represent the two halves of the same story? If so, does it not suggest that in voting this additional sum of £1 million, we are pouring away a lot of money for very little in return?

The hon. Gentleman says that the increase in the applications was more than his wildest optimism would allow him to expect, but if all that has happened is that more people have claimed £5 for more acres than they were going to deal with anyway, I do not see what there is to be particularly pleased about. It seems to me to be a slightly worrying situation, and the fact that when the original scheme was before us I rather thought it would happen, does not reduce my sense of worry about it. I should like to hear more from the Parliamentary Secretary. I suggest that the whole business of getting our increased production in this way had better be looked at, and very quickly, even if we vote this £1 million tonight. I am sure that my hon. and right hon. Friends will be waiting to hear what the Minister has to say before they commit themselves in the matter.

One other smaller point that I ought to mention relates to Subhead Z— "Appropriations in aid" on page 47. There is a deficieny in the appropriations in aid which represents, I understand, the carrying forward in the Supplementary Estimate last year of a sum of £250,000 to a particular undertaking on the assurance that it would be repaid during the year. I take this item to mean that it has not been repaid because of the difficulties. I do not want to attack British Field Products, Limited—they are doing their best in a difficult situation to blaze the trail and are worthy of national help; but I ask the hon. Gentleman how far this all ties up with his own policy.

Here is a commercial undertaking, backed by the State to the extent of £250,000, to help to create a market and to begin the whole business of conserving grass and selling the high protein fodder stuff that is conserved in that way. They are in considerable difficulties—that is the secret of having this carry forward— having been not altogether without help from the hon. Gentleman and his Department in getting into those difficulties. In the past year, the policy concerning grassland conservation and sales, and the subsidising of different forms of feeding-stuffs, has not been at all logical, and I should like to know what the Minister has to say about this. I criticise, not the company, but the whole policy and the fact that here we have reaped the benefit of saying two different things. We cannot just sit by and see £250,000 going with no chance of its recovery. We heard a lot about groundnuts when hon. Members opposite occupied these benches, and we do not want to hear about British Field Products in the same way. We cannot just see the money disappear, and we want to know what are the prospects.

Another thing which I do not quite understand is the amount of expected savings on page 46. To me the document does not make sense. If we are spending so much more money on so much more ploughing-up and cultivation—and, presumably, so much more grass farming— how does it come about that we are using less lime and paying less for it, and using less fertiliser and paying less for it? We are rehabilitating less hill farming land. There might be some quite simple explanation of this that in the old days I perhaps used to know, but I cannot for the moment think what it is. It looks to me as if we are paying on the one hand and on the other hand not worrying if our questions are not answered.

8.51 p.m.

Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the debate we had in December about the grant in respect of rearing calves. I am glad to see that we have to pay this extra amount of £1,700,000, because I was one who pointed out that the standard set for the Eastern Counties at that time was too high and caused concern among the farmers there.

I should like to tell my hon. Friend that today they are perfectly happy with the way in which the calves are certified. I have had a report from the Secretary of the Norfolk Branch of the National Fanners' Union saying that they are satisfied and conversations with farmers in the constituency bear this out. Therefore, the action taken following the debate has borne fruit in Suffolk and my constituents, as taxpayers, will be extremely pleased that this additional sum is being voted because they will have a large part of it coming into their pockets.

I believe that the additional grant paid on the ploughed-up land will be reflected at harvest time in the extra amount of grain we shall have, which will be required for the increased number of livestock we want to turn into meat for the people of this country.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Peart

I should like to reinforce the plea made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) on the need for more details about the saving under the heading of "Rehabilitation of Hill Farming Land." Last year, on a similar Vote, when an extra £40,000 was required, we had a fair amount of detail.

Grants under Section 1 of the Hill Farming Act have been mentioned. I should like to know on what we are to save. This £117,500 is a considerable sum of money. We are pledged to further the production drive and I should have thought the Government would not slacken in their efforts to develop our hill farms. They make a great contribution and only recently the Minister of Agriculture circularised—

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers)

The hon. Member cannot discuss savings, but only expenditure.

Mr. Peart

I accept that and I agree that that is our rule when discussing the Supplementary Estimates, but the Ministry have presented their Estimate in such a form that it deals with rehabilitation of farming land.

I want to know from the Minister why it is done in this way. I mentioned that last year we had an excellent presentation of the facts and I want to know why there is a difference this year. If the Minister were able to give any details on the question it would be to the advantage of us all. We do not wish for any cutting down on any plans or schemes to rehabilitate our hill farms. Therefore, I hope there is nothing sinister in this presentation of the Vote by this Ministry of Agriculture. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us an assurance on this matter.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)

I wish to ask about the ploughing-up grants under Subhead N. My hon. Friend gave the figures for the second ploughing-up scheme of 87,000 acres ploughed. He told us he could not give an exact figure and that this was an interim figure, because the grant was not paid until the land was cropped. I wonder whether he could give us the figure of money paid under the £10 an acre scheme. That would throw light on the amount of permanent grass being tackled.

It is most important, if it is to have its proper effect, that this ploughing-up subsidy should result in some of the more difficult land being dealt with, land which has resisted attack for so many years. I shall be pleased if the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us the figure. I believe it includes a certain amount of orchard land which, very properly, is to be grubbed and ploughed.

I feel that the grant has had a beneficial effect on agriculture. I am a great believer in the plough. All our counties could do with a bit more stirring up by the plough. Even if there is a turnover and a certain amount of laying down going on with the ploughing I believe it is desirable. We shall see the reflection of this subsidy, not only in increased acreage tillage but also in increasing yield. We tend to concentrate so much on acreage, whereas any movement which is beneficial to and increases the fertility of, the land and the general level of cultivation is bound to result—

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

The hon. Member must not discuss general agricultural policy. He must confine himself to the increase in expenditure and the reasons for it.

Mr. Bullard

I would ask my hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that the problem of the standards on which the calf subsidy is paid has been disposed of. When the scheme was introduced originally there was some question that this problem was chiefly troublesome in East Anglia. I know that a number of the complaints then brought up were from East Anglia. I gathered from his opening remarks that he felt the matter was now completely settled.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Champion

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) frightened me when he said that his farm constituents were satisfied with the work of the certifying officers. When farmers are completely satisfied with that kind of thing I fear for the taxpayers. We had a debate on 10th December of last year when there was general agreement that a high standard should be set. If that were done I am confident that the farmers would not be satisfied.

I fear that the representations of the hon. and gallant Gentleman during that debate have had too much weight with the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Agriculture, with the result that the farmers are getting too much by way of calf subsidy. We do not want to encourage an attempt to get beef out of bobby calves which can never develop into decent beef animals. We do not want to pay the farmers for that type of animal. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will satisfy us on this matter, otherwise I would wish my hon. Friends to divide against this Supplementary Estimate. I regard this as an important matter on which we should be satisfied about the way our money is being spent.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

I will deal first with the question of the standards now employed for the certification of calves. I asked the Department for some figures indicating how the standard of certification was operating. The analysis of the figures of calves certified during February shows that of the total of 116,000 inspected in England and Wales 18,000, or 16.2 per cent., were not certified. The figure was made up in this way: calves not eligible, that is to say over-age calves or heifers of dairy breeds, amounted to 5.4 per cent.; those not yet certified but which possibly might qualify later, 6.6 per cent.; and those rejected as not of beef type or as being unsuitable for rearing, 4.2 per cent.

Absolute rejections were 4.2 per cent. and 6.6 per cent. are in the balance. The standard is about right now. It is most difficult to get the balance completely right. The percentage of rejections under the old scheme was about 2 per cent., so that we are doing rather better than that from the point of view of standard. It was not our intention to raise the standard of certification of the reasonably good beef animal, but simply to maintain a uniform standard and to remove the cases where the wrong one got through. The balance is now about right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) asked what was the cost of the £10 an acre scheme. The answer is that 37,000 acres have been ploughed up at a cost of £370,000. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) asked for an explanation of Subheads C, D and E—sayings. The explanation is simple. The Estimate of £605,000 for hill farming land has not been completely spent. It has been spent only to the amount of £487,000. It is still more than last year's figure of about £300,000. It just happens that the matter did not go forward quite as fast as we expected.

The money for lime has not been completely spent. We put in an original Estimate of £5,250,000. We expect to spend only £5 million. The exceptionally low figures for lime during 1951–52, which were pretty bad for a number of reasons, including the weather, have been improved upon; but even so not as much lime as we should like was used last year. We are giving further consideration to that question.

The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) asked about the grassland fertiliser subsidy. I am surprised that he should not remember that. It is an old friend of his. It is the original scheme of 1951 with all its ramifications and complexities. This is the end of it running down. It has not gone quite as fast as we expected. It is certainly beyond our control.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked questions about the delay in calf certification. He asked how many officers were now engaged on the work, whether I thought that the backlog resulted from the introduction of the system of full-time certifying officers, and whether we had enough of them. We have 95 full-time certifying officers. I believe that that is enough.

The Committee will observe that the scheme started only in January, and that it is dealing with calves bora since 1st October, 1951. There is a huge backlog there. If we can, as I believe we can, clear off the whole of that backlog in the next couple of months, I think we shall have done a satisfactory job and will have fully justified the economy that we were making in full-time certifying officers. The progress that is now being made leads me to think that we shall be able to do so.

I have answered the point about standards. With regard to the ploughing subsidy, I was asked what gain the nation had received from this £5 per acre subsidy, which extended to more than 1 million acres in the United Kingdom and 660,000 acres in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, when, in fact, there were only 156,000 additional acres of permanent grass ploughed up—the figure I quoted last December—and a reduction of permanent grassland of only 50,000 acres. The answer is that, over the two or three previous years, there had been a steady fall in the tillage acreage, particularly in the years 1949, 1950 and 1951. Altogether, there was a loss of something like 1 million acres, and there was this steady trend out of tillage just at the time when we not only wanted to maintain the acreage, but, if possible, to increase it.

It was quite evident, looking about the country, that farmers who had put down three year leys were leaving them down for four or five years and that, combined with the general intensity of farming, the speed of rotation was slowing down. I have no doubt that, if we had not begun an emergency measure of this kind, not only should we not have maintained the tillage acreage we had last year, but there would almost certainly have been a further fall, possibly of 400,000 or 500,000 acres.

In judging the net gain to the nation's economy that has been received from this first £5 per acre scheme, we should take into account the general trend of tillage acreage at the time we introduced it. I am quite certain that the application of the money concerned in that way—the £3.4 million originally estimated, though it is true we have had a little more— rather than increasing the end price, has undoubtedly achieved a bigger result in production in the farming world and, therefore, benefit to the farming community. I do not think I should go beyond that in discussing this Supplementary Estimate.

In regard to the appropriation-in-aid of £250,000, which is due to the fact that the £250,000 Supplementary Estimate of last summer has not been repaid, the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry whether the general policy of the Government has embarrassed the production of the firm concerned is not well founded. It is not necessary for me to go into the figures of the exact amount involved in order to keep them in production, but it is sufficient to say that my right hon. Friend felt that the production and husbandry of the farms in that part of the world were to some extent dependent on this unit continuing, and he therefore considered it desirable to help them out in their attempts to keep in production.

The suggestion that the subsidy on feedingstuffs last year could have embarrassed them to the extent of the difficulties in which they found themselves does not hold water. After all, the total production of this factory is something of the order of from 5,000 to 10,000 tons out of a total national production of about 200,000 tons. As other grass driers up and down the country are continuing in production, it seems to me that there is some reflection on the actual organisation of this company and on the way they have been running their affairs.

Mr. G. Brown

If the hon. Gentleman looks further into it, I think he will find that nearly all commercial grass driers, and a good many large-scale farmer grass driers, are now running on precisely the same lines.

Mr. Nugent

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point, but I do agree that it would not be in the general interest or in the interest of the Committee to pursue this matter very far. I certainly cannot accept the suggestion that any action of the Government or any facet of the Government's policy has in any way embarrassed this company. In fact, the position is quite the reverse, and they have been most generously treated.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,632,500, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1953, for certain food production services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries



Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £795,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1953, for certain food production services of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland.

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