§ 4. Mr. Grimond
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how far costs and profits or losses on small, marginal and remote farms are taken into account in the formulation of agricultural policy and at the Price Review.
Information on the profitability of farms of many different types and sizes is ascertained from farm accounts collected regularly by agricultural economists at universities in England and Wales, the Scottish Agricultural colleges, and the Ministry of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. This material is considered during the Annual Review, together with other information on the economic condition of the agricultural industry.
The farm accounts relate to full-time holdings, both large and small, and are drawn from all parts of the country, including upland and remote areas. Examples of the information derived from these surveys into the profitability of farming are given in Appendix IV of the Annual Review White Paper for 1957 (Cmnd. 109).
§ Mr. Grimond
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there has been considerable change in some of the conditions on these small farms and crofts, some of which, I think, are not yielding a profit, or at any rate not a profit on which people can live? Can he conduct 3 some further inquiry to see how far it is possible to make the 1947 Act, which in theory guarantees a reasonable living to the farmer, really applicable to these small farms and crofts?
I certainly do not underestimate the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We are, of course, continually in touch with the position, and we have recently started an experimental farm in Wales with a view to studying the position there. The hon. Gentleman knows the assistance we give under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts and the Marginal Production Schemes. I hope that the new farm improvement grants will be of assistance in the problem.
§ 5. Mr. Grimond
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his methods of assessing agricultural costs.
I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the methods of assessing the aggregate cost changes taken into account at the Annual Review. As the Answer is a little long, I will with permission circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am obliged to the Minister for that Answer. May I draw his attention to the fact that, rightly or wrongly, there is a feeling in many of the outlying areas that the conditions there are not properly represented to the Minister at the Annual Price Review and that perhaps the farmers' bodies do not speak for them quite strongly enough? Can the right hon. Gentleman examine whether it is possible to find other methods of examining their position?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the problems of the small farmers in remote areas are put to me very strongly at the Annual Price Review, and the matter is continually in my mind. We are all the time on the look-out for still better sources of information, and if the hon. Gentleman can make any suggestion I shall be delighted to consider it.
§ Following is the information:
§ The aggregate figure of cost Changes, which relates to the industry as a whole, is based on changes which have occurred since the preceding Annual Review in the prices paid 4 by farmers for goods and services. Far example, in the case of farm labour, account is taken of the effect of any change made by the agricultural wages boards in the statutory minimum wage rates. Similarly in the case of goods bought by farmers, such as fertilisers and seeds, changes in the prices charged are ascertained from trade sources, including published price lists.
§ The calculation of the effect of these price changes on farmers' expenditure is made on the convention that they arc effective for a full year and that the usage of goods and services does not alter as a result of greater efficiency or any other factor.
§ The estimate of aggregate cost change is discussed and agreed with the farmers' representatives as pant of the economic and statistical data prepared for and examined at Annual Reviews.