HC Deb 17 July 1958 vol 591 cc1416-7
13. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many grants have been approved in respect of improvements under the Agriculture Act, 1957; at what estimated cost; and how many applications have been received.

Mr. Godber

Up to the end of June, 36,246 applications had been received in England and Wales; 14,483, involving 20,990 improvements at an estimated cost of about £10½ million, had been formally approved; 6,668 applications were ready for approval subject to the applicants providing satisfactory plans, specifications or tenders or signing formal documents; and 7,365 had been rejected or withdrawn. Together, therefore, nearly 80 per cent. of the applications had been dealt with and a good number of the remainder have been inspected and will be dealt with shortly.

Mr. Willey

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his statement. Can he say how far this is in accord with the Departmental Estimates for this year? Can he also say whether he has sufficient information to confirm or deny that the scheme is working to the prejudice of the small farmer—that the small farmer is not taking Sufficient advantage of it?

Mr. Godber

On the first point, it was very difficult to estimate, but we think it is roughly falling in line with what we expected. In the last month or two there has been an increase in the number of applications. This has probably been attributable to the fact that we now have standard costs, which particularly help small farmers. Standard costs are a real help to the small farmer because he can include his own labour. Initially, the applications came largely from the larger farmers, probably because it was easier for them to get their specifications in, but we are now getting a considerable number from small farmers. The figures are improving.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

Can my hon. Friend say what the present average delay is between an application being made by the farmer and the first visit from a representative of the Ministry, and whether he hopes to be able to keep the delay within reasonable bounds?

Mr. Godber

So that I might give my hon. Friend a really accurate figure, I should be grateful if he would put a Question to that effect on the Order Paper. We are trying to keep the delay as short as possible, but increasing numbers of applicants in the last two months have perhaps added a little to the inevitable delay.