HC Deb 31 March 1958 vol 585 cc822-4
6. Mr. Grimond

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to announce measures to help small and marginal farmers.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Hare)

I cannot forecast exactly when an announcement will be made, but it is my intention that details of the new measures that I have in mind will be worked out, in consultation with the interests concerned, in time to be introduced as part of the determinations after the 1959 Annual Review.

Mr. Grimond

Does the Minister hold out no hope that they will be brought into force before that date? Does he realise that it is very difficult for small farmers to change their methods in the way in which he asked them to change in the last Price Review, and can he say if there is any hope of being able to assist them with cheaper credit or in any other way?

Mr. Hare

I think the House would agree that it would be unwise to rush into a scheme of this sort, which is a fairly new concept. I want to consult in great detail with the National Farmers' Union and other bodies to be quite certain that I have got the right answer.

Mr. Fell

Will not my right hon. Friend, before he comes to a final decision, give the most careful thought to the Liberal Party's policy to help the small and marginal farmers?

Mr. Hare

I am always interested in studying any constructive suggestions.

Mr. T. Williams

Will the right hon. Gentleman now make it transparently clear to those who obviously have misunderstood him that, whatever scheme is worked out, it cannot operate until after March, 1959?

Mr. Hare

I have made that abundantly clear in any statements I have made, both to the Press and in the House, and I think that this Question will draw further attention to that fact.

16. Mr. J. Johnson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give his definition of a small farm; and upon what basis he intends to make his grants to small farmers.

Mr. John Hare

In England and Wales, we are thinking generally of farms in the range of about 30 to about 100 acres. We have in mind, within such an acreage range, a minimum limit of earning capacity so as to ensure that the holding can be made economic. We also have in mind a maximum limit of earning capacity which might be related to the amount of employment given on the holding. For example, the farmer with, perhaps under certain conditions, one other man working for him. We are thinking of grants related to schemes for improvement and better use of grassland, and we shall try to make the grant system as simple as possible, for example, on an acreage basis. The precise definition of those eligible and the basis for grants are, of course, matters on which we shall be consulting the interests concerned.

Mr. Johnson

Is it the Minister's view that below a certain acreage a small farm is not viable? Is it his policy in the future to give selective assistance with, perhaps, better planning or cheaper money? Does he favour, as he did last year, squeezing out the smaller farms below a certain minimum size to make what he called "more efficient units" by amalgamation?

Mr. Hare

It is difficult to generalise, and that is why I am going into great detail on this matter. For instance, a small acreage on first-class land may make a more viable farming unit than a far larger acreage on very moderate land. It is exactly because of the complexity of these questions that I am absolutely determined to go into every detail before the final plan is published.

Sir A. V. Harvey

While appreciating that it will take time to work out the details of my right hon. Friend's plan, may I ask whether he will, nevertheless, consider giving the farmer some broad guidance by the end of September, so that the farmer can plan ahead for next year? It is vital that the farmers should have it.

Mr. Hare

I will certainly listen to what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) says. I must repeat to the House that I do not want to be stampeded into a plan which will not work. I must ask for the indulgence of the House, therefore, to let me work this out in proper detail.

Mr. T. Williams

Can the Minister tell the House the number of farms below 30 acres?

Mr. Hare

I could not, offhand. I will let the right hon. Gentleman have that figure. I will see that it is sent to him.

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