§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The Chairman
I think that the following Amendment, in page 3, to leave out lines 21 to 25, might be discussed at the same time.
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, Sir Charles, I think that it would be convenient to take the two Amendments together.
We have now passed from the capital grants for small farm businesses to marginal agricultural production grants. The purpose of these two Amendments is to remove the terminal date which is written into the Clause for the payment of marginal agricultural production grants. The Clause provides that the modified 230 scheme for those grants will run for three years and then come to an end.
When we discussed the matter in Committee, the Joint Under-Secretary of State sought to justify the Government's policy in regard to M.A.P. grants by saying that the improvement brought about in the economic stability and well-being of those farms which had the benefit of the scheme had been so increased by the Hill Farming Act, 1946, the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951 and the hill cattle subsidies—and particularly the improvement in the price of stores in recent months which flowed from the higher beef prices in this country because of our inability to obtain beef from some of our traditional sources overseas—was evidence of such an improved well-being in those farms that the marginal agricultural production grants introduced in the early years of the war could now be discontinued. I think I have put the hon. Gentleman's case briefly but not unfairly; those were, I think, his principal arguments.
I do not accept those arguments. I argued in Committee that we could not 231 escape the conclusion that, if the Secretary of State were to adhere to the provisions of this Clause of the Bill, large areas of Scotland which have hitherto been kept in production with the aid of M.A.P. grants would soon begin to run down and production would fall. We should find ourselves with less beef and mutton and certainly less lambs and stores coming from those areas, and a great deal of the acreage which had been brought into reasonably good agricultural production during and since the war would revert to game and vermin.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State rejected all my argumentation. I called his attention to the Report of the Zuckerman Committee published quite recently—a Committee set up by the Government—which warned the Government of the need to keep marginal land in this country in full production. I called attention to the fact that we are much too dependent on overseas sources for the supply of our food. I said that it was the responsibility of the Government to maintain all the agricultural areas of the country in full production.
Nobody is asking for hot-house production in those hill lands, but we do want to see our hill lands which are capable of carrying sheep and cattle and those little bits at the bottom of the hills which are capable of providing some winter cake maintained in production. We think that the withdrawal of the grants will put many acres out of production.
The Secretary of State will, I think, concede that the farmers who have the benefit of M.A.P. grants in most of the 33 counties of Scotland, if not all of them, are not among the wealthiest farmers. There may be an odd one here and there who is a wealthy man. If he is, I rather think that he will have made his money not out of hill farming activities but out of some other activities. It is fair to say that among farmers in general, the men who will lose grants under the Clause are among the most needy and the less wealthy of our farmers—
§ Mr. Fraser
—and, as my hon. Friend says, among the hardest working.
232 The Secretary of State would, I think, say that, quite apart from whether they are wealthy or poor, those farmers show probably a smaller return on invested capital than any other class of farmer in Scotland. Therefore, I want to give the Government this further opportunity of saying that this scheme will not come to an end in 1962, but will continue.
When I made my speech upstairs in Committee, I quoted from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland. There was at least the suggestion that the National Farmers' Union did not feel strongly about this. If anyone could have thought that a few weeks ago, however, no one can be under any illusion now about what the National Farmers' Union of Scotland thinks about the ending of marginal agricultural production grants. We all have the literature which the N.F.U. has sent out giving examples of farmers in all parts of Scotland whose reduction in net income by the withdrawal of marginal agricultural production grants would be 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 per cent., which is frightening to contemplate. That, however, is what the Bill contemplates if the Clause in its present form remains. It contemplates that there will be not only the reduction, on average, of 15 per cent. of net income, which was what the Joint Under-Secretary of State calculated—
§ Mr. Fraser
I calculated it to be rather more than 12 to 15 per cent. The hon. Gentleman spoke of 3.3 per cent. of gross income. Therefore, he said, the withdrawal of grants would be an average of 12 to 15 per cent. of net income. A reduction of 12 to 15 per cent. of net income would be a serious matter for some of the most hard-working and poorly rewarded farmers in Scotland.
That, however, was an average figure. The Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary of State must know full well that there are many farmers in Scotland whose net incomes are £400, £500 or £600 who are at present receiving marginal agricultural production grants of £200 to £300. That will all be withdrawn in the interests of Clause 1 of the Bill so that money will be found from within the industry to finance the capital grants made available under Clause 1. That is wrong and ought not to be done.
233 It is not only the Council of the National Farmers' Union which has opposed this proposal. In the weeks since we had the Bill in Committee, many hon. Members have attended meetings of their local branches of the National Farmers' Union. They have listened to the farmers themselves giving examples of the effect of the withdrawal of marginal agricultural production grants. Those of us who have not attended such meetings have met individual farmers. In any case, we have read the Press reports of what the farmers have told individual Members of Parliament.
We have also read that the landowners of Scotland, who are not noted for being violently anti-Tory Government, have come out with a declaration against the discontinuation of M.A.P grants because they know—everybody in Scotland knows — that if this withdrawal of M.A.P. grants is adhered to, it will have a disastrous effect in many parts of Scotland. We have had articles, not only in the agricultural Press, pleading with the Government to withdraw Clause 3. We have had articles in the Scottish national Press by the agricultural correspondents pleading with the Secretary of State to withdraw the Clause altogether. There was an excellent leading article in the Scotsmantoday leading the case for Scotland.
I beg the Secretary of State to make a concession. If he would accept the two Amendments, he would go some way towards removing the criticism that is being made about him in agricultural circles in Scotland, but he would not go all the way, because the criticism is of Clause 3 as a whole. If these Amendments were accepted, it would mean that the farmers in small units and those in units of more than 150 acres would still be outside the scope of the grants. The acceptance of the two Amendments, therefore, is not all that is needed.
I take the view that the marginal agricultural production grants have been amongst the most useful subsidies paid to agriculture during and since the war. The cost of this subsidy in Scotland is £1¼ million a year, but the total cost of subsidies to Scottish farmers must be in the region of £40 million. The Secretary of State knows better than any of us that he gets more return for this £1¼ million than for any other £5 million he spends on agricultural subsidies in Scotland.
234 I say without hesitation that, when one gives a subsidy of this kind, it should be given in respect of the land. It is because of the degree of marginality of the land that the subsidy is paid. I am not objecting to the payment of the subsidy to a wealthy landowner who happens to have some farms in hand. There are some wealthy people with farms in hand in Scotland who are getting the benefit of M.A.P. grants. I do not object to those people getting the benefit. What I do say, however, is that we should not only pay subsidies to people who need them; we should pay the subsidies in respect of the service that we wish to encourage, irrespective of who is carrying it on. The marginal land of Scotland, which at present attracts a subsidy according to the degree of marginality and according to the operations carried out on the land—the grants are not simply a blank cheque; the work must be done—and which warrants the payment of M.A.P. grants, should continue to attract the grants whether the land is part of a small farm, a middle-sized farm or a very large farm.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am not aware that any of those people are engaged in production which is undesirable or unwanted by the community as a whole.
§ Mr. Fraser
It may be uneconomic according to the hon. Member's yardstick, but the fact that every farmer in Scotland has to have a subsidy suggests that every farm in Scotland is uneconomic. Every farmer in Scotland gets a subsidy. I do not know why we should be giving subsidies to farms that would be economic without them. Presumably we justify the granting of a subsidy because the farm would be uneconomic without it.
There can be no doubt in the Government's mind that every articulate person in Scotland who would appear to have any right to offer a view about this subject, except the Secretary of State and his subordinates, takes the view that M.A.P. grants should continue. Only the Secretary of State is in favour of their abolition.
235 I know full well that M.A.P. grants have never meant the same to the farmer south of the Border as they have to the farmer in Scotland, because there are not the thin marginal lands over the Border to the same extent as in Scotland. It may be that the Minister of Agriculture can justify to the farmers of England the discontinuation of such marginal agricultural production grants and schemes as have been in operation in England during and since the war, but the Secretary of State cannot justify the withdrawal of these grants in Scotland. I have not met a single person who has been willing to accept the justification offered by the Joint Under-Secretary of State. I do not believe that the Secretary of State has any justification which he can offer for the discontinuation of M.A.P. grants.
I beg the Secretary of State to offer some hope to those areas in Scotland where there is only marginal land and where we are losing population too rapidly. Let the right hon. Gentleman give them some hope and withdraw the Clause altogether. Only the right hon. Gentleman has the power to do that. If he cannot withdraw the Clause altogether, at least let him accept these two Amendments, which will mean that M.A.P. grants will not come to an end in 1962. If he takes them away from the farms which are too big and those which are too small, it will be easier to enlarge the scheme that is still running for farms between 20 and 150 acres and to bring in once again those of under 20 acres and those of more than 150 acres. I beg the Secretary of State either to take away Clause 3 altogether or, as the very minimum, to accept these two Amendments.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I beg to second the Amendment which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has moved so well. I regret to find myself at variance with the Government on this issue, but I am not at all lonely. I think that all the farmers in Scotland, or the overwhelming majority of them, hold the same views as I do.
My constituency will be the greatest sufferer by the withdrawal of marginal grants. The total cost of the scheme last year was £1,200,000 for the whole of Scotland, and for the five preceding years it was £1 million. The total cost, therefore, is only a fraction over £1 million 236 a year. I submit that no subsidy which has been given in agriculture has paid the same dividends as this one has done.
In the days of free trade these lands in the North became more depopulated. Families could not afford to work and live on the land and they migrated to all parts of the world. When this wise Measure was introduced in the dark days of 1942, in order to ensure the maximum production of food for human consumption, it brought succour to this territory. The improvement has gone on every year. The production of beef in Caithness has gone up by between 40 and 50 per cent. and it has also gone up in Sutherland. The same applies to sheep and to all agricultural produce.
The Committee should be made aware of the fact that these men must first spend money on the land before they get a grant. There is no chicanery and no loopholes for anything wrong. The feeling about this matter is extraordinarily strong.
What kind of land is it? There is not a more marginal country than Scotland in the British Isles. The map reveals that. The farmers with the aid of this grant have performed miracles on land which requires regeneration every year. On the coast we have good farmers, but they are on land which geologists call "blown sand" land, and every winter the gales blow more sand on to that land. I saw a demonstration of this when I was challenging on behalf of one of my constituents the rejection of a M.A.P. grant. I was getting nowhere by correspondence and I asked the farmers to put up two leading soil experts. They produced Mr. Munroe, a B.Sc. Agric, of Edinburgh University, who was for thirty years a soil expert for the Government of India, and Major Shaw who is the head of S.E.I. in the North. They accompanied us to the farm of Cuthill on the Dornoch Firth. There was the sea, the sand, the bents and whins, and then the farm began. That is typical of this part of the country.
The first field was a large one which had recently been cropped. I said, "That looks a good field." Major Shaw jumped over the fence, put his heel in the ground and twisted it in a half circle, and when he removed his foot I was looking into a small sand pit. That is no exaggeration. I have seen thousands of tons of sand right up the coast 237 of Sutherland and Caithness. The high land of Caithness is protected from the Ord up to Wick. Then, again, one gets the sand up to John O'Groats. I wonder whether any hon. Member has seen the land at Reiss and Dunnet behind Stoen. The problem has become so serious that students have spent their vacations there trying to clear away the sand. In the interior, of course, we have a tremendously high peat content.
In spite of these drawbacks, that area is where the finest foundation stocks of cattle and sheep are raised. What a wonderful use the land has been put to for the nation, the Highlands being used as a livestock rearing area, selling their stores to the low-ground farmers who finish them for the fat stock market. The withdrawal of these grants will mean using the good land as a breeding area, which would surely be a great misuse of the land.
On 10th November last, the date of the Second Reading of this Bill, I heard the reply to Question No. 3 put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. My hon. Friend asked my right hon. Friend how beef production was going on. The answer he received was to the effect that for the quarter ended 30th September, 1958, production had gone down. I forget the actual figures of home production, but the total of imports of beef and of home production was down by 25 per cent.
Why should such a Bill as this be brought in? We are told that the emphasis is not on more production. Surely, production was never needed to a greater extent? Is it possible that the Government are thinking that the days of cheap labour in Argentina, Ireland and elsewhere are still continuing? Is it not obvious that wages have risen everywhere, and, in fact, that the whole world is rising against slave wages or poorly paid labour? Argentina is in no shape to send us beef. Therefore, it would seem all the more essential that M.A.P. grants should be continued.
What will happen to this land? In the Highland counties there are still thousands of acres of land which were once fertile and which are now moors and are carrying deer, which are no asset to the nation. I agree that deer certainly have 238 a place in the national life. No one is more in favour of that than I am, but let me assure the Committee that there is far too much land in the Highlands devoted to deer and sport. Much of that land once carried sheep and cattle and could do so again. One of the things which M.A.P. grants have done is to bring back a tremendous amount of land into cultivation.
As hon. Members know, I have been labouring this point for the last ten years in an effort to try and improve conditions in the Highlands and to make it possible for children born there and who wish to live their lives there to do so. Reclamation of moorland would mean that there would be more farms and crofts and a better livelihood for people and for industry. The Government failed on that. This blow to agriculture will produce a tragic situation.
On the eastern side of my constituency we have at the moment an unemployment rate of 14.7 per cent. That was the figure for December. I believe that the new figures are out today, but I have not yet seen them. The figure of 14.7 per cent. is a dreadful figure for a county that is so severely depopulated. If all the farmers are unanimous in saying that the land will go back and that they are forced to get rid of their biggest expense, labour, they will work on a smaller production and, in the end, the whole community will be uneconomic.
This is the first time that I have had the opportunity of talking on the Bill. I have made very serious attempts to speak on it already. I cannot think that the Secretary of State alone is responsible for this step which all the farmers regard as so retrograde. I feel that the hand of the Treasury comes into the matter. I regard this as a Treasury Bill. The politicians wanted to do something for the small farmers, which was a very praiseworthy and proper thing, but the Treasury said, "What are we going to get out of it?"
The cost in my constituency of the M.A.P. grants is £121,000. I asked the Secretary of State about the saving of this £121,000 which was going to be taken from my constituents in order to be given to other people. It is to be taken from the man with the greatest need, as was said by the hon. Member 239 for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), from the hard-working fellow doing a wonderful job on the soil and producing the finest cattle and sheep and also, let us not forget, the finest human stock which this country cannot afford to lose? We have lost far too many such people already and the first duty of any Government, whatever its colour, should be to encourage these families to remain on the land. I hope that when the overspill comes from Glasgow we shall get some of them, too.
I think that the Secretary of State has allowed himself to be put into chains over this matter and that it is our duty to help him break them. The only fair thing to do with regard to M.A.P. grants is to restore the status quo.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I take the view that if the Secretary of State was not in chains he must at least have been looking in the wrong direction when this Bill was drafted.
The effect of the Bill in Scotland will be more serious than perhaps he realises. It is a complicated Bill and perhaps its full effects were not at first fully appreciated. Whatever may be said about the general agricultural policy of the Government, it cannot be too often stated that the scheme of marginal production gives justifiable assistance to those farming on marginal land in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands.
It has two outstanding advantages. First, it improves the land and keeps the land improved in good heart. It puts capital into the soil of Scotland. Secondly, it helps the farmers who need help and who make good use of the help given. I can give examples in my own constituency of farms which carried 40 head of cattle before this scheme came into operation but which now, with its help, carry 160 or 170 head. It helps to produce a valuable supply of good store cattle from the Highland and Island areas.
The Government do not deny that some of the farms which have benefited under M.A.P. need further support. They are introducing a new and separate scheme for them. The small farmers' scheme, so far as the Highlands and Islands are 240 concerned, and particularly in my own constituency, suffers from very grave defects. First, it is temporary. Secondly, 450 standard man-days will exclude a great many farms which might have complied with the acreage. The Orkney farmer has to reckon both the man-days that he puts into growing the crop and the man-days he puts into working up animals. There is a very heavy allocation of time for poultry and many efficent farmers are likely to find that they are excluded from the help that is being given.
There is the bigger acreage farm over 150 acres and the small acreage farm, which are both being excluded as well. I do not think that there is any justice or rational argument behind it. I do not think that it will encourage efficient farming, or that it will get us more food and, above all, it is going to be a most serious setback to confidence in the Highlands and Islands and to employment. Neither confidence nor employment are any too good in the area as a whole at present.
In the northern islands of the Orkneys, about 40 farms will be affected by the withdrawal of M.A.P. I have heard it said by the Government that the amount of the M.A.P. contributions to the farming community is very small, but that is not the case if we consider individual farms in particular areas. There are at least a certain number of farms in the northern islands—I have examples of three or four—of which one-third of the net income comes from M.A.P. grants. The whole of the amount spent on the crofter counties under M.A.P. is, I think, £415,000. I believe that from these agricultural grants we get a very great deal of benefit. There may be a case against other subsidies and grants, but against this one I should have thought that there was very little cause for accusations of waste or lack of results.
I beg the Secretary of State to look at this matter again. I believe, first, that he should put back M.A.P. until he has something better to offer. Secondly, if he cannot do that I urge him to look at the standard man-days in the small farmers' scheme. So far as the Orkneys are concerned, this will be a discouragement to people to run their farms efficiently and I think that he will admit that it is too low for the benefit of the farmers he is 241 anxious to help. He ought specifically to put something in the Bill to take the place of M.A.P. if he is to cut out the farms over 150 acres entirely.
Thirdly, will he see whether he cannot do something for the owner-occupier, who is in exactly the same position as the crofter. The crofter can get generous grants from the Crofters Commission but the owner-occupier cannot. I do not believe that there is any fairness or reason in this. They are in the same position and many of them farm the same type of holding. I do not think that there is any excuse for excluding any owner-occupier under this Bill, which is a small farmers' Bill.
Lastly, it is essential, if we are to have this Act, that its administration should be efficient and up-to-date. As the Secretary of State knows, there is already a backlog of applications to the Crofters Commission in the Highlands area and we are not doing anything even to assist the Commission to catch up upon it.
This is a serious matter for the small farmers. Either they do not know whether they will have their scheme approved or not, or there is a long delay. Many will be rather unwilling to undertake some of the obligations under this Act and they will be more unwilling if they feel that they do not get assistance and quick results. I ask the Secretary of State to look at the effect of the introduction of the Bill and the withdrawal of M.A.P. from the Highlands and Islands.
I do not think that the Secretary of State can doubt that this will tend to depopulation, unemployment and lower production in an area of Scotland which is designated as needing help and which has made considerable attempts to help itself since the war, with success. This, in its present form, will be a retrograde and not a progressive step in Highland and Island agriculture.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)
I should like to intervene at this point to say a word on some of the issues which have been raised. The Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raised certain matters that do not arise out of these Amendments. I should not be able to follow them up, but I note what he said.
I am grateful to those who have moved the Amendment for the moderate and 242 reasoned way in which they have put their point of view. The effect, as (he hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said, if the Amendments were accepted, would be that M.A.P. grants in their present form could go on indefinitely for farms under 150 acres, crops and grass. The Amendment would not affect what is happening to the larger farms.
My noble Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary met a deputation from the National Farmers' Union in Edinburgh on 6th January, when they put their views to him fully and frankly. I have also had expressions of views on this matter from a number of hon. Members, including the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Commander Donaldson), the Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean), and the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray), and I have heard from a number of bodies, including the Scottish Landowners' Federation.
There seem to be two main representations against the Government's proposal. The first is that it is completely wrong to think of withdrawing M.A.P. assistance at all. It is suggested that this will result in reducing production, particularly beef production, and cause unemployment in upland areas. The second general comment has been that even if some modification of the M.A.P. scheme as it has operated in the past is now justified, changes should be introduced less abruptly. That has been stressed with vigour.
As to the first argument, while I recognise the sincerity with which the views have been expressed, I think that the fears are exaggerated. The hon. Member for Hamilton, in moving the Amendment, used fairly wide phrases about large acreages which would be put out of production and large areas of marginal land which would begin to run down. These are conjectural arguments. I know that that is a view expressed fairly widely, but it is by no means clear that it is true. If I had believed for one moment that the introduction of the Bill and its application to Scotland would have disastrous effects on a large area of land which is producing valuable food and providing a large 243 amount of employment, I would never have contemplated it for one moment. Nor am I convinced now that these expressions of view are necessarily right.
There are many ways in which the upland farmer is at present assisted and I think that it is not untimely to recall in detail what my noble Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said when the Bill was in Committee and go through some of the forms of assistance that are available. All of them have become available since M.A.P. first started. None of them was available before then. All have been introduced since. If the Committee will bear with me I will go through them again.
First, there are the improved schemes under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts designed to put land and fixed equipment into good shape. The hill farmers benefit from these. Under the same Acts there is the hill cattle subsidy and, in any year where it is considered necessary, there is the hill sheep subsidy. There is the calf subsidy, with its special provision to enable farmers in the hill and upland areas who have to sell their calves before the winter to obtain the benefit of the subsidy.
There are also all the more general production grants for cropping. These are available to hill farmers as well as to others. Some of the provisions which I have mentioned are available only to hill farmers, but there are others—for cropping, the building grant itself, the lime and fertiliser subsidy, the drainage grant and the bracken eradication scheme. I am going over some of the things which have been done to help this section of farming and to keep this part of our Scottish country in good heart and condition.
There is also the farm improvement scheme for individual items of capital equipment and there is the silo subsidy scheme to encourage the provision of silos. All of these have come into existence since M.A.P. was first introduced. It is well worth realising that this is not a question of withdrawing all assistance in these marginal areas. Of course it is not. It is a question of whether the M.A.P. schemes are the only conceivable way of doing what we all know to be necessary—keeping this part of our country in decent condition, subject to it 244 being a tolerable thing to do. The reclamation of land which can do a useful job is very much to be encouraged, but nobody will argue that we should do it regardless of whether the land will ever be any use to anybody.
§ Mr. Maclay
That is what I have just said; that argument has not been made. One sets a limit somewhere, and it is a question of choosing the best way of achieving what we all want to achieve. We are all after the same thing—the best, most efficient and constructive use of this type of land in Scotland.
Another thing which my noble Friend said earlier, and which I repeat, is that it is the Government's duty, and, of course, our determination, to keep the closest watch on the situation of all farming as it develops, including, of course, this type of land with which we are concerned today. It applies in particular in this case to the beef and sheep industries so far as successive Annual Price Reviews are concerned.
While assistance may, therefore, be required from time to time, I do not think that it is reasonable to maintain that, within the framework of the Government's general agricultural policy of support for agriculture and of improving the competitive position of home agriculture, the M.A.P. scheme as such is necessarily untouchable. That is what we have to get clear. There are all these other methods. We are concerned about this type of land and we have no intention or desire to see great acreages of any potentially useful land in Scotland going out of existence.
§ Mr. Fraser
Most of the new schemes and subsidies which the right hon. Gentleman has said were introduced since M.A.P. was first introduced in 1942 are subsidies available to farmers on the best land in the country. We are dealing here with a subsidy which is available to the farmers who are working the poorest land in the country. The first subsidy which the Secretary of State decides to take away is that available to farmers who are operating on the poorest land in the country.
§ Mr. Maclay
That is not correct. Part way through the list which I read I said that certain schemes were of general 245 application, but that is not true of all of them. I will not go over the list again, but some of them are deliberately designed and applied to the hill farming industry. The hon. Member for Hamilton implied in his interjection that everything I outlined in the way of assistance was available to the richest as well as to the poorest farmer.
§ Mr. Fraser
No. I pointed out that after many additions had been made, the one subtraction which the Secretary of State seeks to make—and, incidentally, a subtraction with a view to providing another addition under Clause 1—is that which we are discussing. It is a subtraction made by taking money from people operating on the most difficult land in Scotland. They are the people who will make the sacrifice. Under Clause 1, on the other hand, some people operating on first-class land will qualify for subsidy. That does not seem right to me, nor does it seem right to the farmer.
§ Mr. Maclay
We are concerned about this type of land and we are concerned to make certain that the methods for helping such farmers are right and are the best methods in all the circumstances. I am glad that every hon. Member who has spoken has welcomed the application of the small farmers' scheme in the Bill. I know that in blessing that part of the Bill they have not accepted that the other part of it is necessarily right.
May I come to the second charge, that the M.A.P. assistance is being withdrawn rather sharply. I should recall that notice of impending changes was given by a statement in the last Annual Review White Paper and by Press publicity to the ending of the scheme on 31st August, 1958. While this made it clear that the whole future of the scheme was under review, I recognise that no definite indication of its probable outcome was available until the Bill and its associated White Paper were published in October and people had had time to think about them afterwards. It seems clear from what I have learned recently that a considerable number of marginal farmers in Scotland planned their farming operations for 1959 on the basis that, although there 246 would probably be changes, some assistance would still be available to them under the new proposals.
This has been brought very strongly to my attention and I have noted it carefully. To help in this situation, we now propose that the M.A.P. scheme should be continued for a further year under existing powers, with the proviso that the assistance given to the larger farms—that is, those over 150 acres, crops and grass —should be on a reduced scale. The detailed application of all this will have to be decided in consultation with the A.E.C.s. I emphasise that under the Bill itself farms under 150 acres will rank for M.A.P. grant for three years within the discretion of A.E.C.s, as they do at present. The Bill lays down the period as three years, but the total period will now become four cropping seasons because of what I have just said about reintroducing the marginal scheme for this year, which we can do without altering the Bill and under existing powers.
I have listened to what has been said in the debate and I have been studying very carefully all comments made, and this course of action which I have just outlined gives my colleagues and myself another opportunity for assessing the whole position. That assessment will, of course, be made.
I should explain that since the previous M.A.P. scheme has lapsed it will be necessary to make a new scheme under Section 75 of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948, and a Statutory Instrument to that end is being prepared and will be ready as soon as possible. Agricultural executive committees will be given a revised allocation of money which will enable them to implement these proposals and farmers will be notified individually as quickly as possible how the proposals will affect them.
I recognise that what I have said does not necessarily meet certain views which may have prompted hon. Members to put down the Amendments. I suggest that it shows, however, that I have been watching the situation and listening very carefully to informed opinion as I gathered it, and that I have paid due regard to it and am anxious to meet what could be a case of hardship where the relatively short time available for the consideration of all these matters has put people in 247 difficulties. In the circumstances, it may be too much to hope that the Amendment will be withdrawn, but I still hope that it will be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am sure that there is one point which we shall all welcome in the statement made by the Secretary of State—that further time has been given to think over this matter again. Nevertheless, I do not think that he has satisfied any of us on the main effect of the policy now being adopted.
I apologise for not having had the advantage of being on the Standing Committee and being able to follow the debate in great detail. In that respect, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) and I are in the same boat. As I understand, the Government have in mind some kind of farm which will be viable and which can live after all these things have been done. The farm has to live with the general subsidies and with the special subsidies which the Secretary of State elaborated. That is, a farmer who can live with all the other subsidies, with the exception of M.A.P. aid, will be allowed to survive.
Is not that the ultimate policy? There are some farms which are not considered worth saving. Therefore, when M.A.P. aid is withdrawn, and other assistance is given to bring those farms into a viable position, those then able to live will be allowed to survive and those unable to do so will be allowed to die. Therefore, there must be in the minds of the Secretary of State and of the Department a number of farms in Scotland which will cease to exist as farms, and the men will have to move out of them altogether.
It would be interesting to know what number of farms of that kind will go out of existence, according to the Secretary of State's calculations. When we on this side of the Committee had the responsibility of trying to revive British agriculture and get the land brought into a state in which it could produce a much bigger proportion of our food supplies, we had to think of the best methods calculated to achieve that end. I was convinced then, and I am still convinced, that the best method is by directional subsidy, that is a subsidy requiring something to be done and some definite clear result and not a subsidy giving general help whether or not anything is accomplished by it.
248 One of the problems which we were not able to solve was how to assist marginal farms which otherwise would not be cultivated without, at the same time, putting money into the pockets of people who had plenty already. That has always been the problem. If the Secretary of State has formed a view of the farm that could live on its bare earnings and the subsidies left over when M.A.P. aid goes, that must be the farm on which all the subsidies must be based. It follows that all the other farms on better land, with better possibilities, will obviously get much more advantage so that the fellow on the margin can live. That is the old story of Ricardo's economic rent, because once one gets above that one cannot avoid helping the farmers who are on the better land.
I am told that in Slamannan, in my constituency, 150 acres of land are considered to be equivalent to 30 acres or less in East Lothian. Therefore, the poor man who is working on this "thin skin of soil," as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Eraser) called it, cannot be compared at all with a man who is working on very much richer land. It may be that the Secretary of State has decided that these people who are wringing a living out of the soil would be better occupied in doing something else and that we should allow Caithness and Sutherland to go back to the wild. We on this side of the Committee took the view that agriculture was an essential part of the social life of the community, that Scotland should not be depopulated and that if people populated Sutherland, Caithness, Ross-shire and the Outer Isles it should be made possible for them to make a living on the soil.
I should like the Secretary of State to tell us exactly at what level he has decided that the lowest economic farming in Scotland must be carried out, because the Bill means that below that level people must go out, whether to America or Canada, and leave Scotland to the deer and rabbits, though I am sure that the rabbits cannot live there, because there is not enough soil even for them to burrow into. It follows that it must be difficult enough for farmers to make a living there.
I have tried to understand the policy which the Bill represents. I have not had the benefit of being a member of the Standing Committee, but I have read the 249 speeches made in Committee and I should like to know what the Secretary of State has decided. Apparently, he has decided that farms must be enabled to become economic units and he is prepared to give farmers capital grants to equip those farms. But no matter how much capital is put into some of these farms and no matter what amount of machinery is employed, there is at the end not sufficient soil to cultivate. It may be that Mr. Hobbs, in Fort William, can make an economic unit of his land by employing bulldozers, flattening out hillsides, and scattering on the soil material from his distillery. He may be able to so capitalise the land that it becomes an economic unit, but is all the investment that the nation has made in cattle production now to be thrown away, and is it to be said that we no longer need that capital and no longer need to cultivate all this land?
There is no need of the Bill unless it eliminates the fringe. I understand that in the Orkneys the population is drifting into the bigger islands and the population there in turn drifts into Aberdeenshire and other places. Gradually, the fringes of Scotland are becoming steadily depopulated. I know of a village where there used to be 120 children at school, but there were only two on the last occasion that I visited it, and I suppose that for some considerable time now the school has been closed.
The Bill is a further step in bringing to the centre the fringe of agriculture in Scotland. The Secretary of State should come clean and state his policy, because if we are to introduce new machinery in the form of this Bill we should have a clear picture of what the result will be. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would tell us what type of farm he has in mind, how many he thinks will go out of existence and how far the population now occupied with agriculture in Scotland will be reduced when this policy is finally implemented.
§ Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)
I listened to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland with very considerable relief and not a little thankfulness. I look upon his statement as providing us with a breathing space now, and I suggest that that breathing space of one year should be used to the full to establish a true picture of marginal 250 farming in Scotland in all its aspects, with the help of the N.F.U. and the agricultural executive committees. I am particularly glad that the decision to exclude farms of 150 acres and over is now to be delayed, because it seemed to me that there was a tinge of savagery in the way in which they were to be summarily deprived of marginal aid.
I feel very strongly that marginal farming in Scotland is a very special problem. Anyone who doubts that need only have seen the conditions under which marginal farmers were operating in the last few weeks in blizzards. Special consideration should and must be given to marginal farming in Scotland. While the Bill meets some of the need, it is not the answer. But now we have a year when we can make preparations in an unhurried atmosphere and when all the pros and cons can be weighed and ways and means can be devised to meet these needs. My predominent feeling at this stage is one of gratitude that we have got this breathing space.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) has talked about gratitude. All I can say is that he is thankful for very small and uncertain mercies, and I am sure that his gratitude will not be shared by the farming community in Scotland.
Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), I had to sit in the Committee, and I did not think it was possible for anybody to put up a worse case for a Bill or with less knowledge of the agricultural position in Scotland than the noble Lord until I heard the Secretary of State for Scotland today, and in that respect he achieved what I regarded as the absolutely impossible.
The position is this; it is the old story that we are all out of step except our Jocks. There are two of them. They have been completely deserted by every follower they have in Scotland, and when the question is put to them, "What is your long-term policy" they cannot give a reply. Of course we do not expect the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord to know. We have given up any hope of that. The right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord talk about agriculture and say "You have one year's 251 reprieve". What a curious way of looking at the problem.
I wonder what Sir William McNair Snadden will say about that one. He used to urge the Labour Government year after year for a long-term policy for food production in the Highlands. I do not know what he is thinking in retirement. All I know is that Lord Strathclyde is very glad that he resigned in time. And now the boys are left upon the burning deck and nobody envies them. They have antagonised everybody, even the landlords. I thought it was impossible for them to do that, but here today we have a statement from the Central Landowners' Association saying that they view with the gravest apprehension the Government's policy and they fall in line with the National Farmers' Union.
That is what has been given them, a year. They did not listen to the criticism of the National Farmers' Union but the landlords have shifted them. Naturally the landlords, too, want to know what is the long-term plan, because of the previous Agriculture Bill, where we were told we must do away with the security of tenure so that they could get increased rents. Now the policy is so muddled, even for the landlords, that they are beginning to wonder where they will get the rents guaranteed to them in the previous Bill.
I feel embarrassed about this. What am I going to do at the next election when the Central Landowners' Association comes along and offers me mass support? Imagine all the different noble Lords and landlords I have denounced for a lifetime, saying, "For goodness' sake take our motor cars because we have to vote for you in preference to the other fellows". This Government is absolutely discredited from left to extreme right now. How they will explain this situation in Galloway, I do not know. I hope they will send the two Jocks there and then the Government will lose its deposit.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and I represent an agricultural area, and we have been egged on to oppose this Bill by whom? By the vice-chairman of the county council, who is a Conservative. He writes two well informed articles every week, one in the Scottish Farmerand the other in 252 the Kilmarnock Standard.For the last few months he has not had time to attack the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and me because he has been concentrating on the Government. Now the Government have not even got the support of the Tories in our constituencies, and the criticism of the vice-chairman of the county council is in the form of an explanation of why the Secretary of State for Scotland and the noble Lord are supporting this Bill. He says that it is the hare-brained child of Hare. The truth lies in that sentence. It is an English Bill and Scotland has been shoved in as an appendix. We are trying to remove the appendix.
This criticism has come from the Conservative spokesman of the agricultural interests in our area. While we do not agree with him politically, we have to admit that agriculturally he is considered as good as any other agriculturist in Scotland or in the country generally, and he says that Scotland has ceased to matter very much these days and the Government just put it into English Bills. This is true. Even the Faculty of Advocates agrees with that now. Even the dean of the faculty of the lawyers in Scotland says that the Government have gone too far and are legislating for peculiarly Scottish matters merely by appendices to English Bills which they are ramming through these Committees, and the agricultural executive committees are run by English landlords. The next thing we can expect is a revolt of the landlords in the House of Lords.
What is the meaning of this? The meaning is that the Government wanted to do something to try to get the farming vote at the next election which it lost through the last Agriculture Bill. The Government know very well that every intelligent farmer knows that this Tory Government took away from him security of tenure and are trying to dangle before the eyes of the farming community the idea that they are going to do something for the small farmer. I wonder why they have not tried to do something for the small shopkeeper at the same time?
What does this mean for the small farmers? The Secretary of State says that everybody agrees with doing something for the small farmers, but what is it? We do not know. We do not know 253 who is to benefit in Scotland. Our problem will arise when our farmers write to us and request us to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to look at the applications which have been turned down. I put a question to the noble Lord, and in view of the fact that we are likely to hear that this will give a great deal of benefit to the small farmers, I think we should devote some attention to it.
If this is going to mean great benefit for thousands of small farmers in Scotland, what will be the increased cost of administration? If thousands of applications come in, at least some extra staff will be needed even to read the applications, to go round looking at the land, to consider what scheme should be approved. I put that question to the noble Lord and he did not know the answer at first—naturally we did not expect him to do so—but he went to the Box and came back with the answer. This was that there will not be any increase in staff in Scotland worth speaking about. So what is to be the benefit to the small farmer?
No, this scheme is purely a piece of flashy, political window-dressing, as every intelligent farmer now recognises, and hon. Gentlemen opposite know it. How many hon. Members supported the noble Lord during the Committee stage? None of them did. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) supported the Government at first by saying he did not think the National Farmers' Union was opposed to this. I suppose the hon. Gentleman has become wiser now that the pages of the Scottish Farmerare full of the strongest possible criticism of the Government.
I see the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Nairn) in his place. He has a majority of about 167, but that will disappear at the next election because the farmers will not vote for him next time. He has not yet realised it, but every hon. Member opposite has realised it. The position is indefensible and hon. Members opposite have never tried to defend it. What the hon. Member for Banff said was no defence. In Committee hon. Members opposite appealed to the noble Lord to be more flexible. They wanted their "hopes" to be more flexible. From the way they 254 ask for more flexibility, one would have thought that they were talking about elastic and not agriculture. The Government have proceeded in face of the opposition of land owners, farmers and their rank and file who have not had the courage of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). They have pushed the Bill through obstinately and stupidly against the wish of the whole agricultural community.
There has been a series of leading articles on the subject in the Scottish Farmer,by no means a supporter of the Labour Party. Its leading article last week said that the wintry weather which we had had in Scotland had not had so chilling an effect on the farmer as the prospect held out by the Bill. There was a whole page devoted to speeches made by well-informed farmers a fortnight earlier. Hon. Members opposite can read what their farmer friends said about them. The report said:Scottish farmers from Shetland to Galloway stand together in solid phalanx in their determination to keep on trying up to the last hour to persuade the Government to accept Amendments to the Agriculture (Small Farmers) Bill. The conference was marked by complete solidarity of view of over 40 representatives of all kinds of farming.I will not go into details and make it difficult for hon. Members opposite. They know the situation and they know that there will be questions at the next election, questions which Government spokesmen will not be able to answer. There is no doubt that every hon. Member who votes against the Amendment will vote against the interests and future of the farming community in Scotland. There was a time when Scottish farmers voted Tory because their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers had done so before them. If they have any commonsense, they will not do so next time. Instead they will turn out the Government overwhelmingly from every agricultural constituency.
§ Sir J. Duncan
If the speech of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) had been a little shorter, it would have been even more humorous and we would have enjoyed it more. However, his last few sentences were a tirade against the Government about the Bill generally and not about the Amendment, thus spoiling an otherwise humorous and acceptable 255 speech. The Council of the Scottish N.F.U., at a meeting on 4th November, 1948, said that it would do all in its power to make a success of the scheme, with which I do not now want to deal since it is not the subject of the Amendment.
There has been a great deal of exaggeration, with the exception of my right hon. Friend's speech, about M.A.P. Even the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) did not understand the scheme, because he got mixed up about points which have nothing to do with the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) also greatly exaggerated the effect of MA.P. M.A.P. is in addition to all the other things which did not exist when M.A.P. first came into existence.
M.A.P. was started in 1941, at a time when our shipping was being sunk by enemy submarines and when the predominant need for Britain was to get the maximum grain production from every acre. There was no other method of helping hill farmers except M.A.P. Since then, we have had ploughing grants, hill farming livestock rearing legislation, hill cow subsidies and other schemes. The situation is that marginal land farmers, in addition to all those other things, still get M.A.P., only slightly altered from what it was in 1941.
The Government have to decide whether in the country's changed economic circumstances that additional aid can be justified. My right hon. Friend suggested that there were two lines of thought: first, that there should be no change; and, secondly, that any change should not be too abrupt. He added that it was only right to say that MA.P. could not and should not be regarded as untouchable for all time. I do not want to argue that now, but I do agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) that M.A.P. has shown less waste and produced more good results than any other farm subsidy scheme applicable to hill farmers.
After my right hon. Friend's statement, it is obvious that the whole matter must be reconsidered since for big M.A.P. farmers the new proposals will end at the end of August of this year, so that 256 there is only one more year of MA.P. in a modified form left. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) that we must be grateful for my right hon. Friend's statement as far as it went, since it will give us time to reconsider the matter.
If MA.P. is to be changed or continued, there is no logical reason why Scotland should not get it, even if the English choose not to have it any more. The conditions of land, climate and distances are very different in the two countries and there is a case for making M.A.P. exceptional for Scotland, and possibly for the hills of Wales, even though the English do not want it any more.
We now get the new statement that the smaller M.A.P. farms—which can be interpreted as those with up to 150 acres of crops and grass and between 400 and 500 ewes; I believe that this is being left to the discretion of the agricultural executive committees—will receive a grant at a rate of 100 per cent. this year, and will be eligible under the M.A.P. scheme under Clause 3 for the subsequent three years. They therefore now have four years instead of three.
We have been asked to vote against the Bill. It would be mad for those who have small M.A.P. farmers in their constituencies to throw away what was formerly three years' help and is now four years' help.
§ Sir J. Duncan
I now want to deal with the larger M.A.P. farms, with more than 150 acres of crops and grass and more than 500 ewes. My right hon. Friend has said that they will receive a modified form of M.A.P. grant for this year, presumably meaning the year ending on31st August, 1959, because that is the end of the crop year. Most of them ought to have planned their production last autumn. They will not get very much done between now and the time to get on with it, in the way of replanning their production based upon the new assistance that they will get. They may have time to purchase their fertilisers and plant certain acres or reseed a certain field.
257 I would, therefore, ask my right hon. Friend to get out the Order under Section 75 of the 1948 Act tomorrow, if possible, so that detailed consideration can proceed at the earliest possible moment. He has said that consultations would take place with the executive committees. I hope that they will not be at arm's length. I hope that my right hon. Friend will call together the chairmen of the executive committees at Edinburgh on Friday and say, "Can you work these conditions? If so, do so, and we will put it right."
If we start writing to each other from Inverness to Galloway, and try to get each executive committee to agree to everything, it will take a much longer time to get agreement on the new conditions. Speed will make all the difference to these people if they are to receive help this year and are to plan their production to the best advantage.
As for the conditions, I would say that in 1941 the M.A.P. scheme was meant to be a form of assistance for growing crops, because we wanted the grain and everything that we could get. The idea now is to grow stock and not crops. The switchover is from grain at any cost to meat at economic prices. I interrupted the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) because I wanted to find out whether he believed that we should subsidise, at wholly uneconomic rates, everything that these people were now producing.
In the switch-over to the new conditions we should concentrate the aid in the direction of rearing breeding stock —cattle, calves and sheep—and we should not encourage the growing of more grain or straw than is necessary for the economy of a stock farm. Nor should we encourage the growing of rape to fatten wedder lambs or wedder hogs. That is really the function of the low ground farmer. Thirdly, we should not encourage the growing of potatoes at the taxpayers' expense—because the grant has been from 85 to 95 per cent. The economy of these M.A.P. farms should be switched from their original purpose of growing grain at all costs to the new purpose of being reservoirs of store livestock.
I believe that such a switch would be acceptable to those who will be feeling the draught of the abolition of M.A.P. in the future. If my right hon. Friend 258 can act with speed upon the lines that I have suggested it would be acceptable to all for this year, but I would urge the necessity for speed in the reconsideration of a long-term policy. I am grateful for the fact that everybody has been given an opportunity of rethinking the matter through the concessions which my right hon. Friend has been able to give.
§ Mr. Neil McLean (Inverness)
I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he would continue the M.A.P. schemes for another year. I was also pleased to hear his assurance that he would keep the matter under review. If I understood him correctly, this means that he will have a definite review before the M.A.P. scheme comes to an end, but unless I have a more definite and categorical assurance that there will be a review of the workings of the new M.A.P. scheme and the small farmers' scheme I shall find it very difficult to support the Government in the Division Lobby against the Amendment.
I would go further, and say that I do not think that the Amendment deals satisfactorily with one or two other worries that we have, one of which is that the farm of over 150 acres will be excluded even under the new M.A.P. scheme for this year. I do not know whether I understood my right hon. Friend correctly to say that such farms would be so excluded, but, if so, I would point out that the figure of 150 acres is a very arbitrary one. It may be all right in England, but everyone realises that it is a very different matter in Scotland, which has a different fertility of soil, different weather conditions, and longer distances from the markets. All these factors mean that this figure is arbitrary and not suited to farming in Scotland.
§ Mr. Maclay
The words that I used were that we now propose that the M.A.P. scheme should be continued for a further year under existing powers, with the proviso that the assistance given to the larger farms—that is, those with over 150 acres of crops and grass—should be upon a reduced scale, but not wiped out altogether.
§ Mr. McLean
I thank my right hon. Friend for that explanation. I hope that 259 6.30 p.m.
the scheme which is to continue on a reduced scale will be tied in with the other schemes for helping marginal and hill farms, so that not a great deal of harm will be done to those farms of over 150 acres. It is most important that the judgment should be not on the size of the farm, but on the degree of marginality. I hope—and I think that he did say this—that in deciding which farms would be in the scheme and which would be out of it in this year's M.A.P. scheme, my right hon. Friend will be in very close consultation with the agricultural executive committees. I hope that in the review, and after the review and in the future working of the scheme, these committees will have a very definite say in what farms are to receive marginal aid. These are the people who know the local conditions.
I am sure that all of us agree that the M.A.P. scheme has done a tremendous lot of good in the Highlands. Personally, I must admit that I would much prefer that the ploughing-up grant should go rather than the M.A.P. scheme, but at this stage it is too late to go into that. I hope that my right hon. Friend can give us a little more specific assurance about the working of this scheme, and that he will say that the supplementary M.A.P. scheme envisaged in the Bill will not come to an end in three or four years' time unless he has had a comprehensive review into the working of all these schemes.
§ Mr. Willis
I wish to support the plea made by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean), because it seems to me that the Secretary of State has not given a definite pledge about the future of this scheme. As I understand the statement which he has made, he is to continue the scheme for an additional year for farms of 150 acres and over, but at a reduced scale. He said that it would be restricted. I will come to the farms of under 150 acres in a moment, but the right hon. Gentleman said that for those of 150 acres and over, the scheme is to be continued for a year but on a reduced scale. [Interruption.]That is precisely what he said, and after that it ends.
In any case, the death penalty comes into force there, as one hon. Member said, in about eight months' time, so that 260 all that we have got is a concession for eight months. In respect of the farms under 150 acres, the right hon. Gentleman has given an additional year. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the same."] I know it is the same, but that makes four years under this Clause. The hon. Member has suggested that if we rejected the Amendment we would, in fact, be stopping this, but we would be doing nothing of the kind. We would be continuing it indefinitely by voting for our Amendment. Let there be no misunderstanding at all about this.
What the right hon. Gentleman has not done, but what I think he ought to have done, was to say that if there was anything wrong about the present provision for the farms receiving marginal grants it would definitely be examined, but he did not say anything of that kind at all. All he said was that he would watch the situation; I think those were his words. That is not enough, because, allied to the question of watching the situation, we have also to take into account the fact that the Government are determined more and more to place agriculture on an economic footing and judge it in those terms. When the Government do that, of course, and they have been doing it increasingly, we are faced with the difficulty, in the Highlands and elsewhere, that farms cannot necessarily be made economic. We have to face that, and remember that there are wider implications involved here—social implications which cannot be met in purely economic terms.
What my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) said was quite correct. Either the withdrawal of these grants means something or it means nothing. If, in fact, it means something, it means that some farms will not be able to pay, and that in other cases the net income of the farm will be considerably reduced. In other words, the standard of living in the area is to be considerably reduced. That was the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire. What we have not had today is an indication of the Government's estimate of the effect of this proposal in the Highland areas or in other areas where marginal land is exceedingly important.
What is the number of farms affected? What is the fall in the standard of living 261 likely to be? During the Committee stage, the noble Lord the Joint Under-Secretary gave a figure of 3¾per cent. reduction in the gross income of farms, which has been exposed as being very little indeed. It means nothing at all. What will the actual effect be? The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) said in his speech that any reduction of the standard of life of large numbers of these people who are in receipt of these grants spells disaster.
Even if we accept the figure of the noble Lord, as applied by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), that reduction spells disaster for a very large number of farmers, and the right hon. Gentleman is not lessening that disaster by saying that he will continue the scheme for a year, unless, at the same time, he pledges himself to do something about it during that additional period. Up to the present, the right hon. Gentleman has not said that. He has said that we will watch it, but watching will not do very much. We want a definite undertaking that something will be done, and that he in fact intends to avoid that disaster.
As the speeches which have been made have shown, this point has to be emphasised. We want to know what is in the Government's mind. Do they intend the farms in these areas to be shut down, go to waste or go over to wild life in the future? Is that their intention? If so, to what extent, if they intend this to be carried out, do they intend to survey all these grants with a view to ensuring that these people who are living in a state of fear today may know that the Government intend to do something to protect them?
§ Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)
I do not want to take up much of the Committee's time this evening, because a great many of the arguments which are relevant have already been produced, but I should like to refer to what the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) said when he explained how difficult it was for Governments to give the necessary help to the smaller people when they needed it, without, at the same time, giving too much to others.
The whole course of this debate has, in fact, shown that the Government's broad view on this matter is the right 262 one, because all the speeches have been made on the basis that we who farm in the more difficult parts of the Highlands need a great deal of extra help of one sort or another. Whether it is for the purpose for which M.A.P. was originally intended or not is not, perhaps, always too relevant to the discussion, but we in the Highlands know quite well how often we are used as an argument for getting something for other people, and we get a little bit tired.
I, for one, would certainly not agree with the statement made from the other side of the Committee that we should oppose this Bill, because the effect of that would be quite simply that some money would be wasted in other parts of the country while we should not get what we want in Scotland. I have great confidence that my right hon. Friends, who will be thinking about this problem in the next eight months, will devise a scheme by which the necessary help can be given to the people who need it. I know that it is easy for hon. Members opposite to express their lack of confidence, but I remember a little bit about the way they removed subsidies from the hill farmers before they went out of office.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman has accused hon. Members on this side of taking away subsidies from the hill farmers. Would he specify them? Would he tell us which ones they were?
§ Mr. Fraser
Does not the hon. Gentleman know the opinion of the National Framers' Union, and whether the N.F.U. wanted the calf subsidy in the first place?
§ Mr. Fraser
Did not the hon. Member and his Friends want it removed because they preferred to support the Livestock Bill which we introduced?
§ Mr. Noble
It would be unwise for the hon. Gentleman to argue that the N.F.U. is always right. If he did, he might occasionally find himself in difficulties. I have confidence that my right hon. Friend will consider this problem carefully, and that there are ways in which money that we used wisely in the past can continue to be used wisely in the future.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I am surprised at what has been said by Government supporters. I believe that those acquainted with military tactics would tell them that when we have our man on the run we should keep on attacking. We have wrung a small concession from the Secretary of State for Scotland. What do Government supporters do? They go down on their knees and thank him for it, except for one hon. Gentleman, the Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean). I give him the credit due to him for his action, because I think his tactics were right. We should keep up the attack.
What are we doing? We are not discussing a statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland today, but an Amendment which would remove a limitation on additional help to small farmers after three years. If the Clause goes through without the Amendment because Government supporters do not vote for the Amendment, it will mean that the limitation will remain. The present discussion has been not on the Amendment, but upon a suggestion thrown out by the Secretary of State for Scotland that he will study the problem over the next eight months. There is only one problem that the Secretary of State will be worrying about over the next eight months; that is, how many of his Scottish Tory colleagues he will lose. One question will be whether the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who has a majority of about 200, will remain with him.
The only thing that the Secretary of State for Scotland did not announce today was the date of the General Election. But he did tell us that the latest date will be October, which means limiting the uncertainty to this year. Judging by how long the M.A.P. is to be continued, the farmers can start getting worried next year, after the General Election. Anyhow, we have to thank the 264 right hon. Gentleman for the small mercy that the problem will be "thought of".
What guarantee is there that the Secretary of State will do anything? We have here a great new revolutionary scheme. We were told by the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), in a most illogical speech, all about the background of M.A.P., how wrong it is now, and then he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for carrying it on.
What the Secretary of State has conceded makes absolute nonsense of the whole Bill, and, in particular, of Clause 3. I invite the attention of Government supporters, who are concerned about what is happening in agriculture. The hon. Member for Argyll will get an awful shock from his Liberal and Labour opponents in the General Election. The kind of thing he said in the by-election was not the kind of thing he has said here today. In the General Election, some time this year, the hon. Gentleman's constituents will be concerned not about what happened in 1950, but about what has happened in the few months during which the hon. Gentleman has been fortunate enough to be a Member of Parliament.
I invite Government supporters to have another look at the Amendment. The Minister has said, "I am making this change and I do not require any alteration in the Bill to enable me to do it. I already have the power." It means that the concession the right hon. Gentleman has given by continuing the M.A.P. 100 per cent. to farms of from 100 to 150 acres and at a reduced rate above 150 acres for this year, can be done out-with the Bill with the power that the right hon. Gentleman has under the 1948 Act.
§ Mr. Maclayindicated assent.
§ Mr. Ross
That is quite irrelevant to the Amendment. We can all accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said and thank him very much for it. Now we can return to consideration of the merits of the Amendment. What chance will there be of continuing marginal production grants after 1962, that is, after the three years for which consideration has been promised? It is the existence of this limitation that led the Scottish 265 National Farmers' Union to organise a marginal farm conference recently.
I would quote the considered remarks in the 17th January, 1959, issue of the Kilmarnock Standard,an illustrious local newspaper with a very illustrous agricultural contributor. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has pointed out, that contributor happens to be a Conservative member of the County Council, vice-convenor of the Ayr County Council and a leading expert on agriculture in Scotland whose technical advice is sought by the Department. I do not know anyone on the Government side who knows more about agriculture than Mr. William Young, of Skerrington Mains. He said:The N.F.U. marginal land conference appears to have been a resounding success. Not that it may have brought out anything new, not merely because it displayed a most remarkable unanimity, but principally because speakers from every area of the Union, from the Shetland Islands to the Borders, produced facts and figures in support of their contentions that the M.A.P. assistance should be continued.Most of those farmers are represented in this House, not on this side but on the Government side. What have those hon. Gentlemen done about it? The hon. Member for Argyll, fresh from the hustings and with the whole spirit of revolt and determination to stand up for the farmers in the area—I believe he was chairman of the branch of the N.F.U. in his area—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member will rescue the position for the next General Election by saying, "Vote Tory and get your posterior kicked"?
§ Mr. Ross
He need not wait until the next election, but can join us in the Lobby tonight.
I wonder whether the unanimity of the farmers has led the Government to take this action. Some people were surprised to learn that this time the Government 266 were opposed to Scottish landowners. It may be that that did it. Let us be under no delusion about what Scottish landowners are after. Their concern is rent. They are concerned with many farms marginal in character which have changed hands in the last dozen years let or sold which will have almost immediately to be revalued. The M.A.P. assistance will have to be on a very different level. Lord Howard de Walden has had, I think, more effect in respect of what he thinks he will lose in annual rent than the farmers in Ayrshire who may be his tenants.
I sincerely hope that hon. Members opposite will not give up the fight. If they are to allow the smaller men who are not to get assistance under Clause 1 to lose on the average 10 to 15 per cent. of their net income hon. Members opposite are not worthy of the name of Scottish representatives. They have only one duty and it is a principle to which they have been committed in all that they have said to the electorate; and that goes, too, in respect of the youngest man of the lot who came to us recently from East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon). It is not to let them down, but to vote for this Amendment.
I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who is a hard-headed man, will not be swayed by the irrelevant speech we have heard today about something which is being done outwith the Bill. After that is done the Bill will remain and the hon. Member has been in Parliament long enough to know what will happen. If he allows this to go, these words will remain in the Bill and what he fears might happen will happen after 1962. I suggest that we vote for the Amendment and I hope we shall have some accession of strength from the so-called fighters for agricultural freedom on the benches opposite.
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) called the concession made by my right hon. Friend "flashy political window dressing," but we on this side of the Committee regard it as political realism, which we welcome. I think its value now lies in the opportunity which this one year's 267 stay of execution gives the Government— [Interruption.]I chose my words carefully. The opportunity this one year's stay of execution gives the Government is to study all the implications of the withdrawal of the marginal agricultural production scheme.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
I cannot answer for the Government; I can only say what I hope they are going to do. On both sides of the Committee I think we can all agree on certain things. One hon. Member after another has spoken of the importance of marginal farming in the national economy. It replaces land lost to agriculture in other ways. Marginal farms are our next line of reserve to good agricultural land which so often is taken for building, for housing development, school playing fields, roads, airfields and so on. It assists the maintenance and expansion of agriculture on the lines laid down in the White Paper at the time of the 1958 Annual Review, which I have with me but do not propose to quote in view of the lateness of the hour.
We all ought to recognise that the assistance which has been given in Scotland to marginal farms has resulted in a new look and a new life for something like 12,000 to 13,000 agricultural holdings in the Highlands and upland areas of the North. We are all well aware that since M.A.P. was introduced, as my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) and others have said, other help has been introduced which benefits the marginal farm. That other help and the fact that store cattle and mutton from the hills are selling well today in my view justifies some reduction in the scale and scope of marginal aid, but I do not think it justifies its withdrawal altogether.
What I hope will emerge from the year's study which I hope the Government are to undertake, and the new look which they are going to direct towards marginal farms and marginal assistance generally, is that it will result in some sort of selective assistance where that is most required by the marginal agricultural producer. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus that in the light of the world's cereal situation 268 there is no longer the need for marginal farms to grow oats unless they can be grown in great abundance and relatively economically. I think we can ease off the encouragement to cereal production on marginal farms. But by contrast the need for beef store cattle is as great or even greater than it has ever been.
Marginal agricultural production in Scotland, running at the full extent it reached in the current agricultural year, is estimated to cost only £1.21 million; that is for the whole marginal agricultural production scheme. Yet the ploughing-up subsidy in Scotland, strangely enough, is estimated at exactly twice that amount, £2.42 million a year. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean) that we ought to look at the ploughing-up subsidy. If we want to cut down anything, that is the sort of thing we should reduce and allow some of the money which goes to the ploughing up scheme to be spent on selective assistance to marginal farms.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
I had, unfortunately, to leave the Chamber while the Secretary of State made his statement, but I gathered immediately I came back that it was one of some importance. However, I confess to being puzzled because when I return to the precise and literal meaning of the Amendment I find myself in some procedural difficulty.
The first Amendment we are discussing seeks to leave out the words, "not exceeding three years." The Secretary of State has asked us to reject that Amendment, but suggests an Amendment which has the effect of leaving out three years. It has the effect of making it four years. He is asking his hon. Friends to vote against this Amendment and yet has stated that it no longer has any effect.
§ Mr. Maclay
I can well understand that the hon. Member had good reason for not being in the Chamber when I spoke, but that is not the effect of what I said, that three years become four. What I said was that it would produce four cropping seasons for M.A.P. grant. That is not the same thing.
§ Mr. Taylor
I appreciate that. I still think, however, that it makes nonsense of the present wording of the Bill and also 269 of the following Amendment, which suggests the year 1962 as the outside limit of the maximum grant, whereas, in fact, it would be 1963. I cannot see how anyone logically or reasonably can oppose these Amendments when they are taken to a Division.
Listening to all the spate of speeches and reading the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings upstairs, it seems to me that our Scottish Ministers have allowed themselves to be out-argued by accepting that this part of the Bill should apply to Scotland. One feels that had there been a separate Scottish Bill this part would never have been in, certainly not in its present form, certainly not with these dates and time limits, certainly not with these acreage limits, certainly not without any reference to the quality of marginality, and certainly a number of other arguments, qualifications, reasons, which apply so strongly in Scotland and make our case so overwhelmingly clear as it has been made this evening.
After a few years in Parliament one notices that there are occasions when a Government, having seen they have been mistaken and having gone so far to make concessions to attempt to meet the case half way, would be much wiser—and, when they do so, are much wiser—to concede the point which has been made on both sides with emphasis and logic. It seems that this is one of the occasions where, with credit to themselves, they could accept the case as it stands without any sacrifice of principle. It is a small matter on the whole in comparison with the major part of the Bill. I hope that even now the Government will be able to go that one step further and to accept these Amendments and still watch the situation.
If it is necessary to make changes it is just as easy, and very much better, to make those changes in the status quothan to say, opposed as they are by the whole farming community of Scotland, "We will see whether the farming community is proved right and then make the changes." They should leave it as it is and, if it is found possible by adjusting ploughing-up grants—I support what has been said from both sides of the Committee on that—to pay for those changes. That would be a better, more sensible and statesmanlike way of approaching the problem.
§ Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
I think it was a pity that this Bill and the M.A.P. grants should have been so closely mixed up. That certainly confused a great many farmers in the first instance and I think it was a mistake by the Government. However, I certainly welcome the concession made in the statement by the Secretary of State today because I hope it means that he has taken note of all the representations which have been made to him.
§ Mr. MacLeod
Do not talk nonsense; they have been made very widely and many of my constituents are seriously worried about the matter.
There is no doubt that in my constituency, a Highland constituency, great use has been made of M.A.P. That little addition has meant a great deal, particularly in the remote area where transport charges mean an increased burden on those benefiting from M.A.P. I hope my right hon. Friend will not only assess, but review the situation, certainly in the Highland areas, in respect of hill farmers who have benefited.
For social reasons alone we must make up our minds. I think that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) was right—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is always right."] He is not always right, but he was right when he asked how much we were justified in pouring money into areas which are not economic but where we have to do that for social reasons. In remote areas agriculture is our main industry and in certain parts of my constituency it is the only industry. It is very important that we should help people living in those areas. I do not think that the Secretary of State has fully appreciated the implications of doing away with this grant. I hope that this is not only another year of life for the grant, but that he will seriously review it and give us another statement in eight months' time.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
It is some comfort to me to have heard hon. Members today saying that the money for this could easily have been found by making some reduction in the ploughing-up grants. I was very pleased to hear the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean), supported in 271 some measure by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod). It is within the recollection of some hon. Members that when the Bill came before the House in 1952, and on every occasion when we have had a scheme since, I have said that ploughing-up grants in many parts of the country were a plain waste of public money. Of course money could be taken from the ploughing grants and devoted to this purpose at no cost to the Exchequer.
What I principally want to say is that the Secretary of State has misled the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, because he has not made a concession.
§ Mr. Fraser
I did not say that the Secretary of State said that he had made a concession but that he had misled the Committee. How many hon. Members have thanked the right hon. Member for a concession? Now he says he did not make a concession.
§ Mr. Maclay
Let us get the words straight. I was trying to disentangle whether the hon. Member was accusing me of deliberately misleading the Committee. What I said has not misled the Committee. I made a statement and do not remember using the word "concession" at all.
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. Gentleman did not make a concession. He could not make a concession about the time M.A.P. will run without an amendment of the Bill. The Bill says that the scheme will run for a period of not more than three years and will terminate in July, 1962. May I take those hon. Members who have been falling over themselves and saying "Thank you" to the right hon. Gentleman with me in tracing the matter backwards? If the last year of the scheme is 1962, the second year of the scheme would be 1961 and the first year would be 1960. There was the assumption that the present scheme would be operating this year, which is 1959. It had never occurred to me for a moment that the grant in respect of the cultivations which are being carried out under the existing law and qualifying under the existing law would be with- 272 drawn after this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament.
What the Secretary of State is now saying is that if he had not made this statement on this Amendment this afternoon those farmers who had made their plans for this year's operations would not have got the grant under the existing law. That would have been a monstrous position. It had never occurred to me that the grants would not be paid in the year 1959.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Gentleman will remember that I said that publicity was given that the scheme would come to an end at the end of last August. He seems to have missed that.
§ Mr. Fraser
I certainly did miss the proposition that the scheme would come to an end in 1958. Indeed, whoever drafted this Bill must have missed it, too, because the Bill says that the three-year scheme which the Secretary of State now says is to start in 1959 shall end in 1962. Why not 1961? If the first year is 1959, the second year must be 1960 and the third year 1961. Why does the Bill mention 1962? I do not say the right hon. Gentleman has done so intentionally, but he has certainly misled the Committee. I challenge any hon. Member on either side of the Committee to say that he believed when we were originally considering this Bill that the existing law which has not been repealed had come to an end.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
May I remind the hon. Gentleman of the Statutory Instrument No. 1396 of 1957 entitled "Agricultural Grants, Goods and Services. The Marginal Agricultural Production (Scotland) Scheme, 1957." Paragraph 2 says:… there shall be substituted a reference to the 31st day of August, 1958.The Explanatory Note says:This scheme extends the time within which offers of assistance may be made under the Marginal Agricultural Production (Scotland) Scheme, 1949, by one year to 31st August, 1958.
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not understand the relevance of that intervention. All of those provisions are made for a period and have a terminal date written into them. I think hon. Members opposite must be guilty of some hypocrisy if they knew that this was coming to an end 273 and they never said a word against it having been brought to an end, and are now grateful for an indication that it is to be continued for another year. Why should they be grateful for something which they had already accepted? Of course, they had not accepted it at all, because they did not know about it. None of us believed that the operations which were being carried on were not going to attract the grants to which farmers were entitled under the 1948 Statute.
The justification for the Secretary of State continuing this grant for another year, albeit in a modified form, was that plans had already been made for the cultivations and farm operations in 1959. So the right hon. Gentleman feels obliged to continue the grant. That can mean only one thing, namely, that he believed that the farmers were prepared and made their plans for 1959 in the expectation that the grant would be paid. Do hon. Members opposite who say they knew about this challenge that statement? The Secretary of State has made this so-called concession because the farmers had made their plans for the 1959 operations. Did they not make those plans on the assumption that the Marginal Agricultural Production grant would be available to them? Of course they did.
§ Mr. Maclay
I am sorry to have to repeat my previous speech, but apparently it is essential that I should do so. I could repeat my exact words if I had a moment or two to find them.
§ Mr. Maclay
It is in my own language. I do not think there is any need to make that kind of remark. I said in my opening speech that they must have known that the previous scheme was coming to an end, and I think some of them assumed that there would be some modified form of assistance available and they made their plans accordingly.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Secretary of State has recognised that farmers made their plans on the assumption that M.A.P. would be available. So he says, "I feel obliged to continue with the grant for another year." Quite apart from the proposition that the farmers made their plans believing that the grant would be available, 274 the logic of what the right hon. Gentleman has now said is that he had assumed that the farmers would have reduced their cultivations and operations in 1959 if they fully understood that M.A.P. would not be available to them. Is that not so?
But then have not those who argued for the discontinuance of M.A.P. argued that it is no longer necessary as an inducement? Now the Secretary of State has made it quite clear by the only kind of deduction that one is entitled to apply in this case that he had assumed that those farmers who had hitherto enjoyed M.A.P. grants would have reduced their cultivations in 1959. He must be making the assumption that they will further reduce their operations in 1960. Our complaint is that this is leading to the land being put out of agricultural use. That is the complaint of the National Farmers' Union, of the landowners and of everyone who has made any study of this subject at all.
It is a strange attitude for hon. Members opposite to adopt, to say that they are grateful for this additional year— that is what the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) said—for which they did not ask. He does not believe in it in any case, because he thinks the scheme should have come to an end, but he is grateful because, he says, it will give time to rethink the question. Why should the Secretary of State be thanked by his hon. Friends for throwing this whole industry into chaos and then for undertaking to have a look at the chaos that he has created?
If the Secretary of State wished, he could modify the M.A.P. scheme at any time. The particulars of the M.A.P. scheme are not written into statute. The amount of money is not written into statute. The different grants for the different degree of marginality are not written into statute. These things are all subject to the discretion of the Secretary of State. He could modify the marginal agricultural production scheme any year—every year if he wished. He could go ahead with his discussions with the N.F.U. He could do his re-thinking all the time. As a matter of fact, I think he is obliged by Statute to continue re-thinking all the time.
I used to have these discussions with the N.F.U. and the various branches. The 275 hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) once came to see me because we had had to reduce the grants to some of his farming constituents. We had taken the advice available to us and had formed the view that the fertility of the land had so improved as a result of the grants that had been given, the degree of marginality had grown less and, therefore, the grant had to be reduced.
The hon. Member said "Is this the reward that we get for our hard work?" to which our reply was "No, this is only evidence that your income from other sources has improved, because your land is less marginal than it was as a result of the operations that you carried out with our assistance. That is how this scheme works." Hon. Members opposite who claim to have some knowledge of this matter because they are farmers do not seem to realise that. The scheme differs from one county to another. The Secretary of State and the executive committees have much more discretion in the operation of this subsidy than in any other agricultural subsidy. Hon. Members who think that we should use the next eight months or a year in re-thinking and should introduce M.A.P. in another form either do not know what they are talking about—I say that advisedly—or they are misleading their constituents. I hope that it is the former.
§ Sir J. Duncan
Is the hon. Member seriously suggesting that any farmer with over 150 acres is in receipt or in expectation of receipt of M.A.P.?
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not want the hon. Member to divert me from what I was saying. I said that any hon. Member who says that this period of grace should be used for rethinking is either talking in ignorance or is deliberately misleading. I hope that it is the former.
The Secretary of State will either confirm or contradict what I have said. He is perfectly free to rethink on this matter and modify the scheme whenever he wishes. If hon. Members opposite consider that marginal farmers have a problem which is worthy of attention and which should earn support from central funds which is not available to the generality of farmers, let them not decide by 276 their vote that the kind of assistance that those farmers receive should come to an end in 1962. Once the Secretary of State and hon. Members opposite know what they want for the future of marginal farmers in Scotland, that would be the time to come along with a Bill to discontinue the existing statutory provisions and to bring forward a Bill to withdraw M.A.P. grants as we know them now.
The Under-Secretary said in Committee that the Government would have another look at this matter. It was said that they know there is a problem which they will continue to examine, and let us use this period of grace to examine the problem. Let the Government consider whether the present M.A.P. system is satisfactory, or let the Secretary of State modify it in any way he wishes. He has power to do that. If he thinks that the scheme should have a different name, let him determine what it should be and come forward with the appropriate legislation when he is ready. He should not, however, disturb the present form of assistance without serious consideration.
I hoped that the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. M. Noble) would return to the Chamber before I resumed my seat. He chided us on this side with having taken away subsidies from those same people. I deny that emphatically. I remember our discussions with the N.F.U. at the time. I do not know whether the hon. Member was then a farmer in Argyll or an official of the N.F.U. If he was, he should have known the position. If he did not know the position, he ought not to have misled the House as he did. At that time the N.F.U. of Scotland said that the hon. Gentleman, who is a hill farmer, was not getting the calf subsidy. His union said that he was not getting the benefit of the scheme, but today he said that he was.
At that time the union told me that the hill farmers always sold calves off the farm before they were earmarked and before they earned the subsidy, and it was the farmer on the lush land who was to fatten the calves who got the subsidy. It was said that the subsidy should be discontinued and another way found to help the hill farmer. But the hon. Member must know that we agreed a global sum for what we thought should be the income of the farmers, and within the global sum 277 we thought out what kinds of subsidy should be paid and what minimum guaranteed prices should be given in respect of different commodities. The granting or withdrawal of the calf subsidy did not make any difference to the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. M. Noble
What the hon. Gentleman says may or may not be true. I was not present at any conference he had with the N.F.U. It certainly is not true to say that no hill farmer received the calf subsidy, because many of them did, including myself. But if in withdrawing this scheme the N.F.U. had other plans for helping the hill farmer, it would have been useful to us to have had the benefit of them, but we received nothing extra.
§ Mr. Fraser
I know that he is a very new Member, but the hon. Gentleman ought to have a better memory. Has he never heard of the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951? Was not that Act calculated to help the marginal farmers of Scotland? Of course it was. If I said that no hill farmer ever received the calf subsidy, then I was misleading the Committee. I hope, however, that I did not say that. The N.F.U. told us that the subsidy was not going to the hill farmer. [AN HON. MEMBER: "To the marginal farmer."] There are many marginal Members in the Committee this evening.
The argument for removing the time limit on the payment of M.A.P. grants is not a request for any more money from the Exchequer. We are not asking for more money from the Exchequer. We say that the money that goes into agriculture should be more sensibly distributed. If subsidies are to be withdrawn, let them be the subsidies for which there is not an urgent need. Let the Government reduce the ploughing grants. It is interesting that many farmers who get the benefit of ploughing grants but not M.A.P. grants have been saying in recent times that the ploughing grants should be reduced and the money utilised to continue M.A.P. grants. I hope that that will be done.
The hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) said that he was delighted that the Secretary of State had given this stay of execution. His constituents, however, are not so' silly as to 278 be pleased that they are to be executed in 1960 instead of 1959 or 1959 instead of 1958. The hon. Member, too, was one of those who thought that we should have an opportunity to consider what other help should be given to marginal farmers. If hon. Members think that help should be given to farmers of this type of land, then they should support the Amendments. If they vote against them, they will be guilty of voting in favour of discontinuing M.A.P. before we know what other measures can be introduced to take its place.
§ Mr. Maclay
I have listened with the greatest attention and interest to the debate. I repeat, however, what I said earlier, namely, that it seems to me that hon. Members opposite and the Government have the same objective. Certain assumptions which are not proved have been made by some hon. Members about the workings of our proposals. We are all concerned about marginal and hill land. There are, however, differences of view in the Committee and outside about what will be the effects of our proposals.
The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) specifically asked how many farms we thought would go out of existence and what would be the effect on production. The short answer is that I am not convinced that any farms will necessarily go out of existence. There is no evidence to show that they will. What hon. Gentlemen have failed to realise is that one is not necessarily tied to one method of working one's farm for all time, and, if there is an alteration in method of subsidy, there may be other methods of working one's farm.
It has been said that there will be a serious effect on beef, on beef stores in particular. We are, I know, all concerned about beef stores, but, equally, I have been told repeatedly by the farming community and others in recent years that the trouble with the world and ourselves is a shortage of beef, and there must be an extremely active market in beef coming along. I am not forecasting; I am merely basing my remarks on what I have been told. Let us, therefore, get rid of the idea that something absolutely cataclysmic will happen to farming if things go along the lines I have indicated.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has given us an assurance that the calculations of his Department show that what is proposed will not lead to farms going out of existence. But two or three of his hon. Friends today have justified his action by saying that, during the war, we spread the margin up the hills and we spread the margin out to farms which were not economic, and they welcomed this proposal on the ground that it would get rid of uneconomic farms. They challenged us to say whether we wanted to maintain uneconomic farms.
§ Mr. Maclay
There may be uneconomic crops. I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) with intense interest. He obviously knew precisely what he was talking about.
§ Mr. Maclay
He plainly knew very much what he was talking about and put forward some very interesting proposals which are well worth watching and considering.
I do not want to let the debate on these Amendments end on the suggestion that something fantastic is happening. It is not. There is no question about that. It is one particular type of assistance which has been modified and which is to come to an end at a certain time under the proposals in the Bill. I shall not go over again, because I have had to do so several times in interjections, precisely what I said about continuation for this year. I think the implications of that are fully understood.
§ Mr. Maclay
Yes, it applies only to Scotland, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows. There are separate Scottish schemes for the M.A.P. grants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean) asked what I meant when I said that I should be looking at the matter again. The words I used 280 were that "this course of action will also give further opportunity to the Government for assessing the position." At another part of my earlier speech I used words which had been used previously by my noble Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, that it is clearly the Government's intention and duty and desire to keep the closest watch on all the farming situation as it develops, particularly, for example, in the beef and sheep industries in relation to successive annual price reviews.
What I think my hon. Friend was wondering was whether I would say positively, in so many words, that, in the course of the months ahead, I would reexamine precisely what would happen with regard to M.A.P. It must be clear from what I have said that we are watching how we can, in the best possible way, give effective help to the marginal farms. As we study the matter, we will do whatever we feel to be right. I still feel that the arguments against our proposals have been over-emphasised but, if it should even prove that they are, in effect, right, and it is true that production of certain types will alter and people may even go out of existence as farmers on a scale which would be unacceptable —one can never be certain about every individual farm in the country, of course —if all these things occur, then, of course, one will be examining the whole thing, and some kind of M.A.P. concept may be right—
§ Mr. Maclay
Of course it is. I should warn the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), referring to his speech, that he should be very careful not to make another like it, or I shall make another one in Cumnock.
I hope that I have made it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness and to others who are understandably concerned about it that my words were very deliberately chosen in my earlier speech, and that in any examination of the problem of marginal farms we shall go on, as we always do, with the idea of seeing how we may be certain to make the best possible use of the land in question.
281 Not very many specific questions were asked of me. I think that I have dealt with those which were put. I end by saying, as I said at the end of my opening remarks, that I do not imagine that what I have said will necessarily mean that some of those supporting the Amendments would wish to withdraw them. I had hoped that they would, and I still hope that they will, but I do not wish to be under any illusion or try to mislead the Committee by suggesting that what I have done is a modification which would meet those Amendments. Obviously, it is not. However, the principle of what I have said shows that we are completely concerned, as we always have been, about getting the best possible results for Scottish farming. We are very concerned about marginal farms and very concerned to see that proper use of that resource of Scotland is made.
With reference to something said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor), I will say that in the whole working out of the Bill, we have been thinking very carefully indeed about the Scottish implications from the word, "Go". We have not dragged at anybody's heels. That old charge has been made for far too long. I still think that we can, through the various methods I described in my opening speech, in a continuing study of the problem, make certain that the best use is made of this part of our Scottish country about which hon. Members have expressed so much concern.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered a rather important question which I put. Does he not have power under the existing Statute to modify the marginal agricultural production scheme in any way he will, to reduce the amount of money made available to farmers under the scheme? Does he not have all the power in the world to do this at the present time?
§ Mr. Fraser
This is the one opportunity we have of taking a decision on a matter of very great importance to the farmers of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman says that he does not see the relevance of my question. I will explain it once again. 282 His hon. Friends who support him, who said that they will feel obliged to support him against the Amendments today, in view of the statement he has made, have pleaded with him to consider what alternative, modified scheme to help marginal agricultural production will be available or will be worked out in the future. They are giving him eight or twelve months to look at all this and bring forward his alternative scheme.
Those hon. Members have assumed that there is a scheme under Statute which must be adhered to and that it would take a new Act of Parliament to bring about any modifications. I assert that that is not so. That is a false conception. The right hon. Gentleman could modify the M.A.P. scheme for Scotland next year to provide that the total amount would be not £1.21 million but £600,000. He could do that. He must do something like that. He has power to do it at any time. He could make it £500,000. He could reduce it still more. He could cut out a great many farmers who are now receiving grants under the existing powers. He could, with the greatest of ease under the existing powers, reduce the number of farmers receiving grants by 25 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman may smile, but I regard this as extremely important. He may not agree. Under the M.A.P. scheme, he gives a grant to farmers in respect of particular cultivations. He gives a grant in support of fertilisers, feeding stuffs, seeds, and what not. He could decide to cut some of those things out of his existing scheme if he wanted to, or decide to reduce the percentage grant in respect of those things. He can do all those things under the existing powers. Am I right in making those assertions or am I not? If I am not right, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how far he is limited in modifying or adjusting the schemes at the present time?
§ Mr. Maclay
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the short answer is that these schemes are made annually, and there is considerable flexibility under them. With the greatest respect, although I concede that, from a political debating point of view, he can try to make that point relevant, I cannot see that it is relevant to my own argument.
§ Question put,That "not exceeding three years" stand part of the Clause:—284
§ The Committee divided:Ayes 202, Noes 176.285
|Division No. 20.]||AYES||[7.41 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Gurden, Harold||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Ashton, H.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Atkins, H. E.||Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Noble, Michael (Argyll)|
|Balniel, Lord||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Barter, John||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Batsford, Brian||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Baxter, sir Beverley||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Page, R. G.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Peel, W. J.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Hobson, John(Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Bingham, Ft. M.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Pitt, Miss E. M,|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hope, Lord John||Pott, H. P.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hornby, R. P.||Price, Henry (Lewisham; W.)|
|Black, C. w.||Horobin, Sir Ian||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Redmayne, M.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Braine, B. R.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Hurd, A. R.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Bryan, P.||Hutchison, Michael Clark(E'b'gh, S.)||Rippon, A, G. F.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh,W.)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Iremonger, T. L.||Ropner, Col, Sir Leonard|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A.(Saffron Walden)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Carr, Robert||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sharples, R. C.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portstmth, W.)||Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Speir, R. M.|
|Corfield, F. V.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Joseph, Sir Keith||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Kaberry, D.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kimball, M.||Storey, S.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Lagden, G. W.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Lambton, Viscount||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Drayson, G. B.||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Teeling, W.|
|Duncan, Sir James||Leavey, J. A.||Temple, John M.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Legge-Bourke, MaJ. E. A. H.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Elliott,R.W.(Ne'castle upon Tyne. N.)||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Loveys, Walter H.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Fell, A.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Freeth, Denzil||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Gibson-Watt, D.||Maddan, Martin||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Glover, D.||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W.(Horncastle)||Webster, David|
|Godber, J. B.||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Gower, H. R.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Mathew, R.||Wolrige-Gordon, P.|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Mawby, R. L.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Green, A.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Legh and Colonel J. H. Harrison.|
|Abse, Leo||Balfour, A.||Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)|
|Albu, A. H.||Blackburn, F.||Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Blenkinsop, A.||Bowles, F. G.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Blyton, W. R.||Boyd, T. C.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Boardman, H.||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Bonham Carter, Mark||Brown, Thomas (Ince)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Paton, John|
|Champion, A. J.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Pearson, A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Janner, B.||Peart, T. F.|
|Cliffe, Michael||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Pentland, N.|
|Clunie, J.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St.Pncs, S.)||Popplewell, E.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Probert, A. R.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Rankin, John|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Rhodes, H.|
|Davies, Rt. Hon.Clement(Montgomery)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Key, Rt. Hon, C. W.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||King, Dr. H. M.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Lawson, G. M.||Robertson, Sir David|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Ledger, R, J.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Deer, G.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Ross, William|
|Diamond, John||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Short, E. W.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lindgren, G. S.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Logan, D. G.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||McAlister, Mrs. Mary||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McCann, J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||MacDermot, Niall||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||McGhee, H. G.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Fernyhough, E.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Fitch, Alan||McLeavy, Frank||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Fletcher, Eric||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Forman, J. C.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mahon, Simon||Summersklll, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd(Car'then)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mayhew, C. P.||Tomney, F.|
|Gooch, E. G||Mellish, R. J.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Grey, C. F.||Messer, Sir F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mikardo, Ian||Wade, D. W.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mitchison, G. R.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Monslow, W.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Grimond, J.||Moody, A. S.||Wells, Peroy (Faversham)|
|Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Hale, Leslie||Mort, D. L.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Moss, R.||Willey, Frederick|
|Hannan, W.||Moyle, A.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Hastings, S.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Oliver, G. H.||Williams, Richard (Openshaw)|
|Holman, P.||Oram, A. E.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Oswald, T.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Owen, W.J.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Hoy, J. H.||Paget, R. T.||Woof, R. E.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Hunter, A, E,||Pargiter, G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Parker, J.||Mr. John Taylor and Mr. J. T. Price.|
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without A mendment; as amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.