HC Deb 12 March 1959 vol 601 cc1576-601

9.33 p.m.

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

I beg to move, that the Small Farmer (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved. I suggest, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it might be for the convenience of the House if, at the same time, we debated the Small Farmer (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Supplementary Scheme, 1959, and I understand that it would also be convenient to both sides if, at this stage, we also debated the Small Farmers (Scotland) Scheme, 1959. Drafts of the last-named Schemes were similarly laid on 24th February.

If that is suitable, I should say that the Schemes for which I am directly responsible, and which I am asking the House to approve, are the first to be made under the Agriculture (Small Farmers) Act, 1959. With a few minor changes, which I shall explain in a moment, they embody the proposals set out in the White Paper published last October.

I do not propose to go into details of the provisions of the Schemes. They carry into effect the proposals contained in the White Paper, and we have had very considerable discussions on those. I would only remind hon. Members that the object of the Schemes is to make small farm businesses more profitable by giving the farmer, first, advice on a programme for improving his business, and, second, some extra cash to help to carry that advice into practice. That is the basic idea behind the Scheme. The House will recall that "small farmer" is defined by reference to the acreage and standard labour requirements of his farm business.

The Supplementary Scheme is intended, first, to give interim help to those who are in the queue for the Small Farmer Scheme, those who cannot be dealt with straight away. Secondly, of course, the Supplementary Scheme will provide temporary help to some of those who have been receiving assistance under the old marginal production scheme but who will not be eligible for the Small Farmer Scheme.

I want to draw attention to the changes which have been made in the Schemes since the publication of the White Paper. There is one change which has been decided on since our discussions on the Bill. It has been implicit in all our discussions about the Small Farmer Scheme that it should provide once-for-all help. We have now spelt out this principle in paragraph 8 of the draft Scheme. It will be seen that, by sub-paragraph (1) it is provided that a person carrying on two or more eligible farm businesses may have a grant-aided improvement programme for only one of them.

During the discussions on the Bill, a number of hon. Gentlemen made the point that it might be possible for a farmer to have several small farms which, if run as separate businesses, would all be eligible. If my memory is right, the hon. Member most interested in that was the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr Emrys Hughes). We have thought about it, and, in order to make the position crystal clear, we have decided to meet the point by the definite limitation in subparagraph (1) to which I have just referred.

Sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 8 provides that, once a small farmer has completed an improvement programme, he cannot be given further help under the Scheme either for the same or for a different farm business. By subparagraph (3) we provide that a small farmer who moves from one farm to another before actually completing his improvement programme may have a programme approved for a second farm, if it is eligible, but—this is important—financial assistance for the second programme will be reduced by the amount of the grants he has already had under the first programme before he moved.

The second change, which has already been announced, relates to the farm business grant. Paragraph 10 of the White Paper said that this would be paid in four equal instalments spread over three years. To meet some of the very strong arguments put forward by hon. Members opposite I did, on Third Reading, as the House will recollect, say that the four instalments would now be paid at intervals of 6, 12, 18 and 30 months from the beginning of the programme. That announcement is covered by paragraph 5 (1) of the draft Scheme.

The third change relates to the list of standard labour requirements. A provisional list was given in Appendix I of the White Paper. We invited and received comments on this provisional list from the farmers' unions and from other sources. Some hon. Members made useful suggestions. As a result, I decided to make a number of minor changes in the list. I set out those changes in reply to a Question by the hon. Member far Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) on 26th January. They have now been incorporated in the table of standard labour requirements set out in the Second Schedule to the draft Scheme.

I now turn to the Supplementary Scheme. There are only two differences here from the proposals in the White Paper. First, the table of standard labour requirements in the Second Schedule is the same as the one in the Small Farmer Scheme. Secondly, we have introduced a limit of £70 to the supplementary grant for ditching. This supplementary grant, as the House knows, is at the rate of 35 per cent. of the cost and is in addition to the ordinary ditching grant of 50 per cent. of the cost.

The limit, therefore, would operate in only a few cases—that is, where the gross cost of any ditching work done during the period of the scheme exceeds £200. I hope that hon. Members have been able to follow my mathematics. In these cases, the farmer would still be eligible for the ordinary 50 per cent. grant on the cost of all the work—that is, if the total amount exceeds £200.

As hon. Members know, we have been receiving provisional applications under the schemes since 15th January. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the initial response to the scheme has been first class. Up to last night. less than eight weeks from the start, we had received 11,159 applications under the two schemes, and about 90 per cent. of these are prima facie eligible. Under the Small Farmer Scheme, we therefore have already well over half the number of applications which we hoped to be able to deal with in the first full year of the Scheme.

I submit that the figures which I have given to the House fully vindicate the estimates which my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and I gave during the passage of the Bill. They show that small farmers think that the help which we are offering is worth having. They also show that we were right, despite the strong arguments put forward by the Opposition, to resist attempts to widen the scope of the Scheme at this stage. Had we done so, we might well have taken on far more than we could possibly have dealt with effectively and, therefore, would have endangered the success of the entire Scheme.

I am sure that the House will join with me when I say that the progress so far made reflects great credit on those of my staff who have to deal with the Schemes, both in the National Agricultural Advisory Service and in my Ministry's divisional offices. They are coping very well with the very considerable extra burden which the Schemes have placed upon them.

As the hon. Member for Sunderland, North realises, we have not yet been able to give approval to any farm business plans, but we expect to be able to begin to do so within a few days of the coming into operation of the Schemes. From the beginning of next month a large and growing number of small farmers will be engaged on improvement programmes drawn up with the advice of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. I am sure that they will result in a substantial and lasting improvement in efficiency and profitability.

I commend the Schemes to the House with real confidence.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

We welcome the minor changes which the Minister has made in these Schemes, and I personally welcome the fact that he has obviously recovered to vigorous health. Anyone who heard his self-eulogy would imagine that this Scheme had been warmly received by the farming community, but we all know that it has had a very poor reception. The Minister drew attention to the 11,000 applications which have been received. With farming in its present depressed state, no one can be surprised that there is a good deal of alacrity to seek aid. We all know, and the farming community knows, that this is little more than a temporary dole for some farmers at the expense of the rest of the agricultural community.

I would say in passing that I hope hon. Members opposite will now forever hold their peace about farming from Whitehall. They need only look at the Second Schedule to the first Scheme. They need only remember that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us that the programme will lay down in detail what the farmer will do. They need only remember what he said about routine inspections and all the rest. As I have said before, this is a bureaucratic Scheme. We all know that it was devised by the bureaucrats.

What I would have expected to hear from the Minister tonight was something about those administering the Schemes. Why has he not said anything about the National Agricultural Advisory Service? What steps is he taking to improve and strengthen this Service? After all, the Caine Committee recommended a strengthening of the Service by 25 per cent. without regard to these Schemes. The National Farmers' Union has complained that, as a result of these Schemes, the Advisory Service will be siphoned off in parts of the country where the services of the N.A.A.S. officers have been invaluable. I should have thought that if the Minister was as enthusiatic as he appears about these Schemes and the effects that they may have, he would have told us what steps he was taking to encourage recruitment to the National Agricultural Advisory Service.

This is a limited Scheme and it provides little more than a temporary dole for some sorely-pressed farmers. What the Minister has not done is to call our attention to the fact that he is bringing to an end the marginal production schemes. They are being discontinued and in their place we are getting a Supplementary Scheme which is a terminal scheme. What the right hon Gentleman has not reminded us is that he is taking these steps because there has been a change of policy, which has been frequently admitted, by the Government towards agriculture. They are no longer seeking maximum production but are seeking what they term economic production.

The whole time, the Government are lowering their sights about agricultural production. One has only to read the White Paper to see this. It is because we realise that this is a definite terminal scheme that we are so sorely disappointed that there is no provision for loans in the Scheme. We not only share with the National Farmers' Union its belief that it was misled at last year's Price Review and its view that combined grants and loans would have provided a more flexible and economic scheme. We not only share M r. John Cherrington's view that the small farmer will probably lack the capacity to manage the flush of grass and provide the stock to eat it. We not only remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) portraying the dilemma of the small farmer who will have to decide whether to buy the front or the back half of a heifer, because certainly, in many cases, the Scheme will not enable him to buy the whole. We also realise that despite the advice he was given, the Minister refuses to countenance loans and so emphasised again and again that this was a Scheme which was limited and terminal. As the National Farmers' Union says, the Government's proposals do not measure up to the basic need for capital. Everyone knows that what the small farmer needs above everything else are better credit facilities—and that again has been emphasised by the Caine Committee Report—and provision for and encouragement of co-operation. We have not had a word about credit or about the encouragement of co-operation in these Schemes which we are now discussing. The party which is dominated by bankers and middlemen naturally finds it very difficult to do anything for the agricultural community so far as credit and co-operation are concerned. [Interruption.] I would remind the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) that when the Minister was questioned about this, he said: The sort of chap whom we are trying to help is not the sort of chap who likes to have loans, and I shall he very sorry for any successor of mine who tried to get the money back.

Sir Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the farmers do not want more loans, but the ability to pay back the loans already made?

Mr. Willey

The Minister said that, as a result of this Scheme, he does not expect the farmer to be in any better position to repay any loan.

Mr. John Hare

The hon. Gentleman is really trying to misquote me. He is making a very amusing speech, but he knows very well that he is trying to give an entirely wrong impression. What I have said is that the small farmers at this juncture, before they have had the chance to improve the credit-worthiness of their farms, do not wish to take on extra commitments, and that is why these grants will be of real assistance. After they have increased their credit-worthiness, they can take on loans.

Mr. Wiley

I ought to say that I am much obliged for the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I am not, because I quoted the exact words he used. The essential basic point which I am making at the moment is that the provision of aid by way of loan would have demonstrated a continuing interest in the welfare of the small farmer, and that is what the right hon. Gentleman has avoided.

I would say in passing that we have not had any satisfaction on the question whether in fact the small farmer is likely to enjoy the benefits of the Scheme at all, because the right hon. Gentleman was pressed on the question of rents and was asked whether the money would be lost to the small farmer in the form of higher rent. We have had no reply and no assurance from the right hon. Gentleman on that.

These Schemes are not only inadequate in the assistance which they provide, but they are inadequate in the number of farmers whom they help. We have to remember that there are half a million agricultural holdings in the United Kingdom, and that these Schemes, if the Minister holds to his estimate, will help 25,000 this year—15,000 in England and Wales. We must recognise that the fact that the farmers have to satisfy two tests—the acreage test and the standard man-days test—rules out all farmers with less than 20 acres. Thus, it rules out over 160,000 holdings in England and Wales alone. It rules out all the small farmers who have resorted to intensive cultivation. It rules out all the small farmers on poor land.

What does the N.F.U. say about this? The National Farmers' Union has made it clear that, "as the Schemes are now drawn, the number of holdings which will qualify is not nearly sufficient. In its Resolution, the N.F.U. Council said that it maintains "that very many potentially viable small farmers will be unaided." What did Sir James Turner, as I suppose he still is, say?

The scheme excludes a lot of good people who are definitely viable. These are the chaps on the way up. To refuse them assistance is to take the stepping stone out of farming. What did several of the Government back-benchers say? I would remind the hon. Member for Leominster of what he and his colleagues said. They said that the Government should select one or other of these tests. His colleagues said that the limits should be extended, but the right hon. Gentleman has not only ridden roughshod over the N.F.U., but has disregarded them as well.

Sir A. Baldwin

I think the Minister has already explained that the reason for the limit was that he did not want to swamp the N.A.A.S. and when he gets the Schemes through, he will no doubt bring in another Bill to help the farmers who are excluded at the present time.

Mr. Willey

The right hon. Gentleman has not said anything about extending the N.A.A.S., but I should have thought that that was what he would have done if he had agreed with the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that he is now driven to support his Government but that he pleaded very eloquently for the election by the Government of one or other of these tests. The Government have not done that. I remind him also that the Government have completely disregarded the position of the part-time farmer, though no one knows better than he that there are many parts of our countryside which can be efficiently and economically farmed only by part-time farmers.

Not only are many farmers excluded, but many of the small farmers excluded are, as a result of these Schemes, worse off because they are obliged to contribute towards paying the cost of the Schemes although they themselves do not benefit. In fact, many of the smaller farmers, particularly many of the marginal farmers, are quite callously being written off by the Government. They are being driven to the wall as a matter of Government policy. It is cold comfort for them to read in the White Paper on Assistance For Small Farmers that the Government have been studying their problem and will continue to do so. We know that that is a convenient formula to tide over the General Election.

The Minister—and this was an odd step for a Minister of Agriculture to take—called in aid the Economist, but the Economist has emphasised that the Government must face up to this social responsibility. There is a social side to the problem and a national responsibility, but all that the Government can say is, "We are considering this problem". I would remind the Minister that the Economist has now deserted him. He has no supporter left. The Economist said recently: The present Small Farmer Scheme should be converted into a much larger scheme for the improvement or rehabilitation of sub-economic units. I want to turn to the Price Review because, after all, the cost of the Schemes is borne on the Price Review. I complain of the Schemes being brought forward before we know the Price Review award. This year, as the White Paper points out, the net additional expenditure of about £6 million will be taken into account in the 1959 Price Review. This is a redeployment of moneys provided by the rest of the industry, but, possibly for that reason, the sum which is thus gained is hopelessly inadequate.

I would remind the Minister once again that there have been several studies not only of the small farmer but also of the hill marginal land farmer and that all these studies have shown, surprisingly enough, that the small farmer and especially the hill farmer is receiving a far smaller proportion of the assistance to agriculture than the volume of his output would justify. This Scheme does nothing to remedy that.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that his Parliamentary Secretary rather made a virtue of this and repeatedly pointed out that here we are providing £6 million out of a total balance of guarantees of £1,268 million last year. Obviously, a measure on this scale will not redress the balance against either the small farmer or the marginal hill farmer.

Again, we know that over the past few years the position of the small farmer has relatively deteriorated. In fact the most recent N.F.U. farm accounts show that his, position has not only relatively but absolutely deteriorated over the last year for which the N.F.U. have accounts, and undoubtedly it has done so over the past year. In other words, under present Government policy not only are we worse off the more we produce—because the production figures show an increase over those years—but the smaller we are the harder we are hit, the more vulnerable we are to Government policy. We have only to think for a moment to realise this. There is not the slightest doubt that the result of the Government's policy of throwing the farmer on the mercy of the middleman bears more hardly on the small farmer than on anyone else. He has come out of this worse than has the larger farmer.

We also have to admit the fact that over the past few years, again because of Government policy, there has been a consistent under-recruitment policy, and this action also has borne more hardly on the small farmer. We have only to think of commodities—milk, pigs and eggs—to realise this. Think of the present pig position. What help can these Schemes give in the present situation? There are also rumours about eggs in the present Price Review. The fact is that the greatest burden undoubtedly has been borne by the small farmer, and this small redistribution will not improve his position to any substantial degree. I warn the farming community that already within two years of the 1957 Act we have a breach of the principle established by that Act because, as regards the general prices, the cost of this £6 million Scheme is borne on those prices over and above any provision made by the 1957 Act.

I concede that the present Price Review is a pre-election one and we must look ahead over the next three or five years of this Scheme. Again I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Economist said that if the Schemes are to benefit the national economy, there will have to be further downward revisions at the next and subsequent Price Reviews. I have pointed out the exceptional position of this year's Price Review, but we all know that the purpose of the 1957 Act was to provide a downward escalator for farmers. In this context the Schemes are not sufficient to alter the disastrous position of the small farmers today. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the only difference between himself and the Economist is that the latter recognises the results of Government policy.

The Economist is more politically alive than the right hon. Gentleman, and that is not surprising because, as I said, he is the prisoner of a very bureaucratic Scheme. The Economist pointed out that it is the admitted purpose of the Government, as the result of the 1957 Act, progressively to squeeze the price guarantees and to push thousands of farmers out of farming. It recognised that this poses for the Government a serious social problem. The Economist gave the Government this warning; it said: An unadulterated price squeeze may precipitate not merely a social problem but also an economic and strategic hazard, for a widespread deterioration of the land's capital and equipment is one thing which ought not to be allowed. That is why the Economist is now saying to the right hon. Gentleman that the present Schemes are completely inadequate. The Government must do something more than they are doing to pursue the policy which that paper and the right hon. Gentleman apparently jointly support. Therefore, as I say, the right hon. Gentleman is now left without a supporter anywhere.

The Economist at any rate realises that if the Government are to pursue their present agricultural policy, any such Schemes as the present ones are not only hopelessly inadequate but dangerous. I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to be complacent about this but to recognise that this is little more than an alleviation attempted to distract the farmer from the deterioration in the outlook for agriculture which the Government have brought about over recent years—the right hon. Gentleman seems to be getting upset about this.

Mr. John Hare

I am not getting upset.

Mr. Willey

It happens to be a fact. I would point out that the Economist and the National Farmers Union agree that unless he takes further steps he is bringing some sections of the agricultural industry to disaster and he should pay attention to it.

What do the N.F.U. say about the Schemes? They regret them. It is true that they are statesmanlike enough to say that they will endeavour to work them, but they regret the fact that the Government have failed in any way to modify the Schemes.

Sir A. Baldwin

Still production goes up.

Mr. Willey

And the more production goes up the worse off is the farmer. Among the farmers at large, the worst off is the small farmer. I would advise farmers not to boycott these Schemes but to take the greatest advantage of them. I would, however, ask them to recognise that the present consequences of the Government's policy on agriculture are leading this industry, so far as many of those who work the hardest in the industry are concerned, into a blind alley.

I hope—we all hope—that the greatest advantage will be taken of the Schemes. I also hope that when the General Election comes the farmers will rid themselves of the present Government and their policy before they are led to real disaster and before it is too late.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

I have stayed a long time this evening to speak on behalf of the Welsh farming industry. I am glad to find from the Minister's statement tonight that some minor changes have been made in the Scheme itself. This will certainly be welcome.

I would have liked the Minister to have said when he will reconsider the position of those farmers with under 20 acres, because I am sure that he is aware that there are quite a number of these small farmers with between 20 and 100 acres who, because of their efficiency, have worked themselves out of getting any further assistance. I am sure that the Minister has an answer to that.

I should like to know what is the position of those with under 20 acres, because the right hon. Gentleman has given information to us in Committee that he is considering what is to be done in the future. I am very glad to find that the Chairman of the Advisory Committee for Wales and the N.A.A.S. said that one-third of the national output of British agriculture conies from farms of 20 to 100 acres. This is very important.

The Minister gave us figures recently showing that in Wales 36 per cent. of our eggs came from this type of farm, 32 per cent. of fatstock, 40 per cent. of milk and 18 per cent. of crops. That is a very substantial contribution. I suggest that a substantial contribution is given by those with farms of under 20 acres. At the same time, I realise that this Scheme is bound to make a valuable contribution to the farmers I represent in my constituency, particularly those in the mid-Wales area. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's officers will look leniently at cases on the borderline which should come into the Scheme.

When the Minister's advisory officers make speeches—I do not criticise what they have said so far—I hope that it will be understood by everyone that this Scheme is not designed to help those who are not pulling their weight, but people who are doing their best for agriculture. It is not meant to help those people who regard farming as a side-line. A number of such people are under the impression that they should be helped more than anyone else. Were that to be the case, it would give no satisfaction to the working farmer whose profits often do not amount to as much as the wages of agricultural workers.

I hope that advice will be given to a number of my constituents and to people in other parts of central Wales who wish to change over from milk production to livestock rearing. A number of farmers produce milk because they need the monthly milk cheque, and the only way to encourage them in the future is to provide a guaranteed market by means of assistance of this kind so that they may create a viable economic unit. I hope that businesses will be assisted so that they may contribute more than at present to agricultural production.

Marginal production plays an important part in farming and I hope that something will be said about that either by the Minister or by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I regret that each time I speak, a reply is made by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I hope that the Minister will take note that if the Select Committee on Procedure gets its way there will be discussions on agriculture Estimates in the Welsh Grand Committee. If that happens, we shall not tolerate the presence there of a Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.

I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking that this Scheme will not affect the working of the marginal production scheme and that farmers who have reached a certain standard with the assistance of that scheme may be permitted to seek assistance under the Small Farmer Scheme if they wish, provided that they do not also claim under the other scheme.

The Minister told us the number of applications which have already been re- ceived, but he did not say whether they were for England and Wales. I assume that they relate to England and Wales, but when we are given these figures we are not told the proportion which relates to Wales. The two figures are lumped together. I have read Press reports referring to a large number of claims coming from Wales and I should like to know the figure. It would be beneficial for farming circles to be informed about the number of people who are eligible and who have made application under this Scheme.

In the circular which was sent out to the county committees it is stated that appeals may he made against the decisions of officers and I hope that that fact will be made known to everyone, because it is important. In borderline cases, and there may be many of them where it is a question of part-time farming, it is the holding itself which will count and not the number of people working there. Consequently, there will be cases where appeals may be made to the county committees.

I do not share the pessimistic view of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Willey). He probably has not the same experience as I have had of central Wales. I do not mean of farming, because I am not a farmer, but I am concerned about the urgency of the problem in central Wales and I am seeking anything which will assist the farmers in that area. This Scheme makes a contribution towards it. I hope that in the near future the Minister will say, "In view of the appeals made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, I will come forward with another scheme which will support farmers with under 20 acres".

10.16 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I apologise for inflicting myself upon the House as an expert on agriculture. My presence here is due to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) had to leave urgently for Scotland.

I am not without some knowledge of agriculture, Mr. Speaker, because, as you know, the Kilmarnock constituency is probably one of the best agricultural constituencies in Scotland. One could not have been a Member for an agricultural area in Scotland during the passage of the recent Small Farmers' Act without having had brought to one's attention the feeling of Scottish farmers about that Measure. Whatever may have been said about the reaction of the English farmers, the Scheme and the Act from which it came were received by the Scottish farmers with unanimous resentment and opposition—

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord John Hope) indicated dissent.

Mr. Ross

I do not think that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will deny that it was described as a "body blow" to Scottish agriculture. I am surprised that he should disagree with me. There is a date which I am sure will stick in the hon. Gentleman's mind. It is 21st February, 1959, when there appeared in that usually rather friendly-towards-the-Government newspaper, the Scotsman—Scotland's national newspaper and not an irresponsible one—on the front page, a heading which was as follows: Shaky record of Scottish Office. Prestige of Department in decline. The article started with the Secretary of State, passed to the Minister of State, and eventually came to the Joint Under-Secretary of State. This is what it had to say: Lord John Hope, in the Pentlands Division of Edinburgh, is comfortable enough with a majority of 7,485. I wonder how he would fare if his future depended on the votes of the farming community. That arose directly out of this Scheme. I am sure that the attention of the hon. Gentleman was directed to the remarks on page 15, and it may be that his eyes strayed to page 14—perhaps he had not recovered and did not get to that page—upon which were remarks credited to Mr. J. N. Sime, of Laurencekirk, retiring president of the Aberdeen and Kincardine branch of the National Farmers' Union.

I am sorry that there is not a supporting Conservative—again I am sorry, because we do not call Government supporters "Conservatives" in Scotland, but "Unionists"—in the House to give us his opinion on this matter, but here is the opinion of Mr. Sime. Speaking of the "disastrous effects of ending M.A.P." and of replacing it by the Scheme that we have before us, he said that the Government had been forced to continue M.A.P. for a year in Scotland, and we might look upon this as a breathing space. He went on: This breathing space must be taken full advantage of to get the Government to go on with an adequate and properly selective scheme or its equivalent. If the M.A.P. scheme were suddenly to come to an end, there would be a spate of cattle and then unemployment down our glens. It would spread to the towns and might even sweep away this marginal Government. People in that part of Britain are not irresponsible and do not make irresponsible statements. They are judging the Government on the merits of the proposals the Government are making and the effect they will have on Scottish farming. We have been given the figures of M.A.P. and it will be obvious that Scotland did very well. Out of about £3 million a year for the whole country, including Northern Ireland, the small farmers of Scotland, and not necessarily only the small ones, got £1,200,000 every year out of it.

These grants were related to the poverty of the land, to the need of these farms to get assistance to make them proper economic units. Now we have completely departed from that and it will mean, when in full operation, that at least 3,000 of the farmers in Scotland who are now receiving help will cease to get it. Can we wonder that there has been no welcome for this in Scotland?

When we further realise that in this operation those 3,000 will have additional financial responsibilities placed on them to succour those who are to get any advantage out of the Scheme in Scotland, it is no wonder that we see it stated in the first lines of the Scheme that it is brought in with the approval of the Treasury. About the only people who do approve of it are the Treasury because, instead of the Treasury supporting small farmers, 3,000, by a reduction of subsidies effected by the global figure, will support farmers in the Scheme.

By the very nature of the new Scheme, farmers who, hitherto, because of the poverty of the land they are farming, were assisted will have to pay to provide further assistance to people who at present, before the Scheme is introduced, may well have economic units. It is unfair, and I can well understand the reactions of Scottish farmers.

I am surprised that we have had no observations from any representatives in the House of the farming community of Scotland. Here, if ever, we are having applied a centralised conception of farming and farm efficiency. Anyone who knows Scotland knows that the one thing we cannot apply is a centralised conception of farming or measurement of efficiency to farming in Scotland. It is entirely different in the Orkneys from Berwickshire. The change of climate from North to South makes nonsense of these Schedules, if they were not already nonsense.

In St. Andrew's House, or at the Ministry of Agriculture, there must be someone whose sole task, during the past year, has been, and will be in the coming year, to think of new titles for new Measures which are to be introduced. The farming community has to get used to finding new terms such as "standard labour", "standard man-days", "farm business plans", "farm business grants" and "field husbandry grants". I suppose that in time we shall get the usual set of contractions such as, S.L., S.M.D., F.B.P., F.B.G., and F.H.G. If I know the farmers of Scotland, they will apply another term to the whole lot. [Laughter.] I am very glad that hon. Members have been following me.

We have had this question of a centralised conception so often. There used to be a tag, "The man in Whitehall knows best", but, when one looks at the supplementary conditions on page 2 of the Scottish Scheme one finds that the Secretary of State has to approve an application in writing, that there is to be no specific modification except with the consent of the Secretary of State, and that persons have to be authorised by the Secretary of State to give the information required by the Secretary of State. We shall soon be back to a position in which we find the Secretary of State in this era of freedom as the great centraliser and consenter, everything having to pass his eagle eye.

This is nonsense. There should be some delegation of the Secretary of State's authority in these matters, because the proposed system will cause a lot of trouble. We hear plenty about form filling, but when the farmer starts to work out the man-hours and reads the calculations in the Second Schedule of how it is to be done, he will be startled. It is worth reading.

The Second Schedule says: The standard labour requirements of a business on any date shall be expressed in standard man-days calculated, except as is otherwise provided in the succeeding paragraphs, by multiplying respectively the number of standard man-days set out in the Table below in relation to any kind of crop or livestock therein mentioned by the total number of acres of that kind of crop or the average of the numbers of that kind of livestock shown to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State. —he could not keep out of it he had to come into it here— to be comprised in the business during the 12 months immediately preceding the date to which the calculation relates, adding together the results so obtained and increasing the total by 15 per cent. Why 15 per cent.? Who thought that out? I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will tell us why it should be 15 per cent.

Paragraph 6 of the Second Schedule begins: If the Secretary of State is satisfied that by reason of special circumstances the acreage of crops, or of any kind of crop, or the number of livestock, or of any kind of livestock comprised in the business … How is that to be worked out? What is the nature of the "special circumstances"?

Paragraph 7 gives one of the alternative considerations before the plan is started. The plan is related to standard man-days between 250 and 450 or not less than 275 by the time the plan is completed. The Second Schedule gives a wonderful calculation of how this is to be done. I want an explanation of what the Schedule means, because I do not follow it.

I want, next, to take up a point arising from what was said by the Minister. It applies to Scotland, too. It reads: Where a person carries on at the same time two or more small farm businesses to which this Scheme applies, no grant shall be made under this Scheme in respect of more than one of those businesses. Is that entirely fair? A man may well have two small businesses the acreage of which, added together, is less than the maximum acreage of the scheme, which is 100 acres. He might have two small farm businesses each of 40 acres. Why should they not be treated as separate businesses? Why should a plan be sanctioned in respect of only one of them and why should grants under the plan be made in respect of only one of them? I do not follow that point of view. If it were a father and son there would be no difficulty because the businesses would he treated as two businesses.

I do not think that there has been proper appreciation of this difficulty. It may well be that the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland have been concerned to prevent anyone from split-ting his farm into two and thereby qualifying for two grants when, if he had not split the farm, it would have been over the maximum of the Scheme. I hope that the Minister will consider the point, although it is not the only point of difficulty, because many complications will arise out of the Scheme and out of what the Minister has said.

The Minister explained that by paragraph 8 (3) of the actual Scheme for Scotland, Where any person ceases to carry on a small farm business to which this Scheme applies before the completion of a farm business plan approved … and the man goes to another small farm, he will be entitled to receive only the maximum for the second farm minus what has already been paid out on the first one. What happens if the maximum on the second farm is below what has already been received in respect of the first one? He gets no help at all. The permanence of his future prosperity will be determined not by the farm he left, but by the farm he has. If we really mean permanently to improve these small farms, let us relate the grants to the farm and not to the man.

It is here that the folly of this proposal is demonstrated. Let us look at it the other way. What about the farm that has been left? A new tenant comes in, and two-thirds of the work has been done and paid for. Can the incoming tenant apply for a grant, present a new plan and carry on? As far as I understand the Act and the Scheme, he can. So the person who is being penalised is the man who originated the plan, but who has left and gone to another farm—and it may have been an involuntary move. He may not have wanted to leave, but may have been turned out for some reason.

I do not think that the Minister has spent enough time considering these points. For the farmers in Scotland, the Scheme, in the first year, is quite irrelevant. That is proved by the fact that in the first year we still continue the Marginal Agricultural Production (Scotland) Scheme. 1959. Anybody operating under that Scheme—and I should think that that applies to all the marginal farmers in Scotland—will not receive anything at all this year.

I would like the figures to be correct. We were given a figure of 25,000 farms, of which 15,000 were said to he in England and Wales. The implication was that 10,000 farmers in Scotland would benefit. I suggest that there will be nothing like that number—

Mr. Hare

The hon. Gentleman realises, of course, that Northern Ireland is also covered?

Mr. Ross

I did not think that so many farmers in Northern Ireland would be covered by the Scheme. Could we be told how many people in Scotland will benefit this year, when we take out of consideration those who are already receiving grants in this year under paragraph 7 (a) and (b)?

I can give this Scheme only a very tepid welcome. I would be letting down the farmers of Scotland were I to do more. So many things are left unanswered. One thing that is obvious to Scottish farmers is that the Government have taken the callous decision of abandoning certain farms. They should continue, in a reduced way, the marginal agricultural grants for about three years. This Scheme ends in February, 1964. After that, what is there for the Scottish small farmers, not only for those under the 20 acres, but for those under the 100 acres?

It is, indeed, little wonder that the Joint Under-Secretary is unpopular in Scotland. It is little wonder that the Scotsman is concerned about the decline in the prestige of the Scottish Office. Once everything is added up and one subtracts from it the benefits which in future are to he denied to Scottish farmers, benefits which they have enjoyed and under which they have had a measure of security and prosperity, it is little wonder that they are expressing not only their concern but their disgust.

It is my regret that there was only one hon. Member for a Highland constituency who has had this trouble in his area who demonstrated his regret so forcibly as to resign. The others have so demonstrated their regret tonight that there is not a single Conservative or Unionist Member in the House to support the Government or to carry on a rebellion against the Government.

Mr. Hare

There is not one single Labour back bencher present except one representative from Wales, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins).

Mr. Ross

The fact is, of course, that this is not our Scheme, This is a great Scheme, according to the opening speech of the Minister. I thought that everyone on the Conservative side would be here to mark the introduction of this great new landmark of Tory freedom and prosperity. In fact, of course, the Scottish Tory Members are running round and looking in HANSARD to try to demonstrate to their farmer constituents that, at some time or another, they have said a word to oppose the Government on this Scheme.

The Scottish farmers are disgusted with the Government. It is probably just as well that the noble Lord is where he is; I advise him to stay there. Let him remain in Edinburgh and not venture forth into the agricultural areas of Scotland.

10.37 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord John Hope)

I am grateful for the advice given to me on various counts by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), particularly the advice he gave me as he finished, saying that I should stay where I was. I am happy to tell him—it is a coincidence, of course—that the advice he gave me is exactly the line which, quite independently, I had decided to try to follow. So at least we can agree on that.

I do not think that there is very much to the taunts he levelled at the absence of hon. Members in certain quarters of the House. My right hon. Friend, I think, answered that extremely effectively so far as the hon. Gentleman's own party is concerned; but let us have the account clear, and recognise that at no time throughout the debate has there been a single Member of the Liberal Party present either in support of or in opposition to this Measure.

Mr. Ross

Or a National Liberal.

Lord John Hope

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) will not, I hope, be unduly offended if I express friendly disappointment at his speech. I thought that, at the very least, we should have a reluctant eulogy of the Scheme. In fact, we had a very long series of carping criticisms. I think, if I may say so, that it was not the hon. Gentleman at his best. He wants the Scheme to be a success. This is, after all, the first time that any Government have tried to help in this particular direction. I have no doubt that, when the moment arrives, the hon. Gentleman himself will indicate at least his quiescent support by not casting his vote against it in the Lobby.

Mr. Willey

I made it quite clear that I am no more enthusiastic about this Scheme than are the National Farmers' Unions. I advise small farmers who do qualify to take the utmost advantage of the Scheme, but I appeal to the Government to recognise that they have brought the industry to a condition where they really must do far more than this to help the small farmer.

Lord John Hope

Whether the hon. Member has improved his case by that last observation is a matter of opinion. At least, he was entitled to make it.

In welcome contrast to the spirit in which the hon. Member spoke, we had the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), who was generous and realistic in his attitude to the Scheme. We are grateful to him. I know that he realises that the Scheme will help in places where help is very much needed.

The hon. Member asked a question about man-day limits and he appealed to my right hon. Friend not to be rigid. My right hon. Friend made it clear throughout all stages of the Bill that that was the last thing he intended to be. The hon. Member will realise that what we must do is to see how we get along and learn from experience. That is my right hon. Friend's intention and I am sure that that is the way to proceed.

The hon. Member then expressed the hope that the Small Farmers' Scheme would not spoil marginal agricultural production. He made it a little embarrassing for me to attempt an answer, because he prefaced his question by saying that he would not tolerate an answer from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Having expressed my gratitude to the hon. Member for his generous approach on broad terms, I do not want to test his tolerance by going into detail on this point. He asked about numbers of applications from Welsh farmers. I understand that the number to date is 3,390.

Now I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock. It was a characteristic exhibition, which is always enjoyable from him, of his knockabout party stuff. Almost all of it has been answered dozens of times, because it has been put out as often. I suggest to the hon. Member, however, that in fixing upon the marginal agricultural production side of things, he got rather off the Scheme, which is a Small Farmers' Scheme. Indeed, as he knows, one of the differences between the Scottish Scheme and the English and Welsh and Northern Ireland Scheme is that the Scottish Scheme does not specify a date on which small farmers are deemed to qualify in terms of paragraph 3 of the Scheme, because in the England and Wales and Northern Ireland Scheme that qualification is linked to eligibility for assistance in terms of the Supplementary Scheme. It does not apply in our case for reasons that the hon. Member knows.

I do not think that the House would wish me, at this hour especially, to in- dulge in a long debate with the hon. Member on the question of marginal agricultural production in Scotland. The question is not wholly irrelevant to this Small Farmers' Scheme, but it could easily become out of proportion on this occasion. I simply ask the hon. Member to bear in mind that, as he knows, we are thinking very hard about the Scheme and he must wait and see what happens, just as the farming community itself is waiting to see.

Incidentally, I am grateful to the hon. Member for quoting an article in the Scotsman containing, evidently, some observations concerning myself. I shall certainly insert the article in my scrapbook, as well as one or two others which I would like privately to show the hon. Member, which contain some not uncomplimentary remarks made in certain farming journals from time to time. There is nothing to it, of course, either way. After all, what one loses on the swings one gains on the roundabouts. I can put that right.

Mr. Ross

Not at the General Election.

Lord John Hope

There will be a swing all right, and in a direction which the hon. Member will not like.

The hon. Member asked about the Schedule. He postulated certain specific positions. They were perfectly realistic and I should like to look into them. I do not want to answer "off the cuff." He asked about the case of the farmer who has two small farms each of which by itself would be too small to qualify. I think the correct answer is that the farmer can come into the Scheme by amalgamating his two farms and counting them as one business, provided that the combined business comes within the terms of the Scheme.

Mr. Ross

He would probably be cut out in relation not to his acreage, but to the standard man-days.

Lord John Hope

He might be over the maximum and it is true that he would be out in that case.

The hon. Member asked me how many will have begun an improvement plan in Scotland by the end of the year. Our estimate is that it might well be about 1,500. That may prove wrong, but that is the way in which things look likely to be going. If I have omitted to answer any questions that I could have answered without notice, I must apologise to any hon. Member concerned. I will look through the debate to find whether that has happened. Otherwise, I shall answer specific questions when I have had time to consider them.

I beg the hon. Member for Kilmarnock not to lose heart. If he finds the Schedule difficult to understand, let him remember that so many of these things have to be. The Schedule is long-winded, but it improves greatly with prolonged study and I advise the hon. Member to do that before he addresses us on this subject again.

Mr. Ross

I am not concerned for myself, but for the poor Scottish farmers, who have to understand it.

Lord John Hope

I am obliged. I thought that the hon. Member was referring to his own difficulties. So far, our evidence is that the farming community have understood it perfectly clearly.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Small Farmer (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th February, he approved.

Small Farmer (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Supplementary Scheme, 1959 [draft laid before the House, 24th February], approved.—[Mr. Hare.]

Small Farmers (Scotland) Scheme, 1959 [draft laid before the House, 24h February], approved.—[Lord John Hope.]