HC Deb 06 May 1959 vol 605 cc485-505

8.7 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I beg to move, That the Ploughing Grants Scheme, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 23rd April, be approved.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles Mac-Andrew)

There is also a Scheme for Scotland on the Order Paper and it might be convenient to discuss the two together.

Mr. Godber

It would be convenient to take the two together, and my noble Friend, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, in winding up, can make any points he wishes relating to Scotland.

This Scheme is in very similar terms to those of the last two years. The House will recall that in 1957 the "reseeding proviso" was abolished and the qualifying date for old grassland ploughed up under Part II of the Scheme was brought forward from 4th May, 1939, to 1st June, 1946. There have been no other changes and we do not propose to alter the. Scheme this year.

In this connection the House will, I am sure, wish me to say something about the recommendations of the Caine Committee on Grassland Utilisation in so far as they concern the ploughing grants. In the Committee's view, the removal of the ploughing grants might adversely affect the current level of grassland utilisation. They wished, however, to see the Scheme extended in such a way as to make it more effective as a means of bringing permanent or semi-permanent pastures under the plough. At the same time, they thought that the three-year qualification for the £7 per acre grant might be encouraging some farmers to shorten their leys against the best interests of grassland utilisation. They accordingly recommended certain modifications in the Scheme.

They suggested that there should be an intermediate rate of grant of £10 per acre for land which had been under grass for six years or more but did not yet qualify for grant at the higher rate under Part II of the Scheme. They further recommended that the requirement as to the extra cost of ploughing in the case of the present higher rate of grant at £12 per acre should be dropped.

We have considered these suggestions very carefully, but have not felt able to accept them. We have no conclusive information that the present minimum period of three years for grassland qualifying for the standard rate of grant at £7 per acre leads to undue rigidity in ley farming or the premature ploughing up of leys.

I think it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to administer an intermediate rate of grant related solely to the age of the grass, since we should have no means of verifying the precise point at which the land had been under grass for six years so as to qualify for grant at more than the standard rate. Regarding the abolition of the abnormal cost proviso from Part II of the Scheme, it is not felt that payment of grant at £12 an acre could be justified in terms of the expenditure of public funds where the operations concerned are not substantially heavier than normal. We propose however, to look at the operation of the higher rate of grant to see whether its administration could be made somewhat more flexible since we entirely agree with the Caine Committee that there remains a great deal of old pasture which would benefit by being ploughed up and put into a rotation.

Regarding the standard rate of grant at £7 an acre, we are satisfied that it is adequate in relation to normal costs and we could not justify a higher rate solely for reasons of age of grassland.

Turning to the outcome of the Schemes over the past year, it is clear that ploughings were very considerably affected by the bad weather last summer and autumn, so that expenditure of £9.2 million during the financial year 1958–59 was roughly £800,000 less than in the previous year—these are United Kingdom figures—representing a loss of about 120.000 acres ploughed up from grass. Owing to the favourable conditions this spring however, a good deal of the arrears of work has been made up. But many claims will not be presented until after the end of the financial year when all qualifying operations will have been completed. We expect that for the Scheme year, 1st June, 1958, to 31st May, 1959, expenditure will be only slightly less than in the previous year.

According to the June returns last year, there was an increase of 45,000 acres m the tillage area in England and Wales and a slightly larger increase in the total arable area by comparison with the previous year. For the United Kingdom as a whole there was little change. These figures are, of course, affected by many factors, such as the weather in the previous autumn and spring and the amount of rotational grass coming under the plough in any particular year. But we may say, I think, that ploughing grants are continuing to help to stabilise the arable area and to perform a useful function in encouraging the taking of the plough around the farm.

Some hon. Members may say—I have certainly heard it said outside this House —that it would be better if some of this money were used on direct payments for a crop rather than in continuing ploughing grants in this way. But we believe that these production grants at the beginning of the cycle have a valuable effect, particularly for many of the smaller farmers who are not so well off. They get the money at an earlier stage in the cycle, which we consider is a real help to them.

It is true that when the new Small Farmers' Scheme is going, we shall expand the rate of ploughing and I think that this is the best way to help and encourage them to continue to plough up as much as possible and to keep the plough moving round the farm. I hope that the House will be willing to approve these Schemes.

8.14 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has forestalled me in discussing the recommendations of the Caine Committee. I had been assiduously doing my homework in the hope of catching out the hon. Gentleman on that matter, but perhaps that was expecting too much. It is a pity that the Government have not accepted some of the recommendations of the Caine Committee which was a very responsible body. I spent a long time considering this question and made recommendations to the Minister which appeared to be fairly reasonable. I do not altogether accept what the Parliamentary Secretary has said in rejecting them.

The Government have not only failed to adopt the recommendations of the Caine Committee, but have even deliberately left in the date of 1st June, 1946, for the purposes of Part II of the Scheme. That seems to me a rather long period for land to be continuously under a grass crop. I know that it is not an unduly long period if the grass has been well managed and if a reasonable amount of suitable fertiliser has gone into the ground.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will know that not all the advantage of ploughing old grass lies in the reseeding that follows the ploughing. It also provides an opportunity for the farmer to think about the use of fertilisers. I stress the point about the use of fertilisers because I think it so important. Anyone using his eyes and going about the country today is bound to be aware that there is a considerable amount of good land which is not being utilised to the full. It is not being managed and fertilised in such a way that we may obtain the maximum benefit from our grass, the one crop eminently suited to the climate of this country.

I remember going some time ago to an experimental farm which had been under the control of the same manager for ten years. The manager pointed to the field of a neighbouring farmer and said to me, "There has not been an ounce of fertiliser on that ground in the ten years that I have been here." To that comment I can only add that the field certainly looked as though it had not had any fertiliser for ten years. It appeared to have been very badly managed. It is not only a question of the use of fertiliser, as has been pointed out by the Grassland Utilisation Committee. The reseeding with improved grasses contributes much to the improvement of the quality of the pasture.

Although the Minister has decided to turn down what are recommendations of the Caine Committee, he might have considered altering the date of 1st June, 1946.

Mr. Godber

I do not wish the hon. Gentleman to think that we have turned down the recommendations of the Caine Committee as a whole. It is only in relation to this one point. We are continuing to give careful thought to the Committee's recommendations.

Mr. Champion

I was referring to the ploughing grant section of the Com mittee's Report, and I am speaking in the context of the Scheme now before us.

Despite the fact that two years ago we altered the date from 1939 to 1946, I think we might well have taken this opportunity to bring forward the date for the operation of Part II of the Scheme by two years. At least we should have brought the date to 1948. That, it seems to me, would have been something well worth while.

I consider also that the Minister might have removed the requirement about extra costs of ploughing in the case of the £12 grant. He has said that he is looking into the matter administratively with a view to making it easier to give the grant despite the fact that he has included these words in the Scheme. I think that in the circumstances it would have been wiser to have left out these words altogether. That would have helped all those who have to administer the Scheme. If instead of giving administrative advice and instruction he had removed the words from the Scheme it would have made their job very much easier.

I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned one particular point which is in the Report, the recommendation for administrative action in the Ministry to adopt a new method of keeping records so as to provide us and the Minister with more and better information on which to base future action. Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland can tell us what the Government have in mind about that recommendation. I am sure he will have plenty of time between my sitting down and his rising to look the matter up.

The rejection of the Committee's Report is very much in line with what the Government seem to do about the committees they set up. They set up this particular Committee and they have virtually ignored its recommendations about ploughing grants. The Heneage Committee was not set up by this Government; it reported in 1950. The Report has been in the hands of the Department since that time on a vital matter of drainage, yet no real action has been taken. There has been the Runciman Report on Horticultural Marketing and all that the Government have done is to set up another advisory committee on how to carry out something which has already been the subject of advice from the Runciman Committee. I hope that the Government will do something on these matters soon.

I welcome the increase shown in the agricultural statistics for 1957–58, in the area of lucerne and clover and the rotation of grasses, by about 223,000 acres, but the total tillage area continues to decline. It has been declining for quite a long time. No one can be completely happy about that, unless it is replaced by well managed permanent grass. I really mean well managed. The trend downwards appears to be continuous. judging by the March return and the forecast for 1959.

Although we propose to let this Scheme go through without opposition, there is nothing in it which will arrest the decline in the tillage acreage. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will reply on the points I have made, and that the Joint Parliamentary-Secretary will take to heart my rebuke that he has not accepted more of the recommendations of the Caine Committee.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)

I welcome the introduction of the Scheme under the 1952 Act. I agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that all these schemes have been of particular help to the small farmer at the time when he needed them.

I want to raise a matter contained in paragraph 11 of the Scheme and confined to a question of administration. Paragraph 11 provides for the withholding by the Minister of a grant under either Part I or Part II on two grounds which are set out in (a)and (b). One ground relates to the inefficient carrying out of a particular operation and the other relates to there not being adequate facilities for inspection.

I do not raise any objection to the vesting of these powers in the Minister. It is clear that the making or withholding of a grant is administrative action rather than a judicial process. On the other hand, if the Minister is to withhold a grant he should do it in a way which accords with natural justice. That would remove any possibility—I do not put it any higher than that—of a sense of injustice or grievance. There should be a standard procedure for cases in which the Minister decides, or is minded, to withhold a grant either in whole or in part.

Cases have come to my notice where this procedure has not been followed. Where the Minister is so minded, the first step should be to inform the person to whom the application relates, and to tell him the grounds on which it is proposed to withhold either part or all of the grant. The person affected by the decision should have an opportunity of replying. I do not want to make heavy weather of this, but one does not want the applicant to be informed simply that the Minister is withholding the grant, and that is all. The farmer should be invited to state why the Minister should not withhold the grant. That would remove any possibility of grievance.

Mr. Godber

I will certainly study with care what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, but I am sure he will agree that it is possible for a farmer who feels dissatisfied to approach his agricultural executive committee, which is always willing to look into problems of this sort. One of the safeguards for farmers is that the agricultural executive committee is available.

Mr. Bowen

I am grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. However, when the farmer raises it with the A.E.C. he is raising it when it has already reached the grievance category. It would be far better if it was dealt with on a set procedure of that kind. It would remove any possible sense of grievance.

I do not wish to raise any other points. I wish the Scheme all good fortune and I am sure that it will be of very considerable help to the farmers in Wales as a whole.

8.29 p.m.

Sir Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary recognised that it is not a bad thing occasionally to question the fundamental reasons for continuing a subsidy of this kind. This grant is running on at a cost of £9 million a year. When it was first started undoubtedly it had a marked effect on the husbandry of a great many thousand farmers. It made them realise that after three, four or five years some of the grass leys they had put down should come under the plough and be turned over to tillage cropping. It helped them to appreciate that the general productivity of their farms would be raised thereby. That educational effect was very marked at the start of the subsidy. However, we have gone on year by year continuing the subsidy.

I want to ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland whether, either in Whitehall Place or in St. Andrew's House, there are discussions from time to time to consider whether in present circumstances this is a good way of using £9 million a year worth of agricultural support. I wonder whether this lesson has not been fully learned and whether it is not now incorporated in the ordinary day-to-day run of good business and good husbandry in farming. I think that it is. I should declare a personal interest in this, in that I draw several hundred pounds a year in ploughing grant. I would plough up my leys anyway, with or without a ploughing grant.

If rotational farming, or alternate husbandry—the animals on grass rotating with the crops, so to speak—is now accepted as being good business as well as good husbandry, will not the Government achieve their purpose, as effectively or more effectively, in guiding farmers' intentions and efforts to achieve extra production of certain crops which are wanted in the national interest by using part, if not the whole, of this £9 million to enhance the guarantees for, say, barley? We are told that not enough barley is being grown and that we are having to spend too much foreign exchange on the importation of barley. I think that the figure of imported feeding stuff last year was over 6 million tons. If we want to drum the lesson into the farmer, surely the right way is to ensure that he will obtain a really profitable price for his barley and oats, which will replace those imported feeding stuffs. I include oats because I know that Scotland as well as England is interested in this.

All these considerations may have been weighed carefully in the Departments, both in London and Edinburgh. It may be that the Ministers are satisfied fully that this ploughing grant should continue in the same way as it has for years past.

I do not agree with a basic policy which I traced in the remarks of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). He seemed to suggest that Government policy should be adjusted and directed very finely in graduated grants to achieve certain purposes. He was speaking about the Caine Committee and the utilisation of grass. We have another example in the rather fiddling way in which the present Government are increasing the subsidy on steer calves. I do not know why. I do not think that that will ensure that nature produces more steer calves and fewer heifer calves. Some civil servants may think that by adding a little here and fiddling a little off there they can alter the business policy of the generality of farmers. These re-finements in inducements—some would say bribes—are not sound, either in national policy or when they get down to the individual farm.

That is why I have raised this point. Are our Ministers sure that this £9 million, which is part of the general bill of agricultural support, is, in this year, being used to good effect? I fully agree that when it started it was an excellent scheme. I hope that the lesson of alternate husbandry has been learned. I wonder whether the scheme should continue for many more years in its present form.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

I, too, am inclined to wonder whether we have not reached a point at which not very much more is being done as a result of this Scheme than has been done hitherto. I have no interest to declare no this occasion. A little while ago I should have declared an interest, but since then I have handed over to my son. I suppose that I have an indirect interest in that I sit and watch!

This grant has done much good in its time, but as one goes about the country one sees a great deal of land still not being ploughed which should be ploughed. Nevertheless, all progressive and intelligent farmers are making use of the Scheme. They have learned the lesson and have taken advantage of the assistance offered. We must see what can be done in respect of those farmers who are not making the best use of the Scheme. We no longer have the emergency powers which existed during and after the war, which are no longer necessary, and we have to use persuasion. This is very much a question for the Agricultural Advisory Service. Has the Minister asked for the advice of the Service on how to bring into cultivation that land which is not being used as it should be used? What does the Service say?

There are, of course, many reasons why land is not ploughed. Often it is still undrained. Often old drainage maps going back to Victorian times have been lost. Many things have to be done before advantage can be taken of this grant. For instance, ditches have to be cleaned out and new drains laid. It is not always as easy as it seems. Often when one sees land which looks very poor one finds that there are a number of causes which have not yet been tackled.

The members of the Agricultural Advisory Service are the only people who can give information on this. When they ask the House for this sum of money, the Ministry ought to be able to tell us what the Service says about persuading those who are not making the best use of their land to take advantage of the Scheme. It is a matter of great importance. We all know how important it is that we should become less dependent on imported foodstuffs and that it is possible for the stock on the farm to be fed to 75 per cent. by produce grown on the farm, in respect of both dairy and meat animals. Instead of continuing to import feedingstuffs, as we have done for a long time, we can feed our own stock to a considerable degree by the use of dried grass and silage. We can grow a considerable percentage of our own feedingstuffs for both dairy stock and for meat production.

It is a key point in our agricultural policy to continue this grant, but, at the same time, we ought to be sure that those who are not using it will be persuaded to do so. On that point, perhaps the Minister will give us a little more information than he has given so far.

8.38 p.m.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

During his speech the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the grant for re-seeding had been abolished. In case any Scottish farmers read that, I should like my noble Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to put it right. I think I am right in saying that there has been no change this year from the position last year. In paragraph 7 (1, c) of Part II of the Scheme, hon. Members will see, the sowing on that land of a crop unless in special circumstances the Secretary of State otherwise determines. In other words, in those cases the Secretary of State can allow a farmer who wishes to re-seed directly to do so. I believe there is the same provision in the English Order. M.A.P. farming is important in Scotland, and these farmers, if they are to re-seed old pastures, will be relying on this £12 per acre grant for direct re-seeding instead of for cropping. It is of some importance to M.A.P. farmers, and I shall be glad if my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will get this right on the record. Although my hon. Friend is right in what he said, he said something which might mislead Scottish farmers into believing that direct re-seeding would be impossible in future.

Mr. Godber

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) for mentioning this. Perhaps he misheard what I said. I said that in 1957 we abolished the re-seeding proviso. Therefore, in 1957 we made it possible for people to re-seed. There is, of course, no change whatever now. It is possible to re-seed in England and Wales as well as in Scotland.

8.42 p.m.

Sir Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

I wish to refer to something which my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) has said. I have always condemned "shots in the arm" and have held that the end-price is the best way of encouraging our farmers and advancing our agriculture. My hon. Friend comes from an area where barley and oats are probably the right crops. I come from an area where wheat is the right crop. I should hate to think that my hon. Friend suggested that barley and oat growers should get the main benefit of this £9 million and not the wheat growers.

There is a lot of false thinking about encouraging farmers to grow coarse grains. If we grow 30 cwt. of wheat to the acre, which we can easily do on the heavy land in my area, that is better than encouraging us to grow a ton of barley to the acre. I cannot see why we should not be encouraged to grow wheat. After all, wheat is a feeding grain. It is used largely for feeding pigs, and I cannot see any advantage in encouraging the growing of barley as against wheat. We have to import a lot of offals, which are produced from wheat, to feed our pigs, and we could just as well grow that wheat ourselves. Therefore, if the Minister wants to make a change I hope that he will spend the ploughing grant evenly as between the various crops.

Another point that I should like to raise concerns temporary pasture which did not take very well and which should be ploughed up at less than three-yearly intervals. Many of us have known pasture which is not quite making the grade, which we feel we should plough up, but which we hold on to for another year so that we shall get the ploughing grant. If a farmer has pasture which is not making the grade, he should be entitled to call in representatives of the agricultural executive committee and get a certificate stating that the pasture should be ploughed up and entitling him to a ploughing grant for doing so.

The hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) raised the point about a grant being withheld. I do not know how much experience of this the hon. and learned Gentleman has, but apparently he has some experience. In my view, if for any reason a grant is withheld on the ground that the land is not being ploughed effectively and the Minister is not prepared to make a grant. the farmer should be entitled to call in someone to decide whether the A.E.C. representative is justified in his decision or not. We have the same sort of thing when we have our bulls licensed. If the A.E.C. representative decides that he will not license a bull, we have the right to call in an arbitrator to decide whether it should be licensed or not. In the case of a farmer in regard to whom it is held that he has not ploughed his land properly, there should be the right to call in someone to decide whether or not it has been ploughed properly.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I wish that the Parliamentary Secretary, in commending these Schemes to the House, could have given some justification for them. Once again, he repeated the assertion that they are a very good thing for the small farmer. That view was supported by the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). On many occasions in these debates, I have said that there was no reason at all to believe that it is the small farmer who gains most from the subsidies. The hon. Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) is absolutely right. The class of farmer receiving by far the most of the £9 million to £10 million paid out in these grants is the big farmer who does well, who cultivates his land properly, who has good arable land and who has a proper rotation of crops. He would go on with his cultivations whether or not the ploughing grant was paid. That is the class of person who has most of the money.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the Caine Report on Grassland Utilisation. Since that Committee looked into the whole question and also considered the ploughing grants, one might think that it would have been more successful than I have been in finding out how the grants were spent. In paragraph 99 of its Report, it said: There is no indication of the extent to which the grants are going to the smaller farmer or to the grassland farmer. The Committee complains about the lack of information. In the immediately preceding sentence, it said: There is a lack of information available as to the beneficiaries under the scheme. Of course there is. If there were more information available as to the beneficiaries under the Scheme, the House of Commons would find it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to approve the Scheme at all.

What else does the Caine Committee say? At the end of paragraph 101, it says: While the £7 rate may no longer be acting as an inducement to additional improvement in the general level of management of grassland, its removal might adversely affect the current level of grassland utilisation. The Parliamentary Secretary quoted the second half of that sentence. I have quoted it all and, putting it in its context, I find that the Caine Committee supports in its Report, published in November, 1958, what I said about the Agriculture (Ploughing Grants) Act, 1952, when we were debating it as a Bill in the House then. I said then that if we passed the Bill, and began these schemes to pay £5 and £10, as the subsidies then were, the Government would find them- selves in the awkward position of not having the courage to stop when they were seen to be serving no useful purpose. I said that the acreage would go up for the first year or two, perhaps, and then start coming down. It was not terribly clever of me to make that forecast, because something similar had been tried in 1947 by the Labour Government. We had exactly the same result as the present Government have.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), who was the Minister of Agriculture who introduced the Bill in 1952, made what appeared to the House to be a very convincing case for the introduction of these grants. He then said that money had to be given to agriculture and we wanted to give the money, in particular, to the men on whom we depend for the production of beef. He said that we could provide this inducement in one of two ways: we could give a grant or we could pay a bigger price. It was then a fixed price for beef when the beef was ready for the market. The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) said quite rightly this evening that he had always been in favour of putting it on the price. He was in favour of that then.

The then Minister, the right hon. Member for Richmond, at that time said that it was better to give the stock farmer a little bit of money somewhat earlier and that the best way of doing so was to pay a ploughing subsidy. But, of course, when fixed prices were replaced by deficiency payments the case made by the Minister for the Act in the first place disappeared entirely. There is no way of putting it on end-price now except that we can step up the deficiency payments a little. The Minister argued at that time that this had nothing to do with the deficiency payments; it was the end-price, the fixed price determined by the Government.

I listened to the statistics given for the United Kingdom by the Parliamentary Secretary, but I want to turn in particular to the Scottish Scheme to see what has happened in Scotland. First, what is the justification for the continuation of these ploughing grants in Scotland? One never gets a satisfactory answer in the House in these debates, so one turns to the Report of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, which states, on page 25, in the paragraph headed "Ploughing Grants": The Schemes have had for their object the maintenance of the area of land under cultivation, primarily as a source of home-produced feedingstuffs for the production of livestock and livestock products. I now look at the details on page 26 of what has happened under the first seven Schemes up to May, 1958. One is entitled to do that to see whether the object of this Scheme has been fulfilled. One finds that when the grant was introduced in the first Scheme in 1952 the acreage of grassland and, indeed, the tillage acreage increased and then declined each year. That was the effect of the first four Schemes. Then came 1955. Oddly enough, there was a General Election that year, and immediately before the General Election the fifth Scheme was introduced and it provided for an increased subsidy. When there was no longer justification for the subsidy of £5 and £10, the Government, on the eve of the election, increased the subsidy to £7 and £12 in Part I and Part II of the Scheme. Of course, there was an immediate increase in the acreage ploughed, and again with each year thereafter there was demonstrated in the Report a steady decline.

I turn to some of the figures because I think that we must look at them. If we take the tables that appear in the Report of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, we find that in 1953, the first year of the Scheme under the 1952 Act, the total arable acreage was 3,222,000 and by 1958 it had fallen to 3.146,000, so we had suffered a loss of 76,000 arable acres during that time when we had the Scheme in operation with the object of maintaining the acreage. The original object was to provide more feedingstuffs to save us the dollars which we could ill-afford to bring in imported feeding-stuffs from the other side of the Atlantic. In 1957, the arable acreage was 3,156,000, so that even from 1957 to 1958 Scotland lost 10,000 of its arable acreage.

Sir J. Duncan

Some of it went to housing.

Mr. Fraser

A little less than 1,000 acres went to housing, as can be seen from the Report of the Department. In all, we lost 10,000 acres of arable land, as is shown in the Report of the Department of Agriculture.

One then considers the tillage acreage. It is the area ploughed that is important, because this is a ploughing grant. In 1953, the tillage acreage in Scotland was 1,736,000. Last year, it was down to 1,580,000. We had lost 156,000 acres of ploughed land in Scotland during the currency of a ploughing grant the purpose of which was to increase the tillage acreage. This does not seem to me to be high commendation for the continuation of those ploughing grants.

Let us compare 1957 with 1958. I understand that 1958 was a bad year for ploughing. In 1957 we had 1,611,000 acres, so that in one year alone our loss was 31,000 acres. It should not, however, be thought that we had a decline last year only because there was a lot of rain, for if we compare last year with 1953 and if we go back over the period, we find that we are losing every year and that in the six years from 1953 to 1958, inclusive, we had a total loss of tilled acres in Scotland of 156,000.

The object of the grants is definitely not being achieved, as is shown by the figures which I have quoted. The cost of the subsidy last year was £2,362,250. That can be compared with the cost of the marginal agricultural production grants, which last year amounted to £1,256,438. The M.A.P. grants. therefore, cost only more than slightly half of the ploughing grants. Have the M.A.P. grants achieved their object? Perhaps I should read what is their object as set out in the Department's Report. It states: The marginal agricultural production schemes have had as their aim an increase in the standard of productivity in upland and other marginal areas mainly by the cultivation and improvement of land and the rearing of cattle. Did they have that result? Did they achieve their object? I think they did. They, however, are the grants that are being withdrawn, the grants that have achieved their object as set out in the Report of the Department of Agriculture. They are to be withdrawn and already, for this year, they are reduced.

What are the National Farmers' Union branches in Scotland saying? They have said that if the Government must cut back on subsidies, they should leave the M.A.P. grants alone and take the money from ploughing grants. Every hon. Member representing a Scottish constituency knows that that is precisely what the N.F.U. branches throughout Scotland said in the course of last year.

I ought, I suppose, to be a little comforted to note that the farmers in Scotland, speaking through the N.F.U. branches, now support a view concerning ploughing grants which I have expressed consistently over the years. Surely it is clear that the farmers regard the ploughing grant as the least justifiable of all the subsidies which they receive. If this is not so, they would not have selected it for reduction immediately and ultimate removal.

In reply to the debate on the Scheme on 20th May, 1958, the Joint Under-Secretary said: Imports of feeding stuffs are still below the estimated pre-war level of 5.9 million tons, despite the fact that our output of livestock and livestock products is now forecast at no less than 52 per cent. higher than prewar."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th May, 1958; Vol. 588, c. 1258.] This was his justification for the continuation of the ploughing grant. However, the increase in livestock and livestock production since 1952 scarcely justifies the ploughing grant. The increase in livestock and livestock production over the pre-war level had got pretty close to this point before the introduction of the ploughing grant. If one looks at what has happened since 1953, one finds that there has been a very considerable increase in the volume and cost of imported feeding stuffs, accompanied by a very considerable decline in our tillage acreage in Scotland. Yet the Under-Secretary seems to think that this justifies the continuation of the grant.

To take the livestock numbers in Scotland as set out in the Reports published each year by the Ministry of Agriculture, between 1953 and 1958 there was an increase of about 10 per cent. in our cattle numbers—a very substantial increase which all of us are very pleased to see. There has been an increase of 6.2 per cent. in the numbers of sheep over the same period. The increase in the number of pigs since 1953 is 5 per cent. But taking 1954, one finds that there has been a decrease of 10 per cent. in the number of pigs. We all remember the great pig muddle, when we had a very high number of pigs which then had to be slaughtered. In 1958 there was again an increase of 5 per cent, in the number of pigs.

We find that the numbers of poultry in 1958 compared with 1953 are down 9 per cent. These figures do not suggest that the 52 per cent. mentioned by the Under-Secretary has very much to do with the ploughing grant. The increase had already begun and was being pushed forward with some vigour before the measure was introduced in 1952.

I was very pleased to note this evening that the hon. Member for Newbury supported me in questioning the justification of these grants, particularly the grants under Part I. Last year the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) supported me in questioning the Part I grants. I am glad to see that I am gathering support in all parts of the House for my view in these matters, and it would appear that I am gathering support among the farmers. Last year, the hon. Member for South Angus made a strong plea for the continuation of the Part II grants. I agree with him. Anything in the nature of reclamation is right, and I regard the Part II grants as being in the nature of reclamation.

For the most part, the Part II grants are paid in respect of land that has been lying neglected for a longish period. In a measure, it is being reclaimed. I am bound to say that I do not find myself in agreement with the authors of the Caine Report.

We should regard this as being in the nature of reclamation. That is why I thought the withdrawal of the M.A.P. grant was so wrong. It, too, was in the form of reclamation all along the line. We are not appealing to the Ministers to withdraw these Schemes tonight. We are not saying, "End the thing now," but we are asking them to give some consideration to the grants. I beg the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to ask the National Farmers' Union of Scotland what they think about all the various forms of subsidies. It would not be wrong to ask the union to look at them from time to time, but it is clearly the responsibility of the noble Lord and his right hon. Friend to look at these subsidies.

They say plenty about subsidies given to other people. The total subsidies paid to the industry in Scotland will he running at present at about £35 million a year, and a great deal of money is going to people who have no clear need for it. There are other people in the same industry who have need for more assistance than they are now receiving. When the Joint Under-Secretary and his right hon. Friend go about the country seeking to snip off a penny here or a shilling there from the assistance given to poor people, unless those people go to the National Assistance Board and show that they have clear need for it, there is a duty upon them to see that they are not giving taxpayers' money away foolishly to other people who are much better off and much less in need of the taxpayers' support.

9.7 p.m.

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

In this year's debate on this subject there has been raised on both sides of the House more than ever before the question whether these grants are really necessary. As my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture pointed out, the Caine Committee definitely came down in favour of the continuation of the grants. The National Farmers' Unions, both North and South of the Border, are in favour of them. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) specifically asked what the Advisory Service feels about this. The answer is that the N.A.A.S. is strongly in favour of them.

Mr. T. Fraser

There is no time to read precisely what the Caine Committee on Grassland Utilisation said about this, but it has not made out a case and has not endeavoured to make out a case for ploughing grants. It made the assumption—and no more—that the grants could not be withdrawn and that it might lead to disastrous consequences if they were withdrawn. But if they were to be continued, the Caine Committee made certain suggestions about them, and no more.

Lord John Hope

It seems to me a rather fine distinction between saying that there might be disastrous results following upon withdrawal and what the hon. Member has said. It seems to me that that is tantamount to saying, "We"—that is the Caine Committee—"think that they should go on in case their withdrawal should result in a disaster."

Mr. T. Fraser

Might adversely affect.

Lord John Hope

I do not think that either the hon. Gentleman or my hon. Friends and 1 on this side of the House want to see an adverse effect in this respect at the present or any other time, but we must recognise that it is incumbent upon us as a community to keep this subject closely in mind. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) suggested that there should be a review of all subsidies. The answer is that there is always a review of all subsidies. No subsidies are taken for granted by any Government. There may be differences of opinion on whether in certain circumstances one or the other subsidy should be continued, but that is a matter for discussion. Obviously on both sides of the House a certain amount of anxiety is felt about this subsidy, but I have given hon. Members the expert opinion of those most qualified to judge, and it is in favour of the continuance of the schemes.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) asked about the length of time that grass stays down before ploughing. Since the working group reported, the Government have been making statistical inquiries on this very point in Scotland as well as in England, but they are not yet complete. The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) asked whether grant could not be offered for ploughing under three years. I am sure that it would not be right for this to be allowed. Obviously there may be cases where such ploughing should be done, but that is different from saying that it should rank for a grant.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

The Joint Under-Secretary has not recovered from the Deer (Scotland) Bill; he is not doing very well.

Lord John Hope

I have recovered from that Bill. I only hope the hon. Gentleman has recovered, but from his present ebullience I wonder whether he has. The hon. Member for Hamilton suggested that the large farmer in Scotland gets the most money—I am not sure that he did not mean in the United Kingdom. I know there is a certain suspicion in some quarters that this is so, but the fact is that the average ploughed acreage in England and Wales is nine acres and it is about the same with us in Scotland. That is an interesting figure.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Of what value is that figure? Three acres is a much smaller area than 1,000 acres, and mixing them gives a lower average, but it does not mean that an area of 1,000 acres does not get a subsidy.

Lord John Hope

A larger number of people are involved. The answer is at least better than nothing.

The hon. Member for Hamilton raised the question of M.A.P. and compared its cost with the ploughing grants. That was something of a red herring. It would not necessarily be so in every context, but it certainly is so in this context. As the hon. Gentleman knows, our consideration of the extremely difficult problem of M.A.P. had nothing to do, from the beginning to the end, and still has not, with its actual cost to the community, which one recognises is very little. In any case, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are wheels within wheels so far as M.A.P. is concerned. I cannot at the moment say more than that about its future. The hon. Member for Hamilton knows that, and it was less than fair of him to bring in M.A.P. in the context of the ploughing grants.

In any case, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have recognised, whatever the anxieties and the questions may be about the ploughing grants, neither side of the House is prepared to question their necessity in terms of this Order, and, therefore, I look forward to the House approving it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Ploughing Grants Scheme, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 23rd April, be approved.

Ploughing Grants (Scotland) Scheme, 1959 [draft laid before the House, 23rd April], approved.—[Lord John Hope.]

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