§ 9.48 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)
I beg to move,That the Small Farmer (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 7th June, be approved.With your' permission, Mr. Speaker, I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we dealt at the same time with the Small Farmers (Scotland) Scheme, as both cover the same ground.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
The purpose of the Schemes is to implement the decision taken at the last annual price review to extend the Small Farmer Scheme to farm businesses with labour requirements of between 450 and 500 standard man-days and to effect several small amendments.
As the House knows, eligible farms are those which satisfy two tests relating to their size. One is the acreage of the farm and the other concerns the standard labour requirements. It is necessary to have both these tests because acreage alone is no test of the size of the farmer's business. Standard labour requirements are the annual requirements of manual labour needed, on average, for the production of crops and livestock with an addition for essential farm maintenance and other necessary tasks. These requirements are expressed in terms of "standard man-days" per acre of crops or per head of livestock, which represents eight hours' manual work for an adult male worker under average conditions.
At present eligible farm businesses must embrace not less than 20 acres of crops and grass. They must also have labour requirements of not more than 450 standard man-days on application and not less than 250 standard man-days on application or a potential of 275 on completion of a plan. Under the new Scheme the minimum and maximum acreage limits of 20 and 100 acres will remain unchanged, but the upper man-day limits will be raised from 450 to 500. It is estimated that this change will bring within the scope of the Schemes a fur- 770 ther 13,000 small farmers and with a reasonable response we would expect to pay in grant about £2½ million in the first full year of operation.
The total additional amount spread over the life of the Schemes is expected to be about £10 million for the United Kingdom. This Statutory Instrument extends the Scheme for applications until the end of July, 1967, and will bring the total of eligible farmers up to 79,000, an increase of about 20 per cent. The House will be interested to hear something about the progress of the scheme so far. Although it is too early to make an overall judgment because it has not been running for very long, I can confidently say that the scheme has helped a great number of deserving small farmers.
There has been an excellent response from farmers. By 31st May, 1962, some 41,000 farm business plans had been approved in the United Kingdom and it is estimated that when completed these plans will receive a total of over £29 million in grants and by 31st May £13 million of this had already been paid. The response to this Scheme has been good.
Some 63 per cent. of the estimated number of eligible farms already have approved farm business plans. The great majority of them are proceeding satisfactorily and should be properly fulfilled. Some are exceeding our expectations and so far only about 6 per cent. of farm business plans have been cancelled. The main reasons for these cancellations have been changes in the occupancy of farms, ill health, retirement and death of the farmer. There have, of course, been a small number of cases where the farmer has not carried out his work properly or has lost interest, but these represent a very small minority. It can be taken that the scheme is achieving what it was designed to do, to increase the efficiency and profitability of a large number of small farm business and render them more prosperous in conditions of increased and increasing competition.
It may be said that the Scheme will result in increased production of milk, livestock and livestock products at a time when these are not really wanted, but this increase is likely to be relatively small compared with total production in 771 this country. The really important point is that the Scheme helps to reduce unit cost production and so makes the small farmer more efficient and competitive. When we look at these farms we are not trying to impose national policy for production but to help the farmer to work out a business plan which will establish the farm on a profitable basis.
The House will no doubt wish to know why we have decided to extend the Scheme by raising the standard man-day limits. My right hon. Friend fell that there was a strong case for this. When the existing Scheme started we were not able to bring in everyone we wanted because there was a limit to the number of cases which could be handled by the N.A.A.S. and our technical officers. We are now in a position to include this further group who have already shown a capacity to work their farms by the fact that they have been over the 450 man-day limit and we are now bringing them into the Scheme.
Hon. Members may wonder why we have decided to introduce a new Scheme to make an apparently simple alteration to the man-day limit. We have taken the opportunity of doing this because the existing Scheme can be extended only by Statutory Instrument. A change of this kind cannot be made by an ordinary administrative ruling.
As we had to proceed by Statutory Instrument, we were faced with three possible ways of making the change. We could have amended the present Scheme; we could have introduced a separate Scheme to run parallel with the existing one now in force; or we could have replaced the existing Scheme by a new Scheme to cover those eligible under the old Scheme and those who may wish to become eligible under the new Scheme.
We did not adopt the first method of doing this because the existing Scheme ends on 18th February, 1964, and we thought that it would be unfair to farmers on holdings between 450 and 500 standard man-days to give them only 18 months in which to prepare and submit their plans, whereas others who had already benefited had five years to prepare their plans.
772 The second course would have involved running two Schemes side by side and it might have caused confusion among farmers to know under which Scheme to apply, and if they applied for the wrong one under the 18 months period they might have been debarred by Statute.
The third course, free from all these objections, was the one we decided to adopt. The only important difference between this Scheme and the existing Scheme is that farms on which there is an uncompleted improvement Scheme under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts, 1946 to 1956, will no longer be excluded from assistance under the Small Farmer Scheme. As a result, some further 250 small farmers will now become eligible.
We originally excluded these people because there seemed to be a danger that we might pay double grant on items included in both a farm business plan and a livestock rearing improvement scheme. However, we are now satisfied that we can prevent double grants by administrative moans without this sweeping prohibition and we feel that the ban should be lifted now so that these people will be able to benefit if they so wish. Except for the changes which I have mentioned and a few minor consequential alterations, the Scheme before the House now is in all respects the same as the existing Scheme.
The Schemes then, the one for England and Wales and Northern Ireland and the other for Scotland, will be the second under the Agriculture (Small Farmers) Act, 1959. We propose that they should come into operation on 1st August. The last date for approving farm business plans under the existing Schemes will be 31st July this year. All approvals after that date will be under the new Schemes. This does not mean that we are revoking the existing plans since payments on them will continue for about 5 years, only that the old Schemes will toe closed so far as new applicants are concerned.
Finally, I should like to repeat that in our view the Small Farmer Schemes are achieving their objects. We think that it is desirable that we should now extend their benefits to a class of farmer who had hitherto been excluded from getting this benefit because of the rather 773 higher level of stocking and cropping which he has had on his farm owing to his own efforts and industry. These people will be now included in the new Schemes. I hope, therefore, that the House will approve the two new Schemes.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on bis appointment. I am sorry that I missed has maiden speech at the Dispatch Box on the Adjournment the other night, but this is really his baptism in a debate which, though not a major debate, is an important one affecting the small farmer. I wish him luck in his new position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Ever since I have been watching agriculture, not only from the Front Bench but as a back bencher, I have known three Parliamentary Secretaries, the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) and the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane). The Government have been extremely fortunate in the quality and calibre of their Parliamentary Secretaries. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is a young man in the House of Commons, will live up to that reputation, and I wish him success in what I regard as the very important job of looking after farming interests and defending agriculture.
We do not oppose this extension of the Small Farmer Scheme. We welcome it. The Explanatory Note at the back of the Statutory Instrument gives in detail a fair description of its purpose. It is proposed to extend the upper limit of eligibility making it 500 standard man-days instead of 450. Also, approval of a plan is no longer prohibited where a livestock rearing land improvement scheme is being carried out. This is sensible, and we accept it.
Unfortunately, the acreage limit is to remain the same, still 20 to 100 acres. I understand that this was the subject of criticism, not in any negative sense, by the farmers' unions concerned as far back as 1960 when there were discussions on the Price Review. I still feel that, in spite of what I gather is the Government's view, there could have been an extension by bringing down the lower acreage limit from 20 to, say, 15 774 acres, and I hope that whoever is to reply will offer an explanation.
The farm business grant remains the same at £6 per acre on the whole farm, excluding rough grazing, and the maximum is to be £360. Also, the field husbandry grants are to be the same for the various operations, the limit still being £1,000. We accept this and, broadly, we agree with the details, but, as I say, I wish that there had been a lowering of the acreage limit in order to bring more farmers within the benefit of the Scheme. It is no secret that this matter was raised again in discussions this year, and I still wonder why the limit has not been lowered to 15 acres.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that the acreage limits remained the same because the National Agricultural Advisory Service would be too occupied, that the officers would have quite a lot of work to do and that it would be too much for them if we lowered the limit. I am informed that there has been a slowing down in the number of applications during the past year and that the numbers involved in a reduction of the lower acreage limit could be catered for. However, there may be a reason for what the Government have done, and I look forward to hearing that explanation.
The raising of the maximum labour requirement from 450 to 500 standard man-days and the removal of the ban on farms where livestock rearing land improvement schemes are being carried out are, I think, acceptable and, indeed, this advice may have been the advice given to the Government by those concerned. The Minister gave some rather pleasing figures. I was informed that in 1961—I am open to correction—37,500 farm business schemes had been approved and a further 19,000 were under consideration. I understand that 22,000 plans were accepted or approved under the supplementary Scheme.
I was not sure about the figure given by the Parliamentary Secretary. How many people do the Government expect to take advantage of the Scheme in this five-year period? Many of my hon. Friends would like to know the amount of money which will be made available. I should like to know how much the Government estimate will be given to 775 the small farmers, not only in respect of the business scheme, but also in respect of the production side, the husbandry grants given under Schedule 1.
I am not harping about this. I believe that this will be money well spent, and I am anxious to help the small farmers. I am sure that most hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious to do that. I reject the view that the small farmer should be deliberately squeezed out because of economic and financial policy. I reject the concept unfortunately held by many people in the agricultural world that the small fanner has no place in our economic life. I say this to many hon. Members on both sides who, I know, have interests in farming but who may not in certain circumstances be favourably disposed to the small farmers.
I shall not repeat the many figures which I have here, but obviously the pattern of our economy, certainly that in England and Wales, is a small farmer economy. The big farmers are important, but they can look after themselves. In the end, it is the small farmer who produces and who in many areas looks after the land and countryside and plays an important part in our economy, often using the labour of his wife and other members of his family.
I would reject any policy on the part of any Government—I say this not merely about a Conservative Government but about any Government—seeking deliberately to squeeze out the small farmer. It may be that because of economic events certain small farmers find it necessary to combine or cooperate, but I believe that they have a major contribution to make to our life, not only in the economic sense, but, if I may use a hackneyed term, for sociological reasons. I say that realising that there are many small farmers in my constituency in the rural areas of Cumberland.
I am anxious for this Scheme to succeed. I accept that it is a constructive effort to help many small men who would in normal economic circumstances be squeezed out of business. Any attempt by any Government deliberately to squeeze the small farmer out of business would be resented not only by me 776 but, I hope, by hon. Members on both sides interested in agriculture.
What are the stark facts? Here, no doubt, I shall indulge in controversy. Many small farmers are having a difficult time. Why? The Parliamentary Secretary must know the answer to that Indeed, many of his hon Friends can tell him the answer. It is as a result of Government agricultural policy.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we are concerned with these two Schemes and not with general agricultural policy.
§ Mr. Peart
I accept that we must not get involved in too general a debate. It is important, however, that we put the Scheme in perspective. After all, the purpose of it is to help the small farmers who are in difficulties. It must, therefore, be relevant to my argument to point out the difficulties of the small farmers, otherwise we shall debate the Scheme in a vacuum. We must debate its relation to the realities of our agricultural system.
The simple fact is that small farmers are facing difficulties because of Government policy. It may well be that because they know this, the Government have to introduce this Small Farmer Scheme.
§ Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton) rose—
§ Mr. Mathew
The whole tenure of what the hon. Member has been saying is that it is Government action in this country and in other countries that causes difficulties for small farmers. That is quite contrary to the proposal that is now before the House. It is the economic facts of life that made it difficult for small farmers to make a living throughout the whole—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am afraid that that interruption would tempt the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), who has the Floor, to go outside the proper scope of the debate.
§ Mr. Peart
It would tempt me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because economic events are often determined by political decisions in the House of Commons. 777 Political decisions by the Government have created in agriculture difficulties for the small farmer. Therefore, it is necessary to have a Scheme of this kind.
I would expect the support of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew), because he represents a rural constituency, possibly similar to mine, with small fanners, who undoubtedly will benefit by a scheme of this kind. By enabling State aid to be given, it will help the farmer and buttress him against the economic forces which the hon. Member has mentioned. I would sympathise with the hon. Member had he been a Liberal laissez-faire man, as, I suspect, in other spheres he is, but he should welcome State intervention with a Small Farmer Scheme to protect the small farmer who faces difficulties.
I am anxious that the Scheme shall succeed. The reasons for it are that, over a period of 10 years, there has been a decline in the net farm incomes of farmers in terms of purchasing power. The small farmer therefore welcomes the Scheme. The various farm organisations, who are anxious to help it in every way, recognise that the State must intervene.
I am merely putting a political argument which I consider to be valid. This is an agricultural debate on the position of the small farmer. The tragedy is that we have to introduce a Scheme of this kind because economic events have forced the small farmer into serious difficulty. Government policy has done this. At the same time, we accept that the purpose of any agricultural Scheme which we are discussing tonight must be to increase the efficiency of agriculture.
When we discuss the place of the small farmer in a Scheme of this kind in our economy, it is accepted that the cost factors of farm production have risen faster than the prices of most farm commodities. This has created a special problem for the small farmer. That is why it is essential that we should provide a special Scheme to protect him from the economic circumstances mentioned by the hon. Member for Honiton.
There has been what we term a cost-price squeeze. The only way to challenge it is by a continued reduction in unit costs. This is difficult for a small 778 farmer. The remedy is to increase output relative to fixed costs. That is partly why we need a Scheme of this kind and why we on the Opposition side welcome what has been said by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
Every hon. Member, from whichever part of the country he comes, knows that the dilemma is that for the small farmer any increase in livestock production from a small dairy or mixed farm in itself creates problems. Productivity may be increased on larger farms in the selfsame products. Therefore, the competitive position of the small farmer vis-à-vis the large farmer is diminished. That is why we have to give special aid.
I should expect the wholehearted support of every hon. Member opposite to help the small farmer in a situation in which increasingly 'there is competition as against the larger farmer in livestock production, to give merely one example, and in which the small farmer may face extreme difficulties and may in the end go out of farming.
These are facts and they show the need for a Scheme like this. I have some figures to show why we need it. In the south-eastern counties the small farmer needs protection of this kind because other factors are involved. There are amenity demands in respect of farms and farm lands. Rents have been forced up, and costs have been increased—quite unjustifiably in comparison with the agricultural value of 'the land. In the end it is the small farmer who suffers.
I would point also to the suburban milk production by the small farmers in the industrial Pennines. They axe on high-cost holdings. They have been fortunate in the past to be near cities. But that advantage has now been taken away from them. With the development of modern communications and marketing methods, their relative competitive position as against the large farmer does not exist. Take also the upland farmers in the livestock rearing regions of England and Wales. They are small farmers relying mainly on store sheep and cattle. They do not get directly the benefit of guaranteed prices. They are susceptible to heavy market fluctuations.
I have with me the comments of a very distinguished person connected with the Department of Agriculture at the 779 University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. It is an economic report by D. H. Evans on farming incomes in Wales, 1960–61, giving the labour earnings for farms in Wales of the type about which I am speaking. It describes how many of the small farmers are facing great difficulties. My hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite could give example after example of how some of our small farmers are having an extremely difficult time.
It is no good the Government being complacent. The fact is that over a period of 10 years, through Government policy, the small farmer has come to face increasing difficulties. It is no good the hon. Member for Honiton saying that that is not so. It is not because of the course of economic events; it is due to Government policy over a long period.
I have here some newspaper references to the Price Review. I have, in particular the Farmers' Guardian, a good Northern farming paper. It says:Imposed review hits at milk, sheep, eggs. Fertiliser cut another blow to small man.A week later the same newspaper said:Reaction to price reductions is bitter. Small farms' plight rouses N-W concern.I speak only for the North-West, where the small farmer is in difficulties. That is why I am anxious to support some protective effort on the part of the Government to relieve the situation. I and my hon. Friends welcome the Small Farmer Scheme, but the tragedy is that at the same time as the Government introduce the scheme they impose a Price Review on the industry which hurts the small farmer.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but that is going beyond the Scheme which we are now debating.
§ Mr. Peart
I accept, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it would be wrong of me to engage in a Price Review debate. I am arguing that this is the tragedy of the Scheme. The danger is that it could be frustrated because of the Government's economic policy in relation to agriculture. I should have thought that that was reasonable argument. I will not develop it at length, but will mention it only in passing. The Price Review is only one of the factors. I will 780 not go into details on the whole problem of imports and of the Common Market—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is going further than he is entitled to do, and I am sure that he appreciates that.
§ Mr. Peart
I know that you are always very courteous, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I would not wish to be out of order.
I would only argue—and I was coming to the end of my argument—that the Common Market wild affect the small farmer, and he is very worried. I am anxious that this Scheme should succeed. I am also anxious that the small farmer should be helped by any co-operative measure of the Government. These are the things which are worrying the small farmer, and it is no good this House being fobbed off by any Scheme of this kind unless it is related to a broad policy which will help the small farmer. It is all very weld saying to the small farmer, "Here is a Small Farmer Scheme", but it must be backed up by a policy which will make certain that the small farmer is not squeezed out because of political or economic decisions taken by the Government.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
There is a note on the Order Paper dealing with the Second Report from the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, but the Minister this evening said nothing about it. On reading it now, I find that the explanation by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does not seem to make it any clearer. I think that before we part with this Scheme we ought to have some explanation from the Government as to what the Ministry of Agriculture's long Explanatory Note really means.
At the end of the Scheme applying to England and Wales, the Explanatory Note states that the acreage limit is 20 to 100 acres; but, in the Ministry of Agriculture's explanation to the Statutory Instrument Committee, it is stated:(f) it follows that the 100 acre limit imposed by the scheme on the day on which a farm business plan is submitted to the Minister for approval is additional to, and not in substitution for, the 150 acre limit imposed by the Act,I do not know what that means—whether it is to be 250 acres in all or not. I 781 do not think it means that, but that is the way it reads, and I think that somebody ought to answer before we part with the Scheme.
This sort of slipshod method of producing Schemes of this type is the reason for the original setting up of the Statutory Instruments Committee. The House ought to pay more attention to the Reports of this Committee when it takes the trouble to submit them, and if hon. Members look at the Committee's Reports, they will see the enormous amount of work which the Committee has to do in scrutinising each Statutory Instrument submitted to it. Therefore, when we get a Report like this mentioned on the Order Paper of the House, I think we ought to have some explanation of the Ministerial statement.
The other thing I want to do is to ask how many farms have benefited from the Scheme in Scotland. The Scheme never had a greater appeal in Scotland than in England, but some farms have benefited. There are not very many farms of this category in my constituency, but there are a few. Before we part with the Scottish Scheme, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland might say something about progress in Scotland and future prospects.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
As one who served several years on the Statutory Instruments Committee, I am convinced that it is the duty of the House to take note of memoranda which comes to it from the Committee, and I am grateful that the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) brought to the notice of the House this serious Report from the Committee.
I do not want to reiterate what has been said, but I must say that I, too, am rather puzzled by the first paragraph of the appendix as to whether this Scheme applies to 100 acres and thereafter to another 150 acres, which makes it 250 acres, or whether it applies to 100 acres or 150 acres. On page 3 of the Statutory Instrument Committee's Report, it is explained by the Ministry of Agriculture that any doubt about the matter can be resolved by Section 31 of the Interpretation Act. 1889, which defines a small farm business.
782 Here we are in the mid-twentieth century being told by the Government that a small farm business can be defined by an Act of 1889. No wonder the captain, having driven his ship on the rocks, is executing the crew. This is a kind of political atavism. Without developing the point further, or making cheap remarks about it, I must emphasise that this is a serious point and that the House deserves a proper explanation of this Scheme in view of the fact that the Statutory Instruments Committee thought it serious enough to draw the attention of the House to this Order. We had the Annual Price Review in February and the British public should have had an agricultural debate.
I welcome this Scheme as a Member for a constituency which is very large and stretches from the uplands of the Leek area to the edge of the Pennines, and I am glad that it is now to apply to some of the higher levels of hill-farming territory. I am glad that the Government can find a formula by means of which there will be no cheating and that this plan will not overlap with others. But there should have been a little vision. A party without vision withers, and the Conservative Party has nearly withered away.
We are told about all kinds of grants in the First Schedule. But why could not the Government have made additional grants for bringing water to some of these districts?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. We are restricted to discussing what is in the Order. The hon. Member cannot make suggestions of different provisions.
§ Mr. Davies
Then I put myself in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The importance to our economy of the small farmer has been made clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). It would be a little unfair to charge the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—whom we congratulate—with saying that there is no interest in the situation of the small farmer, but I ask the Government in future to consider the question of initial acreage.
I wish the Scheme had been applied to the 15-acre farms. Although its name sounds like the national emblem of Wales, my constituency is English, and in Leek and its environs are 3,000 farms, 783 and nearly 1,500 of them are of 20 acres or less, and 1,500 of them practically will not benefit from the Scheme.
I hope the Government will look again at the Small Farmer Scheme in view of the Common Market. It would be out of order to make this a general debate, although I am tempted to try to do so and I have masses of data and information, but if I were to try to give it now I should be ruled out of order. It would be most unwise of me to arouse your ire, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and so, despite the sad condition in which the Government are at the moment, and the fact that the captain of the ship has gone berserk, I congratulate the remnants of the Government on having introduced—[Interruption.] I am saying it, and I stand by 784 what I say. I shall say worse than that this weekend when I get out into the country. I wish honestly and squarely to say that I am sure the small farmers will appreciate this, but will the Government see that publicity is given to it in the hill-farming areas, to make them fully aware of the fact that now they can come within the ambit of the Scheme? I think that at this juncture it would be wise of me to sit down, because if I go on speaking I may be out of order.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Does the hon. Member, of his charity, feel inclined to welcome this Scheme on behalf of the Liberal Party as well, since none of that party is here?
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)
Perhaps I can best follow the other hon. Members and start my speech by joining with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) in congratulating my hon. Friend on his appointment as Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I do so particularly warmly because he is my neighbour and in the past has attacked the Government for their agricultural policy as much as I have. He has strength of character and courage to follow his own line and not merely that which is offered to him.
Secondly, I would draw attention to the fact that there are no Members of the Liberal Party here. I am particularly sorry since I joined with them in signing their Motion calling for a debate on the Price Review.
§ Mr. Browne
Quite right. They are not.
In 1958, when in what I thought was a rather hurried and slipshod way the Government introduced the Small Farmer Scheme, I thought it was, despite certain defects, a good Scheme for two reasons. First, because here there was a real attempt to protect the small farmers against the economic facts of life and the economic pressure of imports into this country, whether it was a natural pressure or brought on by the Government; and also because—as the hon. Member for Workington has hoard me say before, in the debate on a Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken)—I believe that in the small farms in the countryside we have something which is precious and which we want to preserve.
I have certain criticisms I should like to make of this Scheme, having made those general remarks, and I should like to put a possible alternative to my hon. Friend. The first criticism is that it is rigid in fixing the acreage—20 to 100 acres. I said in 1958, and I repeat now, that it has always seemed to me that to a large extent the profitability of a hold- 786 ing depends on the type of land being farmed, and not on the actual size of the farm. Therefore, I regret that in altering this Scheme, particularly after reading, as I know my hon. Friend has, the report on the scale of fanning enterprises by Professor Zuckerman and others, there has been no increase in the acreage, up to 150. If anybody takes the trouble to read that report, he will find that within these acreage limits of 20 to 150 the average net income over the past three years was about £615 per farm, which does not allow very much for the farmer's labour and so on.
I welcome the increase in man-days, because up to now the Scheme has often prevented the competent fanner from getting help. It might be asked why he should get help, because the object is to help the farmer who is not efficient, but I think that there is a difference between competence and efficiency. The competent farmer who may not have the right acreage of land and is therefore not efficient is the man that we want to help, and in this acreage group of 20 to 100 acres we often find a competent fanner who is just over the man-day limit.
The Scheme has helped a large number of younger men to find a place on the farming ladder, and for this reason it is to be particularly welcomed. It is to be broadly welcomed because it is keeping our social structure. We are dealing with a large sum of money—£2½ million in one year, and my hon. Friend said that £10 million would probably be used in this Scheme, with 13,000 farms eligible for help. Is it right to spend this sum of money in continuing to keep these holdings divided? Would not it be better, whilst enabling individual farmers to work on their own farms, to encourage them to get together to cushion themselves against the economic circumstances of today? Last year— and I hope that this is in order—my right hon. Friend introduced a very worth -while grant. This was the machinery syndicate grant. It was a great help to small farmers who are included in this Scheme that we are discussing. I had hoped that this year my right hon. Friend would continue this process, and I believe that in the long term—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he is getting outwith the Scheme that we are debating.
§ Mr. Browne
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This is a result of the failure of the Government or the Opposition to find time to debate the Annual Price Review. Perhaps I might finish my sentence, otherwise it will not make sense. Would not this money be better employed if it were used to increase co-operation between farmers?
We welcome the Scheme and hope that as many farmers as possible will benefit from it. I know from many farmers in my constituency, and as a farmer myself, what wonderful work the N.A.A.S. has done in administering the Small Farmer Scheme which was dropped on its plate at short notice. It was not really geared to it, but it did wonderful work in enabling more than 50,000 farmers to take part in it, and it now has to start with another group. I am sure that it will do it well, and that we wish it well. Finally, I am sure that we wish my hon. Friend well in his new job.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I am delighted to take part in this debate, as one who had a small part in forming the union in Wales, which looks after the interests of small farmers. I regret that we have not had a debate on the Price Review. I join in the criticism of the Members of the Liberal Party, who are conspicuous by their absence, although they derived tremendous publicity for the fact that they put down a Motion criticising both the Government and the Opposition for failing to arrange to have a debate on such an important subject as agriculture. Nevertheless, having regard to the fact that every county branch of the N.F.U. in Wales passed a vote of no confidence in the policy of the Minister of Agriculture, a debate on the Price Review would have been invaluable.
Small farmers are getting fewer in number every year, and some reconstruction of the organisation is inevitable—but what will this Scheme achieve? Will it stave off the imminent collapse of a number of small fanners in the United Kingdom, and in Wales in particular? There are 3,500 fewer farms in Wales than there were in 1947, and most of the losses have been small farms.
788 This Scheme applies only to those small farmers who have what are called viable farms; it does not help the smallest farms, of under 20 acres. I do not share the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) about extending this Scheme to a lower limit, although I will not go into that aspect of the matter now. I regard the basic problem as being the not-so-small farm on poor land. That is probably a far more difficult problem to tackle. I would rather have raised the limit, because the criterion of acreage—20–100—is not a very good one.
§ Mr. Morris
I thank my hon. Friend for that assurance. My anxiety is about the upper and not the lower limit. I know farms which are unable to benefit from the Scheme because, although they are within the acreage limits, they are good farms and produce a considerable quantity of food. They do not need the Scheme. But there are marginal farms of slightly over 100 acres—up to 150 acres—which could benefit from this sort of Scheme.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Workington say that he rejected completely the suggestion that the small farmer should be squeezed out. I am glad that that is the official policy of my party, and that it has been reiterated tonight. Statements to the contrary were made in the debate in another place on 13th February, by some whom we know very well. I am glad that this statement has been made tonight and that hon. Members on this side of the House are anxious to do everything possible to preserve the small farmer.
But what is the real state of the small farmer today? He is tied to the milk cheque, and in view of the Minister's statement today that the object of the Scheme was to provide a better living for the small fanner, I wonder whether, even though there might be a marginal increase in some products—an increase which is undesirable in view of the state of the agricultural economy—the Scheme will really succeed in providing that better living.
789 We must remember that one of his main products is milk, and that the basic return to the small farmer is 2½d. a gallon less than it was in 1955. All the experts state that the profitability of milk has fallen from 11d. a gallon to 7d. a gallon for the average farm, and for the farm with higher costs the loss must be greater. In view of the fact that milk production has risen by 23 per cent. in in the last few years and that the profitability has fallen, we are entitled to ask where the small farmer stands in relation to this Scheme.
Obviously there are some small farms which are within the acreage limits of 20 to 100 acres and within the man-days limitation. But the farmers have not been able to qualify because their farms are not viable. Perhaps we might be told how many farms have been refused a grant under those circumstances. There are small farms in Wales which do not produce an income for the fanner equivalent to the wages of a farm worker and for that reason do not qualify for a grant under this Scheme. If we could be given figures regarding such farms we should be able to appreciate the difficulties experienced by a substantial section of the farming community.
I will not weary the House with figures about the profitability of small farms, but figures which have been given from time to time indicate that small farmers are having a difficult time. In answer to a Question from an hon. Member opposite, it was stated that according to a survey the average income of a marginal farm was £591 and for a farm of less than 50 acres it was £584. Those are very low figures. These incomes must cover the labour of the farmer and his wife and the provision of capital, so the net incomes of many small farmers must be very low.
Tribute has been paid to the officers of the National Agricultural Advisory Service who had to shoulder a considerable burden without much warning when the Scheme was instituted. A great deal of the time of the officers has been taken up with preparing plans for its operation, and one wonders how much time these officers are able to devote to their original functions. It was suggested in the Caine Report that there should be a 25 per cent. increase in the number of these officers, and I should like to know 790 whether the Minister is satisfied that there are sufficient officers to perform the many duties which they are called on to fulfill.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel R. G. Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I appreciate that the scope of this debate is narrow and small; I will therefore endeavour to remain within the limit of narrow and discuss small. As the representative of a Northern Ireland constituency where there are a great many small farmers, I welcome the Scheme. One welcomes any scheme which will help the small farmer. He is the backbone of our country.
There will always be an argument about the limits of a farm, whether it be 19½ acres or 100¼ acres. Such debates have been going on for hundreds of years. We cannot be satisfied by limits, but it is necessary to accept an arbitrary judgment, and the acre is the measure accepted in this country. I do not think that we need spend much time arguing about a rod, pole or perch. If a farmer is short of a certain small area of ground, it is always possible for him to acquire a small portion in order to make his holding up to the right limit to qualify under the Scheme. That has been my experience.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) repeated several times that farmers are facing difficulties. I cannot remember how many times the hon. Gentleman repeated that. Being a farmer, I am always facing difficulties, and many hon. Members are probably doing the same. It is curious that although farmers are always facing difficulties they seem to thrive on them. They thrive to the extent that a difficulty is a challenge which a farmer is always prepared to accept, a challenge not only from the Government of the day but from the elements. Farmers, being very virile and powerful people, are prepared to accept challenges. They survive them. That is a fair answer to the hon. Gentleman's remark.
§ Mr. Peart
Surely the hon. and gallant Member accepts that if events go too far in the sense of a bad economic difficulty, as they did at one period in British history, farmers become bankrupt. There is a grave danger that many small 791 farmers, facing precisely these difficulties, will do that again. We want to avoid that.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor
I agree entirely. Nobody wants anyone to go bankrupt. I was saying that farmers have faced difficulties in the past. They are a strong and virile race and they will face difficulties in the future in the same way as they are facing difficulties today. No one suggests that we want to go through a period such as that we went through in the 1920s when farmers were down about as low as any other member of the community. I hope that that situation will not arise either today or in the future.
I have some questions for my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, whose very well delivered speech I was delighted to hear. He referred to the 1946 and 1956 Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts. This matter is of considerable importance to my country, and I think to everybody else. The area of farming land is diminishing all the time and the more what used to be called marginal land but which we are not allowed to call that any more is used the better. I refer to the land running up the hill. Can my hon. Friend give us any information about that? How long are these arrangements likely to last? Are they popular in the Ministry? It applies particularly to my country because we have a great deal of what I should still like to call marginal land which could be benefited enormously by these schemes and would be very much more productive than they are today. If my hon. Friend could give me any information on that—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon and gallant Member will not ask for too much information on that, because it would be difficult to give it without the Minister getting out of order.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I apologise for mentioning that. I should not have done so if my hon. Friend had not mentioned it. He referred to these two Acts specifically. I had hoped that we might have some information on the point.
792 Much has been said in favour of the small farmer. I hope that a great deal more will be said in his favour. Northern Ireland relies on small farmers. Theirs is our biggest industry and we do everything we can to support them.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
I, too, wish the Joint Parliamentary Secretary well in his new job. In doing so, I pay tribute to his predecessor, who was always one of the most courteous and helpful of people on the Front Bench opposite with whom I have had anything to do.
As you have noticed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is most difficult to keep in order in this debate. I have never taken part in one in which it was more difficult to keep in order. Perhaps, you will be as lenient with me as with others. Before going further, I should like to put in a word for the poor Liberals. We must face the facts.
§ Mr. Peart
My hon. Friend should remember that in the rural areas the Liberal Party has always declared that it defends the small farmer. That is not true. Tonight, for the first time this Session, we are debating a major scheme for assisting the small fanner and the Liberals are conspicuous by their absence.
§ Mr. Mackie
I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend. I am always classified as a large farmer. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) might perhaps classify me as among the company of those on both sides of the House—although I do not want to put words in his mouth—who would like to do away with the small farmer and not help him to as much as my hon. Friend would like to do. Nothing is further from the truth. I want to help the small farmer in the only way in which I think he can be helped—that is to make him big. Unless we face that we shall go on with this type of palliative of small farmer schemes which will get us into difficulties.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said the other day that if we joined the Common Market, and implied that even if we did not, there would be a considerable reduction in help given to farming in the way of subsidies.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I think the hon. Member is aware of the pitfalls which await him if he goes further in that direction.
§ Mr. Mackie
I explained that there were difficulties, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall do my best to keep in order. I am sorry to get out of order, but you must appreciate that it is difficult to develop one's argument unless one can go astray a little in this way.
It is a fact which we must face some day that the small farmer's income must go down because of this situation we are faced with for the future. That is why I feel that some other form of help than the one suggested in these Schemes is needed. I went to west Derbyshire to help in the recent by-election and interviewed a tremendous number of small farmers to find what they were doing. I was surprised to find how few of them had taken advantage of this Scheme. It was quite extraordinary. I made inquiries and, like the hon. and gallant Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor), I found it was because they were just outside the 100 acre limit or debarred by some other small detail which had to be taken into account. I found that they certainly needed help.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said, their main income is from milk, sheep and eggs, items which have been cut. In that district any amount of farmers are retiring and their land is being taken over by other farms, but this is being done in a disordered fashion. One man had some bits of land six miles away from his farm. That kind of fragmentation is ridiculous. There should be something in the scheme to help those farmers.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that £13 million had been or will be spent this year. Through the reduction of income which we shall suffer— and I think there is nothing surer— even with these Schemes many of those farms will become non-viable. My plea—I hope that this will not be out of order, though it is not in the Scheme— is that there should be a plan for the amalgamation of small farms under some such Scheme as this, not under the Farm Improvement Scheme. As I say, that is the proper way to help small 794 farmers. This is what is being done in the Common Market countries; farms are being made bigger, and work is being found for farmers.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Is it not a fact that in the Common Market countries the average farm is very much smaller than ours?
§ Mr. Mackie
I could not agree more, but that does not determine the ideal size for us. We have about 80,000 farms of under 20 acres which are receiving no help at all. We should bring them into the picture. If we are to compete with the Common Market countries, we shall undoubtedly have to help small farmers, but help them in the way I suggest, by making their farms bigger through amalgamations, doing it in an orderly way and not as my hon. Friend the Member for Workingtion puts it, squeezing them out. But this is what is happening. Anyone who goes about the country sees that there is an enormous number of small farmers who are being squeezed out already, and not in an orderly way. There should be a scheme for the amalgamation of farms to give the farmers decent conditions and the sort of living which we all want them to have.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
I know that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has already been christened at the Dispatch Box, but I add my congratulations to him now, as this is the first occasion on which I have had the opportunity to do so. I hope that he will be very happy in the responsibilities which have now fallen to him.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr Mackie) has spoken about the need to make the small farm a viable unit. This is what the Scheme is intended to do. I hope that what I have to say will be in order, having regard to paragraph 5 of the Scheme which provides that a small farmer must submit to the Minister for approval a farm business plan in respect of the business and that the Minister, after approving the plan, may accept him within the Scheme.
Like most hon. Members, I have been about in my constituency and have found that there are a great many small farmers who express considerable 795 anxiety at this time. I will give two examples, farmers in my constituency whom I know well, both of whom have had the advantage of coming under the Scheme. The first has a fairly small acreage. He is a dairy farmer. As a result of improvements he has been able to put in after putting forward his plan, he has been able to increase the number of cows he keeps on his holding, but he still finds, in present conditions, that he is not the financial success he would like to be. The other is a fanner who has spent his life with livestock. He is very successful with everything he does with a beef herd, but he has expressed the gravest anxiety to me, after taking every possible advantage of the Scheme, about the way his financial affairs are going.
There is no need to enlarge upon the lack of incentive which small farmers have in carrying on their operations. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) referred to the report by D. H. Evans of the University College of Wales. I draw attention to the actual weekly incomes of farmers on the better land, farming between 20 and 99 acres, as set out in that report. I have selected that report because it contains the most recent figures I can lay my hands on. On the better land, the weekly earnings for the farmer and his wife, on 20 to 99 acres, are £6 2s. 4d. Taking the National Farmers' Union accounts scheme covering the period from 1949–60, farmers with acreages under 50 showed a minimum income of £237 in 1950–51, which is about £4 10s. 0d. a week; and the maximum during that 11-year period was £551, which is 10 guineas a week, These figures cover not only the work of these men and their families but their investment, managerial capacity and the risks which they take in entering such enterprises.
There is an example of people with very small acreages who seem to be carrying on more successfully. In my area, I have tried to indicate to farmers that there is a precedent as to how they may be able to become financially more successful. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will perhaps be able to indicate also that there is a possible way in which they can increase their financial success.
I am speaking of the farms which are run by the Land Settlement Association. 796 They have very small acreages. The average holding is only five acres. Yet, according to the 1960 annual report of the Association, 58 per cent. of the people have incomes of over £600 a year and 28 per cent. have over £1,000 a year. That compares very favourably with the figures I quoted earlier.
§ Mr. Mackie
The hon. Gentleman is talking now about people who are not farmers. A farmer grows produce on the land and converts it into food. These people carry stocks of pigs and hens and buy all the food for them.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
We can hardly pursue that now, but, whether there is a difference or not, here are people who are on small acreages but are able to make a substantial income compared with those dealt with under this Scheme. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary should look at this to see whether a similar scheme could not be put forward for those covered by this Statutory Instrument to help make their holdings viable units.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may be advised to look at it but not within the rules of this Scheme.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
If it is not in order on this occasion to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to do so, Mr. Speaker, perhaps I should indicate that I shall raise this on a more suitable occasion, when perhaps we can discuss it at greater length.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have welcomed this Scheme. It is going to cost £2½ million a year, which is almost the exact amount by which the fertiliser subsidy was reduced this year. That has since been followed by a reduction of £2½ million in prices by the fertiliser manufacturers, so the Government have done an extraordinarily good job. They have given the small fanner £2½ million and have managed to keep the fertiliser prices for the ensuing year at just about the same as last year. We must be grateful to the Government and at the same time thankful to the fertiliser manufacturers.
I wonder whether the description "farmer" is the right one to describe 797 these people, and whether it should not be "small producer". Whether the farmer has 20 acres or whether he has 200 acres is neither hare nor there. It is what he produces on the land which really counts. Like the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), I want to help the small farmer to make himself more efficient so that he can stay on the land and play his part in society.
If he is to get his business right, the first thing that the small farmer must be prepared to do is learn to specialise. He must not try to do too many things. If he specialises in one item, whether cows, pigs or even eggs, he should be able to do it properly. Next, he must simplify. He must not try to do too many things. Therefore, specialisation and simplification are needed. Following that, he must learn to co-operate, because without co-operation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) has said, the small farmer will be in great difficulty.
There are three or four products which the small farmer or producer can produce most efficiently. The problem about those products is that they are largely in over-supply. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) to try to poke fun at the Government about this, but one has only to go back to 1951 to know that milk, for example, which is one of the small farmer's biggest sources of income, was already causing difficulties of overproduction to the Labour Government of 1951. This is a problem which will face any Government, of any party, and it is one that we are trying to face now.
Milk, eggs and pigs are small-farmer products and we must try to get the small farmer to produce them as cheaply as he can. Expensive production is no good to anyone nowadays. Therefore, the object of the Scheme must be, and is, to try to get these producers to put up buildings and to organise their buildings and land so that they can produce at a lower price. It is remarkable what small farmers have been able to do in the last few years.
I will give only one example. In the last five years, the amount of feeding-stuffs needed to get a pig to bacon weight has been reduced by 1 cwt. That is a considerable improvement, the sort of improvement which could enable this 798 country to compete with any other country. That is exactly what has to be done. It is useless to think that we can isolate our small farmers from world economic facts, because we cannot. Therefore, I regard the Scheme as one Which will enable our small farmers to compete with farmers anywhere in the would. Unless it can stand up to that sort of judgment, it will fail.
My feeling is that in the last few years, the Scheme has started to go along the right lines. We shall not be able to continue to keep to strict acreages. What matters is production. That we can get efficient production, whether on a 20-acre or a 100-acre holding, is not the important factor. The important thing is cheap production.
A lot of small farmers can make an income in other ways than merely by straightforward farming. In the South-West and in the West, probably as much money is made by letting a farmhouse and having a few caravans on the farm as is made from farming. As a social problem, if we encourage farming for purely social reasons, that is the right way to encourage it. I should have thought that we could give more encouragement in the provision of bathrooms and decent living accommodation—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is extremely difficult to bring that subject within the rules of order on this Scheme.
§ Mr. Prior
I will not pursue that one, Mr. Speaker, but it could all help the viability of the small farm.
I welcome the Scheme. I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the Front Bench. The Minister comes from the eastern side of England and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary from the southwest—an excellent combination, the areas being respectively a large farming area and a small farming area. I hope that my hon. Friend will enjoy his time as Parliamentary Secretary. I am certain that he has got off to a very good start tonight.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
I would add my congratulations to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on his elevation to office. From time to time 799 we see different men in his position, but the arguments always seem to be the same; they are trotted out with unfailing regularity year after year. I am afraid that not a great deal of progress is made.
I do not look upon the Scheme with any great favour—and I have not from the beginning. I feel that the greatest good can come to the small farmer by the amalgamation of small farms into larger units. We should aim for the economic unit. Figures presented by one of my hon. Friends show that the small farmer is in very grave difficulties.
The hon. Gentleman said that there were 41,000 fanners now working under the Scheme and that up to the end of May £13 million had been spent—an average of £300 per farm. That will not put small farmers on a sound footing. The hon. Gentleman hopes to distribute among those farmers £29 million finally, and that will not put them on an economic footing. It is not the Government who are putting the squeeze on the small farmers. It is the economic circumstances which are developing on every side which are bearing on them. The small farmer brings pressure to bear upon himself. His main sources of income are milk, eggs and pigs. We have a surplus of milk. The small farmer is adding to it. Every gallon he adds to the surplus lowers the overall price. So he is creating conditions which are against himself. The same will happen with eggs, which the Government are already heavily subsidising, and pigs. So the operation of the Scheme creates conditions in which the small farmer himself creates economic conditions against his own interests.
According to the Scheme, the limit which can be given to one farmer is £1,000. What is that to a farmer with a 100-acre farm? What will happen to the small farmers when the Scheme finishes and they have to bear the full effect of the economic circumstances which are working against them? They cannot be put on an economic basis by this Scheme and they will be back in a few years in the same position as that from which they are to be rescued.
The economic conditions have been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who showed their effect in Wales. Since 1947, 3,500 800 farms have been amalgamated with larger ones. That is the effect of economic conditions, and the money being given to these small farmers will be gradually taken by farmers who take over a number of farms and amalgamate them into larger ones. That is the only way out. Without labouring the point any (further, I would say that this Scheme needs looking at again. It needs very careful re-examination. We need something far more fundamental, something which will be far more permanent—for this is only temporary. We need something which is permanent which we can put—[An HON. MEMBER: "When?"]—I will tell the hon. Member when we have a Labour Government.
§ Mr. Speaker
There is a real difficulty about this. I have been extremely tolerant with the hon. Member in his ingenuity, but we cannot, under the rules of order applicable to this discussion, discuss measures which might be taken. We are concerned with this Scheme.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I am not worrying, but I thought I was in order. I will not pursue the point—I just cannot think of a way to get over it.
The point I have stressed is something which the Government will have to face. They can bring in this Scheme and then another one, for this is temporary. They have to face it, that these Schemes will run out and fail, and that we need something far more permanent for the small farmers in order that they will be able to exist.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend and to express my apology for the fact that, owing to reasons beyond my control, I was not able to be in the House to hear him present the Scheme. I should also like to pay my tribute to the work done by his predecessor.
I should be dearly tempted to follow the hon. Friend for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) but for certain observations made by yourself, Mr. Speaker. I shall 801 endeavour to restrict myself to the Scheme, but I could perhaps refer, as did the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), to the work done by some of the small associations of farmers towards focusing the interest of Members of all parties on these Schemes intended to help small farmers. I must observe in that context that it is appalling that there should not be one single Member of the Liberal Party 'here tonight when we are discussing a Scheme of this kind.
As as member for some years of the small holdings committee of the county council on which I serve I listened with some astonishment to the observations which have been made about the necessity of enlarging small farms. Hon. Members on both sides of the House must bear in mind the fact that in almost every county we are administering Small Farmer Schemes which owe their origin to a deliberate policy of sub-dividing large farms. I think that the profitability of these farms has on the whole been justified in recent years, and will certainly be aided by a Scheme of this kind.
I am sorry that there has not been more reference to the social value of these small farms, as opposed to their economic problems, because I am convinced that the farming ladder is one of the most important things in the agricultural picture of this country, and that a Scheme of this kind is greatly to be commended on that account.
Reference has been made to these Schemes being unjust to the efficient farmer. The basis of these Schemes has always been acreage. It has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that the basis should be the actual product of the farm concerned. A more accurate basis would be the profitability of individual farms, because obviously the basis of 20 to 100 acres can be very misleading in deciding whether or not the business in question is really a small farm.
Whatever the theoretical difficulties of this Scheme, I am sure that it will make a valuable contribution to a real economic problem, and I am glad to give it my support.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
We have had an interesting debate on these two Schemes, and I should like to thank hon. Members 802 for the kind things they have said about my first trial in this office. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) went a little further than I would dare to go this evening. I have not the powers of balance, and neither the ability to find my way round the rules of order nor the experience of the hon. Gentleman.
I should like to take up one point raised by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan). When the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments reported to the House on the purport of the Scheme, they took the objection that although Section 6 of the Act imposes a general limitation of 150 acres on small farm business of any time, in this Scheme we have imposed a limitation of 100 acres on the day on which the farm business plan is submitted to the Minister for approval.
It is correctly pointed out that a farmer who has less than 100 acres when the plan is submitted, may, by adding land, have more than 150 acres when the time comes for payment, and it is suggested that there was nothing in the Scheme to prevent such a farmer being paid the grant, although he has ceased to qualify under the Act. In so far as this criticism implies that the Scheme is legally not in order, we have what we believe to be the complete answer, which is published in the form of a Memoranda to the Committee's minutes. The argument, which is technical, is set out in full in paragraph 3 of the Memorandum.
Perhaps I can summarise the argument as follows: according to the definition of a small farmer business in Section 6 of the parent Act, the land comprised in the business must be under 150 acres. I think that all hon. Members would agree to that. We have not redefined again the expression in the Scheme, and this is in accordance with the usual practice, where an expression is intended to have the same meaning as in the parent Act. This is taken care of either by the context—as we are confident is the case here—or by going back to Section 31 of the Interpretation Act of 1889. That is the Act which is used for the interpretation of such matters as this.
It follows that when we talk about a small farm business in the Scheme we mean a business comprising not more 803 than 150 acres of land at any time. The difficulty has arisen because the Act enables my right hon. Friend to impose additional limits on small farm businesses which in this case is the lower limit. He does this in paragraph 4 by saying that the small farm business to to which the Scheme shall apply is a business—among other things—of less than 100 acres on the day on which the plan is submitted for approval. On any other day it is sufficient as long as it is less than 150 acres. Nothing that we have said is intended to imply that the limit should be 250 acres. I think that that answers the query raised by hon. Members on this point.
I was also asked how many of these schemes had been approved in Scotland. The number is 1,974, out of 4,900 eligible farms. The best thing that I can do—because I do not want to keep the House at this hour—is to try to answer as many points as I can in a short time. My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) and the hon. Member for Workington raised the other main point, concerning the acreage limits, upper and lower. They wanted the Scheme to go below 20 acres. This argument has been put forward on many previous occasions by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but we must remember that this is a once-for-all grant from the Government to the small farmer, to make his business not merely viable but more viable. It should also make him more able to face competition in the future, and to increase his profitability and his economic stability as a farmer.
When we go below 20 acres we rapidly come into the realm of the small part-time farmer, who needs to work his holding for perhaps only two or three hours a day. This would mean that the farming of this land was not the full-time occupation of this type of farmer and therefore would probably fall outside the original intention of the Act, namely, that, after the application of the Scheme it should provide a reasonable living for a person working full-time on that land.
There are always hard cases—hon. Members will realise that I have come across them—where somebody fells just below the limit and is thereby excluded. But we have taken care of that to some 804 extent, in that we have varied the man-days, so that we can include somebody who has a potential of increasing his working time to 275 man-days, although he may start below that figure in the first place. We have varied the lower limit as far as we can in that respect. But once we vary the limit of the acreage we run into a great many difficulties.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) asked for the top limit to be raised. This would apply particularly to farms in Wales, on marginal land and hill land. I do not want to talk about other schemes or grants, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that there are other schemes designed to help that type of fanner.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) must, I think, have misunderstood what I said in my opening speech. I did not talk about hill farming in the way he suggested but said that the farmers in receipt of grants under the hill farm livestock improvement legislation had been excluded from benefiting under this Scheme even though they might otherwise qualify. But now we had found a method to bring them in and at the same time be satisfied that they were not receiving two grants at the same time for the same thing. This will mean that about 250 more farmers will benefit.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) and other hon. Members including the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) suggested that we were not dealing properly with the small farmers and that more co-operation was needed among them. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) gave some good advice to the small farmers regarding what they could do to help themselves and said that one of the best ways was to co-operate and use the modern techniques to do so. This was also one of the main points in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine).
I am glad to say that farmer co-operation is progressing very well and I hope that the small farmers will be helped by these two Schemes. I am grateful for the tributes hon. Members paid to the work of the N.A.A.S. which has done a great deal to help small 805 farmers of all types, but it is asking a little too much to suggest that the N.A.A.S. should go in for the management of a group of small farms. My hon. Friend also mentioned his interest in the Land Settlement Association which does not come within the scope of these Schemes. I am glad that the recently achieved results have been so outstanding. Undoubtedly the small farmer will be helped further by these Schemes to improve his efficiency and productivity. It cannot be said that the Government are not helping the small farmer. These Schemes are provided for the express purpose of helping him to improve his profitability and efficiency so that he may face the competition which is ever increasing.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Small Farmer (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 7th June, be approved.
§ Small Farmers (Scotland) Scheme, 1962 [draft laid before the House, 27th June] approved.—[Mr. Leburn.]