HC Deb 23 January 1963 vol 670 cc58-9
10. Mr. Lipton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he is taking to recover the cost of helicopter services provided to farmers owning livestock on Dartmoor.

Mr. Soames

The Government have decided that the Exchequer should bear the cost of the helicopter and aircraft flights requested by my Department for the supply of fodder to farms, on Dartmoor and elsewhere in England and Wales, which are in urgent need and have been isolated by the recent blizzards. I shall be asking the House to approve a Supplementary Vote for this purpose when the final cost is known. The cost of the fodder delivered will be paid by the farmer to his supplier in the normal way.

Mr. Lipton

Does the Minister realise that these commoners turn out their livestock for the winter without caring how the animals will survive—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—without caring how the animals will survive, and then expect Service helicopters and voluntary organisations to come to the rescue without themselves making any contribution towards the very expensive costs of the helicopter services? Why should the taxpayer continue to subsidise these people in this way after they have been proved guilty of the grossest possible neglect?

Mr. Soames

What the hon. Member has said is not at all fair. As he knows, it is rare to have a cold spell as severe as this and lasting so long as this. This was a humanitarian action, 'the cost of which is out of proportion to the value of the animals. However, if we had not carried out this airlift there would have been even more severe losses.

Sir H. Studholme

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Brixton is a very long way from Dartmoor, and that this is a very complicated matter? Is he also aware that it is a great pity that people who do not fully understand it should make sensational statements? Is he also aware that when the thaw comes, it may well be that the losses will be proved to be greater in the lower country, which is enclosed and where the drifts are worse, than on the open moor?

Mr. Darling

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are very grateful for the services which have been provided in this way and for the manner in which he is helping to deal with the expenditure?