HC Deb 17 June 1964 vol 696 cc1423-38

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Hill Sheep (England and Wales) Scheme 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 656), dated 5th May 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th May, be annulled. I move this Motion with the object of asking the Parliamentary Secretary to explain the impact of the hill sheep subsidy. In explaining it he may be able to declare what will be the general policy of the Government on this very important part of hill farming.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Am I right in taking it that it would be convenient to the hon. Member for this and the next Motion: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Hill Sheep Subsidy Payment (England and Wales) Order 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 657), dated 5th May, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th May, be annulled. to be taken together?

Mr. Peart

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because one deals with a scheme which arises from the Order which is mentioned in the other Motion. The two are interrelated.

I ask the Government to declare their intentions. The Hill Sheep Subsidy Payment Order arose from a very important Act passed by the Labour Government, the Hill Farming Act, 1946. The Act was amended by the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951. Under this legislation there is power to pay a subsidy. Statutory Instrument No. 656—the Hill Sheep (England and Wales) Scheme 1964—gives details of the scheme presented by the Minister. This is extremely important.

In the White Paper of 1964—the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees—mention was made of aid to our hill flocks. I will not delay the House by quoting it, but it contained interesting figures which show the support given to this very important part of British agriculture. We see from Appendix V that in 1955–56 the aid was £1.1 million, which rose to £1.4 million in 1962–63. The latest forecast is that in 1963–64 we shall spend about £2.4 million, which it is estimated will rise in 1964–65 to £2.5 million.

I approve of this subsidy. This is a very important production grant which gives aid to an important section of agriculture mainly concerning our northern areas and Wales. I am glad to see Cumberland mentioned in the scheme, and that it is listed in the Schedule. Cumberland and Westmorland are generally linked, and both are mentioned. It also applies to Derby, Devonshire, Durham, Hereford, Lancaster, Monmouth, Northumberland—

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

What about Staffordshire?

Mr. Peart

Stafford is also in the Schedule. My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) attends assiduously in the interests of small farmers, and he will appreciate the importance of this subsidy.

I ask: what is the Government's intention? I have given an estimate of the future cost of the subsidy as shown in the Annual Review which was agreed between the Government and those representing producers. But what is the Government's broad policy? Do they believe that the hill farming subsidy is working, or do they think that something new is needed? I remember a debate not long ago on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, when it was suggested that we should have a special commission of inquiry into the hill farming areas. Has this committee of inquiry achieved any results? Has a report been submitted to the Ministry? Will any action be taken on it? Is the hill farming area to be regarded as a special area of development? Do we believe that the Hill Farming Act, 1946, and the amending legislation to which I have referred is sufficient to stimulate activity in these areas?

I do not want to go wide in the debate—indeed, I should be out of order in doing so—but we have a right to know what is the Government's policy. Are we merely to have schemes submitted every year which will fulfil the obligations of the 1946 Act and the amending legislation which flowed from it, or are we to have a new attempt by the Government to bring aid to these areas? I am always anxious to bring aid to these areas, not just because I have a constituency in Cumberland, which is included in the area which we are discussing, but because the development of our flocks is important.

One important section of the White Paper illustrates the growth of imports as compared with the home production of mutton and lamb. In view of recent events, it is important to stimulate home production. Therefore, any subsidy, any forward-looking policy in respect of hill farming areas, must receive the blessing of all hon. Members. I served my Minister as a P.P.S. when he introduced the 1946 Act. I am glad that it was a Labour Government who brought aid to these areas. I am proud of what my Government did when I was a very humble Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Right hon. and hon. Members opposite have sought to develop much of the work created by a Labour Administration. Where do we go now? Are the Government serious about a major inquiry into hill farming areas? We could have debated tonight many other Orders affecting the industry, but I should be out of order if I discussed them. There is great anxiety in the farming world on this, as the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) will agree.

Have the Government a policy? If so, is it purely a policy of expediency? Is this a matter which we debate merely once a year on the Annual Price Review? This Measure comes from the Price Review. Shall we have a forward-looking policy to develop our sheep industry—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but surely this scheme is merely to give effect to arrangements for continuing subsidy payments.

Mr. Peart

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

I am asking what is the policy behind the Government's development of the subsidy arrangement. I could go into greater detail on the scheme. I have avoided doing so to assist the House. The scheme deals with subsidy payments on a shearling ewe or any ewe. It describes the sheep. I am glad, because of my constituency interest, that Herd-wicks are mentioned. The scheme goes into great detail in describing flocks, the standard rate, and the reduced rate. It would be wrong of me to get involved in too much detail.

Without trespassing on your good nature, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am sure that you would agree that I am entitled to some indication of Government policy We are dealing with a very important hill sheep subsidy which involves an important element of Exchequer payment. It is surely right to ask what the Government's intentions are; I do no more than that. I do not ask the Parliamentary Secretary to go into too much detail. I ask him to have confidence in the industry.

I urge that there be no curtailment of the subsidy. There should be an attempt to do something more for an area that has been neglected. We tend to forget that these people are subject to greater hazards from the weather than lowland farmers. I ask the Government to be sympathetic. In view of a promise which was given when the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act was in Committee, I ask the Government whether they have carried out the survey to which I referred and, if so, what conclusions they have reached.

I will not advise my hon. Friends to divide the House on this Prayer. I am using this means of raising this matter to enable hon. Members to probe and so find out what are the Government's intentions. I wish every aid to be given to this important section of British agriculture and, in this desire, I am sure that I carry all hon. Members with me.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has placed us in some difficulty, because he put a great many questions which were out of order and which it would be clearly out of order to try to answer. I am sure that he agrees that these subsidies have resulted in there being a tremendous improvement in conditions in the last 15 years. I give Lord Williams of Barnburgh full credit for initiating them, remembering that he had the unanimous support of my party when in opposition.

I rise tonight to ask two questions on the administration of these subsidies. Paragraph 9 of the Hill Sheep (England and Wales) Scheme, 1964, states that a condition of making a subsidy payment is that the sheep are … kept on hill land under natural conditions in accordance with the recognised practice of hill sheep farming". Sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 9 states: The Minister may treat a flock as satisfying the requirements of the preceding paragraph"— which I quoted— if, where any such requirement is not satisfied, the management of the flock in that respect conforms, in his opinion, to the recognised practice of hill sheep farming in the district … One of the developments in hill sheep farming in recent years is the need for hill sheep farmers to have a more careful watch over their sheep than they needed to have in the past. That means that they sometimes have their sheep in the inby land for certain periods. In the old days there was less stealing of sheep—remembering, of course, that it was once a capital offence to steal a sheep.

I have spoken to constituents who have been at a disadvantage because they need to have a more careful watch over their sheep, and, to do so, must bring them from the hill on to the inby land. This has resulted in some of them being disallowed the hill sheep subsidy. This has resulted in some dissatisfaction because it has meant that one hill sheep farmer has appeared to have been treated differently from another. This is one of those occasions when the matter could easily be better explained by the Ministry's officers.

It must be remembered that these hill sheep farmers are all in very much the same state of farming. Often it has been the small men who have been penalised and I urge the Minister to look at this matter again. I have drawn it to his attention in correspondence. The Ministry must realise that in some of these areas it is necessary for hill sheep farmers to have their sheep under greater supervision than was the case in the past.

The second point I wish to raise concerns paragraph 13, where the conditions for making a subsidy payment are stated. Here again, there is some dissatisfaction among hill sheep fanners because they frequently receive visits, sometimes too frequently, from Ministry officers and they have come to expect, as a matter of right, to receive an application for a subsidy payment. They have normally received this form, just as we receive the 4th June return. They fill it up, and in due course receive the hill sheep subsidy. If, for some reason, they are not given that application form then, sometimes because of very reprehensible neglect, they are late in sending it in and are disallowed the subsidy. That seems unfair.

It also happens that a farmer may one year be disallowed a subsidy payment. After the Ministry's officer has looked at the flock and said, "It will be perfectly all right, you will get the subsidy next year" the man expects to receive an application form by post. If it does not come, as happened in my constituent's case, the application is made too late, the subsidy is disallowed, and no letters from the Member of Parliament to the Parliamentary Secretary result in the redress of that grievance.

Talking to hill sheep farmers, I have found these to be real minor worries, and I think that the Ministry should so improve administration as to ensure that when someone from the N.A.A.S. has been on the farm and knows that the man has a hill flock, the farmer should receive his application form. If he is not qualified to receive the subsidy it does not matter, because the application will be disallowed in due course, but it is wrong that these people should not be sent the application form. After all, one even gets an application form sent one for a driving licence. These hill sheep farmers are entitled to this measure of service from the Ministry. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into this question, in view of the changing practice in hill farming of having more sheep on inby-land because of the danger from sheep stealers.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

I have to declare an interest as a hill sheep farmer. What has always puzzled me is the way in which applications are made and examination of the hill sheep farm takes place. Taking the present application, we have to state the number of sheep we held on 2nd December, 1963. The application form is sent to the farmers in May, 1964—on this occasion we ourselves received it about the middle of May. The examination of the sheep takes place in August. The number of sheep we held on 2nd December, 1963, and the number of sheep we will hold in August, 1964, may differ quite a lot.

Losses resulting from dogs worrying sheep have become a regular occurrence, and last year we found a difference of 46 between the numbers in December and August on that account alone. There are also the ordinary losses that take place at lambing time. There may be only a few lost in this way, but the number may be rather more in a bad season. Then, as the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said, sheep stealing is becoming more prevalent and we lose a number in that way. There is also death by such natural causes as enterotoxaemia.

When August comes round and the inspector comes to number the sheep it is absolute guesswork. He cannot say whether the farmer is telling the truth about the number of sheep worried or stolen and about the deaths which have taken place. According to the Order he must make an allowance. He must add and must deduct, but on what basis will he add and deduct? I submit to the Parliamentary Secretary that some other method should be found to count the sheep in December.

If this is the number of sheep which the farmer must declare in December, let them be counted as near as possible to the date when the number has to be declared, otherwise there can be all kinds of "fiddling"; and I know that fiddling is taking place. I feel that the Ministry is very lax in sending out the application forms for the December number in May and then having the count between May and September. This is a point which should be considered far more seriously than it has in the past.

Another point concerns the half-rate flock subsidy. I know that the Minister has had some difficulty about this. The Parliamentary Secretary knows my views on this question. I have expressed them in Committee. I disagree with the half-rate flock subsidy. The point is that the hill farmer puts to his ewes a lowland ram and, therefore, he does not breed the true hill lambs. He produces fat lambs. The purpose of putting a lowland ram to hill ewes is to obtain earlier fat lambs which fetch a far better price in the market than the ordinary true-bred hill lamb.

The farmer gains in two ways. He gains from the better price for his fat lambs and from obtaining the half subsidy. The purpose of the subsidy in the first instance was to encourage the breeding of true hill sheep which can run on the hill all the year round if needed. The subsidy defeats its purpose when one begins to apply it to the fat lambs, and the fat lamb breeder gains, in the difference between the price for fat lambs and the price for hill lambs, more than the subsidy itself provides. This point, therefore, should be examined very carefully, because the purpose of the Government is defeated in the sense that one does not breed a true hill lamb.

30.30 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

One point which requires clarification arises in paragraph 8 of the scheme, entitled "Hill Land". It appears to have two completely different interpretations. It reads: In this Scheme the expression 'hill land' means mountain and hill land in the areas specified in the Schedule to this Scheme which is suitable only for use for the maintenance of sheep of a hardy kind … Those words could have two meanings. They could mean that the only kind of sheep suitable are sheep of a hardy kind, or that the land is not suitable for anything other than sheep—in other words, that it is not suitable for hill cattle.

As there are those two completely different interpretations possible, I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary would let us know definitively which interpretation is intended to apply.

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) raised the question of the interpretation of paragraph 8 of the scheme, particularly as he is a practical sheep farmer who knows what he is talking about.

I should like to refer to one matter which concerns the area which I represent, and which was raised by the right hen. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) a few moments ago. I refer to the words "according to custom". In areas like North Staffordshire—and it applies to Wales, too—it is found that as towns expand and housing is moved further into the country, it becomes more difficult for the small man to maintain profitable sheep farming because of the worrying of sheep by dogs. As a result, the farmer is compelled to bring his sheep down from the hill land. I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will have something to say on that matter.

I am sure that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we wish to see the encouragement of the expansion of sheep farming, and that we welcome these Statutory Instruments.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)

I wish to reinforce some of the points that have already been made. Some dissatisfaction is felt by those whose applications for subsidy are rejected, in the sense that the basis of the rejection is not always made clear, whether it be by reason of the provisions of paragraphs 6, 8 or 9. I suggest that a greater effort should be made to explain the precise reason why a claim is rejected.

Obviously, a line has to be drawn somewhere, but the fact that a person happens to be just on the wrong side of the line makes it all the more desirable for an explanation to be given to that person why he is on the wrong side of the line. It is clearly not always easy to know where to draw the line, but everything possible should be done to avoid creating dissatisfaction as the result of a decision for which the local community can find no rhyme or reason.

10.35 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

I should like to answer the various points which have been made during this rather short debate on this important subsidy. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) questioned me about paragraph 8 of the scheme and whether it refers to the sheep or to the hill. I hope my hon. Friend is not confusing this definition with any other definition of hill land for the hill cow subsidy or the like, because they are different definitions. In this case, it refers to the land as being suitable only for hill sheep.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked two specific points, of both of which he has given me notice during recent weeks when he has made known to me his strong feeling on the matter. His first point concerns the fact that because of sheep stealing or for some other reason, farmers in his area bring down their sheep from the hills at an earlier date and probably keep them down longer after lambing than has been the recognised custom in the past. My right hon. Friend said that in some cases, if the sheep had been off the hill for a fairly long time, they do not qualify for the hill sheep subsidy in the years when that subsidy is paid.

Mr. Turton

It is also to see how many sheep have been stolen that farmers tend to collect the sheep and bring them inby and then let them go back again. This point probably has not come out in correspondence.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

When a farmer brings down his sheep for counting, he does not necessarily have to bring them right down to his in by-land. If a farmer brought them down for counting and put them straight back on to the hill, I am certain that this would be an acceptable practice. It would not be an acceptable practice if a farmer brought his sheep down and kept them for several days on the in by-land and tried to pass it off as a matter of counting the sheep.

The point which must be made clear is that the purpose of the subsidy is to encourage and to maintain hardy hill sheep flocks in hill areas. I understand the concern of my right hon. Friend's constituents, but if the sheep are brought off the hill land for more than the normal period of lambing—which would mean putting them back on the hill again by about 1st June—and they do not go back on the hill by that time, it is extremely difficult to say that the flock is a hill flock which is being maintained on the hill.

That is the stumbling block. As the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) pointed out, there must be a dividing line. Although I am prepared to be sympathetic in matters of this kind, one must have a dividing line and adhere to it. Above all, there must be fairness as between one farmer and another, as, I am sure, my right hon. Friend will agree. I hope that the House will accept that there must be a set time during which the hill sheep farmer is allowed to bring the sheep off the hill for lambing and so on, but that they must go back on the hill within a reasonable time. If they do not, they must cease to be regarded as a hill flock and. therefore, cease to qualify for the subsidy.

My right hon. Friend's second point concerned the sending out of application forms and their late receipt. He suggested that officials of my Ministry had the duty to ensure that farmers got their forms as of right. He instanced the case of a driving licence where, automatically, if one possesses a licence, a renewal form is sent to one. But equally, where one does not have a driving licence, one does not get an application form, and this subsidy is in precisely the same position. If a farmer received the hill sheep subsidy last year he will get the form this year. If not, he will not get an application form.

Over and above this is the fundamental point that, if a farmer wishes to have the subsidy, it is up to him to claim and to see that he claims correctly and within the time limit which, in fairness as between one farmer and another, we must lay down. I know that my right hon. Friend is ever vigilant in safeguarding public funds and that he will realise the necessity for a time limit.

We must, of course, allow a certain amount of flexibility. We try to be as sympathetic as possible in dealing with late claims and if it is a question of illness, or of the post going wrong, or of administrative faults, then we consider such claims.

Mr. Turton

I think that my hon. Friend is misunderstanding the point. We are not talking about a duty on the Minister, or even a right. We are talking about a courtesy. Where a farmer is in constant association with Ministry officials who are advising him and telling him, "This year you will not qualify, but you may qualify next year", one would think that it would not be beyond the Ministry's power to see that an application form was sent in such cases at the proper time.

No doubt I was in error in giving my hon. Friend the advantage of pointing out that, if one does not have a driving licence, an application form will not be sent to one, but one would receive a form if the local authority knew that this was the time that one was going to apply for a renewal. It is merely a question of courtesy and I hope that, after the case I have quoted, where a farmer lost his subsidy through what I think was a lack of courtesy on the part of an official, it will not happen again.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I have no desire to be discourteous to anyone, nor have my officials. But I must stick to my point. When our advisory officers advise a farmer that perhaps next year he will be in a position to qualify for subsidy, I am quite certain that, at the same time, they add, "Do not forget to send in the form". Indeed, I know that they do.

The fundamental point is that it is the responsibility of the farmer, if he thinks that he qualifies for the subsidy, to make application for it. We give the greatest publicity to this and to the fact that the applications should be in by a certain date. I know that the majority of my right hon. Friend's constituents, like other hill fanners, are fully aware of these rules and do take precautions to see that their applications are in in time. It is only occasionally that we have the difficulties to which my right hon. Friend has referred.

The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) is an expert and a practical working farmer. As he rightly surmised, I know his views on these matters although I do not necessarily agree with all of them. I listen to him with the greatest interest and read what he writes about them elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman's first comment was about the qualifying date. As the House knows, the rate of subsidy is determined on the basis of the economics of hill sheep farming during the previous year, so that this year's subsidy takes account of the effects of the winter of 1962–63. The decision whether to pay subsidy on the basis of conditions in 1963, is taken in 1964. The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that the appointed day was 2nd December. He knows full well the reason for this appointed day, and there is no dispute between us about that. By that time, the sales and the drafting of the ewes have taken place and most hill sheep farmers have their flocks in regular age groups to qualify for the subsidy.

The hon. Gentleman will also appreciate that the calculation to see whether the subsidy should be paid takes some time, because samples have to be taken over the country to see whether the subsidy is justified on the performance of the past year. Therefore, with the best will in the world one cannot decide whether the subsidy is to be paid until some time in the middle of March. It so happens that this coincides with the normal time for the announcement of the results of the Annual Review.

The application forms are then sent out to the farmers who apply on the basis of the flocks which they had at the qualifying date. The hon. Gentleman commented on the fact that there was a delay between then and the date of inspection, which is during June, July or August, but he knows that that is the right time to see whether the flock is on the hill.

There is the possibility of loss, and the hon. Gentleman mentioned the various hazards which might change the numbers of the flocks between December and inspection time. However, he will remember that during that period comes the application date, which is in May when—and one assumes that the fanners do these things honestly—the farmers will know what they had in their flocks m December. The losses between December and May will not vary all that much unless there are exceptional circumstances, as was the case in 1962–63. As the hon. Gentleman said, my officers have the opportunity and the discretion to make allowances as they are going round.

The hon. Gentleman made the very grave accusation that "fiddles" take place, but my officials take the average conditions in the district and they know what the average losses have been. They question the farmer concerned and in that way a reasonable figure is reached if there is any discrepancy between an August inspection and the December figure. I maintain that, on the whole, the system is working well and does not need revision, although I am more than prepared to look at it again to see whether it can be improved.

The hon. Gentleman's second comment concerned the half-rate flock. This is an old chestnut, as he knows full well. What it comes to basically is that the hon. Gentleman does not agree with half-rate flocks having the subsidy. I must beg to differ with him about that. As he knows, there are safeguards about the kinds of ewes which can qualify and about the ram used being of the kind laid down in the scheme. There are differences between a full-rate flock and this type of flock which still constitutes a flock kept according to normal hill practices. I accept that some of the lambs coming from flocks of this kind are more suitable—and I emphasise "more suitable"—for fattening than are lambs which come straight from a pure hill flock. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not mixing up the type of fat lamb which comes from crossing with close wools and the in-country type of lamb. Both types of flock can have up to 15 per cent. of their ewes crossed with a lowland ram and still qualify for subsidy at half rate or full rate. If 15 per cent is exceeded, the flock does not qualify for subsidy at all. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not confusing the two.

Reverting to the half-rate flock, if we specify the breeds of ram which can be used on the pure hill ewes—and these are still hardy rams, though not as hardy as the pure breed—surely the point of difference between us ought to be resolved. I know that the hon. Gentleman will not be convinced by my argument, and equally I shall not be convinced by his argument either.

I turn briefly to the speech of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). He made a great point of the fact that the scheme was brought in by his Government in 1946. He knows that in fact the hill sheep subsidy came in in 1940, during the war. There has been little change in the scheme since then. The 1946 Act enshrined the principles adopted by the Government of the day in 1940, and the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that that was not a Labour Government.

Another question asked by the hon. Gentleman was his usual question about what is the general policy of the Government. This Scheme follows the policy which was started in 1940. It has been carried through since then by successive Governments right up to the present time.

These Statutory Instruments demonstrate the Government's intentions with regard to helping hill sheep. I would be out of order if I were to refer to other kinds of cattle maintained on the hills.

It is extraordinary that no mention has been made tonight of the level of subsidy being paid this year in respect of hill sheep. Last year it was 10s. and this year it has gone up to 25s. That again demonstrates the importance which the Government attach to the position of hill sheep.

As a result of the Annual Review in March various measures were taken to help hill lambs. I think that the hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the Government are continuing the policy, which they have successfully pursued for the past 12 years, of supporting the maintenance of flocks on the hills. The fact that there has been little change in the size of the flocks shows how successful that policy has been in maintaining them in what everybody will agree are difficult conditions and a difficult climate. The farmers and the shepherds have to cope with extremely difficult conditions.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the committee of inquiry. This committee is looking into the whole position of hill farming. The hon. Gentleman knows that we talked about this a year ago, and I am sure that he realises that this is an extremely complex matter.

What I have said illustrates the Government's intention to ensure that the hill flocks are maintained.

Mr. Peart

The committee of inquiry was announced a long time ago. It is incredible that a year has passed since then, and it is only because I forced the Minister to give us some information that we were told anything about it. When will the committee report? Why has there been such a delay? It is not because of the complexity of the problem. If there is a will to do so the report can be produced quickly.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

As the hon. Member knows, this is not an easy matter. He must not press me too hard on this. The enquiry does not cover merely the question of hill sheep. There are other matters which it would be out of order to talk about this evening.

Another question concerned supplies of lamb. The hon. Member is aware that this year it is our hope that there will be an increased supply of lamb in the latter part of the year, as flocks have increased. The hon. Member can set his mind at rest about the level of lamb supplies.

I do not want to continue for too long, and I think I have answered the points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Successive Governments have recognised the essential part played by the hill farmer in the pattern of British agriculture. Last year the House authorised us to continue to pay the hill sheep subsidy for a further four years. It is the Government's view that the Orders provide a fair basis for the payment of the subsidy in 1964. I invite the House to reject the Motion. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Workington for saying that he did not intend to ask his hon. Friends to vote against the scheme.

Mr. Peart

I merely used Parliamentary means to raise certain issues which are of importance to a section of our agricultural industry. For the reasons that I have mentioned, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.