HC Deb 07 July 1965 vol 715 cc1569-71
14. Mr. Stodart

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much of the 1965 Price Review award of between £10 million and £11 million consisted of a hill sheep subsidy.

19. Mr. Jopling

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why the 1965 Price Review Award includes the increased subsidy awarded to hill sheep, when this has not been common practice previously.

21. Mr. Monro

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why the 1965 Price Review included the hill ewe subsidy for the first time.

Mr. Peart

The plus items in the award included about £2 million for the hill sheep subsidy. This figure was based on the difference between the average rate of subsidy over the past five years, 9s. 6d. per ewe, and the rate of 18s. determined at the 1965 Review.

Hitherto the question of whether subsidy was payable was decided each year after an assessment of the prosperity of hill sheep farmers in the preceding year. The rate fluctuated widely and in some years no subsidy was paid. At the 1965 Price Review it was decided to put the subsidy on a flat-rate basis. It will be paid each year, at a rate sufficient to cover the normal variations in weather conditions from year to year. Accordingly, like the hill cow subsidy, it has been included in the Price Review.

Mr. Stodart

Is not the Minister aware of the many occasions on which he has compared in the same sentence the £31 million Price Review award last year and the £10 million, or the so-called £10 million, award this year? If he is to talk on a strictly like-for-like basis, is not this a completely false comparison, in that the £10 million is in fact only an £8 million award? Therefore, will he stop misleading the public into thinking that this is a slightly less miserable Price Review than it actually is?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, instead of making wild accusations like that, will recognise that the change in the basis of the subsidy was agreed with the three unions.

Mr. Jopling

Is the Minister aware that on 17th March of this year, as appears from col. 1291 of HANSARD, he made a specific comparison between this Price Review and previous ones? Was not this wholly misleading the House and the farming community? Is not this something that he should withdraw and put properly on the record from now on?

Mr. Peart

I certainly will not. The hon. Gentleman, who obviously has contacts because of his past experience with the farmers' unions, should consult responsible farming opinion. Farmers believe that it was a right decision to change the basis of the subsidy. Now the farmer will know what he will be paid each year. The uncertainty which existed under the previous Administration has been removed.

Mr. Monro

The Minister is still misleading the House, because he is not in any way comparing like with like. The two Reviews were not comparable. The general public, the farmers and the House had the impression that he was comparing like with like.

Mr. Peart

I can only repeat—I am sorry that I have to repeat it so that hon. Members can learn the facts of the industry—that the simple fact is that the industry agrees with my change. It will give greater security. It will enable the farmer to know what he is getting. There was no attempt to mislead anyone in assessing the global total at the Review.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, far from him misleading the House, the country, or the farming community, hon. Members opposite, who are demanding more and more subsidies, are bleeding the taxpayers? Can he say what would be the reduction in Income Tax if all these subsidies were abolished?

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend is quite right. We have to bear in mind the position of the consumer. It is rather strange that hon. Members opposite, who pretend that they are defending the farmer, are going against decisions which were agreed and approved by responsible farmers' leaders and the farmers' unions. I have already mentioned the attitude of the three unions concerned.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whether or not the unions agreed is quite irrelevant to the question of comparing like with like? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in previous years the hill sheep subsidy has not been included in the annual Review out-turn, and that this year £2 million was included, thereby adding £2 million to the total out-turn of £10 million? The figure ought to be £8 million and not the £10 million which the Minister has in mind.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Member knows that the Review award is a net figure. These are plus items totalling £38½ million, including the milk, cattle and calf subsidies. There is no question of trying to mislead the House. Hon. Members opposite are always trying to stir up trouble when it is not there.