HC Deb 19 May 1965 vol 712 cc1432-4
9. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what services are provided free to farmers by his Department; and what was the cost of each service in each of the last five years.

Mr. John Mackie

I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement setting out the cost of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, the Agricultural Land Service and the State Veterinary Service for the last four years. Figures for the previous years are not readily available.

The National Agricultural Advisory Service is, as its name implies, a free advisory service to the farmers. Both the Agricultural Land Service and the State Veterinary Service provide services for the farmers as well as having other statutory duties.

Other of the Department's professional and technical staff, such as milk officers and drainage officers, give some advice to farmers in the course of their duties, but it is not possible to separate out the cost of this particular aspect of their work.

Mr. Hamilton

Is there another industry in the world, let alone in this country, which has this kind of service on such a scale and free? What steps are being taken by the Government to ensure that public money spent in this way goes only to those who cannot afford to pay for the services themselves?

Mr. Mackie

I am sorry that. I cannot give my hon. Friend any figures on what other industries in the world may have; he has spread his net a little too far beyond my knowledge on that point. But there are more ways of killing a cat than by drowning, and many other industries get help in one way or another which it is difficult to appreciate. As regards whether we think we are getting value for money, I should like my hon. Friend to look at the increase in productivity of agriculture as compared with some other industries. It is generally accepted that the services we provide help the country as a whole, not only agriculture. I am quite certain that my hon. Friend does

1961–62 1962–63 1963–64 1964–65*
£'000 £'000 £'000 £'000
A.L.S. 695 718 766 792
N.A.A.S. 3,000 3,312 3,270 3,853
Veterinary Services (includes fees to Local Veterinary Inspectors) 3,558 3,665 3,780 4,362
Note: These figures are the actual cost of salaries, travelling and subsistence expenses together with the associated net expenditure on experimental centres, laboratories etc.
*Provisional figures.

not believe in means tests as a whole, and I do not see why he should suggest applying them to agriculture.

Sir M. Redmayne

Will the hon. Gentleman take it that we wholly approve of his Answer? These moneys are well spent in the interest of farming and of the consumer, and the object behind the Question does little credit to the members of the Labour Party who hold that sort of view.

Mr. Mackie

I do not altogether agree with the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is perfectly entitled to ask these questions. It is good that the knowledge of how much it costs should be put before the public, and I am sure that hon. Members will be interested when they see the figures. Although I agree with the first part of what the right hon. Gentleman said, I cannot accept the last part.

Mr. W. Baxter

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is very difficult to assess the amount of money which is spent on various industries in this country through national research organisations, the universities and the like, and does he realise also that our agriculture is the largest and most important industry we have and, therefore, any money spent to improve and expand it for the benefit of the community as a whole will be welcomed by this side of the House?

Mr. Mackie

I agree mainly with what my hon. Friend says. Reverting to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West about whether we should see that the money goes to those needing it, I remind him that, in the Price Review, my right hon. Friend has gone a long way in this direction in that we have not just dished out money right and left as hon. Members opposite would like us to do but we have got a longterm policy, with help for small farmers.

Following is the statement: