HC Deb 15 December 1966 vol 738 cc799-817

10.4 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)

I beg to move, That the Winter Keep (Scotland) Scheme 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved. I do not think that I need take up much time in commending this Scheme to the House. It applies only to Scotland. Nevertheless, it is important. It will enable us to continue to pay grants to Scottish hill and upland farmers for growing crops during the next three years for the winter feeding of their livestock. The present Winter Keep Scheme, which expires at the end of this year, has allowed cropping grants to be paid to Scottish hill farmers for the last three years.

The Scheme now before the House differs in only two small respects from the present one. In the first place, we are adding one new crop—I know that the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) will be interested in this—fodder radish, which, I understand, is a very fast-growing crop of the cabbage, rape, kale family, suitable for feeding to both sheep and cattle. We think, therefore, that it is only right that if Scottish farmers wish to try it out under Scottish conditions they should not be deterred by its not being grant aided.

Secondly, and perhaps of more immediate importance to the farmers concerned, we are dropping the requirement that farmers should tell us by the end of March which crops they intend to grow. Experience over the last three years leads us to the firm conclusion that we can retain effective control over the Scheme on the basis of the information which farmers give us in their claims at the end of June. In any event, the information which farmers gave us in March was—necessarily—very speculative. This simplified step will be welcome to farmers, and we are glad to be able to relieve them of a little paper work.

The Scheme allows winter keep grants in Scotland to be paid on an acreage basis for three years. This is the maximum period for which a scheme can be laid under present legislative powers. When, however, the Agriculture Bill which is at present before the House becomes law the maximum period will be extended to five years. It would not have been practicable for us to wait for these extended powers before seeking approval of the new Scheme because the present Scheme expires at the end of this year, and we think it important that Scottish hill farmers should plan their next year's cropping knowing that the Winter Keep Scheme has been renewed.

I commend the Scheme for the approval of the House.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

I congratulate the Minister of State on the lucidity of his speech, but the House will agree that no elephant has ever produced quite so small a mouse. At a time when the National Farmers' Union—if I read the newspapers correctly—is making strenuous demands about winter keep with a view to alleviating the hardships caused by deliberate Government policy, it is being fobbed off with something called fodder radish. I hope that the hon. Member will tell us a little more about this crop.

How many acres are being grown in the winter keep area? What will it really be worth as a concession? Because concession the hon. Members has made it out to be. The hon. Member has made out that this is an addition to the Winter Keep Scheme. He has said that it is a new and fast growing crop, of the brassica family. This is true. On low ground it has come in during the last two or three years as a catch crop. It has been found useful as a break crop between cereals. But will not the hon. Member confirm that it is extremely prone to frost, and that if it is not eaten by about the beginning of November it virtually wilts away?

If we take the literal meaning of the words "winter keep" we wonder whether this is quite the sort of crop that the hon. Member should be advocating as one of the various crops included in this Scheme. Is it being allowed unconditionally? There is no date by which it must be eaten. Therefore, could the hon. Gentleman give his views comparatively to this on the subject of rape. I would not think of criticising the hon. Gentleman, as this was originally agreed. Rape must not be eaten before a certain date if it is to qualify. It is no good having rape in the winter. Therefore, it would be helpful if he could tell us the relative advantages—they are obviously similar crops—between fodder radish and rape.

I have something now to say more generally about the Scheme. Would the hon. Gentleman give us a progress report, which would be interesting, on the general subject of the gradings, which are a peculiar feature of the Scottish scheme. Originally, out of about 15,000 farms eligible 3,000 were graded "A", 4,000 "B" and 7,500 "C". This is leaving out those which were excluded because of the varying conditions. How much movement is there?

By now, we ought to be introducing these things generally between grades. What chance is there of a "B" becoming a "C" or an "A" becoming a "B"? How often does the hon. Gentleman's Department allow an appeal to be made against grading? Obviously, it would be ridiculous for a person who was put in a particular grade to be allowed to appeal at unlimited intervals.

I think that the hon. Gentleman would probably be surprised if I did not mention a subject mentioned in our previous debates on this matter, the question of the "C" grade farm which could not cultivate. The hon. Gentleman has always been extremely confused about this—

Mr. Willis

Not me.

Mr. Stodart

He has never been entirely with us on this matter.

When I first raised this matter three years ago, the hon. Gentleman insisted and went on insisting that I must be talking about the hill cow subsidy and not the Winter Keep Scheme at all. When we discussed this in Committee the other day, he again showed great confusion when he said: At that time hon. Members"— referring, of course, to the Opposition— were arguing that the farmers should have the choice of acreage or headage. I interrupted to say: For the 'C' grade farmer.", to which the hon. Gentleman replied: That is another refinement which he is suggesting."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 15th November, 1966; c. 1036.]

Mr. Willis

That is quite true.

Mr. Stodart

Of course, this is no other refinement and if the hon. Gentleman still thinks that, he is not with us even tonight. That is a pity, as we had hoped that he had mastered his subject this evening. If he still thinks that this is another refinement, I must remind him again that it is only for that very limited sector that we have ever suggested this alternative. For him to say only a few weeks ago that this is another refinement is, of course, a travesty of the truth.

The hon. Gentleman has written an interesting letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) which he has been good enough to allow me to refer to. The hon. Gentleman refers there to a survey, saying: The survey shows that about 300 hill sheep and upland farms had no eligible crops on which they could claim grant. He went on: It was precisely to help this type of farm, with little or no land suitable for cropping and therefore unable to take advantage of the acreage grants to any extent, that we introduced the 2s. hill ewe supplement. This means, therefore, that to help 300 farms—for the purpose of argument, I accept that figure—the Government give a 2s. supplement to nearly 14,000 farmers, because that was the number of applications for the hill sheep subsidy last year. To make up the acute difficulties and the unfairness under which 300 people labour, the Government dispense this money to 14,000 people, which is typical sloppy Socialist administration.

Mr. Willis

This is your scheme.

Mr. Stodart

The hon. Gentleman has shown that he does not possess—this is a very sad thing to have to say—that precision of thought which he always used to impress upon us when speaking from this side of the House.

If the Minister of State cannot answer my next question, I hope that he will at least bear it closely in mind. There is a great deal of speculation about the future of agriculture in the Common Market. This Winter Keep Scheme is one of the production grants. In the Treaty of Rome, there is an Article which says: Due account shall be taken of the distinctive nature of agricultural activity which results from agriculture's social structure and from structural and natural disparities between the various agricultural regions. I understand that production grants like the hill cow and hill sheep subsidies could be looked upon with disfavour as ancillaries virtually to the deficiency payments of the end-product. That is a conceivable view that could be taken.

However, the Scots may well live to thank the Conservative Government for this separate Winter Keep Scheme, which stands entirely on its own, unconnected with the two schemes I have mentioned, and I hope that the Minister will agree that it is absolutely essential that the Government should cling tightly to this Scheme.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)

I welcome the extension of this scheme for another three-year period. It is the successor to the earlier scheme, which was known as the "M.A.P. Scheme"—the Marginal Agricultural Production Scheme—and those of us who have been connected with this type of land for a long time realise that the M.A.P. Scheme was the best we had in the post-war period. It was introduced during the emergency conditions of the war and was continued into the post-war years. It proved to be the best scheme and best incentive we received.

There came a time when the Government decided to discontinue the M.A.P. Scheme and, after a good deal of persuasion, the Government agreed to introduce the Winter Keep Scheme. Because of this, we have been able to carry on the good work that was done under the earlier scheme. The new Scheme is ideally suited to the type of land it is designed to help. However, in purely hill areas, where there is little cropping land, headage payments would be of greater advantage. That would be of particular benefit because most of the hill farmers must purchase hay for the winter in any case.

The other criticism we have of the Winter Keep Scheme is that it does not apply to barley. In the North of Scotland most farms that come in this category grow a certain amount of barley for feeding purposes. This custom is growing and I suggest, therefore, that it would be appropriate if barley were allowed to qualify for winter keep. This has been pressed on the Government year after year.

Another case that has been pressed on the Government constantly is that upland dairy farmers—the most hard working section of the farming community; they work long hours, seven days a week and get little profit at the end of their toil—should be encouraged. I hope that the Minister will have another look at the Scheme and incorporate these items into it for this season. It is still not too late for him to do so.

The Minister said that the period would be extended to five years after the agriculture Measure which is now before the House becomes law. I hope that this will be done because these farmers need long-term assurances. In this connection, I notice that a new crop, fodder radish, has been introduced into the Scheme. Crops like this are grown successfully in parts of Scotland and I have no doubt that the fact that this new crop has been incorporated proves how progressive these farmers are.

It is gratifying to note that one less form will have to be filled in before farmers qualify under the Scheme. Personally, I do not mind filling in forms. My farm has qualified for winter keep and I am always happy when I see what we call the "winter keep form" arrive because it means that something will be coming along later in the year.

Farmers in my part of Scotland are happy to know that the Scheme is to be extended for another three years and I trust that the Minister will consider the two points I have made; the barley grower who grows that crop entirely for winter keep and the small dairy farmer who is working under difficult conditions in these upland areas.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I, too, welcome, this scheme but that does not mean that I do think that it could not have been better, particularly when we are looking three years ahead. On 20th October, the Minister discussed with the Scottish National Farmers' Union the hill farming grant and the Winter Keep Scheme. But it seems that the only decision coming from that meeting was to include fodder radish. It does not seem to have been a very fruitful meeting. I hope the Minister will give us a little more information about this crop, particularly having regard to Scotland's climate and the known susceptibility to frost of fodder radish. He may be encouraging people to grow a crop they have no right to grow in Scotland at all. Most winter-keep farmers would prefer relaxation in relation to barley.

At the same meeting, the Minister also discussed headage payment, which the S.N.F.U. is pressing, and I should like his views on this point—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that this subject comes under the Scheme.

Mr. Monro

It does not come under the Scheme, Mr. Speaker, but it is all so tied up with the application of winter-keep grant in England that I rather hoped we might be given an opportunity to have it in Scotland as well.

I hope that the Minister will consider the provisions of Schedule 2 in relation to Class "C" farms which need a change in winter keep more than anything else. I hope also that he will consider the option that farmers might have in regard to headage and acreage payments under the Scheme, as that is what so many of them want. We, as a country, want the beef and the mutton, and the Minister should encourage farmers to produce the meat by whichever method will be most advantageous to them and to the country.

The hon. Gentleman will remember that when we debated this subject on 6th May, 1965, he said that there had been talks, and that Scotland had opted for the acreage basis after discussions with the Scottish N.F.U., the Scottish Agricultural Advisory Council and the Hill Farming Advisory Committee. The views of those bodies may have been right or wrong, but I wonder whether they have reported to him before he drew up the Scheme and, if so, whether he has included their observations in the Scheme.

The importance of this Scheme has been accentuated by the disaster in the hills—and I use that word advisedly and with care—that has occurred this autumn. A month ago—and, as we all know, it was ridiculously late—the Secretary of State yielded to pressure from hon. Members about the Government's treatment of hill farmers, particularly those receiving winter keep, and gave an advance on the hill ewe subsidy. It is most important that farmers should realise that that is only an advance, and not an additional payment. I hope that the farmers also realise that this is not given in addition to their income, and that it has certainly not been as generous as the Secretary of State has tried to make out—

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

Surely, this has not been absolutely determined yet. We all hope that it will turn out to be an addition in the end.

Mr. Monro

I hope so, but I have forever given up any hope of anything optimistic from this Government.

I hope that the Minister will remember that we warned him of the advantages of flexibility in the winter keep and the hill ewe subsidy schemes. That warning has now come home to roost, and I am sure that he now wishes he had taken our advice a year ago. I wish that the Minister would realise that there are many people in Scotland who can give him the very best advice on winter keep, but he never seems to take it. If he had, the situation in the hills in Scotland would not be so desperate today.

What will the Minister of State do about winter-keep farms that are not eligible for the hill ewe subsidy? There is a great opportunity here to be flexible and allow them into the Winter Keep Scheme. The Minister is frowning, but he should know that one does not necessarily get the hill ewe subsidy if one has a winter keep farm. That is an important point which he should examine.

We have told him about this often enough. I told him so on 25th October—it is col. 986 of the OFFICIAL REPORT—in the Adjournment debate on hill farming, but he has still done nothing about it. Would he also consider, as the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) suggested, a relaxation in relation to dairy farms? I disagree, however, with what the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty said about "affluent" dairy farmers.

Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie

I did not say "affluent"—I only said upland.

Mr. Monro

I could hardly believe my ears, and I am glad to know that the hon. Gentleman did not use that word, because he knows as well as I that there are none.

Beef is what the Minister wants, in more than one way, and it does not seem to matter particularly what else happens on the farm if those receiving winter-keep grants are providing meat and mutton for the country. There is not one shred of imagination left in the Scottish Office regarding the Winter Keep Scheme and hill farming generally. I sometimes wonder whether the Minister of State has been further up a hill than the top of Arthur's Seat. The Scheme has not been improved in the past two years in any substantial way.

I hope that the Minister of State will be very much more generous in times of adversity such as the present and be more practical. I hope that he does not always rely on statistics and that he gets out to markets and farms, and listens and learns from what has been said about the Scheme. It is, and always has been, a good Scheme, but it should be very much better. I hope that in supporting and commending it to the House for a further life of two or three years he will make an effort to make it as good as it should be.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

The whole House will welcome the renewal of the Winter Keep Scheme. Equally, all hon. Members who have any knowledge of the conditions in which hill farmers in Scotland are now working will view the proposal with a certain disappointment.

The Minister of State has said that there are two major changes. One is that the payments may be speeded up, which is certainly welcome, and the other is that that splendid crop, fodder radish, is to be included. I am grateful to the Minister of State for referring to my interest in that crop. My only knowledge of fodder radish is that I believe that once, by accident, I grew some in my garden. I found it uneatable. I do not know how significant the crop is. I could not discover from what the hon. Gentleman told us whether it is grown in any upland areas of Scotland.

It is rather disappointing, after all the hopes we have had over the past few months that the hon. Gentleman would at last recognise reality and try to help the farmers in the difficult areas of Scotland, that all we have in this new policy, forged in the purposive white heat which has shrivelled the Government, is the admission of fodder radish. I shall say no more on that, because I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman too much. I have said on previous occasions, that fond as I am personally of the Minister of State, I grow more and more disappointed in him. That feeling is shared not only in the House but by a growing number of farmers, particularly in the hills.

I shall not embarrass the hon. Gentleman by referring to some of his previous speeches in the House, but I was astonished, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) by his comment in the Agriculture Bill Standing Committee the other day about "C" grade winter-keep farmers.

According to HANSARD, which has already been quoted, he then alleged that we were somehow refining our position. I am all for refinement, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the argument we have advanced all along about the position of the "C" grade farmer is precisely the same: there has been no change. I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to what I said on 6th July: I suggest to the Minister of State that the figures which I have quoted show that there is a case for introducing at least an optional scheme for 'C' grade farmers, whereby they can opt for payment either on an acreage basis, or on a headage basis. This point was absolutely clear during that debate. Later, I said this: I hope that the Minister will consider this, and if possible give us some indication of his thoughts on the matter when he replies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 611.] The debate that night centred round the problem of the high lying farmer who is on paper eligible for "C" grade winter keep, but who cannot receive his winter-keep payment because he is unable to grow the crops which would qualify him for winter keep.

The hon. Gentleman listened to our argument on that occasion. It was obvious from his comments in Committee the other day that he has forgotten what the argument was. I do not want to be over-generous to the hon. Gentleman, but he has been less than helpful about the whole matter. I believe that, clear as we have tried to make our argument, the hon. Gentleman has not yet understood it. I had hopes that tonight we should hear something more encouraging, because following the July debate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) and I tabled a number of Questions for Written Answer to the Secretary of State for Scotland about the whole question of the "C" grade winter keep farmer.

For example, my hon. Friend asked why it would be administratively difficult to introduce this optional scheme. The answer which we received was, to put it mildly, incomprehensible gobbledygook. We continued with our Questions. I give credit to the Secretary of State and to the hon. Gentleman for finally agreeing to a proposal we made which was that a survey should be conducted of a sample of those farmers not receiving the "C" grade winter-keep grant although on paper they were entitled to it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the part he played in getting that survey conducted, because I think it is of value.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the Minister was good enough to write to me last month letting me know the result of the survey. I do not want to bore or detain the House, but I should like to quote a short passage from the letter, because it is important that the result of this important and significant survey should be widely known. The hon. Gentleman wrote: A 10 per cent. random sample of non-claimants last year was selected and the relative agricultural returns were examined to see if they gave any lead as to why claims had not been submitted. No inspections specifically related to the investigation were carried out, but the comments of my Department's local inspectors were sought in doubtful cases. Following this examina- tion, which led to the exclusion of a number of units which were identified as crofts, etc., or units re-classified as 'lowland'—in either case basically ineligible for winter keep grant—some further analysis of 'C' category units not making claims was undertaken, and the results of raising the sample are set out in the attached table. They confirm the view that the bulk of the 'C' category non-claimants are part-time units. They also show, as one would expect, that excluding part-time units only a very small proportion of apparently fully eligible farms do not claim grant. Further—and this, I imagine, is where your interest really lies—the results show that about 300 hill sheep and upland farms had no eligible crops on which they could claim grant. In some of these cases it may well be that this is accounted for by the farms concerned having no in-bye land suitable for cropping. This could only be confirmed with certainty by carrying out individual farm inspections, and I doubt if the cost would be justified. That quotation summarises the general sense of what the Minister communicated to me.

I am astonished that the Minister declares that the cost might not be justified. I join with my hon. Friends in questioning the whole logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument about these "C" grade farmers who do not receive Winter Keep grant. There are 300 hill sheep farmers who get no winter-keep grant, and it must be that at least a very large proportion of them do not receive it because their farms lie too high for the growing of the crops which would make them eligible.

If that is so, it underlines the argument which my hon. Friends and I have been advancing for months, and it dramatises the hardship which many of the hardest working and most deserving farmers of Scotland are suffering through their exclusion from this Scheme by the Government's refusal to recognise and overcome the administrative difficulty which has excluded them. The difficulty could be easily overcome if the will were there. I implore the Minister of State to look at the whole question again and create the will. He could do so quickly by coming to look at some of the hill farms in Scotland to see the difficulties which these fine farmers face today.

I am concerned still, as I have been all along, about the grading of farms eligible for winter keep. In any system of differentiation, there must be grey areas between one grade and another. That I recognise, but, after looking round some farms recently I found it very difficult to see why one farm was graded as "B" and another as "C" when, to me at least, they appeared very similar in terms of layout, climatic conditions, and the like.

I hope that the Minister will exercise sympathy in the final determination when disputes arise about the grading of farms in one of these categories. Will he tell me also—I confess that I am ignorant about it—how often the grading of farms is reviewed for winter-keep purposes.

The money which is available to hill farmers under the Winter Keep Scheme is critical to the financial operation of hill farms, and I am very worried about the position of the Scheme now that we are, quite rightly, making a new approach to the Common Market. I do not suggest for a moment that this consideration should influence the major policy decision, but the great difficulties now being experienced on the hill lands make it necessary for the Government to discover and to announce soon—I appreciate that the Minister may not be able to give an answer tonight—just what the position of grants of this kind would be within the Common Market.

It is imperative that the Government announce, also, that transitional arrangements will be made to provide continuing protection for farmers of this kind until such time as market prices within a unified Europe remove the need for such selective supports.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Willis

We have had an interesting debate during which most of the usual points have been raised. Once again, there has been a great deal of discussion of the hill sheep farmers in the "C" category, but I do not know that anything new has been said about that subject, except that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) argued that in the Scheme itself there should be an option. The supplementary headage payment, of course, is made precisely because of the conditions of the "C" category hill sheep farmer. In other words, it is paid in recognition of the fact that they are less likely to obtain benefit from the average payments than the farmers in the "A" and "B" categories. It is interesting to notice that out of the total supplementary headage payment of some £192,000, it is estimated that "C" category farmers receive £167,000. It therefore seems that this supplement of 2s. goes where hon. Members want it to go.

Now the hon. Member for Dumfries comes forward with the proposition that there should be an option. I can assure him that in my meeting with the S.N.F.U. I raised this issue and was assured by the S.N.F.U. that it was certainly not in favour of that. In the literature which the S.N.F.U. has produced since, it has not come forward with the proposition that there should be an option. It has come forward with a quite different proposition.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Willis

I read the literature as well as any hon. Member opposite. Hon. Members opposite must not imagine that because they happen to run farms they are the only persons who know about farming. That would be quite absurd, and yet they come along with that kind of arrogant assumption.

Mr. Monro


Mr. Willis

I was living on a farm before the hon. Member was born.

Mr. Stodart


Mr. Willis

And before the hon. Member was born, too. It was in a notable farming area, one of the most famous in the country. Hon. Members must not run away with the idea that nobody else knows anything about farming.

I have carefully listened to the argument of the S.N.F.U. and I questioned its leaders very carefully about it. Hon. Members can take it from me that the Scottish N.F.U. is not advocating at present that there should be an option. It is advocating something different.

Mr. Stodart

Is it not the case that the S.N.F.U. is asking something very different now, but that for all the time until now, when we have been advocating it, it has been in favour of that option but, not having got it, has now moved on to another position?

Mr. Willis

The hon. Member does not know as much about the thinking of the Scottish N.F.U. as I thought. In fact, he seems to be rather ignorant of its thinking in this respect.

Mr. MacArthur

In his discussions with the S.N.F.U., which, I must say, produced very little in the way of Government action, did the hon. Gentleman call its attention to the fact that 300 hill farmers originally in the "C" grade scheme on paper are, in fact, not receiving "C" grade winter keep because of the absence of the option for which we have been pressing?

Mr. Willis

They are not receiving the acreage payment because they are not cultivating any crops.

Mr. MacArthur


Mr. Willis

Precisely. But they are getting the supplementary headage payment and that is what the 2s. supplement is intended to provide. As the hon. Gentleman says, of course the S.N.F.U. has come forward with different proposals, and it has done so for very good reasons. But at least it rather knocks the feet from under hon. Members who keep promulgating the benefit of this option. There are difficulties. I have explained them before in the July debate. But at present this is not being put forward by the S.N.F.U. What we are trying to do, through the 2s. supplement, is to give assistance to persons who have not got any land on which they can grow winter feed.

The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) also asked about grading, as did the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart). There is not really any movement between grades. I understand that the grading has been done and appeals have been made and almost all have been settled. Unless the acreage or the other circumstances are changed, there is no further assessment of the farm. It remains in its category. The fanner does not appeal again.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the position of the scheme should we enter the E.E.C. That is a rather hypothetical question. This is one of the matters to be borne in mind along with other supports to British agriculture, but, clearly, I cannot say much about it now.

Most hon. Members who have spoken had their fun about fodder radish, that mysterious crop about which no one appears to know anything. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West did not seem to know much about it. I myself did not pretend to know much about it in introducing the Scheme, but at least I had the honesty to say so. His hon. Friends did not seem to know much about it either. I understand that an article in Farm and Country, in February, 1965, was headed: Fodder Radish—the fastest growing green crop". It went on to point out the advantages of this crop.

This might be a small thing but the question is whether we were right to include it in this scheme or not. If Scottish hill farmers wish to experiment with this crop, surely it is right for us to include it and allow them to become eligible for increased payment in respect of their experiments. This is surely—perhaps generous is too large a word—a forthcoming and helpful attitude by the Government. Yet hon. Members opposite have spent their time denouncing it as though it is something we should not have done. I would like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West to tell us whether he would have put it in.

Mr. Stodart

That is hypothetical. Alas, I am not in the winter-keep area and, therefore, the question seems slightly irrelevant. But the Minister of State has not answered the question—I hope that he will—about the practical point concerning frost—whether the crop is really all to be withered away with frost in November as compared with rape, which he has not touched on. This is a most relevant matter. Why are the Government discriminating against rape and allowing fodder radish in unconditionally?

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman has not answered the question I put to him. If he were still in the position he held two years ago, would he include fodder radish?

Mr. Stodart

I am sorry. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was asking whether I would have sown fodder radish on my farm. Certainly, if I had been satisfied, as a Minister about the weather resistant qualities of fodder radish, I would have included it. But we are still trying to find out from the hon. Gentleman whether this is so or not.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman still has not answered the question. He must not run away with the idea that what he grows on his farm is so important that it has to be debated in the House of Commons. This really is arrogance which is almost unsurpassed in this House in my memory of it. To imagine that what the hon. Gentleman happens to be doing on his wee piece of land in—East Lothian, is it not?—is of national importance! Really! The hon. Gentleman never ceases to amaze me, I am bound to say.

On the other point, it is not for me to prescribe, or to try to tell farmers, the relative merits of different crops. They are the experts, not I. It is for them to decide whether or no they will grow certain crops, and, quite clearly, in deciding that they will take into account the considerations mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The question we as a House have to decide is, if they engage in this experiment should we encourage them, or not? And as I understand the hon. Gentleman, he would not. Hon. Gentlemen have shouted for months about assisting the hill sheep farmers, but this wee small thing they are not prepared to do to help them, apparently. The hon. Gentleman has not answered that yet.

Mr. Stodart

I do not pretend to be the encyclopaedia which the hon. Gentleman clearly is on these matters. I am still asking him if he will give me the answer I asked for. I will say to him bluntly that if what I have heard about fodder radish is true, that frost destroys it at the beginning of November, I would not have thought this could possibly qualify as a winter-keep crop.

Mr. Willis

Not in the literal sense. I understand that, as with other crops, it is eligible if it is fed to livestock after the beginning of the winter period, which is 1st October. This is what I understand. But it is wholly for the farmer himself to decide whether he will grow it. The hon. Gentleman has been clamouring for millions of £s from the Treasury, but he is apparently not prepared to say he would give the farmers this small little supplement to encourage them to experiment with fodder radish. After all the battling and shouting and all the speeches made—

Mr. Monro

What a battle!

Mr. Willis

This is true—this is all it has amounted to. I remember that in Committee on the Agriculture Bill the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues told us how they were preparing for battle on the Floor of the House. Where has their battle gone to? They are not even prepared to give the farmers a few hundred pounds for fodder radish. This is the extent of the keenness of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Really, you could not become more ridiculous than this, could you?

Mr. Monro

You could not.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct: you could not. And I am still awaiting an answer from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, West. I do not think he asked many more questions.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) —I am sorry he has left—asked me a couple of questions. First, he asked about long-term assurances. So did one or two other hon. Members. Some asked wider questions concerning the finances of the industry. Quite clearly, these are considerations for the Annual Review and will, of course, be taken into account then, and will be considered then.

The hon. Gentleman, and one other hon. Member, too, asked me about barley. Of course, hon. Gentlemen know the answer about barley as well as I do, but they will persist in raising it on every occasion. The short answer is that barley is really a profitable crop; it is a cash crop; and to include it for winter keep grant would be to give special encourage to its production in marginal areas which are normally more suited to the growing of oats. Although barley can be, and is, used as fodder on farms where it is grown, a considerable proportion is sold as a cash crop, unlike oats which is almost entirely retained, and for this reason it has never been considered as a crop which should qualify under the Winter Keep Scheme.

The hon. Gentleman also asked why upland dairy farms were excluded from the Scheme. The view of the Government, and the view of the hon. Gentleman when he was a Minister, is essentially that a farmer has to choose between dairying, with the advantages of the guaranteed price, and livestock rearing, with the aid of the special livestock rearing subsidies. In some of the areas it may he more profitable to dairy farm, but quite clearly this is a choice which the farmer has to make, and for the reason which I have given the upland dairy farms are excluded if their dairy produce is more than 40 per cent., I think it is, of their total income.

I do not think that many more questions were asked. I think that I have answered them all. Hon. Gentlemen kept on reminding me of the meeting that I had with the Scottish N.F.U., and talked about nothing having eventuated since then. The Scottish N.F.U. met my noble Friend and myself, and also the English Ministers the next day. Since then we have announced our intention of advancing the payment of the whole sheep subsidy, and hon. Gentlemen may be interested to know that this has begun. The first payments were made yesterday, and the second payment will be going out in another day or two. In spite of the comments of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I think that this was welcomed by the farming community. Our information is that this was a most welcome step, so something did arise as a result of these deputations to the Scottish Department and to the English Ministry.

I do not think that there is any other point to which I wish to reply, and I hope that the House will now approve the Scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Winter Keep (Scotland) Scheme 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved.