HC Deb 04 March 1966 vol 725 cc1651-4

11.14 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

I beg to move, That the Farmers' Machinery Syndicates Grants (Extension of Period) Order 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd February, be approved. As hon. Members will know, grants of one-third are at present available towards the cost of certain buildings occupied by farmers' machinery syndicates. Provision for this is contained in Section 6 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1963. The grants were in fact first introduced after the 1961 Annual Review in which the then Government stated their intention to encourage suitable forms of co-operation among farmers. The arrangement made at the time was that the grants should run for a five-year period, up to the end of March 1966. The 1963 Act, which I have mentioned, accordingly provided for the period for grant approvals to end in March this year, but provision was also made for the period to be extended up to, but not beyond, the end of March 1968. The purpose of the Order at present before the House is to effect this extension.

We have decided that the most convenient course is to extend the period for approving grants until 1968 as permitted under the 1963 Act. The Order will therefore permit us to continue making these grants to machinery syndicates, pending the enactment of the provisions in Clause 52 of the Agriculture Bill setting up a Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation. We intend that, after these provisions take effect, this Order would be replaced by a scheme which would cover grants to co-operatives, including grants towards the cost of various buildings used by syndicates or co-operatives.

Hon. Members may be interested to know, before I sit down, what progress has been made with these grants. When they were first introduced, it was thought that up to £250,000 might be needed. In fact, to date 23 schemes have been approved, and it is estimated that by March 1968, expenditure or commitments will amount to about £100,000.

As I have said, the purpose of this Order is to continue the payment of grants which have already proved their value over the past five years, and, with the explanation I have given, I recommend the House to approve the Order.

11.16 a.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I welcome the fact that this Order has been brought forward. I think it a little disappointing to hear the information the Parliamentary Secretary has given to us concerning the amount of the grant taken up and the amount which we hope will be taken up to 1968. Our original estimate was £250,000, as the hon. Gentleman has rightly said. I was in charge when we were putting this scheme through in 1963. To hear that it is expected that only £100,000 is to be used is rather disappointing.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)


Mr. Scott-Hopkins

One would hope that more use would be made of the grant by farmers' syndicates to improve the holding, storing and handling of grain which is the main purpose in this context. This was one side of the industry which one would have thought would benefit from these grants. I would have expected that they would be using the grants to a greater extent.

Mr. H. Hynd

Does not the right hon. Gentleman welcome any economy in public expenditure?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

This is not an economy. The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) did not quite understand. The point is to improve the efficiency in the handling of grain, particularly in farm syndicates. It is not an economy if the grants are not taken up. One hopes that by taking them up efficiency will be improved. I think the hon. Member has got the argument back to front.

The Parliamentary Secretary will realise that this is the only grant which at the moment is running at the rate of one-third. His right hon. Friend cut the farm improvement grant to 25 per cent. I gather that it is to be brought back to 30 per cent. When it was originally brought in this grant was to be on all fours with the farm improvement grant, which was then running at 33⅓ per cent. The Minister has cut that to 25 per cent. and this is remaining at 33 per cent. I point out the advantage which has been left to the farm machinery syndicates. I am delighted that this is so. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will take the point and will bring the other grants up to this level.

I do not wish to argue further on this but welcome the fact that the length of time has been extended. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will bear in mind the points I have made.

Mr. John Mackie

The estimate of £100,000 is simply based on what has happened since the scheme came in in 1961. Like the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) we welcome the fact that the £250,000 will be available until 1968. I correct him, however, on one point. We have not cut the farm improvement grants but have altered the grants.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Farmers' Machinery Syndicates Grants (Extension of Period) Order 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd February, be approved.