HC Deb 09 November 1966 vol 735 cc1284-6
5. Mr. Buchanan-Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware of the losses incurred by producers of store stock; and what action he proposes to ensure a fair return for those in this sector of the agricultural industry.

9. Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, in view of the drop in prices of livestock in the Highlands this autumn and the consequent fall in incomes, he will give a direction to the Department of Agriculture to expedite the payment of all grants and subsidies due for 1966.

11. Mr. Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has in mind for the necessary assistance to hill farmers in view of the poor prices received for lambs and weaned calves at the autumn sales.

15. Mr. Monro

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he intends to take in the immediate future to recompense hill and upland farmers for the losses suffered in the autumn store sales.

62. Mr. Russell Johnston

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what measures he proposes to alleviate the position of hill farming in Scotland.

Mr. Ross

I am aware that hill farmers have had a difficult year. My Department is undertaking in conjunction with the N.F.U. of Scotland, and at their request, a special survey in order to provide a full and accurate picture of the position. The results of this survey will be taken into account in our review of the assistance to hill farmers at the 1967 Annual Review.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that such expressions of sympathy make the lot of these farmers any easier? Does he not realise that what is needed is action? Will he not do something, such as a special Price Review, to help these people?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Member should appreciate that we debated this subject last Thursday.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

There was no answer on that occasion.

Mr. Ross

I went into this matter pretty fully then in relation to the limitations which exist about making special payments.

Mr. Mackenzie

In view of the position in the upland areas, does not the Secretary of State agree that it is very important indeed that all subsidies and deficiency payments should be paid immediately to relieve the people in those areas?

Mr. Ross

We are governed by Statute. As the hon. Member knows, in certain of the payments we cannot act until we get the returns. In respect of hill sheep, it will, I think, be some time in December before the returns are available. I think that we are pretty well on the way to getting the payments made for the hill cow subsidy. We shall speed the payments which can be made as far as we can within our statutory obligations.

Mr. Baker

Does not the Secretary of State agree that basically the trouble here is lack of confidence among the primary producers—the hill farmers? Could he not give an assurance here and now that the cattle producers, calf producers and sheep producers will have an increase in their subsidy at the Price Review, if not before?

Mr. Ross

I think that the best thing to do is to wait and see what are the facts in relation to this matter before we make up our minds on what will be the hill sheep subsidy. That decision will be taken at the Price Review.

Mr. Monro

Does the Minister remember the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) saying in May, 1965, about the hill sheep subsidies, that the Government would take action if a disaster occurred? Why have they not taken action?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Member should appreciate what we did. We gave a very considerable advance in respect of the hill sheep subsidy, very much beyond anything that had been given before. As against an average of 9s. 6d. over the previous four years, we advanced the figure to 17s., and it has been up to that figure since then.

Mr. Johnston

Is the Secretary of State aware that comparisons may be odious and do not necessarily help in the present situation? Would he not reconsider the possibility that some retrospective payment should be made, for example, of the hill sheep subsidy?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Member should appreciate that the payment of this subsidy is retrospective anyway.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hill farmers had difficult times last year because of the rather heavy increases in rents charged by landlords? Is he aware that recently sheep farms have sold at enormous prices and that farmers have had to borrow money from the banks? One of the biggest sales was by a very prominent Member of the Front Bench opposite.

Mr. Ross

There is certainly evidence that there is no lack of long-term confidence. What I am most concerned about is the effect of this very bad year on the hill lands and the farmers there.

Mr. Stodart

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that he himself expressed anxiety about this matter in the debate last Thursday? In view of the urgency, which I am sure he appreciates, will he not take up the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) of a special Review? In order to do this, could he not perhaps consider the low returns, as well as possibly the higher costs, such as those caused by a 9 per cent. Bank Rate?

Mr. Ross

My answer is the same as it was last Thursday—"No, Sir".