HC Deb 17 January 1967 vol 739 cc233-71
Mr. Stodart

I beg to move Amendment No. 48, in page 36, line 4, to leave out "land" to "and" in line 5.

The purpose of this Amendment is to derestrict one of the Clauses with regard to the payment of farm improvement grants. At present the situation is that grants cannot be paid on land on which buildings do not exist. The condition of grant is that it must be paid to land with buildings. This, I freely accept, we regarded as a cardinal condition for the Farm Improvement Scheme when it was established under the 1957 Acts.

It was right that that restriction should exist then, because buildings were principally in need of reconstruction. Here I should like to pay tribute to the work done by the staffs of the two agricultural Departments, for all the many inspections that they have made, which has virtually resulted in a complete change in the landscape.

When the grants were first made it was right to pick out the priorities and to decide that the priority in this case was only for land with buildings. I would not like anyone to think that this is a priority which should be held too rigidly throughout the years. To give one example, on the coastline where I live, between North Berwick and Dunbar, a great deal of work has been done, which would entitle the farmer who had done it to a farm improvement grant if any buildings existed on the land. They do not, as the land has been reclaimed. But we will need as much land as we can lay our hands on to cope with the increase in population—2 million extra by 1970 and a vast increase by the end of the century.

1.45 a.m.

The purpose of this Amendment is to enable work to be done by the kind of farmer I have mentioned, who is bringing into cultivation valuable acres, and who might well wish to put up a building possibly in which to store potatoes. Under the present Statute he would be debarred from getting a grant because the land in question had no buildings on it.

There are other examples that could be given, and I dare say that some of my hon. Friends may wish to give them. I believe that we are now moving into a different period, a period in which the intensive use of every acre is becoming more and more essential as each year passes. We could now afford to move away from that priority of work, of the grant being devoted to land with buildings, and to move into the sort of sphere which I have suggested.

Mr. Prior

I should like to support very strongly the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend. In my part of the world, in Norfolk and Suffolk, there are a good many areas of marshland near the coast, all around the Broads. Some of it is in the area of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell). Until the war, and even until a few years ago, a good deal of this land was either semi-derelict or in grass, but owing to new drainage and the use of electric and diesel pumps instead of the old windmills, a lot of this land can now grow very good arable crops.

Of course, there are no buildings on this land. As things are at the moment, a farmer who has improved his land, and who, in some cases, has reclaimed up to 500 or more acres in one block, finds that he is quite unable to arrange a farm improvement grant in order to put some buildings on that land.

Agricultural conditions change very rapidly. Having said that a lot of this land has been ploughed up in the last few years, we shall probably find in the next few years that this land will once more be put back to grass. With the new methods of grassland management the grass will be either zero-grazed or cut for grass-drying and taken straight into nearby buildings, because it is very bulky stuff to handle over long distances. It will then be used for feeding stock on the land.

All this leads me to suppose that these buildings should qualify for a farm improvement grant. I cannot for the life of me see that there is any justification for giving a grant on a farm which has buildings, albeit not very good buildings, but refusing a grant just because at the time of the introduction of this Measure there happened to have been no buildings there. This seems to me to be totally illogical and does not seem to make any sort of sense in any direction. If the Minister is worried that there could be unfair advantage and the Treasury is worried about the extra cash it may have to pay out, the Clause as amended would cover them. The Minister must still be satisfied that the land would yield a sufficient living to an occupier reasonably skilled in husbandry or would be capable of doing so as a result of the improvement. The Clause will still be sufficiently strong for its purpose.

If the Government reject the Amendment, they will do so because they have not taken the trouble to think out what is involved. There was an article in the Economist a fortnight ago which pointed out that the trouble with this Government was that they were far less radical than the Conservative Government who preceded them. At every point in this Bill we see the same old things, which might have been reasonable over a number of years, trotted out again because the Government have not thought the thing through.

If the Government want to get agriculture moving and put some sense into the whole agricultural economy, they must consider this sort of point and produce a reasonable answer. The Parliamentary Secretary is a very experienced man in farming. I defy him to reject the Amendment. A man with his experience must know many examples of the case we are trying to meet, and he cannot fail to accept the Amendment as utterly reasonable. If we get no sense out of the Government on a question of this kind, it is little wonder that the country generally, and the farming community in particular, is losing confidence. By accepting the Amendment, the Government could give great assistance and increase the confidence of farmers.

Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)

It is right that I should declare an interest in this matter, but I make no apology for so doing because I feel that it qualifies me to speak from experience and helps me to be constructive.

I am a little puzzled because, a little while ago, when we tried to include the word "buildings" with "land", we were told that it was unnecessary because the definition of land automatically implied that buildings would go with it. The Government cannot have it both ways. We have already had examples of land being farmed without there being buildings on it. The Parliamentary Secretary knows of farms of this kind in Scotland, particularly hill farms, and some of them fairly large. I know of one of 700 acres without a single building on it, but it is none the less a viable farming unit. The man who lives nearest to it lives in a cottage on an adjoining farm, and it is, in fact, treated as a led farm from another farm about 12 miles away.

There are plenty of examples, and one need not quote more. The Government should accept the Amendment without further argument.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I support the Amendment because the Clause as it stands operates as an absolute bar to any improvement scheme being given in circumstances where land needs buildings to enable it to become more productive. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), I have areas of marshland in my constituency. Formerly, this land was not particularly fertile, often because of lack of drainage, but now it is being greatly improved. Nevertheless, it is not making a great contribution to the national larder because it cannot be farmed as extensively as it might be. It seems to me that the Minister could quite easily use the safeguards if the bar is removed to ensure that only suitable schemes were approved.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

It must surely be right for the Minister to accept the Amendment. There is a good deal of land which is capable of being developed for farms which does not have buildings upon it but which one day may have buildings upon it when the farming industry develops there.

I ask the Minister to consider an area in my constituency which we call the Breckland, one of the most splendid examples of reclamation of the moraine soils and silt of the glacial age which has been recovered. There are no buildings there and under the Bill this land would not be eligible for support.

I ask the Minister also to consider what, I hope, will one day be the scheme for the reclamation of the Wash. I know that this is a long way off, but I would like the hon. Gentleman to understand that in East Anglia we feel strongly about the need to tackle this problem. It could well be that if land is reclaimed in these areas—and a good deal is already being reclaimed there—under the definition in the Bill, by which money will not be available unless buildings are already there, future projects could not derive benefit. I am sure that that is not what the Government intend.

There is, however, another and probably more important point, namely, that if the Government refuse money for land where there are no buildings, they could well defeat their purpose in one of the earlier Clauses of the Bill. In many of the areas which are subject to amalgamation, it is frequently the case that a farmer who goes out of business and seeks to sell his land to another farm may have sold off the house quite separately. We have discussed this on previous Amendments.

I happen to live in an agricultural cottage which I bought from a local farmer, who thereby forfeited all buildings on the lot of land in question. If at a future stage there should be need for amalgamation here, the portion of land from which I bought off the house would no longer be capable of attracting grant under the Bill.

If the Minister wishes amalgamations to go forward smoothly, and he accepts, I understand, the principle that in many cases houses on the land may be separated from the land itself, he must surely recognise that there will be cases where it is necessary for the grant to be available for the land as such, particularly where the building has previously been sold off separately. I hope, therefore, that being the reasonable man he is, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the point that not in every case does land have a building with it, certainly not for the purposes of the Bill.

2.0 a.m.

Mr. Kitson

I fear that the Minister is not keeping up with the changing pattern of agriculture in some parts of the country. A number of farmers in my part of the country are retaining their houses and buildings and are selling their land, which is being bought by lowland farmers for summering their cattle. If the Amendment is not accepted they will be excluded from the benefits of Schedule 4 (5), from the Provisions and improvement of pens and other fixed equipment for use in connection with the sheltering, gathering, marking, dipping, spraying, treatment or feeding of sheep and cattle". This will create a serious state of affairs for the lowland farmers who are buying land on which they need to do most of these things. I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will be accepted. If not, the Minister will be demonstrating that he does not recognise what is happening in some of the hill areas.

Mr. Hawkins

I spoke on this issue in Committee and, on that occasion, the principles involved in the Amendment were supported by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). We are considering a practical Amendment which looks to the future; to the time when land which is not fully productive now or which is being reclaimed around our coasts gets into full production. Because we are losing so much land to the building industry—for new towns, reservoirs and so on—we must ensure that every acre used for farming is fully utilised.

In Committee I referred to a case in my constituency, areas of black land between where I live—Downham Market—and Ely. Few people live in this black land area and there are few buildings. However, this is very productive land and it has come into its own in the last few years. Large crops of celery, chicory, onions and carrots are being taken off this land. But roads are urgently needed in this area so that these root crops can be speedily transported. I understand that, because there are no buildings on the land, the farmers will not get these grants.

Another anomaly concerns the marshland around the coast of Norfolk. Although in many instances land is being farmed without full drainage, without roads and probably without buildings, it appears that the farmers will not receive these grants in view of the provisions of Schedule 4 covering improvements. Presumably, one can alter an existing building and get the grant, but one cannot erect a new building, although on the land about which I am speaking it might be vitally necessary to build a grain store or barn. Would it be possible for one to erect a couple of huts and then claim the grant for a brand new large building? Although the owners of some of this land require roads rather than buildings, it seems that if they do not already have buildings, they cannot receive these grants.

Considering that unless a farmer has an existing building he cannot receive the grant and considering that some farmers want roads rather than buildings. I trust that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who is a practical man, will deal with this practical problem and give a practical reply, since we all desire to see every acre of land fully utilised.

Mr. John Mackie

Much has been said about my practical experience in this matter and no doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that they might sway me in my view by making those remarks. The effect of the Amendment would be to remove from the Farm Improvement Scheme the "bare land" test which requires that land for the benefit of which improvements are to be carried out must be equipped with buildings.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) pointed out that the scheme was introduced in 1957. However, the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) maintained that because of the changes that had taken place since then, it was no longer a sensible scheme. I have heard it argued that the purpose of the Amendment is to allow grant to be paid on various holdings that have been run without buildings, but I would very much doubt whether there are many holdings of that type today. It is very seldom indeed that no buildings at all are required on a holding. A house is normally needed, and facilities for workers, and even stock kept in the open or over-wintered normally need a feed store. The newly developed "cow kennels" would qualify as buildings for the purposes of the Clause. Even on moors and reclaimed marshes used for summer grazing or taking a crop, animals and implements need housing in winter, and the land should be run with a properly-equipped farm.

The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorkshire (Mr. Kitson) mentioned hill grazings. These hill grazings will be able to qualify for 50 per cent. grants under the new schemes to be made under Clause 39. In many of these schemes, many of the things the hon. Member mentioned, such as shelters for sheep, etc., would qualify for grants, and they are not buildings in the accepted sense of the word. The only real effect of admitting bare land would therefore be to let in improvements on accommodation land or reclaimed marshland not regularly occupied with an equipped farm. I want to outline some of the arguments against this—

Mr. Kitson

This would not apply to marginal land, which is very similar to hill land in our part of the world. It would not apply to that land.

Mr. Mackie

No, it would not apply to that land, but it applies to hill land improvement schemes.

I should mention that the number of such cases where all the other tests of the scheme would be met are thought to be very few. Next, the extension would depart from the principle of improving "farms" and move into that of improving land as such even though it would not normally be regarded as a unit of owner-occupation.

Then, again, without these words in the Clause people would expect us to be prepared to admit large-scale reclamation from the sea and to equip bare land fully with buildings. An hon. Member mentioned the Wash. The plan there is not to reclaim it but to use it for a water supply in order to save reservoirs in various parts of the country at the present time—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The Minister rather alarms me, and I am sure he will alarm many people in East Anglia, by his vagueness on this enormously important question. Of course, the intention is that the Wash will provide reservoirs, but a good deal is also to be held as being reclaimed—around Sandringham, for example—for agricultural land.

Mr. Mackie

That may be. I simply make the point that the bulk of the Wash, if the policy is put across, is to make it a reservoir, not to reclaim it for farm land, and not to equip the areas he knows well about. To do this would be to go well beyond what the Farm Improvement Scheme is intended to do.

This is the difficulty we are up against in allowing the equipping of bare land. It could encourage the splitting up of farms and discourage the amalgamation of bare land with an equipped farm which, in many cases, is the proper thing to do with bare land and an equipped farm. It is almost impossible to do that, I know, but it is better than re-equipping the whole thing and encouraging the smaller units to split up. It is the best way of dealing with it in the long term in all these reclamations, and they are not very large areas. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) says there could be areas like the Wash, in which case we would have to look at it again.

Anything like the suggestion contained in the Amendment would run counter to the farm structure proposals. If we attempted to exclude land which had been severed from an existing farm we would have to introduce complicated provisions about former ownership into a scheme we have always tried to keep simple. I would emphasise that to bring in this provision, or to accept the Amendment, would complicate the situation considerably, could lead to the splitting of farms and, as I have said, would run counter to the farm structure scheme. These are overwhelming reasons against dealing in this way with what I do not think is a major problem meantime, and against making the change suggested by the Amendment. I must therefore ask the House to reject it.

Mr. Prior

With the leave of the House, I should like to answer a few of the points made by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. It struck me that he was making the sort of speech that all Government spokesman make from time to time. Whenever they have a poor argument and they are not convinced by it they put their heads down and read out the brief, hoping for the best. That is exactly what the Parliamentary Secretary did. I know the hon. Gentleman better than that. He does not believe a word of what he was reading, and, what is more, he read it as if he did not believe it.

I can imagine the scene as yesterday morning when the Department were going through these Amendments. The Minister was thinking "What can I say about this one?" and a civil servant came along and said "Well, Minister, you could say that this will lead to large-scale reclamations from the sea. This would encourage people to reclaim from the sea and we cannot afford to have people doing that."

I have never heard such far-fetched reasons in an effort to justify what the Parliamentary Secretary and everyone else in the House knows to be a perfectly sensible and reasonable Amendment. If the Minister argues, as he does, that there are not many types of holdings of this nature, surely that is an even better reason for allowing the Amendment to be accepted. If there were thousands of these units all over the land, it could be argued that it would be too costly, that it might lead to splitting up of units and so on. But not a bit of it. The Minister says that there are not many of these about. We all know that there are quite a few, but I should have thought that the fact that there are only a few would support our argument.

It is very disappointing. It is now nearly a quarter-past two in the morning and we are trying to debate seriously a very important agricultural Measure. I do not believe there has been one occasion in the whole course of this debate when the Government have allowed themselves to be influenced by the debate. We have had the Secretary of State for Scotland sitting here most of the time. He has made very few interventions, which is quite unusual for him. Why does he not get to his feet and say something on the Amendment? He has listened to the arguments and I believe that he has been convinced by them.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

Not at all.

Mr. Prior

Then he is just as thick now as he was when he used to sit elsewhere in the House.

The Government are treating the Opposition with contempt. On the first day back we are being made to sit here all night on a Bill which could quite easily have had two days allotted to it so that we could have a sensible debate. Instead of that, we are being pushed to this extreme. We are not getting any decent replies from the Government. They are not bothering to consider the very serious points which are being made, and many of which our constituents asked us to raise. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) knows the problem only too well, but he has not thought fit to get to his feet to support us. This is all very disappointing, and if the Minister wants to make progress with the Bill he is going the wrong way about it.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I hesitated to speak on the Amendment earlier as I moved it in Committee. We went into it very thoroughly on that occasion and the Parliamentary Secretary said that he would have another look at the question. I have sat here, hoping that we would hear some new view from the Government Front Bench. The only difference tonight is that the Government's case has been presented with so much greater hesitancy, and for very good reason.

The argument that to allow improvements to qualify for grants on holdings without buildings will lead to the splitting up of holdings is extremely weak. It casts a bad aspersion on the officers of the Department of Agriculture in Scotland and of the Ministry of Agriculture in England in administering these schemes. After all, the object of these schemes is set out in the beginning of Clause 30. It is to make … long-term improvements for the benefit of agricultural land… and it is open to any officer of the Department to refuse any suggestion which is not going to lead to a development which would be in the long-term advantage of agriculture.

2.15 a.m.

This is something which could well be left to the officers of the Department. If there is a danger of splitting up, then I should say that the officers were not doing their jobs. There are plenty of safeguards. The whole purpose of this Clause is to assist in the making of long-term improvements for agricultural land—and it is land which is important. It is not difficult to create buildings. They require bricks, and cement, and things which are man-made, but to create land in this small country of ours, so much having already been taken for roads and building, is totally another matter.

Agricultural land is declining in quantity every year, and the creation of "new" land, for example from the sea, is surely worth all the encouragement we can give. I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was on a particularly weak point when he quibbled about the difference between hill land and marginal land. It is on marginal land in particular that there is so much scope for improvements in one form or another; and there is so much room for new techniques to be employed. I could take the Parliamentary Secretary to my con- stituency and show him marginal land which has been tremendously improved. This land, which does not necessarily have buildings on it, is a fine example, and if this grant was used differently, a lot of land could be brought into new production in the interests of agriculture and the nation generally.

What particularly disappoints me is the Parliamentary Secretary's attitude to reclamation of land from the sea and I say this because not so long ago he was one of an enthusiastic group concerned at that time with reclaiming land from the sea off the east coast of Scotland. This is a scheme which has been talked of a great deal, and I think that the hon. Gentleman and some of his associates even went to Holland in order to take advice about how this work could best be done. So he is not personally unaware of the value of land reclamation from the sea and I am only too sorry that, instead of showing again the enthusiasm which he has shown in the past, he should have stuck so closely to his brief.

In the time which has elapsed since his reply perhaps he has had an opportunity to think again. Perhaps he would seek the leave of the House to speak again and speak from his heart and not from the paper which has been put in front of him.

Mr. Stodart

I seek the leave of the House to say one or two further words about what the Parliamentary Secretary has just said. I share the views of my hon. Friends. I think that the hon. Gentleman has been put in a disgraceful position tonight. I can well imagine the jockeying among the three Ministers as to who would not have the distasteful task of replying to this debate. It was disgraceful that he was picked on, because he knows far more about the practical side and therefore knows far more about the substance of the points raised than either of his colleagues. My heart goes out to him.

I do not know, and perhaps he will seek the leave of the House to tell us, what are the complications he mentioned. There are far greater complications in many of the agricultural schemes than would result from the inclusion in the Farm Improvement Scheme of build- ings without land. If the Department of Agriculture for Scotland is capable of grading in the three grades every acre of winter keep area and the Ministry of Agriculture is incapable of even working a farm improvement scheme for land that has not got buildings on it, it should go to Edinburgh and get a lesson in efficiency.

The hon. Gentleman referred to hill farming schemes and pointed out that there is a 50 per cent. grant. There is, but not on buildings, as he readily said. This is the most hard-pressed branch of agriculture at the moment and it is just on that sort of farm that a building might make all the difference to things like lambing percentages. It would do more than a great deal of hill sheep subsidy would do to jack up the income on those farms if they could raise their lambing percentage quite a bit, which they might do if some of those farms without buildings were enabled to put buildings up.

With all the new techniques that the Parliamentary Secretary knows are coming into the sheep industry in particular, these should be fostered, and I hope that he will have another go. If the complications really are stupendous I can assure him that we shall be sympathetic, but on the face of it he should accept the Amendment.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that the hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak.

Mr. Kitson

Surely, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, an hon. Member may speak again with the leave of the House? Several hon. Members on this side of the House may wish to speak again on the Amendment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

On Report, an hon. Member cannot speak twice except with the leave of the House. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has the leave of the House to speak again.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I only wish to ask the Minister a question.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The House has declined to give leave. Therefore the hon. Member cannot speak a second time.

Mr. John Mackie

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) accused me of just reading from the brief and not replying and not listening to the debate. But the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) made a point of the fact that I did reply. I do not know which hon. Member was correct. I made notes and answered every point. Most of the points put exactly the same argument, so I did not have to reply to many.

It is correct that I was a member of a company that tried to reclaim the Montrose Basin before the days of the Farm Improvement Scheme. If buildings were required we were prepared to put them up if the project was feasible, but the Dutch people we consulted said that it was not. I do not know what that matter has to do with today's argument.

As far as we can see, there is no great demand at present for what the Amendment seeks. I doubt if the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns could produce an area of land in the constituency he represents and where I live that would require extra buildings that would not be attached to a farm that does not already have buildings. He may produce just a little, but I would almost challenge him to do so. I do not think that he could.

Most areas in this country—I would point out to the hon. Member for Lowestoft that I am not reading a brief—that are reclaimed could be attached to existing farms. We must remember that this is a farm improvement scheme, not a scheme for providing sets of buildings where none existed before. I said that if cases arise where large areas of land are to be reclaimed, we should have to look at them separately under a different scheme.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) said that the owners of hard-pressed sheep farms could do with buildings. As I said earlier when administering the 50 per cent. grant for improvement of hill land we intend that such things as shelters for lambing should qualify for grant. If the farmers want buildings in the normal way they can get the normal F.I.S. grant. If there are already buildings—and there are mostly buildings of one kind and another on those farms—there can be a farm improvement grant. The hon. Gentleman knows that well, and I do not know why he made the point. I would emphasise again that I am now replying to the points that have been made and am not reading from a brief.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman said that he was answering the various points that have been raised. I asked a question of him. When a farmer going out of business sells his buildings to some other person, perhaps a retired shopkeeper, and so the land is separated from the buildings, there one has land which someone else may wish to take over. Is that to be eligible for grant or not?

Mr. Mackie

I should say not. That is the sort of case that could perhaps come under an amalgamation scheme. Anyway, if it is a case of people selling off buildings I cannot imagine that the hon. Member wants us to spend public money providing buildings and allow people to sell them off.

I think that I have answered all the points. I am certain that if there were to be a strong demand in the future for help in enquipping large areas of bare land we should need to look at this under a totally different scheme. It could not be looked at under the present Farm Improvement Scheme.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Jopling

I beg to move Amendment No. 49, in page 36, line 15, to leave out from 'circumstances' to the end of line 17.

I am particularly glad that the Government have given way on the previous Amendment, and I am sure that—

Mr. James Davidson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Can you tell us whether the last Amendment was passed?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

The last Amendment was negatived.

Mr. Prior

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I definitely heard some hon. Members shout "Aye" and some shout "No". In that case, why was not the Question put to a Division?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I put the Question to leave out "land" to "and" in line 5. The Question was "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause." I did not hear any hon. Member call "No" or challenge it, and so I declared that the Ayes had it.

2.30 a.m.

Mr. Prior

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I heard someone on the Government Front Bench shout "No".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I listened very carefully. I heard a number of voices say "Aye". I looked at the Opposition side of the Chamber to see if anyone was calling "No". I did not hear anyone say "No". Therefore, I decided that the Ayes had it.

Mr. Prior

Further to that point of order. Probably you were looking at the wrong side of the Chamber. It was on that side of the Chamber that the "Noes" had it. There can be no doubt that the Government made a mistake and got it wrong.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sure that I made no mistake. I collected the voices. I heard "Ayes" and no "Noes" and decided that the Ayes had it.

Mr. Jopling

Further to that point of order. Would you care to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he said "No"? I heard him say "No", as did many of my hon. Friends. Will you invite the right hon. Gentleman to clarify the situation?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is my duty to collect the voices. I did so and announced my decision.

Mr. Jopling

We discussed this Amendment in Committee and had some sort of promise from the Minister that he would look at the matter again. The Amendment raises a question of the utmost importance, particularly in certain areas such as those in the national parks. The first part of subsection (4,c) raises new considerations. We all welcome that part which allows grants to be paid on the agricultural part of improvements where previously none could be paid. That is a thoroughly good thing. But there is a case, which is negatived in the second part of subsection (4,c), for grant aid for other benefits which are of a non-agricultural nature. The Amendment, allowing such grants, would be an extremely valuable change in certain areas. I am thinking particularly of the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty which constitute vast tracts of our countryside. I represent part of an important area, the Lake District. The Minister himself also represents part of it and he is well aware of the problems. Like other national parks, we have a planning board. In general, such boards do a very good job but it is said in the Lake District—and, I am sure, in other national parks—that the planning board is the most hated body in the district. I suppose that this is inevitable because there are great disadvantages in living in a national park. Some are caused by the people who visit them. Others are caused by the planning boards.

It is nice for people in my constituency to wake up in the morning and look at the distant view but it is not so pleasant for them to find on their front lawns campers cooking sausages over a primus stove and who reply, when asked to go away, "This is a national park and there is no reason why we should not be here."

That is one of the disadvantages of farming in a national park, but another is the very high cost of building because of the conditions laid down by the planning boards about the materials and building methods to be used. In most national parks it is insisted that some of the cheap materials, like concrete and asbestos, cannot be used and slate and stone and other natural materials have to be used instead. This means a high cost for farmers who want to put up buildings, and yet the provisions of the second part of paragraph (c) mean that grant cannot be paid in respect of that extra cost which is caused by amenity considerations demanded by the planning authorities in areas of outstanding beauty throughout the country.

This is commercially a disadvantage for farmers in such areas compared with farmers who may be just across the road but outside the area. They have no alternative and cannot get out of meeting the demands of the planning boards if they want to make improvements. It is perfectly right that the planning boards should make these demands and I am sure that we would all agree that they should be able to do so, but the benefit of these extra costs and the use of these special building materials goes to people who come from all over the country to enjoy the national parks and areas of outstanding beauty. Therefore, as the benefit of these demands and these extra costs is enjoyed by the nation as a whole, the nation as a whole should be prepared to pay part of the cost.

That is surely an argument with which few will disagree. As he comes from the Lake District, I should be surprised if what I am saying did not have the Minister's personal sympathy. The agricultural land in our national parks tends to be poorer land and that is where agricultural help is needed most.

I hope that the Amendment is accepted. I am prepared to wager that if the country ever goes into the European Economic Community, legislation of this sort will be passed before we have been in for very long, because extra assistance to cover amenity considerations and the extra cost resulting from planning decisions would be allowed within the Treaty of Rome, because it would not have any direct bearing on any specific agricultural production.

I have spoken at some length because this is one of the greatest problems which farmers in the national parks now face and I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Kimball

I hope that the Minister will think again about this proposal, because if he continues to refuse this Amendment he will be out of line with the thinking of all amenity bodies and people represented on the recent Duke of Edinburgh's Study Conference on the Countryside in 1970. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) spoke most eloquently about his national park, but we are faced with the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is going around creating other recreational areas in the countryside and vast extensions of the areas of outstanding beauty. That will mean added burdens on the farmers in these areas as the planning restrictions become even greater.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that one of the recommendations of the Duke of Edinburgh's Study Conference on the Countryside in 1970 was that agricultural buildings over a certain height should now be subject to planning restrictions. What the conference had in mind was that agricultural buildings over a certain area are now subject to planning restrictions, but that the new kinds of silo towers are beginning to disfigure the landscape in many parts of the countryside and should therefore be subject to planning consent.

If these tower silos and bigger buildings are to become subject to planning approval, no doubt planning committees will allow them to go through, but will make very extensive safeguards and will insist on the buildings being painted a certain colour and being built of certain materials to tone with the landscape. The Minister is being quite unrealistic and out of touch with people in the countryside and with the more advanced thinking about amenities if he continues to resist. I hope that, at least on this point, he will give us a favourable answer. We have sat here until this late hour and so far I do not believe we have had a single favourable answer out of the Government.

Most of the argument one hears today is that in many cases the agricultural community is despoiling the countryside. There is almost a clash between the agricultural community and the naturalist and people who want to preserve the countryside. The Minister, by his mismanagement of agricultural policy, is forcing farmers to take measures which they are reluctant to take; to plough up commons and areas of scientific interest that should never be ploughed up. All these are done unwillingly at the moment and the Minister is now putting an extra burden on the farmers by not allowing them to spend the extra money which the planning committees will demand, to increase the beauty of our countryside.

Sir Frank Pearson

The House should be deeply grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) for having raised an extremely important point in this part of the Bill. We can only express the deepest regret that this extremely important matter has had to be raised at such an early hour of the morning and after we have debated the Bill for a considerable time.

From the Minister's replies, it is clear that he is unable to give the detailed and serious consideration we all expect to the points we raise, even at this hour of the morning. My hon. Friend has raised this point with regard to the question of the national parks. My own constituency is near a national park and I am fully aware of the growing difficulties many agriculturalists find they are up against when they wish to develop holdings in a national park.

It is only recently, by an action which appeared to be slightly dictatorial and slightly "off", that the Minister of Land and Natural Resources re-formed the National Parks Commission and brought to that body an entirely new set of people. It is early days to say what will be the effect of the change in the Commission on the agricultural holdings in the national parks, but casting one's eyes down the list, one cannot help feeling that the bias in the future may well be in favour of urban enjoyment, and possibly to a point against the best agricultural interests.

I know that the National Farmers' Union is very concerned about the degree of representation that it has on the new Parks Commission. My remarks are extremely germane to the Amendment because if the conditions under which the farmer may develop his buildings or land are to be even more stringent than before, we have to be particularly careful that nothing in the Bill places a greater burden upon him.

2.45 a.m.

Already we have heard of the case when one is required to use special roofing or building materials which, in some cases, will be considerably more expensive than the normal materials. As I understand the Clause, no allowance to meet that added expense will be given in any grant. That is not only a serious injustice but a definite discouragement to the farming community to carry out improvements and alterations which obviously are in the best interests of agriculture.

Another facet of this Clause gives cause for concern. Under subsection (3) it is clear that in giving his approval to a grant the Minister will have power to approve it in whole or in part. It is not clear from the present wording what is meant by approving it in part. Take a milk producer who not only produces milk from his dairy herd, but also retails it. Such a man has vehicles going to and from the farm regularly—an access road is needed. Perhaps there is a bridge to cross a stream, a cattle grid, all matters coming within the purview of these grants under Schedule 4. How is the Minister to assess the grant?

Will such a man get the full grant or will the Minister say that part of the improvements carried out are in relation to the retailing side of the business, and that only part of the grant will be paid? This point should be clarified by the Minister, because if it is not we will find that we have an anomaly. We will have a situation in which a man who merely milks the cattle and sells the milk wholesale gets the full grant, but the man who milks the cattle and sells retail receives only part. That is clearly wrong.

There may also be a farmer carrying out contracting operations. Will he receive the full grant or will it be cut down because he is carrying out operations not strictly concerned with the farming of the land?

I hope that the Minister will follow up the genuine fears on this side of the House about the exact interpretation of this Clause. If he can give an answer, well and good, we will accept it. If he cannot clear up this point then the second part of the subsection, which we seek to delete, should be looked at very closely by the Minister.

Mr. Kitson

I very much hope that the Minister will accept this Amendment, and I hope also that he will discourage his Parliamentary Secretary from trying to rush us at this time of night, as he did in the last Amendment—quite shockingly so when one recalls that it took about 15 months to get the Committee stage of the Bill. We cannot now be expected to rush it through.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) on the way in which he moved the Amendment. He has the very attractive Lake District in his constituency, and in my constituency I have a large part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is sad but true to say that it is expensive now to live in a national park. A good deal of bitterness is growing up among people living in the national parks about the restrictions that are being put on them by the planning committees.

I had a case a year or two ago when 10 farmers wished to put in electricity. They obtained agreement and a grant to put electricity into their farms. Then, at the eleventh hour, the planning committee said that the electricity lines must go underground. I accept that it was a good idea that the electricity lines should go underground, but, at the same time, it was not the responsibility of the individuals who wanted electricity to have to foot the additional bill. It was a national responsibility, and it was grossly unfair.

People farming in these difficult areas should receive encouragement and not discouragement, which they get as a result of planning committees giving decisions of this sort. Unless the Minister is prepared to accept this sort of Amendment, it will make it even more difficult in the future. I hope that, as he has a national park in his constituency, he will be sympathetic to the Amendment.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) has done a service to the House, as he did in Committee, in raising the problems which face farmers in these areas. So far in the debate emphasis has been laid on the difficulties and, perhaps, the resentment which is felt amongst farmers who have special restrictions laid upon them, and have to pay for them, but what is encouraging is the number of farmers in both Scotland and England who have, in carrying out improvements on their farms, taken into account aesthetic values in the type of buildings they have put up, without having any requirement laid upon them to do so.

In comparison with industry, agriculture has often shown, in the way it has put up its buildings, that it is much more conscious of amenity value and the effect that such buildings have on the countryside. This is particularly true in Scotland. I know that our new Under-Secretary who is responsible for agriculture in Scotland is interested in the countryside, and I am sure that he will bear me out when I speak of the great pride Scottish farmers have in their steadings and of the unique architectural value of many of our agricultural steadings. There are exceptions and some monstrosities, but in general it is noticeable in Scotland how well many of these impromements in farm steadings and buildings have been carried out.

We can pride ourselves on our agricultural buildings in Scotland. In many places where there have been no restrictions, natural materials in the form of stone and slate have been used in improvements, maintaining the amenity value of the area. I think we are better off in Scotland than in England. When I was touring farms in the south-west of England a few years ago, the Englishman who was conducting the tour said, every time we came to a particularly tidy and attractive steading, that it was a Scot who was working that farm.

Mr. Peter Mills

I must protest.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

That shows how conscious we are of these things in Scotland and how we have been able to carry something of value south of the Border as well.

Mr. Henry Clark

Does it not show how right Dr. Johnson was when he said that the finest view in Scotland was the road leading to England?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

It is a fine view where the Scots have improved it.

This is a very important Amendment for farmers living in a national park area who have to comply with a higher standard of materials and building design and for farmers who, on their own account, wish to use higher class materials purely to maintain the appearance of their steadings, particularly when they are close to a main road, even when there is no restriction on them. It is a great pity that they are put at a disadvantage compared with others, and I very much hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am worried by the distinction which the Clause will make between improvements done with a little grace and charm and improvements done with minimum concern for the beauty of the landscape. The Minister's difficulty will be in distinguishing with precision between that part of an improvement which goes to the strictly agricultural benefit of the land, which he approves, and that part of the improvement which goes to amenity.

Here are some examples from his own Schedule. Money is to be available for filling in ponds and depressions. This can be done in the minimum way, or it can be done in such a way that a little grace and beauty is added to the landscape. Money is to be available for putting up a shelter belt. How will the Minister distinguish that part of the shelter belt of trees which goes to the agricultural benefit of the land and the part which adds a little grace to the landscape? My next example is the damming of a valley to form a lake. This has been done on a farm I know very well. Presumably, the owner could apply for grant under the Bill because this would provide benefit in the watering of cattle. But, once again, the farmer will be tempted, as the Bill now stands, to do it in the minimum way, the most utilitarian or proletarian way. I suppose that this is how our society is moving today, but in the past this nation has preserved its landscape because men have not sought to do their farming in the most utilitarian fashion. They have sought to add a little grace and charm for posterity.

I am not asking the Minister to sanction the expenditure of public money on beautifying the landscape, but I want him to say to the farming community that, when they make improvements, they should have in mind the beauty and charm of the landscape, not thinking solely of the agricultural benefit as defined in the Bill. I hope that we shall not reach a situation in which it is impossible to distinguish with precision between that part of an improvement which goes to the agricultural benefit of the land and that part which, in my view, goes to the national interest.

Mr. John Mackie

In reply to the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson), I must point out that I have no power to rush the House and would not attempt to do so. I think that it was either yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or your predecessor in the Chair who must have appeared to the hon. Gentleman to rush the House. I certainly did not. I have neither the wish nor the power to do so, and I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's observation.

The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), has raised the question of the "prudent owner-occupier" test and the proposals for dealing with that part of an improvement which might be affected by amenity considerations.

3.0 a.m.

I listened carefully to the hon. Members for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson), North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson) and I did not notice any difference in any of their arguments. They have all been the same, emphasising the same points, except for the hon. Member for Clitheroe, who went back to the previous Clause and was, I think, out of order in doing so. It has nothing to do with the Amendment.

Sir Frank Pearson


Mr. Mackie

I will just say—

Mr. Henry Clark

On a point of order. Is the Parliamentary Secretary in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in casting aspersions on the ability of the Chair to keep hon. Members in order?

Mr. Peart

He is not casting aspersions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Nothing I have heard so far has been out of order. The reply which the Minister gives is his responsibility.

Mr. Mackie

The hon. Member for Clitheroe mentioned a milk retailer wanting a road for his milk float and for farm traffic. If there were a difference in the road because it was to be used for the two purposes, we have people who could apportion so much to the farm use and so much to the dairy business. I cannot imagine that it would be difficult, but, in any event, it seems unlikely that the road would be much different from what would be required for farm traffic only.

The Amendment would delete the provisions which require the Minister, when applying the "prudent owner-occupier" test, to disregard any benefit from an improvement other than that to the farming of agricultural land. It has been made clear, however, that what is mainly intended in proposing the Amendment is that where an improvement includes work required for amenity reasons—buildings in national parks have been quoted as the best example—grants should be paid on the full cost. The roofing of buildings with slate, for example, is one of the things that is required in the national park in the constituency of the hon. Member for Westmorland. The intention of the Amendment is that grant should be available on the full cost of the work. Where such work is a statutory requirement and it gives a reasonable agricultural benefit in relation to its cost, we will pay grant on the full cost, as we have always done.

I looked at an improvement in a national park area where the landlords were the National Trust. It was a very good improvement of a milking parlour and yard with self-feed silage and slatted—or, at any rate, grid—floors. The area wall next to the road had to be built in stone, together with a gable showing over the top of the buildings, otherwise it was allowed to be built in asbestos and asbestos block. The landlord paid for the difference. I appreciate that not every landlord does that in the national park areas. There are other landlords than the National Trust.

But this is a scheme for the improvement of agricultural buildings. It is a farm improvement scheme and not an amenity improvement scheme. Hon. Members have made the fair point that, if the public wish to have these amenities in national parks or elsewhere, their providers should be helped from public funds; but this should be done not with funds from the agriculture Vote but from other sources—if this is what the public wish.

Under the old Farm Improvement Scheme, if the inclusion of such amenity work took the cost of the improvement above what was reasonable on agricultural grounds, the applicant got nothing at all. He will be better off under this Bill, because the apportionment provisions in Clause 35(2) allow us to make a contribution to that part of the cost which is justified on agricultural grounds. This was welcomed on the benches opposite but hon. Members want a bit more.

Similarly, we shall be enabled to apportion in cases where the applicant himself, free of any statutory requirement, wishes to use more expensive material than can be justified on agricultural grounds. It would be wrong to go beyond this in an Agriculture Bill by taking power to grant aid the full cost of any amenity work, even if it could not be justified agriculturally.

Apart from the statutory requirement in national park areas, many farmers wish—for reasons of amenity, posterity and so on—to carry out work of a special quality. This is all well and good. However, I do not believe that one could expect public money to be spent in all cases for those purposes.

I was asked how distinctions would be made. I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that when it comes to considering such things, we have people who have the technical ability to deal with them. They have gained experience of this type of activity and, as time passes, they will gain further experience. They are able to decide how much of the work is of agricultural value and how much is of amenity value. They do their work well and fairly. I ask the House to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Godber

I am not satisfied with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reply. I am sure that my hon. Friends feel the same, particularly after the powerful case which they deployed in favour of the Amendment. I expected a concession from the Government on this matter and it is obvious that the Minister has not faced up to the strong arguments adduced by my hon. Friends who represent areas the farmers of which take great pride in the countryside and its appearance. Many problems confront those who must earn their livelihood in these areas, and while they do not begrudge people from other parts of the country visiting their areas to enjoy the amenities, they should not be penalised for wanting to enhance and preserve those amenities.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred to the 1957 Act. This Part of the Bill follows almost exactly the wording of Section 12(3,c) of the previous Measure, although whereas in the Bill there is a definite disregard which my hon. Friends wish to limit, no such disregard appears in the Act. The hon. Gentleman rested his case on the fact that, under the Act, if costs were above a certain amount, nothing at all would be paid. That would not appear to be the case from the wording of the Act. Why is it necessary, since the wording of this Part of the Bill so closely follows the wording of the Act, to insert this additional limitation?

In view of the strong case adduced by my hon. Friends, I am sure that the House would be willing to give the Joint Parliamentary Secretary another opportunity to explain exactly what he has in mind. He said that where there was a statutory requirement, the Department would pay the full cost, as it had always done. But if the words which the Amendment proposes to delete remain in, there will not be such a statutory requirement. It is obvious, therefore, that if the Amendment is accepted, the statutory requirement will be far greater than if it were rejected. In resisting the Amendment the hon. Gentleman is seeking to prevent there being a statutory requirement, and in saying "Where there is a statutory requirement we will pay the full cost", he is being somewhat naïve because he is limiting the degree of statutory requirement the re will be.

The Parliamentary Secretary should therefore look at this point again. His answer does not match up with the powerful case put forward by my hon. Friends—a case which evoked sympathy from both sides. I saw hon. Members opposite nodding—I presumed in agreement, but it may have been for other reasons. I hope that the Government will look at this matter again, and I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to reply again.

Mr. John Mackie

I did not rest my entire case on the point mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, but this Measure does give a better deal than did the 1957 Act. On the other point, I said that where there is a statutory requirement and where the work gives a reasonable agricultural benefit in relation to its cost, we will pay grant on the full cost. This to a considerable extent takes care of what I have mentioned, such as roofing a building, or slating it in a national park—such things as were mentioned by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), private amenity, and so on. I think that the reasons I have advanced are perfectly sound ones.

Mr. Godber

If that is so, why is it necessary to put in these words? This must restrict the position more than it was restricted in the 1957 Act. That is the point that I want to have cleared up. Are the Government being more restrictive here than we were in 1957, or not? It is a fairly simple point. The purpose of the Amendment is to restore the position as it was in the 1957 Act rather than have it as it is here. I should be glad to be reassured, but at the moment I am rather worried by the hon. Gentleman's reply.

Mr. Jopling

Before the Minister replies to my right hon. Friend, I should like to comment on another part of the platform on which he based his argument—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member who moved the Amendment has the right to speak again.

Mr. Jopling

I was always under that impression, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am glad to have your support. When the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has stopped muttering and has finished his conversation, I shall be most grateful.

Mr. Peart

We would have given the hon. Member permission to speak again. As I have said, he is rather a decent fellow.

Mr. Jopling

It is very nice to hear that. The Minister accuses me of extravagant language, so that is very helpful.

The Parliamentary Secretary said, and I think that I wrote down his words correctly, "This is an Agriculture Bill and not an amenity Bill." The fact is that the provisions which will apply to farms will put a severe cost on farmers for amenity reasons. I do not doubt that these amenities add very considerably to a farmer's costs in these places, and I am quite sure that the cost to farmers of amenity considerations is taken care of in the Price Review. They are costs a farmer cannot avoid. He has to pay for them, and it seems to me that they are rather similar to those costs caused by a local authority demanding that he does certain things about his outflow. That is a public health matter. The Minister pays grant on measures of public health, and I see no reason why he should not pay it also on amenity value.

Mr. John Mackie

One could go into various areas of farm land around London and find excuses at the Price Review for saying that we should have different reviews for those areas on the ground that costs are very high. One could go around the country finding excuses for differential price reviews all over the place. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has put a very strong argument.

Amendment negatived.

3.15 a.m.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The next Amendment is No. 50.

Mr. Prior

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Patronage Secretary is now with us. Would it not be reasonable in the circumstances to ask him whether he would consider adjourning the debate and allowing us to continue on another day? We have not seen much of him during the day.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order, however relevant the hon. Member's intervention might otherwise appear to be. Amendment No. 50, Mr. Hector Monro.

Mr. Monro

I beg to move Amendment No. 50, in page 36, line 17, at the end to insert: (5) Improvements and renewals (but not repairs) of permanent fences (including hedges), walls and gates, where these form the boundary between two farms, shall be exempt from the provisions of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the preceding subsection. The Government Front Bench have been very stubborn, testy and unhelpful throughout the long sitting, and I hope that the Scottish Ministers will now have a chance to show that they are enlightened and sympathetic to agriculture.

This is a simple Amendment that will cost very little indeed and will be of great financial importance to the smallholder. The Amendments concerns march fences—[Interruption.] I wonder if the Minister of Agriculture would give back benchers the opportunity of making speeches? I am talking of the renewal of march fences, and not the repair. I am referring not only to fences but to dykes and gates. In Scotland march fences must be maintained, in accordance either with the Statute of 1661 or with common law, or indeed by title. This is an obligation that cannot be escaped by the farmers concerned.

A large farm that is viable is entitled to a farm improvement grant. A smallholding that is not viable is not entitled to the grant for a march fence. If a large and a small farm march together, the big farmer will get the farm improvement grant but the smaller one, who has an equal obligation to provide a fence, does not. Although the smaller farmer's financial need is much greater, he is still forced to pay 50 per cent. of the cost of the fence. This is most unfair, particularly when one realises that yet again the Socialist Government are hammering the small man when one would have thought that the provision of help to the smallholder would be a very simple matter indeed.

This is not a hypothetical case. I have had such a case in my own constituency very near to my own farm. I know the fence and the farmer well. He has the distinguished name of Willie Ross. This matter was considered in detail in Standing Committee. This fence was 900 yards long, between a smallholding and a larger farm. I had a sympathetic letter from the Parliamentary Secretary last May, mentioning that the matter would be brought up in the debates on the Agriculture Bill. It was then debated in detail in Committee and it was argued cogently by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart). The then Minister of State, Scottish Office said: …we would be quite prepared to look at this point again. We have already looked at it very carefully and we are prepared to look at it again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A; 8th November, 1966, c. 903.] This was a similar promise to that given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, reported in col. 904 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the same date, in relation to England and Wales. What has happened to that promise? Absolutely nothing at all. We expected that some Amendment would be made during the Report stage, and I am most disappointed. My hon. Friends are disappointed, and I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will now relent and be more reasonable in relation to these smallholders, knowing as he does that they can be forced by law to carry out this financial burden, this impossible burden. It might well cost the whole of a smallholder's income for a year to provide a march fence.

After all the refusals of the many constructive Amendments which we on this side have, put forward, here is an opportunity for the Government to concede a small point, but something of great value and importance for smallholders. Acceptance of this could not possibly cost the Ministry a large sum of money, but it would do an enormous amount of good in creating good will and helping these farmers. I ask that, at last, the Government should agree to accept a really constructive Amendment.

Earl of Dalkeith

I warmly endorse what my hon. Friend has just said. There was a time just after the death of the former hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, when I was asked to keep an eye on his constituency, and one of the first things brought to my notice was this very subject. There was a smallholding which could not have a grant for a march fence, and I am sure that if the Secretary of State checks this, he will find a great volume of correspondence about it. I put the case in great detail and for that reason will not waste the time of the House repeating my case tonight, although it would be most relevant.

However, we might be told if there are many cases of this sort and how many applications have been refused. In this way we could reach some sort of assessment of the number of cases facing us. I do not believe that a large sum of money would be involved, but even on that point the Scottish Office could surely provide an estimate.

I am not certain whether one would be right in pressing for a special grant for march fences where they divide two nonviable units, because we might then get into the realm of smallholdings, which could not qualify. At the same time, one could give examples of a reasonable sized farm which has a smallholding on the other side and in which there is a "little" man who really gets the thick end of the stick.

The Government is fully entitled to accept this Amendment. It would cause no qualms of doubt to be expressed by taxpayers supporting the Government who are not, in any case, usually fond of farmers. I ask that the Government, in a sympathetic frame of mind, should accept the Amendment.

Mr. Kimball

My noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) probably realises that, at the moment, hon. Members opposite are taking a much more generous attitude about the provision of cattle grids, particularly where main roads and class A and B roads go through march fences. One can get a farm improvement grant on the provision of a cattle grid, but when one approaches the roads and bridges committee of a county council about the placing of those grids it is not particularly interested in the exact position of the march. The road surveyor may well ask that the grid be moved anything up to 300 or 400 yards from the existing march fence and march. This will involve quite a lot of expense in the realignment of the march fences, especially if the grid happens to be between a large and small farm which fails to get a farm improvement grant and help under the Bill because it is not a viable unit. I hope that the Secretary of State will re-examine the problem, particularly in view of the urgency resulting from the large demand and the large number of cattle grids being put in all over Scotland on various march fences.

If we are to have the grant—and I trust that we are, because I hope that he will accept the Amendment—I hope that he will consider a little more the traditional materials which should be used, particularly in fences bordering main roads. All the new fencing down the motorways in England has to be approved by the Fine Art Commission. I do not think that it is disparaging to Scotland to say that there is too much use there of wire fences that are out of keeping with the landscape and are also useless from an agriculture point of view, because they do not provide shelter for stock and do not encourage them to settle. The stock just walk along the fences for miles until they get round the end. The fences are often sited in the most exposed place because it makes a better fence line and not for reasons of grazing and giving good shelter to stock.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman realises that this is a far greater problem than either of my two hon. Friends said, and that in view of the great demand for help with march fences and the fact that county councils are now much more amenable to putting in cattle he will look again at the Amendment.

Mr. Stodart

The great feature of the discussions concerning the Amendment in Committee and the correspondence leading up to it has been sympathy. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Hughes, was sympathetic and the Minister of State expressed great sympathy. I am very sorry that he is not on the Front Bench to see the finish of this somewhat marathon Bill. He assured us that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland was sympathetic.

I would have thought that it would be most unusual to have a 26-acre farm with a 900-yard march fence. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us how many cases have come within the experience of the Department of Agriculture of applicants for farm improvement grant for the renewal of their march fences or walls having to meet refusals because of the present Statute.

3.30 a.m.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that under the Statute as it is at the moment drawn refusal was inevitable. The application fell without doubt under subsection (4, b). Therefore, I would not for a moment criticise the Department for its ruling in this case. However, I think that it was an oversight when the 1957 Bill was drafted and discussed. No Committee can possibly be expected to think of everything at the time. It is only when cases of this kind emerge that one realises that such a set of circumstances slipped through the net. What matters now is that things should be put right. It is only just that this should be put right.

The former Minister of State said that he would look at the matter again. In Committee I suggested a possible Amendment applying only to Scotland, if that would help, because the legal position of the upkeep of boundary fences there is different from what I understand it is in England. I would not propose to expound the law of England on boundary fences. Whether England has anything equivalent to the Scottish Winter Herding Act, 1660, I would not know. At any rate, my hon. Friend has explained the legal position in Scotland, and as no move has come from the Government and because in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) said that cases of this kind exist in England, we have tabled a general Amendment applying to the United Kingdom.

I hope that we shall now achieve the great break-through in the somewhat lengthy proceedings on this stage of the Bill and have from a Scottish Minister an acceptance of an Amendment which I believe would ensure that justice was done.

Mr. Hawkins

In the Standing Committee the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said: In England and Wales … the responsibility for maintaining a fence rests wholly with one of the parties whose land it divides."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8th November, 1966; c. 904.] I disagree strongly with that. I know of many cases where fences are party fences, and presumably parting dykes are also included in "fences", and many dykes in the Fen District are party dykes. They cause a considerable nuisance in the sense that while the man on one side is doing the job that he ought to do, the other man will not do it at the same time.

In England certainly all the parting dykes and fences do not belong just to one side or the other. In many cases they are party dykes or fences. In that event, I assume that England could be brought into this matter. This seems to be something that I also should support.

Mr. Ross

I should like to surprise and delight the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) by accepting the Amendment. But what we are dealing with is the Farm Improvement Scheme, and there are certain things which are basic to it. They are listed in the Bill.

But the Amendment just casts them overboard. We start by having a Farm Improvement Scheme. Then hon. Members opposite say "It does not really matter whether one is applying the whole basis of the scheme." The Amendment starts by disapplying entirely the usual statutory tests of the improvement scheme: improvements and renewals—but not repairs—of boundary fences, hedges, walls and gates. They could be approved even if the land were not occupied by buildings, even if the land were not capable of yielding a sufficient livelihood and even if the cost was unreasonably high and the improvement were not such as a prudent owner-occupier would undertake. How much further could one go to destroy the improvement scheme?

It has been said that not many cases are involved. But the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), supported by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) says there are a lot more. Once we started with fences we should not be able to stop there. We should get to such things as electricity costs and before we knew where we were we should be forgetting the basis of what we were doing—trying to improve units which are economic and channelling the available money to them.

The number of cases which have been brought to my notice in the past two years is about half a dozen. That does not mean to say that there are not more. But in order to get the information we should have to go through all the improvement schemes and we should not be justified in incurring the cost of that. I assure hon. Members that I have pondered on this matter. I have also considered the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West—that of the man with the distinguished name. I am surprised that the hon. Member knows the case so well that he does not know the name. It is not William Ross but Walter Ross. However, that is still a distinguished name. The first King-Advocate of Scotland was called Walter Ross.

The Amendment is unacceptable, although the hon. Member made it clear that he is concerned with a narrow point. We regard the sufficient livelihood criterion as basic to the improvement scheme. Indeed, so does the Opposition. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman did not blame my Department. I have been through the files. He himself adjudicated on such schemes and came down for the advice given to him as to what the Statute meant.

The hon. Gentleman may remember one particular case, because a number of men who are in uneconomic units are not necessarily small men. That will give him a hint, because I do not want to use names in respect of this. All I will say is that it involved discrimination against a small, uneconomic unit.

I repeat that, if we accepted the Amendment, we should be extending this not only to fences but to such things as electricity supply. This would be taking it considerably wider than the "sufficient livelihood" criterion.

Scottish law in relation to fences has been referred to. The point was answered by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins). It is not so different in England and Wales. One would need to examine the title of the land to find the application to Scotland. It sometimes surprises me that the big farmer, to whom this is essential, does not take pity on the small man and go ahead, because the benefit accrues to him and the initiative generally comes from him.

I have had to disappoint hon. Members, but we must regard the Amendment as cutting right across the basic elements of the scheme and breaching an important principle to which we must adhere. I must therefore advise the House to reject the Amendment, despite the implications for the Clan Ross and the gentleman of Mosswood Farm, Kirtlebridge, Dumfries. I note the points which have been made, but I think that it will be appreciated that this is the only advice which I can give if we are to mean what we say about the Farm Improvement Scheme.

Mr. Monro

The reply of the Secretary of State was most disappointing. I had thought that after sitting here for so many hours he would be cheerful, but he was even more grumpy than the other members of the Government Front Bench.

He said that the march fence was not important in relation to the Farm Improvement Scheme. But the smaller a farm the more important the march fence is, because every blade of grass eaten by a neighbour's straying sheep is important. The right hon. Gentleman is being most unhelpful to the small man. The Amendment is to the advantage of the smallholder, not the large farmer.

The right hon. Gentleman said that it would cost a great deal of money to find out how many farm improvement schemes might be put forward under the Amendment, but he went on to show that he had not bothered in the time since the Committee stage, when all these promises were given by his colleagues, to find out, and then he went on to say that there might have been six cases in the last year or two. I cannot believe that there would be so many that very much difference would be made to the total sum of money expended on the Farm Improvement Scheme throughout Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The right hon. Gentleman has failed agricultural Members by not taking this issue as seriously as the Standing Committee was promised it would be and I shall continue to press the Amendment to the end.

Amendment negatived.