HC Deb 21 February 1968 vol 759 cc573-6
Sir J. Gilmour

I beg to move Amendment No. 36, in page 35, line 17, after second "Wheat", insert "or".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

With this Amendment it will be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 37, in page 35, leave out line 18.

Sir J. Gilmour

The purpose of the Amendment is to secure that the Bill makes no exclusions as to what are acceptable break crops. I imagine that the reasoning behind the exclusion of oats, rye, potatoes and sugar beet—an exclusion which I seek to delete—is that these are crops which are subject to adjustment in Price Review terms and it may be thought that the Price Review should not apply to break crops. As it is Britain's avowed intention to enter the Common Market, the question of crops which are definitely subject to price review may easily go out.

It is right that we should not exclude any crop from legislation which will last for a considerable time into the future. The Minister should have the right to pay the £5 an acre subsidy for a break crop in respect of any crop which he thinks suitable. This matter was discussed in Committee in relation to the sugar beet crop in Scotland on a day when I was not able to attend. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), who spoke up on behalf of Scottish sugar beet growers.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland places too much reliance on difficulties of the sugar beet crop in Scotland by saying that it arose from the abolition of the transport subvention. Yields of sugar beet, which is one of the crops which the Bill as drafted would exclude but which the Amendment seeks to include, in Scotland in the five years from 1958 to 1962 were 12.96 tons—in round figures, 13 tons—per acre and included two years in which the yield was 15 tons per acre. This was well up to the United Kingdom average. It was the hope of those connected with the industry that the yields were sufficiently high to allow the crop to stand fairly and squarely on its own feet. As in the succeeding 5 years from 1963 to 1967 the return has been only 11½ tons per acre, this hope has not been fulfilled. This is highlighted by the fact that for the first five years the average return to the grower was £77 10s. and in the next five years £74. In the meantime, costs had risen and, therefore, the profitability of the sugar beet grower goes down.

Because there is a real need to increase the amount of livestock fed in Britain, consideration should be given to the growing of sugar beet where the tops are fed off to livestock. This might well be a condition to sugar beet's qualifying as a break crop. As those who have seen sugar beet crops in England and Scotland know, there is a much larger percentage of tops in the crop in Scotland. I suppose this is because we have more hours of daylight during the summer and, even with the same varieties, a larger amount of tops is grown. A recent article in the Scottish National Farmers UnionJournalshowed that a crop of sugar beet in Scotland which produced 12 tons per acre would produce, in addition. 12 tons of tops. By taking in the pulp which comes back to the grower, it is possible to produce from the tops and the pulp a better crop than a crop of field beans, and, at the same time, there is a cash crop of sugar beet.

There is, therefore, a good case for saying that sugar beet could and should be used a break crop in any area where the tops are being fed off to livestock. This could apply not only in Scotland but in the North of England and possibly some of the other factory areas. It would be a more suitable way of employing the subsidy for break crop than spending money on growing, say, a crop of beans with a lower yield and less profitable results for the country as a whole.

I hope that the Government will look at the matter again. All I am asking them to do is to remove a disability in regard to the crops which could be a break to wheat and barley. It does not mean that they will have to give the subsidy. It is the removal of an exclusion. I remember a previous occasion when we excluded things from another Measure and then discovered that it was a mistake. I recall being in the same Lobby with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) on that occasion. We had excluded the fishing industry, and then we realised that it was a mistake.

On that occasion, I had the courage of my convictions and I went into the Lobby with the hon. Member for Leith. I hope that, on this Amendment, he will ensure that his right hon. and hon. Friends have the same sort of conviction and accept what I propose. It would be an entirely helpful Amendment. It cannot do any harm. It would not make the Minister pay the subsidy for sugar beet, potatoes or anything else. But, if circumstances change, he will have the right to do so.

Mr. Buchan

We have covered a good deal of this ground already, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) on his ingenuity in framing an Amendment within the terms of the Clause, but, as his speech clearly showed, he is concerned about sugar beet, and I shall reply to his argument on that basis.

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with his point simply by referring to the acreage grown between 1958 and 1963, 13 tons an acre and then 11½ tons later. There was another destructive occurrence at that time. We were doing reasonably well—15,700 acres until 1962–63—and the factory which is in our minds was viable. But something else then happened. The Conservative Government slashed the transport subvention brutally, and by so doing they brought about the fall from 14,000 to 10,000 and then 9,000 acres in successive years. We have begun to restore the transport subvention, and now we are beginning to move the acreage up once more.

Our earlier argument on this question remains valid. These are commodities dealt with in the Annual Price Review. They should remain so. They should not be put in here. This Bill ought not to be used to change the present arrangement. The hon. Gentleman seems to feel no personal involvement or responsibility as a member of the party opposite, but what the Conservative Government did in slashing the transport subvention was very serious. There are other ways of raising or lowering the sugar beet acreage, apart from the break crop and Annual Price Review payments. The transport subvention is one method. The effectiveness of it was shown when the Tories used it badly. We have shown how effective it is by using it sensibly.

I take the point that we must pay attention to this commodity both for the sake of the commodity itself and for the factory in Cupar. We are giving a great deal of thought to it, but the solution which I shall put forward will not be along the lines which the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Amendment negatived

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