HC Deb 02 July 1969 vol 786 cc400-3
2. Mr. Hawkins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in view of the financial plight of the agricultural industry, following the weather conditions over the past 12 months, if he will immediately initiate talks on a special price review.

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

No, Sir, but we will review the situation when we see what the harvest is going to be like.

Mr. Hawkins

I rather expected that answer. If this is so, what will the Government do now to give extra cash to the farming community, because the Minister's only solution of a tax adjustment proved to be a big hoax?

Mr. Mackie

We are aware that many farmers are short of cash because of last year's harvest. The results of this year's harvest are not yet known. We are waiting to see what the harvest is like this year before we decide what can be done.

Mr. Mackintosh

I accept my hon. Friend's point, but does he think that the farming industry, given the conditions mentioned in the Question, can achieve the targets set out by the Government on 12th November? If not, will he lengthen the period or revise the targets?

Mr. Mackie

My hon. Friend has a Question down on these lines. I will answer it when we reach it.

Mr. Stodart

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that his right hon. Friend made certain announcements about administrative changes which the hon. Gentleman himself later admitted produced nothing new? Does the hon. Gentleman think that those changes will be adequate to meet what is an extremely serious situation?

Mr. Mackie

We have emphasised to hon. Members opposite during our exchanges on this subject that if they have any individual cases of farmers, or for that matter collective cases, they can give us, we will study them very carefully.

15. Mr. Jopling

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to help farmers who have been unable to cultivate and sow their land because of the excessively wet spring.

30. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he proposes to take to alleviate the hardship being suffered by farmers as a result of the adverse weather conditions during the past year.

53. Sir D. Renton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware that farmers in the area surrounding Peterborough and Ramsey suffered further severe interference and loss through excessive rainfall in May; and whether he will provide help for those who have suffered further financial hardship.

Mr. John Mackie

My right hon. Friend and I went into this most fully during the debate on agriculture on 16th June. I have nothing yet to add to what was said on that occasion.

Mr. Jopling

Is not the answer to my Question, "Nothing"? Now that the Minister's cruel and bogus promise about taxation relief has been exposed as a myth and groundless, will he not do something for a change, such as introducing new drainage schemes?

Mr. Mackie

If the hon. Member was sure that the answer was to be "Nothing", I do not know why he wasted time in putting the Question. We have looked at drainage schemes, but they would not help farmers immediately. We are looking at the actual working of the schemes, and I have nothing to add to the various Answers to Questions which I have made on this subject.

Mr. Morrison

Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that the Price Review assumed average weather conditions in 1969? Since that assumption has already been proved wrong and conditions were very bad in the sowing season, why has the hon. Gentleman not other proposals to make?

Mr. Mackie

Any Price Review assumes normal weather conditions, and figures are worked back to normal weather conditions depending on whether they are good or bad. But, as I have said, let us see what the harvest will be before we make up our minds that something must be done.

Mr. Ashton

What drainage grants will be available to these farmers? Will my hon. Friend encourage drainage contractors to extend their field of activity?

Mr. Mackie

All drainage grants on arable land are at 50 per cent., but on hill land where conditions are particularly difficult an extra 10 per cent. is given. If drainage went ahead too quickly the drainage contractors would be overloaded. Meanwhile we have no scheme of encouraging drainage contractors other than the fact that much has to be done and it is a fairly profitable occupation.

Mr. Shinwell

If farmers want more money when weather conditions are bad, do they give any of it back when conditions are good?

Mr. Mackie

That is a pertinent point put by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Stodart

The hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend's suggestion of an interest-free loan scheme has been rejected because it would create a precedent. Is he aware that in 1947 many precedents were created in a particularly disastrous year, including payments of subsidy on flocks prior to the disaster? Why is he not ready to create a precedent now?

Mr. Mackie

I have all the figures, which are very complicated and long, for the 1947 and 1953 floods. If my memory serves me aright, about 600,000 to 800,000 acres were flooded and under water. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the situation in Scotland and the hill areas was far more disastrous than it was last year. There was a disaster fund to which the Government contributed. The situation was altogether different.