HC Deb 05 December 1974 vol 882 cc1926-8
14. Mr. Hooley

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what encouragement is being given to farmers to improve and cultivate pasture on a more extensive scale; and what variations in existing agricultural subsidies he estimates would be required to encourage the feeding of livestock by grass rather than grain.

Mr. Bishop

The improvement and better use of grassland is an important objective of my advisory service. Under the farm capital grants scheme and the several hill subsidy schemes money is available to benefit grassland and encourage production from grass. The balance between grass and grain will be looked at in the forthcoming annual review.

Mr. Hooley

I welcome that reply, but does not my hon. Friend agree that our grassland is an enormously valuable natural asset and that at the moment the farming community is not exploiting it as fully as it might? Does he not further agree that if we reduce dependence on imported grain we release food for people who are starving?

Mr. Bishop

I welcome the emphasis that my hon. Friend places on the importance of the development of grassland. I refer him to my right hon. Friend's statement on 21st November regarding the recommendations to farmers contained in the report by the Economic Development Committee for Agriculture on grass and grass products and how they might best be disseminated to the industry. My hon. Friend should not overlook various aids already given to the development of grassland, including the farm capital grants scheme, the grants available to producers in the hill areas, and the grants at 70 per cent. for field drainage in hill areas. We have also brought forward the hill cow subsidy, available from 1st January, and we have increased the hill sheep subsidies. These aspects should be considered, along with the aid that we give to drainage schemes. I value my hon. Friend's support for these measures.

Mr. Hicks

Is not improving the quality of our grassland one of the key aspects in increasing domestic food production in this country? Therefore, does not the Minister feel that he has an obligation to introduce further encouraging measures which will yield these results?

Mr. Bishop

I largely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I must point out that my right hon. Friend has given substantial increases in the areas where better use of grassland would be encouraged. I have already referred to the fact that a report is being considered, with the advice of ADAS, to encourage better use of grassland. If we can make better use of grassland, it will be better not only for home production but for our resources, which would be available to other parts of the world.

Mr. Hooson

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that farmers who this year depended on grass in our marginal hill areas have found that it has been a disastrous time for them? They have had to buy fodder and straw at high prices. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the whole question should be looked at from a national point of view? In my own area of mid-Wales farmers who have grown corn and barley are better off than those who have grown grass, because they have grain and straw, but from a national point of view this situation does not make much sense.

Mr. Bishop

These matters are being looked at all the time. We are not responsible for the weather, which has caused difficulties with the feed situation. We shall be announcing proposals to deal with that situation. In the meantime, the hon. and learned Gentleman will not, I am sure, be unaware of the measures that we have taken to make it easier for farmers to provide feed for cattle, apart from the schemes of encouragement in relation to hill cow and hill sheep subsidies.

Mr. Farr

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most efficient ways to conserve grass is by maintaining hedgerows, and that in this respect my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) ended the grant for ripping up hedgerows? Why has that grant now been reinstituted? Will the hon. Gentleman look into the possibility of again bringing this unwelcome form of aid to an end?

Mr. Bishop

I do not want to get involved in any family quarrel between hon. Members on the Opposition side in relation to the ending of help, but I shall look into the aspects that the hon. Gentleman mentioned about the use of hedgerows.

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