HC Deb 11 December 1974 vol 883 cc492-4
7. Mr. MacCormick

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied that the provisions recently announced are adequate to meet the situation in the hill fanning and marginal areas of Scotland; and whether he has any further proposals to make.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

The measures we have announced represent a very substantial injection of additional capital into the hill and upland sectors in the current financial year. My colleagues and I have been considering further action to deal with the problem of fodder shortage in certain parts of the country.

Mr. MacCormick

I thank the Minister for his answer. May I draw his attention to the problem of the islands off the West coast of Scotland where hill farmers' difficulties are exacerbated by high transport costs? Will he look into the subsidising of the carrying of fodder into the islands as well as the carriage of livestock out of the islands?

Mr. Brown

I hate hiding behind an official departmental reply, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to ask about transport costs he should not direct his question to me. Nevertheless, there is a special subsidy for farming interests in the islands, of which I am sure he is aware, I am more concerned about the overall problem of fodder shortage, in respect of which we shall give special attention to the islands.

Mr. Grimond

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his promise of further assistance is very welcome? Is he also aware that there is still widespread concern in the industry, particularly over the very low prices? Have the Government got a target in mind to which they hope to raise prices for, say, beef or lamb?

Mr. Brown

That goes rather wider than the original Question. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is a hope— I think that we shall succeed in achieving it—of averaging £18 a hundredweight for beef through the premium payments topped up by the latest agreement. The measures already taken, amounting to an additional £16 million for hill and upland farmers in the curent financial year, should help to create confidence about the long-term future for the industry.

Mr. Fairgrieve

In view of the Minister's remarks about the fodder shortage, will he urge on his colleagues the need for an early debate to implement the findings in the O'Brien Report?

Mr. Brown

This matter has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given assurances on it. I should welcome pressure from any section of the House to get this matter out of the way. We all have problems. However, we should not overestimate the importance of the matter. It would be wrong to create the impression in farmers' minds that this will solve the problem. Nevertheless, it is a matter of some urgency, and I hope that we can dispose of it as soon as possible.

Mr. Buchan

Despite the euphoria during the last 24 hours over the skirmishing in the foothills of the Common Market, I hope that my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend will recognise the particular problems of Scotland, because of our heavy concentration on grasslands, and will ensure that the direct support that we have achieved over the last few weeks relating to beef prices is maintained rather than seen as a temporary derogation?

Mr. Brown

I am not sure what my hon. Friend—

Mr. Buchan

I am asking about beef prices.

Mr. Brown

The question covered so many points that I was not too sure. There is a general recognition that the last agreement is moving in a direction that seems to commend it to the majority of farmers.

Mr. Monro

Is the Under-Secretary aware that he can rely on me to lean very heavily on him in support of what he said about the O'Brien Report? The hon. Gentleman in his original reply mentioned, I think, capital injection. Perhaps that was a mistake for cash injection. If not, I should be grateful if he would explain what the capital injection is. Will he also tell us when we can expect an announcement on help towards the cost of fodder? This is a critical situation at present and any hope of help in that direction will be welcomed by the farming industry.

Mr. Brown

If I said "capital", obviously it was meant to sound like "cash", because that is what farmers appreciate. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I hope that an announcement will be made in the near future on the measures that we propose to deal with the fodder shortage.