HC Deb 30 June 1976 vol 914 cc383-4
16. Mr. Donald Stewart

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the reasons for the long delay in payment of cattle subsidies this year; and what steps are being taken to avoid such delay in future.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I do not accept that there was a long delay in making this year's payments. Overall, the time taken was about the same as in previous years. There was, however, a particular problem in the hon. Gentleman's constituency in establishing the precise acreage available to a number of occupiers. This has been largely overcome and should not delay payments in future.

Mr. Stewart

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there have been long delays in making payments? I have had numerous complaints about this over the year. These delays have caused intense inconvenience and hardship to crofters in my constituency, who have had to pay early in the year for imported foodstuffs because of the conditions last winter. Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that next year these payments will be made at the proper time, as they were in previous years?

Mr. Brown

There has not been undue delay, but I accept that within the hon. Gentleman's constituency—[Interruption.] I wish that members of the SNP would listen. I am trying to be helpful on this occasion, at least. A particular problem arose in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. A new form was introduced, which involved precise acreages. A high percentage of claim forms were inaccurately completed and we had to send additional staff to the hon. Gentleman's constituency to get the matter sorted out. Consequently, there was some unusual delay in some of the crofting counties, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, having now received the necessary information, there should be no delays in future payments.

Mr. Gray

Will the hon. Gentleman accept the thanks of the small farmers in Ross and Cromarty for the expeditious way in which his Department handled the cases that I represented to him, but will he at the same time bear in mind that considerable hardship was caused to many small farmers, and that any interruption of the cash flow on small farms is a serious matter indeed?

Mr. Brown

I accept that. I received representations from many hon. Members, and I hope that they were treated with urgency, because I accept that there was a problem. We now have an improved system of payment, but it involves a new form. The date for receiving claims was a month later than in previous years. I can only plead that there were teething problems in the system, which I think we have now got sorted out.

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