HC Deb 16 February 1978 vol 944 cc646-7
10. Mr. Geraint Howells

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any plans to reintroduce the lime subsidy; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Strang

My right hon. Friend has no plans to add to the assistance for liming currently available under capital grant schemes. Liming is a good investment for farmers, and my Department's Agricultural Development and Advisory Service regularly reminds farmers of the need for liming and helps them to plan appropriate programmes.

Mr. Howells

Does the Minister agree that if we are to increase production from the land the sooner we reintroduce the lime subsidy the better? Can he clarify the position about Europe? Are his counterparts in Europe willing to allow us to reintroduce the lime subsidy?

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman is right to argue that it is an essential part of good soil husbandry that there be regular liming. The issue is whether it is necessary to pay a subsidy, in addition to those which we pay for reseeding and the basic upgrading of grassland, to obtain this adequate level of liming.

Mr. Watt

Since this lime subsidy ran for 40 years, from 1936 to 1976, and since it never cost the Exchequer more than £6 million per annum, may I ask the Minister seriously to reconsider asking the Treasury for this money, which I can assure him would be extremely well spent?

Mr. Strang

I have to acknowledge that the original reason for removing the lime subsidy was fiscal rather than agricultural. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, that was one of the decisions taken in the context of the limitation of public expenditure entered into as part of the negotiations with the IMF. We recognise the importance of liming and keep a close watch on its level. It is too early to say yet what impact the removal of the subsidy has had on the rate of liming.