HC Deb 16 March 1978 vol 946 cc620-2
10. Mr. Moate

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with the President of the National Farmers Union on the question of assistance to farmers who have suffered loss in the recent floods and storms.

Mr. John Silkin

I had meetings with the President of the National Farmers Union on 23rd February and 3rd March, at which we discussed various ways in which farmers who have suffered losses might be helped, including the union's readiness to evolve a method of self-help by the industry and its request for a Government contribution. I am now giving the matter urgent consideration in the light of the information coming forward on the extent of the damage.

Mr. Moate

Will the Minister say whether consideration is still being given specifically to helping farmers who have lost livestock, whether in the West Country, Scotland or on the East Coast? If so, when will he come to a decision? Cash is urgently needed by certain farmers who will be placed in serious financial circumstances if they do not get help soon.

Mr. Silkin

I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's question and with the farmers concerned. I hope that I shall be able to give the House further information following consideration of the matter before the Easter Recess. I cannot promise that, but I am doing my best. I am very well aware, as is the hon. Gentleman, of the enormous damage that has been suffered, particularly by farmers with livestock.

Mr. Corbett

I thank the Minister and his right hon. Friends for the immediate assistance that they have given to the farming industry during the recent dramatic weather. When he next meets the President of the NFU will he raise with him allegations that on Dartmoor during the winter there has been serious and persistent over-stocking of areas which formerly have never been used for livestock during the winter?

Mr. Silkin

If my hon. Friend would give me details of this, it is a matter in which I would be quite interested, particularly in its relevance to the Porchester Committee's views on the way in which we deal with the question of areas in which there has been a national environmental interest. On the specific point that he mentioned, perhaps he will write to me.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will the Minister bear in mind that fanners are very concerned about being made special cases and given special help which does not concern other people in the South-West who have been in trouble as well, such as shopkeepers, garage owners and so on? What the farmers really need is a little more flexibility in the way of capital grants and other aids to rebuild their buildings. What they are concerned about is being made special cases. That is not what they want.

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman may find some farmers who are not altogether averse to being made special cases. I was speaking in Kent at a non-political meeting and I met a number of farmers who distinctly wanted to be made special cases—and, indeed, they are. The difficulty is that very often damage to shops, factories or houses is insurable, whereas a lot of damage suffered by farmers is un-insurable.

Mr. Skinner

As the avowed monetarists and non-interventionists of the Conservative Party are asking the Government to bail out some of their constituents, will the Minister give considera- tion to the request that was made two years ago when gales hit the Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire border? On that occasion, an industry official visited the site, but nothing was done. If a precedent is to be set in respect of West Dorset, will the Minister guarantee that something will be done for the other places as well?

Mr. Silkin

We can take one simple meteorological fact for granted—that there are weather disasters in the United Kingdom as a whole. Perhaps it is about time—if we can do it and find some basis on which the industry can help itself—for us to look to the future. I should therefore like to deal with the matter for the future rather than go too far into the past.

Mr. Body

I understand that the Minister is the landlord of three tenants whose land has been almost totally flooded by salt water. That land will not be capable of having anything planted in it for some three years. Will the Minister undertake that the tenants will not be charged any rent, especially in view of the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary a few days before the flooding that they were to have a rent review, which means, as we understand it, a doubling of their rents?

Mr. Silkin

That matter is very much under consideration.