HC Deb 22 January 1981 vol 997 cc415-6
10. Mr. Myles

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the present pH levels in soils in the United Kingdom especially in the hill and upland areas.

Mr. Wiggin

No, Sir. There is a long-term decline in the use of lime, particularly in hill and upland areas.

Mr. Myles

Does not my hon. Friend agree that, in view of the fall in incomes, especially in grass land farming shown in the annual review White Paper yesterday, it would be in the long-term interests of the country for the Government to encourage the reintroduction of a lime subsidy or some encouragement for the increased use of lime?

Mr. Wiggin

My hon. Friend is right. It is a valuable prelude to proper fertiliser application, but we have to decide how to ration our scarce resources. It is not felt appropriate at the moment to reintroduce a lime subsidy as such, although some grant is available for the application of lime other than for normal husbandry operations.

Mr. John Home Robertson

Is the Minister aware that the collapse in the usage of lime in many parts of the United Kingdom and in particular in upland areas could cause long-term harm to the soil? Will he take urgent action to reintroduce a lime subsidy to make it possible for the hard-up farmers in those areas to start applying lime at proper levels again?

Mr. Wiggin

I do not wish to ascribe this to any national characteristic, but experience in Scotland suggests that the use of lime there may have declined to a greater extent than elsewhere. As I have just said, it is a matter that the Government keep under review.

Mr. Peter Fraser

Before my hon. Friend finally sets his face against the re-introduction of a lime subsidy, will he read a well-written pamphlet put together three years ago by my hon. Friends the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and the Minister of State, in which they persuasively and cogently argued for the reintroduction of a lime subsidy?

Mr. Wiggin

My hon. Friend is misreading what I have said if he believes that I have set my face against the reintroduction of a subsidy. It is simply a question of resources. It is one of a number of matters that the Government would like to deal with in the way that he suggests.