§ 2.47 p.m.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL ST. ALDWYN)
My Lords, your Lordships will remember that in January, 1953, large areas of land were damaged by salt water as a result of the East Coast floods. Legislation was then passed to enable financial help to be given to restore agricultural land which had suffered in this way. Section 13 of the Coastal Flooding (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1953, authorises schemes to be made for giving this help in the five years 1953–57, and the scheme which is now before your Lordships is the third of these schemes.
It takes a lot of time and patience to restore land which has been flooded by salt water, and the amount of progress which it has been possible to make has varied considerably in different parts of the country and on different types of land. Acreage payments were made in 1953 on about 50,000 acres of tillage and 100,000 acres of pasture. The cost of this was approximately £1¼ million. In 1954 the cost was £1 million and this year we estimate that 42,000 acres of tillage and 75,000 acres of pasture will attract payments at a total cost of £900,000. My Lords, this scheme is the same in form as the two previous schemes, although the details in the schedules have been varied. I am sure the House will agree that we must go on giving this help so that farmers who suffered so unfortunately during the floods can restore their land. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Coastal Flooding (Acreage Payments) Draft Scheme, 1955, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday last, be approved.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)367
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I am sure we are all glad that the Government are continuing to make provision towards the rehabilitation of land damaged during the floods in 1953. Of no less importance than the financial contribution is the need for the farmers to make the best possible use of the money they receive—farmers on all types of land, but particularly those who will use the money for growing corn and root crops. Such crops are especially important at the present time, and a large part of the flood area—the noble Earl mentioned the acreage in the first year during which these payments were made—is arable. To my mind, the most disturbing feature of the agricultural situation at the moment is the contracting arable area. Last year there was a decline in the arable acreage as compared with the previous year, and I am afraid there will be a further decline this year. I should imagine the noble Earl would agree with me, although he may not be in a position now to make any definite statement. I am fairly sure there will be a further decline this year unless farmers make a really heroic effort in the spring to sow and plant root crops where such crops are appropriate. The wet autumn of 1954 left bare a lot of land that would normally have been sown, and this loss can be repaired only by a substantial increase in spring sowing this year. We need all the help we can get from these farmers in East Anglia to prevent a further fall in the arable level.
I should like to ask the noble Earl a couple of questions which he may or may not be able to answer to-day, because I am afraid that I have not given him much notice. The first concerns paragraph 7 of the Order. Under that provision, a person who has half an acre or more, and suffers damage, will get this payment; but if he has even a fraction less than half an acre, he will, apparently, get nothing. On the face of it, that appears a little unfair. Take the case of an allotment holder, for instance, a man with a small vegetable garden. If he had a trifle less than half an acre, would he get this payment for rehabilitating his land? The next question is of more general interest, and it may be easier for the noble Earl to answer. Does he still expect that all this land will not be back in full production until the end of seven years from 368 1953, or does he think that progress is so good that it may be back in full production in a rather shorter period? Can he say whether he thinks that the bulk of this land will be back in production in another year or another couple of years? Can he give any estimate of the time when we may expect to see the bulk of this land producing the grass and corn crops that it did before the floods?
EARL ST. ALDWYN
I do not think I can add anything to what I said in the agricultural debate as regards the tillage acreage and the decline thereof, and the increase in leys. To turn to the two specific questions which the noble Earl asked, the first concerned an allotment of less than half an acre and whether its owner would or would not receive payment. The position is that in this area all the allotment holders are members of some form of club or society, and it is that body which makes the claim, so that there is no question of any individual allotment holder not receiving payment because his own individual holding is of less than half an acre. I would also point out that this section is exactly the same as it has been in the two previous schemes. When we shall be able to say that the land is fully restored, frankly, I should not like to forecast. We hope that it will be restored by the end of 1957, but it is too early at this stage to say whether that will be so or not.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.