HL Deb 06 July 1961 vol 232 cc1463-6

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will set up a farm buildings research unit, or units, in view of (1) the need for a progressive agriculture and (2) the large sums of public money being spent on farm buildings.]


My Lords, we do not think that a case has been made out for the establishment by the Government of a farm buildings research centre. This in no way implies that we are not very conscious of the importance to the agricultural industry of suitable buildings; but for the time being, at least, we think that other forms of investigation and research are likely to be more rewarding. It is important to have reliable information about the farm buildings that exist already, and to note what research has been done that may be relevant to buildings used by British farmers. The Agricultural Research Council are therefore undertaking a survey of farm buildings in Great 3ritain and are issuing a bibliography of farm buildings research publications.

In addition to this, the Council in cooperation with the farmers concerned, are organising experiments with buildings on farms and contributing toward their capital cost. Your Lordships will remember that I announced the Council's experimental scheme early last year, and I then emphasised that we thought that development work and trials of experimental buildings could best be carried out on farms which could be chosen to provide the necessary range of conditions, rather than at a research centre. I should perhaps add that much research supported by the Council in agricultural research institutes and elsewhere has important bearings on farm building design.


My Lords, I thank my noble Leader for his very comprehensive reply.


My Lords, while private research is very often extremely useful, and taking into account the fact that the Government are contributing quite a few million pounds towards the renovation and rebuilding of farm buildings throughout the country, particularly of smaller farms, might I ask the noble Viscount whether he does not think that this is the right moment for such a research unit to be set up?


My Lords, I think we must be clear about two separate conceptions. The farm improvement grants, which are given by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, attract a grant, and I think it is those to which the noble Lord opposite referred in the main. Those, of course, are not for experimental buildings. In order to attract a farm improvement grant you have to pass the "prudent landlord" test and this excludes buildings of a scientifically experimental character in many cases—I think not in all, but in many cases.

What we did last year, under the auspices of my Office, was to start an experimental scheme by which landowners who were interested in scientific experiment could receive a larger grant, a 50 per cent. grant, for buildings which were genuinely experimental in character. They would not necessarily satisfy the "prudent landlord" test, and it was in fact for that very reason that we had a separate scheme. In order to receive that grant, the owners had to work in co-operation with the Agricultural Research Council and virtually (although I am stating this rather unadvisedly) to do what is scientifically desirable in the view of the Agricultural Research Council.

The reasons why we chose that method, rather than a centre, is that it is necessary, if you are going to experiment into agricultural buildings, to carry on your experiments with buildings in a variety of different circumstances, ranges, climates and farming policies. This means that you get very much better value for money by your grant scheme, a scheme covering the whole country and its different places with different types of farming, than you would by a scheme based on a Centre. The scheme has had very promising results indeed in the last twelve months. It is a little early to give a comprehensive survey, but so pleased are the Agricultural Research Council with the results of the scheme that they are going, to hold a Press Conference, I think in the next few days, with a view to stating what their experience has been.


My Lords, whilst disclosing a personal interest in this matter, since I have received grants, might I ask my noble friend whether he would not agree with me that the system of agricultural grants has been most beneficial to the industry, and that they are most carefully considered before they are granted?


My Lords, I also ought to disclose an interest in this. I find them very carefully considered—rather too carefully for my liking.


My Lords, I wonder if I may ask whether full use is being made of the latest work study techniques, both in the buildings themselves and in the layout of the buildings. A great deal of work has been done in this matter by work study, by agricultural workers, and so far as I know their work is forgotten at times.


My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend has said. I think it is true, both of the farm improvement scheme and of the experimental scheme, which is more particularly the subject of the Question.


My Lords, could the noble Viscount say how many of these experimental farm buildings have in fact been authorised?


My Lords, I do not think I can give that information without notice. But I can give the noble Lord this information. During the year July 1, 1960, to June 30, 1961 —which, of course, is the last year—a total of 177 applications was received. Of this total, 27 have been accepted as suitable for grants, and 52 applications are under consideration, 44 of the farms concerned having been visited by members of the Agricultural Research Council's Farms Buildings Unit. Eight applications have been withdrawn, and 90 applications have been rejected.

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