§ 3.20 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I beg to move that the Agricultural Lime Scheme (Extension of Period) Order 1964, a copy of which was laid before the House on July 9, be now 374 approved. Parliamentary authority to pay subsidy to farmers on the use of agricultural lime was last renewed from August 1, 1959, by the approval of an Order similar to that now before the House. It expires on July 31 this year, and the purpose of the present draft Order is to obtain approval to the payment of this subsidy during the course of a further five years from August 1 of this year.
The draft Order applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. It deals only with this authority. The Scheme under which this subsidy is paid is a separate matter. Your Lordships will have seen that a new Scheme—Statutory Instrument 1964, No. 903—which is subject to the Negative Resolution procedure was laid last Thursday. It is to come into effect on August 1. I will say a few words about this in a moment.
This subsidy, which now dates back to 1937, continues to serve a valuable purpose in underpinning the general system of support to farmers, and expenditure on it, as your Lordships will know, is taken into account in calculating the total value of the guarantees to agriculture. During this past five years the annual use of lime in the United Kingdom has been 6.2 million tons, and that figure is of much the same order as in the five years prior to 1959. This quantity is calculated to cover the annual losses of lime from our agricultural soils through leaching and other factors which make the soil acid, with a margin towards the further upgrading of the lime status of the national farm. There is, of course, some land which may still be said to be acid. On the other hand, the fact that the use of lime has now averaged something over 6 million tons for several years past is indicative of the general order of lime requirements in the United Kingdom in relation to present patterns of land use and commodity output, and is a fair reflection of the continuing need for lime by our agriculture.
This level compares very healthily with that which obtained when the subsidy was first introduced. At that time there had been a considerable run-down in the fertility of our soil and the annual consumption in the 'thirties was of the order of half a million tons a year. Meanwhile, the positive results of the subsidy in fully restoring the practice of 375 liming by farmers are abundantly evident to all who travel through the countryside and see its good condition compared with earlier time.
Perhaps I may now say a few words on the method of paying this subsidy. Since the beginning of the scheme in 1937 it has been paid as a contribution at a fixed percentage rate, which is now 65 per cent, of the costs actually incurred by the farmer. As I have said, a different Scheme (laid on June 25, 1964) shortly takes effect. Unlike its predecessors it provides for contributions to be assessed according to a schedule of flat rates per ton for different kinds and qualities of lime, together with a contribution according to the distance over which the lime has to be transported, and no subsidy will be paid until the lime has been finally spread. These contributions will therefore no longer be related to the specific costs incurred by each individual farmer, and, as one consequence of this, measures to control prices and charges to protect the subsidy will no longer be necessary and can go. In making this alteration we have been at pains to avoid any significant chance in the present amount of the subsidy in relation to the quantity of lime being used.
This new Scheme will give greater incentive to the farmer to shop around and to lime his land at the least net cost to himself. It will fit in more suitably with the way in which trade in lime has developed, especially in recent years, and will have certain advantages in administration, not the least of which will be in helping to keep the Scheme free from irregularities and fraud. The new arrangements, which rid the Scheme of incentive to falsify charges, and involve a thorough system of checks, should preclude serious irregularities and make attempts at lesser infractions suitably unrewarding. I am confident that this will be so. I am equally assured of the need for continuing to encourage the liming of agricultural land. I therefore commend this Order to Your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the draft Agricultural Lime Scheme (Extension of Period) Order, 1964, laid before the House on June 16, be approved.—(Lord St. Oswald.)376
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, the noble Lord has given us a full explanation of a Scheme which I understand is to come into operation at some future date, but to-day we are concerned only with the question of the extension of time of the existing Scheme. There is no objection whatever from this side of the House to the extension of that particular Order, because I think it is beneficial to the farming community. But I gather from what he has said that there will be an opportunity later on to discuss the new Scheme. Is that so?
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, the Order will be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure, so that if the noble Lord wished to discuss it, it would be a matter of moving a Prayer.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.