HL Deb 11 May 1964 vol 258 cc13-5

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Winter Keep (Scotland) (Amendment) Scheme, 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 23rd April, be approved. As my noble friend has suggested, it will, I think, be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if we consider at the same time the draft Winter Keep (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Scheme 1964 which deals with England and Wales and Northern Ireland and is similar in material respects to the draft Scottish Scheme.

When the Winter Keep Schemes were approved a year ago they were generally welcomed by the farming community as being right in principle, but there was, particularly in Scotland, criticism of some detailed aspects of them especially of the rates of grant. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State undertook to consider representations made to him by the Scottish N.F.U. in this regard at the Annual Review.

The Government's general conclusion from this year's Annual Review was that an improvement in all farm incomes was necessary. This was generally achieved by increases in the guaranteed prices, but farmers on livestock-rearing land do not benefit directly from the price support system since very little of their output is in the shape of commodities for which there is a guarantee. To ensure, therefore, that this important class of farmers was not precluded from the general improvement in incomes, it was necessary to have special provision for them. They will benefit from the increase in the price of wool and from the increase in the subsidy for steer calves, but the amendments embodied in the Schemes now before your Lordships are calculated to inject about £1¾ million into this deserving sector of the farming community and will be the main vehicle for achieving the broad policy objective. The Review settlement was of course agreed by the farmers' unions and I think it is fair to say that the unions welcome the changes now proposed.

These Draft Schemes make two important alterations. They increase the rates of grant by £1 per acre in each case and they enable eligible farmers to receive both Ploughing Grant and Winter Keep Grant instead of, as formerly, having to choose between one or the other. The Draft Scottish Scheme also makes minor amendments to the definitions of crofters, eligible occupiers and agricultural units, to make clearer the intention of Parliament that people who benefit from grants under the Special Crofting legislation should not be eligible for grant under these Schemes. I commend them to the House.

Moved, That the Draft Winter Keep (Scotland) (Amendment) Scheme, 1964, laid before the House on the 23rd of April last, be approved.—(Lord Craigton.)

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot, of course, speak in regard to a Scottish scheme, but so far as the rest of the United Kingdom is concerned, I am certain that our farmers will be very satisfied with an increase of £1 per acre.


My Lords, I welcome any scheme that is designed to help the upland farmer, especially so that the upland farmer can attempt to keep on more level terms with his counterpart in the more fertile valleys lower down. However, I do not think this scheme has yet tackled the knotty problem of the barley crop. The N.F.U. have been pressing for barley to be included, and the Government have resisted this because it is not in the national interest.

Another matter that comes in here is that the scheme itself is based largely on the growing of grass. Both grass and barley go very well together in that they require an alkaline soil. What in fact is happening at present is that the Government, or Whitehall and St. Andrew's House, in their wisdom, are to a certain extent encouraging bad husbandry. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will look into this to see whether the Government cannot set a better example by including barley or by getting round the problem in some way.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wise, for his welcome. My noble friend criticised the absence of barley from the list as a crop eligible for winter keep grant. I read his speech in the debate last year and he made the same point then. The point is that the Government feel that as a general principle it is not desirable to grant-aid a crop twice. All cereals qualify for cereal deficiency payments. Oats was included exceptionally in the scheme because of its important and traditional use as a food crop in the hill areas, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is, however, the added consideration that a substantial proportion of the barley grown in the hill areas is sold as a cash crop whereas the bulk of oats is retained on the farm. To put the matter in perspective to my noble friend, in Scotland only some 25,000 acres of barley are grown in the hill areas as compared with 150,000 acres of oats. So when one considers that there is only 15 per cent. of acreage of barley as compared with oats, the Government's view is probably right in this matter.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I still feel that, if the Government were to give some assistance to barley, the percentage figure he quoted would be changed completely.

On Question, Motion agreed to.