HL Deb 15 December 1970 vol 313 cc1336-9

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn, I beg to move that the Farm Amalgamations and Boundary Adjustments Scheme 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on December 1, be approved. With permission, I hope it will be convenient to consider also the Farm Structure (Payments to Outgoers) Scheme 1970 at the same time, as the two are very much linked together. The Amalgamations Scheme is made under Section 26 of the Agriculture Act 1967, and the Outgoers Scheme is made under Section 27, in both cases as amended by Section 32 of the Agriculture Act 1970. By virtue of an order which has been made under Section 29 of the 1970 Act these amendments take effect on January 1, 1971. The draft Schemes would come into effect on that date and would replace the current 1967 Schemes, making several improvements in the existing provisions.

There are two main reasons for the amendments in the 1970 Act and the new Schemes before us to-day. First, we are intending to pay all our agricultural capital grants under the new Farm Capital Grant Scheme, which your Lordships have already approved, and a new Amalgamation Scheme is required to enable grant on remodelling works arising from amalgamations to be paid under that Scheme. This should make life easier for the farmer who wants to get grant on items in addition to remodelling works, because he will be able to get grant on the lot under one scheme. On the Ministry's part, the unification of the grants will, as I have alreday explained, enable us to save time and reduce paperwork. The second reason for the new Schemes is that a number of defects in the original provisions have come to light and the opportunity has been taken to correct these. The previous Government gave notice in another place that they intended to make it easier for some prospective outgoers to qualify for relaxing the income test. The object of the test is to make sure that the outgoers' payments go only to people who have been mainly dependent on their farm for their income and do not, for example, go to hobby farmers. The test requires that three-quarters of the income of the outgoer and his wife must come from the farm, but before calculating this proportion a certain amount of non-farm income is disregarded. At present the amount of annual non-farm income which is disregarded in deciding whether an outgoer is eligible is £400, and with this low figure some deserving cases have been excluded. The revised Outgoers Scheme increases the amount from £400 to £750.

We are also making several minor improvements in the Schemes, but perhaps I need only draw your Lordships' attention specifically to the provision which the new Amalgamations Scheme makes for amalgamations which absorb part only of an uncommercial unit—because, for example, the rest is going for amalgamation elsewhere—and also to the additional provision in the Outgoers Scheme to help widows whose husbands die while their applications are being dealt with. I should also mention the new provisions in paragraph 9 of the Amalgamations Scheme, which apply to England and Wales only and which make grants available to local authorities for amalgamations involving the creation of a certain number of permanent intermediate units. These are amalgamations which are not being carried out as steps towards the eventual formation of commercial units, but are, nevertheless, among those which give effect to approved proposals for the reorganisation of smallholdings estates. I think I should add that although the 1967 schemes met with a fairly encouraging response at first, this has not been maintained. In an attempt to encourage more amalgamators to take advantage of these grants the previous Government reduced from 40 to 15 years the period for which amalgamated units are subject to the restrictive conditions of Schedule 3 to the 1967 Act, which are designed to prevent such units from being broken up again. This was a step which we on this side supported.

The changes which have been made, taken together, should encourage a greater response from amalgamators and outgoers. It is in any case necessary to revise the Schemes at this time so that we can carry through the unification of the farm capital grants. But I must confess to your Lordships that we are not completely confident that the changes made in these Schemes will be sufficient to get the results we want. There must be a much better response than there has been from the current Schemes before we can declare ourselves satisfied. As the Minister of Agriculture has already announced, we are carrying out a fundamental review of the structure schemes to see whether we can give more effective help for amalgamations. If it is decided as a result of that review that further changes are needed, we shall bring forward the necessary provisions, but, in the meantime, I feel sure that the revised Schemes represent an improvement on the 1967 ones. I have pleasure in moving that the Motions now be approved.


That the Draft Farm Amalgamations and Boundary Adjustments Scheme 1970, laid before the House on December 1, be approved:

That the Draft Farm Structure (Payments to Outgoers) Scheme 1970, laid before the House on December 1, be approved.—(Lord Denham.)


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord paid tribute to the 1967 and 1970 Acts in this connection. Clearly, what was done in those Acts was the right thing to do; namely, to try to secure a condition in which some of these farms which clearly are not viable units are merged into larger ones. We in this country are not as bad as some. Some of the Continental countries, with which we may well find ourselves being closely associated eventually, have farm structures that are positively laughable. I am thinking of the very small units I happen to have seen in South Germany, and certainly some in France, where clearly the size of the farms was such that they could not possibly hope to be viable units. That was partly due to the laws of inheritance. But never mind about what it was due to: the fact was that they were not good farm structures, either for the men trying to farm them or for the country as a whole.

I am sure that what has been done up to now in this connection was the right thing to do, and I am glad that the noble Lord and his Government have taken on the task of continuing this work and making the minor improvements that appear in the two Orders that are before us to-day. I sincerely trust that the hope he expressed will be realised, that there will be a greater response from some of the small farmers and people who will be interested here to this new initiative on the part of the Government. This is certainly a well worth while thing to do, and I sincerely hope that the money which will be spent on it—and that will be considerable in the end—will have the effect that we desire; namely, of securing that the farms in this country are viable units from which a man can get a decent standard of living and also enjoy the fruits of his labour, as he clearly should do. My Lords, I am glad to welcome these two new Orders.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.