HL Deb 12 April 1978 vol 390 cc722-8

7.14 p.m.

Lord WALLACE of COSLANY rose to move, That the Farm Capital Grant (Variation) Scheme 1978, laid before the House on 15th March, be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple, short and straightforward Statutory Instrument which was laid before Parliament on 15th March 1978. Noble Lords may recall the undertaking my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave on 2nd February 1978 that we would give extra financial assistance to farmers and growers whose land had been badly affected by abnormal floods this winter. The function of this Instrument is to give effect to this undertaking, which I am sure all noble Lords will recognise as a proper response to the situation.

Separate measures are required to put into effect the special aid for the replacement and reconditioning of damaged buildings, facilities and works announced by my right honourable friends on 22nd March and these will be dealt with separately. It is hoped to make the necessary order within about four to six weeks.

Noble Lords will no doubt have noticed that the Statutory Instrument was laid on 15th March 1978 and came into operaton on 16th March 1978. Its continuance is, of course, subject to the will of Parliament. No disrespect to Parliament is involved in bringing the Statutory Instrument into effect before there has been an opportunity for debate. The primary legislation, Section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970, permits us to do this and our objective was to be able to make cash available as soon as possible for farms where land had been seriously affected by the abnormal flooding this winter. I need hardly remind your Lordships' House of the disastrous events of 11th-12th November 1977 in North-West England and Wales and 11th-12th January 1978 on the East Coast and in Kent.

With your Lordships' permission, I shall briefly outline what, if Parliament approves, the Statutory Instrument will do. It will allow us to give 50 per cent. grant (as opposed to the normal rates of 20 per cent. available under the Farm Capital Grant Scheme and 25 per cent. under the Farm and Horticulture Development Scheme) for bringing back land affected by abnormal flooding to its previous level of productivity. Grassland, arable land and horticultural land are covered both for cultivation operations and for the application of gypsum, lime and fertilisers and, for arable land, if the condition so merits, the keeping down of weeds while the land is in fallow.

Reseeding and regeneration of permanent grass and the clearance of flood debris—for example, shingle—from the land are also eligible. In addition, incidental operations such as repairing a flood bank to prevent future flooding or the erection of fencing—for example, to permit controlled grazing—will also qualify at the 50 per cent. rate. Land drainage and the clearance of ditches already attract the 50 per cent. grant and we are relaxing the administrative rules relating to second grants where work is now needed because abnormal flooding has affected the existing systems.

This is a United Kingdom scheme and we are taking advantage of Article 92(2)(b) of the Treaty of Rome, which allows special aid to alleviate the effects of natural disasters; thus these are not subject to the EEC's Farm Modernisation Directive. This means that the aids are not affected by the various restrictions contained in the Directive. One of these is a maximum amount of investment per labour unit which can qualify for grant, so that this limit will not apply to any of the work, including drainage and ditching, provided it is necessary in connection with the restoration of the land to its previous level of productivity. Neither will the limitations on investment aids for pig enterprises and the total bar on grant for egg and poultry enterprises apply.

In conclusion, I should like to emphasise three points. The Scheme is of limited duration—applications can be accepted only within one year of the coming into force of the Scheme—that is, until 15th March 1979. We have set this time limit because we are keen to encourage farmers and growers to get on with the necessary work. Secondly, it is concerned solely with bringing back to its former level of productivity arable, grassland or horticultural land affected by abnormal flooding —no improvements to that land can be grant-aided under this Scheme although the other capital grant schemes can still be used for the improvement of permanent grassland. Thirdly, under the terms of the Agriculture Act 1970, only work of a long term capital nature can qualify for aid. Routine husbandry operations are excluded.

As I mentioned earlier, the further measures needed to give effect to the Government's announcement on 22nd March of extra grant assistance to those farmers and growers who suffered damage from the severe blizzard this winter, will he introduced shortly. It has, of course, taken time to investigate and assess the damage caused and to work out the form the measures should take to be fully effective.

While I am on this matter I should like to pay tribute to all those who contributed to the massive relief work in the South West and Wales. I refer, for example, to the helicopter pilots flying in adverse conditions to drop supplies, to the bulldozer drivers clearing snow in difficult terrain and to all the others, including local and central Government officials who took part in the relief and other related work.

Although we have not yet been able to introduce the measures necessary to authorise the higher grants referred to in the announcement of 22nd March, we have waived the normal prior approval rule of the capital grants schemes. That means that those farmers and growers who suffered loss or damage in the blizzards can get on with the necessary work without prejudicing their right to whatever higher rate of grant Parliament may approve. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Farm Capital Grant (Variation) Scheme 1978, laid before the House on 15th March, be approved.—

[Lord Wallace of Coslany.]

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, for outlining the background to this particular measure. On this side of the House we warmly welcome the proposals set out in the measure and join with him in his words of tribute to all those involved in the relief operation which took place during the past winter. What is very important is the relaxation of administrative rules and the action by those concerned in the Ministry to ensure that the handling of applications takes place as speedily as possible. Of course, we were particularly glad to hear that farmers and growers are permitted to proceed with works without receiving prior approval. That, of course, is fundamental to the Scheme.

We welcome what the noble Lord has said in regard to the fact that this arises out of Article 92.2(b) of the Treaty of Rome. However, there is one further anxiety about which I should like to ask the noble Lord. Should further flooding occur at a later date—and we hope that it does not—will it he necessary to bring a similar order before Parliament? As we understand it, this will be necessary because of the very limited duration of this particular Scheme. On the face of it, I think that the level of grants appears sufficiently generous to merit very close attention by all those concerned, but we should like to know whether this is a Scheme which would have only the limited duration which we imagine that it has.

7.24 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I should like to welcome very much what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, and my noble friend Lord Sandys have said about the speed with which relief and help was given to local farmers in my part of the world during the recent blizzards. There was the minimum amount of red tape and the maximum amount of speed. I think that that fact was acknowledged very widely, not only by the farmers concerned but by the public at large. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, that reflects very great credit on all those like helicopter pi lots and bulldozer drivers.

The information which I received and experienced at first hand was that relief was given straight away, as rapidly as possible, and the question of who should pay, and how, was left to be considered after the event. I was only tantalised by the number of helicopters that flew over my small property without decanting anything in the way of foodstuffs. I could see showers of various things being decanted on my neighbour's property. As I suffered no loss myself, I could not complain.


My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, for this admirable order. Speaking as the only Scottish farmer present, I should like to say that we are most grateful for it. The damage that took place in Scotland was largely due to snow and blizzards in the North. I imagine that that will be the subject of the next order: I understood the noble Lord to say there would be a second order. I am quite sure that those who suffered from the flooding, of which there was a certain amount in the Selkirk area, will be extremely grateful for the order. It is very encouraging when there is such a rapid response to the extraordinary weather conditions that we have experienced this winter—indeed, noble Lords experienced snow this week. The Government are to he congratulated on the fact that they have taken steps so quickly. I hope that this will bode well for the reconstruction of agriculture which we hope will come as a result of these orders.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and to the noble Viscount. Lord Amory. I am sorry that we did not drop any additional supplies on the noble Viscount's property, but as he did not need them it is all right. I hope that the helicopters did not disturb his rest—at least they were on a very urgent errand of mercy. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, for her references and welcome to the Scheme. I am convinced that in the Administration there is a desire to get on with the job and to give what possible assistance can be given to farmers and others concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, was concerned with buildings. A new order will be introduced to cover that. I have the figures before me, but I shall not delay the House with them now. There will be a considerable increase in grants. In one case permanent buildings on lowlands will receive 60 per cent. as against 20 per cent. to 40 per cent. previously, and less favoured areas will receive 60 per cent. as against the usual 20 to 40 per cent.; they are very good grants.

So far as further flooding is concerned, at the moment there is no need for a new order while applications are received by 15th March 1979. From that I would assume that after that date if we have any further disasters—and let us all look forward to some decent weather at least next year, if not this—a new order might have to be made. Until then, certainly no further order is anticipated. I think that that covers all the points that have been raised. I thank noble Lords and the noble Baroness for the welcome given to this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.15 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[Sitting suspended from 7.28 p.m. until 8.15 p.m.]

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