The Government have been impressed with the serious situation which has resulted from the abnormal decline in prices of barley, particularly malting barley, and have summoned a conference of growers, brewers, maltsters and other users of barley, including merchants, to consider methods of preventing the recurrence of these conditions. It is recognised that any proposals which may be put forward by the conference can relate only to future seasons. So far as this season is concerned the Government, as an emergency measure of assistance to those farmers who are dependent on barley, propose to invite Parliament to increase from the present estimated figure of 10s. per acre to £1 per acre the subsidy payable to barley growers under the Agriculture Act in respect of this year's crop. Opportunity will be given to all growers of barley who have not hitherto applied for subsidy under that Act to do so, and to those who have elected for this season to take wheat deficiency payments under the Wheat Act, to reconsider their decision and, if they so desire, now to elect for subsidy under the Agriculture Act. As regards feeding barley and oats, the Government propose to review the degree of assistance afforded to those cereals under the Agriculture Act, 1937.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is likely to be the cost of this increase which is to be given to barley growers; and, further, whether the brewers who have been receiving malting barley at an uneconomic price have been consulted to see whether they are willing to, make a contribution towards barley growers this year?
In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, the total cost is estimated at £400,000, including £100,000 of present commitments. With regard to the second part of the question, as I have informed the House, a conference is now sitting on which brewers are represented, and I have been impressed favourably by the desire of all parties to that conference to co-operate towards an agreed solution of this problem.
While appreciating my right hon. Friend's recognition of the emergency conditions in the barley industry and the assistance to be offered to that industry, I should like to know whether we are to understand that the barley growers who want to benefit by the assistance, if they are not registered under the Act of 1937, but have qualified for assistance under the Wheat Act, have to renounce their right under the Wheat Act if they want to qualify under the emergency provisions, because in Norfolk a great number of those who are in the worst plight as regards barley are also wheat growers on an almost equal scale, and, as he knows, advance payments have already been made of 13s. 6d. a quarter for wheat, and—
In reply to my hon. Friend, my answer, I think, covers the points he raised. It will be open now to a grower of barley who is dependent upon that crop to choose again whether he will have this subsidy or his payment under the wheat deficiency scheme. It will assist large areas where barley-growing is the staple industry, and where only a small amount of wheat is grown.
What will happen in the cases where advance payments have already been made? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that farmers will have to return those payments if they want to qualify?
As these problems are peculiarly seasonal and largely due to weather conditions, may I ask whether the Government in advancing the £400,000, will take any power to call for repayment should there be a very small crop and high prices are ruling?
No, Sir, that is not contemplated. This is an emergency provision to meet a very serious situation. As regards a long-term policy for barley, I hope that satisfactory proposals will arise out of the conference I have mentioned.
No, Sir, the serious situation to which I have referred is the fact that many farmers dependent upon barley are in a very bad plight indeed this season, and that is the consideration which alone has moved His Majesty's Government to this Measure.
While I am perfectly sure that barley growers will welcome the announcement by the right hon. Gentleman, particularly at a moment when they are in such distress, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman hopes in the early part of next year to be able to announce in the House the long-term policy of the Government with regard to this crop?
As I have informed the House, we are studying the problem with the assistance of the conference which I have mentioned, and I cannot anticipate a date when we shall produce long-term legislation.