Agriculture (Silo Subsidies)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd July 1959.

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10.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I beg to move, That the Silo Subsidies (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th June, be approved.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I think that it would be convenient to discuss the Silo Subsidies (Scotland) Scheme with the English scheme.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

That would be very convenient, Mr. Speaker.

The new schemes constitute, in effect, an extension of the present arrangements which are due to come to an end on 31st July. A few minor modifications have been made, but the rates of subsidy and maximum grants payable remain the same.

We have considered carefully the question of whether the silo subsidies should be incorporated into the Farm Improvement Scheme. The House will have noticed that the report of the Caine Committee on Grassland Utilisation made suggestions to that effect. We have studied these suggestions very carefully. They would, of course, entail fresh legislation, since the 1957 Agriculture Act specifies a 33⅓ per cent. grant under the Farm Improvement Scheme. In any case, we felt that there are real objections to complicating the Farm Improvement Scheme in this way in order to make special arrangements for silos. If we were to continue to meet the purposes of the Silo Scheme within the framework of the Farm Improvement Scheme it would be necessary to create a sort of scheme within a scheme.

Moreover, it was never the intention of the Silo Subsidies Scheme to provide grants for the larger farmer to build large and expensive silos. The scheme was deliberately weighted in favour of the smaller farmer, both by providing a relatively high rate of subsidy on individual items in the Schedule and by limiting the total amount of subsidy payable on any one agricultural unit. For these various reasons we have concluded that we should continue the silo subsidies for a further period in their present form, but we shall, of course, always keep this matter under review.

At the same time, I should make clear to the House that the Farm Improvement Scheme will in future be administered without regard to the maximum grant payable under the Silo Scheme. In future we propose that the two schemes shall operate side by side and that structures may qualify for grant under either where they satisfy all its conditions. In other words, where a building can be said to satisfy fully the tests of the Farm Improvement Scheme and can be regarded as a long-term improvement irrespective of its use in connection with silage making, it will be eligible for grant under that Scheme.

The silo itself will continue to be subsidised as now under the Silo Subsidies Scheme, which will also make provision for covered silos of a straight-forward kind where that is what is required. I hope this solution will commend itself to the House. It meets the main point which the Caine Committee evidently had in mind without disturbing the provisions of either scheme, and we are confident that it will be found acceptable by the farming community.

10.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

We do not oppose the schemes. This is a comparatively modest subsidy, amounting to no more than £1 million, which is rather less than was provided in the previous year. We support the schemes broadly because they will encourage home production of feeding stuffs and save imports, but there are a few observations that I want to make before we part with them.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary recognises that these are anomalous schemes, in the sense that we have an improvement scheme within the production grants, and although it is true that the money comes out of the overall Price Review, and the National Farmers' Union agreed to the schemes, since they deal with capital projects they should be kept under review and not regarded as permanent subsidies. It was for that reason that when we discussed the Bill some of my hon. Friends were rather critical of the proposal.

In the progress of production grants we tend to lose sight of the main agricultural objectives, and I would much rather the Government gave more serious thought to the Caine Committee's general recommendations about grassland improvement. We should not regard this as another permanent production grant but as something which is giving a stimulus to the production of silos. We should judge it in the light of the effect of that stimulus.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the Caine Committee's Report which is very important in this context. There was a majority and a minority recommendation. The minority recommendation was that there should be a silage subsidy rather than a silo subsidy. I gather from what the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Government have considered that and prefer the views of the majority of the Committee. If that be the Government view, it is one which I share. We have the advantage of a review of the effect of this production grant, but the conclusion of the Committee is disappointing. It is not very positive. The Caine Committee said that it is too early to judge the full effects of the scheme. Again, this is a very important matter.

When we have discussed previous schemes I have said that it is not good enough merely to say that the object is laudable, in this case that there has been an increase in the provision of silos, because that was happening before the schemes were introduced. We wish to know what stimulus this subsidy has had. After all, we are concerned with the expenditure of £1 million. The disappointing thing about the Report of the Caine Committee is that it does not adduce any evidence that this subsidy has been fully effective in this broad sense.

It is encouraging that the Report shows that the subsidy has been successful in stimulating the smaller farmers to provide silage, which is a good conclusion to draw from the effect of the scheme. But, as I have said in previous discussions about production grants, we have the Small Farmers Scheme and we have to consider the whole time whether, if we aid the small farmer, it will be better to do so within the provisions of that scheme rather than by a general aid such as we are considering here.

The Parliamentary Secretary concedes that the Caine Committee has made a recommendation which the Government are not following. However, I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said, that there will be a greater co-ordination between the Farm Improvement Scheme and the present Scheme. That is a good development. As he said it goes a long way towards the recommendation of the Caine Committee, but I feel strongly that there is a good case for bringing this under the Farm Improvement Scheme, even though it might mean taking it out of the Price Review award. I can see the objection of the Treasury to the proposals of the Caine Committee, because if they were implemented they would probably result in silos coming within the Farm Improvement Scheme; but I accept that the Parliamentary Secretary has considered this, and what he said will be an improvement.

I wish to make two other points about this scheme. We still have not heard anything about what research has been carried on. I know that research is being carried on but we require research in two spheres, in the actual making of silage and in farm buildings. The Caine Committee supports me. It also felt that there should be research into farm buildings. I wish to emphasise that when we are considering such a scheme as this, we must consider ancillary ways in which we can encourage the objective behind it. We are far too lackadaisical about the matter. Time after time the Department is presented with difficulties and it only doles out a little more money. It should tackle this much more realistically. We should get not only more money provided, but provision for more research, technical advice and assistance.

I do not wish to repeat again what I have said about N.A.A.S. being the "Cinderella" of the services. We hope these matters will be kept under review. We are not convinced, and the Caine Committee apparently was not convinced, that there is positive evidence that the scheme is having any remarkable effects, apart from the desirable effect of seeing that small farmers are turning more to silage.

The main point, however, I want to emphasise is that to vote Price Review money to a particular purpose in a scheme such as this is at the sacrifice of the farming community generally. We must, therefore, not disregard the other ways in which good farming practices can be encouraged, and we must get other initiatives to back up the expenditure of the subsidy.

10.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clifford Kenyon Mr Clifford Kenyon , Chorley

I was hoping to have some sort of progress report from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I do not think that we should pass further money for a scheme unless we know whether or not such schemes have been successful. We do not know how successful or otherwise this particular Silo Subsidies Scheme has been since its inception.

It has been a good scheme for the small farmer, but today he will make silage only when the weather is bad. There will not be as much silage made this year as there has been previously. With the large farmer it is different. He sets aside a certain acreage for silage and hay, irrespective of the weather. More silage is made when the weather is bad than when the weather is good. I hoped that it would be possible to find what progress the scheme had made up to the present.

Many silos which have been made by small farmers will be used for sheds—implement sheds—rather than silos in the future, because the small farmer does not altogether like silage. In the main, he prefers to make hay, which is better to handle. He has not the men to handle silage as the big farmer has. Many silos will be used for other purposes than those for which the grant was made.

I am glad that on page 2, paragraph 4, there is provision for the construction of a roof over existing silos. A large number of silos have been made and I was surprised at the Ministry not insisting upon a roof over them. In wet weather silage should not be made unless it can be covered at once. Many silos are open all the year round and the result is that six inches to a foot of the top of the silage is absolutely rotten. Last year, the waste in some silos was deplorable, but that was an exceptional year. The Ministry ought to insist that a roof should go over the silo, whether the silo is new or reconditioned, especially in areas where rainfall is very high.

I do not feel that silage making will be a permanent feature of the small farmer's practice. I think that it will be a permanent feature for the large farmer, who can make both hay and silage and work one in with the other, but the small farmer will turn to one rather than the other and, generally, he will turn to hay.

Another thing which is against him is that he cannot afford the machinery—at least, he should not be able to—that is used for silage making. The silorator and all the new machinery which is used by the larger farmer is far too costly and will soon over-capitalise the small farm, and there is already too much of that going on. This scheme wants considering carefully to see that the best use is made of the money, that the silo is of the best type, with a proper roof over it, so that there is not so much waste, and whether it will become a permanent feature for the small farmer or will be discarded in one or two years' time.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I quite agree with my hon. Friend that the scheme wants watching. Could the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland explain how it is working in Scotland?

10.16 p.m.

Photo of Sir Archer Baldwin Sir Archer Baldwin , Leominster

After we have heard two voices from the other side of the House which do not agree with the Silo Subsidies Scheme, I feel that, as a user of silage, I must make my contribution. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) said that is was not of much use to the small farmer, but I do not agree. In a year like last year it was essential that there should be such a scheme, but this year, I agree, farmers will make hay and will not need to have the advantage of silage to be used later.

I do not agree that the silage pit can be turned into a machinery shelter. That would be extremely difficult. If silage is made properly, particularly if it has a. shelter over it such as the hon. Member advocated, I cannot see that there is so much waste as the hon. Member seemed to think. I have an open silo, but the moment I finish contributing to the heap I throw soil on the top and then I can use the silage. I do not know why the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was not in favour of a silage scheme in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I asked for information. I did not oppose the scheme at all.

Photo of Sir Archer Baldwin Sir Archer Baldwin , Leominster

I thought that the hon. Member was opposing the scheme. From my knowledge of Scotland, if there is any place which needs such a scheme it is Scotland. When I was there, about eight years ago, I found that farmers were hesitant about the matter, but I think that since then they have developed it. It would take a lot of the ache out of their heads. I wish to support the scheme, because I think it will be extremely useful for both the big and the small farmer.

10.19 p.m.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Edinburgh Pentlands

I was asked a question by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and I should like to answer him and also the questions asked of my hon. Friend by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr Kenyon), because to a certain extent those questions go together.

Up to the end of May more than 25,000 projects had been approved in the United Kingdom, of which about 16,500 were in England, 3,000 in Wales, over 1,700 in Scotland and about 3,850 in Northern Ireland. Collectively, they attract grants amounting to over £4 million. Of these, about 15,700 projects have been completed, attracting a grant of £2·35 million. Since the inception of the scheme, there has been an increase of nearly 50 per cent. in the amount of silage made in the United Kingdom each year and in the same period the number of farmers making the silage rose by about 8,000 to nearly 50,000.

There is still a steady demand for approvals, although, naturally, this is less than in the first year, when there was a good deal of pent-up demand to be satisfied. Approval is at present being given at the rate of 7,600 projects a year, attracting a grant of £1·2 million.

The figures which show the success of the scheme in Scotland which is what, I think, interests the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, I can best give in this way. The first Silo Subsidies Scheme was started at the end of November, 1956. In 1956, the total tonnage in Scotland was 368,108; in 1957, it was 428,057; and in 1958 it went up to 568,872.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Silo Subsidies (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th June, be approved.

Silo Subsidies (Scotland) Scheme, 1959 [draft laid before the House 16th June], approved.—[Lord John Hope.]