I am aware that hill farmers have had a difficult year. My Department is undertaking in conjunction with the N.F.U. of Scotland, and at their request, a special survey in order to provide a full and accurate picture of the position. The results of this survey will be taken into account in our review of the assistance to hill farmers at the 1967 Annual Review.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that such expressions of sympathy make the lot of these farmers any easier? Does he not realise that what is needed is action? Will he not do something, such as a special Price Review, to help these people?
We are governed by Statute. As the hon. Member knows, in certain of the payments we cannot act until we get the returns. In respect of hill sheep, it will, I think, be some time in December before the returns are available. I think that we are pretty well on the way to getting the payments made for the hill cow subsidy. We shall speed the payments which can be made as far as we can within our statutory obligations.
Does not the Secretary of State agree that basically the trouble here is lack of confidence among the primary producers—the hill farmers? Could he not give an assurance here and now that the cattle producers, calf producers and sheep producers will have an increase in their subsidy at the Price Review, if not before?
I think that the best thing to do is to wait and see what are the facts in relation to this matter before we make up our minds on what will be the hill sheep subsidy. That decision will be taken at the Price Review.
The hon. Member should appreciate what we did. We gave a very considerable advance in respect of the hill sheep subsidy, very much beyond anything that had been given before. As against an average of 9s. 6d. over the previous four years, we advanced the figure to 17s., and it has been up to that figure since then.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hill farmers had difficult times last year because of the rather heavy increases in rents charged by landlords? Is he aware that recently sheep farms have sold at enormous prices and that farmers have had to borrow money from the banks? One of the biggest sales was by a very prominent Member of the Front Bench opposite.
There is certainly evidence that there is no lack of long-term confidence. What I am most concerned about is the effect of this very bad year on the hill lands and the farmers there.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that he himself expressed anxiety about this matter in the debate last Thursday? In view of the urgency, which I am sure he appreciates, will he not take up the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) of a special Review? In order to do this, could he not perhaps consider the low returns, as well as possibly the higher costs, such as those caused by a 9 per cent. Bank Rate?