§ 2.50 p.m.
My Lords, I beg to move that the Ploughing Grants Scheme, 1964, be approved, and I trust that it will be convenient if we take at the same time the Ploughing Grants (Scotland) Scheme, 1964. Looking at the other Schemes which are before us, I propose, if your Lordships agree, to take together the two Calf Subsidies (Amendment) Schemes; and then, again if your Lordships agree, my noble friend Lord Craigton will take the two Winter Keep (Amendment) Schemes together. I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if we deal with these matters in this way. 9 My Lords, during our debate on Agriculture a few weeks ago my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Dalzell remarked upon the increasing complexity of our agricultural support system; he was concerned, if I may borrow his phrase, at the "pitch of sophistication and complication" which that system has now reached. I therefore look confidently to my noble friend to support these two Ploughing Grant Schemes, because simplification is in fact their keynote.
The main change we are proposing is to streamline the conditions for the Part I or £5-an-acre grant and to cut down on the paper work they involve. We have felt able to do this now that the rate of grant has been reduced, following last year's measures to launch the Winter Keep and Grassland Renovation Schemes. The farmer will now be able to claim his £5 an acre as soon as he has ploughed eligible land and completed the first follow-up operation towards production of a crop. Previously he has had to wait until he had actually sown the crop. Under the old system he had to send us two forms—one immediately he had ploughed and the other when he had sown. The new arrangements will permit most ploughing grants to be paid on the strength of one piece of paper; they should lead to earlier payments of a grant which undoubtedly provides small farmers with valuable working capital over the anxious months before the return from their crops is safely in the bank. The new system should also materially reduce the number of claims that have to be disqualified because one or other of the forms is not received by the statutory closing date.
Two administrative rules are also being changed in the interests of simplification. We have now gained sufficient experience of rotavation, in lieu of ploughing, to drop the prior approval rule and its associated conditions; and we shall no longer be calculating special deductions for headlands and the like—provided the area left unploughed is not excessive, the long-standing practice of ignoring areas of less than one-quarter of an acre in calculating payment will suffice. In all other respects the Part I grant remains substantially unchanged, as does the Part II 10 or £12 an acre grant for bringing older and difficult grassland back into a productive condition. However, we are following last year's practice and advancing, by one year, the date from which land must have been under grass to qualify for this higher rate of grant.
My Lords, these several changes in ploughing grants have been welcomed by the Farmers' Unions; they should speed up payments and relieve farmers of a good deal of form filling; and they will bring about a useful reduction in paperwork and administrative costs in the agricultural departments. I am sure they will enjoy the approval of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Draft Ploughing Grants Scheme 1964, laid before the House on April 23 last, be approved.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, it is customary practice in this House year by year to pass these particular Orders with but little comment, and certainly with the approval of those on this side of the House. I think the same will apply to-day. Although there are three Orders on which I wish to ask one or two questions, time will not be wasted and we shall progress towards the end of the day when certain matters have to be resolved. The question which I had in mind to put to the noble Earl he has, I think, already answered. In the last Price Review the drop in the cost of ploughing grants was from £10 million to £7.3 million. I think that is explained by his remarks about easing up the grants and more or less amalgamating them, so that the grants for ploughing for winter keep and other operations are dealt with under their particular Orders, and do not therefore come into this Order in respect of ploughing grants. The result is that at the end of the year the payment for ploughing grants will be less by reason of the fact that this matter is dealt with in other ways.
My Lords, if I have understood him correctly, I think that the noble Lord is substantially right. The ploughing grant was reduced last year, and as a result of the reduction it has been felt that possibly we could be a little less stringent in regard to the forms which the farmer has to fill up. 11 At the same time, he has been able to take advantage of the Winter Keep Scheme and the Grassland Renovation Scheme which in some respects will counteract the lower grant he will get in respect of a ploughing-up grant.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.