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Volume 436: debated on Monday 28 April 1947

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asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps are being taken to bring about the cultivation of an increased number of allotments.

A circular letter, a copy of which I am sending to the hon. and gallant Member, was addressed to local authorities on 7th January last emphasising how essential it was, in the national interest, that they should once again make the maximum effort to ensure the cultivation for vegetable production of all allotments and private gardens in their area, indicating the lines on which national propaganda was proceeding, anti urging them to support it by conducting their own local propaganda campaign.

Will the hon. Gentleman consider making a broadcast to householders to get busy on their allotments? Will he also consult his colleagues in the Fighting Services, to see that more food is grown in camps, both here and in Germany? Further, is he aware that it is not possible to send seeds to Germany by post, and will he get this rectified?

A fortnight ago I mentioned allotments specially in my broadcast. My Ministerial colleagues are helping all they can to sow the good seeds of digging for plenty.

Will the right hon. Gentleman prevent local authorities from taking away existing allotments, which is happening now?

We have done our best with local authorities, and with a good deal of co-operation, to dissuade them from taking over allotments for playing fields, and that kind of thing, but where it is a question of housing, then it is a 'different matter.

Will the Minister say why nothing was done for allotment holders under the Agriculture Bill? Does he anticipate introducing early legislation to encourage security of tenure for allotment holders?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are I10 Clauses in the Agriculture Bill, which called for 26 meetings of the Committee before we got it through the Committee stage—

—and to deal with every conceivable agricultural possibility in that one Bill would take a very long time.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the launching of a Government campaign for speeding up allotments, similar to that which took place during the war, in order to supplement the efforts of local authorities? Will he consult the National Allotment Society?

There is a campaign going ahead, and to add to that I have promised the hon. Member and his colleagues that I will attend the National Allotment Society's annual conference.

Seed Potatoes


asked the Minister of Agriculture what quantity of seed potatoes are available; and how this figure compares with the last year.

Up to the week ending 19th April, the quantity of Scottish, Northern Ireland and Eire certified seed delivered to growers in England and Wales was 392,000 tons as compared with 441,000 at the corresponding date last year. There has been a slight delay in loading this week owing to stormy weather, but it is expected that deliveries in the three weeks following 19th April will average 22,000 tons per week, in which case the total deliveries of seed from these sources will be in excess of last season. As in previous years, supplies of certified seed potatoes will not be sufficient to meet all demands, but once-grown seed will also be available. To ensure that adequate supplies of the latter are forthcoming a compulsory ware riddle of 2¼ inches has been introduced and the grower's price for once-grown seed of the principal maincrop varieties has been increased by 10s. per ton.

Dispossessed Farmers


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many dispossessed farmers have not received and are not receiving rent; and, in view of the fact that many of them cannot afford to employ a solicitor or a valuer, if he will take immediate steps to come to an agreed compensation with them.

In England and Wales, 811 farmers or owners of farms entitled to compensation rental under the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, are not receiving such rental. The usual reason for non-payment is that the party either neglects to make a claim or declines to follow the usual procedure for settlement of disputed claims. Every effort is made to reach agreement, and ex-gratia payments to cover the reasonable cost of employing a valuer are allowed.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has not answered my Question? Will he take immediate steps to stop this tyrannical treatment of British subjects, because that is in fact what it is?

There is no tyrannical treatment. The reason why rentals have not been made is very largely the fault of the people who have been dispossessed.

Grey Squirrels


asked the Minister of Agriculture what success has attended the scheme operating in Wiltshire by which two 12-bore cartridges are issued in exchange for every grey squirrel tail delivered to the pests officer; and if this scheme is being applied by all A.E.Cs.

I am informed that since the middle of February, when this scheme was introduced in Wiltshire, 412 grey squirrel tails have been delivered to the War Agricultural Executive Committee's pests officer. The reply to the second part of the Question is, "No, Sir."

If the scheme is working well in one county, surely, equally good results may be got in other counties?

Hill Sheep


asked the Minister of Agriculture if, where hill farmers have lost sheep and suffered deterioration in their flocks through malnutrition, he will introduce a scheme for the provision of extra coupons for all stock during the summer months to aid their recovery.

Although it may be necessary in exceptional circumstances, when they are brought down from the hills in severe weather or for lambing, the feeding of concentrates to hill sheep is not a usual practice and such feeding would be detrimental to the characteristics of the flocks. Moreover, it would be impracticable to take such feed to the ewes when they are on the hills.

As it is almost impossible to find any way of helping these people practically, because we cannot give them back the sheep, will the Minister realise that he can help them materially by giving them every possible feedingstuff for their stocks, not only sheep?

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that we have taken all the feedingstuffs we could lay our hands on to the hills to help the hill farmers to feed their flocks and herds; and the hon. Gentleman must also he aware that hill sheep must be as nearly self supporting as possible, otherwise their main purpose fails.

Harvest Workers


asked the Minister of Agriculture at what figure he assesses the labour force necessary to bring in the 1947 harvest; and what steps he is taking to see that this force is available.

It is impossible to give a precise figure for the number of workers required for the harvest. As regards the second part of the Question, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the statement which I made in the course of the Debate on the distribution of manpower on 19th March last.

Is the Minister aware that the 1948 harvest will be just as important; and can he assure us that he is looking as far ahead as 1948?

I can only repeat the assurance previously given. I think that, what with prisoners of war, volunteers and other supplementary labour, including the Women's Land Army, there will be an adequate labour force for the 1947 harvest.

However willing the volunteers, they are never likely to be as good as those working with the farmers most of the year, and, that being the case, would the right hon. Gentleman consider urging the Minister of Labour to make some arrangements, whereby prisoners of war who desire to stay in this country may do so?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that a prisoner of war, whose date for repatriation has arrived, can opt to stay on for a further six months, if he so desires?

Livestock Losses (Floods)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the fact that the Government grants to agriculturists for sowing reclaimed fields where the land has been flooded do not cover the losses of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry, he will consider issuing an interest-free loan to be paid out of the farm profits over five years to those who have sustained losses of livestock due to the floods.

No, Sir, I do not consider that such a loan would be an appropriate method of assisting farmers who have suffered losses of livestock through floods. The arrangements which the Government proposed include, first, payments out of the Agricultural Disaster Fund, to which the Government are contributing approximately 5o per cent., and, secondly, the inclusion of livestock in the Agricultural Goods and Services Scheme.

Does not the Minister appreciate that the farmers need cash in order to re-stock; and is not he also aware that however good are the measures which he has mentioned, they are not really sufficiently comprehensive to do all that is required?

They are just good enough to satisfy the leaders of the National Farmers Union.

Why is it that we have always to be dictated to, without this House being consulted?

Imported Grass Seeds


asked the Minister of Agriculture what quantities and what varieties of grass seed are being imported into this country from the dollar countries and why.

Approximately 24,500 cwt. of Timothy seed and 7,500 cwt. of Agrostis seed of the 1946 crops are being imported from the United States and Canada. I am advised that these seeds, which are not produced in sufficient quantity in the United Kingdom, are required for incorporation in grass seed mixtures.

Will the Minister do all he can to encourage the production of these seeds in this country?

We are doing all that we can to encourage the production of such seeds as are most useful in this country, but I understand that a certain variety have to be imported from the U.S.A. and Canada which are necessary, especially for Scotland, and for mixing with other seeds.

Will the Minister get as much seed as he can from New Zealand?

Seed Production


asked the Minister of Agriculture what plans he has for the future of seed production in this country.

The home production of agricultural, vegetable and flower seeds for sowing, insofar as they can be produced at economic prices and are in demand, will be encouraged to the fullest extent.

Sheep Breeding


asked the Minister of Agriculture, in view of the loss of sheep flocks in this country, what steps he is taking to increase the stock of sheep; and if he will consider an increase in the price of wool and skins in order to encourage the further breeding up of sheep stock, or some encouragement to the farmer to keep and breed from all ewe lambs.

I would refer the hon. Member to my statement in the House on 3rd April, to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in the Adjournment Debate on 18th April, and to the announcement issued to the Press on Saturday last, of which I am sending him a copy. The various measures therein mentioned should help farmers to tide over the difficult period ahead and encourage them to rebuild their flocks. As already announced, this year's wool clip is again being requisitioned at the same prices as prevailed in 1946. I am considering what further steps can be taken to encourage farmers to keep all ewe lambs suitable for breeding.

Machinery (Repairs)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware that the supply of farm machinery available for hire by county A.E.Cs. is inadequate in several districts, and that much of the machinery is in bad repair; and if he will take steps to improve this service, on which many small farmers are dependent for essential cultivations.

I am not aware that the supply of farm machinery for hire by county war agricultural executive committees is inadequate, though it may well be that the abnormal seasonal conditions have caused an unusual concentration of demand that cannot be met all at once. This is, however, being met as quickly as possible. Much of the machinery is now some years old, but it is maintained, so far as possible, in good condition, and replacements are made as they become necessary.

Is the Minister aware that the American loan is rapidly running out; and is he satisfied that he is getting his fair share of the American loan to obtain the implements which will further improve production for the future?

The House has been told from time to time, that there is no shortage of dollars for the import of agricultural machinery from America.

Imported Poultry (Fowl Pest)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the increasing number of cases of fowl pest in the United Kingdom and the seriousness of the disease, he has now decided to stop the import of poultry from countries where fowl pest is known to be, with a view to the early eradication of the disease in the United Kingdom.

The importation of live poultry and hatching eggs from countries where fowl pest is known to exist is not now being permitted. The question of further measures is under consideration.

in view of the fact that 90 cases of this disease have now been notified, that it is a very infectious disease and will have a very great effect on the poultry stock in this country, will the right hon. Gentleman also consider restricting the import of undressed carcasses from those countries where it is known to exist, as veterinary surgeons think it is due to the feeding of offal to the poultry in this country?

I understand a prohibition on the importation of dead poultry would mean stopping the bulk of our supplies, and that would hardly be practicable with the present shortage. However, I can assure the hon. Member that we are at present in consultation with the poultry industry.

In view of the fact that the imports will or must continue, will the right hon. Gentleman first see that some instructions are issued that this offal should be boiled before being fed to poultry; and in future, when imports of poultry have to be made, will he see that they will be dressed and not undressed poultry?

Advice to boil ail poultry waste before feeding to their birds has been "propaganded" amongst poultry keepers, and we are going further in that direction, after consultation with the poultry industry.

Would it not be better to stop the importation of table poultry from those countries where they have this disease, rather than having our own flocks decimated?

Flooding, Yorkshire (Pumping)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether his attention has been drawn to the distressing plight of flood victims at Allerton Byewater, Bentley Toll Bar and Selby and district; and whether he will take all necessary steps to ensure that pumping operations are energetically conducted where such action is still a matter of urgent necessity.

Yes, Sir. I am in close touch with the position and can assure the hon. and gallant Member that all necessary action is being energetically taken. Emergency pumps from the resources organised by my Department have been sent in to the area where required.

Seed Import Board


asked the Minister of Agriculture from what date the Seed Import Board will cease to function, in view of the fact that the Board was formed purely for wartime activities, and of the wide dissatisfaction in the seed trade against the continued operation of the Board in its present form, and with its present system of preference and control; and if he is aware that adequate facilities already exist in his Department and the Board of Trade for the control of seed purchases abroad in countries with hard currencies, and their allocation to the seed trade in this country, without the necessity for the continuation of the Seed Import Board.

It is not yet practicable to withdraw the restrictions on the importation of agricultural and vegetable seeds, and for the present I think it is desirable to retain the machinery of the Seeds Import Board, who, I am satisfied, are carrying out their difficult duties very efficiently.

Is not the Minister aware that the Seed Import Board failed dismally to produce in this country any runner bean seeds this year; and that if he had extended the powers of the purchase of seeds abroad to normal distributing houses, such a situation would have been avoided?

I am not aware of any complete failure on the part of the Seed Import Board.

Hill Farming Grants


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether the necessary instructions have now been issued to A.E.Cs. to enable them to approve grants under the Hill Farming Act.

Discussions are now taking place locally between officers of my Department and representatives of the county war agricultural executive committees about the part committees will play in the consideration and approval of hill farming land improvement schemes submitted under the Act. Detailed instructions will be issued immediately after these discussions are concluded. Section 33 of the Act precludes the delegation to committees of the approval or making of improvement grants.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many landowners have prepared schemes which they are anxious to put into operation as soon as authority can be given for grants to be approved; and will he try to hurry up that process?

Farm Buildings (Gale Damage)

asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the extent of the damage done to farm buildings by the recent gales.

This information is not available, because it has not been thought necessary to carry out the survey which would be required. Where damage has occurred, facilities have been accorded for the prompt licensing of repairs.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on many estates more damage is done by gales than is Caused to stock and crops by droughts and other forms of hard weather?

Yes, Sir, but I am also under the impression that wherever application is made for a licence it is granted fairly rapidly where damage has been caused.

Is the Minister aware that unless he gets his colleague the Minister of Supply to give a priority for steel the rails cannot go back again, because there is not enough steel for them in the engineering industry?

Any cases of difficulty should be sent at once to the regional office.

Linseed Acreage

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is in a position to state how many acres are to be sown to linseed in 1947; and what improvement this is on the known acreage in 1946.

The acreage of linseed sown this year is likely to be limited by the quantity of seed available. In all, I expect that at least an additional 500 tons of linseed will be distributed in time for sowing which, with the seed already distributed from last year's crop, represents enough for some 30,000 acres. This compares with approximately 11,000 acres in 1946.

Why has there been this long delay in obtaining linseed; and why has it suddenly had to be rushed across the Atlantic at express speed, when it has been available in the United States and Canada for many months past?

Because there is no widespread inclination on the part of farmers to grow linseed. It is only because of the recent weather that the large demand came along, and immediately it did steps were taken to buy linseed, in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

Can the Minister give an assurance that great care will be exercised to differentiate between the acreage under linseed for oil and that under flax seed for fibre?

I think there are two reasons why we want the maximum acreage of linseed this year; first, we want the oil; secondly, linseed can be sown much later than other crops.

Is the Minister aware that the two kinds of flax seed are entirely different—that the linseed for oil is entirely different from the flax seed for fibre?

I appreciate that, and I imagine that farmers who buy the seed will know "t'other from which."

Imported Tractors, Wembley


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that there is a considerable number of Case, Oliver and other imported tractors lying in the Palace of Industry at Wembley which cannot be released because of some exchange difficulties; and whether he will take steps to obtain their release.

My information is, that no Case or other imported tractors are lying in the Palace of Industry, Wembley. I shall be happy to pursue the matter further if the hon. Member will furnish particulars.

Severn Flood (Conference)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he has considered the representations from local authorities in Shropshire arising from a conference held at Shrewsbury on Tuesday, 15th April, between representatives of authorities whose areas adjoin the River Severn and officers of the Severn Catchment Board, in regard to action which should be taken to prevent the constant recurrence of severe flooding, which causes so much loss and misery in the river valley area; and if he will make a statement thereon, following consideration of the matter as between himself and the Ministers of Health and Town and Country Planning, to whom representations have also been conveyed from the conference.

I am aware of the resolution passed at the conference to which my hon. Friend refers. I have now received a comprehensive report from the River Severn Catchment Board covering the recent floods in all parts of the catchment area. This will be considered, and as soon as practicable discussions will take place with the Board with a view to devising and pressing forward further long-term improvement works for flood alleviation.

Is the Minister satisfied that the present resources and powers of Catchment Boards are adequate to deal with such crises as occurred recently?

I do not think that there are sufficient resources in the country to deal with the unprecedented floods which we have had during the past few weeks.

In view of the severity of the floods and gales, would not the Minister send these representations to the Churches, asking them why they have fallen down on their job?

Cannot the Minister give some indication of the powers of Catchment Boards, and whether those powers can be extended to deal with similar crises which may occur in future?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I have called for reports from every Catchment Board in areas which have been affected by floods, and I hope that examination of those reports will show the causes for breaks, and will make suggestions for future action, after which we shall be able to decide what is the best thing to be done in future to deal with such a situation in those and other areas.

Implement Repairs (Timber)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that agricultural engineers in Yorkshire have not yet received their December and January allocation of timber; that repairs to farm carts and implements are at a standstill at this vital season; and if he will take urgent steps to provide timber for these essential purposes.

Timber allocations are made on specific applications, not on a regular periodical basis. I regret that owing to the acute timber supply position it is not at present possible to meet applications in full. I appreciate the importance of prompt repairs to agricultural equipment, and applications for timber for this purpose will continue to be dealt with as sympathetically as possible, having regard to the total allocation made available to the Department and the timber needs for other agricultural purposes.

It is not sympathy we want, but timber. Does the Minister really mean to say he is going to do nothing to supply timber for the local agricultural engineers who have had no timber for three or four months? Is he going to leave all the logs lying in the yards, or what is he going to do about it?

I did not say anything of the kind. I said that in the light of the timber allocations made to the Agricultural Department, we tried to allocate them in the manner most essential to the industry.

The Minister must do something more about it.

Is not the Minister aware that for the last three months timber has not been arriving in the yards of these merchants? Is he, or is he not, going to do anything about it?

If the hon. Gentleman will provide me with particulars of any specific case I will readily undertake to look into them.