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Volume 437: debated on Monday 5 May 1947

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Sugar Beet Crop, Huntingdonshire


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the Peterborough sugar beet factory was closed down this year before a considerable amount, namely, about 2 per cent. of the total crop of sugar beet, had been moved from farms in Huntingdonshire to the factory; what steps he is taking to enable farmers to recover losses incurred, through no fault of their own, by such sugar beet having been left on their farms; and whether he will take steps to ensure that such wastage does not occur again in the future.

No, Sir. At the time when the Peterborough factory closed, there was no appreciable amount of beet suitable and available for manufacture remaining undelivered. The small quantity still remaining on farms had been trapped either in or on the ground by frost and snow, and most of it would have been unfit for processing when the weather improved. The situation arising this year was created by the combination of a record beet crop and abnormal weather conditions. Notwithstanding these exceptional conditions, the great majority of farmers succeeded in complying with the contract terms and protecting their beet from frost damage. In the circumstances, no special steps on my part appear to be necessary.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that much of the sugar beet which was lost in this way was grown by farmers when it was not suited to their soil, that they, therefore, incurred losses which they were not willing to incur, and will he take steps to try to mitigate that hardship in future?

I have already informed the hon. Member that I do not see any need for taking special steps in this case, since so very little sugar beet was actually lost, and that was not due to bad arrangements but to the unfortunate state of the weather.

Smallholdings, Moulton (Rent)


asked the Minister of Agriculture what rent is now being charged for the Crown lands let to the Moulton Parish Council and re-let by them as smallholdings; what rent will be payable after Michaelmas; and what is the percentage of increase.

The present rent is £2,156 per annum, and this is being raised to £3,000, an increase of 39 per cent.

Does the right hon. Gentleman desire private landlords to follow his example?

If private landlords do follow that example, they will be letting land at a rent less than that charged for similar land in the same area.

Prisoners Of War (Civilian Drivers)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the drivers of A.E.C. lorries carrying German prisoners of war to and from their work remain with the stationary lorries all day; that other than the actual driving to and from the camp they do no work at all; and whether, in view of the shortage of labour in the countryside, he will issue instructions to the A.E.Cs. to ensure that these drivers take some active part in food production.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that civilian drivers conveying prisoners of war to and from work often perform no useful work whatever between the morning and evening journeys; and whether he will take immediate steps to review their conditions of work so as to avoid this waste of manpower.

With the co-operation of the appropriate trade union, arrangements are already in operation in most cases for drivers conveying prisoners of war to be suitably employed during intervals between morning and evening journeys. The relatively few outstanding cases of difficulty are under examination.

Is the Minister aware that this undertaking has not been carried out in Kent, and that many of these men are standing idle all day?

I understand that there have been difficulties in Kent, but arrangements have now been made with the trade union organisation there, and these men are doing agricultural work in the inter-driving periods.

Fowl Pest


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many cases of fowl pest have been notified to his Department; how many fowls have been ordered to be slaughtered; how much has been paid out by way of compensation; and what steps are being taken to prevent the further spread of this disease.


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many cases of fowl pest there have been recently; how many suspected cases; and what steps he is taking to prevent further outbreaks.

The number of outbreaks of fowl pest confirmed up to 2nd May is 147. In addition, 160 suspected cases have, on investigation, proved to be negative. About 16,000 birds have been slaughtered at an approximate cost in compensation of £12,000. Since the most likely source of infection is the feeding of uncooked poultry waste, I am making it obligatory for all poultry keepers to boil such materials before allowing their birds to have access to them. The importation of live birds and hatching eggs from countries in which fowl pest is prevalent is not being permitted, and officers of my Department and of the Ministry of Food are examining the possibilities of minimising the risk arising through the importation of dead poultry.

In view of the very big and serious increase since I asked a Question last week, in that there are some 47 new outbreaks, and in view of the fact that one of these new outbreaks is in Prescot, Lancashire, where there are possibly more poultry than in any other part of the country, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the moment has arrived for some drastic action to be taken, and will he bring some pressure to bear on the Minister of Food to stop the importation of dead fowl as well as of live fowl?

I understand that there is a Question to my right hon. Friend later on the Order Paper.

Linseed Crop


asked the Minister of Agriculture what type of machine it is proposed to use for reaping the linseed crop when grown in the Fenlands this year; what plant is available for drying the crop after harvesting; and what steps are being taken to prevent this linseed becoming mixed with the pedigree flaxseed selected for fibre production.

It will be for farmers who grow linseed themselves to decide how they propose to harvest and dry the crop; but I am advised that linseed can be reaped with an ordinary binder or cut by combine harvester if sufficiently dry. and the seed can be dried with an ordinary grain drier. Flax grown for fibre production is delivered unthreshed to the factory where the separation of seed is undertaken, and there appears to be no danger of this seed being mixed with linseed for oil production.

Is the Minister aware that the flax seed is indistinguishable by experts, and that the tens of thousands of pounds which have been spent on the selection of seed for fibre production is in grave danger, and that this matter concerns the feeding of livestock, the linoleum trade and also the textile trade?

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that since his Questions on Monday of last week, I have made careful inquiries, and I gather that the fears he harbours really do not exist.


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many tons of linseed have been purchased in the U.S.A. for sowing in Great Britain this season; what will the seed cost per cwt. delivered at or near Kings Lynn; and how many acres are likely to be available for this crop this year.

One hundred and eighty-five tons, Sir. The maximum retail price of this seed will be 120s. per cwt. As regards the last part of the Question I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply I gave to a Question by the hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wadsworth) on 28th April.

Is the Minister aware that the price that is being paid for this seed is out of all proportion to the price being paid for seed for the textile trade, on which thousands of pounds have been spent? Is he further aware that despite what he has said, this problem is causing the gravest alarm amongst all the seed merchants in Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

I am not aware of that. As a matter of fact, I understand that the price being paid for the seed is less than the cost price of the seed, and actually the public are helping the farmers in this particular matter.

Is the Minister prepared to consider all the papers and documents and the facts and figures which I have in my hand, and which I will send to him?

Certainly, any information which the hon. and gallant Member cares to send along we shall be glad to look at, but I can assure him that we have a few experts in the Department.

Forestry Workers' Wages


asked the Minister of Agriculture why it is that skilled forestry workers receive a wage of 4 a week whereas, when heavy snow prevented them from doing their normal work, they were able to earn £4 10s. a week doing casual labour as snow-cutters.

Under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Acts, Forestry is classed as agricultural work. Minimum wages to forest workers, are, therefore, regulated by the agricultural wages boards.

Does not the Minister think that anomalies in wage payments between Government Departments and public boards are bad examples to industry?

The House quite recently passed the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act. That matter was not brought to our notice then.

Is this not evidence for the case for raising the wages of forestry workers and of other agricultural workers?

Flooded Land


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will make a statement at regular convenient intervals stating the total acreage of land still flooded; the number of acres from which the water is being pumped out and drained by gravity; the number of acres brought back into cultivation; the respective types of crop sown since in each area drained; and what is the situation under each of these headings today.

Some 325,000 acres of arable land were flooded during March and early April, of which over 85 per cent. has now been cleared. Some 40,000 acres which were deeply inundated remain under flood water, which is being dispersed as rapidly as possible by permanent and emergency pumps, and where practicable by gravitation. A high proportion of the areas cleared has been brought back into cultivation, but I would not feel justified in calling for periodic returns of the acreage and the crops sown, which will be disclosed in due course by 4th June returns.

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there are some areas which have begun to be drained by gravity, and where the level of the flood water has now gone down to the level of the river, and that unless pumps are brought in, the water will remain at the same level for many weeks to come? Will the Minister see that enough pumps are made available, and enough people to work them?

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that we have had no complaints from any parts of the flooded areas of a shortage of pumps.

Opencast Mining (Insurance Cover)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is satisfied that farmers whose land is affected by opencast coalmining are able to obtain adequate insurance cover for their stocks.

I am not aware at any difficulties in obtaining adequate insurance cover, but I am making inquiries and will let the hon. and gallant Member know the results.

Will the Minister consult the Lancashire branch of the National Farmers' Union?