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Agriculture

Volume 437: debated on Monday 12 May 1947

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Advisory Service

49.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will make a statement about the progress which is being made with the development of the Agricultural Advisory Service; and to what extent it will be in effective operation during 1947.

The National Agricultural Advisory Service was set up seven months ago and is now in effective operation though not yet at full strength. The eight provincial centres are in being, and the county staffs have been integrated with the county war agricultural executive committee organisation. In association with the provincial directors of the service the committees are playing an invaluable part in guiding the work of the county staffs and stimulating the interest of farmers and growers in the facilities the Service can provide. The work of the Service is under the general direction of a small staff of senior officers at Headquarters, who are closely associated with my Agricultural Improvement Council and through that body with the Agricultural Research Council. Owing to the severe and general shortage of suitably qualified men and women, the Service is at present one-third below strength; while building difficulties and shortages of scientific and other material are proving obstacles above all to the full equipment of the provincial centres and sub-centres. Everything possible is being done to resolve these difficulties and to bring the Service up to full strength and efficiency at the earliest practicable date.

Fowl Pest

50.

asked the Minister of Agriculture how many cases of fowl pest have been notified; how many birds have been slaughtered during the past week; and what are the results of the discussions between officers of his Department and of the Ministry of Food as to the possibilities of lessening the risk of spreading this disease through the importation of dead poultry.

The number of outbreaks of fowl pest confirmed up to 8th May is 166. During the past week about 1,500 domestic fowls, 180 ducks and 20 geese have been slaughtered because of fowl pest. As to the last part of the Question, arrangements are being made for trial shipments of eviscerated poultry to be brought from central Europe. Pending the results of these trial shipments, none but eviscerated poultry will be imported from any country in Europe where fowl pest is prevalent.

In view of the fact that these figures are still going up, will the right hon. Gentleman try to arrange with the Press and the B.B.C. that full publicity is given to fresh outbreaks, so that the country may be aware of the situation?

I can assure the noble Lord that we are using both the Press and the B.B.C. to notify both commercial and domestic poultry keepers of the danger of this fowl pest.

Could this not be treated as foot-and-mouth disease is treated, so that far greater publicity is given as regards outbreaks in various parts of the country?

I can only repeat that we have invited the B.B.C. to give us all the assistance they can, and they have very readily agreed to do it.

Dairy Cows (Rations)

51.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that many farmers are dissatisfied with the allocation of rations for dairy cows during the present month; that in many areas, where pasture is not of first rate quality, the ration is insufficient to keep up milk production; and whether he will take steps to increase the ration during this and coming months.

I am not aware of any general dissatisfaction with the present scale of rations for dairy cows or that it is normally insufficient to keep up milk production. The reserves of feedingstuffs placed at the disposal of W.A.E.Cs. for issue at their discretion are primarily intended to provide supplementary rations for individual farmers whose milk output is affected by poor growth of grass, and applications by such farmers for supplementary rations for this purpose are accorded a high degree of priority.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an increasing number of farmers are having milk returned to them because of alleged deficiency in butter-fat content? To avoid wastage in this matter, which is largely attributable to shortage and deficiency of feedingstuffs for milking cows, can he make some temporary adjustment of the regulations governing the broad question of the quality of milk?

I can assure my hon. Friend that no complaints of the kind have been brought to my notice. Should any such complaints be brought to our notice, and we have supplies of feedingstuffs available, we shall readily do our best to meet the needs.

May I ask the Minister what steps are being taken to increase rations for dairy cows by purchases of feedingstuffs from abroad?

I think my hon. Friend is aware that we are buying as much feedingstuffs from abroad as is possible, and that on 1st May rations for all kinds of animals were increased.

Poultry (Hard Corn)

55.

asked the Minister of Agriculture when the additional supplies of hard corn for poultry breeding purposes are to be made available this season.

The increased rations for poultry, including poultry breeding stock, came into operation on 1st May. I am sending my hon. Friend a copy of the announcement. A proportion of hard corn may be obtained, if desired, against the monthly cereal coupons and the chick food coupons issued to poultry keepers eligible for rations.

While I thank the Minister for that reply, can he say when this will be available in the South Western district?

Derelict Land, Kingsbridge

56.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that there is land lying derelict within the area of the Kingsbridge Rural District Council on which formerly crops of early potatoes were produced; and when he proposes to take steps to bring back this land into cultivation.

I understand that all arable land in the Kingsbridge Rural District Council's area has been scheduled for cropping this year, but if my hon. Friend will send me particulars of the land she has in mind, I will make further inquiries.

River Severn (Navigation Plans)

54.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what progress has been made, since the conference at Gloucester last summer called by the county N.F.U., in the examination by his Department of plans to improve the navigation of the Severn between Gloucestershire and Worcestershire prepared by the Severn Commission.

My Department is in close touch with the Ministry of Transport, the River Severn Catchment Board and the Severn Commission to ensure that agricultural interests are safeguarded in any scheme which may be adopted to provide improved navigation on the river.

Will the Minister recollect that he gave an approximately similar reply to representations made 12 months ago, and will he answer the part of the Question which asks what progress has been made?

I am afraid I can only say that the representatives of my Department have been in consultation with both the Catchment Board and the Ministry of Transport to see what scheme or schemes can be undertaken to relieve that particular area. As to progress, I am afraid I can report very little at present.

Is it not a fact that a decision on the matter of the Severn navigation is not likely to be taken for a considerable time and, meanwhile, the Severn bank erosion is going on pretty rapidly? Cannot some urgent measures be taken in the meantime?

A decision by the Ministry of Transport or the proposed British Transport Commission on the proposals made by the Severn Commission, must be taken before the River Severn Catchment Board can determine finally what step should be taken to improve certain stretches of the river.