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Volume 438: debated on Monday 9 June 1947

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. YORK:

48. To ask the Minister of Agriculture if he will obtain an increased allocation of steel for the agricultural industry for the second quarter of 1947, as he is aware that the makers of tractors, machinery equipment and spare parts and also structural engineers working on agricultural buidings are either slowed down or at a standstill through shortage of steel.

Mr. Speaker, may I draw your attention to an error in this Question? It should read "the second half of 1947" instead of "quarter."

I am well aware of the needs of the industry, but, in view of the general steel supply situation, it has not been found possible to increase the allo- cation of steel at the disposal of my Department for the second quarter of this year.

Is it not a fact that unless the Minister of Agriculture pushes this case, agriculture will not get more steel, and will he undertake to push all he can for a higher allocation?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am one of many Ministers who are pushing for steel.

Can the right hon. Gentleman at least give an assurance that when steel for agricultural machinery arrives in this country, it will not be sent back again?

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that if he wants any help in fighting his colleagues in this matter, he can count on hon. Members on this side of the House?

Does the right hon. Gentleman concur in the decision by which agricultural machinery was sent back to the United States, in view of the position which he has just mentioned?


asked the Minister of Agriculture what arrangements he has made with agricultural machinery manufacturers, in view of the much lowered output in February and March, to give priority to the urgent needs of home food producers for tractors and other farm machinery, thus implementing the undertaking given to them.

in order to assist farmers with this year's urgent tasks, agricultural machinery manufacturers have co-operated by directing a larger volume of machinery into the home market during the last two or three months. In consequence, the estimated average value of the machinery going to the home market increased from £92,000 a day in January, 1947, to £100,000 a day in March and £131,000 a day in April.

Is the Minister aware that, while the home production of agricultural machinery fell from about £3,480,000 worth in January to £2,520,000 in February, the exports of tractors in the first four months of the year increased by over 3,000 tons, as compared with those in the same period of last year, and that the exports of all farming machinery in the first four months of this year were £835,000 worth greater than in the same period of last year?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that exports of agricultural machinery fell from £24,000 day in January to £19,000 a day in April.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the need to see that there is a sufficient supply of spare parts for the existing machinery, let alone the new?

Yes, as fast as we can persuade the manufacturers to produce spare parts, we are doing so.

Does the re-export figure the right hon. Gentleman gave include the figures of the re-exports in the s.s. "Eucadia"?

Would the Minister consider making application to his colleagues to stop the exportation of all agricultural machinery as long as there is a demand for it in this country?

Milk (Regulations)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware that a large number of farmers are having their milk returned from collecting centres because of deficiency in butter fat content and solids; that this trouble has been largely unavoidable owing to the hard winter and lack of feedingstuffs; and if he will take steps to modify the present regulations, and so avoid a considerable waste of milk.

I appreciate that the decline in the solids content of milk, which is a seasonal feature, has no doubt been aggravated by the poor harvest last year and, in particular, the poor quality of hay, as well as by the delayed growth of grass this spring; but I have no evidence that any significant quantity of milk is being returned to farmers on account of a deficiency of milk solids. The Sale of Milk Regulations, 1901, are designed as a guide to the authorities administering the Food and Drugs Acts, and do not govern the return of milk by a buyer, which is determined by ordinary commercial practice. I do not consider that any modification of existing regulations would be justified.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the amount of milk returned in this way is not negligible, and that in one part of Somerset in one day milk was returned to eight different farmers? Will he look into the matter to see how commercial milk depots are applying the regulations, because at present there is considerable loss of food and financial loss to the farmers for reasons beyond their control?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I have looked into this matter, and that I have found that in each case where the milk has been returned it has not been returned before the farmer has received one, two, or even three warnings of the quality of the milk, and that, despite the warnings, there has been no improvement. Hence the return, unfortunately, of some of the milk.

Pig And Poultry Rations


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is in a position to state the basic ration for poultry during the next winter period; and whether the basic ration for this period will be less than the present ration.


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will announce as soon as possible the scales of pig and poultry rations for the next period in order to enable stockkeepers to plan ahead.

No, Sir. I am not yet in a position to announce the scales of pig and poultry rations next winter, but these will be decided as soon as possible in the light of the available feeding-stuffs supplies, the national need for a steady expansion of pig and poultry breeding and of the production of pigmeat and eggs, and, in the case of poultry, the normal practice of autumn culling.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of how soon he will be in a position to make an announcement on this subject? Could he possibly answer the last part of the Question whether the ration for the next winter will be, at least, not lower than the ration that prevails at this moment?

I am sure the noble Lord will be aware that I am entirely in the hands of the Ministry of Food, who are responsible for importing feedingstuffs; and as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food is in the hands of those who sell and transport feedingstuffs, no assurances or guarantees could be given until the feedingstuffs arrive.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the present shortage of feedingstuffs is really the biggest obstacle of all to further output in agriculture, and that stockkeepers—pig and poultry keepers—have really had a tough time?

I can assure the hon. Member that we are as fully aware of that as he is himself. The Minister of Food has done all he can to provide the maximum quantity of feedingstuffs from wherever those feedingstuffs have happended to be.

In view of the statement the right hon. Gentleman has made about the Minister of Food, will he reconsider the suggestion that I made some time ago to remove the Minister of Food from the Agriculture Committee?

Fowl Pest


asked the Minister of Agriculture the latest figures as regards the number of cases of fowl pest which have been notified, and the number of fowls which have been slaughtered.

Up to and including 4th June there have been 359 outbreaks of fowl pest in England and Wales, involving the slaughter of about 17,200 birds.

Water Supply Schemes


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the slow progress being made in carrying out agricultural and domestic water supply schemes; and what steps are being taken to secure bigger delivery of pipes for these purposes.

The hon. Member will appreciate that the progress of many desirable developments in agriculture, as in other fields, is affected by the over-all shortage of steel. It is hoped that supplies of pipes for farm water schemes will improve as soon as production of steel increases and it is possible to increase allocations.

Is not that a further reason for taking my advice to ask for a larger allocation of steel?

Floods (Public Inquiries)


asked the Minister of Agriculture when he proposes to set up public inquiries into the cause of the recent floods.

Reports have been received by my Department from all but a few of those Boards in whose areas abnormal flooding occurred this spring. Discussions with the individual Boards are in progress and will continue this month. It is clear, however, that in all areas substantial works of rehabilitation will need to be completed before next winter which will make heavy demands on the technical staffs and resources of the Boards. I am not satisfied that any general need exists to hold public inquiries, and would be reluctant to divert the energies of the Boards from the urgent and important works which are now in progress.

While I fully appreciate the point made by the Minister about the work begun by the catchment boards, and while not desiring to detract from it, may I ask him to bear in mind three things? The first is, that the destruction of people's houses in some of the flooded areas is appalling; secondly, that the Government, by giving £1,000,000 out of public money raised through taxes, virtually, I submit, are bound to give some account to the taxpayers who subscribed that it is necessary to give that amount; and third, that there are a great many people who are calling for these inquiries. Whether or not the catchment boards' report indicates it, I do ask him to have these inquiries as soon as possible.

I do not see what the first two questions have to do with public inquiries. As regards the last supplementary question, inquiries may or may not be held later on, but it seems to me that flood prevention work is of far greater importance at this moment than inquiries.

Baling Wire


asked the Minister of Agriculture how much baling wire has been allocated for use in Berkshire during the current quarter; and how this compares with the amounts for the previous quarter and the same period last year.

An allocation of 39½ tons of baling wire was made to Berkshire in the current quarter, as compared with 64 tons in the previous quarter, and 85 and 80 tons in the second and first quarters of 1946 respectively.

In view of that very deplorable statement that Berkshire is getting only one-third of what it had before, can the Minister give us an assurance that we shall have enough baling wire to keep pace with the coming harvest?

I am hopeful that there will be imports from Belgium at an early date, and I hope Berkshire may have part of that allocation.


asked the Minister of Agriculture why farmers who have invested in hay balers, are not allowed baling wire unless they certify that it is to be used exclusively for hay or staw to be sold and not used on their own farms.

Because the current shortage of baling wire makes it necessary for the present to conserve supplies for the most essential purposes.

Tillage Acreage, 1948


asked the Minister of Agriculture when he will notify the C.A.E.Cs. and farmers of the acreages of such essential crops as wheat and potatoes that they will be required to grow in 1948; and to what extent he intends that the total tillage acreage should be reduced next year.

County war agricultural executive committees will be notified of the target acreages at which they should aim in 1948, in the course of the next few days. I hope that the total tillage acreage in 1948 will not fall below 10 million acres in England and Wales, and I am considering measures to that end.

How does that 10 million acres compare with this present year's tillage acreage?

Hill Sheep Scheme (Order)


asked the Minister of Agriculture the date upon which the Hill Sheep Scheme Subsidy Payment (England and Wales) Order, 1947 (S.R. & O., 1947, No. 667) was made; the date upon which it was laid on the Table of the House; and the reason for the delay in this Order being laid.

The Order was signed late on 3rd April, the day before Good Friday. Nothing further could be done till after the holiday, i.e., on Tuesday, 8th April, when the Order was sent to the Ministry's Stationery Section for printing. It reached His Majesty's Stationery Office on 9th April. Some further delay was caused, I regret to say, by a misunderstanding in my Department in dealing with the printing of the Order. As it was a short Order it was intended that it should be printed immediately after signature and without a proof, but a proof was obtained. This was received on 14th April and returned approved on the same day for urgent printing. The prints were received on 21st April and forwarded to both Houses of Parliament on 22nd April.

Vegetables (Growers' Prices)


asked the Minister of Agriculture to what extent lettuces, cabbages and cauliflowers are being ploughed in by growers because they cannot obtain remunerative prices; and, in view of the present high retail prices and unsatisfied public demand, how he explains this situation.

I am not aware that any of the vegetables mentioned are being ploughed in by growers owing to unremunerative prices, but if my hon. Friend will send me particulars of any cases which have come to his notice I will make inquiries.

In view of the shortage and the extremely high retail prices of greenstuffs, has my right hon. Friend taken any action to esure that such ploughing in does not take place?

As I understand it, there is no possibility of ploughing in, because the supplies are not too good on certain vegetables at the moment.