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Volume 439: debated on Monday 30 June 1947

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Hay Balers


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many one-man pick-up hay balers are in use in this country; how many have been imported; and what steps are being taken to encourage their production in this country.

It is estimated that about 400 one-man pick-up balers are now in the country. Fifty-two were imported from Germany before the war, and 91 have been imported from the United States, mostly during this year. The remainder have been made in this country during the last few years, and both the existing manufacturers and others are being encouraged to arrange for further production.

Fowl Pest


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware of the in crease in the number of cases of fowl pest which have occurred during the pre sent month; and what steps are being taken to prevent the further spread of this disease and to remove its cause.

Yes Sir. Poultry keepers are under an obligation to report to the police any suspicion of fowl pest. By early intimation of the existence of the disease, the spread of infection can be prevented, and I urge all poultry keepers, in their own interests, to report immediately all suspected cases. As regards removing the cause, as I have already said in answer to previous Questions, the importation of live poultry has been prohibited, and the importation of frozen poultry from Europe is being limited to headless and eviscerated carcases. Further, I have made an Order under the Diseases of Animals Acts requiring all poultry waste to be boiled before birds are allowed access to it. Where deemed necessary, special restrictions on the holding of markets have been, and will be, imposed.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether these Orders which he has issued are applicable all over Great Britain, or only in England and Wales?

Steel Traps


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he intends to accept the steel spring traps now adopted by the R.S.P.C.A. as suitable for general use in the countryside; and if he will inform A.E.Cs. to this effect.

I assume the hon. and gallant Member refers to the trap designed by Mr. Sawyer, of Wiltshire, some handmade models of which were tested by my Department with promising results at a trial in Hertfordshire last March. I understand that this model has been further improved and that the R.S.P.C.A. are now arranging for its production in some quantity. As soon as the necessary supply is available, I shall be glad to arrange for a comprehensive test of its efficiency to be made in collaboration with the R.S.P.C.A.

Access To Mountains Act


asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the approximate acreage of excepted land under the Access to Mountains Act, 1939; and how many orders have been made under the Act, and what is the approximate acreage involved, denying access to mountains, moor, heath, down or cliff.

I am unable to give figures of the acreage of excepted land as defined in Section 2 (2) of the Access to Mountains Act, 1939. So far, no one has applied for an Order under the Act, and, therefore, no orders have been made.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether public rights of access have increased or diminished since the passing of the 1939 Act?


asked the Minister of Agriculture why ramblers' associations and other organisations which desire access to land not excepted under the Access to Mountains Act, 1939, are put to considerable expense in establishing rights of access which were given to them under the Act; and what action he proposes taking to prevent this contravention of the intention of the Act.

I am not aware that the intention of the Act (which specially authorises the charging of fees) has been contravened. The means of providing access for the public to mountain, moor, heath, and other uncultivated land, with particular reference to the recreational use of the countryside by the public, is however, being considered by a special committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Arthur Hobhouse, appointed by my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Town and Country Planning in July, 1946. It would be best for any reexamination of the provisions of the Access to Mountains Act, 1939, and the Regulations made thereunder (including those provisions dealing with fees and expenses to be paid by applicants for Orders under the Act), to await the committee's report.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether, in view of the fact that the intentions of the 1939 Act to give increased access to ramblers and others have not been carried out, it is proposed that fresh legislation should be introduced to give effect to those intentions?

I am afraid it would be necessary to await the Report of the Hobhouse Committee before we contemplate further legislation.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many old-established rights of way are still closed in the countryside, and will he, in the interests of agriculture, use his influence with the Service Departments to have them opened up as soon as possible?

Fruit-Tree Stocks


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether it is his policy to raise the quantity and quality of tree fruit grown in the United Kingdom; at what prices fruit growers can purchase representative grafted stocks for the purpose of establishing or extending orchards, in comparison with prewar prices; and what action he proposes to take.

It is my policy to encourage the expansion of acreage under fruit of all kinds, as far as labour and materials permit. There are no fixed prices for young fruit trees, but I understand that prevailing prices, which inevitably reflect the rise in labour costs, are about double the prewar level. All restrictions on the acreage devoted to nursery stock have now been withdrawn, and nurserymen are being encouraged to revert to their prewar output. Licences are also being granted for the import of suitable fruit stock to assist in this revival.


asked the Minister of Agriculture at what prices grafted maiden apple trees are now being sold by nursery men; what were equivalent representative prices before the war; and if he will, in order to reduce the ring prices now being charged and to ensure an adequate supply of suitable stock, consider establishing Government nurseries for fruit-tree stocks on the analogy of the national stud.

There are very few maiden apple trees available for sale by nurserymen at present, and I understand that prices are not quoted for this type of tree by the Horticultural Trades' Association. As regards the last part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to a similar Question on 21st October last.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he has particulars of the scheme in operation in Switzerland for improving the quality of orchard tree fruits by subsidising the grafting of poor quality trees; and whether he will consider the adoption of a similar scheme in this country.

I have no information about this scheme, but the practice of grafting is, of course, well known in this country and used extensively by growers of fruit trees. The Ministry's National Agricultural Advisory Service is available to give advice on this subject, and I do not consider that there is any need for a subsidy.

Fenlands (Flood Protection)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether a scheme for flood protection of the Fenlands has now been prepared; when it can be commenced; and what financial assistance will be given by His Majesty's Government.

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the scheme for the prevention of flooding in the lowland section of the River Great Ouse Catchment Area. Such a scheme was prepared and received my Department's approval in principle in 1942, and a grant of 75 per cent. of the estimated cost of £2,200,000 was offered, but because of the war it was not possible for the Catchment Board to proceed. The scheme will shortly be re-submitted to my Department, but, from lessons learnt during the recent floods, certain revisions in the scheme have proved necessary. A preliminary discussion took place last week between my Department and representatives of the Catchment Board. The scheme will take at least seven years to complete. The offer of a 75 per cent. grant to the Board toward the cost of the earlier scheme which was made in 1942 holds good. The rate of grant on the cost of the revised scheme over and above the original amount needs further and fuller consideration. This will be given as soon as full particulars of the engineering involved have been received and examined.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the surplus water which it is sought to prevent going over the land, is used usefully for the purpose of water supplies and also for other industrial purposes.

I think, perhaps, that is a dual problem to be dealt with by the National Water Committee as well as by the drainage authorities.

Bare Fallowing


asked the Minister of Agriculture, whether he will take the necessary steps to ensure the proper cleaning of all fields uncropped or bare through crop failures this year; and whether in 1948 he will prohibit bare fallowing of land without special permission of the A.E.C.s.

Any farmer who has been unable to crop his land this year, or whose crops have failed owing to the disastrous weather of the past winter, is likely, in his own interest, to take all practicable steps to clean the land by fallowing this summer, so as to get maximum yields next season as a partial recoupment of his losses. It is also part of the normal functions of county agricultural executive committees and of the National Agricultural Advisory Service to give guidance to farmers about the proper cleaning of their land. As regards the second part of the Question, I have already announced that farmers will have freedom of cropping in 1948, and it would be inconsistent with this announcement to prohibit the bare fallowing of land without the special permission of county committees.

In view of the urgent need for more food, is it not very desirable that every acre of land should be cropped next year and that no land should be left lying fallow?

I sincerely hope that the maximum acreage of land will be cropped next year. When Clause 11 of the new Agriculture Bill is brought into operation, the county executive committees will have power to insist that land available for food production shall be so used.

Will the farmer whose land has been completely flooded as a result of the disasters this year, be able to get any financial assistance, and if so, from where?

I imagine that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is referring to the administration of the Agricultural Disaster Fund, over which I have no control.

I was referring to questions which I asked last week, to which I got no answer.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that farmers on the last Fen to be flooded have been told by the Agricultural Committee not to crop this year, and will he bear in mind that some of the smaller men will find it extremely difficult to carry on.

I expect the county agricultural executive committees will exercise their authority in a wise sort of way.

Home-Grown Seeds


asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps he is taking to encourage the use of home-grown seeds, in order that experience gained during the war may be consolidated and strains of plants specially suited to this country may be still further developed.

I would refer my hon Friend to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price) on 20th May last.

Grantham Productions, Ltd(Tractors)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will publish the report made by his technical officers on the tractors submitted for trial by Grantham Productions; how much steel has been allocated to this factory for the past six months; how many of these tractors have so far been supplied to farmers; and how many he has ordered for use by his A.E.Cs.

In the absence of an official test by the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, the report I have received on the working of this tractor is confidential, but, as indicated in my reply to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) on 24th June, it was reported to be satisfactory. No steel has been allocated since July, 1946. A limited number of these tractors had been produced by the time the firm went into liquidation, but it is not the practice to disclose the production figures of individual firms without their express permission. I am not aware how many of these tractors have actually been supplied to farmers. None have been ordered for use by county agricultural executive committees.

Will the Minister say how these tractors are being manufactured if no steel has been allocated, and will he be quite frank with the House and admit that he and his Department are being used as a screen for a rather questionable financial transaction?

I thoroughly disagree with the supplementary question. I do not think my Department or its officials are being used by anybody in the sense indicated. All that the Ministry of Agriculture is called upon to do, if a licence for production of any equipment or machine is requested, is to be present when some test or tests are made of the particular machines. That, I understand, was done, and, on the basis of that demonstration, the licence was granted. Beyond that, my Department has not gone.