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Volume 439: debated on Monday 7 July 1947

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Credit Facilities


asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps the Government propose to take to ensure that the small dairy farmers and mixed farms throughout the country have adequate working capital to enable them to produce the maximum amount of milk and food.

I am satisfied that almost all farmers can secure, either from their own resources or from existing credit facilities, sufficient working capital, and I do not propose to make any further arrangements.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 80 per cent. of the farms of this country are of 150 acres or less, that most of them are short of working capital and have to rely on bank overdrafts at 5 per cent.? Is ne further aware that the banks pay only half per cent. on deposit accounts, which is 10 times the amount they charge the farmers?

If the situation is as has just been described, would not a solution be to form a credit association for the farmers?

I am certain that the situation is not as the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) suggested, and, that being so, there is no necessity to provide facilities other than those which already exist.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will take steps to make use of the existing 7,000 branches of the joint stock banks, with a view to the formation of an agricultural farm credit bureau restricted under its constitution from charging more than 1 per cent. above the current bank rate on all its transactions.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if we are to develop food production farmers must have the proper working capital? I am not satisfied, even following the rebuke which the right hon. Gentleman has just given me, and I shall go on again and again. I know I am right.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether it is his intention to reduce the rate of interest from 5 per cent. to 2½per cent. on other credits under the Goods and Services Scheme in addition to the advances to hill farmers as announced on 20th June.

The reduction in the rate of interest is not restricted to hill farmers; it applies to any farmer to whom assistance under the scheme is given for the replacement - of livestock lost last winter through snow, frost, or flood. I do not propose to extend the concession to farmers who have not suffered in that way.

Do I understand that there will be two rates of interest which farmers will be able to obtain under one scheme? Do I understand that for livestock only it is 2½per cent., but that if a farmer's crops suffer, as they are suffering in the Eastern Counties at present because of the drought and the barley plague, he will not be able to get the credit at 2½per cent.?

Past experience of the Agricultural Goods and Services Scheme indicates that anything less than 5 per cent. would not cover the necessary overhead expenses. Therefore, it would amount to an indirect subsidy, and it is not the intention that that should be the case.

Dairy Cows (Overstocking)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is satisfied that everything possible is being done to put a stop to the cruel practice of over-stocking dairy cows prior to sales; and if he will consider, in co-operation with the cattle-breeding societies, a tightening - up of the regulations.

I deprecate the practice of exhibiting over-stocked cows at markets, and my Department has always endeavoured to dissuade owners of animals from doing so. I have no power to make regulations, but it is an offence against the Protection of Animals Acts to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal and my veterinary officers are always ready to assist the police where cruelty is alleged to be due to over-stocking. I was glad to note that at a recent sale at Reading the organisers required cows in milk to be milked out at six o'clock on the morning of the sale, and I hope that requirements of this kind will become more general.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the great majority of farmers in South Devon and other parts of England also deprecate the practice, and will he not tighten up the regulations so that action can be taken against the minority?

I have no power to make regulations, and the question of cruelty is a matter for the police and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this practice is quite notorious all over England? Cannot he instruct his officers to bring prosecutions? They are entitled to do so.

No, Sir, not unless their intention is drawn to a particular case by the police. It is a question for the police and for the Home Secretary, not for the Minister of Agriculture.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider asking owners of sale yards to put into their catalogues the time at which cows can be milked before sale?

I hope that those responsible for sales will take note of the hon. and gallant Member's question.

Baling Wire (Allocations)


asked the Minister of Agriculture the quantity of baling wire allocated through the county A.E.Cs. during the current quarter as compared with a year ago; the prospective allocation for the fourth quarter of this year; and how far the quantity for the year will fall short of requirements.

Two thousand and ninety-one tons of baling wire were allocated for the current quarter as compared with 2,470 tons a year ago. It is not yet possible to say what the allocation for the fourth quarter will be or, therefore, how far the year's supply may fall short of requirements. But I am hoping that the steps taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply will result in improved supplies.

Wages And Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will consult with the Agricultural Wages Board to ensure that, in future, proposals for changes in minimum farm wages will coincide with the year for which farmers' prices are guaranteed, so as to avoid repeated negotiations on prices and continual uncertainty.

No, Sir. The Agricultural Wages Board, which is, of course, fully aware of the consideration referred to by the hon. Member, is an autonomous body in whose decisions I have no power to intervene.

Would it not be very helpful from every point of view if the Minister were to take a little courage in this matter and have a word with the Agricultural Wages Board, because the whole of his price-fixing procedure will be upset if we go on in this piecemeal way?

I fully appreciate the point submitted by the hon. Member, but I am sure that he is aware that I have no power to intervene with the Board, which is an independent one.

In view of the recent announcement made by the. Agricultural Wages Board, recommending an increase in the minimum wage, does the Minister intend to hold a special review of prices, owing to the increased cost of production occasioned thereby?

That is a matter for subsequent consideration No increase is yet confirmed.

it the right hon. Gentleman cannot intervene technically cannot he give a broad hint?

If a Minister were to give broad hints one way, he would have to give broad hints in another way, and I cannot give broad hints either way.

Has the Minister no ideas on this subject at all? In view of the great effect which this increase must have on the whole of the agricultural industry, has he no ideas on the subject?

Grass Seed (Production)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the recent notice issued by his Press department that there is danger of over-production of some kinds of grass seed, he will state what is his policy in regard to this branch of agriculture; and if he will consider the possibility of exporting any surplus.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for the South-Western Division of Norfolk (Mr. Dye) on 10th March last about cocksfoot seed. The same applies to other types. I am always glad to encourage the export of seeds which are surplus to domestic requirements.

Hill Sheep (Losses)


asked the Minister of Agriculture what losses of ewes and lambs have occurred in hill flocks since lambing; and how these losses of ewes compare with the earlier losses due directly to the hard weather.

I regret that this information is not yet available. I am awaiting the results of the 4th June agricultural census, which should give a complete picture of the losses of sheep and lambs.

Does the right hon. Gentleman expect that these figures will show the losses divided between those directly due to the snow and those indirectly due to lambing when the ewes were in a weak state?

They would not in the ordinary way be separated, but a special analysis is being made on those lines this year.

Imported New Carrots (Orders)


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that the Import of New Carrots (with Foliage attached) Order has caused inconvenience; whether he has decided to adhere to the instructions that the length of foliage attached to new carrots may not be more than five inches, 12.5 cms., nor less than three inches, 7·5 cms.; and if he is prepared to receive representations from the public and the trade.

I have been asked to reply. The arrangement applied to this season's carrots only and terminated on 31st May.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if the same termination applies to the other seven Orders on carrots, which I hold in my hand, or only to this particular Order?

The non. Gentleman says that he is holding seven Orders in his hand, but I do not know to what the Orders relate.

The hon. Gentleman must know that the right hon Gentleman can only answer a question.

The hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to transmit documents to a Minister privately.

River Pollution


asked the Minister of Agriculture if his attention has been directed to the recent report of the British Field Sports Society, a copy of which has been sent to him, concerning pollution of rivers; and what steps his Department will take to remedy this position.

Yes, Sir. The question of pollution is under consideration by a sub-committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee set up by the Minister of Health, on which agricultural and fishery interests are represented. The subcommittee has received evidence from the National Association of Fishery Boards, and other bodies interested in the purity of our rivers, and its report is awaited.