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Volume 462: debated on Monday 7 March 1949

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Horse Population


asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the present population of horses and what was it in 1938; and at the same rate of decrease when will horses be extinct in this country.

The total number of horses on agricultural holdings in the United Kingdom in 1948 was 703,000, that in 1938 was 1,101,000. I see little risk of the horse becoming extinct in this country in the foreseeable future. For certain purposes horses have an advantage over mechanical power.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman consult with his right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, before she leaves the Chamber, with a view to her Department supplying us with some more stringy Argentine beef, rather than that we should see the horse population continue to be lessened in this way?

I should not have thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was worried by a lot of horse meat.

Broccoli Seed


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the poor average quality of broccoli produced, he will take steps to improve the quality of the seed available to West of England growers.

My reports are that the broccoli crop is early but of good quality. As regards the seed, I am aware that there is evidence that the seed of the Roscoff strains deteriorated during the war when the customary arrangements for growing on were impossible. But every effort is being made to restore pre-war standards, though not necessarily by reverting wholly to pre-war arrangements.

In his effort to assist in the restoration of pre-war standards, will my right hon. Friend consider supplementing the work of the Gulval experimental station and, if necessary, consider acquiring land for this purpose under Section 83 of the relevant Agriculture Act?

The National Agricultural Advisory Service are trying out a number of samples on the experimental plot at Gulval in Cornwall, and we are hopeful that the results will be fruitful.

While agreeing with the Minister that the crop is not only abundant but of splendid quality, and while I also agree that the experiments at Gulval have proved very useful, would he consider what can be done in the Empire, in place like Cyprus, to breed seed, because there is no doubt that there are certain places which are of great advantage both as regards the property of the soil and the climate?

I hope that the leading seed firms are aware of the possibilities of Cyprus and, indeed, of any other country, and I hope they will meet the needs of our growers with the right seeds.

Institute, Usk (Students)


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many pupils completed the 1947–48 training course at the Agricultural Institute at Usk, Monmouthshire; what records are kept as to their subsequent employment; and how many are engaged in the work of agricultural production.

One hundred and nine pupils, including 32 trainees under the Vocational Training Scheme, completed the one-year course at the Agricultural Institute, Usk, in 1947–48. The Institute tries to keep records of the subsequent employment of former students, and those records show that, of the 101 students whose present employment is known, 80 are engaged in work of agricultural production.

Would the right hon. Gentleman see that other institutes maintain the same record, or attempt to do so, as in the case of the Usk Institute? It is obviously desirable that we should have some trace of what happens to the men who are trained at considerable expense in these institutes.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in every one of these institutes which I have personally visited I have made a point of putting that to the principal.

Pests Officers


asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the total annual cost to the taxpayer of county pest officers, fox control officers, assistant fox control officers and rodent operatives; and what is the approximate number of animals destroyed by them to the latest convenient date.

The net cost in the year ended 31st March, 1948, of the pests staff in counties, including those on fox control, was approximately £349,000. The number of animals destroyed is unknown. Most of them are killed in their holes

Is it not obvious to the Minister that this is an awful waste of money when compared with the results? Is he not also aware that if he would give say, Is. per rat's tail, and do away with all these officers, he would get more animals killed at a cheaper price?

The hon. Member must be aware that it would cost infinitely more to dig out foxes and so on, in order to provide statistics, than it costs actually to destroy them.

asked the Minister of Agriculture how many vehicles are used by pest and assistant pest officers of county agricultural executive committees, by rodent officers of local authorities and by rodent officers on his headquarters staff, respectively.

Pests officers and assistant pests officers who do not possess their own vehicles, use where necessary, vehicles supplied to the C.A.E.Cs. for general purposes. I am unable to say how many vehicles are used by these officers in the course of a year. I have no information about, nor responsibility for the vehicles used by officials of local authorities, and there are no rodent officers on my headquarters' staff.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be much more economical if there were one comprehensive service to deal with these pests instead of having different organisations dealing with the matter?

That is just what the prevention of Damage by Pests Bill is trying to do.



asked the Minister of Agriculture what percentage changes in poultry numbers since 1938 have occurred in England and Wales compared with Scotland and Northern Ireland; and if feedingstuffs for poultry are rationed on the same basis in each country.

The numbers of poultry on agricultural holdings in June, 1948, were eight per cent. lower in England and Wales, 19 per cent. higher in Scotland, and 138 per cent. higher in Northern Ireland.

Will the Minister bear these figures in mind when he is taking credit for the expansion of the poultry industry?

Is the Minister aware that although Northern Ireland has the same rationing as we have, it supplies the entire quota of eggs for Greater London?

I am not at all sure about the rations for poultry in Northern Ireland. Any Question on that subject would have to be put to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

New Town, Bracknell (Site)


asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the acreage of land used for food production included in each of the areas marked 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the map provided by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and displayed in the Library.

As I have previously informed the hon. Member, the six alternative sites suggested by the National Farmers' Union for a new town in the neighbourhood of Bracknell were not defined. The map referred to was supplied in order to give hon. Members a general picture of the position, but neither the location nor the boundaries of the areas can be taken as more than rough indications of what appears to have been intended by the Union. For example, Area No. 1 was merely described as "on the Crown Lands between Easthampstead, Crowthorne, Bagshot, and Ascot," while No. 5 was described as "Swinley Forest, south of Ascot." It would be of little use to attempt to obtain precise figures of parts of areas which are themselves so imprecise as this.

Is it not a fact that the Minister was asked to advise on the suitability of the rough areas intimated, and, if that was so, surely it was his duty to have a rough approximation made of the amount of food-producing land in those vicinities?

That is exactly what the Ministry gave. They gave the Ministry of Town and Country Planning what guidance they could as to good quality and less good quality agricultural land.

If the Minister was asked for and gave that advice, could he not let the House know what that advice was? There must have been some amount of acreage mentioned?

Poles (Farm Purchase)


asked the Minister of Agriculture for what reason it is intended to settle 40 Poles on a farm at Conington Fen, Huntingdonshire, at the taxpayers' expense; and whether he will make a statement.

These Poles have not been settled on the farm at Conington Fen at the taxpayers' expense, but have purchased it on their own account.

Is the Minister aware that there are a great many British workers, including ex-Service men, who are keen to put their savings into smallholdings, and will he bear that in mind before he too readily grants, even at their own expense, the small amount of land available for settlement by Poles?

I have already explained that they were not settled on this land at the taxpayers' expense, and I have no power to prevent people from buying or selling land. With regard to the former part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the situation of this land and the poor quality of the soil are such that I would not attempt to place one British skilled agricultural worker upon it.

If I gave the right hon. Gentleman the names of British workers who are keen to settle on any land that they can get hold of, would he please reconsider this matter?

I have already had the area of land investigated by the county agricultural executive committee, and on their advice, I repeat, I would not place any British skilled agricultural worker on that particular area.

Soil Fertility


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the need to replenish the fertility of the soil in many parts of the country as a result of the exhaustion caused by seven years over-cropping, he will now make a further announcement of how he proposes to restore soil fertility.

Although certain fields suffered a decline in soil fertility due to over-cropping during the war, the general level of fertility of our land is higher today than it was in 1939. One of the main objects of my Department is to raise the general level of soil fertility still further. Means to this end include the keeping of many more livestock, which will increase the supply of natural manure; improved drainage and tillage; the increased use of lime and phosphates; the substitution of good leys for poor grass, and the more efficient control of weeds and pests.

Is the Minister aware that if he wants to increase the number of livestock, the best way to do so is to import more feedingstuffs? Why do we not have more feedingstuffs? Look at the Ministry of Food not very far away.

Potash Fertilisers


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware of the continuing shortage of fertilisers containing potash; and what steps he is taking to ensure that adequate supplies are available for spring sowing.

I am not aware of any serious shortage of potash fertilisers at present. During the first eight months of the current fertiliser year greater supplies than ever before have been made available and arrangements are being more for further imports in time for spring sowing.

If the Minister is not aware of the fact, will be make inquiries in the Southern Counties, where he will find to his satisfaction that potash is short of farmers' requirements?

I am equally satisfied that the supplies for the first eight months of this cropping year are 29 per cent. more than for the previous year.

Imported Grain (Storage)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether Ministry of Food depots that are being used for the storage of imported grain have been made proof against rats and mice; and whether he will permit local authorities to send their rodent officers to inspect these stores.

So far as is practicable, the depots, are made proof against rats and mice. They are periodically inspected and structural defects remedied. It is not, however, possible to make all the structures rat proof, nor is it possible to prevent entry of rats and mice into buildings which are in regular use for receiving and delivering grain. The inspection of stocks in Ministry of Food depots is carried out by my officers, and it is not necessary to duplicate inspection by calling upon local authorities.

Is it not advisable, in certain cases, to allow local authorities to inspect these depots in their areas?

I do not see the need for duplication. The hon. Member will be aware that the president of the National Farmers' Union at Thirsk yesterday made an inspection and expressed himself as quite satisfied.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is no president of the local branch of the National Farmers' Union?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that his answer was a "verminological" inexactitude?


asked the Minister of Agriculture what quantity of imported barley and maize stored by the Minister of Food in aerodromes and depots has in the last 12 months been treated by his infestation operators against infestation by weevil; and whether he is now satisfied that there is no weevil active in this imported grain.

During the 12 months ended 31st December, 1948, I arranged for the fumigation of over 105,000 tons of imported barley and 182,000 tons of imported maize, stored by the Ministry of Food. In addition, chemical spraying as a routine measure was carried out on stocks in many warehouses during the summer, but I am unable to give figures as to the volume of food so treated. I cannot guarantee that there is no weevil active in this imported grain, as complete elimination of insect life is rarely possible, even with the most efficient methods of control. The stocks are, however, under regular inspection, and are generally in good commercial condition.

Is the Minister ensuring that the weevil-infested grain is disposed of as soon as it is practicably possible?

Will the cost of this cleansing be charged to the Ministry of Food, because it is their fault?

Horses (Export And Slaughter)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that a recent consignment of horses to Belgium left Goole at 4 p.m. on Saturday, 12th February,1949, and were not disembarked at Antwerp until the morning of Tuesday, 15th February, 1949, the ship having meanwhile travelled through the canal to Ghent; whether partitions were provided separately for each horse; and, in view of the cramped conditions of the sea journey, whether such delay can be avoided in the future.

According to my information, each horse on this vessel had a stall to itself, and every stall was separated from others by division boards in accordance with the requirements of the Exportation and Transit of Horses, Asses and Mules Order, 1921. It would not be practicable for me to control the routes taken by ships carrying livestock or the length of voyage, which may be effected by various factors, such as the weather.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that two inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. were present on the boat; that they were sure there were no divisions between the horses, and that there were a large number of them in one hold? Is he also aware that it took three days to get to Belgium, and very great harm was caused to the horses?

My information is that this boat was recently inspected by the Ministry's Marine Superintendent and was stated by him to be very suitable for the carrying of horses.

In view of this conflict of evidence, will the right hon. Gentleman make special inquiries, because it is quite clearly undesirable that officials of these bodies should be making statements in direct contradiction to those made by the responsible authorities?

I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman, and that is why the Ministry's Marine Superintendent did make an inspection of this particular boat.

Would my right hon. Friend extend such an inquiry to other ports, including Tilbury? Is he aware that similar allegations are being made about the export of horses from Tilbury, and that this is really a serious problem?

If my hon. Friend will provide me with any information about any particular boat at any specific dock, I shall be glad to look into the case.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the majority of the 28 horses arriving at Antwerp on the s.s. "Aire" on 15th February, 1949, had to be supplied with new halters by the Belgian authorities; and if he will see that horses are furnished with serviceable halters on leaving this country.

I was not aware that the shippers did not provide the horses with serviceable halters, but halters are carried on the s.s. "Aire" to replace, for the boat journey, any unsuitable ones supplied by the shippers. Consequently, no question seems to arise of unnecessary suffering being caused on this account to the horses during the journey.

May I repeat what I said previously—that on this occasion an inadequate number of halters were provided and that a number of halters had to be supplied when the horses arrived on the other side?

My hon. Friend will be aware that I am in no way responsible for what happens after the horses have landed.

In view of the widespread worry in the country about this trade in old horses to the Continent, and in view also of the points which have been raised, would the right hon. Gentleman consider setting up some form of thorough inquiry to see what is really going on?


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will appoint a commission of inquiry into the question of the unregulated slaughter and trade in horses.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the public anxiety aroused by the large-scale slaughter of horses for human consumption, he will cause a public inquiry to be held at an early date.

In view of the Questions which have already been asked this afternoon, and the obvious conflict of information between articles in the Press and views which my right hon. Friend has expressed, does he not agree that a commission of inquiry into this matter might lay at rest a great deal of public uneasiness in this matter? Therefore, will he reconsider the question?

If hon. Members will provide evidence of any specific case of unnecessary cruelty or pain, I shall be very glad to look at it at any time. It is obvious, since we started the war with 50,000 tractors and now have over 250,000 tractors on our farms, that the need for horses is not what is was. There is also the fact, of course, that the younger generation of farmers prefer mechanisation to horses and seven-days-a-week feeding.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I, in common with other hon. Members, am constantly getting letters from constituents who are clearly genuinely disturbed by various things appearing in the newspapers? Would it not be a good thing to have an authoritative inquiry now, which would definitely bring out the facts and, if there is anything wrong, would recommend ways in which it could be obviated?

I will look at the matter again, but, so far as my knowledge goes at the moment, I do not see any real reason for an inquiry. However, I will gladly look at the question again.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a widespread public demand for more information on this subject? When my right hon. Friend is reconsidering the matter, will he do it sympathetically and not doubtfully, in the way in which he has just spoken?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I am as kindly disposed towards horses as she ever was or will be.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the fact that there is at the present time a surplus of working horses in Belgium. and that horses exported from this country to Belgium are almost exclusively slaughtered on arrival for food for human consumption, the Government will arrange for horses exported from this country to be slaughtered before being exported so as to avoid the unnecessary suffering of these aged animals from exposure to the sea voyage in stormy weather.

If these horses have to be slaughtered at all, is it not very desirable that they should be slaughtered humanely at home instead of undergoing great suffering on these voyages to Belgium, which are taking place today? Is it not becoming more and more clear that we must have a proper comprehensive inquiry into this matter?

I have already informed the House that no horse is exported to Belgium except under licence, when it goes there to work and not for slaughter.

Has not the right hon. Gentleman already informed the House that he has no control over what takes place in Belgium? Therefore, what does that assurance mean?

That is perfectly true. When horses are exported from this country, they are exported, on the basis of a certificate, for work purposes and not for slaughter.

Is not the Minister aware that this rule does not work in that way at all; and that it never has the effect which it is designed to have, namely, to prevent horses from being slaughtered very soon after their arrival—which is invariably what happens?

Since the case was brought to my notice a week or two ago, I undertook to have inquiries made into the specific case which was referred to in the Question. Those inquiries are now proceeding.

Does my right hon. Friend mean that so long as he gets a statement that a horse is required for work and not for slaughter, he issues the licence and washes his hands of the whole matter?

There are some forms of international arrangement by which one must obviously abide. If a certificate is given to the effect that horses exported from this country are for working purposes and not for slaughter, then one must obviously accept the certificate.

Having issued the certificate, is not my right hon. Friend under the same obligation to see that its conditions are complied with, wherever the horse goes?

I have already informed the House that one case has been brought to my notice. Inquiries are taking place at this moment with the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade

If in a case such as this the right hon. Gentleman finds that, in fact, the certificate has been abused, has he any power to take action?

The only power I have is to prevent the same person from importing any more horses from this country.

This is a matter which cannot be lightly dismissed; indeed, it cannot be dismissed at all.

House Of Commons, Catering


asked the hon. Member for West Walthamstow, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, whether his attention had been drawn to "Food Facts No. 451," issued by the Ministry of Food, and if he will apply the advice there given in the canteens and dining rooms in order to reduce loss.

Yes, Sir. I know "Food Facts No. 451." It is headed "Hot filling meals for meatless days," and it gives five recipes, the first of which is described as "Mum's Special." Dishes of a similar kind to those on the leaflet do appear on the menus of the House. If Members express a desire to have meatless days, the Committee will give the matter careful consideration, but I cannot see how their adoption can reduce the loss.

Is the hon. Member aware that I am glad to see he is taking some advice from outside his own Department at last?

Can the hon. Member say how many "Mums" there are on the Kitchen Committee at the moment?

If any hon. Member wants a "Mum's Special," we will do our best to have one prepared for him.