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Agriculture

Volume 463: debated on Monday 28 March 1949

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Veterinary Surgeons, Wales

50.

asked the Minister of Agriculture how many veterinary surgeons are located in each of the counties in Wales; and what is the percentage of farms and holdings covered.

As the reply to the first part involves a table of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am not aware that any farmers in Wales are unable to obtain the services of a veterinary surgeon.

Does not my right hon. Friend think the time has now come to review entirely the National Veterinary Service, and will he get into consultation—

That is another question; this Question only asks how many veterinary surgeons there are in Wales.

Following is the table:

Number of practising veterinary surgeons resident in each county in Wales (including Monmouth):
Anglesey6
Brecon4
Caernarvon9
Cardigan13
Carmarthen26
Denbigh18
Flint7
Glamorgan37
Merioneth4
Monmouth10
Montgomery10
Pembroke13
Radnor1
Total158

In addition to those in private practice, there are 48 veterinary surgeons in Wales, including 44 in the Ministry's service, holding full-time veterinary appointments.

County Committees (Expenditure)

51.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if, in view of the fact that for 1947–48 the excess of expenditure over receipts of agricultural executive committees was about £13¼ million, of which £8¼ million was incurred in machinery and labour services and £3½ million on administration, he will now close down the agricultural executive committees, or take steps to put them on an economic basis.

I am certainly not prepared to consider abolishing the county agricultural executive committees set up under the Agriculture Act, 1947, which have many important duties to perform. I am, however, taking every practicable step to reduce as far as possible, having regard to the needs of the agricultural expansion programme, the excess of expenditure over receipts, including the deficits on machinery, labour and other services.

Why should committees whose incompetence has been so obviously shown and whose working has been adversely commented upon by learned judges be in a position to direct or dispossess farmers whose incompetence has not been proved?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's designation of incompetence, and I suggest to him that he read the Conservative Party's Agricultural Charter.

Experimental Farms

52.

asked the Minister of Agriculture who has been or is to be appointed to manage the 18 experimental farms; what is the respective acreage and cost of these farms; and by what method these appointments will be made.

These farms will be under the direction of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. Each will be in the charge of a member of that service as farm director, who will have the assistance of an advisory committee under the chairmanship of a leading agriculturist and including some farmers among its members. A working farm manager will normally be appointed under the farm director to take charge of farming operations. The acreages will vary widely according to the type of farm. The six farms already acquired vary from 200 to 1,070 acres. The average cost of the four that have been purchased is some £35,000. A fifth farm has been leased, and in the case of the other acquisitions the purchase price has been referred for arbitration.

Will the Minister try to avoid what happened in the war, when incompetent farmers who could not make their own farms pay became civil servants, and were able to give orders to men who were making their own farms pay? May I have an answer?

I think the question is so far removed from the truth that it does not call for a reply.

Will the accounts of these farms be made public in due course, and, especially in view of their work, will the capital sum per acre be made public, so that farmers may compare like with like?

I suppose the accounts of the demonstration farms will be made public, but I am sure that the hon. Baronet will be aware of the fact that demonstration farms are not necessarily run on an economic basis.

When the Minister says that he supposes that the accounts will be made public, does he not mean that it is his business to make sure?

I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware that these accounts will be made public.

Devon Close-Wool Sheep

53.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware that numbers of Devon close-wool sheep are reared on Exmoor; and if he can arrange for these sheep to be qualified for subsidy when reared on hill farms.

I am well aware that Devon close-wools are kept on Exmoor, but I do not consider that this breed is sufficiently hardy to qualify for hill sheep subsidy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this breed is doing very well on Exmoor, and may I ask him to look at this matter again with a view to encouraging increased numbers, which would result in increased supplies of mutton?

I have already looked into the matter, and I am advised that this particular breed is not sufficiently hardy to live on some hills.

Will my right hon. Friend consult the farmers on Exmoor who are interested in this breed?

Will the Minister introduce the grid system on Exmoor, which will multiply the sheep population by thousands?

Machinery And Equipment Losses

54.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if, in view of the fact that the accounts for 1947–48 of the agricultural executive committees show losses of £298 lost or stolen to agricultural executive committees and the Women's Land Army, £11,611 for machinery and implements lost, £995 for agricultural executive committee stores and equipment stolen and £1,048 for a stocktaking deficiency of bicycles, he will state what steps are being taken to detect and prosecute those responsible.

It is the duty of agricultural executive committees and the Women's Land Army to take all practicable steps to prevent losses of machinery and equipment. They are under instruction to report thefts to the police, with a view to detection and prosecution where possible, and to take suitable disciplinary action against the individuals concerned where losses are caused by negligence.

Is not the Minister aware that this petty thieving and purloining is inevitable under State control, and that if it had happened on a private farm the decent British farmer would have sacked the persons concerned?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is too much private enterprise here and there.

Small Farmers (Machinery)

56.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, in view of the fact that the Government's policy was for the county agricultural executive committees throughout the country to relinquish their machinery depots, and since a large number of small cultivators have not funds to buy a complete range of implements to enable them to carry on their cultivation, what alternative arrangements are being prepared so as to ensure that the fullest possible use is made of the cultivation of the soil by the smallholders throughout the country.

No general decision has been taken to discontinue the machinery services operated by county agricultural executive committees. The services are not being withdrawn where there is a sufficient demand from small farmers who cannot afford to buy the necessary machines and who cannot get the work done in any other way.

Is the Minister aware that many of these machinery depots have been far from satisfactory in the past? Would it not be a good thing to have a completely new scheme to enable all small farmers throughout the country to acquire the necessary machinery with which to increase food production?

Perhaps it would not be out of place if the hon. Member were to consult with his hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) in order to make up their minds whether they want a machinery service or not.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to treat this matter with all seriousness, since it is a matter which vitally affects food production?

May I ask the Minister if it would not be wise to go into the question of setting up county servicing depots for farmers in the various counties, which I think is a feasible proposition, and one that ought to be carried out?

We have county servicing depots, and all the time we are anxious that they should be supplemented by private servicing depots, where they can be established. While we are very anxious that there should be a machinery service as long as it is necessary, it is our desire that private enterprise should step in to provide this servicing for small farmers where they cannot provide it themselves.

Horticultural Industry

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

57. To ask the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the anxiety amongst farmers as to the future of the horticultural industry caused by recent trade agreements, he will make a statement as to the Government's long-term policy.

On a point of Order. May I have your guidance in regard to this Question, Mr. Speaker? In view of the alarm in the horticultural industry by reason of the trade agreements which have been made, I addressed this Question to the Prime Minister, since it involves a Government decision and not a Departmental one.

The reply to the Question is that when the Agriculture Act, 1947, was under consideration by this House, I referred to horticultural products and said:

"I want to make it clear that it is the Government's intention that the general objective in Clause I shall apply to the industry as a whole, and that they fully recognise that other means of obtaining this object for these other products must be devised."—[OFFIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 631.]
I have nothing to add to that statement.

In view of that answer, will the right hon. Gentleman consult with the leaders of the horticultural industry and assure them that the intention is not to make trade agreements for the import into this country of produce which we can still grow ourselves at reasonable cost?

We are frequently in consultation with the leaders of the horticultural industry.

Does not the Minister consider that when, through faulty guesswork on the part of his colleague, the Minister of Food, farmers have to plough in their crops, he ought to have a policy for compensating them?

The hon. Member must be aware, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, that no Minister or Ministers can ever cater for weather conditions. He will also be aware that last year was an abnormal one, and that if in 1948 we had obtained the same amount of produce as we had normally obtained for a number of years, there would have been no surplus vegetables in this country.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Prime Minister that he is being compelled to accept certain imports which he does not require?

In view of all that is happening to the horticultural industry, is the right hon. Gentleman still on speaking terms with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Food?

Will my right hon. Friend say whether there is any attempt at specialisation in production between Great Britain and the foreign countries from whom we import horticultural produce?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my Evesham growers are suffering exceptional hardships?

Farrowing Sows (Rations)

59.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will re-establish the arrangements, suspended under the extended rationing scheme, whereby county agricultural committees were permitted to establish special farrowing registrations.

Yes, Sir. Revised arrangements for extending the issue of rations for farrowing sows are being worked out and will be announced in the near future.

Livestock Prices

64.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether the 1949–50 prices of fat stock, sheep and pigs recently announced are based on the present prices of feedingstuffs, and if, through further removal of subsidies, prices of feeding-stuffs are increased before that date, this part of the February price review will be revised.

The recently announced 1949–50 prices of fat cattle, sheep and pigs take full account of the forthcoming increase in prices of feeding-stuffs.

Does the Minister realise that if that is the fact it gives no incentive for livestock production, and that the whole 4s. 6d. per cwt. increase is wiped out? Will he reconsider the matter in view of the present meat ration?

The hon. Member is aware that the National Farmers' Union approved the new prices with the full knowledge of a revision in feedingstuff prices.

Tobacco Production

65.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will devote a small part of the resources of the new experimental farms to the tobacco plant with a view to the further development of types suitable to our climate.

No, Sir. I am afraid that the available facilities will be fully utilised on urgent and important food production problems.

In considering the importance of this matter, will the right hon. Gentleman consult with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the importance of dollars, which contribute so much and in so many ways to our food?

Yes, Sir, but my immediate responsibility is the production of food, and I do not think that in the circumstances we can allow our technicians to devote themselves to the production of tobacco in this country.

Pigs (Feedingstuffs)

66.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the present size of the meat ration, he will now increase the quantities of feeding-stuffs made available for the breeding, rearing and fattening of pigs and relax existing restrictions so as to encourage the production of pork and bacon in this country.

Supplies of feeding-stuffs in sight are not sufficient to allow of any general increase in rations for pigs at present. But the extended scheme of rationing for pigs or poultry, introduced last October, is being reopened (for applications) and rations will be available to new applicants from 1st May. There are no restrictions on the keeping of pigs, apart from those imposed by the shortage of feedingstuffs.

Will the right hon. Gentleman get in touch with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, with whom he says he is on speaking terms, and get increased quantities of feedingstuffs brought to this country so that we can have more pork and bacon?

As the hon. Member is aware, I do occasionally meet my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food.

Can the Minister say when he expects to have increased feedingstuffs in order to increase pig breeding?