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Agriculture

Volume 485: debated on Thursday 22 March 1951

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Grassland Fertiliser Scheme (Forms)

46.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that some agricultural executive committees have not yet received the necessary forms to enable farmers to claim subsidies under the Grassland Fertiliser Scheme; and whether, since this scheme deals with fertilisers applied during the period 1st January to 30th June, he will arrange for the early distribution of such forms so that the subsidy scheme may be administered efficiently.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture
(Mr. George Brown)

Yes, Sir, the forms of application to which the hon. Member refers are being printed and will be available early next month.

February Price Review

47.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will now make a statement on the results of the February price review.

52.

asked the Minister of Agriculture when the report of the February price review can be expected.

55.

asked the Minister of Agriculture on what dates since 1948 the guaranteed prices for farm produce were announced; and when he proposes to announce them this year.

In 1949 and 1950 guaranteed prices were announced on 17th and 23rd March respectively. The current review is not yet concluded, but my right hon. Friend hopes to announce the Government's decisions about future prices within a few days.

When these prices are announced will they be accompanied by a statement of the essential facts on which the new prices are based?

Yes. My right hon. Friend has said that in due course a White Paper will be issued giving some, at any rate, of the essential data.

Has my hon. Friend received information whether, in the event of an increase in the prices, the Opposition will start a "phoney" campaign for a reduction of prices, as they have done in other matters?

Chrysanthemum Plants (Export Licence)

48.

asked the Minister of Agriculture why Mr. T. W. Bevan, of Apple Garth Nursery, Victoria Road, Ferndown, was refused a licence to export chrysanthemum plants to the United States; and on what grounds his Department declined to carry out the necessary inspection.

No export licence is required, but the United States Government requires a health certificate with all plant material entering that country. Through a misunderstanding, Mr. Bevan failed to arrange for his plants to be inspected so that such a certificate could be issued, but there has been no refusal to inspect the plants. I am sending the hon. Member a copy of a letter which my Department has sent to Mr. Bevan explaining the position.

In view of the fact that there has been a misunderstanding, and that, according to the information I have, the misunderstanding is the Minister's, will Mr. Bevan be given some compensation for the loss of his exports?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's information must be misleading. The misunderstanding was Mr. Bevan's.

Farm Workers (Food)

53.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware of the strain now imposed on the health and strength of farm workers resulting from lack of meat and other sustaining food; and if, in the interests of full production in agriculture, he will consult with the Minister of Food to ensure that farm workers obtain as good food as miners and other heavy workers who have the use of canteens.

My right hon. Friend is fully aware of the circumstances of the agricultural industry, and I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given on this subject to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) on 19th March.

Would the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity of the Easter Recess to see what these farm workers have to take out with them for their mid-day meal—a bit of bread, a scrap of margarine, jam or fish paste? It is really not enough.

I do not think that I myself or my right hon. Friend is in need of any instruction from the hon. Gentleman on this matter.

Will the new Order relating to cheese, which, I think, was notified yesterday, have any adverse effect on agricultural labourers, or are they exempt from the cuts to be imposed on the rest of us?

The farm workers' supplementary allowance of cheese is distinct and quite apart from the general ration.

Although the hon. Gentleman may not want advice, the point is that no action has been taken. Will he look into the matter, which is becoming very serious?

Is my hon. Friend aware that the general position of agricultural workers today at £5 a week is far better than it was in the days of Tory Governments at 30s. a week?

Rainfall (Effect)

54.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, in view of the rainfall in recent months, and its effect on agriculture, what action has been taken by His Majesty's Government to obviate shortfalls in the estimated crops for 1951 so as to ensure no further hardship on the citizens of this country, or reductions of feedingstuffs to the farmer.

The rainfall of recent months has caused, and is causing, great difficulties to farmers in their spring sowings and cultivations, but it is much too early to forecast the final results of the harvest. There is likely to be a marked deficiency in the wheat acreage, which may be offset by increased sowings of barley, but I could not at this stage forecast yields per acre, nor the acreages of crops other than cereals. I cannot, therefore, at present accept the implications of this Question.

Is it not true that there are certain types of seed that can be sown much later than others, and will the hon. Gentleman see that they are distributed, through the county agricultural executive committees, and so on, to farmers, so that they may have the opportunity of overcoming the effects of the wet weather by using those special types of seed?

I do not think that there is any doubt about that. The executive committees, the National Agricultural Advisory Committee, the National Farmers' Union and everybody else has been co-operating not only in these past weeks but for months, indeed years, in this matter.

Animal Feedingstuffs (Ration)

56.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will make a statement about rations of animal feeding-stuffs for this summer.

Yes, Sir. I apologise for the length of this answer. In spite of substantial dollar purchases the total supply of animal feedingstuffs available for the ration pool in the year beginning 1st May next is likely to be rather less than in the preceding 12 months. It will, therefore, be necessary to reduce the rations for dairy cows by 14 lb. per cow per month for each of the three months May, June and July, and to reduce by one third the cereal part of the "steaming-up" allowance issued in July for cows due to calve in the autumn. The amount of discretionary reserves to be allocated by county agricultural executive committees this summer will also be less than in recent years. Apart from these changes, summer ration scales will be the same as for last year.

I should add a warning that the level of self-sufficiency in cereals for dairy cows throughout the next winter period is likely to be the same as at present, namely, the first 1⅛ gallons of milk per day, whilst, as already announced, for protein next winter we shall be requiring self-sufficiency for the first gallon of milk per day. Despite the difficulties of the present sowing season, all farmers with livestock would be well advised to plan for the maximum production of fodder crops and silage.

How does this estimate of cereals and protein feedingstuffs in the coming year compare with the figure for last year? Will it hinder the expansion programme? What steps has my hon. Friend taken to consult the farming interests in this important matter?

The comparison with last year is that we are down a little, but not very much. We have got about 5.25 million tons as against 5.4 million tons, but we are very nearly 1,750,000 tons up on 1947–48. As to the effect on the expansion programme, it may retard slightly some milk production, but with new techniques of grass growing we may well overcome that. As to consultation, this announcement was made after consulting the Ministry's rationing advisory committee, which includes representatives of the farmers.

The hon. Gentleman has said how the figure he has given us compares with that for 1948. Will he say how far down it is on that for 1938?

Not without notice, but it does not seem very relevant anyhow. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, with great respect. We cannot have in 1950–51 any more than is available for 1950–51, whatever may have been available in other years. This season, as everybody knows, there is, all over the world, a shortage of cereals due to the weather and other causes. We have got all we can get, including a large dollar purchase.

Was there not any wet weather before the advent of Socialism?

Ministry Land Holdings

57.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what was the total acreage of land held by his department in March. 1945; and what is the total today.

In March, 1945, my Department held under requisition about 380,000 acres of land, and owned 14,000 acres. It now holds under requisition about 73,000 acres, and owns 182.000 acres.

Building Experiments

58.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what experiments his Department has carried out in building agricultural houses and buildings in pisé de terre and stabilised earth.

My Department has not carried out any. Experiments in building in pisé de terre were, however, designed by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and built on the Ministry's small-holdings estate at Ames-bury in Wiltshire in 1919 and a report on the experiment was published in 1921 by H.M. Stationery Office.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether these buildings have proved satisfactory after 30 years of life? That is more important than a report two years after erection?

They are still there, and no special maintenance problems have been experienced.

Double Taxation (India)

59.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will ensure that 100 per cent. relief against double taxation is given to all residents in the United Kingdom who are in receipt of pensions from the Government of India in respect of former service with the Government of undivided India or any of the provincial Governments.

The allowance in full of Indian tax against United Kingdom tax in all cases would require an alteration of the law. As I explained in answer to a Question from the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) on Tuesday, 13th March, the existing arrangements will be adequate to relieve most pensioners from any burden of double taxation.

Will the Government make sure that these pensioners are treated fairly in all cases? Ought he not to see that there is an alteration in the law? Does he appreciate that while there is some doubt about this matter, and complication, as he will no doubt agree, it means extra cost to those who have not the money to pay this extra amount of taxation?

I agree that the position is not fully satisfactory. Difficulty arises owing to the unwillingness of the Indian Government to make a double taxation agreement. We did a good deal by unilateral relief last year, but we think that the complete solution is to make such an agreement with the Indian Government.

Did not the Minister guarantee that these persons would receive their pensions in full?

No, Sir. I think that all we undertook was to reach an agreement on double taxation with the Indian Government.

Holiday Resorts (Illumination)

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he has any statement to make concerning illuminations for holiday resorts over the Easter holidays.

Although the supplies of coal have greatly improved, it is still necessary to make every practicable economy in its use, in order that we may start the building of stocks during the summer months from as high a level as possible. For that reason, I propose that the order which prohibits the lighting of shops and advertisements shall continue in force until 15th April, when Summer time comes in.

Illuminations provided by the local authorities of holiday resorts, however, consume much less coal. After consultation with the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), and with my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans), and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn), and others, I have come to the conclusion that it would be reasonable and right for the local authorities of holiday resorts to switch on their illuminations for three hours each evening on Saturday, Sunday and Monday of this Easter holiday. I hope that the hon. Members concerned, and the House in general, will consider that this is an acceptable plan.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for this partial and slight concession, which, at least, will make people in holiday resorts realise what it was like in the good old days, may I ask if he will bear in mind that it is now 12 o'clock? How are the town clerks of the corporations concerned to get to know about this concession? They will have to get everything ready today. As, tomorrow, there are no newspapers, will he take steps, through the B.B.C. or in some other way, to make sure that holiday visitors know about it?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Members who are on the Holiday Resorts Committee, who put this point to him, are very grateful for the sympathetic manner in which he has received it?

Would the Minister give consideration to this point? In a scheme of corporation illuminations very often there are incorporated illuminations which are provided and paid for by private persons. These are included in the corporation's scheme, although the electricity charges are paid by the persons concerned. Will the right hon. Gentleman also allow these schemes of lighting to be restored for a temporary period in order that the whole scheme of illuminations may not be disjointed?

I will consider that. It may involve special licences which it would be very difficult to prepare in time; I am not sure.

If the Easter holiday took place about three weeks later, would not the shop windows be lit up for several minutes longer, free of charge, by Divine Providence?

Scottish National Congress (Resolution)

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

97.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has considered the resolution, a copy of which has been sent to him, passed at a meeting of the Scottish National Congress at its meeting in Glasgow on Saturday, 17th March, containing a pledge by that conference to protect those Scots who refuse to be conscripted by an English Government; and what action His Majesty's Government now propose to take.

On a point of order. I desire, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to ask your advice. I think that perhaps you will agree, when I have concluded, that I also need your protection against what I consider to be a gross discourtesy to me today.

On Saturday last, a very important meeting took place at which a most appalling resolution was passed which is referred to in Question No. 97 the last oral Question on the Order Paper today. I tried to get advice as to whether I could raise the matter as a Private Notice Question when I reached London, but I was told that it was too late for me to do so. Therefore, I put a Question down to the Prime Minister, and if you will look at Question No. 97, Sir, you will see that it raises a very important issue about which Scottish people are very deeply concerned.

On the advice of the Table, I put the Question down to the Prime Minister and it was accepted by the Table. I realised, too late, that the Prime Minister would not be able to answer it, but it is quite customary for his deputy or someone on his behalf, to answer a Question addressed to the right hon. Gentleman. The matter has been referred to the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is quite obvious that this Question will not be answered orally, today, and I think that, in view of the very vital importance of the issue and the contempt of the people of Scotland for this disgusting resolution, we ought to have a reply from someone on behalf of the Prime Minister today.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate that the Chair cannot intervene in this matter. Questions are transferred as between the Departments. This Question has been approved by the Table, but, of course, it has not been reached. I am sure, however, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has ventilated the matter quite well.

In view of the fact that we have a Minister representing Scotland here today, that this is a very vital matter to the people of Scotland; that I addressed the Question in the first place to the Prime Minister and that it was accepted by the Prime Minister, would you, Sir, with the permission of the House allow the Question to be answered now?