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Volume 529: debated on Thursday 1 July 1954

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Rabbit Traps (Committee)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether during the interim period before he makes the gin trap illegal, he will give wide publicity to the Caldra system of rabbit netting, and other humane systems of trapping; and when he expects to receive the first report of the committee set up to speed up the adoption of humane traps.

My Department is already bringing this and other humane methods of catching rabbits to the notice of farmers. As regards the second part of the Question, the work of the proposed committee will largely depend on trials of new and improved traps in the field, which cannot begin until the autumn. An early report cannot therefore be expected.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these interminable delays in adopting a humane trap and banning the gin trap are causing widespread distress throughout the country?

Would the Minister say whether it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to try to eliminate rabbits, and, if so, whether he will agree that no policy of trapping is likely to achieve that end, and that the only hope is to have an all-out drive on a national scale, with gassing and all other suitable means, during the period of grace which myxomatosis may give us, when the rabbit population will be down to a minimum?

It is very much the intention of Her Majesty's Government to do all they can to eliminate rabbits, but every method must be tried and used. I do not think that the matter can be dealt with by Question and answer, but trapping, gassing and every other means must be tried to reduce the menace.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in this case at least those who have been in close touch with him regarding his efforts to abolish the gin trap are greatly encouraged by the drive which he is showing in the matter?

Is the Minister aware that there are places in which it is difficult or impossible to use other methods than the gin trap, such as rocky country and country where gas cannot be used owing to the lightness of the soil? In such places there is just no other way.


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will give the membership of the committee to advise him on speeding up the development of suitable humane traps so that the use of gin traps may be prohibited; and whether the committee has yet begun its work.

I am glad to be able to inform the House that Mr. Roland Dudley has agreed to accept the Chairmanship of the Committee, and I hope to announce the names of the other members before very long.

Has not the Minister been made aware of the widespread feeling that to set a date four years ahead for this prohibition, with power to postpone the date still further, suggests that there is no drive behind the attempt to prohibit the use of these traps?

I think the House will realise that there is here a great problem, as was indicated by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) and other hon. Members. I have done my best to meet all the views on the subject, and, as I hope the House will realise, I am determined to make progress with it.

Requisitioned Land (Disposal)


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many properties or estates of any description are still held under requisition by his Department; if he will order a new investigation into the circumstances of all these cases; and if he will direct that the interests of the original owner, or owners, shall receive prior consideration whenever a sale is contemplated.

Some 23,900 acres of land are still held under requisition by my Department, most of it either common land or plot land held in a multiplicity of ownerships, many of the owners being unknown. About 10,000 acres of this land are being bought under Section 85 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, in order to maintain the land in efficient agricultural use. The remaining 13,900 acres are under continual review and a large part of the acreage will be released to the owners this autumn. I have no powers to sell land held on requisition, and the latter part of the Question does not, therefore, arise.

Will the Minister kindly address himself to the second part of the Question, about the possibility of a new investigation into the circumstances of all these cases? Will he bear in mind that, while most of us in this country still believe that we have the finest Civil Service in the world, nevertheless people have been deeply shocked by the recent case? Will my right hon. Friend, therefore, seriously consider this suggestion? Can he tell the House whether any progress has been made in derequisitioning?

There is so much misunderstanding about derequisitioning that it may interest the House to know that the requisitioned area has been reduced from 61,030 acres in April, 1951, to the figure I have given of 23,900 acres at the present time.

When every kind of inquiry is being held under the 1947 Act, will my right hon. Friend not have them in an open court, where the public can be admitted, under the chairmanship of an independent Q.C., and with evidence taken on oath. That is what we want—to get rid of all this dictatorship of the Civil Service.

Service Department Land (Transfers)


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many acres of land acquired by purchase or rented for war purposes by Service Departments have since been transferred to the Land Commission or Commissioners of Crown Lands.

At 31st March, this year, about 26,300 acres of such land were under the control of the Agricultural Land Commission and 964 acres have been acquired by the Commissioners of Crown Lands.

Does my right hon. Friend contemplate any increase in the amount of land to be purchased by the Commissioners of Crown Lands?

The Commissioners of Crown Lands are ready buyers and ready sellers. There is no question at all of any influence one way or the other upon them by this House or anybody else.


asked the Minister of Agriculture what circumstances are necessary to decide that land held by Service Departments should be transferred to the Land Commissioner or Commissioners of Crown Lands instead of being sold to previous owners or submitted to public auction.

My hon. Friend may be under a misapprehension about the Commissioners of Crown Lands. The Commissioners are willing to consider the purchase of suitable properties, but there is no question of the transfer without purchase to them of land held by Service Departments. On the matter of policy I would ask my hon. Friend to await the statement I shall be making in the forthcoming debate.

Agricultural Land Commission (Functions)


asked the Minister of Agriculture what progress, in accord with Government policy, the Agricultural Land Commission is making in selling or letting properties acquired for the purpose of putting them in order for a proper standard of farming.

The functions of the Agricultural Land Commission do not include the buying and selling of land. Except for five properties which are being farmed by the Commission them selves, all the properties placed under their management by me or my predecessor are let either on annual tenancies or on licences.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Agricultural Land Commission is now well aware of the Government's policy that, as soon as a property has been put in good order for a high standard of farming, the Commission should let it rather than continue to farm it itself?

Perhaps my hon. Friend means "sell it." The Commission has no power to sell. I am myself looking into that aspect of the matter very carefully.

Has it not always been the case that when the Government have taken over an area of land to restore it to cultivation, after it has been restored to real cultivable possibilities it has been rented at once?

Flavour Of Potatoes (Fertilisers And Insecticides)


asked the Minister of Agriculture what research has been made into the effect of chemical fertilisers and insecticides on the flavour of potatoes.

Tests have been carried out at the Rothamsted Experimental Station into the effect of chemical fertilisers on the cooking quality and flavour of potatoes. Research has also been carried out by leading firms into the effect of certain soil insecticides on the flavour of potatoes, and the need for additional work is being considered.

Is not evidence piling up that, with the increasing use of chemicals for all kinds of agricultural purposes, vegetables do not taste as good as they used to taste? Does the Minister agree with the National Federation of Fish Fryers who pointed out at a recent conference that fried fish and mothballs are a most unpalatable combination?

That is why inquiries are being initiated under the auspices of the Agricultural Improvement Council into the tainting of vegetables generally. It may interest the House to know that there is no evidence of any danger to human health resulting from the normal application of fertilisers

Will my hon. Friend inquire into the possibility that the smell of mothballs, which is complained of may come from the fish rather than the potatoes? If it prove to be the case that both Fisheries and Agriculture are implicated, may not there then be a strong presumption that there are moths in the Ministry?


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the inconvenience caused to the suppliers and consumers of fish and chips by reason of the fact that chips made from potatoes from land treated with chemicals for pest destruction tend to taste and smell of mothballs; and to what extent remedial action by means of research or otherwise is contemplated by his Department.

I am aware of complaints of taint in potatoes. The Agricultural Improvement Council has recently appointed a sub-committee to consider the question of tainting in vegetables, generally from the use of chemicals applied to the soil.

In view of the fact that a large number of people complained and that the National Federation of Fish Fryers considered this matter in consequence, would the Minister see that the matter is dealt with fairly speedily, especially as there are so many people who consume this kind of food?

Yes, Sir, that is the reason why this sub-committee has been set up. It will advise me on the nature and extent of the problem and what action I can take by way of further research or in other ways.

Will my right hon. Friend say if any research has been carried out so far into the effects of the use of various fertilisers on unregistered "pairs"?

Could not the right hon. Gentleman have given a more suitable reply in the monosyllable which will be found at the end of the two syllable word in the eighth line of the Question?

Could not the public help in this matter by returning the smelly potatoes to their greengrocer for replacement?

Crichel Down Inquiry


asked the Minister of Agriculture what sum of rent has been paid by the tenant for the first six months at Crichel Down.

£510 has been paid. This is half of £1,020 which is, under the agreement with the tenant, the rent for the first year.

How long will this arrangement go on, and was this arrangement made with the tenant by Mr. Thompson? Was my right hon. Friend personally made aware of the fact that £2,000 rent was bid for the bare land, which was £100 less than the present tenant has agreed to pay after £34,000 has been spent on the property?

I have answered the Question on the Order Paper. Under the terms of the tenancy the tenant is to pay £1,020 for the first year and £2,150 thereafter. There is to be an abatement of the full rent to an amount to be agreed if the land is not equipped by Michaelmas, 1954, which it can now hardly be.


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will publish the evidence given at Sir Andrew Clark's inquiry into the disposal of land at Crichel Down.

The transcript of evidence and the accompanying bundles of correspondence are bulky and I do not feel that publication of them would be justified. I am, however, arranging for sets of the documents to be placed in the Library.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that, in view of the possible controversy which may arise between the evidence which was taken and the nature of the Report and between the Report and his own conclusions, it would be a good thing if the evidence were made more widely available?

I will certainly consider that. The evidence was taken in public. There are 425 foolscap sheets of it, and the correspondence takes another 500 sheets, making about 1,000 in all. For the convenience of hon. Members, I propose to make three sets of the papers available in the Library. Perhaps that will be sufficient for the present.

Apprenticeship Scheme


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many entries for the agricultural apprenticeship scheme have been notified.

There are 148 apprentices at work, and 295 young people are waiting to be interviewed or placed.

Does not this extremely disappointing figure indicate the reluctance of agricultural workers to put their children into an industry which is so badly paid and which lacks opportunities for advancement?

No, Sir, I do not think so. This scheme has been running for only six months. I had the privilege of starting this scheme which, I hope, will be successful. It has been running for only six months, but a start has been made. Incidentally, Kent is one of the counties very interested in this scheme.

Wages Arrears (Prosecutions)


asked the Minister of Agriculture the number of cases of underpayment of farm workers investigated by his inspectors during the 12 months ended 31st May this year; the amount recovered; and the number of prosecutions involved.

During the 12 months ended 31st May last, 1,082 investigations into alleged infringements of the Agricultural Wages Act were carried out by my inspectors. £7,382 was recovered by way of arrears of wages. Prosecution was undertaken in 14 cases. In addition, 5,750 test inspections were made during this period resulting in the recovery of nearly £2,700. In three of these cases prosecution was instituted. All prosecutions were successful.

Is the Minister satisfied that he has a sufficient number of inspectors to undertake this work?

Yes, Sir. It may interest the House to know that underpayment is found in about 27 per cent. of the cases investigated as a result of complaints, whereas a very much larger number of test cases revealed about 2 per cent., which proves that the whole thing is working satisfactorily.

Will the Minister explain the small number of prosecutions initiated in relation to the presumably large number of cases revealed?

Yes, Sir. It is because in other cases when attention was drawn to them it was found that many were quite unintentional and that there was a settlement with the employers negotiated by the Ministry.

Is not the proportion of prosecutions in the cases discovered much the same as under the Factory Acts and similar Acts?

I could not answer that in replying to the Question on the Order Paper.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if there would have been more prosecutions had there been more inspectors and if his inspectors are working overtime?

I feel that the matter is working very well. The large number of test inspections reveal that in only 2 per cent. were the workers found to be underpaid, whereas 27 per cent. of the cases investigated following complaints were found to require attention.

Would not the Minister agree that if the workers joined their appropriate trade organisations the work of his inspectors would be considerably lessened?

Milk Production (Licences)


asked the Minister of Agriculture what principles govern the tightening up now taking place of conditions under which licences are granted for milk production on farms; and what appeal his Regulations provide for farmers and smallholders who may be faced with heavy outlays or whose licences may be withdrawn.

There has been no change in the regulations made in 1949, nor any tightening up. These regulations prohibited the use of the designation "accredited" after 30th September, 1954, and also provided that after that date no licence could be granted or renewed for the sale of T.T. milk except from an attested herd. The regulations provide for an appeal to an independent tribunal against refusal or cancellation of registration or, where the farmers' retail business is in a specified area, the refusal, suspension or revocation of a T.T. licence.

Pig Breeding


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he can now state what further steps are being taken by his Department for the progeny testing of boars and generally for the improvement of the type of pig most required for the bacon factories and the pork market.

I am still unable to add to the reply I gave to the hon. Member on 25th February and to paragraph 26 of the 1954 Annual Review White Paper on the subject of progeny testing. I expect, however, a start to be made in September with a scheme for the recording of pigs in England and Wales. Details will be announced very shortly.

Will the Minister bear in mind that this is a very important matter if we are to reduce the cost of bacon imported into this country?

Hessary Tor Site (Television Station)


asked the Minister of Agriculture what objections to the use of the Hessary Tor site for a television station serving the Plymouth area have been lodged by persons claiming legal rights in the common land.

So far no objections have been lodged to the application for my consent under Section 194 of the Law of Property Act, 1925. The statutory period for the lodging of objections does not expire until 24th July.

If the objection is lodged, would my right hon. Friend consider trying to speed up the lengthy procedure for considering such objection?

Atrophic Rhinitis


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether there has been any fresh outbreak of atrophic rhinitis among pigs during the last fortnight.

No outbreak of atrophic rhinitis has been confirmed during the last fortnight.

Has the right hon. Gentleman yet decided whether he is in favour of the spread of the disease or against it?



asked the Minister of Agriculture whether there has been any further spread of the rabbit disease of myxomatosis during the last fortnight; and what is the most northerly outbreak reported up to date.

During the past fortnight there has been some spread of the disease in the areas already affected and isolated outbreaks have been confirmed in wild rabbits in Devonshire, Cardiganshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Lincolnshire (Lindsey). The most northerly outbreaks reported to date are in Anglesey and Lincolnshire (Lindsey).

Will the Minister be good enough now to answer the supplementary question which I put on Question No. 20?

I stand exactly where I stood originally after I got the Report of the Committee which investigated the problem. We are against the artificial spread of the disease. What we have decided is that, where the disease is in existence, we cannot take measures to stamp it out. We are quite convinced of that at the present time. We have no positive evidence whatever of outbreaks having been started deliberately by individuals, as has been written in the Press.

We understand that the Minister is against the spread of the disease. Would he tell the House whether he would wish to have the rabbit population completely exterminated if that were possible?

That is going a very long way. I do not think we shall see the rabbit population of this country exterminated in our lifetime.


asked the Minister of Agriculture to what extent the myxomatosis virus is proving effective in making a complete clearance of rabbits in districts where the disease has taken hold; and what evidence he has to show that this is a comparatively painless death as the rabbits quickly become comatose.

In some areas where myxomatosis has taken hold the first wave of the disease appears to have eliminated over 90 per cent. of the wild rabbit population, but it is too early to say whether this high rate of mortality will continue. I have no way of estimating the degree of pain suffered by wild rabbits which are affected with myxomatosis but such rabbits are plainly in distress for a varying period before death.

Has my right hon. Friend consulted the scientific authorities in Australia who seem, on the evidence available to them, to have made up their minds that this is quite a happy death for rabbits because the animals go completely comatose very quickly?

That must be a matter of opinion. The only ones who could give us the answer are the rabbits, and they cannot tell us.

Is it not a fact that after a while a proportion of the rabbits become immune to the disease? Is not that what has happened in France?

Again, that is the opinion of some people. In Australia, after the disease became rampant a certain proportion of the rabbits became immune, and they are starting up again. We are studying the whole problem all the time.

Is it not a fact that the disease involves the swelling of the eyes until they burst and the swelling of the genital organs until the orifice is closed? Is it seriously suggested that this is not infinitely more cruel than any gin trap ever invented?

Again, that is a matter of opinion. I have no doubt at all that the disease must be painful

Calf Subsidies


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many calves have been approved for the £5 grant during the past six months; and how many were rejected as being unlikely to make good beef beasts.

During the six months ended 31st May this year, subsidy was paid in England and Wales on 496,322 calves, and 28,102 calves were rejected as not being likely to yield a carcase of reasonably good quality beef.

Potato Crop


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is satisfied that the potato crop for the coming season will meet the requirements of the market.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think there is every prospect of supplies being adequate, and, if so, can he say anything about the 20,000 tons of potatoes coming from the Argentine in exchange for motor lorries which we are to send there? Can he say who bought these potatoes, and when they are coming to this country?

That is an entirely different question. Perhaps my hon. Friend will put it down on the Order Pa per?