Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 7th June 1937.

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Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

There you are then. He ought to have drained the land.

What action is the Minister going to take on the report of the Select Committee on Rabbits? He said that we can get 3,000,000 more acres of grass in good condition in this country, but rabbits are consuming far more than that by not being dealt with. I believe that by Ministerial action, quite apart from legislation, a good deal could be done to remedy the situation. That is the foundation of the Minister's policy, helping the fertilising of the land and assisting in drainage. Apart from that, we must have a fair price for our products. Without that this foundation cannot be put into agriculture. The Government have done a great deal in that direction. All that they have done in the direction of giving an assured price has been opposed by the Socialist party, and their new policy, the policy of assisting cereals to have an assured price for a considerable period of years, will fail if they are going to limit the assistance to those who do not use the wheat subsidy. Land varies in each farm. You get one field which is suitable for wheat cultivation, and the rest for oats and barley, and if the farmer is to be prevented from getting assistance for his oats and barley because he has one field in wheat this policy is going to disrupt the whole rotation of crops. You cannot grow wheat always in the same land. You must have a five-year rotation or your land does not get the full advantage. For that reason I hope that the Minister will reconsider that aspect of the announcement which he made a week last Thursday, and allow farmers who are really on oat land to draw the oat assistance, notwithstanding that they are growing wheat for certain purposes.

There is one branch of agriculture which has not been touched on to-day, and that is livestock. While we may improve the quality of our land we must improve also the quality of our stock. In the last few years there has been a grave decrease in the quality of the livestock in this country, and there is one detail which I want to press upon the Minister in this connection. That is with regard to the system of premium bulls. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, at any show or sale where premiums for bulls are being awarded, they publish which bulls have received the premium. In England, however, that information is not published, and a farmer who is going to try to buy a bull can never find out which bulls have been awarded premiums, unless he himself is going to receive assistance from a premium. I submit that it is wrong that premiums should be awarded in a secret and clandestine manner. At a sale at York some little time ago, one bull that had received a first prize at the show did not receive a premium, for the very good reason that it was singularly incapacitated for breeding purposes; but farmers who were buying were never told of that fact. If the method of Northern Ireland and Scotland were followed, farmers going to the sale would know what in the judgment of the livestock officer was the best bull for breeding purposes, and the livestock officers are people of great judgment. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but, if they knew a little more about farming, they would realise how important a bull is on a farm.

The Minister, no doubt, will say that to publish details as to which bulls have received premiums would make the competition for those bulls greater, but that argument has not applied in Scotland or in Northern Ireland. I have talked with the leading breeders both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, and they tell me that that argument has no foundation at all. It would be a way out of the difficulty—if it is a difficulty—for the livestock officers to pass a greater number of bulls for premium than are actually required to be bought. At the present time they cut the number very short. If five farmers want to buy under the premium scheme, the livestock officer only passes six or seven, and if three or four bulls are wanted for export, it means that some farmers have to go without. The passing of a larger number of bulls for premium would remedy what is a great grievance, and has been a great grievance for many years, among those who are breeding stock.

I want now to say a word about the poultry industry. The Minister of Agriculture was not very hopeful in his treatment of the subject this afternoon. The poultry industry is not really an agricultural question; it is a social question. It is a question of ex-service men who have settled on the land, or of farm labourers who have become smallholders and were looking forward to an assured future. These men, who are poultry specialists, not general farmers, are leaving the industry every week. They have been rendered bankrupt by the rise in the price of feeding-stuffs and the low prices of the products they sell, and, unless something is done immediately for these men, they will be lost to agriculture, they will be lost to the land, they will drift back into the towns, disappointed men, with no hope of that happy rural life to which they looked forward. The imports of eggs last year showed a considerable increase over the year before. The Minister said that lie did not regard that as the primary cause, but surely, by the law of supply and demand, if a figure of 18,000,000 great hundreds is suddenly increased to 24,000,000, it must have a tremendous effect on the price of the commodity in this country. When at the same time feeding-stuffs rise from 15s. a quarter, at which maize stood last year, to 26s., as it is to-day, it must have a disabling effect on a man who is in a small way.

I hope that the Minister, in his zeal for agriculture, will not forget these men. I admit that they are a side-line; they are not doing as much good to agriculture as the farmer who runs poultry as a side-line, feeding them from his own wheat fields; but they are a major part of the countryside. These smallholders are, in a way, the backbone of village life; they are the consumers of what we produce on our agricultural farms; and for that reason all who live in the countryside adopt these men's problems as their own. I would ask the Minister to take urgent action to relieve their terrible situation. We who are interested in agriculture are very happy to have the present Minister in charge of our affairs. He has struck at the roots of this problem, and I believe that his way is far better than the way of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who would have a survey over a number of years and call that the Defence of England against the chances of what may happen in a time of war.