Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I think the Committee will agree with me that we have had a most interesting Debate, and I would like to express my thanks to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee for the way in which they have conducted the discussion. As I said in my opening remarks, the operations of the Ministry of Agriculture are extremely varied. They range from bulls to beetles and from onions to oysters, and include a vast number of subjects, each of which in many minds would be of sufficient importance to warrant a discussion by itself. It is, therefore, a difficult task to compress into one Supply day all the list of subjects which might easily be brought up. For my part, I have enjoyed the discussion, and I hope I have learned something from it.

The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) was generally in favour of the grassland policy which I enunciated, and I gather that his main criticism was of the drainage proposals in that they are meagre and insufficient. The chief criticism of the proposals has been that they do not go far enough, and that is a criticism which is never made of bad proposals. Bad proposals are always criticised because they go too far, but if there is real merit in proposals they never seem to go far enough. I would only say in all seriousness to hon. Members who take that view of the drainage situation, that there is one very important fact which ought to be borne in mind as a matter of practical policy. That is the question, to which several hon. Members have drawn attention, of the shortage in the supply of labour. One has to be careful to arrange the drainage programme so as to secure the maximum of good out of it without interfering with the ordinary operations of agriculture, to which it is subsidiary, by withdrawing normal labour supplies. The Government have given careful attention to this matter, and we believe that this instalment of drainage at this time is the best that can be done in the circumstances. As hon. Members will have become aware by listening to the discussion, the proposals are regarded by many of those who are vitally affected as of great benefit, and I have not the least doubt that in many districts where the problem has been acute these proposals will be welcomed and will do a great deal of good.

The hon. Member opposite made some play with what he called the reduced output of our agriculture. I do not think there is much substance in that point. The last estimate published on 12th March shows that in England and Wales the annual value of the agricultural output for 1935–36 was £208.2 millions, which shows a small decrease from the figure of £209.4 millions in the previous year. That small decrease is explained in a note which says that it arises almost entirely from the lower estimated value of the fruit crop. This in almost every case was much lighter in 1935 than in 1934, although to some extent the reduction was counterbalanced by higher prices. The main fact is that for the last two years agricultural output has maintained itself at from £208,000,000 to £209,000,000, which reflects a considerable improvement upon the figure for 1932–33, when it was only £184,000,000. The lesson to be drawn from the figure is that, if you omit the temporary set-back in regard to the fruit crop of 1935, agricultural output has, on the whole, shown a steady and satisfactory improvement.