Orders of the Day — Summer Time Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th March 1947.

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Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and Western 12:00 am, 4th March 1947

I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) painted too gloomy a picture. One thing we are inclined to forget is that this proposal comes at a most extraordinary time. It is generally recognised that the demands made by the fuel crisis must rank first in priority over any other considerations. But there is no doubt that the re-imposition of double summer time—and, single summer time as well, of course—has come as a profound shock to the agricultural community at the worst possible time. It will certainly impose a very heavy burden, and possibly a crippling burden, on food production, particularly on dairy farmers. It comes at a time when the farmer's mind is full of anxiety and under very great strain as to what he is going to do about the 1947 food production programme. I have farmed all my life, and I do not ever remember a time when I felt less happy or had more anxiety as to how I could get my crops into the ground in time than this year.

The harvest of 1946, of unhappy memory, was possibly the worst which had been known for 50 years. Autumn cultivation, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, was held up; we did not get it properly done. Then we have had these very severe storms and intense frosts—the greatest for 55 years, I am told. That has completely dislocated cultivation, and in my part of the country the plough has not been at work for nearly two months. All over Great Britain thousands of acres are waiting for the thaw, and for the plough. Even if we had perfect weather today, and continuously for a fortnight or three weeks, there is nothing more certain than that the sowing time would be delayed at least a month and possibly six weeks. That means, first, lighter crops and, as the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. Wilfrid Roberts) pointed out, it also means higher costs. On top of that, the fodder for our livestock is running out. In the hill districts farmers are faced with what may result in complete disaster. There are thousands of ewes all over our country, and in the hill areas of Scotland in particular, which may never see lambing at all. Even if the snow disappears, the ground is like stone. These ewes have reached a critical period of the year when lambs are about to arrive, and there is nothing for the ewes to eat.

In addition, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the farming industry faces a shortage of machinery, feeding stuffs and labour. Even the production of fertilisers has been held up because of the fuel crisis, and farmers are told that if they have not got them already they can consider themselves lucky if they get them for the sowing season. The added burden imposed by this Bill, in my view—and I know something about this, having opposed it all along, even during the war period—may be the last straw. I think it is greatly to the credit of the agricultural industry that they have accepted what may prove to be a knockout blow, after all the troubles they have had this year, and after the patriotic and loyal way in which they have done their job.

The Government have decided to allocate extra food and consumer goods to the miners because they are priority pro- ducers. They are to be given an incentive to produce more. I, personally, take no exception to that at all. I realise the importance of coal, and the hard nature of the work of the miners. But agricultural workers and farmers are also priority producers. I suggest to hon. Members opposite who sit for mining constituencies, that we cannot even get coal without food. Why should not the Government treat the agricultural worker—who will have to put in a very much longer day as a result of summer time—on the same basis, and give him a little more fuel, and allocate more consumer goods to the rural areas in order to give an incentive to produce the food necessary to feed the miners to get the coal? The case for the agricultural workers is just as strong, and it is made doubly strong by this Bill. I will not go into all the reasons why double summer time is so much disliked, and even feared, by the farming community. Time after time we have heard them in this House, and it would only weary hon. Members to go into them now.

I would, however, remind the Government that, quite apart from the physical strain on the farmer—and on the farmer's wife as well, because she has to look after the children and the men, and do all the cooking at ridiculous times—this Bill means increased costs of production. A farm, as we know, is not like a factory. Even if the clock is advanced farmers have to wait until the sun comes up in order to carry out the preliminary work. I will give the Minister an example from my own part of the country. Where I farm we grow a very heavy crop of a particular kind of hay called timothy, of which we can produce three tons to the acre. Now, I cannot touch that hay when cut, until 10 o'clock in the morning, because of the amount of dew on it. That 10 o'clock will now become 12 o'clock, when, in any event, the men go off for their mid-day meal. Therefore, we will not start our hay making operation until after lunch, at one or half-past one o'clock. By 5.30 p.m. the men must be paid overtime rates. Thus, anyone can see this infliction will mean increased costs of production. If the Government say that because of the conditions imposed in this Bill these increased costs to the farming community will be met, they will have done something. But I do not expect they will go to that length today. I warn them, though, that if they do not they will be presented with another bill at a later date, namely, the bill of increased costs of food production due to double summer time.

As my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) pointed out, we dislike the permanent nature of this Bill. We do not like the idea of the Order in Council, which, I understand, can only be prayed against, sometimes perhaps at midnight or two o'clock in the morning. The Government should come forward with an affirmative Resolution, put forward by themselves, which will be subject to proper discussion in this House. Having dealt the farming industry a cruel blow, at a time when we are very sorely pressed for food, and after one of the worst spring seasons ever known, the very least the Government can do is to assure the agricultural industry that this Bill will not he a permanent affair, and that we will have an opportunity to discuss the merits of the case brought forward by the Government, not merely by means of a Prayer from hon. Members on this side of the House. I say to the Minister, for what it is worth, that the next crisis into which we shall get will be a food crisis, and this Bill brings that crisis nearer. If the Government feel bound to impose summer time and double summer time, it is up to them now, having done so, to pay far more attention to the needs of food producers, to give them more coal in the country areas, to give them more machinery, more feeding stuffs and more labour, and to give them as little summer time as possible.