Agriculture (Harvesting)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th September 1956.

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Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle 12:00 am, 13th September 1956

I suppose that it is inevitable, even in moments of great national crisis, for an Englishman to refer to the weather. I make no excuse whatsoever for doing that today, because I want to take this opportunity to draw attention to what might well develop into a great national crisis, namely, the problem of the harvest for the British farmer and farm worker. We have been discussing for two vital days the possibility of wars and rumours of wars—and those rumours have been going on for many, many years. But the problem of getting enough food has gone on since man was born.

We have been experiencing one of the most difficult harvest periods for many years. It is quite true that in recent days the weather has turned, and I am certain that the whole House hopes that it will be possible to regain much of what appears at the moment to have been lost, and even to make good something. But there will inevitably be losses. Therefore, it is only right that the Government should be afforded an opportunity to make a statement to the House about what has been happening, and to tell us what are their plans and their hopes to alleviate the problems which may arise.

All farmers realise that good harvests and bad are part of the day's work, and they are taken into account in the prices which the farmers receive for their goods. We have had a good many bad harvests lately. I hope that we may be able to get the harvest in, but to do so we shall have to work very quickly. The first thing I want to know from the Government is what plans they have made with the various Departments to see that we mobilise all the extra labour which is available, and which will be needed.

There are two morals to be drawn from this very difficult situation. The first is the vital need for more storage accommodation for grain. Incidentally, we must consider the fact that not only is there difficulty with grain; peas and potatoes are in just as bad a situation, and in many cases a worse one. The need for storage and drying capacity is absolutely vital, and I hope that when those of us who farm try to raise capital to add these vital necessities to our farms, as we have realised we must, the Treasury will not frown too much upon our efforts.

Secondly, the bad weather has drawn attention to the need for better drainage. It is a fact that where efficient drainage has recently been carried out not nearly such a disastrous time has been experienced. The real disaster arises as a result of the softness of the land. It is incredibly soft, even for this country. I hope that both main drainage and field drainage will continue to receive the Government help which they are now receiving, and that there will be no restrictions. I hope that the Government will smile upon our efforts to improve our land through drainage. As I have often said in this House, good drainage is far and away the best way of improving production.

It is very fitting that this great problem is the only domestic one which has engaged the attention of the House during these vital days, and I hope that the Government will be able to give us a full account of what has been happening.