The corn harvest in England and Wales has now been completed. There has been considerable damage as a result of the very wet weather, and the moisture content of grain has been high. But though the harvest has been exceptionally difficult and expensive to farmers, the final position is not so serious as seemed likely early in September. A number of individual farmers will, however, have suffered severe losses.
Reports from my local officers indicate that while yields will be substantially less than last year's record yields, they will be about the same as the average of the previous five years for wheat, barley and rye, but below average for oats and mixed corn. Potatoes are expected to yield about the same weight per acre as the average for the previous five years, although there has been damage by blight. The yield of sugar beet is expected to be above average.
A report reviewing agricultural conditions as at 1st November will be issued shortly as a Press notice. I am arranging for copies to be placed in the Library of the House.
I am not yet in a position to estimate the financial effects on the industry due to the weather. The weather is one of the normal hazards of farming in this country, and it is not the policy of the Government to compensate farmers for damage caused by it. The Government however readily provided such help as lay within their province, for example by reopening national grain silos, arranging for special concessions in regard to call-up and Service leave and offering short term credit facilities under the Goods and Services Scheme.
Cereal prices so far are well above the level of the two previous years.
Did not the Minister say when he visited Lancashire that the results of the harvest would be much better if agricultural drainage were improved and extended? Does he not agree that if the river boards were given greater funds in order to do this work, it would improve the agricultural drainage and therefore avoid this sort of loss in future?
Air Commodore Harvey:
While thanking my right hon. Friend for his statement, may I ask whether he is aware that his recent statement outside this House, that only a fraction of 1 per cent. of the harvest has not been gathered in, gave quite a wrong impression of the state of the farming industry, as many farmers have suffered severely? Will my right hon. Friend not make misleading statements outside this House, because farmers have been through a most difficult harvest period?
I must correct my hon. and gallant Friend. That was not a statement made by me outside this House but a factual statement of the position as best it might be estimated by my Department, which periodically makes these factual statements. To the best of my knowledge, the statement is perfectly accurate, and I have nothing to withdraw from it. My own public statements made outside this House, which have covered the whole of the estimated results of the harvest and not only yields, have, I think, been extremely sympathetic and have covered exactly the line of the statement I have made this afternoon.
Does the Minister appreciate the very hard work which has been put in by the farmers and farm-workers in order to get in the harvest? In his statement about the position of the potato crop, has he taken into account the very bad quality of potatoes now being lifted—not so much the quantity, but the quality?
Yes, I have done that. If the hon. Member will look at my statement, he will see that I referred to blight, which, unfortunately, is quite widespread. If it had not been for that, the potato crop would have been an exceptionally good one this year. As regards the hardships suffered by the farmers, I have on several occasions called the attention of the country at large to that fact, and during the Recess I tried to visit as many different parts of the country as I possibly could during the course of the harvest.
From his earlier remarks, do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to imply that there are two kinds of statement issuing from himself and his Department—statements from his Department which are factual and are to be relied upon, and statements by himself for which he accepts responsibility but which are not to be relied upon?