HC Deb 27 February 1936 vol 309 cc964-70

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £101,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1936, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in and in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and fishery research; and grants, grants in aid, loans, and expenses in respect of improvement of breeding, etc., of live stock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing, fishery development; and sundry other services.

11.50 a.m.


Although I have been straining at the leash to get to this Estimate for the last 15 hours, I will not make any lengthy references to the details. I propose to draw the attention of the Committee to one sub-head in particular, namely, "H1., Diseases of Animals: Grants," since that accounts for more than half of the whole amount. It relates to expenditure in connection with compensation for foot and mouth disease and swine fever: £45,000 in connection with foot and mouth disease and £8,000 for swine fever. I am glad to be able to say that at present the country is free of foot and mouth disease, and this has been achieved by the regulations in force. Investigation and research have been directed towards seeing whether it is possible to immunize the animals against these diseases, but, I will not detain the Committee by referring to these scientific matters. The other items in the list are clearly set out, and if any hon. Member wishes to have further explanations or information on any point, I should be gird to do my best to meet him.

11.52 a.m.


I recall that in 1924 when the Labour Government came into office—and perhaps hon. Members opposite who are here for the first time will take note of this—one of the first things they had to do was to bring forward a Supplementary Estimate for the destruction of cattle owing to foot and month disease. It was my misfortune at that time to be sitting behind the Minister in charge of the Supplementary Estimate for 10 days listening to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, who were then sitting on these benches, asking the Minister of Agriculture why that colossal waste of national money was taking place. They said that the disease was one which might have been cured many years previously; but the one thing they never said was that the whole of the debt had accrued during the term of office of the Conservative Government. For 10 days without interruption hon. and right hon. Gentlemen demanded information from the Minister of Agriculture of the Labour Government on a question which they themselves had had in hand for very many years. Now, in 1936, we are still passing money to deal with the foot and mouth disease. The diseases department of the Ministry has still not been able to find a remedy for the foot and mouth disease which was troubling the Conservative Government in 1923.

I think that before the Estimate is passed, the hon. Gentleman might give the Committee some hints concerning the new methods that are being pursued with a view to stamping out this disease, other than the methods which were being used in 1923. We could not by any stretch of the imagination find reasons for voting against this sum of money, and it is only a question of having information as to the methods that are being adopted with a view finally to eradicating this terrible disease.

With regard to sub-heads J(4) and (5), dealing with land drainage, expenses, and grants, instead of opposing this Vote of money, we would welcome an increase, particularly if that increase were for drainage likely to restore land to cultivation and thus provide employment for agricultural labourers now unemployed. I think the Parliamentary Secretary might have dealt for a few moments with the sub-head concerning agricultural credits. It would appear that under the Agricultural Credits Act of 1923, various sums have been advanced to farmers who have presumably not met their liabilities, with the result that the Government are called upon to foot the bill. It is quite in order that this Government or any Government should have to foot the bill for agriculture, but we are at least entitled to know exactly how many pounds are involved and what are the total losses, not only of the Treasury, but of the farmers.

I do not think it would be out of place if I were to ask that on some occasion, if not now, the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister should be good enough to tell hon. Members what has happened in cases where public money was advanced, either under the Agricultural Credits Act of 1923 or the Agricultural Credits Act of 1928, and the Government was subsequently called upon to foot the bill. Did the landowners on whose land the tenant farmers were operating make any sacrifice comparable to that which was made by the Treasury from time to time? Did the landowners continue to collect their rent, although the farmers were losing money, or did they make a sacrifice comparable to that of the Treasury? I think we are entitled to a little more information on that point. This item is only for the £23,000,000 — [HON. MEMBERS:"£23,000!".] I am so used to hearing the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary ask for three, five, or ten million pounds for agriculture that I may be excused if I make an error on this occasion. I think the Parliamentary Secretary might be good enough to tell the Committee the number of farmers involved and just how patriotic the landowners were when these farmers were not able to meet their liabilities.

I notice that in the appropriations-in-aid, there is a sum of 47,360 for the Development Fund. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would tell the Committee for what special purpose the Development Fund has spent that money. There are one or two minor items which have been the cause of questions in the House from time to time, one of them being the National Stud. Are we to understand that £7,400 is a fairly reasonable profit from the National Stud? Is this the normal figure obtained from the National Stud, or is it higher or lower than it ought to be? Another item which is very curious is: Receipts from fees charged for applications for licences and permits for bulls, and appeal fees. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us all about that. Now comes an item "Receipts from tithe". Farmers all over the country have been condemning this ancient burden, which they still have to bear, and the Royal Commission, which was set up to investigate the matter, has issued a report. Apparently the Government have made up their minds what to do about it, and we should be glad to have information.

In no case could we find it in our heart to vote against this Estimate, particularly if the Parliamentary Secretary will give us the kind of information that we require upon the items to which I have referred. I hope that the past 20 hours have not been spent in vain, and that the Parliamentary Secretary has ready replies for every question which I have put to him.

12.3 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

This is the fourth time that I have moved such a Motion in the last 12 hours. I shall not adduce reasons, because reasons which I gave before made no impression upon the somewhat sleepy minds of hon. Members opposite, but I will content myself with asking the Parliamentary Secretary how far he proposes to go and whether his supporters on those Benches have learned their lesson.

12.4 p.m.




Hear, hear.


I can perceive that the whole Committee are aware that I have risen this time to say a few words of a more pleasing character. The "usual channels" have flowed more peacefully. I am glad to say that an agreement has now been reached whereby the Government will move, "That this House at its rising this day, do adjourn until Monday next", after we have obtained Class VII, Vote 8, "Public Buildings Overseas." The Government, therefore, in pursuance of that agreement, do not propose to take the Commencement stage of the British Shipping (Continuance of Subsidy) Bill, nor the Second Reading of the Unemployment (Northern Ireland Agreement) Bill, but we would like to take the formal Second Reading on the Consolidated Fund (No. 1) Bill.

Although, as is very often the case during an all night sitting, there are moments of tension, as is usual, when the House of Commons closes an all-night sitting, we realise that things are said in the heat of the moment, and the sitting closes in an atmosphere of good will.


I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, and I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

12.6 p.m.


After the experience of the last 24 hours I do not propose to detain the Committee for very long, but I have a, special interest in an aspect of this Vote upon which the hon. Gentleman who has preceded me did not touch. Most of the Vote includes agricultural education and research, but there is mention in the title of fishery research and development. I have looked through the whole of the detailed statement connected with the Vote, but nowhere do I find any reference to fisheries or fishery research.


The hon. Member is new to our deliberations. Perhaps he does not realise that when a Supplementary Estimate is presented, the title of the main Estimate is always set out in full. That does not mean that the items covered in the title of the main Estimate necessarily arise on the Supplementary Estimate and in this, ease there is no grant in respect of fishery expenditure. The hon. Member's point does not, therefore, arise.


It may, in that case, be raised in the discussion of the full Estimate?


Most certainly.

12.9 p.m.


Almost at the end of a perfect day may I put a very simple question about the item "Diseases of Animals… foot and mouth disease, etc"? I understand that the Department have had great difficulty in coming to an agreement with the Governments of Northern Ireland and of the Irish Free state on the question of orders to be issued in connection with the treatment of the warble fly maggot. I wondered whether the "etc." covers that particular, in view of the fact that the stand maggot is creating difficulties and some apprehension among the cattle-rearing section of the agricultural industry in Scotland. I understand that it is impossible for the Department of Agriculture for Scotland to issue an Order dealing with the disease unless that is preceded by an Order relating to England.

12.10 p.m.

Captain W. T. SHAW

In regard to swine fever, what notification is given when the disease occurs? Is it given in the immediate area in which the outbreak has taken place, or, say, for five miles around, so as to enable people to prevent the spread of the fever?

12.11 p.m.


I would answer the last question at once. From what I know—but I will verify this—notices are put up in a wide area. I have seen them myself, and I am sure that hon. Members will have done so also. On the exact radius, I could not give a definite answer. As to the warble fly, the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) knows that discussions have recently taken place and that by means of an Order for compulsory dressings there will be combined action in this country among farmers for the eradication of this pest. I freely admit I am riot conversant with the actual application to Northern Ireland and Scotland, but I will look into that aspect of the matter and do what I can. In reply to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), he made me slightly nervous when he spoke of testing me on the manner in which I have spent my time during the last 15 hours. Such an examination is one which I would sooner have faced a few hours ago, but I will do my best to deal with the points which he raised. I would first- pay a tribute to the work which he and his colleagues did in the reduction of foot-and-mouth disease. I thank him for not visiting upon me the sins of my predecessors in 1924.

In regard to the question of loans under the Agricultural Credits Act, 1923, up to July, 1928, the closing date, the sum of £4,766,119 had been advanced in England and Wales. There have been 1,214 loans, made for a period of 60 years and up to 75 per cent. of the value of the property. I did not understand his reference to the landlord's position. As I understand it, the loans were made in pursuance of the Agricultural Credits Act by the Public Works Loan Board, and were advanced on recognised mortgages to persons who purchased land. The Public Works Loan Board, are the mortgagees, and I do not see how landlords come into the picture.


Are we to understand that the defaulter in each of these cases was a farmer who had purchased his own holding and that the agricultural credits were made for that purpose?


That is how I read the Act. The advances were made to persons who agreed to purchase the land comprised in the mortgage during the period when the Corn Production Acts were in operation. In regard to the National Stud, my information is that the position is rather more satisfactory than previously owing to better sales due to higher prices for bloodstock. I have not had time to verify my information in regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Don Valley on bull licences, but I think it means appeals against refusals to grant a licence. I am very much obliged to hon. Members for the kindly way in which they have treated me after a long and trying Debate.

Question put, and agreed to.