HC Deb 03 May 1939 vol 346 cc1886-92
Mr. T. Williams

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is now in a position to give any information for the guidance of farmers regarding the Government's plans for expanding the home production of food in time of war.

The Minister of Agriculture (Colonel Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith)

Under the Government's general plans for ensuring food supplies in time of war the function allotted to the Agricultural Departments is that of making the arrangements that would be required in the event of an outbreak of war to bring about an expansion of food production in the United Kingdom. Plans have accordingly been prepared for a central and local organisation which would be responsible for giving effect to arrangements for increasing the production of food and feedingstuffs. The Agricultural Departments would be responsible for the central direction and executive committees would be set up in each county to whom important functions would be delegated. The names of the gentlemen whose services the Government has been able to secure as chairmen-designate of these prospective committees in England and Wales and in Scotland are being circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

An expansion of home food production would necessarily involve an increase in the arable area obtained by means of a ploughing-up campaign. The particular crops, the production of which we should have to expand, would depend on a number of circumstances including the season of the year when an outbreak of war occurred, the situation in regard to food reserves in this country, and overseas supplies, and the suitability of the newly-ploughed land for particular crops, whether for human consumption or for feedingstuffs for our livestock which provide vital supplies of milk and meat. A great deal of information has been collected by the Agricultural Departments and prepared in a form in which it would be immediately available for the proposed executive committees.

A reserve of fertilisers has been secured, and plans have been made to organise and control the supply and distribution of fertilisers, feeding stuffs, tractors and other machinery, fuel, implements, seeds and other farm requisites for the industry's war-time requirements. The problem of labour has been carefully considered with the other Departments concerned. In addition to the safeguards provided under the scheme of reserved occupations, steps are being taken to enrol persons willing to undertake work on the land in time of war, and plans are being made for training by intensive courses, in the event of a war, those who have had little or no previous agricultural experience. This matter is now receiving further consideration in the light of recent Government decisions in regard to the Territorial Army and compulsory military service.

The Government do not consider it necessary or desirable that the plans for production on the scale or of the character that would be required in time of war should be put into operation in advance of an outbreak of war. They consider that the best preparation for an emergency is to bring the land into a state of greater fertility which would enable it to respond more fully to the increased demands which would be made on it in the event of an outbreak of war. The Government, therefore, desire that farmers should make a special effort this summer to improve their poorer grassland, large areas of which could not in its present condition yield satisfactory crops.

To assist farmers to improve the potential productivity of such land the Government propose to ask Parliament to authorise the payment of contributions of £2 per acre in respect of permanent grass ploughed up after this announcement and before 30th September, 1939, and brought into a state of cleanliness and fertility by re-seeding, or by fallowing or sowing to an approved crop with a view to re-seeding. The objective would be to encourage farmers to carry out work which in any case is desirable in order to convert poor or worn-out grass land into more productive pasture and would, if the need arises during the autumn or spring, enable the land to be readily used, as arable land, for raising such crops as might be required to supplement supplies of food or feeding stuffs.

The Government would urge farmers, in consultation where necessary with the landowners concerned, to make arrangements to plough up during the summer inferior permanent grassland that would benefit by re-seeding and could, if necessary, be put in a condition to produce suitable crops. Notice of intention to plough up must be given to the Agricultural Departments in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, in order that the land concerned may be inspected at the discretion of the Departments, either before or after ploughing. Applicants will be required to satisfy the Departments that the land has been down to grass for not less than seven years. No payment will be made in respect of areas of less than two acres, and fractions of less than half an acre will be disregarded.

Further details and particulars of the form in which notice of intention to plough up should be given will be issued at an early date. The necessary legislation will be introduced as soon as possible, and it is contemplated that payment of the Government contributions would be made in the autumn, subject to the Departments being satisfied that the work has been duly carried out and that any necessary safeguards or conditions have been observed. The Government are confident that they will have the fullest support and co-operation of the agricultural community in this effort to improve the productive capacity of our soil.

Mr. T. Williams

May I ask whether the policy enunciated has been considered by the National Farmers' Union, and whether that body have indicated that they are prepared to make this paper policy a success?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

I have had no consultations with the National Farmers' Union on this particular matter.

Mr. Williams

As the farmers are the only people who can turn this paper policy into a successful policy, should they not have been consulted? Also may I ask whether any other method might have been a more suitable means of increasing food production in peace time and accelerating food production in war time?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

I have every reason to believe that the National Farmers' Union, and indeed all farmers, will do everything they can to forward this policy. I am satisfied that they will realise that it is a helpful policy.

Lieut.-Colonel Heneage

Will the Department encourage local committees to consult the farmers in their areas as to the necessary changes which will be made in their farms to bring the land into a suitable state for production?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

I have no doubt that the chairman-designate will do what is necessary to bring land into an efficient state.

Mr. Leonard

If an inspector finds land which is not in a fit state, will any compulsion be brought to bear in order to bring the land up to the necessary requirements?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

We have no powers of compulsion.

Mr. John Morgan

Has the right hon. Gentleman a reserve of tractors; and is he aware that the majority of tractor drivers on farms are under the age of 25 and are not in a reserved occupation? Can we have some idea as to the estimated acreage he has in mind which will be brought into use in this way?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

As far as tractors are concerned, we are making arrangements for the distribution of all the necessary tractors. We know the number of tractors already in the country. As far as the drivers are concerned, that matter is being reconsidered in the light of the recent decision of the Government. It is hard to estimate the acreage, but we hope to get at least 250,000 acres.

Mr. T. Williams

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the total estimated cost this year?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

It is hard to give an exact estimate, but the sum is £2 on 250,000 acres.

Mr. Johnston

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why he is barring out parcels of land of less than two acres? Is he not aware that in many parts of the country it would be highly advantageous to get plots of land of one acre and an acre and a half in a state of development?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

The right hon. Gentleman will see that the administrative difficulties are rather immense.

Captain Cazalet

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there is a sufficient supply of fertilisers for the 250,000 acres when they are ploughed up?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

There is no difficulty about that.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the finest fertilising agent is a flock of sheep, and will he take steps to increase the number of sheep?

Mr. Bellengèr

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House some indication as to the proportion which the Government payment of £2 an acre bears to the average rent of the pasturage?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

No, Sir.

Following are the names:

Chairmen-Designate of the County War Agricultural Executive Committees to be constituted in the Event of War.



County and Chairman-designate.

Bedfordshire: H. J. Humphreys, J.P.

Berkshire: Arthur Thomas Loyd, O.B.E., D.L.

Buckinghamshire: The Rt. Hon. Lord Addison.

Cambridge: W. C. Jackson, J.P.

Cheshire: A. G. Carswell, F.L.A.S.

Cornwall: J. Lionel Rogers.

Cumberland: Chas. H. Roberts.

Derbyshire: U. Roland Burke, F.L.A.S.

Devon: G. H. Hayter Hames.

Dorset: W. W. Sampson.

Durham: (The gentleman originally selected has recently resigned on grounds of ill-health.)

Essex: Hugh Kemsley, F.S.I.

Gloucestershire: Major J. H. Dent-Blockle-hurst, O.B.E.

Hampshire: C. L. Chute, M.C.

Herefordshire: Dr. E. M. Maples, O.B.E., M.A., LL.D.

Hertfordshire: A. F. Bott.

Huntingdon: Major R. G. Proby.

Isle of Ely: J. W. Payne.

Isle of Wight: A. A. H. Wykeham.

Kent: Lord Cornwallis, J.P.

Lancashire: Sir Miles Ewart Mitchell, J.P.

Leicestershire: J. T. Jacques.

County and Chairman-designate—cont.

Lincolnshire (Holland): J. W. Gleed, D.L., J.P.

Lincolnshire (Kesteven): Geo. H. Schwind, J.P.

Lincolnshire (Lindsey): Major Sir John St. Vigor Fox.

Middlesex: C. Knifton.

Norfolk: H. E. S. Upcher, J.P.

Northamptonshire: J. O. Adams, J.P.

Nottinghamshire: G. E. Taylor, J.P.

Oxford: Frederick E. Withington, D.L., J.P.

Rutland: A. D. Potter.

Shropshire: Captain Edward Foster, O.B.E.

Soke of Peterborough: The Most Hon. the Marquis of Exeter, K.G., C.M.G., T.D.

Somerset: R. A. Hobhouse, J.P.

Staffordshire: H. J. C. Winterton, F.S.I.

East Suffolk: Stuart Paul.

West Suffolk: Captain G. Walmsley.

East Sussex: H. H. Brand.

West Sussex: Lieut.-Colonel Sir Merrik Burrell, Bt., C.B.E.

Surrey: S. W. Tringham, J.P.

Northumberland: Major J. G. G. Rea,

Warwickshire: Colonel C. J. H. Wheatley, J.P., D.L.

Westmorland: Major L. S. Hogarth, F.S.I., F.L.A.S.

Wiltshire: Richard Stratton.

Worcestershire: F. Paget Norbury, J.P.

East Riding of Yorks: Lieut.-Colonel J. A. Dunnington Jefferson.

North Riding of Yorks: Sir Bedford L. Dorman, Bt., O.B.E.

West Riding of Yorks: R. L. Walker.


Anglesey: Wm. Edwards, J.P.

Brecon: Alderman Mervyn T, Davies.

Caernarvon: Alderman G. Hughes-Roberts, J.P.

Cardigan: J. G. Morris-Davies, F.S.I.

Carmarthenshire: Major John Francis, D.S.O., F.S.I.

Denbigh: R. H. Roberts, J.P.

Flint: Trevor Eyton, J.P.

Glamorgan: Hubert Alexander.

Merioneth: R. T. Vaughan, J.P.

Monmouth: L. R. Pym, J.P., F.L.A.S.

Montgomery: W. M. Marriott, F.L.A.S.

Pembroke: R. S. Wade.

Radnor: Alderman B. P. Lewis, J.P.


Name of Committee, Area and Chairman-designate.


Deer and Turriff, Deer and Turriff Districts: Lieut.-Colonel G. B. Duff, D.S.O.

Aberdeen & Ellon, Aberdeen and Ellon Districts: The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Caithness, C.B.E., LL.D.

Huntly and Garioch, Huntly and Garioch Districts: Brig.-General J. G. H. Hamilton, D.S.O.

Alford and Deeside, Alford and Deeside Districts: Colonel R. J. Nicol, O.B.E.

Angus: County of Angus: Colonel I. D. Guthrie.

North Argyll, Argyll (1) North (Lorn Hull, and Ardnamurchan): Colonel Bryce Allan, O.B.E., T.D.

Name of Committee, Area and Chairman-designate—cont.

South Argyll, Argyll (2) South (Kintyre, Islay, Mid Argyll and Cowal); J. Graham Campbell.

North Ayr, Ayr (1) Northern and Kilmarnock Districts: Sir Neil Cochran-Patrick. K.B.E.

South Ayr, Ayr (2) Ayr and Carrick Districts: Colonel Norman Kennedy, D.S.O.

Banff, County of Banff: Sir George Aber-cromby, Bt.

Berwick, County of Berwick: Major R. W. Sharpe.

Bute, Bute and Cumbraes: N. H. Constable.

Arran, Isle of Arran: George Laidler.

Caithness, County of Caithness: Commander Gore Browne Henderson.

Dumfries, County of Dumfries: Sir John Milne Home.

Dumbarton and Renfrew, Counties of Dumbarton and Renfrew: James R. Lumsden.

East Lothian, County of East Lothian: Major G. H. M. Broun-Lindsay, D.S.O.

East Fife, East Fife District: Major Sir Robert Spencer-Nairn, Bt.

West Fife and Kinross, West Fife and Kinross District: Colonel the Hon. David Bruce.

Inverness (Mainland), County of Inverness Mainland: Major the Hon. Alistair Fraser, D.S.O.

Skye, Isle of Skye: Duncan MacLeod.

Inverness (Outer Islands), Outer Isles: John MacDonald.

Kincardine, County of Kincardine: G. H. Russell.

Kirkcudbright, County of Kirkcudbright: J. B. Douglas.

Lanark, County of Lanark: Major B. J. Monteith.

Midlothian, County of Midlothian: George G. Mercer.

Moray and Nairn, Counties of Moray and Nairn: The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Moray, M.C.

Orkney, County of Orkney: Alex Calder.

Peebles and Selkirk, Counties of Peebles and Selkirk: Major Sir S. Strang Steel, Bt.

East Perth, East Perth District: The Rt. Hon. Lord Kinnaird.

West, Perth, West Perth District: Sir Malcolm McGregor of McGregor, Bt., C.B., C.M.G.

Ross and Cromarty (Mainland), County of Ross and Cromarty (Mainland): Major Sir Robert W. Brooke, Bt., D.S.O., M.C.

Lewis, Island of Lewis: Angus Smith.

Roxburgh, County of Roxburgh: Major Mark Sprot of Riddell.

Stirling and Clackmannan, Counties of Stirling and Clackmannan: Colonel Archibald Stirling.

Sutherland, County of Sutherland: Colonel Gilbert Gunn.

West Lothian, County of West Lothian: S. B. Hog.

Wigtown, County of Wigtown: The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Stair, K.T., D.S.O.

Zetland, County of Zetland: Magnus Shearer, O.B.E.