HC Deb 05 March 1941 vol 369 cc897-9
17. Earl Winterton

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he has taken any steps to call the attention of the county

war agricultural committees to the large number of parks and recreation grounds, in public and private ownership, which remain unploughed, and many of which are contributing little, or nothing, to food production?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. T. Williams)

Land in public parks and recreation grounds that is suitable for agricultural purposes can be cultivated by the local authorities themselves under powers given to them by Defence Regulation 62A. The importance of making the fullest possible use of these powers has been impressed on all local authorities. As regards parkland in private ownership, war agricultural executive committees are fully aware of their power to give directions as to the use of such land for food production, and if necessary to take possession and to cultivate the land, and they can be relied upon to exericse these powers as widely as is desirable with the present resources of labour, fertilisers, machinery, etc., available.

Earl Winterton

Can the Minister explain why it is that there are thousands of acres of both public and private parks which are not cultivated? Why at this moment is there more uncultivated land in Great Britain than in any Western European country in peace-time?

Mr. Williams

It is because, as I said clearly in the first part of the answer, action with regard to the wider areas is strictly limited by the amount of labour available, fertilisers, and machinery.

Mr. Wedgwood

Cannot my hon. Friend take advantage of this unique opportunity, when we have landlords and anti-landlords agreeing on a policy?

18. Earl Winterton

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that there is a very large acreage of common land, especially in the Southern counties, which once grazed stock, but which is now overgrown and useless; and whether he will take powers, by legislation, or Order in Council, to compel lords of the manor, boards of conservators and commoners, to hand over this land to the war agricultural committees for food production?

Mr. Williams

War agricultural executive committees already have power, with my right hon. Friend's consent, to take possession of common land for the purpose of utilising it for food production. This power has been exercised in a number of instances, but my Noble Friend will appreciate that much common land is of relatively poor quality and that in general the limited resources of labour, machinery and fertilisers can be applied more productively to land of better quality.

Earl Winterton

May we gather from what the hon. Gentleman has said that steps are being taken to increase the labour supply? Has any application been made to the Ministry of Labour?

Mr. Williams

Aliens, uninterned and interned, school boys, prisoners, members of the Pioneer Corps, "old Uncle Tom Cobley and all," are all being organised for this purpose.

Mr. Granville

If local authorities do not carry out the recommendations of the agricultural war committees, can they be dispossessed in the same way as farmers?

Mr. Williams

I think that most local authorities in the country understand their obligations and fulfil them.

Sir William Davison

Has the hon. Gentleman considered getting some of the tens of thousands of Italian prisoners, who are quite friendly disposed towards this country, over here in order that they might cultivate some of these vacant lands?

Mr. De la Bère

Why not forget these words and deal with realities?

Mr. Speaker


Rear-Admiral Beamish

It happens that I am conservator of6,500 acres in Sussex which have been referred to. Am I not entitled to ask a Supplementary Question?

Mr. Speaker

There are probably others in a similar position elsewhere.