Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £255,535, 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, 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in aid and expenses in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and improvement of breeding, etc., of live stock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing; fishery organisation, research and development, control of diseases of fish, etc.; and sundry other services, including certain remanet subsidy payments.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
The main items in this sum of £255,000 are £137,000 for salaries, which is accounted for by overtime, bonuses and salary increases to staff owing to the war, and travelling expenses of £28,000, and one of £133,000, which is mainly 1216 accounted for by the increased expenditure caused by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and the steps that have had to be taken to conquer that disease. Apart from that, the sums involved are very small, and if hon. Members have any particular points of inquiry, I shall be very glad to reply.
§ Mr. Quibell (Brigg)
Would the Minister explain the reason for the £60,000 for losses on redemption of loans, &c., lent by the Commissioners under Section 1 of the Agricultural Credits Act?
§ Mr. Hudson
That, I understand, is a figure which can never be anticipated or estimated with any degree of accuracy. It really depends upon whether farmers who, some years ago, bought farms and obtained advances for the purpose of doing so, have a good year or a bad year. If they have a good year they are apt to pay off the money borrowed before it becomes due.
§ Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)
There are one or two questions which I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman, in perfectly good faith. Everybody agrees that we need maximum food production, and I think the Department have been doing good work in that direction. In this Estimate we are spending, quite rightly, a good deal of money on research, and I want to ask whether any experiments are taking place, under the aegis of any Department, with what is called hydroponics—that is, soilless cultivation. This is a subject to which in these days it is well worth paying some attention. Some time ago I put down one or two Questions to the Department on this subject. My interest in it was first brought about during a crossing of the Pacific, where, at Wake Island, hydroponics has been practised quite successfully, although, of course, the climatic conditions there are much different from those in this country. But in this country quite a number of separate organisations and people have been paying some attention to this matter, and I would like to know from the Minister whether his Department are co-ordinating or collecting the results of these experiments with a view to seeing whether or not intensive production could be brought about during the war.
Secondly, I want to raise a question which has been causing some concern in 1217 the countryside. I want the Minister to believe me when I say that both sides in the industry are working very well together in trying to obtain maximum food production. I think the Committee would agree that any matter that is likely to cause irritation and any suggestion of hostility ought to receive attention and be removed, if it can be legitimately removed. We have heard, and do hear, especially in war-time, about the need for a prosperous and healthy countryside. Everybody seems to have made up his mind that when this war is over never again will we allow agriculture to go back to the position it was in a few years ago. Quite frankly, I believe that we ought to have, after this war, a healthy and happy countryside and agriculture—
§ Mr. Smith
I beg your pardon, Colonel Clifton Brown. That was a slip, but we have at the moment a Committee dealing with rural education. This Committee was appointed by the Minister, and on it there are some men and women who will do their best to think out a good system for rural education. Unfortunately, however, the Minister will not allow on that Committee any representative of the organised agricultural workers. The argument, I am told, is that if he allows any such representative to be on the Committee he must then allow representatives of other organised bodies to be on the Committee, but I would point out that at the present time—
Is the Committee down on the Supplementary Estimate? If it is paid, then maybe it comes under Item 1.
Only if they are paid a salary. Then they will come under Item 1. Otherwise, the expenses of the Committee are not down on the Supplementary Estimates and cannot be raised.
§ Mr. Smith
This is a very wide Estimate, and I would like to ask you, Colonel 1218 Clifton Brown, how far can one raise this very important question from the point of view of the agricultural workers. I wish to do it with the best intention in the world and in no spirit of hostile criticism. All I want is to see a settlement of a dispute which is causing some irritation.
I am bound to say that I think the main Estimate is the real time when this should be raised; otherwise there is always an Adjournment Motion when such matters can be raised.
§ Mr. Hudson
May I reply to the hon. Gentleman's question about hydroponics? The Agricultural Research Council naturally deal with a very wide range of subjects, and I make it my business to read their proceedings. Speaking from memory, I believe I have seen something about hydroponics lately, but I would not like to be cross-questioned about it at the moment. I will, however, find out and let the hon. Member know.
§ Mr. Price
I see that there is a sum of £133,000 for animal diseases, and I see also that it mainly concerns expenses in connection with foot-and-mouth disease. But important as that disease is, there are others. If this sum covers only foot-and-mouth disease and a little swine fever, I must point out, as the Minister knows, that tuberculosis, Johne's disease and mastitis are very serious diseases of the dairying industry which are causing tremendous losses every year. I know the Minister has a scheme in hand which, owing to certain technical difficulties, cannot for the moment be put into operation, but I hope he will be able to give some assurance that something will be done. Although I do not want to see the sum raised unduly—we must all be careful in these times to see that money is not unnecessarily spent—I would like to see something more than an expenditure on foot-and-mouth disease.
As regards the amounts for agricultural research, the increases, I see, come to about £27,000. It is not easy in these times to carry on agricultural research, as the universities and research stations are 1219 having their staffs very much reduced and the younger people are being called up. But I hope this research work will be carried on. The agricultural industry is faced with special problems in war-time which were not present in peace-time, and it is, therefore, important to keep agricultural research going. For instance, the feeding-stuffs given to cattle now are different from what they were in peace time. Much less is imported, and indeed, very little is imported; much more homegrown feeding-stuffs are used, and in my opinion this is much better for the animals. Further research is needed into the values of feeding-stuffs such as silage and the various home-grown things which we are producing. This research work through the Universities and research stations must be continued, and the Committee must not stint the money necessary for this work.
Under Item H.3, there is a reduction of £5,290 on the National Stud. Does this mean a general reduction in the work which the Ministry have done hitherto in improving livestock? The farming community has been much concerned because it has not been possible to get fees granted from the Ministry, as they were formerly granted in peace time, to various societies which exist for the purpose of sending round stallions to improve the breed of horses. I do not think we can altogether ignore the horse in these days. It is an age of tractors, but even now the horse has enormous value. It is causing considerable concern to the farming community that nothing is now being done to keep alive the breeding of good cart horses. Does this reduction of £5,290 mean that nothing is to be done in this respect?
§ Mr. Price
That is what I wanted to know. I understand the position. In regard to Item J.5, there is a reduction of £90,000 in respect of land drainage grants. Does this mean that work in this respect is decreasing? As a result of the last Agriculture Act, we were glad to think that there were very considerable facilities for farmers to carry out upland drainage and also grants to local catchment boards, and that these would remove the difficulties which there had been hitherto in carrying out all-round 1220 drainage schemes and dealing with waterlogged land. I should like to have some explanations on the points I have raised.
Mr. David Adams
I should like to ask whether steps are being taken to expend moneys in improving the quality of low-grade farms, of which there are many thousands in the country. It is well known that our great local authorities have for long complained, through their local medical officers of health, of the quality of much of the milk coming into their districts.
Would I not be in Order in asking that money should be expended for the purpose of improving the quality of farms?
Then I shall have to raise the matter in another way, because it is time it was raised. Diseases in cows are very prevalent indeed, and owing to the poverty of many of the farming community, there is no examination of their cows. The veterinary officers do not attend from one year to the next. Therefore, I want to ask the Minister whether he will schedule tuberculosis as being a liability on the community in such cases, so that herds which are notoriously tubercular can be examined in the public interest
§ Sir E. Shepperson
With regard to agricultural research, I understand that generous grants are being made to the various agricultural schools at Cambridge and also to Rothamsted and Fareham. I should like to have an assurance that the results of the activities of these various bodies are co-ordinated and that there is not overlapping in the research work which they are doing. I do not think it is possible to lay too great emphasis upon the value of agricultural research. Recently we have been told of the value of vitamins in order that we may get the greatest possible value out of the food we consume. Similar studies in regard to the values of foods which plants can absorb from the soil and the air are essential. To my mind, it is no good getting theoretical results from research unless 1221 those results can be practically applied. I understand that in various parts of the country the Ministry have established experimental farms where these results can be practically applied, and if that be the case, I should think it is the most valuable asset which the Ministry could present to agriculture at the present time.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
With regard to the Item concerning the exportation of pedigree stock, there is an expenditure of £900 in connection with the upkeep of the quarantine station at Glasgow. I am not quite clear what the £900 means, and I should be glad if the Minister would explain it.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. T. Williams)
The answer to the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) is that the £900 refers to the Ministry's contribution towards the expenses of the quarantine station at Glasgow, although I am not certain at the moment of the period of time which this Item covers. My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) referred to diseases of animals—Johne's disease and tuberculosis—and I need hardly say that that is a matter which is receiving active consideration constantly. The amount of money that is made available for research into diseases of animals generally is being increased rather than decreased all the time.
The second question related to G.4, Agricultural Research Expenses. It is obvious to anyone that this Supplementary Estimate has been increased, but, in spite of the continued increase to the Treasury, I think that the value to agriculture has also been increased. Next comes the question of the National Stud. This matter can be explained away in a few sentences. The National Stud bred two beautiful racehorses which were leased to His Majesty. They both won many races and added materially to the Exchequer. Some of the other horses were sold for good prices, and I am hopeful that we shall be as fortunate again this year. My hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) referred to milk. That question is certainly worth consideration. He will remember, of course, that all milk premiums paid to farmers are intended to assist in clearing up tuberculosis and other diseases. It is a slow process, which I should like to see 1222 expedited, and I can assure my hon. Friend that no efforts will be spared in trying to safeguard the health of children and others.
§ Mr. Williams
That matter hardly comes within the scope of this Supplementary Estimate. As my hon. Friend knows, the cost of examination is borne jointly between two bodies, but it is rather a big question, and one can hardly deal with the whole field of animal diseases on this Vote. Agricultural research is co-ordinated by the Agricultural Research Council. Unfortunately, in the past there has been too long a gap between discovery and translation of discovery to the farmer. My right hon. Friend has recently set up an Agricultural Improvement Council, whose duty it is to see that as rapidly as possible the discoveries of scientists are handed on to the farmers. I am convinced that the revision which has taken place will be of inestimable value to agriculture, and that it will ensure that agriculture derives the maximum benefit from the researches of the "backroom boys" of agriculture.
§ Mr. Williams
The apparent saving of £90,000 was due to certain schemes which had to be approved by the Department. Certain land produced crops much more quickly than land for which drainage schemes had hitherto been prepared. At the same time I would point out that drainage work is going on at a much more rapid rate to-day.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £255,535, 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 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in aid and expenses in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and improvement of breeding, &c., of live stock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, &c., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits and marketing; fishery organisation, research and development, control of diseases of fish, &c.; and sundry other services including certain remanet subsidy payments.