HC Deb 31 July 1946 vol 426 cc1179-84

4.16 a.m.

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

I beg to move, That the Threshing Order, 1946 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 1058), dated 9th July 1946, a copy of which was presented on 15th July be annulled. I shall be very brief although this is a matter of considerable importance to the farming community and to the food of the people of this island. This Order requires farmers to keep records of threshings of wheat, barley and rye. It also requires owners of threshing tackle to make returns of every cwt. threshed within seven days of the work being done. Here we have a wartime control Order being reimposed. This Order was scrapped in July of last year and it has now been put on again. During the time this Order was in force, it produced no useful results, and we have put down this Prayer to find out from the Government what are their intentions in reimposing it. What does the Minister hope to get by reimposing this control which will be a vexatious mental exercise to farmers. They are at the moment feeling sore because they feel they have had less than fair dealing from the Government over the increases in prices to meet increases in wages. This is not the time, I would suggest to the Minister, to exasperate farmers further if he wants to get the best results from food production. Already farmers and their wives are weary of form filling exercises. I myself, as a farmer, know that my wife and I have had to spend quite a considerable time in recent days working out for our men the B.U.X. and the B.U.Y. forms so that they may get their proper allocation of bread and flour, which is vital with harvest just coming on. We do not want any more form filling exercises than we must necessarily have.

In the Order which we have before us now we see that the farmer is required to make his returns in terms of cwts. The farmer does not think in terms of cwts. In my part of the country we think in terms of sacks, in some parts in coombs, in some parts in bushels and other quantities. That is a mental mathematical calculation which he has to make every time he makes his return. But there is an even more tiresome request in Question No. 4, the number of hours actual threshing. Whatever use can that information be to anybody? Whether a man threshes with a flail or with a combined harvester, I cannot see that it is of any interest to anyone. It is just a tiresome bit of calculation which the farmer has to make. Whether it is eight hours or 18, you put down whatever you choose and it does not matter to anyone. It is one of those silly questions included in the Schedule which has been continued. I ask myself as a Member of Parliament and as a farmer what the Minister will do with this mass of information which he expects to collect under this Order?

In my estimation, there are possibly, out of the 300,000 farmers in this country, about 150,000 who will be growing wheat, barley and rye, and who will be threshing it during the coming season. Most of us do not have our own threshing sets, and the threshing contractor may come round three, four or five times a year and thresh a few ricks at a time. Each of these 150,000 farmers will have about six different threshings, which means that the war agricultural committees will receive close on a million forms from farmers in the course of a year. I was informed on Monday last that the war agricultural committees were employing a staff of 10,000, which is a large staff to carry on the work in peace time. Does this Order mean that further staff is to be engaged? During the war we had threshing officers and staff, who went round arranging the threshing of corn, seeing that everyone got their fair turn and that full use was made of the threshing machines. Does this mean a further addition to the war agricultural committees' staff of 10,000? I should like a reply to that.

It may be said for the Government that although no use is to be made of the information, and that they will not tot up anyone's threshing or check the million returns, the mere making of these returns will have a valuable psychological salutary effect on the farmers. That is sheer nonsense, because the amount one threshes depends not on filling in forms of the hours one has taken to thresh; it depends largely on the season. This season, however many forms are prepared and filled in by the farmers, the Minister of Agriculture will find, in certain areas, for instance, in Kent, that there are large areas where serious storm damage has been done. The threshing results will be very disappointing. The Minister may calculate that the average rate should be so much, but the actual amount of barley, wheat and rye in those districts will be far below the theoretical calculations of the Ministry's statisticians.

This information is really of no value to anyone in checking whether the farmer delivers all his millable grain to an authorised corn merchant or not. I am afraid, too, that a large proportion of the grain which is saved will not be millable. We have to ask ourselves whether this is just another panic measure, like bread rationing, which puts everyone concerned to the maximum amount of trouble, and is likely to achieve the minimum results. I hope that before the House approves this Order, the Minister will give us some substantial reasons why farmers are being asked to perform this vexatious form filling.

4.24 a.m.

Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has voiced most of the objections to the Order, and I can only endorse them. I object to the Order because it is futile, costly and wholly unnecessary. I would like to ask the Minister whether, when this Order was imposed, in the early days of the war, these returns were ever checked and followed up to see if, in fact, the farmer sold the corn he returned on those forms to a miller? I suggest that in this case it will be wholly impossible for the war agricultural committees to check these returns and find out whether or not they are of any use. We have to imagine that the reimposition of this Order is to see that the farmers produce to the mills the correct amount of wheat which they have threshed out.

The first thing I would ask the Minister is this: Does he think that the imposition, or the reimposition, of this Order will prevent in any way a farmer from dis- posing of his wheat in some other way than to the mill if he wants to do so? For instance, the threshing machine proprietors frequently have three or four different sets, and, in my experience, the proprietors do not visit these sets for some days. The result is that this threshing machine proprietor is entirely dependent upon what the farmer tells him he has taken from the box to the granary. He has no check except the good word of the farmer. Therefore, if the farmer wants to be dishonest and sell his wheat—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present, the House was adjourned at Twenty-eight Minutes after Four o'Clock a.m. till this day.