HC Deb 17 October 1946 vol 427 cc1114-53

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)

I apologise for rising a second time in the space of 24 hours to address the House, but I do so on a question of urgent and pressing importance—the shortage of agricultural machinery and spare parts. I think it is true to say that there is not one agricultural district in Britain that is not affected by this shortage. I know that the Minister of Agriculture has this matter very much at heart. I raised the matter in a Debate in April this year, and the right hon. Gentleman wrote to me afterwards to say that he would see what could be done to increase the proportion of home production that would go to farmers, and that would mean consequently a decrease in the proportion going for export. It appears from the available figures that the Board of Trade have not carried out that undertaking. In reply to a Question which I put to the Minister of Agriculture on 9th October, it was shown that, whereas in the months January to March, 1946, on an average 91 per cent. of the home production of tractor ploughs was allocated for home use, the proportion in August was only 86 per cent. In the case of 3–4 wheeled tractors, 80 per cent. of production went to British farms in the first three months, but only 65 per cent. in August. For 2-wheeled tractors the proportions of production were 70 per cent. in January-March, and 61 per cent. in August.

What does this mean in numbers? It means that in March, 1946, 1,309 tractor ploughs went to British farms, and in August 1,171. In the case of 3–4 wheeled tractors, it was 1,587 in March, and 1,149 in August. In the case of 2-wheeled tractors, it was 371 in March, and 393 in August. In other words, although production may have been expanded, our farmers are getting fewer tractors, and not more. In a letter which I had from him recently, the Minister pointed out that, while the percentage of production going for export has increased, the amount, measured in value, going to home use also shows a marked increase. That is perfectly true, but the farmers are not concerned with that; they are concerned with the volume, and whether they get a tractor or whether they do not. I venture to express the opinion that, in spite of the need for the export drive, we are sending too much home-produced machinery abroad.

Let us look at the export figures. The Trade and Navigation Returns show that, in the first eight months of this year, we sent out of this country £4 million worth of home-produced machinery. That included 13,408 tons of tractors, that is something like 8,400 in number, 7,796 tons of ploughs, 1,779 tons of threshing machines and 11,668 tons of other farm machinery. Any farmer can confirm that all over the country threshing, to give. but one example, is held up through the shortage of boxes, and we lost thousands of quarters of corn through the shortage of combines. The President of the Board of Trade is, I believe, the owner of agricutural property. In any case he has first hand agricultural experience, but it does seem, in the face of the figures I have just given, that the Government do not appreciate the needs of the farmers in this matter of machinery. I repeat that I really do understand the need for exports but it seems to me a form of economic insanity to deprive the farmers, who are the food producers of this country, of the machines they need so badly.

I should like to give one or two brief examples of what this means to individual farmers. At a recent meeting of the Kent County Committee of the National Farmers Union a member pointed out that it was impossible for farmers in Kent to obtain new tractors. Dealers handling home produced tractors would not quote delivery under 18 months or two years, and those handling imported American machinery would not quote a delivery date at all. I have a letter from a farmer in my constituency in which he gives me these examples. In September, 1943, over three years ago, he ordered a new British made tractor cultivator; he has not received it to this day. In July he took delivery of a disc harrow for which he had been waiting three years. On 28th May he placed an express order for new contact breaker points for his farm van. He has not yet received them and the van is held up. On 13th February he was granted a permit to convert his tractor to rubber tyres. When the tyres were available the wheel centres were not; when the wheel centres came through there were no tyres. In September he had to use discarded army tyres to put on the back of the tractor and tyres for the front are still unobtainable. That is the story of one farmer's experience, and it could be repeated by thousands of farmers all over the country.

Finally, may I say that we seem in this matter of agricultural imports and exports, and on the question of machinery, to be facing really fantastic contradictions? We cannot get feeding stuffs from abroad for our dairy cattle, but we are importing tinned milk from the United States. We cannot get maize for our chickens—and this is black October for British poultry keepers—but we import dried eggs from America. The one thing we want from America but cannot get is a supply of spare parts for American machines. Our own farmers are not allowed to make their own cheeses—the best and most famous in the world—at economic prices, yet we are spending valuable exchange on importing foreign cheeses, very often of indifferent quality. British tomato growers today are suffering from the effects of a glut of imported tomatoes simply and solely because the Ministry of Food failed to take heed of the warnings they were given two months ago.

Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)

Will the hon. Member tell the House exactly where these tomatoes exist, where they can be procured and where there is a glut in Britain?

Mr. Baker White

I only know that in my own county the farmers have on their hands hundreds of lbs. of tomatoes which they are selling at 3d. and 4d. a lb.

Mr. Walkden

That is the pre-war price.

Mr. Baker White

Our precious foreign exchange is being used to buy imported fruits. I have no particular complaint about that provided there is some restriction on the volume, but I would not like it to harm the interests of our own horticultural industry. But these foreign products are coming in first class, non-returnable wicker and wooden containers. A good deal of the material used to make these containers comes from Empire resources, yet our own growers are deprived of these very materials.

I do not know what is to happen about farmworkers' rations. The miners and heavy workers have been granted extra food but not a word has been said about the farmworker. I know perfectly well that the Minister of Agriculture and his Parliamentary Secretary have the cause of British agriculture at heart, and I wish I could say the same about the Board of Trade and the Minister's colleagues in the Cabinet, but they do not seem to understand the needs of the farmer and the farmworker. They seem to regard the country as a pleasant place in which to spend the weekend. Their minds are full of nationalisation and their eyes are firmly fixed on the urban and industrial vote. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look once again at this question to see if something cannot be done quickly in this industrial crisis.

6.37 p.m.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) for having raised this important and urgent problem of agricultural machinery. Certainly the men of Lincolnshire congratulate the men of Kent on having raised it at this time. I think it is rather remarkable that in an industry where there are such differences between county and county and almost between parish and parish the great need for agricultural machinery should have spread over the whole country.

I have looked up Questions which have been put to the Minister of Agriculture from time to time on this subject and they are numberless. I should like to quote briefly two of them. The first was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) on 15th October last year. He asked what was being done about spare parts for American machinery. He was told that ail possible steps were being taken and that the Minister was doing his best. Just a week later, on 22nd October, the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins), asked whether arrangements had been made to enable a sufficient supply of spare parts for caterpillar tractors and other agricultural machinery to be imported from the United States of America. The answer was, "Yes, Sir." I suggest that either something has gone very seriously wrong with the arrangements or that the estimates of the supply were at fault, because in my constituency we are worse off today than ever before and it is particularly tragic that our chief need is for heavy tractors of the crawler type. In our industry today, where the land has had so much taken out of it, as is the case in my own part of the world, deep ploughing is more important than ever before, in order to try to produce even as much as we have done in the past, let alone more. It is unfortunate that it is just those tractors we require for deep ploughing which are most difficult to obtain.

I should like to make a constructive suggestion on this matter of spare parts which is causing such difficulty. During the war there were hundreds of thousands of machines of various types—tanks, Bren gun carriers and so on—and I am advised by agricultural machinery repairers who have also had to do with mechanised vehicles during the war that there are considerable numbers of similar parts to those which are needed in agricultural machinery and that these are interchangeable. I know that if there are not sufficient war vehicles in this country to "cannibalise" there are certainly a very considerable number in Germany. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether this is a practical proposition. If it is, what steps is he taking to see that that source of supply is available.

From that question, I turn to the consideration of a spare part which is sometimes overlooked because it is so obvious. It is the common or garden automobile tyre and the tractor tyre. I want to impress upon the Minister that there is a really acute shortage in Lincolnshire today. We have a sugar beet harvest on top of us at the moment and we do not know how we are going to get through it. Other hon. Members from agricultural constituencies will know what a vast amount of transport has to be mobilised for this part of the industry, but lorry after lorry is going off the roads because they have not enough tyres. I have done everything I can, by approaching the Minister and putting down Questions, but still there is a shortage. I beg the Minister to use all the power he can to convince his opposite numbers in other Departments of this great need in order that something can be done at once.

We are faced with a growing shortage of agricultural labour. That fact must be in all our minds today. The German prisoners are returning to their own country. For myself and for the majority of people in my constituency I can say that we are glad that should be so. It is right and proper and just, but the fact that they are going places an enormous responsibility upon the Government. We have not yet heard what the Government short-term policy is for dealing with this question of the shortage of manpower. Surely one of the factors in that policy should be the very urgent replacement of agricultural machinery. That would help. I suggest to the Minister that, owing to the increasing age of the machines, their rate of deterioration is becoming higher and higher. Even though the Minister may say that there is an increase in the supply, it does not catch up with the machines which are going out of action. I would close my remarks by trying to impress the Minister with the Very great urgency of this matter. We, in Lincolnshire, and people in the rest of the country, simply must have something soon.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. Collins (Taunton)

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) has done the House a service in bringing up this very important matter, although I felt that in his later remarks he was trying to make up for the refusal of the Lord President of the Council to devote a special day to a Debate upon agricultural policy. I would mention one or two things which the hon. Member mentioned, notably the absence of local, home-grown cheeses. That is obviously due to the fact that we have not sufficient milk to spare. He made reference to a glut of tomatoes because of foreign imports, but he must be well aware that at the present moment there is no foreign importation of tomatoes whatever. The temporary extra supplies which are on the market at the moment are due to the very great outdoor supply, which is very much later this year than it would have been but for the late, wet summer. So far as the consumer is concerned, and apart from tomatoes of inferior quality, there is no question whatsoever of a glut.

In regard to imported fruit, no-one would suggest that we have anything like too much fruit and that we are doing other than welcoming the supplies that the Minister of Food has been able to secure. In this connection the home growers, particularly those apple growers who have been bewailing their lot recently, would be well advised to look, now that the war period is over, to producing their fruit in grades that will sell in competition. A reference was made to containers and to the fact that foreign producers can find timber, paper and other material for packing such as are not available for our home producers, but, in large measure, those home producers do not need those materials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The home producer does not need them to anything like the same degree as his competitors. He does not need to send his fruit necessarily in non-returnable containers. Mention was made of baskets. The hon. Member was apparently unaware that 340,000 Dutch bushels have been imported this year. Thousands of English basket makers would be glad to make baskets for the home grower, but they have failed to place a single order. Therefore the shortage cannot be anything like so severe as is sometimes represented.

Lieut.-Colonel Kingsmill (Yeovil)

Does the hon. Member suggest that wicker containers are suitable for sending apples all over London?

Mr. Collins

Most decidedly. That has been done for 250 years and wicker is still eminently suitable. It is nonsense to suggest that a bushel or a half bushel is not a suitable package capable of performing many more journeys than is the flimsy wooden package.

Let me deal with the far more important matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury, because it is a real and vital issue for agriculture. He rightly said that it impinges on the labour problem and that there must be a great increase in the mechanisation of agriculture. Our farmers have lost many quarters of corn this year through the absence of machinery and difficulties with regard to spare parts. I hope that the Minister will tell us what steps the Government are taking to meet this difficulty. I want to emphasise, however, that this is not a problem which has arisen in the last 12 months. It arises directly out of the old problems of agriculture and from the fact that agriculture was a hopelessly depressed industry for many years before the war. The industry did not give encouragement to our manufacturers of agricultural machinery to lay down plant with any kind of hope of getting a continuing and sufficient market. It was not possible to make machines on a sufficient scale during the war. As with so many things that have had to be set up since the war ended, it has not yet proved practicable to produce the necessary goods in sufficient volume. I suggest that this is a matter which seriously affects the farming community, and into which hon. Members representing rural constituencies should enquire closely. There are now many Members on this side of the House who have these problems very truly at heart.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

There are not very many.

Mr. Collins

What they lack in numbers they make up in greater effectiveness. I hope we shall learn tonight something of the volume and the diversity and the nature of the plans which are in operation for the provision of the necessary machinery, as well as for technical education to assist the farming community to a greater appreciation of the necessity for employing machinery to the fullest possible extent.

There are certain short-term measures which might be taken to effect an improvement. One was suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland). He suggested that a review should be made of all kinds of surplus disposal goods with a bearing on tractor work and machinery of various kinds to see what can be obtained for the use of the farming community, and that any resulting spare parts should be collected together, classified and catalogued and made available through the county committees or some other medium to the farmers. Another suggestion I have for my hon. Friend is that his Department should satisfy itself that manufacturers are giving effect to the priorities which his Department has instituted. I have had a number of individual cases where parts have been required and the agents or farmers requiring them have been waiting a long time. When the matter has been taken up through the Ministry, the parts have been supplied in a couple of days, and some excuse has been made by the manufacturer that the original instructions were not understood. Things like that have happened, and in many cases the supplies are not being made in accordance with a proper ordered priority from the dealers. We need to be satisfied that instructions are being properly carried out, and that those in the greatest need are being supplied, and in no other way.

With regard to longer term remedies, we need to be satisfied that encouragement is being given to manufacturers with regard to the types of agricultural machinery that they should produce and an assurance of a market for that machinery when it is produced. I hope also that we shall learn that farmers can be given some capital assistance on easy terms to obtain the necessary machinery when it is available. This is a most valuable point. I hope that my suggestions and those of other hon. Members will receive the Ministry's full consideration and that we shall receive an adequate reply from my hon. Friend tonight.

6.53 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Kingsmill (Yeovil)

It is a great pleasure for me to support the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) on the subject he has raised tonight. The first point I wish to deal with is the lack of raw materials for the manufacture of agricultural implements. Last summer, in response to a request by the shop stewards of a firm of agricultural implement manufacturers in Chard, I took the matter up with the Board of Trade and got from them a sympathetic but extremely unsatisfactory reply saying that no further allocations of raw materials for agricultural implements could be made because the steel position was so short. I rather wonder whether the Ministry of Agriculture presses the priority which agriculture really deserves. It is only by continually pressing the other Ministries, be it the Ministry of Supply or the Board of Trade, that we can expect to get the steel or iron, without which we cannot use the majority of our farm implements. Cases have already been mentioned of people who have been without spare parts for their tractors. I know a farmer who has a tractor made by the International Harvester Corporation of America, of which one part is broken. He has been unable to get a new part in this country for over six months in spite of repeated efforts everywhere. Does the Ministry of Agriculture press the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Supply for the import of spare parts for American tractors which were in this country before the war, in order to get the necessary allocations so that the machinery we have can be kept in running order?

Another great shortage in agriculture today is that of baling wire. I took up that matter last April with the Board of Trade and gave actual instances in which there was 16 weeks' delay between the time the farmers ordered baling wire and the time they received it. I got a reply to the effect that 16 weeks was not an undue delay but they hoped to cut it down. In the meantime threshing could not go on because the hay could not be baled. At the time we were considering bread rationing. Surely baling wire should have been pressed for as an extreme priority from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Board of Trade? Another point to be pressed is that the use of the bulldozer in the agricultural industry today is very important, particularly when we want to increase the amount of ground under cultivation. But it is impossible to get tyres for the transporters on which these bulldozers are carried from place to place. Cannot the Ministry of Agriculture press on' the Ministry of Supply the necessity for priority for tyres for transporters in order that bulldozers shall not be immobilised? It is not a foolish thing to ask the Minister to do, and I hope he will be successful.

Many hon. Members have said that we should make use of surplus Army vehicles on the farms, and I quite agree with that. However, early last spring I tried to obtain from the Ministry of Supply jeeps for use on the farms. I got a reply from the Ministry of Supply that they had no idea that jeeps could be of any use on farms and therefore they thought there was no necessity to give priority for farmers to buy them. If the Minister looks at the back of any American magazine, he will see illustrated jeeps pulling ploughs and doing other work about the farm, and there will be a full description of how useful a jeep can be to any farmer.

6.57 p.m.

Mr. Edelman (Coventry, West)

I hope that as a Member for an industrial constituency I shall not seem to intrude into this valuable Debate, in which the speakers have for the most part represented agricultural Divisions. In Coventry we have established a mass production plant for the manufacture of tractors, the first in this country, and therefore one which will have a most important effect on the future of agriculture in Britain. In the past, the manufacture of a tractor has been very largely like the manufacture of a motor car in Edwardian days. The tractor was manufactured by craftsmanship methods. In consequence it was impossible to produce tractors in sufficient quantities to satisfy the demands of farmers who wished to convert their farming into a mechanised process. Of the limited production which we have had in the past in this country, I understand that approximately 75 per cent. is going to U.N.R.R.A. I would not wish to diminish the number of tractors which are going abroad for that purpose, but instead of diminishing the number of tractors we export, we should now concentrate on increasing the number produced in this country. Today we have the opportunity of doing that. For the first time we have a mass production plant producing a multi-purpose tractor—the Fergusson tractor—capable of drawing a large variety of different tools and bound to have a considerable influence both on our agriculture at home and, I hope, in the long run, on agriculture abroad. We have one most important problem, the problem of raw materials. Associated with it, we have in this new and modern factory the problem of labour. The question therefore of the production and allocation of tractors is the concern of the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Labour, almost as much as of the Minister of Agriculture.

We have heard that there may be a considerable cut in steel supplies. It is something which affects the motor industry, and it is bound to affect the young and growing tractor industry which we have just established. I would like the assurance of the Minister of Agriculture today that he is in touch with the Minister of Supply in this matter; that the steel required for the production of tractors will be made available, and that the other material commodities required will also be made available for our programme in a proper scheme of priority In mass production it is important to plan ahead, to have a programme and a schedule. It is important to know approximately what materials we will have for, say, a straight run-through of six months or so. Unless the tractor producers have that assurance, it is impossible for them to have a real mass production programme.

I believe that this new tractor plant may be a model for similar plants engaged in the production of agricultural equipment throughout the country. I believe that not only will it be important to farmers, but also that it is potentially one of the great export industries in which our country can engage. Just as in the past 20 years we steadily developed the motor industry, which today in great measure can compete with the American motor industry, so equally I believe that with this beginning of the mass production of tractors, we can compete with the American tractor industry. I hope, therefore, that all the Ministers concerned will give whatever help is necessary to the industry, both in the form of supplies of raw materials and also in ensuring that there is adequate labour for this plant to have a really good start. I hope that, with the assistance of the Minister, we shall be able to have a considerable production of tractors in this country, which not only would be of the greatest use to our farmers at home, but would be able to supply the Continent with those tractors without which the recovery of agriculture on the Continent may be indefinitely delayed.

7.4 p.m.

Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)

I, like other hon. Members, welcome the opportunity given to the House to discuss this important question of spare parts for agriculture because, with the return of German prisoners of war, there is no doubt that mechanisation becomes more and more important. I only want to ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this Debate two questions. He may not be able to give me a direct answer this evening, but I hope he will be good enough to look into them. I asked a Question today of the Secretary of State for War based on the fact that when I flew over Germany in July last with the Parliamentary delegation, I saw, both from the air and from going around, a great number of vehicles parked. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yeovil (Lieut.-Colonel Kingsmill) will bear me out in this. The Question was as follows: To ask the Secretary of State for War, how many disused vehicles are still parked in the British zone in Germany, and what it is intended to do with them. The answer was as follows: Apart from the normal Army reserve holdings, there are at present in this zone about 75,000 vehicles which are not in use. Some 35,000 of these have already been declared as surplus to the appropriate disposals authority; the remainder are in process of being similarly declared, as the necessary work of classification and inspection proceeds. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman may be able to go into this state of affairs with the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Supply, and, as has been suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), that some form of "cannibalisation"—as they used to call it in the Army—might be brought into being to make use of many of these vehicles, some of which are in an exceedingly good state of repair.

The other point I wanted to mention was that of tyres, which has already been brought forward. I do not know if it is a fact, but I have been told by several people that the depots at which war agricultural executive committees' spare parts and implements are kept hold, in quite considerable numbers, stocks of tyres. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to look into this and see that they do not hold too large stocks of tyres, but that they make them available for the ordinary farmer who really wants them. There is no point in keeping a five-year supply of tyres when they are wanted on the land right away.

7.7 p.m.

Major Wise (King's Lynn)

I am sure that in this Adjournment discussion there is a good deal of agreement between hon. Members opposite representing agricultural Divisions, and those of us on this side of the House who are in the same position. The absence of spare parts and machinery in agriculture during the last few months has been very acute. We have muddled through the harvest, we have rigged up all sorts of odds and ends to make do, but the fact remains that the time has come when the agricultural machinery of this country, while not worn out, is wearing out in many of our arable counties and has to be replaced. I know the difficulties of the Ministry. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary and myself have had many letters passing between us during the Recess on the wants of the Norfolk farmers. Norfolk is a great arable county, and many have been the requests received from the farmers of Norfolk for new parts, new machines and spare parts, but little has been forthcoming. I think I might quote one case in which the Ministry were unable to help us where, with that business acumen which is common to many Norfolk farmers, we were able to get the spare parts from America by air, and the machine T 6 international tractor, is now playing its part, I hope, in the wheat production which has now started.

I had my own difficulties, and I bring a particular case to the notice of the Ministry because I, sitting on one of the Government benches, want this Ministry of Agriculture of ours to be 100 per cent. perfect and 100 per cent. helpful. In agriculture, as has been mentioned, the labour problem will arise and, unless we are very careful, we shall have a pretty queer time in the months ahead of us. So machinery will play a very important part indeed. In an effort of my own to help the fuel situation by burning wood, I ordered a Bamford saw bench three months ago. I am informed that there is a delay of 20 months before delivery. That is not good enough. I hope the Ministry will do everything in its power to expedite the machinery which agriculture requires. During the harvest I broke a very common part on the binder, but there was not another part in England, and it had to go to the village blacksmith to be welded. He made a good job of it, and we were able to run the McCormack during the harvest. Those are only two isolated cases, but I am certain they could be multiplied. On behalf of Norfolk farmers, who have been through six years' of arable cultivation to a great extent on land which possibly knocks out machines, I appeal to the Ministry to be up and doing and do what is required of it.

It may seem strange that a speech such as I am making should be delivered from this bench, but it is important. I have the welfare of agriculture at heart. I can perhaps see far into the future when machinery will play an all important part in our industry. I wish to make one or two suggestions which perhaps have been made before. There is the question of standardisation of machines, and of spare parts. We are saddled by far too many different bolts and nuts and different parts. The Ministry may be able to do something in that direction in order to help us, so that our home manufacturers will have the good sense not to compete with one another for the trade they receive from spare parts sales, but to help one another so that the industry is not carried on in a haphazard, muddling way. I would like to see interchangeable parts which could be used on many machines.

Another point I would like the Ministry to consider is this. There are many new British machines coming on to the market. I want the Ministry to give every possible encouragement to the British manufacturer to be able to turn out these machines in great quantities. A few weeks ago I was at a demonstration of a new potato picker, sorter and loader. It does three or four jobs in one. It is a machine which in the big areas of Norfolk and Lincolnshire, and in Scotland, may give very great help. It will save many men, and will do the job more quickly, though perhaps not in such an orderly fashion and so effectively. But, that is the type of machine we are expecting in agriculture in the future. I want the Ministry to encourage British manufacturers to play their part in delivering to agriculture the machines we want. I do not want the price of new machines to go rocketing higher and higher. It may be that the agricultural prices in regard to our products may go slightly backwards. At present farmers are called upon to pay very heavy costs on machinery, for repairs, and in tradesmen's bills. I want the Ministry to take a part in controlling the prices which we have to pay for new machines.

The time has come to encourage the village craftsman. The village crafts have been dying out to some extent, but the handyman of the village, who can weld and repair a machine, is important. In the future we may have to rely on the village craftsman more than in the past. I hope this Debate will have served a good purpose. Next harvest is a long way off, but by that time I hope that the British farming industry will be able to have not only quantities of new machines at its disposal, but quantities of spare parts as well.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. Cole (Belfast, East)

This Debate is bound to do an enormous amount of good. There is scarcity not only here but in Ulster, where, as a rule, milk is very plentiful. I think it is time that the Minister of Agriculture stopped the slaughter of calves. The Irish Free State slaughtered an enormous number of calves some years ago. with the result that later their milk supply suffered very considerably. Today, unfortunately, the same kind of thing is going on; in fact a short time ago a veterinary surgeon went out and bought—

Mr. Speaker

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this evening we are not discussing agriculture—although it is in Order on the Adjournment, and therefore I have no power—but the shortage of spare parts and agricultural machinery. I do not think that calves have mechanical spare parts.

Mr. Cole

I am sorry if I am out of Order. I will draw attention to our unfavourable plight during the last few years. If we could get driers in agricultural districts it would be very much appreciated. If the Government had subsidised driers and put them in each county according to its size, we could have saved a large quantity of oats and grass. If the grass had been dried, we would have got a large amount of food. That would have been most useful now that winter is approaching, when there will be a great scarcity of food. I turn to tractors. I know of cases of tractors in good order, but which, unfortunately, since tyre rationing has ended and tyres have become much scarcer, have no tyres, with the result that the tractors are absolutely useless. If these things were taken into consideration and looked after, especially the matter of tyres for the tractors, it would be a great service to the farmers.

7.21 p.m.

Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)

You may have been inclined to wonder, Mr. Speaker, why a town dweller like myself, representing an industrial constituency, should have endeavoured to catch your eye half a dozen times this evening. When I heard that this subject was to be raised, I felt an interest in the matter, because of late one has been noticing so many complaints about the exportation of agricultural machinery. During the Recess we have been looking at these figures and wondering what on earth they meant, They must be of concern, not only to the people who represent agricultural constituencies, but to town dwellers as well. The figures presented to us, which undoubtedly encourage us to believe that our exports are doing well and are soaring month by month, must be a source of considerable pleasure. But as town dwellers, I was almost about to say hungry town dwellers—we depend on the products of the countryside just as they depend on our coal—we cannot feel encouraged if we are exporting agricultural machinery at the expense of the British agriculture. If our fanners cannot get the right kind of tractors and equipment, how can they produce the food?

I am not quite sure about this. When the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) first rose to mention this matter in the House, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture was not in his place, and I was hoping that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was to reply. But when I had listened to the hon. Member for Canterbury, covering such a wide range of subjects, ranging from agricultural machinery to tomatoes and wicker baskets and other subjects affecting the whole industry, I realised that it was probably right that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture should reply Let us face facts. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) is not in his place because he was inclined to suggest that Coventry had entered into a new experiment—mass producing tractors. I am sure he must have noticed a little experiment that has been going on at Dagenham for the last 20 years. There is John Brown's of Huddersfield, and also an excellent firm at Grantham.

More recently, International Harvesters, who used to produce on the other side of the water, have, thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, when he was President of the Board of Trade, said to them, "If you are interested in our British market at all, you had better come over here and produce tractors"—

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)

No, he did not.

Mr. Walkden

He did. The Minister of Supply, the Minister of Agriculture and his Parliamentary Secretary and himself were the quartet who determined it. I believe they chose a town which could do the job. They chose Doncaster. We are hoping to see full employment. This factory should have been used to full capacity months ago. It was one of the first factories in Britain to be turned over, but it has taken about 15 months to turn out a single prototype. We are anxious about this, because we feel that the kind of information which has been given in this Debate should be answered by the Minister. We should sort out the real facts behind the statistics in the monthly digest. Do they mean that tractors which should be in Norfolk, or the West Country, or in any other part of Britain, available to our farmers, are being put on to ships and exported at the expense of the British farmer? I do not know. Do these figures mean only tractors or do they mean ploughs, harrows, or every type of agricultural equipment of which our own people are badly in need? I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to dissect these figures. I hope that he can.

I would express this further hope: Just as we said to International Harvesters, "If you want to produce for British farmers, come to Britain and do it," we also have our ideas for abroad. Quite recently, I was privileged to be in Prague and saw there a huge fair of all kinds of industrial products. It was noticeable that there was a general shortage of our agricultural machinery on exhibition. There were not sufficient units to tell the Czechoslovakian farmers what Britain can do and what Britain can make. There has also been an exhibition or fair in Utrecht. I understand that we have received many good orders from Holland, and indeed Holland wishes to become a good customer of ours. But our factories are somehow not really producing, in the way we feel they ought to be producing, the kind of machinery which these different countries require urgently. I am sure the hon. Member for Canterbury does not object to our exploiting these markets and doing our best to convince and satisfy those customers who at the moment are undoubtedly willing buyers. But it would be most helpful if, in the presentation of these figures to us—and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade could explain them in greater detail if he were here—we could be told precisely where we are falling short, where we are falling down.

On the other hand, it would be distinctly encouraging if we could be told how much of one particular piece of equipment as against another is actually going out and the British farmer could feel satisfied that the Government's policy is not wrong. I believe that the policy of this Government in relation to farming and exports is better than Tory policy ever was over the last 40 years. We are providing an economic policy and programme of full employment. In our town we are grateful for the work which was done, including the work done by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), in bringing to us a new industry, but we want other industries to be working at full speed. We want them to turn out this machinery and we want our customers to be well satisfied. The hon. Member for Canterbury is right in saying that British agriculture must come first, but, the Government must see to it that we do not lose a single customer throughout the length and breadth of Europe.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. Oliver Poole (Oswestry)

All of us who have the honour to represent agricultural constituencies are aware of the state of agricultural machinery, particularly in regard to spare parts. I hope that the opportunity given in this Debate tonight will reinforce the efforts of the Minister of Agriculture and the other Ministers responsible for producing these items. We have felt that all is not being done to ensure that the maximum flow of spare parts and vital equipment has come out of the factories of this country. Those points have been referred to, and I do not wish to repeat them, except to say that we in Shropshire are suffering from exactly the same difficulties as are other farmers all over the country. I realise that whatever action the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary take as a result of this Debate, however much this Debate may reinforce their efforts, it will be some time before these spare parts and the new equipment are available.

Fanners will have to continue to improvise, and the question of the maintenance and repair of existing machinery will be of importance. I was very interested to hear the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) refer to the way in which the Norfolk farmers had improvised during the harvest and how the village craftsmen had played their part. In my constituency exactly the same thing applies. To a very great extent repairs are done by small blacksmiths and garage proprietors throughout the district. Unfortunately the labour available consists of the very old or very young. In the case of young labour which is so urgently required, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will do his utmost to ensure that men previously employed on repair and maintenance of agricultural machinery are returned from the Services as soon as possible and, where necessary, deferment is given to others. That is the only reason I intervened in this Debate. I have had occasion to write to the Ministry of Labour about cases supported by the war agricultural committees of three counties, and deferment has been refused because the man's registered trade was not one of the proper category. I can understand that. These boys and old men are doing very important work in keeping in order our agricultural machinery and improvising spare parts. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will take that question up with the Ministry of Labour and assist us to ensure that there is a steady flow of labour for the purpose of the maintenance and repair of this machinery.

7.32 p.m.

Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)

I wish to put to the Minister a practical suggestion which should assist in some of the difficulties in which he finds himself. We must remember that the demand for agricultural machinery is only one demand from one industry. All other industries require new machinery, and agriculture will have to take its place in the sharing out of that which is available. We are facing the present difficult position to a certain extent because of lack of coordination between the agricultural machinery manufacturers in not standardising the machines which they produced. As everyone connected with agriculture knows, we can go on to a farm and find machines of all types. If they break down there is not a spare part to fit any of them. We need a larger measure of standardisation. If the manufacturers worked in closer cooperation, the result would be of great benefit to agriculture. We must recognise also that since the war the increase in the use of agricultural implements of all kinds has been tremendous. I believe we are the most highly mechanised agricultural community in the world. When we remember that all these machines have been working at full pressure for six years, we can understand why some of the breakages take place.

I cannot see how the Minister can meet this situation at once and I would like to put to him one suggestion. In various parts of the country arable farming is being discontinued but the agricultural committees still have their depots stocked with agricultural machinery which they are ready to loan to farmers. In some areas 50 to 75 per cent. of this machinery is not used. That machinery should be transferred from these marginal land areas to the arable land areas and that, I think, would relieve some of the difficulties experienced by the arable farmers. In the grassland areas, the marginal or hill farm areas, a large number of farmers do not want to see arable machinery again. They want to carry on with their grass farming and they would be quite content with their ploughs and re-seeding machinery. Where there is a surplus of machinery, I hope the Minister will take steps to transfer it to the arable areas where it could be put to good use.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

We are sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not able to be in his place this evening. We felt that it was a good move when the Prime Minister put the Minister of Agriculture into the Cabinet. The problem which has been raised fully deserves the attention of a Cabinet Minister. I am a little doubtful whether the Ministry over which he presides fully realises the seriousness of this matter. I wonder whether the Ministry of Agriculture does not still preen itself on the fact that British agriculture is said to be the most highly mechanised agriculture in the world and, therefore, everything is all right and this talk about lack of suitable machinery and spare parts really cannot matter very much. I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) about the overstressing of our export trade in machinery of this type. We are apt to forget that almost all the machinery on our farms is over age. Since the beginning of the war I have been able to buy only one new tractor for my farm. I have one tractor which is seven years old and another which I have had for nine years. Both of them should have been on the scrap heap a long time ago. Instead, they have to be patched up season after season. There is no wonder that the demand for spare parts is heavy.

I think the Minister overlooks the point that the possession of this highly mechanised agriculture, which we needed so much during the war, avails us very little if too many of our machines are standing idle week after week because of the shortage of spare parts. In spite of what has been said by hon. Members opposite, it is my opinion that the hold up has become more serious during the last 18 months than at any time during the war. Perhaps that is partly because our machines are older, partly because of the cessation of Lend-Lease, which has made it much more difficult for us to get spare parts from America, and partly because of labour difficulties in the United States. The Minister has given repeated assurances in the House, but the hard fact remains that farmers cannot get prompt renewals when their machinery wears out. Binders, hay mowers and threshing machines have already been mentioned. To my mind, it is quite astounding that a farmer should be unable to get all the ploughshares he needs. Recently I wanted five dozen ploughshares and I was told that I could have nine and they would be of different types. That is a fantastic state of affairs. The Minister of Agriculture told us, as long ago as early summer, that we would have to maintain and even increase the tillage acreage. That seems to me a very simple proposition, and the Minister of Agriculture, with his power as a Cabinet Minister, should have been able to see that the necessary material was available to make these ploughshares in plenty of time for the autumn ploughing.

All of us concerned in any way with agriculture want to maintain a good standard of wages. We know that wages are not the only thing, and that better housing and amenities are also vital, but we are all absolutely determined to do our utmost to maintain a good standard of wages in agriculture. The standard of wages depends, quite simply, on the output per man employed in agriculture—what each pair of hands is producing. At the moment, we are living in a fairyland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told me, in a written answer, that food subsidies are now running at £369 million a year. That is not going on for ever, and, one day, the Chancellor will want to balance the Budget. We in this country are going to be faced with the necessity of reducing our cost of production of food very considerably, and our costs, and the output per man, are largely governed by the amount of suitable machinery that is available. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture and his Cabinet colleagues realise that British agriculture has not got a very long time in which to adapt itself to full economic production, and that with every week and month that passes while the machinery is held up we are losing our place in a race which is going to be a pretty hard-run race before it is done.

What can the Minister do? I imagine that his predecessor would have made sure exactly where this trouble arises. He would probably have called for reports from his war agricultural committees, who are his agents in the counties, and would probably have got together the chairmen of the machinery committees in the counties, because they are in touch with the work that is being done and are also in touch with the best farmers in the country. He would have got them together in London and said to them: "What is really the trouble? What are the kinds of machinery really wanted—how many binders, threshing machines and so on"? Having got himself very well informed at first-hand from sources upon which he could rely as to the nature of the trouble, he would have called together the agricultural machinery makers and said: "We are being held up in our food production campaign. What is your trouble?" Having got to know from them where the bottlenecks and hold-ups were occurring, he would have gone to his Cabinet colleagues and said: "We are going to be in a very queer street unless we get this put right, but a certain responsibility rests upon the President of the Board of Trade and a certain amount on the Minister of Supply." Wherever that responsibility does lie, it is the duty of the Minister of Agriculture to secure the information and then tackle his Cabinet colleagues. That is the only way in which we shall get the spare parts and have our machines working, instead of standing idle as they are today.

7.45 p.m.

Major Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

I also represent an industrial constituency, and I was glad to hear the intervention of the hon. Member for Don-caster (Mr. Walkden). I have been going round my constituency talking to various people, including the housewives, and have thus gained information from the consumption side. On the other hand, I have certain first-hand knowledge of the production side, because I have a farm in Norfolk. I suggest to the Ministry that there must be given to the farmers some explanation of the Government's attitude to this question of spare parts. The farmers are told over and over again to grow more food, but they are getting more and more frustrated. Evidence has been given from all parts of the House and the country. I also have experienced, on my own farm, difficulties with a combine in which the shaker broke. We went up to London, only to find that there are no shakers in the country at all. There is another difficulty in connection with the supply of baling wire. I have two balers going, and found that it was quite impossible to get any more wire. That must be a question of planning. It must be known by the Minister of Agriculture how many balers there are in the country, and it must be very simple to work out how much wire they require. It would have been possible for the Government, if they had had a plan in this matter, to have foreseen this, instead of waiting until a very bad hay harvest was upon us.

I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary two specific questions. What is the position about the American loan at the moment? Will he say what we are expecting to get in the way of spare parts from America, whether the hold-up is on the other side, and what arrangements have been made for delivery, in regard to the money from the American Loan? I also want to ask a question about the industrial area of Sheffield, where there are a number of factories which have been on war production. I suggest that the production of tanks with caterpillar wheels is something analogous to the machinery required for this work. Has the Minister approached the Minister of Supply to see if it is possible to obtain factory space for making some of these machines? It is generally recognised that we cannot in this country, with our present production, hope to meet all our mechanical requirements. We are very dependent on America. What plans have the Govern- ment developed to increase home production? I foresee in the future, with the withdrawal of German labour, that our only hope will lie in more mechanisation. Farmers in Norfolk, whom I meet, and in Lincolnshire think the Government have no plan for this problem. I suggest that tonight is the time when the Parliamentary Secretary should give us some idea of their plan, if the Government have one, on this topic.

7.48 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

There are three small points which I want to raise. I would like to draw the attention of the House, first, to the fact that we have been hearing the gentleman farmer talking, not the small, "dirty boot" farmer, who is most interested in this machinery question. There is need for cooperation between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Transport in these days of mechanisation, for the single reason that it is absolutely vital, if the Government want to raise productivity per acre in-future, to increase the mileage of asphalt roads to arable land. We want more metalled roads in the country districts, because much of the wear and tear of agricultural machinery during this war has been due to the bad conditions of the roads in country districts. I myself have had to appeal to the Ministry of Transport to get roads put into a condition so that milk could be brought in without being lost and without the springs of the lorries being destroyed. In this period, when it is so difficult to get spare parts, it is most important to see that the wear and tear of equipment is reduced as much as possible.

I have noticed that, in the Cotswold districts, the big farmers could take a great deal more care of their machinery, which I have seen left out in the open without any covering. Consequently, I believe that, whichever Ministry is responsible, they should consider it a matter of priority when a farmer asks for the materials for exterior sheds in which to cover up his machinery.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

The trouble is that, for some reason which nobody understands, and I shall get into trouble for saying this, no farmer in this country thinks of dragging his machinery under cover, whereas every Continental farmer does so.

Mr. Davies

I am glad to see that the noble Lord agrees with me. It is a point to which we could give much more publicity and I fail to understand its neglect.

There is one other small point which I would like to raise. I would like to re-emphasisè the necessity for the standardisation of parts. Some eight or ten months ago I put down a Question about the standardisation of parts for agricultural machinery. It seems that, unless there is standardisation, a farmer may be held up at a critical moment.

Finally, in defence of the small farmer, the "dirty boot" farmer, who has to work very hard, I would point out that some method of cooperative ownership, of combine harvesters is necessary. This necessity was demonstrated to me when I was in the Cotswolds during the summer. One farmer told me that he was probably going to lose 800 acres of cereals during that period owing to the lack of such harvesters. If we were able to organise some kind of national system of cooperative ownership of combine harvesters, it would bring help to the struggling farmer who really needs it, especially when he is farming in a small way. I beg the Minister to bear these practical suggestions in mind when considering this difficult problem of agriculture during the transition period.

7.52 p.m.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

This has been an extremely interesting Debate. The thing which particularly interested me was the fact that two hon. Members, opposite decided to speak although they do not represent agricultural constituencies. I am very glad to see that the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) is in his place. He raised the very important point that unless we are going to get the industrial areas to appreciate, to a far greater extent than ever before, the tie up between themselves and the rural areas, we axe not going' to make a sound proposition of our agriculture in this country. Of course, I cannot go quite the whole way with the hon. Member for Don-caster, because he criticised the party to which I have the privilege to belong for their policy. "I would ask him where the present Minister of Agriculture would have been had it not been for the Tory Party. I hope he will take that in the spirit of "fair exchange is no robbery." As for his general view about the part industrial areas have to play in the matter of agriculture, I am with him all the way.

The hon. Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) mentioned the matter of the production of machinery in his constituency. He referred to a new factory which was being sot up there. In view of the fact that he used the personal pronoun "we," I wonder whether, in the light of his article in "Picture Post" this week, he is proposing to add this factory to his Wallace Collection. I would suggest that there are already extremely efficient factories in this country, although I agree that there are also some which are not so good. I remember, not long before D Day, talking to an American who had been working as a big producer of motor cars and farm machinery in America. He told me that he had just been to a certain town, which I will not name, to look at a factory which was to produce tractors. He said, "If that is your idea of mass production, I do not think you are going to get very far. When I was there I found the men filing bits until they fitted. In America if the bit does not fit it is cast away to be melted down and we start again with another bit." That may be just one isolated instance, but if we are going in for mass production in this country I believe that we must go in for it in a far greater way than ever before—in the "Dagenham" rather than in the provincial town way.

I hope it is the policy of His Majesty's Government to encourage mass production of British agricultural implements. At the same time, I am prepared to believe that some countries are better suited for manufacturing certain types of machinery than we are. As to the matter of exports, I am not at all satisfied that it is the most important one, and I am wondering whether or not we should try to buy outside the dollar and in the sterling area a little more, and whether or not we cannot get machinery from Australia to a greater extent than hitherto. I know some people have had such Australian machinery and I would like to see that policy pursued. I would also like to see a British Commonwealth tie up on the matter of agricultural machinery production. I believe that we are rather inclined to go to a country which has been well proven, in the production of such machinery.

I cannot help feeling that the whole policy of this Government really boils down to too many swords—"save more bread" and too few ploughshares for agriculture. We must face up to this. We have to realise that whatever this Government are going to do, or are anxious to do about the labour problem on the land—they are certainly not doing it now—they must realise that machinery is going to be needed on a far greater scale than ever before. The hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise), whose speech I much enjoyed, mentioned the matter of a certain potato reaper. I believe that had he come down to my constituency, which is next door to his own, he would have seen some rather remarkable demonstrations of machinery at Chatteris. Chatteris is now famed for a gentleman who is something of a fighter. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member would have agreed that Chatteris gave a knock-out performance in regard to agricultural machinery. It was a fine demonstration, but one could not help wondering how many of those machines existed and what difficulties the manufacturers had been through in order to get them to the show. It was agreed by all that it was the best exhibition of such machinery this year. The most encouraging part was that the machines were mostly of British manufacture.

The hon. and gallant Member mentioned the fact that he wants the rural craftsmen to be encouraged a little more. I believe that we must give more attention to the smaller types of machinery because, in areas such as the Fens, there is an enormous number of smallholders and of people who own farms of, say, 35 acres, and so on. I think that in those areas there is just as great a demand for the smaller as for the larger machines. I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) said he thought there was a case for State ownership of these big machines like combines. Surely, the agricultural executive committees have been carrying out that policy—

Mr. Harold Davies

I did not use the expression "State ownership." I asked whether it was possible to get cooperative ownership. I do not think I mentioned the term "State ownership." I was not thinking in terms of the days to come when we shall have State ownership.

Major Legge-Bourke

I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I see his point, and I do not propose to argue the pros and cons of cooperative ownership. I agree that that type of machinery should be available to be shared. That brings me to one of my main points, concerning the method of application to be adopted in the future to get new machinery or spare parts. The time is rapidly approaching when this matter must receive thorough consideration. We must consider whether we are satisfied with the present situation and with the system whereby the small farmer applies to the war agricultural executive committee, and we must decide whether he gets quite the same priority as the larger farmer, because the small farmer does a big job of work. I appreciate there is a shortage of implements, and I know that our farmyards are rapidly becoming Heath Robinson outfits, but that is a matter which will get better in time.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Doncaster said about the Parliamentary Secretary being present to answer questions, instead of the President of the Board of Trade. Tractor ploughs have been mentioned this evening. On a former occasion when such a Question about tyres was put to the Minister of Agriculture, he transferred it to the Board of Trade. Yet when that subject is raised in Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is present. There must be greater drive in this matter of agricultural machinery. The time is coming when the agricultural executive committees must, to some extent, be divorced from the matter of priorities. Priorities should be a matter for the new advisory service which, I think, will be discussed next Tuesday. Every time a complaint about priorities—concerning tyres, for instance—is made to the Ministry, the Ministry refer it back to the executive committee. That takes time. Everything goes to the executive committee, but when it is a question of trying to get tyres, for some extraordinary reason the whole of the responsibility is passed back to the individual concerned. That does not seem to be a proper cohesive policy. One moment one has to go to the executive committee; the next moment one has to go to the manufacturer of the tyre, and another moment one has to go to the Ministry.

There is far too much form filling for the farmer. The farmers are sick of it, and so are a great many people in the executive committees. Every piece of machinery involves more paper, whereas we want to get the machinery to the retailers and into the farmers' hands. The only way that can be done is for the Minister of Agriculture, for whom I have the greatest respect because I think he is doing his best, now that he is in the Cabinet, to say, "This cannot go on; the machinery which exists is rapidly wearing out, and a good deal of it should not be used at all." The only way this problem can be solved is by making more machinery for our own use, and let us tie up where we can with the Dominions before we start thinking so much about the United States.

8.6 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. Collick)

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) for initiating this interesting Debate; and we are also indebted to our friends across the Border who limited their own Debate and thus have allowed us the time for this one. I wish right away to come to what seemed to be two main points of criticism which the hon. Member for Canterbury raised and, if I may say so, raised in a very friendly spirit which I very much appreciate. The background for this complaint, which is mainly one of the shortages of spare parts, is quite understandable. Everyone familiar with the industry knows how heavy the demands have been on our agricultural industry during the war. Inevitably it follows, as hon. Members in all quarters of the House have pointed out, how short are the machines of essential spare parts. But it must also be admitted—it is certainly the case so far as the Ministry is concerned—that there has been no great complaint either in the House today or in the Department about shortage of spare parts for British made agricultural machinery; neither, for that matter, have there been many complaints about the shortage of spare parts for Canadian agriculture machinery.

The main trouble, the main criticism and the main difficulty has arisen in the supply of spare parts for agricultural machinery made in the U.S.A. I wish to accept right away the justification for some of the criticisms that have been made on that point. However, we must appreciate, too, that there was no great supply of these spare parts in this country when the war ended. The supply of spare parts for American-made agricultural machinery was running down. Anybody who has been familiar with the events that have been taking place in the United States in past months, since the end of 1945—industrial difficulties and production difficulties of one kind and another, with which hon. Members on all side of the House must be familiar—knows they have added enormously to the difficulties of obtaining those spare parts which we so badly need from the States. I want to assure the House that everything possible the Ministry can do in order to ease that difficulty has been done. Personally, I am only too familiar with the problem, by Questions and by approaches from hon. Members in regard to difficulties that have been experienced in the country in this regard.

We have endeavoured, first, to obtain larger deliveries from the United States, and second, to try to get supplies from other overseas sources, and to do everything we could by way of production of these essential spare parts in this country. There has been no difficulty whatever in this matter over any question of dollars. Let me at once remove that impression, which I think was rather behind some of the suggestions put by hon. Members. There has been absolutely no difficulty so far as the Government are concerned in providing the necessary dollars in the States for the importation of essential spare parts. The difficulties have been wholly those of obtaining the parts. Every mortal thing possible which the Government could do, by way of approaching the Ministry of Supply office in Washington and the agricultural attaches, and using every facility that was open to the Government by way of impressing on the firms concerned how difficult this position was becoming, has been done over the long period of months past. I can assure the House that not one of those firms—and spokesmen on either side of the House know perfectly well the main firms involved—has not been made very clearly aware of the concern which the Government have over the delay in supplying these spare parts. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) instanced in one case some of the efforts which we made to try to meet certain points and representations that were made in that regard, I remember on one occasion a suggestion being made in the House that we might make sure from our foreign representatives to see if we might even get some of these vital spare parts from Sweden.

Mr. Hurd

Hear, hear.

Mr. Collick

I am glad to hear the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) say "Hear, hear." What was the result? We approached the agricultural attaché for Sweden; we endeavoured through his good offices to see if we could get something done in this matter. However, we found by and large that in certain regards Sweden was having her own difficulties in getting spare parts for some of the American machines, which we want so badly here. Although we did get a tiny amount of help, by and large we did not get any substantial help in this direction.

Mr. Hurd

The information which I had from Sweden was that they developed the manufacture there of spare parts for American machinery. When I made the suggestion to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, I was saying that I hoped we might be able to come in on their manufacture of spare parts for American machinery; that is to say, to get some of the spare parts they are making in Sweden which we could not get from America.

Mr. Collick

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept it from me when I say we have explored that matter very thoroughly in the hope of being able to do something in that regard. If that possibility was open to us, I assure the hon. Member we would have no hesitation whatever in taking advantage of it. Anybody who knows anything about industrial production knows that when one starts exploring the possibility of producing in this country machinery parts which are, at present, for example, American produced, all sorts of difficulties arise, on which I need not elaborate here. They must be familiar to anybody who has any sort of production experience. We have been trying to see if we could do something in this country by way of producing some of those more important spare parts. We have, in fact, accepted a suggestion which was made by an hon. Member in the course of the Debate this evening. We have encouraged machinery committees and the war agricultural committees to use their depots in any way they could by which they could be of assistance to the farming community, to tide us over this immediate difficulty. Let it be put on record to the credit of the war agricultural committees and some of those machinery officers, that they have been able to do a particularly good job of work in many cases, of which we have records.

We have explored the possibilities, too and the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) referred to it—of the new development of industry here for the production of agricultural machinery, about which I will have something to say in a moment. We have explored the possibilities, to see if, by utilising the new factories—that at Doncaster is one case in point—we could do something to try to replace the parts which are wanted so badly. One of the real difficulties—many hon. Members on either side of the House have referred to it—is the multiplicity of the parts. I understand, for example, that the International Harvesting Company alone has spare parts running to no fewer than 70,000.

Mr. Walkden

Seventy thousand units.

Mr. Collick

Seventy thousand varying spare parts. The number of spare parts which the International Harvesting Company are called upon to supply in various forms of machinery runs to no fewer than 70,000. So one can see the great difficulty there is in trying to meet all these demands, which are mainly for spare parts for this American machinery. That reminds me of a suggestion that has been thrown out about the desirability and the need for the simplification of spare parts. About that I would say that the Ministry has its own experimental station in this regard. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) is familiar with some of the remarkably good work being done. The facilities for research going on there are made available to the manufacturers of agricultural engineering in this country.

Complaint was made, however, about what, I frankly admit, is rather a difficult question—this striking of a balance between the amount of our agricultural machinery which goes for export and the amount for our home use. I am not going to occupy the time of the House tonight in developing the argument of how vitally necessary it is for this country to develop its export trade. Anybody who knows the economic position of this country, anybody who is concerned to rectify the adverse balance of trade, must be conscious of the need for doing what can be done to develop this export industry, in particular in regard to agricultural machinery. But we have tried in this regard to keep the balance fairly evenly. Figures have been quoted in this House tonight. I want to refer to just one or two of them. For example, reference has been made to tractor plough supplies. For the three months of this year, January to March, 91 per cent., of the total production is for home use. In tractors of three wheels and four wheels 80 per cent. is the average for this period.

May I say this to hon. Members who used this point about the amount of agricultural machinery going overseas? We ought not to forget that, quite apart from the general need to develop our export trade—and let us not overlook how important this will be to our own future agriculture—the more we can develop our own manufacture of agricultural machinery in this country, obviously, the cheaper the products may become. That is not unimportant, and it is not just good enough that hon. Members should take the point of view, "Let us hold everything here." That would mean waiting until the overseas market had been exploited by others, and we should find ourselves too late in that market. That has been the history of this country too often in the past, and what we are anxious to do in this matter is to try to put into the overseas, market that agricultural machinery, without doing any harm to our own home agricultural production. If I may say so, I think we have held the balance fairly evenly. Let this never be forgotten either, that no less than £3,000,000 value of machinery exports have gone to U.N.R.R.A. alone.

Just as we in this country were only too appreciative of the assistance we received from overseas in our great days of difficulty, I do not think the feeling of the House would be against allowing exports to U.N.R.R.A., to rehabilitate some of our friends who stood by us in those dark and difficult days. I think we must approach this matter with all the responsibility which a question like this involves, and allow ourselves to be satisfied that we are doing the fair and the proper thing, in all the circumstances. My submission is that that is exactly what we have done.

Let me now try to give the House an indication, at all events, of what is happening in regard to the increased rate of our home supply of agricultural machinery. In the first six months of this year the number of wheeled tractors going to the home market was no less than 32 per cent. greater than it was in the corresponding period of 1945. I could quote many figures which would bring home the point I am trying to make, that in this matter the allotment of agricultural machinery as between export and home users we have, I think, struck a balance fairly and evenly. One of the things we want to do, and I think hon. Members on all sides of the House will agree with this, is to do everything we can to build up the production of agricultural machinery in this country, and if we envisage a postwar agriculture worthy of this country, as this Government does, we must pay some attention to the building up of an agricultural machinery industry in this country itself. If the plans that we have in mind materialise, we ought next year to double the total value of our agricultural machinery production. If we do that, having regard to all the difficulties inherent in emerging from six years of war, I think it will be fairly good going.

Now may I reply to one of two of the detailed points which hon. Members have put? The hon. and gallant Member for Ecclesall (Major P. Roberts) asked about parts for threshing machines, and I am advised that the factory from which they would normally come—again it is in the U.S.A.—has not been operating since Christmas. Therefore, in that matter again we can say that there is no blame to be laid at the door of this Government. Other hon. Members said that perhaps we might do more by exploring the possibility of getting spare parts from dumps of tractors, and the like. I have been as keen about that as anybody could possibly be, and we have managed to get several hundreds of Crawler tractors from that source, and have made them available to the industry. But there are plenty of people who go about the country and see some of these places who know very well that much of that material is not in very good condition these days. I do want to say. however, that as far as possible we have explored every possibility of utilising anything which is available there.

A point was made by another hon. Member about whether we worked in the closest touch with the Ministry of Supply. Let me assure him we do. The Ministry of Supply are very well aware of the raw material we want made available for the agricultural machinery industry, and I am hoping that exchanges which have been going on in that direction will prove profitable in the period ahead.

The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. O. Poole) raised the question of village craftsmen. Let me assure him that where cases are put to the Ministry of the lack of highly skilled blacksmiths and the like, there is no difficulty, provided the facts are warranted. We do have cases where the facts are clearly wrong, but where they are valid—and we utilise the services of the war agricultural committees in this connection—then we do all we possibly can to help.

Mr. O. Poole

As the Parliamentary Secretary has been good enough to answer that point, will he also say whether the. Minister will support the deferment of young men from being called up?

Mr. Collick

One cannot generalise on these matters, but if the hon. Member has any particular case and will make a submission, I promise to examine it and see whether it is possible to do anything for him. The hon. Member for Newbury raised the question about difficulties over ploughshares. That is a new question to me. Had he let us know at the time about there difficulties we should certainly have investigated them. I do not understand why there should be this difficulty but perhaps he will let me have further details, or details of any other difficulties in this regard, and I think it would be possible to find a remedy. Two hon. Members spoke of the difficulty of obtaining baling wire. There has been difficulty in getting baling wire, and we are very conscious of it. We have been in touch with the Ministry of Supply to try to remedy this, and we hope that we shall soon speedily overcome it. I think that I have dealt with most of the important points which have been raised. I promise that we shall carefully go through HANSARD, and if there is any helpful point which I have not dealt with, it will be carefully considered.

Commander Maitland

Can the Parliamentary Secretary give us any hope about tyres? A great many hon. Members have mentioned the tremendous shortage of tyres. Have we any hopes in this direction fairly soon?

Mr. Collick

It has been a question of readjusting the position of increasing supplies. I have every reason to hope that, as increased supplies become available, we shall have our share for agriculture. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that the limiting factor is solely the availability of supplies.

8.28 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)

I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) who said he was sorry that the Minister was not present during 'this Debate, and I venture to reecho that. I am glad to see that his Parliamentary Private Secretary has been present, and I hope he and the Parliamentary Secretary will tell their chief all that has happened in this Debate. This Debate has gone on now for some 2½ hours, and it' is remarkable' that on all sides of the House, without exception, speeches from Members have contained nothing but criticism of the Ministry in regard to this vital matter. We are told on all sides of the importance of maintaining and increasing food production. The Minister of Food, in a speech made at Hastings the day before yesterday, said it would be impossible to abolish rationing in this country in respect of any commodity until world production of that particular commodity was raised to between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. above pre-war. The contribution which British agriculture can make to that problem is substantial, but it cannot be made unless we can get tools and machinery.

The Parliamentary Secretary said, with complacency, that the production of wheeled, tractors this year was 32 per cent. greater than last year. That is nothing to boast about, nothing to be complacent about. What the House has to remember, and what every fanner knows, is that for the last six years we have not only been steadily increasing the number of wheeled tractors and crawlers, but that their life is very limited. It is not only a matter of providing tractors for the increased demand, but also of providing replacements. The estimate has been made that during the war we spent well over £100 million on new machinery for agriculture. Now, all that has to be replaced. The present Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary have been aware of this ever since they took office.

In an endeavour to justify the present position, the Parliamentary Secretary said that few complaints had been received about the shortage of spare parts for English machinery. I dare say that is true, but according to my experience, and from the letters which I get, there are plenty of complaints about the shortage of parts for English machinery, although the chief complaint is the shortage of parts for the machinery we imported from the United States and Canada during the war. That is nothing new. We realised that before the end of the war. Before the Caretaker Government went out of office we were altering the whole emphasis of orders we placed in the United States and Canada from new machinery to spare parts. The Minister of Agriculture, on more than one occasion in the House, has explained that the Treasury have not been stingy in providing him with dollars for the purchase of such machinery, and that he had applied those dollars not so much for ordering new machinery as for spare parts.

Now, the Parliamentary Secretary says, quite rightly, that the difficulty is not so much in obtaining dollars as the spare parts themselves, because of the increased demand in the United States from their own farmers, strikes, and all sorts of difficulties in their actual production. But that is nothing new. The strikes, difficulties, and bottlenecks did not occur in August or April of this year. We have known about them for months. I urged from this Box over a year ago that the Minister should take steps to see that the more common spare parts required for American machinery should be made in this country. Of course, difficulties have arisen, but I would remind Members opposite, in case they have forgotten, that at the Election they claimed that they would be the Government of all the talents, that they would be able to overcome all difficulties. Now they are coming along and saying that they are just ordinary individuals, like the rest of us. They cannot have it both ways.

There is no conceivable reason why the Government should not have ordered spare parts, and have had them manufactured in adequate numbers. They cannot claim that they did not know what sort of spare parts would be required, because they made a census of all the agricultural machinery in the country, and every farmer who owned any agricultural machinery was compelled to send in a list of his machinery, and state the year in which it was bought. The Ministry had at their disposal a complete census of all the existing machinery in the ownership of farmers, and it should not have been beyond the wit of a really competent Minister and Parliamentary Secretary to get the necessary supplies. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Ministry of Supply were aware of their requirements. All that I can say is that he was singularly incompetent, if he will allow me to say so, in getting the Ministry of Supply to take action. That is the fundamental difficulty which we are up against. An hon. Member talked about a new tractor in mass production, which was something which had never been done before, and he was quite rightly answered by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden), who talked about the magnificent efforts at Dagenham.

The real trouble is shortage of steel. That is the fundamental difficulty we are up against today. There is also no proper planning of the allocation of steel. First one Department gets priority and then another. The wretched Minister of Agriculture comes at the bottom of all priorities, and he has failed dismally to get the necessary supplies. I hope that the criticism on all sides of the House. which we have heard today, will do something to stir up the Minister of Agriculture to be a little more tough in his dealings with his colleagues, and that he will let them know that it is a vital necessity for extra food production that those engaged in agriculture get spare parts without further delay.