Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1947, for the cost of certain food production services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
§ 12.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I think that we must ask, although there is a footnote which explains to some extent why the additional sum of £14,000 is required, for some further explanation. The footnote explains that the £14,000 is the value of the contributions towards transport charges reasonably incurred by certain hill farmers in specified counties. I think that we ought to know which are the specified counties—I presume that they are in England and Wales—where farmers, owing to the abnormal loss of their fodder crops on account of bad weather during the 1946 harvest must necessarily purchase supplies from a distance in order to preserve their breeding or rearing stocks. We might perhaps be told what kind of fodder is being subsidised in this way, in what counties this money is being expended, and how one applies for a grant, if one is entitled to a grant.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Collick)
The circumstances which make this Estimate necessary really arise from the adverse harvest weather of last year, when 1347 there was a serious shortage of fodder crops in the hill farming districts. It was feared that unless something was done to help get fodder into these hill farming districts we should stand a serious chance of losing the sheep breeding stocks in the hill districts. It was, therefore, decided to give assistance by way of a grant of 75 per cent. of the transport charges necessarily incurred in excess of 15s. a ton where hay and straw had to be brought from other parts of the country. The districts affected were the hill districts which come under the Hill Cattle Subsidy Scheme, including Westmorland and Cumberland. The method of obtaining a grant is to make application to the war agricultural executive committees, who satisfy themselves that the fodder is not available in the particular districts, and O.K. the applications, or otherwise, after investigating the circumstances.
§ Mr. Peake
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making the position clear. I live in a hill farming district and among hill farmers, and none of them, so far, has heard of this scheme. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman's speech were properly publicised it would bring the matter to their attention.
§ Sir J. Barlow
I should like to put a few brief questions to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, as I am very interested in this subject. During the summer, I was in certain of the hill farming districts, and I know only too well how deplorable was the weather and how great the shortage of crops. With uncut hay and corn over-ripening, there was evidence at that time that there would be very little fodder, and the situation looked very serious. To me, it would seem that this figure is far too small. We have had a most important Bill put through this House—the Hill Farming Bill—with a view to increasing the stocks of cattle and sheep on the hills. We know how difficult it is, owing to the foreign exchange position, to import the necessary beef and mutton for the people of this country. For that reason, it is most important to maintain the hill stocks of this country, and those on the marginal lands.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not say, in the course of the very brief answer which he kindly gave, whether this applied only to sheep, or to both sheep 1348 and cattle, as do the other subsidies, or whether it applied also to other hill-farming stock, such as horses, ponies, pigs and poultry. These animals are all part of hill-farming stock. Further, he did not say whether this was confined merely to the areas which can draw the hill cattle or sheep subsidies. It is also of importance, not only to obtain breeding stocks, but to maintain the milk which is at present being produced in the hill districts. I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman is well aware that, during the war, a large number of hill farmers and marginal land farmers turned over to the production of milk. They did not have very suitable accommodation for milk production, but, when the call for milk came, they turned over to producing it. It is important to maintain the supplies of milk, and I would ask that, among other things, this Vote should be used to help maintain those supplies.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member is now dealing with policy, which is not in Order on this Vote.
§ Sir J. Barlow
In order to maintain these supplies of milk, it is necessary to rear the young stock which is being sent in increasing numbers from the lowlands to the hill farms. There has been a natural tendency, although I do not think it is part of a definite policy, for calves to be taken from farms on the flat, which are producing large quantities of milk, to the marginal farms where they are reared in cheaper circumstances. They are only brought down to the milk producing farms again when they are about to calve. I should like the Minister to tell us—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
If the hon. Gentleman would be guided by me, he would not discuss what is not in the Vote, and thus become out of Order. This Vote only deals with transport.
§ Sir J. Barlow
Transport is the all important matter in getting fodder stocks to the hill farms. I am sure that all hill farmers would appreciate some information as to the type of fodder which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has in mind. It is not very often that this Committee discusses an agricultural matter after midnight, and I feel sure that many hill farmers will be delighted to know that we are burning the midnight oil in an endeavour to help them in their diffi- 1349 culties. In view of what is required, the money voted for transport is relatively far too small. However, as only £14,000 is allowed on this Estimate, it is most important that it should be used in the best possible way. It is obviously going to give very much better value it the fodder is taken to the farms in the form of linseed cake and similar foods rather than in the form of straw. Straw costs £2 or £3 a ton to remove, according to the distance, as I very well know, because I have had to spend money in that way. Infinitely better value is obtained both by the farmers and by the Ministry, if for this purpose a certain amount of linseed cake and other high protein food can be allowed to go up instead of wasting good transport on carting almost worthless straw, possibly wheat straw or oats straw, which is a little better, although it may be a very great waste of good intentions and good money spent on helping the hill farmers. I hope the Government will consider using this money in the best possible way to help the hill farmers. As has already been said, it is of infinite importance that this matter should be widely known. I know hill farming districts where nothing is known of this. I gather it will be allowed only for about another month or six weeks, so that it is important that this should be known as quickly as possible in order to maintain the all-important stocks of this country which we can very ill afford to let down at the present time.
That a Suoplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1947 for the cost of certain food production services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.