HL Deb 15 October 1940 vol 117 cc486-8

My Lords, I beg to ask the first question which stands in my name.


Would it be more convenient if we could have the question read out? It is very difficult to follow otherwise.


The first question is in these terms: To ask His Majesty's Government whether the military authorities will allow troops stationed in rural areas to assist farmers in the work of filling in craters on their land caused by enemy bombs, in view of the vital necessity of bringing land now derelict back to a condition which will secure a maximum food production for next season.


My Lords, the primary functions of troops are military operations and training and neither can be interfered with. Where, however, a local commander finds that he can spare troops from those duties, there is no objection to the assistance of farmers, as suggested.


My Lords, I am sure the answer given by the noble Lord will give great satisfaction to the farming community, as well as to a large number of men who are stationed in rural areas and are suffering from boredom at the present time because they have nothing to do in their leisure hours. They will welcome the opportunity of performing work which means increasing our food supply.

The second question I have on the Paper is to ask His Majesty's Government the approximate acreage throughout the country which has been rendered derelict for cropping owing to the craters caused by enemy bombs, and what action is being taken to assist farmers financially and in the provision of labour to repair the damage done so that their efforts to grow more food will not be hampered.


My Lords, the acreage of agricultural land which has been rendered temporarily uncultivable owing to craters caused by enemy bombs is infinitesimal compared with the total acreage under crops and grass in this country. The question whether damage to agricultural land can or should be covered by insurance falls to be considered in connection with the larger question of insurance for war damage applicable to all classes of the community, which is at present receiving the attention of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I do not think the farming community will be so satisfied with that reply as they may be with the reply given to my first question. Perhaps the Government may like to know how much it costs to fill in one of these craters. A practical farmer in the district where I live had one crater on his land which covered an area of about an acre. It took a week to fill in, employing four men, and the use of two horses and carts for three days, and the total cost was £13 10s. He said that if he had any other craters to fill in it would be quite impossible for him to do so without some financial assistance, and also help of the kind for which a am asking—by the troops. I sincerely hope this will be possible. He pointed out that this piece of land, if left derelict, would mean a loss of some 40 or 50 bushels of corn from next season's crop. Taken throughout the whole country, this would mean a very appreciable shortage in food production next season.


My Lords, if I might ask a supplementary question may I ask whether the noble Lord will give renewed consideration to this matter? I have myself inquired from his own Department with regard to a much worse case than that mentioned by the noble Lord who asked the question: where, for some reason or other best known to themselves, the enemy released more than thirty bombs, all of which fell on one splendid pasture-field of about forty acres. There were thirty or forty craters, forty or fifty feet wide and ten feet deep. They will certainly cost more to fill in than the cost of the land itself, and neither the farmer nor the owner in this case is able to bear the cost. I suggest that renewed consideration might be given when a good case is presented for prompt help.


On a point of order: is it in order to raise a debate on a starred question?


Might I reply to that? The other day the House was told that we could ask full supplementary questions, as in another place. That is not raising a debate.


With great respect to the noble Lord, my noble friend opposite did not ask a supplementary question; he debated the merits.