HL Deb 17 April 1946 vol 140 cc901-3

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are planning any arrangements to encourage the planting of willows and the developing of the basket trade in this country.


My Lords, I am aware of the noble Duke's interest in willow growing and I can assure him that the question of the future of the growing of willows and the basket making industry is at present under consideration, Willow growers and basket makers at the present time can dispose of the whole of their production at remunerative prices. As noble Lords will know, the willow growing and basket making industries form one of our older rural crafts, and they are still in great measure carried out by small units. In fact, in many cases willow holts are grown mainly as a side line by farmers and basket making factories are usually quite small.

During the period between the wars, willow growing and basket making fell off steadily until by 1939 the willow acreage had dropped to a little more than 2,000 acres as compared with approximately 6,000 acres in 1925. This was partly due to competition from imported baskets and imported willows, and partly to the use of substitutes, mainly non-returnable wooden containers for horticultural packages. Throughout the war the production, importation and utilization of willows were controlled by the Ministry of Supply who were advised by the National Basket and Willow Trades Advisory Committee. Maximum prices were fixed for homegrown willows and for certain types of basket ware, and home production and manufacturing capacity have been utilized to the full. Even at the present time willow growers still have a good market for the whole of their output, since imported willows and baskets are only brought in to meet those needs which cannot be met from home sources.

I am informed that willow growing in this country at the present time is undoubtedly capable of considerable technical improvement; by that I mean such improvements as spraying against pests and diseases, mechanical cultivation and a mechanical process for the peeling of rods. All these things would give a promise of increased efficiency, but such improvements would involve substantial capital expenditure, and it is quite understandable that willow growers are reluctant to undertake these improvements while the future of the industry is uncertain. I should emphasize, therefore, that although willow growing is but a small portion of the agricultural industry, the problem it presents involves substantial points of principle. As a result of inter-Departmental discussions, a comprehensive survey of the present economic position of the industry has been undertaken, and when the report of this survey (which I understand is expected shortly) has been made, I can assure the noble Duke that further consideration will be given to this matter.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for his reply, but I am not quite clear whether the Government accept that osiers are in the same category as an annual agricultural crop and are therefore automatically eligible for, say, a drainage grant or other grants which are made in respect of arable crops.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in any discussion on this subject, but I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he is aware of the very valuable employment that this particular industry affords to disabled Service men. After the last war there was a most excellent enterprise started on the outskirts of London, not very far from a very large workhouse. What happened was that the sewage sludge, which by the way is a very valuable fertilizer for every kind of willow and particularly for cricket bat willow, was utilized, and in connexion with it fifty to a hundred badly disabled men were given good employment for something like three years in making baskets out of the willows, the plantation of which started following the first world war. I only venture to suggest that there is a great possibility of giving remunerative, interesting and useful employment to quite a considerable number of badly disabled Service men.


My Lords, I do not think I am entitled to speak again on the question, but I would like to answer the point raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and also that mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I am aware of the very useful employment found by disabled men, and particularly the blind, in making baskets and different containers of that kind. The question of how far willows and land on which willows are grown are liable to agricultural grants is being discussed and considered. We cannot really make a pronouncement until we have had this report, but I hope to make an announcement as soon as we get it.