§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Oakshott.]
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
Mr. Speaker, my subject tonight will be based on a memorandum prepared and published by the Guild of Graduates of the University of Wales. I wish at the outset to pay a tribute to the authors of that memorandum—a very valuable document.
There are a number of reasons that can be given why Wales should be provided, and provided without delay, with additional agricultural research institutes. In the first place, Wales is essentially an agricultural country, with 4½ million acres of land used for crops, grass and rough grazing. The farms, mainly upland farms, support no less than 11 million livestock, including cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. Those two facts, by themselves, justify a request for additional agricultural research institutes.
The tremendous success of the one and only Welsh plant breeding station is a second reason. This station at Aberystwyth has earned a world-wide reputation for the high standard of its work. It has specialised in the breeding of oats and herbage plants, and in the agronomic problems concerning their adaptability to varying conditions. It has concentrated on the improvement of upland pastures and the production of pedigree seed—grasses, clovers and oats.
This institute started absolutely from scratch, and when we realise that it has built up a highly competent staff—recruited mainly from Wales itself, I am proud to think—it clearly indicates that Welsh students have a flair for this kind of study and for this type of work. They carry out research into animal husbandry, crop husbandry, agricultural botany, agricultural chemistry and agricultural economics, but these departments could do so much better work if they were 1102 strengthened, and not hampered by lack of financial resources. What frightens me is to see the steady decline in the amount spent, for instance, at the Aberystwyth research station over the years. There has been a steady decline between 1953 and 1956. Instead of a progressive annual increase, there has been a significantly steady reduction.
A third good reason for demanding additional research institutes in Wales is provided by a comparison of the position in the Principality with that in Scotland. I am far from being jealous of my fellow Celts north of the Tweed. Indeed, I am anxious to congratulate them on their good fortune. I have already stated that we have only one research institute in Wales. In Scotland, they have ten. We have not even one agricultural college in Wales, whereas in Scotland they have three. We have not one veterinary college, although one of the most distinguished veterinary doctors in this country was a Welshman, a friend and a neighbour of mine—the late Professor Dr. Share Jones.
This comparison between the two Celtic countries reminds me of the old-fashioned advertisement with the caption "What's he got that I haven't got?" I am anxious to know what Scotland has that Wales has not, to deserve this great preferential treatment. Is it because Scotland has a Secretary of State? If that is so, then I would ask the Minister to confer at once with the Prime Minister and to prepare the Answer to the Question that my hon. Friend the Member for Flint. East (Mrs. White) will be asking on 21st of this month regarding this very point.
It is interesting to note that according to the Ministry's own figures the estimated expenditure on agricultural education and research in Wales for the year 1955–56 was £588,000. The corresponding estimate for Scotland for the same period was £1,775,500. It may be argued by some people that the Welsh farmers could benefit from the research which is carried out in the ten institutes in Scotland. This would be true were the problems affecting the two countries identical, but they are not.
I am very glad to see the Minister for Welsh Affairs coming into the Chamber. 1103 It has been proved that the climatic conditions in Wales differ fundamentally from those in Scotland, and that these climatic conditions have a great influence on animal health and production. If this be acknowledged—and I do not think that any authority on the question can doubt it—then it follows that the welfare of the 3 million sheep that we have on the uplands of Wales depends on the advice which can be given to the hill farmers. This advice can only be obtained and be of value if it is based on intensive research carried out on the hills of Wales, right on the spot, and carried out continuously over a number of years.
Sheep grazing in Wales has one peculiarity. As is generally known, the sheep are removed at various seasons of the year from the upland regions to lowland regions, and vice versa. It is now recognised that this change of diet affects the health of the sheep. As Members of Parliament we have experienced how a change from a diet to which we have been accustomed at home to a diet in this House very often affects us. This is especially so in the case of the ewes.
Mention of this reminds me of the terrible losses which have been incurred recently by the farmers in Caernarvonshire due to the outbreak of that horrible foot-and-mouth disease. How helpless those poor farmers are. I use the phrase "poor farmers" advisedly, because we in Wales have never understood what was meant by farmers being feather-bedded. I can assure the house that the farmers of Wales have never been feather-bedded.
It is true that the farmers are compensated for the loss of the animals, but they lose something far more valuable than that. They lose their very livelihood. That is what has happened in Caernarvonshire during the last few weeks—and there is no compensation for that.
To come back to the point with which I was dealing, I should also like to mention certain other diseases.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, would he be kind enough—because he is making a statement of major interest to 1104 the Welsh people—to give an illustration of the losses to which he has referred?
§ Mr. Jones
I always appreciate the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) in rural problems, representing as he does the industrial capital of Wales, but I will give him two instances quite briefly, because I know that the Minister wants to reply.
I heard—this is all hearsay; I cannot prove it—of a farmer who attended the funeral of a fellow farmer. Because he had attended this funeral and had traversed the land owned by the deceased man, his stock, although it was perfectly healthy, had to be destroyed. How fantastic! I was told, too, of a widow whose stock, although perfectly healthy, was in the belt which was proscribed, and she too had to destroy her whole flock. Those two persons are losing their livelihood, and indeed a farmer in that district is now on the point of going to New Zealand, having been ruined by this disease and by what he has been paid in compensation by the Government.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
May I ask my hon. Friend and the Minister to confirm that 420 farmers in the central belt of Caernarvonshire have been affected by the recent outbreak and some 7,000 livestock have had to be slaughtered?
§ Mr. Jones
Those are the facts, confirmed now by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts).
I was going to say, before I was interrupted, that there are certain diseases among flocks of sheep that are far more pronounced on the uplands of Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom. These diseases include liver fluke and nematodes, and, with the addition of the disease known as the black disease, the resulting losses are enormous.
An increase in research in Wales would naturally reduce these losses. They are diseases which, if not completely eradicated, should be kept within reasonable bounds. The fact is that we have an annual loss among our sheep in Wales of 5 per cent. Every year we lose 5 per cent. of our sheep above one year old. Among the lambs the loss is no less than 10 per cent. In terms of figures, these losses represent 115,000 sheep and 180,000 lambs. According to present-day 1105 prices, they would be worth at least £1 million. Similarly, the loss among cattle amounts to the colossal figure of 10 per cent.
What are the real causes of these diseases? We cannot tell, and we will not know until a far greater measure of research is carried out within the Principality. I contend that, as a result of this research, our losses could be reduced by at least 10 per cent. If that could be done—and it could be done—then, in terms of money, we will save £1,250,000. If the Minister will reply tonight with the usual story of the plight of the country and that we cannot afford it, we are proving to him that he can provide an institute that will not cost the country a penny piece. He will save the money from the immediate result of increasing this research within the country.
I therefore beg of the Minister, in the interests of agriculture generally, and particularly in the interests of the Welsh farmers, to give most sympathetic consideration to my plea and declare that at least one—fancy a Welshman asking for only one!—additional research institute will be established in Wales within the coming twelve months.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) for raising this very important question tonight, and, if I may say so, for the very persuasive way in which he put his case. He almost convinced us that we could run agricultural research stations for less than nothing, which is a most attractive suggestion. If we could do that everywhere in the country, we should be very pleased.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of points, but before I come to them I should just like to put the general picture as it appears to me. I will say at the outset that my noble Friend the Lord President of the Council, who is the Minister responsible for the Agricultural Research Council, my right hon. Friend my own Minister, as well as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, who has shown his interest by being with us tonight, regard this as being one of the most important problems confronting 1106 Welsh agriculture at the present time. It is important that Wales itself, as other parts of the British Isles, should receive proper attention in agricultural research. I agree with the hon. Gentleman absolutely there.
In approaching the matter, the view of my right hon. Friends is that the first thing necessary is to determine whether Welsh agriculture is really receiving its due share of attention in our research effort. The hon. Gentleman says that it is not, but I should like to say a word or two about that.
Initially, of course, this matter was raised by my right hon. Friend being approached by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) a little time ago, and, as a result of the approach, my right hon. Friend asked the Agricultural Improvement Council to set up a committee to look into the technical problems of Welsh agriculture. The Council willingly consented to that, and the Committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Frank Engledow, and containing representative agriculturists from Wales, has been at work for some time. The Committee is an eminent body. I assure the hon. Gentleman that its report will be given the very closest attention by my right hon. Friend. It may also interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the Agricultural Research Council has at this moment under consideration the calling of a conference to review the whole subject of hill pasture research, which is really vital. Welsh problems would, of course, feature very largely in any such study.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate from what I have said that I cannot tonight tell him anything new about the position in Wales. The important thing is that the situation is being examined very carefully and exhaustively in both these ways. Until we have the report of the Engledow Committee and are able to study the picture as that Committee sees it, we clearly cannot decide anything. I will gladly give the assurance that the Agricultural Research Council will consider, in the light of that report, what additional work, if any, should be done and where it should be undertaken. I am sure that the Council will give the fullest and most careful consideration to the views of the Engledow Committee on 1107 the particular point of location, which I know is the point the hon. Gentleman has very much in mind. So much for the position as it is now.
I should now like to say a word about the existing facilities in Wales, but, before doing so, I should make clear this important point, that fundamental research of the sort the hon. Gentleman has been discussing tonight really knows no national frontiers. The extent to which the problems of Wales are being studied is not to be measured by the number of research institutes in Wales; so many problems are common.
Over the years, a strong network of agricultural research institutes has been built up in Great Britain as a whole. They have originated in various ways, but they have been worked now into a system co-ordinated by the Agricultural Research Council, which, by the Agricultural Research Act, 1956, is charged with the duty of organising agricultural research generally throughout Great Britain. Since the war, much has been done to extend agricultural research and fill up the gaps in it. We have a collection of institutes which, whatever their origin and location, are mostly doing work applicable to Great Britain as a whole. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is the work of Rothamsted particularly on soils and viruses, the work of the National Institute of Research in Dairying on milk production, and the work at Weybridge on animal disease. This work is fundamental and of as much interest to Wales as to the areas in which the institutes are situated. The same is true also of the Edinburgh Poultry Research Station and the Animal Breeding Research Organisation. All these are dealing with things on a national basis covering the whole of the British Isles. None of them has any particular bias for its own locality. The Animal Breeding Research Organisation, for example, is concerned with breeding research to help all sections of the livestock industry.
A considerable amount of organised research is, in fact, carried out in Wales. First, as the hon. Member so rightly said, there is the Welsh Plant Breeding Station at Aberystwyth. That is one of our major research institutions. I very much agree with the hon. Member when he 1108 says that it has a world-wide reputation, of which we may be very proud. The work of Sir George Stapledon there has been quite exceptional. In addition to that, there is, of course, the University College of North Wales at Bangor and the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth, which are both carrying out research with the aid of Agricultural Research Council grants.
There is one point that I must take up with the hon. Member concerning these stations in Wales. He said that the amounts of money that are being spent are being cut down from year to year. That is not so. I was not aware that the hon. Member would raise the point tonight and I do not have detailed figures with me, but I can assure him that there is no question of the amount of expenditure being cut down. I would say that it has been steadily expanding over recent years. We certainly do not envisage any curtailment or cutting down.
An example of the research that is going on and which affects Wales is given by the survey undertaken in 1956–57 by, the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, following the Mid-Wales Investigation Report, to provide information about the mechanisation problems of the Welsh hill farms. This showed the lines on which further investigations should be made and on which advice should be given to the hill farmer—for example, the need for the investigation of haulage problems under difficult hill conditions and also for new hay-making methods. Incidentally, I hope that Wales will take still further advantage not only of hay-making methods, but of silage. Our silage grants are eminently suitable for Welsh conditions.
In the sphere of experimentation and applied research, Wales has the Ministry's experimental husbandry farm at Trawscoed and the new experimental husbandry farm for hill experiments at Pwllpeiran, together with the usual wide range of N.A.A.S. regional experiments on commercial farms. There are also area veterinary inspection centres at Aberystwyth, Bangor and Cardiff and research in agricultural economics is also conducted at Aberystwyth. It is a quite considerable picture when seen in the whole, and we can say that Wales is not neglected.
I know that the document from which the hon. Member drew some of his 1109 points suggests that research should be placed in research institutes in Wales simply because Wales appears to have less of it than other parts of the British Isles; but I do not think that that argument is altogether valid. If the particular research problems of Wales could not be dealt with at existing research stations, I should be inclined to agree with the hon. Member, but I do not think that that is the case. We shall, however, keep an open mind on this and certainly we shall look into the position when we get the Engledow Committee's Report.
If we were to deal with research on an area basis, perhaps we should get demands from some of the northern counties of England for stations, for I am told that no English counties north of Warwickshire have them. I ask the hon. Member, therefore, not to look at the question too much on a purely local basis. In fundamental research, we should look upon the picture as a whole.
The hon. Member raised the important question of foot-and-mouth disease. We all deeply regret the losses which have been suffered in the very serious outbreak he referred to. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts), who intervened to give the figures, was quite right. They are startling figures and the outbreak is a serious one. In all those cases in which stock has been slaughtered the farmers get full compensation for the value of the stock.
I know there are additional losses which cannot be covered. There are the problems of those farmers whose stock is kept out on the uplands at the present time, and there is difficulty, I know, about feeding them. There is that sort of problem. Indirect losses always occur where there are outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. We do all we possibly can to help, but the great thing is to minimise the area of an outbreak as quickly as we can and to stamp out the disease. That is the prime object.
I think all the farming community understands and appreciates what we try to do about that. I find that our officers receive the warmest congratulations on the way in which they try to handle this very difficult problem. As I say, I sympathise with the farmers who have 1110 suffered; we try to meet their difficulties, but the first and fundamental thing is not to allow the disease to get a hold, because if it did the losses would be far greater than they have been.
I was sorry to learn of the two particular cases the hon. Member brought up. Of course, stock which may appear to be healthy, if it has been in contact or is considered to have been in contact with the disease, must be dealt with. We cannot take any risks, for if we did not adopt a rigorous attitude towards it the disease might spread more widely. That is the only reason why we are so rigorous. I would assure the hon. Member we have no desire to make things difficult. Our only wish is to help the farmers and to stamp out the disease.
I have tried to answer the hon. Member's points. We are really sympathetic with the problems of Wales. We await with very much interest the report of the Committee, and, naturally, we shall consider it with the utmost care when we get it. I assure the hon. Member that there is no question of our being anxious to give Scotland any preference over Wales in this matter. As an Englishman I can say that sincerely.
The hon. Member quoted the question, "What has he got that I have not got?" I have heard those words used before in another context. A lady complained to her husband because he thought Marilyn Monroe looked better than his wife. His reply was, "She may not have more, but she knows how to group it better." Perhaps the Scots have learned something about that.
Anyhow, I assure the hon. Member that Wales does get the advantages of the research going on in all other parts of Great Britain. We are, as I have said, anxious to help in any way we possibly can. My right hon. Friend will be giving very careful consideration to this problem after receiving the report. I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising the matter; I think that he has done a valuable service in doing so. My reply, I hope, will show him we are genuinely interested in the problem.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at three minutes past Eleven o'clock.