§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Acland)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I am asking the House to give to-day a Second Reading to a Bill connected with the conservation of our food supplies, and the subject is so important that I will ask leave to enter into as brief a review as I can of the present position, both in regard to the supplies of stock in the country and the policy of the Government as to the proper conservation of 1130 those stocks. Everyone will agree that our pohey in the matter should be, first of ail, if it is possible, to avoid interference with the carrying on of the ordinary industry of the farmer. It is a very difficult and complicated industry; it is very dangerous to interfere with it; and it is very easily upset. Subject to that, our proper policy, while doing nothing that we can avoid which might increase the cost of meat, which is already high enough to-day, is to do as much as we can to preserve the breeding stocks of the country so that there may be no undue depletion and no undue strain upon them as the War progresses or when the War is over. During the last few months we have been hearing from many quarters that there has been an undue increase in the slaughter of in-calf cows and young calves, of sows in pig, and to a considerably less extent of lambs. After as careful inquiry as we have been able to institute, the Board of Agriculture is in a position to make some estimate of the real position in the matter. There has undoubtedly been, taking the case of in-calf cows first of all, a large increase in their slaughter. The reports of our inspectors confirm that fact. There is some conflict of evidence. Some of the reports that we have received as to a large amount of slaughter have been proved to be ill-founded, but on the whole there has been undoubtedly a great increase in the slaughter of in-calf cows for food, particularly in the northern and northwestern districts of England and Wales, largely in connection with cattle which have been imported from Ireland. There has also been a considerable increase in Scotland.
It is worth while for the House to spend two minutes to get the matter into a right proportion, because we find that some people have heard of the slaughter of in-calf cows for the first time in their lives. They think that it is a horrible thing, as most of us would, but that is, after all, a matter of taste. They also think that it is an unprecedented thing, and that it has only arisen in the present season owing to the high prices. That is a question of fact, and, as a fact, it is not true. It has been the practice of certain sections of the farming community, realising that heifer become quieter and that both heifers and cows put on flesh more rapidly if sent to the bull than if they are barren, to put their cows and heifers to the bull when it is the intention of feeding them for the butcher. It has also been the 1131 common custom in dairying districts, where the farmer wants a milch cow, to put the heifer to the bull and let it produce a calf so as to bring it into milk for dairying purposes. Whereas normally the butcher is inclined to look very much askance at a cow which is obviously in calf, if it is brought up for auction, this year, owing to the temptation of the high prices of meat, there have been such cows considerably advanced in pregnancy which have been brought up for slaughter and which have been largely bought. We know, for instance, of a case where one butcher slaughtered forty cows and thirty-eight of them proved to be in calf. It has been therefore only natural perhaps that those who have had cows in calf to sell, finding the demand for them so brisk, should have kept them longer than they otherwise would have done in order to gain from the extra weight which they would fetch when sold. It is also true that those who would otherwise have kept their cows and used them for milking purposes have been in many cases tempted by the high prices to put them on the market before the calf was produced, and of course this tendency has been intensified because of the difficulty of obtaining the proper amount of labour for milking which has been experienced in many districts where persons who can milk and are accustomed to milk are harder to get owing to recruitment into our Army and other similar causes. It is most necessary for farmers and dairy-keepers to reduce their milking herds, and of course one can only hope that it is the less good animals which are first weeded out.
As to the slaughter of calves, we also have certain facts brought out clearly. We have in this country the rather curious and, it may seem, unnatural position, that in some districts thousands of calves are slaughtered normally and that in others there is a steady demand for all kinds of young stock of a type suitable for quick rearing and fattening. You might think all that was necessary therefore was to put the two districts into effective co-operation so that the calves born might be sold in those districts where there is a demand for young stock, but that is not quite the proper description of what actually happens. The dairy farmer, as I said a moment ago, wants new milch cows coming into milk. The calf is to him a useless byproduct. The quantity and quality of the milk of course in no way depends upon 1132 the bull that may be used. Therefore very inferior bulls are used when these cows are put to the bull, and the calves which are produced are very inferior stock, and are often in no way suitable for rearing. I am not, of course, speaking of the dairy breed, because, of course, in the Ayrshire, Kerry, and Channel Island breeds, however good the bull may be, the bull calves are of very little use for rearing purposes. In this matter in the use of inferior bulls the dairymen have not suffered from a lack of good advice. I have been at the Board of Agriculture a very short time, but I have realised that good advice is the one commodity in the agricultural world which is always very cheap. There has been plenty of it in this matter. Anyone who has made a practice, as everybody ought to do, of buying the Journal of the Board of Agriculture at 4d. a month, has been told over and over again that it is bad economy and really bad citizenship to use these Inferior bulls and therefore to produce calves which are of no use to anybody, rather than to produce calves which, with a little co-operation with farmers in other districts, could be sold and become part of the permanent breeding stock of the country. These calves, therefore, have always come on to the market very young, and there has been normally a considerable waste of what might have been with a little more forethought very valuable material, and that tendency to bring calves of that kind on to the market and not to try to get them reared has become considerably more marked during recent months.
We have returns from fifty-two different slaughter-houses which show us that taking the number of calves sold between January and May inclusive there has been an increase of at least 25 per cent. this year over last year. This increase having taken place, the Board feel that they may not improperly take some action to restrict the sale of these young calves which, in many cases though not in all, are suitable for being made use of for rearing and fattening. It is the same story with regard to the sale of in-pig sows. It is rather worse, I think, to slaughter a sow that is in pig than a cow that is in calf, because where a cow produces normally only one calf, a sow produces ten pigs or thereabouts, and it is a terrible thing that all that potential life and food should be destroyed. There is clear evidence of an increase in the slaughter of stock of that kind. One Manchester dealer whom we 1133 consulted said that there had been at least 5,000 pigs in the sows that he had slaughtered this year. I think that we ought to do everything we can to give those animals a chance at any rate of coming into the world. That has been due, of course, partly to the high prices of feeding stuffs which prevailed in the early part of the year, and partly to the temptation to the owner by the higher prices that he can get by putting his stock into the market.
The practical action which the Board are taking owing to the facts which I have tried to narrate is that they are to-day issuing an Order under the present Slaughter of Animals Act, passed on 31st August last, which from Thursday of this week will prohibit the sale of animals which are visibly or obviously in calf or in pig, and also will restrict the sale of calves by prohibiting the sale of calves under twelve weeks old except in the case of male calves of dairy breeds.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Yes, that is so. The penalty, of course, will only be where these classes of animals are sold for the purpose of slaughter. The Order has exceptions to the restrictions. It permits the slaughter of animals under the powers conferred by the Diseases of Animals Act; it permits the slaughter of animals necessary or desirable on account of accidental injury to the animal or its illness; and it permits the slaughter of an animal in exceptional cases if, after application to the Board of Agriculture, it is the opinion of the Board that the slaughter is desirable for any exceptional reason. I believe that that Order, although it does not go so far as a great many people wanted us to go, will be generally welcomed. Farmers have been particularly urgent upon us that something of this kind should be done. They foresee, very clearly, it may not be to their permanent interest, whatever may be the temporary and immediate interest of some, that the breeding stocks of this country shall be depleted, because, when once depleted, it is very difficult to build them up again. They have, therefore, pressed upon us the passing of an Order of this kind, and we are very glad to be able to follow their advice.
We are more particularly following the advice of the Advisory Committee on agricultural matters presided over by Sir Ailwyn Fellowes, which has carefully considered the matters and which recom 1134 mended exactly the restrictions that the Order contains. There are a few more words to be said as leading up to the Bill I am now asking the House to read a second time. We have been urged to go a great deal further than we have gone in the Order. We have been urged to prohibit the sale of all female stock and the sale of lamb and veal. We have not done so. We do not intend, as at present advised, to do so. But we do think it desirable to ask the House to give us rather fuller powers, so that if it should prove necessary later on to take further action it would be possible legally to take it.
I have to ask the leave of the House to explain what our position is in this matter. I think I can justify asking the House for rather further powers than we have now at such short notice. I think I can also show it is desirable to watch the question very carefully before we go further than we have gone. In the first place, it must be clear to the House and to the country that we may in the future have to depend very much more on home supplies than we do at the present time. I do not want, indeed I cannot prophesy as to the duration of the War, or what might happen during the War, but clearly we have to be prepared for the fact that the strain may be longer and greater than most of us expected six months ago, and if it became necessary to rely less on imported meat, and more on home-grown supplies, it would be desirable to have fuller powers for regulating the slaughter and sale of meat than we have at the present time.
We must be prepared for some drain being made on our flocks and herds, or, rather, on our capital in them. We cannot expect the farmer and the stock breeder will be the only men to keep their capital intact at a time like this. Large drains are being made on our national capital by the proposals recently put before this House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we must be prepared to share in some way that drain on our national capital which the War must be expected to make. There is normally, of course, some elasticity in our supplies. They vary from year to year, according to seasons and according to prices. That elasticity is greater in pigs, and to some extent in sheep, than it is in cattle, because supplies can be made good much more quickly, owing to the quick reproduction of sheep and pigs, than in the case 1135 of cattle. But we must, I think, be prepared, although we should like to keep our stocks up to their very highest point, for a certain depletion and drain of our flocks and herds, without rushing into very speedy action in the matter. That applies largely to lambs. I have heard it suggested that everybody ought to stop eating lamb at the present time. While the production of lambs and the bringing of lamb to a high state of maturity and development five, six, or seven months after birth is one of the most skilled parts of the farmer's industry, and one of the greatest triumphs of English breeding and English and Scottish feeding that is to be found from one end of the world to the other in agricultural skill, it would not, I think, be legitimate to fall into any sort of panic, or any great anxiety in that matter, if we find that we only have a normal sale of lambs going on, or if we find that a normal sale of lamb is going on at an exceptional time like this. But we must be able to watch it, and if it were found there was being any great or grave depletion of the national supply, especially of ewe lambs, I think at a later time we might have to take powers to check it in some way.
Luckily, with regard to cattle, in the supply of which there is less elasticity, owing to comparatively slow breeding, our position last year at the beginning of the War was remarkably good. We have the annual returns which are taken on the 4th June every year, and those returns show that in 1914, as compared with 1913, there have been a greater number of cows and heifers in milk, or in calf and not in milk. That number was 2,484,000, as compared with 2,264,000—an increase in a year of not less than 220,000 in that particular class of stock—cows and heifers in milk, or in calf and not in milk. 1914 was the highest year since the statistics were first taken, in 1867, while 1913 proved to be the lowest year. Therefore we started in a good position, and that is a reason why it is not yet necessary to take the extreme step that has been suggested of prohibiting the sale for slaughter of all female stock. There are some signs—they are not very distinct, but they exist—that the position as to stock which should have been kept for breeding is really better than it was a month or two ago. Prices of meat are slightly down since the beginning of this month, and, therefore, there is less temptation to the farmer or breeder to bring his 1136 stock into the market. Grass-fed beasts are coming into the market, of course, at this time of the year, and that restricts the drain on the breeding stock. Again, the shortage of the hay crop and the bad prospect for roots, which are unfortunately apparent at the present time, will cause a continued flow of grass-fed stock—not very well finished, I fear, and not very fat—to come on our market, and there again there will be a tendency for the recent drain on cows to decline.
Feeding stuffs are now, I am glad to say, lower in price than they were in the winter, and prices are still slightly tending to fall. Farmers who rushed their stock to market in the spring, thinking the high prices were only temporary, now find stock feeding, in spite of the threatening shortage of foodstuffs, is likely to be fairly remunerative for a long time to come, and they are therefore doing their best to maintain their stock, whereas a few months ago they were tempted to put animals unduly on the market. Again, there is the summer slackening in the demand for meat, and we hope that the necessity for economy and saving with food-stuffs will be more and more appreciated by the public, and the great demand of the recent months for meat may not revive in such very great force in the coming autumn and winter.
I think there is one last fact which points to the desirability of taking further powers for watching, rather than acting precipitately, and that is we shall have, by the beginning of August or a few weeks later, the result of the agricultural statistics, which I have just given to the House for 1913–14 in the case of female stock. The figures are taken as from the 4th June. We have asked the farmers to be kind enough to fill up their returns this year as accurately and as quickly as they possibly can, and we shall be in a much more better position when the figures come in to judge whether it is necessary to take any further action than we are taking at the present time. These figures come in, I believe, at the same date—some time in August—in Scotland and Ireland, as in England and Wales. The Scottish and Irish authorities have acted with us in this matter. They have both of them issued the order I have referred to, and I am assured that the authorities in all three countries will keep in close touch with one another, and, when the figures are collected and tabulated, we shall be able to judge whether it is necessary to take further action. Meanwhile we shall watch 1137 the market, and should there be any tendency for the farmer to go contrary to his own permanent interest in depleting his stock for the sake of immediate profit, we shall check it by making the necessary orders under the Act, and if and when further action becomes apparent we shall ask the House to give us rather fuller powers than those we now possess.
At present our powers are contained in the Slaughter of Animals Act, passed on the 31st August last year. That is a very simple Act, and the powers it gives are rather limited. We shall ask the House to allow us to to repeal that Act, and to substitute for it the Bill of which I now propose the Second Reading, a Bill for the maintenance of live stock, which enables us, by order, to prohibit or restrict the slaughter of animals, to prohibit and restrict the sale or exposure for sale as meat of immature animals, and to enable us to deal with the sale of veal, if we find that veal other than imported veal still continues to come on the market in a very immature state. It authorises the local authorities to act on our behalf.
It authorises our officers, and the officers of local authorities, to enter slaughter houses in order to see that the Act is being complied with, and—and this is a new power—we ask for leave to prohibit or restrict the movement of animals out of the area in which the slaughter of such animals is prohibited or restricted. We may find, for instance, that in certain counties the undue sale of immature stock has become a practice. We may find that whereas we do not want to take power all over the country to prohibit the sale for slaughter of that particular type of stock, yet it may be desirable to do it in this particular area, and it would be of no use for us to prohibit the sale in that particular area unless we also took power to restrict the movement of animals out of that area, because without such powers it would merely be necessary for the farmer to move the animals out of the specified area in order to secure the sale of them. I do not ask the House to give us the Committee and Report stage to-day. Although the powers we ask for are simple, I think they are such as the House, and the farming interest in the country, would like to be able to study, and I think anything which gives the proper authority rather larger powers in this extremely important matter of the nation's food supply, powers to be used under the provisions I have tried to outline to the 1138 House, should only be given after very careful and further study of the position. But still, a Bill of this kind is one of which I am sure the House would desire to let us have the Second Reading this evening.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
We are much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the extremely interesting speech he made, which, with great modesty, he would have us to believe is due to the advice which he has received, at the Board of Agriculture, which I was glad to learn from him, for the sake of agriculturists in the Kingdom, is generally speaking good. Be that as it may, I am sure the speech the right hon. Gentleman has delivered to-night will be received with welcome by the agriculturists and farmers of this country generally, because it was quite evident from every word that fell from him that he has given great care, thought, and attention to this subject, and has thoroughly realised the necessity of taking the farmers of the country into his confidence in connection with all the measures which it may be thought necessary that the Board of Agriculture should introduce. I am glad, too, that the right hon. Gentleman has thought it desirable not to take the Committee stage without a little more delay. For that, I am quite sure, he will also receive the gratitude of the farmers, and they will be pleased with the care and watchful treatment that he evidently means to give to them.
With regard to the Bill itself, the right hon. Gentleman called attention to one power which is taken under the Bill, that is, the power of preventing animals from leaving a certain area. It is upon that provision that I want to say a single word. On looking through the Bill this provision struck me at once. There are two points in connection with it. One is that the provision must, I think, be limited as to the movement of animals; at any rate, I would suggest for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration that it should be limited to what are called immature animals. As to what is to be an immature animal it would be desirable to have a definition in the Bill. The limitation I have mentioned is more especially desirable at the present moment, because we are suffering in many parts of the country to my own knowledge, and I believe almost universally in the more southern parts of the country, from a very excessive and unusual drought. One consequence of that is that the keeping of various animals on the farm must 1139 be, I am afraid, very insufficient. If that be the case, and all the lambs and all the calves are to be kept in addition to the other stock on the farm, it would be difficult to maintain them, except at a very unusual cost, if it were rendered impossible by the provisions of the Bill to move the older animals, the sheep and the beasts, to some other place outside the area, possibly where the same farmer might hold land, which is not uncommonly done in the practice of farming in numerous instances.
There are one or two other points for consideration which I would venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman. Take the case where a certain number of lambs are regularly killed every year. The rearing of lambs, especially at the early seasons of the year, is in some parts of the country almost an industry in itself. If none of these are to be killed in future, and if none of the calves are to be killed, it is not difficult to suppose that the farm, in many instances, will not be sufficient to carry the number of animals that remain upon it. Supposing the farmer has been in the habit of killing a number of lambs and calves every year—I do not know, without studying the Order, how far the slaughter of these animals is to be prohibited, but supposing it is prohibited in any considerable numbers, a serious difficulty might arise for the farmer in this particular respect, that there would be more animals on the farm than it is able to carry. What is he to do? If he cannot kill, or sell or part with the young ones, he might have to kill the sheep or the older stock among the cattle who are not at that moment fit for the market. I understand that this Bill is to come into operation almost immediately, and that seems to me to be a subject not undeserving of the attention of the right hon. Gentleman.
I understand that further considerable powers are to be asked for, if necessary, at a later period. I have no objection to that if it should be found necessary and desirable, but still it is all the more serious, because the Regulations, which under ordinary circumstances have always been laid upon the Table of both Houses of Parliament, thus giving an opportunity to each House of objecting to them, whereupon a Debate could be raised, and if there is a sufficient majority to disapprove the Orders have been annulled, are not laid upon the Table under the Emergency Acts. 1140 There is nothing in this Bill, or any of the Emergency Bills, providing for the laying of these Regulations on the Table. I do not see how the old Regulations and Orders can very well be reconciled to the Bill, which is of an emergency character. Stilly it makes the matter all the more important in this case, if we are to have more stringent powers asked for in the future. I am, however, consoled by the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that he has carefully considered and thoroughly recognises the necessity of being careful and watchful not to interfere with the usual practice and conduct of his business by a farmer more than he can help, and with that assurance from the right hon. Gentleman I feel quite disposed to be amply satisfied myself. I believe there will be a general feeling of satisfaction, when farmers learn of the speech he has made this afternoon, that the right hon. Gentleman has been appointed to the position he occupies at the present moment. Although I am quite certain that his departure from the Foreign Office will be regarded as a loss by them, the loss of the Foreign Office will, I hope and believe, be a gain to agriculture.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
We were all deeply interested in the speech the right hon. Gentleman has made in introducing this Bill. We must recognise at once the reasonableness of the Government taking some steps to endeavour to meet and, if possible, by just means to reduce the present high prices of meat, consequent upon the War. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman showed his realisation of the difficulty of the position by pointing to the danger of interfering with the principle of supply and demand. I am bound to say that he showed a strong endeavour to respect that principle and to deal carefully with the problem. I take it that by supporting this Bill we shall be giving the Board of Agriculture power to issue orders in the direction indicated in the other part of the Bill. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be well, in drawing up these orders, if he would see fit to consult the Board of Agriculture and the Farmers' Union. That would give him some practical assistance in accomplishing the purpose without doing any injustice to the agricultural class.
I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the moderation of his proposals. I know something of the pressure that has been brought to bear upon the Board of
1141 8.0 P.M.
Agriculture by faddists—I almost said fanatics—who have been demanding that henceforth we should discontinue the slaughter of all calves and lambs. They have advocated that in the interests of what they thought was the promotion of cheaper food, but in my judgment no proposal would be more likely to make food less commonly available than the adoption of that idea. The right hon. Gentleman has shown the extreme care with which he has been advised. It is something of a relief to us to find that that is so, because in a circular issued by the Board of Agriculture, which farmers throughout the country have received, there was a recommendation, "Do not kill your calves, it will pay you to rear them." Practical farmers know very well that if you use your food in rearing calves, you soon get so stocked with store cattle that you cannot make beasts. The idea that you would reduce the price of meat by demanding that no more calves should be killed, is the most absurd proposal that has ever been made. The action of rearing all your calves would be the means of greatly increasing the price of beef. The same with reference to lamb. There has been a cry not to let any lambs be killed. In some parts of the country there is a boycott to refuse lamb from the butchers with the idea that thereby people are helping to secure that state of the food supply. The supply of lambs is the most speedy and, I think, the most profitable method of producing food for the people. We are to be stopped from doing that. The right hon. Gentleman in his Bill—his speech is better than his Bill, I think—takes a deal of power to interfere with the slaughter of immature animals. That goes rather close to demanding powers to stop the sale of Iambs, which his speech was a bit short of. What does that mean? If we had to keep all our lambs we should not be able to keep any ewes next winter. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman that he has stood against it to some extent. I am obliged to say, however, that I think his proposal about the rearing of calves will tend to diminish the food supplies. If we have to rear these calves, even the limited number provided for by the right hon. Gentleman under his Bill, we shall produce less milk, which will be a serious thing for the country, and we shall produce less beef, because we shall have taken the food which we have and used it for rearing stock, instead of using a part for rearing 1142 stock and a part for feeding as at present. I believe, honestly, it would have been better to trust to the principle of supply and demand and the common sense of the farmer, encouraged by the high prices of stock to do the utmost he could to produce of all kinds of stock as much as he could. Certainly there is a public demand for something to be done, but I believe the right hon Gentleman will serve the public best by proceeding moderately, at any rate in that direction. With regard to the rearing of calves, we cannot rear calves without milk, and the present milk supply of the country is insufficient and is being still further menaced, and even the limited number of calves that the right hon. Gentleman is going to forbid being slaughtered will take the milk and reduce the milk supply for the people, which is a very serious thing, and when they commence to take fodder it will be so much less power that we shall have to produce that food for the people. The right hon. Gentleman's limited proposals will increase the price of meat rather than otherwise, and we all regret the abnormal price of meat—producers as well as consumers. It is not healthy for anyone. Any legitimate means which are likely to so increase stock in this country as to bring cheaper food would have my hearty support.
There is one point which has been lost sight of. I see the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. W. Russell) on the Front Bench. This Bill will hit his country pretty hard, because at present we use an enormous number of Irish store cattle. Now we shall not want to buy the right hon. Gentleman's store cattle from Ireland. If the Irish Members were here I think they would have something to say upon that aspect of the question. However, I am bound to say farmers generally are very anxious to serve their country and to assist the Government in doing what they can to provide and procure the greatest possible amount of native food supply that our land is capable of producing. The right hon. Gentleman said it may be that in the future we shall have to rely more on homegrown food and less on foreign. I am glad he has come to that view. Perhaps if some of the principles which we have recommended on this side of the House had been adopted we should not have dear meat at the present but an abundance of all kinds. However, that is by the way. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks made me very hopeful that his experience at the Board I of Agriculture—and we congratulate him 1143 on the attainment of that position—has broadened his mind on that particular aspect of the question. We only grow a certain quantity of food in this country, and if we use it for rearing we cannot use it for feeding. Therefore it is better far to give the farmer fair encouragement. Do not menace his industry, but leave him to have the security and confidence that if he develops his land it will not be taken from him, or the cattle either, and that, I believe, will be the best way to keep a healthy supply of stock of all kinds in this country. If this drought continues the farmers will not be able to rely on the stock they have. Talk about killing the lambs, if this weather last it will almost starve the lambs. That shows how absurd it is for outside people to talk in this way. If the Government want us to grow more stock and greatly increase the number of live stock they must help us to get far more favourable terms for feeding them. It is a very important matter in every sense of the word.
There is one point I must refer to with reference to the slaughter of in-calf cows. They are all kept in a good state and practically fit to kill. When they cease to give the full quantity of milk they are sent to the butcher and the cow keeper has to buy six or seven new cows to put in their place. First of all, he must sell the calves. There will be an embargo on that which will embarrass him, but if he is prevented from selling his cows when they have become very much reduced in their milk-giving powers he will at once prevent to that extent the supply of beef, and you will also reduce the food supply. This shows that the right hon. Gentleman evidently realises the very great difficulty of dealing with the matter. I thank him for the spirit he has shown. I know he is anxious for the welfare of agriculture; and I thank him, more than all, that he has the backbone enough to resist the recommendations of the faddist to prevent altogether the non-slaughter of cows and lambs. He has gone dangerously far in trying to meet their views, and I am afraid he will find, at any rate at present, that it is bound to be disastrous. If it is found to increase the price of meat, which it will, at no great distance of time we shall have to retrace less mischief than would have been the case if he had yielded to the clamour outside.
§ Mr. HARRY HOPE
(indistinctly heard): There is very grave need for the administration 1144 of the Bill to be carried out in a wise and prudent manner and by Boards which are manned by practical officers in touch with public opinion. I should like to join in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the understanding and sympathy which he seems to have with the agricultural industry. Our industry is an extremely complicated one. It is idle for anyone to begin to lay down cast-iron rules as to how farming must be conducted. There are so many kinds of farming in so many different districts in the country and the interests all interlace, and yet we need such a flexible system and, as it were, so little interference that it is dangerous to bring legislation into effect. Still, for all that, I think there is room for this Bill and almost need for it. The right hon. Gentleman first refers to the case of in-calf cows. I think he was on sound ground in saying that we need to reduce and prevent as far as possible the slaughter of these animals. No doubt there are difficulties in all cases in keeping separate in-calf cows from fat ones. But on the broad principle I think it is desirable that we should do what we can to check the slaughter of in-calf cows. With regard to lambs, the less interference with their sale for slaughter the better. In Scotland the sheep industry has been conducted with a very great amount of skill. Of course there are different breeds of sheep in Scotland, but the manner in which our flock masters have brought their stocks to maturity is a credit to them, and any interference by the Board with the selling of lambs would inflict a very great injury indeed upon Scotland.
I do not think anything is to be gained from the consumers' point of view from stopping the sale of lambs. Those lambs, whether they be of the larger breeds or the black-faced breed, though not, of course, as heavy as when full grown, still are animals of large weight, and if they have to be kept fewer ewes would have to be kept upon these farms and the whole system of farming would be so altered and broken down that nothing could be done to make up the injury. When you come to the position of calves, I think the right hon. Gentleman was on sound lines. For instance, such, breeds as shorthorns, I think, ought to be immune from slaughter. There is a large cow population in Edinburgh, and, of course, the city dairymen have not the means of keeping on their calves. Of course in many cases they are bought by farmers and dealers who do 1145 rear them, and that is all right. In many cases these good short-horned calves are slaughtered at a week or ten days old. That is a matter of great regret, and I think the right hon. Gentleman and the Boards both of England and Scotland will have an opportunity for doing good work in checking that ruthless slaughter. In other districts of Scotland—say, in the West and South-West, where cheese-making is carried on—it would not be to the advantage of the country in general and the consumer that the bull calves of Ayrshire breed should be prevented from being slaughtered. I think that these animals could be slaughtered with perfect security for the general welfare. They are not cattle that grow up to be what are called beef cattle, and they cannot be reared on these dairy farms. If they were, the same amount of cheese could not be produced. I would suggest that, with the exception of the few calves of poor beef breeds, such as Ayrshire, Jersey, and Guernsey breeds, there is good work to be done in carrying out the principle of this Bill. I think the success of this measure will depend upon the common sense and the practical knowledge of those who administer it. I have confidence, speaking as a Scottish Member, that our Board of Agriculture in Scotland will be wisely conducted. If they act in that spirit, and keep in touch with the opinions of our public bodies, which express agricultural views so well, I have no doubt that this Bill will be a success, and that, by encouraging a larger number of cattle in the country, they will produce the effect of reducing the price of store cattle, which I am extremely pleased to think is a possibility. My hon. Friend (Sir J. Spear) was, perhaps, expressing views from the breeder's point of view, and naturally the breeder wants to see, and the Irish Members will probably want to see, a high price for store cattle maintained. But for the general interests of agriculture as a whole, and from the consumer's point of view, I think it would be very much better if we saw a reduced price for store cattle. That would enable more cattle to be fed, and it would encourage farmers to feed them, and bring more cattle forward to the butcher. Because of that, I welcome the Bill, and I hope it will be administered in a wise, prudent, and practical manner.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the very clear, lucid, and if I may be 1146 allowed to say so, well-balanced statement which he made in introducing this Bill. He showed in that statement that he realised that there were dangers in the administration of this Bill which have to be guarded against. Indeed the danger is so great that any indiscriminate enforcement of regulations on so varied an industry as farming might have a very different result from that which was intended. We are all in agreement as to the object of the Bill. The hon. Member who has just spoken (Mr. Harry Hope) has said something for Scotland, and as the Bill applies to Scotland, I would like to point out how in Scotland we should be very seriously affected if the sale of lambs were at all indiscriminately interfered with. The rearing of lambs is really quite an art. The lamb, I might say, is almost an artificial production. It is a food product which has been produced very skilfully, and it has been turned into food by the use of an enormous supply of feeding stuffs. In that way food is produced rapidly and is ready for human consumption in the very best form. The introduction of this Bill has caused some apprehension in Scotland, and I have had representations made to me from my Constituency. It might perhaps be advisable if I pointed out the dangers which are apprehended there from any indiscriminate application of the Bill to their industries. I have a letter from a farmer who puts the matter so very clearly and cogently that it may perhaps be worth while to read it. I shall not mention his name, because I have not his permission. In the letter he says:—My object in writing you is to try to have the order so far as sheep are concerned to apply only to purebred lambs, which alone are suitable for breeding, and to have an exemption made in favour of cross-bred lambs which are only fit for fattening, and have been bred specially for that purpose. I would point out that in my case it would not only cause me a considerable loss but would defeat the very object for which it is intended. On this farm, as on hundreds of other arable farms as well, it is the custom to carry as large a stock of breeding ewes as possible and put away fat lambs from now onwards as the pasture begins to fall. If we are not to be allowed to kill these lambs we will have no keep for them, as the farm is stocked on the assumption that the fat lambs are all away in July. If the order is still to be in force next year it will simply mean that we will have to keep a smaller stock of breeding ewes, as we cannot possibly keep both lambs and ewes when the pastures are past their best. I think it should be quite apparent, even to outsiders, that the sooner the lambs can be got ready for the butcher the more stock the farm can carry, and that if farmers are to be compelled to keep in their lambs they will just have to reduce their stock of ewes accordingly, In the same way with cattle, if more calves are to be kept, then the number of aged cattle will have to be reduced accordingly. The country is quite incapable of producing sufficient food for the population, and no amount of artificial conditions created by Act of Parliament will alter that fact, though it may cause great loss and 1147 hardship to the agricultural community. All farmers know that the more stock their farm can carry the better, and if they sell fat lambs or surplus calves it is only because they cannot keep them, and it seems to me to be an act of madness to compel them to do so.That letter brings out very clearly the danger on that particular kind of farm, of which there are a great many in my Constituency, of any indiscriminate action of this Act. I associate myself with what has been said by the previous speakers in regard to various questions in which they have urged upon the right hon. Gentleman the utmost caution in applying the very great and wide powers which are created in this Bill. I need hardly say that I heartily support the Bill.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I happen to be a cattle breeder on rather a large scale, and therefore I can speak with a little confidence on this subject. I would like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having had the courage to bring in this Bill in regard to the slaughter of immature animals, because I think that many of those who have spoken have ignored the fact that we are dealing with an emergency caused by the War. Some of the arguments which have been put forward are, in peace times and from the agriculture point of view, no doubt perfectly sound, but we are not at peace, and we cannot deal with agriculture or anything else in the way of business as usual. We must put that entirely out of our heads. Therefore we have to consider what steps can be taken to increase the meat supply of the country during the next year or two while we are at war. I think that the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman goes very far in the direction of meeting that want, because it stands to reason that if you do something to reduce the slaughter of calves you are also doing something in the direction of increasing the number of store cattle a few months hence, and if you have more store cattle in a few months that means that you have more beef a few months beyond that again, and to that extent certainly I think this Bill is most effectual. Judging from the speeches which have been delivered, I think there has been some misconception. Hon. Members have spoken as if this Bill was going to insist upon each individual farmer keeping and rearing his own calves. That is not the case. This Bill permits, as I understand it—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—the farmer to sell the calves which he does not want to rear himself to 1148 another farmer who would be willing to carry those calves up to the stage of being stores or possibly beef. If that is so, surely it is a step in the right direction.
Having given my little meed of praise to the Bill, I would like to suggest an Amendment to Clause 1 (e), or, rather, to suggest certain matter for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. The Clause restricts or prohibits the movement of animals out of any area in which the slaughter of such animals is prohibited or restricted. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not consider the advisability of modifying that and of allowing a farmer living in a prohibited or restricted area to sell his calves to a farmer living in another prohibited or restricted area. I can quite understand that it would defeat the object of the Bill if a farmer living in a prohibited area were allowed to sell his calves in an area where no prohibition or restriction exists. That would mean, probably, that the calves would be slaughtered; but why should not the farmer have the liberty of selling his calves to any adjoining area where the same restriction or prohibition exists as in the area in which he lives himself? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take that matter into consideration. I do not want to suggest any form of words, but if I were allowed to word it I would add, after the words "prohibited or restricted," in the last line of Clause 1 (e), the words "into any area in which such prohibitions or restrictions are not in force."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Wednesday).
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question. "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Half after Eight o'clock.