HC Deb 20 December 1933 vol 284 cc1296-301
Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the livestock situation?


The Government have had under consideration the position of the beef industry in this country. Notwithstanding the efforts that have been made since November, 1932, to hold and improve the situation on the wholesale meat market, the returns from the feed- ing of cattle have continued unsatisfactory. Many United Kingdom feeders have kept back their stock from sale owing to the low level of prices, while supplies from other sources have been pressed on the market. The number of home-produced fat cattle marketed this summer and autumn has thus been less than in the corresponding period last year. The supplies held back are likely, however, to come forward at an early date, so that the immediate problem is now that of averting a further price decline as well as of bringing about an improvement in the situation.

In these circumstances, it is essential to afford some relief to the market in respect of the supplies of cattle imported for immediate slaughter.

At present such cattle are imported into the United Kingdom from two sources only, namely, the Irish Free State and Canada.

As regards the Irish Free State, an Order will be issued forthwith under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933, under which it is intended to limit the imports of fat cattle from the Irish Free State from now to the 31st March next to 50 per cent. of the numbers imported in the corresponding period of 1932-33. As a complementary measure, it is also intended, under the Order to limit the number of stores that may be imported from the Irish Free State. In terms of total cattle imports from that source, the reduction will be in the neighbourhood of 12½ r cent. The Order, also as a complementary measure, will prohibit the importation of beef and veal and beef and veal offals from the Irish Free State.

As regards the Dominion of Canada, His Majesty's Government in that Dominion have been asked to co-operate by stabilising exports of cattle, both fat and store, to this market for the first quarter of 1934 at the corresponding figures of the first quarter of 1933. I am glad to say that they have agreed to do so, and we thank them most heartily for their readiness to meet us.

Imports of foreign canned beef are dutiable, but, as in the case of imports of fat cattle, they have hitherto been unregulated. They will now be brought under control, and arrangements are being made to limit the supplies coming forward next quarter.

As regards chilled beef, arrangements have been made to reduce imports from foreign countries by the same extent as in the first quarter of 1933.

As arranged at Ottawa, imparts of frozen beef from foreign countries will be reduced next quarter by 30 per cent. below the quantity imported in the first quarter of 1932. Finally, negotiations are proceeding with a view to readjusting the proportions of boned and boneless beef imported from foreign countries under this designation.

The Government have also had under consideration the situation in the bacon market, taking into account the large expansion in home bacon production attained within the last few months, and have decided that, if the step is justified by the number of pig-contracts entered into by home producers for the period beginning the 1st March and ending on the 31st December next, due allowance being made for Northern Ireland production, they will be prepared to reduce imports from foreign countries by a further 7 per cent. on the 1st March and by an additional 3 per cent. on the 1st June, making a total reduction on the present rate of importation of 10 per cent. on and from the 1st June, 1934.


May I first of all enter what I think is a very righteous protest against the right hon. Gentleman, at this late hour of the Session, making such a formidable announcement, from a document which has been so carefully prepared that it has been printed, without giving the Opposition any opportunity of looking at the document? In the second place, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman when the Beef Marketing Scheme was first put in hand, and whether a marketing scheme for beef is really in operation; arid, if not, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us on what authority he is adopting the policy of restriction of imports of beef from foreign countries or the Dominions? I understand that the right hon. Gentleman' is taking power to restrict imports from the Irish Free State, to the extent of 50 per cent. in the case of fat cattle and 12½ per cent. in the case of store cattle. Will the Minister tell us whether the Irish Free State has agreed to these limitations, and, if riot, what is the policy of the Government with regard to the Irish Free State and its trading relations with this country? Is this restriction, which is specific so far as the Irish Free State is concerned, something different from that applied to New Zealand, Australia or Canada, and, if so, will the Minister tell us why there should be this different attitude towards the Irish Free State?

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

Is it not a fact that for many weeks past the right hon. Gentleman has indicated quite clearly that he is bound to adopt such a policy?


I should be more than sorry if my hon. Friend thought that there had been any discourtesy in this matter towards His Majesty's Opposition, who, I fully agree, are entitled to the earliest possible notice of these matters. I have, for the convenience of the House, arranged for the statement I have just made to be printed, and it will be available in the Vote Office to all Members as soon as I sit down. I assure my hon. Friend that it was impossible, by the mere limitations of space and time, to obtain a copy of this statement at an earlier date; otherwise, I should have been only too anxious to give His Majesty's Opposition leaders an opportunity of seeing the statement before I made it to the House. As to the hon. Member's second point regarding marketing schemes, as he may be aware, there has been sitting for several months a Fat Stock Reorganisation Commission under the Marketing Act, and it is because of the sitting of that commission and the preparation of the scheme that I am enabled to take the action which I have taken. The hon. Member will recollect that these points were fully discussed on the Committee stage of the Marketing Bill.

Finally, in answer to the question with regard to Canada and the Free State, I am sure the House will realise that we are taking these steps solely with a view to economic considerations and to the crisis in the beef industry, to which my attention has been called by everyone who has anything to do with the situation, and on which, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) said, I have spoken repeatedly in recent weeks. It is true that at Ottawa certain Dominions found it possible to make agreements with this country, and certain other Dominions did not find it possible to make such agreements. Clearly, therefore, the difference is already in existence between the relations of the United Kingdom with those countries with which it has concluded agreements, and with those countries with which it has not concluded agreements.


Have the Government considered an alternative method of dealing with this matter, and that is to provide that everybody in this country should have a full meal at this time of the year?


It is clear that we are only dealing here with certain higher priced supplies, and are not making any suggestion for the limitation of supplies from Australia and New Zealand, which afford large supplies to this country.


Is it not in the power of the Government at once to relieve the beef situation by feeding the Forces here on home-bred beef?


Will not the 7 per cent. and the 3 per cent. prospective limitations of imports of bacon amount in all to approximately 45 per cent., and will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether, before guaranteeing this further limitation of 10 per cent., any estimate will be made by his Department as to what the ultimate cost of bacon will be in this country once the total limitation of 45 per cent. of imports is reached?


The limitation of imports has not been guaranteed. It has to be justified by the number of pig contracts entered into by home producers. Clearly, if the supplies of home-produced pig-meat do not justify a reduction there can be no reduction in the supply of bacon brought in from abroad.


Might I ask for your guidance and ruling, Mr. Speaker? Would I be in order in moving the Adjournment of the House on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the announcement of the Minister of Agriculture of the alteration in beef imports, with its consequent effect on the food of the people?


Will the hon. Member hand in the Motion which he wishes to move?


While the hon. Gentleman is writing out his Motion, might I ask another question? Is it not clear to everyone except the Members of the Socialist party that the whole quantity of bacon produced in this country will be given security in time?


Is it not a fact that at this moment the Ministry of Agriculture is having to provide tens of thousands of pounds to enable the bacon-curing industry to sell their bacon at an economic price?


On a point of Order. I desire to ask your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whether the House is entitled to be held up in the process of business while a Member writes out a Motion?


That is for me to decide. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, "the statement of the Minister of Agriculture and its effect on the food supplies of the people." I must, obviously, be influenced in deciding whether I accept this Motion or not by whether it can be discussed at an early date, and as the Motion for the Adjournment comes on to-morrow, the question can be discussed to-morrow just as well as today.