HC Deb 06 July 1936 vol 314 cc841-5
32. Mr. ATTLEE

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is yet in a position to make a statement with regard to the Government's livestock policy?


I would ask my right hon. Friend to await the statement that, by leave of the House I hope to make at the end of Questions.

At the end of Questions:


I can now indicate in broad outline the Government's permanent proposals for safeguarding the livestock industry. I must apologise for the length of the statement, but it is of interest and importance not only to this House but to producers both at home and overseas. The Government propose to proceed on the basis of a regulated market with the maximum supplies for the consumer consistent with a reasonable level of remuneration for the producer. It is the Government's desire that, at the earliest possible date, the responsibility for securing stable market conditions should be assumed by producers in the various countries concerned and exercised in the light of joint discussion of the problems involved. This discussion would be secured by the institution of an Empire Meat Council, representative of the United Kingdom and other Empire countries concerned, and an International Meat Conference, representative of the United Kingdom, other Empire countries and the foreign countries supplying substantial quantities of meat to this market. It would be proposed that, unless agreed otherwise by the Conference, aggregate exports to this market of beef (frozen and chilled and the meat equivalent of fat cattle) during each of the next three years should not exceed recent levels.

Further proposals as to market regulation, which mainly affect the exporting countries, are under discussion with the Governments of the countries concerned. Full details will be given in due course.

The Government have given earnest consideration to the position of the United Kingdom cattle producer under these arrangements, and they propose to invite Parliament to make provision for a permanent scheme for the payment from the Exchequer of a subsidy to producers of fat cattle in the United Kingdom which, while not stimulating an artificial expansion of the home industry, will continue for so long as and to the extent that the situation may require.

As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is at present in negotiation with the Argentine Government on the terms of a trade agreement to take the place of that now in force. I cannot forecast the terms of any settlement that may be reached, but I am able to say that in any event Parliament will be invited, immediately after the Summer Recess, to pass legislation providing for the collection of Customs duties on imports of chilled, frozen and other descriptions of beef and veal from foreign countries. The revenue derived from these duties will accrue directly to the Exchequer. It is not proposed, as part of the arrangements in contemplation, that there should be duties on imports of beef from Empire countries or on imports of mutton and lamb from any country.

The Government are of opinion that if adequate provision is to be made in one form or another for the needs of the United Kingdom cattle industry, the aggregate financial assistance now given to it must be increased until such time as the conditions prevailing in the industry improve. They propose to seek the authority of Parliament to apply to the assistance of the industry such sums not exceeding £5,000,000 per annum as may from time to time be needed. Parliament will be asked annually to make provision for a sum not exceeding this amount. As an offset to this liability, the Exchequer will benefit to the extent of the revenue from the import duties to which I have referred. The Government are desirous of providing that the payments made to the home producer of fat cattle under the permanent scheme shall be so adjusted as to give further encouragement to quality production. No final decision has been reached as to the measures to be taken to this end but the Cattle Committee, which administers the present temporary subsidy, have for some time had the practical aspects under consideration and will now consult with the various interests concerned. As regards mutton and lamb, imports of which are at present regulated in the case of foreign imports under statute, and in the case of Dominion imports by voluntary arrangements, the Government propose to continue the present system for the year 1937. The question will fall for consideration in due course whether thereafter the International Meat Conference, in association with the Empire Meat Council, should operate in regard to exports of mutton and lamb to this market.

The Government hope that the arrangements they contemplate for the stabilisation of the meat market will work to the satisfaction of all interests concerned, but as a precautionary measure they will ask Parliament to give them general power to regulate imports of livestock and meat should the need arise. The House will be invited to pass, before rising for the Summer Recess, a short interim measure extending, without modification, the existing cattle subsidy arrangements until if necessary 31st July, 1937, and legislation to give effect to the permanent proposals, including measures for the encouragement and promotion of efficiency, will be placed before Parliament early next session.


As the Government seem to have made up their mind to tax the poor man's meat, has any consideration been given to the possibility of expanding the consumption of meat and, further, from what part of the 1933 Marketing Act does the right hon. Gentleman derive the power to regulate imports of meat until a marketing scheme is in existence?


The 1933 Marketing Act provided that imports could be regulated if a marketing scheme was under consideration, and a marketing scheme is under consideration. As to the other questions, I think the opportunity for replying to them will come rather in the course of debate than in the course of question and answer, but, of course, provisions for increasing consumption are under the consideration of the Government and our proposals, both for improving the quality and for keeping down the price, are the most practical measures. As to the question of taxing the poor man's joint, I think I shall be able to prove, to mining Members especially, that there is no reason to suppose that their constituents do not eat home produced meat.


In view of the substantial sum involved, can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will insist over the next 12 months on the application of an efficient marketing scheme in this industry?


I certainly shall not give that assurance, and I shall hope to explain the reasons to my hon. Friend.


Are these payments to producers to be made without regard to means and without the imposition of a means test, and in view of the addition to the cost of living for the unemployed and other workers, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to his colleagues in the Cabinet to withdraw the means test from the unemployed?


I hope very much that they will not have the effect of burdening further the unemployed, any more than the recent measures taken to raise the price of fuel, which, I understand, the hon. Gentleman supported.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether during the whole of the deliberations, which have now covered a period of two years, he has been able to persuade the landowners to make a contribution?


Can the Minister say how the £5,000,000 figure is arrived at? Can we assume that it is a maximum adequate sum or a minimum adequate sum, or is it a purely empirical figure?


I stated that it was a sum not exceeding that amount, and that sum was arrived at after consultation with various authorities, including the Cattle Committee, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, includes representatives of very many political views in its membership.


In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman intends to give this large subsidy, and does not seem to encourage any marketing scheme, will he give an assurance that he will go into the question of grading which at the present time is much neglected; and will he see that the subsidy is not given to bad cow meat, as it is at present, and will he return to the system of grading in this country which was in operation immediately after the War?


I will do my best to satisfy the hon. Member on this subsidy as I did my best to satisfy him on the beet sugar subsidy, but it is quite wrong to suggest that I said that I would not encourage a marketing scheme. I was asked if I would impose a marketing scheme, but under the 1933 Act I have no such powers; and as to whether I should encourage efficient marketing, I have already stated in my answer that that is one of the main objects of the Government.


Is it contemplated that the levy will produce the whole of the £5,000,000, or will there be a Government subsidy in addition?


That question, clearly, should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in connection with the negotiations which I have said are now in progress with the Argentine.