HC Deb 15 February 1940 vol 357 cc1035-7

6.37 p.m.

Major Braithwaite

I beg to move, in page 19, line 3, to leave out "Food," and to insert "Agriculture."

There is growing confusion in the minds of farmers regarding the respective duties of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food. Farmers do not object to the Minister of Food being the sole buyer of food or agricultural products, but they resent the Minister of Food interfering in their business of food production. This matter has given rise to great controversy throughout the agricultural community, and in this Clause there appears to be another attempt on the part of the Minister of Food to take charge of animals coming into this country and to regulate the disposal of such animals, the routes to be followed by imported livestock, and the times and prices at which animals may be imported. All these animals are not food. Some of them may be pedigree stock, and the Minister of Agriculture is the Minister who should deal with that side of farming.

I make a protest against the proposal in the Clause, and I ask that the Minister of Agriculture should be primarily responsible, all the way through to the abattoir, for the conduct of the farming community in the production of livestock, just as in the case of any other commodity produced on the farm. When the animal has arrived at the abattoir, then let the Ministry of Food take it over and do what they like about its disposal, but up to that point it should be clearly laid down that the farmers can rely on their own Minister for help and protection. Under this Measure the Minister of Food will be given power to prosecute farmers for acts which they may have done in pursuit of their occupation. Surely if farmers do anything wrong in connection with their own industry, the Minister of Agriculture should deal with them and not some outside Ministry. I ask the Government, therefore, to have the distinction between the two Ministries more clearly defined so that the agricultural community can understand it.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Ramsbotham

I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend appreciates the difference which the war has made in the situation—a difference which requires the inclusion in this Bill of the words that his Amendment seeks to delete. The Ministry of Agriculture had the power to control the imports of cattle and sheep in peace-time because they were responsible for administering the subsidy schemes. They required those powers of control in order to prevent smuggling and because of the fact that imported animals either were not eligible for subsidy or were eligible only at reduced rates. That was the point in giving the Ministry of Agriculture those powers in peace-time. But since the outbreak of war and since the Minister of Food became the sole purchaser of livestock in January last, the position is different. Now the subsidies which are payable have been merged in the price scales for the purchase of such stocks, and the prices payable for imported animals take account of the peace-time position, and the Minister of Food, as the Minister responsible for the existing livestock control, requires similar powers to those which were possessed by the Minister of Agriculture in peace-time. It would surely be inappropriate to allow those powers to remain with the Minister of Agriculture when it will not be possible for him to purchase livestock.

For that reason the Bill provides that the Minister of Food shall have the necessary powers which he can exercise in place of the Minister of Agriculture, and following precedent the powers for controlling the importation of animals which it is proposed to give the Minister of Food are dependent on the arrangements made by him for the purchase of livestock. It would be inappropriate, as I say, for the Minister of Agriculture to control imports of livestock when he has no direct responsibility for the purchase of livestock in this country to which the control of imports is a necessary adjunct. I think that is a very potent and cogent reason for declining to accept the Amendment, and I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend, when he realises the almost Gilbertian situation which would arise if we adopted his scheme, will not press this Amendment.

Major Braithwaite

In view of my right hon. Friend's explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.44 p.m.

Mr. Ramsbotham

I beg to move, in page 19, line 9, at the end, to insert, "or any class or description thereof."

This Amendment, together with two later Amendments on this Clause, are drafting Amendments designed to make it clear that the regulations which the Minister of Food may make may provide for the marking and control on importation of particular kinds of livestock but not of others. For instance, it may be necessary to confine the regulations to fat stock and leave breeding animals free from control.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 19, line 24, at the end, insert "or any class or description thereof."

In line 28, after "brought," insert "or any class or description thereof."—[Mr. Ramsbotham.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.