HC Deb 08 December 1949 vol 470 cc2218-23

10.0 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

I beg to move, That the Draft Calf Rearing Scheme (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (Extension and Payment) Order, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st November, be approved. I need not occupy the time of the House very long to commend this Motion to the House. Hon. Members will recall that power was taken in 1947 down to 1951 to provide a calf subsidy for those calves reared up to the age of 12 months. In the first two years the subsidy was £4 for a steer calf and £3 for a heifer. We had two Debates in the House, and three points arose. I was impressed by what hon. Members said in all parts of the House with regard to the £4 and £3, and also about the standard of calves to be reared, and about the payment for certification officers.

I think hon. Members will agree that in this order I have pretty well accepted the collective voice of the House, in that a change has been made from £4 for a steer to £5 and from £3 for a heifer to £2. With regard to the standard of calves to be reared, the standard has been raised. All certifying officers have been instructed by my livestock officers in the new standards, and I am satisfied that there is already an improvement all over the country. With regard to the payments for certifying officers, they have been changed, and now they are on a sliding scale. A person who in one visit can certify 10 calves receives a payment of 3s. 6d. per calf, which includes of course, any travelling expenses, and so forth; from 11 to 20 the payment is reduced to 2s. 6d.; and for any number beyond 20 the payment is down to 1s. 6d.

Therefore in view of the fact that I have conceded all three points to the collective voice of the House I hope the House will readily agree that for the next 12 months the calf subsidy shall be £5 for a steer and £2 for a heifer. For the final year the size of the subsidy will be determined at the time of the 1950 February review.

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

I am sure that all of us who are directly concerned in a practical way with the calf rearing subsidy will welcome the changes that the Minister has made, because they do, as he says, reflect the general concensus of opinion already expressed in this House. Some of us, while recognising the good results which are flowing from the subsidy, are a little concerned about the standard the Minister sets for the certifying officers when they are actually approving calves for subsidy. The Minister mentioned that a new set of instructions had recently been issued to those gentlemen. I wonder if the Minister could give us just a little information on that?

Those of us who are farmers are very conscious of the subsidies that we receive. This £7,000,000 calf rearing subsidy is part, of course, of the total figure of £25,500,000. We are anxious that this £7,000,000 calf subsidy—I assume that it will run at much the same total for the next year—will be directed to getting at what is the real purpose of the calf subsidy—that is, to getting more cattle reared that will be suitable for beef production. It is nice, of course, for the dairy farmer to get something on dairy heifers, but that is not the real purpose of this calf rearing subsidy. We are anxious that this £7,000,000 should be directed in such a way as to increase beef production, and to the rearing in particular of more store cattle that will make reasonable beef animals. Could the Minister tell us in a word or two the tenor of the new directions that have been given to the certifying officers?

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)

I should like to put one or two questions to the Minister. I recognise that there has been this alteration in the calf subsidy by raising the amount paid for steer calves and reducing the amount paid for heifer calves. In conversation with dairy farmers I find that quite a number are not claiming the subsidy for their heifer calves, so that they, as farmers, question the need for a subsidy for the heifer calves for rearing their dairy herds. The fact that they are not claiming the subsidy indicates that they can quite successfully rear their heifers for the herds without even the £2 a head.

We know that the purpose of the subsidy for steer calves is to increase the number of steer calves that are reared so that we shall have a greater quantity of beef for the country. In so far as the subsidy increases the number reared to a year old, it is obviously meeting a national need, but could we not use this system for bringing about a further improvement? It has been found beyond doubt that polled steer or de-horned steer do better than horned steer when they have to be yarded together, particularly during the winter.

Why could not this certification of the calves for subsidy include a condition that the farmers should de-horn them? I have seen some dairy herds, Ayrshires for instance, which have been de-horned when they have become adult calves. With certain systems of milking, with the modem milking parlour, it is necessary; it is utterly impossible to work with cows with long and sharp horns. Therefore a major operation has to take place, the veterinary surgeon has to be called in, and off come the horns with the saw or the guillotine.

If we could have a painless and quick system of de-horning the calf before it is eight or ten days' old we could achieve two purposes. First we would increase the number, and second we would encourage the fanner to go in for de-horning calves painlessly. The result would be improved heifers for the dairy, and also steer calves for fattening on for beef. I made this suggestion in an earlier Debate on this subject, but on that occasion I did not get a reply from the Minister. This is a matter of vital interest to the whole future of the cattle side of farming in this country, and I should like to know whether this condition could be included in the certification of calves.

10.9 p.m.

Sir John Barlow (Eddisbury)

I hope the Minister will be able to tell us how many calves he thinks he has saved by the subsidy since it was started a couple of years ago, because when this proposal was originally put forward, some of us suggested that it would be very expensive indeed for the extra number of calves which were to be saved for making into beef subsequently. Some of us think that it is quite unnecessary to pay a subsidy on heifer cows because a large number of these will be reared in any case. Obviously, most farmers do not refuse subsidies when offered to them, and they would be unwise to do so. At the same time, a very large number of heifer cows are reared whether there are subsidies or not.

I should like to see this subsidy used entirely for increasing the number of store calves, because I think that would serve the Minister very much better. We believe that £7 million a year is spent in this way. How much of that goes in actual calf subsidy and how much goes on giving the subsidy? It must be possible to estimate that, and I should like to know the comparative cost of the actual subsidy and the cost of imposing it the whole way through the Ministry.


Mr. T. Williams

I am sure that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) would not expect me to answer in detail just how the standard of calves has been raised. It is a technical matter with which only my livestock officers can deal. I can assure him, however, that the standard has been raised. Lectures have been given by my livestock officers at conferences, and I understand that there is a pronounced change throughout the country. With regard to de-horning, I should like to see every animal in the country de-horned. I do not exclude Ayrshires or anything else. I think that it would be for the good of the animal, for the good of milk production and for the good of food production. There must be an enormous amount of damage caused by unnecessary horns.

I do not think that this is the right moment for any form of compulsion with regard to the calf subsidy scheme. What we want is more beef. Anything that we may do to discourage the possibility of calves being reared for beef would militate against the national interest. I believe in my hon. Friend's general thesis that calves ought to be de-horned for their own safety and that of their owners, but I am certain that this is not the time to do it. In any case it does not happen to be in the Order, so whatever my personal sympathies may be I am afraid that it cannot be done.

In reply to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Sir J. Barlow), the increase in the number of calves today under one year Old compared with two years ago, is 415,000. Therefore, I think that the subsidy provided the right inducement, and in a year or eighteen months' time there will be much more British beef for the British housewife than there would have been without this calf subsidy.

Sir J. Barlow

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the relative cost?

Mr. Williams

I cannot give the hon. Member a figure that would satisfy me. I have not the expenses of certification and general administration in my mind.

Resolved: That the Draft Calf Rearing Scheme (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (Extension and Payment) Order, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st November, be approved.