HC Deb 14 November 1950 vol 480 cc1582-94

4.39 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)

I beg to move, That the Draft Calf Rearing Scheme (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (Variation of Payment) Order, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th November, be approved. This Order does not contain anything new but it carries out the statement I made for my right hon. Friend on 29th June, when I said that it was our intention to carry on the calf subsidy scheme for a further year and to make payments for calves that were born after 30th September this year and before 1st October next year of £5 per head for steer calves, but no payment for heifer calves born during that period. This Order follows a number of other Orders since the Miscellaneous Provisions Act, which first gave us power to make this kind of arrangement, was passed.

I do not think hon. Members would thank me for detaining the House now by going into a lengthy explanation and argument to show why it was thought to be reasonable. Our intention was to give as much impetus as we could in as short a space of time as possible to the development of our beef herds. It was thought that an injection of a payment of this kind for calves would give the incentive at the most useful point in growth and would encourage the development of the beef animal. As hon. Members will remember, the first Order made provision for payment for both steers and heifers at the rate of £4 for steers and £3 for heifers. The subsequent Order reduced the payment for heifers to £2 and increased the payment for steers to £5. Whereas at the beginning we had thought it necessary to give the utmost incentive for the production and rearing of all calves, after we had got over the first hurdle we began to switch the emphasis—as it has always been everybody's intention and desire to do—to steers, and so we weighted the payment in favour of steers.

This new Order really follows that progression. It continues the scheme in its logical way, as was urged on both sides of the House during the discussion of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and previous Orders, and it puts the whole emphasis on steers and removes it altogether from heifers. The payments will not begin to be made until July, 1951, because we do not pay the subsidy until the calf is nine months' old in order to be quite sure about its being carried on to the age which makes the scheme at all sensible. The arguments which were used before were certainly all in favour of our weighting the scheme in the way we are now doing.

1 do not think that anything in our experience invalidates the view which some of us held at the beginning that it was right at that time to include heifers in the scheme. In a moment I will give the House some interesting figures which show that the increase in the number of heifer calves since the scheme began is significant and outstanding. It was obvious that some incentive of this kind was valuable for carrying on a number of heifer calves of particular types such as beef breeds, and low yielding dairy breeds, and a number of such types were carried on after the introduction of the scheme which were not carried on before we had it. In the last year the position has begun to change. We are still getting an increase in the number of heifers carried on, but the rate of increase is beginning to tail off rapidly. It looks as if we have achieved what we set out to do—to bump up the numbers—and it is now on steers that we want to put the emphasis.

The House would be very wise to agree to the withdrawal of the subsidy for heifer calves at this stage; otherwise we shall find ourselves paying it only for the heifers which would be carried on in any case. The argument is sometimes used that we ought to retain it for all calves of the purely beef breeds or the crossbred animals. Our difficulty there is that it would be very difficult to distinguish in the field what were the honest results of that kind of union and what were not, and we think it far better to accept the evidence of the figures and remove it altogether at this stage.

In previous Debates hon. Members have spoken about the standard which we require of our calves before they are accepted for subsidy and some anxiety has at times been expressed whether we were setting the standard a little too low. We have been gradually raising it, as was our intention, so that the rise in the standard has gone along with the rise in the numbers, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that there has been a considerable improvement in the standard of calves accepted for subsidy, and we now regard the general standard as, on the whole, satisfactory. For interest, I will give the House the figures of calves under one year. These are U.K. figures, although I am moving an Order which does not apply to Scotland.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

Shall we be having the figures for Scotland?

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Member will contain himself, it will all come in due course in regular, logical progression. In 1947 the male calves under one year in the United Kingdom were 440,000. These are the 4th June figures.

Captain Duncan (South Angus)

Shall we have the figures for all the calves?

Mr. Brown

Yes, Sir. In 1948 the figure for male calves in the United Kingdom was 568,000, in 1949 it was 649,000 and in 1950 it was 712,000. We are, therefore, approaching a 75 per cent. increase over the figures for 1947 for male calves. Female calves numbered 1,302,000 in 1947, 1,451,000 in 1948 and 1,521,000 in 1949, and then began the tailing off and the figure was 1,542,000 in 1950. We have had a considerable increase there, and we got a considerable increase in the first two years. The totals for all calves under one year were 1,742,000 in 1947, 2,019,000 in 1948, 2,161,000 in 1949 and 2,253,000 in 1950.

Therefore, I think the House will agree that the scheme has achieved its aim, that it has been about right in its incidence, emphasis and progression, and that we are doing the right thing now in carrying it on for another year and doing the right thing in paying the subsidy solely for male calves. I hope that, with that explanation, the House will feel that I have said enough to ask it to give the Order early and unanimous approval.

4.46 p.m.

Mr. Henry Hopkinson (Taunton)

Breeders of beef cattle generally will welcome this modification in the calf rearing scheme and will agree with the Minister that the change has come at the right time. I do not say that that will apply entirely to certain breeders of cattle, such as the breeders of pedigree cattle, who will not benefit from the change to the same extent as others.

I should like to refer to a matter which I and other hon. Members have raised from time to time in this House, the marking of the ears of calves under this scheme. Originally a ⅜-inch triangular punch was adopted for marking calves in the right ear, the same ear in which the breed marks are tattooed, but it was found that this triangular hole had a tendency to grow together again, and I believe there were certain cases in which claims for the subsidy were made a second time. As a result it was decided to adopt a larger punch, a circular punch of ½-inch diameter. This very large hole has led to ears being torn and to great cruelty and certainly to the spoiling of the appearance of pedigree cattle both for sale at home and for overseas markets.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Order he will find that this subject does not come within its scope.

Mr. Hopkinson

Nevertheless, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I hope that as a result of this Order the Minister will review the size of punches and adopt a ⅜-inch round punch.

4.49 p.m.

Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)

I hope that the Government will take particular note of what has been said in this regard by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson), although I know it is a very difficult problem. By and large, there will be full agreement on this occasion that the Government have taken the right steps at this particular moment. We had a considerable debate during the Committee Stage of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill on increasing the number of calves kept at their younger ages and various views were expressed as to what the subsidy should be in regard to both steers and heifers, and it is satisfactory to note that, by and large, the views expressed then have been carried out by the Government.

I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary took the opportunity today to give the House the figures of the increase in calves that has resulted from this Measure. It was intended that it should be an impetus to encourage agriculturalists in different parts of the country to keep more of their calves instead of sending them away at a week old to the slaughter house. Quite clearly, from the figures given us by the Parliamentary Secretary, that has achieved its purpose, and I think that the House will agree to pass this order in its present form.

4.51 p.m.

Captain Duncan (South Angus)

The Parliamentary Secretary read out figures obtained from the 4th June return. He also mentioned the fact that the Government were satisfied with the standard of calf now being punched. The figures, however, did not disclose how many had been punched and how many had been refused. Calves which had been punched and are now two and three years old are coming into the market, and to look at some of them they should never have been punched at all because of the low quality. Can the hon. Gentleman give us the figures for this year to show the numbers that were refused punching on the grounds of low quality?

4.52 p.m.

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

I am interested in the production of beasts, particularly those from beef strains. I have seen a number of heifers taken up to the killing grade which have done extremely well. One of the results of this order may be that breeders of that beef type of cattle will not be encouraged to bring those heifer calves up to killing maturity.

The Minister said there was difficulty in tracing the parenthood of such calves at, say, nine months. I appreciate that, but has the following point been considered? There are a number of cases, particularly in the West country, where beef breeders carry their calves for nine months on the farm. When the official goes round to mark those heifers, it would be possible to mark home-bred calves, to learn the breeding of such heifers born on the farm. Indeed, the breeder might issue a certificate to that effect. I quite agree that a heifer which has passed through the market and through many hands is difficult to check, but I want to encourage the breeders of cattle to go on breeding and selling good heifers for fattening. We do not want to lose those, particularly if they have been well bred. Would the Minister reconsider that question?

4.54 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) will be aware of previous discussions on this question when there were keen differences of opinion in all parts of the House whether a subsidy should be paid for a heifer calf or not. Year by year, therefore, we adopted what I felt was the general feeling of the House, reducing the amount paid for a heifer calf until finally in 1950 it finishes. There may be substance in the point of the hon. Member, but I am quite sure that had he suggested to the House this afternoon the continuation of a subsidy for heifer calves, we should have met with opposition.

Mr. P. Roberts

I am not suggesting that those breeds which are primarily for milk should be subsidised because possibly milk subsidising has been overstressed. I want to help the beef breed.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Member is aware that there are certain breeds which have a dual purpose. It would require an army of people moving round the counties to decide which was a heifer for replacement in the dairy herd and which was a heifer going on for beef. I doubt if we could discriminate between such breeds although we, as well as the hon. Member, want to see as many heifer calves reared for beef as possible—certainly those that are not suitable for dairy herd replacement.

The point raised by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) is not within the confines of this order. As my Parliamentary Secretary said on a previous occasion, we have to do our best to hold the balance between the honest men and the crooks. However, I will gladly undertake to look at the question he has raised because neither my hon. Friend or myself, nor any of those associated with us, want to inflict unnecessary cruelty on calves or on any other member of the livestock family.

The hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) asked for the number of calves that had been turned down. I cannot give that figure without notice, but I will undertake to see whether it is available, or can be obtained, and if so I will let him have it. I hope that the Order may now be approved.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Draft Calf Rearing Scheme (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (Variation of Payment) Order, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th November, be approved.

4.57 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

I beg to move, That the Draft Calf Rearing Subsidy Scheme (Variation of Payment) (Scotland) Order, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th November, be approved. The changes made in this Order are exactly similar to those made in the English Order which the House has just passed, and I do not think hon. Members would wish me to repeat the statement made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. However, when he was giving certain figures one or two hon. Gentlemen seemed to wish to have not only the figures for the United Kingdon but the Scottish figures of animals under one year old, and I may be able to help the House by giving those figures.

Taking dairy cattle, the number of male dairy animals under one year has not altered much, but in 1948 we had 149,889 females under one year old. In 1950 the provisional September census figure is 152,000, which shows a little increase. One sees a bigger increase among the beef cattle under one year old. In 1948 there were 93,303 male animals. The provisional figure in the September census of this year is 122,000. The figure for female beef cattle under one year old is 72,064 in 1948, going up to 82,000 this year. I hope hon. Members w ill feel that the figures I have given are evidence of the success of this scheme, and that we may be enabled to continue it.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, can he say if the figures he has given are comparable with the figures given by his hon. Friend? The Joint Under-Secretary has referred to beef cattle and milk cattle, and those figures do not seem to me to be comparable with the figures given previously by the Parliamentary Secretary. It would be interesting to have figures that are strictly comparable because we are somewhat jealous in Scotland as to the progress we make in these matters, and we should like an opportunity of comparing them with the English figures.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will give due heed to the point just raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). The hon. Gentleman did not show himself the same master of his subject this afternoon as did the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture in England and Wales.

Mr. T. Fraserindicated dissent.

Mr. McKie

I see that the hon. Gentleman is dissenting. He is entitled to his view, and I am entitled to mine. I do not think that he would have been prepared to give the figures at all, but for a little murmur on this side while the English Parliamentary Secretary was speaking. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) asked whether the House was to have the opportunity of being given separate figures for Scotland, to which the reply of the English Parliamentary Secretary was, "Yes. If you wait, all this will come in due course."

I think that the hon. Gentleman, however, was speaking a little too quickly, because it was quite evident that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was very unprepared. It is quite true that he attempted to read out a few figures, but he went very quickly, and I only hope that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was able to grasp them more comprehensively than I was. He certainly failed to impress me in the way I had hoped regarding the state of affairs in Scotland, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok must have been almost as much bewildered as myself.

I offer no opposition or even criticism on the scheme, but I hope that there has been due consultation on it with those most competent to advise in Scotland, and particularly with the National Farmers' Union. I say that because there have been occasions, particularly in agricultural matters in Scotland, when the Scottish Office have had more or less to admit that they had not had that due consultation which many of use, particularly on this side of the House, who are, perhaps, rather more concerned with agricultural matters than hon. Members opposite——

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)


Mr. McKie

—I felt that they ought to have had.

I have a point to raise regarding the payment of the subsidies. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture in England and Wales said that no payments would fall due before, I think, July, 1951. As the Scottish Under-Secretary made no exception in favour of the Northern Kingdom, I take it that the date will be the same in both countries. I have no wish to strike any note of undue criticism, but I hope that there will be no unseemly delay in the making of these payments, because, as I think the Joint Under-Secretary of State will have to agree, there have been cases of considerable hold-up of payments to interested parties.

Those of use who have been engaged in agriculture—and I would say this even if the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) were present—have had a good deal for which to be thankful in the years gone by in the way of assistance we have received from the Government, but there have been cases—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I am being generous—but there have been cases, although perhaps not specifically in agriculture, where subsidies have not been paid with that celerity for which those qualified to receive them had hoped. I trust that those who are to benefit by the subsidies which we are discussing will not have to wait unduly long for them. I do not know what has happened in England and Wales, but—I say this with diffidence and not, I hope, disrespect—those who are responsible for Scottish agriculture at St. Andrew's House have sinned considerably in this respect.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) was praising the Order or damning it. I am not quite sure what he was doing, but I agree with one of his first remarks, that he was entirely bewildered by the presentation of the picture.

Mr. McKie

The Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland gave the impression that he was quite unprepared to give the figures, and when he read through them he left me in a state of bewilderment.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

All I can say is that I regret that the state of bewilderment has continued so long.

I object to the aspersion which the hon. Member made on my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, that he was less competent about the administration of agriculture in Scotland than was his colleague regarding England.

Mr. McKie

He had not read his brief.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The very fact that he produced those figures almost immediately was proof positive that they were available at the appropriate moment. From my experience of farmers and agriculturists in Scotland, no Under-Secretary for many years has been so acceptable to the farming community of Scotland as my hon. Friend has been. The National Farmers' Union in my constituency hold him in very great respect, a respect which will certainly not be diminished by the bewilderment of the hon. Member for Galloway.

I only wish that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), had been present, because during the Debate on the Address he made the amazing proposition that he was in favour of the abolition of all subsidies. If the hon. Member had been here today, he would hardly have continued his opposition to this subsidy. I regret his absence, because I am certain that this subsidy will be very welcome to the constituency which I represent, and which is very interested in this Order. Really, what the hon. Member for Galloway should have done was to rise in his place and say: For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Had he said that, it would have been the best speech he had ever delivered in the House of Commons.

5.9 p.m.

Mr. T. Fraser

The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) asked whether the figures I had given were strictly comparable with those given by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. My hon. Friend gave the figures for the United Kingdom as a whole. He did not give figures for England and Wales and for Scotland. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) would contain himself, if he could overcome that state of bewilderment in which I found him when I came to the House, perhaps we could get on.

My hon. Friend gave the figures of all animals under one year old in the United Kingdom. I broke up some figures which were given in the papers I had with me, and I gave the figures of dairy animals and beef animals under one year old. My hon. Friend the English Parliamentary Secretary was very wise to give the figure for the United Kingdom and not for Scotland and England and Wales. If the hon. Member for Galloway knew his part of the world a little better, he would know that a lot of young animals cross the Border in both directions. He forgets that the number of young animals under one year old which may be found on one side of the Border is not the number which will be maintained and fed on that side of the Border; neither does it represent the number of animals born on that side of the Border.

Mr. McKie

I am quite as well aware of that as the hon. Gentleman, but what I was anxious about was that the House should have the separate figures.

Mr. T. Fraser

The hon. Gentleman is really complaining because I gave the separate figures for Scotland. If he wants the figure for England, Wales and Northern Ireland he should take the figure my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary gave and deduct the figure I gave for Scotland. If an addition sum is made of my figures of the dairy and beef animals, one would get the total, except that one would have to add 18,000 of the male animals under one year old. Then I think we would find that our figure is a comparable figure with the remaining figure for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I was asked if there had been consultations with the National Farmers' Union. I do not know that in the five and a half years I have been at the Scottish Office I have ever had a complaint from the National Farmers' Union that I have not properly consulted them on these matters, but the hon. Member for Galloway imagines many of these things, and his imagination was once more disclosed to the House today when he said he thought there had been lack of consultation.

He also thought there had been a considerable hold-up in the payments, but I am not aware of a considerable hold-up. If he is aware of such a hold-up, perhaps he will give me some particulars and I shall with pleasure inquire into the accusation he has made. I think the Order is one generally acceptable to the House and I hope we may now be able to accept it.

Commander Galbraith

I would have preferred it, if the hon. Gentleman had been able to give the exactly comparable figures, but I understand that if 18,000 were added to the milk figures he gave, that is, if he gave the number of females and added 18,000 males of the milk series, we would get a figure comparable to that given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Draft Calf Rearing Subsidy Scheme (Variation of Payment) (Scotland) Order, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th November, be approved.