§ Order for Second Reading read
§ 11.22 a.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Sir Thomas Dugdale)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House will recall that in April when I announced the results of this year's Annual Review of Farm Prices the Government had decided to renew the subsidy, originally introduced in 1947, to encourage the rearing of calves. The legislation passed by the last Government—the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1949—provided for a subsidy on calves born during a period of four years only. The provisions of this Act came to an end last September. As the position is, no calves born after 30th September, 1951, are eligible for that subsidy. In the course of the annual review we set aside the sum of £4½ million to meet the cost in the first livestock year of renewing the subsidy on steer calves and of paying one on heifer calves of beef type. In this Bill I am seeking the authority of the House for a scheme to pay this subsidy to farmers.
The Bill is a short one, similar in form to the Agriculture (Fertilisers) Act and the Agriculture (Ploughing Grants) Act which were considered by the House earlier this year. It does not in itself contain details of a subsidy scheme, but simply gives the Agricultural Ministers power to make schemes for subsidies on calves. If this Bill commends itself to the House, which I hope it will, I shall then put before the House a draft of a calf subsidy scheme which will need an affirmative resolution before it comes into force. That is in keeping with the other Bills, and in keeping with the Government's view, which, I think, is shared by the Opposition on this particular point.
977 The renewal of the calf subsidy is intended to encourage the rearing of more calves. We are hopeful that we may be able to increase the present number, in due course, by at least 400,000 a year. That aim was placed in the forefront of our discussions with the farmers at the last Annual Review.
I do not think that the House will wish to be wearied this morning with another review of the world meat situation. I do not think that there is now any disagreement between us that we are most unlikely in the foreseeable future to obtain from abroad anything like as much meat as we did before 1939. In this connection, I need only refer to the figures given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food on Monday last, in reply to a Question, which showed that imports of beef have steadily dropped from 478,000 tons in 1947 to a little over 150,000 tons in 1951. These figures in themselves, although we may see some improvement—and I think we will—in the imports of beef, are a clear indication that we must produce more beef from our own farms in this country. When I came to review the state of our livestock industry last winter, I found a rather disturbing trend of events. I found not a steadily expanding number of beef cattle but the very reverse—a steady decline.
Between December, 1949, and March, 1952, there was a decline of about 300,000 in the number of cattle being reared. There were very few more heifers being reared than in 1947, and a great part of the increase in steers which had occurred between 1947 and 1949 had also been lost. In other words, we were steadily sinking back to the stagnation of 1947. At present the output of beef—and I should like to draw the attention of the House to this—in the United Kingdom is still expanding because of the increased rearing which occurred between 1947 and 1949. Cattle reared in those years are now coming out fat to add to our meat rations. But the decline in rearing will inevitably mean a drop of beef production in this country during the next year or two; nothing can now prevent that.
I suggest that what the House now has to consider is how to reverse that trend and again increase the production of beef. The essential thing is to get a rapid increase in rearing at the earliest possible date. The Government considered the 978 position very carefully and decided that the best way of quickly stimulating the rearing of beef cattle was to re-introduce the calf subsidy. The Government decided—and I am sure that we are right—that this will be more effective than simply using this £4½ million to give a further increase in the end price of beef.
That brings me to a point which I should like to discuss with the House in a few moments. I know that some Members on both sides of the House dislike the principle of making these special grants or subsidies to farmers. They feel that it would be simpler and sounder to give the whole increase by raising the price of the end-product. In this connection let me emphasise very strongly that these grants are not something given to farmers on the top of proper prices for their produce. They are simply an alternative way of paying to farmers a proportion of the money necessary to meet their costs. To call them subsidies may be misleading; that is why I prefer to call them production grants.
In the present circumstances, I think that dealing with the problem in this way has two main advantages. First, they can produce a quicker response and encourage a quicker and larger increase in production of the things we want than if we simply raised the end prices of farm produce.
As an example of the way the same kind of thing occurs in a sphere other than agriculture, a doctor can sometimes get a quicker response from a patient by injecting direct into the blood stream instead of waiting for a drug taken through the mouth to be absorbed into the blood. So these production grants, injected at the right point, can bring quicker results than higher prices, particularly where, as with cattle, the man who rears the calf is seldom the one who sells it as a fat beast at the end of its life.
Second, these production grants help with the financing of production. One of the greatest difficulties which has faced farmers during the last few years has been the enormous increase in production costs, in the cost of everything which they have to buy to run their farms and maintain production. We have tried to keep these increases to a minimum this year, as the House knows. For these 979 reasons I think that there is justification for the calf subsidy.
I know that many of us on both sides of the House had doubts and hesitations about the wisdom of introducing a calf subsidy when we discussed this matter in 1949. Certainly I myself had doubts and fears, some of which have been justified by experience of the actual running of the subsidy. But I supported it then in principle because I could not think of any better way in which we could so quickly increase the amount of beef produced in this country. For the same reason I have come to the conclusion that the subsidy ought to be kept on now.
The advantages of the subsidy as I see them are first, that it insures that the extra money does really go to the rearer of the calf and gives him an early payment. Second, this payment of £5 is something which the rearer can count upon. When we discussed the subsidy in 1949 we had some argument about whether it was encouraging the rearing of calves. Looking back there can be no doubt about it.
In the two years after the introduction of the calf subsidy in 1947 about 450,000 extra calves a year were being reared in the United Kingdom. That was an increase of nearly one-third in two years which, as the House will agree, was a considerable result. The response to the calf subsidy was immediate, and I believe that the subsidy will have the same effect on this occasion. For these reasons I consider that a calf subsidy at this time is the best, quickest and most effective way of getting more cattle reared for beef in this country.
As I said earlier, the Bill does not contain details of the new subsidy scheme, but it might help the House if I were to explain fairly fully what we have in mind for the first scheme. Since the Annual Review we have been discussing with the three Farmers' Unions of the United Kingdom what the conditions ought to be so as to make sure that we get a really satisfactory and workable scheme to increase our beef supplies.
We propose to continue with the steer calf subsidy in much the same form as in the previous scheme. I think there were few criticisms of the steer subsidy. 980 Heifers are another matter. Probably the most general criticism of the original calf subsidy was that large sums of money were paid on heifer calves intended for the dairy herd, all of which would have been reared whether there was a subsidy or not.
In the later stages the heifer subsidy was first reduced and then discontinued. I am not at this stage going to argue whether that was right or wrong but the fact is that there was no special incentive to rear heifer calves for fattening or as beef cows for further breeding. But more suitable heifers must be reared if we are to get the extra 400,000 calves a year that we require. That is why the Government are to pay subsidy not only on steers but on heifers of beef type.
The House will appreciate that it will not be easy to draw the line between those heifers which are suitable for beef production and those which are not. Over a very large majority there will be no dispute. The well known beef herds and their crosses will obviously be included—the Hereford, the Beef Shorthorn, the Devon, Aberdeen Angus, Galloway, Highland, Sussex and so on. The so called "colour-marked" heifers—progeny of Angus, Hereford and Galloway bulls and dairy cows—will obviously come in.
At the other extreme heifer calves from the purely dairy breeds will be debarred from the new subsidy; we do not intend to pay subsidy on Jersey, Guernsey, Ayrshire, or Friesian type heifer calves. Having eliminated those two main blocks there remains the large number of heifers of the so called "dual-purpose" breeds.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Because it is a milk animal; it is not a beef-producing animal.
As I was saying, there remains the large number of heifers of the so called "dual-purpose" breeds.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Why is the Minister so certain that Friesian type heifers would not be useful from the point of view of beef production? One has seen many examples recently of salvaged Freisian type animals which have fleshed very well.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The answer is that Friesian steers come in but Friesian heifers are excluded because the enormous numbers would take the scheme outside the scope of the money available. By and large, no one does in fact rear or breed the Friesian heifer especially for beef.
Now I come to the difficult group, the large number of heifers of the so called "dual-purpose" breeds. I refer to the Dairy Shorthorns and other breeds like the Welsh Black, the Red Poll, the South Devon and the Lincoln Red. In this category every heifer will have to be judged on its merits when it is inspected. If it is of a marked dairy type it will be excluded; if it looks as if it will make a good beef animal it will be accepted.
I do not pretend that the decision will be easy; there are bound to be borderline cases. But the farmers' representatives have accepted the principle that the object of this subsidy is to increase our supplies of good beef animals and that wherever a line is drawn some heifers must be rejected.
I now turn to the cost of the scheme, bearing in mind that the total sum available is £4½ million during the year. The rate of subsidy will be £5 per head for both steers and heifers. This is the same as for steers under the old scheme. The cost of the scheme in the livestock year, April, 1952, to March, 1953, will be something less than £4½ million. This is the figure given in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.
In order that the House should not misunderstand the position, I should make it clear that this does not cover a full year's crop of calves, since we estimate about 1,100,000 calves will be eligible. In the livestock year 1953–54, therefore, the subsidy would cost £5½ million, even if there were no increase in the meantime in the number of calves reared. The leaders of the farmers' organisations have undertaken that this additional £1 million, or any such variation from £4½ million, will be regarded as a first charge against any global award resulting from the next Annual Review or, if there is no award, will be compensated by an adjustment of appropriate prices.
We propose to run on the new steer subsidy without a break from the old 982 subsidy, which means that steer calves born on or after 1st October last year will be eligible for the subsidy, and the same date will apply to heifer calves. I should explain to the House why we are proposing to pay subsidy on calves born before I made the announcement about the renewal of the subsidy.
The subsidy, as I explained earlier, is an alternative to an increase in the prices of fat cattle, and £4½ million was set aside from the money which would otherwise have been applied to raising those prices. Had that been done farmers would have got this money during the livestock year beginning on 1st April, 1952, and in fairness to them we must therefore so arrange the subsidy that they will get this money in the same year.
Since calves are not certified for the subsidy until they are about nine months old, we can only ensure payment of the £4½ million in this year if we start payments with calves born from October, 1951, onwards. There are obvious advantages in making the new steer subsidy continuous with the old one. In the past calves have usually been inspected and certified when about nine to 12 months old. This was done because if the subsidy is paid earlier in the life of the calf there is a real risk that some of them might be neglected once the subsidy has been received, and it is necessary to ensure that farmers rear their calves well.
Unfortunately this rule raises difficulties in the hill districts, especially in the Scottish Highlands. There calves are mostly born in the spring, and because of the lack of winter feed they have to be sold in the autumn when only about six months old. When this happens the breeders do not always receive full allowance in the price for the subsidy which is yet to be paid. We have therefore decided that in future the minimum age for certification shall be reduced to six months, but we intend to certify calves at this stage only where the farmer is being forced to sell them because of shortage of feed. Normally they will not be inspected until they are at least eight months old. We hope this arrangement will be a real encouragement to the breeding of beef stores in the hill areas, especially in Scotland.
I would say a word about the problem of premature slaughter. From time to time we receive complaints that young 983 cattle are submitted for the subsidy and are then sold for slaughter. This is an abuse of the subsidy, because it is intended to encourage the rearing of stores for fattening into mature beef animals. This is not a matter that can conveniently be dealt with in the Bill, but we have agreed with the farmers that if an immature animal upon which subsidy has been paid is sent for grading, the Minister of Food will see that the price paid for it is reduced by the equivalent of the subsidy. The precise description of an immature animal will be decided in consultation with the National Farmers' Unions.
As to the period of subsidy, the House will agree, I think, that beef production is a long-term business and cannot be stimulated by short-term measures. If we are to encourage farmers to increase the number of calves they rear we must give them some assurance that the subsidy will continue for a reasonable length of time. So in the Bill we have provided that subsidy schemes may run for three years. We regard three years as the essential minimum, and the first scheme will cover this period.
I have given a broad outline of our intentions under the Bill, and I will now briefly run through the various Clauses of this short Bill. Clause 1 contains the main provisions of the scheme. It enables me to make calf subsidy schemes for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Secretary of State to make schemes for Scotland. Clause 2 gives us power to mark imported calves. These are not eligible for the subsidy, but it will not be possible to tell that they were imported unless they had been marked.
Clause 3 lays down the penalties for altering marks placed on calves in connection with the calf subsidy and for obstructing people who have authority to mark calves. Clause 4 provides that the subsidy payments and administrative expenses have to be met out of money voted by Parliament.
I believe that this short Bill which will authorise the renewal of the calf subsidy is necessary if we are to get the increase in beef production on our farms that all of us wish to see. I am hopeful that the House will give it a Second Reading without a Division in support of the principle underlying the Bill.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
We are grateful to the Minister for the full statement which he has given us, not only on the Bill, but on the background to it. He has told us—we have had this before—that it is one of the essential parts of the new policy which my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) produced for the agricultural industry immediately after we on this side of the House came to power in 1945, and made it fit into his expansion programme. As the right hon. Gentleman said—I thought a little lacking in conviction and full evidence of his past errors—when that was done he and his hon. Friends felt, on the whole, that it was not a very good thing.
I have with me this morning a record of our debates at that time and it would be a rather pleasant thing, in view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman said he supported it then in principle, to read to him some passages from his speech which I have looked through very carefully because there is not one single word of support of any kind. He condemned it then without any expression of support in principle and, at a later stage, referred to what he said was the correct solution so that it may be inferred that the other solution must be an incorrect one.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is doing himself a little more than justice on this occasion in claiming that he had anything but the view a few short years ago that this was the wrong thing. However, on this occasion I do not propose to amuse the House, myself, or right hon. Gentleman with quotations of that kind, except to put on record that he has had a conversation about this matter as about most other agricultural matters which, for its dramatic suddenness, its scope and size in the space of nine months, must rank with that which occurred on the road to Damascus. There has been none like it in modern times.
It does not follow—I commend this to the right hon. Gentleman who, since he took over at 55 Whitehall, has got round to the view which the Labour Party had five years ago, that the point is still right by the time he gets round to it. We live in a changing world. The great thing about the Conservative Party and the Labour Party is that, on the 985 whole, we are at least always five years ahead of them. The best they can claim is that they will reach us about five years later. I am glad that even at this late stage the right hon. Gentleman now agrees that we were right then.
No doubt he will feel that that should inhibit me from being very critical now, but we are not occupied full time, as the Tory Party are, in trying to catch up with the past. We can look at the more recent experience and look to the future. On the whole, I think that is the major criticism of what the right hon. Gentleman is doing about all these things. It can be argued that this subsidy is injecting, as the right hon. Gentleman said, an element of the price in the beginning end of the cycle and in so doing it produces a more immediate and a more specific incentive. Does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Crookshank) wish to enter the contest?
§ Mr. Brown
But there is a beginning end. We are having some difficulty with the Leader of the House and doing our best to help him. I am quite prepared to explain to him that if he takes up a length of string he will find that he has to start at one end or the other and the end at which he starts is commonly called the beginning end, while the end at which he finishes is understood on the whole to be the final end.
§ Mr. Bullard
On a specific point, if one end of a piece of string is the beginning end, is the other the end end?
§ Mr. Brown
The other end is the final end, the finish. It is extraordinary that hon. Members opposite should have such difficulty in understanding such things, although this is their first Session. I think we have established on the whole 986 that the first end is the beginning and the final end is the finish. That should commend itself to hon. Members; when they came in in October that was the beginning and when they go out in a few months' time that will be the finish.
We inject the subsidy at that point, at the beginning end, and it has an immediate, dramatic and, in some ways, a successful effect upon getting the spurt in production which we want. But the payment of a calf subsidy has not, in fact, achieved its purpose if it produces more calves in a short period of time. The object, as the right hon. Gentleman fairly said, is to get more beef and no one is very interested unless the animals go on.
When the whole matter was discussed before there were many criticisms from the other side of the House which I said at the time were rather ill-informed and the right hon. Gentleman now says so. But some pertinent criticisms were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon). I would be doing less than justice, since I took it upon myself then to answer him, if I did not say that, looking back over the period, I find that a good many of the criticisms he made then have turned out to have validity in them. For example, the right hon. Gentleman said that the number of calves increased in 1947, 1948 and 1949 and, because of that, we are getting more beef than we were then.
I am glad he said that because it is a comment which will warm the heart of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley. But then he said that after that there was a substantial falling off and we had something like 300,000 less from 1949 to 1952. If that is so, one is bound to ask why it is, if the calf subsidy produced this result, that it has tailed off so substantially, since the calf subsidy was still running for most of the time. I think it tailed off for one or two reasons. These pump priming estimates, however much they are justified, do not have a lasting value; in fact, the law of diminishing returns applies rather more quickly and fully than to most other things. It would be silly to ignore the experience which, in some cases, has had the result forecast by my hon. Friend. This did not continue to achieve the purposes for which we introduced it.
987 Therefore, while I am not prepared to say that the right hon. Gentleman when faced with a situation such as we had in 1947 in trying to get a new spurt in the rearing of calves is wrong to adopt the pump priming effort, nevertheless what worries me about his whole attitude on these things is that he seems to mistake purely pump priming efforts for long-term policy. He had a rather interesting passage in the 1949 debate which, I hope, he will allow me to quote—not for the purpose of scoring points, but because it states the position very well indeed:I feel that the mistake is that these subsidies are in no way linked to any definite plan. & These subsidies are floating about in the air without any tether, or, to give a better analogy, they are like seaweed drifting about the sea at the whim of every current and tide that may play upon them. It is essential that they should be tied to some concrete and definite plan if they are to 'achieve the result which we hope to see them achieve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 396.]He was talking about our attempts when we had the 1947 Act and the expansion programme of 1949. Both were definite and concrete plans, one a long-term plan changing the nature of the industry and giving it more stability and security and one a short-term production plan. These things fitted in together, but now we have nothing of that kind at all. These really are bits of "seaweed drifting about in the sea at the whim of every current and tide."
There is no production plan at the moment, no order of priorities and there is no attempt to achieve in any short period of time the kind of enormous increase which home food production has to achieve. I do not propose to develop this subject generally today, because I am hoping that in the ecenomic debate next week, to some extent, we may rise above the more limited and puerile arguments and discuss this kind of thing, which is the really big issue. It is a major criticism of the right hon. Gentleman that in the months he has been responsible he has given the industry absolutely nothing but, in his own words, a few bits of "seaweed" not "tied to some concrete and definite plan."
There may be a case, even a good case, for pump priming efforts in order to start the whole thing off, provided that we knew what we were starting out for, what 988 we wanted to achieve and that we have a policy to carry it all through. That is what we have not got, and I would emphasise that I regard these ad hoc payments as in no sense a substitute for a real policy. The calf subsidy cannot be a substitute for a livestock policy, which is badly needed at the moment. All sorts of things have happened in the last year or two which have given this side of our agricultural industry the biggest shock that any side of it has had, and we really do need from the Government a declaration of what their livestock policy is, and what are their long-term means of achieving it.
Along with some other hon. Members, I asked the right hon. Gentleman yesterday to tell us something really definite fairly soon about the Milk Marketing Board. I believe that this is not merely a matter of milk. Although the right hon. Gentleman is much more informed about these agricultural matters than I am, I am sure he will not mind me saying that we cannot distinguish so easily between milk policy and meat policy in this country, and we cannot argue about the price of milk, and the importance of getting the production that we need, without probably affecting the livestock policy as well.
Having the honour to represent part of a Midland county with a goodish part of not very good land, and upland at that, with many small producers on it, I am well able to understand that, if we are to get our calves reared, what we want is not so much an indiscriminate payment of subsidy all over the country, including the areas that ought to fatten. We ought not to be bothering about rearing calves, but about something that will replace the attractiveness of the monthly milk cheque to the small producers in these areas, who are much better fitted for their traditional job in raising calves than in producing milk, but who tend to look with a good deal of suspicion upon anybody who says that they should produce less milk and thus take away from them that monthly milk cheque without replacing it in some other way.
I therefore urge upon the Minister, who is taking power for a long time—one three-year scheme, followed by as many more as he likes—for heaven's sake, to instruct his staff here and now that there is not going to be another 989 calf subsidy scheme, unless it is tied to a livestock policy which is not going to take particular account of the areas of the country where calves really ought to be reared, and, in particular, is merely a bonus to people in other areas.
All this, of course, goes a little wider, because the Government's policy on consumer subsidies is linked up with it. I am told that there has been a very considerable drop—rather more than the normal seasonal drop at this period of the year—in milk production in the middle of this year, and that it has been accompanied by a more alarming drop in milk consumer demand in certain areas of the country. I was told yesterday by someone who is in touch with a very large retail dairy that he was rather staggered by the drop in milk demand in areas like a particularly well to do town on the South coast, and that this is becoming of a very considerable order.
If that happens, and it is quite likely to happen, because it is one of the things which we prophesied would result from this policy, we shall not only be going to hit very quickly the little milk producers, but will be elevating the problem of collecting milk from the most uneconomic places, because the cost of transport in getting milk from these people is a problem.
If the Milk Marketing Board were in the field again, the economics of this problem could not be avoided by them, and, since they are elected by the people concerned, they would have to devise a policy that would satisfy those people while, at the same time, looking after the economics of their job. The difficulty of the present situation, in which they are the agents of the Ministry of Food, who themselves are not much more than accountants in the matter, is that they are sheltered from facing the economics of the problem, and that the Ministry does not have to face them either, so that we are drifting into a position in which the economics will not be faced, and we shall have a lot of trouble in this field and not get the livestock policy which we ought to have.
I urge the Minister to realise that there is much more to it than the mere payment of a subsidy of this kind, and I therefore suggest that he should let the Milk Marketing Board take it over as part of their job, or that he should con- 990 sider the setting up of a livestock commission, which will work in conjunction with the Milk Marketing Board one way or another, in order to obtain a much stronger and wider glimpse of the problem than the right hon. Gentleman has shown either in the Bill or in his speech today.
There was another criticism that was made of this general policy. After all, obtaining more animals for any purpose at all must be a question of a general policy on the use of grassland. It is the finished animal we want, and it is lamentable that the right hon. Gentleman has, in fact, so tamely acquiesced in the cut in the investment programme for agriculture.
I asked him yesterday whether he thought that grass drying and that sort of thing was going to get a sufficient supply of steel, and his answer was "Yes." I called out to him, "Do you really mean that?", and I was interested to note that neither his first answer nor the supplementary exchange appears in HANSARD. Somebody else seems to have had the same view as myself on whether the Minister really meant his first answer. I was surprised, because by infra-red rays, I could almost see the words on his brief. This is part of a policy that ought to be much more than the mere payment of a subsidy. We are holding back on the grassland programme just when we ought to be going ahead with it very much quicker.
I was interested in one other thing which the Minister said. He talked about the problem of immature slaughter, which, obviously, is a problem. I will not go into the figures, because either my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley or my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire. South-East (Mr. Champion) will do so, but the Minister will agree that, during the period of the calf subsidy, quite apart from the building up of calves, we never, in fact, got a comparable increase in the older age groups, however many allowances were made.
I remember that, in the 1949 debate, I made a very complicated calculation on this question of not getting the increases in the over one year and over two years old groups of animals which the number of calves which we were getting really justified. I explained that it had something to do with the number that went into the in-calf heifer class. Therefore, 991 we are obviously getting more calves carried on to the point of collecting the subsidy, but we are not getting the same animals carried on until they become mature.
The Minister says that he will try to get round it by instructing the graders to operate a scheme, which he will have a lot of trouble in working out, by which he will define which are mature and which are immature animals. This will be reported to the Ministry of Food, who will then deduct the £5 subsidy from the price paid. May I put this to the right hon. Gentleman? Is that the point of the operation? The animal will still be slaughtered.
It is nice to save £5, but it is much more important to save the animal. I have seen a number of these centres since I have had a little more leisure than I had before last October, and I have talked to people at them. I am assured that it would be no more difficult, once agreement had been reached on the definition—certainly no more difficult than the present arrangement—to give the graders power to reject those animals or to have them transferred to the stock market so that they stayed alive, than it would be to do this very complicated thing to save the £5.
In considering the Bill, let us give a lot of attention to that point. The main thing is to save the animals. I have talked to N.F.U. graders—I have been careful about talking to Ministry graders—and they assure me, almost without exception, that they would welcome the power to reject these animals and to push them out. I remember a long chat I had in Leicestershire on the subject. I agree that it might create a little trouble and that it would not be easy, that there would be personal difficulties, and all that, but I think the N.F.U. could be relied upon to give their support in this matter. If not, we must go on without them. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider this in face of the complicated scheme he has chosen to adopt.
I now want to deal with two or three other minor points. Concerning the cost of administering the scheme, I shall be glad if the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when he replies, will say whether he thinks that in this rather 992 more limited scheme than we were running £90,000 a year is really an acceptable figure for the cost of administration. When we were running the much more complicated scheme, I think that the first figure of cost referred to was £110,000, and the right hon. Gentleman said at the time that he thought it an alarming figure. I agree that the difference between £90,000 and £110,000 is only £20,000, but both figures are round about £100,000.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
The figures given to me last week regarding the cost of administering the scheme during the period of the right hon. Gentleman's Government were: in 1948, £250,000, in 1949, £350,000, and in 1950–51, £330,000. I thought the right hon. Gentleman said the cost was £90,000.
§ Mr. Brown
The £90,000 is the figure in this Bill. The figure which I looked up and which occurred in the debate, and which the right hon. Gentleman accepted, was £110,000. I cannot challenge the figures. May be they are right, but we were running a very much wider scheme, including a lot more animals. I am saying that I should have thought that for this very limited scheme £90,000 was a very high figure.
Would the Under-Secretary of State say, for example, how the certifying of these animals is going to be done? Under the other scheme we had a whole army of certifying officers who went round marking every calf. They were paid on a per capita basis and may be that was part of the reason for the high administrative cost at that time. Is the Minister going to change that and have a rather more economical form of payment under which a fellow making a visit just for one or two calves will get a per capita basis payment whereas a chap making a visit for a whole lot of calves will get a visit fee, or something of that sort? There must be some way of saving money.
The other point is what animals should be included. I should have thought that once it was decided to include heifers it would be an impossible task to draw the line where to stop anywhere other than on the line of the fewer dairy herds. The Ayrshire animals, the Guernseys and the Jerseys we all understand. But once the line is moved further along the scale it 993 seems to me that we are bound to get into great difficulty. If the calf certifying officers, who, with all respect to them, would not be doing the job if they were outstanding men, are to have the job of saying which particular calf is to be regarded as proper for a calf subsidy and which is not, I do not think they will ever get through the visits.
I am sure that the agricultural industry will tell the right hon. Gentleman that such an arrangement will not work. There will be a lot of Friesians; the right hon. Gentleman gave an answer why the heifers should be left out even though the steers are in. There will be a lot of Friesian heifers out of not very good cows which would flesh as well as many of those which the right hon. Gentleman is to let through under this arrangement. Would he not do better to rule out the dairy breeds and let the rest through? If he is not going to do that, he must have a better scheme than this.
With regard to heifers, we must remember that at the moment the operation is to get more and more milk from fewer high yielding cows and that any cow which is a low yielder is better used producing steers or heifers for subsequent killing for meat. Therefore, the subsidy paid on heifers is not a bad thing so long as it is clear that they are to go for meat and are not to be used for producing milk.
There are one or two suggestions of a constructive nature which I wish to make before I sit down. I agree that to pay end price is a longer, less certain and somewhat more costly business for getting the money back to the rearer than under the scheme, but I am sure that an end price together with a livestock policy of the sort about which I have been talking is, in fact, the only long-term solution, and that the impetus under this scheme will run out very fast if the right hon. Gentleman ever puts his scheme into operation just as it ran out in the last one for which we were responsible.
Therefore, the end price plus the wider policy about which we have been talking is much more to the point. We have to get the milk relationship right, the seasonal meat prices right, and the storing and slaughtering capacity for beef animals right, and we have to find some way of providing the subsidy to those little chaps 994 whom we want to get back to this job without giving it as a sheer bonus to the other people.
Could the Under-Secretary of State also tell us whether the Government have any intention of going back to the policy which worked so well when we were doing this thing? It was an integral part of a wider policy of getting county committees in England and Wales—I do not know whether it is the same in Scotland—in the areas where it can be done to take particularly the rejects off the market and to take the calves from areas where they are much better employed in other things than rearing them on, and rear them as a large commercial operation?
I have mentioned before a first-class centre which we had in Warwickshire where I saw 500 or 600 of these animals doing extremely well. When I was a member of the county committee in Hertfordshire we did it and made a great success of it. I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell us how the county committees are to be instructed to do that job.
Although, as I said, we regard the Bill by itself as completely inadequate to deal with the livestock problem, we do not propose to oppose it. We believe it is very much like what the right hon. Gentleman inaccurately said about our Bill—like a piece of "seaweed drifting about the sea," untethered to any concrete plan. I have done my best to be constructive and not merely critical. I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will really feel that it is now time he brought forward a really concrete, constructive, large-scale agricultural policy in which his livestock targets, quotas, and all the rest were put into the picture against the demand that is unquestionably there.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I should like to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) on one point and to ask the Minister whether he does not think that one day he could reconsider the policy which gives power to deduct the subsidy from certain animals which could have been developed further. As the right hon. Member for Belper said, these animals which probably in three or six months time would have a far higher proportion of meat should be sent back 995 to the farms. I think that we should have more meat as a result.
One of the reasons why in the case of the larger breeds we tend to have animals sent to the market before they are really mature, in the sense that another six months would produce much more meat on them, is that the wrong date is being used for the purposes of grading. The period used is the time from the birth of the animal to its slaughter. The real date should be from the origin of the cow—roughly one cow per calf per year—and that period of 12 months should be added at the beginning. If that were done it would be found that the time taken to arrive at the production of a fully fat, large animal is not proportionately as high as it is on the present basis.
If a large-framed animal is kept for too long it is liable to get above the best grade. By using the basis of calculation which I suggest that position would be met. If it were made clear that if an animal was not mature the subsidy would not be taken away but the animal would be sent back, we should have greater meat production. I do not think one can deal with this problem properly unless one deals with the long-term production of the calf.
The right hon. Member for Belper confused my mind on one issue. He said that in a few weeks the Government would be going out of office. Repeatedly in the past few days I have heard a very wise and astute Socialist politician insisting that the Government will be here to deal with this matter next year. I do not know which prophet is right, but I rather suspect that the desire of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper for office has overcome his knowledge that no one wants to see the Socialist Government come back. I do not wish to be controversial this morning, and in what I have just said I have not been controversial because I have only stated something which is common knowledge.
I must declare an interest, because I happen to be president of the South Devons Producers' Association and to own the best herd at the moment. In that capacity I thank my right hon. Friend for the fact that he is endeavouring—and doing very well subject to what 996 I have just said—to help along the best dual-purpose breed in the world. I am very glad that he has now acknowledged openly in the House of Commons that it is the best, and I have no doubt that that fact will be realised all over the world.
There are some areas in this country where one can say that there should be beef production there, or milk production as the case may be, but in a vast area such as the West Country there are farms next to each other, and even parts of farms, some of which ought to be devoted to milk and some to breeding. There are fattening areas and milk areas, and again there are other areas suitable only for mixed farming. The whole trouble with tying an area to one particular purpose is that almost anywhere in this country it is very difficult to lay down a rule as to the nature of an area. I do not think that an area rule is possible.
We should follow the lines of this Bill and do everything we can to encourage beef production by a long-term policy. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Belper that these proposals are not part of a long-term policy. The provisions of this Bill are a continuation of what has been the general desire of agriculturists on both sides of the House for a good many years now to encourage the production of more and more meat. One cannot lay that policy down in a kind of agricultural Magna Carta. We have to do it by building up herds and continually grading up our farms in every part of the country.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
It always amuses me on a change of Government to hear right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Benches on both sides of the House preparing in a very astute manner the foundation which will enable them to say the opposite of what they said a few months or a few years ago because they have changed sides. Along with the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), I can say that on this subject I remain in the same frame of mind as on 13th April, 1949, when I condemned the calf subsidy. I do not think that a calf subsidy is necessary if a proper agriculture policy is developed, and I think that it is an unnecessary waste of money.
997 We are paying in the calf subsidy for a large number of calves, which would have been reared in any case, in order to obtain what the Minister says is another 400,000. Therefore, the actual cost of the 400,000 is not a subsidy of £5 but a far, far greater subsidy. When it was first introduced and it covered all the calves in the country, together with what the Minister then expected would be the increase, I stated that the figure would be £35 a calf. That figure was justified.
I do not know what the figure will be this year because the scheme is not so wide as the former scheme. But it contains the same principle, and I feel that it does not do justice to the agricultural community, because it is a pump priming operation or, as the right hon. Gentleman said, an inoculation to raise temporarily the stock of the country. I feel that all these schemes are wrong because such development, which ought to be the natural development of agriculture in the normal course, should not be subsidised in this way.
The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the previous subsidy began to fail in 1950 and that, in spite of the subsidy being continued, figures were falling. They fell for two reasons not connected with the subsidy. They fell because in 1950 we had a very bad year in grass production or in the harvest of grass. It was a very wet year, and in many parts of the west country the hay crop was never gathered. Farmers had no crop with which to carry their calves through the winter, and the result was that they could not start to rear. Many of the calves they had, had to be sold and the result was a fall in the number of calves. It was not due to cutting off the subsidy, because the subsidy was still in operation. It was due to the natural conditions in which farming in this country has to operate.
The second factor was that the price of feedingstuffs was increased by the removal of the subsidy from feedingstuffs. Whenever a calf is reared, feedingstuffs are required for it unless it is left on the cow for milk, and in dairy herds that 'is not done. The cost of feedingstuffs today is one of the major factors against the increased rearing of calves. In spite of the subsidy, we shall not get the number of calves we want until something is 998 done about the high cost of feedingstuffs which the farmer has to face.
I disagree with this Bill. We shall have to examine it more carefully in the light of what the Minister has said, and when we read his speech we shall have to put down Amendments on the Committee to many of the Bill's features. Why in the world bring into the Bill all the steer calves from every breed? Why rear for beef Jerseys and Guernseys? The food which those calves will use would be used to better advantage by the Herefords or the Aberdeen Angus. The Aberdeen Angus would use far better the food which is used by Ayrshire steers. I cannot see why all the steer calves are brought into the scheme. If the Herefords are to be left out because of their dairy production, surely the steer of a purely dairy breed such as the Jersey and the Guernsey should be left out as well. We must examine this matter much more closely.
A subsidy of this nature causes calves to be reared when they ought not to he reared. I went to auctions this spring, and I saw in one of the northern auctions calves which absolutely shocked me. I say "calves"; they were three years old, some of them with six teeth—and farmers know what age is indicated by six teeth. They were no bigger than a good 12 months old calf. The subsidy had been received for them. I was so astonished that I climbed into the pen and examined their mouths.
Why had they come into the market? Some farmer had put into rear a number of calves for which he had not the food. Instead of rearing half a dozen properly, he pushed in a dozen and divided the food for half a dozen amongst the lot. The result is that we have a lot of stunted animals, and that is one of the failures of this sort of thing. We get a number of stunted animals at the end of 12 or 18 months because farmers have not the foodstuffs to carry them on properly. That is one of the reasons why they come immature into the market. The farmer cannot carry them on, so he puts them into the market.
It is no answer to say, "Turn them back again." If the farmer had the food to feed them all he would not bring them in; he cannot turn them back when he has not got the grazing for them. This 999 artificial method of bringing calves on to the beef market has serious disadvantages, and I think that we shall have to look at this matter very closely indeed.
The inspector who has to decide what is a beef heifer at the end of nine months is going to have something on his hands. Every farmer will claim that the calf he puts forward is a beef animal; otherwise he would not put it forward. The inspector will have difficulty in deciding at nine months which is a beef animal and which is a dairy animal, and the final judge will be the farmer himself because when the animal comes to maturity it depends on the price of the market whether he puts it into the dairy market or into the beef market.
If the farmer can put an animal into the dairy market at a higher price than he gets for beef, it will go into the dairy market; and if, on the other hand, he can put a dairy heifer into the beef market at a higher price he will put it into the beef market. That has been happening for the last 12 months. Good dairy heifers have been going into the beef market because the beef market has been better for the farmer than the dairy market. Once again it depends not just on the price but on the farmer's feeding-stuffs and grazing.
So many factors come into matters of this nature that I feel this artificial stimulation is quite wrong. We should leave it in the hands of the farmers, with proper end prices, to develop along their own lines, because other factors involved in the methods they adopt for managing their farms, for grazing, breeding and so on, have a far greater effect upon what is produced than any money which the Government can pay out.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), because at least he and I can say that we hold today the same views that we held in 1949; we have not changed our views because we have changed sides in the House. The arguments which he has used with regard to stunted cattle are arguments that we used when we opposed that subsidy. I maintained them and I maintain today that there is only so much food available 1000 for the rearing of cattle, and if we utilise that food at the beginning of the end instead of at the end of the end it means that we get the stunted animal to which the hon. Member referred.
I entirely agree with him that if we try these artificial methods of planning against the law of supply and demand they crack up—and this scheme has cracked up. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has left the Chamber. I hoped he would be here when I spoke because I propose to say a few words with regard to his attitude today compared with what it was six years ago. It was very interesting to hear the views which he expressed today and compare them with those he expressed when this Calf Subsidy Bill was first introduced.
Today he has been saying exactly what the hon. Member for Chorley and I said in the distant past. He said it probably more forcibly and more eloquently, but he used exactly the same argument as we used then. It was interesting to hear him claim that the Socialist Party started the calf subsidy at the beginning of the end and to note that the beginning of the end ceased in October, 1951. We have now got to the end of the end and therefore some other scheme should be introduced.
I could get a lot of fun if I quoted what some of my hon. Friends said when this Bill was introduced. As was said by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), there was hardly a single commendation for this scheme in Committee. It was damned with faint praise and had practically no friends. I am therefore very surprised to see that we have followed along the lines of these subsidies. I shall not quote what some of my hon. Friends said. I have the quotations here, but I will not be so unkind as to use them.
It is not only the hon. Member for Chorley and myself who condemn these subsidies. If the Minister has not already done so, I suggest that he should read what was said in another place last Wednesday. In the discussion which then took place on food prices a former Conservative Minister of Agriculture said:Putting back the subsidies is not a policy of realism; it is a policy of continuing to live in 'Cloud Cuckoo-land'.1001 Another noble Lord on the Government benches who is looked upon as an expert in agricultural matters said:… if you really want to frame a safe and a sound agricultural policy you should get rid of those artificial conditions of subsidising here and subsidising there … give up trying,to subsidise, either calf production or ploughing up, and all the rest of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 23rd July, 1952; Vol. 178, c. 207–230.]I heard it said, and I thought it was good sound commonsense.
Some of my hon. Friends suggested that I am being disloyal to my Minister in protesting against these subsidies. The last thing in the world I want to be is disloyal to my Minister, for whom I have a great regard, and I hope that in spite of my condemnation of subsidies he will still allow me to call him my right hon. Friend. But I was not elected to conic to this place as a "yes" man. If I think that my Minister is not doing the right thing and accepting bad advice I am prepared to give him the benefit of my advice, as I was in the case of the right hon. Member for Belper six years ago, when he twitted me for making the same speech time after time. It is satisfactory to know that after six years of making the same speech time after time he at last agrees with what I said.
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to a policy for agriculture, but I do not propose to follow that line this morning because I hope that I may be fortunate enough to take part in the economic debate next week, when I hope to put forward ideas similar to those which I gave to the right hon. Gentleman the then Leader of the Opposition at the time of the economic crisis in 1947. If I am called upon to speak in the economic debate I shall give the same advice as I did then, in the hope that after six years the Conservative Party will follow that advice.
The question is whether or not this calf subsidy scheme has been a success. If one looks at the figures for the output of beef and for young cattle, as shown in the various returns every year, one is bound to say that the effect of the calf subsidy has not been to raise the number of cattle. The March returns show a drop of something like 100,000 cattle under one year old. That is after four years of calf subsidy. I suggest, therefore, that these expensive subsidies have been of no value at all in getting more beef.
1002 As the hon. Member for Chorley said when this scheme was first introduced, to pay a subsidy on all calves must be wrong. It means that in order to get the extra calves we have to pay £25, £30 or £35 per head for them. That seems to be a very expensive method. I pointed out in those days that in my own case—and I must not crack up my own Hereford breed, in spite of the temptation which was given to me by the hon. Member who is President of the South Devons Producers' Association—I got a subsidy on 40 or 50 calves which I should have reared whether they were subsidised or not. That is entirely the wrong way of doing it.
What I suggested should be done six years ago is what I suggest should be done today. If we are to have a calf subsidy, let it be one which will help people to rear the extra calves. The hon. Member for Chorley made the point very well. If we must have a subsidy let us give it to the small farmers and the smallholders who live in remote areas and who are now producing milk for which it is not economic to send a big lorry up a narrow lane to collect. If a scheme were properly thought out it would be possible to give those small-holders or farmers the assistance necessary for them to start production.
These small people are in a difficulty because they have no reserves, in spite of all the money reported to be made in farming. They cannot switch over from milk to rearing calves because of the monthly cheque for milk which has been coming in, and because it would be a long time before they received a cheque if they went into calf production. I suggest that if the Minister must have a calf subsidy he should think out some scheme whereby these people could be assisted by a monthly or quarterly cheque, as the case may be, until their cheques begin to arrive for the rearing of the calves they are encouraged to produce.
There is another suggestion I made six years ago which I make again today. Every calf offered to the calf supervisor should be punched. What happens today is that in a beef area the standard of a rearing calf is very much higher than it is in a milk area. If one presents a calf to the supervisor of a beef area and he turns it down because it is not a sufficiently good one, that calf can be 1003 sold, can go into a milk area, be presented to the supervisor in that area and accepted for a subsidy. I suggest that every calf presented should be punched so that it cannot be given a subsidy in some other area.
These are points to which we should give our attention. This artificial planning against the law of supply and demand should be stopped. In order to pay all these subsidies, we have to tax the people; we have to take money out of one pocket in order to put it back in another form. I believe in leaving the money in the pockets of the people for them to spend, because they know best how to spend their money—and certainly better than Whitehall.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I am glad to have the opportunity of following my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) because my respect for the law of supply and demand is at least as great as his. But in the present high cost economy, the farming community have a special burden to bear and suffer from special handicaps of which, I should have thought, he was more conscious than most.
I agree with the Bill wholeheartedly. Whether we call them subsidies—and I agree that that term is highly misleading—or production grants, they serve an extremely useful purpose today for three reasons. First, they provide a more economic proposition from the nation's point of view and in the interests of the consumer. Secondly, as the Minister said, these forms of production grants help those who are attempting to do their best to meet the nation's requirements. Thirdly, they are of immense value and importance to the small farmer and do something to offset the considerable difficulties which the small farmer experiences when credit is expensive and capital very short.
In my view, the small farmer today labours under difficulties which are not felt in industry or trade generally. So many sources of capital which are open to industry and commerce are entirely denied the farmer, and particularly to the small farmer, and I do not think it can be said too often that it is to the small farmer that we must look for the increased food production which can make 1004 a vital contribution to our economy. There is no need for me to argue the case for the big farmer. He can do a great deal to look after himself. We must look to the small farmer, and if we are to look to him with confidence, then justice demands that we should make some special effort to enable him to overcome his special difficulties.
There is another strong argument in support of these production grants. In contrast with the other method—that of raising the end price—they have the advantage of making it possible for the small farmer, in particular, to lower his overheads. The same argument also applies in the case of the fertiliser subsidy. The small farmer can then afford either to rear more calves or to grow more foodstuffs from the same land, thus decreasing his overheads, which will inevitably be of far more benefit to the community than the directly inflationary method of raising the end price.
In moving the Second Reading, my right hon. Friend spoke of the objection which is sometimes made by many people that subsidies are paid for beasts which would be reared in any case, whether the subsidy were paid or not. I agree with many of the points made by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), particularly that it is essential that we should have a livestock balance in this country. In view of the difficulties of the milk producer, caused by very high labour costs and other high costs throughout that field, I believe it to be essential that the Minister should pay very careful attention to the vital question of a balance between meat production and milk production.
I come from the south of Somerset, from a great dairy area, and I feel most strongly that we should say again and again that at some point there may well be a grave danger of starting a big swing away from milk into beef. I ask the Minister to give this matter his very careful consideration when the scheme is prepared. He should have clearly in his mind at all times the possible adverse affect upon the production of milk which is still vital to this country.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I join with the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) in expressing the fear that the swing away from milk and into meat 1005 may harm some of the great milk producing areas. The farmers of my part of the country, South Ayrshire, always look at these Measures to discover exactly how far they involve a departure from Government policy of creating a stable market for milk.
I am interested in this Bill in so far as it affects the general food situation, and I want to know how it will contribute to food production and, especially, increase our meat supply. Is this a long-term Measure likely to bring more red meat to the tables of the people? We heard a great deal about red meat at the last Election, and I presume that this is regarded as one of the Measures likely to implement that promise. The Prime Minister recently said that there would be more red meat and that, in fact, he was going to force red meat down the throats of the Opposition. But there will have to be a good deal more red meat in the country before that can be done. Certainly, plans will need to be much more far-reaching than those contained in this Bill.
May I remind the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that when he was in Opposition he used to give to the House some very interesting and well-informed speeches in which he demanded a long-term policy for livestock breeding? Some of those were very good, constructive ideas, and I hope we shall see some of them embodied in legislation during this Parliament.
I remember when he asked us to consider great production schemes for greatly increased production in the Highlands of Scotland, which were of such large dimensions that they would have meant very large capital expenditure. I remember that I asked him whether he was in favour of the, nationalisation of the livestock industry in the north of Scotland. I hope that some of the schemes with which he was associated at the time—schemes associated with the name of Lord Lovat—are to receive some support from the Government, and that we are not likely just to have this short-term policy which rests on the principle of subsidy, very strong criticisms of which have been made today from both sides of the House.
The case for the subsidy was—and there is, of course, some reason in this 1006 —that the farmer does not get the subsidy but that the subsidy percolates down to the worker. That, I believe, is the main defence of the subsidy, and it is the reason why I do not associate myself with the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland what benefit the subsidy is likely to bring to the farm worker in Scotland, and whether the farmer in Scotland is to receive the same subsidy as the farmer receives this side of the Border, because if that is so, the farmer is to receive the same subsidy in Scotland as in England, there will be a demand that the farm worker, who has to look after the calves, should receive wages similar to those paid in England.
If we are to get the good will of the farm worker, which is as essential as the prosperity of the farmer, we have to deal with this anomaly, so far as the worker in Scotland is concerned. Yesterday the Minister of Agriculture was cross-examined about the rate of wages being paid in Scotland at the present time, and criticism was made of the fact that Scottish workers were denied their demand for an increase of 5s. for men and 4s. for women at the same time that, while the Scottish workers' demand was refused, a demand was granted in England. I therefore ask how this subsidy is to increase the standard of life of the farm worker, and what steps do the Government intend taking to face this anomaly.
We cannot have one set of wages on one side of the Border and another on the other at a time when, presumably, the subsidies are uniform. I believe that there is a great deal of unrest amongst the agricultural workers of Scotland at the present time, and that this is an anomaly and an injustice which will have to be faced and will have to be remedied if the good will is to be secured of the people who do the work of production in the countryside.
There is another question which I should like to mention, and that is, how can we get an increase of food production and encourage agriculture in this country if we give subsidies with one hand and with the other take away the farmers' labour? I have dealt with this problem before, and I believe that it is a problem on which there is some support on the other side of the House. Last year the 1007 decision was made to remove the restrictions on the call up of agricultural workers.
I know that there is a very elaborate system of machinery which allows the farmer to appeal for the farm worker, but that machinery is not working out in a way that really solves the problem. I have had farmers from my own constituency urging me to take up cases because their farms have been absolutely undermanned—cases in which the farmer is trying to do far too much work while his agricultural worker is being called up and taken to the Forces.
I remember when my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was Minister of Labour and said, in a defence debate, that the then Government were going to remove the blanket from the agricultural worker. I remember that, in that debate, my right hon. Friend was unanimously supported on both sides of the House because of his great speech in winding up that defence debate—the only criticism came from me. But that criticism of mine has turned out to be right. It has turned out that it was a fundamental mistake to say, "We have such a supply of labour on the land at the present time that we can afford to comb out the agricultural workers for service in the Forces." That was quite wrong, and I believe that that policy will have to be revised before any of the subsidy schemes will be successful, and before we can hope for any increased agricultural production.
It is stupid to give the farmers subsidies and then to take away their labour—very often the key workers—with the result that the farmers, although they may get pecuniary advantage, have, in some places, to live in such a way that they lead the lives of nothing but slaves. In the constituency I represent farmers with very large farms—very large areas of land—have had their workers called up, and I have had a long struggle with the Minister. I remember an unsuccessful struggle in one case in which the worker was absolutely necessary for the efficient working of the farm. At the present time the Government are still carrying on this process of combing out the countryside and denuding the farms of the labour which is far more essential than ever at the present time.
1008 I am very glad to note that I have now the support, in this matter of the call up of agricultural workers, of the ex-Minister of Defence. I am very glad to note that now the ex-Minister of Defence, who was responsible for a good deal of this call up in the beginning, has now come to the conclusion that the place for the agricultural workers is on the farms and not in the Forces. There has been talk in this House about seeing the light on the road to Damascus, but it is now the light that the ex-Minister of Defence saw on the road to Rugby.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The hon. Gentleman is rather labouring the point. On this Bill we are dealing only with calf subsidies, not with the Forces.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I quite agree, and I think they can be carried to too great length and into too much detail.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am only pointing out, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that if the subsidies are to be given in respect of calves it is very important to have the workers on the farms to look after the calves, for if we do not have the labour—well, the calf subsidy does not—
§ Mr. Hughes
If I am in order the question of over-emphasis is really my responsibility. When I argue that for the successful working of this calf subsidy scheme it is essential to have the necessary labour, and when I produce the evidence of a former Minister who has seen the light, I believe that I am justified in introducing it into the debate.
I should like to give a very short relevant quotation which absolutely clinches the matter. The former Minister of Defence said:We also need them for agriculture.That is, the men, and:We shall not be able to depend on large end cheap quantities of food coming here from overseas. Unless we produce more the standard of living is bound to fall.
§ Mr. Hughes
I think that the progress towards Damascus will probably be accelerated by that intervention. If we are to make a success of the calf subsidy, or of any subsidies that are discussed at a later stage, it is essential to have the necessary labour, and at the present time it is necessary for the Government, if they intend to make a success of food production, to ensure that the labour remains on the land, which is at the moment the place where a great unskilled labour force is essential.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
At the beginning of this debate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who I am sorry to see is not in his place at the moment, referred to the fact that my right hon. Friend had changed his mind about the calf subsidy during the last five years. He completely forgets that he has changed his own mind, because it is little more than a year ago that the Government of which he was a Member decided that in the national interest it would be better to discontinue the calf subsidy, and it was discontinued as from 30th September of last year. I think that this change of view may be described as mutual.
I do not care to call this a calf subsidy, because it has been pointed out that the cost of this scheme was included in the February Price Review this year, and I think that a much better description of it is a production grant. I welcome that production grant for two reasons. In the first place, as a result of the change of policy that has occurred in the last two or three years there has been a very marked fall in the number of calves reared. There were about 200,000 fewer from June, 1950, to March of this year, which is the last available figure; and they occurred in the ages of under one year and from one year to two years. If this continues the time will come when we shall find it exceedingly difficult to get any beef at all.
It is my opinion that it will be five years before we see the real effect of the scheme. It will take three years before we can stop this present decline in calf 1010 rearing. It takes three years from the time the calf is reared until we have it for beef or milk production. Hence, in my view five years is a very conservative estimate of the shortest period in which we shall see a real increase in the number of our cattle. In addition to the change of political atmosphere, we have lost this year through the unfortunate and prolonged outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease many hundreds of thousands of calves that would have been reared. During the last few months the majority of calves have gone to the Ministry of Food because farmers have been unable to sell them through the livestock auctions in the usual way and go from the exporting to the importing part of the country.
Should this outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease continue through the autumn, I hope that steps will be taken to see that there are means by which the rearing farmer can buy his calves from the calf producing farmer, otherwise this autumn we shall have a slaughter which has never before been known in this country, with the result that a situation which is of concern to numbers of us at present will be still further aggravated. It is at this season of the year, September and October, when the majority of the calves are born, and that being so it is the time of year when the majority of the calves are reared. I therefore hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will keep this matter very much under review.
If I might tender a word of warning to my right hon. and gallant Friend, I think that he will get into no end of trouble if he suggests that crosses of cattle—mention has been made of the Red Polled and the Dairy Shorthorns of South Devon—should qualify. Some heifer calves will qualify, and within the discretion of the officer who goes along to inspect some will not qualify for the £5 subsidy. It would be much wiser to let all crosses qualify, with the exception of those mentioned, particularly those being bred for milk production; that is the British Friesian, the Ayrshires and the Channel Island breeds.
With those exceptions, I think it would be much wiser to let all heifer calves enjoy this subsidy, because one can kill a heifer for beef at least six months earlier, and in some cases, depending on the time of year it is reared, nine months earlier that a steer. It would be 1011 much wiser to confine exclusion to the British Friesian, the Ayrshires and the Channel Island breeds.
Perhaps it was an oversight on his part, but the Minister made no mention of the Dexters and Kerrys. I also think that as far as steer calves are concerned he should make an exclusion of the Channel Island steers, and also the two smaller breeds. Practical men know perfectly well that these breeds are quite unsuitable for the production of beef which would in any way affect the amount of meat the British housewife wants.
I welcome this Bill. I feel sure that it is a step in the right direction. It is certainly long-term, and I hope that it will pass through the House with less controversy than those Measures. I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to look again at the heifer calves that are to be excluded from the subsidy, and if that is done the Bill will be welcomed throughout the country by the whole agricultural community.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
We have heard a good deal said in this debate about this Measure being "a piece of seaweed" and not part of a comprehensive and long-term policy. I welcome the Bill because I think that it is a practical step towards offsetting the decrease in the number of calves which has been going on for the past year or two, and which, I think, for any nation which hopes to have more beef in the future, is a serious sign indeed.
I speak from a practical point of view on this matter. I have been rearing calves for many years. I practise, in the eastern counties, the method of multiple-suckling by raising several calves on a nurse cow, which at times is a complicated business. I have been on the job quite early in the morning when we were trying to change over calves on a particular cow and induce her to take four strange ones which she had never seen before, and I can tell the House that on some of these occasions, when I have been kicked out and the calves scattered all over the building, I could just then have declared a degree of personal interest in terms far stronger than I should feel justified in declaring my personal interest in this matter today.
1012 This is an extremely complex problem. I do not wonder that the non-farming community is surprised at the arguments we have on this particular question. The cattle industry is really two industries. The raising of beef cattle on the lines which my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) has been talking about is quite a different method from the method of rearing calves which are the by-product of the dairy industry, and it is from these calves, I believe, that any increased quantity of beef in the future has to come.
I would like to say this about the calf-rearing business, from the point of view of increasing the number of calves reared out of dairy herds. It is sometimes claimed that this is a subsidy to the breeder. If it is, I personally, as a rearer, do not mind so long as it induces the dairy farmer to produce calves of a higher quality than he is sometimes doing at the present time. I know that it is said by some that the increase in price should go on the end product, but the chain of handling these calves is so long that I am afraid we would have to raise beef prices very considerably if we increased the price at which the calf suitable for rearing would be sold in the market.
I ask those who urge that the price should go on the end product to realise that it would probably mean having to raise the price so much that it would result in the wholesale slaughter of dairy heifers. I believe that that in itself is a real justification for this special measure.
There is also the point of view of the rearer. There is a place in our agricultural economy for the man who specialises in rearing these young calves, keeping them for a short time and then selling them. I could tell the House, from my experience of many people whom I have known personally, that this is a precarious game, at any rate on the arable farms of England.
The man who goes in for rearing and tries to combine it with arable farming, which we want him to do, is in a very precarious position indeed. In the east of England, if he comes across a dry summer, or any of the other climatic changes to which we are subject in these islands, he may find himself with large numbers of stock on hand which he has 1013 to sell out for the reason that things have gone against him.
I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), and I have the deepest respect for his practical knowledge, because in many of these agricultural matters I see in him a kindred spirit; yet, I cannot see that the man he referred to, who was forced to sell stunted animals, is more to be pitied than blamed. The men rearing calves, who are subject to so many hazards, will, by this Bill, be able to say, "At least I will have £5 each on these calves, whatever risks I am taking. If I have to sell the animals, I shall at least have had the subsidy."
I believe that that will induce them to rear more. Part of the subsidy, as I have said, may go to the breeder, and when that man goes to market to buy calves he will have an opportunity of buying a calf of higher standard than he otherwise would.
These may be two rather complicated arguments on this Bill, but I believe they are valid ones. I warn anyone who wants to simplify this question that this matter of balance between dairy and beef is a very delicate one indeed, and one which, I think, it would be very risky to upset.
I want to say one word on the breeding question. I think that when we come to have a scheme, under this Bill, we shall have a very ticklish job in examining it in this House. The Lincoln Red and the beef Shorthorn, to state one example of the sort of difficulties we shall meet, are in different categories with regard to paying for heifer calves. I agree with the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that once we have admitted that we are going to pay a subsidy on heifer calves, it may even be the best thing to go the whole way and pay on all heifer calves, as was done originally. I think that sorting it out will be a delicate problem.
That brings me to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster and also the hon. Member for Chorley, who said that this subsidy is paid out unnecessarily on pure beef calves. I would have thought that the calves which were to get the subsidy would have been taken into account in the February Price Review in calculating the price of beef. I would have thought 1014 that the National Farmers' Union would have claimed a higher price by claiming an equivalent amount on the final product.
I cannot subscribe to the argument which says that we are really not only paying £5 a head on calves reared by way of subsidy, but really a very much larger amount. I think that is a false argument and that it is not taken into account in the way in which these things are arrived at in the February Price Review.
I believe that this is a useful Measure. I think that the argument used, that this subsidy cannot be any good, because the subsidy has been on in the past and still the number of calves has been falling, is not altogether valid. I do not think that the fall in the number of calves during the last two years has been altogether unconnected with the removal of the subsidy on heifer calves.
From the statistics we see that the steers have fallen equally with the heifers. I would not attach too much weight to the figures given in the statistics of the number of heifers as against the number of steers, especially in the younger categories. I do not believe that there are many farmers rearing calves—and I do not want to cast any general reflection on the accuracy of the June returns—who really know exactly how many steers and how many heifers they have at any particular moment. I do not believe that they go and look round every one before they complete the June return.
I think that the fall in the number of young animals may well be connected with the fact that the subsidy on heifer calves was taken off. People thought that there was not so much urgency about rearing calves, and a good many of these heifer calves have gone to slaughter. I think that the heifer calf subsidy—the working of it was, I know, connected with many difficulties—and also the prospect that the subsidy might come off altogether, has had an influence in bringing about, or helping to bring about, the fall in the number of calves being reared, which is a very serious matter indeed, and which this Bill seeks to remedy.
Therefore, from all these points of view, although I recognise that this Bill is concerned with only a small section of the total livestock problem in this country, I believe that it is a practical Measure which should be supported.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Captain Christopher Soames (Bedford)
I accept this Bill, because I see the necessity for some change in policy towards the question of rearing calves owing to the fact that the total figures of cattle population in the country have dropped so seriously since the subsidy was removed. I must say, however, that I am one of those who would much prefer to see the extra money paid on the end price of the animal rather than in the form of a subsidy.
I accept the Bill because it is now too late to do anything about the end price until the next February Price Review, and something must be done quickly if we are to stop this drain on our cattle population. But there are disadvantages to this scheme which, in my view, there would not be if the same amount of money were put on the end price.
I understand that in 1951 there were 624,000 tons of home-killed beef. If that is divided into the figure of £4½ million, which the subsidy will cost us, it gives a figure of £7 per ton. If one assumes that the average animal going in for grading weighs 10 cwt., it means that with the same amount of money another £3 10s. could be paid for each animal which goes in for grading, or £7 per ton. I believe that that would have as good an effect as the subsidy in that we should get our beef, and it must be far sounder economically to pay a proper price for the end article than to give a subsidy to it in its early stages of growth.
Another disadvantage which the subsidy has is that many civil servants will be required to run this scheme, and that all costs extra money. Whether that has been taken into account in the £4½ million I very much doubt. It costs money to run schemes like this.
A third disadvantage, which is a serious one, is that the object of this subsidy is to give the money to the farmer who has reared the cow, and in many cases we shall find farmers selling their calves soon after they are dropped—a week or a fortnight old—and saying to the man who is going to rear it, and who should be getting the subsidy, "You can afford to pay another fiver above what the calf is worth because you will get the subsidy." It will, therefore, put up the costs 1016 of calves in the market. The man will get that money back but he will not have gained from the subsidy because he will have spent the money when buying the calf. The man who will gain is the one who breeds the calf and sells it when it is a day or two old and gets the extra £5 for it.
That is not the object of this scheme, the overall object of which is to produce more beef. Because I believe it is necessary to do something quickly I accept these proposals, but I ask the Minister not to be too much inclined to subsidies, which are a line of least resistance, the outcome of a line of thought, "The production of something has fallen; put on a subsidy." That is not the right long-term attitude, and I hope that the time is not far distant when the Minister will see his way to be able to increase, if necessary, the end price of the product and then be able to remove the subsidy.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
I warmly welcome this Bill, but in doing pp I appreciate that the view expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) could be shaped into an alternative policy. The main consideration is by one policy or another to obtain more beef at home. Obviously there are two courses open to the Government, either to pay a higher end price or to adopt the method which is being adopted in the Bill. I am not an expert in these matters, but such study as I have been able to devote to them leads me to think that the course the Government have adopted is probably the right one.
I do not think that one or two of those who have spoken in this debate, particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), have fully taken into account the economic situation of the country against which this Bill has to be studied, and have perhaps not even taken fully into account the steadily falling imports of foreign produced beef and the decline in our own cattle population.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Is it not the case that I said that this Bill was open to criticism because it was such a small Measure, whereas the economic position of the country, being as difficult as it is, and imports being as low as they are, demands 1017 something very much bigger? That was the tenor of my criticism.
§ Major Beamish
That is a perfectly fair summary of what the right hon. Gentleman said, but it seems fair to point out that the main problem which faces the Government today faced the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member for six years, and there was no sign of a long-term policy.
§ Mr. Brown
What about the Agricultural Act, 1947, and the 1949 expansion programme? If we had not had the expansion programme devoted to the production of agricultural products over a period of years, and if the present Minister was proposing something on the same lines as the 1949 programme, the hon. and gallant Member's point would be a fair one.
§ Major Beamish
The right hon. Member must be fair and remember that we are faced with very difficult problems indeed at home, and that the long-term agricultural policy which my right hon. Friend is gradually introducing is unfolding itself in various Measures which have been before the House since we won the last Election. I have every confidence that we shall see more and more aspects of that policy during the coming months.
The background to this Bill is surely, amongst others, this question of falling foreign imports. From the Argentine we are getting decreased supplies of beef, perhaps largely because of the internal situation and because others are apparently prepared to pay prices much higher than those we are prepared to pay. From Australia, a country which could, from an economic agricultural point of view, produce large quantities of beef, we are getting decreased supplies.
The only country from which we are, so far as I know, getting increased supplies and from which there is a prospect of increased supplies for a good many years to come is New Zealand. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Belper agrees with me when I say that the 15 years' understanding reached by the Minister of Food with New Zealand is an important one—
§ Major Beamish
I said that I thought the right hon. Gentleman would agree that it was an important one which, with reasonably good luck, should lead to steadily increasing supplies of New Zealand beef.
Perhaps I shall not be out of order in saying that I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture will look into the possibility of increased supplies of beef from our Colonies, not only from the Dominions. I believe that in Africa there are very large possibilities indeed which are largely unexplored—in parts of the African Continent such as Bechuanaland and the Kalahari Desert. If my right hon. Friend will look into that question with the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Minister of Food, as part of the long-term policy to which I referred just now, I believe that he will find important possibilities there.
We have to try to offset the steady decline in imports by means of home production. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was less than fair to my right hon. Friend when he accused him of tamely acquiescing in capital cuts—I think that was what he said. We must view this Bill against the economic situation of the country as a whole, the most important feature of which is, of course, the colossal re-armament programme which the right hon. Gentleman's party started, for proper and patriotic reasons; although it is beginning to look as though they started it with too little planning and too little thought. The economic situation was such that if a capital cut had not been made; if restrictions in capital investment had not been made; if we had continued to spend at the rate we were spending last October, this country would have gone bust by June this year.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I hope that the hon and gallant Member is coming to the background of the Bill.
§ Major Beamish
If I was erring I apologise, but I thought that the remarks of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) were rather provocative in that connection, and that I should not be out of order, provided I did not go too far, in making a brief and, I hope, a polite reply.
1019 I think there is a very good prospect indeed that as a result of this Bill, the Minister of Agriculture will get a good response from the industry. But I wish to refer to a matter closely tied up with the prospect of an increase in the supply of home produced animals. Unless we do a great deal of thinking and take some necessary steps towards providing further cold storage facilities, in a few year's time—it may be not for four or five years—we shall find we are not able to spread the consumption of home killed animals through the winter and the spring, because of the lack of proper cold storage facilities. I would ask my right hon. Friend to co-operate with the Minister of Food, and to think ahead now about this problem and to make provision for the day when we may find—if this Bill is the success we all hope it will be—that there is a serious shortage of long-term storage capacity.
The Minister of Food did refer to this question quite recently in the House, when he told us that experiments were being made in the freezing of small quantities of pork, but no long-term experiments were being made. As my right hon. Friend will realise, even though, with our declining cattle population, aggravated recently by foot-and-mouth disease, there will not be a large increase in home supplies for several years, we shall undoubtedly have eventually to face the problem to which I have referred.
I think it fair to say that it would now seem, in the light of the figures available, that a mistake was probably made in withdrawing the calf-subsidy without putting anything real in its place. It is extremely significant that since June, 1951, there has been a fall of something like half a million in the cattle population at home. Those figures are only up to March, 1952, and do not take into account the further considerable number of killings as a result of foot-and-mouth disease. That is a serious situation which my right hon. Friend must take into account.
All of us, party politics apart, want more red meat. And all of us, party politics apart, want home produced red meat. I believe that in a few years' time this Bill will result in giving us more home produced red meat. I said earlier that opinions may differ as to exactly how 1020 this can be achieved. Two of my hon. Friends have spoken in favour of an increase in the end price. One of my hon. Friends expressed that view because he is against subsidies of all kinds. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford expressed that opinion for somewhat different reasons—may be they are very good reasons.
The Minister of Agriculture has chosen the only alternative course open to him, and while I strongly support him in the steps he has taken, I would add that I hope and believe that this Bill is part of the overall long-term plan which he is considering and the details of which we shall hear as the months go by. That plan will, I hope, provide greater stability and prosperity for the all important agricultural industry, and be based, as it must always be, on a policy of assisting the efficient farmer while not mollycoddling the inefficient farmer.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
We on this side welcomed this method of the injection of subsidy when we dealt with the Price Review in this House. We welcome this Bill, as has already been indicated, with considerable qualifications. It should be said to the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) that when the subsidy was dropped during the period of the last Administration a considerable amount was put on the end product price in order to see if that would produce the beef the country required. I think that it is a partial answer, at any rate, to the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) that it did not produce the effect we hoped it would.
I am in rather a fortunate position in this debate, because I never sat long enough on the Front Bench opposite to make many statements which can be quoted against me. I must be very careful from now on that I do not say too much, because if I do have an opportunity to sit on the Government Front Bench again hon. and right hon. Members who are at present sitting opposite may quote against me the things I have said, which is, as I think, a fairly good Parliamentary practice.
This Bill is one we welcome, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley 1021 (Mr. Kenyon) has again said, there are some objections to this method of subsidy. Farmers react to differing forms of stimuli. I think that this method of stimulating meat production is the right one. But there is something in what my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley said, that we shall be using a considerable amount of feedingstuff on rearing steer calves of obviously milk breeds which will not give us a satisfactory return. But I cannot see how, in the circumstances, that can be avoided.
I would make a point on behalf of my Welsh friends which I feel the Minister will have to face in regard to Clause 1 (2, a), because he has not regarded the Principality as being a country separate from England. It seems to me the Minister will run into some criticism from Welsh Members on that score.
§ Mr. Champion
I did not know that, or I would not have bothered to mention it.
There was also the point well made by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), that it might be possible for us to secure a greater number of beef cattle reared if we were able to devise some method of replacing the monthly milk cheque on farms where quite obviously they ought not to be milking cows, where the milk has to be brought down long lanes, where the rearing of cattle should take place and not the milking of cows. I know of many such in Wales and in Derbyshire. It is true that the chief incentive which causes the farmer to go in for milk instead of rearing is the monthly milk cheque, so valuable to him.
The last scheme ran into trouble over the heifers of milk types. There was some justifiable criticism of that, but I think the proper way to ensure that we have an adequate supply of milk types of calves reared is through the end price. That obviously is the right thing to do. I have wondered if that is the explanation for the fact that when the Labour Government introduced this subsidy they budgeted for £30 million over four years. 1022 I see that the right hon. Gentleman has given a figure of £4.5 million a year which, over four years, will give only £18 million. What is the reason? Is it because he is leaving out the heifer calves of milk types? Would they make up this difference of £12 million?
It is right that this should be paid to calves which will increase the beef supply of the country. We have been rightly told that we need a tremendous increase in the amount of beef for our people here. But we shall run into very great difficulty when trying to decide the subsidy to be paid on that range of calf which comes midway between the Jersey and the Ayrshire on one side and the Hereford on the other. Those not clearly colour marked and easily recognised will cause many difficulties for all those people who have to carry out the certification.
The Minister said that the field to be covered by inspection of this sort will be extremely difficult, and I think he is quite right. I can well imagine some of the difficulties which will be experienced by his inspectors or whoever he calls to make his inspection. What criteria are they to bring to their task? How are they to decide? Will they have laid down in the Scheme which eventually will be produced and presented to this House some idea as to how they are to grade the cattle as between those who should be considered beef type for this purpose and those which are milk types? Obviously there is going to be an extremely difficult job for someone in the Department in the framing of the scheme.
I wonder what part the farmers are to play in connection with the scheme? Are they to have any form of appeal against any decision by any certifying officer? Can they play any part in this grading, or will it be left to the certifying officers to take a decision without any appeal being allowed against it? I suppose that is a matter which we may expect to be covered by the scheme. It seems a very important matter.
I was also in some difficulty about the payment of the subsidy in those cases where there is not sufficient keep available to permit the man on whose land the calf was born to continue to keep it after it has passed six months of age. How is the decision to be taken in the case where 1023 the man says he has not sufficient keep? Is it to be done by inspection, or will areas which are obviously suitable for rearing up to a certain point be designated? Is Wales the sort of country where that would apply? Does Scotland possess such an area which would be marked on the map showing that in one part six months will apply and in another eight months?
These points we shall have to discuss when the scheme is presented to us for an affirmative resolution. I welcome the fact that this, like the other schemes, will be subject to an affirmative resolution in this House because, obviously, such schemes will contain many important principles which have to be decided and it is easier to do that on an affirmative resolution than upon a Prayer to annul.
This is part of the wider issue of securing a greater degree of agricultural productivity in this country. The debate next week will again bring home very forcefully to us that we have to do more and more with our own soil, more and more with our own raw materials, more and more with the things which are available to us and which do not necessitate the bringing in of vast quantities of things from abroad. I am hoping that in the debate next week the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on this side of the House will have an opportunity of stressing the fact that agriculture must play a big part in this connection. I hope the debate will not be, as many economic debates are, purely one for the economists to talk very largely about the financial and industrial side of the nation. Agriculture must play its full part in the debate next week because, without an increase in its productivity, this little island will never surmount its difficulties.
Here I feel some little doubt about the policy of the Government, because we have had so little indication from the Government that the sort of scheme we are now discussing is in fact part of a long-term policy. When hon. Members opposite were in opposition we heard so much about a long-term policy and what they would do if they came to Government, how they would make every Act in connection with agriculture part of a long-term policy which would be satisfactory to the country, the National 1024 Farmers' Union, who were pressing for it, and everyone else in agriculture.
It seems that the Government are so far failing in this connection. They are going on producing a series of ad hoc schemes, little Measures here and there, none of which seems to have very much connection with another. I hope we shall be seeing soon, perhaps next week, some indication of the long-term policy of the Government which will enable agriculture to do what obviously it has to do and to prove to us that when the Opposition becomes the Government they go on to try to produce the sort of things they talked about when in opposition.
I hope we shall have answers to the points which have been raised and be guided towards a scheme which, with the whole idea of the Government's actions in this connection, will be directed towards ensuring that we have a long-term policy for agriculture which will do all that we all hope it will do—add to the productivity of our own country and save us from some of the difficulties which otherwise obviously might ensue.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)
Perhaps I may begin by answering the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) on two points while they are in my mind. He asked about the right of appeal in regard to animals which are rejected. This has been thoroughly considered, and it has been decided that no appeal will be allowed. On the other hand, we are not imposing the stigma of a rejection mark on the calf, so that if a breeder or rearer, with a calf which does not come up to the required level when it is inspected, thinks that it may improve, he will have another chance of presenting it to the inspector. We have balanced this concession against the decision that there will be no appeal to the inspector.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Can my hon. Friend say how he is going to prevent a calf which has been rejected in one area, because it is not up to the standard of the beef in that area, being sent into another area which has a lower standard, in order to obtain the subsidy there? I do not think that the rejection mark carries any stigma, because nobody can tell why it was rejected. It means that the person who 1025 presents the calf realises that it is not good enough for the subsidy, and that it is finished.
§ Mr. Snadden
We have taken the view that it is possible for the animal to improve, and, in order that we should not be too hard on the breeder, it is only fair that it should have another chance of receiving the subsidy. For that reason, we have decided that we will not stamp a rejection mark on the animal at the inspection, but on the other hand there will be no right of appeal.
The hon. Gentleman also asked me a question which had a bearing on Scotland, in regard to the marking of calves at the earlier age of six months. As he probably knows, in Scotland, we have a different type of economy compared with south of the Border, and, in many of our areas, such as the hill areas, large numbers of calves are born in April and marketed in October. They are called suckled calves and they are of very high quality, but the breeders are unable to keep them on the hills when winter sets in. For that reason, we have decided to bring the certification period down to six months, so that these breeders may benefit from the subsidy. As I understand the system south of the Border, it will only be applicable to the areas where the facts are known and where these animals do come in large numbers to the autumn calf sales.
§ Mr. Snadden
I should imagine that Wales would not be very different from Scotland, and we are well aware in Scotland of the autumn sales of suckled calves. We shall do our best to see that the calves are marked before they reach the sales in October and when they are in the neighbourhood of seven to eight months old.
I am glad that, in the course of the debate, no one has mentioned that this is a small but important Bill. I was rather expecting to hear that, because, although it is small, it raises a large number of tricky points of a distinctly practical and even technical nature. I will do my best to grapple with them as I go along, and I hope that I shall answer most, although I cannot answer all, of the questions 1026 raised to the satisfaction of the hon. Members who raised them.
Before I do so, perhaps I may make some general comments. We are all agreed that meat today is our scarcest and most difficult food commodity. It will be no exaggeration to say that the food which the housewife and the worker miss most is meat. In fact, it is true that production in heavy industry is affected because the miners and the heavy engineering workers are not able to get the meat ration which they should be having. In spite of all the statistics offered to us by the experts about calorie intake, as a nation we remain obstinately hungry for meat, and especially beef.
My right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out that our overseas supplies are both uncertain and inadequate, and the moral of that is plain. It is that, if we are to get more beef to eat in this country, we must produce it ourselves, and the question is what is the quickest and most effective way of doing it.
I think, however, that there is another consideration to be borne in mind, and it was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) when he was a Member of the previous Government. It is that we have, at the same time, to endeavour to keep a proper balance between milk production and beef production in Great Britain. I think that one is inclined to forget that the swing away from beef and towards milk began before the last war. Milk was enjoying natural protection from imports, farmers were encouraged to produce it by the Government of the day, and the monthly cheque attracted many small farmers from beef production to milk. That change-over was greatly accelerated by the wartime policy of price emphasis, and reinforced by social considerations, and we have to take all that into account.
I have no doubt that that was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and of the previous Minister of Agriculture, who is not here today, when he looked at his 1947 expansion programme. As far as beef is concerned, I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite actually stated that what the Government of that day intended to do was not only to step up the numbers of livestock in our country, but, at the same time, to make an effort to achieve what he called 1027 a re-orientation of national policy so that the balance of milk and beef production might become less one-sided than it was then.
The Labour Government were presented with precisely the same set of conditions that we are presented with today, but they did not decide to rely entirely upon the end price—an incentive that, in the opinion of this Government and of the previous Government, would not only have been very slight, but also very costly, in getting the movement back in the right direction. If we had raised the end price, that would not have put the matter on a long-term basis, and we might now have been faced with a difficult problem in that, almost overnight, animals would be coming on the scene in large numbers to get the inflated price, and we should have needed a great deal more money for no extra amount of meat at all.
For that reason, we have decided that the best method of getting the increase which we want is to inject, at the beginning of what is a long cycle of production, an incentive so that we may get more calves, because, only in that way, can we get more meat.
§ Captain Soames
I could see the force of that argument if we were to raise the price from one day to the next, but nobody ever thinks of doing that. Instead, a certain date is fixed either a year or two years hence, and there would therefore be no question of large numbers of animals coming forward overnight to get more money.
§ Mr. Snadden
The raising of the end price would not produce more meat, in terms of livestock beef, because the conditions were precisely similar when we brought the previous calf subsidy to an end. We are now facing a very great fall in that livestock which we want so much, and my right hon. Friend has pointed out that, although the present home production of beef is expanding, it is not satisfactory. As a result of the cessation of the last subsidy, we are now faced with a great fall in numbers of young livestock.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Dealing with the point that the end price would not necessarily get more beef, would not my hon. Friend agree that with regard to pigs an end 1028 price for bacon has been given which is profitable with the result that the pig production has increased by 1 million in 12 months. The end price has produced the goods.
§ Mr. Snadden
I have a certain amount of sympathy with my hon. Friend on this question, and if I felt that an increase in the end price which could be contained within our economic, policy would be best, I would probably be in favour of it. But I do not believe that an increase in the end price today would produce the results we want. We want a quick answer and we can only get it if we turn out more livestock by the method proposed in this Bill.
I think, in spite of all the criticism that under this Bill we are adopting the method of injection at the beginning of the scheme, that the best answer to that, as the hon. Gentleman has said, is that it has proved successful, because the total increase in the number of calves reared in the four-year period 1947–51, when the last subsidy was running, was no less than 1,500,000.
§ Mr. Snadden
Yes, I do, but I think the answer is that whatever our criticisms may have been, and I think they were more of method than of principle, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman opposite was quite fair to my right hon. Friend when he twitted him for his attitude when in Opposition. My recollection is that we did not divide on the Bill. We criticised the method, but we were not opposed to the Bill in principle. Whatever the criticism may have been we are able to say that this calf subsidy produced 1,500,000 calves during the period 1947–51, and I think that is enough justification of the policy. So in considering what we would do if faced with these four conditions with which the previous Government were faced—scarcity of foreign exchange, overseas supplies of beef, and cattle at home and a desire to see a proper balance between milk and beef—we have come to the same conclusion.
We do not want to produce beef at the expense of milk, but we want to get a proper balance in our economy. I do not think anybody would say that that 1029 balance has yet been struck. Therefore, we have increased the end price of meat by 3s. 6d. a live cwt., and we are asking in the Bill for power to inject at the beginning as well a calf subsidy of £5 for steers and heifers. I think that policy is right. It is put upon a proper long-term basis, which is dealt with in the Bill under the heading of the time from which the period is to run.
Turning to some of the points made by hon. Members opposite, I will do my best to pick out those which I think are of most interest, and will answer them as I go along. The right hon. Member for Belper in his opening speech drew attention to the increase in beef that followed the subsidy and then the falling off at the end. He threw out the warning that we might have the same thing all over again. I think the reason for the fall was that farmers became aware of the fact that the subsidy was coming off, for when we examine the figures we find that the fall occurred in the last year.
I do not think there is any reason to anticipate that happening again provided we have a proper long-term policy and do not come to a full stop all of a sudden without proper intimation beforehand. I do not think we need expect such a fall. The right hon. Gentleman also drew attention to the business of what he called "pump priming." He was not in favour of that system, and I think he took the same line in a previous debate.
As I say, I have a lot of sympathy with what he said, and if a better method could be found I think I would be one of the first to agree to it. But, here again, we must take into account that just as our tillage acreage fell enormously so also has our livestock population fallen. We must stop that fall as a beginning to our long-term policy, and we are accordingly putting in the Bill the incentive of the £5 subsidy.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the effect of the monthly milk cheque, and I think another hon. Member opposite also raised that point. Of course, there is an equivalent in this Bill; there is the calf subsidy for the beef breeder. I have always had the hope that one day, just as we have a Milk Marketing Board, we shall have a Fatstock Marketing Board for beef. I 1030 cannot see why, if the Milk Marketing Board can make the milk industry so efficient as almost to kill the beef industry, we cannot have a Fatstock Marketing Board which would pay to breeders the equivalent of the monthly milk cheque.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)
Would my hon. Friend say whether he is now making an announcement about Government intentions or whether they are his own personal predilections about which he is speaking when he talks of a Fatstock Marketing Board?
§ Mr. Snadden
I am merely repeating what I have said in this House for 10 years. It is something that is being considered at the present moment in our long-term policy, but I am unable to say from this Box today that it is in fact going to be done.
The right hon. Member for Belper asked me one or two other questions. I think that I should perhaps pass over them because the right hon. Gentleman is no longer in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Champion
May I mention that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was called out to the telephone and will be back soon?
§ Mr. Snadden
Well, there is a rather important question having a bearing upon long-term policy which I think I should answer even in the right hon. Gentleman's absence. He said that the Milk Marketing Board should be in the field again. I am very glad indeed, and I am sure my right hon. Friend is also very glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's sympathy in this matter, because no one is keener to see that happen than my right hon. Friend. Indeed, at this moment the point is being studied, but it is not an easy problem.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked a question which, possibly, has more to do with England and Wales than with Scotland, and to which I can only give him the answer as given to me by my right hon. Friend. It was about administration. As I understand it, the administration in Scotland was carried out differently from that in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland we had full-time certifying officers whereas in England and Wales they were 1031 part-time officers. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was worried about the cost.
My right hon. Friend tells me that he is seriously considering the use of full-time certifying officers in England and Wales in place of the present 2,000 part-time officers. In announcing this, I want also to say that although the present certifying officers have done a very good job indeed, it is clear that the new load of responsibility which they will be called upon to bear under this Bill will be very heavy indeed. Therefore, we feel that a small group of full-time officers will find it easier to maintain uniform standards than was the case before when part-time officers were employed. I am informed that it will also reduce the administrative cost of the subsidy, and save something like £75,000 a year.
The sum of £90,000 in the Bill is the total cost as the Bill now stands. In 1953–54 when the number of calves certified may have reached a figure of 1,100,000, then the cost of the subsidy will be £100,000, but there is this saving of £75,000 on the cost in England and Wales because of the use of full-time officers.
§ Mr. Champion
The hon. Gentleman said the cost of the subsidy." Does he not mean cost of administration?
§ Mr. G. Brown
Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman is thinking in terms of £40,000 instead of £110,000?
§ Mr. Snadden
No, on the assumption that we do make the change. We are saving £75,000 against the previous cost of administration of £350,000 in 1949–50.
I now come to a question which has been raised very generally today, and I admit that it is a very tricky one. It is the question of on what animals the subsidies are to be paid. I think that we are all quite clear about the steers, but I will try to remove any remaining confusion 1032 on this subject. The position remains the same with regard to steer calves. A single-purpose dairy animal will rank for subsidy if it looks like making beef. If the farmer chooses to turn the bull calves into steers and thinks it worth while to rear them—he will have a pretty good notion whether they are of a beef type—they will certainly rank for subsidy.
When we come to heifer calves it is very difficult to draw the line. Someone asked why the Friesian is excluded. The answer is that it is a single purpose, direct dairy breed. I think that the Friesian breeders in the main would say that these are single purpose animals. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Anyway it is quite true that the Friesian steer can make good meat, but for heifers we had to draw the line between single purpose dairy breeds and other breeds because this subsidy is designed to further meat production and not milk production.
With regard to dairy cattle, and in case anyone is in any doubt, I should say that any animal from a single purpose dairy cow by a colour marked bull or by a beef bull—in Scotland we do not recognise colour marking—will rank for subsidy if it passes inspection. I am talking, of course, about heifers.
There are a great many dual-purpose breeds, and I know that decisions will be difficult in their case. All one can say is that the inspector will have to be left to judge whether or not an animal has a beef slant or a dairy slant on it. If a dual-purpose dairy heifer looks like turning into a beef animal for rearing or fattening it should rank for subsidy. We estimate that three out of four will probably so rank though they are all, of course, subject to inspection.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) raised an interesting point of a very technical nature, and I will not attempt to go into it now. I should like to study what he said in his original remarks. As to the question of immature slaughter, I think it must be left to the Government and to the organisations concerned to come to an agreement with the Ministry of Food on what animals have to be rejected at the grading markets if they are carrying the subsidy mark. I see no 1033 reason why it could not be arranged that an animal of, say, less than six to seven cwts. should be rejected at the grading centre if it were bearing a subsidy mark. That should do away with the practices which took place before.
It has been repeatedly said in this debate that the proposal in this Bill is a pump-priming operation and that there is no long-term policy behind it. The fact is that we are considering long-term policy—
§ Mr. Snadden
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are a great many things which have to be taken into account—efficiency, marketing boards, and many other things and we are carefully considering what our long-term policy will be. But we must make a move of this sort to bring us to the starting point if a long-term policy is to be put into effect, and I do not think there is much in the argument.
The hon. Member for Chorley raised a point about the "extra calf." He said that to obtain the extra calf we have to pay out millions of pounds in subsidy on calves that would have been reared in any case and that therefore the extra calves will cost about £35 each, I think he said. Actually it should be a little less than that. The answer is that if the end price of meat is raised precisely the same effect is obtained, because one would be paying a very much larger price for all meat and not just for the extra. The hon. Member also drew attention to the fact that judging what a calf looks like at nine months old would be extremely difficult, but I do not think there is very much in that point and I understand that the inspectors are quite happy about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who made an interesting speech and whose practical knowledge I always appreciate, disliked the subsidy. Most of what he said was levelled against the pump-priming method as compared with the end price. I have said that I have deep sympathy with his idea, but on balance we have come to the conclusion that we must adopt the present method.
1034 My right hon. Friend answered the question about Wales and the complaint that there was here some slight to the Principality. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) made a very good contribution from the practical angle and said a great many things with which I agree. He talked about the subsidy to the breeder as being a good thing—and I agree with him—and said that a man who produces the goods should be the first person to be considered when paying a subsidy of this nature. One of our criticisms from Scotland has been on that very point, because the last subsidy by-passed the man who produced the calf and was given to someone who had had nothing at all to do with production.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) also spoke about the end price with which I have already dealt. I now seem to have dealt with all the questions that were put to us. If there are any more we will look at them in HANSARD and do our best to answer them on some future occasion. What we are trying to do in this Bill is really a very simple thing. It is to encourage a beef slant in our cattle, to encourage the raising of cattle that will produce beef.
That is why we are giving every chance to the beef side of the industry. We know there are technical problems to be solved and that they are difficult, but we do not believe they are insuperable. I think it would be true to say that there is no country in the world which has more resources than this country has in this business of beef production. We have the best beef cattle in the world and the best stockmen in the world; we have probably the best pasture in the world, both natural and cultivated; and, we are sure that given an incentive and the confidence to go ahead our farmers can step up greatly the supply of beef for the nation. I hope this Bill will now receive a Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Vosper]—for Monday next.