HC Deb 20 October 1952 vol 505 cc778-807

7.45 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Sir Thomas Dugdale)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, to leave out from "for" to "and," and to insert: the whole of the United Kingdom, for England, Wales and Scotland, for England. Wales and Northern Ireland, or for Scotland and Northern Ireland. I do not know whether it would meet the convenience of the Committee if we discussed at the same time the next two Amendments—in page 1, line 18, to leave out "two or all three," and to insert "number.", and in line 18 to leave out "all three," and to insert "more."

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

We would have no objection to that.

The Chairman

That would be convenient, if it meets the wishes of the Committee.

Sir T. Dugdale

The purpose of this Amendment is to give effect to a promise which I made to Welsh Members when we were considering the Report stage of the Agriculture (Ploughing Grants) Bill. I said at that time that I would put down an Amendment to this Bill making a clear reference to Wales as a separate country. These words are designed to fulfil that pledge, and I hope the Committee will accept them in that spirit.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

May I very briefly express the appreciation of the Welsh Members on the attitude which the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary have taken on this matter? It is not a trivial matter, in our view, and we are very glad that the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary have seen the way clear to meet us on this point. I should also like to express my gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), both of whom have been most helpful in this respect.

I did rather think that the Amendment put down in my name—in line 18, to leave out "two or all three," and to insert "number"—was a simpler method of reaching the same end, but it would be most ungracious of me to cavil at terminology at this stage. I thank the Minister, and I congratulate him, although I hope that in future Bills he will try to emulate the expert drafting which seems to prevail mostly on this side of the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Champion

I beg to move, in page 2, line 12, to leave out "three," and to insert "two."

We regard this Measure as something of a pump priming effort. It was intended to start off an increase in the number of calves reared for beef purposes. There is no doubt that this is something in the way of an ad hoc payment introduced for a specific purpose, but it appears to us to be in no way a substitute for a long-term livestock policy. The Minister has heard us use those words before. We use them again in this connection, because we regard this as a matter of some considerable importance.

As the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware, the farmers and leaders of the farming industry have for some time been asking for a declaration of policy by the Government on the longterm livestock policy which they told us when they were in Opposition they would introduce when they became the Government of the day. Unfortunately for the country they have become the Government of the day, and unfortunately for themselves they have to do something about implementing these promises that were made to the leaders of the farming industry.

We think that if "two" is inserted here it will force the Minister to do something which he is obviously reluctant to do, and that is to make up his mind on this question of a long-term policy within a rather more limited time than he would set himself. We think that two years should be sufficient time during which he can make up his mind on these points, and then perhaps to go on and use subsidies of this sort—or production grants, as he prefers to call them—for purposes in connection with a long-term policy in livestock production.

I shall not take up more time with this. I am sure the Minister will see that the point we are making has some substance, and is indeed essential. I hope that on reflection he will agree that two years from the start of this scheme is a sufficient time to enable him to work out a long-term policy and to bring it to this House.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I hope that the Minister will be able to meet us over this matter. I think that one of the troubles with subsidies, and particularly with agricultural subsidies, is that they are very much easier to put on than to take off. After all, the basis of our Agricultural Act is that the incentive to the farmer should be a guaranteed price, and that the instrument of the guaranteed price should be utilised and adjusted so as to get the pattern of production one requires. On a long-term, therefore, the thing which should get us meat is the price of beef. A subsidy, I feel, is really only justified where one wants to change the pattern of production quickly.

After all, the beef price is only payable four years ahead, when the animal has been conceived, brought up and fattened. These are times of expensive money, and let us at least recognise that no single factor inhibits agricultural production to so great an extent as expensive money. What we are doing with this subsidy is really providing a part-payment in advance on a beef price that is going on, and that can only happen while we are waiting for the pattern of production to change, with a greater emphasis on beef. When that pattern has changed the subsidy should come off and the incentive should go back to price.

We feel on this side of the Committee very anxious that subsidies should be kept as short in period as possible, and they should always be recognised as being a temporary measure, a mere adjusting measure within the general price structure.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I hope that the Government will yield to us on this Amendment. I believe that if the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland comes to reply he will be able to endorse everything that has been said from the Front Opposition Bench. When we were on the Government side of the House we listened to him very frequently, especially on questions dealing with Scottish agriculture, about the necessity of a long-term plan for increasing the number of cattle in the Highlands of Scotland. Indeed, some of his proposals were very advanced that they might have come from these quarters.

I remember, for example, when he developed a very imaginative scheme, on the lines described by Lord Lovat, by which we were to have some kind of corporation which was to have the task of rearing cattle in the Highlands of Scotland. It was, I think, one of the most far-reaching Socialist arguments we had heard from those benches for some time, and I always listen to the Joint Under-Secretary with a great deal of respect because he speaks authoritatively on these questions.

I remember that when he was sitting on this side I listened entranced to his argument which outlined the Highlands of Scotland being developed as a sort of range for cattle. There was to be a State corporation and something done on public utility lines. I hope that two years will be ample for those thoughts to develop. In fact, on the Second Reading of the Bill, he did, much to the consternation of some hon. Members behind him, suggest that the time had come for there to be a meat marketing board.

I hope, therefore, that the Joint Under-Secretary is not going to have all his ideas for agricultural development and a long-term policy damped by political expediency, and that these Socialists thoughts of his will be developed, so that in two years time he will come to the House and say, "These subsidies as a temporary expedient are very useful, but what we need is a long-term policy of public enterprise, which alone can help solve the problem of meat production in this country."

Captain Christopher Soames (Bedford)

I was most interested in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). It really does not do for hon. Members opposite to talk against subsidies, even as they affect the agricultural industry. When the party opposite were in power, subsidies were used to a very great extent for just such an expediency as this subsidy is being used now.

Mr. Paget

That is exactly what I said.

Captain Soames

They were as wrong then as they are now. Hon. Members opposite talk as if they were preaching a new gospel, but perhaps, if they had had more influence over their own Ministers, they might have brought this about in the days when the Socialist Party were in power. I must say that if the Minister says that it is necessary for him to keep on this subsidy for three years, I have not the detailed information available which would enable me to argue against him. But I feel that the least time he keeps any form of subsidy in the agricultural industry the better.

I am quite sure that it must be very easy for the Minister of Agriculture to slip in to this idea of subsidies. That is an easy way out. After all, agriculture, more than any other industry, must be planned on a long-term policy. It is not perhaps easy to see so far ahead as one would like. We can with this artificial medium of subsidies to a certain extent overcome the difficulty of long-term planning. There is the threat of this and that—not enough ploughing up, farmers not using enough fertilisers; therefore, let us put on a subsidy. I feel, however, that it does the agricultural industry a great deal of harm.

There are many hon. Members opposite who talk rather loosely about the problems that beset agriculture without perhaps knowing quite enough about them. It gives them a handle, and the opportunity for the townsman to say, "After all, you have taken a lot of subsidies off food and now you are giving it back to the farmers." I agree that there was a great necessity to increase the cattle population of this country, and that the quickest way to do it was through subsidies, but I do beseech hon. Members to realise that this should only be a temporary expedient. Do not let us fall into the idea that subsidies are to stay with agriculture for ever. I do not think that they are.

I do not support the Amendment, for if the Minister says he believes it is necessary for the scheme to last three years I do not know sufficient about it to go against him, but I ask him to remember that the sooner he removes the subsidy the better it will be for the agricultural industry as a whole.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

The hon. and gallant Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) has now joined the party of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) who spoke very forcibly on the matter on Friday. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leominster on having such an enthusiastic recruit, and such an influential one. However, I am not sure where the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford stands. He said that subsidies were wrong in the past as they are now. I hope he will have the courage to fight his own party's policy on this, because the Bill is a subsidy Bill.

Captain Soames

I said that, owing to the rundown in the cattle population—this was happening long before the last General Election—some immediate step was necessary and I saw the Minister's point in providing a subsidy, but in principle I am against it. I see that it is necessary in this instance, but I hope it will not have to last too long. That was a perfectly plain argument, and I am sure that there are some holes which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) can pick in this without going for ones which do not exist.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman is trying to qualify his main argument. If he will look at what he has said he will find that he condemned both past subsidy policies and the present subsidy policy. He went on to talk about the "slippery slope," saying that the Minister could easily slip into this policy and that he, therefore, condemned it. I believe he meant what he was saying. If one attacks a subsidy policy one ought to have the courage to condemn it.

This little Bill, which has the specific purpose of giving a subsidy for calves, is important in the immediate circumstances of our economic position. I want the Minister to tell us if the Government has any long-term plan for cattle production. We have heard rumours that there is no such long-term plan and that the present Government is merely acting on expediency in continuing the progressive lines introduced by the Labour Government. Has the Minister anything different?

I have also heard that our cattle population may decline in the next two years. I hope the Minister will give us some assurances on the matter—it is important—and that he will specifically answer the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that we must have a long-term policy—we ought to have an examination of the incidence of subsidies for specific purposes—but, immediately, we believe that this Measure should be supported. Therefore, we seek to improve it by amending it, and we hope that the Minister will tell us whether the promises made by the Conservative Party at the General Election were only window-dressing or whether the Government really means business in agriculture.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

I want, first, to correct hon. Members opposite who are continually stating that this is a subsidy for the agricultural industry. They know full well that this is part of the agreement made at the last February Price Review; it was agreed that part of what was given to the farmer should be paid in this way in order to encourage the rearing of more calves. This is not a subsidy.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Member cannot have read the Bill, for its title is the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Bill.

Mr. Crouch

That may be the title of the Bill and we may term this a subsidy, but we know full well that it is part of last February's Price Review. As a result of the introduction of a subsidy in 1947 there was a very great increase in the number of calves reared in this country. Immediately the Labour Government announced that it would discontinue the subsidy there was a decline in the number of calves raised.

We all know that our beef production has been precarious for several years. I welcome this means of encouraging the rearing of more calves so that more meat will be available in the future. Anyone who knows even a very little about the agricultural industry knows that to suggest that a Measure of this kind should be for a shorter period than three years is not to regard the industry in the proper perspective. It takes three years from the time of rearing until steer calves are fit for slaughter.

In view of the world situation today, it is wise for us to do all we can to encourage the rearing of more calves so that we can produce more meat here instead of relying on importations from distant parts of the world. Realising as a farmer how essential it is for us to rear more calves in order to produce more beef, I oppose the Amendment.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee appreciate the magnificent effort made by the agricultural industry in the last 10 years, when it has really been mining the ground rather than tilling it, in producing Britain's food. However, looking at the Amendment from a constructive point of view, whereas we do not say that there may not be a case for a subsidy at this transitional period, there is a feeling, particularly among those of us with large agricultural areas in our constituencies, as I have in Leek, that the time has come for the whole House to make a serious and constructive approach to the problem of our food production.

I want the Minister to tell us if we have ever looked scientifically at the kind of meat this country can afford to eat. Can Britain produce beef in the next period of its history? Have we finished, historically, as a great beef-eating country?

Captain Soames


Mr. Davies

It is easy for people to be dogmatic about this, but I am asking the question seriously, and there is no need for a dogmatic answer. Can we afford to go forward with our 19th century conception of being a beef-eating country? The other day the Ministry of Agriculture produced an interesting brochure on British farming which described the terrific battle which is silently going on at present between the trowel and the plough because housing is spreading out into the agricultural areas.

In this matter we ought to look at the British Isles as a whole. I was rather surprised that after a little effort at a very peaceful conference at Morecambe I was able to get the Labour Party to agree that we should look constructively even at the development of Southern Ireland. Might not the development of beef and other cattle-produce in Southern Ireland be a constructive approach if we are thinking of agriculture as the fourth arm of defence? I deprecate this policy of continually trying to urge production by subsidies. This is only patching, and there is a terrific need in Britain for all sides of the Committee to realise the urgency of the position in regard to food production.

We should like the Government to come forward with a constructive policy for meat eating and beef production and, maybe, there is an opportunity for further development of sheep farming when we compare the millions in the population of sheep in the 19th century with the numbers in the 20th century. Would not encouragement in that way give us greater dividends than this patching, which is much to the dissatisfaction of farmers, as I found in an open-air meeting with them last week?

Mr. Crouch

The hon. Member complains of the price paid to the farmer for production of meat and wonders if we are going in the right direction in the production of beef. Is he aware that in may this year the Ministry of Food paid £120 a ton for British beef, whereas in Chicago—which is recognised as the greatest meat market in the world—the price of beef was no less than £410 a ton?

Mr. Davies

I agree, but that is no answer to the problem.

Sir T. Dugdale

I do not think I would remain in order if I followed too closely the arguments of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) as to whether we are a beef-eating nation or not. We all agree, on all sides of the Committee, that we could certainly do with a bit more beef if we could produce it in a short time. The purpose of the Amendment is to limit the duration of the scheme to two years. I accept at once that this is a difficult question. I should like the Committee to know that I have given very careful thought to this problem as to whether the first scheme introduced under this Bill should be for two or three years.

The first scheme is part of the Review settlement of last year. If we had not done it in this particular way by making arrangements for this calf subsidy it would have gone on to the end price of beef. That is perfectly clear. The first scheme, which was part of the Review settlement, costs about one penny a pound, and that would have gone on to the end price if it were not done by subsidy. That brings me to the arguments of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford (Captain Soames). All the points they raise I will bear very carefully in mind for the future.

I want to remind the Committee that by injecting this calf subsidy at a very early stage in the production cycle it becomes of enormous benefit to the small farmer and the small man, who has been in particular difficulties due to continually rising costs which the industry has to bear at present. I am not going to argue about that tonight, but if we could get those costs stabilised, we could consider the whole position. At the moment we must remember that beef production is a long-term business. It is true that we are trying to think far ahead. I try to think as far ahead as I can and then to answer at this Box. Because I think it is a long-term business I think we shall get the best results by making the scheme a three year scheme.

I may have something to say on another Amendment, for which I have great sympathy, when we talk about varying the scheme, but I think it right to make it a three year scheme.

8.15 p.m.

We all want to get more meat from home production. Therefore, I have no hesitation in referring to the first calf subsidy scheme introduced by the previous Government in 1947. In 1947 the number of steers and heifer calves was 1,746,000. Then we got the scheme in August of that year and it was for two years. We had a big jump in the first year, when the scheme came into force, and there was an increase by September, 1948, of 366,000 calves. In the following year we had a further increase, bringing the total increase to 520,000. The farming community did not know what the position would be after that, and there was a change in the incidence as between heifer and steer calves so that, between December, 1949—which was the peak reached as the result of the first scheme—to March, 1952, there was a decrease of calves of 364,000.

That is conclusive evidence that if we are to do this at all—and I think all will accept that we are to do it—the right time for the first scheme is three years in order to give everyone plenty of time, to know what is intended and so that they will know that the scheme will last. By so doing I think we shall get the maximum increase in calves and at the same time help small producers in different parts of the country. For these reasons, I hope that hon. Members opposite will agree not to press the Amendment.

Mr. Paget

There is a lot in that argument, but surely the present intention involves more like a four years than a three years scheme. The scheme which we are asking the Government to alter is for a period which begins on a date before the commencement of this Act. Does not this begin in October, 1951?

Sir T. Dugdale

It does; but that is purely a question of Parliamentary time. We have not been able to fit in this legislation until now and we thought it right and proper that the steers subsidy should run on from the date where it left off, in 1951. It would be extremely difficult to operate if there were a gap between the ending of the last scheme and the beginning of the new scheme, provided we were prepared to go on with a scheme. It would be equally difficult to make a differentiation between the steer and heifer subsidy.

Mr. Paget

I am in some difficulty in understanding why the right hon. Gentleman is refusing this Amendment. This Amendment would give the right hon. Gentleman the three years subsidy, which is exactly what he asks.

Sir T. Dugdale

I say this will give the three years plus. I shall be very helpful, I hope, in dealing with Amendments which will come later.

Mr. Champion

As the three years plus one makes four years and we want three years, we think the Minister has not met us. But, having regard to the fact that he has expressed his awareness of the danger of letting these schemes run on without taking such other methods as appear to him to be justifiable for a longterm livestock policy, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I beg to move in page 2, line 22, to leave out "persons by whom and."

I think it would be appropriate, if you approve, Sir Charles, to take together this and the next Amendment, in page 2, line 23, after "out," insert "by officers of the Minister."

The purposes of these two Amendments, as will readily be seen, is to provide that the scheme will make provision for the manner in which the certification of calves is to be carried out by officers of the Ministry. It will be clear to all members of the Committee what we have in mind. The marking of calves under the previous scheme was administered in England and Wales very largely by people employed part-time by the Ministry of Agriculture on a per capita basis. We in Scotland employed in our scheme persons on a full-time salaried basis.

I well remember that in the course of one of our debates in this House a few years ago hon. Members wondered why there should be such a considerable discrepancy between the cost of this service in Scotland and that in England and Wales. It was rather surprising that it cost very much less to do this job in Scotland, where we had full-time officers, than it cost in England and Wales, where it was done by part-time people on a per capita basis. I believe the Minister said during the Second Reading discussion that it was his view that it would be advantageous in future in this matter to employ full-time officers throughout the country.

We have put down these two Amendments with a view to obtaining a further statement from the Minister on the matter; and we hope that he will be able to accept the Amendment because it will lay upon him and any other Minister, including the Secretary of State for Scotland, who makes a scheme under this Act, the duty to provide, in the preparation of the scheme, that the marking will be done by full-time officers of the Ministry.

I repeat that our experience up to date is that the full-time officers cost less—are more economic—than the part-time officers. Further, it goes without saying that the Ministry has always more control and more jurisdiction over the work of a full-time officer than it has over someone who is employed part-time on a per capita basis. I think it is very likely that the marking will be more effectively, efficiently and better done by full-time than by part-time officers.

Sir T. Dugdale

It might be convenient if I intervened at this point to reply to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), because the object of the Amendment is entirely what we propose to do. There are reasons, however, why I hope that hon. Gentlemen will not press their Amendment.

It is our intention to appoint full-time certifying officers in England and Wales similar to those already employed in previous schemes of certification both in Scotland and Northern Ireland. They will replace, in England and Wales, the former fee-paid officers. Arrangements have already been made, in anticipation of the approval of this Bill by the House, for those officers to be selected.

To that extent, therefore, the Amendment only provides for what is intended. If the Committee will bear with me for a few moments, however, I should like to try to convince them that to put words of this kind in the Bill would be restrictive. I will give one example.

Certification of calves in Northern Ireland is carried out by officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, Belfast. Those officers are not, strictly speaking, officers of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Again, in Scotland or indeed in England and Wales, it might well be that in some isolated districts it might be necessary, due to sickness or some other cause, to ask some temporary officers, well qualified and respected, to undertake the work of one of the full-time officers.

Accordingly, we should not like these words to be included in the Bill, as they might be difficult to operate, and I hope that they will not be pressed. Our intention, however, is as was explained in the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton.

Mr. Champion

I am bound to say that the Minister has made a very strong point so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. I wonder whether it is his intention to include such words as we are suggesting in schemes in respect of which he could get over that difficulty. It is part of our difficulty in this connection that even if the Minister puts into a scheme what we are proposing, we have either to reject the scheme in toto or accept it in toto. We cannot amend a scheme at the stage when it is before the House.

We are certainly glad to learn that the Minister agrees with the main purpose of the Amendment, because this is surely a job which should in the circumstances be done by a full-time officer. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland made this point very well in his Second Reading speech.

I do not want to press this Amendment too strongly, but we should like to know whether the Minister is going to include this intention in schemes, in which case he could exclude Northern Ireland from its operation, or whether he feels that, having given his assurance to the Committee, he has sufficiently covered the point and set our doubts at rest. I should like to know what the Minister thinks of that.

Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

Before the Minister replies, I should like to say a few words. He will have in mind the fact that most of us on these benches must look askance at any proposal to increase the permanent staff of any Government Department, even the Ministry of Agriculture. We should like to know from the Minister what annual saving he anticipates will be made by employing a few permanent civil servants to do this job rather than by employing farmers or others on a part-time basis.

The Minister will know that the job of certifying calves for the subsidy has been done satisfactorily, from the farmers' point of view at all events; I do not think there have been many cases of dispute. We should like to be assured that an arrangement which works well in England and Wales is not being discarded and the number of permanent civil servants being increased without very good reason, that reason being a saving of money to the Exchequer.

Captain Soames

The Minister might clarify one point on this matter. Under the old scheme, when calves were examined by part-time officers of the Department on a per capita basis, the farmer always had the right of appeal to an officer of the Ministry. The Minister has now said that this work is to be done by officers of the Ministry. Indeed I understand that many of them are now taking a course in order to learn what a beef-type calf should look like. Will the farmer who is not satisfied with the decision of the full-time officer have any right of appeal, as he used to have when the work was done by part-time officers?

8.30 p.m.

Sir T. Dugdale

So far as the cost is concerned, we reckon that whereas under the former scheme it cost 4s. a calf, under this new arrangement, if we can take Scotland as an example, it will cost approximately 2s. a calf. There will not be an appeal, but there is now instruction going on so that the officers we shall use will know exactly what is required of them. It is being done in agreement with the farmers' organisations, who are perfectly satisfied about what we propose to do. But I will watch the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford (Captain Soames).

Mr. T. Fraser

The Minister has been most reasonable, for he has assured us that he intends to appoint full-time officers. Many times in the last 10 years hon. Members who have moved Amendments which were resisted for similar reasons have said, "We know we can trust the Minister, but what about his successors?" I am absolutely convinced that the saving to be effected by the appointment of full-time officers will be so obvious to those responsible for the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Scottish Office that there will be no fear of any subsequent Minister reverting to part-time appointments on a per capita basis. In all the circumstances, therefore, I beg to, ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Paget

I beg to move, in page 2, line 29, at the end, to insert: (d) for the marking of calves imported or brought into the United Kingdom. I think it might be convenient if this Amendment were taken with the proposed Amendment to it, namely, in line 1 at the end, add: Provided always that no subsidy shall be payable upon such imported calves.

The Chairman

I was not proposing to select that Amendment to the Amend- ment, because an Amendment to a proposed Amendment seems to be rather absurd when the same names appear on both.

Mr. Paget

With respect, Sir Charles, I do not think it really is so, because what we are doing here—and these two Amendments go with a later Amendment to leave out Clause 2—is to provide an alternative to Clause 2. What we are suggesting is that the Committee may take the alternative to Clause 2, which is the Amendment I am now moving; or they may take the Amendment which I am now moving with the addendum, which is the Amendment to the Amendment. The Committee may take either as an alternative to Clause 2.

The Chairman

I am afraid that is too complicated for me. When I see four names appearing in support of an Amendment and then three of them in support of an Amendment to that Amendment, it does not appear to me that the second Amendment should be selected.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

On a point of Order. May we know which Amendment is being moved?

The Chairman

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is moving it now.

Sir T. Dugdale

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman moves his Amendment, may I suggest that we take the proposed Amendment to leave out Clause 2? That would cover the whole thing.

Mr. Paget

I was going to suggest that we should take that Amendment.

The Chairman

That is not really an Amendment at all, because by the rules I have to put the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." We might discuss the two Amendments together, and then, when we come to Clause 2, I might put the Question forthwith. That might satisfy the wishes of everyone.

Mr. Paget

If I may move my Amendment now, perhaps something may turn up before we get to Clause 2.

The point of my Amendment is that subsection (4) of Clause 1 sets out all that may be put in the schemes. It provides for the person to whom payments may be made … It provides for securing that no payment shall be made … except under certain conditions, and the persons by whom and manner in which certification of calves shall take place; and for such incidental and supplementary matters.… That provides what may be put into the scheme.

Then we proceed, by Clause 2 of this Bill, to provide: With a view to ensuring that payments under any scheme are properly made, the appropriate Minister may by order provide (subject to such exemptions, if any, as may be specified in the order) for the marking of calves imported or brought into the United Kingdom. Why have a separate Clause for that? It would seem so much simpler to put the whole thing in the scheme. After all, the provisions as to certification of calves are presumably provisions to secure that calves which are not certified shall not profit under the scheme. When we are dealing with imported calves, which I understand means, broadly speaking, Irish calves—indeed I think exclusively Irish calves—it seems to me that every imported calf ought to be marked if and when and while we are having a subsidy scheme. Why not provide in the scheme for their marking and thereby, by a matter of some 10 words, save some 10 lines of a Bill and a substantial complication?

Clause 1 provides for the alteration and variations of schemes while they are running, so that there would be no greater difficulty in varying the scheme if it were necessary to make some alteration about marking imported calves than there would be by bringing in a new Order. It would seem to be much simpler from the point of view of everyone that everything about the scheme should be found in the scheme itself, instead of having the labour of first searching the scheme and then the Order.

Regarding the substance of the matter, it does seem to us extremely important that all calves which are imported ought to be marked, and that is why in the Amendment we have not included the words which appear in Clause 2: subject to such exemptions, if any, as may be specified.… We feel that there ought not to be any exceptions, but that all imported calves ought to be marked.

As to the interrogative question regarding that, is it, or is it not, proposed to pay a subsidy on imported calves? There may be a case for it. It may be desirable to encourage the importation of calves and to say to anybody, "If you want to import a calf, then we shall contribute something to its cost," but we should like to know whether it is or is not contemplated paying a subsidy on imported calves.

If it is intended to pay such a subsidy, what is the justification for it, and just how does a subsidy on imported calves stand in regard to what we arranged in the Price Review? So far as I could make out, there was nothing in the Price Review which contemplated a subsidy on imported animals. Is that so or not, and what is the intention of the Minister with regard to it?

Mr. Champion

I want to add one question to those of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). As I understand it, Clause 2 will require a separate Order from that which will be made under Clause 1 of the Bill. It is possible that the separate Order might die at a different time from that set out in the main scheme under Clause 1, in which case we should be running into some difficulty, and it would appear to me to be the better way of dealing with this matter to include the words proposed by my hon. and learned Friend in the main scheme in Clause 1.

I hope that the Minister will look at this matter, both in the light of the points made by my hon. and learned Friend and of the point, which I believe has some substance, of this unnecessary, as it appears to me, making of a separate scheme which might have a different terminating date, which would cause some difficulties as a result.

Sir T. Dugdale

I hope I shall be able to explain the position to the Committee, but this is a technical difficulty. I can say at once that there is no intention to pay a subsidy on imported calves. In fact, we could not do it under the Bill, because, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will see if he looks at Clause 1 (1, a), it is clear that the subsidy relates to calves born in the United Kingdom within the period specified in the scheme. We could not do it under this Bill, but in any case there is no intention whatever of doing it.

Therefore, quite rightly, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) asked why we do not put this in the scheme, instead of having a special procedure. The reason is that at the present moment the Minister of Food undertakes the marking of imported calves under the Defence Regulations, and, as long as this arrangement continues, there is no need for the Agriculture Ministers to do so; otherwise, they would be doing the work twice.

If at any time in the future the Minister of Food ceases to mark imported calves, it would then become necessary for the Agriculture Ministers to make Orders promptly to ensure that imported animals were marked, and they could not, in my view, afford a delay which might possibly arise if they had to vary a scheme, because that is the only way they could do it. Variation would rightly require an affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Instead of that, the Ministers will be able to make an Order, subject only to a negative Resolution, which can be made at any time, even if the House is not in Session at a particular time when it is necessary to make an Order quickly.

I hope that, with that explanation of the position, and if I repeat quite definitely that it is not and never was our intention to pay a subsidy on imported calves from public funds, the Amendment may be withdrawn.

Mr. Paget

As that is a very good reason, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

8.45 p.m.

Sir T. Dugdale

I beg to move, in page 2, line 33, to leave out subsection (5).

I was wondering, Sir Charles, whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed the new Clause standing in my name together with this Amendment, because they hang together.

The Chairman

If the Committee are agreeable to that course. I have no objection.

Sir T. Dugdale

Subsection (5), which this Amendment proposes to leave out, would be replaced by the new Clause dealing with Provisions as to slaughter of calves. The purpose of the Clause is to provide for a scheme or order to specify the age at which an animal ceases to be a calf for the purpose of any schemes under this Bill. It includes the provision formerly in subsection (5) which I am now moving to leave out.

It is customary to describe an animal as a calf in ordinary parlance up to the age of 10 to 12 months, and thereafter for the animal to be known as a yearling. But I am sure the Committee will agree it is essential that the Bill should also apply to animals over 12 months old and that for the purpose of the Bill such animals should be known as calves.

The reason for that is, first, because it is proposed that the subsidy shall be paid on animals which at the time of certification in accordance with a scheme have not got their first permanent incisor tooth. This tooth, as hon. Members may know, can appear at any age between 15 months and two years. Therefore, it is necessary for the purposes of the scheme to be able to describe as calves animals more than 10 to 12 months old.

The second reason is that a subsidy is only to be paid on calves born in the United Kingdom, and power is therefore taken under Clause 2 (1) to make an order for the marking of imported calves so that they may be distinguished from home-produced calves. For this purpose, the age at which the animal ceases to be a calf must never be less than the age at which a home-produced calf ceases to be one for the purposes of the operation of this Bill as, otherwise the Committee will appreciate, an importer might argue that his animal is too old to be a calf in the customary meaning of the word, and, therefore, should not be marked.

At present Clause 1 (5) provides that the limits of age within which a calf falls under this scheme may … be defined … by reference to the growth of teeth. Subsection (2) of the proposed new Clause gives additional power to the Minister. It sets out not only the limit of age at which the calf falls within the scheme, but also the age at which an animal ceases to be a calf. This is rather a technical point, but I hope I have made it clear to the Committee.

Mr. Champion

I think the Committee can understand what the Minister has put to us, although it is a complicated point. I shall be glad to know under what Clause, or whether it is under this Clause, the Minister is going to do something about the provision for the payment of the subsidy on calves reared in hill conditions in Scotland, and, perhaps, in certain parts of Wales and England, where the farmer is forced to sell for lack of winter fodder.

This was a point that was well made by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I wonder whether it is under this subsection that the Minister is going to do something about that. If not, under what subsection will he be doing it? I must admit that I cannot find anything in Clause 1 (1), but probably there is something there which will permit the Minister to do this and to define the areas where and the circumstances in which such a subsidy will be paid, not at the top end of the age range of which he was speaking but at the lower end of about six months.

Sir T. Dugdale

No, it does not come under this Clause. That will come in a separate scheme for Scotland.

Mr. Champion

I think that when we were dealing with this on Second Reading we were told by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that there were probably conditions in Wales and elsewhere where it was a recognised thing for these calves to be coming on the market rather early, because of the system of spring calving and the recognised sale of them in the autumn period before they began to make a drain on the farmer's winter resources. I certainly understood from the reply given then that this point would be carefully looked at between this stage and the Committee stage and that something would be done. It is something of a disappointment to me to learn that it will now only relate to Scotland.

Sir T. Dugdale

indicated dissent.

Mr. Champion

The Minister now shakes his head, but I understood him to say definitely that it would be only in the Scottish scheme.

Sir T. Dugdale

I am sorry if I have misinterpreted things to the Committee. Provision is not made in this Clause, nor in the new Clause. The point which the hon. Member has just made is still in our minds, but provision can be made in the schemes, because special circumstances will be described in all schemes. Problems of the kind that exist in the Highlands of Scotland exist in Wales and in the Northern part of the country and there will be clauses in the schemes to cover that point.

Mr. Paget

I hope that the Minister will have another look at the new Clause and see whether he really wants it. I have had the greatest difficulty in seeing why he wants either Clause 5 (5) or the new Clause. In Clause 1 (4, b) he is given a complete discretion. The words of that Clause are entirely general and I should have thought that that would have entitled him to define calves exactly as he thinks and that the new Clause, instead of widening his discretion, by attempting to define it would have limited it in fact. I should have thought that the Minister would have been better off without either Clause 5 (5) or the new Clause, simply relying on the generality of Clause 1 (4, b) which I think entitles him to do anything.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

There is some danger here in placing the age of a calf too high. Now that it has been given we want the subsidy to go to the breeder and the rearer, and in hill farms many rearers have to sell their calves at about nine months old. If we provide the subsidy at the time when an animal begins to cut its teeth, the animal definitely will not be in the calf class. Then, as they do today, we shall have the dealers buying these calves up just before they reach the age of certification and carrying them on until they can obtain a subsidy when they are yearlings.

When they are yearlings and are run on the hills they then qualify for the further subsidy—the hill subsidy; they qualify for the hill subsidy when they are 12 months old. I see the danger that the dealers may get hold of the yearlings, run them on the hills and then get the hill subsidy. In many cases, if the age is put too high, they will get both the calf subsidy and the hill subsidy. I feel that the limit should be between nine and 12 months. To go right on to the time when the calf is cutting its first permanent teeth is altogether too long. The limit should be not more than 12 months, in my opinion. I feel that we are getting completely out of farming practice.

Mr. Crouch

Would the Minister please assist the Committee? As I understand it, the new Clause is introduced purely for the purpose of bridging the gap which exists as the previous scheme was allowed to lapse on 1st October last year. Do I understand that when that gap has been bridged it will not be necessary to continue calling these animals calves when they are beyond the yearling stage—or does the Minister wish to behave towards the calves as many of us do towards the female members of society and suggest that they are much younger than they are? I believe it is the Minister's intention in the years ahead to tell the truth about the age of calves, but I should be glad to hear his reply.

Sir T. Dugdale

I should like to answer first the point put by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I think that legally it could be argued that the Bill would be all right without the new Clause, but I am advised that, in fact, Clause 4 (a) and (b) refers to payments, whereas Clause 5 as it will be—the new Clause—defines calves. I am told that on balance it is considered that it is much better and safer if we have both Clauses in the Bill, although legally and technically the hon. and learned Member would be right in what he said.

The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) referred to the age of calves. I quite appreciate his point and will bear it in mind, but if we were to confine the age to between nine and 12 months it would be too tight. We must have a bit of latitude there for the best operation of the scheme.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Paget

I beg to move in page 2, line 40, to leave out from "not," to "be," in line 41.

I think it might be convenient, Mr. Hopkin Morris, if this Amendment were taken with the next one in line 42, leave out "by more than three years."

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

Yes, I agree, if that course meets the wishes of the Committee.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Paget

These two Amendments deal with the power to extend the scheme by variations. We feel that there should be no question of extension by variation but that, if another scheme is wanted—and I rather hope that it will not be—the Minister should come to the House with a new scheme. As I am rather hopeful of this Amendment, in view of what the Minister has said, I would say that some of us—including, I think, the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford (Captain. Soames)—are anxious that the calf subsidy scheme should not go on indefinitely.

The overwhelming majority of calves are not fattened by the man who breeds them. They are sold as stores. If the cost is in the final handling, that final price is reflected in an enhanced price at the stall, but one gets judgment applied instead of a blind figure. The farming community exercises a selection as to how the money will be paid for calves—the money being provided in price instead of as a direct subsidy. In the long run I think that that will always be preferable to a simple per-unit payment of one price or one addition for each calf. That is why we hope that it will be eventually possible to do it through the final price rather than through a subsidy; but for the moment I confine myself to saying that if there is to be another scheme we should rather see a new scheme than a mere prolongation by alteration of the old scheme.

Sir T. Dugdale

It would not be appropriate for me to argue for a very long time as to the merits of an end price or a substitute price at any early stage of the productive cycle, but there is force in this Amendment. Although the hon. and learned Member will probably not expect me to accept it as it is, I hope that he will allow me to look at its actual wording and perhaps put down an Amendment to carry out its intention on the Report stage.

If, after the scheme has been going for three years, it is intended to have a scheme for another period of three years, it is right, as the hon. and learned Member says, that the Government should come to the House with a scheme, even if it is the same one. To suggest that one scheme should carry on and be amended for another period of three years after the original three years and the extra time to which the hon. and learned Member referred in an earlier Amendment is, I agree, carrying it on for rather a long time. I am perfectly prepared to look at this question and put down an Amendment in words which will meet the requirements of the hon. and learned Member.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I am very glad the Minister has said what he has to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I certainly think that on the face of it it is unnecessary to make provision so far ahead.

In addition to what he has said he is going to consider, I will ask him to think of one other thing. Fairly recently he stated that he is hoping that over the next four years there will be an increase of up to 400,000 a year in the number of calves reared. At the same time, the Minister might consider whether it would not be better to make the period of the Bill four years instead of taking two bites of three years. Perhaps when he is considering the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, he will also consider this suggestion.

Mr. Champion

I do not want the Committee to imagine that all hon. Members on this side of the Committee are agreed on the answer to the question, at what point are we going to pay? I disagree with the point of view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and I think there are a number of occasions upon which it is a good thing to inject the subsidy of a production grant at an earlier point. My hon. and learned Friend and I do not propose to carry this disagreement to the point where we split. We are agreed on the end product which we want to achieve, and that is an increase in our production of beef.

Mr. Paget

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Champion

Before we part from this Clause, there are one or two points which I should like to put to the Minister, and I shall not take long in doing so. The first concerns the point about payment for marking, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). It seemed to me that my right hon. Friend raised on Second Reading what was an important question as to the method which will be adopted for the payment for certifying and marking.

My right hon. Friend suggested that the old system was a bad one and asked whether the Minister would pay for the certifying on a per capita basis, or whether he would pay on the basis of a visit to the farm. We wondered whether this point would be dealt with in the scheme and whether the Minister had made up his mind about it. It is true that the scheme which was previously operated was rather expensive, and we have been promised that the new scheme will be very much less expensive. We wonder, therefore, whether the payment will be made as was suggested in my right hon. Friend's question.

The second question I want to ask concerns the replacement of the milk cheque incentive. On Second Reading this question was asked by a number of hon. Members, who placed some weight upon it. They wondered whether the Minister would look at the point between Second Reading and the Committee stage, but we see nothing about it in the scheme and we wonder whether it is possible to do something about it before the next stage of the Bill. Frankly, I cannot think of a way, but I would not put it past the Minister's officers to find some way of doing something which would cause people who, I think wrongly in the circumstances, but nevertheless understandably, are producing milk when they would be much better employed in producing calves for beef production.

The third point concerns the slaughter of immature animals. How does the Minister intend to make provision in the scheme for the reduction of the price for animals upon which a subsidy has been paid and which come in for grading as immature animals? We were told on Second Reading that it is not proposed to pay twice; or, rather, that the Minister proposes to get the subsidy payment deducted when the animal comes in for grading. How does he propose to do that? Is it to be done purely by administrative arrangement between him and the Ministry of Food, or does he intend to do it in the schemes which he will present to the House?

I think this is a matter of some little importance. We ought to do all we can to prevent these immature animals from coming into the market for grading, and it might be well if something were included in the scheme which would permit animals brought in for grading in this way to be used for the purpose for which the subsidy was originally paid—that is, fattened off, instead of being brought in for grading and slaughter at an immature stage. It is right that this money should not be paid for animals which are not being carried on to a reasonable size. I am wondering how the Minister is going to deal with that—whether by administrative arrangement between himself and the Minister of Food, or by inclusion in a scheme which he will make under this Clause.

There is a last point in this connection on which I should like some information. I think anyone who has any experience at all of farming will know of calves being so badly fed that they never will make decent beef animals. Are these automatically to receive subsidy, or is there to be some way of excluding them? We have all seen them—those calves that ought to have had very much more milk than they have received; that have not a good frame as a basis on which to build fat. Are these to get the £5, or is there to be a way in which they can be excluded from the subsidy? I know this is a difficult matter, but I do think we ought to have some answer on these points which I think are—and some hon. Members on Second Reading then thought were—points of considerable substance.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

This Clause seems to have found general favour, although there have been a few suggestions and comments in connection with it. The four points which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) has raised, I think, do not conflict with the general purpose of the Clause.

With regard to his first point on the payment for marking, marking is to be done by full-time officers, as my right hon. Friend has already said, in England and Wales, and in Scotland and in Northern Ireland as before, and the effect of that will be, as my right hon. Friend has said, to make a very considerable saving indeed.

The figures, I think, are interesting. Under the last scheme the cost in England and Wales varied from £207,000 in 1948 to £296,000 in 1949; but under this scheme, with full-time certifying officers instead of part-time certifying officers we expect that the cost in England and Wales will be approximately £100,000 per annum, possibly £110,000; so that at most it will be rather under half of what it was before.

The certifying officers will not be paid per capita or by visit to the farm. They will be full-time employed, making a round of visits to the farms, visiting them as many times in the year as necessary to certify the calves concerned.

As to the second point raised by the hon. Member, with regard to the necessity for having some incentive, instead of a monthly milk cheque, which might encourage the farmers in suitable rearing areas to turn over to beef instead of milk, my right hon. Friend does not propose at present to go further than the Bill. With the higher end price for beef which was introduced at the last Price Review, combined with the effect of this specific calf subsidy, we believe that we shall have done something quite significant to encourage those who are best placed to go in for calf rearing to do so. As with a great many other things one must just try it to see what response we shall get to it, and whether it will be sufficient. We believe that it will be quite a substantial additional incentive to encourage those best placed for calf rearing to turn over to it.

9.15 p.m.

Experience of the previous calf subsidy encourages me to think that the re-introduction will have a considerable effect. The first scheme was extremely successful for the first two years. It ran into difficulties in the next two years, getting a reducing response for a number of reasons which, to my mind, were not directly connected with the calf subsidy itself. I believe that the re-introduction of the calf subsidy on the present basis, directed as far as possible to beef calves, both steers and heifers, will give the necessary incentive to restart the expansion that we so badly need.

With regard to the slaughter of immature calves, the main safeguard, of course is the Ministry of Food graders in the markets rejecting beasts that are immature when they are offered for slaughter. The present arrangement is that the graders should reject animals which in their opinion are not ready for slaughter, and if they are below a weight of 6 cwt. Whether that is the final figure or not, it is the present figure, and there would be difficulties in raising it.

At the same time, the £5 subsidy would be deducted from an animal which had been marked and which was offered for slaughter, in the opinion of the graders, in a condition not fit for slaughter. That is to say, if the farmer concerned offered it for slaughter and the graders gave it as their view that it was immature, then, if the farmer still wished it to go to slaughter he would lose £5. The whole object of both those operations is to encourage the farmer who offers an immature animal to turn it into the store market.

My right hon. Friend has given careful consideration to the alternative method suggested by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) on Second Reading, that it should be obligatory for them to be turned into the store market. We feel that that would be too rigid, because there are times when keep is very short, as happened in the West country two or three years ago, and unless farmers are able to offer their beasts for slaughter, even if not quite mature, their prospects of getting a reasonable price have disappeared because the store market has collapsed. We therefore feel it would not be wise to make it obligatory for the immature animal to be sent into the store market, but it is sufficient that the grader should have, so to speak, two shots in their locker, the combined effect of the two being to persuade the farmer to send the immature animal into the store market.

The fourth point was the question of calves which have been badly started, and which have little or no prospect of ever making good beef. Under the first scheme there were, it is true, a certain number of calves certified and given a subsidy which perhaps were not entirely worthy of it. Well, it was a new scheme and I suppose there was bound to be a little error here and there.

On the whole, I think it will be agreed that the part-time certifying officers, who were starting out on quite a difficult job, made a very good shot at it, and we should all be very grateful to them. I believe that with the full-time certifying officers that we shall have now we shall get far greater uniformity in the certifying of calves. These men will become progressively more and more expert as they are continually grading calves all the time, and I think the Committee can be assured that the likelihood of unsuitable calves being granted a subsidy will be a great deal less in the future under this scheme than it was in the past.

Mr. Champion

Will the certifying authority have power to reject a calf?

Mr. Nugent

Yes, certainly. The certifying officer's decision will normally be final both on steer calves and on heifer calves. The test of heifer calves will naturally be a good deal closer in the dual-purpose breeds than in the case of steer calves, but naturally he has the power to reject any calf if he considers that it is not of a kind which will make good beef.

I think that covers the points raised, and I trust that the Committee will now be prepared to accept the Clause.

Question put, and agreed to.

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