HC Deb 20 October 1952 vol 505 cc813-20

(1) With a view to ensuring that calves on which subsidy has been paid are not subsequently slaughtered before reaching maturity the appropriate minister shall by order provide the conditions under which such calves shall be submitted for slaughter.

(2) Any order under this section shall make provision for the emergency slaughter of immature animals under such terms and conditions (including but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, a term requiring the repayment to the minister of any subsidy that has been paid) as the minister may deem expedient.

(3) Any order under this section may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order made thereunder.

(4) Subsection (2) of section one shall apply in relation to orders made under this section as it applies in relation to schemes.

(5) The power to make orders under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.—[Mr. T. Fraser.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee stage of this Bill has proceeded very happily up to now. One or two small Amendments have been made to the Bill, I think for the better. The Minister has proved himself very accommodating, as he always does. I hope that this new Clause, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and other of my hon. Friends, will be as favourably received by the right hon. Gentlemen as some of the Amendments have been.

I know full well that the Minister wishes to give effect to the policy contained in the new Clause. What is it we want to do? First we wish to ensure that calves on which the subsidy has been paid shall not be prematurely slaughtered. In the last two or three years one has heard the criticism very often that an alarming proportion of our young animals which ought to have been fed to maturity were being accepted at the collecting centres and were being slaughtered, notwithstanding they were certified animals in respect of which the subsidy had been drawn.

In February of this year I read a reference to it in the "Meat Trades' Journal." I quote from page 392 of the "Meat Trades' Journal" of 21st February— Suckled calves between 4 and 5 cwt. which yielded a percentage of 54 or 56 and were our potential beef cattle for the next year or the year afterwards, were despatched in this way. There must be some scheme for ensuring that these immature cattle shall be fed on to the required weights. The way to stop it was to see that animals which were obviously stores were not accepted as beef cattle. At that time I got in touch with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. Not only did he write to me very courteously about it, but we had a full and useful discussion. He was a little hampered in that discussion, because at that time the Government were having discussions with the National Farmers' Union about the desirability of introducing some sort of provision to ensure that calves which had earned the subsidy were not prematurely slaughtered. May I read from a letter from the Ministry of Food dated 7th October of this year. On the 5th May last we introduced as an experiment a provision that no animal weighing under 6 cwt. would be eligible for grading. This seems to have had a good effect and has certainly been well received. However, this trade in lightweight cattle (mostly suckled heifer calves) is limited to a period of about 10 weeks in the autumn and we shall not be able to express a firm opinion on the value of this new provision for a few weeks yet. So I appreciate that the Government are doing something to meet the point which arises immediately on this new Clause.

I think it would be a good thing to have in this Bill which deals with the calf subsidy the sort of protection for the taxpayer which he is entitled to enjoy. As many hon. Members have said, we are seeking to pay to the farmer in advance a price which he would otherwise get for his beef cattle when fed to maturity and ultimately slaughtered. The farmer or the feeder, or whoever has the animal at any stage in its development, has, therefore, a duty to hold on to the animal and to maintain it until it reaches maturity.

In the first subsection of the Clause we ask that the Minister shall by order provide the conditions under which such calves shall be submitted for slaughter. and shall do so with a view to ensuring that calves are not slaughtered prematurely.

9.45 p.m.

Further, we go on to provide that the order should make provision for emergency slaughter of immature animals, under conditions that seem to the Minister appropriate for the animals to be slaughtered. We do not want to make laws stupidly providing for Ministers to make orders by Statutory Instrument requiring an animal to be refused when submitted for slaughter in circumstances in which it will be in the interests of the animal and of humanity, as well as right in every respect, that it would be slaughtered, but we seek to see that, if an animal has to be slaughtered prematurely, then it is not the animal which has a right to attract the £5 subsidy, which is really part of the price which otherwise would have been received for the animal when it had reached maturity.

The other subsections are common form, and are to be found in the earlier Clauses of the Bill. I think the new Clause is, in all respects, reasonable, and that it seeks to do what the Minister would wish to do. I submit that, in this case, it is better that the Minister's policy in this regard should be given expression in the Bill, and that it can only be done by the inclusion of such a Clause as this. It may be that the wording is faulty, but this is a course which the Minister would wish to take, and I therefore hope that he will accept it.

Mr. Paget

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) has said, there is really nothing between us on this side of the Committee and the Government with regard to the purpose of the new Clause. It is their intention, as I understand it, to include conditions in their schemes with a view to ensuring that calves on which a subsidy has been paid are kept on to proper maturity, and I presume that there must be conditions for premature killing, either for humanitarian reasons with regard to disease or illness, or perhaps from sudden loss of fodder and reasons of that sort.

The only substantial reason why we feel that this should be included in the Bill is that anybody who is receiving a subsidy is always vulnerable, while those who are not receiving a subsidy want to attack those who are. Therefore, it seems as well that subsidy Bills should not be drawn widely but, when they are needed, they should not be open to the misrepresentation that this subsidy is a gift to calf-rearing farmers for calves to be kept until the subsidy is paid and then slaughtered. We have all heard that criticism, and I think it would be desirable to put in the Bill something to make it quite clear that this is only a pre-payment of the beef price, and is conditional on the beef coming forward.

With regard to the drafting, it is not an easy Clause to draft. This particular effort is the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and myself, and neither of us claim to be expert draftsmen. I would entirely accept the position that the Minister would require something better than this, but I hope we have done enough to give the general idea of what we feel should be included, and which would protect farmers, and indeed the Minister, from the criticisms which we have all heard with regard to this calf-subsidy.

Mr. Nugent

I fear that I strayed a little into the realms of this new Clause when I was replying to the hon. Gentleman's query on the Question that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill, and I indicated that the intention behind this new Clause is really already contained in the Bill. Perhaps I should explain that in a little more detail.

At the present time, the Ministry of Food have the necessary power to reject, and, as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) rightly said, it has recently been introduced by the Ministry of Food to provide that cattle below the weight of 6 cwt. shall be automatically rejected. The Ministry of Food further have the power to deduct the £5 subsidy from animals which have received that subsidy, but which are considered by the graders to be immature. Therefore, all the powers needed to carry out the intention of hon. Gentlemen opposite are already possessed by the Government. All that is now needed is to ensure that the farming community understands that this is the intention of the Government.

We entirely agree with the view put forward that where a subsidy has been paid it is, in fact, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) rightly said, a pre-payment of the beef price conditional on the beef coming forward. I do not think there could be a better or more realistic way of saying that the subsidy is part payment for the beef. Therefore, it is a right and proper condition that when the animal is slaughtered it is in a mature condition. If the animal is presented for slaughter in an immature condition, the £5 will be deducted.

As regards the information being generally known, I think the scheme itself will probably have a note on it to that effect, although it will not be part of the scheme because the necessary powers already exist. A Press announcement will be made jointly by our Ministry and the Ministry of Food to ensure that the farming community know the exact conditions which exist with regard to the presenting of immature animals which have received the calf subsidy. That should ensure that if a fattener or store rearer has presented for slaughter an animal which is considered to be immature, and he himself did not receive the subsidy but it was received by the farmer who actually reared the calf, the farmer who presents the animal for slaughter knows what risk he takes when he presents an immature animal.

We feel that in that way we shall ensure that the farming community as a whole will know exactly what conditions will operate. As the power already exists and as we intend to do exactly what the mover and supporters of this Clause want to do, I hope that they will withdraw the proposed Clause.

Mr. Champion

The Parliamentary Secretary said that provisions covering this point are contained in the Bill. I cannot find them in the Bill.

Mr. Nugent

I did not say they were contained in the Bill; I said the powers already existed. The Ministry of Food already have those powers, and, as the hon. Member for Hamilton has said, they have already announced that they propose to reject any animal below 6 cwt. as being immature. They also have the necessary power to deduct the £5 subsidy where the animal is considered immature.

Mr. Paget

This proposed Clause is not merely an empowering Clause but a Clause which requires that the power should be exercised. As the Minister has pointed out, it is very essential that this should be known and realised. Would it not be as well, as one means at least of publicising this, and indeed as a means of putting it in proper form, if a suitable Clause included the words, "Unless a regulation made by the Ministry of Food, etc." and for the draftsmen to see whether by the Report stage they can provide a suitable Clause which will fulfil all our purposes?

Mr. T. Fraser

May I point out that the Ministry of Food are only able to exercise this power of refusing these animals because the collecting centres are held by the Ministry of Food and the grading officers are the servants of the Ministry of Food? It is not altogether impossible that whilst this Bill, when it becomes an Act, is still on the Statute Book and the first scheme is in operation either the Ministry of Food will itself have ceased to exist or this function, at least, will have been surrendered by the Ministry of Food.

The Government of which I was a junior member had to give very serious thought to a suggestion that was made that we should have a meat marketing scheme under the Marketing Act. We gave a lot of thought to that, and it was suggested that we should consider the method by which and the authorities under which animals should be slaughtered in the future. We were asked to consider whether these things should continue to be done in future, as in recent years, under the auspices of the Ministry of Food.

The National Farmers' Union have been giving very serious thought to this matter. It is no secret now that the Union take the view that the whole of meat marketing should be undertaken by the producers and that the producers should be responsible for slaughtering the animals. We have seen in the newspapers—and I do not want to engage in party bickering—that the present advisers of Her Majesty's Government were considering winding up the Ministry of Food [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say "Hear, hear" and I make the observation and put forward the possibility in support of the new Clause which I am now moving.

The whole purpose of this Clause is to make it mandatory on the Minister to do something which the Minister says it is right that he should do. He says, "The only reason I do not wish to take this new Clause and put it in the Bill is that the Government are doing all this at the present time. It is not necessary for me to take these powers because my colleague the Minister of Food is exercising them under the general powers which he possesses." The Minister of Food is only exercising them because the centres and the graders are his.

Tonight the Minister has asked us to agree to Clause 1 under which the first scheme which he makes will run from October, 1951, to October, 1955—that is, three years from the passage of the Measure. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that it is a reasonable assumption that some of the powers which are exercised by the Ministry of Food at the present time will not be exercised by the Ministry of Food for the whole of the next three years.

In the circumstances, since this is a matter which is completely wrapped up with the payment of the calf subsidy—and that is all that this Bill is about—I submit that the Minister should give further thought to this Clause. Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I am not insisting that the words in the proposed new Clause are the right ones. If the Minister cannot accept the Clause in the form in which it is drafted will he not say that, since he accepts the policy contained in the Clause, he will have another look at it and consider whether he can bring forward something on the Report stage?

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has made his case so eloquently and cogently and with such clarity that I am bound to say that I must recognise the point that he is suggesting, that in this Clause we should cover the possibility of the Ministry of Food powers not existing, similarly to what we have done in Clause 2. In those circumstances, we shall be willing to look at this matter again between now and the Report stage, and I trust that with that undertaking the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw the proposed new Clause.

Mr. Fraser

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that undertaking. This has been a very happy Committee stage. The Minister and his colleagues on the Front Bench have been most forthcoming and co-operative in every way. I thank them for their co-operation and for the way in which they have compromised with us throughout, and in particular I am grateful for the reply which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has just given. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered Tomorrow; and to be printed. [Bill 154.]