HC Deb 22 June 1955 vol 542 cc1415-33

8.48 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Draft Calf Subsidies (England and. Wales and Northern Ireland) (Variation) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, 1955, in the last Parliament, be approved.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

It would seem to me that this and the next Scheme deal with the same subject, although with different countries. It may be convenient for the House to discuss them together.

Mr. Nugent

That is agreeable to the Government, and if it is the wish of the House we shall be pleased to follow that course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

This Scheme is to implement the price settlement at the last Annual Price Review which increased the amount of the calf subsidy from £5 to £7 10s. per bead for calves born after 1st April, 1955. This Scheme now varies the existing Scheme which terminates at the end of October of this year. The House will recollect that the Scheme now running had a life of three years, and was started in 1952. A further Scheme will be laid before the House next October to continue the Calf Subsidy Scheme for another three years.

Under the existing Scheme, the figures for England and Wales and Northern Ireland show that there has been payment for 625,000 steers and 570,000 heifers in the past year at £5 a head, at a total cost of £5,975,000. The response to the existing Scheme has really been most encouraging. In the period June, 1950, to June, 1952, there was a quite serious decline of about a quarter of a million beasts in the number of cattle under one year old, and that, as the House will recollect, at a time when we still had a very stringent meat ration. Therefore, in 1952, we thought that we should be justified in restoring this calf subsidy, and, in the outcome, the response, as I say, really has been very encouraging.

In June, 1952, the United Kingdom figure for steers was 638,000. By June, 1954, it had risen to 825,000, an increase of 187,000 in the annual figure for steers under one year old. The increase in the number of heifers was 82,000. They would, of course, have been almost entirely beef heifers as at the time the milk herd was either stationary or declining. Those two figures give a total of 268,000 beasts under one year old, which was the net increase that we secured for those two years, and I do not doubt that in the past 12 months we have started to eat some of the products.

Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)

At a price.

Mr. Nugent

People can please themselves whether they buy it or not. They can buy frozen beef, which is much cheaper.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

Is the Minister saying that the 268,000 was an annual increase?

Mr. Nugent

No, this is to-day's figure compared with what it was two years ago.

Mr. Kenyon

In two years, not annually?

Mr. Nugent

Yes, in two years.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

In 1954 as against 1952?

Mr. Nugent


There are now signs that this increase is slowing up, although we have had considerable benefit from it. Therefore, we now feel that the right thing to do is to increase the subsidy from £5 to £7 10s., and that, accompanied by the increase in cattle prices determined at the last Review will, we hope, give a further impetus to this very desirable increase and will help us to go on increasing the beef herd so that, eventually, we shall be provided with additional supplies of beef.

8.54 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I propose to make only two very short points about these Schemes—or rather about the Scottish one—because I understand that we are taking both the Scottish and the English Schemes together. As I understand, the Minister's figures referred to the whole of Great Britain and were a comparison of the year 1954 with the year 1952.

Mr. Nugent

The latter figures were United Kingdom figures and the first figures referred to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr. Grimond

The figure of 268,000 was a total net increase for the United Kingdom and was for 1954 as against 1952.

As the Minister did give the English figure, it would be interesting if we could be told whether there was a uniform increase over the whole country for those two years or whether there was any substantial difference in the corresponding Scottish figure.

The second point is one about which I have asked the Minister before, namely, the effect of this subsidy in Shetland. It is understood that this is a subsidy designed to increase beef cattle, and, naturally, only payable on beef cattle. There has always been some difficulty where we get dual purpose herds. In Shetland we have the Shetland breed of cattle which, to Shetland, is of some importance. There was the danger at one time that owing to this subsidy, or, rather, its predecessor, being payable on beef cattle only, the crofter would tend too much to go in for cross-bred cattle, crossing the Shetland with the Aberdeen-Angus.

I should like, if possible, to hear from the Department, not necessarily now but at some point, its view about this. How far has it gone, and what is the ultimate effect on the Shetland breed going to be? At one time, there was some concern because, as I have said, the Shetland breed is suitable for our climate and conditions. It is very necessary to increase the cattle stock even if the present market, at least in regard to milk, is better than it was a year or so ago. For this purpose it is still desirable to improve and maintain the Shetland breed as well as others.

It may not, therefore, be desirable to see the Shetland breed being gradually diminished at the expense of a crossbreed, or the Aberdeen-Angus. I do not know whether there is any information about the effect of this subsidy in the last three years on the cattle stocks in Shetland, either as regards numbers or quality. If there is, I should like to have it, and if it is not available now perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary would let me have the information at some future time.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

Since the introduction of this subsidy—I think it was in 1947—I have opposed it all the way through. I oppose it again tonight. I feel that the results of this subsidy are grossly exaggerated. I believe that the farmer develops his cattle stock, not according to the subsidies which are paid, but according to the final price he receives for the finished animal.

This subsidy has been increased to £7 10s. per calf. As the Minister said, there was an increase in the figures of some 268,000, comparing 1952 with 1954. That was in June. But in December, 1954, there was a reduction in the number of calves. I have not with me the figures for March, 1955, but I understand there is a further reduction. That indicates quite clearly that the high price of the subsidy was not having the effect the Department thought that it would have when it was introduced. It was thought that the increase would be continuous, and I think that it was actually said that it would build up the beef cattle stocks of the country, whereas these stocks are now actually on the decline.

I do not think that the extra £2 10s. per calf will make a difference. Where are we getting with these subsidies? There is the hill cow subsidy, which is related to this calf subsidy. The purpose of the hill cow subsidy of £10 per cow, provided that the calf is suckled, is for the production of the beef calf. We find that at the end of 12 months the actual subsidy paid for the production of one calf is £17 10s.

This is a terrible thing, and there is no justification for it. With beef prices as high as they are today, if that is not a sufficient incentive for the farmer to produce beef cattle, I just do not know where agriculture is going. All the figures, some of which have been given this afternoon. show this decline in the cattle population. Beef prices are so high that anything which has flesh on it, or which is beefy—whether it be a milk cow or a beef cow—is going into the beef market. As a result, we are having a slaughter of dairy cattle that will bring about a reduction in milk production as well as beef production in future.

The Government are now trying to catch up with the result of the introduction of the free market by increasing the calf subsidy to £7 10s. per calf. I do not think they will succeed. The market is the determining factor which will guide the farmer in his decision to produce milk or beef cattle, or to sell the animal in one market or the other. Today, the younger animal is coming into the market. The calf which, hitherto, would have been allowed to run on for two or two and a half years, is now coming into the market at 18 months. We are losing the weight in order to provide a better class of beef. People like the younger beef they like the veal calf, and, as a result, prices for these animals are high and they are coming into the market in excessive quantities.

This attempt to stop the sale of such animals will be abortive, because the calf subsidy is now payable when the calf is between six and nine months of age, and when it reaches the age of 12 or 18 months the farmer is free to put it into the beef market. That is why we are losing the heavier animal that we had hitherto. Moreover, we now need three animals to make up the same weight of two animals previously.

I do not know where we are going with this set-up. To increase the calf subsidy to £7 10s. is an absolute waste of the taxpayers' money. I do not think that the farmers want it. They are content with the final prices, and if the Minister were to appeal to them and tell them exactly what the position is and ask them to increase their stocks, I feel sure that they would do it, irrespective of any subsidy.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)

I should have thought the short answer to the questions posed by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) was that if all the help given were concentrated on the end-product farmers would have to wait a very long time for their money. The great point about giving some part of it in the form of a calf subsidy is that it helps, particularly, the small man—whom we all want to encourage—in the production of as much meat as is possible.

There must be some reason which I cannot appreciate at the moment for introducing this Scheme now. Otherwise, why is it necessary to introduce the Scheme right in the middle of the calf-rearing season? The Scheme makes an increase of £2 10s. per head, with effect from 1st April. Administratively, there could not be a worse time than now to increase the subsidy, and that is why I think there must be some reason which I cannot appreciate.

We shall not get any more calves out of the Scheme this season. When the Ministry's inspectors have to certify the animals in six or eight months' time for payment they will find that not one calf, if their owners are to be believed, was born before 1st April. No calves will have been born in February or March, but all very early in the month of April. When a calf is six months or eight months old it is not possible for the certifying inspector to say that it was not born in April as against the middle of March. There is no proof. The inspector will have to rely upon the word of the farmer, and it will be one man's word against another's. I doubt whether there will be a single calf born in March, 1955, but there will be a tremendous lot born in April. That is one of the reasons why the Scheme should not have been introduced in the middle of the calf-rearing season.

Another reason for not introducing the Scheme now is that it will encourage late calving. We have been told by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary this evening that the number of calves reared is slowing up. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), speaking in the earlier debate, produced figures to show that the number of calves being kept was declining. If that is so, it is not impossible that the subsidy, now being raised to £7 10s., will be raised to £8, £9. or even £10 next season. If the Ministry does this from 1st April this year, breeding programmes will be altered so that calves will not be born before 1st April. and late calving will be encouraged, which is exactly what we do not want.

There must be some reason why this Scheme should be necessary now. I am very much in favour of the increased subsidy. It is right because anything to encourage production of beef from our own fields and hills is to the good. Moreover, a production grant helps the small farmer. Though I am in favour of the calf subsidy and of the increase, I wish that arrangements could be made to date the increase from 1st October and not from 1st April which, of all the months of the year, is the worst from which to date it.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

I rather regretted that the Minister, in introducing this Scheme, could not produce the latest available figures of the numbers of calves at June, 1954. After all, if there has been a change in the tendencies in farming, it is most important that this House should take notice of it, and for that purpose up-to-date figures are most essential.

When the previous Scheme was introduced it was on a temporary basis, for three years, and when subsidies are given on a temporary basis the hope is that they will so encourage production and efficiency in production that they will not be required to be continued. On this occasion, it is not only a question of continuing the subsidy for another three years but of increasing the amount by 50 per cent., and that may be an indication either of the failure of the measure or of our needs and requirements being much greater in the future.

I can understand that point of view. I have some sympathy with the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), and agree that all the work entailed in adminstering these subsidies is expensive. The subsidy itself is a considerable amount, and whether the same aim could not be achieved by other methods I do not know.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) has drawn the attention of the House to the easy possibility of abuse in administering this subsidy. Nobody can tell, nine months after its birth, on what date a calf was born. People on farms are bound to forget if it is a question of 1st April as against 1st March. The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention as an ordinary everyday man on the farm to this possibility.

If we can attain our aim without such a subsidy, it is a good thing to do so, but I doubt whether one could argue its necessity on the basis of the cost of rearing the calves against their market value at one year old, for the prices of stores have been very high indeed and look like getting higher. If the intention is to increase the number of calves reared for future beef supplies, then there is a case for it, but, if that is the case, it seems to me that the Ministers ought to be willing to consider making conditions.

The other day, a farmer pointed out to me that a yard full of bullocks with horns will not do as well and put on as much meat as dehorned or polled cattle. I cannot see why, in giving the subsidy, we should not stipulate the condition that all horned calves should be dehorned at the stage when it is simple, easy and beneficial to do so.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Would not the hon. Gentleman exclude Highland cattle, for example, from that condition? One would hardly dehorn Highland cattle, nor would it be necessary or desirable in any way.

Mr. Dye

I leave the horns of the famous Highland breed to hon. Gentlemen from across the Border, as I would not like to interfere in their affairs. I will assume for the moment that I am only speaking of the Scheme relating to England and Wales.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

The hon. Gentleman would also exclude Ayrshires, I hope?

Mr. Dye

With great respect, an Ayrshire never makes good beef. I should have thought that they were not included in this Scheme.

If, however, in dealing with Highland cattle, we could encourage them to put on more meat without the horns, I should have thought that would be a good thing to try, but, in so far as Shorthorns, Friesians and some others of our famous breeds here in England and Wales are concerned, why does not the Government make this a condition? All those who buy store cattle for fattening agree that it is most desirable, and certainly beneficial.

When I was a Member of Parliament before I raised this matter in relation to one of the early Schemes. I thought then that the Ministry was giving consideration to it, and I should like to have from the Minister a sound reason why there has not yet been agreement. After all, we are not dealing with pedigree bulls or show cattle —there is no need to subsidise them— and for ordinary beef cattle dehorning is an advantage in every respect. When are we to make this a condition of the grant of the subsidy?

As we are now to increase the subsidy from £5 to £7 10s. per calf and the purpose is to obtain a greater quantity of beef, at what age, or at what weight can these steers be killed and the producer still retain the benefit of the subsidy? My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley has drawn attention to this. We are here giving a subsidy of £7 10s., but the mothers of calves reared on the hill farms also attract a subsidy. The State is, therefore, giving a subsidy equal to £17 for the calf.

Surely we should have a very definite understanding that those calves will not be killed off at 5 or 6 cwt. live weight; otherwise, the nation would not seem to be getting value for its money. While, in the interests of greater quantity and no deterioration in quality, I should be in favour of a minimum of 10 cwt. live weight, I think we should know under what conditions the subsidy is retained if the animals are killed while below a certain weight.

During the past year the encouragement given by the subsidy to the rearing of steer calves has been apparent, but if, because of the attraction of the beef market and of the veal market far greater numbers of heifer calves are being killed off in preference to steer calves there may be something wrong in granting the subsidy. Unless we add to the breeding animals we cannot maintain the numbers in the future. There is the dangerous tendency of the butchers to satisfy the present demand for veal by killing off heifer calves in enormous numbers.

I have stood in Norwich market and seen heifer calves and baby beef of just about 4 cwt. or 5 cwt. live weight being sold in great quantity. If that continues our future supply must be endangered. This free market can, of course, kill the rearing of animals for breeding by drawing off the vast numbers that we see going to market. There are these dangers, and I want to know whether the Minister has anything in mind to deal with this dangerous tendency. We ought to know before we give our assent to this Motion.

9.21 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the increase in the number of beef calves that was noticeable between 1952 and 1954 was now slowing up, and he said that that was the reason for the increased subsidy. I wonder whether he will make clear that that was the reason for the subsidy. He will appreciate that there is plenty of evidence to prove that the number is now on the decline instead of increasing at the rate at which it was, and it is doing that at a time when the tillage acreage is falling rapidly. The tillage acreage in the United Kingdom last year fell by nearly 500,000 acres. One would have thought in those circumstances, particularly when there is a plentiful supply of feedingstuffs coming from overseas, that we might have an increase in the number of calves bred and reared in this country.

It does not seem to me that the Parliamentary Secretary made out his case for increasing the subsidy from £5 to £7 10s. In any case, if his only argument is that because the increase in slowing up he must increase the subsidy, all that the farmer has to do is to produce still less and get a larger subsidy. That is the logic of it. As the number of cattle reared declines, so will the subsidy increase. That seems to be a crazy way of administrating public funds in this country.

We were not told what the cost of this subsidy will be. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what it is. The public have been reading the newspapers today stating that the National Coal Board lost £3.7 million last year, and everyone thinks that is a national catastrophe, but the farmers are to be given much more money by means of this subsidy for this narrow aspect of agriculture.

I am not against introducing a subsidy of this kind if the subsidy can be justified. Indeed, I was a member of the Administration which introduced this measure in 1947. But at that time, and again when the Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), in 1952 introduced the Measure under which this subsidy is being paid, he said that the subsidy that he was paying was in lieu of an increase in the fixed guaranteed price that would otherwise be paid for the end product. But there is now no fixed guaranteed price for the end product. I know there is a guaranteed minimum price, which has been increased, but it only begins to operate if the deficiency payment scheme is called into play because the prices realised are not up to the guaranteed minimum price. So there is a difference.

I hope also that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with the point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) and for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) about the slaughter of immature calves after the subsidy has been paid. The Parliamentary Secretary will perhaps recall that we had some criticism to make of this matter a year or two ago. His right hon. Friend, the then Minister, resisted Amendments to the Bill which we put down to deal with this problem, using the argument that it was unnecessary to put any further protection into the Bill because he had an arrangement with the Minister of Food to deduct from the amount he was called upon to pay to the person who submitted an immature animal for slaughter the total amount of the subsidy paid in respect of the calf.

Thus, the producer could not profit from the subsidy and then have the animal prematurely slaughtered. Could we have some explanation of the present arrangements now that the Minister of Food no longer exists and the Minister of Agriculture has taken over his responsibilities in England and Wales and those of the Secretary of State in Scotland? Are there no arrangements under which they can deduct the subsidy from the end price, for that method was the only justification which the Minister had three years ago for not accepting some of the suggestions made from this side of the House?

What steps are the Government taking to save us from the premature slaughter of animals after the payment of a very generous subsidy? The mother cow on the hill brings the farmer a subsidy of £10, and there is a further subsidy here of £7 10s. After all, the subsidy for the mother cow on the hill is given only because she will keep a calf. It would be monstrous if we were to learn that great numbers of the calves are being slaughtered prematurely after a subsidy of £17 10s. has been paid from public funds for having a calf produced in the hope that one day, when a full-grown animal, it would provide 10 to 12 cwt. of beef.

I want to support what was said by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), who criticised the adoption of the date 1st April. When it was first decided to allow the calves to be marked at the age of six months with a view to ensuring that the subsidy would go to the breeder, I called attention to the fact that particularly in Scotland—and I cannot speak for elsewhere—most of the calves are born in February, March and April, but that in some districts they are born as late as May; and that the calf is sold at the autumn sales which take place, I said, within six months of it being born. In other words, the calf was sold when it was less than six months old. It would normally be sold from those farms before it could be earmarked and could qualify for the subsidy.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland at that time, Mr. McNair Snadden, said that most of the calves in Scotland were born in February and March and some in April. He hoped that most of them would be six months old before the autumn sales and would qualify for the subsidy. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns is quite right in thinking that there will be a heavy crop of calves in Scotland this year born in April and very few born in March. I am very glad he said that, because when I said something like it on an earlier occasion I was accused of making an unfair attack upon the farmers of Scotland. Of course we shall find at the end of the day that a very great many calves have been born in Scotland this year in April, because a calf is worth £2 10s. more if born in April than if born in March. It will, of course, be less than six months old by the time the autumn sales come round, and it will qualify for the higher subsidy.

It was rather silly to select a date right in the middle of the season when calves are being born. An hon. Friend reminds me that the English farmers would never have thought of ensuring that the calves were born in April. No doubt they will read HANSARD and will see that the calves must be born in April this year and not in February or March in order to be worth £2 10s. more. Can we be told why it was necessary to choose 1st April as the date? Would it not have been simpler to have taken an earlier date or to have left out this provision altogether for this year and to have provided for the increased subsidy, if that was thought necessary, when we got the new scheme which we must have by October if these proposals are to be continued? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us, among other things, what the additional subsidy will cost.

9.31 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked me whether the increase had been fairly uniform. The increase for Scotland was 67,000. I cannot tell him the exact proportion of that to the total, but I think that, broadly, there has been a fairly uniform increase throughout the United Kingdom.

In reply to his point about cross-breeding for beef, our general advice would be that cross-breeding is a very sound and proper practice for producing an animal to eat but not for producing an animal from which to breed in the future. If, as I understand him, there is a tendency to keep the cross-bred heifers and take them into the herds, I think that that is probably a mistake. However, one of the Joint Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland will look into the matter and will also supply the hon. Member the other figures for which he asked.

The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) returned to the fray again, as expected him to do. I recollect his resistance to our proposals three years ago. The arguments are still the same. I believe—and I think a good many other people believe—that the calf subsidy has a particular appeal to the smaller farmer. It undoubtedly has a far more complete effect in increasing the number of calves than would an increase in the price of the end product. The greater part of a £5 subsidy on a calf paid at the age of eight months, the normal age, will be reflected back to the calf when it is sold at about three weeks old; not the whole of it but a large part of it, and a far greater proportion than an addition to the end price. It also means that the payment comes early in the process of producing beef, at eight months old.

I believe that the figures which I have been able to give tonight fortify my argument about the subsidy in that it brought about a very valuable increase, Prior to the subsidy, there had been a decrease. Therefore, I think that the subsidy has justified itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. ThorntonKemsley), I am glad to say, supported me with regard to the value of the calf subsidy, and I welcome his support, bat he was critical about our choosing 1st April as the date. The reason for it is that the so-called livestock year for the purposes of the Annual Review is from 1st April to 31st March. Therefore, whatever changes there are in livestock prices, whether they are concerned with cattle, sheep, milk, eggs or anything else, all take place from 1st April.

Mr. T. Fraser

Surely that date is irrelevant for a subsidy that will not be paid until some time in the autumn. To take 1st April as the beginning of the livestock year is important from the point of view of determining the price of meat, eggs or milk starting from then and being continuous, but in this matter we are merely looking to the birthday of the animal which is to have the subsidy paid when it is six, eight or nine months old.

Mr. Nugent

Yes, but that is not the only consideration. I understand the argument, but here we are primarily concerned with the calf that comes from the dairy herd. Instead of that being knocked on the head at three weeks old or perhaps even three days old as a bobby calf, we want the rearable calves, which are the by-products of the dairy herd, to be reared. That is where the greater part of our increases comes from.

We chose this date because it was the beginning of the livestock year and for that class of calf it was just as suitable as any other date, and it had the logic that it was the beginning of the livestock year. I accept the argument with regard to the beef herds, that it may not be an altogether convenient date, but, looking at the whole picture of calf rearing, it was the most appropriate date to take.

A point was put to me about dehorning by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). My right hon. Friend was asked a question about that two months ago and told the House then that the National Cattle Breeders' Association had seen some difficulty in dehorning. No doubt they had in mind the problem of Highland cattle. At that time my right hon. Friend decided that he would defer a decision and discussions are continuing. However, my right hon. Friend said, and I am glad to associate myself with it, that we agree that the practice of dehorning is sensible, especially with cattle that are to be yarded.

Mr. Dye

Do I understand that it would be possible, if the Government make up their mind to do it, to amend this Scheme before the expiry of three years?

Mr. Nugent

No, this Scheme extends only until the end of the life of the existing Scheme, that is, until 29th October. The Government will then have to bring another Scheme before the House to give a three year renewal, so that there will be time, if conditions are appropriate, to reconsider this matter then.

With regard to the complaint of the hon. Gentleman that we have not more recent figures, I have the figures of the March returns for England and Wales. These show that in the yearling category the males increased by 70,000, that is, 15 per cent., and females by 56,000, that is, 6 per cent. However, that is still a slowing up of the total increase although those figures showed that the increase was continuing.

On the general point of the hon. Gentleman of doubt as to whether we would secure a further increase by increasing the subsidy now by 50 per cent., also the point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), that is simply a matter of judgment. We think that it will do so. We think that the £5 subsidy which we brought in three years ago has fully justified itself and we believe that this additional encouragement will cause the increase to continue.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West and the hon. Member for Hamilton asked about the age of slaughtering. It is true that my right hon. Friend, when introducing the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Bill, 1952, undertook that we would not accept for slaughter animals that were immature which had received a subsidy. Of course, at that time the Ministry of Food was purchasing and so we were able to carry out that under- taking. When the Ministry of Food ceased to purchase last year, we were no longer able to keep control of the situation.

There are two points that I should put into the mind of the hon. Gentleman. The first is that these calves at the age at which they are certified, namely, eight months—six months is the special dispensation only for the hill cattle—would be far past the veal stage, so that there is no question of them going for veal at that age. There is a possibility, if they are in good condition, that they may go as baby beef, but that is unlikely. The greater probability is that they will go at two years old, which is the main preference of the market now. Our view is that, apart from any administrative difficulty, it should be left to the farmer to decide at what age he thinks it best to market the animals in order to meet consumer choice. In that way we shall get the increase that we are trying to promote.

Mr. T. Fraser

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that his right hon. Friend at that time appreciated that these calves were being sold as baby beef and that is why he made the arrangement with the Minister of Food? The Minister said that to do what was being done—to collect the subsidy and then to sell these calves as baby beef—was an abuse of the Scheme. Those were the Minister's words. He said that it was an abuse that would not be tolerated. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary is saying that the producers cannot be trusted and that this abuse will be tolerated.

Mr. Nugent

I do not think that in conditions of a free market I would call it an abuse. This Scheme is to encourage the production of beef. If there is a consumer demand for baby beef it is our business to meet it.

Mr. Fraser

At the expense of the taxpayer?

Mr. Nugent

The hon. Member's mind is stuck in the time of shortages. We have ended meat rationing. Now there is enough and people can buy what they want. The farmer's job is not only to produce quantity but also to produce the quality that is wanted.

Mr. Fraser

Why the subsidy?

Mr. Nugent

The subsidy is to stimulate production, in exactly the same way as the price guarantees.

Mr. Fraser

A free economy.

Mr. Nugent

A free economy, certainly, but we want certain price guarantees and encouragement of this kind in order to go on increasing the volume. I will certainly not agree that it is desirable to continue restrictions that were suitable to a time of shortage.

Mr. Fraser

Nobody said that.

Mr. Nugent

That is what the hon. Gentleman is asking me to do.

Mr. Fraser

No. May I intervene?

Mr. Nugent

Certainly, if the hon. Gentleman is prepared to explain himself.

Mr. Fraser

I am quite prepared to explain myself. I am not asking for any improper restrictions at all. The whole justification for the legislation that makes provision for this scheme being brought before Parliament was that it was desirable to subsidise the rearing of calves that would be grown on to three or four years old before being slaughtered. That was the whole argument in favour of the subsidy, and the Minister who piloted the Bill through Parliament said that to collect a subsidy and then to sell an animal as baby beef before it was one year old would be an abuse of the Scheme. If it would be an abuse of the Scheme in 1952, I say that it would be an abuse of the Scheme in 1955.

I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to appreciate that we are not asking for any unnecessary restrictions. We are not talking about returning to the ration book or anything of the kind. We are asking for a proper safeguard over the expenditure of public funds, and that is all.

Mr. Nugent

The hon. Gentleman has now made another speech. Let me reply to him that I do not agree that this is an abuse of the Scheme. The point that I have made to the hon. Gentleman is that we are not today in a condition of shortage where we have the rationing of meat. We have ended rationing.

Mr. Dye

Why have a subsidy then?

Mr. Nugent

In these circumstances, I do not consider that it is an abuse of the Scheme if farmers sell animals at a younger age to meet a specific consumer demand. Part of the business of supplying the nation's food is not only to give the volume of food required, but also to meet consumer choice—something the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) seems to have forgotten altogether. Our view is that farmers should be free to decide, free to use their own judgment about what they will do. I certainly will not accept from the hon. Gentleman that in the conditions of today that is an abuse.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Gentleman should read again what he said in 1952.

Mr. Nugent

Three years ago, when we had a stringent shortage of meat and a small meat ration, it was a different consideration altogether whether the animal should be grown on to a maximum weight—

Mr. Dye

Why keep the subsidy?

Mr. Nugent

Because we want to increase beef production. We have already succeeded in increasing meat supplies and rationing has ended. We want to go on to increase meat supplies even further. If hon. Members opposite cannot understand that simple reasoning, it just shows that their minds are stuck in the time of shortage and that they cannot get away from it.

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

We object to the waste of public money.

Mr. Nugent

Well, the hon. Member can go outside, if he likes, and tell the country that the meat supplies which we have had in the past year have been a waste of public money. But if he does he will not get many people to sympathise or agree with him. The fact is that the country is very well satisfied—as has been shown—with the meat supplies which we have been able to secure. If the hon. Gentleman likes to go out and try that one, I wish him luck.

Mr. Dye

I raised a point which I should like the hon. Gentleman to answer. It will be remembered that in April a subsidy of 5s. per live cwt. was paid in the form of a deficiency payment in respect of beef cattle accepted at the auction markets. I wish to be clear about what age in the future, at what limiting weight, will the deficiency payment be paid on beef cattle accepted at the auction markets? Will it be at 7 cwt., or at 10 cwt. or at what figure, or is it to be unlimited, and the deficiency payment paid in addition to this subsidy for cattle?

Mr. Nugent

I think I answered that when I said that we do not consider that restrictions are desirable in this respect now. I ask the House to give approval to this Scheme.

Mr. T. Fraser

Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell us what it will cost? This question is normally answered by the Minister in asking the House to agree to such a Scheme as this. What will it cost the taxpayer?

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Calf Subsidies (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) (Variation) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, 1955, in the last Parliament, be approved.

Resolved, That the Draft Calf Subsidies (Scotland) (Variation) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, 1955, in the last Parliament, be approved.—[Mr. N. Macpherson.]