HC Deb 04 June 1956 vol 553 cc817-36

9.12 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) Scheme, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th April, be approved. It may be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if we also debate the similar Scheme for Scotland, and then perhaps, Sir, you will allow the Questions to be put separately?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

If that suits the convenience of the House, it can be done.

Mr. Nugent

Thank you, Sir; that will simplify our deliberations on the figures. The figures I shall put before the House will be related to Great Britain, and this may save us the confusion of dodging between England and Wales and Scotland separately.

The effect of the Scheme is to make a small amendment to the Calf Subsidy Scheme which we approved last year and which is running from 30th October, 1955, to 29th October, 1958. The effect of this amendment is to increase the calf subsidy on steer calves from £7 10s. each to £8 10s. The subsidy on heifer calves will remain the same at £7 10s. The effect of this small change will be, we think, to give a useful additional incentive in the general context of the object of the Calf Subsidy Scheme.

I expect the House would wish to have the figures of the cost of this Scheme. In the last financial year this was £7.7 million, and it applied to 750,000 steers and 650,000 heifers. Of course, during that year the higher rate of subsidy, £7 10s., was operative for only part of the time because calves qualify for subsidy at eight months old normally and, therefore, for the greater part of the last financial year subsidy was being paid at the lower rate. The estimated cost of the subsidy for the current financial year is £11½ million.

The calf subsidy is, in effect, an advance payment for beef production. If we did not pay this amount by way of calf subsidy, we should undoubtedly pay a similar amount by way of an addition to the end price for beef. The calf subsidy, we think—with occasional dissentients—has a special appeal to small farmers; indeed, it appeals to all farmers, but especially to the small ones. Its effect is that it is paid to the actual rearer of the calves instead of, if there was an increase in the end price, such proportion of the end price as might be reflected by the market finding its way back into the pocket of the rearer. As the rearer is the man who decides whether the calf shall be reared instead of being slaughtered as a bobby calf, obviously he is a vital link in the chain.

Its effect in practice has been to secure a very considerable increase in the retention of steer calves from the dairy herd which, in the past, were being killed at perhaps three or four days old as bobby calves, and were making no contribution at all to meat production.

In this connection, it is, I think, of interest to the House to record that there has been a greatly increased use of beef bulls in artificial insemination in dairy herds. Dairy farmers, wherever they find that, because of the excellence of their herds, they can produce more calves than they need as replacements in order to maintain the strength of their herds, are able to use beef bulls for crossing on to some of their dairy cows. Thus, a proportion of the calves which they obtain can be reared for beef, while they retain enough, of course, to make the necessary replacements in their dairy herds. That has made a very useful contribution to the nation's larder.

Secondly, the calf subsidy is an additional incentive to the expansion of the beef breeding herd, which is showing a small but continuing expansion.

The latest full figures that I can give the House are those of 4th June. Naturally, I have not the figures for today. Therefore, I can relate the figures only to 1955. I can give the March figures for this year, which will take us a little further. The broad picture of the use of the calf subsidy shows that on 4th June, I952, the under one-year-olds were 638,000 males and 1,367,000 females, which had increased by 4th June, 1955, to 851,000 males and 1,415,000 females, showing an increase over the three years of 213,000 males and 48,000 females, a total increase of 261,000.

It is true, as was commented last year, that in the year 1954–55 the increase was checked and there was a small fall in the number of under one-year-olds, but it appears that in the past twelve months the check has been overcome, probably, I should think, to a large extent because of the increase that we made in the calf subsidy last year. The result is that we see in the March figures this year, which are the latest figures that I can give the House, an increase of 102,000 in England and Wales—that is an actual figure—and an estimate of an extra 2,000 in Scotland—the Scottish figures do not include under one-year-olds for the March return giving a total increase over the twelve months from March, 1955, to March, 1956, of 104,000 under one-yearold retained calves. That shows that we are achieving a very satisfactory increase again in the expansion of the number of calves retained to be subsequently fattened for beef. I expect that the June figures, when we get them, will show the same increasing trend as the March figures which I have just quoted.

The figures show that we are getting useful progress in the expansion of the home production of beef, and I am quite confident that this calf subsidy is making a very valuable contribution to it. It is particularly a help in the marginal milk producer's case to attract him to swing over to beef production instead of milk, of which we already have enough. I feel it has been performing a useful function in the past and can continue to do so in the future. and it is with confidence that I commend it to the House.

9.20 p.m.

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

We thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the explanation which he has given of this Scheme. I gather from what he said—and I have heard it elsewhere that this Scheme really gives effect to a change which came into being as a result of negotiations in the Price Review. Can I take it that there will be no dispute between the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and any of the general secretaries of the unions concerned about what he has said today? Can I take it for granted that there was agreement on this and that they are all prepared to say that there was agreement, or shall we have his hon. Friends putting down Questions to try to get some difficulties cleared up at a later stage? I cannot imagine that that will happen, but one never knows, with the present Government, what will happen in that sort of connection.

This subsidy comes under the general heading of a production grant. Despite the opposition of some of my hon. Friends, I have tended to favour production grants as against, in some cases, increasing the susbidy on end prices. One has to a certain extent to use both methods, but I certainly tend to favour the production grant method where it is applicable and where it can be used to good effect. In addition to the figures which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has given, I learn that during the last two years the number of milking cows has decreased by more than 100,000, while cows producing beef animals have increased by 125,000.

I am sure that in existing circumstances to some extent that is going in the right direction and is attributable to the calf subsidy, but only to some extent, for the farmers must also look to the price the fat beast is likely eventually to fetch. At the time when the increase in the number of cows producing beef animals began there was a reasonable guarantee of a satisfactory end price.

There was not only this question of the subsidy coming into these figures, but a reasonable degree of satisfaction by the farmer that eventually the beef he produced would fetch a price of which he had some knowledge before reaching the time when he had to sell the beast. There was also a reasonable guarantee of price, even when the Government began their period of decontrol, for there was a collective and individual guarantee. This year, however, the individual guarantee has been swept away, and the farmer has had a sufficient experience of the socalled free market. Last year, they saw prices fluctuate by as much as 60s. per live cwt. in a fat beast. The price fluctuated not only from market to market, but also from week to week, from a high peak to what is undoubtedly a low valley. I suppose the Government would regard this as the good old way, but I doubt whether the farmers would call it that.

I am not sure that this fluctuation is the sort of thing which will, in the long run, stimulate the production of beef, which is the purpose of the subsidy. In my opinion, there is no use encouraging the production at one end of the life of an animal if it is discouraged at the other. Farmers who have experienced stability of price—as they did over a long period —very naturally fear this sort of instability to which they are now returning. Even if the milk price is not now so attractive as it was, the milk cheque still has much to recommend it.

I am not so optimistic as is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about this trend continuing in the way in which he wishes, and we would all wish. It is quite obvious that there is a need, not for an immediate further production of milk but for more beef, but I am not sure whether the way in which the Government are setting about the matter is the right way to ensure the continuance of the trend which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary rightly noted when recommending the Schemes.

The £8 10s. for the steer and £7 10s. for the heifer calf is a very high rate of subsidy, and should obviously be granted only to animals of the highest quality. That was agreed at every stage in the passage of the Act through this and the other House, and it was certainly stressed when the two Schemes to which the hon. Gentleman has referred went through this House. I should like to know if the hon. Gentleman is satisfied about the standard set by his certifying officers. I have heard of no complaints from farmers for a long time, which, in the very nature of things, makes me wonder whether certifying officers are setting their standards high enough. We know that if they are set fairly high we usually hear something about it from the farmers.

When the first Scheme was introduced, many hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies complained about the high standards which were then being set. It was right that the Ministry should start by ensuring that its certifying officers set a high standard, and I should like to know if they are retaining that initial standard in relation to the payment of this subsidy, which amounts in a full year to over £11 million. That is a lot of money, and it is right that the Minister should satisfy the taxpayers as to the direction in which it is going and whether it is doing what it is intended to do.

The whole point of the examination and certification is that someone should be satisfied that the calf will satisfactorily turn the feeding stuffs which it consumes into good beef, and that it will do so reasonably economically. With a calf aged eight months an expert should be able to make a fairly good stab at coming to such a decision—but in present circumstances it is only a stab. I believe we could do this job more scientifically and that we ought so to do.

Experience of progeny testing in the United States of America has shown that the bull exerts considerable influence on live weight gains and the kind of food consumed to produce those gains. Progeny testing, properly carried out—which should be very much easier now that we are using artificial insemination —would enable us to do very much more than make a stab at selecting these animals.

I believe that we should scientifically pick the right kind of calf for feeding on to beef. If we were scientifically to select that calf I believe we would be making sure that this £11½ million was going in the right direction. So far as I know, we are doing nothing about progeny testing in this way. We are only just starting to do it with pigs. We are lagging behind other countries and we ought to be developing this matter as rapidly as we can.

We are continually told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we are in difficulties about obtaining sufficient foreign currency for the purpose of imports. Certainly, feedingstuffs are very costly to bring in and we ought not to bring them in unless we are sure that the currency we expend on those feedingstuffs is not wastefully used, but is, in fact, being turned into something which we could not get any other way.

If I am wrong about what I regard as the disincentive of price fluctuations and the removal of the price guarantee, and if the rise in the production of beef continues, as I hope it will, we shall have to do something about cold storage. I know that I must not discuss that matter under this Scheme, but if we are to have supplies of beef produced partly as a result of this subsidy we ought to be able to take the fat cattle off grass feeding and to spread the sale of the meat over the whole of the year. To do that, we need adequate cold storage facilities.

My final point is this: have the Government given any thought to the possibility of using part of this subsidy which we are now granting as an incentive to the dehorning of calves? That crops up from time to time and seems to have some validity. I should like to hear what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has to say about it.

We are not voting against this Scheme any more than we voted against the Act of 1952, but we have no illusions about the calf subsidy. It will not of itself give the country more and better beef at an economical price. Only a combination of calf subsidy, progeny testing and a guarantee of price and market will be able to do that. We only have the first of those three; the other two are missing. We on this side of the House think it time the Government looked at some of the things they have done in connection with the guarantee of price and their failure to do something about progeny testing.

9.35 p.m.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) was not quite as pessimistic all the way through his speech as he was in the early stages. I think he placed too much emphasis on the question of the individual guarantee, but I agree with the point which he made later on, the importance of cold storage, because when we extend our cold storage facilities in this country we shall be creating another factor which will help to give stability to the market.

I am sure the whole industry will welcome the fact that the Government are continuing and strengthening this Scheme, but I should like my hon. Friend to give an assurance that if, during the period of three years for which I believe this Scheme is designed, it seems clear that advantage can be gained by modifying the Scheme, he will not refuse to do so. The sum in question—£11 million—is a big sum. In introducing the Scheme, my hon. Friend referred to the special advantage to the farmer whom he called the marginal milk producer. The marginal milk producer is indeed in a very difficult position. Many people, including the Milk Marketing Board, would prefer that he were not a milk producer at all and that he devoted his energies and resources to something else, such as rearing cattle. When we consider the case of the typical small farmer on not-very-good land, we can easily see the difficultles and disadvantages of transferring from milk production, with its regular return, to something else, not only with a greater uncertainty but with a far longer term. To such a man this subsidy is undoubtedly very important.

Is it not possible to consider whether we can give that man a slightly larger share of the help? One test which we must apply to these agricultural subsidies is they should go to help real need. I believe that very many large producers on the better land do not need this measure of support, while many of the marginal milk producers, the small men on poorer land, could well do with a little more.

I am not suggesting that the sum of £11 million should be increased, but if a bigger share were available to these men, more of them would, I think, turn over to the rearing of beef cattle. Most of them are not in a position to finish cattle; their job is to breed cattle, either pure beef or crossbred, rear them and then pass them on. My right hon. Friend will not get support for this from the large farmers he need not expect it—but I hope that if it becomes apparent that there is advantage to the nation in some modification such as I suggest, he will not turn it down flat.

The principle may be a little original in this connection, but it is not really so original; it is simply the case of the family allowances in reverse. Instead of nothing for the first child and an increased sum thereafter, there would be a sliding scale with more for, say, the first few calves and a smaller sum thereafter.

9.39 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Dye (Norfolk, South West)

I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was not quite his usual confident self when he introduced and explained this Scheme. I thought he lacked a good deal of confidence in submitting it to the House. He advanced an argument that if this £11½ million, which the subsidy is expected to total this year, were not paid in the form of a calf subsidy, it would have to be paid in a subsidy for the end product.

As he well knows, the amount of subsidy paid for beef cattle when they are marketed depends upon the market price and the difference between the market price and the standard price; and the Government are paying a much higher subsidy than they were paying a year ago. On what ground does he suggest that the higher we raise the calf subsidy the less we, have to pay in beef subsidy?

The hon. Gentleman is raising the calf subsidy this year and he is now paying 10s. a live cwt. on the beef subsidy. Both are going up. So, too, is the price of beef. So the arguments which the hon. Gentleman advances for the consideration of the House seem quite fallacious. There seems to be no ground whatever for anticipating that by agreeing to this calf subsidy there will be a smaller beef subsidy, or that people will get their beef cheaper.

Actually, these things are running along different lines. I thought so when the hon. Gentleman chose as a basis for comparison the year 1952. He chose the year with the lowest number of animals under one year. If he had gone back two years to 1950—but, of course, the Labour Government was in office then, so that might be prohibitive from the point of view of the hon. Gentleman—he would have found that the advance is pratically nil.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

What about 1951?

Mr. Dye

The number in 1951 and 1950 was about the same. The fall came in 1952. The hon. Gentleman takes that as his basis, and he says that on that basis he has been able to bring about by this subsidy an increase of 100,000 calves in a year. If he goes back to 1950, there is practically no great increase—it is only just 10,000. It cannot, therefore, be claimed that on the basis of having increased the subsidy the Government have increased the number of beef animals under one year. This is an important matter when we are dealing with this subsidy, but what is of even greater importance is: what is the country getting for it? Is it getting more beef cattle?

These are the figures from the latest available Statistical Digest. The number of beef cattle slaughtered on a monthly average for 1954 was 216,000. The number of beef cattle slaughtered in 1955 was 207,000, a decrease, if my arithmetic is right, of 9,000 a month, or 108,000 for the year—108,000 fewer cattle slaughtered in 1955 than in 1954. Those figures are available to all hon. Members; they come straight from the Library of the House. On that basis, we are giving more and more in subsidy—£8 10s. per steer calf now, whereas three years ago it was only £5 and we are getting less and less beef.

When we come to the latest figures for 1956, we find that, whereas, for the first quarter of 1955, the total number was 699,000 for the first quarter of 1956 the total figures were 666,000, a decrease, when comparing the two quarters, of 33,000. When we multiply that by four, we see that the decline in 1956 is greater than in 1955, on the 1954 figures, so we are not getting more cattle. If there are more calves being subsidised where are they going, if they are not coming on to the market in the form of finished fat cattle?

Even more striking are the figures for home-slaughtered beef. The monthly averages for 1954 were 60,400 tons. For 1955, they were 55,600 tons. That is an average monthly reduction of 4,800 tons or, for the whole year, a reduction of 57,600 tons. The total figure for the first quarter of 1955 was 201,900 tons, and for the first quarter of 1956 it was 184,500 tons, which is a reduction in the first quarter of 1956 as against that of 1955 of 17,400 tons. That means that in 1956 there has been a bigger fall in beef as well as beef cattle than in 1954.

How, therefore, can anybody claim a success for this scheme? No wonder the Joint Parliamentary Secretary came to the Box lacking in confidence in recommending this Scheme to the House. If I may say so, I thought that he also looked a little shamefaced, because when we last discussed this matter I asked, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), why it was not made a condition of giving the calf subsidy that the horned calves should be dehorned. We asked that in June of last year. The hon. Gentleman then said that the matter was being considered and that as what we were then discussing was only an interim arrangement we could, when we came to the next threeyear period—if circumstances permitted and the rest—include it.

He mentions nothing about that today, yet every rearer of beef cattle—and of dairly cattle for that matter—knows full well that it is a disadvantage to have horned cattle. It is a simple operation to dehorn, and can be carried out painlessly on the calves. Wherever one sees a bunch of dehorned calves reared together they look much better than those that are not so treated. I have been interested in watching the markets in Norfolk during this year. I thought that there had been a great improvement in the store cattle that came to the markets. In every case they had been dehorned. If that is an advantage, and the best farmers, the best rearers, do it, why do the Government go on year after year giving the same subsidy to those who do not dehorn?

There is no excuse whatever. When this matter was put to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in June last, I think he felt that we really ought not to go on like this year after year. Yet now a Scheme is put in for a shorter period. It is true that it is back-dated to last October, but we ought not to be asked to agree to a Scheme for further subsidising calves without insisting on their being dehomed. There are other things upon which we could insist, but we should not have been asked to do that this year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) is not here, but I think that on every occasion he has pointed out that the special hill farm subsidy for cows that rear calves is now £10 a year, plus £8 10s. for the calf from the hill at six months old. That makes a subsidy of £18 10s. One-third of the total market price of a 10 cwt. bullock is represented by subsidy, Where are we going? In June last year I pointed out that these subsidies were apparently increasing year by year. We have now arrived at the stage where the total subsidy for a calf which is reared on a hill farm amounts to £18 10s.

In addition, taking into account calves which are not reared on the hill, we are reaching the stage when one-fifth of the total value of a 10 cwt. animal is represented by subsidy. But the people are not getting cheaper meat. We ought to know more about the administration of this Scheme before we agree to the Scheme for a further period of three years.

Mr. Osborne

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the subsidy ought to be reduced? Is that the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument?

Mr. Dye

I think the logic of my argument is that, so far, the Scheme has been a failure. Taking 1950 as the basis, in spite of all the increased subsidy, we have not increased the number of beef cattle. Indeed, we are now getting less beef cattle on to the market. Of course, it may be argued that if there had been no subsidy, there might have been a still greater decrease, but from my practical experience it seems to me that the subsidy has not achieved the object of increasing the amount of beef on the market. If the Government continue to allow the heavy importation of cheap Argentine beef for another year the bottom will be knocked out of rearing store cattle, however much subsidy is paid.

Mr. Osborne

I represent a constituency which is interested in this matter. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman most carefully, and I think he has stated his case reasonably and fairly. As I understand, he says that one-third of the market price is in the form of subsidy.

Mr. Dye

That the subsidy is equal to one-third of the market price.

Mr. Osborne

What I should like to know is this. Having given the House those facts, is the hon. Gentleman saying that as a consequence the subsidy ought to be cut? If so, by how much?

Mr. Dye

I could not give a simple answer, because the whole system of marketing has gone wrong. When we had a fixed price, graded according to quality, the producer knew what he was doing. He did not want any further subsidy in addition. If we want to put beef production on to a sound basis in this country, we must go back to a system of guaranteed prices based upon the weight and quality of the finished article. This system of free markets, plus everincreasing subsidies at both ends of the scale, for the calf and for the finished animal, is leading the nation to ruin. It is costing the taxpayer more and we are getting less beef for consumption.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

It is very difficult to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Norfolk, SouthWest (Mr. Dye). He condemned the calf subsidy because he said it was too high, but he was not prepared to say that it should be reduced or done away with altogether. The hon. Gentleman then made a comparison which I could not altogether follow. He mentioned the very low number of cattle under one year old in existence in 1952. My memory may be bad, but if I were asked to give an explanation of that it would be that in their last year of office the Socialist Government either reduced the calf subsidy or did away with it altogether. The result was that there were far fewer calves in 1952 because no encouragement was given to rear them, and the number of cattle under one year old was also considerably reduced. I think that is an argument in favour of the subsidy.

I have never been in favour of subsidies. I think that an end price is much better than a subsidy, because my experience as a calf rearer is that the subsidy goes immediately to the milk producer. I have been paying as much as £22 for one-week-old calves, and, the finished beef being one third subsidy, that subsidy has gone to the milk producer.

Mr. Dye

That is exactly what I said. I said that I was in favour of a guaranteed price for the end product according to its grade and quality and with doing away with the other subsidies.

Mr. Baldwin

I was under the impression that we still had a guaranteed price of £7 11s. which is considerably higher than it has ever been and very much higher than at any time when the Socialist Government held office.

I think that the way in which the guaranteed price is worked is wrong, because I believe that the beef producer should be receiving a price comparable to the cost of production. The average price should be worked in the same way as the wheat subsidy and spread throughout the year in accordance with the cost of production. I do not agree with this rolling average which is talked about under which a man is paid a deficiency payment based on something which happened 52 weeks before. Conversations are now taking place between the farmers' representatives and the Ministry, and I hope that as a result of those conversations something will be evolved which will be much more satisfactory to the producers.

Now a word about cold storage, a subject which has been mentioned by two other hon. Members in this debate. I do not agree with the contention put forward that we should go into the question of cold storage.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot talk about cold storage on the calf subsidy.

Mr. Baldwin

There have been two advocates for cold storage and I feel that I ought to be able—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) mentioned it, but instantly checked himself when found that he was transgressing the bounds of order. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) should follow his example.

Mr. Baldwin

I do not want to see our cattle in competition with the imports of frozen beef from Australia and elsewhere. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West mentioned the importation of Argentine beef which has depressed the market, but he did not suggest what should be done to stop it. I make the suggestion, which I have made on many occasions, that the way to deal with our industry is by having tariff protection rather than by having these shots in the arm. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West spoke about this.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) mentioned it, but the hon. Member is now trying to develop it. That is not allowed.

Mr. Baldwin

The next point I wish to take up is that raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East. He began by pouring more oil on the fire and by saying that the farmers were complaining about an individual guaranteed price. The individual guaranteed price was introduced for one purpose only. Because of the contentions that were made of butchers' rings and so on, the individual guaranteed price was brought in to meet those cases where individual farmers had a bad market because of butchers' rings. The individual farmer is not bound to send in to market at all. He has his organisation through which he can send and there is no reason whatever for an individual guaranteed price, which was simply bolstering up the inefficient producer. I am very glad that it has been done away with.

My next point concerns progeny testing. Judging by what we have have heard, one would think that breeders of cattle had been doing nothing towards improving their stock for many years, or at all, and that the only way in which stock was improved was through a progeny testing station. Every breeder of pedigree cattle is a progeny tester; we have been doing it for many generations. In my lifetime, the quality of beef cattle has been raised to a very high standard by the progeny testing which we ourselves have done in the course of the years.

If it is sought to encourage the polling of cattle instead of asking the Ministry to increase the subsidy on polled calves, the buyers themselves when they get polled store cattle in the market should give a reward to those who put the polled cattle in the market; and they would very soon have all the polled calves possible.

I do not want hon. Members opposite to imagine that we have not been thinking along these lines in the breeding world for some time. At the moment, there is more breeding for polled stock than I ever remember. In the last few years, it has speeded up tremendously. For my own breed of cattle, there are two poll societies working independently and in competition with the horned cattle. Other breeds have done the same. I do not want it to go out from this House that the breeders of cattle are so backward that they do not recognise the value of polled cattle.

10.2 p.m.

Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)

I do not wish at this late hour to detain the House for many moments, but I should like to say a word on two points. Hon. Members have spoken of dehorning and the breeding of polled cattle, which is an entirely different question. It will take many years to introduce the polled element into the present horned cattle. At last breeders of beef cattle have arrived at the conclusion that there are many advantages in having their species polled. It will take a long time before it is an accomplished fact, and it seems a great pity that at this time the Ministry, when it has given a subsidy for calves, does not introduce that element into the Scheme which we are asked to pass tonight.

In the meantime, with very little trouble, calves could be polled and farmers, who are traditionally conservative in their outlook, could be encouraged to discover the advantages of having hornless cattle. Undoubtedly, great damage is done in dairy herds and much greater room is needed in yards to feed horned cattle than dehorned cattle. For this reason, I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister has not taken the opportunity, as he could easily have done tonight, to introduce polled or dehorned cattle into this Scheme for calf subsidies.

I think it is a retrograde step that Friesian heifers do not qualify for the subsidy. It will be seen that according to the Scheme, Jersey, Guernsey, Friesian and Ayrshire heifers do not qualify for it. I think that that is entirely wrong. As many Members know, I am an interested party as a breeder of Friesian cattle. I would add, however, that few of my Friesian heifers ever reach the block because they are sold into dairy herds for dairy purposes. At the same time, there is no doubt that Friesian type heifers make excellent beef. Indeed, butchers nowadays are turning more and more towards the fleshy Friesian type rather than the fatty beef type for the requirements of the public.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

What about the Shorthorns?

Sir J. Barlow

They are a different story.

Friesian steers, and especially Friesian type heifers, are much looked for in the markets for beef, and in my opinion it is entirely wrong that the Ministry have taken this arbitrary decision and excluded them from this Scheme.

10.6 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

With permission, I will briefly reply to some of the points which have been made. I apologise for not rising immediately my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) sat down. I thought he was going on at considerable length on the matter of Friesian heifers. The difficulty about admitting the Friesian heifers, which, I agree, can make good beef, is that four-fifths of the Friesian heifers are going into dairy herds, and this subsidy is to encourage beef production. I quite agree we cannot be absolutely certain that every heifer from the dual-purpose breeds which is certified will go for beef and that none will go into the dairy herd, but we do our utmost to keep the margin as small as possible.

Sir J. Barlow

In that ease, why do the dairy Shorthorns qualify for the subsidy? They are in similar circumstances to those of the Friesian heifers.

Mr. Nugent

As my hon. Friend knows, Shorthorns are of two types, the dairy type and the beef type. While, as I have already admitted, it is not possible to be 100 per cent. sure that every heifer which is certified as suitable for good beef will go for beef and does not go into the dairy herd, we keep the margin as small as possible. If we were to agree to what my hon. Friend is asking we should immediately enlarge the margin by fourfifths of all the Friesian heifers, and clearly we should be going directly against the purpose of the subsidy. So I must with regret tell my hon. Friend it is not possible.

My hon. Friend talked also about dehorning, and that was mentioned also by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, SouthEast (Mr. Champion) and by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). I did not mention it because it is not in the Scheme. If I am allowed to make a reply to the many queries on the matter, I would say that I feel, and, indeed, it is the Government's view, that the right way to deal with this question of dehorning is to let the market decide. I entirely agree with the view that the polled or dehorned animal is a far more manageable animal and infinitely better, especially for yarding.

However, when we have a subsidy for the encouragement of beef production I do not think it is for the Government to decide whether the animal should be dehorned or not. It is far better for the market to do so, and it normally does. On the other hand, there are various considerations affecting pedigree beef breeding, and animals for show, where they might be seriously penalised if they were without horns. Therefore, we have to take a broad view of this. We are getting what we want, increased production of calves, and we leave the market to decide what it thinks the additional value of the polled or dehorned animal is.

Mr. Dye

Surely, as long as the House of Commons has taken an interest in—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

Order. I gather that this discussion is outside the scope of the Scheme.

Mr. Dye

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in June last year, when we were discussing a Motion similar to this, the hon. Gentleman gave an undertaking that he would give consideration to this very point.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If it is outside the scope of the Scheme, I do not think it can be discussed.

Mr. Nugent

I think that I had better pass on to firmer ground and reply to a point which was put to me by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East about the question of qualification for subsidy and what measures we were taking to ensure that only suitable beef animals qualified. The animals that are automatically excluded from qualification are Channel Island heifers, Friesian heifers and Ayrshire heifers. Everything else can qualify if conformation is suitable. In practice there is some 11 per cent. of rejects. I think that number shows that there is a fair measure of rejection. It strikes about the right balance, and the fact that none of us has received many complaints in the matter shows that the thing is being done in a reasonable way. [Interruption.] We received a good many complaints to start with that it was being done too severely.

If I may say a word of comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich, it is that we have now started discussions with the intention of further tightening up qualifications for these heifers in dual-purpose breeds, to avoid the leakage that has been occurring in their case.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East in connection with the production of beef and the use of imported feeding stuffs, I can give him an assurance that one of the most attractive features of beef production in this country is that it can be achieved with very little imported feeding stuffs indeed, and on many farms is achieved with no bought feeding stuffs of any kind. This is a ruminant animal and really is primary production, and that is one of the reasons why we have encouraged it.

The hon. Member also referred to the need for a satisfactory end-price guarantee. I think that we have done that with the increase we have made in the standard price this year to 151s. As the months roll by and the deficiency payment grows, that, with the calf subsidy, will give a very satisfactory level of return to beef producers. There is the reply to the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West—that we are giving a guaranteed price now which I believe is high enough, combined with the calf subsidy, to give a sufficient reward and incentive to maintain a high level of beef production and to go on increasing it.

I should like to study in HANSARD the figures which the hon. Member gave of beef production and send him a considered reply, but he will know that immediately after decontrol cattle were slaughtered at a rather earlier age, to some extent because farmers felt that prices were attractive and to a large extent because the housewife was obviously making demands for a smaller, leaner joint of meat, and the farmers were meeting the market. Therefore, inevitably, in 18 months or so after decontrol there were some fluctuations in home slaughterings. Immediately after decontrol there was a big increase in home slaughterings, then there was a decrease, and now we are going forward with an increase.

The figures I gave of an increase of 104,000 in the March figures for 1956 over 1955 are a solid indication that we are getting a further increase in calf and beef production and we shall, of course, in the next couple of years have a further increase in slaughterings. Therefore, I think that I can set the hon. Member's mind at rest that we are getting full value for the subsidy and that the House will be fully justified in passing this Scheme.

I should like to confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) said about the reason why I chose 1952. I chose it because that was the year in which we passed legislation to re-introduce the calf subsidy. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite ended the calf subsidy in 1951 and the decline from the high level of 1950 to the low level of 1952 was, in my opinion at any rate, largely due to the fact that the calf subsidy had been discontinued. I think that the increasing trend shows that whatever criticisms may be made about calf subsidies—and there are arguments on both sides—they achieve the desired result and make a special appeal to the small farmer.

I think I have said enough to commend this scheme to the House, and I hope that the House will now be ready to give its approval.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Draft Calf Subsidies (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th April, be approved.

Draft Calf Subsidies (Scotland) Scheme, 1956 [copy laid before the House, 17th April], approved.—[Mr. Niall Macpherson.]