HC Deb 06 March 1957 vol 566 cc481-99

9.37 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I beg to move, That the Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) Order, 1957, dated 12th February, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th February, be approved. The purpose of the Order is to give effect to tie new arrangements for calculating the guarantees for fat cattle, sheep and pigs when the next fatstock year begins on 25th March, about which my right hon. Friend gave some details to the House in November last year. Like the Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) Order, 1955, which it replaces, this is purely procedural. It does not state the price guarantees, nor does it define the classes of fatstock which they cover. These are matters to be determined in accordance with the 1947 Act and announced in the White Paper presented to the House following the Annual Review which is now taking place. The Order merely sets out the basis for calculating the guarantees and the general provisions as to certification and payment.

Before I set out the main details of the new proposals, I think it would he helpful if I were to remind the House of the considerations which led to the change in the system. At present, the rates of payment are worked out for each four-week period, and they are the difference between the standard price for the fatstock year and the average prices realised in the market over the preceding 52 weeks—the "rolling" average. This method of calculation has been used since decontrol of meat and livestock in 1954, and, by and large, it has worked fairly well; but last year it did prove unable to respond sufficiently quickly to the abnormally sharp and sustained decline in cattle prices, with the result that many producers were losing money and the whole prosperity of this most important side of the agricultural industry was at risk.

In order to set matters right and to avoid a substantial under-payment of the guaranteed price in the current fatstock year, it was decided to make a supplementary payment graduated in such a way as to give producers who marketed at different seasons of the year an equitable return. The House will recall that we debated this matter last October when authority to make these payments was secured.

At that time, my right hon. Friend made it quite clear that to prevent recurrences of that kind, the new scheme would have to respond more quickly to fluctuations in market prices. This means that the rate of guarantee will fluctuate from week to week to a greater extent than hitherto, but producers' returns as a whole will approximate much more closely to the standard price. That is important. We should understand that these fluctuations can take place far more readily than previously. On the other hand, it will work to the advantage of producers in that they will get a more realistic system and will know fairly accurately in advance how payments are likely to go.

I am glad to say that the new system which is embodied in the present Order was the outcome of helpful discussions with the producers' organisations and that it has their full support.

Briefly, the changes which are to be made are, first, that the standard prices for cattle and sheep are to be varied on a seasonal scale. I am sure that that will please my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin). Thus they will reflect variations in costs and marketing. The standard price for pigs, however, will not vary seasonally but will continue to be subject to adjustment for changes in feed cost, which account for over three-quarters of the total of pig production costs.

Secondly, the weekly rate of payment for each class of fatstock will be announced in advance for each week and not for a period of four weeks, as at present; but in order that the guarantee payments shall be related as closely as practicable to current marketing experience, they will be calculated each week by reference to forward market trends as well as to recent actual market prices. The guarantee will be related to an eight-week period and the rate for any week will be the difference between the market prices—that is, four weeks' actual market prices and four weeks' estimated market prices—and, on the other hand, the standard price averaged over the eight-week period. The standard prices will be announced after the Price review for the whole year.

To guard against sudden and unexpected price movements, in any week, we shall adjust the rate of payment, if necessary, to keep the average return for the week within prescribed limits of the weekly standard price. These stabilising limits, which will take the place of the existing stabilising limits, will be much closer to the standard prices than at present. They will be determined after the Annual Review and will be announced, together with the seasonal standard prices, as soon as the Review has been concluded.

I feel confident that the new guarantee system will be as well received by the industry as a whole as it has been by its leaders. It is designed to ensure not only that the average returns for the year will be close to the standard prices, but also that the returns in any week will not be far away from the standard price for that particular week.

I commend the Order to the House. I do not wish to dwell on it at length, but if hon. Members wish to raise any points I shall be glad, with the consent of the House, to try to answer them. I commend the Order as a fair system, as a definite improvement on the previous one and as a system which has already been welcomed by the leaders of the farming industry.

9.43 p.m.

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

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has, with commendable brevity, introduced the Order with some lucidity. It is a difficult matter to explain to the House, but he has done it in a short time in words which most of those who know something about the previous Orders will understand.

I would say that this 1957 Order is better than the scheme that was introduced in 1954. It is better than the 1955 Order and it is better than the two Amendments of 1956, but that is not saying very much, because I still regard this fatstock marketing as a fairly considerable mess.

Mr. Godber

It is getting better all the time.

Mr. Champion

It might be getting better all the time. The trouble is that under the Tories, fatstock marketing has been set free—at least, I understand that that is what they are doing. We have got back to complete simplicity and in the doing of it we have done these things.

We have set the standard prices for the collective guarantees. We have averaged our realisation prices and ascertained the producer's average return. We have introduced and abolished the individual price guarantee. We have introduced a lower and an upper guarantee limit. We have made stabilisation adjustments. We have made supplementary payments. We have fixed our guaranteed classes. We have our certifying officers and certifying centres. Now we are to estimate the price likely to be received in the four weeks commencing with the week in which the calculation is made. We have rolled our averages. We have rocked our farmers. And we have "socked" our taxpayers.

That seems to me to be a fair description of what has gone on since 1954. I find all this just about as confusing as a meeting of the General Purposes Committee of the National Farmers' Union was to a farmer who attended it and afterwards, reporting his impressions to his local branch, said of it, "It was all minimum, maximum and optimum, so I said 'Sugar 'em' and left 'em." I feel very much the same about this procession of fatstock Orders with which this House has had to deal within the past three years.

In the debate which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary mentioned, on the Order of 1955, the Minister seemed anxious to impress us that he was about to give birth to a really satisfactory scheme at last. This is it. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary seemed to take some pleasure in the fact that the Ministry had removed some of the difficulties. I remember pretty vividly—I was sitting on the opposite side of the House at the time—a crack by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) during the time of the Labour Government. He said it was the Labour Government who, for the first time in the history of this country, rationed bread, and that then they had the colossal cheek to take credit for abolishing the rationing of it.

I feel very much the same about this business of the Tories. The Tories created chaos in the marketing of fatstock, and now they seek to take credit for getting over some of the difficulties which there have been in all their schemes to date. It seems to me probable that they will soon be taking credit for clearing the Suez Canal they succeeded so well in blocking, de Tocqueville, the great French writer on American democracy, said: The legislator has no more tedious task than to cure the evils which he himself has caused. The Minister must have had a pretty tedious time just recently, and so must the Government on that principle.

The Minister never foresaw the wide movements of prices which took place and which, of course, made nonsense of the twelve months' average realisation price. Having failed to do that, he has had to bring in his amending Order in 1956, and now he has this scheme, the 1957 scheme.

There are a few questions I must ask the Minister, having made those few opening remarks. The first is this. What is the cost of this scheme to be to the taxpayer? If the Joint Parliamentary Secretary attempts to reply to that he will be in no danger of anticipating the Chancellor's Budget, for the simple reason that he does not know what it is going to cost. Nor does anybody else; nobody has a clue to what the cost of this thing will be in the next financial year. It has been suggested that the National Farmers' Union is satisfied. Even if the National Farmers' Union is satisfied after these six years of trial and error, I very much doubt whether the taxpayer can be.

The amount of the subsidy which will have to be paid out depends on all sorts of factors which are not within the control of the Government or of the taxpayer. They are, to some extent, within the control of the dealer, depending on whether his grip on the market has tightened or has slackened or on whether the rings have strengthened—and I again say that there are rings in this connection. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor was rather inclined to pooh-pooh the idea of rings in auction marts and in fatstock marketing. He did not convince me, and I am sure that he did not convince the farmers who know that these rings exist.

Therefore, all depends on the dealers and how they get together and rig the market. It will depend also on the French buyer of cattle and fatstock, and on the Italian and Dutch buyer. To some extent, it will depend on the policy of the French Government and on whether they reimpose their 30 per cent. ad valorem duty. If they do, it will affect the amount which the taxpayer will have to pay out, because it will have repercussions on the price of cattle in this country.

Has the Minister really satisfied himself that the system which is set out in the Order will ensure that this difference between the standard price, the stabilising guarantee and the average price, will not go to the dealer or in some form of subsidy to the French buyer? He ought to satisfy himself and the House on the point. I am positive that the taxpayer is prepared to ensure a prosperous farming industry, but in doing that he does not want to be paying out subsidies to all sorts of narrow groups and interests which, to some extent, are the hangers-on of this great industry.

Does the scheme make provision for adjustments if the Minister's calculations, based as they will be in part on a guess as to the movement of prices over the next four weeks, prove a long way out? What will the Minister do about adjustments in that case? If he does not find some way of making them, the producer obviously will be done out of something which the Minister had hoped to provide for him. A Bill was introduced in the House today, to make further provision for guaranteed prices and assured markets for producers of agricultural produce in the United Kingdom … Will that Bill again mess about with fatstock marketing, or will this Order last for some little time?

We on this side of the House are not opposing the scheme, but we shall watch with great interest this further attempt to clear up the muddle in fatstock marketing which the Government have created in the past few years.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) has indicated certain weaknesses in the Order, and those which preceded it, in relation to the marketing of fatstock. There are, obviously, weaknesses in the Government's policy. It seems to be a policy of trial and error and then error and more trial in which, as my hon. Friend so ably said, the taxpayer has to pay for the errors and the farming community often has to suffer from them.

This is essentially a weak scheme, judged against its purpose, which is claimed to be to ensure to producers of fatstock a fair price and a secure business. After all, here a long-term policy and scheme is most essential. If we are to produce cattle, it cannot be done on a year to year basis. When a scheme is altered half-way through the year, as was the present one, and when we do not know what will be the essential figures that will eventually be written into this scheme for the return to the farmers, it is not easy to say whether the scheme is a sound one. For fat cattle a long-term policy is essential, both for the price guaranteed and the facilities for handling the cattle through the markets and the slaughtering.

Paragraph 9 refers to quality premiums, but nothing has been said about them. Is it intended that they should apply to fat cattle or will we continue, year after year, paying the same subsidy per cwt. for fat cattle irrespective of the grading? There is a system of grading A, B and C. The A's are supposed to be the best, but the C's get the same subsidy per live cwt. as the A's. Nobody going to the market knows which is A, B, or C, because all the graded cattle have a C put on them.

At one time, there was one C or two or three, but under the economy system, each animal is given one C, so neither the buyer nor the seller knows at the time the grade of the animal. The Government say that the purpose of the scheme is to enable the producer to be rewarded according to the quality of his products. But when it comes to giving the subsidy, all those which are graded receive the same subsidy per cwt. up to a maximum figure.

The outstanding weakness of the Government's system of fat stock marketing is that fewer and fewer farmers are sending their cattle to be graded at the markets. I noticed in the current issue of the Farmers' Weekly that at King's Lynn market, on 26th February, there were 550 cattle, of which 59 were uncertified. Why were 59 uncertified and sold by auction as such? Were they rejected, or had the farmers no confidence in the scheme and preferred the price which the cattle fetched by auction without the subsidy being added, thus perhaps enabling somebody else to take the subsidy afterwards?

This is important, because I have stood at our cattle auctions and have seen the animals sold. I have seen the rejected cattle come through the market and fetch a higher price than did the top graded ones. Why is that?

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

Because they do not carry a subsidy.

Mr. Dye

That seems to be ridiculous. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who is supporting the Government in introducing this Order, which provides for a subsidy, says that the cattle which are sold without a subsidy, because they are not good enough, should fetch a higher price because they will not get a subsidy. I have never heard anything more crazy in my life, nor have I seen anything so crazy.

The poorest quality animals rejected by the graders are sold in the auctions at the highest price per live cwt. Why? The hon. Member for Leominster knows why, as does every other auctioneer, because it has been emphasised over and over again that these animals will not have their ears punched. In other words, the cattle which have been rejected in one market can be bought by a butcher or dealer, and either taken to another market where they will be accepted and where that person will then get the subsidy, or they can be taken to a slaughterhouse and the butcher or dealer concerned can then get the deadweight subsidy.

Why is it that we have a scheme and graders, whose job it is to certify those suitable for certification and to reject others, yet the rejected ones are not so marked that they cannot be taken to another grader and be marked for certification? If, in the case of King's Lynn, out of 550, 59—rather more than 10 per cent.—are uncertified, there must be something wrong with the system.

Here again, according to the Farmers' Weekly, I notice that at Norwich market, on 23rd February, there were no fewer than 547 fat cattle graded but the uncertified ones, sold as fat cattle, were 174—a bigger proportion not being certified before being sold by auction. Of those that were graded, the prices are quoted as from 134s. for grade A to 150s. per cwt., but the uncertified ones are from 115s. to 163s. The same applied at King's Lynn market where certified grade A lightweights, that is, the best ones, ranged from 135s. to 150s. per cwt., and the uncertified ones from 128s. to 161s. per cwt.

I suggest to the hon. Member that there is something wrong in a system where people will give a higher price for an inferior animal and be able to sell it at a profit, and who must be drawing the subsidy at a subsequent stage. I submit that if it is possible to do that to the extent indicated, there is a flaw in the whole scheme.

I notice that the same thing happened at Chippenham and again at Exeter, as reported in the current issue of the Farmers' Weekly. We can see it in every market report in the local newspapers of the country. This has been going on for two and a half years and the Government have turned a blind eye to it. Why have they done that for so long? Why did not they safeguard the amount of money the public has to pay in subsidies? If it is based on a true system of certification, the Government ought to have stopped this other business long ago. I ask the Government whether they will stop it, and what is the intention of quality premiums referred to in Article 9. Do they intend, in the coming year, to give a higher subsidy per cwt. for better quality cattle, or are we to continue with the scheme as at present?

I would also ask whether it is the intention of the Government to go on subsidising fat cattle for export. Cattle are going to our markets, being certified and purchased by foreign buyers for export to the Continent. Is that to continue? Is that part of the planned system, or is it something which just happens according to the whims or the wants of the purchasers from the Continent?

We ought to know that, because I do not think that it was ever originally intended that the system of subsidy should be to enable people on the Continent to buy British subsidised beef. It is not a big proportion of our home produce and neither does it affect very much the general average price of our home products. What, of course, affects the market price of our fat cattle more than anything else is the quantity of Argentine beef which is imported from week to week and month to month. That determines the price and the amount of subsidy which the taxpayer has to find.

If only the Government would control imports of Argentine and other beef we could soon reduce the amount of subsidy which has to be paid under the fatstock scheme. With all the arrangements for prices and subsidies, we are hampered because we have not the proper facilities to deal with fatstock after it leaves the farm. We have not the proper facilities at the certifying centres, in the markets or the slaughterhouses.

While we continue to build bigger and faster ships to bring Argentine beef to this country, the Government absolutely prohibit the expenditure of any money for the improvement of our markets or slaughterhouses so that a greater quantity of home-produced cattle can be properly handled and prepared for the housewife.

The Government are preventing the proper handling of our home produce and not letting the consumer have the better quality article at a reasonable price. We have not got the proper facilities, but we are enabling the shipping companies and the importers to modernise all their equipment and thus import more meat with greater efficiency than the home producer can apply in sending his meat to the consumer.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

Before I deal with the Order itself, I should like to say a few words about the remarks of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). Although he is a farmer, he obviously does not know much about market conditions. Let me deal first with the question of uncertified cattle which make more per hundredweight than those which are certified. It is obvious that it should be so. The taxpayer has not paid any subsidy on those cattle which are not subsidised. They are not earmarked, and the result is that the cattle which are not accepted for slaughter can be bought by farmers who will feed them up to the stage when they will be entitled to bring them back to the market and get the subsidy and be earmarked.

If the hon. Gentleman likes to compare prices when uncertified cattle are in the market on the same day as store cattle, he will find that the store cattle and uncertified cattle make £2 to 50s. a hundredweight more than fat cattle. If cattle are not punched they can still get the subsidy if they are made sufficiently good. The taxpayer does not pay twice but only once—when the cattle are certified and punched. The hon. Member tried to raise a mare's-nest.

Mr. Dye

Surely the hon. Gentleman does not say that the selling of rejected cattle marked with a cross at a higher price than graded cattle can be a mare's-nest? He knows that this has been going on for quite a long time and that the people who purchase are the people who draw the subsidy.

Mr. Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman does not understand. A beast marked with a cross in the market is not certified. Therefore, it can be bought by a farmer, taken away and fed until it reaches a condition in which it will be certified, when it will get the subsidy and be punched. That is the point.

The hon. Member spoke of the sale of subsidised cattle to the Continent. A very small number is concerned, but this export has this effect. Although some of the cattle are subsidised when they are sold to the Continent, this export helps to raise the price of cattle in this country, and, therefore, the taxpayer is not called upon to pay quite such a big deficiency payment as he would have had to pay if the cattle had remained on the market here and thus lowered the price further.

There is also the question of imported cattle, and I was interested to note that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West would take steps to regulate the imports. I suppose he would achieve that by a quota. But the obvious result of limiting the importation of Argentine beef into this country would be to raise the price of beef to the consumer. Is that what the hon. Member is advocating?

Mr. Dye

We could not get it any higher than it has been during the last twelve months.

Mr. Baldwin

Argentine beef has been coming in at a low figure and the hon. Member desires to limit the importation of Argentine beef, so that, obviously, the consumer would have to pay more.

I have a better solution; certainly it is better from the point of view of the taxpayer. I would put a tariff on imported beef so as to get some money into the "kitty" to enable the Treasury to pay out more to the farmer by way of a guaranteed price. If it is worth while to send the beef to our market, let the Argentine producers pay a toll for the privilege.

I wish now to say a word about the Bill. I am glad to hear that the rolling average has been abolished. Some of us can claim that we attacked that system from the start. It has been said that the producers' representatives are satisfied with the present arrangement, but that does not necessarily mean that the present arrangement is right. The producers' representatives agreed with the 52-week rolling average which resulted in an absolute muddle, and it was not possible for the Government to pay the guaranteed price to the farmer on a single occasion.

Although we have done away with the 52-week rolling average, we still have the rolling average on the month that has gone by, plus what somebody guesses will be the figure for the month ahead. The job of the producer is enough of a gamble today without having that added to it. It is not much use taking up the time of the House talking about this tonight, because this Order will be passed and we shall have to see how it works. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand why the fatstock deficiency payment is not dealt with in the same way as the wheat deficiency payment.

When he fetches his wheat out of the harvest fields in the autumn and stores it, the farmer knows approximately what price he will get for it in the months that lie ahead. If he holds it until the spring, he can get £4 to £5 per ton more than was the price when he put it in the silo in the autumn. He knows approximately what he will get when he sells. If he sells in the period of two months, the average price of sales during those two months will be decided, and the deficiency payment will be paid to the man who sold his corn in that period. It is not based on what someone guessed would be the price for the next month, or on what the price has been for the month which has passed. It will be based on actual receipts, and I do not think we want anything better than that.

I know that it has been said that producers representatives have agreed to this proposed system, but I have some contact with farmers, with people who may be termed the "rank and file" farmers. I guarantee that if one spoke to half-a-dozen of them at market and explained to them what this Order really means, they would agree that the wheat scheme is a much better way to deal with it than going by guesswork. I shall be interested to see what will be the effect of this Order.

May I remind my hon. Friend of the prices for the month after Christmas compared with the month before Christmas. Had this scheme been working at that period, it would be interesting to note what the people who have to make guesses about prices for the months ahead estimated would be the price for January. Anyone in the trade knows that the price for January went sky-high compared with that for December. I am sure that if any of us had been making a guess at the price for January we should not have put it at anything like the figure which it proved to be. Some consumers will not be paid what they are entitled to.

I would ask my hon. Friend how he will deal with this guaranteed price? Is it to be a seasonal figure for each week? Is the farmer to be told weeks ahead what the guaranteed price for his produce is to be? He will want to know for his meat, as he knows for his wheat, what figure he will get if he produces his beef at a certain period of the year. It would be much better if the guaranteed price, agreed at the Annual Price Review, were split up, perhaps into monthly or two-monthly seasonal prices, ranging from £6 in the autumn, which is the low cost period, to £8 or £8 10s. at the end of the winter, when it costs very much more money to feed the cattle.

If the farmer knows that, he can put the cattle into the yards to feed them, and he knows what price to give for his store cattle before he starts to feed them. He will have a little knowledge of what he is going to get. If the price is not dealt with on a yearly basis the farmer will not know from week to week what he is to get. It would be much better, when the guaranteed price is arranged, for the seasonal average to be spread throughout the year so that farmers would have some idea of what they will receive.

I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), who raised the old bogey about rings in the market and so on and so on. He knows perfectly well that farmers need not bring one single beast into the market and face any ring. All they need to do is to send the beasts to the Fatstock Corporation and get paid for them on a dead-weight basis. The hon. Member can take that bogey clean out of his mind and not let us hear about it again. If there is all this ringing going on in the market, it is strange that the markets have got any cattle at all.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West made another statement which is completely wrong in saying that nothing had been done in the improvement of markets and slaughterhouses. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on markets and slaughterhouses in the last twelve months. In my county town, Hereford, we have a market which is something of which we can justly be proud. It has cost about £70,000. To say that markets and slaughterhouses have not been improved is absolutely wrong. The improvement is going on all over Britain.

Mr. Dye

There is a complete embargo on any new scheme to build a market. I have been to the Ministry of Agriculture only today with a deputation from East Dereham, which wants to improve its market. The scheme to which the hon. Member refers was approved long before the credit squeeze.

Mr. Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Hereford Markets Committee spent this money, and the market has only been opened about two or three months. It has just been completed. If gentlemen in the part of the world represented by the hon. Member are not up to getting their markets improved it is about time they woke up.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I have been very generous. Hon. Members are going very wide of the Order now. The present discussion has nothing to do with the Order.

Mr. Baldwin

I thought that if a point was raised in debate the speaker following was entitled to reply to it. That remark was made in the debate, and I have just replied to it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The point has been fully replied to now.

Mr. Baldwin

I hope it has been effectively replied to. I will not take up the time of the House any longer. I shall watch this scheme very carefully. My hon. Friend must not mind if I criticise him at some future date if I find the scheme is all wrong.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Godber

I am sure that we are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who has very much lightened my task by the very adequate replies that he has made, in many respects, to the questions that have been put to me.

However, I shall try to fill one or two of the small gaps which are left. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), after his opening gambit, which I shall not bother to go into—it was good, clean knock-about stuff, and I do not complain about it—asked when he got down to the real question, the cost of the scheme to the taxpayer. He immediately followed that by saying that, of course, I could not answer it, so he will not expect me to do so; but in fact the estimated cost of the fatstock scheme over the year just ended was £74 million in the form of subsidy. There is no reason to believe that under this system it would be any higher than under the previous system.

Mr. Dye

We had a Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Godber

We had a Supplementary Estimate, but I think it is not very much greater for fatstock than the original Estimate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster dealt with some vigour with the question of rings. I would remind hon. Members opposite that when we first allowed fatstock through the markets again my right hon. Friend made it quite clear that the markets would be watched throughout the country and that if in any the price was artificially low—below the average over the country—there would be risk of their losing their licences and being unable to operate. That is a fairly strong safeguard to ensure that in any particular market there is no system of rings which would artificially control the price. We keep a watch on these things and, in addition, animals could go for dead weight through the F.M.C. I think that there are two useful safeguards there.

As to the subsidy going, as I think the hon. Member said, to the French buyer, we should be clear that the very large bulk of animals which have been exported to the Continent have, in fact, been old fat cows, which, of course, carry no subsidy whatever. Admittedly there have been a few cattle, but a very small proportion, which have carried a subsidy. In the main, they have been overweight cattle for which there is small demand in this country. The Exchequer has been helped by the fact that they have been taken off the market. Otherwise, they would have depressed the market more and made the total subsidy payment greater. Therefore, I do not think that there is anything wrong from the economic point of view, although, from the humanitarian point of view, we are looking into that question very carefully and a committee is considering it.

The hon. Member mentioned the new Bill which is coming along. He asked whether it would "mess about with fatstock marketing". I think those were his words. The new Bill will be available to hon. Members tomorrow morning. I cannot comment on it very much, but I do not think that the hon. Member need have any fears about it. Briefly, it will implement the White Paper of last November and there is nothing to harm the position. He should be well satisfied with it.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) asked a number of questions, most of which have been answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster. He said that a long-term policy is required for cattle and I could not agree more. It is a very long-term project if one is to fatten cattle. I should say that the new long-term guarantees that we have given will be of great assurance to cattle breeders. I hope very much that they will encourage breeders to go ahead with their plans.

The hon. Member also mentioned paragraph 9, dealing with quality premiums. That is there in case we should wish to introduce anything of this kind; it makes it possible for us to do so. I cannot say much more on it at the moment, but, clearly, it is done so that at some stage we could follow the point he raised about improving quality.

The hon. Member gave the House a number of details about King's Lynn and Norwich markets. I shall gladly look into those, but these cattle are, in many cases taken away and fattened on by other breeders.

Mr. Dye

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that, because it is not so.

Mr. Godber

I should have thought that it was true in some cases, but, as I have said, I will see whether there is any substance in it. We have been keeping a fairly careful check and my advice is that there is very little abuse.

Mr. Dye

Surely those which are rejected as being unsuitable should be marked as such. Will the Minister consider that?

Mr. Godber

Surely the farmer has the right to take them away again and improve them by fattening on in such a way that they can be offered again. No subsidy has been paid. That method will produce a better article for the consumer in the long run and I should have thought it was reasonable.

The hon. Member wishes to control Argentine imports, but I think we must get the question of Argentine imports in proper perspective. The imports from the Argentine are still substantially below what they were before the war. The consumption per head of beef in this country is only slightly above what it was before the war and it would be wrong to deny to the consumer an adequate supply of beef. We want to safeguard our home producers, but we must also think of the consumers, and in that respect it is important to keep these imports in proper perspective. While Argentine imports are only two-thirds of the pre-war figure, it is not reasonable to do what the hon. Member suggests.

The hon. Member also asked about expenditure on slaughterhouses. We hope in due course to introduce a Bill on slaughterhouses and we are anxious to go ahead with a scheme for the whole country. When the Bill is introduced, I think that the hon. Member should be satisfied on that point. We are very conscious of the need for improvement in slaughterhouse facilities all over the country and we will certainly do what we can in this respect.

In addition to answering points from the other side of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster raised one or two points of his own. He was anxious to see a tariff on imported beef. I think the same argument applies as that which I have used to the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, but it is a matter which we shall keep constantly under review, and, if need be, we can certainly look at the position again.

My hon. Friend wanted to introduce the same system as that used for the wheat deficiency payment. I think we must get this straight. In fact, that system would not be advantageous for fatstock. There are several reasons why it is not so good, and I will mention one or two of them very briefly. First, producers would have to wait until the end of the guarantee period for payment to be made, and for some of the smaller producers that would be a real burden. The actual rate of the guarantee payment would remain unknown until the end of the guarantee period, and uncertainty about the size of the payment might have a seriously disturbing effect upon the market, especially the market in store cattle.

Further, uncertainty about the rate of the guarantee payment would put at a disadvantage those organisations which trade on a grade and deadweight basis; it would be unfair for us to differentiate in any way in our payments against one particular method of sale. For these reasons and for others, too, I do not think that we can introduce the system for which he asked.

My hon. Friend also asked me about the weekly standard prices and wanted to know whether they would be available for the year ahead. The answer is that as soon as the new figures are published after the present price review is over, weekly figures will be published for the whole year ahead, but it must be remembered that we shall take the average of eight weeks for the purpose of arriving at the rate of guarantee payments. I think it will be fairly easy for producers to understand, and I do not envisage any real difficulty. I have tried to deal with the questions that have been asked and to which I hope I have been able to give adequate answers. I therefore ask the House to pass this Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) Order, 1957, dated 12th February, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th February, be approved.