HC Deb 30 January 1958 vol 581 cc631-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £3,135,980, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958, by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for grants, grants in aid and expenses in connection with agricultural and food services; including land drainage and rehabilitation of land damaged by flood and tempest; purchase, development and management of land, including land settlement and provision of smallholdings; services in connection with livestock, and compensation for slaughter of diseased animals; provision and operation of machinery; training and supplementary labour schemes; control of pests; education, research and advisory services; marketing; agricultural credits; certain trading services; subscriptions to international organisations; and sundry other services including certain expenses in connection with civil defence.

9.33 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Hare)

We now come to Vote III, which covers a very wide range of agricultural and food services. The total additional supplementary on this item is £3.8 million, which is partly offset by savings on other subheads of nearly £700,000. I will not detain the House too long on this item, because we have had a very long, but, I think, useful debate.

However, there are one or two important items I wish to mention. The first is the additional £1.8 million to implement our guaranteed prices for Australian meat. This expenditure arises under the 15-year Australian meat agreement which was signed in 1951. I am sure that, whatever the cost this year may be, hon. Members opposite will not wish to criticise. They, after all, conceived and gave birth to the agreement even though we have had the cost of bringing it up. Things have changed a great deal since 1951, when meat was very scarce. Last year the fall in the price of frozen beef was more than we expected, and our payments to the Australians have been correspondingly higher.

The other big item is £1.3 million for compensation and other expenses under the Diseases of Animals Act. Foot-and-mouth disease is likely to cost an extra £825,000, and fowl pest an extra £715,000.

May I say a word about foot-and-mouth disease. Last year was certainly a bad year and we are at present still going through a bad phase, especially in the South of England, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire and West Sussex are all involved. Although it is impossible to prove the origin of the outbreaks, I do not think that there is very much doubt that the disease is being spread from the Continent. Birds and wind are, unfortunately, uncontrollable factors. All we can do is to maintain an attitude even more vigilant than usual in detecting the disease and, as soon as it appears, containing it and suppressing it with the least possible delay.

I feel that farmers have been extremely good in the rapidity with which they have reported outbreaks, a thing which, of course, is of the utmost help to the rest of the farming community. There has been a great deal of anxiety in the farming world about outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, and I am certainly not complacent about it. We are most anxious to do all we can to keep it down, whether it be introduced from the Continent or from South America. There is no easy solution. I believe, however, that all responsible people are convinced, that our present policy of compulsory slaughter is the right one in the interests of the farming industry.

Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

In view of what my right hon. Friend has said, that we all know the danger of foot-and-mouth disease, is it not very foolish to start importing Charollais bulls from France, a country which has a very bad record of foot-and-mouth disease?

Mr. Hare

No decision has been given on that; but I will remember what my hon. and gallant Friend has to say about that. Comparing what happens here with what happens to our neighbours in France, of course, the difference in number of outbreaks is quite dramatic. In 1957, we had 184 outbreaks, compared with 99,000 outbreaks in France. We can, I think, feel that we are on the right lines, anyhow, in coping with this type of disease.

Fowl pest continues to cause trouble in some areas. A combination of slaughter and movement restrictions in infected areas has, in most parts of the country, brought the disease under reasonably satisfactory control. There is no evidence of further introduction from abroad. The number of outbreaks has shown a significant fall since 1955, with the sole exception of Lancashire. We were hoping that Lancashire would respond to the same control measures which have proved effective in other parts of the country, but I am sorry to say that our hopes have not so far been realised. The problem there, I suppose, lies in the tremendously heavy concentration of poultry within a comparatively small area. As a result, the risks of local spread are far greater than they are elsewhere. The present arrangements are being reviewed from time to time, and we hope that they will lead to the eradication of the trouble. It is, at any rate, a comfort that, apart from Lancashire, a general improvement has been shown.

The other items in the Vote are rather smaller, but I should like to refer to the poultry progeny testing stations, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price). I believe that they will be of great value to the poultry industry, and just add the comment that they have now completed their first season's work. There may well be other points which hon. Members wish to raise, but I shall say no more at the moment.

9.39 p.m.

Mr. Willey

May I first of all, in an effort to ensure that the Committee will pay some attention to any further facts I advance, call attention to the fact that I have been able to obtain the Ministry of Labour Gazette, which confirms what I said earlier with regard to the Retail Price Index. The food index in December was—I take the words from the Gazette— about 3½ per cent. higher than in December, 1956". I thought, as I had not an opportunity to obtain the document before we had concluded our last debate, I should make the matter quite clear in order to ensure that attention would be paid to anything I may have to say in the debate on the present Vote.

Mr. Godber

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I am very sorry indeed if I threw doubt on his normal veracity, which, of course, we all know and respect, but I was quoting, and I apologise for it, from January to December of the same year, and I said "two points". I used the word "January", but I am afraid that we misunderstood one another.

Mr. Willey

I am much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. I thought it was worth while putting the matter right, because people who follow these debates might otherwise be confused.

I would no attribute any responsibility to the Minister for the unfortunate incidence of fowl pest and foot-and-mouth disease. We on this side of the Committee will support him in all measures he can take to deal with it. We were sorry to hear what he said about Lancashire. We greatly appreciate the work done at Pirbright, which is recognised not only throughout Britain but abroad. As we are not in the position of such a country as Ireland, which has eradicated foot-and-mouth disease, but are specially vulnerable because of meat imports, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will assure the Committee that Her Majesty's Government will take every possible step to encourage action which is being taken internationally by such bodies as the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the European Commission and the International Office for Epizootics, and will also consider the international convention which I believe was drafted by the French Government. This, of all countries, should continue to take the initiative in encouraging international co-operation.

I will say only a few words about meat inspection, to which I anticipate we shall be returning in Standing Committee on the Slaughterhouse Bill. We very much welcome the provision which has been made to cover partially the cost of inspection of meat which is exported outside the local auhority area. We might have liked this sum to be rather bigger, but we shall encourage the Government in all such actions as they take to improve the inspection of meat. I only remind the right hon. Genleman of this matter because we shall have the opportunity of debating it more fully in Standing Committee, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary permitting.

The really disturbing thing about meat inspection is the fact that the Interdepartmental Committee on Slaughterhouses, which reported in 1951, said that, in the conditions obtaining in a limited number of slaughterhouses, even the best slaughterhouses which were then under the control of the Minister were often too small, badly constructed and inadequately equipped. In such circumstances"— and I would remind the Joint Parliamentary Secretary always to keep this before him—the Committee said that it was impossible to secure the observance of reasonable standards of hygiene. But for the purpose of the present Supplementary Estimates, I content myself with saying that we welcome this provision and hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will take such other steps as are possible to the Government to encourage local authorities to provide for the inspection of all home-produced meat.

We have discussed cold stores on previous Supplementary Estimates. We on this side of the Committee very much object to this public property being sacrificed in the interests of private enterprise. With melancholy we look forward to each Supplementary Estimate, and we see that those managing the industry to prevent it from being competitive with private enterprise also manage to have some pretext for applying for public funds to enable them so to do. We regard the sterilisation of these cold stores as a sell-out to the trade, a sacrifice of Government property, and unfortunately, as the Supplementary Estimates each year show, a burden to the taxpayer.

I hope the Joint Parliamentary-Secretary will give some explanation of why the management company is having to ask for this amount of public money. One is never quite sure what the Government are up to, and so I shall ask him another question. Some of these stores have been converted for use as dry stores and have been used largely for the storage of strategic stocks. It is difficult to find any information about such stocks because the Government, very properly, are not very oncoming in revealing particulars of strategic stocks. Is it possible that this request for public money is because less use has been made of these stores and that we have less strategic stocks than we had at the beginning of the financial year? If it were true, that would be very disturbing. We can understand the purposes of the 7 per cent. restriction on capital investment, but I hope we are not running down our strategic stocks. Therefore, I look forward to the hon. Gentleman assuring us that this is not the case, and that the stores are being used to their utmost to provide storage for such stocks.

The fact that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) is here encourages me to call the attention of the Committee to the provision regarding the guaranteed price for Australian meat. Here again we have the classic example of a deficiency payment at work. This is a side payment. In effect, the Government tore up the fifteen-year agreement we had with the Australians and substituted for it the selling of meat on the free market, with a side payment if it did not meet the agreed figure. But what do we find? In 1955–56 the amount was £122,000. Remember this is taxpayers' money to support the price. In 1956–57 it was £1,800,000, but during that year we had a Supplementary Estimate bringing it up to £2,700,000. That is an increase of £900,000 in the Supplementary Estimate. What do we find this year? We start not with £2,700,000 but £3,000,000. The Government are now asking for £4,800,000, so this is arithmetical progression, and the usual disturbing illustration of the method of a deficiency payment at work.

Indeed, it is rather worse than this, and I want to call the attention of the Committee to another factor. It is worse for this interesting reason, that we only get this provision for Australian meat. We ended the agreement with the New Zealanders without any support being made. It is true that over the past year the supplies of Australian meat have increased, but it is equally true that the supplies of New Zealand meat have fallen. The net result is that we are getting about the same supplies from Australasia, but the same supplies—the price of which has been stable on Smithfield—are now costing the taxpayer, because this money comes out of public funds, £4,800,000.

Mr. Hill

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me for my edification how far the increasing deficiency payment stems from the fact that the home consumer is preferring home-killed beef, and that therefore the market price of imported beef is a good deal less than it was at the time when his Government completed the original block purchase arrangement with Australia?

Mr. Willey

As far as I know it is not due to that fact. I have already said it appears to me that the Australian price has been stable on Smithfield Market. There have been increased supplies of Australian meat, but the British housewife continues to get the same overall amount of Australasian meat.

This is an illustration of how the deficiency payment works. There is a lack of interest in the realisation price in the market, because it is known that it will be supported by a subvention from the Treasury. The price, of course, is also related to the Argentinian price. One has to compare Argentinian chilled against Australian frozen. My attention has been called to the position obtaining earlier and the moral to be drawn from that is that if we are to provide for a guaranteed market, the simplest thing to do is to have a simple, straightforward bulk purchasing contract.

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to have an open mind about this, because I know that he has had a particular interest in the Commonwealth. Bulk purchase is largely a Commonwealth matter. It is entirely a Commonwealth and Danish matter. I ask him not to be doctrinaire about it. We have torn up our bulk purchasing contract and this year that is costing the taxpayer £4,800,000. We cannot say that this is free trade as against a managed market, because we have this subvention from the Exchequer.

Let us look at it in the light of our experience. Surely it would be better for the Australians, and certainly better for the New Zealanders, who are going to other markets. The conclusion to be drawn from this experience—and I put it no higher than this, because the right hon. Gentleman is new in his office—is that the right hon. Gentleman should reconsider the matter and have talks with the Australians, with the New Zealanders and with his right hon. Friend who is now at the Treasury and who may now take a different view. Let us pay attention to our experience to see how it comes about that this provision has got larger and larger in each subsequent Estimate and to see whether we should not return to the straightforward long-term contract between ourselves and a fellow member of the Commonwealth.

9.53 p.m.

Mr. Whitelaw

I want to refer only very briefly to the extra money required to pay compensation to the owners of animals which have to be slaughtered in outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. I say at once that I accept absolutely the general policy which necessitates these payments. I am sure that we are right to accept sacrifices in order to keep the country free from foot-and-mouth disease. It is clear that we must continue the slaughtering policy until such time as an effective and economic vaccine can be produced.

Furthermore, I have nothing but praise for the way in which Ministry officials handled the very serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Penrith in my constituency and, in particular, the prompt payment of compensation was much to be commended.

All this does not detract in any way from the serious effect of these outbreaks. It is in the number of outbreaks that the cause for worry lies. My right hon. Friend, in some Parliamentary Answers recently, has given us a clear indication of the nature of the problem. In 1956, there were 32 primary outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, 17 originated from infection from the Argentine, 11 from Europe and 4 from what are described as "obscure sources." In 1957, there were 43 outbreaks, 23 from the Argentine, 17 from Europe and 3 from obscure sources.

Of course, I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is difficult to see how one can stop infection being brought by birds from the Continent, but we can clearly take steps about infection from the Argentine. In another Parliamentary Answer my right hon. Friend said that the present arrangements with the Argentine authorities substantially reduced the risk of infection and that he was hopeful of making further progress. This is reasonably satisfactory, but the horrid fact remains that the number of outbreaks originating from this source is still increasing.

I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will be tough in his discussions with the Argentine authorities about this. After all, we are very large consumers, as far as they are concerned. Surely, it would not be unreasonable to point out to them that the consumer is always right, and that we are simply not prepared to continue for ever importing foot-and-mouth disease along with their meat.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

I too wish to address a few words to the Minister on slaughter policy, but in connection with fowl pest, in which I have a very close constituency interest.

There are probably more eggs laid to the square mile in Sowerby in the West Riding of Yorkshire than anywhere else in the country, and there are well over a dozen well-known accredited hatcheries. Therefore, when it does break out, fowl pest is very serious in my constituency. The right hon. Gentleman referred to Lancashire as still being a source of some anxiety and disappointment. Happily, Sowerby is not in Lancashire, but very near to it, and I should add that it is free of the disease at the moment.

What I wish to ask the Minister is this. Slaughter is a grievously wasteful thing and can be positively heart-breaking to producers, more especially, perhaps, in the case of foot-and-mouth disease, where much more is at stake and the breeding policy of a lifetime may be destroyed under the producer's very eyes. It is much more grievous there than in connection with poultry. Yet, there is a breeding policy with poultry, and the producer has pride in his stock and in the results of his work.

The restriction of movement is not only highly inconvenient, but can be almost disastrous, when the line is drawn, as in one case within my knowledge, between the hatchery and the rearing farms. I can see that, while veterinary research has not yet found an answer, if one is to be found, then the suppression of outbreaks by this drastic method is perhaps inevitable. Certainly, we do not want either foot-and-mouth disease or fowl pest to spread and become endemic; we want to get rid of them.

Are our veterinary researchers showing any progress? That is the question I wish to ask. I know that the Minister has been dealing with this problem for a long time, and there is an element of controversy in the whole policy. I have heard much about vaccine treatments and so on, but they have not so far, apparently, given satisfaction to those who are carrying out research work and observing the results of these things in the laboratories. This matter is important to those who have any connection with this industry, and it is also important from the point of view of humanity.

To see animals and birds slaughtered by thousands and buried by bulldozers is bound to be depressing, as well as economically wasteful. We do not advocate a slaughter policy in connection with diseases of human beings. We pursue our researches with every endeavour and regardless of the cost to find the answer to the things which plague us.

May I therefore ask the Minister whether he has any encouraging news to give of researches into fowl pest, whether by the breeding of stock which may be immune from the disease, by vaccines or other preventives or any other method? I shall be glad of any news which he may have to give.

10.0 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel R. G. Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I shall not detain the Committee for very long, but I want my right hon. Friend to consider the question of foot-and-mouth disease of which, in Northern Ireland, there has been only one case in the last twenty-five years. It occurred in 1941. I am told that it was attributable to Argentine beef which had been imported into an American camp. Part of that meat had gone away in swill.

We have just the same winds which blow from the East bringing birds across the sea from Scotland to Northern Ireland. The distance between the two countries is very small—in parts it is less than the width of the English Channel—but no disease organisms have been blown over, and we are quite convinced that it is contaminated meat which brings the disease to England. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that point very seriously, because we have proved through time and experience that that is the most likely cause of the disease in England today.

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Dye

I do not wish to detain the Committee for very long, but I want to follow up the question of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease by asking when the Government are to get tough about this matter and say to those who import Argentinian beef, "You must guarantee that this meat is not infected with foot-and-mouth disease," or, if these people will not give a guarantee, make them pay a premium to cover the cost of compensation in outbreaks which are proved to be the result of imported Argentinian beef. Until we do that we shall do nothing to stop outbreaks due to this source. I do not understand why we cannot do it.

It is believed that other outbreaks are due to birds coming from the Continent. We are now having discussions with Western European countries about a Free Trade Area; why do not we have discussions with them with a view to the elimination of the disease in their countries as well as in our own? When will the Government become alerted on this question? They should be taking action, instead of the Minister saying, as he has said this evening, "I am afraid that we cannot do much about it." We must try to do something, and we can do it only with the co-operation of importers of Argentinian meat and representatives of Western European Governments.

I should also like to know why the item relating to Australian meat was included in the Supplementary Estimate relating to home-produced meat. This £4,800,000 is included in the total amount of subsidies to British farmers. Why should not that item be in the Commonwealth Vote? Why should every newspaper and journal describe it as a subsidy to British farmers when it is nothing to do with them, but is concerned with the Australian farmers?

I should like to be told something about the £95,000 Estimate in respect of the inspection of meat in certain areas. Although the Government said that they would do this two years ago they have done nothing at all about it. On page 15 of the Supplementary Estimate it is stated that: Her Majesty's Government have undertaken to make contributions to local authorities of 50 per cent. of the estimated net cost of inspecting meat which is slaughtered in their area and is not consumed there.

This is the first time we have heard about a 50 per cent. grant and, so far as I know, the first time that any local authority has known anything about it. I inquired of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about it but he was very cagey and said he did not know what the grant was. That was only two days ago and I raised the matter in relation to what is taking place at St. Faith's and Aylsham rural district. I pointed out that the cost of full inspection would be £10,000 a year and if, as in that case, four-fifths of the meat slaughtered in the area is sent outside and only one-fifth consumed in the area, even on this grant of 50 per cent. to deal with exported meat, it would mean a rate of 2d. or 3d. The people there are still concerned that they should be saddled with the cost of inspecting this large amount of meat which at present is not being examined.

Surely, if the Government decided this matter in March, 1956, it is time they did something about it. A decision taken and announced in the House on 29th March, 1956, is now to be implemented. Why the delay? I presume it is only because of the discussions which have taken place in the Standing Committee on the Slaughterhouse Bill. Surely we must be given a reason for this long delay. Surely this £95,000 is a back payment to 1956. There have been no arrangements with the local authorities either on the 50 per cent. grant or on any other percentage, and that seems to me to require an explanation.

10.8 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I wish to endorse what has been said by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) about coaxing our neighbours in Europe towards a policy of eradicating foot-and-mouth disease. I should also like to ask my right hon. Friend two questions. I raised with his predecessor by Parliamentary Question and by correspondence this matter of imported Argentine beef without bone, or alternatively, boning it as soon as it arrived and destroying the durable parts, the un-consumable remains such as bone and wrappings. The meat itself is subjected to sufficiently high temperatures when it is cooked to kill the virus or prevent further infection.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that research into this most difficult problem is receiving sufficient money and being carried on in sufficient volume, or would he prefer to see more spent, the present establishment extended and more experimentation? I should be grateful for answers to those questions.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Gooch

I am glad of the opportunity to say a word about the grant for the reconstruction of sea defences. The additional sum required is £49,000. I should like the Minister to know that many of us who have seen this defence problem appreciate the work done by the river boards which is in addition to work undertaken by various local authorities who receive grants under other legislation. We are continually losing little bits of old England when the sea defences break down.

I have an extensive amount of sea coast in my division and most of it needs protection. I very much appreciate the exceedingly good work done by the river boards in regard to sea defences, but I plead for a little more money to enable them to undertake still further important work. At present, the heavy burden is put on local authorities; it should be shared much more than it is. If river boards were allowed to extend their activities they could undertake much more coast defence work. Much has been done, but much more remains to be done.

Only this week I have had a meeting of the Erpingham Rural District Council in my division. It has sea defences at three places in its area, at Overstrand, Mundesley and Cley, delightful seaside places. The work costs the local ratepayers a rate of 11d. These three schemes alone show that the river board has done useful work. If the Minister can enable the river boards to do more, it will be appreciated not only by those whose land is fast disappearing but by local authorities for whom it becomes a heavy financial burden upon the ratepayers.

10.12 p.m.

Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)

I intervene on the subject of Argentine meat. I have always understood that foot-and-mouth disease germs remained in the marrow of the bones. When I was in Argentina I saw cattle suffering from foot-and-mouth disease and apparently on the point of death, but when I saw them about three months afterwards they seemed perfectly recovered. If such cattle go to slaughter afterwards I believe they still have the germs in their bones. Unless it is prohibited to send the bones of such cattle over here, I do not see how we can eradicate foot-and-mouth disease from Argentine meat. I wish the Minister would be kind enough to look into the question, which is a practical one of very great importance.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitlaw). I would take up what has been said about the slaughter of animals suffering from foot-and-mouth disease. I represent a part of the country which has suffered from the consequences of that foul disease. It has been suggested that it might be possible to coax Argentina by some form of premium in order to pay for any consequences arising from the disease. Although that might recompense the actual sufferers, yet there is much other suffering from the closing of markets and of some of the village shops. There is a wide area of distress from this foul disease.

I shall not talk about Argentina but would put a question to the Minister. Answering a question about birds carrying the disease, he referred to the widespread existence of this disease in Europe. I support what has already been said on the question of an international organisation. We should take note of the way in which locusts were controlled, simply and solely because it was a matter on which everybody was agreed. Locust control has been quite effectively done. Consequently, I see no reason why there could not be a similar approach to this very foul disease, which hurts all nations. Secondly, I ask the Minister if inquiries have been made to find what can be done about great flocks of starlings in relation to this problem.

I trust that in granting money under the Subhead P.9—Meat Inspection—a suggestion may go from the Minister to local authorities that the men appointed shall not stay for a great length of time in the same place but move from one place to another. After a man has been for a considerable time in one place certain difficulties may arise, or a lot of people may think a difficulty arises, which is not exactly the same as the difficulty arising.

With all matters concerning our farmers and the health of our countryside, the Minister is fully aware that any services that are practical and could effectively make the farmer able to produce at a cheaper price makes a lesser bill here. I suggest that he consult the Minister of Transport to urge him quickly to grant a certain amount of money to build the Tamar Bridge.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Godber

I do not think I can quite accept the last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) because I do not think it comes within the terms of this debate, but I will deal with some of the important points which have been raised.

I can summarise most of the interventions under one heading; that is, foot-and-mouth. That clearly has been the question in the minds of most hon. Members as all hon. Members are much concerned by the extent to which the disease has been active in recent months and we are very anxious to find some way of overcoming it. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) referred to the valuable work done by the International Committee on Epizootics in which, in fact, we took the initiative. I think we can say that in the work on foot-and-mouth we lead the world. That answers a point made by an hon. Friend. We have very much extended our research institute at Pirbright, a world-famed place for the treatment of foot-and-mouth disease. I had the pleasure of going there not long ago. I would warn hon. Members that if they go there they will have to strip off every item of clothing before entering the affected parts, but if they like to go I would be happy to make the necessary arrangements. The control is very strict, and it is right that it should be. A great deal of good work is being done there.

We have spent a lot of money in expanding the institute, and I think it is money well spent. We are investigating all the problems relating to foot-and-mouth, but a lot of work is related to vaccines, which we would not consider using in this country because we still believe—I am sure we are right—that the slaughter policy must continue. So long as the slaughter policy continues, and can be successful, it would be wrong to think in terms of any other policy. Many countries which have to use vaccines are envious of us that we can still maintain a slaughter policy. That puts on us a very severe responsibility to try to prevent infection arising from outside sources and that is why hon. Members are so concerned about South American meat imports.

In the South American Republics foot-and-mouth disease is endemic, and one has to pay very close attention to preventing any imports of diseased meat. We maintain in South America two resident veterinary surgeons who examine most carefully the herds as they come to the Frigorificos. They can inspect and reject whole consignments of meat; if they are not satisfied, those consignments are turned back. The Argentine authorities are co-operating with us very closely in this work and I am grateful to them for that. Hon. Members may he interested to know that one of my hon. Friends is at the moment in the Argentine examining for himself that we are doing all we can in this respect.

The other source of infection is mainly through birds from the Continent of Europe. That is a worry all the time. I should like to see whether we could help to make the Continent freer of this very unfortunate disease. The International Committee in Europe to which I referred is doing good work, and we will gladly help it in any way we can, because this is undoubtedly a large source of infection in the southern counties. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) referred to the fact that there had been only one outbreak in Northern Ireland, in 1941, but I would point out that that is probably because we stand as a buffer between Ireland and the Continent and the birds which carry infection from the Continent probably carry it to England rather than to Ireland.

Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor

The principal fact is that Northern Ireland has not imported any Argentine meat since that date. The only meat which has been brought into the country has been from countries which are free from foot-and-mouth disease.

Mr. Godber

I accept that that is one reason but I was pointing out that that was not the only source and that outbreaks may arise from the other source. I am not saying that some infection does not come from South American meat—undoubtedly it must—but we are seeking as far as we can to prevent it and we are keeping very close watch on the situation. We are naturally concerned about this matter, as are hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and we shall certainly do all we possibly can to try to prevent the infection from getting worse. If we can find any way of limiting it more by further restrictions, we shall gladly accept them.

An hon. Member suggested that we should not import any bone or that the bones should be destroyed. This was considered during the war, not from this point of view but with the object of saving shipping space, but it was found that the housewives of this country took a very poor view of meat without bones. It had been boned at the time of despatch, before it was frozen, but it was not popular and the housewives did not seem anxious to buy it.

I want to deal briefly with one or two other points which have been made. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) raised the question of fowl pest. He is very concerned about it, as I can well understand, because there has been great difficulty in the area from which he comes, as my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks. We are very sorry that we have not been able to stamp it out, but it is very difficult indeed. Over the remainder of the country, generally, we have been able to reduce it very considerably in the last two years, although we have not been able to eradicate it. We are carrying on intensive research all the time, but I have no encouraging information to give the hon. Member at the moment. I am sorry; I wish I had.

One or two hon. Members raised the question of meat inspection, which we have been discussing elsewhere; it was pleasant to come back to it once more. Hon. Members who have been on the Standing Committee on the Slaughterhouses Bill know how thoroughly we are discussing this matter. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said he would like to encourage the Government. I assure him that the greatest encouragement he could give us would be to help us as speedily as possible to get on to the Statute Book that very valuable Bill. It will help in the inspection of meat. I am sure that he will do his best in that regard.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) raised a point that I must clear up. He said that it was very strange that it should have suddenly emerged, and that I said, when challenged in the Committee on the Slaughterhouses Bill, that I knew nothing about it. What I said was that I could not give him anything in relation to his own authority; of course I knew about the inspection of meat. We have a new Clause dealing with that very point in the Bill that I have just mentioned—

Mr. Dye

It has just come out.

Mr. Godber

It was certainly not put down as a result of the hon. Member's intervention.

Mr. Dye

It was not in the Bill.

Mr. Godber

But the House of Commons was told that we were taking action on this.

Mr. Dye

Two years ago.

Mr. Godber

Yes, but the payments have been made. That is the point, the payments have been made for that particular year, and, in fact, that local authority, like all others, was notified by circular at the time and should have received its proper proportion, in relation to the export of meat, for the 1956–57 year, which comes out of this figure of £95,000.

Mr. Dye

They have not all received it.

Mr. Godber

I should be glad to have details. Naturally, I cannot go further than that now, but they should have received the payments, and I should be grateful to the hon. Member if he would let me know further about it.

The subject of cold stores was brought up. This is really an accounting change and not, as some hon. Members may have feared, a loss. Previously, we have received from the operating company a figure for rent, less cost of repairs, etc. There is now a change. The rent will not appear here, but a credit, as Exchequer extra receipts, of £190,000 will come in to offset the £100,000 for maintenance so that there is a net gain of £90,000. There will be a trading profit, probably of about £400,000, in addition, from the operation of those stores. As I say, this is an accounting change and not net expenditure. It is quite a good deal, and I should like to pay tribute to the company, which is operating very efficiently on behalf of the Government; we are getting considerable income from it.

The only other point of note that was raised related to Australian meat, and one or two hon. Members referred to this. This, of course, is a hangover from the days when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power. They instituted this 15-year agreement on Australian meat. We have had to adapt it to the changing circumstances, but we are honouring it in this way rather than in the bulk purchase way in which it was initiated.

I gather that hon. Members opposite feel that it would have been better had it been continued on bulk purchase, but I think that the cost of doing it in that form would have been considerably higher now had we continued with it. I think that there is no doubt that this is the most efficient way, being saddled with this particular burden—which, of course, we must accept. It is one of the things left over by hon. Members opposite, and I am rather surprised that they called attention to it.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, I think, said that it was included in British agricultural subsidies. As far as we are concerned it appears in our Vote. This is for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. We do not state that it is in any way a British agricultural subsidy. We put it under Other Commodity Arrangements. If other people so interpret it, I am sorry, but I am grateful to the hon. Member for calling attention to the fact, so that it may be known that the payment is for that purpose.

I have tried to deal, as far as I can, with all the points that have been raised, and I hope that the Committee will now see fit to pass this additional sum.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £3,135,980, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958, by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for grants, grants in aid and expenses in connection with agricultural and food services; including land drainage and rehabilitation of land damaged by flood and tempest; purchase, development and management of land, including land settlement and provision of smallholdings; services in connection with livestock, and compensation for slaughter of diseased animals; provision and operation of machinery; training and supplementary labour schemes; control of pests; education, research and advisory services; marketing; agricultural credits; certain trading services; subscriptions to international organisations; and sundry other services including certain expenses in connection with civil defence.