HC Deb 07 July 1965 vol 715 cc1578-80
25. Mr. Harold Walker

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to control the export of subsidised British beef cattle.

31. Mr. Stodart

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many clean cattle were exported to the European mainland between 1st January and 31st March this year, and from 1st April to the latest available date; and what were the figures for the corresponding periods last year.

Mr. Peart

In the first quarter of this year just over 8,100 head of clean cattle were exported to the Continent compared with about 7,000 head over the same period last year. In April and May this year, the last month for which firm figures are available, a total of 26,500 head were exported compared with 12,500 head in the same two months of 1964.

But I estimate that there has been a downward trend in exports in June and I expect this to continue as more grass-fed cattle come forward on the Continent. I can assure the House, however, that the situation will continue to be kept under the closest review.

Mr. Walker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his figures contrast sharply with those issued recently by the National Federation of Meat Traders, which pointed out that last year 300,000 live cattle were exported to the Continent and estimated that this rate would be doubled this year? Is he aware that these are cattle produced with the assistance of subsidies paid by the British taxpayer and that there is great and growing concern about the increasing shortage of meat turning into a famine, as forecast by the National Federation of Meat Traders? Is he aware that in the first five months of this year there has been a 13 per cent. decline in home consumption of beef and veal? Will he give careful consideration to giving the British taxpayer a due return on his money?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend is right to stress this. It is an important matter. I have always said that I would carefully look at this and that if action was necessary I would act. I am not responsible for the figures mentioned by other people outside the House. As I have said, the figures which I have given were carefully checked. As for the future, I believe that there will be a decline. There is also another factor which should be borne in mind. Only clean cattle—normally the minority of exports—are eligible for the price guarantee and the majority of these cattle which are now being sent abroad have no guarantee attached to them. This is a difficult matter which we are carefully studying. It has to be borne in mind that if one interferes at one point one may disturb international trade.

Mr. Stodart

Can the right hon. Gentleman put the matter in perspective and tell us what percentage of all the clean cattle certified in the last few months had been exported? Is he aware that it would reassure the House to know whether any subsidy has been paid on those clean cattle?

Mr. Peart

As I have said, I do not now have all the figures but I will send them to the hon. Member. I have the month-by-month figures for clean and other cattle, but I do not have the percentage figures. I will send those to the hon. Gentleman. The figures I have confirm what I have said.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

How much of this increase can be attributed to export rebate and what effect, if any, has this had on the Northern Ireland meat trade?

Mr. Peart

None at all. The hon. Member must well know that there is a strong world demand for beef because of world factors which are known to everybody in the trade.

Mr. George Y. Mackie

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the export of quality cattle and sheep at high prices to the Continent should be of great value not only to the agricultural industry in Scotland but also to the taxpayer?

Mr. Peart

I accept that. This is one of the factors which we have to consider and I said this at the Royal Agricultural Show the other day. The emphasis there is on exports. We should like to export quality products to all parts of the world but we must balance home demand with demand elsewhere.

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