HC Deb 23 April 1968 vol 763 cc184-90

10.48 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)

I beg to move, That the Fatstock (Protection of Guarantees) (Amendment) Order 1968, dated 12th March 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th March, be approved. I hope the House will also agree to take with this Motion the second Motion: That the Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) (Amendment) Order 1968, dated 13th March 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th March, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

If the hon. Gentleman has the leave of the House.

Mr. Hoy

These Orders make minor amendments to the Fatstock (Protection of Guarantees) Order, 1958, as amended in 1960, which makes provision for protecting payments on fat cattle, sheep and pigs, and the Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) Order, 1964, which makes provision for these guarantee payments. The amendments make some changes of detail, mainly in provisions relating to certificaton procedures, and also provide powers for the delegation of certain functions to the Meat and Livestock Commission in due course.

The main changes of detail are these. Where animals are presented live for guarantee on the basis that a private sale has taken place, we have removed the responsibility placed on certifying officers for satisfying themselves about this and propose to rely instead on a declaration by the producer. Where stock are presented dead, a carcase not already sold could previously be sold only through the producer's own butchery business. The amendment enables it to be sold in any butchery business. This gives more flexibility in the arrangements. Similarly, provision is made for the certification of carcases supplied to places like hospitals from farms in the same ownership.

We are also deleting the power to make the quality premium payments on fat pigs, which is no longer in use. Under the Protection Order, powers are being taken to provide for the removal or mutilation of the ears of approved car-cases, if the Minister so requires. The purpose is to provide a safeguard, additional to the prescribed marks, against presentation for a second time.

These Orders also provide for the delegation of certain functions to the Meat and Livestock Commission. This is in accordance with the policy announced in the White Paper of August 1965, and the discussions in proceedings on the Bill which became the Agriculture Act, 1967. The functions to be delegated are those connected with certification for the guarantee in Great Britain. Ministers will remain responsible for the policy, including the level of the guaranteed prices and for payments. The main reason for delegation is that, in order to carry out carcase classification, one of its main tasks, the Commission will need to have technical staffs doing some work broadly similar to that done by the fatstock services. We do not want to have the services overlapping.

The functions will be transferred to that Commission when it has worked out its program me and is ready to undertake them. The date is not yet certain, but we wanted the necessary powers available in good time and that is why they are in these Orders. These are the changes of details, and I commend these Orders to the House.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

I want to refer first to that part of The Fatstock (Protection of Guarantees) Order which concerns the removal of ears or the mutilation of them. This is a subject very near to my heart, because when I was in the hon. Gentleman's position there was a case in my former constituency in which irregularities of this type came to light. This was in North Cornwall some years ago. I would imagine that following on that kind of case it has been found necessary, quite rightly, to bring this measure in, so that there is no question of sewing the ear back on again.

We want to be quite certain that the people who are doing this know what they are doing and that, after removal, the ears will be completely disposed of. This is one of the points upon which I would have liked clarity by adding the words "and destroyed" after "removed", but this is perhaps raised too late. Ears were used in the case that I have in mind.

Sub-paragraph (b) of Article 2 requires a record to be kept of the movement of animals and is an extremely welcome minor amendment.

On the broader issue, the transfer of powers in both these Orders at some future date to the Livestock Commission is something about which I am not too sure. One does not want duplication of services and two sets of officers doing virtually the same work. As I understand it, the Commission's officers will be involved mainly in classification and the working out of the types and kinds of meat and so on. They will be working closely with the farmers and all sections of the trade. This is very different to the work being carried out under the existing Fatstock Guarantee Order. It is the job of the officers here to make quite certain that the animals certified, beef, cattle, pigs, sheep, lamb, are properly certified, and that there is no question of public funds going amiss.

I do not believe that it will be proper to combine these two functions in one fatstock officer. There could easily be a conflict between these things. When public funds are being distributed the greatest care must be taken to see that there is no question of this type of impropriety arising in the future.

I now come briefly to the other Order. I am not quite clear why the Minister is doing this. I quite understand the deletion of Section 14 of the original Order, by which we say goodbye to the quality premium. Rightly or wrongly, it has been decided that it is superfluous. But in relation to Article 15(3) of the original 1964 Order, for which I was responsible, I do not understand why the Minister says that it will be enough just for the producer to sign a declaration. Why is it not necessary for the appropriate officer to be satisfied, as in the case of the original wording, that the meat is being sold by private treaty?

I do not think that the farmer today is more or less honest than he was in 1964. This has not been a particularly tedious provision; indeed it is right to safeguard public funds. I am all for giving as much credit as possible to the honesty of the farmer, who is inherently an honest person, but mistakes can occur and these matters must be safeguarded. Why has the Minister changed the arrangement and agreed to accept the producer's declaration without any inspection or cross-checking? This is a mistake on the part of the Minister.

I am sure it is right that the Minister should make the system more flexible and easier to operate, but I was not clear how he was able to work in his illusion to the pig coming from the farm belonging to the hospital and being sold to the hospital and therefore qualifying by the words of the new paragraph (4) of article 15, in sub-paragraph (c). As I understood it, this was already acceptable, if the officer certified it as such. I expect that the hon. Gentleman will correct me and say that that is not so, but if so, it is correct to make it possible for this to happen and for the certification to take place.

These are minor matters, but there are some points of substance. I do not agree to the transfer of these powers to the Livestock Commission, with the same officer doing the two things. Apart from that, the minor amendments brought forward are right and proper—except for the point about an ordinary producer being able to sign the declaration.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)

Whatever our views about these Orders, as far as I can discover the 1964 Order received complete approval from both sides of the House. Even the ingenuity of the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), who is now Leader of the House, was not sufficient for him to find anything to bring before the House on the occasion when the 1964 Order was introduced. It so happens that at that time my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) was at the Ministry, and perhaps it is not unreasonable to bring to the attention of the House the fact that the Order received such widespread approval.

There are one or two things that I want to ask the hon. Member. Order No. 398, made on 13th March, in paragraph 2(a) provides for the removal of quality premiums. Those were removed by the 1967 Price Review, and it seems a long time before any action has been taken by the Ministry. I wondered whether this was the first occasion when the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to bring this matter before the House.

Concerning the question of the "proper officer" in paragraph 2(b), my experience is slightly different from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, because I have understood that there have been difficulties concerning animals which have been sold, for example, through wholesale butchers. In those circumstances, the "proper officer" sometimes had difficulty in being able to certify. The present proposal is the usual procedure for a live weight treaty sale. Possibly, therefore, there is a good deal to be said for the new arrangements.

On paragraph 2(c) concerning hospital farms and arrangements of that nature, I have known of two examples of hospital farms in which there have been difficulties in this matter. My feeling, therefore, is that this is a provision which could be welcomed.

In paragraph 2(a) of the Protection of Guarantees Order, the provision is that the amendment will be made by adding and in addition, if the appropriate Minister so requires the ear or ears of any approved carcase shall be removed or mutilated". Paragraph 2(d) states, however, by deleting from paragraph 4(b) of the Schedule thereto the words 'and in addition the ear or ears of the carcase to be removed or mutilated'. Paragraph 4(b) of the Schedule relates to approvals in Scotland. The Minister will, doubtless, be well able to explain why, in Scotland, we appear to be deleting the requirement about ears whereas we now find that it is necessary to introduce it in England. That does not seem to me to be logical.

On these occasions, we always find that the Interpretation Act, 1889, is included. I am sure that the Minister is very familiar with that Act and has been looking at it again today. Perhaps, therefore, he will be able to explain exactly what part of the 1889 Act has any relevance to the Order. I took the opportunity of looking at that Act and certainly, at a casual glance today, I was unable to find any immediate answer to that question. Subject to these observations, I commend the Orders to the House.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Hoy

To deal first with the removal and mutilation of ears, I remember very well the case in the constituency of the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine). There was a little bit of hanky-panky about it, if I may put it that way. On the whole, however, farmers are a very honest race of people and I would be surprised that this should be raised again. When we want the ears removed, we really want them taken away and destroyed or mutilated. That is what we mean by mutilation. If the hon. Member suggests that we should put in another line to say "and taken away", I see no good reason for ears to be kept once they have been removed.

In reply to his Scottish query, the hon. Member may be surprised to know that this is the practice in Scotland and it will so continue. In making the Order covering the whole country we have made the power permissive, but the present practice in Scotland will continue. This is what the Scots do. Perhaps I may say in the presence of the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) that we are bringing England and Wales into line with Scotland.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Rye gave his approval to the Orders. During the passage of the Act, we discussed upstairs the question of certification by the Livestock Commission. It was discussed extensively. It was only as a result of the discussions upstairs that this provision became incorporated in the Act, and we had to introduce the Order to make it effective. We are doing no more than that.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) said that we are now saying goodbye to quality premiums and the hon. Member for Rye asked why we had taken so long to do it. The decision was made by our predecessors. It was phased over a three-year period which did not end until 1967, so that the provision is being taken now. Having done this job, we now introduce the Order to put the whole matter right. I am glad that the hon. Member for Rye liked the bit about hospitals. There was a snag, as the hon. Gentleman perfectly well knows, which we are putting right, because they ought to have the advantage in the same way as other people. I am grateful that the House has given approval.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Fatstock (Protection of Guarantees) (Amendment) Order 1968, dated 12th March, 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th March, be approved.—[Mr. Hoy.]

Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) (Amendment) Order 1968, dated 13th March, 1968 [copy laid before the House, 26th March], approved.—[Mr. Hoy.]

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