HC Deb 07 December 1970 vol 808 cc132-4

7.59 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Prior)

I begin by apologising to the House for having a bad cold.

I beg to move, That the Meat and Livestock Commission Levy (Variation) Scheme (Confirmation) Order, 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th November, be approved. This particular Order is very much a technicality, and is very narrow in scope. As the House will know, the Meat and Livestock Commission is financed mainly by the proceeds of a levy on the meat and livestock industry, in accordance with Section 13 of the Agriculture Act, 1967.

Subsection (5) of that Section requires that no charges under a levy scheme shall be made in respect of livestock slaughtered under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950.

Earlier this year, Parliament passed the Agriculture Act, 1970, Section 106(6) of which provided that the exemption from the Commission's levy must be extended to include animals slaughtered in accordance with any scheme, made under Section 106, for the eradication of brucellosis in cattle.

All that this Order seeks to do is to confirm the Scheme which formally makes this exemption.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. William Edwards (Merioneth)

I have been silent on agricultural matters for some time. I should hate to see my debut on the Opposition Front Bench marked by the House being thrown into darkness.

We welcome the amendment which the Order introduces, first because of its merits. Everything that can be done to assist in the eradication of brucellosis should be done; and to the extent that the Order facilitates eradication we welcome it.

We welcome the Order also because, if the provision as to the levy had remained, it might have been taken by the opponents of the Meat and Livestock Commission as one of the irritations which would have justified them in launching yet another attack upon the Commission's existence.

We welcome the Order also because we believe that it is an indication that the Commission has a worth-while task to perform. The Government would not have taken up the time of the House and of the Ministry in the sophisticated variation brought about by the Order if they had not recognised that there was a worthwhile purpose in the Commission's existence.

Perhaps the Minister, who has declared that the policy of the housewive should be one of commercial walk-about, will support the Commission's purpose in trying to standardise the housewife in what she should be buying from the butcher.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

I welcome the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) in his first appearance on the Opposition Front Bench.

The hon. Gentleman was right in saying that the Commission has a worthwhile role to play which will be of use to the industry.

My right hon. Friend the Minister said that the Order is in pursuance of Section 106 of the 1970 Act under which a scheme can be introduced. Only a voluntary scheme has been introduced so far; that was done in July by my right hon. Friend. I do not believe that that qualifies under the provisions of Section 106 of the 1970 Act.

Whether it does or does not, what happens to those who have slaughtered their animals or had them slaughtered between that date in July and now? As I understood it, the Order exempts owners of livestock suffering from brucellosis from paying the 6d. or 1s. per calf. What about those who paid between July and now. Is there any possibility that they can get compensation from the Commission for moneys already paid?

Finally, if I understand aright, paragraph 2 of the Order provides that the Scheme will come into effect as soon as the Order becomes law, which I suppose will be next week.

Mr. Prior

With the permission of the House I will reply briefly to the points which have been raised.

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) on his first appearance on the Opposition Front Bench as spokesman on agriculture, a subject of which I know that he has great knowledge. We shall welcome his contributions to future debates.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support on this small Order. We all welcome any steps which will help to make the eradication of brucellosis easier. The hon. Gentleman cast a fly across me on the subject of the M.L.C.'s future. The Order, as I have been at pains to point out, is a very restricted one. Were I to reply to that point I should be strictly out of order. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to a recent question by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), stated the Government's position.

I will have a look at the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) and write to him about it. My impression now is that the purpose of the Order is to confirm a practice which is already in existence and that up to now no payment on a reactor has been requested. My hon. Friend can take it that no farmer has suffered up to now and that the Order merely puts into proper form a practice which has been going on.

With that short intervention, I hope that the House will agree to the Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Meat and Livestock Commission Levy (Variation) Scheme (Confirmation) Order, 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th November, be approved.