§ 10.14 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)
I beg to move,That the Beef Premiums (Protection of Payments) Order 1975, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th March, be approved.The purpose of the order is to supplement existing statutory powers to enable the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce to ensure that the necessary conditions are observed when beef animals and carcases are certified for premium payments in accordance with Community arrangements.
As the House will know, my right hon. Friend has always taken the view that a system of direct payments to producers was eminently preferable to permanent intervention as the main means of supporting the beef market. A significant development took place in August last year, when the Council of Ministers adopted our proposal and introduced on a temporary basis a system of headage payments on clean cattle at the time of slaughter. A further important step was taken in November, when the Community agreed that the United Kingdom could supplement the headage payments by paying an additional variable premium when necessary to provide producers with an assured minimum return. This again was a temporary arrangement, but this combination of schemes provided very valuable help to our producers over the months when the beef market everywhere was severely depressed.
Also following an initiative by the United Kingdom, the Council of Ministers took another important decision last year, in agreeing to review the way in which the Community beef régime should operate from the beginning of the 1975–76 marketing year. There can be no doubt that the experience of working the temporary premium arrangements in this country provided valuable support for my right hon. Friend's case that the new régime should incorporate similar direct payments to beef producers as a permanent feature. As the House will know, such arrangements were accepted 172 by the Council of Ministers and now form an integral part of the EEC beef support system. As a result, we and other member States are now paying a headage premium on all qualified cattle going for slaughter and have the option of paying an additional variable premium when necessary—an option we have adopted.
In essence these arrangements are very similar to the fatstock guarantee system which we in this country operated very successfully for many years until 1973. Indeed, the new arrangements are framed in such a way that we are able to operate virtually the same procedures, and to base the scheme on broadly the same certification standards, as under the Fatstock Guarantee Scheme. It was very fortunate that the administrative machinery of that scheme was still available and able to be adapted at very short notice when the beef premium arrangements were brought in last August.
Since these premiums are now established as a permanent part of the Community support system, it is essential to provide the Intervention Board, which is responsible for operating them throughout the United Kingdom, with statutory means of control such as we had under the Fat-stock Guarantee Scheme. To an extent these are already provided in existing legislation. The order now before the House provides the remaining controls which the board needs to have in order to ensure the proper protection of the public expenditure on beef premiums.
Under the order the Intervention Board is given full powers to require the marking of any animal or carcase that is certified for payment of premium, in order to ensure that it may not be resubmitted. It is also a statutory requirement of the order that necessary records should be kept and produced when required. The order also provides the power to obtain evidence of suspected offences. In this connection, the House will note that, while Article 11(1)(b) gives to an authorised officer the right to take possession of records, the order does not itself provide a right of entry on premises for the purpose. This is because adequate rights of entry are considered to exist already by virtue of Article 4 of the Common Agricultural Policy (Agricultural Produce) 173 (Protection of Community Arrangements) (No. 2) Order 1973.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Could the Minister of State explain whether, between August last and March when the order came into force, these safeguards have not been being applied or whether they have been being applied without any legal force?
§ Mr. Bishop
I think that I made the point that the rights of entry to which I referred are considered to exist already by virtue of previous legislation. I will deal with the right hon. Gentleman's question later on in the debate if I may.
In conclusion, I will draw the attention of the House to the main difference between the new premium scheme and the fatstock guarantee arrangements—
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would the Minister kindly gabble a little less and take this matter a little more slowly, so that those of us who are concerned about the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds can weigh these matters and come to the correct decision?
§ Mr. Bishop
I will take note of my hon. Friend's comment. I was anxious that those who wished to take part in this debate in the limited time available should have the opportunity to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what had been done to protect payments from August last until now. Since 5th August 1974 the provisions of the Beef Premium Scheme have been enforced under the Common Agricultural Policy (Agricultural Produce) (Protection of Community Arrangements) (No. 2) Order 1973, Statutory Instrument 1973/288, and the Theft Act. Previous experience in operating the Fatstock Guarantee Scheme has revealed the need for more specific legislation, such as the power to take possession of any records or to mark ears. The marking provisions of the order add statutory backing to the administrative arrangement that the Intervention Board has been operating since the start of the scheme.
In conclusion, I would draw the attention of the House to the main difference between the new premium scheme and the fatstock guarantee arrangements, 174 which is in the requirement that a certified animal must be slaughtered within a specified period. It is an essential basis of the Community rules governing the premiums that payment depends on slaughter, but to accommodate our own livestock marketing system the regulations provide a period of grace before slaughter need take place. That period has since August been set at 15 days, but under new Community regulations to come into effect next month we shall have some flexibility which will enable us to extend the period up a maximum of 28 days should circumstances make this necessary. The order makes the necessary provision for such variations in the period.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)
It is often said that life is full of ironies. In reviewing both the contents of the order and the background to its being discussed tonight anybody, whether a producer of beef or a consumer with any practical knowledge of farming, could be forgiven if he reached the conclusion that he could well do without the interference and so-called assistance of politicians.
We have completed a cycle. The Minister of State went briefly through the history of the past 12 months. My only comment from this side is to express the view that it has indeed been a pitiful saga characterised by a complete indifference to the real problems that have confronted livestock producers, and at the same time prejudicing as a consequence the future supplies of home-produced beef.
It is true that the order contains the mechanism by which producers of beef can expect some stability in the market over the next 12 months. Sadly, however, the cost to the nation, not only in financial terms, both in the context of loss to the producer and the higher price and also in the context of the loss of confidence that the agricultural community will have in politicians and government in particular, is significant.
There are a number of specific matters that we on this side wish to raise with the Minister tonight. The first concerns the period for which the provisions outlined in the order are valid and the intended time scale for which the present system of support for producers of beef will operate. The Minister will appreciate 175 that the duration of these two periods will not necessarily be identical. The House was told on an earlier occasion that the present system of support, involving a target price fortified by the combination of headage payments and variable premiums if the market is not at the required level, will last for a period of 12 months. We wish to point out to the Minister that this period is inadequate. After all, it takes some three years from conception to produce a finished beef animal. I find it somewhat ironic for the Government to be restricting this scheme to a period of 12 months at a time when the Government themselves have just published a White Paper entitled "Food from our own Resources" which looks to the future in terms of a five-year period.
I hope that the Minister will respond to this aspect when he replies, because he should know that if he really wishes the farming industry to respond in a positive manner to his White Paper he must provide the resources to give it the incentive. The Minister has an opportunity tonight—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. In order to assist the hon. Gentleman and others who may follow him, may I point out that this is a very narrow order and that the question of the appropriate level of the beef premium is not one of the subjects which they are able to discuss.
§ Mr. Hicks
The second request, which I think will receive your support, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in that I shall not be ruled out of order, refers to the publication of the prices inherent in this order. At present this is done on a three-month basis. In the interests of forward planning, some advance guidance covering a longer period would be helpful.
May I now ask a question on the subject of providing to the farming community detailed information arising from the contents of this order? This is a very complicated scheme. The structure of payments is not readily understood by those who have to deal with them. Indeed, over the past weekend in my own constituency two people on two separate occasions raised this very point with me, 176 and it would be helpful to all concerned in the industry who have to implement this scheme if the Intervention Board could prepare some form of explanatory leaflet to help the farmers and auctioneers.
Finally, may I ask the Minister to explain in a little more detail how the provisions in this order vary, in a technical sense, from those in the former Fatstock Guarantee Scheme. What changes have there been, and on what justification have they been made? What provision will be made by the Government to inform the industry of these changes?
We have experienced in this industry a very unsatisfactory past 15 months. We on this side of the House welcome the introduction of a system designed to give a measure of stability to the market. We would point out to the Government, however, that a 12-month period is not really adequate. They should be thinking of a longer period, and I hope that some idea of this will be forthcoming when the Minister replies to the debate.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
I direct attention first to Article 2, where we have the definition of "premium payment" Will such sums be payable directly by Her Majesty's Government, by the Community, or by some interwoven transfer payments going to and from Brussels like a shuttle in a loom?
Second, under the provision that 28 days are now to be permitted between certification and slaughter, is any control envisaged over the export of such certificated animals to EEC countries, or otherwise? Are we to have a certificate which allows for payment without any control over the export of the beast in the period between the granting of the certification and the slaughter?
Third, what proportion of the headage payment envisaged as being controlled by the order is directly attributable to a Vote passed by this House with full autonomy, and what part is attributable to a duty laid upon the House to transfer funds to an authority elsewhere? Similarly, with regard to the variable premium, at what point does the House control the Vote on Account which can be authenticated by the protection of payments which we are concerned with in this order?
177 I find it difficult to follow the history of the past year given by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks). I do not differ from him in the view that the räle of outside bodies in the ruination of the British beef industry over the past 12 months has not been significant, but this House and the Government have throughout been in the gravest difficulty in finding a way of making an alien organisation and an alien system work in the conditions which prevail in Great Britain and, I think, especially in Northern Ireland, where the moving of store beasts or nearly finished animals across a land border makes many of the provisions of the order approach farce. Is it not possible for farmers in the Irish Republic to move animals on the verge of slaughter across the border and perchance—my hon. Friend will be able to tell us whether this is true—gain a significant pecuniary advantage thereby?
I am disturbed that the order seems to purport to introduce—if I understand the explanatory memorandum aright—a permanent arrangement, when I am led to believe that such is the organisation of the European Community that a man would be a clot to believe that any arrangement can last for more than 12 months. Is this arrangement for 12 months or three years? How long does it last, and what procedures are available to the House to amend by subsequent orders what is contained herein?
With the greatest deference to my hon. Friend the Minister, it seems to be an order conceived in transgression, and I fear that it will come to an ill-begotten end.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
My hon. Friends and I welcome the order. As a practical farmer—here I declare my interest—I see the scheme as necessary to end the uncertainty in agriculture, and in the beef sector in particular. I compliment the Minister and his colleagues on their achievements in Brussels. Indeed, I go further and say that, in my view, nearly all beef producers welcome the new system of guaranteed prices for live fat animals.
I hope that, when the present experimental year comes to an end, the Minister will be able to persuade his fellow Ministers to adopt the British beef sup- 178 port system instead of their rigid intervention system, which, I believe, is not acceptable to the majority of farmers. To me it proves once again that British membership of the EEC will benefit all concerned and that over a period we can help others in the Community to change the common agricultural policy to a policy that will assist farmers and producers alike.
The present scheme will bring certain benefits. There will be greater price stability and, in the long term, security of supply for the British housewife. There will be stability and support for beef producers on low marginal and hill land in Britain on whom we rely for our everyday supplies.
There are at present over 950,000 hill cows in the United Kingdom. They produce one fifth of all calves used for beef production at an estimated value of about £120 million in finished cattle. The sole output from these farms is weaned suckled calves for finishing on more favourable farms. With the 1974 crisis in the livestock sector, the collapse in confidence amongst farmers, a poor hay harvest, and a shortage of fodder and capital, the price of suckled calves dropped to a very low ebb and margins fell by nearly 40 per cent. compared with the autumn of 1973.
The order should go a long way to helping the milk and dairy sector. As always, it has its financial troubles. We have vivid memories or calves being sold in 1974 for 8p and 10p each. It must not happen again, and I hope that the Milk Marketing Board, as a producers' organisation, will urge on the Government the need to bring stability and confidence back to this sector of the industry.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
I understand the hon. Member to be saying that he welcomes the result of the negotiations from the point of view of the people he represents. Some of us are far more concerned about the parliamentary situation. Is he aware that we are talking about an order which was made on 11th March, placed before Parliament on 19th March and put into operation on 20th March? There is an explanatory note dated 10th April, but people who appeared before the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have not yet had a chance to correct the transcript of their 179 evidence. What is the point of Parliament dealing with these instruments in such circumstances?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Perhaps the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) will deal with the order and leave the other problem. Our debate concerns this specific order.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point I raised concerned this particular instrument. I was referring to this instrument and to no other.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Lead-bitter) does not feel offended at anything I said.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am merely trying to keep the hon. Member for Cardigan on the straight and narrow path.
§ Mr. Howells
I hope that I have not said anything to offend the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) either, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must stress, however, that I am in favour of what the Minister has achieved in Brussels for the farming community.
The dairy sector of the industry works long and unsocial hours and it deserves an adequate reward. I hope that producers' hard toil and expensively borrowed capital will earn them a satisfactory return compared to other industries.
Does the Minister honestly believe that the present scheme will be allowed to operate once the transitional period is over? If not, will he give an assurance that British farmers in the livestock sector will not be allowed to be at the mercy of a free market, with no guaranteed price system operating, such as we experienced last year?
If the Minister can give us that assurance tonight, farmers will expand and increase production from the land of Britain by producing the beef that is required by the consumers of this country, who regard our home-produced beef as the best in the world. The reason for my asking the Minister for an assurance tonight is that I read in the Farmers Weekly of 29th April that Mr. 180 Lardinois had put a limit on mixed beef aid. The report said:The Common Market's present mixture of beef support systems will not be allowed to run beyond the present experimental year, says Mr. Petrus Lardinois.He said: 'The differences in policy—the British variable premium scheme, the French cow subsidy, the Italian calf subsidy—represent a threat to the market. They were a calculated risk'.'Perhaps', he added, 'we are growing towards a support policy that is common and has something of all the systems in it.This experience in Britain can teach us something. We can learn from it'.I hope that the Minister will agree with those sentiments expressed by Mr. Lardinois, and I look forward to his reply.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I want to call the attention of the House to three defects in the order, but in doing so I am not in any way attacking the merits of the order. Indeed, just the opposite! I want to ensure that the order will be effective and not be an invitation to litigation. I think that in at least these three respects it is ambiguous.
I want first to refer to the interpretation article, which defines "premium payment". You said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we were not concerned with the level of the payment in any way. A premium payment is defined as being a payment by virtue of Community arrangements. Those are not identified anywhere in the order. A reader of the order would not know just by reading the order what the Community arrangements might be. Indeed, that was put to the Ministry's witnesses who came before the Statutory Instruments Committee and they admitted at once that the Community arrangements altered from day to day and had not reached any formal document in any way that could be identified.
When did the Community arrangements come into effect? Did they come into effect, and have payments been made, prior to the order being made? If so, under what procedure were these premium payments received by the owners of the animals? In short, was the order being operated before it was made, and, if so, what is the purpose of making it now?
The second defect appears in Article 4. It says:Where an animal has been approved for certification … and has thereafter on the same 181 day been sold by auction.. the animal shall immediately be marked as prescribed in Schedule 1 to this order.Schedule 1 has two paragraphs. The first is perfectly straight-forward. It describes the marking as being by a circular punch 12 mm in diameter, and so on. However, paragraph 2 says:In addition, where the Board so require, a tattooed symbol unique to the animal being marked…".The words to which I call attention are "the Board so require". The witnesses who came before the Statutory Instruments Committee were asked how the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce would make known its requirements. They said that the board would not make known its requirements, but these requirements would merely be an order to the board's officers.
The witnesses were then asked "Where in the order is it said that it is the officers who have to mark the beasts and it is not an obligation on the owner in any way to see that they are marked?" The witnesses admitted that it was not in the order, but said that the procedure was that the board would require the animals to be so marked. Certain obligations fall upon the owner of the animal if it is properly marked or if it is wrongly marked.
If it is properly marked it is immediately certified for slaughter. If it is certified for slaughter, the owner is obliged to slaughter it within the period of the notice given under Article 6. A great deal follows from the correct marking of the animal and no one reading the order—indeed no one, as I understand it, outside the offices of the board—would know what the correct markings are. Yet in Article 10 it is said that:An animal marked as prescribed for any animal in Schedule 1.…shall be deemed to have been certified.The result of the marking leads to certification, which leads to certain obligations about slaughtering. The order should be made quite definite. It should be made clear that it is the obligation of the board to do the marking and not in any way an obligation on the owner and if the board fails to do it the owner is released from further obligations under the order.
182 The third point arises under Article 11. Perhaps I should first refer to Article 9, which requires the owner of the animal to keep certain records. Article 11 goes on to say that an officer can:take possession of any book, account or record required to be kept by law and appearing to him to be material, or take a copy of, or extract from, any such book, account or record.The Department was asked through its witnesses, by the Statutory Instruments Committee, whether an officer would have a right to enter premises to seize books of account. The answer was that by virtue of a previous order, not mentioned in the present order, there was a general right of entry on land where animals were kept or slaughtered, but not necessarily where the books happened to be kept. The result, as I understand it, desired by the Department in drafting the paragraph, is that if the books happen to he kept on the land where the animals are bred or slaughtered, the officer can enter on to the land, provided it is land used for the production, storage, grading packing, slaughter or sale of any specified commodity.
The witnesses were then asked "But what if the accountant keeps the books, as it is most likely he would do. Can the officer then enter the accountant's office to seize the books?" The answer was "No. That is not provided for, either in the previous order or this order." If that is the intention of the Department it should make it clear in the order when the officer can enter, and if it is to make a provision for entry it should have the usual protection about entering at reasonable times of the day and on notice.
In those three respects the order is defective—in its lack of definition of Community arrangements, its lack of definition of the duties of the officer and the duties of the owner of the animal, and its lack of exactness over the right of entry. Perhaps the last is the most important. The House in many cases guards against entry by officials without permission, unless that permission is specifically granted. If the officers really want to enter with safety the right thing to do would be to get a warrant from the magistrates. Whatever right of entry is given or implied in the order, it 183 should be specific so that the individual knows exactly what his obligations are in allowing an officer of a board such as this to enter his premises.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I do not wish to pursue many of the technical points, but the general point is extremely important in view of the discussions we have had at this time of night on a number of other orders. What has developed is the question of an order apparently functioning before it has been approved by this House. Also, the powers are quite considerable. I do not regard the powers of entry as being only a technical matter. It is an extremely vital safeguard of our liberties.
On 10th April, when this order had already been in operation for some time, the following questions and answers took place:What would happen if the books were kept in the accountant's office?The answer was:Yes, that is precisely what we pointed out to the Department and we said that there was no power to go into an office for the purpose of taking these books. They were quite happy about that, though".That was an extraordinary answer. Later the question was asked:…the power of entry, if it is total and includes buildings, would entitle the officer to break into the building in order to obtain the documents. Is that not so? Surely it is, if 'land' means building'.The answer was:I would not like to be dogmatic about that. I think the officer would be entitled to break in, but, I think, in doing so he would be wise to take a constable with him".I think that he would. This raises a fairly important point on an order which is already in operation.
I turn to the question of the details of the order in relation to the functioning of the beef regulations and the Intervention Board, which may not last much longer. I do not see why we should accept that a permanent agreement has been made. The Foreign Secretary was heckled about this on Saturday. The heckler said "Only for 12 months, you clot ". I am not sure that the heckler was not right. Judging by the Farmers Weekly, he may have been nearer to the truth than the Foreign Secretary.
184 At the time of the agreement, Mr. Lardinois said that he did not expect it to last more than a year and that Britain would find it too costly. That view has been developed since the stocktaking initiated by the Germans. I take it that it was that to which the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells), alluding to the Farmers Weekly, referred when he talked about taking one element of each system. If we do that, and if we have nine countries to choose from, by definition we may get one-ninth of our system applying. Which one-ninth?
The great victory which apparently we achieved in Brussels a few months ago was in respect of the deficiency payments system. We have been told that this is the basic reason for our now supporting the common agricultural policy—what I call a derogation on beef and what others say is an option for any country to apply the deficiency payments system. One cannot apply a portion of a deficiency payments structure. One either has it or one does not.
Any scheme involving payments for beef must have a complicated structure to prevent rigging and cheating. Therefore, we must have regulations for a scheme which may not last long. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) thought that it would be permanent—or at any rate permanent in 12 months.
§ Mr. Buchan
I cannot answer that. Perhaps the Minister will do so. I have my doubts about it. If Mr. Lardinois was right in his first reaction that it was not expected to last long, and if the Farmers Weekly was right in saying that we shall have a mix, these things add up to suggest that once we have the referendum out of the way we may not find it so easy to continue with our derogation with regard to deficiency payments.
There is a third point. It is extraordinary that every hon. Member concerned with farming welcomes the return to a deficiency payments system but that when we are on the last lap to the referendum we are all told how good the common agricultural policy has been. When they have to deal with the practical point they 185 are all against it, rather like the NFU, if I may have a minor derogation
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has had a few minor derogations. I hope he will help me by keeping a little more closely to the order.
§ Mr. Buchan
I was only going to point out the peculiar circumstances in which the NFU found time to vote in favour of the common agricultural policy while blockading the ports to prevent Common Market produce coming in. It would have been out of order to say more.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
My trouble is that I am too polite. I am sure that that is not covered by the order.
§ Mr. Buchan
That is why I concurred with your decision that it would have been out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Therefore, we we have no reason to assume that the system will continue, despite the extensive requirements of the order.
Secondly, it is initiated at our cost. While we welcome a deficiency payments system structure, we must remember that we are paying the variable premiums for which the order is necessary to safeguard our cash, to see that we are not paying premiums that we should not be paying. That which we welcome as a gain from the discussion on the common agricultural policy is the very thing for which we must ourselves pay, while continuing to pay the rest of our share for the common agricultural policy. In making a final decision tonight we do well to remember how big a percentage of the cost of the structure is met by Britain alone.
The hon. Member for Bodmin said that this was an example of the reason why the farming community might be a bit fed up with politicians and the history of the past few months. I do not think that the farmers of this country would like to strip away all support structures for farming merely because they involve certain documentation. I do not think they would welcome a return to a high price policy, because then the producer section, the beginning of the cycle, would be at the mercy of the end price. There would be no guarantee that the high price would be paid back. We have needed to bring in all sorts of structures to safeguard certain elements of the production 186 line, and we should see such a consumer resistance that the farmers would no longer be quite so happy.
Therefore, I welcome the introduction of the order despite its defects. I do not know what the legal position can be about putting right the defects. The House has been put in a queer position in putting into practice something with three fundamental errors, which were pinpointed in our examination of the matter on 10th April, and again tonight. Perhaps we should have a word from my hon. Friend the Minister on that, but I do not want to make his job difficult.
I welcome the fact that we have some safeguards for our farmers and I deplore the position that made it necessary for us to welcome such a poor method of supporting our beef instead of the direct, straightforward, guaranteed price structure and deficiency payments.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)
I welcome the order and thank the Minister for placing it before the House. It will help to restore confidence to the beef producers. The wounds of 1974 went very deep and the premium scheme will have to operate for many years before the confidence that was so easily lost in the autumn of 1974 is restored.
The order fails in two respects. First, the premiums apply only to clean cattle. If we are to remain in the EEC it is high time our beef producers were on the same basis as beef producers of the other EEC countries. Fat cows and fat bulls presented to market should also be eligible for premium, as they are in other countries. Approximately one-fifth of all beef is produced from the two categories of fat cows and fat bulls, and it is unfair that cattle in those categories should not get the premium.
Secondly, although it is reasonable to have a 15-day derogation of time between certification of the animals and slaughter, this works against the interests of producers of hill lambs. This is a narrow point but it is important for the producers of hill lambs. Often a glut of lambs comes on to the market—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman had better confine himself to the Beef Premiums (Protection of Payments) Order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman but it has just been pointed out to me that according to the order "animal" means an animal of the bovine species. I hope that the hon. Gentleman knows exactly what is covered by "bovine".
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
Most hon. Members who have sat late in the past debating agricultural matters are concerned about the manner in which this business is done in Parliament. It is totally unsatisfactory to have to debate statutory instruments and regulations and directives of the EEC on an Adjournment or "take note" motion or late at night, as we are doing now.
The order is now in operation. What is worse is that when the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, chaired by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), took evidence on 10th April the witnesses purported to give serious evidence on an instrument already in operation. Although we are debating the matter tonight we are not allowed to make any decision. The procedural situation deprives us from having any influence. All we can do is express our opinion. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) seems to want to discuss the matter from a sedentary position. I suggest that he gets on his feet or shuts up.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I am provoked to rise to my feet. The hon. Gentleman said that the House had no power to take a decision tonight but 188 it is within his power to shout "No" when the Question is put.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Yes, but the order is already in operation. I am not prepared to bring Parliament into disrepute. I want my hon. Friend the Minister of State to listen to the increasing discontent that is felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House at the way business of this sort is being conducted. I am satisfied that the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments would prefer to be able to take evidence before an instrument was in operation.
I return to the evidence that was taken on 10th April. The situation becomes ludicrous when we have the Chairman saying:First, I want to make it clear that the Community arrangements and the actual payments made do not come into this Order at all, this is just to identify animals on which the premium payments are made.The witness replied:They do come into the Order in this sense. that reference is made to the Community arrangements in the first part of the Order. under 'Interpretation'. It has been so drafted that if the Community arrangements should change no change is necessary, within broad limits, in this Order.What is meant by "broad limits"? The House does not know. The Chairman asked where the reader of the order would be able to find the Community arrangements. He received the answer:In the Community secondary legislation, Sir, under the heading of 'Beef and Veal'.Those who sifted through secondary legislation to look for something under "Beef and Veal" would have to admit to having many hours of spare time. Of course, we do not have that sort of spare time. That is not the kind of answer which leads us to believe that we are dealing with secondary legislation in a proper manner.
The Chairman said:Yes, but there is no indication in this Order directing him to that"—namely, to look through the secondary legislation. He received the answer:There is no direct reference because the regulations have changed so much over the past few months that we still have not reached a state of complete rest on this subject, if I may put it that way.That is the sort of situation we face.
§ Mr. Powell
I hoped that the hon. Gentleman was about to draw attention to what was near-frivolity in the evidence —namely, where the Chairman asked:What I mean is, can anybody set themselves up and call themselves an Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce …?He received the answer:that would be a breach of copyright, or something of that kind.That question and answer seem to suggest that witnesses were not properly briefed and that they were treating the whole matter in a frivolous manner.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
The right hon. Gentleman's comment about frivolity is right. Those of us who are used to Select Committee work know the need for precision and for getting a well-briefed answer. It is not a question of getting witnesses to come to the House to speak off the cuff, because that is fair neither to the witness nor to the Committee.
I conclude by saying that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has carried out an exceedingly good job in his negotiations. Having said that in appreciation of my right hon. Friend's work, I must point out that the House is being left in a state in which we are not able to carry out our work properly. Our forecasts about the way in which we would be treated in the Common Market are coming to reality far sooner than we expected.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I do not want to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Lead-bitter) except to say that on these agriculture orders Government back benchers prefer to use the occasion to discuss procedures on Common Market legislation rather than to deal with the practicalities of the order—namely, the subject of agriculture which many of us are here tonight to deal with.
Will the Minister comment on some queries which I should like to put to him? I wish to say initially that I welcome the order, which affects Scotland as well as the rest of the United Kingdom. I wish to bring home to the Minister that it is necessary to have this order only because of the incredible tangle into which the Government got us over beef last year. The Government having got 190 us into that position, it is right to have the order as a life-belt to try to improve a situation created by the Government.
I wish to ask the Minister about Article 4 dealing with certification. What is causing considerable comment in my part of Scotland is the grading standards used for certification. This is a crucial point. The lack of uniformity in grading is causing great concern not only among producers but in the National Farmers' Union.
It appears that some cattle which fail to obtain certification at an auction mart are taken away, hung on a hook and graded a few days later. There is something very wrong with grading standards, and unless there is unification there are bound to be hard cases. If one is on the wrong side of a hard case, so to speak, there are serious financial implications. I wish to know what steps the Minister is taking to see that certification is uniform throughout the country. Since grading must be a matter of individual judgment it is not easy to achieve this, but what steps is he taking to bring the graders together into the agricultural community to go to auction marts and work together to find uniformity? Without such a system there will be unfairnesses.
This is not something new. I have been complaining about it regularly for the last four or five months to the Secretary of State for Scotland. 'The Minister of State must therefore be well briefed to give me an answer. I look forward to hearing it.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I do not want to pursue the remarks of two of the speakers from Scotland, the spokesman for the Scottish National Party, the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), and the former Minister, the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). I do not think that their criticisms of the Common Market have anything to do with this matter. I have never understood how anyone interested in farming could wish us to leave the Common Market. Farmers' interests all lie in our remaining a member.
I wish, however, to follow my right hon Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr,Page) in drawing attention to some of the complicated procedures laid down in the order. As a former livestock auctioneer
191 I am particularly interested reference in Schedule 1 (2) toa tattooed symbol unique to the animal being marked".An awful lot of instruments will have to be carried in auction marts if every bull is to be marked. Considering how many thousands of cattle will be involved, this is an extraordinary provision. I hope that the Minister will make it clear how this provision is to be carried out and what orders the board will give to its officers. There will be great practical difficulties.
Many provisions of this sort are complex and difficult to carry out. We found this with the licensing of pigs to market. The only centres where licences could be obtained were sometimes 15 or 20 miles away from the individual producer, which entailed the expenditure of a great deal of time, petrol and money, and they could not be obtained from the local policeman. Could not such provisions be simplified for the benefit of the people who have to carry them out?
Naturally I welcome the order, as anyone who has been rolled by a Cambridge roller welcomes a helping hand to pick him up, flattened though he may be. During 1974 the beef producers lost confidence in the beef market, which he has not fully regained. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) said that it took three years to produce beef. If one bears in mind picking out the heifers to be put to the bull and choosing the cattle to be fattened it could actually take four or more years. This morning I looked at between 700 and 800 beef cows on a farm. The farmer was seriously considering cutting back on the number of his cows. He said "We have a guarantee for only one year. If we do not remain in the EEC, if we do not get the end price of the EEC, it will be useless for us to continue producing beef."
I welcome the order but I ask the Minister to give us long-term assurances. The number of calves slaughtered over the past few months, particularly in the past week, when it was twice the number in the same week last year, does not augur well for long-term beef production. Anything which gives any degree of confidence is to be welcomed. There is much more to be done, not only for farming in general but particularly for 192 long-term projects like this. This requires investment in capital, investment in stock and a long-term programme to produce the beef which is required by the farmer, the housewife and the nation. If the order provides some incentives for securing that, it is to be welcomed.
§ Mr. Bishop
This has been a good debate. If I do not reply to all the questions in the short time available to me, I shall write to those concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) asked what was the source of the premium funds. The Community regulations provide for payments of a fixed headage payment entirely from FEOGA funds and give member States the option to pay an additional premium within certain limits. This is the variable premium. The United Kingdom has taken up the option and is paying a supplementary variable premium from our own funds. The head-age payments come from the Community, the other premiums come from our own funds.
As for my hon. Friend's question about the control over exports of certified animals, the premium scheme is a Community-wide scheme. All animals certified alive in the United Kingdom must be slaughtered within the Community within the period allowed or the premium will be forfeit. The fact that animals are permanently marked will prevent them from receiving a further premium from another member State.
As for what has been reported to have been said by Commissioner Lardinois, I am glad to note that he referred to the merits of the United Kingdom arrangement and suggested that the mixed arrangements of the kind which we operate may form the basis of the future EEC beef regime when it is further reviewed.
I draw attention to these words of my right hon. Friend on 9th April:Of course, we have to undertake new price settlements for every commodity arrangement each year and we set such considerable store on the need for continuing satisfactory arrangements on beef that I will not agree to any future settlements which do not meet this need.Meantime, the changes we have secured in the beef regime are evidence of a welcome flexibility in the operation of the CAP."—[Official Report, 9th April 1975; Vol. 889, c. 1249.]193 The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) asked about the technical differences between this scheme and the Fat-stock Guarantee Scheme which operated until 1973. The only technical difference is the requirement that the animal must be slaughtered within the specified period. The hon. Gentleman may recall that I made this point in my opening remarks.
Questions were raised by several hon. Members about the temporary arrangements due to last for 12 months. The new arrangements form an integral part of the support arrangements in the 1975–76 marketing year. They will be reviewed in the Council of Ministers at the end of the marketing year, as with the intervention arrangements and other support mechanisms. We are confident—this was the point made by my right hon. Friend in the debate on 9th April—that the new system will demonstrate the advantages in the course of the current marketing year, and that if we continue as members of the EEC the Community will, in the light of its experience this year, continue to support beef producers on these lines.
The hon. Member for Bodmin also asked a question about the monthly target prices being announced for a longer period. I appreciate the kind of assurances which the producers want. It is desirable for producers to know the target price as far ahead as possible, but in the present state of the beef market it would have been very difficult to assess the appropriate level for more than three months in advance. The hon. Member will be aware that we are committed to the target price of between £22 and £23 per live hundredweight over the year. This is the system which we are working out.
The reply to the question about the need for publicity of the order is that a revised leaflet describing the scheme is now being prepared by the Intervention Board and it will give full details of the scheme, including the provisions of the order. Notices will be prominently displayed at auction marts and slaughterhouses drawing attention to the main provisions of the order.
In reply to the question about the scheme being an EEC scheme and the reason why it is necessary to have United Kingdom legislation, the purpose of the order is, as I said earlier, to fulfil the 194 obligation to protect both United Kingdom and Community funds. There is no difference in principle between this and the other subordinate legislation which has been produced towards this end.
I have already commented on the appropriate references to the CAP (Agricultural Produce) (Protection of Community Arrangements) legislation.
On the questions raised by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). which I thought were very relevant, about the Scrutiny Committee's findings, the object of defining premium payments in the way in which it has been done is to give permanence to the order. The present arrangements continue into 1976. They may be succeeded by others, in which this order will also apply.
The right hon. Gentleman made an important point about matters concerning the Scrutiny Committee, one of which referred to the marking of animals. The Committee observed that Article 4 (1) states that where an animal has been approved for certification and has been sold for slaughter,the animal shall immediately be marked as prescribed…but Article 4 (6) fails to state clearly that the marking is to be carried out by officers of the Intervention Board and not by the producer. Article 3 of the order, however, provides that:The examination, approval, marking and certification of animals and carcases in connection with applications for premium payments shall be carried out by or on behalf of the Board.This provision covers every reference to marking in the order.
Another question related to the power of entry to premises. This is the second point made by the Scrutiny Committee. In drafting the order it was decided that the powers in Article 11, together with powers of entry already provided for in Article 4 of the Common Agricultural Policy (Agricultural Produce) (Protection of Community Arrangements) (No. 2) Order 1973, provided all that was requited by the Intervention Board in any circumstances in which such powers could be envisaged as being necessary. The order accordingly provides no power of entry, either express or implied. It was considered that the order could otherwise have been criticised as providing suck power unnecessarily.
195 The other points which have been raised include the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and others, concerning intervention. As my right hon. Friend has said on many occasions, the Government do not believe that intervention should be the primary method of support for beef producers. I appreciate the comments by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the way in which my right hon. Friend has been campaigning within the European Community over the past year to ensure that we have greater flexibility and can operate by way of intervention or otherwise.
We have said on many occasions in the House that we do not favour intervention. We were criticised from time to time for the fact that there was no floor in the market. Now we have the right not to operate intervention as the primary method of support, and at the same time we have the floor which has been sought by the industry for the past few months.
I think that those are the main points which have been raised in the debate—
§ Mr. Bishop
With regard to cattle standards, inquiry has been made into a number of complaints about the standards operated by grading officers but there has been little evidence of inconsistency in grading and I can say that the standards operated under the Fatstock Guarantee Scheme are being fully maintained. But I promise the hon. Gentleman that his remarks will be borne in mind.
With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) concerning certification, the scheme continues the arrangement operated under the Fatstock Guarantee Scheme whereby certification has been awarded to clean cattle, including young bulls. Cows are specifically excluded throughout the Community. That may answer the hon. Member's point.
I believe that those are the main points—
§ Mr. Hawkins
Will the Minister say something abouta tattooed symbol unique to the animal being marked"?196 Will he say why each animal should have this unique mark?
§ Mr. Bishop
I believe that the hon. Member is referring to Schedule 1, paragraph 2, in relation to marking. I believe that the answer is that this is a matter of unique marking with particular reference to individual cattle, as compared with an alternative marking, but this is a matter on which I should like to write to the hon. Member when I have more detailed technical information.
I think that those are the points—
§ Mr. Leadbitter
There is a reasonable amount of time left for my hon. Friend to give us an undertaking on a matter which concerns us. Will he put it to his right hon. Friend in the manner that put it to him? Can these instruments be brought before the House in a different way? In future, can the House expect to debate statutory instruments when the evidence taken in connection with those statutory instruments will be clear, before we reach the situation in which we are now? My hon. Friend knows the situation, and I am sure he will take up the matter with his right hon. Friend in the manner in which the House would ask for it to be done.
§ Mr. Bishop
My hon. Friend may recall —he may or may not have been present—that as Agriculture Ministers we have had a good share of the time of the House—albeit at this time of night—to debate orders of this sort and other matters affecting agriculture which are before the EEC. The time of the debate is not a matter for me or for my right hon. Friend; it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and, perhaps, other channels.
With regard to the fact that we are debating this legislation, I have pointed out on other occasions that we are fortunate to have time to debate it. I remind my hon. Friend that many statutory instruments and orders which go through the House during the year are never debated. We are fortunate in having time to explain the situation to the House regarding the legislation put before it—legislation that we are seeking to have approved by the House.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I accept that point. Will my hon. Friend therefore now bring the matter to the attention of the Leader 197 of the House to see whether we can arrive at a better situation in respect of these matters?
§ Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,That the Beef Premiums (Protection of Payments) Order 1975, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th March, be approved.