§ LORD CHARNWOOD had the following Question on the Paper—
§ To ask the President of the Board of Agriculture whether, in view of the great rise in the price of meat which must take place as the war continues, and in view of the difficult position in which butchers are placed in this matter, he will consider the advisability of prompt legislation prohibiting the slaughter of veal and lamb.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the answer to my Question has already appeared in the newspapers this morning, but I believe the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture will have something to say on the subject. I do not know whether he will be able to extend his answer beyond the terms of my Question, but in any case perhaps he will allow me 89 to congratulate him on the step which he has taken in the appointment of a strong Committee to inquire into the whole question of maintaining the food production of the country.
My Lords, with all respect to the noble Lord I sincerely trust that my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture will hesitate before he extends the Order in Council to lambs. The noble Lord who has raised this question appears to assume that the food for cattle and for sheep is assured. I congratulate him on his good fortune if that is so in his neighbourhood. I am sorry to say that in my neighbourhood it is very far from assured. Six weeks of east wind are neither good for man nor beast, and if we have a few weeks more east wind, with nothing growing, I do not know where the keep is to come from for the amount of stock now on the land. An extension of the Order in Council to lambs and the prohibition of their slaughter, which of course must affect the demand from people other than butchers, would entail an incubus on sheep farmers of two kinds. In the first place they have to find the keep, and there is the question of the rotation of crops which they have laid down with some foresight and for the purpose of producing lamb for the market. If that is ended, on to what are they to put their lambs? That is a question of which I am sure the noble Earl with his practical experience has not lost sight. In the second place, at this time of the year sheep farmers have probably sold the last of their stacks of corn and there is nothing coming in except from the sale of their flocks. There are many things which are variable as regards agriculture, but there is one thing absolutely sure—the labour bill. That has to be paid every week, and there is nothing so certain to a farmer as having a flock from which he can draw in order to procure the cash with which to pay his labour bill. I therefore sincerely hope that the noble Earl will hesitate a very long while before he extends the Order in Council to sheep.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
I think the noble Earl must have misheard me. I did not intend to urge that time Order should be extended.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF SELBORNE)
My Lords, as the noble Lord behind me has said, this question has already been dealt with in another place, and therefore I need not detain your Lordships by going into the matter at the same length as the Parliamentary Secretary did in the House of Commons. But I should like to say that the Board of Agriculture has been the recipient of an extraordinary amount of conflicting advice on the subject. Half my correspondents have warned me to leave the farmers alone and not try to meddle with a business which they understand, and the other half have said that unless most drastic steps were taken to prevent the extermination of cattle and sheep in this country we should be in a parlous state in a few months. The reason for that conflict of ideas is not only that one man thinks to-day he may make an exceptionally good price out of the cattle he has whether they are very young calves or old cows, and another man is anxious to get stores with which he may be able to make a good price in a few months' time or next year; but, of course, there is great diversity of practice in agriculture all over the country. In one place a dairyman avoids rearing calves if he possibly can, and indeed in the great town dairies in such places as Liverpool the slaughter of calves almost at birth or within three days of birth is the permanent, I venture to think disastrous, habit. Then I have been told that we are in the middle of a drought, and that does very materially affect any decision which has to be taken at this time in respect of checking the slaughter of cattle or sheep. Again, the price of meat is very high, and it has been pointed out that when the meat of the people is so dear it is not the time on any account to reduce the supply.
I do not think that any of those considerations really exhaust the matter. They all have to be taken into account. But to my mind the most important consideration of all is this—What is going to be the supply of live stock in this country this time next year? I think the chief consideration of the Government during the crisis of this war must be to prevent any undue depletion of the live stock of the country, especially of course of the breeding stock. It was not easy to obtain accurate information as to the extent to which animals were being sent to the butcher which in normal times would not 91 have been sent to the butcher and which really ought not to be so sent. Some correspondents gave most alarming accounts of the way in which dairy cows were being slaughtered because their price as beef at the moment was greater than their value as dairy cows. We have taken such steps as we could to ascertain the movement throughout the country. The result is that, taking 52 public slaughterhouses in England and Wales—very fairly representative of the whole country—and comparing the period from August to April last with the corresponding period in 1913–14, we find that there has been an increase in the number of slaughtered cattle of all sorts of 26.1 per cent., and an increase in the slaughter of calves in the same period of 13.4 per cent. A very small proportion of these cattle, as far as I can make out, were really fat cattle that ought to have gone to the butcher. There is no evidence in my possession that there has been any marked increase in this period in the number of fat cattle that were fit to go, and ought to have gone, to the butcher. Therefore I am afraid that this increase has been almost entirely of dairy cows, of breeding stock and store, that really were not ripe to be turned into beef.
From some centres, notably from Glasgow—which, of course, is not under the jurisdiction of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries—the figures as to the slaughter of cows that were in-calf were really very serious; and I consulted on the subject the representatives of the Boards of Agriculture of Scotland and Ireland and also the Agricultural Advisory Committee over which Sir Ailwyn Fellowes presides, and which is, I think, thoroughly representative of the farming community of England and Wales. We laid these figures before them and asked them also to remember the fact that the figures must be taken into account in connection with the stock of the country as it was last July. Last June and July, when the Returns for the year 1914 came in, it was found that, as compared with the average of the previous five years, there were no fewer than 220,000 more mulch cows and heifers in the country, and 106,000 more cattle of other sorts; but, on the other hand, there was a great diminution in the number of breeding ewes and other sheep. The breeding ewes were down by 613,000, and other sheep by 1,410,000; and pigs were up by 222,000. After taking all these facts 92 into consideration and taking counsel from the authorities I have named, I came to the conclusion—and the representatives of the Boards of Agriculture of Scotland and Ireland agreed with that conclusion—that no case had vet been made out for what I may call drastic measures, but that a case had been made out for checking the practice of the slaughter of cows that were far gone in-calf; and a cow in that condition is not really fit for human food, let alone the extravagant waste of slaughtering such an animal a few weeks before she calves.
Then, again, we thought that the slaughter of young calves should be checked, because the contribution which they make to the meat supply of the people in their very immature state is small, and, if kept, of course in a very few months they would be a far larger contribution for that purpose than they are shortly after birth. The question of "if kept" has to be faced, because it is a matter of common knowledge that a great many farmers are not in a position themselves to rear calves. It is not part of their agricultural practice. It is quite legitimate that they should carry on agriculture without that being a part of their practice. But the demand for stores of all sorts—and I include in that, term for this purpose very young calves—is so great in certain parts of the country, notwithstanding even this drought, that I cannot help believing that if farmers are forbidden to kill their very young calves a way will shortly be found for exchanging those calves between the man who does not want to keep them and the man who is anxious to secure them. Therefore the Order which will be issued to-morrow is framed as follows—An animal which is visibly or obviously in-calf or in-pig shall not be slaughtered, or be caused or permitted by its owner to be slaughtered.The veterinary authorities assure me that these words will cover the case. At six months certainly and often at five months there can really be no doubt in the mind of a man accustomed to deal with cattle, be he farmer, middleman, or butcher, whether or not a cow is in-calf or a sow is in-pig. Therefore this Order, so far as cows and sows are concerned, will only forbid the slaughter of animals in the last period of pregnancy. The Order will go on to provide that—A calf under the age of twelve weeks shall not be slaughtered, or be caused or permitted by 93 the owner thereof to be slaughtered; but this provision shall not apply to a male calf of any of the following dairy breeds, that is to say, Channel Islands, Ayrshire, and Kerry breeds.Therefore I think your Lordships will agree that this Order is a very cautious and moderate one, and there is no reference in it at all to sheep.
The evidence was quite overwhelming that there was no case whatever for dealing with sheep. The number of sheep slaughtered between the period from August, 1914, to April, 1915, as compared with the same period in 1913–14, instead of showing an increase—as in the case of cattle, calves, and pigs—shows an actual diminution of 3.9 per cent., so that there is no case for dealing with sheep. But I want it to be distinctly understood that in this matter I regard it as the principal function of the Board over which I have the honour to preside to consider this question from the point of view of the food supply of the country next year, as we all know now that this war is unfortunately going to be a long one; and if this Order which is going to be issued does not prove a sufficient warning to farmers in this respect, and if they continue to send to market cows and sows that ought to be kept for breeding in the present crisis just so as to avoid the definition contained in this Order, I hold myself perfectly free to issue another Order of a more drastic character. For that reason a Bill has been introduced into the House of Commons—it will come up to your Lordships' House to-morrow, and I hope you will consent to pass it through all its stages in the one day—giving continued and even increased powers to the Board of Agriculture in this matter. The emergency Act that was passed last August expires next August, and therefore has in any case to be renewed. But that Act only enabled the Board of Agriculture to prohibit the slaughter of breeding stock. I do not say they will be necessary, but I think in these times of war the Board of Agriculture ought to have wider powers than that. Therefore the Bill which will come up to your Lordships' House, if approved by the House of Commons, will give power to deal with all stock, whether breeding stock technically or not. I can give an assurance that those powers will be used with a great sense of responsibility, and with a constant consideration of that great balance of argument of which I have tried to give some indication this 94 afternoon. If I think it necessary for the purpose of maintaining sufficient stock in this country at possibly critical times next year, I shall not hesitate to use the powers if Parliament confides them to me.
§ LORD ST. AUDRIES
My Lords, I am sure we all agree with the noble Earl as to the vital necessity of keeping up our breeding stock, and of prohibiting absolutely the slaughter of cows which are obviously in-calf. That, of course, is right. But I do not think that in many parts of the country the extra sale of cows has been of cows in-calf. I know a good many markets, and I have seen a number of cows sent to market which were not particularly good breeders and not particularly good stock, and the farmer has realised a profit on them a year or two before he otherwise would; but in the West of England I do not think that there has been any considerable sale of breeding stock.
As to the Order in Council which is to be issued, I can only express my gratitude that sheep are left out. The inclusion of sheep would have been a great hardship on the farmer. As my noble friend Lord Harris said, this drought is a serious thing. We are short of grass now; we shall be short of hay; and it would not be fair to the farmer to compel him to have a greater amount of stock than his farm would carry merely to keep a larger supply of live stock in the country. In connection with the Bill which has been introduced in another place, I should like to impress upon the noble Earl that if this policy is to be a success he will have to work on broad principles of decentralisation—that is to say, the policy must not be a universal one for the whole country worked by a clerk in the Board of Agriculture, but wide powers must be given to the local authorities mentioned in the Bill, because the conditions—conditions of breeding, of climate, and of agriculture—vary in different parts of England. For instance, the word "immature" is a very wide word, and I am glad it is, for there are a number of breeds of sheep whose offspring mature for lamb and lamb only. In the same way I maintain that cross-bred calves mature at a very early age, because they mature for the one purpose that they are fit for—veal. You might keep them until they were three years old but they would never grow into beef. Therefore I hope that in 95 administering the Act two things will be kept in mind—first, the need for decentralisation; and, secondly, the necessity for giving the word "immature" a very wide definition.
There is one other point to which I should like to call attention. I do not know whether it will require an amendment in the Bill to remedy it, or whether it can be done by an Order in Council. But take the case of an area in which the sale of stock is prohibited. In that area a farmer may be giving up his farm and may wish to sell the whole of his live stock. Obviously if sale was prohibited the farmer would be at a disadvantage, because he would be unable to realise on his cattle. No doubt such a case could be met by the local authority having power to give the farmer leave to sell. Perhaps the noble Earl will bear that point in mind in proceeding further with the Bill.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I understood the noble Earl to say that this Bill would come up from the House of Commons to-morrow, and that he trusted it would be passed through all its stages in this House on the one day.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Well, it seems to me that this is an undesirable extension of the practice of introducing Bills in this House which we have not seen in print and passing them through all their stages forthwith. Lord St. Audries made one or two remarks which implied that he wanted to see the details of the Bill. I do not know that there can be any pressing necessity for passing the Bill to-morrow. At all events, I hope the noble Earl will present the Bill to the House in the ordinary way in mint.
§ LORD STRACHIE
Unless there is great urgency—and that does not appear to be the case, because the Bill is going through the House of Commons in a leisurely way—I hope the noble Earl will not ask the House to pass the Bill through all its stages on the one day. The Bill is one which requires to be very carefully considered, not as regards its principle, but as regards some of its details. I shall certainly oppose its being rushed through to-morrow unless there is very good reason for it.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
The House, of course, will decide the matter. But there are real reasons for proceeding expeditiously with the Bill. We want to get the Order out to-morrow, but the Order goes beyond the present powers of the Board of Agriculture. As I explained to your Lordships, the present Act only confers powers to deal with breeding stock. I am advised that male calves cannot be brought under that head. If the Order is delayed while the Bill is under discussion it is obvious that a great many cows could be hurried into market in the intervening days.
§ LORD ST. AUDRIES
Does the noble Earl think that if he fails to get his Order to-morrow some Herod will arrive who will dispose of all the cows in the country?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Not the Orders, because they have to be made by the Irish Department of Agriculture.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
That is the business of the Irish Department of Agriculture. But the Bill will apply to Ireland.