§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I further wish to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Calf-Slaughtering Order has been to the detriment of the producer and the consumer owing to the maximum price being too low. I am asking this Question at the request of one of the War Agricultural Sub-Committees in Somersetshire. The reason why they are grieved at the maximum price of 30s. is that it has the effect of making a "ring"—that is to say, in the markets in the northern parts of Somersetshire calves are always knocked down at 30s., I am told, to a "ring," and then afterwards the butchers have a "knock-out" amongst themselves. The consequence of there 193 being this maximum price of 30s. is that the consumers suffer a great deal. The farmers are actually now doing what I am sure is wrong from the point of view of the consumer, as I think the noble Earl will agree. The calves are actually being sold a few hours after birth and certainly after three or four days, and the House knows as well as myself that those calves cannot be weaned properly if taken away so early. Therefore one of the objects of the noble Earl in making the Order—to increase the number of useful cattle in the country—defeats itself in the maximum price being too low; and I hope that the noble Earl, both from the point of view of the breeder and the man who wishes to retain the animal for rearing, will carefully consider whether it may not be desirable to increase the price to a larger figure. If he did, it would be an advantage all round. I can assure him that at the present moment it is prejudicial to the farmers in the dairy counties that they can get only 30s. for calves; and it is to the prejudice not only of the dairy farmers but also of the rearers, who do not get the calves they otherwise would if they were sold at a higher price, because calves taken away from their dams so early are generally of a stunted nature.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I should like with your permission to answer this question at some length, because the matter is of great importance to all farmers, and, indeed, to the public, and I should like the present position to be understood. The noble Lord represents the south-western dairy district of England. Really the only volume of protest against these Orders which has reached the Board of Agriculture has come from the two western dairy districts, the south-western and the north-western; these Orders have always been disliked by the farmers of those districts, and are greatly disliked at the present moment. But, of course, my duty is not to try and please everybody, but to consider the interests of agriculture as a whole and to form the best judgment I can on the facts presented to me from all parts of the country.
I would remind your Lordships of what the objects of this particular Order were. They were, in the first place, to prevent the slaughter of cows and of sows that were visibly pregnant; in the second place, to restrict the slaughter of calves under six 194 months of age so as to increase the store stock in the country; and, in the third place, to restrict the production of prime veal to a minimum. The reason, of course, was this. We are at war, and it is part of my duty to safeguard the food supplies of the people so far as I possibly can. The importation of meat is much less than it was before the war, and it is a matter of the utmost importance that our meat supplies should be preserved to the greatest possible extent. Had there been no danger of an undue depletion of our meat reserves in England and Wales, these Orders would not have been necessary. The Orders became necessary because a great number of farmers, influenced by the high prices offered in the summer of last year, were so short-sighted as to send to market large numbers of cows in an advanced state of pregnancy and to sacrifice thousands of calves which ought never to have been sold or used for veal, but were of good rearing breeds and ought to have been kept to be turned into beef.
I do not act on my own judgment alone, I need scarcely say, nor on the advice only of my colleagues at the Board of Agriculture. The Orders which are the subject of criticism were the result of the advice of the Consultative Committee over which Sir Ailwyn Fellowes presides, which is about as strong a Committee of representative agriculturists as could possibly be formed. They are not only men admitted to be great authorities on agriculture, but the Committee contains men in a large proportion who are not only great authorities on agriculture but who have been exclusively engaged in farming for their livelihood; therefore it cannot be said that they do not represent the farmers as well as agriculture all through England and Wales. The Order in question was made on their advice; but after it had been in operation in one form or another for six months or more, I thought the time had come to have it reviewed, and I sent all the facts which I had been able to collect to this Committee in January last. The facts with which I was able to furnish them were the statistics showing the effect of the Order on the slaughter of calves and on the stock in the country, all the protests which had reached the Board of Agriculture, and all the information which I had been able to collect otherwise. I circularised all the local authorities to find out from them how the Order was 195 working in the markets, and how far it was being observed or how far evaded. I also wrote to all the 200 honorary agricultural correspondents of the Board of Agriculture and asked them for their opinion and the opinion of farmers and agriculturists in their districts on the working of the Order, on its success or on its failure. The local authorities stated that there was evasion. It is impossible without most expensive and elaborate machinery to avoid evasion, and therefore it was no surprise to me to learn that there had been evasion. But they also stated that evasion was the exception, and that on the whole the Order was being observed throughout the length and breadth of the land.
The 200 correspondents of the Board of Agriculture are not salaried officials; that goes without saying, because they are called "honorary." Therefore I have no sort of control over them. They are only of value because of the respect in which their judgment and character are held by farmers all over England and Wales, and because of their life-long experience in all matters agricultural. I do not think it would be possible to find 200 men more qualified to focus the opinion of farmers generally than these honorary correspondents of the Board of Agriculture. There is no doubt whatever as to the nature of the answers they have given to my questions. They have said that the Order is being in some places evaded; that in the dairy districts of the West it is very unpopular, but that the great majority of farmers are strong supporters of the Order; that in their judgment it has effected the purpose for which it was made, and has done great good to a agriculture. With those facts before them the Consultative Agricultural Committee, presided over by Sir Ailwyn Fellowes, sent me their answer. I must tell you that when they first advised me about these Orders they were not unanimous; there was a division of opinion among them, and the advice on which I acted was the opinion of the majority. But now quite unanimously they have answered that the Order has had excellent effects and should be maintained in its full integrity. The only suggestion they have made for the amendment of the Order is that the exception that was made in favour of certain dairy breeds should no longer exist, because they say that the bull calves of these dairy breeds are 196 provided for by the maximum price of 30s., of which the noble Lord complains. In these circumstances it is quite impossible for me to consider seriously any suggestion for the repeal of the Order.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
The noble Lord did not, but other people have. I have only to-day received a deputation from Cheshire asking me to do so.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
But I am always willing to consider suggestions for amendment put forward as reasonably as the noble Lord has put forward his suggestion. His suggestion is that 30s. is too low a maximum price. I quite admit that it is a purely rough standard. There is no virtue in 30s. any more than in 25s. or 35s. or 40s. I adopted 30s. as on the whole a sum which seemed to represent the maximum value of a calf which could not possibly be worth keeping to rear and be turned into beef. I know other people think that the value is higher, that prices are so high to-day that a calf which no farmer would think of trying to rear may be worth as much as 35s. or 40s.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I quite admit that is a fair argument, and I am perfectly prepared to consider it on its merits. But I must again allude to the distinction between a calf that is worth rearing and a calf that is not. A great number of these calves are not worth rearing. It is possible that at the present moment some of those may be worth more than 30s., but my withers are quite unwrung if the farmer loses money over those calves, because it means that he is one of those who take no kind of interest in the sort of bull they use. He is a propagator of bad stock; he is a bad friend, in fact, to the agriculture of England, and I take no interest in his losses. The man for whom I feel sorry, if he exists—and I think he does exist—is the man who produces a good calf which ought to be reared, but which is bought by a butcher for 30s. and slaughtered and never passes into the hands of another farmer to be reared.
197 It is alleged that the butchers are making "rings." I am not in a position to prove it, and therefore I do not state it. But it is alleged by farmers and by the noble Lord opposite that the butchers are making "rings" and only offering 30s. for calves whatever their true value may be, whether they are calves worth rearing or not, and that having secured them at 30s. they divide the plunder among themselves. The farmer who has reared this presumably good calf is defrauded, and I am defrauded because it does not go into the hands of the rearer and become beef. Nobody profits except the butcher, and the consumer gets a very inferior article because of the age of the animal. Well, that certainly ought not to be. But is the fault mine, or does it really depend on the limit of 30s.? Surely what it means is this, that there is a want of reasonable organisation amongst the farmers. There is no doubt a market for every calf in England to-day that is worth rearing, a market of over 30s., amongst farmers who want to rear calves. It requires a little organisation—but it can be done—to bring the farmer in one part of the country who wants the calf into contact with the farmer in another part of the country who has the calf to dispose of; and why does not the farmer, if he can reach the market, go and outbid the butcher? Or if there is no local farmer whose practice it is to buy calves to rear, why does not the breeder with the good calf keep it for fourteen days instead of selling it in twenty-four hours and then send it by train to a market where there are plenty of farmers who would buy it at a good price? It is not possible for me or for the Board of Agriculture to do the farmer's business for him; that is really the farmer's own business. If it can be shown by the War Agricultural Committee of Somerset-shire or any other body representing farmers how the Board of Agriculture can help breeders who have good calves to dispose of to sell them to farmers who want them, I can assure the noble Lord I will do my very best to co-operate. But farmers must try and do their own business for themselves, and do what is done in all other industries—that is, when there is not a local market for their goods get them to a market at a distance where their goods are in great demand.
I wished to say this, because it really represents the position which we have now reached. There would be no complaint 198 against this Order that could be supported by any responsible body if there were not good calves being wasted on the butcher. The cure for that evil—and it is a real evil—is not to be found in altering the price, because a butchers' "ring" is just as easy at 35s. as it is at 30s., but in better organisation among the farmers themselves for the disposal of their calves. I will nevertheless consider the point which the noble Lord has made, because I quite admit that there is no special virtue in any one figure such as 30s. I should like in conclusion to say this, that although there has been evasion and although there will continue to be evasion by unprincipled butchers and farmers, and although this Order is profoundly unpopular in the two great dairy districts in the West of England to which I have referred, yet it has succeeded far beyond any expectations I had when it was first framed in preserving in this time of war an enormous number of calves to be reared into beef that otherwise would have been used as veal.