§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, I am asking your approval to-day of a measure which incorporates an integral and essential part of the Government's permanent policy for the livestock industry of this country. This policy for the livestock industry is in turn only a part of the general policy of the Government to develop and strengthen the agricultural industry as a whole. I think, therefore, it is important that at the outset I should take a wider view than would be strictly justified by the provisions of this Bill, in order that we may see its proposals in their true relationship to general policy. I do not need at this time, and in this place, to emphasise the importance of a healthy and prosperous agricultural industry as a foundation for national well-being in times of peace, and as an essential reservoir of strength in times of emergency; but we must be clear how we are to secure a prosperous industry. An agricultural policy, if it is to be sound and to stand the test of time, must reach down to fundamentals. We must look beyond temporary expedients. We must do something more than buttress from time to time this or that section of agriculture, though it is agreed that such action is necessary. We must make sure that the potential productivity of the land is at its maximum, that it is in good heart, and that conditions are such that the farmer is able to obtain a reasonable return for his enterprise, so that an adequate supply of capital and labour is forthcoming to work the land. It is more than ever of outstanding importance to-day, when international anxieties exist, to ensure that our home agriculture should be able to make 269 the greatest possible contribution in the event of a national emergency.
I have just been privileged to give your Lordships a comprehensive statement which my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has made in another place this afternoon, indicating the broad lines of a policy designed to develop to the fullest possible extent the productive capacity of the land. That statement provides the general background against which the Government's proposals for the livestock industry should be viewed. The livestock industry, measured by the value of its output, is much the most important section of our agriculture. The value of its output, with that of its related products, in Great Britain in 1934–35 (the latest year for which this information is available) was £171,000,000, or 70 per cent. of the total agricultural output. Beef alone was valued at £35,500,000, or nearly 15 per cent. of the total output. The depressed state of this important section of agriculture has been a matter of concern to the Government for some years and, as your Lordships are aware, various emergency steps have been taken to hold the situation and to prevent as far as possible a decline of production in this country. Those emergency steps have been (1) the quantitative regulation of imports of meat to steady the supply situation; and (2) the emergency Exchequer subsidy to home producers of fat cattle.
In July of last year the then Minister of Agriculture outlined the Government's permanent proposals covering the livestock industry, and it is important that we should bear in mind what those proposals were. The main underlying principle was the maintenence of stable market conditions by the regulation of the supplies coming to this country from overseas. That is the firm foundation on which the Government's livestock proposals rest. It is proposed, so far as beef is concerned—which is the most important commodity—that this regulation shall be effected through the medium of an Empire Beef Council and an International Beef Conference. The Government believe that the responsibility for securing stable market conditions should be assumed through this machinery by producers themselves. The International Conference has already held preliminary meetings, and I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that United 270 Kingdom producers have been extremely fortunate in securing the services of the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, as their representative.
The Government have every reason to hope that these two bodies, the Empire Council and the International Conference, will successfully perform their difficult task; but as stable market conditions are an essential feature of the Government's policy, it is necessary to take powers to regulate imports by Order, which could be exercised by the Government itself if the need should at any time arise. These powers are contained in Part III of this Bill. Another feature of the general policy outlined in the statement of last July was a duty on imports of beef and veal from foreign countries. This, as your Lordships will be aware, has since been imposed under the Beef and Veal Customs Duties Act. I do not claim that this duty or levy has any great protective value, but it is, I think, a handicap imposed on the most serious competitors of our own producers, and it has the great merit, from the point of view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of making a substantial contribution in revenue towards the cost of the subsidy porposals to which I shall shortly come.
It is on this foundation that we can proceed to develop the domestic side of our policy, and that is the aspect of the policy which I now ask your Lordships to consider. The central feature of the Bill is the proposal to establish a permanent, independent Livestock Commission, which will act as the fly wheel of the whole mechanism. It will be entrusted with a general supervision of the whole livestock industry, and it will assist Ministers with its advice. It will also have very important specific duties. It will draw up for approval a scheme for the payment of the cattle subsidy, and will undertake its administration. It will draft Orders for the control of livestock markets; and it will make bylaws for the advancement of efficiency and economy in markets. It will be responsible for submitting central slaughter-house schemes for approval; and it will also prepare and submit "service schemes" under Part VI of the Bill for approval, if requested to do so by the interests concerned.
The Commission will be a body quite independent of the livestock industry. It will be in no sense representative. It may 271 be said that this is a radical departure from the principle of producer-control embodied in the Agricultural Marketing Acts, but in this case we need to establish a body whose duties will take it far beyond the producers' end of the industry; and I think that it will be agreed that a body with powers covering every section of an industry ought not to be composed of representatives of any one section. But the Government go further and think that the Commission should not even be composed of representatives of all sections of the industry: they feel that the best results are likely to be obtained if a non-representative Commission of impartial outlook is assisted and advised by a Committee which is representative of the many diverse elements interested in the industry. Such a Committee is provided for: producers, local authorities, auctioneers, and other interests concerned will be interested and represented, and four independent members will also be added. Three sub-committees will be constituted, for England, Scotland and Wales respectively, so that differences of outlook may be fully taken into account.
I turn now to the question of the subsidy, that is, Part II of the Bill. It is proposed that a maximum of £5,000,000 a year should be made available for payments direct to producers of fat cattle, and that any unexpended balance remaining in the Fund at the end of a financial year should be available to meet requirements in the succeeding year. The Bill provides for the rates of payment for different descriptions of animals to be determined by Orders and Regulations made by the appropriate Ministers—a method which gives a flexibility which is essential in permanent legislative arrangements. It is suggested that the subsidy payments should be graduated in two ways. It is proposed that there should be one rate of subsidy for animals of ordinary quality, and a higher rate for animals of a prescribed higher quality; and, as between animals of the same standard, a higher rate of subsidy for animals bred in the United Kingdom than for imported animals.
I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is most desirable to make a larger payment for cattle of good quality, for it is only by doing all in our power to maintain high quality standards that we can 272 hope to encourage consumption of the home-produced article and compete effectively with the overseas producer. A thorough investigation has convinced the Government that a two-tier grading system of this nature is quite practicable. It is equally desirable to give all possible encouragement to the home breeder of stores, especially at the present time, with Defence considerations so prominent in our minds. The store-breeder has had a lean time for some years, but there has been recently a welcome rise in store prices, and the position to-day is very greatly improved on what it has been in the last few years.
Criticisms have been made that the Government are providing insufficient money to put the industry on its feet, and that the very proposal for a direct subsidy on a permanent basis is not in accordance with what is said to be the Government's declared policy of a levy-subsidy on the lines of the Wheat Act. I would beg leave to deny this. In the White Paper of July, 1934, on "The Livestock Situation," it was pointed out that there were three possible lines of action—namely, (1) a drastic reduction of imports by means of quantitative regulation; or (2) action along the lines of the Wheat Act; or (3) a levy on imports and payments to producers coupled with some degree of supply regulation in the interests of all suppliers. The White Paper said:The Government are of opinion that a plan based on a levy … and a regulated market … would afford the best long-term solution of this problem and … would hold the balance evenly between producer and consumer.In a further White Paper issued in March, 1935, the Government reaffirmed that opinion. What is the present position? This Bill provides the payments to producers; and a levy on imports is already being collected under the Beef and Veal Customs Duties Act. A levy subsidy on the lines of the Wheat Act of 1932 cannot be as easily applied to meat. We import three times as much wheat as we grow, so that a moderate levy provides a fund sufficient for a substantial payment on home-grown supplies; but the case would be very different with meat, of which about half our supplies are home-produced.
It is also urged that provision should be made for deficiency payments related 273 to a standard price, as in the case of wheat. But while it is possible to assess a standard price for a crop such as wheat, it is quite another matter to determine the costs of production, or to devise an acceptable standard price for such a commodity as beef, which may be bred, reared and fattened on the same farm, bred in one country and fattened in another, fattened on grass or fed in stalls. Those are practical difficulties. There is also another factor, the need for permanence in these proposals. A subsidy based upon a standard price would involve the Exchequer in an unlimited liability and, as was said in the statement made this afternoon, no one who remembers the shattering effect on agriculture of the repeal of the Corn Production Act would wish to take any risk of that disastrous experience being repeated. May I remind your Lordships again that the subsidy proposals must be considered in conjunction with the other important features which are embraced in the Government's livestock policy. There is provision for the regulation of imports of meat; there is an import duty on foreign beef, which only a short time ago would have seemed politically impracticable; and this Bill makes permanent provision of a sum for the assistance of the industry which is greater by £1,000,000 a year, or 25 per cent., than the sums which producers have been receiving during the past two and a half years. I suggest with confidence that the subsidy provided in this Bill, combined with the control and taxation of imports, will be adequate to restore the fat cattle industry to a remunerative basis and maintain it in a fit condition.
Part III of the Bill I have already mentioned, and I come therefore to Parts IV, V, and VI of this measure. They are concerned respectively with markets, slaughtering and service schemes, and they have this common factor, that they are all directed towards improving the organisation and the technical equipment of the home livestock industry. I do not think anyone will deny that if we aim to make agriculture once again a remunerative industry, we shall not achieve that aim simply by the control of imports and the subsidising of the home producer. The home industry must also play its part, as indeed it has striven to do in recent years, by cutting out any dead wood and by taking 274 full advantage of the facilities for organisation provided by Parliament and of the new processes and technique that science continually makes available.
To take first the question of livestock markets. The Reorganisation Commission for Fat Stock, over which the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, presided, examined the systems of marketing in this country, and stated with conviction that there was room for improvement. That statement should not, I think, surprise us, when we remember that for ninety years no Markets Act has passed through Parliament, despite the revolutions that have taken place in that period in transport and communications. The railway, motor, telegraph, telephone, and wireless all belong to that period and there has been also a rapid expansion of the selling of livestock by auction. The Reorganisation Commission saidthat one weakness of the existing system lies in the fact that competition for supplies is dispersed over too many places of sale, e.g. over too many farms, too many markets, too many auctioneers. Thus, too many livestock selling centres are not 'real and effective' markets. …But they went on to say:Our aim is not to build a new market structure, but to improve the existing one";andwe suggest the retention of the main existing methods of sale. …That is the policy embodied in the present Bill. It is one of mending, and not of ending markets.
It is most important to observe that the proposed Livestock Commission will not be able themselves to close a market. They will make proposals to the Minister in the form of a draft Livestock Markets Order, for a particular area of Great Britain, and only after full inquiry by the Minister, and if necessary by Parliament, can an Order become operative. There is the fullest opportunity for every interest opposed to an Order to state their case and justify it before an impartial body. Further, compensation may be provided for market owners or auctioneers whose interests are affected adversely by an Order, the money for which will come, not from the subsidy fund, but from a levy on those who stand to gain from the greater business and greater security that the operation of the Order will bring them. It is not so much the ample safeguards that I would emphasise, but the moderate policy that lies behind these 275 proposals. It is not intended to rationalise a great proportion of markets out of existence. There are no fewer than 1,100 markets in Great Britain handling some 25,000,000 head of livestock a year—an average throughput of less than 500 head a week each. The market that requires to be dealt with is the market which is redundant because it no longer serves an essential purpose or an economic need. A market with a small turnover is not necessarily redundant. Nor is redundancy the whole of the problem. Many markets are not fitted with modern equipment; many are so restricted by ancient charters that they cannot give adequate service to livestock producers. The improvement of markets is as important as the regulating of their number. Consequently, it is proposed that the Commission shall be empowered to require approved market premises to modernise their equipment, and they may further make by-laws for regulating the number of auctions, for controlling charges and for fixing the times of markets.
Part V of the Bill deals with central slaughtering. In England and Wales there are 15,000 private slaughter-houses and 100 public abattoirs. The private slaughter-houses handle three-quarters of the total trade. In Scotland there are 150 public abattoirs handling about 90 per cent. of the home-killed meat consumed in that country. This position, and especially that in England and Wales, contrasts strongly, and some would say compares very unfavourably, with the position in the great overseas meat-exporting countries, where centralised slaughtering has long been in operation with undoubted advantage to their livestock industries. It has been argued that what is good for an exporting industry is not necessarily good for an industry such as ours which caters for the home market. But this new technique has been applied with great success in the Dominions and elsewhere to slaughtering for the home market. Moreover, we cannot disregard the expert and impartial inquiries which have been conducted in this country in the last few years and which have given the unanimous verdict that improvements can be effected in our slaughtering system.
There has been much discussion and theory on the subject. What we need is practical experience of the meat-works 276 technique, so that we may decide whether or not it is suitable for adoption in this country. The Bill therefore proposes that a limited number of experiments should be made—no more than three. This is in contrast with the policy relating to livestock markets. The Bill embodies a permanent policy for improving the markets system; but in the case of central slaughtering it simply enables the material to be gathered together on which a permanent policy could be based at a later date. The essential feature which it is desired to test out in these three experimental central slaughterhouses is the meat-works principle. The existing public abattoir in this country is, as your Lordships are aware, simply a communal building sheltering a number of individual butchering firms who work in separate cubicles and to no common plan. Under such a system it is impossible to realise the economies of coordination. The experimental abattoirs will, on the contrary, be able to unify the organisation and to control the slaughtering by a single administrative authority. A single gang of specialised slaughtermen working continuously through the week will replace the haphazard system under which butchers employ their own slaughtermen to kill at individually chosen times; and specialised labour working with the most up-to-date technical equipment should ensure that the meat is well-conditioned so as to reach the highest standards of quality and uniformity, and that the by-products are used to the greatest possible advantage instead of going to waste, as they so often do at present.
The initiative in promoting these experiments can only come from an outside body, whether that body be one representing private enterprise, a local authority, or combination of local authorities. If proposals are put forward, the Commission may, after consulting the Livestock Advisory Committee and all the local interests affected, submit them to the Minister in the form of a draft slaughter-house scheme. A scheme cannot become operative except after full inquiry by the Minister and after being submitted to the negative Resolution procedure in Parliament. With central slaughtering schemes as with livestock markets orders, everything has been done to make sure that no unfairness results to any interests 277 affected. The bodies conducting these experiments will be able to seek assistance by way of grant or loan from a fund of £250,000 which will be made available from the Exchequer. This sum will be quite distinct from, and additional to, the Cattle Fund of £5,000,000 a year, and its provision is I think justified by the fact that the bodies conducting these experiments will be doing pioneer work of great importance to the livestock industry and to the nation.
Part VI contains an interesting proposal for encouraging, by legislative means, self-help in the industry. The Commission is enabled, if so requested by a section of the industry, or various sections acting jointly, to submit proposals to the appropriate Minister for schemes for the performance of services likely to be of benefit to the industry, such as the promotion of a scheme of research and education, the insurance or advertising of livestock and the products of slaughter, the improvement of the breeding of livestock and possibly a scheme for the collection and provision of statistics. The proposal is that the schemes should be administered, not by the Commission, but by ad hoc bodies, and provision for the setting up of these ad hoc bodies would be contained in the scheme itself. Here again, full provision is made for consultation and inquiry into objections that may be put forward. The Minister has to be satisfied that the scheme is in the public interest and that there is a preponderating majority in favour of it on the part of those who would be called upon to contribute; and in the last resort the negative Resolution procedure comes into play. It should I think be emphasised that the initiative rests entirely with the industry. An important feature of the Bill is that it calls upon the industry itself to co-operate with the Government, through the Livestock Commission, in securing in full measure the benefits that the Bill is designed to afford. Those of your Lordships who have read the Bill will I think agree with me that co-operation is the underlying key-note throughout, and the Bill is noteworthy for its frequent reference to consultation and the extensive use made of the statutory body which is to advise the Livestock Commission.
278 The Bill seeks primarily to benefit the agricultural industry, but the possibilities provided for a more up-to-date and efficient service in the marketing of livestock and the products of the slaughtering of livestock give the measure, in addition, a wider national significance. The Bill has stood up well to a very long and close scrutiny in another place where, as your Lordships may be aware, the Committee stage lasted for eighteen days. The Amendments made there have improved the Bill but have made no fundamental changes in it. It is an enabling measure and it should be recognised that, apart from the subsidy, the object of the Bill is to provide machinery for future action rather than to offer a solution to all the difficulties with which the many sections of the industry have been beset for a considerable time. I have therefore some confidence in placing this very comprehensive measure before your Lordships. I expect that at a later stage members of your Lordships' House may feel that some further improvements are necessary to the Bill, but I am sure that noble Lords will find themselves in sympathy with its main purpose as a long-term measure which is designed to promote the permanent prosperity of the livestock industry, not only by means of direct State assistance but also through the scope that it affords for further economy and efficiency. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Feversham.)
THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I feel a little diffident in addressing your Lordships on a subject like agriculture, of which I am almost supremely ignorant, whereas so many of your Lordships are great agricultural experts. But it does seem to me that this Bill is a little like the proverbial curate's egg, "good in parts." Part I of the Bill, which seeks to set up the Livestock Commission, we warmly welcome on this side of the House. We think that is a very excellent thing indeed. But when we come to Part II, which introduces the question of a subsidy, we part company from His Majesty's Government. I would like to be permitted to congratulate the noble Earl on his able speech in moving the Second Reading. He told us that it is intended to give a subsidy up to £5,000,000 per annum to farmers. There is no class of the community that we on this side of the 279 House are more anxious to help than farmers, but it seems to us that it is very debatable whether a subsidy is the right way of helping them. It might be very much better to increase wages all round. If that were done farmers would be enabled to make a sufficient profit for themselves without their having to be subsidised to the extent proposed in this Bill.
Where is the money for this subsidy to come from? I understand—and I am sure the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong—that it is proposed to raise the import duty on meat to the extent in some cases of three-farthings per 1b. and in other cases of one half-penny per 1b. Now the people who buy imported beef are the very poorest part of the community, and they are the people who, very largely, are going to provide this £5,000,000 per annum to help the farmers; yet they themselves will get no benefit at all. It is well known throughout the world that English beef is far and away the best beef, but the poorest members of the community here have not sufficient money to be able to buy it. You are asking them in this Bill to supply £5,000,000 a year towards something from which they will get no benefit at all themselves.
The noble Earl mentioned the question of a standard price. That point was raised in another place. I read very carefully the debates that took place there on this question. It would appear that the Government cannot, or will not, find out if it is possible to get down to a standard price. I quite admit that it is a very difficult thing to do. Farming is not like an ordinary business in which you can estimate what would make a profit and what would not. At the same time it must be possible for a farmer to find out whether, if he sells meat at a certain number of shillings per cwt., he is making a profit or not. It seems to me that it is going a little beyond the bounds to suggest giving him a subsidy of 7s. 6d. per cwt. and not take into account in any sense whatever what the current price per cwt. is, or what it was last year, or what it may be next year, and so on.
I understand that at this time last year it was in the region of 32s. 6d. per cwt., and that it has risen to about 45s. 6d.; I believe it has been up to 51s. in certain districts. It may be uneconomic for a 280 farmer to sell meat at 45s. 6d., even with the subsidy of 7s. 6d. on top of that; I do not know; but surely your Lordships' House and the country at large are entitled to know. There must be a basic price at which it is economic for the farmer to sell meat and still make a profit. The rest of the Bill gives very wide powers to the Commission to inquire into all sorts of details concerning other traders connected with the matter, but the Government seem to find it impossible to come down to any sort of standard price. I really wonder why that is so. I have no other criticism to offer. With regard to Part V, we warmly welcome the principle of organising slaughter-houses. As I have tried to indicate we cannot support this Bill wholeheartedly, but it may be that the noble Earl, who is always so charming, may be more reasonable in accepting Amendments from this side of the House at the Committee stage than his colleagues were in another place.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I very much regret finding myself in the position of having to join the chorus in another place, and also I am afraid the chorus throughout the country—a chorus that damns this Bill with faint praise. I myself may perhaps qualify that by saying that I praise the Bill with faint damns. It is an attitude which I hate to take up because it is quite clear to me that in doing so I shall lay myself open to the charge of being ungrateful and of receiving in a churlish spirit a gift of no less than £5,000,000. That is a charge I should particularly dislike to face, because I am very well aware that no Government within my recollection and no Government during the last forty years have made anything like the endeavours that the present Government have made to set agriculture once more on its feet. They have to-day given us yet another proof of their determination so to do.
I would like to explain the reason of the attitude of agriculture towards this measure. In the first place I would ask your Lordships to remember that the farmer considers not intentions and not efforts but results. Results are the only things that affect his pocket and really affect his attitude. What is the present position of agriculture? I am afraid it is very little, if at all, better than it was before the present Government or the preceding Government came into power. 281 Take the case of the agricultural labourer. It is quite true that his wages have gone up—they have gone up, I think, by 3s. or 4s. a week—but at the same time the cost of living has gone up slightly and it must be doubtful whether he is more than a very little better off than he was three or four years ago. On that point I would say that I do not consider any Government entitled to have a complacent attitude with regard to agriculture until they can say that they have put wages in agriculture, when all things are considered, on a comparative level with those of other industries in this country.
Take the case of the farmer. It is quite true that the value of his product is rather more, but part of that increase has been taken away by the rise in wages and I believe that probably the whole of the rest of it has been taken away by the higher cost of feeding stuffs. I think he is probably in about the same position as he was four years ago. Take the case of the owner, and especially the owner-occupier. He is definitely worse off because rents, as far as I know, have not risen and the cost of the unkeep of buildings and equipment has gone up. He therefore is not in such a good position as he was three or four years ago.
I do not think any branch of agriculture really likes subsidies at all. Agriculturists do not like people getting up and saying they are living by the charity of £20,000,000 given by the Government. They do not like after-dinner speakers getting up and proposing the toast of "Agriculture and industry." They want to know why they should not both be treated on the same lines. Recently we had a Minister of Agriculture who was considered, and rightly considered, to be one of the greatest Ministers of Agriculture we have ever had. He left his office in a blaze of popularity. That Minister was never tired of saying that the right solution of the problem was a levy subsidy or a low tariff. He always used to bring in a person of whom he was very fond, the housewife. He used to say that the housewife would not stand dear food but was prepared for a levy subsidy. It is no good telling us that the money raised by the subsidy is more than the tariff on Argentine meat because the industry anticipated that not only would it get a tariff on foreign meat but a smaller tariff on Colonial meat.
282 Agriculturists remember well that saying, which is so easily forgotten by some and yet so tenaciously remembered by them, that the home market belongs firstly to the British farmer, secondly to the Empire farmer and thirdly to the foreigner. Those words will always remain in the farmer's memory, the more so because the Empire representatives at Ottawa accepted them. But when I say that I am still deeply conscious of the fear, and the very just fear, that any Government must have of any rise in the price of food. A small rise would shake a Government of any complexion and a high rise would make any Government liable to be turned out. It would be of little use, I admit, for a Government to do the right thing if that resulted in the Government being turned out and their policy instantly destroyed. It would be an act of folly. Therefore the Government have come down on the side of a subsidy. May I point out here that this is a subsidy not so much for the farmer as for the consumer, because in this case, as we know, the people in the Argentine are paying this subsidy and so it is in effect a subsidy to the consumer. Therefore it is only right that His Majesty's Government should give something to the producer in this country in return for it.
This Bill is in two separate parts. The first one deals with the machinery for distributing the subsidy, and the second indicates the powder that must be taken with the jam—that is to say, the amount of rationalisation, experimental or otherwise, which the industry must undertake in return for the benefits given. It is desirable that the machinery set up should be simple and economic. It should be simple because the farmer is already overburdened with forms and details in his work. Much of his day is already taken up with them rather than with work on the farm. It is desirable that the machinery should be economic because the cost of this Commission comes out of the subsidy.
I want to call to your Lordships' attention one rather big thing about this Commission. If you will turn to the First Schedule you will see there, in paragraph 4, a plain, simple statement of fact:No member of the Commission shall be capable of being elected to, or of sitting in, the Commons House of Parliament.283 That is very remarkable. I went into this matter with the object of seeing from what classes this Commission could be drawn, and I think that this list contains most of them: minors of both sexes, serving soldiers, sailors and civil servants, certified lunatics, undischarged bankrupts, felons, and members of your Lordships' House. There may be some reason for selecting this Commission from those classes, but I think I shall be justified in asking the noble Earl at a later date to say why he proposes to do so. Of course, it has been suggested to me that this paragraph is supposed to mean that no Member of Parliament is eligible to be a member of the Commission, but I cannot believe that even a Parliamentary Drafting Committee, if it meant that, would not put it down. I trust, therefore, that in due course the noble Earl will inform me about that provision.
The point that I wish to make here is that the number of the Commission is nine. That seems to me to be rather an excessive number. The Milk Commission, which sat for a great many months—in fact, I think it sat for a year—came to the conclusion that five was an ample number for such a Commission, and I venture to suggest that five would be a suitable number for this Commission. Part I also provides for an Advisory Committee. Its numbers are not stated, although when I first saw the Bill they were stated. Its powers are apparently limited to advice. I gather, and hope, that its members are not being paid, but I should be glad later to have an assurance on that point. One thing which strikes me about this Advisory Committee is that there is no machinery for having a majority of producers on it. There should be such a majority. I have heard the Minister explain that this Bill is a producers' Bill; that is to say, its main object is the interest of producers. That being so, it would surely be only right that the majority of this Advisory Committee should definitely be producers. The Government seem in this matter to move from extreme to extreme. When the Milk Board was set up, the whole of its members came from the producers, although a great many people at the time thought that this was a mistake. Under this Bill not only do the producers have no representative on the Board at all, 284 but even in a quite powerless Advisory Committee there is no machinery for giving them a majority.
Part II indicates the lines along which the Commission may work in distributing the balance of this subsidy. I was extremely glad to hear the noble Earl say that where there is a balance at the end of one year it will be placed to reserve and added to the next year. I had hoped that that would be so but was unable to find it in the Bill; no doubt the noble Earl will be able to tell me later where it occurs. Part III, on the regulation of imports, has caused a great many people to lift up their ears and hope that something substantial is going to be done. But the more I peruse that Part, the more difficult I find it to see exactly what is meant, or what powers have been given to the Board of Trade which the Government do not already hold. There is one small point that I hope will be taken into consideration. Where a quota is put on and the supply of imports is limited, care is to be taken of the seasonal production in this country. There are times in this country, especially when the cattle come off grass, as the noble Earl is aware, when there are plenty of cattle, but at other times there is a shortage. It is eminently desirable that someone should have the power of regulating, not during the whole period of one year but during shorter periods, the number of cattle which come into this country. I hope that the noble Earl will consider that point.
Now we come to the powers. I have never been able to understand, but I am quite open to conviction on the point, how the closing of markets will help the producer—and I am, of course, speaking entirely from his side. I should have thought that the law of supply and demand would govern prices. If the producer sends cattle to a market and gets a bad price, he will not send them there any more but will send them to another market, and the first market will close down. It is a well-established axiom that if you get a common level price throughout the country for any article the price of which has before varied in different markets, that common price will not be the highest price but the lowest. I should have thought that the producer could not expect any greater remuneration from the operation of this Part of the Bill. It contains, however, great pro- 285 visos and precautions, and I have no great fears on that score. One or two more safeguards should, however, be inserted, and I feel certain that if these are proved to be desirable the noble Earl will see his way to accept them.
I should like to commend His Majesty's Government for having only three experimental slaughter schemes, for proceeding with care and caution in a matter of obviously great difficulty. I do not quite understand one matter. When I first heard about this scheme, and indeed to-day, it was suggested to me that in a big centralised slaughter-house offals would be so carefully, skilfully and cheaply handled that they would bring in a high price, which would go to the producer. I hoped that was so, and it seemed reasonable, but in the Bill itself I cannot see how that occurs. There is no machinery for the slaughter-house to purchase animals. It is said that the cost of the offals will be returned to the person from whom the animals were obtained for slaughter. That person will be the butcher. Although it might be thought that the butcher would give more for the beast on account of getting more for the offals—well, my Lords, I happen to be a butcher myself, and I rather doubt it. It may be so, and I hope for the best, but I should rather have liked to see in this Bill some powers whereby at least one of these experimental abattoirs could purchase. I should have thought that one somewhere in the region of London might have induced the British public to buy more freely meat which now they have difficulty in obtaining, and which they doubtless replace from foreign sources. I am rather sorry that this power appeared impossible. The Bill may require some slight amendment in that respect. I am also just a little distressed to see municipalities mentioned as the people who are apparently going to operate this part of the Bill. At all events, they are mentioned. The last thing that the producer would wish is that profits raised from an abattoir should be used for the purpose of paying the rates. If there were in fact any profits, the feeling of the producer, and I think the intention of the Bill, is that they should go to him.
The last Part which interests the producer is Part VI, on service schemes. I am afraid that that is the Part of which I have the gravest suspicion, because 286 it does appear to me that it may lead to coercion of minorities by majorities. There are two special points with regard to it. It is mentioned that one of the purposes is to be "the advertisement of livestock or such products as aforesaid." One presumes one will see notices around the country of "Eat more meat," just as we are told to eat and drink many more things, regardless of the fact that we have only one stomach each, of a certain size. If you eat more meat you eat less of another form of food. And I rather regret number (vi) "the improvement of breeding of livestock." If there is one thing upon which we pride ourselves in this country it is, I think, the breeding of our livestock, and I should be very suspicious if a Commission of these supermen, who exist so freely on paper but are so difficult to find in the flesh, were to tell me how I was to breed my animals.
Those are my criticisms of the Bill, and I would say in conclusion that if I appear ungrateful in some ways I wish most heartily to congratulate the Government on taking up this question at all, and on the immense pains which they have shown in the matter. I can only trust, with regard to my belief that the subsidy will prove entirely ineffective, that the Government will prove to be right and I shall prove to be wrong.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, we have listened to two very interesting statements from the noble Earl on behalf of the Government. The first statement, as to the future plans of the Government, we are not debating to-day. The other statement was contained in the very lucid exposition of the Bill with which the noble Earl explained its provisions. As I understand it, we are now discussing the last big measure of the Government to deal with a special commodity. The Government in the past have dealt with agriculture as if it consisted of a lot of separate industries. Some of us thought that that was not the proper way. We thought that agriculture should have been dealt with as one industry, and I think that the way in which it has been dealt with has meant that in fact the country as a whole has not got the best value for the money which has been spent. I think that if we dealt with agriculture as one industry, and not as a lot of quite watertight, separate industries, we should 287 have more value for the money spent. I do not agree with the noble Lord who spoke last when he said that agriculture was no better off now than it was before the Government began spending money upon it. There is one special test. I think the value of agricultural land is higher, to-day, than it was a few years ago, and that is not a bad test of the prosperity of the industry.
When I read the Bill I wondered what our late noble friend Lord Banbury would have said of the first two clauses—that the Minister of Agriculture, in order to deal with one commodity, should feel it necessary to have for his assistance a Commission of nine members, a Commission with a large staff, all to be paid salaries. We can all picture the late noble Lord describing them. And that is not sufficient. It is not enough to give the Minister the benefit of a large Commission with a staff, but the Commission itself must be assisted by an Advisory Committee. Times have indeed changed when these proposals can be brought before the House without any strenuous protest being made. I will say one thing. If it is necessary to have an independent or semi-independent body, I think the Government are quite right to proceed on the lines on which they are proceeding in this Bill, rather than on the lines on which they have proceeded hitherto under the Marketing Acts. I am sure you will have a governing body that will be able to legislate more in the interests of the community as a whole.
I think what has happened in connection with cattle shows the disadvantages of dealing with each commodity separately. After all, you cannot separate milk production from the cattle industry. I think it would have been far better if the Government had waited a little bit and dealt with the cattle industry as a whole. You cannot possibly have one separate scheme for milk and another separate scheme for meat. The existence of the milk scheme, without at the same time any permanent policy for dealing with livestock, has undoubtedly prejudiced the cattle industry, and the absence of livestock proposals has increased the difficulties in connection with milk. Take for instance, the question of calves. For dairying the calf is often a by-product, whereas in the livestock industry its production is a different question. 288 Since the milk scheme was introduced the specialised production and rearing of calves has declined. There has been far too much use of what are called scrub bulls, and as a result the quality of beef has tended to deteriorate.
I understand that at the present moment 40 per cent. of the beasts killed for beef are females, and that must affect the future of milk production. Farmers in Wales, Scotland and the West have changed over from stock-rearing and farm butter-making to selling milk. There has been a great slaughtering of calves, and Mr. Baxter, in a public speech made recently, said he foresaw "a cumulative shortage in store cattle and dairy cows within a few years." I believe that since he made that speech the danger is less real, but one has to remember that the heifer calf of to-day is the milch cow of tomorrow, and I am certain it would have been far better if the Government had been in a position to deal with milk and cattle at the same time. Similarly, it is impossible to deal with one type of meat without taking into consideration other meats. Meat is produced by three animals, the bullock, the sheep and the pig, and consumption by the public depends upon the relative prices of the three types of meat. If pig meat goes up in price, its consumption goes down, and the public turn to mutton if its price is relatively low. So one has to have a policy, it appears to me, in relation to those three commodities.
On the question of the subsidy I think that our principle should be this. I do not think that, whether dealing with wheat or meat, we should attempt to guarantee to the farmer a profit. I think what we ought to do is to guarantee him against a serious loss through the bottom falling out of the market. That seems to me a far sounder principle on which to base subsidies. The past subsidy has been a flat-rate subsidy given for any beast over a relatively low quality. A farmer who sold a big, raw-boned, tough old creature got the full benefit, and I think it would have been far better if the farmer who supplied a nice, light-weight, well-finished beast had a bigger subsidy. It would have been far better really had we attempted to give an ad valorem subsidy—something like half-a-crown per pound on the value of the beast. I think you would have had better results. The flat-rate subsidy, it seems to me, has been an 289 anti-grading proposal. But, as I understand it, in the present Bill that is being rectified, and there is an additional qualtiy subsidy which is to be paid. That is on the right lines.
Perhaps the noble Earl when he speaks again would tell us whether it is proposed to spend the whole of the money, which the Government now propose to spend annually, regardless of the world price of meat and regardless of the price of cattle. There have been great fluctuations in the past. Livestock farmers have been in a very difficult position. The price of meat has gone down, but it is quite possible that it may go up, and what I am wondering is whether the Government propose to give the same subsidy regardless of the world price of meat. I am not at all convinced that it is right to discriminate, as the Government propose to do, against Irish imported cattle. I think it would be in the interest of agriculture as a whole if we were to take the British Isles as one unit. For dealing with livestock the British Isles form a perfect unit: you have some portions where the cattle can be reared, and others where they can be fed; and it is not to the permanent advantage of the cattle industry to continue the Irish war.
Grading of meat is extraordinarily difficult and unsatisfactory. Grading fat animals is very difficult, grading of stores is almost impossible, and that adds to the difficulties of dealing with livestock. It is for that reason that I personally think that the best way of grading cattle is through the auction market, because there you have an automatic grading. By that I mean not so much the small local markets, which I think it is proposed, quite rightly, to reduce in number; I am talking of the larger, more efficient, more up-to-date auction markets, such as exist in Scotland, or such as exists at Banbury, where there is plenty of competition. We know that in the small market it is relatively easy for buyers to form rings and the farmers are at a disadvantage. Where, however, you have a large number of beasts passing through it is much more difficult for rings to be formed, and farmers get true prices for their stock.
The Bill proposes to deal with the disposal of cattle in two ways—by auction markets and by the central abattoirs. I think the Government are right to contemplate the curtailing of the number 290 of small local markets. They were necessary in the old days before there were motor vans, but undoubtedly nowadays there is no need for the continued existence of a large number of them. But we have to bear in mind that a large proportion of British meat is consumed in rural districts, and we must be very careful not to do anything which will encourage the local butcher to telephone to a large centre, where there is a central abattoir, for his supply, because if he does that, he is just as likely to telephone for a standardised, imported, chilled joint as to telephone for fresh home-produced beef.
I am not going to-day to debate the relative merits of central abattoirs and auction markets. As I understand it, on the whole officials favour sale on the hook, whereas farmers prefer sale on the hoof. I have been trying to find what proportion of the livestock is sold by the different systems. I understand that between September, 1934, and August, 1936, only about 3 per cent. was sold on the deadweight basis. That seems to indicate that both the farmers and the business community look upon sale by auction as being the best and most businesslike method. The advantages of central abattoirs are largely hypothetical. The noble Lord, Lord Bingley, and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, presided over Committees which recommended this system, but in neither of their Reports did they give the evidence on which they based their recommendations. It may well be that what is suitable for an exporting country is not suitable for this country. The benefits, I say, are dubious, and, that being the case, I think the Government are quite right to limit their experiments. I think probably it is right to try an experiment, but I am wondering whether it would not be better to limit the experiments to two instead of to three abattoirs. It seems to me that agriculture really does not prosper with too much Government control and red tape. I heard the other day a new definition of the practical farmer. The practical farmer was said to be that farmer who depends upon Whitehall for practically everything. That is not the type of farmer who has been successful in this country. It is not by controlling the farmer at every step that British farming has achieved the position which it has held at different periods, and 291 which is still held by the best British farmers.
On the question of the import regulations by quota, I think that what has happened has shown that quota regulations have not been to the advantage of the home producer. If you take the price of bacon, if you take the price of beef, you will find that imported bacon and imported beef—that is to say, foreign farmers—have derived, relatively speaking, greater benefits under the quota system than the home producer.
The noble Earl, when speaking on future policy in his first statement to-day, referred to the question of Defence. We are bound when considering agriculture, as we are when considering industry, or anything else, to realise that the world to-day is faced with the possibility of war, and, that being the case, we have to consider that possibility in any discussion of agriculture. I think we should do nothing whatever that would prevent the maintenance of peace. If we look around the world to-day we find that certain things are necessary in order to increase the prospects of peace, and thereby reduce the possibility of war. One of the things which is undoubtedly necessary to improve our prospects of peace is an increased international exchange of goods. Undoubtedly if we can increase world trade, if we can increase the interchange of goods, we are making a contribution towards the maintenance of peace, but we are very apt, if we are interested in the production of a particular commodity, say foodstuffs, to take too sectional a view. We all of us tend to condemn other countries for adopting the policy of complete self-sufficiency and thereby prejudicing the trade development of the world. We naturally want to do what we can to develop home agriculture, but the greatest interest of all at the present moment, whether in agriculture or anything else, is the maintenance of peace. Therefore I think the Government are quite wise, as I understood the noble Earl's statement, in realising that one of the ways in which we can prevent war is by not developing unduly the home production of food.
Make agriculture prosperous, but do not follow the example of those countries which are going in for the policy of 292 autarchy. If one looks quite impartially and fairly at agriculture to-day, and compares it with what it was a generation ago, one cannot say truthfully that agriculture is a decaying industry. There are plenty of good farmers who are doing well. I know some who are quite prepared to admit it. There are, of course, as in every industry, some producers who are not doing so well. Undoubtedly the output from our soil to-day is much greater than it was fifty or sixty years ago; it is something like thirty or forty per cent. more. The output of our pastures is double what it used to be. The noble Earl who spoke from the Labour Benches blessed this Bill because it contained what I think he described as a reorganisation scheme, but I confess I become increasingly suspicious of schemes which in fact create monopolies that tend to exploit the public. I do not say that this will do that, but some of the schemes we have discussed undoubtedly have tended in that direction.
I welcome very much what the noble Earl said about the Government's proposals for reducing disease. I refreshed my memory before coming to the House this afternoon by reading a speech made by a Minister of Agriculture in another place four or five years ago. He then announced that the Government proposed to curtail their expenditure on education by £100,000; that they proposed to curtail their expenditure on research by £100,000; and that they intended to curtail their expenditure on eliminating animal diseases and on drainage by considerable sums. The noble Earl has given an indication of a far better and more far-sighted policy to-day. I am perfectly certain, taking it as a long-term policy, if the Government proceeded with a policy of spending large sums of money, even lavish sums of money, on eradicating disease and on developing disease-resisting strains of cattle, they would do a great deal to help the industry as a whole in the future. I hope very much the noble Earl one day may say whether the Government can do anything to subsidise parents, particularly males. It is not enough to eliminate the scrub bull. It would pay the country to give premiums to really good bulls. I do not mean thousand guinea bulls such as are exported to South America, 293 but really good hulls. If that were done, I believe we should get value for our money.
At the present moment, those farmers who are doing best are those who either possess capital themselves or can borrow considerable sums and who run their farms as successful manufacturers run their businesses. So I hope the Government may possibly do something also to give credit to the farmers. That is one of the chief needs to-day. Only one last thing. I hope that the Government will do nothing to discourage initiative among our farmers. British farmers have won the position they occupy to-clay because they have shown a disposition and ability to overcome obstacles, and not to look to the Government for practically everything to pull them through.
§ LORD BINGLEY
My Lords, I do not think, in view of the discussion there has been in your Lordships' House, that the Government need have much anxiety as to the final reception this Bill will get. Criticism has of course been made, and it has taken different forms. My noble friend Lord Cranworth took more the old-fashioned agricultural view which perhaps represents his conservatism more than his dislike of the Bill. We have to recognise, as methods change, that even agricultural people have got to face things which they did not like to face before. I quite agree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken that the late Lord Banbury would have gone to his grave very much earlier than he did if this sort of Bill had been produced in his presence, but I do not think the noble Viscount would say we ought to legislate entirely on lines that would have satisfied the late Lord Banbury. I am rather surprised that new methods—breaking into new systems—should not receive greater support from the noble Viscount than might have been expected from more conservative quarters.
The object of this Bill is, of course, to assist livestock production. Much of the outcry that there was in some quarters at the beginning was not very well informed. It was evident that though the agriculturist was prepared to accept and to be comparatively grateful for some things, yet the conditions under which assistance in the way of subsidy and regulation of imports were to be secured did not satisfy him at all. We have got to realise that a 294 subsidy at this moment is necessary. I hate subsidies. I want to see agriculture brought into a better position, so that no subsidy will be required, but for the moment I do not see how it can be carried on. We have got to get the industry on its feet. I was interested to hear the noble Viscount who has just spoken repeat what he has so often said as to regulation and procedure by quota being distinctly harmful to the consumer. If he would only consider the alternative plan of the straight tariff, which I believe he has always advocated, I think he will find it is infinitely more difficult to deal with milk, bacon, and so on by tariff, or ever by levy subsidy, than by quota regulation; and for this reason. Supposing you proceed by a straight tariff, you first of all have to make it effective. In the case of a commodity like beef, where there is tremendous competition, with a great many people wanting to import it into this country, you have to have a very severe tariff before it will have any effect at all. You do not know at what point it will be effective or at what point it will be defeated by the machinations of the victim, who may tinker with currency and exchange, or at what point it will affect importations into this country.
One of the main objects of the policy now being followed is to secure a place in the market for the livestock produced in this country. If you put a tariff on beef or even on bacon, you will find that you cannot tell exactly how much you are going to keep out, and how much of the market you are going to leave for the British producer; hut, in the case of quota regulation, you can pretty definitely calculate what the whole consumption is and what amount will be wanted from abroad. Having done that, you can regulate the import from abroad with far greater certainty that your policy will be effective. That is a method that cannot be used if you employ tariffs. The tariff is a very clumsy and inaccurate weapon to deal with that situation. I have often heard the noble Viscount criticise the quota regulation system, but if he will try and work out a Budget and see how difficult it is to deal with articles of very general consumption on which the feelings of the poorer classes of the people are extremely sensitive, he will see how difficult it would be to deal with articles of that sort by means of the rather clumsy device of the tariff. Subsidy and regulation will help 295 the industry, but when we come to the question of improved marketing it is not such an easy matter. I must say that it is very obvious there is an urgent need to reduce the production cost of livestock. Many a man is drawing money out of the industry which ought to be going into the pockets of the farmer.
There is no doubt that marketing in this country is terribly out of date. Not long ago the farmer drove his few animals to market. They lost weight all the way as a result, and it was naturally necessary for him to go to the nearest market. We have got beyond that now. Still there is great opposition to the idea that any of these markets should be closed. I agree that the main object of the Bill is not so much to close markets as to secure their greater efficiency. You would think that in all cases, if a market was inefficient, it would come to an end of itself, but that has not proved to be the case. We had a great deal of evidence before the Reorganisation Committee that there was a very large number of surplus small markets, and that there was a great feeling among farmers and those who have to use them that rings were formed and improper methods of trading persisted in. It is obvious that the way to defeat that sort of thing is to increase the size of your market and get a larger number of buyers drawn from a larger area into it. Therefore, subject to proper care and discrimination and to all the safeguards embodied in this Bill, I think the prospect of either making those markets more efficient or, if necessary, of having to close them down, is one which might very easily help the industry considerably.
Of course there will be very keen opposition to closing the markets from the shopkeepers in the market towns, and because of the vested interest of the auctioneers, and the profits which the dealers and butchers are making and all that sort of thing. In addition the natural conservatism of farmers will make them not wish to see a local market closed. I think, however, that the machinery provided by the Bill will enable that matter to be dealt with satisfactorily without any risk. The auctioneer, of course, is often a very popular figure. The farmer frequently depends upon him, and very often he is financially indebted to the auctioneer. 296 The auctioneer is undoubtedly a very great help to the farmer. He helps him through valuations; he sees him through difficulties; he advises him, and he very often finances him. We all know what very good fellows most of the auctioneers are. At the same time, I think there is no doubt that too many auctioneers are not efficient. We had full evidence to that effect. There are, of course, remarkably good auctions in this country. Banbury has been quoted. That is one which stands out among the auction marts of this country, but there are certainly a great many markets which are not so efficient as Banbury. And the inefficiency of the auctions due to the inefficiency of the auctioneer means of course loss to the farmer who is trying to sell his produce in that market.
I do not want to keep your Lordships long, especially at this time, but I should like to say one thing about the experiment of central slaughtering. I quite agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that you cannot have central slaughtering in country districts. That, I think, has always been accepted, and I do not think it has really been seriously suggested that there should be; but there is no doubt whatever that the system of small slaughter-houses in large urban areas is an extremely vicious one, and not only leads to a great deal of waste but is unsatisfactory in many other ways. In the areas where there is a big turnover I believe some closer system of organising central slaughtering would be of very great advantage. After all, this is merely an experiment, and it is just as well to try a thing out before you definitely commit yourself to a big policy. The Government have distinctly made it clear that they are not in favour of a policy of general central slaughter-houses whatever the advantages may be, but I welcome the chance of an experiment. I do not think we can complain that this sort of thing has to be done by the Livestock Commission, for this reason, that I am afraid there is a certain element of "powder and jam" about this. You want to get the agricultural industry to take these appliances up themselves, and unless you can convince the farmers that they will be to their advantage you will not succeed. I think that is the reason for having these Commissions.
297 For myself I dislike Commissions, but I think in this case a certain amount of extra outside assistance will be required because the necessary drive does not come from the industry itself. I myself should like to see more of the system that prevails in other countries. I should like to see the chance of sending stock to a big market where there is an abattoir with all the appliances to enable carcases to go in and be dealt with easily and come out easily, and with proper facilities for treating the by-products. That would result in a great saving of the waste which at present occurs under our system. I think that is a system we might establish in this country. Then the farmer, instead of wasting his time going to market to sell his stock, would be able to sell by grade and dead weight and do it merely through short correspondence. That would mean a great saving of time, trouble and expense.
I will conclude by saying that the farmer, as we all know, is a very conservative person, and when he finds that the opposition to this Bill is supported by butchers, dealers and auctioneers and a good many people whose interests are not quite his own, I think he may well ask whether the opposition to the Bill is really centred entirely on the interests of the farmer. I hope that from this Bill the farmer will get considerable value. The Bill has been considerably improved in the House of Commons, and it may be no doubt still more improved in your Lordships' House, through which I hope it will pass with the same ease as it did through the other House.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, in his concluding remarks pointed out that the opposition to this Bill came not from the farmers but from other interests, and I think it is only right that we should realise that this is not entirely a farmers' Bill. Other interests are very deeply affected by it, such as those of the auctioneers and the butchers. Their livelihood and their capital are affected by the Bill, and therefore they have every reason and every right to oppose it. I might also point out to the noble Lord that if the agricultural newspaper which I read is correct the President of the National Farmers' Union, who is a member in the other place, was so dissatisfied with the Bill that he did not vote for the Third Reading, so that the farmers are not entirely 298 satisfied. I think perhaps the noble Earl in front of me may realise from the speeches to which he has already listened that it is not a Bill which is received with great enthusiasm either by the agricultural community or by other communities who are interested in it.
It is obvious that there is no point in making a lengthy speech at this stage in the proceedings, but there are one or two matters to which I should like to draw attention and which have not been mentioned in this debate. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to the number of Commissions and Committees with which the Ministry of Agriculture, or rather the Ministers have buttressed themselves in this Bill. I should add another one. We have the Livestock Advisory Committee, and if you go to Clause 16 so far as markets are concerned we may also have to set up yet another Committee to advise the Commission. That I think is a bad feature of this Bill. This Bill is to implement the Government's policy so far as agriculture is concerned, and they have set up in it these Commissions and Committees behind which they will be able to shelter when there is criticism of the results of the Bill after it has become an Act of Parliament. One knows only too well that whenever there has been criticism of what has gone on with regard to milk or pigs, the answer has invariably been that it is a producers' scheme run by the producers. The answer in this case will no doubt be that the Government have taken the advice of the Commission or of the Livestock Advisory Committee. But the Commission will be appointed by the Government, and I can quite easily see the ball being tossed from the Government to the Commission and then to the Advisory Committee and back all along the line. It looks to me as if this is a very real attempt, which possibly may be a successful attempt, on the part of the Government to evade responsibility for their own actions.
I quite agree that the Livestock Advisory Committee is a very necessary part of the machinery of this Bill, because this Bill interferes with the ordinary business of a certain part of the community as it is run to-day. Therefore, when you are going to alter that, you do need the expert advice of those who are concerned in the industry with which we are dealing. The Com- 299 mission on the other hand is to consist of eight men and a Chairman appointed by the Government, and it is laid down in the First Schedule that any memberwill have or has, as the case may be, no such interest in any agricultural or commercial undertaking as is likely to affect him in the discharge of his functions as a Commissioner.That is to say, he must be a man who has no active interest in agriculture or in any ancillary business connected with the livestock industry. I do not go so far as to say that the choice is so limited as my noble friend Lord Cranworth suggested, but a Commissioner must be a man who owns no land and who does not farm. He must either have retired from farming or must never have farmed. Again, so far as auctioneering or butchering is concerned, he must be no longer in business. The Commissioners are to be entirely independent and, for the very reason that they are not in business, they will be incapable of advising satisfactorily on the detailed measures which are incorporated in the Bill before your Lordships. My own conclusion is that the Commission is an entirely unnecessary part of the livestock organisation. I do not propose to move an Amendment abolishing the Commission, because I do not feel capable of dealing with all the consequential Amendments involved if it were carried; but I do wish to point out that by adopting this particular method the Government seem to be attempting to evade to a great extent the responsibilities of their own policy and to put them on a Commission which by its very constitution is not the right body to deal with matters that arise under a Bill of this nature.
This Commission is, as the noble Earl suggested, a departure from the established methods of dealing with agricultural commodities. Hitherto, in dealing with commodities under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, we have had a body elected by the producers themselves. I know the defects of that particular system; I think we all know them; but on the other hand the system had this advantage, that those concerned in the production of the particular commodity concerned were able to express their dissatisfaction actively, even to the extent of electing somebody else as member of a board in place of somebody they disliked. 300 They even—and this is far more important—had the right if they so desired of liquidating a scheme under which any particular commodity was being marketed. With this Government-appointed Commission they will have absolutely no right of that nature. They are giving away all their independence, not to people elected by themselves, but to an independent Commission appointed by the Government. They will have absolutely no right under this Bill, as far as I can see, to put an end to the working of that Commission if they are dissatisfied. They can only act through Parliamentary procedure, and as agricultural electors are in a small minority that probably will not be very effective procedure from their point of view.
The next point to which I would wish to refer is the regulation of imports. In complete contrast to the number of advisory committees to the Ministry of Agriculture the Board of Trade which win deal with the regulation of imports under the Bill have absolutely no one to turn to for advice. The regulation of imports is a very important part of this Bill. The noble Earl said there is going to be an International Beef Conference to advise on the regulation of imports. My criticism of that is that I have grave doubt whether such an International Beef Conference will ever come to any satisfactory agreement, and I am quite certain that if such a Conference does come to a decision it will not necessarily be favourable to the English producer. Such a Conference will have many interests to consider, and although my noble friend Lord Bingley is a member of it, and I have great admiration for his qualities and know that he is favourably disposed to the home producer, still he is only one man. Therefore I have grave doubts: first, as to the success of the Conference; and secondly, even if it is successful, whether it is going to be of any use to the home producer. One has to fall back on the Board of Trade which, in contrast to the Ministry of Agriculture, will be completely uncontrolled, and from rather bitter experience of the Board of Trade in connection with quotas I am afraid that the Board of Trade is rather inclined to consider the consumer very much to the exclusion of the producer.
The final point I want to bring before your Lordships is that of the slaughtering 301 schemes. We have had little or no information, either in this House or as far as I can ascertain in the course of the progress of the Bill in another place, as to the real intentions of the Government in regard to the working of these slaughtering schemes. It may be said that this is a matter of detail which can be settled later, but it is a matter of great importance to those who are concerned in the slaughtering business, and I think that we should take a great deal of care in considering the legislation affecting these slaughtering schemes. We have no knowledge, for instance, of what is to be the exact definition of meat. It was said in another place by the Minister that a person carrying on a central slaughterhouse should not be entitled to retain any of the products of the slaughtering other than those described as the unidentifiable offals. He then went on to identify them as blood, horns and hooves, occasional fat scraps, glands and offals of condemned meat. That is a statement of the Minister of Agriculture. It is not included in the Bill. It is left to the scheme to state what the offals will be.
It may well be that in any scheme which is brought up it will seem desirable to include a number of edible offals. That we do not know, and I should very much like some assurance on that point. It has its importance, not only from the butchers' point of view but also from that of the livestock producer. Centralised slaughtering probably entails the meat being conveyed alive, in the first instance, rather farther than it would he if it went to a small local slaughter-house, and the dead meat and its products being conveyed back. A great deal of the profit in meat lies in the edible offals, and their sale—I only give this as an instance—depends enormously upon their condition. I am informed that to-day sheeps' livers from the Argentine are worth 8d. a pound, while fresh English sheeps' livers are worth about 2s. 3d. a 1b. It is a very considerable difference. If you keep the same sheeps' livers in a central slaughter-house for three days, possibly in cold storage, as would be necessary, they will go back to the butcher in a form which will only fetch the same price as a similar article brought from as far away as South America. They will be an inferior article, and that fact in turn will react upon the producer of livestock, who will not get 302 such a big price for his beef because of the lesser value of his offals.
That is only an instance to show, as I feel very strongly, how careful we need to be when we are considering the alteration of existing channels of trade, and how essential it is to take the most expert advice that we can get in settling the details. I do not wish to say any more than that. I am afraid I have said a great deal in criticism of the Bill as a whole. I must confess that when I first read the Bill I very nearly put down a Motion for its rejection, and now, having gone further into it, I wonder why I did not put down such a Motion. There is a great deal in the Bill which is very unsatisfactory, and I cannot see any advantage in it either to the livestock producer or to the trade of this country.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, there is one point which I do not think has yet been alluded to but which is worthy of mention: what is going to happen to the shopkeepers and traders of a small town at which farmers attend the market, if that market is compulsorily closed? Many small market towns throughout the country are largely dependent for their trade upon the farmers who come in, possibly once or twice a week, possibly once a fortnight, to market, very often accompanied by their womenfolk, to buy their normal supplies. It may be said that, should these markets be closed, the farmers will still continue to get their provisions and other commodities from the shops with which they have hitherto dealt. I do not think that is correct. Although Lord Bingley has expressed the view that it may be even more convenient for the farmer in the future to do his marketing over the telephone, from my own experience of farmers in all parts of Scotland—and I do not know that they are so very different from farmers in Yorkshire—I find that they regard, rightly or wrongly, attendance at the market at which they are going to do business, and sometimes at many markets at which they have no business to do, as practically their sole method of social intercourse with their fellows. I have myself, on occasion, got into trouble with my farmer friends for suggesting that many of them would do better to attend fewer markets and do a little more personal work on their farms. The point is that if the market is 303 transferred to what will probably be a larger town, a great proportion of the farmers who previously shopped at the small town will transfer their attendance to the town to which the market has been moved. This is likely to have a very serious effect indeed upon the livelihood of thousands of small traders throughout the country. We should therefore be very careful before agreeing to anything which will make the lot of these small traders, already rather difficult, even harder than it is to-day.
There are one or two other small points—possibly not so small. Clause 26, enabling local authorities to indulge in apparently unbridled licence to set up slaughter-houses, even outside their own areas, and to carry out various operations connected with them, fills me with considerable concern. Two other points were raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, one of which concerns the way in which cow beef is being developed in ever-increasing quantities at the present time owing to the way in which farms are going over to milk. That is certainly, in Southwest Scotland, a quite serious problem. Farms are being turned into dairy farms which are certainly not suitable. I hope that this Bill contains something, though I have not been able to find it, which will make it profitable for farmers on such farms to go back to the proper system of mixed farming which they used to practise and get away from milk production, which, in many cases, is quite unsuitable for them.
My last point concerns the importation of Irish store cattle. I should like to see the breeding of cows, if possible, from store cattle made easier and more remunerative. In Scotland we shall be dependent for a long time on Irish store cattle. The price of stores to-day is so high as to make any profit on fattening problematic, if not non-existent. If anything more is done to restrict the supplies before fresh encouragement is given to the home producer, I do not think it will be in the interests of the country as a whole.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, we have witnessed once again the very interesting manner in which agricultural issues are debated in your Lordships' House. I am quite certain that the many points of view that have been expressed by the noble Lords who have taken part in 304 this debate will receive the interest and consideration of the Minister before the Committee stage of the Bill is reached. On one point there has been a fair degree of unanimity, and that is that during the years since the depression began in 1930 the price of fat stock has been at a level which is unremunerative to the producer. We can therefore assume that it is agreed that if the fertility of the land is to be maintained—and I am very glad to hear that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, approved of the comprehensive statement of the policy of His Majesty's Government for maintaining the potential productivity of the soil—some action has to be taken to revive the livestock industry.
The noble Lords, Lord Cranworth and Lord Radnor, have to some extent severely criticised the method that the Government have employed for bringing that relief. But Parliament agreed, over two and a half years ago, that assistance should be given to the livestock industry in the form of a subsidy, and the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, has very considerably eased my task by referring to the two questions which have been raised of the levy subsidy principle and the standard price. Much criticism has been made to-night, and especially has this point of view been expressed by Lord Astor, that there are too many organisations, that a subsidy is in the long run harmful to the farmer; and he quoted the definition of a practical farmer of today as one who relies upon assistance from Whitehall. But, my Lords, it is important to realise that this Bill helps the farmer to help himself. It is an enabling Bill and with the provisions with regard to the subsidy which will now be on a quality basis—on a two-tier system—I think there is not much danger of the farmer becoming less self reliant owing to the legislative provisions of Parliament.
It is generally agreed, I think, that the pre-eminently successful piece of legislation that the Government have inaugurated since the depression has been the Wheat Act of 1932, and naturally on the part of some there is a strong inclination to the view that that procedure should be adopted for other products. But, as Lord Bingley has already stated, the case of meat is very different from that of wheat. In the first place, we import four-fifths of our supplies of wheat and flour, and the levy under that Act 305 is on the miller and importer of flour and not upon the Exchequer; whereas, in the case of meat, half our total consumption is provided from home sources. It would therefore be of considerable difficulty to impose a levy sufficient to produce the subsidy that the beef producer is to get. And if such a principle were adopted we must bear in mind that it would have very grave repercussions on agreements with the Argentine and with our Dominions.
Many specific questions have been put to me on this Bill and I regretted to hear the general criticism made by Lord Cranworth that the Bill will not help the farmer to any considerable degree. The noble Lord says that the increased subsidy that will be given for cattle of the highest quality is lost through the rise in wages and the increased cost of feeding stuffs. It is undoubtedly true that those two factors have put an unfortunate check upon the increased returns which would otherwise have been received during the course of the last few months. Lord Cranworth also expressed the opinion that the proposed Livestock Commission was too large at nine members; he thought that five would be quite sufficient. I think that as the proposed Livestock Commission will have more functions and specific duties to perform than the present Cattle Committee, its membership should be increased. The membership of the Cattle Committee is to-day seven. Lord Cranworth also asked whether the members of the Commission were to be paid.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
The members of the Advisory Committee will not be remunerated for their services except as to out-of-pocket expenses. It is the case, as Lord Astor suggested, that, in present circumstances, 40 per cent. of the beasts slaughtered and receiving subsidy are heifers. Lord Cranworth said that he was of opinion that the Advisory Committee of the Livestock Commission would not be of any great service to the producers because there would be so many representatives of other interested parties. There are many bodies who under this Act will be actively interested in the Livestock Advisory Committee. There are the producers, the local authorities, and the auctioneers, and it will be the aim of Ministers when the Livestock 306 Advisory Committee is being formed to limit the number of representatives of each body to proper dimensions, in order not to make that Committee unwieldy. It is most desirable that the Committee should be composed of experts on the different aspects of the duties with which the Commission have to deal. It will no doubt be possible for the Committee so to arrange their business as to group various items for consideration and refer them to sub-committees. The only alternative I can see to that proposal is that there should be the somewhat cumbersome procedure of a separate committee for each Part of the Bill. If such a procedure were adopted it would be entirely contrary to the general view expressed by Lord Astor and Lord Cranworth, that the fewer statutory bodies that exist the better it is.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked a question as to whether it is proposed to spend all the subsidy regardless of the world price of meat. The money under the subsidy proposals will be voted annually, the maximum being £5,000,000 and the rates of subsidy will be prescribed by the Minister, who will of course from time to time take account of the market situation. Therefore under that procedure there will be no risk of the £5,000,000 voted by Parliament being paid if not justified by market conditions.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
In the White Paper which gives the provisional proposals for the cattle subsidy it is stated that the balance in the subsidy fund will be carried over till next year. But that actual provision is not contained in the Bill. There are many other points which I feel could better be replied to on the Committee stage than at the present time, but I would like to conclude by saying that we attach the greatest importance to these proposals for planning the industry because we feel, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, properly said, that without them we can obtain no bottom to the market. It is for the purpose of putting a foundation to the market that there is provision in the Bill for regulation of supplies, for subsidy payments and for reorganisation and re-equipment in marketing and slaughtering. As I have said, this Bill does not force organisation 307 on an unwilling industry as I think the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, implied. In the case of markets, if there is objection in any quarter the proposals have to be reviewed first by the bodies intimately affected. Then they are sent to the Minister in draft form. The next procedure is a public inquiry; and finally the scheme, if necessary, comes before Parliament. Under such a procedure I think one can be confident that if any representative organisation interested in the market proposals strongly resents the action that is proposed, Parliament will see that it is not enforced arbitrarily.
The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, asked how the Livestock Markets Order would assist the producer. There can be no doubt that where a market has become old-fashioned and ill-equipped to deal with conditions produced by new methods of transport and communications, the amount of stock it will deal with is decreased. But as the noble Lord, Lord 308 Bingley, very truly said, a market does not die of its own accord; the farmer sends his cattle to such a market, even though it is poorly equipped, because he has been used to sending them there rather than because of the price he receives there. It may therefore be necessary to eliminate some of these 1,100 markets and get real markets where there is competitive buying and where rings are absent. I am afraid that I have referred very sketchily to some of the points raised in the debate, but at this late hour it would perhaps not be right for me to deal with them further, and I can only assure the House that I will make it my duty to go very fully into those points between now and the Committee stage.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at three minutes before seven o'clock.