HL Deb 19 February 1946 vol 139 cc688-96

3.44 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this small and, I hope, non-controversial Bill has been a very long time coming to your Lordships' House. It started its career in another place during the life of the last Parliament, but there events unfortunately stopped its progress. It was reintroduced last August and comes to this House with but few alterations—hardly any change at all — since its original phrasing. I commend it to your Lordships as I think it is a measure which will help towards the improvement of live stock in this country.

The noble Duke the Duke of Norfolk, who has played such an extremely big part in the development of this practice of the artificial insemination of cattle in Great Britain, will, I hope — I do not see him for the moment — address your Lordships, as he can tell you far more about the development of this practice in the last eighteen months than I could ever do, as he has been chairman of a committee on the subject. I would, however, like to stress the very great advantages of artificial insemination of live stock over natural mating from the point of view of the commercial farmer and indeed of the country generally.

From time to time reference has been made in this House to the great losses we have suffered from animal diseases. The transmission of some breeding diseases from the bull to the cow can be avoided by this method of artificial insemination. The method of the selection of the bull and of keeping him will also prevent other diseases being transmitted, and, in fact, prevent the bull having them at all.

At this time when producers in Great Britain and throughout the world are striving, or will be striving, to build up their stocks, it is imperative that there should be not only increased quantity but quality in our primary products, and we hope that, through the use of artificial insemination, we can get better sires to be used in wider and wider fields, and rapidly increase the quality of our herds.

In that respect, I thought it might interest your Lordships to hear of an experiment which was being carried out in the last month of last year. Semen was actually transmitted by aeroplane from Prestwick, from rams in Scotland to ewes in Iceland. The Iceland Agricultural Society have promised to give the Department of Agriculture information as to the progress of this experiment, and if it succeeds it opens out enormous possibilities for the development of this practice. However, although great benefits are anticipated from it, it is also obvious that potentially great harm might be done too. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1943, empowered the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland to make regulations governing the development and practice of artificial insemination under proper regulation and control. So far it has been thought desirable to make regulations only in relation to bulls in this country and to bulls and stallions in Scotland, but if, later on, it should be found advisable to regulate the practice in regard to other live stock, there are adequate powers to do so and they will be used.

In England and Wales the practice is assisted by the Central Advisory Committee on. Artificial Insemination. This Committee, under the very able chairmanship of the Duke of Norfolk, has, in the last eighteen months, carried out a survey of our national needs in this respect in the country as a whole, and I must say that by its tireless efforts to guide the initial development of the practice, has rendered a splendid service, both to the live stock industry and to the country as a whole.

The first experimental period has passed and we come to the second period. Large numbers—probably millions—of cattle have been inseminated by this method in the U.S.A., the U.S.S.R. and Denmark. We, in this country, have very little up-to-date knowledge of insemination on a big scale, but we have a certain amount of very useful data which has come from experiments carried out in trial centres at Reading and Cambridge. During the stage upon which the industry is now entering, it is obviously necessary that financial assistance should be available; and Clause 2 of the Bill provides the means of assisting commercial development in the early stages by grants from public funds.

Side by side with the development of commercial centres there must be provision for research work. Much has yet to be learnt, and many problems, genetic, veterinary and economic, require investigation. This Bill before your Lordships provides a means whereby such work can be financed. It gives power to the Minister to set up research centres and to aid approved research work on artificial insemination elsewhere. By 1950 commercial centres should function efficiently and without financial loss, but in the meantime it is proposed that the Minister should be empowered to meet reasonable losses. Provision is made so that centres which have received financial assistance but which in subsequent years during the period covered by the Bill make profits should recoup the Government for payments made in earlier years to the extent of two-thirds of those profits. Care will be taken to ensure that the centres function economically, and the Minister will not sanction payment in respect of losses incurred unjustifiably. The aim will be to ensure that current and capital expenditure—this includes buildings and the erecting of suitable laboratories or anything of that kind—are kept within reasonable bounds, while making certain of an efficient service to the farming community.

The task of a centre is not only to get cows in calf, but particularly to breed better beef. Under Clause 2 of the Bill grants will be made only to duly licensed centres owned and operated by producer-controlled bodies. This provision should ensure that the centres operate primarily for the benefit of the users. For this purpose importance is attached to the provisos that, to qualify for a grant, a centre must make its service available, without discrimination, in respect of all cattle within its area of operation, subject always to due regard being paid to sound breeding policy, to animal health and to general efficiency. In connexion with the limitation of assistance to producer-controlled bodies, it is interesting to observe that both in the United States and in Denmark the greatest success which has attended this practice has been in conjunction with farmers' co-operative societies.

As I indicated earlier in my speech, it is one of the duties of the Central Advisory Committee on Artificial Insemination to advise the Minister in planning development in England and Wales. Care is being taken to see there is no waste through unnecessary duplication of effort and that areas of beef as well as of milk production are included. The advice of the veterinary profession is that as a general rule it is undesirable to house more than twenty bulls in one centre, and the reason is that if there should be a stoppage owing to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease nearby there would be considerable losses to the farmers round about—the cow owners—as it might be difficult to get semen from a distance. Therefore there must be some limitation on the size and the location of the centres. I am also happy to say that the Milk Marketing Board propose to play a very big part in the development of this national scheme. They already operate in four of the thirteen areas where the service is at present provided, and they expect to extend this service to several more areas very shortly. Their centres will further increase in numbers during the next few years. To permit the Board to carry out their proposals fully, Clause 5 of the Bill empowers them to operate centres for the benefit of all cattle owners irrespective of whether they are registered milk producers or not.

In conclusion I would again like to stress the potential value to the live stock industry of this country of this practice of artificial insemination. Through this service ccws can be mated to bulls far superior to those available to the majority of commercial cow keepers to-day. Furthermore, centres working in close co- operation with the Ministry's local officers and with the county executive committees will encourage farmers to adopt a suitable breeding policy. The mongrelisation of our herds, if I may say so, should thus decline and Britain's livestock should be enabled to reach a higher plane of efficiency, with better and cleaner herds. For these reasons I commend this Bill, and move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, this is a short Bill, but it is an important one which, I think, started its career in the hands of the last Government. I should like very briefly to say that on this side of the House we welcome its introduction. I think we are all agreed that one of the most important foundations of agricultural policy in the future must be live stock improvement. It has always been a source of worry and regret to those of us who are connected with the agricultural industry that while this country produces some of the best stock in the world it also produces some extremely poor stock as well. Unquestionably this Bill, if passed into law, will be of the greatest assistance to the small farmer, the man with 15 cows or under, who cannot afford to buy an expensive bull and who therefore, all too frequently, buys what he can afford, which, again all too frequently, is what we call a scrub bull.

I am glad the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading mentioned the question of disease because that is obviously of fundamental importance. The scrub bull is very frequently the village bull, who goes round the village spreading disease from one herd to another. I think that this Bill can also be of assistance to the pedigree breeder at the other end of the scale. If artificial insemination is to be a success there has got to be an adequate supply of proven sires. There is no question that in many cases the pedigree breeder wants to get hold of certain blood for breeding a new line, but is either unwilling or unable to purchase a particular bull for the full-time use of his herd, although he does want to get certain services in order to produce what he feels is likely to prove later to be a proven sire. I think it would be most useful for that purpose.

If artificial insemination is going to be useful, it also undoubtedly contains dangers, and the noble Earl mentioned some of them. Therefore I particularly welcome the provisions for controlling the use of this form of breeding. That is quite fundamental. The purpose of artificial insemination is to enable a sire to spread his influence further than he can by direct service, and that means that it he is a bad sire he can broadcast bad blood throughout the industry. For that reason I hope that, as far as possible, as indeed I believe is the policy of the Board controlling this development, they will restrict themselves to the use of proven sires. That is absolutely fundamental. I think all of us who have been trying to breed cattle for some time have learned that a pedigree is all right and past performance of ancestors is all right, but that it is extraordinary, for instance, what poor milking capacity you can get from stock bred from a bull with an exceedingly high milking ancestry.

We know exceedingly little about the problem, and if you ask an animal geneticist he will tell the practical farmer that all we can really say is that it is highly likely that a bull which has produced good stock in the past will produce good stock in the future. That is, I am afraid, just about as far as we have been able to get. Therefore, I do stress very strongly this point of the use of the proven sire. I welcome also Clause 1, which recognizes the need for more knowledge. I know it is quite true that many other countries such as Russia, the United States of America and Denmark are far ahead of us in their use of artificial insemination, and in many ways that is to be regretted, but there is still a great deal which is not known.

We want more knowledge of the technique, more knowledge about methods of storage and the length of time that storage is possible. We want to know more about the distances that we can send semen, and more about the number of cows that one bull can deal with. More information is needed, too, on the question of organization. When I was in America a little while ago, I found that there had been very rapid development of societies for dealing with artificial insemination. There had been what I would, call a mushroom growth of such bodies. They had not always used the best bulls, and a good deal of bad blood had, therefore, been spread. In some instances, the societies had very soon gone bankrupt and their work had, in consequence, completely broken down. We do not want that sort of development here. It is far better to go ahead steadily and carefully with a controlled scheme.

As I have already said, there are numerous matters on which we need more knowledge, and I believe that, in that connexion, centres established under this Bill can be immensely useful. It may be said that we really know very little about the principles of breeding. We know, as I say, something about the effectiveness of a proven sire. We know a certain amount about line breeding and about in-breeding. We are, through the Agricultural Research Council, setting up an institute for research into the fundamental principles of animal breeding, and genetics. But however large that institute is, however many cattle and other animals we have at that institute, it is not going to be possible to have nearly enough to obtain all the information that we require. Therefore we want to get the full benefit of the experience of all existing breeders.

The time has not come yet but I think it will come, when we shall have to make an appeal to all the big and experienced breeders of the country to help by giving us such access as is possible to the results of their experience. We ought also, as I say, to be able to get a great deal of information from the work of the artificial insemination centres. I am not sure whether it is the fact that this is going to be done or not, but I hope it will be laid down that all the calves produced by this method will be earmarked so that it will be possible to trace them in the future. I think that is most important and if it is done it will be of great value. That, my Lords, is all I have to say about this Bill. It is certainly not the panacea for all our problems of breeding that some people have represented it as being, but it is one step, and I think, a very sound step, in the direction of improving the live stock of this country.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to say only one or two words because Earl De La Warr has, in my view, entirely covered the ground. As I was one of those who, a good many years ago, were very much concerned with efforts which were made to deal with the problem of the scrub bull, I welcome this Bill very warmly. I think that these proposals for having a properly controlled scheme are most necessary. Control, in this matter, is essential because there is a great deal more to be discovered, as Earl De La Warr has said, than is now known to those who are concerned with the matter of breeding. The scrub bull has presented a problem for a long time. I can only hope that as the result of action that will be taken under this Bill, his use will be largely dispensed with. I believe that, provided sufficient care is taken in the control of this business, you will raise the whole standard of quality of the cattle of this country, and greatly reduce the very large proportion which, at the present time, are not of the best quality. The effect of that improvement on milk production may be very considerable, and a very great improvement in the quality of beef cattle may also ensue. Therefore, it is from the point of view that I have endeavoured to voice that I now express my hope that your Lordships will pass this Bill, and that the work envisaged will have the fullest success that it can have, under proper and adequate control.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, there is only one very small point upon which I would like to have some reassurance. That arises from what has been said—quite truly, of course—about the supply of first-rate bulls. The backbone of the industry of a pedigree stockbreeder is constituted by his export bulls. I should deprecate anything being done that might adversely affect the buying by, for example, the Argentine of bulls in this country. Buyers from abroad give very large prices for first-rate animals, and this helps to keep the industry which produces the best class of stock going.

Whereas, at the moment, the export of semen is limited to certain distances, there is a posssibility that in the future a method may be developed whereby it can be delivered to any part of the world. It would be very unfortunate for the industry which I have mentioned if instead of being able to sell their bulls, that particular branch of their trade was done away with. Moreover, this would, I think, have an adverse effect on the supply of first-rate bulls needed for the purposes of the artificial insemination centres.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.