HL Deb 10 May 1948 vol 155 cc721-7

4.20 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a short Bill which should serve an extremely useful purpose. The first Part of the Bill (Clause 1) allows my right honourable friend, the Minister of Agriculture, to extend the period during which he may make payments to farmers for the purpose of getting rid of bovine tuberculosis from their herds. The authority to make these payments would expire at the end of September next. The Bill extends this authority for ten years and also provides for still further extension for three successive periods of five years each, should that be necessary, by order of the Minister made with the consent of the Treasury and confirmed by affirmative Resolutions in both Houses of Parliament.

Payments in the form of a bonus on milk from attested herds were first authorised by the Milk Act, 1934, for a period of four years. Section 20 of the Agriculture Act, 1937, extended the period during which payments might be made and also empowered the Minister to pay to the owner of any herd of cattle in Great Britain such sums as the Minister thinks fit to expend for the purposes of securing as far as practicable that the herd shall be free from tuberculosis. This allowed payments to be made "on a head of cattle basis" to owners of beef herds and other herds from which little or no milk is sold. The object was to get rid of tuberculosis, one of the worst forms of wastage in agriculture, to increase the productivity of cattle, and to ensure a supply of pure milk. The purpose of these payments is different from that of the quality milk premiums originally payable under the Milk Marketing Scheme and now continued by the Minister of Food.

The period for making payments under Section 20 of the Act of 1937 was further extended until September 30, 1948, by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1940. Unfortunately, war activities intervened. The attested herds scheme, which was rapidly expanding before the war, had to be closed to new entrants, except to those holding licences to produce T.T. milk and wishing to proceed to the attestation stage. Practically no farther progress was made until the middle of 1944, when again new entrants were accepted. This time no payments were offered. The reason was that, owing to the shortage of veterinary surgeons, it was thought in-wise to encourage too many people to come into the scheme all at once. However, in 1943 the quality premium for attested milk was increased from 2½d. to 4d. a gallon, and this has acted as an indirect incentive. In fact, there has been a steady and continuous flow of new entrants into the scheme. Since the middle of 1944, the number of attested herds in Great Britain has risen from 16,400 to 32,300, and attested herds row contain nearly 1,300,000 cattle, or more than one-seventh of the total cattle population of the country. Both Scotland and Wales are particularly to be congratulated on the progress they have made.

But that is not nearly enough. So far the object has been to get disease-free herds. Now we are thinking of disease-free areas. We have been in consultation with the National Farmers' Unions, with the breed societies and with the Milk Marketing Boards, and have been working out plans for both North and South of the Border. The advantage of freeing whole areas from bovine tuberculosis would be enormous. There would be a great saving in labour, materials and time. Attested herds, instead of having to be quarantined, could be allowed freedom of movement, and veterinary surgeons would be freed to work in other areas, which in turn would be brought into the general scheme. I might add that under the Agriculture Act of 1937 any scheme, including the rate and duration of payments, will have to be laid before Parliament and will be subject to annulment by either House. Your Lordships will, therefore, have full opportunity for studying in detail any scheme which we propose. I feel sure that in this House it is unnecessary for me to argue the case for tuberculin-free milk. It is necessary not only to free the human population from the danger of one of the worst and most fatal of diseases, but also to improve and increase the amount of milk available for use. If we are to succeed in our great expansion programme it is essential that we should have the payments for this scheme, and power to enlarge the scheme when necessary.

Part II of the Bill, consisting of Clauses 2 to 14, extends the provisions of the Horse Breeding Act, 1918. Under that Act all stallions which are travelled or exhibited for service are required to be licensed. This Bill adds stallions which are kept at home and which may be used either for the service of the stallion owner's mares or of visiting mares. This measure was considered by the Ministry's Livestock Improvement Committee, a non-statutory advisory body, which includes genetical scientists and practical breeders. The horses sub-committee of this Committee went into this question very thoroughly and it was on their recommendations that this Part of the Bill was drafted. The object is to stop a wide gap in earlier legislation and to improve further the breeding of horses in this country. We should like to get rid of the scrub stallion, as we have got rid of the scrub bull and the scrub boar. We have certainly had great success in getting rid of inferior bulls and we hope that these plans will likewise raise the standard of horses. There are certain exceptions to the general purposes of this Bill. Thoroughbred stallions, prescribed breeds of ponies in certain districts, and stallions which will be four years or over before this Part of the Bill comes into operation, will be exempted.

As regards the thoroughbred horse, we found that the stringent conditions which are applied before a stallion can be entered in the General Stud Book should alone be ample to make a licence unnecessary. Apart from this, however, the progeny is constantly tested on the racecourse. We decided, therefore, that it would be unnecessary to license thoroughbred stallions, and we have excluded them from the Bill. Hill, forest, or moorland ponies are in the second category. Obviously their breeding cannot be controlled while they are in their natural state, and we have omitted them as a matter of course from the provisions of this Bill. Exemption of the third category, that is, stallions over four years of age when the Act comes into operation, is intended to avoid hardship to the owners of such stallions. This category will, of course, eventually disappear, and the problem will solve itself. There was a certain amount of debate in another place on this matter. Originally two years was proposed as the limit, but an Amendment was moved and accepted as a compromise between those who wished to see quick results under this Bill and those who were reluctant to penalise owners of stallions who had had them for a period of at least four years.

There are various other provisions about inspections, penalties, revocation of licences and other matters, but they are not points of substance which I need go into in detail. However, there is one other point which I should like to mention. It is that should a licence for a stallion be refused by the Minister the owner must get his stallion either slaughtered or castrated. If, however, there are exceptional circumstances (for instance, the stallion might be of a particular exotic breed; or it may be a stallion which for sentimental reasons the owner is anxious to keep) then the owner can apply to the Minister for a special permit. If granted, that permit will allow the owner to keep the stallion, but subject to certain conditions. The conditions might be, for instance, that the stallion shall not be allowed to breed at all, or it might not be allowed to breed except with a certain mare. It might be desired to perpetuate a particular breed, although the stallion was not really up to the normal standard which would be passed.

Any dispute as to the issue of a licence can, if necessary, be decided by a referee. The permit, however, is a completely different thing, and there would normally be no reason for an appeal on any particular matter. That would really be a matter of law—whether the owner had or had not complied with the conditions originally laid down by the Minister—which would have to be decided by the courts and not by an ordinary referee. The breed societies of England, Scotland and Wales, and the National Farmers' Unions, have been consulted and approve of this Part of the Bill.

One other point that has been raised is why we have brought these two subjects into a single Bill. I must admit that they are two completely different things. However, it was thought better to bring before your Lordships this short Bill dealing with these two different problems. As there has been general agreement on all sides as to the purpose of this measure, I hope your Lordships will give it a speedy Second Reading. I beg to move.

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

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, this is quite a small Bill, but I think your Lordships will agree that it is a useful one. We are grateful to the noble Earl for the way in which he has put it before us. I am sure we all welcome the fact that assistance to the owners of infected herds will be extended, for a minimum of ten years and, possibly, up to twenty-five years. I suppose one must take it that, in the view of the Minister, twenty-five years is approximately the period necessary for the establishment of complete freedom in this country. My only slight disappointment is that we have not by now had a full statement from the Government on their whole policy in regard to cleaning up the herds, and cleaning up the milk supply of this country. Your Lordships will remember that some time ago (I think it must be twelve or eighteen months) a Motion was put down, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, on which we had a very important and interesting debate. At that time it was suggested that we should soon be hearing from the Government as to their comprehensive policy. I am sure I am speaking for all members of the House in asking the noble Earl whether, in his reply, he can tell us something as to when we shall hear more on that subject.

The only other point I would make—especially as progress has not be quite so rapid in cleaning up the herds as some of us would like—is that it would be useful if Parliament could have an annual progress report. Perhaps the noble Earl can give us some assurance on that point; otherwise it may be useful if we put down an Amendment for Committee stage. There is nothing to say with regard to Part II of the Bill. The noble Earl is quite right in saying that all the horse societies have been consulted, and I think everybody concerned is quite happy. As he has said, we have our scrub bull and scrub boar legislation, and the time is certainly ripe when we should deal with the scrub stallion. With those few words I venture to commend this small Bill to your Lordships.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, there is only one question I should like to ask the noble Earl in regard to this Bill. In Clause 13 (3) the expression "thoroughbred" is used. It is said: … 'thoroughbred' means a horse entered or eligible for entry in the General Stud Book. Do I understand that you are going to adopt what the Jockey Club now lay down as the definition of a thoroughbred? Does that mean that "My Babu," who won The Two Thousand Guineas the other day, is not a thoroughbred? To say that a horse is not a thoroughbred merely because it is not down for entry in the Stud Book seems to me wrong. Perhaps the reconsideration of that might be desirable, with a view to carrying on the finest blood in the thoroughbred world, which we possess.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that this small but important Bill has received such a friendly welcome. On Part I of the Bill the noble Earl, Lord De La Wan, suggested that perhaps twenty-five years was the period envisaged by the Minister. We hope that it will be very much sooner than that, but it was felt safer to have a longer period so that we should be amply covered if for some reason the scheme did not go forward so quickly as we hoped, Another question was about the areas, and whether we could say more about them. I am afraid that I cannot satisfy the noble Earl upon that point, We are in consultation with the interested parties and we are working out plans, but there are a good many problems to be solved. As soon as we have something definite the matter will be laid before Parliament, giving your Lordships an opportunity to debate it. Another point raised by the noble Earl concerned a report on general animal diseases. This report—which, unfortunately, was delayed during the war—is now in hand, and we hope to have it ready in a few weeks.


That will be an annual report?


Yes. The last question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison, with regard to thoroughbreds. This is an extremely interesting point. It has been accepted under the Bill as far as this: that a thoroughbred would be entered in the General Stud Book. There is, however, a lot in what the noble Lord says, and I shall be happy to consider the matter, between now and the next stage of the Bill, to see if there is anything we can do about it. One has, however, to draw a line somewhere, and up to date we have accepted the General Stud Book as being the best criterion. But I will consider the matter and bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend. I do not want to keep the House any longer. I hope that this highly commendable measure will be given a speedy passage by your Lordships' House.

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