HL Deb 19 June 1958 vol 209 cc1175-80

6.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I can only apologise for speaking once again to-day—and I hope it is worth a guinea a time, which is how it is working out. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. This is an Enabling Bill. It enables the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland to refuse licences for non-pedigree bulls and boars. It does not compel them to do so, but merely makes it possible for them to refuse licences on those grounds. The Ministers were given the power to licence bulls in 1931 and to licence boars in 1944, and the relevant Acts set out the grounds on which they may refuse or revoke licences which have been granted. As the law now stands, the Ministers are precluded from restricting licences to pedigree animals.

It is, I think, agreed on all sides that the control by licensing of bulls and boars which are used for breeding purposes has substantially improved the standard and productivity of livestock since it came into force. There may be some difference of opinion on the actual methods of licensing and so on, but the mere fact of that control has, I think everyone agrees, produced good results. I think it is startlingly brought out to anybody like myself who has been connected with farming in Swaziland, where no such control exists, and has seen the results of no control of the sire. The general principle that the better the sire the better the progeny, is, I think, a very sound tag for farmers.

The use of crossbred sires does not hand down the predominant features that one trys to get into one's breeding. It is for that reason that this power is essential. Cross-breeding with pedigree sires plays an important part in commercial livestock farming—in which I am engaged—and I should never agree to using anything but a pedigree sire. Those of us who are farmers know that if you are running a dairy herd and want to get rid of your surplus dairy calves, the practice is common now to use a beef bull in order to get the beef characteristics into the calf. You can sell it as a store animal for beef fattening, and you do not produce unwanted dairy cattle. In the same way, people use pure-bred white boars on a coloured sow to obtain pigs which will meet a particular market.

This question was dealt with in the Report of the Advisory Committee on the Development of Pig Production in the United Kingdom, which was published in October, 1955. It makes a particular reference to this matter, so far as boars are concerned, and with your Lordships' permission, I should like to read a short passage from the Report. It says: We further recommend that Ministers should seek powers to limit licences to pedigree boars and use those powers immediately. Known and pure ancestry is essential for intelligent breeding, and we can see no justification for the continued use of other boars in this country. The Ministers can already refuse licences to bulls and boars known to be crossbred, but that does not really go far enough, because they cannot refuse to licence an animal of which there is no telling whether it is cross-bred or not. They cannot at the moment refuse to licence if somebody says, "That is not a pedigree boar."

I should like to emphasise that although I am advocating an extension of the Ministers' powers to refuse licences, it does not mean that the owner of the bull or the boar will have no appeal against the decision of the Minister or the Secretary of State. The present arrangements under the present Acts will continue; this Bill does nothing to alter them. If a person is refused a licence, he may appeal to an independent referee, and the referee's decision is binding on the Minister. That is not always the case, but it is the case here. The Bill is an Enabling Bill and it only slightly increases permissive powers, not compulsory powers, beyond what are already there. With those few remarks, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a— (Viscount Stonehaven.)

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, whilst I am in agreement with most things that my noble friend Lord Stonehaven has said about this Bill, and I agree that it is an attempt to improve the 1931 Act, I would point out very strongly that the 1931 Act is now totally out of date, in view of what is known, not only in this country but in many other countries, about animal breeding. There should be no question of patching up this old Act, the foundations of which are completely unsound and must be pulled down and completely rebuilt. Under the 1931 Act bulls and boars are chosen and licensed by their looks, and in the case of dairy bulls the milk records of their mothers are also taken into consideration. This little Bill seeks to add pedigree to the list of qualities. I shall very briefly try to explain why the 1931 Act and this Bill are now absolutely out of date.

What we want in this country is dairy bulls able to produce cows that will give the maximum amount of milk of the highest quality and be fed on the cheapest feed. With boars we want them to produce bacon pigs of the highest possible quality. Anyone connected with animal husbandry should know that you cannot tell whether a bull is going to transmit good milking qualities just by looking at him or going over his mother's performance. Often the ugly bulls produce the best milkers, and so do the non-pedigree ones. Regarding pigs, it is well-known that it is quite impossible to judge by the eye the best-grade bacon pig; it just cannot be done. I shall not bore your Lordships by going into and discussing any question of animal genetics. Instead I shall attempt to draw the simplest parallel.

The Act of 1931 merely means that you select a lot of fine-looking men, and the judges in this case are the civil servants. You then marry them to "Miss Englands" and "Miss Americas" and other people, and the results you get are expected to be the leaders of the future. I am afraid that you will be very disappointed. That is just how this 1931 Act works at the moment. Continuing the parallel, all this Bill seeks to add to the Act is that in future the selection of males should, if possible, be made from among the hereditary Peers of your Lordships' House, instead of from among the rank and file of another House or other such place. That might be a help if it were not for the fact that the whole theory of selection on looks is completely false. No, my Lords, the only way to breed better stock is from bulls and boars that have been progeny-tested and are known to transmit, or to be capable of transmitting, the desired qualities. If we want to continue to breed some of the best and finest stock in the world we must get down to and rely on progeny testing; otherwise we shall be left standing by those countries who have made a study of animal breeding and who are now employing progeny-testing methods to breed better animals.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene for only a very short time, and purely selfishly, if your Lordships will permit me. The noble Viscount who introduced the Bill did so with his usual clarity, but I want him, if he will, to clear up a special point. I happen to be the owner of a particular herd of cattle which is historically very famous and one of the original herds in this country. I merely want to make quite certain that the licensing of the bulls by the agricultural authority is not going to be impeded by these fresh regulations that are being suggested. It is a historic herd and it is very difficult to keep it going—it is really about the only domesticated one left. There are three or four herds which run in a semi-wild state in enclosed land, but the bulls are no good to me because one cannot handle them. We have been looked at with a benign eye by the authorities and, provided that the herd pass the T.T. test, we can have a licence for breeding. And, as I have said, it is a great struggle to keep the herd going. The noble Duke, the Duke of Bedford, has a herd, but I understand that he is giving it up, and the problem of getting fresh blood is going to be very difficult indeed. I should like an assurance, if possible, that there will be no further unnecessary difficulties placed in the way of anyone in my position who does try to keep an old historic herd of what are known as the White Cattle of Britain going as long as possible.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just sat down, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Stone-haven, for the clarity with which he has explained the desirability of this Bill and its provisions. I will not comment on the matters spoken of by the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, but I have taken note of what he has said, and I am quite sure that it will be studied by both my right honourable friends. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I commend this Bill to the House as a useful and beneficial measure, and I trust that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lords who have taken part in this little debate. My noble friend Lord Forbes raised an interesting point, but I do not think it is quite relevant to this Bill. I would say that he would require to move the repeal of the 1931 Act. If he does that after this amendment of the Act comes into force, he will have a bigger and better Act to repeal. I do not know that his views are shared by everybody. Indeed, I cannot altogether agree with them myself, because pedigree is a sort of registration, and animal family characteristics are handed down and recorded carefully in the pedigree. It is not only a beauty contest—although I agree that perhaps the modern style of showing cattle frequently errs in that direction. However, that is rather beside the point.

The noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, asked me if I could give him an assurance that if your Lordships pass this Bill he will be in no worse position than he is already. If he will take it from me, I will give him that assurance "off the cuff". And if I am not correct, I will let him know before the next stage of this Bill; then he can do what he considers appropriate. I can see nothing in the provisions of this Bill that will make the situation more tiresome for him because he has a well-known, historic herd. In a way, it is a sort of "closed shop". Whatever he does, he is not selling bulls to other people for dairy purposes or something of that kind. Therefore, I am pretty certain that the licensing which exists to-day and the benevolent eye which is cast upon him will continue to be cast upon him.

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