HL Deb 26 March 1968 vol 290 cc939-49

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme 1968 be approved. It might also be convenient to your Lordships if we discussed the Calf Subsidies (Supervision and Enforcement) Order 1968 at the same time, since the two are complementary.

May I first say something in general terms about the purpose of this subsidy? Payment of a calf subsidy was first authorised by the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Act 1952, and the first payment was made in 1953. The first scheme then introduced had a life of three years, and successive Parliaments have renewed it at intervals of three years. This of itself is an indication of the importance attached to this part of the overall pattern of support for beef production in this country. Its primary purpose has been straightforward. It is to encourage the retention for beef production of all calves of suitable beef potential by making a direct cash payment to the man who rears the calf to an age when this potential can be judged. It is a complement to the deficiency payments scheme, which ensures an adequate level of return to those who fatten and market cattle.

The claim that this calf subsidy has encouraged development of the beef industry is strengthened by the fact that the number of calves certified in the current year is expected to be almost one million more than the average level in the first three years of the scheme. With suitable mating policies for dairy cows, from which two-thirds of our beef is derived, and rearing all those calves which are suitable for beef production, this growth should continue. The scope of the subsidy was widened in 1965 to allow for certification for subsidy on the hook. This was a development to provide specific statutory backing for this alternative method of claiming this subsidy.

The scheme itself falls into two parts. Part I provides for the payment of subsidy on live calves born during the three-year period up to and including October 29, 1970, and Part II provides for payment on carcases of home-bred cattle which have not earned a subsidy as calves but which are of a standard eligible for fatstock guarantee payments, and which are certified during the three-year period April 1, 1968, to March 31, 1971. These two ways of claiming subsidy are, of course, better known as "Stage A" and "Stage B".

Stage A of the scheme is the traditional calf subsidy. It continues the provisions contained in earlier schemes, and excludes heifers of the four main dairy breeds. The new provisions differ from those in earlier schemes in only two respects. First, the scheme no longer contains provisions for the marking of certified calves. This is now provided for in the new Supervision and Enforcement Order. Secondly, the opportunity has been taken to provide for payment on calves which are over the specified age limit at the time of certification, where the reason for the delay in inspection and certification was to avoid the risk of spreading or introducing animal disease, most particularly foot-and-mouth disease. This provision will do much to remove anxiety from the minds of farmers, and I know it will be appreciated. In these circumstances, so long as they put their application in at the normal time farmers will not lose their money if, when the animal is eventually inspected, it is found to have already shot its incisor teeth. Similar arrangements have been operating on an exceptional basis during the recent foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Part II of the scheme contains the new provision to which I referred earlier. The test here is that the carcase should be of a standard which would make it eligible for a payment under the fatstock guarantee scheme provided, of course, that the animal was not certified for calf subsidy when alive. Payments on this basis have been made under the authority of the Appropriation Act since September, 1965, pending the necessary legislative authority contained in the 1967 Act.

The main purpose in widening the scope of the scheme was to enable subsidy to be paid on heifers of dairy breed which were fattened for beef. Previously, although it was recognised that if properly finished these heifers—in particular Friesian heifers—could and did produce valuable beef carcases, they had been excluded from subsidy because of the risk that if certified alive on the farm they might subsequently be used, not for beef production but for dairying. This problem was overcome by providing for certification after slaughter. This widening of the scope of the scheme has been generally welcomed, and whilst we would expect most producers who can to claim their money at Stage A, it does have the additional advantage that those animals which just fail to qualify for subsidy while they are still calves have an opportunity to earn the subsidy on the hook if they eventually produce a good carcase.

Perhaps I ought to say a short word about the references in the scheme to the rates of subsidy. The Stage A rate is laid down in the scheme. For Stage B, on the other hand, no rate is prescribed, but the Ministers are given powers to determine rates which shall be approximately equivalent on the average to those which would have been payable at Stage A, if the animals in question had qualified at that stage as calves. The difference stems from the fact that whereas the date of birth of a calf on a farm can be readily established there is no way of determining the precise age of all of the cattle presented at Stage B. The rates of subsidy earned at Stage A by steers and heifers respectively is therefore determined by the date of the calf's birth, and the rates at Stage B by the date of certification. If calf subsidy rates were never changed there would, of course, be no problem. The rates could be set down in the scheme to apply at both stages. But the rates are changed from time to time. At Stage A any increase is expressed as relating to calves born on or after a certain date: the parallel increase in Stage B has to relate to carcases certified after a certain date. There has to be a time lag, so that the generality of cattle receive the same rates of subsidy as they would have received had they been presented at Stage A.

I now come to the Order providing for the policing of the subsidy payment, the Calf Subsidies (Supervision and Enforcement) Order, 1968. There has always been provision for Stage A, of course, but Stage B is administered jointly with the fatstock guarantee scheme, and this has called for some extension of the measures for ensuring that subsidy is paid in proper cases only. I may say that £28 millions of taxpayers' money is involved here. Therefore, safeguards are needed. Briefly, the Order makes it an offence to seek double payment for subsidy, and provides for the marking of certified calves and carcases in such a way that an attempt to obtain a second subsidy payment would be detected. An identical provision for the marking of calves has always appeared in earlier calf subsidy schemes.

In support of these marking provisions, the Order also provides authority to seize the ears of carcases, in cases where these constitute vital evidence which may be needed for prosecutions. The other provisions of the Order are similar to those contained in the Fat-stock (Protection of Guarantees) Order, 1958, for supporting the arrangements for deficiency payments on fatstock. No new burden of record keeping is imposed by the Order those concerned will simply be required to produce for inspection such records as they already maintain for other purposes. In addition to the requirements as to records, the Order contains powers of entry for authorised officers at all reasonable times.

The powers taken by this Order are, in the Government's view, necessary to safeguard public money.

Finally I must make some reference to the Meat and Livestock Commission. Both the scheme and the Order authorise Ministers to delegate certain functions to the Commission. This power is confined to the certification functions at Stage B and their policing, and is now taken in readiness for the time when the Commission will take over the day-to-day administration of the fatstock guarantee scheme, and the calf subsidy at Stage B. Arrangements for this are now being made and will be announced in due course.

I have already indicated the importance which the Government attach to this subsidy and, I think, the farming industry shares this view. I commend this scheme and the new enforcement Order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme 1968, laid before the House on February 29 be approved.—(Lord Beswick.)

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for describing to us the calf scheme and the enforcement Order? I welcome this Order and the continuation of the calf scheme which they will provide. They will extend their life for a further three years and will, at the same time, I think, add £1 a head both for male and for female calves; and this keeps pace with the general increase in values. May I state my belief in the value of this subsidy, which makes payment to the farmer who is most directly connected with the rearing of the calf and who will make it into beef later on when the animal is fattened? I should also like to welcome the two new features that the noble Lord mentioned. The introduction of a certain amount of flexibility in relation to the time of certification under Part I is valuable. As the noble Lord has said, it overcomes anxieties in connection with foot-and-mouth disease regulations and so on.

The second new feature, mentioned in Part II of the calf subsidy scheme, which provides for a subsidy to be paid when the animal is dead on the hook is especially valuable in the case of the dairy heifer which has been fattened-on for beef. I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining what is the approximate equivalent rate and the problem of the date of birth of the calf. This is not easy to determine in animals dead on the hook. If I may say so, his explanation makes the matter a good deal clearer than when it was dealt with in another place.

So much for these bouquets or new ideas. I have a slightly critical word on one side of the working of the scheme. I welcome the overall increase in certification since the scheme started 16 years ago when, as the noble Lord mentioned, the figure was one of a million calves a year; but I am inclined to think that the boost value of this calf scheme is tending to fade out. I quote two figures which rather indicate that. In the year 1962–3 there was an increase of plus 8 per cent. of calf certification. Last year, 1967–68, the estimated increase was only 4 per cent. I should myself suspect that the rate of increase is falling and is tending probably to stabilise. As some 10 per cent. of our beef is still imported—and mostly from the Argentine with all the disease risk that that implies—and is a heavy burden on our balance of payments, it is of first national interest that we should, if we can, increase our home beef production. This is a part of our national diet which, given time, we could supply from our own farms. The main nutrition for beef cattle is grass; and Heaven knows! there is plenty of that, and to spare.

It interested me to observe that the Government's National Plan estimated that by 1970 beef and veal production could be increased by 125,000 tons per annum. That would just about comfortably take the place of existing imports. I should think that this was another viable prediction in the National Plan; but, in fact, in the last two years beef production has increased by only about 15,000 tons per annum. I regard that as rather a disappointing result. It is far below the estimated target figure of the National Plan and, I believe, below the potential which is there on the farms. The main potential would seem to me to be in the male and surplus calves—called in the farming world the "bobby calves" of three or four days old—at present going for slaughter. My apprehension is that this figure is something in the order of 300,000 to 400,000 calves per annum. If all those calves could be reared and fattened the gap would just about be filled. I appreciate, of course, that they cannot all be reared-on. A number of them—for example, the males from the Channel Islands breeds—would not be worth carrying on. But I suspect that quite a proportion of that number could be saved and could be reared-on to make good beef.

I should be interested if the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, could tell us whether the Ministry of Agriculture have carried out a survey to discover the causes of this large apparent annual wastage. How many are lost due to diseases? To what extent is brucellosis a feature here and, in this context, how is the brucellosis programme getting on? Could the Ministry advisory officers help the small dairy farmer by giving more advice with regard to their breeding programmes by perhaps a greater use of artificial insemination by a beef bull of some of their dairy cows, in order to have more beef animals to rear, while at the same time maintaining the strength of their own dairy herd?

The noble Lord, I think rightly, made the point that this subsidy is costing £28 million per annum and therefore we are entitled to be as sure as sure can be that this very large sum of money is being used as effectively as possible to encourage the rearing and eventually the production, of the extra beef that we want. More home-grown beef is something which would be an advantage to the whole nation and, of course, to every housewife. If I may say so in passing, I am quite certain from my long acquaintance with the officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that there are plenty of officers who could carry out a survey and give the necessary advice and help to bring about the kind of results for which I, and I am sure all noble Lords, are hoping. I hope, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, can give a reassuring answer to my general point that there may be scope for new thought and initiative in the Calf Scheme on these lines which might provide some additional beef for the benefit of everybody.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, one question, apropos the marketing of beef. The punching of a hole in the animal's ear, provided that it is done by an expert, can I believe be a comparatively painless operation. It soon heals, and there is little loss of blood. On the other hand, if it is not done by an expert it can be a great deal worse. I do not see anything in the Order which insists that this shall be done by those who are qualified. I do not know whether the noble Lord can enlighten me on that point.


My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend in welcoming parts of this Order. Particularly I welcome the provision made for the payment of subsidy on the carcase of the pure dairy heifer. It is an undoubted fact that there is a considerable loss in the potential of meat production by the slaughtering of these so-called "bobby calves", to which my noble friend referred, when they are a few days old. One hopes that the provisions of this Order will mean that heifers of the British Friesian breed particularly will be utilised, all of which would make good meat, and heifer calves from the dairy herds of the Ayrshire breed, a very large number of which would also make good quality beef.

In addition I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, on his correct use of the word "animal" in this connection. I was glad to notice that the word "animal" was used officially in paragraph 7 of the main Order. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, used the word consistently and managed to refrain from referring to "creatures' diseases". He used the correct term "animal diseases". May I suggest that he takes another look to see whether the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill could be brought into line and the proper use of the English language be continued.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, the reason for the difference in the rate of subsidy for heifer cows as opposed to steer cows? Surely if a man is breeding for beef, it must be a matter of pure chance whether he produces a steer or heifer. I would add that I am not being critical in any way; I am merely seeking information.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. I think I am right in saying that other noble Lords who have spoken also welcome the scheme, and I thank them too. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, was gracious enough to compliment me on my use of the English language in this connection. I accept his compliment in the spirit in which it was paid. I would only point out to the noble Lord that in this Order we are referring only to calves and not to the wide variety of creatures covered by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Allerton, asked about the different rates of payment for heifers and steers. The answer is that there is more beef on the steer than on the heifer, and I think that most people would agree with different rates of payment.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, expressed some doubts about the current effectiveness of these subsidies. He pointed out that the increase has not been as great as was expected. The noble Lord was kind enough to tell me earlier of his doubts and in the meantime I have been making some inquiries. I am sorry that I am not able to get all the information that the noble Lord would wish to have particularly about brucellosis, but if I may, I will write to him about that. I do not believe that this is an important ingredient in the arithmetic about which the noble Lord spoke. What I do find is that the figure of 300.000 to 400,000 slaughterings which the noble Lord gave is an underestimate. The number of bobby calves going to slaughter is much greater than that.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I wonder whether he could tell us what is the figure? It would be interesting to know.


My Lords, I was about to give some figures. The fact is that in the early 1960's it was between 800,000 and 900,000. The figure fell in 1964 to 491,000. In 1965 it was an all-time low, yet still above the figure which the noble Lord quoted. Since then it has risen again. In 1966 it was 500.000. I think I am right in saying that in 1967 it was 600,000, a slight increase. The reason for this slight upswing is not sinister. Following the success of the scheme in the early 1960's, what seems to have happened was that farmers were keeping an uneconomic number of these bobby calves. The realisation of this led to the slight change of policy, and I think it true to say that farmers are now much more selective in the calves which they choose to keep instead of sending them to the market when they are three or four days old. I think that is one of the most unhappy sights on the farming scene, but looked at purely from the economics of the thing, it is understandable. Nevertheless, although the figures for slaughtering are as I have stated, if one looks at the matter from the other angle, the number of calves retained, there has been a consistent increase from 1953. As I said, the total number now is about a million more than it was at the inception of the scheme. Looking at the break-down of the yearly returns it shows a fairly consistent increase. For 1953–54 it was 1,479,000, and right the way up to 1966–67 when the figure was 2,558,000. From April to February 1967–68 it was 1,273,000. Therefore, I should not have thought that it was fair to draw the conclusion that the scheme was a failure. It has not been a failure It has succeeded in increasing the number of animals reared for beef. The noble Lord called attention to the fact that the National Plan figures had not been achieved. I agree with him that this has not been done, but the beef potential is there and I firmly believe that the potential can be realised. This calf subsidy scheme must be part of the policy for increasing our beef production.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, about the marking of animals by the ear. As he says, it can be painless if done properly by qualified people, and I am informed that all calf certifying officers recruited by the Department, particularly for the purpose of examining and marking calves, are instructed and become expert in the use of the marking instruments. So far as I am aware, there has been no complaint at all that unnecessary cruelty has been caused. With these explanations, I hope that it will be possible for your Lordships to approve this Order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.