HL Deb 11 March 1971 vol 316 cc204-8

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on February 16, be approved. The object of the Scheme is to provide for the continuation of calf subsidies after the present Scheme expires at the end of March this year. Provision is made for subsidies to be paid for a further three years and at the present rates of £11.25 for a steer and £9 for a heifer. Three years is the longest time allowed for a Scheme under the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Act 1952, but Schemes can, of course, be amended within the three years.

This Scheme, like its predecessors, will encourage the production of good quality beef by enabling subsidy to be paid on suitable live calves or on carcases of sufficiently good quality to be eligible for the fatstock guarantee payment. In 1969–70 subsidy amounting to £27½ million was paid on almost 2,700,000 animals.

The terms of the Scheme are generally identical to those of the present Scheme. There are in fact only two differences. The first of these is that, following the Transfer of Functions (Wales) Order 1969, the Secretary of State for Wales shares with the Minister the making of the Scheme and its administration in Wales. The other change concerns Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Government have for some time followed a policy of encouraging the dehorning of cattle, and it is an offence in Northern Ireland to sell or export horned cattle, or to expose for sale or bring into a slaughterhouse cattle which bear signs of recent dehorning. These provisions already preclude the payment of half subsidy on carcases of horned animals, and in order to give further support to the dehorning policy the Scheme provides that calves in Northern Ireland with horns or unhealed wounds apparently resulting from their removal should not receive subsidy while still alive. They would still have an opportunity to qualify for subsidy as carcases provided that their horns had been properly removed before they were presented for slaughter. This provision, which has been fully accepted by the Ulster Farmers' Union and other livestock interests in Northern Ireland, is not expected to reduce the numbers of calves being kept on for beef production in Northern Ireland.

Calf subsidies have been paid for well over twenty years now and are accepted as a valuable method of assistance to our beef industry. The Scheme runs well and clearly fulfils its purpose of encouraging the retention of calves for beef. The numbers of these have now been increasing for some time and it is the Government's intention that this increase should be maintained. I commend this Scheme to your Lordships and hope that it will meet with your approval. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme 1971, laid before the House on February 16, be approved.—(Lord Denham.)

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this Order, although it is only an extension of the previous Order. But we should like to point out that the cost of breeding calves has gone up during the last three years. Higher wages and higher costs of feedingstuffs have contributed to this. We are therefore rather disappointed that the subsidy has not gone up in proportion to the costs. The calf subsidy encourages the breeding of beef. This saves foreign exchange and reduces the amount of imported beef. It also improves soil fertility and soil conservation.

I should like to ask the Minister of Agriculture to consider two proposals to introduce suitable Orders and to carry them out. Proposal one is to make dehorning compulsory; proposal two is to get Treasury sanction and approval that all calves dehorned or polled when the calf is certified for subsidy receive an extra £1 per head as soon as possible. Farmers benefit greatly from dehorning. In my part of the world a dehorned beast makes approximately £5 a head more than a similar horned beast. Dehorned beasts graze better in the field and do better in the yards because there is less bullying. Why are we in this country behind Northern Ireland and the Republic, where dehorning is compulsory? I know that the Government answer will be that Irish cattle are mostly exported on the hoof, and that as a result of de-horning less damage is done in transit here. But there is, of course, considerable transport of cattle born in this country. Therefore the same argument applies to United Kingdom cattle as to Irish cattle. Surely we should move with the times and dehorn. The only exception might be with Highland cattle.


My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lard, Lord Nunburnholme, has said. We ought to come to the stage where we deal only in dehorned or naturally polled cattle. I declare an interest in trying to breed dairy cattle with no horns, and I should have thought that we ought to get an extra subsidy for such efforts. The cruelty in dehorning, even with the pain-killing injections, is great. It wastes time. It costs money, and it sets the calves back. And to do it with more adult animals is cruel. For all these reasons the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, merits serious consideration.


My Lords, although I agree with my noble friend Lord Nunburnholme that there is here a case for asking for an increased subsidy, on this occasion I content myself with saying that I suppose we have to be grateful that the Government's passion for false economy and for putting up the price of food has not extended to this area of subsidy. I welcome the Scheme, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for his lucid explanation of it.

I would also take the opportunity, however, of saying that I hope that the noble Lord will see that the points that have been put about dehorning will be considered. I understand the point about the extra distances involved in the transport of Northern Irish cattle; but this is only a difference in degree and not in kind, so far as the hazards are concerned. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give an assurance that, even if this is not a suitable sort of Order in which to make a change, he will on some other occasion bring forward other legislation relating to this matter.


My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I can give an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that everything that has been said on this occasion will be most carefully considered. I cannot definitely give an assurance (the noble Lord would not expect me to) that legislation will definitely be brought forward on this point. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, for his specific exclusion of Highland cattle, since I have rather a personal interest in these cattle, and I think it would be a great pity to see Highland cattle compulsorily without their horns even if there be a dehorning policy for all other breeds.

As your Lordships will have realised while you have been speaking, there are particular reasons as regards Northern Ireland for the dehorning legislation. As I say, everything that has been said on this point will be considered. But the passing of an Order such as this is probably not the occasion to introduce incentives for a new policy such as dehorning, or indeed to decide on definite future legislation on the subject. But I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken.

On Question, Motion agreed to.