HC Deb 10 December 1952 vol 509 cc613-36

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Draft Calf Subsidies (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st November, be approved.—[Mr. Nugent.]

10.53 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

This is the first opportunity we have had of considering a scheme under the Act which we passed so recently as last month, but even at this hour of the night it is justifiable to spend some little time on the Scheme that is now before the House. I am glad that the Minister has included a point which we stressed about giving to Wales and to some of the hill districts of this country the same possibility of having their calves certified at six months. We are glad that the Minister has acceded to our request and has applied to other districts besides the Scottish areas the arrangements which in the first place it appeared would apply only to Scotland.

My next point concerns the certifying officers. Paragraph 5 (b) of the Scheme says that the Scheme is to be carried out by certifying officers appointed by the Minister. When the Act was going through the House during the last month, we understood that this job would be done by full-time certifying officers. The words that are included in the Scheme are very vague indeed, and I cannot help wondering whether that is deliberate. If so, is it intended by the Minister that he should in the main use full-time certifying officers but that he should reserve the right to appoint part-time officers in some of the areas where that would be the more appropriate method?

I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us in this connection what are the intentions—I hope they are honourable—of his right hon. Friend on the matter of the appointments of certifying officers in the country. We are also rather interested in the Scheme to be applied for the training of these officers. Has the Minister decided that some training should be given to them and that they shall be given some preparation for the job they have to do and in which they will have to try to set a standard for the whole country? Quite obviously, we do not want a situation arising in which a certifying officer in the South of the country will apply a different standard from that in the North, the East or West.

Has the Minister done anything at all about the training and, if so, has he had any experimental certifications, and with what results? Last Thursday some Questions were asked about what appeared to me to be experimental certifications. I am wondering what has been the experience of the Minister in the application of this policy and if there has been a sort of training period. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary should tell us how many officers he proposes to appoint and what sort of areas he has in mind. The job of these officers certifying calves to be marked for the payment of this £5 subsidy, or rejected, is bound to be a very difficult one. I think that inevitable because there is little possibility of a narrower definition than that set out in paragraph (4) of the Scheme.

I think it right that there should be a reasonably high standard for, however generous the feeding later in life, it is impossible to make up for a bad start in the calf period. It is known by the better and more intelligent farmers that that is the case. Even if they did not know, the experiment which has been conducted at the University Farm at Cambridge has made that clear. It has proved beyond any doubt that the calf which has been well started makes very much better use of resources of available feedingstuffs than a calf which has had a bad start. We saw indications of this at the Royal Show at Cambridge last year, and I have read with interest the excellent paper given to the Farmers' Club by Mr. A. J. Brookes, who was in charge of this experiment at the University Farm.

From that experiment two points stand out. They are that calves which have done really well up to eight months and are then fed moderately well onwards in these days of dear concentrates show the greatest profit and undoubtedly the best use of resources available in the way of concentrates. Money spent on calf subsidies must be spent in encouraging feeding of calves which have had a really good start and a high standard must be maintained by the certifying officers.

I say that despite the fact that we shall all be receiving letters from farmers complaining that the certifying officers have rejected their calves. We in this House have to support the Minister and his certifying officers in this respect. We shall undoubtedly be pestered by some of the farmers, whose calves will be passed over and not rank for this £5 subsidy.

The second point which emerges from this Cambridge experiment, and it is one which leaves some doubt in my mind, is whether the Minister is right in leaving heifer calves of the Friesian breed out of the payment of subsidy. If we are to have a considerable stepping up and expansion in the beef production in this country, it must come as a by-product of milk production.

The popularity of the Friesian breed is evidenced by the increases we have seen in these herds over the last half-century. At one time I rather wondered if we should reach a point when there were only black and white cattle in our fields; but, fortunately, that danger has passed. The fact remains we have such a number of Friesians in the country, in our herds, that they come second in point of numbers only to the Shorthorns.

For the purpose of the experiment, of which I have been speaking, Herefords, dairy Shorthorns, and Friesians were used. Of the calves from these three breeds, Mr. Brookes has this to say: In each year the moderate plane calves"— that is the calves fed only moderately well up to the age of eight months— assumed what might be described as a 'dairy type' appearance showing narrow hind quarters and lack of second thigh. This has been common to all three breeds, indicating the important effect of nutrition on conformation. I have formed the opinion that much of the merit of beef breeds is due to nutrition, and the high plane of rearing in early life, and not so much to breeding as some would have us suppose. 'Half the breeding goes in at the mouth', in other words. The Parliamentary Secretary will have considered that that is the result of an experiment conducted by his own officers, if I remember aright, on reasonably scientific lines. It must not be forgotten that the improved Friesian is a thick, deeper-bodied beast than used to be the case. I am of the opinion the Minister should either take this Scheme away and bring it back with Friesians excluded from paragraph 4, or he should really justify the inclusion of this breed in this Scheme before us.

If the Minister feels that the heifer calf of the Friesian breed will be reared in any case, why does he not apply the same criterion to the dairy Shorthorns? I have, for obvious reasons, tried to squeeze a lot into a short space of time; but, I do think we ought to have answers to some of these points. It is right that we should appeal to the Minister to keep the standard high because public money is to be spent on this Scheme, however much it might be argued by the farmers that this is part of the Price Review payments. I think that the Minister ought to give some consideration to my points about the Friesian breed and consider carefully whether he ought not to withdraw this Scheme and bring in another, which would exclude the Friesians from paragraph 4.

11.5 p.m.

Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)

I should like to elaborate a question which I asked the Minister last week, particularly in regard to paragraph 4 and the standards which are laid down, and the use of the phrase "reasonably well reared."

Great concern has been caused in agricultural circles in East Anglia following the demonstration at Cambridge at the end of October. There, about 30 farmers' representatives were shown by the livestock officer of the Minister's Department what standards were to be applied. In two days, they visited eight farms, and, of the calves seen, 80 to 90 per cent. were rejected as not being suitable for the subsidy. I had a report from a Suffolk farmer, who said that these were probably not a high quality lot, but, in his opinion, even in a good lot, only 40 per cent. would qualify for the subsidy.

Surely the whole point of this Scheme is to get extra beef, and, therefore, it is important to get the co-operation of the farmers and the farming community. If we take the points laid down, it seems to me that calves of the right breed and right type, if fleshy, would be the ones to qualify, in the opinion of the livestock officer, and that many of those of the right type and breed, such as Red Poll, Shorthorn and Hereford, would not qualify because they had not got sufficient flesh, although they might be of the right type and breed for making beef. Surely it is not baby beef that we want today. We cannot afford that. We want animals to go the full time which will give us the greatest quantity of beef for which the consumer has to pay.

Although the farmer can submit his calf two or three times before it cuts its first teeth, that throws a great strain on the certifying officers and farmers. At nine or 10 months, it should be possible to tell whether the calf will make good beef for the people of Britain. I understood that this Scheme was promoted to encourage the production of more beef, but it is discouraging beef production, so much so that, in the headlines of one of our East Anglian local newspapers, we get, "This is not the way to get more beef."

I want to ask the Minister if the instructions given to his livestock officers are those which he has in mind in theory, because it is important to have the cooperation of those who are producing beef, and it does not seem to me that, at the present time, this Scheme has started on the right footing.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)

I should like to give general support to this Scheme, although I want to make a few observations about parts of it. If the Scheme is to succeed, the question of standards is all important. To use a local phrase, the farmers have to "do their calves well."

I do not regard this as just another subsidy, and, if it had been put forward in that way, I might have been critical of the main proposal in it. After all, to qualify for the subsidy, a calf has to be well reared, and I accept the suggestion that has been made that an applicant for the subsidy will have to spend the equivalent of the subsidy on the calf in order to qualify for it. I think the House will agree that we want more red beef. It is just as well that we should give as much encouragement as we can to those who are prepared to rear animals, and animals that would be likely to provide some reasonable quality beef.

I understand that calves which are rejected by the certifying officer will not be marked in any way. I want to know from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture whether it will be possible to submit them for certification a second time when the officer next visits the farm. I gather also that provision will be made for an appeal against the decision of the certifying officer and that the county livestock husbandry officer will decide finally on the eligibility of the calf. To save having many appeals the farming community generally should be made well aware of the details of the Scheme and of what calves are and are not eligible. With those reservations and subject to replies from the Parliamentary Secretary, I give the Scheme my blessing.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

I do not wish to delay the House very long but I have just one point to make. I think that it is very appropriate that this Scheme should be laid before the House in the middle of the week in which the Smithfield Fat Stock Show is being held and at which we have seen exhibited the finest beef that is produced in this country. The highest praise is due to the exhibitors and herdsmen at that show.

The point which I wish to make is that which I made on Second Reading of the Bill which became the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Act, 1952, and which is reported in column 1011 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 25th July of this year. It has to do with the breeds of calves that are excluded from the Scheme. Paragraph 4 of the Scheme states that Jersey, Guernsey, Friesian or Ayrshire heifer calves shall be excluded. I mention this because I think that no one can suggest seriously that the Dexters and the Kerrys should be included. We look upon them as a breed used primarily for milk production.

Today, I looked particularly at the animals exhibited at the Smithfield Show. I saw that one Dexter heifer, aged one year and 9 months, weighed 2¼ cwt. Comparing that with the weights of our recognised beef breeds, we have a Devon at one year 10 months weighing 11½ cwt. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary may say that it will be left to the discretion of the certifying officer to decide whether Dexter or Kerry calves are suitable for beef production, but I suggest that if it is left to his discretion there is bound to be a great deal of argument about it.

Mr. J. R. E. Harden (Armagh)

I have a Kerry cow which, at 2 years 9 months, scaled 11 cwt. and I cannot see anything against it.

Mr. Crouch

I am very pleased to hear that in Northern Ireland they are ready to make these animals a heavier weight than we are able to do here, but that is probably an exception and not the general rule. I should rather take the standard shown at the Smithfield Show today than the example the hon. Member quotes. We all make mistakes and it is much wiser to heed warnings about troubles that may lie ahead and so avoid them.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, for his own sake and for the sake of the certifying officers and hon. Members, to consider seriously making the Dexter and Kerry calves ineligible under this Scheme. With that exception I welcome the Scheme wholeheartedly.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

The most encouraging thing I have heard about this Scheme so far came in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel Harrison). I am very glad indeed, if it be the fact, that the inspectors are setting a high standard, because we must realise that if a farmer does a calf badly he will never catch up. It is the first year that matters, and I feel it would be a very great waste of public money if this subsidy was available for calves which had not been properly done in their first year. I hope that very high standard will be maintained.

The other point which interests me is this curious selection of the heifers of four breeds. I think the Parliamentary Secretary accepted a phrase of mine in Committee when I said that this was a pre-payment for beef which was actually coming forward. If that is really so why do we confine this exclusion of heifers to only four breeds? A great many heifers of other breeds have obviously been bred as dairy replacements and are going to be dairy replacements. Regardless of what breed they come from, will it be the instructions of the certifying officers not to certify heifers which have, in fact, been bred as dairy replacements and which, except as old cow beef, are never coming forward for grading at all?

The second question which I should like to put is, why does the Government only exclude heifers of some of these breeds? For instance, surely we are not going to pay subsidy on Jersey steer calves. Is the simple answer that no certifying officer would dream of certifying a Jersey steer calf, because if it is so, surely it ought to be made plain in the Scheme? Otherwise, some people will not understand it and will bring up Jersey steer calves and will be very disappointed at not getting a subsidy. If that is the idea it should be made clear.

Ayrshires and Guernseys may not be quite as plain, but I should have thought, on balance, it still right to say that Ayrshire steers and Guernsey steers are really a waste of food when our limitation is not the number of calves we can feed. I should have thought there would be no great harm done by excluding these two. On the other hand—and I am not a Friesian man—there is no question at all that the Friesians have developed a dual purpose type, which is what the country really needs. I do feel that any discrimination against Friesians as against the other breeds is a discouragement of this very valuable work done within the Friesian Society.

11.20 p.m.

Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)

I should like to support some of the points made by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) laid great emphasis on the necessity for a high standard of rearing in the early stages. That is most important, and I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us what appeal there will be from the decisions of different certifying officers if they do not please the farmers.

Undoubtedly, it will be very difficult, and there will be a great difference of opinion when these certifying officers—who will be professional men—visit the farms and in some cases reject animals. There will be great dissatisfaction unless there is a really competent appeal authority. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with that point.

There is another point arising out of that. In some cases some areas will probably have a much higher standard of cattle than others. It is inevitable, no matter how well these certifying officers are trained, and it may well be that some areas will tend to sell and export cattle to other areas where it is more easy to get them past. We have seen that happen in certain cases with graded cattle, which are moved from one grading centre to another, and it may easily happen that there will be just the same traffic in calves, which I think would be a very bad thing.

I think the House knows my interest in farming. If not, perhaps I had better declare it. I have had the honour to be on the Council of the Friesian Cattle Society for many years. I think it is most unfortunate that Jersey and Guernsey steer calves are permitted to pass if they are sufficiently well reared. As the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, it would be very wrong if the Ministry in any way encouraged or connived at the rearing of Jersey steer calves for beef. If the Ministry gives a subsidy on those—as they say they will—it will be an encouragement, and it certainly should not be done.

During recent years, when more beef has been acquired, the Friesian steer has shown itself to be a very valuable animal for beef purposes, especially the heavier type which has been introduced fairly recently. If the Friesian steer makes good beef and should be encouraged for that purpose it seems to me quite unfair that the Friesian-type heifer should be excluded.

Before this Scheme was introduced I believe that consultations took place with the National Farmers' Union; but no consultations took place with the British Friesian Cattle Society, which is, naturally, the authority for this breed. Incidentally, it is the largest cattle-breeding society in this country, and it is also the richest, because it has the best cattle. For that reason it would have been a just and proper thing for them to have been consulted. There will be many heifers of the Friesian type, though not Friesians themselves, which should be included but which will be excluded under this Scheme—many cattle which might be reared for beef and would make every bit as good beef as Shorthorn cattle.

That leads me to the difficulty of the certifying officers in saying which Shorthorn cattle will make good beef and are to have the subsidy. I submit that it largely depends on how a Shorthorn is reared in its first few months—whether it is beef bred or dairy bred. This offers too much of an element of chance. It would be better if this Scheme had been much more closely drawn, and less was left to the opinion of the certifying officers. Another aspect I dislike is that it may encourage a great deal of crossbreeding. During the last 10 years the cattle of this country have improved enormously. As one passes herds on farms one sees far less variation in the cattle, and far better bred cattle. In many areas that is due to the great work done by the artificial insemination centres. Unless the Ministry is careful, that good breeding will lose ground and diminish.

For that reason I should like the Minister to consider this Scheme carefully before it is put into operation. If the Minister wishes to increase the steer cattle reared for beef, I suggest that he should give the subsidy for steer cattle only, and not for heifers. The increased number of heifers reared for beef through the subsidy will be small. It would be better if a larger subsidy were given to steer cattle only.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)

I do not want to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) in this breed controversy. I want to reinforce what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) about standards. We have heard a great deal this evening about the necessity for care in rearing calves in the early stages. I think everyone will agree that that is borne out by experience. Surely the purpose of this subsidy was to get more calves reared from among those coming from the dairy herds. That was the only reason for it. The number of young cattle was falling, and people were not disposed to rear calves. The subsidy was put on as an inducement which, we are told, is to produce 400,000 extra cattle.

Although it is important that cattle should be reared well in the early stages, does anyone think that a person buying calves will not have to buy some which are not of the full, thick flesh type which he would always like to have? I was dismayed to hear of the report of the test made in the Cambridge area. I am told that out of 240 animals examined, only 11 were passed for subsidy. If that were so, it would mean that the subsidy would be ineffective for the purpose for which it was intended. I cannot believe that the cattle seen were all that bad. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what the standards are which are being applied—the general grounds on which the certifying officers have been instructed to select or reject calves. A great responsibility lies in their hands. We do not want bad calves certified, but, on the other hand, we do not want these officers to be unduly stingy, or the real purpose of the subsidy will be defeated by too large a number of rejections.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

I am glad to hear that the certifying officers are being trained. For the work they will have to do they need to have some training in self-defence. From what has already been said, it appears that some farmers will become very dissatisfied indeed and some may become dangerous.

We all know the tremendous advantage of rearing calves properly in the early stages, but there is a more important factor prior to the rearing, and that is the breeding. If we are going in for beef, then we should breed from beef. The Scheme is illogical. It is supposedly a beef Scheme, for beef cattle, and yet Jerseys, Guernseys and Ayrshires, none of them beef animals, are included in it. I fail to see how the Ministry can justify this.

11.32 p.m.

Captain Christopher Soames (Bedford)

It is evident that it is only paragraph 4 of the Scheme which has caused any difference of opinion in the House; otherwise, there is a general measure of agreement. Paragraph 4 says: The description of calf specified in this Scheme is any steer or heifer calf, except a heifer calf of the Jersey, Guernsey, Friesian or Ayrshire breeds … How much simpler it would have been to say, "The description of calf specified in this Scheme is any steer or heifer calf sired by a bull of any known beef breed …"

Many people who champion different breeds can argue that it is worth while rearing an Ayrshire or a Friesian steer, but I do not believe it is. I believe it is a waste of food to endeavour to raise a steer if neither its father nor its mother was of an acknowledged beef breed. I would be the first to agree that an excellent beef animal can be obtained from a Hereford out of a Friesian cow, but I do not believe that the feed given to a Friesian steer will produce a first quality beef animal.

Mr. Harden

Surely that is proved to be completely incorrect by the Friesian steers which have been reared on the Royal estates at Windsor?

Captain Soames

I am convinced that if the same amount of food had been given to an animal sired by a bull of an acknowledged beef breed the weight obtained would have been very much greater.

Mr. Harden

Does my hon. and gallant Friend know the weights which have been achieved? If he examines the results in a little more detail and finds the facts he will discover that he is wrong in what he is pointing out to the House. It is certainly extremely questionable whether he is right.

Captain Soames

Perhaps my hon. Friend has found the exception that proves the rule.

Mr. Paget

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that Friesian steers have made bigger weights than any Hereford has ever made?

Captain Soames

I cannot accept that.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider, instead of holding out to farmers that a Jersey or Guernsey steer might be included for subsidy, stipulating that all animals to be considered for subsidy, whether they be heifers or steers, shall be sired by a bull of an acknowledged beef breed.

11.35 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

This little Scheme has provoked a great deal of discussion which has been of interest to the House and which has shown with what importance it is regarded by hon. Members.

If I might, before coming to the major point about standards, I would deal with the lesser question raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion); that is, the point about certifying officers. He asked if they would be employed full-time, and I would remind the House that that point was answered when the Act was passing through, but I will repeat that, normally, they will be in full-time employment in England and Wales.

In Northern Ireland, the existing advisory officers will undertake the certifying work. We feel it is desirable to draft the Scheme in this way to allow some elasticity; but, normally, they will work full-time. We have engaged 90, of which number 83 are for normal duties. and the remaining seven will operate from the centre, being available to go to any part of the country where there is a particular congestion of applications so that certification may be speeded.

On the question of excluding heifers of certain breeds, and the Friesian in particular, the point is that this Scheme is one to encourage the breeding of calves for beef and the rearing of calves for beef so that more beef may be brought to our tables. The heifer of the Friesian breed is a good bodied animal. But, in practice, almost invariably—I would say in 99 per cent. of the cases—it is, in fact, reared for the dairy. Therefore, if the subsidy went to the Friesian heifer, by far the greater part of the money would go as a subsidy for milk; and this particular award is specifically to encourage beef breeding.

On the general question of breeds, and the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) as to whether the Channel Islands breeds should be included for steer calves, the general standard we shall adopt is to ask whether the calf will make a good beef animal. It is true that most steers of Channel Islands breed will not; but it is possible to have something with quite a deal of Channel Islands blood in it, and with certain Channel Islands features, which might, all the same, make a reasonably good beef animal. Therefore, we have left them all in, leaving it to the certifying officer to say whether, in fact, any of the Channel Islands breeds do qualify.

This brings me to the suggestion which was made about the qualification being judged by reference to the animal which sired the calf. Here I would say that when one comes to look at the calf at, say 18 months of age, and with so many calves cross-bred, it would be almost impossible to say with any certainty what had sired many of them. The kind of argument which would inevitably develop would be that the farmer would say that the sire was a beef breed and, of course, the certifying officer would say that the dam was, and so it would go on. It really would not be a practical standard to apply.

Captain Soames

The animal would still, of course, have to pass the test and he of good shape and frame.

Mr. Nugent

The test finally must be that the animal conforms to the standards for which the certifying officer is looking, and for that reason we have allowed any steer but have specifically excluded certain heifers, which will, obviously, in the main be reared for dairy replacements.

The hon. and learned Member asked whether the certifying officers will be instructed specifically to exclude heifers which are being reared for dairy replacements. The answer is that, as a general principle, that will be the case; but when they are judging the heifer of a dual purpose breed it would be impossible for them to say with certainty that the heifer would not be brought into the dairy herd. It is quite possible to have a heifer from the Shorthorn or one of the other dual purpose breeds which is well conformed for beef considerations but, nevertheless, is a good milker. So, in practice, all that the certifying officers can do is to use their judgment to say whether the animal is the type of heifer which would make good beef. After that, it must be left—

Mr. Paget

What I have in mind is a dairy Shorthorn pedigree herd where it is perfectly obvious that the heifers are perfectly suitable to make good beef, but that they will not go to make beef but will be used as dairy replacements. Is that a matter which the certifying officers will take into consideration, not as to their suitability but as to the purpose for which they are, in fact, to be used?

Mr. Nugent

I should not like to lay down a hard and fast answer, because in practice, although the certifying officer might think that the heifer was going into the herd, it is still possible that it would not. I think that as regards the dual purpose breeds, we can but leave it at the definition that I have indicated, that the animal will be judged on her Conformation and that if she is of a type which would make good beef, she will qualify. If she is not, she will not qualify. Once we try to determine what will happen to her next year, we are in the realms of the unknown.

Hon. Members have also raised the general problem of the arrangements for the certification of calves. In the interval since the passing of the Act some preparatory work has been done, and in each province the chief provincial livestock officer has arranged a demonstration, running over several farms, with all the livestock certifying officers and with members of the N.F.U., the C.L.A. and the C.A.E.C.s, in order to demonstrate in practice what sort of standard would be required. In choosing the farms which would be visited, the provincial livestock officers, naturally, chose farms where they thought they might find a fairly large number of borderline cases, which would be of assistance to them in demonstrating the sort of problems that would be met.

In most provinces, this exercise has gone satisfactorily. It has done what we expected it would do. It has explained to the farming community how the Scheme would work and has given the certifying officers a chance to see how it will operate in practice, and it has undoubtedly given confidence generally in the Scheme. It is true that there have been some complaints, in particular from the Eastern Counties. I will not attempt to analyse the figures given by my hon. Friends who have drawn attention to this, but the fact that farms where a large number of borderline cases were known to exist had been chosen does show that the figures are not by any means representative.

Since we heard the result of that exercise, we have arranged for the deputy chief livestock officer of the Department to go into the country and go round for two weeks to farms which had been visited by the certifying officers to inspect the calves which had already been inspected for certification and, as a result, a certain number of calves have been certified which before had been rejected and the standard which the certifying officers concerned had adopted has been revised to a more satisfactory level.

Mr. Bullard

I hope that some publicity will be given to this, because it seems to me that already some considerable damage has been done to the success of the Scheme in the Eastern Counties. I think it is a reflection on the standard of cattle in the Eastern Counties which is not justified.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

Before the hon. Gentleman replies to his hon. Friend, will he allow me to say that in many ways I think this is disturbing. If the story gets about that these certifying officers who, after all, are not very high-grade men, are liable to have their decisions overturned in any county if the farmers kick up enough fuss in that county, it is likely to lead to an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I should like the hon. Gentleman to let it be known that this is exceptional action and that he is not proposing to take it in any other county.

Mr. Nugent

I am quite certain that if publication is needed there is no better place than this in which to give it, even at this time of the night, and the terms in which I explained the action taken are I think sufficient to ensure that the fear of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) will not materialise.

Great care was taken by a very senior officer to check this work and to ensure that a correct standard was found. We fully recognise that it is a difficult job to do and the last thing we wish to do is to shake the confidence of the certifying officers. These men, in the main, have been practical farmers and nearly all were part-time certifying officers under the old Scheme and have a great deal of practical experience. In the main, I think they are capable of carrying out a very difficult job. Since receiving these reports, my right hon. Friend and I have reviewed the whole picture of the certification of the calves and, in the light of those reports, my right hon. Friend has given instructions that standards of certification shall be fairly applied to admit all calves within the terms of the Scheme which have a reasonable prospect of making good beef.

We shall watch the position very carefully. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have given emphasis to the need for maintaining a reasonably high standard and I am sure that that is what we all wish. On the other hand, we certainly do not wish to set up a standard so high as to discourage farmers from coming forward and rearing more calves. I believe that we have now a standard established in the minds of certifying officers and that we shall, by having full-time officers who, through the provincial livestock officers, are related to the national livestock officers, ensure uniformity throughout the country. I think we have a standard which will ensure fairness to the farmer and a fair return to the consumer. I therefore ask that the House should give approval to the Scheme.

Mr. Crouch

May I ask what the Minister proposes to do about the two miniature breeds? Are those heifer calves to be excluded as well as the others?

Mr. Nugent

I am sorry that I omitted to give the answer. They will be treated on the same basis as dual purpose breeds. It is true that, in the main, they are used for the dairy, but occasionally they make beef and if they come into beef in spite of their smaller size they will be treated fairly when they come to the grading centres.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Calf Subsidies (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House or 21st November, he approved.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Draft Calf Subsidies (Scotland) Scheme. 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th November, be approved.—[Mr. Snadden.]

11.51 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

It would be idle to pretend that we have not listened to the discussion on the English Scheme. We assume that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be most anxious to maintain in Scotland a high standard in the certifications which will be made. He has always argued for encouraging quality production. He will not have changed and will not be anxious to have the certifying officers too readily certifying animals which are not likely to yield good carcases when they are slaughtered.

It seems clear that a great number of heifer calves of dual purpose breeds will qualify for the subsidy and will then be filtered into the dairy herds. I think that is regrettable and a great pity. It means that milk production is going to enjoy a subsidy under this Scheme, although all this money is calculated to give encouragement to the production of beef. But I doubt whether there is very much we can do about it now. The Secretary of State will find it difficult, at this stage, to dissent from the views of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and withdraw the Scottish Scheme to discuss this point.

It is clear that the Parliamentary Secretary, and I suppose the Government, know full well that only a very small number of the steers of these Channel Islands breeds would ever qualify for a subsidy under this Scheme. It is a great pity they are included. However, I merely take this opportunity of expressing my sympathy with the views offered in discussing the area Scheme.

One point I want to mention is the proviso to paragraph 5 of the Scheme which provides that, in the case of a calf born in the spring in the hill area, it may be certified at a minimum age of six months. I can see that the intention is to provide that the subsidy will be paid to the farmer in the hill area who actually breeds the animal. From my experience in office, I know there has always been great criticism of the earlier schemes because it was not the farmers in the hill areas who received the subsidy, but the farmers on the lower land. It was always said it was the breeder who ought to enjoy the subsidy.

I should like the Under-Secretary to tell me whether he thinks that the farmers in the hill lands, in the Highlands of Scotland, will be able to enjoy these subsidies, with certification taking place at the minimum age of six months. My recollection is that a very great number of these calves are born in April and May, and that the calf sales take place at the end of September or quite early in October, but, again, I think a very great number of these calves are sold at the calf sales when just under, and only just under, six months old, whereas this Scheme states that the minimum age for certification is six months.

However, the Under-Secretary may be able to convince me that I am wrong in my recollections, and I ask him if he will say something about the matter when he replies to the debate.

11.56 p.m.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

There are two points I wish to raise on this Scheme. I do not propose to labour the question of a high standard, as English hon. Members have done, because I do not think it is necessary. In Scotland, we have a high standard already. Therefore, I do not think there will be very much difficulty, as a general rule, at any rate, in the beef areas, for the certifying officers to certify calves without any argument at all.

The first point is on the question of an appeal. I raised it on a previous occasion, when we were discussing this matter on the Second Reading of the 1952 Bill. I want to protect myself, as a Member of Parliament, from being asked by farmers to look at their calves, and I am quite sure that other hon. Members who may be similarly placed will be feeling like me. What sort of appeal is there to be? The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), speaking on the English Scheme, said there was to be some form of appeal. I should like to know what form that appeal will take.

On the previous occasion when I spoke I used the analogy of the seed potato scheme, in which the certifying officer came along, and, if there was any argument, the farmer paid another fee, and a senior inspector came to decide whether the junior inspector was right or wrong. Is that sort of thing to be done in this case, though, of course, without payment of a fee? We want a safeguard like that to prevent arguments taking place between the farmers and the officers, and I am sure the whole Scheme will work more freely if farmers know that, if a young fellow came along and said, "No, I am not going to certify your calf," there would be somebody senior to him whom the farmer could hold in higher regard.

The second point concerns calves in the Highlands. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has already referred to the proviso in paragraph 5 of the Scheme. As hon. Members know, I breed them, and I have a form of application for the subsidy in my hand, sent to me by the Department. In the leaflet accompanying the form, nothing at all is said about the six months business, which is referred to in the first paragragh of the Scheme, and there is no explanation of how one can apply for the special permission of the Secretary of State to get the certifying officer earlier than seven months. At the head of the form it is stated: This application form should be completed when your calves have reached the age of seven months. There is no provision made in the leaflet or on the form for any special arrangements to be made for the hill calf.

What special arrangements are to be made in accordance with paragraph 5 of the Scheme? This is very important and may make a lot of difference to hill farming. I agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) that if these calves are born in March or April it is going to be a rather tight thing to get them marked before they are sold at the autumn sales. It may be that the autumn sales could be put back a fortnight. I do not know. I want to stress the point that to make the subsidy work properly the producer, the breeder of the calf, is the man who ought to receive the subsidy rather than the feeder, if we can possibly manage it. I hope, therefore, that special arrangements will be made.

It is stated on the form that one cannot send the form in until the youngest of the batch of calves one wants marked is seven months' old. That cannot possibly work in the case of the Highland calf. I want an alternative form, making the seven months a period of four or five months in the case of the Highland calf so that the Secretary of State will have time to satisfy himself that there is no winter keep on the farm and that the calf is to be sold at the autumn sale. I hope, therefore, that in his reply the Under-Secretary will say that something like that is being done.

Finally, although this £5 subsidy on all suitable steer calves and all beef-type heifer calves is to be given as a result of the Price Review, nevertheless it is taxpayers' money. I hope, therefore, that in the administration of the Scheme the farmers will realise that it is taxpayers' money that they are receiving and that they will take refusals, if refusals have to be made, in the spirit in which this Scheme is produced, which is that it is designed for the specific purpose of producing more beef. Farmers, broadly speaking, should accept the decisions of the certifying officers in the spirit in which the Government are putting forward the Scheme.

12.3 a.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

It seems to me that paragraph 4 of this Scheme is probably as good as anything can be in this rather imperfect world. It may have to be altered in the light of experience but, read as a whole, it seems a fair beginning for the Scheme, especially as I take it that the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when he wound up the Second Reading debate on the 1952 Bill will be read with it. The hon. Gentleman said on that occasion: With regard to dairy cattle, and in case anyone is in any doubt, I should say that any animal from a single purpose dairy cow by a colour marked bull or by a beef bull—in Scotland, we do not recognise colour marking—will rank for subsidy if it passes inspection. I am talking, of course, about heifers."— [OFFICIAL, REPORT, 25th July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 1032.] I, too, felt that paragraph 5 (c) and the proviso to it will have to be looked at again. I can confirm what the hon. Member for Hamilton said, out of the mouth, so to speak, of the Under-Secretary because in that same debate the Under-Secretary said that most of the calves in the hill areas were born in April and went to market in October. If my arithmetic is right that leaves only five clear months. If it is desired, as the Under-Secretary said in that debate that it was, that the breeder should receive the subsidy, it really is not enough time, especially as the area to be covered by the inspectors is very scattered. If the time is not altered it will be simply impossible for them to get round between the end of the six months and the sale, unless the Minister is to have an army of inspectors.

Those are the only points which I wish to make on this Scheme which, otherwise, I wholly welcome.

12.5 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)

Perhaps I should deal with the general question that has been raised by the three hon. Members about the hill calves, as this is of particular importance from the Scottish point of view. I may have said many calves were born in April, but they come in the hill areas in February, March, and April. They are getting late in May. These are the three principal months, and it is our hope and intention to see that these calves are marked before they go to the autumn sales and that the breeder in the hills receives the subsidy. It may be that a few late calves in May will be left out but when they are sent off they carry the subsidy when sold in the store ring.

The hon. and gallant Member for Angus (Captain Duncan) raised the question of the form. It is quite true the application form he has does mention seven months, but if he looks at paragraph 7 of the slip inside he will see a mention of the six months' marking. However, we realise that this difficulty exists, and I should like to assure him that between now and the spring there is ample time to deal with it and that we intend to take the necessary action. We have a complete register from the last calf subsidy and we intend to give a specific intimation to the people concerned. This is a general form, 50,000 of which have already gone out. There is an exception in the case of those on the hills, and they will get special treatment. We are now trying to find out the best way of doing this. It is a tricky problem and one which perhaps cannot be solved by an announcement over the B.B.C. or in the Press.

On the question of appeal raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Angus, I think the best answer is that where there is a dispute and a breeder has had a calf rejected by the certifying officer, the officer will appeal to the senior area officer of the Department of Agriculture. In that way the appeal will be the same as in England and Wales.

The point made by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) related to Channel Islands breeds. To be perfectly frank, this is not as great a significance in Scotland as it is in England. We do not have the same problem of dual purpose cattle. Rightly or wrongly, we have bred for beef or milk, and we do not anticipate quite as much difficulty as may occur south of the Border.

So far our certification has worked well. We have a very highly skilled inspectorate of full-time officers who worked through the last subsidy, and up to date no complaints of any kind have reached the Department. We are getting on with the work. There may be a little delay, because we have to catch up with the accumulation of calves born since October, 1951. When we get through that we are hopeful that we shall get abreast of this Scheme and that we shall be making payment within about a fortnight from the date of certification. In the remoter areas it may take a little longer, but I hope that it will not exceed 30 days.

Mr. T. Fraser

When the Minister says that as far as the Channel Islands breeds are concerned they are not much of a problem in Scotland I think he is absolutely right. There will not be more than a handful of steer calves of those breeds offered for certification; but that makes it all the more surprising that there is provision in the Scheme for the breeders of that mere handful of those calves to offer them for certification.

Mr. Snadden

There may be some in Scotland and we have to provide for that contingency to keep ourselves in line with the Scheme for England and Wales.


That the Draft Calf Subsidies (Scotland) Scheme, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th November, be approved.


Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

Adjourned accordingly at Eleven Minutes past Twelve o'Clock, a.m.