HL Deb 16 July 1964 vol 260 cc370-3

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the serious beef position, they will now agree to the importation of more Charolais bulls, and also of Charolais cows and heifers.]


My Lords, I am able to reassure the noble Lord that there is nothing serious in the beef position. The present shortage is in imported supplies, not home-fed—and this short-term need could not be met by switching a part of home-fed production to another breed. The current trials are intended to establish whether, in the longer term, Charolais bulls will produce beef more efficiently from the dairy herd. There is no present requirement for more Charolais bulls, demand on those in the A.I. studs being well short of their potentrial. As regards an importation of cows and heifers to establish the pure breed in this country, the present trials are not yet complete and in the light of their outcome my right honourable friends will be considering where the balance of advantage lies. I hope that it will be possible to reach a decision by November or December.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. I would suggest that, had he had time when he visited his own local agricultural show to see the Milk Marketing Board Exhibition on Charolais cattle, he would have found some information which may not yet be available to his own Ministry. I would also ask him whether he is aware that there is considerable demand for the export of Charolais semen, and, indeed, Charolais bulls, from this country, and that until such time as British farmers are given freedom to import Charolais cows and heifers from France we shall be unable to meet that demand; and, in the meantime, the chances are that those who wish to have the semen and pure-bred animals will go elsewhere, to Southern Ireland? Will he not agree that if that were to happen it would be the dilatoriness of his own Ministry, and their refusal to allow a certain amount of personal freedom to breeders who wish to progress in these matters, that would be responsible for the loss of these exports?


My Lords, so far as the information available to us is concerned, I think we must have as much information as is available to the noble Lord. This very information, perhaps even more, will be under discussion and review by the Working Group on Monday, and they will be hoping to be able to give advice to my right honourable friend, who will, in fact, be answering a Parliamentary Question on this matter in another place on Wednesday.

As regards the possible export of semen, the first object of importing the 31 Charolais bulls on the recommendation of the Terrington Committee was, as the noble Lord knows, in order to see what use they could be in making more efficient beef production from the dairy herd. What the noble Lord has in mind must be secondary. I do not want to discourage him, and certainly not to discount what he has said, but the fact is that we are thinking first in terms of producing more efficient beef from the dairy herd.


My Lords, arising out of the noble Lord's first Answer, can he say why, if there is no shortage of beef, the price of beef is so high and is now beyond the means of most old-age pensioners?


My Lords, the noble Lord must have misheard me. I did not say that there was no shortage of beef. I said that the beef position was not serious; there are, of course, supplies of other forms of meat which are very plentiful at the moment.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is the intention of the Government to produce a report giving detailed effects of the importation of Charolais bulls? If the Government have such an intention, at what date can we expect such a report?


My Lords, I do not think I should anticipate the considerations of the Working Group; but, as I have said, they will be meeting on Monday to discuss the information which is now available.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether his reply to my noble friend Lord Shepherd means that if there is plenty of pork available there is no beef shortage, even if there is no beef?


My Lords, the noble Lord would be entirely wrong to read that into my reply. As he knows, the point is not that there is no beef, but that there is a certain shortage of beef caused by a shortage of imported supplies.


My Lords, while I certainly do not expect the noble Lord to anticipate the report of the Working Group which meets on Monday, I would ask him whether he is not aware of the urgency of this problem, particularly with regard to exports. I would also ask why, if the Working Group is to meet on Monday, we may not anticipate any further decision by the Ministry until November in this matter?—which I think is the date he gave us in his original Answer.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord appreciates—though I should expect him to, because of his great knowledge of this subject—that in fact there is no question of being able to import more Charolais, either bulls or heifers, during the course of this year because it is the custom in France to vaccinate the calves shortly after birth. As we cannot import vaccinated calves, we have to ask the French breeders to set aside a number of calves for us. We then inspect them in June and select a number of those calves. There is no question whatever, on animal health grounds, of importing any more Charolais in the course of this year, or, indeed, until about the autumn of next year; so that in fact no time is being lost.