Orders of the Day — Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th July 1952.

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Photo of Sir Archer Baldwin Sir Archer Baldwin , Leominster 12:00 am, 25th July 1952

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), because at least he and I can say that we hold today the same views that we held in 1949; we have not changed our views because we have changed sides in the House. The arguments which he has used with regard to stunted cattle are arguments that we used when we opposed that subsidy. I maintained them and I maintain today that there is only so much food available for the rearing of cattle, and if we utilise that food at the beginning of the end instead of at the end of the end it means that we get the stunted animal to which the hon. Member referred.

I entirely agree with him that if we try these artificial methods of planning against the law of supply and demand they crack up—and this scheme has cracked up. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has left the Chamber. I hoped he would be here when I spoke because I propose to say a few words with regard to his attitude today compared with what it was six years ago. It was very interesting to hear the views which he expressed today and compare them with those he expressed when this Calf Subsidy Bill was first introduced.

Today he has been saying exactly what the hon. Member for Chorley and I said in the distant past. He said it probably more forcibly and more eloquently, but he used exactly the same argument as we used then. It was interesting to hear him claim that the Socialist Party started the calf subsidy at the beginning of the end and to note that the beginning of the end ceased in October, 1951. We have now got to the end of the end and therefore some other scheme should be introduced.

I could get a lot of fun if I quoted what some of my hon. Friends said when this Bill was introduced. As was said by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), there was hardly a single commendation for this scheme in Committee. It was damned with faint praise and had practically no friends. I am therefore very surprised to see that we have followed along the lines of these subsidies. I shall not quote what some of my hon. Friends said. I have the quotations here, but I will not be so unkind as to use them.

It is not only the hon. Member for Chorley and myself who condemn these subsidies. If the Minister has not already done so, I suggest that he should read what was said in another place last Wednesday. In the discussion which then took place on food prices a former Conservative Minister of Agriculture said: Putting back the subsidies is not a policy of realism; it is a policy of continuing to live in 'Cloud Cuckoo-land'. Another noble Lord on the Government benches who is looked upon as an expert in agricultural matters said: … if you really want to frame a safe and a sound agricultural policy you should get rid of those artificial conditions of subsidising here and subsidising there … give up trying,to subsidise, either calf production or ploughing up, and all the rest of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 23rd July, 1952; Vol. 178, c. 207–230.] I heard it said, and I thought it was good sound commonsense.

Some of my hon. Friends suggested that I am being disloyal to my Minister in protesting against these subsidies. The last thing in the world I want to be is disloyal to my Minister, for whom I have a great regard, and I hope that in spite of my condemnation of subsidies he will still allow me to call him my right hon. Friend. But I was not elected to conic to this place as a "yes" man. If I think that my Minister is not doing the right thing and accepting bad advice I am prepared to give him the benefit of my advice, as I was in the case of the right hon. Member for Belper six years ago, when he twitted me for making the same speech time after time. It is satisfactory to know that after six years of making the same speech time after time he at last agrees with what I said.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to a policy for agriculture, but I do not propose to follow that line this morning because I hope that I may be fortunate enough to take part in the economic debate next week, when I hope to put forward ideas similar to those which I gave to the right hon. Gentleman the then Leader of the Opposition at the time of the economic crisis in 1947. If I am called upon to speak in the economic debate I shall give the same advice as I did then, in the hope that after six years the Conservative Party will follow that advice.

The question is whether or not this calf subsidy scheme has been a success. If one looks at the figures for the output of beef and for young cattle, as shown in the various returns every year, one is bound to say that the effect of the calf subsidy has not been to raise the number of cattle. The March returns show a drop of something like 100,000 cattle under one year old. That is after four years of calf subsidy. I suggest, therefore, that these expensive subsidies have been of no value at all in getting more beef.

As the hon. Member for Chorley said when this scheme was first introduced, to pay a subsidy on all calves must be wrong. It means that in order to get the extra calves we have to pay £25, £30 or £35 per head for them. That seems to be a very expensive method. I pointed out in those days that in my own case—and I must not crack up my own Hereford breed, in spite of the temptation which was given to me by the hon. Member who is President of the South Devons Producers' Association—I got a subsidy on 40 or 50 calves which I should have reared whether they were subsidised or not. That is entirely the wrong way of doing it.

What I suggested should be done six years ago is what I suggest should be done today. If we are to have a calf subsidy, let it be one which will help people to rear the extra calves. The hon. Member for Chorley made the point very well. If we must have a subsidy let us give it to the small farmers and the smallholders who live in remote areas and who are now producing milk for which it is not economic to send a big lorry up a narrow lane to collect. If a scheme were properly thought out it would be possible to give those small-holders or farmers the assistance necessary for them to start production.

These small people are in a difficulty because they have no reserves, in spite of all the money reported to be made in farming. They cannot switch over from milk to rearing calves because of the monthly cheque for milk which has been coming in, and because it would be a long time before they received a cheque if they went into calf production. I suggest that if the Minister must have a calf subsidy he should think out some scheme whereby these people could be assisted by a monthly or quarterly cheque, as the case may be, until their cheques begin to arrive for the rearing of the calves they are encouraged to produce.

There is another suggestion I made six years ago which I make again today. Every calf offered to the calf supervisor should be punched. What happens today is that in a beef area the standard of a rearing calf is very much higher than it is in a milk area. If one presents a calf to the supervisor of a beef area and he turns it down because it is not a sufficiently good one, that calf can be sold, can go into a milk area, be presented to the supervisor in that area and accepted for a subsidy. I suggest that every calf presented should be punched so that it cannot be given a subsidy in some other area.

These are points to which we should give our attention. This artificial planning against the law of supply and demand should be stopped. In order to pay all these subsidies, we have to tax the people; we have to take money out of one pocket in order to put it back in another form. I believe in leaving the money in the pockets of the people for them to spend, because they know best how to spend their money—and certainly better than Whitehall.