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Orders of the Day — Agriculture (Calf Subsidies)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th March 1968.

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Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West 12:00 am, 13th March 1968

The scheme 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 29th October, 1970, and Part II provides for payment on carcases of home-bred cattle which have not earned subsidy as calves but which are of a standard eligible for fatstock guarantee payments and which are certified during the three-year period 1st April, 1968, to 31st March, 1971. These two ways of claiming subsidy will be better recognised in the farming world as "Stage A" and "Stage B". Three years is the maximum permissible duration for a scheme under the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Act, 1952, but schemes can, of course, be amended, if necessary by a variation scheme within the three years.

So far as Stage A of the scheme is concerned, this continues the provisions contained in earlier schemes for paying subsidy on live steers and heifers of suitable beef potential other than heifers of the four main dairy breeds. These provisions differ from those in earlier schemes in only two respects.

First the scheme no longer contains provision for the marking of certified calves. This is now provided for in the new Supervision and Enforcement Order.

Secondly, my right hon. Friends have taken the opportunity to provide for pay- ment 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. This is a sensible provision which will do much to remove anxiety from the minds of farmers in foot and mouth infected areas at times when, quite properly, a temporary stop has to be put on farm visits by Ministry officials. 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. The House will be glad to know that similar arrangements have been operating on an exceptional basis over the last few months.

Part II of the scheme is entirely new. This is the first statutory scheme providing for the alternative method of claiming calf subsidy payments on approved carcases although, as hon. Members will know, payments under the authority of the Appropriation Act have been made, under arrangements similar to those provided for in the draft scheme, since September, 1965, pending the necessary legislative authority contained in the Agriculture Act, 1967. The extended arrangements were introduced principally to enable subsidy to be paid on heifers of dairy breed which are fattened for beef. This class of animals was formerly excluded from subsidy because of the risk that they might, after receiving subsidy, be used for dairying rather than beef. This problem has been overcome by providing for payment on the hook. This widening of the scope of the scheme and its recognition of the value of the properly finished dairy heifer as a meat producing animal has been generally welcomed.

Experience of the Stage B scheme so far has shown that the majority of presentations at this stage are indeed dairy heifers. This was what we expected. Another benefit is that animals which just fail to qualify for subsidy as calves now get a second chance to earn subsidy.

I now come to the Order providing for the policing of the subsidy payment, the Calf Subsidies (Supervision and Enforcement) Order, 1968. We already had provision for Stage A, of course, but Stage B is administered jointly with the Fatstock Guarantee Scheme and this has called for some inevitable extension of the measures for ensuring that subsidy is paid in proper cases only.

Before describing the provisions of the order now before the House, I think I should remind hon. Members that sums upward of £28 million are paid out annually in calf subsidies. I think it important to mention this, because I am sure that this will make clear to the House the need for these safeguards.

Briefly, the Order makes it an offence to seek double payment of 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 with which, as I have said, Stage B of the calf subsidy is closely linked. In particular, the new Order gives the right to inspect records in any investigation connected with calf subsidies. 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. There is one particular point here to which I think that I should draw the attention of the House. This is the power extended to authorised officers of the Meat and Livestock Commission in Great Britain. Hon. Members will recall our discussions on this matter in Standing Committee on the Agriculture Bill and that my right hon. Friend gave an undertaking that the exercise of such powers by an officer of the Commission would be strictly limited to those occasions when it was necessary for him to accompany the Minister's own authorised officers. The Order prescribes accordingly.

The powers taken by this Order are, in our view, necessary to safeguard public money and I feel quite sure that the House would wish to see that there are proper safeguards of this nature.

I have just made reference to the Meat and Livestock Commission. Hon. Members will have seen that 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 taken now 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.

Calf subsidies have been paid for many years. They are accepted as a valuable method of assistance to our beef industry, and have the particular merit of enabling subsidy to be injected relatively early in the production chain. Over the years, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of calves retained for beef. The calf subsidy has clearly served to encourage such retention. To this long-standing method of support, we have added an extra widening of its scope. We believe that this subsidy continues to have an important part to play in our system of support for this vital section of the farming industry.