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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 James Stodart Mr James Stodart , Edinburgh West 12:00 am, 13th March 1968

Much of this is an old friend. We should remember that the purpose of the calf subsidy is to get more calves, which is a proper thing to say, since, in the first few years since 1960, the increase in calves certified—I have these figures from an answer given on 19th June last year to my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling)—was 8 per cent. in 1962–63, which steadied down to 6 per cent. in 1964–65 and 1965–66. Alas, the estimate for 1967–68 is that it has come back to 4 per cent., and the Government should not be complacent about this situation.

This is a successor to the scheme which ran from 30th October, 1964, to 29th October last year. Part I is on fairly well-established and recognisable lines, much of it pretty well the original 1952 legislation. The hon. Member referred to paragraph 6(2), the latitude allowed in inspection dates when there is risk of animal disease. In the light of the subject we discussed earlier, that is obviously a move in the right direction. One might rightly pay tribute to it. It was the suggestion made in the debate on 7th May, 1964, on a similar Order by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson). I am glad that, nearly four years later, the mills of God have at last ground to fruition.

The minimum age for certifying was taken out in the 1964 Scheme. It was then announced that calves under eight months, other than hill calves, should not be inspected. Although the minimum age was moved, there would not be an inspection of calves under that age. What has been the practice? We asked, what was the point of removing the minimum age if the practice was not to be changed? Has a good degree of flexibility resulted? If not, our inquiries about removing the statutory minimum would appear to have been valueless.

Part II of the Calf Subsidies Scheme was, I think, conceived in the 1965 Price Review. More recently it stemmed from Section 10 of the 1967 Act. What is meant by the words in paragraph 10, "approximately equivalent"? This is the payment to be made and it is to be approximately equivalent on the average to the rates of subsidy which would have been payable under Part I". Why is it not precisely the same rate as the calf subsidy itself?

In paragraph 11 it is quite clear that any Ministerial functions which are conferred under Part II of the Scheme may be delegated to the Meat and Livestock Commission. I am sure that I heard the hon. Gentleman remark that this applies to certification only. If I read it aright, any powers under Part II surely include payment of subsidy, which is referred to in paragraph 8, because that is in Part II. It clearly excludes payment under paragraph 4, which is in Part I, but I should have thought that it applied not only to certification but brings in payment under paragraph 8.

This seems to conflict with the assurance given by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. John Mackie) in Committee on the Agriculture Bill. I will quote from the Report of the sitting of that Committee on 7th July, 1966. On the first going through of the Bill, we asked for and got an assurance that the question of grading would be delegated to the Commission. The payment of subsidy would continue to be made by the Ministry, and enforcement would still remain in the hands of the Minister.

On the second run through the Bill, I put the specific question and asked for confirmation. This is what the hon. Gentleman said: First, the Commission will take over certification of individual animals and carcases at live and deadweight centres. Second, payment of subsidy will continue to be the responsibility of the Headquarters Payments Unit of the Agricultural Departments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 7th July, 1966; c. 123.] It seems to me, therefore, that that assurance has been departed from in the powers which are given under Part II of the Scheme, and I should be grateful if the Minister would explain why that should be so.

Now, the Enforcement Order. I find Article 7(3) somewhat difficult to understand. The Article refers to powers of entry. This also, was a matter which we debated in Standing Committee, but I should like the hon. Gentleman to explain what paragraph (3) means. To paraphrase it, as I understand it, it means that, if someone is described as an authorised person wants to take an ear off a carcase, he must be what is described as a "proper officer" in relation to allowing subsidies to be paid on carcases, or he must be what is described as "any other person authorised". The second seems to cancel out the first. A definite qualification appears first, and then the field is opened much wider.

If an authorised person wants to take away books or records, then anyone can do it so long as he has authority. We made clear in Committee that we had no objection to the delegation covered by Article 4, which deals with marking, but both Article 6 and Article 7 refer to books, to records, and, possibly, to confidential information. The hon. Gentleman will recall that in Committee we expressed our fears that such information as this might go not only to the Commission itself but down to some of the individuals involved as members of one of the Commission's committees, and they might be people involved also in competition with the person whose affairs were being investigated.

We want an assurance that there will be no departure from the assurances which were given in Committee, that strict instructions would be given that confidential information should be treated with great circumspection.