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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 John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough 12:00 am, 13th March 1968

I give a general welcome to these two Instruments, which bring up to date the calf subsidy payments by increasing the heifer calf subsidy by £1 and the steer calf subsidy by £1 also, which increases were foreshadowed in the White Paper which we received from the Minister the other day.

I welcome the Minister's decision to bring these rates of payment up to a more realistic figure, but I want to know whether he is satisfied with our existing structure, and whether the methods of support for beef are achieving the necessary results. As well as the calf subsidies we have the hill cow and beef cow and fat cattle subsidies. What the nation needs from these producers of cattle was outlined on page 9 of Part II of the National Plan.

The National Plan estimated that the home production of beef and veal might be increased by 125,000 tons by 1970. We must consider these two Orders and the Orders which are about to lapse to see whether the calf subsidies are playing the part in the overall picture which was painted in the National Plan. Many hon. Members on this side of the House regarded that target—an increase of 125,000 tons—as a very modest one. It is calculated that increased consumption alone will account for about 107,000 tons of extra production, so we shall replace only about 18,000 tons of imported meat as the target in the National Plan.

I am convinced that, given the right emphasis and perhaps a little fresh thinking by the Government and a little more thinking about where the emphasis should be placed, we can meet all our home requirements for beef with production from home sources alone long before 1970. I do not want to stray too far in that direction at the moment. I come back to the two Orders which play a part in the picture which the National Plan painted.

How far is this country along the road towards achieving the target set? My hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine), whom I am pleased to see here tonight, on 28th February asked the Minister of Agriculture a pertinent Question in relation to the progress made in the past two years towards the estimated target of an extra 125,000 tons. The Minister may look worried about the reply, because he gave it. It showed that in two years since the National Plan was produced the home production of beef and veal had increased only by about 15,000 tons. If these Orders are to play their part in stimulating increased beef production at home in accordance with the National Plan much better progress must be made. The target for five years was an increase of 125,000 tons, but in the first two years the Government have only got to 15,000 tons.

I welcome this scheme, which is part of the overall picture only. But cannot we have some new thinking from the Ministry? Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the reply I have just quoted? It was a deplorable confession of Government failure in stimulating beef production. The National Plan target was very modest, yet the Government are falling well behind it. It is no use trotting out these old schemes in an embellished form and hoping that they will do the trick. Fresh thought is needed.

For example, the hon. Gentleman might give careful consideration to whether more emphasis should not be placed on the end product rather than at the beginning of the production line. I beg him to give this matter serious attention and not to be satisfied to continue in the same old depressing way, which is having such disastrous results.