Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Orders of the Day — Agriculture (Calf Subsidies)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland 12:00 am, 13th March 1968

Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome the Calf Subsidy Scheme. We have had a good and useful debate, but to a large extent it has been let down by the fact that the back benches opposite have been totally denuded during the course of it, except for a brief moment when one hon. Member whose name and constituency are completely unknown to me came in and it for about half a minute as if waiting for a bus, and then went out again. It is a pity, when we are discussing public expenditure of some £28 million, that hon. Members opposite did not see fit to be present.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills), I welcome a method of supporting the rearing of beef animals in a way which gives more direct assistance to rearing areas like those which he and I represent.

It is important in beef production to get a greater degree of confidence in the industry. The figures of expenditures and forecasts in respect of calf subsidy schemes over recent years show how low confidence is. Last June, I put down a Written Question referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart). At that time, the Ministry was expecting to spend £26·7 million on calf subsidies in the year 1967–68. In the White Paper published last week dealing with the Price Review, we see that the latest estimate for 1967–68 is only £23·1 million. Be tween last June and now, the Ministry will spend £3·6 million less than it expected then. That shows what a serious loss of confidence there has been in the beef rearing industry.

A great deal has been said about the high level of calf slaughtering last year, and I would like to know to what extent it is still continuing.

In the White Paper, I notice that the estimate for next year is £28·2 million, which is an increase of £5·1 million over the estimate for last year. What justification does the Minister see for this considerable jump? In this context, what my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said about how it relates to the National Plan is very relevant, and I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will refer to that part of my hon. Friend's speech when he replies to the debate.

The Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme extends for a further three years the 1965 Scheme. Can the Minister tell us the expenditure that he expects and the number of calves that he expects to receive the subsidy next year in Scotland, England and Wales respectively?

I want to ask a number of detailed questions on the first scheme. Concerning paragraph 8(a), I make the point that the carcase can be presented under Stage B at a time when the beast is qualifying for the Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) Order. As this scheme is to last for three years, it may be—possibly during that time—that the Fatstock (Guarantee Payments) Order will be superseded, because we are told that the Government are now starting conversations with the farmers' unions with a view to taking up import control. Therefore, it may be that at that time the present system of fatstock guarantees will be superseded, and we shall have a different scheme. Perhaps the Minister will say something about these conversations which we understand are starting.

Concerning paragraph 10, I was extremely puzzled, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), by the phrase, … approximately equivalent on the average to the rates of subsidy which would have been payable under Part I of this scheme …", referring to the subsidy paid on a carcase.

This is ambiguously written. When one is talking about the average to the rates of subsidy, there is no reference to the heifer or the steer subsidy. It might be construed by somebody as meaning an average between the two rates. I am sure it does not mean that. I hope that the Minister will take the point that there is an ambiguity in the way that this reads.

Finally on the Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1968, I hope that the Minister will refer to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) about bull beef. These experiments have been progressing for four years or so. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I remember applying to join an experimental scheme at that time—this was before I came into the House—for the production of bull beef. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am correct about that.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) when he said that he hoped that Stage B would get more publicity. This is very important, because a lot of farmers still do not realise that they can get subsidy at slaughter on certain dairy heifers.

Turning now to the Calf Subsidies (Supervision and Enforcement) Order, 1968, I am slightly disturbed at the powers which are given in paragraph 6 to persons authorised by the Minister and persons employed by the Commission to whom there is a delegated responsibility under paragraph 8. I am particularly concerned about paragraph 6. When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) opened the debate, he referred to people who could go and look at records and books in relation to the calf scheme. Reading paragraph 6 I do not see any reference to the calf scheme. It seems that we are giving these wide powers to people to look at books, accounts and records without any reference specifically to the calf subsidies schemes. I believe that that power could be much wider than we think and much wider than the hon. Gentleman implied.

The final point on the Calf Subsidies (Supervision and Enforcement) Order concerns the Schedule where there seem to be these three systems of marking car- cases to qualify for the Stage B scheme. I do not want to be contentious about England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it would seem better if one could have devised a marking scheme consistent in all the countries in the United Kingdom. With all these different ways of marking and all these different permutations of marking, there is a possibility that some smart alec might think it possible to get the subsidy twice because he thinks a certifying officer may not notice a mark in a certain place because it has been put on in a different country. It is a pity that we cannot have a unified scheme in this way.

I want to turn now to a part of the scheme which worries me. I referred to it when the Parliamentary Secretary replied to the debate last June. It is the part in paragraph 5 which excludes certain heifers from the Calf Subsidy Scheme. They are the Jersey, Guernsey, Friesian and Ayrshire. The reason is that those might return to the dairy herd and might not be raised for beef. I asked why the dairy Shorthorn was not included in this category. I got the astonishing reply from the Parliamentary Secretary: The answer is that it is regarded more as a beef animal."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 21st June, 1967; Vol. 748, c. 1652.] It is fantastic that the Parliamentary Secretary should regard the dairy Shorthorn as more a beef animal than the Friesian. I do not understand why he says that. I today telephoned the Beef Recording Association which is well-known to everyone in the House. They told me that in their recording for beef production, 75 per cent. of animals are Friesians and only 3·5 per cent. are dairy shorthorns. The average liveweight gain is 2·4 lbs per day for the Friesians and 2 lbs per day for the dairy shorthorn. As for conversion, for every pound of liveweight gain, the Friesian consumes 5·7 lbs and the dairy shorthorn 7·2 lbs. If the figures prove nothing else, they show that the British Friesian is a considerably more important beef breed than the dairy shorthorn. I cannot understand why the Minister should have excluded the dairy Shorthorn and tried to make a case that it is more a beef breed than the others. All the facts and the experience of hon. Members will support my argument.

There have been a number of questions, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will have plenty of time to reply, because he did not reply earlier about the Stratford outbreak and the question of swill. I hope he will find time to answer all the questions.