HC Deb 13 December 1926 vol 200 cc2650-3

I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

This is the Clause which enables the Minister of Agriculture to prescribe certain units of sale for wholesale dealings in agricultural and horticultural produce. The Committee will remember that the Food Council really did not go into the case of wholesale transactions in regard to this class of produce, and they only heard evidence about the retail trade. Since the Bill was drafted, however, we have had a great deal of information on this subject which was not available to the Food Council when it considered this subject, and I have convinced the President of the Board of Trade that it would not he reasonable to include wholesale transactions except in regard to the trade in pre-packed goods. Therefore, this Clause has become unnecessary, and that is why I move its omission.


I gather that the Minister of Agriculture thinks that it is not important that the same safeguards which are to be given to the retail trader as are given to the general public in the ease of the wholesale trader. I think it is more important that the retail trader should have the same kind of protection. Now, that this Clause has been withdrawn, the retailer is not secure in regard to his protection. I know many retailers are very dissatisfied with the withdrawal of this Clause. Do we understand that, although the Minister withdraws this Clause now, at some future date he will give that protection to the retailer to which he is entitled?


I do not think the same kind of protection is necessary in both cases. I did not explain the reasons for my proposal more fully because I thought they would come better on the new Clause which the President of the Board of Trade proposes to move in regard to the application of the Bill. I wilt briefly state the reasons for the change. There is a great difference between the retail and the wholesale trade. In the retail trade the delivery usually takes place in the presence of the purchaser, but in the wholesale trade, in regard to agricultural and horticultural produce, especially for sale on commission, the delivery takes place far away from the consignor perhaps long after the goods have left his possession. The goods on their journey are liable to all kinds of accidents, such as pilfering, loss of weight through mud being shaken off potatoes or carrots, evaporation of spinach, and accidents of various kinds. The produce is generally packed after a very hasty preparation because certain trains have to be caught, and the goods are subject to deterioration by the weather. As a matter of fact, we are told that it would be impossible, if this Bill passes in its present form, to go on packing and sending goods in bulk under the system which now obtains. To bring in the wholesale trade in agricultural and horticultural produce would involve a very unfair handicap on the home producers, because their foreign competitors would not come under this law. It is necessary to protect the consumer in the retail trade, but it is quite a different thing to apply the same rule to the wholesale trade, and to bring them in would cause a very grave injustice.


For quite different reasons I am sorry that it has not been found possible to introduce a Clause of this nature which would have helped onwards the standardisation of agricultural produce. Many of us are looking forward to more standardisation and better marketing methods, and although the Clause as drafted would not have proved acceptable yet a Clause which would induce the home producer to take more trouble in regard to standardisation would have been most helpful. We believe it is in that way that the producer can get a better return and a larger measure, of prosperity.


While I appreciate the reasons given by the Minister of Agriculture for the omission of this particular Clause, his arguments are not conclusive in relation to the retail dealers, and I wish to associate myself with the remarks made to the effect that if this Clause is omitted, a very serious injustice will be done and a great number of retailers dealing with fruit and other things of that kind will suffer. Unless the Minister is prepared to give some assurance to the House that this matter will be reconsidered either at this stage or at a later stage, I shall have to consider whether it is not necessary to go into the Lobby against this proposal.


I still remain unconvinced as to the necessity for the withdrawal of this Clause. This Clause which it is proposed to omit confers upon the Minister power to make Regulations in those cases where it would result in giving to the retail trader such a measure of protection as it is desired to give to the consumer. I fail to see that the Minister of Agriculture has given any substantial reasons why this Clause should be withdrawn, because, quite obviously, its operation would be limited to cases where it could be suitably carried out. It is only a permissive power, and does not compel anyone to do anything unwise or unreasonable, or cause any considerable amount of ex- pense to fall upon those who are engaged in the wholesale trade. On the other hand, it would give a measure of protection, where it is possible and practicable to do so, to those who buy from wholesalers, and I think the Minister ought to advance very much more substantial reasons if this Clause is to be withdrawn.


This Clause would really be quite inconsistent with the new Clause which my right hon. Friend is going to move, and which will exclude wholesale transactions in horticultural and agricultural produce.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.