§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Guinness)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Bill is to lay the foundation for a better system of marketing home produce by developing and perfecting arrangements for the grading and marking of produce. The Bill is the result of inquiry and experiments, upon which the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has been engaged since Mr. Bonar Law set up the Linlithgow Committee in 1922. Since that time the subject has become much more urgent, owing to the increase of foreign competition. Anyone who takes the trouble to look at the produce now offered for sale in our markets must be convinced that very much home produce of excellent quality is spoiled by its unattractive presentation. Foreign supplies benefit by their reliability and uniformity, and are often far ahead of home products in appearance. It is, of course, easier for foreign supplies to be well graded. Foreign countries can limit their exports to the best qualities, keeping the lower qualities for consumption in their home markets, whereas our markets have to absorb all qualities alike. The remedy for this state of affairs is to grade home produce so that the poorer qualities do not depress the value received for the better qualities. The Ministry of Agriculture have carried out practical experiments and demonstrations on 'a commercial scale at agricultural shows during the last two years. These demonstrations have taken place with eggs, poultry, fruit, potatoes, pigs, pork and bacon, and farmers have been very quick to take up this new idea. The Ministry could only have achieved the results which they have reached with the assistance and enlightened enterprise of the National Farmers' Union and various trade organisations. In the big centres of population markets are more and more demanding bulk supplies of uniform 382 quality. Foreign competition has taught the advantage which is to be found in securing the condition and reliability of supplies if they are packed in standardised non-returnable containers.
By these methods, which have been more and more adopted in the case of imported produce, traders have become accustomed to purchase imported produce upon samples or advertisements. The home producer simply cannot afford any longer to stand aside from this movement, and he must take steps to comply with these modern developments in marketing. The distributors in this country are just as patriotic as the producers, and they are just as keen to deal with home producers if the home produce is offered to them in a suitable form. The problem is how to make our own home produce as attractive to the consumer and as easy to handle by the distributor as foreign supplies. If we get the powers which we are asking for in this Bill we propose to deal at once with two branches of production. Already we have prepared schemes which have been developed by the Poultry Advisory Committee of the Ministry for the grading of eggs. Producers and distributors are represented upon that Committee and the schemes have been approved by the various interests concerned. We have also worked out grades for fruit and a scheme for applying these grades has been agreed upon with the National Farmers' Union.
The first Clause of the Bill enables the Ministry to define by Regulation grades for home produce. This Clause will be entirely voluntary in its operation, and nobody will need to use these grades, but if they do use them they will constitute a warranty under which the purchaser would have a civil remedy to recover damages, and to sue for breach of contract. It is essential that in this matter the Ministry should be allowed to proceed by Regulations, because it will be desirable to deal with these various commodities as the industries concerned become ready for these developments without the necessity for recurring legislation. It will be necessary from time to time, as a result of experience, to alter the grading Regulations, but Parliament will retain control. After 40 days' notice in the "Gazette" the Regulations will be laid before Parliament. Under the normal procedure the Regulations 383 will only take effect if no Address is presented in either House against those Regulations.
The second Clause will enable the Ministry to prescribe grade designation marks and the persons authorised to use such marks. It is proposed that the same mark shall be used on all standard products and it will be authorised only in the case of goods of defined standards and qualities. We hope that these marks will become a popular guarantee to buyers and that goodwill will be established based upon national sentiment and experience of the high quality which these marks will give. To build up this reputation and maintain the goodwill attached to the mark, it is clear that it will have to be safeguarded by being limited to those who will conform to certain conditions in order to ensure the necessary efficiency. We propose that the use of the national mark shall be controlled by a National Mark Committee which will be advised by Trade Committees representing the various commodity interests.
Clauses 3 and 4 deal with the marking of preserved eggs and cold and chemical storage of eggs as a protection for the producers and consumers of new laid eggs. Under Clause 3 it is proposed to secure the marking of eggs preserved in lime water, waterglass, oil, and similar processes. There is a proviso which insures that the operation of this Clause will be dependent upon an Order being in force for marking foreign eggs under the Merchandise Marks Act. Clause 4 deals with eggs preserved by other methods which cannot be recognised by examination, and it provides for the cold and chemical storage of eggs. We also provide for the registration of premises where such methods of storage are carried out. The operation of these provisions for marking will only take effect in the event of an Order being in force for marking imported goods. As the Clause stands it is proposed that eggs should be marked before being moved into the store, but since this Bill was published I have had representations from the cold storage trade, and I propose to move an Amendment in Committee providing that eggs need not necessarily be marked before being placed in those stores, but they must be marked before they are moved out of the stores.
384 The remaining Clauses deal with minor matters. Clause 5 deals with the enforcement of the provisions of the Act and expenses. Perhaps I may mention that the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations agree with the principle of the Bill. Clause 6 deals with the laying of Regulations and Orders before Parliament. Clause 7 is a definition Clause, and Clause 8 deals with the application of the Act for Scotland. With these declarations of quality I hope this Bill will find support in all quarters of the House. At the World Economic Conference, which met at Geneva, it was stated that the improvement of agriculture must, in the first place, be the work of agriculturists themselves. Among the methods suggested at that Conference was the standardisation of agricultural produce in the interests of producers and consumers. In our own country all three parties, in their political programmes, have recently stressed the importance of grading and standardisation. I do not suggest that what is proposed in this Bill will alone restore the agricultural industry to prosperity, but. I do say that these reforms must be of great assistance. This Bill is not brought forward as an emergency cure just to deal with our present agricultural difficulties, because, whether the industry is depressed or whether it is prosperous, the developments which this Bill would make it possible to carry out are absolutely necessary if the producer is to secure a fair return.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:whilst this House is in favour of a proper system of grading and marking agricultural produce and is prepared to consider proposals to this end, it objects to the Second Reading of a Bill containing provisions relating to the marking of imported eggs contrary to the findings of the Standing Committee of Inquiry appointed under the Merchandise Marks Act.In the first place, I should like to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) has desired me to express to the Minister his regret at his unavoidable absence to-day.
The House will see that the Members for whom I speak this afternoon in mov- 385 ing this reasoned Amendment are very heartily in agreement with any constructive and progressive proposals which may be made by the Government for furthering schemes of grading and marketing agricultural produce. Indeed, many of us on this side of the House welcome the fact that, in recent years at any rate, the farming industry, and, later still, the Conservative party, have awakened to the facts in the agricultural industry that we have been pointing out for many years past. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Cardiff (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke) expresses a little amusement at that, but I think I can demonstrate the truth of it. For at any rate 25 or 30 years, the movement with which I am connected, and which is known to Members of this House as one of the largest buyers of produce in the market, have found it extremely difficult to give vent to their known preference for British products, because it was impossible to buy level grades in sufficiently large quantities and with sufficient. guarantees of continuity of supply to be able to provide and to fill the distributive centres necessary for their very large trade; and the experience of our own movement has also, I am convinced, been the experience of all other large buyers who have been engaged in supplying consumers in this country.
Turning to the provisions of the Bill, I think we are entitled to express some little doubt, in regard to Clauses 1 and 2, as to whether these proposals of the Government are really adequate in a Bill introduced, presumably, to deal with the whole question of grading agricultural produce. The experience that we have had of grading in other countries is, of course, valuable, but, so far as the grading schemes which have been adopted by Governments in the Dominions are concerned, I think that almost without exception the machinery for working the grading operations has been Government machinery. I gather, from the very brief statement of the Minister on the working of these Clauses, that, as a fact, the operation of Clauses 1 and 2 is not only to be purely voluntary, but is to he left to private associations, provided that certain Regulations laid down by the Minister are conformed to. I cannot think that that is going to be at all a final basis for machinery for the grading 386 of agricultural produce, if the results of the grading of British agricultural produce are to be anything like what we desire, that is to say, if such produce is to he put on a reasonable basis of competition with the produce coming from abroad.
The Minister referred again and again, during his explanatory speech, to what he called foreign competition, but he must know that a very considerable part of the competition in the market for commodities produced by the British farmer is not from foreign countries, but from the Empire, and that it is in the Empire as much as in foreign countries that the great progress in standardisation and grading has been made. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will accept that point of view, that it is not only to meet. foreign competition, but to put the home product into a reasonable position to compete with our own friends overseas, that some grading development is necessary. During my visit to Canada and Australia two years ago I went through a number of places where the operation of grading agricultural produce was carried out, and I found no single case where the grading, or any process which had to be followed before grading could be applied, was not done by a Government official. I am aware, of course, that in almost every case the bulk of the produce handled was for export, and, that, therefore, it was probably easier to arrange that at not too high a cost at the ports hut I should have less confidence in a system of grading British produce which is going to be left entirely to voluntary associations, operating only under general Government regulations. I feel that the Government ought to give much longer and more careful consideration to this matter and that. If the House does assent to the general principle of Clauses 1 and 2. it ought to regard them only as a brief instalment of a much wider and more comprehensive plan for setting up national centres for the grading agricultural produce.
In regard to the other Clauses, I am afraid I shall have to he much more critical of the procedure of the Government in bringing forward this Bill. The Minister said that. Clauses 3 and 4 are to implement the operation of the new grading scheme which has been accepted by the poultry industry, and practically indicated that they are necessary. I 387 want to protest with all the strength at my command against the procedure of the Government in regard to this question of eggs. I believe that the Government have adopted—I do not want to use too strong a word—an entirely wrong procedure, and one which was calculated to mislead the House and the country. I want to remind the House of the facts with regard to the position of the egg industry under the Merchandise Marks Act. In 1926 the Merchandise Marks Act was passed, and, under that Act, the House authorised the setting up of machinery whereby, if an application were made by any industry for a marking Order, a committee of a judicial character was to be appointed to examine evidence on behalf of the applicants for the Order, to hear the evidence of those who were opposed to the Order, and to come to a judicial decision. I do not know of any case, either under the agricultural section of the working of that Act or under the Board of Trade section, in which the recommendations and the general findings of such a committee have been disregarded by the Government, but in this case it seems to me that the Government have moved deliberately to try to get behind the findings of the Committee which was set up to deal with an application for the marking of eggs and which conducted its inquiry only six months ago. I want, if I may to refresh the memory of hon. Members with sonic of the details of the Report of that Committee. The Committee, which was presided over by Mr. Mitchell Innes, and reported on the 14th October, 1927, made, I believe, a very careful examination of the facts, and I believe that their Report was a very fair one, but I want to draw special attention to one or two of their statements. At the end of paragraph 8, after dealing with figures of home production and imported eggs, they say:We do not doubt that egg, producers, like many others, suffer severely in times of trade depression, but we cannot think, in face of these figures, that the home industry is being throttled by the unfair competition of foreign eggs.That is point No. 1 to which I want to draw attention. They go on to say, in paragraph 9:Nor do we agree that an improvement in British marketing methods must he preceded by the marking of imported eggs.388 They point out, in another part of the Report, that their principal fear was that, if they made a recommendation for the compulsory marking of imported eggs, such an order would, in fact, injure the general home egg trade, because of the very large proportion of the import trade in eggs which might be described as of best quality. In another passage, which I regard as being of importance in considering the procedure of the Government in regard to this Bill, they point out that there was a considerable portion of the import trade of an entirely different class, the cheap egg, which was necessary for the poorer class consumer, and which, they said, if it had to be handled and marked, would mean an increase in the price of the cheap egg, and would actually raise the cost of living to the working classes of this country, while, by increasing the supply of those cheap eggs in other countries as a result of that order, it would actually reduce the cost of living in other countries competing with ourselves. As a result of those general statements, the Committee made this recommendation. They said:The conclusion we have reached is that, while the marking of individual imported eggs would be an effective means of preventing misrepresentation, an Order in Council in respect of eggs in shell should only be made whenI want the House especially to observe that they connected those two recommendations (a) aid (b), not with the word "or" but with the word "and," thus forming one recommendation. One would have imagined, after receiving a report like that, as the result of the examination of evidence produced by traders at great expense, in some cases with legal assistance and expenses, that the trade concerned would be free from further upheavals and upsets for at least a reasonable period. In spite of that, 389 the Minister of Agriculture, together, I suppose, with the National. Farmers' Union and other sections of the poultry industry, have deliberately set out from the beginning to try to upset the recommendation of that judicial committee appointed under the Act passed by this House.
We make this our principal recommendation.
- (a) sufficient improvement has been made in the collecting, grading, packing and marketing of British eggs to remove or, at least, mitigate the danger of the best imported egg obtaining a better market in the United Kingdom than the average home-produced egg; and
- (b) either the 'cheap' imported egg becomes of substantially less importance to the British consumer or international arrangements are made which will prevent a marking arrangement from restricting supplies of this class of egg.
There is another point. Not only now have the Government, in face of that Report of a judicial committee under the 1926 Act, introduced a Bill with these two Clauses in it setting up machinery for marking imported eggs, but they have, at the same time, either ordered a second inquiry or accepted an application for a second inquiry—I am not quite clear which—to be carried on at the very moment that the House of Commons is discussing the right or wrong of having these Clauses in an Act of Parliament. The trade rightly assumes or, at least, I think they rightly assume, that the Minister in introducing this Bill is practically pre-judging the issue, and making it as certain as possible that, in spite of the Report of six months ago, the judicial committee shall now make a recommendation for a marking order. I want to be perfectly plain with the Minister, and I am obliged to him for a letter he wrote to me to-day upon an issue which was raised at the Committee on Tuesday. He has given me some information which I did not have, but it makes it all the more necessary that I should state what occurred, so that if there is a denial to be made, it shall he given all the publicity it is possible to give, that there may he no misunderstanding in the mind of the public. In a paper called "Poultry"—which, as a, fact, is the paper with the largest circulation in the poultry world—dated 16th March, this statement appeared:At a meeting of the Lancashire Executive of the National Farmers' Union held recently, Mr. J. Rimmer (Roby, Liverpool), stated that new circumstances had arisen since the adverse report in reference to the proposed compulsory marking of foreign eggs. The headquarters of the National Farmers' Union had now been given to understand that if the application were made again to the Committee of Inquiry, compulsory marking would be granted.That was mentioned in Committee on Tuesday, and the Chairman of the Committee very much resented it being mentioned. He said he was surprised that the charge should be made, and, 390 apparently, at once, after the resumption at midday, an apology was offered for using what was, after all, a statement in a well-circulated journal, and a statement never denied up to that moment either by the Ministry or by the National Farmers' Union. Since then I have received a letter from the Minister informing me about the circumstance of the apology, and I feel I ought to state the circumstances. I have been careful to examine the April number of the "National Farmers' Union Record" to see whether they had contradicted what is now said to be a wrong statement by one of their representatives at the meeting of the executive of the Lancashire branch of the National Farmers' Union.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The hon. Member referred to the fact that the Ministry did not contradict this statement. There is no mention of the Ministry in the statement, so why should we contradict it? Really, we cannot be expected, when people make unauthorised statements not mentioning the Ministry at all, to rush into print and contradict them.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has made that point because I want to show that, in spite of his letter to-day, the alleged statement made in Lancashire was justified by the previous utterances of the Minister. Now I come to a report much earlier, namely, on the 27th January in the "Manchester Guardian," of the meeting of the Council of Agriculture for England, and I find in the report of the speech of the Minister, dealing generally with this scheme for marking eggs, that he said:I have no doubt that if we can get this grading scheme adopted, we shall, without delay, be able to get the recommendation for which the industry is asking—the marking, of imported eggs.So that this practically official statement from the Minister to the English Council of Agriculture is, apparently, good enough authority for the representative of the National Farmers' Union to make a statement before the Executive of their Lancashire branch. In fact, it is perfectly plain to me that there has been some collusion to get behind what was the unbiased judicial finding of a committee appointed under the Act passed in 1926. Moreover, I think I am justified in saying that, when I remember my 391 experience at the Committee this week. I appeared as a witness before the Committee dealing with the second inquiry. It was perfectly obvious, when I read the report of the first proceedings at the meeting on Monday last, that the learned Chairman rightly found he had quite a narrow issue upon which to hear evidence and adjudicate—this Committee having given their judgment upon the general evidence in the case at the previous inquiry—and that in this case his Committee could do no more than hear expert evidence as to what, in their view, the effect would be upon the trade of the passing of Clauses 3 and 4 of this Bill.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
When I refer to trade in this connection, I am referring to the whole trade—the producing and the distributing trade, I make no qualification at all. The duty of the Committee, within the narrow scope of the second inquiry, is, according to the learned Chairman, to decide what the effect may be of Clauses 3 and 4 of this Bill upon the general egg trade both on the producing and distributing sides. In those circumstances, and knowing that the Bill was down for discussion in this House to-day, I put a question to the learned Chairman, to which he made answer, and I gathered from that answer that in no circumstances was a report to be presented from the second inquiry until after the passage of this Bill through Parliament. I, probably, at that time must have indicated my surprise, and that I was obviously interested in what the effect of that would he upon the general position. Apparently, its importance also appeared to the mind of the Chairman and to the Members of the Committee, for later on I received a communication from the Secretary of the Committee to the effect that, in further consultation with his colleagues, the Chairman had made another statement after I had left the Committee, and the position now will be that the committee will report as early as possible in the interests (said the Chairman) of both sides, but I gather that if the report is to be against the marking of imported eggs, then it is to be delayed 392 until after the passage of the Bill, but if the report is to be favourable to the marking of imported eggs, then it can be made known at once. I thought I had the actual note in front of me, but I have it in the House, and will let the Minister see it, if he requires to do so. The next thing was a curious remark from the learned counsel for the applicants who said that that would be very helpful to the applicants.
I think the recital which I have given of the facts regarding the procedure of the Government in this matter will prove to the House that we are not stating the case too strongly when we say that, whether there is or is riot a case for the marking of imported eggs, their action in this matter has been reprehensible. It is unfair to the trade on the distributive side, which was put to all the expense six months ago. It is unfair to this House to give it all the trouble of passing an Act of Parliament in 1926, then to set up proper machinery, to have a judicial inquiry held, a considered report. received, arid then to try to get behind the findings of a body like that by introducing a Bill which is almost an instruction to the Committee to give the Order required. From that point of view alone, we should be entitled to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, although we do so upon the more general and reasoned statement contained in our Amendment.
I want to point out that if the general findings of the Committee of Inquiry were sound, it is obvious that before you can logically come to the granting of a compulsory Order for stamping eggs, there must be a reasonable time for experience of the working of the new marking and grading scheme. I believe myself that the poultry expert of to-day who is producing a stamped and graded and good egg is already getting a preferential market in this country, but, speaking from our experience in dealing with large quantities, I am persuaded that if you have a compulsory marking Order for imported eggs before you have an adequate scheme, not only in operation, but having proved itself capable of pro-clueing the necessary quantities of eggs of the right type and grade, you are going to give an actual fillip to the further production and importation of 393 the best type of imported eggs that we are already receiving in such large quantities.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) is quite wrong. It will not suit us at all. It matters not to us whether or not eggs are imported if they give the right quality to our consumers at a reasonable price, and the fact is, with regard to this very large proportion of our imported eggs which the Committee described as the best eggs, that large quantities of them to-day are so well graded and of such good quality, and many of them marked, that we pay higher prices for them on the open market, before we begin to distribute them to our consumers, than we can afford to pay for the ill-graded and ill-assorted British product. It is not a question at all of it suiting us better to see the foreigner producing for this country a larger quantity of the better type of egg. That is foreign to our desire. We want to see the British producer producing larger quantities of the best type of egg, and then, if there is any danger of his being injured by unfair competition, we say that you should consider, in the light of those circumstances, the, granting of a compulsory Order, and, as a matter of fact, that is the considered finding of the judicial Committee after hearing both sides.
I want to say that there has been, right the way through—and I give the Government credit for it—a marked difference between the character of the committees set up under the Merchandise Marks Act and that of those set up under the Safeguarding Act. Whether the committees have been operating at the Board of Trade end or at the Ministry of Agriculture end, they have been of a much more judicial character than some of the other committees dealing with trade matters that have been set up by the Government; and we say that,, when you have a committee of the kind which has considered this matter so carefully, and made such a careful and detailed Report, it is undesirable for the Minister to adopt such a procedure as he has adopted in this case.
394 If the Bill is proceeded with in Committee, there will have to be some Amendments in any case with regard to Clauses 3 and 4. I would like to ask the Minister whether all the recommendations at the end of the Report of the Standing Committee under the Merchandise Marks Act have been carried out. In paragraph 20, on page 8, they say:(d) Will not be affected by cold storage or any of the means of preservation now in use for eggs;(e) Will not injuriously affect preserving agents at present used for eggs.I think the House ought to know whether those two points have actually been inquired into and settled before we come to deal with the Committee stage of the Bill. With regard to Clause 3, the date of operation of the Bill is to be the 1st January next, but that may operate very unjustly indeed in the case of the holders of large stocks of preserved eggs in store for the 1928–9 season. It is impossible to guarantee that the holders of those stocks of preserved eggs will be able to clear them by 31st December, and it will mean that all the preserved eggs in store for the 1928–9 season will have to be handled and stamped as having been in store, whereas, if you postpone the date for even two months, you will be able to clear out the whole stock of eggs put down for 1928–9, and you will make the commencement of the operation of the Act, the following season. I think that is a reasonable request to make on behalf of those who are dealing with preserved eggs in large quantities, and I hope the Minister will say that he is prepared to consider an Amendment to that effect when the Bill goes to Committee.
I want to make the position of our party on this matter quite clear. First of all, we will welcome any sound scheme which will promote and enhance the value of the grading and standardisation of agricultural products. We are not satisfied that Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill are sufficiently comprehensive or binding for that purpose, and we ask the Government in regard to those Clauses in any case, that they should be regarded only as an instalment. With regard to the marking of eggs, we upon these benches want to hold no brief for the middleman who is guilty of malpractice, and we do not stand up to defend him, but we believe that the Minister was right when he said just now that the distributor is 395 as patriotic as the producer; and in the main I think we might say that the final judgment will be with the consumer of the eggs, but we ask that the consumer shall not be damnified by an order which will seriously enhance—
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
He may not be able to judge upon the first egg, but it is quite certain that if he does not get satisfactory service, he will soon change his trade.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
That is another matter. We are, therefore, prepared to support a scheme of grading, and I think a large number of my hon. Friends at any rate would support a reconsideration of marking, if you had proved by the working of a grading scheme that you were able to meet the position of the best class of foreign eggs. If the producing trade can come to this House with experience of the working of a grading and marking scheme of that kind, I think they will find a very different atmosphere in which to discuss the question of compulsory marking, but we consider that there is no warrant in the present circumstances for adopting this procedure and going behind the considered findings of the judicial Committee.
§ Mr. RILEY
I beg to second the Amendment.
In doing so, I wish to associate myself entirely with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) with regard to the attitude of the Labour party to any policy of trying to improve the orderly marketing and quality of any kind of produce. There is no section in this House which is more genuinely attached to every means whereby we may facilitate produce reaching the consumer in the very best order and of the very best quality, so that, as far as that part of the Bill is concerned, we look upon it in a general sense with the very greatest good will, though it cer- 396 tainly wants examination in Committee. We have a right to know—and I was astonished that the Minister in his opening statement made no reference to the point—why there has been included in this grading Bill a proposal for the marking of eggs in face of the judicial Committee having reported directly against that proposal. We have had no answer to that question, and there has been no explanation, and it has struck me as being most extraordinary that we should have a responsible Minister introducing a Bill which professes to deal with the question of grading and marking, and inserting in it a proposal to mark a commodity, which a Committee appointed by the Government reported should not be done.
One of the important aspects of this question lies in the character of the article referred to in Clauses 3 and 4. According to the Report of the Committee, the home production of eggs is rather less than one-half of the total consumption, and I notice, on referring to last year's import figures, that we imported something over £11,000,000 worth of eggs, which is more than half the entire consumption of eggs in this country. Surely that is a very important aspect of the question. In a sense, it falls into the category of an article of food in universal use among the great masses of the community, and it is of the highest importance that the daily supplies of this essential article of general consumption should not be arbitrarily interfered with. A Committee appointed to initiate and operate a policy which the Government themselves were responsible for introducing recommended that it would be dangerous to insist upon the marking of eggs until adequate arrangements had been made for supplies to this country of the proper quality. On the question whether supplies will be endangered at the present juncture if marking is resorted to, let me quote the evidence laid before the new Committee under the Merchandise Marks Act which met last Tuesday. Mr. S. Lineham, of the National Federation of Produce Merchants, said that the Egyptian egg was very popular in the north of England, but Egypt for her own purposes had limited the available export. That had a serious effect on the trade. He added:I feel satisfied that in the event of a marking order the Egyptian egg will not 397 come to this country at all, and it is a very useful thing. It is small, but very good. It comes at a time of great scarcity, and it would be a great pity and disadvantage to poor people in Yorkshire and Lancashire if they were denied ads egg.The view of this expert is that the application of marking now will probably rob us of the supply of that particular egg. Obviously if you are going to have regulations making it necessary for eggs to be marked, many eggs will be sent to markets where marking is not required. The Minister and the Government are not pursuing a national policy by endangering in this way the importation of eggs before they have developed a properly ordered marking scheme.
§ Mr. LAMB
The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) demanded my immediate attention when, in almost his first words, he said that his organisation—I presume he was referring to the Cooperative organisation—was glad that the farmer had now become aware of something which his organisation had known for many years. I was hoping that he was going to tell us something about his experience in production and not in distribution, for that information might have been useful to some of us. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and the hon. Member immediately turned to the question of distribution, which admittedly has been made a tremendous success by his organisation. The thing that the hon. Member was so pleased about was that we had come to realise the value of grading. We have realised the value of grading for a considerable time, and later I shall tell the House of voluntary associations which are now carrying out the grading of agricultural produce with great success.
The hon. Member's next objection to the Bill was that the Ministry of Agriculture was allowing trading associations to do this grading. I understood the hon. Member to state that his trade association had been doing it with very great success and reaping very great advantages from it. Then the hon. Member referred to the fact that in his trip to Canada and Australia he had taken a great deal of interest in the grading done by other countries. He roust realise that the question of the distribution of large quantities produced for export is a very different thing from distribution of products which are produced in 398 smaller quantities for an entirely home market. We know that in a foreign country or a Dominion the produce that is collected goes through a bottle-neck before distribution and export. It is necessary to get the products to centres at which it is easy to grade it. The work is done under very different conditions from those that are possible in this country. Here we have very much smaller quantities produced, adjacent to the home market, and it would be very undesirable to make it compulsory that products should be collected and taken to centres before distribution, because that would not only delay the receipt of the article by the consumer but would add to the expense.
The hon. Member also said that those who were marking the eggs sent into this country from other countries were receiving very great advantage now. Then why does the hon. Member fear the extension of that advantage in future? I am not surprised at the opposition which the hon. Member is showing to the Bill, because I happen to know that he has been a leader in the opposition to the Merchandise Marks Act and the imported products that it effects. I cannot understand how he, as a representative of a large distributing agency, can object to his customers knowing from where the products that he sells are coming. Speaking for the organised industry, I support and welcome this Bill. The object of the Bill, as we know, is to provide for better marking, and producers in this country are in favour of that proposal. It will enable them not only to produce to the best advantage but will ensure the public receiving goods to the best advantage. There have hitherto been in this country difficulties which do not exist in other countries to the same extent. Several different products have already the advantage of grading and marking. The Cheshire Cheese Association members have been for some time grading their products, and there have been great advantages in that method. That is carrying Out the principle which underlies this Bill. Why should we not allow the success which has been achieved in regard to that particular article to be extended as is proposed in this Bill? There are other makers of cheese who are following the same lines as the 399 Cheshire producers. There are poultry societies that have adopted the same plan. This Bill will undoubtedly give them great encouragement and a great advantage. For these reasons the Bill ought to receive our entire support.
The Bill has been considered not only by the Advisory Council of the Minister, composed of representatives of the producers, of the distributors, wholesale and retail, and of the importers of eggs. It is a very comprehensive Committee, and it has approved of the Bill. The Bill is approved also by the National Poultry Council of England and Wales and by the Poultry Committee of the National Farmers' Union. I am authorised on behalf of the organised producers, so far as the Farmers' Union and Poultry Committee are concerned, to say that they approve of the Bill and wish it success. I appreciate the fact that the Minister has brought in the Bill in the interests of agriculture. I hope no one will say that the Bill is going to revolutionise agriculture. We do not say that at all; but agriculture is in such a state that we appreciate very much any small measures that are brought in, when they are calculated, even in a small way, to improve the disastrous condition of agriculture, and have also the advantage that the consumer has a guarantee of the quality of the article he is consuming.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I do not speak either for the Farmers' Union or for the distributive trade. I am speaking for the consumer, and I want to know what right the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) or anyone else has, to prevent my knowing where my breakfast egg was laid. The Seconder of the Amendment spoke of the consumers in the North of England. I suggest that if they knew that their eggs came from Egypt there would be no sale for them. I do not see why the retail trade, whether a co-operative society or anyone else, should be entitled to interfere with the consumer having a knowledge whence his eggs come. There is far too much deceit in the custom of the retail trade in every branch. In the fish trade we have the dyed kipper. People buy a dyed kipper and when they eat it they say "That is not nice, and we will not have kippers again." Then there is the 400 frozen beef trade. It is the most difficult thing to buy anywhere good English or Scottish meat, because the butcher will push the frozen stuff at you every time. That meat ought to be marked too. Egg marking is far more clamant, because it is impossible to tell from the outside of an egg from where it has come. This Bill will stimulate the egg producing industry in this country. Once the poultry rearers are satisfied that they are protected and that their eggs are not going to be used as a cloak to cover the foreign import, there will be an improvement in the poultry industry. Hon. Members opposite say: "Give us the grading first, and we will give you the marking afterwards." That is rather like the old question: Did the hen or the egg come first?
There is nothing more certain than that every egg consumed in this country could be produced here. That would be of enormous advantage. I agree that those who have eggs in cold storage, perhaps for years—like some of the fish—should have a reasonable time to get them cleared out, and I am glad that the Minister is to give effect to that idea. The Bill is a great step forward. It will help the small-holder and the small producer. A measure of the kind is absolutely essential if we are to get the poultry industry in this country developed to the magnitude that it should reach. We are one of the greatest egg consuming countries in the world. A friend who is an expert tells me that he has adopted as a counter-measure the marking of his own eggs, and he sees that they are delivered in the London market in such a way that the consumer knows whence they have come. Everybody cannot do that, but I think that the public is entitled to know where the egg comes from. Nothing is more essential and nothing would promote the development of this particular industry more.
As for the evidence about this so-called judicial committee! We know all about these judicial committees. We know that the people who give evidence are the organised bodies, the trades, and all the associations, and we never get the views of the public. It was the same in regard to the inquiry in connection with shop hours. The poor public was never represented, except by my own feeble voice. Nobody ever came near to represent the public interest. It is the same 401 with regard to judicial committees. You cannot get the ordinary man to take the trouble to come. Those who come represent an association, and the association is the trader all the time. I have great respect for the traders of this country, but I have an infinitely greater respect for the producers. If we are to have a prosperous country either in agriculture, industry or anything of the kind, let us have consideration for the producer first and protect him, and the trader will always be able to look after himself. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander), who moved this Amendment, represents the distributive trade entirely. As producers everybody knows very well that the co-operative societies have done badly. They have done nothing as producer, but they have done very good work as distributors. That is easy. It is a boy's job. It is a perfectly simple job they have done well. Bat possibly by the grading and marking, and the absolute identification of the particular commodities they sell, if this Bill comes into operation, they may not be quite so successful in future as they have been in the past.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), who approaches this subject, as I do, as an egg consumer. The only difference is that he seems to think the fact that he is an egg consumer qualifies him to disregard any report or any evidence or any judicial conclusion at which persons who have gone closely into the topic have arrived. I confess that I am, as a mere egg consumer, a little puzzled as to where the Government stand in reference to the Report of the Standing Committee. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) contains the statement that the Bill contains provisions relating to the marking of imported eggs contrary to the Finding of the Standing Committee of inquiry appointed under the Merchandise Marks Act. That is a criticism of the Bill which is either true or false. It is possible to take up the position that it is quite true that the Bill contradicts the findings of the Standing Committee and that the Government propose to throw over the Standing Committee. Committees have been wrong before now and Governments have thrown over such Committees more than once.
402 But the striking thing is, that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, m moving the Second Reading of the Bill, although this reasoned Amendment is on the Order Paper, never, as far as I appreciated, told us plainly whether he was producing something which contradicted the recommendations of the Standing Committee or not. I think we are entitled to know not only from the point of view of the lion. and learned Member for Argyllshire, who takes these matters very light-heartedly and who says it does not matter how much you overrule any judicial body, but from the point of view of the Minister of Agriculture whether this Bill is or is not a Bill which is put forward in flat defiance of the recommendation of the Standing Committee set up by the Minister of Agriculture himself. Anybody can get the report by going into the Vote Office, and I was interested in looking through it to see whether the question could be answered by an inspection of the report. For myself, I have a great natural inclination to agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken to know where my egg comes from, and I have a natural preference for one which comes from somewhere nearby, because it is more likely to be supposed to be fresh. That is perfectly natural and perfectly human, but here is this Committee consisting of a very distinguished Chairman, of Mr. G. W. Currie, and of Sir Basil Mayhew, with a Secretary who is an official at the Ministry of Agriculture. They have gone most elaborately into this question, and have reached this conclusion. They say, in effect, this: It is all very well to say now let us start and mark imported eggs and that will be a very good thing for the egg consumer, for the egg producer and for everybody else. But, they say, if the imported eggs we are talking about are the best imported eggs, those who want to assist British agriculture had better be careful, because if you support the marking of the imported egg which is the best, whether it comes from Ireland or Holland or Denmark or somewhere or other, you will findthat the 'best' imported eggs"—I am now reading from the report—would derive more advantage than homeproduced eggs from a marking Order under the Act.403 They go on to say that that will be the resultunless a substantial improvement were first effected in home methods of grading and marketing.I do not for a moment imagine that the British barn-door fowl is not capable of doing her duty quite as well as her counterpart in other parts of the world, but if it is the fact, and after these expert gentlemen have had a prolonged in-quiry—
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that eminence is no guarantee? I always recollect that the Leader of the Opposition did not know whether a hen cackled before or after laying an egg.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for interrupting me because in doing so he has fired his shot at somebody else. At any rate, it seems pretty plain that this report does in very straightforward terms assert, with whatever right there ought to be attached to it, that to mark the best imported eggs in the present state of affairs is not, as a matter of fact, going to produce those good results we hoped would come. On page 7, when they come to what they call their principle recommendation, the Committee say:An Order in Council in respect of eggs in shell"—which is an Order under the Merchandise Marks Act—should only be made when sufficient improvement has been made in the collecting, grading, packing and marketing of British eggs to remove or, at least, mitigate the danger of the best' imported eggs obtaining a better market in the United Kingdom than the average home-produced eggs,and they go on to say:We make this our principal recommendation.
§ Sir J. SIMON
It is really not a question whether the producer is prepared to risk something. The question is whether most of the consumers are called upon to, risk something. The hon. and learned Gentleman is so light-hearted.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I was replying to the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just said that the producer would risk all.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I think I am making my point quite plain and I have rather disturbed the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. The truth is, that the Minister has produced this Bill without telling the House of Commons in plain terms that he is producing something which contradicts this Report. We are surely entitled to know whether that is the position, and if the advice which the Minister of Agriculture has received is quite contrary to this Report, I am not complaining. I have no axe to grind in the matter. It seems to me that the ordinary citizen, or at any rate, the ordinary Member of the House of Commons, ought to know. It is no good saying to the House of Commons in a cheerful way that we all want to help the poultry farmer in England. Of course we do, but when there has been this elaborate Report of the Standing Committee set up by the Minister of Agriculture which warns us that if we adopt this very natural course, in the view, at least, of those gentlemen who made the inquiry, we may be doing a very foolish thing. In exactly the same way, the Committee goes on to deal with the other kind of imported egg—the cheap imported egg, and, I dare say, sometimes the cheap and rather nasty imported egg. The Committee is equally explicit about that. What they say is that as a matter of fact the egg trade of this country has greatly improved its position as compared with the foreign trade in recent years. The production of eggs in the United Kingdom is substantially larger than in pre-War years. But they say in connection with the cheap imported eggs—they are not all nasty and unpleasant—that if you are really going to require that every single egg is to he marked and examined to see that it is marked, what are you going to do for that section of the population which at the present, at least, relies largely on the cheap imported egg for its breakfast?
§ Sir J. SIMON
In a part of the country which I know well, there is a very large number of people who consume 405 cheap eggs. They use them sometimes for cooking, and for breakfast. It is no good making generous and general appeals to the natural sentiment, which we all possess, and which I have as strongly as anyone else, to help British agriculture, without facing what appears to be the unanimous conclusion of this most elaborate inquiry. I would, therefore, like to ask from the Government tonight an answer to this question. The Amendment is an Amendment which asserts that the Government Bill flies in the face of the recommendation of this Standing Committee. Is that so? And if it does contradict the recommendation of the Standing Committee, what have the Government to say in justification for so doing? They may have a perfectly good answer. There may have been some new revelation which has been vouchsafed to them, but the House of Commons at present is quite without information on the subject. A further point I should like, if I may with great respect, to address to the Minister of Agriculture is this. He made a speech in which he went through the Clauses of the Bill and referred to Clauses 3 and 4 and said, if I understood him rightly, not only in reference to Clause 4 but in reference to Clause 3, the Clause could only come into operation after an Order under the Merchandise Marks Act had been made for marking imported eggs. I think he said so. For myself, I do not quite under stand that. There is nothing in the Clause, I think, which says so, and one left, or at least I am left, in considerable confusion as to what is intended to be the order of advance.
As the right hon. Gentleman is kindly attending to the question I venture to put to him, may I add that in Clause 3 you say that it shall not be lawful to sell a preserved egg unless it is marked in the prescribed manner. Are you contemplating by the prescribed manner marking the fact that it is a preserved egg, or are you contemplating marking it by reference to the place from where it comes? The phrase "prescribed manner" is a very familiar phrase in Acts of Parliament, but what it really means is that you leave the thing to the Government Committee, and I think we are entitled to know what are the intentions. With regard to the first two Clauses, I should have thought that everybody 406 would sympathise with them as far as they go. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stone (Mr. Lamb) spoke with, of course, great authority of the welcome which they would receive from the community which he specially represents. I really do not think that provisions which simply say that you may by Regulation set up a series of labels, and that then, if anybody uses a label falsely, he is liable for a breach of warranty would carry anybody very far. As a matter of fact, it is already, without any Act of Parliament, the law. Once a particular designation or description has got a trade meaning, any one who applies that designation or description to an article falsely is guilty, I should have supposed, of a breach of warranty. I imagine that all that the Minister of Agriculture is doing in Clauses 1 and 2 is to define by Regulation a number of descriptive terms, and then anyone who uses those descriptive terms will be liable for a breach of warranty if the description is inaccurate. The main point I rose to make was that I do not think it is treating the House of Commons quite fairly to conduct this Debate as though the Bill was not, for good or for evil, apparently contradicting the recommendation of the Committee, and, while I have not the slightest desire to defend the recommendation of the Committee—frankly, I know nothing about the merits of the subject—it seems to me that anyone who can get the Report from the Vote Office and see that it is in contradiction to the Bill, is entitled to a perfectly candid and full statement as to why it is that the Minister of Agriculture has taken the course of contradicting the Committee's recommendation.
§ Colonel Sir GEORGE COURTHOPE
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. It appears abundantly plain on the face of the Bill that, far from being a contradiction of the recommendations of the Standing Committee, from which he has been quoting so freely, it is an attempt to carry out its main recommendation, which is an intimation to the egg industry at home to put its house in order before it asks for the marking of imported eggs. This Bill does not ask for the marking of imported eggs. It is setting up provisions for putting the industry's 407 house in order—grading, marketing and so on. The only marking that is provided for is the marking of preserved eggs as against fresh ones.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
Is that why the Minister either ordered or accepted an application for a new inquiry?
§ Sir G. COURTHOPE
I am simply saying what is the way I understand the Bill. It appears abundantly clear to me, in reading it, that both the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who has just spoken, and the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment have failed to appreciate the intention of the Bill. They have assumed that the marking Clauses apply to imported eggs. They do not. They apply to chemically preserved eggs. The second part of Clause 4, which alone has reference to imported eggs, will only come into force if and when an Order is made under the Merchandise Marks Act. Far from acting contrary to the recommendations of the Standing Committee, the Bill is a very prompt response to its recommendations. That is the interpretation I put upon it, and I am surprised that the Amendment was held to be in order. It refers to provisions which I cannot find in the Bill. They are not there. My main motive in rising was to say that I believe the whole agricultural community are very desirous to have the assistance which this B11 offers to regulating the industry—grading and marketing, and so on, and generally to putting the industry in order—and I hope no misinterpretation of the terms of the Bill will be allowed to stand in the way of its rapid passage to the Statute Book.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Surely the hon. Baronet does not seriously suppose that he has adequately replied to the case that has been put. We are all aware that the Bill deals with the preservation of eggs by chemical process, but it goes further. In Clause 4 (2) reference is made to Orders-in-Council which may be made under Section 2 of the Merchandise Marks Act, and that has to be read in conjunction with the fact that, prior to the introduction of the Bill to this House, the Minister has instituted a fresh inquiry under the Merchandise Marks Act within six months of a Report having been issued against the marking of imported eggs.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Is it not a fact that counsel for the applicants made the statement that the second inquiry was at the instigation of the Ministry of Agriculture?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I do not know what he said, but if he made that statement it was not in accordance with the facts. The application was made to me under the terms of the Act from interests substantially concerned arid I had no choice.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) definitely quoted a speech the Minister is reported in the "Manchester Guardian" to have made, in which he invited a further application, which has resulted in this second inquiry. Be that as it may, hon. Members opposite have proceeded on the assumption that we who are supporting the Amendment are hostile to grading and marking. We are not. I speak for myself alone as an unrepentant supporter of marking was at some pains to turn up what happened when the Labour Government was in office, and I find that I and others on this side and, indeed, Members of the Liberal party, supported the Second Reading of the Bill and were at some pains in the Committee to show that if a reasonable proposal could be put forward whereby more harm than good would not be done we would all support it. For example, the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) went very much further than I did. He supported the Bill as it then stood on the ground that it would be an advantage not only to the smallholder who was producing eggs but to the consumer who was entitled to know what he was buying.
We are well aware that there are three interests to be concerned. There is the interest of the producer who finds the market being flooded with goods that are frequently misdescribed. We have the testimony of the Select Committee to the fact and the Report of the Imperial Economic Committee is that imported eggs are frequently passed off on the British public as home-produced eggs. The home producer suffers a very considerable disadvantage because of misdescription. We know there is another 409 side to be considered, and that is the interest of the consumer. If the consumer pays for a quality of goods, he is entitled to get that quality of goods and not to have an inferior quality imposed upon him. There is also the interest of the egg trader. There is surely no party in the House that is so free from the charge that it stands for the middleman than this party, and especially that section of it, that is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough. [Interruption.] Hon. Members surely are aware that the co-operative movement is designed for the purpose of squelching out the middleman. In soap, for example, have they not done so? Are they not doing it with boots, clothing, and so on? The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) is evidently under the impression that the co-operative movement is simply a distributing agency.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Not always. The co-operative movement is producing about £40,000,000 of goods per annum. It is the largest producer in the country. [Interruption.] I was dealing with the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire who said that the hon. Member for Hillsborough stood purely for the traders' movement, the middleman's movement, and knew nothing whatever about production. In point of fact, my hon. Friend and the section of the Labour party that he represents, and indeed the whole Labour party stand less than any other party in the House for the middleman's interest.
I have here the Report of the Imperial Economic Committee. Out of every thousand eggs in shell used in this country in 1925 no fewer than 138 came from China. Egypt is a comparatively small exporter of eggs to Great Britain. Her quota is 22 out of every thousand. More eggs come from China than from Denmark, but Denmark is stamping her eggs. There is no trouble about the Danish egg. If the egg were to be stamped as a Chinese product, I can imagine that the demand for the Chinese product would fall very remarkably. We do not want to eat Chinese eggs. We only eat Chinese eggs because we do 410 not know that they are Chinese. We only eat Chinese eggs and Egyptian eggs because we are not aware of the fact. The quota per thousand of eggs imported from Denmark is 121; from the Netherlands 35; from Russia 47; from Belgium 21; from Italy 11; from Latvia and Lithuania 11; and from the Argentine 10.
Here we have a problem in which every party in the House is interested. We are interested in it not only from the point of view of the agricultural producer, but from the point of view of the consumer; but in discussing this problem we must take effective steps to see that more halm is not done. A Committee was set up by the Government to inquire into the matter. That Committee six months ago, on the 14th October, 1927, solemnly presented a Report to the Minister of Agriculture, in which they say that, as a result of the information which they have received and of the evidence which they have taken, it will be bad business to proceed with the marking of eggs until certain prior conditions have been fulfilled. That Committee solemnly reported that it would be foolish, that it would be bad for the producer of eggs in this country, and they gave reasons why, to proceed with the marking of eggs, until certain prior conditions had been fulfilled.
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
I have been trying to understand the course that this Debate is pursuing, and I can find nothing in this Bill about the marking of foreign eggs.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Clause 4 (2) says:If and so long as any Order-in-Council made under Section two of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1920, is in force prohibiting the sale or the exposure for sale in the United Kingdom of imported eggs unless they bear an indication of origin, the following provisions shall have effect.That has to be read in conjunction with the fact that the Minister of Agriculture has within the past six months, after having received one Report from a Committee under the Merchandise Marks Act, set up another Committee, which is sitting, and we submit that it is vital to the whole discussion of this Bill that the full facts relating to these two Committees and what they mean should be explained.
§ Sir J. SIMON
May I respectfully submit, as you were not in the Chair at 411 the time, that the Minister in his opening speech stated, as I understood him, that Clause 3 of the Bill would only come into operation when an Order in Council under the Merchandise Marks Act had been made for the marking of imported eggs.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
There has been a misunderstanding. I meant Clause 4. Clause 4 is conditional on an Order being made for the marking of foreign eggs.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The right hon. Gentleman certainly said Clause 3, twice. Evidently, it was a mistake.
The marking of foreign eggs has nothing to do with this Bill, but comes under the Merchandise Marks Act. It would not be in order on this Bill to discuss the marking of foreign eggs, because that point does not arise.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
May I draw attention to the fact that the whole course of the Debate has proceeded on the provision in Clause 4 (2). While I agree that it is obvious that that Clause is conditional upon an Order in Council being made, I submit that the Minister's opening statement and everything that has been said since make it clear that the essence of this discussion is whether or not it would be advisable immediately, before proper precautions are taken, to proceed with the marking of imported eggs.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Does the hon. Member not see that under Clause 3 even preserved eggs must be marked, which will include practically all foreign eggs, and also home eggs?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
It will include some home eggs but practically all the imported eggs. If we are not to make any further observations with regard to the marking of imported eggs—
I wanted to make myself clear on the point as to how much it was relevant to refer to some thing which is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I have said practically everything that I want to say on this subject. I hope that no difficulty will be placed in the way of the Minister when he is replying, and that he will be 412 able to answer fully and completely the very elaborate criticisms and the very detailed and reasoned criticisms which have been levelled against the Bill at this point by the hon. Member for Hillsborough, the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley and other hon. Members.
The Committee which was set up and which reported in October last actually printed their principal recommendations in italics, so that there should be no mistake about them. They say:The conclusion we have reached is that while the marking of individual imported eggs would be an effective means of preventing misrepresentation, an Order in Council in respect of eggs in shell should only he made when:(a) sufficient improvement has been made in the collecting, grading, packing and marking of British eggs, to remove or, at least, mitigate the danger of the 'best' imported egg obtaining a better market in the United Kingdom than the average home-produced egg.There is not a scrap of evidence and nobody has stated that during the past six months there has been any improvement in the grading of eggs.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If the hon. Member referred to eggs, I withdraw my remark. Certainly, it is not our experience that any improvement has taken place in the last six months. I have repeatedly invited the Secretary of State for Scotland to give us assistance in the proper grading and marketing of eggs in Scotland, but we are continually fobbed off with the story that this ought to be left to some private organisation whose headquarters are in Edinburgh, and so on. The Board of Agriculture in Scotland will do nothing whatever beyond making a provision of a few pounds per annum by way of donation to an agricultural organisation society, and the provision of one or two marketin4 officers for the rural districts. When we ask for the creating of an organisation for marketing on a big scale we get no assistance whatever from the Government, and we have had no evidence that any such improvement has taken place during the past six months as would warrant the Govern- 413 ment in bringing in a Bill after a Committee has reported that not until certain prior conditions are fulfilled should legislation be put upon the Statute Book. We see no evidence whatever that those conditions have been fulfilled, and because of that fact I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The House is indebted to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your Ruling, which made it quite clear that whatever this Bill may be it is not a Bill for the marking of imported foreign eggs. In so far as that principle has been settled, it was settled by a previous Measure, and the purport of this Bill is of a different kind. The Debate—perhaps it is due to the Amendment—has created the impression that this is purely a Bill which deals with the question of eggs. It is clear that eggs play a very considerable part in the structure and mechanism of the Measure, but, if I may respectfully say so, the important part of the Bill is the first part, and there is a real danger that the importance of the step taken by the Ministry of Agriculture may be overlooked, in view of the criticism which has been made to-day, with which I have a good deal of sympathy, although it is criticism which could be more effectively addressed to the Members of the Committee upstairs.
We have been pressing this question of the marketing of agricultural produce upon the Government for a very long time. I am one of the critics of the Minister of Agriculture and I should have been quite ready to intervene in order to criticise him. Therefore, when I have an opportunity of indicating my approval of any step which he takes, it would be unfair if I did not avail myself of it. I want to show him that I am as ready to intervene to congratulate him as I am to intervene when I feel it necessary to criticise him. I think this Bill is a very radical contribution towards the marketing of agricultural produce. Whatever anybody may say about the proposals of the Bill in regard to tenure or otherwise, we are all agreed that whatever you do about tenure or improvement of the land, every scheme must be a complete failure unless you have improvements in marketing. I would almost put marketing first.
We have £327,000,000 worth of goods coming from abroad of the very kind of 414 produce that our climate and our soil is capable of producing. I am convinced more and more from the investigations which I have made, and from the experience which I have had myself, that the difficulty is one of marketing. I find people within seven miles of where I alit producing, buying goods from France, whereas you could more easily supply them on the spot. The difficulty is that there is no certainty in regard to marketing and grading. The people say: "One day we may buy very good stuff from a local farmer, and next day we may buy something locally which is very inferior, and the result is that our customers go away. We must have something which we can rely upon." They say: "We are quite sure about supplies from abroad; they come in regularly, but we are never quite sure of our supplies from home." Marketing is the first essential in solving the agricultural problem, but before you begin marketing you must solve the problem of grading. One thing which has enabled the Danish farmer to establish his market here is that the purchaser knows perfectly well that when he buys a thing which has come from Denmark, the chances are 100 to I that it will come up to the description, and the result is that, very often, he gets a better price for his goods. It is not a question of price but of certainty that you are getting supplies of the right quality, if that were done with regard to agricultural produce here you would get better and more assured prices. Let me say at once that I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has introduced this Bill, and I hope he will put it through. With regard to the Clause in reference to eggs, I agree that it is a matter which requires examination and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be ready to consider any amendments.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was riot present when the Amendment was moved, and the point in regard to Clause 4 is of vital importance to the Second Reading Debate. We are dealing with a question of principle; that the Government ought not to introduce a Measure with these Clauses, which appear to be an inducement to a committee under another Act to recommend an Order in Council.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I thought the answer which the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) evoked from the Minister of Agriculture cleared away a good deal of the difficulty. The first answer which the Minister of Agriculture gave unintentionally misrepresented his own Bill, but the answer which my right hon. and learned Friend obtained, corrected that impression. Even if the hon. Member for the Hillsborough division (Mr. Alexander) is right, it is not a Second Reading point. The question on a. Second Reading Debate is whether the point in regard to Clause 4 is of sufficient importance to deny a Second Reading to a Measure nine-tenths of which hon. Members accept. I agree that there is a great deal of force in what the hon. Member for Hillsborough has said; it is a matter which can be raised in Committee, but to say that you are going to stop the whole process of grading, which is vital to agricultural production in this country, merely because you disapprove of one particular point, is a course to which I should not assent. Apart altogether from the criticisms which may be made legitimately in regard to the question of eggs, I am very glad that this step forward has been taken.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
Hon. Members have spoken in support of this Bill as consumers and others as retailers want to say at once that I support the Bill from the agricultural standpoint. I accept it as a Measure to help the agricultural industry in its present difficult position. What is the cause of that difficulty? It is simply this. As we all know, the prices received by the farmer by the sale of his agricultural produce does not in many cases equal the cost of production, there is no margin. I do not think this is quite realised by some hon. Members who represent urban constituencies, because they look upon the situation from the consumers' point of view. Unfortunately, the consumer does not realise the low prices which agricultural produce is making, but while there is no margin between the cost of production and the price which the farmer himself receives, there is a very large margin between the price which the agriculturist receives for his produce and that which the consumer pays. If some of this large margin could go to the producer, that is to say, if some of the money which 416 the consumer pays found its way into the pockets of the producer, it would be a great help to the agricultural community. In so far as this Bill will help this I give it my wholehearted support.
Unfortunately, to-day, in many cases the farmer buys retail and sells wholesale. It will be a good thing for the industry when we can reverse that process and enable the farmer to buy wholesale and sell retail. It is quite possible for a man farming some 200 acres to have a turnover of £2,000 a year and a 10 per cent. increase on that would mean £200 a year to him; the difference between a profit and a loss. I do not know whether hon. Members realise how little is going into the pockets of the producers. Let me give an illustration. If an hon. Member buys an egg, he possibly pays 4d. for it; in many hotels it would cost 6d. The farmer only gets 1d. for that egg. The producer of the egg provides the fowls, the house for them to live in, their food, puts it on the rail; and only gets id. The transport and cooking of the egg costs 4d. I submit that the producer does not get a sufficient return. When this cold weather goes we may get a little summer weather, and I have no doubt that hon. Members will be entertaining some of their constituents to tea on the terrace and that a part of that tea will consist of strawberries and cream. They will probably have to pay as much per ounce for the strawberries as the grower of them gets per pound. More of this margin should go into the pockets of the producers.
This is a voluntary Bill; it is not compulsory. All it does is to permit the Minister by regulations to make these grading provisions. No farmer, no grower, no producer, need apply for this grading, but any producer or farmer will be punished if he uses the grading mark without authority. Although there is no legal compulsion, I am confident that so successful will it be that financial considerations alone will compel the farmer and producer to apply for grading under the provisions of this Bill. This method of grading is not new to this country. It has gone beyond the experimental stage. I took the opportunity of the British Industries Fair to go and see the Cheshire cheese section. The figures given to me were to the effect that one gallon of milk will produce one pound of cheese. The price of that milk is 8½d.; 417 and that gallon of milk will produce a Cheshire cheese which sells at Is. 4d., but under a system of grading one pound of cheese extra is made. Grading has also been tried in reference to fruit. A grower in the Maidstone area had 500 bushels of apples which were graded by the Ministry, and as a result of that grading they made 2s. per bushel extra net than they otherwise would have made. This, on 500 bushels, produced an increased price of £50. The same man has graded 4,500 bushels this season.
This is what took place last September in the Worcester area. Apples were graded with the stamp of the Ministry and packed in standard non-returnable empties, and they realised from 15s. to 18s. per bushel while the ungraded consignments were only making 4s. to 6s. per bushel. One hon. Member has said that no action has been taken with regard to the grading of eggs. In one area in the Chichester district, farmers have been keeping their supplies up to the standard recommended by the Ministry, and packing them in non-returnable packets. As a result, they have made for eggs under the grade special 1s. 10d. per dozen, for standard eggs Is. 6d., and for mediums is. 4d.; while the ruling prices in the market of the nearest town was 1s. 1d. per dozen. It, is pretty clear that the adoption of these methods of grading and marking will put more money into the pockets of the producer and help to make the margin greater between the cost of production and the amount the producer receives. That will be all to the good of agriculture, and I therefore ask the House, as far as this part of the Bill is concerned, to give it their entire support. With regard to Clauses 3 and 4 I submit that they do no more than the Minister of Agriculture has suggested, that they make the marking of cold preserved eggs and other preserved eggs compulsory in order to protect the supplier of fresh eggs.
There is a certain section of the agricultural community which is focussing its attention upon what are termed drastic remedies,, and they are therefore blind to what we may term the lesser palliatives. I myself sincerely consider that the cumulative effect of palliatives may be to do something considerable to help the industry. This Bill is an example of a palliative. I do not suggest, and I 418 do not think the Minister suggests, that it will cure all the ills of agriculture. On behalf of the agricultural community I accept it and I thank the Government for the number of palliatives which they have passed during the present Session. But I warn them that the industry of agriculture is still in a difficult position and that this Measure will not be enough to cure it. We accept it with gratitude but, having got it, that will not prevent us from doing our best to get still more.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Unlike seine hon. Members who have preceded me, I look upon this as a first instalment of what I hope will ultimately develop into a comprehensive scheme of grading and standardising British agricultural pro duce. Notwithstanding some of the speeches that have been made in reference to the terms of the Amendment, it seems to me that there are reasons for the Amendment and that it is a justifiable proposal. I do not agree with all that has been said by the hon. Member who has just spoken, because I think it has been recognised for a long time that a vital part of the Labour party's agricultural policy is to introduce twentieth century organisation into that industry. The collection, grading and standardisation of produce represents only a, part of that policy. Therefore, the Amendment in no way detracts from the general support which Members of the Opposition would always be ready and willing to give to any scheme likely to divert some portion of the £300,000,000 per annum referred to by the last speaker from the pockets of the middle-men to those of the producers, of food in this country. It is extraordinary to find the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) suggesting that the introduction into this Bill of a Clause, which we regard as a back-stairs method of intimidating a supposedly impartial judicial committee, is merely a Committee point and that, because of our general support for other parts of the Bill, there is no room for opposition of any kind, much less for any Amendment such as has been submitted to the Bill.
I have no intention of covering the ground so well covered by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment and by other speakers, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Car- 419 narvon Boroughs that the Liberal party have always opposed Merchandise Marks Bills on the Floor of this House, when such a Bill has become an Act of Parliament, when the machinery has been set in motion, and when an impartial hearing has been given to all the affected parties and a decision has been reached, then the Minister introduces a Bill ostensibly to insist upon certain elements of twentieth century organisation entering into agriculture, but he imports into that. Bill what is tantamount to an instruction to this supposedly impartial judicial Committee that certain things must be done and done pretty quickly. Clause 4, Sub-section (2), can only be read to mean that at the earliest possible moment the decision given in November of last year has to be changed and that the marking of imported eggs will take place in the very near future. That is the reason why we oppose this step. It is, as I say, a back-stairs method which the right hon. Gentleman has adopted, of implying to an impartial committee that certain things should be done, which have not been done by that committee although they made a very careful examination of all the facts brought to their notice in October last.
I have heard it suggested that it might be detrimental to the home producers to insist on the marking of imported eggs until order had been extracted out of the chaos which exists in the agricultural industry in this country, particularly with regard to eggs. Hon. Member after hon. Member has said that the producers are willing to risk any danger to their own industry, but this House cannot and dare not take the statements of individual Members on a question affecting the whole nation. Rather are we obliged to pay attention to the Report of the Committee, and to attach some importance to their statement as a judicial Committee. What do they say with regard to the risk to the home producer? Paragraph 10, on page 5, of the Report reads as follows:On the other hand, an Order for marking on importation would certainly, in our opinion, stimulate the efforts of exporting countries to make their own produce supreme in the British market, and might well result in a blow to the whole industry from which it would take a long time to recover.420 That is not a statement made by a casual Socialist or an indifferent Liberal or a very ardent Conservative. It is the statement of a judicial committee who have examined all the facts. They proceed:In dealing with this point the applicants have more than once stated that they are prepared to accept any such risk to their own business. The responsibility for our recommendations must, however, remain with us, and we are of opinion that the 'best' imported eggs would derive more advantage than the home-produced eggs from a marking Order under this Act unless a substantial improvement were first effected in home methods of grading and marketing.We suggest that the Minister's action in importing this Clause into the Bill gives the idea to the Committee and to the farmers and egg producers that a change from the previous decision is about to take place, and that the possibilities propounded by the Committee may materialise in a short time. If the accumulated evidence indicates that imported eggs ought to be marked, by all means let us have them marked. If the evidence indicates, as was the ease no later than October or November last, that the danger is not with the importers of eggs but with the home producers, then the Minister should be the last person to try to bring about a, change, which his own Committee have indicated would be detrimental to the producers of eggs in this country. I am willing to concede that, apart from Clause 4, this Bill may be the start of a journey which may ultimately bring real value to agriculture in this country, but Clause 4 is an indecent precedent which ought not to be allowed to happen. I suggest that the Minister will find in all parts of the House willing supporters for any move which is calculated to bring to the producers a greater proportion of the ultimate price of commodities than they obtain to-day, but if this backstairs method is to he insisted upon, the Minister must expect—notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who, apparently, knew nothing about the point in question—thar some opposition will be forthcoming from these benches. After all, there is something yet, I hope, in the idea of purity in politics, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will remember that we regard this as a very indiscreet 421 slip on his part. It is one that will not be repeated, I hope, in any future Bill which may be introduced with the object of enabling agriculture to help itself—which it has failed so lamentably to do in the past.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I rise to congratulate the Minister warmly and sincerely on the introduction of this Measure and particularly on the ingenious manner in which, without making grading compulsory, he has laid down a line of inducement which, I think, is so clear and so strong that grading to a comprehensive extent must obviously follow any regulations made under this Measure. On the point of congratulating the right hon. Gentleman, I need not take up the time of the House. It is agreed that anything which can develop the grading of agricultural produce is one of the preliminary steps towards giving the producer a greater proportion of the proper price. It is the unquestionable result of experience in connection with modern agricultural economics that produce sold in mixed lots loses an undue proportion of its value. That is the proposition which emphasises the value of marketing. An extraordinary small proportion of low-grade stuff, mixed and sold with high-grade stuff will destroy the price which the high-grade stuff, if marketed by itself, would have commanded. Therefore, there can be no question in the mind of any body who has studied the modern methods of agricultural production and marketing, that anything that can develop and induce an increase of grading in this country is a step in the right direction. The second thing I rise to do is to express my amazement at the form of the Amendment that has been put forward by the Labour party, and to express even greater amazement at the last speech with which that Amendment has been commended. The Amendment says thatit objects to the Second Reading of a Bill containing provisions relating to the marking of imported eggs contrary to the findings of the Standing Committee of Inquiry appointed under the Merchandise Marks Act.In the Report of that Committee nothing more tentative and temporary than the arguments upon which they turned down the marking of eggs last 422 autumn could hardly be conceived. Their general reason for refusing marking was that there was insufficient grading. What could be more proper than that in a Bill, the object of which is to develop grading in this country, a little foresight should be used? The words of the Committee are taken into account, and the fact is reckoned upon that, if grading is developed in this country, a situation will result which unquestionably would cause a new Committee to come to a different decision. We are told, in language which really is ludicrous, that this is impure politics. I confess that my small measure of intelligence is hardly able to understand that type of language.
What is the situation? The Legislature has passed an Act of Parliament dealing with the marking of foreign produce. It is not said that only- once is a Committee to sit upon the marking of any particular article. The whole assumption of the Labour Amendment is that, because in 1927 a Committee refused to allow the marking of foreign eggs, for the whole future no other Committee—[Interruption.] I am glad to hear that that ludicrous proposal is abandoned. What is the alternative? it is that some day there will be another Committee, and it is clear from the very subject matter of this Bill that the decision of a future Committee may be different. Is it anything but ordinary providence and prescience that, in a Bill dealing with grading of eggs, provision should be included on the assumption that, some day, there will be the marking of foreign eggs—particularly when, generally speaking, the only factor that prevented the Committee approving of the marking of foreign eggs was the absence of grading? In the short space of half-a-dozen lines a more foolish Amendment to a valuable Measure could hardly have been framed. I sincerely urge those who are responsible for it, for the sake of their own reputation for logic and common sense, and in order that we may have on this vital agricultural Measure a unanimous decision of this House, not to proceed further with an Amendment which has only to be analysed to be seen to be perfectly fatuous, and based on a foundation which will not bear a moment's examination. No Amendment is a matter of prevailing importance compared with the Bill; and, speaking as one who has 423 the honour to represent a large and important agricultural constituency in Scotland, I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon taking an important, a definite and wide-reaching step in the direction along which British agriculture must proceed, if success is to be obtained. I trust that the ingenuity of my right hon. Friend and his Ministry can frame other Measures which will further develop the system of grading, standardisation and collective marketing, which lie at the root of all successful agriculture in the modern world, and that this will be only the first of a series of Measures which will make it plain to the country that the Unionist party are going to have nothing to do with agricultural protection, but, in every way, are going to assist the farmers to help themselves along the lines of scientific and economic marketing and agricultural development.
§ Mr. DUNCAN
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Skelton), but it is never very wise in this House to pose as a modern Solomon and try and teach everybody, especially in regard to legislation of this kind. This Bill seeks in an indirect manner to affect legislation in the future by anticipation. That is the point of our objection. Everybody can agree with the hon. Member in the last part of his speech. It is an extraordinarily strange thing that in this country, where there is undoubtedly the greatest market in the world for the produce of the land, so small a quantity is produced by the people on their own doorstep. What we have been arguing on this side is that we should first clean our own doorstep. This country has been producing eggs, apples, fruit and things for hundreds of years, and it is strange that we should be receiving hundreds and thousands of tons of apples from Australia and New Zealand. It has never been contemplated that this country might export these things to other countries, and it has never apparently entered the imagination of anybody connected with agriculture. At Christmas time the country is deluged with all sorts of poultry—fowl, turkeys, geese and so on—and it is very strange that those who are interested in agriculture in this country have never yet realised that they should first put their own house in order. It is only reasonable to assume that 424 before we ask other people to mark their eggs, we should mark ours. It seems the only sensible thing to put your own house in order before you ask other people to put theirs in order.
The speeches of the bon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), and other Members on the other side, seemed to show that they have a poor impression of the activities of the co-operative movement in this country. I am surprised to hear that kind of thing, because there are possibilities that the co-operative movement may be big enough to buy everything that is produced on the land in this country when the farmers and others responsible for the production become sufficiently well organised to see where their best market is. The virtue of that would be that they would not run any risk of not getting their money. There would be no bad debts. For Members of this House to cast aspersions on the great co-operative movement is the height of fatuity and lack of foresight as to possible developments in this direction. There can be little doubt that the co-operative movement in this country to a great extent will be the salvation of the farmer. He may not realise it yet, but there is an enormous market for which the co-operative movement buys produce, and just as they succeed in getting their eggs graded and marked, they will find a wonderful improvement in their sales to the cooperative movement. I do not dispute that parts of this Bill are on right lines. I have stated the only objection that we have on this side, and we can assume that the Minister will profit by his mistake, and avoid this kind of thing in future, so that, when he sets up Committees, he will, before he throws them overboard, give some explanation to the House why he does so.
We are entitled to have food at a reasonable price in this country, and we are always faced with the danger of increased prices in dealing with a question of this kind. It is anticipated, of course, that legislation of this type will have a tendency to retard the importation of the particular articles mentioned. What will be the effect of that upon the price of food? We are importing about £11,000,000 worth of eggs into this country per annum, and if the importation of that vast quantity of eggs is interfered with to any extent, it is bound to 425 have some effect upon the market and the price. It does not require much imagination to see that. Anybody who has had experience in commercial life knows that there has not to be a very great shortage of any particular article to force up the price almost to a ruinous extent. That is a point which has not been dealt with in the discussion, and it certainly seems that the Bill will incur a risk in this direction unless some step is taken beforehand to safeguard against it.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said that, before we begin to enforce the marking of foreign produce, we should take steps to mark our own. If he will look at the beginning of the Bill he will see that this is one of its chief objects; the national mark will be set up under this Bill, and we hope that it will enable our producers to achieve results in their marketing which at the present time they are unable to attain. I am not surprised at the hon. Member dealing with the other and subordinate points because the Debate has drifted right away from the main objects of the Bill. The Bill does not in any way lay down regulations as to the marking of foreign eggs or any other produce. What this Bill proposes to do is to enable us to get better grading, packing and standardisation of our own produce. Whether foreign eggs are marked or not, this Bill will enable British eggs to be properly graded, and long before the eggs are graded under this Bill we shall, I hope, see the grading of this year's apple crop, with the same excellent result as to prices but with wider application than we found last year in the case of the experiments which we tried and which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Shepperson). I am a little surprised at the opposition of the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) to the scheme which has been prepared for improving the grading of British eggs, because generally he speaks for the Cooperative movement, and in this case we have had a letter from the general manager of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, saying:I am pleased to inform you the Report of the Poultry Advisory Committee on the recommendations for the improvement of the marketing of English eggs has been placed before my directors, who concur in the recommendations made.426 We cannot carry out those recommendations without the legislation for which we are asking this afternoon, and therefore I think it is rather a pity that the hon. Member devoted so much attention to the comparatively small points raised in Clauses 3 and 4 and did not give us the benefit of his experience and advice, which, I hope, will be in agreement with that of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, on this bigger question.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I should say at once that I could concur in the general approval of the scheme for the grading of British eggs, but the manager also informs me that it would be very inadvisable to adopt Clause 4 of the Bill until there has been a reasonable time for trying out the scheme for grading.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
There is nothing about that in the letter which we received at the Ministry. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Seen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was, I think, a little mystified by the Amendment which was put down on the Paper. He told us that he had no axe to grind, and he wanted to know whether there was any foundation for the suggestion that this Bill was proposing something contrary to the recommendations of the Merchandise Marks Standing Committee. That is a simple question to answer. Far from upsetting the recommendations of the Merchandise Marks Committee one of the objects of this Bill is to comply with those recommendations. What did the Merchandise Marks Committee report? They clearly foreshadowed in their Report that the marking of foreign eggs will eventually be necessary, but they say that it should only come about when certain conditions are fulfilled. When those conditions are satisfied they quite clearly contemplate the recommendation of a marking order. The hon. Member for Hillsborough mentioned again this afternoon the letter which was referred to at yesterday's hearing—I do not know whether it was a letter, or an article from the "Poultry World." I have explained to the hon. Member that that statement was unfounded and was repudiated at the sitting of the Committee in the afternoon, when he was, of course, not present; but he has brought it up again and challenged me on the subject, and I feel that I must 427 read what the National Farmers' Union wrote to me last night:We have submitted the paragraph to Mr. Rimmer.He is the gentleman referred to in the passage complained of.He emphatically denies that it represents an accurate summary of his remarks on the occasion on which he spoke. Mr. Rimmer was dealing generally with the question of the grading and marketing of eggs, and emphasised the need that poultry farmers should press on with 'putting their house in order.' On that basis, he claimed, headquarters were satisfied that if the application were made again to the Standing Act, under the Merchandise Marks Act, compulsory marking of foreign eggs would probably be granted.I think that is a most natural and proper statement for Mr. Rimmer to have made in view of the Report of the Merchandise Marks Committee. The hon. Member for Hillsborough takes me to task because, when speaking recently at the Council of Agriculture, I said that we might hope for a recommendation from the Merchandise Marks Committee in favour of the marking of foreign eggs, if we were to bring about a grading and marketing scheme such as that for which they asked. That was a perfectly natural statement, and I am not alone in having interpreted their Report in that sense. The Imperial Economic Committee, in their Report on eggs, published at the beginning of this year, said:We observe that the recommendation of the Standing Committee merely proposes the postponement of the issue of such an order until certain conditions are fulfilled, and we hope it may be possible within a relatively short period to ask the Standing Committee again to review the position.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Really, the right hon. Gentleman must take all the facts together. The actual Report of the Standing Committee says that there must be sufficient improvement in thecollecting, grading, packing and marketing of British eggs to remove or mitigate the danger of the best,and so on. In another part they clearly indicate that that would take time, but within two months, or, rather, a little more than two months, the Minister makes a public statement in which he says:I have no doubt that if we get a grading scheme adopted"—428 not put in practice—we shall without doubt be able to get the recommendation for which the industry is asking, the marking of British eggs.He is speaking officially as the Minister, and telling the public that he knows what the next judicial inquiry is going to bring forward.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I can only assure the hon. Member that he has attributed to me knowledge which I certainly never claimed, and never possessed. I do not know what is the difference between adopting a scheme and putting it into force, and certainly I had no indication from the Standing Committee as to what decision they would come to as a result of an application. This application has been made in the ordinary course by the National Poultry Council and by the National Farmers' Union, and I had no choice, under the Merchandise Marks Act, seeing that they are interests qualified to put forward such an application, about referring it for hearing to the Merchandise Marks Committee. Such an application seems to me to have been entirely natural in view of the words of the Committee in their main recommendation, in which they ask for a scheme for grading, packing and marketing, just such a scheme as, in response to their indication, has now been put forward.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
In the main recommendation. It is on page 7. They said there that an Order in Council should only be made whenSufficient improvement has been made in the collecting, grading, packing, and marketing of British eggs.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
That may be a conclusive interruption in the opinion of the hon. Member, but I think the House will agree that the application was perfectly justified. The hon. Member for Hillsborough said a good deal about Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill. He seems to think they are in some way contrary to the 429 opinions and findings of the Committee. There is no foundation whatever for that view. If the hon. Member will look at page 8 of their Report he will see that the Committee invited us to deal with this problem of preserved eggs. They say:During the interval which must elapse while progress is being made on the lines we have indicated, attention might be given to the problem presented by preserved and cold-stored eggs. It has been suggested to us in the course of our inquiry that the need of distinguishing between preserved and fresh eggs is not less than of differentiating imported from home-produced eggs; and that if a marking order were made there would, in the absence of such a precaution, be a danger of English preserved eggs being sold as new laid and so damaging the home egg trade. This matter is, we think, not strictly within our province, but we can well believe that the home egg trade would be prejudiced by preserved eggs, whether of home or foreign origin, being passed off as English new laid.'In view of that passage in the report of the Standing Committee, we took up this question of preserved and cold-stored eggs. They said it was outside their province; it was evident that they could not deal with it under the provisions for marking foreign eggs. We cannot deal with it without legislation, and it is in response to the direct invitation of the Merchandise Marks Standing Committee that we have taken up this matter, and that we have brought forward these proposals, which we believe to be an effective way of dealing with that danger which they brought to our notice.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
As to the date referred to in Clause 3, I am sorry if I left the House in any doubt about it. The date in Clause 3 is not dependent on the operation of a foreign marking order. Clause 3 deals with eggs preserved by methods which can be detected by analysis, and they would be marked under Clause 3, whether they are of foreign origin or of home origin, because that marking could be enforced owing to the fact that the eggs could he distinguished: but as to the date when the Clause is to come into operation, I am quite prepared to consider that matter, and if the hon. Member raises it in Committee and prefers some late date, I think there will he no difficulty in accepting an Amendment in that sense. The 430 operation of Clause 4 is dependent upon an Order in Council being made under Section 2 of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926. It seems to me to be entirely relevant to the recommendations of the Merchandise Marks Committee that we should go into this matter in advance so that we should be in a position to deal with it if and when they may recommend an order for marking imported foreign eggs. The hon. Member for Hillsborough asked a question as to whether a satisfactory marking medium has been found. Here, again, in response to the recommendations contained in paragraph 20 of the report, we have gone into the matter and the Government chemist assures us that he is satisfied that an ink with the necessary qualities does exist.
The Debate has largely turned on the suggestion that there has been a nefarious plot to get behind the recommendations of the Merchandise Marks Standing Committee. It is true that there has been a certain inconsistency among hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) spoke of intimidating the Committee, and he seemed to think that my action in trying to carry out what the Committee has asked for is a menace to the purity of British public life. We have also been told that there is, apparently, a nefarious plot between my Department and the Committee to bring about the marking of foreign eggs. Of course, there is no foundation whatever for that suggestion. The Standing Committee is an independent holy, and it would be perfectly absurd for any Government Department to attempt to influence their decision. Mr. Mitchell Innes, the distinguished lawyer who presides over that Committee, certainly does not interpret this Bill as in any way interfering with his discretion, and he has shown that by a statement which he made yesterday in which he made it clear that, in spite of this Bill being before Parliament, the Committee will decide in regard to their recommendations purely on the merits of the case. This Bill has nothing whatever to do directly with the marking of foreign eggs. There has been very little criticism during the Debate for me to answer in retard to the main scheme. After the reasons which I have given in support of this Bill, I confidently ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, because 431 I believe it will enable the British producer to improve his grading and it will enable him to compete on more favourable terms with that imported produce which is making larger and larger inroads into our market.
§ Mr. PALING
It seems to me that the Minister of Agriculture reads more into the recommendation of the Committee than we do. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the recommendation of the Committee means that if you set up a scheme and give this particular protection, that is all that is necessary before you can have your Order. The recommendation of the Committee says nothing of the sort. It, does not say that a scheme of this sort is all that is necessary. The recommendation of the Committee is to the effect that until a sufficient improvement has been made in the collecting, grading and packing of eggs all over the country, the recommendation should not apply. I have listened to hon. Members opposite stating that a sufficient improvement has been made in grading, but they have not given us any evidence in support of those statements; and they did not give us any indication as to the size or the number of the eggs. It appears from the actual evidence given that the improvement made in this country in the grading and marking of eggs is ridiculously small. The right hon. Gentleman quoted another paragraph in regard to preserved eggs, but I would remind him that the Committee also reported:During the interval which must elapse while progress is being made on the two lines we have indicated.It appears that it was in the minds of the members of the Committee that if everything possible were done in the direction of an improvement in the grading and marking of eggs, a long time must elapse. As a matter of fact, only six months have elapsed, and now the right hon. Gentleman thinks that period is sufficient to warrant him in introducing a Bill of this description. That course is totally against anything which the Committee recommended. The Minister of Agriculture has made a lot of play about what has been said concerning nefarious practices, which he has resented. I would like to ask is there any precedent for a Bill of this descrip- 432 tion? In all applications made for safeguarding it is laid down that the Committee must not be interfered with in any way whatever, and the Department concerned is not allowed to give any indication to the Committee as to what it desires. The Committee is supposed to be entirely impartial, and does not allow any influence to be brought to bear upon it from any quarter whatever. Can the Minister of Agriculture say that the Committee is having no influence brought to bear upon it in regard to this question?
The right hon. Gentleman stated that he would like to issue this Order in spite of the fact that only six months ago the Committee which considered this question came to the decision that no Order ought to be made. When a Committee arrives at a decision which is not in accord with the idea and the desires of the Ministry of Agriculture, is it to be the practice in future for the Minister to set up another Committee every six months until he gets them to arrive at the decision he desires? At a time when a Committee is supposed to be sitting to decide this question, the Minister of Agriculture brings in this Bill, and I say that action of that kind is certainly loading the dice, whether you call it nefarious or not.
The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) objected to the word "nefarious," and he supplied two other words "providence" and "prescience." I think the Minister ought to be very grateful to the hon. Member for Perth for saying such a thing. I would not say that the action of the Minister of Agriculure amounts to bribery or corruption, but it is much nearer to that than it is to providence and prescience. The last thing we ought to do is to interfere in any way with the decision of the Committee, which is supposed to be inquiring into this business. Practically this Bill is saying to the Committee, "The last decision at which you arrived does not suit us. We want a Bill dealing with the grading of eggs, and we shall put into our Bill certain powers which will allow us to do certain things if you will do what we want you to do as a Committee." That appears to me to be loading the dice, and if it be not a nefarious practice, it is coming very near to it.
§ Major PRICE
I should have thought that the Members of the Opposition, after the speech made by the Minister of Agriculture, would have understood what the Bill meant. The last speech to which we have listened seems to show that the hon. Member has not the faintest idea what is contained in the Bill. Hon. Members opposite scorn to have confined their attention to the Amendment which they have taken as stating certain facts 'which in reality are not facts at all. The Amendment says:the Second Reading of a Bill containing provisions relating to the marketing of imported eggs contrary to the findings of the Standing Committee.The Bill does not contain a single clause relating to the marking of imported foreign eggs, and the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) knows that perfectly well.
§ Major PRICE
I have read that Subsection which says—If and so long as any Order in Council made under Section 2 of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, is in force.That proviso has to be fulfilled before any Order in Council can he made. Therefore this Bill only applies to something which comes into force after the Committee have given a decision. The high altruistic attitude of the hon. Member for Hillsborough seems to me to be based upon false premises. All the Bill does is to endeavour to help the grading of British eggs. Hon. Members opposite are very fond of saying "We are willing
§ to help the British farmer," but when a practical measure is put before the House, they invariably oppose it. As a matter of fact, hon. Members opposite have not the faintest notion how to help the British farmer.
§ Major PRICE
That is not so, because we have succeeded very well, and that is why you do not like this Bill. The grading of agricultural produce is something which must be encouraged. It has been suggested that we ought to adopt the same method as foreign countries when dealing with the exportation of their produce, but that suggestion is absurd. In our case we are dealing with the home producers, and, consequently, we must have different methods from those employed in a foreign country which has no market except in this free trade country, or some other foreign country. Foreign countries cannot sell their produce at home, and therefore their methods must be different from ours. Hon. Members seem to have concentrated their attention on the Amendment, and not upon the Bill. If they would only give more attention to the Clauses of the Bill, I am sure this Measure would pass at an early stage, and really the Amendment itself is in favour of the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to he left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 237; Noes, 97.437
|Division No. 83.]||AYES.||[6.46 p.m.|
|Albery, Irving James||Briant, Frank||Clayton, G. C.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Cobb, Sir Cyril|
|Alexander, Sir Win. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Briggs, J. Harold||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Briscoe, Richard George||Cooper, A. Dun|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Brittain, Sir Harry||Cope, Major William|
|Apsley, Lord||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Couper, J. B.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Courtauld, Major J. S.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn. N.)|
|Atkinson, C.||Buckingham, Sir H,||Crawfurd, H. E.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Crooke, J. Smedley (Cerltend)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)|
|Bainlel, Lord||Burman, J. B.||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Burton, Colonel H. W.||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.|
|Barnett. Major Sir Richard||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Campbell, E. T.||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Cassels, J. D.||Davies, Dr. Vernon|
|Bonn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)|
|Bennett, A, J.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Drewe, C.|
|Bethel, A.||Chapman, Sir S.||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)|
|Bourne. Captain Robert Croft||Christie, J. A.||Elliot, Major Walter E.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Ellis, R. G.|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Runciman, Hilda (Cornwall, St. Ives)|
|Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||Knox, Sir Alfred||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Lamb, J. Q.||Salmon, Major I.|
|Fielden, E. B.||Livingstone, A. M.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Fanham)|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Forrest, W||Loder, J. de V.||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Frece, Sir Walter de||Long, Major Eric||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Looker, Herbert William||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Sandon, Lord|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Herman||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Lumley, L. R.||Savery, S. S.|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Gates, Percy||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Macintyre, I.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||McLean, Major A.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Grace, John||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Skelton, A. N.|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Macquisten, F. A.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Mac Robert, Alexander M.||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.|
|Grotrian, H. Brent||Malone, Major P. B.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Margesson, Captain D.||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Hacking, Douglas H.||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Meller, R. J.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Hall, Admiral Sir R. (Eastbourne)||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Tasker, R. Inigo.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Harney, E. A.||Moreing, Captain A. H.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Harris, Percy A.||Morrison, H. (Wilts. Salisbury)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Harrison, G. J. C.||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph||Tomlinson, R. P.|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Neville, Sir Reginald J.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Harvey, G (Lambeth, Kennington)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon. Totnes)||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Waddington, R.|
|Honderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn W. G. (Ptrsf'ld)||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Nuttall, Ellis||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Owen, Major G.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Penny, Frederick George||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Hills, Major John Waller||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Wells, S. R.|
|Hilton, Cecil||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Pilcher, G.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Preston, William||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Price, Major C. W. M.||Withers, John James|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Raine, Sir Walter||Womersley, W. J.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Ramsden, E.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Huntingfield, Lord||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Hurd, Percy A||Rees, Sir Beddoe||Wragg, Herbert|
|Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Remnant, Sir James|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Rice, Sir Frederick||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Major Sir George Hennessy and Captain Wallace.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lindley, F. W.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Lowth, T.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Greenall, T.||MacLaren, Andrew|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow. Govan)|
|Baker, Walter||Grundy, T. W.||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||March, S.|
|Barr, J.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maxton, James|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hayday, Arthur||Montague, Frederick|
|Bromley, J.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Buchanan, G.||Hirst, G. H.||Murnin, H.|
|Cape, Thomas||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Charleton, H. C.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Palin, John Henry|
|Connolly, M.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Paling. W.|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham. Silvertown)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Potts, John S.|
|Duncan, C.||Kelly, W. T.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Dunnico, H.||Kennedy, T.||Riley, Ben|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Gardner, J. P.||Kirkwood, D.||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Lansbury, George||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Gillett, George M.||Lawrence, Susan||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Gosling, Harry||Lawson, John James||Scurr, John|
|Sexton, James||Sutton, J. E.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Shiels, Dr. Drummond||Thurtle, Ernest||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Shinwell, E.||Tinker, John Joseph||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Varley, Frank B.||Windsor, Walter|
|Slesser, Sir Henry H.||Viant, S. P.||Wright, W.|
|Smillie, Robert||Wallhead, Richard C.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton|
|Smith, Rennie (Penistone)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Snell, Harry||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Wellock, Wilfred||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.|
|Stephen, Campbell||Westwood, J.||B. Smith.|
|Sullivan, J.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.