HC Deb 01 December 1931 vol 260 cc958-64

Fresh Fruits.

currants, gooseberries, grapes plums, strawberries.

Fresh Vegetables.

Asparagus, green beans, broccoli and cauliflowers, carrots, chicory (salad), cucumbers, endive, lettuce, mushrooms, peas (green), potatoes (new), tomatoes, turnips.

Flowers, etc.

Cut flowers, plants in flower, flowers attached to bulbs, foliage, bulbs, rose trees."

Resolution read a Second time.


I beg to move, in line 6, after the word "Resolution," to insert the words: and in connection with which a board has been set up to administer a scheme under the provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. The object of the Amendment is to ensure that where any protection is given to the producers of any of the products mentioned in this Resolution there shall be insistence on efficiency and organisation. It is the policy of our party that where any form of assistance is given to industry or agriculture by the State it shall only be given on conditions which will ensure, firstly, that the industry is carried on efficiently; secondly, that there is due protection of the consumer; and, thirdly, that there is due protection of the interests of the workers in the industry. I am therefore moving the Amendment to ensure that this form of Protection shall not be applied to any article unless the provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Act which was carried this year shall have been applied and a Board has been set up for the producers in the industry.

When the Agricultural Marketing Act was before the House, there were two main points made against it by hon. Members opposite. The first, which will seem surprising to new Members of the House, was that it gave the Minister too much power. Everybody who realises what is being done in this Resolution will be surprised that such a consideration was put forward. The second objection was that it was no use organising marketing among home producers unless you first dealt with imports. That argument cropped up from time to time in the discussions on the Bill in Committee and on Report, and even survived the Third Reading. No we have Protection brought in for certain agricultural products; therefore, that particular objection is done away with. Hon. Members opposite who realise the need for organisation can now support this Amendment with a clear conscience.

All experience of the condition of agriculture and of marketing in this country has made it plain that, whatever truth there may have been in the statement of hon. Gentlemen opposite that organisation among home producers was no use unless you dealt with imports, it is abundantly true that unless you organise marketing at home it will be futile merely to deal with imports. You will merely set up a cut-throat competition among producers; they will beat down the prices, and eventually ruin each other, as they have done so often in the past. I will quote from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture who, dealing with this very matter in November this year in a statement made to the Press, said: Whatever the future may hold by way of tariff assistance or similar measures, the restoration of prosperity for agriculture upon a lasting foundation must depend on the reorganisation of marketing on a basis of standardisation. That is the first reason for bringing forward this Amendment. With regard to the products that are dealt with in the Resolution, you can read extract after extract from the reports of the marketing section of the Ministry of Agriculture, and, whether it deals with fruit, vegetables or flowers, you will find over and over again an insistence on the necessity for grading, standardisation and proper marketing, quite apart from the question as to whether imports are stopped or not. This Resolution is essentially Protectionist. It has been suggested that it is merely a matter of stopping certain luxury imports. I cannot accept that in the slightest degree. It is an attempt to represent this as a kind of child of the President of the Board of Trade, whose speech on luxury imports we ail remember, but behind the figure of the President of the Board of Trade is the figure of the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). I do not believe that this is a Measure specially designed to deal with luxuries, or to redress the balance of trade and to save the pound.

4.0 p.m.

I think that those parts of the argument put forward in favour of this Motion are merely the carrots which has been put in for the benefit of Liberal Members of the Coalition. As a matter of fact, it is clear that this is a preliminary attempt at Protection. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, who was not very expansive in his reply yesterday, is an old Parliamentary hand, and he knows very well how to deal at considerable length with such questions as he needs to answer, and to avoid those which are inconvenient. But he did deal slightly with the question which has been put to him so often as to what was the real aim in this Measure. He said: This proposal which I am making today was, quite frankly, framed with the evident intention of dealing with those articles which could properly be described as luxury articles or which could, on the other hand, be said with equal certainty to be articles of very early production, competing upon an unfair basis with those things which we can produce in this country.


The hon. Member's remarks would be more suitable when I put the Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution." He ought to apply his arguments to the Amendment, which he is moving.


With great respect, the point of this Amendment is to insist that, if there is to be any protection to the home producer, there should he in existence an organisation. There has been some debate as to whether this was a Protectionist Measure or not, or whether, as a matter of fact, it was merely intended to stop certain luxury imports. The purpose of my argument is to show that the Minister had suggested that this Measure was going to be of assistance to the home producer, and, therefore, on that I was founding my argument that it is necessary, if the home producer is to be protected, that he should also be organised. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: I should be sorry if our proposals should not have the effect of encouraging and stimulating the increased production of these things in this country. That is an essential part of this scheme, and if it fails in doing that, it will fail in one of its chief purposes. It is essential to give encouragement to our people to develop their trade and industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1931; col. 896, Vol. 260.] The right hon. Gentleman nods his head. It is the object of the Government to encourage the production of luxury products in this country. If it be desirable that you should do this, we want to see, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that the trade should benefit. It is clear that if you bring in a Measure of this sort, which is not a comprehensive Protectionist Measure, but gives protection to certain articles produced by horticulturists, the immediate effect of that will be to increase the production of these particular products, and if you have no regulations and no organisation, you will get people crowding in to produce more, and create a glut in the market and a fall in price. That, of course, necessarily deals only with those products which can be produced rapidly. We did not get any explanation from the right hon. Gentleman as to how, in the space of 12 months, he was going to increase the production of cherries and plums. But we can leave that on one side. It is abundantly clear, however, that if without any regulation there is a sudden increase in production, so far from doing any good to the producers, it will lead them straight to ruin.

Secondly, unless you organise the producers, you are merely going to put large profits into the hands of the middlemen. In order to obtain a reasonable and remunerative price, it is essential to deal with the surplus, and all opinion, as expressed in these reports and elsewhere, and in Debates on the subject of marketing, has been that you cannot deal with a surplus adequately unless you have proper organisation. The Act which we passed last Session gave full power for the producers to organise their industry and to deal with just, those matters which are of such importance in obtaining a steady price. It gave power to deal with grading, marketing and surplus, and I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman intends to work that Act at all. He seemed extremely lukewarm about it. I want that Act to be worked to its fullest possibility, and as you are here proposing, in effect, to afford very great advantages to the producers of certain horticultural products, you should insist that here is the chance for obtaining organisation, and make any protection that you give dependent on a proper organisation of the producers, on proper grading, proper marketing, proper transport, proper dealing with a surplus, and, at the same time, obtain the protection which was inserted in that Act in the interests of the general public.

That is a totally different thing from the crude kind of Protection which the right hon. Gentleman proposes. I do not suggest for a moment that, with regard to the duties which the right hon. Gentleman brings in here, you are affecting a very large part of agriculture. You are not. As a matter of fact, I think that he made no attempt at all to answer the points that were made with regard to the fact that, in many instances, these fruits and vegetables are actually non-competitive, that is to say, the imported article does not compete with the home article, and it is abundantly true in many cases that the home-produced article forms a luxury article. If we are to have these duties—and the Government have an overwhelming majority for these duties—I hope that Members who are really interested will see that agriculture and horticulture are established on proper lines, and will press the right hon. Gentleman to take full advantage of the powers of the Marketing Act.

The right hon. Gentleman said he was not prepared to spend any money under the Agricultural Marketing Act. He might allow it to be done, possibly, if people wanted to form a board; but I gathered that he was not going to press it, and that he was not going to have any money put into it. That is an absolutely penny wise, pound foolish way of going to work. Unless you insist on organisation, whatever advantages there may be from this will be wasted, either because of a glut, which will mean very low prices, or because the profits will go to the middlemen. Under this Resolution you are going to extract, if you can, more money from the consumer. If you do that, you ought at least to see that the nation gets some benefit out of it, and that it actually goes to the producer.

Therefore, I move this Amendment, and I hope that those Members who see that it is utterly useless to leave producers of fruits, vegetables and horticultural pro- ducts in an entirely unorganised state, will support the Amendment. I do not need to labour it at length. We had very long discussions in the House in the last Parliament. There was a consensus of opinion in this House as to the vital need for organisation. The evidence goes to show that in a number of instances low prices are not the result of importation, but are the result of internal competition and disorganisation. This Amendment gives the National Government a chance to show that it really cares about the nation, and is not merely handing out sops to any of its supporters who are strong enough to make a demand for them.

Viscount WOLMER

I have listened to the speech of my hon. Friend with considerable disappointment, because he really has got hold of a big and an important principle in the Amendment, and I was hoping very much to hear from him a constructive suggestion, and to hear him deal with this problem on wider and more practical lines than the speech to which we have just listened. He has really confined himself to a few generalities, and tried to make party points by quoting speeches which many of us made in the lass Parliament. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that that is the best way to try to get what I believe he desires to see done. Many of us agree with a good deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said in regard to the matter of organisation, and I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Minister would dissent from a great deal he said on that point. I would remind him that the Minister, in his opening remarks, laid stress on the importance of organisation in the agricultural industry, especially the organisation of marketing.

The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) in his speech has not made the slightest attempt to relate his proposals to the practical problems involved in his Amendment. This is a Financial Resolution dealing with 27 different agricultural products. Does my hon. Friend really propose to ask the Minister to set up 27 different agricultural marketing boards at once? It is clear, if any hon. Member gives his mind to the question, that it is impossible to do anything of the sort under a very long time, and the hon. Member knows perfectly well that this Resolution is brought forward as a matter of urgency. The Minister has told us that it is not the full policy of the Government; it is intended only to cover those particular agricultural crops on which an immediate decision by Parliament should be made now, to enable the Minister to take action before the House is in a position to address itself to the larger agricultural policy.

My hon. Friend knows how long it takes to set up a board under the Agricultural Marketing Act. We went into that point very carefully last year, and I think he will bear me out when I say it is absolutely impossible for a board to be constituted and to start its work in less than four or five months. That being the case, there would be no possibility of dealing as a matter of urgency with any one of these 27 crops. Therefore, my reply to him is that this Amendment is quite unworkable, and I very much hope that he will not press it to a Division. He, unfortunately, has exhausted his right to speak, but I hope that one of his hon. Friends will tell us what the attitude of the Labour party really is on the main principle involved in this Amendment, because I, for one, regard it as a very important principle, and if it were put forward in a practical form, as is not the case in this Amendment, it is a principle which I think a good many Members, though not all, on this side of the House would cordially support. Are hon. Members opposite prepared to give Protection to agriculture if it is accompanied by organisation? That is the question I want to ask. I, personally, would be only too glad to do a deal with them on those lines, to do something to lift agriculture out of party politics. I believe that if you got Protection, plus organisation under the Marketing Act, if they were regarded as two twin pillars of an agricultural policy—

Forward to