HC Deb 06 July 1931 vol 254 cc1857-67

(1) As soon us practicable after any scheme (other than a substitutional scheme) comes into force the board shall cause to be publislied in such newspapers as the Minister may direct, being newspapers circulating within the area to which the scheme is applicable, a form of application for registration as a producer under the scheme, together with a notice stating—

  1. (a) the nature of the regulated product and the area to which the scheme is applicable;
  2. (b) the classes or descriptions of producers which are exempted from registration and the procedure required (if any) for securing such exemption;
  3. (c) that a poll of registered producers (other than producers exempted from registration) is to be taken in pursuance of this Act on the question whether the scheme shall remain in force;
  4. (d) that no person will be entitled to vote on the poll aforesaid unless he is registered within the time specified in the notice;
  5. (e) that, if it is decided as a result of the poll that the scheme shall remain in force, every producer who is not registered or exempted from registration will be prohibited from selling the regulated product;
  6. (f) the place where copies of the scheme may be obtained on payment therefor;
  7. (g) such other particulars as the board may think fit.

(2) The Minister, as soon as practicable after any scheme approved by him (other than a substitutional scheme) comes into force—

  1. (a) shall cause a list to be compiled containing the names of all such persons as he has reason to believe are producers, together with their respective addresses so far as known to him and forward a copy of the list to the board; or
  2. (b) if he has not sufficient information at his disposal to enable such a list as aforesaid to be compiled shall inform the board accordingly.

(3) Notwithstanding anything in the Agricultural Returns Act, 1925, any returns made under that Act may be used for the purpose of compiling the list aforesaid.

(4) As soon as practicable after receiving such a list as aforesaid the board shall send by post to every person named in the list, and to every other person whom the board have reason to believe is a producer, being a person who is not registered as a producer, a notice addressed to him at his last known address, stating the particulars required to be stated in the notice published under Subsection (1) of this Section together with a form of application for registration.—[Viscount Cranborne.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

There are some in this House, not very many, who do not approve of organised marketing at all. There are others who like it in principle. There are some who do not like this Bill, and there are others who do. But I think that the one thing about which we are all agreed, on whatever side of the House we sit, is that this Bill and the schemes it proposes to put forward will have no possible chance of success unless they have behind them the goodwill of the majority of the producers in the industry. It may be said that this is true of any scheme for rationalisation in any industry, but anyone who is in touch with the agricultural industry will be certain that it applies far more to the agricultural industry than to any other. The problems of co-operation are much more difficult in that industry than in the other industries of the country, and for two reasons. First of all, the units in the agricultural industry are very much smaller than they are in any other great industry. In other great industries of the country you have huge concerns very often interlocked, and if you get the good will of one, you get the good will of all; whereas in the agricultural industry each part, however small, 100 acres or even 50 acres, is an independent unit which has to be reckoned with. In other industries there is standardisation of machinery and methods; it is not so in the agricultural industry. In that industry you have large farms different from any other farms. Each farmer is faced with a different problem, such as differences of soil, and differences of grading. There are many farms where it takes a year or more, and sometimes many years, for the farmers to find out the exact type of agriculture best suited for the particular land. As a result of all these factors, and of the additional factor that farmers do not live in tightly knit constituencies where there is an exchange of ideas, but very often far away from each other in remote country districts or on the downs or on the wolds, and the diversity of their holdings and their ideas, there is induced in the farmers of this country what you may call a sturdy independence of mind, or a militant individualism, or whatever you like to call it. It prevents the farmer from being attracted by the idea of co-operation. Co-operation is very attractive to hon. Members opposite but at first sight it does not appeal to the farming community. Therefore, if this Bill is to be a success and if the schemes are to work it can only be if the farmers are made to understand that the whole of the facts are being put before them and that they are not being blarneyed or bluffed to go into a scheme. The Minister is aware of the position, and we on this side would be most ungenerous if we did not pay a tribute of gratitude to his goodwill in this respect and for the way in which he has been willing to recognise our objections to the Bill on these grounds.

The Bill is very different from the one that came before the House originally. There have been many changes made Now—and this is one of the chief changes, and a most important one—there is to be a poll of registered producers before the Board can introduce any compulsory measures. That is an important concession, and it does give an immense importance to the poll itself. The poll becomes a very crucial part of the whole of the construction of the scheme. The poll as meant, and should, represent the organised, considered, informed opinion of the whole of the producers in the district. It is absolutely essential that everybody who is eligible to do so should take part in the poll, that they should have their opportunity of taking part, that they should know what the scheme is to be, what form it is to take and whether, having thought it out, they are in favour of the scheme or not. The object of the new Clause is to ensure that they do have that information. The procedure is simple. A scheme may be initiated by a number of people who in the opinion of the Minister substantially represent the producers in the district. Having produced their scheme the Minister, having made such Amendments as he thinks fit and, if he thinks it necessary, having held an inquiry, will bring the scheme before Parliament. If the scheme passes both Houses of Parliament, he approves it and it comes into operation. That is where the new Clause comes in, once the scheme has been approved.

Immediately the Minister has approved the scheme it will be necessary for him to publish in all the local newspapers the nature of the regulated product and the area covered to enable everybody concerned to know to whom it refers. It will also give the class or descriptions of the producers who will be exempt and who, therefore, need no longer worry about the matter. In a case where a producer is obviously exempt he need worry no more. Where he is likely to be registered he will get himself registered at once. If he is doubtful about it he will be able to get information telling him how to find out whether or not he is exempt. There is also a paragraph to tell him that there will be a poll of registered producers, that no person will be entitled to vote who has not registered himself in time, and that a producer who is neither registered nor exempt will not be allowed to sell the regulated product after the passage of the scheme. That is an important point, because although it may, on the face of it, put people off, on the other hand it does give them the true facts. There is nothing more dangerous than for people to think that this scheme is somewhat in the nature of a company promoter who paints the scheme in the rosiest colours, and afterwards they find out that there are difficulties accruing from it. They wish to know all the facts at once. That is of immense importance. Finally, there is a provision to enable them to know where they can get a copy of the scheme and study it before a poll is taken.

The second half of the new Clause deals with what happens between the Minister and the board. The Minister will send to the board a copy of the names and addresses of all the producers in the area as far as he can get them, and which will be culled chiefly from the agricultural returns. The board will send out a copy of the Minister's statement and a form enabling the person to be registered to each of these people, and to anyone else who they have reason to believe is a registered producer inside the district. That, roughly speaking, is the purpose of the Clause. It is a good one, will strengthen the Bill and will provide an answer to one of the greatest complaints which producers have in regard to this Bill—namely, that a scheme may be foisted upon them by a small and unrepresentative caucus inside the district without the knowledge and against the will of the great majority of producers. That would be a most unfortunate thing, and if the Minister accepts the Clause it will become virtually impossible. It is not a question of principle which is involved, but a question of machinery, and I hope the Minister will see his way to accept it.


I beg to second the Motion.

I do not want to continue the Debate and impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of accepting this new Clause, but I should like to ask him, when he is replying, to tell us where he intends to insert it in the Bill. There are two alternatives. It may come after Clause 2, which deals with the constitution of boards to administer schemes which have been decided upon, or, failing that, it might come conveniently after Clause 4 which deals with the voluntary provisions of a scheme.


The new Clause represents, gathered together, a number of considerations which were advanced in our discussion upstairs, and I think they have been gathered together very neatly. The point really is to secure that the registered producers are fully informed of all that the scheme contains, of their rights with regard to a poll, and that facilities should be provided as far as possible to enable the board to become acquainted with the whereabouts and addresses of the likely producers. The Committee discussed this point, but we were embarrassed by the fact that the agricultural returns which were made were secret. We came to the conclusion that we could give the boards the names and addresses of the producers of different commodities without in any way giving away information as to their business or other matters which the returns include, and that I see has been embodied in the new Clause. I have considered it with great care with our advisers, and I think it does gather together and represent the undertakings which I gave in Committee. I therefore offer no objection to the Clause, and I advise the House to incorporate it in the Bill. As to the question asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Captain Dugdale), the appropriate place in the Bill is after Clause 3 and if the House adopts it, it will be there inserted.

Viscount WOLMER

I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman very cordially for the way in which he has met us on this very important point. In doing so it would be only fair on my part if I made an acknowledgment of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman, on a number of important points, has met us in Committee upstairs. I would like to pay a tribute to him for having made a genuine attempt to meet our criticisms on many points. This is another instance. We should be ungrateful if we did not acknowledge that fact. One of the most important changes made during the Committee stage, as a result of Amendments moved from this side, was to institute a poll of producers, registered members of every marketing board, as to whether their marketing scheme should continue in operation. That was a most important Amendment which in principle the Minister accepted. But then the question arose how were we to make sure that the poll would be a really representative poll.

That is the point with which this new Clause deals. It provides that the moment a scheme has been approved by Parliament, the board shall be forced to advertise the details of the scheme in all the localities affected, and that the Minister shall be empowered to supply the board with the name of all farmers known to him who are producing that particular commodity. I would draw attention to the fact that the Minister is not empowered to inform the board of anything except the names of the farmers growing that particular crop. He is not empowered to divulge any of the details supplied to him under the Agricultural Returns Act. The board is thereupon obliged to send a circular to every one of these farmers, and to any other farmer who, they have reason to know, is growing that crop. I do not know what other steps can be taken to ensure the greatest publicity to these schemes. I am delighted that the Minister has not shirked publicity, but has accepted the Amendment to enable every scheme to be launched with the full knowledge of the farmers concerned. If the farmers have the facts placed before them, if they are given an opportunity of voting as to whether they want a marketing scheme or not, a great many of the dangers which some of us anticipated in regard to this Bill are to that extent removed. I am not saying that I think the Bill will be of great value in a number of cases, but I do say that this Amendment, coupled with the Amendment carried in Committee, does enable the farmers to have all the facts placed before them and to exercise their discretion as to whether they want a marketing scheme. Personally I am quite prepared to leave that matter in the hands of the farmers themselves.


I am very glad that the Minister has accepted the Amendment. May I suggest that in another place words should be inserted to specify where copies of the scheme may be inspected and obtained? There is only provision made for obtaining copies on payment and, as I understand it, the intention of the Minister is that no person should be put to any expense before the scheme comes into force. In Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 provision could be made to specify the place where they could be inspected or obtained on payment. That is quite a reasonable thing which could be done in another place. The second point I wish to make is that I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the new Clause would be inserted after Clause 3. Should it not come in before Clause 3, which provides for a poll being taken?

Colonel ASHLEY

I should like to join with my right hon. and hon. Friends in thanking the Minister for the way in which he has met us, not only on this proposed new Clause, but on other Amendments, and also to bear testimony to the conciliatory way in which he conducted the Bill through Committee upstairs. I could only wish that another Minister, who shall be nameless, was carrying on his Bill in the same way as the right hon. Gentleman, and then we should have a much happier time in that Committee. I am very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted this new Clause, because though the heading is only: Information to be furnished for purposes of register, this is a very important bit of machinery. Indeed, it is more than a bit of machinery; it is almost a principle. Though there are many things we should wish had been done for agriculture before agricultural marketing, and though the advantages to agriculture which can come from successful marketing are strictly limited, yet I, at any rate, am not opposed to the principle of the Bill. I think, sooner or later whichever Government was in power would have had to bring forward a Bill of this sort. Personally, I prefer voluntary co-operation, but if you cannot get voluntary co-operation—which you cannot—you have got to face compulsory co-operation. If that be so, and if, therefore, you wish this Bill to be a success, you must take all the steps you possibly can to enable those who are entitled to take part in the scheme, to know about it and appreciate it—and so do away with the cloud of prejudice which is apt to surround anything new where agriculture is concerned—and to inform the producer meticulously, and almost absurdly minutely, what he has to do, what the advantages of the scheme are and generally to dry-nurse him. It may seem somewhat complicated and long-winded, but often the longest way round is the shortest way there. By accepting the Clause, the Minister will have assisted the carrying through of a scheme which many of us have very near to our hearts.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

Amid the chorus of congratulations to the Minister, one aspect of this question has been overlooked. I also wish to congratulate the Minister heartily. I believe that be is the first Minister who has got through the proceedings on a Bill of this character without moving the Closure and that is a triumph of common sense which I wish other Ministers would note. If the right hon. Gentleman had not shown that common sense he would not have got his Bill through Committee so quickly. In connection with this new Clause, however, I wish to draw attention to paragraph (g) of Sub-section (1) which refers to Such other particulars as the board may think fit. I can visualise what those other particulars will be. The question will be asked: What is going to be the effect of products which are produced outside the area and brought into it? The Minister, unfortunately, has not chosen to accept the verdict of the committee which was in favour of regulating products produced outside the area, with the result that where a scheme is introduced everybody will want to know what is to be the effect of dumping. The Bill itself does not deal with dumping, but all those invited to go into a scheme will ask the board, as one of the very first questions, What is going to be the effect of foreign imports flooding an area, and under paragraph (g) they will be able to ask that question. I suggest that anybody reading the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings and of this. Report stage must take special note of the fact that the committee and the Conservative party as a whole thought that this Bill would be useless unless it dealt with foreign imports. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I do not think that I am out of order, and I draw the attention of the House to the subject because this may be the only opportunity, on the Report stage, of doing so. I consider that the Bill is rendered useless because foreign imports are not dealt with, but I am glad that the Minister has seen fit to accept this new Clause including paragraph (g). It shows the first glimmerings of a new common sense and a new vision which will enable the right hon. Gentleman, when the Conservative party is in power, to see that we can control foreign imports and work this Bill at the same time.

Mr. C. WILLIAMS rose——



11.0 p.m.


I have every intention of exercising my right to criticise this Clause. I was on the Committee which dealt with this Bill, and I have been on a great many other Committees as well, and I may add my voice to the voices of other hon. Members who have congratulated the Minister on his wisdom in not moving the Closure on any occasion during those proceedings. I also congratulate him on having accepted the new Clause. I wonder if the House realises quite how far this new Clause goes. I should like to know what my hon. Friends whose names are down to this Clause mean by paragraph (b): (b) the classes or descriptions of producers which are exempted from registration and the procedure required (if any) for securing such exemption. Who is going to be exempted from registration? Before the Clause is accepted, even at this late hour, we ought to know who are going to be exempted under this paragraph. Does it apply to the producers of the article in a given area, or to the producers of the article in that particular area plus the area outside but within Great Britain? Further than that, what is the position of anyone producing that article outside Great Britain and bringing it into this country. Have the people who produce, say, potatoes, wherever they may produce them, in any part of the world, all to be added to this list? It seems as if you might have a fairly costly and long list of producers.

In regard to Sub-section (2), it will be seen that the Minister is to cause a list to be compiled, and I conclude that it will be compiled at the taxpayers' expense, or rather out of the subsidy which we are giving to the agricultural community with which to start these schemes. I am not complaining of this long and complicated proceeding, but I think we might have some estimate from the Minister of what the cost is likely to be. I am a little surprised that the Minister has been able to agree to this particular Sub-section, because I understood that the position at present was one in which it was not advisable to add anything at all to the national expenditure. I have no real objection to the Clause as a whole, except that I think it is a great pity that it could not have been introduced in the original Bill and considered in Committee, rather than having to be taken here at this very late hour, which is so inconvenient to all of us.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND - TROYTE

I am glad the Minister has accepted this Clause, but there is a point to which I should like to give further consideration, with a view to having an alteration made in another place. It is important that you should lay down some regulation with regard to the period that is to elapse before a poll is taken, and with regard to the time that is to be allowed for registration. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will have a definite period put into the Bill when it is in another place because the period ought not to be left to the board.

Clause added to the Bill.