HC Deb 04 July 1932 vol 268 cc197-207
The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir John Gilmour)

I beg to move, That the Scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, regulating the marketing of English hops, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 30th day of June, 1932, he approved. This is the first scheme put forward under the Agricultural Marketing Act and deals with the marketing of hops. The House will recollect that the hop industry has for some considerable period experienced difficulty in marketing its products, and this is an effort to combine the producers of hops under the marketing Act, for the sale of their products. The House will observe that the proposal has been brought to the Ministry by the Farmers' Union, and particularly by the hop committee of the Union, and that, following the procedure laid down under the Act, a very full inquiry was held into the proposed scheme, presided over by Mr. Konstam. He reported to myself and in his judgment certain parts of the original proposal, which included the question of quotas, should, in his judgment, be modified. I have considered the report of Mr. Konstam and have accepted his recommendations. I should like the House to understand that, while I agree that in the existing circumstances some parts of the proposals should be modified, that does not rule out the problem of dealing with quotas either by this or any other scheme. I think it is quite clear that every interest which is likely to be affected has had an opportunity of putting any of its proposals forward and that now this is a modified scheme which, if I may say so, like all such schemes depends upon the manner in which it is operated whether it is to operate with good will on the part of all those concerned or not.

I trust, above all things, that in carrying out this scheme all those who are concerned will realise that it is of material advantage that a, scheme of this kind should be worked temperately and with due regard to all the interests. Some of these interests are in a certain measure slightly conflicting, but this is an honest attempt to bring together the producers. May I emphasise the fact that when this House gives, as I hope it will very shortly give, its assent to the Motion on the Paper, there will follow immediately the next step of taking a poll of the producers. It is clear that unless two-thirds of the producers vote in favour of this scheme it lapses. Every opportunity is given for carrying out this test. I hope that test will be carried out, as the Act directs, by the Board. I have heard from certain quarters strong ideas that this test of voting will not be secret. May I remind the House that under the Act anyone who gives publicity to anything which takes place under this system of taking the vote is liable to very heavy penalties, so that, in fact, secrecy is assured. As to safeguards against abuse of the powers in the scheme, any producer who is aggrieved in any way as to what is done has a right to refer his grievance to arbitration. The consumers' interests are watched by representatives of consumers. I believe that there is machinery for the careful consideration at every stage of the proper conduct of this scheme. I hope the House will agree to it, and I commend it to the House.


I rise but for a moment to commend the right hon. Gentleman for adopting yet another of the Acts passed by his predecessor. It is a, great satisfaction to us on this side of the House to know that, in this particular, at any rate, the right hon. Gentleman and the National Government are proposing to substitute co-operation for competition and to take a small step towards the national planning and organisation of industry. All of us on this side have pressed that on the Government for some time past, and it is a satisfaction for us to know that the right hon. Gentleman in agricultural marketing is taking the first step towards it. There are one or two notable features about the scheme, and more particularly about the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman gave for being satisfied with the representations which have been made. The first is that these representations appeared to emanate almost wholly from the National Farmers' Union, although at the time that this Act was passed their representatives in this House opposed it for all they were worth. I feel that, on their part too, there is a change of view. It is extremely satisfactory if that is the case, and I hope that this scheme will be the precursor of many schemes which the right hon. Gentleman will bring forward at an early date under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1931.


May I also express a welcome to this, the first of all the Orders made under the Marketing Act, 1931. I agree entirely that the measure of success of the National Government will be exactly in relation to the extent that it pursues the policy of the Labour party. We are pleased with this first step. We know that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were utterly opposed to the terms of the Marketing Bill and opposed to it from beginning to end. There were notable exceptions, but, generally speaking, the Conservative party were entirely opposed to the Marketing Bill. The National Farmers' Union opposed it to the hitter end. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that they brought forward a scheme, because it was clear to the Committee, representing all the counties where hops are grown, that there was an overwhelming feeling among hop growers that the National Farmers' Union should prepare a scheme, which the Union did in spite of the opposition of its Parliamentary Committee to the Bill. Nevertheless, we welcome this scheme, and I hope that, when the time comes to take a bold step forward, the hop growers will see the wisdom of co-operating, since competition has failed them lamentably in the past and has brought many of them to the verge of bankruptcy. I would like to ask one question. I see that of the list of 16 names on the front page of the Order there is not a single name representative of Labour. I also notice that the second name is that of a vicar. If so, what connection has he got with hops In conclusion, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will continue the work that he has started with the Agricultural Marketing Act and do all in his power for the agricultural industry.


The Government have obviously adopted a very inconvenient procedure in bringing this scheme before the House at this very late hour. Nevertheless, I shall endeavour to deal with it and to compress my remarks into the smallest possible compass. The object of this Order is to get a higher price for hops. As there is only one class of person that buys hops now, the brewers, it is to get a higher price out of the brewers. The Government are not acting fairly in this matter. With the one hand, they diminish the consumption of beer and the demand for hoes; with the other, they come down to the House and, without giving the main reason why the demand for hops has fallen, ask for a higher price for hops from the brewers. The demand for hops has fallen to considerably less than it was when the brewing industry was set going again at the end of the war. Successive Governments have increased taxation. Taxation has decreased the consumption of beer, and less hops have been wanted. Even under those conditions there has been no difficulty among the growers of the best class of hops in selling their hops at a price which is satisfactory to them. This measure is an attempt to get a higher price for the lower class of hops.

Efforts of this kind have been made before. During the War there was the Hop Control, on which merchants, hop growers and factors were in the majority, and of which there was an independent chairman. This went on for some years and was then wound up because it did not give satisfaction. Then the hop growers set up another organisation, a combine among themselves, brought pressure to bear on those who were unwilling to join the combine, and worked it entirely as a hop growers' concern. The scheme which the National Farmers' Union brought forward is not, as a matter of fact, the scheme which is now before the House. The scheme of the National Farmers' Union has been the subject of some inquiry. It included quotas, which have been struck out of the scheme now before Parliament. There were to be quotas given to each grower, fixing how much hops he might grow in a particular season.

This new scheme is now to be set up by Statute. Under this scheme, it is prohibited to anybody except the combine to sell English hops in this country. Nothing so drastic has ever been proposed before for the sanction of Parliament. No wonder the right hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench and the hon. Member behind him, who are both Socialists, are very delighted with these proposals. My great anxiety as a brewer in this matter arises out of the quality of the hops. I am not going to buy inferior hops in any circumstances. For a certain class of beer the brewer must get the best class of hops, get them wherever he can, and not use inferior hops. My great anxiety, as a brewer, is lest these combines and rings, aided by Statute and applauded by the Socialist party, should mean that hops will deteriorate. It does not matter to the grower who becomes member of the combine. The combine takes his hops, and it does not matter to him whether they are sold or not. I see that In their scheme they are reviving the old type of combine, under which all the hops belonging to members of the combine are put into the combine's store. When the season comes to an end and the amount obtained is divided pro rata among those whose hops are not sold, and the result is that the growers of the best hops, who have a ready market, get seventy or eighty per cent. of the price, and they are mulcted of twenty per cent. for those whose hops have not been sold. That appears to be the main reason why the voluntary scheme broke down.

I will not detain the House at this late hour of the night for no doubt there are others who want to speak on this subject, but, as a brewer, I confess that I and my friends in the trade are looking with anxiety and a great deal of doubt as to the result of this scheme. We are convinced that this method, which the Government have adopted in order to patch up as well as they can the injury that they have done to the hop grower by the continual over-taxation of beer, will produce, not better hops, but worse hops, and that it will not help anybody, except the grower of inferior hops to get the same price for his hops as other people. We shall watch with anxiety how this scheme works and judge it on its merits.


I am in a somewhat invidious position here to-night, as I am not only a hop grower, but a hop merchant. Speaking as a hop merchant, I must say that the Hop Merchants' Association state that this is a matter which concerns the growers themselves. Speaking as a hop grower, I cannot conceive any hop grower who knows his business and produces the right quality of hop being in favour of the scheme. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying I am opposed to this scheme or any other scheme. I can only consider the hop grower in favour of the scheme as nothing less than a fanatic. After all, the scheme involves the combining and pooling of the whole hop crop of this country, and, in this way, the inefficient grower will benefit at the expense of the efficient grower. The whole trouble with regard to the hop industry is that we have too many inefficient growers, and the quantity of low hops continually found on the market very seldom gets a sale at all. After some time they are generally sent to the country and thrown on the land in the shape of manure. The result will be that the grower who produces the choice commodity will suffer at the expense of the inefficient.

In my humble opinion, there are two sorts of growers: the man who is the expert and who turns his attention entirely to growing good quality hops, and the grower who is a farmer and looks upon the growing of hops as rather incidental, just as if he were growing hay or other crops. That latter grower invariably produces poor hops, and these cause the depression in the hop industry. Looking back on the past ten years I cannot remember a single instance where choice hops did not find ready buyers. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) has said that buyers generally are very interested to purchase choice commodities as early in the season as possible and these hops are invariably sold at remunerative prices, and, speaking as a grower for 10 years, I have no hesitation in saying I have never lost money in growing hops since I have been a hop grower. That clearly shows that the man who understands his business does not require to combine in a scheme of this sort.

When I heard hon. Gentlemen opposite, who know nothing about hops, congratulating the Government on the wise steps that they are taking it only shows how in the House of Commons we talk about things we know nothing about. I have been connected with the hop industry for fifty years, and, if this scheme eventuates, I hope that those Gentlemen who form the board will not make the same mistake as those gentlemen who directed the efforts of the English Hop Growers, Ltd., and that they will take into consideration, not only the cost of production, but the position of the beer trade, which we have heard, is in a very parlous condition. I might add that the hop trade also is in a parlous condition. The last crop had a percentage of low crop which was much greater than usual, and those growers who were fortunate enough to grow good quality hops had rather inflated ideas as to the price they should get. They did not realise how bad the beer trade was, and they did not appreciate that the brewers were holding large stocks, and also that choice Continental hops, with the £4 duty were selling at or £8 while they were asking £10 or £11. If they had sold at £7 or £8 they would not be in the parlous condition in which they find themselves to-day.

I should like to ask the Minister of Agriculture whether he intends to make any arrangement for dealing with the surplus of the 1931 crop. Is it to be left on the market or is it to come into the scheme. That is a very important question, and at the present time it is exercising the minds of many who are directly or indirectly connected with the hop industry. All I say, in conclusion, is that, if this scheme becomes law, I sincerely hope that the Board will be fortunate enough to help the distressed and impoverished hop growers, and, if they do, I am sure that they will earn the gratitude of those who are connected with the trade.

Viscount WOLMER

The House has just listened to two most interesting and valuable speeches from two of my hon. Friends, one of whom is one of the biggest brewers in the country, and the other of whom is one of the biggest buyers in the country. May I be permitted to say a word on behalf of the hop growers. I speak, as one who represents hop growers in this House, and as one who is a hop grower myself. I have taken an active part in promoting this scheme, because I believe in co-operative marketing. I should like to thank the Minister for having made it possible to bring this scheme forward to-night, and, in spite of the usual party catchwords which we have heard this evening, I should also like, as a Conservative, to pay a tribute to Dr. Addison for having brought forward the Agricultural Marketing Act. I was one of those who said and believed that once we got a tariff which prevented the flooding of this market by imported produce, the Agricultural Marketing Act might be of great value to the agricultural industry in this country. I stick to that statement to-day, and I am delighted that the Minister has proceeded on those lines, not only with regard to hops, but with respect to other products of agriculture.

May I assure the House that this is not a scheme to bolster up the inefficient grower. The hop acreage forty years ago was something like 70,000 acres, and now it is about 20,000 acres. The bad times through which the brewing industry has been passing in recent years has weeded out a very high proportion of the inefficient growers already. Moreover, it has not been the experience of those countries which have gone in for combined marketing and co-operative societies that such a practice tends to inefficiency in production. On the contrary, a Board having control of the supply can do a very great deal, and I am sure—and I know I speak on behalf of my colleagues on the Provisional Board when I say this—that we do intend to do everything we can to improve the quality of hops in this country and to give our customers the article they require. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), in his remarks on the scheme, omitted to state that all hops would be valued by the Board. We do not intend to place a value on any hops above their market value, and I can assure the hon. Member who has just spoken that if he and other experts in the business are willing to co-operate with the Board in the valuation and appraisement of the relative values of different parcels of hops, we shall welcome such assistance.

We shall do everything we can to discourage the bad grower. I admit there are bad growers, but to say that the only way the bad grower can be eliminated is by the law of the jungle and of the survival of the fittest is, I believe, the wrong attitude, an unprogressive attitude, and an unsportsmanlike attitude. Surely it is right for all hop growers to combine to see if they can get a standardised article and an article which their customers require, and to get their members up to a good level, and then, having the advantages of combined marketing, get a fair price for the growers. My hon. Friend has said that there has never been a lack of buyers for good hops, even in these distressing times. No doubt that is perfectly true, but there have been hundreds of pockets of good hops sold below the cost of production in the last few years, and he knows that perfectly well. I do not believe such a state of affairs is going to help even the brewing industry in the end. Hop farmers, any more than any other farmers, cannot continue to produce their crops at a loss, and, if the results of the last few years are perpetuated, it can only lead to a further great reduction in the hop acreage, with the result that ultimately there will be a shortage and the brewers will have to pay famine prices for their hops. That would not be good for the brewing trade, and it would bring disaster to those villages in the South and West of England where hop-growing is the staple industry of the countryside. Whenever a farm goes out of hops, it means the discharge of more agricultural labourers than would be lost by the disappearance. of any other crop, and, besides that, it means depriving thousands of workers in the great cities, such as London, Birmingham, Portsmouth and the like, of a most profitable holiday in September. Many thousands of pounds are paid out every year to the hop-pickers, and the destruction of that industry would inflict a very great hardship on some of the poorest families in our great cities as well as upon agricultural labourers.

Therefore, I ask the House to allow this Motion to go forward. After all, it only gives the growers a chance of voting on a poll as to whether they want to share in combined marketing themselves. If they get the required two-thirds majority—two thirds of the big growers and two thirds of the small growers—then we can make the experiment. I do not disguise from myself that the experiment is attended by many difficulties. It is not going to be an easy matter. The scheme is not in the exact form in which we submitted it. The Minister has made certain amendments which we have loyally accepted and which we are going to try to work. If we find the scheme cannot be worked in the form in which it now stands, we are going to respond to the Minister's invitation to-night, and go to him for permission to bring before this House any amendments which experience may prove to be necessary. This is the first experiment that is being made under the Agricultural Marketing Act for combined and co-operative marketing among farmers. We are pioneers, and we recognize that there are great difficulties. We recognize that we have to satisfy our customers and that we have only one set of customers. We ask for the co-operation and the help of all the parties concerned—brewers, merchants, factors and growers, and of the three great political parties in this House. We believe that in making this experiment we shall have the goodwill of all who take an interest in the agricultural industry and that the results of this experiment will have a great effect on the future of co-operative marketing in this country. Therefore, we hope the House will allow us to go forward. I should like, on behalf of the Provisional Board, to appeal to the brewers and the. hop-merchants to give us a fair deal, as I am sure they will be willing to do, and we, on our part, will do our best to provide as good quality hops as the soil of England is capable of producing.


I will not keep the House more than a, moment or two, but like the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken and the. hon. Member for Southwark North (Mr. Strauss) who preceded him, I am a hop-grower and I cannot allow the speech which has just been made to pass as the voice of hop-growers as a whole. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I think a marketing scheme of some kind is necessary, but I cannot share his enthusiasm for the details of this particular scheme. I am afraid it will inevitably keep in production a quantity of really inferior hops which it would be much better if they were not produced at all. I grow inferior hops myself. I regret it. I believe the only way to eliminate the production of hops of a really bad quality is that they should be altogether unsaleable under this scheme. All hops, provided they are presented by a registered grower to the Board, must be accepted by that body which this Order will set up, and, although they may be valued at a low figure, it would be infinitely better if power was taken to refuse altogether to accept, or allow to be sold, hops of really inferior quality. The result of a certain quantity of very inferior hops being taken year by year by the Board under this Order will be that there will be an accumulation—a growing pile—of hops unfit for any use. The growers of good hops will get a smaller and smaller proportion of the prices they should get while the inferior grower is maintained. I hope this matter will be very carefully watched, and, if it is found that too great encouragement is given to inefficiency, I hope that there will be drastic amendment. I share the aspiration of my noble friend, for the improvement of the general standard of hops and trust that it will be realised.

Resolved, That the Scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, regulating the marketing of English hops, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 30th day of June, 1932, be approved.