Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [18th December]:
That the Scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 and 1933, for regulating the marketing of potatoes, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 4th day of December, 1933, be approved."—[Mr. Elliot.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
The potato marketing scheme which comes on to-night after several postponements has, of course, been before the country for a long time. Notice of the submission of the scheme was published as long ago as the 28th March of this year, and a public inquiry was held. It sat in London on the 5th July and in Edinburgh on the 10th July, and concluded its sittings on the 13th July. That was not the first time that schemes to regulate the potato crop had been before the public. A scheme was brought forward as long ago as 1929 when my predecessor in this office, now the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, undertook to have a reorganisation commission if the industry desired it. That was before I joined the Ministry, and, in fact, while the then Minister for Agriculture enjoyed the privilege of collaboration with several of his colleagues who, subsequent to that declaration, though not on the grounds of that declaration, did not find it possible to continue further in his company.
1223 Why is it that the attention of the producers has frequently turned to some method of vending the potato crop of this country on lines in some way analogous to the scheme which I now have the honour to submit to the House? It is because of the supply position. There are very few crops in respect of which the oscillation from highly remunerative levels to absolutely unremunerative levels is so striking as in the case of the potato crop.
The interesting thing about this oscillation is that it is produced by relatively small variations in the supply position. In the last 10 years, from 1923–24 to 1932–33, supplies in Great Britain have varied between 4⅓ million and 5½ million tons, and in the same period the growers' average price per ton has varied between the extremes of over £8 a ton to just over £2 a ton. In 1924–25 the price was £8 7s. a ton and in 1928–29 it was £2 6s. That is correlated with apparently very small variations in the supply position. In 1925–28, and again in 1932–33, the increase in supplies over the previous year was only about 9 per cent., yet the growers' price in the first of those periods was depressed by 48 per cent., and in the second period by 59 per cent. If one looks at the figures as a whole, one will find that in the six seasons when the supplies were about 4,750,000 tons, the growers' average prices were satisfactory, but in the four seasons in which the supplies were in excess of 5,000,000 tons, a, very narrow variation, the growers' prices were moderate or definitely bad. As to consumption. If one compares the variations in total supplies, it appears that the demand for potatoes is an inelastic one. Consumers do not absorb enormous quantities of surplus potatoes, and therefore, in a very plentiful year, the producers suffer or in some cases are even brought to ruin, while the consumers do not derive any corresponding advantage.
Duchess of ATHOLL
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the figures for sup-plies which he has been given refer to home production or also to imports?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I was speaking there of home production only. I do not think 1224 that the import figures make any very great difference to the position that I am trying to lay before the House. The great variation is in home production. As to the variation in imports, when the full pail is running over, every cupful of water poured into the pail makes an additional mess on the floor; yet the real reason for the mess on the floor is the brimming character of the supply in the pail. The amount of agricultural produce which is affected by these oscillations from £8 per ton to £2 per ton is very considerable. The crop is worth £16,000,000, and it represents about a quarter of the value of all produce sold from farms. It is a very important monetary crop. For this reason producers have, as I said, repeatedly turned to seeing whether this 250,000 tons represents the full difference between a remunerative price level and financial disaster, and whether it is possible somehow to handle this relatively small surplus which is causing so great a fluctuation in the price level—the more so that it appears that the marketing of this extra quantity does not bring advantage to the consumer and yet brings ruin to the producer. That situation has produced the schemes which I have briefly mentioned to the House, and finally the Potato Marketing Scheme which I have the honour to lay before the House to-night.
It may be for the convenience of the House if I do my best, to sketch shortly, at the beginning of the Debate, the main lines of the scheme. If the Debate raises questions upon which the House would like further information, either I, by courtesy of the House, or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, will reply later on. It is clear that to attempt to deal with the whole of this scheme, and still more to deal with the objections to it which the fertile brains of many hon. Members conceive, and some of which have been submitted in written form to the House from the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, I should detain the House for a very long time, and I do not think that I should. be usefully forwarding the Debate. The character of the Debates upon these schemes has been the remarkably nonparty attitude which the House has in general assumed towards them. I welcome particularly the position which both the Opposition parties have been able to 1225 assume towards the schemes, particularly by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and others speaking for the Labour party, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) and others speaking for the party below the Gangway on the Opposition side. If that non-party attitude is to be preserved, I am very desirous not to say anything to disturb it while I am discussing this scheme.
The essence of the scheme is that it provides only for surplus control. It differs thereby from many of the other marketing schemes which have been brought forward, and which handle the main bulk of the product. The Potato Board scheme deals only with the handling of the surplus and not with the handling of the crop. The Board, which is to be provisionally set up if this scheme passes the House, and is to be formed if the scheme gains a two-thirds majority when submitted to the producers of the country, does not fix prices. The Board does not handle the ordinary crop, but it determines the description of potatoes to be sold. That determination is so drawn as to allow to pass through, from the Board, almost all the potato crop. It literally does this by passing the crop through a riddle. The two methods of control suggested are that the crops should be regulated by the riddle which is by size, or by tonnage—that is to say by weight. The provisions were along lines already very largely in use by the producers themselves, who are accustomed to using the methods of the riddle. The riddle of the standard size, allowing a standard size potato to pass through, is a method of grading which is very well known among the potato growers themselves, and to all engaged in the trade.
There is another, and perhaps a more controversial item in the Scheme; that is the suggestion that, as over-production causes this great collapse in prices, there should be some method of discouraging over-production over and above the acreage which has proved sufficient for this country in many seasons in the past, and in which there has certainly not been any complaint as to scarcity. Those are the provisions as to basic acreage. The essence of basic acreage is that a certain acreage for any producer is taken. It is chosen by one of several ways, so drawn as to give the largest acreage which the 1226 producer has been handling in certain years selected as most favourable to himself. I shall not detail those methods just now, but I think that that will be taken, by those who have studied the Scheme, as a fair description of the basic acreage.
The board may go on to say that those planting an acreage beyond that ought to pay what might be called an extra levy or an admission fee to the board, because every acreage so planted certainly heightens the prospect that the board, and the potato producers in general, will have to take care of the surplus of potatoes produced from that basic acreage. The interesting feature of all these provisions is that they are not worked out by any of the organisations or commissions of experts; they are worked out and submitted—and this is the first case in which they have been so worked out and submitted—by the producers, the practical men themselves. These proposals are not the work of theorists. Indeed, I, not being a potato-grower my self, might be pardoned for thinking on looking at them that they were extremely difficult to operate. That is so, but, if these are the schemes which commend themselves to the practical men and are sanctioned by meetings in all the chief centres of potato production in Scotland, England and Wales, there is a presumption that we in this House should examine them with an open mind and, in the first place, with a definitely favourable bias towards the proposals.
Control of the basic acreage is carried out by determining the basic acreage first and then by saying that those who go in for further production beyond that must also, if so desired, pay a further levy, or admission fee—or one of the various phrases which we may use to describe the proposal. It is, frankly, an attempt to discourage over-planting. It may be said that this is quite useless; that by the use of fertilisers or more intensive methods or in half-a-hundred ways the purpose of this scheme can be totally defeated. It is true that if the practical men themselves desire to defeat the purpose of this scheme, then the purpose of this scheme will be defeated. In that case, however, they have a much simpler course than to pass the scheme and then defeat it; their remedy is not to pass the scheme. The scheme cannot come into operation unless it is accepted by a two- 1227 thirds majority of registered producers, in numbers and in the quantity of potatoes produced. I am not sure how many in this House would continue to sit in their places if on no occasion could they continue to represent their constituencies unless they secured a majority of two-thirds of those who voted in the constituency which they desired to represent.
The scheme lays down that there shall be co-operation with the wholesale dealers. The wholesale dealers are, of course, an essential part of the working of the Potato Scheme. The scheme would permit a panel of authorised merchants to be drawn up by the board in conjunction with the National Federation of Fruit and Potato Trades Associations. One of the chief conditions of authorisation may be expected to be that potato dealers should agree to assist the board in administering the regulations regarding surplus control, grading and so on. The system of regulation is an experiment, but one which is worth making, because the only alternatives are either to reject the scheme and to make no attempt to organise potato planting in this country—a method which leads to great fluctuations of prices and has made the growing of potatoes a great deal more speculative a business than the backing of horses in almost any race which the House might like to mention—or to have an out-and-out pooling scheme for a plant of £16,000,000 sterling. I certainly think that when a regulating scheme is brought forward the House should sanction its laying before the producers for the two-thirds majority without which it will be impossible for the scheme to come into effect.
A question was put to me a moment or two ago by my Noble Friend the Member for West Perth (Duchess of Atholl) as to imports. The weight of imports is relatively small; their effect is sometimes Very considerable. It is necessary to deal with imports as a complementary part of the scheme. The imports in the four months from September to December were only 12,750 tons. That is clearly trivial in comparison with the several million tons of home production. The future of the import of potatoes into this country will clearly be, like its past, of great importance to the fortunes of the potato industry. That will, of course, be 1228 one of the things which may be controlled by an Order under the Marketing Act or—still better, as I hope—by voluntary arrangements between this country and the countries importing potatoes here. The essential point of course is, the supply position, and on that the Market Supply Committee is being asked, first of all, to give us its appreciation of the situation. It would be impossible for me to say what imports of potatoes might be reasonable, except in the near future, until I have received the appreciation of the situation which it is one of the functions of the Market Supply Committee to give to the Ministers, and the duty of the Ministers to consider when they are discussing the matter with the Board of Trade. I can, however, assure my hon. and right hon. Friends in all parts of the House of what will certainly require no assurance from me: namely, that the position of imports as a possible factor in breaking down a home marketing scheme, is not being lost sight of.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
No; the position between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State is one which, of course, is not settled by me, but by negotiation between the two boards and between the two Governments. It has, in fact, been possible to come to a perfectly satisfactory arrangement between the two boards and between the two Governments. The quantity fixed is subject to the proviso that, if there is a shortage in Great Britain in any year, Northern Ireland shall have preferential treatment in the arrangements for making good the deficit. I am sure that we shall all agree to that as a reasonable provision.
These, I think, are the main points which I wish to bring before the House in laying the scheme before hon. Members. There have been criticisms, particularly from the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture. I think that these criticisms can be easily dealt with if any hon. or right hon. Gentleman desires to pass them, but I shall deal only with one, which seems to have been freely felt by hon. Members throughout the House—the allegation that under this scheme the National Farmers' Union scheme, the large man will rule the roost, whereas 1229 under the alternative proposal brought forward by Mr. Henderson, of Lawton, this would not be so. I think that that allegation is unfounded. The small producers with five acres of potatoes make up 60 per cent. of all the growers. There are only 10 per cent. with 20 acres, and very few with 70 acres or over. The House will see, therefore, that clearly, under this scheme, the smallest men can outvote all the other classes put together, which I think disposes in a single sentence of the accusation that under the present scheme the large man would rule the roost and the small man would be entirely subordinated.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Would my right hon. Friend give an indication of the extent of acreage held by this small proportion of large producers?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am afraid I could not do that without notice, but clearly it does not matter, because any additional acreage up to 20 acres would only allow of one extra vote, and any additional acreage above that would only allow of two extra votes. It is clear, therefore, that the 10 per cent. with 20 acres, even if they have two votes apiece, will be 20 per cent., as against the 60 per cent. of small men with five acres or thereabouts, so that, whatever the acreage held by the bigger men, it would be quite impossible for them to outweigh the solid 60 per cent. of email men with five acres or under, I will only say that, when it was found that the scheme could not be laid before the House last week, and was again postponed last night, the producers' organisations themselves—the people who are to be organised, the people against whom these penal provisions will be launched, the people who will have to undergo this bureaucratic method of control, to mention some of the accusations which have been brought against the scheme—were the first to telegraph and send deputations and make representations to this House urging that it should not disperse until it has passed this scheme and given them an opportunity to set their own house in order.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I have here a telegram from Huntingdonshire stating that a mass meeting had urged immediate approval; another from a mass meeting of producers 1230 in Durham and Northumberland urging the passing of the scheme; and I have letters from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland and from the National Farmers' Union of England, both, of course, supporting the scheme, which is not astonishing, since they themselves had a good deal to do with organising it, and they themselves have also held meetings all through the populous potato-growing centres at which overwhelming majorities were registered in every case in favour of the scheme. It is interesting and remarkable that a body of primary producers in this country has been found with sufficient organising ability and sufficient courage, first to prepare a scheme so extensive as this, and, secondly, to put it to the touch by first bringing it before the producers and then offering to stand up to its administration if and when the scheme is sanctioned by this House and by the producers. I think that that shows a very commendable spirit which it would ill become us in this House to neglect. The movement among the producers for self-organisation is one of the encouraging features of the present situation. I have done my utmost to give to the House a frank account, not merely of the advantages, but of the disadvantages of this scheme—not merely of its good points, but of its weak points; for it is no use for any of us to ignore the fact that any great scheme of organisation will have weak points as well as strong points. Nor is there any way of escaping that except by saying that it is impossible to do anything at all, or, as some of my hon. Friends say, that it is impossible to do anything until the whole state of the world has grown very much better. We believe that we must be up and doing, that we must strike a blow for ourselves, that we must do our utmost to ensure better conditions as well as waiting for them to come about. In virtue of that belief, and with a frank admission of the experimental nature of the scheme, I commend it with great confidence to the House this evening.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman always submits his schemes to the House in such a manner that it is very difficult to offer opposition to them, even when one feels that the scheme is a bad one and ought not to commend itself to Members of the House. This scheme is different from all the market- 1231 ing schemes that have so far been produced. I would point out to hon. Members some very grave omissions from the right hon. Gentleman's speech. In the first place he told us, quite rightly, about the fluctuations in the price of potatoes which are brought about by a comparatively small margin over the known requirements. We all appreciate that, and any scheme calculated to produce stability of prices in all circumstances would be a very desirable proposition, always assuming, of course, that the consumer is going to be safeguarded as well as the producer. In this case, however, the right hon. Gentleman never made a single reference to the price charged by the retailer, or to safeguards for the consumer. Neither did he tell the House that the scheme differs from all other marketing schemes in one very important respect. There is already a Customs duty upon new potatoes and upon old potatoes—a Customs duty which makes imports almost impossible, unless, of course, the price paid by the consumer in this country is raised. Only then would it be possible for potatoes to be imported with any advantage to the importer, and, therefore, the fact that a Customs duty has been imposed upon potatoes calls for more vigilance in relation to this scheme than perhaps in relation to the Milk Scheme, or the Hops Scheme, or any other scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman also omitted to refer to one or two very vital points regarding retailers and consumers. One of the points to which he did not refer is fundamental in connection with this scheme. While we appreciate the need for marketing schemes and for the maximum of organisation, we are also profoundly interested in the safeguards that ought to be provided for the consumer. We are profoundly interested in the huge margin between the farm and the retailer's store. Last Saturday I had a communication from a very large grower, giving me all the figures—the price that he himself received per ton of potatoes, the cost of transport, and the price charged in the retail shops for those same potatoes; and the retail price was at least double the amount required to meet the producer's price, all transport charges, and everything else. For the simple process of handing them over the counter, the retailer took as much as the 1232 producer of the potatoes and the railway companies and others who transported them many hundreds of miles. That side of the question is totally ignored in this scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman described it as a surplus control scheme, but that is a very inadequate description. I would invite hon. Members to examine paragraph 68. It is perfectly true to say that not only the method of control of the supplies available for consumption, but the method of ultimate control of the price, will be determined by what the right hon. Gentleman describes as surplus control. By paragraph 68,As soon as possible after the first day of September in each year the board shall estimate the total quantity of potatoes likely to be available in accordance with the provisions of this Scheme, for sale for human consumption before the 31st day of August next following, and if in the opinion of the board that quantity is likely to be substantially in excess of the estimated total quantity of potatoes required for human consumption in Great Britain before that date, then the board may from time to time determine, in such manner as the board shall prescribe, the quantity of potatoes or any description thereof which may be sold by any registered producer.There is a total absence of any measure of consumers' control within this Scheme, and in the absence of consumers' control the producer has full, unrestricted power to determine exactly how many potatoes shall be consumed. The right hon. Gentleman said they have no power to deal with prices wholesale or retail. That is perfectly true, but they have such control over the supplies which shall be made available that by the simple process of increasing the size of the riddle and decreasing the quantities available, the price will be determined. The board, therefore, not only have the power to determine potential output but they have power to determine what supplies shall be available for all the consumers, and in future, as never in the past, the producers are going to be able to determine how many potatoes we stall eat and the price paid for them, without any sort of joint body at all which is going to represent the consumers. The right hon. Gentleman may tell us that the merchants are to be consulted, and that under paragraph 25 even the retailers are to be consulted, and that the retailers will take care of their own business. But, after all, the Retailers' Committee is an ad- 1233 visory committee. They can be consulted by the board when the board feels disposed to consult them, but the board will always have the last word and can either reject or accept any representations that they make. Therefore, these purely advisory committees are pretty powerless.
What we think of this scheme, as indeed of many similar schemes, is that the Consumers' Committee is wholly insufficient to meet the case. I am convinced that Members in all parts of the House are anxious to see agriculture organise itself efficiently and take for itself some part of that £300,000,000 which Lord Linlithgow's Committee talked about some 10 years since, but it ought to be a primary condition that the consumer is going to be safeguarded during the process of building up the organisation. This sort of thing is really handing over a weapon which I think is too powerful to be handed over to the producers, and I think the right hon. Gentleman at least should have seen to it that some joint body should be established which would have the last word in determining available supplies and, incidentally, the prices of potatoes. If the Consumers' Committee had been a real live one—not a committee sitting at Whitehall waiting for a complaint from a housewife in Yorkshire or Banffshire—playing some part not only in seeing that the needs of the consumers were met but that the producer and the consumer were both having a square deal, we should welcome this Order, and should be happy to see it passed. But under paragraph 69, after having determined the supplies that shall be made available, the Board have power to determine the grading of potatoes and under paragraph 70, allied with Schedule C, will have power to determine the method of selling potatoes. They can determine that no potatoes shall be sold direct to a Government Department, a local authority, a hospital or any other such institution. There is an exception but under Schedule C the exception is disposed of. The right hon. Gentleman may tell me that this exception can only be disposed of after consulting the Retailers' Committee. That is quite true, but they can reject the committee's advice or ignore their advances.
Then the board have power of almost life and death over the merchants. I shall not be suspected of being too closely 1234 allied with the merchant but I recognise, of course, that in a scheme of this description he must play some little part. Under the terms of this Order he can almost be put out of business. That is a very tall step for the board to take. I feel that in the end, when the organisation has been made perfect, when rationalisation has run its full course, we shall be able to manage perhaps without as many merchants as we have to-day, but at the moment I am not sure that the producers ought to have the power to displace merchants without saying as much as "By your leave." The right hon. Gentleman told us about the fine representing £5 per acre, but I notice that seed potatoes are excluded from that paragraph. Will he tell us why there is no definition of seed potatoes in the scheme. Is it not possible for a large grower, who presumably is excused this £5 per acre, to negotiate a scheme and by that means endanger some of the smaller growers? I hope not, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will have something to say as to why no definition of a seed potato is embodied in the scheme.
A registered producer who is aggrieved at the allocation of acreage, or on any other score, under paragraph 89 has a right to appeal but no merchant has any right of appeal, and I should like to know why a merchant should be liable to be thrown out of business completely without any right of appeal. Under paragraph 71 the board have the power to prescribe contract terms, that is, to fix prices. This is coming back to an earlier statement when the right hon. Gentleman said that the board have no power to make prices, but they have power to determine all contracts, and it seems to me that that is the same thing. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, under paragraph 49, there will be a possibility of a profit and loss account being made available to the general public, or, if not, will a profit and loss account be made available to the Consumers' Committee? I regard the Consumers' Committee, with the very small powers which they possess, as pretty futile for their purpose, but at least under a scheme of this description, with so many possibilities, the Consumers' Committee ought to be supplied annually with a profit and loss account. I ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply 1235 why, under paragraph 12, are special members to be appointed. Has he any knowledge to impart to the House as to whether those special members are likely to be merchants? I see that they are of double value as compared with the ordinary district members of the executive. While the district member only requires 20 nominees, the special man requires 40 nominees. Why is that? Is there any special reason for it? What are these special men likely to do?
Should any tenant depart from a farm which is taken over by another farmer the amount of acreage utilised by the old tenant can be utilised by the new tenant, and should the new tenant be aggrieved at any determination there is the power of arbitration. But under the terms of the Order, as far as one can read into it, and we may be wrong, any person desiring to acquire land not hitherto used for the purpose of growing potatoes will not be permitted under this Order by any manner of means to commence growing potatoes in the future. That point does not seem to have been dwelt upon at all, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us the point of view of his Department. The scheme has been in course of preparation for approximately 18 months, and I am bound to confess that from the farmers angle it is a very good scheme but from the consumers angle it is a very bad scheme. Much as I support every marketing scheme which comes to the House which gives any ray of hope, not only to the farmer, but to the agricultural labourer, I am not anxious to sacrifice the whole of the consumers merely by handing over to a comparatively small section of the community full powers to dominate the prices which the consumers must pay for everything they consume.
I know, and the right hon. Gentleman must know, that many of the large section of the working-class population are unable to buy meat and have therefore to resort to bread. You have already taxed bread in a way which falls heaviest upon the poorest section of the community. The same people who cannot buy meat and have to buy bread have to buy potatoes, and if you impose upon the consumers of potatoes, that is the poorer sections of the community, because you do not pay any attention to retail prices 1236 but concentrate all efforts upon wholesale prices, you are neglecting the fundamental idea in the original Act of 1931. This board have the power to determine the quantity, which means prices, the grades, which again mean price, and to determine contracts which again mean price. There is no joint negotiating body, which is a fundamental grievance. The consumers are completely ignored, and we suggest that while every hon. Member ought, wherever he can, to assist agriculture to assist itself, he ought also to be extremely careful before accepting schemes such as this which hand over full power to producers to determine their own income without any sort or kind of consideration for the large number of consumers in this country. For these reasons I am afraid that, despite our support in the past, we shall have to oppose the Order.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
It is a little difficult for anyone who is not fully conversant with the details of potato-growing and selling to criticise a plan of such complexity as this one. These schemes are presented to the House in order to ascertain whether the House likes them or not. We cannot alter them. We can either accept or reject them. Frankly, I would say at the outset that there are a good many matters in this Scheme to which the House ought to direct attention and offer very considerable criticism. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has referred to two or three of the more important of these matters, and I hope the House will forgive me if perhaps to some extent I dot his "i's" and cross his "t's," because the points to which he has called attention are those which the House should keep very clearly before them when considering the Scheme. Some comparison has been drawn between this Scheme and other schemes, and it should be borne in mind what a very large difference there is between this Scheme and, say, the Bacon Scheme. The Bacon Scheme was one of large agricultural development devoted to building up a large bacon industry in this country. This Scheme, however, is one which you may call stagnation, and is based on what is called the basic acreage of a given year, and any attempt to increase the acreage 1237 is to be very severely penalised. This scheme is what may be called—[Interruption owing to failure of lighting.]
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I remember that when the light failed on a previous occasion the House was suspended until the light returned. I do not know whether hon. Members would prefer to continue the Debate in the present circumstances or that the sitting should be suspended for a time.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
I am glad that that defect has now been remedied, because this is a scheme that needs all the light that can be thrown upon it. As I was saying when the interruption occurred, there is a very considerable difference between this Scheme and the Bacon Scheme, which we recently had before the House. That Scheme was a Scheme for advance and development, whereas this Scheme is a Scheme for stabilisation and stagnation. It is fixed on basic acreage, and there are penalties placed upon people who endeavour to increase that acreage. The marketing Scheme that appeals to me is a scheme which helps people and induces them to grow more food on the old acreage, and encourages them to increase the acreage so that the people may have plenty of food, and cheap food.
In introducing the Scheme the Minister made one very interesting remark when speaking of the very great difference in price that was brought about by a comparatively small increase or decrease in the total output of a crop. He said that the consumer does not absorb a much larger quantity of potatoes in a given year. That is true, but he must not forget that the producer gets a great deal better price. To-day, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the crop being worth £16,000,000. That £16,000,000 comes out of the pockets of the consumers. It makes a very big difference whether the consumer is going to pay £20,000,000 or £10,000,000 for his potatoes. That point was stressed by the hon. Member for 1238 Don Valley, namely, that the position of the consumer has been largely left out of this Scheme. As the Minister himself said, in introducing the Scheme, it is a producers' scheme.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The Act of 1931, for which the hon. Member for Don Valley and his party were responsible, had the support of my hon, Friend and was a producers' Act. This is a Scheme under that Act.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
There was a safeguard in the Act. What I was going on to say was this, that the Minister said that it is a producers' scheme, framed by what is called practical people. He laid great stress upon the statement that it was framed by people who were practically engaged in producing potatoes. He said that it was a scheme which had been produced by the potato growers and that they think that they can work it. It will be a difficult scheme to work. He admits that. A scheme of this magnitude must be difficult to work, but he said that the practical people thought that they could work it; that it might fail, but we shall have given the practical people a chance of showing that what they have evolved is a sound scheme.
I should like to make this criticism that, personally, I would far rather have seen, if it had been possible, a scheme for Scotland separate from England. This scheme covers the whole country, from the Scilly Isles to the Shetlands. It is one enormous scheme, and I cannot help thinking that, having regard to the conditions that exist in Scotland, it would have been more workable and more suitable had a scheme been evolved for Scotland, which could have been worked on parallel lines and conjointly with the scheme in England, rather than having one enormous scheme, with the areas divided up into nine districts. There is only one district for Scotland. Scotland is regarded as one single district, with one single representative.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
Yes, one district with six representatives. I do not wish to take up the time of the House unduly, 1239 because many hon. Members wish to say what they think about this scheme. I would ask the House to look at the Clauses to which the hon. Member for the Don Valley referred, because they are the kernel and basis of the scheme. If anyone wishes to sell potatoes under the scheme he has either to be a registered producer or to get exemption. It is true that the scheme provides for a very large number of exemptions. The success or failure of the scheme will undoubtedly depend on how it is worked. If the scheme is worked reasonably and full attention is given to the claims of those who are entitled to get exemption, without damaging the working of the scheme, I think it will have a very much better chance of success than if it is worked on very hard and narrow lines. The powers given to the Board are very large, and if those powers are used in a harsh and autocratic manner it may lead to the complete break-up of the scheme.
The hon. Member for the Don Valley referred to the exemptions of seed potatoes from the scheme. Although I like to see plenty of exemptions under a scheme such as this, I can understand the reason why seed potatoes have been included in the exemptions, but it makes a very serious loophole, because any potatoes may be sold as seed potatoes. It is not very easy to say that certain potatoes are not seed potatoes. There is a very dangerous loophole here which will have to be very carefully watched. Then we come to the general powers of regulating marketing. The Minister pointed out that the scheme was based on basic acreage and was intended to deal with the sale of potatoes. I was not clear whether he intended to convey that the board did or did not intend to fix prices. When I read paragraph 66 I see that—The Board may regulate sales of potatoes by any registered producer by determining from time to time the description of potatoes which may be sold, and the terms on which potatoes or any description thereof may be sold, by any producer.I take it that "the terms" must include price. Can the board say not only how many potatoes he may sell but at what price he may sell them? I should like to have that point cleared up. Paragraph 68 is the essence of the scheme. In this provision the board has 1240 power, absolutely, to restrict the quantity of potatoes which may be sold, and this power is given in terms which are quite impossible to misunderstand. It comes to this, that when the board considers that the number of potatoes in the country is such that prices are likely to come down they can order A, B, C or D not to sell some of the stock they have on hand in the hope that prices will go up. That is what it comes to. It means that the board in a good year of potato production can say to registered producers that they shall not have the advantage of a plentiful harvest and sell their crop, but that they must leave a large amount of it unsold, or give it to the pigs, or destroy it; it must not be sold to the people. Paragraph 70 gives importance to the position of the potato salesmen. It says:Subject as herein provided, the Board may from time to time determine the persons to or through the agency of whom potatoes or any description thereof may be 6old by any registered producer.Is that going to create a monopoly for a certain favoured body of salesmen? I can see the possibility of certain favoured dealers being put into such a position that they will practically be in the same position as the owner of a seat on the Stock Exchange in New York, and I cannot see any reason why power should be given to the board to favour certain individuals and give them a monopoly in dealing with potatoes. In a later part of the paragraph we come to certain exemptions, and the first is that the sale of potatoes in lots or parcels of 112 lbs. or less is a separate sale and free from the provisions of the paragraph. That is a very small amount. An order for a country house for two cwt. of potatoes a month is not a large order, but it would be beyond the limits mentioned in this paragraph, and then the exemption on sales to Government institutions, to asylums, and hospitals might be interfered with by an application to the board by 20 registered producers or a representative of potato merchants. Why should a representative of the potato merchants have the right to go to the board and make representations, by which the board may put an end to the exemptions on selling direct to hospitals, hotels, asylums and such like places? I cannot understand the object of such a provision.
When we come to the penalties we find that they are very severe. They are not 1241 penalties which are imposed for offences tried in any court, but penalties imposed by this autocratic and all-powerful board. The penalties provided are, at any rate as to producers, these:If any registered producer sells potatoes, other than potatoes sales of which are exempted from the provisions of this part of this scheme, in contravention of any determination of the board under this scheme, the board shall by resolution, impose upon and shall recover from him such monetary penalty not exceeding £100 or a sum representing £5 per acre of his potato acreage, whichever is greater, as they think just.So that if a man has 30 acres of potatoes and contravenes some order of the Board, he shall be punished with a fine of £150. It is true that an appeal is provided for, but again it is not an appeal to a court of law, but an appeal to arbitration arranged by the board.
Those are the points to which I wish particularly to call attention. I think I have shown, in supporting what was said by the hon. Member for Don Valley, that this board has been set up with extraordinarily autocratic powers over the registered producers, with powers not to increase production but powers to stabilise production on the basic year to be chosen; with powers to inflict very great penalties for any contravention of their orders. Also the scheme does not provide for any sufficient and proper protection of the consumer. In these circumstances I think that these criticisms are of such a serious nature that it is very difficult for me to vote in favour of the scheme.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The hon. Member says that the board has been set up. There he is labouring under a complete misunderstanding. The board is not set up and cannot be set up unless two-thirds of the very people of whom he has spoken desire it.
§ Sip R. HAMILTON
I was, of course, arguing on the assumption that it was set up. I was taking it that the vote would go through. The majority of the registered producers have to vote for the board, of course. As the Minister has raised that point I would ask him particularly how that poll is to be carried out. Is it to be carried out by the producers who are on the register at the time when the scheme comes into force? Will it be a vote by the whole of the 1242 registered producers of the country or only a limited number who happen to be on the register at that date? That is a point on which we might have a little further information.
§ 10.23 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I would like to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that I entirely agree with the policy of having a scheme to avoid, if possible, the disastrous fluctuations in price from which farmers have suffered in recent years. But I hope he will forgive me if I make a few comments and express some anxiety as to certain points in the scheme. First of all let me say that although imports have not been very heavy recently I am sure he will admit that in former times imports have played a very large part in reducing prices. With imports it is not merely a question of quantity, but a question of the price at which those imports come into the country. That leads to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman should keep a very careful eye on our imports. My right hon. Friend says we must regard with respect a scheme put forward by all the producers in an industry. He will forgive me, if I say that I do not feel sure that the scheme has received such general consideration from the producers in various parts of the country as he seems to think. Only last Friday I addressed two meetings in my constituency, meetings which consisted mainly of producers, and I could not find that any farmer there had seen the scheme. I think that is an area in which there is no branch of the Farmers' Union but there is a branch of another organisation. At least there is another agricultural organisation in the area in which one of those meetings was held. Did the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Under-Secretary ask the representatives of the Scottish Farmers' Union, whom they met in regard to the scheme, whether the scheme was laid before the branches of the Union and before other agricultural organisations? The Under-Secretary knows that there are other organisations up and down Scotland which are not branches of the Farmers' Union.
Coming to the scheme itself, it is quite impossible for me to speak as to the likelihood of the efficiency of its various parts. It is my duty, however, to say 1243 that one whose advice I value in this matter, has spoken to me with anxiety of the omission of seed potatoes from the scheme. The same expert has also spoken with anxiety of the omission of Northern Ireland from the scheme. Is there any means by which we can avoid excessive imports from Northern Ireland due to the fact that that part of the United Kingdom is omitted? I am glad to know that there is not a great number of large producers of potatoes in the country because it seems to me that large producers have the chance of a much larger say, individually, in the working of the scheme than the small producers. In paragraph 58 which deals with this, I can find no limit to the standard number of votes allowed which, as my right hon. Friend knows, increases by one for every 50 acres or every part of 50 acres cultivated above the original twenty. As to the power of the board to prescribe the persons to whom potatoes may be sold, I am afraid that the fears voiced by the previous speaker are also in my mind.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the scheme as enabling the board to handle only surplus potatoes. I do not find that paragraph 70 (1) is limited to surplus potatoes. It seems to give the board power to prescribe the persons to whom any quantity of potatoes may be sold. That seems a very large power. It means that the scheme is more elaborate and far-reaching than the reference to the board handling only surplus potatoes would lead one to suppose. It is possible however that direct sales, if they are allowed, may mitigate to some extent what seem to be the rather autocratic powers that it is proposed to put in the hands of the board. Then I shall be glad if my hon. Friend will tell us whether paragraph 70 (3, a) would allow the sale of potatoes week by week by the same producer to the same consumer, because it has been said to me that they might be considered as parts of the same transaction, and in that case they would not fall within the exemption allowed there.
Now I come to the question of the power given to the board to abolish the right of sale either to Government Departments, local authorities, institutions, or retailers, given originally in the scheme under paragraph 70 (3), sub- 1244 paragraph 3 (e) and (f). If hon. Members will look at Schedule C, they will see that that Schedule requires the board, if satisfied that persons representative of potato merchants desire prohibition of these particular kinds of direct sale, forthwith to consider the question, and if, after careful survey, they consider that there should be prohibition of these direct sales, they are empowered to issue an order for provisional prohibition within a certain area. The wording of the Schedule seems to imply that that provisional prohibition will become absolute within a period of not less than one month from the date of publication of the provisional provision, unless within 14 days not less than 5 per cent. of the producers in the area, cultivating not less than 5 per cent. of the acreage, ask for a poll to say that the decree shall not become absolute.
I cannot help wondering whether that provision of a poll having to be taken within 14 days by so large a proportion of the producers may not prove very difficult to bring into operation. We have to remember how isolated farmers are and how difficult it is to organise any poll or requisition among a lot of isolated individuals. There may be no organisation with the means of circularising a large number of farmers. Supposing a provisional prohibition has been made to cover the whole of Scotland, there is the difficulty of getting into touch with some thousands of producers within a fortnight of the day on which the order is made. One might have to communicate with several thousands in order to get the necessary number of producers, and one would have to be sure that their acreage was sufficient. I cannot help fearing that there might be a possibility of a decision being reached which would make absolute a prohibition of direct sale, with considerable detriment possibly to a good many individuals. It may be said that amendment may be made in the scheme, but the board has to be convinced of the necessity for amendment, and must apply to the Minister to make it, and the board may apparently not apply to the Minister unless 1,000 producers, cultivating not less than 20,000 acres, desire the request to be made. There again, it seems to me that that might take a good deal of organising and need much time and expense, and apparently no amend- 1245 merits, however trivial, can be made in the scheme without this procedure.
I notice that the English branches of the Farmers' Union may nominate candidates as district representatives of the board, but that liberty is not given to branches of the Scottish Farmers' Union. I suppose the reason is that the whole of Scotland is one district, but because I fee] it is so important that the farmers in all parts of the country should take a keen interest in the working of this scheme, I wish the farmers in Scotland were to have the liberty to make nominations which is granted to the farmers of England and Wales. However, I do not wish to record a vote against this scheme, for I feel that it is most necessary that a scheme should be in operation as soon as is reasonably possible, and I hope that all farmers will lose no time in becoming registered. I hope, too, that they will consider the scheme very carefully and that, if it is brought into operation, the farmers up and down the country will take a keen and practical interest in its working in order that their interests may be efficiently protected, so that the scheme will not fall into the hands of a few men with a larger output who might possibly influence its operation in a manner not altogether in the interests of the smaller men.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. LENNOX-BOYD
The Noble Lady closed her speech by expressing a hope that this scheme will not be allowed to develop to the advantage of the large producers, and I wish briefly at this late hour to make an observation also with regard to the small producer and the small lorry salesmen, who, if I read the scheme 'aright, run the risk of suffering very severely by certain of its provisions. The Minister, in introducing the scheme, referred to the fact that 60 per cent. of potatoes grown in this country was produced by growers of less than five acres. In so far as the small man is considered in his capacity as a producer, I think that his interests are fairly safeguarded by the scheme, but I have also in my constituency—and there are in many other parts of the country—a considerable number of people who, as lorry salesmen growing a small quantity of potatoes on their holdings, take their potatoes and those of their neighbours and get an honourable living by selling 1246 them to certain wholesalers in the great towns. Many of these lorry salesmen—or authorised merchants as they would be if they were authorised under the scheme—have expressed to me their great concern as to the effect of this scheme on their livelihood. I hope that the Minister in his reply will make one observation which will set 'at rest some of the doubts which assail the minds of these people. In the original scheme as prepared by the National Farmers' Union there was an attempt in Schedule C to define an authorised merchant, and I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to that definition. It reads:That every merchant applying for authorisation must satisfy the board that he is a bona-fide potato merchant suitably equipped and that his trade has during the three years immediately preceding his application averaged 250 tons. That is to say, he has purchased for re-sale, or dealt mother than by retail during the same-period, an average of not less than 250 tons of potatoes grown in Great Britain.I would like some statement from the Minister as to the application of that definition in the scheme before us. There are a considerable number of people, it would not be an over-estimate to say' there are some hundred of people, for whose political representation I am personally responsible who, I believe, will suffer under this definition. They grow potatoes, but they do not come within the definition of authorised merchant if that definition demands that they should deal in 250 tons a year.
We recognise that in any marketing scheme some people must fall by the way. No one would suggest that a marketing scheme could be produced which would fairly represent the wishes of every branch of agricultural endeavour, but it would be a tragic thing if a whole class of people were deprived of their livelihood when many of them are ex-service men, hard working and thrifty who have invested their capital in a lorry and, living in a village where they grow potatoes, have earned an honest livelihood up to the present time. At some of the National Farmers' Union meetings they have been referred to as parasites, and it is certainly true that in some areas a lorry owner will sweep upon a village far removed from his own immediate neighbourhood, buy up the produce and undercut the other producers, in that way spoiling the market. I have no concern for 1247 such parasites, but I have a very great concern for a large number of people whom I know personally and whose business practices are beyond any serious question. Under this scheme they will lose their livelihood, unless we can get an assurance that the figure of 250 tons a year will be very considerably reduced.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
With regard to the lorry salesmen, the hon. Member spoke about their selling to the wholesalers. I think he meant retailers.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. H. STEWART
I feel sure that all (hon. Members will agree with my hon. Friend in his endeavour to support the case of ex-service men. Whether they be engaged in dealing with potatoes or in the herring trade or in any other occupation, they deserve the full sympathy and assistance of this House. Like all hon. Members who have spoken, I am very much in favour of some potato-marketing scheme. The case which the Minister made out at the beginning seems to me unanswerable. This uncontrolled inflation and deflation, the rise and fall in the price rate, must be tackled if there is to be any measure of prosperity in the potato industry; and I do not share the fears of some of my hon. Friends regarding any measure of control. The trouble with potatoes, as with many other commodities, is the lack of control, and until producers take a grip of production and the selling of their potatoes there can be no prosperity for them or stability for the consumers. Therefore, I am not afraid of control, but I am sympathetic towards the hon. Member on the Labour benches who expressed a desire to see the Consumers' Committee strengthened, and, if that were possible, it would be a good thing.
The Bill has its good points. Where it attempts to improve grading and the system of advertising, selling and packing it is good, and so far as it aims at improving and extending research it is admirable, and in this respect must have the support of all sides of the House. I was glad to find myself so much in agreement with the Noble Lady the Member for Perth (Duchess of Atholl). I had the privilege of being a con- 1248 stitutent of hers for some years, and very seldom in that period did I agree with her, and therefore it is all the more pleasant to find myself in my present position to-night. I feel with the Noble Lady that in this scheme there are many points upon which some of us who want a scheme find ourselves in difficulties. I agree entirely with the Noble Lady when she doubts the authorship of the scheme. The Minister claims that the scheme—on my reading of his Memorandum—was endorsed by the National Farmers' Unions of the two countries and that it had beenconsidered by county branches of the National Farmers' Union for every county where the production of potatoes is of any consequence and the submission of the scheme was authorised by all branches in the chief potato areas.Apparently in Perthshire, and certainly in Fife, that did not happen. In Fife-shire there is only a local branch of the National Farmers' Union in one corner of the county, and it represents only that corner. For the great remaining part of the county there is no representation, and therefore no consideration was given to the scheme by properly accredited representatives of the farmers. There was a meeting called at Cupar one day, without any adequate notice. A resolution was spoken to by some of the founders of this scheme, but I doubt if there were two farmers in the whole of the audience who understood the scheme. The resolution was moved, and because nobody could criticise any more than they could support, it was passed. One of the leading farmers in Fifeshire arrived at the meeting entirely unexpectedly—he had no idea that it was coming off. He was invited to come in and support the resolution. He refused. He told me that he did not meet a single farmer who had the least idea what the scheme was. I doubt very much if the scheme deserves the support which the Minister claims for it that it represents the opinion of farmers.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I only indicated that the scheme had been submitted by the representatives of the farmers and not that it was the verdict of the farmers themselves on the whole. I only intended to say that it had been submitted by persons representative of farmers, and really the campaign that has taken place is as nothing compared with the campaign 1249 which will have to be undertaken by the producers who agree with the scheme if they are to obtain the two-thirds majority to make it possible for the scheme to come into operation.
§ Mr. STEWART
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point. But he produced certain telegrams which he had received from certain mass meetings of farmers. If those mass meetings were anything like the mass meetings of Scottish farmers about which I have information, they represent a feeling created not by approval, but because the farmers imagine themselves at the point of the pistol. These men are agreeing to the scheme because they are afraid that if they do not agree, any measures which the right hon. Gentleman might take to safeguard them from foreign imports will not be brought forward. That is the real reason why farmers at this moment are supporting the scheme—not that they like it, but that they do not understand it, and are afraid to reject it.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but, while he has the right to speak as to the farmers in Fifeshire, or in Scotland, I am sure that there are representatives of areas in England who would sternly deny that he can speak in regard to mass meetings, say in Huntingdonshire or Lincolnshire, and I am not prepared to draw any deductions from his reply.
§ Mr. STEWART
I did not presume to speak for the farmers of Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire. I only suggested that if the mass meetings which were referred to there were anything like the mass meetings which I know about they do not represent such a strength of opinion as the Minister imagines. I want to make this first suggestion to the Minister and to the farmers—and in this connection I find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton), who has recently had the unique distinction of hiding his light under his beard in the House of Commons. The case made by my hon. Friend is that Scotland should have its own scheme. There is a very good reason for that. Scotland has always had its own administration, its own Departments of Health and Agriculture, and its own Milk Board. Why can it not have its own Potato Scheme?
§ Mr. STEWART
The Milk Scheme, which was designed for precisely the same purpose, has provided a special department for Scotland, and, if it is right for milk, why is it not right for potatoes? It may be that the Scottish producers of potatoes would be unanimously against the scheme, yet because eight sections of English producers voted for it, their whole opinion would go for nothing.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
If the Scottish producers wish, a scheme can be put up to the Scottish producers. There is not a Scottish scheme, because no Scottish scheme was brought forward. In the case of milk a Scottish scheme was brought forward, and there is a Scottish scheme. Here, no Scottish marketing scheme was put up, and only in the last two or three weeks has there been any suggestion of a Scottish scheme.
§ Mr. STEWART
I do not wish to misstate the case, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to believe that. The Scottish representatives, as he knows, were invited to work in with and cooperate with the English representatives in forming a joint scheme, and, having formed a scheme, I offer the suggestion that it would be ultimately to the advantage of both Scottish and English potato-growers if the scheme when formed were framed to allow a branch department dealing with Scotland. The Government have given Scotland a special Scottish Advisory Committee in this scheme; they have given Scotland an office in this scheme; and it would not be difficult to give it the management of its own scheme.
I pass from that. The Minister, I noticed, had considerable doubts about the actual working of the scheme. He said "I do not say that acreage control will work": he said "It will be extremely difficult to operate." He said "By a hundred ways the objects of the scheme can be defeated." "But," he said, "-because the industry has brought it forward, we should pass it; because the alternative is chaos or a pool, we should pass it; because otherwise there could be no proper justification for control of imports, we should pass it." I realise that there is no alternative before this House but to pass the scheme, but, in passing it, I believe it to be our duty 1251 to look at the scheme from a broader or a higher standpoint, from that of the farmers themselves. It is our duty to the House of Commons to suggest weaknesses that may occur to us, and it is in this entirely helpful spirit that I am making this contribution to the Debate.
As to the method of the scheme, the Minister said in an answer to a question that it is a riddle and acreage scheme. There is to be a riddle; it is to work for 11 months in the year and during the month of August it is to have a rest. In that time, apparently, "smalls" may disport themselves on the market with grouse and other sporting animals. This riddle scheme, it seems to me, will be quite unworkable. I do not know how you are going to enforce the riddle method unless you have some kind of policeman attending the farm in the course of riddling, as he does now in the course of sheep-dipping. Unless you are going to have a kind of riddle policeman working about the country, I do not see how the scheme can be worked at all. We read of men in Ireland being smashed over the head with police batons. Is the new terror to be being smashed over the head with a police riddle And it is an unfair method. On some qualities of land, and particularly on some small-holdings that I know of in my part of the country, the size of the potatoes produced is small, while in other parts of the country, like Lincolnshire, the average size is greater. Those parts of the country which produce big potatoes are going to get an advantage from this scheme, and the others are going to be penalised. I would like an answer on that point, if possible. Nor do I think that a riddle scheme would be a reliable method of checking the variety of potatoes put on the market; potatoes vary in weight and in volume although they may still pass through the same riddle, and it seems to me to be impossible to make an arbitrary exclusion of this kind. The Minister is perfectly right in saying that the riddle is being worked to-day; I know it is; but it is not worked in the rigid, unbending, unalterable fashion that is laid down in this scheme, and I doubt if it will work.
I desire now to say a word on the acreage side of the proposal. As I see 1252 it, and as many of my farmer constituents see it—and I am speaking for a county where potato growing is a very important part of farm business—as many of these fanners see it, the acreage proposal is going to stabilise the present excessive acreage, and to create a vested interest in that very excessive acreage which is causing the trouble at the present time. With very great respect to the farming industry, I submit that this proposal of theirs is not likely to chieve the objects for which the scheme is formed. It seems to me, too, that it will penalise good husbandry. At the present time there are accepted among farmers certain rules of good husbandry—a certain rotation that must be followed, a certain method of keeping the land in good heart. This scheme, which is going to penalise a man for ploughing up grass, may interfere with the rules of good husbandry. Especially is that the case with stock farming. Stock farmers depend on good grass, and grass may very well run out after a period of years, and it is essential, in order to maintain the quality of the grass on the farm, to plough it up every so often. That effort to obtain a high quality of grass on the farm is going to be penalised, and the food value of the grass for stock will be lessened.
Another very small criticism is that the rights won by tenant farmers in 1923 under the Act of that year—the rights of freedom of cropping, which were much asked for and greatly valued when obtained—may be invaded by this scheme. Under the scheme good husbandry is going to be made into cast-iron husbandry, which will not be good for the farming industry in this country or in Scotland. I submit to the Minister, and with great respect to the farming industry, that, instead of attempting an acreage control, they ought to be satisfied with the provisions of Paragraph 68 of the scheme. That paragraph sets out a quantity control. My submission, and it is also the submission of the Scottish Chamber and of a good many farmers who have had the time and opportunity to understand the scheme, is that, if you have a method such as this clause gives of controlling the quantity, that will give all that is wanted. In fact, Paragraph 68 would 1253 seem to me to be worth all the rest of the scheme put together.
I do not want the scheme to be thrown over. It has in itself the very provisions which I think are necessary. By controlling not the acreage but the quantity put on the market, you would be carrying through a marketing scheme, and controlling supplies equally to all concerned. The big farmer with larger sized potatoes in Lincolnshire would not gain any more in proportion under that method than the poor smallholder in some of the poor land in Fife. It would be a fair and workable method. I could give a case which has come to my notice showing how unfairly this scheme is going to work on an acreage system. Take two farms owned by one landlord. He occupies and farms one holding on which he has a large quantity of potatoes. The other he lets to a farmer who at the time of the scheme coming into operation has no potatoes. The second farm is given up. The rent drops, because there is no chance of growing potatoes on it save by the payment of a penalty. Another holding, which may be put into the market in the same year, having by sheer luck a basic acreage, rises in rent 2s. or 5s. It is not fair that Parliament should put an undue value on one man's property as compared with another. I beg the farming industry to realise that danger which is inherent in the scheme. I suppose the House must pass it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Some scheme is better than none. I have said that in paragraph 68 you have all that I want and all that the farmers want and all that you need to make an efficient scheme. There is a lot in this that is additional and useless in my opinion but I shall not vote against it. Why should I? Am I going to turn down half a loaf because I cannot get a whole one? Farmers are facing bankruptcy not by the hundred but by the thousand and they need all the support the Government can give them. But I suggest that the farming industry should take the scheme back, examine it and re-plan it and produce something more workable, fair and honourable.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Sir THOMAS ROSBOTHAM
I feel I must say something after the speech we have just heard. I do not agree that there has not been sufficient propaganda on behalf of the Farmers' Union. At 1254 Ormskirk last week there was a mass meeting of potato growers numbering 1,000 which unanimously passed a resolution in favour of the scheme, and large meetings of a similar character have been held throughout the potato-growing areas of England and Wales, and the same expressions of opinion are forthcoming. I think that Scotland has every reason to be satisfied with the scheme. The riddle is the means of testing the supplies, and there is a greater consideration attached to the riddle than that of regulating supplies, for by that means we shall obtain an efficient system of grading which has been absent from the potato trade for several years. Potatoes have been put on the market in very bad condition, and have thereby been given a very bad name. This scheme will remedy that state of affairs.
A great point has been made of the fact that seed potatoes have not been brought into the scheme. I think that the Scottish potato grower will be very well satisfied that seed potatoes are not brought into the scheme, when I say that the price I have been asked for my seed potatoes for the coming year is about £4 per ton or about twice as much as I can get for my potatoes to-day. Surely, there can be no complaint on that score. There is the question of marking, packing and advertising, and with regard to sales, I think that a great concession has been given to the small grower in that he is to be allowed to supply 1 cwt. lots to his usual customers. The fact must not be lost sight of that the registered producer can sell his own produce in the public market. There is to be no restriction. He can bring his potatoes to Liverpool market or any other market, and sell them provided he is a registered producer. There is to be no restriction whatever with regard to the sales to hospitals, local authorities, hotels and restaurants. A registered producer can sell potatoes, and deliver them to those institutions as formerly.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the scheme has the advantage of organising the potato industry, which, like every other branch of agriculture, has suffered from lack of organisation. You get the advantage of regulation and of distribution, and I am confident that there are parts of London to-day which are sure of a supply of the potatoes grown in the district from which I come, 1255 and these potatoes can be supplied in the poorer parts of London at cheap cost. Where is the organisation to distribute the produce at the present time? We have not the organisation, but under this scheme the organisation will be supplied. The produce will be organised, regulated and distributed by the Board, and that is a great step forward.
Under the scheme we shall get the required supplies of potatoes year by year, instead of the supply in one year being less and in another year more. The board will organise regular yearly supplies, which is another step in advance. The £5 per acre, of which so much has been made, only applies to additional acreage. Surely, those who have borne the heat and burden of the day and have been producing potatoes at less than the cost of production during the last 10 years are fully entitled to any advantage which may come to them under the scheme. I have great pleasure in supporting the scheme, not only in the interests of the producer, but of the consumer, and the very poorest of the poor in our towns and cities, and I give it my wholehearted support.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I was a little surprised at the speech of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) because, having started by praising schemes in general and this in particular, and saying that it would receive his warm support and vote in the Division Lobby, he proceeded to smash it point by point for about 20 minutes in a remarkably interesting speech. One would have thought that the result of his observations must have led him to oppose the scheme, because as far as I could make out he never said a word in favour of it. I am going to support the scheme for the very simple reason that the day before yesterday I received a letter from the secretary of the Farmers' Union of Scotland telling me to support it. They ought to know what they want. Apparently they want it. I suspect that the reason they want me to support the scheme is very much the same reason why the hon. Member for East Fife is going to support it, and that is because they know as well as my hon. Friend knows that unless they do they will not get any sort of protection and control of the importation of 1256 potatoes, which is just the thing they are really after. The reason why all these farmers are supporting these schemes by such large majorities is because they know that they cannot get protection unless they do support them. They think that it is better to support these marketing schemes in order to get protection from foreign subsidised produce, because it has been made clear that unless they do support these schemes, they will not get protection.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Surely the hon. Member must know that under the Import Duties Advisory Committee not only have heavy duties been placed upon potatoes, but they have been put on long before this Scheme.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Of course, I know that duties have been imposed, but I would not call them heavy duties. Duties have also been put on oats, but I would not call them heavy duties. We require much heavier duties than are contemplated by the Import Duties Advisory Committee, or quotas. The farmers know that they are not going to get limitation of imports until they have subscribed to one or other of these marketing schemes. That is one of their great objectives. I am not saying that the Minister is not perfectly entitled to use that weapon to impose better organisation of marketing upon the farmers. All that I say is that I think that is the motive that actuates a large number of them and perhaps accounts more than anything else for the very large majorities in favour of these schemes that the Minister has been getting.
I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for East Fife in regard to this scheme. I think the riddle will operate unfairly. I disagree with the hon. Member who spoke last. It is possible that you may have large bad potatoes. Equally it is possible to have small good potatoes. Small good potatoes are grown largely in Scotland.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
May I remind the hon. Member that Scotland has been fairly successful in selling large quantities of small potatoes to the retailer at a considerable profit; and some of these potatoes, which technically cannot be called 1257 seed potatoes, will not be able to get to the consumer under this scheme in the same way as before. I fail to see how, in the long run and over a considerable period, you could in fact, under any scheme, differentiate between seed potatoes and other potatoes. That is a point to which the Minister might devote some attention. Some of us are worried about that. There is another aspect of the matter which causes anxiety and that is that, not only in the words of the hon. Member for East Fife, does this scheme tend to stabilise the production of potatoes at the present level, amongst the different farmers, but that over a period of years it may tend to diminish the production of potatoes. I am old fashioned enough to believe is in the long run rather a bad thing. The main objective of our life should not be to diminish the production of anything. I agree that it would have been much better if this scheme could have been organised on a quantitative rather than an acreage basis. I think that the Under-Secretary has a cast iron case if he says that if that was the view of the Scottish farmers they should have submitted a tonnage scheme some months ago, whereas they have done no such thing. At the same time I do not see why that should prevent a tonnage scheme being given serious consideration at the eleventh hour. My hon. Friend has probably seen the memorandum by Mr. Henderson, of Lawton, who has submitted an alternative scheme based on tonnage.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The hon. Member will recollect that in the scheme now before the House, so far as surplus is concerned, the board is given liberty to deal with it on a tonnage basis.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Yes, but I would rather see it apply throughout the whole scheme, and I think that the Government might give some consideration to this particular alternative. For my own part I confess that I view any scheme for control of production of any form of agricultural produce, and still more a control of prices, with the greatest gloom and apprehension. I have seen the attempts made in the United States by the Secretary for Agriculture to control agricultural production. In the long run I do not think you can do it unless you are 'a Communist country, and even there they have not done it after a period of 10 1258 years. I do not think that you can control production by controlling acreage, but as a scheme of some kind is essential in order to obtain a quantative limitation of imports, which is equally essential, then, as there is no alternative scheme before us, those who regard the present scheme with some anxiety have no chance but to support it in the Lobby in order to get a limitation on the imports of potatoes into this country, which is long overdue.
§ 11.18 p.m.
§ Lord SCONE
Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) I have received a communication from the National Farmers Union of Scotland urging me to support the scheme, and again like my hon. Friend I am going to do so but not because the National Farmers' Union tell me to do so. I am not going to take orders from them as to how I shall vote or from anyone else, but I support the scheme because I think it is going to be a great benefit to agriculture. I do not say that it is an ideal scheme. I have had objections to it put to me by the indefatigable Mr. Henderson of Lawton, and I agree that the scheme suggested by him and his friends is on paper preferable but it has been brought forward too late to be considered as practical politics at the moment. If it is found that the present scheme can be improved, as I think will be the case, then the other scheme can be added to the existing one if it is found necessary and sound. I am in agreement with the last two hon. Members who have spoken in regarding control of sales as being, theoretically, a more desirable method of control than the control of acreage planting. I do not like a limitation on acreage; I would rather see some form of control on sales. It is possible, of course, that this may work. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will make some observations on the subject in his reply.
As regards the question whether Scotland ought to have or wants a separate scheme, I think it is quite certain that if such a scheme had been desired we would have heard plenty about it before now. Although a small section may want a separate scheme, the vast majority seem to be at least reasonably satisfied to be in one big scheme for the whole country. The opinion of agriculturists with regard 1259 to marketing schemes has changed very much in the last two years and especially during the last 12 months. I was very glad to hear the Minister Bay something which backed up what I have been telling my own agricultural voters for several years past, and that is that control of imports is not sufficient. The potato crop is one in the case of which our home-grown supplies are quite enough, in many years, to flood the market and cause a tremendous glut. At the same time I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he would make it his business to see that we did not have such excessive imports as would, to a greater or lesser extent, render the present scheme futile.
There are, however, one or two criticisms of the scheme which I would like to make very briefly. The first is with regard to the £5 fine. I am not so much concerned with the person who has to pay this fee as with the result of his activities on the scheme as a whole. It is rather surprising that if a man has cultivated a large acreage in one year he should be permitted to keep this acreage and it should be added to his acreage later on. I should prefer that such a man should be fined, but that henceforth his additional acreage should not be allowed to be added to the basic acreage. It seems to me undesirable that this additional acreage should be added in any circumstances.
As regards the method of voting, we have nine different areas throughout the country, and it seems to me that it is going to be very difficult to get a proper vote. Take the last three districts. There is the Northern. It is a very large area, and it is surely going to be very difficult to get an adequate proportion of the district to vote. It will be still more difficult in the widely-scattered area of Wales and Monmouth, and perfectly impossible in Scotland where, even if you hold a meeting in the centre of Scotland in my own constituency, you still have people coming over 200 miles from the North and 150 miles from the South. It seems to me that a provision might be made for the sub-division of a district into several areas, so that you would have different voting points, and votes could be taken on the same day simultaneously in a dozen different areas in each district. 1260 That would enable a much larger number of producers to attend and would get away from so much voting by proxy, which I do not regard as a satisfactory expedient. It is somewhat of the nature of the card vote which has played such havoc in the trade unions. With regard to the publication of information concerning orders: Here Scotland certainly scores at the expense of England. Apparently publication is to be in the "Times," the "Scotsman" and the "Glasgow Herald." There is an enormous number of farmers in England, a great majority; who certainly do not read the "Times," but who read the local newspapers. I am told that in Wales there are some so benighted as to read the "News-Chronicle." Although that may show a lack of appreciation on their part, even so for these backwoodsmen something should be done to make them acquainted with the scheme.
These criticisms are meant to be helpful. I intend to vote for the scheme because I think it will do good, but I think the points I have raised are worthy of consideration. I am disappointed at the attitude of both the oppositions to the scheme. We have had a repetition of the tactics by which the Socialist and Liberal parties attempted to spoil the Agricultural Marketing Bill last summer. It is not much good for those parties to pay lip-service to the cause of agriculture if they endeavour—fortunately without success—to hamstring every Measure introduced for the benefit of agriculture. Hon. Members opposite do not seem to wish this scheme to succeed. I am desperately anxious that it should succeed. The position of the agricultural industry, especially in Scotland, is very bad. The primary agricultural products in Scotland, excluding pigs and poultry, are oats, barley, potatoes, milk, beef and mutton. There is no adequate return at present on any of them, except barley and mutton, and the producers of barley are confined practically to one fairly small though very important area. We must get some other crop which will give us a return upon our labour and capital and enable us to pay proper wages to the workers.
A large number of Scottish farmers are almost entirely dependent on two crops, namely, oats and potatoes, neither of which is paying at present. There seems 1261 little prospect of getting what we regard as adequate protection and limitation of imports in the case of oats. For Heaven's sake let us get something done in regard to potatoes. We must have consideration not only for the small farmers both in Scotland and England. We must also remember the plight of the agricultural workers, tens of thousands of whom have lost their employment and have not the benefit of unemployment insurance, while scores of thousands who are still in employment have suffered such reductions in wages as make it difficult for them to maintain themselves and their families at a proper level. For that reason, no matter what the deficiencies of the scheme may be, I propose to vote for it. I am glad to think that at last we shall get something done which will give a chance to the producers of one of our most important crops a chance of making a decent living and paying better wages to their workers.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not think the House will regard this Debate as having been anything other than useful, and although when it comes to a decision our power, in regard to this stage of the scheme, will be simply to say "Yea" or "Nay," the importance of the Debate is that it takes place—assuming the scheme to be passed—before the poll of the producers which is the final and most important stage. Therefore, at a critical moment it concentrates the attention of producers upon points in regard to which some hon. Members, who are well qualified to speak, feel some difficulty and doubt and on which they think there should be an answer. It has been suggested that at an earlier stage of the scheme some of the producers were ignorant of its provisions. Such was the proposition of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart). I think that experience of the actual voting on the scheme, in the cases, now several in number, where a poll has taken place entirely rebuts the suggestion that at a critical moment the producers were not acquainted with the scheme, because the proportion of votes has been extremely high and not in every case has the result of the voting been the same. There seems to be nothing automatic in the action of the producer when he comes face to face, at the critical moment, with the scheme. A large number of detailed 1262 and practical questions have been asked, and from what I have already said the House will see that I, at all events, attach importance to those questions being answered. A good many of them, I hope and believe, in view of my desire not to detain the House too long, can be answered in a general way, but I hope that before I sit down I shall have dealt with all the questions that have been asked, or that hon. Members feel to be important, and I trust that if any hon. Member feels that important questions have not been answered, he will ask for them to be answered.
First of all, there was the general proposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), that the scheme did not sufficiently consider the duties of the retailers and the position of the consumers. The answer to that is, I think, the Marketing Act of 1931, which dealt most carefully with the position of the consumers and any rights that may be injured by the operation of the scheme, and so important is it, that I will recall to the House in general the position. I need not say much about the Consumers Committee, except that it is constituted for the direct purpose of bringing to a focal point the views of consumers about marketing schemes, but the Committee of Investigation is of vital importance, and when I deal with it, hon. Members will see that it answers a variety of detailed questions. The House must recollect that the function of the Committee of Investigation is to inquire into the grievances of any persons adversely affected by a scheme, and then to report to the Minister, and the Minister, off his own bat, if I may use a homely phrase, and without any poll or long-continued procedure, can amend the scheme in order to deal with the grievances and injuries which the Committee of Investigation has pointed out to him. The House will see how important these two committees are, and the House, I think, will see that their existence under the Marketing Act of 1931 is the real answer to my hon. Friend, who says that inside the clauses of the scheme itself there does not seem to be much about either retail prices or consumers. The main work of safeguarding has been done for all time, and with regard to all schemes, in the Marketing Act of 1931, and that is my answer to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member will not forget that my complaint very largely is the lack of duties of the Consumers' Committee and of the Investigation Committee, too. First of all, you have to wait for a complaint to come from an individual or a body, and then the Minister of Agriculture has the power to sift all complaints, and he finally and definitely determines which, if any, of the complaints is ultimately to be sent to the Investigation Committee.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I would remind my hon. Friend that the procedure is mainly that of the Act of 1931, and I do not wish to get into a detailed argument, with so many observations ahead of me, but I am not myself at all alarmed that the procedure will be slow, and I am certain that the fact that there are these two committees affords exactly the safeguard, emphasis on which was the main point of my hon. Friend's speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir It. Hamilton) made the general comment that the scheme was strangely unlike the Bacon Scheme. It would have been a disaster if it had been like it. In the Bacon Scheme the object was largely to increase the home production of an agricultural product hitherto much neglected in this country. In the Potato Scheme the object is to prevent—I am speaking broadly—the over-production of an agricultural product of which we can produce all that we need. Frequently in the last 10 years we have produced more than we ever wanted or could consume. Therefore, I take it as a satisfactory observation about this scheme that it is unlike the Bacon Scheme. The result of over-production is the destruction of those who produce. On that matter, I think all sides of the House will agree that there are in different circumstances different functions of marketing schemes. They can either develop or stabilise a product.
As this scheme applies to both England and Scotland, it has been suggested that there are some special disadvantages to Scotland. Although I am not a practical farmer, I sat for a large number of years for one of the main potato-growing districts of Scotland, and I am not in complete ignorance of this subject. Although I can never pretend to be an expert, I do know my way a little about the subject, and that helped me in dealing with 1264 the question of whether or not there was any particular danger to Scotland or for any classes of Scottish people for whom we had a special responsibility. All I can say in general is that the main objections to the scheme as originally set forth have been met, and the meeting of these objections cuts the ground to a large extent beneath the feet of those who criticise the scheme.
With regard to the use of the riddle to regulate the amount of potatoes that can be sold, this scheme no longer necessitates the use of the riddle as a means of controlling the surplus. Any other means that seem good to the board can be adopted. The language of the scheme is such that there is no question of trial and error with regard to the riddle, but the board can decide after adequate discussion whether the riddle or some other method should be used to control a surplus. I stress the importance of that because many of us are well aware that there is an embryonic counter scheme, and that scheme goes in for another method of controlling a surplus other than the riddle. Discussion, I hope, will take place, and I hope there will be ample opportunity for discussion before there is another home surplus or glut. Discussion will enable the board, fortified as it is by a special Scottish Advisory Committee to consider afresh, and with its hands united, whether, if there be a surplus, it should be dealt with by a riddle or another method. That seems to meet the criticism that the surplus should be dealt with by some other means than the riddle. Another point regarding the riddle was scored by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). He appeared to think that the use of the riddle for separating "smalls," which are not to be sold for human food, from the ordinary potatoes would be very detrimental. I am sure that, now that he is the Chairman of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, he will know that the riddle in the scheme is of 1½-inch mesh, whereas the riddle normally used in a Scottish potato-growing district is a 2-inch riddle.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I know it is a 1½ -inch riddle, and I have seen many excellent potatoes, most fit for human consumption, grown in Scotland which would have passed through it.
§ Mr. SKELTON
That is true, but the great bulk of the potato growers in Scotland who carry out their operations in an up-to-date way do not use a riddle so small as that, thereby keeping out from human consumption an even larger size of potato than the small potato for which my hon. Friend has so passionately pleaded.
The next point in the attack concerned the levy upon new acreage. I do not think that proposal is fully understood, because there was a certain confusion—and I speak now of a wider circle than this House—between the scheme as it originally stood and as it is to-day. Originally the levy of a maximum of £5 an acre was imposed upon the cultivation of new acres. Under this scheme the function of the levy upon the new acres is this: that if the Board is involved in an expenditure in the work of dealing with a surplus, and for that purpose only, then those who are cultivating new acres may be forced to pay a levy. In that form I do not see how anybody can object to that provision, because if there be a surplus it must be, first and fore-most, produced by the new acres which are being cultivated, and therefore it is a right and proper thing that they should bear the first charge in the expenses of dealing with it.
§ Lord SCONE
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether this levy is to be for the first year only or every subsequent year?
§ Mr. SKELTON
The levy will be laid upon the new acres until they are franked by a payment. Another point is the suggestion that seed potatoes should have been included in this scheme. If it is found necessary as a result of the working of this scheme to have a scheme for seed potatoes, it will not be impossible to frame such a scheme. There is the analogy that the House has passed a bacon scheme when there is no equivalent scheme for pigs which are to be consumed as fresh meat. In the one case it was contended that the bacon pig controlled the pork pig, and in this case the human consumption potato controls the seed potato; but if that should not prove to be so in practice it will be quite easy to have another scheme for seed potatoes, and I am not at all sure that anything would be lost by these schemes being separate and different. That is the answer as regards seed potatoes. It 1266 has been suggested, although only very generally in the House this evening, that the main surplus of seed potatoes might suffer by this prohibition, the argument being that a great many small potatoes will be thrust upon the market and that people who have hitherto bought the Scottish potatoes for seed will now use those small potatoes.
§ Mr. SKELTON
We may say that a potato that is not to be eaten by anybody is a seed potato. Under this scheme they are dealt with in the same way as pork-pigs are dealt with in the Bacon Scheme. I leave the House to work that out. It has been suggested that the Scottish seed potato trade will suffer for the reason that I have stated. Every farmer will take up this large block of small potatoes which are now to be put up for consumption; but there has always been such a block. Scottish seed potatoes have maintained their position against the small potatoes for the ordinary farmer because of their superior merits. If anybody is foolish enough to neglect a habit that he has got into of using Scottish potatoes for seed, a few years' experience will teach him the error of his ways. I do not fear anything for the Scottish seed potato from this scheme.
One or two particular questions have been asked. More than one hon. Member has spoken severely about Schedule (C) and its procedure. This scheme involves a poll of the producers, the poll has to be asked for by a very small proportion of the producers, and it is carried out, if the producers so desire. The hon. Member for West Perth (Duchess of Atholl) rather seemed to picture that the "specified area" for this purpose might be the whole of Scotland. If she reads the Schedule she will see that it has to be an area in which one of the two exempted methods of sale might press excessively hard, and such a condition could not exist over the whole of Scotland.
1267 In regard to these exemptions, the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) asked me specifically to deal with the question of the lorry-salesman who buys his potatoes for the purpose of selling them to retailers. The hon. Member will find that they are exempted by a definite provision in paragraph 70 (f) as the last of the exceptions under "Sales of Potatoes to a Retailer." He will find, if he looks into the matter, that the position of these men is fully dealt with.
§ Mr. LENNOX-BOYD
Is it not possible that under the procedure to which the Noble Lady drew attention in an earlier speech they might be, none the less, precluded from carrying on their sales of potatoes?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I agree that that is possible, but if such a thing were done it would clearly be a case for the investigation committee. Hon. Members must bear in mind that the more one deals with these things the more one feels that the great safeguard at the back of the whole scheme in matters in which action by the board might be injurious is the investigation committee.
§ Mr. SKELTON
It is that committee in discussing which I am afraid I took up ten minutes of the House's time; it is set up under Section 9 of the 1931 Act. It has been suggested that the levy should be on an acreage basis. I dealt with that suggestion fully by pointing out that there is an alternative before the board to dealing with a surplus on an acreage basis.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
May I ask a question to which I should like a reply? What are the terms on which the board has the power to direct a sale of certain classes of potatoes? Does that mean that they can fix the price?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am informed that it is not proposed that the board shall fix the price, or that any fixing of the price is in this scheme at all. It deals far more with the question of grade and so on. [Interruption. "] I am sorry if I weary the House; I ask those hon. Members 1268 who are not interested in this question to pardon me, for we have to remember that we have a wider audience outside. I will not go into a controversy with the hon. Member for East Fifeshire (Mr. H. Stewart) on the exact number attending the meetings which have been held, but I entirely disagree with his view that this scheme has been proposed by the National Farmers' Union for both countries at the point of the pistol. The truth of the matter is that as far as organisation is concerned the farmers of both countries have been steadily becoming more and more in its favour, and it is neither fair nor right that, when an idea which two years ago was novel has been fully and admirably grasped by those bodies, one should then say that a scheme embodying it has been proposed unwillingly. Nor need I take in full detail the question that there has been no general consultation. The fact is that the duty of the Government and the Minister in approving a scheme, in allowing a public inquiry, and so on, is only that of being satisfied that persons promoting the scheme are duly representative of the producers of the product in the area concerned. The question of how many producers are involved is decided as a whole. If the promoters are found to be representative, the Government have not only a right but a duty to let it proceed.
One other topic of general importance has been raised, and it is also the answer to a question. It has been asked, "Why is there this restriction to authorised merchants? Why should the board have power to restrict to a panel of persons authorised by itself?" The answer will be clear in a moment. Were I criticising this scheme—and, like every other scheme, it has been subjected to anxious criticism—I should concentrate upon the risk of evasion by parcels of potatoes containing an improper amount of small potatoes. There is only one way of dealing with that risk of evasion. Other schemes would, of course, have other risks of evasion. The moment at which you can deal effectively with the risk of evasion is the moment of sale by the producer to an authorised merchant, and if there were to be no control of sales at that moment the scheme might well break down as a result of evasion. One last word—
Duchess of ATHOLL
Would my hon. Friend reply on two important points—first, whether it is possible for the market in this country to be flooded by potatoes from Northern Ireland; and, secondly, whether continuous weekly sales by the same producer to the same consumer would be allowed under Part VII.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I think there is no doubt that continuous weekly sales are allowed. The effect of Part VII is that, in the case of a contract for the sale of, say, 1,000 tons delivered in quantities of 1 cwt., such a transaction would be permissible, but not a series of separate sales of such quantities to an authorised merchant. With regard to Northern Ireland, it has been agreed between, the merchants and producers in Northern Ireland and the promoters of the scheme, as well as the Government of Northern Ireland, that only a fixed quantity of potatoes shall be allowed to be imported into this country from Northern Ireland. Therefore, there is no risk in that direction.
The suggestion that the large number of small producers may be snowed under by the votes of a few large producers does not tally with the facts. The facts with regard to the size of the producers of potatoes are as follows: Those cultivating five acres or less are 60 per cent., and those cultivating between five acres and 20 acres are another 10 per cent., making 70 per cent. in all, while of very large producers there is only a very small number.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Is there any limit?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!.''] This is a very important point. Hon. Members, apparently, do not care about the interests of the small producer. It seems to me that my hon. Friend has not yet answered the point that I made, which was that I do not see that there is any limit to the number of votes that one individual large producer may have under the scheme.
§ Mr. SKELTON
That is true; the voting power of one large producer cultivating 5,000 acres would be very great But the real answer to my Noble Friend is contained in the figures that I have given. Of the total number of producers, the proportion of these imaginary large producers must be very small.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The point is a very difficult one, but I think I can satisfy my Noble Friend by the application of arithmetic. The larger number of the small producers would prevent their being snowed under by a small number of large producers. I notice among my hon. Friends who represent urban constituencies a certain restiveness, but this is the last moment at which the House can deal with a question of vast importance to the agricultural industry, and in no circumstances would I restrict myself on account of the murmurs of urban members. As a matter of fact, however, I think I have succeeded in covering the whole of the ground, and I now commend the scheme to the House. My hon. Friends will realise that one's view as to the importance of this topic varies according to whether one is an urban or a rural Member. I wish to commend the scheme to the House and the country on the view that there have been instructive and expert criticisms of it in its original form but that in our judgment those criticisms, many of which were valid, have been met in the Amendments that have been made and that it is a scheme which those who care for the progress of agriculture can safely vote for and that the final decision may be taken at the polls.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 188; Noes, 37.1271
|Division No. 64.]||AYES.||[12.1 a.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leads, W.)||Blindell, James||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Boothby, Robert John Graham||Burghley, Lord|
|Albery, Irving James||Boulton, W. W.||Burgin, Or. Edward Leslie|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.)||Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Caporn, Arthur Cecil|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Carver, Major William H.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Brass, Captain Sir William||Clayton, Sir Christopher|
|Balniel, Lord||Broadbent, Colonel John||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Colman, N. C. D.|
|Bateman, A. L.||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd, Hexham)||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Conant, R. J. E.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Buchan, John||Copeland, Ida|
|Courtauld, Major John Sewell||Liddall, Walter S.||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Llewellin, Major John J.||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Loder, Captain J. de Vera||Salt, Edward W.|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Mabane, William||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Dunglass, Lord||McCorquodale, M. S.||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Eastwood, John Francis||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Scone, Lord|
|Eden, Robert Anthony||McKie, John Hamilton||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Shute, Colonel J. J.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Manningham-Butler, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Fermoy, Lord||Milne, Charles||Soper, Richard|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Moreing, Adrian C.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Morgan, Robert H.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Spens, William Patrick|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Goff, Sir Park||Morrison, William Shepherd||Stevenson, James|
|Goldie, Noel B.||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J,||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Graves, Marjorie||Nail, Sir Joseph||Stones, James|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Straues, Edward A.|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Nunn, William||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Hanley, Dennis A.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Satellite, Harold|
|Harbord, Arthur||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hartland, George A.||Palmer, Francis Noel||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Patrick, Colin M.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Pearson, William G.||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)||Penny, Sir George||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Petherick, M.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Pike, Cecil F.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Potter, John||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Radford, E. A.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H.||Rankin, Robert||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Jennings, Roland||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Reid, William Allan (Darby)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Remer, John R.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Rickards, George William|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Robinson, John Roland||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Sir Frederick Thomson and Lieut.-|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward.|
|Banfield, John William||Grundy, Thomas W.||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Batey, Joseph||Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Harris, Sir Percy||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Holdsworth, Herbert||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cape, Thomas||Janner, Barnett||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jenkins, Sir William||White, Henry Graham|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lawson, John James||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Daggar, George||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Va'ley)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lunn, William||Wilmot, John|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Dobbie, William||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||LERS FOR THE NOBS.—|
|Edwards, Charles||Parkinson, John Allen||Groves and Mr. Duncan Graham.|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Pickering, Ernest H.|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Price, Gabriel|
That the Scheme tinder the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 and 1933, for regulating the marketing of potatoes, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 4th day of December, 1933, be approved.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.1272
§ It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Tuesday evening, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Ten Minutes after Twelve o'Clock.