§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
I beg to move,That the Draft Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Scheme, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.As the House knows, it is almost exactly 20 years since the present Lord Privy Seal, then the Minister of Agriculture, with the full support of his colleagues in the Cabinet of that day, came to the conclusion that machinery was necessary to promote the orderly marketing of agricultural produce. The view of the Government of that day was that this was necessary both for the good of the agricultural industry and for the good of the consumers, and the decision which they then took led to the introduction in 1931 of the first Agricultural Marketing Bill. Since that day, for very nearly 20 years this has remained the firm policy of the Labour Party.
The Labour Government which came to an end just before the General Election this year gave very great consideration to the whole problem of agricultural marketing in the light of the circumstances ruling in these days, and it was decided by that Government as a matter of policy that it was still desirable to enable agricultural producers to have facilities for organising themselves for the better marketing of their produce. They decided that the earlier Marketing Acts needed bringing up to date to keep in line with modern thought and with the change of circumstances in the 20 years which had passed since 1931; and, in particular, the decision was taken that Ministers should be given rather more powers of control over the activity of marketing boards than they had under the original Act to ensure that they did not act in a manner contrary to the public interest. It was to bring about those changes in the Marketing Acts that we had the Marketing (Amendment) Act of last year which gave Ministers these considerably wider powers.
I mention this to begin with, because it is in the light of this general policy of the Labour Party going back for 20 years and the decisions which the last 2604 Government took, and the changes in the marketing law which we brought about, that the present marketing scheme which I am asking the House to approve should be judged. There has been no doubt on the part of anybody who has examined this question about the desirability of, and, indeed, the essential need for, this kind of marketing arrangement. In 1922 a Committee under the chairmanship of the Marquess of Linlithgow went into this, and I should like to quote a paragraph from the Report which puts the thing very clearly and has been endorsed by almost every Committee and everyone who has examined this matter down to the last Committee, which is still fresh in the minds of hon. Members. The Report said:It is in the direction of bringing production into relation with the requirements of the markets and of standardising and improving the marketability of farm products that producer co-operation can perform beyond dispute an undoubted and invaluable economic service.I believe that to be a fairly classic statement of what the Marketing Acts set out to do.
An essential feature of our industry to remember as a background to our discussion about this—I ask hon. Members in all parts of the House to recall it—is that the production of nearly all of our chief food supplies is in the hands of many thousands of separate producers scattered up and down the country, with established and very often conflicting habits, traditions and prejudices. It seems to me that there must be an overall plan in which they will be willing to cooperate if we are to avoid complete anarchy and considerable confusion. They need an organisation which is able to render them many valuable services, about which I shall say a word in a minute or two, quite apart from any question of price stabilisation. Many of these services can only be rendered effectively by or through an association of producers, and in a moment I will say a word as to why I think that is so.
Most hon. Members, and also people outside the House, will admit that in the particular case of fruit and vegetables these Islands can produce crops of as good a quality as can be produced anywhere in the world, and 2605 a good deal better than those grown in most other places. Those of us who have been connected with the industry, either as producers or representatives of agricultural and horticultural workers, will certainly know that in the horticultural industry we have a great body of people and a wealth of skill, experience and equipment, and highly productive land, which has been slowly and laboriously built up over the years.
It seems to us that this important industry is entitled to the benefits of a reliable marketing system, and certainly that the workers in it are entitled to ask for much more settled conditions than those that they have at times experienced. Now that we have the powers which Ministers have to control such a plan and to secure the passing on of the benefits of efficiency, and to ensure reliable high quality produce from the producer to the consumer, it seems right that we should do what we can to encourage our producers to take advantage of the position that exists.
I would say that a number of problems confront our home tomato industry in particular. That I cannot think will be denied by anyone, no matter what view they may take about the methods of dealing with them. First, there is the problem connected with consumer demand. In the past this industry has supplied a special part, but only a part. of the British consumer demand. The home producer is not in a position to satisfy the whole demand. I have the figures here, but I shall not weary the House with them. It seems unlikely that the industry can supply more than a part of the demand and that, in itself, brings the problem of winter demand, with the variability of our weather and so on.
How big a part it can supply depends on the high level of quality and the lowest practicable level of cost which the industry can reach, if the community wishes the industry to keep pace with the continuously expanding demand for high quality tomatoes. The production figures show that there is a continually expanding demand in this country for fresh tomatoes.
The endeavour of the producers to improve their own efficiency through organisation must be encouraged, and 2606 equally I should have thought it obvious that it is not much use for us to exhort the producers to greater efficiency if we are not willing to give them the means with which to bring about that greater efficiency in the marketing of their produce.
Another major marketing problem derives clearly from the uncontrollable fluctuation of supplies due to periods of cold and hot weather. In periods of subnormal supply or abnormal demand. the tomatoes must be widely spread to ensure fair supplies. When the position is the other way round, as it can quite easily be in a matter of days or weeks and there is a period of above-normal supply or subnormal demand, they must be widely spread for different reasons in order to utilise the demand fully and to avoid waste.
The main problems, therefore, are first the reduction of production and marketing costs, to which I think this scheme has a lot to contribute; the maintenance of quality, to which I think the Marketing Board certainly will have a lot to contribute, and the improvement of the assembly and direction of supplies in a manner which will facilitate the best distribution and the least waste.
May I say a word on the purpose of the scheme in front of us—
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask him whether, with a reduction of costs, it is his opinion that, as a result of this marketing scheme, prices of vegetables and produce will come down?
§ Mr. Brown
In this scheme we are dealing only with tomatoes and cucumbers and not vegetables generally. The point I have made, and the effect on the costs of getting the produce to the distributors, will emerge in the course of what I have to say. A lot of it is on that point, but in the course of this Debate I shall not give a wider discourse on the question of retail vegetable distribution. That is a different problem to which this is not the answer.
The scheme before the House has been prepared and submitted in accordance with the Marketing Acts of 1931 to 1949. It seeks powers for the regulation of the marketing in Great Britain of tomatoes 2607 and cucumbers by a Board partly, and in the main, elected by the producers of these products and, in part, appointed by the Minister. The promoters of the scheme, as is required, are drawn from the National Farmers' Unions of England and Wales and Scotland. Tomatoes are grown under glass by about 6,000 producers, about 3,000 produce tomatoes in the open, and there are about 2,000 producers of cucumbers in England and Wales all of whom are members of the National Farmers' Unions. There are over 500 producers of tomatoes in Scotland who are members of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland.
These figures represent considerable majorities of the producers of these products in the countries I have mentioned. Therefore, we may take it that the promoters of this scheme are substantially representative of the producers of tomatoes and cucumbers, as the Act requires. The scheme was first submitted to my right 'non. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland, in April, 1948. We followed the procedure laid down in the main Marketing Act for the hearing of objections. A public inquiry was held from 23rd to 26th November, 1948.
Following the receipt of the report of the Commissioner, my right hon. Friends decided upon a number of modifications which they thought should be made in the draft scheme. After consideration, the promoters assented to the modifications being made. My right hon. Friends, having satisfied themselves that the draft scheme, in the form in which it is now before the House, will conduce to the more efficient production and marketing of tomatoes and cucumbers, submit it for the approval of this House.
The Board which the scheme proposes to set up is to be, in part, elected by the registered producers on a regional basis. There will be 13 districts. Eleven have been allocated to England, and one each to Wales, including Monmouthshire, and to Scotland. The number of representatives to be elected by the registered producers in each district will vary from one to three according to the productive capacity in tomatoes and cucumbers of the district concerned. 2608 Section 1 (1) of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1949, requires that my right hon. Friends shall appoint not less than two and not more than one-fifth of the members of the Board from among persons who are experienced in the fields of commerce, finance, administration, public affairs or the organisation of workers, or who are conversant with the interests of consumers. On this basis, my right hon. Friends propose to appoint four members to the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board. The object of these appointments is to produce a balanced Board on which the specialised knowledge of the producer members will be leavened by the wider experience of the appointed members.
I cannot tell the House at the moment the names of the persons whom my right hon. Friends will appoint to the Board, but I can say—and I know that this will interest some of my hon. Friends in particular—that certainly one of the four will be thoroughly representative of the consumer point of view. Of course, all of the four will be consumers as distinct from the sense in which the rest of the Board will be producers.
§ Mr. Wilkes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
Why only one of the four? Why not all four? Four out of 20 is not a very good representation of the consumer interest.
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend is entitled to submit his point of view. We have, as 1 quoted from the Act, a number of fields of service to the community from which it is permissible to draw this leavening. All four will be consumers of tomatoes as distinct from producers of tomatoes. Therefore, in that sense, the point made by my hon. Friend is met. One of them will be distinct from the other three consumers, in that he or she will be specially appointed for his or her knowledge of the consumer organisation and its point of view. I deliberately made the point that all the four people will be consumers, as distinct from producers.
May I now say just a word about the powers and duties which attach to Marketing Boards of this character, and examine against that background, since it is of some importance, the particular powers and duties which this Board will have under this scheme. First of all, it should be able to establish conditions under which the sale of the producer's 2609 product will give confidence both to the producers and to the consumers. It should be able to encourage the regular and methodical supply of these markets in accordance with current needs. It should develop consumer demand, both by improving the character, standard, grading and convenience of supply, as well as by commercial propaganda of the most appropriate kind.
It should be in a position to collect and disseminate reliable, timely and practical market intelligence, which is of great importance in this particular field of our industry. It should encourage by every possible means better methods of production. It should have power to organize—and this is of considerable importance to the industry—suitable storage facilities as and when necessary, and to arrange for the economic utilisation of byproducts. It should be able to encourage the assembly, for transport in bulk when possible, of the product to be marketed, in order to diminish costs.
In all this work—and this is important when considering whether marketing schemes are right or not—it must be able to command first-class management and employ expert assistance. It is, after all, a feature of Marketing Boards that they can afford to do this, whereas it is peculiarly a feature of an industry of thousands of small people, as this one is, that producers themselves individually cannot afford to do so.
The powers which it is proposed to grant to this Board at the outset of the scheme are set out in paragraphs 68 and 69 of the scheme, of which I think hon. Members have a copy. These powers are purely regulatory in their scope. The Board may determine the descriptions of tomatoes and cucumbers which may be sold by registered producers and the terms on which they may be sold. They may maintain a list of persons to or through the agency of whom alone tomatoes and cucumbers may be sold. They may advertise, co-operate with any other person in grading, packing, storing, adapting for sale, insuring and transporting tomatoes and cucumbers. They may encourage, promote or conduct agricultural co-operation, research and education. They may encourage and promote the use of packing stations and standard grades. They may act as the agent or registered producers for the purpose of 2610 the Horticultural Produce (Sales on Commission) Act, 1926. Finally, they may negotiate with any other person in any matter relating to the marketing of tomatoes and cucumbers.
Having stated the duties, there are certain features of these powers to which attention should be drawn. Section 5 (e) of the 1931 Act, as amended by the Third Schedule to the 1933 Act, enables a Board to take power to determine the persons to or through whom the regulated product may be sold. It was represented at the public inquiry, and has been represented in various quarters since, that this power would enable the Board to disturb the normal channels of distribution. We believe that there is no need at all to apprehend this, but in any case I draw the attention of hon. Members who may still have that point in mind to the fact that, under the 1949 Marketing Act, the Minister has ample powers to remedy, and indeed to prevent, any abuses under the scheme.
Nevertheless, the power has been drafted in such a way as to make it quite clear that the Board can only maintain a list of distributors on which any distributor will be able to require the Board to enter his name, and from which no one can be removed unless the Board are satisfied that he cannot do the job; and, in the event of the last declaration being made, there are three safeguards.
First, before anybody can be removed from the list, the Board must consult the Advisory Committee appointed under paragraph 29 of the scheme, and that Committee will include wholesalers, retailers and processors. Secondly, any person whom the Board proposes to strike off the list can require the Board to hear him. Thirdly, any person who thinks he is injured by an act of omission of the Board can complain to the Minister who can. under Section 9 of the 1931 Act, refer the complaint to the committee of investigation. Every producer will be free to consign his produce to any person he chooses whose name is on the Board's list.
Finally, there are three classes of sale which at this stage are exempt from control by the Board. They are sales to consumers direct, sales for use, for example, to caterers, and sales to retailers direct.Therefore, the Co- 2611 operative movement, to mention one particular way in which it has been foreseen that there may be difficulty here, need have no fear that under this scheme they will be deprived of the right to consign the tomatoes they themselves produce to their own retail societies.
The House would think 1 was a little less than candid if I did not go on to examine the further powers that can be provided in certain circumstances under paragraph 70 of the scheme. Here, subject to the consent of the registered producers, to be obtained by a poll in the approved manner and subject again to my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland approving of their doing so in advance. the Board may be empowered to exercise certain further powers. Registered producers might then be required to sell tomatoes or cucumbers, or some part of the crop only, to the Board or through some agency of the Board. The Board would be authorised to determine the prices at which tomatoes and cucumbers may be sold by producers. The Board would be able to buy, sell, grade, pack, store, adapt for sale, insure and transport these products. They would be empowered to process tomatoes and cucumbers, and to trade in any commodities thus produced. They would be able to erect and operate packing stations, and to enforce standard methods of grading and marketing.
Before making any regulation with regard to price, the Board must notify not only the Minister responsible for the administration of the Act, but also the Minister of Food. There will always be an opportunity under these powers for any unwise decision of the Board to be vetoed by my right hon. Friend under the powers contained in Section 2 and Section 4 of the 1949 Act. If the Board are authorised to exercise any of the powers under this paragraph, they may find it necessary to cancel the exemption which paragraph 68 affords, and they are empowered to do so, but-and I want to draw the attention of the House to this pointthe Board will have no power to maintain a list of retailers to whom alone tomatoes and cucumbers may be sold, and, as I will show, the Board will not interfere with the normal channels of supplies to the consumer. The point I particularly want 2612 to make here is that the Co-operative movement will still be free, even under this paragraph, to supply their own shops with tomatoes.
Before I sit down, may I say a word about the benefits which I regard as certain to flow from the adoption of this scheme? I am quite sure that it will prove of inestimable value to both producers and consumers. There is a fallacy, which I think one wants to get rid of once and for all, that either producers or consumers can gain under an anarchic system of marketing agricultural produce. I believe that to be wholly fallacious and wholly untrue. In fact, neither gains, and both are at the mercy of other elements in the channel of distribution. By collective action, producers will be able to enjoy common services which would have been beyond their means as individual producers.
Fresh discoveries in techniques can be brought home to a wider public of growers. Consumers will reap the benefit in produce of a higher quality, and at lower prices made possible by reduced costs of production. With more efficient and more intelligent marketing, there will be less risk, in particular, of that situation which has hitherto been so often in our minds as a feature of this industry. That was the situation in which there has been a dearth of tomatoes in one area and in another neighbouring area more tomatoes than the market there could absorb, and no way of bringing supply and demand together.
It may be alleged, of course, that some of the powers of the Board are restrictive, but "restrictive" is one of so many words that can be made to sound so harsh and which mean so little. The interests of the public will be amply safeguarded by the consumers' committees and the committees of investigation established under Section 9 of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, and the further powers given to my right hon. Friend by Sections 2 and 4 of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1949.
I do not accept the view that the scheme will infringe in any way upon the legal or other rights of any section of the trading community. I believe it to be an essential means by which we can give those sections of our industry the stability, 2613 the basis of efficient production for cooperative marketing, which is so much needed if producers and workers in the industry, and the consumers of its products, are to have a fair chance. It is in that spirit that I commend the scheme to the House for approval.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)
It is proper that I should declare my interest in this matter. I am a grower both of tomatoes and cucumbers, though I am not a sufficiently large grower to come within the scheme, as it is drafted at present. I doubt whether I shall be at any time. Therefore, perhaps, I can look at the scheme without having any personal interest in it, but with some experience of the production side.
I believe that this scheme, the draft of which we have before us, is of great importance both to producers and consumers. I agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that for the producer it should mean greater stability, and for the consumer better quality. I am sure my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House give a general welcome to this scheme, because we also have been consistently in favour of grading and ordered marketing. The Conservative Party has declared itself plainly on this question on a number of occasions.
I want to make that point because, from time to time, it has been suggested from the back benches opposite that the Conservative Party is in favour of a sort of free-for-all for producers, with consumers getting the dirty end of the stick. In our statement of policy for British horticulture, in July, 1947, we said:One of the main problems of the horticultural industry is marketing. An even distribution of the products of the industry is fundamentally necessary both in the interests of the efficiency of the industry itself and the satisfaction of public needs.In the Agricultural Charter of 1948 we said:We shall encourage growers to set up a comprehensive scheme to ensure proper efficiency in horticultural marketing and distribution, with the best possible service to the consumer.We said the same thing in much the same words in 1949, and again in 1950.
2614 There is obvious need for the scheme, because our consumption and production of tomatoes in this country is very considerable. The total acreage under tomatoes in 1949 was something over 5,700, of which over 3,300 were under glass. The total acreage of cucumbers, all under glass, was much smaller; it was 475.
As the Parliamentary Secretary said, we cannot from home produce satisfy anything like the whole need of the consumers. In 1949 we imported 4,693,000 cwt. of fresh tomatoes, another 965,000 cwt. in cans and 156,500 cwt. of tomato juice. Excluding altogether the Channel Islands from whom we obtained over £6 million worth of tomatoes last year. we spent in 1949 £16 million on buying tomatoes from abroad and a further £4,600,000 on canned tomatoes and fruit juice.
Our consumption of fresh, canned and puree tomatoes in 1949 was 181 lb. per head of the population, of which 15.3 lb. approximately was fresh tomatoes. It will be seen that it is of paramount importance to increase home production and home processing facilities. Obviously no scheme can be completely watertight, but there is one not very large hole which needs plugging if an adequate plug can be found. It concerns tomatoes mainly, and cucumbers to an unimportant degree only.
To qualify for the marketing scheme the producer must have, according to paragraph 41 (b), two or more units of production as defined in paragraph 5. There are a considerable number—I think some 7,000—commercial growers who have less than the requisite two units and whose produce will not be controlled by the Board. It is true that their acreage is small, but most of their production is outdoor tomatoes and so comes on to the market at the peak period. I feel that in certain districts the volume might be sufficient to upset the working of the Board, with markets temporarily flooded by uncontrolled and probably ungraded produce.
I put forward for consideration a possible and admittedly only partial solution. Many of these small growers sell their produce through growers' co-operatives. Might it not be possible to constitute the co-operative as the unit holder? A 2615 growers' co-operative might hold 100 units covering 450 growers. This would bring their produce within the scope of the Board, and it would encourage growers to join co-operative organisations and form new ones. This would reduce grading and packing costs and so reduce the prices to the consumer. There may be some difficulty which I have not foreseen, but I would ask consideration to be given to this suggestion.
§ Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)
I am interested in the hon Gentleman's argument with regard to the small producer, but I should like to know whether there is anything at present which prevents the small grower from forming the kind of co-operative society which he envisages. Is there anything which prevents him doing that of his own accord?
§ Mr. White
No, Sir, nothing at all. But if the co-operatives became unit holders it would encourage this process even further.
I want to ask one question about Part III—the Register of Producers. It seems desirable to clarify the procedure whereby producers shall enter or leave the scheme. I will take the example of a grower known to me, to illustrate what I mean. In 1948 he had 800 tomato plants under glass, and about 3,000 plants in the open. In 1949 he had only 100 tomato plants under glass, and none at all in the open. This year he has 500 under glass and about 5,000 in the open. During that period he would have been eligible for inclusion in one year, out of it the next, and in it the next. With the inevitable good and bad seasons for outdoor tomatoes—1949 was a bad one—there is bound to be each year a number of growers going out of tomato production, or falling below the two-unit minimum, and new growers coming in. I would ask whether it is the intention of the Board to lay down a date for registration or de-registration under the scheme.
I should like to raise one small point concerning paragraph 29, section (2), and it is the appointment of advisory committees. I assume that, amongst the representation of consumer interests in the advisory committees, there will be representatives from, say, the Women's Institute or the W.V.S. and also repre- 2616 sentatives of the catering organisations, who are very large purchasers of tomatoes and cucumbers. I feel that the views of housewives and caterers should be of value to the Board.
May I raise another small, but perhaps important point under paragraph 4—interpretations of expressions. It seems necessary to define more clearly what is meant by a glasshouse, because quite considerable quantities of tomatoes are produced nowadays under lights and large-sized cloches. Are they to be classed as glasshouses or not in determining the units of production? As the right hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, the statistical returns of tomatoes grown under glass do include those grown in frames and under cloches, and it seems desirable to have uniformity in this matter. If this point can be cleared up while the scheme is in draft it may save misunderstandings later.
I hope very much that the forthcoming ballot of producers will be very heavily in favour of this scheme. I am sure it is sound and necessary, and a useful contribution to the good health of horticulture. To be a success it must be linked with the fair and proper regulation of imports. The best scheme in the world will break down if the market is flooded at the wrong time with foreign produce. In framing this import policy we must take into special consideration the Channel Islands producers who send us about 1½ million cwt. of tomatoes per year.
I said at the beginning of my remarks that this scheme is of great importance. Tomato growing is an important part of the great horticultural industry. Although the acreage involved is comparatively small, the amount of capital sunk in tomato growing alone is calculated at £50 million. The factor, however, that makes this scheme so important is that if it proves a success—and there must be full co-operation to see that it is a success—then it will be possible to go ahead with other marketing schemes for other horticultural products—schemes that will be to the benefit of the producer and of the consumer as well.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)
In the first place, I should like to say that all of us are grateful to the Minister, who 2617 has been responsible for certain modifications in the scheme originally presented by the National Farmers' Union, because as the scheme was originally designed, it was calculated to conform more to the kind of co-operation which is usually associated with Mussolini's regime than to the kind of organisations which we are accustomed to expect in this country.
Having regard to the fact that the Minister has effected those modifications, I appreciate some of the points made by the Parliamentary Secretary in indicating how kind the Department have been so far as the Co-operative movement is concerned. In this regard, like the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White), who indicated that he had some special interest, I should make it clear that, while I have no special interest, the Co-operative movement itself is one of the largest growers of tomatoes and cucumbers in this country. We differ from the National Farmers' Union in this way—we always prefer to do things ourselves rather than to come to the Minister and ask him to do them for us.
If we strip this scheme of all its verbiage and trappings, what it amounts to is this. It means that a group of people who feel incompetent to do things themselves, have come to the Minister and asked him to give them power to compel people to do the things they are otherwise unwilling to do. That is the fundamental objection I have, and the people associated with the Co-operative movement generally have, to the scheme put forward tonight.
I wonder what hon. Members on the other side would think if representatives of the Agricultural Workers' Union came to this House and suggested to the Minister that there were a number of refractory elements in that organisation who would not join the organisation and that the Minister should give the union power to compel them to become associated with the union? Would there not be terrific criticism in all quarters of the House that such compulsion should he applied? But is there anything worse about giving to the Agricultural Workers' Union the power to compel people to join that association, than there is in compelling people who grow tomatoes and cucumbers to be associated with an organisation of this kind if they do not 2618 want to be associated with it? Therefore, the first thing I want to observe is, of course, that there is this compulsory element in the pattern of the proposal before us.
I want, secondly, to make it clear that we are all in favour of orderly marketing, and I feel that a scheme should be advanced far superior to anything contained in this draft Order at the present moment—one large-scale organisation doing precisely what this Order sets out to do. We have already created effective marketing, so far as the Co-operative movement is concerned, but unfortunately, of course, there are a large number of people who are not prepared to co-operate. What we suggest is that if there is to be orderly marketing, then a board should be set up, not representative of the producers only, with a producers' cartel being created, but a board composed of representatives of the producers, the distributors and the consumers. The Ministry would have representation. I think we should all feel agreed that it we had an independent board of that character, the general interest of the country would be observed.
Here we have a naked appeal to the Minister to set up a Board which will consist of 20 representatives chosen by the producers themselves. The Parliamentary Secretary, in an outburst of candour, imagines that this Board will set up an Advisory Committee; but what he does not make plain to the House is the fact that this Advisory Committee will consist of the whole of the members of the Board itself, and one or two other people who will be thrown into it in order to create a decorous facade to make us believe that it represents the public interest—
§ Mr. Coldrick
—while every child in politics knows that anybody who has any nefarious design does not come forward and tell people his intentions but tries to cloak them under the pretence that he is promoting the public interest. I submit that that is precisely what is happening in regard to this device that is now being adopted.
§ Mr. Coldrick
I believe it is in paragraph 29, but I will not trouble to trace it out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] All right, then I will. It is paragraph 29, which says:The Board shall set up and appoint an Advisory Committee which shall consist of members of the Board and of persons who, in the opinion of the Board, represent the views of wholesale and retail salesmen and processors of tomatoes and cucumbers.It the Parliamentary Secretary can read anything into that other than what I have said, I am open to correction.
§ Mr. Coldrick
What I am indicating is that while we believe in orderly marketing and so forth, we, as consumers generally, have a strong resentment against a sectional body or a sectional interest being given statutory power to impose its will upon the rest of the community in this country.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Co-operative movement ought to be perfectly satisfied. Well, the Minister has been very accommodating in certain directions, because let there be no illusion about it, that when the scheme was originally drafted the intention was for this Board to enjoy the monopolistic and dictatorial power to say how all tomatoes should be sold in the market. It would have had the effect of making even the Co-operative Wholesale Society, as a big grower, sell the whole of its tomatoes and cucumbers to the Board and yet be denied the opportunity of selling to its own retail shops.
It is because of the pressure of opinion brought to bear through a public inquiry that the Minister has very graciously consented to remedy that. While we have that concession at the moment, I do not want my hon. Friends to imagine that we have the safeguards the Parliamentary Secretary implies. We discover that, while it is true that in the initial stages the Board will not be able to dictate who are the persons and agencies through which the tomatoes and cucumbers shall be sold, at a later stage if the 2620 Board take a poll of these producers and get a two-thirds majority they can, with the consent of the Minister, take just those powers which are denied to them at the present moment.
I fear that a Minister who is prepared to confer upon a limited number of people the powers for which they are asking under this draft Order will be prepared to concede anything to them, if their pressure is such in the interests of producers who are going to fleece our public in the way they intend to fleece them. I utter this solemn warning, that it will be not merely the Lord President and the Minister of Food who will go on to the platform and ask the housewives to strike against high prices, but we shall mobilise all the strength we can in this country to protect consumers generally against ravages of this character.
Just imagine conferring upon a Board such as this the power to fine people, as is suggested in this draft. It will be observed that under the Order as it stands, if a person declines to do what the Board wants him to do the Board can fine him £100 and half the value of the tomatoes and cucumbers he sells. Sometimes the Minister of Food is pilloried in this House because he employes certain people to go into shops to ascertain whether people are charging more than the normal price, and those people are always referred to as "snoopers." If it is wrong for the Government to employ people to see whether legislation passed by this House is carried out, what is right about conferring upon the National Farmers' Union the power to send someone of their own organisation with the right of entry into a farmer's house, to ascertain whether he is storing tomatoes, preparing tomatoes, or preparing a sauce, or anything of that nature?
§ Mr. Coldrick
It is an outrage against the people's sense of justice to confer upon a specialist interest in this country the power of entry and the power of fining suggested in this Order. They have not only power in that direction, but they even have power to fine if certain statistics are not supplied.
I sincerely hope that Members of this House will decline to pass an Order of this character without modification, which, 2621 while it is calculated to benefit a very limited section of the community that is totally incompetent to organise its own industry, is so desgined as to plunder the public, as they always have been plundered under Marketing Acts of this kind.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Lord Dunglass (Lanark)
I should like, first, to thank the hon. Member for Bristol, North East (Mr. Coldrick) for giving Members of our party so much free propaganda. I think that he will find his speech reprinted in a good many of our party pamphlets in the next few months. I would say this to him: if he feels so strongly about this, we hope that he will carry his convictions into the Lobby this evening.
I believe, however, that the hon. Member fears a number of bogeys which will not materialise. This procedure under the Marketing Acts is well known, and it has been applied in many cases between the wars. I do not recollect the case of any minority of producers who felt that they had been bulldozed by a majority vote. If the hon. Gentleman is so keen as he professes to be to see the price of tomatoes and cucumbers lower to the consumer, perhaps he will make recommendations to the National Coal Board to lower the price of coal, and to the Ministry of Transport to lower the price of transport, for these are the elements in the cost of production which are leading to the high price of vegetables and fruit.
I want this evening to raise only one point which was only touched upon briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White). That is to ask the Minister if he will make a statement on the Government's intentions about imports in relation to this Marketing Act. He was, I think, in the House of Commons in 1931 when the Socialist Government brought in the first Marketing Act. Apart from the hop scheme, there was no marketing scheme brought in under the Marketing Act until there was effective control of imports.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I will say now, in an attempt to prevent other speakers following a similar trend, that this scheme has nothing to do with imports.
§ Lord Dunglass
The right hon. Gentleman had better come to my constituency and tell that to the producers. I am supporting the right hon. Gentleman. Let him be careful that he does not interrupt me too often.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
Is the hon. Member aware that one of the reasons advanced by the National Farmers' Union for the need of this scheme was as follows:It is claimed that competition from overseas needed regulation before the war and will need it again, and the home industry must be organised before a claim can he made for the control of imports"?I offer that interruption, because it is complete confirmation of why the scheme is put forward as it is.
§ Lord Dunglass
Exactly, and I want to know from the Minister whether it is the Government's intention to control imports.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that imports come into the Order. I cannot see that they have anything to do with it at all. I must rule that out of order.
§ Lord Dunglass
There is to be in September, Mr. Speaker, another conference at Torquay at which this question of the regulation of the import of tomatoes will be settled. If a decision is taken at Torquay to allow increased imports of tomatoes, in my opinion this scheme will be wrecked. It is simply leading the producers up the garden path.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is all very well, but the ground that could be covered is very large. We must stick to this Order and not go beyond it into the question of imports. We are limited to the scheme outlined in the Order.
§ Lord Dunglass
Then I will limit myself to your Ruling, Sir. In general, this scheme has my support and the support of hon. Members on this side, although we have great anxiety on the point I have tried to mention and which you have ruled out of order.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The scheme that has been put forward arises not only from the demand of the National Farmers' Union, which has been explained to us, but also from the general 2623 trend of legislation under the Labour Government and previous Governments to control prices and guarantee to producers a regular market. This Order, up to a point, may be a praiseworthy effort to carry out this intention. I do not suppose you would allow me to argue whether it is a good intention or a bad intention, Sir, but at any rate it was the intention of the legislation that was passed to make possible the creation of precisely such schemes as the Minister of Agriculture now brings before the House for our consideration.
Admitting all that, it is still necessary to say that a Labour Government, which must be expected to have taken a carefully balanced view as between producers and consumers, have entirely failed to provide for the consumers the protection they can rightly claim. In my view, it is nonsense to talk about consumers' representation when, out of the 20 members of the tomato and cucumbers producers' board, only four are representatives of the consumers. Further, when we come to look at these four members, we find they are not necessarily put forward by the consumers' organisations; they are more likely to be the nominees of the Ministry of Agriculture.
I do not wish to continue to discuss this matter without declaring that I have an interest. I am a member of a co-operative society with a very strictly restricted investment provided for by law, which does not carry my interests very far, but they are there. I also have an interest as a grower. I have seven tomato plants. They are coming along very nicely at the moment and they will be used to save me from the pressure of the producers in matters of price to the extent that seven plants will produce tomatoes. It is because the organised consumers' movements exist to protect the consumers adequately against the pressure of the producers that we complain about the ineffectiveness of the arrangements now made for consumers' representation.
I agree with the Minister that he has made genuine efforts to improve considerably the scheme now before us, compared with that which was first offered by the National Farmers' Union. He has, for example, made it clear that all those who hope to secure tomatoes in future shall be on the list of those suppliers. I 2624 am not sure that even that will secure the aim he apparently has in view, because, for example, if a consumers' society desires to obtain a consignment of tomatoes from a horticultural company producing them, and that company has no ideas about co-operation similar to those held by private traders in so many other departments, it is not at all unlikely that those who have got tomatoes to sell will prefer to have them sold not by co-operative societies but by private distributing agencies. There is no guarantee, even when the Minister has protected the main supplying firm, that the private producers will carry out his intentions.
This is one of the many criticisms to be advanced, but my main criticism remains, and it is that this is still a great producer organisation that the Minister has built up; it may do good work in that capacity, work that it is worth while our supporting, but it does not give, as a scheme, that guarantee to the Labour movement, which has been carrying on a great propaganda about this for the last few years, that adequacy of representation in the detailed management which it wishes to claim.
I will not carry this matter to a Division—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—because there is a job being accomplished so far as the producers are concerned, and I want that job to be done. I am not only saying that the Minister has stopped short at the effective point, but I cannot understand why the party opposite, that has had so much to say about setting the people free and the protection of trade through consumers and ending all the processing of regulating the development of the power of central control, does not carry this matter to a Division. I hope that as the scheme goes forward the Minister will give more attention to the claims the Co-operative movement have made, and that there will be considerable modification of the present proposal.
§ Captain Duncan (South Angus)
I am in a little difficulty in declaring my interest in this as I have not counted my tomato plants, and I do not know whether I have 999 or 1.000 or whether I come into the scheme. However. I wish to declare that I have tomato plants, and more than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). I would like to say a few words about the speech 2625 of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick). He has made a most remarkable speech, which will be read by every grower, and every person interested in agriculture, with the greatest of interest. It is almost as good as a seller as the speech made some months ago by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). The interesting thing about the speech was that, although it criticised this scheme, it was, in fact, critical of the 1949 Marketing Act passed by a Labour Government, and the 1931 Act also passed by a Labour Government.
§ Captain Duncan
I was not in the House in 1931 or 1949, so I am not prepared to argue the point; but the fact is that Members opposite passed these Acts and the hon. Member has spent the whole of his speech criticising them and not the scheme. Members opposite talk about prices and say that the Co-operative Movement does not believe in this sort of thing, but want to give a lead by growing their own produce. Let them give a lead now. Why do they not do it by reducing prices? It would be very much more honest if the Co-operative Movement, instead of talking about a reduction in prices, now reduced their prices to the consumer.
It would be of great interest to the people of the country if they could be here tonight and see, for a change, the serried ranks of Members opposite to support the hon. Member in his efforts to damp down this scheme. This scheme is admittedly an experiment. There have been other marketing boards set up, but none before for horticultural production. I think it will be of great interest to watch how the scheme goes, because, as Members have already said, it may be a model for future horticultural marketing schemes.
Therefore, we want to be very careful that it is a success. It can only be a success if the effect of it is to improve the marketing of the article concerned, to increase efficiency and to maintain a profit for the grower. If it satisfies these three tests, the scheme deserves the support of the growers when they come to have polls in the future. As has been 2626 said, £50 million is involved, a large amount of which is put up by small people, people of the class about which Members opposite are always talking. I believe that if this scheme goes through it will deserve well of the country, of the industry and of the consumer.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Crosland (Gloucestershire, South)
I am glad that we have had this protest from this side of the House tonight. I should like to support it, although from a rather different point of view, since I do not have a Co-op. interest or grow tomatoes. It is a very sad thing that we should have had a scheme of this kind from a Labour Government. I do not agree that the scheme was implicit in the 1949 Act. That Act certainly gave permission for this draft scheme to be put forward, but there was nothing in it which laid down, in this sort of detail, the kind of scheme being put forward tonight here. Therefore, it is consistent for us to criticise the details of this scheme, as such details are not explicit in the Act of last year.
It is a sad thing that we should have a scheme from a Labour Government which sets up what is a producers' monopoly, with full power over prices, over output, and over new entry into the industry. It certainly seems to me to be a sad thing, although I can see some arguments in favour of the scheme. But a scheme like this is giving full monopoly powers to a private body of producers. I would not have been surprised if a scheme of this sort had been put forward by the other side of the House and been opposed from this side. It is the other side of the House which has consistently supported, for example, retail price maintenance, and which was responsible for agricultural marketing Acts before the war. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The Labour Party were responsible for one Agricultural Marketing Act, in 1931, which was admittedly an interim Act, and was the beginning of that helpful policy which the party had not time to put into full operation because it was thrown out.
That a scheme such as this comes from this side of the House is a great surprise. It goes counter to what I thought was becoming general thinking about agricultural and horticultural marketing generally. I would like to quote a few remarks 2627 from what is probably the most authoritative study ever published in this country -the well-known study by Lord Astor and Seebohm Rowntree, and the experts associated with them.
§ Mr. Speaker
We have to devote our selves fairly closely to cucumbers and tomatoes, under the Order. The general throwing of party thrusts across the Floor of the House is not very opportune at this moment.
§ Mr. Crosland
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I had no intention of going too wide. I wanted to show that this scheme is running counter to what I thought was the increasingly agreed view we had about agricultural marketing. In view of your Ruling, I will leave that point and pass back to rather more detailed points about this scheme.
At the cost of running into trouble, I think it is important to ask what is the motive behind this scheme, because it is evidently a restrictive motive. No one pretends that the National Farmers' Union, or the tomato growers, or anyone else, want these powers over prices or output to be brought into operation today. If this scheme goes through we shall not have a scheme for the control of prices and output brought into operation this year or next year. It is evident that this scheme is wanted as a protection against the day when there may be conditions of greater over-supply, as the producers think, than there are at the moment.
It is clear, I think, from the last two speeches, and from all the speeches of hon. Members opposite, that the general thought behind the scheme is an attempt by the producers to organise themselves, as they think, in a satisfactory way, into a coherent body like this, so that their claim for the control and restriction of imports of tomatoes will be stronger.
§ Mr. Speaker
The import of tomatoes is out of order on this Order. I pulled up the noble Lord the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) on that point. We cannot discuss imports.
§ Mr. Crosland
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I had no intention of challenging your Ruling.
2628 I think it is particularly unfortunate that this scheme has been produced at this moment, because we have had, during the last two or three years, the Lucas Report and a great deal of general discussion about the future of agricultural marketing. I think it is wrong that we should anticipate a lot of decisions which might have been taken on the basis of that Report by bringing in, prematurely, a detailed scheme of this kind.
The Government's answer to all the criticism is that even if one is giving the producers the power over prices and output, it does not matter because the Government are always there in the background. This is not a very convincing protection for the consumer at all. If the Government envisage that the industry is always to put forward schemes so innocuous that the Minister will always approve them, that is one thing; but if the Minister envisages the producers frequently putting forward schemes so restrictive that even the Ministry of Agriculture would object, then it would have been better not to have set up a producers' body in the first place, but a body nominated by the Minister.
If the Government take the view that, while we have the present Minister and the present Parliamentary Secretary in their offices, everything is all right, I would remind them that we must face the realities of the future. It is a regrettable fact that we cannot regard them as permanent safeguards for the consumer and that, when we have a Tory Minister of Agriculture and a Tory Parliamentary Secretary, we may have a very much more restrictive scheme.
The last point which I make about the safeguarding of the consumer is this: if we set up a producers' marketing scheme of this sort it clearly strengthens the bargaining position of the industry against the Ministry. Quite obviously, the producers will have a far stronger chance of imposing their views on the Minister. I would end by again relating this particular scheme to a more general point. It seems to me the sort of scheme which might have been in place 15 years ago. The Marketing Acts before the war had a certain justification in the then prevailing economic conditions. If this had been produced 15 years ago we on this side of the House would have given it more 2629 sympathetic consideration because then one had low prices and falling markets; but in days of full employment and expanding markets and demand, it seems to me to be wrongly conceived. There might have been a place for it in prewar days, but it is decidedly out of place with expanding demand, and it is for that reason that I voice this disquiet.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
While the Parliamentary Secretary was making his speech in opening the Debate, I asked whether he could give an assurance that this scheme would reduce costs to the public. He said that he would deal with that at a later stage but, so far as I have been able to follow him, other than saying that four out of the 20 were to be consumers, or representatives of consumers he has not dealt with that point at all. It is a point of substance, and I would ask the Minister, if he is to reply, whether he would say if this scheme, although it assists the producers, also guarantees a reduction in cost.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland), rather like the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick), who is now leaving the Chamber, made speeches of extraordinary political interest and I will not follow them in them because I feel that they have already exposed the feelings of a very large section of their own party. The interest to me is, first, that the producer, as a result of this scheme, should have better marketing and, second, but equally important, that the consumer should have cheaper produce.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that possibly the objections from the consumers' point of view might be met if a larger proportion than four were included on the Marketing Board. I believe that would probably meet many of the feelings, at any rate, some of us have got and, I think, one of the most important things that we have now to face, and are facing, is the continual rise in costs of every commodity that is to be bought on the markets. Anything that can be done to guarantee a reduction in price and costs, provided that it is not detrimental to the producer, by cutting out the intermediate stages would be to the advantage of the community as a whole.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
I am not interested in this matter as a grower of tomatoes, not even of seven plants, but I am interested personally in tomatoes because I like them for breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper. Therefore, my principal interest is as a consumer, but I am also directly interested in agricultural production as such. During my life-time, I have seen the producers of agricultural products in this country suffer severely through the lack of the kind of organisation which it is intended to set up under this Order. Because I have seen that suffering, I am going to support the Order this evening and I hope the House will give it its unanimous support, too.
The very kind of argument that was used by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), was used precisely 20 years ago against the Addison Marketing Act. That is a great pity, because I thought we had made progress. I can understand in some way the opposition of the Co-operative Members of Parliament and of the C.W.S. against this, because they say we are not going to give the consumers representation on the Board.
What is the principal element of this scheme? It is that the producers of tomatoes shall be banded together for the better production and sale up to the wholesale stage of tomatoes. The whole of the capital involved will come from the producers. If we are to evolve a scheme that included the production of tomatoes and the retail sale of tomatoes, then there would be grounds for complete equality of representation on the Board.
But the Marketing Acts do not provide for that and neither do the co-operatives or consumers want it. Quite clearly, what is envisaged is that both sides of the industry—the producer and the distributing—should be organised, but not in the same Board. There must be negotiations, however, between the producing side and the distributing side in the fixing of prices and therefore, it seems to me that their argument completely falls to the ground that we can expect to establish a marketing board that provides for equal representation of consumers on it.
There has been criticism of the powers that the Board would possess, but there are no more powers in this scheme than there are to be found in the co-operative 2631 schemes in Denmark or any other country for the production of butter or bacon or anything else. The purpose of the powers is to ensure that the producers as such will produce the quality that the consumers are wanting and unless the Board have those powers we might as well not have the Board. Quite clearly, without this organisation for tomatoes and cucumbers, and similar organisations for other commodities, we cannot prevent the widening spread of greater differences between the prices which the producers are being paid and what the consumers have to pay. Today there is a wider difference than before the war between the producers' price and what the consumers pay.
If the producers, on their side, are endeavouring to build up the kind of organisation that will enable us to limit that, then why describe it as a "restrictive" scheme? The scheme is not restrictive any more than the Milk Marketing Board has been restrictive. Where would the country have been without the Milk Marketing Board all during the war? Where would the increase of production and of quality have come without the organisation of the Milk Marketing Board?
We cannot ensure the continued expansion of tomato-growing in this country without this kind of scheme because we must have production units of an economic character; they must have stability and they must be linked up with organisations. It is no good, at this stage, saying that this scheme will not assist the people of this country eventually to obtain more and better tomatoes, no doubt at cheaper prices. That is what can happen. Without it we can have high prices and low prices and in the variations that take place neither the consumer nor the producer will get the advantage but the people in between, and that is what we must avoid.
I hope that my hon. Friends will bear in mind the broad principles by which our party have stood in their approach to the agricultural and horticultural industries, and will view the past from the point of view of those who have lived and worked in these industries. Those people have been exploited and have had a very thin living, and today they are as much entitled to as good a living as any other section in the country.
2632 We do not turn round and say, "We want cheap textiles from Japan or anywhere else." We are not asking for cheap imports of the things of which we are consumers. We are quite desirous of giving to the people who produce the things that we consume a fair price, and we are only asking that the producers of tomatoes and cucumbers should have the same right. They have not got it today because the industry cannot be organised to prevent the very big fall in prices that will mean great loss to the producers of tomatoes this very year.
The planned development of the tomato industry in such a way as to ensure from home production a greater flow does, therefore, require the kind of machinery that has been thought out here. It has been over two years in incubation. It has been pulled about from every side. The Minister has done his best to harmonize the interests of the growers with the interests of the consumers, and those growers who want to supply consumers direct or even retailers, so that there should be no particular hardship. I therefore ask hon. Members on this side of the House to think of the million or more who work in British agriculture, to see that they have a fair deal, to recognise that this scheme is best, and let it go forward.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
I suppose that I ought to apologise to the House for speaking at this late hour, but I must say that important Orders of this sort, and they are very important, ought not to be taken at this time of night. We may as well understand quite clearly that this Order is the first of a series that will have a very far-reaching effect on the economy of this country.
The facts about the make-up of this vast grouping of small consumers are these—and I took the trouble to get the information from the Ministry of Agriculture. The total acreage of glasshouses in the last published figures was 3,155. Holdings of less than a quarter of an acre comprises 83.1 per cent. of the total number of growers, and represented 22.5 per cent. of the total acreage. Holdings of less than one-eighth of an acre comprised 17.3 of the total number of growers, and 12.7 per cent. of the total acreage. That is a complete refutation not only of his point, but also of the 2633 main plea of the National Farmers Union. This industry, in fact, has a very large acreage in very few hands, as well as a large number of small producers, and it is false to plead tonight that this is an issue affecting only small producers.
There are a few other essential facts which should be in the possession of the House. The pre-war consumption of tomatoes was 250,000 tons, one-third coming from the Canary Isles, one-third coming from the Channel Islands and Holland, and one-third from home producers. As a result of the war, when we could not get tomatoes from abroad, home production was substantially stepped up and demand increased. Even now, we have reached the point where only 50 per cent. of the total consumed is home-produced.
Mr. Speaker has ruled that it would be wrong to refer to imports, and I defer to that Ruling, but I must call the attention of the House, and I hope I am in order, to the fact that if only 50 per cent. of the tomatoes consumed in this country are home-produced the remainder must come from somewhere. If hon. Gentlemen are interested in the motives behind this scheme I would refer them to the point quite rightly made by the noble Lord the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) following an intervention I made.
The Parliamentary Secretary had great difficulty tonight in containing himself when my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) dealt with paragraph 29. It is just funny to call this an advisory committee. Here is a board of 20 producers, four of whom are chosen by the Ministry. Mathematically the producers predominate. They choose the Advisory Committee. It is just funny; it is certainly not serious politics to bring forward arguments in favour of that proposition.
I must speak to the Order, as Mr. Speaker has ruled, but I am reminded of the other night when we stayed here two hours while hon. Members opposite were having a lovely time in the Debate on the 1951 census. We have no comment from them tonight because new agricultural courts are being set up with far-reaching powers. At present a uniformed policemen has to go to the magistrates to get a search warrant, but if this Order is passed, an official of the Ministry of Agriculture can go anywhere he thinks 2634 tomatoes or cucumbers are being produced.
Let me refer to another point. I want to speak to some of my hon. Friends in the Liberal Party, who are generally bursting to have a go for freedom. In the Third Schedule it states:If you wilfully misstate the number of units of production which you are asked to state above, you will render yourself liable to imprisonment or a fine or both.We are entitled to know from the Minister where the legal sanction is; I do not doubt there is one, but the House could never have realised what it was doing when it gave a legal sanction of that sort.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
It it is in the Agricultural Marketing Act, for which the hon. Member and his hon. Friends voted.
§ Mr. Daines
It is not difficult to understand the hon. Members voting for it, but I think it was a wrong thing to do.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Member was a Member of the Standing Committee which considered that Bill, and he voted for that particular provision.
§ Mr. Daines
That, I frankly confess, is news to me. I will certainly look up the point, but I do not accept that I was present when the provision was actually before the Committee. The point certainly does not worry me unduly. It is quite easy for an hon. Member to make an assertion like that, but it should not be accepted unless there is chapter and verse for it. If there is chapter and verse I will apologise to him, but for the moment I do not accept it.
Let us look at paragraph 70 (b). The Minister may concede powers to the Board to determine the highest or lowest price, but, having given those powers, the Board proceeds to exercise them, and all that is required is that they shall notify the Minister or the Minister of Food.
§ Mr. Turton
I have the Report of the Standing Committee here. I find that the hon. Member was not on the Standing Committee, and I wish to withdraw and apologise.
§ Mr. Daines
That, of course, was a form of political amnesia from which the hon. Member suffered. What interests me is the political schizophrenia which has begun to show itself among hon. Members, 2635 who one moment are crying for protection and the next for the opposite. I do not mind that, but what appals me is that my own Front Bench, three weeks ago, supported me, on these very principles, on price resale maintenance, but, tonight, takes the opposite view against the needs of the consumers. It is no use the Labour Party coming forward with schemes for efficient retail distribution if we concede this point tonight. By doing so we are giving power to the producer and a whole sequence of marketing orders will follow in the same way. The Minister knows it. It will be impossible for the Minister of Food or the Labour Party to come forward with schemes of efficient distribution if we have already surrendered the main citadel by passing this Order.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I am aware that the Minister of Agriculture was somewhat disappointed at the results of the last election in the rural areas. I think he has had the justification now. No matter what we may think of the Minister and his colleagues, we know the opinions of the back bench Members of the Socialist Party. I am much obliged for what they have given me in this Debate. I have often been indebted to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) for what he said in the last Parliament. I shall have much pleasure in quoting what he says in this one.
There was only one realistic speech from the other side and that was from the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), who happens to be a primary producer. I wish that hon. Members who criticise this Order had to earn their living as primary producers. Then I am sure they would take a different attitude. I am not a horticulturist to any large extent, but I pass through a district of small horticultural producers twice a week. No matter how early in the morning or how late at night I pass through this district, these men, women and children are working in the fields in order to get food fresh and cheap to the consumers.
I think it is entirely wrong for hon. Members who have no experience of primary production to condemn this scheme. They are doing the consumers harm. This scheme was evolved to 2636 reduce the costs between producer and consumer and it is wrong for hon. Members to describe this as a cartel or mono poly. How can this scheme be a monopoly when we have just heard from the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) that 50 per cent. of the tomatoes consumed come from abroad? How can there be any monopoly?
§ Mr. Daines
If the hon. Member will read the opening passages of the Debate, he will see that I made the point clear. While only 50 per cent. of home consumption is met by home production, the real purpose behind this Order is to get control of imports.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Because of Mr. Speaker's Ruling, I cannot talk about imports. I should have liked to develop that matter, but if I may, I would say this, that we hear plenty of squeaks from the industrialists and their workers about competition from Japan and Germany, but when the primary producers raise that point, it is entirely a different matter. All we want is fair play, and we ask for nothing more.
The effect of this scheme is that produce will be marketed in an orderly manner. It will do away with the slumps and high prices that have alternated in the past. If the consumers like to reckon up the average throughout the years, they will find that the effect of high prices and slumps is that they pay more on an average for the produce they are consuming than they ought to do. If we can market our produce in an orderly manner, we can avoid that. The effect of a high price is that it brings a lot of producers into production. When there is a slump out they go, and there is a return of high prices. We want to avoid that, and the Minister has, in this scheme, put forward something which will do it.
We have heard about the harm which will result from this scheme, but there is the illustration of the two schemes which have been mentioned tonight. There is the Hops Marketing Scheme which is a successful one: the consumers, the brewers, have never complained about it.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I know the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) will be pleased to hear this, but it does mean that hops can be produced in this 2637 country at a level price for the brewers. We want to do it in this industry. We want a fair deal, not only for ourselves will be interested to read what hon. Gentlemen opposite have said about this scheme. Hon. Gentelmen oppisite can rest assured that farm workers are not as dull as they are thought to be and can think things out. I hope that, in spite of the criticism that has been made, the House will pass this scheme. It can never be a monopoly. If the Co-oprative societies, whose members have any marketing troubles they can buy from abroad as they are entitled to do. I have, never yet, in my passage through towns where Co-operative societies flourish, seen that they have put tomatoes or cucumbers on the market any more cheaply: what has been said tonight is a lot of nonsense, and I hope the House will pass the scheme without any more ado.
§ 11.22 p.m.
§ Mrs. Castle (Blackburn, East)
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) and a number of other hon. Gentlemen opposite have made great play about the electoral advantage which they hope will accrue to them because of some of the speeches made by some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House. Are hon. Gentlemen opposite quite sure their own speeches are not going to prove a considerable liability to them at the next General Election?
It is quite remarkable that, although we are discussing a commodity which has considerable health-giving properties, and which adds enormously to the variety of diet in the ordinary homes throughout the country, a plentitude of which in the larders of the housewives is vital to the health and well-being of the consumers, we have not had an atom of an expression of concern by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the effect of the Order and whether it is going to be detrimental to the interests of the consumers and the housewives. I suggest that everything we have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite proves once again how they are ready to jettison lightheartedly the interests of the consumers when any sectional claim is before the House. They have established tonight once and for all that they are the last 2638 party in the country to have any claim to represent the housewives of Britain.
When speaking here tonight—and I speak with some anxiety about the effects of this Order—I fully appreciate that the genuine interests of the consumer must be linked with the genuine interests of the producers and that there should not be a clash. It is not in a spirit of clash that I criticise this Order. I appreciate fully the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). I agree that this Order is an advance on the pre-war situation. I am delighted to find that there is at last recognition on the other side that the free play of the market ruins the grower on the one hand without benefiting the consumer on the other.
We have seen thrown overboard the last discredited tatters of the policy of "Set the People Free." There is only one Member who still believes that there is a necessity for that policy, and he is the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), because he never had any understanding of domestic or economic affairs. I quite agree that in that prewar system we had the worst of both worlds. When my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West, says that the growers have a right to this, it is rather misrepresenting the situation. It is not that the growers have been clamouring for the right to organise. The difficulty has been to try to convince the growers of the value of organisation.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
Does the hon. Lady realise that the scheme has been in the Ministry for two years and the growers have been waiting all that time?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sure that the hon. Member knows that the N.F.U. has had an enormous amount of difficulty with the backwoods growers to get them to agree even to this form of organisation.
I welcome this step forward. I wish there had been more organisation. There would have been less difficulty for the housewife if there had been more producer co-operatives and a more rationalised system. One of the difficulties the housewife has been suffering from is the lack of marketing intelligence, which has led growers one year, when there is a good price for a certain vegetable, to rush in and grow it without any consultation, with 2639 the result that the bottom falls out of the market the next year and they all stop growing it, with the result that there is a famine for the housewife.
I quite agree that there must be some order and regulation brought into this industry. I am not opposing this Order or criticising it because I want to go back to the pre-war chaos. I believe that the regulation of private enterprise is a necessity. I am glad that hon. Members opposite now agree about that. I am asking the question: Regulation in whose interest? That is my concern when I look at this Order. We have to be very careful, when we do go forward to try to bring order out of chaos by regulation, to try to strike a fair and legitimate balance between the producer, on the one hand, and the consumer, on the other.
I want to see a grand liaison between the two. I want to see closer consultation between the two and understanding of each other's problem. I think that these suspicions, prejudices and hostilities would then go. I suggest that in this scheme we have not got that proper balance, but a form of producer syndicalism. What we were discussing 20 years ago is not relevant because our ideas progress as our experience progresses. It is not good enough that once more we should have a scheme brought before the House under which the consumer is the residuary legatee of any advantages.
I appreciate that the Marketing Act which we discussed last year was a step in the right direction towards the modification of the pre-war scheme, but it did not go far enough to meet our point of view. I should like to quote an extract from the "British Farmer," which is the official organ of the N.F.U. It says:Thanks largely to the initiative of the National Farmers' Union, the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 and 1933, have been preserved virtually intact on the Statute Book, and the Amending Act of 1949. without impairing the essential features of producer control, has given Parliamentary confirmation to the maintenance of the system of producer-control marketing in the post-war period.I suggest that that is not a situation which is satisfactory, from the point of view of the grower or from the point of view of the housewife.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I do not know whether the hon. Member is criticizing 2640 an Act of Parliament. If she is, then she is out of order.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am criticising this scheme as giving a producer-controlled marketing scheme, and I am saying that because it is a producer-controlled marketing scheme, it cannot fulfil its ostensible purpose of rationalising the marketing of this horticultural produce in the interest of the whole community. From the point of view of the grower, what is the value of having a marketing scheme which may improve by grading and packing and regulation of the produce, and then handing over the produce to the very distributive system which is causing the waste and the expensiveness of the product when it reaches the housewife?
This scheme does not seek to remedy one of the most important factors existing at the moment. It does nothing to remedy the situation of too many middlemen handling the products, sending up the price, and getting the products into the hands of the housewife stale and expensive. While it does not remedy these things it is not helping the grower, because it is to the advantage of the grower that we should close the gap between the price which the producer gets and the price which the housewife has to pay for it. Day after day we have brought forward in this House examples of growers not getting proper prices, having to abandon their crops, whether of strawberries or other things, and yet we housewives know that the prices demanded in the shops are such that we have to cut down our demand by half.
I want seriously to suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that it is to the interest of the growers as much as anyone else that this scheme should be recognised as inadequate, and that one can only solve this problem and close the gap between grower and housewife by a scheme which recognises that, in horticulture and in the tomato industry, growing, distribution and retailing are all one industry and must be discussed together. That can only be done by a board which represents all these interests and which does far more than this scheme to bring them into effective consultation. The note we should strike is one of expansion. We should turn our backs on any idea of restriction and higher prices.
§ 11.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I am driven to the reluctant conclusion that late hours do not suit the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle). [Interruption.] I am asked why.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am sorry if I attributed to the hon. Member more courtesy and more intelligence than I ought to have done. I must say there was very little excuse for my making that mistake in his case. But I will answer the question, which I thought the hon. Member asked, why late hours do not suit the hon. Member for Blackburn, East. I do not mind her seeking to have the best of both worlds in her argument because no doubt she could claim that that is the privilege of her sex. But there was a querulous note which I was sorry to observe in her contribution to this discussion.
I am bound to say that, having listened to all the speeches made by hon. Members opposite, I am driven to the conclusion that the popularity of Ministers with those who support them, or at any rate nominally support them, is an inverse proportion to the constructive efficiency which they bring to their Departmental duties. I do not think, however, that they need worry very much, because there is a notable lack both of consistency and of courage in the speeches of hon. Members opposite tonight. The hon, Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), who I regret is no longer with us, posed as the friend and champion of the little man. The hon. Member for Blackburn, East criticised the scheme because, she said, it did not suppress sufficiently the small producer. Then we had the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland). The latter said that what he would have expected was that a scheme such as this would have been put forward from this side of the House, but the hon. Member for Ealing, North, told us that what he expected was that we on this side would have voted against this scheme, although he did not intend to do so.
That brings me to the issue of courage. I have listened to a great many debates in this House, but the fact that hon. 2642 Members are not going to follow their voices with their votes tonight shows a remarkable lack of consistency. We shall look with interest to the action of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
On that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and with great respect, I would say that if hon. Members are in order in making certain speeches and certain comments and in putting forward certain points of view, how can it be that I am not in order in referring to them?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We are here discussing an Order, and the hon. Member's speech is going rather wide of it.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
With great respect, Sir, you were not in the Chair when we started, and I am commenting on speeches which had been made before you came in; that, I believe, is known in Parliamentary language as the cut and thrust of debate.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
On a point of order. As you have allowed the hon. Member opposite to refer to my courage, or lack of it, in the matter of what I proclaimed to be my duty, will you now permit him to declare himself, seeing that he has the courage necessary to say what he is going to do about it?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
There is no point of order there, but on the previous point of order, I am advised that Mr. Speaker did speak about hon. Members carrying on in this way.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am asked by the hon. Member opposite what is my view; that will become apparent even to the hon. Member for Ealing, North. It is quite wrong that hon. Members should be willing to wound but afraid to strike. The attitude of the critics of the scheme does contain some very surprising aspects indeed. In the first place, it shows that they are willing to pass Agricultural Marketing Acts which are intended, among other things, to promote schemes, but that they are not willing that those schemes should be put into operation. In other words, they are content to pass legislation so long as it is sterile legislation.
§ Mr. Dye rose—2643
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
The hon. Member has made his own speech without interruption, and perhaps he will allow me to develop my argument.
So far as the criticisms are concerned, every critic, except the hon. Member for Blackburn, East, attacked this scheme because it was seeking to introduce a certain degree of regulation into this industry; but surely that is quite contrary to the argument normally put forward by hon. Members opposite. If private enterprise seeks to remain on a purely individualistic and unorganised basis, it is condemned for clinging to the economics of the jungle. When it seeks to put forward a scheme for the better regulation of this industry, it appears that it is equally condemned by hon. Members opposite. I suggest that that is an inconsistent point of view. I suggest, too, that the great tenderness which has been developed by some of the critics of this scheme tonight, in regard to consumers, could perhaps have been shown at the time when this House was passing into law the Acts which have brought about State monopoly in so many of our basic industries.
I submit that there is at least as much protection, and more protection, in this scheme for consumer interests than in the shadowy consumers' consultative councils which are the only thing that protects consumers in the great basic industries of this country. The scheme has been attacked also on grounds of monopoly. Surely the figures show that is not so. There are approximately 14,000 growers in this country, of whom only about 6,600 come within the scheme. It is true they are the bigger growers who come within the scheme and, it is quite true, as the hon. Member for East Ham, North, discovered, in the course of his speech, that the bigger growers grow the most produce; but surely it would be a great failure of planning if the big people were not in the organised scheme and the little ones were left out.
But these figures show conclusively that there can be no justification for the charge of monopoly in this scheme. The criticisms made by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South, in regard to the danger that might come from setting up a board with powers such as these, are exactly the sort of criticisms which an hon. Member with his point of view
2644 might have made regarding the inception of the Milk Marketing Board. Time, however, has shown that such criticisms in the case of the Milk Marketing Board would have been wholly unjustified, and I venture to prophesy that if we can look ahead to the time when this scheme has been operating as long as the Milk Marketing Board, the criticism of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South, would appear equally unjustified.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North, made what I think was a very unfair, or at any rate an unkind, observation in regard to the effect of the war in increasing tomato production in this country. He did not explain that this was partly due to the fact that a lot of these growers-and a lot in my own constituency in the Lea Valley-who were growing flowers before the war, had, of course, to turn to food production. I never expected to have that levelled against them as a charge in this House. I should have thought it was a patriotic duty and one which has done a great service to the people of this country.
May I make this final point, as it has been suggested by hon. Members opposite than we on this side of the House have shown insufficient consideration for the point of view of the consumer? That is not so. The consumer wants to have a steady supply of these commodities and, of course, wants them at as reasonable a cost as possible. I submit that this scheme will enable them to have a greater consistency of supply of these commodities for the home market I do not believe that this scheme will raise costs. I hope it will have a steadying effect on costs.
If hon. Members opposite really want to see costs reduced in the growing of these commodities, I will tell them how that can be achieved. There are two factors which mainly contribute to costs—fuel and transport. It is exactly the same as with bricks. A Socialist noble Lord, in another place the other day, pointed out that the high cost of bricks was due to the cost of coal and transport. Precisely the same is true of these commodities we are now considering. It is the cost of coal and transport—nationalised industries—which tends to keep prices—
§ Mrs. Castle
As the hon. Member is claiming that transport is costly, would it not be commonsense to reduce some of the unnecessary journeys in the horticultural industry owing to the chaotic system of distribution?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Hon. Members on this side have got just as real a consideration for the interests of the consumer, together with a greater grasp of what is really required in order that these needs can be met.
I do not say that this scheme is perfect in every detail—it would be a very unusual scheme if it were—but it is an advance in the right direction. This scheme has been a long time in preparation. It has had the advantage of a public inquiry, of representations made, of evidence heard and of argument put. I say that this scheme will benefit not only the industry but also help the consumer to enjoy the products of that industry. I therefore hope that the House, in spite of the criticisms made by hon. Members opposite, will let this scheme come into effect.
§ 11.47 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
The first thing I want to say to hon. Members on this side—with one exception—is that agricultural marketing schemes are an essential part of Government policy. The Labour Party not only passed the original Act in 1931, but it was the 1945 Labour Government that passed the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1949, which brought it up-to-date. Some of my hon. Friends supported the 1949 Act and at least one who has spoken in this Debate supported also the 1931 Act. I shall refer to that later. So, from the very beginning, and contrary to most of the assertions made from these benches, we realised that if schemes were to be successful, then the boards must have adequate powers. Some of the powers the boards will never be called upon to use.
But we also understood and appreciated that the consumers must be adequately safeguarded. It may very well be that the 1931 Act did not provide all the safeguards that some people thought should be provided, but at least it pro- 2646 vided for a Consumers' Council of seven persons, one of whom must be appointed after consultation with the Co-operative movement, for the purpose of watching the development of marketing schemes, and reporting to the appropriate Minister any action that appeared to them to be inimical to the consumers' interests. The Minister was able to submit any such complaints to a committee of investigation, and several cases were submitted to a committee of investigation. A public inquiry was held, all the facts were brought out and on the result of the inquiry the Minister could act.
Under the 1949 Act, quite contrary to all that one would have gathered from the speeches made from these benches, we not only have a consumers' council which can make representations to the appropriate Minister, but any person in the land can complain to the Minister, and if he is satisfied that a prima facie case is made out that the consumers' interests are being adversely affected, he can then submit a complaint from the individual to a committee of investigation on similar lines as the consumers' council.
Moreover, the Minister can appoint not less than two, or not more than one-fifth, of the members of any Board. Throughout the Debate not one solitary Member, from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) to the hon. Members for East Ham, North (Mr. DaMes), and Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), has mentioned Section 4 of the 1949 Act. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East, was not sufficiently frank as to mention Section 4 of the Act, where, as is well known by anyone who knows anything at all about the subject, if there is any price determination by a marketing board which the Minister feels is inimical to the interests of the consumers, he has the power to say "stop," and the marketing board cannot go on from that point until, if they so wish, the matter has been submitted to a committee of investigation.
§ Mr. Daines
The Minister has accused my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East, of lack of frankness in not calling attention to Section 4. Would he not agree that it would have been equally frank for the Parliamentary Secretary to have referred to the main reasons given by the National Farmers' Union when the scheme was promoted, for including the regulation of imports.
Like the flowers that bloom in the Spring, that intervention has nothing to do with my references to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East. The burden of his speech was that there were no safeguards for the consumer. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that Section 4 gives the Minister power to call for stop action on the part of any marketing board if any proposal, or contemplated action they may have in mind, involves the consumers' interests. So from that moment the marketing board can do nothing about price determination, or whatever else it may be, until the matter has been dealt with by a committee of investigation. Finally, added to the safeguards of the 1949 Act, any price determination must be notified not only to the Minister of Agriculture but also to the Minister of Food.
It seems to me that these safeguards ought to be sufficient to satisfy the most fastidious. If one tries to import more safeguards into a marketing scheme of this description, then there would not be any marketing scheme. That is quite understood from the point of view of Members representing, as they say, the Co-operative movement, because they have always been hostile to marketing schemes from the very beginning, but I think I ought to quote from the Annual Conference of the Labour Party in 1944 where this resolution was carried unanimously:The Minister of Agriculture would remain responsible for the Home Producers' Boards under the Agricultural Marketing Act, whose principal functions as defined in that Act would be to organise the sale, the grading, packing. assembly, transport and other market services required, as well as supplying in an organised form many other helpful services for the industry.The hon. Members contributed to that presumably, and fought their elections on it in 1945 and 1950. We really ought to know whether they are members of the Labour Party or not. If any hon. Member supports the policy and programme of the party outside for election purposes, and then comes to this House for a totally different purpose and opposes the schemes the party is proposing, it is awfully difficult for a Minister-of any party-to do his job. In 1950, in "Let us Win Through Together," we say that steps will be taken to promote more efficient marketing and preparation of agricultural produce, and presumably my hon. 2648 Friends fought their election campaign on those words as well.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
On a point of order. You ruled earlier, Mr. Speaker, that it was out of order to discuss the Acts from which these Measures spring. Is it in order to discuss the party policy from which these Measures spring?
I do not propose to discuss Labour Party policy any more, Mr. Speaker. I have at least got in the two points I wanted to do.
Coming to the more immoderate language of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East, I ought to tell the House that on four different occasions I received deputations from Co-operative Members on the tomato and cucumber scheme. The scheme was talked about from top to bottom and inside out, safeguards and all the rest, and I was led to believe that, apart from the fundamental objection of some members of the Co-operative societies, and some members in the higher realms of the movement who have always been opposed to marketing schemes, there was little more we could do to make this scheme acceptable to the Co-operative movement.
I am prepared to accept the theory that some members of the Co-operative party do not like these marketing schemes, but I have been a member of a Co-operative society for 40 years, I am a whole-hearted supporter, and therefore my point of view on marketing schemes is at least equivalent to that of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East—[An HON. MEMBER: "Question."]—It certainly is. The hon. Member asked why farmers did not organise schemes of their own volition, as we do in the Co-operative movement. It is easy for him to say that. The Co-operative movement was made before he was born—
Of course, and it was easy for me to become a member of a Co-operative society already in existence on working people's capital. If the hon. Member insists on using such immoderate language when he makes a speech, he must give the other fellow an opportunity of replying to him. [Interruption.] There is no misrepresentation in what I am 2649 saying. The hon. Member talked about the Advisory Committee not being a real Advisory Committee. The hon. Member for East Ham, North, quoted the Advisory Committee as being one set up by the Board. It is perfectly true that is the case—The Board shall set up and appoint an Advisory Committee which shall consist of members of the Board and of persons who, in the opinion of the Board, represent the views of wholesale and retail salesmen and processors of tomatoes and cucumbers.Clearly if outside interests—distributors, wholesalers, retailers and processers—are to form part of the Advisory Committee, it ought to be a useful committee. I have already referred to the safeguards in the 1949 Marketing Act and how they are likely to work out. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East, said that the Minister who will confer this power upon producers will confer anything upon anybody. The hon. Member must remember this is not a Minister conferring a power on anybody. It is the Government who are conferring this power, and they are doing so because they think that power is necessary for the purpose of the scheme.
I will accept my full share of responsibility if that will satisfy the hon. Member—because I feel that marketing schemes are necessary. As the hon. Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) suggested, I believe that ultimately they will mean, not a restriction of production, but an increase of production. They will mean higher efficiency and cheaper prices for the consumer.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-East (Mr. Dye), quoted the case of milk. Was there any restriction in the output of milk when the Marketing Board was set up? It was one of our outstanding successes, as my hon. Friend said, and we are consuming in liquid form 82 per cent. more milk than pre-war. The hon. Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass), who unfortunately had to leave the House because I believe there is a train on its way north shortly, suggested that I ought to tell his constituents something about imports. I am not going to do that. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will do that on the appropriate occasion.
2650 The hon. Member for Ealing, North, said fairly that he did not oppose the scheme because he felt it might do good at least from the point of view of organising the producers. The hon. Member was in the House in 1931 and supported the original Marketing Bill, and did so, I believe, because he felt it was the right thing to do. If it was right in 1931, when there were fewer safeguards than in the 1949 Act, it seems to me that his statement that we have failed to take a balanced view cannot be sustained, since we have now inserted far greater safeguards than in the 1931 Act.
Reference was made to "snoopers.' The hon. Member will perhaps remember that the reference to "snoopers" in the scheme is lifted bodily out of the 1931 Act. There is no new language in this scheme. We are doing in 1950 what the hon. Member supported in 1931.
Perhaps it was another hon. Member. I apologise if 1 misrepresented the hon. Member in the slightest degree. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) said that the scheme was not implicit in the 1949 Act. Of course it was, and it was implicit in the 1931 Act. Any scheme dealing with horticulture is implicit in both the 1931 and 1949 Acts. He said the scheme produces a monopoly. That is an easy cheap sneer, but it is not true. He also referred the Lucas Committee and said that we ought not to do this while bigger things are in the offing. What did the Lucas Committee say?—It has been suggested to us in evidence that there is no place for marketing boards under the Agricultural Marketing Acts in the future of the agricultural community of this country. From this view we dissent. We welcome this enlightened attitude on the part of the agricultural community because we are convinced that the discipline and co-operation of producers in this field is vitally necessary for the success of the new agricultural policy.That was the view of the Lucas Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North, quoted the figures. I do not think there is anything wrong about the figures, which I will give to show just what this is all about. There are 13,692 producers, of whom 12,473 have 2651 less than half an acre under glass. To expect that number of small producers to organise themselves is a hopeless dream. That is why the Lord Privy Seal realised in 1931 that, unless Parliamentary power was given, schemes of this kind would not be built up. It was suggested that the scheme was for the big producers of tomatoes, but, after all, there are only 488 who have glass between one to three acres. It is true that this constitutes a large part of the acreage, but, as against that, there are these 12,473, with between a quarter to half an acre, who are the people whom we are concerned about, as well as the consumer.
I need say only one other word, and this is on the question of production and consumption. This refers particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn. East. Production of tomatoes in this country has not gone down; it has gone up. Imports have not gone down. They also have gone up. Compared with a home production of 50,000 tons between 1920 and 1924, 123,000 tons were produced in this country in 1948. Compared with 108,000 tons imported in 1924, we imported 205,000 tons in 1948. Therefore, increased home production has gone side by side with increased imports. There is no reason at all, so long as the quality of tomatoes produced in this country is of a high order, why we should not continue to increase production and imports at the same time, and give the consumer a reasonably good article at a cheap price, without returning the agricultural workers to 25s. per week which they were having before the war.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Draft Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Scheme, 1950. a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.