§ 5.19 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I beg to move,That the Additional Import Duties (No. 3) Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 1736), dated 27th November 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th November, be approved.This is the first of two Orders which have the effect of raising the duties on certain classes of horticultural produce, and I should perhaps make it plain that, with orders of this nature, the Board of Trade is the responsible Ministry. Obviously, one could speak at very great length on Orders of this character, but I think it would be better if I were to open briefly to the House, and then to speak later in the debate and take up any points which hon. Members on either side of the House might wish to raise. I would also commend to hon. Members the White Paper on this subject, not that it is the subject of the debate—the Order is the subject—but I think the White Paper is quite a good document for reference purposes.
These Orders, were, of course, made possible by the waiver which we obtained at the session of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. I need not go into that in detail now. I informed the House about it when I came back from Geneva, and explained the procedures which we had to go through, and which we have gone through.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
I am not quite sure that I understand the right hon. Gentleman. Does he propose to take the debate himself, and at no stage is the Minister of Agriculture to give the House the advantage of his views?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
These matters are essentially the responsibility of the Board of Trade, and I think it is important to bear that in mind, if I may say so. This is not a case in which either the consumers or the producers can have an exclusive interest. It is a matter which falls exclusively under my responsibility, and I think it is right that I should reply in debate to any points raised.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
We have nobody from the Ministry of Agriculture here and it is quite impossible to discuss 2219 either of these Orders as though it had no bearing upon the conditions of the horticultural industry and the way in which they can be dealt. I think it is treating the House with scant courtesy if the Minister of Agriculture does not come, and even then it is cutting it a bit fine if we do not get answers to some of the criticisms we may make.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I can assure the House that there is no discourtesy intended. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is being a little premature. It does take a little time to put these points forward.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
As I was saying, both Orders are made possible by the waiver which we obtained at the Eighth Session of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The procedures which I described to the House when I came back have, in fact, worked, and I think I can say have worked satisfactorily. That is to say, we have, where necessary, put all the items referred to here through those procedures; and on one item only, plums, there is a matter which is still being discussed between us and the United States of America, and I do not think that need concern us in this debate. For the rest, we are free to move on in the sense described in these Orders.
May I say a word or two on what we are doing? We are not introducing some novel or special form of protection for the horticultural industry. We are, in fact, getting rid of every physical restriction, except a few agricultural plant-health restrictions, which do not take away from the general principle. We are getting rid of every physical restriction on the import of the horticultural produce covered by these Orders; that is to say, as the tariffs go up the physical quotas are removed. The system of physical quotas on these items was, I think, clumsy and destructive of trade. It was unsatisfactory from the point of view of both the producer and the consumer. Indeed, I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House who have had some experience of these quotas know with what sudden and arbitrary effect they are inclined to operate and will be very glad to see the back of them.
2220 Hon. Members, will, I know, be concerned with the interests of the consumers and with the effect upon the cost of living. It is not possible, of course, to estimate the effect of these changes in tariff levels upon the cost of living or on prices, though I must say that I think the effect would be pretty marginal. Here it is important to remember that, if one is discussing the effect of an increased tariff on prices, the quota controls also have an effect on prices. To say to another country, "You cannot send in any goods at all," can have just as much effect on prices at home as can the introduction of a tariff.
We are replacing that rather crude system by import tariffs decided after very full inquiry. Both these Orders refer mostly to fresh fruit and vegetables. They are the first major tariff Orders which have been introduced since the war, and I think that it is right that they should be looked at carefully by the House from the consumers' point of view, because all in this House have a responsibility to watch that. They must be looked at also from the point of view of exports, because if we pursue a high tariff policy over here, we cannot expect other countries overseas to follow a low tariff policy. Last, but not least, they should be considered from the point of view of the producers, because it is right, after proper inquiry, that proper tariffs should be introduced where we are free to do so.
I am not going into the details of the individual items at the moment, but I suppose that the case for horticultural protection, in general, is that it is a hazardous industry. It is hazardous because it is influenced, not simply by the ordinary difficulties of supply and demand, but by other difficulties, such as the weather, to a degree far greater than affects most industries. The weather may operate in two ways; it may operate upon the demand for a thing as well as upon the production of a particular form of commodity.
The other broad principle upon which we should advance in this matter is that, in any event, these duties are out of date, and I do not think that anyone looking at them could come to any other conclusion. Here I am speaking in generalities, but they are mostly specific duties—so much a hundredweight or pound—but everyone knows that world prices have risen since before the war. They have, 2221 in fact, risen several times and what might, therefore, have been a reasonable tariff before the war has been very much reduced in its incidence since the war. In those circumstances there is clearly a very strong prima facie case for bringing it up to somewhere near the pre-war level.
The National Farmers' Unions made their application in 1950—and may I just say this about the National Farmers' Unions in this connection? As the House knows, we have been placed in very great difficulties with regard to this tariff by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, in getting a waiver and so on, and I must say that the National Farmers' Unions showed great statesmanship in their attitude, and I should like to put that on record.
We received their application. We had advertisements published, and we had representations from importers, distributors and consumers, although the consumers, the housewives, are not very closely organised. I think it is our responsibility, therefore—certainly it is that of the Board of Trade—to watch over their interests in these matters. As a result of this application, there are 20 cases in which increases were approved, and of those 20 cases 19 are included in these Orders.
I may mention that it was not a blind endorsement of the application. Almost an equal number of cases were in fact not accepted, though those are not under discussion here. We are dealing with the recommendations concerned in the Orders. There were a few cases where, on examination, it appeared that no specific duty was really justified any more, and in those cases we adopted the proper procedure, namely, to revert to the 10 per cent. ad valorem duty which, as hon. Members know, is the basic duty of our tariff system.
§ Mr. Daines
The Minister referred a moment ago to representations by organisations, and he mentioned specifically the consumers. Can he tell the House who the consumers' organisations were, and what their attitude was?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Yes, I can. I will give the House all the information I can. I said that I think it is very difficult for any organisation to represent consumers. I think I would carry the hon. Gentleman 2222 with me there. We had representations, for example, from the Parliamentary Committee of the Co-operative Union on this matter. We had representations from the Cheap Food League and from the Housewives' League. I do not want to overstate the amount of opinion which can be collected from organisations on the consumers' side. That is a matter which the House has to take into account when looking at the general picture.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
They said different things on different items. That is rather a large field to cover in answer to a question.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Some were and some were not. The principles upon which we worked were as follows. First of all, we had to try to get a fair return to the producer without causing hardship to the consumer. We had to strike a balance in the matter. Secondly, we had to take the existing tariff as the starting point, to look at the tariff as it was before these Orders were made and to see what case could be made for increasing it, or leaving it as it was, or abandoning it altogether.
Thirdly, we had to keep in mind what is often the crucial point in these questions—namely, the period during which an increased tariff should be introduced; and generally, of course, the object should be to introduce the tariff during the period when the main crop of the home producer is available to housewives in this country, so as to see that during that period a reasonable protection is given to the producer, and the consumer is not injured by the introduction of a tariff at a time when, on an average, the produce is not there from the home producer.
Fourthly, we sought to protect those crops which the United Kingdom producer really could produce in substantial quantities. I do not mean that it is practicable to try to protect and build up a section of horticulture where, in ordinary circumstances, one could not expect the United Kingdom producers to produce in adequate quantities. So we have concentrated on those instances— 2223 and they are all here—where we think the United Kingdom producers can make the main and overwhelming contribution to the market during the main crop season.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
These are in a sense precedents, and it is, therefore, important to know at the outset on what principles the President of the Board of Trade bases these increases. Under which of the heads that he has just given would he have increased the tariff on lettuces, for example, during the months of January and February, from 5s. to 10s. a cwt.? Could he tell us this as an example of the way in which he applies these principles?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If I state the principles now, perhaps hon. Members who have questions to ask about particular items will put them in the course of the debate, and at the conclusion I will try to answer the points. I should not like now to answer questions from all over the House about lettuces or onions or tomatoes. To tell the truth, I am not quite sure that I should be able to answer them all offhand. If the hon. Gentleman will put any point on specific items to me, I will give him an answer at the conclusion of the debate.
The fifth principle which we had was that, where there was no case for protection, we have made the duty revert to the 10 per cent. ad valorem duty which is the basic principle of the whole of our tariff legislation. Lastly, we have relied, again in the main, upon specific duties. We have done that because in the case of a specific duty the incidence of the duty is high when the prices are low and the incidence is low when the prices are high. The advantages of that principle are, of course, obvious. It tends rather more to keep the imported goods out in a period of glut, when they would be most dangerous. Those are the principles.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I apologise for not intervening earlier, but as the right hon. Gentleman is leaving the general considerations, would he answer the charge which has been made against him? It is said that assurances were given that there would be full discussions about this matter in the manner in which he is discussing it now. The distributors complained that 2224 there have not been these discussions: they complain of sharp practice, in fact.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I should be astonished if they could substantiate such a claim. People may differ, and can legitimately differ, about whether a particular tariff should go up or down, but I have not the slightest doubt that full discussions have taken place. They could hardly have been fuller. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for intervening. We have been meticulously careful to see that all the applications were fully advertised in the first place, that all the organisations representing, in particular, such people as distributors, should be aware of what was proposed and should have an opportunity of making their representation son it. Those representations in turn were transmitted to the applicants themselves. Where necessary, and where the facts were in dispute, as sometimes they could be, joint meetings were held with the applicant and the organisation who were disputing the facts.
It would have been difficult to find any way in which fuller examination of the case could have been made. Indeed, if I may say so, the statements which I have seen—I will extract them from my papers and perhaps refer to them later more fully—from representatives of the retail distributors would hardly bear out the fact that insufficient examination had taken place. On the whole, they seem to have tended to say that they think that this is a fair way of dealing with the matter, that on balance it is really better for the producer and the consumer to have a tariff rather than a quota, and to have favoured the line that has been taken. I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving me that opportunity of saying exactly what was done and of describing the way in which we proceeded in this matter.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point, may I put this question to him? I am keenly interested in the point on which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) has just intervened. It is not a question of hearsay. I have here "The Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Trades Journal" published only four days ago, which says:Contrary to repeated pledges in Parliament given by the President of the Board of Trade, there has been no opportunity for free 2225 discussion of the proposals before they became law.It goes on to refer to sharp practice. In order to rebut these charges, which I believe are untrue, would my right hon. Friend, when he replies at the end of the debate, give full particulars of the distributive organisations within the fruit, flower and vegetable trades which were consulted?
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
Further to that point, may I refer my right hon. Friend to the OFFICIAL REPORT of 8th December, column 199, where 29 such organisations are listed and where it is made clear that every opportunity was given for those and other organisations to represent their case?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am much obliged to my hon Friends. I will not, at this stage, read out the full list. I think I have said enough to assure the House—for the House should be so assured—that I do not think allegations of that kind should be allowed to go unanswered. I think it right that my attention should be drawn to them and that I should have an opportunity to reply.
§ Mr. Willey
If I may make the point so that the Minister may deal with it, I wonder whether the distinction was between representation and consultation.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The fullest possible opportunity was given for anyone to make his case fully in this matter. But I would certainly produce any list which is required of the organisations consulted.
This is the first tariff application which has been made. I am glad to be able to report that we are in a position to make it. I think we should be satisfied that we got the waiver from Article 1of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which enabled us to proceed at all in this matter. I am glad to report that the procedures which we arranged there have in fact worked out in practice and we are free to go ahead. I think it a good thing that we can implement our frequently-made statements that tariffs are the right way to protect horticulture and that quotas are not. The right way to introduce tariff protection is to have a full and detailed inquiry in which all sides can be heard, whether they are consumers, producers or distributors.
I consider that an arrangement of this kind is likely to be beneficial both to 2226 those who grow fruit and vegetables and those who eat them, and so I commend it to the House. As I have said, I hope that during the debate hon. Members will raise any particular points which they may have in mind, and I shall be happy to try to give them an answer.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
There are one or two matters which I regret. I well understand the reason the President of the Board of Trade introduced this Order but, as was bound to be the fact, he could neither tell us the strength of the case put by those who asked for the raising of specific Duties nor deal with any specific question of horticultural interest such as the very pertinent and important question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick).
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is present in the Chamber, and it is to be regretted that the President proposes to close the debate himself without giving us a chance to hear from a representative of that Ministry, who could indicate to us the strength of the case for horticulture. There is nothing personal about this, because we all like and enjoy the company of the President of the Board of Trade and his contributions to our debates; but clearly, as he himself indicated by implication, he is not in a position himself to answer now certain questions which have already been put to him; and any answer he gives eventually will be put into his hand between now and the end of the debate. With the best will in the world, he will be telling us something which, on his own authority and knowledge, he is not in a strong position to advance to us, and I do not think that is a good way to deal with the matter.
It so happens that I am prepared to support the Orders and I have advised my right hon. and hon. Friends to do the same. That makes me even more anxious that the strength of the case for the Orders should be deployed Ministerially, and that the Minister, who must have been responsible for proffering the advice on horticulture upon which the Board of Trade exercised its quasi-judicial function, should be able to answer in this House for the advice he gave. I beg the President to think again about whether this debate may either be wound up by a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture or there may be 2227 some intervention from a representative of that Ministry regarding the question of horticulture, so that people do not have the feeling that their case has not been answered.
I do not think the President has even yet cleared up this question upon which "The Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Trades Journal" expressed such strong views recently, and that, to me, is another matter for regret. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) got on to this point very quickly, and I suspect that here we have two people talking about two different things. The President of the Board of Trade says, I imagine quite properly—and the list he gave in HANSARD the other day bears it out—that a large number of people were given the opportunity to submit their views and to make representations.
What I gather is being said—since in this matter the Board of Trade has to act, as it were, in a quasi-judicial sense since we have got rid of the old Import Duties Advisory Committee—is that there was upon the Board of Trade an obligation to do more than consider cases submitted by interested parties. There should have been an opportunity for consumers to be heard by someone. Their case should have been argued for or against before a decision was made, and there should not have been merely an opportunity for arguing about it after the Orders were brought to this House for confirmation.
I am not prepared at this stage to take sides. I can see that if everyone had to be heard it would be almost impossible for the Board of Trade to carry out its duties. On the other hand, I can appreciate that when one is given an opportunity to submit a written case one ought to know what case has been submitted by the other side, and the opportunity should be given to follow it up. It is playing with words to say that there has been consultation in a real sense because that is not so. We should like to hear something more about that matter before the end of the debate.
I think I am right in saying that this is the first time we have done this sort of thing since the Import Duties Advisory Committee was wound up, and it is very important, therefore, that in the new form of machinery we do not set a precedent 2228 which removes any protection which people enjoyed under the old form, because that would be a very bad thing.
I am prepared to support these Orders. On the other hand, let no one minimise the degree of traditional feeling which exists about the increasing of tariffs, particularly on items of food. It is not a thing to be laughed away. As I have said before in this House, there is no greater harm that anyone can do to the producers than to lead them to think that the interests and views of the vast bulk of our population who have a consuming interest are not to be given the greatest possible weight. Since producers in a country such as ours will in the end get only that amount of protection which the consumer and the taxpayer can be persuaded to give them, it is most important not to jeer when it is pointed out that very strong views indeed are held upon this subject.
In particular, those of us who are concerned about producers must try to carry the others with us. We shall deploy our case as best we can, but we must listen and try to understand the strength of the case advanced by the other side. I am subjected to exactly the same pressures as are many hon. Members on both sides of the House about the effect which a rise in tariffs will have upon the food of the people. I am a Co-operator and obviously the views of that movement cannot be made known without producing some pressure on me.
I am a member of a very large trade union, the bulk of whose membership is not in this producing industry, and, therefore, have a consuming interest, and of course I have the weight of their views on the matter put on me. Like every Member of the House, I have a constituency interest. The bulk of my constituents, like the bulk of the constituents of almost every other Member of the House, mainly have a consuming interest. So I am well aware of the extent to which people feel strongly about this, and if I thought that what we are doing would substantially raise the cost of people's food, or raise the cost of people's food at all without a corresponding advantage being conferred upon them. I should take a lot of persuading that the Orders were right. Quite frankly, however, I am not able to believe that either of those things is true.
2229 I was interested to see in the fruit trade journal a leader that ended with a very interesting and very fair statement that I will quote to the House. This is from the issue of 5th December:Let us get the whole thing into perspective, however. The new duties affect only a small proportion of our fruit imports. Bananas, apples, pears, citrus fruit, nuts, dates, outdoor grapes, all major commodities, are unaffected.The article goes on:Most foreign produce comes outside the home season when the rates and duties remain low. So it is nonsense to suggest that the cost of living will shoot up.It goes on:But it is equally specious to claim that the housewife will not have to pay more on occasions. She will. Sometimes higher charges can be justified.I think that is a fair statement, and it is important that we should recognise, whether our interest is with the traders or predominantly with the consumers, that the thing should be got into perspective, and that any argument that this is a substantial new addition to the cost of people's food is wrong.
Then, of course, we have to go on to find out just what impost it does apply. In the main, I think that the Government have made a case. At any rate, the trade has made its case for the Orders. I think we will all of us agree that if we are to get this industry at all stable and prosperous, some degree of protection by some device or another is bound to operate at some periods of the year. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) will, no doubt, seek later to catch your eye, Sir, and as the president of the largest union of agricultural workers he can put rather more clearly a point I should like to make in passing.
Quite apart from the position of the grower, one has always to keep in mind that, after all, the bulk of this particular section of the agricultural industry are what one calls the workers—the horticultural workers. When I was trying to organise a form of trade union for horticultural workers in the Lea Valley in 1937 or thereabouts, it was an extremely hard and unpleasant business. One felt that one wanted a strong trade union in order to lift the wages above the 30s.—or more, but less than £2—whioh then prevailed. On the other hand, quite frankly, those chaps were not in a 2230 position to afford to run a trade union or to contribute towards it. Now they are getting £6a week. It would be deluding them and everybody else to suggest that we could maintain that kind of wage and the economy which makes it possible in a horticultural industry that did not receive some measure of protection against imports from overseas at particular periods of the year.
I think that that will be generally agreed, and, therefore, I go on to say what I was saying just now, and, following on from that, I feel that the case has been made for these orders, since what is contained in them is, by and large, to do no more than to provide that particular degree of protection to enable the industry to manage in the way in which it is now.
The President of the Board of Trade spoke about the quota system and about its being inflexible and being operated roughly, and so on. I am not all that convinced, quite frankly, that this scheme of tariffs is all that much more flexible than the other was. One still fixes in advance the period at which it applies. The objection to the quota date was that one fixed it as best one could on the best guess about when the sun would shine or the rain would fall, and one went wrong about that if the sun came a little earlier or a little later.
It is still the case that the dates are fixed on the best guess, and if the sun comes a little later or a little earlier the matter will still go wrong and the tariff will operate at the wrong time. It is so, for instance, in the case of strawberries, for which we are quadrupling the old rate for a fortnight. It is justified if the home crop comes on the market in quantity, but if it is late the date for the duty will be just as wrong, just as inflexible, just as ham-fisted as it is said the old quota system was. So I think one can argue too much on that.
One the other hand, I always understood that a quota scheme could not be expected to be continued in the long term because the very system was based on the balance of payments problem and not on protecting the home industry, and, therefore, we had to face the fact that a system of tariffs had to take the place of the quota scheme, if we wanted to do this on the long term, frankly protectionist basis and that is mainly why I 2231 accept the fact that probably have to have this now.
There is one other thing I should like to say. I hope nobody will give encouragement to a view among the producers that paying specific duties at certain periods of the year and these Orders on imported produce are going to be the answer to the problem of the breaking of the market. My experience in the years I had the honour and pleasure of being a Minister responsible for agriculture and of sitting on the Treasury Bench was that we had real crises in particular branches of the horticultural industry. When one made inquiries into them it was astonishing how often one found the market became glutted and broken at a moment when there was none or very little foreign produce coming in.
The foreigner is blamed for glutting the market, for breaking it, but really the trouble is that we suddenly have a very big crop here. It comes rather unexpectedly. The producer has very little in the way of arrangements for breaking off the direct consumption market, for processing and storing, and releasing produce in an orderly way. As a result he rushes on and breaks his own market.
While I accept the Order, it would be quite absurd to tell my friends of the Worthing glasshouse industry, and those I met and liked at meetings at Wisbech, or those I met during the great onion trouble some years ago, or my friends in the Lea Valley, or any of those people, that this Order is the answer to that particular problem. Quite frankly, it is not. It is a help in that it will prevent the market from being broken by stopping produce coming here at a moment when we have enough, but it is by no means the general answer.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The right hon. Gentleman used the word "absurd." Is it not equally absurd to impinge upon the interests of the growers, when, for instance, in the case of cherries, mentioned first in the Annex to this Order, vast quantities of Italian cherries arrive on our home market within a few days of the beginning of the marketing of the English crop?
§ Mr. Brown
I am a fairly junior Member of the House—even though I have been one for seven or eight years—but 2232 one custom which is beginning to irritate me is that of an hon. Member who gets up to interject during somebody else's speech and, when the speaker gives way, thinking that the interjection is on a matter of elucidation, proceeds to make the speech which he was going to make later on in any case. The view which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has just expressed is a perfectly valid one for him to hold, but he ought not to have expressed it in the middle of my speech. It has nothing to do with what I have been saying.
I was hoping that the Parliamentary Secretary would state—because I should like to hear him do so—that we cannot stress too often and too firmly the fact that one of our problems is that the retail trade likes to handle foreign produce. It likes to do so very largely because of the conditions in which it receives that foreign produce. Since the retailer can very largely determine the price at which his produce is sold—within limits—if he is willing to deal in small amounts and take rather higher returns on each item, he can still take foreign produce, even if this Order is approved.
Even after this Order goes through, it is still very much a matter for the home producer to find out why it is that we go on marketing so much of our own stuff in sacks and in a condition in which it is bound to be at a disadvantage with foreign produce. It is true that in many cases, to the foreigner coming into our market, this is an export industry. He puts his best goods in his shop window, and he will therefore send his best stuff over here. No doubt the produce which he sells at home is not always marketed in quite the same condition. But that case is not quite so valid as is sometimes made out. It would be true to say that in1953 and 1954 many people, if they put their minds to it, could do a good deal better and be a good deal more competitive than they are.
While I accept the need for this Order, and while I agree that it will not have such a great effect on the housewives as is argued, nevertheless, if this were to be all that was to be done in the matter, I should think that we might almost be doing the industry a disservice by approving it. A great burden lies upon the industry to go forward with marketing 2233 and packing and grading schemes. I was referring just now to the Worthing valley. I remember being invited down there some years ago to see an excellent packing and grading station—which I hope is still operating—which had been started on a voluntary basis. I talked to the people who ran it and found, as I have found on many other occasions, that it was being supported only when the producers could not get rid of their produce on the market. It was operating under quite impossible handicaps.
The industry must be told, in a friendly but very blunt way, that it has now had a good many years since the war in which to tackle this problem, and if it wants the good will of the housewives, the consumers and the rest of us, it must show evidence of willing in this matter. I do not believe that it can be done on a wholly voluntary basis. I believe that compulsory powers, exercised either by a marketing board under the Marketing Acts or in some other way, are essential. In the light of experience, I do not believe that we can rely on producers organising themselves efficiently on a voluntary basis.
The marketing schemes must really be marketing schemes. I have often joked with my hon. Friends about the fact that I got quite a bloody head on the night the Tomato and Cucumber Scheme was approved by this House. Looking back on what the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board has done, I wonder whether it was worth my getting a bloody head. The Board has done very little. It has not taken the powers that were reserved for it. It has made no real attempt to use them, and if we go on producing that kind of marketing scheme we shall not get very far. I hope that the producers will themselves make a real effort to produce marketing schemes which will be really worth while, operate grading and packing centres, introduce an oganisation of market intelligence, and do the job properly.
We are dealing here with the least co-operatively-minded persons. Quite naturally, his whole way of life is independent. If the pressure is too great for the leaders of the producers to do anything about it, the responsibility must rest on the Government. They cannot simply say, "We have put forward this Order. We have done our job. Now it is up to you. If nothing is done, that is the end of it." 2234 There is an obligation on the Government—particularly as they are taking the risk of putting up the prices of food to the consumer—to do something about it.
There are ways in which the Government can take a hand. In Holland there is a scheme which has been working for a long time, in which an attempt has been made to get marketing and packing put upon a proper basis. I am told that it works extremely well. Officials from the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture have been over there to look at the Dutch system in operation, and their advice must be available to the Government Departments concerned.
The Government ought to produce a scheme. The Parliamentary Secretary had no doubt that that was necessary before he joined Her Majesty's Government. He wrote about this matter, as did other people, for the Conservative Party. He said, very bluntly, that this was the sort of organisation they would get going. I regret that some such scheme has not come forward together with this Order. I should have preferred to see the two things dealt with together. I should like us to be able to say to those concerned, "Here is the Order. It is true that it puts up duties, but here, also, is the other side of the penny—the new marketing scheme"—either the Government's scheme or, better still, the producers' scheme. I hope that we shall not have to wait very long for it.
Some of the opposition to this Order has arisen because of a misunderstanding. There have been many references to increases of 300 per cent., whereas most of the increases are of an order which is justified merely by the change in money values since these specific duties were originally introduced. I make the point here, as I have elsewhere, that ad valorem duties, because they are percentage duties, must obviously change with the change in money values. It would be absurd to have a specific duty that would not change when money values changed. Otherwise, the protection at the period of the year when we most want it would be less than the protection at the period of the year when we least want it.
I agree with my hon. Friends that this Order must not be the only answer, because it is not the real answer. There must now be some attempt to put this very difficult section of our agricultural 2235 industry into a good state of order. The next move, logically, rests with the producers, but if they do not make it, it means that, because of the very fact that this Government have taken the responsibility for making this Order, the responsibility for producing a scheme rests very firmly on them. Subject to all those qualifications, I certainly advise the House to approve of the Order.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
The two speeches to which we have just listened are a good example of the French proverb, Qui s'excuse, s'accuse. The main excuse of the President of the Board of Trade was the continual high level of world prices, but the main reason for that continued high level is bulk purchase by the Government on behalf of the biggest consuming and purchasing country in the world. If we send one man into the world to buy for 50 million people, then, of course, the whole world puts up its prices against him.
In studying the Import Duties White Paper, I asked myself what possessed the Government to submit these proposals to the House. It is undeniable that six years of Socialist mis-government is still the main cause of the high cost of living. It is remarkable that the President of the Board of Trade has the support of the right hon Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who has spoken for the Opposition. In spite of that, the Government introduce proposals which must increase the cost of living. I do not mind a bit whether that cost is small or great; no one seems to know exactly what the cost will be; but this is a matter of principle and must be fought tooth and nail.
§ Sir W. Smithers
No, my hon. Friend may not. The other day the Government refused to consider increasing pensions of certain Service officers on the grounds of economy, that it would let loose the flood-gates for further demands and that the money was not in the till. A few days later they announce that they have given way to the pressure of the National Farmers' Union by increasing the import duties on five kinds of fresh fruit and 11 kinds of fresh vegetables. These changes can only increase the cost to the consumer 2236 of the fruits and vegetables concerned above what it otherwise would be. There is no other purpose in making them.
§ Sir W. Smithers
No. This also would encourage similar demands from other quarters. It is an attempt by the Minister of Agriculture to placate a small but articulate group of producers at the expense of the great mass of the consuming public, particularly the poorer sections, such as old age pensioners. It is contended that home producers cannot stand the strain of unregulated imports. I maintain that it is the old age pensioners and others on fixed incomes who cannot possibly stand the strain of not being able to buy their food in the cheapest markets. It will force more of them to apply for National Assistance and increase Governmental expenditure which is far too high already.
If claims for higher pensions are to be resisted, then pensioners and wage earners must be allowed to make the best use of their present incomes by buying their food in the cheapest markets. There is no reason whatever why a small sectional interest, however worthy should be protected at the expense of the great mass of British consumers. Will the President of the Board of Trade tell us, when he replies, how many organisations representing consumers and the fruit and vegetable trades were consulted, who were opposed to these proposals, and why he rode roughshod over them? I suppose it is because they have not the same effective organisation as the National Farmers' Union.
If it be contended that home producers could not compete with imported produce, two questions must be asked and answered. First, are the home producers producing efficiently? The efficient growers do not need protection and these duties will bolster up the inefficient growers and remove a spur to greater efficiency.
Last night, I spent nearly an hour with 12 farmers who are up here for the fat stock show, and they all said, "We cannot be more efficient than we are because of Government interference and all the penal taxation which prevents us doing our best." The second question is: Are the producers of this country producing 2237 the right thing? No one in his senses would put up greenhouses on the Kentish hills to produce oranges and bananas which grow in profusion out of doors in Southern and Eastern countries. But the principle is exactly the same in the case of any other fruit or vegetable. The right things to grow are the things which we can grow in competition with growers in other countries, and we have the advantage of not having to pay so much as they do in carriage and freight.
The fact is that if anyone or any Government tries to break the law of supply and demand, that law will break them and all our people. Let us never forget that England is the one great country in the world which is not and cannot become self-supporting. We have to import about half our food. To do so we must export goods and services, whatever the sacrifice or effort, at world competitive prices or starve.
The most important item affecting the cost of production is food. To increase the price of food seriously impairs our power to compete in world markets. Strong pressure is being brought all over the world to remove tariffs so that goods and services can move more freely. But free trade is vital to us all, especially to this country. Half the trade of the world is transacted on a sterling basis which enables us to earn invisible exports. Instead of increasing duties, I beg the Government to remove all controls and to make sterling freely convertible.
How can Britain honourably expect the U.S.A. to amend tariff restrictions in favour of our exports when we ourselves impose obstacles on the imports of horticultural produce from foreign countries? The White Paper states that it has been decided that the existing periods for which seasonal duties are charged on certain items marked with an asterisk should be adjusted. By whom? Who decides? As already stated, no one can foretell the weather or floods or storms. Do the Government or the N.F.U. really think that they are omniscient or omnipotent?
Will the Minister give the reasons why the list of fresh fruit and vegetables mentioned in paragraph 6 of the White Paper did not rank for higher duties? Will he tell the House what is the estimated amount of the proposed increase in im- 2238 port duties, and will he bear in mind that it is much easier to impose tariffs than to take them off?
One other question. Will produce from the Channel Islands be classed as foreign and liable to duty?
§ Sir W. Smithers
If the pressure of the N.F.U. on this point is not resisted, it will mean expelling the Channel Islands from the British Commonwealth. The big principle behind all that I have tried to say, amid interruptions from my own side of the House, is this: that to remove all tariffs and controls would benefit the whole world, especially Britain, economically. It would also be a big contribution to the peace of the world because, if goods cannot cross frontiers, armies will.
I know that I have dropped a brick. [HON. MEMBERS: "Drop a few more."] I feel that it is my duty to say this and to try and warn the Government that they should beware of support from Members opposite, whose policy has brought us such great disaster from 1945 to 1951.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
The importance of this debate arises partly, but not wholly, from the concern which is felt—and I believe very naturally felt—that the effect of these duties will be to increase the price to the consumer of a number of articles of great importance in the family budget. But it is also important, because I believe that this decision on the part of the Government commits the country to a long-term policy of dear food for the British people.
I am not one who attacks the Government for every item of food which is considered high in price. I am well aware of the high world prices of some articles of food, but we are not discussing high prices of food in the world today, but rather the reverse. We are discussing articles of food which at certain times in the year might be imported with great advantage to the housewife. I am aware that if one has to make a choice between tariffs and quantitative restrictions, on the whole there is an advantage in tariffs, although it is a choice of evils.
I agree with some of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Belper 2239 (Mr. G. Brown). Tariffs are not as flexible as is sometimes contended. I also agree with some of his remarks about what occurs when there is a glut in this country, even though no foreign products are being imported. I think there was considerable truth in his comments about marketing, packing and grading.
To return to this problem of tariffs versus quantitative restriction, I think that, on balance, there may be an advantage in tariffs. The decision which we are debating tonight involves, I believe, more than a consideration of the pros and cons of tariffs. It raises certain fundamental principles of our policy as a trading nation, and it is in the light of those principles that we must judge these Orders which we are being asked to approve.
I think that the decision to introduce these import duties is unfortunate for four reasons. In the first place, it is bound either to raise the costs of foodstuffs, or, at any rate, to check any possible lowering of those costs, and that will inevitably have its effect on the cost-of-living index. I know that it is not easy to arrive at any exact estimate of the effect on the cost-of-living index.
There has just come into my hands a leaflet entitled "Fruit and Vegetable Tariffs" issued by the Cheap Food League. I do not propose to quote the arguments put forward in that leaflet, although I think that they have been well set out, but merely to quote one or two facts and comments which I do not think will be disputed. If they are disputed, then no doubt hon. Members opposite will say so. The leaflet says:The cost of foodstuffs in the Ministry of Labour's Cost-of-Living Index represents 399 out of total of 1,000 points for all items. No less than 62 points are allotted to fruit and vegetables, including potatoes. In cash terms, out of every £1 spent food as a whole represents 8s. expenditure, and fruit and vegetables 1s. 3d. of this amount. But the official calculations include the cost of only cooking apples, oranges and bananas in the fresh fruit section and the expenditure is that of an 'average family.' There are very good reasons for supposing that these average figures conceal a much higher proportionate expenditure on foodstuffs by families in the lowest income groups.I think that is true, and that the effect of that will undoubtedly be felt. It will have the effect of either raising or main- 2240 taining the cost-of-living index with the consequences, which we know all too well, on wage claims and on claims for higher pensions. That is the first consideration.
Secondly, there are the hardships to the housewives. I do not wish to trouble the House with a lot of quotations, but I think that the comment which was made in the leading article in the "News Chronicle" on 7th December deserves reading. In it there was first a reference to the views of the National Farmers' Union. I have listened to their views, and I appreciate the point which they are trying to make. But, nevertheless, I think that the following is a reasonable comment. The writer of the article says:The National Farmers' Union is in a mellow mood. The new duties, it declares, 'should exercise an automatic regulation of imports according to the state of the home market.' Another, though less elegant, way of expressing this sentiment would be to say that the Government have taken steps to remove the danger that in some months of the year such food as strawberries, cucumbers, lettuce, mushrooms, cherries and tomatoes might really be plentiful and cheap.The article goes on to say:Among those who will have to struggle hardest to rejoice will be the British housewives who used to look forward, for instance, to making a lot of jam when strawberries were cheap.
§ Mr. Wade
As I say, I appreciate the point of view of the producer, and there may have been a day—some hon. Members believe there was—when there was too much concern about cheap food for the consumer. I believe that we have gone too far in the other direction. In this little leaflet to which I have referred there is a reference to the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber). I have mentioned to the hon. Gentleman that I propose to quote that reference. It reads:J. B. Godber, M.P., a member of the Tomato and Cucumber Board, speaking at the Annual General Meeting in November, 1952, justified the Board's existence by claiming that 2241 by bringing pressure on the Government to stop the imports of tomatoes for 10 days in July of that year the value of growers' sales in those 10 days had been increased by £600,000 and wholesale prices rose from 7s. to 14s.–15s. per 12 lbs. In terms of retail prices this represented a rise from approximately 10½d. to 1s. 6d. to 1s. 8d. per lb. From the consumers' point of view in the region of £900,000 more was paid over the counter for something like 1,600 tons less fruit.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, because I am hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye later on in order to put the matter in proper perspective, but I want to make it clear that what the hon. Gentleman continued to quote was something which I had not said. Only the first part that he quoted was said by me.
§ Mr. Wade
That is perfectly fair, and I have no doubt that it will clearly be seen to be so from the report in HANSARD.
I will only detain the House with one more quotation from this pamphlet. It says:In May of this year the Government stopped the importation of new potatoes on 16th May, some two or three weeks before the home crop was ready for market, in substantial quantity, and retail prices rose to 8d. to l0d. per pound—before the import prohibition they could be brought for 4½d. to 6d. per pound.I do not think there can be any doubt that the effect of these import duties will be to increase prices to the consumer.
I have here a great many figures which I do not propose to read to the House, but the conclusion to which I have come is not only that the effect will be to cause a general rise in prices, but something equally unfortunate. The effect, as I calculate it, will be that the new tariffs on soft fruits will greatly increase the price of the early supplies of which the majority are imported before the British crop season opens. I believe many housewives will be unable to buy at all during the period of the early supplies. That is the second consideration.
The third consideration was touched on by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper, namely, that tariffs cannot speedily be removed. There are many formalities to be gone through, and the result is that when there is a sudden failure of the entire home crop the tariff remains and inevitably there follows those high prices which occur during periods 2242 of great shortage. That is one of the serious disadvantages of a tariff. The fourth, and in the long run this is the most important, is the effect on inter national trade.
On 16th November of this year I asked the Minister a supplementary question—Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that no unilateral action will be taken by Her Majesty's Government which might lead other European nations to increase, rather than decrease their restrictions on international trade?The Minister said:Nothing which Her Majesty's Government is doing could in any way justify other countries in increasing their restrictions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 1888.]Momentarily I felt hopeful, but my hopes were not justified because I believe that producers in other countries will regard this introduction of high tariffs as an action likely to decrease international trade, perhaps not intentionally, but that is the inevitable result.
I remember a good many years ago staying with some people in Brittany who depended for their livelihood on growing tomatoes and potatoes for the London market. It so happened that they were anxious to buy British goods, particularly cutlery from Sheffield and clothing for their children. If we take away the livelihood of such people it is obvious that they will no longer be able to buy British goods. Perhaps that is over-simplifying the situation, but that kind of thing will occur. Multiply that state of affairs a thousand fold and one gets some idea of the problem and of the harmful international effect of these restrictions.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
Is the argument of the hon. Member that people in Brittany who grow tomatoes should be encouraged to go on doing so, and become dependent upon them for their living, even if the tomatoes are not wanted by the London market because the home producers can grow them?
§ Mr. Wade
Where I differ from the hon. Gentleman is on the question as to whether they are wanted in the London market, because I believe there is a market for these goods from Brittany as well as for those which are produced in this country.
In conclusion, I gather that the Socialist Opposition are not proposing to 2243 oppose the decision of the Government to introduce these import duties. It is not for me to say what Socialists should believe and do, but I should have thought that if they were concerned about the cost of living, about the difficulties of the housewife, about the problems of those in the lower income group in particular, they would have been anxious to oppose these import duties. Apparently I am mistaken, unless there is a change of heart between now and the conclusion of this debate. If there is no change of heart, we shall see something which perhaps is not so surprising today but would have surprised greatly many Socialists in days gone by: we shall see a Conservative Government and a Socialist Opposition marching along side by side in complete amity on the road of high protection.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, are we to gather from his last remark that the Liberal Party proposed to divide the House, and will he give the name of the other Liberal Teller?
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I want to refer for a moment to the previous speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), who seems to have vanished. The hon. Member holds certain views with deep conviction, which we appreciate and respect on both sides of the House. However, in one particular he was exceedingly inaccurate and I must preface my remarks by saying something in reply to what my hon. Friend said about the effect upon the cost of living of the proposed changes.
A number of observations have been made already about this, including the speech from the Liberal benches of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade): I have a small contribution to make to this which I confess is by my own calculation and taken from no document which is within reach of other hon. Members. With a view to getting perspective on what this will amount to over the range of the cost of living, it is worth noting that the value of goods imported on this list during the periods of protection is between £5 million and £7 million. That is about one-quarter of the total imports of horticultural produce, and about 5 per cent. of the total of £140 2244 million of horticultural produce from this country and from abroad.
§ Mr. Deedes
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Perhaps he will be able to produce some other figure. This is my own calculation and I make £7 million the maximum total which is to be imported during the restricted period under this head. Further, we are dealing only with the difference between the old and new rates on that £7 million and it should be remembered that the tariff will apply, we hope, when the home supplies are most available and at the most reasonable cost. That figure may not be entirely accurate but it is somewhere near the mark and, if accepted, it puts into perspective the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington about the effect of these tariffs on the cost of living.
We on this side of the House appreciated the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and I feel certain that he was glad to be able to make it today. It was, we suspect, a close-run thing. Let no one, he said, minimise the depth of feeling as to the possible effect of these tariffs on the cost of living. Well, let no one maximise the possible consequences of these tariffs. Whilst I do not want my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to think that one has underrated what has been done, this represents a maximum of £7 million over the whole field of £140 million, and over the import field of approximately £27 million.
I do not think there is any disagreement between the two sides of the House on whether or not horticulture should be given this modest measure of protection. I find that it is quite inseparable from the subject of agriculture, and I do not think that anyone who believes in security—and we know now that that means some form of artificial assistance for agriculture—can separate horticulture and decline to accept this now arrangement. We are emphatically not putting horticulture in a preferential position. This brings horticulture into the position where agriculture has been for quite a number of years. For technical reasons it has not been possible to do for horticulture what it has been possible to do for agriculture.
2245 Yet it is sometimes overlooked that horticultural producers face exactly the same sort of costs as the farmers get reviewed in the February Price Review each successive year. The horticulturalist has to meet the increasing wages, the rising costs of raw materials and all the other costs which go into agricultural produce. It is sometimes overlooked, too, that he does not have the cushion of subsidies between him and his consumers.
As I understand it, the present rate of subsidy on home-produced agriculture is in the region of £258 million. If that were given to horticulture, which provides about one-tenth of our total agricultural produce, that would be £25 million between the horticultural producer and the housewife who buys fruit and vegetables. In that event we would not hear so many invidious comparisons between the prices that were paid before the war and those that have to be paid now. Those are all matters which people tend to overlook when speaking of the horticulturists' right to tariffs and protection.
I rejoice that my right hon. Friend has ended this quota system. I felt it was whimsical in operation and haphazard in effect. It tended to irritate some of the importers as much as it irritated our own producers, because on the Continent of Europe on more than one occasion it operated in such a way as to make life quite intolerable for the person trying to get a regular market in this country. I think tariffs operate more fairly towards European producers than the quota has ever done. At least they will not cause the same exasperation.
I do not want to take up much more time because there are others who want to speak, but I should like to add one word to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper said as to what we may expect from the horticultural industry. It has maintained all along that this form of protection was necessary for its long-term security, and I should now like to see the industry make some contribution to what we all desire to see, although we may desire to attain it in different ways—better presentation of its goods.
I am not altogether at one with the view expressed by hon. Members opposite on the subject of marketing, but that is a rather complicated subject on which 2246 to enter now. We are agreed, however, that this industry could do more in the presentation of its goods and in the freshness of those goods. The best producers in the industry have shown what can be done if people are prepared to put their backs into it. What makes some of the marketing presentation in this country shameful is not a comparison with what is done in America or in continental countries, but what is done by the best British producers.
I hope we are not going to reach the point where the Government will have to introduce some centralised marketing scheme. I hope the producers in this country will follow the lead already given by the best of them, and that they will see that if they do not follow such a lead they will be relentlessly eliminated. With tariffs they cannot blame that elimination on anything but their own incompetence. I have expressed the ideal, and I hope it will be fulfilled. If it is, not only will the industry benefit but the housewife will benefit also. That is the justification for the fact that we on this side of the House are delighted to see my right hon. Friend introducing this scheme.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
It is not often that any Member on this side of the House is able to associate himself with proposals that come from the other side, but I want to say at the very beginning of my remarks that the proposals now before the House receive my support. I also want to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said, and perhaps make a few observations that will be appropriate because of my association with a particular section of the agricultural and horticultural industry.
I approach this question of tariffs with a due sense of responsibility to the house wife and to the commercial grower of fruit and vegetables. Today horticulture is a big and important section of the farming community. A considerable amount of capital is invested in it. I see that the figure suggested is £80 million, and it provides worth-while employment for a considerable number of men and women. Here again, it is suggested that the number of people engaged in the industry is over 150,000.
Thus I start with the proposition that this is an industry worth preserving and 2247 if it is worth preserving it is entitled to fair play. What is more, the people who undertake the manual work are entitled to good wages and working conditions. It has taken some of us a long time to get the wages of the British farm worker up to present standards. They still fall short in many respects, but the wage standards today in farming and horticulture are a considerable improvement on what they were in earlier years.
I am not unmindful of the point which has been properly made that this industry should seek to help itself by instituting improved marketing, reducing costs of production and increasing efficiency. I am all for that, but I repudiate the general charge of inefficiency that is often brought against the farming community.
The Principal of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, recently declared that the progress of agriculture during the last 12 years had been greater than in the previous 50 years, and he should know something about it. But when the horticultural industry has put its own house in order, the point made in the Lucas Report still remains, that no organised marketing arrangements can possibly stand up to unregulated imports.
The Agriculture Act, 1947, did great things for peace-time farming. That is why I am so sorry that it is being slowly undermined by the present Government. I not only approve the main provisions of the Agriculture Act, but I also keep in mind that it did nothing specific for horticulture, and that had the Labour Government remained in office they would have turned their attention to that.
I am not wedded to tariffs, but I ask my hon. Friends who object to these proposals what they would put in place of them. I respect very deeply the views held by many of my hon. Friends that the imposition of tariffs will increase prices to the housewife. But I want to express the contrary view. I do not think that the operation of the tariffs which are now proposed will have the effect of increasing prices to the housewife. I have always held the view that the middle-man who handles the fruit and vegetables gets too much out of them. We must deal with him in some way. My proposition is a simple one. We should put a bit more on for the grower and take a bit off the middle-man.
2248 The grower of horticultural produce is a party to a great gamble, and he takes all the risks. I should like to give my own experience this year. I am not a commercial fruit and vegetable grower but just an ordinary occupant of a house with a very nice garden and plenty of fruit trees. I was expecting a plentiful supply of top fruit this year. My apple crop generally keeps me going till the following May. Alas, this year there was a very late frost and my total crop from 30 apple trees amounted to a stone or two. Of pears and plums I had none. It was a good thing that I did not have to rely upon my fruit crop for a living this year.
As I understand it, the duties which are now proposed take the place of quotas. Those who declare that prices will go up because of the imposition of higher duties obviously overlook the fact that there have been long periods hitherto when no imports have been allowed in, and it has not made prices go up. On this account alone, I submit that it would be quite impossible for a reasonable duty to have any worse effect.
I have never gone into the towns promising the people cheap food. I have gone into the towns certainly to condemn the present Government for reducing the food subsidies and thus making it more difficult for many deserving people to live. That I shall continue to do, but one cannot have cheap food and at the same time a fair remuneration to the growers and good wages and working conditions for the people who, in the main, do the actual work on the farms. In other words, I support these proposals, in the absence of what I regard as a workable alternative, because by so doing I am seeking to protect the interests of the many thousands of farm and horticultural workers whom I am pledged to serve.
I have endeavoured to take a very definite line with regard to the proposals which are now before the House, and it was my intention all the way along to go into the Government Lobby tonight if the occasion had arisen. But I do not think that tariffs alone will solve this problem. We must take a very bold line on marketing and distribution. I want to make the point, in the presence of a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, that when the Ministry really get down to settling this problem of setting up marketing 2249 boards, I hope that there will be on every board consumer and worker representatives.
I think that the House will be interested in the workers' viewpoint and I give it to the House for what it is worth, in the following words:The National Union of Agricultural Workers notes with interest the Governments plans to raise the import duties on certain fruits and vegetables and believes that these measures are likely to create a more stabilised market than do the existing quota arrangements.The Union has always recognised that the horticultural producers have not had the benefits of security such as have been provided for producers of the main farm crops under the 1947 Act; it feels that the increased market stability which these measures should provide will assist the horticultural producers to plan for more economic production, and this, together with a more even flow of produce on to the market, should assist the consumer.The Union feels, however, that the time has now come for much bolder action to assist the producer and consumer—namely a 'cleaning up' of the present wasteful and costly system of marketing and distribution which creates unrealistic local surpluses and shortages and accounts for a disproportionately high amount of the price paid by the consumer.I give my blessing to the proposals that are before the House.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I only wish to intervene very shortly in welcoming these proposals by referring to an observation by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), in which there is great substance. He said in effect that the retail traders very often preferred to sell foreign produce because of the way it was packaged and presented. Other references have also been made to the fact that it is up to our own growers to produce on a level with, or as near as possible to, the best. There are, I understand, certain schemes, like the Westpack scheme in the West Country, which encourage growers to join voluntarily and produce their goods up to the standards required by that scheme. That should be extremely useful in encouraging producers to improve the standard of quality and presentation of horticultural produce in this country.
In fairness to our growers, several other points have to be borne in mind. First, as was said earlier by the right hon. Member for Belper, in many cases the export to this country of horticultural produce is one of the shop window exports of countries like France and Italy, 2250 and they have a great deal of help from a first-class railway service. I would hope that the railways in this country will do their best to help our growers by producing good clean modern vans to assist them in getting their produce to market quickly, and that they will help them also in connection with the running of trains engaged on long-distance hauls, such as that from Cornwall, so that they can catch markets in time. Several times I have had complaints from producers in West Cornwall that owing to the way these things have been handled by the railways they have missed the markets and that therefore their produce could not appear as fresh as otherwise it would have done, that it was not as palatable and therefore not as likely to be bought.
There is also the question of non-returnable boxes or crates. Before softwood was de-rationed difficulty and expense was involved when these boxes had to be returned. Their average life was only three trips and it was therefore not a good proposition. Let us hope that now producers will be able to send their produce in good cheap non-returnable attractive ways and thereby make it more attractive to the housewife. An hon. Friend who was not with us for very long referred to cheap food. He did not appear to listen to many arguments on either side of the House, but he mentioned the question of cheap food. Perhaps he would like to see workers engaged in the horticultural industry having lower wages. It is a pity he is not here; we might have asked him. We who have these interests in our constituencies feel it only right that we should do what we can to see that those workers get good wages. If they are to be paid good wages, the industry must be helped by measures such as this.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) mentioned the question of the livelihood of a grower in Brittany. Is it not more important that we should study the livelihood of our own growers? The argument might be that they want to buy a glass of wine at Christmas in France. This works both ways. I would far rather see our own producers and growers have the first consideration, which is a policy we subscribe to. I certainly did in my Election campaign, and I am delighted to see this step has been taken to implement the promises made to our own growers. I congratulate 2251 my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade upon the action he has taken.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
I hold that this is a bad Order. I am opposed to it. For party reasons, I cannot press my opposition to a Division, but I intend to register my protest completely tonight.
Not only do I think it a bad Order in what it seeks to do, but I think that the White Paper accompanying it is another not untypical example of a badly constructed explanatory paper. The way in which the figures are set out is quite confusing in more than one instance. There is no party point in this question. Documents submitted to Members of Parliament should be set out in a perfectly straightforward manner, so that any ordinary person without a legal training may understand them. When figures are used they should be set across the column so that can be clearly understood and confusion avoided.
Of course I admire the dexterity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I listened with great interest to his recalling the occasion when I and a number of other colleagues were in what he termed a sanguinary conflict with him—a very unpleasant episode. I remember the sort of things we said, but I also remember that it was a Labour Government which took a leading part in formulating that body with the unfortunate name G.A.T.T. in October, 1947. The purpose of that organisation was to take this country and the world towards the road of reductions of tariffs and to remove trade barriers.
This is a most embarrassing debate, and I most frankly admit it. Here I find myself in some agreement with the venerable hon. Gentleman who spoke from the back of the Chamber, the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers). He flitted in, gave vent to all sorts of sentiments, and flitted out again. As the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) once said, "Truth, of course, has many facets." I have to assume that truth also has many exponents. When that hon. Member said that this country depends upon the highest possible amount of world trade he was stating a simple truth. It is all very well for the hon. Member who flitted in from the Guernsey Islands and out again saying that he has 2252 no interest in the Breton peasant—I see the hon. Member is back again and had only flitted from his usual place in the House.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard
I would not say that I came from Jersey or Guernsey. I have some islands in my constituency which have suffered, but quite differently.
§ Mr. Daines
Yes, but that does not alter the point. We have our interests in the Breton peasant, but if this country is not to go back to the morass of the inter-war years under Tory Governments where each country tried to look after itself, a way that culminated in a policy of autarchy of which Hitler was the most successful exponent, then we must avoid actions that limit the volume of world trade because we must suffer.
Here I suppose I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), although I do not support him completely. It is a simple fact, whether we like it or not, that we have a direct interest in Denmark. It really matters to us, however much hon. Members may follow their vested interests—trade union, manufacture, or constituency—whether there is a healthy agricultural system in Denmark, in order that they may exchange goods with us and we can sell manufactured goods to them. I am not a Free Trader, I am not a Protectionist, and I certainly do not follow the Liberal Party line. As I believe the President of the Board of Trade said, one tariff starts another tariff. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will come clean when he replies to the debate. There is here a list of 18 horticultural products. What is the next product to be taken? I believe this is only the beginning, only the thin edge of the wedge.
In opening the debate the President of the Board of Trade said that he had to present this Order because it was a function laid upon him, but he had to present it and deal with it in a quasi-judicial capacity. I looked at him and remembered many of the past speeches before he became a Minister. I do not think I am treating him too unfairly by saying that he has a very strong and fervid belief in the old tariff proposals of the Tory Party. I can imagine the terrible conflict which must have raged in his breast when he had to face this problem in a quasi-judicial capacity. He must have suffered 2253 from some form of political schizophrenia. When the President of the Board of Trade claims that he approaches this problem in a quasi-judicial capacity the House must surely know that he is after all a real Tory. I should not like to say that it is a case of Satan rebuking sin, but it is something very akin to it.
I agree also with hon. Members who have pointed out the effect of climate on the horticultural industry. But can it really be claimed that this increased tariff is going to circumvent the weather and ensure that the right measures at the right time are taken in order to get the best possible deal for the producer? Let us look at what I think is the sharpest piece of practice that has been pulled over this topic. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman and his opposite number on this side of the House. The general case put over is that the purpose of the increase of tariff is to see that when glut time comes, or when there is high production, the bottom does not fall out of the market and in that way the whole system is justified. But what are the facts?
If we turn to the question of tomatoes, we find that the Government smack on 4d. a lb. starting with 1st May. Tomatoes are not sold in this country at the beginning of May at 6d. a lb. That is the time when the growers in this country are getting the bigger figures, 2s. 6d. and 3s. 6d., but smack goes the 4d. It is not a question of safeguarding supplies, but of maintaining the price whilst the going is good.
There is also another reason why the imposition is made at that time. It is because when we gat to the fag end of the fruit season the salads, as they come in, always command their highest markets.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
The hon. Gentleman has referred to 4d. a lb. being put on. Is it not a fact that the duty is already 2d. a lb. and that this alteration means a further 2d. not 4d. a lb.?
§ Mr. Daines
I am sorry, but I cannot check that figure. I had checked it carefully this afternoon on I think, page 7 of the White Paper. Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the Order? According to the Order—I am referring to the top of page 4, and I stick to this—it states that from 1st May to 31st May, if the 2254 value exceeds 1s. 3d. per lb. then the figure, given in the next column, will be 4d. per lb., which I take it is the increase.
§ Mr. Maitland
I am obliged to the hon. Member for giving way again but it is as well to get the matter clear. If the hon. Gentleman will refer to the White Paper, page 7, he will read in item (x) that 4d. represents the new duty whereas the existing duty is 2d. and, therefore, the difference is 2d. per lb.
§ Mr. Daines
I am obliged for that correction, but if the hon. Gentleman was present when I began my speech, he will agree that what he says confirms the point I made—that this is a confusing document and is most difficult to understand. [Laughter.] I do not see anything funny about that. The argument is still just as valid whether the figure is 2d. or 4d., but I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure intervened to help me to make my speech correctly, and for that I am grateful to him. But my argument is still the same so far as the principle is concerned.
I turn to the question of the poverty of the horticultural industry, particularly the tomato and cucumber industry. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper made references to it, and other hon. Members have done. It is perfectly true that the glasshouse industry had a very bad year last year. The losses were terrific. It is equally true that the previous year was not a particularly good one. What is also true is that for the preceding 10 years it had made fabulous profits.
One of my hon. Friends spoke of the 30s. paid in the Lea Valley. The Lea Valley—I have lived in it most of my life—had some of the rottenest employers imaginable in the horticultural industry before the war. In the period of roughly between 1941 and 1951 those same people not only paid £6 plus overtime but in order to avoid paying the money to the Income Tax collector they paid an average of about £50 to £60 to each employee as Christmas bonus. The profits made up to two years ago in the tomato and cucumber trade were fantastic, and the argument about the industry's lack of prosperity do not take us very far.
§ Mr. Godber
The hon. Memberclaims that profits are fantastic, but he produces no figures and evidence. He tells us that these employers helped their employees to the extent of giving them a bonus, which is surely a good thing. Surely it does not follow that an employer who gives abonus is making fantastic profits. The hon. Member should produce something more concrete before making these accusations.
§ Mr. Daines
The hon. Member talks about wild accusations, but I was a director of a Co-op which had a large nursery in the Lea Valley, and I am talking from practical experience of what happened. I shall be happy to provide the hon. Member with a balance sheet. In the meantime we will let it go at that. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I have not come here armed with every figure but I will certainly provide the hon. Member with a balance sheet if he wishes to see it.
I wish to say a few words about cauliflowers. I do not want to make any reference to the quality of the packing but it is a fact that the average produce that comes in from abroad is more efficiently packed than our own. When a plea is put for the cauliflowers that comes from the South of England let us face the fact that every Italian cauliflower that comes into this country has a very substantial freight charge behind it. I am advised that on each cauliflower that comes from Italy there is a freight charge of 4½d. to 5d.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
My hon. Friend must bear in mind that in relation to Italian producers we have also to consider their production costs in the light of the low wages paid to Italian workers.
§ Mr. Daines
I grant that completely, but no one can tell me that the labour costs represented in a cauliflower are anything of the order of from 4½d. to 5d. I am trying to give a balanced picture of the economics involved.
I agree with every hon. Member who has spoken that from the standpoint of growing our people are the best in the world. If we considered only the growing and let it go at that, I do not think that anyone can beat them. Where they go wrong is by not getting efficient marketing all the way through. There 2256 is no greater example of that than the tomato industry.
I see opposite the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who is a member of the Board. I opposed the Order when it came before the House. I said that it was purely a smokescreen in order to get the tariffs through. I object to producer boards; I do not object to boards with a real consumer element of control upon them. My complaint to the hon. Member for Grantham is that you have really done nothing in order to make the scheme work. So inefficient have you been in your job—that I think it was at your last annual meeting you faced a resolution to revoke the whole scheme, and about one-third of your members were ready to finish with the whole scheme.
§ Mr. Daines
I am very sorry, Sir. The last speech or two that I have made in the House have been so non-controversial that I forgot what one should do when one is becoming really controversial. I sincerely apologise.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is favouring us with remarks about marketing boards will explain why the whole system has broken down. It has not worked and there is no real sanction behind it.
That completes what I have to say but I repeat that I am not a Free Trader. On the other hand, I do not believe in Tariff Reform, and I can tell the Government that there are substantial elements in the Labour Party who view the decision embodied in the Order with the gravest misgiving. We are not opposing it in the Lobby tonight, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to realise that our opposition is very real and we are convinced that as further Orders come forward the effect on the standard of living of our people will be serious.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
I begin by asking a specific question. It relates to fruit pulp, particularly raspberry and strawberry fruit pulp. I do not think it is clear from the White Paper or the Order what the actual situation is. In column 2, page 9, of the White Paper, the existing rates of duty on fruit pulp are set out, not only for 2257 apples, but for all other kinds of fruit pulp. The right-hand column, however, which is headed "Revised rates of duty" is blank. Therefore, no decision seems to have been made for this particular commodity. On 30th November, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said:Quantitative restrictions, including seasonal restrictions, will be removed tomorrow on imports of the range of goods covered by the decisions recorded in the White Paper…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 112.]In the Order, however, there is no mention whatever of fruit pulp, except a reference to apple pulp. In regard to all the other kinds of pulp, therefore, I ask whether a decision has been made. Is it covered by my right hon. Friend's statement on 30th November and, therefore, does the tariff rate remain at 15 per cent.; or is it not covered by the statement, in which case can the quantitive restrictions next year remain in force on the same lines as for the last two years?
This is a matter of some importance in the part of the world from which I come, because we grow something like 15,000 to 17,000 tons of raspberries, much of which is turned into pulp and eventually into jam. If the Dutch and Belgian pulp is allowed to be imported, it would make a very big difference to the prosperity of the industry. It is important, therefore, that an announcement should be made so that we may know something about the future of those engaged in the industry. What I have said applies not only to raspberries, but to every other form of soft fruit pulp.
In general terms, I very much welcome the Order. Our horticultural industry is of great importance to the country. It produces every year over 2 million tons of vegetables, 800,000 tons of fruit, and flowers and nursery stock to a farm gate value of £17 million. That represents a total of something like £110 million worth of produce from farms and smallholdings.
These quantities are produced very largely by the smaller holdings. A document published by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1948, giving a specimen selection of the size of holdings in the county of Middlesex, shows that 83.5 per cent. of the number of holdings were of less than 10 acres. It is, therefore, very largely a smallholding industry and in 2258 consequence far more people are involved than if the industry were run on a farming scale.
My next point is that the Order represents a measure of liberalisation. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade), taking the old free trade line, which I remember from the days of 1931, still objects to tariffs on a small section of horticulture. What I want to impress upon the hon. Member and on my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) is that this proposal is much more liberal than the existing quota system.
The quota system is rigid; that is to say, when there is production of goods at home and the quota comes down, there can be no foreign imports whatever, whereas now, under the tariff system, if the goods are more favoured and more suitable, the importer has only to pay the tariff and he can always get the goods. That is a greater degree of liberalisation than the quota system, but it is not always realised by those who still favour the idea of complete freedom of trade.
As my right hon. Friend said, the National Farmers' Union produced their application in 1950, and they worked hard on it until 1953. In a Press statement they have said:The N.F.U. welcomes the Government tariff decision as an important step towards the long-term regulation of horticultural imports, which is so vital to the industry.It is important to note that the National Farmers' Union, who have been negotiating for three years to get this stability and security, are in the main satisfied with the results of their labours. I can only hope that they have been right and that this stability which they say they will get will in fact, come about.
On the other hand, I cannot help agreeing with the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who said that even with protection from the foreigners there are times of glut because of over production at home. In the 1950 Parliament, I attacked the then President of the Board of Trade and other Ministers for not warning producers that in their response to requests by the Government they were, in fact, approaching over-production at home in some of the items that they had been urged to continue to produce.
2259 Various hon. Members have referred to the question of marketing in the future. I have great sympathy with the view that a development of marketing is important. We have had experience of this already. The Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board has been in operation and is getting on its feet, but we have also had a failure. The Apples and Pears Marketing Board did not come to fruition because the farmers would not support it; they may have had good reason for refusing. My opinion on the question of marketing is that we are feeling our way.
In a Ministry of Agriculture document—Economic Series No. 49, "Co-operative Marketing of Horticultural Produce"—is quoted the experience of co-operative marketing by various bodies in Cornwall and at Worthing and other parts of the country, showing their varying success and failure. I would much rather that sort of thing went on, continuing the experiments behind this protective tariff for a short time, before we adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Belper whereby the Government would butt in with a compulsory scheme.
I do not think the time has yet arrived when we have found the right method of co-operative marketing for these perishable products, and products which do not supply the market for any great length of time. Strawberries, for instance, occupy the market for a month. If we had a strawberries marketing board, it would have nothing to do for 11 months in the year. We have got to feel our way towards the right method of dealing with co-operative marketing.
A lot of work is being done on a voluntary basis, and some on a compulsory basis. Eventually I hope that we may get the right answer. The Report to which I have referred was for 1948 and not 1949. It may well be that the Ministry of Agriculture should now have another survey to show what has been done since then so that we can have another report along the same lines. I agree with much that has been said. We can produce the goods all right, but we are not absolutely certain yet that we can market them to the best advantage.
§ Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)
Would not the hon. and gallant Gentle- 2260 man readily admit that the failure of the marketing boards has been largely due to the fact that they were not composed of representatives commanding universal support and, as they were composed entirely of producers, they met the antagonism of the distributors and consequently nullified their own purpose.
§ Captain Duncan
We are not in a position to say that any marketing board has failed. One is operating and the other never came into operation. It cannot be said that either has failed.
I was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) should attack these tariffs. I remember the day in 1931when I first got into Parliament when, after two years of a Labour Government, the agricultural and horticultural producers were broke. We had to do something drastic to protect horticulture. One of the first actions we took was to put a 66⅔ emergency duty on all horticultural produce, and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington supported that.
After that, when the main tariff structure was built up in 1932 and we had the Import Duties Advisory Committee, we were able to revise the rates and put them at the right level. Then war came and the Import Duties Advisory Committee was put to sleep. We are getting back to the tariff era. We are getting away from controls and quotas. We are getting back to a freer economy where we have tariffs instead of controls and quotas.
I am not at all certain but that the time has arrived when we ought to revive the Committee either in its old form or in a new form. We had complaints that various organisations have not been adequately consulted. That was mentioned, and we have a list in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 29 organisations which have submitted representations, but feel they have not been brought into the picture. Before the war, when the Committee was in operation, this could never have happened. Under the system operated then there was advertisement and consultation. The Committee, which was a non-party, non-political, independent organisation, gave advice to the Government and the Government had to make the decision.
Obviously, when dealing with tariffs we cannot consult retailers and consumers about the actual rates. There 2261 would be all sorts of difficulties in the way. For instance, some people would anticipate tariffs and try to buy in advance of their operation. I do not believe that it will be wise for the Board of Trade to go in for that sort of thing in future. After all, what will happen to us as Members of Parliament? If this list does not prove to be satisfactory, the growers will come to us. They will lobby us. Is it right that we should have to be subject to lobbying? There might be allegations of bribery and corruption in the Board of Trade. I do not say that they would necessarily be accurate, but it would give ground for suspicion if the tariff rate was wrong, if it was high—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is going a little wide of the Order. He is discussing the general tariff question, which is not in issue now. We are dealing only with the Order about fruit and vegetables.
§ Captain Duncan
I shall conclude by saying that we ought to get back to the pre-war system, which did work. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
We have certainly come some distance from the Gilbertian state of affairs when we were having a magnificent defence of free trade from the Tory benches. I must confess that, being a free trader, I feel that I am still in a slightly Gilbertian position with one cheek, so to speak, on this, the free trade bench.
I was present long years ago with the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) on that day of shame when he and his party stood up and waved their Order Papers at the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative Government who put the clock back in the way that he did in 1932. I must say that it gives me some little satisfaction to hear that there are some Members of the Conservative Party who are prepared to speak, as did the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) in defence of free trade.
Whatever one may think of the method which the Government are adopting to help the horticultural industry, we can all agree that it is desirable that something should be done to help it. I know that if one talks of a Government help- 2262 ing an industry one is apt to give an impression of something all powerful helping an industry which is inefficient. Neither of those suppositions is true in this case. Indeed the President of the Board of Trade, very properly, drew attention to his own limitations in the matter of all powerfulness when he said that he had to be constrained in his attitude towards these matters by the fact that he had to look after all the interests of the country and not just the one with which he was dealing at a particular moment.
Of course he has, and it is most certainly not true, in my small experience, to say that the horticultural industry is inefficient. But this is certain: whereas agriculture in the broader sense was a recipient of benefits under the Agriculture Act introduced by the Labour Administration, this horticultural industry was not, though it has to bear some of the burdens of that Act in that, if they are inefficient, horticulturists may be turned out of their holdings. It was always promised that something would be done to bring them security, but until now nothing has been able to be done.
I am not at all sure that anything that is now being done will be of much benefit, but an attempt is being made. Though this is not my personal experience, I have noticed in North Lincolnshire, where my constituency is situated, that recently horticulturists have been having a hard time. I heard with interest what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) about the Lea Valley horticulturists and the profits they were making, but I have not noticed that that has been true of North Lincolnshire. On the contrary, I know of cases where horticultural holdings have not been fully exploited but have been partially left uncultivated for the simple reason that things have been going very badly indeed.
I make no reflection at all against the hon. Member for East Ham, North, but I have noticed that people who make exorbitant claims about the immense profits of horticulturists and agriculturists in general are very often persons who are very well lined, owing to their connection with some perfectly secure city industry. They seem to exhibit bitter resentment if a person engaged in agriculture has a wife with a car and a fur 2263 coat. In their view it is perfectly normal that that should be the case with an industrialist, working in the City.
I strongly disapprove of that attitude. I consider the farmer has every bit as much right—to put it as its very lowest, because I do not wish to cause any controversy—to claim wealth from society as a result of his efforts as anyone engaged in some industry far less subject to the vagaries of nature than is agriculture or horticulture.
At present the horticulturist is subjected to a most extraordinary rise in the cost of his production. I do not think anyone would dispute that. Labour costs have risen, many of us are glad to say, by 300 per cent. to400 per cent. and I suppose that they constitute about 50 per cent. of production costs. We come therefore to the result which I have mentioned. We find horticulturists having to abandon part of their holdings and endeavouring to find work outside the industry. That is a state of affairs which I do not like at all.
These Orders impose some tariffs which did not exist before. Even with regard to tariffs I should like to think it is desirable to achieve some sort of objectivity. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South to this extent at any rate, that these Orders here being considered do not seem to be a question of Free Trade and protection at all. This is a question of a shift as between two kinds of protection. Indeed, in my view it is a shift from an undesirable to a less undesirable kind of protection, and therefore, I am not worried on that score. However I do not think it will come to very much in the way of real assistance to the horticultural industry.
It is true that when prices are low in this country because home supply is good, the foreigner will not find it worth his while to pay the tariff. When prices are high in this country the opposite may be the case. It is true also that there will be a certain amount of flexibility in the operation of a tariff which would not obtain in the operation of a quota which might be on one day but off the next.
I do not think it should be forgotten that the foreigners who send us their horticultural produce tend to send the best quality and to supply us cheaply, because 2264 they are able to supply their own markets with goods of a lower quality perhaps at a much greater price. They are able to do this because we are unable, for climatic and other reasons, to attack them in their own home markets. Never has our horticultural industry been in a position of equality with foreign rivals who try to supply our markets.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that this will not achieve any startling result, though he did not say so in those words. He emphasised—and in this he should be supported by us all—that it is now up to the producers themselves to do everything they can to achieve an adequate, sensible, scientific and modern system of marketing, packing and grading. There was a time when it was not altogether their fault that their goods were less well packed than those of their rivals. But that state of affairs is passing and it is now up to them. I think also that they should show that they would welcome a move by the Government to get them together. There are always recalcitrant members of any society. We have them in this House—
§ Mr. Mallalieu
—and in other societies, and it is not an unusual thing to find them even among farmers and agriculturalists. But they should get together to achieve more in the direction of scientific marketing, packing and so on, and then I think they will have every chance of competing satisfactorily with their foreign rivals.
There was always one respect—at least since the Agriculture Act came into operation—in which horticulturists were at a disadvantage compared with farmers. The farmer could more easily obtain credit than could the horticulturists, for the simple reason that the horticulturist had no secure markets and fixed prices. Now the party of City big business is rapidly removing the security which the farmers enjoyed under a Labour Administration, and so I suppose that things will be evened out in this matter between the horticulturalists and the farmer.
There are, however, many of us, including I am glad to say an increasing number in the farming community, who believe that it will not be long before 2265 labour again has the chance to bring back security to the countryside.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
I agree with a great deal of what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), but he slipped up rather badly in his last few sentences and I find myself in entire disagreement with him in that respect. It spoilt what was otherwise a very useful speech.
On a number of occasions I have declared my interest in this House, and so I do not think there is any need for me to say so again; but in view of the pointed comments made by hon. Members opposite, I may say that I think most hon. Members know that I am interested in tomatoes and cucumbers.
§ Mr. Godber
Yes, but in a different way.
I wish to take up one or two of the points made by hon. Members opposite and I am sorry that two hon. Members to whom I wish to refer are not present in the Chamber at this moment. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) took me up on a document which we all received from the Cheap Food League and in which a few wards of mine were quoted. They were words I used at the annual meeting of the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board in 1952.
As so often happens, only a very few words were taken out of their context and they look entirely different in the context in which they were placed in the document. In fact, the point here is made fairly clearly, that wholesale prices rose from 7s. to 14s. a box over a period of 10 days. I think it just as well to point out that certainly there was that rise, and that is exactly what I said. But it is fair to say that the price of 7s. was very much below the cost of production at that time. The point I was making was that the Government stepped in and brought about a price which bore more resemblance to the production costs and gave the producer some sort of return. I do not think it should be the policy of any Government to allow a producer to be in such a position that he cannot possibly earn a living, as was the case during those few days.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The gravamen of the charge, if it be a charge, is that in those 10 days to which the hon. Member has referred there was an increase of £600,000. They were not in a position of poverty; the advance was very remarkable.
§ Mr. Godber
Yes. I think in actual fact—I am speaking only from memory—that the period was 14 days, but I accept the figure of £600,000. It was a substantial figure, I agree, but the point is that had that increase not taken place, the producers would have lost that sum of money, because the price was below the cost of production. They were entitled to the recoupment of their loss of production, and that is the extent of the gravity of their position had it been allowed to continue.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) talked a great deal about the profits of tomato growers in the Lea Valley. I have no direct contact with tomato growing in the Lea Valley, but I believe conditions there are much the same as in the rest of the country. Certainly the tale which the hon. Member told us was extremely misleading. There is no question of those fantastic profits having been made over the years he mentioned. I grant that during the war substantial profits were made by the large nurserymen, most of whom are congregated in the Lea Valley, but since 1947 they have had a very difficult time and have not made very large profits. It is quite wrong to suggest otherwise, for it gives an entirely wrong impression.
The Tomato Marketing Board has been taken to task by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) for not having done enough. The right hon. Gentleman introduced the Board, and he admitted that he had difficulties with some of his hon. Friends when he did so. Some of his hon. Friends have made a similar charge against it. We ought to be quite clear what sort of Board it is. It is a regulatory Board and not a trading Board, and there is a world of difference between the two.
Its powers were extremely limited in the first place. Had the right hon. Gentleman wanted it to do more, he could have given it more powers when he introduced it. Matters would have been easier if it had had additional powers. It is 2267 possible for the Board to ask for more powers, but in view of what has happened with other schemes which have been introduced, the moment does not seem opportune.
With its very limited powers, the Board has done a great deal of good work in improving the quality of the packing and the presentation of tomatoes for the British market. Hon. Members have referred to that matter in connection with all sorts of horticultural products. The Board is doing a great dealon those lines. It is important to ensure that there is a sound quality article before we extend the activities of the Board. The charges which have been made are quite unfounded.
There is a difference between tariffs and the quotas which we have had up to the present time. The new tariffs replace the quotas, and they will be very much better from the point of view of both producer and consumer than the arbitrary type of quota. It is only right to emphasise that this is not an entirely new impost, as some hon. Members have suggested, but a change from one type of control to another. That must be appreciated.
What was the position before the war when the tariffs were first instituted? They originated in 1932. It is interesting to note what was said in Command Paper 4690 of 1934 which contained the recommendations of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. It said:There is a general consensus of evidence as to the large increase in home production and as to the advance made in marketing methods, and from no quarter has it been suggested that prices generally have been affected to the detriment of the consumers.That was two years after the original duties were introduced. It is a fair example of what happened previously, and we have every right to expect that the same sort of benefits will accrue to the consumer as well as the producer as a result of the duties now imposed.
It is nonsense for hon. Members to talk about it as if it were something new and quite different. All the Government have done is to bring the pre-war tariff rates up to something like parity with post-war conditions. In some cases parity has not even been reached. An ad valorem tariff would automatically have more 2268 than doubled in monetary value during that period. It is nonsense to say that increasing a tariff from 2d. to 4d. is anything out of the ordinary. It is nothing more than an attempt to restore the balance, and that fact ought to be realised.
In the light of what some hon. Members have said about protecting inefficient producers, it is valid to remember that horticultural products are not the only commodities which are subject to tariffs, and even considerable tariffs. Many manufactured items bear heavy tariffs. For instance, cars bear a duty of 33⅓ per cent.—I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is not at the moment in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Godber
I was about to say that woollen carpets bear a duty of 20 per cent. Another example is household glass, which has a duty of 30 per cent. All these duties have automatically advanced as ad valorem duties. Why should other duties be held artificially at a low level in the face of such advances? It is important to realise that in some measure these tariffs are being brought into line with what they were before the war.
There are certain items bearing tariffs which are not high enough, and these should be looked at again. I appreciate the difficulties in relation to G.A.T.T. which prevent some alterations and improvements from being made, but there are instances where something can be done. For instance, no protection is provided for main-crop carrots. I am glad that something has been done for the early carrot grower, but there is no protection for the main-crop grower. In the case of onions, it is unfortunate that the period of protection by specific tariff is not carried on for a further month. The period ends on 30th November. An extension of one month would have encouraged home production of onions a great deal more.
I wish to inquire about other items of horticultural produce which are not covered by the Order, such as nursery stock, flowers and bulbs. These items were covered by pre-war tariffs, and I 2269 presume some action is being taken about this. I should like to know when we shall get the new figures. In the case of nursery stock, it would be helpful if the figures came at the beginning of a new season, so that nurserymen would know where they stand, rather than in the middle of a season.
I want to draw attention to something which I saw in the "Economist" last Saturday. That journal is never kind to agriculture. It seems to try to distort the position too frequently in the case of both agriculture and horticulture. On page 733 of the "Economist" last Saturday there was a sentence which I thought deserved some refutation. Talking about the new tariffs and picking out tomatoes in particular, the "Economist" said:…the Government has firmly committed itself to the policy of dear food in Britain in order that the present number of British market gardeners may go on growing tomatoes uneconomically in hothouses.The clear inference is that we are providing a tariff to enable the home producer to produce tomatoes in hothouses instead of our importing a more cheaply produced article grown in the open. But it must be known to the writer of the article—the writers in the "Economist" may be prejudiced but they are not ignorant—that the tariffs are not applied against the outdoor grown tomato, as the main import at that time of the year is of glasshouse grown tomatoes.
The main import duty, if not the whole of it, at this time of year is imposed on glasshouse tomatoes, and the reason we cannot produce as cheaply as the foreigners is because of the geographical situation of the countries from which we are importing, but their products are produced under glass in the same conditions as ours. It is only right and fair to point that out, because it would obviously be wrong to encourage the production of glasshouse products here when they are readily replaceable by natural grown imports of equal quality. I feel that it is necessary to point that out.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on what he is doing here, and I am certain that it will do something of benefit to both producer and consumer, and that it will not have a detrimental effect on the consumer, because it will provide greater stability, so that we shall not have sharp rises and 2270 falls, but more even prices. I believe it will show, as it did before the war, that we shall have better and more even prices which will be of benefit to both producer and consumer.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
Reference has been made in the debate to the introduction of the emergency duties of 1931, but I am able to remember the days of the Tariff Reform League of Joseph Chamberlain and the support given to that campaign by hon. Members opposite or their forebears. I also remember at that time holding a different view and opposing that campaign, but the course of time brings changes.
In those days, it was thought necessary to buy cheaply all over the world in order that we could produce cheaply, and then it did not matter so much if it was to the detriment of our own agricultural industry. Today we cannot afford to be so complacent about it. We have to remember in these days, when home production is so vital to the nation, that the importation of what we can produce ourselves must be regulated, and that is all that these duties are supposed to do.
Up to now, the method of the quota has been used, and I think it was quite suitable in the days when it had to be used. They were times of currency difficulties such as we had only two years ago and in the years just following the war, times when currency restrictions were necessary, and when we had to act quickly. Quantitative restriction, for a purely financial reason, was thus necessary. Now, in times of greater plenty and more stability, it is better to find a somewhat less drastic way to protect that section of the agricultural industry which has not received any help under the Agriculture Act, 1947; that is, the horticultural industry.
Moreover, tariffs do not prevent trade with the Continent. We must trade with the Continent. For instance, Italy has a large population on a relatively small area of land on which her people have to try to make a living, because no longer can Italy send people away by millions to America, as she used to do. There has been a tremendous development of horticulture in Northern Italy, and if we can do anything to help that development, 2271 I think it is desirable in the interests of Europe as a whole.
Then there is France, and we have had now a long period of friendship and mutual trade between our two countries. It is fortunate in a way that both these two countries in Europe have seasons more advanced than ours, so that they can send us horticultural products at a time when they will compete less severely with the products of our more northerly climate. Therefore, it seems to me that it is right so to scale the tariff that its incidence falls mainly in the time of the main crop, thereby giving facilities for a country like Italy or France to send us their early season crops, which will be of advantage to housewives in this country.
At the same time, I cannot help wondering whether these dates at which the increased tariffs take effect are quite right. That is a point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), and which he might have developed to a greater extent. I dare say that it is all right to put the increased tariffs on cherries on 1st June or on strawberries on 10th June, for after that date we begin to get into the main crops, but I am a little doubtful whether we should impose the increased tariff on gooseberries and tomatoes on 1st May. I am open to conviction on that, but it seems to me that a later date would be more advisable. I doubt very much whether the main crop is really available at that time.
These are only criticisms of detail, because I think the principle is right. If the nation gives that measure of protection in the form of these tariffs to the industry, I think that the industry in return must give something to the nation in the form of efficient marketing. We have heard from the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) about the working of the Tomato Marketing Board, and I am glad that the attempt made to put it out of existence last year was unsuccessful. I am certain that the work of that Board was excellent, considering how restricted were the Board's powers. I very much regret that a similar Board was not set up for the apple-producing section of the industry. After a great deal of discussion by the National Farmers' Union, a scheme was produced, but, unfortunately, sufficient votes for its adoption were not obtained.
2272 I am sure the nation will not agree to these measures of protection unless the industry helps itself by such marketing schemes. It is up to the Government, if the industry does not put itself in order in this respect, to take measures to make sure that it does, by imposing some scheme of their own on the industry. The matter cannot be left entirely to the industry. Therefore, although I think that, on matters of detail, it is possible that this tariff scheme may be revised, on the whole, I think it is a desirable thing to give this assistance to a branch of the industry which has not benefited from the operation of the Agriculture Act, 1947.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior Palmer (Worthing)
For a very few minutes I wish to detain the House. I know there is another debate coming on and, furthermore, I was fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on the debate on the Address when I spoke at length on this subject.
I first wish to congratulate the Minister on what he has done. It is interesting to note, and I hope that the horticultural industry will note it, the length of time that it has taken us to do it. This happens when we are dealing with international matters like trade agreements, such as G.A.T.T. Within a fortnight of our getting into power it was decided that this was one of the objects of our policy, but it has taken us nearly two years to get the agreement of other countries to the waiver which we obtained the other day at the recent conference.
I regret very much that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) is not here, and I am sure we all regret her illness. I am certain that it would be very interesting to hear her point of view on this matter. I do not think that the party opposite are at one in supporting this Order, although the majority of them do support it. Those who do not must make up their minds whether or not they agree that a flourishing horticultural industry is necessary or not to this country. In these days of the cold-war, or the warm war, the horticultural industry is one of our arms of defence. The matter is as serious as that. For that, if for no other reason, the horticultural industry must be helped in every way possible by the Government. I join in the plea which has been made by other 2273 hon. Gentlemen, and I add to it that the horticultural industry must also help itself.
This tariff has been one of the policies of the National Farmers' Union for a very considerable time. I hope that they are aware of what may be one of its big dangers. The tariff is unlikely to be any more flexible than the quota system, and I hope something can be devised to make it so. It is necessary to try to compete with the vagaries of the weather by being able to raise or lower the tariff at short notice. That was one of the defects of the quota system, because the quota would be laid on months before and ships were already loaded and possibly on their way. We could not stop them if the weather changed. A tariff system by some sort of sliding principle may be able to overcome that difficulty. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter. Any Government of whichever party gets the blame when the weather puts these calculations out of gear.
The other warning that I should like to issue tonight is the danger of other countries putting on hidden subsidies to off-set the tariff. I confess that I have not thought of a way of getting round that difficulty, but I trust that those who are more aware of these things may be able to do so.
I hope the industry will realise how long it takes to get these things done, and now they are done, that the industry will attempt to reach a high overall state of efficiency. I do not blame them up till recently, when packing materials were not available, but they have no excuse now. Sugar has been taken off the ration, and that should help the industry considerably. The Government have tried to help the industry in other ways, but it must help itself. I would be very reluctant to follow the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who said that the Government should compel the industry to adopt marketing boards. The industry would react immediately to that. Unless the industry volunteers to set up its own marketing boards, it does not lie with the Government to force it to do so.
A lot of rubbish is talked about the flooding of the market being due to imports. I know of two instances last year, one of which concerned lettuces. When the suspension of the open general 2274 licence took place, no lettuces were being imported into this country, and the price fell to 3d. in the shops. A greengrocer said to me, "When lettuces were about a bob each I could sell as many as I could get, but now they have fallen to 3d. nobody wants them." We cannot compete with the psychology of the buying public. When lettuces were not being imported a lot of growers had to plough them back into the ground. Lettuces are a gamble. If it comes off, the profit is high; if not they go down with a bang.
Finally, with regard to capital, I hope that we may be able to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to persuade the banks to help the smaller grower with facilities, because at the moment all the banks are not co-operating with the smaller grower as they might do.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
We have to welcome the tone of today's debate. On both sides the points of view have been expressed in a way which has added to the helpfulness of the debate, and we have not engendered the heat which I gather was usually engendered when tariffs and free trade were argued in the old days. We have got very much away from that because we have decided that this is a world in which the issue of free trade is not immediately practicable.
§ Mr. Champion
The whole world has decided it. Attempts have been made through G.A.T.T. and so on to produce a free trade world and have failed. Desirable though it may be, we have to live in the world as it exists and not as we would have it be.
That brings me to this Order that is now before us. It might have the effect of increasing the prices of things which are essential to us all, and it is not a decision that is easy to take. Nobody can take this sort of decision easily. For my own party, I can say that we naturally feel closer to the poorest people in the population and, because of that, find it much more difficult than hon. Gentlemen opposite to take this decision.
Nevertheless, when we were in power we set out to achieve a stable and reasonably prosperous agriculture. We tried to 2275 insulate and to some extent isolate this industry from the worst effects of the varying world food trade conditions. We went a long way to achieve that, with the largest part of its farming industry, but we never achieved completely what we set out to do, which was to provide something similar for the horticultural industry. We did our best with the tools that seemed immediately available at the time, but no one can pretend that what was achieved carried out in its entirety the pledge that was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) when he spoke on the Second Reading of the 1947 Act.
I think, too, that in this connection it is right to remind the House that the horticultural industry was not getting any real benefit under the 1947 Act but was, nevertheless, subject to all the conditions contained in Part II of that Act. It is subject to that Part which imposes upon it the necessity for a reasonable degree of efficiency in its production, and, of course, to the penalties that might flow from failure to produce reasonable efficiency in running its holdings and undertakings.
I cannot help thinking that in producing this Measure to us the President of the Board of Trade ought to have given us some figures that would have told us something about this industry's position. It is not good enough that we should have had to rely on statements such as that which we had from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) and others who have said that this section of the farming industry is by no means as prosperous as is the general farming industry, that this industry has gone down since 1947, and has been gradually declining over the whole of that period. I think one of the hon. Members opposite who referred to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) was a little less than fair to him, because my hon. Friend said the prosperity of which he was talking ended about 1947 or 1948, and that from that period onwards the glass industry of which he was talking then certainly began to feel the effect of increased costs and decreased returns on the product.
§ Mr. Godber
I did not want to be unfair to the hon. Gentleman, but when I 2276 challenged him he said that in the 10 years from 1941 to 1951 it had been making fabulous profits. That was wrong, in my submission.
§ Mr. Champion
I can only say I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. I certainly understood him to say that there was a long period when fabulous profits were being made but that that had ended, and I thought he said that the decline began round about 1948. I am bound to accept the only figures that are available to me, produced by the National Farmers' Union. They may be suspect in some ways, but they do represent trends, and I accept them in that way. Their figures show that there has been a steady decline in the profitability of this industry from 1947 or 1948 down to this minute.
However, it is not good enough that we in this House should have to accept these things on that sort of statement. I believe that the President of the Board of Trade should have armed himself with figures with which the statistical departments of his Department and the Ministry of Agriculture should have provided him. We should then have been in a better position to judge of the necessity of the increase in these tariffs. If he has any figures I hope he will give them to us when he replies to the debate.
I am bound to support my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North in his protest about the way in which the paper explaining this Order was prepared. It certainly is not an easy thing to read. If one reads it straight across one finds that in some cases it does appear as though the tariff has been quadrupled instead of doubled. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will remember this when he presents, as, perhaps, he may have to do, some other paper explaining what he is doing or is about to do.
I am going to be brief for obvious reasons. There is so much one could say about this, but I am not, because of the tone of this debate, going to stress unduly some of the points that might have been made. I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) in this, that we ought to have had at the same time as we were presented with these tariff proposals some information about what the industry itself is doing to put itself in order, or, 2277 alternatively, of what the Government propose to do to encourage it to put itself in order.
There has been much said about this, and I think it is right that we should stress that we think that it is entirely wrong that these tariffs should operate, as, perhaps, they may do, not to the benefit of the producer but of the middlemen, the commission agents, and so on. It does seem to me that therein lies a danger, that we may be raising these tariffs and helping thereby to give the horticulturists the benefit of them but much more to those who come between the producers and the consumers. That is very important.
I hope, too, with everyone who has spoken, that the industry itself will do something to improve the marketing of its products. It is true there has been some little improvement, but I still feel that with some of the products is sold the soil in which the products themselves were grown. I feel that sometimes when my wife brings things home—not only from the Co-op, of course, but other places. She brings home not merely the product but also the soil in which it is grown. That really is not good enough. The industry ought to get down to this job of improvement in marketing.
If it will not, for the sake of the country I rather think we shall have to do what my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper said. If the industry will not put itself in order then we shall have to help it to do it by action at this level. We do not want to do it. It would be infinitely better if it did it itself—infinitely better; but if it will not, we, or the Government—and it may fall to us to do it—will have to do something more about this business of trying to give this country the sort of marketing of its products it ought to have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) was right to stress that prosperity in the horticultural industry is of vital importance to the workers in the industry. This is one of the industries in which there is a large amount of labour going into the eventual product, and for that reason it is absolutely vital that we should have at least a reasonable degree of prosperity in it, to enable us not only to retain the wage of the workers in the industry at 120s. 2278 a week, which my hon. Friend mentioned, but, if possible, to improve on that.
This industry, like the rest of the farming industry, cannot hope to go on doing the things we want it to do unless it can retain more people on the land instead of letting them go, as has been the case for quite a few years. I repeat what I said at the outset. The decision to make these Orders was not an easy one, but, on balance, we think that they should be supported, and I am sure they will be supported by hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
I have to thank the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) and other hon. Members for the balanced and objective way in which they have approached this important subject. The Government can claim that, with one or two exceptions, there has been a very large measure of agreement in the House. This tariff issue has not raised as much heat as it would have done if it had been debated in this House 50 years ago. We have now formed the view that tariffs and quotas cannot be regarded in terms of complete black and white. We have to look at each case upon its merits and see what it is possible to do.
In replying to this debate, I think that I should do what I promised to do in opening—to run through the main points made by hon. Members and do my best to answer them. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) supported the Orders, but asked why I was to wind up the debate as well as open it. The reason emerges from the debate we have had. There are so many questions that may be asked, and they are not all agricultural questions, although I agree with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East that the background must always be the efficiency of the agricultural and horticultural industry.
§ Mr. Champion
I interrupt only to say that the Minister will understand the reason my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) is not here to hear his reply.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The right hon. Member for Belper told me that he was unable to be here, and I fully appreciate that point. He also asked what consultation had taken place. I want to make 2279 it absolutely clear that by "consultation" I do not mean merely that a few letters were written. Eighteen organisations were invited to come along after they had submitted their representations, and full discussion took place with regard to these matters. It cannot be made too clear that, whatever views may be held about the rightness or wrongness of individual tariff decisions, in this case there was the fullest consultation throughout, in the fullest meaning of that term. It is worth while recording that fact.
The right hon. Member also asked—and, I think, rightly—how flexible the tariff was. I want to make it quite plain that when we are dealing with imports by means of tariffs we are dealing with them on an average year assessed over a long period. In point of fact, in the consideration which we gave to this matter, we were examining crop returns from as long ago as 1934 in order to find out what was the average period over which the main crop came on to the United Kingdom market.
If we have a tariff system like this, in some years it will work to the advantage of the producer and in some years it will operate to the advantage of the consumer. We must, to that extent, take the rough with the smooth, and work it out upon an average basis. I agree that neither a tariff nor a quota will prevent all gluts from taking place. With certain seasonal conditions it is probable that we shall have gluts on account of the rate of production at home, and no method of import control will alter that.
I also agree with the point which the right hon. Member for Belper and many other hon. Members rightly made, that tariffs are not the final solution to all the problems of the horticultural industry, but we hope that this tariff will create conditions of reasonable stability in which the horticultural industry can take the necessary measures to help itself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) took a more classically Liberal line than other hon. Members. He said that these Orders must increase the cost of living. He described them as an attempt by the Ministry of Agriculture to exploit the consumers for the benefit of the producers. They will do nothing of the kind. This is a Government decision, in which 2280 the Board of Trade takes principal responsibility. It is a balanced decision, taking into account the interests of the producers, importers, distributors and consumers. We considered, weighing these various interests and looking at the facts of the situation, that some moderate increases were justified in these cases.
On the question of the effect on the consumer, may I say to him and to others who have raised it that, of course, the exclusion of goods by quota is just as likely to put up prices as a moderate tariff, and in many ways this can be regarded, as one of my hon. Friends said, as a Liberal Measure in the sense that these physical quotas are removed at the same time as the tariffs are increased. We had a rather Liberal interlude in the debate if I remember rightly, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) seemed to be rather closely associated with my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington. He said that this Order would check the lowering of foodstuff prices. I think that in certain conditions that was a perfectly fair point to take. In a period of glut, when imports may be flooding in, it would check to some extent the rapid lowering of prices, which could have such a ruinous effect upon producers of certain types of horticultural produce.
Again, I would say to him that I hope that hon. Members will remember that the quota can have just as savage an effect on consumers in this country as any tariff that has ever been used. I remember some time ago using quota restrictions for the purpose of steadying the import of carrots, and I met with a great deal of criticism from both sides of the House on that occasion because prices were forced up unexpectedly against the consumer.
The hon. Member also raised the question of the effect on international trade. He thought that producers in other countries would regard all this rather badly. But surely we in this country are entitled to move our unbound tariffs. Why should we be put into an isolated position unlike any other country in the world? When we have a tariff to which we are not committed in any international agreement or in respect of which there is not any other commitment whatever, surely we must be free to move that tariff after full and proper inquiry, because if we 2281 did not we should be in a lonely position. Do not imagine that other countries with unbound tariffs are satisfied never to move them in any circumstances whatsoever.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes)made a reasoned case for this horticultural tariff. He made, if I may say so, what I think was a very powerful point when he said that horticulture is in a different position from the rest of the agricultural industry in this respect. Although in many respects it has to accept all the same risks as the rest of agriculture, for various technical reasons it is not possible to extend to it the same kind of support as is extended over a large part of the agricultural industry. He made the point, which was taken up in an able speech by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), who speaks with great knowledge on these matters, that we have to do all that we can inside the industry, and that the industry has to do all that it can, to raise the efficiency of the average somewhere rather nearer to the best within the industry.
As the hon. Member for Norfolk, North said, this is an industry which is certainly worth preserving. It should have reasonable protection against the flow of imports in certain circumstances, but when all that has been done and all that has been provided for, it still rests with the industry itself to do its very best to reach the highest level of efficiency.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) represents a constituency noted for the quality of its agricultural produce, and he took the point which I think we should always bear in mind in these discussions on tariffs—that they do not affect just the profits of employers but they affect the 150,000 men who work in the horticultural industry.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) found almost an ally in my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington and the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who sits behind him. He explained forcibly the virtues of G.A.T.T. and a high level of world trade. I do not want to enter into all that now, but this Order is certainly not a breach of G.A.T.T. All that we are doing is entirely consistent with the General Agreement. Indeed, I took some trouble to see that it was, because I went to Geneva and 2282 obtained a certain necessary adjustment in the rules in order that these Orders could be put forward.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North called me a Tory high protectionist, and as I am sometimes called a Liberal I hope that the two will balance out fairly reasonably together and show that I am producing an objective judgment on these matters. The hon. Member raised the question of tomatoes. What we have done is to raise the duty from 2d. to 4d. per lb. during the month of May on those tomatoes which are priced over 1s. 3d. per lb. The object of this, which the hon. Member did not mention and might not have observed, is to give protection to the high priced salad tomato which is on offer from the United Kingdom growers at that time but to leave free from additional duty the lower priced culinary tomatoes coming from the Canary Islands. That shows a sensible respect for the point of view of the consumer, and on the lower priced tomatoes it reduces by 15 days the period of protection. I think that that is a very good example of the care with which we have examined these things.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) raised the question of fruit pulp. I agree that the tables, whether one looks at the Order or the White Paper, may not be easy to understand, but what has happened is really quite simple. The duties on a whole range of rather complex items have been levelled up or down to 15 per cent. ad valorem. My hon. and gallant Friend asked particularly about raspberry pulp, which from his constituency point of view was a proper question to ask. The duty on raspberry pulp imports is increased from 15 per cent. or 9s. per cwt., whichever is the less, to 15 per cent. ad valorem. That represents some advantage for raspberry pulp; indeed, it is what was asked for.
§ Mr. Beswick
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of tomatoes, which my hon. Friend mentioned, and said that the increase is from 2d. to 4d. per lb. for one month only, and then only when the price exceeds 1s. 3d. I find the White Paper difficult to follow, but it refers also to an increase from 1st June to 31st August. Is that not so?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
That is quite right. I was dealing with the point which was 2283 raised specifically relating to the month of May. The hon. Member is right. In the other period, which was subject to duty before, there is an increase from 2d. to 4d. per lb. The incidence of this tariff today on tomatoes—I mean per valuation, taking the difference in prices—is less than it was in the pre-war duty. That is worth bearing in mind because people think that an increase of from 2d. to 4d. means an increase of 100 per cent., but it does not work out that way because the price per lb. has altered in the meantime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), in an interesting speech, which I apologise for missing, asked about what would happen with the tariff on apples, flowers and nursery stock. All I can say now is that it is at present under consideration. It would be wrong for me to start to state possible dates and the rest; but, subject to the very thorough investigation, which I think everybody would agree must be given to any tariff application, it is being pressed on with as speedily as we can.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East, in a speech which was a balanced assessment on this particular problem, said that we could not have complete free trade, and that we had to look at these things in an objective way. He repeated the point—which I think is quite right—that the horticultural industry has not had all the benefits which, under the Agriculture Act, 1947, were extended to other sections of the Agricultural industry.
He said that he wished I could have produced more figures on this matter. I would naturally be pleased to give the hon. Gentleman any figures that I have, but I could not go through the list of these items and describe the incidence of the new tariffs compared with the incidence before the war. It is very difficult to read out a list as long as that, and I think it would be better if I summarised the position.
I have looked at them closely, and if hon. Members go through the items they will find that the general position is that the incidence of duty over the whole field is rather less than it was before the war. If that is so, I do not think—and we all share in this decision—there can be any 2284 accusation that we have suddenly swung over to a high protective system.
§ Mr. Champion
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I should explain that I was thinking more about the figures of the profit of the industry at the present time and indicating its prosperity. What I understood was that there had been a downward trend in profitability since 1948, and I was wondering if the figures bore that out.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I do not think I could, because there is such a variation between individual items that it would be extraordinarily difficult to give the average position, but what I can do is give the tariff level. It is far more awkward to give average profitability, but I think one can say that there is no doubt that the horticultural industry, on the National Farmers' Unions' application, made a really unanswerable case that some duties should properly be applied to its products. I do not think that one can assess that case wholly in terms of profitability on an average for each type of commodity. It is one of the factors that we have to go into.
That leads me to what I want to say finally on this matter. We have looked at the case as objectively as we can, and I have tried to answer as many points as I could in this debate. We have had a very thorough examination, which has taken a long time. There has been criticism about how long it took. I think it much better to take a long time on tariff applications, get the thing thoroughly done and see that everybody who ought to be consulted is fully consulted. Experience shows that individual applications can be made either by the producers or by anybody else, but in general the object of tariff changes is to have a stable tariff and have it over a long period.
Substantially over this field the National Farmers' Unions have got what they asked for, though they have not got everything. It is not the final answer, but the horticultural industry, having got that measure of stability behind it, has got to make the best of it. It has got to see that behind that moderate protection efficiency is improved by every means open to it, and do its best to provide the housewives of this country with the commodity they want at the price and quality which they desire.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, would he say a word or two on the question of the encouragement which the Government were supposed to be giving to the small growers to develop grading and co-operative buying and selling organisations? Or is he leaving it entirely to the growers themselves?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Additional Import Duties (No. 3) Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 1736), dated 27th November, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th November, be approved.
§ Additional Import Duties (No. 4) Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 1760), dated 4th December, 1953 [copy presented 7th December] approved.—[Mr. P. Thorneycroft.]