§ 9.23 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Sir Thomas Dugdale)
I beg to move,That the Draft Apples and Pears Marketing Scheme, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd December, be approved.This draft scheme is the third scheme under the Agriculture Marketing Acts to be considered since the war. It provides for the creation of a board mainly representative of the producers with powers for regulating the marketing of apples and pears in England and Wales. I need not discuss the general case for the use of these Marketing Acts to enable producers to promote improvements in the production and marketing of their products, because I believe the principle is accepted by the great majority of Members on all sides of the House.
320 Despite progress in the last 15 to 20 years, serious difficulties still face the apple and pear industry. To start with, outside a few specialist areas there are many growers whose orchards are poor and widely dispersed and often mere sidelines for the producers. Many of the orchards are old and inefficient. Although the best of our home-grown fruit can more than hold its own against all comers, much of the rest is of poor quality. The grubbing and replacement of many orchards is required, but this is an expensive operation, as are the installation of packing and grading facilities and cold storage.
Large numbers of home-grown apples and pears are still sold ungraded or poorly graded, so that high-grade imports offer formidable competition to our producers. Prices of apples and pears vary very sharply from season to season according to the yield and the volume of imports. The cider apple industry, which is dependent upon a single outlet, is particularly vulnerable. These are the difficulties which a strong central representative organisation of producers could do much to overcome, and if the scheme presents no ready made plan of operation it affords scope for an energetic board to devise practical measures for improving production and marketing.
The scheme I am submitting to the House tonight was submitted to my predecessor by the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales as promoters in February, 1951. A public inquiry into objections was held in July of the same year and the report of the Commissioner was received in August, 1951. In the 321 light of the recommendations of the Commissioner I proposed certain modifications to the draft scheme which were accepted by the promoters. I now present a scheme for the approval of the House which I am satisfied will conduce to the more efficient production and marketing of apples and pears.
I now turn briefly to the detailed provisions of the scheme. In the first place, it provides for a board of 24 members, including 20 representatives of the producers. For the first year these will be the persons who are named in the scheme and thereafter they will be elected by the registered producers who will vote in the 10 electoral districts, having from one to four representatives according to the production of apples and pears in each district. Apart from the elected members, the scheme provides for the appointment by me of from two to four members of the board in accordance with the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1949. I propose to appoint four members whose wider experience will balance the specialised knowledge of the producer members.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the membership of the board, would he explain to the House —as it is a matter which affects both of us—why the number 10 district is not represented at present? Glancing through the names, it seems to be the only district which will have no representation on the board.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
If I do not explain that in the course of my remarks, my hon. Friend will explain it later.
I now turn to the powers which the board will have at the outset of the scheme. They are essentially regulatory in character and I shall refer to the more important of them. Under paragraph 67 the board has power to prescribe the terms on which apples and pears may be sold and also the form of contracts for them if sold growing or as grown on the tree. This is the usual practice with apples for cider making, for example.
This is a normal provision in marketing schemes and is necessary to enable the board to improve marketing conditions and to safeguard producers' interests. Its main effect is to enable the board to negotiate with buyers for uniform and 322 satisfactory terms and conditions of sale on behalf of producers. An important modification of this provision, which was inserted at my instance, provides that the board may not prescribe terms of sale requiring the buyer to conform to resale price conditions.
Then there is the power under paragraph 68 to fix minimum prices on the sale of apples and pears for the various processing—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I find it a little difficult to see how, if the board has power to fix the terms of a contract, that is not applicable to the buyer, who is the other person who enters into the contract.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
It is applicable to the first buyer. What I was saying before I left paragraph 67 was that the modification of this provision, which was inserted at my instance, provides that the board may not prescribe terms of sale requiring the buyer to conform to resale price conditions. I hope that that makes the position clear.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Now, I turn to the power under paragraph 68 to fix minimum prices on the sale of apples and pears for the various processing uses, of which the principal is cider manufacture. In the past, the individual producer has been in a weak position for bargaining with the processing industries, such as the jam manufacturers and the cider makers. On occasions, the producers have had to accept a very low price indeed. The board's powers under this paragraph will certainly strengthen their hand.
In addition, the same paragraph gives the board power to require that apples and pears shall not be sold for direct human consumption at a price less than the lowest minimum price fixed for sale for any processing use. This provision is designed to protect the minimum prices fixed for processing; otherwise fruit might be sold at throw-away prices, nominally for the fresh fruit market, but actually to be diverted to processing.
The board also has power under paragraph 69 to determine from time to time the descriptions of apples and pears that may be sold for purposes other than processing. The purpose of this is to enable the board to enforce minimum quality 323 standards in apples and pears sold for dessert and cooking purposes, and so to increase both production and marketing efficiency.
§ Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)
Does not that at the same time empower the board deliberately to withhold from the market good quality apples and pears, with the view of creating a scarcity in order to raise prices?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Nothing of the sort. If I may repeat what I said, under paragraph 69 the board has power to determine from time to time the descriptions of apples and pears that may be sold for purposes other than processing. The purpose of this is to enable the board to enforce minimum quality standards in apples and pears sold for dessert and cooking purposes, and so to increase production and marketing efficiency. I am certain that that must commend itself to Members on all sides of the House. It will raise the reputation of home-grown produce, enable it to compete more effectively with imports, and reduce wastage and, consequently, additional costs of distribution.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I think that could be so, but the hon. and learned Gentleman must not expect me to keep in mind white fish last night and potato schemes before the war all at the same time. The quick answer is that it could be so, but the whole purpose of paragraph 69 is to try to improve the quality and standard for the advantage of both the producer and the consumer.
The three powers to which I have referred are probably the most important in the scheme in view of their possible impact on the interests of persons other than producers. For the reasons I have given I am satisfied that they are necessary if the scheme is to achieve its object. Moreover, there are important safeguards under the Act and in the scheme which will prevent any arbitrary use of them by the board.
If the House will permit me, I should like, even at this late hour, just to state these very important safeguards which I 324 hope will commend themselves to hon. Members. I will illustrate this by taking a particular instance put forward by the cider makers who, by and large, have objected to the power of the board to fix prices of apples sold to cider makers. I am quite satisfied that such a power is necessary if we are to have a scheme of this sort.
The growers badly need a central body to negotiate and to secure the observance of prices and conditions on their behalf. In point of fact, this was the very sort of thing for which the Agricultural Marketing Acts were designed, and in the last 20 years hon. Members on both sides of the House have associated themselves with the various Agricultural Marketing Acts which began as far back as 1931.
What, in fact, will happen under the scheme with regard to the cider makers[...] The board is first required to consult the representatives of the cider makers, presumably the Association of Cider Makers. In other words, it must attempt to negotiate prices collectively on behalf of producers, and if agreement cannot be reached the matter may, by agreement, be referred to arbitration, or the board may itself decide to go ahead without agreement.
Whichever of those two courses is adopted, the board, before prescribing prices, must refer their proposals together with their reasons for them to me as Minister. I shall then consider in advance—and here I would ask the House to appreciate these words, which are new when we are thinking of marketing schemes—whether they are against the public interest, and, in doing this, I shall take such advice as I think necessary and take into account the views of the cider makers and also consult any of my colleagues who may be concerned such as, quite obviously, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food.
If I disagree with the proposals, I then have power under Section 2 of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1949, to direct the board either not to proceed or to modify their proposed action. Once the price has been fixed, however, it is only right that it should be enforced. If, in that event, a cider manufacturer breaks that or any other terms of sale the board has power after a full hearing to strike him off the list of approved buyers to 325 whom producers may sell. I know that this may be considered by the House to be a drastic power.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
The Minister says that the board will be given power to negotiate an agreement and perhaps prescribe terms without an agreement with the cider makers. Unless it is proposed at the same time to restrict the imports from abroad the Minister will realise that that will undermine the basis of the whole marketing scheme.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
That does not come within the orbit of this scheme and I do not think it would be in order for me to embark on that particular problem. I am trying to explain what exactly are the provisions of this scheme.
This power is certainly drastic, and one which though included in all marketing schemes has very rarely been used. Moreover, if anyone considers that he has been unjustly treated by the board, either under this or any other power, he can, with perfect right, complain to me and I must refer the matter to the independent committee of investigation. If this committee, after hearing the evidence, supports the claim, I have power to order the board to put things right. For these reasons I do not consider these powers to be either unreasonable or arbitrary.
The requirement to notify me in advance of proposed actions applies to all the main powers in the scheme which may affect interests other than producers, and it is in my view a most important new development in marketing policy, which should end once and for all the criticisms that the producers' boards, with the powers available to them under the Acts, may act detrimentally to the public interest. I have gone rather in detail into that point because I think it is a very important one. In effect, the exercise of any such powers will be considered in advance by the Government from the point of view of the public interest before the board acts, and I believe that this is a complete safeguard of the public interest.
Having said that, I would only say that the remaining powers of the board are provided under most marketing schemes. They enable the board to perform a wide variety of activities and services for the benefit of producers, as, for example, to propose standard grades, to obtain and 326 circulate statistics and other market intelligence, to advertise apples and pears, to encourage their sale both at home and abroad and to undertake research.
Finally, I should mention the additional reserve powers of a commercial nature in paragraph 75, which would, for example, enable the board to trade in or process apples and pears. As far as paragraph 75 is concerned the board will not be able to use these powers until it has obtained the approval of two-thirds of the registered producers voting at a special poll, and I understand that even if, later on, the board finds it necessary to ask for these powers it does not contemplate using them more than is absolutely necessary.
I need not trouble the House with the details of the numerous constitutional, financial and administrative provisions of the scheme, many of which are mandatory under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, but I must refer to one point. With regret, I must draw the attention of the House to one unfortunate error in the scheme. The First Schedule, giving the electoral districts, defines wrongly the local authority areas in Norfolk. This was not discovered until after the scheme had been laid before the House, and after it had actually been approved in another place. The scheme cannot be amended at this stage, but the promoters assure me that, when constituted as a board, they will take immediate steps to correct these anomalies, which, in the meantime, will have no practical significance.
If the scheme is approved, as I hope it will be this evening, I intend to fix a date for it to come into force which will permit the poll to be held about the beginning of April, and this will give producers ample time to inform themselves of all the detailed provisions of the scheme before they have to decide whether to vote for or against it. I think it is very important to remember that whether it comes into force depends upon the vote of the producers of apples and pears themselves. A two-thirds majority of all producers voting at the poll in terms of numbers and productive capacity will be required to bring the scheme into full operation. Otherwise, the scheme lapses.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
This is a point of some interest. Has the Minister anything to tell us about the number of in- 327 dependent members he is to appoint? Does he intend to appoint the full four? Could he tell us the sort of people he has in mind? He knows that with previous marketing schemes particular kinds of people were sought to provide the independent balance, and past Ministers have told the House something of their intentions at the time when schemes have been brought before the House. Can the right hon. Gentleman do that tonight?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I am going to appoint four. I think I made that clear to the House. I am going to do it strictly in accordance with the wording of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1949, Section 1. The members of the board must be persons who, to quote the words of that Section, have hadexperience and shown capacity in commerce, finance, administration, public affairs or the organisation of workers,or arespecially conversant with the interests of consumers of the regulated product.I intend to abide absolutely strictly by that definition. I should tell the House at once that I have not decided on any names at the moment, but my intention is definitely that they should be within that definition and should be completely independent persons to help us in the marketing scheme.
Having given that explanation, I commend this scheme to the House. I hope that it will be able to go from here as an agreed measure for what I believe to be the benefit not only of the producers but the consumers as well.
§ Mr. Paget
The sales talk of the promoters has been, I think, mainly to the effect that this marketing scheme, if it is adopted, will result in a tighter restriction of imports. Will this marketing scheme have any effect at all upon the question of the restriction of imports? That is very important.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
It is an important point, but I think I will leave it to my hon. Friend to deal with, because the reply needs developing.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I think the whole House will support the scheme which the Minister has put before us, because we are bound 328 to agree with the Minister that this should contribute to the efficiency of production. As the Lucas Committee reported, inefficient production and inefficient marketing go hand in hand.
I would add these two reservations with respect to the Minister's reference to the position under the late Government. The position today is not the same as it was then. The first difference is that the late Government did announce proposals about the marketing of fruit and vegetables. Any scheme such as this must be brought within a comprehensive scheme.
The second point is that the Tomato and Cucumber Scheme specifically referred to the Ministry of Food, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in the late Government repeatedly made the point, when these matters were discussed and some of my hon. Friends criticised these schemes on the grounds that they were merely providing for the producer, that the Minister of Food was there expressly to represent the consumer interests. In this scheme we have no reference to the Ministry of Food and we know from the expressed intentions of the Government that they hope to abolish that Ministry.
This entirely changes the position, because I think that both parties now realise that the essential thing in marketing is not only to organise the producers but to provide a proper medium for negotiating and bargaining. It means that until the present Government take steps to announce what they intend to introduce by way of a comprehensive scheme we shall not make sufficient progress in something that is becoming increasingly vital, because we cannot afford any longer the wastage of food that results from the present system of marketing our fruit and vegetables.
It was said expressly that the 1949 Act was an interim measure. I think both parties are equally committed to the introduction of a comprehensive scheme, and whilst we ought on this occasion to approve this present scheme I should welcome some statement from the Parliamentary Secretary which will tell us how this scheme fits in with the comprehensive scheme which the Government ought to be formulating.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be grateful for the support which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has given to the introduction of this scheme, because he will recollect, as I recollect, on a previous occasion when we were discussing a scheme of this sort, the very unhappy experiences of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and the Minister of Agriculture at that time.
In the part of the country which I represent, it is generally agreed that a scheme of this sort can be of great assistance not only to the growers but to the consumers. The point which is most clearly in favour of this argument is, as the Minister has said, that it will strengthen the position of the growers as opposed, not to the consumers, but to the processors, because the great weakness which the growers, together with those in the horticultural industry generally, have been suffering from in the past is that it has been all too easy for the organised interests of the processors to play off against each other the various grower interests in what is normally a deeply divided industry. I am quite certain that it will be of advantage to the smaller men in the industry, particularly as the industry will be able to speak with a more united voice.
Secondly, it will undoubtedly improve the quality of the apples and pears received by the consumers. The way in which we shall in time be able to provide the stability which this section of the industry requires so urgently is by being able to compete on a basis of quality with the foreign imports that will continue to come in, even though the amounts or the prices may be controlled.
The third point, which is most important from the point of view of the growers, is that they should get accurate statistical information about the prospects ahead of the industry in any season. At the present moment they have to rely simply on the casual rumour of the market, which in many cases is highly inaccurate and tendentious.
Lastly, the powers given to the board to advertise our British production of apples and pears are undoubtedly of the greatest value. I am hopeful that the board will be able to popularise some 330 of those varieties of apples which are little known to the general public, mainly because of their local origin, but which are nevertheless of the most exquisite flavour. Perhaps I may say, on behalf of the local product of my area, that the Darcy Spice apple is far better from the point of view of flavour, if not perhaps from that of presentation, than any other apple in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members from other parts of the country will no doubt have an opportunity later to advance the claims of their own local product.
The point made by the right hon. Member for Belper was of importance and I hope we shall have a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary which indicates more clearly the representative character of the four members who are to be nominated by the Minister. If I may be forgiven for saying so, when the right hon. Member for Belper was in the position at present occupied by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, he was not very exact about his intentions on that occasion. He pointed out that there was to be one member to represent consumer interests and that the other three, because they were not producers, would automatically he consumers.
I hope the Minister will consider the advisability of including a representative of the packing industry among the nominated members. There is, I know, one gentleman on the list included in the draft scheme, but I am not quite clear whether he is specifically there in order to represent the packing interests in this matter and to advise on the special problems of that section of the trade. As the board has itself the powers to undertake the packing of apple and pear products, I should have thought there was strong argument for considering whether the representation of that important branch of the industry, upon which much of the future success of this scheme depends, should not be increased by there being a special member to represent the packing industry.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to be more specific than the Minister has been so far, but I can assure him that the industry in the part of Essex with which I am concerned is generally strongly in favour of a marketing scheme, whatever may be the disagreements on the details which may emerge in due course.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)
I am well aware that there is a wide measure of agreement between hon. Members on both sides of the House in dealing with this question of marketing boards and I regret, therefore, to strike a discordant note in a discussion of this character, but I think it would be anomalous, having regard to the attitude which some of us adopted when the Labour Party were in power, if we did not say what we think about these boards now that the Conservative Party enjoy that position.
In the first place, I suggest that the very fact that the National Farmers' Union have to come to the Minister to ask for these powers is positive proof of their own incompetence to organise their own industry. I venture to suggest that if we suggested, from this side of the House, that miners should be allowed to control the mining industry, to fix the prices and to decide the agency through which they would sell coal, there would be a hue and cry from the opposite benches on the ground that we were establishing a form of tyranny. Yet the Minister calmly comes here this evening and indicates very blandly that he intends to ask the producers themselves to take a poll to decide among themselves whether they will establish a board exercising all the powers which are contained in this scheme.
What are those powers? First, they can decide that they will fine any grower who has an acre of ground devoted to the growing of apples or pears. They can similarly impose a charge upon anyone who has 50 apple or pear trees. Consequently, we are going to give a power of compulsion that we deny to any other organisation in this country.
Some time go there was terrific heat generated in this Chamber because the Durham County Council decided that only people belonging to a certain association could be employed by them, and the Minister's aid was invoked in order to destroy that power. Now we are very calmly proceeding to say to a certain organisation that it shall have power to compel every grower of apples and pears to be a member of the organisation. Furthermore, it can then proceed, if it feels disposed, to enter into property, to enter into houses, or places 332 that may be established, in order to see if there has been any infringement of regulations set up by itself, and if there is an infringement, it can then proceed arbitrarily to fine the recalcitrant member.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House, but has he not overlooked one particular point, that if the producers themselves do not like the scheme on which we are asked to give a vote tonight, they need not enter into it at all, and that if they do not like these proposed powers they need not vote for them, and that equally if, having accepted those powers, they do not like the way the powers are exercised, they can smash the scheme at any time?
§ Mr. Coldrick
I submit that that is the most specious form of reasoning to which one could resort, because one is virtually appealing to an interested body to decide whether it should arrogate to itself these powers to do these things. Would any intelligent person imagine that any body of people, if given the choice suggested here, would not vote as undoubtedly most growers will vote on this occasion? I candidly confess that if we were thinking purely in terms of self-interest, those of us associated with the Co-operative movement ought to be backing this, because we own one of the largest orchards, if not the largest orchard, in this country. We have one with 1,600,000 trees. It has to be sprayed against pests by helicopter.
Therefore, if we spoke purely in terms of seeking to raise prices and to enjoy all the privileges of a monopoly market, of course we should be sponsoring this proposal; but I say that Parliament would be neglecting its duty if it did not proceed to offer the maximum measure of protection to the consumers against the rapacity of people who want to organise scarcity when it suits their purposes in order to raise prices, and for that reason we are strongly opposed to the whole conception of the marketing boards as established at the present moment.
It is amazing to me that the Conservatime Party, in their desire for economy, do not proceed to abolish the Ministry of Agriculture and hand over the whole of its functions and responsibility to the 333 National Farmers' Union, because whatever the National Farmers' Union suggests to the Minister of Agriculture apparently is readily adopted by him. Some time ago we had the case of tomatoes and cucumbers, and, I understand, herbage seeds, and so forth. I verily believe that if the National Farmers' Union suggested to the Minister that a board should be established for the sale of buttercups and daisies, the Minister of Agriculture would adopt the scheme.
We are told that once they have taken the poll a board will be established with 20 representatives from the producers, and with a kind of facade of protection for the consumer. The Minister himself is going to appoint four representatives, and if at certain stages they make recommendations to him or submit schemes to him, and he feels their schemes are against the public interest, he has power to withhold consent. Can anyone conceive of any Minister, having swallowed the board, then belching against the splinter suggested by the board itself?
Consequently, in the interests of those concerned in the growing of apples and pears, if we want to do the best by them and by our people, one of two courses ought to be adopted. Either we should establish an independent board representative of growers, distributers and consumers, in order that all would have confidence in the judgment of the board; or, if we are not prepared to do that, the Government should take upon themselves the responsibility of insisting upon grading and packing, and there should then be a controlled and guaranteed price operating through the Ministry of Food rather than through the Ministry of Agriculture. In that way we could create the type of organisation necessary.
In reply to my interjection, the Minister suggested that paragraph 69 did not confer upon this board certain powers to preclude sellers from putting certain kinds of apples and pears on the market. If he reads that paragraph he will find they have the power to determine that certain kinds shall not be sold, and if they decide to withhold those from the market the net result is a general scarcity and an increase in the price of other things.
We all recognise that if we continue what we are doing now, we shall have a plethora of these boards established. We want grading, packing and scientific marketing, but it must be fairly obvious 334 that, with seasonal crops, a board set up for each commodity will create processing plants or factories, whatever it may be, which will be idle for the greater part of the time. It looks as though it would be far better to have one general commission entrusted with the responsibility of creating all the plant, machinery and so on essential for operating schemes of this character.
Although we shall not press this to a Division, I sincerely hope that those entrusted with the responsibility for this great industry—if that is the correct term to apply to horticulture as represented by apples and pears—will consider these points in the interests of the growers as well as of consumers. Otherwise I am confident that within a short time such enmity will be generated among consumers and distributors that all these marketing schemes will be destroyed.
If we could get a wider measure of agreement along those lines, it would be in the interests of those who want the growers to get a fair price, but who are determined that they shall not be allowed to determine the quantities that go on to the market and at the same time exercise an influence through the Ministry in deciding the quantities that shall be imported. Personally, I am bitterly opposed to this whole marketing conception based upon producer control, but I would certainly not oppose grading, and so on, provided the general interests predominate and not the particular interests of those concerned.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
The speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick), to which we have just listened, is, if I may say so, rather characteristic of one who holds Socialist views, and who imagines that one can get hold of an industry of great diversity and straight away make a neat and comprehensive paper scheme which can be brought into operation at once. The truth is that one cannot. One reason why I welcome the scheme which we have before us tonight is that it does not attempt to do too much at too early a date. Although both parties mainly represented in this House have done a great deal for farmers in the last 20 years. very little has been done for fruit growers since the import duties were introduced in 1933. 335 This scheme, as I see it, is really two schemes. We have to look at this industry as though it were divided into three parts. This scheme deals with only two of them. The three parts of the industry as these: first, those who grow apples and pears for processing; secondly, those who grow apples and pears in the hope of producing reasonably good quality and good grading; and, thirdly, those who grow any kind of rough stuff of no very great quality, which finds its way to the retail markets very easily.
Do not let anyone despise this last batch of growers. They are mostly small men, who produce apples and pears as a sideline, and who have no great ambitions with regard to their fruit. They are not a type who are confined to this country. Even foreign countries such as, for example, Holland, which sends us beautifully packed fruit, have small growers who eke out an existence, sometimes in addition to their substantive farming, by pushing on to the local markets what they can. Let us get this clear. This scheme which we have before us deals only with the first two categories which I have mentioned. That part of the scheme in regard to the processors is fairly comprehensive, and, I would have thought, is likely to produce fairly satisfactory results as soon as it comes into operation.
As for the second category—those men who are prepared to take trouble in growing quality and in packing—the scheme must, as I see it, be regarded as experimental. Moreover, it is the first stage, so far as they are concerned, in their reorganisation, and I hope that in several years' time we shall have another scheme coming before us affecting such people, in which there will be a marketing board, with greater power over such things as price fixing, which we do not find in this scheme.
I was puzzled when I heard the Minister talking about the timing of the scheme. He very rightly is going to arrange matters in such a way that the poll can take place in or soon after the early days of April. What I should like to know is this: when that has been done, is there any hope that the rest of the stages necessary to bring the scheme into operation will be completed before next season, because if that is so, then that is an assurance for which many people are looking?
336 The scheme which we have before us is necessary foundation work in bringing prosperity to our horticultural industry, and especially in bringing that stability which must precede prosperity. I do not think that any fruit grower ought to raise his hopes too high as to the immediate result which will flow from the scheme. At the same time, I most earnestly hope that the scheme will command the support of the growers, and that they will do everything possible to make this necessary first step work, so that they can go on later to the next step.
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East was inclined to condemn the scheme for reasons which I found paradoxical. He said he was surprised that members of the National Farmers' Union should come here to seek the powers they do, and he also said that he regarded it as a sign of their incompetence to organise their own industry. I am not sure whether he objects to the powers or to the fact that the powers are sought under the aegis of statutory protection.
§ Mr. Coldrick
Is it not obvious that if they were competent to organise themselves, perhaps on a co-operative basis, it would not be necessary for them to come here seeking power for us to compel unwilling people to do things?
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman would like the growers to play into the hands of himself and his political friends. If the farmers were to organise themselves in that way, he and his friends would be the first to say that no such thing ought to be done without Parliament being asked to take a hand in it. However, under the aegis of Parliamentary and Ministerial protection and, I would say. supervision as well, the growers are doing what is necessary to give sound foundations to their industry which, largely owing to neglect over many years, they have so far lacked. I wish them well with the scheme.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
I am glad that the scheme seems to be receiving the support of both sides of the House, with the exception of hon. Friends of mine who represent Co-operative interests. I know that they have always held those views very sincerely, and we respect their point of view even if we do not agree with it. There was 337 general agreement in 1931, when the first Agricultural Marketing Act was introduced by the late Lord Addison—it is upon that that the scheme is now based—but hon. Friends of mine like my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) then held the views which they do now.
Nevertheless, there is very little doubt that unless a measure of this kind is introduced, the future of fruit growing in this country will be very uncertain. In my own constituency I have a number of growers of apples and pears—mainly apples—who have given considerable thought to the future of their industry and have come to the conclusion that they cannot serve the public or themselves unless an orderly scheme of marketing is introduced.
It is always difficult to organise the marketing of produce which comes from a large number of small producers or which cannot easily be canalised. However, the Agricultural Marketing Acts of the last 20 years have done something to solve that problem. At one time it looked as if it would be difficult to organise the milk industry because milk is produced from many small sources, but the success of the Milk Marketing Board showed that under the Agricultural Marketing Act that problem could be solved, as I believe the problem of the marketing of apples and pears can also be solved.
§ Mr. Price
I admit that there are not the same powers as in the case of the Milk Marketing Board, but the board have considerable powers, particularly in controlling the quality of the fruit and fixing minimum prices. There is in that respect quite a considerable similarity between the two schemes although in other respects the powers are not the same.
338 This question of imports worries many growers. In my constituency growers are apprehensive of foreign imports, but there is to be no protection for the consumers if apple imports are to be controlled and there is no measure of this kind providing for the orderly marketing of the fruit. That is the best protection for the consumer, but it must obviously go hand in hand with import controls, and all the best growers realise that.
The season 1951–52 was a very bad one throughout the country, and certainly it was so in my constituency. There was a good deal of imported fruit and a very large crop of most inferior fruit because of the extraordinary climatic conditions that prevailed in the previous winter and early spring. Yet I was assured by auctioneers in my part of the country that properly graded and packed English apples were commanding prices which were better than prices for imported fruit in spite of those conditions.
The fact is that enterprising auctioneers and growers have already started to do something in the direction in which this scheme provides. They have small grading stations and the growers can send in their produce and have it graded and marked according to its quality. One might say that that should go on, but it is very difficult for it to continue on that basis for the whole of the country without a marketing scheme. There are always the small growers, to whom referance has been made, who push inferior produce on the market and do not care what happens. It is they who spoil the price and undercut those who are doing their best to produce the best quality fruit.
I will only refer to what is said on page 64 of the Lucas Report on the working of the Agricultural Marketing Act:It is the orchard planted with the wrong varieties of fruit or in which spraying and other cultural operations have been neglected or inefficiently performed that chokes the market with inferior and unattractive produce which nobody will take however low the price.Actually I do not think that this scheme will very much help the best growers. Already they have done something in this direction. I have a letter from a grower in my constituency who is a successful man in his way and who takes a public-spirited line in this matter. He says:We should like to have our house in such an orderly state that we can meet foreign 339 competition by our own efforts. We have a much better product than anything imported, but by improvements in our marketing and publicity we must see that the public are conscious of it.There is, of course, the question of consumer representation. I understand that the Minister will appoint four members of the board. Those four members, or some of them, will be appointed to look after the general interests of the public and of the consumers. Am I right in believing that there is a further safeguard in the provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, under Part II of which the Minister can appoint consumers' committees and committees of investigation to inquire into any grievance which consumers or other elements of the public may have about the operation of a scheme such as this? Am I right in thinking that this provision is still in operation, and can form a double safeguard with the four members whom the Minister appoints to the board?
I hope that the scheme will go through and will be in operation before the next growing season so as to put some order into a very important industry which has suffered a good deal in recent years and which is a very important element in the production of food in this country.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
At this comparatively late hour it is not my intention to delay the House long, but as I represent a constituency which is very largely agricultural and in which there are many growers of fruit, mostly smallholders, I should like to take this opportunity of welcoming the scheme.
I can bring forward a very small example from my constituency of what might be called a "pilot" scheme, which has been going on there for many years. A village called Kirdford has for many years had a growers' association. It was formed shortly after the First World War, when the growers were individually not doing particularly well. As a result of this association, which, small though it is, is run on exactly the same lines as the scheme which is now being considered, the growers of Kirdford have enjoyed a prosperity and security which they never enjoyed before.
I shall confine my remarks to one or two comments on the scheme. I have 340 been thinking very seriously about the constitution of the board, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price). I agree with him that one or more of the nominees of my right hon. Friend must keep an eye on consumers' interests. This is no disparagement of the 20 other members, who, after all, are experts in their own job. It must be understood that the board are accepting tremendous responsibilities which are quite alien to what the other 20 members have been accustomed to in past years. There are very large sums of finance to deal with. The board have freedom to manufacture, and indeed to trade in, any requisites which are necessary to the marketing of apples. Generally, they give service and advice.
There is also to be research, in respect of which I have a shining example in my constituency of what can be done by a large body. The well-known company, Plant Protection Ltd., in Fernhurst, is doing an enormous amount of research in many directions, very largely in the growing of apples and pears. That is an example of what can be done under this scheme, but it also brings out the great responsibility of my right hon. Friend to choose most carefully the four members who are to be the colleagues of the 20 members who have already been nominated.
I see that in paragraph 47 the board are limited in their investments to securities under the provisions of Sections 1 and 2 of the Trustee Act, 1925. I have had a certain amount of responsibility in administering trust funds in pensions schemes and so on. I suggest that when the scheme has been running for some years they may find that it will be sensible to make some reasonable extension of their investment powers under that paragraph.
My right hon. Friend mentioned certain of the powers which the board are taking upon themselves, and he also said that these are mandatory. I agree with him that paragraphs 77 and 81 put a heavy responsibility on the members of the board. I agree that there is an arbitration provision. In the event of the board having to take disciplinary action against a member and the member objecting, an arbitrator can be appointed under paragraph 84, and in the event of their being 341 unable to agree on this single arbitrator, the Minister is empowered to appoint one.
But whatever has happened in the past, in regard to future similar schemes one might bear in mind whether this provision is sufficient to see that in regard to what is referred to in paragraph 81 (5, a) there is no possibility of a substantial miscarriage of justice. When the board have had experience they may decide that their members, if they wish to do so, may have recourse to the courts of law. I should like to see that.
I am glad to see that this scheme extends right down to growers with holdings of one acre, and I hope that the board will realise their responsibility to these smaller people, who deserve all the assistance and guidance that can be given to them. It is because I believe that generally this scheme will give stability to the growers and will improve the general standards that I warmly welcome it.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
I cannot agree with some of the strictures passed upon the scheme by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick). Some of his points have been answered and I wish to take up only one. My hon. Friend suggested that the N.F.U. were not competent to produce a scheme but had to come to the Government for one. As I understand it, these schemes come into existence because they are first promoted by the producer organisation. The N.F.U. put up the scheme and the Minister says whether he likes it or not. That being so, I do not think we can blame the N.F.U. for not producing a scheme. I think they do well to take advantage of the marketing Acts to produce a scheme for the Minister to approve and, as I hope, for the House to approve it tonight.
When framing farming policy, horticulture has always loomed large in the picture, but so far no Government have provided for it the guarantees which are the foundation of the Agriculture Act, 1947. I appreciate the difficulties of so doing. Agricultural policy is obviously again undergoing revision, and, as I understand it, the horticulturist will still have no guarantees of the kind contained in the Agriculture Act.
342 It is quite possible that someone may have in mind using the marketing boards to provide guarantees to the producers in respect of certain products: and if so, we must attach great importance to the setting up of these boards. I should deplore any weakening of the Agriculture Act by the scrapping of the guarantees, but, quite apart from that, so far as horticulture is concerned the marketing board can serve an increasingly useful purpose to producers and consumers alike.
I may be a little critical in some of the things that I have to say on the draft scheme. My criticisms are not against the scheme as a whole, but I wish to make some observations on sections of the scheme which I think need to be looked at again. The proposed board is not only a producers' board, but is a board of big producers. Although it has much wider powers than the old producer boards, its representation is not widely based. It is not clear to me how far forward it will extend its activities. As will be seen from paragraph 75 (1, b), however, it is empowered to manufacture products from apples and pears; for instance, it can proceed to manufacture cider and jam.
My main criticism on the detail of the scheme is that the producer board is to be entirely producer-controlled, subject to a minimum of two and a maximum of four members to be appointed by the Minister. The weakness of the schemes put forward hitherto for the establishment of marketing boards has been mainly in the fact that there has been no place for any workers in the industry to be represented on them. Although the man who provides the money and runs the industry is obviously entitled to a seat on the board, so far as the work on the holdings is concerned the actual producer is the man who takes the weekly wage. He is as interested as anybody else in the success of the enterprise, and I hope that when the Minister considers who shall comprise the four members that he has power to nominate, he will bear in mind the great desirability of including workers' representatives.
There is no provision for direct consumer representation on the joint committees, although merchants' salesmen, processors and retailers will be represented. The voting for the district 343 committees, which is referred to in paragraph 63, shows how much power the big producer will have. As I understand it, he will have the power of up to no less than 100 votes in each district.
Except as regards the apples and pears which are sold for processing, the board cannot, as I read it, set maximum or minimum prices, but they may prescribe that apples and pears sold for direct human consumption must not be cheaper than the lowest minimum price obtained for the fruit which goes for processing. The fact that the board will have great powers is borne out by paragraph 69, under which the board can prescribe what kind of apples and pears will be sold by registered producers—which means, of course, practically everybody—except the fruit intended for processing. These prescriptions of the board must be sent to the Minister, including the reasons for them and, as I understand it, there is no suggestion that they have to be ratified by the Minister who may, in fact, nominate another person to receive these notices.
The board may draw up a list of persons and say that registered producers may sell only to the people on that list. I would prefer a wider scope. I would also say that the draft scheme is far removed from the recommendations of the Lucas Report, and I would add that one can justifiably argue that the consumers' interests are not protected at all. It is, I admit, not difficult to criticise a scheme of this kind but anything is an improvement on the present chaotic position. If the board are, however, to deal with distribution to any extent, then I would press the point that something like the commodity commissions proposed by the Lucas Report should be taken into consideration. So far, marketing powers have done little to improve the physical deficiencies of distribution.
But, with these reservations, I welcome the board; I give my approval, for what that is worth, to its setting up, but I would ask the Minister if he will take into account the few points which I have made tonight, and particularly the question of workers' representation.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
There is little doubt that this scheme is generally welcomed. The constituency which I have the honour to 344 represent in Somerset is largely interested in cider-apple growing and cider making and I have, in that connection, heard several criticisms of the scheme. I would like to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to two points.
First, among the members nominated for the board, there is no representative of the cider-apple growing, or cider making, industry. Secondly, in the provisions which deal with arbitration it would appear that only the producer interests are covered. It is very right and proper that producers should have resort to arbitration when necessary, but is it not equally right that the processers and retailers, and others in the industry, should have that right? If the scheme could be amended to cover those two points it would be greatly improved and would attract general satisfaction from the whole industry.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I intervene to continue the debate in the spirit of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick), for I do not join in the chorus of approval on the excellence of the scheme. I know the difficulties of marketing legislation which has been the fruit of efforts from both sides of this House at different times, and of the difficulties in proposals worked out by my hon. Friends on this side of the House. But, speaking with a full consciousness of that, I am sure that the House must realise that in spite of all the efforts, and in spite of all the panegyrics about the scheme, there is the most important point that the consumers are totally excluded.
The process of marketing involves two classes of persons; the one who has to sell, and the one who has to buy. It is only those four representatives who have been referred to tonight, and about whom there has been little indication as to whom they (really will represent, who constitute any sort of exception to the general rule of producer representation. I do not disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) in his desire for further representation for the workers. I should think him very modest if he asked for only one such representative on the board. I am certain that he would like a great deal more, but the more representation he secured 345 out of the four, the less representation there would be for consumers.
I wish the Minister could have been a little more enterprising in suggesting some different line of approach, but I am fairly certain that the experience of this board when it is set up, and of other boards which have already been set up, will suggest some further action, such as the setting up of some re-organisation commission that will have powers of representing both producers and consumers. I am certain that thought in that direction will be influenced by our experience as we proceed. I must remind hon. Members that although we are discussing apples and pears, we have had quite a good deal of experience in other matters.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The most efficient marketing board that has operated in this country in the last 20 years is the Hops Marketing Board.
§ Mr. Hudson
I cannot find any rule for efficiency in anything which does such damage in the life of the community. I have more productive matters to discuss —tomatoes, for one, which are better than hops. I should like to draw attention to a report which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph." in which the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board was called "futile" by one of the leading producers.
On 31st October, 1952, the "Daily Telegraph" reported the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) as saying on the same occasion:Do not let us talk about abolishing something which has taken years of hard work to build up. We cannot afford the luxury of a Bevanite group.Certain hon. Members opposite feel so dissatisfied about that scheme that already there is emerging a real cleavage of opinion in the party opposite.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
As the hon. Member has mentioned me in this connection, will he permit me to make an explanation? The question of a Bevanite group did not refer to my party; it referred to the producers of tomatoes and cucumbers, and that they were showing such cleavages as are frequently apparent on the other side of this House.
§ Mr. Hudson
It was more correctly described by the hon. Gentleman as a dissident group inside the body of people to which he was making his appeal.
According to the "Farmers' Weekly" of 28th November, the National Farmers' Union has displayed considerable anxiety about those who desire to abolish that scheme. On the opposite side of the House there is realisation that this is not a perfect way to do things, and that already some who were supposed to be reaping great advantages out of that scheme are beginning to find out its weaknesses. I am certain that a similar experience will develop as this scheme goes along.
The Co-operative movement is engaged in apple and pear production. Some of the finest apple orchards are in the hands of the movement. There is a great development of Co-operative farming of this sort, and the movement does not stand for inefficiency. It agrees with the claims made about proper grading, about opportunities to scrub out inefficient orchards, about the need to advertise fruit, about the proper preparation of cold schemes and gas schemes, and about the regularising of prices; but we are not prepared to say that right and fair prices can be arrived at as long as there is refusal to pay attention to the claims of the consumers and consumer organisations.
It is with that in mind that I make my protest about the inadequacy of the arrangements which have been made. The "Fruit Trades Journal" had a leading article on 8th March, and another and bigger article on 5th April, examining the merits and demerits of this scheme. I noticed that both those articles began with the point that they want the organisation of the producers in the way we are doing it mainly in order to deal with the problem of imports of fruit.
It is the import question, the tariff question, the fact that under G.A.T.T. we are now engaged in cutting out imports of apples from America and Canada from August to April each year —it is that sort of thing, far more than other issues that I admit have to be dealt with, which is mainly leading to the demands now being made for the development of organisations of this sort. 347 When we remember that the party opposite met representatives of the Dominions recently at an Imperial Conference and admitted the necessity to retain G.A.T.T. and to continue to limit the development of import duties, we realise that this is hardly the time to be encouraging producers to set themselves up in a close monopolistic organisation when in other directions we are having to break down schemes on which we have relied in the past.
It is because of this fact that the party opposite is in the very greatest difficulty about the Ministry of Food. It is not at all certain whether it is going to retain the Ministry, which, on behalf of the consumers, could have kept a check on the mistakes of an organisation of this sort. Until we know a little more about what is going to be done about the Ministry of Food it is entirely inappropriate that the scheme should be so strongly pressed.
I have indicated the nature of my criticisms, having in mind mainly the claims of the whole Co-operative movement, which, I repeat, is not merely a consumer but also a producer, and can look at the matter from both sides. As I appreciate that both sides of the House are expressing officially from their Front Benches their desire to accept the scheme, I am in the mournful position of being unable to do more than express my protest. I am certain that, as the months pass, experience will show the correctness of the views held by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East and other hon. Friends of mine who are in the Co-operative movement.
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ Brigadier F. Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)
I wish to add a brief word of welcome to the scheme because it is so much designed to look after the interests of the small men for whom we are so deeply concerned.
A word of protest should be uttered against the allegation made by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) that on the part of fruit growers there has been rapacity in the matter of their prices. The average fruit grower has been only too grateful and glad if he has received in the past sufficient to make a modest living, and it is because 348 I believe that the scheme will help him that I welcome it so warmly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) referred to the powers of the board to invest their funds. I would draw his attention to the fact that the board will be empowered to invest in the funds authorised by the Trustee Act, 1925, as extended by any subsequent enactment. That gives me great confidence, for the words in the scheme show that the draftsmen have already borne in mind the recommendations of the Nathan Committee and have given thought to the extension of the powers of investment.
Paragraph 74 gives great hope to all who are engaged in horticulture. It gives the board power to encourage horticultural co-operation, research and education, and to encourage and promote the sale of apples and pears both at home and abroad for both consumption and processing. There is also the fact that the board will be able to take part in the trade side of the negotiations connected with imports, which is a vital matter in the whole realm of horticultural production.
The scheme is well designed. It does not attempt to do too much. We welcome it and hope that it will do what its sponsors wish it to achieve.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I do not like this scheme at all. First, it is described as a marketing scheme and marketing is the one thing the board does not propose to do. The only circumstances in which it could market would be if it had another poll and then it promises only to do very little. I spent a year considering various marketing schemes when I was on the Lucas Committee, and one class which we came to look on very unfavourably indeed was marketing boards that did not market. This is typical of that sort.
What does this marketing board do? Firstly, we have heard a lot about grading, national marking and things of that sort. Heaven knows, they are required. They are the sugar coating to the pill, because everyone is in favour of them, but in this scheme this is sheer eyewash. One hon. Member referred to the good work that was being done by voluntary associations. Grading and marking can only 349 be done by voluntary associations. There is no point in having compulsion here, as this marketing board is utterly incapable because of its constitution of imposing obligatory grading and marking and it has no machinery to police it.
If compulsion in marking and grading is wanted, and there is a case for it, only the Government can do it because only the Government have the machinery to police it. Here there is a board without any policing machinery at all, which might occasionally take up the case of a person, and then he is tried by a private tribunal. If he does not like the decision of that private tribunal he can appeal to an arbitrator. That is another piece of pure eyewash. How can an arbitrator be called in to say whether a man has been correctly fined or to say whether a sentence is right? That is complete nonsense. An arbitrator cannot be brought in to proceedings which by their very nature are penal and criminal.
There are people who object to these domestic tribunals, and that aspect of this scheme is simply eyewash and nonsense. This board has no intention of imposing marking or grading because they are not interested in such things. They are interested in quite different matters which I shall come to in a moment.
Secondly, there is the question of price maintenance and price inflation. The price given to the producer of cider apples has trebled since before the war but the price of cider has only doubled. I do not know of any particular case for giving the producer monopoly rights. There are various competitive interests in the cider industry, and I can see little case for giving any such monopoly to the cider apple producer. There may be a case for it in jam. I do not know, but as far as the cider apple producer is concerned there is little call for it now.
Finally, there is the case of apples for direct consumption. That is covered by paragraph 69, which is once again the riddle clause of the potato marketing scheme. This provided that only potatoes that did not pass through a riddle of a certain size could be sold for human consumption. If there was a large crop of potatoes the riddle was large, and if there was a small crop the riddle was small. The riddle was used to reduce 350 the supply which could be put out for marketing.
If we give power to vary the standards from time to time byprescribing the descriptions of apples and pears which may be soldwe can use that as machinery for restricting supplies. I am not particularly concerned about that, because this is such a complicated and diverse product that I am certain that the provision will not work, for either good or bad. This marketing scheme has been knocking about for 20 years. We have heard all that time that a scheme was coming forward, but it has not come for the perfectly good reason that the producers did not want it. They do not want it now for any of the purposes which appear in it. The whole idea of this scheme has been to put pressure upon the Government to restrict imports.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
I am interested in the hon. and learned Gentleman's point about the small and undesirable apples which he says the scheme will not keep off the market. Is he not taking a rather short view? Is it not in the interest of some of the consumers that some of these apples should go on to the market? In view of the protection that producers will have under his scheme I should have thought there was a very great likelihood that that grade of apple would disappear altogether and that it would be in the long-term interests of the consumers that this restriction should be put on.
§ Mr. Paget
I am saying that if there is power to vary the size, or whatever it may be, we have machinery for restricting supplies, although it appears in a disguised form. In the case of potatoes, it was machinery which would work, but in the case of apples and pears it will not work and will not have any effect either for good or for ill.
The real purpose of the scheme, and why it will be approved, is that growers think they will get more restriction of imports under the scheme than without it. That is the only reason why the growers will accept something which they have been turning down for 20 years. I should like to read one paragraph from the Lucas Report which I thought appo- 351 site at the time and I think apposite now. It says:Producers did not immediately avail themselves of the facilities for reorganisation offered by the Agricultural Marketing Acts. In general, it may be said that in so far as the Marketing Acts were intended to provide British farmers with a method of improving their productive efficiency upon a co-operative basis, on the model of the agricultural co-operative societies that proved so successful in Holland and Denmark, they were a failure.British farmers disliked co-operation and were only prepared to submit to the discipline of marketing schemes in so far as they were rewarded for so doing by protection of their prices from the effect of the bargaining power of organised middlemen or by protection from foreign competitors. Where such protection could be obtained either in the form of subsidy or limitation of foreign supplies without the necessity of setting up a marketing board, producers, on the whole, preferred to do without a marketing board.That has been the position with regard to apples and pears. If this marketing board is accepted, its only effective operation will be as a pressure group on the Government to cut down imported supplies. What we want from the Government, because it is only fair, is a straight statement. If the Government say categorically, "This marketing board will not affect one way or the other the restriction on imports," this scheme will be turned down on the poll by a substantial majority.
If they say, on the other hand, "Well, if you have this scheme and please the Farmers' Union, we will do something for you by cutting down imports and restricting supplies from abroad," then they will have it. But that will be the reason for having it, not because there is any intention to use this to improve the efficiency of marketing, grading or presenting food. That aspect of this matter is simply a piece of eyewash.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
Even if the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is correct in his assumption about the regulation of imports into this country, that does not necessarily say that it is not in the interest of the consumer eventually. The effect of dumping either fruit or anything else on our shores is that the home producer is knocked out of business and eventually it is the consumer who will suffer when he is at the mercy of a foreign fruit-grower instead of our own.
352 I want to call attention to something with which I do not agree. Paragraph 67 can prescribe a contract which does not give the other party to it the right of any appeal. The board should make use of paragraph 22 and the advisory committee should be the appeal committee so that if the two parties to the contract do not agree, they will be able to appeal to the advisory committee to have the contract agreed.
The same thing applies to paragraph 68 where the marketing board can prescribe a price and there is no quick machinery available to settle disputes which may arise between the two contracting parties. I should have thought that if the joint board could act as the arbitrating board to agree on price—just as in the case of the Hops Marketing Scheme they have a joint advisory board to settle the price of hops—it would satisfy both parties to the contract.
Again, I do not like paragraph 71 (1, c) whereby, if any buyer is not included on the marketing board list, he has no right of appeal except to be heard by the board. That is not quite fair. There again, if any of the buyers are not on the basic scheme or they are turned off for any reason, they should have the right of appeal to somebody a little more independent than the board. I believe I am right in saying that they would be quite happy if their appeal could be heard by the advisory committee to be set up under paragraph 22. If this scheme is accepted by the growers, I hope the Ministry will endeavour to see that those arbitration boards are available for the contracting parties.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
We have had quite a lengthy and, on the whole, pleasant debate on this scheme. There are one or two points I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary before he replies. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) was good enough to refer to the experiences which my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and I had when we blazed the trail for the right hon. Gentleman on a previous scheme, the Tomato and Cucumber Scheme. I do not know whether to feel pleased or disgusted that the Minister has had such a comparatively easy ride on this matter tonight. 353 The position of the Labour Party has been quite clear since 1930, whether we have been in or out of office. I cannot say that the position of the Conservative Party has always been equally clear, in or out of office, but ours has been. Whatever reservations particular Members or groups of Members in our party may have had, as they are entitled to have, ever since it put the first marketing Act on the Statute Book the Labour Party have consistently supported the development of producers' marketing schemes in those circumstances where that seemed the best way of getting the producer organised to market his own produce adequately, properly and efficiently. We have supported the introduction of schemes, and in 1949 introduced amendments to meet the post-war conditions; and we were able to present the tomato scheme to the House.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made some very pertinent criticisms of the scheme. We must not, of course, confuse—I beg the Government benches not to fall into the mistake of confusing—criticisms of the scheme with criticisms of marketing boards as such. The Lucas Committee, of which my hon. and learned Friend was such a distinguished member, said quite specifically in paragraph 268 that it dissented from the view, which had been expressed, that there was no place for producer marketing boards in the subsequent organisation of marketing. Indeed, it mentioned the draft apples scheme, which is virtually what we now have before us, as one of the schemes which it had then been told about.
My hon. and learned Friend said something which bears on a lot of the discussion that we have had tonight. The discussion has been a little up in the sky and away from the real problem. When he said that marketing boards that do not market are rather, in a way, odd instruments, he was making a very pertinent observation, and one that ought to be repeated. There is now a tendency among growers to think that if only they get a scheme which will give a board powers to do this, that or the other thing, if it wishes and if it so wills, and certain other powers if it gets a further poll, they have done something about the problems that face them.
354 I was sorry that the Minister did not tonight make quite clear that the scheme, even though we adopt it tonight, will of itself take us hardly any distance at all. I confess quite frankly, as one who took quite a battering in order to get the tomato scheme under way, that had I known how little the Tomato Board was going to do, I am not at all sure that I should have felt nearly as willing to undergo those ordeals to get it set up. The difficulty is that producers are beginning to let these schemes go, whether for the reason given by my hon. and learned Friend or for some other reason, and, having got them established, to run away from the real job that they ought to do.
I have always taken the view, and have never dissented from it, whatever people may say, that the real hope for the horticultural industry is the organised marketing and efficient grading and packing of its produce, and the keeping off the market of the bad stuff—the below standard stuff—which, in the end damages the market for the good stuff and for the good producer. I recognise, too, that producers who cannot do that, unless we help them in some way, will be very much at the mercy of anybody, or any group of people, who simply will not play. The justification for the compulsory powers in these schemes is that in the interests of the general body of people, care must be taken that some irresponsible person does not come along and torpedo the whole scheme.
Two or three years ago I had one of my most melancholy experiences when going down into the West Country and spending a whole day walking around orchards, where I was photographed from every angle amidst great piles of rotting apples that were lying on the ground. Of course, I knew that the photographs being taken were to be used for the purpose of suggesting that the Government ought to have done this, or done that; and I told them so privately at a meeting in the afternoon.
But I hardly had the heart to tell them —these people who were suffering badly —that the real problem was their own and not that of the Government of the time, or any other Government. I could hardly have the heart to tell them that unless they faced up to the fact that they were growing the wrong fruit, that public 355 taste had changed since their trees were planted, and that they were not taking steps to market the stuff in an attractive and efficient way, they would continue to face exactly the problems they were facing then, and furthermore, that nothing I could do in the Government, or that anybody else could do, would help them.
For that reason I have always been ready to support producer marketing boards when the industry got round to putting up provisional schemes. The industry has got round to a scheme for apples and pears; but I repeat what I have already said, namely, that if the board merely does a bit of research, and merely thinks up schemes for advertising to encourage people to eat more apples and pears, then it really will not have been worth the effort. Indeed, the position may well be worse because people can then say, "Oh, well, we have the Board now but have not got any farther forward."
This scheme, as it appears, has powers in paragraphs 67, 68, and 69, and certain reserved powers later on; and I thought the Minister rather tended to adduce from that that the reserved powers are really in reserve. I would much rather have it declared openly that this board is going to work and is going to use all its powers, seeking the power in the reserved part in order to build up a marketing scheme for this section of the horticultural industry.
I hope that we shall be told that it is the view of the Government that not only shall the scheme be put up on paper, but that it is fully realised that there must now be vigorous action within the confines of, and under the protection of, this scheme in order to organise the efficient and proper marketing of these products. Otherwise, we shall simply get where we are with tomatoes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) said, a lot of people in the industry are criticising the producer boards because they have done nothing about marketing at all. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North East (Mr. Coldrick) is worried in case producers' marketing boards are too restrictive, but my view there is quite the opposite. It is that, in fact, they get set up and do as little as they can.
356 I want this board to work because, ultimately, I think we shall have to have an overall marketing organisation to coordinate various commodities of this industry; and I see nothing incompatible with a number of marketing boards for particular commodities working under the co-ordinating aegis of a commission which could, perhaps, be something of a "grand producers' board."
Rumour has it that the Parliamentary Secretary has not lost his way between Whitehall and Bedford Square. I should like him to consider this point. The General Secretary of the National Farmers' Union made a statement today about the intention of the N.F.U. to come forward soon with a proposal of their own for a general co-ordinating marketing board. I should like to know how far the Government have been made aware of what the National Farmers' Union have in mind about this, and whether the Government will make it clear to the N.F.U., as it had to be made clear once before, that the general view of Parliament is almost certain to be that while it will give support to individual marketing boards, we would be very reluctant to give overall powers to a co-ordinating body which, instead of being responsible to Parliament or independent, was itself almost mostly under the control of the National Farmers' Union at Bedford Square.
So far as the public interest is concerned, I have little doubt that the provisions in the Act and in this scheme are adequate. I believe that Sections 2 and 4 of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1949, and paragraph 70 of this scheme give the Minister all the powers that the most anxious person could require. They are there, and he can step in.
I want to press the Minister on the question of nominees. He told us that he would keep within the limits imposed upon him by the 1949 Act. It was nice of him to tell us that. We would have been surprised if he had told us that he was going outside it. In the Tomato Scheme, the Wool Scheme and other schemes for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley was responsible, we took great care about the types of people who went on them, about having somebody who could quite clearly be regarded as being in close touch with organised consumers, about having some- 357 body who had special knowledge of the position taken up by organised workers, about having somebody whose accountancy and general business knowledge would be really useful on a board so heavily composed of people with a rather specialised knowledge of producers in the industry.
I press him very hard to say that he will follow that pattern in his scheme when he appoints his members. Some of us would be rather worried if he were going to depart from it this time and not ensure that those categories of people who worked very well on the other boards were on this one.
I want to ask the Minister another question, which may be a little indiscreet. He has nominees on each of the producer boards. They are his nominees. He did not appoint the previous ones, but he has inherited them. I know that the doctrine is that once they are appointed they become members of the board like the rest. But there is not much point in saying that it is a protection of the public interest that the Minister can nominate certain members of the board if, in fact, thereafter the Minister never sees them and has no contact with the people he nominated.
I should like to ask the Minister whether he has ever talked to a Minister's nominees on the producers marketing boards that already exist? Has he ever discussed with them their relationship with him? Has he ever discussed with them the policy of the boards? Has he ever indicated to them his policy with regard to marketing and what he would like to see done? I believe that the answer is a complete negative in every case. I would ask him to consider whether some attempt could now be made to regularise his association with his own nominees on these boards. Otherwise, we are wholly misleading Parliament and the public. We are pretending that there are public representatives on the board when there is nothing of the kind. They get lost in the board and have no contact with the Minister at all.
In general, I think the producers marketing board is overdue in this section of the horticultural industry. I am therefore, with my friends, prepared to give complete support to the Minister in getting this scheme through the House. 358 I ask the Minister to look carefully at one or two of the points I have mentioned, in particular to put considerable pressure upon the producers, when they have got their scheme, really to make use of it; really to do something about grubbing up trees of varieties no longer wanted, and about setting up packing stations; to do something about efficient grading, and about the prescribing of qualities and descriptions of the various qualities, so that the housewife knows where she is.
I believe that the board can, if it chooses to do so, give the housewife a much better product which is marketed better, and give her that product without the fluctuations of price which now occur throughout the year. I have never pretended that it can give her cheap fruit. I do not believe that there is any way in which the fruit producer can fulfil his function and, at the same time, give cheap fruit. Instead of the enormous price fluctuations, the board could give its products at more reasonable and sustained prices.
It can only do that if it is effective and courageous. The pattern of the Tomato Board rather frightens me, because it has been anything but courageous or efficient. I hope the Minister will say that he proposes to tell the producers that it is the desire of the Government that they shall make use of the scheme so that the whole idea of producer marketing boards does not fall into disrepute through ineffective use being made of them.
§ 11.32 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I welcome the general support which the scheme has had from the House, the dissident voices coming only from the ranks of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, in very much the same way as they came two and a half years ago.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
Not from the Co-operative Wholesale Society, but from the whole Co-operative movement, representing 10,000,000 members.
§ Mr. Nugent
I thank the hon. Member for the correction, and I will accept it.
I followed with interest the speech of his colleague, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick), who 359 made almost exactly the same speech as he did two and a half years ago. I have to congratulate him on the obvious sincerity and conviction with which he speaks. No doubt he has read many times the reply which he had from the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), when he was Minister of Agriculture. Those arguments still hold good. They cover the general principles of the Marketing Acts of 1931, 1933, and 1939 which—
§ Mr. Coldrick
As I am supposed to have repeated a speech, is the hon. Gentleman now going to repeat the reply I received?
§ Mr. Nugent
I will spare the hon. Member that. No doubt he knows the reply.
The principles established in these three Marketing Acts have had the support of both sides of the House and, I believe, the support of the vast majority of the community as they have been watched in action during the last 20 years. The House will not expect me, at this late hour, to define those principles again; but I should like to assure hon. Members, in the anxiety they expressed on behalf of consumers generally, that in this scheme probably more than in any other there is the safeguard of intervention by the Minister, defined in a way which notifies him in advance when the board is proposing to exercise one of its functions which might be regarded as restrictive. That will ensure that the consumers' interests are watched and protected by the Minister.
I want now to reply to one or two of the detailed points that were put to me by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). About the action that we expect the board to take, the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that this field of horticultural marketing is an extremely difficult one. It is, indeed, an uncharted sea. The board which has already been set up—the Tomato and Cucumber Board—and this board, if it is in due course set up, are pioneering in a very difficult field of marketing.
It is true that the Tomato and Cucumber Board has made slow progress, and I would be the first to admit it, but what it has done it has done usefully. The 360 abolitionist movement to which the hon. Member for Ealing, North referred has, I understand, completely fizzled out. In fact, the member of that group who joined the board has now resigned from it because he found that it was doing a useful job for the producers and felt that as he represented the abolitionists, he ought no longer to remain on it. He has written to that effect in one of the horticultural papers.
My right hon. Friend certainly hopes that the proposed board will proceed to active work, and has no doubt—nor have I—that its work will make a constructive contribution, but we should all be in a state of illusion if we expected immediate dramatic action. The right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends who are associated with the Co-operative movement have stressed the fears of the consumer. Quite properly, the scheme contains very careful safeguards to take care of the interests of consumer and distributor. That means that the board, if it is voted into action, is severely limited in the action that it can take, and it must, therefore, in such actions as it performs, feel its way and see what is the right and proper thing to do.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) criticised the board because it is not, as he calls it, a marketing board. The fact that its functions are largely regulatory does not mean that it cannot make a very useful contribution to the assistance and improvement of marketing in this sphere. I am sure it can. These days are much too early to say that a marketing board with complete trading functions in the sphere of horticulture would necessarily be a success, and I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House would have great misgivings about setting up a board in that form.
I am sure that the right approach is the gradual one which has been made with both this board and the earlier one by giving them at the start the powers of a regulatory board. Then we can watch their progress, and if in the future it appears that they should have trading powers, they can go to their producers for another poll and see if their producers will support them in seeking those powers. But I feel that at this stage the right approach is the gradual one which has been adopted in this sphere. 361 That is not to say, in reply to the question by the right hon. Gentleman, that we do not hope and expect that they will be able to take action within the powers that they will have straight away under the scheme if they are voted into being, that is to say, that they will be able to make use of the minimum quality description which they can establish, that they will be able to get their voluntary grading system going and that they will be able to introduce a minimum price for processing, and so on. These powers are there, and we believe that they are proper powers for them to have, and, if properly used, they will be in the interests of both consumer and producer.
The question of the Minister's nominees was raised. I am not able to go further than my right hon. Friend did, in saying that my right hon. Friend intends to stick exactly to the principle laid down in the 1949 Act. I have no doubt that he will bear in mind the particular point made by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East and the value which a member conversant with the organisation of workers can give. In fact, the 1949 Act specifically mentions that category of representatives, and it would be quite improper to respond to the invitation of the right hon. Member for Belper to go further and define more closely whom my right hon Friend intends to appoint.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a further point about the Minister's relationship with his appointed members, and whether he would indicate to them what his policy was. The answer is that my right hon. Friend does not do that, for we take the view that these members, once they are appointed by the Minister, have a primary responsibility to the board. They are appointed to the board for their wide experience and capacity to keep the general interest before the board. Once appointed, their link with the Minister ceases except when their re-appointment comes up. I personally take the view that it would be wrong for the Minister to make his influence felt on his nominees.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Gentleman says that once these members are appointed their link with the Minister ceases. Will he then tell us in what sense their being on the board is any protection for the public interest? Once on the board their responsibility is to it and the 362 board is responsible to the producers. In what sense is the responsibility of the public nominees different from the producers' nominees?
§ Mr. Nugent
The position of the Minister's nominees is that they are not producers. They are appointed because of their experience in a wider field and because they are they can keep the public interest and consumers' interest before the board. I believe in that way they can influence the board and steer policy in a way which is in the general interest.
There are one or two other points which were put to me and which I should like briefly to answer. I have been asked about the disciplinary committee, and a point on that was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) who wanted to know whether the powers of discipline under paragraph 81 were reasonable. The answer is that in our opinion those are the minimum powers with which the board could function if it is to achieve orderly progress in this field of marking. It must have some means of dealing with the growers if they do not co-operate in a reasonable way with the board's policy.
The background to this, which must always be borne in mind, is that the growers themselves have an opportunity to vote upon this scheme, and they can vote for it or reject it when they go to the poll. Therefore, the powers here are not comparable with powers which one might very well criticise if the Government took them to exercise against individual citizens. This is a matter of a domestic regulation, and the producers can freely approve it or disapprove it as they think best under the circumstances. With these safeguards I can assure my hon. Friend that this is a reasonable safeguard.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
Why should the producers who offend under this scheme, which is a statutory scheme, not be prosecuted in the courts where there would be publicity and thus avoid this business of a tribunal?
§ Mr. Nugent
To prosecute them in the courts would be a more costly business for all concerned. The system of having a form of domestic court is not unusual in professional and other 363 bodies and is quite a convenient device. To date, it has commanded the general support of producers as being in the interests of all concerned. I think the House will agree that it is, in all the circumstances, a reasonable provision.
Producers are now being asked to make a considerable sacrifice of their individual liberty of action, and that is emphasised by the powers to which I have referred. It is obvious that they would not be willing to make such a sacrifice unless the board were substantially a producers' board. It would be quite unrealistic to expect them to do so. One must be the complement of the other. I would, therefore, ask hon. Members to see that aspect of the scheme in a realistic light. There was a suggestion that the packers' interests should be represented. I think that the valuable function of the packers will certainly not be lost sight of by the board, but it is obvious that it cannot be a board of multiple interests.
I was asked particularly by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) to say a word about the question of imports. He contended that the main object of the scheme was to make a pressure group to get a greater restriction of imports for the growers. That suggestion is a very doubtful one. I am certain that the great majority of the growers will welcome the scheme as of intrinsic value to improve the marketing of their products.
I will make plain what is the position in regard to imports. The scheme does not provide directly for the quantitative regulation of imports of apples and pears. This would not, of course, be possible 364 under the provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Acts. If a request for import control is made at some later date, it will have to be considered on its merits at the time and in the light of circumstances then prevailing, including, of course, the Government's international obligations.
In general, it would be a useful function of the board to voice the collective opinions of apple and pear producers on matters relating to imports of apples and pears, as well as on other matters. Moreover, the board would be well qualified to undertake, or co-operate in, extra-Governmental discussions with overseas producers with the object of securing some voluntary regulation of imported supplies. Various arrangements of this sort were, of course, made with Empire producing countries before the war.
In asking the House to approve the scheme I would make the point that apple production in this country is about 2½ times what it was pre-war. It is now over 500,000 tons per year, and is making a most valuable contribution to the consumers of this country by relieving part of the burden of purchasing apples from our balance of trade. Certainly, in the dessert classes, the figure goes into a very large amount. By the operation of this scheme we shall be able to supply consumers with a better class of apple in larger quantities. The industry deserves the encouragement that the scheme will give it to enable it to improve its marketing and its production in the future.
That the Draft Apples and Pears Marketing Scheme, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd December, be approved.