HC Deb 26 January 1959 vol 598 cc680-3
15. Major Legge-Bourke

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement about Government policy towards the horticultural industry.

Mr. Hare

Yes, Sir. As the House knows, the main instrument of Government policy for promoting stability, efficiency and a proper level of remuneration for horticulture is the Tariff. This was comprehensively reviewed in 1953, and the existing tariff came into operation in 1954. By and large, it has served its purpose well.

The Government consider, however, that certain sections of the industry are facing special difficulties for which tariff increases are in their opinion not the proper answer. They have therefore decided that the industry should be assisted to improve its efficiency especially as regards the preparation of produce for market. They propose to introduce legislation which will provide for grants towards the cost of buildings and equipment necessary for the preparation of fruit, vegetables and flowers for the market; for certain other assistance to smaller businesses growing horticultural crops in the open; and for grants to reduce the costs of production of glasshouse produce. The grants will be payable in approved cases to co-operative marketing associations of producers as well as to individual producers. The cost of these grants will be a maximum of £7½ million over five years.

We intend to open discussions with the National Farmers' Union at an early date on the details of this plan.

Major Legge-Bourke

In thanking my right hon. Friend for the fullness of that Answer and appreciating enormously the part he has played in getting this policy adopted by the Government, may I ask if he would not agree that it is primarily designed to have results in a longer term than would be desired by many in the industry today who face very pressing problems indeed in foreign competition and an inadequate return to themselves? Would he bear in mind that rejection by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on Friday of tariff applications has caused very great dismay in the industry and that this new proposal would not satisfy the need of the industry as it is today?

Mr. Hare

My hon. and gallant Friend is quite right when he says that the proposals which I have just announced will be of long-term effect. My view, which I think is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, is that there is room for a scheme of this sort. The Farm Improvements Scheme has shown in agriculture that a useful job on this line can be done, and I believe that the proposal which I have just announced in broad outline will perhaps provide a similar kind of assistance for horticulture. On the question of the tariff rejections to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred, I can only repeat that the tariff remains the main instrument for promoting stability, efficiency and a proper level of remuneration for horticulture. That policy stands, and will continue to stand, as far as we are concerned.

Mr. T. Williams

When providing what we might term production grants, which I think is always the best method of helping agriculture, or providing financial help for the building of central depots for the collection, grading and preparation of fruit for the market, will the right hon. Gentleman insist that when a grant is provided for any such buildings it will be based upon a marketing scheme for the commodities which will be collected in those buildings?

Mr. Hare

It would be wrong for me to try to answer the right hon. Gentleman in detail now. I said at the end of my Answer that we must discuss in detail the working out of the scheme with the National Farmers' Union, and doubtless account will be taken of what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. T. Williams

Will the right hon. Gentleman look up the Act of 1933, which enables the Minister or Ministers to provide tariffs on condition that there is a marketing scheme for the commodity in question? I do not ask him to do more than that.

Mr. Hare

I always do what the right hon. Gentleman tells me. I will certainly look at the Act.

Sir P. Agnew

In view of the fact that the Minister has stated that the tariff remains the main instrument for assisting the horticultural industry, in conformity with the pledge given by the Government at the last Election, will he impress upon his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade the need to keep tariffs at a realistic level, to review them from time to time and be ready to put them up when fair economic facts demand it?

Mr. Hare

What I have just announced is a Government decision, as was the decision of the President of the Board of Trade. I naturally pay attention to what my hon. Friend has said, but I want him to realise that this is a decision by the Government as a whole, not a decision by any particular Minister.

Mr. Willey

In welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's statement, may I ask whether he is aware that he is accepting the suggestion which we made when we were discussing the Bill in Committee in 1957? As he has committed himself to introducing legislation on horticulture, will he take the opportunity of dealing in the same Bill with the marketing proposals which we made in June of last year?

Mr. Hare

I am tempted by the possibility of doing so. I am not sure, however, how long these negotiations will continue, and I can make no promise. I will, however, note what the hon. Gentleman has said. As for his crack about this being an idea put forward by hon. Members opposite, I would point out that they were in power between 1945 and 1951 and that, as far as I know, they never did anything of this sort for horticulture.

Mr. Hurd

Will my right hon. Friend have another word with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to see whether it is not possible even now to restore the effective value of tariff rates at least to the 1953 level while these new, hopeful and very welcome plans for the horticultural industry are being worked out, in order to ensure that meanwhile the horticultural industry is not prejudiced?

Mr. Hare

I am afraid that I cannot add to what I have said. I am sure that great note will be taken of what my hon. Friend has just said, because he is most respected in the sphere of agriculture and horticulture, to which he has given so much of his time.

Mr. Shinwell

Whilst one can understand the enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite about this matter, is it not rather strange that, although demands for this action have been made for nearly five years, the Government have suddenly made up their mind and acted? Can this have anything to do with an impending Election?

Mr. Hare

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great affection, should have such horrid thoughts in his mind.