§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Hare)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I know that I shall be speaking for both sides of the House when I say how sorry we are that Mr. Tom Williams is no longer with us to take a leading part in our horticultural and agricultural debates. He enjoyed the warm friendship of both sides of the House, and we shall certainly miss him. At the same time, as I am on the subject, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) who, I understand will take Mr. Williams's place, and is following me in this debate.
The Bill implements the Government's intention and pledge to introduce early legislation on horticultural marketing; and it will be seen that we have lost no time. Hon. and right hon. Members who take a lively interest in horticulture will remember the Report of the Runciman Committee. After a very full and careful study of the industry, the Committee reached several important conclusions. The three which were probably the most important, if I may list them, were as follow.
First, the Committee considered that, while the present system of marketing and distribution works with reasonable efficiency, there is need and opportunity for improvement. Secondly, the Committee thought that, if growers are to increase their share of what the consumer is prepared to pay, they must grow what the public wants and present it so that it moves easily and cheaply through the processes of marketing and distribution. Thirdly, the Committee said that these processes cannot be as efficient as they should be because the facilities at most of the wholesale markets are inadequate for modern requirements.
The Runciman Committee's conclusions received wide acceptance. My predecessor welcomed them on behalf of the Government. Again, I think that 1353 I can speak for both sides of the House when I say that we owe a very deep debt of gratitude to Lord Runciman and his colleagues. Since that Report, after a great deal of work done in closest consultation with all sections of the industry, we have worked out the detailed proposals which are now before the House.
Our proposals are for what I have described as a three-pronged attack. First, we shall help producers to be more efficient and competitive in marketing their produce. Secondly, we shall set up machinery through which all sections of the industry—growers and their workers, importers, wholesalers and retailers—will be able to work together to improve the processes of marketing and distribution. Thirdly, we shall provide for the streamlining and modernising of the national central market at Covent Garden. That, as the House knows, will be the subject of a separate Bill.
It was with some interest that I noticed, just before the General Election, that the party opposite announced its intention to introduce, if it was returned to power, Measures which were, shall I say, somewhat similar to what we are discussing today. I do not know whether this move by the Labour Party could be described as a praiseworthy effort to follow a good lead, or whether, perhaps, there could be another interpretation, that it was a dastardly attempt to "pinch somebody's trousers" when he was not looking. However, whatever interpretation one puts on it, I think that that move does suggest that differences of opinion between the two sides of the House this afternoon should not be too great.
We are legislating for an important industry. It is not always appreciated just how important the industry is. The wholesale value of fruit, flowers and vegetables, home-grown and imported, consumed in this country is about £270 million a year. This, of course, takes no account of potatoes, for which one can add another £100 million. About 250,000 people are engaged, as principals in production or distribution, and, in addition, many thousands are employed as workers. There is scarcely a person in this country who does not every day of his or her life consume some of the products of the industry. "Meat and two veg." is, I think, the historic national standby.
1354 Of course, times change, and I think that one of our biggest and most respected growers has a good point when he uses as his slogan, "Meat and three veg., please". In view of the comments of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) the other day, perhaps I might add, "What about a salad and an apple for dessert, as well?"
§ Mr. Hare
That is a different point.
The figures I have just quoted show that efficiency in horticultural marketing is clearly a matter of great importance to us all. We are looking for greater efficiency all along the line, and we must start with the grower. The Government accept their special obligations to British producers, and we have always recognised that our own growers should have a reasonable measure of stability. We have adopted the tariff as the main instrument, and we shall continue this policy. We help our producers in other ways, also. Research and advice are particularly important. I have been glad to see how the National Agricultural Advisory Service and the growers have been working together in steadily growing confidence.
There has been increasing efficiency in production, and this is very good; but progress in skill in growing must be matched, in my opinion, by greater skill in marketing. Otherwise, quite obviously, the grower will not receive the full return from his enterprise and the consumer, also, will suffer because he or she will lose some of the expected benefit.
Well-grown produce must be well presented for marketing, and for this proper facilities are needed. It is not always easy for growers to find the capital required. So the Government have decided that special assistance is necessary, and we now intend to inject money into horticulture for that purpose. That is the object of the improvement grants for which the approval of Parliament is sought in Part I of the Bill.
Better marketing by producers must be matched by improved distribution and better presentation in the shops. In all this, of course, the wholesaler and the retailer have a very big part to play. They and the producers have a common interest 1355 in seeing that produce reaches the consumer in the best possible condition, without delay or damage or unnecessary cost. The greengrocer and the fruiterer are the "shop-window" of the whole industry, and it is no good if vegetables or fruit or flowers which leave the growers in good condition appear in the shops tired, bedraggled and unattractive. That simply will not encourage the housewife to buy. There is wide scope here for collaboration between all sections of the industry. The knowledge and experience of each can, I think, be used to the advantage of all. The purpose of Part II of the Bill is to set up an organisation where all the sections of the industry can work together on common problems.
The proposals I have just mentioned are two prongs of the three-pronged attack that we are providing for in the Bill. As for the third prong, I will not say much. It is, unfortunately, true that nearly all our wholesale markets are obsolete or obsolescent. Many of them, at any rate, could be described as places which were built in the horse-and-buggy days. They served their purpose well, perhaps, half a century ago, in days when, I suppose, the tomato was a rarity and the tangerine was a special treat for the Christmas stocking. Now, times have changed, and I think that we are all apt to take for granted what I may describe as the daily miracle by which these markets provide us with many good things which, not so very long ago, were regarded as luxuries only for the very rich.
It is much to the credit of our traders and their workers that our antiquated markets work at all. They do work, but only at the expense of delay, loss of condition and higher costs. I know that many of our market authorities are anxious to improve their markets and are making plans to do so. Coventry, of course, has an entirely new post-war market, and Sheffield is well ahead with its own admirable plan.
Others towns and cities are at work and I am sure that progress will be made. But Covent Garden presents, I suppose, the most intractable problem of all. I can describe it only as an antiquated hotch-potch. It must be changed and streamlined. As I have said, it is our intention to introduce legislation shortly to bring about vital changes at Covent 1356 Garden. I know that this does not arise from the Bill, but I mention it merely to complete the picture of our comprehensive plan to improve horticultural marketing at each of the main stages which I have described.
I should now like to deal with the main points which arise from Part I. Here, we seek powers for an improvement scheme which is tailor-made to fit the special requirements of horticulture. I said earlier that it is in the sphere of marketing that there is the greatest scope for the British grower to improve his position. Better presentation of produce for market is not the only change which is required. Timing of marketing is also of extreme importance. Our producers need the facilities and the "know-how" to spread the period during which crops come to maturity and to exercise control on the time when they are put on the market.
In Clause 1, we seek powers to make grants to growers of one-third of the cost of facilities needed for better marketing. Hon. Members will have seen from the recent White Paper that it is our intention that these grants should be available towards the cost of erecting or improving packing sheds, loading bays and buildings used for washing and grading produce. These grants will also be available for long-term improvements of the kind for which farmers can now already get assistance under the Farm Improvement Scheme, including general purpose buildings, roads and electricity. Besides the buildings themselves, we propose to help towards the cost of plant and equipment to go inside the buildings, such as benches and racks, washing and grading machines, and conveyors. Storage facilities will also be eligible. I think that all these improvements can be expected to lead to greater marketing efficiency.
Although our proposals are not designed directly to assist production, there are two matters with regard to production which I should like particularly to mention. In the glasshouse section of the industry, I do not think that it is generally realised that heating accounts on average for about a quarter of the total cost of production. There are many cases—we know them only too well—where heating costs could be substantially reduced if out-of-date boilers and 1357 pipe layouts were either replaced or improved. We therefore propose to assist growers who already have heated glasshouses to modernise their heating systems. That is the first point.
The second point is that on smaller holdings—those between four and seven acres—some glass which is ancillary to the main system of production can be of the greatest help to the grower. It enables him to spread the marketing of his crops over a longer period. It reduces his dependence on bought-in planting material, and it enables him to get on with some very useful jobs in the bad weather when he cannot work outside. We have, therefore, decided to extend the grants to cover the provision of this ancillary glass. The various items which will qualify for grant will be listed in a scheme in accordance with the provisions of this part of the Bill. This will be put before the House in due course.
In a scheme of this kind it is always difficult to decide who should and should not be eligible, and where to draw the line. We have given a great deal of thought to this matter. Our conclusion is that the line should be drawn to include individual growers with not less than four acres of open land. We reckon that a holding of this size should be capable of providing a reasonable living. Our views are similar to, although, I think, a little more generous than, the views put forward last year by a study group of the National Farmers' Union. Clearly, when land is cultivated under glass a smaller area will produce the same return, and we are taking account of that in the scheme.
I think that we have drawn the line at about the right place. But we have not forgotten the smaller growers. Everything that I personally have seen and heard about horticulture, not only in this country but when I have been abroad, has convinced me of the advantages of co-operative marketing. By this means, growers on the smallest scale can enjoy the benefits of large-scale organisation and up-to-date marketing equipment. We have, therefore, decided that growers' marketing co-operatives, or, as they are described in the Bill, "horticultural producers' marketing businesses", should be eligible for grants under the scheme.
We also propose further assistance to promote co-operative marketing under 1358 Clause 4, and hon. Members will have seen that up to £100,000 is to be available for this object. Grants to central co-operative organisations will be made for such things as recruitment and training of managers and the provision of consultancy services. In these special provisions for co-operatives, we are breaking entirely new ground to meet the special needs of horticulture.
Before I leave Part I of the Bill, I should like to give the House an idea-it is very difficult to give figures which are 100 per cent. accurate—of the number of growers likely to be affected. As we know, there are about 70,000 holdings which grow horticultural crops. Some of them are primarily farms, where horticultural crops take some place in the rotation of the farm. Others fall below the limits of eligibility of the scheme. But, allowing for these, I reckon that between 25,000 and 35,000 businesses are likely to be eligible. It is unlikely that all of them will wish to take advantage of the scheme individually, but many more—and I want to emphasise this—will benefit through the co-operative arrangements which I have described.
Part II of the Bill provides for the setting up of a Horticultural Marketing Council. Here again, the Runciman Committee strongly recommended that a council on which all sections of the industry, producers and distributors alike, were represented, should be set up to bring about improvements in the methods and techniques of marketing and distribution. During the past twelve months I think that the Horticultural Marketing Advisory Council has shown how much can be achieved by a body set up on this basis, and I should like to say how grateful we are to Mr. Stanley Swash, the chairman of this Council, and his fellow members.
Clause 9 deals with the appointment of the horticultural marketing council by the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself. Its composition provides for equal representation of the three main sections of the industry, for representation of workers in the industry and for a small independent element. This does not mean that we are wedded for all time to existing patterns of trading. As time goes on, there may be changes. It must be wise, therefore, to keep the composition of the Council flexible. As 1359 the House will have seen, Clause 9 provides for this.
The functions which the Council can undertake are set out in Clause 10 of the Bill and there is little need to enlarge on them. This is the sort of thing that might well be done. We are all agreed that we grow the finest apples in the world. I do not think anybody would deny that of those, probably the most superlative is the Cox's Orange Pippin. These facts, however, are not recognised by many of those who live in these islands. I always ask myself why it is that the families sitting round the television set in the evening generally pass round something in a tin, and why it is that the children's treat is so often the lolly and not the apple or fruit. I merely mention apples, but the same principle applies to a wide range of other fruits and vegetables, and flowers, too.
The Council will have a real job before it to see that the family appreciates the worth of these products, and to get them to the family in first-class quality and condition. The activities which the Council will be able to undertake can be of real commercial value to those in the industry. It must, therefore, be right that these activities should ultimately be paid for by the industry itself. Furthermore, when one pays for something oneself, one generally gets far better value for money. Both the Runciman Committee and the Horticultural Marketing Advisory Council shared this opinion. For an interim period of two years, however, we propose that the Council should be financed from public funds up to a maximum of £250,000. This, too, is in accordance with the recommendation of the two Committees.
The organisations representing producers, wholesalers and retailers have assured me that they intend to make the Council a success and they are determined to help in working out a practical method of financing it. This is of the highest importance, because there can be no question of financial help from the Government being continued after the initial two years. With the assurances that I have had from all sections of the industry, I think I can be confident that during this time the Council will prove its worth and make generally acceptable arrangements for raising its own revenue.
1360 As we obviously cannot yet foresee what form the financial arrangements worked out by the Council will take, the financial provisions in Clause 11 of the Bill have had to be widely drawn and have had to involve delegated powers. The Council will have wide scope for working out arrangements which are practicable and which commend themselves to the industry. But whatever these arrangements may be they will not have effect until submitted to the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself and then, if approved by us, submitted to Parliament.
Before I finish on Part II, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the provisions of Clause 15. The Council itself will deal with all horticultural products coming on to the market including, of course, both imported and home-grown produce. It is widely felt that there is need for special measures to promote sales of home-grown produce. Clause 15 empowers the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself, after Parliament has approved, to set up a special organisation for this purpose. The organisation would be a producers' organisation. Neither it nor the Council would cut across marketing board arrangements. It would be financed only by producers. We should set it up only if producers wanted it. Here is a unique opportunity for our growers to do something which many of them have long had in mind. It is up to them. The instrument is there if they wish to use it.
Many Agriculture Bills have reached the Statute Book, but up till now there has not been any major legislation concerned solely with horticulture. Many horticulturists, I think, have felt that their industry is the Cinderella of the countryside. But in the provisions of the Bill we have broken new ground. We are entering virgin territory. The horticulture industry, compared with most other industries nowadays, is primarily one of small-scale enterprises. Its products can be second to none, but it faces highly organised competition.
The Government intend to help the industry towards greater efficiency in marketing by providing money and machinery. It is for the industry to see that they are used for the full advantage. I am confident that the industry will meet this challenge.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
In thanking the Minister for his kind remarks, we from the Opposition benches join him in saying how much we will miss Mr. Tom Williams, whose valuable advice has guided us for so many years.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech was remarkable in that from beginning to end there was practically no reference to the consumer. This is regrettable in discussing a Bill which is to provide £7½ million of the taxpayers' money. I should have thought that, whenever we are discussing horticultural marketing, we should emphasise that there are two equally important objectives. The first is to provide as stable prices as possible to producers, who follow an unavoidably hazardous occupation. The second is to provide, if possible, for a reduction of prices to the housewife and, also, which is equally important, to provide that she gets better value for money. These factors, after all, are important if we want to increase consumption. They are also important for the very good reason that there are high costs in horticultural marketing because of the wastage of food which occurs. I am sure that everyone in the House will join with me in saying that this is something that we should take every possible step to avoid.
If we turn to the Bill we are, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in real difficulty, because we have the cart before the horse. The right hon. Gentleman and the White Paper have indicated that we are to have another Bill later this Session, but I remind the House of what the Runciman Committee reported. It said thatthe physical processes of marketing and distribution cannot be as efficient as they should be because the facilities at most of the wholesale markets are inadequate for modern requirements.If we look behind the cart, we find not even a horse, but something which is rather less than a Shetland pony. Everybody who has looked at horticultural marketing would agree that the Runciman Committee produced a complacent Report which was a masterly brief for inaction and that the proposals made by that Committee were accepted generally as being minimum proposals.
1362 The essential proposals that the Runciman Committee made however, were that steps had to be taken to improve the wholesale markets. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman today to endeavour to butter parsnips with fine words, but it will not do, because we know—it is in the White Paper—that the Government have rejected even the minimum proposals of the Runciman Committee. In doing this, the Government should pay heed to the warning of the Runciman Committee. I will quote again from the Runciman Committee. It said:Other possible improvements in distribution will be restricted and, indeed, things may get worse.That is to say, things may get worse unless its recommendations about improving the physical processes of marketing are adopted.
This is a very discouraging background to our present discussion. Nearly every authority, including the Runciman Committee, has said that the essential primary problem of horticultural marketing is a physical one—that there are not sufficient physical facilities available for the produce to be properly marketed. The Government's failure to face these difficulties and to accept even the minimum proposals of the Runciman Committee means that the proposals which we are discussing today will be all the more ineffective.
Nevertheless, we on this side of the House welcome the proposals, as indeed we welcome the Minister's statement about improvement grants in January. But I have to tinge my welcome with some regret that nothing has been done until now. This is not my fault. I have raised the matter before in the House. Everyone realises that the steps that are being proposed are no more than first-aid, and if one must have first-aid the more speedily it is applied the more effective it will be. The Minister should not blame us. We said at the time of the 1957 Act that more aid should have been given under that Act to improve horticulture.
The Minister mentioned glasshouses. We put forward an Amendment in Standing Committee, but the Government refused to do anything and that is why, in welcoming these proposals, it is not unfair to say that we very much 1363 regret the Government's procrastination, particularly as some of the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman is making today are especially welcome, such as the provisions for storage facilities and preparations for market.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on going beyond the Runciman Committee's recommendation in coming to th aid of the co-operatives. I am glad that he is taking the novel step of making a grant to promotional activities. Obviously, he has read "Prosper the Plough" with profit in the past few months. He has not gone far enough, but we welcome the steps so far as they go.
I do not intend to discuss the details of the grants set out in the White Paper on horticulture. We shall have an opportunity of doing that in Committee. I am aware of the proposal which the N.F.U. has made, but I do not wish to discuss it today. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is right in not trying to write his provisions, by way of Schedule, into the Bill, but very properly giving us notice of his intentions in the Appendix to the White Paper.
However, I should like to make a few general comments about the proposals. Earlier today, we have had tributes paid to the National Agricultural Advisory Service. I again pay tribute to the work that it is doing, but this is another burden that has been placed upon its shoulders. It was the burden of the Small Farmer Scheme not long ago, and now it is the burden of administering these grants. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the debate, will be able to tell us by how many the staff of the service has been increased. This is the Cinderella of the services in the Department and with all this important additional work laid upon the shoulders of the staff we must have greater regard for their importance.
In considering generally these improvement grants, we must consider the way in which the proposals were made. I always hesitate to call in aid the Economist. It is rather like invoking the praise of one's maiden aunt but I think that it was right in saying that there is an element of danegeld about these improvement grants. We all know that the announcement about these grants was 1364 made at the time when the Government rejected the tariff applications made by the producers. The Minister has not mentioned tariffs, but I think that he ought to have done.
§ Mr. Willey
I am obliged for that intervention, but I should prefer that the right hon. Gentleman explained the Government's position on tariffs.
I am anxious to help the right hon. Gentleman about them. I do not think that there is any party controversial issue about tariffs. The right hon. Gentleman has shown that he has been reading our policy statement. We have said thatTariffs and seasonal import quotas should remain a means of assisting our horticultureand when we discussed horticulture, in May, I stated that… we recognise the general case for a protective shield …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1959; Vol. 604, c. 1658.]At the same time, we recognise that tariffs in themselves are not a solution to the problem of horticultural marketing. I think that we all agree on that, but, nevertheless, the Government are in real trouble over this. The right hon. Gentleman is not unaware that he has been accused by the N.F.U. of selling the producers down the river. The Government have only themselves to blame and that is why I comment on the right hon. Gentleman's failure to deal with the problem today.
We know that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer took the easy course in 1956 of encouraging producers to great expectations about tariffs. We also know the Tory policy before the party opposite took office. Election promises made by Conservatives before taking office certainly created the impression that there would be regulation of imports and safeguarding and protection by way of tariffs. That goes far beyond talking about them as a protective shield. I have sympathy with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). I want the Government to make explicit their attitude towards tariffs. Obviously, it affects the whole question that we are discussing 1365 now. Again, they must cease to be equivocal about our associations with European trade. We shall not be satisfied with fait accompli after fait accompli.
We have had difficulties over pigs. We fear that there will be difficulties over frozen fish from Norway. We are entitled to know the Government's attitude. We can suspect the attitude of the President of the Board of Trade, but I want to know the Government's attitude towards such proposals as minimum import prices and the rest. We are entitled to answers to these questions before we consider the proposals in the Bill, because we have to consider whether these proposals are adequate to meet the difficulties which may face this industry.
Against this background and the Government's failure to answer these questions, whatever we are considering today, however welcome it may be, is nothing more than a hasty improvisation. It is not surprising that the National Farmers' Union should be saying now that if the proposals in the Bill are to be regarded as a substitute for higher tariffs this is barking up the wrong tree. We ought to be told by the Government what their general attitude is and what their attitude is towards the development of European trade. Even if we do not delve too deeply into these urgent current problems these measures, as I have said, remain as essentially first-aid, and they are all the more required because of the Government's procrastination.
Mention has been made of the Runciman Committee to which, of course, we pay tribute. Its Report was not a particularly good one, but it provided some information, though I wish there had been more. One of the criticisms of the Report is that it does not show that there was any real examination of the position of the growers, but, even allowing for that, any reading of the Report leads to the inescapable conclusion that one of the things that we must do is to strengthen the position of the growers within the system of horticultural marketing. For this reason, in particular, I congratulate the Government again, in case the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I am being unduly harsh, in going so far towards us in supporting co-operatives, because this strengthens the position of the grower.
I support improvement grants, also, in so far as they bring the grower further 1366 into the process of wholesaling, enabling him better to plan his production and prepare his produce. They are also important for another reason, which should be emphasised. They better equip the producer to deal with the changing pattern of horticultural marketing. There has been a substantial development in recent years of sales through supermarkets and multiples and an encouragement of prepacking. I share the regret of Lord Stonham, who spoke of this in another place, that the right hon. Gentleman has not helped prepacking sufficiently. It is an excellent thing that since 1954 prepacks have increased from 100,000 to 240 million. This shows the changing pattern of trade. It is discouraging that at present the development is to be curtailed, because it is essential to recognise this changing pattern, and it is also important to allow the producer better to equip himself to satisfy the new needs.
Having said all those encouraging things, I repeat that the Bill is no more than a hasty improvisation. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us, as it is taxpayers' money, why the figure is £7½ million and not £5½ million or £8½ million. Has the Ministry a gaming device that determines the figure? I ask this question seriously, because we know that in the case of the small farmers there was a third-floor-back committee. I would like to know by what device the Government arrived at this figure, because they arrived at it with great alacrity at the same time as they turned down the tariff applications.
I also want to know why there is no provision for loans. Again, I fall back on the Economist: I think that it is right in suggesting that this aid may be spread too thinly. I took a note of the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman. If the Minister would only resort to loans, also, he would make the money go further. More important still, the essential problem here is that of interest rates. We are not concerned with grants. They are only a formula to provide that those who undertake the capital work shall pay less in interest rates. I would prefer the Government to come forward and say, "We have thought out the crux of this problem—interest rates" and to make proposals.
1367 I say this because I have a suspicion about the way in which the farm improvement grants have worked. That is why, earlier today, I asked whether we could have a White Paper. For instance, I want to know what effect the 7 per cent. Bank Rate had on the use being made of public money under the farm improvement grants at that time. My guess is that it reduced the aid to the smaller farmers, who were precluded from using the scheme because of the increased rate.
So this is not only improvisation, but quite expensive improvisation. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support me in urging upon the Government the necessity for facing the two cardinal problems before British agriculture—credit and co-operation. I congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on reading "Prosper the Plough" and our other policy statements. I wish that he would read them more effectively and would recognise that we cannot continue, year after year, to provide first-aid, instead of getting at the root of the problem. We are entitled to expect from the Government constructive proposals about both credit and co-operation.
On Part II of the Bill, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on accepting the recommendations of the Runciman Committee about the Horticultural Marketing Council, and I welcome the provision made by the Bill for membership. The Minister has provided a better structure for the Council than that proposed by the Committee and I welcome the provision for workers' representatives upon it. I notice, however, that whereas the Runciman Report suggested that the co-operative societies should have direct representation, provision is not made for this in the Bill. Why is that?
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the necessity to provide public finance for the first two years of the Council's work, but I accept it as a sorry reflection on the trade and the industry. Before we dispose of the Bill we should hear something more definite about the levy. It is essential to inform the industry and the trade that there will be provision for a levy, and we should not part with the Bill before that has been settled, since this will greatly 1368 affect the effectiveness of the Council's work. That effectiveness will also be conditioned by the powers we provide for the Council.
I am trying to be non-controversial and I do not want to provoke any controversy about the claims of the Commission as against a Council. This is largely a question of powers. I am, however, disturbed about the proviso to the Bill, although in a way we welcome it, because I realise that the Government have paid attention to our previous debates. The proviso states that the Council shall not carry on any trade or businessexcept by way of experiment or demonstration.That is too limited, although I welcome it as far as it goes. I realise that the argument which may be deployed from the other side of the House is that the free market mechanism can be relied upon to provide for the development of packing and collecting stations and centres, but it is precisely because we cannot rely upon this that we are now discussing the Bill. This is an urgent matter because of some of the other factors I have mentioned.
I have been somewhat critical of the Bill in welcoming it, because we are anxious to ensure that the British horticultural industry is as well equipped as possible to face outside competition. For this reason I ask the Government to look again at the powers they are giving to the Council, to see whether it is not possible to give it powers to provide, build, and, if necessary, run on a nonprofit basis, collection and packing stations and area marketing centres for small growers. I do so because I believe that such facilities are required urgently, and that the industry and the consumer are equally prejudiced by their absence. This is another aspect of the need for better physical facilities for the marketing of horticultural produce. I do not think that we can rely upon the trade and the industry to provide such facilities. We ought to ensure that the Council is in such a position to provide them where necessary.
I hope that the Government will re-consider this matter, and also the further question of a common container pool of standardised containers. It will not do to "pass the buck" to the Council. This 1369 is a Governmental responsibility, as the Runciman Committee pointed out. It is a long time since that Committee reported, and we want from the Government a statement about the action they are prepared to take to provide statutory standards for containers. We cannot delay matters by asking the Council merely to look at the question and then refer the matter to the Government. These matters are urgent and important, and I hope that they will receive serious consideration.
I welcome the provision about market intelligence. One of the things that has most struck me about horticultural marketing is the abysmal absence of market intelligence. This is very much to the prejudice not only of the consumer but, in the long term, of the producer. We must try to end the business of chasing the markets. I agree with everything that the Minister said about consumption. I looked up the figures myself. It is most surprising to find that we are eating less fruit than before the war, and about the same quantity of vegetables as before the war, but far less than we were in 1951, and, also, that we compare unfavourably with almost every Western European country in the consumption of fruit and vegetables.
§ Mr. Willey
I will leave it to my hon. Friend to deploy his case against the housewife. I am rather attracted by English cooking. I believe that, cardinally, it is a question of the standard of living. Certainly, we must have our "three veg".
I also welcome the provision which the Government are making for the producers to organise themselves to promote the sales of home-grown produce. I do so particularly because I think that we all recognise that in horticulture there is not much further scope for marketing boards, and that such an organisation as the Minister envisages might be very useful to the industry generally in promoting better sales of our own fruit and vegetables.
One or two of the recommendations of the Runciman Committee appear to have been ignored by the right hon. Gentleman. He is apparently doing 1370 nothing about the practices of certain salesmen. The Runciman Report said:… we find that suspicions of dishonesty by salesmen, whether justified or not, are sufficiently widespread to warrant certain amendments to the Act.Several rather sordid and squalid references are made in the Report to the practices of some salesmen, including tax evasion. I want to make it clear that by doing nothing the right hon. Gentleman is being very unfair to the general body of salesmen, because the people who are guilty form only a very small minority of the salesmen who are dealing with horticultural produce. In such circumstances it is only fair to legislate against the bad salesmen.
In August, 1957, the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that an institute of salesmen would be created. What has been done about this? We were promised changes in the Horticultural Produce (Sales on Commission) Act, 1926, but what has been done about it? The Runciman Committee suggested—and this is a remarkable proposal to come from it—that there should be an inspectorate. These steps ought to be taken, because the consumer and the producer should be able to feel that the Government are resolute in seeing that these abuses are avoided. If the Government do that they will have the good will of the whole trade.
We give the Bill a restrained welcome. We cannot avoid feeling some disappointment, because we do not feel that the Measure entirely deals with the inefficiencies and inadequacies of horticultural marketing. Nor—and this is equally important—does it sufficiently anticipate some of the difficulties which the horticultural industry may have to face in the next year or two. Further, it does not equip the horticultural producer to take best advantage of the new forms of marketing which are arising.
In spite of this restraint, however, we agree that the Bill should help to bring a greater measure of security to the producer by affording him an opportunity to take some of the steps which he should take, and we hope that it will also help the consumer by way of providing more attractively presented, and fresher, fruit and vegetables, at cheaper cost. If we can do this we will be most effectively serving the purpose of 1371 increasing the consumption of vegetables and fruit, which both the industry and consumers, want to see. We will try to improve the Bill in Committee and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary will exercise their co-operation there. But even if we improve the Bill in the ways I have indicated we must still realise that the fundamental problems facing the industry have not been tackled, and that they are not likely to be tackled in the Bill that we shall consider later in the Session.
I implore the Government to keep those fundamental problems in mind and, at the earliest opportunity, to bring forward proposals which will provide a more radical solution to the difficulties of an industry which cannot escape the very real hazards which it faces from day to day.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Cleveland)
This is my maiden speech, and I beg the indulgence of the House.
I am rather surprised to find myself speaking for the first time in my life on the subject of horticulture. That, however, is only one among all the surprises that I have had, because as soon as I came here I was asked whether my name was hyphenated. I understand the problems of the consumer only because I am a shopkeeper and an ex-supermarket operator. I still operate three self-service stores, and I have worked in an American supermarket. In the supermarket my partner was a farmer, and I admit that we had a gay time. Once we had 20,000 vegetable marrows on our hands which we had to get rid of, so I appreciate the problems that arise between the grower and "Mrs. Customer". I avoid calling her the consumer; I think that it is much more personal to call her "Mrs. Customer".
We are at the beginning of a retailing revolution. Ultimately all food will be sold under one roof. We do not want "Mrs. Customer" to go from the grocer to the baker and then on to the greengrocer and the fishmonger. I am sure that she wants to buy all her food under one roof. For that reason I have considered the Bill very carefully, and I want to give the House some interesting figures illustrating the size of the 1372 movement towards self-service. This has accelerated enormously during the last five years. Now, each month 100 self-service stores are being opened in the country, besides 10 supermarkets. This is only the beginning. The process has been accelerating for five years, and within the next ten years the whole face of retailing will be changed.
I believe that during the next ten years about 50,000 ordinary grocers will close down. These will include not merely independents, but co-operatives and multiple outlets. I am convinced that the greengrocer as we know him today will virtually vanish, and that the great proportion of the produce that we are talking about will be sold from supermarkets. I worked in a supermarket in Dayton, Ohio, where I saw an example of the way in which the traditional retail shops are vanishing. Eight years before I went there there had been 100 butchers in the town. Last year, only two were left. Virtually all the meat was being sold in supermarkets, and presumably many of the butchers had become supermarket operators.
Prepacking is inherent in this form of retail. It gives "Mrs. Customer" increased quality, better grading and a branded name, which carries a form of guarantee in the housewife's mind. She looks for the branded label. I know something about grading from the customer's side. A lady, when buying a pound of tomatoes, will say, "Do not give me all the big ones. I have visitors coming to tea, and I want to put two on each plate." She knows exactly what she wants and grading and prepacking will give her this.
I am convinced that it is wise not to give grants for prepacking. No one knows at what level it will be carried out. No one can say for certain whether it will be carried out at the producer's end or the wholesaler's end. I worked for several days in a supermarket in America, preparing goods in store to present to customers in a prepacked condition. I imagine that quite a lot of prepacking in this country at present is done at store level.
I disagree with the figures given by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and I apologise for disagreeing in my maiden speech. I can bring my constituency 1373 into this matter. I welcome the Bill because my constituency produces a great deal of raw material for the new packaging materials. In 1955, 100,000 prepacks were used in this country. In 1959—my figures are fresh from the Pre-packaging Development Association this morning—we are using this year between 310 million and 350 million. This is a fantastic increase of which notice must be taken.
I also want pre-cooling encouraged. We have to take the field heat out of vegetables so that when they are sent away from the producers they are in a better condition and the customer gets them in a better condition. I also want to see wholesalers go round in insulated or refrigerator vans to ensure better quality goods for "Mrs. Customer".
I hope to be able to serve on the Committee of the Bill and that the Self-service Development Association and Pre-packaging Development Association will be able to have a hand in this matter. I have always believed that production is not the difficulty; it is the selling that matters. Once a thing has been produced it has to be sold. It is necessary for horticulturists to take advantage of the Bill and to use the advertising facilities in it.
My small boy, who started school two years ago, rapidly taught me a lesson about this. He had been at school for about a week when one day he came home and said that he had learned two facts that day. One was that he knew where Australia was, and the other, that it grew apples. An Australian had walked round his school and given each boy an apple and a pear. It taught me that Australians were interested in advertising their apples and pears, and I wish that the English growers were as interested as the Australians.
I end by saying that I look forward to this Marketing Council, and that I can visualise on the hoardings in the future the slogan, "Eata pinta peasa day".
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)
I count it a considerable privilege to be able to follow the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot) and to congratulate him on a very lively maiden speech which we have all enjoyed listening to, particularly as he brought to bear 1374 on the subject matter of the Bill some very obvious personal experience. That is always a good thing to do not only in a maiden speech, but in other speeches in later days. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we look forward to hearing the hon. Member not only in the Committee on which he hopes to serve, but in this House on many occasions.
Fruit and vegetables are often quoted by people who are anxious to point out the wastefulness of distribution. In another very lively maiden speech to which we listened recently, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), he gave the House a number of examples of the gap which exists between the price which the grower receives and the price which the housewife pays in the shops. The growers see that gap and feel that they are getting a raw deal. Equally, the housewife sees the gap from her point of view and feels that she is getting a raw deal in this business of horticulture.
Very often in these arguments it is the man or men in between who are the scapegoats and who have to face the accusation that that is where the waste occurs. I suggest, as I think the Runciman Report brought out very clearly, that even in the marketing and distribution stages things are not nearly so simple as they sometimes appear either to the growers or to the consumers. If anyone is inclined to take too simple a view of the horticultural industry I suggest that the re-reading of the first part of the Runciman Committee's Report would be a useful corrective to that attitude of mind.
The White Paper issued in connection with the Bill points out that one of the main conclusions of the Runciman Committee was thatthe costs of distribution, having regard to the services performed, are not excessive.Having said that, I think that everyone would agree—the members of the Runciman Committee as well as hon. Members on both sides of the House—that improvements ought to be possible, ought to be sought and certainly are very desirable in all the stages of producing horticultural produce and getting it on to the table in the homes.
1375 I believe, for two particular reasons, that the consumption of horticultural produce will become more and more important in the immediate future. One reason has already been admirably illustrated by the hon. Member for Cleveland. He pointed out, as I would point out with a different experience, the revolution that is occurring in post-war years in retail distribution—the very important development of the self-service store and the supermarket.
The housewife is becoming more accustomed to going into a self-service store or supermarket and taking down from a rack a neat package of apples or tomatoes, or any other fruit or vegetable, all nicely cleaned and displayed, instead of having to buy it loose and put it in her basket as she used to do. I think that she is very often prepared to spend a little more to have the convenience and cleanliness of that new method of retail distribution.
The moral which should be drawn from this is that if there are notable changes at the retail end of this business then there must be corresponding changes in the earlier marketing and wholesale stages and that is why I, for this and many other reasons, welcome the Bill and the help being given to the horticulturists in the earlier stages.
Another reason why I think horticultural produce will be of increasing importance is the expectation that we are told to indulge in of a higher standard of living for the people of this country. I shall not enter into the whys and wherefores of that expectation and whether it is due to the technical revolution through which we are passing or to Government policy, or, as I believe, to the technical revolution despite Government policy, but whatever the reason, we are entitled to expect that living standards will go on improving.
I have recently been looking at one of the tables which the National Food Survey issues from time to time giving great detail of the amount of various food commodities which different classes of people in this country consume. This shows that in respect of fresh fruit and green vegetables the gap between the amount which a rich person and a poor person eats is very much greater than the 1376 gap which exists for other commodities. I conclude that, as and when consumer standards rise, it will be in fresh fruit and vegetables that the increases in demand are most likely to occur.
That is why I regard this as a particularly important step and why I give a particular welcome to the Bill. It does three things, two of which I will mention only briefly, as the Minister touched on them. The Horticultural Marketing Council is very necessary as giving a nerve centre, a focal point, to an industry which has suffered too much from being too fragmented with too many small people struggling to make their living, when what they need is co-operative effort, national planning, national direction and help for their industry.
Secondly, the Bill provides for grants for encouraging the acquisition of the physical assets which are obviously necessary if efficiency is to be brought about in the industry. The third thing which it does, and which very much appeals to me as an active co-operator, is to encourage the better organisation of the human equipment of the industry. In other words, it encourages the cooperative organisation of the many smallholders in the industry.
I warmly endorse what the Minister said about the co-operative method being the way whereby the small man can best help himself and his neighbour and can best benefit from the grants being made available under the Bill. In discussing the general question of horticultural marketing, contrasts are so often drawn between what goes on in this country and what goes on, particularly, in Denmark and Holland. If we analyse the differences we always come to the same answer—that the small farmers in those two countries have shown a greater willingness to co-operate with each other in their marketing than has been true hitherto of this country.
The lead which the Government are giving to encourage them to get together in co-operative associations is particularly welcome. I particularly welcome Clause 1 (2) and Clause 4, to which the Minister referred, as the means by which this encouragement will be given. It is our duty in Parliament to make sure that whenever grants of public money are made they are most effectively used, and in my judgment the best way to use 1377 these grants will be by these co-operative associations.
May I make one or two comments on Clause 8, which contains the definition of a co-operative association? As would naturally be expected, the main definition is that of organisations registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, but there is a second definition which will make it possible for other organisations, possibly registered under the Companies Act or possibly not corporate bodies at all, to enjoy these grants as a co-operative body, provided that they satisfy the Minister of their cooperative nature. I fully understand the need for including that second definition and I do not wish that it should be excluded, but I hope that the first will be the major element in the definition of a co-operative association and that the second will be very much the exception rather than the rule.
When I say that I understand why the second definition was necessary, I have in mind a visit which I and a number of my hon. Friends—two of them are sitting on the Front Bench today—paid to a number of agricultural cooperative societies in the south and south-west of England a year or so ago. In Hampshire, we were shown an artificial insemination centre which was obviously being run on very good cooperative lines, but which it had been found necessary to register under the Companies Act. I suspect that the reason was that the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts put too stringent a limit upon the capital holding of an individual member of a co-operative society.
It may be that that is what has been in the Minister's mind in giving us the second definition of co-operation. It is the case that from the point of view of organising an agricultural co-operative, the £500 limit, which exists at the moment under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, may well prove to be a handicap, and I urge the Minister to look into the matter. I know that it is not his direct responsibility, but I suggest to him that those who are directly concerned with the encouragement of agricultural co-operative societies are anxious that the limit should be raised from £500 to £1,000, and he might interest the appropriate Ministers in the 1378 matter to see whether amending legislation is possible.
I see some danger in allowing bodies other than those registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts to enjoy these grants. As I read the Bill, it could be that an organisation would satisfy the Minister about its cooperative character in the early stages, enjoy the grant and later might lose its co-operative character. I hope that, later, the Minister will give us an assurance that it will be possible to have continuing vigilance to see that all organisations which enjoy grants because they are co-operative in character continue to retain that co-operative character.
May I make two points about the composition of the Horticultural Marketing Council? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), I accept the proposed constitution as generally satisfactory, but my satisfaction will be complete only if, when the members are appointed, we find that weight is given to the more detailed suggestions of the Runciman Committee in this respect. In particular, in connection with members representing retail and wholesale organisations, I call the Minister's attention to the recommendation of the Runciman Report, in paragraph 442, where it says thatorganisations representing the wholesale and retail co-operative societiesshould be includedamong those representative, respectively, of wholesalers and retailers.I very much hope that the Minister will carry out that recommendation.
Finally, I turn to the independent members of the proposed Council. The Runciman Report recommended that the independent members should represent consumers and the public interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North pointed out that in his speech this afternoon the Minister made scarcely any reference to the consumer interest. I hope that when he implements the Bill he will have very much thought for the consumer interest in general, and, in particular, in the appointment of these independent members.
I doubt whether the definition of an independent member in Clause 9 will prove to be adequate. A most suitable 1379 member of such a Horticultural Marketing Council would be a housewife, as she handles the produce at the final stage. It may well be that there would be, shall we say, a suitable member of a women's organisation who, nevertheless, would not qualify under the requirement offinancial, commercial, technical, scientific or administrative experienceunless we put a very broad connotation on the word "administrative". I hope, therefore, that when we have more detailed talks about this the interest of the ultimate consumer will be fully recognised.
I realise that it would be better to develop these points more fully in Committee, but I thought it would be useful to point them out on Second Reading. In general, I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North in welcoming the provisions of the Bill. The Bill is capable of improvement and I know that my hon. Friend will be diligent in seeking ways and means of improving it. I welcome the Bill because, as the Minister said this afternoon, it is breaking new ground. In encouraging co-operative organisations the Minister is breaking new ground and I compliment him for having the courage and initiative to do so.
If, as I expect, the experiment proves successful, I hope that the Minister will get further courage from the success of his initiative and will be encouraged to go into other spheres of agriculture and realise that co-operative marketing and co-operative forms of organisation are equally to be desired in spheres well beyond those that we are discussing this afternoon.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot), I cannot claim the indulgence of the House on making a maiden speech, having now returned to the House after a period on "holiday". I am very pleased to be able to make a contribution this afternoon, because the constituency I now represent has considerable horticultural interests.
My right hon. Friend said that we were breaking new ground this afternoon—"virgin ground" was his expression—in embarking on a horticultural debate, 1380 which is a very good precedent. I shall try to use the procedure adopted by maiden speakers, and that is to deal with the Bill as it affects those people in my constituency who are engaged in horticulture. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest in this, because for many years I have been engaged in the business.
I am thinking particularly of the large number of growers of soft fruits in the Marshland area of the King's Lynn division, and also the growers in the constituency of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), whose constituent I happen to be.
If there is a separate small farmer problem, which I have never been absolutely sure of—
§ Mr. Bullard
—it is exemplified by the horticultural grower in my constituency. If we attend to the difficulties of the small horticultural grower we are, to a large extent, tackling the problems of the small farmer.
Many farm workers are also horticultural growers. I do not know whether this is widely realised, but a large number of farm workers have perhaps an acre or two of land under the county council small holdings or they may have hired a large allotment from a parish council or local charity trustees, or own their own, and in their spare time supplement their earnings in a very useful way, not always, I admit, at the convenience of their employers. This is a recognised system in the Marshland area and elsewhere, and I consider it a very desirable one.
I am not thinking merely of the soft fruit growers. I am thinking of the glasshouse producers, of whom we have a number, and of other horticulturists in this very varied industry, the top fruit growers and the growers of commodities like vining peas which do not come on to the market but which are an essential part of the whole horticultural industry. I am also thinking of the men employed by all the various classes of growers.
The financial condition of the industry is not as good as one would like it to be. Despite the general rise in the standard of living which one would expect to lead to an increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, which we all want to 1381 see, many of these producers find themselves in difficult circumstances, partly because of the very considerable increase in costs which they have to face.
I think the position is typified in the case of the tomato growing industry. The National Farmers' Union has just issued the results of its Horticultural Accounting Scheme for the year 1957–58. Specialised glasshouse vegetable producers suffered a 10 per cent. reduction of their income in that year, the fifth reduction of income in six years. According to the Ministry's July reports, the area of tomatoes under glass went down by 10 per cent. between 1954 and 1957, and the decline has continued since then. The causes for this are partly the increase in cost and partly the considerably increased competition from abroad.
To be fair, I do not want to quote only one example. It is true that in the same Horticultural Accounting Scheme report published by the National Farmers' Union the earnings from soft fruit holdings went up by 25 per cent. in 1957, though they had gone down by 30 per cent. the year before. During the two seasons 1958 and 1959, I think any soft fruit grower, particularly in the strawberry group, would say that the financial returns from the industry had not been good. Those branches of the horticultural industry within my constituency have not had a good time.
May I examine the ways in which I think they may be affected under the Bill? Firstly, the grant under Part I of the Bill will certainly be a valuable contribution to the industry. The experience of the farm improvement scheme shows that producers are ready to take advantage of the benefits of this kind of grant, and they should be available to the horticultural industry. I hope that the Ministry will not be unduly pernickety in its requirements but will allow the work to go on without making detailed inquiries about the internal fittings, and so on, of the buildings. I know that the wide provisions for roads and plant will help modernisation. I am particularly pleased to see that the Bill makes provision for a grant for the improvement of heating systems in glasshouses. I know of examples where spectacular improvements have been 1382 brought about by the modernisation of the heating equipment in glasshouses.
I want to emphasise again, as has already been done by hon. Members before me, the importance of being sure that the horticultural officers of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, who are much thinner on the ground than those on the agricultural side, will be able to fulfil their duties under the scheme as well as their ordinary duties of giving advice, which are so essential and so valued by the producers in all sections of the horticultural industry.
I now come to the second part of the Bill, to the Horticultural Marketing Council. There, I am afraid, I cannot be as wholehearted in my support as I am with regard to Part I of the Bill. I support the setting up of the Council for one reason only. The House may well think it an inadequate reason, but I am sure that it is one shared by other people who have tried to study the subject, and that is that they cannot suggest anything better.
As the White Paper says, there is certainly a need forsome body to undertake a programme of activities on behalf of the whole horticultural industry.But those activities are very diverse and varied, and I am not absolutely sure that this body is rightly constituted to carry out the necessary work. I do not know whether it is the peasant blood that runs in me, but I cannot help contrasting these high-powered organisations, with their wonderful terms of reference and with no end of present participles in their terms of reference—advising, promoting, assisting, undertaking, developing, formulating, obtaining and disseminating, and so on—with the people who are actually in the field, with their posteriors turned up in the sun, actually doing the work connected with the strawberry crop or whatever it may be.
When I see a body armed with these powers and with no real representation of the growers on it—I know that there are going to be grower members—it seems to me that the principle of no taxation without representation comes into the matter. Eventually, there will be a levy which is going to be spent by a high-powered body which has no responsibility to the person who, in the long run, will have to find the money, 1383 the grower. I am rather sorry that my right hon. Friend has not been able to adopt the other suggestion for which clearly the Runciman Report provided, that this body might have to be financed out of national funds for a much longer period than two years, and perhaps altogether.
I can foresee that when in future years there are bad returns for fruit and horticultural produce, as there well may be, we as Members of Parliament will have some very awkward questions to answer from our growers who, on the whole, may perhaps get a very low return for their fruit and vegetables and, on top, have a levy to pay as well. I can assure the House that that is not going to be at all popular, and I hope that my right hon. Friend may be able to look at this part of the financing of the Horticultural Marketing Council again.
In the terms of the Horticultural Marketing Council, I welcome the special provision for advertising homegrown fruits. I know that this will involve a separate levy, but the whole idea of getting adequate advertisement for home-grown fruits is very important indeed. I have had some spectacular instances put before me where greatly increased clearances of home-grown fruit and vegetables have been made by advertising campaigns, and not so much national as local campaigns. I hope it is going to be possible for this side of the Council's activities to be very strongly followed up.
The final question which I wish to put to the House is this. With all the improvements of techniques and marketing which may come about, and I hope will, as a result of this Bill, are they going to be any good unless the industry is adequately protected from foreign competition? I know that this is the old, old question, but I think it is as real at present as it ever has been.
I believe that adequate tariff protection for horticulture is essential, and, I would have said, a prerequisite of this Bill. I was in the House when tariffs were raised in 1953. That was a very welcome and important step indeed. I cannot say that I remember any very vocal support from the benches opposite on that occasion. All the same, I think 1384 this has been the most noteworthy step taken in horticultural production since I have been interested in horticultural and agricultural politics. I know that the case for increased tariffs was rejected last year, but I hope that when the matter comes up again more favourable consideration will be given to it.
There are other aspects of this matter besides those merely of tariffs. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) raised the point of the trade agreements which affect this industry in many vital respects. I am not thinking so much of the Outer Seven, but of agreements which have been made now for several years back. I am thinking particularly—because my constituents do not let me do otherwise; they do not let me forget it—of the ageement made with Bulgaria under which a great amount of very low-price strawberry pulp came into the country this year, thus making it virtually impossible for the home grower to compete.
In the case of strawberries, it is not only a matter of providing for the fresh-fruit market; the growers are providing for the canning and freezing industries and also for the jam-making industry. The importation of this strawberry pulp this year, on top of a fair home crop, certainly made selling conditions very difficult indeed. I think that £150,000 worth of fruit pulp, strawberry and other fruit, can come in under the trade agreement with Bulgaria. I understand that this pulp is quoted in free barrels in London at £70 a ton.
We know nothing of trade conditions inside Bulgaria—at least I do not. I imagine that it is an Iron Curtain country, that the pulp is State purchased and sold and that the State may probably, for all I know, lose considerably on it. We have the anti-dumping provisions of recent legislation which, of course, are very valuable, but how do we know whether this pulp is being produced under proper conditions or whether it is being heavily subsidised by some form of Government support?
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The hon. Gentleman chided my hon. Friends earlier, but, in view of what he says, why does he not pursue this matter with his own Minister and the President of the Board of Trade? After all, what 1385 he is saying is an indictment of Government policy, an indictment which, I am certain, will be continued by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke).
§ Mr. Bullard
I have tried and shall continue to pursue the matter with my right hon. Friends in the Government. I give them full credit for the tariff measures taken in 1953, and I am now trying to point out that there are considerable loopholes which need to be stopped up. I hope very much that that will be done before another year comes round. I understand that the details of this agreement are made annually. I hope that we shall see a stoppage of this particular importation, because I know that it has very disastrous effects on the growers within my constituency.
I have only instanced one product about which I happen to have a particular grievance. Many aspects of the Bill are extremely commendable and I have no hesitation in saying that I think they will redound to the good of the horticultural industry, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will back up the Bill with adequate protection against unfair foreign competition.
Reasonable competition—for instance, in the case of Dutch pulp, labour conditions are comparable—is not what is feared. What is feared is competition of an unfair kind, and I do not think that the present legislation is adequate to deal with it.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I do not know whether I am in order in congratulating the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) upon his second maiden speech, but I am sure that I shall be expressing the opinion of every hon. Member when I say how pleasant it is to listen to that voice of experience saying so forthrightly what springs from his experience in his own part of the world. It may be that, as he says, his peasant blood makes him talk in such a forthright way and makes him critical of the Bill, but I would point out that we need a Bill of this kind because the peasants of our country, if I might so describe our horticultural producers, are not doing the job of work that peasants in other countries do for themselves by developing their own co-operative 1386 organisations in a big way. Anyhow, we have to accept the circumstances which exist in this country, and, therefore, such a Bill as this becomes necessary.
I cannot follow the hon. Member and talk about my constituency in the context of the Bill, except as eaters of the produce, because in the centre of Sheffield we have very few horticultural producers. However, we have Batchelors' food canning factory, which has some slight association with the Bill, and we also have Bassetts' liquorice allsorts factory. I was very disturbed when the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that when people gather round television sets they should eat apples instead of things like Bassetts' liquorice allsorts. I can assure him that trying to peel an apple in the semi-dark is not such a pleasant experience as just dipping one's fingers into a bag of Bassetts' liquorice allsorts. Anyhow, I have declared my constituency interest, and I will take the matter no further.
At the beginning of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman chided us with stealing his trousers. However, I would point out that the main provisions of the Bill are certainly not new to hon. Members on this side of the House, and, indeed, I was myself writing pamphlets suggesting this form of agricultural marketing and organisation 25 years ago, and I am glad to know that the Government are belatedly catching up with us.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us why his own Government did not catch up with those pamphlets?
§ Mr. Darling
The Labour Government were in office for six years. The 1947 Act was a step in the right direction, and it would undoubtedly have been followed up, when we came to horticultural marketing, by a Measure of this kind. We certainly would not have waited another eight years before we had a Bill of this kind.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said, we generally welcome the Bill, though there are parts of it which will be the subject of severe criticism during the Committee stage. The Bill is on the right lines, 1387 and, as several hon. Members have said, we particularly welcome the emphasis on the development of voluntary agricultural co-operatives and co-operative marketing.
We are also glad to see—at least, I am—a new approach to the need for some measure of public control over our marketing organisation. I was very surprised indeed when I read the White Paper to find some very welcome words in paragraph 23. Admittedly, the reference is to Covent Garden market, but the right hon. Gentleman himself said that the criticisms which can be levelled at Covent Garden market can also be levelled at many of the provincial markets and other London markets. Paragraph 23 says that the improvements to Covent Garden:… cannot be done unless market premises are brought under unified ownership and marketing activities under unified control.This is a tremendous step in the right—should I say "Left"?—direction, and is very much to be welcomed.
As I have said, the criticisms of Covent Garden, as the Runciman Report rightly pointed out, apply to other markets, and many of the big provincial markets, in particular, are just as much in need of modernisation as Covent Garden. I am sure that I should be out of order if I went on to talk in great detail about the proposed legislation for Covent Garden, but I should like to make the point that unless the Minister can give us an assurance that the Covent Garden Bill can be widened to deal with the improvements and measures needed to secure better marketing arrangements in other markets than Covent Garden, we shall have to press for such measures to be incorporated in this Bill. Many of us who come from big provincial cities and see the chaotic wholesale food and vegetable markets which exist there cannot be satisfied that the Bill will achieve all that we want it to achieve until those deplorable markets are put into better shape.
The hon. Member for King's Lynn spoke about his fruit producers. I remember speaking at a meeting in Wisbech with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). We were there to discuss European free trade. One of the questions which floored me came from a fruit 1388 producer from the area. He pointed out that he worked late hours in order to get his strawberries and raspberries on a night train so that they would arrive fresh in Sheffield. British Railways had given him a good service, and the produce arrived in Sheffield at 6 a.m. However, the market facilities were not available at that early hour, and the produce was kicked around and not properly dealt with, and there was no proper storage in Sheffield market. Therefore, all the activities on the part of the producers to get proper grading, proper packing and proper facilities for dealing with the produce up to the point of transport were vitiated because of the inadequate marketing arrangements at the point of reception. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North that unless the Government deal properly with our wholesale markets much of the good which could come out of the Bill will be wasted at the marketing end.
The proposal in the Bill to set up a new administration for markets is greatly to be welcomed. I should like the Horticultural Marketing Council to be given authority to suggest new layouts for markets which do not come up to standard, new methods of operation, and so on. Also, I should like the Minister to have some powers to ensure that recommendations which might, in those circumstances, be made by the Council would be carried out.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that Sheffield is to get a new wholesale fruit and vegetable market. It has taken us a long time to get past the planning stage. The building is nowhere near completion. How long it will take before it is finished I do not know. I doubt whether authorities in other parts of the country, which are not even as far ahead as we are in Sheffield in providing a new wholesale market, really know the kind of market which is needed adequately to handle fruit and vegetables in a big way. It is no use leaving this job to ordinary municipal architects. They need to be advised properly by people engaged in the trade.
I am not altogether sure that that kind of advice is being given to architects, builders and so on, and particularly on the question of the siting of markets. The local authority that is going ahead and 1389 building a modern market may very well choose a site that fits into all its nice municipal planning, but may be completely hopeless from the point of view of transport and traffic congestion. It might be repeating in a new market all the defects which we have in Covent Garden, but on a smaller scale.
I hope, too, that when we are considering in Committee the question of the powers of the Horticultural Marketing Council we can give it some authority to offer advice about the siting, layout, equipment and administration of the wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, where there are obviously sub-standard markets that have to be dealt with. I think that either in this Bill or in some other way the Minister must take to himself powers to ensure that recommendations of this kind are carried out, because unless we make sure that the marketing end is satisfactory the good work that may be done by producers will probably be wasted.
To reinforce my argument, I think it is worth while quoting the views that were expressed by the Runciman Committee. I believe that that Committee, so far as I can make out, did not make a very detailed examination of markets outside London, but, even so, in paragraph 508 of its Report it says:The physical processes of marketing and distribution cannot be as efficient as they should be because the facilities at most of the wholesale markets are inadequate for modern requirements.I stress "most of the wholesale markets".The cost of improving them, particularly where this cannot be done on the existing sites, will be great, but until they are improved other possible improvements in distribution will be restricted and, indeed, things may get worse.The Committee goes on to support the trenchant criticisms of our present system of marketing and the facilities that exist for marketing.
It is not only that markets are inadequate from the point of view of the volume of stuff they try to deal with in these days, as compared with the volume they handled when the markets were built, and the inadequacy of the arrangements in many of them, but because of being old-fashioned and out of date they are often vermin-ridden, and I am sure that the health of the community 1390 is in danger from the stuff going through some of our worst provincial markets. We cannot neglect this end of the industry with which we are dealing in this Bill. The provisions with regard to markets in the Bill are not adequate, and we must strengthen them if the Bill is to achieve its purpose.
When we come to the other duties and responsibilities proposed for the Horticultural Marketing Council, I am rather puzzled as to how some of the duties that are to be placed upon the Council are to be carried out. For instance, it is suggested that the Council itself should not engage in trade. That may be a point we can go into in Committee, and I do not want to labour it now. I think that, not only for experimental purposes, it might be necessary and desirable and in the interests of both producers and consumers for the Council itself to engage in trade, but I will not pursue that point now.
Under Clause 10 (d), the Council is to formulate standards for produce or containers and encourage the adoption of standards Does that mean that the Council itself, in consultation with the producers and the other people engaged in the trade, will lay down standards such as we used to have for quite a number of horticultural products under the National Marks Scheme? Will the Council itself decide on the marks? Will it say, for instance, that tomatoes have to be marked in certain grades, after consultation with the Tomato Marketing Board? If the Horticultural Council is to do this kind of work, what need have we for the Tomato Marketing Board?
Again, would the Council have authority to lay down grades and markings of other kinds of produce for which grades and marks are suitable? These marks cannot be put on all produce, of course. If the Council works in this way, merely by recommendation, all the Council would be able to do would be to agree, first of all, what the markings should be, hoping that some producers, at any rate, will sell their products in containers with these quality gradings and marks, but leaving it to the producers to please themselves whether they sell their produce in that way or not. I do not think that if this is what the Government have in mind it is a very satisfactory way of doing things.
1391 I should have thought that it would have been far better to give authority to the Council, in consultation with the producers and so on, to lay down quality grades and marks, and to make sure that all producers graded and sold their produce in this way, in order to try to keep off the market the sub-standard stuff which so frequently lets down all the efforts of the best producers to keep a decent quality of graded stuff on the market. How this is to be done under the terms of the Bill, I do not know, but I think the time must come when some kind of authority will have to be given to somebody to keep sub-standard stuff off the market in order to encourage the best producers to keep up their high quality—not at high cost, but high quality, so that the customers can get better quality produce at the same kind of price which they are paying today.
It may be that what the Government have in mind is to be found in the proposal suggesting that producers' organisations can be set up even within the terms of this Bill, but I would point out that paragraph 128 of the Runciman Report suggests that these producers' organisations should not be producer marketing boards. I would be very glad, if it is possible for him to do so, if the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us what kind of bodies the Government have in mind within the terms of the Bill to improve the grading, packing and selling of produce and the containers.
I do not want to say much more, because most of the points which I should like to raise are Committee points. It looks as if we can promise the Parliamentary Secretary, not quite the kind of Marathon we had on the Slaughterhouses Bill, but at least that we will keep him interested and engaged and, I hope, entertained for some considerable time. At least, we will be able to come forward with a great number of helpful Amendments, as we did on the Slaughterhouses Bill, which was a very much better Bill when we finished with it, and I think we can deal with this one in the same way.
There are one or two points which I should like to mention. My hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram), when talking about two types of Government organisations that are going to rank for grants under the improvement 1392 scheme, mentioned the need for raising the individual capital amount which is now restricted to £500 under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts. I hope that will be reconsidered, as my hon. Friend has suggested.
Unless one can be sure that the cooperative organisations, which are to get grants because they are co-operative organisations, are registered in some way, the legal liabilities which may result will become a problem. I should like to see all co-operative associations registered under the Industrial Provident Societies Acts to give them legal protection, apart from all the other virtues of co-operative association. But, as the Bill now reads, in Clause 8 (4, b) it states, "whether incorporated or not" they will rank for a grant.
Such a body qualifying for a grant may be a very loose association. It may appear to fulfil all the conditions laid down in the Bill, but the members would have no legal protection and the association would have no legal validity as an association. This is a point which we can discuss in Committee, and I shall not press it now. But if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can tell us whether this point was considered when the Bill was drafted, that would help us regarding the framing of Amendments.
While we are not opposed to tariffs—my hon. Friend said there must be a protective shield of some kind for this very difficult industry, difficult particularly because of our climatic conditions and so on—under the terms of the Bill, I see no proper organisation or authority for dealing with difficulties which will arise, whatever arrangements we have with European markets—with the Outer Seven or the Inner Six or any kind of free trade area. We are bound to have some kind of reciprocal arrangements, but what form they will take we are not sure. I understand that the Chancellor will be signing a document in Stockholm next Friday. We do not know in what form that will be and how agriculture will be dealt with. But obviously, if we are to have this elaborate marketing organisation for horticultural produce, and if it is to be at the mercy of arrangements made outside regarding imports and so on, many of the activities of the Horticultural Marketing Council and of this whole machinery will be upset.
1393 I do not know how we shall get the Horticultural Marketing Council, as representing the industry, into active consultation on these matters, to make adjustments from time to time to suit the conditions of the industry in this country. But I should like to see this Council brought in, if only to advise those responsible for the tariff and quota arrangements, or other arrangements, which may be made in connection with the European free trade proposals. That is an important point which we may discuss in Committee.
Generally speaking, we welcome this Bill, It has appeared 25 or 30 years since some of us began preaching that this was the way to deal with agricultural and horticultural marketing arrangements. I am sorry that the Government have had to wait so long to get on the right path, but now that they are on it, we will help them along.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Nugent (Guildford)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), it is some years since I took part in debates on these interesting topics of farming and horticulture. I am very happy to find myself back again in these pastures, especially when I can congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward such a valuable and constructive Measure. As my right hon. Friend may have heard as he entered the Chamber, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) finished his speech by expressing anxiety about the preservation of the tariff structure. That was the first point which occurred to me when I saw this Bill.
I remember that when we were conceiving the 1957 Agriculture Act we were thinking about something similar for horticulture. The legislation for agriculture makes the basic provision for price stability which a Measure of this kind must have in our system of guaranteed prices. But, by its very nature, this Bill says nothing on the subject, because the Minister's policy relies on the system of tariffs to give that essential foundation of economic stability for the industry in its price structure.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say, in somewhat muted tones, that the policy of Her Majesty's Government 1394 still stood in that respect. But it is clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House share the feeling that, in the face of our European policy—with which I warmly agree—it is necessary to be sure that the tariff policy will stand despite the pressures put upon it. I do not in the least blame my right hon. Friend for the fact that this Bill looks like an apple pie without any apples in it. It is all crust. I do not blame him for that, provided he will guarantee that the substance will always be there, in the shape of a tariff policy, to support the crust.
Certain anxieties have arisen in the past year regarding the working of this policy. I hope that both my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will assure us that we shall not meet them in the future. My hon. Friend spoke of the "Cinderella" industry. As it is near Christmas time, I hope he meant a Christmas "Cinderella". I hope he will assure us that his warm affection for her will result in the provision of a live and effective tariff policy.
I well remember one of the distinguished predecessors of my right hon. Friend, the late Lord Hudson, saying that there is always some place in the world from which at some time in the year can be sent some sort of food more cheaply than we can produce it at home. That is profoundly true, and it is a great benefit to our people. It is, therefore, no reflection on the efficiency of our growers that they need some kind of protection to enable them to maintain production effectively.
Part I of the Bill deals with a system of grants to help producers and production. This is admirable and will, I am certain, help producers all over the country. I wish particularly to say a word about the creation of groups of producers with a joint marketing organisation. There is tremendous promise for them in the future. A good deal has been said by hon. Members opposite about the value of co-operative societies for this purpose. It is true that they have a value, although I shall have something to say about that later on.
The perennial weakness of the market gardener is that he is at the mercy of the market. He has to market his produce, vegetables, fruit or flowers, when 1395 it is ready, irrespective of whether the market requires it. This produce is pro vided in varying quantities and qualities and, as a result, the producer often suffers from low prices. As was pointed out by the Runciman Committee, the market charges him a far higher commission for handling his goods than is charged to the importer. The hon. Member for Hillsborough asked what measures the Council could take in order to stimulate the establishment of grades. The best answer in the world is the penalty of the market. Unless the home growers are able to establish reliable grades that the consumers want, they will not get a living. The squeeze is becoming tighter and tighter. I will explain now why I believe—
§ Mr. Darling
I skipped over this rather quickly, but the point I was making was this: although the grades may be laid down, who is to see that people do not sell produce wrongly by putting substandard produce into the grade 1 basket?
§ Mr. Nugent
The buyers will see to that all right. At present, it is a buyers' market. It is this aspect of the Measure, giving grants to encourage the establishment of co-operative marketing organisations, which will help the producers to get into a position in which they can have some say in the market. As hon. Members will know, over recent years there has been a certain amount of development in this direction, particularly among the apple growers. One thinks of many well-known names.
A few of the most progressive growers have combined and formed a limited liability company to grade, pack and sort their produce. That has enabled them to go into the market as big sellers able to offer large, regular quantities of high quality goods and to guarantee that they will do so. The result has been that they have been able to go to the big wholesalers, particularly chain stores, and make long-term contracts to sell their produce direct from producer to retailer, naturally with great advantage both to the producer and the consumer. At the same time, they have been able to establish their brand names for which the housewife is progressively learning to ask because she knows that a particular brand means really good quality.
1396 This, I believe, is a real gleam of light to encourage the horticulturist towards a better future in marketing his produce. This Measure gives a grant to encourage exactly that development. I most warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on it. At the same time, it will put the producer here in a position to compete with the well-graded regular supplies of the importer and in every way that will be beneficial to our growers here.
Particularly on this point, I wish to follow the admirable maiden speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot). I am absolutely with him in saying that there is no doubt at all that development in the retailing trade will be a rapid development of the self-service store, the supermarket and many of the chain stores. All these retailers will be asking for the same thing, for regular supplies of high quality first-grade fruit and vegetables. It is just these marketing organisations which will be able to supply those goods. I suppose we get the same picture here as through the rest of the economy, that the prizes go to the big battalions.
By this development we can secure the best of all worlds. The grower remains an independent individual grower with his own holding and running it himself. He combines with his friends in marketing his produce to meet the needs of the consumer and to meet the market. That seems to get the best of all worlds and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the very far-sighted Measure he has introduced. In case he has any anxiety, the central market will, of course, have an enormous function to perform, as for many years there will be lots of second-rate stuff to dispose of, unexpected gluts and surpluses. The central market will have an essential function.
This formation of private limited companies applies principally to the big growers who understand the whole picture of commerce, but undoubtedly the smaller growers will naturally tend to join up in co-operative associations, as indeed some do now. It is the cooperatives to which they will be looking in the general marketing organisation, and wisely and rightly my right hon. Friend has provided a grant for them as well. My anxiety on this point—an anxiety which we all know—is that due to the structure of the law of the Industrial 1397 and Provident Societies Acts, the individual co-operatives can levy no penalty on a member when, he having agreed to sell to the co-operative, finds he can get a better temporary market somewhere else, withdraws supplies and deprives the co-operative of the supply on which it was counting. All of us who know this trade are familiar with this problem, which traditionally has completely scuppered the operations of the co-operatives in this market because they have never been sure of their supplies. If we contrast that with the Land Settlement Association, which is a completely watertight organisation, we can see how enormously successful it has been because it can rely with absolute certainty on getting supplies.
I ask my hon. Friends in Committee, if that is appropriate, to consider whether it is possible to amend the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts so as to make it possible for societies to have a form of contract with their members who wish to supply them—it is optional whether they do or not—which would bind them to supply for twelve months, or whatever the period might be. Otherwise, the smaller grower will not get the advantage out of this wise and useful development. I hope we shall be able to look at that more closely in future.
It may take some time to get this development in the case of vegetables as well as of fruit. I hope my right hon. Friend will be generous in his outlook in regard to time. He has limited this to five years, with a possible extension to six years. Perhaps if it is very successful it can go on for another period. I realise that this particular development is going on over a decade or more, and it is so valuable that we should make quite sure that it goes on into the future.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on providing in Clause 15 what will really amount to the prospect of the National Farmers' Union promoting what one might call a producer marketing board for publicity, advertising and research purposes. Efforts to do this have been made for years. I can remember trying to find a way of doing it, but I was defeated by the structure of the Marketing Acts because, under those Acts, it was necessary to have a 1398 form of trading in these activities. My right hon. Friend has cured that now, and I congratulate him. I am certain that as our growers put on to the market high grade, high quality fruit and vegetables, advertising on a national scale will pay tremendous dividends by stimulating demand among consumers for high-grade home-produced products.
Part II of the Bill, in setting up the Horticultural Marketing Council, follows broadly the Runciman recommendations. Unlike the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), I congratulate Lord Runciman. He produced a valuable Report and was not complacent at all. I think we shall find that this legislation is largely based on that Report. I am certain it is right to have all sections of the industry on the Council, despite the obvious difficulties. I am certain it will collect this information and clear the haze which hangs over all the markets, not only in London but in the provinces.
I take issue with my right hon. Friend, however, on the financial arrangements. I think he is right to provide the finance for the first two years, but I echo the anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn that this possibility of raising a levy by equitable means may prove to be very difficult indeed. My right hon. Friend has proposed that finance shall be provided for the first two years. I do not think that two years will be sufficiently long for the results of the Council to become apparent. Three or four years would probably be the minimum time needed. I remind my right hon. Friend of something which he may have forgotten. Paragraph 19 of the White Paper says that the form of the Bill is as recommended by the Runciman Committee, but that is not strictly accurate. Paragraph 439 of the Runciman Report says:If it should be found at the end of this initial period"—that is, while the Government are financing the Council—either that a levy scheme would be unduly difficult to administer or that the costs of collecting a levy would be out of proportion to the sum required, we would recommend that Exchequer grant should become the permanent means of financing the Council.Reading through more than two pages of closely reasoned argument in the 1399 Runciman Report on the difficulty of raising this levy and financing the Council, it is quite evident that it will be extremely difficult to find a way of raising the levy so that everybody pays—including growers, wholesalers, importers, retailers and so on.
I agree with the principle that the trade as a whole should pay, but that will obviously be a difficult thing to arrange. As now drafted, the Bill means that if agreement has not been reached within two years, the Council will disappear. I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not wish to see that. In Committee, I shall certainly ask him to consider an Amendment extending the initial period of two years, on the one hand, and, on the other, to be prepared at the end of that period, without prejudice, to review how the Council should be financed in future. Otherwise, he will be in danger of losing his Council altogether.
With those very small qualifications, I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Bill. As he rightly claims, it is the first major horticultural Measure, certainly which I can remember. It has aspects which can be of tremendous value towards enabling this hard-pressed band of growers to meet the needs of the market and for the first time to have a chance of being, occasionally at any rate, in a seller's market instead of always in a buyer's market. The Bill can do much good to the horticultural industry, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
I rise to welcome the Bill on behalf of my hon. Friends, although I shall not be able to congratulate the Minister with the effusion shown by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent). Nor am I likely to worship at the altar of the tariff with quite the religious fervour of some hon. Members. We support the Bill because we feel that it gives horticulture the recognition which was given to agriculture in 1947 in a Measure which was supported by all parties. A policy designed to bring about general improvements in production methods and marketing techniques is the best possible way of putting horticulture into 1400 the sort of competitive state which we want to have.
I appreciate that on Second Reading one should not go into detail, but I want to deal with Part II at some length. I was professionally concerned, in a very different capacity, with the Potato Marketing Board and Egg Marketing Board inquiries. I must confess that it is a relief to see that the Minister has departed from many of the principles of compulsion enshrined in the agricultural marketing Acts. It may well be that with this Bill the Minister will not have to face a public inquiry and that opposition which is to be found among many farmers to many of the punitive provisions to be found in other types of marketing schemes.
The power of proscription resulting in the creation of offences which, in turn, are punishable by the marketing board without any trial in court, the power to restrict acreage of any crop and fine producers if they grow more than they are permitted, are not to be found on this occasion and it has been a great relief to see the right hon. Gentleman turning more to the voluntary principle and emphasising co-operation.
The Second Schedule provides power to impose a levy. On whom is the levy likely to be made? That is something which we are entitled to know, because it may be that on the interpretation of the Bill failure to pay such a levy would be an offence under Clause 12, which, admittedly, permits a trial in a court of law and a right of appeal. Failure to pay the levy may be an offence inasmuch as its payment is a requirement under a scheme introduced by Statutory Instrument. If there is to be the power to inflict a levy on producers, producers should have the right to have a greater say in the matter and should be better represented on the Council than is at present envisaged.
Clause 9 says that
… the Ministers shall consult with any bodies appearing to them to represent to any substantial extent the interests in respect of which the member is to be appointed.
That is somewhat reminiscent of a colonial constitution which aims at having the minimum of African representation. There are very careful provisions in the Egg Marketing Scheme for regional representation by election, for
the election of special members, the election of members with special interests. Under this scheme there will be no such arrangements.
§ It may well be that there will be producers who will be out of sympathy with the policy of the Council and who will want to put up or oppose certain measures. Some will remember the famous "fiddle on the riddle" in agriculture before the war. There may well be processes such as that and there may be opposition from a substantial number of consumers. The Minister is taking a tremendous power of appointment in that provision. He will chiefly consult leaders of the National Farmers' Union and interests around London. I suggest that this is an undemocratic way to make appointments.
§ The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) said that there was no provision for the representation of consumers. The 1949 legislation laid it down specifically that consumers' interests should be represented. Consumers may have a valuable contribution to make in this matter. They are as aware as anybody of any restrictive practices which may exist and of various standards obtaining. They would play a valuable part on the Council. What is perhaps a far more powerful argument is that the right hon. Gentleman said that the Council would make representations about imports and tariffs, and I should have thought that the consumer had every right to be represented in such a case.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I speak subject to correction. My impression was that the right hon. Gentleman referred to marketing conditions in this country and went on to say that the Council would cover the question of the imports of produce.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and I withdraw what I said. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that the Council will have nothing to do with import policy. I am sure that the right 1402 hon. Gentleman will deal with that later, because if tariffs are to be discussed the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) will have much to say.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it is difficult to decide where the limit shall lie and that at present the suggestion is that holdings of less than four acres will not qualify for assistance. The White Paper says, also, that a holding which is unable to provide full-time employment is possibly unlikely to be able to qualify.
There are many part-time horticulturists. Many of them are agricultural workers who are trying to build up a smallholding and then themselves become horticulturists on their own, perhaps employing no labour or possibly one person at a later date. I appreciate that the Bill is not intended to help the small city farmer who goes to the country for the week-end. To him, farming is simply a sideline and not his professional livelihood. There are many people who live in areas of contracting industries—non-agricultural industries. Many farmers look upon this as a part-time form of income. If we are to exclude them altogether, we may well be depriving agricultural employees of the opportunity of becoming small farmers in the future.
Subject to those three points, we on these benches welcome the Bill. We think that the right hon. Gentleman is right in thinking that it is more realistic to give assistance of this sort than to continue to increase tariffs, as was suggested to him earlier this year.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
There has been such a measure of accord running through the debate that I am a little hesitant to rise, because from now on discord will come into the picture.
I hope that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who opened the debate for the Opposition, will at least not suggest that I have not had the consumer's interest in mind. If he will look at the debate on 1st May, which I had the opportunity of introducing, he will see that one of the things I said at the beginning of the debate was:I think that it is very important that right from the outset of the debate we should emphasise that the Government, hon. Members 1403 and growers, perhaps particular growers, have always to remember that their future depends upon satisfying the consumer's needs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1959; Vol. 604, c. 1611.].Towards the end of my speech I said that I thought that, if we let the horticultural grower go out of business, the only result would be to damage the consumers, who would not be able to enjoy the very high-class fresh fruit and vegetables which the British grower had hitherto been able to provide for them. It is with that in mind that I wish to address the House today.
Horticulture is swimming in its own tears a good deal at the moment and there is a very real risk that unless it is given a lifebelt it will sink. Before the Minister's Department ever became a separate Department to deal with agriculture there was a debate in the House in 1881 in which it was disclosed that one of the Agricultural Holdings Bills was being put in charge of the First Lord of the Admiralty. The variety of Departments which then dealt with agriculture was truly alarming.
The spare lifebelts which the present First Lord of the Admiralty has available—they must be multitudinous, judging by the few ships that he has to look after—are not the sort which will help the horticultural grower. Neither would we wish to see the same result as happened apparently in 1881, when an application was made to the President of the Council, who was then responsible for cattle disease statistics, for an order relating to cattle plague. It was replied to by the sending of a parcel containing thanksgiving forms for a bounteous harvest, prepared by the Archbishop of Canterbury. I do not think that at present growers would be very happy if they felt that the Lord Privy Seal, who, I understand, is now responsible for the activities of the Agricultural Research Council, was to spend too much time at Lambeth Palace. Already, far too much of the parable of the barren fig tree argument has been used about British horticulture.
I think that it is very important that we should have clear in our minds straightaway that the White Paper is a bad White Paper and that the Bill is a bad Bill. I will try to show the House why I think so. I think that they are 1404 bad in principle and in detail. I believe that the Minister would be making a very grave mistake if he supposed that, because the National Farmers' Union has officially welcomed the Bill, growers naturally and necessarily think the same. I am certain that growers in the Isle of Ely do not. The wider afield one travels from Agriculture House the less support there will be for the Bill, and I will try to explain why I believe that.
The N.F.U., as a negotiating body, is in some difficulty over this. Because of the great reluctance to implement probably the best tariff application case that has ever been put before the Government, it feels that if it becomes too disagreeable it will not get anything for the growers. For that reason, we shall realise with increasing force that the welcome which the National Farmers' Union gave to the Bill will be questioned more and more in the constituencies at the county branch level of the N.F.U.
I sympathise very much with those who have to negotiate in the National Farmers' Union, because if they fall foul on a minority issue, which this is, with the permanent officials in the Department it will not make it any easier for them to get all they want on the majority issues which are put up.
When a national negotiating body such as the National Farmers' Union finds itself in such a position, if some of us in the House do not utter what half, if not more than half, of them feel in their hearts we should be failing in our duty. That is why I am undertaking this unpleasant task this afternoon.
The Bill appears to be founded upon an appreciation of the situation which is discussed in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the White Paper. This appreciation is a fallacy. Because it is fallacious, the Bill is almost certain to be futile in its effect. If hon. Members study the last two sentences of paragraph 2 of the White Paper I hope that they will see what I mean:Inefficient methods mean lower returns for producers, and higher prices and an inferior article for consumers.I do not suppose any of us would dispute that. It continues:On the other hand, if methods of marketing can be improved, producers' returns will be increased and consumers will get better value for their money.1405 There is absolutely no certainty that that follows automatically. It is equally possible, if not more likely, that precisely the opposite will happen. If the present system of marketing in horticulture is improved, then, so far from producers' returns being increased they will be reduced. The reason is that, already, at certain seasons, even the best produce coming on to the market cannot be sold. Even the best production at home cannot find a market here.
If we are to use the Bill to improve the methods of those whose methods are not as good as they should be, the inevitable effect will be that there will be more top-grade fruit on the market which cannot be sold, and the further effect will be to reduce the return to the producer—not to increase it. Therefore, I say that there is a fallacy in the White Paper. Once that is accepted I can understand why the Bill is brought for ward. Nevertheless, I still maintain that it is a fallacy, and because it is a fallacy the Bill must be unsound.
Part III of the White Paper and Part II of the Bill are founded upon the findings, of which we have been told so often today, of the Runciman Committee. The Runciman Report had a very severe limitation indeed, not least because it did not deal at all fully with importation policy. In fact, that was almost ruled out. There are only about 1½ pages on that subject. However, reading the Report, it is abundantly clear that the Committee, throughout its proceedings, was biased in favour of what I am sure would please the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe)—free trade. The whole approach to the problem has been liberal, spelt with a large "L" as well as with a small "l".
I have always regarded that Report with the gravest suspicion for that very reason. I cannot but deplore the Government's acceptance of the principal conclusions of the Report, and I deplore still more their subsequent elevation to the realms of Holy Writ. Throughout the debate we have had the Report brandished as though it were gospel that could not be challenged. I challenge it, and I shall go on challenging it.
The only credit that I can give it is that it is a brilliant survey of what is going on—or of what was then going on—in the industry, but my belief is that 1406 most of the recommendations are insane, if we, as a Conservative Party, really mean what we say; that we wish to do our best by the British grower.
Until I heard the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), I had come to the conclusion that Part II of the White Paper and Part I of the Bill was the brainchild not of the Minister of Agriculture at all, but of the present Minister of Education, when he was President of the Board of Trade. It is very easy to see why he, when President of the Board of Trade, should seek means other than tariffs to help British horticulture.
My right hon. Friend has never disguised—I give him his due, he has been absolutely frank about it, and has never attempted to be other than frank—his adoration of the idea of free trade. Indeed, during the General Election, I seem to remember reading in the newspapers that he had said that if he could be sure of getting a seat in the Government he would, nevertheless, be a member of the Liberal Party even today.
My right hon. Friend is the architect of a structure of our economy that is as detrimental to our future prosperity as it is unsound in its economics—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Very well. If I may say so, that makes it all the worse. I had thought that the Minister of Agriculture really wanted to do the best by the British grower and was prepared to make a stand about this free trade nonsense. If he now says that he puts forward this scheme entirely on his own bat, I can only say that his loyalty is to be admired but his judgment is to be deplored.
I do not think that this new structure that has come upon our economy can be laid at the door of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. This, I think, must quite definitely be laid at the door of the President of the Board of Trade, among others—or of the ex-President of the Board of Trade, among others; now 1407 Minister of Education. I can only describe the structure as industrial national assistance, and just like personal National Assistance it is repulsive to those who see in it the stigma of having to beg charity. Today, we are witnessing it in the cotton industry, and in the shipbuilding industry, and soon, I suppose, we will see it in the aircraft industry. Already we see it in agriculture, and now in horticulture—State capital from the taxpayers' pockets being pumped into those industries.
I do not deny for a moment that certain industries, horticulture included, require capital investment, not only for expansion but perhaps more often—and this is particularly true of horticulture—for modernisation of plant. My objection to this is directed to the cause of the need becoming so acute, and to the method that we are now applying to meet that need.
What are the causes of this need having arisen so acutely? I believe that, above all, it is due to the submission of the Labour Government of 1945–50 to the temptation of American free trade addicts, under whose pressure the Labour Government made the United Kingdom join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. By joining that pernicious body we surrendered at one step the most precious right of all sovereign States, which is the right to choose the terms on which to do business. No industry has suffered more as a result of that decision than has British horticulture.
Before I pass to my next point I want to make one thing quite clear. I am a strong opponent, and I hope that I always shall be, of any attempt at a wage freeze. I entirely support those who say that as the profits of an industry increase, so those working in it—at all levels—should receive a proper share in the improvement. But I must insist that those two processes happen in that order; in other words, the increased profits must first be earned if our economy is to be kept sound.
The second cause of this need having become so acute is that after the war the Labour Party was guilty on another serious charge. In those years, it created the impression in the minds of all too many people that we could buy our prosperity on "tick". As a result, the country 1408 was encouraged to live at a standard far beyond its real means, which can only be truly based on its real earnings in the world.
The result was that industry after industry found itself compelled to pay wages far in excess of what it should have been paying if each of those industries was to remain world competitive. Of no industry is that truer than of the glasshouse horticultural industry, and, in particular, that section, which is quite considerable, lying on the fringe of manufacturing industrial areas.
It was those reasons, in other words, the surrender of our trade sovereignty to the powers of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade—which I regard as quite disastrous—and the false economics of the Labour Government, which caused me to appeal to Her Majesty's Government, as I did, on 1st May this year, to make an agonising reappraisal of their trade policy.
If I may remind my right hon. Friend, I said this:Above all, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to concentrate upon what really matters most, and to stop fiddling about with grant aids which, even if they were to work, would only have the effect of reducing waste and so increasing the unsaleable amount in what is already a heavily invaded market."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1959; Vol. 604, c. 1623.]If the Government had had this agonising reappraisal—I admit that it would be agonising—we should not, I think, have had either the White Paper or the Bill before us today.
All I can do on this occasion is to re-emphasise what I said on 1st May—I do not withdraw one word of it—and to impress upon the Government that, since then, the position of many growers has further deteriorated and will not be improved, in my view, until our trade policy has been reframed.
I shall not give a great many figures and facts on this occasion. I gave a good many on 1st May. I should, however, like to give the House some more up-to-date information about the tomato industry. Glasshouse tomato acreage has fallen by a further 74 acres this year. That means a decline altogether, since 1954, when the last tariff increases were granted, of 443 acres of glass. The number of registered units with the 1409 Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board has declined steadily since 1953, and the decline has continued in this last year.
Meanwhile, the Dutch acreage has risen by 2,000 acres. If one values an acre of English glass at £15,000, which is a very low figure—it might easily cost £18,000 to put up an acre of glass today—there is capital to the tune of £6½ million wrapped up in that reduction of acreage.
Production of British tomatoes last last year was down by 40,000 tons compared with 1954. In Holland, production is up by 62,000 tons. Exports from Holland to the United Kingdom have risen by 45 per cent. Total exports from Holland to all countries, including the United Kingdom, have risen by 55 per cent. In other words, the United Kingdom has had to take nine-elevenths of the increase in Dutch exports of tomatoes.
The net return to United Kingdom growers—my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), my constitutent, dealt with this—on a sample of about 93 holdings, has fallen by 18 per cent. since 1954 and, taking it since 1951, treating the 1951 level as 100, the index of net income shows a fall of 29 per cent.
It is cold comfort to growers to be offered a one-third grant towards a scheme in which they will have to borrow the other two-thirds if they can find someone to lend it to them. No commercial credit-worthiness today is more unsound than that of all too many horticultural growers. I doubt whether even the new National Farmers' Union credit organisation will be able to disregard for very long those principles of banking which have dictated to the private bankers of the growers concerned the restriction of credit they have been able to offer them.
Indeed, I cannot help feeling that the majority of those who are able to provide the two-thirds of the cost of improvement under the scheme will not have any need of the one-third grant, and that those who really do need the one-third grant will not be able to borrow the other two-thirds and will not have the capital available to do it themselves.
Even if we accept the scheme, even if we say that the scheme is right in itself, 1410 can it be operated by the National Agricultural Advisory Service? According to my information, which is fairly recent, the operation of the Small Farmer Scheme has already very severely overstrained the National Agricultural Advisory Service. I have some information about what is happening in the eastern region. The eastern region, I would remind the House, is probably not taking as much advantage of the Small Farmer Scheme as some other regions.
It is believed that, in the eastern region 50 per cent. still of those eligible have not yet applied under the scheme. I understand that the Government are now asking the Advisory Service whether it would like to increase the size of farms which qualify for grant application under the scheme or whether the size should be smaller. I think that the Service would probably come down in favour of the higher acreage being used.
The point is that the result of the operation of the Small Farmer Scheme, with, apparently, 50 per cent. in the eastern region who could have applied not having yet applied, has been for the Advisory Service to have had to cut down by 40 per cent. the amount of experimentation it is doing for the benefit of agriculture. If we start ruling out experimentation from agriculture, we all know what will happen. We know very well what happens to industries which neglect their research and development, and the same thing will happen in agriculture.
In the eastern region, there will be only 14 Advisory Service officers to administer the scheme. Two of them are in the Isle of Ely. If the scheme is all it is made out to be, there will be an unholy rush. According to the Bill, applications are not to be made before 1st April. We are now on the horns of a nice little dilemma: ought we to ask the Government to accelerate the procedure and bring the date forward so that applications can start coming in earlier to give the Advisory Service officers more time, or should we wait to train more Advisory Service officers to administer the scheme and, perhaps, postpone the date? I do not know. The situation is highly disturbing, and when one thinks that the eastern region, as I say, will probably not be as intensely affected by this as 1411 some other counties, for instance, Kent, perhaps, one realises that it is a very serious problem which confronts us.
I come now to the proposed Horticultural Marketing Council. Seven out of 28 members are to represent producers. While on this subject, I should like, if I may, to commend the very brilliant maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot). The Minister says that he wants to leave the door open for making adjustments in the composition of the Horticultural Marketing Council to enable it to keep pace with modern developments. Once we have this organisation set up on the basis of 7,7,7,3 and 4, I doubt very much whether we shall be able to make any change very easily.
Certainly, if one has to consult the Council before one can do anything—apparently, that will be so under the Bill—I doubt very much whether one will be able to get agreement from the "old gang". We may, perhaps, take a little lesson from Parliamentary history on that; it may be a matter of forming a separate house to get proper representation.
I suspect that Clause 9 (5) has been put in to lull the tempers of those who, perhaps, felt that they ought not to come in on this scheme unless there was greater producer representation. I cannot foresee the representation of producers being increased under Clause 9 (5) of the Bill. I hope that it was not put in just for that purpose.
When I read the Bill and the White Paper, I very seriously considered putting down an Amendment with the object of trying to ensure that the Bill would be read a Second time upon this day six months. I have not done so, for one reason only. I realise that the troubles confronting this industry, as others, are not really the fault of Her Majesty's Government, but, if they are the fault of any political party, should be laid more at the door of hon. Members opposite. That does not mean, as I think I have made clear by now, that I entirely absolve the present Government. Indeed, I do not. The most that I can say in their favour is that what they did in 1954 over tariffs has been of more benefit than many growers are apt to remember, and that the Customs Duties (Dumping 1412 and Subsidies) Act, 1954, has also played its part as a deterrent, although I think a much too mild deterrent. I suggest that we should strengthen it to provide shock machinery to deal with shock markets which come about whether there are tariffs or not.
Even now I do not believe that any one of us has faced up to the consequences of the policy upon which we are now embarking which I have described as industrial and agricultural national assistance. It seems to me that commercial insolvency will soon become at a premium in our economy the way we are going. What matters in all industries, in the end is the end-price and the relation that price bears to its cost and the protection received by the industry from imports from countries producing similar commodities at lower costs.
On economic grounds, I believe that the Bill cannot be justified. On social grounds, it seems to me that it is ineffective. On moral grounds, I believe that it is definitely deplorable. The real test of the Government's good intentions towards the industry will be the reception they give to the tariff applications pending for tomatoes and lettuces. They will be coming in at any moment and I hope that the Government are ready for them. But if they treat them like they treated the last, hell will be let loose.
The Government's good faith towards the industry will also be tested by the way in which they cope with the highly questionable quota policy on apples and pears and imported strawberry pulp, which my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn dealt with at some length. The latest enormity committed, presumably under the Board of Trade's auspices, is that the Restrictive Practices Committee has now suggested that the agreement between the strawberry growers in the Wisbech area and the merchants is something which ought to be examined. That may cost £30,000 to fight.
It seems to me that this is nothing like good enough. If the Government fail to pass these tests they may well find themselves very hard put to it to muster the full pack of hon. Members who, I assure the Minister, would much prefer to go on hunting the fox of free trade rather than to have to become a pack of harriers.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I rise to intervene as a farmer's son, and, though the connection between agriculture and horticulture is not always as close as it might be, I have not spent the bulk of my life on a Welsh farm and remained entirely ignorant of some of the problems of the horticultural industry. Whenever any wind blows—I refer both to the trade variety and the meteorological variety—disaster can arise to any one of the 70,000 horticultural holdings in our country.
As the White Paper points out, the horticultural industry is both an important and a complex one. It does not benefit from guaranteed prices. It derives small benefit, if any, from production grants and it relies on tariffs for a share of the market and a fair price for its products in face of foreign competition. The Minister said that we have adopted a tariff as the main instrument. I wonder whether that is the view held by growers on the present-day state of tariffs? The Scottish Farmer of 14th November states:Horticulturists claim that relatively it offers less protection than the pre-war tariff.As an indication of the effect of tariffs today, we have only to consider, as has been done this evening, the situation as a result of the import of tomatoes from Holland. On top of the problem of seasonal gluts, which are the cruel result of a wonderful year, and other problems, we have the problem of marketing. I can only agree with the White Paper thatthe methods employed in marketing horticultural produce are of even greater importance, both to producer and consumer, than is the case with some other agricultural products.If we were to solve the problem of marketing we would benefit not only the grower, but also the man about whom we have heard little this evening, namely, the consumer.
I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction, but I submit that it is at best only a tinkering little Bill. The Minister referred to the horse and buggy age. I suggest, with respect, that this is a horse and buggy Bill. It may be that it will put a little oil on the buggy here and there in an effort to make it go faster, but I do not think that it goes to the root of the trouble to deal with the intrinsic and inherent problems of the industry.
1414 The figure of £7½ million has been mentioned as that which the industry will receive in aid over five years. I wonder how that figure was arrived at? Did the Minister say to his officials, "Think of a number"? How was the figure of £100,000, which is the amount to be granted to co-operatives, arrived at? We would be most interested to know.
The White Paper states:The Government also consider that there is scope for improvements in the production and marketing of produce by producers themselves.By enabling grants to be paid, will the Bill solve the problem of marketing? Will we get our £7½ million worth after five years? Will our money be well spent? At the end of five years, will we be any better off?
The Runciman Report stated that the loss to the industry through waste during distribution is as high as £15 million annually, yet under the Bill the industry is to benefit by only £8 million over five years. Will the Bill do anything to solve the problem of the £15 million annual wastage in the industry through distribution?
Those are some of the questions which we on this side are entitled to ask in an endeavour to get the views of the Minister. The Runciman Committee said:We have reached the conclusion that the system, though by no means perfect, is better than any other which could take its place at present.The Committee took the line of least resistance in its conclusions.
I am not satisfied that the money which is to be given in grants under the Bill will go to the right people. As Lord Boothby said when he was in this House, two-thirds of subsidies go to people who least need them. To compare the grants and subsidies under the Farm Improvement Scheme, I feel that many of them went to people who did not need them, and the people who really needed them, the small men, got no benefit from them because they could not find, as has been said, and cannot find today, two-thirds of the money which they have to spend for capital improvements. The horticultural industry, which is a gambling industry, will find even greater difficulty in getting the two-thirds than the agricultural industry.
1415 I endorse the recommendation of the N.F.U. that a grant of 50 per cent. should be made available to small growers who have no glass and who wish to erect a small unit of glass to make their holdings more economic. Farmers in Wales and the West Country, in particular, would benefit from this proposal. Under the Bill they will get very little. I hope most sincerely that the Minister will consider seriously the point made by the National Farmers' Union in respect of small farmers. The present qualification under the Bill is four acres of open land or its equivalent in horticulture or one-fifth acre under fixed or mobile glasshouses, or growing rhubarb or mushrooms, or one acre under cloches. These are very high qualifications. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) mentioned the cost of an acre of glass. As I say, these are very high qualifications.
I hope that the Minister will re-examine the position of the small man, especially with a mixed holding, whose unit is or would become economic if he had other enterprises and whose horticulture enterprises form less than the minimum requirements of the Bill. I ask the Minister to do two things. First, he should consider the holding as a whole in deciding whether a grant under the Bill is payable. Even when the horticultural part of the enterprise is less than the required qualification, if it is found that the holding as a whole would benefit, grant should be payable.
I ask the Minister to re-examine the National Farmers' Union proposals for small growers without glass and to increase the grant in these cases. In this way, he will do a great service to the man with the small mixed farm, whose great problem is that of shortage of land. He cannot expand in any other way than by concentrating his activities on his existing land. If such a man were to take up horticulture as part of his activities, it might go a good way towards making his holding more economic and viable. I have compared the schedule of improvements procedure adopted in the White Paper and the method followed in the farm improvement scheme and I should like to know why a different procedure is being followed in this Bill.
I am disappointed that prepacking machinery is to be excluded from grant. 1416 Prepacking can be a means of great improvement in the presentation and marketing of horticultural produce. It may well be the key to the future of this great industry. I am glad that the Pre-packaging Development Association has recently been recognised as a research unit by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and I hope that it will get support and a grant for its activities from that organisation.
I had, however, hoped that the Bill would deal with this vital part of the horticulture industry, on which its future may well depend. While there may be difficulty in giving grant for the repair and renovation of buildings, I cannot understand why the appendix to the White Paper proposes the payment of grant for the improvement of heating systems in glasshouses but does not include grant for the installation of such systems. This is another example that the man who already has gets something else, whereas he who has nothing gets no aid whatever.
The £100,000 to co-operatives has been welcomed by the Agricultural Central Co-operative Association and by the Welsh Agricultural Organisational Society. The Minister said in his Press statement that this money would help the small man. If, however, the White Paper is examined, it will be seen from the Appendix that there are different categories of grant for the ordinary individual and for co-operatives. The Minister said in his Press statement that provision was being made to help them by making co-operatives eligible for grant in the same way as small farmers.
The White Paper bears that out in page 6, when it states:Individual production businesses that cannot by themselves satisfy the minimum requirements set out in paragraph 10 above may benefit under this part of the scheme if they belong to co-operative marketing associations.If the proposals contained in Part II of the Appendix to the White Paper are examined and compared with the proposals in Part I, it will be apparent that while grant will be available to cooperatives for storage, preparation and the other purposes included in Part III, for other matters connected with the growing of horticultural produce the co-operative is to be excluded from grant. Why is there a differentiation of 1417 the grant available to co-operatives under the schedule in the Appendix to the White Paper by excluding something which is to be granted to the individual grower under Part I?
I am glad that co-operative associations have been included in the Bill. The approach of the Government is very different from their attitude to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) in Committee on the Agriculture Bill on 2nd May, 1957, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that… a co-operative, by its nature, must be something of a floating enterprise …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 2nd May, 1957; c. 202.]Every difficulty was put in the way of giving assistance to co-operatives in that Bill, whereas now, I am glad to know, the Minister has come to the conclusion that co-operatives are no longer floating enterprises in horticulture. I would like to know from the Minister why there is to be any difference between an agricultural co-operative and a horticultural co-operative.
The Government have a difficult task to try to legislate for this extremely vulnerable industry. During the weekend, I read an excellent paper written by Mr. Wragg, of the Department of Economics of Bristol University, entitled "The Uncertainty and Risk in the Vegetable Sector of the Horticulture Industry". The conclusions contained in that paper were that the highest output per acre for a particular crop in seven years out of ten is seen to be often more than double the lowest output. This can lead to abnormally low and exceptionally high profits and losses and, of necessity, to difficult administration and difficulties in the industry as a whole. That is the kind of industry for which the Government have to legislate.
I welcome the Bill, but I ask these questions. First, how much tariff support is the industry to have? Secondly, can we, by the Bill, solve the question of marketing in the industry? The tariff support issue is completely shelved. It must, however, be faced and solved before the industry can be on a firm basis. At the end of five years from now, will the Bill have solved the problem of marketing, or will the Government of the day, of whatever political complexion, come back to ask for 1418 another Bill merely to extend the life of this Measure?
I hope that by that time the problems will have been solved, but I can only say now that the Bill does not go to the heart of the problem or solve the root problems of the industry.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)
I am sorry that I was unavoidably prevented from being present when my right hon. Friend the Minister opened the debate. I did not hear, therefore, what he had to say. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), whose courage and sincerity we all greatly admire, has, to put it mildly, been rather uncomplimentary about the Bill. He may be right in his historical analysis of the reason for the troubles and difficulties of the horticulture industry. We must, however, face conditions as they are.
I welcome the Bill because I think it will be of considerable help to a large number of horticulturists. It would be of no use at all, however, but for tariffs, and I am glad to know that the Government are committed to a policy of tariffs as the basic means of protecting our horticulture. But for tariffs, the future of the horticultural industry in this country would be quite impossible.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) is not in the Chamber at the moment. I am puzzled about the attitude of the Liberal Party to tariffs, and I am sorry that the hon. Member did not refer to the point except in passing. It is perhaps fortunate, because he was not in the House when in the last Parliament the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) advocated a sweeping change in all tariffs and an immediate 50 per cent. reduction, in which he was supported by his Leader. That, of course, would have meant including tariffs on horticulture and agriculture, and complete ruin immediately for our horticultural industry. As I say, I am sorry that the hon. Member is not here. I had hoped to be able to mention this in his presence.
In this proposed scheme, as in every scheme involving grants of public money, a dividing line must be drawn somewhere and the people on the wrong side of that line must inevitably be disappointed. In Devon and Cornwall there are large 1419 numbers of small horticulturists, who farm less than four acres, who will be outside the scope of the benefit of the Bill. There are many such in the Tamar valley in my constituency. I am glad that it has been made clear to these people that, although their acreage is too small to enable them to obtain direct benefit from the Bill, they should benefit indirectly if the co-operative marketing association to which they belong can qualify for being granted assistance under the Bill towards improving its efficiency.
There are one or two points in relation to growers who farm under four acres which I hope the Minister will consider. Paragraph 10 (c) of the White Paper says that¼ acre of land used for cropping with glass lights (including cloches) …has been regarded as equivalent to one acre of open land. Production under glass, surely, could be reckoned to be more than four times that on open land. I appeal to the Minister to make a more generous concession to help these small men, say, by making the figure one-eighth of an acre. I appreciate, of course, that there is a Committee point. I welcome the Bill, though it must not be regarded in any way as a substitute for adequate tariffs, but only as a welcome addition.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
I welcome the Bill, but I welcome it within its limits. It is limited in the scope of its intentions and it is extremely limited in the scope of the resources which are to be used to carry out those intentions. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who is not now in his place, made the debate very wide in that he called into question the whole propriety of the State furnishing capital for any industries that needed it. I will not presume to continue that discussion, but in horticulture, as indeed in agriculture generally, I do not see how the leeway of the lean years could have been made up unless the Government had intervened to take some steps to provide capital for these two industries.
My only complaint against the whole of this Measure is that it was not brought forward sooner. I would say to my hon. 1420 Friend the Joint Parliametnary Secretary, in the absence of my right hon. Friend, that the right time to have brought the Bill forward and to have put it into law was when the Small Farmer Scheme was introduced. The two schemes could then have been Parts 1 and 2 of the same Bill.
Let us, however, now welcome the Bill but also ask my right hon. Friend to take all possible steps, even now, to accelerate the advertised date of 1st April, 1960, for the receipt of applications for grants. Reference has been made in debate to the difficulties of organisation and to the limits under which the National Agricultural Advisory Service has to operate. I do not know whether it is too late to add to the number of officers employed in that service in order that we may have a real drive when the Bill is passed into law.
As to the detail of the Bill, I believe that it was the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) who said that the small man who will have a glasshouse provided for him as to one-third of the cost will in many cases feel very severely indeed the burden of the two-thirds capital which he has to find himself. Could not consideration be given in Committee to changing that grant in those cases to one of 50 per cent.? If that were done, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary recognises that the limit of his liabilities would not be high, because these new glasshouses are restricted to those growers who have seven acres or under within the scheme. The provision would not be universal in its application.
There is no knowing who may or may not be on a Standing Committee when it comes to consider Bills sent to it by the House. Therefore, I make no apology for referring very shortly to the fact that it appears from the Bill as if an important but small section of the horticultural industry is left out of the provision for grants. I refer to that section which grows herbs, particularly sage and parsley and other herbs which are not customarily placed on the market in the raw form but which have to be subjected to a special process of preservation which involves heat. It appears from one part of the Bill that that kind of industry, including as it does groups consisting of one hundred 1421 or more growers in one part of my constituency alone who process these herbs in a co-operative organisation or society, will not be eligible to receive grants under the Bill. I hope that that point will be looked into in Committee.
I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely is not in his place, because I wanted to say in his presence that he seemed to pose a situation which really does not exist, as if the policy under the Bill of capital grants to assist horticulture was a kind of alternative to having a tariff policy, instead of being, as I believe it to be, nothing more and nothing less than a complement to a proper horticultural policy. It is true to say that it will be no use taking all these provisions and spending £7 million to £8 million of the taxpayers' money and trying to re-equip the horticultural industry capitally if, at the same time, the Government do not take all proper steps to keep going a real live tariff policy attuned to the needs of market conditions in other countries around us.
I will now refer briefly to the effects the Bill will have on the section of the horticultural industry in the Vale of Evesham, which is in my constituency. I have spoken already of the need for haste in bringing the Bill into action. The reason why I have done so is that there is a section of growers in the South Worcestershire division who are at present in a dire plight. They are all small growers with an average size holding of between five and 20 acres. These growers have been accustomed to rely for the revenue side of their horticultural businesses upon sprouts as well as other crops. This season, the trading position has been catastrophic. Admittedly this was due to the drought caused by the vagaries of the weather, but, added to that, there was the unusual incidence of aphis fly.
I have been furnished with one or two figures which will illustrate the extent of the disaster for these people, as I believe it to be. The figures have been furnished by a co-operative marketing organisation with which many of them deal. I am informed that whereas in October, 1958, last year's season, 42,000 20 lb. nets of sprouts had been marketed, the organisation this year had received only 14,000. In addition, there 1422 has undoubtedly been strong consumer resistance to buying sprouts this season because in many cases housewives have feared the effects of the spraying against aphis, and, consequently, the price for the greatly reduced crop has been even lower this season that it was last.
At my request, samples have been taken within the last ten days of fifteen average holdings in the area near Evesham. Whereas last season, in the six months ended 31st March, 1959, the combined gross revenue from those holdings was £6,600, the growers have estimated that in the season ending in March next year their revenue, before any expenses are met, will be only £1,060. That will be an average of only £70 per holding, and it will mean that many of those growers will have to live on as little revenue as £50, whereas formerly they receive hundreds of pounds. They are at their wits' ends to know what to do.
The Bill cannot help them, but those who can survive will no doubt be able to qualify, if they can find their two-thirds capital, for some of the grants under the Bill. These people are self-employed and have no unemployment benefit. Now some of them have no crops in the ground because the ground could not be worked, so there will be no crops to mature in the early spring. Yet they must continue to buy their stamps as self-employed people.
In 1947, powers were taken to give help on a national scale to a much larger part of the agricultural industry, namely, the sheep section, in which there were wholesale and immense losses. I do not ask my hon. Friend, or the Minister, to give me any solution to the problem I have posed in my few words tonight, but I ask whether he will receive a deputation, which I would like to bring to him if it can be arranged, in order to explain in greater detail the plight of the growers in a limited part of the Vale of Evesham.
I have said that I welcome the Bill. I welcome especially that part of it which is designed to improve the marketing organisation. I cannot raise any enthusiasm for the proposed Horticultural Marketing Council because I believe it will tend to have all the disadvantage of a semi-bureaucratic body imposed from the top and carrying out no real executive or responsible duties.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I cannot accept that the proposed Council is a fundamental part of the Bill. The Bill could be passed into law and the grants made to all those who will qualify without setting up a Horticultural Marketing Council.
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Gentleman cannot say that the Council is only an incidental part of the Bill. It is a major part of the Bill in the sense that it is there to initiate improved marketing. I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would have appreciated that this was the case and therefore would not make that criticism.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I will not pursue that point because, clearly, the hon. Gentleman is putting a greater weight on a certain part of the Bill than I am disposed to do. We shall have to agree to differ on that point. What I regard as valuable is the channeling of assistance to groups of growers who band together for the purpose of improving their market presentation and getting on to the market a better graded article than many of them are able as individuals to do at present. If this part of the Bill is successful, I believe we shall see in time a great deal of difference in the price to the producer and the price that the housewife has to pay when she buys the fruit or vegetables in the shops.
By strengthening in this way the cooperative organisation which my right hon. Friend is encouraging under the Bill, I believe we shall find that healthy organisms in the bottom tier of the industry will grow in strength, and that in the future the intermediate, unnecessary tiers, as they will become, will tend to wither away or find their place in the organisation of supermarkets, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot) in his maiden speech this evening, which we so enjoyed.
My last point is that the Bill, although it will not solve all the problems of the horticultural industry, is an essential preliminary to get the industry in capital 1424 form and on its feet again, and for that purpose I welcome it.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I could not help feeling a certain amount of sympathy for my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) when he raised on behalf of his constituents the subject of brussels sprouts. When he represented a Cornish constituency he had great difficulties in regard to broccoli, and now he has gone from broccoli to brussels sprouts.
All who have spoken have welcomed the Bill, with the exception of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). I cannot share the views that he expressed, and I do not think he really expects me to do so. It seemed to me that what was worrying him more than anything else was that he could not bring himself to believe that the Government's intention is the intention which the Government have declared, that they are maintaining the tariff weapon as the main protection for horticulture.
I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South, mentioned that he would have liked the Bill brought in at the same time as the Measure dealing with small farmers. Perhaps we would all share that desire. On the other hand, one has to be practical about it, and it seems to me that one of the great difficulties with regard to the Measure dealing with small farmers is how many persons we could get from the National Agricultural Advisory Service to make it practicable. Consequently, if we had introduced the two Measures at the same time we should have made the difficulties even greater.
I hope that in listening to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will have taken note of how to strengthen this admirable and very good advisory service. I am certain that very few ideas are either novel or new, but I trust that his great Department is in close contact with I.C.I., Fisons and others who have experimental departments and might be able to form another training base from which we could quickly get more people to enter the National Agricultural Advisory Service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) mentioned 1425 the Tamar Valley. Somehow it always startles me to realise that there is another side of the Tamar Valley in Devon. Where I live we are rather inclined to look upon the Tamar Valley from the Cornish side. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a very great difficulty here. The horticulturists in the Tamar Valley are small and extremely numerous. Consequently, in a number of cases—although I do not think this should be exaggerated—they will not come within the four-acre limit. On the other hand—this is why I said that the point should not be exaggerated—a great number of them will benefit from the Bill. I was sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely said he was sure that nobody who was a horticulturist wanted the Bill. That is not so. I have here a letter—it is not the only one that I have received—written to me about the Bill. It says:With reference to the Government White Paper on Horticulture, I would like to say what a good Bill I think it is, and it will do a lot of good to the Tamar Valley.There are a number of people who feel that way.
What was actually worrying this constituent of mine has now, I think, been settled, but I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to refer to the matter again. In the Tamar Valley there are a number of cases where the land used for horticulture is extremely valuable but where there may be attached to it a small piece of land which is not fit for horticultural production. However, the two pieces of land adjoin and the tenant takes them both over—he may run a bullock or two on the land which is not fit for horticulture—because there is a clause in the agreement to the effect that the land cannot be broken up. It may be that his chartered accountant can prove that his earning capacity relates 100 per cent. to the horticultural land, but if one adds on the other piece of land which has nothing to do with horticulture the area may amount to eleven acres, and, therefore, the man may not come within the scheme. I have now had a letter from the Minister and I understand that he has decided that only that part of the land which is used as a horticultural holding will be taken into consideration in connection with the scheme and that the other portion of the land will not put the man outside the scheme.
1426 I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South about the Horticultural Marketing Council, for I feel that it is very much part of the Bill. One of the things to which the Council must apply its mind is publicity, which is very necessary. There are so many small units in the horticultural world that the full impact of publicity is very hard to obtain. Many years ago—perhaps thirty or forty years ago—it was very much more the custom than it is now to give a small bunch of flowers, and the actual purchasing of flowers was very much greater than it has been since the war. I believe that publicity could do a great deal for the flower trade.
I believe that the Bill will help the horticultural industry considerably. It will help it to be more efficient. This is the first Measure that we have seen specifically for the horticultural industry. Many right hon. and hon. Members have complained a great deal in the last fourteen years about how horticulture has been more or less left out of the picture in comparison with agriculture.
It is necessary to say that this Measure will only help the horticultural industry provided that the industry is protected by tariffs. Consequently, it is the tariff weapon which makes it possible in this country to have a healthy horticulture. Nothing would be more pathetic than to pass a Measure to inject money into the horticultural industry if that measure of protection were not to be given. The Government have assured us that this is a pledge from them. I am convinced that that pledge will be honoured. I sincerely trust that when the next two applications are put in, the honouring of them will have a visible side, the raising of tariffs for the full protection of those products within the horticultural industry.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
I welcome this Bill to assist the horticultural industry, at the same time agreeing very much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) said as to the importance of tariff protection.
We have heard from the Minister this afternoon that the industry is worth £170 million a year. Therefore, it is very difficult to exaggerate its importance. In 1427 addition, it has the greatest output per acre. Under glass, it is possible to produce £10,000 turnover from one acre.
Tonight, I should like to speak mainly about the tomato industry. During the last ten years there has been a tremendous contraction in the industry. The number of glasshouses has dropped by 28 per cent. and the number of registered producers is down by 1,000. Taking Scotland alone, in the last few years the earnings of the Scottish tomato industry have fallen by £300,000. I have no doubt that by the end of 1959 we shall find these earnings down even further.
In dealing with agriculture, it is fashionable to say that we have to compete against the climate. That is particularly true in Scotland about the tomato growers in the Clyde Valley, because their main crop comes into production approximately three weeks later than the crop in England and meets the full force of competition of outdoor tomatoes from Spain, particularly the Alicante district, and also from the Canary Islands. At the same time, the success of the importers is not entirely due to climate. The Dutch, for example, have increased in the last two years their share of our market from 10,500 tons to 17,750 tons. In a way, all imported tomatoes are unfair competition, because the importers send the best quality tomatoes to this country and sell the second quality at home. They also protect their home market by making quite sure that other countries do not do the same thing to them. What we need in this industry is better tariff protection, but we must also increase the efficiency of the home growers. After all, the Dutch have no particular climatic advantage over the growers in this country.
Turning first to tariffs, I very much regret that the tariff was not increased upon the last application. At the same time, I think that tariffs in a time of scarcity are apt to operate against the consumer and force up the price that the housewife has to pay. I should prefer to see agreements like those between Italy and Germany of a minimum import price. When that price is reached supplies are cut off from abroad after giving a few days' notice to clear all supplies in the pipeline. Something rather similar has happened in the past in controlling supplies of Danish and Scandinavian bacon to this country.
1428 I welcome this system of grants as being helpful to increasing the efficiency of the home growers. I should, however, point out that many of the smaller growers will have to find two-thirds of the money necessary for improvements. They have not much incentive to do this. There have been bad seasons and many of them will have to borrow. I ask the Minister to consider increasing the level of the grant to the smaller growers to 50 per cent., which would have a psychological effect and introduce the idea of partnership, such as that of a landlord and tenant relationship. It would be a great help in getting these schemes going.
Many of the growers in Scotland would prefer to see some subsidy of an income nature on what they use, for example, petrol and coke. Superficially, this is quite attractive. It is, however, more efficient in the glasshouse industry to use oil heating or even soil warming by electricity, as I think anyone who has had to go out late on a cold, wet evening to stoke up a coke boiler has found out for himself.
I should like to ask one question of the Minister concerning heating. A constituent of mine who is putting electricity into his house on his holding finds that he has to guarantee a minimum consumption of £40 a year. He cannot consume this amount for domestic purposes only and so he is putting heating into a greenhouse. That is a most desirable purpose, but it would appear that Part I (v) of the Appendix does not allow grants for installing heating systems in greenhouses which previously had no heating. Would it be possible for such a scheme to come under Part III (x), which provides for the laying on of electric power for business purposes?
Another omission from the Schedule which I regret is communications. Today the telephone is almost as important to a grower as his spade. He has to ring up his supplier, salesmen, and get market intelligence. Cannot telephones, which can be very expensive to install, also be included in the Schedule?
There appears to be no minimum grant below which an improvement is not eligible. Clause 1 allows for grants for alteration or reconditioning of permanent buildings. How low can one get these grants? Do they cover jobbing 1429 work around the holding? If so, I cannot see how we can get the scheme going sufficiently with the staff available to produce the grants by the next growing season. We are rather fortunate in Scotland in that we have the advisory staff of the agricultural colleges and the inspectors in the Department of Agriculture. Even so, there will clearly be a heavy call on these men, whose work I have found to be very good indeed in my constituency.
I am sure that co-operative marketing is the answer to the problem of increasing efficiency in the industry. Better grading of tomatoes and other crops will also help. It is very difficult to grade tomatoes unless there is a good quantity from which to draw. If only about 50 lb. a day are being sold, it is hardly worth bothering to grade them. I should like to see these co-operatives having a central grading organisation, rather like the egg packing stations, because I have found from experience that, although market gardeners may have very "green fingers" for making things grow, they are complete "butter fingers" when it comes to packing or grading.
I should like the co-operative societies to deal directly with retail traders and chain stores, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot) in a very notable maiden speech. Co-operatives could also undertake the gas storage of apples, quick freezing and canning. I am sure that it is in those channels that the future of the industry lies. The urban housewife does not want to go home lugging a great bag of cabbages and potatoes. She would rather have prepacked apples, potatoes and canned tomatoes.
I cannot give the Horticultural Marketing Council a very warm welcome. Horticulture includes so many products that it will be very difficult to undertake publicity on a national scale. Publicity is much better handled by representatives of the growers of one particular vegetable or fruit, or even mushrooms. The Mushroom Growers' Association has been extremely successful with its publicity. It is well liked by the growers—and that is the case with the flower growers and their association.
On the other hand, the Council can be of great help to the industry in 1430 organising better marketing, the elimination of waste and the standardisation of containers. I hope that the Council will prove very successful. It has two years of grace, during which the Government will pay for it, to show how successful it can be. I hope that it will get on with the job and that in two years it will be accepted by the growers as a necessary part of the industry.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I must, first, apologise to you, Sir, and the House for not having been in the Chamber during the previous part of the debate. I regret that it was not possible for me to be here.
I want to comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) on the Horticultural Marketing Council. He said, first, that he was against it, but, later, he seemed to approve of it. I should have thought that it was an excellent proposal, because in my part of the country, West Cornwall, so many of our horticulturists produce so many different products that it seems best to have a Council to deal with marketing, which is one of the main problems of the industry. Being Celtic, it is not easy to get people in West Cornwall to co-operate, because they are such individualists. That is especially true of this industry.
I am glad to be able to say that I have had no representations whatever about the Bill from any organisation or individual in my constituency, so that I assume that it meets the needs of the people who are prepared to give it a trial. That is probable, as all political parties at the General Election promised to look after horticulture and agriculture fairly well.
I am a trifle worried about the impact of the Outer Seven economic agreement on the industry. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) made great play with tariffs, but it would be very difficult for the Government to raise tariffs after that agreement. I am not an economics expert, but that is how it seems to me. I am not sure that tariffs are the only way in which the industry can be protected. I believe that there is still a quota on the import of motor cars. If not, it has only recently been removed. If that can be applied to a prosperous industry like the motor car 1431 industry, I do not see why, in an industry which has to face such vicissitudes as horticulture, that system could not be used in the last resort to give some protection of that kind.
We shall have to pursue the question of marketing very closely. I have no doubt that the Minister does that and the Council will have to do it. Today, people do not want just a bunch of flowers. They want a bunch of good flowers and they are prepared to pay for it. If they are prepared to pay, they will expect good quality. The experience of horticulturists in my constituency is that they can always get markets for goods which are properly graded and of good quality. I wish the Bill well and hope that it will bring that prosperity and security to the industry which the Minister has suggested will result from its operation.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter H. Loveys (Chichester)
Unlike the hon. Member for Falmouth and Cambourne (Mr. Hayman), I do not have to apologise for not having been here earlier. I have heard every speech except one, when I had to go away for a few minutes to consume a little horticultural produce.
Having listened to every speech, I am surprised at the amount of agreement about the Bill. The few hon. Members opposite who have spoken have appeared to fall in line with their leader, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), in somewhat reluctantly supporting the Bill. Only on this side has there been real opposition, in an excellent speech by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who made a very wide review of the industry.
I shall follow the line of my hon. Friend, the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) by accepting the facts as they are at the moment and not using this opportunity to review the whole industry. I shall stick rigidly to the Bill and speak in favour of it.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend for having produced the Bill. If the £7½ million goes through the right channels with the minimum amount of waste it could prove of great 1432 benefit to what has already been called the Cinderella of the agricultural industry. It will be a worthy successor to the Small Farmer Scheme, which has had so much success already.
That is all the praise that I intend to give the Bill, but I would like to spend a few minutes discussing the points about which I am worried. Part I deals with improvements aimed at efficient production and Part II deals with marketing. The main problem of the industry lies in marketing its products. It is no good growing the finest fruit and vegetables if we have to throw a lot of the produce away, or plough it back into the ground. Hundreds of tons of tomatoes have been thrown away this season. That is a very serious situation. Tomato growing is the largest section of horticulture under glass in this country. Indeed, over half the total amount of glass is used for raising tomatoes.
I would like to mention a few points on which I would like clarification from my right hon. Friend. My first point is about eligibility. I know that it is very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to draw a flexible line, but many growers with under four acres will be disappointed if they are excluded from the Bill. They will be seriously affected. I know that the idea of the Bill is to give help to holdings that are capable of being run by at least one full-time worker, but I know of several smallholdings where, in the last two years, the tenants have decided to plough up perhaps an acre or two acres to grow potatoes. Under the Bill, which lays down that at least half the holding must have been used entirely for horticulture for a period of two years immediately preceding the application, these people will not be eligible for a grant. It would seem, therefore, that if a man happens to have ploughed up a couple of acres for potatoes either last year or the year before he will be outside the scheme. I hope that it will be possible for the Ministry's officials to allow some flexibility in these cases.
My second point on Part I is that I regret that there is no limit on the amount that an individual grower can obtain. The scheme might be inclined to benefit a large grower, with perhaps rather grandiose schemes which would not be profitable without the grant. I 1433 feel that the large grower who can probably obtain capital easier will be inclined to benefit more than the smaller man, who will have great difficulty in finding the two-thirds necessary to do the job. Surely it is intended to help the smaller farmers and horticulturists, in the same way as the Small Farmer Scheme was intended to help and, indeed, is helping the small farmers.
My third and last point on Part I concerns the last paragraph. I may have got it wrong and, if so, I hope that my hon. Friend will put me right if I have. Clause 8 (5) says thatIn this Part of this Act 'preparation for market' does not include canning, bottling, pulping or cooking, or preserving by sterilising, by freezing, by dehydrating, by heat or by chemical process.Perhaps this is a point that ought to be raised in Committee. If so, I will understand if my hon. Friend does not want to reply to it tonight.
However, I think that every possible encouragement must be given to growers to use deep-freeze equipment. It may be that the provision of deep-freeze equipment would take too large a slice of the £7½ million, but, at the same time, the problem of marketing valuable produce creates a difficulty because of the glut of fruit and vegetables at certain times of the year. Every assistance ought to be given to producers to invest in plant for preserving their crops so that they may arrive in the market in good condition.
I understand that commercial refrigerators are very useful for certain types of fruit. If we can allow grants for heating to encourage plants to grow, it seems wrong to disallow grants for freezing the end-product to prevent it being thrown away. Perhaps that, too, is a point that ought to be raised in Committee, to decide whether freezing will be allowed solely for storage, or whether it will also be allowed for general preservation.
§ Mr. Darling
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that this kind of storage and refrigeration would be more economical if it were done on a big scale? Would it not be better if there were a central organisation in every 1434 growing area, rather than giving the grant to the individual producer?
§ Mr. Loveys
I agree to a large extent with the hon. Gentleman. It is a matter where a co-operative society, such as the Land Settlement Association, would benefit more than the individual grower, but that is a point with which I shall deal in a minute.
My other point on this part of the Bill is the financing of the Horticultural Marketing Council. In the White Paper the Government claim to have accepted the Runciman Report's recommendation that the Council should be financed by money raised from the industry. The Government have not quite done that. They have decided to pay for the Council for the first two years. I was glad to hear from my right hon. Friend that the Government are going to insist that the industry should finance the Marketing Council entirely after the first two years.
Perhaps one of the most important functions of the Council will be that of publicity. Housewives must be made aware of the advantage of buying home-produced fruit and vegetables. There is something very much lacking in this respect at the moment. On the other side of agriculture, the Milk Marketing Board has done a good job in advertising milk. On the beef side, perhaps I should declare an interest, because I breed Aberdeen Angus cattle and I am glad to say that, at last, the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society has undertaken the task of explaining to housewives that Aberdeen Angus beef is the best that one can buy. It is a shame to have to listen to a housewife who goes into a grocer's shop and says, "Please may I have 2 lb. of the best eating apples", without having any idea of the type of apple that she is buying.
There is also the problem of fair marketing. I have seen tomatoes which, after being carefully graded at the Land Settlement estate at Sidlesham, in my constituency, are sent to the shops. I have then gone into the shops to look at first-grade tomatoes and have been appalled to see that these tomatoes have been mixed up in the shop although the top price is being asked for them. This is done after all the trouble that has been taken to grade them. There ought to be some control over this in the shops. 1435 I am not saying that that is a general practice—of course it is not—but there seems to be nothing to stop it.
My final point on the Marketing Council is the point that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) raised a moment ago. It is very difficult to encourage co-operation between growers. In my constituency we have a land settlement association. It is run very efficiently, and most efficient individual tenants do quite well. They have their central marketing schemes. We also have a large number of county council smallholdings. I happen to be on the county council smallholdings committee. The curious thing is that although the smallholding tenants are not doing as well as the land settlement tenants, it is almost impossible to get a smallholding whereas it is quite easy to get a holding on a land settlement. It is a difficult problem. The growers just do not wish to co-operate and perhaps the Marketing Council might be able to do something about it.
I must finally say one word about tariffs. Time and again the Government have said that tariffs will continue to be the main support of the horticultural industry. While that is a welcome statement, we must be absolutely honest about this, because the only reason that the Government have given for refusing increases in tariffs is that a strong enough case has not been submitted by the growers. Surely the truth is that we are afraid of reprisals from the growers who export to us. Most growers feel that where costs have risen through no fault of their own, and, if at the same time, the markets are flooded with imported produce, they consider that that alone makes a strong enough case for increasing tariffs. I consider that to be a reasonable view. If it is not, then tariffs cannot in any way be regarded as a protection. Many growers have invested large amounts of capital in the industry on the strength of the protection which they consider that tariffs should provide.
I have referred to matters which worry me, but, as I said at the beginning of my speech, I welcome the Bill. I am certain that it will provide great support for all sections of an industry which we are rightly committed to support, and one which is very much in need of our support at the present time.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
When introducing the Bill my right hon. Friend the Minister described horticulture as the Cinderella of the farming industry. That expression has been used by other speakers in this debate. I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not consider that the Bill represents either a ball gown or a fairy coach for Cinderella. It may make it possible for Cinderella to go to the palace ball, and that is how it will be regarded by horticulturists in this country.
I wish to join issue with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who described the Measure as an improvisation. It is not that. I prefer to call it the first step and an carly redemption of the promise which we made at the General Election. Indeed, the figure of £7½ million has been canvassed for some months past. Horticulture has been the Cinderella of the farming industry. It does not figure in the Annual Price Review, and in many ways it is a precarious business. All hon. Members who have been in this House for a few years will be aware of occasions when, in a matter of hours, the import of some produce has been stopped temporarily to allow growers of the same produce in this country to get a fair crack of the whip. I hope that the Bill will prove the start of a change in the precarious atmosphere.
As we learn from the White Paper, and as was mentioned by my right hon. Friend, there are about 70,000 people in the country with horticultural holdings. That is a large portion of the population to have to work under such precarious conditions as exist at present. In my own constituency, Bedfordshire, South, there are horticultural businesses of various kinds covering almost every product referred to in the Bill. The reason why we should pay far more attention to horticulture is referred to in paragraph 20 of the White Paper where it states thatthe Government recognise that producers in this country have a special interest in promoting sales of the vegetables, fruit and flowers that they grow.I consider that that statement is too limited. Not only the producers but the Government and the consuming public have an interest.
1437 We are in a peculiar position in that we are an industrial country, and our standard of life results from the prosperity of our industry and exports. We cannot expect the non-industrial occupations, such as agriculture and horticulture, to flourish entirely on their own. If our prosperity and standard of life is reflected in our export industry, then, as a quid pro quo, we should be prepared to support those other industries which are vitally necessary and upon which we depend for food. Incidentally, those industries help our export industry by reducing the importation of food to the extent that we grow our foodstuffs at home.
Our horticulture must compete with other countries where horticulture is the main and basic industry, and by imposing limitations on imports by means of tariffs, we try to allow our own industry to compete with those countries which specialise in horticultural products. I do not think that that is the best situation. We should commit ourselves and face the fact that we must give special attention and help to agriculture and horticulture both now and in the future.
The position may be summed up by saying that this improvement scheme, this method of providing grants, is in no sense a substitution for a proper tariff policy. It is no answer to protect only the industrial side of our national life. It is necessary to preserve a balance between industry and agriculture. We maintain our standard of life because of our industrial prosperity, but, at the same time, we seek to grow 40 to 50 per cent. of our food, and if we wish to do both those things we must give proper support to those who grow our food.
I do not think that sufficient emphasis has been placed on the fact that in the negotiation of foreign agreements, which are tied up with our industrial exports, we must have regard to the horticultural side of our national life. It is right that we should try to protect our exports to foreign countries, but that must not be achieved to the detriment of our own food-growing industries.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North referred to small interest loans, and I would not object to the provision of such loans. I should be happy to see 1438 such an arrangement being complementary to the scheme of grants which it is proposed to provide under the terms of this Bill. Representations made to me about the proposed grants indicate that the idea of a Government grant of one-third of improvement costs has not been too happily received. What happens if a horticulturist cannot afford to find the other two-thirds? If the cost of an improvement scheme is, shall we say, £300, it means that the grower must find £200 before he can receive a grant of £100.
Put another way, if the Government expect to disperse £7½ million by way of grants over the next few years, it means that the growers must find £15 million, which is a very large amount of money. I do not know what will be the final solution. It will depend upon the prosperity of horticulture being maintained by means of tariffs and in other ways.
I hope that the Government will bear in mind that a person must be able to afford two-thirds of the cost of an improvement scheme before qualifying for a grant of one-third. It is probable that there may be a precedent in other agricultural legislation for the figure of one-third which is referred to here. It is not the same figure as is used for grants in other legislation, for housing and the like, and I am wondering whether the amount of one-third will achieve the result which we desire. I trust that it will, but I have no illusions about what growers will have to find in this connection.
The question of grading is not, I think, a Committee point. Paragraphs 18 and 22 of the White Paper—the latter in regard to Covent Garden—refer to grading of horticultural products. Whether this is done under the proposed Marketing Council or the existing marketing boards it is not enough to lay down a system of grading unless someone finds the money for carrying out that grading and for its supervision. One of the difficulties of at least one of the existing marketing boards is the fact that it has not the wherewithal for supervision of the grading system to see that it is carried out satisfactorily and adequately.
Grading is at the foundation of the whole Covent Garden scheme, the bulk to be kept elsewhere, while the buyers buy from samples in the market. Money 1439 granted through the Horticultural Marketing Council or any other authority will have to be spent on supervision of the grading. I hope that some attention will be given to that, because it is not enough to lay down principles, however excellent they may be, unless the wherewithal is provided to put them into force. I hope that the Minister will not entirely close his mind to the question of finance for the Marketing Council at the end of two years. If it works well—and I hope so—as an organisation, the maximum for the first two years is to be £125,000 a year. There are 70,000 growers and the Minister told us that 25,000 to 30,000 businesses will benefit under the Bill. If the Marketing Council is doing a good job and, at the beginning of the third year, it appears that it might not be able to carry on that job until the levy is put on a proper basis, it would be very bad if all the good work which had been put in by the Council fell to the ground simply because the Government withdrew their annual subvention. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will reserve the right to come to the House with a request that the grant should be carried on for a certain period in the future.
§ Mr. Willey
Surely this is a very flippant view to take of public funds. This proposal was made by the Runciman Committee, which reported two years ago. The Government are to finance the Council for two years. Surely to say that at the end of that time the industry will not be in a position to finance this Council, which has been set up for its own good, is to take a wrong view of private enterprise. Surely private enterprise cannot be wet-nursed in this way.
§ Mr. Cole
I assure the hon. Member that the last thing I want to do is to take a flippant view of public money. If this Council can do only three-quarters of what he and his hon. Friends and we on this side hope it will do, I think that it would not be a flippant view to say that it should be helped to carry on.
In this world there are things which are far more important than money, and this process should be allowed to go on for the benefit of consumers as well as growers after the two years have expired. I assure the hon. Member that I am 1440 trying to take a long view of the general set-up and future of this industry. In view of the support which he has given to various kinds of grant for production, it ill becomes him to suggest that advocating a proper grant is taking a flippant view of the use of public money.
I have tried to emphasise that since we in this country are so geared for industrial exports we must have more than ordinary regard for those parts of industry which are not geared for export, but which are vitally important not only to our economy, but for our very living, in particular agriculture and horticulture.
§ Mr. Cole
I hope that in a year or two we shall see the next step taken for the assistance of this industry. After all, Cinderella had her coach and her ball gown and later she married the prince. That is a conclusion of which most of us know. I hope that this scheme will not mean that Cinderella is left with the tickets, but no further kind of assistance for her enjoyment afterwards. Reference has been made to two ugly sisters, but I do not know where they come in.
This is a first step, not an improvisation, and I hope that as time goes on, and need is shown, the Minister will not hesitate to come to the House for more assistance for the industry as a whole. For too long, not only under this Government but under all Governments since and before the war, have the people at large and we in this House accepted the position in the horticultural industry. For too long have horticulturists had to carry on under difficulties. Many of them have given up, as is evidenced by the amount of horticultural glass which has vanished since the war. It is high time that this first step was taken and I hope that we shall take it unanimously tonight along the path towards a prosperous horticultural industry.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, Southwest)
I represent a constituency which, like that of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), contains many small farmers and horticulturists. I wish to take a slightly different view from that taken by the hon. and gallant Member, because I am sure that many engaged in horticulture in my area do not share his views on the proposals in this Bill.
1441 I think it is generally agreed on both sides of the House that this is a long overdue Measure to give assistance to this industry which has been so sadly neglected for so many years. That £7 million or £8 million is to be injected into it is very good news for most people connected with horticulture. I am not altogether certain, however, that the proposals set about assisting horticulture to the best advantage of the industry, although I agree that it is essential that new buildings for storage and packing should be provided and that in many cases existing buildings need improvement, and help for that will be very welcome. It is an important industry, as the Minister reminded us when he opened the debate. It has a turnover of £170 million, plus £100 million for potatoes, per annum.
I wonder whether these proposals will help the industry in the best way. I am apprehensive about it. Before I came to the House I was a member of the county agricultural executive committee for a number of years, and I remember how the Farm Improvements Scheme worked. It is not surprising, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely reminded us, that a high percentage of farmers who were expected to apply for assistance under that scheme in fact have not done so, for the simple reason that many of them are financially not in a position to do so.
My experience of the Farm Improvements Scheme is that people who needed assistance most were unable to take advantage of the scheme because they could not raise their part of the money needed for them to enjoy the benefit of the scheme. I wonder how many people engaged in horticulture will be similarly barred from taking advantage of grants under the horticulture improvements scheme. Many horticulturists are in a very small way of business. They are poor men. There are many small farmers in the same position.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) is not here, because I was surprised that he said that he knew of no small farmers with problems. In my neighbouring constituency I know many small farmers who have real problems. I am anxious that the people who need assistance most in horticulture should benefit under the 1442 scheme, but I am apprehensive, because I fear that many of the most deserving cases will be unable to participate, because, as with their farmer brothers, they will be unable to raise the necessary money to pay the two-thirds of the cost which they will be expected to pay.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member has misrepresented my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard). What he said was that many small farmers are also to some extent horticulturists, and he felt that this scheme had some application to them.
§ Mr. Hilton
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Member for King's Lynn. My note of what he said is that he had found no small farmer problems in his constituency. Possibly I made a mistake.
The problem of the small man in hortiture is very real. The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) referred to the many farm workers with part-time holdings. In the area which I represent, and in other areas of Norfolk and the Isle of Ely, many farm workers and others have part-time holdings, some of them of two or three acres and many of them under four acres. They are capable of producing two or three times as much as holdings double their size, but they are to be denied any benefit from the scheme unless they participate in the co-operative association. Knowing many of these small men, I believe that they are not all likely to want to participate in such an association.
Many of the small horticulturists own land which is very highly productive. They produce prolific crops which, if they could be sold at a reasonable return for the producer, would present no problem. Too frequently, I fear, they do not receive reasonable prices. Sometimes there is no sale at all. The hon. Member for King's Lynn reminded us of some of the strawberry growers in the King's Lynn area who this year were unable to sell their strawberries, although they were of first-class quality. We know that this applies to other produce. Earlier this week I was talking to a horticulturist who grows tomatoes in a small way and who told me how frustrating it was at the height of the tomato season this year when a glut of Dutch tomatoes were imported which prevented him from selling his tomatoes.
1443 If the proposals in the Bill result only in increasing production from British horticulture, they will not solve but will aggravate the existing situation. If they mean only that we are to produce more and better produce from our holdings, with no sale for the produce, it will make the situation much worse. It will be no good at all to the industry. I believe that the urgent need is for a radical overhaul of the existing chaotic marketing arrangements which allow a situation in which a producer receives only 1d. for a first-class lettuce or cauliflower, which he cannot grow at that price, when the same lettuce or cauliflower is readily sold to the housewife for 1s. and sometimes more.
I know that this is a difficult problem, but as a first step to achieving an orderly marketing system we should insist on a reasonable control of imports of horticultural produce into this country, especially when there is a glut of home produce which our own horticulturists find it difficult to sell. I realise that we cannot stop these imports altogether, nor do I wish to do so, but they should at least be restricted at times when we have plenty of home-grown produce on the market. By taking this step we should go a long way to ensure the producer a fair return for his goods.
Much has been said in support of the Bill, and I am not altogether critical of it. However, I wish to point out to the Minister at least one omission. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the many workers engaged in horticulture and paid tribute to them. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely started talking about the workers and then said that he did not believe in a wage freeze. I wondered whether the hon. and gallant Member would say that he believed in freezing farm workers' wages, but he did not.
It is the farm workers, those engaged in horticulture, who have been mainly omitted from the Bill. I refer to them because of this passage in the Gracious Speech:The well-being of all those whose living depends on the land will remain one of the first cares of My Government.I was delighted to read that passage, because it formed part of my election address. I said that, if the Labour Party were returned to power, we should see to it that all those earning their living 1444 from the land would have a better deal. I am disappointed because no benefit to the workers in horticulture is likely to accrue from the Bill.
The farm worker is second to none in this country as a worker. Farming is the oldest industry of all, going back to the Garden of Eden. Farm workers are still almost on the bottom rung of the wage earners' ladder, with a minimum wage of £7 16s. for a 47-hour week. The last time farm workers were involved in a strike was thirty-six years ago in 1923. They struck then only to try to save for themselves a wage of 25s. a week. This splendid body of workers, whom I am proud to represent in many affairs, has a truly magnificent record.
When framing the Bill to help all those engaged in horticulture, did the Minister think of the majority of those engaged in the industry, namely, the workers? If so, will he explain to the House how the Bill will benefit any of them? We are told that between £7 and £8 million is coming into the industry. The workers, who form such a large percentage of those engaged in horticulture, are entitled not only to consideration but to tangible reward from this amount.
It is proposed that there should be three workers on the Horticultural Marketing Council. Representing many of these workers, I should have welcomed a larger representation on the Council from the workers' side. I can assure the House that we shall be pleased to participate in the Council and will do our best to make it work successfully. If the workers are prepared to do this, it cannot be unreasonable to expect that they should share in some of the benefits from the Bill.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
The hon. Member for Norfolk South-West (Mr. Hilton) has mentioned two points on which I should like to comment. First, he doubted whether any great benefit for the horticultural worker would result from the Bill, but I believe that the injection of capital into the horticultural industry in this way will result in greater prosperity for it, and I am certain that the horticultural worker will enjoy a fair share of that prosperity. The horticultural worker has probably been in a worse position than the agricultural worker—
§ Mr. Hilton
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain how it is thought that the horticultural worker will benefit.
§ Mr. Prior
He will enjoy greater prosperity, because if the industry itself is prosperous it is in a much better position to pay its workers more. I do not want to pursue the question of agricultural workers' pay, because the hon. Gentleman will know that I have already expressed my views on that and have met with a certain amount of opposition as a result.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to tomatoes. There, again, I hope that we shall be able to do something for the growers. During my own General Election campaign I said that if we did not try to do something for the tomato growers they should throw their tomatoes at the next election, and I have no doubt that, if something is not done, tomatoes will be thrown.
As I say, the Bill will inject into the industry some much-needed capital. I share the feelings of hon. Members who have said that they are doubtful whether it will help the smaller grower as he will not be able to find the necessary two-thirds. Once the co-operative horticultural marketing authorities which the Bill introduces are established, could it not be carried a step or two further? For instance, once they have got going, could we not so extend them as to allow them to provide fixed equipment for such things—as my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Loveys) suggested—as quick-freezing. Quick-freezing would help to keep gluts off the market, and that is very important.
Speaking as a farmer, I find that in certain circumstances the actual crop husbandry of the horticulturist has lagged behind that of the most efficient farmers, perhaps because they have not sufficiently good equipment. If we could extend the work of the co-operative marketing authorities to let such men have tractors, rowcrop tractors and, perhaps, irrigation equipment—all under the control of the authorities—it would enable the smaller type of grower, in particular, to enjoy some of the advantages that he could not get by his own efforts.
Speaking entirely from practical experience, I wonder whether my right hon. 1446 Friend could, on the setting up of the Horticultural Marketing Council, instruct his N.A.A.S. officers to give good advice on planning. I believe that the average small horticulturist and the average farmer are always a little wary of these schemes. They do not know what they are letting themselves in for. If my right hon. Friend's officers would explain the intention, and the help that the Government propose to give, the smaller men will accept the scheme in the right spirit and get on with the job. But it is necessary that the horticultural cooperative scheme should be given an enthusiastic start by the Minister's officers. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take note of that suggestion.
I well remember when we were setting up co-operative crop-drying schemes a few years ago. Unfortunately, those schemes have "gone bust", and I hope that these others will not follow suit. I am sure that had the co-operative crop-drying schemes been better explained at the time, they would have been much more satisfactory. We always seemed to assemble in draughty rooms, with the N.F.U. representative present. I am sure that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West will remember it quite well. Those schemes got off to a bad start, and we should make an improvement in the introduction of the proposed schemes.
If the tariff had really been effective in doing its job for the horticultural industry, this Measure would not now be necessary. We must bear that in mind in our whole attitude towards the Bill. If the Government do not see that the tariff is effective, this £7½ million, again, will be money thrown down the drain. The Bill, by itself, will not be sufficient to make the difference between profit and loss for the horticulturist. I agree that it will help him, but it will not make the difference between profit and loss.
My worry—I see it very clearly in my own constituency—is that we have had trouble with bacon and fish and it may be horticulture's turn next. It is not sufficient just to leave the tariffs where they are. There will be very genuine need in the future, as there has been in the past, for increased tariffs. Frankly, I cannot see them coming. I agree with other hon. Members who have said that 1447 if, for the good of the country, we have to accept a reduction in tariffs—I believe that we probably have to accept a reduction in bacon, in fish and in horticulture—then the country and the Government have a firm and plain duty to support those affected. I feel this extremely strongly.
The Bill represents the first step towards that support, but, by itself, it cannot be the answer. Obviously, within a year, we shall be faced with greatly increased imports of vegetables. I know for a fact that the Dutch are expecting to send twice as much into Yarmouth next year as they did last year. This is going on the whole time. I know of one big chain store which did not buy a single English tomato this year; it bought them all from Holland. That decision may have something to do with our marketing, but it shows the way the wind is blowing.
If we can have an assurance from my right hon. Friend that he will not be content just to let the tariffs stay where they are, but will, if need be, support increases in tariffs, then everyone in horticulture will be very much more confident about the future than they are today. The Bill, we know, will help the horticulturist but, by itself, I fear that it will not prove to be the whole answer.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on his second speech in the House when he has so eloquently appealed for assistance to the horticultural industry.
In my constituency, Twickenham, odd though it may seem, there are a few horticulturists at Hampton-on-Thames. Fruit and vegetables have been grown in that area for about a century, and the fathers and grandfathers of many of those now in business began there long years ago.
In trying to persuade the electors of Twickenham to vote Conservative at the last General Election, which, in the end, proved not as difficult a task as I thought it might be, I painted to the inhabitants of Hampton a glowing picture of the great benefits which would be brought to them by the Minister of Agriculture under a Conservative Administration through the introduction of a horticulture 1448 Bill, through grants and through the marketing reforms we intended to introduce.
Surprising as it may seem, when I said that I was greeted with howls of derision from my horticulturists there. They said that grants, and so on, might be all right, but that the only thing which would satisfy them would be an increase in tariffs. I was told that tomatoes and lettuces had been flooding in during the summer and that foreign competition was likely to drive some people out of business in the next year or two.
I know that tariffs are not very popular in the present world. We are moving into a free trade world where we should do without them altogether. But from the inquiries that I have made I cannot see how we can help people growing smallish quantities of tomatoes and lettuces without making some increase in tariffs in the near future. I believe that an application is at present going forward from the N.F.U. to the Minister. I hope that he will support it and that he will give the union the increase for which it asks, because I would not like to go through another summer during which tomatoes and lettuces flow in from the Continent with the possibility, indeed the probability, of putting some of the horticulturists in my constituency out of business.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
First, I should like to thank the Minister for what he said about Tom Williams. I can use his name now. I feel rather nostalgic tonight because it was my job to sit behind him during many debates, not only on horticulture but on agriculture generally. I think that this is the first debate in which I have spoken or attended when he has not been present. I miss him very much, and I am grateful for the remarks of the Minister and of the leading spokesman of my party on agricultural matters, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey).
I wish to refer to issues that have been raised by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). I stress at the beginning that I regard this Measure as an important one. We cannot dismiss this major industry. If I may quote 1449 figures which were given by the Minister in an election pamphlet, we have 750,000 acres of horticultural land in the United Kingdom. Of that figure, 450,000 acres are concerned with vegetable production, 250,000 with orchard production, 50,000 with small fruit production and 4,800 with production under glass. In 1951–52, the gross output of the production of the industry amounted to £94 million. Last year, 1958–59, that figure had risen to £127 million, representing approximately 10 per cent. of the total output of our farm products.
This is a major industry which affects not merely the constituencies of the hon. Member for Twickenham, the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely and other hon. Members, but the nation, the consumer, and therefore we have a right to consider it. I regard the debate, strange to say, as very important, not because I am making a maiden speech from the Opposition Front Bench, on agriculture, but because it affects the nation and it is right that we should consider the issues raised by the Bill and also some of the main trade issues put to the Government by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely.
In my own area, we have not the problems that have been pinpointed by many hon. Members from constituencies in the South. The problems of producers in my constituency are different. I think that the problems in the County of Cumberland mainly are those of marketing and transport. We have three land settlement estates which cater for a large number of individual producers and they have organised virtually a co-operative enterprise. The others market their produce direct to consumers and retailers.
When we discuss horticulture, inevitably we must realise that it is, as has been stressed by many hon. Members today, a very highly speculative business which affects the grower, wholesaler and retailer. It is an industry which is affected more than any other by the weather.
I read a speech of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) when he was a Minister on this subject. He makes very valuable contributions to our debates on agriculture. In that speech, which he made some time ago, he 1450 stressed this point, and I stress it tonight. The weather decides the time of arrival of a crop on the market, the time it can be sold and how other crops might compete. More than that, the weather affects public taste. Obviously, the long summer that we have just experienced and the desire for salads and the like causes an alteration of emphasis on horticultural products. Furthermore, the product is highly perishable. Therefore, inevitably, when looking at this great industry, with its variety, its various functions and its variable structure, producing a perishable product, we must consider how best we can provide a measure of stability.
Whether we argue about emphasis on trade policy, tariffs, quotas, producer boards or marketing councils, the broad aim of everyone here tonight is how best we can give the industry a measure of stability, not only because of the importance of the industry, both to the producer and to those engaged in the wholesale and retail trades, but because it is a great national asset. It affects the consumer and it plays an important rôle in our balance of payments problem. The industry must be considered against that background.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely today made a terrific attack on the Minister and the Government. I promote him. He would be an excellent P.P.S. to the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke).
§ Mr. Peart
In the recent debate on the Local Employment Bill the noble Lord was described by the Minister as a Whig in his criticism of State aid. If the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely reads his own speech today, he will find that he argued precisely the same principle. It may be that he was carried away with his passion and criticism of the Minister, the Government, the Minister of Education, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. It may be that because of his passion he has forgotten that he said that he did not wish to have National Assistance for industry and he rather decried it. That was the theme of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South in the debate on the 1451 Local Employment Bill. I respect him for it and I respect the hon. and gallant Member for his view that we should be alarmed that the Government are seeking to provide State help, State control and even a measure of co-operation in a Bill which is designed to help individual producers.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I hate to interrupt the hon. Member during his maiden speech at the Dispatch Box, on which I congratulate him, but there is an important distinction between what my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) said the other day and what I said today. My noble Friend was condemning a social measure to deal with local unemployment problems. I was dealing with the national problem of whether it is ever right to bolster up industries which are insolvent.
§ Mr. Peart
The noble Lord carried his argument much further than that, and rightly so from his point of view. It was the classical argument of Hobbes' Leviathan and encroachment by the State. It is the argument which I have heard often from hon. Members opposite. I am certain that at the recent election, many of the younger Conservative Members who have come to the House for the first time argued against the menace of the State. We have never heard this doctrinaire argument advanced today.
I understand the sincerity of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely and of the noble Lord, and I respect them for it. I was rather amused when, today, they attack the Government for policies which, in some ways, are measures of public ownership introduced discreetly by the Government into national policy.
I pass to the other argument, because I know that the hon. and gallant Member was one of the first, not merely today, to introduce a note of controversy on horticulture. It was at the end of 1945 when he pressed my Minister about what was the then Labour Government's policy towards horticulture. Later, he and other hon. Members argued that when our policy was introduced and then implemented in the main Agriculture Act of 1452 1947, the First Schedule left out horticultural products. Indeed, I think that the Minister and others will recollect that during the whole of the Committee debate on the 1947 Bill some of the most vigorous exponents of horticulture and of the need for planning in it were hon. Members like the right hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who was Colonial Secretary in the last Administration.
I give the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely credit for having raised this matter over and over again and for pressing in relation to our general trade policy. What is the Government's approach? I believe the hon. and gallant Member to be right, that there are in the present Administration and in the Cabinet hon. Members who desire the liberal approach. Their speeches are on record. I know this from my own knowledge of the people concerned at the Council of Europe, which I admit is not a body for enforcing decisions in Europe. I know from my limited experience there, four or five years ago, that there are many who are prominent members of the Conservative Administration now who are in favour of the liberalisation of trade.
I was rather interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who tried to pave the way for this, even though he wanted an increase in tariffs. His words were that it may well be that in the interest of our country we should have to provide assistance for people who suffer. I think that was a fair point and that he was thinking of the horticulturists who may well suffer in East Anglia because of the flood of imports which have been bitterly criticised by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely and, indeed, were criticised by noble Lords in another place the other day.
It was rather interesting that the hon. Member probably revealed the subconscious mind of the Government in relation to tariffs. Despite the Bill and the administrative arrangements which we are making to set up a Horticultural Marketing Council, and the fact that we are to have an extension of the farm improvement grants under previous legislation and are now to have horticultural production grants, it may well be that these could be ruined by wrong trade policies.
1453 I hope that the Minister will be strong enough to resist these men in the Cabinet who I know will follow that policy. Strange to say, even though I disagree with his other approach, I wish the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely good luck in his prodding of the Government on the need to protect the home producer. My party at the last election said that it believed the home producer should be considered first. That was in the party statement. Therefore, although he has gone "right" in many ways, it may certainly be held that the hon. and gallant Member agrees with our views, and I thank him for that.
When we consider the industry we must inevitably think of import policy. There can be no effective import policy without a marketing scheme. That is where I disagree with the emphasis placed on import policy by certain hon. Members opposite. I wish to have a good import policy, a good trade policy and, above all, an effective marketing scheme. That is why we on this side of the House welcome the Bill.
We must still approach this delicate industry, which can change through variations of weather, through variations of trade policy, from the point of view of marketing. However, there are inevitably two schools of thought on the problem. There are those who believe that the consumer should be first, that the consumer should think in terms of obtaining the cheapest product even if that product comes from abroad. There are those who, on the other hand, place the main emphasis on the grower, who believe that the grower should be given the first consideration and that imports should be subordinated to his interests. In between there are various shades of opinion. I believe that the producer and the consumer can only benefit by a proper market policy. In the end, this will benefit both producer and consumer, who are not really opposed to each other. That is why we welcome this marketing Bill.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North and many other of my hon. Friends who have spoken tonight, that although the Runciman Report contains certain recommendations, it was complacent. It was complacent for the reasons given by my hon. Friend, who quoted the paragraphs 1454 on marketing, paragraph 506 and paragraph 508. I think the Minister agrees, because he said that the third prong of Government policy was to end the old existing markets, which are obsolete and which cater for a horse and buggy age.
§ Mr. Peart
They were started then and, in the main, still follow the pattern of that leisurely age, and the congestion we see every day at Covent Garden, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) is an example. We have always pressed for this change. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North time and time again over the last five or six years has pressed for better markets and has argued that there must be a better distribution of markets outside London. This is very important.
Tonight I went into the Tea Room and read the evening papers. There were great headlines about our transport problem in London. London is becoming congested. That affects the marketing of horticultural produce. There is much to be done in this respect. Although there are 23 main horticultural markets in the United Kingdom, six in London itself, there is too great a concentration of markets. I am glad that it is now recognised by hon. Gentlemen opposite that probably the only people who in the end will be able to provide the markets will be the local authorities, and we shall probably have to drastically improve markets here and there in order to facilitate distribution.
I will now deal quickly with the question of co-operatives. I endorse all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) and other speakers. It is a welcome change to know this evening that hon. Gentlemen opposite agree with us on the point. I am thinking particularly of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis), who enthusiastically agreed with the development of co-operatives for the industry. I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Guildford, that already companies formed by progressive growers have achieved success by cutting out the middle man and dealing direct with the retailer. There are many 1455 examples of success stories. The opposition welcome this approach and are very glad that a feature of this legislation is the mention for the first time in statutory legislation of co-operatives.
I want to inquire about the composition of the Horticultural Marketing Council. This is very important, because structure and functions affect each other. The Runciman Committee recommended that we should have a kind of electoral college consisting of some thirty or forty persons. I am glad that the Minister has rejected that idea, because the body would be too large. We are now to have twenty-eight members, and I feel that that is enough.
I would say to those concerned in agriculture—producers, retailers and wholesalers—that I hope the Council will not be merely a debating ground for sectional interests. This will not be easy Those who are appointed to it will tend to espouse the cause of their own organisation to carry on to the Council their own prejudices; but I sincerely hope that the body will look at the problem of the industry as a whole for the good of the nation, which will mean that now and then its members will inevitably have to subordinate sectional interests. I am glad that the Minister did not accede to the recommendation of the Runciman Committee about size, and I think the proposed number is about right, but in Committee we shall naturally ask many questions about detailed representation.
I wish also to refer to the whole question of Parliamentary accountability. When the Council comes into being and an hon. Member raises a question about horticulture, I hope there will be no tendency on the part of the Minister to say, "This is a matter for the new Council." That has happened in other Departments, but I hope that the Minister will deal by question and answer with horticultural policy details. Also, it is laid down in the Bill that we can discuss the industry on the Estimates each year. It is important that we should be able still to ask detailed questions. The whole issue of Parliamentary control and accountability is at the present moment being raised in relation to the nationalised industries and the Local Employment Bill, and the subject has previously been debated. In the important sphere of horticulture it is right 1456 and proper that we should be able to ask detailed questions about administration, and I hope we may be given an assurance about that.
There is also, in relation to the functions of the Council, the matter of research. I have retained my interest in scientific research and agricultural education over the last three or four years, although I have not been so particularly concerned about some of the problems of agriculture generally. I am interested in research in this matter. Will there be direct consultation with the Agricultural Research Council and the D.S.I.R.? This is referred to in the Runciman Committee Report. Will direct consultation be the responsibility of the Council? This is important, because we do not want too much duplication in horticultural research.
One of the problems of our main scientific programme is that there is still too much duplication, and, frankly, the country cannot afford it. I want priorities to be decided in horticultural research. I would hope that the Council would consult with the Agricultural Research Council and the D.S.I.R. I know that this has happened in the past. I once had the privilege of seeing the fruit research station at East Mailing, and there are other horticultural research institutions which have a national reputation. This new Council which will be responsible for research must co-operate with the other larger bodies to avoid duplication of effort and, above all, to see that the interests of horticulture are not neglected.
I come to another matter. Will the Council be responsible for general advisory policy? Will it also be responsible for specialists? Will there be a link-up with the National Agricultural Advisory Service or will that Service still be the main body? I know that this is important in horticulture. I would remind the Minister that the Wilson Committee of 1956, in paragraph 190 dealing with horticulture specialists, recommended that the regional horticultural staffs should be reduced. I think that was a mistake. There was, however, a proviso in the Report that there should be a corresponding accession to the strength of the counties. I hope that I may have an answer this evening that in no way will the work of the Advisory 1457 Service and the work of these people who are responsible for the training and teaching of our specialists be impaired.
I know that this is an important issue. It is a matter which we shall debate one day in the House when we discuss the De La Warr Report on Further Education for Agriculture. Many hon. Members know that already in our schools horticulture is a very important subject. If we look at the last report on education for 1958, we find that many students who sat for the General Certificate of Education in the summer of 1958 took special courses and obtained certificates in horticulture. I know that this work is done in our schools, that much of it is also done in colleges of further education, and that it is now mainly the responsibility of the Minister of Education, but will there be a direct link on this matter with the new Council? Training is important and it is something which we should not neglect.
On the question of grants, I have sympathy with the point of view which was raised by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton). We wish to see the small producer benefit. There is, however, a danger in any grant formula that the people who will benefit are the larger producers. That is true in horticulture. It is certainly the view of the N.F.U.—not that we must necessarily accept its advice—but there is no doubt that ths body, which represents many of the producers, takes this view. We have seriously to consider whether there should not be a differential. I am not myself certain about it, but I think that we should consider it. When we come to discuss the Bill in more detail in Committee, it will be a matter which we can examine more closely.
I know the difficulties of the Ministry. We are going to give lots of money, based on the farm improvements scheme principle, and give grants to those who wish to have them, but for the small producer, even if the grant is available, there are difficulties. He has not the credit facilities. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North, stressed not only the importance of marketing but also in the matter of financial assistance the need for a proper credit policy. This point has been raised 1458 by the Economist, which on 14th November asked whether this was a form of danegeld and whether the grant would be too thinly spread. The Economist went on to say:The wisest course would have been to gear the new subsidy closely to co-operative efforts for improved grading and standardisation of produce.It went on to make another general argument.
There is another point of view one can consider in relation to financial aid. Should it be geared to a specific purpose whereby producers who combine in more co-operatives would have increased assistance? I do not necessarily accept the views of the Economist. All I am saying is that the matter must be considered carefully and that perhaps we can have that re-examination.
We welcome the Bill. We have made no specific party point this evening and, unlike some hon. Members opposite, we have not been doctrinaire. We have examined the Bill objectively and impartially. My party, for which I have the honour to speak this evening, has a good record in agricultural marketing over a long period of years. No one will deny that. Even with the minority Labour Government we had people like Lord Addison.
We also have a good record of legislation on this subject. I do not want to go into details, but our policy was continued by hon. Gentlemen opposite who have followed what we set out to achieve in the post-war world. During our five-year term of office it is true we did not introduce any major Measure dealing with horticulture, but we feel that our approach in opposition has been the right one. Today, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North spoke very ably about better marketing and the importance of its structure in the provinces. Our approach has been constructive.
Many of my hon. Friends have put forward specific constructive suggestions. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not be doctrinaire in his reply. I will forgive him if he indulges in a little party propaganda now and then, but he ought to answer the main barrage of criticism which has come from his hon. Friends. That is where we are now seeing the split in the party opposite, the 1459 split between those who believe in the interests of agriculture and those who wish to follow a trade policy in the interests of industry, a policy which in the end could harm basic agriculture.
I believe that that policy is still being argued out at high Cabinet level—the Minister knows it—in view of the trade negotiations which are now going on. Is it to be the pattern of pigs and fish? Are we to see in horticulture the pattern which has been pursued already, a pattern which has resulted in our producers being harmed by cheaper food imports at their expense? My party resists that approach, and we are pleased to make our case again this evening. I hope that the Minister will concentrate on his hon. Friends who have criticised the main Government policy on this issue. We accept the Bill. We will seek to improve it in Committee, and we give it our welcome.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)
We have had a very full, and, on the whole, a very helpful debate. It has ranged over quite a number of items not contained in the Bill, as well as those that are in it, and I think that that is readily understandable because of the wide range of problems affecting the horticultural industry at this time. I will deal with as many points as I can, but I want, first, to refer to the most interesting maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot).
I am sure that we all listened with the keenest interest to what my hon. Friend had to say, particularly because of the realism that he brought to bear and his obvious knowledge of his subject. He spoke somewhat movingly of his experience in Dayton, Ohio, where he learnt quite a lot about supermarkets. I am very glad that he returned from Dayton in time to deal with the Opposition, who, I am sure, wish that he had never come back in October of this year. We, for our part, are very glad to welcome him to our debates.
§ Mr. Peart
I hope that the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot) will forgive me. It was no discourtesy on my part, but I was so concerned with making my own speech on agriculture 1460 that I forgot to compliment him on his speech. I would like to add to what has been said, because I believe that the hon. Member was born in the same town as I was, in County Durham.
§ Mr. Godber
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that tribute to my hon. Friend. I shall study most carefully the valuable points that my hon. Friend put forward and I am sure that we shall look forward to his future contributions to our debates.
I was particularly impressed with his statement that selling was more important than producing. I feel sure that from the point of view from which he put it forward there was a great deal in what he said.
I congratulate, also, the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). I am sure that all hon. Members who take part in our agricultural debates were very glad to see him at the Opposition Dispatch Box. For a long time we have known of his great interest in this subject, and his speech tonight was one that we all enjoyed. If he is able to continue making bricks without straw in the way that he was doing towards the end of his speech, when he was explaining to us so beautifully and lucidly why his party did nothing at all for horticulture in the years after the war, I think that he has a long way to go. I congratulate him warmly.
What the hon. Gentleman was too bashful to mention was that his party produced the Lucas Report, which infuriated horticulturists more than anything else. I think that was his party's contribution to horticulture in the postwar period. Apart from that, I congratulate him and perhaps I may now deal with some of the points that he raised.
The hon. Member asked me specifically about the Horticultural Marketing Council. I was glad to have his comment that he felt that the number we were proposing to have on the Council was more realistic than that proposed 1461 by the Runciman Committee. I was very glad to hear that, but the hon. Member asked also whether hon. Members would be able to ask Questions in the House about the activities of the Council. That is a matter for Mr. Speaker, not myself, and I cannot give a ruling on that.
The hon. Member also asked me how far the Council would be responsible for research, and things like the National Agricultural Advisory Service. If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman has expanded a little bit too much on the duties of the Council. The Council will not go into those functions. It will be concerned solely with the problem of marketing and will not impinge in any way on the activities of the N.A.A.S. It will be able to make representations to the Agricultural Research Council and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
§ Mr. Godber
On this point I was going more on the Bill rather than on the Runciman Committee's Report.
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his explanation. I am trying to indicate the intention of the Government in the Bill, which is not to go so far as was suggested in the Runciman Report.
Tonight, I am full of congratulations. I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) on his election to the "Shadow Cabinet"—a shadow among shadows, if I may put it in that way. We wish the hon. Member well in his onerous duties. We regard with sympathy the fact that he has to make do without having at his back a large contingent of hon. Members with a clear knowledge of agriculture. But we know that he will battle on manfully, as he has always done in the past, so we wish him well.
1462 I was a little amused when the hon. Member for Sunderland, North told us that he was somewhat critical about the Bill in welcoming it. It seemed to me rather an odd way to welcome the Bill, but I gather that he welcomes it in principle, and we are grateful for that. In the main, all hon. Members who spoke welcomed the Bill, with one exception, to whom I will refer later. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North was good enough to welcome the Bill, even though his was a grudging welcome, and we appreciate it.
The hon. Gentleman asked me particularly about the ability of the National Agricultural Advisory Service to cope with the additional duties which we are putting upon it. We have given thought to this matter. We realise that there will be a considerable amount of extra work for the advisory staff who will be involved, and that, inevitably, this will mean that there will be some reduction in the time which they can devote to other advisory activities. But the new grants may make it possible for some growers to act on the advice they are already receiving which they could not do previously because they could not afford to follow that advice, and, as a result, the opportunities provided by the new scheme for people in the industry, and for the advisory staff, will be enhanced rather than reduced.
May I remind the House that the advisory officers who will be working under the new scheme will be horticultural officers who have not been involved in the administration of the Small Farmer Scheme, the Farm Improvement Scheme, or anything of that sort, so that we feel they will be able to cope with the problems which will arise. Obviously, we shall have to see how we go, but we feel confident that they should be able to manage. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North asked about numbers. The total number of officers in the N.A.A.S. at present is about 1,500, of whom about 150 are in the horticulture section and will be dealing with this scheme.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) gave figures regarding the N.A.A.S. and questioned whether we should be able to deal with this matter. I think that some of the figures which he gave were not 1463 relevant to the argument. The figures he gave in relation to the Small Farmer Scheme had no bearing at all. I assure him that in the eastern region, as elsewhere, our advisory officers are doing a first-class job and keeping up-to-date with the work, and I think that the way the scheme has gone forward is remarkable. If anyone quotes that scheme as a precedent he should quote it in aid of this scheme and as one more reason why we should be confident that the horticultural officers can do as well. I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend found it necessary to express doubt.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I hope my hon. Friend did not take, and that the House did not take, my remarks to mean that I wished in any way to cast a reflection on the efficiency, the ability, or sound purposes of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. All I was saying was that it was overstrained by the burden put upon it by the Government.
§ Mr. Godber
I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will take note of what I have said, which shows that his remarks in relation to the Small Farmer Scheme did not reinforce the argument that he apparently says he was seeking to advance; but we shall leave it at that.
Running throughout the whole debate, started, I think, by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, we have had comment on the question of tariffs. That, I think, is natural. Although it does not arise in the Bill, it is perfectly fair to bring it forward because this is something very much in the minds of all who are concerned with horticulture today. On this subject, I must repeat that this scheme does not replace the Government's policy of using the tariff as the main instrument for supporting horticulture. My right hon. Friend said that this afternoon and I repeat it now. This is a supplementary means of support.
It is not out of place, in this context, for me to remind the House of the picture in relation to tariffs, because I think that it sometimes gets a little out of perspective. It is not out of place for me to remind the House that in 1953 and 1954 the Government increased the tariff over the whole range of horticulture. Tariff increases were made which roughly doubled tariff levels compared with pre-war. In addition, the tariff on 1464 cut flowers was again increased by about 50 per cent. early this year. The most common form of horticultural tariff is a specific tariff, during the home marketing season.
The advantage of this specific tariff is that if market prices fall the rate of incidence of the tariff increases. I consider that this provides a very real measure of protection, and gives it in such a way as to take account of the interests of the consumer. I really cannot help feeling that hon. Members too easily forget the very great measure of protection which is provided by our existing level of tariff. During the last few years, for example, the tariff on tomatoes has averaged over 30 per cent. during the critical month of July, when a considerable proportion of the home crop is harvested, and it has been substantially higher in the month of August.
To take tomatoes as an example, in August this year imports almost completely dried up; the tariff prevented them coming in. I know that prices were low, but the fact remains that the tariff is effective in these conditions. I want to make it quite clear that the scheme before the House is designed to answer problems which could not be dealt with by any tariff at any level. As has been made clear in the debate, there is room for improvement in the time of marketing and in the grading and packing of products. Unless that improvement is brought about, the home grower will not be able to benefit to the extent which he should from the skill of his growing.
I ask hon. Members to take account of the present position of tariffs. Although I know that there was disappointment when certain tariff applications were rejected at the beginning of this year, a very large number of tariffs were raised to their present levels in 1953 and 1954, to which modifications have since been made.
To return to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, he asked at one stage why we chose £7½ million as the amount for this grant. I am sure he will realise that we are entering some uncharted country here. We had to make an estimate, the best estimate we could, of what would be required to deal with these matters over the next five years. If it turns out in the event that 1465 our estimate has been incorrect, it will be possible to come back to the House. We felt this was a fair figure and one which was not unrealistic. It amounts to an average of £1½ million a year and compares with £5 million in the farm improvement scheme and is fairly well in balance. We shall have to see how we get along with that.
The hon. Member also made some play with his booklet, "Prosper the Plough" He congratulated my right hon. Friend on having troubled to read it. He should congratulate more people on having troubled to do so. Not only did the Minister read it, but it seems clear, from the result of the General Election in rural constituencies, that every farmer read it, too, and knew what to think of it. I assure the hon. Member that any time the Labour Party wish to bring out pamphlets of that sort we will gladly help to distribute them.
§ Mr. Godber
I hope that the hon. Member will take encouragement from the figures in South-West Norfolk, but I will not go further than that. I should not have thought that they were a great encouragement to him. Perhaps I should leave this slightly controversial point, although, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North was proud of his booklet, I thought it only right to refer to it.
I am sure that everyone welcomed back my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard). We were glad to hear him speak again. He made a very helpful and constructive speech, and, clearly, he has not lost the picturesque phrases which we have heard from him in the past. He asked me about the import of strawberry pulp from Bulgaria, in particular, and, while it has no great connection with the Bill, I am glad to give him an answer. I know that the imports of Bulgarian pulp increased this year, but the total imports of strawberry pulp were lower this year compared with the two previous years. The total imports were about 6,500 tons, compared with 6,500 to 7,000 tons in each of the two previous years. The imports of Bulgarian pulp rose from 600 tons to 2,500 tons, while there was a drop in the exports of other countries 1466 to us. It therefore appears that Bulgarian pulp was imported at the expense of other countries rather than at the expense of our own growers.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) asked me about the Horticultural Marketing Council and whether the Council would have powers to give advice in relation to provincial markets. Clause 10 gives the Council power to advise on the lay-out of markets and their facilities and to encourage improvement, and we envisage market authorities applying to the Horticultural Marketing Council for advice when they are thinking of rebuilding or developing their markets. The Association of Market Authorities has said that it would welcome a central clearing house for information on these matters, and I think that the Council can provide a valuable service in that way. While I understand the point which the hon. Member made about Sheffield market, which I know personally, we were glad to hear that Sheffield is thinking of going ahead, as my right hon. Friend indicated earlier, in the rebuilding of its market.
The hon. Member asked me whether the Council would have authority under Clause 10 to advise on standards. The Council will have no compulsory powers. It is an advisory body and there is no intention that it should have any compulsory powers. The hon. Member raised this point in relation to standards of grading, for example, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) was right when he said that, to him, the real power is the compulsion of the market. My hon. Friend was quite right to say that if we have these higher standards and some growers packing to them, others will be forced by circumstances to do the same. That is the most compelling argument.
We are very glad to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford back to our agricultural debates. It seems rather the wrong way round, however; the last time he took part in these debates he was in my position and I was on the back bench. It is just a change of circumstances. I am sure that we appreciate his very constructive speech.
At one stage my hon. Friend asked me about the financing of the Horticultural Marketing Council. The limit of Government finance is clearly laid down in 1467 the Bill. My hon. friend indicated that he felt that we should be prepared to make it go on for a longer period. In paragraph 19 of the White Paper, we made it clear that it was the Government's view that the Horticultural Marketing Council should be financed by the industry itself after the first two years.
My hon. Friend quoted paragraph 439 of the Runciman Report. He should also consider paragraph 428 and 429. Paragraph 428 says:We consider that, if practicable, the Council should be financed by the industry itself. People value more highly a service for which they work and pay than one which is provided for them. If members of the industry were themselves to find the money it is likely that they would be more concerned to see that it was well spent than if it were to be provided from public funds, and for that reason would take a more active interest in the activities of the Council.Having given very careful thought to this, we feel that providing this initial finance for the first two years is as far as we should go.
My hon. Friend raised an interesting point about compelling growers in cooperatives to send their products in. He made the comparison with the Land Settlement Association. I am somewhat loath to think in terms of compelling them, but we have noted the interesting point and will examine it to see whether there is anything practical in it.
I was glad that my hon. Friend welcomed Clauses 15 and 16, which, as he knows better than any of us, help to meet a very great need. The other hon. Members who welcomed them on behalf of the N.F.U. were absolutely right. We are glad to have had this opportunity of including the provision in the Bill. I hope that full use will be made of it.
The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) raised one or two points which were perhaps more suitable to the Committee stage, and I will leave them until then. However, he made one rather different point with which I will deal. He claimed that part-time horticulturists should be helped. The same arguments applied when we were considering the Small Farmer Scheme. It would be wrong for us to fritter away public money—I use those words advisedly—on part-time units, it must be for units which are or 1468 can be made viable. We must stand by that principle here, just as we did in relation to the Small Farmer Scheme.
I felt that the speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely was a little out of tune with the rest of the debate, if he will forgive me for saying so. Perhaps he takes that as a compliment. He was the only hon. Member who said that he did not want the Bill and did not like the White Paper either. As one who has been closely associated wtih the horticultural industry, I say to him quite genuinely that I do not think it helps the horticultural industry to overstate one's case. I felt that my hon. and gallant Friend did just that on this occasion, as indeed he did on the last occasion when we debated horticulture.
My hon. and gallant Friend said again today that at certain seasons even the best produce cannot be sold and that the Bill would exacerbate the position; it would encourage more higher quality produce. If it encourages more higher quality produce it will lessen the amount of lower quality produce. There will be a higher proportion of higher quality produce. Anyone who understands this matter knows that what depresses the market is the high quantity of low quality produce. That is the trouble.
This Bill, I am quite sure, will go a long way towards reducing the quantity of low-quality produce, and will, at the same time, provide facilities for the temporary storage of other produce which will keep it off the market and so lengthen the marketing season. Therefore, even accepting my hon. and gallant Friend's argument, which I felt difficult to do at times, this Bill can do valuable things and does provide valuable help.
Again, my hon. and gallant Friend used the word "charity" in relation to Part I of the Bill. That, I must reject absolutely. This is exactly on all fours with the Small Farmer Scheme and the Farm Improvement Scheme, and I do not regard these as charity at all. These are things that the Government are entitled to provide, and the industry to accept as something useful in promoting the efficiency of the industry, and we should not in any way refer to it as charity.
1469 My hon. and gallant Friend dealt particularly with tomatoes. I would not deny for one moment that in the last two seasons the growers have had a difficult time, but, of course, conditions have been unusual. In particular, the very fine weather this season—the dry summer—meant that we had a very large quantity of Channel Island tomatoes arriving in late July and early August, which certainly upset the market far more than did any imports from other sources. It was not the Dutch tomatoes that broke the market then. In the previous summer, we had the problem of very poor weather and poor quality fruit produced at home.
I do not pretend that the tomato industry is having an easy time, but I do not think it helps to over-state the case. The Bill provides possibilities for tomato growers to cut some of their costs and to achieve that higher, more uniform standard of produce that will be so helpful in marketing. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has already mentioned that one large group of chain stores now buys all its tomatoes from Holland, because it cannot get enough home-grown of uniform pack. That is true, and if the Bill helps to get back the order of that large firm it must benefit the tomato market.
Other hon. Members have put forward a number of points, and I am sure that they will forgive me if I do not go into each in detail. I would, however, like to touch on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew). He asked me a very interesting question about herbs grown in his constituency for processing. I must admit at once that I have not a clue as to what the answer is, but I should like to look at this between now and the Committee stage. It was a very tricky question to ask me.
My hon. Friend also asked about something else with which I have great sympathy. I know that his growers of Brussels sprouts have had a very difficult time, but I find it difficult to see what can be done to help them. After all, growers have to accept the risks of the weather—that has always been inherent in agriculture and horticulture—and I am afraid that I can hold out no great hopes to him. Of course, if he wished to bring a deputation of his growers to see 1470 me, I would be only too glad to discuss the subject and see just what the problem is. However, I must warn my hon. Friend and the House that I know of no way in which my right hon. Friend or I could do anything in particular to help.
This is one of the risks that horticulturists have, and I think that those representing consumers in the House should recognise, when we hear talk of high prices that sometimes, when there are high prices the growers are still getting a very poor return indeed. It is as well that that should be remembered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) asked about the minimum for any application under the scheme. The minimum is £100 for any scheme, or for any group of schemes put forward at the same time by a grower. If they reach £100, the minimum grant would be £33 6s. 8d., I suppose—to be precise—which. I think, answers his question.
I have sought to deal with as many points as possible. Many other points of detail have been raised which, I am sure, we shall all be glad to return to when we reach the Committee stage. We shall value the advice of hon. Members on them.
I cannot close without saying that I think that the debate has been a notable one for the horticultural industry, in that this is, as I think my right hon. Friend said earlier, the first occasion-certainly it is since I have been in the House of Commons—that we have spent a whole day discussing the problems of horticulture. This is definitely the first occasion for very many years on which we have had a Bill designed solely for horticulture. This is an indication of the importance that the Government attach to horticulture. Undoubtedly, the provisions of the Bill provide important opportunities in marketing and cooperation which I am confident our growers will not be slow to grasp.
The Horticultural Marketing Council, I believe, will have real opportunities to develop close liaison between the three sections of the industry and to provide the most up to date information about marketing trends and prospects. These are the opportunities which the Bill offers. Some hon. Members today have spoken about very much wider issues. I quite understand that, but, within the 1471 terms on which the Bill is brought forward, I believe that it can provide a very real help and step forward for our horticulture industry, and it is in that spirit and with that thought that I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).