§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Godber
I beg to move, in page 11, line 14, after "produce" insert:and in the national interest.Those hon. Members who were present in Standing Committee will know perfectly well what was said about this point, and I shall therefore not detain the House any longer.
§ Mr. Peart
I am grateful to the Joint Parliamentary-Secretary. This is a point which we raised in Committee, and I will not repeat the arguments except to say 429 that this Amendment is in the spirit of the original 1947 Act, from which the words were in fact taken, and I am glad that the Minister has accepted our point of view.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Godber
I beg to move, in page 11, line 20, to leave out "and" and to insert:(b) undertaking the certification of that produce, the registration of certification trademarks and the functions of proprietors of such marks; and.This is a similar point to that with which we dealt earlier relating to the Council itself. Here we are seeking to give similar powers for special arrangements to be made in connection with an organisation for home growers for which we are providing under Clause 15. It may well be that home growers will wish to advertise a particular type of produce, and it is necessary that they should have these powers in relation to certification and trade mark so that they can have something which they can really advertise. I am sure that that will meet with the approval of the House.
§ Mr. Darling
Again we must thank the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for being so accommodating and accepting so gracefully the reasonable points of view that we put forward in Standing Committee.
This matter, as the Parliamentary Secretary says, arises out of the previous discussion that we had on the grading of produce, and I think that this Amendment meets the very pertinent point that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) raised a little while ago when he asked who will grade the produce, and how it will be brought to the market after the grading, bearing in mind that there is a great deal of pre-packing and that pre-packing will be extended.
We are here giving to the Minister power to set up a producers' organisation that will do this job. I am sure that if only the producers will get together it is apparent from their co-operative organisations and associations and the demands that they make to the Minister that they can do this job better than anybody else. It is quite right that if they are willing to set up the organisation for that purpose they should have the authority to look after the grading, the certification 430 and the registration of their marks and the general advertising of home-grown produce. I think this is a very good way of doing it, and it is desirable that this provision should be added to this Clause.
There, again, we thank the Front Bench opposite. We are grateful that they have responded so well to the views that we have put forward, which shows how sensible and intelligent our views were. We have, of course, co-operated to the best of our ability to make this a much better Bill than it was at the beginning, and it was a very good one to start with.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Hare
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The objects of the Bill and its main provisions have received a very wide measure of support from both sides of the House. I can, therefore, be brief. I liked the comment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), who, just before he sat down, said that this was a good Bill to start with and that it is a better one now. I agree with him that the Bill has been materially improved by suggestions made in Committee. I am sure that all who took part in the Committee stage feel that our deliberations upstairs were in fact extremely helpful. I was not able to agree with everything that was said. I can, however, say that our discussions throughout the whole of the Committee stage were always constructive and to the point and, therefore, valuable for those reasons.
All of us on both sides of the House wanted to ensure that there was no unnecessary delay because of the importance of getting the horticultural scheme forward so that we could begin to receive applications from 1st April. I should like to thank my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite for their help in this.
The principal object of Part I of the Bill is that the new grants are intended primarily to encourage improvements in facilities for the storage of horticultural produce and its preparation for the market. I think that it can offer real opportunities for our growers to become more competitive, to show that their skill 431 in production can be matched by their skill in marketing and to give the housewife British-grown vegetables, fruit, and flowers of high quality in tip-top condition and at reasonable prices.
I have explained in Committee why we think that the grants for individual producers must be confined to businesses that can normally be expected to yield a reasonable full-time living. In a scheme of this kind, some arbitrary limits are inevitable, as I think the producers' representatives have themselves recognised. But the very small growers will not be left out in the cold. For the first time in a scheme of this kind, we have provided for grants to be available to producers collectively, as well as individually, through horticultural co-operative marketing associations.
This is a very important innovation. It gives rise to several new problems. It enters into a new field. We gave it very full thought upstairs. While we were not able to reach agreement on all the suggestions made, we did agree, without any dissentient, that the co-operatives, old and new, have a great part to play especially in helping the smaller growers. I am convinced that the provisions of the Bill will be of the very greatest value in this respect.
I should like to mention here the very strong feeling on both sides of the Committee that we should try to strengthen the hands of the producer co-operatives. The grants to central co-operative associations should help greatly in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of co-operative societies. In Committee I agreed to have a study made of a number of interesting points made by my hon. Friend, the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), and others. I have asked the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to be chairman of a Departmental working party, which I am now setting up with the following terms of reference:To consider and report on the methods and forms of association between horticultural co-operative marketing societies and their members, and whether these might be modified so as to give the societies more stability and continuity in their supplies of produce.My hon. Friend intends to waste no time. He tells me that he expects to have a first meeting in mid-March. His 432 working party will seek evidence from the agricultural central co-operative associations and their constituent societies on the horticultural side, and from other persons with a direct knowledge of the subject. I am sure that the House will agree with me that my hon. Friend will discharge this new task I have set him with his customary ability.
We had some discussion upstairs on the rate of grant under the Scheme. I was not able to agree to provide for a special rate of grant for the smaller man, for this is not specifically a "small growers'" scheme. A grant at one-third is, in my opinion, about right to encourage the kind of improvements we want to see. It is a very useful contribution towards the cost of capital improvements. It certainly has been most effective under the Farm Improvement Scheme.
There was also some discussion of the total amount set aside for grants. Again, we are breaking new ground here, and naturally have not a great deal of material to guide us. We had to bear in mind both the interests of the taxpayer and the capacity of the industry. After careful consideration of these factors, we have fixed the maximum expenditure under this part of the Bill at £8 million during the five-year period, which would require the industry to find £16 million. As I said in Committee, we think that to be about right. This maximum figure stands in its own right and is without reference to expenditure under the Farm Improvement Scheme.
Some hon. Members have expressed particular concern about the new task which the Scheme will set for the National Agricultural Advisory Service. We have given a good deal of thought to this. Some of the staff will be redeployed in particular areas, and I am hoping that various steps we have taken to encourage recruitment will increase the strength of the staff. The admirable way in which the agricultural staff has been dealing with the small farmer scheme makes me confident that it is within the capacity of the horticultural staff to deal equally effectively with the horticultural improvement scheme.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
When my right hon. Friend says that he is redeploying the National Agricultural Advisory Service, does that mean that he intends to 433 take off agricultural work certain officers and put them on to horticultural work, or is it the intention to move horticultural officers into certain areas from other areas?
§ Mr. Hare
It is the latter. This is a very specialised job, and I do not think that moving agricultural advisory officers into the horticultural field would make it possible for them to give the technical advice necessary. So it is the latter that I shall do.
I have tried to deal generally with those aspects of Part I of the Bill which seems to me to be of the greatest interest and concern to hon. Members. Even though I have not been able to accept all the points put in Committee, I shall certainly bear them in mind in administering the scheme. I am greatly heartened by the knowledge that this new and, I believe, exciting scheme has the good wishes of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Coming to Part II of the Bill, here again I think that we have been able to make quite a few improvements. There was some discussion in Committee about the composition of the Horticultural Marketing Council. So long as the Government find the money, I think that the present balance of representation is right. If experience shows that a change is desirable—possibly as a result of a scheme worked out by the Council for financing by the industry—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have the power to change the composition.
I have, as the House will well remember, been under some pressure to give representation to special interests and I have been accused of resisting this—that lay behind the Division which we had earlier this evening. I have, however, given an assurance, which I now repeat that my right hon. Friend and I intend to appoint a person capable of representing growers' co-operatives amongst the seven producer representatives. In view of the stress which we have placed on growers' co-operation in Part I of the Bill, I am sure this is right.
This leads me to the question of independent members. We have met the views of hon. Members opposite on their qualifications, but we have left unchanged their number in order to avoid upsetting the general balance of representation which we have discussed.
434 The functions of the Council are set out in the Bill. I have, however, made provision to enable the Council to go outside this list of functions, subject to the agreement of my hon. Friend and myself and subject to the undertaking which I gave earlier this afternoon.
We have made one important amendment to the Bill to extend the period of Government finance from two years to three. There is a wide measure of agreement, I think, on both sides that the industry should finance the Council, and the sooner that is done the better. I want the Council to have a real sense of urgency about this. It was for this reason that I was extremely hesitant at first about accepting the Amendment. In the end, I decided to accept it because I was convinced by the arguments put forward that two years might not be long enough for the Council to organise itself from scratch and prove its worth to the industry. This must be done if the scheme to raise money from within the industry at the end of the three years is to be accepted by all concerned. If I may say so, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford put the various points extremely clearly for the Committee to consider.
The principal associations of growers, wholesalers and retailers have recently repeated the assurance that they will do their utmost to help the Council and co-operate in devising a suitable charges scheme. I regard this as a solemn assurance. These bodies would indeed, in my opinion, be unworthy of their responsibilities to those they represent if they failed to face this challenge. I must, however, make clear that there is no question of any further extension beyond the three years or of any increase in the amount of money provided from public funds. When the three years is up, the industry must find the money itself.
Again, on Part II, I should like to refer to the organisation for publicity by British growers. I have been asked several questions about how this body would operate. The Bill provides an opportunity for growers to organise themselves to undertake publicity and related matters. The rest is up to the growers. Nothing will be done unless they want it, and, of course, they will 435 have to pay for it, although the Council will arrange to collect the money for them.
As I explained on Second Reading, this is the first major Bill on horticulture that we have debated in the House. Our discussions here and upstairs have been followed very closely by all who have the interests of horticulture at heart. This is right, when we are considering an industry of great national importance.
In Part I of the Bill, we are providing a tailor-made improvement scheme for horticulture. We shall give our growers the opportunity to improve their side of the business of marketing. In Part II we are providing machinery to bring all three sides of the industry—the producers, the wholesalers and the retailers—together round one table so that they can work together as a team to improve the later stages of marketing and distribution. This provides a unique opportunity for the industry. I am sure that those concerned will not fail to make full use of these new possibilities which can do much to improve the lot of horticulture. I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House with confidence.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Willey
Like the right hon. Gentleman, we hope that the Bill will provide new opportunities for those engaged in the very difficult occupation of horticulture. On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I express our appreciation of the attitude taken by the right hon. Gentleman to the various suggestions which have been made by way of Amendments during our discussions on the Bill. Like him, I believe that we can say jointly that the Bill is materially improved. Also, like him, we have realised the whole time that this was legislation which ought to be expedited so that the scheme can come into operation in the new financial year.
I shall not discuss the White Paper. This is an enabling Bill. As I have said before, we are greatly obliged to the Government for letting us know their intentions through the White Paper, but we shall have an opportunity on the Order to discuss the details of the scheme. We have, nevertheless, some doubts—we have expressed them already—about the scheme. Broadly, we feel that it ought 436 to have gone further to take into account the difficulties of the smaller producers and it ought to have been more flexible. We do not know whether the amount is right or not, and I do not think the Government know either. In spite of what the Minister said, we still feel that this is a hasty improvisation, not unassociated with the decision taken on tariffs about a year ago.
Whether the estimate is a good one or not, the Bill will provide a substantial measure of assistance to horticulture, and it will be a new form of assistance. We welcome that. We suggested at the time that the farm improvement grants were discussed that the idea of grants for capital improvement ought to be carried further into horticulture.
I concede at once, when we are talking about the implementation of the scheme and its effect upon the small producers, that we have a novel feature in the scheme in regard to co-operation. Again we welcome this. It represents a point of view which we have repeatedly advanced from the Opposition benches. I appreciate at once that it is easier to put forward such proposals from Opposition benches. At any rate, it is encouraging to our efforts from these benches that co-operation is accepted in this matter, and we join with the right hon. Gentleman in hoping that this will be a very successful experiment. If it is, the Government will, I am quite sure, be emboldened to carry the experiment further into agriculture.
All this means that there is a very real responsibility upon those organisations whose purpose it is to forward co-operation. They have an immense advantage now that public funds are to be provided to assist them, but we still demand from them a good deal of initiative, enterprise and vigour in a difficult task. Let us hope that what is now proposed will lead to a rapid extension of co-operation in an activity where it is particularly appropriate.
I believe that we need small producers in this work, but, if we are to have them, we equally need forms of co-operation to assist those producers in marketing. One of the important results of the Bill will be to bring the grower further into the marketing of his produce. It is absolutely essential that the grower should obtain a good return for his produce, and it is equally essential for him 437 to be able to meet the demands created by the new pattern of distribution and presentation of horticultural produce.
From that point of view, although I complain at the delay in implementing the recommendations of the Runciman Committee, the action which the Government are taking is very appropriate and opportune. They are making this provision and providing for the Horticultural Marketing Council at a time when, inevitably, there will be some very real problems to be faced in horticultural marketing. I am sure that both the assistance which is being given to the growers and the new form of organisation, the Horticultural Marketing Council, will play a very effective part in ensuring that the home grower is able to meet the new pattern of demand which is being created by the supermarkets, pre-packing and the different way in which the housewife now expects produce to be presented.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the National Agricultural Advisory Service. I wish that he would do more about this service. I do not pretend that this is an easy matter, but I think that it is something which must be tackled energetically. It has to be carried right back to the training of the Service, but I feel that we cannot go on apologising for the Service. It is becoming more and more indispensable and is getting more and more jobs to do. The time has come when we must pay a higher regard to the Service, make it more attractive and ensure not only that an incentive is given to the people in the Service but that a greater inducement is provided for people to join the Service. In passing, I may say that we have a lot to learn, for instance, from the experience of the Dutch. We should regard this not only as a technical service but as a service which can assist growers commercially and can give businesslike advice. This is important if we are to encourage growers to co-operate in marketing.
I should now like to say a word or two about tariffs. I am not trailing my coat here, and I know that this is not the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility, but it is unfortunate that we have not had the decisions on the applications made, particularly as one application was made to take effect from 1st March. I 438 do not want to cause controversy over this matter, but I do not want, and I am sure that none of us wants, the effectiveness of the provisions being made to be damaged by any disappointment that may follow from the consideration of these applications.
The difficulty is that there is different Departmental responsibility. It would have been far better to have had the tariff decisions before we considered the provisions of the Bill. Be that as it may, I hope that we can accept the assurance of the Government that they still accept the tariff as the main shield protecting the horticultural industry. I hope that the people in the industry will recognise that it is up to them to take the greatest advantage they can from the provisions in the Bill.
We have had general agreement about the Horticultural Marketing Council. Where the Minister has not followed the recommendations of the Runciman Committee I think that both sides of the House have supported him broadly in the action which he has taken. I know that there is some dissatisfaction about representation. I noted what the right hon. Gentleman said about representation. We know that representation cannot be dissociated from the financing of the Council, but I should very much like representation to remain on its present pattern.
The Council will not function unless the three sections of the industry work together. While I think that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to provide for an extension of function is right, once again I readily concede that if the functions of the Council are to be extended it will have to carry the broad agreement of the three sections of the industry. I hope that occasion to alter the representation will not arise. When we were discussing the Council I suggested increasing the independent membership. The only reason why I suggested that—and I hope that the Minister will keep the suggestion in mind—was that if there were any apprehension on the part of any section of the industry it might feel more secure if the independent element were larger. It would have sufficient confidence in its own case to believe that, if there were differences, the independent element tended to be on its side. I think that it is better to put 439 confidence in the Council. It has a very difficult job to do.
I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman reached a compromise about the charges scheme. We do not quarrel with him in extending the period to three years, but a corollary to that is that the Council should itself be obliged to produce a scheme within that time. As I believe I said in Committee—if I did not say it in Committee I say it emphatically now—I think that this is an urgent task for the Council. The sooner this matter is settled, the sooner the Council will be able to undertake its real work. I appeal to all sections of the industry to recognise that the Council is worth paying for. It has a job to do. This was recognised by the Runciman Committee and has been emphasised by the Minister. It will help not only those on the distributive side of the industry but it will also help considerably the growers.
Finally, I should like to touch upon one matter which the Minister has not mentioned. We must consider the Bill as part of a whole. We have another Bill to consider this Session. I have some doubts about the Government's present intentions as expressed in the White Paper, but if we are to get the best possible value from the grants to the horticultural industry, and if the Council is to be able to do its job effectively, we must improve the physical facilities provided for marketing. I hope that the further legislation will be complementary to the legislation which we are now discussing.
We are parting with a Bill upon which the Minister, properly, is to be congratulated. This is an all-party Measure in the sense that it has the support of both sides of the Committee, but I would not allow that to detract from the debt that we owe the right hon. Gentleman for taking this opportunity and doing something for this industry which hitherto has been somewhat neglected. Not only does the industry feel that it has been neglected but it is somewhat apprehensive about its future. Whatever the neglect and whatever the apprehension, there is no doubt that the Bill will considerably help the industry. I hope that, with good will and co-operation from all sections of the industry, the Bill will be a landmark in the history of horticulture.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Sir R. Nugent
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing into Parliament the first piece of major legislation on horticulture. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), in his felicitous speech, that the needs of this industry have been somewhat neglected compared with its bigger brother, agriculture. I am very happy to take part in debating a Bill which I believe will bring considerable benefits to the horticultural industry. Due to the accommodating manner in which my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary met almost all of us in Committee, the Bill has had a most harmonious progress, and, although we have not altered the substance of it, I think that we have made some useful contributions to it.
The form of the Bill is unchanged. The first part of it, which gives grants to horticultural growers and marketing organisations, follows the same structure as the Agricultural Act, 1947, and will bring great help to this hard pressed section of growers. The horticultural growers who grow our vegetables, fruit and flowers supply us with the highest quality produce of any country in the world—at least, when it leaves the holding, although not always when it reaches the housewife.
I add my word of anxiety about the N.A.A.S., which will be administering the scheme. I listened with care to what my right hon. Friend said, but I confess still to feeling anxiety about whether there is sufficient strength in the horticultural section of the N.A.A.S. as at present constituted. It does not make a favourable showing compared with the strength of the horticultural advisers of some of our competitors in European countries. I ask my right hon. Friend to watch carefully how these very busy men manage to shoulder this additional burden together with the heavy burden of advice for which they are already asked.
The main interest of the Bill is its second feature, the grant to horticultural marketing organisations. This is a complete innovation, and I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his courage in introducing it. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) made a felicitous remark in Committee when he said that the law 441 tended to look backwards but that we, dealing with horticultural affairs, must look forward. How right he was.
Conditions are changing rapidly in the world of wholesaling and retailing, and especially in the self-service stores. Unless our horticultural growers can be put into a better position to get their produce to the retailer in first-class condition they will simply not meet the needs of today.
The Bill, which sets out to give grants to marketing organisations, and particularly to co-operative associations, has the purpose of combining growers together to form marketing organisations with plants for grading, packing and preparing their produce so that it can be supplied direct to the big retailers and chain stores, cutting out the central markets, thereby saving time and money and, above all, saving quality so that the produce can arrive at the shop in the sort of condition in which the housewife would like to receive it. I commend my right hon. Friend on his imaginative move in bringing this Measure forward.
The problem of the grower in this country particularly, and, I suppose, of the horticultural grower everywhere, is the perennial one of the small man whose produce comes intermittently and who is in much too small a way of business to deal direct with the retailer. He cannot guarantee a supply either in quality or in quantity. Unless he can combine with somebody it is beyond him to enter into contracts. As has been said already by my right hon. Friend, the Bill takes the grower a considerable step forward down the chain of distribution towards the consumer for whom he grows his produce.
My right hon. Friend referred to our interesting debate in Committee on the new Clause that my hon. Friends and I brought forward which sought to give to horticultural co-operative societies greater powers to bind their members who have contracted with them to supply produce more closely in keeping with their contracts. The history of horticultural co-operatives is that growers all too often do not keep their contracts and thereby completely sabotage the societies in the ma king and keeping of their longterm contracts with the big wholesalers and retailers with whom they wish to deal.
442 We made the case that horticultural societies needed stronger powers. The particular powers that I advocated were that they should have power to impose as a condition penalty damages in their contracts with growers. Although my right hon. Friend did not accept our argument, his agreement and his announcement today to set up his Departmental committee under my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is a substantial concession, for which I warmly thank him. It gives a chance to look in detail and objectively at this difficult problem. I quite accept that to legislate in the way that we were asking would be to make an exception in the face of well-established commercial practice, and, indeed, an exception in the constitution of our commercial trading practice. Therefore, that could not be conceded unless the case for doing so were overwhelming.
I believe that the result of the forthcoming inquiry will be to show that such an exception is justified. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is starting his first meeting next month and that he will be given evidence by the bodies which are connected with the growers' co-operatives. I hope he will also find time to pay a short visit to the neighbouring European countries—Holland, Belgium and Denmark—where he will find how they have managed to build up their growers' co-operatives to the tremendous trading strength that they now have. He will see that it is their great trading strength which gives them competitive power to put their produce on our markets and take an ever-increasing share away from our own growers.
I urge my hon. Friend to find time to make that inspection, because my case is that our growers are continuously threatened by their competitors in those countries taking a greater share of our market from our own growers. I want to see our growers given similar powers through the co-operatives to those which our competitors have, so that we can at least hold our own in our own markets. I again thank my right hon. Friend for the concession he has made to us. It is now up to the Agricultural Co-operative Association and others concerned to make their case to my right hon. Friend.
The third feature of the Bill is the Horticultural Marketing Council. We 443 had a considerable discussion about its composition and I urged the case for stronger representation for the growers. I quite accept my right hon. Friend's contention, however, that at present, whilst he is finding the finance, the constitution is about right. I also accept the point made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North. The Council will succeed or fail on whether it manages to work as a team. If it is only to be representative of the different interests it will never do the great things that we expect of it. I quite accept the constitution as it now stands and I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's willingness to review the constitution when the Council comes forward with its self-financing scheme.
Although I am anxious about the Council's difficulties in designing a self-financing scheme, I quite accept that the industry should finance itself. I firmly place my support behind my right hon. Friend the Minister in saying that once the Council is set up in this way it has a strong moral obligation to proceed to do so, so that it can continue in existence to serve the whole horticultural industry, both its producing and its distributing sides.
There are great opportunities, and it is not possible to make a success of the horticultural industry without such a Council, which is fully representative of home growers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers and importers who together can co-ordinate the many and complex interests concerned. I hope to see the Council progressively going from strength to strength in the years ahead. I again congratulate my right hon. Friend for coming forward with the proposal to set it up. As the Bill leaves us I send with it my best wishes for its success, and I hope that the House will be willing to give it a Third Reading.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Darling
A little while ago I said that this was a good Bill which had been improved in Committee. Indeed, I confess, as I think my hon. Friends would confess that when the Bill first appeared I was surprised to see how many of the ideas which we on this side of the House have been advocating for so long had been incorporated in it.
There are two reasons why these ideas are there. The Bill is based in large 444 measure upon the conclusions of the Runciman Committee, and it was quite obvious that, under the pressure which we were putting on the Government to implement their promise to do something about that Report, at some time or another we would get some such legislation, but it was obvious that it would not appear before the General Election. I have no doubt that in their wisdom the people responsible for drafting the Bill drafted it in expectation of a Labour Government being returned so that they would not have to redraft it after the election.
The fact that the Bill incorporates many of our ideas is borne out by the criticisms levelled against it by the arch-Conservatives who represent some of the rural areas and who sat in the Standing Committee and subjected the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary to a great deal of criticism. They thought that the Minister was going much too far in the powers given to the Horticultural Marketing Council and in the other constructive measures in the Bill. The only other reason—if I have produced the wrong ones so far—for the Bill being so good and for its incorporating so many of our ideas is that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have now become completely converted to the Labour views which we have been advocating for so long. It is nothing new to have the Conservative Party stealing progressive ideas and passing them on as its own. It has been doing this kind of thing for generations.
We on this side of the House welcome the Bill, and I particularly welcome what is a revolutionary element in legislation dealing with horticulture or agriculture. I think that this is the first time that such positive assistance has been given to co-operatives in agriculture or horticulture. I am certain that this is the first time that financial assistance has been proposed to be given to a central horticultural co-operative association to promote, encourage and facilitate the setting up of horticultural co-operatives. This is an innovation which we greatly welcome and it will be interesting to see the consequences that flow from it. I hope that the results will be as good as hon. Members on both sides of the House and of the Committee have expected.
445 I would quarrel with one point which the hon. Baronet the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) put forward a few minutes ago. I do not object to the suggestion that the Parliamentary Secretary should go overseas to see how co-operative organisations operate in other countries. I am all in favour of members of the Government and of Members of Parliament travelling abroad as much as possible. It would do them good. I have no doubt that it would do the Parliamentary Secretary good, but it is not so much Members of Parliament or Ministers who ought to be encouraged to study these matters abroad but producers and growers in this country. I mentioned this point when we were dealing with grants to be given to co-operatives. The sum of money is completely inadequate, but I hope that some of it will be used to help representatives of embryonic co-operatives to go overseas to see how the job is done in the best co-operative organisations in various European countries. It would be an excellent idea.
The Bill is only a beginning, and I hope not only in horticulture—for it contains provisions and ideas which should be extended and applied widely in agriculture generally. We must see how the Bill works in helping production and in getting growers to make a better job of growing and bringing stuff to the market. But we must also see to it—and a great deal of pressure is needed in this—that there is a cleaning up of the produce marketed and that it is brought up to the standard which the industry requires. I agree with the hon. Member for Guildford that as far as possible we want to reduce the number of middle men between grower and retailer. I do not want to labour this point, but a modern produce market provides better opportunities of doing that. With the handling of the stuff in the market and particularly the storage being done on a big enough scale, and the produce marketed efficiently, there is the right kind of contact between growers and retailers to enable one to begin to reduce the number of operators.
I am confident that a great deal of the success of this Measure will depend on whether the Horticultural Marketing Council uses its influence to improve the produce marketed. We cannot anticipate further legislation now, but we need something more than just a Covent 446 Garden Bill when we come to tackle this problem. We must look at that aspect of produce marketing in a much bigger way to make a success of these provisions. Not merely Covent Garden alone but all the produce marketing in the country needs to be cleaned up, made more efficient and cheaper so that both growers and consumers can be helped.
We shall see how the Bill works out. I do not expect that it will be subjected to much further amendment when it proceeds through another place. It will come back here much as it is now, and the sooner we get it into operation, the sooner the measures in it are being used for the benefit of growers and consumers, the better.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I remember Mr. Tom Williams, the former right hon. Member for Don Valley, once saying that Governments are like wheelbarrows—they go when they are pushed. The Bill reminds me very much of a wheelbarrow, but the trouble is that an attempt is being made to push it by holding the wheel in one's hand. I am quite certain that the Bill will be effective only if we are sure that the Government's trade policy is right at the same time. At the moment we know perfectly well that it is far from being right where growers are concerned.
Perhaps the Government will produce an answer for me, which so far they have not produced spontaneously, to the question whether there is a single Clause in the Bill which is likely to cure the principal trouble from which the main part of the glasshouse industry is suffering today, namely, the importation of Dutch tomatoes in May and June? It seems to me that the object of the Bill is to make possible more efficient production, and there is a considerable chance that as a result of the Bill there will be an increase in British production. If I were sure that the improvement in quality of that production as a result of the Bill would be so great that when the production came on to the market it would be bought by the consumers instead of Dutch tomatoes, I should feel differently about the Bill, but I do not feel that; I only wish I could.
In this connection one figure is worth mentioning. Does my right hon. Friend 447 really believe that the Bill can do anything to prevent the following happening? In 1954, 4,162 tons of Dutch tomatoes were imported, and by 1959 the figure of imports had increased to 10,740 tons. That is the measure of the increase. Does my right hon. Friend really believe that the Bill will stop that happening?
A great deal of mention has been made of the Bill being two prongs of a three-pronged attack on the problems of the industry. One prong is represented by the grant, the second prong is represented by the Horticultural Marketing Council and the third prong will be the Covent Garden Bill later on. There are two traditional figures who bear a trident. One is called Britannia and the other was that rather disreputable old internationalist, Neptune. If I were sure that these three prongs were British through and through, I should be happy, but I am afraid that the Bill smacks far too much of an alternative, rather than an addition by which the horticultural industry is to be supported.
I know that over and over again we have had reassurances about tariffs being the main measure of support, but I say that the testing time is coming. There is something in what was said earlier by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), namely, that it is a pity that before we have the Third Reading of this Bill we have not had the decision on the present tariff applications. I wish we had. I reserve judgment on what I shall finally do about this matter until I see the result of those applications. As far as I can see, the Bill will do nothing to solve the principal problem of the industry.
I should like to know exactly where we are going with it, because already I see in the Vote on Account, which was mentioned yesterday in the House, that on page 6 under Class VIII there appears a footnote about the £3,700,000 to be voted on account in respect of Agricultural and Food Services. It states:Of this sum £250,000 is dependent upon the passage into law of the horticulture Bill now before Parliament.There are a number of fronts on which this expenditure can be made. There is Clause 2 of the Bill which deals with the grants and the limit that can be spent upon them. Then there is Clause 11 (5) 448 which deals with the financing of the Horticultural Marketing Council. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the £250,000 that is being asked for and voted on account is to be spent at once on setting up the Horticultural Marketing Council, at once paying out grants, or doing a little of everything? My belief is that once the Minister has accepted the three-year period for spreading the support for the Horticultural Marketing Council, which anyway is a limited sum, he will have to face in the end the fact that it will cost him more than he thought originally, and he will have to come to Parliament for more money.
My own belief is that the better part of the Bill is that which concerns the Horticultural Marketing Council, provided that it is asked to do the right things and has the right representation on it. I spoke about the grants scheme during the Second Reading debate. It has come out of Committee in much the same form as it went in. I think that the Minister was right, if he had only a given sum, not to increase the amount of grant to the smaller men. Once he has a ceiling fixed on what he can spend, it is important that where he spends it there should be some hope of it doing something. The more that is given to one section, the less there is for others, so for that reason my right hon. Friend was probably right.
I dislike the grants scheme. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary took me up during the Second Reading debate and said that he thought it was unrealistic to refer to the scheme as a National Assistance scheme for horticulture. What else is it? Who is it who is doing the helping? From my view it is exactly on a par with an individual, once-for-all grant under National Assistance. What has brought it about and made it necessary? Is there anything in the Bill which will prevent exactly the same set of circumstances arising in the future? I believe not.
I believe we are getting into the most extraordinary frame of mind in this country. It appears that a new formula is being spread throughout Government Departments and now, alas, it has reached the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The formula 449 runs something like this: take an industry which was set up originally in the days of trade discrimination and now finds itself in difficulties because of the move towards free trade. We then ask how much of the commodity that the industry is producing, or the service that it is rendering, is required by our people? Then we ask what can we rely upon coming in from abroad? We then subtract the second from the first and we are left with a difference, and the difference is what we then expect the home industry to produce. If, however, the home industry is already producing more than that, we have to scratch our heads and decide how much money from the public purse we will pump into that industry to bring production down to the size needed to meet the difference.
There are infinite variations of this theme. We have seen them in the case of cotton, steel and shipbuilding. Now I am afraid we are seeing them in horticulture, and my belief is that these are the economics of a lunatic asylum. I believe the country will rue the day when it did this and, most tragic of all, that those whose hopes have been most raised will be the most disappointed of all.
I say again what I said in the Second Reading debate, that I believe the Bill will make sense only if the trade policy of the country is right; and that until the trade policy is right, to introduce this Bill, which involves using public funds for the purposes of grants, is robbing the Exchequer, robbing the taxpayer, and in the end doing nothing whatever to cure the thing which is principally wrong. I hope, therefore, that at an early date we may see a satisfactory outcome of the tariff applications. As I have said, unless there is a satisfactory outcome, I am afraid that some of us will find it even more difficult than I do tonight not to vote against the Government.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Bullard
I welcome Part I of the Bill. I am glad to follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who is also my representative in this House. I find myself in some disagreement with him over this part of the Bill, though I am absolutely with him in regarding the tariff as the main shield of horticulture. Unlike him, however, I regard the Bill as 450 an addition to, and not a substitution of, tariff protection.
I am relying on the fact that the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will ensure that the tariff cases are properly and fully examined. Not only that, I hope that they will also watch the importation of horticultural produce here under various trade agreements. It is in the certain knowledge that the horticultural industry will receive favourable treatment from that angle that I support Part I of the Bill.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I hope that while the hon. Gentleman is insisting on all this examination he will also examine what would be the result on the housewife and her purse if very high tariffs were introduced.
§ Mr. Bullard
I think that all the tariff concessions that I wish to see may well have a beneficial rather than a harmful effect on prices to the housewife. If I had not that in mind I certainly would not support the proposal, because I have no wish to see food prices raised to the consumer.
I share the doubts of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) about the possibility of finding the horticultural advisory officers to administer the grant provisions of the Bill. In the Standing Committee I asked whether the Agricultural Land Service could not perform part of this function. It seems to me that where buildings and roads are concerned, there we have a specialised service which is already qualified to deal with the matter. I would have hoped that there could have been some very close liaison in administration which would have enabled the Agricultural Land Service to use its qualifications in order to make the administration of the grants easier.
I hope that when a scheme is drawn up my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will try to help the smallest growers to the fullest extent possible. I am not sure that I can subscribe to the view expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely that the Minister has been right in refusing to take in the growers who are still smaller than those who are likely to be included in the White Paper scheme.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I must interrupt my hon. Friend on that point. Perhaps we are at cross purposes here. What I said was that the Minister was right not to make a 50 per cent. grant to the smaller growers who will get only a 33⅓ per cent. grant.
§ Mr. Bullard
That is a different point. Probably we are at cross-purposes. I do not want to enlarge differences which I have with my hon. and gallant Friend, because I agree with him on so much.
I still believe that the very smallest growers have opportunities to improve their equipment, plant and so on which can be helped by means of grants. Certainly, this will not be anywhere near the most costly of the schemes. In fact, it will be the cheapest. Therefore, I hope that we shall see the scheme weighted as far as possible towards benefiting the smallest growers.
With regard to Part II, I have been critical at the various stages of the Bill about the proposals for setting up the Horticultural Marketing Council. However, now that we have reached the Third Reading, I wish the Council the very greatest success in the work which it will undertake. I have no doubt that there is a job to be performed here, and that it is essential to find the right body to carry out the improvements.
I look at the matter historically. I have watched the progress of agricultural marketing organisations for a number of years inside and outside the House. I supported the apples and pears marketing scheme when it was before the House. It was subsequently rejected by the growers. There has always been, and properly should be, debate as to the proper form of organisation to set up. There cannot be any doubt that in setting up the Horticultural Marketing Council we are doing something which is new and unusual. I do not by any means condemn it on that account, but I think that we are in order in looking very carefully into the actual constitution of the Council. I have felt, and still feel, that the growers' representation upon it is insufficient. I felt that in Standing Committee, and I have remained unconvinced by what I have been told since. I believe that subsequent experience will prove what I say to be true.
452 The primary case which I would make about it is that the growers have the major changes to make, and I think that the people who are qualified by experience in the actual growing of the commodities are those who ought to have the biggest say in bringing about the changes which will be necessary and will have to be made if foreign competition is to be met.
Therefore, if I have been critical of the proposals it is of the details rather than of the main matter. We shall now be setting up the Council, and I hope it will be constituted with the greatest possible speed and that it will be successful in its work of helping to reorganise our horticultural marketing system.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I congratulate the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary upon the happy stage that we have reached with the Bill this evening. If I may do so without presumption, I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and the other members of the Standing Committee for the part which they played during the consideration of the Bill at that stage.
Towards the end of his speech in moving the Third Reading of the Bill, my right hon. Friend said that this was the first Measure of its kind brought before this House. I believe that to be true. By that token, I suggest that we should be all the more observant for matters which we may have overlooked because we have had no precedents in this sphere. Consequently, I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep his mind open about the development of the Bill and what it can do for the industry.
I hope there will be speedy action in implementing the grants side of Part I. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) referred to the £250,000 included in the Vote for this year. I hope that we shall have that money, or some of it, spent, under proper authority, on the grant applications. I realise that they have all to be made in the first five years, but I hope that we shall not wait anything like five years before we find applications being made to the Ministry.
453 I join other hon. Members in the concern which they have expressed about the horticultural advisory officers. The implementation of the Bill will rest very largely upon the wide and efficient shoulders of those officers. From what has been said at earlier stages of the Bill, my right hon. Friend will be conscious of the truth and importance of that. Therefore, I hope that side by side with what we are doing in the Bill itself we shall be able to do something for that service. I believe that my right hon. Friend wants to do so, and I am sure that we shall all support him if he does so.
I return to a point that I have made several times, and I make no apology for repeating it. During the proceedings on the Bill I have been conscious, and have lost no opportunity of reminding hon. Members, that while the Government are finding £8 million or £8¼ million in grants for approved cases, the growers will have to find twice that amount—£16 million or £16½ million. That is a very considerable sum of money from the specialised side of this industry. It represents a very large undertaking. Since the obtaining of the £8 million in grant from the Government in five years depends, among other things, upon £16 million being forthcoming from the growers, I am a little worried about the successful application of the Bill, which is very near to the hearts of all of us.
That brings me to the next point, which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North made on Second Reading, and which some of us have made since, and that is that I hope that my right hon. Friend will address his mind to the possibility of some kind of credit facilities for those in the agricultural world in the not-too-distant future. This is not a unique or original thought. It obtains in other countries. I see no reason why, if lack of such facilities should be a stumbling block to the successful implementation of the Bill, we should not consider their provision.
Part II of the Bill deals with the Horticultural Marketing Council and the word "revolutionary" has been used for it. It is a progressive development and a very necessary one for the future of the industry. We should have had some such body many years ago. It is a pity that we have not had it. I endorse 454 the remarks that the future of the Council lies in its own hands.
For the first three years the Government, with its subvention of £250,000, will be taking the Council through its infancy, but after that it will have to prove its own justification. I believe it can do so, but the point that struck me particularly was that, if it is to be a composite body consisting of a number of people from various sections of the industry which meets regularly and employs officers and does no more than that, I do not think it will carry out its functions or that it will be successful. If, on the other hand, it takes on something for which we have precedents in other walks of life—a certain spirit, a determination that it will take that part in the work of the industry which no other body can take—and has the blessing of the Government and this Bill behind it, it has a fair chance of success. Its first two or three years will be vital in their effect on its future.
If, however, it is to be torn apart by differences of view, by over-emphasis on the particular points of view of its several constituent parts, then its future will be embarrassed. I do not pretend to tell the future members of the Council what they should do, but they will have to look upon it as an inescapable, vital function for the industry as a whole. If the Council acts in that spirit it will have the success which we all hope it will achieve.
I want to say a few words about the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely. I am sorry he cannot be here to hear them. I think he is bending over too much in one direction, rather as some of us may be bending too far in the other. While it is quite possible to imagine that the injection of money into the industry is the whole answer to this problem—and, of course, it is not—on the other hand, the injection of a higher tariff policy into horticulture is not the whole answer either. It is no good having a high system of tariffs if one needs some home assistance for the benefit of the industry itself. What we want is a happy combination of both means of support. We have now, in this Bill, the means of support in regard to assistance to our home industry. I hope, in common with my hon. and gallant Friend, that the Minister and the Government will see fit to 455 do, by and large, what the horticulturists want in tariffs in regard to incoming produce.
I do not think it is generally realised how very competitive the horticulture industry is. It is probably as competitive as any industry in the country in its products for home consumption. The consumption of the type of product, not the amount, is already guaranteed because it is our food, but there are a number of other countries who specialise in this particular part of agriculture. In face of that, we want to see our own horticulture industry prosper and thrive. Of all the problems we have in our industries, both home and export, this one is possibly the most intractable. It is not insoluble and I do not believe it rests upon one solution or another, but on a happy combination of a proper amount of tariffs and quotas for incoming produce and at the same time the strengthening of our own industry at home, so that we can have a healthy industry and reasonable and proper prices for the consumers. That is the problem and it is not beyond the wit of the Government and this House to find a solution. I think if we try to emphasise one angle or another we do damage to the whole case.
This is the first time the House has seen the Third Reading of a Bill of this character and this can be a very great day for the industry. I believe the industry has considerable hopes and, naturally, some caution. It can be a very great day for the industry if the Bill is implemented and if it does all we hope that it will do. I hope very much that the aspirations and the optimism of all of us about its possibilities will be more than fully justified.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Prior
During the Second Reading debate my right hon. Friend talked about the three-pronged tariff. At the time I did not think the prongs would be at all sharp, but, having sat through the Committee stage, I am now satisfied that they are considerably sharper than we could, at one time, have expected. I welcome the Bill and believe it will do a very good job in the industry. It has come just in time. Not only have we this increased competition from Europe, but I have been amazed in the 456 last few weeks by the tremendous increase in artificial products, such as flowers. The number of really good artificial flowers one is seeing nowadays makes it all the more important that the industry should look to its means of developing itself very fully.
There are three matters on which I am not entirely happy. The first is the the grant for the small horticulturist. I think myself the grant could be bigger than 33⅓per cent. I am satisfied that my right hon. Friend will keep his eye on this problem and, if he finds that more is needed, will come back to the House. I believe the small horticulturist can borrow money without a great deal of difficulty, provided he is solvent and a go-ahead sort of chap. I do not believe that a credit organisation could help him very much more than the banks, and I think the banks are the best judges. I would like to leave that one alone as it is.
The second point is producer representation on the Council. What has worried me is the question of who is to provide the money under the system of charges that has to be introduced. Some of us feel that the producer will be the one to provide the money and that therefore he should have had a bigger say. I shall be quite happy if the producer does not have to provide all the money, and I hope that the other sections of the industry will play their part. I wish the Horticultural Marketing Council good luck and I hope that it will do a good job. Certainly there is need of it.
The most important issue in the Bill concerns co-operative marketing businesses. I believe that these are the forerunner of a very much larger scheme which in time will have to be introduced for agriculture, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) has fought hard for us on this question of the penalty clause for growers who do not fulfil their contracts to a co-operative concern. This is a very important point, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is leading a Committee which will look into the whole problem. I hope that he will go to Europe, and to Belgium in particular, because seven years ago they were faced with the same problem as that which faces us now. They have met it very well and are developing very much more along these lines.
457 We are all worried about the level of tariffs. I should like to see greater support given to the industry by tariffs, because I believe that a higher tariff would help horticulture and would be of no disadvantage to consumers. The consumers' interests, mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), are well looked after, and there is no doubt that unless we have a strong horticulture industry at home, although we may have all the cheap imported produce we like at the moment, the time may come when the market suddenly rises and the home consumer is left to pay the increased prices. I feel very strongly that the best safeguard for the consumer in this country is to see that we have a prosperous and healthy horticultural industry.
I give the Bill every support. I hope that the horticultural officers of the N.A.A.S. will visit these horticultural meetings and sell the Bill to horticulturists. That is very important. I do not think that it will be sufficient for the Bill simply to be published and the details announced, and I hope that, in the same way as was adopted for the Small Farmers' Schemes and the long-term improvement grants for the farming industry, the Ministry will make it possible for horticulturists to find out as much as possible about the Bill.
We are dealing with a very independent type of person—a person who as a rule does not attend meetings and who thinks of himself as being very much on his own. This type of assistance is to be available to him, but he may not feel that he can take advantage of it, and I very much hope that the Ministry officials will go round the industry and speak for the Minister, as I feel we all ought to speak for him in this respect from this time onwards.
The Bill has a very important job to do. Despite all I said about it in Committee, I hope that the Horticultural Marketing Council will be a successful body. I also hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will find some way round the existing law of this country which will enable co-operative concerns to be set up and run on a proper basis, because to my mind the whole future of all marketing of horticultural and agricultural produce lies in this.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Cleveland)
I will be brief because as the debate has proceeded I have eliminated from my notes the points which have been made. One thing which has struck me in the debate has been the use of the word "super-market". I wondered whether hon. Members knew what was the accepted technical definition of a supermarket. A super-market is a food store of over 2,000 sq. ft. in selling area which sells all food items, including fresh meat, by self-service. That is completely different from the American definition of a super-market, which is a food store which has a turnover of 300,000 dollars a year.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
The definition has been made by the Self-Service Development Association, a body of people interested in self-service in this country.
I welcome the Bill because improved marketing is the most important angle to horticulture. The industry has needed it for years, and it has been needed by the retailers and customers of this country. I am also glad that the Bill goes as far as it does. On Second Reading I was frightened that the Bill might put marketing in a straitjacket. Marketing in this country will see colossal changes in the next few years. I have been in Committee on the Bill, and I was glad to discover that the Bill will in no way put the marketing of horticultural produce into a strait jacket.
I am also delighted that the Horticultural Marketing Council will eventually be self-financing. I am sure that that is right. The private grocers of this country, who are in extremely severe competition with each other and with the multiple stores, are joining in voluntary chains. This has been done of their own initiative. I wish that in the past the horticultural industry had taken such steps as the grocers of this country are taking.
I am sure that the Horticultural Marketing Council must take full advantage of all the changes in retailing and in marketing. I look forward to better grading, the extraction of field heat, the carriage of horticultural produce in refrigerated vehicles, pre-packaging and, probably most important of all, when 459 co-operative marketing concerns have been organised, the adoption of brand names. In my view, brand names are a complete guarantee for the customer. They provide a much better guarantee than putting one customer, possibly a lady, on the Horticultural Marketing Council, because when brand names are used they are a guarantee to the customer that some standard of quality is being maintained in the articles sold.
I hope that the horticulture industry will take full advantage of the Bill, which I welcome.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Collard (Norfolk, Central)
I intend to direct my few remarks to the part of the Bill which deals with the Horticultural Marketing Council. We discussed at length in Committee the functions, finances and composition of the Council, and these matters have also been touched on earlier this afternoon. If my remarks seem at all critical, I emphasise that they are not intended to be unhelpful but perhaps they will underline one or two fears which have been expressed by one or two of my hon. Friends this afternoon.
This is a producers' Bill. Not everybody will agree that that is so, but it is intended to succour the producer because the tariff policy has not altogther managed to do all that was hoped of it. It is not the case that any retailers, wholesalers or importers would be seriously troubled if the Bill were not passed, but it is the case that some producers—not many, I hope, but some—might go out of business but for the Bill. I say that it is a producers' Bill, and it is none the worse for that.
Like many hon. Members interested in the matter, I have canvassed as diligently as I could the opinions of producers, both in my constituency and elsewhere. In particular, I have canvassed their opinions on the Horticultural Marketing Council. I am sure that my experience is not unique when I say that the producers as a whole are sceptical about the Horticultural Marketing Council. They tend to be prepared to accept it now because the Government pays to start with, as they thought, for two years, and as it will be now, for three years. They tend to regard it as a quid pro quo for what they regard as the real meat of the Bill, namely, Part I.
460 Producers' interest in the Horticultural Marketing Council is essential if it is to succeed. It was largely for that reason that in Committee I felt obliged to support an Amendment which would have given producers a larger representation on the Council. It is essential that their interest in this Council should be a lively one. If it is not, the Council will fail in its purpose.
I recognise the difficulty of writing the duties of the Council into the Bill when we have had no experience of the working of that body. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) referring to the rather hopeful series of present participles which make up their duties as far as can be seen at present. I fear that the Council may suffer from emasculation as a result of the conflict of interests on it. For that reason, I regret that predominance has not been given to the producer.
I accept the need for this Council, even if it had not been recommended by the Commission, because, if Government money is to be voted by this Measure to the horticultural industry, it is essential that some such body should be set up to co-ordinate its affairs and help it make the best use of the grant. My only question is whether its duties are of the right kind. The duties written into the Bill are not very positive. It may well be that the Amendment which my right hon. Friend moved this afternoon will extend those duties as a result of experience and make the Council a more positive body, but I am strongly opposed to it being permitted in any way to enter into trade. In parenthesis, I would say that one of the duties mentioned, namely, that of publicity, seems to be one of the more positive and important duties that it may have to carry out.
The Council will have a staff and, in the nature of things, the staff will do most of the work. I hope that they will not be unduly office-bound. I hope that the staff will regard themselves more as field officers and not as people who should work in an office and write memoranda. In fact, to start with, it might be better if the Council had no office at all. I suppose that it is necessary for the Council to have some sort of headquarters, but I hope that at the beginning they will be modest and fairly humble.
461 It is generally considered that bodies of this nature do their best work in the early stages when they are, so to speak, clinging to life and perhaps are working in nissen huts. We have it on the authority of Professor Parkinson that the moment a body such as this moves into palatial offices that is the beginning of its decay. I hope the Council will start in a fairly humble and modest way. We shall be affronted, and certainly the people who will pay the money in the future will be affronted, if the Council sets itself up in some palatial office from the word "go".
I am glad that two of the three prongs of the weapon are included in the Bill. I welcome unreservedly Part I of the Bill as being the first Parliamentary step to benefit horticulture. I hope that when the Bill becomes law it will be possible to proceed quickly with the implementation of Part I. I sincerely hope that the Horticultural Marketing Council, set up under Part II, will prove to be a success. I thought it right to express certain misgivings about it. I hope therefore that in contrast to Part I the Government will be happy to move along rather more cautiously with Part II and with the setting up of the Council, and will, if necessary, and if experience shows it to be desirable, be prepared eventually either to drop it altogether or to change it considerably.
With that qualification, I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Peart
We are now at the end of our long discussions on the Bill, and, like every other hon. Member, I should like to congratulate the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. We have had a good, common-sense debate in the House following our discussions in Committee, and although views were expressed which cut across all party ideological prejudices, I am sure that the Bill has been improved by our constructive arguments. I congratulate the Minister on bringing in the Bill, and from an Opposition point of view we believe that we have made our contributions to it. We have tried to improve the Bill. We have voiced criticisms here and there, but only in an endeavour to improve the Bill Clause by Clause, and as we seek to give the Bill a Third Reading today we are certain that it has been improved by our efforts.
462 Even at this late stage there are one or two points I should like to stress before we give the Bill a Third Reading. I endorse the views that have been expressed this afternoon about Part I. I approve of Part I, but I am worried that the small producers will not get the benefits. I hope that I am wrong, and that in the administration of the scheme and the giving of grants for improvements all producers will be able to take advantage of it. Producers are to be given a grant of a considerable amount, but we must remember that producers themselves will be providing a large amount of capital over this period—about £15 million.
The small producer may be in difficulty. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said that banks are available for cheap credit and hinted—
§ Mr. Peart
I use the word "cheap" in that sense. We always use that term. I think the Tory Party's agricultural charter uses the term "cheap credit". I do not want to be sidetracked too much, but that was a promise that successive Chancellors of the Exchequer on the Tory side made to the farming community, but it was never fulfilled.
Although certain facilities are offered by private banks, a small producer may still be in difficulties. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) is not present. He referred to the Bill as being one of national assistance, but I think we must approve it, not for the reasons that he mentioned but because we feel that it is necessary, although I recognise that there must be some difficulty about this in the Tory Party.
I will not argue the case that we put forward in Committee. I said then that right hon. Gentlemen opposite and their supporters suffer from "subsidy schizophrenia." I think that that is still true and that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely is not quite sure, even at this stage, whether to attack policies which we support and which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) stressed was a main tenet of Labour policy, namely, that at this stage the Government should in certain circumstances provide aid for production, and specifically for agriculture and horticulture.
463 We have always believed that, but we know that within the ranks of hon. Members opposite there are many sincere Members who object to State aid. On previous occasions I have referred to the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and to a small group of hon. Members opposite who criticise the present Administration, representing the extreme Tory view. After his speech today I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely belongs to that group. We approve the giving of aid. All we ask—as we asked in Committee—is that this aid should be wisely administered and that there should be public accountability for it.
The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) referred to this point. When the Government provide aid to the extent of more than £8 million there should be a careful scrutiny of all the schemes involved, and of the administration required to provide this aid for individual producers. It is only right that Parliament should be careful and should scrutinise in detail. We believe that the part of the Bill which provides for this aid is important, and we hope that producers will benefit from it. Above all, we hope that there will be a growth of producer co-operation.
Many hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), who has long experience in the matter, have stressed the same view. We know that these co-operatives have already achieved success here, and that countries such as Denmark have been successful not merely in horticulture but in other spheres as a result of producer co-operation. It is pleasant to know, irrespective of party, that hon. Members have stressed this fact over and over again in Committee. The Minister is to be complimented on introducing, for the first time in a Parliamentary Bill, aid for those who seek to co-operate and fulfil the principles of producer co-operation, with special reference to marketing. I warmly congratulate the Minister on his initiative in this direction, and I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will take the advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough and pay a visit to 464 the countries which have been mentioned.
I am certain that with his long experience of agriculture, even before he came to this House, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was aware of what was taking place in those countries and of what the Danes, in particular, have succeeded in doing. Now that he is becoming chairman of a very important working party he will benefit from that experience. I suggest that he should take with him not only the members of his working party but some of his Parliamentary colleagues. I do not want to labour the point. We welcome the prospect, and we are glad that the old prejudices towards co-operation in the right sense are now disappearing.
I am a disciple of Prince Kropotkin, who wrote a book called "Mutual Aid". Although he was an anarchist he was the founder of that opinion which has always believed in producer co-operation in agriculture. I am not going to say that the Minister is a disciple of Kropotkin, who was fundamentally a Socialist, but he is getting a little nearer to becoming one. That is why I will always support him when he is attacked by his Right-wing hon. Friends, as he has been today.
There is a point I wish to stress. The Minister mentioned a rather interesting point and the Joint Parliamentary Sectary took me up on it when we discussed this earlier. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that I had let the cat out of the bag. We were talking about the functions of the Council. The Minister in his Third Reading speech said that certain functions outside the list laid down in the Bill could be developed by the Council, provided there was agreement with the Ministers concerned.
§ Mr. Peart
It was subject to agreement; that is all I am saying. I visualise that the Council could indulge in certain activities outside the narrow functions which are now laid down. I shall not argue the point too far, but I hope, even at this stage, this part will be considered very carefully because I am certain that as it develops the Council must engage in other functions. 465 The provision of containers was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough. That is an excellent example of a provision which would help the individual producer.
I was glad that mention was made, particularly by the hon. Member for Guildford, of the provision of a National Advisory Service. I think that has been mentioned by every hon. Member who has spoken in this Third Reading debate, and I share that view. I raised this on Second Reading and in Committee. After all, the provision of skilled personnel to advise producers will be an important part of the success of the Council's work. I argued on Second Reading that an instruction was given on a previous occasion by the Ministry to close down the Regional Horticultural Service and I asked for information on that. I hope the Minister does not wish to restrict the National Advisory Service.
In the end I think the key will be agricultural education. I cannot discuss that on Third Reading, but I hope that one day we shall discuss the findings of the De La Warr Report and the place of horticulture in our agricultural colleges, and institutes where courses are provided. In the long run the provision of skilled personnel to help the industry will be dependent on the completion of the recommendations of the De La Warr Report. I know the Minister has accepted that Report and I hope that at a later stage in our Parliamentary affairs my hon. Friends will be able to press the Minister on it. I trust that the National Advisory Service will not be dismissed, but that it will be built up and opportunities made for advice to be given by skilled personnel to producers. I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary approves of that.
I repeat what I said on Second Reading when I say that the Council should not be what the Runciman Committee thought it would be, an electoral college. I was complimented by the Minister for stating this and then criticised because I took another view in Committee when I criticised—rather in detail and not in principle—the view expressed on Second Reading. If the industry is to benefit, the Council must look at the industry as a whole. It must not be a debating chamber of sectional interests from which those who represent retailers, 466 wholesalers and producers report back to their organisations on what votes they registered and so on. If that happened I am certain the Council would fail. The Council must be a kind of cabinet for the whole industry.
That is not to say that I am not worried about the detailed structure of the Council. Differences of opinion were expressed in Committee and they have been expressed today. I took a different view from many of my colleagues. I was glad that hon. Members opposite in Committee defied their Whips and that even on this matter, which is not a party matter, they were able to express their views. I hope that they have not been rebuked for doing that. It would be a good thing for Parliament if we had more free votes in Committee—and, indeed, in the House—when discussing Measures of this kind which are not of a party political character.
I took the view that there is a bias against the producer. I am not going to stress it too much this evening, but, as I said in discussion of an Amendment, I have a producer bias. We have to help producers to organise properly, to settle their marketing policies and to co-operate together. Then I know the consumer will benefit. There is no conflict between the producer and the consumer. My concern has always been about the middle people who have taken advantage of the producer and the consumer. I have always argued that to bridge the gap we must have an improved marketing system. Every hon. Member is in agreement with the main principle. Even though there will be differences of emphasis on structure and composition of the Council, the Minister seeks to reorganise our marketing system. This should help producers to co-operate. Then, in the end, the consumer will benefit.
The other main problem was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely. I agree that in the end the industry will be dependent upon a sound national commercial policy. If the Government of the day adopted an economic policy which could bring in a flood of imports to this country, home producers would suffer. I sympathise with the hon. and gallant Member, and here I am going to be political. The history of Conservative Governments, 467 right from World War I to 1939, was, in the main, to favour foreign produce at the expense of home producers. The hon. and gallant Member is not certain now because I have tried to make him face the realities of his own thinking in agriculture and to apply them to the political situation.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member will remember, I hope, that in 1932 it was a Conservative Government that brought in the Ottawa Agreements, which at least made some sense of the previous Labour Government's Marketing Act.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. I think the House is in danger of forgetting that we are on the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. Peart
I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member into arguments about the Ottawa Agreements and the successful marketing policies of the minority Labour Government when Lord Addison was Minister of Agriculture. At least we had the beginnings of a marketing policy then. Without going into the past and getting out of order on Third Reading, I think that in view of the fact that importers are to be represented on the Council and in view of the fact that in Committee I moved an Amendment that the Council should give advice to the Minister on the quantity of imports and so on, it is relevant to our discussion to take up the specific point made by the hon. and gallant Member.
I agree with him that without a proper trade policy the hopes of this Bill and its spirit could be completely wrecked. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member and his hon. Friends who speak up for agriculture because of their constituency interests will approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade and urge them not to neglect the interests of agriculture. I shall go no further than that.
This Bill must succeed. Even though we have still to consider the flow of imports coming to this country, I think that even the hon. and gallant Member will agree that it is right that the industry should set its own house in order. That is what the Bill will help it to do. I congratulate the Minister on initiating this first major piece of legislation on this 468 subject. Part I, the producer grants, Part II, the structure and functions of an important body, the Council—these are the main objects—and I wish them well.
We have made our criticisms in Committee. We of the Opposition wish the Bill well, even though politically we may disagree with many hon. Members opposite on certain points in relation to the Bill. We hope it will be administered wisely and that the work of the men and women in the industry and those who participate in the Council will be successful so that a flourishing British horticultural industry will be able to compete more easily with the imports which come from abroad.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Godber
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), at the opening of his speech, said that we had had a good innings in Commitee on this Bill. I agree, and I think that on Second Reading and today we had a good innings, even though we had one or two "bumpers" from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). Apart from that, the Bill has had a good reception on both sides of the House.
I was particularly glad today to hear a number of tributes from both sides of the House paid to my right hon. Friend for initiating this Bill. Undoubtedly it was his personal intervention which brought it forward. It has been warmly welcomed on both sides and by the industry as well.
A considerable number of points have been raised tonight. Most of them have been raised at other stages during the passage of the Bill. I shall seek merely to pick out one or two of what I think are the more important issues which have arisen. Before I do that, I wish to take up a remark made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling). In a very pleasant speech, in which he was extremely kind, he said at one stage that this was such a good Bill that it must have incorporated a large number of Labour Party ideas. He talked about our having stolen the Labour Party's clothes. I take note of what he said. I shall not comment on that except to say that the Labour Party looks extremely bare of ideas at present, so there may be something in what he said.
469 I come to the points raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who spoke first for the Opposition in this debate. He said, and I very much agree with him in this, that in relation to what we are doing for co-operatives we are entitled to look for a rapid development of new co-operatives and we want to see them stimulated into action. I welcome what he said and reecho it. I very much hope the industry will approach the matter in that spirit.
It is all very well for us to provide the machinery here, but it is for the industry itself to go ahead and make use of it. One of my hon. Friends brought out the need for publicising this work, and I fully agree that we have to bring home to people the advantages of co-operation. If we can do that, and let them know of all the opportunities we are providing by this Bill they will have no excuse if they do not grasp those opportunities.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North referred to the question—and a number of my hon. Friends took it up—of the Advisory Service. He said that we really must do something about it and, if necessary, make that Service more attractive. My right hon. Friend is very much seized of that point, and we are taking pains this year to publicise in every way possible the competitions for entry. But we are still determined not to reduce the standard required of officers, and I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will welcome that decision. However, we would like to see some increase in the number of officers coming forward, and I hope very much that we shall get some increase this year.
Tied up with this matter was something mentioned by, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), who asked about the use of the Agricultural Land Service in relation to this Bill. That was a very good point. We do, of course, use the A.L.S. in relation to the Farm Improvement Scheme, and no doubt there will be a number of cases in which the Service can be of help in the operation of this Measure. We shall certainly not miss the opportunity of using members of the A.L.S. in regard to any building projects that are appropriate.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North referred also to the tariff, and to 470 the fact that there had as yet been no decision on it. This was taken up very strongly by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely. There is nothing that I can say on that because, as my hon. and gallant Friend himself said, this Bill does not deal with tariffs and we do not at all pretend that it does. Therefore, many of his remarks on that subject seemed to be inappropriate. It is no good blaming the Bill for not dealing with certain things with which we have never pretended it would deal. The tariff is a quite separate issue, and we have always said that this Measure was by no means an alternative to the tariff. In spite of what my hon. and gallant Friend has said today, I must repeat that.
To deal with other of my hon. and gallant Friend's remarks, he argued that we should look on the grants being paid as a form of National Assistance. I have never understood his approach to this at all, and I again refute that statement. It is no more a form of National Assistance than was the Farm Improvement Scheme—
§ Mr. Godber
It was certainly not a form of National Assistance. This is an investment in the industry which, I think, the country is entitled to make, and it is valid and useful. It is certainly not comparable with the examples my hon. and gallant Friend gave of the cotton and shipbuilding industries, from which he argued that a reduction in production was being brought about, and that producers were being aided in this way to ease the reduction. That is not the case. This is a definite attempt to help producers to make themselves more efficient in their production.
My hon. and gallant Friend gave figures of imports of Dutch tomatoes in the years from 1954 to 1959 and asked how this Bill would help to prevent imports on that scale. The answer is that it will not because, as I have just stated, the Bill is not related to the tariff at all. But what it can do, and this is important, is to assist towards better competition with those Dutch tomatoes. As I said, I think, on Second Reading, it will encourage co-operation, and it will encourage production, not only of high quality but of even quality.
471 Our big difficulty in competing with the Dutch at the moment is that we have not sufficient supplies of uniform quality. At the same time, the Bill will be a direct incentive towards the improvement of our marketing and will make our tomato growers more directly competitive. In those ways, it can have an effect, but the Bill is not, of itself, intended to deal with the points mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend.
My hon. and gallant Friend asked a question in relation to the Vote on Account of £250,000 for the horticulture bill. This money is being provided because we hope to start this work from 1st April, prior to the passage of this year's Appropriation Bill. Without the provision, it would be impossible to make a grant before the Appropriation Bill is passed. The Vote will cover any facilities provided under the Bill whether in Part I or Part II but there will not be any large number of amounts paid out before the passage of the Appropriation Bill.
I am most grateful for the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) in a most helpful speech. I think that most of the various points he raised have been dealt with before, but I was very interested in what he said about the very important new Clause that he moved in Standing Committee, to provide as he claimed, penal damages for breach of contracts made between growers' co-operatives and the individual members. I was glad to have his good wishes in the task that I have been given.
I was a little puzzled by the insistence of hon. Members on both sides of the House that I should leave this country. Whether I should read any special significance into that I do not know, but I have taken note of the point, and also of the fact that the hon. Member for Workington wishes to pair with me in that event. We approach this very important task with the feeling that we must do all possible to investigate certain facts, and to see what further suggestions we can make to help on this most important question. I am grateful to my hon. Friends and to other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on this point.
My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn also made the point—and, again, it is one that I have already 472 repeated to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely—that the Bill must be considered as additional to the tariff and not in place of it. My hon. Friend said that on that condition he welcomed it. I accept his welcome on that condition, because that is exactly what it is. In the same way, I welcome his good wishes for the Horticultural Marketing Council. He was a little critical in Committee, but I am glad to know that, with the reservations he made, he wishes it well.
I am sure that unless we all wish this body well and give it every opportunity to do well, we cannot hope for it to function effectively. If it has to look over its shoulder for criticism it will not have the chance to develop as we wish. Indeed, one of the most heartening things to emerge from this Third Reading debate has been the number of people who have said that we must encourage the different bodies represented on the H.M.C. to work on it together as one unit. That has been very effectively said on both sides of the House, and I am grateful to hon. Members for having said it. I am sure that the Council can do a good job of work, working together, and not thinking entirely of sectional interests.
I have tried to deal with the more important points that have been raised and I am grateful for the support that we have had from both sides of the House throughout all the stages of this Bill. We have had all-party support and we very much appreciate it. Hon. Members opposite have proposed various Amendments and we have accepted a considerable number of them. I frankly admit that the Bill has been improved as a result of the efforts of the House.
So we come to the end of this important Third Reading stage on what, as my right hon. Friend has said, is the first Bill that we have had on horticulture certainly for a long time. As one who has been connected closely with horticulture all my life, I wish to say how very pleased I am that we have had such a measure of support from both sides of the House. I hope this will be a measure of encouragement to the horticulture industry which I trust will take the fullest possible advantage of this Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.