§ 8.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. F. J. Erroll)
I beg to move,That the Import Duties (General) (No. 5) Order, 1960 (S.I. 1960, No. 811), dated 6th May, 1960, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th May, be approved.I hope that the House will not mind if I detain hon. Members for a few minutes on the subject of this Order, because it is a matter of very widespread importance to the interests concerned.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
As this is a very important matter, I wonder whether the Minister would explain fully why the tariff has to go up?
§ Mr. Erroll
That was exactly my purpose in saying that I proposed to make a speech of some minutes to explain the subject fully, although I realise that there are many hon. Members who have no tomato growers in their constituencies who may find that the technicalities of this Order are somewhat complicated.
This Order, which was made under the Import Duties Act, 1958, increases the non-preferential duty on fresh tomatoes from £1 17s. 4d. per cwt. to £2 16s. 0d. cwt. in the period 16th May to 15th June and to £2 6s. 8d. per cwt. from 16th June to 31st July. In more simple terms, the increases are from 4d. per 1b.—a duty which has operated since December, 1953 —to 6d. and 5d. a 1b. respectively. The Order takes the form of an amendment to the Import Duties (General) Order, 1958, which introduced the present form of the tariff.
We recognise that we have an obligation to support horticulture, and we have frequently declared that we regard the tariff as the main instrument for achieving this end. At the same time, where it is a question of changing an existing level of protection, the onus has always been on the industry to make out a case for doing so, and such applications are thoroughly examined by us in the light of all the relevant considerations.
Hon. Members will recall that, in January last year, we had occasion to reject an application for increased import duties on tomatoes throughout the home season because we were not satisfied that there was sufficient justification for raising the tariff. A further application 1203 was made by the home and Channel Islands growers in November last covering the period 16th May to 31st August.
In the light of significant changes in circumstances since the previous application was examined, we decided that there was a case for some increase in the duty in the earlier part of the season. I will outline some of the main considerations which influenced this decision.
During the three seasons 1957–59 a new trend in the tomato trade became apparent. Imports of Dutch tomatoes substantially increased their share of the United Kingdom market. This increase was most marked in the latter half of May, when the Dutch share rose from about 15 per cent. in 1957 to 33 per cent. in 1958, and still remained at 27 per cent. in 1959. In June, in each year the increase was less marked, but still significant—20 per cent. in 1959 compared with 15 per cent. in 1957—and there was also a small increase in July. The Dutch industry is expanding and concentrating increasingly on the early crop. In our view, there was every reason to suppose that the Dutch would continue to capture more of the market in the earlier part of the season if nothing was done.
The market at this time in the season is particularly important to growers using heated glasshouses, which involve higher production costs. These growers rely upon getting better prices then to offset the normal fall in prices as the season progresses. The increased imports have added to the difficulties of those growers who have had to face rising costs of production with no compensating increases in the wholesale prices of tomatoes. Although we have not been able to get fully adequate statistical evidence, it seems reasonably clear that, for various reasons, including the increase in imports, the economic position of the growers has deteriorated. The contraction of the industry which has been a feature of the post-war period has continued.
In the earlier part of the season, also, the incidence of the 4d. duty was low compared with later in the season— averaging about 15 per cent. ad valorem in the latter part of May and 20 per cent. in June. In view of this, and because we had to take account of the 1204 pattern of the increased Dutch share of the market, we decided that a graded increase in the duty, with the higher rate at the beginning of the period, would be justified. We thought, however, that there was no case for an increase in the 4d. duty in August, which was also covered by the application. The incidence of the duty in that month already averages well over 40 per cent. of the value, and although the Dutch share of the market has fluctuated considerably it has shown no tendency to increase during this period.
There is one other aspect of the application. We did not find any case for disturbing the present arrangements in the latter half of May whereby tomatoes of a value not exceeding 1s. 3d. per 1b. are dutiable at 10 per cent. ad valorem instead of 4d. per 1b. The 10 per cent. duty was introduced to allow the cheaper Canary Islands tomatoes to come in at a lower rate of duty. These are of a quality suitable for cooking and, therefore, are not directly competitive with the salad type of tomato which is produced in heated glasshouses. In the main, they are still not directly competitive and imports have been on a substantially reduced scale in this period in the last few years.
I now come to the point to which I am sure the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) will wish me to refer. It is never possible to predict with any certainty how a tariff increase will affect prices to the consumer, but we do not expect that any difference which may result will be very substantial in relation to the prices normally ruling in this part of the season. What we hope the increased duties will do is to check the rise in imports and thus halt the further contraction of our own industry. It is the Government's expectation that this Order will give the growers confidence to take steps to improve their competitive position by whatever means may be appropriate, including the assistance available to them under the Horticulture Act.
This is the case that we present to the House and I hope that it will agree to the Order.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The Minister has explained in detail the reasons for this increase, and I am grateful that he has responded to the House. 1205 I am also glad to see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland are present. While this is also a Treasury and Board of Trade matter, fundamentally it is an agricultural matter and, of course, Scotland also is affected.
We are not opposing this Order. There will, however, be arguments—we have had them on previous occasions. This is a very important decision, especially in view of the negotiations now taking place in relation to the Common Market and the Free Trade Area and the controversies that are arising over the "Sixes and Sevens". We sketched upon that in yesterday's debate on the Price Review. It has a particular connection with tomatoes, because we are dealing with a serious competitor—the Dutch producer—to our own home produce.
The last time we debated this matter was in 1953. I shall not go into too much detail, but many Members who participated in that debate will remember it. The spokesman then for the Liberal Party was the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) and, from what has been said already, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) is to put the Liberal case tonight.
It was argued for the 1953 Orders— which dealt not only with tomatoes, but with fruit and vegetables, also—that there was a need to have a tariff and that this would be preferable to physical import controls. That case was well put by the then President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorney-croft). My hon. Friends on that occasion did not oppose those Orders. Indeed, although many pertinent questions were put to the Minister, in principle the Opposition supported the decision. Even the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West said:To return to this problem of tariffs versus quantitative restriction, I think that, on balance, there may be an advantage in tariffs. The decision which we are debating tonight involves, I believe, more than a consideration of the pros and cons of tariffs. It raises certain fundamental principles of our policy as a trading nation, and it is in the light of those principles that we must judge these Orders 1206 which we are being asked to approve."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 2239.]That is true tonight.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
It will be fair to me to add that it was a choice of evils as I presented it.
§ Mr. Peart
I think that I was being fair. I quoted fairly what the hon. Gentleman said. He did not oppose the Orders. The matter was not pressed to a Division by the Liberal Party. The hon. Member for Bolton, West, in view of what he said while the Minister was speaking earlier this evening, virtually approves of the decline or contraction of the British tomato industry.
§ Mr. Peart
He said it with glee in his voice. I want to see that the home producer gets a fair return, because, in the end, as I am sure Members on both sides agree, the consumer will not benefit if our home producer is forced out of existence and we have to rely on produce from outside. Then this country could be held to ransom for its food by another country.
I therefore argue, as my party has argued, that the producer must have security, and that, in the end, healthy production benefits the consumer and the housewife. That is why I reject what has been said by the hon. Member for Bolton, West.
I shall not go into details of the last general debate we had on this, but there is a reason why horticulture, and, specifically, the tomato industry, must be considered in relation to tariffs or import restrictions. The 1947 Act, which gives guarantees to our main producers, does not affect horticulture. I remember Mr. Tom Williams, who was Minister of Agriculture in 1947, stating emphatically then on behalf of the Labour Government that other methods to protect and help our home producers in horticulture must be considered.
It was always the policy of our Government then to give the industry a measure of protection from unfair competition. That view was repeated time and again, and that is why when, in 1953, the then President of the Board of Trade presented the Order dealing with fruit and vegetables, we did not oppose it. That is 1207 still our view. The tomato is the staple crop of our glasshouse industry. For many producers there is no alternative use for their glasshouses.
§ Mr. Peart
I will not argue about the facts. If other hon. Members can give facts, that will be all right, but from studies that I have made I know that to be the case.
If trade conditions exist which jeopardise the livelihood of those engaged in the glasshouse industry, we must do something about it. I want a prosperous home agricultural industry, and a prosperous home tomato industry. I will not support a policy of cheap imports which would jeopardise that.
The Minister gave figures showing the decline in the acreage of tomatoes under cultivation. I have figures for both heated and unheated tomato production. In 1954, a total of 2,711 acres was under cultivation. Since then the figure has declined to 2,268 acres. The position is serious. As against those figures, the story in Holland, from which we get some supplies during this period, is different. If we take the two types again, in 1954 the total area of tomatoes under glass in the Netherlands was 4,067 acres. By 1959, the figure had risen to 5,997. The story told by the figures is that the acreage under cultivation by one of our main suppliers has risen while there has been a decline in this country.
That is serious, because it should be noted that a change is taking place in the pattern of Dutch production. There 1208 is a much more rapid increase in the production of the heated crop. The figures I gave were for both heated and cold crop. That means that pressure from Holland will be much greater in the early part of our season. That is why this Order is of special importance to our industry. The change in the Dutch pattern will affect our own industry.
We on this side of the House have never supported a cheap food policy. Let me quote from a document which was quoted yesterday, "Prosper the Plough", which sets out the agricultural policy of my party. Indeed, I think that some hon. Members opposite agree with it. It says:Labour, therefore, feels that the size of our agriculture cannot be considered apart from general economic considerations, and cannot be left to the hazards of a laissez-faire policy. We do not believe that so-called free market forces should be allowed to determine the size and nature of our agriculture. And we do not consider that British farming should be controlled by other countries, many of whom protect their own agriculture in various ways: by subsidies, import protection, monopoly marketing powers and so forth. It could, of course, be argued—indeed it often is—that we should satisfy our growing demand for food by buying in the cheapest markets irrespective of other considerations. But such a policy could be an extremely short-sighted one. In particular, changes in world trade could have very adverse effects upon us; what may be the cheapest market today may either be non-existent or highly expensive next year.I commend that statement to the hon. Member for Bolton, West, who may take a contrary point of view.
On the ground of broad principle we do not oppose the increase. We recognise that there is a danger in the present situation. In May, 1954, imports of tomatoes from Holland amounted to 967 tons and in May, 1959, to 6,784 tons. Taking the period from May to October, in 1954 we imported 22,953 tons and in 1959 no less than 28,594 tons.
We have always argued that the horticultural industry should set its own house in order. That is why, during the passage of the Horticulture Bill, we argued for the setting up of a horticultural council. We argued that, in the end, the solution of the problems of the horticultural industry lay not just in tariffs or import restrictions but in efficiency within the industry, and in proper marketing. Nevertheless, in present circumstances we are confident that it is right to restrict foreign production at certain periods.
1209 There are many examples of successful co-operation in tomato production. I could quote examples from the Lea Valley, and many hon. Members could quote examples of successful producer co-operatives. That was one purpose of the Horticulture Bill. We argue that our agriculture should not be at the mercy of cheap imports from outside, perhaps diverted from another country to flood our home market, to the detriment of the home producer. Home tomato producers are important; there were 8,400 of them in 1953, although they have declined to 6,000 now. They represent an important section of our agricultural community, employing agricultural workers.
§ Mr. Peart
As my hon. Friend says, the housewife is also important, but I would point out that it will be no gain to the housewife if the British producer is forced out of production. It will be no gain to her if we are at the mercy of a foreign country. I quote the example of Dutch cheese. Not long ago, when there was a shortage, the Dutch Government put a surcharge on cheese, which affected our consumer prices. I would advise my hon. Friend to read carefully the report of the debate in another place, where this point was discussed.
The Labour Party and the Agricultural Workers' Union have always agreed that we want efficiency and better marketing. We have pressed for that over and over again, during the passage of the Horticulture Bill and at other times. At the same time, we do not believe in a policy of cheap food which would harm our producers and consumers. For those reasons, I hope that my hon. Friends will not be critical of the Order.
§ 9.10 p.m.
Major H. Legge-Boorke (Isle of Ely)
I wish to congratulate the Government on their decision and I do so for three reasons.
The first is that they have shown by their action that they are prepared to implement the policy of protecting horticultural growers by means of tariffs even when the extra protection may 1210 affect the cost-of-living index to a slight extent.
The second reason is that it shows beyond doubt that the Government meant what they said, that they regarded the Horticulture Act, designed to produce £7½ million by way of capital grants to the industry, as being in addition and not as alternative to the tariff policy.
The third reason why I particularly welcome this Order is that I feel that we can now ensure that one section of the industry which was suffering more than any other is being given relief which it could not be given through the ordinary channels of the Agriculture Act.
As was said by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), Mr. Tom Williams, when he was Minister, made clear that all were agreed that we could not guarantee horticultural produce in the same way as the commodities in the First Schedule to the Agriculture Act. The reason is primarily their perishability, but there is also the extraordinary variation in production from year to year. For these reasons we have to ensure that there is adequate machinery to enable the horticultural grower to hold his own.
The hon. Member for Workington was criticised by some of his hon. Friends when he suggested that horticultural growers could not do anything else. That is the case in the Lea Valley. The glasshouses in the Lea Valley happen to form part of the green belt round London and the owners cannot sell out to any other firm or industry. As a result, these houses are completely unmarketable and quite a number of the owners suffer, especially the small owners. Although I should be the first to pay tribute to the co-operative arrangements made for themselves by most of the growers in the Lea Valley, I think that even for them the early months of the season are often extremely anxious, and were particularly so last season.
There is no doubt that the Dutch are aiming at an invasion of the market during that period. Over the years the receipts from this period have provided the principal standby for the home industry to enable it to face the great flood of produce which occurs towards the main crop season later in the year 1211 both from Holland and our home producers. Unless the home producer can be assured of a reasonable return during the early months, a great many growers will go under. So I think that it is a good thing that we have managed to do something to stave off disaster for them for a little longer.
I am sure that a good many hon. Members will have read the letter in The Times of yesterday from Mr. C. D. Pilling, chairman of the Fruit Importers' Association. He pointed out a fact which I do not think has been fully appreciated by many hon. Members, even those who welcome this decision as I do. It is something which I discovered as a result of studying the figures relating to the whole tariff problem over a considerable period. There was a time, especially in the period of the depression, during the 1930s, when, if a tariff was raised, consumption automatically fell. But the purchasing power of the public is increasing now year by year. There is no doubt that as a result of this arrangement, and provided that the demand is still there for a good tonnage of tomatoes, and, also, that the price is still within the range of their ever increasing spending power, people will go on buying the same quantity of tomatoes.
I do not believe that this increase in the tariff will produce a fall in the quantity of imported tomatoes. What I think it will do, as my hon. Friend claimed for it, is to slow down the rate of increase of the imports. Any practical negotiable tariff these days within the machinery of G.A.T.T.—which, as hon. Members know, I find totally pernicious—could never be of a sufficient level to stop imports coming in altogether or actually reduce the amount that came in before the increase was made in the tariff. The only hope is that it will prevent them rising any further or any faster. Mr. Pilling is right—and I accept his argument—in saying that the effect of this tariff is to inflate prices. There is no doubt that that is the effect.
If we want to stand by the growers, to whom both sides of the House are pledged, this is the only thing that we can do if we are to use tariffs as a method of doing it. There may be a case for using another method. I have often thought that as long as we accept any form of Government interference in production, there is a case automatically 1212 for saying that we must accept Government interference in the amount of imports, and a case for having quotas rather than tariffs, but tonight we are dealing with tariffs.
If hon. Members will look at the figures over the years they will see that, although the increase in the volume of vegetables over the last five or six years has, in fact, been very marginal in volume, about 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. and never more than 6 per cent., the increase in the price of imports has risen by as much as 40 per cent. As a result, it has brought about a higher floor in the price realised by the home producer.
The difficulty, as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, is that the costs to the industry have been rising faster. The real difficulty that we are up against this evening stems from the fact that when 100 per cent. increases in tariffs were made in 1953 and came into operation at the end of that year, the increases had not taken full account of the increase in costs since 1932, when most of the levels of the previous tariff had been arrived at. Therefore, there was still a hangover from 1932 levels which has never been fully taken up and since then there have been very substantial increases in costs.
A good deal of capital has been made by the opponents to this increase in the document which was circulated under the authorship of Mr. Folley, "Tomatoes. The Dutch Way". The more I examine these figures the more convinced I am that this is special pleading almost to the point of deliberate distortion, because that report was not the first one he ever produced. In fact, when he was dealing with this matter before with Mr. Dorling, his Wye College colleague, in 1955, he then gave the fuel costs per half acre at £682 a year. In his latest report he suggests that it has gone down to £630.
What are the facts? The facts, even in Sussex, which has only 7 per cent. of the tomato growing industry, are that the price of anthracite went up by 21 per cent. and large coke by 15 per cent. since Mr. Folley and Mr. Dorling prepared their earlier report. I do not think that hon. Members who pour scorn on the idea of anything but free trade in this country fully appreciate the enormous increases in costs that have taken place.
I do not suggest for a moment that wage costs ought not to have risen. I 1213 am sure that they should have risen to keep pace with the rest of the community. However, we must face the fact that the majority of the tomato growing industry is on the fringe of large towns, including London. Many of the wages which have to be paid are industrial wage rates and not agricultural wage rates.
Even comparing the agricultural wage rate with the Dutch wage rate, the Dutch have an infinite advantage, They have an advantage greater than merely having a lower basic rate. At the particularly important periods when the majority of the crop is coming forward, they have come to an agreement with their trade union to enable them to have a steady rate of pay the whole way through the season, whereas our growers have to pay 30s. a week, and sometimes more, extra in overtime, etc. The Dutch have an immense advantage over our own growers, and on wage costs and fuel costs alone the British grower is at a disadvantage as compared with the Dutch grower.
It could be argued—I believe that the Liberal Party would probably argue this —that it is wrong to give any artificial support to agriculture; there should be a laissez faire policy, the devil take the hindmost, and all that. That is the logical consequence of the policy of the liberal Party, and then they would be right to have free trade. If we accept the obligation of Government artificially to support the agricultural industry, whether by pumping in capital or by giving subsidies, or whatever it may be, the corollary is that we must do something about our external trade by way of Government interference.
The decision at which the Government have arrived in the Order of increasing the price of tomatoes by 2d. a lb., and by 1d. a lb. later, is not a very great sacrifice for the British public to make when all the time the spending power of the British public, thanks to the general prosperity of the country, is going up and up. I agree that there would be a tremendous case against this tariff if the spending power of the public was going down, but we all know that it is not. We all know full well that, on the whole, this country pays per head of the population far less than the real value of its food, if full account is taken of the costs of producing it in this country.
1214 This is a wise decision. I congratulate the Government on having taken it and I hope that now that they have taken it they will, at the same time, realise that we must seriously consider the possibility of finding ways to limit the amount imported, especially when we know that the Dutch may deliberately be sending it in cheaper than they should be in order to capture the early months of the market. Then we shall have a situation exactly as the hon. Member for Workington described it, where the foreigner is dictating the price to us. The bigger the share of the home market the foreigner has, the greater his ability to dictate the price.
I do not think that we should rule out of consideration altogether the fact that the Common Market countries may very well be trying to invade the British market by depressing their prices for the moment and then, as soon as they have got in and gained the dominant position, they will turn the screw and impose whatever price they like on the commodity they are sending in. It is worth remembering that the Common Market countries alone, of which Holland is one, have increased their vegetable production by 3 million metric tons a year. Whereas, pre-war, they used to send us 4 million cwt. of vegetables a year, they now send us 13½ million cwt. A great proportion of that happens to be tomatoes.
The Government are wise to do something to reassure the British tomato grower, because he certainly needs reassuring. Welcome though this tariff increase is to give him that reassurance, it is important that the Government should look even further ahead to see what ways there are of preventing more coming in if the power to purchase goes on increasing at the present rate, because I am sure that we shall have to use more drastic measures than tariffs in future.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I do not intervene to oppose this Order, but there are always one or two questions one is entitled to ask when such a Measure is being discussed.
There may be people asking, "What the devil does this fellow know about tomatoes?" The answer is that I have more varieties of tomatoes growing and have won more prizes for them in open 1215 shows than most hon. Members in this House. That has been done in an amateur way, and I do not set myself up as an expert, but I am concerned about tariffs being put on any commodity for any specific purpose. A point was made about the great acreage of land in the Lea Valley being used primarily for tomato growing and that it cannot be used for anything else. I interjected to say "Nonsense". Apparently there is some local agreement which prevents growers using valuable land for any other purpose before March or April when the land is cleared. We are told, in effect, that many acres of valuable land are not used for anything in the months when the Dutch are making use of their hand for lots of other purposes. The Dutch houses are cleared by the end of July. They grow wonderful early lettuce, pot plants and azaleas on that land. Hon. Members should not forget that if we had not taken azaleas from Holland in the early days after the war we should not have been able to get any Belgian steel.
The Minister told us from his brief what he wants the House to know. He lives close to Altrincham, where we put on some good displays, in his constituency. We have got first prizes there against all England, daft as we are. He knows that is a fact. The Minister did not tell the House that he or the Department were satisfied with all the reasons put forward by British growers, with whom I sympathise, and that their claims were valid. I want the best possible wages to be paid in the tomato industry, just as they are paid in my industry. There should be careful investigation of all the claims that the growers have made. For instance, are they as efficient as they claim to be? They use dear coke and dear breeze and, in many cases, very old-fashioned methods of producing heat. I can speak as an expert about the use of coal and coke and the producing of gas in the steel industry and so on. I know that some of these tomato growers' methods are very efficient, but some are as old-fashioned as Noah's Ark.
If it is a question of marketing, is the Minister satisfied that we can compete with the Dutch in marketing methods? In Covent Garden there are wonderful baskets of good quality stuff, but any 1216 housewife could tell hon. Members what happens to those baskets of good quality stuff. They get mixed with inferior produce and she has to pay top price for all of it. Then there is the question of wages. There is a tremendous difference between what the Dutch worker gets for his guilders and what can be bought with the British pound.
I am not sure that British horticultural wages are as good as they should be. The agricultural labourer and the horticultural labourer who can tell what tomorow's weather will be, can drive a lorry or a tractor, milk a cow, or do many things which no hon. Member can do, does not get the wages he deserves. Over the years these labourers have not been organised in trade unions because they are spread about the country and they have not been able to demand the rates which they should get. I shall not go into that question any more, but I want to be sure that the Minister is satisfied that the claims made about wages are valid.
Channel Island growers can teach us some lessons. There are such things as methods of marketing, transport, such as by light railways, and the movement of manure by mechanical methods. I remember that when I was at the Ministry of Supply we had the growers complaining because they wanted five-tined forks and could buy only three-tined forks. Lifting manure with a three-tined fork all day is a Noah's Ark method. The Ministry should look into the sort of things that I have mentioned.
If I were as satisfied as the Minister appears to be that the things to which I have referred are as good as they appear to be, I should be satisfied about a bigger carrot being offered, but I am not as satisfied as all that. If the Minister has not looked at the Dutch growers he should take a look at them and see what methods they adopt. Also, he should look at the newer types of tomatoes which are being grown. Many of our growers are satisfied with what their grandfathers grew. Novices like myself are not satisfied, though.
There are new excellent varieties of tomato on the market which produce bigger crops and have a shorter space between the trusses. Daft as we are, we amateurs know a tidy bit about this business, and we know that we can get 1217 wonderful results in weight from these new plants. If it can be done in a small way by duds like myself, it ought to be possible for it to be done in a bigger way by the Lea Valley experts.
I object, and shall always object, to any inefficient industry being protected by a tariff. We ought always to object to that. My own industry, the steel industry, went in for tariffs at a time when it was—I know this for a fact, speaking as a man who knows a bit about his own industry—very outmoded and inefficient. But that state of affairs does not exist today. We have improved tremendously. I do not object to a tariff being granted where it has been proved that, in spite of efficiency and modern methods, we are still being beset by unfair competition. Unfair competition should be stopped at all times by any means in our power.
I hope that as a result of this debate the Minister and his staff, when discussing this matter with the growers, will make certain that the British housewife is not being exploited in respect of price, nor, also, that the Dutch worker is suffering. Let us be fair about this. We international Socialists would not like to see a situation arise where as the result of a tariff being applied by Britain the Dutch labourers had to accept smaller wages for more work because of the upsetting effects of the tariff in Holland. We must look at these things from a world point of view and follow them up to their logical conclusion.
I hope that as a result of this very healthy debate about one of the healthiest vegetables—I know nothing nicer than a home-grown English tomato with a drop of vinegar on it—a solution to the problem will be found.
§ 9.33 p.m.
Mr. Denys Bollard (King's Lynn)
I have listened to the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) with great interest- I should have thought that the logical conclusion to what he has said was that he would be asking for the removal of the existing tariff. I feel that those who are complaining about the tariff increase—I thought the hon. Gentleman was—ought really to be asking for the removal even of the existing tariff of 4d per lb. on tomatoes today. However, I do not think there are many hon. Members who have tomato growers 1218 in their constituences who would care to argue that.
I support the Order very strongly indeed. I have been very concerned about the trend of events in the glasshouse industry, and in the tomato section in particular. 1 can bear out what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). We have seen a very serious decline in the acreage of tomatoes under glass. Many of the producers are having to compete with industrial wage conditions and they find it impossible to do so.
We have an interesting balance to make. We see the rise in the general standard of living of industrial workers, and we have to be sure that the level of earnings and wages in the horticultural industry is kept on a par with that in other industries. Many of the producers are small men who have laid out a great deal of capital on their glasshouses, and owing to increased costs they find it much more difficult to maintain their production.
There are a lot of difficulties with which growers in this country have to contend. I have a particular grievance in my own part of the world, the genuine complaint which is made about the damage which is done to glasshouses by sonic bangs. This may not seem to be a factor which ought to be considered in connection with this Order, but glasshouse growers, particularly the small ones, find their glasshouses shaken up by disturbances in the upper atmosphere. This goes on every day in my constituency, and they find that they have big costs to meet to repair their glasshouses as a result of those bangs.
Hon. Members may think that this is quite irrelevant to this debate, but this is an item of cost which has to be borne; it is one of the factors which has to be met. The growers in my area find this a source of particular grievance. When they are inside their glasshouses and one of these bangs takes place the growers shake in their shoes almost as much as the glasshouses shake. I thought it proper to mention this because it is a thing about which my growers feel very strongly.
However, the main reason why I support the Order is that we just cannot afford to allow this important 1219 industry to continue to decline in the way that it has in the last few years. Therefore, I welcome the Order, and I hope that we shall see as a result of it a turn in the fortunes of the growers and the people who work for them, and I hope that we shall see an increase in the quantity of home-grown glasshouse tomatoes.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
It has been a very revealing debate so far. I suppose this is the first time that the defence for putting up a tariff has been that an aeroplane is going through the sound barrier and breaking peoples glasshouses; and so we put an extra 2d. lb. on tomatoes.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), as usual, was honest and straightforward in his views about the horticultural industry, but I would not have thought that what he said about it would commend the Order to consumers throughout the country. What he said about the ability of consumers to pay more for things which they are used to and regard as being more or less necessities now was very true. I think a lot of them can. It has been noticeable with things like cigarettes. The prices go up, but people look upon them as necessities and go on buying them. However, that is not a really sound argument for putting up prices. That alone is not a sound argument.
The hon. and gallant Member argued about certain conditions in the Lea Valley. If what he says is true—and I have no reason to doubt it—surely there are other ways of dealing with the problem of the use of land in the Lea Valley.
I find the speech of the Minister of State rather ironic when I think of some of the speeches—very honourable speeches, I thought they were—which he made from the third bench above where he is now sitting when he was just the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, when he was consistently opposing the protectionists in his own party who wished to give protection to the cotton trade, a much larger industry than the horticultural one. He resisted those moves. He made many speeches in the House. Some of his own colleagues sitting around him did not like them very 1220 much, but they were soundly based. His view, as I remember clearly, was that the cotton trade had to make itself efficient, that there were many sides to that issue, and that he was not prepared to advocate higher protection for the cotton industry, particularly protection against more imports from the Commonwealth.
Let us be quite clear that what we are arguing about now is not free trade or laissez-faire. It would be out of order to argue that, I should imagine. We have here an Order which puts up the tariffs from 4d. to 6d. a lb. for the early part of the summer and from 4d. to 5d. a lb. after July. That is the simple point. I really cannot say that anyone has so far advanced what would be a convincing argument to any impartial person outside. Hon. Members say simply that the horticulturists who grow tomatoes are having a bad time. Something should be done about it. There are many problems, and the Government think that the tariff should be put up. No real case has been made out.
We have been through all this before. I remind the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) that in 1953 the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), then President of the Board of Trade, said:We are getting rid of every physical restriction on the import of the horticultural produce covered by these Orders."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1960; Vol. 521, c. 2219.]My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) made the point on that occasion that it was a very good thing to get rid of those quantitative restrictions and, if the best that the Government could do was to readjust the tariffs in the light of inflation and the change in prices as compared with before the war, then we preferred the tariff to the quantitative restrictions which existed hitherto. That was the simple point then. Tonight, we are discussing whether the tariff should go up. I seriously suggest that no case has been made for it. As several hon. Members have admitted already, the horticulture industry has been in difficulties for many years. There is really no indication that it has yet put its house in order or that it will do so.
During the months in question, imported tomatoes from the Netherlands will account for about one-sixth of the 1221 quantity eaten in this country. Between May and August last year, the Exchequer received about £1 million as a result of the tariff. If the tariff is to go up this year from 4d. to 6d. for part of the time and from 4d. to 5d. for the rest, we can assume, roughly, if consumption continues and if the importation continues, as the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely suggested it would, more or less at the same level, that the Exchequer will probably receive about £⅜ million more.
If the price of imports is to go up by that amount, one can do a little sum about the rest of the five-sixths of tomatoes consumed in this country which will be produced here. Tomatoes are now to cost the consumer about £2,250,000 more as a result of the tariff than they did in the previous year. This is what the consumer will be asked to pay because of difficulty in certain parts of the horticulture industry, notably among tomato growers.
What is being done to make tomato growing efficient? I am advised that the difficulties are partly due to the size of the units. In this country today, 5,000 of the 6,000 growers have only half an acre of glass or less, and more than half have less than a quarter of an acre. The optimum size for a modern heated unit is 2½ acres. In Holland, there are larger units. The hon. Member for Working-ton, in describing the increase in the size of the Dutch industry, looked upon it as a threat. It is, surely, a matter of great consequence to us.
The Dutch industry is growing because it is successful, because it produces economically and because it is expanding its markets. Can we really be satisfied not to have the advantage of this for our own consumers? Are we not concerned about our consumers at all? Because the industry on the Continent is growing more and more efficient than the industry in this country, must we in no way benefit from it but give even higher protection to our own industry to continue in its own inefficient way?
My whole case against this tariff increase, which is what we are discussing, is that it will do nothing to encourage the industry to put its house in order but will merely encourage it to go on in the way it is doing at present.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I should be glad if the hon. Member would say what he would do when it costs £18,000 to put up an acre of glass, which is unsaleable for anything else?
§ Mr. Holt
I do not pretend to be a horticulturist, or even an amateur grower like the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones). Hon. Gentlemen opposite must sometimes look at some of these problems from the point of view of the community as a whole. It is utterly deplorable to see the way in which time after time hon. Members have got up and thought only about the protection of the horticultural industry. Hon. Members of this House, I suggest with great humility, should be concerned about some of their own constituents who are the consumers at large. So far as the consumers are concerned, it does not matter a row of beans whether they get their tomatoes from Holland or from the horticultural industry of this country.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
The Hon. Member explained to the House that the cost of this Order will come to 11d. for each consumer per year. Is that a price which he thinks the consumer should not pay in order to help their own horticultural industry?
§ Mr. Holt
That is all very well, but if we accept this argument of the tomato growers we could accept it for every other aspect of the horticultural industry, and why stop there? We could apply it in all industry, and then who goes on paying these subsidies? Hon. Members of the party opposite made a great song and dance recently about the cost of Government spending. They want economy. Why is all this? It is in order to leave more money in the pockets of the taxpayers, but they now want to give it away to the horticulturists, and so there is no consistency whatever about them.
I would urge the Economic Secretary to give some reasons, not just to the pressure groups on his own side who have been most active in presenting the case for the tomato growers, but to give some satisfaction to his own constituents and to the millions of consumers all over the country who are to be asked to pay this extra money.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
In following the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), who was, presumably, speaking for the Liberal Party, and who has tried to make a case against the tariff increase in this Order, I assume that, apart from this case, he is primarily interested in the philosophy, which, naturally, he has every right to believe in, that both tariffs and subsidies are wrong in both horticulture and agriculture.
I rise for a vary short period only to say "Thank you" to the Government, and to add that I am glad of the acceptance of the case for this tariff. Although the N.F.U., the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland have done much towards the production of this Order, I must particularly make reference to the indomitable spirit and hard work which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has put in all this time on behalf of the tomato industry.
One or two hon. Members have said that the case for an increase has not been proved. If they had studied the tomato industry a little more, I am sure that they would not have felt that way. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), who always delights us when he speaks, mentioned that he had got prizes for his tomatoes. I grow tomatoes as well, but I do not get prizes for them. Those of us who have studied the industry know that it has been going through a very difficult time and that its future was bleak.
There is a good case for the rise in the tariff for the tomato industry. If the industry is wiped out economically, we shall find that imported tomatoes will not be quite as cheap as they are now. Once the industry is held up to ransom the price of tomatoes to the consumer will be very different. It seems to me that this Order has reasserted the faith of the Government in the tariff weapon of the Government and, at the same time, has stiffened them in their attitude towards the Common Market. I was in Sweden the week-end before last, and I found that even the Swedes were very anxious about certain things which have been said lately with regard to the Six. Those of us who do not believe in the Six but believe in the Seven are glad to 1224 see the strengthening of the tariff contained in this Order.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I do not represent any tomato growers, but I represent about 30,000 housewives, and I think that their voice as well as the voice of the tomato growers should be heard.
There is already a tariff of 4d. a lb. on tomatoes. We are concerned with holding the balance between the producer and the consumer. I should have thought that to increase the tariff by 50 per cent., as is proposed by this Order, is to tip the balance too much in favour of the producer as against the consumer. I should have thought that the Horticulture Act would have been regarded as an alternative to increased tariffs and not as an addition.
Broadly, the agricultural industry is the most heavily subsidised industry. It is far more heavily subsidised than any nationalised industry. This is a matter of arithmetic and simple figures. What we are doing here is to call upon the taxpayer to subsidise the industry twice over—once by way of direct subsidy and again by way of increased tariff.
I am a Socialist, and I am more proud of being a Socialist than of almost anything else. I believe that a country ought to plan and allocate its resources. I believe, equally, that in a sensible world community the countries of the world ought to plan and allocate their resources and that each country ought to grow the things that it can best grow. That is my basic philosophy. It is ridiculous to say that British tomato growers cannot improve the efficiency of their production and distribution to a point where they can compete with growers in Holland. If it were Japan, I could understand it, but Holland has a comparable standard of living with our own. There is no question whatever of unfair competition because of the disparity between the two standards of living.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I know that the hon. Member has been a soldier and I am sure that he would be the first to agree that war is apt to upset theory, however good it may be. Does he not realise that one of the troubles in the Lea Valley, in particular, is that production was deliberately encouraged during 1225 the war for obvious reasons and that one cannot turn it over suddenly to something else?
§ Mr. Short
That would have been a good argument to use in 1946 or 1947, but the hon. and gallant Member must remember that the war has been over fifteen years. I should have thought that we should have adjusted ourselves by now.
This is a matter really between Holland and Britain, two countries with a comparable standard of living. Therefore, there is no question of unfair competition on the ground of disparity in the standard of living. The Order calls upon the housewife to subsidise the inefficiency of the tomato growers in production and distribution—to the extent in production of £2¼ million a year, and that is not good enough. I could understand a tariff the purpose of which was to equate standards of living, but I cannot understand a tariff the purpose of which is to equate standards of efficiency, which is the purpose of this one.
I can only regard this Order as a further burden placed by the inefficiency of the farming community on the people whom I represent, and because of that I take a very dim view of it.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
I shall be very brief in my remarks at this hour, but I feel that I must, first, congratulate the Government on their wise and timely decision and, at the same time, repudiate some of the harsh and unjust criticisms which have been launched from the benches opposite against tomato growers and horticulturists generally in Britain.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I am always most anxious to be fair, but I think that it is within the recollection of the House that the criticisms have come from speakers on the benches opposite. I believe that the majority of speakers opposite have been, on the whole, critical. I do not say that speeches from Opposition Front Benchers were. I repeat, however, that 1226 the harsh criticisms which I had in mind came from speakers on the benches opposite.
§ Mr. Peart
One of my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) made some constructive remarks, but did not oppose the Order. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) did. I hope that the hon. Member will not misrepresent the official Opposition. It is true that an attack came from the Liberals.
§ Sir R. Glyn
It may be that the hon. Member is better able to ascertain the official policy of his party than we are able to ascertain it from this side of the House, but there has been some harsh criticism from the benches opposite.
Horticulture is not subsidised very much and until recently was not subsidised at all. It is now lightly subsidised owing to the Government's recent action, but it relies on tariffs for its protection, which it needs, as I will shortly show. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) suggested that the need for the increased tariff was due to inefficiency and that word has been mentioned a number of times.
The hon. Member said that there was inefficiency in heating. This, of course, is a crucial point in tomato production, but in my constituency, not long ago, a large firm of tomato growers went into liquidation as a result of the very difficult season we have just gone through, coupled with the imports which had been troubling the whole of our tomato producers, and that in spite of the fact that the firm had an almost brand-new heating system which had to be sold virtually for scrap.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
Would the hon. Member not agree that where the inefficiency occurred was in the use of the square feet of space in that area at other times of the year for other purposes? The case which the hon. Member quotes from his own constituency proves my point. Equipment of that kind should be used efficiently for other purposes during the periods when tomatoes are not being grown.
§ Sir R. Glyn
This was used most efficiently all the year round, and I will tell the hon. Gentleman, if he contains 1227 himself for a moment, how it was that this calamity overtook it. It was more than two and a half acres in size. I went into this matter with some care.
The real difficulty is the cost of labour in this country vis-à-vis the cost of labour in Holland. Members must realise that in this country horticulturists are governed by the law, just as agricultural employers are, and are liable to prosecution if they do not pay full overtime for long hours worked when the season is at its height, even if the workers are willing to accept less wages. In Holland, by an arrangement which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has pointed out, this is equalised out at a certain level payment throughout the year, which means that no overtime is paid at all. This is a very serious point.
I will not go into details, but I must deal with the suggestion that a tariff is not in the interests of housewives. We must regard the difference in the short-term and the long-term view. If British housewives were to be allowed to benefit by cheap foreign tomatoes for one or two seasons while they are available, and then the foreign suppliers switched to other markets, then they would be left on the rocks if the British tomato growers had been abandoned by the Government and driven into liquidation by cheap foreign imports.
§ Mr. Holt
The hon. Member said that he would not go into detail. I suggest that if he has details the House would be glad to hear them, because people want to be fair about this. Can he tell us the difference between wages which had to be paid in the case he instanced in his own constituency and those paid in Holland? What proportion are wages to the cost of tomato production?
§ Sir R. Glyn
I do not wish to go into too much detail, but this was the crucial difference in the cost of production by this large and very well managed firm and its rivals abroad. I now come to what the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) said.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The F.A.O./ E.C.E. Report for 1957–58 shows that the British labour force is paid 32 per cent. higher than the Dutch.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I do not want to weary the House with too many figures, but it was said by the hon. Member for Bolton, West, who was speaking for the Liberal Party, that it "does not matter a row of beans where the consumer gets his tomatoes from". I deprecate that point of view, and this side of the House cannot agree with it. We have had many examples in the last year or two. I should be out of order if I went into those in detail, but if we left the British producer to the mercy of these foreign imports, which are often subsidised, the British consumer would be left high and dry if the British producer were forced into liquidation. It is to protect the consumer against that position and to protect the housewife against that unfortunate risk that it is right that our horticulture should be protected.
In 1954, the Liberal Party said that it was a choice of evils and agreed that it preferred tariffs to quotas. The House also preferred tariffs as a policy to protect horticulturists. In this case, the tomato growers sadly needed protection and I support the Government in their sensible and courageous action in raising the tariff.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I will not detain the House for more than a minute, but there has been a feeling about that the only tomatoes grown in the vicinity of London come from the Lea Valley. Kent is probably the leading horticultural county, and we are extremely proud of our efficient horticultural industry.
A great deal has been said by a number of hon. Gentlemen, although not from the Opposition Front Bench, about horticultural inefficiency, but every year we in Kent enjoy more and more efficiency in the horticultural industry.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) spoke about new varieties of tomatoes which are being grown—as I understood the implication—by amateurs only. I rebut that statement because our growers in Kent are growing some of the most up-to-date varieties, and they have some of the most up-to-date equipment.
§ Mr. Wells
They need a subsidy for a number of reasons. First, several hon. Members have referred to the small units in which they work. If these smal units are to continue to get the best possible use of their equipment, it is essential that they get a fair return, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) said, they must be able to pay their workers the legal standard. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House realise that.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) said that agriculture was the most heavily subsidised industry, but that is not true. For the first time we are beginning to enjoy a modest subsidy which we hope will be extended in future. The horticultural industry in Kent is in great need of this support.
§ Mr. Wells
The hon. Member for New-castle-upon-Tyne, Central also said that each country should grow the produce most suited to it, but again it has been brought to the attention of the House that many acres of glass were put up during the war years not only in the Lea Valley but in various areas surrounding London.
It was said, particularly at the beginning of the debate, that British growers do not make the best use of their glass outside the tomato season. I rebut that statement. Our horticulturists in Kent maintain full production of one crop or another throughout the year. They get the best possible use of their equipment.
I therefore welcome the subsidy— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I mean the tariff. I hope that we will see further support for agriculture in future.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
I rise to speak for a very short period of time, because it is essential that hon. Members on the benches opposite should not claim credit for something which they themselves have never carried out. Since I have been a Member of this House, agitation on behalf of the 1230 horticultural section of agriculture has been undertaken more by this side of House than by the other side.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Hon. Members opposite should read the proceedings in Committee on the Horticulture Bill.
§ Mr. Loughlin
When the Horticulture Bill was considered in Committee, the people who were concerned with the interests of the horticultural industry were all on this side. I have attended meetings of the National Farmers' Union Horticultural Committee in my constituency and it has constantly criticised this Government for their mishandling of the horticultural industry. Deputations have been received in this House from the various sectors of the horticultural industry.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but we are now dealing purely with the Import Duties (General) (No. 5) Order and not with the industry in general.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I did refer to tomato growers in the horticultural industry. It is easy for hon. Members opposite to convey the entirely wrong impression that hon. Members on this side of the House are not concerned with tomato growers and horticulturists. It is essential that it should be said clearly that we are as much concerned as hon. Members opposite, if not more so, with the tomato growers and the results of the Order.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Attracted as I am by dialectic controversy, I come now as oil on troubled waters, although I will permit myself one possible controversial reflection, in passing, namely, that it seems that agriculture does better when it falls under the Board of Trade than when it is dealt with by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I want to touch broadly upon the theme which has run through our discussion—the question of subsidising agriculture or aiding it by way of tariff. I should have thought that there was an arguable case for redressing the balance against the primary producer. We should recognise this, as most other countries do. I know that some hon. Members 1231 opposite are allergic to it, because it is a measure of planning, but the attraction of the formula is that we are faced either with an increased retail price or a subsidised price—and the subsidised price contains with it an element to which people contribute to it according to their means.
In the case of horticultural production, there is a further difficulty. According to their distance from the equator countries suffer seasonable disadvantages which are difficult to compensate for by way of subsidy. This is a justification for using the tariff as a means of protecting this kind of industry. Unless we take steps to protect our domestic producer he will never obtain the best market, because more southerly countries will get their produce on to the market before he can. We have this measure of protection in order to strike not an exact balance, but a rough one. As the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) knows, he and I are fellow Socialists in this matter, although I realise that he has difficulties with his hon. Friends. We think that it would be better to resort to more direct physical control.
I agree at once that if we are to have a proper discussion of the matter we should have the fullest information before us. Before the war we had the I.D.A.C. procedure, which gave us this information as well as a public discussion and a political decision. I am greatly obliged for the information that has been brought to my attention, both for and against an increase in the tariff. Unfortunately, I do not think that the information is complete. The Government do not reveal the representations made to them and the grounds on which they make their decisions. I think that they should do so.
Last year, when we were seriously tempted to attack the Government, it is recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT that I regarded this as quasi-judicial. We had a general discussion about rising tariff levels, and any subsequent adjustment to be made, unless it is a general increase in the tariff, is really quasi-judicial. That is why the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) was so outrageously wrong in referring to the courageous action of the Government. 1232 This will prejudice the Government in the light of developments in Europe. We regard this as quasi-judicial on the balance of the arguments. We want to know the criteria and the arguments deployed. That is the real difficulty which we have to face. I do not wish to create unnecessary controversy, but I should like the Government seriously to consider this matter.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Will the hon. Gentleman say why it is wrong to give the Government credit for being courageous? Would not he agree that it involves the Government standing up strongly for this country against some of the Common Market countries?
§ Mr. Willey
We have touched on this subject before in debates and we are likely to do so again in the near future. I hope that the Minister will agree that as this is a difficult decision, taken on the balance of arguments presented to him, and on known criteria, it would be better if the Government rested their case there rather than imported possible political considerations which might involve them in difficulties regarding European negotiations. Because we have a decision which has been referred to as favourable, I do not think that we should prejudice it. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider this matter. I appreciate the difficulties of not fully comprehending the arguments deployed by either side and I recognise the difficulties of the Government. I hope that in future the Government will consider a better presentation of their conclusions than we have had on this occasion.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Erroll
We have had an agreeable debate and there has been a wide measure of agreement. There has also been the spice of controversy. I like to think that the tomato growers of this country may read what has been said and realise that the House has taken a great interest in their problems and difficulties. We have also had the benefit of learning that not all the tomatoes come from the Lea Valley. There are tomato growers in Cornwall as well as in Kent and in other parts of the country—
§ Mr. Erroll
I am grateful for that reminder—in Scotland as well.
1233 My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) was kind enough to say that the Government's decision was a courageous one. Naturally we all like to be told that we are courageous but I must point out that our decision was based on the facts as they were put to us and it would, I think, have been very difficult for us to arrive at any other conclusion; although, of course, it would have been possible to arrive at no conclusion at all and to do nothing. At least we made up our minds and we have come to this House to ask for approval of this Order, and so to that extent perhaps we are entitled to be called courageous.
I pay due regard to the fact that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said we were not giving enough information. But on looking at the facts, and bearing in mind what I said in my opening speech, I think hon. Members will agree that we have struck the right balance between the interests of the growers and the interests of the consumers.
I should like to remind the hon. Gentleman that the I.D.A.C. reports issued before the war were in fact very brief summary documents and probably contained a good deal less than was contained in my own opening speech tonight. It would not help very much if we were to revert to a form of reporting such as he has suggested.
The question of whether we are unduly helping the growers or not, as was suggested by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) can best be resolved by appreciating the fact that production has been declining. When operating in a contracting market it is very hard to take bold vigorous steps. It is necessary to give members of the industry a breathing space to consider whether they can modernise, where appropriate, and re-organise their marketing methods and so on. During that breathing space they will be able to draw on the various forms of assistance made possible under the Horticulture Act. In that way I think that we shall ensure that we can have British grown tomatoes in our shops and on our dining-room tables. I think that is what we all want to see.
I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), who seemed to suggest that we should be content to accept imported 1234 tomatoes whenever they are cheaper than the home grown product. I think that he was very well answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) who dealt very well with his argument.
§ Mr. Erroll
The answer is very simple. It is because horticulture is a different type of industry from a manufacturing industry. We are here dealing with an entirely different form of product from factory industrial production.
The question of the interests of the consumer arises. I think it was the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central who referred particularly to the fact that we all have constituents, as if we did not know that already. [An HON. MEMBER: "Some hon. Members forget them."] Nevertheless, they are very much in my mind at all times. Whenever I am trying to make up my mind in the Board of Trade I try to think of how the decision would sound in Altrincham and Sale, which may account for the fact that we make so many sensible decisions in the Board of Trade.
The best interests of consumers would not necessarily be served if they were subject to all the fluctuations in price which would inevitably arise if they were solely dependent on imported produce. Secondly, a very small increase in the tariff will give them, we hope, a steady supply of the home-grown product while making only a very small difference in the cost of living to the consumer. A penny in the £ increase in the price of tomatoes represents only .03 of a point on the cost of living index for all items and only .08 of a point on the food index. This tariff, which I ask the House to approve, represents only a very small imposition on the housewife in return for which she will in our belief have very substantial benefits accruing in the years to come. I hope, therefore, that the House will approve the Order.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Import Duties (General) (No. 5) Order, 1960 (S.I., 1960, No. 811), dated 6th May, 1960, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th May, be approved.