HC Deb 13 December 1962 vol 669 cc721-45

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Horticultural Marketing Council (Dissolution) Order 1962 (S.I., 1962, No. 2393), dated 29th October 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th November, be annulled. We now come to a matter which will not be discussed with the same agreement that we have just had. I shall not make a long speech, and I am sorry that moving a Prayer is the only way in which this matter can be raised. However, we all know our Parliamentary procedure. I am sorry that we could not have had a major debate, for the advice and warnings which we gave to the Government when the Horticulture Act, 1960, was going through the House have now, unfortunately, been proved true.

We then envisaged an efficient and vigorous drive in horticultural marketing. We hoped that the Government would set up a council for horticultural marketing. Over and over again my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) and others warned the Government that this council ought to be an effective body. We now have the sad occasion when the Government have produced an Order to dissolve the Horticultural Marketing Council as from 31st March, 1963.

I regard this as a serious matter for many reasons. The Common Market is now looming over us—we have just had a statement about it from the Lord Privy Seal. Although I have strong views about the Common Market, I do not wish to embarrass anyone and I will not refer to the difficulties of our negotiators. However, irrespective of whether we enter the Common Market or accept its horticultural regulations which insist on quality standards and the ending of tariffs and the moving towards a common price policy after a transitional period, we can meet the challenge on the Common Market's horticulture only if we have efficient marketing. Throughout our discussions on the Act we stressed the importance of marketing, which is true of agriculture generally.

Marketing is the key to the future of horticulture and it is sad that the Government have had to dissolve the Council and admit that our criticisms were sound. Horticulture is a major industry, and although I do not wish to weary the House with figures, the figures are illuminating. The value of horticultural output in 1960–61 was an estimated £133 million at the farm gate, or about 9 per cent. of the value of total output in agriculture. When the figures are broken down, it is shown that glasshouse production alone is about £20 million a year at the farm gate.

The winding up of the Council is serious for the producer, but also for the consumer, the housewife. An efficient marketing scheme cuts down distribution costs and leads to the free flow of products from our farms and the streamlining of costs. We are anxious that there should be efficient marketing in the interests of the consumer just as much as in the interests of the producer. I hope my hon. Friends will stress that we are here dealing with a matter which affects, for example, not merely the growers of tomatoes in the Lea Valley, or the growers of lettuce in other parts of the country, but with something which affects the nation's food supply and the consumer. It is, therefore, right and proper that we should probe the reasons for the Order.

Obviously, the Government must be thinking of an alternative policy. They have the initiative and they must say what they intend to put in the place of the Council. We all know that the National Farmers' Union has promoted the idea of a development council under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947. I understand that there has been sympathy with that idea in Government circles, and I should like to know whether it has been accepted by the Government. While I do not necessarily accept this approach, it is clear that the industry has had to think of an alternative to the Council, and I should like to know whether the producers have been consulted.

The Runciman Committee, whose Report formed the basis of our legislation, recommended an authority for London, the London Market Authority. Only the other day the chairman of the Covent Garden Market Authority complained that he had no effective power to deal with some of the other London wholesale fruit and vegetable markets. Without proper marketing arrangements, the industry will suffer difficulties. I know that it has been suggested by some people who would have us go into the Common Market that subsidies are the only answer. That was the view of Dr. Mansholt in his famous interview with the Daily Telegraph not long ago. He said: The tomato grower in Holland or Belgium is finding keen competition from Italian tomatoes. The British tomato grower may have similar difficulties. The best way to adapt your tomato producers"— he was talking to a British audience— and your horticulturalists generally to a free market is not to protect them by high import tariffs. They should also be given subsidies. I should like to know how the Liberals stand on this, because some people have been critical of a support policy for agriculture.

What are the Government to do? We are anxious to know what is the alternative to this negative policy which is reflected in this dissolution Order. The Government have failed. They have been wrong. They have failed to inspire leadership in the industry, and because of this failure we are anxious to know what policy the Government propose to adopt. We have a right to ask this, because this Order is winding up a council which was created by Government legislation, and we want to know what the Government propose to put in its place.

Unless we know what the Government have in mind, we might oppose this Order. After all, it is proposed to dissolve a body which has been functioning for only a short period, a body which has been charged with a measure of leadership in the industry. The Government now say that this Council must cease to exist because it has failed, because the industry has not supported it, because the people concerned in the trade have not given it their full support, and that it must be buried. We are entitled to ask whether it will receive a decent buriel, or an indecent one.

I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite who have an interest in agriculture will press the Government on this point. I think they will agree that this is an example of the Government's negative policy. This is a case in which the Opposition have been proved right, and it is not making an unfair political point to say that we who have stressed marketing and argued that the Council had certain deficiences have been proved correct.

Are the Government going to take the initiative? I do not believe that they will, because the Minister—and I understand why he is not here—and the Parliamentary Secretary who speak for the Government have said over and over again in relation to agricultural marketing—and this applies also to horticultural marketing—that it is not for the Government to take the initiative. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I have here a record of the Minister's advice to the famous Oxford Farming Conference. He said that while the Government may create the right conditions, in the end it was for the industry to take the initiative.

We do not accept that. We believe that the Government must accept a measure of responsibility. The Government have taken the initiative to dissolve the Council. This is indicative of their policy of negativism. What is the purpose of this Order? Do the Government propose to introduce a positive policy for agriculture? It is vital that we should know this, because of our negotiations to enter the Common Market. It is also vital because of the state of the industry. I have argued this in Committee upstairs, and I have pointed out that experts in the industry believe that something must be done.

I have here a statement by the chairman of the Council, Mr. Bowerman, who, speaking at the Wisbech commercial fruit show luncheon on 7th November. 1962, said: The industry needs, above all, two things: 'parliament' representative of all engaged in the many sides of our industry and resources for research enquiry, advice, education, and all forms of publicity. It could have had both, through a permanent Council. He goes on to deal with the industry and argues that something should be put in the Council's place. He says: I am sure that ultimately wiser counsels will prevail, and a great majority of the industry will see that a body very similar to the Council—that is, a deliberative body armed with executive powers and adequate resources—is needed. In other words, he proves what my hon. Friends have said over and over again, that if we are to have leadership in the industry we must have a body armed with executive powers. We warned the Government about this, but our advice was rejected, even though, here and there, the Runciman Committee supported our point of view. Here is a crisis, and we are lagging behind.

Mr. P. J. Moss, chief officer to the Horticultural Marketing Council, said: Our wholesale markets in general are obsolete. All credit must be given to the civic authorities, such as Coventry and Sheffield, who are such shining exceptions in this general description. … That is why the Horticultural Marketing Council has decided to approach the Government Departments concerned to review the whole range of problems involved. Are there ways in which quicker planning and decisions can be reached? Are there questions of priority which need attention? What are the national, local and industry financial problems, and where can their solutions be found? We have asked for this. My hon. Friends probed the Government not long ago about the need to conduct a survey. What was the response of the Government to the suggestions of the Council which they are now going to dissolve? Have they done anything? Have they agreed to some of the points that I have already mentioned? I am not making an unfair criticism. These are reasonable points of view put forward by the industry.

I would have thought that we need quicker planning and that we need to reach quicker decisions. We need to decide our priorities in the industry and to know what are the national and local industry problems, and where their solutions may be found. We need a proper survey of the position. We should be told this evening what response the Government gave the Council. If we dissolve the Council we want to know whether the Government have acted on some of the Council's recommendations.

I have told hon. Members, in the House and in Committee, how a survey was conducted by a responsible delegation sent to Europe by the N.F.U. It visited Europe on 7th May, and its report has been circulated to many hon. Members. From it we can see in France, under the Monnet Plan, a great development in wholesale markets, in which the State is active. This is true not only of France but of many other Western European countries. What are the Government doing? All they ask tonight is that we should dissolve this Council. All that they did earlier was to create an organisation with insufficient powers. What they are doing now is virtually nothing. They are acting in a negative way, While on the Continent there has been a great surge forward. There the doctrine of essential central planning has been accepted, together with the need for priorities for proper markets. This is a serious matter for the consumer and for the producer, and the Government must give us some sort of answer tonight.

It would be wrong of me to keep the House much longer, because I know that many other hon. Members wish to make contributions. I think that I have made my point sharply. I have shown that the Council has got into difficulties because the Act had certain deficiencies, which we have pointed out.

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)


Mr. Peart

I generally give way, but it is rather late, and I want to conclude my peroration. If the hon. Member had sought to interrupt me earlier I would not have minded, but I am summing up my argument and bringing my peroration to a conclusion.

Here we are dealing with the dissolution of an important body which has been in existence for only a short time. It is an extremely serious matter. It is a decision which reflects a lack of Government policy. It is no use the Government saying that they wash their hands of the matter and are leaving it to the industry to take the initiative. The Government must take the initiative and do something, and tonight I wish to know what the Government propose to do. I hope that some of the hon. Members opposite who believe in horticulture will have the courage to repeat some of the criticisms that I have made.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

The questions which I wished to ask the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) were fairly simple. He started by saying that he felt that the Horticultural Marketing Council should have been given executive powers. I should like to know what executive powers he felt that the Council should have had. Is he in favour of a marketing board, and, if so, that is in contradiction to the Report of the Runciman Committee which examined horticulture a few years ago. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that a marketing board and a scheme would require a two-thirds majority of the growers to support it before it could be introduced? We had an appeal recently about whether the Marketing Council should continue and only 4 per cent. voted—3 per cent. in favour and 1 per cent. against. Obviously, therefore, it would be extremely difficult to get a horticultural marketing board set up by the growers.

It is a great disappointment to many hon. Members on this side of the House that the Marketing Council has not been more successful. We ought to pay a tribute to the chairman who did his part in trying to make the Council a success. He had a very uphill struggle, and I do not think that he failed in his efforts in the work that the Council did do. The Government had no alternative but to pack up the Council, and now we have to look at the position to see what ought to be put in its place.

I wish to offer two suggestions to my hon. Friend. I think that the policy of allowing growers to vote whether they should supply money for any organisation is doomed to failure. I am a producer myself, and when I am asked to supply money I tend to look the other way. I consider that a quite natural feeling among growers and farmers. If we are to make a success of this matter, we must bring more compulsion to bear on the growers. I feel that the whole problem of wholesale markets and marketing must be looked at on a new basis, and this was one of the valuable jobs which the Council was doing. It gave advice about new markets, and in the case of the Sheffield market its valuable advice resulted in the market working more efficiently and economically. This is of great importance to the consumer side, because the consumers feel that there is far too great a difference between the price at the farm gate and the cost in the shops. I hope my hon. Friend and the Government will have a thorough look at this problem and help producers to find something to fill the vacuum which has now arisen.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) reminded us in his concluding remarks of the great difficulty which besets the horticultural industry by the vast gap which too often exists between the price paid by the consumer and that received by the producer. That problem is well known to all who are acquainted with the industry. This was predominantly in the minds of most of us—and I see a number of hon. Members present who served on the Committee—when we set up the Horticultural Marketing Council in 1960.

I am sure that the Order we are debating tonight must be a particular disappointment to all, whatever our particular interests and points of view, who took part in setting legislation on foot by which the Council was established. We had high hopes that at long last we were setting up a body which would make sure that the industry would get going on a firm basis. We had disagreements on detail about the structure of the proposed Council, about its powers and purpose. I remember moving an Amendment seeking to give stronger and more direct representation to consumer interests. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) sought to get direct representation of horticultural co-operative societies and others. At the end of the Committee stage, however, we were all reasonably happy that we had devised a useful piece of machinery which was representative of the varied interests engaged in one phase or other of the industry.

I welcomed the Council when it was set up. I had been one who was critical of earlier producer-dominated marketing schemes, and I welcomed the balanced nature of the representation on the Council. Having welcomed it as a new experiment, there is all the more reason for my disappointment that the industry has not been encouraged to produce the finances to maintain a permanent body of this balanced and varied kind. It is also a matter of considerable disappointment to the co-operative movement with which I am associated. That movement is entitled to speak on this matter from several points of view.

We are a vast consumer movement. Our principal concern is the consumer interest, but in addition we are a major grower and wholesaler of fruit and vegetables. On the retail side we operate more than 2,000 specialist greengrocer shops and 10,000 grocer shops through which a great deal of horticultural produce reaches the consumer. The co-operative movement, for the reasons I have indicated, welcomed this Council as a promising experiment in the marketing of horticultural produce, as a body set up under Statute but not dominated by producers as earlier organisations had been.

We are now told that there is to be another organisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) referred to this. I am not sure what the constitution or purposes of the new body will be. I shall be interested to hear, either from the Government Front Bench or from hon. Members who may be knowledgeable in the matter, just what is in the minds of the organisations which propose to set up the new body. I am anxious to know whether it is to have the same balanced character which I have been praising in connection with the Council which we are now burying. I doubt whether it is intended that it should have such a balanced character. I am not sure what is the attitude of the bodies which are initiating the new organisation towards the representation of the general consumer interest. I do not know what their attitude will be to the representation of the co-operative movement on the new organisation. Indeed, I am not sure that the co-operative movement ought to be too anxious to accept an invitation, even if an invitation is forthcoming, to join the new body. To join a body with an ill-defined constitution and with doubtful rights is very different from being represented on the body we have had over the last two or three years, which was established by Statute with rights and constitution clearly defined.

I very much regret that the Council is not to continue. It was in the interests of the industry that it was established. It is in the interests of the industry that it should continue. If the leading organisations in the industry had given the same helpful response to the Council as the co-operative movement was prepared to give, it could have continued and done work for the whole industry. Had there been a different lead, had there been more education and propaganda on behalf of the Council, the voting results would have been far more positive than they have been, the Council would have been a success, and there would not have been this deplorable apathy in the voting, this deplorable negative attitude from the various sections of the industry.

I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington, that just because the industry has been apathetic and negative it is no excuse for the Government to be negative and apathetic. We shall expect a statement either tonight or very soon about the alternative policy not only of the industry but of the Government. I hope that we shall hear something clear and positive, and that we shall not be left in the position of accepting the Order and being left in doubt and in a very negative situation.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)

Like hon. Members who have spoken so far, I am sorry that we are now faced with this Order. The Horticultural Marketing Council made a promising start, and it is a very great pity that its labours should be brought to this premature end. However, I am not altogether surprised. I have tested the feeling about the Council among growers and others who are interested. I have not found any very great enthusiasm for it. Nevertheless, it was doing a good job and its early end is much to be deplored.

One of the main reasons why this Order is before us tonight is the failure of any section of the industry to agree to the charges scheme. I agree with the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) that if this issue is put in terms of cold blood, so to speak, without any supporting propaganda one way or the other, it is bound to result in a negative vote. I suppose that that would be the result on almost any issue. In our line of business, for example, unless we did a great deal of propaganda we should not get a very worth while vote.

This applies equally to the Horticultural Marketing Council, and some features of the polls concern me. I rather resent that, although a horticultural producer, I never took part in the growers' side of the poll. As far as I know, I did not receive a voting paper, although I believe I was entitled to register my opinion on this matter—and I would have done so had I realised that a poll was on. It was not until the poll was over that I appreciated that one had taken place; and it all goes to indicate that the poll itself cannot be said to have been very satisfactory. Whether it was better for the retailers and wholesalers I cannot say.

In any case, what was voted on? I rather think that it was the charges scheme, and I hope that we shall be given some information on this topic, for there is an essential difference here between a vote on the charges scheme and a vote on the continuation of the Horticultural Marketing Council itself.

Perhaps the most important issue remaining is that posed by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior); what is to take place now? In the last day or two I have been rereading the Report of the Runciman Committee. That Report, published in 1955, recommended the setting up of the Horticultural Marketing Council and while I do not think that the findings of that Committee were ever very popular with the growers, they are certainly worth looking through.

The Runciman Committee examined every alternative form of organisation, including a marketing board, which it rejected, and came to the conclusion that the type of organisation we are discussing representing growers, retailers and wholesalers, was the only possible one to bring about technical improvements in marketing, including packaging and like matters, and the only organisation likely to succeed.

It will be difficult, now that the Council is to be dismantled, to set up. any other body which is likely to bring about the improved standard of marketing of horticultural produce which everyone in and out of the industry admits to be necessary. It is for this reason that action on the part of the Government is required. There is no point in putting out the work to other organisations now that this one has failed. I support the hon. Member for Lowestoft in suggesting that one of the first tasks the Government might tackle is to set about reorganising the wholesale markets.

It is a mistake to suppose that this can be left to individual local government bodies or local concerns. There must be initiative, and a real drive, because so many of our wholesale markets are fairly out of date, with no particular opportunity for handling goods mechanically, and with too limited space. Even if they cannot have a more comprehensive scheme, the Government might give definite leadership on this narrower part of the front. There may be other direct, immediate and positive steps that they might take but, at all events, I am quite convinced that they cannot leave the matter as it is, merely dissolving this Council and taking no particular action to remedy the defects in marketing which are apparent to those both inside and outside the industry.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), I am opposed to the winding up of this Council, which could have done extremely good work. It is not without significance that the Minister of Agriculture is engaged in discussions in Brussels tonight about Britain's entry into the European Economic Community, instead of being here in his place, dealing with the immediate problems of an industry that is very important to thousands of producers and to hundreds of thousands of consumers.

I believe it has been decided that part of the price we shall pay for going into the Common Market is to forget about our horticulturists. There is hardly any likelihood that horticulture can survive the consequent onslaught of competition from the French, Italian and Dutch producers who, because of the condition of our own producers, will be able to produce their horticultural goods more cheaply. I think that Her Majesty's Government must have decided rather callously that this industry can be written off.

As my hon. Friend has said, the Government may think that they can disregard the interests of this section of our agricultural industry, but they will do so at their peril and will learn the penalty at the next General Election. Not only that, but there is the question of safeguarding the interests of the millions of consumers, particularly housewives, who spend a great deal of money on horticultural produce. Much of that produce is in bad condition and is too expensive because of our chaotic marketing conditions.

Some months ago I had the opportunity of spending an hour or two, very early in the morning, at Spitalfields Market. I was appalled at the chaotic conditions I found there. The congestion there means that hundreds of transport men are kepting hanging about, with increasing expense being incurred by the distributors, wholesalers and retailers whose trucks collect the produce. The physical conditions at Spitalfields, and also at Covent Garden, and probably at all the provincial markets, are so appallingly bad that there is no opportunity to use modern equipment.

Further, though I regret having to say it, there are a great number of restrictive practices in this industry at the market end—between the producers and the markets, and from the markets into the shops—and it is undoubtedly true that they add to the cost of the produce to the consumer.

It is the duty of the Government to try to solve the problems of marketing, in the interests of the workers in the industry and of the consumers and the horticultural producers. I do not believe that there is any sign that they are prepared to do this. Certainly, it is a matter of great regret that they are winding up a Council which gave an opportunity to all sides of the industry to be represented. Both producers and retailers were co-operating in the Council, and it would have been a good example of how those engaged in various sides of the industry could come together and help to sort out its problems.

We on this side are very interested to know what are the alternatives. We hope that retailers particularly, and the co-operative movement also, as a most important retailer, will have an opportunity to participate in any further arrangements that are made. We must, however, warn the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that we expect his right hon. Friend the Minister on another occasion to give the House a clear and definite account of the measures he intends to take to improve marketing for horticultural goods, so that costs to the housewife can be reduced and so that producers also can be assisted.

10.57 p.m.

Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

I regard it as nothing less than a calamity that a position has arisen in which virtually this House has no option but to attend the funeral of the Horticultural Marketing Council, as we are doing this evening. Hon. Members who have preceded me have spoken of the good work that the Council has done, admittedly in a restricted field, but nevertheless giving inspiration and encouragement as well as also furnishing some useful information and research about how the industry should be able better to present and to market its produce. Mr. David Bowerman, the chairman of the Council, deserves the good will and thanks of this House for the part he has played in the work of the Council.

Something has been said about the way in which the poll was conducted as to whether the charges scheme should be acceptable to the various sections of the industry. I do not think it profitable to anyone concerned to attempt this evening to go into the blame, if any is due, about why that policy did not have a more positive result or whether, perhaps, there were more who voted strongly against the scheme instead of, apparently, disregarding the fact that it was taking place. Instead of dwelling upon that, rather should we look forward from tonight, at a time when we are, so to speak, at rock bottom.

Nor do I think it useful in this discussion to enter into considerations about the position of horticulture whether or not we enter the Common Market. The negotiations on that issue certainly are not completed. I do not know to what extent they have even been begun with regard to the horticulture section of the industry; nobody can say with certainty. Whichever way that issue is settled, one thing which is sure is that the horticultural industry is faced with a situation prospectively When it is not too soon to begin now using every possible means to modernise the methods of presentation and marketing, which alone can be the true component and follow-up of the great advantages that we have in many ways in the character of our soil in the horticultural areas.

I am sure it is true to say that if there is some uncertainty, even amongst farmers or the agriculture industry's representatives, as to what is the best method of bringing these matters about, there is no uncertainty at all about one aspect of it. This is that the Government cannot simply drift on, if they were minded to do so, without taking an initiative the very moment they feel they can do so in order to decide what encouragement, if necessary involving legislation, they should give in order to fill the gap that, from 31st March, 1963, will be created. If they will do that, then indeed I believe they can play their part and take the steps open to them to enable the horticultural industry at home to battle for its survival.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)

Section 10 of the Horticulture Act, 1960, set out 10 functions for the Council to perform. The fact that we are presiding at the Council's funeral means that there will be a vacuum in each of these functions.

My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) seemed to me to put his finger on perhaps the most important one when he talked of the way in which the Council had been directing its attention to dealing with the problem of marketing. Hon. Members will know that the Council set up a Wholesale Markets Committee. This strong committee has been working for two years and doing some valuable work in dealing with the specific problem most of us have in the forefront of our minds tonight.

We have had an indication of what goes on in France. We know that the N.F.U. as well as the H.M.C. has looked at the markets in Europe. I have just returned from New Zealand, where I saw their marketing arrangements. Marketing in New Zealand means not only marketing in the sense we have been talking about tonight, but the setting up of processing plants and canneries and dealing with mechanical handling of the products when they reach the market. If we are to survive in the modern world at all we must urgently deal with this problem of marketing.

If the Wholesale Markets Committee is wound up, and nothing is put in its place, that will create a serious situation for the industry. Already 22 authorities in this country have indicated that they want to do something about modernising their markets. If they are allowed to decide individually where to put their markets and to work out their developments individually, then it is unlikely that we shall reach the best overall marketing arrangements for the country as a whole.

I urge my hon. Friend that this is a problem which must be tackled forthwith, whatever happens to all the other responsibilities which the Council has under the Act. There are over 50 municipal markets. Possibly only 30 are proper wholesale markets, but it might well be that if this problem is looked at overall we should find that the country could do with perhaps as few as a dozen provided that the markets we did have were in the right place and given the right equipment to do the job. I urge that this problem should not be overlooked when my hon. Friend is considering the next step.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Time is getting Short and I have a very few remarks to make. I add my tribute to the Horticultural Marketing Council and in particular to its chairman, Mr. David Bowerman. It was immensely valuable and it is very sad that it is coming to an end. But it is nonsense for the Opposition to suggest that the Government's attitude has been negative. Who set up the Council? Who started the marketing scheme? This is the first Government to have taken the industry seriously.

That is not to say that I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) that the Government cannot leave it at that. Tragic though this is, the Government had no alternative, but something else must be done. I want to mention three functions—they have been mentioned already—which must be fulfilled.

The first is market research and by that I mean not only market research in this country, but abroad as well. It is essential to get our growers out of their defensive frame of mind. They can sell many different lines of produce abroad and this market research must be taken up. A family on the Continent spends three or four times as much as a family in this country on flowers. It is a task for market research to find out why.

Secondly, a number of hon. Members have mentioned wholesale markets and my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) mentioned a special committee. Something must take its place. If there really are 20 municipal authorities thinking of changes in marketing, it would be crazy to let that happen without a comprehensive review and some national plan.

The French take this seriously enough and regard sensible and efficient marketing as of national importance. Furthermore, they make available to marketing authorities low-interest loans, and something on those lines might also be considered by the Government.

Lastly, the third function which the Council made possible and for which room must be found its a forum, a horticultural forum, where the three sides of the industry, growers, wholesalers and retailers, can get together and discuss their problems, although many of them are difficult to sort out. The N.F.U. has put forward a possible alternative, but since it represents the growing or producing side of the industry alone, it does not follow that it can produce exactly the forum which is required if this industry is to prosper. Something must be done, particularly with the threat of competition from the Common Market, and it is up to the Government to regard this positively in spite of this disappointing failure.

11.9 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Several hon. Members who have spoken have referred to this debate as a funeral, but I regard it as an inquest, and an inquest on a suicide. There are people outside the House who ought to be hangging their heads in shame for making Parliament have this debate tonight. Nobody ought to be more ashamed than those who could have prevented it. It has come about very largely because of lack of leadership in one place, the one place where one might have expected it to be most apparent—and I say this with many friends in the National Farmers' Union. The N.F.U. bears heavy responsibility for what we are doing this evening. If it had shown dynamic leadership over this matter, we should not be doing what we are doing tonight.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) castigated the Government for it, but my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) rightly defended the Government. If the efforts of Mr. Bowerman and Mr. Moss had been backed as they should have been by the people most likely to benefit from them we should have had a far rosier glance at horticulture than we have as a result of what has happened.

I deplore this deeply, and I have been trying to think what is the best way to put things right. I have only one suggestion to make, and I hope that my hon. Friend will see that it gets full consideration. I believe that we want to build now on something which has a very high reputation. The reason why the Horticultural Marketing Council has been under fire is that it is a new body, and in agriculture and horticulture very often new bodies are viewed with suspicion for far too long after they are first set up.

There is, however, scope here for widening the activities of the Agricultural Research Council which is a body with a high reputation. I notice in Appendix V, paragraph 24 (iv) of the last report of this Council, under the heading "Special Research Grants" the item: Research Contract with the Printing, Packaging and Allied Trades Research Association. Investigation of horticultural packages. That is just a glimmer of what ought to be elaborated very much further.

I believe that marketing is just as much a scientific matter as anything else in agriculture and horticulture, and I hope that my hon. Friend will seriously consider and have his Department go into in the greatest detail with the Council the possibility of perhaps widening the activities of the Council to cover marketing too, and see that this is done on a scientific basis because the Council has such a high reputation in the industry that it would have a better chance of getting the support of the industry than the H.M.C. ever had.

11.12 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

The underlying tone and sense which has been running through this debate has been one of regret that the Horticultural Marketing Council is being dissolved. I share this regret. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed their thanks for the good work which has been done by the chairman of the Council, which has indeed been extremely useful, and I should like to associate myself with what has been said.

Perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to say a few words at this stage about some of the events which have led up to the Order, and deal with some of the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Hon. Members will recall that the decision to set up a Horticultural Marketing Council followed a recommendation of the Runciman Committee on the marketing and distribution of horticultural produce. The idea was to bring together the growing, wholesaling, and retailing sections of the industry into a Council which would carry out research and spread information about marketing, formulate standards, and promote consumption, and generally co-ordinate the three sections of the industry which has undoubtedly suffered from lack of cohesion in the past. It was never conceived as a body—never—with executive powers over any aspect of the industry.

There was agreement that the Council ought to be paid for by the industry itself, although, because of the difficulties of arranging for its finance, the Runciman Committee recommended, and the Government agreed, that the Exchequer should find the money for an initial period. So in the Horticulture Act, 1960, the Government took power to provide funds up to a maximum of £250,000 to be available over three years from May, 1960, when the Council was set up. It was clearly understood and accepted by all concerned that, during the three years, the Council would come forward with a charges scheme, and that if it proved impossible to agree on such a scheme there would be no more Government money forthcoming.

I should remind the House of the actual words used by my right hon. Friend at the time in dealing with this in Standing Committee. He said: I have, I think, made it clear that the Government intend that the Council shall produce a charges scheme during the initial period. … Clearly, if the Council does not produce a charges scheme within the initial period, it will have failed and there will be no more Government money forthcoming."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 28th January, 1960; c. 307.] When the Council was set up the national organisations representing all sections of the industry had undertaken to co-operate in trying to get an acceptable charge scheme. In the spring of this year the Council published proposals for raising a revenue of £300,000 a year by charges on all three sections of the industry. Growers would have had to pay, at most, £2 a year, a retailer would have paid £1 or £2 for each shop, and wholesalers would have paid on a scale related to turnover, starting at £3. The national organisations decided to consult their members before finally committing themselves to these proposals.

Each of the three main sections took a poll. The growers' poll resulted in 3 per cent. voting in favour and 1 per cent. against, with 96 per cent. of the eligible growers not voting at all. The results for the National Federation of Fruit and Potato Trades—representing wholesalers and importers—were 9 per cent. in favour and 22 per cent. against, with 69 per cent. not voting. The Retail Fruit Trade Federation was 2 per cent. in favour and 13 per cent. against, with 85 per cent. not voting.

My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) has referred to the methods by which these polls were taken. He will surely agree that my right hon. Friends could deal with the results of these polls only as expressions of the views of the respective sections of the industry.

My hon. Friend further asked me on what basis these polls were conducted, and what questions were asked. The first question asked by the National Farmers' Union was: Are you in favour of the continuation of the H.M.C. financed by the whole industry? That was the main purport of the questions asked in the polls. Surely the House will agree that these results could be interpreted only as a rejection of the charges scheme and, by implication, a rejection of a Horticultural Marketing Council financed by the industry. My right hon. Friends are satisfied that the industry realised what was at stake when its members voted. That is clear from the speeches made by the chairman of the Council.

Following these polls my right hon. Friend consulted the leaders of the three national organisations, who confirmed that they were unable to recommend acceptance of the charges scheme; nor could they advise that a charges scheme on a different basis would hold out any hope of success. My right hon. Friends therefore consulted the Council itself, as they were required to do under Section 17 of the Act, on a proposal to dissolve the Council, and the Council accepted this as inevitable.

Regrettable as hon. Members may feel it to have been—and we all share that point of view—the industry had shown that it was not prepared to pay for a Council, and there would have been no point in imposing it on an unwilling industry. Nor could we ask the taxpayer to continue to pay for a Council that the industry had shown it did not want, particularly in view of the firm assurances given when the Act was passed, which I have already quoted.

What I wish to urge on the House is that horticulture must be given all the help it needs. There is a sphere in which help must come from the Government. I entirely reject the charge made by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) that the Government are not prepared to continue to help and have written off the horticultural indus- try. That is completely and utterly untrue. But there is a sphere in which only the industry can operate. I wish for a moment to deal with what the Government can and will do.

First, I take the question of grading. If we go into the Common Market the Government will be responsible for applying the appropriate grades and standards to fruit and vegetables. Under these conditions there would be no scope for activity by the Council. But whether we go into the Common Market or not, my right hon. Friend fully recognises the problems of grading, and realises that the extent to which the Government should help must be looked at afresh as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Peart

Is the Minister saying that if we accepted the regulations dealing with horticulture at Brussels, inevitably the Council would have gone—that it would have had no function to perform?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I was referring particularly to the grading side. I said that if we joined the Common Market, the Government would be responsible for applying the appropriate grades. What those grades would be I do not know, and neither does the hon. Gentleman. The grades would be applied to fruit and vegetables.

Turning to the next function for which the Government are responsible, that of research—

Mr. Peart

I may be wrong, and if so I apologise, but I got the impression that the Minister said that the Council would be unnecessary if we went into the Common Market. If that is so, I begin to suspect that the Government are acquiescing.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I can only repeat that I said that, so far as grading was concerned, if we went into the Common Market, the Government would be responsible for applying the appropriate grades and standards to fruit and vegetables. Under those conditions, there would be no scope for the Council in respect of that activity.

Regarding research, there are already in being the horticultural research institutions, which are financed, apart from endowments, from public funds. Their discoveries involve further experiment in the field of applied research. This is promoted in the horticultural experimental stations for which my Department is responsible. It is one of the first duties of the N.A.A.S. to see that all the results of the research institutions are disseminated and made available to growers throughout the country.

Finally, there is the £1½ million market development scheme presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) under which the industry is eligible to put forward proposals for grant aid. It is a matter for the industry to decide the lines along which new and improved marketing techniques should be developed. The Government have offered this measure of financial encouragement to explore new marketing methods alike in agriculture and horticulture and help the industry to make use of the considerable sum of money which is available. Hon. Members will realise that research is well provided for, and that the Government are fulfilling their part and providing finance and institutions where research can be pushed ahead.

Marketing and distribution have been mentioned and by far the most important element in this is the provision of efficient wholesale markets. This point was raised by several hon. Members opposite. It is necessary to recognise that in this country, as in others, the prime responsibility for wholesale horticultural markets rests with the local authorities. A number of local authorities have plans for redevelopment, but progress towards implementing these plans has been slow, though that is no fault of the local authorities. My right hon. Friend considers it vital that real progress should be made as quickly as possible. In conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, he intends to institute immediately a fact-finding survey covering all the existing wholesale horticultural markets in the United Kingdom and places where markets may be required.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

May we know who will be carrying out the survey, when they will start work, and whether a report will be made to this House or the Minister?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

It will be a fact-finding survey of officials, which will be conducted with the utmost expedition.

As time is running short, I turn to the sphere where only the industry itself can operate as opposed to that in which the Government can and does help. The Council would undoubtedly have brought together the three main sections of the industry. Now other means must be found by the industry. Since the decision to dissolve the Council, it has proposed to set up a joint consultative council. This meets the point made by the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) and perhaps his co-operators may look at this side of the matter. If the three sections, growers, wholesalers and retailers, can get such a body firmly established it may be the best way of tackling the problem in this sphere of co-operation. My right hon. Friend has welcomed this announcement and sees no reason why it should not be effective. The industry knows what it needs and should be the best judge of how to secure it.

My right hon. Friend has also noted with considerable interest the N.F.U.'s intention to examine the possibility of setting up A Development Council to obtain funds for publicity for horticultural produce and to undertake any other functions the growers find desirable. The N.F.U. is examining this under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947. My right hon. Friends welcome this move, although the N.F.U., I am sure, will not underrate the importance of securing substantial support from growers if this proposal is to be fruitful.

I hope that I have convinced the House that, despite the regrettable decision of the industry to reject the H.M.C., the Government are taking steps to see that the essential needs of horticulture will be met. As far as the H.M.C. and this Prayer are concerned, I must make two points perfectly clear. When Parliament set up the H.M.C., financing it with £250,000 as an earnest of the Government's desire to help the marketing side of the industry, it was on the clear understanding that Government finance would be provided only for three years. It was for the industry to decide during that period whether or not it wished the H.M.C. to continue. If it did it would have to be paid for by the industry itself.

My right hon. Friend has been informed in unequivocal terms by leaders of all three parts of the industry that, although there is undoubtedly a body of opinion in the industry which will regret very much the passing of the Council, they see no prospect of the industry being willing to provide money for the Council to be able to continue. The industry has given its verdict and the Government feel that in these circumstances there is only one proper course, which is to wind up the Council. To support this Prayer would be to keep in being a body which could be paid for only by forcing a charges scheme on an unwilling industry, or alternatively, by putting a charge on public funds for the continuation of a body the industry did not show that it was willing to support. We do not believe that either course would be right and the Council must therefore be dissolved.

In agreeing to this the House may rest assured that it is not sanctioning any slackening or lessening of the Government's readiness to help the industry in future, whatever that may hold. In the circumstances, I ask the House to reject the Prayer and support the winding up of the Horticultural Marketing Council.

Mr. Peart

I hope that every hon. Member on the Government side of the House will carefully examine the Parliamentary Secretary's speech. The speech showed no leadership and no hope. The Minister for Science has been saying that we must beat the drum for Britain, but here we have had a tin whistle blowing. I am not blaming the Parliamentary Secretary personally, but he has given no leadership. When hon. Members carefully read his speech they will see that leadership can be achieved only when we remove this Government.

Question put and negatived.