HC Deb 25 February 1964 vol 690 cc333-80

Amendment made: In page 21, line 11, to leave out second "the" and insert "a".—[Mr. Scott-Hopkins.]

8.8 p.m.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has received very close and careful scrutiny in its earlier stages by hon. Members on both sides of the House. This, indeed, was as it should be. My right hon. Friend and the Government as a whole believe this to be an important Measure for the future of the agricultural and horticultural industries. The discussions in Committee and in the House today have been protracted and have revealed a wide measure of agreement and support for the purposes of the Bill in each of its three parts, although, of course, there have been some disagreements between us.

Part 1 will provide the means to control imports through the imposition of minimum import prices and, as the House knows, we have recently been able to reach agreement in principle with our major overseas suppliers, Canada and Australia, the United States and the Argentine, whereby they will be co-operating in a system of minimum import prices for cereal imports, subject of course to the outcome of the present Annual Review on the introduction of standard quantities for home production.

If, as I hope, these outstanding questions can be brought to a successful con- clusion, it will be the Government's intention to lay Orders before the House under the powers contained in Clause 1 to institute minimum import price arrangements for the cereals sector. I must ask the House to await the outcome of the current discussions, but there will be opportunity, of course, to consider the details when the Orders come up for debate later. Here I must repeat that to the extent that our supplying countries enter into and observe such minimum import prices as may be laid down, no levies will be applied to their exports, but the machinery will have to be there for imports from those countries which cannot or will not co-operate.

There has been considerable discussion about the fact that, while we need it immediately only in connection with cereals, Clause 1 has been drawn widely enough to enable it to be applied at some later date to other agricultural products. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) and others have mentioned horticulture and other produce. It is right that attention should be drawn to this, but I believe that both sides of the House are agreed that it is sensible while we are legislating, and in view of the rapidly changing circumstances in the world market for foodstuffs—to which the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) referred earlier—and the growing interests in the possibility of international commodity agreements, to take power over a wide field, subject, of course, to the control of Parliament through the Orders which will have to be laid. If that is agreed, then the only question is how the necessary flexibility is to be achieved.

I hope that earlier discussions have shown why it is better not to try to anticipate precisely what range of products or methods of control will be appropriate in the future, but to take general enabling powers which can be brought into use according to the needs that arise at any time. That is why the definition of "related product", with which I am sure the hon. Gentleman is very familiar, in subsection (9), is drawn as widely as it is. During the Committee stage my right hon. Friend promised to look at the drafting of this definition again and this he has done, but he feels bound to conclude, as he said at the time, that there is no way of improving on the present wording.

The Bill has had to be drafted in terms which would enable my right hon. Friend, with, now, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary, to specify any agricultural or horticultural produce produced in the United Kingdom which could become subject to the minimum import price arrangements in the interests of maintaining market stability, and also any products relating to any such produce.

On cereals, for example, which, I think, will underline the point that I am making, we shall want to cover not only competing cereals, such as maize which falls within the definition of related product, but also the various cereal flours, the meals, groats and other types of worked cereals, as well as the cereal offals.

In the light of our experience in operating minimum import price arrangements, we may need to add other related products to the initial list in the cereals sector, but the powers in the Clause must cover, not only the circumstances of cereals, with which we are immediately concerned, but also those which might arise on other commodities to which it may become necessary to apply minimum import prices in the future. This is what I was saying during an earlier debate on the Report stage as to why these wider powers are necessary. The related products range, of course, from commodities like flour, which are closely related to the primary produce from which they are derived, to those which are economically remote from the primary produce.

If we had tried to define the field more closely, as hon. Members opposite asked us to do, it would have been necessary to draw an arbitrary line across what is virtually a continuous gradation of such commodities. The right place to draw the line for cereals would not necessarily be the right place for some other type of commodity that may he added in the future.

I will very quickly deal with the Orders procedure. In deciding what types of Orders to provide for in the Clause, we had in mind two considerations: first, the need for adequate par- liamentary control; and, secondly, the practical requirements for operating a minimum import price system. The effect of subsection (7) is to require that the initial stage in applying the powers in the Clause to any commodity would be subject to affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament.

The other Order-making powers in the Clause, that is to say, the prescription of minimum import prices, the mechanism for applying levies, and the conditions for the payment of any allowances or reliefs, may be exercised by negative Resolution procedure, but an exception is made for an Order dealing only with the rates of any levy, allowance or relief which has been provided for in a previous Order already discussed and agreed by Parliament.

After an Order had been made laying down the general arrangements for applying levies to a particular sector and this had been laid before Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture would be able to prescribe the actual rates of levy without reference to the House.

Not only is this the only practical arrangement given the likelihood that rates of levy may at times have to be altered very quickly and quite frequently, too, but it seems to be a perfectly acceptable arrangement since the size of the levy will be determined by the level of the statutory minimum price which the House will already have approved under a previous Order.

Indeed, the only purpose of the levy will be to enforce the necessary floor price, and I must emphasise, as I said in an earlier debate, that it is not the intention of my right hon. Friend and the Government to legislate to raise the general level of prices or erect any kind of restrictive barrier through the operation of this Clause. Its sole purpose is to put a floor into our market in order to safeguard our present system of agricultural support from the pressures of unreasonably priced cereal imports which might otherwise from time to time, as they have in the past, undermine our market.

I now come to the second part of the Bill, which is Clauses 2 to 7 and which deals with horticulture. This considerably extends the system of grants for growers and co-operatives initiated by the Horticulture Act of 1960. The £8 million provided by that Act is increased to £24 million by the provisions of the Bill of which a great deal will go to extending the horticulture improvement scheme. The extended scheme will include facilities to improve the efficiency of the production, as well as the marketing, of horticultural produce.

We have in mind especially equipment to improve the quality and reduce the costs of production, for example, the replacement and reconstruction of outdated glass, with the latest technical devices such as the automatic control of watering and ventilation, CO2 equipment, and specialist machinery for planting and harvesting. We intend to lay a draft scheme before the House as soon as possible after the Bill has been enacted.

We have taken note of the many helpful suggestions made by hon. Members on both sides of the House on Second Reading and in Standing Committee and we are, of course, continuing our discussions with the leaders of the industry on the details of the scheme.

We also intend as soon as possible to lay a draft scheme under Clause 2, which deals with the small business grant. Whereas grants under the extended Horticulture Improvement Scheme will be made towards the cost of specific improvements, the small business grant is a general contribution to working capital to meet the special needs of the small business, for example, to enable the grower to buy a new stock of plants or containers, or to tide him over a period of change from one type of production to another whilst little or no income may be flowing in. This should help many small growers to expand their businesses, or to switch to a more profitable line of production.

Here, I must repeat, as I pointed out in an earlier discussion, how important it is that in making schemes under this Clause we should define who can qualify for this particular grant and that once Parliament has approved the definition we must adhere to it.

The point I made during Report stage is that under the powers provided in the Bill, the scheme must contain the various conditions and these are what we are discussing at this moment with representatives of the N.F.U. This should help many small growers to expand their business or switch to more profitable lines of production. This is the direct help that growers will get from Government grants, and it will, of course, be supplemented by the credit facilities to which they will have much greater access as a result of Clause 8.

I am sorry that earlier today hon. Members opposite were unwilling to accept as a satisfactory solution that the Agricultural Credit Corporation and the Agricultural Finance Federation would work together. I do not want to pursue this point at this juncture except to say that I hope that some accommodation can be arrived at between the two parties so that there can be co-operation between them in the years ahead.

The Bill provides two major contributions towards the improved marketing of horticultural produce. A great deal of thought has already been put into this side of the business both by the Government and by the industry itself, and some of the fruits of that consideration are contained in the Bill. But there will be need for continuing study and research. I think that the House will be glad to know in this connection, that there is an excellent prospect that next autumn Wye College, of the University of London, will be setting up a department of horticultural marketing headed by a professor. The horticulture industry itself, both the growing and the distributive sides, will be making substantial donations to the cost of this new department over an initial three-year period.

To return to the Bill, the first important provision in this connection consists of the grants under Clause 9 for the redevelopment of the major wholesale markets. These have been universally welcomed, and I am confident that they will help to bring into being over the next decade a network of modern and efficient wholesale markets of which this country can justifiably be very proud.

The other major innovation on the marketing side to which I shall refer is the introduction of compulsory grading. Both sides of the House are, I think, agreed, and so is the industry, that this is really the only way forward. The only question which has been raised is whether the powers in the Bill are adequate and, in particular, whether they ought to be extended to the retail stage. I hope that I shall be in order if I try to explain briefly why my right hon. Friend thinks that the powers in the Bill are adequate.

Grading at the wholesale stage is intended to help the industry to meet, on fair terms, competition from abroad. Almost all produce from abroad is now graded in some way. Once grading has been introduced, there will be much greater uniformity in home produce, and none of the produce bought by retailers from wholesalers will be below the minimum grade.

Two suggestions were made. First, it was suggested that retailers buying graded produce should be compelled to sell it as such. This was urged, I think, by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling). Secondly, it was suggested that retailers should not be allowed to obtain ungraded produce direct from the grower

The first suggestion smacks of unnecessary regimentation, and it would be very difficult to defend. The housewife buys fruit and vegetables on sight, and a greengrocer who tried to mix his produce or sell the lower quality at an inflated price would very soon find himself losing his trade. It is not necessary to add to the burdens of the retailers or to the heavy load on local inspectors by making a statutory obligation which would not bring an effective benefit. Moreover, if retailers do choose to sell by our grade designations, they will be obliged to do so correctly, that is, the produce must be up to the required standard, or they will be open to prosecution under the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act.

The second suggestion was that too much produce would be ungraded because growers would be allowed to sell direct to retailers. Clause 11(3) enables my right hon. Friend to stop this method of trading either partly or wholly. I repeat the assurance which my right hon. Friend gave several times in Committee. It is the Government's intention that the benefits flowing from grading should not be undermined by too great a proportion of ungraded pro- duce finding its way on to the market, by coming straight from the grower to the retailer, to the detriment of sales of graded produce. If we found that this were happening, we should not hesitate to make an Order, subject, of course, to consulting the interests affected.

I have dealt briefly with some of the major features of the Bill which have been the subject of a great deal of discussion earlier. The Bill has been amended in some respects since its introduction, and I am glad that we have been able this afternoon to underline that this is a Measure for the United Kingdom as a whole. Scottish Members will be glad to know that we are extending some of the Order-making responsibilities under Clause 1 to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who will be replying to the debate.

I am glad, also, that we have been able to meet the wishes of hon. Members on both sides about strengthening the hands of the co-operatives in the horticulture industry, which will in any case benefit considerably from the provisions of the Bill.

I suggest to the House that we now have an even better Bill and one which will prove its value for many years to come in putting both our agricultural and horticultural industries on a sounder footing in the context of the conditions of today and of tomorrow.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Peart

The Parliamentary Secretary has brought the Bill through its long journey on its way to the Statute Book, and personally, I congratulate him. We have had our differences, but in Committee and throughout our proceedings he has been an admirable Parliamentary Secretary. This is not to say that I do not disagree with him on many issues, but the Bill itself represents a wide measure of agreement. There is no fundamental difference in principle here. It is remarkable that the Bill gives the Government sweeping powers the like of which we have not had since all the controversies of the last century, and I am rather surprised at the lack of interest in it not so much in the House but outside. This lack of interest is a pity having regard to the fact that it gives the Government such wide powers to control our imports of food and related agricultural products. It is a sweeping Measure.

As we said on Second Reading, the Bill is really two Bills. As an Opposition, we have tried to be constructive. We have approved the Bill in principle. We accept the need to co-ordinate and phase imports and we accept the need to give our horticulture industry the necessary financial aid. There is disagreement here and there about what methods should be used, and we have concentrated on these in Committee and in our debate today. We have tried to improve the Bill. At one stage, we thought that we had amended it, but the words have now been taken out.

Clause 1 implements the Government's policy of May, 1963. We all know why we have this Clause. The Parliamentary Secretary may disagree with my emphasis, but I suggest that the reasons are these. First, there was the breakdown of the Common Market negotiations. The Government needed to bring out a new policy because there was then no policy in existence. Second, there was the crisis created by the rise in our Exchequer support system over two years ago, when the Minister had to ask the House for an increased Estimate. It became obvious that the Government had to find measures whereby Exchequer support could be controlled.

I have always taken the view that the deficiency payment system operated in a free market would inevitably produce that situation. The Bill is designed partly to prevent it. This is what we are talking about today, whether our support system can operate in a free market, and why there should be this change. The Parliamentary Secretary referred also to the problem of standard quantities. Although they are not actually dealt with by Clause 1, the whole policy question revolving around standard quantities is affected by the Clause.

There is still controversy in the agricultural world about the policy behind this Clause. The farmer is told, "If you accept standard quantities, I will give you import control; accept Clause 1 and standard quantities, and here you will have a quid pro quo." We say to our outside suppliers, "If we impose import levies, we will guarantee you a share in the market." We therefore have this balance of views about the working of Clause 1, and the policy that has inspired it.

Again, any Government must consider, in any scheme, how best to balance many other interests. I have mentioned the interests of the producer and of the outsider, particularly the interests of the E.F.T.A. countries but, above all, there are the interests of the consumer, and throughout I have reminded the Minister that he is not only Minister of Agriculture, but Minister of Food and Minister of Fisheries. In the same way, the Secretary of State is not just responsible for Scottish agriculture but for the Scottish food situation in the general sense. That is why we are glad that the Secretary of State will be responsible for Orders, and will be brought into discussions. We must balance all the interests I have mentioned, together with the interests of the Commonwealth and our interests in the G.A.T.T.

We know that, according to the Minister, Clause 1 will operate immediately for cereals, but it also deals with agriculture and horticulture in a wide sense. I remember our Committee discussions about the sweeping powers in related Clauses. The powers could apply to hides and skins, and a wide variety of related products. It may well be that they will not be used but, as the Government will have them, we must consider this Clause in relation to the use of those powers by the Government in charge.

I am rather amused that the Government should say that this policy favours a free market system and the minimum of regulations. That is what the Minister recently said at Exeter when pointing out the difference between Conservative and Labour agricultural policies. I should have thought that neither the Bill nor this Clause represented free enterprise. The Government are given tremendous power of control. This is not the law of supply and demand operating, so let us hope that we have none of that kind of nonsense from Conservative Members.

This is a planning Bill. Clause 1 gives the Minister sweeping powers to deal effectively with minimum import prices and to impose levies to control imports. We have ended the whole system of the country's free imports from many other parts of the world. This Bill ends that system. I should have hoped that there would have been jubilation in Conservative ranks—

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The hon. Gentleman must not make that point. If we had accepted the Amendment which put a physical restriction into Clause 1, I would have agreed with him, but we are not by any means ending free enterprise by the operation of Clause 1. This is purely a fiscal method of protecting the bottom of our market.

Mr. Peart

When we were discussing the banning of imports, the hon. Gentleman argued that we did not need those words and that we had all the powers necessary, so I cannot see how he can use this argument now. I suggest that it was nonsense for the Minister of Agriculture, when addressing a Conservative audience recently, to say that the Government's policy favoured a free-market system and a minimum of regulations. Hon. Members opposite know it to be nonsense—

Mr. Farr

To have the powers, and to make use of them, are two vastly different things. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in this country one can still be hanged for stealing a sheep, but one is not likely to be.

Mr. Peart

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect, should make so naїve an intervention. This Clause ends for ever the whole free-enterprise system, and free imports. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would have regarded it as a great turning point in our history—and it is, as I am trying to suggest. If they have not read the Bill yet, I am sorry for them. I am also sorry that the Minister does not appreciate the significance of his own Bill, and neither does the Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister has sweeping powers. This is an attempt to co-ordinate and phase our imports.

When the Minister made his famous speech giving the policy behind Clause 1, he suggested that we should have to have some new machinery. I have quoted before what he said. He stated: The detailed arrangements for the different commodities which are affected by Clause 1 which we would aim to agree with our overseas suppliers might well need to include a body to keep under review the level of supplies and also the phasing of those supplies in our markets in the light of changes in the pattern here and overseas and other factors, such as the opening up of new markets. But whether or not a body of this kind will be necessary, and, if so, what form it should take, will depend on the arrangements we finally make. We are keeping an open mind about it. It would be unwise to decide on the machinery before we can see clearly what its task would be."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1963; Vol. 678, c. 449–50.] One of the weaknesses of Clause l—and this was one of our difficulties in Committee—is that we are still uncertain about how it will be administered. I have asked over and over again about the two types of levy which will operate, one in relation to countries with which we have an agreement and the other in relation to non-agreement countries. Will the civil servants in the Ministry operate Clause 1? Will they deal with the question of imposing a levy? Probably the Customs people will do the job on a day-to-day basis. But what about the type of machinery which will have to be created.

Mr. Hilton

That is the question.

Mr. Peart

Is the Minister satisfied that the existing arrangements in the Ministry are satisfactory? I am not denigrating the British Civil Service, for which I have a great respect. I think that it is the best in the world. I know that the Minister is very lucky in his Department. I am not criticising the personnel. I am merely asking whether the machinery of the Civil Service in the Ministry will operate this, or will new machinery have to be introduced?

I think that the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) would agree that inevitably some form of machinery must be created. Both the Liberal Party and the Labour Party are in agreement about our general agricultural policy. I suggest to the Minister that the people in the trade accept this. I have a document from the National Association of Corn and Agricultural Merchants. I hope that the Government have heard its view. It should have been consulted. I expect that it has been consulted. It comes out in favour of a non-trading commission which would represent all interests in cereal marketing.

I have here the proposals of another reputable organisation, the Compound Animal Feeding Stuffs Manufacturers National Association. This body, too, has come out in favour of some new machinery which could operate through a non-trading body representative of growers, importers, merchants and consumers charged with the general oversight of certain existing and some new functions in connection with the marketing of grain. These might include advising the Government on minimum import price levels, the collection of marketing information … and so on. The Minister revealed today that he was not in a position to have this information. That was one of the arguments he used against my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie). But the trade is prepared to co-operate with the Government. There is good will.

I should like to know how this Clause will be administered. I have a feeling that the Government are lagging behind in this matter. One day, they will have to wake up, and inevitably some new machinery must be introduced. Part I gives wide powers to the Government.

I pass quickly to horticulture. Here we have no disagreement and we are anxious to help. In Clause 2, the Bill seeks to give grants of varying kinds to improve the efficiency of small production businesses and to extend the horticultural improvements scheme. Then we have specific grants for the clearing of orchards. Clause 4 provides grants for the improvement or initial operation of co-operative marketing businesses and grants for co-operative markets and the development of marketing policy. These are grants for wholesale markets of national importance. Added to that there is the provision of credit facilities.

We on this side welcome all these proposals in the Bill. The horticultural industry has an output of approximately £160 million. It is an important part of our general agricultural industry. Naturally, we are anxious to help not only individual growers, but also those who could combine in their various co-operatives.

On the other hand, the Government must recognise that acceptance of the Clauses of the Bill still makes some fruit growers dubious. I have with me a copy of the Kent Messenger, a good paper, of 6th December. Under the heading Fruit growers dubious over new Horticulture Bill", this journal, which is not a Socialist paper, states: Acclaimed by Government supporters as the panacea for ills besetting the fruit-growing industry, the new Agriculture and Horticulture Bill is being viewed with reserve by leading Kent growers. Sugar on the pill comprises a promise of horticultural aid of some £50 million over the next ten years with individual grants up to £500. That is Part II of the Bill. It goes on to say: Less palatable is the news that tariff protection is to be abolished. Far-sighted growers see such a provision as making only for eventual entry into the Common Market, although the Minister denies it. That is the Kent Messenger. I also have with me the Commercial Grower, a very good paper which, I hope, hon. Members opposite read. Let me quote its editorial. It states that in many other quarters apart from Kent there is the uneasy suspicion that horticulture has sold its traditional heritage, the tariff, for a mess of pottage. That is strong language.

I remind the Minister that certain of his hon. Friends, including the hon. Members for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) and King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), and, indeed, my hon. Friends, have said over and over again that what the Government are now doing will be no substitute for the abolition of the tariff. Whilst we are anxious to enable productive units to be more viable, hasty abolition of the tariff and the use of import control under Part I—and horticulture comes not only in Part II, but also in Part I of the Bill—could be disastrous for many of our growers.

I must repeat my suspicions of the intentions of the Government. This fear has been expressed by people in the industry. They are suspicious that tariffs will be removed and then, together with the power and the machinery provided in Part I, there will be entry into Europe on the lines I have suggested.

Mr. Thorpe


Mr. Peart

The hon. Member for Devon, North says "Splendid". For me, it would not be splendid. I have suspicions about the result, because it could cause disaster for many of our producers. We are anxious, therefore, to press the Government on this matter. Whilst we accept that this aid should be given, we trust that there will be no rash attempt to remove the tariff overnight and to leave producers at the mercy of unfair competition.

Therefore, we on this side welcome the Bill. We approve of the powers which it contains. We recognise that this is another stage towards sensible planning which we have advocated for a long time. The events which have occurred over the years would eventually force any Government to respond to a new situation.

Here in this Bill we are seeking to have wide powers to phase and co-ordinate imports, to see that the market is stable, to create a measure of stability in the market position, and to pave the way, I hope, for a further development of international commodity agreements; and at home, to build up a horticulture industry which has previously been neglected. I have not dealt with marketing. I am sorry that an Amendment which I had down has not been debated. I would only say on the question of national markets that the idea that we should have a national marketing system without regional planning is really absurd. There should be some regional planning.

I would give it to the hon. Member the Member for Devon, North that the Common Market in France, as we know, under the Monnet Plan, has caused a great development to take place in the building up of new markets. It has happened also in Western Germany. I went to see the Grossmarkt in Hamburg. Let hon. Members go to see the Hamburg market and let them go to France, to Lyons, where under the Monnet Plan and because of central direction a new market has been created. We want that here, but when I have asked for this over and over again we have only got the vague reply that aid will be given. The Parliamentary Secretary and the Government should have some idea of horticultural marketing in relation to regional planning. The tragedy in the wider field is that no authority exists. The Horticultural Marketing Council has gone. No authority exists, as we would wish it to exist, that is an authority with adequate powers.

We shall still press upon the Government the need to do something, but, despite our criticisms, we welcome the Bill, and we hope that it will bring benefits not only to the producers but also to the consumers.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Like most hon. Members on both sides of the House who have the interests of farming and horticulture at heart I welcome the Bill. I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend, and also my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who has borne the burden right the way through both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. He has done so with admirable clarity, patience and firmness, for which we are all indebted to him.

I regard the Bill as one of the two pillars of the Goverment's new policy for agriculture. It shows solid proof of the Government's intention to secure adequate markets and controlled imports. I would put it the other way round from the way the hon. Gentleman the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) put it. While there is still a certain amount of mistrust and bewilderment about it, it should by this time be clear to all farmers, and I would suggest that the Government have a right to expect, that the industry on its side will co-operate to the full over the question of standard quantities.

I have only two specific reflections to make on the Bill as a whole. Perhaps I should have spoken up over this when we were discussing Clause 1, but through no fault of my own I missed half of the debate and I thought that it would perhaps be legitimate to leave this to Third Reading. I accept that the powers in Clause 1 over horticultural products generally are adequate. With this I do not quarrel, but I should like to suggest to the Minister that there is room, on the basis of the evidence we heard in Committee and in this debate today, for much more preparation in the horticulture field for the exercise of minimum prices than anything we have evidence of today.

I think it legitimate to ask whether the complexity of the exercise of the minimum price system for horticultural products is in fact clear to the House and to the country as a result of this Bill. To emphasise this I think it fair to direct the attention of the House for a moment to the sort of systems—and there are many, and very varied they are—which are being carried on in Europe today. There is, for instance, the classical one between Germany and Italy where the German frontier is closed when prices fall below a certain agreed minimum which equals the price paid to the German producer over a specific period, and can only be determined by the Zentrall Market und Preisberichstelle organisation which covers 12 major markets all the time and a number of minor markets as well occasionally. It is an organisation the like of which we have not envisaged yet in this country.

This is a true minimum price system, but the system exercised between Holland and Germany is entirely different. The market is open all the time. It depends on the exercise of a minimum export price from Holland into Germany. This can be arrived at only when there is a large measure of control over marketing, as there is in Holland. The system used within the Benelux countries is entirely different, and the system used in France is more geared to the cost of living index than to a return to the grower.

I say this only to emphasise that a great deal of thought, preparation and international negotiation must be necessary before we can say that we are in a position to implement the powers alluded to in the Bill. I should like to hear this evening or on some early occasion evidence from our Ministers of Agriculture that machinery is being set up, or that a department of the Ministry is being required, to prepare a little further. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it is all very well in regard to the commodities that one can see and in respect of which one must exercise these powers, but it is useless to debate at this stage those which do not yet come into the picture. But surely we can be precise to some degree.

We know where in the horticultural sector the principal dangers will come from. They will come from Holland. In the course of time, and it will not be very long, they will come from Spain and Italy, where the climate is all on the side of the exporter to this country and against us, and as they become more efficient in the production of, for example, tomatoes, the danger will arise. Here are our targets, and this is what we should be preparing for. We can do it only by studying the systems which apply in Europe now and producing a blueprint on which we can negotiate ahead of time. I stress this.

My second point refers to Clause 9—I welcome it—under which up to £20 million is to be available for the improvement of major wholesale markets for horticultural produce. I do not agree with the Opposition Amendment, for reasons which were explained by the Ministers in Committee. Nevertheless, I go with the Opposition to the extent that I do net accept that local authorities are necessarily the best authorities or the experts in how to set up a horticultural market, in the equipment involved in the setting up of markets or, indeed, in how they should be run. I am not satisfied, for instance, even in the case of those which have been set up in recent years. One or two local authorities, Sheffield, for example, have had initiative in this direction. I could name a large grower in my part of the world—he is a most efficient marketing man—who ships produce to Sheffield. His turnover has gone down by well over 50 per cent. since that market started. There is some reason for that.

Therefore, I would hope that at least guidance would be forthcoming from the Ministry wherever a grant of this kind is involved, and I hope that there will be at least an attempt to ensure that such things as standard levels, conveyor equipment, standard pallets, access, siting of the markets and storage facilities are adequately dealt with and upon truly expert advice. The advice has to be local as well as theoretical, of course, because markets are a particularly sensitive organism. However, perhaps together with the National Farmers' Union and other interested organisations, the Ministry can ensure that the money will not be forthcoming until there is general satisfaction in respect of the sort of considerations which have played a part in the plan.

With these two provisos, I repeat that I welcome the Bill. I believe that it spells a real step forward—indeed represents a high tidemark in the history of agriculture—which has not yet, as the hon. Member for Workington stressed, been truly appreciated in the country, although I am sure that it soon will be.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks about horticulture and his valuable contribution about marketing. I agree that this is a very important Bill and I am sure that it will find its place alongside the Acts of 1947 and 1957, although not for exactly the same reasons. Perhaps, to those who follow the development of agricultural policy, it is advantageous to remember that the object of the 1947 Act was that there should be guaranteed prices for as much food as it was in the national interest that we should grow in our own country. It was envisaged that there might be a limit to the amount of any commodity for which there would be guaranteed prices.

We are living in very different circumstances today and our needs are different. That is the basis of the Bill. From a period of shortages we have moved to one of embarrassing regional abundances in the world. There is a need to do all we can to move forward to proper, world wide trading agreements because we cannot restrict production in this country without remembering the needs of the world.

Some action had to be taken to end the open-ended commitments of the Exchequer. The system of deficiency payments in a free market had creaked to a halt and the Government, after years of waiting and of failing to anticipate the inevitable, were forced to reach a decision. There had to he a more decisive anti-dumping machinery.

Secondly, over the years, hon. Members—particularly on the benches opposite—have been castigating Ministers, particularly the President of the Board of Trade, for failure to take speedy and decisive action about dumping. That at least has been corrected, I hope. The third need is for a better return to the industry. We share the hope of the Parliamentary Secretary that agriculture and horticulture will be put on a sounder footing.

I hope to hear from the hon. Gentleman how Clause 1 will operate and what its effect will be on our agriculture. Some years ago we were given a guarantee that the 1957 Act would remain valid during the lifetime of this Parliament. The assurance was given during the Common Market negotiations. The danger of the Minister's enthusiasm for ditching agriculture on the altar of European unity has now subsided, so perhaps we may be told what guarantee there is to be for the future of the Act.

That Act was an attempt to put a floor into the market—into income, prices, and net returns. That is also the object of this Measure, through the levies. Obviously, the 1957 Act has failed. That is the opinion of farmers from one end of the country to another. If the object of Clause 1 of the Bill is again to put a floor under the market, as the Parliamentary Secretary told the House, will that work any better than the 1957 Act did?

From every part of the country there have come claims from the National Farmers' Union for substantially increased revenue over the next few years—25 per cent. in three years. Some sectors of the industry are very depressed, the milk industry in particular. That clamour is heard from one end of the country to the other as farmers say that the more they increase production, the lower are their returns. Perhaps before the debate ends we can have some assurance of some effort to remedy the position.

In the debate in May last year, when the Minister of Agriculture introduced his new policy which he had had to think up in view of our failure to join Europe, he was challenged by many hon. Members, including myself, to reply to the claim that there should be an adequate income for the agricultural community. But there was not a word in his speech on that occasion to show what he hoped or expeected the net return to the agricultural community to be as a result of his new policy. Farmers are looking to Clause 1 to find out and the acid test for them is how the Clause will be operated.

After all, the Bill is an enabling Measure giving wide and sweeping powers, but until the Orders are made, we shall not know how it will be operated. We want to know whether the Government have any policy about the net return which farmers can expect. This is the question which was not answered last May and which needs to be answered today, and I believe that the farming community deserves an answer. Otherwise the Clause merely creates the machinery and gives the Government power.

I regard this as a Bill of fundamental importance and before it leaves the House the Government should tell us—and there has not yet been a word—how they propose to utilise their enabling powers under Clause 1. The test of this, as of any major agriculture Bill, is whether it is good for British agriculture. I do not doubt that this Clause is badly needed and that its wide and sweeping powers are necessary in the conditions of today, and it may well be that under it my right hon. Friends of the next Administration will be able to set up whatever bodies are required to co-ordinate home and foreign supplies. Even the Minister has indicated that he has envisaged some kind of co-ordinating body.

The second test is how the Clause will be implemented. I understand that its object is not to increase Treasury receipts and that any such increase will be a mere side wind. I hope that it will not be used to raise the price of food. Over the years there has been a policy of cheap food. The provisions in this Clause should be used carefully and other considerations should be fully borne in mind. If a big levy is imposed it would have considerable consequences on the price of food, and a number of indirect consequences resulting from an increase in the price of foodstuffs. Having regard to suggestions made during the Second Reading debate that there should be a robust use of the provisions in this Clause, I ask the Minister who will be in charge of the operation to ensure that all other considerations are fully borne in mind before such use is made of it. Even the slightest increase in the levy could have wide-reaching consequences.

The second test of the importance of any agricultural Measure is the interests of the consumer. There is a danger, which may not have been seen by the Government, that a burden will be shifted from the taxpayer to the consumer, to those people least able to pay. So wide are the powers under this Clause that it is possib1e for that to happen, and that is why I urge that the greatest care should be exercised in the implementation of these provisions. It would be a major tragedy if a Clause in such an important Measure was used as a device to shift a burden on to the weaker members of the community.

The third consideration to be borne in mind when testing the value of any agricultural Measure is the effect on production. I should be loath to agree to any Measure which might unduly restrict home production. We have a moral duty to our own community, but we have also a moral duty in relation to the world-wide shortage of food. I hope that will be borne in mind when standard quantities are decided on and that care will be exercised, particularly in relation to beef. I hope that the Minister will be generous when the standard quality for this is decided upon.

I firmly believe, and have said so on many occasions, that if we could solve the beef problem we would also solve the problem of milk. A tragedy today is the under-recoupment in the milk industry. Many of our farmers would prefer the easier task of beef rearing to the more difficult operation of milk production. When the time comes to make up the levies and standard quantities I ask that the Minister be exceedingly generous to the farmers to ensure that the standard quantity for beef is not pitched too low, with consequent restriction of production.

The last consideration in respect of standard quantities, which are a quid pro quo for the levies in this case, is the needs of overseas trade. We know that one of the reasons for the introduction of this Bill is the failure in the past to phase imports of food. We recall that the Minister asked for a Supplementary Estimate, and the situation at the end of the Argentina meat strike with the upsurge in the imports of beef. When the Minister continues negotiations with other countries I hope that he will continue to stress the value of stabilised markets in this country. I do not think that that advantage is fully appreciated by countries which export to us and with whom we are currently negotiating.

Now that, for a time at least, the Government's efforts to make us join the Common Market have come to a halt, I should like to examine the implications of Clause 1 and to find the objects of the Government about introduction—having regard to their plans in the past—to the Common Market. I was in Paris, at the Assembly of Western European Union, in December, when we heard with great interest the reported comments on the Foreign Secretary's speech at The Hague a few days earlier. The reported comments were that we in this country were introducing import prices and moving in a similar direction to the Common Market price system. It seemed that the Foreign Secretary was trying to persuade other delegates to the Assembly at The Hague that we were trying to bring ourselves into line with the Common Market countries.

Perhaps we could have some indication before we part with this Bill as to whether that is one of the aims of Clause 1. I have confined myself to Clause 1. Where do the Government stand as regards the Common Market? If we find ourselves again negotiating to join the Common Market, does it mean that we shall be aligning our policies for British agriculture? Is there any guarantee that even the present prosperity of the agriculture industry—which I qualify very much because it is in great dispute—and the present net return of the industry will not be further eroded?

Farmers will be asking three questions. They will ask, how will this Bill affect our incomes? What are the standard quantities in the mind of the Government? What restrictions will there be in future having regard to increased efficiency generally? Consumers will also be asking, is the machinery of Clause 1 there merely as stabilising machinery? Is it a method of raising food prices? Is it in any way the abandoning of the present cheap food policy? Overseas traders will be asking, is the machinery effective and, are the attractions of a stable market really worth while?

I hope that we can have some answers to these questions. I hope that the Government will reveal to the House, even at the end of the journey of this Bill through this House, in Committee and back here, an indication, through the Secretary of State for Scotland, of the Government's intentions on these points. I welcome the Bill; it is a planning Measure. Even the Government have now agreed that British agriculture and its production must be co-ordinated with imports on the lines of suggestions we have made from this side of the House year after year.

The Bill provides wide enabling powers. Here is the legal power for the setting up of badly needed power and machinery for co-ordination. I am sure that my hon. Friends, in the next Administration, will welcome this Measure, Clause 1 in particular, because there will be pressure from every Department of the next Administration for legislation and poor agriculture may find that it is not very high on the list. Thanks to the efforts of the present Government, there will be abundant provision here to set up adequate co-ordinating machinery and to utilise the wide powers which the Bill provides.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

I will not follow the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. J. Morris), except to say that I think that he was not able to be present on Report when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary gave a very definite assurance which would have allayed the hon. Gentleman's fears about the Common Market. All my hon. Friends know my views on this subject. I was extremely glad to hear the assurances my hon. Friend gave when discussing the question of minimum prices on Clause 1.

No system of minimum prices will be any good unless it takes account of the costs of our own producers. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), who made an excellent speech. mentioned the terms in operation on the Continent. I agree entirely that we should be studying these matters now. We should not wait until such time as we have to consider horticultural questions under Clause 1.

Now, improvement grants. I know the difficulties in relation to new glass My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that this provision is designed to provide for improvements in existing glass, to bring it up to date with thermostatic control, etc. Today those who grow new crops, particularly flowers, out of doors in areas such as the Scilly Isles have lost the advantages they used to enjoy from ordinary out-door growing because of the intensive flower cultivation which takes place under glass. It is, therefore, only fair for out-door growers to be given the advantage conferred by this part of the Bill on those with glasshouses. Those who have not already got glass should be helped in this way.

I was glad of the answer the Parliamentary Secretary gave in Committee about improvement grants to enhance the efficiency of marketing schemes. As I said then, there are respects in which we in the Scilly Isles may need assistance for harbours, quays, and so on, of which my hon. Friend agreed to take note. There are such matters as palletisation. This must be done over the whole country. It does not necessarily have to be local authorities. There can be other markets. I believe that an experimental crop auction is in use at the moment. There must be a co-ordinated policy, because it must depend not only on supply and demand in the area but also on adequate road and rail transport.

For years this problem has bedevilled us in relation to Covent Garden. This problem faced the Westminster City Council as long ago as 1946. It is no better now. The whole matter must be studied and planned before any decisions are made. I see no reason why there cannot be peripheral markets round London and why we should not do away with this wretched Covent Garden, which is a complete anachronism.

I agree with the tributes paid to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I was very glad to hear him say repeatedly in Committee that there would be discussions with the industry. The various policy decisions which will have to be taken under the Bill can be taken properly and efficiently only if there are adequate discussions with the industry.

There may be cases in which advantage cannot be taken of the grants under Clause 2 because it may be only one firm and the grower concerned may not be able to produce sufficient capital to take advantage of the grant. I hope that when we consider this matter again there will be an alteration in the formula so that help is given to those who cannot afford the necessary money.

I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary speak of the proposed college with a professor. Many people have told me that not enough money is being spent on the National Agricultural Advisory Service. Although this service is doing excellent work, I have been told, particularly in Cornwall, that not enough facilities and money are available for horticultural research to be undertaken. I welcome the proposed establishment of a college of the sort outlined by my hon. Friend and I am sure that it will be of great value to the industry.

The Parliamentary Secretary went on to say that we must help the horticultural industry to compete on fair terms with produce from abroad. This is quite an undertaking at the moment. when one considers, for example, the rail and air transportation of produce to this country from France and Italy. Those countries have a wonderful transportation organisation. From the moment their produce is embarked on trucks—in, say, the South of France or Italy—it is not touched again until it reaches its destination.

In my constituency, on the other hand, flower boxes, and so on, must undertake the steamer voyage from the Scilly Isles to Penzance, about 35 miles, must be handled several times and only palletisation and improved marketing arrangements and equipment will improve the situation. Comparable rail facilities must also be provided. Duplicity of handling must now arise with all produce brought from outlying areas, the West Country, and so on, into the markets.

It is only fair to draw attention to the general question of tariffs. There has been a great deal of feeling and in the West Country much fear about the possible removal of tariffs. The Government have said time and again—and I hope that the Minister who will reply to the debate will re-emphasise this—that there is no question of tariff changes taking place now. Even if the tariffs are not changed that will be equivalent, in the rising costs that are occurring in everything throughout the world, to a decrease in tariffs. I hope that we shall be given an assurance on the tariff topic because it is a vitally important part of the protection which we can give to the industry.

I welcome the Bill. I welcome anything that will help our horticultural and agricultural producers. The Government have introduced a Bill which will be of great help to these people. I welcome the assistance and explanations we were given in Committee upstairs, although I hope that when the Minister replies he will reassure us on the points that I have raised.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Hilton

Like all hon. Members, I welcome the Bill because it will bring benefit to many people engaged in horticulture and agriculture. We must never forget the importance of this industry to Britain. In my constituency it is by far the most important industry and, therefore, it will be of benefit to many of my constituents.

There has been more unanimity in our discussions of the Bill than there has been on any other Measure in which I have taken part during the five years I have been in the House. The only shame has been that had hon. Members opposite voted in accordance with their consciences rather than at the dictate of their Whips, the Government Front Bench would have been defeated on at least a couple of occasions today.

This, of course, is part of politics, but we cannot deny that there has been a tremendous amount of agreement on both sides because all of us are so anxious to bring improvements and benefits to British agriculture and horticulture. As a result of this agreement I am sure that we have improved the Bill considerably. As other speakers have done, I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the way he has worked on the Bill. He has told us on a number of occasions that although he could not accept our proposals he was sympathetic to them. I believe that he was genuine in saying that, but unfortunately he was a mouthpiece for the Government and he could not express his sympathy as he would liked to have done.

I welcome the grants which are designed to improve horticultural marketing, which for many years has been a bugbear in this country. This provision, by itself, will bring tremendous benefits all round to the growers, the market traders and the consumers. We have waited for this for a long time and it is particularly welcome now. One feature of the Bill which has not been talked about as much as have some others is the grant for the grubbing-up of old orchards. Land is at present one of our most valuable assets. I believe that this grant will mean the reclamation and bringing back into production of many acres of valuable land which for far too long have been derelict. This is a move in the right direction.

Throughout our discussions one criticism of the Bill has been that in some ways it is too restrictive. I have spoken on a number of occasions on the need for better treatment for the small people, especially in horticulture. The small, efficient man in the industry has been for far too long at a disadvantage compared with the bigger man who has acreage and capital enough to claim the grants which are on offer. There are many small, efficient men who are without the necessary acreage to claim the benefits of the Bill and because of this they are now to be denied. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that consultations are taking place but he did not seem to be very optimistic about the outcome. I only hope that when they are concluded they will be of some benefit to the small man. There has been evident throughout the debate a feeling that more should be done to bring benefits to him. I wish the Bill well. I hope that it will not be long before it is passed and it comes into operation.

9.29 p.m.

Sir P. Agnew

The Bill has been brought before the House and it will obtain its Third Reading after a comparatively short time since we passed the 1960 Act. It was brought forward because it was generally felt that that Act had not fulfilled all the high hopes that were originally entertained for it. In bringing forward this Measure the Government have suffered from the loss of a body which would have assisted them as well as the industry in coming to some of the decisions which we find embodied in the Bill. I refer to the Horticultural Marketing Council, whose untimely demise I greatly deplore. But that is a matter of history now. We have had to manage without it, though fortunately it left some records of its uncompleted work.

The Bill is a measure of assistance to the home industry and, as in 1960, it is permeated with the same method of giving that assistance, namely by grant. This is the chosen instrument. It is a phenomenon of the attitude of some growers to grants that they feel that there is something suspicious about them. They feel that it would be better if they could be found to be loan-worthy generally by the Government and the state of the industry could be such that they could gradually work off those loans. Again, they feel a sense of suspicion about the Bill that it is a package deal which is being given to soothe them for an oncoming loss of their protective tariff structure.

Of course, it would be idle to deny that we are entering—indeed, we are already in—an era of progressively freer trade in all classes of goods throughout the world. There is no getting away from that. I have endeavoured to persuade the growers with whom I have come into contact that this is a further genuine and honest attempt by the Government to set the industry on its feet by making individual holdings more viable and by encouraging under the various Clauses of the Bill the improvement of the marketing facilities which will be open to the industry.

The Bill contains one very important innovation, compulsory grading—the compulsory grading of selected items of fruit and vegetables at the wholesale level but not down to the retail level. In Committee, a great deal of attention was focused by hon. Members on both sides on the effect of not bringing these grading arrangements down to the retail level. However, it is frankly admitted that the grading was not intended to go into the retail trade but was intended, for this new phase we are entering, to allow quite a lot of fruit and vegetables which cannot, in the early years, achieve any grading none the less to find a reasonable outlet at least among people who live in the rural districts far from the more highly paid people who live in the cities. Such people will still be anxious to buy this fairly decent produce which is yet not up to the standard one would expect to be graded in the markets.

I am sure that this is a right decision at this stage, particularly when it is coupled with the provision in Clause 11(3) under which the Minister, if he finds that the avenues which the Bill provides for fruit and vegetables to be retailed by the producer become too greatly used and the balance of the market for fruit and vegetables generally is upset, will not hesitate to use his powers to close that gate, if necessary, altogether. I feel that we ought to rest assured with that provision at this stage of the development of the horticulture industry.

I welcome the Bill and I hope that it will be readily and quickly used by growers so soon as it is passed into law. Although we had a difference of opinion earlier today on this matter, I hope, also, that both individual growers and rural producers' co-operatives will find that they can get their finance backed in such a way that they can make use of it. I wish the Bill godspeed upon its way.

9.37 p.m.

Mr. Hayman

The Bill was necessary for three reasons—the failure of the deficiency payment system which the Government were operating, the resulting high taxation, and the failure of the Common Market negotiations. It was drafted fairly quickly in order to overcome these obstacles, and this is the reason why we have been unable to get from the Government at any stage a clear indication of how it will work. In the main, of course, this is what we are after. This is what our constituents are anxious to know. It is certainly what my constituents want to know. As regards horticulture, I recently had the opportunity to meet growers from all over the country, and I found that the fears and suspicions of those in West Cornwall were shared pretty well throughout Britain.

Much has been said about growers taking advantage of the very generous grants under the Bill which total, I believe, £24 million for horticulture. My suspicion is that this sum will never be spent because, if Cornwall is any guide, there is such a lack of confidence in the future of the industry on account of the Government's hesitation to say anything definite about the future of tariffs, on which the Cornish industry has been built and will be sustained, and about markets in general.

I hope that our fears will not materialise, but I have very little confidence in a Conservative Government using all the wide powers which the Bill gives for the benefit of the industry and of the consumer. After all is said and done, if there is to be a great future for the industry, the interests of the producer and the consumer will have to be joined in a happy marriage.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. Farr

I, too welcome the Bill in general, and I want, in particular, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the very able way in which he has steered us through today's proceedings. Earlier, I expressed reservations about Part I, but I also have a couple of points to raise on Parts II and III of the Bill.

Clause 9, in Part II, refers to specific grants for the improvement of wholesale markets, and I believe that my right hon. Friend, in an earlier debate, stated that he was there thinking in terms of markets with a throughput of £5 million a year, adding that 15 or 20 markets would come within that provision. What I particularly want to know is whether that £5 million is to be the actual or the potential throughput, whether it is to be a fixed figure or merely a figure provided for general guidance, and whether any consideration is to be given to regional matters.

To illustrate what I have in mind, the wholesale market in Leicester is completely ringed by development. It is at present virtually throttled. It has a present throughput approaching £4 million a year. It is unable to expand—partly because of a very zealous body of traffic wardens who interfere with the parking arrangements for vehicles around the market. The city corporation has made available a site of about seven acres away from the city centre, and the market development association has drawn up excellent plans, which I have seen, to develop this wholesale market on the new site, with adequate vehicle parking space, at a cost of nearly £½ million.

I should not be at all inclined to accept as a fact that the market development association could not take advantage of Clause 9 simply because its annual throughput did not come up to the level suggested by the Minister. As has been said earlier in the debate, regional considerations must also apply. There is not another wholesale market between Leicester and London, there is not one to the east, and a vast area of country depends on that market to put its products through.

Turning to Clause 11, in Part III of the Bill, I would refer to what was said just now by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) about the possibility of its being necessary for direct sales from grower to retailer to be either completely stopped or severely controlled. I have respect for my hon. Friend's views, but I would put it to him that there are vast areas, away from the Vale of Evesham and fertile fruit-growing areas like that, where, at certain times of the year, the village shop is dependent on produce supplied direct from the neighbouring farmer. If, for instance, apples must go from the farmer next door to a wholesale market and then back to the village shop, it will cause a great deal of resentment in certain parts of the country.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies

I am grateful for the contributions of the hon. Members for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) and Harborough (Mr. Farr). Without sounding pompous, I want to add my gratitude and congratulations to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the work which he did during the long Committee stage. I hope that he will understand that I do that without any pomposity but sincerely knowing how hard he worked in Committee and today.

I hope that what I say will not be taken in any personal sense and that the criticisms which I make will be thought constructive by the Minister. Like other hon. Members, while I believe that it was time that something revolutionary was done about agriculture and horticulture, I think that the drafting of the Bill may have been a little hurried. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South hinted that the professional organisations on the horticultural side, for instance, might have been consulted before the Bill was drawn up. I know that to keep in order I must deal only with what is in the Bill, but I think that Alan Ramsay's summary in the Milk Marketing Board's magazine, The Milk Producer, sums up the Bill's effect. He says that the Minister is shrewdly and boldly creating a legislative revolution in farming policy, the 1964 counterpart of the Acts of 1947 and 1957. His two-pronged Agriculture and Horticulture Bill—likely to be on the Statute Book this spring"— and we are helping the Minister to get it on the Statute Book by this spring— will give meat and cereal farmers an effective bridge to the modern world of trading. It will give us something we have been demanding for years: controlled imports and a floor price. For cereals the control will be by minimum prices; for meat by quantities. And for horticulture there will be an injection of public money: £50 million over ten years, to prepare growers for the next round of tariff reductions". Therefore, the warnings come from both sides. We want to ensure that there is no immediate withdrawal of tariffs.

There in a nutshell and neatly expressed is the whole purpose of the Bill. What results will evolve from it, whatever Government comes into power? I believe that those in meat and cereal production will have a better chance to plan. Nevertheless, we must ensure that for the small farmer in milk production areas there is a balance between milk and meat production. That is an issue which we shall discuss when we come to the Price Review.

Hon. Members on both sides have tried to understand what machinery is involved. I do not believe the Minister was right when he said today to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) that it would be difficult to discover the world price of a particular commodity at any one time. That surely was not true, because from 2 o'clock until about 5 o'clock on the Baltic Exchange the world prices of cereals was more or less anchored and known at any moment.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins


Mr. Davies

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary must not say "Nonsense." They can be known more or less. If it would have created a cumbersome machine, might we not have been told about that rather than be given an answer which was altogether wrong?

Next, the question of market grants. We pleaded that as well as the earmarking of £5 million, organised planning should be thought out. We sought to include "regional" in one of our Amendments, and here we would be justified in the West Midlands and in the Welsh area. I am not qualified to speak in terms of Scotland, but when talking in terms of Scotland of a throughput—that is a horrible word—of £5 million for a horticultural market, I doubt whether there is a yardstick that would meet the £5 million. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) can confirm or contradict what I say. In other words, a regional qualification is needed as well as the target of £5 million.

I should like to get rid of a few prejudices that the party opposite always spreads at General Election and other times. Let us get rid of this silly business about planning and its evils and punishment. We on this side are accused of wanting to nationalise everything from a barber's brush to a towel and one thing and another. Nevertheless, in the Bill we are faced with the reality of the life in which we live.

One has to plan to live sanely in the world. We have had to have constructive planning. It is all pragmatic. It is empirical that we improve as we go along. Nobody can make a complete blueprint of how the Bill will work. We must give and take. In the planning, we must have certain sanctions. When we on this side are accused of wanting to plan, I hope that we will hear no more nonsense about the powers of retribution that a Socialist or Labour Government might use, because in Clause 12 of the Bill we are increasing the powers of entry into premises—

Mr. Thorpe

If it is any consolation to the hon. Member, I do not think that it will happen. Lord Blakenham has just been giving people advice to vote Labour in the West Country.

Mr. Davies

That is splendid. We are told in Clause 12 of the Bill that If a justice of the peace, on sworn information in writing, is satisfied application can be made for admission to premises. Not only can it be made, but force can be used to enter the premises. Year in, year out, when we talk about planning, we are told that when we introduce constructive approaches like the attempt in the Bill to get men to co-ordinate and work together, when we include sanctions in a Bill, we are doctrinaire. I do not accuse the party opposite of that. If I were to be unfair to the party opposite and went through the Bill but spoke only about powers of entry to premises or the powers which can be obtained from a justice of the peace, it would be a complete distortion of the Bill.

Consequently, I hope that when we discuss the vital problem of agriculture and horticulture, which is important to Britain and is still our greatest industry, a balance will be kept concerning policies and the criticisms of each other's policy when we have to go to the country about what is still Britain's greatest and, I hope, finest industry.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

Unfortunately, I have not been able to be in the Chamber throughout the debate. I hope that it will not be thought discourteous if I intervene to make a few brief welcoming comments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) have welcomed the Bill and have dwelt upon the number of Clauses which provide for horticulture. I should like to confine my remarks to Clause 1, which has more constituency relevancy for me. It is in itself almost a Bill, and certainly a major prospective piece of legislation. It contains, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) said, very wide powers for a Minister of Agriculture.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) said. He and I served on the Committee. The hon. Member said that in those deliberations there had been revealed more unanimity on this Measure than on any other that he had known during his five years or so in this House.

I would not presume to dissent from that view, but I cannot help but recall that a few weeks ago, when there was a debate on Commonwealth development, some fairly strong language was used by his right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) concerning by implication Clause 1 of the Bill, for he felt that this was a mighty protective instrument to place in the hands of Government.

If there is some degree of unanimity in the Chamber this evening I hope that those of us, on our respective sides of the Chamber, who represent agricultural interests will use our powers of persuasion upon any of our colleagues who may not be as immutably seized of the advantages of the Bill as we are ourselves.

The two points I should like to make both refer to Clause 1. I should like to take up the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. J. Morris), when he spoke of this as being part of a deal. He referred to standard quantities. With the presence here of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the question of standard quantities of beef is a subject of no little interest. I very much hope that by the time the Bill has completed its passage through another place we shall know a little more about the standard quantities for beef.

I say this particularly since within the last few weeks there has been every indication that the United States market will no longer be as open to Australian beef exports as hitherto, and it is not unreasonable that there should be some concern lest the United Kingdom market may come under pressure from Australian beef exports. I hope that at a subsequent stage of the Bill we may have a little more information on this subject.

My other point is the minimum price structure contained in Clause 1. One saw throughout the Committee on the Bill that this has been thought of, quite naturally, I think, very much in terms of cereals. This was almost inevitably the case. I would draw the attention of my hon. Friend to the fact that these provisions could have very real significance in the future in terms of milk products. I say this because not very long ago, in the Common Market agricultural discussions. Dr. Mansholt said that every European dairy industry was subsidised to some extent, and this undoubtedly would be very much confirmed by the observations of Members of this House.

That being so, I think one would be very foolish if one thought that the situation of a few years ago when French products were being brought into this country at dump prices could not be repeated, and it is very encouraging to know that the mechanisms in Clause 1 could be used to prevent that situation from recurring.

I close on a personal note. Since becoming, only a short while ago, a Member of this House—I say this with some trepidation in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South—I have served on the Committees on three Bills. The first was the Transport Bill. I served on that Committee almost immediately on becoming a Member of the House, and I regard that as a penance for my temerity in wishing to enter the House. The second was the Committee on the Bill about lavatory turnstiles, a Bill which will find a place in the catalogue of social reform. The third was this Bill, and I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to serve on the Committee because it enabled me to see the House at work under probably its best circumstances. I believe that, in a quite and workmanlike way, we have been placing on record a Bill which will play its part along with the 1947 and 1957 Acts.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Proceedings on Government Business may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. MacArthur.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Ross

I was rather taken by the way the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) finished. He said that he had served on the Committees on three Bills since he has been here. He is very lucky; there are some of us who serve on three Committees at one time. The hon. Gentleman has measured his progress from transport through lavatories to this Bill, but he has something greater coming to him yet. It may be that one day he will be selected to serve on the Scottish Grand Committee, and then he will really find out how a Bill should be treated.

I have seldom listened to a Third Reading debate in which so many Members have welcomed the Bill and then asked questions and expressed doubts. If the Committee stage had been conducted in the traditional Scottish manner, by now we should know something about the Bill and should be satisfied. Even the Minister—I pay tribute to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the way he handled the Bill and the patience and the exhaustiveness with which he replied to questions—was not quite sure how he would use the powers given him in the Bill.

As some hon. Members have said, this is a rather historic Bill. It marks a complete breakaway from the system of deficiency payments. It ends the open-ended aspects.

Mr. P. Browne

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) that the deficiency payment system has broken down completely?

Mr. Ross

From experience of it over a number of years, it seems very much on the verge of a complete I am sure that there were some people in the Treasury who were very worried about what was going to happen next. But they seen now to have been saved.

I shall not go into the motives of the Bill. I am merely remarking on the fact that we are now proceeding more on the basis of a managed agricultural market. We have been trying to push Ministers into this for a long time. If we want stability in agriculture, we must inevitably proceed on this basis. The big question now hanging over agriculture is how it will be managed and what share of the market will go to the home producer and what share to the overseas producer.

I was amazed that the Secretary for Industry and Trade should have crept into this. Even within the working of Clause 1, there may be a tug-of-war between the interests of industry and the interests of agriculture. We should be foolish to deny that. Very large question marks are still hanging over Clause 1. The Minister first said that it would concern cereals only. At one time he included beef as well, but then he excluded beef. There were to be levies only where there were no commodity agreements.

The power is as wide as it could be. It covers related products as well and we still await a statisfactory definition of "related product". It is defined in the Bill by reference to "related product". I hope that, before the Bill is through another place, someone will have given more definite attention to this considerable defect in draftsmanship.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Scotland will attempt to deal with the question of Parliamentary control over this system. We are glad that eventually he has ben dragged into the Bill—and I am not talking about his personal participation. Agriculture is Scotland's most important industry and horticulture also is very important. It was, therefore, disgraceful that with a change in agricultural policy of such tremendous potential, giving the Government the power to declare whether a whole section of agriculture is to prosper or not, or how much it is to prosper, the Secretary of State should not have been included in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech on Second Reading and it is rumoured that he is to reply to this debate. Where was he in between?

Mr. P. Browne

There were no Scottish Members from the benches opposite on the Standing Committee.

Mr. Ross

If the hon. Gentleman cares to interrupt standing up I will give him a reply.

Mr. Browne

Through no fault of the Secretary of State's any more than it was the fault of the hon. Gentleman, the Scottish Grand Committee was sitting throughout the time this Bill was in Standing Committee, as the hon. Members knows. The hon. Member himself appeared once or twice to vote, and that was all.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. He must have been absent from the Standing Committee on those splendid occasions when I delivered myself of imperishable oratory—at considerable length, according to some of his hon. Friends.

The hon. Gentleman's first mistake is that the Scottish Grand Committee was not sitting at all. It was the Scottish Standing Committee that was meeting. His second mistake is in the number of hon. Members who attended the Standing Committee on this Bill from this side of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and I were members. I had preoccupations also with other Bills, but the Secretary of State for Scotland has not appeared during the Committee stage of any Scottish Bill this Session. [Interruption.] I am addressing the Secretary of State, whose responsibilities are now written into the Bill. It is about that that the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) interrupted me. If he has lost the battle then let him accept defeat. He may have to do so on another occasion soon, anyway.

I want to know how, administratively, this Bill will work. I understand that the regulations will be laid jointly by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland. There will be affirmative Resolutions under Clause 1 in relation to specifying commodities. The range available is unlimited.

An Amendment to Clause 8 defined horticultural produce. There are 10 items, but within many of them there are eight or nine other items. This will be a terrific responsibility, and the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that one of our complaints in Scotland even about the present system is that, very often, there is a different harvesting time in Scotland from that in England and Wales, especially in horticulture, and that our needs have not always been met. Under Clause 1 the Secretary of State has specified responsibilities and I hope that he will indicate how he intends to live up to them.

The Parliamentary Secretary has been asked how this is to be administered and how the Minister will keep in touch with all the changes that will be made necessary. I was amazed by what the Parliamentary Secretary told us about the possibility of prohibiting certain commodities when he said that he could not be expected to know what market prices were. I had a terrifying vision during one of his speeches in Committee of some little man sitting in his Ministry and keeping in constant touch, not just with various markets, but with ships and consignments and levy changes and import orders all over the place. With all due respect, we have not been given much more information about how this procedure is to operate. This little man will have to keep in touch with all the ports and with all the Customs and Revenue officers in those ports and all the consignments coming in in the middle of the night, in the early morning and so on. It is a forlorn appeal, but I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland in his second speech on the Bill to enlighten us still further about the Government's intention; in this respect.

The other part of the Bill has been generally welcomed, but let us appreciate exactly what it means—about £50 million. Some suspiciously-minded politicians might construe this at this time as a bit of electoral bribery, but, being an innocent Scotsman, I would never suggest anything of the kind. It will be interesting to hear what the candidates in Lanarkshire and similar areas, will have to say. I have no doubt that we shall hear speeches about how timely this is and how it was in the mind of the Government during all these 12 years, but that they could just not get around to it and had to tie up the licensing laws of Scotland first.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) was quite right in what he said about national markets. If the Government have something in mind for markets of national importance, they should tell us where those markets are. The Secretary of State for Scotland has produced an elaborate plan—at least he calls it a plan—and in Glasgow last night the Prime Minister, assuming his latest mantle, the mantle of Cassius Claymore—he will probably get the same fate, too—told us that this new plan for Central Scotland was the most exciting and the most imaginative of the Government's activities during the next five years.

There are very important national wholesale markets in Scotland, in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which are very much in need of overhaul, if my connections with the wholesale fruit and horticulture trade are any guide. Can we be told whether they are included within the £20 million to be spent in the next 10 years, with the possibility of another £5 million over the following two years? It is about time that we had some specific information about the Bill.

I hope that before the Bill leaves another place some Minister will take the opportunity to clear up this position about the credit organisations, the monopoly which seems to be given to one, although there is no indication in the Bill that such a position can arise. We do not want administrative monopolies from a so-called modernising Government who proclaim free enterprise against restriction and control and then produce a Bill like this. I started out to count the number of times that the word "regulation" is used in Part II, but I lost count. I should be very surprised if the Parliamentary Secretary could answer a simple question like that if he is unable to satisfy us on other questions. However, I assure him that if he introduces these regulations fairly quickly, he will have plenty of opportunity to satisfy us about what the Bill really means.

Going back to the efficiency of horticulture, this question of grading is absolutely vital. The horticulture industry cannot depend on the admission of imports, or the extension of the provisions in Clause 1, to ensure the prosperity of the industry. That will depend on the ability of horticulturists to be efficient in the production, grading and marketing of their produce. That is fundamental. Given that, they would have the right to expect their interests to be consulted in relation to any unfair trading, and they will be entitled to their share of what will be a growing market.

I hope that when the Regulations are introduced we shall have a clearer idea of what is in the mind of the Government. I should like to know whether we have enough officers in the Department to carry out the work. Have we got any in Edinburgh? This will be dealt with by the Department of Agriculture at the Scottish Office and I notice that the inspectors are to be centralised and not local inspectors, according to the way in which the officers are defined in the Bill. They will have powers of entry and all the rest of it, and we must face this position if we mean business about improving grading. We must hope that the Regulations will be administered sensibly.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the first opportunity to appease the farmers in Scotland who are feeling badly about matters at the present time. For the first time for many years the farmers in my constituency asked to see me, and I should not like to repeat their language. Mine is a farming constituency and probably one of the wealthiest areas of the dairy industry in Scotland. I understand that the farmers of Kinross and West Perth asked to see their Member and they were so dissatisfied that they demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister. We have not yet heard the result of that. I am concerned that the various problems tied up partly with the proper administration of Clause 1 shall be dealt with.

Speaking at Nairn, Mr. D. Scott Johnson, the Scottish N.F.U. economist, said: Crucial issues which would affect the future of farming for decades were now facing the industry. 'The Government wants to reach agreements with overseas suppliers of mutton and beef and cereals similar to those announced for bacon'. Every hon. Member knows what happened and the fears that were aroused by the bacon agreement and the limitation on the home market which may arise out of a maladministration of the provisions in Clause 1.

The limitation on standard quantities for milk and beef must be matters of concern for Scottish farmers and the Secretary of State with their knowledge of these markets. Mr. Scott Johnson said the position would be worse when all major commodities were similarly restricted. 'The more production rises to keep up with rising costs the faster will prices be cut and the pledges in the Agricultural Act will lose all meaning. These are the dangers as the Scottish union sees them The Government must stop and work out solutions to these problems before steps are taken which will be hard, if not impossible, to retrace'. May we know from the right hon. Gentleman how the Government propose to use Clause 1? Will it be a question of restriction, or expansion and fair shares of that expanding market for the farmers of this country?

10.20 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Noble)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) for welcoming me back since the Second Reading of the Bill to take part in its discussion. He seemed to suggest that I was less than diligent in my duties in not attending all Committee sittings, or indeed all the Committees, but, unlike the hon. Member, I do not like to run this considerable task as a one-man band.

Mr. Ross

Try to be less of a fiddler.

Mr. Noble

It is certainly true that in these considerations there is likely to be a tug-o'-war between agriculture and industry from time to time just as there is likely to be a tug-o'-war, as the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. J. Morris) said, sometimes between the agricultural producer and the consumer. Having listened to practically the whole of this debate, I think that its main feature has been the very high degree of unanimity which has been expressed by many hon. Members on both sides on the principles which are brought out by it.

It may be true that there is wide agreement. It may also be true that very little has yet been said about the specific type of machinery which has to be used. I think that is not unnatural. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock said that he expected he would get more information about this when the draft Orders are laid. I think that is right because negotiations have to be carried on with many different people, particularly on the question of cereals levies. It is right and proper that those negotiations should be continued and the orders should come out at the right time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) talked to some extent about the European experience in marketing. Many of us who have been to Europe during the last few years have seen how tremendously far in advance in some respects they are over our position in this country in their marketing of horticultural produce. Certainly, we ought to study their system and learn what we can from it.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) mentioned very much the same points and called it palletisation and other market equipment. I agree with him that discussions with the industry should be engaged in on these points because we want to get the right answers and learn from any part of Britain or Europe how to get the right answers. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) spoke about tariffs. Perhaps I should restate the position once more.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has stated this, but I appreciate that when we are changing a system for an industry there is always a fear that perhaps the change will be for the worse. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock suggested that there were people even more suspicious than he was, although it is difficult for me to appreciate that. The fact is that there will be no reductions in sensitive tariffs for some four years. On the horticultural products which are not sensitive—these are comparatively unimportant—there will be no changes without consultation with the industry. I think that that is as fair as one can say for an industry which inevitably will change.

Mr. Hayman

Could the right hon. Gentleman enumerate the sensitive items which would still be protected?

Mr. Noble

No, I cannot do that.

The hon. Member for Aberavon talked about the "failure" of the 1957 Act. That, of course, is speaking in very wild terms, because not very long ago, when the Common Market discussions were the cause of a slight difference of opinion across the Floor of the House, the farming community was demanding that we should stick to the 1957 Act and the guarantees and safety which it brought. It has brought a great deal of security to the farming world.

I, too, move in farming circles, and I do not deny that a good deal of worry is being expressed about the adequacy of the income. This is bound up with the second point which the hon. Member made very clearly and rightly, namely, the demand from the country as a whole for cheap food. There is no doubt as to this, at least among my farming friends. Many of them say, "If only people who are not farmers would pay more for their food, as they do in Europe, we should be much happier about our position".

These two items are closely connected. I agree with the hon. Member for Aberavon that the balance must be watched carefully. The policy on cheap food, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, might go if we made robust use of Clause 1, is one of the ways in which the farming income problem could be solved.

I will not follow the hon. Gentleman into his discussion on beef and milk, any more than I will follow my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) into standard quantities for beef, because I find it a little difficult to relate these questions to the purposes of the Bill. I would say to those who have asked whether the aim of the Bill is to prepare the ground for our entry into the Common Market that this has been flatly contradicted many times by spokesmen for the Government. I do so again.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) was extremely kind in the way in which he welcomed the Bill, particularly the grants for horticultural marketing and the grubbing up of old orchards and his congratulations to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has borne the heat and the burden not only of today, because my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is ill, but through the Committee.

I also welcome the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew). He thought that his farmers had some suspicions about the package deal. All package deals need unwrapping and examining. My hon. Friend brought out what is the key, in my view, to the whole of the second part of the Bill, namely, that we are giving the horticultural industry a superb opportunity to develop and change into a really modern and worthy type of industry. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend thought that, once the Bill is passed, growers will quickly take up the opportunities and advantages which will flow from it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) asked about specific grants under Clause 9. He asked, in particular, whether the £5 million target for these markets was actual or potential. It is in fact either. If a market looks like having a potential throughput of £5 million, it will be developed. I think that this must be developed on a national rather than a regional basis. If we start trying to break our ideas of marketing up and confuse them with ideas of a lot of small markets to cover regions, we shall do a great disservice to the whole of this conception.

Mr. Peart

I hope that the right hon Gentleman will not assume that I was thinking in terms of a regional plan with a host of small markets. On the contrary, I was merely suggesting that there may be other factors apart from throughput. Other relevant factors will be communications and the fact that in one specific region there may not be adequate facilities. Therefore, I suggested, as I did in Committee, that if we are to have a national plan we must also consider regional problems.

Mr. Noble

I do not deny that in the situation in which some of them are placed, the regional consideration may be involved. But I want to get the House away from thinking that they should be small and regionally decided. They should be nationally decided, to serve the nation, although in certain circumstances regional problems will, no doubt, come into consideration.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of apples in the village shop. He need have no fear on this score. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary assures me that he is safe in respect of that worry.

Coming to the end of many debates on the Bill, and welcoming it as I do, and as many others have done, I should like to pay a tribute to the combined work of the Standing Committee, even though I did not have the pleasure of serving upon it. The record of the Committee's work shows how constructive it was in trying to improve the Bill. The Government accepted a number of Amendments, and in so doing they believe that they have improved the Bill. We have not been able to accept all the Amendments that the Opposition moved, but I do not believe that they, in their most optimistic mood, expected that we would. But I feel that, as a general result of our labours, we have been able to produce a Bill to which the House can confidently give a third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.