HL Deb 10 December 1931 vol 83 cc483-504

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a small Agricultural Bill partly to assist the balance of trade and to prevent money going unnecessarily out of the country, and partly to give assistance to growers off certain fruits and vegetables. It is a comparatively small Bill because endeavouring, as we are, to deal with this matter as expeditiously as we can we felt it was possible only to act where, obviously and without question, no harm was being done to any other interests. The particular commodities we have chosen do not raise the difficulties of dealing with, agriculture on a short time basis. Nor do they bring up the dangers of raising the cost of living at a time when incomes are falling. It is therefore in regard to these particular commodities possible to treat the subject on an emergency basis.

Of course this small Bill does not profess to be the end of all we intend to do. It deals with luxury products. Your Lordships will find in the Schedule at the end of the Bill a list of those products with which it is hoped to deal. They are mainly luxuries to be dealt with on the basis that they have certain unfair advantages in being produced in other countries at an earlier period than here on account of the climate. The value of imports of articles in the list amounts, I think, to £13,000,000 a year, about £7,000,000 of which refers to early importations. There are certain difficulties regarding some of these commodities because quite a number are imported on consignment and if your Lordships will look at Clause 2, subsection 2 (a) of the Bill, you will see that duties may be charged by reference to value, weight, measurement or quantity. That means that on whatever basis these imports come in it will be possible, by adopting one method or the other, to cover them. Paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of Clause 2 provides that the duties may be charged "at such different rates for such different parts of any period as may be so provided." That is to enable the Minister to deal with these products on the basis of the period at which they are imported. It will be possible to levy a duty up to ICO per cent, at certain times, gradually declining as we get towards our own production, but the Minister intends, whilst concentrating on the earlies, to see to it that there is a certain amount of overlapping; otherwise, in the case of certain crops, it would he possible by holding up the commodity abroad to flood the market as soon as the duty came off.

Another point to which I ought to draw attention is that where the duty is not ad valorem—that is, where it is based on weight, measurement or quantity—the value for the purpose of the 100 per cent, limitation will be based on the price prevailing at the corresponding period in the preceding year. A noble Lord opposite was asking me about that. If the noble Lord will read Clause 2, subsection (2), paragraph (c), he will see that that is perfectly clear. The latter part of the paragraph does not apply to products that are to be charged ad valorem but to products where the duty is to be based on weight, measurement or quantity, and then there is this limit set to the charge.

This is a small Bill but it is a Bill that should give great encouragement to a considerable number of our producers. Its reactions should be considerable in the realm of actual money values, and it should also have a very considerable psychological effect, because it has undoubtedly been most discouraging to our growers to know that the cream is always going to be skimmed off the market, not because they are less efficient than the foreigner but purely because the foreigner happens to enjoy the sun at a somewhat earlier period. It is a Bill that can in no way increase the cost of living. It may be that some of us, who like to have more luxurious tables than others, will be unable to spend large sums of money at particular periods of the year on fruits and vegetables which really are quite unnecessary to us. That is the only limitation to which we are submitting the consumer. I do not think we are asking that type of consumer to make a great sacrifice. It is a sacrifice that noble Lords opposite would not in any way mind asking.

One last point is of importance to the growers who are going to benefit by the operations of this Bill. Here I am not making any announcement of Ministerial policy, but I would say to them that they surely must see, purely on the basis of common sense, that it is going to be far more difficult for us in dealing with this question next yea—as it has got to be dealt with because this Bill only lasts for a year—to reimpose these duties unless supplies of good quality produce are placed on the market comparable in all ways to the imported produce that we hope to keep out: comparable, that is, in all ways excepting the particular period at which they are produced. Not only will it be difficult for us in the light, of public opinion to reimpose those duties unless the growers organise both for sufficiency and quality of supplies, but it is also going to be difficult for the growers, even during the period in which they enjoy this protection, to get the full benefit of the protection without some machinery of their own. Competition from overseas will, it is true, be lessened, but the grower will still be competing with large numbers of his fellow-growers and in some cases, if he not careful, he might find himself in a position not to be able to avail himself of a market which is open to him. The growers have of late been taking account of the importance of organisation and their adoption of the grading system and of the National Mark has been most gratifying. I would appeal to the grower to see to it that he gives that system greater support even than in the past and thus make sure that the markets which are to be protected shall be supplied with comparable goods.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, it seems rather an anti-climax, after dealing with the affairs of the Indian Empire, to come down to dealing with what the noble Earl calls a small agricultural measure. I suggest that the interests of your Lordships' House in agriculture are hardly to be measured by the meagre attendance at this moment. To drop from 160 to sixteen or eighteen members scarcely augurs well for the interest of your Lordships' House in agriculture. One of the unhappy facts of the recent electoral hurricane is that I find myself on the opposite side to the noble Earl who has moved this Bill. He was one of those whom we on this side greatly regretted to lose 'and we hope very much that, when he finds that the pirate crew which has captured the ship of State is not as reliable or as satisfactory as those with whom ho formerly associated, he may see his way to walk the plank and return to safer regions.


It is a very risky way of doing it.


It may be better to do that than to remain on board. After all, the plan of this pirate crew appears to be only to raise the bulwarks of the upper deck and not to deal with the leaks and damage below the water line. Raising the bulwarks, increasing tariffs and duties, and placing barriers all round, appears to be the method adopted by the Government. Of this small Bill we have been told by the Minister of Agriculture that it was largely designed to balance our trade. That scarcely agrees with the statement of the noble Earl that it only deals with a few million pounds out of the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of imported food stuffs. We on this side are not going to deny that agriculture needs help. We thoroughly realise that the agricultural industry is in difficulties, but we do not agree that the method of tariffs is the right way. We believe, first of all, that it is a beginning of taxes on food and for that reason we are unalterably opposed to the method of duties. We believe it is wrong and ineffective and that, small measure as it is, it does a maximum of harm for a minimum amount of good. It has not been thought out and it does not meet any emergency such as abnormal imports. There is no forestalling to be met. The real emergency which this Bill is endeavouring to meet is the emergency which exists in the ranks of the National Government—the demand that something shall be done for agriculture before the Christmas Recess. It is another example of Orders in Council. Only yesterday the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, speaking on this method, said that the constant use of emergency powers is the most grotesque form of government that can be conceived.

It has been indicated that this Bill could be used almost as a threat to producers to put their house in order if they wanted it to be continued for a further year. Twelve months is not a safeguard to producers. What producer is going to lay out capital in glass houses, in manure, in careful tillage, in preparations, if this Bill is only going to last twelve months? And yet there is no machinery provided to compel producers to put their house in order during the twelve months interval in this Bill. When the Minister of Agriculture in the House of Commons a few days ago was asked whether any active steps were being taken by the Government to make the Marketing Act effective, he replied: "No, only the agricultural producers of England, Scotland and Wales can make the Agricultural Marketing Act effective. "There is no machinery in the Bill to help them to do that, and there is no suggestion contained in this Bill that there will be any pressure brought to bear upon producers to make effective their marketing arrangements.

The noble Earl reminded us that the Schedule of the Bill contains a list of those articles which are included, and he rather indicated that they consisted of luxuries; at any rate he omitted the necessities which are included. As regards the duties on luxuries we do not particularly mind. It is not the way to help British producers. We believe it does the minimum of good, and creates the maximum of upset with other countries, particularly France; but as regards luxuries we are not concerned. What about the necessities included in the list—things like salads, which have become much more a part of the diet of ordinary people in this country? What about tomatoes, what about soft fruits for jam, what about vegetables? The only result of these duties must be to increase the price of such necessities as are included in the ordinary diet of the people of this country at a time when they have the minimum of increased purchasing power to meet their ordinary needs.

We admit the problem, but we believe the problem of agriculture is mainly of price but partly of climate. The price which the producer can receive for his articles is not only affected by the conditions contained in this Bill; it is affected by such matters as land and rent, which we are told have now been dropped by the Government in another place, to the very great regret of those who sit on this side of the House. There is no provision, there is no discussion, no proposal, for assisting with regard to freight and transport charges for the conveyance of the produce referred to in the Schedule of this Bill from the producer to the consumer. The grading and marketing which is so essential has not been provided for. I would suggest that the real cause of the low prices for these goods is contained in the volume of production of the goods. It is a well recognised law of economics that high production tends to mean low prices. I do not suppose any noble Lord opposite will disagree with that. I know we have not got the statistical resources which are available in the Ministry of Agriculture, but when one examines personally the figures of production and imports we find that when production in this country is high, price tends to be low, and imports tend to decrease.

Imports tend to fall of those particular goods when prices are low and home production is high. It is arguable from that—I am sure the noble Earl will be able to deal with this matter—that the duty will merely raise the prices when they are already high, but when prices are low the effect of the duty will be too small to help the home producer. The very fact of a variable duty which he described to your Lordships makes that position inevitable. Let me take one or two examples. Let me take the case of strawberries. Strawberries are particularly interesting to me, because I was for many years on the small holdings and allotment committee of the Hampshire County Council, and we had there the greatest strawberry area in England. We found that our county council smallholders! were very hardly hit by the fact that early imports of strawberries got here from abroad and obtained high prices, so that when our own people's strawberries were ready for the market they came on a market that was saturated and only commanded low prices.

What good can be a tariff on strawberries corning from abroad before British strawberries are ready? I notice that the average wholesale price of early strawberries from abroad in 1930 was 2s. 4d. per lb. Suppose you put even 100 per cent, on that and the charge for them was 4s. 8d.; what does it matter that those who want early strawberries have to pay s. 8d.? Not one penny goes into the pocket of the British producer because he has not any strawberries ready for the market then. The noble Earl realises that the duty ho can charge for strawberries under paragraph (c) of Clause 2 (2) is limited to a maximum. I am assuming this is an on-consignment duty. It could not possibly be anything else on strawberries. The duty as a maximum is limited to 100 per cent, of whatever was the price of strawberries the year before at that time. This is a little intricate, but I trust those of your Lordships who are interested in agriculture will follow it. If then the price of strawberries imported the year before was 4d. a lb. and if there was a duty put on, shall we say of 1d. or 2d. a lb? in those circumstances it cannot be more than that amount based upon the price of imports of strawberries in the same period of the year before, according to this rather ill-considered and rather stupid little Bill. That is a fact. I hope the noble Ear: will deal with the position.

It is a fact that home production of strawberries has been decreasing for years. It is a fact that the imports of strawberries have not really been going up. It is a fact that the early price of strawberries has averaged somewhere about 2s.—the price of early imported strawberries. And it is a fact' that the price of strawberries imported in the latter period of the year has varied from in average of 3d. to 6d. a lb. The duties therefore are no help at all at the be- ginning of the season, and when you come to the end of the season they will have too little effect to help the British producer, and such effect as they will have will merely be to increase the price of fruit for ordinary people. It will increase the price of strawberries required for jam making—I am talking of jam made of strawberries and not of pulp.

Why did not the Government take the bold course and adopt the alternative suggestion of controlling imports? Surely it would have been far better to have a comprehensive plan for dealing with the soft fruit industry. We know that the strawberry growers want help, but we say that the; Bill will not help for the simple reasons that I have explained. It is, however, possible to help the strawberry industry if the more comprehensive matter of the whole industry were considered. In the first place there should be a consideration of the total possible home production. Then surely the Government ought to have taken into account the imports of pulp fruit and canned and bottled fruit as well as of strawberries, because if you prevent imports through one source you will get more imports through the other. If you prevent the imports of strawberries from abroad you will have increased imports of pulp strawberries, and therefore surely pulp strawberries ought to have been considered in the consideration of this measure, and in such a way as that the new British canning industry could not be adversely affected.

On November 17 last The Times produced an extremely interesting supplement dealing with the British canning industry, and there it dealt with the beginning of the development of this new industry, which I am informed may in certain circumstances be adversely affected by the duties contained in this Horticultural Products Bill, and which definitely has not been considered in the framing of the Bill by the Ministry as a means for the encouragement of the expansion of British production, by allowing surplus products to flow into the cans when the markets may be saturated. By this Bill you are risking the canning industry being found with a shortage of fruit. The marketing question has been dealt with. I want to remind the House that it was a Com- mittee presided over by Lord Linlithgow—and I think very many of us are very sorry not to see him in the Government—which dealt with this question of marketing in 1923. That Committee pointed out that very often in marketing no fewer than eight intermediaries were interposed between the grower and the consumer. They instanced them as grower, local dealer, commission salesman, commission buyer, wholesaler, second wholesaler, retailer and consumer. They then went on to state that in the carriage from the producer to the consumer there were as many, sometimes, as sixteen to twenty handlings of the produce. Surely these are methods by which the Government might have sought to assist the producer, and not only by the somewhat barren method of a tariff, which seems to have absorbed all the thoughts and industry of the Government to the exclusion of the real aspects of the problem.

I suggest that these duties are not a remedy but that their tendency will be to shelter inefficiency. Do not let it be thought that I accuse the producer of inefficiency, but there is room for enormous improvement in co-operative effort in grading and marketing. I cannot see, however, that this Bill will do anything to improve those conditions. It will make it easier for the producers to settle down under the tariff to make such production as they can, with the higher profits which some will undoubtely receive—not those I have mentioned but others—without any increase in efficiency. I believe this Bill will not help in the improvement of marketing conditions. I believe it may injure the new industry of canning in Great Britain. I believe it will raise the price of certain of these articles, which are definite necessities. Who can say that vegetables and salads are not necessities in these days? I believe this Bill may be the first step to further tariffs on food supplies, and it has been the experience of all countries who have had tariffs that there has always been lobbying and deputations. I think it was Mr. Runciman who said that he and his Department had had a record in deputations during the last few days on the question of iron and steel.

This Bill may be the first step to further and more tariffs, and to further and more taxes on food, and small as it is this par- ticular measure is one which will have particular effect on our relations with France. The Times on Monday last, speaking of the effect of our tariff policy on France, said that: The best informed and most serious French opinion, with a deeper sense of the gravity of the international position …. is genuinely aghast at the beginning of what they believe to be a disastrous tariff war. Reprisals are certain and will have fatal effects on trade and the exchanges. They believe Great Britain will be the first and heaviest sufferer. I suggest that this Bill has been produced largely as a sop to those supporters of the Government who believe in tariffs as the ultimate solution of all our evils. I believe that for the reasons which I have given it will not do the good which the Government believe and hope it will do, but that on the contrary it will do harm to our interests and relationships.


My Lords, I have been given to understand, on what I believe to be good authority, that when a rescue party finds a starving man in the last stages of exhaustion it is dangerous to give him large doses of food. It is considered best to treat his stomach with small doses of stimulant until it is in such a condition that it can take more generous diet. That is undoubtedly the attitude of the Government with regard to the industry of agriculture, and it is not an attitude which I for one should be disposed overmuch to quarrel with, provided the Government also realise that those small doses of stimulant very rapidly induce the stomach to be in a position to take a more generous diet, and that the patient will not recover his full strength until he has a very satisfying meal at regular intervals. With regard to this little Bill that has been introduced I should like as far as it goes to congratulate my noble friend Lord De La Warr on its introduction, and I would venture also to congratulate him upon having received a tribute from the other side of the House. I am sure we on this side are equally gratified to find ourselves on the same side of the House with him. I think it was a rather unkind cut to suggest that the noble Earl should walk the plank to what I think was described as the better place, because I always understood that if you walked the plank you found yourself in a distinctly worse place when you came to the end of It. It may be that he referred to the ultimate issue, but as to that I am not in a position to speak.

With regard to this Bill, I think few people, if any, except very captious critics, could find fault with the articles included in the Schedule. Of course, there are very many people who complain about the articles that are excluded from it, and also the articles that are excluded by the Title of the Hill. I find myself entirely in accord with the noble Lord, Lord Marley, when he said that pulp should not be excluded. I am very glad to have his support, and I venture to think that this is one of those doses that are coining later on. I should also like to have seen in some such Bill as this at this time the inclusion of poultry in such a Schedule. Poultry comes into this country to the tune of something like £3,000,000 a year. 'Poultry is mostly produced by the smallholders of this country, and, as I look on this Bill more B,8 a gesture than anything else, I think such a gesture, coming at this time of the year, when everyone is ordering his Christmas turkey, would perhaps have been of more value than the things we find in the Schedule.

I do not wish ever to discourage the cry of "Buy British." I am well aware of all the good that it has done. It has done far more, no doubt, than this little Bill will do. But it is subject to some limitations. In the first place, the "Buy British" campaign does not mean that a, man is selling British stuff. I had an instance of that the other day, the particulars of which I should be very glad to give to my noble friend, at a large fruit store full of fruit. The counters were covered with placards, "Buy British," the walls; had posters "Buy" British," but there was not a single article of British fruit within that store. What does the cry "Buy British" really mean? I suggest it is an appeal to people to put themselves to certain inconvenience and certain pecuniary disadvantage to help the people of this island. "Who responds to that appeal? I suggest that all patriotic people, regardless, of course, of Party, respond to that appeal. I have no doubt that every member of your Lordships' House has already ordered his British turkey for Christmas. Who does not respond to that appeal? All those people who are not patriotic, who have only selfish motives, who do not care how other people get on. In effect, therefore, a tax is voluntarily borne by the patriotic people of this country, which the unpatriotic do not bear. I cannot help thinking that such a tax is logically correct, and it always astonishes me when I hear a man enthusiastically shouting "Buy British," and at the same time saying he is a Free Trader.

I have only one criticism of this Bill, which appears to me rather a serious one, and to which I hope the noble Earl will reply. I had hoped ere this, and certainly in this Bill, to have seen some hint of an import authority, and perhaps, behind that, in a Bill of this sort, also of a food authority. Because it does not seem to me right that any question of a duty, especially of a duty on food, should be the subject of political influence, that people should come from one constituency or another, and approach a Minister and say: "Unless such-and-such a duty is put on we shall not vote for you at the next Election." It seems to me it would be entirely to the Minister's advantage if he were able—of course the authority would still be his—to refer questions to what should be an entirely impartial body, as far as anything can be impartial in this human world, who should have the say in all these things, and weigh them out one against the other, with full knowledge of all their repercussions. That seems to me the more important in regard to this Bill because this is the first, the last, and the only time that your Lordships will ever have any opportunity of discussing this matter, which will never appear before you again as far as I can make out. I venture to say that agriculture will welcome this little Bill as a gesture. They will welcome it as a soothing dose of medicine, and they will venture to hope that the noble Earl will ere long come back 'with more of such medicine, and that when he comes next time he will bring a rather larger spoon.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Marley has dealt with the provisions of the Bill itself, and I will not go over that ground again, but we must not forget that the Bill, limited in scope as it is, does raise the general question of agricultural tariffs. The Minister, in a speech in another place, made no secret of the fact that the Schedule of foodstuffs to be affected by the duties is merely a first instalment. All the signs and portents show that in the new year a policy of Protection will be embarked upon. in agriculture we must expect a policy which goes far beyond the question of the balance of trade, and one which is a revolutionary departure from the policy of Sir Robert Peel. In this crisis I personally am very glad that we have at the Ministry my noble friend Lord De La Warr, and I congratulate him on his office. I know he views agriculture as a national interest and a national service, and that he is undeflected by the landowners' preconceptions, which seem to me so often to handicap agricultural policy. He will have all his work cut out for him if he is not to compromise. Perhaps I might remind him of the Eastern proverb that the lion and the lamb may lie down together, but the lion is the only one that gets up. I hope my noble friend will be the lion. I wish all power to his elbow.

There is a particular aspect of the Protection policy to which attention might not be given and to which I should like to call attention. Above, perhaps, all other needs, the farmer requires stabilised economic conditions. A protective policy which will be reversed will not give him the price stability which is really his first requisite. To arouse hopes which later will be dashed, or to give the farmer a wrong view of the position which later will not fit the facts, will involve him in grave loss. I want to recall for a moment the experience which we had in the temporary experiment of protective action during the War and for a time after the War in the artificial encouragement of cereal growing by the Corn Production Act, when the prices of cereals were guaranteed. The prosperity which the farmer enjoyed through that Act increased, of course, the value of his land and, as we all know, landowners took advantage, very naturally, of the position to sell farms. Tenants bought their holdings at the boom prices then prevailing. Most of them were, indeed, obliged to buy their holdings or to leave them. What was the sequel? It is familiar to your Lordships. The Corn Production Act was suddenly repealed, the subsidy vanished, and at the same time the deflationary movement began which still further diminished the returns of the farmers. Meanwhile their liabilities were unaffected and remained at an artificially high figure.

The number of farmers affected by those conditions was very large indeed. I have looked up the figures and I find that the total of occupying owners increased to an extraordinary degree. In the years 1919 to 1924 more than 3,250,000 acres of land passed into the possession of their occupiers, showing a doubling both of the acreage of land and the number of holdings farmed. The difficulties of many of those new occupier-owners were so great that the State had to intervene in 1923 with a system of loans. In the Agricultural Credits Act loans on easy terms were given to farmers who had bought their land in the boom. The total amount advanced by the Public Works Loan Commissioners under that Act exceeded £5,000,000. The loans were a little palliation of their hardships but they were no cure for losses. It was a cruel fate for thousands of farmers, and your Lordships know well what a death trap the Corn Production Act proved to be to 20,000 or 30,000 farmers.

All this seems to me to prove the great extent of the difficulties in which the farmers were placed by an unstable policy. I want to implore the Government to see that an analogous situation is not created by a policy which does not carry with it national and, as far as possible, permanent approval. Let us be national in spirit and think of the farmer's welfare not merely at the moment but in the long run; not only of what will please him and get his vote. How often we have to choose between what will please and what will benefit! You may point to the Government's overwhelming majority as showing permanence of public opinion. Does it even show an overwhelming vote of the country? Let me take one county alone, familiar to the noble Lord who has just spoken. The County of Norfolk with the towns returns now eight Members, all in favour of the Government. For them there voted 211,000 voters. But the votes against them were 111,000. It will not require a very great swing of the pendulum, possibly, to reverse the decision for a protective policy. Therefore, I say do let the Ministry bear in mind the farmer's future and do not let us repeat the disastrous action of 1921.

Let me turn for a moment to the argument advanced in favour of this Bill—the balance of trade. It proposes an immediate adjustment; but what does it do for the long-term balance of trade? That depends on improved production and distribution. My noble friend Lord Marley has already touched upon the marketing aspect raised at first by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. There is room for improvement, perhaps, chiefly in organised marketing for home-produced foodstuffs. We need an assurance from tie Government that this aspect of the problem of agriculture is not being lost sight of, but will be dealt with along with the protective action. Your Lordships know that the interesting Reports of the Ministry of Agriculture, known as the Orange Books, describe the marketing conditions affecting each commodity. They indicate the deplorable absence of organisation in the marketing of our home produce, and the consequent inability to supply the home consumer who has per-force and against his desire, to turn to the foreign importer for the provision of his necessities.

Only a day or two ago my noble friend Lord De La Warr made a speech in which be gave two striking instances of the failure of the British farmer to satisfy the specific demands of home consumers. He gave examples of a large public institution which found itself unable to secure more than one million British eggs per annum, though it was prepared to tender for a far larger number. He gave also an even more striking failure to supply enough bacon for the Army, although the War Office was ready to give a very large preference to the British producer. Though preference for the goods exists in the public in full measure, the farmer cannot utilise the preference unless he is able to fulfil long-term contracts involving continuous supplies of standardised produce. In other words, he must, in conjunction with his fellow producers adopt organised marketing methods.

The fact is that on the productive side agriculture is a highly individualised industry, and the individualist spirit so far extends to our marketing. But, in order to be profitable, the industry consisting of small productive units, must become collective in its distributive activity. This is a truth that the farmer has completely failed up to now to appreciate. The latest Orange Book gives an illuminating account of the position in regard to potatoes, a commodity in which we are practically self-supporting. The conditions of self-sufficiency in this staple commodity depend mainly, not on Protection, but on ways and means of disposing of surplus. The Orange Book to which I have referred drives home the lesson. It shows that the absence of organisation accounts for, first, the lack of standardised produce; secondly, for the maladjustment of supply; and, thirdly, for the fluctuation in supply from season to season. Production lags behind because farmers have not seen the need to organise means of continuous standardised supplies. This is a, question which must not be neglected by the Government when the adverse balance of trade strikes at the roots of national life.

Increased production of food stuffs has become, as it was in War time, a national necessity. Increased production, to be profitable, means efficient marketing. Unless supplies are forthcoming in continuous and known quantity Protection is not only irrelevant but dangerous. Food must be imported. We cannot import food at high protective rates without sending up the price level and depreciating the internal value of the pound, bringing in its train the dangers of inflation. Efficient markets of home supplies provide the Government with a most effective and permanent means of supporting the pound. A series of measures has been put in force by the Ministry in the past few years and it is for the Government to see that they go farther. It was my most important duty, when at the Ministry, to give what impetus I could to marketing improvements, and I am amazed that the National Government has actually curtailed some of those activities—for instance, in regard to the National Mark. The White Paper describes how the comparatively small amount devoted to marketing improvements, including the National Mark, is to be cut down. Your Lordships are familiar with the effect of the National Mark, for instance, in the enormous advance in the sales of home-produced eggs. Last year there was an increase on the previous year of no less than 45 per cent. The system gives the British farmer a much broader market for his produce, gives him a secure outlet for his produce, and enormously stimulates the rate of production. It also enables the consumer to indulge in his preference for British goods without obliging him to pay the penalty in artificial prices due to import duties.

The Marketing Act of this year was intended to close the leakage in any area due to a minority of farmers not playing the game. The Act was to form the coping stone of the system. Is it not deplorable that to these marketing improvements, the success of which to-day is so vitally urgent, the Government has decided to apply the axe in the interest of what it conceives to be economy? Surely no economy could be more false, wasteful and productive of loss. The sum involved was not great. The reduction in National Mark activity was only a small part of the £580,000 cut applied to the Ministry of Agriculture. The aim of this Bill, which we are told is the balance of trade, requires efficiency of every kind, but the false economy pursued by the Government in respect of agriculture handicaps efficiency not only as to marketing, but also as to production. We have the reduction in research, the reduction in drainage grants—affecting not merely field drainage, but sums available for the assistance of drainage authorities and catchment boards—and these reductions are a further proof that the Government has lost its sense of direction. The total saving effected by the Ministry in all these activities amounts to just over half a million pounds. How small that is compared with the requirements of Budget balancing! Yet the activities it curtails are those which would tend to increase the quantity of home-grown produce and to improve the trade balance. I trust my noble friend will bear these points constantly in mind. I appeal to the Government to face the issue from their avowed national standpoint and not to let slip their unique chance of carrying out a constructive agricultural policy genuinely dealing with the balance of trade.


My Lords, I would like to ask the noble Earl one or two questions. Under Clause 1, when the Minister proposes to apply the Act, it is necessary for an Order to be laid before the House of Commons so soon as may be after it is made. Is it possible to introduce any words into this clause which will enable your Lordships' House to have cognisance of any proposals of the kind?—because it seems to me desirable that your Lordships, who know perhaps just as much about agriculture as members in another place, should have the opportunity of considering proposals made under the provisions of the Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament. Another point I wish to raise refers to the marketing of tomatoes. I do not know enough about the marketing of tomatoes to express an opinion myself, but I do know that tomatoes are an increasingly popular diet in the humbler homes, and I do not want to see anything by way of restriction on importation which is going to deprive, ordinary householders of a necessary supply of a fresh vegetable like the tomato. In this country tomatoes are practically all produced under glass. It is only in the later months that they can be produced without artificial heat. I want to know whether it is proposed that tomatoes shall be so restricted as to prevent the ordinary householder from obtaining a cheap tomato.


My Lords, at this late hour I must not detain the House. At the same time this is the only opportunity the House is going to have of discussing the Bill and there have been a number of important points raised. Let me take first the two questions just raised by the noble Lord. The first is as to how-far this House could be brought into the notification. The answer is that this is a certified Bill dealing with finance and I understand that would not be possible. With regard to tomatoes there has been expressed in another place a considerable amount of misapprehension on this particular point, and I am therefore very glad that the noble Lord raised the matter. In the early part of the year cheap tomatoes are brought in from the Canary Islands. Those are very much the food of the poorer classes of the population, and it is not the intention of the Minister to deal under this Bill with that class of tomato. There are other tomatoes brought in later, largely from Holland and adjacent parts of Europe, I think, which are produced under hot-house conditions and compete very strongly with ours, and that means that a great number of our glasshouses are at present unused. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, also raised this point—that surely it was useless bringing in tomatoes because it was necessary to build new glasshouses and that would take a longer period than that of the operation of the Bill. Actually there is a tremendous amount of glass in this country which at the moment is not being used and which could be immediately brought back into use.

May I thank Lord Marley in passing for the Godspeed he wished me from the ether side of the House? Ho expressed the hope that perhaps one day we might work together again. No doubt, when he makes the great decision to join the National Party rather than a Party controlled by an outside body such as the Trades Union Congress, we may once again find ourselves working in happy co-operation.


I hope he will permit me to enter a caveat against that suggestion. Of course, the Party to which I belong is not controlled by any outside body.


I did notice, in a journal under the official control of his Party, that all candidates of his Party who were not members of a trade union were adventurers. Whether they were referring to himself or to me, I do not quite know. The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, is very disturbed about the unfortunate economies that have had to be made in matters which are indirectly affected by this Bill, the marketing activities of the Government. I can only say that, if he and his friends had been prepared to face up to the situation with which the Government was faced some time ago, they would still be in control of the Government of the country and able to lay down what economies should be made.

To come back to the Bill, I gather that it has been very well received in this House. Even the noble Lord, Lord Marley, complains chiefly that it does rot go further. He has no objection at all to the principle of Protection. What worries him is that the tariff method is not sufficiently drastic. He would like to see these goods prohibited or very largely cut down by the operation of import boards. Probably the best way of dealing with some of these commodities in the long run may well prove not to be the tariff method. He and the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, will realise that this point does raise very large issues of policy which could not be dealt with in the few weeks at our disposal. As Lord Cranworth says, you have at the moment this dying and exhausted man lying in the ditch and it was considered essential that whatever stimulants could be given to him, without injuring other interests and without predetermining these matters of future policy, should be given. I did not like the last words which the noble Lord used when he spoke about the larger spoon, because we do. not want to make agriculture a spoonfed industry. It was an unfortunate combination of words.

The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, also said that the Bill should have been extended to other articles. There was no reason for introducing a great number of other commodities which would have let us in for the consideration of a great number of other problems. The problem of fruit pulp, for instance, seems at first sight very simple and some of us in the past said very strong things about it. But, if you keep out fruit pulp, you have got to protect jam, and whether, under present conditions, that is desirable is. a very debatable point, even from the point of view of fruit growers. Jam is a declining industry and a very slight increase in the cost of jam might also decrease the demand for jam as to affect growers seriously. I do not say that is a permanent argument, but it is an argument for not dealing with it in a few weeks.

The noble Lord mentioned poultry and said that there were considerable imports of poultry into this country amounting to about three and a half million pounds. I have not seen any evidence that the poultry industry needs any protection, but, in so far as it does, it has got a 33 per cent, protection to-day, because the countries from which we purchase poultry are remaining on the gold standard. The poultry industry has a very considerable protection and I learn, after discussing the matter with members of the trade, that there is a considerable chance at the moment of getting a big poultry industry started if only the growers will organise and supply the market with the uniform produce necessary. The same applies to eggs.

The noble Lord, Lord Marley, brought in the question of strawberries as a proof of the ineffectiveness of tariffs. It is very difficult to controvert a great deal of what he said. On the other hand, even supposing we had been able to make out an entirely comprehensive scheme for import control on a very much larger scale than this, we would, as a matter of fact, be precluded from putting it into operation for this coming year, because, when he and I had the pleasure of co-operating together in the Government, that Government came to an agreement at Geneva when they signed the International Convention dealing with the abolition of import restrictions and prohibitions—


I understand that Convention has not been ratified.


Although there are countries which have not yet ratified. my information is that we could not do this.


It is only reciprocal and only affects countries which have also ratified it.


Yes, but if it is to be comprehensive it must include imports from all countries.


It is no use troubling about strawberries from Peru or Czechoslovakia. It is France and Holland and Belgium that matter


. If it is to be comprehensive, it must concern itself with every strawberry that comes into the country, which means that the production of our strawberries here would have to be considered in a comprehensive, long-term scheme. In conclusion, I would say that the more those of us who are friendly to agriculture make the agriculturist realise that he must be prepared to guarantee the supply to the market as regards quantity, quality, regularity and uniformity, the more it will be possible for this Government to do. At present we have got for the agricultural world the friendliness of the townsman and we can only keep it by being prepared to deliver the goods to the consumer.


On a point of Order, I understand from No. XXXIII of the Standing Orders that, if a Division is taken and under 30 noble Lords are present, the debate stands adjourned until next day. I therefore propose to avoid the trouble of a Division about this matter by invoking Standing Order No. XXXV, which says: Such Lords as shall make protestation, or enter their dissents to any votes of this House, as they have a right to do without asking leave of the House, either with or without their reasons, shall cause their protestation or dissents to be entered into the Clerk's book the next sitting day of this House, before the hour of two o'clock.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.


My Lords, I beg to move that Standing Order XXXIX be suspended in order to enable this Bill to pass through its remaining stages.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended, Bill read 3a, and passed.

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