§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR) moved, That the Special Order, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Monday last, be approved. The noble Earl said: My Lords, this hops marketing scheme was submitted to the Minister of Agriculture some time ago. It has been through all the necessary stages, as prescribed in the Act. It has been approved in another place, and it now comes before your Lordships for an affirmative Resolution. Two days ago the matter was considered by the Special Orders Committee of your Lordships' House, and although the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman, is in the House to-day, and will doubtless want to make some comments on the Report of his Committee, I think it might be right if I referred to the Report of that Committee. First of all the Committee had to decide whether the scheme raised important questions of policy and of principle, and your Lordships will have seen that the verdict of the Committee was that it did raise important questions of policy and of principle, but that those questions of policy and of principle had been discussed at great length and decided upon by your Lordships' House during the debates and Divisions on the Agricultural Marketing Act. It therefore raises no new question of policy or principle on which your Lordships have not already pronounced. Secondly, the Committee had to consider whether the scheme was founded on precedent. The reply to that is that the scheme is not founded on precedent, because it is the first scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act.
Thirdly, they had to consider whether the scheme was intra vires, and the reply of the Committee to that is that there is at present an appeal to your Lordships' House from the Court of Appeal on this question, and they felt that it was an open point whether the scheme was intra vires or not. On that point—a most important point—a communication was sent to The Times and published this morning, and perhaps I might read the relevant paragraph to your Lordships. It is signed by the gentleman who is responsible for the appeal. It is as follows:
The Act provides that when once a scheme is approved it is conclusive evidence that the scheme is within the provisions of
the Act. It therefore follows that if the scheme is now passed my constitutional right of appeal to the House of Lords will be defeated, and as a citizen I do not see why I should be deprived of that right.
That is obviously a most important point, and requires to be answered. I naturally at once took the advice of His Majesty's legal advisers, and perhaps, as this is rather a technical legal point, you will forgive me if I read this part of my speech. I will in doing so attempt to lay before your Lordships the exact position with regard to this matter.
§ Sir Walter Berry, in May, applied for a rule nisi for a writ of prohibition to prohibit the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries from proceeding further with this scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. The rule was heard in the Divisional Court before the Lord Chief Justice of England, Mr. Justice Avory and Mr. Justice du Parcq on the 24th May, 1932, when the rule was discharged with costs against Sir Walter Berry. The decision of the Judges, I may say, was unanimous. Sir Walter Berry entered an appeal against the decision of the Divisional Court, which came before the Court of Appeal on Tuesday, the 28th June last, before the Master of the Rolls and Lords Justices Slesser and Romer. The case was argued on behalf of the Minister by the Attorney-General and, as a result, the appeal was dismissed with costs. Again, I may remark, the decision of the Judges was unanimous. On Saturday, the 2nd July, notice of appeal was served on the Solicitor to the Ministry, and that appeal will, in due course, come on for hearing before the House of Lords sitting in its judicial capacity.
§ Sir Walter Berry has written to The Times on the lines that I have already indicated. Sir Walter Berry fears that he will be deprived of his right of appeal to your Lordships' House sitting in its judicial capacity if your Lordships, sitting in your legislative capacity, pass this Resolution. I am advised that this is not so; that the House of Lords in its legislative capacity has to make up its mind whether or not the scheme shall proceed, and that the House in its judicial capacity will apply its mind to the legal points raised by the rule nisi for the writ of prohibition, and that the fact that an affirmative Resolution has been passed by the House will not prevent the House of 591 Lords determining the points of law raised by Sir Walter Berry in the Courts of Appeal and First Instance. The position really is that Sir Walter Berry can proceed because his appeal is against the decision of a Court—in law, that is—and not against the scheme, and therefore any of the words in the Act in relation to opposition to the scheme do not apply to his appeal against any decision of the Court.
§ As I say, Sir Walter Berry can proceed with his appeal. What is the likelihood of his success when there have already been decisions of two Courts, with six Judges pronouncing unanimously on the subject, is not a matter for discussion at the moment. But in the event, likely or unlikely, of Sir Walter Berry obtaining a reversal of the decision of the Court of Appeal from your Lordships' House, then the position is that under paragraph 6 of Part II of the First Schedule of the Agricultural Marketing Act the Minister has power to revoke a scheme if he is of opinion that it is not in the public interest. And I think I can safely give an undertaking to-day that if your Lordships' House, sitting in its judicial capacity, does after all declare that the scheme is ultra vires, then naturally no Minister of the Crown would venture not to use his power of revocation.
§ So much for the position in regard to whether the scheme is, or is not, intra vires. The scheme has been considerably criticised on the grounds that it has been drawn up in great haste. That is perfectly true. The authors of the scheme who have submitted it to the Minister, the National Farmers' Union, would be perfectly prepared to admit that they have drawn up this scheme in haste. But I put it to your Lordships that the reason why it has been drawn up in haste is that the position in which the hop growers are placed at the moment is a most serious one, and it is vital not only to their prosperity, but also to the existence of many of them, that this scheme of organised and orderly marketing should be brought into force in time to deal with this year's crop. The scheme is wanted, and wanted badly, by the growers. It was submitted to us by the National Farmers' Union, a body which in principle until very lately was in every way opposed to the Agricultural Marketing Act, and yet they were convinced on the merits of the situa- 592 tion in the hop industry, and because of the pressure put upon them by their constituent members in the counties, that it was essential that they should proceed with the preparation of a scheme.
§ Moreover, supposing we are wrong in our assumption that those who have submitted the scheme are really representative of the hop growers in this country, there is still another stage through which this scheme has to go. There has still to be a poll of the hop growers, and not only has there to be a two-thirds majority of the producers based on the numbers of the producers, but there has also to be a two-thirds majority represented by the amount of produce that is put on the market. Therefore if your Lordships decide to pass this affirmative Resolution, when this scheme passes on to its next stage it still has to run the gauntlet of a poll of the hop producers themselves.
§ The scheme has been slightly altered since it originated, because under the Agricultural Marketing Act there has to be a public inquiry if objections are made. As there were objections laid, the Minister ordered an inquiry and appointed Mr. Konstam, K.C., to preside over that inquiry, and, as a result of certain suggestions that he has made, the Minister has exercised his power of making amendments in the scheme. Now, the amendments that he has made are really, I should have thought, in the direction of making the scheme more acceptable to those who have hitherto been opposed to it. I understand that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, objected particularly to the quota provisions of the scheme, which he felt would result in an undue and undesirable limitation of production. Those quota provisions have now been removed from the scheme, and the manner in which it will operate is this. If there is no surplus of hops then there is no question of any of the features which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has, I think, visualised arising. All the hops can be sold, and every grower will be paid according to what his hops are worth. The problem arises when there is a surplus of hops.
§ Whether or not there is going to be a surplus of hops this year it is very difficult to say. There are certain factors, such as the decreased consumption of beer, the possibilities either of a heavy or a low crop, which always have to be taken into consideration, but 593 if there is a surplus then what happens is this. All the hops are put into the central pool for sale, and are valued in that pool according to their worth. I am coming back to that point. Let us assume that there is a market for only 80 per cent. of the hops that have been produced and sent to the Board for sale. Nothing that can be done, whether marketing is organised or disorganised, is going to make it possible to force more hops on to the market than can be absorbed by that market, and the only question that we have to consider at the moment is whether that extra 20 per cent. surplus is to be attempted to be forced on the market and thereby destroy the price for the other 80 per cent.— which can perfectly well be sold —or whether there should be some attempt to hold up that 20 per cent. If that 20 per cent. is to be kept off the market the cost of keeping it off the market is to be borne by the growers. If there is only a market for 80 per cent. of the hops surely the fair thing is that 80 per cent. only should be sold for the best price possible, and that then all growers should be paid up to 80 per cent. of the value of the hops they have sent in.
§ I think so far one would agree, without knowing much about the subject, that that seems fair, but some of those who are in the industry, and some of those who think very much of the possibilities and the necessity of improving the standard of agricultural production in this country, are nervous about the scheme, because they fear that it will cause the producer of first-grade hops to help to carry the less efficient producer of bad-grade hops. They feel that if there was a completely free market the producer of the first-grade hops would probably be able to sell 100 per cent. of his product, while the producer of poor-grade hops would not be able to sell more than 60 per cent.; that but for this scheme the inefficient producer would be eliminated and that that would be the best thing for the industry. What people who feel in that way do not realise is that the extra 20 per cent. thrown on the market, whilst it may seem a burden on the efficient producer in so far as he has to lose a share of the price for his hops, may actually enable him to get more for 80 per cent. on an organised market than 594 he would get for 100 per cent. on a disorganised market.
§ Further, the scheme can be operated with perfect justice to the efficient producer of good-grade hops and the inefficient producer of bad-grade hops, because the hops will be valued in a pool according to their grade, and the bad-grade hops will be valued in the pool at a lower price to the producer of them than the price that the producer of good-grade hops will get for his hops. This is the fundamental part of the scheme. On page 6 of the scheme, paragraph 36, your Lordships will see that the Hops Marketing Board are given power to grade the hops. I venture to suggest to your Lordships, as indeed I suggest to the future Hop Marketing Board, although l know that they are perfectly well aware of it, that according to how they operate their grading regulations the scheme is going to stand or fall. If the scheme is so operated that not sufficient distinction is made between good-grade hops and bad-grade hops, then no sort of power that Parliament or anybody else gives to the Board will enable them to make a success of the scheme. On the other hand, we have full confidence in the Board; indeed, Lord Wolmer, speaking in another place the other night, gave a very clear undertaking on behalf of the Provisional Board, of which he is a member, that they are fully aware of this point, and that they are going to see to it that the scheme is operated with the greatest rigour.
§ Supposing we are not prepared to have sufficient faith in the Marketing Board to be rigid on a point such as this, what is the position? The position is that anyone who is interested in the production or marketing or sale of hops, whether he be a hop grower or a brewer, can complain to the Committee of Investigation, which is set up under Section 9 of the Agricultural Marketing Act. That Committee of Investigation will have to investigate the complaint, and will report to the Minister, and the Minister will have power to compel the Board to operate the scheme as it should be operated, or, ultimately, if the scheme in his view is being operated against the public interest, he can, subject to certain Parliamentary controls, revoke it. This particular point is very vital to any consideration of this scheme. It is so vital to the scheme and its success that I hope 595 I have made that point clear to your Lordships.
§ I would appeal to all parties connected with this industry to give this scheme a chance. Farmers in all sections of the industry have been criticised for years because they would not get together and help themselves by organised marketing. This is the first scheme farmers have worked out and attempted to put into operation, and I think it is up to us to do everything in our power to help them to make a success of it. If we feel that there are some dangers in the scheme—and after all in most effective instruments there is some danger if they are mishandled—let us now point out those dangers, and make it perfectly clear that we are going to be on the look-out for any lapses in the working of the scheme to the detriment of the public interest. Let us at the moment do everything we can to give this scheme a good start. At the same time I would appeal to the hop growers to realise the tremendous responsibility that rests upon them with the very strong powers that have been given to them. Let them see to it that they use those powers to give the brewers what they need in respect of quality and quantity of hops. I appeal to the merchants and the brewers to respond by giving to this scheme their co-operation and good will.
§ Lastly, I would address one word to the noble Viscount (Viscount Astor) who is moving the rejection of this scheme. Let us admit, as I have already admitted, that there may be difficulties ahead of us—in any scheme evolved by the human mind there are, of course, difficulties—I would still appeal to the noble Viscount, having stated his fears and his difficulties, that he should not ask your Lordships to divide, in order that this scheme may go forward with the full backing of Parliament and in order that the hop growers, who have made this tremendous effort to get together on a co-operative basis, should feel that we are all standing behind them in this first attempt at a co-operative marketing scheme.
§ Moved, That the Special Order, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Monday last, be approved.—(Earl De La Warr.)
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF ONSLOW)
My Lords, as this is one of the rare occasions 596 on which a debate ensues after a Report by the Special Orders Committee, I feel that I should tell your Lordships what the Report of the Special Orders Committee implies. My noble friend has dealt with one or two points, but there are others that he did not put. The business of the Special Orders Committee is regulated by Section 212 of the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House. The first duty which they have to perform is contained in paragraph (5) of that Standing Order. That is to say, they have to report as to "whether the provisions raise important questions of policy or principle." As my noble friend said and as is stated in the Report, they do contain important questions of policy and principle, but they were fully discussed in the debates on the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. The next question that they have to answer is "how far the Special Order is founded on precedent." It is not founded on precedent; as the noble Earl has said, this is the first Order of its kind. The next point is:whether, having regard to the answers to the two preceding questions and to any other relevant circumstances, the Order can be passed by the House without special attention or whether there ought to be any further inquiry before the House proceeds to a decision upon the resolution, and, if so, what form that inquiry should take, and shall report to the House accordingly.The Special Orders Committee decided that it was necessary to call your Lordships' attention to the scheme specially but did not consider it necessary to make any further inquiry before your Lordships proceeded to a decision. That does not mean that your Lordships' House may not take further action but only refers to the action of the Special Orders Committee.
On the last question, the question of vires, I have nothing to add to what my noble friend said. The obligation is contained in paragraph (7) of the Standing Order, which is as follows:…. where the Committee have any doubt whether the Order is intra vires they report to the House accordingly.The Committee reported that the matter one which was the subject of appeal to your Lordships' House and that there was no further necessity to call the attention of your Lordships' House to the matter. I raise this point to explain the duties of the Special Orders Committee and what the Report means which it has presented.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, we propose to throw the immense weight of our vast numbers in support of this scheme. We support it because we believe it to be a sound, honest, workable scheme. It is an attempt to rationalise production and to co-ordinate the marketing of hops. The hop growers have undoubtedly suffered immense difficulties during the last fifteen years. During the War hop control was applied. It was a reasonable scheme but its action was vitiated by the failure of the then Government to co-ordinate our policy, with the result that you had the Treasury applying heavy taxation on beer, and thus reducing the consumption of beer and consequently the consumption of hops without any notice to the Hop Controller, with the result, that the hop control authority found on their hands immense quantity of hops which they could only market by causing the hop growers to grub up a large proportion of their acreage of hops, resulting in some loss to the hop growers.
When the control was removed the growers themselves realised the need of some control and the English Hop Growers Association was formed. It failed merely because some 10 per cent. of the hop growers refused to come into the scheme. They took advantage of the better prices realised by the organised portion and, while the organised portion were decreasing their production, the small minority increased their production and so ruined the scheme. Consequently, it is the hop growers who have pressed for and worked out this scheme themselves. It is very necessary in fairness to the interest of the hop growers themselves, that schemes such as this should be approved by this House. The Hops Committee of the National Farmers' Union has approved the scheme. I know that that is not an argument in favour as a rule because it is usually stated in your Lordships' House that what the National Farmers' Union approve is not the best for agriculture. In this case they are right because I believe that the scheme is a necessary attempt to solve this problem.
There is perhaps one point that the Government will consider in this connection with a view to making the matter more perfect. I was going to suggest that the Government might consider whether by some form of co-ordinating committee, with members representing 598 the Treasury, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture, they could secure that we should not have such variations in taxation as would render impossible the orderly progress of the scheme from year to year by suddenly altering the consumption of hops; secondly, that the imported hops, which, though very much decreased, do nevertheless exist as an appreciable factor in the situation, should be dealt with by the same committee which I suggest, so that we should be able to ensure that there is a co-ordinated consumption of hops in the interest of the hop growers in this country. For that reason we on these Benches desire to support the scheme now before your Lordships' House.
VISCOUNT ASTOR, who had given Notice to move, That the Special Order, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Monday last, be not approved, said: My Lords, I rise to move that the Order be not approved and I do this partly as one who is interested in the welfare of agriculture and who looks upon these schemes of control with very grave misgiving. I had experience at one time at the Ministry of Food of the effects of control and it is this experience which makes me feel that it is not in the interests of agriculture or of food production to interfere with what are called the economic laws. I have also been asked to oppose this scheme by representative hop growers, by representatives of the brewers, representatives of the consumers who are concerned, and the hop merchants. Lest it be thought that there are only one or two hop growers who are opposing this scheme, may I say that at the public inquiry which was held a large number of hop growers appeared against the scheme. A report which has been published by the Brewers Journal shows that Mr. Weston, Mr. Overy and Mr. Amos gave evidence against the scheme. The report ends with this paragraph:
Individual hop growers having addressed the Commissioner against the scheme, the further hearing was adjourned.
That is to say that the noble Lord—I am sure unintentionally—would be misleading your Lordships if he conveyed the impression that hop growers, as a whole, are supporting this scheme.
§ There have been four stages in connection with this scheme. Firstly, there was propaganda to try to organise the 599 preparation of the scheme. Secondly, a scheme was published in March. Objectors were given up to April 22 to lodge objections. Then, thirdly, there was a public inquiry which lasted from June 2 to June 17. Fourthly, a revised and entirely altered scheme was brought forward. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, referred to this scheme having been brought forward in February. The scheme which was brought forward in February or March was entirely different from the scheme which is now before your Lordships. This scheme was only published on Friday last, July 1, and it has never been considered by the hop growers as a whole.
§ The first point we have to decide is whether there is in fact a need for a scheme at all. It has been supported on the ground that there is over-production of hops. In the last few days I have been in very close contact with very many hop growers and brewers, and I have been convinced that there will not be a surplus of good hops this autumn. There is a surplus at the present moment, but it is a surplus of inferior hops. Therefore the case for this scheme on the ground that there is over-production of good hops really will not bear examination. I noticed that in the evidence which was submitted against the scheme Mr. Overy, who had been Chairman of Hop Growers, Ltd., himself a hop grower and himself one of the promoters of the scheme, stated that this was an inopportune time for dealing with this scheme. Reference has been made to the recent difficulties of hop growers. Hop growers have been in difficulties in past years because of the scheme of control which we had immediately after the War, and I suggest that that is one reason why we should not reimpose control. It is when Parliament attempts to set aside ordinary economic laws and to impose control that you have difficulties. The difficulties of over-production which existed a few years ago were very largely due to the fact that there was control which encouraged over-production. When the ordinary laws of supply and demand are left to operate I think you will find this does not happen.
§ I am opposed to the scheme because I think it is a bad scheme. There is to be a monopoly pool. No hop grower is to be allowed to sell his own hops. I believe a hop grower, a blackberry grower, or a 600 producer of any commodity ought to be allowed to dispose of his own produce. If this scheme were to go through no hop grower would be allowed to dispose of his own produce. He will have to hand over the whole of his produce to the Board. I am going to suggest to your Lordships that a Board is not likely to sell hops to better advantage than the hop growers themselves can dispose of them. At the present moment there are four parties concerned—the growers, the factors, the merchants and the brewers. Under this scheme you have to add another party—the Board—and you will find in this scheme provision made for the payment of salaries of members of the Board and officials, payment for premises and everything else. All the expenses of the Board must be deducted from the amount of money which goes to the hop growers. At the present time if a hop grower produces inferior hops he either disposes of them at a low price or if he cannot sell he stands the loss. The position in regard to that will be entirely different if this scheme goes through. The Board will be compelled to take over all hops—good hops, medium-grade hops and inferior hops.
§ Let me give you an illustration of the way in which it would work. Take the case of two hop growers—one who produces 10 cwt. of inferior hops worth £3 a cwt. and another who produces 10 cwt. of good hops worth £10 a cwt. Suppose the Board were unable to dispose of those 10 cwt. of inferior hops, the scheme provides that the Board may destroy those hops. I think, incidentally, that it is a very dangerous principle to accept that a monopoly Board should be given power to destroy food, because, Mind you, this principle might be extended to milk or fruit or anything else. Suppose the Board were not able to dispose of these inferior hops. When the hops are originally sent in the Board are supposed to give the grower an estimate of the value of the hops. They would have told the grower of the inferior hops that they valued them at £3 a cwt. If they destroyed them the grower would quite naturally expect to get some money. He would feel that if he had been left to his own devices he would have been able to get some sort of price for them. The Board would only have sold, in this particular case which I am suggesting, 10 cwt. of good hops at 601 £10 a cwt., and would have received £100. Instead of that £100 going to the grower of the good hops part of it would have to go in compensation to the grower of the bad hops which had been destroyed. That would have to be taken out of the price which would otherwise have gone to the grower of the good hops. It does not seem to me that that is fair. I do not believe that we shall encourage good marketing or improve the hop industry if we deprive the growers of good hops of the full value of the commodity which they produce.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Marley, indicated a very real danger to this sort of scheme. If this Board which is to be set up is obliged to take over the whole of the domestic production and either dispose of the hops or destroy them, it is quite obvious that if the Board tried to hold back English hops, whether of good or bad grade, in order to get a good price, the whole of its efforts might be destroyed by the importation of foreign hops. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, indicated the inevitable consequence of this scheme. That consequence is that there must be an import board, an authority which would be the sole importer of hops. If your Lordships thought it right to have not only a monopoly Board dealing with the whole domestic production but another authority, an import board, which would be the sole importer of hops, then I should indeed be very sorry for the prospects of agriculture in this country.
§ There is another point which I wish to put forward. This scheme is being rushed through with indecent haste. I notice that at the inquiry which was held, Mr. Edwards, the Chairman of the Hops Committee of the National Farmers' Union, admitted that the scheme had been prepared hurriedly and without full consideration. If there is no immediate need for this scheme, and there is no immediate need because there will not be a surplus of good hops this autumn which would be the only justification, then there can be no justification whatever for our passing this scheme which only saw daylight last Friday. I repeat that this is not the scheme which was originally produced in March. It is not the scheme which was submitted at the public inquiry. It is not the scheme which was signed by thirteen representatives of the 602 hop growers and the National Farmers' Union. There has been a public inquiry and the Commissioner who held that inquiry made a report to the Minister. I think it is a great pity that the Government have not seen fit to publish that report. I think your Lordships are entitled to know what the Commissioner reported to His Majesty's Government, and to what extent the Government or Department have been guided by the result of that inquiry and report.
§ The noble Earl who introduced this scheme said that it had been passed in another place. That is quite true. It arrived there on Monday night or in the early hours of Tuesday morning—I think 2 a.m. I was interested in the scheme and got hold of the OFFICIAL REPORT on Tuesday morning to see what arguments the Minister had used; but the subject had come on so late that the discussion was not even reported in the proceedings of Tuesday. It was not until this morning that I was able to discover the grounds on which the Minister was bringing forward this scheme. In the discussion in another place an interesting thing happened. Three hop growers spoke and of the three only one was in support of the scheme; the other two criticised it.
§ We have had a Memorandum circulated by the Minister dealing with a draft scheme. Anyone reading the Memorandum casually and without knowing the facts would get the impression —many of your Lordships did—that the scheme now under discussion was the one unanimously agreed upon by the thirteen members. You would get the erroneous impression that the scheme now under discussion was the scheme before the branches of the National Farmers' Union a few months ago. The scheme now before you is not the scheme supported unanimously by the thirteen members. I understand that of the thirteen original promoters five have refused to back the amended scheme. I suggest that the Minister ought to be a little more careful in circulating a document which has undoubtedly misled a considerable number of your Lordships, and that as the Minister was circulating a document he might in fairness have indicated that there was an appeal on the whole thing as ultra vires.
§ The noble Earl says that if your Lordships pass this scheme the growers will 603 have an opportunity of discussing it before voting; but the hop growers are scattered up and down the country in different counties, and what chance has the ordinary hop grower to know the details and implications of a scheme which only saw daylight last Friday? He will be asked in a few weeks to vote on it, aye or no. Unless he is on the register he is not entitled to a vote and he has all sorts of complicated forms to fill up with a notice that he renders himself liable to imprisonment or heavy fine if he does not fill them up accurately. I appeal to the noble Lords who sit on the Labour Benches. They are in favour of this scheme because broadly they are in favour of control, but they ought not to ask hop growers to vote on a scheme which they cannot have an opportunity of discussing or understanding before they have to vote upon it.
§ It seems to me that this is one of the worst cases of bureaucracy. This scheme has been put before us as a scheme which has come spontaneously from the hop growers. During last autumn the people who were urging the hop growers to have a scheme included officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. It is the bureaucrats, the officials, who have been going round the country trying to persuade the hop growers to ask for this scheme. When the original scheme was prepared it did not emanate from the hop growers themselves. I have said that when the original scheme was produced it did not take the Ministry and officials by surprise; it is obvious the promoters had been in consultation. I am told that when the revised scheme was sent back to the Hops Committee representatives of the Department went again to use their powers, and even then that only eight agreed to support it and five refused. So that really it is the Ministry of Agriculture who is promoting this scheme and it is not a spontaneous scheme produced by the hop growers.
§ I am advised that there is going to be a rise in the price of hops this autumn and that that rise will be due, firstly, to the fact that the stocks of good hops will be exhausted; secondly, to what is happening in the United States regarding the 18th Amendment, which is likely to put up the world price; and thirdly, to the fact that the crop of the 1932 season is not likely to be big. That is to say, there is likely to be a rise in the price and 604 no scheme is required to-day to put up the price for the growers. I cannot help suspecting that some of the people in the Ministry want to get this through so that they can go to the growers of raspberries and gooseberries and say: "See what happened to the hop growers." But, as I say, I am told that the price will go up without a scheme.
§ There are two other alternatives to this scheme. This is not really a marketing scheme. During the course of the inquiry it was suggested by some of the objectors that there should be, not a scheme to have a monopoly pool for the collection and sale of hops, but a proper marketing scheme under which the hop grower would get the value of his own hops when sold in the market. He will not get that under this scheme. The other alternative is to leave the industry alone and I think that would be the best; but if we do not adopt that let us put this scheme aside and have a proper marketing scheme.
§ I must also refer to the constitutional question. Sir Walter Berry made an application for a rule nisi to prohibit the Minister from proceeding with the scheme as ultra vires. This was granted on May 5, so that when first brought forward there was a prima facie case that the scheme was ultra vires. From the appeal which was dismissed on June 28 Sir Walter Berry has lodged an appeal to the House of Lords. Notice of appeal was served on July 2. Two eminent counsel have certified that there is a reasonable case for appeal. The appeal has been lodged to-day, the first possible day. I venture to suggest that if this scheme is liable to be turned down as ultra vires we ought not to be asked to waste our time in discussing it to-day. I have tried to show that the case for an urgent, undigested scheme really does not exist; that there is the constitutional point; that there is not going to be a glut; that prices are going to rise any way; and that this is a scheme of bureaucracy at its worst. For these reasons I ask your Lordships not to approve the scheme.
Before ("approved") insert ("not").—(Viscount Astor.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I do not propose to occupy your time for more than a few moments, but I confess I have listened to the debate 605 with very great interest. The scheme carries out a principle which was passed by your Lordships in the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. Prima facie, therefore, I am disposed to pass the scheme, which merely follows out a policy your Lordships have already endorsed; but in listening to the debate I confess I am very much troubled by one point which has been made, and that is the enormous haste with which we are asked to pass a scheme which there has not been a proper opportunity of discussing. I am not in the slightest degree opposed to the scheme. On the contrary, I recognise that it is desirable that there should be some way of dealing with hops in this country, as indicated in the Act, but why is it that a measure of this character is brought forward at the very last moment?
It was discussed, as I understand, in February but, as the noble Viscount has pointed out, that is not the actual scheme, before us now. Here we are in July with a scheme which was only put before another place in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and there has not been sufficient opportunity for those who are vitally interested in the scheme to put forward their views and argue either for or against the scheme. I think we have to be careful in carrying out a scheme of his character never to do it unless there has been very full opportunity for all persons being heard and representing what they may consider to be injustice. I am not in the slightest degree dissenting from what was said by Lord Marley in favour of the scheme. With its principle I agree, but I cannot vote for a scheme as to which there has been no sufficient opportunity for those really interested to express their views.
I would like to ask the noble Earl one further question. I do not want to discuss the legal point, which is now a matter of appeal. I do not quite agree with the noble Viscount that there was a prima facie case shown. It nearly always happens in these eases that there is an ex parte application, and it is open to the Court to say that there is a case to be heard. The Court came to the conclusion that the claim that the scheme was ultra vires could not be sustained, and the Court of Appeal upheld that view. Now there is an appeal to the House of Lords on the judicial side. Do I understand the noble Earl correctly, that he stated that if the House of 606 Lords came to the conclusion that the Order was ultra vires, notwithstanding that the Order had been passed by this House it would be revoked?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
What I did say was that I could not conceive that a Minister of the Crown would continue with a scheme which had been declared to be ultra vires. In fact, I take it that what he would do would be first of all to suggest amendments to make the scheme intra vires, and if those amendments were not adopted he would have to use his power of revocation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
That does mean, as I understand, that unless the Order could be amended so as to come within the Act, the Order would be revoked. Upon that point I do not desire to add anything further, but the ground upon which I find myself unable to support the scheme as it stands is that of the undue haste with which it has been brought forward.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, I rise to speak on this subject with some reluctance, because an ex-Minister of Agriculture must necessarily be reluctant to say anything which appears to criticise his former Department. I also am one of those who are in favour, and have said so, of compulsion in certain matters. I do not believe that they can succeed without it, and as we have adopted the principle and policy of the Agricultural Marketing Act, I do not think that we can oppose it because of the position which efficient growers are placed in under a scheme framed under the Act. My point is very much that of the noble Marquess—namely, the haste with which this measure has been pushed through all its stages. Further than that, and I think I can prove it clearly, very little care has been taken to inform hop growers of what they were supposed to be asking for.
The Act gave the Minister unprecedented powers, so extensive that they impose upon him a special obligation as to the way in which he uses them. Further than that, there is a change in the mental attitude of farmers, which imposes upon the Minister a special obligation to be particularly careful. Before the War farmers could have been relied upon to turn down such a proposal when it was put before them. To-day 607 they are not doing so. That is partly due to the influence of the propaganda carried on by the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture in all parts of the country. But I think in their hearts farmers may still be equally in love with independence, and equally opposed to control and compulsion. Many of them, however, have stood, and do stand to-day, so near the verge of ruin that they clutch at any straw of safety. There are others in a less serious and desperate position who have been led to believe that, if they organise, the Government will guarantee them their markets and their profits.
It behoves the Minister of Agriculture, and it certainly is the duty of this House, to protect the farmers in this new attitude of trustfulness, or one may even say of credulity, and we ought to look very carefully into the way in which this scheme has been passed through all its various stages. I take up the history where the Minister in his Report has left it; that is to say, he is satisfied that it is submitted by representatives of hop growers, because on February 18 of this year the National Farmers' Union gave their Hops Committee a mandate to frame a scheme for the co-operative marketing of hops under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. That was what they asked for. The various branches asked to have a scheme formulated for their consideration, and for their consideration only—a scheme for the co-operative marketing of their produce. And the Hops Committee thus authorised went to work. And what did they do? They found that time was running out. They found that if they were to get their scheme ready, it must be before the Minister in a particular specified time. And on February 22, four days after they had received that authority, they found that the draft scheme was already in existence—a draft scheme which had been drawn up quite unofficially and quite privately. They decided—owing to the pressure of time —that they would adopt that draft as the basis of their scheme.
They discussed it. They did not have the assistance of their legal adviser—though under their constitution they are bound to have it—because they had no time. They did not consult the county branches of the hop industry, although they are constitutionally bound to do so, 608 because they had not time. And then, having agreed among themselves about this draft scheme, they submitted it, as they say in their own report, with only a few hours to spare—so quickly was the time running out—to the Ministry as a scheme put forward by the hop growers of the country. Although they had never had a word of consultation with their legal adviser, although they had never consulted their branches, both of which they were bound to do, and although they had not the ratification of the National Farmers' Union, they went to the Ministry, as they state themselves in their report, and put forward their scheme in their "individual capacity"—not even as the Hops Committee but in their individual capacity. And I should very much like to ask the noble Earl whether those facts were known to the Ministry when they accepted the scheme.
§ LORD ERNLE
Those were the circumstances in which the scheme originated. Let me follow its course a little further. When the Council of the National Farmers' Union met on March 17 the Hops Committee came before them and said: "We have acted" (to quote their own words) "with regrettable but inevitable disregard of our constitutional forms," but, as we had to get the matter before the Ministry in time, we trust the National Farmers' Union will ratify our scheme. And the National Farmers' Union accepted the appeal of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman that they should so ratify it, the Vice-Chairman bluntly saying to them "they are not qualified to criticise". And so in these circumstances the National Farmers' Union ratified the scheme. But that is not the scheme we have got here. That has a different origin. There were so many objections to this scheme when it was published that the Minister ordered a public inquiry, at which the National Farmers' Union and the objecting producers and the Brewers' Society were all heard, and the upshot of that was a great amendment of the scheme as it then was. We have not had the opportunity of seeing the report of the learned Commissioner, but I do not think there is anything in that, because it was made to the Minister of Agriculture privately in the way in which many such reports are. 609 But there were in this scheme something like a hundred amendments suggested by the National Farmers' Union's representatives, and so this modified scheme was sent by the Minister of Agriculture once again to the thirteen members of the Hops Committee.
What happened there? They had a very fierce and prolonged discussion, and I venture to say this, that it was only by the presence and intervention of five Ministerial representatives that a decision in its favour was obtained. Five of the original Hops Committee objected, so that this scheme, as we have it here, is not unanimous; it is only the result of a majority vote. It was published, I believe, on Friday last for the very first time. It has never been seen by the county branches of the hop-growing industry, and, for all I know, they are still under the impression that they are going to have a simple scheme of co-operative marketing.
And what opportunity have they of saying that they do not like this drastic regulation and control of their industry? They have first to be registered as producers, then a poll has to be taken of them, then they have to vote. And before whom do you think the poll is taken? Who are the returning officers of that poll? Who are the scrutineers? The Board—the very body who are going to value and grade their hops! They are to be the returning officers at a poll of the producers, of whose hops they are themselves the supreme authorities in valuing and grading. Even if the rest of this scheme were tolerable, even if it had come before us with the unanimous approval of the hop growers, I should protest, and protest in the strongest way, and I believe I should have some support on the Labour Benches opposite, against such a proposal as that you should have an open ballot in which the people who are most concerned, the Board, are to be the returning officers and scrutineers.
I would like to say much more about this matter, but I will refer only to one other point, and that is this. If there was an emergency, if there was a surplus to be expected, I can quite imagine the reason for this scheme. But I challenge the noble Earl himself to say whether it is not true that the Minister does not expect a surplus, the producers do not expect a surplus, the brewers do not 610 expect a surplus. I can say from very careful investigation—and in this the Minister agrees with me—that there is a probable deficit of hops in the 1932 crop of 50,000 cwts. on the amount the brewers will require. Where is your emergency? Where is your excuse for haste? There is none.
The whole thing should have been far more carefully worked out, and every hop producer should have had the opportunity of carefully considering what he was going to vote for, which now, under the scheme as it stands, he will not have, and if you are going to set up a Board of the producers, the middle-men and nobody else you are virtually setting up a ring. The hop control which administered the affairs of the hop industry when I was Minister and which I formed myself, was formed of the producers, the middle-men and the brewers, and they worked harmoniously together and carried the industry through very difficult times. But if you put only producers and middle-men on the Board you declare, it seems to me, war to the knife with the brewers, and you cannot expect anything else except that they should use foreign hops. And remember this, they can buy foreign hops at £9 the cwt., including the duty. They have one other alternative and that is to grow hops for themselves, and one or other of those alternatives, if this scheme goes through, they will be bound to adopt.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords. I naturally always listen to what my noble friend Lord Ernle says on matters of agriculture with nothing less than veneration, but I am quite unable to agree with him in the conclusions he has put forward. I think I shall be able to answer some, at least, of the objections which he and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, have raised. I may say I have a little qualification for speaking on this subject, because I have been a hop grower for more than forty years. My noble friend Lord Astor asserted very dogmatically that there was going to be no surplus of hops.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
No surplus of good hops this year, and that the price of hops was going to be high. My noble friend Lord Ernle did not commit himself to any opinion about the price of 611 hops, but he said he thought that there was going to be no surplus of good hops this year. I do say most positively that it is not in the power of any living human being to say to-day what the hop crop next September is going to be. It is absolutely and completely impossible. Those who know anything about hops know that the bine has only just got to the top of the string, and till the crop comes into bur as it is called and then into fruit no human being would dare to estimate what the crop is going to be.
§ LORD ERNLE
May I make one remark? Is the noble Earl aware that the area under hops in 1932 is 3,000 acres less than the area in 1931?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I am quite aware of that fact, but I maintain my opinion that nobody at present can possibly say what the hop crop is going to be in September. A great point has been made by my noble friend and by the noble Marquess of undue haste in the preparation of this scheme. I admit there has been haste; but why? Because the whole industry is on the verge of ruin and collapse, and unless this scheme can be brought into operation in time for the next hop harvest I tremble to think of how many farmers will become insolvent, or how many of the very finest type of agricultural labourers will not be put out of employment. Nothing less than that is at stake, in my judgment. But admitting haste surely the question is not one of haste or no haste, but whether the scheme before your Lordships is a reasonable scheme or not? Even if it has been hastily put together, if it is a reasonable scheme it would not be reasonable to reject it because of the haste.
A great deal has been said by my noble friend Lord Astor, and by my noble friend Lord Ernle, about this not being the original scheme. No, but wherein does it differ from the original scheme? It is absolutely the original scheme except for the amendments inserted by the Minister, who has the power to put in amendments under the Agricultural Marketing Act. And why has the Minister put in amendments? Because of the result of the inquiry. The suggestion has been made that all parties concerned have not been heard. What are the facts? The Minister appointed a learned and competent K.C. who held a public inquiry. 612 Every interest concerned was heard before that inquiry—the hop farmers, the factors, the brewers. Every opportunity was given for any human being interested in the matter to be heard before that eminent counsel. What was the result? Only four hop growers came before him to say they wanted no scheme at all. Only twenty-three out of the whole number of hop farmers came and said they wanted amendments, and I have not any doubt, though I do not know, that the amendments which the Minister has inserted in the scheme are amendments due to the objections raised by these twenty-three or other witnesses who were heard. My noble friend Lord Ernle talked of a hundred amendments. I dare say there are more than a hundred, but I am informed on, I believe, competent authority, that the vast majority of these amendments are drafting amendments. Therefore, I say that this is the original scheme only amended by the Minister acting under his responsibility.
That is not the end of the chapter. If this scheme is adopted by your Lordships' House and is finally passed, a poll is to be taken of all the registered hop growers in the country. My noble friend Lord Ernle described the provisions of the scheme for taking that poll a little unfairly. Every effort is to be made, and the Minister will see that every effort is made, that every man who grows hops has a chance of putting himself on the register. If he does not do so, the fault and the responsibility are his. If he goes on the register, then the vote is taken and, unless two-thirds of all the hop farmers on the register vote for the scheme, the scheme drops. Not only must two-thirds of the hop growers on the register vote for the scheme but they must represent two-thirds of the acreage of hops. My noble friend Lord Ernle criticised the way in which the poll was going to be taken. I think his criticism was justified, but I am authorised to state that the Board has already decided, if it comes into existence, that the election shall be conducted by an independent firm of auditors. The poll will not be conducted by the Board but by an independent firm of auditors. I was rather surprised to find my noble friend Lord Astor taking up a brief on behalf of the brewers.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I cannot pretend to share my noble friend's views about beer in general but I think the brewers are very well able to take care of themselves. There is no reason why they should be able, as they are now, to buy good hops at a price far under the cost of production. Why is this matter so urgent? Perhaps I may explain, for the benefit of those of your Lordships who are not acquainted with hop growing, that there is no branch of agriculture so intensive as the hop industry or which employs so many men per acre or at such good wages. In addition, the hop picking brings thousands and thousands of pounds into the pockets of the women of the villages in the hop districts and to many of the poorest people who come from London and the great cities for the hop picking. The hop industry is, therefore, of national importance. Those noble Lords who do not grow hops will be surprised when I tell them that the annual cost of cultivation varies between £50 and £100 per acre and that the capital embarked in the industry may be put down at anything between £100 and £200 per acre.
I am not going to go back on the history of this industry for the last fifteen years but it has been cruelly hit as the indirect result of the War. The hop growers were called upon, in the interests of their country, to destroy a large part of their capital by grubbing up their hops in order that the land might be used to grow wheat. They did it without any compensation. From 1917 to 1925 they were under control. During that period of control the price paid for hops was sufficient but not excessive, the price was controlled as well as the industry. According to my private opinion, far too many foreign hops were allowed in at that time. When the control ceased a private combination was formed to carry on a voluntary control. Ninety per cent. of the hop farmers joined it but it was brought to grief because ten per cent. would not join. The ninety per cent. were only able to sell on the average about eighty per cent. of their crops while the ten per cent. outside took advantage of the price brought about by the combination and sold their whole hundred per cent. and those within the combination could not stand it. I think they were wrong, but that was how the pool broke up.
614 What happened? The very moment that combination ceased hops dropped from about £8 to £10 for good hops to a point where hundreds and hundreds of cwts. of really good hops were sold at a price far under the cost production at £5, £4 and even £3 per cwt. What is the result? At this moment the whole industry, with the exception of a few very strongly capitalised members, is standing on the brink of ruin. It is idle for my noble friend behind me to say that the ordinary hop grower can make his own bargain. These men have lost nearly all their own money. They are no match for the brewers in making a bargain; some of them are, but the majority are not. How often has it been thrown in the teeth of the English farmer that he cannot organise for collective bargaining? His only chance today is collective bargaining and this scheme will give him an opportunity for collective bargaining.
The criticism has already been answered that the good hops will be penalised by the bad hops. That is not so. All hops will be valued and sold only at their true value. Quite in contradistinction to my noble friend Lord Ernle, I believe that this scheme comes straight from the hop growers greatly encouraged by the Minister of Agriculture, as I am glad and proud to see as an old Minister of Agriculture. If I might give some slight personal proof, in my own district there are two great hop growers always growing the best possible quality of hops who stood outside the voluntary combination I mentioned and were partly responsible for the break-up of that combination. Both of them have said to me, without my asking any question of them, that if this scheme does not go through the hop industry is ruined. I believe that it will be supported by the great majority of the hop farmers. If it is not, the scheme will lapse and fail, but I ask your Lordships to give it a chance and to negative the Motion for its rejection.
§ LORD REMNANT
My Lords, I do not desire to keep the House for more than a few moments as many of the points I desired to raise have been put. There is one point, however, on which I should like to appeal to your Lordships. It was raised by the noble Marquess opposite and is very important. Why this haste? The noble Lord in charge of this Motion does not really believe that every point has been settled and examined before he 615 brought the scheme here. If he does, may I ask him this question and perhaps he will answer it. I understood him to say that the whole of the thirteen members of the Hops Committee of the National Farmers' Union had agreed to this scheme. I have just obtained from the Printed Paper Office a Paper which is headed "Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. Draft scheme for regulating the marketing of English hops. Report by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries." The first paragraph is not very material but the Report goes on to say:The scheme was submitted to me as having been unanimously agreed upon by the thirteen members of the Hops Committee of the National Farmers' Union whose names were appended thereto. I was satisfied that these persons were substantially representative of the hop growers of England.May I ask the noble Earl whether it is a fact that the whole of those members have signed the scheme which is at present before your Lordships' House because I am told—and I am told on very good authority, a statement has been made in this House this afternoon—that of those thirteen members no fewer than five refused to sign the scheme which is at present before your Lordships' House?
§ LORD REMNANT
Then there is another point. The noble Earl who has just sat down seemed to think that the hop grower was the only farmer who was on the point of ruin.
§ LORD REMNANT
But you laid great stress on the fact that unless we passed this Order to-day—that was the point, the great urgency of the matter—the hop farmer would be ruined. The grower of inferior hops, no doubt, is in a bad way and is bound to come to ruin whatever happens. There seems to be a total misapprehension of the position as regards over-production of hops. I venture to say that there has not been during the last ten years over-production of really good hops. There has been over-production of inferior hops which have had to be destroyed because nobody would have them. We are told that this scheme had been well thought out; yet there is nothing in it to show what is to 616 be the qualification for a voter when the poll is taken. Is he to vote as a unit or is the value of his vote to be computed according to the acreage farmed?
Then I come to the compulsion which is put on the Board to take all hops of every description, good, bad and indifferent. They must all be brought to the Board for acceptance and the Board cannot refuse them. Look at the expense which will be involved. They are to be entitled to grade, blend, and pack them, offer them for sale, insure them, advertise them, transport them, borrow money on the security of them, and so on and so on. Nothing is included for the expenses of the officials and staff even if the members of the Board are not to receive remuneration. Nobody knows what will be the amount of that expense. If bad hops are sent in—and there are plenty of them—something will have to be given to the growers of those inferior hops at the expense of those who send in good hops which would always fetch their value in the market.
Really it is not one scheme, or two schemes, but three schemes which have been before the public. We had the one in February, then we had the one which was put before the Commissioner. Why we have not had his report goodness only knows. The evidence was taken in public and I should have thought that the Minister might have let the public know the contents of that report. There was great weight of evidence even against the present scheme as it is put before your Lordships. There is no reason why it should be hurried through as it is being hurried through to-day. I do not believe you will help this scheme or any other scheme by rushing it through Parliament. It is much more likely to lead to failure. We are told that it has been passed through the House of Commons. Those of us who have spent many years in the House of Commons—and a number of your Lordships have had that experience—know what it means to push a Resolution or a Bill through the House of Commons in the early hours of the morning, especially a scheme like this which the members have not had time to consider. The scheme was only issued on Friday and I doubt whether many members of the House of Commons received it in sufficient time to enable them to consider it for discussion on Monday. It is probable that nobody had sufficient 617 time to consider it properly. No harm can be done by delaying this scheme. I heartily support the noble Viscount who moved its rejection. I hope that your Lordships will not pass a Resolution which is not necessary to be passed at once, and will at all events take time for further consideration.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I rise to make a very few remarks. I am very much in agreement with what the noble Marquess said on the question of haste. We are dealing here with an Act of Parliament which your Lordships considered and passed and I want first to draw attention to a point to which I hone the noble Earl will give us a reply. Section 1 (9) of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, says:The Minister, on laying before either House of Parliament a draft of a scheme…shall at the same time—That is obviously to give your Lordships the real facts of how the scheme was prepared and how it comes before your Lordships' House. We have heard from the noble Viscount who is opposing this scheme that the particular scheme laid on the Table has nothing whatever to do with the Report. The Report is on a different scheme altogether. The noble Earl shakes his head but it has been stated by two or three members of your Lordships' House that that is the case. This scheme, therefore, has not come before your Lordships' House in the way it ought to come before the House. It has been hurried before the House instead of being put forward, as the Act says, with a report of the evidence.
- '(a) in a case where the scheme is not a substitutional scheme, lay before that House a report as to the evidence by which he has been satisfied for the purpose of Part I of the First Schedule..'"
The second point I desire to make is one which I consider of great constitutional importance. We have heard that a citizen has started proceedings asking the High Court for a writ of prohibition of the scheme as ultra vires. It is quite true that the Divisional Court did not make the rule absolute, and that on appeal in the Court of Appeal that decision was upheld, but it is now on appeal to your Lordships' House. Again I turn to the Act to see what is the position. Clause 1 (8) provides that the moment the Order has been approved, the Order shall be made, and that Order 618 and the approval of the scheme by Parliament shall be "conclusive evidence" that what has been done is within the powers conferred by the Act. That is to say that once we have passed this Resolution it is conclusive evidence that the scheme is intra vires. How can your Lordships' House in a judicial capacity be asked to make absolute a rule which is not a rule given as by right but a discretionary rule, and be asked to exercise a discretion prohibiting something which by your Lordships' legislative act has been made by that time intra vires? Surely that does show that this has been brought forward, as the noble Viscount said, with indecent haste, in order to prevent an effective appeal to be made to the judicial side of this House. For these two reasons I ask your Lordships to say that this Motion should not be accepted.
§ LORD RHAYADER
My Lords, as I was Chairman in another place of the Committee which considered the Agricultural Marketing Bill and as this is the first scheme brought forward under the Act, I take rather a peculiar interest in these proceedings to-day. The Committee which considered the Agricultural Marketing Bill was very anxious in regard to the new powers given under the Act. They were afraid they might be giving great powers to the Ministry of Agriculture. They were much afraid that too great powers might be put into the hands of the Boards set up under schemes, and they pressed Amendments and clauses which were designed to protect growers and consumers by giving the fullest possible publicity to any scheme. I think it is evident from the debate to-day that the fears which were expressed on that Committee are only too much realised.
Is this first scheme representative of the industry? We have no proper report from the Ministry of Agriculture on that matter. I need not repeat the speeches which have been made, but Lord Ernle's speech shows how little the scheme can claim to be representative even of the National Farmers' Union, and even if it were the scheme of the National Farmers' Union is it representative of the hop growers? No evidence has been presented to the House to-day to show that the scheme is really representative. It may be that a scheme for the hop grower 619 is necessary and practicable, but I submit that the case for this scheme is not made out and that there is no particular harm in waiting another year before the scheme is made operative. Let it go before representative bodies of the National Farmers' Union and the hop growers.
I am told that ruin will befall the hop growers if this scheme does not pass now. Well, I have heard of the impending ruin of growers of various crops in this country for many years. Hop growers have been ruined any time these fifteen years—and I think they have grave reason to complain of the way in which they were treated by the Government in the years during and after the War. But another year will not do them any harm. This year's crop is pretty well settled, and if we take the time which the Agricultural Marketing Act really demands and deal with the thing properly I do not think the hop industry will be particularly worse off next year than it is this. I would plead with your Lordships to be extremely careful in passing this first scheme. The powers under the Agricultural Marketing Act are extraordinary and new to this country. They do enable rings to be set up against the consumers under which the nation might suffer real hardship. It is extremely important that in the first scheme under this Act no mistake should be made. I submit that the scheme does not fulfil the conditions on which the Act was passed, at any rate by another place, and therefore I would ask that time should be taken to be sure that all concerned should be fully informed about the scheme before it is put in operation.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, the strongest argument I think why we should not pass this to-day is that put forward by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, who pointed out that this matter had been very much hurried. The only ground on which apparently it ought to be hurried, so far as I could gather, was that otherwise difficulties would be created in the future, but I have read what was said at the inquiry—that there would be no surplus of hops this year—and that seems to do away with the noble Earl's argument. As an old member of the House of Commons I cannot help feeling that this was hurried through in another place with indecent 620 haste. It was taken in the small hours of the morning, between one and two o'clock, when the Government practically always has a majority; and although there was strong opposition there was no Division because it was known by any opponents that they would be overwhelmed by the supporters of the Government voting in support of the Government apart from other considerations.
This scheme has been approved in another place, as it has been approved here, by the Labour Party. I notice that Major Milner said it would substitute co-operation for competition and the noble Lord, Lord Marley, going a little further, said it would be the nationalisation of production. I think the majority of this House do not wish for nationalisation of production, but we can understand why the Labour members of this House and in another place approve the scheme, although at present they are generally against the Government. The scheme, it seems to me, means that for practical purposes the inefficient benefit at the expense of the efficient. All the hops of the registered growers must be accepted by the Board, however inferior, and that is in favour of inefficiency.
Paragraph 34 of the scheme states that:Subject to the provisions of the Act with respect to existing contracts—That is a very drastic provision and apparently the only people exempt from it will be the South Eastern Agricultural College and any others who satisfy the Board that they are not growing hops except for their own use. It is rather a strong order to forbid men to sell their produce independently and get the best possible price. However good their hops they will have to take an inferior price. I notice that in another place a gentleman well known to some of us, Mr. Strauss, said he was not only a hop merchant but a hop grower, and that from the point of view of the hop merchant this is a matter which concerns the grower. Then Mr. Strauss said that 621 he was both a distributor—and we know he is a very big distributor indeed—and a grower, and, speaking as a grower, he said that he considered the hop grower who was in favour of the scheme was nothing less than a fanatic. That shows that a man in that position is very strongly opposed to the scheme.
- (a) a producer who is neither registered nor exempt from registration shall not sell, either in England or elsewhere, any English hops;
- (b) a registered producer shall not, without the consent of the Board, sell, either in England or elsewhere, any English hops otherwise than to or through the agency of the Board."
As regards the Report of the Minister of Agriculture, I cannot help thinking that we might have had something more than merely this statement. It is as follows:The principal facts to which I had regard in satisfying myself were as follows:As has been stated in this House already, the National Farmers' Union have changed their views and thrown over their Parliamentary Committee. I believe that the reason for that is that the noble Earl, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, has made himself so popular that he has been able to persuade them to throw over their own Parliamentary Committee.
- (a) that the National Farmers' Union is in general regarded as being qualified to represent the interest of the farming industry as a whole, including the growing of hops."
The Minister of Agriculture seems to think that the National Farmers' Union are the only representatives of agriculture. It cannot be said that they represent the whole of the agricultural interests in this country. I venture to suggest that there are other bodies, such as the Central Landowners' Association, which includes over ten thousand owners as well as a large number of occupiers. Those men had no opportunity of being consulted at all. Again, the Central Chamber of Agriculture, which represents owners, farmers and agricultural labourers, might have been consulted in this matter. At the present moment it is very much representative of agriculture, because the Chairman is a representative of the agricultural labourers himself. It seems to me that the Minister of Agriculture can hardly come down to this House and say that he has consulted agriculture, and has the official representatives of agriculture at his back, when in fact he has omitted to ascertain the opinions of such important bodies as the Central Landowners' Association and the Central Chamber of Agriculture. I cannot help thinking that no harm will be done if we simply postpone this matter 622 for some time, in order that it may be fully discussed.
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
My Lords, as one who played some small part in forwarding the organised marketing of agricultural produce, I should be the first to deplore it if I thought that this original scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act was to be anything but a good scheme. In particular I should deplore it if it was likely to be a scheme either resisted or resented by a majority of the growers of that article of produce the marketing of which it seeks to organise. What would happen if your Lordships approved this scheme this afternoon? The scheme itself would not immediately take effect. Before it can take effect there has to be a poll of registered producers, and any and every producer, on application, is entitled to be registered by the Board. At that poll, of those who vote two-thirds of all the registered producers voting must support the scheme or the scheme will fall, and those registered producers supporting the scheme must represent, in terms of their aggregate production of hops, two-thirds in volume of the total production of all registered producers who vote. I am inclined to think, with great respect to the noble Viscount who moved the Amendment, that hop growers on the whole are very much better able to look after their own interests, and to make their voices heard at the right time, than he supposes. The safeguard of the Bill, with its very democratic machinery, requiring a two-thirds majority in number and in volume, does seem to me at least to ensure that the scheme will not come into effect unless hop growers for the most part are in favour of the scheme.
I listened with very close attention to the whole of the discussion. I was influenced not a little by the observations which fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, who is not now in his place, and from Lord Ernle on these Benches. I confess I was less influenced by what fell from Lord Astor, because I felt that not a few of the passages of the speech in which he supported his Amendment were passages which we had heard in the discussions on the Agricultural Marketing Act. He told us that he was pressed for time, and if he repeated arguments addressed to us on a former occasion we shall very readily understand that it was lack of opportunity for preparing a 623 further speech which led him to use what was somewhat ancient matter. He, of course, always has been a noted opponent of the Agricultural Marketing Act. On balance, and weighing the matter as well as I can with the knowledge at my disposal, I am persuaded, although I fully appreciate the weight of the considerations advanced by the noble Marquess, that delay would be against the best interests of the industry. I shall therefore support the scheme, and I trust that your Lordships will resist the Amendment and give the scheme a chance.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, so much has been said for and against the Resolution that I do not know that very much remains for me to say, excepting that there are a number of points which have been raised and which I think you will wish me to endeavour to answer before you finally come to a decision. I gather from the debate that the main reason why some of your Lordships have expressed yourselves as being up to now unpersuaded that it is desirable to vote for the Resolution, is based on the ground of haste. Perhaps you will allow me to put before you exactly what has happened in relation to this scheme. We know that when the scheme was first being considered the hop growers started off with very considerable experience coming down from the past. There was not only the War-time hop control, but later they had their voluntary control association which, as we have been told, broke down, mainly because they had not got the compulsory powers which the Agricultural Marketing Act gives them to-day. Then we come to discussion amongst the farmers themselves all through last year. What is the history of the position as regards the mind of the hop grower? Why did the National Farmers' Union come to the conclusion that it was "up to them"? The noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, was wrong there. He said it was not a National Farmers' Union scheme. It is a National Farmers' Union scheme. We have to ask ourselves why the National Farmers' Union became persuaded that it was necessary to have a scheme.
§ LORD RHAYADER
Do I understand that the National Farmers' Union have approved the scheme in its present shape in a formal way?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
This scheme has been prepared for us and submitted definitely by the National Farmers' Union. All through last year discussions were taking place among the hop growers on this point, and in July, 1931, and February, 1932, we had resolutions from all the counties that are primarily interested in the growing of hops in favour of the preparation of a scheme, not merely a vague scheme of organised marketing, but a scheme based on the Agricultural Marketing Act. Resolutions came from Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Kent, East Sussex and Hampshire. Then they got definitely down to the consideration of the scheme in February, and since then full discussions have been taking place among the growers. One noble Lord, I think the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, seemed to make it a cause of complaint that some of the representatives of the Ministry had taken part in those discussions. But what is the Ministry of Agriculture there for but to help farmers to prepare schemes, when they wish to prepare schemes for marketing? The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, reminded your Lordships that for years the farmers have been criticised for not organising, and one of the best things that have happened in the history of the Ministry of Agriculture for the last ten or twenty years has been the appointment of the Markets Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, which came as a result of the Linlithgow Committee in 1924. Of course, we assisted those discussions in every way.
Then the scheme was presented, and there was the full public inquiry, and only four objectors from the hop growers placed objections before that inquiry, held by a prominent King's Counsel. We are told that the scheme is not the same as the original scheme. That point has already been dealt with by a noble Lord, but if a Bill goes through the Committee stage of this House and has Amendments inserted in it, do we say that it is not the same Bill? We should have been far more open to criticism if, as the result of the public inquiry, we had refused to amend the scheme, than we are by reason of the fact that the scheme has been amended. The scheme is the same scheme that has been amended as the result of facts that came out at the public inquiry. It has been said that after the amendments were inserted in this scheme— 625 I think the noble Lord, Lord Remnant, asked me a question about this—there were a number of the Committee who were not in favour of the amendments. He said that there were five out of thirteen. As a matter of fact, it is perfectly true that there were four members of that Committee who were not prepared to make themselves responsible for recommending the amendments, but not one of them has hitherto come out in opposition to the scheme as a whole.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The reason why it was put into the circular that the Committee was unanimous was that the scheme was brought to us unanimously. As a result of the inquiry there were four members of the Committee who were not prepared to make themselves responsible for recommending the amendments. But the scheme was brought before us unanimously by the Committee. We had the general discussions going on up to last February and the discussions about this particular scheme since then. Does that suggest undue haste in dealing with an industry that is in the state that the hop industry is in at the present moment? The noble Lord, Lord Ernle, has suggested that there is not going to be a surplus this year, and he quoted the authority of the Ministry on that point. My advice from the Ministry of Agriculture is that there is a very large carry over of about 75,000 cwts. from last year, and, in addition to that, if the crop is in any way above the average, if the existing decline in the consumption of beer is not very quickly arrested, then there are considerable chances of there being a considerable surplus. And if there is not that surplus, is that a reason for not having the scheme for better marketing? The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, I think said that he would be quite prepared to have a scheme for better marketing, but he did not like this provision for dealing with a surplus. He said he would prefer to do nothing at all, but, if he had to do anything, he would like to limit himself to a scheme for better marketing. If there is not a surplus, then there is nothing more in this scheme than a scheme for better marketing.
Finally, what is it that your Lordships are being asked to do to-day? I gather from the debate that there is consider- 626 able misunderstanding on this particular point. I gather from the debate that your Lordships feel that this is the last stage of the affair, that you are being asked to rush through this scheme and force it on to the producers, and that then there is no more discussion. All you are being asked to do to-day is to approve a scheme in order that the hop growers may be given an opportunity of pronouncing their verdict upon it. I am going to add my voice to that of the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, and I go further and say that I am convinced that if you get a two-thirds majority of the hop growers, representing not only two-thirds of their number but two-thirds of the acreage of the hops grown in this country, and if they vote in favour of a scheme, I would very much rather have their opinion on a scheme than even the opinion of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. And that is what we are being asked to do. Do let me impress this point upon your Lordships. You feel that there has been haste, you feel that there has been lack of consultation. Are you going to deny the hop growers the opportunity of discussing this scheme for themselves and giving their verdict upon it? I venture to suggest that that would be a most unreasonable attitude for us to adopt.
Might I say one further word on behalf of the Government and to give an undertaking to your Lordships, in order to show that we are not anxious in any way to make your Lordships feel that this scheme is going to be rushed through, and then, once it is settled, that we cannot do anything more? I have already told your Lordships that as soon as this scheme goes through there will be a Committee of Investigation set up under the terms of the Agricultural Marketing Act, and they will be charged with the business of investigating any complaints from anybody who is in any way interested in the industry. I am quite prepared to give to your Lordships on behalf of the Government an undertaking that this Committee of Investigation shall, whether there is a complaint or not, undertake an investigation and give to the Minister a report when the scheme has been in operation for a year. It is understandable that in this the first scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act there should be some hesitation about proceeding too far. There has 627 been very considerable discussion, and we are prepared to consider the matter again in a year's time. Lastly, your Lordships are only being asked to give to the growers the opportunity, which they have not yet had, of pronouncing upon the scheme.
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Motion agreed to accordingly.