§ 2.57 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE rose to call attention to the treatment meted out to the horticultural industry by His Majesty's Government; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, by the horticultural industry I mean the industries concerned with all those intensively-grown crops, whether they be vegetables or fruit or hops or such-like, which demand an enormous amount of capital and labour for their production, and which played such a valuable part in maintaining the food supply of this country during the war. I move this Motion at the request of many people who are engaged in various branches of this industry, because there is a feeling of grave disquiet throughout the whole of the industry as to its future in the hands of His Majesty's Government. I think I can say that, so far as the market gardeners are concerned, they feel that the Government have led them "up the garden path," and at the present moment their position is a very dangerous and insecure one.
§ I will quote, first, instances of what has happened with fruit, a matter of which I have personal knowledge. I must inform your Lordships that I am myself a fruit grower, a fruit nurseryman, and a hop grower, though, thank heaven, I do not grow vegetables, except the humble potato—and that only under compulsion. The conduct of His Majesty's Government in regard to fruit has been much the same as it has been in regard to vegetables, and it can all be traced to a 73 duality of object. The Minister of Agriculture is responsible to the country for the welfare of the various branches of the industry, and if we felt that we were in his loving hands we should be much happier than we are at the present moment. But the industry believes that policy in regard to foreign imports, and in regard to other matters, is dictated not by the Minister of Agriculture but by the Minister of Food, who appears to have singularly little interest in the welfare of those who are trying to produce these crops in this country.
May I give an example of what happened last year in regard to apples? In response to a request from the growers, the Minister of Food announced on July 29 last that it was proposed to decontrol apples in September. He explained that he was announcing that decision early so that farmers could make their plans ahead. The announcement was in these words:
The Minister of Food announces that he intends to remove price control from all homegrown apples as soon as the volume of supplies coming to market is sufficient to justify such a course. This preliminary notice is given so that growers and distributors may make the necessary preparations for the grading, packing and marketing of the crop.
That was a most valuable announcement. When the industry read it, they said: "This is planning! We have a Government of planners. Now we know where we are." The information was very important to the industry, because if a market is to be a free one, with a fluctuating price, it will pay the growers of good produce to store their produce, which is in itself an expensive process, in order that the fruit shall not be all thrown on the market at once and so that the period of home supply can be extended.
But although that announcement was made in July, nothing further happened, and rumours began to circulate in the industry that the announcement was not going to be implemented. Those rumours caused a great deal of consternation. At the request of various growers, I wrote to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, on August 21, to ask him two questions. I asked him: "Is it proposed to control the price of apples and pears after September 1, and does the Minister want growers to cold store their fruit or not?" My noble friend wrote in reply:
The first of these questions I am afraid is a matter for the Ministry of Food, but I
am in contact with that Department and I will get their views on the question. The second point, I should have thought, was one for the growers themselves.
I reacted very strongly to that answer, because to my mind it was evidence of what I have just said to your Lordships, that the policy in regard to an English agricultural crop was being directed not by the Ministry of Agriculture but by the Ministry of Food. I expressed that belief rather forcibly to the noble Earl, who wrote at once to assure me that he was in the closest contact with the Minister of Food, and that I was entirely mistaken in thinking that there was any divergence of attitude of policy between the two Departments. But I could not help feeling he had "let the cat out of the bag."
§ Our good friends at the Ministry of Agriculture are sitting back and allowing the future handling of British crops to be dictated by another Department, which have not the interests of the British growers at heart, which do not know anything about our problems and look at the matter from a sectional and departmental angle. So far as I am aware, no explanation has ever been given of why the Ministry of Food announced that they were going to decontrol apples and pears and then failed to do so. What is the explanation? Is it that the information which led them to make that announcement was wrong? If so, where did they obtain that information? Surely they obtained it from the Ministry of Agriculture. Then, was the Ministry of Agriculture's information wrong? There is in force an elaborate system of monthly crop returns and reports during the summer. The Minister of Agriculture, I imagine, nowadays knows, more about the state of any crop in this country than did any of his predecessors in their time. An immense, elaborate and expensive machinery has been set up which ought to have enabled him to advise the Ministry of Food exactly what was the crop position. Why then were the Government of the opinion on July 27 that the crop was sufficiently big to be decontrolled and why had they entirely changed their attitude a month later?
§ I would ask the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, what is the Government's policy about the apple and pear industry in this country. The House will remember that before the war we imported 75 many millions of pounds' worth of apples from hard currency countries. If the people of this country are to have the same amount of apples in the future as they used to have before the war, it can be achieved only by expanding the apple-growing industry or by spending a great many dollars which we cannot now afford. I venture to say that it would be of the greatest assistance to the agricultural community if the Government would fix an acreage or bushelage target at which, by co-operation and co-ordination, we could aim. We should then know where we were. We cannot build up an industry, as this industry will have to be built up, on a basis of uncertainty. It is this uncertainty which is so cramping to plans and so frustrating to any industry which is trying to plan ahead.
We cannot build up a fruit industry, or any other, on the basis that there should be free trade whenever there is a glut, but not otherwise. The Minister of Food apparently wants to play with the growers a game of "Heads I win, tails you lose." He says that he will de-control if there is a glut, but that if there is not then he will control. I recognise that there is a limit beyond which prices ought not to be allowed to go, and I do not complain of control under reasonable conditions. I do not complain of war-time controls; I think they were right. But if we want this industry to expand, it cannot be done on the basis that the present Minister of Food seems to think desirable. He will not tell us where we are, until he knows whether there is going to be a glut. I should like to quote some very wise words spoken by the Minister of Agriculture at Hereford on April 9. He said:
Already the acreage of dessert apples, pears and soft fruits has started to increase, but there is a lot more to do than merely to increase acreage. The future of fruit clearly lies in the increased production of better fruit. To grow second-rate stuff is simply a waste—a waste of time and capital, of growers' knowledge and workers' skill, and of transport and market services.
These words are absolutely true, but we cannot secure this improvement in quality so long as there is control. I do not think that the devastating effect which control has on the quality of fruit is generally realised.
§ May I read some figures sent to me by some well-known Sussex growers, giving 76 the actual figures from their high-class fruit farm? In 1947, a good Cox grower averaged 30s. 10d. a bushel; in 1948, he had to take 26s. 8d. I would remind the House that in 1947 there was no control, and in 1948 there was. In 1947, the bad grower averaged 15s. a bushel; in 1948, he received his 26s. 8d., the same as the good grower. Who pays this difference of 11s. 8d., which is really the subsidy the had grower is getting for sending rubbish to the market? The good grower pays 4s. 2d., and the public pay 7s. 6d. The imposition of a controlled price on such a variable article as fruit means that the public have to buy a lot of rubbish at prices much higher than it is worth. In saying this to the noble Earl, I feel that I am preaching to the converted. I am sure that he is just as keen on improving the quality of the fruit crop as his chief is, but that will never be achieved so long as this system of control is imposed by the Ministry of Food.
§ There is another aspect to this question. The Ministry of Agriculture have asked the Fruit Packers' Council to carry out comprehensive marketing, experiments with various forms of containers. What is the use of these experiments if there is to be a uniform price for good, bad and indifferent fruit? The Ministry of Agriculture are encouraging growers to build expensive cold stores, in some cases costing over £100,000. What is the use of a grower spending money on such a scheme to store fruit for distribution over the season if it is to attract only the same controlled price? All I ask is that the Minister of Agriculture shall assert himself in these matters, and say to his colleagues what he knows to be the truth. These industries cannot be developed and encouraged on the lines which the Minister of Food would have us follow. It is surely very bad that one Department should be responsible for an industry while another Department, without any responsibility, settles the question of control and decontrol, and the question of imports or non-imports.
§ Again, let me take the case of plums, which present a similar story. In 1948 we had a record plum crop, but the Ministry of Food increased plum imports from £172,000 in 1947 to £324,000 last year—or almost double. It became obvious that there was to be another plum glut. The 77 situation then was that jam was rationed. The retailers could not get rid of their jam; they could not buy any more from the wholesalers and, therefore, the wholesalers could not buy any more jam from the jam factories. The jam factories containers were all full of the 1947 crop, and they told the growers that they could not take the 1948 crop unless they could clear their containers. So early in June the growers and the National Farmers' Union besought the Ministry of Food to deration jam, which the Ministry point-blank refused to do. But the agitation went on. Meanwhile, the plum crop ripened on the trees, and the growers were unable to sell their plums. At last the attention of the Press was attracted; there was public excitement and protests about it; and Questions were asked in Parliament. Then, suddenly, on August 15, the Ministry of Food announced that from that moment forward jam was derationed. But by August 15 it was too late to make proper arrangements. If the Ministry of Food were able to deration jam—a step which they had said was impossible three months before—they ought to have said so in time. That, surely, is another case of a Department who have no responsibility for the home crop making these vital decisions without proper consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture.
§ I have just been informed that there are prospects of an equally big crop in 1949. The plum blossom is over; it has not been damaged by frost, and a heavy plum crop is setting. It has been impossible to absorb the jam supplies of the 1947 and 1948 crops, and the growers' organisation have been informed by the purchasers that they do not anticipate being able to take more than a small portion of the 1949 crop. In these circumstances, they have asked the Government for permission to export plums. There is a market for plums, I understand, in Scandinavia, and in other parts of the world. They made a similar application to the Government last year and it was turned down, again until too late, because the Board of Trade had to be consulted, and the Board of Trade said it was against their principles that any food should be allowed out of this country! On that ground, the application was refused for weeks. Now the same request has been made to the Ministry, and I should be grateful if the noble Earl could tell us this afternoon whether the growers are to 78 be allowed to export their surplus plums to markets that are willing to take them.
§ I now come to vegetables. Here I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to a valuable article that has appeared in Lloyds Bank Review from the pen of Mr. Secrett, who has done more to develop and increase the horticultural industry in this country than any other living man and who was for many years the Adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture. I propose to quote from his article this afternoon. I am not going to pretend that this vegetable problem is an easy one. The horticultural acreage increased greatly during the war from 280,000 acres in 1939 to 548,000 acres in 1947. But why was that so? That was done at the urgent request of the National Government. Before the war, we were largely dependent on the Continent of Europe for things like lettuces, tomatoes and other vitamin-giving foods. It was of the utmost national importance, and in the interest of national health, that production of that type of food should be stepped up during the war. Farmers and market gardeners all over the country were besought to go in for these crops and develop them. The result is that there is now a much bigger horticultural acreage than we had before the war.
At the same time, I recognise that, for reasons with which we are all familiar, the Government desire to increase trade with Western Europe. Therefore, these two considerations have to be balanced. But I believe it could be done very much better than it is being done. Nobody can object to the importation of fresh food and vegetables from abroad at times when our own crops are not in season. What we are complaining about, and what the industry is complaining about, is that these imports have been allowed during the home season, and especially during times of a home glut. I would remind your Lordships that in introducing the Agriculture Act, the present Minister of Agriculture said that it was the policy of His Majesty's Government to give the horticultural industry stability, although it was not included in the scope of the Act. On March 5, at Lincoln, he said:
The horticultural industry has an important contribution to make to our programme. We are hoping that the present acreage of vegetables will be maintained.
That was the policy announced by the Minister himself hardly a month ago.
The Minister of Food's contribution towards this policy last year was to flood the English market with foreign onions in the middle of an onion glut, and that, as your Lordships know, has created consternation and an outcry among market gardeners all over the country.
When the Government were tackled about this matter in another place the other day, the defence of Mr. Brown, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, was that everybody was wise after the event. I would like to read his words, because in that expression he implies, if he does not in fact say so, that the Government had no warning from the industry of the difficulty into which they were getting. Mr. Brown said on April 14:
I turn now to onions. It is very easy to get the picture out of perspective. I have said in the country to onion producers, and I say again here, that so far as last year was concerned everybody was being wise after the event.
When he was challenged about that, he reiterated the statement and said:
… I will repeat that they were. … It was not until we were all wise after the event that the producers themselves began to feel that in the light of what had happened, we should have made a change.
Then he says that the crop turned out to be much bigger than was expected, "which made a difficulty which no one, producers or anyone else, could foresee." I have quoted that statement because it is a most categorical one. But the facts are that, on June 3, 1948, the Ministry of Food were notified by the National Farmers' Union that there was every indication of a glut. They were notified in these words:
My Vegetables Committee considered recently the question of the marketing arrangements for home-grown dry bulb onions. The general feeling was that the seed had germinated well and there was every indication of a much heavier crop this year. My Committee, therefore, instructed me to inform you of the position and to let you know that many growers were apprehensive of the prospect of not being able to market their onions within the existing import free period.
I submit that that was a warning which gave the Government ample time to make adjustments in their plans.
The reply which the National Farmers' Union received was as follows:
In regard to dry bulb onions, we note that some growers are apprehensive that they will
be unable to market the crop of home-grown onions within the existing import-free period. The Ministry is not considering extending the import-free period and we do not share the growers' apprehension. The demand for onions is very keen, and there seems to us to be no reason why the crop cannot move into consumption at satisfactory prices.
I should like to know whether the Ministry of Food consulted the Ministry of Agriculture before they sent that reply. In the light of that correspondence I ask what right has the noble Earl's colleague to make a statement that everybody was wise after the event? Surely, that would be misleading the House of Commons, unless, indeed, he himself has not been fully informed of the facts by the Ministry of Food. I venture to think that that statement should be withdrawn.
While I am referring to the noble Earl's Parliamentary colleague, may I also draw attention to what he said in that same speech about the vegetable acreage? He said:
The policy of His Majesty's Government is that we must maintain the acreage at its wartime level.
He then went on to complain that it had increased very much since the war. But the Minister of Agriculture said only on March 5 that his policy was to maintain the vegetable acreage at its present level. Now which is the policy of His Majesty's Government? It is bad enough to find the Minister of Agriculture cringing in front of the Minister of Food, but surely he is not going to cringe in front of his own Parliamentary Secretary? Really, we ought to know who is the head of the Ministry of Agriculture. Is it Mr. Brown, or is it Mr. Williams? I think that is a point upon which the noble Earl might be able to give us some guidance.
§ So much for the story of 1948. What is the prospect in 1949? I am informed that the Ministry of Food officially estimate the home demand for onions at 240,000 tons. But they have signed contracts with Holland and Poland which will allow those countries to import into this country 296,000 tons of onions. That is without counting a single onion grown in this country. I hope I am not giving your Lordships the impression that the Ministry of Food have bought that quantity of onions. That is not what they have done, but they have given these licences for free importation into this country to the growers of Poland and Holland. Therefore, it is true to say that 81 those onions will be coming in at the foreigners' risk. But do you call it planning to make an agreement with foreign countries which enables them to send 296,000 tons of onions, when you yourself estimate that the home demand is only 240,000 tons? Surely that is simply asking for slumps and booms. That is an aggravation of everything we used to complain about in the bad old world of free trade. It is a sort of aggravated free trade, a boosted free trade, because either you are leading the foreigner up the garden path, encouraging him to send his produce here when you know quite well there is not the market to take it, or else you are inflicting a very grave injury on your fellow-countrymen who, as I say, developed this industry during the war and who, within reasonable limits, ought to be given fair play to maintain that industry in times of peace.
§ In the debate the other day, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture took great credit for the fact that in this new onion agreement with Holland a clause has been inserted to enable the Ministry to review the situation as late as September, in order to tell the foreign importer at what date he will be allowed to bring in his imports. That is designed to prevent a repetition of last year's fiasco, when these imports came in at the height of the English season. Well, my Lords, that is an excellent provision. It is a great pity it was not thought of before; it is a great pity that the Government of planners did not think of it when they were making their first plan. I should like to ask my noble friend whether that provision applies to Polish onions as well as to Dutch onions, because it is not going to help the English grower much if the Dutch onions are going to be kept back while the Polish onions are going to be allowed in. I should also like to ask whether the Minister of Agriculture will see that the producers' organisations are properly consulted at the same time, so that they may at any rate be allowed to give their opinion to the Minister and to the Minister of Food before this vital decision is taken in September.
The Minister of Food has arranged for huge imports of vegetables from abroad for this year and for several years afterwards. He has made an agreement with the Dutch to allow in, prior to the end
of June, more tomatoes than the whole of Holland produced in this period. That means that the Dutch middleman will have to buy his tomatoes from Belgium and other countries and that he will rake off a profit which used to be taken by our own wholesalers in the days when they were allowed to carry on that type of business. I should like to repeat again that I do not wish to criticise in the least the importation of vegetables and fruit from the Continent, or, indeed, from anywhere in the world, so long as it is coordinated so that it does not impinge on our own season. That is surely not impossible. I cannot help feeling that if there had been proper consultation between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture that sort of thing would be avoided. But this is what I read in the N.F.U. Information Service last February:
The Ministry of Food, in agreement with the Board of Trade, has announced that the period of validity of open individual licences for the importation of fresh fruit and vegetables issued during 190 has been extended to 30th June, 1949:
§ That may be quite right, or it may be quite wrong; but I protest that the Ministry of Food in agreement with the Board of Trade should make such an announcement. I ask myself, what about the Ministry of Agriculture? That, apparently, is the only Department that is not consulted. I would remind your Lordships that there is another aspect of the matter, which is that the English growers have to pay statutory wages, which are much higher than anything paid on the Continent. Moreover, the greenhouse growers in this country are obliged to grow 75 per cent. food, otherwise they get no fuel. Therefore, they have to grow tomatoes if they are to get fuel, and then the Minister of Food comes in and imports foreign tomatoes, or allows their importation, at the height of the British season. This year the Minister of Food has agreed to the Dutch exporting to us tomatoes in August, which is the height of the English season. That is strictly contrary to the agreement the Government made in 1946 with the National Farmers' Union.
§ So we go from confusion to confusion. The Ministry of Agriculture were urging home growers to increase their production of broccoli and early lettuce, and at the same time the Ministry of Food were 83 arranging to import substantial quantities of foreign broccoli and lettuce. Last year we had a bumper broccoli crop, but the Ministry of Food allowed the importation of £500,000 worth. The Minister of Food has made some very bitter remarks about the English producers. He has held them up to the public as a body of profiteers and spoken of them in a manner against which I should like to utter my protest. But I would venture to say that the consumer of vegetables in this country is not subsidised as the consumer of other foodstuffs is. The consumer of bread and meat is subsidised in the prices which he has to pay; but if he wants to buy vegetables he has to pay a price that will pay the grower to grow them. Therefore he gets the idea that vegetables are unduly expensive. The price is what it is only because they are not subsidised. If other foods were not subsidised vegetables would seem to be one of the cheapest items of the nation's diet.
§ I want now to ask the noble Earl about the position of France in this matter of imports. How much horticultural produce are we going to import from France in 1949 and 1950? Is there going to be any restriction to free importation? Here again, I do not want to protest at all against the importation of fruit and vegetables from France; there is no foreign country in the world that we would like to trade with more than with France. But I should like to ask my noble friend—and I have given him notice of the question, because I attach great importance to the matter—whether there is or is not going to be any restriction on the import of French wines or French silks, scents, or ladies' clothes and hats—those luxury articles that we used to get from France. I ask this question because nasty little birds have whispered that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is so keen on his austerity programme that he would rather the market gardeners of this country were ruined than that anybody in the country should have a luxury article to which in the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he is not morally entitled. I venture to say to His Majesty's Government that if we wish to increase our trade with France, the importation of these luxury articles ought not to be restricted at the present time.84
§ But when we come to countries like Poland I would ask, what are we exporting to Poland in return for the things we are importing from her? Poland is not in the Western Union. There is the greatest need to increase trade with Western Europe; why should our home producers be sacrificed in the interests of a country such as Poland, which is behind the Iron Curtain? I should like to ask the noble Earl whether, when we make these trade agreements with other countries, these countries do in fact buy from us what they stipulate to buy. Are all our motor cars, for instance, which are sent to those countries, actually sold when they get there? If not, does that lead to any curtailment in the amount of their produce that is imported here?
§ I turn to marketing organisation. The Government, in their defence in another place the other day, had a good deal to say on this subject—and I was very glad of it. I think my noble friend will bear me out when I say that I have always been very keen on the proper marketing and grading of our produce, and the industry as a whole is keen upon it. But there cannot be an improvement in marketing organisation unless the growers have some security against foreign competition. It is no good their building up an organisation and then the Ministry of Food torpedoing it by allowing in a great mass of foreign produce, in a quite un-co-ordinated manner, at the height of the English season. I cannot help feeling that much of this trouble has arisen not only through duality of policy on the part of the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture, and through the absence of consultation between the two Departments, but also because the Government will stick to their policy of either bulk buying or the free open licence. The old system of the tariff was much simpler and automatically worked well. If there is a reasonable duty per hundredweight on the importation of foreign produce, then when the home supply is adequate to the home demand it will not pay the foreigner to send in his produce; but if, for any cause, there is a shortage in this country, then it will pay the foreigner to pay duty and to send in his produce. That worked very smoothly before the late war, and it could be made to work if the duties were adjusted and brought up to date with present-day values. I would remind your Lordships that an arrangement of that 85 sort would not be contrary to anything that this country agreed upon, wisely or unwisely, at Geneva or Havana. Other countries such as France and the Netherlands already do it.
§ Another point that I would urge upon the Government is this. Will they restore the Horticultural Advisory Council which performed such useful work during the war and which is strongly advocated by Mr. Secrett in that article which I quoted? I feel that if a Council on those lines were functioning, the Minister would be in closer touch with the industry and we should not be having these fiascos, one after another. There are two other points I want to make before I sit down—and I have already spoken longer than I meant to. The first is with reference to houses. One cannot consider any of these questions in vacuo. My information is that not 10 per cent. of the cottages that have been built by rural district councils have gone to agricultural workers. Can the Minister give me any information upon that subject? Does the Minister of Agriculture make it his business to obtain figures to show how many of these cottages are going to agricultural and horticultural workers? We shall not put our agriculture right until the housing conditions are improved for our agricultural workers.
§ The second question I have to ask is in regard to hops. I do not know what the situation is in other parts of the country, but in Hampshire and Surrey we are having continual difficulty with the education authorities who will fix the school holidays at a time that does not coincide with hop picking. From time immemorial, it has been the custom in hop-picking districts to have school summer holidays in September, instead of in August. That does not fit in with the symmetrical ideas of the Ministry of Education, and they are trying to alter it. Can we obtain any assistance from the Minister of Agriculture in this matter? I read in the paper the other day that 1,400 parents were being prosecuted by the Staffordshire County Council because they had allowed their children to go hop picking in Worcestershire last year. Surely that is another case of Government Departments each pursuing their own policy without the slightest thought of the effect upon agriculture.86
I will conclude by reading a passage from Mr. Secrett's article on the whole horticultural question: He writes this:
I have been in business producing horticultural crops for the last forty-one years. During the last few months I have destroyed more vegetable crops than were destroyed on my farms during the last two decades, and this at a time when the Ministry of Agriculture is having difficulty in obtaining the target acreages for crops such as wheat. This has a psychological effect upon our workers, for they see first-class crops destroyed, crops upon which vast sums of money have been expended together with their own personal toil and thought.
Is there any wonder that a spirit of frustration exists among them, men to whom pride of production means so much? This state of affairs must not continue. The atmosphere of frustration exists from the youngest worker on the farm to the Managing Director.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I do not propose to take up more than a few minutes of your Lordships' time. I have been listening to the well-reasoned, convincing and combative eloquence of the noble Earl in moving this Motion. In passing, may I say that there is no one in your Lordships' House who is better qualified to present this case than is the noble Earl. He is an outstanding pioneer in the practical application of the somewhat complicated science of pomology as based upon the excellent work that for many years has been conducted at our two great national fruit research stations of East Mailing and Long Ashton. For many years, I had the experience of presiding over the Long Ashton research station. Therefore I cannot help but take a vital interest in any attempt such as the noble Earl is making to carry out in practice the profitable teachings that come from our national fruit research stations.
I come from the West of England, from the Valley of the Severn. I venture to say that there is no area in the whole of Great Britain—I defy either the Kentish growers or those from Evesham in Worcestershire to contradict me—that is better adapted to the profitable production of fruit, and apples in particular, than the Valley of the Severn and alongside the Bristol Channel in Monmouthshire and South Wales—the area from which I myself come. There is no greater stimulus to production, especially of an essential commodity such as fruit—and, after all, our medical profession at the present time are urging us to grow more fruit and consume more fruit—than a reasonable prospect of 87 profit if the industry is efficiently conducted. Surely there is no greater source of insecurity than the uncertain prospect of the flooding of the market by Government imports. That is exactly what has been happening in recent years, particularly in regard to fruit and, to a rather less extent perhaps, to the produce of market gardeners in this country. I am bound to bear testimony to the fact that whereas there was an emphatic development of fruit growing in the area from which I come, there has been a definite set-back owing to Government policy during the last two to three years, and personally I cannot help thinking that it is very unfortunate.
The official pre-war figures in regard to apple trees show that in the United States there were roughly 100,000,000 trees; in Germany over 90,000,000; in France 70,000,000; and in Great Britain, Canada and Australia between 10,000,000 and 20,000,000. It is true that in Great Britain and Canada there has been a slight increase during the last two or three years, but no material increase in the other countries I have mentioned. I suggest—and I was glad to hear the noble Earl emphasise the fact—that a good deal of indifferent foreign produce is placed upon our markets by these importations, to the exclusion of choicer products to be obtained from our own land. This applies particularly to apples. I venture to suggest that there is no finer apple in the whole world than the English Cox—a deal better than the much vaunted American Delicious or even the Canadian Jonathan. Incidentally, although I admit that the finest apple dumpling apple throughout the world is the Bramley Seedling, the English Bramley Seedling is admittedly the best of its type and therefore the source of the best apple dumplings in the whole world.
In days gone by—and this is one reason why I have quoted these figures—about two-thirds of our dessert apples came from overseas, very largely from North America. The dollar problem enters into this matter. The bulk (about two-thirds, perhaps) of our culinary or cooking apples were raised on our own soil. The Ministry of Agriculture have given us a good deal of encouragement in recent years in our attempts to raise the greater proportion of our dessert 88 apples on our own land and to leave the balance of our requirements in the matter of cooking apples to be derived from importations from other countries. One interesting feature of which we are bound to take note is that in our overseas Dominions and to some extent in other countries the increased consumption of fruit, particularly of apples, is so marked that they have not any considerable exportable surplus to spare for us and are not likely to have one for some years.
Fruit juices are regarded as one of the great sources of Vitamin C. so essential to our young people, and indeed to our old people too. To-day Vitamin C is very largely derived from black currants and rose hips, on the one hand, and, still more largely, from fruit juices made out of apples. There is to-day a very large output of fruit juices in Canada and the United States, and in order to increase the Vitamin C content they are introducing citrus juice obtained from Southern Rhodesia. Recently, in the last three years, I have been on agricultural missions to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, and I found in every one of those countries, and notably in the southern parts of Africa, that the consumption of fruit, more particularly of apples, is increasing to such an extent that they have not the surplus they formerly had to spare for our own requirements. All this surely emphasises the importance of our being given every encouragement in this country, in suitable areas, to increase our own fruit production.
I noticed that amongst the interesting things that Mr. Tom Williams has said in various addresses that he has given recently (one of them at Hereford, to which the noble Earl referred), he commented on the fact that ordinary extensive farmers have developed their market gardening to a large extent in recent years in different directions—in the production of vegetables of various kinds as well as fruit. I know it has been suggested that Government action should be taken to check this development. For the life of me, I cannot see how the Government can do that. After all, so-called horticulture is only an intensified branch of the agricultural industry, and any attempt to stop large-scale producers on ordinary farms producing market garden produce to meet the increasing demands on the 89 part of the British public surely will be a difficult proposition.
What is going to be the remedy? I am sure the noble Earl must admit that the position to-day is unsatisfactory both as regards fruit and as regards ordinary vegetables such as onions, broccoli and tomatoes—I am not sure whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, but it does not matter. I earnestly hope that some attempt will be made to develop co-operation between the two Government Departments concerned and the market gardeners, fruit growers and horticulturists in this country. I believe that this feeling of insecurity must be abated and it can be debated only if there is good will and a desire to co-operate on the part of the horticultural industry on the one hand and the two Government Departments that are affected on the other. So far as the West of England and South Wales are concerned, I am perfectly certain that any attempt made in a friendly spirit by the Government to help us over this stile will be warmly welcomed by those of us who are engaged in intensive food production and fruit production.
I noticed, by the way, that the Minister of Agriculture seemed to find the solution in the operation of the Agricultural Marketing Bill which we are to discuss in this House to-morrow. My only comment about that is that while under a scheme promoted by that Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, a great deal can be done, unfortunately even in that Bill there is a factor which is common to a good many Bills nowadays—namely, that the Minister has the last word. In other words, so far as I read that Bill (and I hope it is not out of order to refer to it the day before it is discussed here) whatever an association of horticulturists may decide, whatever be their own scheme for their mutual benefit without detriment to public interest, there is always in the background the Minister who may "cut in," and the very process that we are protesting against may be renewed in days to come. I will not take up any more of your Lordships' time, but, as one who is deeply interested in the development of the apple industry, above all others—always remembering that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"—I venture to hope that, at any rate, from the point of view of the fruit grower, the able presentment 90 of this case by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, will not only be listened to but will be responded to in a constructive and amicable spirit by the noble Earl who is to reply on behalf of His Majesty's Government. In fact I feel sure I may add that it will be responded to in such a spirit.
§ 4.0 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF TRURO
My Lords, I am sure that in your Lordships' House there is no need to stress the national importance of horticulture. There have been times in our national life when vegetables and fruit have been rather neglected. During the Tudor period, for example, the custom of eating vegetables was discouraged by medical opinion, and it almost disappeared. William Shakespeare might conceivably have lived twenty or thirty years longer if more vegetables had been eaten in his day. Happily, there is now no danger of any lack of interest on the part of the nation in vegetables and fruit. We fully recognise the desirability and importance of a plentiful and fresh supply for the whole population. Moreover, horticultural work is healthy, interesting work. It is hard, no doubt, but it is a good occupation for a man, and I am sure that it will be generally agreed that the horticultural industry should be encouraged.
At the present moment, however, as has already been made clear in your Lordships' House this afternoon, horticulturists feel that after their great war-time effort they have received very little assistance in rebuilding their industry in the post-war period of reconstruction. During the war, growers reduced their flower acreages to 25 per cent. of the pre-war acreage, and increased their vegetable acreage by over 100 per cent., their aim being to feed not only the civil population but Allied Forces in this country. Considerable adjustment is now necessary, and it is very disturbing that the growers' organisation and the Ministries concerned appear to have no agreed policy for horticulture. The Government's cheap food policy is maintained, as has already been indicated in this House this afternoon, with regard to agricultural commodities by food subsidies, but with horticultural crops at the expense of the grower alone. The Ministry of Food's avowed policy is to use imports to depress prices, disregarding 91 the fact that a period of higher prices after a glut period is essential to enable the grower to offset his losses.
Let me take the case of broccoli—one of the most important of our Cornish crops. One of the crop intelligence committees of the Ministry of Agriculture reported on November 1, 1948, that 10 per cent. of the 8,000 acres of broccoli in the county would be available for market during November. Heavy imports from the Continent were nevertheless allowed to continue, and by December 1 the committee found that instead of marketing 4,500 tons, only 1,000 tons had been sold. Thus there had been a wastage of 3,500 tons, and that was further increased to 4,000 tons by January 1 this year. Think of the psychological effect upon horticultural workers of seeing first-class crops wasted! Think, also, of the financial side. The growers had been hoping that during the months of March and April this year they would be able to obtain better prices for their broccoli, as the Ministry of Food had stated that the importation of Italian and French broccoli would come to an end on February 28. Instead, on that very day the Ministry announced that imports of French cauliflowers were to be allowed until the end of this month.
These changes in Government regulations are bewildering to the grower; indeed, the whole policy of controlling imports by a quota system is worrying him a great deal. What, of course, would help him much more than this quota system would be an adjustment of the duty on imported supplies in accordance with the fall in the value of money which has taken place during the last ten years. The tariff of 1932 gave the grower a protection which he feels he still needs. He is not asking for more protection than in 1932 but for the same relative degree of protection, which would to-day mean an increase of the tariff to about two and a half times as much. Even if, for international reasons, so great an increase is not possible, surely some increase might be considered.
I should like to underline a suggestion that has been made in another place and again in your Lordships' House this afternoon—namely, that the delivery of the quota from a foreign country should be timed, at all events to some extent, in relation to the actual state of the market 92 here. After all, the grower in this country has certain basic costs which he finds irreducible. Owing to the great increases in wages, in the cost of crates, transport, fertilisers and so on, a grower must now average 15s. a crate of 24 broccoli to cover costs. If the Government dispute such figures, why do they not set up, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has suggested, a Horticultural Advisory Council, similar to the Council which was formed by the Minister of Agriculture in 1939 to advise him during the war? That Council included scientists, nurserymen and members of the horticultural commodity committees of the National Farmers' Union. A similar body might be most useful at the present critical juncture. Such a body would, I hope, be able to explain to the Government that it is not practicable to maintain a uniformly low price for a high-costing vegetable like broccoli. At the height of the season broccoli may be sold at cost price, or even below, but if so, then before and after the peak of production the growers must be allowed to sell at a higher figure. People who particularly want broccoli at these times will be willing to pay more for it, and for those who do not want to pay the extra price alternative vegetables—cabbage, Brussels sprouts and so on—will be available.
An authoritative Advisory Council would also be able to reassure the Government on another point. When protests with regard to imports were made by Cornish growers in 1947–48, the Ministry of Food stated that if growers would put their own house in order imports might be reduced. It is satisfactory to know that much effort has been expended on the improvement of grading and packing, and that a standard guaranteed pack has been introduced, under the trade mark "Wespac," which is already much appreciated in the markets. The Cornwall Farmers' Union have also given careful consideration to co-operative marketing, but a county of long distances and scattered holdings presents great difficulties along these lines. One of the inquiries which could be made by such an Advisory Council as I have suggested might be to inquire into the working of the National Agricultural Advisory Service.
From my own personal knowledge I can testify to the very valuable work done 93 in Cornwall by this Service. It has, for example, greatly helped by way of demonstrative advisory visits and so on in improving packing and crating and the quality of seed. But I gather that, in other parts of the country, the practical working of the Service may not be quite so satisfactory. It might be well to investigate both its cost and its general efficiency. At all events, it is much to be hoped that a Horticultural Advisory Council may be set up, for there can be no doubt that the horticultural industry is suffering at the present time from a great sense of discouragement and frustration. There is the feeling, already referred to, that the Minister of Agriculture has the intention of helpfulness, but that he is countered and deflected by the Minister of Food.
The debate in another place did little to dispel that feeling. I confess that I read the report of it with a keen sense of disappointment. I was hoping for some assurance of practical help on at least one or two points—for example, in the matter of timber and transport. But not one crumb of consolation fell into my waiting hand. One of the chief reasons for the preference sometimes shown by buyers for imported broccoli, often of no better quality than homegrown broccoli, is that it is packed in clean, non-returnable crates. The English grower has to make do with expensive, shabby, returnable crates. He has been informed repeatedly that there is no possibility of importing timber, although apparently sterling and dollars are used by foreign countries to secure their supplies.
As to transport, in addition to the heavy burden of increased rail charges, growers are faced with the anomaly that delays in transit are now much greater than at the height of the war. Almost every day there are complaints of produce missing the market. I hear of dilatoriness in the loading of trains, of congestion at the London terminus, of delay in the transfer from Paddington to Covent Garden—to say nothing of food travelling in coal wagons. Your Lordships may have heard of a consignment due for a Saturday morning market in the north which was not delivered before five o'clock in the afternoon, as it had to be sidetracked to allow for the prompt arrival of football "specials." The railways 94 now are British Railways. Could the Government not find some method of making all the railway employees keen and eager to get these perishable goods to market as quickly and in as good a condition as possible? Is it too much to ask for a higher standard of efficiency in these matters? Many of the railway workers are already alive to the importance of quick delivery, but there are exceptions, and these exceptions do a lot of harm. Surely we can look to the Government for some improvement.
It is still more important, of course, as the noble Earl has already stressed, that the grower should know well beforehand what the Government are going to do, and should not find himself in a condition of miserable perplexity and uncertainty. Are the people of the Tamar Valley, for example to grow winter lettuce, or are they not? During the war, the acreage rose to a hundred. It has now fallen to about twenty acres, the markets having been flooded in 1947 and 1948 by lettuce from Holland. Early gooseberries were a useful crop in the Tamar Valley before the war. But most of the gooseberry bushes were ripped up during the war, in accordance with the policy of the Ministry of Food. Now, however, when growers are being urged to restore their soft fruit plantings, and before the bushes can come into production, a five-fold increase in the quota of imported gooseberries is to be allowed.
In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to refer to a different kind of horticulture—namely, the upkeep of the great private gardens which are so lovely a part of our inheritance as a nation. One day recently I visited four of these magnificent gardens in Cornwall, woodland gardens containing rare and beautiful conifers, rhododendrons, magnolias, camellias and other trees and plants,. Picture a great rounded rhododendron, over fifty feet high, covered from top to bottom with bright trusses of red flowers! These gardens are a national possession. But they are in great danger of being ruined and destroyed. Two of the four gardens I visited that day were fast becoming a wilderness. The owner of one of the two remaining in good form told me that he was hardly justified in keeping up the place. His garden is truly a national asset. He is generous in opening it to visitors, and the people of the neighbour 95 hood are admitted and welcomed at frequent intervals. Surely something should be done to keep such gardens in being. They take many years to create.
The late Earl of Mount Edgecumbe once told me that his predecessor had received from Mr. John Charles Williams a collection of valuable trees and shrubs. He duly and carefully planted them in his grounds. A little later Mr. John Charles Williams came to see the plants, and the Earl told him, "They are all doing well. What sort of flowers will they have?" "Oh!" said Mr. John Charles Williams. "You need not worry about that. They will not flower in your life-time." I would beg the Government to do something to preserve, at all events, the best of our great gardens for the nation and for the future.
One suggestion which might not solve the problem, although it would give encouragement and help, is a suggestion under two headings: first, that a list of the great gardens which are worthy of preservation in the national interest should be drawn up—I am sure the Royal Horticultural Society would be willing to help to compile such a list; and, secondly, that owners of gardens on the list who were willing to admit the public under appropriate conditions (as, indeed, I believe practically all of them do at present) might be allowed to include in the estate maintenance claim the wages of the gardeners in charge of the gardens. Such relief would cost the nation a comparatively small sum of money—I believe that it might be described as a minute sum of money—but it would be a very great encouragement, a very well-deserved encouragement, to the public-spirited owners of the gardens whom I have in mind. Unless some assistance is forthcoming, the country will certainly sustain an irreparable loss. The appreciation of the beauty of well-grown trees and shrubs from North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, the Himalayas, China and other countries, which adapt themselves so well to the conditions in many parts of the British Isles, is happily increasing—and increasing fast. The next generation will blame us, and will have good reason to blame us, if we do not preserve for them this hard-won heritage of beauty.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I think we shall all agree that this has been a most useful debate, and we are all deeply indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for putting down his Motion and for the speech that he has made. Nobody knows more about the horticultural industry from practical personal experience than the noble Earl. This debate will have been valuable if it brings forth only one thing—namely, a statement of policy from the noble Earl who is to reply, not merely as to what his own Ministry wish to do with horticulture but also what the Ministry of Food have in mind. It is very important for the grower to receive a good deal. But, whatever deal he is going to receive, it is even more important for him to know exactly what that deal is going to be and what is required of him. Previous speakers have spoken of the discouragement in the industry at the present moment. I cannot help feeling that even worse and more harmful than the discouragement is the sense of bewilderment to be found there. There are public-spirited men who are anxious to respond to every request made of them in the national interest; they are prepared to put their all into responding to appeals by Ministers to increase food production, but they find that when they have responded they are completely let down.
The present treatment of horticulturists is important from the point of view of the national food production drive. I particularly hope that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, is under no illusions on this point. Believe me, not only the horticultural industry but the whole farming industry of this country is watching the treatment that is at the present moment being meted out to the horticulturists. In the discussions on the Agriculture Act the Minister again and again specifically linked the horticultural industry with the farming industry. He excused himself for omitting the horticulturists from the measure by saying:It is the Government policy to provide as much stability for horticultural as for other commodities.The corollary of that is that if horticulture is to be let down so also, as and when it may become convenient to the Minister of Food, will those in the agricultural field be let down. That must have a profound national effect. The 97 farmers, indeed all the workers in agriculture, do not think in terms of strikes when they feel they are being badly treated. I am sure that whatever happens the leaders of the agricultural industry, both official and unofficial, will continue to press farmers, in the national interest, to put forth their best. But inevitably a sense of discouragement spreading through the whole industry must have its effect. That would be true and important if horticulture were only a small section of farming; but in fact it is a very large section of farming. The annual value of horticulture in this country is something like £120,000,000 a year—virtually one-fifth of the value of the whole agricultural industry.
The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, particularly stressed the importance of confidence, a point to which I want to refer at a later stage. When I remind your Lordships that the capital required to set up in horticulture at the moment varies from about £150 per acre for market gardens to no less than about £14,000 an acre for glasshouse cultivation, then your Lordships will realise how inconceivable it is to ask men to put yet further effort, energy and capital into the industry, unless they really know where they are going and where the Government intend to take them. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, made it clear that he realises the peculiar conditions attaching to this section of the agricultural industry. I think that it was generally appreciated at the time of the Agriculture Act that there were understandable reasons why horticulture should not be included in that Act. We shall always have good and had crops, varying to an amazing degree from year to year. Two or three nights of frost in May can alter the whole course of development for the year. Equally, nobody is asking the Government to force up prices unreasonably by excluding at all times all foreign produce. But what we do say is that horticulture has received a definite pledge from His Majesty's Government that it will have as much stability as is provided for other commodities; and at the present time that pledge is not being honoured.
We further utter this warning. If the Government have now come to the conclusion that it is in the national interest to depart from that pledge, to go back to the old system of exploiting, in the name of 98 cheapness, every glut that arises on the market, then in fact they are not serving the consumer in this country, but are doing him a disservice, because, inevitably, following the exploitation of gluts must come shortages.
We ask that the scales should not be weighted against the industry. Let me give one or two examples. We would say: Do not always let in imports to kill the early trade. If I may say so, the right reverend Prelate dealt clearly with this particular point. It may seem monstrous that the price of strawberries (I do not know what the price is to-day, but this was the price ten days or so ago) should be 15s. a pound. But does the Minister of Food not realise that the price structure of the industry, and the ability of the industry to supply cheap fruit and vegetables during the bulk of the year, depends on their being able to get just a little of the "cream" at the beginning. After all, who really wants strawberries to-day? I do not expect many poor overtaxed Peers will want them at 15s. a pound. Let those who can pay 15s. a pound have the strawberries, if it allows the ordinary common people of this country to buy cheap strawberries at a later date—as it does. Why, therefore, import strawberries from Italy and France to help break the market?
Why allow foreign exchange for some of these luxury early vegetables which nobody really needs? At a time when our growers are being restricted in the right to grow strawberries by heat, we are allowing precious foreign exchange to go abroad to buy heat grown strawberries.
But these are details. Surely, what matters is that the industry should be given confidence by knowing that on all occasions the Ministries concerned will consult with them before embarking upon new regulations, and before embarking upon new trade agreements. If I were asked to say what has done more than anything else to destroy confidence in the industry during the last few months, I should say that it was the treatment meted out to the National Farmers' Union during the discussions on the Anglo-Dutch and the Anglo-Polish Agreements. I know perfectly well—and I expect the noble Earl will tell us—that there were certain consultations at the beginning of those negotiations. But further consulta 99 tion was promised if difficulties arose, and that consultation was not allowed.
The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has suggested setting up the Horticultural Advisory Council again. I should like to back him very strongly in that plea, as did the right reverend Prelate. Whether it should be done by that particular method, or whether it should be done by more frequent consultation with the National Farmers' Union, is a point which I do not think any of us particularly desire to stress. We do want to impress upon the Ministry of Agriculture, however, that friendliness is very pleasant but it is not enough, and we should like to see a little bit of effectiveness also.
There is in this country a doctrine of full ministerial and Cabinet responsibility. I do not want to say anything which seems to be unfriendly to the Minister or the Ministry of Agriculture, but I certainly think there is (and I feel that this requires to be said) a limit to which we can allow one Minister to maintain friendly relations with outside sections of the people by either publicly, privately or by implication putting the blame upon another Minister. Every Member of the Cabinet is responsible for what is done by His Majesty's Government, and if something is done which is unfriendly to the agricultural industry, then the Minister of Agriculture must take his full share of responsibility, and it should not be implied to the agricultural industry that in fact he is very much disturbed and would have liked to do something better if only some other colleague had allowed him to do so.
No doubt the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government will tell us of the importance of marketing. We all know of immense improvements which can be brought about in the handling, the grading, the packing and the distribution of fruits and vegetables. But the agricultural industry has not a bad record in what has already been done. It was not unnatural that, before the war, they concentrated their energies first on milk, pigs and bacon and in setting up those marketing boards first. But the noble Earl will see, if he looks back, that while they were doing that, there was at the same time a tremendous expansion of the national scheme for improving the grading and marketing of fruit and vege 100 tables. I hope that no blame will be placed upon the [horticultural industry for not doing anything about grading at the present moment. As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has stressed, the Government's price policy has completely killed the possibility of any grading system for the present.
In spite of difficulties since the war, the horticulturists have set up no less than seven new co-operative societies. I say "despite difficulties," because in some cases it took them over eighteen months to get the necessary licences and permits from Government Departments. As noble Lords know, horticulturists have a tomato and cucumber scheme and an apples and pears scheme in preparation, with a general overall horticultural marketing scheme ready to conic forward. Those schemes would have been brought forward much earlier were it not for the fact that the report of the Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had first to be awaited. Now the industry has to wait for the passage of the Agricultural Marketing Bill, which we are to consider to-morrow.
But producers cannot do everything. There is a big problem connected with the central fruit and vegetables markets in this country, particularly in London, and that is a problem which will have to be tackled by the Government rather than by the growers, though even that must be done in co-operation with the new marketing boards. Then there is the regulation of commission selling. I will not go into the details of that matter, but it is a very important one. Again, that will have to be handled, if not by the Government themselves, then certainly by the Government acting in co-operation with the Board. They will have to alter their price policy in order to encourage grading, and then they must consider the question of a specific rather than an ad valorem tariff. I am not going to repeat the arguments for that, because the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has already put them most admirably and clearly. Obviously, however, the advantage of it is that it helps the industry when it needs to be helped, and it is not a serious burden on the consumer. In future, when the Government are making agreements with foreign countries, they must be much more careful to write into those agreements smaller definite quantities, and then leave it to a later date to see what 101 the home crop is and whether or not it is necessary to supplement by further imports what is written into the agreement.
But, above all—and this is far more important than anything else—we should like to have a definite pledge from the Government to-day that in future in every step they take in laying down new regulations affecting the industry, or in making foreign agreements about imports, they will at all points consult with the growers' representatives. That is the basis of confidence. We do not ask them to accept advice given in those consultations as being in any way mandatory upon them; it is for them to decide whether they take the advice or not. But we do ask for a definite assurance from the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, to-day, and I earnestly hope that, for the sake of future confidence on the part of those in the industry, he will give us that assurance of consultation. There are immense possibilities in this industry, but, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has already said, all the developments we want to see will cost immense sums of money and a vast amount of energy. Those schemes can be embarked upon only if the industry knows and has confidence in its future.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I will not detain you for more than a few minutes. I am going to allow myself between five and ten minutes—that is what might be called "coupon speaking." I should like to make this suggestion to the noble Earl who is to reply. Surely it would be easy to make out a list of certain foodstuffs which the Ministries concerned wish to be grown here and then to see that the growers of those particular foodstuffs can be absolutely certain of being able to sell their produce. The question of ploughing in should be taken right out of the picture. We know perfectly well that we cannot grow all we want, and therefore a scheme should be put forward which would ensure the grower being able to sell everything he produced.
There is another point upon which I should like to touch, which concerns the health of the people. It is fully appreciated that we need all the fresh homegrown food that we can get, and that it is far better for us than foodstuffs which have had to travel, in some cases per 102 haps thousands of miles. I remember hearing not long ago a lecture by that well-known authority, Professor Sir Jack Drummond, who was talking about the growing of lettuces. He pointed out that a lettuce or any similar food had a far greater nutritional value when eaten straight from the ground than had any food which had been conveyed for a long distance and which was probably very stale when it reached the consumer. There is no doubt at all that food has a much greater nutritional value if eaten straight from the ground. It does not matter how carefully such food may be packed the fact remains that it is dying all the time. There is, of course, another aspect of the matter, which is that the more food we can grow, the better from the economic point of view. It would certainly ease the position with regard to foreign currency.
My final point is that we cannot afford to lose one acre of agricultural or horticultural land. New towns and reservoirs of water must be situated in places where food could not be grown. We know the dangers of a food shortage in the world, and I beg that the Minister will bear these remarks in mind. Before I sit down, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on his very able and instructive speech. By region of his wide experience, it will, I hope, carry the greatest weight throughout the country.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, I should like first to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who initiated this Motion, on the extremely able and well-reasoned presentation of his case. I think it was a speech to which, whatever our opinions may be, we all listened with the greatest respect and admiration. I should also like to say that I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, on the importance of a good supply of vegetables and fruit, particularly fresh fruit, in our diet. Never was there a time when fresh fruit and Vegetables were more necessary than they are to-day. It may be that a better standard of cooking of vegetables would make them more welcome, and their value even greater. I agree entirely, too, with what Lord Teviot said about the greater nutritional value of 103 fruit and vegetables taken straight from the land.
Perhaps I may be allowed to provide a little background before I begin to answer the various questions that have been put. There is, of course, no doubt whatever that the largest proportion of vegetables are home grown. If we take the 1948 figure for cauliflowers we find that imported supplies accounted for only 4 per cent. of the total supplies. That is not a very big proportion, and not one which suggests a flooding of the market with imported produce. As regards lettuces we find that the figure of imports is but 6.6 per cent. of the total supply. During 1948, 400,000 tons of vegetables were imported, and this included 70,000 tons from the Channel Islands. Home production in 1947–48 was 2,600,000 tons, while the 1948 production—of which we have not yet complete figures—is estimated at 3,000,000 tons. So we have a figure of something like 400,000 tons imported, as against a figure of approximately 3,000,000 tons home grown. I give those figures with the object of getting this matter into reasonably true proportion.
Another interesting fact is that the increase in volume of home production since 1939, is something like 25 per cent., whereas imports are 8 per cent. less. So we find very big figures for home produce, whereas the figures for imported produce have not reached the pre-war level. One of the great considerations which the Government have to keep in mind is that a steady supply must be secured for the consumer at a reasonable price. And in answer to the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, I should like to say that naturally we accept the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility. We would not try to escape the general responsibility for the policy of the Government, and I am sure that no Minister would ever try to excuse himself in any way, but would be prepared to take his share of responsibility.
From that, if your Lordships will allow me, I would like to make what might appear to be a slight diversion, which perhaps is not unprecedented in your Lordships' House, and deal with the wider world aspects. I do not think that one can look at the horticultural industry separately in this country without at 104 the same time taking in the broader picture. Briefly, the situation is that we are short of essential foods and raw materials. We have no dollars with which to buy them. Marshall Aid stops in 1952. Therefore, our only hope of carrying on beyond that date is to build up the sterling area—the Dominions, the Colonies and the countries of Europe—so that together we can all produce sufficient products to earn dollars with which we can buy the essential foods we need. That is the general, overall plan. Therefore if we are to succeed in our general endeavours, this country must help the countries of Europe, especially in their economies. We cannot regard ourselves as isolated and say: "That is what we would like to do." We must look at the practical question of putting our policy into effect.
I will now touch on the question why we have to make these trade agreements which, I should point out, are in many ways beneficial to us, but in which sometimes certain clauses do not seem to be as favourable as we would like them to be. His Majesty's Government realise to the full the importance of building up our own agriculture, including our own horticultural industry, and of giving it the required encouragement and help. But, unfortunately, horticulture is not an industry which it is easy for us to assist in the same way as we can help such activities as wheat growing, milk and animal production and so on, for which crops and produce we can give assured markets and guaranteed prices. It is almost impossible to do that, for instance, in the case of lettuces and produce of that kind. However, as a certain amount of criticism has been levelled against His Majesty's Government in regard to our import policy, involving these trade agreements, I should like first to touch on this question. I do not think any noble Lords, this afternoon at any rate, objected to our policy of importing fruit and vegetables. I gather that everyone agrees that we cannot produce all we need, and that we have to import. In order to do that, we have obviously to make agreements with other countries. The only products bought by the Ministry of Food are oranges, grapefruit, imported apples and bananas, which in 1948 amounted to something like £32,000,000 worth. Those are the 105 only products actually bought by the Government.
What happens under a trade agreement—and I stress this because there has been much misunderstanding about it in the country generally—is that His Majesty's Government agree to authorise traders to import under licence a certain quantity of produce within certain financial limits. The Government do not buy it themselves; they authorise private traders to buy it. But the chief point to remember is this: that although a certain quantity is authorised, usually nothing like that quantity actually comes in. Many factors come into play. In the first place, there may not be enough currency to pay for the produce. Only a certain amount of currency is allowed in a specific trade agreement, and by the time someone wants to send us, for instance, lettuces, there may not be enough currency left for the transaction; or, as is often the case, prices in this country may have fallen so low as to make it not worth while for a foreign producer to send his products here.
In this connection I should like to remind your Lordships of the enormous increase in freight charges. For instance, in the case of lettuces coming from Holland to London, freight charges have gone up from 4s. per cwt. pre-war to 9s. per cwt. now. That is a very substantial rise. There have been corresponding increases elsewhere. For instance, for gooseberries the freight charge before the war was 2s. 6d. per cwt.; now it is 5s. 8d. per cwt. This rise in freight charges has a considerable effect. So, in practice, we do not usually find the full quantity coming in which is actually mentioned in a trade agreement. May I give your Lordships two examples? In 1948 the quota for lettuces to be imported from Holland was 10,000 tons; actually only 3,000 tons came in. When we consider radishes for the same year, we find that while the quota was 5,000 tons only 200 tons were imported. Therefore, when we see these figures in trade agreements, we must not jump to the conclusion that that is the amount of produce which necessarily will come to our shores. The biggest safeguard of all is of course the fact that, so far as possible, dates are fixed so that when we have a large home supply in this country there will be nothing coming in from abroad.
106 I am labouring this point of the foreign trade agreements because, first, it has been criticised considerably, and secondly, there is much feeling and misunderstanding about it in the horticultural industry itself. I would like to say a word about the Dutch Agreement of 1949—that is, the Agreement coming into force. Only five vegetables have quotas of more than 400 tons and this list includes the one big item of onions, which amounts to 100,000 tons. In regard to the Polish Agreement, which has been strongly criticised, only one fresh vegetable is allowed: again, that is onions, to an amount of 25,000 tons.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
No; I do not think that leeks come into it at all. If your Lordships look at the Annex to Schedule A in the Agreement, you will find that the only fresh vegetable is onions. There is a Schedule of supplementary vegetables which may come in, of which the largest items are bilberries, tomato products and fruit juices. If the currency is not completely used up—although I have no doubt that it will be—then some frozen and canned vegetables and fresh fruit, which appear at the end of the list, may also be imported. The only fresh vegetables are onions. And in any case importation is controlled, because, as was mentioned by the noble Earl, we have an agreement—a most useful one—that in September the date when they may be imported will be considered.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
That applies to all onions, from both Poland and Holland. That is such a safeguard that the noble Earl need not be frightened on that account for the coming year. Onions have had such publicity that I should like to examine the position even more closely. It has been represented generally that onions have been allowed to flood into this country, thereby causing gigantic gluts and gigantic losses to the producers. I think it is worth while examining the basis of that charge.
At the outset, I should say that the real cause of this considerable excess of onions was simply over-production. Before the war, we grew something like 107 300 acres of them, producing about 5,000 tons in this country, and we imported 250,000 tons. That was the pre-war position. In 1947, the Ministry of Agriculture set a target of 12,000 acres. Approximately 9,500 acres were sown, and the maximum production was about 75,000 tons. In Europe the onion crop was a failure. That was the position in 1947. In 1948 we set exactly the same target—namely. 12,000 acres. In fact, owing to the shortage of the previous year the growers planted 13,000 acres. That would not have mattered so much if we had not had quite an exceptional growing season. Instead of producing around 70,000 tons there were produced 120,000 tons. The large proportion of these growers had no proper storage facilities for keeping the onions, and they suffered a heavy loss. Some kept their onions almost to the last possible moment, in the hope of getting a better market.
I turn now to the foreign onions that we imported. As I say, I think your Lordships all accept that we must make trade agreements, and on this occasion we had agreed to allow the Dutch to send onions here. There was, however, a completely closed period from August 15 to November 15, after which the Dutch onions began to arrive. The figure of the home supplies plus the Dutch onions did, of course, bring about an over-abundance of supplies and we had a heavy fall in price, with most unfortunate results to our producers. But I do not see how one can blame His Majesty's Government for that. As soon as the position became evident, we did our best with the Dutch to try and mitigate it. We had to honour the agreement, of course, but nevertheless we succeeded in limiting imports of onions to firm contracts. We did not allow them to sell any except those that had been the subject of a firm contract; and, as I have said, we had the period when they did not come in at all.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Did the Government take any action as a result of the warning by the National Farmers' Union on June 3, months before this happened?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
The noble Earl will appreciate that the agreement with the Dutch had been made long 108 before that, and we could vary our agreement only by negotiation with the Dutch Government. I think the whole question, which was most unfortunate for the producer, was just one of mass overproduction; instead of a normal home supply we had 120,000 tons. Another factor, of course, is that a lot of the onions were not of good quality, and the British housewife bought foreign onions at a bigger price. For instance, the wholesale price of English onions was 12s. per cwt., but Polish onions were bought at 16s. a cwt. and Spanish onions, although of course they are rather different, at 31s. per cwt. I think one of the big things we have to consider is to try to obtain storage facilities, so if we do grow a lot of onions they can be kept in good condition.
Some remarks were made by the right reverend Prelate about broccoli and cauliflowers. The usual position is that the home production of winter cauliflowers and broccoli (particularly cauliflowers) is not sufficient. It is true that we had complaints during November and early December of cauliflowers being ploughed in because growers could not sell them. But that was at a time when practically no imports were coming in at all; it was due just to general overproduction. I would like to say a word about this question of ploughing in, because I think I am right in saying that this is a usual thing in the horticultural industry. The great point with the horticulturist, the market gardener, is the picking of his crop and its packing and distributing. In many cases this matters much more than growing the crop. As I understand it, the market gardener grows his crop and tries to sell it when the market is coming to the top; he quickly ploughs in any surplus and concentrates on something else. Ploughing in is a part of the business.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Yes, within limits, but it is not such an unusual thing as has been suggested.
§ LORD TEVIOT
But the noble Earl has been telling us that in some cases it was necessary to plough in, and therefore the growers lost a great deal of money. That surely was not just ploughing in a little. It was ploughing in a great deal, was it not?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I do not know whether the noble Lord is referring to onions. That was a case where the market was absolutely saturated with them and the growers could not sell them. When we talk of cauliflowers being ploughed in, it is not an unusual thing for market gardeners; in fact, I have been told that about 20 per cent. is the usual amount ploughed in regularly as a part of the routine programme.
I do not want to weary your Lordships more on this particular subject, but I should like to go on to fruit, which was fully dealt with by the noble Earl at the beginning of the debate.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Yes; I am now returning to fruit. I apologise for taking rather a long time on this subject, but it was introduced at great length and skill by the noble Earl, and I feel sure that he would like a full answer to his questions. I think what was chiefly worrying the noble Earl was the question of the control on apples and pears. This is an important point, because it was raised in various arguments. I would like to point out, first of all, that the only horticultural crops which are still controlled are apples and pears. Generally speaking, one cannot now say that the horticultural industry is suffering from control, and that that is the cause of its sickness, if it is sick. On the contrary, as I say, the only crops dealt with in this way are apples and pears—with the exception, perhaps, of carrots, which are more a farm crop.
It is admitted that last year an unfortunate position arose about apples. As, however, I know the noble Earl will agree, it is exceedingly difficult to foretell in the early part of the year exactly what the crop is going to be. We are in a similar difficulty this year. All the prospects look exceedingly good, but I think we should be very unwise if we said finally at this stage, "We can give you a guarantee about decontrolling, and everything will be marvellous." We may well have late frosts in May which will alter the picture very considerably. Last year my right honourable friend the Minister of Food possibly took too optimistic a view from the original reports in hoping to decontrol apples completely. That is 110 what we would like to do. Actually, when the crop appeared on the market it was found that the position was very different from what had been anticipated. There was a shortage, prices went up, and dessert apples, such as Cox's, were selling at from 2s. 6d. to 2s. 8d. per lb., which is a rather high price.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
If I may correct my noble friend, I would point out that apples were controlled in January, 1948, and were never decontrolled. They have no been decontrolled since. So there was never any chance of their reaching that price in 1948.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I am sorry. I meant to say 1947. During that year, those prices were operative, and they are very high prices to pay for dessert apples. It is debatable—and I admit the strength of the opposite case—how far it is necessary. But we take the view that it is important to keep controls when prices rise steeply and the consumer is threatened by very high prices for a commodity like apples—which are, after all, one of the basic fruits of this country. My right honourable friend the Minister is most anxious—and indeed it is the policy of the Government—whenever it becomes possible, to decontrol apples and all fruit. We do not wish to keep on controls, and I could not agree more heartily with the noble Earl in recognising that controls are a serious hindrance to the grower, in that they frustrate his plans for grading, for securing good-quality crops, and obtaining appropriate prices for them. They also lead to the paying of unreasonably high prices for produce of a quality which would not attract good prices if it were not for controls.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
We are all in agreement, I am sure, in hoping to get rid of controls. But I do not quite understand the noble Earl when he says that it is difficult to recast the system of controlled prices—to maintain controls and recast the system in such a way as to give encouragement to growing.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
That might well be done. We are most anxious to get rid of the whole system of controls as soon as we can, for I think that would be more profitable to the industry than to draw up a system which would merely give encouragement to growing. But if controls were removed and there were a tremendous shortage of apples, prices would go sky-high. The Government believe that it will be better to keep some control on those top prices. I would emphasise that at the present time conditions appear favourable. If they continue as favourable, we have every hope of decontrolling apples this year. I trust that that assurance will be satisfactory to noble Lords.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
I suppose the Minister agrees that we want dessert apples produced in this country, and that it is desirable to create sufficient incentive to potential growers to produce them in this country. Is that always borne in mind when assent is given, sometimes at the eleventh hour, to the importation of apples from abroad which compete in our markets with the British product?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I appreciate the noble Viscount's point. I think that it should be a great encouragement to the growers to know that we are extremely reluctant to import any apples from dollar areas, whether it be Canada or the United States. As the noble Viscount suggested, we hope that the home growers will supply all the good-quality dessert apples, pears, and so on that we need.
We have been asked what is the general policy about soft fruit and top fruit. Roughly speaking, we hope the target for soft fruit growing will rise from something like 36,000 acres in January, 1948, to 60,000 acres by 1951. With regard to top fruit, we hope that growing areas will be increased by about another 5,000 acres for pears and by 10,000 acres for apples. I hope that meets the noble Viscount's point. In this connection, it is important to encourage and educate the public to enjoy fruit.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
May I inquire—for this I am sure is a matter of considerable interest in the area from which I come—whether that anticipated increase is expected in any particular parts of England? For instance, is it 112 anticipated that it will be confined mainly to Kent, or is the West Country being taken into account?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
It is a general figure. I do not think it takes into account particular areas.
I have dealt at fair length with the question of fruit, and I would like to pass to that of hops.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Before the noble Earl passes from fruit, can be answer my question whether, if there is a surplus of plums this year, growers will be allowed to export?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
The position in regard to plums is still a little uncertain. It is not yet known whether we shall have all the dessert plums which we need in this country. But if prospects are favourable we shall be only too glad to listen to any representations which may be made to us about exporting non-dessert plums. I cannot, of course, give any guarantee until we have more definite knowledge as to what the crop will be like.
To pass to the question of hops. The Government realise the difficulty here in the matter of labour. The Ministry of Education have sent out a circular to the local education authorities which stresses the importance of achieving the food production targets and particularly that in relation to potatoes. It is with the garnering of that crop that we need help to a greater extent almost than with any other crop, and the school children can play a most important part. But the matter is entirely in the hands of the local education authorities; it is one for local arrangement. We have stressed the need for this help in food production and I hope that satisfactory results will accrue. I would like to remind the noble Earl, however, that in this matter Ministers cannot direct; they can only advise. We trust that some satisfactory arrangements will be made.
I have, I think, dealt with most of the detail matters raised in the debate, except one or two questions which the noble Earl put to me about the Polish Agreement; and I would like to answer him now. He asked, What are we sending to Poland? In return for bacon, eggs, timber and fats, we are facilitating the 113 supply of certain raw materials, including wool, rubber, oil and certain manufactured goods. We have also secured import quotas for manufactured goods, and no less than £400,000 worth of cured herrings.
Another question the noble Earl asked me was as to whether foreign countries actually take what we arrange to send. As to the Polish Agreement, it is too early to say, as the quotas came into force only on March 15. Italy has agreed to take £7,800,000 worth of supplies, and of this total £5,000,000 worth have already been taken. Holland took goods totalling £10,000,000 worth in excess of the agreed amounts, and substantially met all the commitments to take less essential manufactures. With regard to Belgium it is a little early to give a statement of the position, but she imposes practically no restrictions on our exports to her. The noble Earl also asked me about imports from France. The programme provides for fruit and vegetables valued at £5,800,000 and wines and spirits valued at £6,700,000. Silks are limited to 20 per cent. of pre-war trade—that is, to about £150,000 worth. For ladies' clothes the limit is £600,000, hats £130,000, and scents £200,000.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Yes, the figures were in the Agreement. I have dealt with them briefly, as I have already taken up a great deal of your Lordships' time.
I would like now to deal shortly with the main question of the industry. We realise that not only is the horticultural industry tremendously important but that it is an industry which it is exceedingly difficult to help to organise, because of the perishability of the products, the seasonal variations of commitments and so on. At one time there may be a huge crop, and at another there may be a sudden falling off in any one of the many classes of crops. So it is very difficult to see what measures are best calculated to help the industry. We think that, by and large, the real solution to the problem lies largely in co-operation. If those in the industry would co-operate, a great deal more could be done in general organisation.
114 In that regard the Government are doing what they can to help. For instance, to-morrow your Lordships will be discussing the Agricultural Marketing Bill, which is intended to facilitate the setting-up of marketing boards. I will not discuss that in detail now, because I hope we shall have a full discussion to-morrow. We have the Agricultural Research Council, which does valuable work and gives advice to the horticultural industry, and also the Agricultural Machinery Advisory Committee. In answer to the right reverend Prelate, I would remind your Lordships that there is in existence the Horticultural Liaison Group, a body which, most unfortunately, has been rather neglected by your Lordships this afternoon. This Group keeps conditions in the industry under review and reports regularly to the Minister. I think it is an extremely helpful and useful body.
In regard to packing materials, we realise that this is one of the most difficult problems. Soft woods are difficult to obtain. Although experiments are being made with different forms of containers for fruit, we have not yet found one cheap enough to be used as a non-returnable container on a wide scale; but investigations into this question are continuing. I apologise for keeping your Lordships so long, but this is a subject of great interest. I should like to emphasise that in our view the real solution lies with the industry itself. The Government are prepared to help as much as they can in any reasonable way. We think that marketing boards particularly will be a great step towards the organisation of the horticultural industry, but it is still the task of those in the industry to reorganise themselves. On our side we offer every assistance and we wish them every success in their efforts.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, in asking leave to withdraw my Motion, I should like to thank the noble Earl for his full and courteous reply. When we have the pleasure of listening to him, we always feel that we have in him a very good friend, and I wish all his colleagues would listen to him as attentively as we do. The noble Earl said he thought the solution lies in co-operation. I agree with him, but I think co-operation might start between the Minister of Agriculture 115 and the Minister of Food. If we had them pulling together, instead of in opposite directions, it would be easier for the industry. I could not agree more with the noble Earl when he said that we want more market organisation and improvement of marketing, but we cannot get that so long as the Government persist in controls or allowing the exact opposite—namely, foreign produce to come into this country at the wrong moment. If there is to be co-operation, then the Government must intelligently co-operate as well. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.