§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, the draft Apple and Pear Marketing Scheme now before the House is the third scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Acts to be considered since the war, but the first since Her Majesty's Government took office. As your Lordships may recollect, my right honourable friend the Minister announced in another place some time ago that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to consider sympathetically schemes promoted under the Agricultural Marketing Acts which are designed to meet current needs and requirements for the efficient and economic marketing of home produce. The apple and pear industry has made great strides in the last fifteen to twenty years, and the home crop now represents a far greater proportion of our total supply than was the case before the war, whilst at the same time the quality of the produce has been much improved. Nevertheless, the marketing of horticultural produce presents special difficulties which are not to be solved by any easy and simple remedy. The difficulties, however, are of a kind which a strong central representative organisation of producers could do much to alleviate. This scheme affords ample scope for an energetic board to devise practical measures to this end. The board, in the first place, is to have twenty-two to twenty-four members, including twenty representatives of the producers and from two to four members appointed by the Minister.
The essential character of this scheme is regulatory and not commercial. There 1004 are three powers which are particularly important and which I ask your Lordships' permission to mention. The first allows the board to prescribe the terms on which apples and pears may be sold, and also the form of contracts for them if sold growing. The second authorises the board to fix different minimum prices on sales of apples and pears for the various processing uses. Thirdly, they have power to determine from time to time the descriptions of apples and pears that may be sold for purposes other than processing. The consumer is safeguarded, not only by the committee of investigation set up by the Minister but also by the powers which are possessed by my right honourable friend under Section 2 of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1949, and which enable him to issue directions if he considers that any particular action of the board is contrary to the public interest. In addition, we have inserted in this scheme, at the Minister's instance, an obligation which requires the board to give notice to the Minister, or to any person nominated by him, of their intention to make a prescription that gives effect to any of the three powers that I have just mentioned. I hope your Lordships will think that this is a good scheme. Accordingly, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Apple and Pear Marketing Scheme, 1952, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday last, be approved.—(Lord Carrington.)
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends, I should like to say that we welcome the principle of this very important marketing scheme. It was the late Labour Government who introduced two of these marketing schemes for dealing with agricultural produce, and we are certainly in favour of such schemes if the producers want to sell their produce in that way. At the same time, I must reserve the position of my Party on the detailed proposals of this scheme. As the noble Lord opposite is aware, the history of this scheme has been far from uncontroversial. Objections were lodged and a public inquiry was held. As a result of a consideration of the objections and of the report of the public inquiry, the Minister has met some of the objections wholly and some in part, and others he 1005 was unable to meet at all. While, therefore, I am perfectly satisfied with the interesting statement that the noble Lord has made, I think I ought to warn him, in all fairness, that when this scheme is dealt with in another place, it may not be altogether unexpected if there is a request for a much fuller statement and a good deal more information from the Government about it.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I support my noble friend in what he has said, but there are one or two things I should like to ask the Minister. This draft scheme is the equivalent of a Bill, and this is the only opportunity that your Lordships will have of debating it. As far as your Lordships are concerned, it did not see the light of day until Thursday last. That does not give a very long time in which to be able to digest it and try to be constructively critical. The lucid manner in which the noble Lord has explained the scheme to your Lordships, of course, does away with that necessity to a great extent, but we should have liked more time in which to consider whether we should not ask the noble Lord one or two questions.
I have two questions I should like to ask. Under this scheme, the marketing board has the power to enforce minimum prices for apples, and any registered producer must conform to that requirement. Would the Ministry consider that at some time it might be in the public interest, as opposed to the producer interest, to fix also maximum prices for apples? It might save some of the exploitation of housewives that goes on at various periods of the year, one of which we are fast approaching at the present day. The next question I should like to ask the noble Lord is whether I am right it saying that everybody who has one acre of apple trees, or apple trees growing on one acre of land, has to become a registered producer?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
What does the noble Lord mean by "selling"? I can sell some if I want to, or I can give some away. May I give away to my friends any of those I have to sell? And is not the area of one acre very small? It means that the 1006 scheme would take in any large-sized garden. One acre of apple trees is not very much. Would the noble Lord tell me whether I have to grow a specified number of apple trees on that acre—does it matter whether I have only one apple tree, and nothing else, or a lot of apple trees On that acre? These are some of the questions I should have liked to ask the noble Lord. Does he not think that in future it would be advisable to bring these draft schemes before your Lordships at a slightly more convenient time? We should like to assist the Government, and I am sure they would like our help in a scheme of this nature, especially the help of those of us who claim, perhaps on very flimsy grounds, to know something about marketing. Perhaps when the next scheme is presented more time will be afforded us for its consideration.
Surely, if you have one acre of apple trees, you must have about fifty apple trees, and you are pretty well in the business.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I am sorry it is thought that short notice has been given of this scheme. It has been on the Order Paper since, I think, last Thursday. I have been both in the House and at the Ministry of Agriculture and I have not had any complaints from anybody, either from the noble Earl who speaks for agriculture on the Opposition side of this House or from anybody, regretting that we were taking it too quickly. If there had been complaints, I should have seen what I could do about it. Until the noble Lord rose and made his observations, I was not aware that there was any question of our taking it too quickly for your Lordships. As regards the two questions which the noble Lord asked me, I may say that the consumer is very well safeguarded under this scheme. I think the noble Lord is concerned about the consumer. In the first place, anybody aggrieved has a right of appeal to the Minister, who can refer the matter to a committee of investigation. In addition, the Minister has the power which I have already mentioned, of giving directions to the board if he feels that any of the powers which they are using are being used contrary to the public interest.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I thank the noble Lord very much. I cannot appeal to the Board, can I, that I have been charged too much for apples? My point was that, as the Scheme lays down a minimum price, does the noble Lord not think that at some time it should lay down also a maximum price?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
If the board lays down a minimum price and, in the opinion of the Minister, it is too high, he can intervene in the public interest. If the price which the noble Lord is charged for his apples is too high, then he need not buy them. The minimum price will no doubt be perfectly satisfactory. If it is not, the Minister can intervene under Section 2 of the Act of 1949. As regards the noble Lord's question about the acre of apple trees, I may inform him that it is either an acre of ground or fifty apple trees—you must have fifty apple trees to the acre. I assure the noble Lord that nothing under this scheme will prevent him from giving apples from his garden to his friends, if he wishes to do so.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.