HL Deb 07 March 1960 vol 221 cc807-53

4.5 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, horticulture is an important industry; it is also a large industry. The value of sales of home-grown and imported produce at wholesale prices, excluding potatoes, is of the order of £270 million. The industry gives employment to large numbers of people—not only growers, but wholesalers, retailers and their employees, as well as ancillary industries such as transport, container manufacture and so on. The industry is intensely complex in structure. In some parts of the country there are numbers of general market gardeners growing a wide range of produce—Evesham and Bedfordshire are areas which come immediately to mind; and there are others. In some areas there are specialist growers concentrating on just a few crops; and there are also special sections of the industry, such as the glasshouse section and florists. The scale as well as the type of production varies. There are tiny holdings of, for instance, strawberries at Cheddar, in the county I come from, and there are large acreages of carrots or of celery in Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Again, it is a very widely dispersed industry. There are broccoli growers in Cornwall and damson growers in the Lake District; raspberry growers in Blairgowrie; bulb growers in Lincolnshire, and watercress growers in the Southern Counties.

Therefore the system of marketing that has grown up has had to be complex to meet the needs of this scattered industry, with its ultimate buyers, the consumers, so concentrated in the large towns. There are, therefore, a large number of methods of trading in existence. Perhaps the most general practice is for the grower to send to a commission salesman in one of the primary markets. The produce is then sold on the grower's behalf to local retailers or other wholesalers supplying local towns or country districts. But an appreciable amount of produce reaches the consumer in other ways. Sometimes the grower himself takes his produce to market and sells it direct to retailers, and in some districts and with some produce country merchants buy direct from the growers ex-farm and then re-sell to other retailers or wholesalers. Growers also use country markets, and also sell through co-operatives in any of these ways or direct to the large retailers. Then, to-day, through the development of self-service and pre-packaging, further changes are taking place.

It is altogether fitting, therefore, that Parliament should now have before it a major Bill dealing solely with this major industry. So far as I can ascertain, this is the first time that this has happened. Horticultural legislation has always previously been, as it were, tagged on to the end of more general agricultural legislation. Your Lordships will remember the valuable Report which was published in January, 1957, of the Committee presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford. That Committee investigated the marketing of horticultural produce and made recommendations. As is fully set out in the White Paper (Cmnd. 880) which was published in November of last year, the Government agreed with the broad conclusion of the Runciman Committee that the marketing structure generally was satisfactory, although of course it was not perfect in every detail, and they accepted in principle the recommendation that there should be established a Horticultural Marketing Council. Your Lordships will be aware that the Horticultural Marketing Advisory Council was set up in May, 1958, to examine the practical problems involved. This Advisory Committee reported in May, 1959.

As it is the foundation of the legislation that we see before us, perhaps I may recapitulate the sequence of events. Lord Runciman of Doxford's Committee was invited in 1955 to study the problem of marketing and presentation. Eighteen months later there came their Report. In the following year the Horticultural Marketing Advisory Council was set up to consider the far-reaching implications of some of the Committee's recommendations upon which Her Majesty's Government thought it proper to seek independent advice. Then there were the conclusions reached in the light of that advice, set out in the White Paper of 1959; and there is this Bill, which we are to-day reading for a second time in your Lordships' House, dealing with two of the main directions in which Her Majesty's Government intend to implement their policy on horticultural marketing. I look forward, at a later date, to bringing before your Lordships legislation dealing with the reorganisation of Covent Garden Market, which will cover the third of the three directions in which we wish to advance at this time.

This Bill, then, is designed to help the grower of British horticultural produce to improve the presentation of his produce for market; and it is designed, as well, to aid the industry as a whole in improving the marketing and distribution of all horticultural produce. It does so by means of two main provisions—the introduction of improvement grants through a Horticulture Improvement Scheme and by the setting up of a Horticultural Marketing Council. It has always been recognised, I believe, that horticulture could not appropriately be assisted by the methods of guaranteed markets, deficiency payments and production grants that are applicable to agriculture generally. The main instrument of policy for supporting the horticulture industry is the tariff. This Bill, therefore, is not to be considered in any way as a substitute for the tariff but as a supplement to it.

We may now turn to the details of the Bill. Part I provides for grants for horticultural improvements. In a sense, this could be called the counterpart, for horticulture, of the Farm Improvement Scheme for agriculture which was introduced in 1957 and is proving so successful. It is not possible, however, merely to make an extension of that scheme to cover horticulture, for the objectives are different. The Farm Improvement Scheme is clearly anchored to the land. No operation can qualify under that scheme which does not carry long-term benefits to agricultural land. This is not applicable to a wide range of desirable improvements for horticulture. One has only to think of pot plants or glasshouse production to realise why this must be so.

Again, I must emphasise that these improvement grants for horticulture are not designed primarily to increase output but rather to improve the presentation and marketing of the produce. This is, of course, an enabling Bill, enabling a scheme to be laid, but I think you Lordships may find it convenient if I briefly refer to some of the provisions which will be included in the scheme which we hope to lay before Parliament very shortly, and which were mentioned in some detail in the White Paper to which I have referred. That showed that the kind of items which will qualify for grant are, for instance, the erection of buildings for washing and grading horticultural produce, packing sheds, loading bays, and improvements of that nature. The White Paper also envisaged that we intended to make an entirely new departure in that we propose to make grants for certain plant and equipment which will go inside buildings: that proposal is quite dissimilar to other grant-aid schemes. For instance, we can grant-aid the provision of washing and grading machines, conveyors, coolers and plant of that kind; and we do so because these things help growers to improve the presentation and marketing of their produce.

Perhaps one of the most important items which will be eligible for grant aid is storage facilities—cool chambers for short-term storage and cold stores or gas stores for long-term storage for such fruits as apples and pears. Further, we propose to assist growers who already have glasshouses equipped with heating to modernise their heating system, for everybody must surely realise how wasteful of fuel and labour out-of-date boilers and pipe layouts can be. Again, we propose to aid the provision of what is called "ancillary" glass for the smaller producer. The provision of a small glasshouse can add very appreciably to the economic soundness of such a small business. It enables a grower to spread the growing and marketing of his crop over a longer period. It can reduce his dependence on bought-in planting material and, not the least important, can provide him with useful work when the weather is too bad for him to work out of doors. Your Lordships will see from these details that our proposals are flexible and liberal; and though, as I have said, they are not designed to increase the volume of production and output, we thought it appropriate to include these special sections along with the main proposals for improving facilities for marketing.

I have spoken so far of some of the things which will be eligible for grant. Another important question is, of course: who will be eligible for grant? In any such scheme as this there have to be arbitrary limits. As in the Small Farmers' Scheme we have had to decide what, in general, is the minimum unit which can provide a living for an average horticulturist. To arrive at this figure we have, of course, taken the advice of our own horticultural and economic experts. Also, we have had most helpful consultations with producers' organisations and representatives, and we have considered the most valuable report of a group that was set up by the National Farmers' Union to study problems of small horticultural businesses.

We finally came to the conclusion that four acres of open land, or its equivalent, should be the limit; and the equivalents are fully set out in paragraph 10 of the White Paper—one-twentieth of an acre of glass house, mushroom house or rhubarb shed or one-quarter of an acre under movable lights or cloches, or for growing watercress, is to be regarded as one acre of open land. Of course, we shall be attacked on this lower limit. No referee ever blew a whistle without some section of the crowd saying it should not have been blown. But we must have a limit and we are not prepared to go into the horrors of a means test—which is the only alternative to an arbitrary limit of this kind—a limit arrived at, however, after careful consideration and discussion.

A point that is important is, can we help those smaller growers who fall below the lower limit? I am delighted to be able to say that we can. They have not been forgotten. Everybody is out to pay lip service to co-operation, but in this Bill we are actively and positively encouraging it. We have decided that growers' marketing co-operatives (the words used in the Bill are horticultural producers' marketing businesses", they are the legal words in the Bill) shall be eligible for grants under this scheme. This means that if an individual grower is below the acreage limit he can join or help to form a co-operative and, along with fellow co-operators, can enjoy the benefits of the grants for improving marketing facilities. The benefits of co-operation among small producers—or large ones, for that matter—are very great in themselves, and therefore we feel that this stimulus to co-operation is very important. I do not for a moment mean—and I have not said—that the only co-operatives eligible for grant will be aggregations of very small businesses. Any co-operative that satisfies the requirements of this Bill will be eligible for grant-aid under this scheme.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 4 and to Clause 5 (2) of this Bill, which provides that the sum of £100,000 will be made available for the general promotion of efficient co-operative horticultural marketing under this Bill. Grants will be made for recruiting and training managers, providing consultant services, and such like matters. This is again a new departure, and your Lordships will, I know, accept this as concrete proof that our policy is deeds, not words, in the promotion of co-operation.

Before I turn from Part I of the Bill, it only remains for me to mention one or two outstanding figures. The total money available will be £8 million, or in certain circumstances £8¼ million; that is in Clause 5. Under the Horticulture Improvement Scheme, the period for submitting applications is to be five years; and grant will be at the rate of one-third of the cost of the work. Standard costs (Clause 3), as in the Farm Improvement Scheme, will be available. That has proved a tremendous help to small farmers, and we hope it will be a great help to small horticulturists; and our estimate is, after making all allowances for part-time holdings and so on, that we think there may be between 25,000 and 35,000 horticultural production businesses in the United Kingdom which may be able to satisfy the conditions of eligibility. Then, again under Clause 4, central co-operative organisations can apply for "management grants" during a six-year period; and the proportion of grant will vary according to the services provided with the programme approved.

Finally, on this Part of the Bill, I would merely say that the scheme will of course mean new work for the Government's advisory services. This matter has naturally been considered most thoroughly and carefully, and we believe that we shall not be placing upon these officers a burden which they will not be able to bear. The technical aspects of the proposals relating to buildings and other fixed equipment will, of course, be dealt with by officers of the Agricultural Land Service, so both the advisory services will be involved in this scheme.

I now turn to Part II of the Bill, it has, it might be said, the effect of carrying this advance in the industry right through to the housewife, which I think is a most important point. If the first Part of the Bill deals with the presentation and preparation for market of the produce by the grower, Part II of the Bill deals with the produce on its way to the consumer through the later stages of marketing. All sections of the industry, producers and distributors, will be represented on the Horticultural Marketing Council. It will also have representatives of the workers, and there will be an independent element. The composition of the Council is set out in Clause 9. I think that perhaps I should draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the Council will be concerned with all horticultural produce sold in Great Britain, whether home-produced or imported. This extremely wide scope of the Council is necessary, for at least from the wholesale stage onwards home producers use the same channels of trade as importers use. The consumer also has an interest in the efficiency of marketing and distribution of imported produce just as much as in home produce. And the British grower, for his part, is of course interested in information about imports and quantities available and about prices, and this information must be closely linked to market intelligence on home-grown produce. The functions of the Council must, therefore, deal with all horticultural produce.

Those functions are set out in the next clause of the Bill, Clause 10. I think there is not need for me to go through them in detail, but I would pick out, and stress, the fact that all these functions are advisory in character. The Council is not a trading body and does not have any regulatory powers, the only exception to this being that it may trade "by way of experiment or demonstration"—those are the words in the Bill. Power is given to extend the functions of the Council with the consent of Ministers. It is possible that some of your Lordships may have noticed, if they were following the progress of this Bill in another place, that some doubt has been expressed as to whether this would give Ministers power to override the prohibition on trading. I am able to tell your Lordships that this is not the intention, and I propose at a later stage to introduce an Amendment to make this abundantly clear.

I now turn again for a moment to the composition of the Council. Your Lordships will notice that we give equal representation to the three main interests involved: the producers, the wholesalers (who include the importers) and the retailers. The wholesalers, as I say, include the importers. I think at this point I should stress that this is a consultative Council, and if it ever comes to counting heads on this Council instead of putting heads together, the Council will really have failed. Furthermore, one of the main tasks of this Council, at the outset, at any rate, will be to devise means of raising money from the industry. We believe that the three main sections which may have to find their share of the money should be given equal representation during this initial period. We think that this balance will probably prove right all the way through, but I would assure your Lordships that my right honourable friend would not hesitate to ask Parliament's approval, as he can do under Clause 9 (6), to vary the composition of the Council if, in the light of experience, any variation were found to be desirable.

Clause 11 empowers the Ministers to pay the expenses of the Council up to a total of £250,000 over a period of three years. It is quite definitely the intention that thereafter the industry itself must pay for the Council. The method of payment is not laid down in the Bill. This will be for the Council to propose. The Council will have to make a charges scheme that is acceptable to the industry generally, according to the provisions of this clause and of the Second Schedule to the Bill. However, the charges scheme can come into operation only after it has been approved by Parliament.

My Lords, I think that that is almost all I need say, other than to draw your Lordships' attention most particularly—and I must do that before I close—to Clause 15. This will enable the Ministers to set up such an organisation for publicity for home-grown produce as seems to them expedient, and as seems in the national interest. This organisation may cover all home-grown produce, or it may cover just one commodity, or a number of commodities. But it will be set up only if growers want it set up, and then only for those products that they want it to cover. Its members will be growers, and it will be financed by growers. It will finance itself, really, by money raised on its behalf by the Council: it indents on the Council. These provisions, I believe, will fulfil a long-felt want amongst growers of certain products; and in a way these provisions can be held to round off the provisions in Part I.

So, my Lords, I have no hesitation in commending this important Bill to your Lordships. I am glad to say that it has received a wide measure of support in another place and, perhaps even more important, that it has been welcomed by the industry and by the public at large. There can be no doubt that the problems with which it attempts to deal are of great complexity. The proposed horticultural improvement grants, coming, as they will, as an addition to, and not as a substitute for, the tariff, will be of very great assistance to the home producers, and so will the stimulus to co-operation which the Bill gives. The proposed Horticultural Marketing Council will, I am confident, lead to an increase in the efficiency of the marketing of all horticultural produce in this country, whether it is produced at home or imported from overseas. My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Waldegrave.)

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, we are extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, for his very careful, and in some cases detailed, and at all times lucid, explanation of this Bill. So far as I am concerned, I think the most attractive part of his speech was his sort of "Cook's tour", in which he conducted us all over the country, from carrots to cauliflowers and from rhubarb to raspberries—because that reminded me that this is a most fascinating industry. In fact almost the only good thing about it is its fascination: it does not bring, or has not yet brought, anything much in the way of cash to those who work extremely hard in it.

I am also grateful to the noble Earl for his account of the history of this measure, which is indeed the first that I remember relating strictly to horticulture, although I should not regard it as a major Bill. As he was talking of the Committee presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, which, as he mentioned, was appointed in 1955, it occurred to me that we are now in 1960 before anything has been done. I am reminded that on Thursday I was speaking from this Box on the subject of coal, which is also a form of horticulture in the past, Where the period that elapsed seems almost as long as that before we got this Bill on horticulture. But I am certainly very glad that we have got this Bill, because during my fifteen years at Westminster I have pressed continuously for Government aid to horticulturists. They are among the hardest-worked and least prosperous people in the whole country. I think that many today have "never had it so bad" since the early 'thirties. Naturally, therefore, we on these Benches welcome a measure designed to effect some improvement, but our welcome is clouded with disappointment at the Bill's several in adequacies.

My three immediate comments are, first, that it provides no direct help at all for more than half of our 70,000 growers—and they are the smallest and the poorest who are most in need of assistance. Secondly, the whole of this £8 million of public money will be entirely wasted unless there is a radical improvement in the system of distribution; and, despite what the noble Earl has said, I am far from being convinced that the provision of the Horticultural Advisory Council, and their powers, are in any way going to bring about an improvement in the distributing system. The third point is that to discuss this Bill without knowing the Government's intentions with regard to the application for increased tariffs is like having Hamlet without the Prince. I was very glad to have the welcome assurance from the noble Earl that the Government adhere to tariffs as the main instrument for providing growers with a reasonable measure of stability, and that we are to regard this Bill not as a substitute for but as an adjunct or addition to tariffs.

But how is this tariff policy being applied? Your Lordships may recall that last November I produced very sad and very convincing evidence with regard to the serious plight of the glasshouse tomato industry, and I urged the Government then, last November, to announce their tariff decision in January, because otherwise the propagation of tomato plants for this coming season would be seriously curtailed. But we are still waiting, on March 7. And last Thursday, in another place, replying to urgent pressure from Government Back Benchers, the right honourable gentleman the Minister of State, Board of Trade, said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 618, No. 69, col. 1398]: I am very glad to give an assurance … that we are fully seized of this matter at both Ministerial and official levels. My Lords, after waiting for four months the growers believe that the Government are not just seized but are seized up on this issue, because, while improvements in quality, grading and presentation are very important, it will be wasted effort if the market is allowed to become glutted, as it was last summer, with foreign produce selling at about one-third of the cost of home production. We do emphasise, therefore, that the benefits to be derived by horticulturists from this measure are contingent on the Government's raising tariffs so that our growers can have a fair share of the home market.

We have been told by the Government that they aim a three-pronged attack on the problems of horticulture—or, as the noble Earl put it, that they are moving forward in three directions. Of course, that may be a very good thing, providing the directions are all leading the same way. But I am not so sure that they are. Two of the prongs, or two of the directions, are in this Bill, of course—namely, the grants to facilitate the improvements in grading and presentation, and the steps to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of distribution. But the third direction, which the noble Earl mentioned and which will come up in another Bill later, is the improvement of the wholesale market, Covent Garden. If by that is meant that it is to be confined to improvements at Covent Garden, which the Minister has described as the national central market, then the prong is badly bent and moving in the wrong direction altogether. Anyone who knows anything about this problem at all knows that the last thing we want is to send produce to a national central market for reconsignment elsewhere. The noble Earl spoke about goods coming into the market being sold to retailers or neighbouring wholesalers. Very often the "neighbouring wholesalers" prove to be in Liverpool or in Glasgow, or in places all over the country. We must not develop a so-called national central market. That adds inordinately to the cost. We must avoid it by having wholesale markets in the large towns so that growers can send to them direct.

I believe that the Minister of Agriculture and his advisers suffer from two fundamental misconceptions on the subject. First, they refer to grading and presentation as "marketing", and the noble Earl seemed to repeat this. Grading and presentation are only preparation for the market. Surely marketing is the whole process, from the farm gate to the housewife's basket; and in home horticulture production and presentation are not the main difficulty—it is selling. Their second fundamental error is the belief that selling costs are not unduly high. In this view doubtless they are relying on the statement in the Report of the Committee presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, that: The costs of distribution, having regard to the services performed, are not excessive. But the Committee were referring to the profit margins made by individual retailers and wholesalers. The real cost of distribution is the difference between what the grower gets and what the housewife pays. That is the cost of distribution, and that figure is grossly inflated because of the duplication of wholesaling, and the consequent 'additional profit margins and, above all, additional freight costs and handling charges. In fact, the grower is still getting a very raw deal, which this Bill perpetuates in a considerable degree, because it runs away from the many practical steps which should be taken to put the matter right.

Coming, to the more favourable aspects of the Bill, we sincerely welcome the proposals to provide some £7½ or £8 million to meet one-third of the cost of the various types of improvement specified in the White Paper, some of which the noble Earl mentioned. But I hope that we can regard this as a mere beginning. After all, as a result of Conservative policy—or lack of it—over the last six years, the industry has suffered a £10 million capital loss in one item alone—the decline of 450 acres of glasshouses. Weighed against this, the £7½ million make; it still a bit lopsided.

The noble Earl said it is anticipated that between 25,000 and 30,000 horticulturists will be able to benefit from these grants. If we take the figure of 30,000 and divide £7½ million by that figure, that works out at £250 a head or, if we take it over the five years' period, just £1 a week for everyone for five years. That is not much of a lifeline for an industry which, according to one Government Back-Bencher in another place, is swimming in its own tears, and according to another, has suffered a 29 per cent. drop in income since 1951. That is a drop in its cash income—a vastly greater drop in its real income.

Then what about the other 40,000 producers who, as the noble Earl has suggested, will be excluded from the provisions of this Bill for various reasons, either because they do not qualify at all or because they do not possess or cannot borrow the other two-thirds of the money to meet the cost of an improvement? I hope that the answer for those 40,000 is that they will be able to join, or form themselves into, a producers' co-operative association and then enjoy collectively the benefits of the grants. This, which I regard as the one imaginative conception in the Bill, is something for which the Government deserve very warm praise. If it is used to the full, as I hope it will be—and I hope that everyone interested in the industry will try to see that it is used to the full—it can prove to be the salvation of the horticultural industry.

We are glad to see also that £100,000 has been set aside for the training and recruitment of managers and the provision of consultancy services, although I regret that the amount is not larger. I hope that the noble Earl will tell us that I am right in thinking that it will be able to be used fairly flexibly and, broadly speaking, to help in preaching the gospel of co-operation. I believe that that is one of the most important things that we have to do. It will not be easy, because so many of the smaller growers are such rugged individualists that they would rather starve alone than prosper together. I know of areas—and my noble friend Lord Wise knows of many others—where there are hundreds of small growers who are in the weakest possible position in selling their crops. A producers' co-operative would not only greatly improve their grading but, by collective selling, based on sound market information, could also ensure a much higher average price for them. The one great danger, of course, is the tendency for these growers to do their own selling when prices are high and use the co-operative only when the market is right on the floor. I would congratulate the Minister on his decision to set up a departmental committee to consider this problem. I hope that they will find a means of overcoming it, perhaps by some form of enforceable contract. It is unfortunate that we should have to do this, but we must face the facts as they are.

We have to convince growers that they are best employed in producing their crops. Preparation for the market is best and cheapest when it can be mechanised collectively, and prices are likely to be better when produce can be offered continuously and in substantial quantities. Producers' associations can also engage in pre-packing. And I regret that this Bill suffers a major defect in that it contains no provision for financing research in this matter. There is an actual prohibition of grants in the White Paper. The provision of pre-packing machinery is definitely excluded from grant, for reasons which are quite beyond me to understand. In the last six years, there has been a fantastic development in the pre-packing of vegetables—from nothing in 1954 to 350 million packs last year. But we are still pre-packing only 8 per cent. of all the ware potatoes sold, and about 1 per cent. of all other vegetables. So there is enormous scope for further development.

In my view, pre-packing outweighs all the drawbacks of the present system of distribution. I know something about this matter, because for 22 years, until I severed my connection with the industry, I was governing director of a firm of wholesalers in the London market. I know what the difficulties of the system are, and I say most sincerely that pre-packing avoids the present defects. The housewife is able to buy branded goods, and she gets clean, fresh vegetables in which the only waste, if there is any, is the peel. They go straight from the packing station to the supermarket or self-service store. Even the smaller retailers can now buy from wholesalers, who can sell on sample. The produce does not incur expensive delay or loss of condition in going to market at all. Now with the great development of producers' co-operatives which becomes possible under this Bill I should hope that there might be a big expansion of direct delivery of pre-packed vegetables. I think the Government should pause before embarking upon any major programme to enlarge existing wholesale markets and before going any further in the direction which the noble Earl mentioned. More markets, yes, but not larger ones, especially since the producers' co-operatives will certainly decide to pre-pack imported produce—and some are doing so already in their own off-season—so that they can keep their customers supplied.

So the fact is that there is going to be this increasing reduction—and quite rightly so—in the amount not only of home-grown produce but of imported produce going to the wholesale markets. It will go direct to the various firms of retailers. Wholesalers are aware of this. They know that pre-packing and the rapid development of supermarkets and self-service stores make the contraction of market trading inevitable. Some now are assisting the change. Last week I performed the opening ceremony at a new pre-packing plant of which the chairman is a leading London wholesaler. The end-year target of this firm is 6 million packs, which represents a vastly greater tonnage than this large firm sells in the two main London markets. I think this rapid growth is welcome, but it will add another problem to the many which will have to be solved by the Horticultural Advisory Council.

The noble Earl said—and I agree with him—that the representatives of the Council must not go there representing sectional interests; that they must work as a team in the interests of the whole community. But it is inevitable that if they are representing producers they will think as producers; if they are representing wholesalers they will think as wholesalers; and if they are retailers they will think as retailers. Superficially, this body will be composed of people with the common interest of producing and selling fruit and vegetables, but, in practice, they will be in conflict on many issues. Importers and producers will not agree easily about the level of the market for indigenous produce; wholesalers will naturally discourage policies designed to put them out of business; and growers and retailers will never see eye to eye about their respective prices.

I have had some experience of the difficulty of persuading these people to adopt common policies. Eleven years ago, believing that their prosperity depended on working together, I drafted the broad outlines of a policy and invited the leading lights from the growers, wholesalers and retailers to dinner here. We had a very good dinner party and a good dinner; and I do not know whether it was the dinner, or something else, but the draft policy was approved by all. They all agreed to go to their respective organisations and ask for authority to proceed further, and we arranged a date for another meeting. The second meeting took place, but this time only two of the bodies were represented. So the effort failed. This does not mean that the Council cannot do useful work. In my view, the Minister was wise to approve the request of my honourable friends in another place to extend the period of the Government's financial responsibility to three years.

I see two interrelated dangers facing the Council. The first is that their powers may be insufficient to enable them to achieve enough to convince growers that the benefits to be gained justify the levy they will have to pay. Indeed, the Council has no regulatory powers, as the noble Earl made clear. They have the power to make good resolutions, to give good advice and to levy charges. And we have this afternoon been threatened, as it were, with an Amendment on the Committee stage to make it absolutely certain that this poor body will not be allowed to do anything which approaches trading. I should like the noble Earl to let us know, when he comes to reply, what it is that the Government are afraid of. Do they think that a body composed as this one is to be composed is going to engage in selling fruit and vegetables, or that anyone wants them to? What we are concerned about is that this prohibition on trade may prevent the Advisory Council from doing anything useful at all. Will it, for example, be allowed to provide collection and packing centres on a non-profit-making basis? Could they run a teleprinter market intelligence service? Could they, under that little enlargement that was made to Clause 9 in another place, apply to the Minister for the exercise of additional functions? Would it cover, for example, the provision of a common container service?

I wonder whether the noble Earl (if I may use the expression used in another place) is fully seized of the importance of a common container service? Imagine loads of greenstuff coming into the London markets, or fruit, or anything else, all in the containers of the different wholesalers, who each have their own; the commission buyers buy on the London markets and the produce is reconsigned—and some time ago it was admitted at Covent Garden that as much as 40 per cent. of the produce was so re-consigned—and goes up, as I have said, as far as Glasgow. It may be 12 months before the wholesaler gets his empties back. But if we had a common container service, which could be supplied by the Council or even manufactured by the Council, not only would it probably be cheaper, but the empties could always be returned to the nearest market and thence to the growers. It would mean an enormous saving. Just those two things, the common container service and a market intelligence service, might persuade growers that the Council was worth the levy.

If, through lack of powers, the Council fails to prove itself, and especially if there is no major development of producers' co-operatives, we shall be faced with the situation that tens of thousands of small growers, while getting no benefit at all, either by grants or otherwise, will be required to pay a levy. They, and I am sure we, would rightly regard that as paying money for nothing. Yet non-compliance might involve them in fines or even imprisonment; and they are very poor men. This would be an intolerable position, and a heavy responsibility rests upon both the Government and the Council to ensure that it does not arise. No matter how or from whom the levy is actually collected, the growers will in fact pay the whole amount that is raised out of home-grown produce. It does not matter whether the wholesaler or the retailer "chips in" with his share, the whole of it must come out of what the grower eventually receives. Those of us who have had dealings with them over the years know that in any case agreement is going to be difficult; and if the Government fail the industry over tariffs, or the Advisory Council fails to demonstrate its value beyond all doubt to the growers, then agreement will be impossible and the Council and this Act will be a nullity.

In another place this Bill was described on one side of the House, the Government side, as a bad Bill, and as a tinkering little Bill on the other side, the Opposition side. Our criticisms here, though less drastic, are none the less well founded, and our welcome therefore appropriately restrained. For this reason we shall endeavour in Committee to improve the sections we have criticised. Horticulture, roughly one-fifth of agriculture, unsubsidised and virtually unsupported, is one of the last bastions of private enterprise. Nevertheless, it has been neglected by every Government since the war. I say quite frankly that, despite our criticisms, the Minister merits our thanks for at least trying to do something and, despite our doubts, we wish the Bill well.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in agreement with a great deal that has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I welcome this Bill. As the noble Lord has said, it is two of the three prongs of the Government's policy. We have yet to see the third prong, but we welcome these two, the grants and the marketing council. We must also welcome the assurance the noble Earl gave that the mainstays of the industry are the tariffs, and that this is in no way a substitute. There is no doubt at all that on the question of tariffs there is a great deal of anxiety at the moment in the industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, the industry is facing fierce competition from abroad. In the old days it used to be said that there were three easy ways of losing money—racing, women and farming. Racing was the quickest, women was the pleasantest and farming was the most certain. But, of course, that does not apply to-day. There is still a certain amount of risk and gambling in horticulture, as I have found over a number of years, to my cost. I have a great admiration for those people—and there are many—who make a good and successful living out of horticulture. But there are a great many who have a diffi- cult struggle to keep their heads above water, and I have great sympathy with I them.

We must all welcome the grants scheme, which I am sure will do much to help producers to present their produce for market in a better way, and to store it so that it can be brought forward more regularly. We must have a little patience for this scheme, because it comes forward—and I should be the last person to suggest it should be postponed—on April 1, at a time when the horticultural officers of the agricultural executive committees are at the busiest season, and the Agricultural Land Service, who are already dealing with the Farm Improvement Scheme, find that there is an increase in work under that scheme. Many of these schemes will be very complicated. They will involve not only the horticultural officers but also, unlike the Farm Improvement Scheme, machinery, which means that more expert advice will be required and more people needed to inspect it. All of that can be overcome, but I think it is a point people must remember, and they must not be too impatient and expect results too quickly, because I am sure that all the services will naturally do their best.

There is one fear which I am not the best person to express, and that is the fear of the small producer that in some cases he will not be able to find the two-thirds of the money necessary. Many of these men have been going through a very lean time, and when it comes to borrowing money horticulture is a fairly risky business. We must see what happens. Certainly under the Farm Improvement Scheme I think, on the whole, it has worked fairly satisfactorily. But there is one particular case, and that is where you have a small producer and there is the question of putting up, say, a glasshouse to enable him to produce his own plants and to extend his growing season. I wonder whether that is a case which might be looked at.

I welcome the fact that the co-operatives are to be eligible for the grants. I do not think that co-operation is the answer to every problem, by any means. In the past, many of the co-operatives have run into a considerable amount of difficulty, particularly where they have tried in, say, a scattered area to give too large a service to their growers, and have tried to collect too small quantities of produce over too large a distance. There has also been the tendency, which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, mentioned, that when markets are good the stuff goes straight to the market, and when times are difficult the stuff is handed to the cooperative and they are asked to sell it on a very difficult market.

I welcome the Departmental Committee which is being set up to look into the relationships between the grower and the co-operative, because it seems to me that much will depend on the successful outcome of this problem. After all, we have these big new markets, like the supermarkets, and all this direct selling, and also the big departmental stores. Unless the co-operatives can rely on the produce coming in, it is almost impossible for them to make contracts ahead with the customers. If at any time many of their growers fall down on their contracts, then it may mean that the co-operative loses very valuable markets indeed. I feel sure that there is a great future in the co-operatives, particularly for the small grower and especially in small areas where there are many growers.

I also welcome the Horticultural Marketing Council, because although I think, as the Runciman Committee said in their wise Report, that probably the system of marketing is reasonably efficient and that none of the people who perform services in fact charge too much for their services, in the end, under that scheme of distribution, it is the producer who bears all the risks; all the other people in that chain are buying with knowledge of the market, knowing where they can sell. Anything that the Horticultural Marketing Council can do to improve the marketing, to reduce the transport and to standardise packs so that produce can be sent to its destination without going through the markets, anything they can do to decrease the cost of marketing, will be of enormous value to the producer.

I feel that the three years that the Council has before it are very important ones. I am not so worried about the various numbers representing each of the various sides of the industry, because the fact of the matter is that if they serve a useful purpose—and unless they all work together as one body they will not serve a useful purpose; they must get together; they cannot divide into separate watertight compartments—and produce something that is really worth while for the industry, then I do not think there will be any difficulty in getting the producers and the other bodies to pay for the Council in future. It all depends on their getting down to it and doing some useful work in the next three years. I think this is an important and useful Bill which should be a great help to the industry, but I hope that it is only the beginning of a new deal for horticulture.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, the diffidence with which I rise to address your Lordships is extremely genuine, because on the subjects of which I know little there are always so many of your Lordships who know a great deal more and have a great deal more skill and practice in exposition. I will start by declaring an interest. I have a small fruit farm, a mixed farm, in the Cotswolds overlooking the Evesham Vale. I have little experience of many of the diverse sides of horticulture which have already been explained to you this afternoon, and I can speak with no knowledge whatever of flowers, and with very little of vegetables. Most of my remarks will be on the subject of apples, and in that connection I should like to call the attention of any of your Lordships who are sufficiently interested in the details to the excellent publication in the British Farmer by the N.F.U. last October. It is full of interesting facts and a great many figures which are all very relevant to the present discussion. I will not, however, attempt to burden you with them to-day.

I certainly welcome the £8 million which is being given to the horticultural industry, and I hope to get a very small slice of it myself. We horticulturists feel that for a long time we have been the "poor relations" of agriculture. The difficulties which confronted any Government in producing a scheme of help for us have been enormous. The Minister has already detailed the complexities of the growing, the marketing and everything else in that connection. In this country we grow much the best fruit in the world, but we eat far less than other countries do. Only 83 per cent. of the population of this country eat apples at all, and in the aggregate we eat only about one-third of what most of the Continental countries eat. Not only that, but in the case of apples we eat none of the by-products. In Germany, Switzerland and other countries apple juice is drunk on a large scale, but so far attempts to make and market it satisfactorily in this country have been a relative failure.

I am not altogether sure that this grant of £7½ million to the growers is the best means of tackling this problem. The housewife needs a great deal more education. We growers cannot educate her because we do not meet her. The greengrocers in this country who market our produce are in many cases very badly informed about what they sell. I have often been into a greengrocer's shop and been given completely wrong information as to what they were trying to sell: and one cannot altogether blame them. They sell what is easiest, which in many cases is foreign produce because it is just that much better presented. The reason the foreign produce is so much better presented is largely that it all goes through a central channel where there is one pack and one grade, and only the best comes to this country. One can often see excellent examples of the less well-known variety of apple in the shops selling for far less than very inferior Italian stuff which is only specious and has a skin like leather.

The question of tariffs has already been touched on and it is most welcome to all horticulturists to hear that we are not to regard the present Bill as an alternative to tariffs. Much more, I feel, could be done by advertising. There is the old slogan, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", which to my mind is just as good a slogan as that a certain drink "is good for you". On the question of advertising there is a conspicuous case. Within the last two or three years, a comparatively small and not well-known firm of producers of a fruit drink increased their profits last year from a few hundred thousand pounds to over £2 million. That was all done by advertising. But it has got to be done on a big scale. Recently the N.F.U. appealed for £30,000 to advertise certain varieties of apple. Many of us failed to support that appeal because we considered £30,000 quite inadequate, as I think it is.

I feel convinced that the marketing should all be done centrally and should not be left to the individual. I will come presently to what I have discovered happens in France. I do not feel altogether happy with the present move to encourage the growers to buy more expensive plant, such as cold stores and more graders, because so many holdings may well be over-capitalised. There are many things which have attracted me, many of which I have rejected because I could see that the expensive equipment would be idle for so much of the year. In that connection there is the question of cold storage. Cold stores are very expensive. If the cold storage could be concentrated there would be a good prospect of the space being leased to butchers and the like for a large proportion of the year when it was not wanted for horticultural products.

Another point which I think is important, too, is the question of processing. It is conspicuous that the blackcurrant trade in this country is an easy one. That is entirely due to five weeks of total crop being taken by one firm for processing, so that there is never any surplus to knock the market to pieces. On this question of processing, I went on the principle that no problem confronts one for the first time which has not confronted other people, and I made it my business to find out what happens in France. I have not had the opportunity of having a trip over there, nor do I think it would serve any useful purpose at this time of the year. But the French Embassy have been extremely useful and, with your Lordships' leave, I will give your Lordships the result of some notes which I have obtained from them. They have an enormous over-production of wine which is not of sufficient quality to market; and they also have an enormous production of cider apples. Their dessert and cooking apples are no problem because they are slightly under-produced. In the Departments of the North-West and West it is estimated that the production of cider apples is about 12 million quintals—I have ascertained that a quintal is approximately 1 cwt. Of that 12 million, about 5 million are consumed locally, much of it by the growers themselves. Little cider is drunk in the rest of France. The only export from France of cider or cider fruit is to this country, and that amounts to an average of about 25,000 hectolitres.

The size of the plantations in France is probably rather smaller than ours, and many of them are very small. The Government scheme allows every grower to keep an amount, based on the number of his trees, for his own consumption and for peddling locally. Everything in excess of the Government figure has to go to licensed wholesalers. A small fee is payable by the grower, but it is by no means onerous. The price of the apples, and of any cider they make which is sent to the licensed wholesalers, is fixed by the Government, and it is a worthwhile price—in fact, it has tended to increase production. Many of the licensed wholesalers are cider makers and also distillers. They distil a certain amount of Calvados, which we might possibly do in this country, and the rest of the surplus cider is distilled into industrial alcohol which is taken by the Government. This represents only a small proportion of the total industrial alcohol, which in France is a Government monopoly. Admittedly, the price which it costs the Government in France is not very cheap—it is about 70 francs per litre, which is perhaps twice the cost at which industrial alcohol can Abe distilled in this country.

It occurs to me that that is a most convenient way in which the Government can subsidise the horticulturists. If there is anything in this theory, then the present Horticulture Board is not going to go anything like far enough. I am in considerable sympathy with much that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, and I would make the following suggestions: that there should be an Apple Marketing Board; that all apples, except those sold locally, should, as in France, go to the Marketing Board; that the Board, as in the case of the Egg and the Milk Marketing Boards, should operate through existing firms and that all produce should be sold through the Board. Packing and grading, and, still more, pre-packaging, I should like to see done by the Board. Those I regard as factory jobs, which can be done much better, much more uniformly and more cheaply when done on a large scale, by somebody with a cold store, as I have already explained. Such an Apple Marketing Board would sell virtually all the apples for the country, and that would enable a recent development in marketing in this country to be much more equally distributed. Multiple stores and big stores have recently been buying direct from the grower and, rather naturally, they go to the tycoons, while the small man, and even the medium man, does not get any advantage at all. If those stores had to go to the Apple Marketing Board that Board could sell to the stores the produce of the little man, the medium man and the big man. That would be much more equitable for all concerned.

I have already detained your Lordships too long, but there are just one or two other points that I should like to raise. If your Lordships will cast your minds back to last Christmas you may remember receiving some very special advertisements for Alsace plums, Carlsbad plums and glace fruit—and no doubt the luckier of us received a present of some. There is very little doubt that some of those things could be produced in this country, though probably the turnover is not sufficient to make a fuss about. When we come to the homely prune, however, we find that some attempt has been made to investigate prunes in this country, so far unsuccessfully.

On this subject also the French Embassy have been very helpful to me. I gather that the production of prunes is rather a local thing, carried out, for the most part, in the Gironde. It is largely a cottage industry, and for many years it was the practice to dry the plums in the sun. More recently, drying has been done in ovens or kilns, and there is now a considerable know-how about it. But to my mind there is no reason why we should not do something of the same here. The French have by no means a monopoly in prunes. The United States are the biggest producers, and prunes are also produced in Alsace and in Yugoslavia. Every country in South America produces prunes. As for the difficulty of producing them I can only tell your Lordships that a lady who, unfortunately, has since died habitually used to produce her own prunes by drying them in her linen cupboard.

On the question of marketing, I suggest that it is barely worth while having a central market. The opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, from his deep experience, is obviously extremely valuable on this point. I should have thought that the London market could be supplied perfectly well from such places as Brentford and half a dozen similar markets round the outskirts of London. That should suffice. Though I have no experience, I believe I am right in saying that one of the chief functions of the central market at Covent Garden is to distribute imported foreign produce; and I see no reason whatever why foreign agents, who presumably would be at the ports, should not arrange their own distribution throughout the country. I apologise for detaining your Lordships so long over so little.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to have the task of congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, who is a very old friend, on his maiden speech, which has been so well informed and quite outstanding in its scope and the amount of research undertaken for it. I am sure your Lordships' welcome will be all the warmer Owing to the fact that the noble Earl is taking an active part in this House where his brother was for so long such a respected figure; and I am certain you will agree with me in hoping that we shall often hear from the noble Earl again.

When my noble friend introduced the Second Reading of this Bill, he began by enumerating some of the places and districts where horticulture was carried on. I should like to increase the geographical scope of that list by reminding your Lordships that bulb growing is also carried on in the Island of Tiree, in the Hebrides, which is a very long way away. I welcome this Bill. It has been covered in a general way so thoroughly by noble Lords who have already spoken that I will confine myself to various points arising out of the Bill itself.

Dealing with Part I, like other noble Lords I should have preferred, if it were possible, to make a grant of 50 per cent. to small growers. I am not entirely certain that the reason given in another place—that it makes for such administrative complications as to be impracticable—is really absolutely sound; and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take note of what was said by my noble friend Lord Amherst of Hackney that this point might well be reconsidered later, after more experience had been gained. I appreciate that the position in relation to both the small grower and the large grower (though probably the smaller man will be most affected) has been eased by an important Amendment which was introduced on the Report stage, the Minister's estimate being taken as the figure upon which a grant would depend, so that if, by economic working and careful planning, a man reduced his final cost below the estimated cost—and indeed below the £100 figure—he would still be eligible for one-third of what he had actually spent. I believe I am right there.

There was also the question raised by my noble friend Lord Amherst of Hackney of standard costs, These are, of course, of the greatest help to the small grower, but there is another aspect beyond that mentioned by my noble friend, in that in agriculture, where they have been extremely valuable, they are based, as a rule, on simple, easily-costed buildings. In horticulture many applications for grant on standard costs may be based on much more complicated erections, including, as my noble friend has said, the installation of modern heating, soil-heating and other such things. I hope that the standard cost arrangement will be sufficiently flexible to cover what may be a great variety of detailed installations.

May I come to Clause 4? This could be a very important clause, for many of the practices which were so clearly explained by my noble friend Lord Fortescue depend very largely on having a skilled man to manage and organise them. This grant may train managers really to know their job. I think that a great many difficulties have had to be faced in the past by horticulturists who, however professional they are at the actual growing, are almost amateurs in the field of grading and marketing. These difficulties have meant that they have not been as successful as they should be, and they could surely be successful if the business were in the charge of a trained manager.

So far as the administering of the grants and the working out of those eligible for grants are concerned, I was very glad to see in the Scotsman newspaper this morning an article about the importance of the Agricultural Central Co-operative Association, and what an important part they will have to play. There is no doubt that unless this Association is a real, going concern it will not be able to get into Scotland the right proportion of the grants which would be Scotland's due.

To turn to Part II of the Bill, the usefulness of the Marketing Council, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, with whom I entirely agree, will depend absolutely on whether its members take a really objective view of their task and work as a combined body for the good of the industry as a whole. The industry has always had difficulties with the very diverse component parts of it working at intervals by no means in unison; and this Council, if it has to work, as I hope it will, should have a very important impact on this. The functions of the Council, given in Clause 10, cover a very wide field indeed. There are two points on those functions about which I am not quite clear. I am wondering, although it is not actually part of the Bill, how this Council will send out its information and suggestions to the various sections of the industry. Will they be sent out as large exhortations on paper, which probably will not be read, or will there be any possibility of a breakdown of the personnel of the Council to facilitate the convening of conferences at which their suggestions can be considered and discussed? That might be a useful way of working if it were at all practicable; I am not sure.

The other point I was wondering about was whether the Council, which is largely an advisory Council, will be able to advise on the setting up of marketing co-operatives. It seems that that comes within the scope of its numerous functions, and I wonder whether that would be any particular part of its proposed work. My Lords, with those few words covering the points about which I am not certain—and especially the point, if I may reinforce it again, concerning Clause 4, to make quite sure that in Scotland we receive the full benefits of any help that is contemplated under the Bill—I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, may I at the outset associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, in extending to the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, the congratulations that his speech this afternoon merits. We were gratified indeed to see him, in the observations that he has made in this House this afternoon, drawing on the broad experience that he personally has in the practical field. I should like also to thank the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, for his comprehensive introduction of this Bill. He has given the industry certain very much-needed reassurances, for which I am sure they, the growers, will be appreciative.

Broadly, I should say that the horticultural growers in the United Kingdom support the Bill in its broad concept. The provisions in Part I for payment of grants towards the cost of improvements for the purposes of horticultural production businesses and horticultural producers' marketing businesses in the United Kingdom, and towards the cost of promotional work in connection with producers' marketing businesses, are certainly most welcome. The contribution of one-third grant, however, presupposes a financial resilience in the horticultural industry, which is required to put up two-thirds of the requisite amount of the cost of any project in order to qualify for the one-third grant that is provided for in the Bill. This could well cause the industry to have to find something like £15 million or £16 million over the period from its own resources, either private resources or through such credit as may be available to it.

My Lords, the declining net income of the horticultural industry through increasing costs, such as labour and fuel costs, which they have had to sustain over the years, coupled with declining market returns, ill-equip it to find its two-thirds share of the whole in order to qualify for these grants. Growers in the industry are naturally anxious to meet the challenge to improve the productivity of the industry—and your Lordships will note that I said "productivity", and not necessarily production—presentation and marketing of their produce. It is imperative, however, in my view, that there should be a fair return from a stable horticultural industry to make this at all possible.

The objective of a stable and efficient horticultural industry is, of course, inherent in the Agriculture Act, 1947—at least, the obligation to provide it is inherent in the Agriculture Act, 1947; and successive Governments (and the noble Earl again in speaking for the Government this afternoon has repeated it) have given the assurance to the horticultural industry that the chosen instrument to give effect to this undertaking of security and stability is support for it through the means of tariff protection. Tariffs on the major range of horticultural produce have remained unchanged since December, 1953. There have been minor variations, perhaps, but broadly they have remained unchanged. Since then, however, the combined effects of a rapid increase in labour and fuel costs, which I have referred to before, and other costs, and a fall in the value of money, have far outpaced the industry's steadily and progressively increasing efficiency.

My Lords, it is incumbent on Her Majesty's Government so to revise upwards the level of duties as to take account of these relative factors, and to create the requisite economic stability on which alone we can go forward in progressive policy. Whilst I warmly welcome the reassurance which the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, has given us in your Lordships' House this afternoon, I am bound to say that merely to testify that the tariff is your chosen instrument is not enough unless you act upon it and in fact upwardly revise the tariff to keep pace with these changes in the costs to the agricultural producer.

Whilst welcoming the grants provisions, therefore, I cannot emphasise too strongly that they cannot in any way be regarded as a substitute for effective import regulations by the best means so far available, particularly for perishable commodities like horticultural commodities—namely, an adequate level of specific tariff. Now if we were fortunate in being able to have available to us the provisions that were announced recently in France, whereby no importation of horticultural products was permitted into France at less than the support prices prevailing, of course life would be much easier for the United Kingdom horticulturists. But against the background of a free market, and the progressive reduction of quotas, an adequate level of specific tariff is the only effective means of giving support to the industry and of implementing the assurance implicit in Part I of the Agriculture Act.

The grants provisions, by and large, do for horticulture what the Farm Improvement Scheme does for agriculture. But, of course, the proposals implicit in the White Paper cover a much wider field, and I believe rightly so, because horticulture has a particularly and peculiarly difficult marketing problem. Competition from imports, for instance, becomes fiercer every day. I was interested to hear represented in your Lordships' House by more than one of the speakers that we have to market the produce that is grown here, whatever its quality, in one form or another, whereas the imported product, coming through the bottleneck of the port, is obviously more easy of control, and, of course, a country is not likely to export a quality of product that cannot command a better price. So, from the point of view of the use of grants to improve marketing, we obviously welcome every facility that can be afforded.

So far as the small producers are concerned, I recognise that there has been the necessity to draw the line somewhere. The noble Earl talked about the popularity or otherwise of the referee. I am tempted to remind him of an occasion when, out of the depths of a Rugby scrum, after the referee had told the players that there was too much talking and that there were too many referees, the voice of anonymity said, "Yes, and you are not the pick of them". It is therefore a question of whether, in drawing the line, we necessarily pick the right line—or, indeed, preclude cases deserving of assistance. Arbitrary standards are always vulnerable, of course, to the difficulty of complaint about hardship, and so forth. I believe it is right that Government money should be used for projects designed to help horticultural businesses capable of producing a sufficient livelihood for the occupier; but in horticulture, I would say even more than in agriculture, acreage size can be a misleading criterion of viability. After all, an intensively run holding of an acre and a half can sometimes produce more than a holding of three times that size if it is on a particular type of production. Growers are, therefore, I think, very anxious that the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Agriculture should at least have discretion, even though the holding may fall below the minimum qualifying size limit in the scheme, to make grants available where he and his advisers are satisfied that the business is, first, a full-time holding, capable of yielding a reasonable livelihood, and, second, can become economically viable, or is already so.

So far as the Horticultural Marketing Council is concerned, I have noted with interest many of the comments that noble Lords have made in this debate. I am of the opinion—as, indeed, are many growers—that the collective efforts of the various sections of the Horticultural Marketing Council, if properly directed, should be able to produce something positive and objective in the way of proposals to improve the marketing of horticultural produce. I am very gratified that Her Majesty's Ministers agreed to incorporate in the Bill the extension of the period of time under which the Government should fund the operation of this Council from two years to three years. However, I want to issue one word of warning.

In the experience that will be accumulated in the three years between now and then, always provided that every effort is made to make it a positive contribution to the improvement of the horticultural industry in its broadest sense, I want to feel sure that the ultimate concept of funding the Council's future work will be based on a decision of all the members of the Council and not on a decision of the majority, especially when the sections are divided, as they are, as to seven wholesalers and importers, seven retailers and seven producers, with four members nominated by the Minister. We could have a situation in which the minority could easily be exploited if, instead of all the members of the Council, the majority agreed on the form of the funding of its future work. I feel, my Lords, that, broadly, this Bill is a welcome sign of the active interest of Her Majesty's Government in the future of what I believe is already, and can be still more so, a progressive and efficient horticultural industry. It is in that spirit that I welcome the Bill to-day.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, first of all it is my pleasure from this side of the House to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, heartily on his maiden speech. It was most interesting, and he spoke from a wealth of experience. I was particularly struck by his reference to advertising, and in this connection I might say that he has already delivered part of what I wanted to say. I am convinced that advertising should play an important part, and a more important part still, in horticulture. It seems to me that foreign produce is acceptable in this country mainly because of the great advertising power behind it. That applies not only to horticultural produce but to other imports as well. I hope that the noble Earl will speak many times on farming and horticulture. We shall always welcome him for what he has to say, as we welcome him in remembrance of his fine and amiable brother, whom we all respected.

It seems to me that there is a welcome for this Bill, though perhaps with modifications, in your Lordships' House. I think we must all welcome something which will make for confidence in the industry and for a fair reward for those who work in it. Reorganisation and improvement in horticulture is long overdue, and for that reason I think that we must give readily a Second Reading to this Bill. It is acceptable to us as a palliative, but we must remember that the difficulties of the industry are too deep-rooted for effective solution by the operation of this Bill alone. Indeed, that has been admitted by the Minister in another place, who did not claim otherwise. In some respects, this Bill is unique. I do not think that within the memory of any of us has there been a Bill which has been so much amended in Standing Committee and on Report in another place. We on this side of the House are pleased with the Amendments, many of which originated with us. We shall have certain Amendments to put before your Lordships on the Committee stage of the Bill and I hope that the noble Earl will be as kind to us as his honourable friend was to the Opposition in another place.

The Bill did not receive unqualified support from members of the Party opposite, and I noticed particularly that certain disagreements were voiced by Members of another place who live their lives in the same part of the country as I do. In the Fen Country, there are many smallholders engaged in horticulture, and there is certainly a feeling among them that this is a large horticulturists' Bill and that the small men will not be advanced very materially.

I do not propose to weary your Lordships with a long speech—there are three other Bills to be dealt with after this one—but there are one or two points which I wish to make which fall within the compass of this Bill. First, I want to speak about grants, a subject which has been dealt with by most of the speakers this afternoon. I wish to refer to the position of the part-timer. If the White Paper definition of qualifications is followed, it seems to me that sometimes a smallholder who has a part-time holding cannot come within the scope of this Bill. He may possibly have sufficient land, but not all horticultural land, and may wish to improve his holding by erecting greenhouses, or, if he has poor land, by drainage; but if he is a part-timer, it seems to me that he cannot participate in the benefits of this Bill, whereas, if he could obtain a grant, he could carry out an improvement and then conic within the scope of the Bill. It might be argued that he could join a co-operative society, but he may not be near enough to any co-operative organisation which may be set tip to get such benefit from it.

The question of the one-third grant and two-thirds payment has also been mentioned. Like many other noble Lords, I think that some further consideration should be given to the small man in regard to this matter. Two-thirds is an appreciable amount of money for a smallholder to find, even for a larger horticulturist to find. I wonder whether the Government have had any negotiations whatever with the banks or other financial institutions about providing loans—because in many cases the money will have to be found by loan—to cover the two-thirds which must be found by the person carrying out the improvement.

I would refer the noble Earl to Clause 2 (2) of the Bill, dealing with grant payable on work carried out on other land. According to that subsection, it is possible for the Minister to hold up for at least five years the payment of instalments for work carried out by a co-operative society. I am advised that this may prove to be a hardship to many existing societies who have been registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act and that it might be considered to be unfair. I gather that the view of the Government is that if improvements are made or buildings are erected on land which is not at present used for horticulture, in the course of time the society might go out of business and the buildings which had been grant-aided might then be put to other use. If the grant is held up for five years, as is envisaged in the Bill, then the society itself will already have paid for the building and will be out of its reimbursement for a period of five years. This seems to me to be somewhat unfair, particularly in regard to an established society, and I hope that some amendment may be made to it.

Further in regard to the question of the co-operative societies, I realise that the matter of the £100,000 which is set aside for advance is a financial matter and possibly cannot be amended in your Lordships' House, but I would say that, in my view, this is insufficient for the purpose for which it is to be set aside. If I break down that figure a little, I think your Lordships will agree that it does not appear to be adequate. One hundred thousand pounds is one-eightieth part of the £8 million set aside for the grants; that is, only a fraction over 1 per cent. For that reason, I think it is a meagre allowance. Moreover, that £100,000 may be extended over six years, and six into £100,000 is a matter of £16,000 a year, which seems to me to be a very small amount if you wish to encourage, as according to the Bill you do, the promotion of a large number of horticultural co-operative societies.

Another matter I should like to refer to is the question of equipment, dealt with in Clause 1 (3) of the Bill. I should like an assurance from the Minister that certain equipment which is used in the packing houses will be included in the Bill for grant aid. If your Lordships refer to page 11 of the White Paper you will find that specified types of conveyors—which, I take it, are far transporting the products from one point to another—come within Part III of the improvements. I am advised that in certain operations fork-lift trucks and pallets are used, but according to what was said in another place these are not included in the Bill. Certain horticultural co-operative societies are using this particular type of equipment, and I hope that the Minister will be able to reconsider what was said in another place and bring them within the scope of the Bill.

The question of sage and the drying of herbs was also raised in another place, and I am asked to stress that some reconsideration should be given in your Lordships' House to this operation. Clause 8 (5) makes reference to the preparation for market, and it does not include certain processes. The process I wish to refer to is the heat process. I am advised that certain functions in the preparation of sage (which is a well-known product) for market have reference to the use of heat. This is a well recognised operation, and it is hoped that the Minister will be able to reconsider what was said in another place.

I now come to a point which I think is most material and which has been referred to several times already. It is said that there are two prongs to this Bill and that a third one is likely to be produced; and the two are the grant aid and the setting up of the Horticultural Marketing Council. Irrespective of the change in operation which may come about in regard to Covent Garden, the third prong in which I wish to put my faith is the question of import control. I am sure that the full benefit of this Bill will not be felt by horticulturists unless the Government take immediate steps to control, by one means or another, the import of products from overseas which can be grown in equal quality in this country.

I have made reference to the Fen Country. Last year we had great difficulty in regard to strawberry pulp; and we had difficulty there and elsewhere in regard to tomatoes. That may happen again unless the action envisaged by my noble friend Lord Netherthorpe and others is brought into operation within a reasonable time. During only the, last few days, I have received a visit from a small strawberry grower in the Fen Country who last year could not market two acres of strawberries; there was no market for them. He was under not an obligation, but perhaps a gentleman's agreement, to sell them to a certain firm of horticultural product merchants. At the commencement of the season he bought his fertilisers from that particular firm. But they could not take his strawberries, and nobody else would take them. They went into the open market, and at the end of time he was not in pocket, but on every chip of strawberries he sold he lost 1½d. That is not much per chip, but on two acres it is most material. That particular smallholder is now faced with a county court judgment for the fertilisers with which the firm supplied him, he is faced with the payment of £10 an acre rent for his land, and he is faced with bankruptcy at the end of it. That sort of thing should not happen in any properly regulated industry, and for that reason I hope the Government will not only implement this Bill but will also bring into operation other matters. Might I say to the noble Earl that it is our intention on this side of the House to put down certain Amendments to various clauses in the Bill. As I said at the commencement, I hope that the Minister will treat us as kindly as the Opposition was treated in another place.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that your Lordships have given this Bill a welcome from all sides of the House. It may interest your Lordships if I make a small announcement before I try to answer some of the points raised. My right honourable friend has stated in another place this afternoon that it is his intention, when the necessary powers have been conferred, to invite Mr. David Bowerman to become the Chairman of the Horticultural Marketing Council. Although Mr. Bowerman has been engaged in 'the horticultural industry, he has informed my right honourable friend that he is prepared to take the necessary steps to make himself eligible for the appointment by making himself independent of the industry. I believe that this appointment will be widely welcomed by the industry, and I thought your Lordships would like to hear this direct.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in a speech full of information raised several interesting points. He welcomed the Bill, and I greatly appreciate his generosity in what he said about our endeavours to assist co-operation. He asked whether Clause 4 and the finance provision under Clause 5 could be used—I think his words were—"to preach the gospel of co-operation". I think that that is precisely what Clause 4 is for. I am sure that one of the most important things in this Bill—and the noble Lord paid tribute to it—is the real effort to get co-operation working. Several noble Lords have raised this question of Clause 4, and I will come back to it again.

Perhaps the point that most requires an answer from me is about prepackaging. I thought the noble Lord might raise that matter, knowing his interest in it, and also he was good enough to tell me that he was going to speak on this subject, and so I made a note. Of course the Government are interested in the development of prepackaging, and the Horticultural Marketing Council will be interested in it as a means of improving marketing generally. But we think that it would be premature if we gave grants in this scheme, which has only a short period to run, for pre-packaging by growers. It is not certain whether pre-packaging should be done by the growers, by the retailers or by the wholesalers, or where it should be done and who should do it. We think that it would not fit into the general scheme of the grants that we are giving—they are limited to £8 million—if we put what might come to be a considerable sum aside, with no top limit, for pre-packaging machinery for growers or growers' organisations. Therefore I am not able to be as helpful as the noble Lord would have liked on that matter.

The noble Lord asked me about another point. He asked whether the powers of the Horticultural Marketing Council would be sufficient for them to run a market intelligence service by teleprinter. If we look at Clause 10 (1) (a) of the Bill, I think there is no doubt that the Horticultural Marketing Council, if so minded, could run such a system. That reads: obtaining and disseminating, or assisting the obtaining and disseminating of, information about supply, demand and prices. My own feeling is that such a service would be within those terms.

The noble Lord asked me another question, about which I cannot give him such a favourable reply. He asked me whether the Marketing Council could run a container service. I am bound to say that I do not think they could, under the bill as it stands at the moment. The Marketing Council is not a trading body; it is not even a regulatory body. Actually to run a container service, and to manufacture the containers, would not, I think, be within its powers. I spoke of an Amendment which will be brought in at a later stage about a limitation of the powers of the Council, but I do not think it was intended, or can be brought into this Bill, that the Horticultural Marketing Council could actually set up, run, manufacture and distribute a container service. I am bound to say that now. Of course, if the noble Lord wants to put down an Amendment at a later stage, we could go into the matter in detail.


My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to interrupt at this point? May I draw his attention to subsection (1) of Clause 9 which says: …. and, with the consent of the Ministers, of any other functions which the Council may determine expedient to be exercised for that purpose. I was wondering whether such a thing as a common container service can be regarded as trading and, therefore, not a proper activity for the Council. What kind of function would come under those words which does not in fact already come under all other words in the clause?


My Lords, I can see no reason to move from the position I took up, which is that I do not believe that this container service could be allowed, because I believe it would be trading. As I say, I think that if the full implication of the last lines of the first subsection of Clause 9, lines 25, 26 and 27, is not clear, or is thought to be redundant by noble Lords opposite, then perhaps we could discuss this on the Committee stage of the Bill.

Before I leave the points made by the noble Lord—and they are very good points—I should say that the Horticultural Marketing Council would be perfectly in order in instituting research into pre-packaging. Clause 10 (1) (e) would cover that. The noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, told us, in a witty story, how speculative the industry was, and of course we must agree. This industry is bound to be to a certain extent speculative, and nothing that any Government can do, unless it carries on the whole trade itself at the taxpayer's expense, will ever completely take out the element of speculation that there is bound to be in an industry with perishable products of this sort. But I put to the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, this point. If you are going to speculate, if you have to speculate, the best thing to do is to get a very good book of form, and the Horticultural Marketing Council, with its teleprinter, perhaps, and its intelligence service, should help the speculator. That is what it is intended to do. And also we reduce the area over which speculation takes place by giving the production grants not only to the growers but to the growers' marketing organisations.

The noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, raised the point about the small man: would be have the two-thirds of the money? That point was raised by other noble Lords. Can the small man find the two-thirds? He can, I hope, raise this money elsewhere. There will be cases in which even an offer of one-third grant will not enable the improvement to be brought about because the producer will not perhaps have the facilities to raise the other one-third. We must face that. But this grant will narrow the field in which improvements will not be able to be done by producers, because now we are going to pay one-third in any case, and there are credit facilities available. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, welcomed steps towards increasing co-operation and the setting up of the Horticultural Marketing Council.

I now turn to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, and I am very desirous of adding my words of praise on a delightful and well-informed maiden speech. We were all extremely glad to see the name, "E. Fortescue" on the Paper again. His brother was very beloved of this House, and we hope that we shall hear his present Lordship speaking often. His brother in latter years, in the position which he held in this House, was not often able to speak, but we hope we shall frequently see the name "E. Fortescue" and be treated to a speech such as we heard this afternoon.

The noble Earl raised several important points. He pointed out how small the consumption of fruit was in this country compared with some other countries. That is why advertising, which is supposed to stimulate sales, is so much part and parcel of this whole Bill. Clause 15, in particular, can be used if an organisation is set up by home producers to advertise their own produce, and they will be able to indent on the Horticultural Marketing Council for the funds wherewith to do that. The noble Earl gave an interesting review of conditions in France, and though I cannot follow him through all those details, or indeed into his opinions, which were really perhaps hardly appropriate to this Bill, on the desirability of a Marketing Board for apples, they were very interesting points and they will certainly be studied with the care that they deserve. It has often been said that your Lordships are experts on a variety of abstruse problems, and I am sure it will not pass notice that we now have an expert on prunes, which is a very important and health-giving item of food.

The noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, in a very valuable contribution, confined most of his remarks again to Clause 4, and wanted to be quite certain that full benefits could be obtained in his country, Scotland. My Lords, of course they can. The point of this clause is to assist the organisation of co-operation, to promote co-operative horticultural marketing. It is thought that most of these grants will be paid to four bodies, of which I am glad to say there is one in Scotland. There is the A.C.C.A., the Agricultural Central Co-operative Association Ltd.; there is in Scotland the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, the S.A.O.S.; there is a similar organisation called The Welsh Agricultural Organisation Association in Wales, and there is in Ulster one called the Ulster Agricultural Organisation Association. So there can be no doubt that Scotland, through an organisation that already exists, will get its share, and no doubt the Scots will see that their organisation gets its full share in competition with the other three organisations that exist. I think that answers that point fairly completely.

The noble Lord also asked about standard costs and said how complicated they would have to be in this connection; and indeed they will be complicated. We shall give them every consideration, and of course the details will be included in the scheme that will be laid before your Lordships, and that will be the time to discuss them. He also asked, was it not a pity that we were giving only a one-third grant, and ought we not to be giving a 50 per cent. grant? Some other noble Lords mentioned that point, too. Determination of the amount of grants one gives in a scheme of this sort must be largely a matter of judgment, and it is impossible to produce factual arguments in support of any precise figure. Not only do we think that the rate of one-third for horticultural improvements will represent a very valuable contribution, but our experience is that these stimulated just the work we wanted in the Farm Improvement Scheme, and there is no reason to suppose that they will not be equally valuable in stimulating work in this scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, also raised another point, about which I was not quite clear as he raised it—and he said that he was not quite clear on what the Bill said on this. So we are to a certain extent equal. I gathered it was whether the Council would be able to advise on, or initiate, schemes envisaged under Clause 4. I rather think we are considering different powers here. The Council is given certain functions under Clause 10 to improve marketing and distribution of horticultural produce generally. But Clause 4 is the specific clause for giving grants to central bodies to preach the gospel of co-operation and to promote co-operative marketing. I think perhaps there is a confusion of thought here. How the Council will send out the information that it collects and collates will be for it to decide. The noble Lord asked whether it would be sent out in papers, or what method would be adopted. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested the teleprinter. That, I think, is a detail which the Council will be fully able to deal with when it is in being.

I turn now to the weighty and most helpful speech that we had from the noble Lord, Lord Netherthorpe. I am glad to hear from his lips that the growers support this Bill in its broad concept. I am not wholly surprised that the £16 million out of the industry itself should be approached a little cautiously by the noble Lord. It was not perhaps for him to say that it will be quite easy for the industry to produce this £16 mil- lion; but he did not overstress his caution and did not show much pessimism. I hope, indeed, that we shall find that, as we are prepared to put up the whole of our £8 million, the industry will find itself readily able to put up the £16 million. Time will show. I cannot, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Netherthorpe did not wish me to, follow him into the question of the level of the tariff. As I said before, this Bill, this scheme, these horticultural improvement grants and the Council are not alternatives to the tariff support but a supplement to it. I cannot say, and it would be quite wrong for me to suggest, what the level of the tariff should be. The noble Lord will know as well as I that there are certain applications for tariff increases before Her Majesty's Government at the moment. He knows the machinery. The machinery is in motion, and I cannot at all anticipate what will be the outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Netherthorpe, raised an interesting point in regard to an intensive and quite small holding—namely, would it not be most unfair that it should not be able to qualify? I think he suggested that something like one and a half acres under very intensive cultivation would make a good livelihood for a man. I hope it will. If the holding really was only one and a half acres of open land it would not qualify under our proposed scheme. But such a smallholding that was giving a full living to a man would almost certainly have a proportion of glass. Now the equivalents, which are contained in paragraph 10 of the White Paper, are that one-twentieth of an acre of glass, or mushrooms, or rhubarb pits or whatever they are called, are all equivalent to one acre. This smallholder might well nearly always be able to come in because of these equivalents, if he is a viable unit. If the 1½ acre man did not have such intensive production he would be unlikely to be viable. Then, of course, there is always the question of his joining or helping to form a co-operative.

The noble Lord raised almost a more important question than that when he spoke of the question of a majority on the Council. I said in my opening remarks that this Council was to be a body where people put their heads together, and not a body where heads were counted. We really must not envisage this Council, drawn from all sections of the industry, having difficulties of voting and getting things through with a majority of one. This must be an advisory body where heads are put together. That is of fundamental importance. Certainly, when the Ministers receive a scheme from the Council they will wish to inquire whether it has been generally approved by the Council; but I think that a charges scheme is not likely to come forward on that narrow majority from a Council. It will have to come before Parliament in any case, and I certainly hope that any scheme that comes forward will be a scheme of which the Council generally approves. Then, when we lay it before Parliament, it will have to be approved by Parliament.

I now turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, whom we were all pleased to see speaking, I think for the first time, from the Dispatch Box. He seems to know a great deal more about what happened in another place than I do. If they had a very happy time in that Committee, I hope that we, too, shall have a happy time in our Committee. But what Amendments I shall be able to agree to depends entirely on what Amendments are brought forward. However, I shall always try to be reasonable and helpful. In regard to the minimum qualifications for this grant—whether the limit is too high—this again is a point which has been made before. It will be clearer and given in more detail in the scheme when it is before us. The noble Lord asked me whether there had been specific negotiations with the banks. I do not think there have been specific negotiations as to how the horticulturists are to raise their two-thirds. I do not think one goes to the bank and specifically asks questions of this sort on each of these Bills. The machinery for raising money is fairly well known by horticulturists, as well as by others.

Then the noble Lord definitely objected to the question of instalments under Clause 2 (2). The instalments are there as a safeguard to the public. This is something quite new; it is an innovation in a scheme of this nature that we are going to give grants in regard to build- ings that are not on the holding at all. By the very nature of things a building of this sort may be in the centre of the village, near the railway station, on a most valuable site, and we cannot give a grant in respect of buildings of this sort with no strings at all. The purpose %for which they are used after being grant-aided should be dealt with carefully. We must check that in some way, and after considerable care and thought, we have decided that the proper way to ensure that the money is used for the purpose for which it is intended is that on these buildings that will be erected by co-operative associations, and which may be off the land of any of the producers in that co-operative and on a valuable site, we will pay the grants over a period of five years. In that way we can keep check on the public money which is being spent.

There was some ingenious arithmetic brought forward by the noble Lord as to how much £100,000 was—whether it was one-eightieth of £8 million, and therefore 1 per cent. I have no doubt that his arithmetic is correct, but, as I said before, under Clause 4 this money will probably go to four main societies, and therefore the division will be between four. Thus the sum comes out rather larger. But, joking apart, no sum is ever big enough for the asker, and it is always too much for the Treasury, and I think that probably we have about the right sum in this portion of the Bill.

There were some technical points about fork-lift trucks and conveyors. With the noble Lord's permission, I should prefer to deal with that on Committee. He also raised the question of the heat treatment of sage. Off the cuff, I do not know the answer to those points and I would prefer to speak to the noble Lord afterwards. I will ascertain the answer. He might alternatively care to raise them in Committee. Again, we heard raised the question of import control. The noble Lord and I do not see eye to eye on the method of controlling imports. Our policy is to use the tariff within the obligations that we have, and it will continue. But it is a question of degree, and I think that, with the best will in the world, I must leave it at that.

The noble Lord wrung our hearts with a sad story of a strawberry grower. I am sure that his story was true, otherwise the noble Lord would not tell us it. But hard cases do not necessarily make good law, and I cannot use that as a peg on which to hang the suggestion that we should immediately put up the tariff on strawberries because of the heartrending story that was narrated to us.


My Lords, I understand that we cannot raise the question of forklift trucks on Committee. That is mentioned in the White Paper but not in the Bill. Possibly the noble Earl could give me, by letter or in some other way, an assurance that that will be included with other equipment.


My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord an assurance that it will be or will not be included; but before the scheme is laid I will tell the noble Lord what we intend to do and we can then discuss it. It is conceivable—and perhaps I should not say more—that what we may intend to do might be varied by what the noble Lord represents to me; but that will not be in the Bill but in the scheme which will be laid before Parliament shortly. With that, I hope that I have answered, perhaps too fully, the points that have been raised, and I hope your Lordships will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.