HL Deb 15 March 1960 vol 221 cc1122-88

3.43 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Waldegrave.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Grants for horticultural improvements

1.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, the appropriate Minister may, in accordance with a scheme made by him with the approval of the Treasury, make—

  1. (a) to the person carrying on a horticultural production business,
  2. (b) to the landlord of land in England or Wales occupied for the purposes of such a business and being or comprised in an agricultural holding within the meaning of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, or land in Scotland so occupied and being or comprised in an agricultural holding within the meaning of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1949, a holding to which any of the provisions of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Acts, 1886 to 1931, apply or a croft within the meaning of the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955,
a grant of an amount equal to one-third of the amount of expenditure reasonably incurred by him in the carrying out of approved proposals for the provision of specified facilities for the purposes of the business.

LORD STONHAM moved, in subsection (1), to omit "of an amount equal to one-third of the amount of" and to insert, "in respect of". The noble Lord said: We now come from consideration of a Bill which deals with areas which have in them industries in some form of distress, to consideration of an industry which is in distress wherever it is carried on, and I can only hope that this Bill will help to relieve that distress and that the acceptance of some of the Amendments which my noble friends and I are going to move will aid in that objective. The Amendment which I now move seeks to give the Minister greater discretion and flexibility in the making of grants by removing the rigid one-third restriction. He is now obliged to limit the grants which can be given to one-third of the total cost of approved schemes. I am not suggesting any other rigid limit such as one-half or two-thirds, because the proper proportion of grant in individual cases could, in our view, be settled administratively on the basis of the facts. But we do want to see the utmost help given to the smaller producers, many of whom, though urgently needing them, will not submit schemes because they cannot put up or borrow the necessary two-thirds of the cost.

As we have already seen, the danger in any fixed-grant formula is that those who benefit most are the larger producers who, by and large, are least in need of help. As my noble friend Lord Netherthorpe said during the Second Reading of the Bill, arbitrary standards are always vulnerable to cases of hardship, and that cannot be denied. Our Amendment, if accepted, will get over this difficulty, and I would point out that there is no question of increasing the total sum of public money available for grants, but it is simply a case of using it where it will do the most good. The Government have borrowed this 33⅓ per cent. proportion from the Farm Improvements Scheme; and it is precisely because of our experience under the Farm Improvements Scheme that we are now moving this Amendment. That experience has shown that big farmers, who could in any case have carried out improvements, very properly took advantage of the grant, while many of the smaller men could not do so.

There is nothing sacred about this figure of 33⅓ per cent., because the Committee will remember that some years ago the Ministry of Fuel and Power actually made 100 per cent. loans—100 per cent. of the cost in loans—to horticulturists to enable them to improve heating of glasshouses. The Committee will remember also that during discussions on the Farm Improvements Scheme we asked for the same grant to be given to horticulturists and we were told it could not be done. Now it is being done. We were also told in discussion on the Farm Improvements Scheme that the Minister could not be given full discretion of approval of schemes. Now he is being given full discretion. In fact, the scheme is not in the Bill at all: this is merely an enabling Bill to permit the implementation of a scheme which will be announced after the Bill reaches the Statute Book.

The one-third grant does not mean any particular sum of money: it can mean £33 6s. 8d. or £10,000 according to the nature of the scheme, so there is absolutely no difficulty there. Nor is there any lessening of responsibility. If this Amendment is accepted, every scheme must still be approved by the Minister and it is still subject to Treasury approval. We ask that the Minister be given power to give greater help, at his discretion, in special cases; and he can in that way give more help to the small men who need it most. I think there is everything to be said for this Amendment and I hope it will be accepted. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 22, leave out from ("grant") to end of line and insert ("in respect of").—(Lord Stonham.)


The effect of this Amendment, as has been so clearly stated by the noble Lord who moved it, would be that the Minister would not be required to specify any rate of grant in the statutory scheme. He could make—and this is a point which the noble Lord opposite did not make—a smaller grant if he so wished than the one-third which we put in the Bill. It is gratifying to know that noble Lords opposite have such confidence in the Minister's fair-mindedness and wisdom that they think he does not need any guidance as to what the grants should be, but I do not think we ought to extend such a wide discretion under this scheme, and I do not think it would be satisfactory either to Parliament or to the horticultural industry. We think it quite right to state clearly in this Bill the rate at which we propose to inject this new capital assistance. We think Parliament has a right to know to what degree the new grants will be supplementing private resources; for, if we grant one-third, private resources will have to provide the two-thirds. We think also that the industry will wish to be told quite unequivocally what the rate will be so that they can plan accordingly.

Now the kind of discrimination for which this Amendment would pave the way would really be no more than a means test. It would be objectionable in principle on that account; and it would be further objectionable because neither Parliament nor the industry would be told what the rate would be. It would very much complicate administration and the difficulties of our advisory officers, and would really jeopardise, we feel, the implementation of the scheme; because, apart from all the other matters, the decision has to be taken: what rate of grant shall we give on this particular application? Any limitation of this sort must be a matter of judgment. We feel that that limitation should be put in the Bill, and that one-third, which has proved so successful under the Farm Improvements Scheme, is a suitable and proper proportion for grant aid under this scheme. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not press this Amendment.


I am extremely disappointed at the noble Earl's reply. It is quite true that the Minister could give a lesser grant than 33⅓ per cent., and there are obvious circumstances in which that would be an extremely good thing, because it would enable more money to be given to the smaller men, who need a higher proportion. That was one of the reasons, which I thought was obvious, why we moved the Amendment. It is equally true that we have much greater confidence in the Minister than his own friends have, as is evidenced by the fact that a little later on we shall be discussing another Amendment which illustrates that to the full. But what I found most disappointing about the noble Earl's reply was this rigid conception—if I may say so without disrespect, a typically Civil Service reply—that here we have something which is easy administratively, and therefore it must be one-third, whether it is an application from an extremely well-to-do farmer who does not really need it at all, probably involving a big scheme, or whether it is from somebody who in fact is in great need—and it is admitted that, of the 70,000 horticulturists, there are more than 40,000 who are unlikely to benefit from the scheme as it is, and who are those in the greatest need. I therefore think that it is extremely regrettable that this view should be taken, and that the opportunity for greater flexibility should not be accepted. I regret that we cannot withdraw the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

3.54 p.m.

LORD WISE moved after subsection (4) to insert: () In this section, 'equipment' means plant for the control of temperature and atmosphere, washing and grading machines, benches, racks, and conveyors, fork-lift trucks and pallets and other machines necessary for the implementation of improved schemes".

The noble Lord said: It may be within the memory of your Lordships that on the Second Reading of this Bill I raised the point as regards the question of the inclusion of certain equipment; and it was thought at that time that, as that particular equipment was not mentioned in the Bill itself, it could not be drafted in. We now find, however, that it is possible, by an addition to Clause 1, at the end of subsection (4), to write in a definition of "equipment" as we understand it. Now our definition which appears on the Marshalled List has been taken from parts of the definition which appears in the Appendix to the White Paper, paragraph 15. The equipment with which I am mainly concerned is fork-lift trucks and pallets, which we wish to be included in the Bill so that they also may come into any scheme which may be laid afterwards. I understand that these particular items of equipment are very necessary for the efficient operation of a packhouse and that they are used in the hand in the transport of horticultural products. There is a demand, I understand, from the people concerned, that, if possible, these articles of equipment should come in line for a grant.

I also understand that they are fairly expensive to purchase; and that, having been purchased, there would be no question of their resale by horticulturists. I think the Minister suggested on Second Reading, or perhaps it was suggested in another place, that after a grant had been given for these particular items they might possibly find their way into other hands at a profit. I think it is quite unlikely that the people who use these items of equipment and who require them for the purposes of their business would do that, and I am certain that that would not be the case. The application, when it was made, could be properly checked, and whether or not it was a genuine application for the purposes of the business could be easily ascertained. I therefore hope that in this instance the Minister will agree to our Amendment, and that this may be included in the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 22, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Wise.)


I had anticipated from the remarks which were made on Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, that the intention of this Amendment in his mind was really to include fork-lift trucks and pallets, and I should like to enlarge upon the reasons which I gave then (I think I gave reasons then) why we do not think that these particular items should be included or should be specified in the Bill as included. We must have regard, of course, to the total amount of the financial provision that is available in the Bill. We must direct the funds available towards the facilities that will give the greatest benefit over the whole range of the industry. We want to give assistance in ways that are most likely to be useful to the industry as a whole; that take account of the particular needs of these different sections of the industry; and that are fair as between the larger and the smaller businesses.

We of course gave consideration to the possible inclusion of such things as fork-lift trucks and pallets—and I think there are things called clamp-trucks, and a number of other technical devices of that sort; things used for handling containers—when we were considering, as we still are, the draft scheme, but we had to recognise that the inclusion of this type of quite expensive equipment would mean a substantial additional demand on the funds available. It would, in the main, we feel, benefit the larger businesses—the co-operative associations, the larger growers, and perhaps some of the medium-scale fruit growers—but on the whole this kind of quite expensive equipment is not suitable for the small grower. Therefore its addition to the Schedule would mean that less money would be available for others, including smaller people, about whom we were hearing on the last Amendment.

This is a point that I think we might well take into consideration: that though we may not think it right to grant-aid this particular form of equipment, the successful operation of this method of handling the fork-lift trucks and pallets means a proper layout of the buildings, such as the packhouse, for example; it means that you must have level floors and doorways suitable to get through, ramps and loading bays and similar structural features. Those will all be grant-aided under the scheme—I think that is worth bearing in mind—but the actual movable piece of equipment will not be.

The noble Lord mentioned the possibility of the risks of abuse in regard to machines of this sort. I do not want to over-emphasise it, but it is true that this kind of equipment could be used in any kind of business where heavy packages have to be moved. These things cost, I am told, between £750 and £1,000 apiece. There is a risk, particularly with movable equipment, of the equipment being bought by grant-aid for the horticultural scheme and then being used elsewhere. I think we must have that in mind, as it is public money that we are using. I hope that this Amendment will not be pressed. We have given this matter careful consideration, and I understand that it was also carefully considered in another place, and we have come to the conclusion that we must try to keep our improvement grants to things that have permanence for horticulture. These things, by their very nature, are impermanent for horticulture and could be used for a number of purposes.


I am grateful to the noble Earl for his reply and, as this Amendment has no great importance, I intend to withdraw it. Before doing so, however, there are just one or two points I should like him to take into consideration—because I imagine that, in any case, he and his right honourable friend will give further consideration to the points that we are making. We agree that there is no real need to specify fork-lift trucks in the Bill, but we put down the Amendment in order to get a discussion on it, which I think has been worth while. What we were really after, and what he has not yet been able to give, is an assurance that they would be included in the scheme. While the noble Earl said that it was quite expensive equipment, which would chiefly benefit large growers and the co-operatives—indeed, the co-operatives are mainly collections of small growers whom we want to benefit—fork-lift trucks are not so expensive as washing and grading machines or conveyers, and far more expensive things are going to be specified in the scheme. That point, therefore, rather falls to the ground.

The other point is the real fear which the Government have that farmers may sell them. How real is that fear? They are going to pay £700 or £800 for a piece of equipment which will be secondhand a week after they have bought it; they will have paid two-thirds of the cost, and surely the secondhand value will not be more than the total cost to them when new. Therefore it does not seem to me a very entrancing prospect, to pay two-thirds of the original cost and then to sell it when secondhand at approximately the same price. That would be not only disreputable, but, it seems to me, wholly foolish, and I cannot imagine horticulturists doing it. I hope that the noble Earl will take these points into consideration.


Before the noble Lord withdraws the Amendment, I should like to answer one point he made. I took particular care to say that I did not want to over-emphasise that there could be abuses here. The noble Lord referred to other more expensive equipment being included in the scheme and he instanced washing machines. I am advised that a horticultural machine designed to wash, say, carrots has not the enormous generality of purposes for which you can use a fork-lift truck. There is a difference. One has a much greater horticultural use than the other and, therefore, perhaps in the one case there is less temptation for abuse.


We have many more important Amendments than this, and I do not propose to engage the noble Lord in a technical discussion. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:

Supplemental Provisions as to Schemes


(3) A scheme may provide that the payment of grants, or of instalments of grants, shall be subject to compliance with such conditions, whether as to the capacity of the business, determined in accordance with the scheme, the security of tenure of the land on which any facilities are to be provided, the carrying out of the proposals in question in a proper manner and within a reasonable time, or any other matter, as may be specified by or under the scheme.

4.7 p.m.

LORD WISE moved, in subsection (2), after "period" to insert "not exceeding two years". The noble Lord said: From our point of view this is possibly a more important Amendment than the one which has just been withdrawn. Clause 2 (2) of the Bill says: A scheme may provide that in such cases as may be specified therein grants shall be payable by such instalments and over such period as may be specified in the scheme. Paragraphs 12 and 13 of the White Paper also deal with this matter and refer, in the main, to the formation of new co-operative marketing associations or the carrying on of existing associations. On Second Reading the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, paid some attention to this matter, and in regard to co-operation said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 221 (No. 48), col. 812]: Everybody is out to pay lip service to co-operation, but in this Bill we are actively and positively encouraging it. I hope that that encouragement will be given to us in the acceptance of this Amendment.

The question of the erection and equipment of buildings which is rather suggested in this subsection is set out in the Appendix to the White Paper. We are here mainly concerned with the provision of additional buildings. According to the White Paper, these additional buildings can be erected either on land which is used for horticulture at the present time or on land which is not at the moment so used but is outside the area of the particular holding or holdings which form the co-operative association. Under the Bill an individual horticulturist can obtain a grant for such buildings when his addition or improvements have been approved and completed. But if the building improvement should be contemplated by an association for the benefit of their members, they might possibly be able to build upon land owned or occupied by one or some of the members, or on a continuing site close by the spot where that building would be of the greatest use and satisfy the needs of the association.

It is suggested by the Government that, unless they put this limit of time on the payment, in the course of a few years these buildings may be sold for other purposes. Personally, I cannot conceive that that is likely to be the case. Very often horticultural holdings—smallholdings in particular—are not adjacent to the villages, but are situated in remote parts of the countryside. It is obvious that any buildings which may be erected in connection with those holdings are likely to remain for the use of the occupiers for many years to come. It is also clear that when a grant is given to an individual under a scheme for this purpose there is no restriction on that individual requiring him to occupy that building for any length of time. He receives his grant, and he can sell his holdings. If it is close to a town or city it may be used for building purposes. He could sell his holding for that purpose or any other purpose. Naturally, he would gain to the extent of the grant which he had received from the Government. The purpose of this subsection is to restrict the co-operative associations in their efforts to expand and make use of their means, such as they are, for the purposes of their members. That seems to me totally unfair. What can be done for the individual should also be done for the associations.

I wish to make one or two remarks about the financial implications. It is known to most noble Lords that there are certain restrictions on the amounts the co-operative associations can borrow on loan. For the purposes of development in the case of an established society, there is no possibility whatever of a sale of any building which may be erected for the purposes of that society. They are restricted, and not only would they be faced under this clause with the need to obtain a loan of two-thirds of the cost, but they might also require to obtain a loan of the additional one-third. On completion of the building they would be expected to pay, but in regard to the grant which the Government would make, they have to wait over a period for repayment on the part of the Government year by year. The payment of interest would throw an additional burden on the association, and my view is that we are not justified in doing that. To take an example, if they have to borrow £1,000 as one-third of the cost, that £1,000 may involve them in the payment of interest, even at a low rate, of anything up to £150 to £200 over the period. I realise, of course, that after the first year the Government will pay the first instalment and so reduce the liability, but it would throw a burden on the association which in my view is not justified.

It can be argued, against the view of the Government, that some restrictive covenant could be introduced, as in the case of improvement grants for rural houses. I understand that if a grant is made (either 50 per cent. of a certain figure, or a lower figure), it is spread over a period of fifteen years. If that property is sold outside the family, or not occupied by the family of the original borrower, then the amount which is outstanding is repaid to the local council. Surely, the same sort of operation could be carried out in this instance, and if the building or other property should be sold within the time then what is outstanding to the Government could be returned.

I hope that the Government will meet us in this Amendment. If the loan were limited to two years, while it might not be acceptable to the associations it would at any rate be a gesture on the part of the Government that they realise there is a point in what we are saying and that two years is a reasonable time. If the Government are uncertain what may happen, I think the two years might be a reasonable time in the circumstances. I hope that the Government will accept this period and will agree with what we have said. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 11, after ("period") insert ("not exceeding two years").—(Lord Wise.)


I had better explain this, because I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Wise, understands clearly why we have decided that the safeguard of the instalment procedure is necessary in certain cases. The purpose of the safeguard is not directed only towards the co-operative associations. It is directed to all cases where the building is not on the land which is the subject of the grant—where there is severance. Where we are paying for the erection or improvement of a building on land which forms an integral part of a horticultural unit—that is to say, on land actually used for the growing of crops—there is no special risk of severance and diversion of that building to some non-horticultural purpose; and we have no recovery procedure for the grant at all. But under this new scheme it will be possible for us to pay a grant for a building which is on a site entirely detached from the land used for producing the crops to be handled. It might be, as I said on Second Reading, and as has been referred to to-day, that the unit would be erected in the centre of a town, near a railway station or on a most valuable industrial site.

There is obviously some risk—not a great risk, perhaps, in an honourable profession—and when we are dealing with public money we must guard against the risk of that building being diverted to some other use than horticulture within a relatively short time after payment of grant. The business might fail, or some quite different business might make an attractive offer for its premises. Such diversion may not be likely to happen in many cases, but we cannot ignore the fact that it could happen, and we think it desirable to adopt some measures for safeguarding the public purse in such cases. If I have correctly understood the Amendment, we do not disagree in principle. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, has not suggested that there shall be no instalments. All he has suggested in this Amendment is that they should be limited to two years rather than five years. I hope I can satisfy your Lordships that what we propose to do under the scheme strikes a reasonable balance between the interests of the recipients of the grants, on the one hand, and those of the taxpayer, on the other.

It would be logical, under an instalments system, to spread the payments evenly over a long period related to the life of the improvement. For example, for buildings the period might be 20, 30 or 40 years. That would be a complete safeguard for the taxpayer. But, of course, it also might completely stultify the proposals. On the other hand, the maximum value of the grant to the grower, or to the marketing business, would be gained if we paid the grant all at once, but that would be no safeguard at all against the danger of diversion from the taxpayer's point of view. We therefore propose to make a compromise. We propose to pay a proportion of the grant on completion of the improvement. Our proposals in the scheme being drafted, which will shortly be laid before your Lordships' House, are that we should make one-third of the total grant that is payable as the first payment, not one-fifth.


Could the noble Earl say when that one-third would be paid? Would it be immediately on completion of the building scheme?


I imagine so. When the grant becomes payable the first instalment becomes payable. It would not be one-fifth but one-third, rather more than the direct arithmetical proportion. The period over which the balance is payable will vary according to the amount involved, to make sure that we do not pay trivial sums as instalments; but in no case will the period exceed five years. It is, in any case, a valuable innovation that we should pay grant at all for buildings not on a holding. Moreover, the Ministry's written assurance in the formal approval document that the balance of grant will be payable over a stated number of years, provided that the conditions of the scheme are complied with, will surely make it easier for the applicant to raise funds to finance his project. We feel that if we are to accept this principle at all, as the noble Lord, Lord Wise, appeared to accept it, that two instalments only is really neither one thing nor the other; and I hope that I have convinced your Lordships of that.

Before I close I should like to deal with the other point made by the noble Lord. He referred to the hardship that the instalment procedure could involve for established co-operative societies. His point, if I have understood him correctly, is that the instalment procedure was less necessary for well-established businesses than for new ones, because the length of time during which they had been trading would itself be evidence that they were unlikely to go out of business in the near future. But, my Lords, whether a co-operative or any other recipient of grant decides to dispose of his premises, w ill not depend on how long he has been in business. Even very old-established businesses, very fine businesses, are sometimes confronted with strong financial inducement to sell out, inducements which perhaps they would be foolish to reject. The procedure we have in mind would not prevent this, nor should we wish it to. It merely ensures that the amount of grant pocketed by the recipient will bear some relationship to the horticultural benefit that will be derived from it. I hope that this Amendment will not be pressed, for I am afraid I must resist it.

4.24 p.m.


We on this side of the House are extremely sorry to receive this reply. Despite the noble Earl's careful explanation, we do not feel that the Government have really understood our point. We feel that if this Bill is to benefit horticulturists, the benefit will come, in the main, in two ways: one, through the activities of the producer-co-operative and the other through the efforts of the Horticultural Advisory Council. We feel that if in the scheme to be published the Government adheres to the suggestions which the noble Earl has now advanced—particularly with regard to the smaller people, who would benefit by gathering together within a co-operative but who will not benefit in any other way by the grant at all; and they will not act in this way if these absurd, totally unjustifiable restrictions are continued—then public money will be in large measure wasted.

The noble Earl said he could not understand why my noble friend had moved an Amendment that the instalments should be limited to two years. But, of course, if you read in a Bill that payments will be by a number of instalments you cannot insert an Amendment to say, "Provided that the number of instalments does not exceed one." So we put in two as the smallest number after one, which seems reasonable, having regard to the fact that this is only an enabling Bill and the operative scheme will be published afterwards, after we have completely finished with this Bill. We shall have no further power over the scheme when it is finally presented to us for approval; we cannot amend it. My noble friend has moved this Amendment in the only way open to him and he explained his reasons, I think, in a full and lucid way.

The noble Earl has, quite properly, told us that the reason for the Government's decision to pay to co-operatives—respon- sible bodies, not individuals; co-operatives of producers gathered together—one-third of the grant, which is only one-third of the one-third of the cost of the building when completed, and the remainder over a period of not more than five years (but that is a long time) is to safeguard public money, because in the words he used the other day on Second Reading [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 221, col. 852]: a building of this sort may be in the centre of a 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. We do not object to strings: we object to the rope which strangles the co-operatives and will not allow them to do anything at all, which will in fact prevent schemes from starting. Most co-operative buildings are in out-of-the-way sites; they are "plonked" down in the middle of the places where the producers are. They are mainly clearing centres. They are not, as a rule, near a railway station on valuable sites. I do not deny the possibility that one might be put up on a valuable site, but I think it highly improbable. In most cases these buildings which will be put up by producers' co-operatives will be on out-of-the-way sites, and when they are built their market value will be a lot less than their cost. The proper thing to do in this Bill would have been what was done in the Local Employment Bill which has just passed through the House; namely, to pay 85 per cent. of the difference between the market value of the building when erected and its cost. The noble Earl says it is a most unusual thing. We have just passed a Bill which gives 85 per cent. of the difference in the cost.

But supposing, by some odd chance, a co-operative society should want to put up a building on an extremely valuable site, why, as my noble friend Lord Wise asked, is there this difference between the treatment of a horticulturist and the treatment of a collection of horticulturists in a co-operative?


If I may interrupt, there is absolutely no distinction. Perhaps the noble Earl did not hear. This provision is not directed against the co-operatives alone; it is directed against all applicants who put up buildings severed from the land.


I had appreciated that point, and if I over-stated the case, I apologise. But the noble Earl will agree that, in the main, the people who are going to put up buildings not on farm land will be co-operatives, who erect buildings in centres among a large number of producers.

One other point I put to the noble Earl. He indicated that this safeguard is needed for buildings which will be put up on land other than farm land, but in introducing the Bill he was at great pains to say [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 221, col. 810] that whereas the farm in the scheme was clearly anchored to the land, this was not applicable to a wide range of desirable improvements in horticulture. Quite clearly, the noble Earl cannot have it both ways. If safeguards are needed—I agree that safeguards in such circumstances are needed—why bring them about in a way which will completely discourage these schemes and cripple them altogether, when it could be done easily by a restrictive covenant on the building, or indeed, by an undertaking that if the building was sold the amount of grant should be given back?

There is absolutely nothing unusual in this. Last Wednesday I was at the Ministry of Education, at their request, on behalf of a charitable organisation of which I am chairman, and we discussed a project to put up a building on a most expensive site right in the heart of Leicester. It had to be on an expensive site because it had to be in the heart of Leicester. It was for a most expensive business—namely, to provide a coffee bar, dancing and other facilities for young people. The Ministry of Education seriously discussed a 50 per cent. grant. Of course we offered, and they gratefully accepted, the suggestion that if—as is not at all unlikely—in ten years' time the building has to be sold, they would recover out of the sale price the proportion of their original contribution to the, cost. That is an infinitely risky business, and there was suggested a much higher grant than the one now suggested. There was no suggestion of payment by instalments; the money would be paid as it was expended. So these things are being done by different Government Departments in a far more generous way.

The Government have now said to horticulturists, "Put forward your schemes and, if they are approved, we will give you grants of one-third." Everybody is agreed that the best way of spending this money is through co-operatives, but then you say to the co-operatives, "If you put forward a scheme you can have only one-third of one-third, first of all, and the rest spread over five years." I would suggest that we have heard nothing that justifies this, and I would say that at its meeting last week, on March 9, the most representative body in the country, the Horticulture Consultative Committee of the Agricultural Central Co-operative Association expressed the deepest concern over this question. They pointed out that the scheme cannot be amended once it has been presented to Parliament for approval. They pointed out that it is not so easy for them to get capital because they are still limited to £500 per member, and they would perhaps have to borrow under difficulties.

I submit that this instalment business is impossible to justify. It could wreck our highest hopes of benefits under this Bill, and we feel most strongly that special consideration should be given to the acceptance of this Amendment or, better still—we should greatly prefer it—that an assurance be given by the noble Earl that, under the scheme when it comes out, there will be paid to reputable horticultural societies on completion of the building grants in one lump sum, with the condition of a convenant that if it should ever come about that the building has to be sold, the Government should recover the money advanced or expended in full or in proportion to the original investment. I do not see how that can be challenged. I hope that the noble Earl will accept the Amendment. If not, then my noble friends will be obliged to press it to a Division.

4.35 p.m.


I wonder whether I might make an inquiry of the Minister and make a suggestion. I may be talking complete nonsense because I find this Bill very difficult to follow, and, as a modest market gardener, I am bound to say that I am just a little doubtful about how much, if anything, I am going to get out of it. But I must disclose an interest, in that I try to sell something out of a market garden. I am in this difficulty. In listening to this debate, as I understand it—the Minister will tell me if I am talking nonsense—the proposal is that, first of all, the Minister has, with the approval of the Treasury, to produce a general scheme. When he has produced that scheme, presumably it is embodied in an Order which does not require an Affirmative Resolution of the House—it is subject to the usual procedure of Negative Resolution. Then, if the scheme is not objected to, individuals or societies produce their particular schemes and plans. But, of course, they have to produce them in conformity with the general scheme, otherwise if the Minister were inclined to be generous the Treasury would certainly turn it down.

There is always this difficulty—here I speak as an old Minister—about proposals, schemes and Positive or Negative Resolutions. We all want this Bill, or a Bill of this kind. The noble Lord quite rightly said, with his experience of another place, that the only thing a Member of either House can do is to vote against a scheme. He does not want to do that, because that means that nobody is going to get anything at all out of it—the only person who would get any satisfaction would probably be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would not have to pay anything until the following year.

On the other hand, there is no opportunity, as the noble Lord says, of amending the scheme, except that the Minister may say, if there is a great deal of criticism in the House, "Well, I will take this away and produce another". But then a great deal of time is wasted, particularly in another place, where they waste a great deal more time than we do here. If you have a day or even half a day allotted for the debate upon an opposed Order and then the Minister withdraws it, probably the Chief Whip will say, "You will not have another day for the next two or three months". The result of that is that the scheme founders for a year. That is thoroughly unsatisfactory to everybody. It is certainly extremely unsatisfactory to the Member, who is not opposing the scheme in its principle but trying to make a better scheme; and I should imagine that it is equally unsatisfactory to the Minister and his Under-Secretary, who I know in this case are extremely anxious to do the best they can for the industry.

There is a way in which we can meet that kind of difficulty—it is not novel; it has been done before now: namely, that when the Minister and his officials and the Treasury have all had a good haggle over the business, they then produce a White Paper containing a draft of the Order that they are going to propose. They do not lay it as an Order, but produce it as a draft. In this way everybody has a chance of looking at it, and people can go to the Minister and say, "Could you not alter it in this way, or amend it in that way?" Then, if the Minister thinks, as he often does, that these are constructive suggestions, he can say, "All right; I am going to produce my Order in this form, which will embody the amendments which the good sense of Members of both Houses dictates ought to be included." The result is that a great deal of time is saved and the Order is made, and the scheme is produced to come into force (subject to a Resolution against it) in a form which is acceptable to everybody. I do not know whether that would apply in this case. From what I have heard from the other side I rather believe it would, because, from what I have heard, the noble Lord opposite is really saying, "There are many things which I should like to see in this scheme and I only want to be sure."

Let me say that if what the noble Lord on the other side is proposing is entirely beyond the powers conferred by the Bill to which the right honourable gentleman the Minister must stick, then I agree it is a question of principle which must be decided here and now. If it is not a matter of life and death, of conscience and morals or something of that kind, but rather a matter of convenience as to whether or not something is included, or what is the best plan, why cannot the Bill be put in a form sufficiently wide to enable the Minister to produce his scheme so as to give effect to the suggestions which have been made, the Minister then giving an undertaking (which need not necessarily be included in the Bill) that before the scheme is tabled in the form of an Order he will produce it as a White Paper and allow Members of both Houses a fortnight in which to make suggestions that he can perhaps incorporate later?


I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, as I am sure we all are, for his intervention, with all his ministerial experience. I believe that I shall be able to help. I was also very grateful to the Lord Chairman of Committees for letting us range so widely over this Amendment—which perhaps would not have been allowed to happen in another place. The reply to the noble Earl must involve one or two facts. First, the scheme will be subject to Affirmative Resolution. Secondly, the scheme is now in draft—in course of preparation—and anything that is said in this debate will, of course, be considered by my right honourable friend and by the other Ministers involved. We shall take due note of what is said and see whether we are impressed by the arguments that have been used, and can in any way amend our thoughts about this scheme. Of course, our thoughts are not yet publicly known, for the scheme is only in draft. If I may quote a particular example, coming fairly close to the Amendment—as it is quite proper one should—the Amendment concerns instalments. As I have indicated, our thinking at the moment is that the first instalment should be one-third of the amount. After what we have heard to-day, my right honourable friend and other Ministers might vary that proportion and make the first instalment larger than one-third. That is the first possibility—and it is a sign of the value we can get from these debates.

The main point mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, was whether a White Paper could be laid on what is proposed, so that that could be discussed. But we have already done that, because Command Paper 880, which was issued, I believe, in November, 1959, goes into considerable detail about the improvement grants. That matter is dealt with in paragraphs 9 to 16, upon which many noble Lords this afternoon are hanging their Amendments. Frankly, we are discussing the content of these paragraphs, so I am afraid that that is not a complete way out of this apparent slight difficulty—not that I recognise we are really in a difficulty here. I am in much more difficulty in replying finally to this third Amendment, which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wise.

If I may put it in this way, there seems to have been much misconception. Although I have already intervened twice on the point, the fact still seems not to have sunk in in some quarters that this provision is not intended as some kind of vindictive measure against co-operative marketing associations but is simply a measure to safeguard the taxpayer's money in the event of the improvement being severed from the land which the grant affects. In moving his Amendment the noble Lord did not ask that these instalments should be removed altogether and the grant paid in one lump sum. He has asked merely that there should be two instalments. The noble Lord has admitted the principle, but says that he could not find words by which to remove the word "instalments" from the Bill. I find that difficult to understand, for I feel that the Parliamentary draftsmen might have been able to help him find some means of doing so, had he wished. But he did not wish to do so. His Amendment asks only that there should be two instalments.

In my remarks I have tried to show that the proposed Amendment is neither one thing nor the other; and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, agrees that some safeguard is needed. In thinking of this scheme my right honourable friends were concerned to decide what were the sensible safeguards to use in such cases. The possibility of paying the grants all at once, and with what the Americans would call "strings attached", was considered. There could be covenants and conditions, so that the money could be got back again if anything went wrong and if there was cause to draw it back. This, however, would involve the imposition of conditions which would be binding on an applicant for some years after he had spent the grant. That would give rise to the whole difficulty of policing. That difficulty must not be burked. If we give a grant with strings attached and want to draw it back when the building or machinery is used, after a time, for some other purpose—


We are here discussing buildings, and speaking of an erection on land other than farmland, so that the question of machinery does not arise. The chief difference between us is that the "string" we suggest is a restrictive covenant, so that the building cannot be sold for another purpose; so no policing would be needed. Otherwise, by the method proposed by Her Majesty's Government, people would not get any money at all for six years.


I entirely agree, and I should not have used the word "machinery". That was a slip of the tongue. We are, of course, talking of buildings, and of the need for safeguards; and I am saying that my right honourable friends, when they were considering the kind of safeguards that should be put into the Bill—the need for which is not denied—thought it would be much better to have a safeguard of this kind, with payment by instalments which avoids the administrative necessity of policing. Otherwise there would be a need for policing if we had to draw back a grant in the event of a building being used for an improper purpose: because we have to see that the building is afterwards used for the specified purpose. I do not want to take up more of your Lordships' time. It was felt that nothing would be more satisfactory than simply to say: "We will pay this grant in instalments, but the first instalment will certainly be more than a fifth of the sum paid in the five-year period." I must ask your Lordships to reject this particular Amendment which asks that there should be only two instalments.


It is a happy conclusion to our anxiety, at any rate, on this particular Amendment because the noble

Earl the Minister says he is not giving way in any respect. I have no interest to declare in horticulture but I am intensely interested in agricultural co-operation generally, and I am a member of an agricultural co-operative society. I must say that the noble Earl does not seem to me adequately to have answered the submissions of my noble friends on this matter and I should have thought from the answers he has given that it is going to be pretty difficult to get co-operative societies set up for the purpose of the Bill on such promises as are now being made. They get nothing at all until the building is completed. That will be difficult enough for some of them. Then they have to get the instalment suggested and spread the rest of the payment over another five years. I do not think that that is the way in which we can come to anything like an acceleration of the business such as we desire.

I appreciate very much the effort of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, in suggesting the halfway house of getting a White Paper. But I understand that we want this scheme to start on April 1. It is now March 15, and therefore there would not really be time enough to exploit the ideas he has put before us, although I value the suggestions he made. And in view of the uncompromising attitude in the last statement by the Minister, there is nothing to do but go to Division.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 17; Not-Contents. 66.

Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Greenhill, L. Stansgate, V.
Amwell, L. Kershaw, L. Stonham, L.
Attlee, E. Lawson, L. Taylor L. [Teller.]
Boyd-Orr, L. Lucan, E. [Teller.] Williams, L.
Citrine, L. Pethick-Lawrence, L. Wise, L.
Faringdon, L. Silkin, L.
Addington, L. Brocket, L. Ebbisham, L.
Allerton, L. Carrington, L. Fortescue, E.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Cholmondeley, M. Fraser of North Cape, L.
Ampthill, L. Clitheroe, L. Freyberg, L.
Ashton of Hyde, L. Conesford, L. Gifford, L.
Auckland, L. Cork and Orrery, E. Goschen, V.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Cottesloe, L. Grenfell, L.
Bathurst, E. Davidson, V. Gridley, L.
Birdwood, L. De La Warr, E. Hastings, L.
Bossom, L. De L'Isle, V. Hawke, L.
Boston, L. Derwent, L. Hereford, V.
Bridgeman, V. Digby, L. Home, E. (L. President.)
Horsbrugh, B. Milverton, L. Som̃ers, L.
Howard of Glossop, L. Monsell, V. Soulbury, V.
Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Munster, E. Spens, L.
Lambert, V. Newall, L. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Mansfield, E. Onslow, E. [Teller.] Swinton, E.
Margesson, V. Perth, E. Tenby, V.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Portal of Hungerford, V. Teviot, L.
Merrivale, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.] Torrington, V.
Mersey, V. St. Oswald, L. Waldegrave, E.
Meston, L. Salisbury, M. Waleran, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.0 p.m.

LORD STONHAM moved to add to subsection (3): Provided that where the appropriate minister is of the opinion that there has not been compliance with such conditions in accordance with this subsection then he shall give to the person who appears to him to be carrying on for the time being the business to which the grant relates a written notification of the reasons for his decision and shall afford to that person, and if that person so requests, not more than one other person nominated by him in that behalf, an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by a person appointed by the minister and shall consider the report of the person so appointed, a copy of which shall be supplied by the minister to the first mentioned person.

The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I would say that it is on a very simple but important point—important from our view. It is with the object of giving horticulturists the statutory right of appeal when they have incurred expenditure under an agreed scheme and they then find, after they have carried out the scheme, that the Minister, for reasons which appear to him to be good, revokes the agreement, and the grant is then refused. I should like to make it clear to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, so that it will save him the necessity for going through the normal procedure, that I am not talking about the case of an application which is made and refused. We are perfectly familiar with the satisfactory procedure under the Farm Improvements Scheme, whereby an applicant, if he is not satisfied, can go to his county committee, the matter can be considered by the members, and they may decide to send someone down to the holding to discuss the matter with him. That procedure is all very satisfactory.

We are talking about the provision in the Bill for revocation. Here we have a scheme which has been submitted to the Minister, which has been approved and which, for reasons which the Minister considers are sound, is then revoked after the person has spent the money—and maybe he had borrowed the money. He could then be in a very serious and, indeed, a crippling position. As the Bill now stands, there is no statutory right of appeal. I hope the noble Earl will not say that this is not going to happen very often. It may well be the case that the Minister would not often like to reject cases of this kind unless they were of the utmost seriousness. And we are not in any way going into the question of whether revocation would be right and justified or unjustified; that simply does not arise. Our one point is that there should be this statutory right of appeal.

I would remind your Lordships that the subsection to which this Amendment relates deals with carrying out the scheme in question in a proper manner or within a reasonable time. Failure on those grounds might be a reason in the mind of the Minister for revocation and for cancellation of the grant after the money had been spent. If money is withheld from the applicant after he has incurred heavy expenditure, we are strongly of the opinion that he is entitled to the same rights as those provided under other, similar legislation in respect of similar circumstances—namely, that there must be a right of appeal to an independent person and the right to see the report which that person makes to the Minister. In all honesty, we just do not see how this claim can possibly be disputed; and I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 19, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Stonham.)


I confess that when I examined this Amendment I took it to mean (and I apologise if I should have thought differently) that the Amendment was asking for a statutory procedure enabling persons to make representations against decisions by the Minister on applications which could not be accepted or on grants which could not be paid. In fact, it was my advice that that was what this Amendment must mean. Though the noble Lord did not want me to say it, I am bound to say that the question of revocation is likely to be exceedingly rare. It has been exceedingly rare under similar schemes: the Small Farmers Scheme (though there, perhaps, there has hardly been time for it to go through); the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Schemes; the Drainage and Water Supply Grants; the Silo Scheme; the Ploughing Grants, and so on. In such schemes revocations have been exceedingly rare. I frankly doubt whether a statutory right of appeal for these very rare cases needs to be written into the Bill.

I would at once say how glad I am that the noble Lord agrees that the procedure through the agricultural executive committees in relation to applications that cannot be approved, which we know so well, works extremely well. I had prepared my remarks to explain to the noble Lord how well it worked, if he had doubted it, but those remarks are quite unnecessary after what he has said. All I think I can say at this moment is that I will certainly take this matter back to consider the implication that the noble Lord is giving to this Amendment: that he is asking for a statutory right of appeal on revocations. There is not much time—let us be frank about this—but I think I shall have to say something about it on Report stage, if the noble Lord presses the point, or on Third Reading, because I myself do not believe, at first sight, that it is necessary to write this into the Bill—and I did not know that the purpose of this particular Amendment was to write it in.


I am most grateful to the noble Earl. I appreciate his difficulty, though I am bound to confess that I am surprised that the advice he received was not that it was perfectly clear that the Amendment intended what I said it intended, because it follows on after the provisions in the clause indicating that the Minister has in fact, for good reasons, turned down the original agreement about the grant—and, of course, he can read in the clause the actual word "revocation". I had hoped that it would have been perfectly clear before I spoke. I appreciate the noble Earl's position; and there may be other occasions this evening when we shall have to decide to do the same thing, because there is very little time, and we are as anxious that this Bill should be ready in time to come into operation on April 1 as are noble Lords opposite. Therefore, if it would meet with the noble Earl's agreement, I would ask leave to withdraw this Amendment, and will table it again for consideration on Report, by which time the noble Earl may well have had an opportunity of taking advice. On that understanding, I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Before the noble Earl moves the next Amendment, it may help if I tell him that it is perfectly clear to us and we shall be glad to accept it.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for helping the Committee in that way. It is a rather formidable-looking and somewhat technical Amendment which has come to light as being necessary. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 3, line 19, at end insert— ("() Where any such condition as to capacity is framed by reference to land occupied for the purposes of a horticultural production business, the scheme may provide that if there is any land so occupied which is not eligible to be taken into account in ascertaining whether the condition is satisfied,—

  1. (a) in so far as the benefit to be derived from any proposals is attributable to that land, it shall be disregarded for the purposes of subsection (4) of the foregoing section;
  2. (b) where the applicant satisfies the appropriate Minister, at any time before that Minister has determined whether to approve his proposals, that the cost of the proposals has been increased by their being designed for the provision of specified facilities both for the said land and for land which is eligible to be taken into account as aforesaid, and agrees with the Minister what proportion of the cost is to be treated as referable to the eligible land, paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (5) of the foregoing section shall apply in relation to that proportion.")—(Earl Waldegrave.)

5.11 p.m.

LORD STONHAM moved to add to the Clause: (7) Such scheme may provide for the payment of grants under this part of this Act to persons whose holdings may be below the minimum qualifying size limit laid down in the scheme but who can satisfy the Minister that, whether by virtue of the intensive nature of the cropping or the specialist nature of the holding, or for other reasons, his holding can yield a sufficient full time livelihood after taking into account any improvement in profitability expected to result from improvement proposals put forward under the scheme.

The noble Lord said: This is an Amendment to which we attach considerable importance, and it is strongly supported by the National Farmers' Union and by the County Councils Association. The purpose of the Amendment is quite clear. It is that, whilst we recognise that it is desirable and administratively convenient to have various forms of limitation, notably an acreage limitation, nevertheless horticulture is an occupation which in many cases lends itself to intensive cultivation of particular crops, and a full living can be got from a much smaller acreage than with other types of cultivation. The Bill recognises this, because in the case of mushrooms and rhubarb as little as a quarter of an acre is regarded as sufficient to enable anyone to get a full livelihood, and in the case of glasshouse products as little as one-twentieth of an acre is regarded as large enough.

We have introduced this Amendment because it would be absolutely impossible, with the best will in the world, to particularise in a Bill, or indeed in a scheme, all the intensive types of horticultural production; and as the Bill now stands—and this is what we seek to avoid—quite a number of sound enterprises would be ineligible for grant. We therefore feel that a strong case can be made out for giving the Minister this discretionary power to extend grant-aid to those growers on small acreages whose production is sufficiently intensive. We have all had experience of trying to draw up lists, and of saying that a certain procedure shall apply to those lists; then immediately we have done it, and feel that we have got them all in, we discover that there are some important ones that have been left out. If the Minister is given the discretion that we ask for in this Amendment, these people will be covered. This would in no way infringe the Government's principle that grants of this nature should be applied only (in the words of the Farm Improvement Scheme) to holdings capable of yielding, after the improvement proposed, "a sufficient livelihood to an occupier reasonably skilled in husbandry." We are in favour of that, but we say that it is absolutely impossible for the Minister or anyone else to lay down various acreage limitations and then say: "I have put in everybody who can earn a living from horticulture farming those kinds of minimum acreages."

We recognise that questions of discrimination might be encountered, but in our view it should not prove unduly difficult to use the appeals machinery of the agricultural executive committees, or specialist panels, plus the independent certification of accountants to determine the eligibility of applicants. They are not being sought: they have to apply and make good their case. Again I would quote what I regard as a leading authority—namely, the noble Lord, Lord Netherthorpe, on the Second Reading of the Bill. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 221, col. 838]: …in horticulture…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 three times that size if it is on a particular type of production. There is also the type of case where a heated glasshouse, for example, might make it possible greatly to increase the output of a small open horticultural holding. There are many such possibilities, all of which would be covered by the Amendment. There is always the safeguard that the Minister must approve the scheme. All that the Amendment does—and it is not unimportant—is to remove the embargo which exists on worthwhile applicants who would otherwise be precluded from applying. I scarcely feel that that point needs arguing further, and I think the Amendment as it stands should be accepted.

If the noble Earl agrees—I think it would save another discussion on the clause standing part—I will raise now a related point which was put to me yesterday by the County Councils Association regarding the lower limit which the Minister intends to impose in the scheme on the cost of work carried out on a holding which qualifies for grant. At the moment the lower limit for this scheme is £100, of which the horticulturist would receive one-third. The County Councils Association have already represented to the Ministry of Agriculture that the minimum limit should be lower than £100 (which is the limit operating in the Farm Improvement Scheme), so that small producers in horticulture who have very little capital may benefit without having to carry out all the desired work at one and the same time. This is important, because, as we all know, many people will otherwise be unable to find the other two-thirds of the cost.

In reply to the submissions of the County Councils Association the Minister said this: It has already been explained in Parliament that an application under the scheme will not be approved if it relates to work of which the total estimated cost is less than £100 (as under the Farm Improvement Scheme). The Government think that a minimum at this level is necessary to ensure that the available funds and technical and administrative resources are directed to worthwhile improvements. If a lower limit were adopted, so that grants of amounts significantly below £33 6s. 8d. were payable, the cost of proper administration of the scheme might well be out of all proportion to the amount of grant paid. The County Councils Association have considered that reply, but, while they appreciate its force, they feel strongly that it is essential for the Government to reconsider this lower limit if a large number of those who have the necessary acreage qualifications are not to be arbitrarily excluded from benefit, especially as, in the main, they are those who we all realise are most in need of help. The Association is especially concerned with the interests of the tenants of the statutory smallholdings of county councils, many of whom cultivate a type of holding often known as a "small-scale vegetable and fruit holding". The Association adhere to the view that the lower limit of £100 will prevent a great number of small but nevertheless valuable improvements from being carried out on county council smallholdings, and for that reason they urge that this lower limit should be reduced from £100 to £75.

In order to illustrate their view, I would draw the attention of your Lordships to the situation in Worcestershire, which, as we all know, contains one of the most important horticultural districts in the country, where I understand some 42,000 acres are given over to the production of fruit and vegetables. In this area there are some 9,000 small producers who would qualify under this Bill—that is, about one-third of the whole total. According to a recent report issued by the Agricultural Economics Department of Bristol University, the small-scale vegetable and fruit holding in 1956 was able to show a profit of only £12 per acre, as against a figure of £78 an acre on "intensive vegetable holdings", and £174 an acre for "holdings with glass". These are truly remarkable differences, and the County Council think that with quite a small capital outlay many of these small horticultural holdings, which already qualify on the acreage qualification, could be made similarly productive. They point out that many of them have two or three acres of worn-out plum orchards, and they fear that a limit of £100 might prevent many of them from grubbing up this land and turning it into intensive vegetable holdings. They also feel that there would be a number of cases where a tenant could start to provide glass on his holding for propagating purposes for less than £100, but that he will be discouraged from doing so if he has to find £67 himself. They think that £50 would be a magic figure.

There are also many improvements, such as the wiring of packing sheds for electricity and the provision of various other small capital outlays which could be carried out and would be carried out if this limit were lower. We must appreciate that the County Councils Association are a powerful and very responsible body, and they are again resuming the charge in this matter. They feel that the replies they have received are not satisfactory and not such as they can accept, and they most earnestly ask the Government to review this. I appreciate that, as with most of the things we are discussing this afternoon, this is not in the Bill—it is in the scheme that will be laid. But this is our only opportunity to discuss these things. I therefore hope that if we cannot do so this evening, the noble Earl will assure us that consideration will be given to this point over the next few days, so that he can tell us something about it either to-morrow or on Third Reading, and that full consideration will be given to these important representations from the County Councils Association. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 26, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Stonham.)


I wish in a very few words to support my noble friend on this Amendment. I raised more or less the same point on Second Reading, because I am most anxious that either part-timers or smallholders should have an opportunity of increasing their output and raising their standard of life. I have lived in a district for many years where there are a number of small horticultural part-timers, and if this Amendment were adopted many of them would be able to increase their work upon their holdings and obtain a decent livelihood: it would be a step up the ladder. Without help, it is almost impossible at the present time for new people to come into either the horticultural industry or the agricultural industry, because prices are so high and land so scarce from the point of view of occupation on a tenancy. I hope the Government will accept this Amendment, in order that we may do something to help these fellows succeed.

5.24 p.m.


I am afraid that noble Lords opposite are not finding me very accommodating this afternoon. As I indicated on Second Reading, I like to be as helpful and as reasonable as I can, but the Amendments themselves must be reasonable and helpful, if I am to accept them. This Amendment seeks to empower my right honourable friend to pay grants in a case where the general conditions as to the size of the production business are not fulfilled, but where he is satisfied that the business, after completion of the proposed operations, would be capable of yielding a sufficient full-time livelihood. This suggestion is not one, I am afraid, to which we can agree. Although it means anticipating—as so many of our discussions this afternoon must—what is to be included in the statutory scheme to be brought before the House at a later stage, I think it would help the Committee if I explained how we came to decide on this lower limit and our equivalents for the horticultural scheme. Our general basic approach on working out this scheme was that the direct grants should, in general, be available to growers whose horticultural production business might normally be expected to give the equivalent full-time employment for at least one man. I am sure it is generally recognised that the test of eligibility must be designed so that it can be easily understood by applicants and easily administered by our officers throughout the country.

The first idea, that of taking the criterion of profitability, is attractive. We gave it careful thought, but we found what were a number of real snags. First, a grower would have to produce for examination by the Ministry's officers proper accounts covering a period of, say, two years prior to his application. This might not present much difficulty to the larger grower with a business and an office, but we were certain that many small growers—just those whom noble Lords opposite, and we ourselves, are so anxious to help—would not be able to produce these properly authenticated accounts for which we should be bound to ask. This would inevitably lead to hardship in cases where the applicant was unable to provide such information. That was one difficulty.

Moreover, the examination of individual accounts for every applicant would in itself impose a considerable task of accountancy on our regional officers, and one which they are not equipped to undertake. There are all the difficulties of potential profitability before or after improvement; and account would have to be taken of weather, disease, market fluctuations and growers' returns. This assessment applies to the production business—not to the holding. Noble Lords have used the words "the holding". But these production grants are not, as in the Farm Improvement Scheme, attached to the holdings, but are attached to the business. To decide whether a business was viable by that kind of measurement would, we felt, be too difficult. We therefore came to the conclusion—and the National Farmers' Union agreed with us on this—that some form of a ready-reckoner or a rule of thumb test was the one we should apply. Was the test to be the standard man-days, as in the Small Farmers' Scheme? There are great difficulties in applying this to the horticultural business. So, with the agreement of the National Farmers' Union, we came finally to the acreage test. Once you have come to the test it is a matter of judgment to arrive at the acreage which you decide should be the limit. Then, of course, there are all the people who are just under the acreage who say: "Is there not some way of getting us in?"

I know that noble Lords opposite attach great importance to this Amendment, and that is why I am endeavouring to reply fully and not in any way cursorily. The fixing of the acreage is bound to be a matter of judgment. We have taken the best advice we can, and we have arrived at this judgment of four acres of open land or these equivalents: the equivalent of so much glass, so much land under cloches, so much land in mushrooms, so much land in rhubarb and watercress. Those are the ones which we shall be applying, as set out in the White Paper, paragraph 10—the acreage of open land or these equivalents, one-twentieth glass, one-quarter for watercress and so on.

The noble Lord says, "You cannot think of everything; you must leave some leeway in case you think of something else you want to put in with an equivalent: you have thought of mushrooms and rhubarb, but you may think of something else; you must leave space for that." The Bill is now in Committee in this House. It has been discussed exhaustively in another place; it has been discussed with the organisations, the farmers' unions; the White Paper has been published since November. In these circumstances I think one is entitled to ask, why has this point been brought forward? Is there some other crop which should be put in which we could still consider? The White Paper is still in draft. I think I am entitled to say that I do not think one ought to amend the Bill at this stage by this addition, which nobody has so far suggested in all the discussions that have taken place up and down the country about this point.

The second point the noble Lord mentioned was again in the White Paper and is not in the Bill—and he was kind enough to tell me in advance that he might refer to the work of Bristol University and Mr. Fekete, who has produced a study of the functional layout of a mixed horticultural holding in the Vale of Evesham. It is a formidable document. I have not read every word of it since it was brought to my attention last night. It quotes some remarkable figures, and one of the figures that bears on the argument used by the noble Lord (he will find it at page 169 of this work, and I think he himself quoted the figure) is that an intensive vegetable holding in this survey was making an average profit of £137 per acre. We have the four-acre limit. Multiply that figure of £137 by four and you get £548, which is what a man can live on; it is about a minimum wage. It seems therefore that we were not very far out from this particular study that has been prayed in aid, and that our figure of four acres is about right.

The County Councils Association, apparently, are worried about their smallholdings. Is this £100 limit going to cut a lot of them out? I do not think so. I think there are two points to be taken into consideration here. The first is that this £100 is the gross amount on each application. We are saying that we cannot accept an application unless there is £100 worth, gross, of work applied for in the proposal. But it need not be all on one thing. If a holder wants a £50 washing machine and a £50 reflooring to his storage shed, he has his £100; he can aggregate his individual improvements. We feel that there will be very few schemes worthy of being turned into formal schemes, of being assessed and agreed to by our expert officers, which will be less than £100 gross.

After all, the grant is to be 33⅓ per cent., one-third of the cost. Is it really worth a man's while putting up schemes on which he is going to get a grant of less than £30? We feel it rather extravagant to suggest that we are cutting out a great deal of worthwhile work by having this £100 limit. I think I must say that the draft scheme, which will probably have the £100 in it (that is our present thinking), is pretty near the mark as it was set out in the White Paper. This particular Amendment would not permit variation of the £100, but would give discretion to vary this minimum of four acres, or the equivalents which we have chosen after so much care, and that is really unacceptable at this stage. I am sorry not to be more accommodating, but we have considered this point very carefully, and I cannot advise your Lordships to accept this Amendment. I hope that, after what I have been able to say, the noble Lord may see fit to withdraw it.


I am sorry the noble Earl said that this Amendment was unacceptable at this stage, because if it is not acceptable at this stage it is not acceptable at all; if we cannot amend the Bill now we cannot amend the scheme. I must say that I found his reply not only disappointing but to some extent disturbing. He said that if we wanted a reasonable response we should move reasonable and helpful Amendments. I do not think that any one of our Amendments has been unreasonable, and certainly we have tried to be helpful during the discussion. The noble Earl also pleaded in aid that some of these matters had been discussed at length in another place. That is astonishing. If we cannot usefully discuss matters here then there would appear to be no use for your Lordships' House.


Let us keep this on the level on which we started. I never suggested, and of course do not suggest, that because the matter has been discussed in another place it should not be discussed here. I merely passed the remark that this White Paper had been published in November; and on the question of whether there were other equivalents that ought to have been considered I said that although this matter has been under discussion, including discussions in another place, for a long time, this was the first time we had heard it suggested that other equivalents were desirable. I said no more.


I am very grateful to the noble Earl for that assurance, but that was how it seemed to me when I heard his words. He will be aware that I have done everything I can to expedite discussions, and I shall continue to do so. But I am in this difficulty. We felt that it was a reasonable and helpful Amendment, and that it was reasonable to suggest that the Minister should have discretion in this matter. The noble Earl spoke about all the difficulties of accountancy. But apparently you do not have difficulties of accountancy if the man has four acres. It is very much like what used to be said about applicants for the Army in the First World War, "If they are breathing they are in." If they have four acres they are in. If they have not four acres, no matter how good they are, and no matter how much they could be helped by a grant, they are out, be- yond the pale. I think it is most unfortunate. However, I hope that if, for administrative reasons—and they are important—the noble Earl cannot accept my Amendment, he will have another look at the points which have been put by the County Councils Association. They have considerable experience. They have thought enough of this matter, having raised it once with his Department and having had a reply, to go into the matter again. And they still feel that it is important. I do not think it fair to say, after that, that it is extravagant of them to suggest that many people will be excluded if the limit is held as it is. They have made this suggestion responsibly. I think it should be entertained in that spirit, and I hope that the noble Earl will do so. I think we have made our position perfectly clear. I hope that something will emerge, if not from the Amendment, at least from the suggestion when the scheme comes to be drafted. The noble Earl says that it has not yet been finally drafted. In that belief, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8:

Interpretation of Part I

(4) In the foregoing subsection "co-operative association" means any body— (b) which (whether incorporated or not) has a written constitution from which the appropriate Minister is satisfied, having regard to the provision made as to the manner in which the profits of the body are to be applied for the benefit of its members and all other relevant provisions, that the body is in substance a co-operative association,

(5) In this Part of this Act "preparation for market" does not include canning, bottling, pulping or cooking, or preserving by sterilising, by freezing, by de-hydrating, by heat or by chemical process.

5.41 p.m.

LORD STONHAM moved, in subsection (4) (b), to leave out "(whether incorporated or not)". The noble Lord said: This is a point with which I can deal very briefly. It proposes to leave out the words which would make an incorporated body, as distinct from co-operative associations, eligible for grant. I hope that this Amendment will be accepted because we think it would be unwise to allow incorporated bodies to apply for grants. The Government have already insisted on retaining the safeguards which have been introduced in Clause 2 and which will operate against producers' co-operatives in respect of grant—that is, genuine co-operatives. We cannot see why they should regard incorporated bodies as a safe outlet for Government assistance. It might well mean—this is a point that the Minister has several times raised—a considerable dilution of the total sum available, and allow a lot of public money to go to bodies which are not genuine co-operatives. I hope, therefore, that, having considered it, the Minister will accept this Amendment and delete the words "whether incorporated or not." I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 1, leave out from ("which") to ("has").—(Lord Stonham.)


I must confess that I am extremely puzzled why the noble Lord should have this distaste for incorporated bodies. There is nothing which is not respectable about them. As drawn, this is a wide clause, and surely rightly wide. We want to be able to consider applications from an association of growers which is incorporated or, although not incorporated, has a written constitution to satisfy the Minister that it has co-operative principles. Without a much clearer exposition than we have heard from the noble Lord as to what is wrong with being incorporated, I am afraid that I can see no reason at all for amending the Bill in this respect.


May I ask the Minister whether his advisers are quite sure that no such danger as I have envisaged in my brief remarks will arise?


Nobody can ever be absolutely certain that dangers will not arise. I am not a Parliamentary draftsman, but the words "whether incorporated or not", are used over and over again. I think we should be going rather far, following this short debate, to leave out these words and to say that we do not wish to allow incorporated associations to benefit. I hope that this point may be dropped. We may have to take it up on some other occasion. But we wish all genuine associations, whether incorporated or not, so long as they have a written constitution, to be eligible for grant aid. I hope the noble Lord will accept that.


In view of the Minister's explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

LORD WISE moved, in subsection (5), to leave out "by heat". The noble Lord said: A moment ago the Minister said that he did not like additions to the Bill; I hope that he will not object to this omission. All I ask is that he should put his blue pencil through two words. The point of this Amendment is that in Clause 8 the word "herbs" is covered by horticultural produce. Clause 8 also includes a definition of what is included in "preparation for market". Clause 1 (2) refers to "preparation for market" and a grant is made under this particular clause.

I wish to raise the question of sage. I raised it on Second Reading, when the noble Earl said that I had taken him rather by surprise, that he would think about it and that I might raise it again at this stage. My information is that sage comes under the definition of herbs; that it is a herb and should come into the Bill under Clause 8. But under the definition of "preparation for market" it would not do so. Apparently sage is prepared by a certain system of hot air drying over a kiln and, according to my information, it cannot be put upon the market for consumption unless it is dried in this particular way. It may be that little of it is produced except in certain areas of the country, but I think it should be admissible for any building necessary for the production of sage for market to be covered by the Bill. The effect of the definition in Clause 8 (5) is that the words "by heat" mean that it is not included. This is a position that I find difficult. If a co-operative organisation should want to erect a building in which sage, having been collected from the members of the co-operative organisation, could be dried, then the building would not be admissible for grant and the expansion of the sage industry would not materialise.

The same consideration applies in the case of an individual. A short time ago the Minister was wondering whether an individual had the same treatment as a co-operative association. In this case the individual has the same treatment; if he erects a building for the purpose of drying a herb by heat, then he is not able to apply for a grant. In another place the Minister was a little sympathetic to this particular desire for an Amendment, and I hope that as this is a very small Amendment, merely the omission of two words, but of importance to growers of sage, the Minister will agree to accept it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 14, leave out ("by heat").—(Lord Wise.)


The noble Lord wrings my heart in asking for these "very little" Amendments, but this is really a rather important Amendment. These two words—"by heat"—are very important because, although the noble Lord may not have realised it, it is this provision which enables grants to be withheld from jam factories and soft-drink organisations. It is not the intention to help those. We want to help horticultural producers and horticultural marketing businesses, and if the words "by heat" are left out we are opening the door to a great deal of processing which would result in money that is available being quickly swallowed up in a way that was not intended.

This particular Amendment might be called a "sage and onions Amendment", and perhaps if I quote the difference between those two the position will be made clear. I am advised by my experts that sage, by artificial heat treatment, is dehydrated, and that what is sold as dried sage is not the raw material. But while one may dry onions, the nature of the product, of the onion itself, is not changed in the way that sage is changed. I fear that if we agreed to the plausible words of the noble Lord we should be on a slippery slope. The noble Lord says these are only small words and would hardly be missed, so let us take them out; but I am afraid we really cannot do that, for we cannot have manufacturing processes brought into eligibility under the Bill. I do not believe that the noble Lord wants that, but I am advised that if we leave out these words that is what we shall have done in bringing a few sage growers a little nearer Government money.


Could the noble Earl say whether there is some way of getting round the difficulty with regard to plants like grain driers, which, after all, are essential in this difficult climate of ours, as are grass driers and other things? For that matter, of course, heat is actually used in the combine. Is that not counted as preparing grain for market?


Perhaps the noble Lord has not remembered that we are now discussing a Horticultural Bill. Grass driers, grain driers and combines are seldom used in horticulture and at the moment we must stick to the Horticulture Bill.


I really thought that my look of innocence would appeal to the noble Earl and that he would accept this very small Amendment; but I realise that it might make difficulties in other directions, so, without referring to sage and onions. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9:

The Horticultural Marketing Council

9.—(1) There shall be a council, to be called the Horticultural Marketing Council, which shall be a body corporate by that name with perpetual succession and a common seal and power to hold land without licence in mort-main, and shall be charged with the exercise, for the purpose of improving the marketing and distribution of, and developing the trade in, horticultural produce in Great Britain, of the functions specified in subsection (1) of the next following section and, with the consent of the Ministers, of any other functions which the Council may determine expedient to be exercised for that purpose.

(2) The Council shall consist of twenty-eight members appointed by the Ministers, of whom— (d) seven shall be persons appointed as capable of representing the interests of retailers of horticultural produce;

5.54 p.m.

EARL WALDEGRAVE moved in subsection (1) to leave out all words after "section". The noble Earl said: With your Lordships' permission, it might be convenient if I speak at the same time on Amendments Nos. 9 and 13. I believe the reason for that will emerge if I have your Lordships' permission to do so. Under the Bill as it is before your Lordships, the functions of the Horticultural Marketing Council are listed in some detail in Clause 10. Considerable thought has been given to these functions and it is the general opinion of those in the industry that this list covers the work that the Council ought to do, but it is always possible that some other activity will be discovered which, though thoroughly desirable, would not fit into the wording of Clause 10. It would be quite wrong to prevent the Council from doing a useful piece of work merely because we to-day have not been able to see sufficiently far into the future.

The words in Clause 9 which empower the Council to carry out, with the consent of the Ministers, functions not listed in Clause 10 were introduced to meet just this kind of eventuality. Concern was expressed in another place lest the words in Clause 9 should empower the Council, with the consent of the Ministers, to carry on trade and business—which is something specifically excluded from the powers of the Council. There was a fear that this wording would have overridden that prohibition, and my right honourable friend in another place, and I myself on the Second Reading, undertook to move Amendments to put the matter beyond doubt. That is what these two Amendments, taken together, would do. It was always our intention that the proviso to Clause 10 should apply to all the functions of the Council, but I am advised that as the Bill stands—and it is a question of legal drafting—there is some doubt as to whether the proviso to Clause 10 (1) bites on the latter part of Clause 9 (1). This is highly technical, but that is what I am advised by lawyers. The Amendments proposed remove this doubt by deleting the words relating to additional powers in Clause 9 and inserting them in Clause 10.

I know that noble Lords opposite would like to extend the powers of the Council for trading and we shall shortly discuss that on another Amendment. May I suggest that your Lordships accept this Amendment, which is really a clarifying one—although I am afraid I have not been very clear—for it is really non-controversial and carries out undertakings given and accepted as necessary on all sides? We can then have our full discussion on trading powers, which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham wants, later, on Amendment No. 14. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 25, leave out from ("section") to end of line 27.—(Earl Waldegrave.)


I am astonished to hear the noble Earl describe this Amendment as non-controversial, because I should have thought it was about the most controversial on the Order Paper. So far as I can see, it marks an abject retreat by the right honourable gentleman, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, because of one or two critical and angry words from Back-Benchers in another place. The history of the matter is perfectly clear. In another place, my honourable friends had a discussion on this point in Committee. They submitted that it would be desirable to give the Council power, if, eventually, at a later stage it was thought fit, to come to the appropriate Ministers and submit to them that the Council should have additional powers not so far provided in the various subsections of Clause 10; and on the Report stage in another place, the right honourable gentleman the Minister himself moved the inclusion in the Bill of the very words which the noble Earl now seeks to delete.

We are told that that is not controversial. I know it would be improper for me to quote what the right honourable gentleman said in another place, and I shall not do so; but as to the gist of his words (I am on safe ground because they were reported in The Times newspaper), it was that his reason for then moving the Amendment, which was accepted in another place, was that there was always a possibility that there might later be found to be functions which everyone would agree the Council should have the power to carry out and which might not be covered by the various categories listed in Clause 10. That is a perfectly proper and sensible suggestion. He said he would not be pleased if that happened, and did not think anyone else would be pleased, and it was always right to allow latitude for contingencies. He was not going to give the Council power to do as they liked. That was very sound reasoning and the Amendment was accepted, but not without some rather strong words from some of the right honourable gentleman's own supporters; and it is the case that the Minister gave an assurance that he would take steps to see that in your Lordships' House it was made perfectly clear that the words then inserted in Clause 9 could not possibly be used as a lever for permitting the Council to engage in trade.

However, the point is this. We are now asked to delete these words from Clause 9 and to permit the same, or rather similar, words in Clause 10. But if we look at the words we are deleting we shall see that they give the Council powers to submit to the Ministers for approval any kind of function which they deem expedient for them to exercise. But if the Committee agree that these words should be put in Clause 10 in the place which the noble Earl proposes, it will mean that they will then relate only to subsection (1) of Clause 10. If the noble Earl doubts that let me read it. Clause 9 (1) refers to the functions specified in subsection (1) of the next following section". "Subsection (1) of the next following section" is, of course, subsection (1) of Clause 10 of the Bill. Therefore, it seems to me that it is a much greater limiting factor than the noble Earl has yet considered, because it does not give the Council any power, if they feel so inclined in the future, to bring forward any suggestion which is not covered by subsection (1) and the various proposals made in Clause 10, paragraphs (a) to (j). So this is not non-controversial. It is not just a moving of words from one clause to another and having no effect at all. It definitely and absolutely limits the powers which the Minister himself gave in an Amendment which he moved—and for very good reasons.

Indeed, when in another place his honourable friends attacked him for what he had said, my honourable friends rose to defend him; and the Minister said he did not need any such protection because the Amendment he was then moving was common sense and a rather useful provision. I still think it was common sense and a rather useful provision. I still think there is no reason at all why it should be taken out of the Bill now. I think we ought to protect the Minister from his friends, so that when it goes back to another place it will go back unamended in this regard, and it will still be a common-sense and desirable provision to have. I hope that the noble Earl will admit, in the light of that explanation, that there is a substantial difference between the powers the Council may then have, as the Bill stands, and those which will exist if we accept the Amendment he has moved. I hope that even now the Government will look at this question—there is still time—and say that the thoughts they had in another place were right, and they ought to have the courage of their convictions and stick to them.


I was earlier this afternoon admonished by the noble Lord for saying that there were certain discussions in another place. Now we have gone into very great detail of what was said in another place, and I think in too great a detail. I think we have to discuss these Amendments on their merits as they stand before us now. We must obviously admit, to be realistic, that these three lines were added to the Bill after discussion in another place. But the point is that it was not realised at the time these lines were added, in the place where they were added, that it would empower the Council, with the Minister's consent, to do something which nobody wanted the Council to do: that is, to trade. That is what I am advised. And this is not in any sense an abject retreat; it is nothing as exciting as that. This is a piece of very difficult technical draftsmanship. What has happened is that, after discussion, we have put words in the Bill which have been put in, I am advised, in the wrong place. They empower the Minister to do, no doubt, all sorts of desirable things, but also empower him to do things which nobody wanted him to do—namely, trade. I am afraid I am not convinced by the arguments and I think that the Amendments that I have proposed are right, proper and necessary, and are no abject retreat at all.


Will the noble Earl say whether he still adheres to the point that the Bill remains exactly the same as it is now if we accept these two Amendments? Is he seriously saying that after the Committee stage in another place, when the Minister had, for all I know, a couple of weeks to consult his advisers, he did not find that they were wrong; that they went through all this business, with a couple of weeks to think about it, and they only themselves discovered the position where one or two Back-Benchers made a few casual remarks? That is something I, for one, cannot believe. I am sure our Ministers are far more responsible than that.


If the noble Lord puts it to me, I can say only that this is a technical matter of drafting, and I do not know the time schedule at all. I do not follow the proceedings to that extent. I can only say that it was not realised that the words in this case would, accidentally, give the Minister the power to consent to the Horticultural Marketing Council engaging in trade; this was not what was intended. I am advised that if we put the words, as I suggest they should be put now, in a different place in the Bill, they will do what we want them to do and will not do something we do not want them to do.

6.9 p.m.

LORD STONHAM moved, after subsection (1) to insert: () The functions of the Horticultural Marketing Council shall include the provision of a common container service.

The noble Lord said: We regard this matter as perhaps one of the most important things which the advisory Council could do. At present, the position is that every wholesaler has his own returnable containers, bushel boxes, half-bushel boxes, trugs, potato boxes and half-boxes, and so on. They are sent to the grower, who may at any one time have on his farm the empties of a score or more different salesmen from all parts of the country; and if a particular market is returning low prices, then those empties stay on the farm unused for perhaps weeks at a time. When the produce is sold on the market to a retailer in the same town it is not so bad, because the empties come back to the wholesaler perhaps in a couple of weeks, but, even so, the retailer has to sort them out and deliver back to twenty or more different salesmen in the market. But vast quantities of produce are re-con- signed from London markets to other markets all over the country; and thence, from those other markets, to smaller towns.

For example, you might have a Case where cherries grown in Kent are sent to Covent Garden, then on to Bristol, and from Bristol to four or five towns around, all over Somerset. Then, when those containers have been emptied, and the cherries sold, the containers must go back from those various towns to Bristol; from Bristol to Covent Garden; and then they have got to be sorted out again and sent back to the farmers in Kent. Of course, the freight costs are absolutely fantastic. But the biggest difficulty is that the container has been away three or four months on a single journey: doing just one job; it has been away three or four months. In fact, the average life of a bushel box, which costs 8s., is three or four journeys, when it should be twenty.

Eventually, of course, the cost of all this has to be borne by the grower. He must pay, because it all has to come out of the price. With a common container service such as we should like to see, the cost would be reduced by two-thirds. The railways or the wholesalers would draw their empties from a single depôt in each market; the quantities held by farmers would be drastically reduced, because they would not have empties from twenty different salesmen but one type of empty, according to the type of produce; and retailers buying at the market would return empties to the same market depôt instead of to twenty different salesmen. Then, the country buyers, instead of sending all these containers back to the market from which they bought them, would return them to the nearest depôt, from which they could go to the nearest farmers to be filled up again. In that way, long hauls would be reduced to a minimum.

Mr. Bowman, the Chairman-elect of the Horticultural Advisory Council, and a gentleman of very great experience, has stated that one of his prime objectives is to reduce the cost of distribution, and I am sure that that is an objective which we all share. There is no single item which would make a greater contribution to reducing that cost than a common container service. I appreciate that the Minister is in some difficulty because of the fears—not his fears, but the fears that have been expressed—that the Advisory Council might mix up in something awful known as "trade". I do not want to suggest that they should do anything so dreadful as that, but I submit that the Council could do this particular job of providing a container service without the expenditure of public money and without, in fact, themselves trading at all.

I mean this quite seriously—and if the noble Earl has any doubt I will explain exactly what I mean. A very great part of the producer's capital is tied up in containers which are largely unused. His stock is probably 30 times as large as he would need to use on any one day. The number he must carry in stock might be 50 times as large as the number of containers he would need actually to use. I believe that producers would gladly provide the initial finance for this scheme, which would quickly become self-supporting; and I am sure that anyone as experienced as Mr. Bowman could devise a satisfactory formula, provided the Bill gave the necessary authority. This Amendment would give him that authority. It does not confer trading powers; it does not oblige the Council to start a common container service: it merely confers the right to provide such a service if the Council decide that it is a practicable and a desirable thing to do.

This is a matter—everybody knows it—of absolutely first-class importance to the industry. If the noble Earl is unable to accept the Amendment as it stands, I hope that he will at least consider the possibility of making a recommendation approving the idea of a common container service (which is absolutely common sense, and something which should have been done years ago), so that the Advisory Council can see whether it is possible to devise a scheme to be put into operation, while at the same time avoiding going into trade themselves. It would be much easier for them to do it if they went into so-called trade themselves, but I think that it could even be done without that. I hope that no doctrinaire consideration will prevent the Government from encouraging something which is so obviously necessary and desirable. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 27, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Stonham.)

6.15 p.m.


I have listened with great interest to the exposition of the noble Lord. I believe that here I can be more helpful than I have been in regard to some of the suggestions that have been put forward. I believe I can be helpful in this sense, that I think that the noble Lord is tilting at a nonexistent windmill. He has said that in this particular Amendment he is not asking for power to trade. I am bound to say that I think it is a little difficult to know how you provide a service without having the power to trade. His Amendment reads: The functions of the Horticultural Marketing Council shall include the provision of a common container service. If they are physically to provide these containers—and, in another Amendment later on, we have the words, "the manufacture, purchase, sale and hiring out"—I suggest that they really are engaging in trade. Yet that is something which, on this Amendment, at least, the noble Lord admits he is not asking for.


I do not want to be pedantic, but I would remind the noble Earl that we are talking about the provision of a common container service, not the provision of containers. I am suggesting that the Horticultural Council should provide a service—a framework, if you like—within which other people, under their guidance, can provide containers.


I heard what the noble Lord said the first time. I was coming to that, perhaps rather slowly. That is where I think we can be more helpful. But we have to approach this matter with care, because, if I may put it in this way, in so far as the provision of this service did in fact entail the engagement in trade, I do not think the Horticultural Marketing Council, with or without this Amendment, would be entitled to do it. But there is obviously a great deal of room for improvement in the container situation. We all admit that; and I think that the noble Lord has made out a very good case for a further inquiry into the merits and demerits of a common container service. If the noble Lord wants to know, I am able to tell him that I think, and my advice is, that under the Bill as drawn, and envisaging what the Council can do, the Council would probably be able to undertake this activity under Clause 10 (1) (e), which empowers them to provide an information service, and so on.

Of course, I cannot promise that the Council will do this, but I think that they should institute an inquiry and research, formulate schemes, and so on, which the trade themselves would carry out with the trade's finance. I think that this would probably be within the powers of the Council. But I am bound to say that I do not think they would have powers to follow up any such scheme which they themselves, or through some sub-committee they cause to be set up, might suggest by operating this service, because that would be trading, and that is not allowed. That is not for doctrinaire reasons, but because you do not get a body constituted like this drawing its money from the sections of the industry happily working in competition with one section, or more than one section, of the industry at trade. We set our face against that. I do not believe that this Amendment is necessary.


Perhaps I could interrupt the noble Earl, in the hope of curtailing this discussion. He said that probably the Council would have power to formulate such a scheme. I imagine that he must have taken advice about this. He will appreciate that there is a great deal of difference between saying that a Council would have power to formulate a scheme and that a Council probably would have that power. Could he clarify that?


I am not prepared to go much further than that, because I cannot give any orders to the Council. The Council have wide powers, and I think they would very much resent it if, before they were even set up and the Bill was through, they were given orders as to what they were to do. If the noble Lord can accept my assurance, with the word "probably", and without any undertaking that they will be told to do it, or that they will do it, or anything of that kind; that Clause 10 (1) (e) will probably cover this problem, I hope he may see his way to withdraw the Amendment, which I believe to be unnecessary.


I am grateful to the noble Earl for pointing out to me that the Council cannot be told. He is absolutely right. I am satisfied with the words he has used, although I cannot call it an assurance. I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD STONHAM moved to add to subsection (2) (d): "and shall include members of co-operative societies". The noble Lord said: As your Lordships will be aware, it is proposed that the Council should be drawn from sections of the community representing growers, independent persons, wholesalers, retailers and members who are engaged as employees in the industry. We seek to ensure that one of the seven representatives of retailers shall be a representative from a retail co-operative society or one approved by the co-operative societies. I cannot understand why these words are not already in the Bill. The co-operative societies represent a most important section of retailing, and if they had one representative out of seven it certainly would not be an undue proportion and would probably represent less than the proportion of retailing which they do. Moreover, this Amendment is not only common sense, but it is in line with the recommendations of the Committee presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, and I cannot understand why the Government, who in this measure have followed the recommendations of that Committee so closely, have not adopted this one.

It is imperative that the retailers should be represented by all who have a special type of interest: for example, small private traders, super-markets, chain stores and, of course, the co-operative societies. If the Government had given an undertaking that all important retailing interests would be represented it would have covered the point; and if the noble Earl could give such an undertaking now, I should be quite prepared to withdraw the Amendment, because there would be no need for it. But the difficulty in our minds is that during the Report stage in another place the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Agriculture would give a categorical assurance only that he would consult the representatives of the Co-operative Movement on the retail side before appointing the members of the Council. When pressed, he declined to give an assurance that members of the co-operative societies would be represented on the Council. We are all aware that consultation is not representation. Surely in such a case representation ought not to be denied. As I have said, I do not understand why the Runciman Committee recommendation has not been followed. I do not see how, in equity, in justice or in sound common sense, seeing that we want full and proper representation on this Council, this Amendment can be denied; and I hope that both the Government and your Lordships will admit the justice of this claim by accepting the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 43, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Stonham.)


Under this clause the Bill makes provision for representation of the three main interests in the industry—namely, the growers, the wholesalers (who include the importers) and the retailers. These are the main groups who will eventually have to finance the Council, and in each of these broad divisions there are a large number of sectional interests. Among the retailers, with which perhaps we are immediately concerned, there are, in addition to the retail co-operative societies, the florists, the chain stores and the super-markets, to say nothing of the ordinary greengrocer who handles the greater part of fruit and vegetables. We think it would be wrong to single out any one of these sections and lay it down in the Bill that that section shall be represented on this Council. If we included one, we should in all fairness have to include others, and this we believe to be quite impracticable in a Council of this size. Therefore, some of these various interests will have to share representation. We do not think it would be right to accept this Amendment, which would make it statutorily mandatory that we should have people from this particular section on the Council, and I must resist it.


This is a rather nostalgic subject with me, and a very old one. The whole idea, when we come to a Bill like this in which Government money and the development of trade from and with the aid of that money is involved, is that there are two great sections of retailers in the country. One section is the ordinary, small or large, and multiple in some cases, retail trader who works on the ordinary lines; and many of these traders are very good people. The other section is the organised consumers. They are not merely a great body of customers, but they are customers who have banded themselves together to look at these matters from the point of view of the consumer. There was a day when we had more enlightened Governments than the present one, apparently, even though the co-operatives' case was first refused in the course of the First World War by Mr. Lloyd George. That was about the beginning of the end of the Liberal Party, when he transferred so many millions of co-operators from the Liberal Party elsewhere. But in the years that succeeded, co-operative representation became almost a sine qua non with Government after Government in these great issues concerning retail trade in which the consumers were especially interested. Then the co-operative case was asked for. Representation was provided. They represent a great section of the community—with their families certainly not fewer than 30 million people. There are 12 million members of the retail Co-operative Movement. The noble Earl brushes them aside. Perhaps he is thinking of the little village store; but they are part of a great national movement and have great influence in the retail trade, and in their proper position they look after the consumers' economic needs. I am very disappointed and surprised that such a case as this can be so easily ignored by the Government. We must remember that.


May I ask the noble Earl a question? Under paragraph (d) of subsection (2) of Clause 9, seven persons will be capable of representing the interests of retailers of horticultural produce. Surely that would not bar a representative of the co-operative societies?


Of course not. That is exactly the position, and I am glad my noble friend has raised it. The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition must not think, and I did not in any way intend to do so, that I am denigrating the great Co-operative Movement for which he has done so much. All I said was that that is a sectional interest, and that we did not want to write sectional interests into the Bill. As my noble friend has said, there is no reason whatever why one or more than one of the persons appointed as capable of representing the interests of retailers or, indeed, under paragraph (c), a person capable of representing the interests of wholesalers should not be from the Co-operative Movement. They probably will. What I am saying is that I would resist writing into the Bill one particular section that had to be represented, because it vitiates the whole principle that we have written into the Bill: there are three sections of the industry; the producers, the wholesalers and the retailers. Once we put in a specific kind of wholesaler or retailer, then it seems to us that there would be no stopping or no justification for stopping.


May I ask the noble Earl a question? Is there any reason at all why the specific interests of consumers should not be recognised? The Co-operative Movement represents the consumers' interests as distinct from the commercial interests of retailers.


That definition of the Co-operative Movement might not be accepted by everybody. I am afraid it does not alter my conviction that we should be departing from this matter of principle, which has been taken after great care and attention, and which has not by any means been cast aside lightly, as the noble Viscount suggested. I am afraid I must resist specifying any one type of retailer producer.


But it is different. I beg your Lordships' pardon for interrupting, and I do not want to do so unnecessarily. Surely the issue is the question of consumer interest, which does not apply to any other section to which the noble Earl is referring. Is it not about time that in all these issues the consumer should, for once, at any rate, have a chance?


Of course, in your Lordships' House we are allowed to range fairly widely. If there was an Amendment before your Lordships that some organised body of consumers should be represented on this Council, of course we should be discussing it. But that is not the Amendment on the Order Paper. The Amendment is that, under Clause 9 (2) (d), one of the retailers should be from the Co-operative Movement, which is not the same thing.


I must say that that is an extraordinary statement of the position. If the noble Earl was prepared to say to us to-night: "There are going to be seven representatives of retailers in the country, and in those circumstances we shall certainly see that the large body of 12 million members of an organised co-operative consumers' movement, both wholesale and retail, are given one representative", we would understand it. But we have no such assurance. What are you going to do? If we cannot get you to put it into the Bill, are you going to give us a pledge that they will be represented? And if not, why not? Or are you going to some of the larger capitalist organisations who are so prone to-day to take advantage of every take-over bid there is? I should like to know where we are.


I think I have spoken quite clearly and explained the Government's position on the Amendment before us. I am not prepared to give undertakings, and I am afraid I must ask your Lordships to resist this Amendment. As my noble friend Lord Brocket said quite clearly, there is nothing whatever to prevent the members of this movement or any other movement from being one of the representatives.


Except the goodwill of the Government in appointing them. Cannot we have it quite straight now? Is it the will of the Government to say that they are not going to commit themselves to the idea that we have fought for for years, and obtained over and over again—representation of this large organised body of consumers?


Does the noble Viscount wish me to reply?


Certainly. If not, we will go straight to Division.


I think we shall have to divide. My right honourable friend in another place and I take the line that we do not think it advisable to write these words into the Bill at this place.


The noble Earl will remember that in the course of my speech I said that if he would give an undertaking, without writing the words

Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 [Functions of Council]:


We had the discussion on this Amendment when we were discussing Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 8, line 28, at end insert: ("and, subject to the consent of the Ministers, shall include any other functions which the Council may determine to be expedient to be exercised for the purpose specified in subsection (1) of the foregoing section.").—(Earl Waldegrave.)

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Offences in relation to schemes]:

6.47 p.m.

LORD STONHAM moved, in subsection (4), to leave out "one hundred" and insert "twenty" [pounds]. The noble Lord

into the Bill, that a member of the retail co-operative societies would be included among the retailers, then I would withdraw the Amendment. Will he give such an undertaking now? If so, I will withdraw the Amendment.


I am afraid I am not in a position to give the undertaking.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 15; Not-Contents, 36.

Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Greenhill, L. Stonham, L.
Amwell, L. Lawson, L. Strabolgi, L.
Boyd-Orr, L. Lucan, E. [Teller.] Taylor, L.
Burden, L. [Teller.] Pethick-Lawrence, L. Williams, L.
Crook, L. Stansgate, V. Wise, L.
Aberdare, L. Clitheroe, L. Merrivale, L.
Allerton, L. Colville of Culross, V. Morley, E.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Cork and Orrery, E. Newall, L.
Ampthill, L. Digby, L. Onslow, E. [Teller.]
Ashton of Hyde, L. Ellenborough, L. Radnor, E.
Auckland, L. Hampton, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Bathurst, E. Hastings, L. St. Oswald, L.
Boston, L. Horsbrugh, B. Som̃ers, L.
Bridgeman, V. Jellicoe, E. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Brocket, L. Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Teviot, L.
Carrington, L. Long, V. Tweedsmuir, L.
Chesham, L. Mansfield, E. Waldegrave, E.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

said: In moving this Amendment (and I hope that we can discuss also the next one; they are on a precisely similar point) I wish to draw attention to the maximum penalties which can be inflicted for so-called offences. I think that they are far more severe than any of us could possibly countenance. Both these Amendments are designed to reduce the penalties for offences under this Bill when it becomes an Act. Your Lordships will note that I am not moving an Amendment to reduce the far larger penalties—a fine of £500, and two years' imprisonment—for offences on indictment, but only those for the lesser offences, which I think are the offences that the small growers are likely to commit, largely through inadvertence or what the Bill calls recklessness.

I would mention that in subsection (2) (a) it is an offence knowingly or recklessly to make a statement which is false in a material particular. Since the Government have accepted none of our Amendments, there are some 40,000 out of the 70,000 growers who, we are now convinced, will not benefit at all. Yet they will all be required to make returns; they will all be required to pay levies, and they will all, if your Lordships allow this clause to go through unamended, be liable, on summary conviction, not on indictment, to fines up to £100 or three months' imprisonment, or both. In the County of Worcestershire this year a number of horticulturists had incomes, not of £500 or £600 from crops; all they got for a year's hard labour was £50. What are those growers going to do? If this happens they are not going to get help under this Bill. When they get long documents asking them to make returns and ordering them to pay for the finances of this Council, supposing one of them should see fit to take up the form and write on it "Go to Hell!" and send it back to the Advisory Council, would that be regarded as a reckless statement for which the unfortunate grower would be sent to prison for three months?

I may be quoting an extreme case, but time and time again we have had it mentioned, quite truly, that these are small people—people farming a few acres; people with perhaps no books at all, with very little idea of accounts and small incomes. These are the people we are going to subject to the possibility of these penalties, fines or imprisonment, for recklessly making a statement which eventually turns out to be false. Many of these people do not keep books; some of them earn considerably less than the average farm worker. Stubborn individualists they may be; hard-working people they certainly are; foolish they sometimes are. But I think it would be an absolute injustice, and something that we ought not to permit, to allow this Advisory Council, which we will not allow to do a pennyworth of trade, to have power to send, or to start a process which may well send, any one of these 70,000 people to prison.

Therefore we ask that for the first and most minor offence, instead of the maximum of £100 the fine should be a maximum of £20; and for the second, medium, offence, which carries also the penalty of imprisonment, we suggest a maximum fine of half the figure in the Bill: not £100 but £50, and leaving out altogether the penalty of imprisonment. I think it is obnoxious to all of us to think that for this kind of offence which is not an offence on indictment, not real fraud or anything like that, these penalties should be made possible. We have nothing to say against the power of the courts to punish these people if they commit these offences, of course: we agree that the power should be there, but without the penalties at present laid down. It is no use saying that a reasonable magistrate will not impose these penalties or send these people to prison. I do not think we should put the responsibility on to the magistrates, reasonable or otherwise. I think we should say that these penalties are excessive, and we ask the Government to accept these Amendments.

The noble Earl has been good enough to say that I have been putting forward reasonable and helpful Amendments. I think that these Amendments fall within that category, and I hope that he is going to give us some help in this way. I should feel it very much against my conscience to be a party to inflicting this kind of penalty on these fellows, whom I know so well, whom in many ways I have been with, lived with and worked with. They have a lot the matter with them, but we ought not to put them in this position. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept these Amendments, the first one of which I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 10, line 23, leave out ("one hundred") and insert ("twenty").—(Lord Stonham.)


I hope that the noble Earl in charge of the Bill will give serious consideration to the matters raised in these Amendments, because for the first time this afternoon I find myself in considerable sympathy with the Opposition, although I do not go quite so far as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, apparently wishes to go in regard to his first Amendment, in saying that the penalty for not keeping books should be only £20. I think that it would be well if it were £20 for a first offence, but a considerably greater amount, perhaps the £100, for a second or subsequent offence. It might well be that a man who wanted to practise various forms of dishonesty would find that it would pay him well to be fined £20 once a year in view of the great benefits that he would receive from not keeping books. But I think that for a first offence £20 would be sufficient.

When we come to the second Amendment I cannot altogether agree that no one should ever be sent to prison after summary conviction for making a false statement; but here again I think that it should not be done for a first offence. I would ask the noble Earl to take back this clause and to see between now and the Report stage whether he cannot agree that the penalty for a first offence should be merely the imposition of, say, a £50 fine but that for a second or subsequent offence the fine should be the full £100, with or without the three months' imprisonment, as the presiding magistrates may decide. After all, in this country imprisonment still carries a stigma—and quite rightly; but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, when he says that many of the horticultural communities are people who are not conversant with figures. All of us who have anything to do with agriculture, as I have in a fairly large way, know how completely bored and, to use the vernacular, "fed up" we get with the reams of Government forms that we are obliged to fill up at all too frequent intervals. It is quite understandable that, in a moment of exasperation, a man may well make a deliberately wrong statement. I submit that three months' imprisonment for that is much too great a penalty to be inflicted. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, says, we must not just leave it to the good sense of the magistrates. Occasionally, magistrates do not show good sense. I think we should take out this provision whereby imprisonment for three months can be inflicted for a first offence.


Before the noble Earl replies, I should like to add a few words in support of what the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has just said. My sympathies, if this Amendment should go to a Division, would be on the side of the Government; but I should like to ask the noble Earl if he could reconsider the matter before the Report stage.

6.58 p.m.


I have been most interested in what has been said, and I must admit that I have some sympathy with the first Amendment. I know that an offence under the first subsection of Clause 12 will generally be an offence of ignorance; and, of course, although ignorance can never be a defence, I should have thought that, the magistrates' system being as we know it, the magistrates, in fixing the fine, would take into account the fact that this was a small offence, committed through ignorance, or, as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said, through pique. But I think noble Lords have forgotten that in this clause we are putting forward maximum fines, and there are cases when this kind of non-compliance with the regulations could be deliberate and could be repeated.

The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, asked, could not we put in a lower limit for a first offence? That is something that I will certainly discuss with my right honourable friend before the Report stage. I can give no undertakings and, as noble Lords are aware, the timetable is rather tight, but I will certainly discuss it with my right honourable friend and hope to be able to say more about it on the Report stage. I have a lot less sympathy with the reduction of these maximum penalties under the next Amendment, however, because in nearly all cases here the offences will have been deliberate. Nearly all of them contain an element of fraud, and amount to attempts to avoid a fair share of payment to the Council by false statements or false records. These offences might involve attempts to escape from liabilities, and if treated too lightly might jeopardise success of a charges scheme. The deliberate avoidance of a fair share of the cost of the Horticultural Marketing Council cannot be regarded lightly. Another offence covered is the unauthorised disclosure of information. That could be very serious, and this provision is to protect growers and traders against disclosure of confidential information by officials of the Council.


May I interrupt the noble Earl? Surely unauthorised disclosure of information would be punishable with the penalties which we do not seek to amend. I believe the noble Earl will find that that is so.


I know that the Amendment of the noble Lord deals not with indictable offences but only with summary offences, but I am advised that disclosure of confidential information could be dealt with summarily. Perhaps I may detain your Lordships for a moment, because in the Second Reading debate I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, on this point was under one or two misconceptions which I should like now to put right. He implied (and I hope I do not impute to him anything he did not say or think) that small growers would have to pay the levy and that non-compliance might involve them in fines or even imprisonment, although they might not benefit through grants or the Council; and the noble Lord thought that that was very wrong. I am bound to say that on a careful reading of Hansard I feel there were a number of misconceptions. First, failure to pay a levy is not an offence under this Act. The Council will have resort only to civil procedure. The only offences here are for such matters as failure to comply with registration or record keeping, the making of false statements, the falsifying of records and unauthorised disclosure of information. Failure to pay the levy would not be dealt with under the Act, for that would come under civil procedure.

The other thing to remember is that the charges scheme is not fixed in the Bill, and until it is fixed it cannot definitely be said that some or all small growers will be required to pay a levy at all. We do not know. The charges scheme may have limits but it has not yet been worked out; so I think the noble Lord went a little far there. I must ask your Lordships to resist these Amendments as they stand now on the Marshalled List. But although they are unacceptable, I can give an assurance on the possibility of putting in words to lower the fine for a first offence: I will consult my right honourable friends upon that and come back to it on the Report stage.


I am most grateful to the noble Earl for his helpful and informative reply. I am grateful, too, to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, with both of whose objections to my Amendments I am in full agreement. I can only regret that I did not consult him before tabling them, for the result might have been better. I must say, also, that I appreciate what the noble Earl has said about the second of my two Amendments, but I understand that it may well be possible, if I table another Amendment on the Report stage or Third Reading, for the matter to be considered again. Perhaps I might ask the noble Lord, the Lord Chairman of Committees, for his guidance. I understand that the Report stage of the Bill will be taken to-morrow and that the Third Reading will be on Thursday; and before an Amendment can be tabled for the Report stage the Bill has to be printed—because we have already agreed to certain Amendments. I would ask the noble Lord whether, in his experience, it would be in order for me to table an Amendment not for the Report stage but for the Third Reading, to give the Minister more time to consider the matter and to provide more time for printing.


Unless Standing Orders are amended, I believe I am right in saying that while the Report stage is to be taken to-morrow, the noble Lord can put down an Amendment on Third Reading, provided it is in writing, and printed.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. Perhaps it would be more convenient if I put down for Third Reading this particular Amendment or one on which we might agree through the usual channels, for the noble Earl's consideration on Thursday.


I do not want there to be any misunderstanding here. I cannot give and am not giving any undertaking that I can or shall be able to accept any alteration to the Bill; but if we find it is possible to put an Amendment on Third Reading, and if noble Lords think it advisable so to do, we can discuss this matter again then. I want it to be quite clearly understood, however, that I cannot give an undertaking to vary the Bill on Third Reading.


I was perfectly clear that there was no undertaking, but I thought the noble Earl would welcome another discussion after he had had time to think about this. It is in that belief that I propose to put down an Amendment in time for Third Reading, and now ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clauses 13 to 19 agreed to.

LORD STONHAM moved, after Clause 19 to insert the following new clause:

Particulars of Sale. Amendment of 16 & 17 Geo. 5. c. 39. s. 1

"The following subsection shall be substituted for subsection (4) of section one of the Horticultural Produce (Sales on Commission) Act, 1926 (which imposes a duty on certain salesmen of horticultural produce to record and deliver particulars of sales)— (4) The provisions of the Act shall apply to the sale of horticultural produce unless the owner or consignor sends to the salesman before the sale authority in writing to sell the produce otherwise than in accordance with such provisions."

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is on quite a simple point. It is a change that we should like to see written into the Bill for the greater protection of growers in their transactions with the wholesalers. We believe that it will be welcomed by all honest wholesalers—who are the overwhelming majority. Clause 20 as it now stands embodies an Amendment which was accepted by the right honourable gentleman the Minister in another place and which extended to one month the period during which a grower has the right to inspect a salesman's books relating to his own consignments. I believe that prior to that the period was about ten days.

The new clause which I ask your Lordships to accept would give growers the automatic protection of the 1926 Bill, unless they decide to opt out from that protection. I really disagree in advance (if I have to) with any suggestion that this is a matter which ought to be left for the Council to decide; because if, when the Bill becomes an Act, there is any controversy in the matter (and I hope there will not be) then the Council will have sufficient far more important matters on their hands—matters which I hope will be of a non-controversial character between the different elements of the Council.

I feel that this new clause is in line with the views of the Runciman Committee, and in any case I do not think it will be opposed by a single wholesaler. The whole point, as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has said, is that many of these growers are not very good business people in the sense of keeping books and so on; and when they get very bad returns from wholesalers in the market and are extremely disappointed with the results they have the right to inspect the books of the wholesaler within a period of one month. On the other hand, in order to exercise that right, as the law now stands they have to opt in—and many, of course, are not aware of that. A great many neglect to take that precaution and therefore have not their rights in full. All we now ask, therefore, is that they should be completely protected, as they will be under existing legislation amended as my Amendment now proposes, unless they opt out—which I do not think they are likely to do.

I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 19, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Stonham.)


I hope to be able to persuade the Committee that this Amendment goes too far. The Committee may be aware—the noble Lord who moved is probably aware—that when this Bill was in another place, Clause 20, which had not been in originally, was added to cover this point. What is between us is that the noble Lord opposite does not think Clause 20 goes far enough, and I am bound to say that I think his Amendment goes too far.

I am well aware that the Minister of Agriculture announced, in 1957, I think it was, that the Government accepted the recommendations of the Runciman Committee for the amendment of the Horticultural Produce (Sales on Commission) Act, and this is still the Government's view. Nevertheless, I must ask the Committee to reject this new clause, for these reasons. Our acceptance of those recommendations of the Runciman Committee on the relations between growers and salesmen did not commit us to accept every detail of those recommendations. We fully accept the central view that "it is best left to the trade themselves to establish standards of business conduct and to enforce them." It is extremely difficult to enforce standards of business conduct by law. The trade organisations concerned are at the present moment giving active attention to this problem; and the Horticultural Marketing Council, when set up, will be a very suitable medium indeed for discussion between the different interests on this matter. My first reason, therefore, for rejecting this clause is that, before we have set up the Horticultural Marketing Council at all and before it is at work, it would be premature to make this radical alteration in the law dealing with sales on commission.

My second reason is that, by itself, it would be unfair. At present the provisions of the Act, which require the salesmen to give a detailed account of sales, obtain only when the grower has sent an advice note—as the noble Lord opposite knows—and in fact asked for details. But the new proposal would make all transactions subject to the Act, whether or not the grower sent an advice note, unless the grower informed the salesman in writing that he wished to contract out of the Act. That is a far-reaching change and it would give rise to difficulties. I do not myself see many growers bothering to contract out—not that they wish all this to be done. It would impose this great burden just because they did not fill up the form. They might be perfectly satisfied with the present arrangements they have, but unless they have specifically contracted out they would be concerned by it; and one knows the difficulties.

But more important, I think it would be unfair. At present the Act imposes on the grower the obligation to provide an advice note if he wishes to take advantage of its provisions. The new proposal, however, would impose penalties on the salesman for failure to comply with the provisions of the Act without imposing any obligation on the grower to let the salesman know what he is sending him. I do not want to give the impression that we object in principle to the basic purposes of this new clause, because that would be quite wrong. It may well be found that something of the kind will be necessary. But my objection is that, as it stands, it is both premature and too far-reaching—unfair is the word I used and will stick to. We are starting on an era of consultation within the trade, between all sections of the industry. That is the really good and exciting thing we have in this Horticultural Marketing Council, and I am sure we should let the Council start this and have a go at this problem before we go into such an extensive amendment of the 1926 Act. I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his Amendment for this new clause, and, on second thoughts, agree that Clause 20 is a very reasonable compromise.


If I may say so with respect, I think that the noble Earl improves the later the hour becomes. I think that was about the best of the many replies he has made this afternoon; it was certainly the one which most convinced me. I am satisfied that it was valuable to have the discussion, but I think his arguments are most convincing and I am going to withdraw the Amendment. As this is the last time I shall speak this evening, I should like to express to the noble Earl our grateful thanks, not for anything we have achieved on this side by our Amendments, because I am afraid the results have been meagre if not entirely negligible. But we are grateful to him for his courtesy and consideration, and for the careful way he has attempted to answer every one of the points which we have put before the Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes past seven o'clock.