HL Deb 26 March 1968 vol 290 cc953-7

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Market Development Scheme (Extension of Period) Order, 1968, laid before the House on February 28, 1968, be approved. This Order extends the Market Development Scheme for a period of three years from March 31 this year. The Scheme was first introduced in 1962 for three years and a similar Order extending that initial period was made and approved by the House in 1965.

An unusual feature of this Scheme is that, subject to Ministerial approval of grants, the Farmers' Union are charged with the responsibility of running it. They constituted for this purpose the Agricultural Market Development Executive Committee, and for six years since its inception this Committee has been fortunate to sit under the very able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. The Scheme has assisted a wide range of development in agricultural and horticultural marketing and it is expected that grant paid or due to be paid on projects approved by by the end of March will have amounted to £1.2 million. About one half of this sum has been used to assist producers to organise their marketing on a cooperative basis. Since early October last year it has been possible for co-operative projects of this kind to tie assisted under the Agricultural and Horticultural Cooperation Scheme administered by the recently established Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Cooperation. Various grants for promoting or developing co-operative marketing including those previously available from A.M.D.E.C., have been incorporated into this unified scheme. A.M.D.E.C. have therefore lost part of their work. Nevertheless, an important task in the general, as distinct from the co-operative, field of marketing remains to be done and the continuation of the Scheme will enable A.M.D.E.C. to make its distinctive contribution for another three years. To cover this extension we propose that the money available for these grants should be increased from the present figure of £1½ million to £2 million.

I am glad to say that the unions agree with us on the future of the scheme, but as the burden on A.M.D.E.C. will be less in future they will be reconstituting the Committee as a smaller body. They have also told us that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has decided that the time has come when someone else should take over the chair. His resignation will be a loss. I must say that when I was told this in that crisp way, I thought that they were guilty of an understatement. I should like to take this opportunity to ray my tribute and, I am sure, the tribute of this House, to the constructive and conscientious contribution which the noble Lord and his colleagues on the Committee have made in their six years of office. I speak for the Department and my right honourable friend when I say we are extremely grateful to them for having given so freely time, experience and wise judgment. The Farmers Union have told us that they would like to appoint Mr. J. G. Jenkins as Chairman of the reconstituted Committee, and I am happy to say that this has been agreed to. I wish him well. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Market Development Scheme (Extension of Period) Order 1968 be approved.—(Lord Beswick.)


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for describing to us the scheme in this Order, and may I specially thank him for his kind and generous words about me, which I can assure him are not in the least deserved. I have been very happy to serve as the Chairman of this Committee for the last six years. It has been a most interesting and worthwhile experience. I think it is a great credit to the Farmers' Union to bring together such a strong and able committee.

I am sorry to see that the scheme has changed in its nature, and it is now cut down, as the noble Lord has said, to about half its size. In fact, as the noble Lord knows, the recommendation of the A.M.D.E.C. Committee and myself was that the scheme should be wound up altogether and merged into a new Central Council. I thought that this would be more convenient for everybody. It is unwise to have too many different bodies operating in the same field, and I thought it would be the best arrangement. However, the new arrangements which the noble Lord described are, I think, the best possible in the circumstances, and, for my part. I wish the new Committee every success. My best wishes go to their new and very able Chairman, Mr. John Jenkins, who now succeeds me.

May I just say one valedictory word about the work of A.M.D.E.C. as it passes? This, I think, was an unusual scheme, as the noble Lord has said, in that the Farmers' Unions were asked to administer it. It therefore put a great strain both on them and on the officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, and the fact that they were able to operate it successfully for six years, giving over £1 million in grants, is a great credit to the officials in the Ministry for their promptness and understanding, and to the Farmers' Unions on their side, as well.

I believe that the scheme has played a valuable part in encouraging farmers to take a greater share in the marketing of their produce and to study the market rather more than they traditionally do. Farmers are accustomed to studying the problems of production, which, heaven knows! are big enough—when the roof of your factory is the sky there are many unpredictable factors—but nowadays it is necessary to go further and to study the needs of the market, the tastes of consumers, and to try to organise the product coming off your farm, the better to meet what the consumers want. This is what A.M.D.E.C. has been doing over the past six years: grant-aiding various schemes of research into the market itself and to organise the collection and grading of produce, so that it reaches the market better in quality and quantity and in more regular supplies, always aimed at the same idea of better meeting the market. In the process of doing this we have grant-aided many groups of farmers who have come together to do a joint exercise in marketing—groups formed as ad hoc groups or as companies under the Industrial and Provident Acts, or as agricultural co-operatives.

There are just two major points on which I should like to comment, and which the whole farming community learned. In the first place one cannot improve marketing unless one influences the methods of production as well. It is absolutely basic to influence the methods of production—and probably, with livestock, the breeding methods as well as the management, nutrition and so on. This fact has been recognised. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with admirable flexibility, allowed us to extend our grants into production, where it was related to marketing, although we were originally set up simply for the marketing function and when we set up the new statutory council which was mentioned by the noble Lord—the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Marketing—that could specifically give grants for production schemes as well.

The second point, which is directly related to this, is that as soon as a group of farmers come together to try to organise their production and marketing as a joint exercise the prime factor for success is the strength of the management and the loyalty of the members. These are the lessons we have learned over and over again with the two or three hundred schemes that we have grant-aided up and down the country, concerning livestock, grain crops, horticultural crops, every sort and kind of crop. As noble Lords are probably aware, the farming Press have been extremely generous in giving us publicity, and of course all the reports were available to any farmer who asked for them. I think these lessons have been most helpful to the whole farming world, so that they could see the possibilities and the limits of development in this field. I believe the most enterprising and able farmers have got a great deal of value out of it, and I hope and believe that as the years go by others will follow in the wake of the leaders of the industry. In my view the scheme has been useful. The functions which remain are with that part of the work not covered by agricultural co-operatives and groups, and continue to be important, and the scheme has my best wishes for the future.

On Question, Motion agreed to.