HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc394-6W
Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on agricultural and horticultural marketing following the publication of the Government Green Paper on this subject last October.

Mr. Godber

Better marketing of farm products grown in this country can help reduce costs to the consumer, provide the food manufacturers and the retailers with improved delivery of the qualities needed, and enable the farmer to grow and sell to advantage what the market requires. Since the publication of the Barker Report and the Government's Green Paper last autumn the Government have given much thought to this subject.

We believe that the time is now ripe for the further extension of co-operative and other types of group marketing organisation among producers, and of joint ventures and contractual arrangements between producers and merchants, manufacturers and distributors and improvements in marketing more generally. If these developments are to be pursued with the necessary drive producers must be actively associated with them. Organisations representing producers have told me that they see need for a new, commercially oriented producer organisation to encourage better marketing by identifying marketing opportunities and by improving methods, including, of course, co-operation among producers. The Government would welcome and support an initiative to establish such an organisation.

It would not be appropriate for a producer organisation to be given responsibility for administering grants from public funds. In any case, the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation has responsibilities regarding the administration of public funds for the promotion and development of co-operation. The council has exercised these and its wider functions under the 1967 Act with considerable success for a number of years. It is, therefore, a sound basis on which to build for the future within the existing legislative framework and without loss of time.

The Government accordingly envisage that a new producer organisation will be brought into being to encourage improved marketing among producers. The central council will continue as the statutory body responsible for co-operation. It will exercise strategic oversight of progress in this field, assist in the administration of the available public funds, and advise Ministers on these matters. The relationships of the two bodies with each other and with existing co-operative organisations, including financial relationships, will now be worked out in detail. Discussions are in hand. The Government will be prepared to consider a material increase in the financial provision made at present to the central council and this will ensure that the new organisation may be adequately supported.

In the light of all this, the Government have decided not to set up a new central statutory body as proposed by the Barker Committee, although they would wish to repeat their thanks to Sir James Barker and his colleagues for the valuable new thinking which they themselves brought to bear, and stimulated among others, on this vitally important subject.

As already announced, the Government will be amending the law governing the maximum shareholding in co- operatives. We shall also be looking at the order which deals with the position of agricultural co-operatives under restrictive trade practices legislation.

Loan guarantee arrangements can be helpful, particularly to new co-operatives. The Government intend to review the special loan guarantee scheme that has operated for marketing co-operatives with a view to ensuring the effectiveness of the arrangements.

The Barker Committee concluded that there was a need for risk and investment capital for marketing enterprises but that this was not readily available. The central council might usefully extend its contacts with sources of investment. This is a matter that requires careful appraisal and I am asking the central council to advise me if it finds that marketing enterprises are, in fact, being impeded by lack of investment capital.

These arrangements will enable us to make progress within our existing powers, but we are not ruling out further legislation later. We shall consult the EEC Commission where changes in our present arrangements for Government support are involved. We intend to play our full part in the development of marketing policies in the Community. But in the meantime the proposals I have outlined will enable us to give the necessary new impetus to better marketing.