§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I beg to move:That this House, bearing in mind the expansion of European and North American horticultural production and the all-round increase in producers' costs, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give urgent consideration to the problems of developing British horticulture in the way required in the foreseeable future, and the means whereby growers may fairly be enabled to play their full part in meeting the demands of consumers.The House will recollect in studying this matter that horticultural problems have bothered the world ever since the second chapter of the Book of Genesis and that, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil having been forbidden to Adam, his wife thought differently and took the serpent's advice and decided to vary her husband's diet. Ever since then, variety has been the spice of life.
The belief that a little of what you fancy does you good is of considerably more importance in discussing the nation's diet than all the economic, political and commercial theories which may be worked out after great labour by the finest Government Departments in the world. I think that it is very important that right from the outset of the debate we should emphasise that the Government hon. Members and growers, perhaps particular growers, have always to remember that their future depends upon satisfying the consumer's needs.
It may be, and I think that it is, very regrettable that few consumers worry very much about where their food comes from. It is particularly galling that that should be so, from the grower's point of view, especially the wisest growers—and I wish sometimes that there were more of them—who take a very great deal of trouble to present their products 1612 to the market in a first-class condition and at the highest possible standard.
It is here that the Government have to come in. If, in order to satisfy all the consumer's needs, it is necessary for us to rely to some extent on our having a stable horticulture, it is then the duty of somebody to ensure that the market returns to the British grower are sufficient to enable him to go on growing and, in the course of that growing, to prosper. He will not prosper, nor will he be able to go on growing his crops for an indefinite period, if year after year more and more low cost foreign fruit and vegetables pour into the market at the time of the British grower's peak production.
In moving this Motion, I make one basic assumption. It is that British horticulture is necessary and ought to be encouraged, and it may not be entirely valueless if I say a few words about why I think that. I believe that the more sedentary, the more intensive and the more automatic our manufacturing industry becomes, the more fresh fruit and vegetables our people ought to eat if they are to keep fit and well. I also believe that the more people who are engaged in urban activity and the more who are encouraged to act only in combination with others similarly employed, the more important it is at the same time to encourage independence, especially if it can be exercised in close association with natural phenomena.
Every nation that has neglected its land has lived to rue the day and I think that no nation will have the character or ability to be capable of greatness, if it fails to compensate for the materialistic trend of human mechanical skill by ensuring that at least a substantial part of its population is still inspired to wonder at the works of the Creator.
Nothing more readily provides that than the miracle of life contained in the seed time and the harvest. Cultivation of the land and the nurturing of the young plant until it fructifies not only provides a material sense of satisfaction, of something ventured something won, but it also works wonders in the subconscious. Without wonder there can be no faith, and was sound faith ever more needed than in the world today?
In no form of cultivation is the individual attention given to each plant 1613 more highly developed than in horticulture; and from an economic point of view there are certain areas where the most appropriate type of cultivation is horticulture. By encouraging horticulture in certain areas we shall be making the best use of our land. Let us therefore agree, as I hope we shall, that British horticulture is a "good thing" and that we should all strive to make it even better. If we can agree to that extent, we are at once faced with certain questions which must be answered correctly.
First, what are the demands which the industry is called upon to meet? Secondly, can it meet all these demands? If not, to what extent and at what times of the year is it right to rely upon imports? Finally, how much of our effort must we devote to supporting and protecting horticulture, and in what form should that support and protection be given? The rest of my speech will be, what I hope hon. Members will agree, a constructive attempt to find the right answers. I must, however, insist that these questions cannot be answered in terms of economics alone. Neither can they be answered solely by growers, solely by the Government, or solely by consumers or distributors. This must be a combined operation.
What are the consumers' demands for fruit and vegetables in this country? There are many ways in which we might try to assess these. I have chosen as my means the average weekly weight of these foods eaten by one person in our vast population of over 50 million. Whatever average we try to strike, whichever method we employ, there is bound to be a pretty wide bracket and a multiplicity of variations inside those averages. But taking the basis of one person per week I should like to give the House the facts.
Every week each person on an average eats over 22 ounces of fresh fruit and nearly 7 ounces of canned fruit, over 16 ounces of fresh green vegetables and nearly 16 ounces of other vegetables. That means approximately one-fifth in weight of our total diet. The sources of supply of these foods vary throughout the year. I take tomatoes as an example, not only because they are an ever more popular food but also because their production occupies well over half the glasshouse acreage in Britain, or about 2,500 acres out of a total of about 4,000. Cer- 1614 tainly, the lion's share of capital investment has gone into that production. for it costs £18,000 to erect an acre of glass.
Between May and October every year, inclusive, our people consume on an average year by year about 230,000 tons of tomatoes. The variation in that consumption is probably due to the weather conditions prevailing in the summer months. When we recall last summer's weather it is not without significance that 1958 proved to be one of the most damaging years that our growers have suffered since the war. Between October and May, over the turn of the years, most of what we require comes from Spain and the Canary Islands and, to a growing extent, from Italy. In Spain, thanks to the discovery of water supplies in the Alicante district, production is extending very rapidly. That fact, perhaps contains some pleasing content in that in the main the growers are using English tomato seed.
During the winter and early spring months, the Canary Islands also export large quantities of tomatoes to us, but whereas those tomatoes used to be of a quality most suitable for cooking, the growers are improving their standards year by year. Now the April and May consignments from the Canaries are beginning seriously to compete with the early glass-house crops of our own growers, which begin in late April or early May and gradually build up to a peak in June, only to be followed in July by the medium varieties. Then we have the cold-glass crop reaching its peak in August and September, followed to a lesser degree—and this is a far less emphatic factor in considering the problem—by outdoor crops which mature in late August and September. By the end of October our season is over and once again the Spanish supplies come to a peak. Unfortunately, the trends in recent years have been for the Spaniards to start earlier and earlier in the summer to send tomatoes to us and for the Canaries to come later and later.
Supplementing our own crops from May to October inclusive, are the Dutch tomatoes. They supplied 15 per cent. of our total requirements between May and October last year. In that period British growers—and in that term I include, as we must always remember to include in the House—the Channel Islands, supplied in 1954 79.9 per cent., 1615 in 1955 85.5 per cent., in 1956 81.2 per cent., and in 1957 82.2 per cent. of our needs. Last year they were able to supply only 76.1 per cent. Of the remainder, to bring the percentage up to 100, about half over the years have been coming from Holland. In 1958, however, well over half came from Holland.
The Dutch have disclosed recently that since 1954 their heated glass acreage has risen from 1,500 to 2,356 in 1958, and their unheated glass acreages from 2,501 in 1954 to 3,213 in 1958, Logically, it would seem reasonable to suppose that when bad weather reduces home demand fewer imports would be required. Last year, however, 12,000 tons more tomatoes came in than in 1957 from Holland, whereas the home demand had fallen by only about 3,000 tons. Is it then to be wondered at that British growers are seriously concerned about their future?
I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not here today, though I am glad that he is doing something which I certainly would not prevent his doing, which is to talk to some tomato growers near Worthing. My right hon. Friend made a speech at Droitwich on 23rd February, in the course of which he said:We need an expansion in the market for fruit and vegetables in this country. We need to capture if we can a larger share for the British producer. Both require better presentation, better grading, better packing. We need to improve the reputation of home-grown horticultural produce.In all my studies of horticulture and in anything that I have ever said about it, I hope that I have never tried to suggest that there is not very considerable scope for improving the market presentation of British produce, but I really must ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture whether the Minister is being advised that the cause of last year's disastrous marketing conditions was poor presentation of the home crop.
Let us look at the facts. A total of 232,700 tons of tomatoes was supplied in the home market in 1957 between May and October. Of that, 189,600 tons were home grown. In the peak month of July, 1957, the average Covent Garden price per 12 lb. chip ranged from 19s. 1d. in the first week to 15s. 1d. in the last week. Let us compare those figures with last year's figures. At the beginning of 1616 July, 1958, the price was slightly above what it had been the previous year, 1d. above—19s. 2d. per 12 lb. chip. In the third week those prices had fallen to 1ls. 5d. and in the last week of July last year to 10s. 10d. compared with 15s. 1d. in both weeks in 1957.
Anything much less than 15s. at that time of year will involve a grower in a loss on the season because that is his principal sending time. But all that had nothing whatever to do with market presentation. It was simply due to the unloading by the Dutch in the second week of July of 600 tons which normally would possibly have gone to Germany and Belgium.
The same thing is beginning to happen to an even worse degree over lettuces this year. Between the week ending 21st March and 11th April this year, 1,794 tons have come in from Holland compared with 790 tons in 1958 and just over 1,100 tons in 1957.
What is happening to the price? The price per dozen in the week ending 22nd April was 5s. 3d. compared with 7s. 6d. the previous year for the first quality and 3s. 8d. compared with 5s. 2d. for the second quality. There has, in fact, through the Dutch wholesalers been an increase of 40 per cent. in the throughput of lettuces.
What is happening? This increase has been pumped into our market because all the other European markets where normally they would be going have operated far more drastic import controls than we do. Every time we seem to be condemned to take the lion's share of any Dutch increases in production. As last year with tomatoes, so this year with lettuces. Never have the Dutch had it so good from Her Majesty's Government. Yet the Minister of Agriculture has what I am afraid I must describe as the brazen effrontery to talk at Droitwich about increasing the share of the market for the home grower by means of better market presentation. When he said that he was speaking on the heels of the Government's rejection of the growers' applications for a tariff on vegetables.
If the Minister wants to see an increase in home growers' sales I would say after the most careful consideration that the statement which he made at 1617 Droitwich would be very seriously suspect unless he had already decided how to stop so much coming in from abroad.
I ask the Government, and indeed the House, most seriously to consider what possible incentive there is to a grower to improve his marketing methods when he knows that every time European countries see their economies embarrassed in some way or another they ride roughshod over all their obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and force producing countries to unload their surpluses on the least protected markets, among which happen to be ours, with the result that they cause a collapse of the markets and the depression of prices which cause ruin to the home grower.
The same thing is happening with apples and pears. They are protected by means of a quota. I dare say that my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) will be saying more about that.
I will, briefly, give some figures about apples and pears. Last year we had a bumper crop. We grew 604,800 tons of dessert and cooking apples. That was 175,000 tons more than in 1957. What do Her Majesty's Government do? They allow in nearly 121,000 more tons from overseas. The production of pears nearly doubled compared with 1957 yet imports were allowed to rise by 7,100 tons.
This year we have another problem. It is one which, representing the Isle of Ely, I have had put before me every year that I can remember. But this year the case is stronger than ever. The strawberry growers of Wisbech are being told by the processors this year that they can only offer them £10 less a ton for their strawberries than last year because they can get such low quotations from Poland, Bulgaria and Greece. I hope that the slave labourers in Poland and Bulgaria are pleased to hear the news, but for the workers in Wisbech and the 6,000 acres around it it is a sorry look out so far as their 14,000 tons of strawberries are concerned. On average, nearly 4,000 tons of that production of strawberries usually goes to canners and quick freezers and 8,000 tons to jam manufacturers. Where it is to go this year? Or are the growers to sell at prices lower than those of 1956 regardless of wage increases and other rising costs?
1618 I believe that there are a few home truths which we in the House must face. I do not believe that we shall ever increase the share of the home grower in the British markets if we adopt the role of a self-righteous trade prig who slithers around Europe proclaiming what good boys we are for looking after the interests of everybody else but never our own.
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is being broken every year by every European country which it suits to do so. If even one of those countries operates a more vigorous control of imports than we do then just so long shall we be at a disadvantage in dealing with it unless we reserve the right to retaliate in kind and to act when it acts, and preferably even before it acts. Further, I do not think that we can expect a tariff policy to work effectively in respect of a limited number of commodities if on all other fronts we are moving away from protection. Yet under intense American pressure that is what we have been trying to do.
What happens when one tries to raise tariffs in such circumstances? At once one gets retaliation threatened for which one has nothing to compensate on the items for which one is pursuing a policy of non-discrimination. The extraordinary thing is that the only case in a recent application which has been granted, the flower tariff, more than proves what I have just tried to show because had it not been for the fact that we can offer the Dutch an increase in the bulb quota we might not so readily have been able to get the increase in the tariff on flowers.
I have already paid my tribute to the Prime Minister for his personal intervention in the matter when we were dealing with the new Order raising the flower tariff. I repeat that tribute again today. I am sure that we and the growers are all extraordinarily grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he did.
It is really no good the Government going on believing that they can get away with their unctuous talk about economic grounds being the reason for rejecting the vegetable tariff applications. It is asking far too much of the finest civil servants in the world to expect them to live in an atmosphere of free trade and then, at periodic intervals, dispassionately to study applications for tariff increases which, if granted, would fly absolutely contrary to the general trade policy.
1619 I am not blaming the Board of Trade officials for this. In fact, I am commiserating with them. I cannot see how any human being can suddenly, completely and dispassionately do things contrary to the policy and the atmosphere of the Department in which he lives. In fact in the growers' minds the advisory committee, which tells the Government whether or not there is an economic case for granting tariff applications, is suspect because it is at the Board of Trade, and because the general policy of the Board of Trade is a free trade policy.
I believe the answer lies in the Government, the Conservative Party and, I hope, the Labour Party, and the growers' leaders all undertaking what I can only describe as an agonising reappraisal of their general trade policy. They must stop leading the growers to believe that tariffs can do what in the present circumstances they certainly cannot do. Repeatedly growers have been led to believe that tariffs would compensate them for being left out at the time of the Annual Review of prices for agricultural products. In consequence they have assumed that as soon as they could fairly show that foreign imports had deprived them of a fair return, the tariff would be raised. In his speech at Droitwich the Minister killed that idea stone dead. He said:The Government must be satisfied, not simply that costs have gone up; not even simply that profits have gone down but, this is the important point, that the reduction in profits has been caused by imports, rather than by other causes such as poor demand or an increase in home production, or anything else.Costs have gone up, especially in the glass house industry. Wages and the cost of fuel and transport as well as other costs have risen by 300 per cent. since the last tariff application was granted. Profits have certainly gone down. Foreign imports have gone up as I have intimated. Dutch tomato imports last year were 12,000 tons above the figures for 1955 and home demand fell by only 3,000 tons. In fact, all the prerequisites demanded by the Minister were present last year, yet the application was rejected.
I believe that when that decision was taken the Minister had a great opportunity to say that even had the tariff applications been granted, especially for tomatoes, that would not have corrected the trouble which arose last year. That 1620 is not to say that, had the applications been granted when they were first made, the trouble would still have arisen. But once it had, the Minister might have argued sensibly that to grant a tariff application in the middle of the season would not have stopped what had happened. So far from saying this, my right hon. Friend reaffirmed that tariffs are still the main means of protection.
I am sorry he did not elaborate a good deal more at the time. I am sorry that the Opposition completely failed to examine this problem when it arose. Recently, when we debated the Import Duties (General) (No. 2) Order, 1959, which increased the import duty on cut flowers all they could do was to put up the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White)—for whom I have a great respect—to say how much she regretted that her friends had to spend so much on carnations that they could not give her a bouquet. I was so sorry for the hon. Lady that after the debate I gave her a carnation myself. That is not the way in which the Opposition should fulfil their duty to the growers. One of the reasons why I am moving this Motion is because hon. Members opposite and others have not done their duty.
By continuous oversimplification, by repeated mouthings of catch words, growers have been led to believe that there is something magic about the word "tariff". In fact, a tariff is subject to just the same factors as any other ecenomic or fiscal measure. Tariffs will work effectively only when they are employed for the purpose which they were designed to serve, and when the prevailing conditions are consistent with their nature.
Tariffs, in my opinion, are principally a means of evening out the differences in the respective standards of living of producer countries. They are not, and cannot be, a means of retaliating effectively against the direct physical limitation of imports by others, resulting in the salvaging of surpluses by throwing them on to markets protected only by tariffs. Nor will tariffs work effectively if the machinery for adjusting them works too slowly. They will work really well only when the general trade policy of the country concerned is based upon their use. They will never by themselves have a sufficient impact to prevent the dumping of surpluses. 1621 I am afraid that for too long growers have been led to believe precisely the opposite to all these rather unpleasant facts. It may well be that had the tariff applications been granted before the seasons began, tomato producers last year and lettuce producers this year would not have had to face such disastrous marketing conditions. But once those conditions had arisen, tariffs alone could never remedy the trouble—I emphasise the word "alone". That could be done by only one method, an immediate embargo as soon as it was seen that foreign imports were likely to swamp the market.
Are the Government prepared to adopt that method? If they are not, I say that the Minister's talk about giving the British grower an increased share of the market is either nonsense or downright dishonesty. If the Government are not prepared to use shock action to deal with shocked markets, they will have to witness a steady decline in home production, the total ruin of some of the most industrious and highly skilled men and women in our land and a dependence upon imports of fruit and vegetables to a far greater extent than last year, with all its dire consequences on our foreign exchange and balance of payments.
It was with great joy that in 1957 we welcomed the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act. But it has not been used very much. The weakness of that Act is the weakness in the tariff policy to which I have been referring. It enables the Government to impose only higher duties, higher tariffs. Worthy as was the purpose of that Act, and admirable though the intention of the Government might have been in introducing it, the 1957 Measure in its present form cannot operate to meet the need which must be met. Section 1 empowers the Government to:… exercise the power conferred on them by this Act to impose and vary duties of customs in such manner as they think necessary to meet the dumping or the giving of the subsidy.I suggest that after the words "vary duties of customs", we should add the following words:or other methods of import control.Section 1 (2) states:For the purposes of this Act imported goods shall be regarded as having been dumped—(a) if the export price from the country in which the goods originated is less 1622 than the fair market price of the goods in that country …I would add the words:or in any country in the European Common Market with whom the originating country has entered into agreements involving minimum prices for importsWere these two provisions written into the Act, it would enable the Government to do no more than other European countries do, in particular, no more than is done by the Common Market countries. But it would enable us to threaten to use exactly the same procedure as those countries use—at present at our expense. I hope that serious consideration may be given to this suggestion of mine which I present as a constructive suggestion.
I ask the Government to get down to some serious thinking about the part which they wish British horticulture to play in the future. Already hundreds of acres of glass are going out of production and already their market value has tumbled below the original cost of erection. No amount of pumping in additional capital or of Liberalising, "Runcimaning" or "Swashing" or marketing improvements, will save British growers. I hope that because I spoke of "Runcimaning" and "Swashing" it will not be supposed that I have not a very great regard for the author of the Runciman Report or for Mr. Swash. I believe both these people are doing their best to help, but however necessary their best may be and however valuable the Runciman Report may be, the problems of British growers will not be solved either by the implementing of the Report or by Mr. Swash's efforts, by themselves. There has to be a new import policy.
Growers do not wish for subsidisation, or for pious lectures from people whose knowledge of horticulture is probably confined to creeping plants in Government departments. Growers want a reasonable return for what they grow, a return which is not converted into a loss as a result of unfair foreign competition. That, at the moment, is denied to them. Talking of lectures, I suggest that if any lectures are to be given about this subject we ought to begin in the schools. The more consumers are better educated in what to look for and what to reject when they are shopping at their greengrocers. the better.
Even when the Cucumber and Tomato Marketing Board—to which I have not 1623 referred very much in this debate because I am anxious to allow the Board to solve its own difficulties without political interference—has encouraged first-class grading, what has happened? When the first-class tomatoes arrive in the greengrocers' shops they are often emptied out and mixed with any other rubbish, and in that form the tomatoes are presented to the consumers. All the work which the growers of the first-class tomatoes have put in, to present our consumers with a better standard of produce is completely and utterly wasted. The sooner our children are educated in what to look for and what to reject, the better. That will assist us to solve our problem.
Let the tariff policy be pursued as a general policy for this country, with the emphasis on preference rather than on protection. Above all, grant the necessary applications for increases in time, so as to prevent markets collapsing at the peak periods of home production. When something goes wrong—as it is bound to go wrong over the years as the result of others using more vigorous controls than we—we must use the methods that they use to meet emergencies. We do not need a replacement of tariffs but a general and correct use of tariffs supplemented by an emergency machinery to cope with and ward off possible crises.
Above all, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to concentrate upon what really matters most, and to stop fiddling about with grant aids which, even if they were to work, would only have the effect of reducing waste and so increasing the unsaleable amount in what is already a heavily invaded market. If we fail to sustain our horticulture not only the growers but the consumers will suffer. The consumer will find that the poor British grower cannot continue in existence. The local greengrocer and fruiterer will no longer be able to offer him good, fresh English fruit and vegetables. That would be an indigestible state of affairs, in more ways than one.
Today is May Day. I picked up the Encyclopaedia Britannica and saw that May Day used to be a symbol of returning life, of the defeat of winter and of hope for a good harvest. I am afraid that it is also associated with human sacrifice. I am anxious that the British grower should not be the human sacrifice on this occasion.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), in his very able and informative speech, enriched the House at the outset with a wealth of historical and even prehistoric research. I do not intend to do anything like that. We owe a great debt to my hon. and gallant Friend for using his good fortune in the Ballot to propose this Motion.
The object of this debate is to bring to the notice of the House what we believe to be a very important industry, although when put into strict numerical proportion with many other great industries it is only a small proportion of the father or parent agricultural industry. Our purpose is to discuss what should be Government policy. The terms of the Motion call attention to the needs of horticulture and enjoin upon Ministers to take heed of what is said today and, after serious thinking, to take whatever action may be necessary as the result.
Horticulture came particularly before the public recently when, after the beginning of this year, applications for increases of tariffs upon a number of products were rejected by Her Majesty's Government. In consequence of that, it is not surprising that a number of people, including a large number of growers, began to have serious doubts whether Her Majesty's Government were not going to abandon the tariff policy for horticulture or, at any rate, to relegate it to a position of static dormancy, in which those who should benefit from an active operation would have nothing to look for except the existing level of tariffs wholly unrelated to the changing conditions around them.
I do not want to rake over matters of controversy relating to the fate of those vegetable applications. The Minister of Agriculture has been mentioned; if I were in controversial mood I would mention also the President of the Board of Trade. I am sensible of the fact that the President of the Board of Trade seems to have enough trouble just now, and I certainly do not want to add to it.
Following the rejection of those applications, the position was changed, as my hon. and gallant Friend has said, by the subsequent granting of the application 1625 that had been outstanding on cut flowers. The granting of that showed convincingly that the Government tariff policy was in force and that they recognise it to be the chosen instrument to safeguard the growers' access to their own home market under conditions that presuppose that there will not be excessive competition from imported produce.
However that may be, in some quarters it is now being suggested that a tariff policy, even actively applied, could not alone fulfil the purpose I have just mentioned. Something supplementary to it is required. It is universally accepted by all except the archaic school of unilateral free traders formerly associated with the Liberal Party—I do not know whether they are still associated with the Liberal Party, because there is no one here this morning representing that party to answer the question—that control of foreign imports by some means or other is absolutely necessary under present-day conditions.
I do not, however, accept the view at the outset of this debate that a supplementary policy is absolutely necessary. No convincing evidence has been furnished to me that that is so. Nevertheless, I think we—that is to say, the Government—would be right to set about examining some of the systems which are in force and which were referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend. They are in force on the Continent of Europe and are being used by some of the very countries with which our country has been trying so hard to bring into being a Free Trade Area for manufactured goods.
The system I am referring to is that of placing some embargoes upon the entry of horticultural products into a country so soon as the price falls below a predetermined level. We should beware of espousing any such system here and, certainly, of indulging in propaganda for it, because, if we did, we might convey the impression—an impression that would be false so far as those who have the welfare of the horticultural industry at heart are concerned—that we had no faith in an enlightened policy and were groping about trying to copy what other countries were doing to see if that would be more successful.
There is one feature about price embargoes which is all-important. The 1626 machinery for their use should have the quality of speed. It would be no good to have an application pending or a committee sitting to decide what to do. There has to be lightning executive action in order to make it successful. Suppose this country were to adopt any such system and the machinery to put it into force were no quicker in action than has been the machinery used to give consideration to tariff applications, that, as a change of policy, would be doomed at the start to absolute failure.
On the general issue as between a tariff policy to afford adequate protection or some other one, I think it is clear and not open to dispute that, unless and until at some future time Government and Parliament decide to put into operation an embargo policy to stop unwanted imports, the Government themselves today have no right to lessen their readiness to operate vigorously and promptly the present tariff system. That tariff system, even when our international obligations to G.A.T.T. are discharged and honoured —I do not think all countries are strictly honouring them today—contains all the flexibility necessary to put realistic tariffs on when required.
In this context, the operative word about a tariff policy is "operate". Merely to maintain existing tariff scales irrespective of economic changes which may have come about since those scales were first introduced would be to surrender to producers outside this country, who clearly are jostling together to enter the British market. We must be prepared to make these tariffs work. I should be the first to recognise, if a tariff policy is to be lively and capable of adjustment upwards, that, of course, may have an effect upon something which all who follow with care the welfare of our people by being in politics must have regard to—the cost of living.
What is the proportionate view we should take about that? I looked up one figure only. As a result, I found that if in consequence of some rise in tariffs all the twenty-four kinds of fruit and vegetables listed in the Ministry of Labour's index, were to rise in the home market by as much as 10 per cent., the cost of living index would be advanced by less than one-fifth of one point. I give those figures because I think they show that there is ample scope for the Government not to be too timorous in 1627 raising tariffs, nor too fearful lest they place too heavy a burden upon the housewives in fulfilling their weekly needs.
Suppose tariffs are used flexibly in this way, it is right to ask ourselves whether anything else flows from that. We should all accept a consequent obligation that the horticultural industry should give of its best to the home market for human consumption. Whilst evidence is not lacking that the industry itself is anxious to do that, surely there is an obligation on the Government and Parliament to see that the industry receives what assistance it needs to carry out that performance. That raises the whole question of marketing, but I do not want to use the word "marketing" strictly in this connection, as it very often connotes an elaborate form of machinery, whether of merchants, factors, wholesalers, distributors or retail shops. It is quite possible, however elaborate those arrangements are, that they may be handling a very bad product which the housewife does not really want to buy.
By "marketing" in this connection we should rather think of presentation for sale, something which very often occurs while the product is still under the control of the producer. The big man with capital can ensure a good presentation of his produce out of his own capital resources. The small man, however, has not got such resources to enable him to do so. So there is a need in his case for facilities—that is to say, plant—at the places which, for convenience, I call markets to which the grower sends his good produce. I say good produce because it is a waste of everybody's time and money if the producer finds himself in the position of having to send bad produce as well as good.
This improvement of market presentation, which is one of the things that we ought to set our minds to, is no substitute for an effective control of the produce that comes in from outside the country in the form of imports; but it is a step which the public are entitled to ask the Ministry and the Government to take so that they may be assured that the home produce which they will be buying—we hope in increasing quantities —is at least as good in quality as that which foreign countries would be sending in but for the want of an effective tariff.
1628 How is the improvement in market presentation, which I believe to be necessary, to be brought about? May I here refer to the new policy which the Government recently announced, which is now referred to as the £7½ million scheme? This scheme must be recognised at the outset as a scheme of assistance of a long-term nature to effect permanent improvement in the capital equipment of home growers. It is intended to be for horticulture what the farm improvement scheme, from which horticulturists were excluded, is for agriculture.
Even when the £7½ million scheme gets into its swing, it cannot make any difference directly to a grower's profit and loss account. Nor, as I have said, can it begin to do so even indirectly until after the lapse of perhaps as much as two growing seasons. Furthermore, when the sum of money is spread over the whole of the horticultural industry it is small. In spite of that, however, it should bring lasting benefit to the industry if it is spent in the right way; and there are two divisions which occur to us as methods of spending the money. There is the assistance which can be given to the individual, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, there is that which can be given to the marketing organisation.
Dealing first with assistance to the individual, what seems to find favour with the industry is, first, the provision of a glasshouse on holdings of, say, not more than up to seven acres where there is no glasshouse already. The object of providing a small grower with a glasshouse is to enable him to have some of the cream instead of having to send up only the milk of his industry into the market, and to buttress him against those periods when, perhaps, an outside grown crop has failed through a sudden onslaught of frost, such as we get only too frequently and suddenly in my own constituency in the Vale of Evesham.
Again, what the small growers need is storage sheds of all kinds. I need not go into the details, but they need storage far produce waiting to go to the market and, at certain times of the year, they need storage space for the returnable crates which perish if they are left outside in the hard English winter.
There are other conditions that will have to be imposed before this £7½ million scheme can be worked out in detail and shown to be useful. I hope 1629 that orchards will be allowed to benefit under the scheme, and vegetable growers will find it of great value if they have the facilities that I have just mentioned.
There is one point about which we ought to be careful. The limited amount of money which I have mentioned could easily be rapidly absorbed if a few men in a big way of business were to make large applications for great acreages of glass to be erected. Not only would that have the undesirable effect of exhausting the fund, hut it would have the undesirable effect of fostering a wholly unjustifiable expansion of the totality of production of the horticultural industry. Those who are in the industry and have its welfare at heart have one fear from any scheme of assistance—that it might be a stimulant to increased production. What they look for from the £7½ million scheme is that they will be enabled to send good produce on to the home market at a lower cost and thus the home market and their own enterprises will benefit. It is suggested that it would be right for the Government to impose a ceiling on the grants that they are prepared to give to any individual under this scheme. Obviously, no figure has been fixed, but it might be somewhere between £2,000 and £3,000 by way of grant as a maximum. If that is not done, the money will soon go.
When we consider the assistance that could be rendered not to the individual but to market organisations, the Minister has already indicated that agricultural producers' co-operatives would qualify for help. I think he was right to use those organisations which are run for the benefit of the growers themselves. Therefore, any State money which is given, will redound to the advantage of the growers who are members of the cooperative producers' organisation.
The announcement by the Minister of Agriculture has occasioned some disquiet among those marketing organisations which are not co-operative in character—the private enterprise markets and the merchants. They are feeling a sense of grievance that they are apparently to be omitted from the benefits of the scheme. I cannot suggest how they could be brought into a scheme which is designed not to benefit the marketing and merchanting industry, which so far as I know is not in low water at all, but to benefit the producers and grocers and to enable 1630 them—and, after all, they toil to produce the horticultural product—to qualify for Government assistance.
There are one or two other ways in which aid might be given to growers in this industry. First, may I refer to what has been mentioned previously in the House—the omission so far of potash from the fertiliser subsidy. I think that the reasons which have been given for that omission are well within the knowledge of hon. Members. They are that all the potash has so far come virtually from a cartel of suppliers on the Continent of Europe.
I understand, however, that the operations of the company are at present before the Monopolies Commission, where they have been for a long time. May we look for an early report and decision upon that subject? When that decision has been given, will the Government take note of the fact that it is now believed that there are other supplies of potash available to be imported into the country which are not under the control of the cartel, which might put the Minister in a position to reconsider the question of including potash within the fertiliser subsidy, which would be greatly appreciated by the horticulture industry.
Another method of assistance relates to the fuels used in the machinery needed for the cultivation of the holdings. I will not make the case for a rebate on the petrol duty for agriculture generally, although I am well aware that a case has been put forward for it by the National Farmers' Union. I think that horticulture deserves special consideration. Whereas in general farming the farmer does a great deal of his cultivation with machinery which runs on relatively much cheaper fuels than petrol, much of the machinery used on the horticultural holdings, particularly those of the small men, has to be run on petrol.
So far the revenue authorities appear to have resisted any suggestion of a rebate scheme in this country. I have in my hand a form of application to the Revenue Commissioners of the Republic of Eire who operate such a scheme to the advantage of farmers in that country. I refuse to believe that the farmers and horticulturists in Britain are any less trustworthy than those in the Republic of Eire, and I feel sure that if a scheme were introduced there would be no serious risk of abuse.
1631 A fear has been expressed that with the pressure upon the Ministry of Agriculture due to the administration of the Small Farmers' Schemes there might be a risk that some of the National Agricultural Advisory Service officers in the counties would have little or no time available to give their advice and service to horticulture. I trust that if there is any question of that being the case, more officers will be appointed so that the service can continue fully for the horticultural grower.
I have made a few suggestions as to how assistance could be given to the horticulture industry, apart from the main theme running through the Motion. My small knowledge and experience, such as it is, of this industry stems largely from a constituency connection with the Vale of Evesham and the Pershore district which surrounds it. The soil which was placed in that district is incomparable. There is none better in the world for growing. Nearly 70 per cent. of the holdings are of ten acres or less. They are worked very largely on a family basis. Nobody recognises how hard these people work until he has seen, as I have frequently seen, the women as well as the men setting out to toil for long hours in the fields for what is very often but a scanty reward.
I trust that as a result of my hon. and gallant Friend having tabled this Motion and ventilated the problems of horticulture in the House, not only will the growers in the Vale of Evesham benefit but the whole horticulture industry will be able to play a full, worthy and remunerative part in supplying one of the most important articles of diet which the British people need if we are to continue to be healthy and well.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I am sure that I speak for everyone in the House when I say that we are grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) for having brought this Motion before us this morning. He urges the Government to consider ways and means of helping an industry which I believe we all recognise to be essential to the well-being of the country. I was particularly grateful to him for setting out the considerations to which any Government responsible to this industry 1632 must apply itself—whether we want production from horticulture in this country; to what extent we want it; and, if such is considered desirable, the way in which we intend to ensure that there shall be stable produotion in this industry.
I was in entire agreement with what I might describe as the hon. and gallant Member's soliloquy—the first half of his speech. When he began to address his remarks to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, however, there were occasions when I thought he was being a little hard on him and his right hon Friends, something which I would never dream of being.
We have to consider the question of horticulture objectively. I and my hon. Friends—
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Doing their duty in parts of the country where they are needed. They are always where they are needed.
I and my hon. Friends believe that we have to have a horticultural industry in this country and that it would be the sheerest stupidity to let that industry suffer, particularly if it suffered from unfair competition from abroad. The industry has quite enough difficulties, having regard to the vagaries of our climate, without having the added difficulty of unfair competition from abroad. I feel sure that no hon. Member wishes to see anything but the fairest treatment which could be devised for this British industry.
The only question is to what extent we want to provide aid to the industry, if it is considered that without aid it will go out of existence. There is room for discussion and difference of opinion on that question, but on the main question I do not think that any hon. Member has any doubt that we must try to keep the industry going.
We have heard from the hon. Baronet the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. P. Agnew) of the £7½ million scheme. I should not like to pretend that that scheme is not of considerable help to the horticultural industry. It is very much better than some which have been considered, but I feel that it leaves much to be desired. From my own constituency connections with horticulture, 1633 I have every reason to doubt that those whom it is intended to benefit by the £7½million scheme consider that it is the proper way to try to benefit them. They realise that they will receive some benefit from it in the long run, as we have already heard, but nevertheless the scheme smacks of charity. I know that the growers in my constituency and in the surrounding county feel that giving a grant to their industry is not the way in which they would like to be helped by the Government.
I am well aware of the difficulties to which the industry has been subjected, especially in the last year, about which we were told by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely. There is no doubt whatever that growers have been finding foreign competition increasingly severe. I believe that it is the fact that in Holland no tomatoes are imported. In other words, there is an exclusive market in Holland for the Dutch growers. Starting from that initial advantage—nobody will deny that it is an advantage to have one's home market exclusively in one's own possession—the Dutch growers have made, I will not say a dead set, but a very determined effort to capture a very large share of the British market.
In addition to that foreign competition, the costs for our growers have increased enormously. Though I would not dream of being hard on the Parliamentary Secretary or his right hon. Friend, I do not think that any Government who have deliberately and as a matter of policy followed lines calculated to raise costs in this country when they were stable elsewhere can complain if they are held at least partly responsible for the position in which growers now find themselves. They have increasing costs as compared with their foreign competitors. Wages in this country have risen very considerably, and very properly. Wages must rise if the cost of living rises, as it has in recent years. I do not think that the Government can complain if they are blamed, to a certain extent at any rate, now that the growers find that they have the very utmost difficulty in keeping their heads above water.
It is in this situation that the Government have made these proposals for grants, which will undoubtedly do good in the long run to the survivors in this industry. Even though they are very hard pressed at present, the sturdy 1634 growers in north Lincolnshire, so far as I am able to judge their feelings, do not want this form of charity. They want help to help themselves. So far as I am able to learn, the sort of help to help themselves about which they are thinking is freer access to cheap capital. They are just not getting that at present. The bank manager is not impressed by the profitability of the industry. He is not at all enthusiastic about lending. Therefore, the growers find that from time to time they just have not got the necessary credit.
I believe that they would be far more satisfied if the £,7½ million, and perhaps some more, was placed into a pool from which they could obtain at a low rate of interest the credit they need. I am not at all in favour of grants, unless it is absolutely certain that everything possible has been done in the way of market presentation and marketing in general. That is a very difficult question. One can talk glibly about it, but one cannot talk sensibly about it without knowing intimately the practical details of the industry.
I feel that there must be very considerable scope for Government enterprise in bringing together all those concerned in the industry until the Government are satisfied that all that can be done in this direction is being done, and only then should grants be made.
If cheap credit were made more readily available to the growers and if they were given what could generally be described as a fair share of the home market, it is likely that the industry could make a stab at making a profitable show of its work. I know that the Minister went on record recently as saying that he regards the tariff as an instrument of efficiency. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South looked back, I thought a little nostalgically, to the early 'thirties when his party was in full hue and cry after tariffs. Fortunately for those of us who perhaps represent the remnant of the free trade idea, it is a good thing to see that on the other side of the House the words "free trade" are held in some reverence, even though the hon. Baronet apparently thinks that the tariff can be a flexible and effective weapon, something which I very much doubt. He did not claim that it would be a weapon for efficiency, as the Minister claimed recently.
1635 A tariff is the very last thing which can be described as an instrument tending towards efficiency. It is an instrument tending towards protection from the need to be efficient. I hope that the Minister will not let the feeling that a tariff might lead to efficiency influence his decisions.
If there is to be protection of this or any other industry, the most likely grounds upon which it should be afforded would be unfairness of competition or climatic conditions which enable a foreign industry to sell goods in our market early and take perhaps the cream off the market, when the industry at home is one which we feel we ought to protect for other considerations than mere commercial considerations.
If those two considerations apply, some flexible form of protection has to be considered. The best way of achieving protection for what one might call the seasonal difficulties of the horticultural industry and the fact that foreign countries have better climatic conditions and are able to flood the market at a time when our own crops are just coming up for production and ready for marketing is to have some form of flexible control—but not a tariff—over imports, such as there has been for potatoes. I know that in the potato world very considerable dissatisfaction is expressed from time to time about the manner in which this flexible control has been exercised.
I fully realise that it is not an easy matter to exercise the necessary foresight in order to say at what stage imports should be prevented from coming in, or at what level they should be prevented from coming in at a given date ahead. Nevertheless, I believe that the Minister has under his control a sufficient number of listening posts in the country to be able to make a decision which, even if it were wrong in a particular instance, would be understood by the growers.
If a real effort were made by the Government to control the imports of goods in the circumstances to which I have just referred, I am sure that the growers would feel that an attempt was being made to help them—and an attempt that would not expose them to the charge that they were having charity. In spite of the difficulties, and in spite of the experience with potatoes, that is probably the best way in which the Government could set about solving this problem.
1636 I realise that the Government are trying to do something for the industry. I want them to continue their efforts, but I want them to try to help the industry in a way that will help it to help itself, and not expose it to undue criticisms from the consuming public; and in a way, also, that will not produce an unhealthy state of hothouse protection within the industry itself.
Is it too late for the Government to reconsider their policy in this matter? Is there not time and opportunity in the negotiations that I believe are still continuing with the industry, to think out a better way? I hope that the Minister will consider the ways I have suggested as being probably better for the industry itself and, I believe, for consumers in general.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. James Lindsay (Devon, North)
First, I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) on his good fortune in the Ballot, and on the very good use to which he has put it. Horticulture is an extremely important industry which does not get sufficient of the time and attention of the House. An opportunity to discuss it is, therefore, very welcome. The Motion is widely drawn, which is right, because it gives us an opportunity to discuss an extremely complex industry with a great variety of products and great variations as between district and district.
The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) discussed the question of quotas rather than tariffs, and I will not follow him very far there. I should like to speak more generally about Government policy. That policy is based on tariffs, which are, I think, accepted by the majority of our people, in spite of what the hon. and learned Member said. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House are in favour of tariffs. The industry is in favour of them, so is the National Farmers' Union, and in so far as it concerns itself with these matters, I think the same can be said of the general public.
The Government are committed to this tariff policy; they have reaffirmed it and accepted it as part of their general policy. I do not think that that policy is open to dispute or discussion, but we could 1637 ask ourselves whether the tariff is working satisfactorily and is being operated in a correct manner. With that, we should link the question of whether and what further supplementary help should be given to the industry.
Are the tariffs working satisfactorily? At present, the industry's answer is, "No". The growers are not satisfied with the way in which the tariffs are being operated. Horticulturists are not very loud and vociferous in their protests, so that when they say that things are wrong the greater attention should be paid to what they say. It means that there must be some real substance in their complaints.
The horticulturists feel let down. The last adjustment of tariffs was in 1953, and there have been alterations in the circumstances since. Two years ago, they felt justified in making a further application. For two years they hoped that no news was good news, but now they have met with a disappointment and are discontented. This does not apply only to official opinion but to the sum total of individual opinions—and, as we know, those two opinions can be very different.
I believe that in most parts of the country it is the tomato and lettuce growers who are the hardest hit. Many figures are available, but I shall not weary the House with many. The fact remains that they all add up to an unhappy picture. Imports have increased, incomes are down and production costs are up. We must never lose sight of the fact that the greater part of the production costs are quite outside the control of the growers. Labour costs account for 50 per cent. of the total, fuel for another 20 per cent. and the cost of transport, though a variable factor, amounts to quite a considerable percentage. All these factors are quite outside the control of the growers, yet, though producing an article over the cost of production of which they have not entire control, they have to sell that product in a free market. That is not an enviable position. Indeed, one might say that they are getting the worst of both worlds.
The case put recently by the growers was an extremely strong one, and was turned down, I understand, not entirely because of conditions in this country but 1638 partly because of increased costs of production in competitor countries which were alleged to maintain the value of the tariff. That is rather harsh reasoning. It is bringing into evidence the iron laws of economics. It may be all very logical, but it is not the same type of treatment that we are meting out to the farmers.
Everyone is glad that the farmers now get a fair return on their capital, skill and labour. They receive price supports; long-term assurances that give them security, and stability of market prices. We protect them from the fluctuations of world prices and, in effect, say, "Never mind about the foreigner. Your job is to get on with the production of food." The horticulturists look for equivalent help from the Government, but they are not getting it in present circumstances.
The tariff is the right policy. It is the way of implementing it that is presently at fault. We want to give a firm basis to the market and prevent it from collapsing under excessive imports from abroad. I hope that the Government will reaffirm their confidence in the tariff as the main policy, and although, clearly, they cannot make any alteration now of the decisions that have just been arrived at, I hope they will look on the tariff as being primarily for the protection of the growers. It is clearly not a means of raising revenue but a means of protecting the growers, and I hope that this weapon will be flexibly and imaginatively used for that purpose.
Next, we must consider ways of supplementing our tariff policy. The Government are clearly anxious to find means of doing that, and this is the object of the new scheme. I am afraid that there are suspicions among the growers that the new scheme is the first move in the replacement of tariffs by other methods, and the Government cannot emphasise too strongly and forcefully, or too frequently, that the scheme is "as well as" and not "instead of" our tariff policy. Surely, the relationship of the new horticultural scheme to the horticultural tariffs is that exactly of the farm improvement grants to the farm price support system. We have not as yet been told very much about how the scheme is going to be operated, but it seems to be assumed that this £7½ million scheme is adequate for the purpose for which it was devised. I have not met many people who know 1639 much about it, but I am certain that advice is being sought from expert parties and I am sure that it will be found to be the right way to set about things. Presumably some of the money will be allotted to production, and here the emphasis must be on quality rather than on quantity. We should stress efficiency of production and competitive products rather than increased production.
There is scope for improvement and modernisation of equipment. I should think that high priority ought to be given to heating systems of which a great many new types have been developed in the last two years, although they have not been sufficiently employed so far. Storage is also important. Grading and packing machinery constitutes the first step to marketing, and money spent here will be well spent. There has been a great improvement in packaging and presentation of all types of goods in recent years, and people expect anything they buy to be presented in an attractive manner. Naturally, horticulture must conform, for there is keen competition in this market. The old saying, that the customer is always right, is true.
Advertising is very necessary. Efforts have been made by the industry to improve advertising and some very effective exhibits have been staged at the big shows. These are all to the good because they help not only the customer to see what the industry can do but also the less advanced members of the horticultural industry to see how things can and should be done. Here again, it is a question of money in order to get things going.
I believe that the £7½ million grant will be seen as we go along to be a great help to the industry and will be welcomed by it. However, I ask the Government to stress that all these considerations are subsidiary to the tariff and to make perfectly clear to the country and to the industry that the tariff is the main plank of the Government's policy. The Government should make it plain that they have every faith that this policy will give the industry the protection which it deserves.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
I support this Motion which has been moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge- 1640 Bourke). The horticultural industry has no better friend inside or outside this House than he. He has been working very hard to get Government Departments, including the Board of Trade as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, to see sense about this great industry, and he is meeting with some reward. Today's debate, I think, will carry that campaign further forward.
I wish to say a few words about apples. I am not an apple grower, but I am well aware of the rapid progress that our home apple growing industry has made in recent years. Many acres of promising young orchards are now coming into full bearing. I am also well aware that this developing industry has virtually no certain protection in the future. In recent years and at the present time the apple and pear industries have been able to expand at home under the protection of import quotas—on a tonnage basis in the case of apples—which has limited competing supplies from North America and elsewhere. Those import quotas have been justified by the continuing problem of the balance of payments. If the balance of payments problem gets easier—and it is easier today—and if we want to open up trade more freely with the dollar countries, I fear that the apple industry may find itself virtually naked against supplies coming in spasmodically, not only from the United States and Canada, but freely from Italy and other places on the Continent.
How are we to fit the apple industry into the general Government programme of protecting the horticultural industry by way of tariffs and/or other price support means such as apply to agriculture generally? I hope my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what his Ministry and the Board of Trade have in mind. The apple and pear growers may be faced with catastrophic and chaotic competition, not by any deliberate act of Government policy but by an improvement in the conditions of trade.
I do not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), whose speech was otherwise sensible, I thought, when he spoke about the Government's £7½ million scheme as smacking of charity. It does not smack of charity any more than does the Farm 1641 Improvement Scheme, which many thousands of farmers are operating satisfactorily, not only to their own financial and economic satisfaction, but also to the benefit of the country. The Farm Improvement Scheme, and I hope this horticultural scheme, will help to make the industry more competitive, by speeding the re-equipment and modernisation of product ion. Our nagging trouble is going to be, how can we be more effectively competitive against countries which have lower wage bills and great climatic advantages? We have to be on our toes the whole time. I believe this scheme will help in that way. It certainly does not smack of charity; it is full of good sense.
My final point relates to the repeated request from the horticultural industry that potash shall be included in the list of fertilisers, along with nitrogen and phosphate, which enjoy some assistance by way of subsidy. The horticultural industry would very much like potash to be included because it is useful for ensuring full crops of tomatoes and fruit generally. The Government have always replied to that request by saying that it would not be wise to give any subsidy for potash because so much of its production is in the hands of a cartel, mainly French and German. That has been true in the past, I believe, but there are today competing supplies available from East Germany, America and to some extent from Israel. It is possible that when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade goes to Moscow he will find that the Russians will be interested in supplying more potash here. Therefore, I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will keep an open mind on the desirability of including potash in the general fertiliser subsidy. That would be appreciated by growers. As events are moving and as trade is expanding, there is no longer any good reason for excluding potash.
I welcome this Motion. I am glad that we are having this debate on horticulture. There is much anxiety in the industry. It is valuable that the many Members on this side of the House—though I see only one back-bench Member opposite who has spoken—are able to present from their first-hand knowledge those problems which are worrying their horticultural constituents.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Sir Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I should like to add my thanks to those which have been expressed already to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who initiated this debate, for taking the opportunity of discussing a matter of tremendous importance not only to the horticultural industry but also to the finances of this country. He opened the debate in a particularly able way, giving facts and figures, to which my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will find some difficulty in replying. It makes me feel that I have not very much more to add except simply to say "Hear, hear" to what he has already said.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), who seconded the Motion, also made a very good contribution, and I would particularly endorse what he said about people working in the industry. I am sorry that there are not more hon. Members on the benches opposite to give support to this Motion, because it is not only the case that horticultural growers are asking for help, but also that any help that is given will also help the people working in the industry.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The hon. Gentleman is one of those hon. Members who is very greatly admired in this House but who never loses an opportunity of saying that he hopes that agriculture, and with it, presumably, horticulture, should be kept out of politics. He knows perfectly well that if there are not many more hon. Members on one side of the House or other there are excellent reasons for it, yet here he is dragging agriculture and horticulture into politics. I hope we shall have no more of that cant.
§ Sir A. Baldwin
I am certainly not bringing politics into this matter. I am only saying that members of a party which claims to represent the workers should have been here to support this Motion, because it is bound to assist the workers as well as the horitcultural growers. I go down through the Vale of Evesham every week and, no matter what time of the day or night it is, I see these people working in the fields, when other people have either gone to the pictures or are watching television. Anything that helps the horticultural growers must help the workers as well.
1643 I want to ask the House to cast its mind back to the days in the early 30's, when there were 2¾ million unemployed in this country. It was then that the Government of the day, which was a National Government, though predominantly Conservative, I think, decided that it was necessary to protect the industry and passed the Import Duties Act. It is interesting in looking up the records of that time to find that that Measure was supported on all sides of the House, even by some of the Liberals, though mainly the Liberals who were not too much obsessed with free trade. A few Liberals voted against the Bill, but they were a very small minority, and I feel sure that this Motion today is receiving the full support of this House.
The result of that Import Duties Act was to encourage the home industry generally in giving a greater measure of protection. In the following years, the industry grew to an extraordinary extent, and I wish to impress on the House that this industry is different from any other industry. In industry generally, if the order books begin to close down industry immediately stops production. In horticulture and agriculture, we have to keep on producing year after year without any knowledge of what the market might be. The result of the protection that was afforded in that Act was that a number of apple growers planted fresh orchards from which today they are receiving some return. It would be very wrong of the Government not to maintain the assistance given by that tariff in terms which are comparable to those imposed in the Act of 1932.
The present tariff was discussed in 1953 and was revised in 1954, when it received unanimous support. If the tariff which was revised in 1954 was right then, that tariff cannot be right today in view of the increased costs of production. I do not wish to repeat the point which has already been emphasised about the tremendous rise in wages, cost of fertilisers and cost of machinery, but that must be recognised. I know that probably my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may use the argument today that the costs and expenses of horticulture on the Continent have risen comparably, but I am not prepared to accept that. I am not prepared to accept figures of that 1644 sort, because I know that they are not correct.
Particularly, I want to ask my hon. Friend to get his Department, if it wants comparable figures of the costs of production, to examine not only wages, but what wages will buy in the countries competing with us, so that we may see how these wages compare in purchasing the necessities of life with what they buy in this country. That is the only real test of the value of wages, and it is also the only real test of whether dumping goes on or not. Dumping can be of various kinds, either through direct subsidies, lower wages, or in other ways, and I think this situation requires examination in order to find out what are the costs of production in this country as compared with those overseas.
I cannot understand why the Government still maintain that the time is not ripe for a revision of the tariffs on horticulture. They have done that, in fact, in connection with flowers, and the flower growers are very appreciative, but I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government do not face the issue and give us what I should like to feel is a correct reply. I sympathise with my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate, because I know that in replying he will do so with his hands tied.
I know that in his usual persuasive way he will give us many reasons why the tariff cannot be altered, but, in the minds of most horticulturists, the reason why the Government are not prepared to revise the tariff at the present moment is, in fact, the delicate negotiations now taking place with European countries for the Free Trade Area. I think that a lot of horticulturists themselves will take a lot of persuading that that is not so.
We need only look back at the statements by various Ministers in regard to tariff policy. As recently as 26th January, my right hon. Friend the Minister, replying to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely, said:As the House knows, the main instrument of Government policy for promoting stability, efficiency and a proper level of remuneration for horticulture is the tariff. This was comprehensively reviewed in 1953, and the existing tariff came into operation in 1954. By and large, it has served its purpose well."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January 1959; Vol. 598; col. 680.]1645 I agree that, by and large, it has served its purpose well, but I think it is about time it was altered again.
Then, we have the statement of the then President of the Board of Trade in 1953, when the revision debates were taking place, when he said this:I think it a good thing that we can implement our frequently-made statements that tariffs are the right way to protect horticulture, and that quotas are not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th Dec. 1953; Vol. 521, col. 2225.]If that was the feeling in 1953, it is about time that the Government revised their opinion of quotas, because they then said that they were not the right way and looked to a straight tariff to put the industry in something like a fair position.
I should like to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) said about the potash position. It is quite wrong that potash, which is so largely used by horticulturists, is not subject to a subsidy. I cannot see the fairness of this. If there is a cartel controlling prices, which is, I believe, being considered under the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948, and if it is decided that there is a monopoly, steps should be taken to see that that monopoly is done away with and that immediately potash should become available to horticultural growers, with a subsidy attached to it.
We hear much about the importance of the export trade, and I thoroughly agree with what is said. We cannot exist without a good export trade. On the other hand, I shall take a lot of convincing that it is wise for this country to depend too much upon an export trade a considerable amount of which requires expensive raw materials to be imported from abroad and then exported in order to bring back food to this country which we ourselves can produce. The whole matter wants examining more carefully than hitherto. For instance, I cannot help thinking that it is not a very wise procedure to send manufactures to Italy in order to bring back such a large volume of horticultural products.
There are three methods for helping horticulture, and they have all been mentioned today. They are tariffs, quotas and marketing schemes. Dealing with the quota first, I think that we operate today, if I might say so, a quota which we are not justified in operating if we stick strictly to the terms of the G.A.T.T. It 1646 was possible only in view of financial difficulties. If it were investigated, I think it would be found that we were operating quotas which were not properly justified.
The disadvantage of the quota system is this. The quota is fixed before there is any knowledge of home production. I am glad that it is now fixed on a monetary basis rather than a quantitative basis, but, the same time, the same effect occurs. We cannot control the weather in this country and, if we have short crops and prices are high, this means that if the quota has been fixed already it does not matter how short we are in this country; the quota operates and prevents our importing goods from other countries. This is to the disadvantage of consumers in this country, and they have just cause for objecting to the system. I hope, therefore, that the quota system will be abolished and something else substituted for it.
Marketing boards have been suggested. My hon. Friends will know that I am not very fond of compulsory marketing boards, and 1 shall not suggest that the establishment of marketing boards is a way of helping the industry, although I am a supporter of co-operative marketing systems. I happen to be interested in horticultural marketing myself, and I support the co-operative marketing society in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew). I send a considerable amount of produce to it, so I am not biased in this respect.
§ Sir A. Hurd
If my hon. Friend will allow me to say so, he is not speaking of a marketing board; it is a marketing society or association.
§ Sir A. Baldwin
I was thinking of marketing hoards, but the system my hon. Friend is interested in is a co-operative marketing committee or society.
§ Sir A. Baldwin
It is not a marketing board. It is a co-operative market. There are several such. It is excellent, and I have nothing to say against it.
I want to say a word about the £7½ million. Here again, I think I am in a different camp from some of my hon. Friends. I am not fond of shots in the arm. I do not particularly like schemes which may help one but not another. I have always been in favour of an end price. Let us be rewarded by the end 1647 price and not by repeated shots in the arm such as we have now.
One thing which could be done with some of the £7½ million would be to help all horticultural growers by allotting a portion of it to the National Farmers' Union publicity scheme. There is no doubt that the consumers of this country are not aware of the quality of the goods which we ourselves produce. This is particularly so in regard to apples, in which I am very interested. We grow the best apples in the world, and I defy anybody to produce an apple which can compare with the apples we grow. Yet the advertising of our own fruit is done on a very poor scale. I am sorry for what happened when I endeavoured to bring in a marketing Bill which would have made a levy compulsory on horticultural growers for the purpose of advertising. It had the blessing of the National Farmers' Union and of the Ministry of Agriculture, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said that I could not bring in my scheme unless I brought in a marketing scheme. I said that, in view of my objection to marketing schemes, I should let the thing drop. I feel that that was a mistake. Here now is an opportunity for the Ministry to provide a part of the £7½ million for the National Farmers' Union in order to publicise the home crop.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
In fairness to the Attorney-General, it would be right to say that the law is the law and he has to say what the law is. He cannot change it by himself.
§ Sir A. Baldwin
I quite agree, but I wish that the Ministry of Agriculture, before it adopted the scheme, had gone to the Attorney-General and found out what the position was before I went to a lot of expense to prepare my Bill.
If help were given to the N.F.U. publicity scheme in this way, it would help every individual grower. This £7½ million scheme can help only a very small number of horticultural growers, and it cannot help the very small grower. I expect that the same conditions will apply to the application of this scheme as apply to the farm improvement grant. Unless a grower is prepared to go in for a scheme which costs a certain amount of money, he will not receive a grant. 1648 Knowing how money is looked at in the administrative Departments, I imagine that the sum involved will be beyond the capabilities of small growers and they will not be able to take advantage of it. I would rather see something done to help all growers.
The time is ripe for a complete overhaul of our tariff arrangements. We are told about the G.A.T.T. It is time that the G.A.T.T. was scrapped and, if it is desired to put something else in its place, something more up to date should be substituted. In my opinion, it operates harshly on our horticultural industry. The peculiar thing about the G.A.T.T., I think, is that the only tariff which can be put on the import of apples into this country can be imposed between April and August when we have no apples at all. As soon as August comes, then all apples have to be admitted free of tariff. If that is not something which looks foolish, I do not know what it is.
I suggest that the Government should look into the system which is operating on the Continent. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South said that he did not agree with it. I do agree with it and I hope that the Minister will look into the way the system works there and consider carefully whether it is a good system or not. The trouble with our present tariff system is that it is not flexible enough. The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) said that he wanted something flexible, and that is perfectly true. The Continental countries, especially the members of the Common Market, have a flexible system. Two countries meet and agree on what shall be the minimum price for certain commodities. These prices are arranged by a committee comprising producers, Government officials and consumers. It fixes the price, and there is also a daily watch kept on prices in the particular country concerned.
I will illustrate the position in Germany and Italy. When minimum prices are fixed, there is a committee in Germany which watches day by day how the prices are going. The moment the German prices fall below the agreed minimum price, the committee imposes an embargo against Italy which operates in five days from the time when notice is given. The period of five days enables the the pipeline to be cleared. In the 1649 year 1953–54 there was a period when Italian exports of apples to Germany were forbidden for four months.
We want something like that operating in this country. It is absurd that we should have seasons of glut, as we had last year, when thousands of tons of apples rotted, there being no market for them. If something of the sort that I have described had been operating last year we should have stopped any importation of apples. Incidentally, the apples which were being imported at that time did not compare in quality with our own. I am speaking from experience because I had 2,000 or 3,000 bushels of Newton Wonders which cost me about 2s. 6d. per bushel by the time I had picked them, graded them and put them on the market. Yet I could not get more than 2s. 6d. per bushel for them, and many were not sold and were pulped to feed cattle. All this time we were receiving apples from abroad. It is a fantastic situation. I should like my hon. Friend to investigate the situation and try to find a more flexible system.
At present we have a specific tariff, as against an ad valorem duty. Having an ad valorem duty means that if we are short of produce here and supplies are available abroad, the supply will be at higher prices than would normally obtain. The ad valorem duty is added to the price. and the consumer in this country has to suffer.
I wonder whether it would be a practical proposition—perhaps my hon. Friend will discuss it with his experts—to operate an ad valorem duty in reverse. That would mean that as prices rose the import duty would drop automatically and as our prices dropped the ad valorem duty would rise. That would be fair not only to the producers but to the consumers, for they could not say that the duty was hurting them. In all these discussions we have to remember that the consumers are very often the people who are affected by alterations in tariffs, though I was surprised to hear my hon. Friend say what a small difference was made to the cost of living if the tariff was increased by 10 per cent. I do not think the Government need worry about the consumers if they alter the tariff.
I have never been able to understand why retail greengrocers in country towns in fruit growing districts exhibit on their 1650 stands foreign apples, which are really not worth eating, and press their sale. I do not know how much truth there is in it, but I have been told that when these greengrocers order bananas and oranges and other commodities they are more or less compelled to take from the wholesalers a certain number of foreign apples. They will have contracted for these perhaps months previously, and they are anxious to get rid of them. There must be some reason why local greengrocers press the sale of sappy produce like Italian apples as opposed to some of our fresh fruit.
We are spending thousands of millions of pounds on defence. What will the money spent on nuclear and other weapons matter if we are starved? It is essential for the Government to realise the importance of keeping horticulture in 100 per cent. production so that if we ever go to war again we shall not have the prospect of starvation as we did during the last war.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Sir Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) is to be congratulated on using his good fortune in the ballot so well by raising the subject of the horticultural industry, with which he is exceedingly familiar and for which he has fought so hard for many years. His speech made it abundantly clear to all that the industry is faced with some very serious difficulties.
I have met many of the people concerned. They realise that if they are to carry on successfully they need real help from the Government, and need it now. I think that even the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) realised that, but I take a rather different view of the situation from that which he took. I believe those in the industry are full of common sense and will welcome assistance in whatever way they can get it. The £7½ million would be useful. It would not be regarded as charity but would be received in the spirit in which similar grants are accepted throughout our industrial structure. Nor do I think they would share the prejudice of the hon. and learned Member for Brigg against the tariff. I think it is generally accepted throughout the industry that the tariff is 1651 the primary weapon with which we can help horticulture.
I speak on behalf of an important horticultural producing area. That may surprise a great many people who regard Blackpool as the premier holiday resort of the United Kingdom filled with millions of happy holidaymakers. But there are other things of great importance that go on in the area. Long before the name of Blackpool was ever thought of, there was in the hinterland an area of land known as Marton Moss. mentioned in the Domesday Book, an area of very fine, fertile land which is now one of the most intensively cultivated areas in the country. I think I can fairly say that the fertility of the soil is matched only by the industry and efficiency of those who till it. Production is large. It is designed not merely for the local market. At the present time the products, mainly lettuce, tomatoes and flowers. go out to the whole of the North of England and the Midlands.
Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting a number of the producers and going through their glasshouses. It was a fine sight. The flowers were delightful. The beautiful smell of the sweet peas as they were being picked was something to remember for a long time. It was interesting to see that those who were producing flowers were very happy about the aid given by the recent revision of tariffs, for they can produce successfully and well and make money.
On the other hand, the producers of lettuces and tomatoes have gone through a very difficult time. I saw some of them last Friday almost at the height of the lettuce season. I asked for figures of production, and I was told that up to 18th April this year 196,705 boxes of lettuce, weighing about 741 tons, had gone out from the Blackpool area by rail alone. That figure represents only about half of the production, for a tremendous amount goes out by road. All the producers told me that they had had very heavy losses with tomatoes last summer, and now they have had a rough time with lettuce this year.
When I was there, I saw some beautiful lettuce of the finest quality. It may well be that when I was there the price being obtained was almost down to rock-bottom, but in that week lettuce of top 1652 quality were fetching as little as 2½d. each, while lettuce of similar quality in the London shops were fetching Is. each. When I was there, the growers were hoping for a rise because they believed that from then on there might be a let-up in the imports from Holland.
It is. the Dutch imports which have caused them so much trouble and which have removed all possible hope of prosperity. It is admitted that during the four weeks ending 11th April this year Dutch imports doubled compared with the same period last year. Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I cannot for the life of me see why we should be so susceptible and so tender to Dutch interests in this matter.
The Dutch have voluntarily elected to go into a trade association called the Common Market which can be only disadvantageous to the trade of our country as it is at the moment. The West German colleagues of the Dutch in the Common Market are not taking Dutch lettuce and instead they are being sent to this country at prices which must mean eventual ruin for our lettuce growers.
I urge my hon. Friend to give all the help we can to these people who are doing such important work. They had a bad season last year and the opening of this part of the season has been bad for the sale of their lettuce. They are very worried about what will happen with their sales of tomatoes later on, when imports of tomatoes come in at the height of their season.
This is a case where action should be taken speedily, because those who are growing these crops cannot wait until somebody makes a move. The plants are quite high and are in flower. Already small tomatoes are showing and the growers now have to go through with their work, and if they have to sell at a loss they will be in very great trouble.
Personally, I believe that the weapon of the tariff is the right one to use to handle this problem, and we might need to consider a complete embargo which may at times be necessary. Above all, we want to be able to move speedily and we must have that measure of flexibility about which so many hon. Members have spoken. Clearly the tariffs must be flexible and must be seasonal, because it is possible that the tariff of one month 1653 would have to be doubled for another month, while it might be that there would he no need of any tariff on another occasion. Such arrangements would be necessary to keep a fair balance between producer arid consumer, which we have always tried to achieve in this country.
It is generally recognised that the growers are up against it. Wages have risen steadily while the tariff has remained the same. But the cost of fuel has risen to fantastic levels. There have been increases in coal and coke prices and I was startled at the vast quantities of breeze which has to be fed into the boilers and which was very poor stuff at the high price of 90s. a ton, which represents a very great burden to the grower.
This is a serious problem. Unless we tackle it now and tackle it quickly, there is a real danger to the country itself, because if these losses continue to pile up, many growers will be driven out of business. Many of these areas, like the one of which I have been speaking, are on the edges of highly developed areas. Once the growers have been driven out of business, speculative builders will find themselves urged to develop the land and once the vegetable production has gone and houses are built in these areas, we will never be able to recover the position of an industry of the greatest importance to the country. I ask the Minister to move before it is too late and to let us have quick action which will help an industry which is in definite need of help.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
To any of us who take part in debates on agriculture, it is always a pleasure to see the Parliamentary Secretary sitting on the Front Bench. In addition to that natural pleasure there is a second reason why I am pleased to see him there. It is that the Minister of Agriculture is visiting Sussex. About two years ago, the previous occasion on which the then occupant of that office came to speak in my constituency, I was told that it was about 22 years since Sussex had had a visit from a Minister of Agriculture. I am delighted that the cycle has decreased and I hope that the present visit of the Minister does not mean that we shall again have to wait a very long time before the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary comes to Sussex.
1654 When I was considering this subject, the first thing that came to my mind was that when I had listened to the debates on the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act in 1957 I had gained the impression that that Measure was something which might be of help to the horticultural industry. In case my impression was wrong, T took the precaution of looking at the debates of that time. I found that the President of the Board of Trade said:I suppose that if, say, at the end of the season, a foreign firm started to dump in this market fashion goods which it had failed to sell in its own market, it would be reasonable to consider putting on an anti-dumping duty." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1957; Vol. 563, c. 58.]That seemed to me to be a fairly clear indication that that Act was something which might be of help to the horticultural industry. I suggested that at one or two meetings of growers in my constituency. I found that they were rather sceptical and, having looked at the history of the working of that Act, I think that my original impression was possibly wrong.
If I am wrong in that, it might be possible for the Government to make a clear declaration that it is the intention that that Act should be used for this purpose. When there are cases of subsidies or double pricing, surely that is something which should clearly come within the original intention of that Act. That might be one way in which the Government could assist the industry.
I then studied the various arrangements made in different European countries to see whether I might as a result be able to place some relevant matters before the House for consideration today. I have information about six different countries and four commodities from each of them. I do not propose to inflict on the House the details of the arrangements in those countries, but I will give a brief summary of that information.
The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) was under the impression that no tomatoes were imported into Holland. I am able to advise him. Tomatoes are imported into Holland and the arrangements are that between 1st March and 15th April there is an import duty of 13.5 per cent. Between 16th April and the end of February the duty is 18 per cent. In addition, import 1655 licences are required and imports from the Benelux countries are subject to minimum import price arrangements. It seems that a few tomatoes manage to find their way to Holland, even though the Dutch probably produce most of their requirements themselves.
Having studied this survey, which covers twenty-four commodities, I find that there are only three which are not assisted by tariff. Two are in Denmark, lettuce and tomatoes, and one is in Norway, cauliflowers. In addition, every single one of the twenty-four items has one or more of a series of arrangements made to help the home producer. The main items under that heading are quotas, import licences, minimum export price guarantees and minimum import price arrangements.
I should like to add my support to what my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) has said about minimum import price arrangements and to ask the Government whether there is not a case for looking into that type of arrangement in relation to the horticultural industry. A tariff can be a valuable assistance to the industry, but I ask the Government not to rely entirely on tariffs when in these countries it has been found that in addition certain other things are required.
I know that when an application is made for an increase in tariff, or an arrangement such as I have asked the Government to consider, the usual reply is that we are in difficulties because of G.A.T.T. I have taken the precaution of looking at the original documents of that Agreement, but I confess that I have derived very little benefit from reading them. If it is the case that agreements under G.A.T.T. make difficulties for us in helping the horticultural industry, I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to explain how it is that all those countries to which I have referred find that they are able not only to have tariffs but other arrangements as well. I suggest that we need to approach these problems in a similar way.
In considering these detailed arrangements for various commodities, it would appear to me that it is no use approaching this problem for the industry as a whole. It does not follow that what is good for lettuce would apply to apples. It would seem, therefore, that those who are 1656 interested in apple growing might well find that they should have discussions together and see whether they could not find out the details of what is going on in Europe so that they might be able to work out plans for themselves and apply the information obtained to their own benefit. There are precedents in this country for international consultative councils, entirely unofficial, which do very good work. I believe that there might be a line of approach to these problems in that way.
I had intended to say a few words about the problems of the apple growers but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster and others have dealt in some detail with that aspect of horticulture, perhaps there is no need for me to say any more. It is quite clear that there is a steady expansion of apple production in Western Europe and it is difficult to explain to growers in this country why, on 16th August, we allow apples to come into the country free of charge just at the time when we are in a fairly good position to supply our own requirements.
There is, however, another small matter in relation to apples which I should like to put to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I would ask him whether he could not have a word with the former Minister of Agriculture so that when the right hon. Gentleman considers financial matters he might look at a very small Amendment to the Finance Bill suggesting that the duty might be removed in relation to fruit used for the production of cider. If that could be done there is an example in my constituency, and certainly in one other constituency, of what its effect would be. In my constituency a company was using 2,700 tons of apples in 1956 but, as a result of Section 2 of the Finance Act, 1956, the company used no apples in 1958. If the small Amendment to the Finance Bill which I have tabled were accepted, I am informed that it would enable that company to use considerably more apples. The company estimates that had this change not been made in 1956 it would have been possible for it to be using about 8,000 tons of apples by today. An Amendment of that kind would result in a benefit to apple growers and require no great effort on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture. If it should happen that my hon. Friend finds himself in a position 1657 to have a word with the Chancellor, I am sure that it would be greatly appreciated.
Reference has been made to the fact that the cost of production in horticulture is largely made up of labour and fuel. We can do nothing about labour costs, but the question of the cost of fuel is one to which I believe further attention could be given. An example has already been given in the debate of what happens in Ireland. There are plenty of other precedents. One can be found in Ontario and others can be found in Western Europe where horticulturists are able to obtain their fuel at a preferential rate of tax. It is something well worthy of our attention.
Potash is always mentioned in these debates and the subject has already been dealt with adequately, but I would ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary not to forget that potash is something in which the industry is very interested. When the new scheme which the Minister of Agriculture has announced is put into effect, I hope that attention will be given also to the conversion of heating appliances in horticultural buildings, because that would enable horticulturists to deal with one of the important problems in their industry.
There is a substantial export trade in horticultural products from this country. One of the difficulties which has been arising has been the increasing demand for plant inspections and health certificates. The cost of these is such that it is resulting in difficulties arising in fulfilling export orders. I should like my hon. Friend to look at that problem and consider whether it would be possible to arrange for plant inspections and the issuing of health certificates to be included in the services offered by his Department. very much as is the case under attested herd regulations and in the arrangements for soil samples.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland. North)
I should like to join in congratulating the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) on promoting the debate. If he were here now I would ask him to forgive me. The House knows that I am a mild-mannered man and I could not compete with the hon. and gallant Member in his picturesque vituperation of 1658 the Government. I also congratulate him on the felicitous wording of the Motion. I am not unduly suspicious, but I suspect the wording of being a combined operation. Tariffs are not mentioned in it, although a good deal has been said about them in the course of the debate.
I do not complain of that. I recognise that it is a burden put on the Government to consider the applications from producers as objectively as possible, and we must assume that the Government have done that and have sought to reach the proper conclusions. When we scrapped the quotas and doubled the tariffs I expressed some doubts whether this was in itself an effective measure to protect horticulture.
I think that we recognise the general case for a protective shield, but, as many hon. Members have said, when we are dealing with production which depends on outputs affected by climatic conditions it is very difficult to devise by tariffs alone an adequate protection of the industry.
One or two interesting suggestions have been made. but we know that the Government are circumscribed in the steps which they can take. We have also to recognise that as long ago as 1932 the I.D.A.C. itself told the industry that it could not rely on tariffs alone as a substitute for orderly marketing.
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman pointed out, the position is that since 1954 many imports have increased notwithstanding the increased tariffs and also that many crops have been affected by wide price fluctuation in cases where the effect of the tariff was negligible. Nevertheless, and this has come out of sonic of the contributions to the debate, we have to recognise that whatever the decision on the application to the Government for increased tariffs there is a good deal of apprehension in the industry because it is uncertain about the future action that the Government are going to take with regard to trading with Europe.
We cannot conceal the fact—I have every sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman—that we have botched these negotiations. No one knows where we are going from here, and I would urge the Government to make a declaration as soon as they can of their intentions with regard to the European Common Market. I believe, as one or two hon. 1659 Members have said, that we should study rather more carefully the concept of minimum import prices. What we need from the Government now is a statement of their intentions, because this matter particularly affects the horticultural industry.
If we turn to the industry itself we can all agree that the two objectives that we want to attain are security for the growers in a very hazardous occupation and the provision of a better service for the public. Those are the two common objectives which, I think, the whole House would accept. It is urgently necessary to do something now—and this is the importance of this debate—because we simply cannot afford to allow the acreages to shrink. We have to recognise that the horticultural industry is becoming a depressed industry. If we look at the N.F.U.'s horticultural surveys we see that they show clearly enough that the average income from horticulture is declining.
I have recently improved my mind by reading Achievement in Agriculture, a very attractively produced document which has come out of the Conservative political centre. Some of its conclusions are tendentious and its general attitude is complacent, and when I come to the last page I find this rather revealing clarion call. I read:From your own experience, have you any comments or suggestions to make on the development of policy regarding horticulture?I feel, after having read the document, that that is a rather lame conclusion to reach. I propose to endeavour to answer it now and to make a few suggestions which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will find helpful.
If we tackle the problem of horticulture we can approach it either from the point of view of production or from the point of view of marketing, although I think that we accept the view of the Lucas Committee, in this regard at least, that "inefficient production and inefficient marketing go hand in hand." If we look at production, the major difficulty is the wide fluctuation in supply.
I should like the Government to look at one suggestion which has frequently been made, the possibility of acreage licensing of large-scale producers of some particular crops. I think that in regard to some crops, such as brussels sprouts, 1660 cabbages, savoys, carrots and green peas, we might consider this. I am asking the Government to do no more than to consider the matter. They should also recognise, whether they find this attractive or not, that the producer needs a good deal more knowledge than he now has to determine his crop selection.
The Government may well feel that some producers do not make sufficient use of such information as is now available, and I come back to a point which I have been repeatedly urging in the House over the past few months—the importance of N.A.A.S. We cannot allow this service to continue to be a Cinderella service in the Department. Here, again, when we consider production problems in horticulture we come up against the fact that this invaluable service is not big enough to tackle the jobs which it ought to tackle.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting suggestion. Has he in mind likening it at all to the system which operates for sugar beet—growing under contract?
§ Mr. Willey
That is a precedent which I have in mind. I believe that in the horticultural industry many of the producers are too small to think about acreage limitation, but in the case of the large-scale producers we might consider trying to limit the extent of the fluctuations by some such means. I am asking the Government to look at the matter to see whether it is something which can be done about particular crops.
The other aspect of production is, of course, the endeavour to reduce costs. I was saying, before the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely returned to the Chamber, that on this occasion—I almost apologise for saying it—I do not fully share his hostility to the Government. I am very happy to know that one of the purposes of the Minister's announcement in January was to endeavour to reduce costs by making some of these grants available for the modernising of glasshouse heating. I am delighted about this, because it was one of the things which I advocated in Committee on the 1957 Bill. There were inscrutable reasons why this was not done at that time, but I am glad that it is going to be done now.
1661 Having said this about the production side of the industry, I feel that the priority is on the marketing side. I believe that this is the general conclusion of the authorities which have looked at horticulture during the past few years. It is indeed unfair on the producer that he should suffer from something for which he is not entirely responsible.
If we look at the marketing side, it seems, again, that there are two aspects of the matter. In the first place, we simply must improve and modernise the methods and techniques of marketing. The second aspect, which is rather different, is that, equally, we must improve the physical facilities available for the marketing of horticultural produce.
The solutions to these two broad problems are fairly obvious, and I believe that they are widely recognised. All that the Runciman Committee did was to confirm conclusions previously reached. The first conclusion is, broadly, that to meet the first difficulty we need some form of horticultural marketing organisation. Such an organisation must, as has been emphasised today, represent all the sections of the industry. The differences which arise—and I recognise that there are differences—are about the constitution of such a body and the powers which it should have. I feel—I have said this before—that the Runciman Committee made minimum recommendations.
The Runciman Committee suggested a horticultural marketing council to encourage, foster and improve the techniques of marketing, to be responsible for research, and to provide marketing intelligence and publicity. Everyone should accept that as a minimum recommendation. The Runciman Committee reported in January, 1957, and it was not until August of that year that we had a statement from the Government saying that they accepted the Committee's recommendation in principle. Not until May of last year did the Government say that, having accepted this minimum recommendation in principle, they would set up a committee to advise them. What was that Committee to do? It was to examine all the aspects of the matter. That will not do, if we are agreed that this is the urgent problem which everyone has said 1662 that it is. We cannot have an urgent problem dealt with in this way. It is wholly unjustifiable procrastination.
I had intended to say something about marketing boards, particularly as I am aware of the expertise of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in the matter of marketing boards. But I will not do more than comment on the fact that so little reference has been made during this debate to marketing boards. However, had that matter been as widely discussed as the question of tariffs, we should nevertheless have been bound to recognise some of its limitations. But there has been no emphasis on marketing boards, and we cannot, therefore, afford this procrastination by the Government. We must get more action from the Government. They cannot put this matter back again to another committee for re-examination. The Runciman Committee made the minimum recommendation which we could have expected and it was for the Government themselves to make a decision upon it.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member will remember that the Runciman Committee was guarded in its comments on marketing boards. It referred to one which had been attempted for apples and pears and had come to nought, and mentioned the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board as an experiment. As I explained in my speech, I deliberately did not raise this matter because, at the moment, there is a major crisis raging in the Tomato and Cucumber Board and I did not want political pressure exerted either way. But I think it a pity if the Board is using its official journal as a medium for grinding political axes.
§ Mr. Willey
I do not want to say anything about that Board. I recognise the reasons which prompted the hon. and gallant Member not to say much about marketing roads. My point is that as producers are obviously not turning to marketing boards in an endeavour to improve marketing conditions, so much greater responsibility rests on the Government to create an organisation, as recommended. and to see that it gets to work as soon as possible.
Turning from the methods and techniques of marketing to the physical facilities available, again there are two aspects. One has been dealt with today, but the 1663 other, oddly enough, has not been mentioned. The first is the preparation of produce for the market. Here again—it is Friday and I can afford to be flattering to the Government—I welcome the statement of the Minister about the £7½million that is to he made available, although I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Mallalieu) that more money could be made available if greater use were made of credit. Not only do I welcome the statement but also its emphasis on the preparation of produce for the market. I assume that some of this money will be devoted to buildings and equipment, such as collecting and grading centres. I also fully approve of the later statement of the Minister supporting cooperative enterprises.
The Minister has read "Prosper the Plough" with great profit. But we need not be unduly partisan about this, because even the Runciman Committee emphasised the importance of co-operative enterprise in marketing. If producers want an effective illustration of the value of such marketing they should read the reports of the Land Settlement Association. There is a very good example of small tenants having the great advantage of a central estate providing facilities and services which it would be beyond the resources of an individual tenant to provide.
We recognise that the Government are making an effort to improve the physical facilities for preparing produce for the market. This should have an effective result on marketing. Again, my only complaint is procrastination on the part of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman may think that I am rather unfair in welcoming his statement and at the same time begging him to get on with it. But the most important result of this debate has been that it has shown this problem to be one of increasing urgency.
The second aspect of the problem is the wholesale markets themselves. I doubt very much whether anyone who has had a look at horticultural marketing believes that there can be any radical improvement without a great deal of capital expenditure. Certainly, when I used to question Lord Tenby when he was Minister of Food on this matter, invari- 1664 ably his reply was that capital resources were not available at that time. Unfortunately, when they were available the Runciman Committee was deliberating. Unfortunately again, now that capital resources are available, the Government have not introduced legislation and cannot take advantage of the present opportunity.
I regard as a most important feature of the Runciman Committee's Report that it pointed out that these facilities were not available, not only at Covent Garden but "at most of the wholesale markets." Against this background, I think everyone would agree again that the Runciman Committee made a minimum recommendation. It said that Brentford and Stratford should be improved and expanded and that there should be a new wholesale market for north-west London and considerable improvements to Covent Garden. The Committee said that this could be appropriately carried out only by a public marketing authority and, therefore, a London markets authority ought to be set up. Regarding provincial markets, the Government said that the existing markets were congested and unsuitable and that the "market authorities should be urged to rebuild or otherwise improve their markets at the earliest possible date."
That Report was issued in January, 1957, and it was not until June of last year that we got a statement from the Government. They said that they would greatly improve Covent Garden and provide elsewhere for storage facilities. One can realise the extent of this problem by the fact that eight acres are needed in Central London for storage only. To provide this a new statutory Covent Garden Authority would be created. The Government concluded their statement with pious hopes about Brentford and Stratford.
Again I criticise the Government because of their delay. There is nothing done, apart from some local initiative. The London County Council and the Corporation of London have Private Bills now before us to obtain the powers to provide alternative storage space. But still there is nothing done, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite are agreed about the urgency of this question, I hope they will assist me in an attempt to get results as soon as possible.
1665 Moreover, what the Government are seeking to do in this case is quite inadequate. I have not yet had a satisfactory explanation of why they dropped the proposal for a north-west London market. The Runciman Committee. which was not ambitious, felt bound to make that recommendation, and if it is valid it ought to be proceeded with at once. We ought to see how far it will relieve congestion on Covent Garden. If we are considering the rebuilding of Cogent Garden, that step should be taken first. We ought to see whether it is possible to relieve the pressure on Covent Garden by rebuilding or improving the other markets before we tackle the Covent Garden problem.
So far as I know, nothing effective has been done about provincial markets. In this respect, I do not entirely accept the Runciman Report. The markets have been there for a very long time. It is no good merely urging the market authorities to improve their markets. We need not be unnecessarily doctrinaire about this. We must realise that fruit and vegetable markets are not very attractive propositions for capital investment.
Probably the only way to ensure the necessary improvements being made is to provide for public capital and a public corporation. Whether that is necessary or not, the Government cannot avoid responsibility. Years go by and the congestion gets worse. The only party controversy note I shall raise, and I do not know how controversial it is, is about new provincial markets. I am aware of the conclusions of the Runciman Committee Report about primary and local markets, but I believe that we may have to build new provincial markets and I do not see any way except through a Public Markets Corporation.
We want to impress upon the Government that these matters are urgent and that the Government should show signs that they are treating them urgently. I have gone out of my way several times to welcome the announcement by the Government about the £7½ million grant, but the time is going fast and the industry wants to feel assured that its difficulties are recognised. They know that tariffs were doubled only a few years ago, that the housewife is facing increasing costs of fruit and vegetables, while the producers' own incomes have been declining.
1666 The Government are waking up to the fact that the industry is astir, but I want them to do more than that. Even this Session they must show that they can act effectively by tackling this problem immediately.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Intervening after the second speech from the Opposition benches, I shall not detain the House for long, but I have had the advantage of hearing both points of view from the other side. In congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) for bringing this subject before us today, some of us would also like to congratulate the two hon. Members opposite, for the confidence that is reposed in them by their colleagues.
§ Mr. Willey
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not been with us all day and is not aware that no confidence in the Government has been expressed from this side of the House.
§ Mr. Bell
That may be a question of degree. It will be seen how much confidence is reposed in the two hon. Gentlemen opposite, one of whom was speaking on behalf of that turbulent and amorphous body the Opposition Front Bench, and the other, the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), speaking on behalf of the back benchers.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the fact that at no time in this morning's debate have there been more than seven Government supporters present.
§ Mr. Bell
I would not accept that for a moment. I wonder why the two hon. Gentlemen opposite should be so touchy when they are complimented in this way. I wonder whether the position in the House that the hon. and learned Gentleman has taken up to deliver his speech has any significance today. Certainly he has shown what I might call a recidivist attitude to tariffs. I do not wish to he unjust to the hon. and learned Gentleman, nor indeed do I disagree with him very much, but I do not think he was appreciative enough of the value of tariffs on agricultural produce. Producers in my constituency look to them 1667 with great confidence. In general, if the Government will watch the fluctuations of foreign competition closely the tariff weapon will meet most of our problems.
I am not attracted by the suggestions of acreage limitation made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). One of our troubles is indeed the seasonal period of glut but it never seems that we can get over this annual fluctuation by acreage limitation. The only way in which acreage limitation could be made to work would be by operating on a basis of chronic shortage, so that good seasons did not produce a surfeit. That is not a satisfactory arrangement. Acreage restriction is the sort of policy that we can pursue where we have over a considerable period of years an excess of production establishing itself in the world, but by and large that is not the position with horticultural produce in this part of the world today.
§ Mr. Willey
While it might be possible to have some acreage licensing of the large-scale producers, for the small-scale producers we should try to avoid prejudicing them when we have periods of glut.
§ Mr. Bell
I appreciate the point that size is one of the basic elements of efficiency in marketing. What the hon. Gentleman has said might have some validity if we had well-established co-operative marketing arrangements. I do not say that I agree with the argument, but I see its possible validity then. At the moment that is certainly not the position and therefore I think it retrograde in present conditions to try to limit the largest producers.
Many of my constituents were very disappointed when the Government did not feel able to increase the tariff on tomatoes. That is too large a subject to go deeply into at this stage of the debate, but I was not much impressed by the argument that, although costs of production had risen in Britain they had also risen by about the same amount in some foreign countries. That is quite true. There has been a substantial increase in production costs both here and, for example, in Holland; but the tariff on tomatoes is a specific tariff, not an ad valorem tariff. Therefore, the result of a substantial increase in costs of production everywhere is a marked reduction in the 1668 proportion of protection which the specific tariff gives.
Of course, if we were to have an ad valorem tariff, we should not have that disadvantage. Just as in the general field of imperial trade we have found the value of Imperial Preferences whittled down wherever the Imperial Preference is specific, in the matter of tomatoes the rise in costs all round has laid the British producer more open to competition than he was before. That should quite soon be recognised by an increase in the specific tariff at least of such magnitude as to restore the proportion of protection which the producer enjoyed when that tariff was first imposed.
We were reassured and pleased by the increase in the tariff on cut flowers, with which my constituency is perhaps more concerned than with some other horticultural crops. I should point out to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, however, that the increase in protection of cut flowers at the same time as an increase in the duty on tomatoes and other vegetable products was refused has had the effect of driving production into cut flowers. So, at the same time that my cut flower producers are given this help on the one hand, they are exposed to much greater internal competition by the refusal of an increase on tomatoes on the other hand. A very considerable number of growers are now going in for cut flowers. They are people who were not doing so before. There is no doubt about that. If necessary, I could give my hon. Friend specific information upon it. So one may risk there over-production and loss of profitability.
I share with every hon. Member who has spoken today a belief in the value of the £7½ million scheme. I shall not repeat what has been said by others. It has been often said that the most valuable feature of the scheme is that this is the first time any Government have given help to a co-operative scheme of marketing in horticulture. These grants will be available for co-operatives. Although it has been said often enough, I do not think that has been enough realized; and I make no apology for repeating it today because it is a most important new development. I earnestly hope that many people in horticulture will seriously consider the practicability of their joining 1669 in some of these co-operative schemes. sometimes think that if some of the quite large producers could see the sort of efficiency in marketing techniques which goes on in such a case as Kent Packers and, may be, others, their eyes would be opened to the possibilities of improvement in marketing.
The hon. and learned Member for Brigg, while praising the £7½ million scheme, said he would be almost happier if it were used for cheap credit. There I must join issue with him. First, cheap credit is no less a form of charity, to use his own expression. It may be none the worse for that, but it would certainly not avoid the objections he levelled against the scheme. If it be true that growers when they go to the banks are met with a sceptical approach to the profitability of their business, so that they cannot raise loans —I doubt whether that is widely true —the cure is to increase their profitability and credit-worthiness and put them on a sound basis rather than to give them cheap credit so that they may expand in a business which is considered unprofitable. I doubt, however, whether even the £7½ million scheme would transform the profitability of their businesses.
I think the scheme is right, but I think we have to be willing to increase the protection which we give British growers. I realise the danger of leaning on protection and getting cosy inside a tariff wall. Many people in my constituency grow apples. My hon. Friend can point to the statistics and say that in some ways the apple growers have not done too badly. They are producing more than they did pre-war and imports from the Commonwealth are actually down, but even there I ask my hon. Friend to be very vigilant because the remarkable growth of the Italian industry could raise serious problems for apple growers in the quite near future. If that should be so, the present very modest tariff on apples might well have to be increased.
My hon. Friend, I am sure, will bear in mind in this respect and in respect of other horticultural products that the whole machinery is terribly highly geared. That is what worries many of us who represent horticultural constituencies. We get a glut arid promptly those countries in Northern Europe which have the machinery impose a total suspension of 1670 imports. Then the glut is diverted and concentrated upon the United Kingdom because we have not that machinery. We can run along very nicely for a few years and not have great troubles, but then we can run instantly into the most urgent crisis, when growers have good crops—good in quantity and good in quality—but suddenly, in a matter of months, find themselves very near to financial ruin.
There is not an easy solution; I am not suggesting there is. I think our organisation has to be—I am not sure that "flexible" is the word—highpowered and of lightning speed. I am not sure how we can achieve that. Therefore, while I want to give proper praise to the Government £7½ million scheme, which I think is basically right, I urge my hon. Friend that he and his colleagues, in spite of the complication of G.A.T.T. and its procedures. should try to get some positive, permanent and general advance in their powers to impose tariffs at very short notice. If we can do that, I think we shall he really "set fair" in this country.
I see a future of much more efficient marketing, a future, I hope, in which British producers will begin to think about foreign exports on a substantial scale—as they ought to be thinking-—and in which they can feel reasonable security in their production. So I ask that my hon. Friend, while absorbing all the praise which has rightly been lavished on the Government. should listen also to the criticism which has been voiced today and give us more help in the future.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)
I am very glad indeed that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has chosen this subject for discussion today. It is the first occasion, I imagine, for a long time that we have had the opportunity of having a full-scale debate on horticulture in this House. On a personal note, I should like to say that, as one who has been associated with this industry for most of my life, I am glad that it falls to me to respond on the behalf of the Government to this Motion. My right hon. Friend is prepared to accept this Motion on behalf of the Government, and I hope to show in the course of my speech that we are 1671 giving urgent consideration to many of the problems confronting horticulture in this country today. We shall take careful note of the many suggestions which have been put forward in the course of the debate and I hope to deal with a number of them as I go along.
This debate takes place against the background of the Government's recent decision in regard to applications for tariff increases on various horticultural commodities. I know that some of those decisions—and I have been reminded of it today—proved a disappointment to growers, but I want to assure the House once again that the decisions that were taken were based on the facts and figures that were available to us, and those applications which were rejected were turned down because it was felt, on balance, that a strong enough case for an increase had not been made out. I hope, however, that the increases given to certain cut flowers will prove not only a help to that section of the industry but will serve as a reassurance that the tariff does remain—and one or two of my hon. Friends have asked for the assurance and I give it again—the main support for British horticulture, and that the Government are always ready to look at any fresh applications strictly on their merits.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay) asked, in particular, that I should reassure him that the announcement of the £7½ million scheme was additional to and not in substitution of a tariff policy. I gladly give that assurance, and I think my right hon. Friend has already made that clear.
At all times horticulture has to contend to a quite exceptional degree with the vagaries of the weather which can bring about rapid variations in supply, however carefully growers try to plan their programmes, while demand, especially for salad crops, can fluctuate almost as rapidly. At the same time, most horticultural crops are extremely perishable by nature, and this combination of circumstances inevitably leads to gluts and shortages at certain times. This was particularly borne out in 1958 with its very wet weather which ruined some crops and depressed the demand for others, while some crops, such as apples, yielded so abundantly that only the best quality found a ready market. This is a state of affairs which growers have always 1672 accepted as being a risk in their industry, but undoubtedly last year did create more problems than usual.
The Motion refers to the expansion of production in both Europe and North America. While it is true that expansion has taken place, it varies enormously from one crop to another, and I think that that is where a number of hon. Members who have spoken today, if I may be forgiven for saying so, have tended to generalise. Horticulture has a number of different and specific problems related to different crops, and the conditions are quite different.
Perhaps I could illustrate it in this way. The Motion refers to North America and perhaps I can take the figures for two crops. In North America, while the production of citrus fruit is now more than double that of pre-war years, the position of apples and pears, which are the crops of most concern to our own producers, shows a very different picture. Our own production of these two crops is now about two and a half times that of pre-war, while in the United States it is slightly less than the pre-war figure, and for Canada about 10 per cent. more. The figures for Continental Europe, to which certain of my hon. Friends and, in particular, the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) referred, have risen substantially, but even they are rather less than double the pre-war figure. In this sector, then, it is clear that our home growers have a very good story to tell from the production angle.
I will deal with the import of supplies in a moment, but I have given these figures relating to apples and pears to show how difficult it is to generalise on any question relating to horticulture. Turning to the crops which form the basis of the recent tariff applications which were rejected. it is true that there has been some increase in imports last year, notably in the case of tomatoes at one period last summer. But it should not be forgotten that the existing tariff for tomatoes has a high incidence and, over the last few years, has averaged over 30 per cent. during the critical month of July when a considerable proportion of the home crop is harvested; and it has been a substantially higher percentage in August. Undoubtedly, a lot of the trouble last season was due to the factor which I mentioned earlier of 1673 adverse weather reducing demand and leading to lower quality in the home crop. Producers should not forget also that the largest element of competition comes from the Channel Islands supplies which come in duty free.
I want to take up one or two points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely. I thought a lot of his opening remarks were very much to the point, but I must be quite blunt and say that at one stage of his speech I found his remarks took a form which I think he himself will regret when he reads his speech. It seemed that he was indulging in almost a personal attack on my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Godber
My right hon. Friend has given tremendous thought and a lot of sympathy to this problem of horticulture, and no Minister of Agriculture in recent times deserves better from horticulturists than he does. I say, quite frankly, that I regret some of the remarks my hon. and gallant Friend made. For instance, when he spoke about "brazen effontery" in regard to a speech, I thought he was going a little far. I took the trouble to get the exact text of that speech to make sure that I got the facts clearly. I find that the speech to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred was made by my noble Friend Lord Waldegrave who was deputising for my right hon. Friend. I say that merely to get the position absolutely clear. He took a message from my right hon. Friend and made a speech in which he used the words my hon. and gallant Friend corn-plains about. As it is important to get the words in their full context, the noble Lord said this:I find general agreement that the most pressing problems in horticulture lie on the marketing side, rather than on the production side. We need an expansion in the market for fruit and vegetables in this country. We need to capture, if we can, a larger share of that market for the British producer. Both require better presentation, better grading, better packing. We need to improve the reputation of home-grown horticultural produce. We need to take advantage of the growing market for pre-packed fruit and vegetables. This, I know, is your aim and the object of this Conference.1674 Taken in its full context, I agree with and endorse emphatically every word in that paragraph. If it was "brazen effrontery", then I am responsible for it again this afternoon. In trying to explain what the noble Lord was getting at, we have to face the fact that in this country at the present time we have a position where for some major horticultural crops one has large-scale buyers representing, perhaps, chain stores or other large organisations who cannot find British produce in sufficient quantity of a particular uniform type and grading and have to go outside the country at times to contract for it, and that this is so bad for every section or interest in horticulture in this country. It was that to which I think the noble Lord was addressing his remarks— the need to get a large volume of absolutely uniform graded produce which a large-scale buyer could rely on when he wished to go into the market and purchase. I think that those words were well justified, taken in that context and with that point of view in mind. It is one of the most worrying things which we have to face in this connection. I will return later to the difficulty about marketing and to our proposals.
My hon. and gallant Friend used some interesting figures about tomatoes. He gave us sonic figures for prices for last year and the year before and he claimed that the rapid fall in prices during July was due simply to unloading by the Dutch. Those are his words as I wrote them down. I do not question that at that stage the higher importation of Dutch tomatoes must have had some effect, but the fall in prices was not due simply to that one fact. One of the difficulties in facing some of these problems is to see the many factors which arise in such cases.
The difficulties were very complex. I have already mentioned one — the depressed demand due to the weather. Another is that because of the very low level of sunshine in this country last year a large proportion of British tomatoes were not of as high a quality as usual. and that also affected prices. Even more important, there was the fact that tomato crops generally last year were retarded by cold weather early in the year and the quantities coining forward in May were much lower than usual. The price correspondingly was higher, but growers 1675 did not benefit because few tomatoes were ready for sale. The season was no longer than usual and as a result the season was telescoped and a higher proportion of British tomatoes was brought on to the market during the main marketing months. This, to my mind, was another big contributory factor. While I do not dispute that the higher imports of Dutch tomatoes must have had an adverse effect, that is not the whole story. It is very difficult on the facts of one season to obtain a clear picture. I felt that I ought to put those facts as I see them. As one who has a little knowledge of the horticultural industry, I felt that I must make that comment.
My hon. and gallant Friend stressed very much the question of imports and their effect on the market in apples and pears. I remind him that only last season we changed the system of controlling imports, the quota system, in relation to apples from a value to a tonnage basis. We did this largely at the request of those in the industry who thought that it would be of benefit, and I believe that it is of benefit. They thought that in a year of large supplies at low prices it would prevent so many apples from being imported, and I think that it helped last year.
Comparing the import figures last year for apples with those of the previous year gives an artificial impression, because last year, both in this country and on the Continent of Europe, there were very large supplies, where as in the previous year, both in this country and on the Continent, the supplies were very low. Although the retail prices of apples in 1957–58 season reached high levels, we did not have nearly as many imports from Europe as we could have had, and certainly not as many as we had last year.
These big variations in crops affect the position materially. Perhaps I could illustrate that by giving some figures for apples. The home crop last year was estimated at 628,000 tons, compared with 436,000 tons the previous year. In reply not only to my hon. and gallant Friend but also to my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin), these figures are a graphic illustration of the difficulties which confront anybody who tries to obtain uniformity and evenness 1676 of marketing when he is faced with these wide fluctuations of cropping for a horticultural crop. One cannot obtain a definite and clear picture from the figures of one season.
My hon. and gallant Friend said that if we had not offered an increase in bulb quotas we should not have had the increases in tariffs on flowers.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I did not say that. I said that we should not have been able to obtain them as easily and readily.
§ Mr. Godber
I shall be happy to check tomorrow morning what my hon. and gallant Friend said. I had to take it down rather hurriedly, as he was not waiting for me to take it down. I know that he will forgive me if I did not have his exact words, but I have the gist of what he said. I certainly accept his correction.
Even so, I would not accept that what he said is necessarily true. I have tried to indicate that these cases are judged on their merits. I do not believe that the increase in the bulb quota had that effect at all. It was a separate issue entirely.
My hon. and gallant Friend also asked me whether we could use the antidumping Act more. He quoted it to me, and I apologise that I had not a copy with me and could not follow his words. I understand that he wished to make an Amendment, and in any case he said that the Act is not used enough. I remind him that in order to use it we have to have a definite complaint which can be proved to our satisfaction. The only case in respect of horticultural produce in which it has been used—and in which it was used very effectively—was two years ago, when there was a threat of the importation of subsidised French early potatoes at one stage. We warned the French that if they put on a special subsidy we should increase the tariff by the amount of the extra subsidy and so defeat its object. They abandoned the idea. In that case the anti-dumping Act was used with success.
The difficulty, as I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will agree, is that it is very difficult to get a clear case of dumping. That is why it is not as easy to use this Act as he wishes or as I think 1677 my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine), who also mentioned this point, had in mind.
I do not want to spend long dealing with the decisions which have already been taken in respect of tariffs. It is more helpful if I turn to practical steps which the Government can take and is taking at present to help the industry in other ways, and if I indicate possibly some ways in which the industry can help itself. It should not he forgotten that the Government have been doing a great deal to help growers to make use of the latest developments in production techniques.
I remind the House that there are six research stations under the aegis of the Agricultural Research Council undertaking important work on horticultural crops with the aid of funds provided by the Government. The National Agricultural Advisory Service runs ten horticultural experimental stations and its officers are always available in the service of growers, without charge. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), who raised a point about these officers, I would state that there is no question of taking away in a major degree N.A.A.S. officers who are employed on horticulture for small farmer work. These are very different sections of the N.A.A.S. I am glad to give my hon. Friend the reassurance that he need have no fear on that point.
The Ministry is giving great attention to the interpretation of the results of research to growers in order to ensure their early and successful application. We are strengthening the staff of specialists in horticultural economics to give advice on management problems. Advice is also given on grading and packing and under a grade assessment scheme growers are given confidential reports on the condition of their produce as presented on the wholesale market. That is very valuable to many growers who perhaps do not visit the wholesale markets as often as they might. I realise that it is very difficult for them to visit the markets.
Apart from the help on the production side the Ministry and other organisations, such as the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, have been carrying out a number of investigations and 1678 experiments into horticultural marketing problems. These include the encouragement of the grading, packing and presentation of fruit and vegetables; experiments to reduce wastage during transport; investigations into possibilities of cheaper packaging materials, and a number of other similar projects.
The plant health services of my Ministry are also an important contribution to the wellbeing of horticulture. These services include steps to control or eradicate serious diseases already present is this country and precautions to prevent the introduction of pests and diseases with which we are not at present afflicted. It is a matter of pride that we are now in the sixth year since a breeding colony of Colorado beetle was last discovered in this country, and we are still free from such pests as San Jose scale and cherry fruit fly which beset our near neighbours. We are taking prompt action to stamp out recent outbreaks of fire blight, which is a bacterial disease new to this country which could be a very serious menace to our apple and pear orchards.
Quality stock is a first requirement for producing quality crops. For many years my Ministry has aided the supply of healthy true-to-type planting material by certification schemes for potatoes, strawberry runners, blackcurrant bushes, raspberry canes and fruit tree rootstocks. This spring, loganberry stocks have been added to the list.
This is in addition to the very considerable measure of tariff support, which is the main weapon. I emphasise that, because it is a very considerable protection. In spite of what is said about the turning down of certain tariff applications, there still remains a very substantial measure of tariff support.
In addition to that, horticulture has had a share in general schemes for agriculture such as the lime and fertiliser subsidies, and the water supply and drainage grants.
Now I want to mention the details of the long-term plans which the Government have already announced and to which a number of hon. Members have referred to, most of them favourably, today. I say "most of them favourably," because one hon. Member was not quite So full in his praise. On 26th January, my right hon. Friend announced the Government's intention to provide a new 1679 system of grants for horticulture. We came to the conclusion that, just as we have found it necessary to supplement guaranteed prices for the main farm crops by the Farm Improvement Scheme, so there was a need for some assistance to supplement the support given to horticulture through tariffs. Horticulturists have felt a sense of grievance in the past that they did not qualify in the main for help under the Farm Improvement Scheme, but this new scheme will, I hope, put that right.
At this point I wish to take up the point of the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), who referred to it—or said that some of his growers had referred to it—as "charity". I found that difficult to understand, because 1 know that many horticulturists were deeply disturbed that they could not qualify fully under the Farm Improvement Scheme. If they were so afraid of "charity", they would not have been worried so much by that. They cannot have it both ways. If they wanted to be included under the Farm Improvement Scheme, they should welcome, as I think that most of them do welcome, the provisions of the new scheme, which can do a great deal of good.
It will provide a total of £7½ million for new grants over five years. This scheme is to be specially tailored to the requirements of the horticultural industry. It is intended that it should extend to a number of items of marketing equipment as well as buildings, and that it should be available for growers' co-operative organisations for the marketing of produce I am glad that a number of hon. Members welcomed that. I am grateful for the remarks of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey).
It should help the glasshouse industry to reduce costs of production and help small growers of outdoor crops by enabling them to extend the growing seasons and the range of choice for their crops. But the main emphasis is on the better presentation of produce for market—on grading, cleaning, packing and storage. Above all, what we need is greater uniformity of high quality produce. I have already emphasised the reasons for that in the illustration I gave in reply to a point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member 1680 for the Isle of Ely. We want large quantities of uniform high-quality produce. I am sure that that would do a great deal of good.
Much more can be done to meet consumer choice and the requirements of the markets with their growing demands for selective quality produced. Efficiency in growing has made considerable strides in recent years, but this has not been matched by progress in presentation and marketing. I am sure that by better marketing techniques our growers can capture and keep a large share of the British market. There is no doubt that in this country we can, and do, produce some of the finest fruit and vegetables in the world. But when it comes to presentation and marketing we are frequently out-classed. I believe that this scheme will give growers a real opportunity to improve their ability to sell high-quality produce to uniform standards and so get more out of the market.
Our proposals are being discussed with the National Farmers' Unions and good progress is being made in settling the details of the scheme. At this stage I can only say that an announcement will be made when the talks are concluded.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster felt that only a few people would get help. I think that he said that they did not like shots in the arm. I believe that this will be just as much help, if indeed not more help, to the horticultural community, as the Farm Improvement Scheme is proving to the agricultural community as a whole. I hope very much that neither Members of Parliament nor other people will belittle what is possible in the scheme. I believe that we can work out a sound and sensible scheme which can be of immense help to the industry. I say with all seriousness to my hon. Friend that there should be no fear or danger that this will help only a few people. I believe that it will spread very widely through the whole of horticulture.
I turn now to the Horticultural Marketing Advisory Council, which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North mentioned. The hon. Member referred to what he was pleased to call procrastination in the setting up of a council. This is not an easy question. We are just as anxious as he is to see a Horticultural 1681 Marketing Council set up, but we have to get the various sections of the industry fully agreed on the methods by which it will work. It was for those reasons that we had the full consultations we did before we even set up the Marketing Advisory Council.
The hon. Member on some occasions chides me for not taking advice from the industry. On this occasion I am sure that he cannot do that, because we have spent a considerable time in taking advice from all sections of the industry. We then set up the Advisory Council, which my right hon. Friend appointed last summer. I believe that nothing but good can come of this joint consideration of common problems.
The Runciman Committee considered that a permanent marketing council could be of great service to the industry. I should like to reassure the House that the Government share that view. I believe that most organisations in the industry also share it. Market intelligence, research, the development of better techniques and facilities, and education and publicity are all subjects which a permanent marketing council could deal with. If the Advisory Council succeeds in presenting a practicable and acceptable plan for such a body, it will be able to do much to improve marketing and distribution and to stimulate greater and more regular consumption of horticultural produce.
I turn now to the wholesale markets. was interested to know that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North is not altogether in agreement with the Runciman Committee on this point. While undoubtedly there is need for many of these wholesale markets to be improved, there is an indication that a number of local authorities responsible for these markets are not only well aware of these deficiencies, but are anxious to rectify them. After all, Coventry has given a very good lead in this regard. It has an excellent new market. I am glad to see that Sheffield Corporation is going ahead with plans for comprehensive resiting and redevelopment of its market.
The hon. Gentleman said he thought that this would be the only controversial point, and referred to the Labour Party's plan of 1951. My recollection is that that plan was not warmly received by the industry, and at the time I found it very 1682 difficult to see how it could help to improve matters. I honestly believe, looking at it objectively, that if the local authorities can improve their markets, as Coventry and Sheffield are trying to do, that is the best long-term solution for the provincial markets.
In London, of course, the problem is particularly acute. I am glad to be able to inform the House that some progress has been made here, for which credit must be given to the helpful co-operation of private traders and local authorities. I can report some progress towards the implementation of the Government's decision about the future of Covent Garden market.
As my right hon. Friend has said, the first step towards the improvement and the smoother flow of traffic must be the provision of storage facilities outside the market area. As the hon. Member for Sunderland, North said, the relevant sections of the Bills promoted in another place by the London County Council and the Corporation of the City of London have now passed through Committee, and these Bills should help to promote easement when we are able to make use of the facilities for storage, particularly of empties. The establishment of a Covent Garden market authority will, of course. require legislation, and my Ministry is engaged on the preparatory work for this.
We gave a lot of thought to the Runciman proposals for a new market in north-west London but came down against it, as we believe that if the existing markets could be made more efficient in the way that we are seeking, they could do the job. Another important consideration is, that if a new market were created in addition to the existing markets, the existing markets would probably wish to postpone plans for their own improvement until they knew what effect the new market would have on the traffic going through. If the new market were to defer the improvement of the others it would not, on balance, be the best thing to do
The hon. Gentleman asked about Brentford and Stratford. At Brentford the Council has decided to expand the market. It has agreed on the outline plan for expansion and is getting on well with the necessary next steps in what will be a very big job. Stratford market is owned by British Railways, and I am told that only this week the County 1683 Borough Council of West Ham has decided that it will be willing to accept the responsibility of becoming a market authority and provide modern facilities as long as a financially-sound plan is produced, and officers of the Council have been instructed to prepare a plan. I hope that that indicates possible improvements there.
Various hon. Members have asked me a number of questions. I have tried to answer some, but I have not been able to deal with all. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) asked, in particular, about the potash subsidy, and when we were likely to have the result of the Monopoly Commission's Report. That Report is due early this summer and when we see in what terms it is written, we shall be able to decide whether to include potash in the subsidy arrangements. It is quite right to say that we have not included it recently, as we have been afraid of the position in regard to the cartel, but we may then be able to look at the matter again with an open mind.
My hon. Friend and other hon. Members pressed for a petrol duty rebate as a means of helping horticulture growers. At first sight, this proposal is very attractive; but I have been into it at considerable length and I am convinced that, for the amount of trouble and the risks of abuse inherent in it, it is not worth while. The amount of benefit received by the ordinary nurserymen, particularly the small growers, would be very small. I ask those who press for this rebate to consult the practical horticulturalist, and work out with them how much would be saved in a year by the rebate. It is very much less than most believe. For that reason, I do not honestly think that it would be of very great help to the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rye tried to tempt me into matters concerning the Finance Bill. I am sure that the Chancellor is as diligent a reader of HANSARD as are the rest of us and that he will see what my hon. Friend has said. For myself, I can give no guarantee on the point put by my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir R. Robinson), in a most interesting speech which showed genuine concern for his constituents, told 1684 us of some of their immediate present difficulties over lettuce. Here, again, I know that there has been difficulty, and while I would say that some of that difficulty is caused by imports, lettuce is undoubtedly a crop in which supply fluctuates enormously, even at home, and there are always risks inherent in the crop. I am sorry that my hon. Friend's constituents should, as his facts and figures show, have been so hardly hit recently, and I will study with care all that he has said about their problems.
Various hon. Members have suggested that we should look at other ways and means of promoting stability for our horticultural industry, and, amongst other things, I heard minimum price schemes mentioned. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will study with care all that everyone has said, and if at any time the N.F.U. wish to talk to us on this or other matters affecting the welfare of horticulture, we are, of course, only too glad to listen to them, but I can give no indication today of any change in policy. Indeed, I do not think that it is the wish of hon. Members generally that we should do so. I believe that our present policy is the right one, but I do not dismiss any new suggestions or thoughts likely to help, and I shall study with care all that has been expressed.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that horticulture must be dynamic. We want to see it standing on its own feet, and all the matters about which I have talked today are directed towards that end. It would not be proper for me to make any comment today on the Tomato Marketing Board. A poll on its future is at present being taken, and I cannot, therefore, say anything on that subject. On other issues, however, it is our wish to help growers to help themselves in any way they can. Some of the policies of which I have spoken—the scheme for grants, the Horticultural Marketing Council—after it comes into being—and the improvement of the London markets are directed to just that end of giving growers a greater opportunity to help themselves.
To sum up our plans for the immediate future, my right hon. Friend has every hope of introducing a Bill in the next Session to give effect to the proposed grants totalling £7½ million which are 1685 at present the subject of active discussion. A great deal of work is going on in regard to the steps that will have to he taken for the reorganisation of Covent Garden. In addition, the Horticultural Marketing Advisory Council is hard at work on its deliberations about the setting up of a permanent Horticultural Marketing Council. All these matters are closely inter-related, and have as their object greater efficiency in production and, more particularly, in marketing of horticultural produce.
I do not believe that there is any easy solution to the problems confronting horticulture, but I am satisfied that the Government's plans, in so far as they can help, mark a real step forward in helping the industry. High-quality, well-graded produce from British growers should always command a fair price in the market. We wish to help growers to help themselves to achieve this object for a much higher proportion of their produce hitherto.
§ Question put and agreed to
That this House. bearing in mind the expansion of European and North American horticultural production and the all-round increase in producers' costs, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give urgent consideration to the problems of developing British horticulture in the way required in the foreseeable future, and the means whereby growers may fairly he enabled to play their full part in meeting the demands of consumers.