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Fruit-Growing Industry

Volume 245: debated on Wednesday 19 November 1930

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I beg to move,

"That this House deplores the present condition of the Fruit-growing Industry and the heavy losses incurred this year by growers, and calls upon His Majesty's Government to put into effect schemes which, without penalising the consuming public, will secure to the grower an economic return for his crop."
The affairs of the county of Norfolk will hold the field here to-day, and I am very glad to be able to fire the first shot. The fruit-growing industry is naturally influenced by the international and national factors which affect all our industries to-day, but it has its own peculiar problems, and those I shall discuss this afternoon. It is common knowledge that conditions in the fruit-growing industry to-day are bad, and what we have to do is to ascertain the causes and to find remedies for those causes. Before I proceed to that I would like to give the House a bird's eye view of what is being done in Norfolk. It is calculated that there are some 4,000 fruit growers in the county, including smallholders, and that they pay out about £150,000 a year in wages, and spend on the average £15 an acre on their land. In the year 1928, when a census of production was taken, it was found that there were some 3,000 acres of strawberries, 600 acres of raspberries, 6,000 acres of currants and gooseberries, and 3,800 acres of orchard trees. It would be approximately correct to add 10 per cent. to those figures to bring them up to date for this year. I will divide my remarks under the headings of "Causes" and "Remedies," and at the end will say something about the currant-growing branch of the industry, which has some peculiar problems of its own.

As far as I can see, there are some nine main causes of the present difficulties. There may be more, and, if so, I hope they will be brought out during the debate. The first cause I would mention is the very knotty one of foreign imports. It is calculated that since the War and up to 1928 the imports of strawberries into this country increased by 195 per cent., of plums by 60 per cent. and of gooseberries by 40 per cent. It is contended that the foreigner has two advantages. First of all there is the superior climate which the countries of Europe enjoy, which enable them to get their fruit ready about three weeks before ours; and secondly, they get the high prices which are paid for early produce on the markets. I do not believe those are altogether sound contentions, and when I come to discuss the remedies I shall go into that aspect of the matter a little further.

When dealing with imports we have to take into account the Empire products corning into this country. In the year 1928, the latest for which figures are available, there was not very much difference between the imports from foreign countries and the Empire. In the case of apples the imports from foreign countries amounted to 3,054,000 cwts. of a value of £3,440,961, and the imports from Empire countries were 3,034,000 cwts and the value £4,196,815. There have been complaints that fruit-growers in this country were quite unable to stock English apples this year because 300,000 boxes of Australian apples were imported, placed on ice, and released when required, and sold at any price between 2d. and 6d. per lb. When we are considering the result of the importation of fruit, that is a fact which we must take into account.

The next problem is that of prices. There is often a great and striking disparity between the price which the growers receive, and the price which the general public pay. At the end of last Session the Minister for Agriculture spoke about the atrocious disparity of prices in the fruit trade. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right, and I would like to give the House an example. It has been estimated that this year £39 per ton more was paid by the consumer than was paid for fresh currants which were sold by the grower at 2½d. per lb. and by the retailers at 1s. per lb. There is a still more glaring instance in the case of plums which were sold at 72 lbs. for 6d. in Evesham, and in Birmingham those plums were sold at 2d. per lb. The result is that fruit-growers have lost money and the prices have been far too high to the bulk of the people of this country.

There is the question of marketing, and here we have to consider several things. First. of all, the fruit-growing in- dustry in this country is entirely dependent on home customers. I was reading the other day an' article' by an eminent agriculturist who estimated that sometimes there were six intermediaries in the fruit industry between the grower and the consumer. There is the commission salesman who buys from the grower. Then comes the wholesale buyer, who buys from the commission salesman and sells to the commission buyer. After that, there may be one or two provincial wholesale and retail dealers, with the result that the selling price is going up all along the line. Another point is that a great deal of our English fruit has to pass through Covent Garden as a clearing-house. I should like to point out that as long ago as 1923 the Linlithgow Committee condemned Covent Garden as confused and unorganised anachronism. I know from experience in the early part of this week that it is still true to say that of Covent Garden, and, if it was not for the fact that a great deal of the work there is done in the early, morning; I do not think it would be possible to, carry on the transactions which take place there with any degree. of certainty.

I could quote the case of growers who are in open competition with each other in various districts. I hays heard, of a wholesale buyer who went to Evesham, and he was offered a dozen different small lots of fruit, although that method was simply a waste of time. The result is that we find that the growers are not making money, the consumers are paying too high prices, and the, middlemen are making most of the profit. There is no doubt that in previous years the fruit-growing industry has been successful, and has attracted a great many people to it, but at the present time the tendency 'is for the private gardens to be run more and more as market gardens, and it is a fact that many farmers who have found that arable farming does not pay have turned their attention to the cultivation of fruit. know that many farmers only do this as a side line, but a great number of them have taken fruit-growing up in this way.

Another cause of complaint is the lack of any reliable information which will enable growers to foresee the demand for a certain kind of fruit. Very few people knew this year that there was glut of raspberries until they saw it in the Press. The raspberries we grew at home were sold quite easily, and we specialised this year in growing a raspberry called the Lloyd George raspberry. Some people thought it had a sharp flavour while others thought that it had good preservative qualities. Perhaps I may be allowed to show the House what has actually been done in the industry. Here is a poster which was placed in the window of every agent who stocked Norfolk currants. I have here a sample of the label which goes on every 4-lb. basket of currants. I have come in contact with people who know all about this trade, and they tell me that what is wanted is something on a far greater scale.

4.0 p.m.

Another fact to which I wish to draw attention is that a much smaller number of people are making jam at home than used to be the case. This is one of the results of the War, which I hope will be gradually overcome. I think the growers of fruit ought to be placed in a better position, to obtain more accurate knowledge of the state of the market. Under present conditions, it is almost impossible that the grower should be expected to know everything about the state of the market and freight rates. I have come across cases where wholesalers had given whatever reasons they thought fit to growers about the state of the market. That is a point which requires attention, and, if the Minister of Agriculture will devise some method of giving some more first-hand knowledge of the markets, I am 'sure that would help the growers a Mt. There is another point which is recognised by the Linlithgow Committee. Greengrocers got into a certain bad habit during the War, when under the control of the Food Controller. What they like to do is to make a big profit on a small turnover, instead of making a more modest profit on a large turnover. We want to try to break the greengrocer of this bad habit. Then there is the question of railway rates, which are far too high. I would ask the Minister of Agriculture to get into touch with the Minister of Transport and see what he can do to get our railways to reduce their rates. A ton of currants sent from East Norfolk to Grimsby costs £2 5s. per ton, and a similar amount consigned from Rotterdam costs £l 10s. a tom On top of that, I understand that our railways do a certain amount of advertising in foreign trade journals, and also grant flat rates to Covent Garden: I have also heard of a train going from Harwich or Tilbury With Continental fruit, being given a clear run to London, while trains from districts in this country with English fruit are held up in sidings. If the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Transport together would get a move on with the railways in this respect, it would help. It must always be remembered that fruit is a very perishable article, and, unless you preserve it in some way or other, you cannot possibly hold up supplies until prices are better. It has to be sold quickly.

I end with two more general caused. Generally speaking to-day in the fruit growing industry, the grower has to pay post-Mat expenses. Unfortunately, this year he has been getting something like, and in some cases less than, pre-War prices. In Norfolk, at any rate, the labour bill is 2½ times what it used to be before the War. It must be remembered, too, that the grower has to pay high rates on his house. It is true to say that his rent is now about the same, and, thanks to the Derating Act, he does not have to pay rates an, his land. But even taking that into account, the situation is very different in these days from- what it was before the War. As are instance of that, I am told that the price of Scottish raspberries this year was about £9 10s. a ton, which is the exact cost of picking a ton of raspberries in Scotland. Is it to be wondered at that people say, "What is the good of picking them? We had better leave them"? Last of all, in- regard to the general causes, there is the depressed state of this country to-day with over 2,000,000 unemployed and 8,000,000 more or less affected by them. It is calculated that our spending power is down by one-third. Obviously, that means that people in this country cannot spend what they used to spend. I am very glad to see the right hon. Member for Evesham (Sir B. Eyres Monsell) in his place. I am sure he can bear me out in this, that before the War there was an excellent market for the products of Evesham in South Wales, but that market, owing to the general depression of industry in South Wales, has more or less gone today. For that, of course, the remedy is to get this country back into a prosperous state.

I come to the remedies. In discussing this question of foreign imports, I bear in mind the excellent piece of advice which the Minister of Agriculture gave the other day, when he said, "Stop arguing about: tariffs, which you have done for 25 years, and get down to it." I am sure that we all want to carry that out, but there are certain points in connection with these foreign imports which must be borne in mind. First of all, we ought to note, that although the industry has had good years and bad years, the situation with regard to foreign produce coming into this country has always been the same. In many imports of fruits this year there has been a drop of thousands of cwts. For instance, in 1929, in round figures, 141,000 cwts. of currants came into this country, while in the first nine months of this year the amount was 123,000 cwt's. With regard to plums, in 1929 the amount imported was 445,000 cwts., and this year 366,000 cwts. In the case of strawberries, the figure has decreased from 80,000 cwts. to 67,000 cwts. this year. One can see from those figures that foreign imports are not by any manner of means the sole cause of the difficulties of our growers day. I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the other day, about the answer to which I would like to say something. The question had reference to pulped black currants coming from Holland. The answer was that in 1929 2,685 tons, valued at £71,712, came into this country, and for the corresponding period this year 1,760 tons, valued at £40,778—a drop of 925 tons, and a very surprising drop in value of £30,934.

That accounts for one or two things which I found to be true when I was on my holiday in Holland this year. I did my best to get into touch with growers of black currants over there, and found exactly the same thing was being said there as in this country, namely, that they were getting a very bad price. I will give two figures. On 4th July this year, the beginning of the season, a trader at Breda, the central market place for fruit in Holland, sold 15 tons of black currants at £14 a ton. On the 26th he sold 36 tons and only got £5 16s. 6d. a ton. That shows, I think, that the slump in prices is by no means confined to this country. A great many people—in fact, 4.700—in Norfolk, I understand, signed a resolution which was presented to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor demanding that foreign imports of fruit should be restricted. It would be easy to get 4,700 to sign such a resolution, and I would be prepared to get 470,000 to sign a resolution against it.

There is another point which I would like to put. In this fruit-growing industry we seem to have either very good years or very bad years. There seems to be no happy medium between the two. Last year about this time we were hearing a great deal about the potato industry. It was claimed that potato growers were being ruined by potatoes coming from Germany. This year potatoes still come from Germany, but we do not hear anything about our potato growers being ruined. I understand from the hon. Member for Holland-with-Boston (Mr. Blindell), that the happier position this year is due to the fact that potato growers have put their house in order, and have instituted a better marketing system. At the beginning of my speech I referred to the Protectionist argument that, owing to climate, foreign fruit comes here three weeks earlier, gets the best of the prices and tires our people of such fruit. I am not sure that that argument is absolutely sound, for this reason. it is not the bulk of people in this country who buy early, expensive fruits. There are very few people who can afford to buy strawberries at 3s. a lb. Therefore, if they do not buy these early fruits at high prices, it cannot be said that they are tired of these things by the time that the home fruit comes along. This argument is used for protecting this branch of the industry, but I do not think this House ought to do it. It would put itself in a very difficult position if it did, because, logically, it would have to protect every other branch of the agricultural industry. It would open a door to endless possibilities in that way. I dare say some hon. Members here would approve of that, but I am quite certain that the country itself would not, and that we have no mandate to do such a thing.

It has also to be remembered in this connection that there is the possibility of retaliation from other countries. Taxing goods coming from various countries is a very catching thing. If one country starts doing it, other countries follow suit, and those of us who want to work for universal Free Trade say that we do not want any fresh taxes at all. Then, I would ask Protectionists to remember that wages in Protectionist countries are always lower than they are here. A point made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) yesterday was that we are getting most agricultural competition, on the whole, from Free Trade countries. There is a further consideration. The chief reason why jam-makers buy foreign pulped fruit is to keep their factories going before our fruit is ready, and if the import of such fruit were forbidden, it would reduce employment in this trade and also reduce the amount of jam consumed in this country.

I do not want to claim for a moment that Free Trade as Free Trade is a remedy for the present position, but, to put the case of Free Trade in a nutshell, this country is a relatively small one with some 45,000,000 people, with vast exporting industries in spite of the present depression, and I believe that, on the whole, Free Trade is the best system under which this country can live, and the best with which we can treat with other people, and get along generally. No Free Trader wishes to stop people from buying British or Empire goods. On the contrary, we say, "Certainly buy them if you wish to do so." On the other hand, I do not think that we have any right to say to the millions of people in this country, of whom far too many are living near the borderline of starvation, that they have got to buy things which cost them more.

We all admire, I think, the very excellent posters which the Empire Marketing Board puts about this country. I think that they are the best posters I have ever seen, but when I see at or near Wisbech, which is represented by my hon. Friend who will second the Motion, exhortations to buy Australian apples, I feel that if I were an apple-grower there I should want to tear up those posters. We do want, in some way, to think out a scheme of home marketing, to have a home marketing board, because there are no foreign or Empire apples which can touch ours in quality, and I am not quite satisfied, in my own mind, whether the Empire Marketing Board makes that quite clear enough. You would still have a bad state of affairs in the fruit trade if you only clapped on a tariff. If some of the other causes which I have mentioned are attended to, I think we shall be in a far better position to compete against the foreigner than we are to-day.

That is all that I wish to say on the question of foreign imports. As to the question of prices, I hope that this House will pass a Consumers Council Bill as quickly as possible which will give the Government the power to see that a fairer price is paid to the grower, because I think the figures I have given prove that the grower could have been paid a better price while consumers could have paid less for their fruit. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to investigate this problem of price very carefully, and I think it would help if he were to try to get more direct trading between grower and consumer, to the advantage of both. Another point which I think he might consider is that of getting other centres in this country as clearing houses for fruit than Covent Garden, because there is no doubt that Covent Garden is far too much choked up at present.

With regard to the question of gluts, I mentioned just now the subject of advertisement, and said that I thought that something on a bigger scale than the examples I gave was required. The posters which I showed to the House ought to be seen, not only in shop windows and in baskets, but in railway stations, streets and omnibuses, and in newspapers all over the country. I would also like to see a kind of alliance between the grower, the greengrocer and the ironmonger. As I have already said, nobody, as far as I can see, knew that there was going to be a surplus this year until the surplus was actually upon us. What I should like to see happen is something like this. I should like to see in ironmongers' windows posters saying, "We sell special bottling outfits at special rates. Fruit will be very plentiful and cheap in a fortnight's time; come and inspect our stock." I believe that that sort of thing would help in dealing with this problem. Then I think it would make a very big difference to the growers in this country if everyone were to make a resolution to eat, say, another apple every day. Not only would that help our growers, but it would also carry out the proverb about keeping the doctor away, though perhaps I ought not to use that argument when the right hon. Gentleman is listening to me. I have already mentioned the bad habit that greengrocers got into during the War, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to do what he can to change that.

There is another remedy which I have not yet mentioned, but which I think is rather important. When I read the Marketing Bill, I was very surprised to find that fruit was not included in it. Even among those who have condemned the Marketing Bill, I have come across many who have said to me, "You must get fruit put into it." I do not think, therefore, that the Bill can be really quite so bad as they say it is, when they want fruit to be put into it. After all, this industry has become quite as essential a part of our life as any of the other industries concerned with products which are already included in the Bill. The inclusion of fruit will help in one or two ways. For instance, with regard to the excellent cooperative society whose posters I showed to the House, and some of whose figures I will quote in a moment, while it has done quite well, I am afraid that people treat it rather in this way, that they go everywhere they can to try to get a better price before they go to the co-operative society, and, if that happens, it is not going to make for the success of the cooperative society.

Then there is the position of dealers and jam makers in this matter. If a man is dealing in things like cheeses, he can ring up on the telephone before breakfast and order 5,000 cheeses, but the jam manufacturer cannot do a thing like that. Very often he has to visit 200 or 300 growers, and he may have to visit them three or four times before he can get them to do business and fix up a deal with them. That is another reason why foreign pulp is bought from Holland, because in that case it is only necessary to send over an agent and all the pulp that is required can be obtained. Certainly, to ensure the success of co-operative societies, the element of compulsion is necessary and indeed one of the criticisms passed by farmers about co-operation is that there is not an element of compulsion and that therefore people do nut support the societies to the best of their ability. As I read the Marketing Bill, that paint is going to be attended to and there is going to be an element of compulsion.

Further, it would help if more advance contracts could be made between jam makers and growers, as both parties would then know better where they were. Then the question of grading, labelling and packing must not be neglected; it is not so unimportant as it may be thought to be. I have come across boxes of fruit which were labelled "Selected Strawberries," and which only had selected strawberries on the top, and very bad ones underneath. That does not predispose people in the growers favour. Again, I have heard the advice given by a grower to his currant pickers: "Pick all the stalk you can, because it all weighs." That, again, is not a kind of practice that is going to do any good to the industry. Finally, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether the time has not come for applying the National Mark to all fruits, as well as to strawberries and other things to which it has been applied already. That scheme has been a success wherever it has been tried.

With regard to co-operation, people sometimes say that it is el no use, but I would like to quote some figures from Norfolk Fruit Growers, Limited, which is a co-operative society that vas founded in 1926. It has gone on very well, as the following figures will show. In the year in which the society was formed, it handled 77 tons and had 92 shareholders. In 1927, it handled 182 tons and had 150 shareholders. In 1928, it handled 288 tons and had 191 shareholders. In 1929 it handled 507 tons and had 235 shareholders; and this year it has handled 580 tons and has 255 shareholders. These figures show that there is a great future in co-operation. A society like this is good, but it is not big enough, because, although the quantity of fruit it has handled has steadily gone up from 77 tons to 580 tons, this is not enough to deal with fruit in a really large-scale way, and I think that if fruit were to be included in the Marketing Bill a still further increase would come about.

I want now to say just a word about the currant industry, because most of our currants in this country are grown in Norfolk. The growers there have suffered from foreign competition this year for two reasons. The first is their geographical position. They are mot like the more fortunate fruit growers in Kent, who can send up a lorry-load of fruit to Covent Garden at almost any time. They depend more upon the Midlands for their market, and that is some distance away. Moreover, 80 per cent. of the currants grown in Norfolk go into jam, and, in regard to the question of the use of pulped fruit for jam making, I would ask the Minister seriously to consider whether it should not be made compulsory that all receptacles containing jam made from pulped or preserved fruit should be so labelled.

A great deal of jam is being sold to-day as fresh jam which is made from preserved fruit, and that means that people who buy it are not getting what they contract to buy. People. sometimes ask, why advertise the foreigner at our, expense; but I do not think that that argument is a good one, since, if people wish to buy foreign jam, they will buy it anyhow. There are many people, however, myself included, who are very aneasy about the idea of eating in the form of jam fruit which has been in sulphur dioxide for two years. I do not know whether any hon. Members have seen this pulped fruit preserved with sulphur dioxide, but, if they have, I am sure they will agree with me that it is most unpleasant-looking stuff.

I realise that it is not possible for the Minister to send a commission to every country to see under what conditions this stuff is made, but I would like him to make some statement about the amount of sulphur dioxide which is allowed in fruit. I have tried to find the regulations about it, and I find, in the book of Statutory Rules and Orders for 1928, on page 1179, a definite Order fixing the amount of sulphur dioxide allowed in jam. I tried to find out also what the position was in earlier years, because, as hon. Members will recollect, it was after 1926 that we began to feel the effects of mill coining in from other countries, and I should like to know whether there is any relation between that Order and the fact that, after 1926, more and more pulped fruit came into this country.

While I am on this point, I should like to mention that at the end of 1926 an unfortunate rumour that all our crop had been destroyed by frost carried a certain amount of weight, and a great many foreign orders were given as a consequence, but, as far, as I know, there was no truth at all in that. I would also like to ask the Minister if he could arrange for the Empire Marketing Board to publish the amounts of pulped and preserved fruit that come into this country. It is calculated that the average price of currants is now between £16 and £20 a ton, while before the War it was between £31 and 235. That gives one an idea of she position. This year, for the first time, there has been unemployment among fruit pickers, and that is a rather serious thing for those families who sometimes double their earnings during dm fruit picking season.

Some people have urged me to put the point that preservation with sulphur dioxide should be carried on to a, greater extent in this country. I daresay it is all right under good conditions, and it has this in its favour, that it can be done at any time, and that the process of preservation halves the weight and space which the fruit takes up. Some of the growers in Norfolk have suggested that, if they did this, perhaps the Government might be disposed to advance them credit in order to enable them to hold up their supplies, but I would ask the Government to be very careful about that, because we all know what happened in the case of the Canadian farmers who tried to hold up supplies in order to get better prices.

I hope I have covered the ground enough to give the House an idea of the present position, and to show some of the ways in which it could be improved. Having been born in Worcestershire, and representing, as I do, a Norfolk Division, I have a connection with two very important fruit-growing counties, and, therefore, I am very glad to be able to move this Resolution, because I do not think that this industry has had so far from the House of Commons the attention that it ought to have had.

The industry of fruit-growing is one of the earliest industries. It goes back to very early times, but it is essentially a civilised industry. In the early days of the human race, all that primitive man had to eat was raw meat. [Interruption.] Later on, we know that he tilled the fields and went in for cereals, and after that he began to cultivate fruits. So I say this is essentially an industry of civilisation. No one can say anything against it. No one can do anything except wish it every success. It has been the very last to feel the present depression of industry. Let us hope that, it will he the very first to recover.

I do not hold the pure Socialistic view that the State should do everything for us. That is -too much looking upon the State as a kind of nurse. I prefer to look on it as a Wise and faithful friend to whom one can turn in trouble. I hope the Government will help the fruit growing industry to the beat, of their ability in that spirit. I said just now that no one can say anything against it There are plenty of Members who could say a good deal against other branches of the agricultural industry. Some have very decided views against products of hops and barley, but I do not think anyone can say that applies to the fruit-growing industry. If the Government can help it, they will probably find it much easier to carry out the details of their Land (Utilisation) Bill, because, if it is known that the fruit-growing industry affords a good opportunity, you will find more people willing and ready to go into it. I ask the Government to consider very carefully the present position and then to act promptly. There are many throughout the country who are expecting good results from the debate, and it is my most earnest hope that we shall not disappoint them.

I beg to second the Motion.

I congratulate my Noble Friend on the admirable and cogent manner in which he has put the matter before the House. He has gone over the ground so carefully that there is but little that remains for me to say to persuade this assembly that it should carry this Motion unanimously. The fruit industry, like most others at present, is in the slough of despond. Prices barely cover the costs. I could quote an instance in my own-constituency where in the neighbourhood of Wisbech there was a considerable quantity of fruit that remained unpicked this season. There was as much as 940 tons of gooseberries, 156 of raspberries and 350 of plums. This meant the work of a good many people.

I should like to allude to the drastic fall in land values. in 1914, planted orchard land was worth from £100 to £120. It is an established fact that immediately after the War, owing to the restriction of fruit that existed during the War, this land rose to £200 and even £300 an acre. To-day, it is worth from £60 to £40. The people who own it have mortgaged it for 30 and 40 per cent. more than it is worth to-day. I will not stress the disparity between the costs and the returns, still it is well known that, except as regards strawberries, the prices are the same as in 1914, whereas the growers costs are up from 60 to 100 per cent. their—labour costs, railway costs, marketing costs, their costs for implements and artificial manures and spraying materials. The wages and rail costs are beyond the growers control, and the other costs are, of course, imposed upon him by the competition of foreign and Empire grown fruit.

The cause of the distressed state of the industry cannot be said to be the inefficiency of the grower. This has been proved over and over again, and never more so than at the last Imperial show, which commanded the admiration of fruit-growers and fruit lovers all over the world. The problem is part of the trade depression. Sir William Lobjoit is the Chairman of the fruit department of the National Farmers' Union, a body which is no more friendly disposed to me than it is to the right hon. Gentleman, and I much regret it, because in this matter I think all who are interested should co-operate. He stated in my constituency the other day that the situation was created, first of all, by world depression of trade and the consequent fall in the world's commodity prices. But we cannot wait to restore this industry until such time as the present industrial condition all over the world mends itself. It is imperative that we should put our shoulders to the wheel. In this matter, possibly some of the responsibility may attach to the Government, because, during the War, those who owned fruit farms were ordered to till their land and grow corn. After the War, they were discouraged from growing corn and told to put the land back into fruit.

One of the greatest difficulties experienced by the fruit-grower, but one which he has been able to get over by the help of the Government schools and the instruction that the Government have given him, is that of pests. But there are other parasites besides mildew and fly which affect fruit. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the finding of the Linlithgow Commission. It stated that this industry was unique in the number of its intermediaries whose sole service was distribution. What it said in 1923 is true to-day and, in fact, the trouble has increased. It stated that 30 per cent. of the produce passed through two intermediaries, 30 per cent. through three and 25 per cent. through four, five or six intermediaries. Beside this, the fruit, before it reached the consumer, was calculated to go through as many as 20 different handlings.

On the top of that, 90 per cent. of the fruit sold is sold on commission. There can be no worse method of disposal than that. It is open to every abuse. Although some of these abuses have been remedied by the Act of 1926, yet the fundamental defect still remains. When prices are high, the commission broker charges commission at percentage rates. When prices are low, he charges commission on a flat rate. The result is that fluctuations are immaterial, and the consumer does not benefit by the drop in prices. Besides this, the system results also in maldistribution. There is no control of the supplies that are sent to the different markets, and there may be a glut in one place for a week, and a glut in one place on an occasion when there is a shortage in another at the same time. There is no doubt that the opinion is held by many growers that if this method of commission sale was made illegal, the industry would be on the road to the solution of some of its difficulties.

These pests, as I have said, are as difficult for the grower to fight as fly and mildew. It is for the Government to provide the insecticide. The first measure is that the commission salesman should be licensed. This proposal was put forward by the Linlithgow Committee but has not been followed out. The question of marketing is like a red rag to a bull to the fruit-growing industry, and nowhere more so than in my own constituency, but for all that I think it is essential that fruit-growing should be included by the right hon. Gentleman in the plans that he is going to put before the House. What is wanted is not that prices should go up but that profits should increase. As it stands now, the Marketing Bill which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to bring in will not suffice to bring about the necessary revolution in marketing which is imperative in order to help the industry. It is necessary that he should consider means of educating fruit-growers all over the country. I suggest that in this respect he should take one more leaf out of the Liberal book and give a thought to a national marketing board. Unless he himself initiates a certain number of schemes in the different areas, there is very little chance that a sufficient number of schemes will be put forward and will come to fruition. It is not surprising, of course, that fruit gardeners, who are disseminated and who are busy with their cultivation, should not read statistics and political economy, and that is why they are persuaded so easily by their leaders that the whole trouble is imported foreign produce. Again, may I quote Sir William Lobjoit, who did not subscribe wholly to their view and said if there had been no foreign imports at all there would have been a glut of fruit this year. During this season only 4½ per cent. of the total amount of gooseberries in this country was imported from abroad, i.e., only 4½ per cent. of gooseberry pulp. I have taken this figure from a quotation by Sir William Lobjoit, because, I regret to say, it is very difficult to get this information from any of the Government's statistics.

I come to the question of regulating or excluding foreign imports of fruit or of pulp. This question is not before the Horse. At the last election the Conservative party did not put before the electors the question either of taxing the imports of foreign fruit or of excluding them, and therefore there is no mandate before the House to-day. These imports remind me of the ogres of the story. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), who I am pleased and honoured to see here to-day, thinks that you should cut off their heads, but I am doubtful, when the time comes, whether he himself, with all his courage, will be able to engage in this practice. There will be too much hostility on the part of the consuming public, which represents, as regards the agricultural population, 93 per cent. Let me remind the House what "Hop o' my Thumb" did when he wanted to cut off the ogre's head. He took off the ogre's seven-league boots. I should like the right hon. Gentleman who is at present in office to take off the seven-league boots of these ogres and then later on, perhaps in the fulness and ripeness of time, in the dim and distant future, if it is still necessary, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley may find it easier to chop off their heads. But these ogres only flourish in an atmosphere of fairyland. Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere are the Grimm and the Andersen of the fruit trade. Their phantasy reacts adversely and out of all proportion upon the psychology of the market.

We may condemn the system of marketing which is in existence, but, if the new Marketing Bill is introduced, it will take a good deal of time before it has any effect on the fruit-growing industry. We are all concerned with what is going to happen next year and the year after. That is why I am urging the Government to deal with the seven-league boots, and to take steps to prevent a small percentage of imports from being used as a means of manipulating the markets. When these imports are reduced to their proper size by information given to the public, it will be possible for the industry to calculate where they are and where they stand. In Wisbech, for instance, as I have said, there is a considerable acreage of gooseberries, and yet, although there was only an importation of 4½ per cent., I am convinced that that foreign importation was tremendously magnified in the minds of the growers. The price is artificially depressed to the producers by telegrams from agents or dealers, such as "Markets are blocked." An offer of fruit for sale receives the following reply: "Dutch can he bought for £2 less." The poor, unfortunate grower is ignorant about Dutch supplies. He does not know what is their competitive quality, and he does not even know whether that quantity is available. The result is that he gives way to the extortions of the dealer. I suggest that it is well within the power of the Minister to disseminate information to the growers about market prices, and to give the grower the necessary information which he requires to enable him to estimate the influence of those imports upon the market. I cannot find any figures which give the imports.

The three suggestions which I have made are that commission salesmen should be licensed, that fruit-growing should be included in the Marketing Bill, and that the Minister should counteract the exaggerated influence of imports upon prices. I do not want to weary the House any longer, as I know there are other Members who wish to speak on this point, but I still wish to stress two or three other points. I do not for a minute pretend that they will solve this problem, but we want to alleviate the situation. The problem, if the Marketing Bill is successful and if conditions in this country are restored, will, in my opinion, like a great many other of the industrial problems which are besetting us just now, solve itself.

Another point to which I want to call attention is the use of SO2 in jam. I see a smile on the face of the right hon. Gentleman. I know that this question has almost worried him to death. Still it is not right that children—and it is children who consume most of the jam—who could be fed on good wholesome jam made of fresh English fruit, should be given jam made from stale pulp preserved with SO2. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to confer with the Minister of Health on this matter in the interests of public health. Beside, it is hardly fair on the home grower, because SO2 at the present time, except in infinitesimal quantities, is not allowed to be put into sugar. What is jam except sugar added to fruit? If you are going to allow a greater quantity of SO2 in fruit pulp than you allow in sugar, is it fair on the producers of this country to allow this pulp to be mixed with sugar and sold as jam for the children of this country? I need not impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that it is essential also that he should cause the jam to be marked and so let as know, by moans of the label on the case and on the bottle, what it is, and what is the country of origin. This is already being enjoined by the Merchandise Marks Act, but I am afraid that, like a great many other laws, this is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

The railway rates should also be lowered. I regret the undoubted preference which is given, not only in rates, but also in wagons to produce which comes from abroad. If any preference is given by our railways it should be given to our own people.

There is another matter to which I will call the attention of the Minister which will undoubtedly help the fruit-growing industry. I should like him to consider the question of cold storage. The present charge for storing apples is £1 per ton per month, and the Ministry, in one of its publications estimate that this cost should be 50s. per ton for seven months. I should like the Minister to establish in the different fruit-growing areas a certain number of cold storage houses, which would help to condition the fruit and to regulate distribution, and would, to a certain extent, control gluts, and lay the foundation of proper and extensive marketing. I am sure that the growers all over England and all over Scotland and Wales would be very grateful for any message on this subject.

Lastly, I would urge the Minister to take the banks into consultation. There are many growers, especially the smaller ones, who are paying at the present time high mortgage interest on inflated values. In view of the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to provide land and easy credit for the new farmers, I can see the possibility of unfair discrimination against the present growers if he does not give them equal facilities in order to lighten their present burdens. We hope that the Minister will take the industry to which we are giving consideration under his protecting wing. It is not struggling to keep alive by old-fashioned methods. Whatever its shortcomings, it is most receptive of new ideas and of scientific methods, and I trust that, though there may still be some reluctance among the fruit farmers to-day to engage in co-operation, the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman will soon dispel that disinclination. But by the intrinsic value of its output and by the importance of its produce as a service to the health of the nation, this industry is fully justified in asking this House for greater consideration and encouragement.

5.0 p.m.

I for one am very much indebted to the Noble Lord the Member for Norfolk, Eastern (Viscount Elmley) for having brought forward this Motion to-day, and, although in the Motion he makes no proposals whatever for the amelioration of the market gardening industry, it at least gives us an opportunity of bringing before the House and the country the really desperate state of that industry, and the fruit-growing industry, including the fruits which are grown in greenhouses round about Worthing and elsewhere and the East Coast. As the representative of Evesham, I represent a highly-skilled, highly-organised, highly-competent community of smallholders, and I can bear witness, knowing these men and their trade pretty intimately, to the tragic state in which the industry has been this summer. Before I go on to that, I should like to say a word as to the personnel of the market-gardening industry, because I think it is composed of a class and type of men who deserve the help of the Members of this House on whatever side they may sit. They are a sturdy, independent body of smallholders. I estimate that in the Vale of Evesham something like 40,000 people are earning their livelihood by the market gardening industry. The holdings average about six acres. A good many of them own their own holdings, but the huge majority of them rent under the Evesham custom, which is much more convenient for them than owning their own land. They are a hard-working lot of men and women. Not only do they work but their families work, and they extract every possible thing that they can get from the soil. What I would like to bring to the notice of the House is the number of men per acre that this industry employs. The market gardening industry employs 16 men per hundred acres, which is comparable to four men for the same acreage on arable land and to one man only on grassland: sixteen times the number of men who are employed on the same acreage of grassland. Hon. Members opposite seem rather to have the chicken complex, but I would point out that market gardening is the best way of bringing people back to the land in large numbers, if we want to do so.

Market gardening is a splendid industry. A well-kept market garden is a very beautiful sight. I expect that many hon. Members have gone over the Cotswold Hills and suddenly have come upon the Vale of Evesham and seen below them miles of pink and white blossom, stretching away into the distance. This year that blossom gave place to an abundant crop of fruit, but the tragedy of it was that a lot of that fruit remained unpicked and rotted on the trees. We all want to remedy that terrible economic state of things which occurs when there is an abundant crop of fruit. The Noble Lord made several suggestions. He brought up the middleman. I hold no brief for the middleman. I am in favour of legislation to prevent him unduly profiteering, but I think it is very hard to trace universal profiteering in fruit. I do not know of any fruiterer who has died a millionaire, and I certainly believe that the greengrocers supply an average number of the bankruptcies that occur in this country. I would do all I can to reduce the profit taken between the grower and the consumer, but I think that subject Ls somewhat exaggerated.

The Noble Lord and the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) referred to marketing. I wish they would come to Evesham and have a look at the marketing arrangements that we have there. I cannot help thinking, from their speeches, that their experience of marketing is rather a chaotic thing. We are very highly organised in Evesham in regard to marketing. We have 11 markets in the Vale of Evesham. [Interruption.] It is very healthy competition and prevents any one market from making too much profit. Moreover, the market provides for the small man, the small grower. The big growers go direct to the merchants, but the small men send in to these markets. I have been in these markets and I have seen supplies brought in from the villages. The fruit or vegetables are put down and graded for sale. Then they are auctioned, and I have seen them put on to motor lorries and taken straight off to fruit shops in Manchester and Birmingham. You cannot better that in the way of distribution, and the amount that is charged is only 7½ per cent. That price is cut down by competition between the markets and I do not think that it is too much.

The Noble Lord said that we are eating less jam. I think that is true, and I am afraid that the jam makers this year anticipating a shortage, have not made nearly as much jam as they generally do. The Noble Lord also spoke about unemployment and eventually came to the question of foreign imports. I thought for a moment that he was going to leave the rigid road of Cobdenism, but he only got one foot over the curb and he brought it back very quickly. He gave rather cold comfort to the growers in Norfolk and in the Isle of Ely, where they have been overwhelmed by foreign competition, when he said that he did not think that Free Trade was a cure. I do not think so, and I want to give the House my scheme for dealing with the matter. I do not desire to weary hon. Members with many figures but I have some extremely interesting figures that bear on what I consider to be unfair foreign competition. If we compare the five years 1905–10 with the five years 1924–28 we see that the home produce increased from 8,100,000 cwts. to 8,900,000 cwts. I am new talking of the ordinary raw fruit which we grow. I am not talking about bananas or pineapples, but fruit that we ordinarily grow in this country. There was an increase in the home produce but the net imports in the same period increased from 4,400,000 to 8,300,000 cwts. Those are very remarkable figures because they show that whereas before the War we were producing considerably more than two-thirds of the raw fruit con-seined in this country, in the five years 1924–28 we were only growing a little more than one-half of the raw fruit consumed in this country. That is not the end of the picture because in 1930, according to the figures that I obtained recently from the Ministry of Agriculture, the proportion of home produce fell to 44 per cent., and the decline in our own produce compared with net imports was accelerated.

No, they are the ordinary soft fruits that we grow. We are open to unfair competition in two distinct ways. First of all, let me take the question of early fruit and vegetables. High luxury prices are always paid for the early produce of any crop and very often that may pay for the whole crop, even if prices slump a little later on. Our growers in this country never get these high luxury prices; they are invariably obtained by the foreign producer, who, having the advantage of climatic conditions, always manages to put in his produce two or three weeks before the produce can mature in this country. Consequently, the foreigner obtains the high price. I have many figures, but as we grow a lot of plums in Evesham district I will give figures relating to plums. The approximate dates on which imports of plums from foreign countries began to reach the British markets in bulk last year was in the second quarter of July, while the approximate date on which the home-produced fruit began to reach the borne market was early August. Therefore, they had about three weeks advantage of us. The remarkable thing is the price that obtained. In the second quarter of July, when only the foreign produce was coming in, the first quality of plums were selling for 52s. but when our hulk crop came into the market the price had gone down to 32s. 6d. That happens in regard to every single thing one can think of.

What is the remedy for this state of things? My remedy is a simple one. This competition is becoming more and more fierce. Great stretches of land in Northern Africa are being opened up for fruit production. In Northern Africa, where we have the question of the low wage again, they are able to produce fruit even earlier than they can produce it in the South of France. I think my remedy is simple. I would prohibit the importation of, I will say, plums until our crops have been ripe for two or three weeks and our people have had the chance of getting the high prices instead of the foreigner. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, and that would be well. within the terms of the Resolution, "without penalising the consuming public." Who can say that that is going to penalise the consuming public? I rather pity hon. Members opposite if they go to their constituencies and try to arouse sympathy on behalf of the rich people who buy early asparagus, because we shall be able to tell them that all that these rich people will have to do will be to wait a fortnight and instead of buying it from the foreigner they will be able to buy it from and pay high prices to the English growers.

By the means that I have just described the foreigner is invarably allowed to skim the cream of every market, and he leaves us with the skimmed milk. We have to make the best of the skimmed milk, but we are not allowed even to have that for ourselves. At any moment from any country the surplus products of that country can be dumped here, because this is the only country that is open to it, thereby bringing the prices bumping down out of all proportion, at the same time giving no advantage to the consumers. In the first week of August I went into one of the markets in Evesham and I saw the most beautiful plums with the bloom on them, Pershore plums, which are our main crop, and are suitable for jam making, selling for 1s. 6d. per pot. A pot represents 72 lbs., while there are about 10 of the plums to the lb. When we consider that these plums cost 9d. to pick and they were sold at Is. 6d. a pot, there was not much profit on the production. Unfortunately, a great many of these plums were not picked because you could not get any price for them.

I do not want to exaggerate but I should think that thousands of tons of these plums were left unpicked in the Vale of Evesham this year, and during the months of July and August we imported into this country no less than 15,000 tons of plums. I cannot see the sense of that; and I do not believe that anybody can see any sense in it. These 15,000 tons of plums which were dumped into this country may not have paid the men who dumped them but at any rate it paid the people who picked them, and if we had not imported this amount of plums we should have been able to pick our own plums and pay wages for the picking. It would be easy for the Minister of Agriculture, with the help of great central places like Evesham, to make a survey of any particular crop and if, as was the case this year, we are certain to have a crop so large that it will provide an ample and cheap supply of fruit to everybody at home, to the jam makers and to the consuming public as well, I say, why on earth should we allow any foreign plums to come in at all.

I bring these two points forward as keeping well within the terms of the Motion, and I have made some practical suggestions for dealing with the problem of market gardening. I have tried to place before the House the hard case of market gardeners to-day. This Parliament is more ready I believe than any other Parliament I have seen to get away from old party battlecries and slogans and treat each case on its merits. I ask hon. Members to believe that this is a serious question and I hope, when the time comes for us to put forward definite suggestions, I hope it will not be long, that the House will be ready to give practical relief and sympathy to a great and deserving industry.

We are much indebted to the Noble Lord for bringing forward this subject to-day and I have no hesitation in accepting the Motion and acknowledging its implications. Let me come to the suggestions made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Evesham (Sir B. Eyres Monsell). If I wanted a testimonial in advance of the advantages of the Marketing Bill I have had it this afternoon. With the exception of the proposal to exclude foreign imports which the right hon. and gallant Member mentioned every other suggestion he has put forward is there and can be given effect to in the Marketing Bill. The omission of fruit from that Bill as it was first printed was deliberate on my part because I wanted to draw fire. When the Bill is reintroduced, I hope in a few days time, it will be found that fruit is now included in the Schedule and two or three other things as well, and there wilt also be machinery for the provision of the initiative which was somewhat defective in the first draft. I hope the House generally, and hon. Members opposite particularly, will take note of the right hon. and gallant Member's glowing description, not exaggerated, of the beauties of the Vale of Evesham with its large numbers of smallholders many of whom have bought their holdings. I know their troubles this year and it is quite right and proper that we should do what we can to prevent a recurrence of those difficulties. But there it is; a picture of prosperity where many smallholders have bought their own holding—

I never said that they have bought their holding. I said that a few owned their holdings and that the great majority prefer to rent them under the Evesham custom.

I was only making a friendly and I think a proper comment on the fact that a number of them had bought their own holdings. In regard to the facts of the case I think the explanation which has been put forward by the right hon. and gallant Member scarcely meets the case; nor is his suggested remedy applicable for a, reason which I will give. The import of plums this year was 387,000 cwt. Last year it was 505,000 cwt. In 1927 it was 597,000 cwt. In other words, in 1927 there were 200,000 cwt. more of imported plums than there were this year. Surely if there was a case for excluding foreign plums it was in 1927.

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we had no authority or mandate to do anything of the kind, but we shall have next time.

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the reason why I cannot now exclude foreign plums is because I am bound by the treaties which he himself concluded.

We have no power. The treaties which were concluded during the office of the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) prevent our prohibiting the import of foodstuffs on any ground except health grounds. Therefore it is not within my power at the present time to do what the right hon. and gallant Member recommends, and, quite frankly, whilst it would affect prices for the first few weeks, the main returns are derived from the bulk of the Crop.

Yes, but the right hon. and gallant Member knows that when a treaty has been signed, sealed and delivered, when everything has been done and all the negotiations have taken place, no Government can do anything else but ratify it. That argument will not do at all. I welcome the suggestion that we should try and approach these problems apart altogether from any party prejudices. We are all anxious to do what we can to help this and kindred industries. The first difficulty of the grower is that he is relatively helpless in the existing markets. There is insufficient organisation among a large number of small producers. That is the case all over the country. The small producer in Norfolk, we are told, is helpless. He has no knowledge of prices, no organisation to advise him as to prices—and as to that I will see if we can improve the market intelligence in the Noble Lord's constituency. He has no machinery to advise him as to prices, no machinery for collective transport. I agree that transport charges should be reduced.

From whatever point of view we approach it the difficulty resolves itself into this, that there is no organisation of a sufficiently comprehensive character to deal with these matters on behalf of the small producer. Where it is a case of dealing with the merchant or middle man, or the question of transport charges, storage, and all the rest, none of these things can be dealt with unless you have a powerful organisation handling the stuff in bulk. The railway companies charge more for small parcels, and for a large number of small parcels, and we can only make a collective and better bargain with the railway companies if there is an organisation which is competent to handle the stuff in bulk. What applies to transport applies even more to storage, and the suggestion made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) for improving our storage facilities is a very valuable suggestion. There has been a great improvement in this respect in late years owing to the growth of cold storage facilities, and we have just finished a large station capable of storing several hundred tons of fruit. From what I am told by the head of the concern it will enable us to have the best Cox's Pippin Apple in June. If that is so it will mean a new era for the fruit trade. At all events it is an experiment which I hope hon. Members will follow; the station at East Mailing is well worth a visit. It is one of the most ambitious and most important experiments in this branch of industry that has been undertaken for many years.

Just a word about prices. We have applied the Act of 1928, the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, very vigorously and it has been conspicuously successful in the case of many fruits. One fact emerges quit;, clearly, and that is that if you have fruits well graded, well stored, well packed, and for the most part of good quality, British fruits will demand a good price. The demand of the markets last year for the best dessert British apples was not adequately met. One of the complaints of the middleman, and I sympathise with him, is that he gets too much produce from the home grower in an utterly mixed up and unsatisfactorily graded condition. I have told this story before, but it is worth repeating. In the middle of the difficulties last year about potatoes I was remonstrating with a tradesman. He said, "Come along here," and he took me to a room at the back, and there showed me a heap on the floor. It had come out of a sack of potatoes. It was mostly earth, and contained a few damaged potatoes. He had, of course, to supply his goods properly graded and nicely sorted and shown. He said, "There is 28 lbs. Weight of stuff there. I was not buying the man's freehold; I was buying his potatoes." It was a fair criticism. I am sure it is a very important matter that we should have in the trade an organisation in being such as will help to improve grading, storage and so on. Even then we are still confronted with what I think, with great respect, is the prime cause of the present unsatisfactory position.

Whatever else we may say it was not foreign imports that was the cause last year. I know that early imports of specialised high quality stuff took the cream off our market. But we could not then supply ourselves, the difficulty being climatic. Do what we will we cannot have here the climate of Algiers. With that side of the question we cannot deal. These early strawberries fetched extraordinarily high prices. They were not dumped at prices below those at which the British producer could have sold his produce, but they were dumped before the British crops were available. That is not dumping in the sense in which most of us understand it. A great difficulty in this matter is the complete absence of any organisation in the industry. With the greatest possible respect to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham, if he and his party came into power to-morrow with a mandate they would be unable to exercise the wholesale prohibition of foreign food imports about which there is so much light talk. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows that he would raise a thousand and one administrative and treaty difficulties which it would be almost impossible to overcome. It is a game at which two people can play.

The way out for this country is to improve the industry organically. That will come with the Marketing Bill in its improved form. I think the House will agree that in that Bill we are taking the necessary steps. There is the question of applying it particularly to soft fruit. One of the main reasons why the jam-making trade does not obtain supplies of home-grown fruit is the lack of organisation among the small growers and their inability to enter into firm contracts for delivery of quantities of fruit at stated times. If the jam maker has to apply to 200 or 300 different places to fix up bargains it is obvious that should there be another agency at his disposal whereby he can order what he wants over the telephone, he will naturally choose the path that is easy. We have to bring into being an organisation which can deal in this way on behalf of the small producers.

It is true, I am sorry to say, that a lot of the fruit this year dropped on the ground and rotted. There was a surplus and bad weather at the same time in many parts of the country. We have no agency in existence for dealing with a surplus. Whatever anyone could have done in the way of prohibiting foreign imports, those fruit trees would not have had fewer plums on them. The imports that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to prohibit were the early imports which arrived before these British fruits were ripe. There are two ways in which this matter can be dealt with. The first is to have an organisation for marketing in bulk which can make sales in advance to the jam makers on firm contracts. The second thing is to develop the canning industry. Here there are immense possibilities. I am glad to say that there has been a very great advance during the last year or two in canning, and that the industry is making rapid progress. Anything that we can do to help I am sure we shall all do. We have been in negotiation with some of the heads of the canning industry.

Quite frankly, I am planning to fit in some of our groups for the production of vegetables and other things, with the canning trades' wants. There is the question of trying to arrange for the provision of suitable canning factories to take the produce of group holdings. There is room for immense expansion there. I am glad to say that where we have applied the national mark the public is more and more insisting on homegrown fruits. I was gratified to learn only yesterday that a large dealer had sent back his supplies to the market because they did not hear the national mark. He said that his customers were beginning to say that they wanted Rational mark goods. We shall do everything we can to extend the national mark scheme. Success must depend on the organisation or setting up of canning factories in association with an organisation which can take the surplus of the crops. The two things must go together. It is on these lines that we must look for the development of this type of production.

One other comment I would make and not in any partisan spirit. I will go into the matter with the right hon. Member for Evesham and any others who are concerned. I refer to the point raised by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely with respect to fruit pulp that is preserved with SO2. I remember that as a child I was given brimstone and treacle. After all, this pulp is brimstone and treacle in a diluted form. We cannot insist on the marking of this stuff because quite inadvertently we are pre- vented by the Merchandise Marks Act from insisting upon a description of such an imported article which undergoes material change after it gets into this country. This fruit pulp, preserved in SO2, is boiled down and made into jam. It is held to have undergone an important change and is sold as home-made jam. It is home-made jam, but is not made from British fruit. I hope it may be possible in a friendly way to negotiate some small verbal alterations of the Act which will enable us to deal with that difficulty. Apart from minor matters, the way to help the fruit industry is on the lines of organisation more or less as I have indicated. With respect to the Marketing Bill I shall be only too delighted to receive any helpful suggestions from anyone.

So far as I have been able to hear it, this has been a most useful discussion. The right hon. Member for Evesham (Sir B. Eyres Monsell) said a good deal with which I am in complete agreement as a fruit grower. I congratulate my Noble Friend on having initiated a most admirable debate. I believe that the most important matter of all is marketing. I rose, however, to make one point. I hope that the Minister will look further into the question of dumping. By dumping I do not mean legitimate competition as far as food is concerned, when the foreigner comes here, and rights a fair fight in the market. What I mean by dumping is this: Where there is a surplus the producer, first of all, sells in his home market at a price which enables him to make a profit under the shelter of a protective tariff, and then dumps the surplus here at a figure which is under the cost price to himself.

I happen to know of actual fruits purchased here at a. price at which the foreigner could not possibly have raised them or even picked them. I know of a considerable quantity that was purchased from abroad. The foreigner's price was a price at which he could not possibly have produced the fruit, even at low wages; certainly the price would not have paid for picking or for packing and sending it over. [HON. MEMBERS: "The early crop!"] I am not talking about the early crop. The early crap is not a question of dumping. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend that you could hardly call the early crop dumping. The whole question in that case is whether you are going to allow luxuries to be brought over here, but that is a very big issue. In Italy, for instance, they are forbidding luxuries in order to put down the imports, first, because of the injury to the exchange, but that is a very big issue of policy. It is not merely a trade question, but a currency question, an exchange question. I do not know that it is not worth examining and discussing, but it is a different issue.

I am now purely on the question of dumping, and by dumping I mean foreigners using the protective tariff in their own countries to obtain a good price in their own home market, and, then, if they find that they have a surplus, landing it here at below the cost of production, of picking and packing and sending over here. I do not think, honestly, that that is fair trading. I have never thought so, and I put it in a totally different category from the general principles of Free Trade and Protection. If there are treaties, I think it is time that they should be revised. I hope that the Government will face that matter. I know it is said that you may tear up treaties under which we get advantages, but, you may depend upon it, that if there are treaties of that kind, other Powers are also getting advantages, and they are not going to surrender those advantages merely in order to get this factitious advantage of occasional dumping.

I agree that, taking the average, year by year, it does not often occur. It only occurs when you have something like last year, when there was a tremendous surplus of currants and plums. But you are hit very hard, first, by the fact that even if there were no dumping, prices would go very low. Our most formidable competitors come from inside our own country. That is perfectly legitimate competition inside your own country because you are all producing on equal terms. But I hope that my right hon. Friend when he looks into the question of marketing will also consider the question of dumping, which is putting the foreign fruit on the market, under the cost of production to the foreigner. It is not merely a question of fruit, of currants arid plums, but it is also a, question of wheat and there may be other things. I have always been against dumping. I do not consider, as I have said before here, that Free Trade is bound to carry that monster on its back. In reference to the Marketing Bill I believe that if things are properly arranged, and if the organisation gets proper powers, a strong marketing organisation will be able to achieve two or three of the things which my right hon. Friend has in mind, as well as the arrest of dumping. I believe that you will be able to do it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear the matter in mind because, when we are setting out to establish people on smallholdings and allotments and cottage holdings, I do not think that they should be subject to a competition which is absolutely unfair.

I am sure that we all appreciate the measure of encouragement given to the Noble Lord in introducing this Motion. This is a matter which concerns both the producer and the consumer, and it is the opinion of many of us on these benches that neither the producer nor the consumer has been getting fair play. I listened with interest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham (Sir B. Eyres Monsell) when he described the ideal conditions prevailing in his district. I am afraid that those conditions are not, in any way, comparable with the conditions prevailing all over the country, but I wish to endorse what he said about the ability and ingenuity of the men engaged in market-gardening and fruit-farming. Although England is generally regarded as a greater fruit-growing country than Scotland, yet we have in Scotland a considerable number of fruit-growers and they have been very hardly hit for a number of years past in their attempts to make a living on the land in this way. Some of them have already been driven out of the industry and ruined and they now regard, almost with jealousy, the proposals of the Government to place unemployed men on the land and to subsidise and to help these men, when they themselves have received no help in recent years. I know of one fruit-grower in Scotland whose farm is close to a coal-mining area, and who was clever enough to tap a natural gas sup- ply and to heat his glasshouses at no cost to himself at all. Yet even with that advantage he has been quite unable to get a profitable price for his fruit.

I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham that marketing conditions are not as bad as they are represented. The Linlithgow Committee reported six years ago that the methods employed by middlemen in the fruit industry were dishonest, unjust and unjustifiable, and I do not recollect any important steps taken by any Government, between 1924, the year of that report, and 1929, to stop those methods. T suppose it is almost unnecessary to add to the tale of the plight of the fruit-growers. Even if the fruit-grower in Scotland were able to get for his fruit that which it cost to pick, there would still be nothing for himself. We have been told by the Minister that this year there has not been so much foreign fruit imported as in previous years, but the fruit-grower has had unfair conditions to contend with for several years. A good deal has been said about the possibility of preventing the import of foreign fruit. Some of us would like to see the Minister do all in his power to bring these commercial treaties to an early end. In the fruit industry one cannot this year prepare for next year's crops. It is not a case of looking one year ahead but of looking two years, four years and sometimes six years ahead. In order that those who still manage to keep their heads above water in the industry may put their ground into preparation for the crops of 1932 or 1934 or 1936, one would like to see the Minister holding out some hope to them that these treaties will be annulled or revised.

I do not know if we can interpret what the right, hon. Gentleman said as meaning that he would be prepared, if there were no such treaties, to control imports. That is the interpretation which one would sometimes like to read into that statement. We think that it is only by means of import boards controlling the importation of fruit which compete with home-grown fruit, that the home producer can be given any real chance of an assured market. In those years to which the right hon. Gentleman referred there was no glut of home-grown fruit such as there was this year and although it is probably certain that we cannot prohibit the import of fruit next season, yet I hope that before this debate concludes we shall have some assurance from the Government that efforts will be made to bring these commercial treaties to an end and that the fruit-grower, if not next year, at least as soon as possible, will have some measure of protection from this kind of competition.

We are concerned, not merely about the fruit-grower who owns the farm, but about his workers. In Scotland fruit growers formerly could pay to a picker as much as 7s. a day and pay his fare from the town to the farm. To-day that wage has dropped to 3s. and no fare is paid. In spite of that big reduction in the remuneration of the pickers, fruit growers are going out of business to a great extent in Scotland because the price of the product has fallen so much. Only eight years ago strawberries were being sold for about £75 per ton but last summer only £22 per ton was offered. The jam-maker has not been helping the fruit-grower because he has made use of foreign fruit pulp imported from Holland and France. I am glad that the Minister told us that he, hopes to put an end to that practice.

It is contradictory that we should prevent children from drinking cream containing SO2, and that we should allow them to eat jam containing the same preservative. I think it might be well to hold an inquiry into this matter and into the question of the sale of graded jam in this country. It may be that the dioxide in the pulp is changed in some way when the fruit is made into jam, but chemical analyses of numerous samples of jam have revealed the interesting fact that the chemical composition of the sugar in the jam is so altered that the food value is reduced almost to vanishing point and some jams made with pulp are actually harmful to the digestive organs. Either the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Health ought to investigate this subject. It is true that the jam makers have done something to set their house in order by grading jams and giving an assurance that a certain percentage of fruit—not home-grown fruit—is contained in the jam and that there is no foreign matter in nt. They have done something to improve the quality, but more might be done in that direction.

I have said that we cannot expect restriction of imports for some little time, but there are other methods. Possibly the key to the situation—despite what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham—is to be found in marketing. The question of marketing of foreign fruit in this country is important. The importer is very often the broker. He actually buys the fruit from the foreigner and then he has to sell the foreign fruit to get it off his hands, otherwise he would be out of pocket. Consequently the home producer is in very unfair competition with the foreign producer, because, actually, the broker who professes to get a market for the home-grown fruit., will, in his own interest, try to sell the foreign fruit first. if we could interfere in the marketing of foreign fruit in some way beneficial to the home producer, it would be a great help. The prices obtained for fruit in this country by the producer have been absolutely ridiculous. Plums, for instance, have fetched 1½d. a pound to the grower and have afterwards been sold in the shops at from 10d. to is. per pound.

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Although the national mark has helped the home producer, it is very difficult to employ any detective methods which will prevent dishonest traders from putting foreign-grown fruit into baskets and other receptacles bearing the national mark. A month or two ago in Scotland a number of producers banded themselves together in an attempt to get something done in this respect and, within a few days, they secured 16 convictions in cases where merchants had been selling foreign fruit as home-produced fruit. It is difficult to suggest how to protect the home producer, but I think the Minister might with advantage direct the attention of his Department to seeing that foreign fruit is not sold under the protection of our national mark. Producers have attempted to organise in this country unsuccessfully, because many of them are financed by the brokers. They are often in debt to the brokers. They have often pledged the coming season's crop in order to get the funds wherewith to till the soil, to buy their implements, and to pay the wages of the men on their fruit farms, and I hope that something more may be done by the Minister of Agriculture to rescue the producers from the financial stranglehold which the brokers have on very many of them at the present time. The Agriculture Bill and the Marketing Bill, if and when they become law, will certainly help in this direction, but until this financial assistance given by the broker is removed, and Government assistance is given in its place, it will be almost impossible for the producers to organise themselves together to defeat the brokers, who are taking too big a share of the profits at the present time.

During this debate to-day we have been discussing primarily the interests of those engaged in the industry, but the consumers' interests also must be considered. We have had the slogan "Eat more fruit" for some time past, but, speaking as a medical man, in spite of all the fruit that has been consumed, the doctor has not been kept away from the homes of the people because not nearly enough fruit is consumed yet by the people, and one reason is that, although the producers are not getting a fair price for their produce, the price charged to the consumer is still in many cases unnecessarily high. If we can help the producer and at the same time reduce the price of fruit, we shall be contributing very materially to an improvement, in the health of the people of this country.

It is now many centuries since an attempt has been made to induce the people of England to eat fresh vegetables and more fruit. One of the wives of Henry VIII was, I believe, responsible for introducing the lettuce to the English people. Fruit and vegetables are not consumed in sufficient quantities, but in spite of the old adage which says that "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," it is truer to say that an apple a day keeps the dentist away, for if mothers, infants and school-children could have a more plentiful supply of fruit, it would enormously improve that particular state of ill-health, bad dentition, which is a disgrace to this country.

For all these reasons, I thank the Noble Lord for having given us an opportunity of debating this subject, and I hope that the Minister will be prepared to hasten the passage into law of the Marketing Bill and the Agriculture Bill, in order to help those who are at present on the land and to stimulate the setting up of canneries in England and Scotland, but the canneries must be near the fruit farms to be useful. In a variety of such ways there is a possibility for the fruit grower, and I again thank the Noble Lord for having given us this chance of holding out hope to these very honest and hard-working men.

I am sure that every Member like myself who represents a fruit-growing area wishes with all his heart that the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Dr. Forgan) had been given by the Minister of Agriculture himself. He represents a district which is well known for the quality of its fruit, and there is no need for the Minister to say, as he did in the greater part of his speech, that this is a question of marketing. I am going to-morrow into districts like my own, where smallholders and indeed big people have had to stand by and see over 1,400 tons of plums and apples hanging on the trees and rotting, to say nothing of the loss of 1,600 tons which have been marketed in the very best up-to-date way, and I am wondering what they will say to-morrow to the reply of the Minister this afternoon. Everybody knows that on the other side of the House there is a great number of the representatives of the heavy industries which are suffering to-day, and we all have to face the great problem of regulating imports. I only wish one of my hon. Friends who represents a very large steel area were here to-night. He would know perfectly well that we cannot compete with the wages paid on the Continent, whether we are growing fruit or producing the commodities that come into this country from abroad.

If we are to save the fruit-growing industry, in which we are told that 40,000 people are in the area of the right hon. Member for Evesham (Sir B. Eyres Monsell), we must do something at once. I can see no harm in the restriction of imports, or indeed some sort of licensing. I spent 30 years in a protected country—in the United States—where they have a licence. The very moment the plums co above a certain price the foreigner comes in, and in all the Great Lake areas of Ontario and on the American side, fruit growing will always be more or less a paying proposition. The Leader of the Liberal party this afternoon gave a disclosure which I am sure will be very amazing to the Press to-morrow as coming from a strong advocate of Free Trade, when he said that clumping is a curse.

This debate has been carried on in a friendly manner, and I hope the result will be pressure on all sides upon the Minister, who has just brought in a Land Bill to place countless thousands of people on the land, and that he will help in revoking the Treaties to some extent, and then hold out some hope to these people. I am sure I thank the Noble Lord who introduced this Motion, which I hope will in future have a very great bearing on the new people who are to take up positions on the land and will be rendering a very great service to the fruit-growers of this country.

I am glad the House has had the opportunity of considering the very serious depression in the fruit-growing industry of this country. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that there has been a great increase in the import of fruit from foreign countries during the past few years. I think that perhaps during the War our own people were placed at a considerable disadvantage. Most of the young men and labourers had gone to the front, and it was necessary, in order to preserve the food supply of this country, to grow cereals and potatoes. Large areas of fruit trees were dug up, and I myself, when on leave, watched a whole plantation being cleared by the trees being pulled up in order that potatoes might be grown. Of course, during that time, Holland, which was outside the War, reaped a very rich harvest in this country by sending her fruit to us. She developed her resources for exporting fruit four or five times, and now we are feeling pretty severely that rather intense competition.

After the War, France used some of the money which she obtained from reparations in providing trees, bushes, and other things for the various farmers right away up to the North, and in getting the produce from the wayside stations and sending it to this country. It has been said in the course of this debate that that produce arrives in this country three weeks earlier than ours. I have no particular complaint about that fruit arriving three weeks before our currants and other things are ready, but the growers' complaint is that it takes the cream off the market, and the foreigner gets a very good price during those weeks when we have no British fruit available, but because he gets that good price of 6d., 8d., or even more per lb. for black currants, he is enabled to sell his main crop and the tail end of his crop at such prices as makes it impossible for the British grower to get fair play when his main crop comes on to the market. I suggest that a great deal has been done by the British grower to organise the industry, to grade the fruit, and to pack it and market it. Very great and rapid strides have been made along these lines, but it is rather disheartening when all these things have been done, to find that you have really no market for your fruit at all, and that it has to fall to the ground and rot.

The Minister off Agriculture said that the jam-makers were in difficulties because they wanted to make forward contracts and our supplies were in such small quantities that it could not be done. I should not like that statement to go out unchallenged, because I am in a position to state that one of the largest fruit growers in the county of Kent, when he saw that he was going to have a very fine crop of black currants, said to his partners, "We must make forward contracts." He took the trouble to go to the Continent and to make inquiries into the prospects of the crop there, and when he came back, being a keen business man, he said, "We must make forward contracts." He went to one jam manufacturer after another offering to deliver 100 tons or more of British black currants, and there was not one who would enter into that forward con- tract. It was not a question of price, but they said that from all their reports from abroad they thought there would be a good crop in Holland and France, and at that stage they were not prepared to enter into a forward contract.

That is an actual case within my own experience, and I do not think it is fair to the growers to suggest they were not in a. position to offer delivery of sufficient quantities of fruit to meet the demand. Of course, on the other hand, the jam makers and others buy in the best market, and as the law stands at present you can- not blame them for taking advantage of the market, and for being as keen as possible. I feel that if this House will look at this question with unbiased eyes, the day will arrive when these problems will not be the football of party controversy, but we shall come down to examine them, feeling that at any rate we want to help the people who are tilling the British soil.

There is a friend of mine who went into Covent Garden Market this year and purchased a number of pounds of cherries. He examined them, and then took them across to the Ministry of Health. The Minister or his staff examined them and cut some of them open with a knife, and found inside a kind of little worm. After consultation, my friend said, "Do you know what will happen? Those cherries will go all over England, and people will buy them and throw out those that have this disease. They will be thrown on to the refuse heaps, and later they will go on to the land as manure, and you will have this disease in your orchards all over the country." The Ministry said that within 48 hours they would issue an order of prohibition, and within 48 hours that order was issued, because there was a disease that would spoil the tree. Is it not a far more terrible disease when we have our people out of work and lose our fruit, which rots on the trees and is used merely to manure the land? If it is a terrible thing because a worm is in the cherry, it does not need much imagination for sane business men, who are prepared to look at things with unbiased eyes, to say that when we have an ample quantity to supply our own requirements in this country, we will only allow importation by licence.

There are other means by which price can be regulated and by which the consumer can be protected. It is not in the interest of anybody that this stuff should go to waste, or that our own people in the countryside should become broken and disheartened. I have had letter after letter from little people in my constituency who tilled their land and cleaned it, and were just expecting their harvest of blackcurrants and gooseberries; and they sent me the actual notes relating to their consignments to London, showing that they did not get. enough back to pay for carriage and commission. We cannot go to these people, who have gone bankrupt in money and in hope, and hold out to them some long-distanced remedy. They want somebody to come to their help now with some suggestion, so that they will get a reasonable return for the money, intelligence and energy which they invest in the soil. I was glad to hear my leader speak of dumping. So far as I and many others who sit on these benches are concerned, we believe that the time has arrived when we are not going to allow any deliberate attempt outside fair trade to lower the standard of life of the people of this country. We have to take that stand very definitely.

Careful examination should be made into statements which have appeared in the public Press over signatures that carry some weight. I will read without the slightest prejudice a letter which appeared on 17th November; it is from one of the leading London newspapers, and has gone out to the British public, and I want the House to note it. I am not in a position to deny or to verify it, but it is up to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government to take such steps to find out whether the statement is true.
"I do not think that it is sufficiently known that the fruit forming the fruit pulp being imported into this country from Russia is largely gathered by abandoned children, of whom more than 5,000,000 exist in Russia to-day. The verdict of the medical inspection undertaken by the Nansen Mission under the authority of M. Joseph Douillet, late Belgian Consul in Russia, was that almost 100 per cent. of the abandoned children in Russia were affected with venereal diseases, and that even among the student classes who received free meals from the Mission, the percentage was as high as 70 to 75 per cent. Even Soviet statistics admit a 30 per cent, average infection of the whole population for the whole of Soviet Russia. In those circumstances, surely it is nothing short of scandalous and a danger to the community at large that the importation of this fruit pulp should be allowed, seeing that it is presently consumed as jam, for the main part by our own children."

May I ask the hon. Gentleman, in the interests of the public of Great Britain, so that there should not be an undue scare, whether he is aware that the nature of the infection in cases of syphilis is such that it would be physically impossible for any infection to be conveyed by fruit pulp?

I can only give the facts that have been made public, and if there is a sufficient answer, it ought to be made.

I will give the authority. The statement goes on:

"Can nothing be done to protect ourselves against this frightful menace beyond requiring a direct assurance from the manufacturer of our favourite brand that no infected Russia fruit pulp has been used in its manufacture?—Professor D. J. Wilden-Hart."

I am sorry that I am not in a position to supply that information. If these conditions do not prevail, a reply that should be adequate ought to be given. If a tithe of this statement be true, it would be a great mistake to allow this fruit pulp to be imported and used. I went with a friend of mine the other day to a jam factory; he was there on business, and we were shown some Russian pulp strawberries offered at a very cheap price, which were being put into tins and sold under a name that carries a great deal of weight in the country. I feel sure that if it were known that they were strawberries grown in Soviet Russia and picked under the conditions which I have quoted, the majority of the British people have enough public spirit and patriotism to refuse them, whatever the price. We ought to examine this with the utmost care and without any party bias. These statements have been circulated to people in this country, and I hope that the Government will take a careful note of them.

The Irish Free State have a method by which they allow potatoes to come in up to a certain date. When they have sufficient for their own requirements, an Order is laid on the Table of the House prohibiting imports until such time as it is necessary to have further imports. Yesterday I supported the Bill which will place thousands of people on the land, and I hope that it will he a great success. I want to see these small cultivators properly organised in their marketing, and I want to see them growing fruit. It will be a grave disaster, after we have spent public money in putting them on holdings, and giving them a little hope and heart, to find that there was no market for the things that they produce, and that other people who had reaped a rich harvest, because of climatic conditions, by the earlier crops, were putting in the later part of their crops at such a price that made it impossible for the home growers to get a decent living. I hope that all these considerations will be borne in mind, and that in this House we shall find a way out of our difficulties that will bring prosperity to the fruit-growing industry and to the countryside.

I should like to call tile attention of the House to the terms of the Motion. The Noble Lord calls upon the Government to secure to the grower of fruit an economic return for his crops. The Minister of Agriculture accepted the Motion, and added that he also accepted its implications. I listened, therefore, with some interest to hear from the right hon. Gentleman in what way he intended to translate those implications into action. As far as I was able to gather, he pins all his hopes and all his faith in a solution of the difficulties of the fruit industry on his forthcoming Marketing Bill. It will be out of order for me to discuss a Bill which has already been once withdrawn, and has not yet been reintroduced, but perhaps I may be permitted this observation. It is all very well to introduce a Marketing Bill, hut that is of very little avail unless you can actually provide a market.

We have heard from hon. Members who represent fruit-growing districts, evidence of the complete efficiency that exists in their constituencies for marketing fruit. We heard it from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham (Sir B. Eyres Monsell) and from the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Lord Fermoy). Their constituencies are in two of the greatest fruit-growing districts in the country, and they are able to state definitely that their marketing efficiency is of a very high order. Therefore, there is nothing wrong about that. The trouble is that there is no market in which to market the fruit. If, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman thinks that by a marketing Bill lie will do all that is necessary to rescue the fruit industry, he and those in the industry will be grievously disappointed. After hearing the speeches of the Mover and the Seconder of this Motion, and the speeches of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Kedward), I cannot help saying that I wish the Mover and Seconder had shown a little of the courage of the older Members of their party. I was interested to hear the right hon. Member fur Carnarvon Boroughs say that, he for one would not subscribe to the theory that Free Trade should have dumping saddled on its back. I would observe, however, that were it not for Free Trade, this country would not have had dumping carried on its back. It is entirely due to the fact that the Free Trade theory has held this country enthralled for too many generations, that not only the fruit industry, not only the great agricultural industry, but a hundred other industries in the country to-day arc suffering from this evil of dumping. There is no need for me, after what has fallen from so many hon. Members, to express the gravity of the situation in the fruit industry. In my own constituency, I have ample proof of it, as there is considerable fruit growing there.

In my constituency, also, there are jam factories. I have one particular factory in mind which grows a great deal of its own fruit for its own consumption. It supplements its own supply with supplies bought from the neighbourhood, and in normal times, when there is a glut, the factory has been in the habit of removing that glut from the market. The position, however, in the last two years has altered. Long before the British crop is nearly ripe, forward offers come from the Continent of fruit and fruit pulp at prices with which it is quite impossible for own own fruit growers to compete. I have here two actual quotations for fruit from abroad which were received this year. One is from a French firm offering very best quality French black currants at £18 a ton, that is 1.9d. per lb., and there is another offer of black currants from Holland at £16 a ton, which works out at only 1.7d. per lb. I have it on the best authority that it is impossible to grow and to pick black currants in this country for less than 4d. a lb., and the consequence is that the factories here get filled up with foreign fruit long be- fore our crop is available, bought at prices with which it is quite impossible for our growers to compete. The Noble Lord stated this afternoon that no less than 1,760 tons of black currant pulp was imported from Holland alone. The House may be interested to hear what was dumped into this country by Russia last year. More than 2,000 tons of strawberries, raspberries and black currant pulp came from Russia alone in 1929. These figures can be verified by anyone who cares to turn up the statistics published in the Empire Marketing Board's weekly notes.

During this debate a good many tentative remedies have been suggested by the Noble Lord who introduced the Motion, by the Seconder, and others. I think only one, possibly, has any practical value, and that is that the benefits of a Marking Order should be extended to fruit, jam and preserved fruits. I trust the Minister may be active—I feel sure he will—in seeing whether a Marking Order cannot be applied to them. There is another matter in which the Minister could help. The Food Manufacturers' Association decided recently to label their jams according to the grade. The first grade will be known as "full fruit standard," and jams of that grade will contain at least 42 per cent. of fruit. The second grade will contain a minimum of 33 per cent. of fruit and will be known as jams of "lower fruit standard." In my opinion, neither standard seems to be abnormally high. But the point to which I wish to draw attention is that there is to be nothing on the labels to show whether the fruit in the jam is home-grown or foreign; and, secondly, there is nothing to prevent a jam such as strawberry jam being called "full fruit standard" although it may contain other fruit juices, and also acids or artificial colourings. Therefore, these labels are very apt to mislead the public.

Another point is that some firms—I know one—are not content to make their strawberry jam of less than 70 per cent. of home-grown strawberries. A firm such as that will, obviously, be penalised, as their jams will have no labels other than the label prescribed by the Food Manufacturers' Association, namely, one stating that there is 42 per cent. of fruit in the "full fruit standard." One has to bear in mind, also, that these percentages of 42 and 33 per cent. are minima, and the tendency will be for manufacturers who have been in the habit of putting a higher percentage of fruit in their jams to come down to the minima in order to compete with their rivals in the trade. This new system of labelling is obviously detrimental to manufacturers who now give a high per-centage of home-grown fruit, and also detrimental to consumers. On Monday last I addressed a question to the Minister of Agriculture on this point, but it was referred by his Department to the Ministry of Health, and I regret to say that the reply which I received from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health indicated that her Department intended to take no action in this matter. I hope, however, that the Minister of Agriculture will be good enough to look into all the points which I have raised in connection with it.

But neither marking nor getting jam correctly described can possibly save the fruit industry. In common with so many other industries, it is suffering from the havoc being created upon the home market by undue imports from abroad. After all, it is our home market; it belongs to us. Why should not our own people have it first? What objection can there be to that? Why is it that the Liberal party and the Socialist party object to our own people living and thriving on our own home market, at least having the first chance there? We may talk about it for years or months—

We may talk round this question for years, but we have got to come to a conclusion. It is not merely one or two of our industries which are suffering, almost all our industries are suffering, every branch of agriculture is suffering. We have been invited to approach this subject as a Council of State and not in a party spirit, and contributions and helpful suggestions have come from the Liberal benches and from the Conservatives; it only remains now for the Government benches to respond to their own invitation, and of only they would abandon the fetish of their prejudices then, indeed, we should have come to a real agreement. We have heard from the Noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn who lived for 30 years in a protected country, how the United States of America are able to restrict the importation of certain fruits by licence. As it is possible for them to do it, surely it is not impossible for us! Our Customs Service is as efficient as any in the world. It only requires the goodwill of all parties, and we could take steps to stop dumping. We have the market at our doors, it is our own market, but we let in everybody who is a foreigner. Surely that must be wrong. I would ask those on the Government side of the House to move in the direction in which they have invited the other parties to move. We shall not be slow to go many steps further if only they themselves will take one or two steps forward, and when the right hon. Gentleman tells us that he has accepted this Motion and all its implications, I trust that he will not content himself by thinking the problem can be solved by such a Bill as he foreshadowed to us this afternoon.

I do not wish to traverse ground which has already been gone over, and I will confine myself to the closing sentence of the Minister's speech, in which he said he would be glad to receive any practical suggestions for assisting this industry. The Minister finds himself, as I must acknowledge, facing serious difficulties, from his point of view, in dealing with imported produce, but I suggest that he could greatly alleviate the situation by issuing a Departmental Order stating that all jams which contain imported pulp must have that fact stated on the label. That would be an immense benefit to the industry and to British jam manufacturers. I believe it could be done by a Departmental Order stating that all jams and preserves sold in this country should bear a label stating whether or not they contain imported fruit pulp which has been treated with sulphur dioxide. In that way the Minister could probably get over the difficulty with regard to treaties. The Noble Lord who brought forward this Motion made one criticism, a very fair one, that the Empire Marketing Board laid immense stress upon buying Empire fruit but did not lay sufficient emphasis upon buying British fruit. I would point out to the Minister that the money for its work is found by British people and British fruit growers, and in all fairness they are entitled to ask that their ware should receive some attention.

In justice to the Empire Marketing Board, I ought to say that all its anouncements bear words to the effect "Buy Home Products." I have not the actual words with me, but they are to that effect.

Another point which ought to be stressed is the ignorance throughout the country of prevailing market prices. The Ministry of Agriculture is doing excellent work already by broadcasting prices, and I suggest to the Minister that during the fruit season, which is a comparatively short one, market prices should be broadcast rather oftener. It would be of immense help to fruit growers to know how markets were running throughout the country. Striking instances have been given us of the low prices offered for British fruits in certain instances. The Minister said that one thing which was militating against fruit growers was the decline in the consumption of jam in this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham (Sir B Eyres Monsell) mentioned a case in which plums were sold at 1s. 6d. for 72 lbs. if information of that kind were published. I am sure a good deal of business could be done by the cash-on-delivery system in sending parcels of fruit by post. That would give a tremendous stimulus to the fruit trade. That system of sending goods by post was started for the sale of agricultural produce, and, if properly developed, it has in it the making of an immense market. I understand that under this system in America there is a turnover of about £1,000,000 per annum, and a similar system in this country would he of immense value to the fruit grower.

I do not wish to detract from the praise which has been bestowed on the Minister of Agriculture, who has put in force some very excellent Regulations. I would, however, like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the danger in this country to the cherry fruit crop of a pest which has practically wiped out the cherry fruit crop on the Continent. I feel sure that, in calling the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this matter he will not feel that I am attacking his policy, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to take all possible steps to guard against this danger. The suggestion I put forward is a very small one, but I believe that the Minister of Agriculture could introduce something to deal with this danger without haying to bring forward any fresh legislation.

Once before in this House I!have tackled the question of jam. Who destroyed our home market for jam? Who destroyed our home market for the sale of fresh fruit grown in this country? What are the facts? It is all very well to say that the home market is our own market, but that is simply talking about the obvious. Consider things like oranges, bananas, dates, and fruit of that character. What happens? You have got a market for these things, and, according to those who compile statistics, we can do with twice as much of these articles. We find that a man called a trader buys oranges for ¼d. each and sells them at 4d. and 2d. each. Those are the things hon. Members should examine if they want to find out where our market goes. I know of butchers who started business only three years ago and they have now retired.

The reason is that in all these things we have no competition at work. Why is it that nothing is said about oranges, dates, and bananas? Is it because the truth is too blunt and obvious? Since I came to London I have been doing a good deal of my own shopping in order to obtain first-hand information. By doing my own shopping, I get to know the market price. I find out the price at which certain articles arrive in this country, and I discover just how much the swindle is to the consumer. I am very much surprised that no action is taken to prevent this kind of thing. I buy my goods direct, but that does not get me very far, because you have a large floating population in London buying things. Who brings in all the stuff about which we have heard so much? Who brings in the pulp? Who is it that puts glucose into the jam? Not the workmen. Who is it who uses the dye and a compound in making jam? I would rather take a straight dose of strychnine than some of the jam which is sold in the home market.

A good deal has been said in this debate about the making of black currant jam. I remember on one occasion I went to purchase some black currants, and I found that they were mixed up with so many stalks and leaves that half the weight consisted of bush. I think: that is a rotten way of sending an article of that kind to the market. I offered the man who had those black currants for sale four times the price he had asked if he would pick the currants, take away the stalks and leaves, and put them on the scale. That is the way in which the home market is being destroyed, and things will get worse if you cannot find some way of dealing with this retail robbery. I know people who grow for the market in London and I also know people who grow for the market in Scotland. They are growing good, sound fruit and they are robbed of their years of labour—by whom? They are told by the wholesale purchasers and distributors of fruit that the best price they can offer is a ¼d. or ½d. a lb. and the grower is told that he can either take that price or leave it. It is a well-known fact that in hundreds of cases, because of the grip of the swindling profiteers who come between the producer and the consumer, fruit growers are robbed of produce that has taken years of labour to produce, and a vast amount of their produce is allowed to go to waste because they will not bow to the demands of these profiteers.

Hon. Members will recollect that last year I mentioned the fact that cabbages which were sold at ¼d. each to the wholesale dealer were retailed al 4d. and 6d. each. There is no scarcity of these articles, and the home market is not saturated with jam. It is not a case of scarcity that is starving the consumer. The consumers are robbed every time they go to the shop counter. There is a plentiful supply of all these articles, and I know that there are hundreds of homes in London in which the people would be in a much better state of health if they could have more of those articles. There is no market in the world which can compete with our own if you clean up the filth channels and sewers of swindling through which these goods have to pass. The hon. and gallant Member for Henley-on-Thames (Captain Henderson) suggested a larger development of the "cash-on-delivery" system through the post Why? Was that suggestion made to escape the profiteer? If not, why was the suggestion made that these articles should be sent through the post? The last thing you want to do with fruit is to keep it closely wrapped. I hope that whatever the Government are going to do in relation to this discussion to-day, they will keep in mind some of these things which underlie all this verbiage in connection with our markets, and the way in which they have been destroyed.

Not long ago I was in a place where they were making dyes, and I was asked by the chief what would happen to a certain extract from Scottish coal. The extract referred to was a beautiful green colour, called "gooseberry green," and I was asked whether it would be a good thing to mix with fruit juice in gooseberry jam. We have to protect the brain of the scientist from being sabotaged and prostituted by these people. Hon. Members will recollect that last year I brought here some jars of jam, and one of them was 3½ ounces short of the lb. which it was supposed to contain. No one should be allowed to go on with a swindle of that kind. If we do not deal with these things, our market will never recover. There is nothing that will restore the home market except the confidence of the consumer in what is being sold, both as regards its purity and the price at which it is sold.

7.0 p.m.

Quality is one of the bases that restore any market anywhere. But think of jam being made from rotten turnips—I have seen them delivered in towns—and from things I will not mention! Anyone who knows what really decaying fruit is and has once smelt it never forgets it. I know one jam factory where the sanitary inspector was summoned by the neighbours around because they thought the sewer had come to the surface, but it was discovered that it was a delivery which had taken place that morning and had not reached the boiling pots so that the nasty parts could be evaporated in steam. You talk about our market, yet they will poison the people for a halfpenny more profit.

The housewife Scotland likes to get her fruit direct from the gardens; the housewife there is more thrifty than in any other part of these islands. In conclusion, I hope that, whatever is done by the Government, there will be no flippancy as far as our markets are concerned,. and that the Government will get rid of all this swindle. If they rooted it out, then we shall have this market Again.

I shall not follow the last speaker into all the vagaries of the market, because I want to get down to the fundamental facts as to why the bottom has dropped out of the market. There is no doubt that it is chiefly due to foreign imports. Since pre-War days, as the right hon. Member for Evesham (Sir B. Eyres Monsell) has pointed out it has increased from 4,800,000 cwts. to over 8,000,000 cwts. The hon. and gallant Member for Wandsworth (Major Church) asked how much of this fruit came from the Dominions and what from foreign countries. I find that foreign imports from other countries, except the Empire, increased from 25 to 37 per cent., and the proportion supplied by British countries shows a very small rise, from 15 per cent. to 17 per cent. The greater part of that is apples and pears, and a great deal of it comes from Australia and South Africa at a time of year when it does not compete with the home market.

This debate has been extremely valuable. It has brought out the Leader of the Liberal party with a statement which was remarkable for a Free Trader. When the debate started and the Motion was moved by the Noble Lord, I wondered, knowing how much he was tied up in the bonds of matrimony with Free Trade, how far he could go on the lines of either separation or divorce, and I found his marriage lines were kept with renewed vigour, and that he proposed only a very small palliative. He did not come down to the bottom of the problem. The leader of his party was, however, far holder and came out with a statement that these dumped imports have to be stopped.

The foreigner has the advantage of climate, and he can come in a fortnight or three weeks earlier and can get the pick of the market and the higher prices. That pays for the cultivation of his land and for his crop, and he can afford to send the remainder of the crop at a time when our crop is coming on the market and to force down the price that home-grown fruit can fetch. I would like to quote one or two instances from my own constituency from particular large growers as to the cost of growing this fruit and as to the price received at Covent Garden. Both blackcurrants and raspberries are very similar in cultivation, and it costs about £30 an acre to produce them. The cost per picking averages a penny a lb. or just under £10 a ton, and the price received in July of this year has been £20 per ton delivered to the jam factory, while the price of fruit picked and packed in chip baskets sold in London was very similar. As an acre produces on an average one-and-a-half tons, it follows that it just paid without anything left over for interest on capital or profit and without giving an inducement to carry on. It only just paid its expenses.

It averaged about 2d. a lb. at Covent Garden. That is all the home grower gets.

But has the hon. Member any idea of what the price of that commodity was when sold in the shops?

That, I have not got. I know there is a great deal of difference between what the consumer pays and what the producer gets. I know there is need for inquiry, but I am dealing with the position of the home grower and with what he gets. As I have shown, he received an average of 2d. a lb. As to gooseberries, one grower had 60 acres of gooseberries, and the price was so low that it did not pay to pick them, and the bushes are being grubbed up this year. That was due to the foreign consignments which were coming in. The Minister of Agriculture was right in saying that not such a large quantity came in this year, but it is the time they came in that caused the harm. The fruit that is first on the market causes the market to be saturated. Let me give an instance with regard to plums. On the 25th July French plums were sold at Covent Garden at from 2½d. to 4½d. a lb and Italian plums at from 4½d. to 6d. per lb. A fortnight later, British plums came on the market, and the grower to whom I referred sent up his plums to the market. They were "Rivers Early Prolific" and much better plums, but for boats of 18 lbs. he only got 6d. That means that early British plums only fetched ¾d. for 2¼ lbs. That was due entirely to the importation of French and Italian inferior plums. Those are very striking facts.

Then we come to the question of jam. I asked the Minister of Agriculture the other day whether he could bring in a marking order so that in the future we could know whether jam was made from British or foreign fruit. On the 1st July strawberries from Holland were offered in casks with SO2 preservative at 58s. a 100 kilos, which works out at about 3d. per lb. Raspberries were also offered at 3¼d. A week later these raspberries with SO2 preservative were 2d. per lb. How can the British grower possibly compete with this foreign pulp when the big jam makers use it and have contracts ahead? There is a case where jam makers have taken 1,000 tons of Dutch strawberries in bisulphite of lime for this season. It is a deleterious mixture on which British people are fed, though they are quite ignorant what they are eating. As the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Dr. Forgan) has told us, there is very little, indeed no, nourishment in this jam, and in some cases it is harmful. I ask the Minister to take steps in this matter. I suggest that he can take a monthly survey, as is done in other agricultural matters, of what the fruit crops are likely to be. After he has made a survey through his Ministry of what the fruit crop is likely to he for the coming year, as he knows the amount that is consumed in this country every year, then he should act by licence, as in the case of the Dyestuffs Act, which I am sorry to say is being allowed to lapse. The principle of that Act should be applied to fruit and so much imported by licence.

Did not the Government of which the hon. Member was a supporter pass the Merchandise Marks Act in 1926, and were not these possibilities foreseen when they passed that Act? Surely he is attributing to this Government the blame for the Government of which he was a supporter.

I am not attributing any blame to them. I am asking them to remedy a state of affairs which is getting increasingly bad. I do not say it was not bad before, but it is getting worse. The imports have increased.

Is it not that very Act which prevents me putting a label on the jam to which the hon. and gallant Member refers?

The Act was framed in order that we should know whether we are getting foreign produce or not. The right hon. Gentleman says that, in the process of turning this pulp with SO2 into jam, it changes the consistency of it—

It changes in manufacture. I am asking him to take steps to remedy that, and I believe he is going to do so. This is one of the remedies. I ask him either to let the fruit in by licence in such quantities as not unduly to affect the home market or else to prohibit it altogether whenever there is a sufficiency in our home market. In Ireland, for instance, as far as new potatoes are concerned, they are allowed in up to a certain date. After that, when they are likely to conflict with the home market and enter into competition, they are stopped corning in. Surely the Government can use some such power in these markets. There, again, it would, of course, be against their policy. Import duties on foodstuffs are another policy which will have to be considered.

There is one other point which has not been raised and that is the Early Closing Act and the effect which it has had upon the small sellers of fruit in the country districts. The Shops (Early Closing) Act has stopped the late sale of cheap fruit for which the hon. Member is so anxious. It has stopped that sale in the evening hours in the one-man fruit shop or by the street trader. It has prevented the carrying on of that trade which absorbed a large quantity of the surplus fruit in country districts.

The hon. Member speaks of the small shopkeeper and the street trader who goes round with a barrow. I do not know if the hon. Member has done any business with them, but, if a man goes round with some fruit and it is dark, one knows there must be something wrong with it for him to have got it cheap enough to go round with it on a barrow.

That may be so in the great towns, but not in the country. Country people are clever enough to know what is a good apple and what is a bad one, and, if it is bad, they will not buy it. That would be a means of getting rid of a great deal of surplus fruit, and I think it might be made possible by excluding fresh fruit from that Act. I put that to the Minister as a method of getting rid of a considerable surplus of fruit, it may be comparatively cheaply, but probably at prices as good as the grower would get if he sent it to Covent Garden. The real point, however, is that the harm which this foreign imported fruit does is due to its coming in early and getting the best prices. It then goes on and inflicts untold damage on the home grower. It is not so much the amount that comes in, but, when the news gets about that there is a large consignment of foreign fruit somewhere in the offing, people will only offer the fruit grower in this country a very miserable price. The whole question needs thoroughly looking into, and I hope that the Minister will follow the example of his partner, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and deal with this dumping of fruit stuffs by making it illegal and prohibiting it.

I am amazed at that part of this discussion to which I have listened. Most of the speeches that I have heard have represented a sort of intermingling of Tariff Reform and bad fruit and the dyes that are used to fake up what is handed out for general consumption by British consumers. My hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) has put certain points before the House, but the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Colonel Howard-Bury) has evaded replying to them. We know that all over the country the ordinary British consumer, whether of fresh meat or fruit, would be willing to pay an extra fraction more on the price if he knew that he was getting an English product. The miners in my own Division would pay more for their meat, if I may take that as an example, if they knew that it was English home-fed meat, but in order to buy English home-fed meat they would have to be Members of Parliament, and not diggers of coal. The same applies to fruit, and almost anything produced at home.

The British consumer would willingly pay a good price within reason if he knew that he was getting home-produced There is, however, a national combination among the distributive trades to stabilise the prices at which. these commodities shall be sold, and I am always astonished at the reasoning that pervades most of the debates in this House; I cannot understand how some Members reason in this House. The plain fact is that the producer of fruit goes to Covent Garden and gets a starvation price, or a price which (foes not compensate him for the work of production, but what is the price of that same commodity, which has been procured at a starvation price at Covent Garden, when the consumer goes to the shop to buy it? We are told that it is the sending in of pulp by foreigners that is wrecking the business. I suggest that it is the stabilisation of prices by the combinations formed by the distributive trades that is throttling the industry of home production.

We on this side of the House are just as anxious as anyone on the other side that the people of this country shall eat the fresh, luscious and pure food of their own country, but let any Member of this House go down into a working-class district, receive a- working man's wage, and go out with his wife on- Saturday night and attempt to buy English fruit or English meat. He will find that he cannot get it, because the price is prohibitive and bears no relation to the price paid in the wholesale market. This wholesale profiteering is throttling our home market more than the competition of pulp from foreign countries, which has to a very large extent been so doctored and faked that any self-respecting consumer in this country would refuse to touch it. If anyone says that an ordinary Englishman would prefer a mixture of peroxide and hair oil, with some cochineal, imported from Russia and sold at a very cheap price, as against fresh fruit grown on English soil, provided that it was at all possible for him to get this within the limits of his income—that he would not be prepared to pay an extra price for the English product, but would take- this poisonous stuff by preference—I say that it is not true. He is driven to it by the sheer excess of price that is demanded.

I do not blame the farmer abroad if he finds here a ready market for the offal which he cannot dispose of in his own country. The measure of the success of the sale of that stuff in this country is the measure of the prohibitive price which is levied upon our home production. Ask the farmer what he gets for his milk, and what it is sold at. Ask him what it costs him to produce his butter, and what it is sold for. It is the same with almost every commodity in this country. A commodity is produced in my own Division. I know the cost of producing it—the best English production, which can defy competition throughout the world. I also know the price that is asked for that commodity when. I see it in the shops in London, and the difference is astonishing. In fact, I marvel at the placidity of the Ordinary British consumer who tries to buy commodities with the wages that he receives. An Englishman seems to be a sort of paradoxical fellow; he is a lion when he goes to war, and a lamb when he gets home. He lets anyone take advantage of him.

It is the extortionate price that is to blame here. If English people were offered home-produced food at a fair price, if there were no more than a fair difference between the wholesale price and the price paid at the counter, if this unseemly profiteering that is going on could be weeded out, the market would immediately revive, and it would not be necessary to buy this stuff after a peregrination round the Cape of Good Hope with a few odds and ends in it to keep it fresh at all. Do not let us miss the link of the profiteer in the home market. I observe that the enthusiasm on the other side of the House for Tariff Reform in almost any circumstances is almost equal to my enthusiasm for bringing in another idea. I do not blame hon. Members, but at least I try to bring in my idea logically; I do not try to jump links, I do not close my eyes to the profiteering that is going on at home and blame the farmer abroad for taking advantage of a paralysed condition which is brought about by the rapacity of my own fellow-countrymen who are profiteering in the people's food.

I cannot help feeling that there is a certain amount of misunderstanding on this question. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) is very much concerned about what is sold as fruit to the consumer, but the trouble really is that the jam manufacturer buys pulp from abroad at an early date, so that he can make jam at the earliest possible moment. The consequence is that, when English fruit is ready for the market, there is no market for it, because the jam boiler is boiling foreign pulp. I do not know whether the hon. Member appreciates that fact, but it is one which the fruit grower finds very trying. When he begins to market his fruit, the jam boiler has already procured foreign pulp and is boiling that, and is not in the market to buy the fresh fruit. That is what goes so far toward, making the position of the fruit grower impossible.

As is always the case on these occasions, a great many hard words have been said about the intermediaries between grower and consumer, and sonic of the criticisms, undoubtedly, are perfectly just; but do not let us go too far. From some of the speeches that have been delivered, one would think that the unfortunate fruit grower had only one villian With whom to deal, and that there was no alternative at all, but it is the obvious course of business with a fruit grower not to put "all his eggs in one basket." We are always talking about Covent Garden, but there are many other markets in England, and the' fruit grower is not such a fool as to send all his fruit to one market; he spreads it as widely as possible.

No, I do not think so. I have grown many tons of black currants and other fruit, and I do not think it is really fair to say that. After all, the fruit that is sent to these markets is sold on commission, and it is quite obvious that, if the grower feels that the commission agent is not giving him a good show, he will not go on sending his fruit to him.

Is it not a fact that in the morning the prices are broadcast by telephone?

I think that the hon. Member has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. The commission agent gets more money if he gets a bigger price for his client, and he has no interest in bringing the price down, but, on the other hand; is interested in keeping it up. I' had a great deal to do with the fruit industry and the growing' of market garden crops for a great many years; and I honestly believe that we could grow in this country everything that we want, but it is absurd that, when a smallholder or allotment holder wishes to sell, say, some carrots in his local market, he should find the price depressed by Dutch or Belgian carrots. I do hope that the Minister will change his mind and say that he will do something to help us in this position.

Question put, and agreed to.


"That this House deplores the present condition of the Fruit-growing Industry and the heavy losses incurred this year by growers, and calls upon His Majesty's Government to put into effect schemes which, without penalising the consuming public, will secure to the grower an economic return for his crop."