Orders of the Day — AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE (GRADING AND MARKING) BILL [Lords]. – in the House of Commons on 28th June 1928.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 21, to leave out the Clause.
I bow to your ruling, Sir, though I hope that you may perhaps be willing to give the House a reason why it is not desirable that the point raised by the Amendment which you passed over should be considered so that the House might have an opportunity of putting it into the Bill or not putting it into the Bill.
On this Amendment, I would urge that Clause 4 is not a satisfactory Clause because it includes the Minister' proposal that the word "British" should be inserted in the place where he has inserted it. This controversy deals with a complicated point, and with a matter upon which, whatever course is taken, strong objections may be raised, and difficulties will arise; but I want to urge that, the aim of the Bill being to give the British producer the best chance, it is desirable to tell the consumer——
On this knotty point of the insertion of the word "British," I wish to urge that if British goods and foreign goods are taken from the same store and released for sale and only the British eggs are marked "cold stored," that situation will not be tolerated by the opinion of producers, who will feel that in that way some stigma is being put on their article of sale, and the Minister will land the Ministry in more trouble if the matter is left as he has now arranged, it. There is distinct objection on the part of a very powerful section of producers on this question. The greatest egg-producing county in England is Lancashire, and in Lancashire, as those who have been discussing this Bill in Standing Committee know very well, a conference was lately called by the Ministry, and it would not agree to the scheme if the compulsory marking of British cold-stored eggs as "British cold-stored" was included in it, while leaving out the description "foreign cold-stored," and a resolution to that effect was carried by 16 votes to 8. It seems to me that the Minister would do well to follow the advice of the biggest egg-producing county in England. It is quite possible that the dislike of cold-storage as evidenced by a mark on the egg may increase, and you will then have a serious grievance felt by a large section and, indeed, by British producers in general.
Arguments are very easily given on the other side. It may be frankly admitted that the matter is nicely balanced, but the balance appears to me to be in favour of the course which the Minister has rejected, but which he did adopt in his first draft of the Bill. It is said that the quality of the eggs will prove itself and that the consumer will act accordingly—that quality will prevail; but surely that is no argument in the case of a Bill like this, which assumes that the test of quality is not enough, and that you want to give the consumer something more than the test of his own æsthetic preference for one kind of egg or another. There is, of course, the interest of the cold-storage world, which will be affected if the word "British" is removed; and if foreign cold-stored eggs had to be marked as "cold-stored," they would then be cold-stored to an increasing extent abroad; and there is an argument in that. But when you are dealing with an agricultural proposal, ought you not to put the interests of the producer—of English agriculture—before the interests of the cold-storage company? Foreign eggs will, under the provisions of the Bill, sell in winter because they will not be marked "cold-stored." Therefore, if the word "British" is not dropped, would it not be better to drop this provision for cold-storage marking altogether?
Although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) has moved to leave out the whole of Clause 4, he has also dealt with an alternative suggestion, that the Bill should be reinstated as it was originally introduced, by leaving out the word "British," and therefore making it necessary that all eggs which come out of a British cold store, whether foreign or British, should have a special mark put upon them. I daresay it is convenient that both these alternatives should be discussed together. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that the subject is rather complicated, but he did not give to the House any explanation which could have been understood by any who, unlike ourselves, had not been on the Standing Committee, so perhaps I had better explain in a few words what the issue really is. Clause 4, which imposes certain requirements as to the marking of eggs when they come out of cold store, will take effect in respect of this marking only when an order is in force imposing the obligation, under the Merchandise Marks Act, of marking all foreign eggs before they are marketed in this country. The Standing Committee under the Merchandise Marks Act, when they considered the first application in favour of the marking of eggs, suggested that the time was not yet ripe. They clearly anticipated that a marking order would at some date be brought into force; and these are their words in paragraph 19 of their Report:
During the interval which must elapse while progress is being made…attention might be given also to the problem presented by preserved and cold-stored eggs. It has been suggested in the course of our inquiry that the need of distinguishing between preserved and fresh eggs is not less than that of differentiating imported from home-produced eggs; and that, if a marking Order were made there would, in the absence of such a precaution, be a danger
of English preserved eggs being sold as 'new-laid,' and so damaging the home egg trade. This matter is, we think, not strictly within our province, but we can well believe that the home egg trade would be prejudiced by preserved eggs, whether of home or foreign origin, being passed off as 'English new-laid.'
Clause 4 of the Bill was put in to deal with that recommendation of the Merchandise Marks Committee, in preparation, as they suggested, for the time when a Merchandise Marks Order against foreign eggs would be brought into operation; they recommended that steps should be taken to prevent preserved eggs, whether of home or foreign origin, being passed off as English new-laid eggs. The Clause, as originally introduced, attempted to go further; it attempted to impose an obligation to distinguish between the foreign fresh egg and the foreign cold-stored egg, and it was only on the eve of the matter being considered in Committee that the cold store interests pointed out how absolutely ineffective this proposal would be for the purpose of securing the marking of foreign cold-stored eggs. Nine-tenths of the eggs which come from abroad, and are sold after cold storage, have been stored abroad, and no orders that we can make under this Bill or in accordance with any recommendation by the Merchandise Marks Standing Committee can secure for us the marking of foreign cold-stored eggs as such. All that we can do is to secure that the foreign egg is marked. We have got no method of control over the cold storage abroad. It would not be within the power of any foreign country, in its own interest, to impose a distinctive mark on their cold-stored eggs, in the interests of the reputation of their fresh eggs, because many of these eggs come from large cold-storage depots at Hamburg and elsewhere and are of other origin than of the country where they are cold-stored. If, for instance, Poland said that they were going to impose an order that no cold-stored eggs from Poland should be sent to England without being distinguished by a mark, they could not enforce it, because the eggs might go out of Poland as fresh eggs marked "Polish," but nothing that the Polish Government could do could prevent the eggs going into cold-storage in Hamburg and coming into this country merely with a mark of foreign origin. It would only mislead the consumer.
Even if we attempted to do it, the effect would be of only very short duration, because if there is anything in the nature of popular prejudice against cold-stored eggs, undoubtedly the foreigner would try to avoid his eggs being sold with that handicap, and the result would simply be that the whole of this storage of foreign eggs would be transferred from this country to some place outside our jurisdiction. When this was discussed in the Standing Committee, I had not had an opportunity of getting the considered opinion of the Poultry Advisory Committee about this particular point. Since the meeting of the Standing Committee the Poultry Advisory Committee have decided in favour of the Clause as it now slands by a majority of three to one. The National Farmers' Union have also recommended the Clause as it stands, and only last Tuesday the Central Chamber of Agriculture recommended that the Bill should be passed, and they specially supported Clause 4. It is quite true that in Lancashire there is objection taken to this particular provision, but I cannot help thinking that that is because they have not fully understood that the provision to impose the marking of foreign cold-stored eggs, as they come out of store in this country, would be quite inoperative for the purpose of securing real distinction between the foreign fresh and the foreign cold-stored eggs. The effect would not be to secure the marking of foreign cold-stored eggs as such, but would merely mean that, within six weeks of the Order coming into operation, not a single foreign egg would be cold-stored in this country and the whole trade would be transferred abroad. Under these conditions, I think the House would be ill-advised to amend the Clause, seeing that the industry concerned, with the admittedly important exception of the Lancashire branch of the National Farmers' Union, are in favour of the Clause, and I hope the House will leave it as it stands.
On the Amendment to Clause 4, I want to say only a very few words. As far as the objects of the cold-storage of eggs are concerned the logical point of view must be that which has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture. He knows that I do not like this Clause of the Bill. If I really wanted to defeat its object I should vote for the deletion of the word "British," because it is perfectly plain that the extreme difficulty which would arise in regard to the enormous quantity of foreign eggs would defeat the real object of the Clause. At the same time, I cannot help thinking that it is a reflection upon the expert advisers of the Ministers that it was only a few days before the Committee stage of the Bill that they were seized of the advice of the cold-storage authorities of the country as to what the real position is. Some of us who have been dealing with the question have been urging the Ministry that there would be difficulty in applying this kind of Order. It is rather humiliating for the Minister to find himself in the position in which he is now at this stage of the Bill. Apart from that, I do not propose to say anything further, because I cannot really logically vote for the exclusion of the word "British" simply to make the working of the Bill more chaotic. That would not be fair. When it is remembered that there are probably between 1,500,000,000 and 2,000,000,000 eggs of this type imported, only a small proportion of which are put in cold storage in this country, it makes the position quite clear. As regards the other aspect of the question, on the general terms of Clause 4, I have something else to say. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture announced, not through his own mouth to-day, but in answer to a question apparently dictated by him, that he now has the Report of the second inquiry held by the Standing Committee under the Merchandise Marks Act with regard to "the marking of eggs. The whole of this Clause 4 depends upon the Report of that Committee.
Clause 4 only takes effect when a Merchandise Marks Order is applied to foreign eggs. The Report does not really affect the principle of this Clause, but the date on which that Order will be made.
I have said what is right in words that are not approved by the right hon. Gentleman. The Clause cannot operate until an Order in Council is made as a result of the Report of the Committee to which I have referred. The whole Clause is inoperative until you have received, and, if it is favourable, acted upon the Report of the Committee. What is the Report of that Committee? The House is entitled to know. The House is asked to pass blindly Clause 4 when the information as to the Committee's Report is in the hands of the Minister and when the Report is in the-hands of the printers. Why should we pass this Clause until we know exactly what the Report of the Committee is?
This is the second inquiry held by this Committee within the period of a few months. The Committee reported against the marking of imported eggs. They were then apparently reappointed for a second inquiry by the Minister, I should say with a view to making it possible to have the Order recommended by the Minister. I think that is the only construction that we can put upon the circumstances. When I recall the interchange of views between the Chairman of the Committee and myself as to procedure; when I recall the things that were said in Committee and the interpretation put on the matter by the Chairman, and when I read the Clause in the Bill, while the Committee is still sitting, that the Clause is to be contingent upon the making of an Order, I cannot help thinking that, shall I say, there was a mild kind of plot that the first decision of the Committee was to be upset and that the House would be asked to pass a Clause in a Bill—for the first time in the history of our legislation—which would be regarded as something of an inducement to a Committee sitting at that time. I regard that as profoundly unsatisfactory and as a breach of the privileges of the House. I think it is unfair to the House to ask them to pass this Clause until they know the exact terms of the Report and the details of the recommendations of the second Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman has probably told the Cabinet already whether he is to introduce a draft Order in Council to the House. If that is the position, we are entitled to know the facts before we pass Clause 4. I believe that the trade generally, as well as the consumers, have been very badly treated by the right hon. Gentleman in this matter. The trade have great cause to complain, and ultimately the consumers will have cause to complain. While we should have no objection to admitting the claim of the trade to improve marking conditions for home-produced eggs, the ultimate result must be that the consumer will have to get as good an egg as he can at as cheap a price as he can. The consumer is not to be helped from an economic point of view by a Clause of this kind. I feel strongly that we ought to divide against this Clause unless we can get from the right hon. Gentleman a categorical statement of what the findings of the Committee on the second inquiry were, what their specific recommendations to the Government were, and what the proposals of the Government are as a result of the recommendations.
I am very much concerned on this question. I happen to be an amateur poultry farmer myself, and, on occasions when a change of breed is required to prevent inbreeding, I find it necessary to introduce new blood. Now, as home new-laid eggs for breeding purposes are very costly, I have tried experiments with imported eggs with some measure of success with my incubator. The question therefore goes much further than the mere marking of eggs for consumption as such. A further difficulty arises which as a law-abiding citizen I am anxious to avoid. I want to know if I am producing aliens by my method under a subterfuge, and if it will be necessary for me to take out naturalisation papers for those already incubated. I am inspired to make this point by the very courageous and eloquent desire expressed last night by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the undesirability of continuing a system in our national sporting life of incubating what to his mind is a very undesirable element on our racecourses. Under these circumstances what am I to do? It seems to me that one of two alternatives must be adopted by me—either I must take out naturalisation papers or deport the alien fowl to the source of their origin. Perhaps the Minister for Agriculture or the Home Secretary will guide me in this matter.
I think the Minister of Agriculture might very well accede to the request of the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) and tell us something about the latest report dealing with the question of marking eggs. This question was raised on the Second Heading of the Bill. I think our recent experiences in connection with the Merchandise Marks Act and the wireless and oil mergers at least justify hon. Members on these benches in suspecting moves of this description. Any Bill which is an invitation to a Committee to give a decision in a certain way is simply toying with the House, and it is a method which ought never to be adopted if we are to legislate on right lines and steer clear of the charge of partiality or of serving individual interests. Clause 4 is; wholly dependent upon an affirmative reply from the Committee which has been dealing with the marking of imported eggs. If the Minister of Agriculture has this information at his disposal, and if he is willing to impart that information to the House in a direct manner and will tell the House the result of that Report, I think I can assure him on behalf of hon. Members on these benches that, while the principle embodied in the Clause and the intentions of the Bill as a whole would not be objected to, that would determine whether or not we are willing to allow the Clause to be carried without a division. It is the suspicion lurking behind this Clause which may be used as an instrument of torture to obtain a decision which could not have been obtained in a right and legitimate way that causes us to doubt whether we shall go into the Division Lobby or not against the Clause. The Minister of Agriculture can ease our minds and clear up the situation if he likes. Surely, he can let it be understood that Clause 4 will only be operative if the decision of the Committee dealing with the marking of eggs is in the affirmative. If that decision is in the negative, I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree that we should be committing no crime if we eliminated the Clause, and left nothing in the Bill to act as a guiding influence to any future Committee that might have to deal with the problem.
If the right hon. Gentleman is in possession of the decision of the Committee and he will let the House know what it is, then we shall be willing to allow the Clause to go through if the reply is in the affirmative. If the reply is in the negative, we think that Clause 4 should be eliminated. If we merely pass a Clause to act as a guiding influence to a certain section of this House or to people beyond these four walls, I think we shall be passing legislation of an unprecedented character and that will be a very unwise thing to do. The Minister of Agriculture has several Bills on the stocks which he hopes to pass into law in a short time. We have no desire to obstruct or prevent the right hon. Gentleman obtaining the maximum results of his efforts during his period of office, but unless he is willing to satisfy the Opposition that he is justified in taking the step he proposes, he will have to concede to the Opposition that they are entitled not only to obstruct but to prevent if possible the placing on the Statute Book of a Clause which is a direct invitation to use such influence as I have already alluded to. The right hon. Gentleman will not be breaking the Rules of the House or giving away any secrets if he tells us what is the decision of the Committee. If that decision is in print, somebody knows at the present time what it is, and the least we can ask is that we shall have that information, because on the production of that information rests our decision as to whether we shall vote for this Clause remaining in the Bill.
I have received some communications from a number of Lancashire egg producers, and I want to express their view. I would like to make it clear that there is something more in their view than appears from what has been stated in this Debate. Lancashire produces one-sixth of the total eggs produced in this country, and therefore the view of Lancashire producers is deserving of consideration. I should not be at all surprised if what Lancashire thinks to-day on this question the rest of the country will think to-morrow, a saying which has so often proved true in regard to other matters. I think there is a good deal in what the Minister of Agriculture has said about the effect of this Clause. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, if you do not put in the word "British," it might have the effect of immediately driving away some eggs that are of foreign origin. Those eggs would be cold-stored in the country of origin instead of in this country.
After the passing of the Merchandise Marks Act, there will be a very great temptation to egg dealers in this country to purchase their eggs from the Irish Free State or some country near at hand rather than purchase eggs produced in this country, because eggs produced in this country would have to be marked as cold-stored, but eggs might be bought from, say, the Irish Free State, and stored in this country, and in that case they could be released from cold storage without any such marking. I hope that hon. Members will try to put themselves in the position of producers of eggs in Lancashire. Let us say that there is a large cold store in our county, and that some large egg dealer is in the habit of buying 100,000 cases of eggs produced in Lancashire and 100,000 produced in the Irish Free State or in Denmark. What is the temptation to that man if this Bill be passed with Clause 4 as it is now framed? The temptation to him is to buy his 200,000 cases of eggs from the Irish Free State or from Denmark, and to buy none at all from Lancashire, because, when those eggs are once released from cold storage, they will be released marked "Danish" or "Irish Free State," while British eggs will have to be marked "Cold-stored." The Lancashire egg producers respectfully suggest that that is putting them in a position in which they ought not to be put.
The Lancashire egg producers have no passion for this Bill. Already they grade their eggs, and it seems to me that, if they have to comply with the conditions of this Bill in regard to marking, it will not mean that they will get a better price for their eggs than they do now. In all probability the cost of marketing will be a little more than it is at present, and, therefore, the other Clauses of the Bill will not bring them any benefit. On the other hand, if Clause 4 be allowed to pass as it is now drafted, it may be a great disadvantage to the producers in Lancashire. I appeal to the Minister to delete the word "British," and let us have the Clause as it was originally drafted. When I say that I speak for Lancashire, I would remind hon. Members that——
On a point of Order. May I ask if the hon. Member is addressing himself to this Amendment or the next one?
I was about to remark that the particular point as to the deletion of the word "British" comes as a separate Amendment.
I beg pardon, Sir; I was under the impression that we were discussing the two Amendments together, but I must have misunderstood.
When a Motion is made to omit a Clause, it is not out of order to allude to Amendments to the Clause, but it is out of order to discuss them in detail.
Then, with your permission, Sir, I will reserve another sentence or two that I should have liked to have spoken until the appropriate Amendment is under discussion.
I interpose for a moment because I think that the House is somewhat under a misapprehension, not as to the point about the word "British," but as to the bearing of the Merchandise Marks Committee's Report, which is in draft, on the proposals in this Clause. It has been suggested by two speakers that Clause 4 is an invitation to the Merchandise Marks Committee to recommend a marking Order. That is an absolute travesty of the position. This Clause does not invite the Merchandise Marks Committee to do anything; on the contrary, it is the result of an invitation from the Merchandise Marks Committee, in their last Report, to deal with this particular point during the interval which must elapse while progress is being made on the two lines which will enable them at some future date to recommend a marking Order. That is the exact term of their recommendation—that we should deal with it——
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why this Clause is dependent upon a successful application to the Merchandise Marks Committee to agree to the marking of imported eggs? This only becomes operative when certain other things have been done. Does it not seem clear that the very fact of the presence of this Clause in the BUS is an invitation to the Committee dealing with the situation to give an affirmative reply?
I do not think so at all, seeing that the Committee invited us to deal with it in advance of the situation arising in which they could recommend the marking of imported eggs. The hon. Member asks why we should wait for that time. The reason is obvious. If we imposed this Order, and said that cold-stored British eggs were to be marked as such, while foreign eggs could come in with no mark of origin at all, that would obviously entail a great injustice on the British producer. [Interruption.] When, under the machinery of the Merchandise Marks Act, a recommendation is made, and if the Government-follow that recommendation, an Order can be laid and can take effect without further legislation, and we have been directly invited by this Standing Committee to deal in advance with this particular point, in order to facilitate their arriving at a satisfactory solution of this problem.
I would remind the light hon. Gentleman that, if he makes an Order, that Order will still be subject to discussion in this House.
Quite so, but it takes effect without legislation, and this particular point which the Standing Committee raised could not be dealt with in an Order, but would have to be dealt with by legislation. It is really absurd to say that we are inviting the Standing Committee to do anything when we are really carrying out a suggestion which that Standing Committee made to us, and which will ensure, when a marking Order takes effect, that cold-stored eggs canot be passed off as "British new laid." If people buy foreign eggs, they will be marked as such, and people will take the risk with their eyes open of getting cold-stored eggs. There will be no distinction between the foreign cold-stored egg and the foreign fresh egg, but, anyhow, it will not be possible for either to masquerade as a British egg. I think that, perhaps, the shortest answer to the suggestion that we are inviting the Committee to come to some decision is that an invitation of that kind would be too late, because the Committee, as has been pointed out already, have come to their decision, and their Report is already in draft. [Interruption.] It is suggested that we ought to leave out this Clause because, if it be left in, it is an invitation; but it cannot be an invitation at this stage, because the Committee have already reported. I cannot paraphrase or anticipate their Report, because I am obliged by Statute to lay the Report before each House of Parliament, and it would be most improper for me to give a partial disclosure of a Command Paper. It would be most unfair to the Committee, and it would not be a fair presentment of the Report, for me to paraphrase or attempt to summarise a rather complicated matter of this kind without laying Papers. The Report will be laid as soon as it is ready. It is not only the Ministry of Agriculture that is concerned; we have to consult the other Departments——
Can the right hon. Gentleman say on what date the Report will be published?
I really cannot say at all. The procedure was that, as soon as the Report came in, it had to be submitted to the other Departments: I received it for them. We got their decision that it should be published. There is no obligation in all cases to publish. The wording is:
Before any proceedings shall be taken on any Report made by the Committee such Report shall be published.
We had to consult the other Departments, and the normal course was taken. It was impossible to have the Report printed for publication until we had their consent, and now that that consent has been received, the Report is in the hands of the printers and I hope will be published in a very few days.
The position, as I understand it now, whatever it may have been at the date of the introduction of the Bill, is that the Committee on Eggs made, as their principal recommendation, that the Order-in-Council should only be made when sufficient improve roents had been made in the grading, collecting, packing and marking of eggs. Whether that grading is sufficiently far advanced will, I take it, be decided by the Minister before he puts the Order on the Table, and that Order is then, at the option of the Opposition, subject to discussion and vote in the House, so that, whatever the Minister may ultimately do, nothing is finally decided by the passing of the Bill. But while I recognise the difficulty my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) has put forward, I am, and always have been, an unrepentant opponent of the adulteration of foodstuffs, and I believe there is no commodity consumed by the working classes which is more subject to fraudulent misrepresentation in the retail sale room than the domestic egg. We import almost 300,000,000 eggs per annum. Of these 18,000,000 come from China—in shell. I am not talking about liquid eggs at all. Is there a Member in the House who ever heard of an egg being exposed for sale in shell as a Chinese egg? Our wives and mothers and sisters go into shops and pay for Irish, Danish or British eggs and someone palms off Chinese eggs on to them. Apart from Chinese, 80,000,000 Egyptian eggs come into the country in shell every year, and Italian and Latvian eggs, eggs from all over the world, preserved Heaven knows how. These things are never consumed by the rich. They are palmed off on the poor and it is the poor who are plundered by this deliberate, wanton, fraudulent, misrepresentation.
Another evidence is that the difference in price as on 1st March last, between Polish and Irish eggs in shell was 3d. per dozen. Whoever heard of a woman going into a shop and asking for a Polish egg? These Polish eggs are sold in shell and passed off as something else upon the British consumer and, whatever else we do, surely we might devise efficient methods to stop fraudulent misrepresentation and to see to it that whatever the poor pay for they get, and one step which I hope will be taken as the result of this Bill will be to ensure that, by Order-in-Council or otherwise, efficient steps will be taken to prevent the continuance of this fraudulent misrepresentation. When we pass from eggs in shell to liquid eggs——
I dare say the hon. Member will prove the connection of his argument with the Clause but at the moment I do not see it.
We had all this out in very great detail in the Committee. Clause 4 is really the crucial part of the Bill, apart from grading, and if it goes out, apart from grading, nothing else matters. While I quite appreciate that I ought not to wander into elaborate detail in these matters I wanted to put forward the view that the reason why I am exceedingly anxious that something in the nature of Clause 4 should be passed is that it is the only means I can conceive of whereby widespread fraudulent misrepresentation can be stopped. If you, Sir, rule very strictly——
I confess to a considerable degree of ignorance. On the face of it I should say that Clause 3 dealt with the marking of eggs. If the hon. Member can establish the connection of his argument I will not stop him.
Of course it is a rather complicated matter. As Clause 4 now stands, it is really only British cold-stored eggs that are to be marked. In the struggle between the cold storage interest and the producer of eggs the producer got the worst of it, and the Minister surrendered to the cold storage people, with the result that eggs preserved in foreign cold store will not be marked after the passage of the Bill.
If British eggs are marked cold-stored, every foreign egg will be marked as of foreign origin.
We are now at the distinction of what is a cold-stored egg and a foreign egg. No one knows better than the Minister that Danish eggs command a higher price in the market because of their efficient grading, for one reason alone. What is the meaning of the principal recommendation under the Merchandise Marks Act? It is that this Order in Council should not be issued until there is an efficient grading of the home egg. For what reason? Because the best imported eggs obtain a better market in the United Kingdom than the average home-produced egg, the reason being because the producers of home eggs have never yet graded them efficiently. They are lumping eggs laid a week ago with eggs laid a month ago, lumping them in different sizes, and making very little attempt at efficient grading, and because the Danes have gone into a co-operative organisation for an efficient grading system—I am sure the Minister will agree with this—the Danish egg commands a higher price in the British market, and rightly so. It is because of that that there is amply no point whatever in the interruption the Minister made. Personally, I have no criticism to offer to the comments made by my freinds about this Order in Council. It may be that the Minister has taken a left-handed way of putting his familiar protectionist ideas before this House, but as I understand the position he may only bring in his Order in Council if he is satisfied that there is a sufficient collection of eggs in this country to warrant it. If he is so satisfied, he may bring in an Order in Council, and after that it is subject to review and discussion and a Vote in this House if any section of Members desire it. That being so, I think that this House has sufficient protection against any illicit, undue or precipitate protectionist measures which the right hon. Gentleman may desire to foist upon the country.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 41, to leave out the word "British."
In spite of what the Minister said a few minutes ago, I still desire to urge, as strongly as I can, the point of view of the Lancashire egg producer, I interrupted the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Tomlinson) a short time ago because I feared that he was confusing the issue. The Lancashire egg producer does not object to Clause 4 if the word "British" is left out. I was anxious that there should be no misunderstanding as to the point on which both the hon. Member for Lancaster and myself agree, namely, that the Lancashire egg producer is perfectly satisfied with Clause 4 provided the word "British" is left out. What we say in Lancashire, being quite commonsense and hard-headed people, is, "Let us have the same rules for all, and we will take the risk of any injustice being done to Lord Vesty." Even if it is not possible to ensure that foreign cold-stored eggs are generally marked, let us, at any rate, ensure that foreign eggs, cold-stored in this country, are marked an cold-stored as well as British
eggs. I think the Minister in putting his argument before the House overlooked the fact that a good many countries where they make provision for the grading and marking of eggs, have also made provision for dealing with cold-stored eggs. I find in the Report on Egg Marketing of the Imperial Economic Committee which was issued last year, the statement:
It is worth noting that all countries which have introduced grading systems for fresh eggs by law, whether for internal trade or only for export purposes, have also prescribed by law separate descriptions and grades for cold-stored, and pickled or preserved eggs.
In the Ministry's own publication on egg-marketing which was published the year before, the following passage occurred:
It may be added that the stamping of cases with the words 'cold stored' or their equivalent, is already in force as regards cases of cold-stored eggs intended for export to this country from such countries as Northern Ireland, the Irish Free State, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Esthonia.
I agree that that is only the stamping of cases, but if those countries have got as far as ensuring that cases of cold-stored eggs are so marked, it is only asking them to go a little further by having the eggs themselves marked. I venture to think that no country such as Denmark, which has a high reputation and a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its produce in this country, is going to see its produce undermined by cold-stored Danish eggs being sold as Danish fresh eggs. When you consider the point from the angle of the British producer, these cold-stored eggs which will come into this country in the future, and are not marked as cold-stored, but marked as foreign, or with the country of origin, will not compete with British fresh eggs but will compete with the fresh eggs of the country from which they come. If Danish cold-stored eggs are sold here as fresh they will not have any material effect on the British fresh egg, but they will have a material effect on the Danish fresh egg. If the Danes are already marking eggs in anticipation of the Order in Council, and have already regulations for marking cases of cold-stored eggs, I venture to think that they will go further and see that their cold stored eggs are marked before they come into this country.
Again, it is very well known that no produce can hold its own in the very particular English market unless it attains a very high standard. All these countries which export eggs in large quantities to this country and pride themselves on the reputation of their eggs, will be forced in their own interests to ensure that their cold-stored eggs are marked as cold-stored eggs, or otherwise the reputation of their fresh eggs will be undermined. I follow the Minister's point that a large number of eggs are collected at depots such as Hamburg or Antwerp, and that there they are purchased as fresh eggs, and will come over here without any mark, and that we cannot ensure their being marked. The right hon. Gentleman also pointed out that the producer will not be able to ensure their being marked either. I wonder whether he is quite sure about that, and whether it will not prove to be the fact that if the Polish or the Esthonian producer finds that his fresh eggs are losing their reputation in this country, because they are being associated with cold-stored eggs from Hamburg, he will not see that the eggs which go into cold-storage are marked before leaving his country. At any rate, I venture to think that he will have a very good try.
I fear that the only result of this Clause, if the word "British" is included, will be to cause a certain stigma on British cold-stored eggs which will not affect the cold-stored eggs of foreign countries. I do think that the Minister might well consider whether he would not, at any rate, give the British producer the chance of having some advantage in this matter, instead of giving him the certainty of being at a disadvantage as far as cold-stored eggs are concerned. I would venture to press him on this point, and to remind him that with the great increase of the production of eggs which you can see from one end of the country to the other, the British cold-stored egg will be a very important factor in the prosperity of the poultry industry. Although the Bill as it stands will safeguard the British fresh egg, if by doing so it reduces the value of the British cold-stored egg, the egg producer may lose on the swings something, at any rate, of that which he gains on the roundabouts.
I beg to second the Amendment.
From the farmer's point of view, we do not want to encourage the preservation of eggs. The question of the age of the preserved egg arises. It may be six months old, a year old or two years old. The public are quite unaware when they buy an egg which has been cold-stored, what the egg is. In regard to British eggs, we are trying our very best at the present time to grade them so that they can compete on better terms than in the past with the foreign egg. The cold-stored foreign egg comes into this country not to be sold to the public at a cheap rate during the time when eggs are dear, but to be sold at as high a price as the importer can obtain, owing to the fact that they are generally placed upon the market when eggs are at their dearest. The British public do not want preserved eggs; they do not want cold-stored eggs, they want fresh eggs, and we are trying in the farming industry, with the aid of this Bill, which will do a great deal and go a long way towards elucidating this problem of the British egg, to give the very best prospect of the British egg coming into its own. It has been said by one hon. Member that the Danish egg is a better egg and fetches a better price than the British egg. I deny that. Danish bacon may fetch as good a price, as ordinary British bacon, but it does not fetch as good a price as the very best British bacon, and the very best British egg fetches to-day on the market a better price than any imported egg.
The average British egg fetches just as good a price as the average Danish egg. The difference has been, up to the present, that the Danish egg has been better graded than the British egg. Now, the British farmer is awakening to the fact that if he is to get the best price, he must also grade his eggs. We are starting to do that, and this Bill will be a great help to us in enabling the British farmer to capture the egg market which at the present time is, undoubtedly, dominated by the foreign importer.
After the full explanation which I gave on the proposal to omit the Clause, I do rot think it is necessary to cover the whole ground again. If there was any way of going further than the marking of foreign eggs, as such, if we could see any prospect, in addition, of being able to secure that there is a distinction between the foreign fresh and the foreign cold-stored egg, naturally we should be glad to make provision to do it, but no way has been suggested. The sole result of the Amendment now before the Committee would be that it would transfer the storage of these foreign eggs from this country to foreign countries, without helping the producer here in the very slightest. It would merely inflict an injury on the cold-storage industry. It is not, unfortunately, in the power of the foreigner to secure that his eggs are marked as cold-stored. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Blundell) mentioned the case of Esthonia. Esthonia cannot control Esthonian eggs once they have passed out of her possession. They are marked as Esthonian eggs when they are sold; they leave Esthonia in bulk, but Esthonia has no means of preventing those eggs going into cold storage. Therefore, the hon. Member must not imagine that it is within our power to control what foreign eggs go into cold storage outside our jurisdiction. This Clause sets out to see that just its no foreign egg can be mistaken for a British egg, after the, marking Order takes effect, so the British fresh egg cannot be injured in its reputation by a cold stored egg being substituted for it. It is not in our power to go any further, and in the circumstances I cannot accept the Amendment.
We on these Benches regard the general policy of this Bill as of the highest value. We back any sound plan for introducing grading into this country, because we have laid special emphasis on the fact that it is in the direction of marketing that our agriculture is most behindhand. It is a very important step that the Government of this country is taking and I hope that this is an indication of a very great reform in the agricultural world. We of the Labour party in our report published
two years ago, very strongly urged the adoption of this policy of standardisation. We said:
The standardisation of the quality and the accurate grading of agricultural produce have immensely improved the markets of the Dominions and other countries. Wherever these results cannot be achieved by other means, the State must provide the organisation to secure the adoption of grading and the standardisation of produce on the market.
In our short term of office we took the first step towards facilitating such a policy by initiating the investigations into marketing which have had so much publicity in the form of the orange books. Anything which helps forward a general policy of grading and marketing we most cordially support. I do wish, however, that the Minister could have seen his way to associate this Measure in a more marked degree with co-operative methods. Abroad, grading goes in general with co-operative plans. It should not pass without notice that the Bill does not give any preference to cooperative methods, yet it contemplates new agencies scattered afresh all over the country. I wish the Minister could seize the opportunity of pushing what is the ideal method in connection with trading. We none of us want the dealer to steal a march on the co-operative method. It has been assumed that the new agencies will largely take a cooperative form. I read in the "Times" of the 11th of June an agricultural correspondence saying:
Some doubt exists as to the means by which accredited country packers (virtually collecting centres) will be created in all parts of the country. It is assumed that local societies will be formed on a co-operative basis.
Even if things should march less quickly it would be better if the Minister could see his way to give special encouragement to the system of co-operative agencies, because agencies in some form will have to be started all over the country. This is the psychological moment to get producers into the habit of associated action, which is essential to their success in catching up the foreign competitor. You have collectors all over the country acting as buyers for stores like Sainsbury's and this has led to the organising of collecting and packing stations already. At the moment it is an inadequate organisation. There is no
reason why these stations should not now, as they have to conform to new rules and better methods, take on a cooperative form. The Ministry of Agriculture's Journal for May contained an account of poultry schemes and it gave the elaborate arrangements which will be necessary for collecting stations. Some of them, for instance are that a minimum quantity of eggs will be required, say a minimum limit of 10,000 eggs per week, single counting, grading by weight, non-returnable empties and inspection of every kind. Why should it not be completed by co-operative methods in associated action?
The Minister of Agriculture may perhaps have an opportunity in connection with the scheme for lending money to co-operative enterprises to help some of the larger centralised collecting stations. I trust he will find some way of encouraging co-operation. It has been pointed out that the advantages of the new plan will be two-fold. The advantage is not chiefly in the fact that you will meet the buyers' needs better, but that you will lead the grower to standardise his produce, and good production is the chief aim. The success of Danish goods is not due in the main to better marketing but to better production, but marketing was the cause which produced the effect. It is not usual to allude by name to a civil servant, but so much publicity has attached to the name of Mr. Street of the Ministry of Agriculture that everyone must recognise the great value of his activities in this connection; and publicity has been an essential part of the propaganda. The organising of conferences and demonstrations, and making better known through the Orange Book what is done abroad, has now led to a situation in which I am glad to find the Minister has found it possible to act. In America you have something similar to the proposals of the Bill. You have a plan which is permissive and optional, and it is amazing that in the United States they now grade over 75 per cent. of their agricultural products in general, including 35 different kinds of fruit and vegetables. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what products other than eggs he has in view. We know that he is thinking of fruit——
On the Third Reading of a Bill it is only in order to discuss what is in the Bill, not what should be in the Bill.
Perhaps the Minister of Agriculture, within your ruling, will be able to indicate briefly his general idea of the intention of the Bill. I have only to say how cordially we agree with the general plan of the Bill. It will stimulate the farmer and the producer to grow things which will be worthy, shall I say, of the preference which the Britisher usually gives to British goods and it will give satisfaction in many ways to a vast number of people. I am glad, in spite of certain defects in the Bill, to be able to support it most warmly and I hope that in a very short time it will lead to a greatly increased consumption of home-produced goods.
The time for discussing the machinery of this Bill has now passed and it only remains for us to say whether we give approval or otherwise to the Bill as a whole. On behalf of the producers of eggs and agricultural produce I should like to say that we approve the Bill generally and are hoping that it will be passed as soon as possible in order to enable us to take advantage of the opportunities, which we believe it will give to us in the marketing of our produce.