Potatoes (1946 Crop) (Charges) Order

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1946.

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4.55 p.m.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

I beg to move, That the Potatoes (1946 Crop) (Charges) Order. 1946, dated 28th October, 1946 (S.R. & O. 1946, No. 1740), made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939, and Section 5 of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, a copy of which Order was presented on 29th October, be approved. I think the House is familiar with this Order. It is the annual Potato Charges Order, and this time it concerns the 1946 crop. Similar Orders have received affirmative Resolutions in each year since 1941, and the purpose of the present Order is just the same as that of the Orders passed in previous years. That purpose is to redress, to some extent, by means of levies, the comparative trading advantages enjoyed by certain categories of licensed traders in ware potatoes who do not perform all the services normally undertaken by wholesalers. The charges on sales of ware potatoes are imposed at the rate of is. per ton on sales by licensed grower salesmen—growers licensed to sell direct to retailers and consumers—and on sales made through licensed auctioneers or under special licence; and 2s. 6d. per ton on sales by licensed potato buyers—retailers licensed to buy direct from growers. The levies in no way increase the charge to consumers, but are direct impositions on those licensees who by-pass the normal wholesale channels. The levies are collected by deductions from the subsidy, which is paid to reduce the cost of potatoes to the consumer. I think that the House will approve this Order when they know that the National Potato Advisory Committee, which is representative of all sections of the potato industry, have approved the continuance of the levies at the same rate as last season.

4.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Lichfield

I am not sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether I should raise this matter as a point of Order, or put it in a form of a question to the hon. Lady. I understand that this Order comes into effect from the date it is printed, and that it lies on the Table for 28 days, and then, if there is not an affirmative Resolution in that period, lapses. Presumably, it is within the power of the House to refuse the Order if they so desire. My point is this: how can anyone who receives this Order know that this procedure is to be adopted? Suppose that a man affected by the Order, receives this complex document, he may dislike it very much. How is he to know that he has 28 days in which to make representations, and that there is a possibility that the Order may lapse? How can he distinguish this Order from any other Regulations he may receive which are normally, subject only to negative Resolutions? It seems to me that this is a matter of some importance. It would be more to the point if these Orders were clearly marked, indicating what procedure is to be adopted. I am sure that many Members did not know the procedure to be adopted in this case, let alone the ordinary man in the street. I hope that the hon. Lady can explain how a potato grower is to know that he can write to his Member of Parliament on this matter. I understand from Mr. Speaker's Counsel that these Orders have lapsed in the past, and that in one case an Order lapsed because an affirmative Resolution was not passed.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. McKie:

I am sure we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Poole) for raising this technical point. I was unaware that he was going to do so, and I confess that I am not quite au fait with the special point he has made. No doubt the hon. Lady, when she replies, will have something to say on this matter I am sure that we all listened with great pleasure to the hon. Lady who presented this Order this afternoon in a most winsome way. If I may also say so, without offence, she showed herself better briefed today in dealing with this subject, than she did when we were dealing with the Prayer on the Seizure of Food Order last night. The hon. Lady spoke of the way in which the interests of the consumer were protected under this Order, and reminded us that there were six successive occasions during the war, and in 1945, and now again today, when a similar Order was presented to this House. I make no complaint at all of what she said about the interests of the consumer—I am certain that no one on this side would do so either—and I was delighted to hear her say that this Order, like its predecessors, had the full support of the National Advisory Committee on matters relating to potatoes. But I would like her to say a word or two, if she is successful in receiving permission to address the House again, as I hope she will be, about how the wholesalers' or producers' interests are safeguarded under this Order. I think she will realise that the position of the potato producer and wholesaler is not so satisfactory now as it has been since 1940 when the first Order, in the terms of the one we are now discussing, was presented to this House. I hope the hon. Lady will say a word or two about what the Government, of which she is such a distinguished representative on matters relating to food, are doing about the interests of potato wholesalers. After all, Great Britain is a great potato producing country—

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

What the hon. Gentleman is saying sounds very much like repetition.

Mr. McKie:

With great respect, Sir, I was coming to a quite different point, namely, that this island, for some 400 years since the days of Sir Walter Raleigh, has been a great potato producing country—

Mr. McKie:

Yes and Ireland, too. When the Government are stressing to people in this country the necessity to eat more potatoes, the hon. Lady should remember, as the hon. Gentleman opposite has just reminded me, of what the potato has done in the past for the people of Ireland. I suppose that is why—

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

The hon. Member is out of Order, as this Order is not concerned with potatoes in Ireland.

Mr. McKie:

I am sorry, Sir; I was rather led away by the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan). Britain is a great potato producing country, and Scotland especially so. I am a Member for a Scottish constituency, and I would like the hon. Lady to say something about potato wholesalers in Great Britain, particularly in Scotland. It is the custom in this House to disclose one's personal interest in a matter under discussion. Well, I have an interest from the producer's point of view, and I am also fond of eating potatoes as a consumer. Producers are faced with increased costs of production and distribution. One part of my Division is closely associated with the production of early potatoes, which is a delicious article of food, and a good source of revenue. I suppose that even under a Socialist Government, which has now admitted that to earn small profits is no sin, the interest of producers of the early variety of potato will be protected. Some of the small people are being faced with increasing costs of production and the ever-increasing difficulty of getting suitable labour to raise the potato harvest every year. It is not merely the consumer or vendor of potatoes whom we should have under serious consideration at the present time. It is the bounden duty of the hon. Lady to give a clear indication—I do not ask for figures this afternoon—that the interests of the potato producer and wholesaler will not, any more than those of the vendor or consumer, be overlooked by the Government.

5.7 p.m.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Eddisbury

I apologise to the hon. Lady for not being here when she spoke, but I was under the impression that this Debate was coming on later, and if I put any questions which she has already answered I apologise in advance. This Order seems to deal with a very small section of the potato distribution business. I would like to draw attention to Article 2, in which three classes of buyers are signified by the letters (a), (b), and (c). In the following paragraph these three classes of salesmen are referred to again, but not in the same order, and it would make the Order rather more tidy if these people were referrd to, in Article 2, in the same order as that in which they are referred to in Article 2.

I hope the hon. Lady will give us a little information about the licensed potato buyer who, I gather, represents the distributor who is allowed to buy directly from the grower. This class of buyer existed before the original potato Order came into being, six years ago, and it was promised, at that time, that he should be allowed to continue. This class of buyer was not recognised in the early days of Potato Marketing Board. I believe that this class is largely represented by a few large distributors who buy from the grower, and by cooperative societies and fish and chip shops in certain districts. These people make two profits—the wholesaler's and the distributor's profits which, together, can be a very substantial sum in certain cases. I believe that that builds up a relatively small but, at the same time, vested interest. Those who happened to be fortunate enough to get in on the ground floor, and get original licences, which they renewed every year, are in a better position than their competitors to make profits, whether they be ordinary distributing shops or fish and chip shops. I have been told of fish and chip shops in certain towns who have a large business, and who have the licence, and thereby become rather privileged, because they can make two profits against their competitor's one profit.

I should like to know how these licences are carried forward. If one licensed owner goes out of business, dies or retires, what happens to that licence? Does it die a natural death, continue with his shop, or is it given to someone else in the same line of business? I should also like to know how new licences of this character are given out. I can imagine many enterprising owners of new establishments, and especially people coming out of the Services, who are anxious to go to the grower to buy their supplies in order to sell them direct to the public, thereby making two profits. It was the enterprising people who built up these businesses in the past, and it is obvious that new licences should be given, in certain circumstances, otherwise the number in existence will naturally diminish after six or seven years. Perhaps the hon. Lady would also give us some information on. the more general question of potatoes, and how long she proposes to direct that potatoes shall be grown on ground which is commonly considered unsuitable for the purpose. There are certain counties, such as Cheshire, Hampshire and parts of Cambridgeshire, where directions are given to grow potatoes, and the farmers have to grow them, knowing full well that they will be produced at a loss. I am aware that this is going a little outside this Order, but I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to give us some information on that subject, which is a burning question in some quarters.

5.13 p.m.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

May I first answer the question about the lapsing of the Order? I suppose that the ordinary man in the street knows nothing about the procedure of this House, but he sends hon. Members here to represent him, and the first thing, which an hon. Member should do in this. House is to learn about the procedure. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Poole), who I realise has not been here long, one thing he should have learned is that when a levy of any kind is made there must always be an affirmative Resolution. I hope that will guide him in the future. He cannot, of course, expect a man concerned with digging potatoes or distributing potatoes to understand this. He is the man who helped to send the hon. Member here to learn these things, and, of course, if necessary, to speak against the Order.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Lichfield

Every Order that makes a levy may require to have an affirmative Resolution, but this one comes into effect before the affirmative Resolution is produced. I am sure that there is. nothing in this Order to show that this procedure has to be adopted.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

I can only repeat that if the hon. Member will go to the Library and ask for the Rules of Procedure, he will see that this is explained very carefully, and he will understand in future what the position is. One cannot give guidance of this kind in every Order. It would make the Order too long, and be regarded by most hon. Members as unnecessary.

I appreciate the gallant remarks of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie). He is not always so gallant. I am reminded of one occasion at three o'clock in the morning, last July or August, when he was not quite so gallant. However, I can assure him that, even if coming from the Opposition, his statement is appreciated. The hon. Member for Galloway strayed a little from the Order, but he asked me if we would remember the wholesaler and the producer. I would like him to realise that, in effect, this is only a token levy. If it were possible, for instance, to convey this levy to the consumer, it would mean an amount of three-eightieths of a penny for seven pounds of potatoes. I think the hon. Member knows that the prices paid to the producer, the wholesaler and the retailer are decided every year between all the agricultural interests. I can assure him that we shall continue to do that. We have a very warm spot in our hear for the potato producer. He is producing today a commodity which is an alternative to bread, and, therefore, we do everything to encourage him and keep him sweet and good tempered.

The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Sir J. Barlow) asked if I had noticed the difference between Articles 2 and 3, but that has no significance whatever. I shall bear in mind what he has said, and perhaps when the Order is printed again we shall be guided by his advice. He also asked about licences. The licences of the retailer are, of course, determined by certain priorities. The ex-trader is automatically given a licence; the ex-Service-man is given preference. As to his question on what we should do if all the licences in one area lapsed, and how we should feed the people, my answer is that we should, of course, be guided by the consumer need. Every now and then we make a survey of a neighbourhood, and if we consider that the consumers are not adequately served, we give more licences. In one new area—where it was felt that consumers were not adequately considered, we gave a very large number of licences. The question of the production of crops does not concern my Department and is quite outside this Order. That is a matter for the Minister of Agriculture.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Potatoes (1946 Crop) (Charges) Order, 1946, dated 28th October, 1946 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 1740), made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, and Section 5 of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, a copy of which Order was presented on 29th October, be approved.