Apples (Import Quotas)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 December 1969.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dobson.]

11.40 p.m.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

The topic which I wish to raise on the Motion for the Adjournment is the quota for the import of foreign apples during the first six months of 1970.

Apples have medicinal, nutritional and economic importance. I sit for one of the premier apple-growing constituencies in Britain, and the Chamber is unusually well filled this evening by my colleagues on this side of the House who also represent important apple-growing interests in their respective constituencies.

This year, conditions in the apple markets of Britain have been fairly similar throughout the country, due to exceptionally heavy apple crops at home, exceptional crops in Western Europe, heavy imports of apples from the Commonwealth—for there is no quota in respect of Commonwealth apple imports —and foreign apple imports.

When I mention that apples have economic importance, I remind the House of the large sums of money which we spend in bringing in apples from abroad. The relevant figure for the last full year for which figures are available is £32·6 million. That is the aggregation of the value of imported apples during the calendar year 1968. The source, which is impeccable, is Table 1 of the Overseas Trade Accounts, on page 69.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mrs. Gwyneth Dun-woody):

indicated assent.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

I am glad to receive the hon. Lady's assent. I make no attempt to delineate that large amount of imports country by country, because that infor- mation is to be found in these returns. I give merely a breakdown between Commonwealth sources, which are not subject to quota, and foreign sources which are.

Of the total of £32·6 million of imports in the calendar year 1968, 66 per cent. or almost exactly two-thirds measured ad valorem were from foreign sources, and 34 per cent. measured ad valorem were from Commonwealth sources. The respective figures ad valorem were £21·4 million from foreign sources and £11·2 million from Commonwealth sources—

Photo of Mr Russell Kerr Mr Russell Kerr , Feltham

How many from South Africa?

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

Imports of South African apples during the calendar year 1968 totalled £8·474 million.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Is that included in the figure?

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

It is. It is said that the quota for foreign apple imports during the first six months of 1970 will be 1,375,000 cwt., or 68,750 tons—

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. The hon. Gentleman should always address the Chair.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

I am so staggered to see the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) sitting behind me.

Photo of Mr Will Howie Mr Will Howie , Luton

I am sitting behind the hon. Gentleman because it is rather more enjoyable than sitting in front of him.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

I can understand that the hon. Gentleman may be able to hear better.

The fact is that this glut of apples on the English market during recent months has utterly depressed the prices that growers can receive for their crops.

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) made some unfortunate comments in the unexpected and largely fortuitous debate which occurred, due to the illness of another hon. Member, on the Adjournment on 10th November.

Photo of Mr Gordon Bagier Mr Gordon Bagier , Sunderland South

Where was the hon. Gentleman?

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

I will respond to the hon. Gentleman at once. I was televising on the finances of Royalty at the moment that the debate occurred. I was televising against the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). That is why I could not take part in the parliamentary debate. But a debate on apples was not expected that night. The Adjournment was granted to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) who was taken ill, with the result that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) jumped in and took the debate on apples at the last moment. That is the only reason it occurred.

The right hon. Member for Leith said: What we cannot do is to have an argument about prices and variations in them, or about quality. Last week it was said in the House by one hon. Gentleman that the best apples, well-graded, well-packed and of the highest quality, were selling for 2d. a lb. Not a single hon. Gentleman tonight repeated that figure. It does the industry no good to quote figures of that kind. Indeed, at the weekend I made certain inquiries, and I will not disclose what I discovered until I can verify them.If I were to say what I had heard it would not do the industry any good at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1969; Vol. 791, c. 148.] I invite the right hon. Member for Edinburgh to tell me what he heard.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Exeter

This Adjournment debate is about import quotas, which are the responsibility of the Board of Trade.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

I do not want to waste time arguing about the presence of individual Ministers—

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

I cannot give way again. Time is short. This is my Adjournment debate. I have ballotted for it for many weeks.

The right hon. Member for Leith referred to the fact that I was not in my place. He had virtually said that it was untrue that apples of the highest quality were commanding only 2d. a lb. In fact it was true. I went straight from this Chamber and tendered the evidence to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith. It was pertinent to the right hon. Gentleman because the apples, Cox's Orange Pippins, Sunset grade, of the highest quality, grown in the Vale of Evesham, had been transported and supplied to a wholesaler in Leith, and that wholesaler returned only 2d. a lb for them.

I have the documentary evidence here and I will give the names. The grower and supplier was Byrd Brothers, fruit and vegetable merchants of Evesham, who write: This return was in respect of 100 cartons of selected Sunset-Cox apples, 12 lbs. per tray, first grade, minimum size 2½ inches, sent to the wholesaler to sell for us. You will see that we have been returned 2s. per carton (i.e., 2d. per lb.). When one deducts the cost of the carton, packing and handling, we are left with virtually nothing, and this is not taking into account other costs entailed in growing the fruit. The firm in Leith which took the apples and returned 2d. a lb. for them was Harry Glass Ltd., of 12, 14 and 28 Constitution Street, Leith. The right hon. Member for Leith, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has been furnished with copies of these documents. Perhaps he will now withdraw his allegation, because these fruit suppliers in the Vale of Evesham not only grow the finest quality apples, grade and pack them perfectly, but supply markets all over England with apples of infinitely superior qualities to any coming from abroad. But we would not expect a Scottish industrial Member to recognise the quality of English apples that we in Worcestershire and Herefordshire know so well.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

I naturally recognise that the Vale of Evesham is one of the finest apple growing centres in the country, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) will agree that, in Herefordshire as well, we have probably one of the most striking and advanced packing stations—

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. Interventions should be brief and, indeed, are not customary in Adjournment debates.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

This is a most important point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope you will allow me to make it. The point I want to make is that the amount of money invested in this industry is very considerable but the grower is getting virtually nothing for it.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

He is, indeed, getting nothing for his investment. So we have the situation of apples at 2d. a lb., sent a distance from the Vale of Evesham to Leith of about 400 miles, whereas dumped, imported foreign apples were selling on the same day at Paddington Station at 3s. a lb. Yet the Government plead that their policy is one of import substitution. Does one wonder, therefore, that my constituents are not only hostile to the Government but utterly disbelieving of their purpose in pleading for a policy of import substitution in agriculture and horticulture?

I want to go a stage further with market intelligence. Not only was 2d. per lb. paid in Leith, but grade 1 Laxton's Fortunes were offered in the first week of November at l½d. per lb. in Pershore market in my constituency; 250 tons of Lord Lambourn and Laxton's Fortune were left unpicked at Leighsinton, near Malvern, Worcestershire; 1,200 boxes of Melba—a very early variety—were picked, graded, packed and were put into store but lay unsold and are now rotting in their boxes, utterly wasted.

All of this is sufficient evidence that the British apple growers are ready, willing and able to deliver the goods to the market but that their efforts are completely destroyed by the arrival of foreign apples dumped on our markets, often from France, in unripe condition before the close season prohibits further imports. The French apples come in unripe and are left in store here in order to beat the ban on foreign imports. [Interruption.] I wish the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) would not shout at me from a sedentary position.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

No, I will not give way. I have taken the trouble to ballot week after week for this Adjournment debate. The hon. Gentleman is too idle to stir himself to make a speech on behalf of his constituents.

Photo of Mr Gordon Bagier Mr Gordon Bagier , Sunderland South

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many of us, including myself, ballot for Adjournment debates week after week. Within the last three weeks we had a three-hour debate on this subject, yet again the hon. Gentleman—

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. That is not a point of order.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

The hon. Gentleman is too idle to put his name into the ballot. My claim is that the notional import quota for foreign apples in respect of the first half of 1970 at 68,750 tons ought drastically to be reduced. I believe that the huge amount in the volume and value of first quote English apples of every kind and grade, both eaters and cookers, presently in cold stores—and every cold store in Britain today is bulging to capacity with English apples unsold would last through until next June without importing more than approximately 20,000 tons of foreign apples.

My claim is that it would be advisable, in the interests of the balance of payments and for other reasons, to reduce the foreign apples quota for the first half of 1970 from 68,750 tons to 20,000 tons, thereby saving approximately £5 million in foreign exchange.

I want to give the hon. Lady the latest market intelligence on prices. This, again, is impeccable information and comes from the same sources as her Department uses. Therefore, I forestall any figure she may have been provided with in her brief. [Interruption.] I do wish that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South would stop interrupting. Will you tell the hon. Member, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if he wants to interrupt he should get to his feet?

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

I have already called for order. It is not the custom to make interjections from a seated position.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

Especially in an Adjournment debate, when time is limited. It is a tradition in this House that Members do not give way.

The comparison in prices is very marked. I pick one grade only—Laxton's Superb, Dessert Apples, Class (I), and I quote prices per cwt. for 1968 and 1969 on a weekly basis, derived from the Agricultural Marketing Report Horticultural Supplement, as agreed with the Ministry of Agriculture. In the week ending 23rd October, 1968, that grade of apples commanded a price of 102s. 8d; in the equivalent week in 1969 the price was 77s. 6d.—or 35 per cent. less. In the week ending 30th October, 1968, they commanded a price of 122s. 3d. and in the equivalent week this year—29th October, 1969—a price of 68s. 2d.—or a 45 per cent. lower price. Last year, in the week ending 6th November, 1968, they commanded a price of 117s. 7d. and in the equivalent week this year—ending 5th November, 1969a price of 66s. 9d.—a fall of 42 per cent. In the week ending 13th November, 1968, they commanded a price of 110s. 10d. and this year, in the equivalent week, ending 12th November, 1969, a price of only 69s. 7d.—a drop of 35 per cent. The latest market intelligence is that for the week ending 20th November, 1968, they commanded a price of 118s. 3d. and for this year, in the week ending 19th November, 1969—a price of 76s. 5d.—a fall of 33⅓ per cent.

Measured over those five weeks between the third week of October and the end of November the average drop in wholesale prices in 1969 as compared with 1968 is 38½ per cent., notwithstanding the fact that all costs have risen precipitously during the—intervening period of 12 months. For all those reasons, but most largely—and I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is to reply—for balance of payments reasons, it would be foolhardy indeed to bring in a vast quantity of foreign apples in the first half of next year for which we have not a ready market, when all our own stores are crammed to capacity with this season's English crop.

I believe that all charity begins at home, and that we ought to sell off our English crops before we bring in any further supplies of foreign apples. That is the purpose of my plea tonight.

12 m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

We have just listened to a fruity speech on a fruity subject by the fruity hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro). He has spent a long time quoting facts and figures but has conveniently forgotten that what the average person is interested in is not the wholesale price, or what the grower gets, but in what he has to pay for the product. If the hon. Member was interested in seeing that his apple producers get more than 2d. a pound he mentions, he should have investigated how it is that these apples are being sold on the street markets, which is the cheapest place, at 1s. 3d. a pound. He would be better engaged in suggesting that someone somewhere is making one hell of a profit at 1s. 1d. a pound. He did not say a word about this.

I agree that these apples are good, well-packed and that the producers must get a fair return. The hon. Gentleman ought to have gone round the street markets, as I have done, and seen these apples being sold at 1s. 3d. and 1s. 4d. a pound. These apples are almost on a par, with the exception of Golden Delicious, which are not easily obtainable, with the other imported apples and at the moment are about the same price. The housewife has to have the choice.

The hon. Member is a loyal supporter of his leader, a great champion of entering the Common Market—and I see that his P.P.S. is here. He is all for increasing trade with the Common Market to ease our entry into it. [Interruption.] I will not give way to the hon. Member. He would not give way to me or my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), so I have to make a speech instead of an intervention to which he could have replied. If we are to trade with France, we have to import some of its commodities so that it can earn the currency to pay for our goods.

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torrington

On a point of order. Surely it is time that the Minister replied to this debate? We want to hear her answers to the questions raised.

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

It is the custom of the House that Ministers get time to reply. It is the tradition in an Adjournment debate that the Minister has the right to put the opposite point of view. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give her that opportunity.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Yes, but it is also a fact that an hon. Member is entitled to challenge another hon. Member who is speaking. If he does not give way then that hon. Member has to make a speech. I am going—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. I have no power to ask the hon. Member to resume his seat in these circumstances, but I hope that he will recognise the ordinary courtesies and traditions of the House and allow the Minister time to reply.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Normally, that would be the case, but the hon. Member was—I going to say offensive—most outspoken in challenging my hon. Friend and me to get up and say something. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Well, all right, but I was sitting here and I heard him say, "The hon. Member should not make remarks sitting down" I asked him to give way and he would not give way. Hence, I wanted to put to him the point of view of the consumer, the housewife. After all, my constituents are of as much importance to me as the hon. Member's constituents are to him, and if I want to say that my constituents, the housewives, are being fleeced, I am entitled to put that point of view. All I would say in conclusion to the hon. Member is that if he wants to get a good reply, and if he wants hon. Members to adopt the normal courtesies of the House, he should try on occasions to adopt the normal courtesies when he speaks.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Again, if he had adopted a better approach, there would not have been an interjection, and probably I would not have needed to get up and put the point of view of the consumer.

12.7 a.m.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Exeter

We have had a rather emotional debate this evening, and I have only a very short time in which to reply. I hope the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) gave my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture notice of the attack he intended to make upon him, because I have no doubt my hon. Friend would have been here in the House if that had been done.

The question of the import quotas of apples has been before the House on a number of occasions. There was an Adjournment debate on this very subject. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food answered a number of Questions on the subject, and on 10th November he replied to an Adjournment debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture received a deputation from the N.F.U. on 11th November, and I myself answered Questions on 26th November. Thus, well before tonight's debate Ministers were very conscious of the view of some Members and of United Kingdom growers that the heavy United Kingdom crop and the lower prices being fetched by home applies would justify us in intensifying the restrictions which are already imposed on apple imports.

We have been examining the case which has been put to us very carefully indeed, but I must say straight away that we have decided after balancing all the arguments that the quota for January-June, 1970, should not be reduced. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It will therefore remain at 68,750 tons and importers are being informed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I know that this decision will be very unwelcome to some of the hon. Members who have spoken tonight and to some of their constituents.

I want to make it clear that, in reaching this decision, Ministers have been conscious that there are several conflicting interests involved, but the Government are satisfied that the decision reached is the best in the widest national interest. Since the war, home growers of apples have increased their production. We have always been self-sufficient for cooking applies, but our growers now produce 50 per cent. of our total supplies of dessert apples compared with 20 per cent. before the war. The main support for the horticultural industry generally is through the tariff. But for apples, where the tariff is bound at nil or a low level, we have used quota restrictions. Imports are restricted by quota throughout the year from all sources except the sterling area from which they enter freely. There are two quota periods for applies, from July-December the quota is 15,200 tons and for January-June 68,750 tons. I should add that these quotas have remained unchanged for the last 10 years with the single exception of 1968 when the United Kingdom crop was so thin that we had to seek additional imports.

The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South, asserted in the House on 26th November that this year larger supplies have been brought in than ever before, at a time when our own crops are the biggest in history."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1969; Vol. 792, c. 399.] Neither of these statements is correct. he 1964 crop at 315,000 tons was much larger than the estimated crop this year and the 1963 and 1965 crops were not far short of the present estimate. And imports of apples from all sources over the past 12 months are well below the previous year. As for the current quota—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Wednesday evening and the debate having been continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put.

Adjourned at ten minutes past Twelve o'clock.