§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Christopher Soames)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Good seed is one of agriculture's essential raw materials, possibly the most important of them all, and in this Bill the Government are putting forward a number of complementary measures with the common theme of "better seed, better crops"—a saying borrowed from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, at Cambridge, whose rôle in seed and plant improvement will be well known to the House.
It is more than 40 years since the last major legislation on seeds. The present Bill is based on the two Reports made by the Committee on Transactions in Seeds. This was a representative Committee of plant breeders and seeds men, farmers and other interests which made a thorough study of the Seeds Act, 1920, in the light of the needs of the present day.
The Committee reached unanimous conclusions and the industry as a whole is, therefore, entitled to describe the Bill as very much its own, inasmuch as it participated in the work of the Committee. It is for this reason that the proposals now under consideration are assured of a very wide measure of support among all the interests concerned.
The first part of the Bill is a scheme for encouraging plant breeding by giving breeders rights in their new varieties which will safeguard them against exploitation. This is an entirely new provision. It has been the law in this country for a great many years that inventors, designers, artists and many other creative workers should be protected against exploitation and the principles of patent and copyright protection are well established and need no justification from me. But the plant breeder, up to now, has been excluded from these arrangements and it can be 921 argued that this is wrong merely in equity. But, more than that, it has had a discouraging effect on the breeding of new varieties by plant breeders.
A properly balanced plant breeding industry needs the private breeder as well as the plant breeding done by research institutes financed from Government funds, and the purpose of Part I of the Bill is to establish conditions in which the private breeder can flourish and make the best possible contribution to the agricultural industry's continuing need for improved new varieties of seeds.
Many countries, including most of those in Western Europe, already give the plant breeder some form of legal protection. The methods have differed in the past, but there is now general agreement that the best system is to grant the breeder a proprietary right in his new variety for some fixed period of years. During this period he can commercialise the variety and, if he is successful, and if there is a demand for it, he can recover his outlay on breeding work together with some profit to himself.
This international agreement on principles and methods has been worked out in great detail in the Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, in which we participated. Seven countries have already signed the Convention and we have also done so, subject to ratification on the passage of the Bill.
It is a matter for satisfaction, as I think the House will agree, that the Government have been able to join with other countries in working out an international system whose principles accord so closely with those recommended for this country by our own Committee on Transactions in Seeds.
The method adopted in the Bill is to give the plant breeder a form of proprietry right in his new variety which will enable him to control its commercial development. Whereas new varieties are now commonly grown, bought and sold without the breeders' knowledge or consent, under the Bill, generally speaking, anyone who wishes to grow a seed crop for sale as such, or to sell seed of a variety while it is protected, will need to have a licence from the breeder. Varieties which are produced vegetatively are also covered by the Bill. 922 The breeder will have to apply for a grant of rights and there are certain conditions which must be observed. When a grant of rights has been made it will be a matter for the breeder, in the first place, to decide how he should make use of those rights. The rights are wide enough to enable him to require payment of a royalty on reproduction or sale and also to include in his licence conditions for maintaining the quality of the product of the seed.
Provided that he does not use these powers too restrictively, the arrangements between breeders, growers, and the seed and nursery trades will be left to be settled by discussion and negotiation in the ordinary way in what is a highly competitive industry. We think that this is the normal way in which this should proceed. If, however, there are complaints from growers and merchants who cannot get licences or get them on reasonable terms then, to protect the industry as a whole against such a situation, the Bill provides a means of settling the dispute and, if necessary, overriding the breeder who is being unreasonable.
The Controller of the Plant Variety Rights Office—the office which will be set up under the Bill—will have power to issue compulsory licences with the intention that a new variety should be widely available to the public at reasonable prices, and without deterioration in quality, in these cases where it is proved that a breeder was unreasonable.
The grant of compulsory licences will be only one of the functions of the new Plant Variety Rights Office. Its main task will be to consider applications for the grant of rights in new varieties—that is to say, where a new variety is sufficiently different from existing varieties to warrant the rights being given for this variety—to issue decisions, if necessary, after hearing the applicant and objectors, and to keep a watch on the maintenance of the varieties once rights have been granted.
The controller of the new office and the rest of its staff will be civil servants. The office will not be a large one. Hon. Members will have seen from the Explantory and Financial Memorandum that the cost, together with the expenses of the tribunal which, to fit in with our legislation on other equivalent types of 923 matters, will be set up to hear appeals, altogether is not thought to amount to more than £50,000 a year.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say how the import of any new varieties would be affected, if at all, under the Bill?
§ Mr. Soames
Imports will be affected. This is one of the reasons why it is so necessary to get the Bill.
Other countries having this type of legislation and having acceded to the new international arrangements, would hesitate to let us have their varieties unless they themselves could be empowered, as this legislation will enable them, to get royalties on their new rights. If we did not get this I think that we would run a serious risk of new plant varieties being developed in similar climates to ours and not being available to our growers.
The Government intend to press ahead as quickly as possible, once the Bill is enacted, with the making of schemes to bring Part I of the Bill into force over as wide a field as possible. As announced in another place, we hope to make schemes in the first instance, for wheat, barley, oats, potatoes and roses. These will be the first group and other schemes will follow in due course.
Part II of the Bill is complementary to Part I, although it approaches the problem of plant improvement from a somewhat different angle, but an equally necessary one in our view. Part II is based on the principle that the seller of seeds should give an adequate reliable description of his goods to the buyer. Up to now we have rested on the 1920 Seeds Act, which, we claim, has worked well within its limits and has helped the industry over the last 40 years to bring about a very marked improvement in the quality of seed offered to farmers.
After so long a time, however, there is a good case for strengthening and improving the existing conditions and the Committee on Transactions in Seeds has indicated the lines on which we should proceed. Part II, when it comes into force, will replace the existing 1920 Act. It gives Ministers power to make regulations prescribing such things as the descriptions under which seeds may be sold and preventing the sale of untested 924 or deleterious seed. In the regulations which will follow the Bill the details of seed control in future will be found. There is an obligation in the Bill to consult the interests concerned before making regulations. These are to be laid before Parliament and to be subject to negative Resolution procedure.
At this stage the main point in the regulation-making powers of the Minister to which I should like to draw the attention of the House is that which relates to civil warranty. The use by many seed traders of a non-warranty clause in their conditions of sale has been a source of dissension between the farmers and seed trade organisations for many years. The Committee on Transactions in Seeds condemned this practice and the Government have accepted its view that the matter requires to be regulated by legislation. Accordingly, the Bill contains power, by regulation, to require certain statements given by sellers of seeds to take effect as statutory warranties.
As with other regulations, these will be drawn up in close consultation with the trade and with other interests concerned. In other words, if it is said of a packet of seed that the rate of germination should be such-and-such a rate, that is a statutory warranty that it should be and it will not be possible for the seller to opt out of it.
Among the other provisions in this part of the Bill, Clauses 20 and 21 empower the agricultural Ministers—there are three Ministers involved, the Secretary of State for Scotland, myself and the Home Secretary in relation to Northern Ireland—to prepare an index or list of names of distinct plant varieties. The ultimate aim of the index will be "one variety, one name", the name always meaning the same thing and conveying an assurance to the buyer that seed of that variety has certain constant distinctive characteristics.
Such lists are essential for the operation of plant breeders' rights as well as being of great value to farmers and growers. The first step in preparing sections of this index will be to set out the existing varieties, some of which are at present sold under the various synonyms, but, in fact, are the same variety of seed. This will be done in consultation with the seed traders and 925 other interests concerned. Having done this, the next step will be to add new names to the index only if they can be shown to represent distinct new varieties, using, if necessary, growing trials to prove this.
I should point out that we shall not be doing trials to find whether varieties are better or worse than others before they can be added to the index. It is not our intention, in the Bill, although I am aware that certain countries have adopted the system, to prepare restrictive lists of varieties which are the only varieties seedsmen will be free to sell or farmers will be free to grow. The index will not itself restrict the farmers' choice. It will still be up to the advisory services, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and other bodies, to guide farmers and growers in making a wise and informed choice among the available varieties.
I believe that Parliament attaches great importance to the present voluntary system of advice and I hope to see it extended to other crops as facilities become available. There is, under present circumstances, a risk that new varieties may be put on the market and given much favourable publicity without their qualities being properly and adequately assessed in advance.
Clauses 22 and 23 therefore authorise the Ministers to arrange performance trials and to issue reports with the new variety meanwhile temporarily held off the market so that growers may have the advice which will stem from those trials before purchasing the variety. It is proposed that the National Institute of Agricultural Botany should undertake much of this work. Once the report on a variety has been published, the variety can be marketed irrespective of whether the report is favourable or unfavourable, but there will be the report on it for farmers and growers to see.
The only other provision to which I draw attention is Clause 24, which confers limited powers on the agricultural Ministers, acting jointly, to control seed imports for the purposes specified in the Clause. There is already a quality control of herbage seed for these same purposes under general powers vested in the Board of Trade. The Clause does not extend the Government's powers, but merely defines them more closely. While 926 we need to draw widely on Commonwealth and foreign countries for some of our seeds and will continue to do so, it is important to guard against damage to our own seed stocks by cross-pollination and some sources are quite unsuitable for climatic and other reasons. Seeds from those sources will not be allowed to come into the country under regulations which will stem from this Clause. We shall, of course, operate them in accordance with our international obligations.
The Bill has come to us with the approval of another place—
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether the Government Departments which are undertaking research into new varieties—for example, the strawberries at Auchincraird, or the potatoes at East Craigs—will have the benefits of the Bill? Will they get the royalties?
§ Mr. Soames
Yes, exactly the same thing applies to varieties produced under private or public auspices.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a welcome equal to that accorded it in another place. Many of my hon. Friends have pressed hard for this legislation for some time, appreciating its value to the industry as a whole. It seeks to strike a fair balance between buyers and sellers; between plant breeders and the users of seeds.
Agriculture and horticulture owe a great deal to the improvements in plants and seeds which our research institutes and private breeders have achieved. Better varieties mean higher yields, easier cultivation, lower costs and a higher-quality product. It is reasonable that the breeder should procure a proper reward from his skill and inventiveness. In return, the grower is entitled from this to expect high quality, consistency and known characteristics in the seed he buys.
The Bill is designed to achieve both of these objectives, and will be of considerable benefit to the agricultural and horticultural industries. I commend it to the House.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
This Bill deserves our support. It is not a party Measure—many hon. Members 927 on both sides have pressed for such legislation for a long time, either by Parliamentary Questions, or by seeking to amend the existing law; and this is the result of all that work.
We on this side of the House will in no way seek to delay the proceedings, but we shall have to discuss how best we can debate the Bill in Committee, as many of its provisions are very detailed. It is, in fact, a two-part Bill. The Minister in charge of it in another place said that it was really two Bills in one. That seems to be a common procedure of the present Administration, although I do not complain about this Bill. Part I deals with plant breeders' rights, Part II with seeds and seed potatoes, and the third part embraces provisions common to both Part I and Part II.
We know that this legislation is a result of much thought, and results very largely from Reports made in 1957 and 1960. We are seeking to improve the quality of our crops, and to encourage crop development. The farmers, growers and agriculturists will benefit from the improved varieties resulting from this Measure, and so will the country.
Although this is a small Bill, it is an important one, its aim being efficiency in agricultural production. I pay tribute to plant breeders, whether in Government research stations or other institutions, or those working for their private profit. By their work and skill they have produced new strains, new breeds, new varieties which have eventually increased production. Partly because of my own humble connection with science in the past, I have thought of names like Galton, Bateson, Mendel—names mentioned by a distinguished geneticist when the Bill was in another place—and those applied scientists whose work has brought tremendous benefits to the agriculture industry.
These remarks apply not only to scientists, but to many farmers who are, in a sense, technologists and scientists. Many humble people have in many ways notably contributed to the improvement of our plant varieties and seeds. The Bill endorses their work and, above all, it seeks to protect the breeder who, through years of effort, has brought in 928 new seeds or plants. As the Minister has rightly said, we are legislating for what applies in the copyright and patent laws, which protect the author and the inventor. I want the Bill to be quickly enacted.
The Minister has said that this legislation is partly the result of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants drawn up two years ago; and that we are seeking to conform with European practice. I hope that all the countries concerned will ratify the Convention without delay, but what about those countries that have not signed it? Will the Government take the initiative at a higher level to get international agreement in the widest sense? We are glad that they intend to ratify the Convention as soon as the Bill becomes law.
The right hon. Gentleman has described the various new institutions that are to be set up. The office of the Controller of Plant Variety Rights will be an important one. It need not be large, but it will be responsible to the right hon. Gentleman's Department, to the Home Office and to the Scottish Office. Added to that, there will be the Plant Variety Rights Tribunal, and I am certain that this is the right way to go about things. The amount of money to be allocated to the work is rather small—about £50,000 a year—but it will, in the end, benefit agriculture generally.
Part II deals with the consumer. This is a very complicated set of provisions, which we will have to examine in great detail. We do not disagree with the principles, but in all we have 40 Clauses, including those setting up the Gazette and other regulations, and that is a formidable list which will demand close attention in Committee. All these complicated provisions are designed to protect the consumer, and no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) will have something to say about them later.
The first group of Clauses in this part of the Bill replaces earlier legislation in respect of seeds and seed potatoes. The Seeds Act, 1920, is not being amended, but we are bringing in regulations. In other words, the Government are seeking some flexible method to protect the consumer. I do 929 not disagree with this and I accept the view of the Minister in another place that this is the right way to it. Although we say that the1920 Act must be brought up to date in respect of the first part of the Bill, there is no reason why part of that legislation should not be applied through new regulations under the Bill.
The new powers in Clauses 20 and 24 meet our approval and we trust that the regulations will be flexible. Although the 1920 Act has not been amended in detail, we accept that this is necessary. We are establishing the principle that the seller of seeds should give an adequate and reliable description of his goods to the buyer and in protecting the consumer in that way the Minister has the support of the Opposition.
I agree that Clause 24 dealing with imports is necessary. I understand that the Minister has to make appropriate regulations to conform to G.A.T.T. We also accept the necessity for the index provided for in Clauses 20, 23. Part III deals with the administration of Parts I and II.
We welcome the Bill in general and do not think that we should waste much time on the Second Reading today, although we shall have to go into much greater detail in Committee. In principle, it is a good Bill giving proprietary rights to plant breeders and ending an anomaly in that respect and protecting the consumer of seeds and seed potatoes. It has the approval of the seed trade and the industry generally.
We welcome the Bill and trust that it will have a speedy passage.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)
I am not so wholeheartedly behind the Bill as is the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). The second part of the Bill deals with relations between the seller and buyer of seeds and, in general, I welcome it. Some changes will have to be made in Committee, and particularly to Clause 24, which deals with the import of seed. It does not prevent all unnecessary seed from coming into the country. For instance, it refers to seed produced in climatic conditions different from our own and seed which may be used for adulteration. But there is also seed which is produced in climates simi- 930 lar to our own and which is not to be used for adulteration which could well be prevented from coming here.
I have some doubts about the index. My right hon. Friend made, relatively light of the compiling of the index, but I have been interested in farm and garden plants for many years and I can assure him that he is in for quite a job when it come to a detailed description of varieties of many plants if he wants to get an agreed list with universal approval for the distinctions.
I think that the index is to be introduced so as to make the granting of plant breeders' rights and the running of the system easier, and it is to that side of the Bill that I want to address my remarks. The granting of plant breeders' rights arises out of the consideration of the Committee on Transactions in Seeds. The Committee produced two Reports, the first reviewing general conditions in the sale of seeds and the second on the rights of pant breeders. However, whether the granting of plant breeders' rights was the best method of setting about the problem was never really examined by the Committee.
I make it clear that I wholeheartedly agree with the proposition that the breeder of new varieties does not get sufficient reward and I join in all the tributes which has been paid to such people. They have given great service to agriculture and horticulture and have not had sufficient reward for their pains. They should have their full and just rewards but I object to there being no inquiry into whether this was the best method of dealing with the matter.
The Committee dismissed other methods, such as a direct Government grant, because, so it seems to me, it had already decided that the granting of plant breeders' rights was the best. This is an interesting commentary on the way in which legislation is apt to go through Parliament—a committee is set up to examine a problem; reports are produced; international conventions are agreed; and a Minister presents a Bill and it is liable to be regarded as almost a crime, regressive and reactionary to suggest that some other method should have been used in the first instance. But that is the position with this Bill.
§ Mr. Bullard
I should not be in order in doing that. I have a little grievance here and I would like to have it aired.
My second objection is to the basic philosophy underlying the granting of plant breeders' rights as against other methods. There is no real comparison between breeding a new variety of plant and making a new invention. Something stirs deeply within me when I read what the Committee had to say on this issue. The Committee states that the breederbreeds new characters into existing varieties by changing or widening the genetical basis in terms of gene composition. We do not think there is any essential difference between this process and, for example, the work of the chemist in producing new insecticides. We take the view that the breeder produces or creates his new variety in just as true a sense as the chemist is said to create his new product.In my opinion, anybody who is capable of saying that is committing such a grave philosophical error as immediately casts doubt upon the basis of the whole proposition.
Is it suggested that the breeding of a new variety, for instance, of rose is comparable with creating, or whatever the right word is, a new insecticide? Is there no distinction between the living object and the dead chemical? There is a fundamental philosophical error here to which I heartily object, and this error runs through the Bill.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
Is my hon. Friend aware that one can get a patent, called a selection patent, for making a selection out of a class of chemicals and finding one which is useful although no invention is involved?
§ Mr. Bullard
My hon. Friend's intervention does not help me. The fundamental distinction seems to me to be between a living and, in general, rather beautiful and commendable object and, of all things to choose, an insecticide. I content myself with registering my objection to the underlying philosophical basis of the Bill.
§ Mr. Bullard
I wish that the hon. Member would allow me time to 932 develop my thesis, which is rather more fundamental than some of his comments on the Bill appeared to be.
To ensure that the true plant breeder gets his reward from the Bill, it would have been far better had the Government set up a body to which people engaged in plant breeding could go to obtain a grant—and, I hope, a generous one—for their work in furthering their plant breeding efforts. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) seems to be amazed at this, but the principle underlying it is well accepted. This is scientific work of a high order for which a grant would be readily justified. The money then would go direct to the person doing the job, whereas I have a feeling that under the Bill a great deal of the money may go in litigation and perhaps in quarrels and in many other ways rather than direct to the plant breeder himself.
I come now to a matter which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend in answer to a question about whether breeds of plants which originate in Government research stations would be eligible for plant breeders' rights. It is entirely proper that they should be if we are to have plant breeders' rights at all. The Bill, however, could create quite a difficulty in the plant breeders' world.
If I am a scientist employed in a Government plant-breeding station and I have sufficient ability and good luck to produce a variety which proves to be extremely popular and circulates throughout the agricultural world, and if great sums are to be claimed in plant breeders' rights, these, presumably, go to the institution by which I am employed. I do not know how hon. Members generally would react to that. I should be very much inclined to say that I might be tempted to go off to some private institution which was claiming the rights and could pay me some kind of commission or bonus on my discoveries. The provisions of the Bill might react unfavourably upon people employed in the Government service. This would be a great mistake. I do not know that that will be the effect, but there is the danger of it.
It would have been much better if, in accordance with our other methods of assisting plant breeders, we had adopted 933 the method of direct grant for this work rather than the institution of plant breeders' rights.
I have said sufficient to indicate that it is the basic principle underlying the Bill with which I differ, and I conclude as I began. I accept completely the need for giving to the true breeder of plants proper recognition in the way of financial assistance for his work. I believe that this principle of giving copyrights and royalties is not a valid one from a basic philosophical viewpoint and I believe that the object could have been obtained by other measures with a greater proportion of the rewards seeping through to the person who deserves them rather than being lost on the way.
It is too late for this alternative now to be considered. It is a pity that the Bill has come to us by the way in which it has done, by way of the various reports and the international Convention, and it is, I fear, too late a stage for the House to consider the underlying merits and demerits of the principles upon which the Bill is founded.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I have read a little about this subject, as well as the Bill and some of the comments concerning it, and I have a certain impression from what I have read and from what the Minister has said. If my impressions are correct, I am amazed at the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard).
What led me first to support the Bill was that if we did not introduce the granting of certain rights to plant breeders and seed developers, we might be by-passed by the activities of breeders and developers in other countries in whose products we might be deeply interested and which we might like to have in this country but which, under our existing system whereby the plant breeder receives no material recognition for his work, we might not be able to get. My impression might be wrong, but that was what led me to support what I consider to be an important Measure.
I support the Bill mainly because, in all matters such as this, we should keep in step with agricultural processes in other temperate climates like our own, so that if benefits are given by legislation 934 to plant breeders and developers in other countries, we should do the same so that we may enjoy the benefits of development in-those other countries. That is a legitimate reason why we should all support the Bill.
I was amazed again at the hon. Member for Kind's Lynn suggesting that we should not bother about the rights of individuals. I should regard the Plant Variety Rights Office as the main central institution which should always concern itself with the rights of individuals.
§ Mr. Bullard
I did not say anything of the kind. I emphasised, and I began and finished my speech with, the proposition that the person who was doing work towards breeding a new variety essentially requires recognition, but I said that I did not regard the Bill as the proper method of dealing with the matter.
§ Mr. Bence
When the hon. Member reads Hansard—I made a note of what he said—he will see that he said that it was not the function of this House to grant rights to individuals. I may be wrong, but that is my impression. The hon. Member considered that the wrong way to deal with the matter and felt that the House was acting too hastily in granting rights to individuals instead of examining some other method.
The hon. Member made the comparison, and he has made it again in his intervention, between invention in industry and the development of plants in the horticultural industry. Engineers in the development departments of large industrial undertakings often invent by accident. The man who does it does not know he has done it, but the chief engineer or someone else sees the core of an ides, and this is evolved and patented. This may lead to a major patented invention in some mechanical process.
This happens in industry and it will happen in any economic activity in which man indulges. New ideas often spring by accident from people who are not consciously seeking to evolve them. I am sure that this often happens in agriculture and horticulture. The comparisons made by the hon. Member for King's Lynn is no reason for opposing the Bill and saying that its proposals are not this best way of doing the job 935 we have in mind. There will be horticulturists working for private enterprise and in Government institutions who will be required by their supervisors to pursue some line of research activity as part of their job.
If I am employed by an engineering company as a development engineer it is my duty to pursue that course on behalf of my employers. I cannot say that when I reach a certain stage in the development I shall claim the idea as mine and rush off to patent it privately. The person who is employed for this purpose accepts a salary for it, and any institution, private or governmental, which employs a man on this work will see that he is adequately rewarded.
It is absolute nonsense to suggest that those who are engaged in the universities or, for instance, in the Rowett Institute may indulge in private work and patent that work. The hon. Member said that they were entitled to patent their work as individuals. I completely reject that.
§ Mr. Bullard
The hon. Member continues to put an interpretation on my speech entirely different from that which I gave or intended. I never said that there was any wish on the part of individuals in these institutions to appropriate any rights to themselves. I said that they might find as a result of the operation of the Bill that private employment was more lucrative to them than employment at the institutions at which they were now engaged, and I thought that that would be a disturbing factor.
§ Mr. Bence
I did not understand the hon. Member to suggest that he was criticising the Bill because it would result in research workers moving from public to private institutions. I find it difficult to imagine that as a result of the Bill a company might set up an institute to compete with the Rowett Institution.
§ Mr. Bence
No, but it is engaged in other agricultural research and the same principle applies. I do not think that the Bill will result in research workers moving from public institutions to private institutions.
936 The Bill also deals with the importation of seeds. A few years ago I came into possession of packets of seeds which bore beautiful pictures. They were exported from the United States to voluntary organisations for distribution over here. I had about 40 or 50 of these packets. I planted a few seeds, but had no results. According to the directions some had to be sown in Wyoming and others in other parts of the United States. The hon. Member for King's Lynn suggested that the people who would benefit from the provisions of the Bill would be those who marketed the seeds.
§ Mr. Bence
I made a note of it, and I am particularly clear that the hon. Member thought that these provisions would benefit those who marketed the seeds rather than those who developed and bred plants.
One point which has always struck me about the marketing of seeds is that as a consumer I cannot buy the quantity I require. I have to pay 9d. or 1s. for a packet of seeds which contains many more seeds than I wish to use. I wonder sometimes whether the value of the seeds in the packet is equal to the value of the pictures. Packets of sweet-pea seeds, for example, bear beautiful pictures which are just "out of this world". I have never been able to reproduce them in my garden.
§ Mr. Bence
I suppose that I obtain average results and that different conditions lead to different results. I find that seeds sold are rarely up to the standards laid down. I know that testing must be difficult and I wonder whether enough testing is done. Have we sufficient personnel, or can we obtain them, to carry out adequate testing? We are short of manpower and expertise in so many spheres. Are steps being taken to create a force of inspectors throughout the country to ensure that we give the consumer the protection which we seek to give him when we introduce Measures of this kind?
Bills such as this become law, but, because of the lack of manpower resources for testing and examining, we 937 often fall short of achieving what we intend by our legislation. In that failure we are apt to think that the legislation is inadequate to do the job when, in fact, the inadequacy is brought about because of the failure to recruit sufficient forces.
I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not deal with the question, posed in another place, whether a potato was a seed or not. One reason for my coming to the House this afternoon was to hear that question answered. I hope that we shall be given a clear definition of a potato.
Clause 24 refers to seeds that are not for sowing. I presume that means rice seeds, or caraway seeds, or canary seeds. I hope that this, too, will be dealt with by the Minister. What does one regard as seeds which are not for sowing? Clause 30 says that a seed potato is classed as a seed. How does one define a seed potato? Is it done by means of a grid? If I harvest a sack of potatoes, may I call them seed potatoes?
§ Mr. Hollingworth
A seed potato is a tuber which produces a seed, which, in turn, produces a tuber.
§ Mr. Bence
I am none the wiser. That may help the Minister, but it certainly does not help me. That definition was given in another place, and it did not make sense then, but, of course, I am not a farmer or a horticulturist. I am an engineer. Nevertheless, there is no reason why I should not take an interest in this subject. Gardening is one of my hobbies, and I intervened in the debate because the hon. Member for King's Lynn criticised this Measure, which is obviously in the best interest of the horticulturist and farmer in this country.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I must add my welcome to the Bill which, for a number of years, I have been pressing the Minister to introduce. I particularly welcome it at this time, because I realise that, with a crowded legislative programme before us it has been necessary to recognise the importance of this Measure to bring it before the House at this stage. I was particularly glad when, in November, 1962, we decided 938 to sign the Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, and it is out of that Convention that this Bill has emerged.
Though I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) that there are other ways of protecting the rights of plant breeders, I think that, on balance, the method proposed in the Bill is the best one. There is, of course, the possibility that the better way of doing it would be by merely copywriting names, and that the reputation which attached to the name would ensure that a variety brought a benefit to the breeder or to the person who was exploiting it.
Though there will be some difficulty in enforcing the rights of the individual breeder, I think that, on balance, this is the soundest way of dealing with the matter, and is the one which will give the most benefit to those who have been developing new strains not only of agricultural produce, but of horticultural plants and shrubs.
I think that the need for legislation to encourage the plant breeder is obvious when one considers that, in the last two decades, other than those produced by Government institutions, hardly any agricultural cereals of economic significance have been produced because private breeders have not found it possible to indulge in large plant breeding programmes due to the enormous expense involved in investigating all the various genetic possibilities and combinations before producing a new type of seed.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn has left the Chamber, because this is particularly important. When one wants to introduce possibly just one characteristic into a plant, one has to go through an enormous number of processes and produce an enormous number of individual plants, which, of course, means that one is involved in great expense.
I hope that as a result of the Bill—and I feel confident that it will be so—some of the seed firms in this country will be able to turn their attention to producing even better seeds for horticulture and agriculture crops so that we will have seeds with higher yields, better disease 939 resistance, and more suited to this climate, about which words fail me.
I think that it would be remiss of anyone to discuss the Bill and the Report from which it emanated without referring to the co-operation that has existed between the Ministry and various persons in it and the trade itself. Representing, as I do, an area with a large seed growing acreage, I have been privileged to be on the periphery, but, nevertheless, kept well informed, of some of the negotiations and discussions that have taken place, and from the trade I have heard nothing but credit and praise for the co-operation which it has received from the Ministry in all the stages of the development of this legislation.
I hope that the granting of patent rights will create the incentive for exporting more seeds from this country. When one thinks of the excellent work that has been done by plant stations like the one at Aberystwyth, it seems a great shame that the varieties developed there are not further exploited in countries overseas. I feel that by getting a commercial injection into the industry we shall be able to go ahead still further in developing strains for countries overseas, and I hope that the opportunity will be taken to do so.
In general, I like the Bill, but I am concerned about one Clause which was discussed in another place, but about which no conclusion seems to have been reached. I am referring to the responsibility, which is legally enforceable by this Bill, for ensuring the genetical purity of the varieties which a merchant advertises on the packet. Many different types of plant can be cross-pollinated by wind or by bees within a radius of about 1,000 yards. I know from personal experience how serious such cross-pollination can be.
For many years a voluntary scheme of zoning has been in operation. Living in a seed-growing area, I have been very conscious of this. Nine times out of ten we have been able to arrange between various farmers to grow only a certain type or series of seeds, so that those which are likely to cross-pollinate will not be on the flower at the same time. But it is extremely difficult to carry out this operation if there is just 940 one awkward customer in a parish, or even a larger area. This point must be considered further.
I want to give an example of what can happen because of the difficulties of isolation. Inquiries have been made through a number of seed growers concerning the tops of brussels sprouts, which are a biennial crop if harvested for seed. During the six-year period from 1957 to 1962 inclusive, 153 individual crops of brussels sprouts were entered for a certification scheme, and 13 were rejected because the isolation was not satisfactory.
The trouble about this or any biennial crop is that all the work that goes into it—fertilisers, and so on—during the two years when the land is used for this purpose can finally be wiped out, with no return at all, unless some form of compulsory zoning is introduced, or—and I do not think that this would be satisfactory—the onus in respect of purity which it is intended to place on the grower were removed from the Bill.
I referred earlier to the amount of co-operation that had gone on between my right hon. Friend's Department and the various associations that are concerned with the matter. Before the Bill goes to Committee I hope that it will be possible for further discussion to take place between the associations concerned, the N.F.U. and the Ministry to see whether a workable scheme can be evolved.
I welcome the Bill as a charter for the plant breeder and for those who are involved in this tremendously important industry. Although, in a small way, I have used and propagated other people's new varieties—roses and other shrubs—without paying any fee, and although, in some cases, I have sold the products, which it is quite legitimate to do, I would welcome paying a small royalty on new varieties which I propagated if I knew that the money would go towards the production of still further plants and crops which would later become available. I am sure that all growers would ultimately come round to this point of view.
I am equally sure that although there may be a minute rise in the cost of seeds for the farmer and horticulturist the benefits—especially considering the comparatively small proportion of the outlay of an agricultural holding which goes to 941 seeds—will be much greater, because we shall be making sure that the industry is able to produce varieties suitable for English or United Kingdom conditions. In the long run the farmer and the horticulturist will benefit immensely.
I sincerely welcome the Bill, both in respect of Part I, which refers to plant breeders' rights and also Part II, which provides a method for bringing up to date the regulations concerning seeds. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
I am glad to have an opportunity of raising a few points on the Bill, since I have had a little experience of patents, and this seems to be a cross between patent law and copyright law. First, I should like to know what rights importers will have. When patent law first developed, in the Middle Ages, it was very important to get hold of inventions coming here from abroad. For that reason an importer of an invention, who might not himself have been an inventor, was able to obtain protection here.
Clause 2 provides protection for someone who discovers a variety. I presume that this is meant to cover the discoverer of a rare wild flower, but would people who import potatoes, for example, be able to obtain protection here, on the general analogy of the patent law? Secondly, there is the question of novelty in new varieties. A new invention is examined very carefully for novelty before a patent is granted. If this examination is not carried out, people who have used a so-called invention which is not novel are put to immense inconvenience if proceedings for infringement are brought against them.
In the Report on Plant Breeders' Rights, paragraph 204 states:The numbers of existing and potential varieties, and of strains and selections claiming to be varieties, are very large. Fears have been expressed that they may be so numerous, and the differences between many of them so small, that it would be impracticable to devise a workable scheme for plant breeders' rights which depended on establishing the difference between one variety and another. Certainly, the potentialities of plant breeding are very great indeed, and if a breeder could claim rights in his new plant on the basis of any difference, no matter how small, confusion would result and it is probable the scheme 942 would fail. In our view, it is essential that a new variety should show some minimum difference in order to qualify for protection. We do not propose to attempt to define this minimum qualifying difference,If plant breeders' rights were granted to something that was not novel, people who had used the variety before would be put to considerable inconvenience, and conversely, it would make it very difficult for the holder of plant breeders' rights to establish those rights against an infringer. As I understand, it is extremely difficult to prove what is the parentage of a variety and, if it is not very distinct indeed, it seems likely that the plant breeder's rights may be worth very little and not really be enforceable.
On the analogy of the copyright, I am much attracted by the idea of an index, provided that we do not have far too many varieties on the index. I think that I am right in saying that, for instance, there are today no less than 30,000 different named varieties of daffodil—I know that it is not one of the selected plants at present—in the Daffodil Society's "herd book", or whatever it is called. It seems to me that there is a good deal of value in, for instance, the name "Peace" for a particular variety of rose. Having a name such as that, with copyright in it, so that one would have a right to have a variety listed in the index, plus the name attached to it, could be extremely valuable.
A question arises here, however, with reference to what happens abroad. In this country we have such things as the rose named "Gloire de Dijon", which comes from France. In France, on the other hand, one very seldom finds that roses are called by English names. Are we to take any action in an effort to give names, on the index a sort of international copyright so that a breeder in this country could sue someone in France for using the same name? I see a difficulty here because some of the names we use, for instance, Mrs. Sam McGredy, would not be acceptable abroad. Have we thought out any system by which we could enforce what I think might be a valuable copyright system under an index?
With those few words I give the Bill a warm welcome. It has been needed for a long time, and I shall certainly vote for it.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison), I give a strong welcome to the Bill. My right hon. Friend has been very clever in persuading the Patronage Secretary to fit it into the programme, although, as many of us know, the Patronage Secretary has a strong constituency interest in this particular Measure. It is remarkable, too, that in this last year of a Parliament we should have succeeded in getting two major agriculture Bills.
I hope that, in all our discussions, we shall not forget the very important human element in plant breeding. An eye for a good plant is still one of the breeder's most valuable assets. The breeder's task in sorting out the more desirable plant characteristics and combining them in a new variety is very complicated. Despite all the laws of inheritance and all the science of genetics, much depends on the skill of the individual breeder. He has to make many crosses with different parents and examine a very large number of plants in order to produce one new and improved variety.
I could not follow the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard). I felt that he approached the whole subject from entirely the wrong angle. The Committee on Transactions in Seeds, in its Report, deposed the theory that a plant is essentially a product of nature, the inheritance of us all, the discovery of which cannot confer rights on any particular individual. The modern plant is produced by controlled hybridisation and is essentially a man-made article.
§ Mr. Bullard
I must object to that. The modern plant variety is a man-made article?—in my opinion, it is heresy to say anything of the kind. It was exactly that point in the Report of the Committee which I objected to. Now, my hon. Friend rubs salt into the wound and makes it ten times worse.
§ Mr. Kimball
I hope that the House will treat my hon. Friend's intervention in the same way as I should like to treat the rest of his argument when he suggested that all the good people now working there will leave the Government plant research establishments and go 944 and work for private firms. He will realise that those private firms could not possibly afford to pay them unless they have the royalties which the Bill gives and which are so essential.
The modern plant is man-made. A new variety, once established and proved, can be acquired by anyone, multiplied and sold. Such varieties are regularly sold at a price which the breeder himself could not possibly afford to sell them at if he is to recover his costs. The breeder is quite defenceless against the pirating of his own new varieties.
It is significant how very few of the people still managing to do a little original plant breeding manage to make a living by breeding and selling alone. The financial rewards to these pioneers today is much too small to enable them to carry on that alone.
Now, the future. What are we to get in the agricultural community in exchange for the granting of these royalties? What future improvements can we expect from the seed breeding industry? There is great scope for the development of varieties which are resistant to pests and disease. Large sums of money are spent every year now on putting one toxic chemical after another on the land, and many of us in the House are very disturbed about the way things are going.
I very much hope that the money which the plant breeding industry receives from the royalities will be used, above all, to reduce the need for spraying and chemical treatments in all farms and gardens and that a vast amount will now be spent on producing plants which are really resistant to pests and diseases. I am sure that the whole House will readily agree that this is the subject on which the industry should concentrate and use the money which we are voting by passing the Bill.
We are all very well aware of what has been achieved during the past 20 years. The yield of wheat is up by one-third. The improved malting barley, particularly Proctor barley, has been of enormous value to the malting industry and the brewers. We now have improved varieties of other kinds of soft wheats which have been of tremendous value to biscuit manufacturers and millers.
945 Who has done all this? Who has helped to give these increased yields and improved varieties? A great deal has had to be done by the State. As I have said, there are very few private plant breeding establishments left. It would not be out of order here to pay tribute to the private plant breeding establishment, one of the few still managing to keep going, in my constituency. Many hon. Members interested in the subject appreciate what has been done by that particular firm through the publicity it has directed to this issue and the success it has had in keeping it alive and before the Government during the past two or three years. Noteworthy also is the important initiation which the firm has undertaken, with good success, for the survival of the partridge in our countryside.
The position abroad does not justify the theory that modern breeding is too complicated, too long-term and too expensive for the private establishment. This point was dealt with in the Report of the Committee on Transactions in Seeds, and the Agricultural Research Council, which controls and directs the allocation of public funds to our national State-supported stations, favours this measure of support for our private breeders.
I stress the importance of this whole subject from the point of view of exports and the need to bring money into this country. Foreign breeders have been particularly successful in recent years in selling into Britain, wheat, oats, barley, vegetables, flowers and roses. I do not for a moment imagine that the plant breeding industry in this country is aiming at being self-sufficient.
We accept that many of those things have to come to this country. But we hope that steps maybe taken to build up a stronger breeding industry here, because surely it is very unwise that the whole of our agricultural industry should have to rely on new varieties being brought in from abroad. We want action to give us a strong and efficient home market, on which I hope that we may expand and build up a really good export trade. People may say that, if we decide to export these varieties, what protection is there in the foreign markets against piracy? That is the significance of the Convention on Plant Breeders' 946 Rights in Paris in 1961. I understand that if we export a variety suitable for growing on foreign soil there are safeguards against it being pirated.
I do not wish to say more as hon. Members have stressed the need for speeding up the passage of the Bill, and the sooner it is on the Statute Book the sooner the new varieties which our breeders have in store will be available to the agricultural industry. Ever since the Committee came out in favour of some kind of royalties for plant breeders people have not made public the new varieties which they have. They have kept these back and will do so until such time as they receive royalties. It costs large sums to secure new varieties, so I hope that we shall hasten the Bill on its way to the Statute Book and that royalties will be available for varieties of wheat, oats and roses immediately. Then we may benefit from the varieties which will be made available to our farmers.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
So far as I know, I have no one in my constituency who breeds plants, or would benefit as would a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). I speak, therefore, purely as a consumer.
For some years I have been doing what little I could to encourage successive Ministers to take some action on the lines which we are considering today. Two days go I received a seed catalogue from the merchant with whom I deal, containing information about the seeds which he suggests I might find I required this spring.
I thought that it might be interesting to look it through to see how many varieties had been bred at home. Out of 15 various spring cereal seeds, 13 had foreign parents. Most hon. Members might be able to identify almost at once, the remaining two, Proctor and Marris Badger. Proctor has had the most remarkable success of any home-bred seed. It produces 78 per cent. of the barley sown in this country.
According to the report, 95 per cent. of the what we plant on our farms comes from foreign sources and 61 per cent, of the total of our cereal seed comes originally from abroad. As the result of the work we are doing today I 947 hope that we may be able to encourage our own breeders to provide us with seeds which would improve this situation.
I have had the good fortune to visit a number of establishments for breeding seeds and plants on the Continent of Europe and elsewhere, and anyone who has seen the money put into breeding these plants and seeds will realise that without the support offered by the Bill there can be that little done in this country to compete with the sort of work found abroad. If good seeds and good plants are produced abroad, there is no real encouragement for the breeders to allow them to be sold in this country unless some protection is afforded. I think that one of the results of enabling importations to take place under the provisions in the Bill will be that the protection offered will allow us to have varieties a little earlier, and perhaps better varieties than have been, available before.
I have good friends who farm in France and in other parts of the Continent and I have noticed for a number of years that they have used varieties of seeds which are unknown in this country. I have also noticed that it is not so long before we find that these seeds are being imported into this country. One of the results of the Bill may be that better varieties will be available sooner as the result of breeding carried out abroad. Two things may arise from the Bill, therefore. First, it will provide our own breeders with financial strength and protection and, secondly, it will enable us better to profit from what is done abroad.
My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) criticised the method selected for dealing with this problem. It would be of great interest to many people to have an indication from the Minister as to why we have rejected various systems which appear to have been successful in other countries. Since 1930, over a somewhat limited field, a Plant Patent Act has operated in the United States. A number of people say it would not work in this country. But it has worked in the United States since 1930.
Doubtless the Government have good reasons for not adopting it, but it would 948 be interesting to know why it has not been accepted. A much wider scheme was introduced in Holland, in 1941, and seems to have met with great success. There are many people in this country who would like to know why that scheme was rejected. There are, also, others in Sweden, Germany and elsewhere.
It was indicated in another place that there were five main varieties which might be covered by the scheme. They were potatoes, barley, oats, wheat and roses. There is one major exception that springs to the mind. It is rye—[Laughter.] The alliteration had not occurred to me until I saw the smiles on the faces of my hon. Friends. It would be interesting to have an indication why rye, so far, has not been considered as one of the possibilities.
Further, if it should so happen that one of our hon. Friends decided to devote some years of work, and a great deal of money, to breeding, shall we say, some edible variety of bracken, or a new variety of rice, it would have a great impact on the history of the world. Can anyone present imagine what success I, for example, might have if I knocked on the door of the Ministry and said that I wanted Ministerial support for my efforts to breed edible bracken?
It seems to me that we must persuade the Minister, first, that any great advance which it was proposed to make was something which ought to be put on the list. Alternatively, we should have to wait, until the Minister concluded the new advance, to include it on the list, which would mean that we should have to wait a long time.
I put the suggestion to the Minister that there may be some important things which could be done if encouragement were given to people in respect of research carried out on other than the five varieties of seeds which have been indicated at the moment as possibilities for inclusion in the list. With those suggestions I give my wholehearted blessing to the Bill.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hollingworth (Birmingham, All Saints)
I want to support the Bill and make a short speech which, I hope, will be acceptable to the House. I speak, 949 first, as an enthusiastic private gardener, one who likes to wander round the garden during the summer months, as does the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), comparing the pictures on the packets with the results I have been able to produce. I speak, secondly, as one who, prior to coming to the House, had considerable experience of the professional side of horticulture.
The Bill will help to improve the quality of plants made available in this country for private and commercial use. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) made the important point that, at the same time, it will put into the horticultural economy a certain degree of extra capital which will be of great use in the highly expensive business of producing new plant life.
Before I move on to more specialised aspects of my speech, I want to pay tribute, because it is only fair that someone should do so, to the work which has been done in the past, without much help from the Government, by our plant breeders. One has only to go at the right time of the year to some of the great horticultural institutions, whether they are privately or publicly owned, in England, Wales and Scotland—and, indeed, two in Northern Ireland—to see the results there of many years of hard steady work in both horticulture and agriculture.
I, having been associated with some plant breeders employed by companies that I worked for over a period of years, know of the hard work which has to be done and the fact that out of possibly 1,000 new plants grown there is the prospect that only one or two will ever end up on the commercial market.
It has been said several times this afternoon that one small weakness in the Bill is the fact that this may involve a slight increase in the price of the various commodities produced by plant breeders. I disagree, for this reason. As things stand, with no form of copyright or assistance for the breeder, he knows full well that within two years of putting a new variety on the market he will find himself price-cut by other people's lists. The form of copyright envisaged in the Bill—I put it in that way, loosely—will allow people to put 950 new varieties on the market at a much lower price than is the case at present, for the simple reason that they will know that from now on they will have some form of security in regard to similar plants which may be produced by their competitors.
Over the years I have been associated in horticulture with the breeding of a selection of the Russell lupin family, phlox and delphiniums. Here again, I pay immerse tribute to the work done by those almost unknown gentlemen who have produced the galaxy of colour and abundance that we see in our own gardens and on the commercial market. I welcome the Bill as one who, on the retail side, is involved in the sale of flowers for decorative purposes.
Anything which will improve the quality of the goods that I or my staff have to buy in Britain's markets for resale in my shops will be not only to my benefit but to that of my customers. One great weakness in horticulture today is that it is one of the few trades or professions that defeats its own object by flooding its own markets with second-rate goods. We should welcome the Bill enthusiastically if it will help in an indirect way to overcome this weakness.
I am not sure that many of us have not suffered in the same way as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East from the pretty picture on the packet. I jump to the protection of the seed trade, because I know that many people buy seeds at the wrong time of the year; they probably plant them upside down, and then months later grumble and say that the seeds were no good.
§ Mr. Hollingworth
If the hon. Gentleman requires a good sweet pea, perhaps he will let me know and I will see what I can do.
I believe that I am correct in saying that, although there is today a substantial decree of control over the resale of vegetable seeds, there is little control over the sale of flower seeds. I know that the quality of flower seeds is sometimes not up to the standard which I, as a grower, would like.
951 I was interested in the philosophical view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard). I can see considerable merit in his view. I cannot agree, however, with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough that the plant is a man-made object. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn is not here. The greatest weakness in his argument is that, by giving some form of grant as opposed to some form of copyright, the whole situation would become almost administratively impossible. This country has so many potential plant breeders, just as it has so many potential politicians, that from the administrative point of view the doling out of grants would make things far too complicated.
I have expressed sympathy with the Bill's objects. I reiterate that anything that can improve the quality and standard of horticultural produce, which is the aspect in which I am particularly interested, will, in the long term, be for the benefit of all aspects of the industry.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
This short debate has shown that there is general agreement that we want this Bill, and want it quickly, perhaps with some amendment in Committee. I was surprised that we are to deal only with wheat, barley, oats, potatoes and roses in the Regulations to begin with. I should have thought that we want to go much wider as quickly as possible.
To take up the point made by the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine), instead of talking about edible bracken, the possible development along these lines will be to take the protein out of grass and work it up to some kind of digestible food. I gather that researches are going on into this problem in various parts of the world. It may therefore be necessary to put grass seeds into the list as quickly as possible, because if we are to get food from grass by some extractive process, it must be grass from selected special strains, otherwise we might poison ourselves.
The only comment I have on the excellent and informative speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Hollingworth) is that I have noted for future reference that he is 952 opposed to the abolition of resale price maintenance.
We want to see the Bill passed into law speedily, not only because it is good in general terms but to limit as much as possible the period of indecision to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) referred. I accept that a number of plant breeders are anxious about this. If anyone has developed a new plant in recent months he must be in a serious quandary. Should he put it on the market now and keep ahead of his competitors—but lose the protection of the Bill, which cannot be made retrospective—or should he hold it back until he can have the protection of the Bill, perhaps thereby finding that a foreign competitor has beaten him?
Because of the congestion of Committees upstairs, might it not be possible to take the Bill on the Floor of the House, when each day we could consider it for six or seven hours instead of the two and a half hours' consideration it would have in Committee upstairs—that is, providing it could be got into Committee, which at the moment looks extremely doubtful?
I, too, am sorry that the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) is not in his place, for I profoundly disagreed with him on the question of copyright for plant breeders. I believe that they should have the same protection as any other inventors. When the hon. Member for King's Lynn attempted to disagree with the comparison made in the Report between insecticides and roses, I thought that I would be glad if someone stopped producing insecticides and allowed us get on with the roses. They are much safer. On other occasions the hon. Member for King's Lynn has suggested that many other agricultural problems could be settled by handing out Government grants. That always seems to be his general solution. This is in contradiction with the view he takes when speaking on behalf of the sturdy independent peasants of this country who, from his remarks, seem to be wanting more and more money from the Government to remain independent.
The hon. Member for King's Lynn made a good point when he suggested that individuals employed in Government research stations and who more 953 or less personally produce new varieties might, under these royalty terms, get some financial recognition for their work. I appreciate that this could not be written into the Bill, but I hope that that suggestion will be considered by the Government research authorities. This is important because, as the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) pointed out, most new strains and varieties in recent years have come from the Government research stations.
Although this may seem somewhat strange coming from this side of the House, my hon. Friends and I would like to make it more profitable for private enterprise to produce more than they have because the more development that takes place in this business the better. Lack of protection has prevented the development of new varieties from the private sector, and if we can do anything to correct that position so much the better.
The hon. Member for Maldon raised an important point which had occurred to me when I began to read the Bill; that the first part of it might have been dealt with under patent law while the second part, which deals with consumer protection, might have been handled by writing a new law of contract, particularly since one is greatly needed to take the place of the out-of-date Sale of Goods Act. However, we cannot wait for a new law of contract and we shall have to accept the Bill, although from the point of view of copyright the patent law approach would have accomplished more easily what we want achieved.
Clause 16, which is almost a Statute in itself, is one of those provisions which we sometimes find in proposed legislation and which we say has been so clearly drafted and presented that we wish to congratulate the Minister and his draftsmen on doing such a good job. It is a curious thing that Statutes dealing with the law of contract between seller and buyer invariably look like models of Parliamentary draftsmanship. This is true of the Sale of Goods Act, which was drafted about 70 years ago, and of Clause 24 of the recent Weights and Measures Act. The same can be said of Clause 16 of this Bill, which to some extent is the modern version of the Sale of Goods Act, bringing it up to date in ways which some hon. Members have been suggesting for some time.
954 I invite hon. Members to read Clause 16 substituting the word "goods" for "seeds" where this is appropriate. They will see that we would then have a basic measure of consumer protection which could be put into other legislation. One would have to delete the references to "regulations", and I would like—although I doubt whether it will be possible for us to press this in Committee—to delete references to "regulations" to provide us with this basic measure. For example, we might slightly alter the opening of Clause 16, delete the first paragraph and substitute these words:In all transactions between sellers and buyers reliable and adequate information shall be afforded…and the remaining words of subsection (1,a) could continue, our having deleted the references to "regulations" where-ever they appear. If this were done one would have a basic measure to which all sales of seeds would have to conform.
I do not believe that it would be necessary to introduce any regulations at all, because the Clause would apply to all transactions. This is a matter on which I feel strongly. It bears on consumer protection, and I am always looking for ways and means of having a new law of contract. Perhaps this is not the right time to begin writing such a contract.
In Committee we shall need to clear up a number of questions which are in the minds of hon. Members, if not move Amendments. For example, what kind of royalties will be paid to those entitled to them under the Bill? Will the sums be laid down in the regulations, or will the plant breeder entitled to royalties have to negotiate trade contracts to get royalties? The hon. Member for All Saints referred to packeted seeds and the fact that a number of queries will need to be answered. We are laying down in the Bill the provision that sellers of seeds must place on their packets descriptions of the contents which are honest and straightforward. How will a complaining customer take action—and in this instance I am referring to the ordinary gardener and not the farmer—if the seeds do not run to type or if the result is not like the picture on the packet? This may be an important point. 955 The farmers, of course, can—or rather they already should—have the help of the N.F.U. if they find that they are getting seeds which are not true to the description given at the time of sale, but the little man, the ordinary gardener, seems to be left high and dry. He will have protection in law, but it will be very difficult for him to get the law applied.
Then there is the question of dealing with packeted seeds and protection for imports of deleterious seeds from abroad. I understand that the protection will operate where consignments of seeds come in through the ordinary trade channels, but what about those packets picked up abroad in the shops? A year or two ago I brought quite a lot of seeds back from California—I do not know whether I was breaking the law—and planted them in my garden. Some came up all right and some did not. The Californian sweet-peas were a complete wash-out. That, of course, may have been the result of how I planted them.
I do not know whether we could bring the private enterprise of individual gardeners who go abroad under any type of control. Of course, this is important when we deal with the point the hon. Member for Maldon made about cross-pollination. It may not be really important for gardeners but I do not know how, under the terms of the Bill, we are to arrange for a defence on the part of the seller of the seed against a complaint where the cause of the trouble is cross-pollination, for which he is not responsible. It will be difficult in these circumstances for any one to prove the defence.
§ Mr. Darling
Then, of course, we have the problem of arrangements which might have to be made to prevent cross-pollination. I do not know whether we can include this in the regulations or not. Indeed, there are several other problems and queries about the Government's intentions that we must pursue in Committee.
I hope that the Minister has consulted the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip on the prospects of 956 getting this Bill through Committee. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can tell us whether they have considered any arrangements to help us get the Bill on to the Statute Book quickly, because the congestion upstairs makes the prospect of the Bill becoming law before the General Election not too bright.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)
It is generally recognised on both sides of the House that the Bill is welcome not only to hon. Members but to the industry, to which it will be of advantage. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) asked why my right hon. Friend had mentioned only five schemes. That point was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine). My right hon. Friend was only giving examples. He is anxious to press ahead with further schemes as soon as possible and consultation with private breeders and the industry will be welcome.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) found difficulty in the Bill because, philosophically, he cannot accept it. I do not agree with his view. One point he raised was that perhaps we had not considered various alternative methods. They were very carefully considered when the Report of the Committee was published in 1960. We have fully consulted the industry and a statement of the Government's general policy of acceptance of the Report was made in 1961. That is sometime ago and no dissident voice has been raised until now. All these points have been gone into and, indeed, the Committee itself in Chapter V of its Report went into the various alternative methods.
My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) both mentioned the case of Government employees in the various research institutes. My hon. Friend made the point that their work belongs in part to the employing firm or Government Department. That is understood by the employees in these institutes. I am sure that the reference made by the hon. 957 Member for Hillsborough to this will be taken into consideration as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn also thought that compilation of the index would be too difficult. I do not think that this will be so because much work has already been done over the main field which my right hon. Friend intends to include in the scheme. I think that it may be a little tedious to compile the index but a lot of work has been done and is ready to be published.
§ Mr. Bullard
I was thinking of particular ranges of plants which might have to be included in the index. Surely ranges of plants will have to be covered which will be far outside the ranges likely to be covered by Part I of the Bill. When one comes to deal with the more unusual plants, if one is to make an index of one type one must make an index of the lot. If one starts to compile an index of varieties of sweet peas, for instance, one might come across some very profound difficulties. It was this that I had in mind.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I accept that in the the case of sweet peas—and, indeed, of daffodils—one might well run into difficulties over the varieties. But my right hon. Friend is considering starting with more well-known types of products and, in consultation with the industry, we shall be extending the types of products for which the index will be compiled as soon as we can. But that will not be until all the difficulties and problems have been fully considered. In reply to the hon. Member for Hillsborough, I would not say that packeted seeds for gardens have high priority in the mind of my right hon. Friend.
The basic difference between my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn and the Government is that my hon. Friend does not want plant breeders to get the rewards which he and we accept that they should have by the method proposed in the Bill. He would prefer out right grants. But that would be by far the most difficult way. The method proposed in the Bill is much better and more equitable.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East, raised the question of the definitions of seed and seed potatoes. A definition of seeds is included in the Bill to make it clear that the breeder cannot, 958 for example, claim a royalty on a crop which does not go for sowing but which goes to they mill. Seed potatoes count as seed for the purposes of the Bill except where special provisions apply to them. They are specially mentioned in Clause 26(4). I think that is a rather small point and I hope that the hon. Member is now with me on it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) made an important point, which was taken up by the hon. Member for Hillsborough about the difficulties which breeders find because of cross-pollination from other stock. He made particular reference to his part of the world. My right hon. Friend accepts that difficulty exists in this matter and he is giving very sympathetic consideration to seeing what can be done to get over the problem. Perhaps at a later stage something might eventuate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) raised three points. He spoke first about the rights of importers. I should make quite clear that it is only the breeder of a variety which has been bred who is to be empowered to register his right. An importer of a variety may apply for rights from the office only if he is acting as the agent of the breeder and not as the importer of that new variety. Other than that, foreign breeders will have just the same access to registration here as ordinary home breeders have to registration of their rights if necessary.
The second point raised by my hon. Friend was about novelty in new varieties. I must admit that this is one of the difficulties about the distinctness of variety in a new kind of plant which has to be established. This may well lead to difficulties later, but we intend to do the best we can, although I accept that it is one of the difficulties of definition.
The find point made by my hon. Friend was on action concerning the index to make it internationally accepted. We are not ourselves proposing an international copyright for plant names, but there will be international machinery for consultation on names if the convention comes into force and the member countries adhere to it. One would hope that when all the member 959 countries have ratified it, the variety name will be the same or suitably translated into the appropriate language.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rye asked if we had looked at systems operating in other countries, particularly the United States of America. He said that the system in existence there is very restricted. Although basically it is the same as the one we propose, it is of a more restricted type than is envisaged in the Bill. He also mentioned Holland, which is a member of the Convention and is in process of changing existing regulations to bring them into line with the convention and with the objects of this Bill. Regulations which follow the Bill will, I think, be generally accepted as right in the light of the international Convention. I hope that when the time comes we shall find this form adopted on a very wide front throughout the world, and that the international Convention will be adopted by a large number of countries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Hollingworth) was correct about the present position over the control of vegetable and flower seeds. The Bill we are considering covers flower seeds. Therefore, when it becomes law, the position will be rectified.
That covers most of the main points, apart from the one made by the hon. Member for Hillsborough in relation to Clause 16. I am very glad that he supported this as an example of good drafting. I think it is, although I do not go along with him in his desire to make it more rigid. I think the flexibility by which it gives my right hon. Friend power to make regulations is necessary to make it a really worthwhile Clause.
On the whole, I think it fair to say that there has been little dissension on the wide purposes underlying the Bill. I am certain that if we can get the various parts of the Bill on to the Statute Book in a reasonably short space of time it will 960 be of great advantage in the agricultural industry for the reasons my right hon. Friend gave when opening the debate. I think I have answered all the points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I recommend the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second Time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).