HC Deb 21 February 1983 vol 37 cc773-5

Queen's Recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964, it is expedient to authorise any increase attributable to the said Act of the present Session in the sums payable out of money provided by Parliament or into the Consolidated Fund under the said Act of 1964—[Mr. Major.]

11.54 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Bill contains a provision for about £1,000 charge on public funds for the administration of the Bill. As the purpose of the Bill is perhaps to put money into other people's pockets, it might be interesting to know what the provision is for. The Bill, which has been read a Second time, raises a number of national and international issues hitherto unsuspected. I believe that for that reason it would have been better for the Bill, having left the House after Second Reading, to go to the new experimental public Bill Committee where its purport and methods of operation could have been studied by a Select Committee before it was further debated.

Unfortunately, that experimental provision is not in force during this Session, although it was in the previous Session, and that is why I moved the motion a minute or two ago, calling for a Select Committee, because without the Select Committee scrutiny I do not believe that the House will have dealt with the Bill in a proper and public fashion.

11.55 pm
Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I believe that the House would have benefited considerably from the advice of a Select Committee on this Bill. It has technical and international ramifications which may not be immediately plain from a Bill that looks so innocuous. I am sure that those hon. Members who have read the proceedings in Committee will be aware of some of those ramifications.

I should like to know the purpose of the money resolution. I am slightly puzzled, because page 3, clause 6(4), states: Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or on public funds, or vary the amount or incidence of or otherwise alter any such charge in any manner, or affect the assessment, levying administration or application of any money raised by any such a charge. Discounting all the gobbledegook, it seems to suggest that if the Bill is enacted we are not entitled to charge any more money. It may, of course, be a technicality arising from the fact that the Bill started in another place, but if it is the Minister should explain the subsection. The Minister should also explain what she can usefully buy with £1,000 of public funds. We are nowadays accustomed to talk in terms of £1 million or £1 billion. What one can buy for public expenditure of £1,000 is a little obscure.

Before we pass the money resolution we should have an explanation from the Government about why they objected so strongly to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South that the Bill's ramifications should be examined by a Select Committee. It is unfortunate that the Lord President has declined to reactivate the system the Government introduced last Session or the previous one of special Select Committees. I accept that we cannot examine the Bill under that procedure because the resolution has not been put down. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South said, it would still have been possible to have committed it to a Select Committee under the existing Standing Orders of the House. It is a great pity that that opportunity was missed. It may, of course, lengthen our proceedings in Committee more than would otherwise have been necessary.

I am interested to know what this £1,000 or £2,000 will be spent on, with the rate of inflation that we have had under the Government, and what exactly is the purport of clause 6(4) which seems to say that the Bill is not entitled to make any charge. No doubt the Minister will enlighten the House on those points before we agree to the money resolution.

11.59 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

I shall not get drawn into the arguments for sending the Bill to a Select Committee, because a vote on it has been taken.

It has been pointed out that the money part of the Bill is likely to be minimal. The Bill introduces amendments to part I of the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964, which established the system of plant breeders' rights in the United Kingdom. The Bill has three primary purposes—to provide for an increase in the maximum period for which plant breeders' rights are exercisable from 25 to 30 years and the minimum period from 15 to 20 years; to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the 1978 revised text of the international convention for the protection of new varieties of plants; and to make certain other amendments that have become necessary since the enactment of the original legislation to take into account changes in the plant breeding and marketing industries, and other factors.

The financial effects of the Bill are minimal. However, the following clauses may be perceived to have minor financial implications. Clause 1 provides for the increase in the periods of protection referred to. As fees for the combined exercise of the grant of rights are payable on an annual basis, it may be expected that the provision will increase the income from that source, but as normally only a small proportion of varieties are retained for the full period of grant—a point I made in Committee—the additional income is not expected to exceed £1,000 to £2,000 per year for the foreseeable future.

Clause 1 at the same time repeals the provisions whereby the Controller of Plant Variety Rights may extend the periods of protection in cases where he is satisfied that the holder of rights has not been adequately remunerated by his grant. That should produce a saving of administrative costs involved in considering applications for extension.

Clause 2 enables Ministers to extend plant breeders' rights in certain species to the marketing of imported parts of products of varieties protected in Great Britain. That would call for the amendment of statutory instruments, requiring small additional expenditure of administrative staff time and resources.

Clause 3 has two main provisions. Subsection (1) widens the scope of the factors to be taken into account by the controller in considering compulsory licence applications by requiring him to endeavour to secure that, where an export market exists for a variety, it is supplied from United Kingdom resources. Subsection (2) provides that representations in compulsory licensing applications involving a company in which the Government have an interest, such as NSDO Ltd, may be made by interested persons or organisations who will be afforded a hearing conducted by the controller or, indeed, any person appointed by him.

The effect of clause 3 could be to increase marginally the number of compulsory licence applications and the costs involved in processing them. It is not possible to quantify such extra costs, but they would be minimal and containable within existing resources.

Any additional costs resulting from the Bill will be contained within public expenditure limits. The money resolution is widely drawn and is intended to cover increased payments into the Consolidated Fund as a result of the extended periods of protection and any increased costs that result from the extension of powers in clause 2 and the widening of the scope of the controller's duties in clause 3.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964, it is expedient to authorise any increase attributable to the said Act of the present Session in the sums payable out of money provided by Parliament or into the Consolidated Fund under the said Act of 1964.