HC Deb 23 June 1993 vol 227 cc329-31

'.-( 1) As soon as reasonably practicable after granting an application under section 2 or 5 above, the authority granting the application shall make public in such manner as it thinks fit—

  1. (a) the fact that it has granted the application, and
  2. (b) the principles of the approved scheme or, as the case may be, of the approved variation.

(2) As soon as reasonably practicable after deciding under section 6 above to withdraw an approved scheme's approval, the authority making the decision shall make its decision public in such manner as it thinks fit.'.—[ Mr. Jack.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

5.10 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also Government new clause 17—Publicity for determinations (No. 1).

Mr. Jack

With your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall make a short statement for the clarity of the House. I wish to inform the House that my wife and I held between us some 4,000 shares in Northern Foods plc which were acquired as a result of the company I worked for before coming into Parliament being taken over by Northern Foods. I say this as a matter of courtesy to the House.

I turn now to new clause 18 with which there are clearly parallel measures in clause 17. The Bill would require a milk marketing board to bring the principles of its reorganisation scheme to the attention of registered producers. Ministers would have to consult representatives of producers, processors, retailers and consumers of milk.

The principles of the scheme will be in the public domain. Under the provisions of clause 4, the reorganisation scheme may be modified between submission and approval if Ministers cannot approve the scheme in its original form. A scheme as approved may therefore be different from that originally submitted for approval.

If Ministers decide to approve a scheme, it is important that those affected by it should know what has been approved. The new clause would require Ministers to make public the principles of an approved scheme. The same format would apply to any proposed changes to the potato marketing board. The new clause would also require Ministers to publicise any approved variations to the scheme. That is in the spirit of ensuring that all those who need to know what is going on can find out the facts.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

I preface my remarks by congratulating the Minister on his appointment. I hope that he finds his term of office rewarding and worth while.

The new clause is better than nothing. It focuses attention on one of the Bill's great weaknesses. We have received considerable support from industry, and certainly from the Dairy Trade Federation which agrees that it is wrong that the new scheme is not subject to parliamentary approval.

The Bill should have provided for the approved reorganisation scheme setting up the successor body and associated matters to come before both Houses of Parliament for approval. There is no question but that we are talking of something of tremendous importance to the agriculture industry, food industry and consumers in Britain.

My second point focuses on what we consider to be the other flaw in the legislation. The new clause makes it clear that the applicants will be the boards. It refers to "after granting an'application", but an application may be made only by the England and Wales milk marketing board, the Northern Ireland milk marketing board or the Scottish milk marketing board. That substantially predetermines the outcome of the revised arrangements.

If the only scheme that can be approved is one that is submitted by a board, the boards will put forward single co-operative arrangements or something along those lines. The new clause rules out completely the option of integrated regional milk co-operators which certainly should have been given careful attention. That option would have provided for a number of integrated co-operatives owned by the producers covering England and Wales.

The requirement that the only scheme that can be approved is one submitted by the board pre-empts us. We will have a huge, voluntary single co-operative, probably dominating the marketplace. We are grateful, to the Minister for his clarification of the new clause. Of course it is desirable that such matters should be brought to the attention of the public. We simply regret that the revised schemes are not subject to parliamentary approval.

Mr. Jack

I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman makes and I thank him for his most courteous and kind words of welcome to the Dispatch Box. However, there was uniformity of agreement in Standing Committee that everyone wanted these matters to be dealt with as quickly as possible. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the additional process that he suggested would slow up the measure.

The hon. Gentleman's remarks were very much addressed to the successor to the milk marketing board, but that will not be the only thing on offer. As we already know, other interested parties are proposing their own schemes which involve the taking of milk for the purposes of manufacture or liquid milk delivery. Those in the dairy industry will have to consider a multiplicity of alternatives.

In Standing Committee, on Second Reading and now, Ministers who will have to make the decision on what is an appropriate scheme, as detailed in clause 3, will obviously take into account the concerns put to them in the House, but bearing in mind the large number of people who will look carefully at the successor schemes and the points that they put forward. There will be a widespread public debate as people consult and discuss the issue and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the principal details will be laid in the Library of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Forward to