HL Deb 20 April 1971 vol 317 cc600-3

6.22 p.m.

LORD DENHAM rose to move, That the Draft Amendments of the Potato Marketing Scheme, 1955, as amended, laid before the House on April 6 be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft amendments to the Potato Marketing Scheme which are now before the House would increase the powers of the Potato Marketing Board. A very important function of the Board is to co-operate with the Government in its policy for maincrop potatoes. This co-operation takes two main forms—influence over acreage planted and support buying of potatoes in years of surplus.

The Government, after consulting the Board and the Farmers' Unions, decides what acreage of potatoes is needed each year to meet demand. The Board then fixes a quota acreage for each registered producer. If yields were stable, there would be no further problem, but because they vary so widely this acreage arrangement is not enough to prevent surpluses. When there is a surplus (this year the surplus is nearly 1 million tons) the Board buys potatoes from growers and either re-sells them for stock feed or, if it does not do this, pays the grower compensation. The Government contributes towards the cost of this market support. At present it is paying two-thirds of the cost, but there is to be a change which would increase the Government's normal share to two-thirds on the first 200,000 tons for which the Board contract and three-quarters of the remaining cost. The details of this have still to be agreed with the Board. The Board collects contributions from growers. The ordinary contribution is paid on a grower's quota acreage, and is currently £3 per acre. If he plants more, he pays this £3 and an extra £25 excess acreage contribution in addition.

In May, 1970, the Board submitted to my right honourable friends amendments to the Potato Marketing Scheme. My right honourable friends provided an opportunity for objections to be made, and a public inquiry was held. The commissioner who conducted the public inquiry reported to my right honourable friends in February this year. In the light of the objections and the report, my right honourable friends modified the Board's amendments. The draft now before your Lordships incorporates the amendments as so modified. The most important concerns the ordinary contribution. The wording is complicated, but the purpose is to set limits on the rate the Board may fix. Each grower would be told what contribution he had to pay in any year. The limits are as follows.

First, for 1971 the contribution could not be higher than £4.03 per acre. For later years, the maximum would be limited in two ways. First, the figure of £4.03 would be increased in proportion to changes in the guaranteed price and the average yield of potatoes. This means, for example, that the Board would not be allowed to fix for any year a contribution which was more than 6 per cent. higher than the contribution actually payable for the previous year, unless the guaranteed price and the average yield had changed in such a way as to bring the maximum up to this level. But also, even if this formula allowed an increase of more than 6 per cent., the Board could still impose such an increase only if the producers were consulted and they accepted the higher contribution. They would do this if they did not request a vote on it, or alternatively, if a vote were taken and a two-thirds majority of those voting were in favour.

The second purpose of the draft amendments before the House is to give the Board power to relieve a grower of liability to pay the ordinary contribution in exceptional circumstances—for example, if flooding prevented him from harvesting his potatoes. At present, the Board can give this relief only for the excess acreage contribution, which is payable on acreage planted by a grower over and above his quota for any year. Finally, the draft amendments would fix lower and more convenient maximum charges for supply by the Board of certain documents—for example, extracts from the register of producers or copies of the Board's balance sheets.

So far, my Lords, I have spoken about the draft amendments as they are now before the House. The Board made one more proposal which my right honourable friends were not prepared to recommend this House to approve. Under this proposal, the whole basis of fixing the ordinary contribution could have been changed if a poll of registered producers had been taken and two-thirds of those voting were in favour of the change. My right honourable friends rejected this proposal because they considered that such an important change in the Board's powers ought not to be made unless the full procedure laid down in the Agricultural Marketing Act were completed. My right honourable friends are satisfied that the Board should have the additional powers which these draft amendments would give to it, and would make responsible use of them. I therefore recommend your Lordships to approve the draft Amendments. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Amendments of the Potato Marketing Scheme 1955, as amended, laid before the House on April 6 be approved.—(Lord Denham.)


My Lords, I am of course a supporter of marketing schemes for agricultural produce, and I regard the Marketing Acts 1931 and 1949 as very great steps forward in the selling of the products of our farms. But I can well understand the feelings of frustration and annoyance with such schemes when producers are met with the sort of jargon to be found in the draft Amendments now before the House. Even as one used to reacting Bills and Acts of Parliament I found the amendment to sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 84 of this Scheme complicated and difficult, in comparison with which the existing subparagraph is a marvel of clarity.

I invite the House to look at all this stuff about "the actual rate", "the average yield", "the formula rate", and the multiplication of the formula rate by the guaranteed price and by the total of the average yields for the three previous calendar years divided by the total of the average yields for the first three of the four previous calendar years with the actual rate of ordinary contribution for any calendar year not to exceed by more than six per cent. such rate for the preceding calendar year unless any such actual rate, not exceeding the formula rate for that calendar year, has been approved on a poll of registered producers, … and so on, and so on.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for having explained this, and I hope that his explanation will be available to every egg producer—I beg your Lordships' pardon; I mean potato producer: I am getting my fish and chips and eggs mixed up a bit. I wish the potato producers who happen to like to work things out for themselves, and do not take for granted the words and calculations of the Marketing Board, joy of that paragraph, but confidently predict a massive increase in the sale of ice-bags for overheated brows. This really is jargon of the worst possible sort. Surely it should be possible to produce words which would be understandable to the men who will produce the potatoes and will have to pay the levy to the Marketing Board.

Apart from all that, as I understand it, these draft Amendments have been through the mill of publication, receipt of representations and a public inquiry, and in the circumstances I agree with the noble Lord that this House should approve the Motion that is now before it, deplorable though I find the jargon in which the Order is couched.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Champion, for his Order. I can assure sure that his other to the appropriate quarter.

On Question, Motion agreed to