HL Deb 17 June 1975 vol 361 cc860-5

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move, That the Draft Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 6th May, be approved. The purpose of this draft Order is to amend and extend several Acts dealing with various agricultural matters and to provide powers to enable the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture to introduce a Carcase Classification Scheme. This authority is the only new substantive legislation incorporated in the draft Order. The other proposed amendments are of a relatively minor nature, concerned mainly with correcting defects and clarifying ambiguities in interpretation which have become apparent as a result of the Department's experience in the administration of the Acts concerned. All interested parties were consulted about the provisions of the draft Order before it was laid and no objections have been raised.

The provisions for a Carcase Classification Scheme are contained in Article 2 and correspond to provisions contained in the Agriculture Act 1967 under which the Meat and Livestock Commission in Great Britain have introduced a classification scheme. Northern Ireland's main market for meat is Great Britain and it is highly desirable to provide for a similar Classification Scheme as is operated in Great Britain. The article makes provisions regarding the characteristics and origins of carcases to which the scheme applies, the obligations of those involved in operating the Scheme, the collection of fees, the obtaining of information by authorised persons, and the offences and penalties in respect of various contraventions of the Scheme.

Article 3 provides for the amendment of the Agricultural Returns Act (Northern Ireland) 1939 (Reprint to 1967) in two respects. It will enable the Department to collect census returns in either metric or imperial measurement. It will also allow the Department to make available to the Department of Manpower Services statistics in relation to employment on farms. The Department has not got this rower at present in view of the very limited disclosure provisions of the Agricultural Returns Act. The Department of Manpower Services have at present powers to collect statistics of employment which include employment in agriculture, but it is clearly preferable that these should be obtained from an existing source and so relieve the farmer from the necessity of making two returns on the same matter to different Departments and at the same time save administration time and cost.

The Amendment in Article 4 to the Agricultural Wages (Regulations) Act (Northern Ireland) 1939 is designed to extend the definition of agriculture used in the Act to ensure that workers employed in intensive livestock units are covered by the wages legislation. These types of unit have developed since the orginal legislation was enacted, and it is proposed to replace the present definition of agriculture by that used in the Agriculture Act (Northern Ireland) 1949, which covers intensive units. Article 5 provides for the increase of the maximum fines for offences under the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954, the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 and the Horticulture Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. In each case the fines have not been altered since the Acts became law, and due to the decreased value of the pound the deterrent value has sharply decreased in the intervening period. The increases correspond to similar increases already in force in the equivalent Great Britain legislation.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have drawn the attention of the House to the use in Article 5(2) of the words a person guilty of an offence under any of the provisions of the Horticulture Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 other than under Section 31(1) of that Act", and point out that Section 31(1) does not create offences but merely refers to offences under other sections of the Act and provides for the penalties and mode of trial of those offences. The two subsections of Section 31 are mutually exclusive. This Article amends the penalties provided by subsection (2) but not those provided by subsection (1), and it is the introductory words of paragraph 2, excluding the offences referred to in subsection (1), which refers to "offences other than offences under subsection (1)". It may be that the Committee would have preferred the wording to be something like, "offences other than those mentioned in section 31(1)", but the existing wording is to my mind clear and not open to misinterpretation. It also has the advantage of being more concise. While the introductory words are, as I say, unequivocal, the Article goes on to effect the amendments by textual amendment of Section 31(2) of the Act of 1966, thus making doubly sure that the effect of the paragraph is beyond doubt.

A further amendment to the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 is contained in Article 6. The minimum age at which a child may legally drive or ride on prescribed agricultural machinery is 13 at present. The amendment will enable the Department of Agriculture to exercise some discretion in making regulations, particularly in view of the more sophisticated and powerful machines now used on farms. It is likely that although a minimum age of 13 for tractors is probably sensible, something rather higher for a very large combine would be desirable.

The purpose of the amendments in Article 7 is to make clear that the inspection of potatoes when required under the Marketing of Potatoes Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 may be by sample. This was not specifically stated in the original Act, although in fact it has been standard and accepted practice to carry out inspections in this way. Accordingly, inspection by sample could have been challenged in the courts. The amendment proposed puts the matter beyond doubt. A consequence of the sample inspection procedure is that at second or check inspections the consignment may be rejected on the grounds that it does not conform to the standard, rather than that it has ceased to conform. Again it is a matter of proper legal expression of the position.

Article 8 contains six amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 which forms the legislative basis for all Northern Ireland Marketing Schemes. Some of these amendments deal purely with drafting. In addition, provision is made for the extension of the powers available for Marketing Boards in Northern Ireland, as is already the case in Great Britain, to permit them to delegate duties to other persons without being required to co-operate directly with them. Article 8 also provides for the treatment of offences against regulations under Section 6 of the Act, should such regulations be considered necessary in the future, and for the extension of the powers of authorised officers in connection with the inspection of premises under Section 19 of the Act so that these officers are able to remain on the premises and observe continuous processes over a period of time.

Article 9 provides for a minor amendment to the Horticulture Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 by substituting metric for imperial measurement, to take account of impending metrication in the horticultural processing industry. Since the weight mentioned is a minimum one below which licences are not required for the purposes of using premises for the processing of horticultural produce, it is not considered necessary to provide for both metric tonne and imperial ton.

Article 10 provides for amendment of the Schedule to the Agricultural Trust Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. Before entering into any contract for the supply of goods or the execution of any works to the value of £500 upwards, the Trust must give at least 10 days public notice. It is now proposed to empower the Department of Agriculture to determine the limit in the light of prevailing circumstances. This will not of course absolve the Agricultural Trust from the necessity to follow the standard procedure for all public bodies of asking for a suitable number of tenders in order to ensure that the cost in every case is reasonable.

The proposed extension to Section 2 of the Plant Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 contained in Article 11 will permit the Department of Agriculture to prosecute offenders against the regulations made under Section 2 directly under its own legislation. At present the Department must operate under the Customs and Excise Act 1952, and it is doubtful whether this Act would cover movement of plant material between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The amendment will strengthen the Department's powers to ensure that Northern Ireland maintains its high standard of plant health. This Article also empowers the Department to include in its regulations under this Act provision for the recovery of expenses incurred by the Department or a local authority as a result of a person failing to carry out the requirements of the regulations.

Finally, Article 12 widens the powers of the Department under the Development Loans (Agriculture and Fisheries) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 to make loans for the purchase of land for agricultural purposes by new entrants to farming. At present the Department is empowered to make loans for land purchase only in respect of approved amalgamations. Loans will be restricted to those applicants who can satisfy the Department that, by their training or previous experience, they are likely to become efficient farmers. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 6th May, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.