HL Deb 04 July 1984 vol 454 cc282-3

3.7 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, which deals with a slightly more mundane matter than the subject we have just been discussing.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they intend to conduct the quinquennial review of the Apple and Pear Development Council.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, the Apple and Pear Development Council, the National Farmers' Union and the Transport and General Workers' Union are being consulted, and a survey of the views of all growers registered with the council and liable to pay its annual charge is currently under way. The observations of other interested parties are also being welcomed and will be taken into account by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for that Answer, I would ask whether he is aware that there is a rumour—I hope it is only a rumour—that the Government are thinking of doing away with the Apple and Pear Development Council? This would b a huge mistake in the circumstances of today in which we have a lot of EEC fruit coming in. I hope he can scotch that rumour straight away.

Would he agree that, in spite of some difficulties, the council has done a good job over the years? One could instance the United Kingdom Scheme which has really put British apples on the market in first class order. Any curb to those activities would be a huge mistake. The next question I would like to ask is on research. Fruit growing is a very technical subject and research is very important and has helped the fruit industry in this country to a tremendous extent. As we all know, the Government have reduced research in the agricultural industry. If a scheme is to come forward—I would ask if he is agreeing with what I am saying; the noble Lord is nodding—would he agree that to curb research in this very important industry would be a mistake? There has been a suggestion that the industry itself should provide some of the finance. Will the noble Earl give this time to develop before curbing any finances for research, at East Malling in particular?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, personally I would like to squash completely the rumour, if this is a rumour that is going around. It is certainly contrary to any rumours I have heard. As I understand it, the NFU has already indicated that it supports the council's continuation and the TGWU has formally recorded that it believes the council should continue in being. Also, the National Federation of Fruit and Potato Trades is in support of the continuation. My right honourable friend will obviously take all these views into account and I cannot foresee what his decision will be, but I would have thought it was more likely to be Yes than No, if I am not going too far. So far as research is concerned, there is very much a suggestion that the APDC does some funding of this and it is a matter for their own council to decide.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, does the answer of the noble Earl the Minister mean that the Government believe that this council ought to continue in existence? The answer from the noble Earl seemed, if I may say so, surprisingly confused. In particular, would great care be taken over the maintenance of the research work of the council? This has enabled the industry to increase the fruit yield, despite falling acreage, and improve the quality of the fruit, particularly of the best apple in the world, Cox's orange pippin.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I hoped that I was not giving too confusing an answer. As I said, it is up to my right honourable friend, but I suspect that there are good vibes rather than bad vibes, if I can put it like that. Obviously I cannot say what my right honourable friend's decision will be. I think I answered the question on research. So far as the Cox's orange pippin is concerned, I would agree entirely with the noble and learned Lord. In fact, I heard recently of a friend of a friend of mine who had an idea. He was going to do a little advertising on his own in France for that particular apple. His idea was to take an aeroplane across and on it he would have an individual Cox with a little parachute on it and a message that said, "Every little French tart deserves an English Cox". Unfortunately, my Lords, he lost his nerve at the last moment.