HL Deb 28 July 1986 vol 479 cc621-4
Lord Belstead

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Apple and Pear Development Council Order 1986, which was laid before the House on 26th June, be approved.

This order is presented in accordance with the requirements of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947. The effect of the order will be to replace, with amendments, the Apple and Pear Development Council Order 1980. I should like to explain briefly why it has been necessary to make a replacement for the 1980 order rather than simply amend it again, and then go on to describe the three main changes which this order will bring about, if your Lordships agree to it.

The reason for replacing the 1980 order rather than amending it is that the 1980 order, and the amendment order made later the same year, were both faulty. Your Lordships may recall that at Report stage of the Agriculture Bill the Government tabled a new clause which has the effect of validating the two faulty orders retrospectively. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, was kind enough to agree that the amendment was in a good cause. Since the fault with the two orders was rather an obscure one, and since I explained it at some little length to the House on that occasion, I do not propose to go into it again unless your Lordships wish me to do so. Suffice it to say that we felt it desirable also to bring forward this replacement order to put matters on a proper legal footing for the future.

Three main changes are proposed in this draft order. First, it is proposed to raise the maximum rate of levy that may be charged from £40 per hectare to the £65 specified in Article 9(l)(a). I emphasise that this is the maximum; it is not the current levy, which in fact stands at £33 per hectare. The increase in the maximum rate of levy is being sought in order to allow the council the possibility of raising its levy above £40 in the future.

The council has, in fact, sought the approval of my right honourable friend the Minister to raise the levy for this coming year from £33 to £45, subject to this order being passed. There is good reason for an increase of this size. The council has decided that it, like other sectors of horticulture, should contribute to the funding of R & D projects, and £ 10 of the proposed increase is for this purpose. The remaining £2 is to cover increased costs over the two years since the levy was last increased. My right honourable friend is consulting the National Farmers' Union about the council's proposal for next year's levy. The National Farmers' Union was consulted on this proposal to raise the maximum possible rate of levy and said that it would prefer to see the maximum levy increased to £60, rather than the £80 proposed by the council. The NFU has since indicated that this proposed increase to £65 per hectare is acceptable. We, in turn, feel that £65 is sufficient to give a ceiling to allow the council to enhance its activities in the way that it envisages over the next few years. That is the first main proposal in the order.

The second proposed change in this order concerns the definition of "the industry" in Article 2. This is a somewhat technical change, but the purpose is to make clear that growers who process some or all of their apples or pears on their own premises into fruit juice, for example, and do not therefore sell them as apples and pears, are nevertheless liable for levy on their whole growing hectarage.

The third proposed change concerns the increases in the levels of penalties in Article 12 and the fee chargeable to those who wish to examine the Register of Growers under Article 6. The penalties in question, which are set out in Article 12(1), 12(2) and 12(5), were set at the level of £50 by the 1966 order and have not been increased since. These increases to £400 are necessary therefore to update the fines to today's values and restore their deterrent effect. I should perhaps mention that we have removed from Article 12(5) the possibility of imprisonment of growers for knowingly making false returns.

The charge for examining the register is to be increased from 10 pence to, a fee not exceeding one pound". I should make clear that the Register of Growers contains only names and addresses of growers and not any other personal or business information about them. I also assure your Lordships that the council is properly registered with the Data Protection Registrar as required by the Data Protection Act 1984.

Finally, I should say that the changes proposed in this order have been the subject of full consultations with the council and other interested parties. Consultation is of course generally undertaken, but in this case it is actually a requirement of the 1947 Act. The changes proposed are, I believe, acceptable to the interested parties.

During its nearly 20 years of existence, the Apple and Pear Development Council has served the industry well. We know from the poll of growers carried out during the review of the council in 1984 that the majority of growers accept that the council has an important role to play and they recognise the contribution that it has made up to now. With the advent of industry funding of R & D and Food from Britain the council's role is certainly not likely to diminish, and it is important that it should have sufficient scope to raise its income in order to fulfil these new responsibilities. This will enable the industry to face the future with greater confidence and to meet the increasing competition likely to come both from without and within our shores. I therefore have pleasure in commending this draft order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th June be approved. [26th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, we are obliged to the Minister for putting this order before us and explaining, as he did a week or two ago, the necessity for change because of some faults. He is right in saying that it is better to bring in a completely new order rather than to amend the old order. Have there been any recriminations or claims because of this fault? It would be interesting to know whether there has been anything of that nature.

A week or two ago we passed the Horticultural Development Council Order under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act. Why do we need two bodies to deal with horticulture and apples and pears? Why apples and pears alone? Why not plums and greengages? The present Government are keen to do away with quangos, and so on. Here is an opportunity to amalgamate two, which would probably save a lot of money, premises, and so on. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

How much money does the maximum figure raise? How much money is required each year? Did I hear the Minister say that the council had to have a change in the amount passed by the ministry before it could be applied, or can it go right up to the maximum of £65 without asking permission? I though the Minister said that it could.

Those are the points that interest me in regard to this order. However, the noble Lord may remember that during the discussion on the last order I raised the rather tricky point that people with a conscience would not join organisations. It is not that they are unwilling to pay the levy or the charges, but that they do not want to become members of an organisation. Does the same situation arise here, and has the Minister been able to do anything about those people who have approached us in this respect?

In the meantime, as the Minister said, the NFU is perfectly happy with this order, and we also give it our blessing. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on the small points I have raised.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am glad to say that I do not think there have been any recriminations as a result of the invalidity of the previous orders and the necessity to replace them.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, asked an interesting question as to why the Horticultural Development Council is being set up while at the same time we continue with an Apple and Pear Development Council. The answer is that the Government turned to the horticultural sector and asked whether it was prepared to raise money for research and development, and we felt from the informal consultations that took place that it would be well worth going out to a poll of growers. We then had to have regard to the organisations which already exist. The noble Lord will remember that the apple and pear growers have their own Apple and Pear Development Council, and the mushroom growers have their own association. They also wish to raise their own money for research and development. With regard to the rest of horticulture, we polled the growers who agreed that a Horticultural Development Council should be formed. Therefore, if the order is agreed to, the members of the Apple and Pear Development Council will be doing the same as the members of the Horticultural Development Council.

What the Apple and Pear Development Council intend to raise for research and development by way of an additional levy will work out at about the same per grower as the levy being raised from those within the scope of the Horticultural Development Council.

The noble Lord asked me whether the order's main effect, which allows the levy to be raised to a maximum of £65, means that the Horticultural Development Council could raise the levy to £65 without coming back to Parliament. The answer to that is yes. It will be the maximum allowable. As I said, we and the industry know that the council intends asking for only £12 more. Added to £33 that means that it will be looking for a £45 levy next year, if the order is agreed to.

The noble Lord asked two further questions. I am rather ashamed to say that I cannot tell him the total amount that is raised by the order. If I may, I shall write to him on that point. He mentioned the Exclusive Brethren. It happens that the Ministry is not aware that any members of that sect happen to be apple or pear growers. The point, which the noble Lord is right in remembering, is still a matter of consideration and I hope discussion which will lead to a conclusion in the near future. I shall get in touch with the noble Lord about that point when I have something to report to him.

On Question, Motion agreed to.