HL Deb 20 May 1986 vol 475 cc212-5

7.57 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In presenting this Bill, which has been skilfully piloted through another place with no changes by my honourable friend Sir John Wells, I am faced with a dilemma. I can either spell out the exact meaning of every clause, which would take thirty minutes of your Lordships' time, to the fury of your Lordships and indeed the Whips, or, alternatively, as I hope that your Lordships will agree, it may be better for me to explain the Bill in my customary seven minutes, and if I cut a few corners no doubt your Lordships will cross-examine me and I shall attempt to fill any gaps when summing up.

The purpose of this Bill is contained in Clause 1, which gives authorised officers the power to control the movement of horticultural produce which has been found, on inspection, not to comply with the European Community grading rules. These rules are contained in EC Regulation 10/35 of 1972. Your Lordships may say—indeed I did—that surely horticultural produce was inspected and controlled prior to this Bill. The answer is, yes, under Part III of the Agriculture and Horticulture Act 1964, but the powers given in that Act do not give inspectors the right to control the movement of substandard produce, and have, regrettably, in the past allowed this substandard produce to disappear and then reappear, if I may put it in that way, on the market to the detriment of the trade and of course of the housewife, who will, quite correctly, complain that she is being sold rubbish.

That is the substance of this Bill. In order for it to be effective, Clause 1 gives powers to the inspectors, particularly in subsection (1), to prohibit the movement of produce not up to EC grade. The remaining subsections in Clause 1 describe how, and to whom, the order, or indeed notice, shall be given.

Clause 2 sets out the ways in which the prohibition on movement of substandard produce can be lifted. For instance, the inspector must allow produce to be moved if he is satisfied that no grading offence would be committed. The produce might be taken away and regraded, or indeed it might be reprocessed. For, as your Lordships obviously appreciate, for it to be regraded it is often necessary to move produce away from where it is inspected. However, the inspector must be satisfied that such permission to move substandard produce does not result once again in disappearances. The clause allows the inspector discretion to refuse movement if he is not satisfied. Perhaps I should say that Her Majesty's inspectors, small in number though they are, do an excellent job and are much respected for the way they carry out their work, often in the early hours of the morning.

Clause 3 allows the Minister to change by statutory instrument provisions in Clause 2 in the light of operational experience. But before so doing, under subsection (2) consultation must take place with the interested parties. Clause 4 deals with the offences and the fines for breaking the law; and Clause 5 extends the Bill to certain provisions of the 1964 Act relating to the obstruction of officers carrying out their jobs, and to the fines for obstructing them. Clauses 6 and 7, if I may say so, are technical.

I repeat that this Bill is in the best interests of the trade and producers who wish to ensure the marketing of high standards of produce, and, perhaps of more importance, is for the protection of the housewife (I hope I do not have to call her "the houseperson") who has a right to demand such high standards. I commend this Bill to your Lordships for approval, and beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Stanley of Alderley.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I think we must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, on the brief and very efficient way he has put this Bill forward. I am sure many of your Lordships would like to see it done more often in such a brief and concise way. There is no question about it: this short Bill is a very good one in that it keeps up the standard of graded produce and sees that any bad grades are not used, as the noble Lord said, out of the back door, where they may be not regulated, where nothing is done, and they try to go through the market again.

There has been a little criticism that it may restrict somebody who is producing or wanting to sell low grade stuff and that there may be a market for it. But when one looks at the situation, there are three grades of produce, I think. I forget the number of articles there are, but I think it is about 38. So it seems to me that there is fairly wide scope to market any quality under that system of three different grades.

I do not wish to say any more except that we give the Bill our blessing. As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said, the inspectors have a difficult job, and they were badly restricted in carrying out that job by the old system where they simply had no powers to hold the stuff while something was done about it if it was not up to standard. As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said, these inspectors do a very good job of work, but there are complaints that there are not enough of them. With those remarks we give this small and necessary Bill our blessing.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I also am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley for presenting this Bill to the House. It is a small but very worthwhile measure; it has received all-party support in another place; and I very much hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading here this evening.

The Government fully support the aims of the Bill, which will make the job of the marketing inspectors (to whom my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, both paid well deserved tributes) all the more effective, for as my noble friend has explained the Bill will make the enforcement of the European Community quality standards for fruit and vegetables more effective; for as my noble friend has explained the Bill will make the enforcement of the European our accession to the Community, are generally agreed to have made an important contribution over the years to improving both the quality and the presentation of British produce.

These improvements are vital if our industry is to thrive in today's marketplace, because we do not have the climatic advantages of many of our competitors and so we must use what measures we have to maintain our competitiveness. The resourcefulness and innovation of our growers is second to none, and I believe the great majority are committed to improving our marketing standards; but their efforts can sometimes be undermined by the action of a relatively few growers and traders who are prepared to evade their responsibilities under the existing law.

In practical terms, the Bill will give the horticultural marketing inspectors and equivalent officers in Scotland the power to put a "Stop" notice on detective produce to prevent it being moved. The "Stop" notices proposed in this Bill would simply enable inspectors to ensure that the defects in the produce were remedied before it was put on sale.

I would only add that those who will be most affected by these proposed powers—the horticultural growers and traders—have recognised the need for such legislation and in consultation have not objected to it. They understand that the Bill would prevent defective produce from being moved around in order to avoid being caught, and they recognise that this will be in the interests of the reputable majority who have to observe the standards. It will also be in the interests of all of us who are consumers of fruit and vegetables.

So, on behalf of the Government, I believe that this Bill gives an opportunity to remove an obstacle to the proper enforcement of the quality standards for fruit and vegetables, and to help prevent offences being committed. I am most grateful to my noble friend for moving it; and I am very glad to see the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, back in the House taking part in a debate on a horticultural Bill. My Lords, I support the Second Reading.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, for his kind words. I can assure him that Clause 2 meets the point he made, that if there is substandard material about and there is a home for it, possibly through processing by factories or regrading and coming back on the market regraded, these matters are within the power of the inspector under Clause 2.

I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Belstead for bringing to my attention the fact that this Bill went through another place with all-party support. This gives me personally great pleasure, because so often in agriculture it is not a party matter but is always for the best of the industry. I was particularly glad to hear my noble friend mention the resourcefulness and high standard of our growers. I can assure him that they intend to compete with foreign goods, and that they will be successful.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until nine o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.8 until 9 p.m.]