HL Deb 20 February 1990 vol 516 cc218-23

Baroness Trumpington rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the order is presented in accordance with the requirements of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947.

First, a brief history of the HDC and of the review process which has led to the draft amendment order may be helpful to your Lordships. The council was set up in July 1986 under the Horticultural Development Council Order with the primary function of commissioning research and development in horticulture on the industry's behalf. It is empowered, subject to approval of Ministers, to collect for that purpose a levy of up to ¼ per cent. of the value of growers' sales of horticultural produce, excluding potatoes, apples, pears, hops and, until now, mushrooms. Growers with annual sales of produce in excess of £25, 000 are liable for the levy and must register with the council. All 20 members of the council are appointed by Ministers.

Under Section 8 (3) of the 1947 Act, Ministers are required, not later than three years after the coming into effect of the development council order, to consult the council and organisations representative of substantial numbers of people trading and working in the industry as to whether the council should continue in being and whether any amendments to the order are necessary.

The Government have been most anxious at every stage to give the horticultural industry what it requires in terms of a development council. Prior to formal consultations, Ministers set up a joint working party of industry representatives and officials to consider whether changes in the organisation and functions of the HDC were needed to enable it to continue operating successfully. The resulting recommendations were put to representative organisations for them to consider in making their response to the formal review. The organisations consulted in May last year were the National Farmers Unions, the Farmers Union of Wales, the Horticultural Trades Association, the Transport and General Workers Union and the HDC itself. All of them were in favour of the continuation of the council. As a result, Ministers announced in July last year that the HDC would continue, provided that it had the support of individual growers themselves. Their support was to be tested through a poll.

As I said, mushrooms were not originally covered by the HDC. However, the Mushroom Growers Association passed a resolution at its 1987 AGM in favour of joining the HDC, subject to a poll of individual mushroom growers.

Both polls were held last October and the results were announced on 7th November. The result of the HDC poll was positive. Ministers confirmed their original decision that the council should continue, subject to the approval of Parliament. Mushroom growers also voted in favour of joining the council and their inclusion will make the body even more comprehensive.

Turning to the order which is before us, the main amendments now proposed were included in the prospectuses issued in conjunction with both polls and so have been approved by those growers who voted positively. I shall now deal with the principal amendments.

As I have already mentioned, Article 3 extends the definition of "grower" to include mushroom growers. It also extends the definition of "relevant accounting year" to make provision for an assessment period for the annual levy to be imposed on mushroom growers.

The table in Article 2 (2) of the 1986 order is replaced by Article 4. That sets out the period during which the charge is to be levied and the assessment period on which that charge is to be based. It now refers to mushroom growers.

The number of HDC members representing the interests of growers is increased from 14 to 16 in Article 5. Ministers will appoint two members to represent the interests of mushroom growers with effect from the commencement of the order. Article 6 amends the registration provisions, merely to include mushroom growers.

Article 7 of the order raises the maximum rate of levy on growers, other than mushroom growers, from ¼ per cent. to ½ per cent. of the value of his sales. However, the existing rate of ¼ per cent. will be retained in the 1989–90 levy period and the new rates will be phased in by charging ⅜ per cent. in 1990–91 and ½ per cent. in 1991–92. It also imposes a charge at a maximum rate of 7 pence per litre of mushroom spawn from mushroom growers whose annual puchases exceed 700 litres. The levy will initially be charged at 5 pence per litre. Since other growers are levied on the basis of annual sales, I should perhaps explain why a separate framework for the collection of levy from mushroom growers is being introduced. That is because it takes advantage of the centralised arrangements for the distribution of mushroom spawn to facilitate levy collection. It also has the advantage of being readily identifiable and should minimise levy avoidance.

An amendment is made in Article 7 (2) to clarify that costs of haulage and packing materials should be deducted from sales figures for purposes of assessing a grower's levy. Provision is also made for the deduction of costs associated with produce prepared for market in rateable packhouses. Both the measures avoid growers having to pay too high a levy in relation to their turnover.

Provision is made in Article 8 for the levy of fines in subparagraphs (1), (2) and (3) of Article 12 of the 1986 order to be amended to bring them into line with the Criminal Justice Act 1982. At present level 3 on the standard scale is £400.

Finally, provision has been made in Article 9 for a revised Schedule 1 which lists those products coming within the scope of the order to include mushrooms and trees for sale for amenity purposes. Both products will now benefit from HDC research.

It also defines that grapes should be excluded on the grounds that grapes grown in the UK are generally sold only in processed form as wine and it would be impossible to assess the levy. Conifers and Christmas trees have been removed from the list of products defined as being horticultural produce. This means that forest trees will no longer fall within the scope of the HDC. Research on such trees is carried out by the Forestry Commission.

It is proposed that the order should come into force on the day after it is made to allow arrangements for the collection of the levy on mushroom growers to be set in hand as soon as possible. In accordance with the terms of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947, a further review of the council's activities will be undertaken in five years' time. It only remains—the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be glad to hear—for me to commend this order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee] .— (Baroness Trumpington.)

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for detailing the order in the way that she has done and for putting us so firmly in the picture regarding the inclusion of mushroom growers in this order. We on this side of the House are in support of the order if only because it partly closes a gap in research funding for horticulture arising from reductions in government support attributable to near market research. We understand, for example, that the Ministry of Agriculture's spending will be down from £18 million in 1988–89 to some £10 million in 1991–92, which of course is a considerable reduction in its own right and even more so in real terms.

The horticultural industry is to be congratulated. It does not have the benefit of Community regimes which support prices for its products. Competition in horticulture is very intense and has become particularly so after the accession to the market of Spain and Portugal. Undoubtedly it will become even more intense post-1992. That emphasises the vital importance of research for horticulture. The £2–5 million which the levy is scheduled to produce is a very valuable token of the industry's commitment to research at the present time.

I noted that the British Society for Horticultural Research, for which MAFF is the lead department but which is to be tripartite, comprising three representatives from MAFF, three representatives from the Department of Education and Science and three representatives from industry, is to be based at the East Mailing Research Station. I know East Mailing principally as a centre for apples and pears, which are of course excluded from the order as defined in Schedule 1. In the light of that I wonder about the choice and whether it presages a merger with the Apple and Pear Development Council, recently established.

In another place when the order was discussed, in response to a query the Minister mentioned the fact that apropos the Brogdale fruit collection, constructive discussions were taking place with the Swale District Council. The Swale District Council was bitterly disappointed first of all at the decision to close Brogdale, which is in its area. It was even more disappointed at the decision to transfer Brogdale to Wye College. We are all grateful to learn that discussions with the district council are constructive. However, I wonder whether the Minister is in a position to say tonight how constructive the discussions currently are and whether there is likely to be a conclusion which is acceptable to the Ministry on the one hand and Swale District Council on the other.

We welcome the order and the adherence of mushroom growers to it. I sincerely hope that the research that it funds will prove useful to the industry in tackling the problems that it undoubtedly will face in the years ahead.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I wish that I too could welcome this order. It first appeared in the Minutes on 7th February that this Motion was to be moved this evening. Reference was specifically made in the Minutes on 7th February to the 8th Report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, as is required. That reference to the 8th report has been repeated every day in the Minutes since 7th February. The report of the joint committee was ordered to be printed on 6th February.

Last week I applied to the Printed Paper Office for a copy of the 8th report. It was not available. At 9.30 this morning I applied again. It was not available. I was told that if I came back at 10.30 a.m. some document might be available. It was. It is a document bearing on its front a rubber stamp stating: "Extract from uncorrected proof. I do not call that very courteous to this House.

The 8th report was critical of this order. It found it to be in some respects retrospective, although it is fair to say that the department has given an assurance that no use is to be made of the retrospective powers, which should not have been sought. Members and others interested in horticulture tend to live in the country. I do not suppose that there is the slightest hope that anybody living in the country could have had sight of a document which became available in uncorrected proof in the Printed Paper Office at 10.30 this morning.

I wonder why this Motion is moved this evening. It is only a draft order. There is no urgency about it so far as I know. I detected no note of urgency in the voice of the noble Baroness when she moved it. I ask her to withdraw the Motion this evening and to ensure that the 8th report of the committee is expedited. I do not suppose it matters whether it appears in typescript or print but I think we want a proof corrected copy. We want it to become available and for a decent interval to elapse so that noble Lords—in particular those living in the country —can read it, consider it and have it debated in this Chamber at some future date when those who are interested can come and discuss it.

In the circumstances of this case it is simply not good enough that this order should proceed this evening. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it and reintroduce it after there has been a fair chance to read the 8th report to which we have been referred.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, will forgive me if I deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, will be aware that it is for the usual channels to arrange when an order in my name is to be debated. Standing Order 69 governs the debating of Motions for affirmative resolution. The relevant provision of the Standing Order provides that: No Motion for a resolution of the House to approve an Affirmative Instrument shall be moved until.… there has been laid before the House the Report thereon of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments". My understanding is that for those purposes a report from the joint committee is laid before the House on the day on which it is made and entered in the Minutes of Proceedings—not on the day on which it is published. In the present instance the Horticultural Development Council (Amendment) Order was reported on 6th February. To that extent therefore I cannot accept that it was in any way improper or inappropriate to debate this Motion this evening.

The noble Lord has made the common sense point that there is little advantage in a committee of your Lordships' House considering and reporting on an instrument unless your Lordships have the benefit of that report in any debate. I am, however, given to understand that it has been a long-standing practice that where a report has not been published in time for a debate, the appropriate extract from the report is made available in the Printed Paper Office on the day of the debate. This was done, I am informed, by 10.30 this morning. In short, the report is, for all relevant purposes, available to Members of the House for the debate. I would, however, add that, following informal representations by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, on this point earlier today, the procedure for making an extract of the report available has been changed slightly to the extent that this will in future be done on the day before a debate.

In the present instance the usual channels considered whether the Motion on the order should be postponed from this evening because of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord. In the event it was decided that this should not be done, simply because it is, by and large, for the convenience of your Lordships that business should not be changed at short notice. I hope that this answers the noble Lord's concerns.

I shall now turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher. He asked me about talks with Swale Council. I am fully aware that Swale was extremely disappointed when the National Fruit Collection did not remain at Brogdale. It was an extremely difficult decision for me to make. No final decisions on the site have yet been made. The conversations are extremely promising in regard to its continuing role. We are finding out exactly what Swale wants to do. Good progress is being made and I very much hope that a fruitful —if that it not the wrong word to use —end will result because it would be complementary in many ways to Wye.

The noble Lord asked about the merger of the APRC and the HDC. The apple and pear growers felt that they needed a separate council. They are a rugged bunch and great friends of mine. I have been working on this matter for two years and I am extremely pleased that the order is now coming through. They prefer to go it alone at the moment. Perhaps at some future date when there is another review they will change their minds. But it is their own affair.

With regard to the centre for the BSHR, the principal site for horticultural research and development will be at Wellesbourne, not at East Mailing. East Mailing's offer to house the BSHR has been most gratefully accepted. That will be valuable.

I hope that I have answered most of the noble Lord's questions. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, asked about the retrospective nature of the order. As the House will know, we have great respect for the joint committee's views, and we have considered its comments carefully. But we cannot agree with it that the order contains a retrospective element in the true sense of the meaning, or that its meaning is unclear. The 1947 Act gives Ministers power to alter the maximum rate of levy that can be charged by an amending order. By simply increasing a levy which already exists, we are not imposing any new obligation to pay on the grower. Nor by increasing the maximum are we authorising an increase in the actual amount charged this year.

If no demand had already been made by the HDC it is true that Ministers would in theory approve a levy based on the new maximum. But the demand has already been made. Because of this the terms of the 1986 order would prevent the council from levying a supplementary increase. In our view therefore there is no question of the increase being retrospective. Indeed, the joint committee has already pointed out that this issue is an academic one. As my honourable friend in another place has already made clear, we have no intention of applying an increased rate until the levy period beginning 1st October 1990. I am delighted to be able to repeat those assurances here today.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I am much obliged to her but does she really believe that, on a matter concerning the country and country people, one day's notice is sufficient for noble Lords to grasp the matter and take part in the debate one day later?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I feel sure that the usual channels which arrange these matters will take note of the noble Lord's views. If they do not, he must press them there himself.

On Question, Motion agreed to.