HL Deb 16 May 1995 vol 564 cc410-1

2.53 p.m.

Lord Cornwallis asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their interpretation of the European Union's apple-grubbing directive has disadvantaged fruit growers; and, if so, what plans they have for compensation.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, we believe that the steps which the ministry has taken have benefited growers. I believe the Question refers to one of the scheme's conditions which could have led to bad husbandry. The ministry's legal advice was that the Commission regulation required that condition for effective enforcement. However, MAFF officials pursued the matter vigorously. As a result, the Commission issued an interpretative note which will allow us to solve the problem and will be most helpful to growers in the scheme.

Lord Cornwallis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. First, I declare an interest as the president of English Apples and Pears, although I am no longer a fruit grower and have no financial interest in the Question. I should not like the Question to pass without saying publicly what tremendous support the horticultural division has given the industry over the past 18 months. Will the Minister assure the House that those who have suffered severe financial loss which they believe to be due to incorrect advice will receive a sympathetic hearing from the ministry if they present a case?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, as the noble Lord pointed out, the ministry has already demonstrated its willingness to help the industry. It is open to any grower at any time to make representations to the ministry. They will he considered. While I cannot readily see a case for compensation, I underline the point that the ministry has sought at all times to help growers in relation to the apple-grubbing scheme. On a more general level, it works closely with growers and their customers to ensure the future success of English apples.

Lord Renton

My Lords, bearing in mind that the apple-grubbing scheme was not fundamental to the CAP's purposes and policy, was the directive necessary? Could not we avoid having such directives in future?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, it was a regulation rather than a directive. It sought to strike some balance in the European apple market so that demand and supply were better equated. An excess of supply—in bad years there were notorious gluts—means that low prices cause growers to lose considerable amounts of money, and it also costs money to put apples into intervention.

Lord Carter

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that of all the member states of the European Union only the UK told its growers that their right to take the partial grubbing grant was conditional and that the condition proscribed any future replanting beyond the confines of existing retained orchard areas? It seems that the UK got it wrong. Do the Government now intend to put it right?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, we got nothing wrong. We interpreted the regulation and on that basis carried it into our own legislation. As the noble Lord will he aware, there was considerable pressure from the industry, both here and on the Continent, to bring in such a scheme. It was therefore processed quickly. The UK was not the only nation to ask for interpretative notes after the scheme had been published.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, so that we may study the matter further, will the Minister inform the House whether the regulation was subject to the approval of the Agriculture Council, or was it issued direct by the Commission under previously delegated powers? I ask the question because the replies seem to be a little unsatisfactory and one would like to investigate them further.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, the directive was agreed by the Agriculture Council. The regulation was agreed to by the management committee. So it was done through the normal procedures and subject to the normal checks and balances.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the Minister said that he believed that it was right that we should have a regulated market in apples. Is he aware that some of us are put out that we should hear that from a Conservative? Does he agree that there are many other markets which would benefit from regulation?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I was not suggesting that we wanted a regulated market in apples. The market presently suffers a weakness due to the fact that there is a huge oversupply. There is also an intervention system which continues to encourage that oversupply. We are merely trying to bring the market back into balance. We are not seeking to regulate it, as the noble Lord implied.

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