HL Deb 05 February 1996 vol 569 cc71-3

7.13 p.m.

Lord Lucas rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th November he approved [5th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, since 1882 there has been a requirement under the Corn Returns Act for all first hand purchasers of grain in England and Wales, and since 1954 in Scotland, to complete a weekly return showing the volume and price of purchases made. This currently places a requirement on some 1,400 businesses to complete and forward the required data to the Home-Grown Cereals Authority, which collects it on behalf of the Government.

In 1994, my noble friend Lord Howe set up a working group comprising both officials and industry representatives in order to review the requirements of the Corn Returns Act. The working group confirmed the continued importance to Government and industry of the data collected under the Act. However, it also recommended that the requirement to complete returns could be lifted from the very smallest traders—who accounted for less than 1 per cent. of the total purchases—without compromising the value of the resultant data. Subsequent wider consultation with the industry supported this recommendation which is being implemented by the order before you today.

Under the order traders who purchase fewer than 1,000 tonnes of British corn during any one harvest year—a harvest year runs from 1st July to 30th June—will no longer be liable to submit corn returns during the subsequent year. This will remove the return requirement from some 800 small businesses, resulting in total estimated saving to those businesses of around £100,000 a year.

With the support of the industry, the order also provides for a relaxation of the current requirement for returns to be in writing and signed. This effectively means that purchasers have to send a signed copy of the corn return by first class post. This is clearly outdated. In future, regulations made under the Act must specify at least one alternative way of submitting returns.

Since it was first laid before Parliament in June 1995, the order has been the subject of careful study by the House of Commons Deregulation Committee and this House's Select Committee on the Scrutiny of Delegated Powers. Both committees recommended acceptance of the order without amendment. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th November be approved [5th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].—(Lord Lucas.)

Lord Carter

My Lords, once again, we have to thank the Minister for explaining this important order. If I heard him right, he said that the Act was introduced in 1882 but it did not apply to Scotland until 1954. Why did it take Scotland 72 years to catch up with the rest of the UK? The Minister need not answer my next point now, but I would he interested to learn the actual definition of "corn" under the Corn Returns Act. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, is in the Chamber. She may remember that we debated an order which stated that oilseed rape had to become a cereal for a levy to be collected on it under the 1965 Act. I presume that "corn" includes wheat, barley, oats and rye. I would be interested to learn whether what I have mentioned is the case. The one other provision, I presume, is to allow for the use of the Internet, computers or something similar. With those observations, I support the order.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I think the likely provision is for fax. I do not think the Internet has caught up with most corn traders yet. As the noble Lord said, corn comprises wheat, barley, oats, rye and maize. For the purpose of this order it does not include oilseed rape which is not deemed to he a cereal for these purposes. Perhaps in future it will be but that is not the case now.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until twenty-five minutes past seven o'clock.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.17 to 7.25 p.m.]