§ Sir A. Bossom
asked the Minister of Food if he will reconsider restoring the potato marketing board with its pre-war powers and, in addition, power to deal with surplus potatoes.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I have been asked to reply.
As I said in reply to Questions on 18th February, a support price system for the 1955 harvest has been agreed with the National Farmers' Unions subject to the level of support price to be determined for the 1955 harvest in the light of the Annual Review; and this support price system could be operated through a potato marketing board if one were reestablished. It is contemplated that the regulatory and trading powers of such a board would include power to deal with surplus potatoes.
§ Mr. Deedes
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether is now in a position to announce the results of the procedure for the initiation and approval of schemes under the Agricultural Marketing Acts which he promised he would undertake.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have now completed our review of this matter. Consultations have taken place with the National Farmers' Unions. We propose to make the following changes which can be carried out within the framework of the Agricultural Marketing Acts.
In order to give Members of Parliament an adequate opportunity to study any draft scheme, we propose that the interval between the laying of a draft scheme and its debate in Parliament should normally be at least four weeks. We also propose to make arrangements so that the list of producers, which Ministers are required to furnish to the promoters of a scheme, is used solely for registration purposes and not for purposes of propaganda on the scheme. This will be done by obtaining assurances from the 142W prospective members of the board that the official list will not be made available by the board to anyone but its own officers, or, with the approval of Ministers, any other person to whom the board would be permitted, under the relevant provisions of the Agriculture Act, to make such disclosure; and requiring that material circulated to producers on the basis of the official list should be strictly factual and impartial and should be approved by Ministers.
This will mean that any propaganda, in favour of or against the scheme, can only be conducted on the basis of the register of producers compiled by the board, to which both the board and objectors will have access. So as to provide sufficient time for producers to be canvassed by both the promoters and any objectors to a scheme, a longer interval than has been customary will be allowed between the coming into force of a scheme and the closing of the initial poll of producers; this interval will normally be at least ten weeks.
In addition, in order to make it quite clear that the conduct of the poll of producers is impartial, we propose that in future such polls should be conducted in their entirety by an independent person appointed by Ministers, and that the information to be given in the certificate of the result of any such poll should be prescribed in the scheme. The certificate, or such part of it as Ministers may approve, will be published. Finally, in order to provide reasonable opportunity for objectors to challenge the validity of a poll, and also to give more time for producers to register, the suspensory period between the declaration of the poll and the date on which the main powers in a scheme come into effect, should normally extend for six weeks.
We intend that the time limits contemplated in this procedure should normally be adopted for all future schemes but we would wish to retain discretion to shorten or lengthen these periods if it appeared in the general interest to do so in a particular case. In our opinion these changes in procedure will provide a fair field for both the promoters of, and the objectors to, any scheme, and ensure that the poll is carried out impartially.