HC Deb 12 November 1975 vol 899 cc827-9W
Mr. Conlan

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is yet in a position to make a statement about the review of the activities of the Meat and Livestock Commission which his officials have been carrying out in consultation with the Meat and Livestock Commission and the trade associations.

Mr. Peart

My Department and the Department of Agriculture for Scotland have now completed the review of the Meat and Livestock Commission's activities which was announced during the debates on the MLC levy order last April. In the course of this review we sought the views of organisations representing the producers, meat traders and consumers and discussed them with the commission as well as the latter's own proposals.

The review has shown that there is now a general recognition that the MLC has a valuable rôle to play in the development of the livestock and livestock products industries. It has been a major objective of the review, therefore, to consider how the Commission's communications and consultative arrangements with the industries they serve can be strengthened and improved so that the Commission is able to give the best possible response to the needs of these industries. The review has established and the Commission fully accepts that there is scope for improvement in this area.

To this end the Government propose to introduce amending legislation at the first convenient opportunity to substitute for the present arrangements for appointing production and distribution committees a statutory obligation on the Commission to consult direct with industry organisations concerned about those matters which will affect their members. The industry organisations to be included in this arrangement will be specifically designated by my fellow Agricultural Ministers and myself, and it is intended that these consultative meetings shall normally be chaired by a Commissioner.

These changes will not apply to the Consumer Committee. This has functioned satisfactorily, and the particular considerations which point to the need for a change on the production and distribution side are not relevant in the case of consumer consultation.

During the review we received from the industry organisations consulted a number of helpful comments and suggestions intended to improve the balance and cost effectiveness of the Commission's activities. All these suggestions have been fully considered in consultation with the Commission. In many cases the suggestions are accepted by the Commission, but some involve technical judgments on which the Commission has reservations and others do not in the Commission's view take full account of the nature and aims of the activities in question. In such cases the Commission has expressed its readiness to discuss the suggestions further with the appropriate organisations through its consultative machinery. I hope the organisations concerned will respond accordingly, making full use of the improved consultation arrangements to which I have referred, as they are developed.

Industry organisations have felt that there was a need for more consultation about the Commission's overall budget and its related forward programme. The Commission must retain control over its own finances and its responsibility for determining its own budget, but I am sure that it is right that industry organisations should be kept informed about the overall make-up of the budget and should have an opportunity to express their views about its balance and the direction of new expenditure. The Commission recognises the value of improved arrangements in this area and it has suggested making an annual presentation of its budget to industry organisations. It is proposed to hold the first of these later this year. The presentation will include an explanation of expenditure on ongoing activities and will also indicate what funds have been specifically or provisionally allocated for new expenditure. I believe this will be an improvement in consultative arrangements and should go a long way to meet the views expressed by industry organisations during our review.