Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.



Tuesday 14 November 1989



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Alexander, Mr. Richard (Newark)

Boscawen, Mr. Robert (Somerton and Frome)

Bruce, Mr. Ian (Dorset, South)

Conway, Mr. Derek (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Curry, Mr. David (Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Davies, Mr. Ron (Caerphilly)

Emery, Sir Peter (Honiton)

Fenner, Dame Peggy (Medway)

Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Gregory, Mr. Conal (York)

Home Robertson, Mr. John (East Lothian)

Hood, Mr. Jimmy (Clydesdale)

Insley, Mr. Eric (Barnsley Central)

Jack, Mr. Michael (Fylde)

Taylor, Mr. John M. (Solihull)

Taylor, Mr. Matthew (Truro)

Williams, Mr. Alan W. (Carmarthen)

Wilson, Mr. Brian (Cunninghame, North)

Mr R J Rogers, Committee Clerk

3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 14 November 1989

[MR. TED LEADBITTER in the Chair]


10.30 am

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Apple and Pear Development Council (Dissolution) Order 1989.

The Chairman: With the agreement of the Committee, it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the draft Apple and Pear Research Council Order 1989.

Mr. Curry: The orders are being presented in accordance with the requirements of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947. The Apple and Pear Development Council (Dissolution) Order 1989 dissolves the Apple and Pear Development Council. The Apple and Pear Research Council Order 1989 establishes a new council. As its name suggests, its principal responsibility will be to collect and spend a levy for research and development in the apple and pear sector. I emphasise that there has been, at every stage, full consultation with the industry. The Government are anxious to give the apple and pear growing industry what it has asked for in terms of development councils, and that is precisely what the proposed new body does. I shall start with a brief account of the history of the Apple and Pear Development Council and the review process that led to today's debate. The council came into being in 1966. The idea for a council had emerged in discussions between the NFU and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food after the winding-up of the Horticulture Marketing Council in 1963 and its prime purpose was to promote home-grown apples and pears. In 1980, the council's functions were expanded to include "promoting or undertaking scientific research" and to provide for the "Kingdom" quality scheme. Although the council has always had its critics, I am sure that most people will agree that it has enjoyed some notable success and played a considerable part in enabling British growers to meet the competition that they face from imported fruit. I therefore take this opportunity to thank all those, past and present, who have been associated with it. The quinquennial review process has led us to propose the orders before the Committee today. The orders are made under section 8(3) of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947, which requires the Minister, at five-yearly intervals, to consult the council and organisations representing those trading and working in 4 the industry as to whether the Council should continue in being and whether any amendments to the development council order are necessary. In January this year the review began, and the National Farmers Union, the Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives U.K. Ltd., the British Independent Fruit Growers Association and the Transport and General Workers Union, were asked to submit their responses by mid-March. In addition to representations from those bodies consulted formally, the Minister received a large number of representations from individual growers and others. Most organisations consulted were in favour of the APDC continuing. A poll of all registered growers was undertaken, but most growers, indeed 64 per cent. of those voting, voted against the council continuing. At the request of growers' organisations, a second poll was held in May on changing the functions of the APDC as an alternative to winding it up completely. Views were sought on the possibility of confining the activities primarily to research and development funding. Although the poll did not form part of the statutory review process, it was conducted in the same way and among the same growers. The result showed that although the majority of growers believed that the commercial functions of the APDC should be handled in future by the industry itself, they would support a new statutory council exercising primarily R and D functions. Taking into account all the representations received and the results of the two polls, the Minister concluded that the APDC should be wound up and that a new council should be set up principally to promote and finance R and D in apple and pear growing. The dissolution order provides for the winding up and dissolution of the APDC. It is proposed that the dissolution order shall come into force seven days after it is made. Although the council has, since the announcement of the Minister's decision to wind it up, taken steps to run down its activities substantially, there will inevitably be some remaining work, for example the preparation of final accounts, which must be completed before it is finally dissolved. Article 3 of the order provides for the property, rights and liabilities of the council to vest in the Minister. It further permits any legal proceedings to which the council is party to be continued by or in relation to the Minister and for the Minister to pursue any requirement imposed by the council which remains unfulfilled on the dissolution date. Article 4 concerns the format and presentation of the council's accounts. As I have mentioned, the council has taken steps to reduce the level of its activities, and I am pleased to say that current forecasts indicate a modest financial surplus on dissolution. Nevertheless, the Act requires a dissolution order to provide for the imposition of a charge to raise any amount by which the council's liabilities exceed its assets. This is contained in article 5 of the dissolution order but I repeat that the latest forecast is that the APDC should be more than able to meet its known liabilities. Article 6 of the order provides for the Minister to pass on any surplus moneys to a new development council. The provisions for the settlement of the Council's debts and liabilities are contained in article 7 of the draft order, which also sets a time limit of three months during which creditors shall notify the Minister of any claims. 5 The new order basically sets up a new development council under the 1947 Act, with powers to raise an annual charge on commercial apple and pear growers, to be sent primarily on funding research and development. The main changes from the APDC order are as follows. The definition of "apple or pear tree", defining those trees on which the annual charge will be payable, has been widened to include all trees irrespective of age. Previously a charge was paid only on trees of more than five years' growth after budding or grafting. This is a change proposed by the industry. We believe that it is appropriate because apple and pear trees now come into bearing much sooner than they did when the APDC was first set up, because research and development should benefit growers of trees of any age and because it will simplify matters both for the new council and for the growers. The membership of the new council has been set at nine against the previous council's 14. There has been wide consultation with representative organisations in the industry on this and the proposed composition is the one which most nearly meets its requirements. As required by the Act, those representing growers and workers in the industry constitute an overall majority of members. The growers are the largest single group. The maximum rate of charge provided for in the order is £25 per hectare compared with £65 per hectare in APDC order. This reflects the much narrower range of functions of the new council. The actual rate of levy in the first year will probably be much lower than the maximum, at a rate determined by the council with the approval of the Minister. Those are the new points in the body of the order. The other articles are concerned with the detail of the council's operations—the requirements for growers to register—and I do not propose to go through them in detail. I would, however, like to mention briefly the schedules to the order. Schedule 1 contains a list of cider apples and perry pears, which are not included in the council's operations, and therefore need to be defined. The list is the same as that in the equivalent schedule of the APDC order 1986, but one new variety, Ashton Bitter, has been added. Schedule 2 lists the functions of the new council. The first four are concerned with the council's research and development functions. The fifth will enable the council to act as a "spokesman" for the top fruit industry on technical matters. Schedule 3 is concerned with the proceedings of the council and specifies such matters as the quorum for its meetings, use of its seal and so on. Finally, I should draw the Committee's attention to the timing of the order. It is proposed that it should come into force eight days after it is made. This means that the new Apple and Pear Research Council will come into being the day after the dissolution of the APDC. The following people have indicated their willingness to accept appointments to the new Council, as chairman, Professor Colin Spedding of Reading university—hon. Members will recognise him as the distinguished chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council—and as independent member, Professor David Conning of the British Nutrition Foundation. Representing the growers will be Mr. Basil Neame of Kent, Mr. Oliver Doubleday of Kent, Mr. Alan Burbridge of Kent, Mr. Andrew Jackson of Hereford and Mr. Neville Stangroom of Norfolk. 6 The union representative will be Mr. Tony Gould of the Transport and General Workers Union, and the marketing and distribution expert will be Mr. Peter Heyes of the House of Heyes. In accordance with the terms of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947 a review of the council's activities will be undertaken after it has been in existence for three years. I commend these orders to the Committe.

The Chairman: We are having quite a fruitful morning.

10.39 am

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): Very droll, Mr. Leadbitter, but no doubt it is important for the 1000-plus apple and pear producers in the country. This is a sad and significant day for them, whether or not they voted for the proposals. I took the liberty of looking back at the report of the previous Statutory Instrument Committee that considered this subject. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) in her place today as she was the Minister at the time, and a very distinguished Minister she was. On 9 July 1986, she ended her speech in much the same tone as that of the present Minister—his was a different speech of course—with the following words: "During its nearly 20 years of existence, the council has served the industry well. We know from the poll of growers carried out during the review of the council in 1984 that the majority of growers accept that the council has an important role to play and they recognise the contribution that it has made. With the advent of industry funding of R and D and Food from Britain, the council's role is certainly not likely to diminish and it is important that it should have sufficient scope to raise its income to fulfil its new responsibilities. This will enable the industry to face the future with greater confidence and to meet the increasing competition likely to come both from without and within."—[Official Report, Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., 9 July 1986; c. 5.] It seems that three years is a long time in the affairs of the apple and pear industry. On 9 July 1986 we had an interesting debate. There was then—as now—a schedule of the varieties of apples and pears. We see included a variety of apple named Slack My Girdle and there is another called Bloody Bastard, which may or may not have anything to do with the present Minister. I fear that the Government may have shot the industry in one foot by a substantial cut of 52 per cent. in Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food funding for research and development in the near market area for apples and pears while the majority of growers in the industry may have shot themselves in the other foot by deciding to do away with the development council. The Minister gave the number of growers who voted to disband the council. It is worth mentioning that growers, who are responsible for 49 per cent. of the area in question—and pay 49 per cent. of the council's levy—voted for its retention. So the decision was not quite as clear-cut as the Minister suggested. It is disturbing that what is a significant industry in the southern part of Britain is to lose its full-blown development council, which has served it well for some years. Growers will save themselves £38 per hectare—the levy will fall from £55 per hectare to £17 per hectare under the new arrangements—but I wonder whether that will really be the economy that the industry imagines. 7 The industry faces difficulties. I understand that the EEC will have to fund withdrawals of 13,500 tonnes of apples in the current year because of the glut of the fruit after the summer we have had this year. The cost will be £1 million in Britain during the current year. The industry is in difficulty and it needs to pay attention to research and development and marketing. I question whether it is wise to do away with some of the important development and marketing functions of the development council. The Minister has explained the Government's proposals to replace the development council with a research council. We all wish the new research council well, but it would be useful if the hon. Gentleman gave the Committee an idea of what will happen to the development council's staff. He spoke about debts and the financial accounting for the winding up of the development council and about how this may be taken over by the new research council. He owes it to the development council's staff to tell us what provision will be made for them. I reiterate that I am worried for the future of this significant little industry. It is a pity that growers have not rallied round to help the development council to work, because the industry is moving into difficult and uncertain times as 1992 approaches. I am sure that all Members of the Committee wish the industry well. An opportunity has been missed and it is a pity that the Government have cut their contribution to R and D. We hope that the work will continue and we shall watch it with some anxiety.

10.45 am

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark): This has been a deeply fascinating morning. We have had the advantage of an excellent maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Home Robertson: No, he made that last week.


Mr. Alexander: I query the need for us to be here at all. The Opposition rightly probed a few points that could have been dealt with easily in correspondence. We have an army of civil servants and my hon. Friend the Minister could have attached a memorandum to the orders. I have the honour of serving on the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments and we regularly receive and go through such memoranda. I suggest to the Minister that although gatherings such as this are fascinating to us, they are not as necessary to the workings of Parliament as those who organised this morning's sitting first thought. I hope that wiser counsel will prevail when it is considered proper to bring us here again to listen to such interesting proceedings.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Apple and Pear Development Council (Dissolution) Order 1989.


Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Apple and Pear Research Council Order 1989.—[Mr. Curry.]

Committee rose at fourteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.


Leadbitter, Mr. Ted (Chairman)

Alexander, Mr.

Boscawen, Mr.

Bruce, Mr. Ian

Conway, Mr.

Curry, Mr.

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Gregory, Mr.

Home Robertson, Mr.

Illsley, Mr.

Jack, Mr.

Taylor, Mr. John M.

Williams, Mr. Alan W.