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9 May 2000 : Column 658

Point of Order

4.16 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter about which I have given you prior notice. It is alleged that the Deputy Prime Minister has a flat in Clapham at a beneficial rate from a transport union. That would be contrary to paragraph 113 of the ministerial code of conduct. A flat might constitute a registrable interest. The ministerial code of conduct is neither your responsibility, Madam Speaker, nor that of the House. It is the Prime Minister's responsibility. He has referred a complaint on the matter to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Every Member is bound by the rules of the House, especially the advocacy rule. The report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges on "Advocacy and Declaration" states:

Today, we are discussing the Transport Bill, which the Deputy Prime Minister introduced. We shall discuss amendments that he tabled. Other hon. Members and I have complained to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I was initially told to expect a report before Easter, but the Committee has yet to report.

If the Deputy Prime Minister's flat is registrable, is he in breach of the House's rules, and are our proceedings on the Transport Bill therefore out of order? I understand that you may be unable to rule on the matter, Madam Speaker. If the rules of the House have been broken, to whom may we turn?

Madam Speaker: I have a feeling that that is less a point of order and more a point of political argument. However, I shall try to give the hon. Gentleman guidance on the matter. Today's proceedings are perfectly in order. I am not sure whether the Deputy Prime Minister will take part in them--I hope that he will--but he is welcome to do that and it is in order for him to do so.

In so far as the hon. Gentleman's point relates to the Deputy Prime Minister's responsibilities as a Minister of the Crown, any complaint or allegation should be made to the Prime Minister. As the hon. Gentleman said, that is not a matter for me. If he wants to make complaints or allegations against the Deputy Prime Minister as an individual Member of Parliament, he should make them to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Every hon. Member knows those procedures. I hope that I have explained them for the last time.

New Member

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath:

Sandra Julia Gidley, for Romsey.

9 May 2000 : Column 659

Ethical Trading

4.20 pm

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I beg to move,

As you know, Madam Speaker, I am the Member of Parliament for Faversham and Mid-Kent. You may not know that my constituency is alleged to contain the largest acreage of top fruit in the United Kingdom. However, given the speed with which fruit farmers are having to grub up their orchards, I wonder how long that privilege will remain.

The House knows that the farming community is going through an extremely bad time. Small farmers are leaving the business and their way of life at ever-increasing speed and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. A strongly held belief in the farming and horticultural communities is that they are frequently prevented from selling their produce to big retailers in this country because the standards that those retailers impose are relaxed for imports. It is hard to establish whether that strongly held belief is wholly or partly true because the big retailers are cagey about how much information they provide. However, it is clear that there is a good case for ensuring that it is no longer reasonable to hold such a belief so strongly.

My simple Bill proposes that it should be illegal for a major food company to import any food product if it can be shown that it has refused to purchase from a British supplier for reasons of standards and that the standard of the food that has been imported is the same or lower than that which it has refused to buy in Britain. That would make it absolutely clear that a level playing exists across the world and ensure that the big retailers, which have such a stranglehold on the market, behave as ethically as they claim.

One of the origins of my Bill was a session that the parliamentary fruit group held with a representative of one of the large supermarkets. He explained persuasively and at great length how ethically his company behaved and how it used its market power to drive up the standards of their suppliers around the world. However, when he was asked whether it would relax those standards if a product ran short and import it from wherever it could be found, he said, "Ah, that is nothing to do with the company; that is to do with the Government."

My Bill aims to provide the Government with the opportunity, within the law, to allow those retailers to feel secure in the knowledge that they can behave as ethically as they claim to do. That is important, because if we are serious about protecting our children from pesticide residues, or if our consumers are anxious about the

9 May 2000 : Column 660

standards under which pigs or other livestock are reared, it is essential that they should be as well protected from pesticide residues from Spain or the Caribbean as they are from pesticide residues at home. If the retailers are behaving as well as they claim to be, they can have no objection to my Bill, because it merely reinforces the position as it is alleged to be; but if they are not behaving in that way, the Bill will give much-needed protection to British farmers.

Every Member of Parliament has an interest in ensuring that the share of British food sold by British farmers increases. Many of the difficulties of British farming would diminish greatly if we could obtain a larger share of the domestic market, and the cry for increased subsidy would also diminish greatly if we were obtaining a larger share of our home-grown market.

Many of the difficulties of the farming community are caused by the fact that a large number of big purchasers employ young men and women whose arrogance--backed by the power of their companies--is so great that long-established farmers find it difficult to believe what they are told. They often believe that what is being imported is of a lower standard, to their great detriment.

Let me give an example that featured in the debate on labelling initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien). Chickens from Thailand, having entered this country and been processed in some minor way, are often regarded as British, although as far as anyone can see they contain no British component. They have been shown to contain rather more unwelcome chemicals, or hormones, than they should contain according to British standards. It is that kind of story, multiplied a hundred times, that is causing so much distress in the farming community.

I consider the current state of affairs to be entirely wrong. I believe that my simple little Bill would end it, and I hope very much that the House will allow me to bring it in.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew Rowe, Mr. James Gray and Mr. David Prior.

Ethical Trading

Mr. Andrew Rowe accordingly presented a Bill to require retailers to apply the same standards when purchasing from other countries as they apply when purchasing within the United Kingdom: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 July, and to be printed [Bill 122].



9 May 2000 : Column 659

9 May 2000 : Column 661

Transport Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question proposed,


ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
First allotted day
New Clauses 35, 36, 37 and 26.Four hours after commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order
New Clauses 5 and 27; other New Clauses relating to Part I; amendments relating to Part I.Five and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
New Clause 6Six and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order
New Clause 14; other New Clauses relating to Part II; amendments up to the end of Clause 123.Seven and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
Remaining Amendments to Part II.Eight hours after commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order. Second allotted day
New Clause 28. One and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the Bill.
New Clause 30; other New Clauses relating to Part III; amendments relating to Part III;Three hours after commencement of proceedings on the Bill.
Amendment 420Four hours after commencement of proceedings on the Bill.
Amendment 412; New Clauses relating to Part IV; other amendments relating to Part IV; amendments relating to Clauses 227 to 229 and Schedule 26.Five hours after commencement of proceedings on the Bill.
New Clause 3; Remaining New Clauses; New Schedules; amendments relating to Clauses 230 to 237 and Schedule 27.Five and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the Bill.

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