Draft Potato Industry Development Council (Amendment) Order 2002

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Norman Lamb: I want to reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). I recognise the industry's present state, which I see in Norfolk. On Saturday, I was speaking to a potato grower from near Boston in Lincolnshire, who was telling me about the special quality of the potatoes from that part of the world. It is clear that things are very difficult.

The proposals are uncontroversial. The National Farmers Union's only concern is the £1 discount. Its brief states that

    ''members who currently pay on time receive a £1 discount, meaning that the above proposal''—

the increased amount for late payments which the Minister has outlined—

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    ''will actually mean penalising levy payers who currently pay on time. We would be concerned that this will be seen as a second levy rate increase. However, the £1 discount has never been in the Potato Industry Development Council order.''

I assume that that means that the council has chosen to levy a rate of £1 less for payments made on time, and that it can continue to choose to do so after the implementation of the new order. I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify that point.

Mr. Morley: I shall try to answer those points. The hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings and for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) raised the issue of the 1 per cent. discount. The early payment discount was introduced because the order was not in place. It was a provision made by the potato industry development council to deal with late payments. The order establishes a dual levy. The advantage of that is that it provides a degree of certainty within the framework of the order. The order also provides that rates will be agreed only after industry consultation and ministerial approval. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings asked for reassurance on that point. The order requires consultation with the industry, and the Minister is required to take account of that consultation.

I understand the point that the hon. Member for North Norfolk made about the 1 per cent. discount. As he rightly states, under the order the original levy will go, and a dual levy will be put in its place, so the

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council will not have discretion on the 1 per cent. discount. This change and the demise of the early payment discount will be taken into account when the council next assesses the levy rate. What was being paid will be taken into account in relation to future rates. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): To ensure that the debate is accurate, I should point out that the discount was £1, not 1 per cent.

Mr. Morley: That is absolutely right. It was £1. I have got 1 per cent. on the brain at the moment. That discount will be taken into account in relation to future levies.

I thank hon. Members for attending and for the useful and constructive comments that they have made. The order is relatively non-controversial. It strengthens the work of the potato industry development council. I recognise that potato prices are not good at present. The industry fluctuates quite widely. I hope that prices will firm up and that the work of the council, particularly its promotions, will benefit producers in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Potato Industry Development Council (Amendment) Order 2002.

Committee rose at twelve minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Butterfill, Mr. John (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Hayes, Mr.
Hepburn, Mr.
Heyes, Mr.
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Lamb, Norman
MacDonald, Mr.
Morley, Mr.
Purnell, James
Reed, Mr.
Rosindell, Mr.
Williams, Mr. Roger

 
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