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8.41 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I have not heard such a load of rubbish in many years.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I do not believe that!

Mr. Llwyd: Well, we do hear a lot of rubbish in this place-that is quite right.

In my respectful submission, the £5 million that was posited is a small price to pay to ensure a fair deal for suppliers. Let us cut to the chase. We are talking about small and medium-sized farms, which are at a competitive disadvantage. Typically, they sell milk, for example, to supermarkets, often at cost price. They say, "We carry on doing that because at least there's a cash flow involved. At least we can more or less pay our bills. There's not much profit at the end of the year, but at least we can pay our bills. We can do that now, but the next generation will not be following us."

At the end of the day, by adopting the Bill we are trying to stem the way in which the dairy industry in particular is being decimated by unfair competitive advantages. Other parts of the agricultural industry are affected as well. I think it is a splendid Bill, and I congratulate the Member in charge, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), on bringing it to the House.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I happen to agree very much with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I hear on the grapevine, among dairy farmers, that it is very difficult for them to take a position towards the supermarkets. The supermarkets have so much control over their lives that it is almost impossible for them to resist the basis of the monopoly about which I shall speak in a moment.

Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman is right. Some years ago, I went to see Lord Bach to complain about the situation. Although I had enough evidence, I did not have names and addresses of suppliers, because they were afraid to supply them. He said, "If you come back with some suppliers who are prepared to stand up and be counted, we can do something." As I said, however, the point is that at least they are getting some form of
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cash flow that is keeping them just above water. That is not the basis on which to look forward-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am reluctant to intervene on the hon. Gentleman, but he is in danger of moving towards a Second Reading debate. This, actually, is simply about the financing of the arrangements.

Mr. Llwyd: As I was saying, the £5 million, to me, seems a fair figure taken in the round. I fully support the Bill-

Lembit Öpik: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Llwyd: In a moment! [Hon. Members: "Ooh!] The hon. Gentleman is a serial intervener-Lembit the Intervener, as he is known in Montgomeryshire. I shall briefly finish my point, having been admonished by the Chair. This is a good Bill, and I hope it can see the light of day and make the statute book before we rise for the forthcoming skirmish.

Lembit Öpik: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for indulging my enthusiasm for standing up for the constituency that I love-Montgomeryshire. On this occasion, I simply ask whether he agrees that this small sum provided through the Ways and Means arrangement would not be necessary had the supermarkets taken a more considerate, conciliatory approach towards suppliers, whom they are virtually squeezing out of their livelihoods.

Mr. Llwyd: I think that that is right. I would also add that it would have helped if the Office of Fair Trading had had a few more teeth.

Mr. Chope: Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that, after the foot and mouth disease outbreak, the supermarkets came to the assistance of the dairy industry and offered it more money? The consequence was that the supermarkets were taken to the Competition Commission because it was suggested that they were doing down the consumers.

Mr. Llwyd: Yes, I recall that happening, and I thought it was quite bizarre. The Competition Commission was at fault to take such a stance. Anyway, I support the Bill and I wish it well.

8.45 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I rise to support the general principle of the Bill, but I have to say that I am concerned about the mechanics and what I would describe as chicanery in the conduct of procedures of the House. When I see those on the Front Benches taking positions in advance of a wash-up, I begin to smell a rat. I am concerned, although I do not know for sure whether this is going to happen, that-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not asking the hon. Gentleman at this stage to withdraw anything, but he has used terms such as "chicanery" and "smell a rat". I think that he ought to be a bit more moderate in his language.

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Mr. Cash: I have used that expression in the past, Mr. Deputy Speaker-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Not in my presence, I suspect.

Mr. Cash: I am more than happy to moderate my expressions, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let us be moderate and charming in our language; let us admit that there is sometimes an understanding-I am not saying that there is in this case-between the Front Benches, and that is when I say, "Watch out for the silver spoons!"

An important principle is involved. I have listened with interest to other Members, and I strongly believe that free trade is important, as is fair trade. I have seen dairy farmers and, indeed, small businesses in my constituency subjected over and over again to the overarching influence of the uncompetitive strength of the supermarkets. I acknowledge that supermarkets do an enormous amount of good, in terms of what the average person buys and the extent to which they are used, and I understand the argument put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) on that point, but the reality is that when enormous supermarkets are sited outside small towns, or when they invade them, the small businesses there dry up. In the high street-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not enjoy interrupting hon. Members when they are in full flow, but this debate is about the funding for the Bill; it is not a Second Reading debate.

Mr. Cash: I accept your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but monopoly is about economics, you see, and about financing. It is the very financing that poses the question: "Who gets what for what?" The bottom line is that £5,000 an hour is nothing for the supermarkets. I would simply say that money speaks. Given the financing and economics involved, the people who suffer are the small businesses and those affected by the use of monopoly power. Farmers, who are often unable to resist the power of the supermarkets because they are so reliant on them, are also affected.

Mr. Chope: I am sorry that my hon. Friend and I are not agreeing, but does he accept that the consequence of this Ways and Means resolution will be a financial burden on the supermarkets which will inevitably be passed on to consumers?

Mr. Cash: I certainly agree that achieving fairness may turn out to have a cost attached to it, but we need to be aware of the monumental profits made by companies such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and others and the effect on small businesses, certainly in Stone. That is not to say that I object to the fact that we have supermarkets, but I do object to the fact that there is an on-cost for the smaller businesses and for dairy farmers.

When it comes to Ways and Means motions such as this, it is important to try to find a resolution. This does not mean that supermarkets are going to end; this does not mean that they are not going to create competitiveness. However, this also provides an opportunity for those who have a genuine grievance. I have raised matters such as the cost of milk with the Office of Fair Trading.
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I spoke to the director-general-or whatever he is called-of the competition tribunal and I am deeply worried that it does not work effectively.

I have some reservations. We saw what happened with Equitable Life, but I am not going to go down that route, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Ombudsmen may or may not have a cost, but they do not necessarily produce all the answers. I strongly support the idea of the Bill, which I hope will work in practice and I hope will not do damage to consumers. Without a doubt, I am in favour of the small businesses and the dairy farmers, and I want to be sure that we end up with those people being properly looked after. It is not protectionism, but looking after people in a fair manner.

8.51 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I will be brief. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I do not want to talk about the merits of the arguments, although they have been powerfully made. I am sure that the Bill is a good one. The Ways and Means motion will obviously incur a cost to industry, which is part of the debate that arises on the Bill.

We would not necessarily be in this position if, earlier this year, the House had not amended the Standing Orders. We would have had more time for private Members' business and we could have sat on this-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has immediately gone out of order. We are talking about the funding of the grocery market ombudsman, not the time allocated for debate or any other matter.

Mr. Bone: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. All I can say is that we just cannot go on like this; it is time for change.

8.52 pm

Kevin Brennan: I am glad that in calling the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you echoed the maxim of the late great Michael Foot, "He can rat, but he can't re-rat."

The Ways and Means motion, which is what we are debating, even though we have ranged quite widely, is designed to demonstrate how the ombudsman could be funded by a levy on industry. It has wide support across the House. It will be reasonable and proportionate and it will bring value to producers and consumers. That is why I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


Planning (Chester)

8.53 pm

Christine Russell (City of Chester) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to present a public petition, which is signed by a large number of my constituents in the City of Chester who object to Cheshire West and Chester council's lack of public consultation with local people on the decision to sell county hall and move the council offices to the new headquarters building. The petition was collected by a constituent of mine, Reg Barritt. It states:

23 Mar 2010 : Column 216

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Humble Petition of the people of Chester in the County of Cheshire being electors of the Local Authority of Cheshire West and Chester,

Sheweth, that in the process of our new Local Authority of Cheshire West and Chester planning the disposal of its Chester County Hall in a restricted preferential sale to Chester University, and of making a costly move of its Chester headquarters, on a leasehold agreement, to the new so called 'HQ Building' beside Chester racecourse, the local community has found itself excluded throughout from any meaningful consultation over the plan with Council; and has additionally been denied essential information prior to the completion of the scheme, and subsequent to it, that we are certain we should have been entitled to know.

Sheweth, that this failure by our local authority to consult with its people over this planning matter is in conflict with the legislative requirements and advisory guidance issued by Parliament in the form of, for example, the publication 'Communities in Control-real people, real power', and the 'Action for Empowerment' and 'Duty to Involve' white papers stating a statutory duty for all councils to engage fully and from an early stage with the public over such matters; and that this behaviour towards its public by Cheshire West and Chester Council is, in addition, in conflict with its own published 'Statement of Community Involvement' and the operative interim and draft forms of its 'Sustainable Community Strategy'.

Sheweth , in addition the validity of this most respectful submission by dutifully reminding this House of the relevance of and of the UK's commitment as a full signatory to the 'European Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters'; this generally being known as 'The Arhus Agreement'.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House refer our petition to the relevant Select Committee for Communities and Local Government or other body as you deem appropriate requesting that the body review the effectiveness of the said legislation and guidance concerned with the duty to involve provided by this House with reference to the way local authorities are interpreting and operating that legislation and guidance in the public interest and with regard to our legislated rights.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c. ]


Wind Farms (Mid Wales)

8.55 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): This petition is on a serious issue relating to the development of wind farms. The question of the merits of wind farms is for another time, but through the petition I seek to draw the House's attention to the transportation of thousands of loads by heavy good vehicles through rural mid-Wales,
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which has not been thought out and will cause all kinds of upset, disruption and perhaps even difficulty for the emergency services.

The petition states:


Financial Assistance Scheme

8.56 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I have the honour to present this petition about the many pensioners-hundreds, if not more-in my constituency who are affected by the matter raised. The petition states:


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