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Lord Monson: Having supported the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, in his amendments, I do not think that I am being at all inconsistent in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, in his. I refer particularly to Amendment No. 102 which we shall be considering
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, but wonder whether the drafting of Amendment No. 61 needs to be reconsidered. I do not have any solution to the problem that I am raising, but I think that it is a very real problem. The amendment states:
I understand why the amendment has been drafted in that way, but under those provisions as drafted would it not be possible for the court to decide that it was necessary to dissolve the marriage in the interests of the parties although that was not necessarily in the interests of the relevant children? I am not saying that that is what will happen, but that is how it appears to me. I am sure that it will be possible to draft the amendment slightly differently to obviate that happening.
The purpose of the year is to provide a period for consideration and reflection which can be used to demonstrate that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. I believe that that is the minimum period required for that purpose. It is possible to instance hard cases and the noble Lord, Lord Meston, gave an illustration of his unhappy time in the divorce courts. That example of where the five-year period had not expired was unfortunate in the circumstances of that case.
My feeling--it is quite a strong one--is that in order to ensure that a marriage has indeed broken down before a divorce can be granted, it is necessary to provide a period for reflection and consideration. That is stipulated as the general period. If no improvement takes place in the relationship, it may be right to extend the period in certain circumstances and the provisions are drafted to allow for that. I do not think it right to make a provision that would shorten the period because I think that it is necessary to send out the clear signal that marriage is an important relationship and that a year is required before it can be dissolved once one or both of the parties has initiated the necessary procedure.
The statistics show that in 1993 there were 26,162 divorces in which children under 16 were involved which took under six months; and there were 45,814 which took between six and 12 months. So the overall number involving children in one year amounted to 71,976, whereas there were 22,703 involving children which took more than a year. It is interesting to note that there were 26,690 cases in which no children under 16 were involved which took under six months.
Reference has been made to the quickie divorce. I want to make it clear in relation to that matter that my fundamental point about fault-based divorces under the present law is that, by the very nature of things, there are more fault-based divorces than divorces which are
I do not know that I want to go into details about how divorces have been affected by different legislation. I do not believe that it is possible to use history to show what the effect of this legislation will be. It is wise to consider many matters other than the precise change in the divorce law when one looks at the past. In the meantime, I am of the strong view that a minimum period for consideration and reflection is necessary to show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. That minimum period is judged, rightly, to be one year. It would not be appropriate therefore to give the court power to abridge it.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: I appreciate of course that it is well possible to take the view that a year for reflection and consideration is always necessary to establish that a marriage has broken down. I had hoped however that the noble and learned Lord might have thought that the rigidity, the absoluteness, of that position might yield to a unique and highly meritorious situation, but it would seem not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: The Government will, I believe, concede that they owe a duty not only to themselves to get legislation through this place and through Parliament, come what may, but also to pay some regard to those Members of this place who are concerned about a very important measure. It would be greatly for our convenience if the noble Baroness could indicate at what time the Government propose we should rise this evening. Last night it was a quarter to 11. I trust that it will be nothing like that this time.
Baroness Trumpington: The matter is very much in the hands of the Committee. We have now been discussing the Bill for three days from 3 o'clock. On the first day we did five amendments. We are now still on page 4 of the Bill. We must get on with the Bill. I can make no promises about time. Apart from anything else, it is not in my gift to do so. We must get on with the Bill.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I think that the noble Baroness will admit that no time has been wasted. We have gone on in a measured way taking amendments. There has been nothing in the nature of a filibuster. That would in any case be contrary to the practice of this place. The practice is to allow the Government to get their business, but, reciprocally, the Government must give us time to discuss their legislation. This is most unsatisfactory.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: The noble and learned Lord is right, the Government are entitled to get their business eventually. Before the stages are mapped out, consultation takes place through the usual channels. The Labour Front Bench accepted the logic that four days should be set aside for the Committee stage of this Bill. It is--
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I shall continue. This side agree that four days are sensible. If there is a contrary view, no doubt the noble and learned Lord will make his view known to the Government Chief Whip. He has done so. He has more than once raised the issue of what is an appropriate day's work. The Labour Benches are flexible. We certainly subscribe to the noble and learned Lord's view that this place should not sit late, but if by not sitting late the timetable slips, then we are prepared to consider, periodically, how best to catch up with the timetable. All I can say is that I do not detect any sign that we are likely to rise as early as a quarter to 11 tonight. If that is the case, we on these Benches will reluctantly subscribe to the view that if we need to go beyond 10.45 p.m. we are prepared to do so.
Baroness Trumpington: Perhaps I may say how much I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has said. If the noble and learned Lord, who is unhappy about the position, feels that he would like to continue the conversation, may I suggest that he continues it with the usual channels and not in the Chamber, where the dinner hour, or pleasure, Motion has already been moved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, several noble Lords have told me that they wish to speak to this Motion. They, and I suspect all those other noble Lords who have chosen to remain in the Chamber, know well what this order is about. Many will have read the report of the debate on this order in another place. I will therefore keep my opening speech short so that I may have the maximum time to reply to points raised by other noble Lords without trespassing on the time of those who will wish to continue the Committee stage in an hour or so.
The draft order in effect specifies 1st July 1997 as the date when the potato marketing scheme will be revoked. The Agriculture Act 1993 gave Ministers power (subject to affirmative resolution) to revoke the potato marketing
In announcing the intention to revoke the scheme, the Government recognised the need for the industry to have time to adapt to the conditions of the free market. The scheme was therefore allowed to continue in modified form for three years, the modifications being based on suggestions made by the Potato Marketing Board and the National Farmers Union. The industry has made very good use of the intervening period. All the modifications were speedily introduced and so much progress has been made towards the free market that the board has already decided that it will not operate quota controls this year.
Section 27(1) of the 1993 Act requires the Potato Marketing Board to apply to the agriculture Ministers for approval of a scheme to transfer its property, rights and liabilities to a successor body or bodies, unless growers in a poll tell it not to. Not only has the industry agreed on the necessity of a levy-funded successor body but also all sectors of the industry have reached consensus on the form which such a body should take. I am not in a position to comment today on the details of what the industry is proposing since they have yet to be published and they must be agreed with growers before being presented for ministerial approval. But the very fact that such a consensus exists is another testimony to the progressive attitude of our industry.
This order is but a milestone on a journey begun some three years ago, with a year and a half yet to travel. The journey has been without incident so far; the rest of the road has been well mapped and holds no terrors for us or, we believe, for the industry. I therefore commend this order to the House and look forward to listening to what other noble Lords have to say. I beg to move.
Lord Stanley of Alderney: My Lords, I must declare an interest in that I have been a potato producer for a little over 41 years. The trouble with this order is that it leaves too many issues unresolved. The unresolved issues are: first, what action will the Government take to secure common rules of competition in the European potato market? Secondly, what measures will the Government take to ensure that the United Kingdom potato producers can compete on level terms with their European competitors after June 1997, bearing in mind that there is no chance whatever of a lightweight regime as the United Kingdom is in a minority of one? Thirdly, will the Government undertake an investigation into the state of competition of the European potato market, including information on all member state aids? I ask my noble friend to give an undertaking on those lines with a promise that the results will be made in a Statement to the House, supported by a written report, before 30th June 1997.
The most worrying of those issues is the likelihood of United Kingdom producers facing subsidised European potatoes. Your Lordships may remember the disastrous 1992 season when many United Kingdom potato producers went bankrupt due in part to the fact that other European countries supported their producers. For instance, France supported its producers to the tune of 140 million francs and Italy to the tune of £12 million. Other countries, including Portugal and Spain, did likewise.
United Kingdom potato producers are among the most efficient in the European Union and we are more than prepared to hold our own. However, we cannot survive against subsidised produce and producers. The answer to the problem would be a lightweight regime, which was mentioned during the passing of the 1993 Act, making state aids illegal or requiring any help to be given equally between member states. Subsidising one against the other is totally unacceptable, which is what has and what will happen in a surplus year. I hope that my noble friend has sympathy for such a view--I believe that he has--but I am afraid that the Government's record sadly lacks commitment and results. For instance, my right honourable friend Mr. John Gummer said in Standing Committee F on 4th May 1993:
Those are strong words and I wonder whether my noble friend will stand by them. Will he explain why when in 1993 my right honourable friend Mr. John Gummer referred to "the very likely European regime" there is still no sign of one? I must remind your Lordships that we are now in 1996. Moreover, I must also remind your Lordships that in a similar vein my noble friend Lord Howe said during the passage of the Agriculture Bill:
We all make mistakes--I am told that very occasionally I do--but it is now 1996 and we are approaching 1997. We are three years on from those assurances and in my opinion there is no possibility whatever of a lightweight scheme. That was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth.
All that I can ask is that the Government honour the assurances of my right honourable friend Mr. John Gummer to protect the United Kingdom potato producers if needs be by taking a similarly courageous line as my noble friend Lord Lucas took last week over Emtryll by either disregarding European Union rules and blocking imports or by giving equal support to our producers.
The Earl of Perth: My Lords, I too must declare an interest either as a grower of small potatoes or a small grower of potatoes, whichever one wishes. I grow some seed potatoes. I do not wish to comment on the order, which was debated for one-and-a-half hours in the Commons. That was a good debate. Furthermore, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderney, tonight. I am behind him on the great importance of our competing on a level basis with the rest of Europe. It is essential that in one way or another that should be the case. I know that the Government are trying but I should like to see them try a little harder. The suggestion was the lightweight regime: that is a good thought.
My purpose in rising to speak tonight concerns a much more mundane issue, which is the issue of brown rot. It will be known to those of your Lordships who are interested in potatoes. I can give you the Latin name but it is very difficult to pronounce and I do not think it would add to our debate. I am sure all your Lordships will know that this is an infectious and very serious disease. It has spread widely--I do not want to exaggerate--in Holland, from which we get a considerable amount of seed. The disease has also found its way to France, Italy and Egypt. I believe there has even been one case in England--and I stress the word "England".
The Dutch themselves are very conscious of this disease and they have initiated a scheme of control--that is, a scheme of inspection. But what does the inspection allow? It means that 220 tubers are inspected out of something like 140,000. I am not very good at arithmetic, but I want to make the point that the inspection is minimal because it is such a small proportion of the whole.
We get a similar inspection--I do not mean similar as regards an exact 220 tubers out of up to 25 tonnes, but that the English authorities are also inspecting. I think I am right in saying that the disease has already come to England, but of course I speak for Scotland. Above all, our whole success lies in our success as growers of seed potatoes. If our seed potatoes become infected, the outlook for Scotland is really a disaster. Therefore my purpose in speaking tonight is to raise this issue. We feel so strongly about it in Scotland that there has already been a voluntary scheme among producers to ensure that what is imported to Scotland is good stuff. However, the system is voluntary and the real issue I want to address tonight is whether the Government could revert to a practice which was common only two years ago. I am sure it is allowed under the rules of the European Union: namely, that they again announce that we have protected region status.
If that is accepted and could be arranged by the Government, it would give us great comfort because we have already worked out a sort of voluntary scheme. This would ensure that the Ministry of Agriculture would themselves inspect and reinforce the whole process. I ask for this because it would ensure that quarantine could be properly applied, not only in Holland and not only generally on borders, but that we
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I apologise for not having put down my name to speak. If I may, I should like to say a brief word not so much about brown rot--problem though that is--but about the order that we are discussing.
I was one of those who took an active part in the passage of the 1993 Act through this House. I am also a member of your Lordships' European Committee which has said that it considers the time has come for the Potato Marketing Scheme to come to an end. I live in Angus not very far from the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in seed potato growing country. Until 1989 I used to be a grower myself. I no longer have any financial interest to declare, but of course I am very interested in the subject, and I am very glad to see my noble friend Lord Lindsay beside my other noble friend on the Front Bench this evening.
I remember well the anxieties that were expressed, particularly by farmers and not least by seed potato growers in Scotland, about the dire effects the ending of the statutory potato marketing scheme would have on their businesses; how they needed the quota system and the intervention mechanism. They talked about the enormous problems which would occur if those regimes were brought to an end. In the event, the Bill became an Act and the industry has responded quietly, effectively and with considerable entrepreneurial skill, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, indicated.
The dire results that were foretold have not in fact come about. With the backing of the whole industry, including the growers, the Potato Marketing Board has slimmed down its membership and its staff. It has ended the intervention mechanism but set aside the quota system. In the meantime the growers have, as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said, had some downs and they have also had some ups, which I do not think he mentioned. They have had several good years and in fact in our part of the world we have had the best two years since 1980. As a result, there has been a good deal of investment in equipment, together with much replenishment.
The United Kingdom processors have responded to the increased investment and they have increased the proportion of the United Kingdom potatoes that they use and have decreased the amount they import. I believe that the time is right now, for the whole industry's sake, that the clock should be started ticking to begin the final year of transition to a free market. Seed potato growers in Scotland have the same anxieties as those expressed so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. There is still no regime in Europe which will ensure that our farmers will be able to use the rather surprising phrase that they can "grow their potatoes on level playing fields". They wonder what will happen if no
An answer to such questions would give confidence to farmers. Nevertheless, there is much progress so far towards the plans for the owner/owned body which will enable everyone to work together. They are setting themselves up for the free market. I agree that the time has come to move towards the free market, and therefore I support the adoption of the order.
Baroness Robson of Kiddington: My Lords, I have listened with interest to the speeches that have been made so far. They are not, in fact, far removed from what I had intended to say. Since 1993, when the procedure was originally initiated in the Agriculture Act, it is true, as the noble Baroness said, that the Potato Marketing Board has set about sorting out its own affairs very successfully. It has been able to halve the levy which it imposes on growers. Moreover, as the noble Baroness also said, that has resulted in over £50 million being invested in additional processing capacity and the increased use of British potatoes. But, above all, it has reduced by 24 per cent. the imports of processed products, which was one of the great problems that faced us in this country.
So far so good. However, with the laying of the draft order, both the NFU and the Potato Marketing Board expect the Government to do all that they can to ensure that the industry can function in a truly free market in Europe. We would like an assurance--and it has to be an assurance--that the Government will put all their efforts into the work of preventing other EU Members from giving state aids to their producers which, at the moment, is prevalent. As everyone has said, the best way to achieve that is by the creation of a lightweight EU potato regime.
The House of Lords' Select Committee welcomed the proposal made by the European Commission to set up a regime for potatoes. That would be the only way to prevent member states from distorting the market by giving aid to their own producers. Can the Minister assure us that that is the Government's aim and that they will put all their efforts into getting agreement in Europe on a lightweight potato scheme?
Further, we would like an assurance that the Government will facilitate the setting up of a successor body to the potato marketing scheme in the form of a development council for the industry. It is essential that such a council be made accountable not only to the Minister but, above all, to members of the industry itself
Between the period of this order being passed and coming into force, we believe that, in order to satisfy the concerns of the industry, the Minister should undertake to make a statement to the House dealing with such concerns well before the 1997 deadline. That would enable second thoughts to be had if the requests from the industry have not been fulfilled. We could then consider how we should proceed from then on. If any European producers are still able at that time to receive national support, British producers would expect nothing less.
Lord Carter: My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the Minister for the very lucid explanation that he gave to the background of the order. I am sure that the noble Lord will have more to tell us in his reply to the debate. The order takes us back to the very interesting debates that we had while the Agriculture Act 1993 was going through the House and the other place. In fact, we know that the Bill actually started its passage in this Chamber.
The House will recall that the relevant amendments moved by myself and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, were accepted by the House, against the wishes of the Government. However, after some tidying up of the drafting had been done, they were later accepted by the Government in another place. That is why we are having this evening's debate.
While re-reading the reports of the debates which took place both in this House and in the other place, I was struck by the foresight which was shown by Members of all parties in both Houses. However, I hasten to add that that foresight was not shared by the Government. Somehow we thought that the Government would wish to use their powers under the Act to revoke the potato marketing scheme without waiting for a European regime. That is exactly what is happening.
Your Lordships may remember that the Government's original intention was to slip in a revocation order under the negative instrument procedure. Prolonged protests--and I emphasise the words "prolonged"--by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, myself and others did produce a change of heart by the Government. At least as a result we have, through the affirmative resolution procedure, the chance to debate the order this evening.
I have no particular wish to burden the House with quotations from the previous debates on the matter. However, it is relevant briefly to quote from the remarks made by the Minister at the time, the noble Earl, Lord Howe. In Committee, he said:
In repeating those quotations I should emphasise that I do not in any way impugn the motives or the beliefs of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, at the time. I believe that he was genuinely repeating the view of the Government, although we did not agree with them. In effect, what the Government said then can be summarised as, "You must trust us", with the argument both stated and implied that, of course, the Government would not leave the British potato grower unprotected with no European regime and no British marketing scheme. But that is exactly what is going to happen.
As many of us foresaw, we are revoking the scheme without the prospect of even a lightweight European regime. We are, therefore, entitled to ask the Government--and I do not apologise for repeating them--for a number of assurances. However, before I set them out, perhaps I may make a most important point. The Minister is no doubt briefed to say that, if other member states aid their producers, we will take action through the Commission to bring that to an end. If the Minister is not briefed to say so, then he jolly well should be.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships two quick examples in that connection. Perhaps the House will remember the illegal aid that the French Government gave to their pig producers. Eventually, but very slowly, that was stopped by the Commission and the French Government were fined. Another example would be the notorious Italian failure to introduce milk quotas. By the time the Commission takes action in such circumstances--even if the offending government are fined--the damage to the market through unfair competition has been done and the producers in the other member states have already suffered damage to their businesses.
We believe that the assurances that the Government are obliged to give are as follows. First--and to coin a phrase--I start with the level playing field. Just exactly how, both in terms and in detail, do the Government intend to ensure that there is free and fair competition
Will the Government, as has been suggested, undertake to report to Parliament on the overall situation before the scheme ends on the 30th June of next year? Such a report should set out exactly what is happening in other member states and the implications for the United Kingdom producers of any European regime that may be in place at that time, although that looks unlikely. If we are not able to secure that report from the Government then, through the usual channels, we shall attempt to secure a debate in this House so that the Government can be called to account.
The third, and more technical, point is that the most likely successor body to follow the PMB is the Potato Development Council, which will be set up under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, secured the amendment to the Agriculture Act 1993 in the House, supported by these Benches, which set out the powers and responsibilities of the successor body in Section 28 of the 1993 Act.
Let me state the powers and responsibilities. First, schemes for the orderly marketing of potatoes, including marketing intelligence and the identification of marketing opportunities, research and development, the generic promotion of potatoes, the collection of statistics on the potato industry and, finally, a forum for discussion of matters of common interest to producers, purchasers, retailers and consumers of potatoes.
Are the Government completely satisfied that all these proposed functions can be undertaken by the development council under the rules of the 1947 Act? Will the Government give their full weight and support to the proposal for such a development council? I understand that the Minister is unable to comment in any way on proposals which have not yet been published, but, in principle, do the Government support the idea of a potato development council as a possible successor body to the PMB? It is not unfair to ask the Government to give that assurance because they said that that was their view at the time that we passed the 1993 Act.
The order is exactly what most of us expected when we debated the 1993 Act. I am not accusing the Government of bad faith. They never said that they would not revoke the potato marketing scheme in the absence of a European regime; on the other hand, they never said they would. However, we do rely heavily now on the Government using their best endeavours to ensure that UK potato producers are not left entirely at the mercy of subsidised, unfair competition from imported potatoes, and that any successor body to the PMB serves producer interest, consumer interest and processor interest as well as the PMB served them in its existence.
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