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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, your Lordships may be surprised to know that this is not the Royal Variety Show! I welcome this Bill with one exception. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has spoken of the negotiations which took place some time ago concerning the EU law relating to seeds and in particular to farm-saved seeds. As a MAFF Minister at that time, I was involved in the many discussions regarding that subject.
The principle that holders of plant variety rights are entitled to royalties was agreed as a result of the UPOV Convention of 1991 and by the European Union in the European Directive 8167/94 on 1st September 1994.
The directive also allows exemptions from royalty for small farmers, and limits the rights to newer varieties only. Difficult trade negotiations decided rates of royalty and collection methods. The royalty-free status of older varieties was an important element in those negotiations.
Clause 9(3) of the Bill seeks to extend the royalty scheme to all protected varieties, including the older ones which do not enjoy such protection under the European scheme. I am advised by such organisations as the National Association of Agricultural Contractors that that provision will destroy a cornerstone of the trade agreement. The agreement in relation to rates of royalty and collection methods worked smoothly in 1996-97 and is about to enter its second year. This new provision will upset the balance of market forces which helped to determine overall royalty rates. It will increase farmers' costs and erode hard-won confidence in certain sectors, particularly, I am told, among farmers in the north of England and in Scotland.
I know that I am a dumb bunny, but I must ask whether the government amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred, ensures that the exemption for older varieties remains; in particular, that no variety registered before December 1991 should, for the rest of its protected life--25 years in total--be liable for royalties when used as farm-saved seed.
I mention 25 years because, with older varieties, a minimum of six years and a maximum of 24 years has already expired. Large-scale use is usually limited to about 8 to 10 years. The exemption for older varieties would minimise the effect on breeder income. If the Government's amendment does not fulfil my criterion
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to speak on a subject on which I am not normally known to speak. However, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on a right tour de force, frankly. I met my noble friend Lord Donoughue this week and asked him why he would not be dealing with this matter today. He said that he had a much more difficult job; that is, visiting the farmers and fishermen of Cornwall. Having heard my noble friend's tour de force this morning, I am not sure who drew the short straw.
I am no agricultural specialist and I am not an expert on genetically modified organisms. But I have concerns about some parts of this Bill from a competition and environmental point of view. At first sight, the Bill appears to be fairly non-contentious and highly technical. But having had some matters drawn to my attention--I have received a number of papers from different organisations and representations about the potential consequences of the legislation--I feel it is necessary to voice two concerns.
First, the Bill appears likely to encourage a concentration of the seed market into a few multinationals, creating what I see as possible monopoly situations. That would also tie the seed market into the use of specific fertilisers and weedkillers from the same manufacturers.
Secondly, in encouraging farmers to buy seeds which may well require regular chemical treatment--weedkillers or fertilisers--the measure is likely to increase ground and water pollution. To reduce the variety of plants promoted to be grown would seem to contravene commitments made at the Rio Summit a few years ago.
I start off with the question: why is the Bill necessary? Why is it so urgent, and who stands to gain and lose from its coming into force? What are the likely consequences of its coming into force and are those very different from the consequences if it did not? It seems to me that it has been put together in rather a rush, with all the stages in another place taking place on the same day.
My noble friend the Minister said that a successful plant breeding industry committed to improving varieties is vital to the success of UK agriculture, and the industry needs incentives to invest. Very laudable objectives, but what difference will the Bill really make, and do we need it anyway? Are we short of food? I do not believe that we are in the UK, nor indeed in Europe. Since the last war there has been a fourfold increase in food production and efficiency in the agricultural industry. If there are food shortages in other parts of the world--and there certainly seem to be--I believe that they are caused more by war or other problems than by lack of agricultural support.
Strong words indeed. So we already subsidise overproduction, and this Bill seems to be designed to encourage new types of seed, which will only exacerbate the situation, as well as reducing the diversity of plant life.
Do we need new types of seed, perhaps genetically engineered? How quickly must they be introduced, if at all, and what enforcement of checks is available? Those are some of the key questions. I understand that, whereas a few years ago crop varieties were mainly developed by plant breeding stations with government finance, both across Europe and here, they are now developed by multinationals. It is great to get the private sector involved. However, when the American company, Monsanto, claims that it will be the main provider of agricultural technology in the future, and Rhone Poulenc and Merck MSDA have merged to become the world's largest poultry genetics and health business, one can be quite clear as to who stands to gain from the Bill and the relevant EU legislation. These companies control the research, the development, the marketing, the sales and what one might euphemistically call, "the after-sales service", which seems to comprise the sale of essential chemicals and the collection of royalties for farm-saved seed.
Consequently, the amount of independent research has fallen and is falling; the companies no doubt employ the best scientists, but are they able to discuss and debate their findings, their concerns and their conclusions openly and freely? Or are they gagged by their contracts with their employers? That is question which needs debating. If such companies bring efficiencies to the industry on such an unprecedented scale, one would expect that they might pass on some of them to the farmers, and might not worry too much if farmers continued to use a little farm-saved seed, on which they have already paid royalties. Figures I have received indicate that they sell seed barley at £320, whereas a farmer might sell his crop for £70. That is quite a mark-up for research and treatment. I quite understand why farmers might prefer to use last year's model of seed. They could argue that they have paid for the use of it once. Why should they not carry on as they choose? It might actually suit their land to continue to use that seed. I see a lack of competition appearing here. I suspect that the manufacturers want the law tightened up so that they can control the market even more effectively.
More serious still, in my view, is the fact that these new genetically-engineered seeds--as an engineer, I do not like this use of the word "engineering"; but there we are, that is what the process is apparently called--are only likely to thrive if they are treated with the fertilisers and weedkillers manufactured by the companies that produces the seeds. The farmers may find that, if they choose products from another
Therefore, what are the likely environmental effects? The preamble to the Bill on page V says: "There are none". I am not sure that that is quite the whole story. My noble friend the Minister described it briefly, but I believe that we need to explore it a little further. It seems to me that the Bill is likely to cause an increase in the overall level of chemicals used on the soil. What happens to the soil, the runoff and the watercourses with all this? What are the other environmental effects? It appears that the Bill will also reduce biodiversity by encouraging the development of plants by fewer and fewer companies. Therefore, as I said earlier, it may contravene the Rio Convention--certainly in intent--as well as many other environmental policies to which both sides of the House--both parties and both governments--have been committed for some time. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can let me know in due course what work has been done to study the possible effects of such new, genetically modified organisms on the watercourses and water supplies.
We have seen such a situation before with nitrates pollution. I do not wish to dwell on that issue, but there was a lot of argument that nitrates were essential for food production; indeed, they may well have been, but the problems still remain and no one is paying much towards the clean-up. If we cannot be certain, should we rush ahead at quite such a break-neck speed to give the multinationals the legal comfort necessary to grasp hold of more of the market? Can we really be certain that the plants developed will not have a serious, adverse effect on the environment, because it is all happening so quickly? Further, can we monitor what is going on?
Can we monitor genetically-engineered maize? We have heard the American industry saying that it cannot be bothered to separate genetically from non-genetically engineered maize when it comes in for processing and saying, "If you don't like it, tough". When there was a shortage of food, one could understand some of these developments. However, whether one could accept it is a matter for debate. But do we need this increased food production now? Surely we need more environmentally-friendly farming with a system to enable farmers to make a decent living, without being forced by such measures to increase chemical application and increase pollution for no particular purpose? It certainly seems to me that some farmers do not want it, and there is mounting concern from many environmental groups. I believe that the Government said yesterday in another place that they wished to encourage organic farming, but how will that be achieved if the chemicals effectively become part of the new seed package?
I am not persuaded about the urgency of this measure. It may be fine for the UK to lead the rest of Europe--and I strongly support the Government's more positive working arrangements with European institutions--but,
Perhaps my noble friend the Minister could tell me how many member states have ratified the 1991 revisions to UPOV. It would be interesting to consider the suggestion that this Government should not ratify until many other member states, perhaps all of them, have ratified it. I understand that several member states, including Italy and Luxembourg, have already banned genetically-engineered maize. Are they likely to ratify UPOV if they have already banned it?
I conclude by thanking the Minister for attempting to make me understand the Bill. Indeed, he tried very hard to do so and I understood most of what he said. However, I do have these environmental and competition concerns on which I look forward to hearing his comments.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I thank the Minister for making a complicated Bill understandable. I apologise for not having added my name to the list of speakers. That was an oversight. I shall speak within the four minutes that are allowed.
I wish to underline what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just said. There are distinct worries about genetic engineering and about the concentration of seed companies which are genetically engineering seeds which will only react to their own fertilizers and sprays. That is an anti-competitive practice. However, at the same time we must also realise that without those seed companies and without the agrochemical industry we would not have been able to increase our food production to the point where, from an agricultural point of view, starvation need never occur. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, famines are caused by incompetent and greedy people. If a farmer is shot when he is planting his seeds he will not be able to return to harvest them. That is what causes famine, not the non-availability of proper, well thought out seed and fertilizer policies.
I wish to emphasise what I believe to be a danger of some of the genetically engineered plants. We may all be singing from the same hymn sheet in this regard. A document was sent to me which struck me so forcefully that I thought I should bring it to your Lordships' attention. It may not strictly appertain to the Bill but it is worth quoting. It states,
We all know that bacteria are becoming progressively more and more resistant. I raise these points for the attention of your Lordships' House. The document came through the post. I believe it is worth while raising these points. The Government say that they are environmentally sensitive and I take that at its face value. I am talking about excellent companies here but the more power is concentrated in those companies, the more we have to be vigilant. It is a case of quis custodiet ipsos custodes--who guards the guards themselves? We must be careful about this matter. I hope that this three minute intervention has had a minor impact on the noble Lord, Lord Carter.
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, I hope I may speak for one minute to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on his mastery of this extremely complicated Bill. As he said, the matter concerns intellectual property rights. If genetically modified plants had not been introduced by large companies, this Bill would not be necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and my noble friend Lord Onslow have clearly stated all the problems associated with genetically modified plants and the dangers that arise when spray resistant weeds are produced. The Soil Association and organic farmers are as concerned about this matter as those who have spoken today. I hope that we shall discuss those anxieties when we discuss the measure that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the way in which he introduced the Bill. I assure him that, as with all great performers, it was not so much the jokes as the way in which he delivered them that was important.
This Bill forms part of the battlefield on which the transnational corporations are conducting their campaign to dominate the agriculture of the world. Noble Lords may think that that is an exaggerated way of putting a simple little Bill, so simple that the Government thought that they could get it through another place in 24 hours. Given their majority there, they thought rightly; but if they thought that they could get it through without protest they had another think coming.
Nor is the argument that this Bill is merely the implementation of European law a reason for not considering it carefully. No one has accused my party--at least for the past 40 years--of being anti-European but my colleagues in another place thought the Bill raised such difficult and unthought through issues that they voted against it on Second Reading. Unfortunately convention forbids my attempting to do the same here.
As the NFU has stated in a brief, the Bill should not only mirror EU legislation but should also reflect the considerable changes in commercial practice and market pressures which have occurred within the industry since the introduction of the plant varieties Act in 1964. My honourable friend the Member for
The seed business is big business. For instance, this year alone Monsanto has bought up three seed breeding and marketing companies for more than £1 billion. The Bill acts in some ways as a catalyst and facilitator for transnational companies to exert unprecedented control over the seed industry--a control which I consider unacceptable here in the developed world and positively appalling in the context of the third world where so many of the genetic resources are found, while the technology for the most part rests in the north. It has been said by the Minister that the whole question of genetically modified seed is not within the scope of the Bill. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and others have shown that it is a matter which must be included. Therefore I intend to speak on it briefly. I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time on something which is not a major part of the Bill but which I nevertheless consider is a part of it.
There is widespread concern about these matters in western Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke about the reservations of others of our European partners--for example, where there are bans on the planting of genetically modified maize. As the noble Lord said, one of the main reasons for the enormous investment is to produce genetically modified seed that is tied into the use of pesticides--and even to produce non-genetically modified seed that is tied into the use of pesticides--so that farmers are obliged to buy those companies' products. Some pesticide patents are due to end shortly; how convenient to be able to patent seeds that are dependent on such pesticides, thus giving them a new lease of life. Often this can be extremely dangerous. Roundup Ready soya may flourish, but the glyphosphate which is involved may pose a serious danger to all surrounding flora as well as to ladybirds and earthworms. Did your Lordships know that there are 32 distinct varieties of ladybird in this country? I advise noble Lords to read Gardening Which? this month which contains a fascinating article on the subject.
Another main reason is to enable the seed cartel to levy a sum on all farm-saved seed. It is indeed right that breeders and innovators be modestly rewarded for their work and be funded to pursue further work. But what is being engineered here are vast profits way beyond anything which could reasonably be called "earned", with rights being given to extend claims beyond 30 years and other rights being given to the ownership of seeds that occur naturally.
The greatest threat posed by this Bill is that it seems to be another step along the road of decline of genetic diversity--that was another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley--one of the great threats to the sustainability of the planet. Quite apart from the monopoly problem, the environmental consequences of
First, there is the creation of a permanent reliance on pesticides. The Government have stated that they are committed to the support of organic farming, as we have been told and is welcomed. However, the Bill raises doubts as to whether there can be any guaranteed organic crops with the risk of airborne spread of material from genetically modified crops next door.
Secondly, there is a danger that a modified crop might become a devastating weed. Many of the traits that geneticists seek to engineer in crops are geared to dominance of and resistance to the normal controls of natural life.
The third environmental point is that there is a danger of increased pesticide residues in the crops of genetically engineered plants. Fourthly, there is the problem of marker genes which can cause resistance to antibiotics--already a problem. There are no end to the problems and the dangers. However, there is the ethical problem of the private ownership of genetic material which is encouraged by the Bill and which, I believe, is ethically unacceptable.
An important point made by the Minister was that the Committee stage will be after the Recess. If that is so, that is indeed welcome. From the speeches made, and the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, I am sure that amendments can usefully be put down at Committee stage. We on these Benches will join in that process. With those major reservations, I welcome the Bill.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, we too welcome the Bill, having been the people who signed up to UPOV in the first place. We are delighted that the Government support UPOV to the extent of bringing forward the Bill. I hope that the Minister will confirm also that he supports the sister organisation, UPOHP--the Union for the Preservation of Hereditary Peers!
As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, we have three months between Second Reading and Committee stage. I believe that that will prove a useful period. The Bill follows legislation which lasted over 30 years. We expect the Bill to last over 30 years in its turn. Therefore the more consideration and care we can give to it the better. I shall ask the noble Lord a number of questions. I very much hope that he will not reply to many of them. I do not want the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to put forward anything in Hansard which will make our discussions over the next three months more difficult. I hope that he will merely confirm what he has already said: that he will be open to representations and will listen carefully to what we and others say to him.
Perhaps I may give some indication of the principal concerns we have at this stage, in no particular order. First, as the Minister said, it is probably impossible to define propagating material these days. It can be
It is a matter of concern to the National Farmers' Union that the Bill may be written in a way which, over time, will allow the multinationals to extend their control over the grain, potato and other trades--it has been achieved in horticultural and ornamentals practice--to the end point. If one has an integrated company, which includes millers or end users, it can enforce the sale of a product to a miller or end user. It can control the way that farmers farm. Farmers will wish to preserve the freedom to operate they now have. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, supports that aim in his heart. We shall have a happy time ensuring that the Bill allows that right to continue.
Clause 15 is an important safety valve. It allows the controller to insist that licences are granted. That provision is in current law. However, it has some deficiencies. If a farmer is arguing with a supplier of a specific variety, in particular if that supplier is, and increasingly will be, a large, widespread company--in farming it is likely to be an agricultural seed merchant or someone of that kind--he will have a wide range of business with the supplier. If that company says, "No, we shall not let you have that variety," and the farmer replies, "I shall stump off to the controller and obtain an order that we shall have it", he had better watch out for the remainder of his business with that supplier. There will be few cases where a supplier will wish to bring a case against the breeder or his agent to obtain supplies. He will usually be frightened off at a much earlier stage.
In essence Clause 15 protects the national interest. As I shall mention when considering other points, there are circumstances where it is important for the nation that plant varieties are properly licensed and available to farmers or whoever needs them. I shall propose that the right of appeal to the controller be extended to organisations which are able to seek from the controller a general ruling that a specific variety be licensed more widely or on more commercial terms. I do not specify any person to whom it should be licensed.
For example, it may be necessary for my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam to use a particularly old variety for organic farming because it is best for that purpose. But the company may wish to withdraw that variety because it wants its main customers, the farmers, to obtain a new variety which requires the use of its own insecticide or fertiliser. It is in the national interest that the old variety continues to be licensed. We want effective use of Clause 15. I am concerned that the old system--it is reproduced in the Bill--will not sufficiently meet the
I turn to farm saved seeds. We welcome the assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. At first sight they meet the points raised. I shall be interested to hear his reply to my noble friend Lady Trumpington on that matter.
We wish to take a little further the phrase "sensibly lower". As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, the phrase is now a year or two old. Through a series of tortuous negotiations, it has been expanded into a rather complex formula so that "sensibly lower" is dealt with variety by variety. However, we should like a reserve power in the Bill, intended never to be used but there in case things get out of hand, so that at no time over the next 30 years can multinationals, or whoever controls the seed trade, make unreasonable demands regarding "sensibly lower" and say that 95 per cent. is sensibly lower rather than the general figure which, I believe, is now 42 per cent. We should like some long-term protection to ensure that negotiations continue to be conducted on a reasonable basis.
Clause 11(2) puzzles us somewhat. It allows for the extension of plant breeders' rights beyond the 25 or 30 years, apparently without limit. The Government could decide to give a 150-year protection on a given variety without either consultation or limit. If the Government can justify having this power to grant enormous extensions, we wish to see the requirement for extensive consultation before that occurs. Alternatively, we wish to see the power limited to the figure of five years in the EC directive, under which circumstances we shall be happy for the Government to have the discretion without consultation.
Schedule 3 sets up the tribunal and states how it should work. The tribunal is composed of a chairman--who is clearly likely to be legally or similarly qualified and a "lay" person in the sense of not being involved in the seed industry--and one person who is likely to know the way round either side of a dispute. We are concerned that paragraph 7(1)(a) as written could mean that the person chosen, as it were, to represent the farmers (though "represent" is the wrong word) and having that kind of understanding might not necessarily command the confidence of farmers; that he or she might just be any academic or an agricultural consultant of no particular reputation. I should appreciate the Government's assurance, which is all that we seek, that the person chosen under paragraph 7(1)(a) will be someone expected to command the confidence of the farming or forestry community. We seek an assurance that that is the way in which the Government will seek to act.
A substantial point was raised, principally by the British association representing breeders (BARB) regarding traceability of product. The association is principally concerned with ornamentals. When dealing with farm product, there are controls on seed and the whole area is documented and controlled. That is not the case with ornamentals. We are dealing with a product of fundamentally higher value, one that can be produced,
BARB, quite reasonably, seeks the same rights as breeders in relation to farm-saved seed; namely, the right to information, to find out where the produce is coming from, and then to take appropriate action against, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, the lowest possible point in the chain. Without the right to information (this would also apply to farm-saved seed) enforcement becomes impossible. We should like to see the problem addressed in the Bill. France and Germany have offered that sort of protection--Germany, I am told, to the extent of making it a criminal offence to indulge in such activities. I do not see that that would be appropriate in this country; however, it shows that our competitors take the matter very seriously. If we try to enact a measure that is noticeably weaker, we may well find that, over time, the ornamentals breeding industry, which is very strong in this country, will tend to move elsewhere.
There would also be some useful applications in other fields. One matter raised with me by, for instance, the NFU, is that of the problems in the potato market where supermarkets have taken to insisting on a particular variety. The immediate response of the breeders or their agents has been an enormous hike in the costs of buying seed of that variety. That has led to a large black market developing among those who produce the seed, small ware, or whatever form it might take. People can plant without paying the royalty and make the operation very uneconomic for those who obey the rules. If the people who had the rights--breeders or their agents--knew that they could go to any outlet selling potatoes and end up knowing who had supplied them they would be in a much better position to insist that royalties were paid and might even persuade supermarkets to do what they do not do at present; namely, take the sensible step of making sure that payments required of the producers by the breeders are reasonable before the supermarkets specify that a particular variety is the only one that they will buy.
I listened with considerable interest to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, my noble friend Lord Onslow and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on the general problems surrounding the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, is right: the Bill does not go far into that territory. However, there is a strong argument for making sure that the measures in the Bill do not inhibit our dealing with the real problems which may exist (I do not want to go further than that) and which have been outlined by noble Lords.
I return to Clause 15, which gives those in the industry some control over what breeders do with their rights. It is enormously important that old varieties are kept in the market and that we are not deprived of them and forced to use material that is heavily dependent on
I have received a helpful paper from MAFF on the work being done on genetic resources. It is clear that a good deal is being done, but in a rather ad hoc sort of way, and that the work could be wiped out by the Chancellor "blowing his nose too hard" on Budget Day. It would be a very good idea to anchor in the Bill an obligation to keep and preserve for a considerable length of time, certainly beyond the expiry of their paper rights, as it were, the genetic material of all varieties licensed in this country.
Finally, I turn to the Scottish question. The Bill incorporates the unusual term, "Ministers" rather than "Minister". I refer to Clause 46 of the Bill, where "the Ministers acting jointly" have to take action under the Bill. What will be the arrangement post-devolution? I do not really expect the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to be armed with an answer now; but we shall certainly expect an answer in Committee. We ought to anticipate the changes which may take place in this area. We should not leave the matter merely to be dealt with in a consequential amendment at the back end of some gigantic devolution Bill when such a Bill comes before us. We ought to consider it now.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to your Lordships for this constructive and very wide-ranging short debate on a highly complex, technical Bill. I am beginning to understand why my noble friend Lord Donoughue was anxious to do the regional trip to Cornwall today and leave me to deal with this measure!
I believe that we all agree that the health of the plant breeding industry is fundamentally important to the future success and competitiveness of UK agriculture and the nursery trade. The debate wandered just a little wider than the Bill itself. I will deal with some of the questions raised; however, owing to the time and the fact that it is Friday, I will write to noble Lords with answers to the other points.
The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, asked whether the government amendment will permanently exempt the older varieties. I know that there is a problem here. I have already had discussions with the NAAC about this matter. At the moment, the Bill as drafted and the amendment that we shall bring forward in Committee will not meet the noble Baroness's point. I undertake to discuss the point with her and others between now and Committee stage since I know it gives rise to concern.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley asked: why is the Bill necessary? It was put together in something of a rush. The UPOV convention was signed by the UK in March 1991. This Bill is required in order to implement it.
There was concern expressed by a number of noble Lords about the effect of GMOs, but this is not the place to go into that because the Bill has nothing to do with GMOs. However, there is clearly a need for a debate in this House on the subject. If noble Lords would like to suggest such a debate, I shall do my best through the usual channels to ensure that time is found for it. What one should understand is that GMOs will happen, with or without the Bill. I shall write to noble Lords about the checks which exist on the environmental effects and aspects of GMOs.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked how many states have ratified UPOV. I am told that Israel, Denmark and the Netherlands have implemented it and a number of other countries are well advanced in their preparations. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and others made the point about the lack of diversity that could result from the development of GMOs on plant breeding and the concentration of the power of the plant breeder. Although I have already said that it is outside the scope of the Bill, it struck me when I was considering the Bill that biodiversity of the genotypes, certainly with cereal crops, is much wider than it used to be. When I started farming there was one variety of winter wheat which was Cappelle Desprez, there was one variety of spring barley which was Proctor, one variety of spring oats, S172--I am showing off here--and one variety of oilseed rape, Primor. They have long gone and there are now hundreds of varieties. It is true that some of the varieties are fairly close to others and one sometimes wonders whether they have been developed for marketing reasons. However, I honestly think--and I have had it checked--that we will find that the diversity of the cereal genotype is much wider than is generally recognised. There is another point about pesticides. One of the arguments for herbicide-tolerant GMOs is the fact that they require the use of less pesticide rather than more.
The point to remember is that the principle of royalty on plant breeding has long been recognised and the principle of the protection of intellectual property has also been recognised. All the Bill does is to put the two together. There was something of an element of conspiracy theory behind the remarks of my noble friend Lord Berkeley about the multinationals. I often wonder who is behind all these conspiracy theories!
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and others, were concerned that a few multinational companies would dominate the market and force farmers to use their pesticides. I touched on the question of multinational companies in my opening speech. We must recognise that plant breeding is an international activity and that many plant breeders have interests throughout Europe, North America and worldwide. The Bill does not alter
I was struck by the Latin quotation from the noble Earl, Lord Onslow: quis custodiet ipsos custodes. I think it can be freely translated as: who looks after those who look after the others? As Chief Whip, I should love to know.
A question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about the extension of rights. Under the Community regime, rights can only be extended for up to five years for a particular species or group. The Bill allows Ministers to extend rights for any length of time. We agree that this open-ended provision is unnecessary. We shall bring forward an amendment at Committee stage which will provide that Ministers may extend rights to a maximum of five years for any specified species or group.
There was also a question on whether compulsory licences could be amended to enable an organisation such as the NFU to seek a compulsory licence on behalf of its members. I do not believe that we can agree with that. A compulsory licence has to be sought by a particular person. A provision enabling the controller to direct a breeder to make his variety more widely available to an undefined group would not be in keeping with the UPOV convention and would be interventionist in the extreme. If, for example, there were 10 growers who each submitted a compulsory licence application in respect of the same variety, there is nothing under Clause 15 which prevents the NFU, for example, from speaking on behalf of those 10 growers. In addition, Clause 23 makes specific provision for an organisation such as the NFU to make representations and applications for compulsory licences where the licence is issued by a breeders' organisation such as the BSPB. That right exists, regardless of whether an applicant for a compulsory licence asked for NFU assistance in preparing a case.
There was also a point about representation on the tribunal. The Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal has a chairman and one person drawn from a panel of individuals with a wide knowledge of agriculture, horticulture or forestry and one person with a specialised knowledge of a particular species or the seeds industry. Panel members are selected for their particular knowledge and skills not to represent a particular sector of the industry. If we go down the road of saying that the tribunal should always include a farmer, then we should have to include all the other sections of the industry: the plant breeders, the seed processors, the seed growers, and so on. The tribunal would be unwieldy and unworkable. However, as regards the panels, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that at the moment two of the six members of the general knowledge panel and two members of the specialist panel are farmers.
On devolution, I believe the subject will come up in almost everything we discuss in the foreseeable future. I was asked whether the work of the PVRO on plant breeders' rights should be devolved. The plant breeders' rights are applicable to the UK and the system is administered on a UK basis. The controller is appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would be a duplication of effort and resources for rights to be administered separately in the different regions. Those remarks have been in answer to a few of the questions and I shall write to noble Lords on the other points.
In conclusion, although the Bill is long, I believe that we can agree that most of the provisions re-enact those of the 1964 Act, with necessary updating and clarification. The major changes all flow from the UPOV convention of 1991 to which the UK is a signatory. The passage of the Bill will enable the UK to join the growing number of UPOV member states able to ratify the 1991 convention. Officials have carried out long and detailed consultations on the draft Bill. While inevitably not every comment can be reflected in the Bill, all comments have been carefully considered and there has been significant redrafting in a number of places. As I said, we shall bring forward further amendments at the Committee stage. Also, I should be extremely happy to convene a meeting before the Committee stage when all these various concerns can be discussed. I commend the Bill to the House.