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Apple And Pear Development Council (Amendment) Order 1980

Volume 415: debated on Thursday 4 December 1980

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My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Apple and Pear Development Council (Amendment) Order 1980, a copy of which was laid before the House on 11th November, be approved.

The draft order is presented for your Lordships' approval in accordance with the requirements of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947. Your Lordships will recall that, earlier this year, the House debated and approved the Apple and Pear Development Council Order 1980 which streamlined and strengthened the Apple and Pear Development Council so that the Council could play a leading role in the revitalisation of the apple and pear industry. Following the approval of this order the Minister appointed a new council under the chairmanship of Mr. Richard Venables.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that this was a Quango. In fact, I think he will find that this is not a Quango because the Apple and Pear Development Council is supported wholly from the funds of its members and is not supported—other than one peculiar factor to which I shall refer later—by Government funds. Therefore, I think he will find that it does not come under the strict definition of a Quango.

I am delighted to report to your Lordships that the council has taken a leading role in the fight back by the English apple industry against the attack on our market by French Golden Delicious apples. With the active co-operation of the NFU representing all apple growers, the council has made a major effort to improve the promotion, the marketing and the overall image of the English apple. I would like to take this opportunity to thank publicly and to congratulate Mr. Richard Venables and his fellow members of the council, Mr. Dan Neuteboom of the NFU, and apple growers as a whole for the very real achievements which they have made over the last few months in improving the marketing of home-grown apples. So often when things go wrong and trade becomes adversely affected it has become fashionable to say, "What are the Government going to do about it?" It has been heartening to see an industry prepared to fight back against foreign competition, to commit their financial resources to improving the quality and the marketing of their product, and to engage enthusiastically in the promotion of that product.

Of course, a lot of work still remains to be done in order to ensure that the gains which have already been made during the last few months are turned to a permanent advantage. The steps which have been taken to improve the quality and image of the English apple will have to be consolidated and it is in order to assist the Apple and Pear Development Council in the waging of the second stage of their campaign that this order has been laid before your Lordships for your approval today.

Having made the public aware of the quality of English apples and pears, it is now the purpose of the council to ensure that good quality home-grown apples are available to the public for most of the year. The council have, therefore, launched the Kingdom Pack Scheme with the object of providing to wholesalers and to retailers apples of a guaranteed quality and size which can be supplied regularly throughout the apple season and which can be sold at fair prices both for growers and consumers. The scheme is a voluntary one, which growers join at their own wish, and so far as this season is concerned it is confined to Cox's Orange Pippin apples only. However, it is intended that the scheme might extend to other apple (and perhaps pear) varieties in the future. I suggest that the scheme is an imaginative venture which deserves the support of all apple growers who are interested in a sound future for the industry.

The draft order is principally designed to reinforce the council's powers in order to enable the council to operate the Kingdom Scheme. It permits the council to raise an additional levy on all growers who voluntarily participate in a promotion scheme such as the Kingdom Scheme. It establishes a maximum rate for such a levy of 12p for every 10 kilograms of apples or pears which a participating grower markets. It also gives to the council the power to recommend prices at which apples and pears which are subject to such a promotion scheme should be sold. The draft order increases the maximum rate of the existing annual charge, which is raised by the council on all growers, from £29 to £40 per hectare. I should emphasise that the rates of 12p per every 10 kilograms and of £40 per hectare are maximum rates. The rate which is charged each year is to be set by the council, but only after they have obtained the approval of the Minister.

The NFU, as representative of the apple and pear grower, and the trade unions, representing workers in the apple and pear industry, have been consulted about the rate of the levy and of the charge, and the additional function which is being given to the council concerning the setting of recommended prices. These bodies have approved the provisions which are set out in the draft order as being in the best interests of the apple and pear industry. The National Farmers' Union have asked that before the level of the charge or the levy is approved, the union—as the representative of the growers—should be consulted. I can tell your Lordships that the Minister is willing to accept this request, and that whenever an increase in the levy or the charge is contemplated he will seek the views of the National Farmers' Union before responding to the Apple and Pear Development Council's request for that increase.

Your Lordships will know that the Minister has agreed to give up to £300,000 during the current financial year to the Apple and Pear Development Council in the form of launching aid in order to assist the council in introducing the Kingdom Scheme. Making this grant, in what are difficult times, shows the Government's recognition of the tremendous efforts which apple growers have made and are making and to encourage them to continue those efforts in the future. In the Kingdom Pack Scheme the industry has provided a real opportunity to improve the marketing of apples and pears and has enabled growers to compete with imports on a much firmer footing than in recent years. However, it needs to be supported by all growers, and by their determined support growers can show that they represent value for the money with which the Government are backing them.

This measure is in the interests of both grower and consumer in that it will help to ensure that English Cox apples are available to the consumer and at a satisfactory price to the grower. I understand that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has recently become a "Friend of the Cox". That is a new accolade among many which have deservedly been bestowed upon the noble and learned Lord. All that I would say to him is that if it is a privilege for the noble and learned Lord to be so honoured, it is but nothing compared with the honour which the noble and learned Lord has done to the Cox by his munificent benefaction in becoming its Friend. I have no doubt that all noble Lords who support this order deserve to become "Friends of the Cox", and time alone will tell whether they will. I beg to move that this order be approved.

Moved, That the draft order, laid before the House on 11th November be approved.—( Earl Ferrers.)

4.3 p.m.

My Lords, I am sure that the House will welcome with enthusiasm the report of success in this area which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has mentioned to us. I may say that I earned the accolade of being a Friend of the Cox by successfully identifying, under the cross-examination of Mr. Robin Day, with my eyes shut, which was a Cox's apple and which was a Golden Delicious. I had no difficulty whatever, of course, in identifying the best apple in the world; namely, the Cox. I am not here to do a commercial, but en passant I think that that is the reason why I earned this distinction.

The excellent information about the progress of the scheme and the result already achieved in terms of increase in sales will be very reassuring. The House may also have found most reassuring that all concerned in this area were co-operating in the effort: the Government, the farmers and the unions themselves. If my noble friend Lord Peart were here I think that he would claim some credit himself in that I think he claims that he set up the Apple and Pear Development Council. The reason that I have become the shadow reserve Minister for Agriculture this afternoon is due to my noble friend being absent, I have no doubt on matters of grave public importance in another place. However, I know that the House will welcome this order as I do, and as all of us do on this side of the House and, I am sure, throughout the Chamber.

My Lords, I do not want to create any discord in this harmonous debate, but I would just point out what may be an ambiguity in paragraph (b) of Article 2, at the end where it refers to the charge being levied according to the quantity of "products marketed" by the producer. This question arises. Does "marketed" means put on the market whether sold or not, or does it mean actually sold?

At first sight one would assume that it means put on the market whether sold or not, but in practice I would imagine that the charge will only be on the products actually sold, if only because the records of products sold are likely to be much more accurate than the records of any surplus quantity of a perishable product which may have been put on the market but which remained unsold. Furthermore, one always imagines that these levies are intended to be a proportion of the money which the person paying the levy actually receives.

I think that there is an ambiguity here and if this order is to be amended again perhaps the Minister could grasp the nettle and abandon the word "marketed" and say either, "products sold", if that is what is meant, or "products offered for sale", if that is what is meant; and then the trade will know exactly where it stands when it comes to liability to pay a levy.

4.7 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is always very particular, and he has a reputation for being so particular—a reputation which I admire. He is also a particularly courteous noble Lord in so far as he gave me notice that he might raise this query. I am bound to tell him that the word "marketed" is not defined in the order and it would therefore attract the usual everyday meaning of being sent to market—in other words, being sold or offered for sale.

In my prudence I looked up in the Collins New English Dictionary to see what "marketing" meant. Of course, "marketing" in this sphere is a fairly new word. I am afraid that it did not help because the noble Lord really wanted to know whether it meant being sold or being offered for sale. In fact, "marketing" can mean to offer or produce for sale; but it can also mean to buy or deal in a market. Therefore, the word would apparently have both meanings.

However, what I can tell the noble Lord is that, under the proposed scheme, a grower who is voluntarily participating in it will be sending a monthly return to the Apple and Pear Development Council on which the levy will be assessed. If, therefore, there are apples which are sent to market and returned unsold, and never are sold, then the grower would not include those in his return, because the return will be about a month in arrears. Therefore, in this case the word will only refer to those apples which have, in fact, been sold.

I might mention—not that this was the purpose of the noble Lord's suggestion—that, in order to avoid the grower falsifying his returns, I understand that he will be required to have them certified by an independent auditor. So I hope that that explains to the noble Lord the intention, even if it does not in fact explain the dictionary meaning of the word "marketing".

I was glad to know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, received his accolade by being able to distinguish a Cox blindfold. He will be a very useful marketer, because there is an expression that anyone who is a really enthusiastic salesman would be able to sell a blind man a pair of spectacles. All I know is that it is encouraging to know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, could sell a blind man a Cox! I am grateful to your Lordships for welcoming this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.