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Agriculture Bill

Volume 476: debated on Thursday 12 June 1986

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8.15 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

[ Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

I have to inform the Committee that Amendment No. 13 has been marshalled in the wrong order and I am therefore bound to call it now after Amendment No. 10.

Page 2, line 6, leave out ("or for such reasonable charge as the Ministers may determine").

The noble Lord said: I do not intend to move this amendment. In view of the response of my noble friend the Minister, who I am sure will give careful thought to everything that has been said in the previous exchanges, I have decided not to move the amendment.

[ Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

[ Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Page 2, line 6, leave out from first ("charge") to end of line 7 and insert ("and a proportion of the cost may be recouped by a levy determined by the Minister and applied by the Milk Marketing Board, the Home-Grown Cereals Organisation, the Meat and Livestock Commission, the Potato Marketing Board and any other authority that may have the right to levy marketed agricultural produce.").

The noble Lord said: If the Minister is determined to raise money from farmers for advice, I suggest that this should be done collectively. This amendment will have two effects. It will rid ADAS of all the work entailed in a commercial enterprise and leave the advisers free to advise. I think that is a very important point. We had a long discussion on this topic during one of the earlier amendments and many Members of the Committee were aware of the mix up and the hassle that could result in separating the advice that is free and the advice that has to be paid for. It is very important that it will also leave farmers free to ask advice on anything and at any time without worrying about payment.

I know that the NFU does not like the idea of these levies, which they suggest means one farmer is paying for the cost of another's advice. I have argued with the NFU that this is a rather narrow view to take. After all, we all pay the same motor tax, whether we travel 2,000 miles or 20,000 miles a year. That is just one instance of a collective payment.

Let us suppose that the figure that the Minister wants to raise to pay for the advice of ADAS is £6 million. I gather that it is around that figure, or at least the Minister has not denied it and the figure has been bandied about quite a lot tonight. Let us spread that figure over the gross income from the main products—cereals, all meats and milk. I worked this sum out myself; I do not think that it is necessarily very accurate, and perhaps it is on the low side. The amount is between £8,500 million and £9,000 million, and the £6 million is 0.063 per cent. Surely no farmer would begrudge that.

Collection would be simple. The means are there through the various bodies mentioned in the amendment. It is a better method and simpler, but I know that officials in ministries do not like simplicity for some reason or other. They do not think that they are doing a good job of work unless they produce large and complicated provisions such as the two amendments that we have on the Marshalled List today, one of 10 pages and another of seven. If only they could think of simplification. This levy of only 0.063 per cent. is simple and no farmer would begrudge it. That would save the hassle of setting up a charging system within ADAS. I did not manage to take them all down, but I think that the charges suggested by the Minister earlier this evening will just exacerbate the situation. I beg to move.

I have to inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 14.

I am interested that the noble Lord, who has been consistent in advising that he does not like the idea of charging for ADAS, is nonetheless saying that if there are to be charges, they could be collected comparatively painlessly and reasonably by way of levies. I should be foolish if I disregarded the advice that he gives. There are advantages in doing it that way.

The difficulty is that there are major practical problems. The levy power of the various bodies to which the amendment refers are diverse and complex. In most cases I do not think that it would be possible for the Government simply to say "Your producers must pay this or that towards the cost of advice" to a levy-raising body. There would have to be amendments to the existing levy arrangements, certainly in some cases, and there would be a need for further legislation.

It is one thing for such bodies to decide on their own initiative that they want to raise money voluntarily (for example, to commission research) and quite another to introduce what would be a compulsory levy for advisory services. There would have to be some form of penalty for producers who refused to pay and provision for the necessary enforcement. There would be difficulty in establishing an equitable levy for each sector. Arrangements would have to be made to cover sectors without marketing bodies; and all that would be enormously expensive and complex to administer.

It gives me no joy at all to be picking holes in the suggestion. As I say, I realise that there are good reasons why the noble Lord puts the amendment forward. He may ask whether I am nit-picking. But there are one or two more general reasons why what he suggests is difficult, and they may appeal to him.

If we went down the road of levies it would mean that, although the industry was still paying for ADAS or at least for a part of its cost, farmers would not have the direct influence over services that they will get through direct payment for advice. Nor is there any guarantee that smaller or less well-off farmers would benefit. Some do not use ADAS now and may not want to in the future, yet they would still be faced with paying the levy if that was what we instituted. If we have a charging system, it is possible for the farmer to ask himself whether he wants the service and whether he is prepared to pay; he can then reach a decision.

We looked at the question of raising money for the services of ADAS in the ministry, and the noble Lord worked in the ministry for many years. He is distinguished in agricultural service and knows the ministry well, and so it will not surprise him that we looked at the suggestion very carefully indeed. But those are the reasons that we sheered away from it and felt that it was not the road that we wanted to go down.

I thought that we had discussed this part of the amendment before; but there are reasons why the Minister might look at it again. At the present moment the cereal growers are being polled, and they cannot quite understand why they should pay for a Food from Britain campaign which does not directly affect them. Nevertheless, I think that the majority of those polled will accede to the request. They realise that the value of marketing food applies to everyone. The cereals that they grow will ultimately be eaten, whether they have gone through a pig or some other animal, and the campaign will ultimately benefit them.

The Minister might look at the amendment again. The suggestion need not be spread over everyone. The Government could simply use the people that they have, and it could be spread further at a later date.

The argument that if people pay that will make the service better is not a good one. Farmers will use ADAS for only certain services, and instead of the service being universal it will become a service for big cereal growers and the specialists in the other fields will be lost. The great value of ADAS and the colleges is that they have a wide range of knowledge which is enormously useful to farmers. If ADAS goes the way that the Government are pointing it, it will need to do the things necessary to bring in the money. The only service that I can see that it will get money for is a specialised cereal service, and that will narrow the field enormously. We shall lose a lot of people, turn it into another commercial service and destroy the basis that has given the service in the colleges and in ADAS the reputation that it has.

The Minister's answer has been discouraging, although he said that the concept advanced by my noble friend had been examined in the ministry and rejected. We feel that it may be worthy of further examination. Of the alternatives so far canvassed, this seems to us to be the most practicable, as my noble friend pointed out, and in the long term the best way to deal with the matter.

It is not a novel concept by any manner of means. The co-operative movement, with which I used to have a connection, has practised the principle of mutual aid at the national level for years. The idea simply is that one pays according to one's size and thereafter claims benefit on the basis of need. In the main, that tends to help the small society, and I think that such a scheme would in the main tend to help the small farmer.

The Minister mentioned the fact that the levy powers which will be required to give effect to the scheme are diverse and might require additional legislation. I direct his attention to the fact that in Clause 7 we are about to do just that so far as meat is concerned, for a different purpose admittedly, but the opportunity is with us in this Bill if the ministry is minded to take it. If there should be amendments of that kind tabled at Report stage, he will get the maximum encouragement from this side of the Chamber.

The noble Lord mentioned the question of penalties for non-payment. We envisage the levy being raised on the basis of the invoice, or else a deduction from the milk cheque, or any of the other devices which are already much in use by these boards at the present time for various purposes, some of them in my view not as worthy as funding ADAS in that way. I shall not particularise by mentioning which ones.

The question of non-payment is not a major obstacle because of the way in which, as I say, the levy can be deducted from payments due or added to invoices. In that fashion not merely does one raise the money but one does so cheaply and economically, without the problem of bad debts, and without the arguments which undoubtedly my noble friend is right in saying are likely to arise from a part-funded scheme such as the Minister is advancing, leaving out the question already decided of what is environmental and therefore free and what is non-environmental and therefore subject to charge.

In reply to an earlier amendment, the Minister mentioned that the Dutch and the Danes were funding their advice to the tune of 50 per cent., but when asked to say how the 50 per cent. was raised from small farmers in Holland and Denmark he had no information. I do not claim to have any great knowledge of the agricultural mechanisms in either country but I should be surprised if a scheme such as this is not the basis of doing it, because I am aware that in many ways the co-operative movement in Denmark undertakes fund raising in a number of ways.

One of the great advantages of the scheme which my noble friend Lord John-Mackie is asking the Committee to consider is that it would give a much more solid basis to the part funding of ADAS than the scheme outlined by the noble Lord the Minister whereby one subscribes for pamphlets, either fully or partly. There is also the proposal that its services should cost £25 an hour or rather more if a national specialist has to be brought in.

Those are alternatives which have an element of uncertainty about them. They are unlikely to appeal to the farmer because he has to bring in the man to decide how much the job is likely to cost. When told how much it is he then has to make a decision as to whether it is worth it to him in the circumstances in which he finds himself. There is no guarantee and indeed no one can even know, if £6 million is the sum to be raised, whether at the level at which the charges will be pitched sufficient use will be made of the service to raise the money that the noble Lord has in mind. If there is a shortfall in demand the Ministry is in the unfortunate position of not raising its £6 million because farmers are unwilling to find the money and, on the basis of the estimate that they have been given, decide to do without the service.

Another point in favour of our scheme in preference to the Ministry's is that, by reason of its nature and character, it will give great assurance to the staff of ADAS that their future is certain, because the basis of funding, although now to be borne by farmers, is much more definite and assured and not subject to the vagaries to which inevitably the Ministry's scheme will give rise.

On the whole, we have offered the noble Lord a good scheme. I hope that, despite his refusal of it tonight, as he is taking back other proposals to think over this one may enter his thinking as well. We have no desire to press this matter this evening, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Page 2, line 6, after ("or") insert ("at a charge which takes into account the full economic cost of providing the service or").

The noble Earl said: At least twice this evening I thought that there was a possibility that I might not be able to put forward the amendment. It is a probing amendment which is capable of alteration. I think that it brings up an important point that has not so far come forward in the debates today. As the Bill stands at the moment, some matters to do with the environment and so on will not be paid for but there will be matters more directly to do with farming which are to be paid for. There has been a long discussion of the difficulties that may or may not arise in sorting out those two matters. My noble friend Lord Buxton explained how he would go about it.

Nobody except my noble friend Lord Belstead has talked much about how the charges will be charged out. There will be confusion. A new situation has suddenly arisen. ADAS will make charges directly to farmers. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, pointed out that there were other people involved in consultancy, but she only mentioned the firms which perhaps plug their own lines. There are other people who give good advice and who have so far worked extremely well with ADAS. It has been said (and I think it is a fair description) that there has been a degree of symbiosis. ADAS has dealt with the broader issues and has often used private consultants who charge to deal with those matters which are particular to the farmer.

There is a strong feeling that through being asked to enter the market, ADAS will go into the consultancy firms' sphere of influence competitively. My noble friend said that he had no fears for ADAS in the market. Indeed, it will be in the market place. I more than agree with him, because I think that the people who have fears belong to those private consultancy firms which tend to be small and give a particular service. They often have to pay for their back-up. It is fair that they should have a degree of suspicion that a government agency such as ADAS will have an advantage over them. That is why I included the words "full economic" in the amendment. I prefaced them by "takes into account". If the clause is read carefully, it will be seen that it deals with advice that is half free and half charged for. I wanted,

"takes into account the full economic cost"

included as a protection for those who are already gaining their livelihoods by giving advice.

If that provision is not included in some form or other and made clear, the clause would set a precedent. I am not clear about the rules and regulations that govern various government agencies, but I know that they exist. I know, for instance, that the Forestry Commission has a careful set of rules regarding the sale of little trees from its nurseries and the sale of timber. I believe that the same applies to water authorities. They cannot enter unfairly into the market of selling fish against impoverished farmers. For that reason alone, it would be interesting to hear on what basis the charges will be made, because there is a problem.

I made a slight mistake; however, it does not alter the amendment. I should have liked to end at "service". I think that that is adequate. It would have got rid of the word "reasonable" which I, like my noble friend Lord Stodart, would like to see out of all statutes. Perhaps my noble friend will tell us something about how ADAS will enter the commercial world without trading unfairly against those who are already in it.

I support my noble friend. I have little to add to his remarks except to reinforce the point that there is need for thought as to what job ADAS will do successfully in the future. It will be necessary for ADAS to become more specialised. It must not shrink from providing specialised services, not just to the farmer but to the farmers' specialised private advisers.

ADAS is in an advantageous position with regard to back-up services in the form of veterinary investigation, which I mentioned on Second Reading, plant disease and diagnosis and overall management. It has access to costings and experimental advice. This is certainly how I, who use the services of a private agronomist, use ADAS. I believe, as I think ADAS believes, that it has a great future in this area. Both I, as a farmer, and private consultants, would be happy to pay for this ADAS advice. I believe therefore that it would be to the detriment of all parties, as my noble friend Lord Radnor has said, and particularly to ADAS, if ADAS used its subsidised position (if I may use the word) to undercut the private sector. There is certainly enough work and demand for both.

I feel somewhat embarrassed. I have listened with great interest to the discussion on charging and the difficulty of deciding where and when and on what to charge. I am supporting this amendment therefore in order to try to find out how it is going to work.

I can see that it is easy enough to charge for specialised advice and services such as I have mentioned. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Belstead mentioned this in an earlier speech. My question relates to more general advice. I should like to see whether it is possible, before discussion on this Bill is completed, to have a more detailed list of individual charges by ADAS—for what and for how much—in the whole advisory field.

There is one curious aspect to this amendment. At present the private consultants are competing against a completely free service and doing it apparently very well. It appears to be unnecessary to take care of them in the charges if they can compete against the free service.

I tried to cover that question, but obviously did so very badly. There is a feeling that when ADAS charges it will be moving into a different sphere of advice. It is also, I believe, thinking of a specific target to be earned in 1987. Whereas previously it would be happy to pass on a client at a certain stage to a private consultant for detailed work, ADAS now feels that it will be doing the detailed work as well.

I have already talked about the simplicity that would be required in making the charges. This amendment would complicate the matter more. I can imagine a week where an ADAS adviser does only conservation work and is paid nothing, while in another week his work will be half and half. The accountant in the office will have a devil of a job working out the economic cost of paid visits. If the noble Lord was successful in getting this amendment through, it would add to the complications that all agree are there now.

I rather agree with that. It seems that both noble Lords opposite have pointed to a real difficulty and indeed a real evil so far as ADAS and other people operating in this field are concerned. I do not believe that the amendment does much to help matters. If anything, like my noble friend on the Front Bench, I feel that it will probably make matters worse. Like other noble Lords, I, as a farmer, make use of the services of private consultants. At the moment, because ADAS advice and particularly research advice from things like experimental husbandry farms is made available generally to the industry, including private consultants, it is then very effectively disseminated to many farmers through the services of those private consultants. It is interpreted at an individual farm level and converted into pounds and pence by private consultants for a particular farm business in a way that an experimental husbandry farm or ADAS itself would not be able to do. All that is going to stop. Nothing that the two noble Lords opposite can do in this amendment or any other that we are likely to debate will help matters. Experimental husbandry farms have already stopped sending reports free of charge. The flow of information from the advisory services and their research facilities has dried up. The only people who will get it in future are those prepared to pay.

This seems to me to be one of the real disadvantages of what the Government are doing. They are turning off a flow of information that will become very selective and that will go to a few people who can afford to pay and who have access to those who are getting information from ADAS or who happen to see ADAS at the right time in the right place about the right subject when it is not called conservation and they are allowed to be told what an experimental husbandry farm has found out about something. This will put British agriculture, whatever direction we take in future, at a great disadvantage by comparision with the past.

8.45 p.m.

My noble friend Lord Radnor has made clear, in moving the amendment, that he is anxious to see that where ADAS charges are made they should reflect the full economic cost of providing the service. I quite understand why my noble friend moves the amendment, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, observed, the private sector has competed very successfully with free ADAS services in the past. And, really, there should not be any reason to suppose that the introduction of charges will change that. None the less, there is a very understandable point behind the amendment that my noble friend moves. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, put his finger on an important matter when he said that ADAS would be in some difficulty in the sense that during the week a particular adviser would be giving non-chargeable advice and then chargeable advice. If we had literally to conform to the small print of the amendment, ADAS would find itself in considerable difficulty in assessing that part of its costs attributable to chargeable activities and that part attributable to the wide range of non-chargeable activities and functions that ADAS performs.

These problems will ease as experience is gained with charging. I should like to give an assurance to the Committee that our intention is that charges should reflect the appropriate resource costs and market conditions that the private sector takes into account in setting its own prices. I said very much that before the dinner break towards the end of the statement on how we would envisage charges for ADAS being arranged. I would add that a statutory requirement to charge full economic costs would be difficult to observe without constant adjustment of prices and could, I believe, prevent ADAS providing the same degree of price flexibility enjoyed by the commercial sector. We do not believe that this would be in the interests of the farmer or the taxpayer.

I am confident that the current proposals, with the safeguard provided by the market, will result in fair prices. I repeat, however, that we shall be doing our very best to see that prices for ADAS services will be set at levels that cover the direct costs of the service and make an appropriate contribution to the overhead costs. In other words, we shall do our very best to see that there is fair competition.

In this context it was I think my noble friend Lord Radnor who said that he would be interested to know what the rules and regulations were so far as this was concerned, if there were any. This amendment really suggests that a reasonable charge must always be something different from full economic cost. Indeed, my noble friend said that he regretted having the word "reasonable" in and that what he wanted was this amendment. With respect, I do not think that this is the case. Prices will be set according to the usual Treasury guidelines. This means that prices must be realistic but not excessive. It follows that we realise that if prices are too high, the industry will not pay them and if they are too low, ADAS will not earn the revenue that it needs which, for advisory services, is £5 million. That is what we have budgeted for. Like any commercial company, ADAS must aim to provide attractive services at sensible prices.

I should like finally to deal with research and development. My noble friend Lord Stanley emphasised the hope that specialised services to farmers and to other interests would continue. This is exactly what Clause 1 of the Bill provides for. Clause 1(1) allows goods and services to be provided to any person. Apart from farmers, other potential clients might include agro-businesses, professional consultancies, academic institutions, local authorities, members of the public and overseas governments and organisations. The effective limitation would be only that the goods or services must be connected with agriculture or the other related subjects listed in the subsection. If I remember rightly, my noble friend went on to say that he very much hoped that the results of publicly funded R&D would be channeled through to a wide range of clients.

I was sorry in this context to hear the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, saying that he felt that R&D from ADAS was starting to dry up. I must say, with great respect, that is not my impression. I am not aware that any of the 19 experimental husbandry farms or experimental horticultural stations have been closed. That is where so much of the developmental work of the advisory services is done. We are of course going to pour into the running of ADAS a very large sum of money as I quoted before we broke for dinner.

Perhaps I may simply say this. There will continue to be written up in the scientific press in the normal way the results of publicly funded R&D. As such this will be freely available to interested parties such as outside consultants for them to draw their own conclusions and to formulate their advice accordingly. Discussions are in hand between ADAS and representatives of the private advisory sector concerning future possibilities for collaboration including arrangements for access by outside consultants to other data and services that ADAS can provide.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I did not suggest that any of the experimental husbandry farms had been closed. Perhaps I should add the words "closed yet". I suggested that the information which used to be freely available from them—for example, in the shape of annual reports—has dried up. It may be that my annual report from Gleadthorpe has not come through in the post, but I understood that all the experimental husbandry farms have been told that they should not issue information like that generally and freely to farmers as they have in the past.

On annual reports, we are not sure that they have been putting before the general public information which is of interest. It has always been nice to see an annual report. It has been extremely interesting and encouraging to see the reflection in the annual report of the activity going on in the experimental husbandry farms. However, if one wants to get the results of the work done in experimental husbandry farms we believe that there are other ways of doing so. The noble Lord has put his finger on an important point. I can assure him that there will continue to be written up in the scientific press in the ordinary way the results of work at the experimental husbandry farms and horticultural stations—not to mention the fact that there will continue to be the open days which are always such an enormous success in these establishments.

That seems to miss the audience at which an experimental husbandry farm should be aiming. I was not aware that the annual reports were aimed at the general public. My understanding was that they were aimed at farmers farming on soil similar to the experimental husbandry farm with systems similar to it. The scientific press is very useful for scientists, but not many farmers—I would certainly include myself in this—have the opportunity to read the scientific press. Open days are very useful for having a look at what is happening but they do not give one the facts and figures which annual reports do. Annual reports from experimental husbandry farms, as the noble Lord knows, contain the results of work done on the farm in that year. It is not just a glossy report; it provides one with facts and figures which are often very valuable indeed.

My understanding was that it was exactly that kind of information which farmers in the past would have been able to get for free which in future we shall have to pay for.

I do not think that there is anything unreasonable in the last few words which the noble Lord has spoken. To pay for literature is not unreasonable. There will be subscription schemes in order to do that.

I repeat that whereas experimental husbandry farms' annual reports have been encouraging and interesting to read, I think that there are other ways—individual pamphlets or booklets rather than in the annual report—of disseminating the information from work which has been done at the experimental husbandry farms. There will be no secrecy—nothing kept away from people. It is simply that we believe that instead of putting them in annual reports they can be put in individual publications.

Can I pursue one further point with the noble Lord? He knows that this is a matter which is giving rise to a great deal of concern not only among farmers but private consultants, at which the amendment was particularly directed. As I understand it, what will happen—the noble Lord has now confirmed it—is that farmers will have to pay for this information from experimental husbandry farms by buying publications. Am I right in assuming that that will also be the position of private consultants? They will have to buy the information by buying the publications? But ADAS will presumably have free access to the information from experimental husbandry farms. Is not one of the matters about which the private consultants are worried that ADAS will have this huge publicly funded research programme through such things as experimental husbandry farms available to them for nothing while all the rest of us will have to pay for it twice through our taxes?

I thought that I gave a rather valuable assurance to my noble friend Lord Radnor about the dissemination of publicly funded R & D particularly with regard to consultants. I think that what I said will be welcomed by consultants in that respect.

Will the noble Lord confirm that it is not that they will have to pay for information but for the literature? I think that is what the noble Lord said. In other words, they will pay the cost of the printing?

The various amendments put forward this afternoon have thrown up some very interesting points which I think will put difficulty in the way of the Government's proposals.

On this amendment I am rather worried that the expense will be so high that a number of the smaller farmers—although a number of my noble friends may be prepared to pay for it—will not go for consultation until such time as they have an epidemic on their hands which will probably be affecting their neighbours.

Charging for some services and not for others will cause trouble. The amendment put forward suggesting a levy seems to be on the right lines, I should have thought. If my noble friend could look at this again before the next stage it seems sensible that some form of levy would be very much preferable to the provision in the Bill at the present time.

I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving the various assurances that he has given, and indeed the last one to which my noble friend Lord Melchett referred.

I am a little disappointed—and I shall certainly read with great interest what my noble friend has said—that something cannot be put in the statute which will make this situation a little happier for the private consultants, and make me a little happier about the principle of the whole matter. I know that my noble friend mentioned the direct costs and how they would be dealt with. He then referred to a fair proportion of the overheads. This is the most important matter which is causing most worry. What happens to the overheads, and how are they to be allocated in a fair manner?

I shall not carry the matter any further. I shall read the remarks of my noble friend very carefully indeed. I beg to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[ Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Page 2, line 7, at end insert ("provided that no charge shall be made for the enforcement of Milk and Dairies Regulations made under the Food Act 1984 or for swill feed licensing under the Animal Health Act 1981").

The noble Lord said: The Government have already said that statutory duties for tests for tuberculosis and brucellosis should not be charged for. This amendment would also include the Milk and Dairy Regulations and swill feed licensing in that same exemption.

I need hardly remind the Committee of the present concern over a recent outbreak of swine fever, or the concern throughout the Western world over milk safety after Chernobyl, to emphasise the vital necessity for care with these foodstuffs, particularly milk, not only for the farmer but, of far more importance, for the consumer. I cannot see any reason why the farming industry should pay by levy or specific charges for services which I hope Members of the Committee would agree are essential for the public benefit. I believe that it would be similar to charging every individual driver who is checked for an MoT and found to be innocent, or charging every individual for every visit by the local police constable or every time he or she asks the friendly bobby for help or advice. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Perhaps I may ask a very brief question simply for information. Has the Ministry taken any decision as to who should pay for badger control operations in the South-West of England, where badgers are being killed by the noble Lord's department in efforts to eradicate bovine tuberculosis in cattle? Is there any intention of charging the farmers concerned for that operation? I ask this question with no particular desire to hear one answer or the other. On balance, I would probably prefer to hear that farmers would be charged for the service and then the killing of badgers would come to an end. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell me what view has been reached on that.

This is an amendment of my noble friend Lord Stanley about milk and dairies regulations and also licences for swill feeding. In deciding to introduce charges for inspections under the milk and dairies regulations we were conscious of the fact that producers derive benefit from this work. The high quality and reputation of our domestic milk production helps to maintain liquid consumption, and this in turn benefits producers returns, which would certainly suffer if consumers had less confidence in the product. It is for that reason that we felt that there was a strong case here for charges to be made.

We are discussing practical arrangements with the industry and have already agreed that charges should be directly linked to actual visits rather than applied on a per litre basis, because we understand that this is what the National Farmers' Union and the Milk Marketing Board prefer. We are also ready to discuss the actual method of collection but I must make clear that we regard collection via the milk cheque as by far the simplest and cheapest option, which is a statement that will not entirely surprise noble Lords opposite.

So far as the licensing of swill feeders is concerned, similar considerations apply. Licensees are being permitted, subject to safeguards, to undertake a business which would otherwise have to be prohibited because of the risk of spreading disease through swill feeding of pigs. The arrangements are designed to ensure that such swill is heat-treated to kill harmful viruses, such as swine vesicular disease and swine fever. Consultations have been taking place with the National Farmers' Union and others representing swill feeding interests on the Government's proposals to introduce charges for this licensing work. We would envisage that the charges would be on an annual basis but collected quarterly in advance.

Perhaps I may make one comment about both these charges. These have been picked out by my noble friend Lord Stanley for reasons which my noble friend explained in moving the amendment, but they form part of a list of other charges which my right honourable friend has said he intends to make as statutory charges which, in addition to the saving of £5 million for advice, would constitute a saving of about £6 million for these charges for statutory regulations. We are really talking about quite considerable sums of money which otherwise will have to be footed by the taxpayer.

Although I yield to no one in this Committee in wanting to see that the farmers of our country have a fair deal, it really needs quite a quantum leap as regards logic to be able to claim that all these things should be absolutely free, paid for by the taxpayer. I say that bearing in mind that, even when the savings on expenditure on ADAS have been achieved, the Government will still have to contribute 80 per cent. of the total expenditure of ADAS, which, as I said earlier this afternoon, is about £100 million.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, asked me a question about badger control charging. The answer to the noble Lord's question is, No.

It is a little illogical to say that these charges are to be made because they benefit the farmer. Surely all the public health regulations are made for the public and not for the farmer at all. They are for the protection of the public and therefore it appears more logical that the public should pay.

If it was not possible to have checks for health in dairies I think we should very soon find that liquid milk consumption would be harmed, and if we were unable to have the assurance of licences for swill feeding I think swill feeders would simply go out of business.

Surely we are being put at an increasing disadvantage compared to our European competitors. We are suggesting that British farmers should be saddled with an extra £6 million expenditure for public health, which seems to be unreasonable.

Perhaps my noble friend was not in the Committee earlier this afternoon when I gave figures for other European countries, which show that charges for their advisory services started earlier and are higher than ours.

I really cannot accept the argument of my noble friend Lord Belstead. If the Government have agreed to pay the charges for tuberculosis and brucellosis, why cannot they pay the charges for the inspection of milk? Other diseases carried by milk are probably worse than those two diseases. I just cannot see how they separate the two. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said, this is a public health worry and should therefore be carried by the public, as I said when I proposed the amendment.

My noble friend says that it is to my benefit as a milk producer that I am selling more milk because it is cleaner. I suggest that it is a very marginal amount. I doubt whether the housewife is really conscious of the fact that the milk has been inspected and kept clean. She expects it to be, and I cannot see that this is anything else other than a public expense.

As far as swill feeding is concerned, perhaps I will leave it with the remark—and my noble friend will no doubt think about it—that I think his department is slightly out of touch with reality. I will leave this amendment now, but I really feel I may have to come back to it again because I do not think my noble friend was very convincing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Page 2, line 7, at end insert—

("( ) No charge will be made for advisory services provided by Ministers where the request for such services arises because of, and directly from, socio-structural measures agreed by Member States of the European Community.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to give some assistance to farmers who may decide to take advantage of proposals which are presently before the Council of Ministers in the European Community affecting socio-structural measures in the Community. It is true that the proposals themselves are optional —that is to say, if finally approved by the Council of Ministers farmers will not be obliged to take advantage of them. The proposals are in the form of a draft regulation and to that extent I think will become of significance as far as Community members are concerned.

I will not weary the Committee with an attempt to describe all that is contained in the socio-structural proposals because for one thing I cannot recollect in detail all that is in them. Suffice it to say that it is envisaged that farmers will have the option of either retiring at the age of 55 with a pension which will be part-funded by the Community, and handing over to someone else upon condition that the someone else farms less intensively and changes the whole nature of the farm itself; or, if he stays on the farm he can attract certain benefits under the scheme if he, the original farmer, changes the nature of the farming policy and farms less intensively. Indeed, there are payments to be made for allowing fields to lie fallow, and other measures of that kind. In addition, he is expected not merely to farm less intensively but also to farm products which are not in surplus in the Community and which may not be as remunerative for him as the farming products he hitherto has been producing on that farm.

This is an ambitious scheme, and represents an attempt by the Commission to do something about surpluses and ultimately to reduce the cost of the common agricultural policy. From the point of view of the farmer who may be involved, he is going to need advice because although there are certain financial payments to be made to him from the Community funds, undoubtedly those payments are not going to be sufficient in themselves to enable him either to maintain his previous living or even to earn an acceptable living.

Although there is provision in the scheme for member states to assist, particularly in the matter of topping-up pensions where pensions are taken, undoubtedly this new scheme, if taken up to any marked degree by farmers in the Community, may give rise to the necessity for specialist advice as to how best to farm within the meaning of the scheme and, as I say, at the same time to maintain a reasonable standard of living, and, no less important because it is in the scheme, to have regard to the environment as part of the changeover which he is making as to his farming style.

Therefore, it seems to us that this justifies treatment of the kind suggested in the amendment so that (and this is on the assumption that the scheme is ratified by the Council of Ministers) where a farmer under the scheme asks for advice from ADAS it should be given to him free of charge, bearing in mind the fact that he is probably accepting a lower standard of living and that in point of fact unless he has that specialist advice the environment may suffer as a result of extensive rather than intensive farming. Even some of the other measures in the scheme could result in the deterioration of the countryside, which I am sure all of us would wish to see avoided.

It is for these reasons that I think there is a case here for a special category qualifying for free advice. There should be no difficulties in deciding whether or not they are within the scheme because the scheme, being a Brussels scheme, will be well regulated. I think the noble Lord the Minister might care to say that this is something which, even if he cannot agree to it tonight, will be looked at by the Government, particularly as the scheme itself, if it sees the light of day, is likely to see the light of day during the British presidency of the council. I beg to move.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, who I think has a very great deal of knowledge of this subject as it falls within the scope of the committee of your Lordships' House of which he is chairman, I shall not try to embark upon the details of the socio-economic proposals of the Community because they have only just been published and are not all that easy to follow.

What is certain is that this is an amendment which, although I understand it, could nonetheless lead to some rather strange anomalies. For instance, those who wanted to leave farming, or to start farming, might find themselves qualifying for free advice because there are the arrangements for special help under the socio-economic measures proposed from Brussels for those who want to leave the farming industry at the age of 55 and those who are coming in. Those who wanted to leave, or start, might suddenly find themselves getting free advice, whereas those who are perhaps doing their best to make a successful business of their existing enterprise in mid-career would find that they were not being offered free advice.

We have given a firm commitment about advice on diversification as well as, of course, conservation and animal welfare, and where additional special help is needed we ought to give it directly and be clear that that is what we are doing. I have often heard people say that one of the difficulties with the common agricultural policy is that so much of it is really a social policy. With respect, this amendment comes close to that particular danger. That is the difficulty I see with it, and it is on those grounds that I would say to the noble Lord that I cannot accept the amendment.

9.15 p.m.

That is a somewhat disappointing reply from the Minister. I agreed with him when he said that we are dealing not so much with a farming policy as with a social policy. If there were any way of taking this problem out of the realm of the CAP and into the realm of some other aspect of Community financing, I think everyone would be happy. But in point of fact the Commission seem determined to keep these schemes within the ambit of the common agricultural policy, and therefore we must deal with them as we find them rather than as we should like them to be.

I still believe that the Minister is wrong to assume that this in some way is an attractive scheme. In many ways it is a sad scheme, and unless properly handled could result in some fairly severe difficulties in the countryside, though not so much for farmers because participation is voluntary. But if there is participation, there could be an environmental spin-off which might undo some of the good work which, by common consent, has been achieved in more successful days so far as agricultural production is concerned.

However, in the light of the Minister's view I think I have no alternative but to withdraw the amendment. In case by the time Report stage comes round the proposals themselves are clearer and there is a better understanding of them, and more particularly if it becomes apparent that other member states are likely to give the kind of assistance which the Minister this evening is declining to give, I reserve the right then to re-table an amendment of this kind. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Page 2, line 7, at end insert

("(3A) The Ministers shall—

  • (a) prepare a code containing such recommendations, advice and information, relating to achieving a reasonable balance between the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and conservation of flora, fauna and of ecological or physiological features of special interest and the production of food and other agricultural produce, as they consider proper for the guidance of any person supplying services or goods referred to in subsections (1) and (2) whether or not such persons are exercising functions under this section; and
  • (b) revise any such code by revoking, varying, amending or adding to the provisions of the code in such a manner as the Ministers think fit.
  • (3B) A code prepared in pursuance of subsection (3A) and any alterations proposed to be made on a revision of such a code shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament forthwith after being prepared; and the code or revised code, as the case may be, shall not he issued until the code or the proposed alterations have been approved by both Houses.

    (3C) Subject to subsection (3B), the Ministers shall cause every code prepared or revised in pursuance of subsection (3A) to be printed, and may cause copies of it to be put on sale to the public at such prices as the Ministers may determine.")

    The noble Lord said: This is a simple subject and I can explain it simply. The amendment is rather long by my standards, but it is simply a new subsection to follow subsection (3) as (3A). It seeks to rectify or fill a vacuum in the system that we have been discussing almost all day. There have been many references to independent consultants and to representatives of manufacturers, all of whom are doing a perfectly proper and legitimate job around the countryside. But unlike most other authorities, bodies, and even individuals they have no proper criteria, guidance, or code of practice relating to the general agriculture-conservation subject with which we are so concerned today.

    There is no pressure, no guidance, nor obligation placed upon them to conform with government policy and with public interest in this area, and at the same time marketing consultants and their activities are rapidly expanding. If the great ADAS charges saga develops and goes through, they will undoubtedly multiply yet again. A company—whether they are manufacturers of pesticides, chemicals, or farm machinery—have a perfectly proper right to pursue their own commercial ends, and I feel that it is up to the Government to give them guidance. I have no doubt whatever that it would be welcomed. There is no mechanism at present by which conservation criteria should apply to all that growing new activity.

    This amendment in my view is totally noncontroversial. It places no imposition on the Government, the Ministry of Agriculture, the agricultural industry or anybody else. Once the code of practice has been worked out and published, that is the end of the matter unless from time to time it needs updating. I cannot believe or conceive that anybody would feel that this is a bad idea, or that it would not be welcomed by all the parties.

    The only parties affected would be private consultants, the industry and so forth—the representatives to which I have already referred. It is my belief that they would find it an enormously valuable and helpful weapon in their hands and would continue to conform to public and Government attitudes on these matters. They would find it useful and would do a favourable job throughout the country. It must be remembered that industry and most other sectors in the country are bound and if not restricted—though certainly industry is restricted—are encouraged to conform to codes of practice affecting conservation, planning permissions, pollution, including water pollution, emissions into the atmosphere and so forth. There is therefore no conceivable reason why these people, simply because they are connected with agriculture, should live in a sort of gilded cage not subject to any codes of practice, guidance or advice. I hope I have made the point. I do not need to labour it. I beg to move.

    May I briefly support this amendment tabled by noble Lords opposite. We spent some time until a few minutes ago discussing the terms of competition between ADAS and private consultants. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said in an earlier debate this afternoon that the new duties laid on the Minister of Agriculture in Clause 12 will apply to ADAS and other functions carried out on the Minister's behalf. So ADAS will continue, quite rightly—and I think it is supported by everyone—to need to have regard to balancing the various interests in the countryside, giving advice on conservation (free of charge, of course) and other matters.

    But those constraints do not apply to private consultants. They are playing an increasing role in giving advice to farmers, particularly those farming larger areas and so on. I hope that this amendment will be welcomed by all those involved. It would enhance the reputation of the private consultants and ensure that they were operating on a fair basis vis-à-vis ADAS. It would go some way at least to reassuring those of us concerned about the future of advice, conservation and related matters that private consultants would take this into account as well. I hope the amendment will be acceptable to the noble Lord.

    I put my name to this amendment, and it seems to me that what we are asking the Minister to do, not by statute but by a code or guideline, is to put some flesh onto the bones of Clause 12. Clause 12, as I said before, is very much to be welcomed. I shall not repeat my earlier criticisms of the charges for ADAS, but those views do not in any way detract from my generally keen suport for much in the Bill. This amendment would be a help to everybody—private people and also possibly ADAS—who is involved in the care of the countryside. I hope that my noble friend will agree to this amendment or something very similar which would produce the same effect.

    I am sure that many of us in the voluntary organisations are much concerned about the proposal here being an essential ingredient if the Government are serious about carrying out the obligations under Clause 12. After all, although the obligation lies on the Minister, the way in which it is implemented depends entirely on farmers or landowners. If they are seeking professional advice from private consultants, which is a perfectly proper thing to do, and the balance is to be maintained—because this is a change of policy on the part of the Government—they will surely have to ask how is the balance to be incorporated in such advice as is proffered by the private organisations.

    ADAS, because it is a public service, will be under the obligation accepted by the Minister to whom it is answerable; but the commercial consultants of course have no such obligation. It is difficult to see how they can have a statutory obligation, but on the other hand the least that one ought to be able to do is to indicate that the Minister regards this as a serious ingredient in the advice that they should be proffering.

    I am advised that the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants (which as I understand it is one of the principal professional organisations for these activities) has a code of practice. But I am told that this contains no guidance at all as to how consultants should seek to integrate conservation priorities into the commercial advice that they give. They may quite reasonably say, "It is really no business of ours". But if one is trying to attain the objectives of Clause 12, then it becomes incumbent on the Government to do anything that is within their power at any rate to assist in bringing these considerations into the minds of those who are offering technical, scientific or commercial advice to their clients.

    Therefore this initiative (as it was described by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton) is, I think, an important one. It may not be statutorily enforceable but at least it will give, or should give, a very strong lead from government indicating that these considerations are regarded as of considerable importance even if the advice is coming from the private sector. I hope very much that we shall have a sympathetic response from the Minister.

    I do not envy the Minister's job in making up this code. It is going to be one that has got to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and me —and that is going to be very difficult. He made it perfectly plain earlier in the debate that he did not think that wheat was very important at all. In fact, he wanted to condemn all wheat to perdition and, so far as I could see, cover the countryside with hedges.

    I have said in earlier debates on this subject that agriculture, the countryside, is the producer of food for this nation. It must take first place. But that does not mean to say that environmental affairs must be cut out or will not fit in, just to try to get a code that will satisfy the environmentalists. In saying that, I think that it is a very good idea and I am in favour of the idea. But I hope that whoever makes out the code appreciates the difficulty they will have in doing so. I emphasise that the environment has got to fit into the agricultural scene and not the other way round.

    May I just point out to my noble friend that those who moved this amendment are not suggesting that private consultants should be treated any differently from ADAS, the public service which is giving advice to farmers and landowners? As a result of this Bill, it is now under a statutory duty to balance various interests in the countryside. The suggestion of this amendment is that private consultants should be given guidance so that they are able to do the same thing. I hope that my noble friend does not want to see the public service, ADAS, operating at a major disadvantage by comparison with private consultants just because he and my noble friend Lord Houghton find it difficult to agree on some subjects.

    9.30 p.m.

    I shall not keep the Committee for more than a moment. I must say that I feel that there is everything wrong with this amendment except the good intention behind it. This really is setting government an impossible task. Surely it is about time that we got rid of these weasel words, "striking the balance between". It is the most difficult thing in the world to strike balances between good and evil and good and less good or good and not so good. It seems to me that to set a Minister this task, he probably being neither a good writer of English nor a poet, raises the question of how he can produce the kind of guidelines and codes that are being sought in this amendment.

    I thought that there was an abundance of erudite, understanding and thoughtful essays on what it is we want to achieve. We all want to get to the kingdom of heaven—that is what we want—and these codes of conduct and guidelines will not always get us there. Fancy the Minister being asked to produce something he considers proper in the field of advice and guidance of this kind. That is setting him a very difficult task indeed. The area to be covered by this survey is so wide and so full of philosophical, altruistic, artistic and moral issues that it is the work of a great philosopher with some understanding of the relations between man and nature.

    In some ways, I think the term "the balance between conservation and agricultural production" is a sort of screen behind which bad decisions are taken. Sometimes there is no balance to be struck. Something is dreadful and should not be done, and there cannot be agricultural interests which should take precedence over what is proposed. One is irrevocable—the destruction of something—and the other is remedial; that is, the lack of agricultural production. Surely we all have to work towards these aims as best we can in our different capacities and by the administration of the statute law.

    I am afraid that we sometimes set ourselves and Ministers an impossible task. With great respect to the noble Lord who moved the amendment, to the noble Lord who supported it and to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who also supported it, the noble Earl has many times scornfully referred to "the gibberish of Whitehall English". I am sure that he will get quite a big dose of it in these codes of conduct and what not. He, of all people, should steer clear of ministerial and bureaucratic essays of the kind suggested in the amendment.

    May I ask my noble friend why he has changed his view about this so sharply since we were discussing the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill, when on numerous occasions he staunchly defended the Home Office's decision to include in guidance notes a whole range of matters which posed much more difficult philosophical questions, if I may say so, than matters of balancing conservation and agricultural production? That, if I may also remind him, is not something that was invented by the amendment but by the Government, in the text of the Bill in Clause 12. Nevertheless, in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill my noble friend, against some opposition from other parties, insisted that it was sensible to put something of a sort which involved guidance to the experimenters in exactly the sort of code of practice that this amendment is proposing.

    This amendment has brought about a somewhat improbable alliance on agricultural matters between the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I must say it is an alliance which I join, but not because this amendment does not seem like a good idea: indeed, it does seem like a good idea and it was run in another place. We have thought very seriously, as I do not mind revealing, about whether it is possible to bring together the available advice. Perhaps I might just say in passing that some of the discussion we have had seemed to indicate to some extent that there was not very much advice going out to all the various people who ought to have it. I must say that there really is a library every year of published material which goes out from the four different services which make up ADAS. If anybody is interested they have only to put the publications together, or even to keep one or two of them, to be able to be on the right lines in a whole variety of ways.

    Nonetheless, this amendment says, "Bring it together and put it into a code." The difficulty has been revealed, from their rather different standpoints, by the two noble Lords opposite, in that it would be advice which would have to be given not only by ADAS, by the private agricultural consultants, land agents, veterinarians and the like, but also by a wide range of statutory and voluntary bodies.

    The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, doubted whether this could be done and, as I said, I agree with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that it would really be very difficult, because it would cover also all types of goods relating to agriculture, food production, conservation and the rural economy. Just consider the range of activities which would be involved in this code. Anyone who supplied any goods to farmers would need to have regard to the code—not only the farm machinery, agro-chemical and fuel suppliers but local retailers, builders' merchants, co-operatives, and so on. All of these would be expected to know of the code and the code would have to be drafted in such a way that it was useful to them.

    Finally, the real difficulty, the one which worries me, is that I think it would be impossible to cope in detail with all these recipients and with all the different types of goods and services which were being supplied without producing something of almost encyclopaedic proportions. I fear that we would find ourselves confining the code to something so general that noble Lords who are moving the amendment would not approve of it.

    I repeat two things. First, let us not run away with the idea that there is not published material. There is literally piles of it which comes out every year from ADAS and indeed from the experimental husbandry farms and horticultural stations, not to mention the Agricultural Food Research Council and all the other agencies connected with the agricultural, food and fishing industries.

    May I assure the Committee that I not only say that I take this seriously but that this is something of which we have thought very seriously indeed. We wondered whether we could have some sort of code with pull-out pieces, something of that kind, but all the time one comes back to the inevitable conclusion that the publication would be so vast or else so general that we feel it would be better to rely on what is published at the present time and as the years go by.

    I have listened with great interest. I regard the attitude of several noble Lords as being negative and lacking in enterprise. I hope my noble friend the Minister will forgive me once again for not being my usual very amiable, friendly self.

    First and foremost, I believe that something of a very general nature is what is required. Secondly, I totally reject what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said about it being quite impossible. If you look at a thing like that in a totally negative way it is very easy for any of us to pull it to pieces and say it is a load of rubbish. But if you look at it in a constructive way it is asking only for the most general guidance to the marketing consultants and these people who are subject to absolutely no obligations or guidance whatever.

    I leave the Committee and my noble friend the Minister with this thought. If this is rejected there will be thousands—and later on thousands more—of individuals—consultants and advisers—going out to people all over the British Isles giving either totally different advice on the subjects we have been discussing today—perhaps 10,000 different ideas—or no advice at all. Is that the best we can do? Could it not be rectified by a general guidance or code as I have suggested? But in view—

    Before the noble Lord moves to withdraw the amendment, which I sense he may, perhaps I can intervene to ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, one question. He said that with his colleagues he had considered this proposal very carefully. I wondered whether in the course of that he had an opportunity to talk to the two professional associations which represent the overwhelming majority of private consultants in agriculture, and whether there was any possibility of them accepting voluntarily the need for themselves to prepare a code of practice.

    After all, we are talking not about detailed instructions about what advice to give but about a code of practice, which I thought on occasions in this debate some noble Lords seemed to be assuming, which would encourage consultants working in the private sector to take into account conservation and other interests in the countryside when they give advice to farmers. I wondered whether the professional associations representing consultants had been approached about this and indeed whether they had expressed any views. I imagine that they might well have suggested if they had that they would consider doing something voluntarily. I wonder whether that is a way of possibly moving forward.

    I do not want to appear unfriendly but the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has put his finger on the one section of the rural community who really are well informed. If one is a consultant, the one thing that one makes sure of is that one has the available literature. Indeed, one of the reasons why my noble friend Lord Radnor moved Amendment No. 14 earlier this evening was that he was anxious that consultants should know exactly where they would stand with ADAS in the future. Probably in my noble friend's mind, although he did not dwell on it, was the wish to know that there would be a continuing flow of information from ADAS. I like to think that I gave some reassurance on that particular point.

    Consultants have naturally looked at their national ministry in whichever territorial parts of the United Kingdom that they happen to be, to make sure that they have the necessary flow of information. With great respect, consultants represent the one sector that is well "genned up" concerning advice.

    Where I think that this is a very serious amendment is this. I understand that my noble friend Lord Buxton is saying that there are a lot of other people who also need to be well informed, because they might cause damage and danger to the rural environment just as much as those who normally work in the rural environment. My answer to that point is that we would be moving with the very greatest of reluctance into a document that would either be so general or would be of such encyclopaedic proportions that it would be difficult to go down that particular road.

    I give an undertaking to my noble friends Lord Buxton and Lord Onslow that I shall look at that matter again before the next stage of the Bill, but I hope that they will not remind me, having just repeated my two major objections.

    Before my noble friend finally withdraws the amendment, perhaps I may offer what I hope is a constructive idea—that the model should be a kind of advisory circular issued by the Department of Education, or by the Department of the Environment on planning matters. What we should like the Ministry to do is to produce an advisory circular, which does not need to be extremely detailed, which beefs up Clause 12 a little bit. If that were done, then all the advisers, or whoever it may be, will know in what intellectual and physical climate they are being asked to work. That is really what we want. Whether or not the wording is correct, I am certainly not qualified to judge, but that is the kind of circular that my noble friend and I should like to see.

    I am not sure whether I am on exactly the same point as the noble Earl and the noble Lord opposite, but I think I am. It seems to me that so far as concerns the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and myself, we are talking at cross-purposes. Certainly private consultants are in business, if they are successful, because they are well informed about agricultural policy, agricultural economics, and so on. However, they would not on the whole claim to be necessarily well informed about, for example, wildlife conservation.

    The noble Lord himself spoke earlier about the training courses that have been organised by bodies such as the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission that advisers have attended. At least, those bodies have been involved in such training programmes. I am not aware that any training of that kind has been provided for private consultants. They may know plenty about agricultural policy, but given that the Ministry and its advisers will have to balance that with wildlife, amenities, and so on, private consultants should be encouraged to do the same. That will mean them approaching new sources of information. It may be that one of the things that is required is to inform them where they can obtain such information and what priorities they need to consider.

    One last word. I agree with my noble friend the Minister that consultants probably are fairly well informed; but I have in mind also the increasing number of representatives, especially manufacturers' sales representatives, and so on. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for his offer to think about the amendment. In view of that generous response, which was certainly well worth waiting the entire day for, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 1 agreed to.

    Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

    Clause 4 [ Constitution and functions of Home-Grown Cereals Authority]:

    9.45 p.m.

    Page 3, line 13, at end insert—

    ("( ) After subection (1) of that section there shall be inserted the following subsection—

    "(1A) It shall be the duty of the Authority, in carrying out its function to promote the production of cereals, to inform growers of home-grown cereals of the need to keep public rights of way free from obstruction by such crops".").

    The noble Lord said: In this amendment I suggest that one of the duties of the Home-Grown Cereals Authority should be, as well as its agricultural functions—the promotion and the production of cereals, and so on—the need to take some account of access to the countryside and, in particular, keeping rights of way free from obstruction.

    I have said previously at the beginning of my introduction to an amendment (and I hope I may say again, without having to repeat it later) that I do not intend to press the amendment. It is not an amendment that should be included in the Bill. I move it simply as a probing amendment in order to seek a clearer picture in my mind, and in the minds of those outside the Committee who are interested, about the way the Government see the new duties that are placed on the Ministry of Agriculture in Clause 12 operating in practice.

    I have taken as a specific example the problem of access to the countryside. It is a problem which is increasing rapidly year by year. I have taken a Ministry of Agriculture appointed authority to see whether the new duty is going to help in this specific instance. The problem is that rights of way in the countryside increasingly cross arable fields. This is for two reasons. It is partly because of the removal of field boundaries so that public rights of way that once followed a field boundary now cross the middle of a larger field, and partly because increasingly permanent pasture is being ploughed up and converted to arable cropping so that paths that used to cross permanent pasture or go round the edge of it now go across or through arable fields.

    Most of those arable fields are producing cereals or oil-seed rape which, as I understand the Bill, is now included in the definition of cereals. Oil-seed rape is also one of those crops which causes severe obstructions on footpaths. Indeed, it is so severe that the Ramblers' Association has successfully prosecuted at least one farmer in recent months because of the obstruction caused to footpaths by that crop. When that crop falls across a footpath or is planted along the line of a footpath it is more or less impenetrable when it has grown.

    I hope that the new duties placed on the Minister by Clause 12 will mean that the Ministry will be looking at all aspects—for example, at the appointments it makes to bodies; and I have an amendment about that later on the Marshalled List—and at the way it expects bodies concerned with agricultural policy and agricultural functions to operate. In all those cases those bodies must bear in mind the new duties which are placed on the Minister and help to implement them in their particular sphere of influence. I beg to move.

    The Home-Grown Cereals Authority's functions are concerned with improving the production and marketing of home-grown cereals and not promoting the production of cereals. I do not think that it should be part of the authority's role to remind cereal growers of their on-farm responsibilities. For that reason, I resist the amendment.

    However, I am sympathetic to the concept behind the amendment and I should like to say in response that the Ministry and the Countryside Commission are preparing a guidance booklet and code for farmers on ploughing and rights of way. I understand that this material has been seen in draft by a wide range of relevant interested parties, including the Ramblers' Association, the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association, and that it will be available shortly. I hope that demonstrates to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that I have taken his amendment seriously and that we do indeed work closely with the Countryside Commission.

    On some matters, at least. I am grateful to the noble Lord for responding so positively to the amendment. We shall come later to the issue of the ploughing of footpaths and the problems associated with that. I acknowledge that the noble Lord's Ministry is working with other interests in order to try to reduce these problems.

    I hope, nevertheless, that in accepting the new duties under Clause 12, when it becomes law, the Ministry will not simply see it (as the noble Lord has sometimes suggested in his speeches and indeed in other debates in this Chamber in recent weeks, as have Ministers in another place in the same way) as a matter of acknowledging publicly what is going on in the Ministry anyway. I really think that the public outside Parliament and outside the agricultural industry will have rather higher expectations of the noble Lord and his department than that, and will expect to see the new duties of this sort carried through into a whole range of areas in which the Ministry operates, simply so that the reconcilement of different interests can be seen to be taking place, not just in the Minister's person but in all those bodies and organisations which are available to implement the Minister's wishes or to give him advice. I hope that that message will gradually start to permeate the noble Lord's department and the many other organisations with which he has some contact and for which he has some responsibility. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Page 3, line 20, leave out ("one") and insert ("two").

    The noble Lord said: This amendment provides for at least two independent members of the Home-Grown Cereals Authority who would fill the offices of chairman and deputy chairman. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Page 4, line 17, leave out ("of that subsection").

    The noble Lord said: This is a drafting amendment. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

    Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.

    Clause 7 [ Constitution and levy schemes of Meat and Livestock Commission]:

    Page 7, line 23, leave out (" "fifteen" ") and insert (" "eleven" ").

    The noble Lord said: I tabled this amendment because I have had some discussion with the Meat and Livestock Commission on the subject of increasing the size of its membership. This clause introduces a 50 per cent. increase. Quite frankly, the Minister, and in fact all of us, have been talking a lot about saving money and costs, and putting five extra members on the Meat and Livestock Commission is bound to increase the cost of running it.

    I understand that some of the bodies, particularly in the meat trade, do not think that they are well enough represented on it. Frankly, though all members on boards and commissions of this kind are supposed to be independent, they may come from various interests in the trade, and it seems to me that to put the number up by 50 per cent. is overdoing it. It is almost like Parkinson's law: if these five people go on the commission then at some future date there is likely to be some other excuse brought forward, such as that another body of some description is not represented, yet another two or three people will be added, and before you know where you are you will have an unwieldy committee or commission.

    I had an old friend—and many Members here will have known him also: the late Wilfrid Cave—who said that the ideal size of a committee was one, provided you could sack him. I think that is right. I feel that to bump up this committee by 50 per cent. is a mistake. The original request was for 11, and that is the figure that I have put in. I should like to hear the Minister's views. I feel that there must have been pressure from various interests on officials to increase the number. I think that it is a mistake. I beg to move.

    I welcome the opportunity to explain the reasons for seeking to increase the maximum membership of the MLC to 15. As the noble Lord knows, membership is limited to a maximum of 10 at the moment. Of these, Ministers appoint three as independents and seven on the basis of industry nominations. Broadly speaking, three commissioners represent the livestock production sector; two the slaughtering, wholesaling and manufacturing sector; and two the retail sector. Last year, a group of key industry organisations from all three sectors proposed that membership should be increased to 11 so that the direct levy payers—producers and slaughterers—could each be represented by three commissioners. Clause 7 was drafted accordingly.

    At the same time, discussions were taking place on a proposal whereby organisations would be grouped into three sectoral panels to submit joint lists of nominations for appointment to the commission and to provide a forum for communication between commissioners and the industry. In the course of these discussions, it was suggested that the task of appointing a balanced membership would be facilitated if the MLC were enlarged further.

    The NFU and the key meat trade organisations, together representing the direct levy payers, agreed that producers and slaughterers/wholesalers should each be represented by four commissioners. If the number of retail and independent members remained unchanged, this would imply a total membership of 13. However, this formula would not provide flexibility to appoint additional members in the light of nominations actually received or of future changes in the MLC's role and funding. We therefore consulted organisations on the possibility of increasing maximum membership to 15, on the understanding that within this number the agreed balance between producers and slaughterers/wholesalers would be preserved.

    Consultations revealed no major objection to the proposed increase to 15 and the necessary amendment was accordingly made in the other place. That is the story about how it happened. The additional two places, which brings the number to 15, will, I hope, mean that we shall have no further pressure for an increase in size. As I understand it, 15 is acceptable to the interests concerned.

    The Minister confirms what I said. No sooner does one give way to one then one has to give way to two more and then yet another two to make the number 15. The Minister sees no reason why the figure should be further increased. I have my doubts. However, he has given an explanation, and although I am not satisfied, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 7 [ Constitution and levy schemes of Meat and Livestock Commission]:

    10 p.m.

    Page 7, line 36, leave out ("and").

    The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 22, and with the Committee's agreement I shall speak also to Amendment No. 23. Under existing legislation, the MLC fixes the actual rate of levy payable in respect of each species of livestock, up to maximum rates laid down in a levy scheme. Levy schemes are subject to affirmative resolutions of both Houses. The levy is then paid on a broadly 50/50 basis by livestock producers and slaughterers.

    Clause 7 gives the MLC scope to specify different elements within the levy for different purposes. This is required because producers have expressed a wish to increase funding for theme and species meat promotion, while slaughterers do not wish to make the parallel contributions which present arrangements would require. Clause 7 goes on to provide scope for a levy scheme to require different sectors to pay different proportions of the combined levy and the different elements within it. Thus it is likely that producers will, at least initially, pay 100 per cent. of the new funds for theme and species meat promotion, while continuing to pay 50 per cent. of the bulk of the levy. There may in due course be separate arrangements for other items of funding, such as research and development.

    Decisions on all this will be taken by the MLC after full consultation with the industry. The arrangements will then be kept under the review, and it is quite possible that the MLC will in due course wish to vary the proportions of particular elements of the levy payable by different sectors. For example, slaughterers may offer to contribute some part of the funds for theme and species promotion. As things stand, that would require a new or amending levy scheme involving a round of statutory consultations by the MLC, detailed consideration by Ministers and affirmative resolutions of both Houses.

    Just as the MLC has discretion to fix actual levy rates within maxima laid down in a levy scheme, it seems to us that it should have some freedom to change the proportions payable by different sectors within limits set out in the levy scheme, and that is what the amendment is designed to achieve.

    I stress that the amendment is worded to ensure that maximum and minimum proportions which the MLC can specify are set out explicitly in the levy scheme. In that way they will be subjected to the closest scrutiny by the industry, Ministers and Parliament before being given effect to. That is important as a safeguard for the MLC's levy payments. I beg to move.

    We do not oppose the proposal, but the noble Lord the Minister will recall that earlier this evening I said that levies would be one way of financing the supplementary cash requirement which the Government now need for ADAS. I am glad that safeguards are being built in. I hope that the scheme will work as smoothly as it sounded when the noble Lord outlined it.

    I hope also that those who seek not to contribute much by way of levies will not be rewarded for their exemption by being given a place on the commission, because that would seem odd. I hope that with a commission of 15 and a modified -system of levy arrangements the peace will be maintained at the MLC, because from my limited knowledge of the industry I should say it is not the easiest industry in which to maintain peace. On that basis, we shall not oppose the proposition.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Page 7, line 44, at end insert—

    ("( d) in subsection (6) (provision in levy schemes for persons on whom levy imposed to recover all or a specified part of sums paid by them from others) the words "all or a specified part of" shall be omitted; and

    (e) after that subsection there shall be inserted—

    "(6A) Where a levy scheme makes such provision as is mentioned in subsection (6) above it shall—

  • (a) authorise the Commission from time to time to determine the proportion of the sums paid under the levy scheme which shall be recoverable;
  • (b) specify whether the Commission may determine that the whole of those sums shall be recoverable and, if not, the maximum proportion of them which they may determine shall be recoverable; and
  • (c) specify whether the Commission may determine that none of those sums shall be recoverable and, if not, the minimum proportion of them which they may determine shall be recoverable.".").
  • On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

    Clauses 8 to 10 agreed to.

    After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

    ( "Consolidation of agricultural marketing schemes. 1958 c. 47.

    . After paragraph 5 of Schedule I to the Agricultural Marketing Act 1958 (amendment and revocation of agricultural marketing schemes) there shall be inserted—

    "5A.—(1) Where the Minister considers it appropriate to do so he may—

  • (a) prepare a consolidation of any scheme as it has effect with amendments ("the amended scheme"); and
  • (b) by order revoke the amended scheme and approve the consolidated scheme.
  • (2) An order made by virtue of this paragraph—

  • (a) shall state that it is made only for the purposes of consolidation; and
  • (b) may contain such transitional and consequential provision as the Minister considers necessary or expedient.".").
  • The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may mention also Amendment No. 76, which is consequential upon this amendment. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, on which I have the honour to serve, ever mindful that every person is presumed to know the law, does its best to ensure that the law is presented in such a way that it is accessible and intelligible to the reader. That gives the committee great concern over the milk marketing scheme of 1933, which after half a century is still in force having been amended goodness knows how many times. It has been amended out of all recognition. The paragraphs have been renumbered and the cross-references are extremely difficult to follow. Consolidation is urgently required.

    I believe that the ministry entirely agrees with all that, but it points out that a marketing scheme is not like an order or a regulation which is entirely under the Minister's control and includes power to consolidate; a marketing scheme emanates from the board which administers it and the producers, and it is laid before the Minister for his approval.

    I believe that the ministry is hesitant about proceeding to consolidate a marketing scheme in the absence of a specific clause in legislation enabling it to undertake the work. The proposed new clause gives that enabling power which I believe the ministry seeks. I hope that it commends itself to the Committee and to the noble Lord the Minister and that it will be accepted. That will enable the ministry to proceed with consolidation of marketing schemes wherever that is desirable. I beg to move.

    On behalf of the Government, I most certainly support the noble Lord's amendment. The noble Lord acquainted me with it on Peterborough Station last week. It sounds even better in your Lordships' Committee than it sounded then. I have great pleasure in supporting it.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

    ( "Entry to food premises of trainees.

    . In subsection (3) of section 87 of the Food Act 1984 (which permits an authorised officer of a council entering premises to take with him other persons) after the words "such other persons as may be necessary" there shall be inserted the words:—

    "or a person who is receiving instruction in the performance of any of the functions of the Council under this Act".").

    The noble Lord said: The problem that this amendment is designed to give us an opportunity to discuss concerns the inspection of poultry food, before and after birds are slaughtered. My noble friend on the Front Bench is, I believe, aware of the problem. If the Committee wishes to be made fully aware of the problem, I have about three pages of foolscap here on which I could dilate. I judge that the Committee prefers me to address my remarks chiefly to my noble friend and not to enter into all the details of the background.

    Briefly, the situation is that an EC directive of some years ago requires poultry food, before it is exported to other member countries of the Community, to be thoroughly inspected. That, in turn, requires more poultry meat inspectors. The district councils, whose president I am, have the job of conducting those inspections. In order to increase the number of inspectors to the figure required to do a conscientious and thorough job, more have to be trained. They can only complete their training if they are able to enter places where poultry is being processed, slaughtered and prepared for the market. This cannot be done without the support and co-operation of the poultry processors, who are members of the British Poultry Federation. Those members do not like the directive. They do not like the scale of inspection. Most of all, they do not like being charged with the cost of it all. At the moment, co-operation is not forthcoming.

    There are two solutions, neither of them very good. One is a statutory provision of the kind incorporated in my amendment. The Minister will say that the matter is not appropriate to this legislation, or he will say that it must await revision of the Food Act. But long before revision of the Food Act is forthcoming we shall reach a situation where there are not enough inspectors to do the job. The producers who wish to export poultry will find themselves being deprived of the health mark that is necessary because inspections are not being carried out adequately or thoroughly enough. Neither of those is a satisfactory solution. It would be useful to hear from my noble friend what better solution he has to the impasse that exists. I beg to move.

    I agree with my noble friend that there is something of an impasse. My understanding is that poultry slaughterhouses are able to refuse access to plants to trainee poultry meat inspectors for practical instruction which Community legislation requires before qualification. This has led to a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

    For our part we would wish to continue discussions with local authority associations and the industry in order to seek appropriate solutions. It is in this context that the Government have considered the amendment of my noble friend and in our view what are needed are discussions between representatives of local authorities, the industry, and Government with the aim of achieving a speedy consensus of those issues of concern. For their part the Government are eager to make progress. We very much hope that local authorities in the industry will share our readiness.

    I have replied in this way because I would be concerned—and I am sure that my noble friend would be concerned—about putting through an amendment dealing with powers of entry about which there are always implications and on which it is always normal to consult the interests affected.

    In addition to that, it is possible, as my noble friend suggested, that the Food Act, which is being reviewed at the present time, could provide a way of proceeding. Nonetheless, that is not the offer that I have given to my noble friend. My suggestion is that we should get down to discussions. I hope that my noble friend will agree.

    Yes, I certainly would. I should like to suggest that it would be appropriate for the Committee at this stage to agree to that. However, I think that Parliament ought not to let the Report stage go by without having rather more assurances than my noble friend has given so far that these discussions will be fruitful. I should have thought that it is certainly not in the interests of the British Poultry Federation to withhold its co-operation for this training to the point where its members begin to lose the health mark, because that is what will happen if nothing is done. Having received an undertaking on this point at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I think that your Lordships have had a number of late nights this week. We have made some very good progress on this Bill. Perhaps I may move that the House do now resume.

    Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

    House resumed.

    House adjourned at thirteen minutes past ten o'clock.