HL Deb 22 July 1977 vol 386 cc627-32

11.47 a.m.

Lord STRABOLGI rose to move, That the draft Amendments of the Hops Marketing Scheme 1932, as amended, laid before the House on 30th June, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Amendments to the Hops Marketing Scheme 1932, as amended, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th June, be approved. The Hops Marketing Scheme, which applies only to England, is administered by the Hops Marketing Board. It came into operation in 1932. Since then, all producers of hops for sale—who currently number 410—have been required to register with the Board. Brewer-growers, who grow hops only for their own use, are exempt from registration with the Board so long as they do not offer for sale any of their hops. The Board buys all hops produced for sale. The Scheme has been amended on a number of occasions, most recently in 1974.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Board operates a quota system, which attempts to match the supply of English hops with the demand for them, which is assessed by the Board after consultation with the brewers to whom the hops are sold. In simple terms, each grower holds a basic quota expressed in weight of hops produced. Each year, he is allocated an annual quota which is his share of the total estimated demand for hops of that crop. Hops have no commercial use, other than in brewing. There have been changes in the pattern of demand for English hops, so that demand for varieties which have a high alpha-acid, or bittering, content has increased, while demand for the more traditional varieties has declined. The Board has responded to these changes by seeking to encourage production of those varieties of hops which are in demand, thus keeping the industry competitive. Since Accession to the EEC, the home industry has no longer been protected by quantitative controls on imports from other Member States.

The Board considered that further amendment of the Scheme was required to ensure its continued effectiveness. Accordingly, it prepared draft amendments to the Scheme which were designed: first, to secure the supply of specific hop varieties of the quality standards wanted by United Kingdom brewers, and to supply them on forward contracts for up to two or three years ahead; second, to develop an export trade; third, to achieve a fair return to growers who take steps to meet the demand for new varieties; fourth, to continue to operate within the framework of a quota scheme so as to minimise the risk of wasteful over-production of hops.

The proposed amendments were designed to introduce, first, provision for each variety of hops consigned to the Board to be allocated to a separate varietal pool; and, secondly, a system of priorities in payment to growers within pools so that they would be encouraged to produce hops to be sold on forward contract. The scheme's quota provisions would continue to operate but in a somewhat more complicated fashion than before. Amendments were also proposed to provide for transition from the present arrangements.

In addition, the Board also sought power to acquire hop haling presses and to sell them to registered producers, should the need arise. Finally, the amendments would delete a reference in the Scheme to the Permanent Joint Hops Committee which no longer exists. The Agricultural Marketing Act requires that, in normal circumstances, a marketing scheme may be amended only on the initiative of the Board concerned, and the Board must first notify all registered producers of the proposed Amendments.

The Board circulated the proposed Amendments to growers in November 1975. If growers with an aggregate hop area of 1,000 hectares so request, a poll of producers has to be held on whether or not the Amendments should be submitted to the Minister. In this case no poll was requested, and the Amendments were submitted to the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my noble friend Lord Peart, in January 1976. My noble friend Lord Peart duly gave notice that he had received the proposed Amendments, and three growers subsequently made formal objections. In accordance with the Act, he directed that a public inquiry be held into the objections and he appointed Mr. A. O. R. Vick, Barrister at Law, to conduct it.

Mr. Vick heard evidence from 11th to 22nd October 1976 and reported to the present Minister in December of that year; his report was published in January 1977. It recommended that the Board's draft Amendments which were the subject of the public inquiry should operate only in respect of the 1977 crop, while the Board should seek arrangements for later crops which would enable producers to offer to the Board hops up to the limit of their basic quota.

The Board subsequently indicated its intention to make certain administrative arrangements governing the determination of quota which do not require amendment of the Scheme and their effect was explained to growers at a series of special district meetings. I understand that these arrangements which help growers to plan their production ahead are satisfactory to the objectors and to other growers, and that their effect would be to allow growers to offer hops up to the limit recommended in the inquiry report. After considering the original Amendments and the inquiry report and in the light of the arrangements to be adopted by the Board, my noble friend proposed to the Board some modifications of the Amendments. These modifications were of a largely technical nature, allowing the amended Scheme to operate with effect from the 1977 crop and providing for the Board to maximise payment to growers in certain circumstances where the Amendments as originally drafted would have led to a lower return on their hops. The Board assented to these modifications.

I am sure that noble Lords in all parts of the House will welcome this successful conclusion. The statutory safeguards contained in the Agricultural Marketing Act have, I believe, worked well in this case and a sensible, workable solution has been reached. I should like to pay tribute to Mr. Vick, who conducted the inquiry, for identifying the problems posed by the original Amendments, and I am glad that growers generally have welcomed the modified Amendments. The Scheme has worked well for over 40 years, and I am confident that these Amendments will now contribute to its continued effectiveness.

As there had been a public inquiry, and my right honourable friend the present Minister of Agriculture is satisfied that these Amendments will conduce to the more efficient operation of the Scheme, he has laid these Amendments, as modified in draft, before each House of Parliament for approval. My Lords, I therefore seek the approval of your Lordships' House for them. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Amendments of our hops marketing arrangements of the Hops Marketing Scheme 1932, as amended, laid before the House on ', 30th June, be approved.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

11.56 a.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for explaining in such detail the Amendments to the Scheme. I have given notice to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, of two questions which I should like to ask him. They relate specifically to our relationship with the Common Agricultural Policy. First, in the Government's opinion does the Scheme, as redrafted, conflict with the Common Agricultural Policy in any way? Secondly, can the Government confirm their support for the continuance of the Hop Marketing Board as the agency which will operate the Scheme in the future?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, for the welcome he has given to the Scheme and also for his courtesy in giving me notice of the questions that he intended to raise. I shall do my best to answer them as fully as I can. The noble Lord asked whether it can be confirmed that the redrafted Scheme does not conflict with the Common Agricultural Policy. The Board has proposed Amendments to the Scheme which my right honourable friend the Minister has modified in certain respects. These modified Amendments do not affect the position of the Board in the Common Agricultural Policy context. The EEC hops regimé has recently been revised. It provides for United Kingdom growers to benefit from income aid which will be paid through the Board until the end of 1980; but before the end of 1980 we shall need to discuss with the Board its constitution after that date.

With regard to the noble Lord's second question—whether the Government intend to support the Hops Marketing Board within the Common Agricultural Policy—I can say that it is recognised that the Hops Marketing Board's activities have to be consistent with the requirements of the Treaty of Rome and the EEC hops regimé, but while we recognise that certain changes will be necessary after the end of 1980 we aim to ensure the continued effectiveness of our hops marketing arrangements within the EEC context.

On Question, Motion agreed to.