§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 13 May, be annulled (S.I. 2004/1316).
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my queries on the regulations are few, but I should be grateful to have them clarified and put on record. On reading the initial statutory instrument, one thing that puzzled me was that in "Title, commencement, extent and application" paragraph 1(2), it says quite clearly:
These Regulations extend to England and Wales but apply only to England".
There is probably a very good reason why and I am sure that the Minister will be able to tell me, but it seems strange that they extend to both but apply to England only. I know it is obviously the English regulation. My second question on that is: do the regulations apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland, as both are big potato growers? That is not clear either, so I should be grateful for clarification.
§ My second query arises from the question of the costs that are quoted in the Explanatory Note concerning option 2. If the cost to Defra of doing nothing is £405,000 and Defra is required to recover its costs, then why is the cost to industry higher than that £405,000 if Defra charges those costs out? Furthermore, if Defra rebates the charge on some users, why does the overall charge to the industry fall back to the figure of £405,000?
§ They are fairly small items, but I should he grateful for some clarification. I find that figure particularly puzzling as the difference cannot just disappear somewhere. So there must be some logic for it, but I could not find it. If it were part of the overall cost it must be somewhere. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has expressed surprise that we sometimes raise statutory instruments in this House when they are not raised in another place. Perhaps we are more diligent in this House. However, it is a matter of trying to get answers to the questions. This is a fairly small query, but I would be very grateful to hear from the Minister. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Regulations, laid before the House on 13 May, be annulled (S.I. 2004/1.316).—(Baroness Byford.)
§ Lord Livsey of Talgarth
My Lords, I welcome the statutory instrument. I am sure that the Minister will explain why it refers only to England, but clearly, with devolution, the other countries have their own statutory instruments because they are in charge of their secondary legislation. So Wales will have exactly the same statutory instrument, but it will go through the National Assembly for Wales.
1337 On inspection fees, the one thing I picked up was that the Government were presumably charging through MAFF prior to Defra but did not have a statutory instrument to back that up. That was therefore technically illegal and is to be put right. That is a sign that the department is mending its ways. I am heartened by the fact that repayments are to be made with interest to the farmers concerned. I welcome that, but for it to go on for six years before suspension was frankly negligent.
However, the statutory instrument appears to put many of those matters right and is a sign of better housekeeping in the department and I welcome it.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I am grateful to the two contributors to the debate. Both of them started by asking—or, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, by partly explaining—why the regulations do not apply to Wales. Legislation covers England and Wales—they are a single jurisdiction—but the effect of devolution is that the regulations apply only to England and there are parallel regulations in those areas of the Welsh Assembly's competence, which includes the setting of fees.
The regulations provide for two additional fees on top of those authorised in 1998. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, is absolutely correct: the reason why we need to bring forward the legislation is that there was charging under a presumption that this area was already covered. As a result of a review of the whole system of charging that we carried out and reported to Parliament in March, it proved that the existing legislative provisions were insufficient to allow the department to impose charges for inspection of potatoes for classification as pre-basic seed potatoes or for inspection of potatoes under the department's approved stock scheme. Therefore, as the noble Lord said, we are repaying those charges that were levied on producers and now require to put that situation right for the future.
The industry recognises that; there has certainly been no outcry from the industry against it. The whole system of classification and registration is welcome to the industry. Reintroduction of those two fees will have no adverse effect on the potato industry or its costs. Indeed, the fees being introduced cover only minor elements of the seed potato classification scheme. They account for less than 1 per cent of seed potatoes under the scheme. Last year, for example, existing fee provisions allowed the department to levy charges for inspecting 2,380 hectares, whereas only 17 hectares would be covered by the provisions of those two charges. So that is the ratio; it is a relatively minor matter.
Nevertheless, I accept the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that that should not have happened. It is important that the department tidies up its legislation and legal powers and works on a proper legal basis.
1338 The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the question of the costs in the RIA. The cost to industry would be higher in option two because there is no concessionary rate for small exporters. Option one, on the basis of reduced income, includes a concessionary rate for small exporters. That is why the two do not tally.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have parallel legislation and schemes. They are taking similar action, where necessary, to ensure that the regulations are comprehensive, as, undoubtedly, will the National Assembly for Wales.
We are tidying up the Act, and we do so with the industry's support. We now have a solid and comprehensive legal basis for going forward. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will not press the matter further.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, particularly for putting his finger on the pulse regarding the reason why the measures are long needed. I thank the Minister for his explanation.
Sometimes such provisions look fairly innocuous, so one tends just to tick them through. Occasionally, however, it is worth asking what lies behind them. Certainly the industry has not lobbied me on the ground that it is anxious about the matter. As the noble Lord will recognise, I did not question that. However, there were genuine concerns about why the legislation was presented in this way. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Livsey, particularly given that I have fetched them in at nine o'clock at night. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.