§ Viscount Davidson
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they have reached a decision on the future of the Potato Marketing Scheme.
My right honourable friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales have30WA carefully considered the representations made to them since they were given powers in the Agriculture Act 1993 to revoke the scheme.
Having considered all the arguments with great care, they have concluded that the scheme must come to an end, on trading and deregulatory grounds. They are persuaded of the benefits of the free market for the whole of our industry—growers, processors and also for consumers.
Timing, however, is very important. They accept the arguments of the board and the union that our growers, having been tightly regulated for 60 years, are not ready to be thrust immediately into a totally free market. They consider that three years is a reasonable period to allow for transition, and are therefore prepared for the scheme to continue in modified form for the marketing years 1994–95, 1995–96 and 1996–97 and then end. They will, however, take a further look at the potato market before the consultation on the order to revoke the scheme which is required by the Act.
In the meantime, we need transitional arrangements in order that the industry can adapt towards the free market in the most constructive way. The proposals made by the PMB and the NFU form a very good basis for such a transition. On this basis the Government propose the following modified arrangements.
- Quota flexibility should be introduced, allowing a registered producer's plantings to vary by up to 5 per cent. above or below quota without penalty.
- Planting threshold for registration in the scheme should be raised from 0.4 to 1 hectare, exempting more growers from the need to register.
- The special schemes for encouraging growing on contract should continue at their present level of uptake.
- Intervention buying should cease, except for intervention on seed potatoes, funded by seed producers themselves.
- The levy on growers should be reduced to the level appropriate for funding the board's other activities such as research, promotion and provision of market information.
- The board membership should be reduced, and means be found of broadening representation on it.
- Licensing and registration of potato merchants should cease.
Some of these changes would require amendments to the scheme, but the most significant changes could be introduced for the 1994–95 season, if not sooner.
This package of measures will allow our industry to move in an organised way towards a free market, which will be of benefit to growers and purchasers of potatoes and to our competitiveness in markets abroad.