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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, perhaps I may make it quite clear that Her Majesty's Government are committed to the European banana policy because it protects Caribbean banana production. However, it also supports the banana growers' efforts to improve their own efficiency and competitiveness, particularly in the Windward Islands, both bilaterally and through the European Community. We agree that trade is exactly what the islands need. However, until that industry is made more efficient and competitive, we will have to go on supporting it. As regards the activities of the supermarkets, all of which seem to be engaged in that pricing policy, it is a commercial matter. It would not be appropriate for the Government to start to interfere in such commercial matters.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the situation involves apparent predatory pricing by powerful supermarkets which have no concern whatever

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for the effect of their policy on some of the poorest farmers in the world whose only cash crop is bananas? Can the Minister tell the House whether there is any evidence that the dollar banana exporters who are opposed to the European banana regime are playing any part in the matter? Further, if it is shown that predatory pricing or other forms of market manipulation are involved, will the Government consider using their powers under the competition and fair trading legislation to intervene?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, first, there is no evidence that the dollar producers are involved in the commercial decision by various UK supermarkets to reduce the price of bananas to 19p per pound. It is far too early to say whether the predatory pricing will bring down the overall cost of bananas to supermarkets. However, I should have thought that, with distribution and transport costs so high, they would not be able to continue indefinitely selling at 19p a pound and buying at 30p a pound. Therefore, the retail price reductions are being borne by the supermarkets; they are not affecting the import price at present and therefore there is no immediate effect on the banana growers themselves. However, having been involved with the issue for nearly 10 years, I can assure the noble Lord that I am watching the situation extremely carefully.

Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the European policy on bananas—which she has assured your Lordships that we support—stipulates any particular size or shape of banana? In other words, do the bananas have to be straight or are they allowed to develop in any shape which nature provides for them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the whole policy allows the natural development of bananas; the thickness of their skins is entirely a matter for the banana grower.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether Her Majesty's Government resisted the policy of the European Union which has caused the cost of orange juice to consumers to increase by about 40 per cent. because non-Community oranges were banned?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am all for increasing the intake of vitamin C, but frankly bananas and orange juice are two different commodities.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, returning to bananas, is my noble friend aware that severe restrictions still exist on the importation of Latin American bananas? Does she agree that the consumer interest for Britain would be vastly increased if the restrictions were relieved and importation was on a free and fair basis?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, my noble friend knows well that we have helped the Caribbean banana producers because they have no alternative crop possibilities. That is why we have been involved in helping them to modernise their industry, to get better and more efficient production and, where the land will permit, to diversify. I do not believe the assistance that

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has been given to the Caribbean banana producers is something that we should stop. I agree that we should have the choice which we already have, as my noble friend will find if he does the shopping on a Saturday morning.

Business of the House

3.29 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I hope that this is the right time to rise since I wish to raise a question on Business. To explain myself, at the end of a particularly unpleasant programme on Channel 4 last evening on Lords' declaration of interests and the Griffiths Report, it was stated that this House would be considering the orders to implement Griffiths on Monday next. First, I should like to know whether Channel 4 had some prior knowledge of next week's Business not available to your Lordships or whether it was simply idle speculation on the part of the programme makers.

If it has been decided that we should deal with the orders next week, I sincerely hope that the usual channels will reconsider the decision. I believe that to take the orders next week would be a serious abuse of the procedures of this House. If we took the matter early next Session, that would be acceptable. In saying that, I have to tell the House that I am not against the Griffiths recommendations, but I believe that this House should not be stampeded into making a decision next week on such a vital change to our procedures, when a decision made early next Session would be just as effective and would not cause resentment. After all, if we take the orders next Monday, or even next Tuesday, people will hardly have had the opportunity to read in proper detail the debate of only yesterday.

Furthermore, if Members wished to move amendments, they would certainly not be able to move considered amendments, or move them in time for other noble Lords to consider them and their reactions to them. I sincerely hope, therefore, in the interests of good order and good procedure in this House, that if Channel 4 has got it right—and I sincerely hope that it has not—the matter will be reconsidered.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I believe the situation to be as I tried to explain it and the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees tried to explain it in yesterday's debate. I assure the noble Lord that the purpose of yesterday's debate was to take the mind of the House. I was pleased, and I hope the House will agree with my diagnosis, to find that the overwhelming consensus in the House was to accept the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. I also felt that there was an overwhelming consensus that the report should lead to the bringing forward of the appropriate resolutions as soon as possible.

I also gave a clear undertaking that I would consult, not only with my opposite numbers on the Opposition Front Bench and the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, but with the Convenor and any other individual Members of this House who wanted to express an opinion. I said that

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in the light of those discussions the usual channels would come to a judgment about what appeared to be the wish of this House as to when the resolutions should be introduced.

I have been involved in one or two other matters this morning; therefore I must confess to the House that I have not yet had an opportunity to consult even my opposite numbers as soon as I should have wished. I hope that there will be an opportunity to do so in very short order. We shall then come to a judgment. Equally, the strong expression of opinion that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, will weigh very heavily with us and we shall try to give it the consideration that it deserves.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, perhaps I may make it clear that what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House just heard from my noble friend was a personal expression of opinion and in no way represents the view on this side of the House.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with permission, I have to say to the noble Lord that I received a number of expressions of opinion from Members of the party opposite in agreement with the noble Lord's view. However, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has another view, and it is for everybody concerned to try to come to a judgment as soon as possible.

Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has an individual view, not only on this matter but on certain other topics that come before the House with great regularity. As always, I am obliged to listen to the views of the noble Lord. I listen to them carefully, and pay due attention when he expresses them. However, I am bound to say to him that, so far as we are concerned, in the debate that took place yesterday there was an overwhelming majority among those who spoke—I understand that it was 22:2—for approval of the report. There was a clear feeling that we should "get on with it", the report having been approved.

I do not understand my noble friend's statement that he needs time to study the language of the proposed Motions. They are in the last report of the Procedure Committee, which was an annex to the one that we debated yesterday. Nor, with great respect to my noble friend do I think that he, with his vast parliamentary experience, will need a great deal of time to assimilate the effect of the debate. It was not one in which there was such disparity of view that extensive study is necessary. I make it perfectly clear that I hope that this matter will be dealt with soon. I had understood that it would be dealt with on Monday. If that is still the view of that part of the usual channels, then it is a view that this part of the usual channels certainly supports.


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