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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I thank noble Lords who participated in the brief debate this evening. I shall try to answer some of the points raised.

My noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington added what he described as a note of scepticism to the debate when he asked what the treaties meant and whether in fact they mattered. They do matter because the agreements are aimed at reducing bureaucratic barriers to trade, not increasing them. As the UK is part of the EC Customs Union, third-country agreements are now negotiated on behalf of the European Union as a whole, but that does not prevent us from continuing to promote bilateral UK trade with the region. These agreements are a clear example of what Britain supports most in the EU: progressive removal of barriers to trade, leading to increased long-term prosperity on all sides.

My noble friend asked some specifics in relation to the three treaties. Latin America is a key emerging market. It is a place of huge opportunities. We do not want British companies to lose out. The UK has significant interests in the region. We are the third largest investor, with capital flows per annum of £3 billion. We need to protect those interests.

As regards Chile, the UK has significant interests there, too. We are the third largest foreign investor, again with investments with a book value in the region of £3 billion. UK exports to Chile in 1996 were worth £185 million.

The new Morocco agreement allows for the progressive dismantling of tariffs, opening the Moroccan economy for EU business and making Moroccan products available to EU consumers.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, raised a number of questions. As far as the Government are concerned, as I said in my opening remarks, the importance of the agreement is primarily in the liberalisation of trade. But as the noble Lord himself said, we should not put on one side the other advantages open to us. In being able to discuss human rights issues, much has improved in recent years, but there are still problems in these countries which we shall wish to discuss. We shall wish to pursue the environmental issues; and we shall wish to discuss with those countries the consolidation of their newly found democratic systems.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, raised questions about agricultural market access in Morocco. He raised issues—if not specific questions—about delay. It is important to remember that, on the one hand, the EU has a commitment to provide assistance to its Mediterranean neighbours in the form of trade concessions. On the other hand, the southern member states of the EU have
 
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problems in accepting trade liberalisation in Morocco's main agricultural products since those who are the main producers of southern member states own the farming industries. The package offered to Morocco reflects the balance between those factors. That is also the case with the other Euro-Mediterranean agreements; I know that the noble Lord had some concerns about Mediterranean agricultural issues.

I listened with interest to the points raised; I hope I have been able to answer them satisfactorily. I give my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington the assurance that he sought that these agreements will not lead to any detriment in the trade of individual UK companies with the countries concerned.

The European Union agreements with Morocco, Mercosur and Chile represent an important development in the European Union's external trade and economic relations and are consistent with the Government's policies towards those countries. We should therefore give our firm support to these new agreements. I commend the orders to the House.

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Scottish Seed Potato Development Council (Dissolution) Order 1997

6.54 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th June be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order is presented in accordance with the requirements of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947. Its purpose is to wind up the affairs of this purely Scottish body in recognition of the recent establishment of a new GB Potato Industry Development Council.

It might be helpful if I first briefly rehearsed some of the background to this issue. The Scottish Seed Potato Development Council was first established in 1981 to promote and develop the market for Scottish seed potatoes both at home and overseas. Since that time it has given excellent service to Scots seeds growers and merchants, promoting this extremely high quality Scottish product world-wide. Uncertainty over the Council's future began in December 1993 when the then Ministers agreed to dissolve the Potato Marketing Board. Resultant restructuring in the potato industry has ultimately led to the dissolution order now before you.

A statutory review of the SSPDC (as it is more commonly known) took place in 1995 and extended the Council's life for a further two years while proposals for a successor body to the Potato Marketing Board were discussed. This allowed Scottish growers and merchants time to consider whether their interests would be best served in the future in a GB context or by a separate Scottish body.

A poll of Scottish-registered seed growers carried out in April of last year voted 61 per cent. in favour of a GB body.
 
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In February this year your Lordships approved an order establishing a new GB potato industry development council, now called the British Potato Council. This body has now taken over some of the functions of the Potato Marketing Board, which was dissolved on 30 June this year.

To protect the often separate and largely Scottish interests of the seed potato sector, Ministers agreed to provide for a statutory seed sectoral group as part of the new council. This group will offer advice and recommendations to the main council on all seed issues. It is chaired by a specialist Scots seed grower and has helped to offer reassurance to the Scottish industry that their needs will be adequately catered for in this new GB body.

As required by Sections 8(1) and 1(3) of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947, a consultation exercise was carried out requesting views on the dissolution of SSPDC. I can confirm that all representative Scottish bodies consulted, including the chairman and members of SSPDC, have agreed to dissolution in favour of the British Potato Council. Credit for this unanimity must go to the Potato Marketing Board and other industry organisations who for more than three years put immense effort into developing proposals for a successor body which would be acceptable to all industry sectors.

I will now turn briefly to the dissolution order itself and bring two points in particular to your Lordships' attention.

First, although a power has been provided in Article 5 which would allow the Secretary of State to impose an additional levy to cover any shortfall in funds, I should point out that this power is unlikely to be utilised since SSPDC is currently in the position of carrying a small surplus of funds

Secondly, Article 6 provides for those surplus funds to be transferred to another development council for the industry. In practice, that will be the British Potato Council. I understand that that body has agreed to use the funds for the specific benefit of the Scottish seed industry.

The SSPDC has provided a valuable service to the industry, which I am pleased to acknowledge today. However, the industry is undergoing major structural change and the Scottish seed growers recognise that their interests would now be better served by the British Potato Council. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th June be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Sewel.)

Lord Lyell: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene in this debate for 30 seconds. I am glad to see my neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, waiting to succeed me. I shall not delay him for long. I was delighted to hear the Minister say that in the winding up there is a small surplus. Since by training I am a humble accountant, I looked at Articles 5 and 6.

The Minister said that there is a small surplus. It seemed encouraging to me that it will go for the specific benefit of the Scottish seed potato industry. Can he confirm to me—perhaps at a later stage—whether that is
 
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what I would call "material". I am impressed to learn that there is a small surplus in the winding up. After all that has been done for the industry over the past 14 or 15 years, I am pleased that we have come to this satisfactory conclusion. I thank the Minister for introducing the order so nicely.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I hope that this dissolution order will not cause the havoc to which the dissolution of the Potato Marketing Board contributed. We have the lowest prices today due to a surplus, which again was largely due to the lack of any control of acreage by the Potato Marketing Board.

I also hope that the Minister will confirm—can he confirm?—that no pressure was exerted on the 61 per cent. who agreed to the dissolution and the 100 per cent. who welcomed the British Seed Potato Marketing Board, if that is what it is to be called. I very much doubt whether it is a good move. Scots seed potatoes are "the" seed potatoes in Britain. We supplied the English market. We were in the healthiest area and the freest from aphids. The reputation of Scots seed potatoes is exploited by a number of people from Scotland in various markets in Europe today. We are not nearly so good at it as the Dutch, but I must say that the name of a Scots board would do a great deal more for sales than would a British name. Previously, the largest part of England was in fact a ware producing area and not a seed potato producing area.

Obviously, this is a fait accompli but I doubt whether it will be for the good of the Scottish seed potato industry in the future. It may well be. But with the Scots name and Scots direction, it would have been much better.

Furthermore, the order is totally against the trend that we have been discussing for the past few days in this House. Surely, one of the things of which the Scottish Parliament should be in control is the development of any export trade for Scottish produce. I shall not vote against the order but it does not look all that good to me.


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