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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 884: debated on Thursday 23 January 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Fishing Industry


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has completed his consideration of the case for a temporary operating subsidy or fuel subsidy for the fishing industry; and whether he will make a statement.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action the Government are taking concerning the present position in the fishing industry, especially in relation to increased costs of operation.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he can now make a statement regarding the extent of financial aid in the form of subsidies that he intends to give to the fishing industry.

As I informed the House as recently as 16th January—[Vol. 884, c. 667]—the Government are actively considering the question of aid for the fishing industry. I shall make a statement as soon as possible.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that his statement is anxiously awaited, that as time elapses the catching capacity of the fishing industry is being reduced by vessels being sold or laid up and that the situation with fuel costs and gear costs is getting worse and not improving?

I appreciate that need for an urgent decision, but the claim for the resumption of the subsidy, largely due to fuel cost increases, which is a national problem, raises many difficult questions. We are dealing with this as quickly as possible but further inquiries have had to be made. We shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's anxiety.

One accepts that this excellent Government need time to make a decision which is wise and helpful for the industry, but will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the old system of operating costs per day worked well, was accepted by the industry and, I believe, will be welcomed back if and when he makes his decision?

Yes. My hon. Friend will know that operating subsidies were available for fishing vessels until the end of July 1973, by which time the general profitability of the fleet made subsidies unnecessary. However, I shall certainly take note of his point in the context of the other aspects which must be urgently considered at this time.

In considering these matters of subsidy, will the Government bear in mind that far more important for the future of the fishing industry is the preservation of the fishing grounds by proper extension of this country's limits?

I certainly welcome the emphasis that the right hon. Gentleman places on that matter. We are urgently considering these aspects and others against the background of the Law of the Sea Conference and quotas and other discussions which are now taking place.

Will the Government accept that these answers are not good enough? We have known for months that this situation would develop at the turn of the year, yet nothing is ready and organised to help the fishermen. Will the hon. Gentleman take urgent action and try to give us a report within the next two or three weeks?

I certainly appreciate the hon. Member's concern. Although we can use the data available to deduce whether the fleet as a whole or significant elements of it are operating successfully, there are other questions of judgment that the Government must consider, including how long the developing situation might last, the consequences and whether intervention is justified in certain respects in the national interest. But I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety.

British Poultry Federation


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to meet representatives of the British Poultry Federation.

I met representatives of the British Poultry Federation on 17th December and further meetings are to take place between representatives of the federation and officials of my Department.

Although I appreciate the charm and authority of the hon. Gentleman, I. am sure he realises that the Minister is the person to whom this Question was directed and that the federation would be grateful if he could see his way to meeting it, particularly in the light of the considerable hardships that the industry is now facing, not least on account of the vagaries of the workings of the common agricultural policy, which is presenting the prospect of unfair competition in eggs from France and in poultry meat from Holland and Denmark. Will the hon. Gentleman convey to his right hon. Friend the real appreciation that there would be if he would see a delegation himself?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, but because of my right hon. Friend's many other engagements at home and in Europe, and because he did not wish the meeting with the federation to be held up, he asked me to meet it and to keep him informed of the discussions. At the moment our officials are in touch with the federation. I have only just come from an excellent occasion at the Savoy, when I was able to present the European Egg Marketing Trophy Award. I was also able once more to assure the industry of our concern, quite apart from the fact that one of the biggest poultry farms in the country is in my constituency. I will bear the hon. Gentleman's points in mind.

Will the Minister assure us that he will have these consultations in the context of discussions in relation to the price review and take fully into account in the context of the review the representations of the federation?

There is no United Kingdom guarantee scheme for eggs or poultry meat. The federation has every opportunity of making its views known about the price review and developments in those areas known to the Ministry. We shall take into account all the observations made to me direct and to my right hon. Friend.

Tied Cottages


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has had from farmers and farming organisations on the subject of tied cottages; and whether he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Gavin Strang)

The National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers has urged upon my right hon. Friend the need for early action to implement the Government's pledge to abolish the tied cottage system in agriculture. He has also received representations from the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and from some farmers expressing concern about the Government's intentions here.

May I inform the Minister that the farmers in my constituency—[Hon. Members: "Question."]

Order. The hon. Member may not "inform" the Minister of anything at Question Time.

Is the Minister aware that I and farmers in my constituency are extremely concerned about the Government's intentions in this matter? This is a very complex issue which has ramifications going far beyond agriculture and involves tied accommodation in many other sectors. Before action of any kind is contemplated, will the Government consider setting up a full-scale independent inquiry of a fact-finding nature into this matter, perhaps along the lines of the O'Brien Committee, whose report the House approved last week despite the fact that the Minister was so shamefully deserted by many of his Cabinet colleagues?

No, I should be against an independent inquiry. We are concerned specifically with the issue of the agricultural tied cottage. I acknowledge that some farmers are concerned about some of the implications of this reform, and we shall be having discussions with the NFU. I would hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman would also listen to the views of the agricultural workers in his constituency on this issue.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the tied cottage system has been an intolerable burden on farm workers and their families? [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]. This is an important part of the Labour Party's election promise and should be implemented as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is tremendous strength of feeling on this issue within the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. The Government intend to fulfil the pledge they gave in two manifestos last year.

Is the Minister aware that the continuation of the tied cottage system is most important, particularly for farmers in the dairy industry? Is he also aware that I represent a fair number of dairy farmers in my constituency and that I have never had one complaint from any agricultural worker about the tied cottage system? Will he tell the House what is the difference, if there be one in kind, between the tied cottage for the agricultural worker and the tied cottage for the headmaster, the tied cottage for the policeman or the tied cottage for the railway employee?

I cannot really accept that in practice a headmaster is in a similar position to a farm worker on this issue. But I acknowledge that when we come to implement this reform we must look at all aspects, including the question of dairy farming and farming in remote areas.

Horticulture (Glasshouse Section)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent consultations he has had with the NFU about the problem of glasshouse growers.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further representations he has received from the NFU regarding the glasshouse sector; and what reply he has sent.

My right hon. Friend has discussed the glasshouse sector on several recent occasions with representatives of the NFU who have also met officials. The most recent discussions took place on Friday last in the context of the annual review.

Is the Minister aware that I am grateful to him for receiving my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) and myself last week to discuss the problems of this sector? Is he aware that the main problem facing glasshouse growers is the critical one of the cost of fuel oil, in which context they are in a very special position? When does he expect to be able to make a statement about whether the subsidy which existed until the end of last year will be continued until June?

I agree that this is an important question. As I indicated to the hon. Gentleman when we met, the Government are considering this most urgently, and we shall announce our decision in the very near future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the horticulture section of the Scottish NFU has persuaded some of us that unless help is given there will be bankruptcies in the Clyde Valley and elsewhere in Scotland?

I would agree with my hon. Friend that this is a matter of extreme importance to horticulture producers, particularly to many in the Clyde Valley who are going through a very difficult time.

What has changed since the oil subsidy was first granted and then removed, except that oil prices have increased several times?

I do not think that is a very helpful point—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—if only because it is so fatuous. The fact is that the Government are giving this matter serious consideration. But I am sure that even the hon. Gentleman would accept that the question of the subsidisation of oil imports is one which must be decided in the widest context.

What is the reason for the delay in the Government's decision? Does the Minister agree that the European Community is disposed to be helpful on this matter? Will any decision, to which he has just referred, be back-dated, perhaps to the beginning of the year?

I can confirm that there is no obstacle from the European Community to extending this subsidy, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would expect me to talk of the possibility of back-dating before we have announced our decision in principle on this matter.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement about sugar supplies.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what, in the light of recent statements by the Jamaican Trade Minister concerning the continuation of Commonwealth sugar supplies to Great Britain in the next few months, is his forecast of the likely shortfall of sugar supplies in the coming year.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement concerning future deliveries of raw cane sugar to the United Kingdom port sugar refineries.

Unfortunately it has not yet been possible to reach agreement with the developing Commonwealth countries on the price to be paid for their sugar in 1975. Meanwhile our requirements are being met from our domestic beet crop, imports from the Continent and imports from the world market under the EEC import subsidy arrangements. I am glad to say that the EEC Council of Agricultural Ministers has just agreed to extend this scheme to a further 300,000 tons.

May I press the Minister to tell us a little more about the apparent breakdown in his negotiations with Commonwealth suppliers? Will he say whether this has anything to do with the price he is prepared to offer? Will he also say whether there is any probability of Guyana offering her crop at the price he is apparently prepared to pay, and whether supplies for this country this year are in any sense guaranteed?

On the negotiations with ACP countries, which are fundamental to the hon. Gentleman's question, the talks have not broken down. We shall be pursuing talks with the ACP countries. I announced an offer of £250 cif. I believe that what we offered is reasonable. I hope we shall succeed in getting an agreement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we had been able to conduct these negotiations a year ago the prospects for everyone might have been a great deal better? Will he also tell us something about the deliveries of raw sugar to port refineries from the beet factories? Does he agree that unless these can be continued as they have been in the past, the prospects for employment, irrespective of cane, will be difficult in those refineries, and that the answer given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State to a Written Question some time ago is not reassuring on this matter?

I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too pessimistic. After all, we renegotiated the ACP countries' long-term agreement with the Community, which is a very good agreement, very similar to the old Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, with guaranteed access for 1·4 million tons. All I am saying is that we are still negotiating. I do not want to prejudice negotiations, and I do not think that any hon. Member would want me to say anything which could harm negotiating stances. All I can say is that we are well aware of the problem of the refiners.

Does the Minister appreciate that whatever sugar supplies he may be able to obtain, and at whatever price, in rural communities sugar supplies de facto are not available since those who supply sugar cannot afford to take it to those who eat it, and those who eat it cannot afford to drive and get it from those who supply it?

That was an interesting conclusion to the hon. Member's speech. As the production Minister I am concerned to ensure that our talks with the ACP countries succeed.

Will the Minister say how much of the 300,000 tons is expected to come to the United Kingdom, and for how long that will secure our supplies? If the Minister had not been so dilatory last year we would not have the continuing uncertainty that we know today.

I am amazed at the right hon. Gentleman, especially in view of the great arguments about bankable assurances advanced by one of his colleagues. We have succeeded in negotiating a long-term agreement for the ACP countries. The Conservatives did not do that; we did. Perhaps I can give a specific example of the operation of the import subsidy scheme, which I agreed to and which was a good scheme, whereby we got subsidised sugar, with the subsidy provided by the Community. On the first tranche of 200,000 tons, 156,000 tons came to us. We have negotiated another tranche, but we are not the only deficit area. The other country concerned is Italy. I have every reason to believe that even the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with what I have secured.

Feeding Stuffs


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied with the operation of the emergency measures that he introduced in respect of assisting hill farmers with the fodder requirements for their stock; and what is the number of hill farmers in England and Wales that have taken advantage of this scheme and the number of cattle that have been moved to lowland farm locations.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the current supply position of animal feeding stuffs.

Supplies of cereal feed are adequate and prices have fallen. Fodder is short, although the carry-over stock in 1974 was higher than we had earlier estimated. The mild weather has helped, but some farmers, particularly in parts of Wales, continue to have serious shortages of roughage. About £12,500 has already been committed under the agistment scheme; 29 hill farmers have moved 830 cows to lowland farms. I am satisfied that the measures taken, particularly the substantially higher payments of beef cow, hill cow and hill sheep subsidy now being made, are helping with feed costs.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, however well-intentioned the scheme may have been, it has not been a success? Does he accept that the immediate requirement of our hill farmers is both confidence and cash—cash to help them purchase their much-needed fodder and confidence to restore their faith that they have a future in the pattern of home-produced food?

I appreciate some of the points made by the hon. Member. Of course, the cost of food was one of the reasons why we introduced measures to increase the cash flow. Noticeable among these measures was the advancement of the hill and beef cow subsidy and higher hill sheep subsidies which accounted for more than £30 million. The hon. Member should not forget the other aspects of the comprehensive package introduced by my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member suggests that in the long run this is a matter of confidence, and I am hoping that in his discussions in Brussels my right hon. Friend will be able to achieve some of the assurances which we all need.

The Minister's comment about the mild weather was correct, but does he agree that in terms of supply and price the imports from the EEC have helped considerably over a difficult period?

I appreciate the hon. Member's feelings, but there are aspects of this matter which were mentioned by the hon. Member which have been delayed to some extent through requiring the agreement of the EEC. I know that the hon. Member's area of the South-West has had problems. I was there a fortnight ago speaking to an open meeting of the NFU at which I was able to hear more of the area's difficulties. In that area, as elsewhere, farmers are in touch with our officials who are advising them about the NFU's measures.

However well-intentioned this scheme, was it not entirely misconceived? Is the Minister aware that 830 cattle at £15 a head costs the Ministry just over £1,200 and that that is the only help from the Government to meet the fodder shortage? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes it is. It is impossible for hill farmers to get valley farmers to take any interest in the scheme. They need direct help to enable them to buy fodder.

The hon. and learned Gentleman underestimates my right hon. Friend's intentions. When the situation was revealed as a result of a comprehensive survey we made—we had a straw poll—of the fodder situation, my right hon. Friend was anxious to introduce as many measures as possible. I appreciate that the agistment aspect is not as useful in some areas as in others, but the hon. and learned Gentleman should not overlook the fact that among other measures we decided to increase over six months by 7·7p per gallon the price for milk producers, a floor was put to beef producers' returns by a variable premium and there was an increase in the hill sheep subsidy, a doubling of the hill cow subsidy, advancement of the 1975 hill cow subsidy and other cash and credit measures. The hon. and learned Gentleman should look at the whole package, not just one part of it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was a former Labour Minister of Agriculture who introduced considerable help to hill farmers, particularly on the point of guaranteed prices? Does he agree that a system of guaranteed prices is far better than going cap in hand to the Common Market, which the Conservatives rushed us into a couple of years ago?

I am not sorry that my hon. Friend has caused a little discomfort among the Conservatives. It was the Labour Party which gave assurances and long-term confidence to agriculture over the years with the 1947 Act and subsequent measures. It was the ending of the fatstock guarantee scheme by the Conservatives and other aspects of entry into the EEC which removed the certainty. My right hon. Friend is busy trying to regain the assurances which were so much taken for granted when we were in power before.

Does the Minister recall that when this scheme was announced the announcement envisaged that 10,000 cattle would be moved to lower ground with the estimated expenditure of £150,000? Does he not, therefore, agree that the movement of only 830 cattle under the scheme shows what a miserable failure it has been? Is he aware that at this moment it is estimated that 1,000 cattle a week are being slaughtered in the West Country alone because of malnutrition? Will he take steps to improve the scheme?

Of course, the problem has not been as severe as might have been expected in the areas where the agistment scheme might have been helpful. We have taken all the steps that I have mentioned. In addition the O'Brien Report has been debated by Parliament, and the outcome there might help. In the long term it is a question of getting a good deal from the package now being negotiated in Brussels.

Mole Valley Flood Alleviation Scheme


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the starting date for the Mole Valley flood alleviation scheme.

The Thames Water Authority was given approval in principle to carry out this scheme on 13th January. The matter is now in its hands.

Is the Minister aware that since Monday there has been an amber flood warning on the River Mole? The last time we had an amber warning there was considerable flooding, and people living in the areas are now getting very anxious. Will the Minister give an assurance that the disagreement over contributions will not delay the beginning of the scheme?

The resolution of the argument over contributions is a matter for the Thames Water Authority and the Surrey County Council. My Ministry has offered to give every help it can to try to resolve this matter because, like the hon. Member, we are anxious that the scheme should go ahead as soon as possible.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that when planning permission was sought on flood plains the former Thames Conservancy opposed building and on occasions was overruled by the decision of the inspector? If that was so, will my hon. Friend take steps, with the Secretary of State for the Environment, to see that such events do not recur?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is referring to this specific scheme.

My constituents have suffered bad flooding from the Rivers Mole, Wey and Bourne in recent years, and they are waiting anxiously for the Mole scheme starting date, because flood alleviation schemes for the Wey and Bourne depend on the commencement of that scheme.

I think I can fairly claim that I have kept the promises I gave the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) in the debate on the matter before Christmas. Any delay now will certainly not be the Ministry's responsibility.

Cattle And Sheep


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the numbers of cattle and sheep in Great Britain at the last available date; and what were the numbers at the same period two years and four years ago.

The number of cattle and calves in Great Britain in June 1974, the latest date for which full information is available, was 13,607,000; in June 1972, 12,040,000; and in June 1970, 11,261,000. The number of sheep and lambs in June 1974 was 27,703,000; in June 1972, 25,873,000; and in June 1970, 25,114,000.

I am grateful for that interesting information. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on the recently-expressed suspicions that the remarkable and sustained improvement in livestock quality over recent decades has not been maintained in the past two or three years?

Yes, Sir. We are aware of this and are taking the necessary steps to reverse the trend.

Will the Minister bear in mind that there will be a reduction in sheep and beef production if the Chancellor's tax proposals are continued and that agriculture will go into reverse? What representations is the Minister of Agriculture making to the Chancellor, who is destroying British agriculture in this way?

The matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised are matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Does the Minister agree that until such time as we have a meat marketing board we shall have a succession of slumps and booms in the beef production industry?

That is the basis for another question. It is a matter for the industry as well as for us.

Food Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which foods are now being bought more cheaply from within the EEC than from elsewhere; and if he will publish the differences between current world prices and EEC prices for each commodity.

It is difficult to make direct comparisons of prices of foodstuffs from different national sources because of differences in quality, grading and presentations of products. Of our main temperate imports according to the latest available figures, supplies of wheat, rice, maize, sugar, bacon, lard, tomatoes and apples were available more cheaply from the EEC than from non-EEC sources. There is no easily identifiable world price for many commodities, but with permission I will publish in the Official Report a table showing cif values of our main temperate imports.

What would be the difference in the retail price index if we had to buy these commodities on the world market? Will my hon. Friend make sure that the information is given as much publicity as the distorted figures on the balance of trade deficit given recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade?

It is difficult to talk about the comparisons of prices on world markets, but I have no doubt that there will be no lack of volunteers to make the information known to those who they feel should have it.

Will the Minister remember, in attempting any answer to his hon. Friend's questions, that prices would have to be assessed as they would have been if we had renewed long-term arrangements which we abandoned as a result of a certain mistaken policy?



(£ per ton) E.E.C. Countries

Non-E.E.C. Countries

1. E.E.C. lower than non-E.E.C.
Rice, short grainedItaly161·75Australia190·53
Raw sugar, beet and caneFrance130·08Australia147·28
Refined sugarFrance185·55Poland383·50
Tomatoes, freshIrish Republic292·75Spain332·99
2. No significant difference
West Germany75·38South Africa72·08
Irish Republic669·41Poland701·75
3. Non-E.E.C. lower than E.E.C.
ButterFrance649·72New Zealand361·05
Cheddar type cheeseIrish Republic772·29New Zealand 312·05
LambIrish Republic483·78 (fresh)New Zealand478·84 (frozen)
BeefNo reliable comparison possible owning to ban on imports from non-E.E.C. countries.

Sources: Overseas Trade Statistics of the United Kingdom Customs and Excise Tabulation Sheets.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how the future beef régime to be worked out in the EEC will be affected by the fact that there is no provision in the EEC price proposals for the continuation of the variable premium after February, but only for direct headage payment of thirty units of account.

As I said in the debate in the House on 16th January, I have put proposals to the EEC Council of Ministers for the inclusion of a variable premium scheme in the new beef régime. These proposals, together with other proposals for changes in the beef régime, were discussed by the Council at the meeting earlier this week, and the discussion will be resumed at the next meeting of the Council on 10th-11th February. In the meantime the current arrangements for

I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman needs an answer. He has made his observation clear.

Following is the information:

beef in the United Kingdom will continue throughout February.

Is the Minister aware of the fall in the price of cattle in the market which we have seen during the past few weeks and still see? I am convinced, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware, that it is because of the lack of confidence in a long-term bottom in the market. Therefore, farmers are bringing their stock half finished on to the market in order to get the headage payments before the end of February.

I well understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I believe that it is right to try to negotiate a new long-term agreement for beef, and that is what I am doing. I believe that I have the complete support of the farmers' unions on the issue. I think that in the end that agreement will restore confidence.

Does the Minister appreciate that farmers are selling their cattle forward not only because of lack of confidence but because they do not have the money to buy fodder, and that the doubling of the beef premium is not assisting them to buy the fodder as the premium has not yet arrived in their pockets or banks?

I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that to get the agreement approved by the Community in negotiations would be good for the industry. I also hope she will understand that the farmers want the agreement.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State answered the fodder question in reply to another Question. As the hon. Lady knows, I advanced the hill and beef cow subsidies.

Can the Minister give us some indication of the reasons why the Council of Ministers has been unable to come to a decision on the structure of the new beef régime?

We had two days of discussions, which are to be continued. I hope that we shall complete them, and then perhaps I shall be able to report to the House.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he would be in a much stronger position to do all the things that Opposition Members seem to want him to do, and that the National Farmers' Union wants him to do, if he were a completely free agent and could act on behalf of the British Government and people without running cap in hand to the Common Market?

I do not go to the Community cap in hand. I have stated the position of the British Government, which is that we want an entirely new system to replace that which operates purely on the basis of permanent intervention. I am seeking to achieve that. My hon. Friend is right in saying that the Conservatives removed the guarantees.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I do not accept that for one moment. Of course, we all hope for a thoroughly successful negotiation leading to a satisfactory and workable new beef régime, but, as the Ministers did not reach agreement earlier this week, will the right hon. Gentleman in February increase the steps of the variable premium in the way they have increased over recent months instead of continuing it at the same level as in January?

The right hon. Gentleman must allow me to negotiate in what I think to be the best way. I shall report to the House. There will still be hard negotiating, but I believe that we shall achieve a successful conclusion.

Food Supplies


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what foods are at present in short supply.

Does the Minister agree with the Meat and Livestock Commission's forecast that beef will be in short supply in 1976? If so, what does he intend to do about it?

There is considerable scope for argument about the level of supplies of beef as far into the future as the hon. Gentleman indicated. The Government are anxious that we should have a prosperous and viable beef industry. That is what my right hon. Friend is determined to achieve when he returns to Brussels.

Is my hon. Friend aware that world grain and maize prices have been falling for the past two weeks, that this month world wheat prices have fallen below the EEC level and that an EEC import levy on wheat is now in force? Further, is he aware that it is now true of grain, dairy products and wheat that all of them can be obtained more cheaply outside the EEC than inside?

I think that my right hon. Friend is perhaps being a little sweeping, but I agree with the basic point that the relationship between EEC prices and world prices is liable to considerable fluctuation throughout the years and that there is no saying what it will be in two years' time.

Has the Minister forgotten that what are now in short supply are butter and milk products from our home resources? Will he take every step to ensure that at the forthcoming price review adequate incentives will be given to dairy farmers to ensure that milk supplies increase so that we can restore the supply of butter and milk products to what it was not long ago?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is considering closely the position of the milk producer in the context of discussions prior to the annual review. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that if we are to remain a member of the Community we do not want a huge butter mountain.

Cattle Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the effect that the removal of the ban on the export of live animals would have on the average market price received by producers for cattle in the United Kingdom.

No such estimate has been possible. Because there has been no trade in live cattle from this country since July 1973 it is difficult to judge the potential export demand for cattle now, especially as the supply situation in the Community and world markets has changed considerably during the last 18 months.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he accept that the National Farmers' Union and the British livestock industry are most grateful to him and to his right hon. Friend for accepting the O'Brien recommendations and to Parliament for lifting the ban on the export of live animals? Does he agree that there is increasing concern about the amount of payments due on any animals that are exported. For instance, on a beast of 10 cwt. going from the United Kingdom to Holland the amount due could be as much as £80.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his compliments, which are always welcome from the Opposition benches. The NFU amongst others is aware that live cattle face a 9·6 per cent. ad valorem duty on imports into the EEC countries. There are transitional and monetary compensatory charges and the precise level varies, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, according to destination and fluctuations in currency ex- change rates. It may be necessary to levy an export charge on cattle corresponding with the current charge on exports of beef arising from the variable premium arrangements. My right hon. Friend will keep these matters under review.

Sugar Beet


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that the price he has indicated that sugar beet manufacturers will receive in the next sugar beet campaign will be adequate to ensure the maximum take-up of the increased sugar beet quota; and what is the present level of take-up of contracts compared to the same time last year.

The British Sugar Corporation expects the contracted acreage to reach about 500,000 acres compared with 484,000 acres last year.

Is the Minister aware that the House will be grateful for the assurance he has given regarding the acreage contracted for so far? Will he tell the House something about the progress of the negotiations now taking place for an 8 per cent. price increase on 1st February and a further 8 per cent. price increase on 1st July as a result of the EEC recommendations?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I think he will be well aware that my right hon. Friend stated that he is in favour of the proposed price increase for beet.

Will the Minister be so kind as to sweeten my few moments by telling us whether he will now consider a massive increase in beet production in this country? Beet produced here is infinitely cheaper than that which we can buy from overseas. Will he offer to our beet producers a proper incentive by which we can raise nearly half a million tons more sugar a year than we are now raising?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are in favour of increased beet production. If the Commission's proposals go through, the price to the producer will be about £16 a ton compared with £8 a ton in 1972.

If the sugar beet crop this year yields even an average amount, what will be the total deficiency on United Kingdom sugar requirements? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, although his right hon. Friend has said that he is negotiating a long-term agreement with the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement countries, so far not one ounce of that sugar has been bought, is on the high seas or has reached a British port?

Expected production of sugar beet will be somewhere in line with our basic quota. The hon. Gentleman know that we have had a disappointing beet crop this year. On the second part of his question, the fact is that my right hon. Friend has just secured 300,000 tons of sugar through the Lardinois scheme and is in the process of negotiating a long-term agreement with the ACP countries.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements during the recess.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will publish in the Official Report a list of his official engagements during the Christmas Recess.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements during the Christmas Recess.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will publish with the Official Report a list of the official engagements he carried out during the Chrismas Recess.


asked the Prime Minister how many official visits he made during the recess.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements during the Christmas Recess.


asked the Prime Minster if he will list his official engagements during the recesss.

I would refer my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentlemen to the replies I gave to my hon. Friend, the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), and to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison) on 14th and 16th January respectively.

Does the right hon Gentleman agree that, on the Government's own figures, inflation is now running at a rate of 25·2 per cent. and that a list of his official engagements would reveal a complete absence of any meetings with the representatives of the many groups in our society who have been cripplingly affected by inflation, one such group being the self-employed, who have been shabbily treated by the Government?

Sir, I was asked about my official engagements. I have recently answered many Questions on inflation in the House. The House had a long debate on self-employment. I suggest that it is an abuse of Question Time to ask what official engagements I have had and then to try to raise every other subject. As there are eight Questions tabled on my official engagements, other Members are prevented from asking a Question.

May I ask the Prime Minister a question which he has carefully avoided answering before? Even if the social contract is completely successful in limiting wage increases to the rise in the cost of living, how can that reduce the rate of inflation? Will it not perpetuate the existing rate of inflation? Is it not a reality that the Prime Minister should face that if we are to achieve any reduction in inflation living standards must fall?

The Question relates to my official engagements. The social contract is not an official engagement.

Do not these jejune questions which are asked mainly by Opposition Members indicate that the Daily Express leader writer was correct the other day when he said—

—that we have the silliest and most ineffective Tory Opposition in living memory?

My official engagements did not include the Daily Express during the period in question. I would ask my hon. Friend to show more compassion for the Conservative Party at this time.

As the House adjourned for the Christmas Recess on the eve of what was obviously a growing economic crisis, is it not natural that my right hon. and hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who seems for some reason not to be here today—[Interruption.] I am drawing to the attention of the Prime Minister the fact that the hon. Member for Bolsover joined us on the eve of the recess in tabling Questions that were designed to determine the leadership that the Prime Minister was to give us during the recess in dealing with the mounting crisis. Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont)?

It is perfectly in order for the hon. Member to table Questions about my official engagements. He did not put down a Question about the matters now being raised in supplementary questions and I submit that this is an abuse of the House which has stopped the answering today of a large number of Questions tabled in good faith by Conservative and Labour Members who were not a syndicated team such as are this lot who appear every week.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answers to my hon. Friends' questions are, as usual, long on words but short on facts? Will he kindly tell us what he did in the Christmas Recess to deal with the economic crisis?

The hon. Member is perfectly well aware of the engagements I had, for example, with the NEDC and others, on Northern Ireland and on one thing and another. They were all announced at the time. The hon. Gentleman did not need to table Questions to find out. I have not been long on words. My comments have been directed to the rules of the House.

Will my right hon. Friend please publish a list of his engagements for the benefit of the Labour side of the House so that we can see how they compare with conducting carol concerts at Broadstairs and killing dolphins off Jamaica?

Although in the previous Parliament the same syndicated group put most of their Questions to the then Prime Minister about me and not about him, I have to say—and this is the position—that there is no ministerial responsibility for the Leader of the Opposition.

What on earth does the Prime Minister think Prime Minister's Question Time is for? Is it not intended to enable him to answer such questions as what he did during the Christmas Recess, or does he regard it as being designed to enable him to fill the Chamber with a fog of verbiage?

The fog is coming from these questions. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have tabled serious Questions which will not be reached because of the obstruction of hon. Members opposite. The whole House is aware that every week, under the previous Government and this one, an official of Tory Central Office sends out little coloured slips to hon. Gentlemen. It has now become an abuse.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the only abuse of Question Time is the way he is carrying on at present? Since he did not pay an official visit to Leicestershire during the Christmas Recess, may I ask him to take this opportunity of publicly commending those women workers in Leicestershire who have voluntarily forgone nationally-negotiated wage increases so that their firms will not suffer redundancies and possible bankruptcies?

The hon. Gentleman is a member of this syndicated group. The Question he put down asked about my official engagements, not about things I did not do. The hon. Member has now been a Member of this House long enough—

to know that there is a perfectly proper procedure for this, which I think he has used. He can ask me if I will visit his constituency or any other part of Leicestershire or the United Kingdom. It is often done. The hon. Gentleman might do it directly next time and not by this technique.

Is it not the case that it has long been the custom of this House that Questions to the Prime Minister deal with two spheres, namely, whether he will visit a particular place or whether he will give details of his previous engagements, to give right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House the opportunity to question him on wider matters which, because of the present definition of Questions, they are not otherwise permitted to do? What is happening this afternoon is an abuse by the Prime Minister of a long-standing custom of the House. Since the Prime Minister has now stated that one of his engagements was with the NEDC, may I put to him a specific question concerning the NEDC which has been raised by my hon. Friends? As a result of the discussions which he has had with industry, employers and trade unions, are workers entitled to get settlements under the social contract which maintain their real standard of living in 1975? "Yes" or "No"?

In reply to the first part of the question, if it was a question, put by the right hon. Gentleman, I have followed past practice in these matters. Asking Questions about official engagements has never been any warrent whatever for putting supplementary questions about engagements that did not take place or for covering general matters which have been answered by me each time that I have been here ever since the House came back. I answered the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question last Thursday. I refer him to that answer. It did not arise out of my official engagements. I answered that question last Thursday in reply to a perfectly properly put Question. There was also a statement issued on Monday dealing with this. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the statement made yesterday by Mr. Len Murray which is relevant to this. The answer is that we are asking people now to show greater compliance with the social contract. That is what the social contract means, and that is an answer to the right hon. Gentleman.

Will the right hon. Gentleman now, on his own responsibility, give a direct answer to the question which has been asked by my hon. Friends and myself? Is it "Yes" or "No"?

This does not arise out of my official engagements, but I will answer it. It is this kind of question that was responsible for the mess the country was in a year ago. Of course it is possible for people to maintain living standards, but this depends on productivity, avoidance of unemployment, the following of our policies and the repudiation of those which brought the country to its knees.

Legislative Programme


asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with progress in the implementation of the Government's programme as set out in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech.

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that the National Enterprise Board, when it is set up, will be adequately financed? Can he say whether its decisions, once it is established, can be overridden by the European Commission?

I hope that the Bill dealing with the National Enterprise Board will be introduced in the very near future and that it will make reasonably speedy progress through the House, with the general will of hon. Members in all parts. Its powers will be set out in the Bill. It will follow strictly the lines of the White Paper published by the Government before the General Eelection and clearly endorsed by the country. There is no power that I am aware of in the European Commission which in any way interferes with the right of the Government to set up anything like the 1RC or the NEB or to take firms into public ownership, in accordance with the law of the land.

Will the Prime Minister tell the House when the Government intend to do something to redeem their pledge to improve rural transport? Is he aware that, because of the vastly increased price of petrol, bus services in many rural areas are being drastically reduced? Is it not time that the Government came forward with proposals to help when many people are finding it difficult to get to work?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a most important issue. I am not sure whether he is referring to public transport in rural areas or to owner-drivers. Both cases are important. The House has discussed the petrol problems of those who have to drive to work. I have answered questions about it and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport has given help to rural bus undertakings, road transport and railways. Because this is an important point, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pursue this matter with my right hon. Friend.

Press (Royal Commission)


asked the Prime Minister when he expects to announce the appointment of the new Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Press.

I am grateful for that information. Is the Prime Minister aware of the increasing public concern which has been expressed about the freedom of the Press? Will he, in particular, take early steps to give evidence to the Royal Commission to ensure that it is aware of the need for those employed in the industry to have the right to belong to the trade union of their choice? Furthermore, will he ensure that editors employed in the industry have the right to select the material of their choice without censorship from those otherwise employed in the industry?

That is an important question. The House debated these matters last spring in what I believe most people felt was one of the most significant and constructive debates on this subject for many years. I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind the question of industrial relations legislation, which has been fully debated in the House and outside, and the House has taken decisions. It is not for me to go further into it today.

As I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, the Royal Commission by its terms of reference has to deal with the freedom of the Press. If I could feel that the anxieties—I recognise that they are real—about the National Union of Journalists and the editorial position were the only threat to the freedom of the Press, we should be talking about a very different Press. Some of the main threats to the freedom of the Press are concerned with the danger of newspapers going out of existence—which has been very real in these last few days—and with proprietorial interference with the rights of those self-same newspapers. These are matters within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the influence of advertisers and politically motivated proprietors is infinitely more dangerous than anything which the NUJ might exert? I am sure that the Prime Minister supports his right hon. Friend in his approach to the "phoney" campaign that has been waged against him.

That accusation is often made about advertisers. I have not seen a great deal of evidence on this matter except for one or two suggestions recently of owners getting a good personal Press in "William Hickey" or not getting into "William Hickey" because of the switching of advertising. That is very trivial stuff. If it were thought that advertisers were using their economic power to interfere with the freedom of the Press, that would be eminently a matter for the Royal Commission. So is the question raised by my hon. Friend about proprietorial interference with editorial views.