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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 20 February 1975

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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Gooseberries And Blackcurrants

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has of the reduction in yields per acre likely in respect of gooseberries and blackcurrants if wide-row spacing becomes inevitable as a result of the decline in availability of narrow tractors as a result of tractor cab regulations as indicated in the Parliamentary Secretary's letter dated 11th December 1974 to an hon. Member.

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

No such estimate has been made, nor was any such contingency foreshadowed in the correspondence to which the hon. Member refers.

Is the Minister aware that if it becomes almost impossible to get narrow tractors as a result of these ridiculous regulations—regulations which are unnecessary because there are no accidents, fatal or otherwise, on small tractors through lack of cabs—the yields and profitability will fall? Will the Minister have another look at the matter, with a view to helping horticulturists whose efforts are badly needed?

I cannot accept most of what the hon. Member said. Surely he will agree that as things stand narrow tractors are available to horticultural growers. The basis of these regulations is that tractors being used for horticulture might move into more general agricultural uses. That is why the regulations have been framed in the way that they have.

Is the Minister aware that tractor cabs are in very short supply? Will he give an assurance that they will be available for farmers to purchase before the regulations come into force next year?

I certainly take the hon. Member's point. We are having discussions with manufacturers and we are doing all we can. We are confident that the cabs will be available in the numbers required. Those hon. Members who do not seem to accept the need for the regulations must appreciate that in 1974 there were 21 fatal accidents in England and Wales through tractors without cabs overturning. There were no fatal accidents on tractors with cabs.

Meat (Consumption)

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what studies have been made in his Department regarding the increased consumption of beef in the United Kingdom and the decreased consumption of lamb and mutton; and what conclusions have been reached.

My Ministry carries out regular studies of household food consumption based on data from the National Food Survey. It also prepares annual statistics of total food supplies moving into consumption in the United Kingdom. The recent increase in beef consumption is associated with ample supplies and with changes in beef retail prices in relation to those of other meats and real incomes. Over the years, mutton and lamb consumption has probably suffered from an increased demand for manufactured meat products for which they are little used. Consumption of home produced lamb has, however, been increasing in recent years.

I appreciate that the consumption of beef has risen to a certain extent because of over supply. However, is it not important for the country that lamb and mutton consumption should be encouraged, since the inputs required for those meats are far lower than for beef?

I think that the implication of the hon. and learned Member's question is that the housewife has recognised in recent times that beef has been a very good buy. The hon. and learned Member will see that under the deal which my right hon. Friend announced on Monday the guaranteed price for sheep has been increased by 6p per pound, to 35·5p per pound, a 20 per cent. increase, and for wool the figure goes up by 5p per pound to 31p. This financial assistance will give added incentives, particularly to the hill farmers, about whom the hon. and learned Member is concerned.

If it is desired to increase the consumption of mutton and lamb, would it not be more sensible to remove the import duty, since there is no justification for it even though it has the support of the Liberal Party?

The import levy is a factor, but we have no reason to believe that it is a hindrance to our trade.

Pineapple

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether the present tariff treatment of canned pineapple imported into this country from Malaysia is consistent with the declaration of intent annexed to the United Kingdom Accession Treaty with the EEC.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation on pineapple is at variance with the recommendation of the European Commission—a recommendation which was rejected by the Council of Ministers—concerning the treatment of this product under the generalised system of preferences? Is it not also at variance with the declaration of intent which was annexed and to which we are signatories, which would have helped Malaysia, and which instead, is giving preference to the former French colonies?

Under the United Kingdom system, imports of canned pineapple from Malaysia were included in the Community generalised preference scheme. There is a special tariff for certain canned pineapple, which is expressly designed to cover Malaysian exports. The United Kingdom share of that quota was not exhausted in 1974. The preferences given to Malaysian exports are at significantly lower rates of duty than those charged on imports from developed country sources.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as from 1st January 1975 the duty on imported pineapples has gone up from 4 per cent. to 8 per cent? If that is so, is not that a retrograde step?

These are matters about which we shall know after the consultations with the countries concerned.

Bread

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will require bakers to mark clearly the day of baking on wrapped loaves of bread.

The report on date-marking by the Steering Group on Food Freshness will be published in the near future and a statement will be made at that time.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is carelessness, if not sharp practice, to sell a stale loaf, especially to an old-age pensioner? Is he aware that some bakers mark loaves, others mark them secretly, and others do not mark them, and that consistency of practice is required in the matter?

I share my hon. Friend's views with regard to the unfortunate state of affairs, to say the least, when such bread is sold to a pensioner. The Government attach considerable urgency to this matter. The sale of stale bread is an offence and can be proceeded against under the Food and Drugs Act 1955.

Sugar

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to open negotiations on sugar supplies for the United Kingdom for 1976.

Negotiations between the Community and the ACP sugar-producing countries resulted in an agreement earlier this month, giving them indefinite access to EEC markets at guaranteed prices. There is no need for the terms of this agreement to be renegotiated for 1976. The Commission has undertaken to consult the ACP countries on the question of price in advance of making proposals to the Council of Ministers on agricultural prices for 1976–77.

Despite what the Minister said, does he not agree that if we withdraw from the Community, negotiations on prices need not take place? Does he not further agree that if we stay in the Community price negotiations will have to take place? The Minister will have to negotiate, and he will have to do so through the Commission.

My hon. Friend is speculating. I have to deal with the reality, which is, I believe, that the long-term access agreement we obtained was a very good deal for the developing countries—and they know it.

Will the Minister clear up an uncertainty which exists over the amount of sugar available in 1976 from home sources? Will he clear up the uncertainty that arose on Tuesday on the question whether the £16 a ton for sugar beet will include the transport and pulp allowance? Will he tell us what is his latest estimate of the number of acres of sugar beet which will be grown next year as a result of the price negotiations?

My hon. Friend must relate his supplementary question to the original answer, which dealt with the negotiations for sugar supplies for 1976. I believe that the increase in price which I negotiated in Brussels was a good deal for our own producers. They have accepted it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what contingency plans have been made by the Government to obtain sugar supplies if the United Kingdom leaves the Common Market?

That is an entirely different question. I said that I could not indulge in speculation.

Will the Minister say how much of the 1·4 million tons has been promised by the ACP countries? They have recently told Brussesls what to expect. Will he say, in view of the lessening of uncertainty for the cane refiners' future, what plans he has for reorganising the industry?

The reorganisation of the industry is another question. The previous Conservative administration considered it and did nothing about it. The supplies we negotiated will amount to 1·4 million tons. All the quotas are not yet in, but we have every reason to believe that they will reach that figure.

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest estimate of the total volume of sugar imports with the United Kingdom which will be subsidised by the EEC during the current year.

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give an up-to-date estimate of the total quantity of sugar carrying a subsidy from the EEC which will be imported into the United Kingdom in 1975.

The Council of Ministers agreed in January to continue the import subsidy scheme for a further 300,000 tons in addition to the 200,000 tons allocated in December and January. Up to mid-February, United Kingdom traders had obtained 164,680 tons out of a total of 218,200 tons receiving subsidy. It is difficult to estimate precisely what further quantities United Kingdom traders will secure under this or any future stage of the scheme.

Does the last answer mean that the Minister has denied Press reports that, after all the argument about guaranteed access to 1·4 million tons, we shall receive from our traditional suppliers less than 1·3 million tons? How will the price of EEC subsidised sugar to the housewife compare with the price the Minister has negotiated for the supplies this year from our traditional suppliers?

Press statements have been made by journalists concerning the long-term supply of 1·4 million tons. I do not accept those statements. I stand by the figure which we negotiated. The subsidised sugar from the Community represents a good deal for the housewife.

Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to two Written Answers from the Minister of State last week, which showed that, in spite of EEC subsidies, the cost of sugar to the United Kingdom confectionery manufacturers was a good deal higher than it was to their counterparts in the other EEC countries? In that case, how does the Minister explain that he is obliged to pay a substantial export levy? Will he take this matter up with his opposite number in the EEC and obtain justice?

I recognise that there is a problem for our industry which processes foodstuffs with a high sugar content. I am keeping a continual watch on this and I shall make the necessary representations.

Common Agricultural Policy

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on renegotiation of the common agricultural policy.

31.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the latest position in relation to the renegotiations with the EEC on the common agricultural policy.

38.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on what progress he has made on each of his aims in the Common Market negotiations.

The changes I wish to see in the operation of the CAP and certain related fields are set out fully in my statement to the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 18th June last year. It would be premature for me now to make any general assessment of what has been achieved, but progress on a number of issues has been made in the course of negotiations about which the House has been regularly informed. In particular we have reached a satisfactory settlement on sugar under Protocol 22, providing long-term guarantees of access on extremely fair terms for the developing countries of the Commonwealth. And, as I explained last Monday, we have secured fundamental changes in the beef régime, which enable this country, or any other member State, to operate deficiency payment arrangements, which will provide a guarantee to producers without taking excessive quantities of meat into intervention cold stores.

I accept that certain arrangements have been made, but will the Minister say what major changes in the common agricultural policy have been agreed, so that the CAP ceases to be a threat to world trade in food products, and so that low-cost products from outside Europe can continue to have access to the British food market in accordance with the Labour Party manifesto?

I made a series of proposals. One which was accepted concerned basing the criteria for prices on efficient farms and the supply and demand situation. That was a step forward in agriculture. Protocol 22 gave a good deal to the developing countries. That agreement compares favourably with the old Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. I have also achieved a new beef régime, which enables a deficiency payments system to operate.

It is not for just one year. I have already answered that point. It is not a temporary thing. It is a major change in the system, which I should have thought hon. Members would welcome.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all hon. Members on the Government benches, whether pro- or anti-Market, agree that there must be fundamental changes in the common agricultural policy, and that we are all gratified that he is making considerable progress towards that end? If, in the event, the Government recommend that we stay in the EEC, in view of the considerable progress that has been made, will he join in the recommendation?

That supplementary question goes further than the Question that I have been asked to answer. My hon. Friend should wait and see.

In renegotiating the terms of the common agricultural policy will the Minister turn his attention to three points—first, that it is unacceptable that the French should unload eggs on the British market, undercutting our egg industry, when they refuse to take our exports; secondly, that the European pig herd is likely to reach a peak later this year and that it is important, therefore, to ensure that our pig herd expands next year; and, thirdly, that most continental milk is produced for manufacture whereas ours is produced for liquid consumption? Will he ensure that the regulations and directives that come from the European Economic Community have regard to those points?

A Commission document specifically relating to milk is to be debated tonight. I am well aware of the regulations. I accept that we must watch and scrutinise them very carefully.

I want our pig herd to increase and the farmer to have sensible and reasonable prices.

I am having talks about eggs and hope to speak to the French on the matter.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has been able to twist the arm of the Common Market authorities more than his predecessor was able to do. However, does he agree that as Britain cannot produce the whole of the food that she needs—in fact, only about half—and as the common agricultural policy is designed to protect countries which produce almost all their own food, it is an utter failure for this country, and the sooner he negotiates to abolish and replace it with something better, the better it will be for this country as a whole?

My hon. Friend knows only too well that the Labour Party's policy and decision were and are to seek the renegotiation of the terms of entry. I have done that honourably. I suspect that some people were hoping that I would fail. I would rather succeed and help our farmers, because in the end we should encourage more production in this country.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government's renegotiation objective of obtaining open access to the British market for low-cost producers throughout the world—

That is as may be—is not restricted to under-developed or Commonwealth countries, but is wholly general?

My aim throughout the working business of the Community has been to seek to liberalise the CAP. For example, I have defended access for meat supplies from Botswana and Swaziland. I believe that we should try to get permanent access for New Zealand. I met the New Zealand Prime Minister this week and we discussed what we were going for at the summit. [Interruption.] If it is welcome, why not say so.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of his right hon. and hon. Friends wish to congratulate him on the success of his negotiations so far, which have brought great benefit to our constituents, whether producers or consumers, and to the Commonwealth?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) for some help.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's belated recognition of the fact that the CAP is flexible. May I ask him, first, whether his target price for beef, of £22 to £23, is realistic in the face of rising costs which producers have to pay and, secondly, whether he will be more specific about eggs? The Minister said that he was going to talk to the French. This has been a critical situation for several weeks. It is extremely urgent. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make a statement to the House next week, at the latest, so that the position can be rectified?

I am aware of the problems in the egg industry. We have met the Eggs Authority. I am trying to achieve something, but it will take a little time.

I believe that what I have negotiated regarding beef prices is reasonable in the circumstances.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the cost to public funds of the operation of the CAP in 1974; and how this compares with the cost of its full application.

Excluding the United Kingdom's contribution to Community funds in respect of the CAP, the net cost to the Exchequer in 1974 was £70·9 million. The cost at the end of the transitional period would depend on factors which cannot be predicted reliably.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an idea of the savings to the public in food costs as a result of the partial operation of the CAP and also, compared with that, the cost of the additional measures that he has had to introduce because the CAP is not yet in full operation?

I cannot quantify the figures, but I shall look at this and write to the hon. Gentleman.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about one aspect of the CAP? Will he inform the House what progress has been made in securing a regulation to govern sheep meat which will ensure that producers of lamb and mutton can at all times sell their produce in France?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is no sheep meat régime in the Community. France and Ireland would like to have one, but there has been no progress towards it.

Rabies

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the present regulations relating to the prevention of the spread of rabies.

Yes, Sir. The two new orders that came into force on 5th February 1975 provide a sound basis for preventing the entry or spread of rabies in Great Britain.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Rabies is spreading across the Continent to the Channel ports at a speed of about 50 miles a year. Will he consider tightening up the regulations and inspection at the Channel ports and, in particular, will he satisfy himself that the regulations at the many private and military airfields regarding the illegal importation of animals are adequate?

I agree absolutely that this is an important and serious matter. I shall take on board the hon. Gentleman's suggestion regarding private airfields. I am sure that he will acknowledge that the two orders which came forward earlier this month represent a substantial advance. We shall shortly be mounting a publicity campaign at the ports.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not so much the regulations as their enforcement which is vital?

I agree with the hon. Lady. That is why I said that we shall be conducting a publicity campaign at the ports and will be talking to the people responsible for implementing the regulations.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, whilst it is important that there should be adequate public information, one of the major needs is for magistrates and those responsible in the courts to take a sufficiently stern view of what could be a very serious problem?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. As he knows, we have raised the maximum penalty to one year's imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both. I certainly hope that magistrates recognise how serious and vital this matter is to this country.

Flood Prevention (Kent)

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will request the Southern Water Authority to submit emergency plans to prevent or mitigate flooding, particularly in the areas of Edenbridge, Leigh, Hildenborough and Tonbridge to be completed before the end of 1975 if possible.

The prevention of flooding in these areas is a matter for the Southern Water Authority. I understand that its view is that it would not be practicable to carry out emergency works pending a decision on the main scheme.

Is the Minister aware that the proposed barrage of the Medway, flooding 1,000 acres in my constituency, will expose many houses to flooding twice or thrice a year for the next five years? That is unsatifactory. Will he ask the Southern Water Authority to re-examine the possibility of dredging the Medway and raising the level of the wall which could protect Tonbridge and other areas from flooding? The consultants on the job have already wasted six years. Will he give them a bit of a jerk?

I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said. He will appreciate that there are many complexities in the last report produced by the consultants, and reaction to it was very mixed. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a matter for the Southern Water Authority. We cannot tell it how to do its job.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the absence of any alternative my constituents are behind the implementation of this scheme and look to his right hon. Friend to hold his statutory inquiry in May or June of this year so that the necessary Private Bill can be introduced in the next Session?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall give the authorities all the help and support that they need in these matters.

Horticulture Industry (Fuel Subsidy)

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has yet made a decision about the continuation of the fuel subsidy for glasshouse horticultural growers; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend has given careful consideration to this question and has come to the conclusion, in line with his orginal announcement on 11th April 1974, that the subsidy cannot be extended. We must all come to terms with higher energy costs, and the glasshouse sector had the help of the subsidy, totalling some £7 million, throughout 1974 to give it a breathing space.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that statement will be greeted with utter dismay by glasshouse growers, who are in a special position because fuel represents such a large percentage of their costs compared with other industries?

I recognise that the announcement will be a severe disappointment to horticulture producers, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to appreciate that we, as a nation, cannot be unreasonable in terms of seeing that energy is used more effectively, and that these decisions, regrettable as they may be to horticulturists, have to be taken against the background of the Government's overall policy for energy conservation and the saving of oil imports.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many highly efficient growers in the Lea Valley and elsewhere will be in jeopardy as a result of this decision, while continental Governments are continuing to provide this sort of help for their growers? Does not my hon. Friend think that, in the interests of consumers as well as producers, it is vital that we should keep as many of these growers in business as possible?

I recognise and understand my hon. Friend's deep concern for and continuing interest in his horticulturist constituents. I assure him that the Government are most anxious to encourage the continued viability of the horticulture industry, but we have to come to terms with the energy situation in this country and, regrettable though it is, there are times when the Government have to take unpopular decisions in these matters.

To what use and in respect of what crops does the hon. Gentleman think the vast investment in glasshouses in recent years, amounting to more than £100 million, will be put? Does he not agree that the one thing horticulturists cannot stand, and ought not to be asked to stand, is unfair competition, and that it is crucial to put them on the same basis as their opposite numbers across the Channel?

On the matter of unfair competition, it is true that under the Community arrangements it will be possible for other member States to continue the subsidy until June. Our information is that, notwithstanding that, the total amount of money which we paid to horticulturists under the subsidy which has just ended compares favourably with what continental horticulturists and producers will receive in total.

I should point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this was always presented by the Government as a temporary subsidy. More specifically, we said that it was granted on a national basis—nothing to do with the Community—because oil prices shot up at the end of 1973 after producers had made their plans for production. That is not the case with the present crop.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

—I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

Bone Meal

13.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received asking him to make regulations to prohibit the sale of unsterilised bone meal to the public.

None, but my Department is co-operating with the Department of Health and Social Security in a review of present sterilisation and voluntary labelling arrangements.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that many shoppers are concerned that unsterilised bone meal is widely on sale in retail units which also sell food? It is also on sale at self-service garden centres where children may come into contact with it. In view of the danger of anthrax from using bone meal, and because of the death last year from this source, will my hon. Friend look at the regulations dealing with the retail sale of bone meal and, in particular, consider whether he can tighten them?

I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's deep concern and interest in these matters. I assure her that I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services the points she has made, so that they are taken into account in the context of the current review.

Agricultural Tenancies

15.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will introduce legislation extending to England and Wales the provisions of Section 18 of the Agriculture (Micellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 in respect of near relatives of farmers wishing to take over agricultural tenancies.

I cannot as yet add to the reply given on 22nd November to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley.)—[Vol. 881, col. 570.]

As the hon. Gentleman has had time to think since November, will he press for the extension of what the previous Labour Government did in Scotland and give to farmers' sons in England the right, by law, which they are given on the best estates in Scotland? Experience in Scotland does not suggest that the fears of those who opposed the change were justified.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's observation about our experience of the legislation in Scotland. I assure him that the Government are giving serious consideration to making a change in the law in England and Wales. I am sure he will recognise that this will be a fairly important development in the context of the legislation, and we shall therefore have to consult all the other interests.

Butter (Import Levy)

17.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present rate per ton of levy on butter imported into the United Kingdom from outside the EEC.

Rates of levy and compensatory amounts vary according to circumstance, and information about current rates is published by the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce.

Why is my hon. Friend reluctant to tell the House that there is now an import levy of about £300 a ton on butter? Why do the Government impose a heavy tax of this kind on standard foodstuffs, when their aim ought to be to keep living costs down and to support the social contract?

My right hon. Friend knows that the purpose of the levy is to safeguard the interests of Community producers, of whom we are one At the present time it is not having a significant impact on the availability of supplies, and the consumer subsidy is reducing prices to our consumers.

Beef And Veal

18.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present level of EEC stocks of beef and veal.

Statistics concerning intervention operations are kept by the EEC Commission and not by my Department. I understand that total stocks of beef in intervention stores at the end of 1974 were about 235,000 metric tons, to which a further 10,000 metric tons had been added by mid-January.

Is it not clear from these figures that the view held by many Labour Members and many people in the country, to the effect that the common agricultural policy is an immoral policy, is justified? Does the Minister realise that he has just told us about the storing away of large quantities of food when so many people are unable to buy it because of its price? This is a policy we have always condemned. Does this not mean that my right hon. Friend—although no one doubts but that he negotiated honourably—has completely failed to produce any change in the basic policy?

My hon. Friend overlooks the significant success which my right hon. Friend achieved in the negotiations just completed in Brussels. We have not been in favour of intervention, and we have now got the EEC to accept the new principle of the variable premium. There is a limited amount of intervention, but we expect that it will not rise significantly above the present low levels. The figure for intervention stocks in this country in December was about 14 tons.

Why is no effort being made to get rid of the 14 tons to 15 tons of beef being held in intervention in this country?

Will my hon. Friend accept that we regard his right hon. Friend dearly but not, I hope, too dearly, and that we would like to congratulate him on his ongoing negotiations on beef? Does he agree that, on the other hand, the renegotiations cannot be regarded as a success, in so far as we have accepted the principle of intervention buying, however low the impact may be, and because, in Brussels, the Commissioners regard this as likely to last for only a year?

The significance of my right hon. Friend's success is that we now have the option. We have decided that intervention is not the policy for us to pursue.

Is it not the case that the Minister has accepted a measure of intervention and is positively in favour of intervention for cereals? [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says that he said so. He did not. He said something different.

We have a limited amount of support buying. The main point is that we have achieved alternatives which were not available until the negotiations took place.

20.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much beef and veal has been bought into intervention in the United Kingdom to date.

A total of 176 tons of Northern Ireland beef were bought in 1974 and sold later in the year. A further 14 tons were bought in Northern Ireland last December. There is no support buying for veal.

Can my hon. Friend tell me what was the cost of purchasing that beef and, secondly, can he give us an estimate of the difference it made to the price of beef for the housewife in this country?

The cost of support buying is initially borne by the Exchequer, but the net costs, after proceeds of sales are deducted, is compensated out of FEOGA funds. The general price level depends on the market and other aspects of the package, including the variable premium which has been negotiated by my right hon. Friend.

Beef (Eec Subsidy)

21.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much was spent out of EEC funds in 1974 in subsidising the sale of beef at reduced prices in countries outside the EEC.

35.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much beef and veal from EEC stocks was sold outside the EEC at prices below the EEC price in 1974.

Statistics concerning export refunds for beef, and exports of beef from intervention stocks, are kept by the EEC Commission and not by my Department.

I understand from a recent Commission statement that about 130,000 metric tons of beef from intervention stocks was exported to non-EEC countries in 1974. The rate of refund payable on these, as on other exports of beef, will have varied according to the form in which the meat was sold and the country to which it was sent. No figure for the total value of the subsidy is yet available to my Department.

Does that not suggest that a serious position is developing in which large amounts of food are being withdrawn from the market and sold to countries outside the EEC, while the people of this country, France, Belgium and elsewhere cannot afford to buy the meat sold in their markets? Is this not an appalling situation? Is it not high time that this country got out of the Common Market?

I do not think that I have much more to add on this matter. We debated the issue recently. My right hon. Friend has made our policy clear. We are not in favour of intervention for beef. My right hon. Friend's success means that intervention buying will be at a limited level in the future.

Edinburgh

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if, on his forthcoming visit to Scotland, he will pay an official visit to Edinburgh.

I have no immediate plans to visit Edinburgh, but my discussions with the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Council, Development and Industry on 27th and 28th February will cover a wide range of matters of importance to Scotland generally.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear during his visit to Scotland that before any parliamentary draftsman is asked to try his hand at a Bill bestowing on us not only an Assembly but possibly also a Scottish Cabinet and a Scottish Prime Minister, this House will have a White Paper which can be thoroughly debated and scrutinised?

My hon. Friend will be aware that these matters were fully discussed with the Scottish TUC, with industry and with a wide range of interests in Scotland last year. I have taken note of what he and other hon. Members said in the debate on 3rd February. As my hon. Friend the Lord President said, we intend to keep the House fully informed of our thinking on these complex matters.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in dealing with this difficult problem of devolution we are engaged in a major constitutional exercise and perhaps the most important constitutional reform of the United Kingdom since the Act of Union? If this is so, since the right hon. Gentleman has always been jealous of the interests of the House—which will be profoundly affected—does he agree that a White Paper is essential before there is any question of legislation?

I entirely agree with what the right hon. Member said about the fundamental character of these matters. I heard part of his speech and read the whole of it. It was, if he will allow me to say so, a notable contribution to this subject. The proposals made in the House about a White Paper are being earnestly considered by my right hon. Friend.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Leader of the Opposition will be visiting Edinburgh tomorrow, where she will be assured of a very warm welcome because we know that she will show genuine sympathy and understanding for those children in grant-aided schools whose educational prospects have been severely impaired by the Government's policy?

I am delighted that the right hon. Lady is visiting Edinburgh tomorrow. I am sure that she will get a very warm response from her supporters, as I did from mine on two visits to Edinburgh last year. On these questions of education, which I have examined over a long time, I support the attitude of the Labour authority.

If the Prime Minister is contemplating a visit to Edinburgh will he make sure that before he goes he reads the interesting series of articles on devolution in the Scotsman, including those by his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)? Is he aware of the growing feeling in Scotland to the effect that if the Government are to complete this exercise in devolution it must be done properly, otherwise Scotland will be saddled with yet another layer of bureaucracy which will make very little difference to policy making?

Before making such a visit I would certainly wish to study this and all other relevant material. I am well aware of the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) on this and on other matters.

Cabinet (Collective Responsibility)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.

Q9.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley) on 26th November last. This remains the position, with the sole exception of the contingency mentioned in my statement in the House on 23rd January.

Which is now the collective view of the Cabinet—the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that wages are the main cause of inflation, or the view of the Secretary of State for Industry that they are not?

What will happen in this House when there is no longer collective responsibility for Europe? Is the Prime Minister to allow different Cabinet Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box day by day and week by week, to confuse us by giving completely contradictory accounts of Government policy?

I would not wish in any way to add to the state of confusion among Conservative Members in any respect. As for relative freedom, if there is a disagreement in the Cabinet on final recommendations—which is a contingency to which I referred—this is a matter for any campaigning which may take place in the country. But the Government's view will be stated, and will be stated in this House.

When does this period when Ministers are to have freedom to dissent from the official Government line on the EEC begin, or has it begun already with some Ministers and not others?

No, Sir. But as an old-fashioned traditionalist, not to say conservative student, in respect of this subject, I have been very interested, in the past week or two, to note the new thinking on the Opposition benches on the question of collective responsibility. I had always understood that collective responsibility in a particular Cabinet does not cease when that Cabinet no longer holds office. Either one dissociates oneself from the policy at the time, with all that that implies, including resignation, or one collectively defends one's actions in the years that follow. That does not seem to be happening.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the British people say "Yes, we should remain in Europe", there will be no British Cabinet responsibility for anything, because they will be denied that right? Furthermore, does he further agree that if the British people say "Yes" to our remaining in the Common Market, there will follow a joint party delegation to Europe, and that on that basis we can say goodbye to any collective responsibility for any of the decisions, since power will be transferred to Brussels permanently?

On the question of Cabinet responsibility, if, following renegotiation, a situation arises where the Cabinet can recommend our remaining in the Common Market, I do not accept that that destroys or diminishes Cabinet responsibility to this House. When my hon. Friend spoke about a joint parliamentary delegation to the Common Market, I take it that he was referring to the European Parliament.

We have not yet taken part in the proceedings of the European Parliament, but we have made clear that this matter will be determined at the end of the negotiations. We take the view that if the country decides to stay in the Common Market the normal Community implications in respect of the European Assembly would follow.

Will the Prime Minister say whether he has suspended collective Cabinet responsibility on the terms of entry only, or on the principle of entry?

What I made clear on 23rd January—I said it then and I repeat it now—was that in the contingency, which is by no means certain, that there might be two views in the Cabinet—members of the Cabinet will be free then to campaign on the question whether to advise the country to vote "Yes" or "No" to our staying in the Common Market. That will raise all the questions about the terms which we regard as important. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and her party, when they had full collective responsibility, gave them away. Everybody in the country who campaigns and who votes will be concerned not only with the terms but also with the broader issues which have developed over the years during our membership.

European Economic Community

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister what are the outstanding issues of renegotiation which will be discussed at the next heads of Government meeting.

I expect that we shall be discussing those items which have been agreed at the Council of Ministers on March 3rd and 4th, together with any items they may have referred for decision at the next Heads of Government meeting.

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. Will he say whether, in pursuit of the policy of protecting the powers of Parliament, he will raise the question of possible amendment, in this House, of Section 2 of the European Communities Act? On the question of the powers of Parliament in relation to the European Assembly, will he say whether we are committed at some unspecified date in the future to direct elections to that Assembly?

All these matters are still to be considered, including any legislation which may be necessary as a result of the decision of the British people. But there are certain vitally important matters which are of concern to Parliament in respect of parliamentary control which still have to be decided. For example, at present we are a very long way from reaching agreement on questions of the rights of this House and of the Government in respect of national aids for regional development. We are not satisfied, as we made clear in our manifesto. The same is true of certain industrial matters, including the matter of control over the steel industry, where the present situation is not acceptable to us.

When the renegotiations are complete, does the Prime Minister intend both to defend them and to attack them?

When the negotiations are complete, if we find that the terms—replacing the utterly humiliating and grovelling terms negotiated by the Conservative Government on the basis of full Cabinet collective responsibility—are the right terms, we shall commend them to Parliament. If we obtain terms that we regard as crippling to this country, we shall not commend them to Parliament.

Government Departments (Public Information)

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make it the practice of his administration that all Government Departments promptly update the information they issue to the public for their guidance.

It is already the Government's practice to do so, but if my hon. Friend has any particular case in mind where this has not been done, I shall look into it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that pensioners who retired after 22nd July last year still receive information in their pension books to the effect that the earnings rule operates from a figure of £9·50, whereas the Labour Government increased the earnings rule provision to £13? Does he accept that this false information may affect the decisions of pensioners on the question whether to work? Will he look into the representations which I have made to the Department, so far without satisfaction, and agree that all citizens are entitled to information about their rights, not least when those rights have been improved by the Labour Government?

I am happy to feel that, through sheer luck, I managed to identify in advance the one of a thousand questions which my hon. Friend has asked on this subject. I am glad to be able to help her on this matter. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, explained to her on 30th January, on this occasion a printing dispute delayed printing of the revised notes. The changes in the earnings limits last July were publicised in post offices at that time and those pensioners who were directly affected were advised individually of the new rules. As to the future, I can assure my hon. Friend that pension books issued from the beginning of May onwards will contain the revised earnings rule limits effective from April 1975. I hope that in future pension books issued from the date of the upratings onwards will carry up-to-date information about earnings rule limits.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that if he finds himself opposed to the terms which were accepted by the Conservative Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Wrong Question!"] I am sure that the Prime Minister realises that we are on Question No. 4, although many of his hon. Friends do not. Remembering that when the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister in an earlier Government, none of the principles about joining the Common Market was ever in doubt in his mind—whether it be on the Commonwealth, or sovereignty, or EFTA—does he regard the information put out at that time as still relevant, or does he think that the Government Departments should update it?

I was in no doubt at all that the right hon. Gentleman was up to date and knew which Question I was answering. It is nice to see his party entering this century for a brief moment.

When we were in government and made application we said clearly, on Commonwealth matters—for example, on New Zealand, Commonwealth sugar and other matters—exactly what terms we would require in order to join. The previous Government did not get those terms. We condemned them on those specific issues then, and we are renegotiating.

Will the Prime Minister keep himself up to date and inform his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) that since the Labour Party decided to uprate the earnings rule the House decided, from 1st April, to uprate it by a further £7 a week.

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) is not yet a Privy Councillor.

I was aware of the vote referred to by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I heard about it when I was in Washington. I was fascinated by the fact that a party which pledged itself to cut Government expenditure not only wants to restore the whole of the defence cuts but irresponsibly voted in that way in the House.

Railway Signalmen (Dispute)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether any request has reached you from the Secretary of State for Employment or from any other Minister to make a statement to the House about the appalling discomfort suffered by hundreds of thousands of commuters?