House Of Commons
Wednesday 27th April 1977
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Local Authorities (Mortgage Schemes)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what funds will be made available during 1977–78 and 1978–79 to local authorities for mortgage schemes; and if he will make a statement.
Scottish local authorities have been allocated £13·8 million for lending to individuals for house purchase and improvement in 1977–78. The amount for 1978–79 has not been fixed but is likely to be about the same in real terms.
Is the Minister aware that there is a site in Airdrie that is fully serviced with roads and has been classified by the Chairman of the National Coal Board and an eminent structural engineer as "buildable", but that the building societies have refused to lend money to potential home owners for the erection of houses on this site? Can my hon. Friend do anything about that?
Perhaps my hon. Friend will send me details. If I understood him rightly he said that this was a site that was available. If there are no houses on it, naturally some questions arise before we can talk about the way in which money should be available for home loans. If my hon. Friend will write to me, I shall investigate the matter.
Is the Minister aware that the lending or granting of money to individuals to obtain their own housing is one of the most satisfactory ways of getting housing and that it is often much more rewarding than the local authorities building homes? Can the hon. Gentleman say how the figures that he has given compare with the amounts made available in 1976–77? Will he look at the figure for 1978–79 with a view to increasing it to take account of the inevitable inflation?
I do not know whether the Liberal Party is now saying that we should not build council houses. Additional sources are available through the special scheme with the building societies, and we attach great priority to having a regular supply of funds available for anyone who wants to purchase.
As this is the only Question about housing, has the Minister in mind making any statement on the alarming disclosure this morning of Glasgow housing letting irregularities and whether his office is considering any form of independent inquiry into what has been happening?
I am well aware of the great ability of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) to be in the gutter when there is anything that he can rake up.
Answer the question.
I shall certainly answer the question. I must make it clear that the housing management department of the district authority lets about 12,000 houses a year and has a staff of between 600 and 700. To pillory one official, a man who might be sick and ill, for 60 cases of proven irregularities is in keeping with the normal level of the hon. Member for Cathcart.
There is no question of pillorying. Does the Minister realise that it is precisely to protect the reputation of the vast majority who have carried out their duties efficiently and well and because of public anxiety about the matter that there is a need for some form of public inquiry?
I have the utmost faith and personal knowledge of the integrity and ability of both Bailie Lally and Mr. Malcolm Smith, the housing manager. If Glasgow makes any approach to us to seek help, advice or information, it will be given willingly.
Can the Minister assist the House about the magnitude of the problem of transferability and allocation of mortgage schemes in Glasgow? I understand that that was the purport of the Question.
Glasgow provides loans for about 1,000 borrowers in the city and has magnificent accomplishments, particularly at the bottom end of the market, where building societies, albeit that we have good relationships with them, are rather more reluctant to lend money.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the total cost of supplying free milk to schools over the last year and what was the cost to State schools only.
The cost to education authorities of supplying free milk in the year ending 31st March 1976 was approximately £1·9 million. Some 98 per cent. of the pupils supplied were in education authority schools.
Is the Minister aware of the strong sense of grievance felt by parents who are denied free milk for their children simply because they are paying for their children's education at the same time as contributing to the general cost of education? Does the Minister think that such discrimination is fair, particularly when so little money is involved—this arises out of his answer to my Question—and when most of that money is provided out of general taxation, not through the rates, to which these people have contributed? Is this not a gross and monstrous injustice, and when will the Government do something about it?
The Conservative Party fought an election in 1974 as the freedom fighters and on giving freedom to local authorities. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. This is a matter entirely for the regional council and it is for that council to determine its own priorities. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that the council will continue to supply milk to special schools not under its management.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the cut-back in the milk supply to schools originated from the Opposition when they were in office and that people who are in a good financial position and who desire to separate themselves from the rest of the community are denying their own children free milk?
I can only agree with my hon. Friend.
Before I call the next Question, although probably I misheard something that occurred on the earlier Question, I ask right hon. and hon. Members to remember where they are.
Royal High School, Edinburgh
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is making arrangements for alternative uses for the Royal High School, Edinburgh, whilst the debate on devolution continues.
Despite that disappointing reply, will the Secretary of State be open-minded enough to consider a suggestion from a Scot living in Sussex to call a conference at the Royal High School, to be held in public, on the whole question of decentralisation of government in the United Kingdom? Would not that give the Scots an opportunity to air their views on two-tier local government and three-tier national government and thus on the prospect of their future administration looking like a five-decker sandwich?
The Scots have expressed their views on these matters on various occasions, as have the Government. Since the Assembly is going ahead, I do not need to consider alternative uses for the High School.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the hold-up in the work on the school arising from the failure of the Bill is due entirely to English Members reneging on their election promises?
There was a fair bit of that, I agree.
Would my right hon. Friend consider it worth while, until the school is properly used for the Scottish Assembly, making space available, since it was a picture gallery before, for pictures of all those Scots who voted against devolution, together with copies of their election addresses highlighting their supposed support for it?
The Royal High School would be a very suitable rogues' gallery.
The Secretary of State will remember that he reacted angrily when we last dealt with Scottish Questions to the suggestion that work should be suspended until a decision had been reached on devolution. What has happened since to make him change his mind?
It is an abuse of words to say that work has been suspended when we shall be spending £2 million to bring the Assembly building into readiness.
What is the position of those evicted from the High School, such as the canoe club?
As far as I am aware, its members have paddled away somewhere else.
Since all the buildings on Carlton Hill have always been follies, tombs or ruins, does not the Secretary of State feel that he is conforming to tradition by abandoning progress on the High School?
Let me make it clear again that we have not abandoned progress on the building. The work has not been suspended. Considerable work is going on at the moment. If hon. Members care to visit the site, they will see it.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement about the progress which is being made on the preparation of the former High School in Edinburgh for the proposed Scottish Assembly; and when the building will be ready for use.
Satisfactory progress is being made. It is expected that work to bring the former High School to the stage indicated in my statement of 7th April will be completed early in 1978.
What will be the total cost of preparing the High School as an Assembly? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is prudent for the Government to continue without specific authority from the House in the preparation of this building for an Assembly which many of us believe will never sit?
I have already dealt with that matter on an earlier Question. The present total expenditure committed on the work that we intend to complete, in terms of my earlier answer, is about £2 million.
As the Government originally resisted calls to reduce the size of the proposed Assembly on the grounds that it would interfere with the timetable for elections to the Assembly that the Government were hoping to apply, and now that the timetable has been put back indefinitely, will the Secretary of State give new and serious consideration to reducing the size of the Scottish Assembly to that which will not create an unnecessary burden for the Scottish people?
There have been arguments other than that of the time factor on the view that we take about the numbers in the Assembly. When we are able to make further progress with our proposals, no doubt that matter can be raised again, if hon. Members so wish.
Does not the Secretary of State think that it ill becomes English Members to enter into this discussion and suggest that this building is too good for a Scottish Assembly, which was the pledge of all parties? Should they not see the position against the background that it costs £5 million a year to run the Palace of Westminster?
I do not resent anyone's asking me questions about the High School. It is proper that hon. Members should do so. I am pleased to be able to make the position clear this afternoon.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to visit Roxburgh.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to visit Roxburgh.
I have, at present, no plans to do so.
Will the Secretary of State forgive my incursion into Scottish geography? Will he explain that his decision not to go to Roxburgh must be an integral part of the Lib-Lab compact and, presumably, that he has promised not to go? But should he not seize this opportunity to enhance his political career on both sides of the border by doing what the Leader of the House failed to do yesterday, which is to explain what parts of the Socialist programme have been given up in order to keep the pact going?
That is rather a separate question. If I ever visit Roxburgh, I may take up one or two of these matters with the sitting Member.
As the Liberals are keeping the present Government in office, and as the Labour Party has not a hope of winning Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, would not the Secretary of State be wise either to suggest to his colleagues in Scotland that they withdraw the Labour candidate from Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles at the next General Election or, now that the vote of confidence has finished, come clean with the British people and explain that the Lib-Lab alliance was a cheap trick to deprive the British electorate of the chance of choosing a new Government?
We have no intention of withdrawing Labour candidates from any constituency in Scotland.
Does the Secretary of State accept that a visit to Roxburgh, Selkirk or Peebles would be a great deal more profitable for him than a visit to Harrow, East or to Christchurch or Lymington and that if he came there he would be warmly welcomed, especially if he were able to outline to us what specific measures the Government will take to compensate for the loss of the regional employment premium?
On my visits to Roxburgh in the past I have always found them enjoyable occasions, even when I have not met the right hon. Gentleman.
Is not Roxburgh in a constituency where the chairman of the local Scottish National Party is that millionaire absentee landlord, the hon. Colin Tennant, who, when he is not flirting with the SNP, seems to spend much of his time flirting around his Caribbean island with Princess Margaret?
If the right hon Gentleman comes to the Borders, presumably he will have to come by road. If he does, will he look carefully at the condition of the A7 between Hawick and the M6 at Carlisle and realise that it is quite inadequate for the traffic that it carries? Will he see that more improvements are carried out than are on the programme at present?
I have travelled that road on occasions in the past, but I shall look into what the hon. Gentleman said.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from public authorities in Scotland suggesting that an Assembly should have revenue-raising powers and representation on EEC institutions.
Since the publication of the White Paper in November 1975 five Scottish local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have expressed views in support of revenue-raising powers for the Scottish Assembly. No public authority has argued that Scotland should have separate representation on EEC institutions.
Is the Secretary of State aware that last month the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) made a speech advocating that the Assembly should have powers which incorporated the major amount of taxation and that Scotland should be directly represented in Europe? Is he aware, further, that the Prime Minister told the House last week that the Government's credibility on the issue of devolution had been enhanced as a result of the arrangement with the Liberal Party? May we therefore conclude that the Assembly now proposed will have more power than that envisaged in the Scotland and Wales Bill?
As for representation on the EEC institutions, the position has been made clear on many occasions. Only if Scotland went completely separate and independent would any question of formal representation at the Community institutions arise. There is no doubt about that. What informal arrangements might be made in the post-Assembly situation to take account of the views of the Assembly Executive on matters which were of concern to it would be arranged in that situation. Again, there has been no change from that point of view. On the specific question of the Liberals' views on this matter, I do not recollect that the recent document submitted to us dealt directly with the question of representation at Brussels.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are pleased that he has made it so clear that the argument for separate Scottish representation in the EEC is a dishonest and back-door method of arguing the case for separatism? Will my right hon. Friend keep in mind that it is not only local authorities or even the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) who have argued the case for revenue-raising powers? An Assembly without such powers would not be a totally responsible Assembly.
This argument is still open. The Government have never said in principle that they are against independent revenue raising. They have simply said that the practicalities of working out an acceptable system are very difficult and that we have not so far found a satisfactory solution. But these are matters which are relevant to the current situation in which the Government are discussing the future of the Scotland and Wales Bill with the Liberal Party and with other parties in the House.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Government published yesterday a Brown Book on oil resources showing that over the next seven years about £5½ billion will go into the London Treasury as a result of oil revenues gleaned from the Scottish sector of the North Sea? Does he accept that these revenues would be useful for the financing of the Scottish Assembly? What proportion of those revenues will go to Scotland?
I have made clear on numerous occasions that revenue from North Sea oil is a United Kingdom resource. As is only right, Scotland already gains disproportionately from North Sea oil development, for example, in terms of jobs, most of which would be put at risk if we were ever foolish enough to accept the SNP policy.
Does the Secretary of State accept that revenue-raising powers are, in part, a question for the Assembly when it is set up? Although the House might well consider that such powers are impracticable, should not the Assembly be left to judge whether it chooses to exercise such powers?
Such a proposition would be difficult to get through the House. It would not be right to give revenue powers in the Bill and to allow the Assembly to determine whether it wants to use those powers. These are matters that must be settled in the House in the context of the Bill.
Is the Secretary of State saying that a Scottish Assembly will impose an additional level of taxation on the Scottish people over and above United Kingdom taxes?
I did not say that. I do not see how anybody could take what I said as meaning that.
Leaving aside any relationship between the Scottish Assembly and the EEC, would it not be in the interests of Scotland if such non-political bodies as the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) kept some relation ship in Brussels, in Standing Committees, for instance, and with people over there?
All types of bodies maintain relationships in Brussels. When I was in Luxembourg yesterday taking part in discussions on fishing, a fishery representative from Scotland was present. How ever, that is different from formal Government representation on EEC institutions. That is a matter which rests with the United Kingdom Government.
Area Health Boards (Expenditure)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has given any guidance to area health boards on the priority they would adopt in their expenditure policies in the light of the latest White Paper on Public Expenditure.
General priorities remain as stated in "The Health Service in Scotland: The Way Ahead", published last April, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary met health board chairmen on 14th April for discussion of expenditure guidelines and the use of resources.
I am surprised that the Secretary of State has not issued any guidelines on the administrative costs of the National Health Service. Is the Secretary of State aware that a reduction of 10 per cent. in the administration of the Service would not only save money but greatly improve the efficiency of the Service and give a great boost to the morale of doctors, nurses and others working in the medical professions?
Some of the additional administrative expenses in the National Health Service are caused by the attempt to reduce the administrative burdens on members of the medical profession. It is not true that the Government have done nothing about administrative costs, because in January 1976 we put a freeze on administrative staffing.
In view of the increased burden of taxation which is to fall upon the motorist and which inevitably will hit worst the rural areas where there is often not enough public transport, will the Secretary of State give priority to the retention of good, established cottage hospitals in the smaller towns of Scotland?
Each case must be considered on its merits.
Will the Secretary of State take a converse view to that suggested by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) and allow an area health board to implement its own first priority by giving it the finance to get the new hospital in Dunfermline started?
In the next day or two I hope that we shall be able to announce the results of the review of the capital programme of the health boards, which has been going on for some time and which has now been completed.
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that at the meeting to which he referred adequate consideration was given to the problem of providing more facilities for training the adult mentally handicapped? Is he satisfied that the present administrative arrangements are adequate, or does he think that hospital boards should be more closely involved?
Some of these matters are for the local authorities through the social work departments rather than the health boards. One of the priorities in the document "The Way Ahead", to which I have already referred, is the needs of the mentally ill and the physically and mentally handicapped.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will issue a White Paper on the Scottish economy.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the prospects for the Scottish economy for the remainder of 1977.
I expect the broad pattern of recovery indicated by the United Kingdom forecasts that accompanied the Budget Statement to be reflected in Scotland. The return of confidence in sterling and the reduction in interest rates in the early part of 1977 are encouraging evidence of progress in the Government's economic strategy. I have no plans to issue a White Paper.
Will the Secretary of State at least carry out a survey to try to establish the effect of Budget measures, such as the increases in petrol and transport costs, on the Scottish economy? Is he aware of the dangerous effects of these increases on Scottish development particularly in rural areas?
The effect of the Budget as a whole on employment in Scotland, as elsewhere, will be to improve the position. I dare say that the House has been heartened by the fact that the unemployment figures have now dropped by 13,000 since the January 1977 peak.
I welcome the fact that the unemployment figures have dropped. But is the Secretary of State aware that in Scotland there are still 170,000 unemployed, as was disclosed yesterday? Does he recall that in eight weeks a substantial number of youngsters will he leaving schools in Scotland? Will he tell us what he thinks about their prospects of obtaining employment?
I certainly hope, as I am sure the House hopes, that we shall have a better record of employing school leavers this year than last year. The House also knows that it is not the practice for Ministers to make detailed forecasts of unemployment figures.Taking the seasonally adjusted figures, to which we should pay most attention, this morning's figures show for the first time for a very long time that there has been a reduction. I shall not bank too much on that. However, I hope that this is the start of a process that will reduce figures that I have always said are far too high.
I welcome the assistance given to areas in dire straits which my right hon. Friend recently announced. However, is he aware that there is grave disquiet in the city of Aberdeen about the reduction to intermediate area status? Will he assure us that every effort will be made by the Scottish Office, or any Departments dealing with industry and employment, to ensure that new jobs are encouraged in Aberdeen? If the employment situation in Aberdeen continues to deteriorate over the next 12 months, will my right hon. Friend undertake to look again at the withdrawal of development area status from April next year?
Aberdeen's unemployment figures are below the United Kingdom average. We have to take that factor into account in terms of priorities and getting Government assistance to industry working most effectively. There are many forms of assistance still available to the Aberdeen area, because it is an intermediate area. It has not lost development or assisted area status completely. For example, selective assistance will still be available under the Industry Act 1972. We shall look sympathetically at any prospects for additional jobs in Aberdeen in terms of selective assistance where appropriate. There is no question of abandoning Aberdeen. This is an attempt to produce a better distribution of Government assistance in Scotland. I think that, generally speaking, although there is understandable disappointment in Aber- deen, that has been accepted throughout Scotland.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, although the unemployment figures for Aberdeen are low, there is great concern in some of the communities around Aberdeen which fall into the administrative area and which are affected by the change in development area status? Will he look at the problems of the smaller communities where there is still a need to attract industry? Does he also recognise the need to diversify industry in Aberdeen in order that it does not become too narrowly based on oil if we are to plan properly for future jobs in the Aberdeen area?
It would be foolish to abandon traditional industries in the Aberdeen area. The Government have no intention of doing that. We looked at the area as a whole. The hon. Gentleman will know that these schedulings are based on employment exchange areas. That is why this particular pattern has been adopted for Aberdeen. But it means that Peterhead, for example, which is also a thriving area, still remains a full development area although a number of other places near Aberdeen have been included in the reduction to intermediate area status.
European Price Review
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had this month with the National Farmers Union of Scotland concerning the European Price Review; and if he will make a statement.
I discussed this matter with the President and General Secretary of the National Farmers Union of Scotland on Thursday 21st April. I also met representatives of the National Farmers Union on 25th and 31st March.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the anger of farmers over the problems facing the pig industry? Does he understand that, unless action is taken immediately, the housewife will be short of supplies in the not too distant future? Why has the recently concluded price review in no way helped the pig industry, about which there is so much concern? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not hide behind the statement to be made later today in order to escape from his responsibility to pig producers in Scotland.
I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should have made that last statement. I discussed this matter with office-bearers of the Scottish NFU at the meeting last Thursday. They understand the difficulties under which we are operating. We introduced a special subsidy for pigmeat. The Commission claims that it is illegal and is threatening to take us to court. Negotiations are going on regarding the method of calculating the MCAs, a method which we believe at present to be unjust. We hope to make progress on that matter. I think that the industry, although naturally apprehensive about the present situation, understands that the Government are making every effort to improve it.
As the Secretary of State said, there is anxiety in the industry about the fall in production. Can he add to what has been said about the review regarding the likely effect on agriculture in the North of Scotland? Does he think that production will rise?
I do not think that I should anticipate the statement that is to be made later this afternoon. Scottish farming as a whole did not have a bad year last year. There were difficulties, but the difficulties in Scotland were a good deal less severe, due to the weather and other reasons, than the difficulties south of the border.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the price review will bring no consolation to Scottish pig producers and processors, who are wondering whether the Government really wish a viable industry to continue? Does he accept that there is a need to change the basis of calculating the MCAs? If so, what does he wish to put in its place?
I have already said that the present method of calculating the MCAs is unfair, and we have been attempting to change it. We have made certain changes, but not enough to satisfy our position. We are still negotiating on that matter.I think that the Scottish NFU accepts that it would have been foolish not to reach a conclusion on the overall price review on Monday because of the diffi- culties we had over pigmeat. The NFU wanted us more than anything else to reach a conclusion. At least from that point of view it has welcomed what we have done. It is an extremely good solution—in fact, the best settlement we have ever had—from the point of view of consumers in Scotland, as elsewhere.
It may be that farmers in Scotland understand the difficulties, but they certainly do not accept them. What they do not understand and seek to end is the constant uncertainty from year to year, which allows no stability on which to plan for the future. When contemplating capital investment—for example, in dairy herds and beef cattle—farmers need long-term security to plan properly.
I am not disagreeing, but I am not sure what my hon. Friend's moral is.
Will the Secretary of State tell me of any advantages that we have had from joining the EEC?
Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will in no sense forget the dire plight into which the Scottish pigmeat industry will be put unless it has some definite help in the near future? Will he take special steps to explain to consumers that, if the Scottish pigmeat industry should fall into that dire catastrophic situation, they will suffer from higher prices and shortages?
I recognise the difficulties in the pigmeat section of the industry, but that is not the whole of farming in Scotland. Certain sections had a particularly good year last year. That was acknowledged freely and openly when I addressed the annual general meeting of the Scottish NFU the other day.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to Cowal.
My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.
Does the Minister appreciate that many people in Scotland regard the digging of the biggest and emptiest hole in Europe at Portavadie in Cowal at great public expense as characteristic of all the efforts of the Labour Government these days? Will he tell us what the Government intend to do to try to bring some kind of employment to the Cowal Peninsula in view of the lack of activity at Portavadie and the inevitable winding down of operations at Ardyne Point?
If my memory serves me right, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were those most concerned that we should do what has been done. We are concerned about the unemployment situation in the area.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will now make a statement about the conclusions reached as a result of submissions made on the document "The Future of Teacher Training from 1977 Onwards".
I am considering all the views on my consultative paper that have been put to me by interested bodies and by hon. Members. As I indicated in the debate on 5th April, I shall give my conclusions as soon as possible.
As it is now clear that the college closures and mergers have been rejected by the lecturers' union, the ancillary workers' unions, the students' union, the college principals, the teachers' unions, the STUC, the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, the Churches, the Scottish Grand Committee and the House of Commons, can anyone seriously maintain that "they're a' oot o' step except oor Bruce"?
I might seriously maintain that. As I have said before, all the points put to me will be taken into account before I announce my conclusion, which I hope to give quite soon.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome the possibility of the points we have made being taken into account? In view of the very many questions that were put to the Government, both in the Chamber and in the Scottish Grand Committee, none of which has been answered, will the Secretary of State consider the publication of a paper in which the ques tions are answered, or at least writing to the hon. Members who have put the questions?
My recollection is that quite a number of letters have been written to hon. Members and others. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It will probably be quite a lengthy statement.
In forming his conclusion should not my right hon. Friend take into account one incontrovertible fact, namely, that if he goes ahead with his proposal he faces the virtual certainty of a double-figure defeat in the House of Commons?
I take all sorts of things into consideration before reaching a final decision.
When the right hon. Gentleman issues his final statement, can we expect with it a financial costing of the Government's proposals at this stage? Would the right hon. Gentleman, or his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for education, care to visit any school in my constituency and show me where pupil-teacher ratios such as they have outlined are operating each hour of the school day?
As I have said on numerous occasions, we have the best pupil-teacher ratios that we have ever had. Incidentally, they are much more favourable than those in England and Wales.
Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman is deferring his decision on this matter until after next week's elections in Scotland?
No. I might even make a decision and publish it before the elections if I am able to do that, but I am making no promises about that either.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will visit Scone.
My right hon. Friend has, at present, no plans to do so.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a happy and symbolic gesture in this Jubilee Year if the Stone of Scone were restored to Scotland, where it rightly belongs?
I am not sure who is responsible for that in this Government, but it is certainly not me.
My hon. Friend will know that there is some divide as to whether the proper stone was ever returned—
"For if ever he comes on a stone wi' a ring
He can sit himsel' doon and appoint himsel' King,
For there's none would be able to challenge his claim
That he'd crooned himsel' King on the Destiny Stone."
I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes. If my right hon. Friend, or any of my ministerial colleagues, has an opportunity of venturing into this part of Perthshire, I suspect that the people in the area will be much more concerned about other issues.
Dundee (Industrial Infrastructure)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has recently received from Dundee regarding the need to develop the city's industrial infrastructure.
I am in regular contact with the regional and district councils, and other local bodies, about issues of concern to Dundee, including its industrial infrastructure. The Government's decision to make Dundee a special development area demonstrates our understanding of its problems.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that organisations, including the Dundee District Council, have made joint representations to his Department about the need to spend money on building up the harbour and airstrip to prepare the way for further employment as and when the economy turns round, and that the oil revenue should be employed to that end? In view of the reports made to the hon. Gentleman from those in the Labour Party, will he now give the positive and affirmative answer that their request will be sympathetically received?
I thought for a moment that the hon. Gentleman was about to say that he approved of the Government's recent action in increasing Dundee's status to development area status. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the airstrip and the harbour are presently the subjects of discussion among the local authorities, the Scottish Office and the Department of Trade. As soon as I have announcements to make. I shall certainly make them.
May I assure my hon. Friend that all sections of those in Dundee welcome the Government's recent action in elevating Dundee to special development area status? That will do far more to help employment in the city than any debatable projects, such as the airstrip, which, as far as I and a great many local people can see, are unlikely to provide any jobs.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. I know that he has been active in seeking to persuade my right hon. Friend and myself of the importance of employment in Dundee.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many of the matters of infrastructure that have been raised come within the jurisdiction of the district council and that the Scottish National Party in Dundee has apparently failed to present any candidates for the forthcoming election? Is this not an appalling example of political cowardice?
There is no doubt that it is in the minds of most of us that there has been some shyness on the part of the Scottish National Party in presenting candidates in Dundee and in other parts of the North-East. That is something that we have all noticed. Perhaps it is because the nationalists cannot agree on policy between Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen that they find themselves in this difficulty, apart from finding sufficient people to present them selves as candidates—or perhaps there are other difficulties of that sort.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the latest situation in the fishing industry.
The economic situation of the fishing industry continues to improve. The overall value of Scottish landings to 15th March was 52 per cent. above the same period in 1976, despite an overall reduction in fishing effort.Discussions continue within the European Community on a number of issues relating to the common fisheries policy. The EEC Commission is expected to be bringing forward proposals on the internal régime shortly and we shall be continuing to press for satisfactory resolution of the critical issues outstanding.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the proposals he mentioned are likely to give only a 12-mile exclusive limit plus quotas and historic rights within those 12 miles? Will he confirm that the Government would find such proposals totally unacceptable? Will he tell the House when he intends to make the ungutted haddock order?
The order will probably be available to the House today. It is to be signed by my right hon. Friend as well as myself, and my signature is already on it.We have repeatedly made it clear in discussions with other Ministers in the Community that any acceptable internal régime of a common fisheries policy must contain a considerable preference for coastal States.
Will the right hon. Gentleman inform us why he is answering this Question and not leaving it to the Minister whose responsibility it normally is? Is he prepared to lift the order that bans drift netting for salmon around the Scottish coast? Does he not agree that a totally unjust situation prevails when Scottish fishermen are the only fishermen in the EEC who are banned from such a practice?
I answered the Question myself because I have just returned this morning from Luxembourg, having yesterday engaged in fishery discussions. I thought that it might help the House, but I could have been wrong about that. I shall look into the other matter.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who are interested in the future of the Scottish fishing industry are very much behind the stand that he is reported to have taken in Luxembourg yesterday? In the absence of getting arrangements satisfactory to the Scottish fishing industry, will he confirm yesterday's report that the United Kingdom Government will consider taking unilateral action if necessary?
We were dealing yesterday with herring fishing, particularly the North Sea herring ban, which lasts until the end of the month and which was extended yesterday for only one more month. I believe that this is basically unsatisfactory.We have made some progress in that there will be a meeting on 16th May to deal with herring fishing as a whole as well as herring fishing off the West Coast of Scotland. We are anxious that this subject should be discussed and the industry wants it taken into account, because it fears a diversion of fishing from the North Sea to the West Coast. We made a little progress yesterday, but I made clear that I considered that other nations in the Community were not treating the matter urgently enough. In the absence of satisfactory progress at our next meeting, we must reserve the right to look at this matter nationally.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he will have the fullest support of this side of the House in taking a strong stand on this matter? Is he aware that the operation of the quota system is becoming daily less satisfactory as a means of control? Will he therefore stand firm on a basic minimum requirement of a 50-mile exclusive zone for Scottish fishermen?
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about support. I cannot add to what I have already said about zones. The Commission will be bringing forward revised proposals for an internal régime sometime next month, and we shall be putting our own proposals at that time. If the Commission's proposals are not substantially different from those of last December, the Government have no intention of accepting them.
Law Courts, Glasgow
asked the Lord Advocate if he will pay an official visit to the law courts in Glasgow.
I have no immediate plans to visit the law courts in Glasgow.
Is it not about time that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did visit the Glasgow courts? Is he aware of the increasing concern in Glasgow about whether the courts are able to cope with a frightening increase in their work load, particularly in crimes of violence? Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman be willing to call a meeting of fiscals, police, solicitors and court staff to consider whether the courts are able to cope with their increasing work load, or whether additional provision needs to be made?
I am regularly in touch with procurators-fiscal in Glasgow. Their staffs are working under great pressure. There is difficulty in obtaining court time for a number of cases. Diets have been allocated for indictment cases up to 30th May 1977, and there are many cases awaiting allocation. This means that the delays cannot be reduced as much as would otherwise have been possible. Within the limits of public expenditure cuts, I am endeavouring to do the best that I can and I shall take note of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, because a meeting of the sort that he suggests might prove useful.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does visit the courts in Glasgow, perhaps as a prosecutor for a change, is he aware that he will notice that a large number of crimes in cases of indictment arise from the fact that people carry offensive weapons? Since the Government appear to have nothing much else to do, could we have a Critimal Justice Act for Scotland to implement the recommendations of the Thompson Committee and the Scottish Council on Crime on this matter, which are rapidly gathering dust?
The recommendations of the Thompson Committee are under urgent consideration. This is only one of a number of suggestions which may have a material bearing on the reduction of the crime rate in Scotland. The carrying of offensive weapons is dealt with under a United Kingdom statute and deliberations beyond Scotland would be necessary before any change were made.
asked the Lord Advocate whether he interviews honorary sheriffs-substitute before their appointment.
No, Sir. The appointment of honorary sheriffs rests entirely with sheriffs-principal.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the appointment of honorary sheriffs should not be confined to one narrow section of the community? Would it not be a good idea to ascertain their political affiliation, if any, before they are appointed? I get the impression that so many of them are reactionary Right-wing Tories that they are in danger of bringing the law into disrepute.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to impugn the motives of the judiciary?
No. It is not in order to impugn the motives of the judiciary. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) will have heard what I have said.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was merely impugning the method of appointment of honorary sheriffs.
I should have thought that it was in the interests of justice that the Bench, whether honorary or otherwise, should be non-political and balanced in all respects and that it should truly reflect the community. The appointment of honorary sheriffs is not my responsibility. It has been devolved by Parliament to sheriffs-principal because it is believed that they are the best people to recruit suitable persons from the locality to assist the court, on a voluntary basis, with the business in hand. I have no reason to believe that sheriffs-principal exercise their discretion in other than a satisfactory way, having regard to the need for a balanced representation.I noticed that my honorary Friend—I apologise: that was an indiscretion. I noticed that my honourable Friend asked in his original Question about honorary sheriffs-substitute. He will be aware that uder the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 their correct title is now honorary sheriffs.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that arising out of a certain case on which my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) has been extremely helpful and which is well known to the Scottish Office, which has also been helpful, some of us have grace doubts about whether trials of police officers in matters that affect their careers should take place other than before experienced and senior sheriffs? I do not ask for an answer today, but will my right hon. and learned Friend look at the grave issues involved in this case?
The case to which my hon. Friend refers is sub judice and I can make no comment on it. My hon. Friend is referring to a case that was tried by a temporary sheriff and that raises considerations that are altogether different from those raised in the original Question about honorary sheriffs.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to consider the appointment of full-time sheriffs-substitute? Is he satisfied with the proportion of appointments from the solicitor branch of the profession? Has there been a substantial increase in such appointments in the past few years?
There has been a substantial increase in such appointments in the past three years. The hon. Lady will accept that it is desirable to have a proper balance and in order to achieve this the correct course, which I have always sought to pursue, is to take various representatives of the legal profession into one's confidence, through consultations, to find out what they think is the appropriate proportion.
In the interests of justice manifestly being seen to be done, will my right hon. and learned Friend advise sheriffs-principal that they should consult a wider range of people before making recommendations about appointments? Is he aware that, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) said, there is a feeling in a number of areas of Scotland that honorary sheriffs are biased towards a certain class of person in the community?
It would not be appropriate for me to advise sheriffs-principal on appointments that are left to their discretion by Parliament, but no doubt they will note the comments made in the House.
Lest the question raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's honorary Friend-substitute, the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), should cast any aspersion on the Bench, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the tradition of political impartiality of the Bench in Scotland in all its aspects is as strong now as it was when the late Lord Braxfield sentenced to death his best friend, with whom he played chess, with the words:
"Well that's checkmate noo, Willy."?
I do not know whether it was checkmate, but I certainly agree in general with the hon. and learned Gentleman's sentiments.
asked the Lord Advocate what transfer of personnel at the Crown Office to Dundee has been made recently; and for what purpose.
There has been no transfer of Crown Office personnel to Dundee recently. The Deputy Crown Agent, who is investigating allegations of corruption in Dundee, is spending a considerable part of his time in that city, where he is directing the police in this connection, receiving their reports, assessing the information and deciding what further investigation is required.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the transfer of the Deputy Crown Agent to Dundee, even temporarily, indicates his intention to make progress in the matters that he has been discussing? However, does he not agree that two years, which I think is the time that the inquiry has been running, is a very long time, and that one accused has now been on petition for the extraordinary period of 15 months?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the inquiries in this case have been extremely exhaustive and have covered a very considerable period. I can give some indication of the depth of the inquiries by stating that more than 200 witnesses, in the United Kingdom and abroad have been interviewed, and that the transactions concerned are transactions with connections and interconnections in fields far beyond the obvious limits of local government. For these reasons they are inquiries which, on any view, could not be carried out quickly.
If any staff are transferred to Dundee, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman warn them that they will not have the opportunity to vote for the Scottish National Party in the district elections, as that party is not sufficiently interested in the affairs of Dundee to put forward a candidate?
It would not be appropriate for me, as Lord Advocate, to give them any such warning or direction.
British Nationality Law
With, permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.A discussion document on possible changes in our nationality law, which I have presented to Parliament, is published today. Our present law on nationality has for long been outmoded and difficult to follow. Accordingly, when the present Government took office my predecessor set up a working party under my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), who was then Minister of State, to examine the whole question as we had promised in the Labour Party manifesto of February 1974. The discussion document is based to a large extent on its work. I emphasise that the document is a set of ideas for discussion. It is not a set of proposals for legislation. The Government do not intend to introduce early legislation. Nationality law affects all of us and thousands of people living overseas, so before we embark on change there must be a full opportunity for people and representative organisations to express their views. The main suggestion canvassed in the document is that we should have two citizenships—a British citizenship for those with close ties in this country, and a British overseas citizenship for the remainder of those people who are now citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. British citizens would have an unqualified right of free entry to the United Kingdom, while the right of entry to a dependency would be reserved to those who are British overseas citizens by virtue of a connection with it. The question of who should obtain which of the citizenships on the coming into force of the new law is discussed in some detail. In addition, the document contains, for example, some discussion about the distinction in the treatment of men and women, both in the transmission of citizenship and in the acquisition of it through marriage. It also mentions possible changes in the requirements for the grant of naturalisation, which have remained largely unchanged for many years. An important point to keep in mind is that the changes discussed in the document would not affect anyone's existing right of entry to the United Kingdom. In particular, the obligation which successive Governments have assumed towards holders of United Kingdom passports from East Africa would be maintained, and the special voucher system would continue. As I have said, the Government do not intend to introduce a Bill in the near future. The purpose of this document is to invite views from hon. Members, private individuals and representative bodies. We shall want to study very carefully what is put to us, and in that spirit, therefore, I commend the discussion document to the attention of the House.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome this Green Paper as a recognition of our changed overseas relationships and as an opportunity to provide a more rational basis for our immigration policies based on citizenship? Does he appreciate that the present obscurity of our nationality laws gives rise to widespread fears of unending millions who might claim entry into this country and that this anxiety must be removed, and removed urgently? Will he, therefore, accept that the Green Paper must be used as a basis for action and not as an excuse for prevarication?
On the last point, when the right hon. Gentleman and those who cheered have read the document, I would defy anyone to get the confusion that is in our laws made clear to the legislative draftsmen. We need about a year or 18 months, even if one were working with great urgency. There are great problems in this matter. What happened in 1971 was that when the then Conservative Government came in with the patriality law they made it even more obscure than it was previously. Therefore, I would advise people not to jump into this matter until they are clear as to what it is all about.However, having said that, I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
As my right hon. Friend has had much more time than Back-Bench Members to study the Green Paper, may I have an assurance from him that the principle of equality of the sexes shines right throughout the document? On that basis, and on the basis of page 5, which deals with the acquisition of British citizenship by virtue of marriage, if that principle is adopted, bearing in mind my right hon. Friend's most recent pronouncements on the subject of marriages of convenience—although I have never known what a marriage of inconvenience is—does he not agree that he could not operate what he has recently announced if the principle of the Green Paper came through in ultimate legislation?
No; the principle is there. My hon. Friend was referring to page 5 of the document, which is a summary. If he looks at page 18 and section 50, he will see four possible options which are put there freely for hon. Members and others to discuss. We have had a look at what has gone on in other countries. Whatever system we have, if there are bogus marriages it would be wrong for any law that we have to aid those who are marrying simply to come in rather than marrying for the normal purposes.
Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate dispensing with the status of "British subject", which since 1948 has been largely devoid of content, and attaching to the status of "British citizen" any substantive rights, such as those of the franchise in this country?
I remember the days when the right hon. Gentleman and I served on the Committee which deliberated on the patriality Bill, as it was then, and exchanged ideas that we had. We are at one in this respect. There is no doubt that the sort of nationality that we had in 1948 was based on a concept that was even then outmoded. What we want is citizenship, and, indeed, citizenship in the same way as it is in most other countries in the world where there are rights. However, civic privileges are a separate matter. Of course they are related, and I have put in a section on that matter, because, even at present, if one wanted to alter civic privileges one could do that without waiting for a change in the law on citizenship.
While welcoming the decision to issue the Green Paper but regretting the omission of some of the argumentation in the working party document, which makes the recommendations more understandable, I understand why some of the issues have been more muted than others, but the issue about the right of British citizens to have free movement in Europe seems to me to be the most muted of all. Will my right hon. Friend recognise that, although this is subject to negotiation with our Community partners, the Government ought to recognise and to desire at any rate that British citizens should have free movement throughout the Community, so that there are not two kinds of British citizen in future?
My hon. Friend is right. I take this opportunity of saying that the detailed investigations and report of the working party which he chaired have been extremely valuable and that we are grateful to him and his colleagues for their work. The situation in relation to the EEC is one aspect of the matter. The fact that citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies as a nationality concept has not been accepted in Europe is basically because it is not citizenship in the sense of the term accepted elsewhere. It is most important that we get it right, because the final concept should mean that a British citizen, once given that classification, should have the right to free movement in Europe because we have defined it by statute. Until we get the whole thing correct, there will be problems.
As the Green Paper is being published well in advance of the Commonwealth Conference, and as most Commonwealth countries in recent years have brought their own law of nationality up to date, will the right hon. Gentleman have consultations with Commonwealth leaders, if they seek them when they come here, or at least invite their observations on the Green Paper? Is it not correct to say that our nationality law, based on an Imperial concept applying in 1948, is so outmoded that all the efforts to deal with, for example, immigration problems through concepts such as patriality and the right of abode have further complicated the law because we have delayed in dealing with nationality?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right on the last point. That is the basic reason for the publication of the Green Paper. Whatever differing views right hon. and hon. Members may hold, I think that we are at one in agreeing that the whole concept is out of date. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked about consultations with the Commonwealth. Our High Commissioners have already been instructed to consult Commonwealth Governments, and Her Majesty's Government will be ready to take into account any views they may wish to put forward. Indeed, in the preparation of the Green Paper I myself have studied what Commonwealth countries are doing.
Order. May I seek the help of the House? With the agreement of the House, I shall call only those right hon. and hon. Members who have stood so far, because there is a very long statement to follow this one and also a Second Reading debate. We obviously want to get on.
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that, in publishing the Green Paper and envisaging a prolonged delay before legislation, there is not a danger that some groups of people around the world who presently have the right of abode in the United Kingdom will be frightened into trying to exercise their right before legislation is produced? May I urge upon him the point that many people will feel that civic rights are an integral part of the concept of citizen ship and that there will be some disappointment that this point was not dealt with more fully in the document?
Civic rights are not part of nationality law. It must be made absolutely clear that that is the case. As I said to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), it is not the case that nationality by itself, basically important as it is, is connected with civic rights. The State has the right to give civic rights to whom it likes. We have taken such a line over the years.The hon. Gentleman referred to there being a danger that some groups of people might be frightened into trying to exercise their rights before legislation is produced. This document has been published as a Green Paper. I have made clear the time scale involved. I see little danger that people will jump to conclusions. If there were proposals which were to be effective next week, the situation would be different, but when the hon. Gentleman reads the Green Paper and studies the immigration aspects he will see that the effect on immigration in the short run, even when the Bill is published, will be very small. In the long run, however, it will be quite different, because there is a conceptual argument involved in a change of nationality law, and in the long run there will be a difference of tone as well as an effect on what was once the Empire.
Is it not a reflection of an appalling mess that the Green Paper deals with no less than one-quarter of the world's population and that the majority of the population of no fewer than 35 countries are, in British law, British subjects and entitled as such, if they happen to be resident in this country on a magic date in October each year, to vote in our elections? Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the connection between civic rights and citizenship on the ground that we historically gave civic rights to British subjects and it was only because we botched the job in 1948 and did not notice that time had passed that we have had to give civic rights to people of other independent countries, a practice which is not operated in most of the rest of the world, where they see things more clearly?
Of course there is a mess. I think that most right hon. and hon. Members agree that the law is a mess in this matter. My hon. Friend's view of the question of civic rights is different from that in most other countries. If there were a desire for a change in that concept—and there is none on the part of the Government—the question of civic rights would be dealt with separately.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the time taken to produce the Green Paper and some of the phrases used in it suggest a somewhat leisurely approach to a problem that is closely enmeshed with the immigration question? Will he reconsider the timetable with a view to having a fairly early debate in the House on the Green Paper, with legislation in the next Session?
I have been much concerned about this matter since I was a junior Minister at the Home Office. When I took office as Home Secretary, I immediately asked what was going on about it. I must advise the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he will agree when he reads the Green Paper—that we cannot move quickly. This is an extremely complicated matter. I advise him also to recall the days of 1971, when the Conservative Government, wanting to move quickly, got it wrong.
Will my right hon. Friend give some thought to the problem of women citizens of the United Kingdom who are working abroad or who are abroad because their husbands work overseas and whose children happen to be born abroad? Will he ensure that it will be possible for British women to have British babies wherever they happen to be born?
The aspect raised by my hon. Friend emphasises the point that we should be careful not to move quickly, because we might get it wrong again. There is a passage in the Green Paper which deals with the problem to which my hon. Friend has referred. It is extremely complicated, but I do want to deal with that aspect because there is different treatment for men and women in this respect. Other countries have put their minds to the problem in recent years, and in preparing the Green Paper I have taken account of what they have done.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are really only two types of British citizen—those who are British and those who are not? Regardless of what is in the Green Paper, can he assure the people of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales that those who are born here as native-born citizens of the United Kingdom will not be placed as second-class citizens because of what is in the Green Paper?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would have asked that question had he read the Green Paper first. On his first point regarding types of British citizen, I am tempted to ask him "Are you one?"
European Community (Agriculture Ministers' Meeting)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to report on the outcome of the meeting of the Council of Ministers (Agriculture) on 25th-26th April. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary represented the United Kingdom for the discussions on agriculture, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for the discussions on fisheries.Agreement was reached on Community farm prices for 1977–78. The common support prices will rise by 3·5 per cent. for most commodities, the lowest figure since United Kingdom accession. There will be a butter subsidy for the United Kingdom, which was not included in the Commission's original proposals, at a rate of 8½p per lb., until 1st April 1978. This should lead to an immediate fall in shop prices of about 5p per lb., although I now learn that this may actually be an understatement. Prices thereafter will begin to rise again, but increases and decreases throughout the year are expected roughly to cancel out. The subsidy on Community butter will be financed by the farm fund. It will continue until 1st January 1979, though the rate after 1st April 1978 has yet to be decided. For beef, our premium system, with intervention only as a fallback, will be continued not merely until July, as the Commission originally proposed, but for the whole of 1977–78. I am confident that agreement will be reached in the course of the year that the premium system be retained permanently. I shall announce this week the scale of United Kingdom target prices for 1977–78, but the average will be £30·28 per live cwt, and the level will rise to over £32 next March. The levy on isoglucose will be fixed at, the maximum of half the level proposed by the Commission. The action programme for milk has been improved. There will be no tax on vegetable oils and fats—that is, no margarine tax. There will be no regulation on the "exclusive use" of milk products or their labelling, although this will be further examined. There will be no ban on national aids for investment on farms. The action programme now comprises incentives to farmers, financed wholly by the Community, to cease to market milk or to convert to beef or sheep production; a "co-responsibility levy" of 1·5 per cent. from 16th September; Community aid for school milk programmes; and Community aid for accelerated programmes for eradicating brucellosis, tuberculosis and bovine leucosis. I now think that it right to make a small move in the green pound. It will be devalued by 2·9 per cent. rather than the 6 per cent. proposed by the Commission, to take effect from the beginning of each marketing year, with two exceptions. It will apply to pigmeat from the beginning of May, thus reducing the monetary compensatory amount immediately by about 8½ per cent., and without at the same time reducing mcas on cereals. This will provide some relief to our pigmeat industry. We shall continue to press for a more fundamental change in the calculation of these amounts. The change will also be deferred for milk products, and will apply in two equal steps, one on 16th September 1977, and the other on 1st April 1978. The change in the green pound will be reflected in higher common support prices for United Kingdom farmers in sterling terms. After allowing for the deferment of the change for milk products, however, the effect on retail prices will be very small. Its effect on all food prices between now and April 1978 will be more than offset by the butter subsidy which we have negotiated. I consider that this package achieves a fair balance between producers and consumers. The effect on food prices in the shops has been cut to the minimum and the green pound devaluation more than offset by the butter subsidy. The effect on average food prices of this settlement during the period to next April is estimated at one-third of 1 per cent., so that with the transitional steps, the overall effect will be 1·25 per cent., When all the effects excluding the transitional steps are fully passed through, the increase in the RPI would be less than one-third of 1 per cent. Also agricultural support prices in the Community as a whole will fall in real terms, but United Kingdom farmers will get a big boost to their support prices from the combination of the transitional steps, the common price increases, and the small devaluation of the green pound. I believe that the outcome of these negotiations represents a very good deal for both British housewives and farmers. The final package is a considerable improvement on what was originally proposed by the Commission. For us, the key objective was to keep consumer price increases to an absolute minimum while at the same time obtaining a fair deal for the farmer. I recommend the package to the House. The Council also agreed to certain changes in the basic regulation on hops which will strengthen producer marketing. I believe that these will be welcomed by the Hops Marketing Board and the farmers' union. The Council agreed on a mandate for the negotiations with the ACP countries on sugar prices for 1977–78. These will start on 28th April. The Council decided to extend the present ban on fishing for herring in the North Sea for a further month and to consider the herring situation as a whole—including waters to the west of Britain as well as the North Sea—at the next Council. I should take this opportunity to tell the House that Commissioner Gundelach has notified me that he is studying how the functions of the Milk Marketing Boards can be maintained, with particular regard to the means by which the Boards help to maintain the level of liquid milk consumption thereby reducing intervention on dairy products, with a view to making appropriate proposals.
My first question to the Minister must be, why did he hold out in March? What does he think he has gained that was not available in March to justify the delay, all the bitterness and the loss of good will that has resulted? It would appear from what he has said that the subsidy on butter is something less than 1p per lb. Also, will the Minister clarify the anticipated total effect on food prices because that does not emerge all that clearly from the statement?Does the Minister understand the consequences for the pig producers and processors? If so, why were these consequences not discussed in Brussels? Has he understood, in particular, the terrible effect on specialist producers who have very heavy investment and whose losses have been running for months at the intolerable level of £4 per pig after the subsidy? The breeding herd has gone down by 10 per cent. as a result of slaughtering caused by the destruction of confidence over the past six months. The producers feel that the Minister has given the Danes and others an easy ride in our market. We all accept that farming costs went up by 20 per cent. last year. It would appear from what has been decided in Brussels that just over half of that will be recouped by producers. What does the Minister have to say about the future generally, and the future existence of the document "Food From Our Own Resources", which now begins to look shop-soiled and tarnished in the extreme? When can we expect a statement from the Minister on prices to farmers in this country for milk and potatoes—an announcement that has been very long delayed? We understand that the way in which these negotiations were handled caused immense resentment in Europe, so much so that the Minister has lost a lot of good will, and this evidently made him unable even to raise the all-important question of structural surpluses, let alone make progress on it. Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] The Minister made a very long statement. Will the Minister take note of the fact that the Opposition will require a debate in Government time in order to give him an opportunity to make a speech explaining Government policy, if that is possible?
Government policy has been made very clear. It is the Opposition's policy that worries me. Let me try to answer all those long questions. First of all, the right hon. Gentleman asked me why I held out in March. I held out for the simple reason that the difference between the two sides was too large to be bridged at that time. I said then that I was willing to sit day and night until we settled the matter. Most, though not all, of my colleagues in Europe thought it was better to come back after Easter on 25th and 26th April. But the actual difference in terms was significant. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] That happens to be correct. Hon. Gentlemen were not there, and I was. The offer that lay between us was an offer tapering down to 6½p per lb. What we have got is one that is 8½ flat.I remind the House that it is not stopping as a butter subsidy in April next year but will go on to the end of the year, at a rate to be decided. This was, therefore, a very considerable advance. I wish that the Opposition would get out of their historical liking for appeasement. If there are two conflicting sides, why do they always assume that this country is wrong? The right hon. Gentleman's second point is covered in the statement. I thought I had made it clear, but let me make the point again. The effect on food prices until April next year—by then we shall have had, we hope, the price fixing of 1978—is one third of a penny in the £ if we exclude the transitional steps, for which I claim no responsibility. Opposition Members have a responsibility for that. It is 1·25p in the £ if we include the transitional steps. I understand, of course, the crisis in pigmeat. That is why I introduced the subsidy and why I incurred the wrath That was where the wrath of my colleagues came, when I put in the pig subsidy. I find that complaints come from various sections of this House that I have not raised it, despite the fact that I have gone to court. Nevertheless, there is quite a substantial change going on. I believe that the effect of the changes I have announced will amount to about £22 a tonne. That is something on the way. That is taken together with the £23 a tonne that I got from the Commission last October. I intend to press the matter vigorously again at the next Council three weeks from now. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point that farmers are being recouped only half their costs, but this arises simply because we have not yet got the detailed prices out. We hope to get them out today or tomorrow, and I think they will command study. Then we can all have a good and, I hope, unequivocal look at them. I shall endeavour to announce the milk and potato guarantees as speedily as possible. The right hon. Gentleman's last question surprises me—perhaps it should not—when he asks whether I am going to deal with the structural surplus. That lies at the root of the CAP. That is what has got to be changed. I have said it all along. What on earth does he think was the point of dealing with butter specifically? It was, of course, to deal with the fact that butter was being sent outside the Community—to the Urals, as somebody said the other day—and being subsidised in being sent there when we believe it ought to be available to people inside the Community who are willing to take it. We know, of course, that the largest amount of butter is consumed by the poorer sections of the Community, the old-age pensioners and those earning under £30 a week. That was another reason for dealing with butter specifically. The effect of dealing with this matter is to cut at the butter surplus and to see the beginnings of what I hope will be that major reform of the CAP which at any rate all my hon. Friends believe to be right.
In the forthcoming talks at the next Council meeting on a possible ban on herring fishing on the West Coast of Scotland, will the Minister be prepared to make representations on small vessels, on which I have written to one of his hon. Friends at the Scottish Office? There are only two in the fleet in my constituency—there may be some elsewhere—which are engaged in herring fishing only by drift nets and which are too small and lack the equipment to go in for other kinds of fishing. I am informed that there would be no objection from the other fishermen concerned.
If the right hon. Gentleman has communicated with the Scottish Office I shall certainly take it up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and look into the point as urgently as possible.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he might have got an even better deal if he had not been publicly attacked by Opposition spokesmen in Brussels during the negotiations?Is he further aware that because—despite the most strenuous efforts that he made in these negotiations—we still face a further series of increases in the price of food, including the transitional steps, more and more people will conclude that it is time we withdrew from the common agricultural policy?
My right hon. Friend has put a view that I know many people in this country share with him. My task was to deal as best I could with a particular prices package. To have brought back the lowest increase in prices since the United Kingdom joined the Common Market, and to have got a butter subsidy for the reasons I have given, was the best I could do at this stage.
I am grateful to the Minister for finalising the price review negotiations this week. Will he not agree with me that this year's price review is a holding operation for farmers until we shall be able to persuade our counterparts in Europe to reform and change the common agricultural policy for the benefit of producers and consumers alike? The butter subsidy and devaluation of the green pound are a step in the right direction.Will not the Minister further agree that the pig industry is in dire financial trouble? What further plans does he have to provide help for the industry? Finally, is it not true that the biggest worry confronting the British farmer today is the precarious future of the marketing boards? Is the Minister in a position to comment on the future of these boards?
With regard to the Milk Marketing Boards, I have referred to what I believe is a very significant shift on the part of Brussels. I was about to say Luxembourg but it is really Brussels. The Commissioner's notification to me represents, I think, a very hopeful change, and we shall build upon it.I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman about the pigmeat situation. That is the reason, as I said a few moments ago, for my introducing national aid. I was grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support, although that support was not so widespread in other parts of the Opposition Benches.
Will my right hon. Friend agree that his major achievement is not so much the temporary subsidy on butter, welcome though that is, as his staunch resistance to the very much higher price increases urged on him by his Common Market colleagues and by the Conservative Opposition?Will he not also agree that if even he cannot protect us against unnecessary price increases, the time has come for us to say quite bluntly that the common agricultural policy is beyond reform and that we can no longer afford it?
As to my hon. Friend's point about the common agricultural policy being beyond reform, it depends on what comes out at the end of it. But he is quite right. We were advised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches to accept the Commission's original proposals willy-nilly. We all remember that. We were told to do so. Had we done so, there would have been no butter subsidy. Had we done so, the variable beef premium would have ended in July. Had we done so, the isoglucose levy would have been at its full rate. Had we done so, there would have been a margarine tax of 2½ per cent., and the exclusive use proposals would still have been in force. Had we done so, there would have been a ban on investment in dairy farms. Had we done so, the devaluation of the green pound would not have been under 3 per cent. but would have been 6 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman's sublime disregard for the truth—[Interruption.]—is almost without parallel even on the Government Benches. But will he now answer the question which he dodged before? What will he do about structural surpluses? Is he saying that the butter subsidy is a way of dealing with that problem?
Of course it is. Anyone who knows about them knows that structural surpluses are simply mountains of food or drink which have accumulated because people cannot afford to pay the prices.
I should like to return to the question of pigmeat processors. Even after the adjustments made to the green pound, every pound of imported canned ham from Holland carries a subsidy of 27p per lb. vis-à-vis its English competitors. The 1,800 process workers in my constituency face a grave situation. Can the Minister give us any hope that in the discussions in the next three weeks something can be done about that?
I certainly intend to see that the discussions are forcefully proceeded with. We have already made the difference one of £45 a tonne, and that should not be forgotten. I would remind the House that this is not a question of what the Commission can give but a question of unanimity in the Council. The plain, hard fact is that, important as it is economically to us, it is, if anything, even more important to the Danes, for example. When we talk about pig-meat we are talking about 30 per cent. of the Danes' export industry. It is tough going, but I shall endeavour to do it.
While I recognise my right hon. Friend's efforts, may I ask whether he is aware that the recent Cambridge Economic Policy Review made clear in a detailed analysis that the CAP was costing Britain at least £650 million a year, far from there being any kind of subsidy? Can my right hon. Friend tell us how much the additional cost will be? Does he not think that it is now time for the British Government to issue an ultimatum saying that unless this indefensible CAP is scrapped within 12 months we shall come out of it?
I have read the report to which my hon. Friend refers. I think that after two very long nights now and five very long nights in March I have made my position clear to my partners in Europe.
Does the Minister agree that by over-emphasising the butter situation he has thrown away an awful lot of things that should have been gained at this price review in Europe? He has lost them with the rise in the price of milk, which will start on 1st May and which was not proposed by the Commission. He has given way on milk and on isoglucose. He said that he would not give way on isoglucose when I said that he should not do so. The increase accepted by the Minister is 3·5 per cent., and that is 0·5 per cent. more than the original price rise proposed by the Commission. The emphasis has been entirely wrong. What the Minister has gained is far outweighed by what he has lost. Not only the consumer but also the farmer will regret the day that he was made Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that he suggested that we should take all the Commission's proposals as they stood, although he said that there were individual matters in them which he did not like. If he cares to examine the butter subsidy, which is designed only to start to get rid of structural surpluses and to help the consumer, he will find that it outweighs the green pound devolution.Secondly, concerning isoglucose, which I think is important, I was willing to accept the rise because the final document says that it is a maximum of one half of the levy originally proposed by the Commission—as the hon. Gentleman will see if he studies the documents. It therefore gives us all the right in the world to continue and I think that this time we shall have certain allies to argue what the rate should be. I hope that it will be downwards.
Is it not rather pathetic that those who surrendered British interests in 1971 are now carping about my right hon. Friend's trying to protect British interests? The Tories are the guilty party. It is even more ironic that the main burden of their argument is that we have not so far dealt with surpluses, when this was precisely the position they chose to accept? Is it not a fact that the difference between us is that we recognise that the surpluses cannot and should not be dealt with through an end price policy but that we have to go back to the more traditional British form of farming sup- port to fulfil the aims of the White Paper "Food From Our Own Resources"? If the Common Market cannot achieve that, it is time we left the CAP.
I was interested to find, when reading the list of those items that we would have had to accept if we had followed the instructions—if that is the right word—of the Tory Front Bench, that no right hon. or hon. Member in the Opposition dared to mention the question of the variable beef premium. That is one of the most vital things in British industry, and yet we managed to keep it for the whole year, when it was proposed that it should end in July. The expectation is that it should now become permanent.
Is the Minister aware of the great anger and frustration of all pig producers? Suffolk, which I have the honour to represent, is one of the biggest counties producing pigmeat. Some of the producers came here earlier this week to show their indignation and many hon. Members from both sides met them. The producers were worried—and it worries me, too—that if they continue to lose money, which they can do only to a certain extent, they will have to sell or kill off all their breeding sows and we shall be in a desperate state. This is illustrated by what I hope the Minister may have seen—[Interruption] Do you want to interrupt me?
Well keep quiet then. I was saying to the Minister—
Order. Everyone knows that remarks are to be addressed to me, in theory at any rate. I kept quiet for rather a long time, but I should now be grateful if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would put his question to the Minister.
Gallant, is he?
If we slaughter our breeding stock, we shall have a situation such as that described in the Press last Sunday, when imported cabbages were being sold for more than £1 each. We shall be held to ransom. This is what I am frightened about, and I want immediate action.
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for that point. It is exactly the point I was making and it is why I introduced national aid. I hope that the measures which I oined today in my statement will be of some assistance—although I admit only small assistance. I shall fight for a change in the calculation of the mcas. That, I hope, is where we all agree.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the questions from the Opposition show that the Tory Party represents producers, whereas my right hon. Friend's efforts and the 1947 Agricultural Act show that this party represents both consumers and producers? Will my right hon. Friend comment on an apparent discrepancy in the price increase? The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) mentioned a price increase to farmers of 10 per cent. and my right hon. Friend mentioned a 1·25 per cent. increase.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman was talking about producers' prices. I was talking about food prices.
Has the Minister had time to study the British Press this morning, and has he noticed the contrast between his own satisfaction with the settlement and what is in the Press?
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman is aware of my personal interest in the Hop Marketing Board—the first marketing board to be set up. Will he explain the significance of the latest development mentioned in his statement?
The significance of the hon. Gentleman's second point is that the Hop Marketing Board will be recognised as a producer group for the purpose of aid until, I think, 31st December 1980. This is an important point and it gives us all the transition necessary. From time to time I read the British Press. I sometimes believe what it says and sometimes do not, and sometimes my beliefs are mixed.
What is the difference between the original terms that the Common Market wanted to impose upon my right hon. Friend and those that he negotiated to finality yesterday? Can my right hon. Friend express it in pounds, shillings and pence?
I reckon it to be, until early next year, about 1p in the £.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the emphasis he placed on securing the extra ½p on the subsidy for butter seriously jeopardised his bargaining position for the pigmeat sector? If he waits a further three weeks before taking further steps in this direction, there may well be irreparable damage to the pig industry. In the meantime, will he go to the slaughter as a sheep rather than a lamb and take immediate steps by jacking up his own subsidy to, say, £1·50 or £2, just to sort the matter out?
When Conservative Members, having said that I was wrong to defy what they believed—
I know that the hon. Gentleman himself did not, but others on the Conservative Benches did. Having said that I was wrong to defy what they thought was the Brussels rule—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] I well recall that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) told me that I was taking it lightly and frivolously, and that this was a very important matter. To ask me now to take it even more lightly and frivolously and to increase it is very difficult. If the hon. Gentleman reads in Hansard what I said, he will see that the difference between the last proposals in March and those finally accepted by all nine countries after some trial and tribulation at 2 o'clock in the morning represents a good deal more than just ½p in the lb. on butter.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that so long as Britain remains subject to the common agricultural policy our people are trapped on an escalator taking them towards higher and higher food prices? Does he agree that the long-term interests of both British producers and consumers can be protected only by Britain's withdrawing from the CAP? Will the Government rescue the people by withdrawing Britain from the CAP?