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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 932: debated on Thursday 19 May 1977

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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Intervention Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he made at the recent meeting of Agriculture Ministers of the EEC to rationalise the Community's intervention prices for skimmed milk and butter.

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

Our main objective in the Council of Ministers was to keep the price increases to an absolute minimum in order to discourage excess milk production in a manner which did not prevent efficient producers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere from increasing their share of the market for milk and dairy products in the Community.

Does the Minister agree that there is a need to rationalise the approach of the Community's agriculture policy in order to allow for variations in the cost of production in individual countries? What proposals did the Government put forward at the meeting or what do they have in mind to put forward at subsequent meetings?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the system of green currencies means that the prices paid to producers in various countries are different. In the vast majority of countries, the decision on this year's price-fixing has meant a fall in real terms in the producer's milk price and this should help to reduce the structural surplus. The United Kingdom butter subsidy was an important step towards disposing of the surplus sensibly.

My hon. Friend referred yesterday to butter ships. Is there any chance of having these butter ships operating off this country to the advantage of our consumers?

The measures that we secured at the Council, which involved a substantial butter subsidy for United Kingdom consumers, are an important step in the right direction and are probably better than butter ships.

Whatever may be the wish, does not my hon. Friend agree that the increased cost of the food package, according to Press reports, is 400 million units of account? Will he confirm that figure and comment on reports in the Press on Wednesday that the long-term future of the green currencies is in doubt? If those reports are true, will not this increase prices still further?

The increase in the Community budget was a result of the changes made to the Commission's original proposals. One major element in this increase was the decision that all non-delivery premiums to encourage dairy producers to cease production were to be wholly financed by FEOGA. There are only proposals in relation to the green currencies. No decision has yet been taken.

Common Fisheries Policy


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on progress in renegotiating the common fisheries policy.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current position of the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy.

I refer the hon. Members to the statement I made yesterday.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on obtaining international recognition of conservation zone in the North Sea and elsewhere, but is he aware that this country's distant-water industry is virtually killed and that the inshore industry is likely to follow the same path unless we get an exclusive zone of 50 miles? These views were put strongly to Mr. Gundelach at Hull recently. What action is the Minister taking?

The whole question of the fishing industry is vital to this country. That point was made to Mr. Gundelach not only on his visit to Hull but by a deputation from Scotland which saw him a few days ago. We have reiterated that fact ourselves and intend to go on doing so, particularly at the Fisheries Council meeting which has been called for 27th June.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that at the next Council meeting the Government intend to stand firm on the need for an exclusive fishing zone of 50 miles, because this is so important for the inshore fishing industry of this country, not least in Devon and Cornwall?

We have made our position clear and I hope that at the Council meeting next month we shall be able to put on the table absolutely definite proposals. I have no doubt that they will be fully in accordance with the wishes of the fishing industry.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the simple and straightforward demand for extending control over a 50-mile limit would have the overwhelming support of both sides of the House and the country as a whole? Does he recognise that were it not for the fact that the Conservative Party has taken us into the EEC, control would have been extended to 200 miles?

I do not want to go over old battles at this stage. It seems that there are new battles ahead. However, my hon. Friend has put forward an important point which must be recognised again and again. What we must do is to claw back something that was given away. That is a difficult and tough task to achieve, but it is an achievement that we hope we shall be able to realise.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome the frequent reports that he makes to us on these matters and that we appreciate what he is doing? Is he aware that the Scottish fishermen who went to Brussels at the beginning of the week are boiling with rage over the negative attitude of the Common Market towards what they regard as their just claims? Does he recognise that their temper is not helped by the report today that Norway is cutting the quotas available for United Kingdom vessels, thus imposing even further strains and difficulties on the Scottish fishing fleet?

I thought that the Scottish fishermen behaved with absolute distinction. Everyone commented on the tremendous way in which they presented their case. Even if they are boiling with rage, they put their case reasonably. I pay my tribute to them.

The issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised in respect of Norway is representative of the whole difficulty of the position in which we now find ourselves. As regards distant-water fishing and the fact that we are not in negotiation alone, clearly that is a matter that has to be taken into account when we come to review fishing within the waters that are under our sovereignty and jurisdiction.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider putting before the House of Commons before he goes to Europe the proposals that he intends to put before the Council of Ministers? Is he aware that the House would be interested to know whether his proposals will contain any reference to the closing—perhaps permanently—of some of the breeding grounds and the banning of methods of fishing that are simply plain greedy?

The points inherent in the right hon. Gentleman's question are extremely sound. They are points that we have made and will continue to make. Certainly I should wish to give the House as clear an indication of what I have in mind as it is possible to give. I shall do my best to ensure that the House is kept fully informed.

Sheepmeat Exports


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the access of sheepmeat from the countries of Great Britain to the EEC.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. E. S. Bishop)

I recognise that the cessation of national import arrangements in the EEC could be beneficial to our sheepmeat trade, but in spite of these barriers United Kingdom exports to the EEC have increased by some 50 per cent. since accession.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that feeling is running quite high among sheep farmers in Wales that the Minister and the Government are not putting up the sort of fight that they should be mounting for a regulation on sheepmeat in the EEC? At least, they are doing nothing comparable with what the Irish are doing. In future, will the hon. Gentleman put up such a fight?

I think the House will know that we have made our position very clear. There are four basic points. First, we want to safeguard producers and ensure that there is confidence in respect of production. Secondly, we want to ensure that there is a regime which provides reasonable prices for consumers. Thirdly, we want to ensure that British exports can continue and increase. Finally, we want to ensure that there can be the possibility of continued access for New Zealand.

Will the Government keep in mind the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom and not only those of Great Britain?

Yes. I think that that is apparent in the general guidelines I have just spelt out.

Are not the barriers that the French are putting up disobeying the de Cheysson judgment in the European Court? I may not be right about that, but if that is so will the Minister consider doing what everybody else seems to be doing in the Common Market—namely, taking the French to the European Court?

I think the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the French are already being taken to court by the Irish. Although we recognise some of the undesirable effects of some of the features of the French import arrangements, especially as we are the largest exporter of sheepmeat in the Community, we want to achieve a solution that will safeguard the interests of all countries.

Food Additives


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from consumers about the removal of artificial colour from manufactured food; and if he will make a statement.

The Food Additives and Contaminants Committee is at present carrying out a full review of our regulations controlling the use of colouring matters in food. The committee has received representations from consumer organisations, and these are being taken into account along with those from other organisations. The committee is making good progress with this complex review, but it is too soon yet to say when the report will be published.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. In the meantime, in view of the growing public and medical concern about the vast amount of artificial colouring in food, all of which is expensive and unnecessary and none of which is really healthy, will he consider initiating discussions with food manufacturers with a view to trying to phase out artificial colouring, at least from baby food and food that is mainly consumed by children?

I agree with my hon. Friend's basic contention that this is a matter for particular concern as it affects food consumed by babies and children. The committee is giving special attention to this matter. I reassure my hon. Friend by pointing out that the committee is free at any time during the review to draw attention to any colourings that it would like removed forthwith.

Will the committee be considering the regulations that at present prevent his Department from publicising a good deal of the information made available by food manufacturers on food additives? Will he bear in mind that there are about 35,000 additives of different sorts and that the United States has banned the use of Brown FK, which is used in 99 per cent. of kippers and in many other sweets and food products in this country? Will he consider giving early consideration to this matter when the subject comes up for review when the EEC directive permitting its use ends next year?

I shall bring that point to the attention of the committee. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the committee has a high standing not only in the United Kingdom but internationally. I am sure that he will respect its findings and judgment.

Milk Marketing Board

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next meet the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when he meets Sir Richard Trehane or his successor he will be told in plain terms that the dairy farmers are totally dissatisfied with the price determination that he has recently announced? Will he explain to Sir Richard or his successor, and to the House, how there will be a mere 5 per cent. increase to the farmer between now and the end of the year when the dairy farmer has had to meet additional costs amounting to 20 per cent.? is he not aware that our dairy farmers could make a substantial saving to our balance of payments if they produced more milk?

I am certain that the guaranteed price for milk was the right guarantee to give in the circumstances up to the end of the transitional stage, As the hon. Gentleman must be aware, the question of what happens after 1st January is still to be played for. I hope that I shall be able to make an announcement in the near future. When dairy farmers consider the situation, they will have to take into account the final position—namely, what happens after 1st January. I should think that that is the factor that is concerning them most. I hope to end that uncertainty as soon as possible with something that I hope will be worth waiting for.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that for over 40 years the Milk Marketing Board has provided good value for consumers and producers alike without subsidy or surplus to any degree? Will he explain why the board may have to face a court action in the European Community about its existence? If that is the case, does he understand that it explains why some of us think that the CAP is quite detestable? Will he make this clear to his follow Agriculture Ministers when he meets them in Brussels?

As for the Milk Marketing Boards, I very much share my hon. Friend's view—I think it is a view that the whole House shares—of the great value they have been to this country. I believe, incidentally, that they could be of great value also to other countries if they cared to adopt the system, as I told the House a few weeks ago. I cannot remember when it was. [An HON. MEMBER: "Last week."] No, I think it was before that. I have spoken to Mr. Gundelach and I have his assurance that he is investigating sympathetically the whole situation. I was encouraged to notice that in his speech at Cirencester last week he twice said and underlined that he had become convinced of the value of our Milk Marketing Boards.

What confidence has the right hon. Gentleman that he can overcome the stiff-necked opposition of the bureaucrats of Brussels to the Milk Marketing Board as a national institution cutting right across the whole purpose and objective of the EEC?

Confidence in stiff-necked bureaucrats, wherever they may be, is something that requires a lot more patience, perhaps, then some of my hon. Friends and some Opposition Members possess. But we shall certainly do our best to overcome the reactions of any stiff-necked bureaucrats who may stand in the way of something that is, quite frankly, a sensible and valuable arrangement.

Will the Minister appreciate that everyone on this Bench realises the difficult job that he has to do vis-à-vis Europe? But will he assure the House that the Milk Marketing Boards are sacrosanct and will not have their rights traded away as part of some larger deal or package?

As long as I am Minister, I have not the slightest intention of trading those rights away.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that not only the producer, important as his task is, is concerned with the Milk Marketing Board, but that many thousands of workers in the milk industry in this country are looking to the Milk Marketing Board for the continuance of their jobs? They are very concerned indeed and very worried. I speak with authority as an ex-trade union officer who used to organise those people. Will my right hon. Friend give assurances to those workers that the Milk Marketing Board will not be allowed to be disbanded by the despots in Brussels and that the security of these workers in the milk industry will continue?

I have on many occasions assaured the House, and I willingly reassure the House today, that it is my intention to fight to victory—I was going to say to the end—for the Milk Marketing Boards. I not only accept my hon. Friend's point about those who work in the industry. I also accept the absolutely vital necessity of preserving the liquid milk round.

Will the Minister be able to tell the present Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board that he has been telling his colleagues in Brussels that we need to extend milk marketing boards within Europe? Secondly, will he bear in mind that some of us feel that all the experience and wisdom of the present Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board should be used in the future, even if he retires from the board now?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the tribute he has paid to the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board. I have tremendous admiration for him. He has done a very good job. As to extending the boards to other countries, particularly to countries inside the Common Market, I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It seems to me to be an experience that we have which could be of use to other countries.

Before the Minister meets the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board, will he recall what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said earlier—that it is absolutely crucial to clear up the important matter of what the milk price will be after 1st January? Will he undertake that he will have made an announcement before he meets the Chairman of the MMB? Will he understand that otherwise it is nonsense to make the sort of statement he has been making—that the milk price which he announced recently only for the next seven months will mean expansion under the White Paper targets, which clearly it will not?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on his deductions, but I absolutely agree with him on the urgency of making a statement about the months that will follow transition. There is only one reason why I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking for which he asks. That is, that I am quite likely to meet the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board very shortly—it may be as I walk out of the House on this occasion. What I will undertake is to make a statement at the earliest opportunity.

Potato Plantings


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the level of plantings of potatoes for the coming season.

It is too early to make a firm forecast of the level of potato plantings, but the present indications are that the 1977 target area of 210,000 hectares will be achieved and may be exceeded.

Why was the Minister so slow in announcing this year's guaranteed price? Does he appreciate that many farmers had already planted before the announcement? Does he further appreciate that this price is considered to fall below the general level of production costs and that most farmers have completely lost confidence in him over this?

The hon. Member will be, or should be, aware of the complications of this review as we come to the end of transition. I remind him that, as I have just said, a great deal of confidence has already been shown by the plantings to date. We are satisfied that the target will be achieved. The hon. Gentleman will be aware also of the fact that the new price is 16 per cent. above last year's level and that this takes into account costs since then.

The Minister has said a lot today and in the debate last week about the future of the Milk Marketing Board. It is of great concern to potato farmers, because they also have a marketing board. What is the future of the Potato Marketing Board?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this matter is under consideration, but we still want to make sure that in the new régime which may follow the end of transition it is recognised that the confidence of the producer to plant the required acreage and to achieve the target at a reasonable price will be fundamental.

Has my hon. Friend recognised that many potato producers are deeply concerned about the possibility that the Potato Marketing Board might be wound up as a result of our commitment to Europe? Will he make a clear statement, as his right hon. Friend has just done on the Milk Marketing Board, that there is no intention whatsoever of doing this? If he does, it will meet with very considerable approval on the part of those who produce potatoes in this country.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the fact that we have made our policy on boards of all sorts dealing with hops, milk and potato marketing very clear. We want to maintain the essential functions which a board should pursue. As to the matter of future confidence, we have said that a price guarantee will be fulfilled for the coming crop as a whole.

Food And Drink Manufacturing Industries


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the means of representation to the EEC Commission available to the food manufacturing industry.

Yes, Sir. The United Kingdom's Food and Drink Industries Council plays an active part in the Commission for the Food and Drink Manufacturing Industries, which is the trade body that the EEC Commission consults on matters of interest to these industries.

Yes, but does the Parliamentary Secretary realise that some of us think that he does not really understand the very grave difficulties of some of the food manufacturers, particularly concerning pigmeat, sausages and bacon? Will he see that far better representation is made on their behalf in Europe on these matters as we do not want to see the destruction of that very big and important industry?

I agree that it is a very big and important industry and contributes in a very major way to the United Kingdom balance of payments. With regard to pigmeat, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Government are doing everything they possibly can in this connection. We hope that the draft regulations may form a basis for solving that particular problem.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, unlike Opposition Members, we believe that he understands the problems of the food manufacturing industry, and we would like to see rather more discussion openly of the purely negative taxes which are consistently being applied by the EEC to all forms of food manufacturing, whether it be isoglucose or any other form of manufactured food? My hon. Friend is protecting the interests of the consumer. Will he explain to Opposition Members that it is part of their task to support him in this?

My hon. Friend is on a fair point. As for the proposed isoglucose levy—and I wish to point out that we were the only member State which pressed this—although the Government were successful in reducing the maximum levy to 50 per cent., we are still opposed in principle to any isoglucose levy.

Council Of Ministers


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to attend a meeting of the EEC Council of Agriculture Ministers.

On 20th and 21st June. The Community Agriculture Ministers are, however, to have an informal meeting in London next Tuesday.

Until such time as the CAP is completely scrapped, could not some of the smart Alecs who sold us down the river in the Common Market steer some of these German butter boats up the Forth or Clyde so that some of our own impoverished housewives can get their share of this butter mountain comprising 6,000 tons of cheap butter, which has been distributed by these ships to a total of 3 million passengers?

I think that the better way of handling the matter would be to see that the butter mountain is consumed inside the nations of the Community. One very good way of doing this might be to have a butter subsidy to enable the consumer to obtain the butter at a very much cheaper price. That method of dealing with the problem would appear to be a very much better way of handling the matter than to have 3 million men and women each grasping two kilograms of butter in their hot little hands.

Is the Minister aware that Commissioner Tugendhat said that there must be a more effective way of representing the taxpayer and the consumer in the settlement of agricultural prices? Will he convey to the next meeting of Agriculture Ministers that that view has widespread support in this country, even though a dwindling band of Euro fanatics would seek to deny it?

Something on the lines of that view has already been conveyed to my colleagues in the Common Market Council of Agriculture Ministers. On the subject of Commissioner Tugendhat, there are other items of which perhaps neither the hon. Gentleman nor I would wholeheartedly approve.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Council of Ministers, will he point out the grave apprehensions of Members on all sides of the House about EEC policy, intervention and directives? Does he not agree that those of us who pointed out these misgivings before we entered the EEC were in the minority but now comprise the overwhelming majority?

I think that by now the House must be well aware of my feelings about the common agricultural policy—feelings which, I am glad to say, I share with a growing number of hon. Members throughout the House.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the aims of the CAP remain absolutely acceptable and respectable? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The problem is that those aims have been too widely forgotten. The right hon. Gentleman has missed many opportunities of putting matters right. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Without requiring advice from Hon. Members below the Gangway, on the Government side, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman how he reconciles his advocacy of a butter subsidy now with the Government's recent decision to abolish food subsidies.

One of the major purposes on the butter subsidy seeks to achieve one of the amendments of the CAP which the right hon. Gentleman asked me to undertake. I may have missed opportunities in the past. During the next seven years or so I intend not to miss any other opportunities.

As for the butter subsidy, one of its main purposes was to chip away at helping to destroy the butter mountain. There is no butter mountain in this country, nor is there a liquid milk lake or a structural surplus in this country, and the right hon. Gentleman should know that.

Will the Minister answer the question: how does he reconcile his advocacy of a continuing butter subsidy with the decision of his Cabinet colleagues to abolish food subsidies?

Perhaps I had better explain the matter twice. There is no food structural surplus in this country. The aim of the butter subsidy was to chip away at the butter mountain—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) can conduct his own seminar standing up in due course, but he cannot do it sitting down. As for the butter mountain or any other structural surplus, I believe that the best way of getting rid of such surpluses is at the price end—and that is by seeing that it is consumed within the Community. I repeat that there are no structural surpluses of food in this country. Therefore, the food subsidy is not of that major immediate importance.

Sheepmeat Régime


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made towards the establishment of an interim sheepmeat régime within the EEC.

The Council of Agriculture Ministers has not reconsidered the proposals for an interim sheepmeat régime since October 1976, although technical discussions have continued.

Is the Minister aware that the news that so little activity is taking place is most disappointing? Will he appreciate the problems of those who produce fat lambs if they do not know whether the French market will be open? Will he give some assurance today which will give confidence for the future, and will he press the matter more urgently than he appears to be doing at present?

We recognise the urgency of the situation. In the beginning we were not very happy about the régime coming into effect at all, but I appreciate the hon. Member's point. He will be aware that production methods in marketing in the Community are diverse, which adds to the problem. In the meantime, the Government have given renewed confidence to the industry in respect of increases in the wool and fat sheep guarantees.

Is the Minister aware that as long as there is no sheepmeat régime there is an unfair discrimination in favour of the original Six and a strong levy on sheepmeat for new entrants? Is it not grossly unfair that in what is called a common agricultural policy there is not a common policy to all the Nine but preference given only to the Six?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of our policy aimed at liberalising trade within the Community. We are the largest importer, exporter and consumer of mutton and lamb, and we want to ensure that there is freedom for our people to export to the Community if they wish to do so. I would also point out that home consumption is a major factor at the moment.

Food Production


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in the light of the outcome of the recent EEC negotiations, if he is satisfied with progress in implementing the policy set out in the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources".

The outcome of the CAP price negotiations is a good one for our producers, who have every reason to look forward with confidence. With reasonable weather, I expect to see a major recovery in production this year and good progress in line with the aims in "Food from Our Own Resources".

Is the Minister aware that his reply will be received with surprise by the farming industry? In the light of the recent EEC negotiations, does he not realise that what is required in this country is a move aimed at bringing the green pound more into line with the value of the pound sterling? Does he not agree that if the green pound is not brought more into line with the value of the pound sterling there will not be sufficient money available for investment in the British farming industry?

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's observations. If we take into account the increase in the common price and the small devaluation of the green pound, and above all the two transitional steps, it is clear that the support prices effected by the CAP settlement were raised adequately to meet the needs of producers in the forthcoming year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the basic contradiction we face in seeking to expand the dairy industry is that the end price creates surpluses in Europe and at the same time inhibits production here? Does not the right way forward lie in reducing levies on imported cereals in order to reduce costs to our producers?

The Government are in favour of more liberal policies on cereals, but there would have to be some protection on the lines that existed before we joined the Community.

How can the Minister make such complacent expressions of hope for future agricultural expansion when we have seen in the Ministry's own figures a tremendous decline in the numbers of young animals coming into breeding herds in the beef, dairy and pig sectors?

The hon. Member is far too pessimistic. He and others are too heavily influenced by the severe drought last year. If we have reasonable weather in the forthcoming season, the situation should improve.

Which sectors are up to the target set in the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources" and which are not? Does the Minister accept that falling food production figures are directly related to the price package that he negotiated in the EEC?

Since the hon. Member comes from Angus, he may not be aware sufficiently of the enormous impact of last year's drought. Every agricultural commodity was adversely affected by the drought. The major factor in increased agricultural costs was the drought.

Pigs (Price Calculation)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the Confederation des Organisations Professionels Agricoles requesting a recalculation of the monetary compensatory amounts in respect of pigs.

The praesidium of the confederation has made no representations to the Council during the period of the United Kingdom Presidency requesting such a recalculation. In its reactions to the Commission's proposals on the fixing of prices for certain agricultural products for the marketing year 1977–78, however, COPA notes that the United Kingdom delegation had indicated that it could not accept any increase in the basic price for pigmeat in the absence of a satisfactory solution on the method of calculation of the monetary compensatory amounts for pigmeat.

Is it not depressing that COPA, notwithstanding that until quite recently it had the distinction of having Sir Henry Plumb as its chairman, has not shown itself to be more alert to the problems of the British pig farmer? Does not the situation highlight the fact that where we have national difficulties they should be susceptible to national solutions?

I find myself in a great measure of agreement on this point, particularly in the pigmeat sector and also in the dairy sector.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that when Commissioner Gundelach came to Cirencester recently he gave little encouragement to Gloucestershire farmers that the Commission was prepared to act on the difficulties experienced by pig farmers in this country? Is he aware that hon. Members on this side of the House who are conversant with the problems of farmers would give him all the support he needed to take further unilateral action if the negotiations, which are still six weeks away, were not successful in helping the pig industry?

I am grateful for the support I have received for the measures necessary to help our own pig producers. The recalculation of the pigmeat mcas will come up as a proposal and will be on the agenda at the meeting on 20th and 21st June.

The fact that the Commission is making a proposal at last is welcome, but will the Minister explain, since he agrees with my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), what he intends to do about it?

As the right hon. Member must be aware, I have introduced unilateral aid for pig producers which is being challenged in the courts. An interim injunction is due to be heard either tomorrow or in the next few days. Clearly, in the first place we must await the result of the court hearing. Secondly, the Government have given some consideration to what might happen in any event.

The whole House accepts that the Minister and his colleagues have worked very hard for the pig producers. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree, however, that unless there is a chance of the unilateral action being accepted this would be a good and sensible time for him to make an honest and apposite statement and to level with the pig farmers, who are desperately worried about their financial future?

I am aware of what the hon. Member has said. When there is something absolutely definite to say, I shall make as clear a statement as I can in the House to help pig farmers to plan their future.

Will my right hon. Friend resist the move coming from the Commission automatically to readjust mcas irrespective of the subject being discussed? Does he not agree that if mcas can be triggered off by figures that bear no relation to the individual product we shall be in very great trouble?

The proposals to which my hon. Friend refers are not those which will come before the Council in June. It is expected that they will come up sometime in October. One of the interesting features about the proposals for the meeting on 20th and 21st June is that they suggest a different method of calculating green currencies based on all the currencies of the Nine. That is something which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) has advocated on more than one occasion. It will be interesting to see what view the Council takes on that.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 19th May.

Before I reply, I remind the House that in accordance with the recommendations of the Procedure Committee I am not grouping indirect Questions in the first 10, of which today there are seven. But this is, of course, a transitional policy.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Before his Cabinet meeting this morning, was my right hon. Friend able to act on the commitment that he gave, with other Heads of Government, on 8th May to take action to eliminate improper practices in trade and international commerce? Has he been able to examine the allegation about the British Leyland affair which appears in today's papers? Will he authorise an inquiry and assure the House of his intention to supervise any action that is needed in that matter?

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I did not want to anticipate anything that you might say. I understand that there is a Private Notice Question on this matter.

As for international action. I did not refer to Leyland or to anybody else in this particular connection. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, if he is called to make a statement later.

I remind the House of the statement made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury when it was made clear that
"The Government will accordingly be pressing in appropriate international organisations for measures to be taken wherever possible to deal with this evil."—[Official Report, 18th May May 1976; Vol. 911, c. 1214.]
That statement of Government policy—and there is much more to it—preceded the Downing Street Summit. I therefore pressed at the Summit with the United States and other countries, for references of this sort to be incorporated. It is a matter which properly causes grave concern so far as the general policy of the Government is concerned. We do not tolerate such practices and they must be rooted out, although a heavy responsibility rests upon the host countries themselves.

As this matter will be dealt with later, may I raise with the Prime Minister a question which is causing concern to hon. Members on all sides of the House? As it is nearing the time when the arrangements for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference must be finalised, can the Prime Minister say whether he has yet reached a decision about whether President Amin will attend that conference? In asking him that question, may I make it quite clear that my right hon. and hon. Friends and, I believe, many other hon. Members—although I cannot speak for them—feel that it would be utterly repugnant if President Amin were to attend the conference? We feel that that is the view of the British people as a whole.

I am obliged for the way in which the right hon. Lady framed her question. As she knows, this is a matter which is of very great concern to the Government. As I indicated some weeks ago, we have been giving careful and continuing consideration to this matter. Indeed, in conjunction with certain Ministers I gave consideration to it again this morning. As the House knows, Her Majesty's Government broke off diplomatic relations with President Amin a year ago. The latest evidence from the International Commission of Jurists confirms us in our view that we were right to have no relations with that régime, although we have nothing but good will for the people of Uganda.

As regards making an announcement on Her Majesty's Government's position, I should be grateful if the right hon. Lady would not press me to do that. We should like to choose any moment when we have to make a statement that we think would be in accord with the best interests of the Commonwealth as a whole—although, having said that, I want to make it clear that any decision that is taken will not be one in which I wish to involve other Commonwealth members. It will be for Her Majesty's Government to reach a conclusion on this matter.

During my right hon. Friend's discussions with his colleagues today, will he do his best to expedite the introduction of a Bill for direct elections to the European Parliament, which was promised us in the Queen's Speech?

I fear that I have no further statement to make on that matter at this particular moment. As soon as there is something that can be said, an announcement will, of course, be made.

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a bit of a short cut—although it might save the time of the House.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 19th May.

The hon. Gentleman would have been right last week, but not this week, because under the new arrangements I now have to say to him "I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward)."

Are the Government preparing to increase defence expenditure by 3 per cent. in real terms?

No doubt the hon. Gentleman has seen the communiqué that was issued about the intentions of member Governments of the Alliance from 1979 to 1984. No doubt he will also have noted the qualifications that are related to that proposal. It will be the qualifications that will have to be taken into account as well as the commitment when the 1979 budget is considered.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm this afternoon that it is still the Government's intention to legislate on industrial democracy in the next Session of Parliament?

The discussions now taking place with the CBI and the TUC have not reached the advanced stage that I had hoped on this matter. It is the Government's desire that we should be able to legislate on this matter, but we need to clear the ground first, and so far we have not been able to do so.

Has the right hon. Gentleman had time today to consider the extraordinary reports that have suggested that non-NUJ journalists may in future be barred from Press conferences at the Labour Party conference or at Labour Party headquarters? Although these are not matters for which the right hon. Gentleman is answerable to the House, will he make it clear that there will never be any such power at a Press conference that he gives as Prime Minister?

No, Sir, I have not seen the reports, nor had I heard of them. I saw a report about the TUC; I did not see any other report. If that was what the right hon. Gentleman was referring to, yes, I saw that; but I have not seen any other reports. If it is the TUC, I would agree with the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that in the first instance it is probably better that the TUC itself should sort this out. I would rather agree with him—although he did not actually say this, but I guess that this is the implication of what he had in mind—that we shall not clear these things by making ex cathedra statements at the Dispatch Box.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 19th May.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward).

Has the Prime Minister read Press reports of his speech at Great Yarmouth yesterday? Will he confirm that it is still the Government's intention to seek a single-figure percentage rate of increase in wages in phase 3?

I did read the reports. I regret that they were not full enough to indicate to the country at large that I received a standing ovation from the trade union delegates at the end of my speech. However, on the substance of the speech, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others are in discussions with the TUC I should prefer not to go into further details about the exact arrangements that the Government would like to see.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that a vital element in the success of an incomes policy is firm price control? Will he take every opportunity to expose the double standards of the official Opposition and explain to people that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and many of her acolytes on the Opposition Front Bench are against price controls yet they leap to the Dispatch Box, with their eyes blazing with insincerity—[Interruption.]—to complain about price increases?

There is no doubt that the best way to restrain increased prices and increasing prices is to keep down the rate of inflation. [Interruption.] That is what the Government's policy is based on. We attack inflation as the source of all these evils. As regards prices, I have no reason to depart from the estimate that I have often given at the Dispatch Box about the future course of prices in the next eight or nine months.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to reprove the three Ministers who took time off from their duties, a most unfitting action, to go and join a picket line?

No, Sir. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would go and do the same thing. With his past history as a member of Her Majesty's Forces and a very gallant officer, I would expect him to stand for decency and fair play in relations between men and management.

Has the Prime Minister had a chance today to read the reports this morning which have set out the conditions under which the Liberal Party now wishes to encourage the trade unions to conclude an agreement with the Government on a phase 3 wage policy? Will he tell the House whether this agreement to which the Liberal Party now refers was in fact included in the original discussions that it had with the Government when it concluded the agreement of support earlier this year? If that was not the case and if such discussions were never included at that time, is it not something to be deplored that the Liberal Party now wishes to include this further element as a condition on which it is prepared to support the Government in the future?

I regret that I have not had time to study these matters. However, it is open to the Liberal Party, and, indeed, any other party in the House, to raise many matters with the Government as to the best way in which they think that phase 3, or anything else, can be conducted. I shall be happy to meet them and discuss matters with them.

Reverting to the Prime Minister's answer to an earlier question, are we to take it that the Government's view on how to reduce inflation is to reduce inflation?

Yes, Sir. Broadly, I think that that is right. I hope that there is no disposition in any part of the House to challenge my statement that if inflation comes down prices will not go up so fast.

Will the Prime Minister take time among his official engagements to shed a tear over the demise of the devolution Bill for Scotland and Wales—[An HON. MEMBER: "Crocodile tears."]—be they crocodile tears or not—and will he tell us when he intends to reintroduce a measure for devolution for Scotland?

Discussions have been conducted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with the other parties, including the Scottish National Party. Those discussions, I hope, are now coming to an end.

Never, Mr. Speaker. It would not even cross my mind.

However, as I think the House and all the parties know, my right hon. Friend offered discussions to all parties in the House. If any party chose not to take up that offer, that is not my right hon. Friend's responsibility. But there will be a review of the conclusions of these negotiations in due course.

With regard to inflation, does the Prime Minister agree that, although most trade union leaders have been moderate, the demands by one or two for 30 per cent. wage increases are as irresponsible as the daily demands by Conservative Members and that it would be as damaging and dangerous to concede those demands as it would be to concede the demands made every day by Conservatives?

I made the position clear at the TSSA conference which I visited yesterday that wage claims or settlements in the region of 30 per cent. by those who have the industrial muscle would certainly make it almost impossible, if not impossible, for us to reach the kind of inflation levels that we seek for this country next year. It is right to point out to the House that the progress made with regard to the decline in interest rates is probably of even greater significance than some increases in pay in relation to real standards of life for the people.