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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Common Fisheries Policy

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his talks with the EEC and Ministers on the Common Fisheries Policy.

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the dissatisfaction still existing in the fishing industry due to other countries overfishing in British coastal waters, he will make a statement on the latest situation within the industry.

24.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made towards securing exclusive British fishing limits within the EEC.

I refer the hon. Members and my hon. Friend to the statement made in the House yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when he reported on the proceedings of the special Fisheries Council held in Luxembourg on 27th June.

Why has the Minister abandoned the industry's demand for a 50-mile exclusive zone, which had support on both sides of the House? Is it not strange that the present proposals for a 12-mile exclusive zone, plus special concessions in the outer zone, are exactly what the Commissioners have been prepared to concede for some time?

To take the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question first, it is not at all the same thing. The Commission has talked of a vague continuation of the present arrangements for the narrow belt. That is six miles, not 12 miles, and not exclusive. As for the preference, the Commission is talking about a local preference that goes out nowhere near 50 miles, but here and there around the coast for local inshore fishermen, no more than that. Our proposal is a very different matter.

To deal with the first part of the question, the proposals that have been aired in the Council make it clear that the variable belt proposal of up to 50 miles remains as that laid on the table on 4th May last year. We are trying to remove a logjam. As I said last Thursday, if we can get our essential objectives by any other method that preserves those objectives, that is what we intend to do. However, the original proposals lie on the table.

Even if the catch requirements of the British fishing industry are wholly met under the sort of regime that is being discussed, how does the right hon. Gentleman envisage that the concurrent responsibility for conservation that is in the scheme can possibly work? Why concede in any way the present un-diminished right of this country to exercise its own non-discriminatory conservation measures within our waters?

The hon. Gentleman is on to a very important point. From the very beginning, from the Second Reading of the Fishery Limits Bill 1976, I have said over and over again that we must not let go on the issue of preserving our national conservation measures. What took place in Luxembourg until a late hour earlier this week shows exactly what I mean. When it came to the scientific evidence, which was unassailable, that there must be a ban on herring fishing for the rest of the year if the herring stock is to survive, we were virtually in a minority of one. It seems to me that that is an essential element that must be maintained.

The second essential element is that we must have powers of control and enforcement within our own waters. With that I entirely agree. The third point is that we must preserve distant water fishing on a reciprocal basis to the best of our ability. Those three objectives still remain paramount in my mind.

Following our exchanges yesterday, is my right hon. Friend able to enlarge on the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland? I am certain that he said that there are sister States in the Community that are more than willing to accept the natural justice of our case for a coastal band of up to 50 miles. Is my right hon. Friend as optimistic as that?

Secondly, in the light of what my hon. Friend has said today about the distant water fleet, which is still of great importance to Humberside, as he well knows, does he envisage that if we do not get acceptances in Iceland and elsewhere there could be some form of invasion, so to speak, of mackerel fishing off the southwest peninsula, which we all fear, from the distant water fleet coming into inshore waters?

Without proper planning, that is a danger. The distant water fishing effect on mackerel might be disastrous. In that event, it might be the next species to be endangered. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland was saying was absolutely accurate. For whatever reason it may be, be it theological or political, or any reason that we care to put forward, the fact that we said that we were prepared to consider other methods caused a slight thawing of the attitudes of some member countries, but not all. The disappointing factor, which is one that we must always guard against, is that which my right hon. Friend pointed out at the Coun- cil at that time, namely, that we are providing out of our waters—and they are our waters—two-thirds of the fish stock available to member States of the Community. We need a dominant priority in that respect, and member States need to recognise that contribution. I was a little disappointed that that point was not met as strongly as it should have been by other member States.

Was there any discussion about the Icelandic situation? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the deep resentment that is felt in fishing ports, especially those which used to fish off Iceland, at the advantageous terms that Iceland has for imports into the Community? Was there any suggestion that those imports from Iceland should be banned until Iceland became reasonable and came to the negotiating table?

The question of Iceland was not immediately relevant to the discussions in the Council. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has a Question later on the Order Paper about the negotiations with Iceland. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have consistently made that point to Commissioner Gundelach.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he has abandoned the industry's claim to a 50-mile management zone? This seems to us the only way of protecting resources from greed and rapaciousness. If he is saying that, does he not think that he would have been better advised to have made it absolutely clear in the debate last week?

The Opposition Front Bench must get clear in their minds and tell the House in due course—I do not expect them to do it now—exactly what they mean. Let us see what they have been saying. This is the same Opposition Front Bench, given a resignation here and there, that signed the Treaty of Accession. Depending on which audience they are speaking to and which question is being discussed, they use three possible lines of argument, or three bases. They talk about an exclusive zone, the implication being purely exclusive fishing, a management zone, or an exclusive management zone. The right hon. Gentleman was talking about a management zone. There is a great difference betweeen them. I am talking about an exclusive zone plus a dominant priority plus national conservation measures plus reciprocal rights in deep waters.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is our business to ask questions and his, unfortunately, to answer them? If he were to do that it would be a welcome change for all of us. First, will he answer the question that I have asked? Secondly, if, as he constantly claims, we failed to make proper arrangements for fisheries, why did his colleagues not renegotiate the fisheries policy when renegotiation was in process?

I answered the question, but I will answer it again. On the second point, what does the right hon. Gentleman think I am doing now but renegotiating the mess that he and his colleagues got us into?

On the first part of the question, I should make it clear that the objectives remain the same. There was always the fishing industry's idea based on a 50-mile exclusive zone, which meant that literally only United Kingdom fishermen would be allowed to fish in that zone; there was the United Kingdom Government's idea of the variable belt; and there was the third idea of a totally exclusive belt up to 12 miles and then a dominant priority. These are all methods of obtaining the objectives. I cannot believe that there is anything wrong with discussing whether we can break the logjam which, unless we do break it, on the basis of the Treaty of Accession has foreign fishermen fishing up to our beaches in 1982.

Order. I allowed very long answers on these Questions. I realise that the House is deeply interested, but we shall have to move more quickly on other Questions.

Pig Industry

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a further statement about the future of the pig industry.

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the actions of the EEC Commission with regard to aid for the United Kingdom pig industry.

17.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to assist the United Kingdom pig industry.

19.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what effect the EEC Commission's actions under Article 135 of the Treaty of Accession will have on the pig industry; and whether he will make a statement.

I have secured a succession of Community measures to help our pig industry. The combined effect of these measures is to reduce significantly the level of payment on our pigmeat imports. For bacon imports payments are £86 per metric ton lower than they would otherwise have been. These measures, along with the recent improvement in the scheme of aids to private storage and increases in restitutions on Community exports to third countries, should help our pigmeat processing industry and strengthen our pig market. All this is helpful as far as it goes, but I have made it clear that it is not enough. What is needed is a fairer method of calculating monetary compensatory amounts in this sector, and I am continuing to press for this.

Does the Minister realise that many pig producers still do not appreciate that he has his hand fettered in the matter of monetary compensatory amounts? Will he make it clear that it does not rest only with him whether the MCAs are to be realigned?

Secondly, will he explain to pig producers that as long as there is a surplus of pigs in the Community and we are locked inside the common agricultural policy and all that implies there cannot be much hope for the expansion of home production?

I do not think that there can be much hope for the expansion of home production on the basis on which the hon. Gentleman was speaking. The fact is that we have been caught partly in our own normal British pig cycle as well as in a European pig cycle.

On the question of MCAs, the real villain of the piece is the high cost of cereals. I think that all pig producers know that. We are trying to tackle that problem.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the real evil has been his refusal to look at the value of the green pound? His pandering for urban votes by depressing food prices has resulted in the pig industry's being sold down the river by the Government. Is he prepared to negoiate a change in the value of the green pound in exchange for a change in the calculation of the MCAs?

I do not think that the second helpful suggestion would have quite the effect that the hon. Gentleman thinks it would. It is not a question of a green pound devaluation one way or the other, even if we could confine it to the pig issue and forget every other issue involved. If we simply devalue the green pound on a reasonable basis—I am not talking about the whole 30 per cent., because no one would go for that, but about 10 per cent.—in pure arithmetic, the cereal costs would outweigh it, or there would be so little difference that it would not be worth while. That is not the answer. The answer is a recalculation of the MCAs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition have themselves to blame for the situation in the pig industry and, indeed, in many other sectors of agriculture, in as much as they took us into the EEC and accepted a common agricultural policy which ties the hands of the British pig farmer and other farmers and denies my right hon. Friend and the Government the right to assist the pig industry and other industries? Will he therefore take steps to change completely and basically the common agricultural policy?

I have been taking some steps to change the common agricultural policy. However, I want to be fair to the Opposition. In fact, they are not altogether to blame for the pigmeat crisis. What is wrong is the basis of calculation of the MCAs. I think that on the whole they would probably agree with me about that. What I resent is that when I provide a national aid that results in £17 million going to British pig producers and am taken to court for it I do not get the whole-hearted support that I would like from the Opposition.

Is the Minister aware that we are somewhat surprised to hear him repeat today what he said before about the effect of the green pound devaluation on the pig industry? Has he seen the spirited rebuttals of those remarks by leaders of the pig producers, who say that devaluation of the green pound would dramatically help them? In view of this difference, will he consider having a joint meeting with the leaders of the pig producers and putting out a joint statement afterwards so that we may know whether they are right or he is?

They accepted my arithmetic. That is perfectly true. They said that in one of the statements I have seen. They draw somewhat different conclusions from it. What they cannot dispute with me is that there is a cereal balance in this. But I, in turn, ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on one question. If a devaluation of the green pound is the answer to the problems of British pig producers, why are the Danes and the Dutch so keen on our doing it?

Agriculture Industry

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the facilities for training within the horticulture industry.

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

There has lately been a marked increase in the demand for horticultural training facilities, and I am assured that the Agricultural Training Board has effectively responded to this.

Are the Government planning severe cuts in grants to the Agricultural Training Board with respect to horticultural training, and, if so, why?

No, the Government are not planning any severe cuts in grants. The Agricultural Training Board increased its number of apprentices by 700 last year—a very creditable performance. It is true that the Board has announced that it will have to reduce to a limited extent the grant that it pays to employers in this sphere.

Will my hon. Friend say whether consideration has been given to job creation in the horticulture industry? Would it not be in line with the policy of "Food from our own resources" to approach local authorities that have available land and to start job creation schemes in those areas? Would this not meet the twin policies of the Government at this time?

That is a very valuable suggestion from my hon. Friend. My experience in my constituency is that these job creation schemes can play a vital r61e in a whole number of spheres. I can think of no more important role than increasing our food production.

Does the Minister agree that increased horticultural production in the Western Isles could substantially improve the prospects there? Will he ensure that adequate courses are available within the Western Isles, particularly at the new extention to the college of education there, to enable young people to come into this industry—something that could play a very valuable part in increasing prosperity in that part of the United Kingdom?

The provision of educational facilities is a matter for education Ministers, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Agricultural Training Board takes the view, quite rightly, that it should concentrate its emphasis in the future on the direct provision of training facilities rather than the payment of grants to employers to take on apprentices.

Agricultural Production

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that current agricultural produce polices are adequate to cover increased costs.

The price decisions taken this year will provide a substantial improvement in the level of support for our farmers. Actual returns will, of course, depend on a variety of factors, including the weather.

Is the Minister satisfied that farming profits are such as to allow sufficient investment to meet the objective of the Government's own White Paper, "Food from our own resources", namely, a 2·5 per cent. increase in food production and a saving of about half a billion pounds in food import costs? Secondly, what is his Department's reaction to Mr. Gunderlach's criticism of the White Paper policy?

My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he rejects any criticism from Commissioner Gunderlach in relation to the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the fairly stringent remarks that my right hon. Friend has expressed on that matter.

We cannot predetermine the level of profitability. It is certainly true that the drought last year had an adverse effect overall on the level of farm profits. What we can do is to provide adequate farm support prices, and the very significant increases that we have been able to achieve there augur well for the future.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as well as the farmers, who are beginning to complain about the common agricultural policy, the consumers in this country have every right to complain about this policy? Does he further agree that whatever our attitude to the Common Market we should try to scrap the common agricultural policy, which is working to the disadvantage of housewives in this country as well as that of the farming community?

I think that we should try to achieve fundamental changes in the common agricultural policy. It is because of the great importance that we attach to the need to hold down food prices that we fought so hard to minimise the increase in common prices at this year's agricultural price fixing. In consequence of that, the overall effect of the common agricultural policy on food prices this year will be less than 3 per cent.

As long as industry can recover its cost increases and agriculture is prevented from doing so, will the Minister explain how he sees the gap between average earnings in industry and average earnings in agriculture being reduced?

I do not think that it can be reasonably argued that anyone is preventing the agriculture industry from making higher profits. It will continue to make progress by investment and by increasing productivity.

As to earnings, if the hon. Gentleman is referring to farm workers' earnings there is a Question on that subject later on the Order Paper, but I can assure him that we still take the view that farm workers' earnings are deplorably low in relation to those of other sectors of the community.

Beef Production

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the returns so far achieved this year and with the prospects within the beef producing sector of the industry.

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the current viability of beef producers.

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

Yes, Sir.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable fear within the industry that the returns, come winter and spring, will be too low, due to an inadequate target price? Bearing in mind the replies of his right hon. Friend, will the Minister consider the suggestion made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), and agree that a devaluation of the green pound could correct the position? This could be beneficial in the beef sector and could also benefit the pig sector.

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows our policy with regard to devaluation of the green pound, but apart from that I draw his attention to the fact that the returns this year are, on average, 14 per cent. higher than a year ago. That was the position at mid-June. As to the future, the level of prices in March next will be £32 per live hundredweight. There is every reason, therefore, for confidence.

Is it not the case that we appear to be approaching the low point or the world beef production cycle? If that is so, will the Minister consider taking some initiative in the autumn? Above all, will he continue to ensure that Britain presses for the acceptance of these islands as the principal grassland producers of Western Europe?

I think that my hon. Friend's last point is an important one, because the future of the beef industry depends not only on the Government's policy but on the industry itself, with a better use of grassland, a better use of resources, better investment, and other aids towards productivity.

Has the Minister read the recent report from the little NEDC that production is dropping in every sector? Has the Minister observed that over the last two years of Socialist administration the consumer has not been getting the total amount of food from British farms that is required? Will he look at this matter again and see that the report is studied very carefully by his Department, and that incentives are given to rectify this position?

It was the hon. Gentleman's party who got rid of the fatstock guarantee. It was my right hon. Friend who, two years ago, put a floor in the market with the beef premium scheme, with intervention only as a fall-back. If the Opposition Front Bench had had its way it would have accepted the Commission's proposals, which would have meant that there would be a review of the premium scheme by July. Now we have a guarantee that this will continue at least until the end of the 1977–78 period. This should give confidence to the producers.

Fishing Limits

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will press for a time limit to negotiations for an equitable Internal Fisheries Régime within the Exclusive Economic Zone.

I fully accept the urgency, but I doubt whether there would be advantage in pressing for a time limit.

In view of the growing and intense pressures on the British fishing industry, is not there a case for setting a time limit? In this context, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British Government support the phasing out of historic right zones in the six to 12-mile limit, in view of their very firm commitment to maintaining an exclusive 12-mile limit in the negotiations?

It is our policy that the historic rights should be phased out— and, incidentally not necessarily only in our own narrow waters but in those of other countries, where some of our fishermen also do their fishing.

As to the hon. Gentleman's first question, the difficulty seems to me to be this: if any time limit is set, whether it be 1st August or 1st September, what happens when it is reached? We are trying to meet a situation in which a Council of nine members has to agree unanimously to something, and that is a very difficult proposition.

Is it not a fact that when the Tory Government dragged an unwilling Britain into the Common Market they were accepting a theme of free movement of capital and labour, which presumably means free movement of fishes and fishing boats from whichever country in the Community they come? Is not the logical answer—in line with the policy of the Tribune Group— to declare that the Common Market is an unmitigated disaster and to get Britain out? That must be the campaign not only of us but of my right hon. Friend.

I can only answer for my departmental duties as they are at present, and my departmental duties do not include my taking Britain out of the Common Market single handed. I must therefore deal with what I have, and what I have is what was left to us by Conservative Members. That means doing the best I can in extremely difficult circumstances.

With regard to the phasing out of historic rights within the 12-mile limit, will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government pay particular attention to the peculiar situation prevailing in the waters around Ulster, so as to ensure that the same rights are enjoyed by all United Kingdom fishermen?

Farmers' Unions

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next meet the presidents of the farmers' unions.

I have no specific plans for a meeting with the presidents, but my Department keeps in close touch with the industry on matters of interest.

In view of the fact that the French Government, through their controlling organisations, have once more closed their markets to our export of sheepmeat—causing price difficulties for our producers and even leading, perhaps, to the export of more live animals to France—will the Secretary of State be able to report to the presidents when he next meets them any action that is taken towards securing an interim sheepmeat régime in the CAP?

That is a very difficult question. This is a personal view, and I may be proved wrong, but I doubt whether there are any proposals for an interim régime capable of being accepted by all nine members of the Council. What I suspect will happen is that a little later in the autumn we shall get proposals for a definitive régime.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the next time he meets the farmers' unions leaders it is important that he discusses ways of implementing the fulfilment of the policy "Food from Our Own Resources" so that farmers can plan on a longer-term basis? Does he further agree that over the last two or three years there has been considerable uncertainty in farming circles as to how exactly they can plan for the future?

There is a great deal of truth in what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) says. Of course, despite what was said a moment ago, the Labour Government are not totally responsible for the drought two years in succession, and that had some effect on "Food from Our Own Resources". What I intend to do is to get an urgent up-dating of that White Paper. I should like to keep it continually under review so that whether one goes for a 2·5 per cent. projection or whatever one will always have some degree of certainty for farmers.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the presidents of the farmers' unions will he point out that if the Government accept their advice to phase out the MCAs the level of imported wheat would rise from about £50 a ton to about £80 a ton? That would thus give a price to the wholesalers of this country of roughly two or three times the world price, which would be a cost to the British consumer and a gain to the farmer, and the farmer alone.

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I said a moment ago in answer to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) that the high cereal prices was the villain of this piece. The fact is that this is what makes life difficult in some sections of the livestock industry and, indeed, for consumers as well.

We all welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement that "Food from our own resources" is going to be brought up to date. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to make absolutely clear in its successor how the laudable aims which are expressed are to be brought about?

Certainly. "Food from our own resources" was certainly based upon one proposition that is incontrovertible—it was written on the basis either of our continuing in the Common Market or of our leaving the Common Market. Some of the White Paper will have to have the position totally updated and will include a number of plans. Incidentally, I would also want it to deal more fully with horticulture than its predecessor did.

Common Agricultural Policy

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in the fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy since he assumed office as President of the Council of Ministers.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) yesterday when he set out the main decisions on agriculture and food taken within the European Community during the United Kingdom Presidency.

Since I did not see the answer to the Question I can only take it that it was nothing. Will the Minister spell out to the House what actual achievements he can record in the last six months, rather than what he is negotiating?

That would take a very long time. I think that Mr. Speaker would object if I were to spell out the list of achievements that we have set on record. I would isolate the most important one, which in my view is that the great weakness of the CAP is that it has set farm and food prices at far too high a level. In the last price fixing we held down the increase in common prices to 3½ per cent., which represented a fall, in real terms, in other member States. That represents the beginning of a very important change in the CAP. Furthermore, by securing a wholly Community-financed butter subsidy we made it clear that when there are surpluses they should be used to the benefit of our own consumers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a considerable amount of substance in the policy that was agreed by all the Socialist Members of the Nine? If he accepts that, will he deny the rumour that is going around, which is perpetrated by the Tribune Group, that we wish to get out of the Common Market? Will my hon. Friend state whether the Department agrees that we would be better off in or out?

I can inform my hon. Friend that it is not the Government's policy to take Britain out of the Common Market. I can also inform my hon. Friend that we see considerable merit in some of the proposals put forward by him and his Socialist colleagues in the European Assembly. Furthermore, I can assure him that we have already set out on the road which he and his colleagues would like us to follow in this respect.

Does the Common Market agricultural policy permit France to prohibit imports of sheepmeat from Britain while apparently preventing Britain from prohibiting imports of pig-meat from Denmark, in both cases when the respective Governments believe their own industry to be threatened? If that is in accordance with the CAP, will the Minister try to negotiate the same freedom for us that the French apparently enjoy under the same policy?

The hon. Gentleman probably appreciates that there is a common regime that encompasses pigmeat but that there is no common regime that encompasses sheepmeat. Sheep is still outside the CAP. That is why we fix our own guaranteed price with deficiency payments and the rest.

East Anglian Horticulture Station

13.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made towards the establishment of the proposed East Anglian Experimental Horticulture Station.

As my right hon. Friend, the Minister's predecessor, informed my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) on 6th August 1976, this project has been postponed as one of the Government's economy measures.

Can the Minister give an assurance to myself and to the House that this project has not been abandoned? Would he at least care to confirm that there will be no let-up in the amount of research and development that is so necessary in horticulture?

Yes, I can assure the hon. Gentleman strongly on the latter point. With regard to his former point, I can tell him that we believe that there is still a strong case for an experimental horticulture station in East Anglia and that it is simply an unfortunate casualty of the policy of containing public expenditure. However, it is still our intention to establish one.

Food Prices

14.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has held with the President of the EEC Commission concerning the price of food in the United Kingdom.

I have had no discussions personally with the President of the EEC Commission.

Although I recognise, as most people do, that if there were another referendum today the result would be reversed—

and that therefore the Common Market propaganda machine, which includes most of the British Press, has to go into action to try to justify the Common Market, nevertheless will the Minister tell Mr. Roy Jenkins, when he next comes to London to make speeches such as the one he made on 10th May of this year, that he should not try to fool the British public—[Interruption.]— with selected figures trying to show that the Common Market—[Interruption.]—

I think that it is the hon. Gentleman's own fault for saying on television last night that he was not interrupted. But I ask the House to allow the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) to put his supplementary question.

Mr. Jenkins used selective figures to try to show that the Common Market had not put up the price of food, when everyone in the country knows that it has caused a significant increase in the price of food and that there is cheaper food to be had outside the Common Market.

I do not know whether I shall have an opportunity to have rather long discussions with the President of the EEC Commission when he next comes to London—in fact, I believe that he is in London at the moment—but I do not think that it can seriously be argued in this House that the general price support levels and, therefore, the price of food in the Community are not extremely high. That was the whole purpose of the exercise of the last price review. I remember the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on one occasion eliciting from me that under the transitional steps the price of butter was liable to go up by 17p or 19p a pound before the end of the year. The whole basis of our attack and the getting of the butter subsidy was to try to prevent that happening. We can only keep up the pressure.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the essence of the submission by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is that his hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) had a dream called "Entering the Common Market" which has now turned out to be a nightmare, and that the burden of this nightmare, which has become a reality, is being borne by millions of people in rapid price increases which would have been much higher had it not been for the efforts of my right hon. Friend?

We can on the Government Benches claim a great deal of credit for the fact that the price review finally decided was the lowest since we entered the Common Market. We can also point out that the rather optimistic accounts —I put it no higher than that—given to us at the time of entering the Common Market concerning the increase in food prices have proved totally unfounded.

Does the Minister agree that the British Presidency of the Council, in contrast to that of the Commission, has gone downhill all the way since 1st January and that the same applies to the Agricultural Council? Will the right hon. Gentleman redeem it a bit by admitting that it is not the CAP that is responsible for the bulk of food price increases but other factors?

I do not agree at all with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, and certainly I do not agree about the Agricultural Council, where a change has taken place which, although it may not be very palatable to a number of our colleagues in Europe, is now a definite fact. I repeat what I have pointed out on a number of occasions. This was the first time that consumers were able to talk to the President of the Agricultural Council. A total sea change is taking place.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's second point, one of the basic facts that he must realise is that although it is true that since April CAP prices have not gone up much, because of our fight, they were inordinately high before.

When my right hon. Friend next meets Mr. Roy Jenkins will he draw to his attention the fact that his speech on 10th May was an attempt to whitewash the very real fact that food prices have gone up as a result of the transitional arrangements following our entry into the Common Market? Will he also point out that Mr. Roy Jenkins, contrary to what some of his friends on this side of the House say, deliberately attempted to mislead the British people in that speech about the movement of food prices?

There is one thing that must be said about Mr. Roy Jenkins. I gather that he also has taken the view that prices in the Common Market should not be allowed to rise. That means two things. The first is that he will, I hope, fight for us in our battle. The second is that he recognises that prices are too high.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if he will state his public engagements for 30th June.

This morning I presided at the final session of the meeting of the European Council and was later host at a lunch for participants in the meeting. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

On this last day of the British Presidency in Europe, does not the Prime Minister rather regret that in the eyes of the country and the EEC the past six months have been characterised much less by initiatives and achievements on the part of this country and much more by a resurgence of anti-European feeling within his own party?

The six months of the British Presidency have been marked by a very efficient conduct of business and by progress in a number of areas, at least one or two of which I hope to be able to report at 3.30 today —[Interruption.] On the contrary, it needs nine to come to an agreement on anything, and that takes quite a lot of doing.

As for the resurgence of anti-European or anti-Common Market feeling, some of my hon. Friends are reflecting a feeling in the country of exasperation about conditions generally, which they are wrongly relating to membership of the European Community. As there is no practical prospect of our leaving the Community, it is better that we combine and direct our efforts to reforming the features about it which do not suit British convenience. Of those, the agricultural policy is certainly one.

If my right hon. Friend has a little time on his hands today, will he take time to examine the company accounts of that squalid little man George Ward, who apparently has not sent the accounts to Companies House in compliance with the law? Does not my right hon. Friend get a little sick of watching George Ward on television night after night, along with some of his colleagues on the Tory Benches, pontificating about upholding the letter of the law when he is not carrying it out himself?

I have not watched him every night on television—I understand that he has now complied by submitting his accounts—but I see no reason to depart from the view, which I hold very strongly, that no one should be dismissed from any firm or company for the simple act of belonging to a trade union.

Because of what the Prime Minister has just said, I should like to ask him two questions. First, in view of his reply to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), is he aware that in our own Industrial Relations Act 1971, which he repealed, we enshrined the right to join a trade union? Is he also aware—and if not, will he make inquiries about it—that there are at the moment some three people on the staff at Grun-wick who are members of unions and who have been since the dispute started? That does not fit in very well with the sentiments that the right hon. Gentleman expressed about people not being allowed to join a union.

I am sure that in the Industrial Relations Act 1971 there must have been something good. [Interruption.] It was a bad Act and the Opposition know that it was a bad Act. That is why it was repealed. I can see that we can anticipate a very interesting debate later today, and I do not propose to go too far into it now. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition, in the question that she is putting, is affirming the right of ordinary employees to belong to a trade union—[HON. MEMBERS: "And not to belong."]—and not to be dismissed simply for that reason.

Not only am I affirming it, I am pointing out that there are apparently three people at Grunwick who have been members of unions since before the dispute started. Therefore, it cannot be alleged correctly that people have been dismissed because they have joined a trade union. On one occasion last week the Prime Minister himself alleged that people had been dismissed for joining a union, but when he was asked to name them, neither he nor the Department of Employment could answer.

I have no doubt that these matters will be gone into in greater detail in the course of the debate today. Until it is proved to the contrary, I must say that I adhere to my view that there is every reason to believe that people have been dismissed for membership of trade unions. That is a fundamental principle, and I ask the right hon. Lady to deny that this is so if she knows so much about it.

Will the Prime Minister join me in leaving it to a court of law to decide this matter and not to make judgments previously?

With respect, membership of a trade union is not something that should be left to a court of law—

The hon. Gentleman is not the best man to talk about hooligans. The simple principle, which I thought should be affirmed and which I thought was generally agreed by the whole House—but apparently I am wrong —is that membership of a trade union is the right of every individual employes, and not merely of three individuals in any firm.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 30th June.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle).

Will the Prime Minister answer today the letter I sent him at the weekend about trade union membership? Will he accept from me that people in the Conservative Party of course believe in enshrining the right of any person in this country to be free to join a trade union but also believe in enshrining the right of any person not to join a trade union? Will he join me in sponsoring a motion in this House upholding both these freedoms?

I shall look into the question of a reply to the hon. Member, although I am not certain about the letter to which he is referring. I cannot undertake to reply today. On the second part of his question, I am glad that he is catching up with the principle that should have been apparent to the Conservative Party for the last 100 years.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the Conservative Party's attitude over this matter shows up the transparent hypocrisy of the so-called rapprochement between it and the trade union movement? Does he further agree that after a General Election victory by the Conservatives—which God forbid—there would be a period of social disruption that would rip the country apart because of the stance that they have taken on this issue?

I find it a little difficult to define the attitude of the Conservative Party. I think that Conservatives are very divided in their views on this matter. Half of them, in one part of their minds, know what is right in principle, and the other half cannot fail to make political capital out of a very difficult situation.

Is the Prime Minister aware that many people in the House must feel that the whole question is very complex and not subject to a simple answer? Is he further aware that when he asked the Leader of the Opposition whether she felt that a man should be free to join a trade union, she answered quite unequivocally "Yes"? Will the Prime Minister answer "Yes" or "No" equally unequivocally to the question whether a man should be free not to join a trade union?

Within the limits laid down in the matter of agreements supported by the Conservative Party and others on issues like closed shop, the answer is "Yes".

Will the Prime Minister consider taking time off from his public engagements today to broadcast to the nation? Following last week's debate on the Price Commission, it is quite clear that a prices free-for-all is the cornerstone of Tory policy.

I think that the 31-hour debate last week showed clearly that the Conservative Party is as much out of tune with the public on this issue as it is on many others. I hope that it will be possible to point out that the whole purpose of the Conservative opposition to the Prices Bill last week was to weaken, omit, and ensure in every way that price control is as flexible as possible, against the interests of the public.

Does the Prime Minister accept that there are disagreements between both sides about the limit of the right of belonging and not belonging to a trade union? However, the present law, enacted by this House, defines these rights clearly. Will he endorse that these rights should be determined through the courts and the procedures laid down, instead of through industrial warfare conducted in the streets?

I find it difficult to answer a general proposition of that sort. It is my experience, after a long record of trade union membership, that the more the courts stay out of industrial relations the better. This was a basic mistake that the Conservative Party made earlier, and I would have hoped that Conservatives would learn from that. There matters are better settled outside the courts.

European Community (Heads Of Government Meeting)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister what matters were discussed with Heads of Governments of EEC member States at the recent summit; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I hope to make a statement after Questions on the meeting of the European Council.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would keep his supplementary question until after Question Time.

Cbi

Q5.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) on 17th February.

As I am not able to refer immediately to that answer, will the Prime Minister say whether he has discussed with the CBI its latest statement of intention to invest? Did he put to it the view of the Leader of the Opposition that the only financial incentive at present is to disinvest? Does he agree that the figures of the CBI show burgeoning expansion of investment by British industry?

When I meet the CBI from time to time, this issue is discussed. It was discussed when I met industrial leaders 10 days ago to consider industrial strategy. There are signs of a beginning of an increase in investment, and the signs for 1978 are that it will be very substantial indeed. I hope that these intentions will be carried through.

When the Prime Minister next meets the CBI will he feel it his duty to tell it that in his opinion, whatever the merits of what has been going on inside Grunwick, he regards the scenes outside as representing the unacceptable face of trade unionism?

I am quite capable of making my own comments to the CBI on these matters, just as I have made them in the House on many occasions. The hon. Member does not make it any better by asking me to repeat them now.