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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 974: debated on Thursday 29 November 1979

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Oral Answers To Questions

I appeal for single supplementary questions today and not two or three at a time, as occurred yesterday.

Lune Estuary

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has received the report from his inspector on the application by the North-West water authority for a net limitation order in respect of the Lune Estuary; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

Yes, Sir. I have accepted the inspector's recommendation that the net limitation order should be confirmed, as proposed by the authority.

I express to my hon. Friend the gratitude with which that answer will be received in North Lancashire. It will reassure the people in the area that, notwithstanding the interests of many who are opposed to the confirmation of that order, there is some hope for the survival of fish stocks in the area.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. Conservation of fish stocks, whether of salmon or other fish, is of prime importance, and I appreciate my hon. Friend's support.

Common Agricultural Policy

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest estimate of the total cost of the common agricultural policy for 1980–81 and of the United Kingdom's contribution thereto.

The latest Community budget is for 1980. The estimated cost of the common agricultural policy in that year is about £7,488 million, to which the United Kingdom would contribute about £1,522 million. These estimates relate to Community arrangements as they stand at present and will be affected by future decisions on agricultural prices and other matters.

In view of the astronomical size of the budget and Britain's contribution to it, will the Minister explain why the Government voted at the weekend against a proposal to cut £180 million from subsidies to milk producers?

Basically, the Government consider that the best method of dealing with these matters is in the council of Ministers, where last year our position on milk prices and contributions to milk was made clear.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the figures that he has given are wholly unacceptable and deplorable to the people of this country? We look to the Prime Minister in Dublin in the hope that her just requests will be met by the EEC Council of Ministers.

Does the Minister agree with the report in The Guardian today that Whitehall acknowledges that there is now no practical or negotiable way to reform the CAP to the benefit of Britain? If so, does the right hon. Gentleman accept the implications of that?

As the previous Government found, it is important to recognise that making alterations and changes in the CAP is not a speedy procedure. Britain has an immediate grievance. That is why, quite rightly, we suggest that it is dealt with through the budget mechanism.

Does the Minister agree that, in view of the amount of money involved, the only way in which the Prime Minister will achieve any satisfaction in Dublin is to state that Britain will pay no more money into EEC funds until there is a fundamental renegotiation of the CAP?

If I may say so, this Prime Minister has been far more robust on that matter than was the previous Prime Minister. The previous Government sat here while the cost of the CAP went up from £1,600 million to £7,000 million and did virtually nothing, so I cannot really take that criticism from the Opposition.

In view of the enormous cost that it appears we shall have to pay towards the CAP, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is worth pointing out that that results from the much heralded renegotiations by the Labour Government?

Part of the reason for increased costs in the coming year is that a number of the measures that the previous Government agreed to only benefited other countries.

The Prime Minister is making strenuous efforts to rectify the imbalance in the budgetary arrangements, but what proposals does the right hon. Gentleman have to renegotiate the CAP and get a better deal for Britain?

We started last year. Unlike our predecessors, who agreed to price increases at every price fixing on those items in surplus, we started by freezing the price of the major items in surplus.

What the right hon. Gentleman will not admit to the House is that before he became the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food my right hon. Friend had already managed to establish a price freeze on all products for three months. The right hon. Gentleman broke that arrangement at his first ministerial meeting.

If I may say so, my predecessor in one price negotiation after another agreed to price increases on all those items in surplus. It is to the benefit of this country that he did not handle the last pricings.

Agriculture Industry (Profitability)

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will bring forward proposals to improve the profitability of British agriculture.

Last week my right hon. Friend announced substantial help for hill livestock producers. He keeps under review the position of agriculture generally.

Will the Minister accept that net farm incomes are at the lowest level for 10 years and that the increase in the bank rate will add a further £75 million in a full year to the problems that farmers face? Horticulturists are in real trouble. Does the Minister hold out any hope for these people?

I recognise that there are problems in different sectors of agriculture, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will at least acknowledge the £20 million that will go to the hill farmers on 1 January.

Is the Minister aware that the hill farmers' basic problem this year was the weather, which prohibited hay making? Does he intend to take further steps to encourage silage making, especially on the smaller farms?

The weather had an effect, but one of the main problems was bad markets for produce from the hills this autumn. It was in that respect that action was taken. Aid is available through such means as the farm capital grant scheme which enables farmers to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that profit margins are being severely squeezed and that increased costs have to be covered if we want further production? Will he use every means possible to right the position? It will be in the interests of the consumer and the balance of payments to do so.

Our objective is to obtain fair competition between our farmers and those in Europe. I agree with my hon. Friend that further production is in the interests not only of producers but also of consumers in the security and continuity of supplies.

Scottish farmers' overdrafts have doubled in the past two years, and the Government have brought in extremely high interest rates. Does the Minister think that the new levels of compensatory allowances are sufficient to reverse the decline in hill farming?

One would hardly think that the hon. Gentleman was a member of a party that was in government for the greater part of those two years. He is also a member of a party which, when in government, gave only 50p to hill sheep farmers in hill livestock compensatory amounts. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would show a little more gratitude and realism.

Is my hon. Friend aware that British producers are likely to be hamstrung not only because exports of lamb to France are being held up but because sugar beet production has been placed in jeopardy by EEC proposals? Will he adopt a robust attitude in both those respects?

Is the Minister aware that many working farmers, who inevitably have to borrow money for much of the year to run their businesses, are now charged interest rates of 20 per cent? If that continues, thousands of them will be forced into the bankruptcy courts next year.

Has the hon. Gentleman no shame? The previous Government's mismanagement has necessitated drastic measures to put our economy right. If the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept that reality, he should not speak from the Opposition Front Bench.

European Community (Budget)

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the additional cost to the 1980 EEC budget of the price decisions of the Council of Agriculture Ministers of 22 June; and what the United Kingdom's share is likely to be.

The estimated cost of the settlement to the 1980 EEC budget is about £298 million. Under present arrangements the United Kingdom's contribution to that would be about £52 million. The settlement also increased the United Kingdom's receipts. That increase would amount to about £83 million, assuming that the special United Kingdom butter subsidy continues for the whole of 1980.

I would not dream of accusing the Minister of misleading the House, but does he agree that he was far too optimistic in his account of the results of that Council meeting? He obtained a freeze on milk prices, but the amount of money that we are spending on milk has increased. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the letter of amendment sent by the Commission, to the effect that the total cost of his giving way and increasing the price of everything in surplus by 1½ per cent. in 1980 will cost the CAP £890 million extra, of which our contribution will be £150 million? His right hon. Friend is negotiating in Dublin today. Therefore, is not the Minister sorry that he did not stick out for a price freeze?

When I originally came back I said that it was the first price settlement from which Britain had obtained a net benefit. The figures that I have given today confirm that.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the position on monetary compensatory amounts paid to those who export food for use in this country? They are of great benefit to the housewife, but on which side of the balance sheet does the cost of those MCAs fall?

Will the Minister say when the 1979 allocation of money to this country under the EEC budget runs out, given that the third supplementary budget has not yet been approved?

That is obviously causing concern for the future, but we believe that the current talks with the Commission will solve the problem.

Capital Taxation

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received concerning any changes in capital taxation which may affect agriculture.

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

I have seen the detailed proposals which the main agricultural interests have submitted to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They stress the need to adjust capital taxation to allow for the effects of inflation and to extend tax reliefs to private owners of let land comparable to those available to owner occupiers. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will be taking full account of these proposals in his review.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he has just said, but does he accept that is is important for the Ministry of Agriculture to add to those representations and ensure that the Chancellor is aware of the need to reduce capital taxation? That will ensure not only that changes in inflation are taken into account but that the landed estate is retained as an entity and facilities for the landlord-tenant relationship are improved.

I assure my hon. Friend that communications between my Department and that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are excellent. He is well aware of our views.

Has it occurred to the Minister that every time the Chancellor grants extra tax relief to farmers and landowners it harms the industry by bringing more speculative money into the land market and forcing up the value of farmland?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a landowner, will appreciate that the question of capital taxation should be considered as a whole. That is what my right hon. and learned Friend is doing.

Does my hon. Friend recall that during the election we made the point that the family farm was threatened by the capital taxation proposals and actions of the previous Administration? It was not reasonable to expect that problem to be dealt with in the previous Budget, but we on these Benches look forward to such steps in the next one.

The problem of farms and, for that matter, businesses, is one that I know my right hon. and learned Friend is considering in his review of all capital taxation.

Milk (Imports)

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with milk producers and retailers in relation to the import of milk from France after 1 January 1980.

I have had a number of discussions on this subject with representatives of the various interests within the industry, and have made the Government's position clear to them.

Does the Minister appreciate that there is considerable concern among producers, retailers, and, most of all, consumers, that this could be the thin end of the wedge? Is he sure that the European Court ruling is definitive? Does he expect a further ruling? If there is any threat to our daily milk delivery, what contingency plans has he made?

Obviously, when I believe that we are acting legally and correctly it would be absurd for me to announce contingency plans as if we were not acting legally and correctly. One case has come before the European Court, which examined two questions—the metric package, and health regulations. The Advocate-General made it clear that Britain was acting correctly on both counts. However, the court came to a decision only on the metric package. We are, therefore, confident, particularly in the light of the suggestion of the Advocate-General, that if we are further challenged in the European Court we shall be shown to be in the right.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that it is adequate to depend upon the health regulations to protect our dairy industry? If they should prove inadequate, what further powers have we to protect that industry?

The reality is that we are better at producing milk—and we produce better milk—than are our competitors in Europe. Our competitors are processing milk on a different basis and, in our judgment, in many cases, without the health standards that we apply in this country. We intend to keep our health standards.

Is the Minister aware that there is real fear in the minds of thousands of workers involved in both the distribution and processing of milk that their jobs are threatened by the import of French milk? Will the Minister consider at least doing some planning so that we can stop the import of French milk in the event of our health regulations failing to deal with the problem?

The hon. Gentleman does considerable harm to confidence in the dairy industry when he constantly states that there is an immediate threat of a great deal of French milk coming into this country and undermining our market. That is not the case. Perhaps it would be better if the hon. Gentleman went around the country saying that our claims are justified on health grounds and that British milk is a lot better than French milk.

Cereals

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the likely cost of exporting cereals grown in the EEC in 1980.

Cereals grown in the EEC in 1980 will be marketed mostly in 1981. No estimates have yet been made of the quantities likely to be available for export, or of the cost of such exports.

Is it not a fact that, on past experience, about £1,300 million will be spent on subsidising exports of cereals? Is this not, even to the most rabid Euro-fanatic, an absurd "Alice in Wonderland" situation?

The hon. Gentleman must recognise the natural conditions under which farming has to operate. If he looks at the cereal market and the export pattern over recent years he will see, for example, that exports of wheat have varied from 0·5 million tonnes to 3·5 million tonnes and exports of barley from 0·5 million tonnes to 5 million tonnes. These figures are the result of seasonal factors. What matters is that under the EEC we ensure continuity and the certainty of food supplies for consumers in Europe.

In view of that answer, and in view also of the reports coming out of Russia of the disastrous cereal harvest there, will my hon. Friend urge our counterparts on the EEC Commission to grant more restitutions?

Will the Minister have a word with his civil servants, because he, or his hon. Friend, gave me an answer on 9 November last, at column 362 of the Official Report, that the 1980 EEC Budget for cereal export was £1,121 million. Why was he not more frank in his first answer?

The hon. Gentleman should read the question that I was asked. It concerned the estimated cost. There is a great difference between the actual cost, which we do not know because we do not have all the figures, and the actual budget figure. The hon. Gentleman should know, from the questions that he asks, that the actual outturn on the budget is often different from the original budget estimate. I prefer to give the House the information that I have.

European Community (Council Of Agriculture Ministers)

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to meet his EEC counterparts.

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he will meet Commissioner Gundelach of the European Commission.

14.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he will attend a Council of Agriculture Ministers of the European Economic Community.

When I attend the Fisheries Council meeting on 3 December and the Agriculture Council on 10 December.

Does my right hon. Friend intend to discuss with his EEC colleagues the application of the EEC regulations for the slaughter of poultry? Is he aware that there is widespread concern among British poultry farmers that these regulations are more fully applied in the United Kingdom than in other countries in the Community and that this is to the competitive disadvantage of British poultry farmers?

Yes, I am aware of that and I have taken the matter up with the Commission. As a result, the Commission is currently carrying out a survey of all member States to see that there is a standard application of this regulation. I hope that there will be a report at an early date.

When my right hon. Friend meets Commissioner Gundelach, will he make it clear to him that his proposals for a sugar regime give Italy a quota of 50 per cent. more than Britain, Germany two-and-a-half times more than Britain and France over three times more than Britain? In those circumstances, is there any reason why my right hon. Friend should not assure British sugar beet growers that he will veto those proposals until such time as there is a broad balance among the four countries?

Yes. I have already informed the Commission, and made it clear publicly, that a system of quotas based upon the average of the last four years works strongly against the British position over a whole range of factors and is totally unacceptable to the British Government.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the outcome of his last meeting will have given some comfort to hard-pressed hill farmers and milk producers? Can he, none the less, envisage ways in which the undoubted good will of the European Parliament towards Britain's contribution to the agricultural budget can in some way be harnessed rather than rebuffed?

I do not think that it is a question of rebuffing the views expressed by our parliamentary colleagues in Europe. It is certainly my intention to work very closely with our parliamentary colleagues in Europe to see that changes are made for the benefit of this country.

I accept that the Minister is as sincere and as determined as his predecessor was in fighting for the interests of the fishing industry. Will he please use whatever influence he possesses to persuade Commissioner Gundelach to exert his influence upon the Ministers of other States in the EEC whom we have found to be completely unhelpful in our efforts to obtain a better deal.

Commissioner Gundelach and myself have now visited, and had bilateral talks with, all those representing fishing interests in the Community. As a result of that and, I believe, the influence of the Commission, I am optimistic that in the coming months we can make constructive progress towards a fishing agreement that will be suitable and acceptable to the British fishing industry.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether, at the next meeting, he intends to discuss with his European counterparts the possibility of their extending the less favoured areas directive provisions to include marginal land, as has been done in many other European countries?

This is part of a general package under consideration. As a result of this, I and my colleagues who have agricultural responsibility for Scotland and Wales are discussing plans and prospects for marginal land to put to the Commission.

Whatever happens at the talks in Dublin, when the right hon. Gentleman meets his European counterparts will he express the growing dissatisfaction of the people of this country that we are contributing more than £1,000 million to the EEC and that the effect on housewives and consumers in this country is that they pay more for their foodstuffs than they would if we did not have the CAP?

Nobody can accuse the Government of failing to communicate these facts and views to our EEC colleagues.

When my right hon. Friend next discusses these matters in Brussels, will he take up again the question of monetary compensatory amounts? Will he remember that his predecessor in the Labour Government signally failed to renegotiate the basis upon which MCAs were calculated when he had the opportunity to do that? Will my right hon. Friend press this matter?

Yes. However, a unique opportunity was lost. Such an opportunity may not occur again.

When the Minister next meets his European colleagues will he proclaim to them the qualities of British milk, which he urged us to recognise a few minutes ago? Will he also make it clear to them that he recognises the determination of the French to unload milk on Britain? Will he further make it clear that he will not allow that to happen, since that would consign thousands of milkmen to the dole queue?

Such is the quality of our milk, and such as the manner in which we produce it, that a lot of British milk could be going to France at some time. Certainly, it is vital to retain our door-to-door deliveries. If Europe had the delivery service that we have, there would be no surplus of milk in Europe.

Pigs (Breeding Herd)

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current level of the pig breeding herd of the United Kingdom.

At a most recent census in August 1979 the United Kingdom breeding herd of sows and gilts in pig was 833,000.

In view of the official EEC forecast of a decline in our pig herd, and the pressure on our pork meat processing factories, does my hon. Friend agree that the MCAs are still distorting competition? Will he press for a further devaluation of the green pound?

There is no doubt that one reason why our pig industry has faced difficulties in recent years is competition as a result of high MCAs. In March this year MCAs were running at £231 per tonne. Today they are at £79 per tonne. That has been a considerable help to the industry. However, I acknowledge that there is still a gap.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that although the pig industry has become slightly more profitable the dangers are still great? Will he turn his attention to the question of marketing and ensure that it is examined, particularly in the bacon industry?

Food And Drink Industries Council

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if it is his intention to meet the Food end Drink Industries Council.

No date has been set for their next meeting, but my right hon. Friend hopes to meet the chairman and secretary-general of the Food and Drink Industries Council informally on 17 December.

When the Minister meets the officers of the council, will he ask them to consider the abolition of the quango, the Food, Drink and Tobacco Industries Training Board, which many small and medium-sized firms find onerous, expensive and of little value?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend who has responsibility for training will take note of what my hon. Friend said.

Is the Minister aware that the Food and Drink Industries Council has stated that every time the green pound is devalued fewer people buy goods because prices go up? Will the Minister comment on that?

That is a fact, and it is not necessary for me to comment. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that in the food chain, from producer to housewife, there must be new cooperation. I am glad to tell the House that there are definite signs of that.

Reciprocal Fishing Rights

13.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current state of negotiations with regard to reciprocal fishing rights with countries outside the EEC.

Consultations are in progress between the Community and a number of countries outside the EEC.

Is the Minister aware that there is serious anxiety in the offshore fishing industry at the lack of fishing grounds, due to the withdrawal of permission to operate within those grounds? Does he agree that there is an urgent need for negotiations to be completed at an early date in order to allow offshore fishing fleets to concentrate their efforts in those areas instead of returning to the inshore fishing areas, which are being decimated because of the shortage of external fishing grounds?

I note what my hon. Friend says. The closure of certain opportunities in Norway has caused some of the present difficulties. What is happening in Norway and elsewhere is in the broad interests of conservation. Conservation is the same whether it is in our waters in those of other countries.

How will the Minister ensure greater equity in the reciprocal fishing agreements with third party countries, especially the Faroes?

There is a specific problem with the Faroes not only because of the quantity of fish involved in the agreement but because of the particular technical conditions which the Faroese lay down. I am pursuing that at present.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that when he is listening to the representations of the big battalions he will not forget the interests of the small fishing communities which depend on small-scale fishing, particularly in the East of England?

In view of all the problems in the fishing industry I am glad that the inshore fishermen do not seek reciprocal arrangements in other waters. However, I am alive to the interests of the small, locally-based fishermen.

Will the Minister make it clear that no amount of reciprocal fishing is substitute for a 12-mile exclusive limit and a dominant preference for our fishermen in the 12-mile to 50-mile band? In view of the continuing anxiety in fishing ports this weekend, will the Minister again make it clear that there is no question of his right hon. Friend's attempting to secure a satisfactory deal on the Community budget in return for concessions in the fisheries negotiations?

Speculation about Dublin is only in the hon. Gentleman's mind. As has been made clear by my right hon. Friends and by myself on many occasions, fishing rights are not up for trading. They stand on their own merits and will not be traded in Dublin this week or at any other time.

Agricultural Land

15.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he is making in his declared intention to reduce the amount of good agricultural land lost each year for development purposes.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already announced a number of measures to encourage the development of under-used urban land. These will reduce development pressures on agricultural land. The discussions which are continuing between officials of my Department and those of my right hon. Friend are a parallel exercise. They are intended to ensure that the voice of my Department is effectively heard in the planning procedures established under the town and country planning legislation.

Is my hon. Friend aware that vast areas of derelict urban land remain unused while industrial and other development continues apace on good agricultural land and, indeed, in the green belts? I appreciate what my hon. Friend is doing, and I congratulate him on his efforts, but will he do everything possible to reverse the present trend?

So far as that is the responsibility of my Department, of course I shall. The proposed local government planning and land Bill embodies clauses to deal with urban and derelict land and alter the relationship between structures and local plans. It will certainly assist the saving of good agricultural land that might overwise be built upon.

What effort has the Minister and his colleagues made to ensure that their voices are heard on the possibility that large areas of agricultural land in Essex will be put under concrete for the purpose of constructing the third London airport? May we have an assurance that his Department will make it clear that this land should not be wasted and used in that manner?

The hon. Member may rest assured that my Department has made its views known about the effect of the loss of agricultural land at the various sites that are being considered to the Secretary of State for Trade.

Is my hon. Friend aware that for many years we have heard about consultation between his Department and other Departments and about plans and battles that have been fought? Does he realise that if he were to look at the amount of agricultural land that has been lost to industry in the last 12 years he would frighten himself to death?

I am not sure about the latter question. I spend much of my time seeking to ensure that my Department's advice to other Departments—our interests inherently conflict—is aimed at saving our ever-decreasing resource of good-class agricultural land.

Sugar Beet

16.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the projected A and B quotas for sugar beet for 1980 to 1981 for the United Kingdom.

No formal proposals have yet been tabled by the Commission. However, reports of what these proposals might be indicate discrimination against the United Kingdom and in such a form they would be unacceptable.

Does my hon. Friend accept that since the United Kingdom did not contribute to the surpluses—indeed, we did not even use our full A quota—we should not be penalised for the surpluses produced by France and West Germany?

That is precisely the issue that concerns us. We are especially concerned about the years of production on which it appears the Commission might base its proposals for quotas. They are years when, for weather and other reasons, production in Britain was at a much lower level than average.

Will the Minister bear in mind that the projected quota B for Britain is nil? Will he accept that sugar beet farmers will be reluctant to take up their full allocation unless they have a chance of getting at the B quota?

For the very reason that the hon. Gentleman has advanced, obtaining a fair share of the A quota is vital for our industry.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the importance of the sugar beet industry to Norfolk and of how much resentment there will be if there is any unfair cutback of acreages in Britain alone?

Yes. Criticisms have been made to the effect that our industry is in some respects less efficient than that of other member States. Those criticisms fail to take account of the fact that when input is related to output, in economic terms we have an efficient sugar beet producing industry.

Much will depend upon the advice that the Minister is receiving about world trends leading to a sugar surplus or a deficit. As the British Sugar Corporation suggests, there may be a sugar deficit in due course. Is that the advice that the Minister is receiving?

We are taking advice from a number of quarters, as did our predecessors. Much of the advice is conflicting, on both sides of the argument. We shall come to a decision on our best consideration of the advice that is given.

Liquid Milk

17.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has for maintaining the volume of liquid milk sales in the United Kingdom.

The doorstep delivery service is a vital factor in maintaining the high level of liquid milk consumption in this country. I have repeatedly expressed my determination to do all that I can to sustain that system.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is already a large liquid surplus in Britain, as £70 million was spent last year on intervention? If he wishes to pursue his admirable objective, does he agree that he must ensure that the retail margin is sufficient to maintain the service, for without that the farmer will not be able to sell his milk?

I agree that it is essential to maintain a proper retail margin. If it is not maintained, the delivery service will disappear. The maintenance of a proper retail margin will be the Government's objective.

Is my right hon. Friend able to give the producer-retailer any hope for the future?

Yes. It is a service of immense importance. If we are to succeed in our policy, the producer-retailer will have to play a profitable role.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that two weeks ago he said that there would be an answer to the green top milk question in a few weeks? How long will those few weeks be now?

Young Farmers

18.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to help young persons entering the agriculture industry to buy their own farms.

My Department supports the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, which makes loans for land purchase available to creditworthy new entrants, and the Agricultural Credit Corporation, which can guarantee bank lending for working capital. This is one of the matters which my right hon. Friend is considering in the light of the representations which interested parties have made on the Northfield committee's report.

Does the Minister accept that the current methods are insufficient, especially in view of the high interest rates and the fact that institutional investors are buying more and more land? Is he aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to get into farming? Indeed, it is becoming a hereditary privilege, and a limited one at that. Is he able to see his way forward to greater intervention to help young people to get into agriculture?

This is a matter that is receiving considerable attention in my Department. The effect of the 1976 Act has meant that very few farms are available to let. It is also a fact that, regrettably, the National Farmers Union and the CLA have not been able to agree on a solution to the problem. That background does not make my task any easier.

Hill Farming

20.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the present provisions for the support of hill livestock producers.

On 22 November I announced the biggest ever increases in the hill livestock compensatory allowances for both cattle and sheep. I am glad that this announcement has been warmly welcomed by the representatives of farmers in our hill areas for they at least recognise it as a substantial demonstration of the importance that this Government attach to the hill areas.

I hate to bore the House by asking the same question twice during the same Question Time, but I live in hope of getting an answer. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the increase in the compensatory allowances is enough to reverse the decline in hill farming?

I agree that when we took office we inherited a great decline in hill farming. Our proposed increase is exactly seven times that which our predecessors suggested was necessary.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent advocacy on behalf of the hill farmer. Will he pay due regard to the necessity of getting better marketing for store stock to improve the lot of hill farmers?

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 29 November.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is taking part in the meeting of the European Council in Dublin.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that he said earlier this year, when fishing for immigrant votes, that all British citizens were regarded as equal, regardless of colour, race or creed? How does he reconcile that statement with the squalid immigration White Paper that he presented, urged on by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in such a shamefaced manner earlier this month?

Like every other right hon. and hon. Member, I do not fish for votes. I merely seek them. I did not say that I sought votes from the immigrant population or anywhere else. There will be an opportunity to debate the White Paper. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will probably announce a debate for next week. I shall then be able to explain to the hon. Gentleman that what I am doing accords very much with what the Leader of the Opposition and many others have done before.

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to estimate the total cost to the public purse of yesterday's Labour Party organised demonstration? Will he comment on other areas of need on which the money could have been better spent?

In my capacity as Home Secretary I received reports on yesterday's marches. The marches were conducted properly and correctly. That was a satisfactory outcome. I found it surprising that people decided to take part in it. Presumably they were backing the previous Government, who ruined the country economically and went into the election on a bogus prospectus.

Will my right hon. Friend take time during the rest of the day to meet his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to consider again the proposal to introduce the local government Bill in another place? Will he persuade him to step back from the course of setting specific limits for local authorities, which will cause a conflict that the Government will live to regret?

Of course I am prepared to discuss these matters with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I should have thought that there were substantial advantages in introducing the Bill in the House of Lords.

In view of the serious situation in Iran, will my right hon. Friend urge the Prime Minister in Dublin to discuss with her colleagues possible contingency plans to keep open the Strait of Hormuz? Will he give an assurance that Britain and America will stand ready to give support to the nation of Oman?

I shall call my right hon. Friend's attention to what my hon. Friend has said. It would be unwise, in advance of discussions, for me to go any further than that.

Nuclear Security

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister whether she will order a review of British involvement in joint European projects in so far as matters of nuclear security are concerned, in the light of the Khan incident at Urenco.

I have been asked to reply.

The Government attach importance to continued participation in the collaboration on centrifuge enrichment. Our concern about the Khan incident in the Netherlands has been made very clear to our partners, and action has already been taken to reinforce the arrangements for monitoring the implementation of existing tripartite security rules and procedures. Security is being kept under close review by the joint committee of the three Governments in the light of he report by the Netherlands Government of their investigation of the Khan incident.

No other joint European projects in the civil nuclear field currently involve the transfer of classified information but all are kept under continuous review for security and other impilcations.

Since the issue is nuclear proliferation in Asia, are the Government saying that they are satisfied with the Dutch proposals put forward at the joint committee on 16 November?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's close interest in this matter. It is extremely important. He had the courtesy to make clear what he wished to ask in putting down his question. It is perhaps difficult always to be satisfied, but we shall do everything possible through diplomatic channels to impress upon our partners the vital importance of these security arrangements.

What steps are being taken to make sure that nationals of countries that are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaty, such as Israel and South Africa, do not have access to the techniques covered by Urenco?

These are matters relating to arrangements on security reached between the Governments concerned. I shall make sure that they are brought to the attention of those concerned.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the development of nuclear power, on a civil basis, internationally or nationally, involves grave dangers? This has been demonstrated at Harrisburg. Will he also accept that grave reductions in our civil liberties are involved, due to the tight security arrangements that are frequently necessary? Will the Government move away from their obsession with nuclear power and cease to build, construct or develop nuclear power until an absolutely concrete and complete safeguard is provided against any injury?

The answer to that question must be "No, Sir". But we will keep all security considerations carefully in mind.

Cromer

Q3.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

I assure my right hon. Friend that when the Prime Minister visits Cromer she will receive a very warm welcome. Her firm policies are very much admired. However, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that many people in my constituency, who have to travel long distances to work, find that they are little better off when working than when they are not working? Is he aware that so long as we continue with an unco-ordinated taxation and welfare system, and so long as we have index-linked social security, that situation will continue? Will he urge the Prime Minister to undertake an early inquiry into the matter?

I am aware that in a written reply to my hon. Friend my right hon. Friend made clear her personal interest in these matters. My hon. Friend has campaigned, to my personal knowledge, on this matter for a long time. I believe that he is right to have done so. The vast majority of people in the country and in the House realise that it must be made worth while for people to work. This is what my hon. Friend has campaigned for, and I should have thought that he was gaining many adherents to his cause.

Dalmellington

Q4.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

If the right hon. Lady does visit Dalmellington, she will get a very hot welcome. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the huge increase in television licence fees will cause tremendous hardship, particularly to old people? Will the Government reconsider the decision to scrap the free television licence proposal for old people which the Labour Government would have introduced?

It is remarkable that this issue should be raised by a Member of the party that decided, before the election, for reasons which I fully understand, not to put up the television licence and to run the BBC on current expenditure and, until now, on a deficit, which has to be repaid. Now that the matter has been raised, I shall give some facts. This may be a subject that the Opposition have chosen to debate next week. They may like to have some facts in advance of the debate. If a free television licence were to be provided for retirement pensioners, the extra cost would be £145 million to £160 million. The cost of the television licence itself would increase by £16, to £50.

European Community (Dublin Meeting)

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister when she expects to make a statement consequent on the meeting of EEC Heads of Government in Dublin.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is attending the European Council today and tomorrow. She will report fully to the House on her return.

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that whatever arrangements the Prime Minister makes on her return from Dublin they will have to be debated in this House and possibly agreed by further Councils of Ministers? If concessions are made in relation to the EMS, the value of North Sea oil, an increase of 1 per cent. in VAT, or a commitment to build large atomic power stations, it will mean that whatever gains she has made will be at the expense of the powers of this House.

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment on the particular matters that he has raised when discussions are taking place in Dublin. The question of a debate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes to be able to make a statement on Monday.

If my right hon. Friend has any spare time in Dublin, will she have an investigation made to discover why the Government of Southern Ireland are so successful, through the tax reliefs they grant, in attracting mobile international industry to the south of Ireland?

I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will have many matters to discuss in Dublin. If she can also manage to find out the answer to my hon. Friend's question, it will be very valuable.

In view of the copper-bottomed pledge given recently by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the Dispatch Box that he would not be a party to any sell-out of our fishermen and fishing industry anywhere—in Brussels or in Dublin—can the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the right hon. Lady, who is now in Dublin, give an equal pledge that she will fight to the death any suggestion that this issue may be used as a bargaining counter in any other market?

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 29 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond).

Has my right hon. Friend noted with the same concern as that of many Members of the House that the strike figures this year are the worst since 1926? Does he agree that the sooner we as a country learn that we cannot strike our way to prosperity the better, and that the only way for this country to get back on its feet is through increased productivity so that there is more to share and we have genuine prosperity, instead of the problem that exists today?

I am sure that a large number of people in this country will agree with my hon. Friend's statement that we cannot strike our way to prosperity. The right to strike is a cherished freedom in this country. If abused, it can only undermine the standard of living of the people of this country. The Opposition know this as well as anyone else.

Will my right hon. Friend, in the course of his busy day, find time to contact the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, in the light of the disturbing tragedy involving Air New Zealand? Will he ask the chairman whether it would be advisable to ground all British DC10s until we are sure that they are safe to fly?

I appreciate the concern of the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, of the whole House and the country about what is a serious matter. At the same time, it must be right to hear the report of the experts in the case before jumping to any conclusion one way or the other.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the removal of the pickets from Charing Cross hospital? Does he agree that their removal owes everything to the action of doctors, nurses and patients, and absolutely nothing to the TUC or the union concerned? Does it not make absolute nonsense of the much vaunted TUC guidelines on picketing, all of which were broken with impunity by the pickets in this instance?

I think that everyone in the country and in the House will greatly welcome the fact that these pickets have been removed. It is a satisfactory situation and a tribute to all concerned who have been determined to continue to do their best work for the patients.

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman kindly wait, or is the matter so urgent that it cannot wait? I have had notice of two other points of order, and I propose to take them after the Business Statement.