Agriculture, Fisheries And Food
Mackerel Catches (Carrick Roads, Falmouth)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many officials in his Department are employed in the monitoring of mackerel catches in the Carrick Roads near Falmouth.
Eight officials from my Department are stationed at Falmouth and are involved in monitoring mackerel transhipments there. Six other officials stationed in the South-West and also headquarters staff are engaged in checks on the documentation relating to transhipments.
How can the Minister believe that eight people can accurately monitor the transhipments between 30 factory boats and more than 150 fishing boats in Cornwall, when often there is only one person one duty? Will he introduce a "report ship" system, whereby ships have to report and have their catch certified before it can be passed to the factory boats?
I accept that it is important that the reporting of catches and our monitoring of them is effective. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, with the resources available to us, we endeavour to keep as effective a check as possible. There is some concern over the accuracy of the figures. We have made investigations and are tightening up many of the procedures.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, because of the problems of fishing in the South-West as a whole, it might be a good idea to institute a departmental review on the size of boats, catches, and where the boats come from? Will he do that to ensure that our stocks will not continue to be depleted?
It is a matter that gives me considerable cause for concern, because mackerel fishing is our largest single fishery. I spent several days in the South-West at the end of last year. I assure my hon. Friend that both through the efforts of my Department and the considerable efforts of the Royal Navy—to whom I pay tribute—we shall endeavour to ensure that our supervision is as strict and as tight as possible.
Is the Minister not aware that he introduced a licensing scheme for mackerel fishing? In the wake of the mad scramble that took place, the over-fishing, the friction between fleets from the South-West and Scotland, and the operations of the Klondikers, may I ask whether that scheme succeeded? What lessons has he learnt from it?
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should take notice of the steps that we have taken in that direction. The previous Government had a licence scheme. We have announced that we intend to introduce one of a restrictive nature that would give us far more control over the mackerel fishing fleets than has existed in the past. We are discussing the matter with the industry and hope to introduce the scheme later this year.
Does my hon Friend acknowledge that, when he introduces that scheme during the next mackerel fishing season—based on the number of boats that will be allowed to operate—the success or failure of that scheme will depend solely upon greater supervision and monitoring?
I acknowledge that.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the state of the sheep industry in England; and if he will make a statement.
I am naturally concerned at the difficulties the sheep industry has faced in recent months because of low market prices, resulting in part from the exceptionally late pattern of marketing last year, but also from the continued failure of the French Government to lift their illegal controls on imports from the United Kingdom. Sheep producers' returns have, however, been protected by payments under the fat sheep guarantee scheme and increases in the hill farm subsidies. The longer term prospects for the sheep industry are good.
I hope that the Minister's faith in the future of the sheep industry is borne out. Will he give a guarantee to the sheep producers that the deficiency payments scheme that has applied for so many years will continue and will not be changed? Will he tell us what progress has been made on the export of fat lamb into France?
Subject to any ultimate agreement on a sheep meat regime in Europe that might take the place of any scheme that we have in Britain, we shall maintain a system of subsidy along the present lines.As to our position with France, the final day for the French answering the Commission's case is, I think, today. Therefore, I hope that within the next few days, the Commission will take out the appropriate interim measures of the court against the French Government.
Does my right hon. Friend have any glimmer of hope at all for the prospect of an agreement on an EEC common sheep regime which will be acceptable to our sheep farmers?
So long as the French Government continue to insist upon a system of intervention, I see no chance at all.
Is there any point in our remaining members or an organisation in which we keep the rules and the French do not?
No. Sir—but there is every point in the French keeping the rules.
National Farmers Union
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, when next he will meet the president of the National Farmers Union.
I shall be meeting the president of the National Farmers Union on 25 February.
While sympathising with the problems that farmers face arising from inflation, cost increases and high interest rates, will my right hon. Friend nevertheless remind the president of the three green pound devaluations that have been achieved by the Government since they came in power and of the consequent improved ability of farmers to compete on the same level as their counterparts in Europe? Will he also reassure the president, particularly in the light of his speech at the annual meeting this week, that it remains the Government's intention to live up to their manifesto commitments?
Yes. We also came into office on a promise to eliminate the negative MCAs, which discriminated against British farming, within the lifetime of this Parliament. To have achieved that in nine months gives British farming an opportunity which it enjoyed at no time during the period of the previous Government.
When the Secretary of State meets the president of the NFU will he explain why he, and many of his colleagues who represent rural areas, did not follow their courageous colleagues into the Lobby with us last night to protect the interests of children in rural areas, as was suggested to us by the NFU?
Yes, I shall explain that to him.
What representations has the Minister received from the president of the NFU and the president of the Wales National farmers union regarding the current proposals for beef cow subsidy?
So far as I can remember, I have not received any direct communication. However, I find it extraordinary that the Commission should come forward with a proposal for a beef cow subsidy which will limit the number of cows which will benefit to 15. That proposal would positively discriminate against the benefits which Britain could enjoy. Here was one subsidy through which we could have obtained a net benefit, as Britain has 27 per cent. of the European herd. But, by the nature of the proposals, it will be a net deficit.
My right hon. Friend is also responsible for food. When he next meets the president of the NFU, will he discuss with him questions relating to the impact of agricultural policy upon the nation's food policy, and diatetics in particular?
I am pleased to say that at the present time the relationships that exist between the food manufacturing and processing industries and the NFU, which represents the producers, have become very much closer. They are now working much more closely together.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the EEC Commission's proposal to end the beef slaughter premium will not only lead to more beef in intervention and higher prices for the consumer, but to less security for our own beef producers? Will he make it clear to the president of the NFU that he has no intention of allowing that beef premium to end?
I certainly have no intention of allowing that to end unless there is a better scheme, which meets the principles which the hon. Gentleman has suggested, to put in its place. Certainly, in their present form, the Commission's proposals for a beef cow subsidy would not meet that criterion. Until that scheme meets the criteria, we shall stick to the beef premium scheme.
Urban Wasteland (Re-Conversion)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will initiate an inquiry into the possible conversion back to agricultural use of wasteland in and around urban areas; and what representations he has received from the National Farmers Union or others on this matter.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will initiate an inquiry into the possible conversion back to agricultural use wasteland in and around urban areas; and what representations he has received from the National Farmers' Union or others on this matter.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will initiate an inquiry into the possible conversion back to agricultural use of wasteland in and around urban areas; and if he has received representations from the National Farmers Union or others on this matter.
Land in urban areas is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I would, however, be glad to hear of any opportunities to return such land to agricultural production. Land around urban areas is the subject of the Countryside Commission's proposed urban fringe experiment at St. Helens Knowsley. This would be supported by my Department. No starting date for this experiment has yet been fixed.
Is my hon. Friend aware that this is the first time that I have ever asked a question of his Department? I do so because of the immense importance of the subject. Is he aware that there is a vast amount of wasted land in the hands of public corporations in all urban areas, not least Harrow, which could well be used for horticultural purposes, even though it may not be suitable for agricultural use? Will he or his colleagues in Government cause this inquiry to extend beyond the boundaries of St. Helens and to look at the country as a whole?
I welcome my hon. Friend to agricultural questions, because I know that he has at least one farm in his constituency. He has made an important point. A vast acreage of land lies just outside built-up areas, which is not fit for agriculture and has not yet been developed. The purpose of the Countryside Commission's experiment is to look at this and to see what can be done about it. I believe that it is right to start with an experiment before going any further.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he realise that in my constituency and others a great deal of this land is available? Will he do what he can to help the NFU to purchase that land, so that it can recover the land and rent it or sell it to its own members?
I am not aware that the NFU has made any proposals to purchase this land. I rather doubt that it is so funded. But it has said that it will support the experiment and that it supports the philosophy behind it.
Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.
Surely the Minister agrees that it is far better to grow crops and vegetables, and to graze cows, on some of the 250,000 acres of dormant and derelict land in the inner areas of our great towns rather than allow them to remain idle in perpetuity. Is he aware that that would be a great source of job creation?
I know that my Department would look forward to assisting in anyway it could in such endeavours. However, my hon. Friend will appreciate that he is talking about privately-owned land. If developers believe that they can do better out of farming it rather than developing it, we shall seek to assist.
Is the Minister aware that it is possible to grow potatoes quite easily on that derelict land? Those potatoes could be used for making fuel for vehicles—not vodka—and the mashed potato that is left could be fed to the cattle. Does he agree that that would also help our energy problem?
I am sure that the owners of those 250,000 acres will listen with care to what the hon. Gentleman has suggested.
Will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to what occurs when, under public expenditure cuts, some new town corporations cut back the area of land that they require for development? Will he encourage them to remove development zoning so that such land can again become agricultural land?
This is a matter for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is responsible. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are in close touch with him about it. The whole venture of seeking to save agricultural land is a co-operative one, and must be between at least two Departments if not more.
While I appreciate the need to use derelict urban land either for agriculture or development, does not my hon. Friend agree that it is even more important to reduce the annual loss of agricultural land—which is currently at a level of between 50,000 and 75,000 acres a year—in particular by making better use of derelict urban land?
It is a fundamental point that every acre of land which is redeveloped is one acre of new land which does not have to be developed. Indeed, that has formed the basis of discussions between officials and Ministers of our two Departments. Not only do we seek to save land but we also seek to increase the quality of life in the inner cities. Therefore, there is a good objective from both points of view.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the curent state of the negotiations concerning lamb imports from the United Kingdom into France.
The Commission has started further legal proceedings against the French Government for their failure to comply with the court's ruling, and I am pressing the Commission to apply for an immediate interim injunction against the French measures.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that it is now six months since the European. Court gave its decision? Is he aware that the patience of sheepmeat producers in Britain has been sorely tried? Will he keep pushing the European Commission so that it wastes not one hour in laying that interim injunction on the French, should the answers not be satisfactory? Will he make certain that the discussions concerning the ban do not form part of the price negotiations this year?
I cannot guarantee that other countries will not endeavour to make those discussions form part of the price negotiations. The United Kingdom Government will not treat them as part of the price negotiations, but as a matter of legality or illegality. The final reply of the French Government should be received today, but on the assumption that it is unsatisfactory, after over five months' delay that has taken place, it would be wrong if the Commission did not seek the interim injunction procedure.
Is the Minister aware that it is now almost too late for a large number of our sheep producers, particularly in the uplands? Is he considering any retaliatory measures against the French?
No, Sir. I do not believe that it is a correct procedure that, if one country is failing to comply with the law, other countries should follow that example. The French negotiating position on a range of other topics is adversely affected by their present posture.
Is my right hon. Friend able to confirm the documentary evidence from the Commission's legal services department that France has not only been flouting the Community law but is the worst offender throughout Europe? Will he use this against the French Minister whenever there is an argument against our fishing industry?
It is not a case of who is worst. The French Government are the only Government in the history of the Community to have acted against a decision of the European Court.
What will happen to the French if they are found guilty of infringing the rules?
They have been found guilty. The Commission does not have the power to force penalty payments. However, power exists within the Council of Ministers, and if a Government continue to disregard the rules of the club, they should start to lose some of the benefits.
European Community (Council Of Agriculture Ministers)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he expects to meet his EEC counterparts.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to meet the EEC Council of Agriculture Ministers.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he intends to meet the council of Agriculture Ministers of the EEC.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he will meet his EEC counterparts.
At the next Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting, to be held on 18 February.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the EEC Ministers that Britain cannot tolerate any longer the absurdities of the CAP? In particular, will he do his utmost—I realise that there are limitations—to prevent the export to East European countries of cheap surplus Common Market produce? Will he take the first steps towards withdrawing Britain from CAP, particularly in view of recent reports that that is the right hon. Gentleman's view?
No, Sir. It is an important matter. The Commission, in making its special levy proposals on milk, has for the first time adopted a system of special national financing, in practice, for the additional surpluses. That is an important breakthrough in principle and it is a principle which I believe should be pursued further if sanity is to be introduced into the CAP. As for exports of subsidised food to the Soviet Union, certainly the British Government will vote against all such measures or proposals.
Order. I propose to call first the three hon. Members whose questions are linked with this question.
Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will maintain their traditional principle of support of the Lomé convention, and of the import and consumption of 1·25 million tonnes of ACP sugar? When he meets his EEC counterparts, will he also support the principle of the EEC joining the international sugar agreement? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those measures will lift up the hearts and heads of 1,700 workers at the Tate and Lyle refinery in Liverpool.
The answer to both questions is "Yes, Sir".
In view of the intensity of feeling throughout the country about the vast amount of money that Britain pays to the Common Market, and in view of what the Prime Minister said that she would do at Dublin, is it not time for the Minister, when he meets the other EEC Ministers, to make it plain that Britain will not tolerate the fatuities that are taking place? Will he convey to them that they should do something and not allow the French, in addition to taking British money, to thumb their noses at us? Will he also convey to them that there is deep feeling in Britain that we should get out of the Common Market because of all this nonsense?
I have already conveyed to them that respect for the Community is very much undermined when other countries seem to violate the laws of the Community. The Government have made clear the general injustice of the British position in terms of money and the CAP. A grievance exists, and that must be redressed if the Community is to have any proper spirit.
Will the Minister accept that disruption to ACP producers caused by EEC sugar surpluses over the past four years is, ironically, one of the reasons for the present shortage of sugar? Will he agree that it would be wrong for our EEC partners to use the high price of sugar on the world sugar markets as the excuse for justifying a further increase in the beet sugar price?
Yes, Sir. The Commission proposes to reduce total beet production in the Community. We support that in principle. We do not support the detailed package because it discriminates unfairly against the British grower. We would support a reduction in beet production in Europe, provided that it was fairly administered.
Will my right hon. Friend give a clear and firm assurance to the House, and therefore to the taxpayers, that when he meets his counterparts he will veto any increase in prices for those commodities that are structurally in surplus?
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will do all that he can to ensure that British sugar producers get a better share of the quota than that currently proposed? Is he aware that the current proposal is 29 per cent. down on last year, whereas other EEC countries have more generous quotas?
The first proposals of the Commission were unfair to Britain. I am glad to say that there has been an improvement on that. The improvement is nowhere near good enough. Before I agree to any proposals, a further improvement will be required.
In view of the reports from Europe that it is the intention not to export any more surplus French butter to the Soviet Union, will the Minister try to find out, when he meets his counterparts, which country the British taxpayer will be expected to subsidise through the exports of the French butter surplus? Does he not think that it is now time for Britain to act unilaterally, and to refuse to subsidise any more of the French surplus?
The principle that I outlined in reply to an earlier question—that the time has come to move towards the national financing of the disposal of surpluses, instead of their being subsidised by those countries which do not produce surpluses—is a principle which we shall advocate.
Will my right hon. Friend undertake to convey to his European counterparts the bitter resentment that is felt by glasshouse producers and horticulturists about the hidden subsidies paid to Dutch growers by the Dutch Government? Will he also bear in mind that the unfair dumping of Dutch produce on the British market is causing concern to our horticulturists?
I recognise the concern among British horticulturists about the cheaper energy that is available in Holland. However, there is no evidence that the Dutch Government are providing subsidised fuel supplies to their growers. They are giving cheap supplies, but at a commercially profitable rate. We cannot accuse the Dutch of using unfair trading methods.
At the next meeting, I hope.
Potato Marketing Board
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, when next he intends to meet the Chairman of the Potato Marketing Board.
My right hon. Friend will be meeting the chairman of the Potato Marketing Board on 25 February.
When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of the Potato Marketing Board on that date will he give him some indication as to what the guaranteed price for potatoes will be? Will he also confirm that, in the event of no EEC regulation being agreed by 1 May of this year, the Agriculture Act 1957 guarantee will apply?
There is no question but that we must have asuitable arrangement for potatoes that includes a means of stabilisation. The National Farmers Union and the Potato Marketing Board are in discussion on this, and we are discussing it with them. In the absence of an EEC regime, we shall take note of the points that my hon. Friend has made.
Cows (Milk Yield)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what the average milk yield was of each milking cow in the EEC (a) in 1973, and (b) at the latest date for which information is available.
In 1973 the average milk yield per cow throughout the Community was 3,582 kilogrammes, or 765 gallons. In 1977, the last year for which complete information is available, the comparable figure was 3,846 kilogrammes, or 822 gallons.
Bearing those figures in mind and appreciating that the point has been touched on by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in answer to an earlier question, do I understand the Government's position to be that they are not prepared to tolerate any discriminatory proposals and measures of the Commission with regard to United Kingdom milk production?
Last year at the price fixing, we resisted absolutely any measures that would discriminate against our producers. The Commission has come forward with proposals which again would discriminate against British milk producers. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall fight equally strongly this year.
Will the Minister confirm that the cost of each of those Continental Community cows will next year run at the rate of 45 deutschemarks per month, 25 French francs per week, or £1 every two and a half days? Will he recognise that that is not in the national interest?Will he run the risk of incurring the displeasure of the Conservative members of the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament, who may well endorse this absurd arrangement?
I am glad to note that the hon. Member's knowledge of international currencies is as good as my knowledge of the metric system. We acknowledge that one of the biggest problems in the EEC is that of the milk surplus. It is absolute and total nonsense to say that a major part, not only of the agriculture budget, but of the total EEC budget should be taken up in relation to this. We shall be supporting all sensible measures that do not discriminate against our industry. We shall try to contain and reduce that surplus.
Will the Minister of State agree that it is absolutely grotesque that each of the 25 million cows in the Community should have cost the taxpayer over £100 a head last year? Will he further agree that it is absolutely imperative to have a complete freeze on the price of milk as long as it is in surplus, and that effective non-discriminatory measures should be taken at the next price fixing, to end the surplus at long last?
The use of the word "grotesque" comes ill from the hon. Gentleman. If anything was grotesque, it was the efforts of his Government and his right hon. Friend, the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), the former Minister of Agriculture and himself when they were conducting these affairs. I remind the hon. Gentleman that at the last price fixing we achieved the lowest level of price increases that there has been.
Urban Wasteland (Re-Conversion)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many acres of green field land per year are being built over; and how much land in urban areas is being re-converted from wasteland back to agricultural land.
The average loss of agricultural land to development in England and Wales is about 17,000 hectares—or 41,000 acres—per annum. About 3,000 hectares—or 7,500 acres—of unused or restored land are returned to agricultural use each year, although I must say that this figure is not very precise.
Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture examine with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the scope to return wasteland in and around urban areas to agricultural use at agricultural prices, with full tenancies, on which some agricultural properties can be built?
As I told the House a few minutes ago, I think that the best chance of succeeding is in the areas around the urban areas rather than inside them. Here the Department of the Environment, in conjunction with the Countryside Commission, is proposing an experiment to see whether this damaging trend towards blighting land can be reversed.
Will the Minister take a very good look at the position at Stansted, where a large area of good agricultural land is likely to be taken over for the use of an airport? Should we not endeavour to see that this consideration of preserving agricultural land is borne in mind in these matters? Ought we not also to examine the loss of land by the seashore? The Ministry does not even keep figures as to how much is eroded each year.
It is inevitable that, wherever the third London airport might be sited, there would be substantial loss of agricultural land. The overall national interest has to be considered. However, the hon. Gentleman can be certain that the priorities with regard to agricultural land were considered by the Government. The question of seashore erosion is a difficult one, because in most cases it is natural and has been going on for a very long time. If the hon. Gentleman has any special cases to draw to my attention, I shall be happy to look into them.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is now satisfied with the state of the fishing industry.
The United Kingdom fishing industry faces many problems. We shall continue to work closely with the industry.
Does the Minister think that the industry can survive at the same time as we have the high cost of fuel, subsidised competition, cheap imports of processed fish, and the uncertainties of the common fisheries policy? Will he follow up the speech made by the Secretary of State for Scotland with some action to help the industry?
The industry is faced with particular financial difficulties at the present time, for a host of different reasons. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we shall no doubt be discussing them in a debate later this afternoon. The industry has put to us a number of proposals. We are in discussion with it and shall certainly consider the proposal that it is making.
Is the fishing industry of Norway facing similar problems, and has the Minister any evidence that the Norwegian fishermen regret not being members of the EEC?
The Norwegian industry faces many difficulties and many problems. Indeed, the Norwegian Government have to pay for ships to be laid up. Whether their problems are greater or less than ours, I do not know, but they certainly have very great problems.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House what has emerged from the inquiries that he instituted, through our embassies in the EEC countries, into the subsidies that EEC countries are making to their fishing fleets? In particular, can he tell us whether he has any precise information as to the extent to which the French Government are subsidising fuel to their fishing industry?
My right hon. Friend hopes to refer to this later on this afternoon, when we debate the EEC documents.
Is the Minister satisfied with the state of the deep-sea fleet in Hull where, because we cannot get our ships to sea, owners are now selling those boats to pay their short-term dues on the clock, where the boats just lie at anchor? Has he any plans to meet this problem, or any thoughts for the future?
As hon. Members know, last week I met deputations from Hull, and from Grimsby, where there are also difficulties. There are proposals from the industry that we are considering at the present time.
European Community (Council Of Agriculture Ministers)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, if he will make a statement concerning the likely business at the forthcoming meeting of EEC Agriculture Ministers on 18 and 19 February.
I refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on 31 January about the main subjects that might be discussed by Ministers of the European Community during February.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not give a list of the business. Will he confirm that one of the items to be discussed will be the CAP price proposals for 1980–81? In view of the fact that the disposal of surplus milk products on the world market is likely to cost the Common Market about £3,000 million in the current year, and bearing in mind our contribution to that, does he not think that we should withhold our contribution to that scandalous total?
Will the Minister convey to his EEC counterparts the official decision of the National Farmers Union, printed in The Times yesterday, that Britain should withdraw from the EEC's common agricultural policy?
As far as I know, certain individuals put that point of view, and the president of the National Farmers Union repudiated it.
Will the Minister, when he meets his colleagues, convey to them the view that, despite the unthinking nationalism that appears to grip many hon. Members, the solutions to the problems of the agricultural community in Europe do not lie along the path of recrimination and reprisal?
Yes, Sir, I agree with that. Nor do the solutions run along the path of perpetuating current errors.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received concerning the sugar beet quotas for United Kingdom growers.
We have had representations including those from British Sugar Corporation Ltd., Tate and Lyle Ltd., the National Farmers Union, the trades unions representing workers in both sugar beet processing and the cane sugar refineries, associations representing sugar-using industries and from the Shropshire county council.
As two of the Ministers on the Government Front Bench are aware of the concern in the West Midlands about the future of the two beet processing factories there, would my hon. Friend care to spell out again this afternoon exactly what the Government intend to do to protect our sugar production in view of the fact that we are not responsible for the surplus in the EEC?
I assure my hon. Friend that there are three Ministers on the Government Front Bench who are concerned about the problems of sugar beet, not only in the Midlands but in other sugar beet growing areas of the United Kingdom. I repeat that the proposals put forward by the Commission are unsatisfactory because they discriminate against the efficiency of our producers and our industry. We shall certainly be opposing them resolutely in the course of the discussion on them.
Will the Minister advise the House on whether his right hon. Friend intends to meet the trade unions representing workers at port refineries? He has not met them yet, although several of his immediate predecessors have.
I have met them twice, most recently within the last few weeks.
Will my hon. Friend be a little firmer than he was a moment ago and say that the proposals are totally unacceptable in any circumstances?
In view of the continuing criticisms of the EEC sugar quotas and other EEC matters, will the Minister recognise that these criticisms were put forward by some of us even before the referendum on the common market? What contingency plans does the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have against the continual refusal of the EEC to accept our repeated representations?
Some criticisms such as those from the hon. Gentleman, are destructive, and others are constructive. In the wider interests of Europe, we believe that we are much more likely to achieve success in negotiations if we criticise constructively, not destructively.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has now reached a decision about the proposed ban on sales of untreated milk.
I hope to do so within a month.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that to confirm the decision of the previous Government in this matter would be damaging to the livelihood of many farmers in constituencies such as mine? Does he agree that the health inspectors already ensure a high standard of hygiene and that no further action is necessary?
I am aware that my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot anticipate my final decision, but I understand the problems that the decision of the previous Government would cause in his constituency and many other areas in England and Wales.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it is Conservative policy to allow freedom in these matters and that, as long as the bottle is clearly marked as containing untreated milk, it should be available? If it is banned, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there will be considerable problems regarding milk distribution in rural areas?
I understand the views of my hon. Friend. I know about his knowledge of the problem in the locality that he represents. Certainly I think it is important to study the strong representations that are made as to the effect and impact of the decision by the previous Government, if it were continued.
Ussr (Surplus European Community Produce)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what subsidised foods are now being exported by the EEC to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and in what quantities.
No new subsidised exports to Russia of wheat, barley or bulk butter are at present being authorised and any current sales are being made under facilities granted before recent decisions. The Commission will, however, be opening tenders for the subsidised sale of intervention butter to Russia next month within traditional trade levels. We are totally opposed to this and voted against the proposal.
Does that mean that the Commission proposes to continue subsidised sales of food to the Soviet Union, even though the United States has banned grain exports? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that that will be not merely opposed but vetoed by the British Government?
I must make it clear that the American Government have not banned wheat exports; they have banned any addition to their contractual obligations to wheat exports. Therefore, the view of the Council of Ministers on wheat was that only the traditional pattern should be followed and that no additional wheat should be exported to substitute for American supplies. Butter is a matter for the management committee. We voted against this proposal and will continue to do so.
Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate on what would happen to our own agricultural industry if the surpluses of Europe were dumped in this country, as Opposition Members seem to want?
No, Sir. I would not speculate on that because we would not allow it.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 February.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I shall attend the reception for the winners of The Queen's Award for Export and Technology.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports of thousands of so-called pickets in violent disturbances outside Hadfields this morning? Is she aware that the pickets were led by a notorious Communist who, like them, had no connection with the dispute and whose true purpose was to create a revolutionary situation? Do we need an alteration in the law to control such a demonstration?
My hon. Friend is a very distinguished lawyer, and I hesitate to reply. As he knows, there are two aspects here. The civil law is being changed—I believe it is in clause 14 of the Employment Bill—and I hope that we shall find a solution to that problem in that, in future, people will be able lawfully to picket only at or near their place of work. Of course, an injunction could be taken against any who were not within that category. On the criminal law, I wholly agree with my hon. Friend's implication that the law is there, and that numbers are both intimidating and obstructive, and that their presence is meant to intimidate. I also agree that it is very difficult at present to enforce the criminal law effectively.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister would take a moment to tell the house and the country which aspect of her economic and industrial policies has been most successful so far?
Pretty nearly all of them.
Will my right hon. Friend address herself again to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), and consider limiting the right to assemble and demonstrate to the area within the view or hearing of any place where there is an industrial dispute?
I think that it would be best if we proceeded with the Employment Bill as it now is. There are very considerable restrictions on the right to picket contained in clause 14. I understand that it has yet to go through Committee and Report stages. If any amendment is needed, there will be the opportunity to make it.
Will the Prime Minister find out why the Chancellor of the Exchequer is at present making speeches on industrial relations? Is it that he now expects his monetary policies to fail disastrously and is busy searching for scapegoats?
My right hon. and learned Friend is making speeches on that subject because he is very good at it.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 February.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I have just given.
Will my right hon. Friend note that the ISTC has assets of about £11 million and yet has not paid out strike pay? Does she not think that it is now time for unions, rather than the taxpayer, to accept the responsibility for the hardship that they inflict upon their members, many of whom are on strike against their will?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, a number of unions do pay out strike pay and are paying it out during this strike, but not the ISTC, which has large amounts of money invested. As my hon. Friend knows, we stated in our manifesto that we would deem certain amounts to be paid from union funds and to be set against supplementary benefits. I am happy to tell him that those plans are going ahead. I hope that we shall be in a position to make an announcement soon.
Will the right hon. Lady give the House her views on the possible closure of a number of small sub-post offices, bearing in mind the inconvenience which that will cause many people and the danger to many pensioners in cities, who are worried about having to collect their pensions on a fortnightly instead of a weekly basis?
Reports on this are very premature. There was a study undertaken that indicated that quite a large number of people would prefer to have their pensions paid through bank accounts. Some already do have pensions paid through bank accounts, but that has to be quarterly. If there is a possibility of giving a larger choice to people, we shall try to do so.
Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the fact that Britain is represented in the International Olympic Committee by my Lords Exeter and Luke? My Lord Exeter was elected to that position by no living Englishman. The only Englishman who voted for my Lord Exeter was Lord Luke. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the International Olympic Committee has recently decided to stage in Moscow this summer a re-run of the 1936 Berlin Olympics?
What a nasty, vicious man.
As far as the decision of the International Olympic Committee to continue to hold this year's Olympic Games in Moscow is concerned, the Government have had to decide what steps to take next. We have decided to advise British athletes not to go to the Games in Moscow.
Will the Prime Minister dwell upon the picketing that is taking place within the steel industry? Will she reflect upon the reasons for the hostile picketing that is taking place? Will she ensure that the Government grasp the nettle and become actively involved in the dispute? If, as she says, the Government are deeply concerned about the economy, is it not about time that they entered into the dispute, to get the matter resolved in the interests not only of the steel workers but of the economy?
I think that I can identify two questions in that one question. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a right peacefully to picket. That does not seem to viewers the right that we are seeing exercised outside Hadfields at present. Those who undertake to do picketing in any other way attract great criticism on the part of the British public, who prefer to see these things better done. With regard to the steel dispute itself, I believe that the unions and management have to get together, and would prefer to get together, to sort it out themselves.
In view of the commendation given by the Prime Minister to the steel workers in the private sector at Sheerness, will my right hon. Friend in her busy day today convey to the chief officer of police whose force is involved at the Hadfields works in Sheffield our support and sympathy for those officers who have been seriously injured in the lawlessness that is taking place? Will she reaffirm to the country the basic and the moral right of workers not in dispute to go to their places of employment without hindrance?
I shall be happy to convey my hon. Friend's message to the chief constable and to all the police for the excellent way in which they have carried out their difficult duties. Picketing of this kind puts a tremendous burden upon them, but they carry out their duties magnificently I am also happy to confirm that it is the right of ordinary law-abiding citizens to go about their business lawfully and to attend their places of work without hindrance. It is the right of a person, where there is not a dispute, to carry on that business, to have access to it, and to have access to it by suppliers and customers.
May I ask the Prime Minister whether she will make a statement on Government policy in relation to those investigators of cases where applications for social security benefits have been applied for and stopped? Is she aware that in St. Helens we have had a case of perjured evidence, and of social security officers who have been refusing to accept genuine medical certificates as sufficient evidence for the granting of benefit?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a proper appeal procedure for these matters, and that must be exhausted first.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list hear official engagements for Thursday 14 February.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier.
Will my right hon. Friend take time during the course of the day to pay a tribute to the shipbuilding workers for their sense of realism in accepting the economic facts of life and accepting an 11½ per cent. pay increase in return for voluntary redundancies and reduced overtime? At the same time will she also urge trade union leaders to echo the words of the secretary of the boilermakers, Mr. John Chalmers, when he said:
"We recognised that there was an availability of nothing. It was the old problem of jobs versus wages."
I believe that we must have heard the same broadcast in the early hours of this morning. What struck me very much was that the union member who was talking said
He followed that by saying"there would have been no extra money unless we had earned it, so we had to set about earning it."
It seems an excellent example of earnings being available and self-financing if there is increased productivity and efficiency."If we had not, there would have been job losses."
Does the right hon. Lady agree that for any economic policy to be accepted in Britain there must be a strong element of social justice about it? Will she listen to the voices from many sections of the community who believe that her stubborn insistence on allowing the market forces free play is ruining manufacturing industry and posing a threat to our democratic way of life?
With respect, I think that that is absolute nonsense. The market consists of people being able to spend their own wages in their own way.
Why are the Government attempting to penalise British athletes who have been training for years to compete with other nationals in Moscow when they can, if they deem it necessary, take political action such as withdrawing the British Ambassador? Why are the athletes being penalised?
As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, the Moscow Olympic Games, like their predecessors in 1936 in Germany, will be used substantially for propaganda purposes. We are saying that athletes are just like any other kind of citizen. They have the same rights and responsibilities towards freedom and its maintenance as every other citizen.
asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 14 February.
I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier.
In view of the Prime Minister's failure to instil public confidence in British industry, which is apparently causing many promising young people to emigrate, will she assure the House that if her Mark decides to desert Britain, he will do us a favour and take his mummy with him?
If we are both so promising, would it not be better if we stayed here?
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the splendid answer that she gave to my hon. Friend, the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) would have greater national effect it it were publicly backed by the Leader of the Opposition?
Who is he?
There are times when I am grateful for his silence.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
Order. I shall take points of order after the statements.
I should like you to take this one now.
I shall take it later.
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be patient. I normally take points of order after statements and I see no reason to change the rule.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a responsible Member of the House. It must be a point of order of great urgency if he wishes to press it now.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you recall any other occasion when an hon. Member's constituency came in for such free comment in Prime Minister's Question Time, when the hon. Member was not called? I am referring, of course, to the constituency of Sheffield, Attercliffe, in which the firm of Hadfield's is situated.
Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's feelings, but that is not a point of order. He well knows that.