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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Volume 982: debated on Thursday 17 April 1980

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Council Of Agriculture Ministers


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to meet his European Economic Community counterparts.

When I attend the Agriculture Council on 21–23 April.

While at that meeting, will the right hon. Gentleman avoid repeating his recent surrender, which added £40 million to the food bill of United Kingdom housewives? In view of his recent comments on energy policy, will he ensure—even if he does not accept from me that it is Scotland's oil—that at least it does not become Common Market oil?

The second question is clearly not my responsibility. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's basic view that North Sea oil is a British possession and should remain so. I have never expressed any other view. As regards the first question, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has been misled by the totally misleading utterances and views that were expressed by correspondents, who obviously did not understand what was being done.

Is there not a problem about the arrangements that my right hon. Friend has recently negotiated with regard to the negative MCAs? Are they not bound to increase the scale of our contributions to the Community budget at a time when we are trying to get those contributions down?

No, Sir. One problem is that over the years during which negative MCAs operated so dramatically against us, our imports increased enormously. Our imports add a considerable amount to our contribution to the Community. I regret that during those years of negative MCAs, when there was such prejudice against British agriculture, our imports from the Community increased by £1,600 million.

Does the Minister accept that his attempt to impose even higher taxes on the imports of basic foods such as sugar, cheese and butter from the EEC represents a flagrant breach of the Government's overriding objective of holding down the prices of products such as milk and sugar which are in structural surplus, and which impose a heavy burden on the CAP and on this country?

I have seldom heard such nonsense on this subject. Under the previous Labour Government, taxes on food imports increased by 900 per cent. The present bogus pronouncements of Labour politicians are hard to take. All that I was talking about in those negotiations was that my predecessor had agreed to a regulation whereby Britain would be treated differently from most of the other countries in the Community. As a result of that technical difference, it pays Irish butter producers, for example, to send their butter to Northern Ireland and to collect a £50 a tonne advantage over British butter. Quite rightly, I am out to amend the technical defect that I inherited from my predecessor.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that he knows perfectly well that positive MCAs were applied for the first time only two weeks ago, and that, had he had his way in Brussels, these import taxes that were applied for the first time on imports of sugar and milk from Ireland and elsewhere would have been even higher?

There is a neutral zone before one moves from negative to positive MCAs. At present one set of figures applies to all EMS countries and a different set to us, which results in a trading perversion totally against Britain's interests. I am out to correct that.

Dairy Trade Federation


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to meet the president of the Dairy Trade Federation.

I hope to meet the president of the Dairy Trade Federation on 30 April.

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on his excellent speech at the opening of the conference of the Food Manufacturers' Federation this morning? What consultations will my right hon. Friend have with the president of the Dairy Trade Federation about the Binder Hamlyn report? Has my right hon. Friend consulted the NFU, the Milk Marketing Board and consumer organisations about the report? What steps do the Government intend to take.

The Binder Hamlyn report has been sent to all interested parties, including consumer organisations, the Dairy Trade Federation and the NFU, and we have asked for views. As my hon. Friend will know, a number of areas of major importance to consumers and the dairy trade were not looked into fully by Binder Hamlyn because of the time scale. I have asked Binder Hamlyn to look into those factors. All interested parties will be consulted before decisions are made.

When the Secretary of State next meets the president of the federation will he inform him of the contents of any reply sent to the Commission concerning health regulations relating to milk? What is the time table envisaged for the pending EEC Court case on the matter?

I shall check on the projected time table, and if there is any firm advice I shall let the hon. Gentleman know. I am happy to share the views that we expressed to the Court with the federation.

When my right hon. Friend meets the president of the Dairy Trade Federation will he assure him that he will stick to his guns and not allow British dairy farmers to be completely scuppered through outrageous discrimination against them in the proposed co-responsibility levy contributions?

We made it clear to the Council of Ministers and the Commission that any levy on milk which discriminated against the British herd would not be acceptable to us.

When the Secretary of State meets the president of the federation will he explain to him and to all organis- ations interested in the production and consumption of milk why his response to the Milk Marketing Board's proposal last September for the scheme to provide milk for children was dilatory, disappointing and disgraceful?

It was not dilatory or disappointing, and it was certainly not disgraceful. The Milk Marketing Board would not share the hon. Gentleman's views. At present it is having discussions in the hope of preparing a scheme that will be workable and acceptable.

White Fish Authority And Herring Industry Board


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further progress has been made in setting up the new statutory body to replace the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board.

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

We will be seeking the views of the industry and we hope to start these consultations shortly.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that this body was expected to be set up in 1977 under the previous Government and that the WFA has stated that we shall be lucky if it is set up by the end of 1981? Will my hon. Friend say whether that is so?

The Government have been in office for less than a year and have already put forward proposals. Subject to the progress of consultation with the industry and to the legislative programme within the House, we shall carry through legislation as quickly as possible.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the previous Administration recognised the principle of combining the two bodies, but that psychologically it would have been wrong to eliminate the Herring Industry Board at a time when the industry was in decline? Will the hon. Gentleman further accept that he can expect our support in the pragmatic, practical approach required from the Government?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support and continuing interest. I am sure that he agrees that translation of principles into practice is a worthy objective.

Since the financial health of the White Fish Authority during its remaining years could substantially depend on the levy on trans-shipped fish, when is it hoped to have the necessary legislation through the House?

Lamb Exports


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the state of negotiations concerning the export of lamb to France.

The European Court has affirmed that its judgment of 25 September 1979 was sufficient condemnation of the French Government's import restrictions and said that no interim injunction is required. In maintaining their illegal restrictions the French Government are undermining respect for Community law.

I am continuing to negotiate for Community arrangements for mutton and lamb acceptable to the United Kingdom.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that that reply will do much to dispel the feeling growing up in sheep farming circles that he has, perhaps, been less belligerent on that point than in the past?

The situation has a potentially grave effect on the future of our sheep producers. It is the first example in the history of the European Community of a Government continuing to violate a decision of the European Court. I hope that the French Government will cease to do so in the near future.

Is not the story of lamb over the past eight months yet further proof that the EEC cannot be reformed from the inside?

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that time is not on our side? Will he accept that the combination of a mild winter, plenty of grass and a heavy lamb crop means that in the South-West particularly there are enormous numbers of lambs to be disposed of? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not in the interests of the producer or consumer for prices to be extremely low? Will he see that the market is opened up as quickly as possible?

Yes. As my hon. Friend says, in contrast to last year, this lambing season is a distinct improvement. It is important, in an area where Britain is the biggest single producer in the Community that the whole European market is available and open to British producers.

As the right hon. Gentleman has followed the procedural point to its logical conclusion and it has brought no satisfaction, will he now take direct retaliatory action to make the French aware that we shall no longer stand for the import ban?

I sympathise with the sentiments behind that view, but the moment that the Community enters the game where one country acts illegally and others follow, it will begin to disintegrate. I believe that such action could bring about the end of the Community. I am reluctant to pursue such a course. I hope that, before there is further pressure to do so, France will recognise the potential damage that she is doing to the Community.

Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to ensure that the present live trade in sheep and lambs for slaughter is replaced by a carcase trade?

It is primarily a carcase trade, and I am sure will continue to be so. However, there is an important live trade to the Continent that must continue, particularly with regard to breeding stocks, for which this country has a high reputation.

Will the Secretary of State consider the serious problems in Wales? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Prime Minister is correct and agree that the French have walked all over him?

That remark was not made by the Prime Minister but invented by a correspondent of The Guardian. I believe that the French, not only on this issue but on wider issues, have put themselves at a negotiating disadvantage.

Beef Herd


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the size of the beef herd.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the prospects for the beef sector of the agriculture industry.

The provisional results of the December 1979 sample census give the number of beef cows in the United Kingdom as 1,535,000. I believe that the prospects for the industry are good.

Does the Minister accept the need for confidence in the long term in this industry, and is he mindful of the fact that calves sold abroad under the disastrous conditions of the Labour Government for about £100 a head are now coming back as fattened cattle?

I am very much aware that in an industry such as the beef industry, where production cycles are particularly long in relation to other sectors of agriculture, this factor of confidence is of even greater importance. Over the past 12 months, since this Government came to office, we have seen an increase of 18 per cent. in the target price and this, of itself, indicates the return of confidence which this industry should have.

Nevertheless, will the Minister agree that producers at present are not confident? Will he give them a reassurance that the present system of variable premiums will continue beyond the present marketing year?

My right hon. Friend and I have both made clear on a number of occasions that we shall certainly not give up that system unless a satisfactory alternative is put in its place. I am very happy to repeat that assurance to the House this afternoon.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many badgers were (a) live-trapped and (b) snared in South-West England in (i) 1978, (ii) January to September 1979 inclusive, and (iii) October to December 1979, inclusive.

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

The figures for the three periods in question are:

1978, 157 and 145; January-September 1979, 207 and 112; October-December 1979, 51 and 83.

Will my hon. Friend accept that, for those interested in the welfare of badgers, those figures are very worrying? What progress is being made by the inquiry headed by Lord Zuckerman into the connection between badgers and bovine tuberculosis?

The inquiry by Lord Zuckerman was announced on 25 September and its progress is entirely a matter for him. He hopes to complete it by the middle of the year. I look forward to receiving his report and I propose to make the findings public.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that there are many people who believe that badgers are overprotected? Is he aware that the outbreak of tuberculosis, which is spreading through the badger population, is caused by over-crowded housing and bad food supplies? Will he look again at the issue of reducing protection for badgers?

I am tempted to follow my hon. Friend into a technical argument on this matter, but it is not my Department's responsibility to do more than protect animal health. I think that we had better stick to that.

If it is not his Department's responsibility to look after badgers, would the Minister explain the cost to his Department of obtaining the figures that he has just given to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes)?

My Department seeks to provide information—as do all Departments of this Government—as promptly and accurately as possible.

British Fishing Federation


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to meet the president of the British Fishing Federation.

My right hon. Friend has no specific plans at present, but we do have regular contacts with the federation.

When my hon. Friend next meets the president of the British Fishing Federation will he pay due regard to the problems of prawn and nephrops fishermen that are sometimes rather disregarded?

We have announced an aid scheme for the fishing industry and it is open to producer organisations, in the light of conditions in their areas, to use some of that aid to help the categories of fishermen that my hon. Friend just mentioned. The Government are well aware of all the problems in this sector.

When the Minister meets representatives of the BFF, does he ever discuss the hopes that he has for third-party agreements in Arctic waters—the waters of the Soviet Union, Norway and Canada? Is there any hope at all of our people fishing again in these waters? If there is no future for our distant-water fishing fleets there is no hope for the future of Hull.

We have had considerable discussions, not only with the British Fishing Federation but with the EEC on these matters. We have considerable opportunities for fishing within Norwegian waters, and we have limited arrangements in Canadian waters. We do not have any arrangements in Soviet waters, but on the other hand they do not have any facilities in ours. We are concerned about this, and as far as it is possible to do so, we shall look after the interests of the deep sea fleet.

When my hon. Friend next meets the president of the BFF will he discuss with him the serious problems affecting the fishing industry because of cheap fish imports?

Yes, we have discussed that and I am sure that we shall discuss it again many times in the future.

Is the Minister aware that a number of fishermen in my constituency have expressed the view that the conservation measures for herring operated by successive Gov- ernments have been so successful that a large number of herring are dying of old age in the North Sea? How soon does he expect the Government to license some inshore fishing vessels to enable them to fish for herring in the North Sea again?

I thought that the hon. Member was gullible, but I did not think that he was that gullible. I am aware that many fishermen believe that there has already been a very satisfactory regeneration of North Sea herring stocks. To some extent that is right. But the scientific advice we have had has been absolutely unequivocal—we must see several generations of herring before those stocks are capable of sustaining a proper state of reproducing themselves. When that happens we shall be very happy to see these valuable fisheries re-opened.

What is the latest move that my hon. Friend has given to the BFF about renegotiation of the common fisheries policy? Is he still hopeful that substantial conclusions will be reached by the summer?

We have not had recent discussions with the BFF on this point, but obviously before the next Council meeting, as before every Council meeting, we shall discuss these things with the BFF and other organisations representative of the fishing industry. Certainly we hope that there will be a fishing Council during May and we shall have to wait and see what progress can be made there.

Does the Minister realise that, particularly in relation to the deep sea fleet, we have been waiting from year to year and from Government to Government to see some progress, but instead we have seen the industry gradually running down? Is it not time that the Government took some unilateral action in these matters if agreement cannot be reached with our avaricious European comrades?

I hope that the hon. Member recognises that this Government have made far more progress with our comrades, as he calls them, towards a resolution of a common fisheries policy than the Labour Government made. We understand the problems of the deep sea fleet and I hope that the hon. Member recognises that our recent scheme of aid, which covers the producer organisations in his constituency, and the scheme connected with exploratory voyages have been particularly welcomed by sections of the deep sea fleet.

Brandt Commission Report


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his Department's response to the recommendation in the Brandt commission report regarding the need for greater self-sufficiency in food-importing countries.

This recommendation, like others made by the Brandt commission, will be considered at meetings of the United Nations and other international bodies over the coming months and years. We support the expansion of agricultural production in the United Kingdom with a view to reducing food import needs and our policies are directed towards that end.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that world population growth and the need for increased international supplies of food will present opportunities for the export of British agricultural technology and machinery? Will he tell the House whether the British Agricultural Export Council will be able to play a constructive part in that process?

Although the primary responsibility for Third world aid does not lie with my Department, it may be of interest to know that the BAEC sent trade missions last year to the Philippines, Malaysia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Venezuela and Columbia, all of which would qualify as Third world countries.

Will the Minister agree that one of the most valuable contributions of self-sufficiency in agriculture would be for us to eat our own sheep-meat, rather than send it to France?

National Farmers Union


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to meet the president of the National Farmers Union.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends to meet the president of the National Farmers Union.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any plans to meet the president of the National Farmers Union.

I hope to meet the president of the National Farmers Union on 14 May.

When my right hon. Friend meets the president of the National Farmers Union, will he discuss with him the president's attitude towards the European Commission's proposals for farm prices? Will my right hon. Friend share with us his own reaction to those proposals? Will he also bear in mind the fact that farm incomes have declined by 17 per cent. since 1978 and that farmers are concerned about this decline?

I do understand that, with the increases taking place in input costs, partly due to energy, partly due to a big wage agreement concluded a few months ago, and partly due to high interest rates, there is considerable concern among the farming community about the relationship between their income and their outgoings. The fact is that we have devalued the green pound. That will increase farm incomes over the coming year. We have granted an improvement in the price of liquid milk to producers and made improvements in returns for sheep farmers. We shall watch the situation carefully. I hope the agricultural community recognises, by the actions the Government have taken, that we wish to see British production maintain its position in the world.

When my right hon. Friend meets the president, will he discuss with him the future of the British apple industry? In those discussions, will my right hon. Friend express his agreement with Lord Selborne that the British apple industry desperately needs to puts its own house in order, through a brief period of reduced imports, particularly EEC imports? What is my right hon. Friend's approach?

We have already had talks with the president of the National Farmers Union and with Lord Selborne and his committee on the apple industry. We shall be making an announcement regarding the apple and pear Development Council in the future. My hon. Friend refers to the pressure of imports. I would be more encouraged if the apple industry would look seriously at the considerable prospects for export.

When the Minister meets the president of the NFU, will he remind him of the statements made at the Government Dispatch Box by the right hon. Gentleman himself and by the Prime Minister on the policies that this Government are pursuing within the EEC on behalf of the people of this nation? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell him of the total failure and the backing-down on policies that the Government should be carrying out on behalf of the people of the nation?

I can confirm the splendid statements made from the Government Dispatch Box. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there has been no failure.

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown), will my right hon. Friend give attention to the drop in farmers' income, especially as my right hon. Friend has urged the farming industry to take advantage of the huge export market? How does he match his encouragement for farmers to take advantage of this market with the fact that their incomes are substantially lower than two years ago?

Two years ago, the farmers and agricultural producers of this country had, under the previous Government, a 25 per cent. MCA operating against them on every export that they wished to undertake. Next week, they will have none. This week, they have a positive MCA on some commodities. That is a dramatic change. In a period of inflation affecting energy costs and fertiliser costs, it is difficult to keep pace with those costs. I believe that the action of this Government, in their first 10 months in office, has shown clearly that we recognise the important role of British agriculture.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to seek the views of the president and his colleagues in relation to any unilateral action, direct or otherwise that might be taken against the French on the import of lamb? Will he also now answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes)?

It is right that, in all commodities we, like the French, take advantage of the potentialities of the European market. That is in the interests of the economy of the United Kingdom. I believe that the president of the NFU has not pressed me to adopt unilateral retaliatory measures against the French because he recognises that such action would endanger the whole Community.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the positive MCAs that he has recently been advocating in the EEC have two main effects; the first to increase the taxes on food coming into this country, and the second to increase the subsidies granted by the EEC to those who export food from this country into the other countries of the EEC?

The EEC has for seven years operated a system, agreed by the previous Labour Government, the previous Conservative Government and this Conservative Government, whereby changes in currency do not affect food prices. The policy we are pursuing is in accordance with the policies that have been in existence in the European Community for seven years. All that I am trying to do is to endeavour to see that the technicalities of that system operate as fairly for Britain as for the rest of the Community.

The Minister knows that these technicalities mean high taxes on food imports. If he is not prepared to accept that the stance he took in Brussels on the last occasion is in flagrant breach of the Government's overall objective of holding down the price of products in structural surplus, such as milk and sugar, will he at least assure the House that he stands by the amendment to the motion that we debated some weeks ago in the House to the effect that the Government will withhold agreement from any package that does not take action to reduce these colossal surpluses of milk and sugar and that he will press for a price freeze on these products?

The Government's position remains what it has always been. We are against increases in the price of goods in surplus. Unlike the previous Government, we succeeded in that policy at the last price fixing when they had failed in five previous price fixings.

World Food Supplies


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consideration has been given to proposals to liberalise trade in food and other agricultural products within and between Northern and Southern regions of the world as a contribution to the stabilisation of world food supplies.

Considerable reductions in tariff and other barriers to agricultural trade between the European Community and the developing countries have been made under the GATT multilateral trade negotiations, the generalised system of preferences and the Lomé convention.

In view of the fact, according to the Brandt commission, that in 1978, 12 million children under the age of 5 died of starvation, would it not be better for Britain, rather than giving over £1 billion to the ridiculous common agricultural policy, to think in terms of a world food policy and to help underdeveloped areas through increased aid?

The matter of overseas aid—that is what the hon. Gentleman's question is really about—is not one for my Department.

Can my hon. Friend give any indication of when he thinks the agricultural price review will be settled in Brussels? Is he aware that delay in announcing prices is not facilitating trade and is causing extreme difficulties in regard to cereals and pulse foods.

I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend. I do not possess a crystal ball. I do not believe anyone can answer that question.

Forestry Planting


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the level of forestry planting in the private sector.

The latest figures available show a welcome increase in the level of planting.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in 1979 we imported £2,754 million worth of timber and, in the same year expended, through Forestry Commission grants and Forestry Commission planting, only £29 million? In view of the terrible distortion between these two figures, will he urge his right hon. Friend to make a mass attack and try to bring them more into balance?

My hon. Friend must accept that money is not the only constraint. The economics of growing trees in this climate are very different from growing trees elsewhere. I do not suggest, for one second, that the importance of this flatter should be ignored. As my hon. Friend knows, we are looking closely at the Forestry Commission. If my hon. Friend would care to look up the Adjournment debate held just before the Easter Recess he will see a fuller statement of the Government's intentions.

Does not the Minister appreciate that the contribution made by the Forestry Commission and by private landowners is unique, because of the nature of this industry? Does he realise that there would be overwhelming support from all parts of the House for an expansion of this industry, both public and private, because of its contribution to jobs in rural areas and to the balance of payments when oil runs out?

There are constraints other than sheer money, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. Not the least of these is the availability of land for planting and the economics of forestry.

While the Minister accepts the limiting constraints of land availability, will he also accept the constraints of finance? Does he agree that the consequence is that if land is planted privately, there is less cost to the taxpayer and the same timber is grown in the end?

Is it not essential that the Government decide on a target acreage for the next two decades as speedily as possible?

The problem about setting a target acreage is demonstrated by the fact that in the past eight years the targets set have almost never been met. I believe that we should deal, first, with financial targets and secondly, with the availability of land to plant. That is the approach that we intend to take.

Fishing Industry


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the fishing industry about the adequacy of the temporary aid proposals.

The fishing industry generally has welcomed the aid which my right hon. Friend announced on 13 March.

Will the Minister ensure, first, that the subsidy, small and inadequate as it is, will not become a subsidy for failure, which would penalise ports such as Grimsby, which have done their best to fight back? Secondly, will he recognise the pressing need for aid to the processing industry, which is having to carry a heavy burden of stocks to level out the fluctuations of local landings? Is he aware that if that burden continues there is a danger of redundancies in the fish processing industry and, therefore, a case for aid?

The hon. Gentleman has made the accusation of smallness and inadequacy. That view is not shared generally by the fishing industry. The aid that was announced was in line with the figures asked for by spokesmen from the Opposition Benches. We are concerned about the position of fish processors. That is something that we keep much in mind.

Does the Minister regard the common fisheries policy as one of the outstanding benefits of EEC membership?

A properly re-negotiated common fisheries policy, towards which we are working and towards which the previous Labour Government made no progress, gives the best assurance internationally of the properly controlled conservation of fish stocks. As the right hon. Gentleman must know, unless we can conserve fish stocks effectively there will be no livelihood for fishermen in Britain or in any other country.

Will the Minister confirm that the share of the £2 million that goes to the deep-sea sector—namely to Hull—will be about a quarter of a million pounds? Does he accept that it may be less than £280,000? Is he aware that the cost for a purse seiner amounts to £4½ million? Will it be necessary to go overseas to Norway to get the money to finance our deep sea fleet? Surely it is possible for the Government to give some help. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that West Germany helps its deep sea fishing fleet with subsidies and other assistance.

The hon. Gentleman is confusing two issues, namely the temporary scheme that has been announced and the capital aids that are available. We are giving details to the producer organisations today of the precise sums available to the different producer organisations. The spending of the money is left to their discretion. As for aiding the capital structure of the industry, there are aids available in Britain as elsewhere.

Dairy Sector


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the prospects for the dairy sector of the United Kingdom agricultural industry.

Yes. I believe that the structure and efficiency of our dairy industry provide a sound basis for its future.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that dairy farmers in my constituency are facing rapidly increasing costs and that they feel strongly that prices should increase by the same percentage as increased costs?

Yes, I well understand that view. I recognise that costs are increasing. However, it is fair to say that the benefits to the industry of the green pound devaluations that took place last year will come through in terms of income over the current year. In February we announced an increase in the price of liquid milk. The producers will obtain a share of that increase. That will serve to increase their incomes over the coming period. I am glad to say that the climatic conditions of the winter have been of considerable assistance to dairy producers.

Will the Minister give the House his comments on the case advanced by the Dairy Trade Federation for new administrative arrangements for school milk, whereby it would be possible for the Government to get £60 million from the European Economic Community to provide school milk to councils for less than 7p a pint? Is it not about time that the Government came forward with such an initiative, which would be to the benefit of our farmers, our schools, our local authorities and our whole budget?

I recognise fully the argument that the hon. Gentleman has advanced and the attractiveness of obtaining from the Community substantial grants in this sector that would help liquid milk production. We have had considerable talks with the NFU, with the Dairy Trade Federation and with other authorities. We have endeavoured to persuade them to re-examine the scheme so that we may take proposals to Brussels that may be of assistance without having an adverse effect on the Government's objective of reducing public expenditure.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 April.

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.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the article written by the general secretary of the electricians' union which points out that the coming day of action is tantamount to a political strike which will damage the economy? Has she noticed the growing number of trade unionists who are appalled by this call and who see it as an irresponsible act?

I have had a look at that excellent article. I go through the press very carefully each day. I noticed that the author said that:

"Democracy cannot function if Government policies are to be changed, not through the ballot box, but through the disruption of industry by political strikes."
It is quite clear that the day of action will do this country nothing but harm and will further damage the trade union movement.

In view of the Prime Minister's interest in summit meetings, will she find time today to take the initiative to organise a summit meeting involving the USSR, the USA and Europe with the avoidance of nuclear war high on the agenda?

No, Sir. I do not think that such a summit meeting is likely to be successful at the moment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are two other summit meetings in prospect, one a European Council and the other an economic summit meeting, both of which will take place in June.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to write a charming letter to Sir Denis Follows not necessarily describing any part of his anatomy, asking him to have regard more to the wishes of the British electorate as expressed through their democratically-elected representatives in this House than the wishes of the International Olympic Committee?

I am perfectly willing to do that if my hon. Friend thinks that it will help. I believe that the situation has changed since the British Olympic Committee took its last preliminary decision. It has changed in so far as the United States Olympic Committee has decided to advise its athletes not to go to Moscow. An increasing number of other Governments are following that lead. I think that many of our own people will wish to reconsider the decision.

Will the right hon. Lady be consulting her colleagues about yesterday's Department of Employment figures that showed pay rises over the 20 per cent. level? Does she intend to continue to rely on high interest rates and public spending cuts, both of which are hitting the economy hard, and try to fight inflation with one arm tied behind her back, or is she prepared to reconsider her attitude towards income policy?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that average earnings figures are too high from this year to last year. I hope that we are coming to the end of this particular round. At the end of every period of incomes policy there is an unwinding because the tactic used at the end of any incomes policy after about three years is always the same—namely, to refer the claims to some commission. We are getting through to the end of this and this particular round has taken into account the increases in Clegg, which are partly a hangover from the previous Administration.

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to condemn the decision of the Lewisham council to endeavour to control the action of the police politically?

I will indeed. I deplore the decision of the Lewisham council to attempt to withhold its precept, not this year but next year. I should like to express full confidence in Sir David McNee and the Metropolitan Police. What they need is support and not criticism.


asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 17 April.

How many protests were made at the Cabinet meeting against the Budget, the policies of which doom British manufacturing industry to bankruptcies, depression and lengthening dole queues? Will the right hon. Lady abandon her divisive policies? Does she really want to divide Britain into the industrial North against the prosperous South?

The hon. Gentleman knows that in many parts of this country, as is shown by surveys, the Budget was welcomed and generally regarded as fair. The Cabinet, as usual, was in full support behind my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure, in her busy day, that she supports the resolve of her Ministers to ensure that no further taxpayers' money is given to British Leyland workers to encourage them in their intransigence?

As my hon. Friend knows, the cash limit for British Leyland has been fixed. It is clear that a large number of British Leyland workers wish to stay at work and are urging their fellows to do so. The management of British Leyland has coped extremely well with previous troubles and I have every confidence that it will do so again and that people will return to work.

Reverting to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones), how does the right hon. Lady explain, if the Budget has been so generally welcomed, the report yesterday that business confidence is at its lowest ebb since records were first kept?

The right hon. Gentleman frequently assails me with forecasts of gloom or doom and record forecasts. He always ignores what is much more important to those who gave their views on the Budget, namely that in the past year the standard of living of the British people rose by about 6 per cent.

Do not the Government and the Prime Minister understand that we cannot tolerate a forecast—by the Government themselves—that manufacturing output in this country will decline through the lifetime of this Parliament? When will she alter her policies?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that GDP is not wholly determined by manufacturing industry. I agree that we want a good manufacturing base. Manufacturing output will be likely to rise if we do not have so many strikes.

As my right hon. Friend is rightly considering economic sanctions against Iran, will she also consider economic sanctions against Russia, since the premature decision of the British Olympic Committee not to boycott the Olympics is more likely to be reversed if it is convinced that the Government are doing everything possible to deter Russian aggression in Afghanistan?

As my right hon. Friend knows, economic sanctions against Iran will be considered at the meeting of Foreign Ministers on Monday and Tuesday. I do not think that economic sanctions against Russia would be likely to get through.

Returning to the foray of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page) into Lewisham, may I ask whether the Prime Minister would not agree, on reflection, that it is utterly unreasonable for London ratepayers to be expected to pay for the police without having the control that ratepayers have in other parts of Britain? Would she not think it more equitable that, if the Government wish to keep the Metropolitan Police outwith the control of London people, they should pay for it themselves out of taxation?

The system of policing the capital, with the Metropolitan Police being under the Home Secretary, has stood for a long time. The capital city needs different arrangements from the rest of the country and most of us have full confidence in the present system.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 April.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the money supply now shows signs of coming under control?

Will the Prime Minister take into account that, although there are long-standing arrangements for the control of the Metropolitan Police, there are questions relating to the police in other areas? In the light of the verdict in the Jimmy Kelly inquest, will she ask her right hon. Friend to reconsider the means of inquiry, to ensure that there are no long delays?

My right hon. Friend said that he would consider whether any further action was appropriate after the inquest verdict had been given. The unanimous verdict was death by misadventure and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be considering whether to take any other action.

As the Leader of the Opposition has expressed such interest in business confidence, will my right hon. Friend invite him to join her in protesting against the day of action on 14 May and to use such influence as he may possess to call off that ridiculous charade?

I agree that the greatest shot in the arm to business confidence would be for the Opposition to do more to condemn strikes.

If the right hon. Lady will consult the TUC at the same level and with the same regularity as did the previous Government—with the result that 12 months ago inflation was half the present level, business confidence was much higher, unemployment was lower and business investment was much higher—I will advise my hon. Friends to abandon the day of action.

The previous Government did not have the courage to take the right financial decisions and had to call in the IMF. That is a fact which the right hon. Gentleman tries to, but cannot, ignore. His Government finished up with the worst winter of discontent that this country has ever seen.

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity today to look at the amendments tabled to the Employment Bill, particularly the amendment in my name and those of some of her hon. Friends dealing with existing closed shops, about which the Bill does nothing, but about which the amendment would do something? Will she consider the possibility of the Government supporting that amendment?

I shall, of course, look at the amendment, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will deploy his case extremely well during the Report stage of the Bill. I will have a look at it.

On the question of Iranian sanctions, as so much American policy is now conducted by television or press leak, will my right hon. Friend consider telling the House early next week whether it is true that a deadline of 11 May has been set, as is reported all over Washington today? That is a serious matter and the House should be kept informed of how these matters are moving.

I am happy to accede to my right hon. Friend's request. I know of no such deadline.

Will the Prime Minister turn her mind again to the IOC? Does she not know that the statutes of the IOC expressly forbid national Olympic committees from violating the statutes by politicising the Olympic Games? Is she not therefore conniving at breaking up the IOC by dragooning the British committee into breaking the international statutes of the IOC?

The Olympic Games are based on the concepts of peace and prosperity. I hardly think that either concept will be satisfied at the present time. I urge the British Olympic Committee to reconsider its decision. I believe that even the athletes who go will not take part in an Olympic Games of the usual sort, because athletes from so many countries will be absent.

Bearing in mind the great harm that the Clegg commission has done to the economy, will my right hon. Friend at long last get rid of it? Is she aware that it has done more harm to Britain than Moss Evans?

The long-term future of the Clegg commission is under consideration. I stress that we are coming to the end of this round, which was a hangover from the previous Government. We shall reconsider the future of the Clegg commission.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know, Sir, that you are not responsible for the content of answers given or comments made by right hon. and hon. Members, but you may have heard the Leader of the Opposition refer to his friends in the TUC as his "hon. Friends." That may well be an illustration of the relationship—

I should be obliged if the Leader of the Opposition would let me get away with that.

I wish only to apologise humbly to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). If that is the level of the hon. Member's contribution, I hope that he will remain seated on future occasions.