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Commons Chamber

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 15 May 1980

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House Of Commons

Thursday 15 May 1980

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business


Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Tuesday 20 May.


Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 22 May.

Bill Presented

Pier And Harbour Provisional Order (Great Yarmouth Wellington Pier)

Mr. Kenneth Clarke presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order made by the Minister of Transport under the General Pier and Harbour Act 1861 relating to Great Yarmouth Wellington Pier: And the same was read the First time; and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills; to be printed [Bill 209].

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Lamb Exports


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the propects for an early resolution of the problem concerning the export of British lamb to France.

I will not agree to arrangements which do not meet our essential interests simply to enable France to comply with the Court ruling. Discussions are continuing in the Council of Agriculture Ministers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in his discussions with the French it is desirable that the Community should move towards a support system that would not include export refunds?

Yes, Sir. It would be very wrong, and certainly very bad for New Zealand as well as being disruptive of world markets, if there were a regime that included export refunds.

What steps do the Government propose to take to inform French consumers of the enormous benefit that would flow to them from imports of British lamb into the French market?

The hon. Gentleman may know that some weeks ago I attended the main French agricultural show. As a result, I had the rare opportunity, as a British Minister, to appear on French television and put forward arguments in support of the British case. I also gave a press conference. We have endeavoured to do all that we can to communicate the realistic facts to the French people.

Is the Minister not aware that the majority of sheep producers in this country are not in favour of a sheepmeat regime, and are in favour of retaining the guaranteed deficiency payment for lamb? Will he give an assurance to those farmers that he will not abolish the guarantee deficiency payments and that he will oppose the sheepmeat regime?

Order. The Minister is entitled to choose any one out of the four questions for a reply.

I found all four attractive. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I would not change the current regime, which our sheep producers like and enjoy, unless it was to be replaced by something as good, if not better.

Dairy Products (Self-Sufficiency)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the percentage self-sufficiency of the United Kingdom in butter, cheese and skimmed milk powder.

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

The latest estimates, which relate to 1979, are 42 per cent. for butter, 77 per cent. for cheese, and 119 per cent. for skimmed milk powder.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures show considerable scope for expansion of the United Kingdom dairy industry?

Yes, I agree. The United Kingdom dairy industry is one of the more efficient industries in the Community.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is highly desirable that we should become more self-sufficient? This may well mean further encouragement and aid to British farmers, and may even mean—my hon. Friend may disagree with me—playing cricket by different rules, however repugnant that may seem.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that the three green pound devaluations last year removed the main artificial hindrance to our dairy farmers competing properly. Now that they can compete without the MCAs, there is much greater opportunity for them to take an increased share of our markets and to export dairy products. The House may not appreciate that 50,000 tonnes of butter are sold overseas every year.

Will the Minister bear in mind that if we make progress towards self-sufficiency in milk, butter and cheese, any surplus of powdered or skimmed milk should go to the underdeveloped nations, where that type of food is in short supply, and not be sold to Russia at cheap prices?

The hon. Gentleman will know of the Government's strong opposition to the sale of subsidised butter to Russia. We shall continue that opposition.

Tenancy Succession


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the working of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, so far as it relates to succession to tenancy.

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

It is clear that the family succession provisions in the 1976 Act have not been in the interests of tenants or landowners. The procedure itself has been working as the Act intended, but, as I forecast during the passage of the Bill, it certainly does nothing to preserve the system.

Does my hon. Friend agree that amendments to the Act are necessary and that to be successful they must enjoy the support of the National Fanners Union and the Country Landowners Association? Will my hon. Friend invite them to a series of meetings under the auspices of the Ministry, to ensure agreement with a view to introducing the necessary legislation during this Parliament?

I am satisfied that the presidents of both the organisations understand the implications. It is important that any alteration is acceptable, so that it is used.

Will the Minister please examine the workings of the Act in Scotland, where it has been operated since before 1976? Is he aware that it has worked satisfactorily, especially for the small tenant farmer? Does he accept that he must not listen to the big boys in the NFU or the Country Landowners' Association? The provisions should, and must, be maintained.

I am not responsible for what happens in Scotland. However, as in England, few farms are to let in Scotland for new entrants to the industry.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the marked fall in the number of tenancies coming on to the market, and that that is causing great anxiety to young farmers, who cannot see their way ahead?

Any change in the law should provide opportunities, which do not exist at present for young men to enter the industry.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the answer that he gave earlier will cause dismay to the families of tenant farmers? Is he aware that the measure of security which the last Labour Government gave to the sons of tenant farmers was supported by the NFU, and was long overdue? Is he further aware that any attempt by the Government to undermine that legislation will be resisted ferociously by the Labour Party?

As the hon. Gentleman was one of the authors of that dismay, it is strange that he should criticise us. There are no farms to let, and rents are soaring as a by-product of the previous Labour Government's legislation. There must be a new look at the position if young farmers are to be able to take over farms within their means.

Common Fisheries Policy


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present state of negotiations within the Council of Fisheries Ministers concerning a common fisheries policy.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress of the renegotiation of the European Economic Community common fisheries policy.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects progress to be made in negotiations on the common fisheries policy.

Since the statement which my right hon. Friend made to the House following the last Council of Fisheries Ministers on 29 January we have had bilateral consultations with the fisheries Ministers of other countries of the Community and with the Commission.

I appreciate the considerable efforts that my hon. Friend is making to secure a properly renegotiated common fisheries policy, but will he bear in mind the forceful representations by the Scottish fishing industry in the last week about massive increases in fish imports? Will he work to secure within the EEC. before renegotiation, increases in the normal external import tariffs on both frozen and fresh fish?

I acknowledge the great difficulties over imports. I assure my hon. Friend that reference prices and the question of tariffs being reduced are under review in the Commission, with the hope of changes coming into force at the beginning of July.

Is it not apparent that little of the fishing industry will be left by the time the negotiations are concluded? Does not that fact, coupled with the blatant disregard by other countries of conservation regulations, strengthen the case for further unilateral action by the British Government?

It strengthens the case for even more resolution to achieve a proper settlement of the common fisheries policy. Effective legal control over illegal fishing by any nation is lacking. Under a proper renegotiated common fisheries policy, that is what we can achieve.

Even if we achieve a properly negotiated common fisheries policy, how will the Minister ensure that the rules are kept, because under the present regime the rules are broken day after day?

We enforce the rules in our waters up to 200 miles, without discrimination against ships of any nation. The problem is that it is up to the individual nation to apply the rules. Doubts are expressed about whether other nations apply the rules as vigorously as we do. Under a Community regime the regulations would have the force of Community law and would not be left to the individual nation to enforce.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, vital as it is to sort out the future common fisheries policy, it is equally vital to ensure that our EEC partners keep the present policy? Is it not disgraceful, and almost incredible, that herring illegally caught by French fishermen should be auctioned illegally by auctioneers who are employed by the French Government? What will my hon. Friend do to sort out that scandalous cheating under EEC regulations?

My hon. Friend is basing his argument on a television programme. As he knows, the French authorities have undertaken prosecutions against some of their fishermen.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be fatal for any Minister to come back empty handed after the next negotiations on the CFP? What are the basic terms on which we shall stand?

We have made considerable progress on a number of issues in the last year, from a position where no progress whatever had been made. We have made clear that, among other things, a number of matters crucial to us, such as exclusive access, a proper share of quotas and effective conservation, must be agreed.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will resist any proposal, as suggested by the German Minister of Fisheries in the last week, that vessels from all States can come right up to our coastline?

We have made it clear, as has the Labour Party, that we must have an adequate exclusive zone for our ships and a further degree of preference beyond that. We stand behind that, and we have made our position abundantly clear to our colleagues in Europe.

Is the Minister aware that it appears that a common fisheries policy that is satisfactory to Britain is being delayed? Does he agree that the resistance of the French, the Dutch and the Danes is proving sufficient to ensure that during the delay many of our ports will close and our fleets sink? What prospects are there of further financial aid for the fishing industry until the CFP policy objectives are met?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the common fisheries policy issues are complex and require a great deal of preparation. From the bilateral discussions, I believe that most of our European colleagues are prepared to work constructively towards a resolution. The industry is encountering problems, but only six weeks ago we introduced a scheme on the lines requested by the industry, and involving a sum of money of the size that was asked for by the industry and by the Labour Party.

Ware Potato Crop


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what he anticipates will be the total hectarage of plantings for the 1980 ware potato crop.

It is too early to give a reliable estimate, but it appears likely that plantings will be somewhat bigger than the target area of 168,000 hectares.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the major problem for farmers and industry this year will be imports of potatoes from the Continent? Does he agree that, unlike the French, who ignored the European Court's decision on sheepmeat, we have accepted the decision on potato imports?

I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises that we have been open to the import of main crop potatoes for the past year. The quantity of potatoes that has arrived has not been enough to disrupt our market. I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents recognise that there is a two-way trade in potatoes and that a large quantity of seed potatoes from his constituency are exported

Is the Minister impressed, as I am, by the great faith shown by those farmers who have laid out vast amounts of money in planting their acreage of potatoes before they even know what this year's guarantee price will be? How soon will the Minister make an announcement on the guarantee price for the current yield crop?

The announcement on the guarantee price has been delayed because we are still waiting to see whether a potato regime is worked out for this year within Europe. We hope, in the absence of a regime, to make an announcement as soon as possible.

Fisheries Policy


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present state of negotiations within the European Economic Community with regard to reciprocal fishing rights with third countries.

The Community has reached agreement on reciprocal fishing rights for 1980 with Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands and Spain.

Is the Minister aware that we appreciate the way in which he has dealt with these negotiations? Will he publicise the results of his efforts so that the fishing industry is aware of how well we are proceeding?

There is no doubt that some reciprocal negotiations—I refer particularly to Norway, and to a lesser extent to the Faroes—have afforded the opportunity for our fishermen to fish in other waters. I am glad to say that we have witnessed a reduction in fishing in our waters by Spanish vessels which better reflects the balance of advantage between the two nations. The issue of reciprocal rights is a difficult one, and I hope that, with patience, we shall see even more satisfactory arrangements in the future.

The only aspect of the problem of imports that can be affected by the Commission's negotiations is imports from third parties, yet a major part of these imports is from Common Market countries. We are speaking of our fish, caught in our waters, and dumped on our market. What proposal does the Minister have to impose an emergency levy on all imports and to act unilaterally by bringing aid to our fishing industry up to the level given to Common Market fishing fleets?

If the hon. Gentleman has evidence of dumping—that was the word that he used—I hope that he will provide that evidence so that we can investigate it.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's efforts over reciprocal fishing rights, but does he accept that reciprocal enforcement is infinitely more important? According to the film to which he referred, not only is France infringing rights, but it seems that other community countries should take much stricter enforcement action against their own fishermen.

It is interesting to note—in contrast to the kind of incident that receives publicity on television and elsewhere—that recently two German trawlers fishing off Greenland, were fined, in one case £200,000, and in the other £175,000, and had their nets confiscated. I believe that that indicates that on a reciprocal basis—though incidents such as I have just quoted, do not, unfortunately, get the same publicity—efforts are being made by other countries to ensure that the regulations are observed

Fisheries Conservation


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what unilateral conservation measures are enforced by the United Kingdom so far as fishing in United Kingdom territorial waters is concerned.

A comprehensive regime of national conservation measures is in force within United Kingdom fishery limits, including territorial waters.

Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), may I ask whether, now that the dust has settled, my hon. Friend will take action on the evidence that was produced in the World in Action film to stop illegal fishing in our waters by our Common Market partners?

To be fair, the film did not say that there had been illegal fishing by our Common Market partners in our waters. We police our waters and apply the regulations regardless of the nations from which the fishing vessels come. The tape of the programme referred to by my hon. Friend has been submitted to the Commission in Brussels. I shall await with interest—as will my hon. Friend—the reaction of the Commission to the allegations that were made in the programme and if they are found to be right, the action that is proposed by the Commission.

Since the Minister has conceded that the fishing industry is in a perilous condition, and since he has referred to the Government's recent announcement of a subsidy, may I ask how much of that money has so far been disbursed?

Money under the aid scheme to the fish producers' organisations is already going to those organisations. We are still considering tenders for exploratory voyages, and after discussion we hope in the near future to announce that some of the tenders have been accepted. I acknowledge the problems facing the fishing industry. One of the biggest problems is uncertainty about the future, which is the result of not knowing the outcome of the common fisheries policy negotiations. That is why we are pursuing these negotiations with resolution, and I trust that we shall receive the support of the Opposition.

The Minister has twice mentioned the film that was shown in France. The main part of the film deals with a large amount of herring caught in British waters anr re-exported to this country. What steps will the Government take to stop such fish coming into the country? Fishing for herring is banned in United Kingdom waters.

If my hon. Friend has evidence that the fish were caught in British waters, I hope that he will supply it to me. I saw the film, but recall no evidence—not even an allegation—that the fish were caught in British waters. If my hon. Friend has evidence, I ask him to tell me about it. Hardly a week goes by without some vessel—sometimes our own, sometimes foreign—being caught and prosecuted for infringing regulations in our waters. Within our resources we shall continue to carry out effective policing.

Have the Government taken up with the French Government the inadequacy of the supervision of landings of fish on French piers—a position quite different from that prevailing in the United Kingdom? Does the Minister deny that fish are being caught illegally in British waters by Community fishermen and re-exported to this country?

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would show more support for the efforts of the British Government to ensure that we get effective policing. At the moment it is up to individual nations to ensure policing within their own countries. We are seeking to get the force of international law applied across the Community in relation to the regulations. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not hear my previous answer. I can only repeat that we enforce the regulations within our waters up to 200 miles. The system is not always perfect, but we apply the regulations on a totally non-discriminatory basis regardless of the nationality of a fishing vessel.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present state of negotiations concerning the establishment of a sheepmeat regime within the European Economic Community.

The Commission has put forward revised proposals which contain features on which we have lodged strong objections. The proposals have been referred for detailed examination and will then be further discussed by the Council of Agriculture Ministers.

As my hon. Friend continues with these discussions, will he bear in mind the needs of the New Zealand economy, which is heavily dependent on the export of sheepmeat and other agricultural products?

Yes, Sir. We have made it perfectly clear that we are in close consultation with the New Zealand Government on this matter. Tomorrow I shall discuss this issue in detail with the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Is the Minister aware that some organisation—if not a sheepmeat regime—is needed in the market? Has he any evidence that New Zealand lamb is being diverted from Iran as a result of the crisis there, and from the French market as a result of the blockade? What action can be taken?

I do not have any such evidence. Shipments of New Zealand lamb to this country are in accordance with the projections that we had previously received. Obviously, a disruption of the Iranian, or indeed the Iraqi, market for New Zealand lamb would cause difficulties for New Zealand and could have implications elsewhere. The Treaty of Accession to the Community stated that there should be a sheepmeat regime but I do not think that there is any necessity for a scheme of heavy intervention in the case of lamb.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the establishment of a sheep meat regime is becoming of less and less interest to Staffordshire farmers, who are being deterred from rearing sheep by the extraordinary high incidence of sheep worrying by dogs? Will my right hon. Friend speak to the Home Secretary and—

In view of the fact that even were a sheepmeat regime to be introduced the French would not honour it unless it was 100 per cent. beneficial to them, will the Minister consider not establishing a sheepmeat regime at all? Whatever the French agree to will be bad for Britain.

No Sir, because the previous Government, in their renegotiations, accepted a Treaty in which it was stated that there would be a sheepmeat regime.

In spite of the efforts that my right hon. Friend has made, and realising the serious problems, will he appreciate that in these matters time is not on our side? Will he bear in mind the fact that in the last week lamb prices in the South-West dropped by 20p a kilo? In the long run, that is not in the interests of producers or consumers.

Yes, but, as my hon. Friend knows from announcements that I have made previously affecting the operation of the scheme as far as fat lambs are concerned, it has nevertheless meant that producers' returns have been maintained during this difficult period. However, I agree that it is of considerable importance for British agriculture that we get a settlement in this sphere.

If the Minister continues to object to a sheepmeat regime which necessitates intervention and an increase in United Kingdom costs, whether to the CAP or the United Kingdom Budget—and we back him on that—what sort of sheepmeat regime does he expect will come out in the end?

It is important to have a common external policy—which so far as New Zealand is concerned is in operation at present, with a 20 per cent. tariff under the GATT, which I think can be changed if the New Zealand Government are willing freely to negotiate a change for the lowering of that tariff, and therefore voluntary agreements elsewhere—and a scheme that results in the free movement of sheepmeat across frontiers in Europe.

Glasshouse Growers


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in establishing a common European Economic Community policy for subsidising fuel supplies to glasshouse growers.

I am not aware of plans for a Community policy for subsidising fuel supplies to glasshouse growers.

Why are Ministers dragging their feet on this issue? When will glasshouse growers go to the wall? If the Commission can approve subsidies to the Germans to the tune of £12½ million, and subsidies to the French, why cannot the Minister get together with his colleague in the Department of Energy and get a proper scheme for growers in this country, to save imminent bankruptcies?

On a matter of detail, the French scheme has not been approved. The German scheme is for one year only, limited in quantity, for changing heating arrangements. The Government are fully aware of the difficulties created by the Dutch competition, but, as I have told the hon. Gentleman many times, there is no evidence that this is unfair in Community terms.

Will my hon. Friend accept that it is not good enough for the Government just to be aware of the problem? Is he aware of the serious plight of growers of salad products, particularly small growers, in my constituency and elsewhere? Will he accept that unless the Dutch are prepared to raise their gas price to an oil equivalent price issued to our growers, there can be no alternative to introducing a subsidy system of the kind described by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross)?

I understand that the Dutch are increasing their prices. The question of a subsidy for energy costs applies to many other industries, as well as the glasshouse industry.

Does the Minister recognise, however, that British glasshouse growers have continually been fobbed off with the excuse that the disparity, which undoubtedly exists, between the price of fuel to Dutch growers and to British growers is disappearing? In those circumstances, will he recognise that the industry will disappear unless he takes some action very soon on this issue?

The hon. Gentleman's Government faced this problem in exactly the same way. The truth is that the Dutch are supplying their glasshouse growers with gas at a profit, and this gives them an advantage over our growers.

European Community Budget (United Kingdom Contribution)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the effect of the common agricultural policy on Great Britain's contribution to the European Economic Community budget.

It is not possible to make these estimates, because the common agricultural prices for 1980–81 have not yet been decided; and the question of our contribution to the European Community budget is still being negotiated.

Will the Secretary of State resist the pressures from other Common Market countries for a farm price deal which would mean for us an additional £1 billion on the cost of the CAP? Does he agree that any decrease in our overall Common Market contribution will be a phoney decrease if the British housewife has to pay for it by further increases in the price of food?

With every respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that he has got his figures rather mixed up. The proposal for the package would not mean an extra £1 billion on the cost to us. It would be I billion units of account for the Community as a whole, towards which we make a contribution. I assure the hon. Gentleman that both the CAP settlement and the budget settlement will be far better than was ever achieved by our predecessors.

My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the resistance that he has shown so far to the rather half-baked proposals which seem to have been esteemed by the Commission. However, does he agree that even a large budget settlement would be a dubious bargain if it were accompanied by a settlement on prices and on sheep-meat which led to a huge increase in unconsumable surpluses?

Yes, Sir. It is important that we pursue a policy which, over a period of time, erodes the unnecessary surpluses that exist in Europe. Certainly the British Government will pursue policies to try to achieve that.

Will the Minister confirm that Great Britain is not a member of the European Community at all, and does he agree that it is a pity that the United Kingdom is?

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, whatever negotiations may be taking place, his immediate priority will be to secure a revision of the CAP, which has worked so badly, which has led to so many surpluses and which could lead to a surplus in cereals and other commodities in the immediate future?

Fishing Industry (Fleet Restructuring)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the delay in obtaining a new common fisheries policy within the member States of the European Economic Community, he will now start discussions with all sections of the fishing industry on the restructuring of the fleet.

This issue must be considered in the context of the common fisheries policy and we shall discuss it with the industry as soon as developments permit.

I am grateful for the support from the Opposition Benches on this question. It is certain that this question arises out of the common fisheries policy agreement, but only this week France has given—[Interruption.]

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Is my hon. Friend aware that France has given the equivalent of £20 million to restructure its fleet, even before the CFP has been agreed? In these circumstances, is it not time that our Government made a similar move?

Perhaps I might ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that in 1980–81 the United Kingdom Government are giving about £22 million to its fishing industry? I accept the problems facing the industry. It was precisely for that reason that from the beginning of April we introduced a temporary scheme to assist the industry during the months ahead.

Is not the fleet being restructured by the disappearance of the deep-water fleet? Does the Minister recognise that, nothwithstanding the aid that he has given, the time scale of renegotiation of the CFP simply will not allow us to have anything to replace that fleet in the future?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be the first to admit that the United Kingdom fishing fleet has never been static in this respect. It has always been in a changing pattern. Anyone who has looked at its structure over the years will have seen how much it has changed and adapted to different situations. In this respect, the industry today is no different from what it was many years ago, and no doubt it will face changes in the future. We hope that at the next Fisheries Ministers Council, which I hope will be in June, we can make progress on these major issues, which will then give us a proper basis for restructuring policies.

Will the Minister and the Government accept that whatever they do to alter—for the better, I hope—the size and shape of our fleet, there are scores of magnificent modern vessels which are fit to catch fish in the Arctic lying doing nothing in Hull dock and will never catch fish again? Will he talk to his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy and see about converting some of these boats into either minesweepers or possibly—this is much more important—fishery protection vessels to guard our shores and enforce conservation measures?

I understand that that point was made in the House in the recent debate on the defence White Paper.

Am I to understand from the Minister's recent reply that the next Fisheries Council meeting is expected to be held in June? Is he not aware that a date for the next meeting was fixed for 27 May? If it is not to be held on that date, does that mean that the common fisheries policy will be raked over in the summit Council meeting on 12 June?

No date in May has been firmly fixed for a Fisheries Council meeting. A number of other Council meetings are taking place. A proper estimate for the Fisheries Council meeting could be the end of May. or possibly in June. I hope that it will be within the next four weeks.

Common Fisheries Policy


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the way in which other European Economic Community countries are operating under the common fisheries policy.

We are concerned that all member States should honour their obligations under the common fisheries policy.

Does my hon. Friend share the deep concern of the fishing industry over the fact that in the first three months of this year fish imports rose by more than 50 per cent., and by 70 per cent. in value? Is he aware that fish imports are running at about £400 million a year? Is that not absolutely disastrous, not only for the fishing industry, but for our balance of trade?

I share my hon. Friend's concern. Earlier this week my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Scotland met representatives of the fishing industry. They agreed to meet again in July to assess the position.

Is the Minister aware that the number of fishing vessels lost at sea more than doubled in 1970–80 compared with 1960 to 1970? Is he further aware that there has been an even greater loss of life? Is that due to pressure because of the way in which the fishing industry operates? Will he hold an inquiry into the industry?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, questions on safety are not for my Department, but for the Department of Trade. What the hon. Gentleman has said is a view that has been expressed elsewhere, but it is difficult to assess precisely whether that view is correct.

Is it not scandalous that fishermen in other Common Market countries can, with impunity, evade many of the conservation measures introduced in the Common Market, yet under a nonsensical Common Market rule hard-pressed fishermen in my constituency are prevented from using a cover net for their nets, which is meant only to preserve them from damage? Will the Minister look into that important matter?

I think that it is only in our waters that the hon. Gentleman's constituents fish. The rules in our waters are applied in exactly the same way to fishing boats from any nation. I shall consider the specific point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Does the Minister accept the truth of the television film to which he referred earlier, which showed Continental fishermen—not only the French—poaching herring freely and then selling them with impunity in Continental ports, without encountering any difficulties from the harbour authorities?

Hon. Members should not exaggerate. The film showed pictures of boxes of fish, and verbal allegations were made about the type of fish and where they were caught. As I have said already, that film has been sent to the Commission. I hope that the Commission will answer the questions put to it by those who sent the film.

Milk Marketing


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on future policy on milk marketing.

My policy will continue to be the maintenance of the existing arrangements for the marketing of milk in the United Kingdom, based upon the Milk Marketing Boards and the doorstep delivery system for liquid milk.

Will the Minister give an assurance that, whatever the future might hold, our market will not be flooded with French milk and that the interest of the consumer will be paramount?

On the question of imports, the United Kingdom holds strongly to the view that the health regulations that we apply are justified and correct, and we shall continue with them. There are varying views about what is in the interest of the consumer. I hold the view that the retention of the doorstep service is of prime importance to the consumer.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to retain the doorstep delivery service is to retain the link between the milk bottle and the milk inside it? Will he stop the dairy industry from forcing retailers to sell milk in cartons, simply to make matters more convenient for the industry?

That is a topic on which consumers differ in their views. The tradition of the doorstep delivery service, be it in bottles or sometimes in cartons, is of prime importance to our overall milk consumption.

Is the Minister aware that milk production in Britain will soon come to a halt unless there is rain? Will the Government appoint a Minister for drought?

No, Sir. We have no intention of applying for the transfer of a Minister to occupy that position.

Doorstep deliveries are a great convenience to the consumer. However, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that they have a great deal to do with the fact that the margin between the price paid to the producer and the price charged to the consumer is far wider than it is in any other Community country?

I also have in mind that the consumption of liquid milk in Britain is far higher than it is in other European countries.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 15 May.

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.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the very high interest rate is having a disastrous effect on small businesses? Will she discuss the matter today with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and recommend that the bank rate should be lowered forthwith?

As a matter of fact, I discussed that subject with the Chancellor of the Exchequer this morning. The banking figures published recently, and the money supply figures published today, indicate that there is still a very high demand for borrowing from manufacturing industry, and also some considerable demand from the personal sector. While that demand remains as high as it is, the interest rate cannot be reduced.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that pay increases not justified by productivity are the greatest avoidable source of unemployment and that to the extent that the TUC continues to promote them, yesterday's demonstration resembles the rage of Caliban at seeing his face in a glass?

Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that she will be ready to talk to the TUC as soon as it has thought through policies that are more clearly in tune with the long-term aspirations of its members, who are taxpayers, consumers and wage-earners, than are the policies that were rejected yesterday?

I agree with my hon. Friend that where there is a wide gap between high pay increases and increased output, that gap will lead to increased unemployment. I hope that everyone will take that fact into account. With regard to yesterday's events, I believe that the people of Britain gave their verdict. It was " Carry on Britain ", and it was right.

Has the Prime Minister noted reports that the inflation rate is about to reach 21 per cent.? Is she aware that the pensions increase announced in the Budget will in no way keep pace with inflation? Will she arrange for an early announcement to the effect that pensions will be increased even further?

On the earlier part of the question, it is expected that when the inflation rate is announced tomorrow it will be seen to have risen. There are, of course, technical reasons for that. The Budget was earlier this year than last year. There are also great reasons of substance, namely, very high pay increases not backed by productivity, and substantial increases in raw material prices over and above the increases in the price of oil.

On the question of pensions, the requisite figure is from November to November, and it is too early to say what that will be.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 15 May.

Will my right hon. Friend take time to study the difference in pay settlements between the private sector and the public services and public monopolies, especially the water authorities? Will she bear in mind that our constituents, especially mine, are increasingly unable to pay for the enormous cost of water and sewage treatment? Will she draw the appropriate conclusions?

I confirm that the level of settlements in private manufacturing industry has, in general, been lower than the level of settlements in public monopolies, including those in water authorities. One water authority has already been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and it is the intention to refer other water authorities to it. I hope that everyone will take note of the fact that competition keeps down prices far more than monopolies do.

Will the right hon. Lady consider telling us now, or possibly publishing in the Official Report, which of the Government's failures she would describe as technical or economic? During her busy day, has she had the chance to read the excellent interview in the Evening Standard, given by the Secretary of State for Employment, who indicated that it was his view that he would not be held responsible for failures of the Government? Can the right hon. Lady say which failures she thinks the Government have had and why the right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to escape from his collective responsibility?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman, in case he is seeking it, that the inflation figure to be announced tomorrow is not likely to go up to anything like the level that the Government of which he was a member achieved.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in her first year of office it has come as a surprise to some—a very good surprise—that she has turned out to be such an outstanding leader—[Interruption.]—

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was saying that my right hon. Friend has turned out to be an outstanding leader in international affairs. Having stopped a war in Rhodesia, will she now use her great influence in Washington and Europe to ensure that we do not slide into one in South-West Asia?

I am always glad to receive compliments, even when they are a bit back-handed, as is sometimes the case. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We shall use our good offices and influence wherever and whenever we can.

Now that the Prime Minister has confirmed that the rate of inflation to be announced tomorrow will go higher still, will she now answer the question about what action she proposes to take over pensioners, whose benefit will increase by only 16 per cent. in November, and others, such as invalidity pensioners, whose benefits will increase by only 11½ per cent. in November? What action will she take about that?

The right hon. Gentleman must wait and see. The time for action is not now.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 15 May.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells).

If the right hon. Lady plans to see her Ministers, will she make sure that she sees the Secretary of State for the Environment and asks him what is happening about homelessness in London, which is getting worse? Will she ask him to invite the Bishop of London and Cardinal Hume to see him as quickly as possible in order to do something about that situation, which his present policies are only making very much worse?

I do not believe that the policies of my right hon. Friend are making matters worse at all. He and I are very concerned about the number of empty houses in London. If we could get those into occupation, things would be very much better. He is also improving the situation a great deal as a result of the shorthold provisions in the. Housing Bill.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the threat today—[HON. MEMBERS: " Reading."] Well, at least it shows that I can read. Is ray right hon. Friend aware of the threat of closure to the Daily Star—I emphasise that it is the Daily Star and not the Morning Star, whose closure would not disturb me at all—which is the direct result of the sulking of SOGAT at the legal right of Express Newspapers Ltd. to produce—[Interruption.]

Order. It is not fair to any hon. Member who is asking a question to have to fight to be heard.

I am very much obliged, Mr. Speaker, for your consideration. I was asking my right hon. Friend whether she would point out to the officials of SOGAT that their activities today are likely to lead to unemployment in the newspaper industry, which, sadly, would involve the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton)?

The Daily Star was started comparatively recently. It is always a great event when we get a new newspaper. I hope that it will continue to survive and that it will soon be back in print.

Will the Prime Minister today find time personally to examine the case of Anwar Dittar, whose three children are held in Pakistan? She is a British subject. They should be allowed to enter the United Kingdom. Will she look at the case herself?

I must respectfully ask that individual cases go to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is in charge of the Deparment, and I am sure that he will give his personal attention to them.

Does my right hon. Friend regard the announcement yesterday by TASS the Soviet news agency, that Afghanistan now wishes to discuss neutrality as a timely gimmick to influence next week's decision about sending teams to the Olympic Games? Will she now confirm that, to be acceptable to the West, any arrangements for the neutrality of Afghanistan must include the total withdrawal of Soviet influence from that country, the holding of free and fair elections and a respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Afghanistan?

We observed that the current proposals about Afghanistan, which came out this morning, were not very different from those that were published on 17 April. Nevertheless, we shall look at them. We also noted that they did not make provision for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, which is what most of us would regard as the minimum circumstance and condition before we could consider going to the Olympics in Moscow.

Does the right hon. Lady think that there will be a convenient opportunity at the meeting of the Foreign Ministers at the weekend to consider carefully the proposal that has been made, to see whether a response could be made that could lead to further negotiations? The Foreign Secretary has often made that statement. Will the right hon. Lady answer in that sense?

The Foreign Ministers are at present in Vienna in connection with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Austrian Treaty. They are doubtless discussing the matter. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary arrived, he observed that the proposal did not seem very different from those that we had heard of previously. He will, of course, look at them. We also observe that they do not make provision for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 15 May.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells).

Has the Prime Minister seen reports that Scottish teachers are outraged that their current wage offer is 14 per cent. for this year? As inflation is running at more than 20 per cent., and as senior civil servants have been offered about 24 or 25 per cent., why is it that the teachers of our children in Scotland have been held back to that figure?

The negotiation of teachers' pay is a matter for the appropriate negotiating committee in Scotland. I very much deplore any strike action that has taken place. It is an extremely bad example to the children, especially at a time when they are approaching examinations.

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the fact that so many people ignored the TUC's call yesterday owes quite a lot to the Government's judgment of employment legislation, which is about right? Does it not show that the Government have widespread support among trade unionists?

That is absolutely right. Yesterday also showed that people will have no truck with political strikes. They would rather get on with the job.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to send me a second letter amending the first one in which she resisted my plea to swap surgeries because our constituencies are close? Will she amend the point that she made before by giving me the figures for the homeless, those waiting for transfers and the numbers on the waiting list in Finchley, as compared with the numbers that I have in Brent, South.

I am prepared to swap figures, but I really do not think that my constituents would think that the hon. Member's other suggestion was much of a swap.

Business Of The House

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 19 MAY and TUESDAY 20 MAY—Progress on the remaining stages of the Housing Bill.

At the end on Monday, motion on the Dental Qualifications (EEC Recognition) Order.

At the end on Tuesday, motion on the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 21 MAY—Remaining stages of the Social Security (No. 2) Bill.

THURSDAY 22 MAY—Completion of remaining stages of the Housing Bill, until 7 pm.

Afterwards, consideration of Lords Amendments to the Social Security Bill.

FRIDAY 23 MAY—The House will rise for the Spring Adjournment until Monday 2 June.

On the question of the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations, which will be debated on Tuesday night, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the possibility of giving extra time for this discussion in view of the significance of the subject and the desire of many hon. Members to speak on it? Will he recognise that his proposals for next week's business mean a further heavy dose of the indigestible legislation that he offers the House? Will he also recognise that we urgently desire debates on the Brandt Commission's report, which we hope will take place before the meeting on this matter in June; on the Civil Service statement that was made this week—we regard that statement as entirely inadequate in providing information about the proposals—and on prisons? The latter debate was promised, as were a number of others. I hope that when the Leader of the House brings forward the next lot of business he will try to satisfy us on many of these topics.

I cannot promise an early debate on the Civil Service statement, but I hope to have a debate on the Brandt Commission's report and on the May report in the resonably foreseeable future.

On the request for extra time on the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations, I recognise that there is widespread interest in this important matter. I am sympathetic to that request and I will see that it is pursued through the usual channels, so that extra time can be given for the debate.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. May I urge him afresh for an indication of the time of the Brandt Commission debate in his next business statement?

That pertains to the next business, but I have given a reasonably firm assurance that we will have a debate as soon as I can arrange it in Government time.

Will there be a statement early next week about the meeting of Foreign Ministers this weekend, and will the European budgetary question, which is still unresolved, be debated soon?

It is customary for statements to be made when there are important developments. I shall convey the right hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. I have not yet had a request for a statement.

As the Government and the TUC are both set against an incomes policy, and therefore legislation is not required, may we have a debate on the increases in pay during the coming year, which will obviously have a great deal of influence on the levels of unemployment and rising prices? As most employers and trade unionists have now been given the right to influence the future level of unemployment and inflation, will my right hon. Friend arrange for this to be debated in the House?

Clearly, the level of pay settlements has an important bearing on our general economic policy. I do not think that I can promise a special debate on that topic, separated from the debates that take place from time to time on economic matters.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement, preferably by the Prime Minister, early next week to make it quite clear that this Government will not allow the British Petroleum shares that were acquired from Burmah Oil for £178 million of the British taxpayer's money, and which have now accumulated to a worth of £1·1 billion, to be part of a compromise settlement with the action group? Members of that group did not mind playing at being entrepreneurs at the time they invested in Burmah Oil, but as soon as things went wrong they did not want to take any risks. In view of the sensitive nature of this matter and the fact that Burmah Oil was the company in which the Prime Minister's husband was involved, may we be assured that the Government will not give away any of the British taxpayers' money?

I do not intend to rise to that remark, or sink to that level. I shall convey the hon. Member's remarks to the Prime Minister and I am sure that she will give them the attention that they deserve.

Since it has been announced today that, on a vote of the German Olympic Committee, the Federal Republic will not send a team to Moscow, and since the Germans finished the last Olympic Games in fourth place behind the Americans, in terms of medals won, is it not now obvious that if the Olympics go ahead they will be a purely Eastern European festival, celebrating Soviet aggression in Afghanistan? Will my right hon. Friend provide time for the House to have another debate on the Olympic Games, so that we can change our decision?

I do not think that one should tempt providence in these matters. The last debate on the Olympic Games was evidently highly successful, because since then three of the major competitors have indicated that they will not take part. I hope that this will be followed by other countries. I agree very much with my hon. Friend's earlier remarks but I do not think that we need another debate.

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate after the recess on the application of the immigration rules and the very backward and inhuman decisions that presently emanate from the Home Office?

I do not think that I can promise an early debate. On the question of Home Office decisions, my experience with constituency cases has been that they have always been treated with the greatest consideration and justice by the Minister concerned.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he still intends to arrange a debate on the Casson proposals before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

I cannot confirm that. This matter will have to be decided by the Services Committee. The Prime Minister has already indicated that the chances of financing the buildings in the foreseeable future are not very high. In those circumstances I question the value of an early debate.

Will the Leader of the House find time to consider whether it is possible or proper to debate the relationship between the Government and the established and non-established Churches in this country, in the light of the recent attempt to gag Church leaders who involve themselves in the deplorable social conditions that are deteriorating every day?

I do not believe that there has been any attempt by the Government to gag Church leaders, and it would not be successful if it were tried. The question has no relevance to our discussions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Northern Ireland business was not reached until nearly 2 o'clock this morning? Is it right that the affairs of a most important part of the United Kingdom should always be the last item on our parliamentary agenda? Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter and give Northern Ireland the share of best parliamentary time that it deserves?

I am aware of the importance of Northern Ireland debates in the House, particularly since the suspension of the legislature at Stormont. However, it is not true that Northern Ireland matters are always raised late. On yesterday's business it was a judgment that one had to make between having a debate at a late hour or postponing it for a considerable time. In those circumstances, we decided that the lesser of the two evils was to go ahead with the debate.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the state of the British popular press, which is so one-sided and biased that it is a danger to democracy? The most recent example of its disgraceful conduct was the treatment meted out to the general secretary of the TUC.

There is a wide range of opinions expressed in the popular press, and if one reads all the popular papers, including The Times and The Guardian, one gets a good picture of what is going on.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made about the bombing of a police station in south-east London, in so far as it might involve terrorist action? Will he also go a little further in respect of a statement on the Foreign Ministers' meeting in Naples? The House passed a Bill on Iran specifically because the Government wanted it by 17 May. Now that the target date has been met, surely it must be right for there to be a report on the consequences of what the House did.

I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary my hon. Friend's remarks about the extremely regrettable incident at the police station, which we all condemn.

It is only courteous for me, while indicating that there might be a statement on the Naples meeting, to wait until my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has returned before committing him or my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal without qualification.

May we have an early statement about the allegations in the press today that senior officials of the Foreign Office employed by General Communications Headquarters in Hong Kong are involved in corruption, the control of prostitution, the leaking of secrets to other countries and the use of surveillance techniques to prevent British journalists finding out what is going on? Since the budget of GCHQ is not subject to the same sort of scrutiny in the House that other public expenditure receives, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an early statement is necessary, in order to allay the real public concern on the issue?

I do not believe that there is widespread public concern over the allegations.

I am certainly not bothered about them. The allegations have been thoroughly investigated. They are old allegations which have been dragged up again for sensational purposes. It is an attempt by one section of the popular press to exploit a situation that has already been dealt with.

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been trying to catch my eye since the start of business questions, but I hope that they will be brief—otherwise we shall be late again tonight.

Will my right hon. Friend carefully consider the possibility of a general debate on the problems and opportunities facing the construction industry, bearing in mind that it is the greatest industry in this country, whether measured in terms of manpower or output?

I know my hon. Friend's concern with the construction industry. He raised the point in the Whit-sun Adjournment debate yesterday. I cannot promise an early debate, but I repeat my promise that I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Reverting to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), the Prime Minister has overall responsibility for national security and it is not good enough for the Leader of the House to say that the allegations referred to by my hon. Friend have already been deeply probed and proved to be unfounded. We are entitled to have from the person responsible for security a statement to the House and not to a cabal of Tory Cabinet Ministers.

As the hon. Gentleman said, responsibility for the security forces rests with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Therefore, if hon. Members wish to pursue the matter they must pursue it with her. I was giving the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) an early indication of the Government's view and stating factually that these matters have already been investigated and found to be without foundation.

The right hon. Gentleman may be under a misapprehension about the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). Will he look at it afresh? The allegations, together with considerable documentation, are appearing in the New Statesman and, I believe, the Daily Mirror tomorrow. I agree that that is not absolute proof of their validity, but before the right hon. Gentleman jumps in and says that they are old allegations it would be wiser of him to say that he will look at the matter and see whether we should have a statement next week.

The right hon. Gentleman should not base his remarks on an inaccurate knowledge of the facts.

I have not read the New Statesman, but the allegations have already appeared in the Daily Mirror today, and I have read that. The fact that they are in the Daily Mirror does not prove their veracity—as the right hon. Gentleman recognised—or their essential falsehood. The Daily Mirror occasionally lends itsef to a journalistic approach—we have seen it from a distinguished journalist in regard to the catering arrangements in the House—that is not always balanced. I am endeavouring to redress the balance by putting the allegations in their proper context. They are old allegations, and they have been investigated.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his negative and somewhat disappointing answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), about a debate on the Casson proposals? Is it not a novel doctrine that the House does not debate long-term aspirations simply because of an immediate want of ready cash? Would it not greatly truncate our proceedings if that unorthodox principle were introduced?

It is not so much a matter of principle, although my right hon. and learned Friend is good at drawing principles inductively out of pragmatic situations. It is a question whether it is worth while having an early debate about a new building when it is clear that the funds are not available for it and are unlikely to be available for some time.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 583, which has been signed by nearly 80 hon. Members of all parties and which calls for a European initiative with the object of establishing a national home for the Palestinian people in Palestine?

[ That this House, recognising the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and noting the peaceful and constructive objectives of the Palestine National Council, calls on Her Majesty's Government, and other European governments to take a major diplomatic initiative with the object of securing the withdrawal of all Israeli forces and settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in that territory.]

As the Camp David timetable will run out on 26 May—

will the Leader of the House provide time for an urgent debate on the Middle East?

The Government are ready to help to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement. With our partners in the Nine we are discussing ways in which we might be able to make a constructive contribution. We must not undermine the current peace efforts, which we shall continue to support. We hope that they will succeed in producing further progress towards a settlement. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has outlined that policy.

My right hon. Friend has promised a debate on the Brandt Commission's report. Is he aware that the House will be greatly dismayed if he offers less than a full day's debate?

I note what my hon. Friend said. I attach great importance to the Brandt Commission's report. It deals with one of the world's greatest problems, and much depends on that problem's successful solution. In those circumstances, I am hardly likely to offer a half-day's debate.

Will the Leader of the House find an early opportunity to debate the report of the Royal Commission on legal services?

I cannot promise an early debate on that subject. However, I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's representation.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on Scottish school teachers? They have been absent from schools, particularly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear the Government's attitude towards those teachers who go on strike. I have nothing to add to what she said. A further debate on the subject would not add anything to what she said.

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that we shall have an early opportunity to debate the Expenditure Committee's report on reducing the numbers of those in prison, the May report, and the Home Secretary's statement? We could then have a full and adequate debate on the impending crisis in our prison service.

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in prisons and prison reform. I hope that we shall be able to have an early debate on this very important subject.

Is the Leader of the House aware that many taxpayers do not like to find that their money is being used to purchase nuclear weapons? Will he find time to debate this issue and to discuss whether taxes could be used for other purposes—such as helping the Third world—than for contributing towards nuclear warfare?

I do not think that any Government have ever accepted the principle of the hypothecation of taxation to particular objectives. If people paid taxes only for those things that they approved of there would be an immeasurable loss to the Inland Revenue.

Will the Leader of the House at least undertake to read the article that will appear in the New Statesman—distasteful as that may be—before deciding whether there is any truth in the allegations? If he feels that there is some truth in the allegations, will he arrange for the Prime Minister to make a statement about their validity. The right hon. Gentleman should not try to rub off this issue so lightly.

The allegations appear in today's Daily Mirror. I was referring to those allegations. I accept that they will also appear in the NewStatesman. We all know that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) has some connection with the New Statesman. As an act of supererogation, I shall read this week's New Statesman. It will not do me much good, nor do I imagine that it will do anyone else much good. I have no ministerial responsibility for such issues. If hon. Members wish to pursue the issue further, they must raise it with the Prime Minister.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that earlier this afternoon the rules of the House prevented my raising with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the question of dogs worrying sheep? I am not optimistic—

Order. All that prevented the hon. Member from asking that question was the fact that he had not tabled a question on the Order Paper.

I am most obliged, Mr. Speaker. I am not optimistic that it would be in order for me to ask the Home Secretary about dogs worrying sheep.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 553?

[ That this House believes that early action is needed to reduce the large number of stray dogs and the nuisance they cause, namely, traffic accidents, fouling and livestock worrying; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to encourage a more responsible attitude to dog ownership and to introduce legislation to reduce these problems by setting up a self-financing dog warden service on a national basis, run by local authorities, which would be paid for by an increase in the dog licence fee, and which would provide an information and education service to dog owners.]

It involves the important issue of stray dogs and their effect not only on the farming community but on urban areas. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will find an occasion to arrange for a debate on this subject, which affects the lives of many people and requires urgent consideration.

I agree that stray dogs can be a nuisance. The problem goes far wider than worrying sheep. Stray dogs also affect urban communities. However, we have had an Adjournment debate on the subject. I shall take the subject up as a matter of urgency with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—who has general responsibility—in order to see how this intolerable nuisance can be substantially reduced.