House Of Commons
Thursday 19 June 1980
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Tuvalu (Independence Gift)
I have received a message from the Clerk to the Parliament of Tuvalu conveying the thanks of that Parliament for the gift of the gavel set presented by a delegation from this House on 21 March, and including the text of the resolution passed unanimously by that Parliament. I shall ensure that the terms of the resolution are entered in the Journal of the House.
Oral Answers To Questions
Oral Answers To Questions
Yesterday, in response to my appeal following the Minister's statement, hon. Members reacted splendidly with succinct questions and the Ministers with succinct answers. I am optimistic enough to hope that the same will happen today.
Agriculture, Fisheries And Food
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to ensure the viability of the fishing industry while a common fisheries policy is being negotiated.
With other Fisheries Ministers, my right hon. Friend has arranged to meet representatives of the industry on 3 July to examine the position in the industry.
Even though my hon. Friend is unable to impose a unilateral ban on the import of fish, does he recognise that there will have to be a substantial reduction in the concessions on import tariffs on white fish from third countries? Otherwise such places as Arbroath and elsewhere on the East Coast of Scotland will not have a viable fish industry once the common fisheries policy has been renegotiated.
That is precisely why we have pressed the Commission to review the reference prices, which it has done. We are now considering the restoration of certain reductions in tariffs. Full information will be available by the time that we meet the industry at the beginning of July.
Because more vessels have been laid up during the period since the Government's temporary aid scheme began, is it not time that the Minister stopped dangling before the fishing industry the prospect of "Eurocash" and gave immediate aid on the same scale as that received by our Continental competitors?
I think that the hon. Gentleman has recognised that we, too, give aid to our industry. Whatever he may say, the industry has expressed satisfaction, and is glad to be able to meet us at the beginning of July to discuss the matter further.
During the interim period before that meeting will my hon. Friend bear in mind the position of the British inshore fishing industry, over which the Government have control? Will he also bear in mind that the industry needs protection—not necessarily financial protection—from incursions from other parts of Britain into the South-West mackerel stock?
As my hon. Friend knows, we are very much aware of the problems, especially in relation to the South-West mackerel stock. I visited the area last year. We shall do all that we can help the industry on the licensing arrangement that has been under discussion.
As there will be discussions on 3 July to reflect the extra period for negotiations on the fishing agreement, will the Minister bear in mind the unique problems of Hull—not only its wish to retain its industry, but its need for landing facilities? Is the Minister aware that the British Transport Docks Board has agreed to close the port by the end of this month? Will he take steps to ensure that we at least keep a fish landing facility in the port of Hull during negotiations?
The purpose of the meeting on 3 July does not relate to the common fisheries policy, but is specifically about the financial state of the industry.
Does my hon. Friend accept that, in spite of some recent firming up of the market, cheap foreign imports are still contributing massively to the problems of the British fishing industry? Will he tell the House about the latest assurances that he has received from our EEC partners to the effect that they are at last doing something to crack down harder on illegal fishing by their fishermen?
The French are currently taking a number of cases through their courts, and at the same time they are increasing their fisheries protection effort. We shall continue to apply our measures, without any discrimination, against any country that sends boats to our waters.
Is not the Minister aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, when he made his statement on financial aid on 13 March, said :
Since that time, the position in the industry has worsened considerably. Cheap fish imports continue to flood into Britain, and if a settlement on the CFP is not reached until January 1981 the parlous position in the fishing industry will become a total disaster. Why cannot the hon. Gentleman tell the House today—because every week is important—what he intends to do, and what financial aid he is prepared to give?"the Government consider it important to retain a viable fishing industry until such time as we agree on a common fishing policy."—[Official Report, 13 March 1980; Vol 980, c. 1582.]
I am not unaware of the present anxiety in the fishing industry. The aid to be provided to the industry is precisely the figure which was suggested from the right hon. Gentleman's Front Bench during our debate on this matter earlier this year. The industry has agreed with us to prepare its case. We asked it several weeks ago for the figures regarding the current situation. It agreed to meet us at the beginning of July and it has agreed to provide us with figures before the end of this month. It that does not show action, I do not know what does.
Am I to take it from what the hon. Gentleman has said, and in co-operation with the industry, that further financial aid will be forthcoming to the industry on 3 July?
What I said, and what I make absolutely clear, is that, as the right hon. Gentleman must know in a case such as this, one has first to know the precise circumstances of the industry. One of the things which the industry is doing is providing us with that financial case. Until now, it has not done so. I do not blame the industry for that. The timetable that we have given to the industry has been accepted by the industry, and the industry has shown that it is willing to co-operate with us in it. Obviously, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, it will be to its great detriment if it tries to co-operate with the Opposition.
Order. This matter comes up again later.
European Community (Milk Surplus)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals, other than that of a price freeze, he has put forward to the Council of Ministers to reduce the milk surplus in the European Economic Community.
I am prepared to consider any measures to reduce the surplus on a Community basis and have put forward a number of proposals, including retention of the United Kingdom butter subsidy and placing greater responsibility for the disposal of surpluses upon those who create them.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am most disappointed with his reply, because he has not answered my question at all? I asked him what proposals he had put forward. May I ask him to study the Howell report of 1979 to the European Parliament? Will he ignore the principal recommendations of the report and instead study the minority report? If he studies the minority report of the Howell report he will have the answer to the milk surplus problem.
I have looked at the reports of both Howell Major and Howell Minor. I find them very interesting reading. The whole of Europe is talking about nothing else.
I find some contradiction in the Minister's reply to the question. He talks about solving the problem of the surplus in relation to the Community, and then talks about the countries which are responsible bearing the burden. That seems to be a contradiction in terms. Does he agree with me that if we freeze prices we shall only encourage the producers to increase production, and in any case, because of the technical developments in the industry, is not there likely, inevitably, to be an increase?
Yes. The point that the hon. Lady has made is very important. One of the great problems in terms of milk has been that when one has put a light freeze on prices, it has increased production, not decreased it. The hon. Lady is perfectly right about that? I mink that the most important thing that has happened in recent weeks is that a number of countries, particularly Germany and France, which have created a great deal of the surpluses concerned are now, for the first time, having to bear a great deal of the bill. It seems that they are taking a much greater interest in the problems of surpluses than before.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the doorstep delivery in the United Kingdom is not only a vital social service but also a maximum contribution to minimising any milk surplus to the EEC? What, therefore, will he do in about two years' time on the expiry of the health regulations under which we can prevent bulk imports of milk from, say, France, which undoubtedly, if it happens, will very quickly destroy the doorstep delivery here?
I believe that if the French have to abide by the health standards that we apply here, with the transport cost involved and the higher efficiency of our dairy industry as compared with theirs, there should be no fear of such imports.
As Britain contributes nothing to the European milk surplus, does the Minister agree that the best way of dealing with it is to lay at the door of the French, the Germans and the rest, the cost of the disposal of their surplus?
Yes, Sir. That is why I was interested in the Commission's proposal—a unique proposal this year—that those individual nations that add to the surplus should meet the cost. But another way of doing that is a rearrangement of the budget, whereby Germany and France for example will bear much more of the cost.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why he has taken the view that a grant should not be paid for improvement to Amble harbour until improvements have also been carried out to the Amble North Pier breakwater.
I refer the hon. Member to the explanation I have already provided in the answers given him on 28 January and 13 March last. I understand that the Department of the Environment is still awaiting plans from Alnwick district council to improve the north pier breakwater.
Since all the bodies concerned are agreed that both projects must go ahead, is it sensible to allow the harbour to deteriorate while we wait for the Ministry of Defence to decide whether it is prepared to contribute? If the hon. Gentleman were wounded in two places, would he be content to lie there and listen to two doctors arguing about which one should start the treatment first?
What the hon. Gentleman must realise, equally, is that the initiative on this matter must come from Alnwick district council. As soon as we have that initiative from the council, I assure the hon. Gentleman, having visited the harbour and seen the enthusiasm of those concerned with it, that I hope that we can deal with the matter expeditiously. But someone has to raise the knife first.
Common Agricultural Policy
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what problems he envisages arising for the common agricultural policy from the accession to Community membership of Greece in 1981 and Portugal and Spain in 1982–83.
The accession of Spain and Portugal will add to the problems and the costs of the régimes for the main Mediterranean crops. These countries will, however, provide market opportunities for temperate products of which they are net importers.
Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that the fundamental difficulties go rather deeper than that? Are not the Government banking, perhaps, on the view that the problems caused by Spain's accession to the Community, and particularly to the CAP, will be so great and the financial demands of Spain so large, that that will cause the French to agree to the fundamental reform of the CAP for which we have pressed for so long?
No, Sir. It is true that the French agricultural economy will be more affected by the accession of Spain than our own. It will provide our own agricultural economy with quite considerable opportunities. But I hope that the French Government, as well as all Governments in the Community, will recognise the immense political importance as well as the long-term economic importance of welcoming these countries to the EEC.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will not brush aside the problems that are bound to arise? After all, when the application was made, the Commissioners made it quite clear that there were immense problems. This ought to be the opportunity to get down to renegotiating the CAP. Is that being done, and, if not, why not?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that obviously substantial new additions to the agricultural economy of Europe provide a further opportunity for having a look at the CAP. There are two other opportunities. One arises from the fact that the new readjustment of the budget is making Germany and France much more interested in the future of the CAP and its reform. The second is that the 1 per cent. VAT ceiling, which is fast approaching, will impose a further discipline and bring a new urgency to reforming the CAP.
Surely the Minister realises that, while we welcome these new countries into the Community, this will create immense problems. If the Minister considers the fact that there is a dairy system stretching from Denmark to Gibraltar and bears in mind all the farm improvement schemes that are needed in Spain and Greece, he will appreciate that it is an immense problem. Is not this the opportunity to get the necessary changes that are required in the CAP?
Yes, Sir. I welcome the fact that this added factor will give an impetus to the reform of the CAP. It creates, more for other economies than for our own, considerable problems. It also creates considerable opportunities.
Does the Minister accept that, while the entry of Spain, in particular, will create special problems for our horticultural producers and the French, those are problems which represent a challenge to the Community, and that it would be quite wrong for the British Government to go down the road of the French and suggest that Spanish entry should be delayed as a consequence of these problems?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. In terms of Greece, Spain and Portugal, I think that the history of Europe will show that it is very important to join these countries in membership as quickly as possible.
Marginal Land Areas
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in which areas of the country the survey on marginal land areas has not yet been completed ; and if he will make a statement.
Survey work is complete so far only for the areas in Northern Ireland. It is still under way in Scotland. Further progress for England and Wales depends on various factors including the present pilot study.
Is my hon. Friend aware that marginal land farmers are becoming impatient about the delay in designating marginal land? When does he expect the review to be completed?
The previous Government announced the start of the review, but they provided no resources for carrying it out. Until the capital grants are changed there will be no resources available in my Department. That is why we are carrying out the pilot study now, and I hope to have a report on that shortly.
Is it not crucial to have a proper land development policy for Britain, including the aspect of capital grants? In view of the developing squeeze in world food resources that is likely during the remainder of the century, is it not crazy that we are not developing and expanding grass policies for our livestock?
We are carrying out studies with a view to identifying that sort of land.
When will the Minister inject some practical urgency into the problem, particuarly in England and Wales. Is the reluctance due to his Department, or to the fear that the Treasury will not be forthcoming with the necessary funds in due course?
The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that we have to satisfy certain criteria for the Community to make the necessary contribution. In order to establish that properly we have to make out a full case. I have explained on many occasions to the House that that information is not easily obtained. That is why we have started a review, and are doing something about the problem.
Does not the Minister agree that it would help marginal farmers if they received an increase in the hill livestock compensatory allowance? Can he give the up-to-date position, bringing in line the FEOGA contributions with the United Kingdom allowance, to the same extent as in the Mezzo Giorno and in the western part of Ireland?
This Government have already made the largest single increase in the less favoured areas allowances. The matter will be reviewed again in the autumn in consultation with the unions. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can ask for more.
New Zealand Lamb
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the reduction in imports to the United Kingdom of New Zealand lamb which will result from the new European Economic Community sheep-meat régime.
The Community arrangements for sheepmeat recently agreed by the Council of Agricultural Ministers will not impose any reduction in our imports of lamb from New Zealand.
While I thank the Minister for his reply, may I ask him to inform the House why we need a sheepmeat régime? Is it merely to benefit the French fanners, and will it mean that the unfortunate British housewife will again foot the bill, with increased prices for lamb and mutton?
I know that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to learn that the sheepmeat régime that has been agreed will be beneficial both to housewives and to British producers, and of no harm to New Zealand.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the farmers in Scotland have strong family and historical ties with the farmers of New Zealand? Does he realise that we look to this Government, and to successive Governments, to ensure that those strong ties with New Zealand are continued, and that the New Zealand economy is always considered seriously in respect of sheepmeat?
I agree with that, and that is why we negotiated the régime on this basis. There was complete freedom, and the New Zealand Government had a power of veto. My Department and the Government are helping the New Zealanders in every way possible in the negotiations.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House when the new sheepmeat regulations will be implemented?
I am pleased to inform the hon. Gentleman that there was a suggestion for the proposals to be put forward in two regulations, but the second regulation would have had to be returned to the European Parliament. We agreed on one regulation, so that, once the third country agreements are made, there is nothing to stop the régime from coming into operation quickly.
Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate to the House what proposals Mr. Gundelach is taking to New Zealand with a view to encouraging that country to accept the sheepmeat régime? If, in the end, the New Zealanders do not like the proposals, and are not prepared to curb or restrain their sheepmeat imports to Britain, will he, too, be prepared to veto the new sheepmeat régime as at present proposed?
There is no question of the new sheepmeat régime being vetoed because it will not come into operation unless a satisfactory agreement has been reached with New Zealand. As always, we shall back the New Zealand Government on this matter.
What is the message that Mr. Gundelach will be taking to New Zealand?
Mr. Gundelach is not going to New Zealand with a single purpose. He is going there to negotiate with the New Zealand Government, and he will then report back to the Council of Ministers on the arrangements that he considers he can agree. He is not going to New Zealand with any mandate.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take further steps to prevent the decline of the British apple industry.
I am aware of the difficulties which apple growers have encountered in recent seasons, but there are encouraging signs that the industry is facing up to its problems. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary gave the House a full account of the part the Government would play in his reply to the motion for the Adjournment on 20 March.
Does not the Minister have a greater responsibility to protect the British apple industry from subsidised French imports, which are neither golden nor delicious? They are plastic and tasteless.
I have no objection to that description of the product concerned. I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the superior quality of the British apple. With regard to subsidy, it is true that some years ago there was an immense capital investment by the French Government, from which the industry has benefited. In terms of current assistance and help, there is no evidence, in respect of the volume of apples, that there is any greater assistance in France than in Britain. I hope that the reorganisation of the Apple and Pear Development Council, and the appointment of a new chairman, will mean that British apples will get a better share of the market in the coming year.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the apple producers of Herefordshire are concerned about the future, especially in view of Spain's proposed accession to the Community? Will he maintain the closest possible contact with the industry so that when we are faced with the extraordinary competition we shall be in the best possible shape to meet it?
Yes, Sir, and the quality of apples that we can produce gives us good opportunities. The reorganisation of the Apple and Pear Development Council and the appointment of a new chairman will prove to be valuable to the industry.
Does the Minister accept that my constituents, who grow more apples than are grown in Wandsworth and Battersea, South are mainly concerned about the unfair competition from France? They would like to know why the French take unilateral action, and we never do.
First, may I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the apples that his constituents grow are eaten in Wandsworth and Battersea, South? With regard to French unilateral action, there has not, of course, been any action by the French in this sphere. We are in an equal position with regard to subsidies to the industry. With proper marketing, and with the encouragement of the reformed Apple and Pear Development Council, we can start to get back a bigger share of the market.
While I welcome what my right hon. Friend has done to improve marketing and to reorganise the Apple and Pear Development Council, does he recognise that even some of the most efficient orchards, for example, that run by Lord Rothschild in my constituency, are having to go out of business because they are unable to compete? Will my right hon. Friend put his mind to the problem that many of the French imports are not grade A fruits, and that it might be sensible to back companies such as Sainsbury and others, which are refusing to take the second grade French apples which often cause the problem?
That is a decision for the companies concerned. But it should be the decision of the British apple industry to provide to our major retailers the grade of apple that they require. If it can do that, it will probably have a good year.
Pig Breeding Herd
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the level of the pig breeding herd compared with a year ago.
In April 1980, the most recent date for which census results are available, the number of sows and gilts in pig in the United Kingdom was 809,000 head. Figures for April 1979 are not available, but in June 1979 the total was 847,000 head.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that his answer underlines the need to restore confidence in this depressed sector of the farming industry? In particular, does he agree that one of the major current problems is the high dock charges imposed on otherwise cheap feeding stuffs that are imported into Britain such as manioc? If that problem could be overcome, the industry would be able to get back on its feet more quickly.
I was not aware of particularly large quantities of manioc being imported into the United Kingdom. It has caused certain problems in other countries. But, over the past year, and particularly through three devaluations of the green pound, the pig sector has benefited more than any other sector of agriculture. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this is an area with considerable problems and we shall watch it carefully.
Will the Minister agree that these problems are much greater than those faced by the industries in the EEC with which the British industry is expected to compete? In those circumstances, does he intend to take any further action to help the pig industry if it remains in difficulties? Is there any point at which he would consider that intervention was necessary?
I remind the hon. Member that in March last year subsidies obtained by other European producers for sending bacon to this country were running at £231 a tonne. During the period of the last Government they reached a peak of £318 a tonne. As a result of this Government's action our industry is now prepared to compete on even terms and today there is a positive MCA which helps our industry.
Agricultural Land Tenancies
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has yet received the views of the National Farmers Union regarding agricultural land tenancies.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the conditions necessary to give landlords the confidence to relet agricultural land must be the prospect of their being able to regain possession of it some time in the future? Is not anyone who argues to the contrary guilty of wishful thinking?
I certainly accept that that is one of the many factors in this complicated matter.
Will the Minister inform his hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) that there is an appeal arrangement available at present? Does he agree that any change in the existing arrangements will be bitterly resented by thousands of tenant farmers who will conclude that the Conservative Party is far more concerned with those who own than with those who contribute?
The hon. Member is jumping to a number of assumptions. The Government have no plans to make any changes until such time as the industry comes to an agreement. At the moment there does not seem much evidence of that being likely.
Will my hon. Friend not give as excuse for doing nothing about this matter the fact that the Country Landowners Association and the NFU have failed to agree?
It is not an excuse for doing nothing. If a law is passed that is unsatisfactory, either the landlords' section or the tenants' section will not use it. Therefore, there is no point in proceeding unless we have that agreement.
Will the Minister accept that the increased security of tenure given by the Labour Government to families of farmworkers and tenant farmers was a long overdue measure of social justice? Does he realise that whatever deal is struck by the NFU and the CLA, the Labour Party will oppose any undermining of that security?
The hon. Member knows that what he is saying is, to a large extent, condemning the system of landlord and tenant, as we know it, to extinction.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in discussions with the European Economic Community regarding obtaining a contribution towards the cost of school milk.
I am continuing my discussions with the Commission and hope that they will be completed shortly.
Will the Minister agree that the fact that all this milk is flowing around Europe when our children are being denied school milk makes this a matter for urgent consideration? If the Minister is successful in his negotiations will he consider extending the availability of milk to all children in school?
If I am successful in my negotiations education authorities will have the opportunity to make decisions with considerable aid from Europe. I had further talks in Luxembourg this week on this matter and I hope that the talks will be completed shortly.
If the provision of free school milk is to continue, will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that it is rendered rather more attractive? Will he ensure that the provision of some refrigeration plant is insisted upon, and that the dairies consider providing flavoured milk?
I shall pass my hon. Friend's views on to the Dairy Trade Federation.
Will the Minister accept that recent Tory legislation in education, giving discretion to local authorities on school meals, means that the nutritional value of school meals is rapidly declining and that the take-up of free school meals is also declining? If the right hon. Gentleman can obtain assistance from the EEC towards free school milk does he agree that it will be something in exchange for the massive payments that we make?
Yes, that is why I am continuing with the negotiations.
White Fish Authority And Herring Industry Board
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is yet able to make a statement on the future of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board.
The Government have issued this week a consultative document about the structure and functions of a statutory authority to replace the existing authority and board. Copies of the document have been placed in the Library of the House and are available in the Vote Office.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that in any restructuring of the board, better representation will be given to those who go to sea to fish? Will he also ensure more sharply defined terms of reference so that there will not be unnecessary duplication with existing scientific institutions and Government Departments?
All these matters are highly relevant and many are contained in the consultative document. I shall consider very carefully all the representations that are made.
Has the Minister noticed a statement reported in The Times today, from a French Minister, that France will hold up the Prime Minister's EEC budget settlement until a fisheries agreement that is satisfactory to France has been concluded?
I attended the meeting of the Fisheries Council and the Agriculture Council this week. We had constructive discussions. The French Minister was present when these matters were discussed and he never once raised that question, either in the Council or outside, in discussions with us.
Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the new authority that is to be set up will not be faced with a situation in which British fishermen are subsidising overseas fish consultancies by the White Fish Authority?
Whether this takes place at all is a matter of subjective judgment. I commend some of the work of the White Fish Authority in its consultancy work abroad, but I agree with my hon. Friend that such work should be financed by those sources that benefit from it and not from within our own industry.
Is the Minister saying that the mutterings of the French Fisheries Minister in the corridors of Luxembourg were meaningless and signified nothing? If that is so, will he go beyond that and say that we have given nothing away at all and that we will give nothing away at all right up to the end of the calendar year? Will he stand by the fishing industry?
The Government make it absolutely clear that the common fisheries policy must be settled on its merits. That was the position after Brussels and it is still the position. What the French Minister says is up to him.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on the dispersal of the 1979–80 potato crop.
I understand that it is the view of the Potato Marketing Board that all remaining sound potatoes from the 1979 crop will be required before the end of the season.
Will my hon. Friend accept that the decision announced last week on imports of new early potatoes from Cyprus and Greece was very well received? Will he speculate on the situation that might occur in future if Greece and Spain are admitted to the EEC and we have a similar problem?
As members of the EEC, Spain and Greece will not be able to use subsidies in that way. It is significant that, as a result of the speedy and firm action that my right hon. Friend took, the Greek Government have removed their subsidies.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the effect on dairy farmers of the recent Brussels arrangements.
It is not possible to isolate the effects of this agreement from the many other factors which affect milk production. The actual price increase, combined with the co-responsibility levy, will not give any net benefit to our dairy producers.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that there is widespread resentment that we are contributing an increased proportion to the co-responsibility levy? The fact that our herds are, on the whole, larger than those in Europe means that they are all within the levy while many European herds are exempt. Will my right hon. Friend give attention to these aspects when this matter next comes up for discussion?
We rejected the exemptions, because they would have been unfair to the United Kingdom. The only exemptions that remain are minor exemptions in special areas. I remind my hon. Friend that other milk producers in Europe have not enjoyed the benefit of three green pound devaluations and a 22 per cent. increase in the liquid price of milk. Last year, those benefits helped our producers.
Will anything in the Brussels agreement prevent the implementation of the scheme proposed last September by the Milk Marketing Board? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that that scheme would be extremely helpful to producers and children? His response appears to have been apathetic.
I have spoken to the Milk Marketing Board and others about the scheme. They agree that in its present form, it would not qualify for the subsidies that are required. I am currently negotiating a new scheme in Brussels.
How can we reform the CAP—in which surplus dairy products are a significant factor—when the British Government agreed on 2 June to accept its principles? Does not my right hon. Friend realise that the second principle is to increase the earnings of individuals engaged in agriculture?
My hon. Friend should look at all the principles. One of those principles is to look after the consumer.
Does not the Minister agree that dairy farmers are more affected by high interest rates than by the Brussels agreement? What is he doing, on behalf of farmers, to get those interest rates down?
I realise that we inherited massive borrowing from the previous Labour Government and that that has had an adverse effect on interest rates.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he proposes to take to monitor the effect of the recent EEC agreement on food prices.
I am making no further arrangements to monitor the effects on retail prices of the recent farm price settlement ; other factors such as wage increases and energy costs can have a far greater effect on food prices.
Is it not very difficult to monitor those agreements? I am pleased that the Minister is nodding in agreement. Is it not true that we are enmeshed in a web of such agreements? Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) said yesterday—that we cannot attain their objectives? Should we not now return to an open seas policy, and to the Commonwealth?
The hon. Gentleman should look at some of the basic facts. In answer to a later question, figures will be given comparing the increase in food prices and other prices during the seven-and-a-third years that we have been in the Community with the seven-and-a-third years before we joined. The hon. Gentleman might find those figures interesting. During the past 12 months food prices have risen at a slower rate than non-food prices.
Has the Minister detected any concern among his colleagues in the Council of Ministers about the effect of food prices on consumers?
Over a period of two years the total average increase in CAP food prices has been 3¼ per cent. Compared with current rates of European and world inflation, that is a remarkably low increase. At present, food costs in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are rising at a slower rate than other prices. My colleagues are concerned, because they are concerned about inflation.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the level of self-sufficiency in egg production in the United Kingdom.
In 1979 the United Kingdom was 102 per cent. self-sufficient in egg production.
Is my hon. Friend aware that egg production provides a marginal but substantial form of income, and that the occasional import from glut countries greatly damages that industry?
I am well aware that egg production is very important to many producers, not least those in my hon. Friend's constituency. However, the egg industry has always involved a considerable two-way trade between the United Kingdom and Europe. The situation is no different now.
Will the Minister look carefully at the RSPCA's film on egg production? Will he consider what can be done to maintain standards, which seem to be slipping.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that film to my attention. I shall certainly take up that point.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the National Farmers Union about his agricultural policy.
I keep in close touch with the National Farmers Union on questions of agricultural policy and receive representations from it on a wide variety of matters.
Is the Minister aware that, although farmers can normally be counted on to support the Conservative Party, the Cumnock branch of the NFU has passed a resolution condemning the Government's dismal performance in all aspects of agriculture? What will he do to gain the confidence of farmers in Cumnock?
The resolution of the hon. Gentleman's branch of the NFU proves that the Labour Party's allegation that I look after farmers but not consumers is unfounded.
Prime Minister's (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if she list her official engagements for 19 June.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.
After last night's rigged party political broadcast, produced by Saatchi and Saatchi, will the Prime Min- ister tell real pensioners how she invented a new 54-week calendar and thus cheated a married couple out of £13·70 this year? Is it not a scandal that fake nurses in white coats, headed by "Mr. Turncoat", received more money in an hour than real nurses receive in a day? Are not the Prime Minister and her Government the biggest hypocrites of all time?
Clearly, the hon. Gentleman worked hard and long at that supplementary. I am delighted that he watches good party political broadcasts. I hope that he will learn something from them. The increase in pensions was announced in the Budget. It will take place as announced and on the date announced. The same applies to the Christmas bonus, which was not always paid during the period of the previous Labour Government.It has been put about this year that nurses' pay will be increased by 14 per cent. However, in addition to that 14 per cent. increase, the Government have given nurses an extra £116 million, because they are nurses, to secure a 37½ hour week this year instead of next. Together with a small adjustment for the application of the Clegg award and another small adjustment for the Speak-man report, the total wage increase amounts to 20 per cent.
Order. For the sake of the record, I remind the House that to address any individual as a hypocrite is unparliamentary.
During my right hon. Friend's busy day, will she meet representatives of the Federations of Commerce and Industry, and other representatives of small businesses? Is my right hon. Friend aware that high interest rates discriminate against manufacturing industry and in favour of institutions? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that interest rates will come down in the near future? Does not she accept that, although business may agree with her overall economic strategy, present interest rates are extremely damaging?
I am prepared to accept that interest rates are very high. They will come down when Government borrowing and borrowing by the manufacturing sector jointly fall below their present levels. My hon. Friend will realise that manufacturing industry borrows so heavily because large wage increases have put up costs. To some extent, its goods have been priced out of the market. As a result, firms are holding considerable stocks. It is, therefore, important to get wage costs down.
Why does not the right hon. Lady recognise the validity of the question instead of constantly harping on wage increases? Has she read the report culled from the Bank of England report today that companies are paying 30 per cent. of their gross income in interest? Does she accept that that is incredible? The money supply figures, just published, give no prospect under this Government of a reduction in interest rates. What hope can the right hon. Lady offer to manufacturing industry?
As the right hon. Gentleman has already paid a good deal of attention to the Bank of England Bulletin, he will have seen its prime recommendation that wage rates in future must be below the level of the RPI. It is the first to recognise the importance of making British industry more competitive, which means lower wage increases, unless they are matched by productivity increases.
Will the right hon. Lady now please answer my question?
By implication, I have. If those companies borrowed less to pay wage increases that they cannot afford, they would pay less interest.
Reverting to the Bank of England review, has the Prime Minister noted that company profits have fallen in real terms by about 60 per cent. in the past 10 years? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if pay increases continue to run ahead of output, the result must be inflation and more unemployment?
I agree. The position of company profits is serious. We are a party which knows that, without higher company profits, sufficient resources will not be available for investment, and we shall therefore not be able to keep abreast or ahead of our competitors in future years. One problem is that money has been drained out of the corporate sector into the personal sector by very considerable wage claims and settlements. Those have to be moderated.
Will the right hon. Lady take time today to take a further look at the agreement that the Government recently reached with the EEC over our budget contribution? Will she accept that we are still paying far too much for the deficiencies of the common agricultural policy, and that she has made no effort to reform the CAP? Does she agree that action should be taken to get us out of the Common Market.
The answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "No." With regard to the first part of his question, I agree that we are still substantial net contributors. However, this financial year we shall get about £700 million back, which is not bad for a start.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 June.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.
Will my right hon. Friend find time today to comment on what many of us consider to be a disgraceful and irresponsible act by an hon. Gentleman, who yesterday sought to cower behind the privileges of this House, when, without reference to Rolls-Royce or the Department of Industry, he made an attack calculated to destroy the reputation of an employee of a nationalised industry, although he was not prepared to substantiate it outside the House? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Leader of the Opposition how long the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is likely to remain an official Opposition spokesman?
I share my hon. Friend's distaste for any suggestion that there should be guilt by accusation in this House, or under any privilege. I confirm that it is my understanding that neither the Department of Industry nor the senior management of Rolls-Royce knew that the allegation was to be made or had any knowledge of the matter at all. They are taking it extremely seriously. It is better that no further comment should be made until the facts are ascertained. However, I share my hon. Friend's distaste for using this House in that way.
The right hon. Lady referred to the main recommendation of the Bank of England survey about moderating pay rates. Has she any plans to see that that is done outside the public sector?
That is for the companies outside the public sector. The private sector has disciplines that we do not have in the public sector. Because firms are coming hard up against their own cash limits—what they can command as prices in the market—I believe that wage increases will be moderated. Many a work force realises full well that there is little point in demanding vastly increased wages if, at the end, they have no jobs. From time to lime, reports reach my desk of firms that are going out of business because they cannot afford to meet the very large wage claims that are being made.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the leader of Manchester city council today announced that his authority is to go into debt to the tune of £21 million? Is she further aware that that debt is due mainly to the Clegg commission award and over-large wage settlements? Does she agree that that is an object lesson for us all?
The rate support grant cash limits largely took into account the teachers' pay claim. As many local authorities are managing to live within those cash limits, I see no reason why their economies should not be extended to authorities that have hitherto been more extravagant.
asked the Prime Minister if she is satisfied that trade sanctions against Iran are working.
Bearing in mind that sanctions have been in force only since 30 May, it is too early to judge.
Can the Prime Minister give us one or two examples of com- modities that the Iranians can no longer buy as a result of sanctions? Why does the right hon. Lady believe that our sanctions will be more successful—[HON. MEMBERS : "Reading".]—than the action of such countries as Austria, which is using only diplomatic means to try to bring about the release of the hostages?
With respect, it is a little soon to give examples of what the Iranians cannot buy. The sanctions have been in force for only about three weeks. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, we agreed, as did our European partners and Japan, to implement sanctions on goods and contracts that would otherwise have been supplied in the future, against the holding of the hostages in Iran. We believe that to be right. Those sanctions will come off when the hostages are released.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, although the hostages are out of sight, they are not out of mind, and that the West is using full and continuous diplomatic efforts to get them released?
I am happy to confirm that. We must never accept this terrible thing that has happened to the American diplomats in Iran. We must always be willing and very active in their interests to secure their release by every diplomatic means possible.
On what date will it cease to be too early to judge?
If the hon. Gentleman tables a question at regular intervals, he will find out. We already know of at least one firm that is not quoting for a contract because it would be contrary to the order. I stress that we are trying to secure the release of hostages by diplomatic and economic means. In due course, we shall be able to judge.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 June.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave earlier.
Does the Prime Minister recollect her exchange with me in the House a fortnight ago about the list of firms paying starvation wages in South Africa? Does she still abide by the opinion that she expressed in the House then, that we know all that we need to know about that list of firms and that the information is publicly available? Does she not feel that the list should be published, particularly in view of the events this week in South Africa?
The accounts of all the firms are in the Library of the House. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly free to go through them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the principal causes of the economic problems of the world is the energy situation? Will she encourage the United States to take much more vigorous action to reduce its profligate use of oil, which would greatly ease the situation?
I agree that this is one of the main economic problems affecting industrialised countries, and, particularly, developing countries. It was the source of a good deal of discussion at the European summit and will also be discussed at the economic summit this weekend. One has to say, for President Carter, that he did at least attempt to reduce consumption, certainly of petrol, in the United States, but his action did not pass through Congress, which is something with which those of us who are responsible for Parliaments are sometimes familiar.
Will the right hon. Lady take the opportunity of denouncing the appalling brutality with which the South African authorities have suppressed the riots in South Africa, which undoubtedly arise from a misuse of power by a racialist minority Government? Does not she regret that the British Lions should have gone to South Africa to give some sort of respectability to that appalling régime?
We condemn apartheid and we condemn brutality wherever it occurs. We advised the Lions not to go.
Business Of The House
Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?
The business for next week will be as follows :MONDAY 23 JUNE—Supply [21st Allotted Day]: Debate on the Royal Air Force, on a motion for the Adjournment. Motion on Community document 8409/79 on industrial accident hazards, and the supplementary explanatory memorandum. TUESDAY 24 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill. WEDNESDAY 25 JUNE—Supply [22nd Allotted Day]: Debate on an Opposition motion on the urgent need for Government action to reduce the appalling level of unemployment particularly among young people. Consideration of Lords amendments to the Transport Bill. THURSDAY 26 JUNE—Supply [23rd Allotted Day]: Debate on the Army, on a motion for the Adjournment. Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order. Motions on the Financial Assistance (Offshore Supplies Grants) Scheme and on the Petroleum (Production) (Amendment) Regulations. FRIDAY 27 JUNE—Debate on the disbandment of regional orchestras, and afterwards on the pay and working conditions of employees of British companies in South Africa, on a motion for the Adjournment. MONDAY 30 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Bill.
[ Debate on European Community Document— The relevant published Report of the European Legislation Committee is 8409/79 (Industrial Accidents Hazards) 12th Report, 5th December 1979 H/C 159-xii 1979–80 para. 2.]
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for providing facilities next Friday for debates on two important subjects, which concern hon. Members. There is no sign of the promised debate on the EEC budget, which we think is important. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has agreed to provide a day for that debate. Can he tell us when it will take place?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening words. It is a question of the convenience of the House to have the EEC budget debate with full documentation, and the matter is being pursued through the usual channels.
Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance to those of us who have young children, who are increasingly afraid that they may be back to school before we adjourn for the summer? Can he give us any indication when the House may rise?
I sympathise with the point made by my hon. Friend but the matter is not entirely within my control. I should be happy if the House could rise reasonably early, but it takes two to tango and the decision depends upon the Opposition as well as the Government.
How does the Leader of the House reconcile his weekly announcements on the allocation of time for specialist subjects on Supply days with the charade that took place yesterday, when a half-day debate on the future of the Ferranti company and workers was truncated to two and a half hours because the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made a major statement which could have been made today and which was followed by a spurious application under Standing Order No. 9, which was made only for publicity and prevented Back Benchers on both sides with Ferranti trade union and business interests from putting their points of view in an important debate? When will the Leader of the House look into that situation?
I have some sympathy with that point, but I took it into account and moved a statement that was scheduled for yesterday. As for hon. Members seeking publicity through Standing Order No. 9 applications, it is not uncommon in the House for hon. Members to seek publicity. Doing good deeds by stealth is no good in our business.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, even at this late stage, hon. Members will have a chance to debate on the Floor of the House the order increasing firearms fees, which has caused a good deal of concern because it increases fees by between 50 per cent. and 70 per cent? There is considerable public interest in the matter.
That order has been sent upstairs and a debate will take place there.
Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion 717, on the Consett steelworks?
[ That this House notes that management and workers at Consett Steelworks were led by the British Steel Corporation to believe that the future of the works would be assured if they made it profitable ; notes that modernisation, cooperation and the sacrifice of 2,500 jobs made the works profitable and highly productive ; notes British Steel Corporation's failure to justify their proposal, made without consultation, to close the works; and condemns the proposal as a betrayal which could destroy a community.]
Has the right hon. Gentleman noted that 115 right hon. and hon. Members have signed the motion? In view of the support for the motion and the urgency of the subject, will he arrange for it to be debated at an early date?
I cannot give that undertaking, but I appreciate the difficulty of replacing jobs that will be lost at Consett. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will be making an announcement immediately after business questions on remedial measures for steel closure areas.In any event, it is for the BSC to determine how much steel it can sell and at which plants it can produce it most economically. It is also for the corporation to decide how best to conduct negotiations with the unions on the closure of plants, taking into account any legislative requirements and the general interests of good industrial relations, which are vital.
In view of the increasing importance of the Civil Aviation Bill, in the light of announcements on route applications, can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be a second day, in addition to Monday 30 June, for the consideration of the remaining stages of the Bill?
I agree that it is an important matter. There will be a second day, but we hope to make progress on Monday.
Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins)? It is within the recollection of every hon. Member that the Secretary of State for Industry said that if the steel workers could make themselves profitable—as has happened at Consett—their future would be reasonably assured? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that if the steelworks at Consett closes, the employment situation on Derwentside will be catastrophic? Is it not a subject that we should debate in the House?
I appreciate the importance of the subject and I shall pass the hon. Gentleman's remarks on to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot promise a debate next week.
Order. I remind the House that after business questions there is to be a statement by the Secretary of State for Industry in which I know there is considerable interest. I hope that business questions will be as brief as possible, so that we can get on.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 716, which is an all-party motion on the intention to slaughter cattle just outside Belfast by ritual methods, with the carcases to go to Libya?
[ That the House is appalled at the intention to slaughter a large number of cattle at an abattoir in Northern Ireland by cutting their throats to comply with the demands of Libyan buyers of the carcases; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to insist that the animals shall be stunned before having their throat slit and being bled to death.]
One recognises that there must be some ritual slaughter in this country for Jews and Muslims living here, but the export of cattle has been banned to countries in which there is other than humane slaughter, namely, stunning. It is unacceptable for animals in this country to be slaughtered as proposed, that is without stunning, and for the carcases to be exported to Libya. Will my right hon. Friend take action to ensure that that is not done?
Slaughtering in accordance with Islamic practices is permitted by law. It is closely supervised by the veterinary staff of the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that it is competently carried out without the animals suffering. I understand that the Farm Animal Welfare Council in Great Britain will shortly consider these slaughter practices. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider carefully any recommendations for Great Britain made by the council.I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend on the honour that has been conferred on him, not least because of his work for the welfare of animals.
As the country faces one of the most serious industrial declines for 30 or 40 years, the House approaches the Summer Recess, and the Cabinet feels that it is necessary to review the disastrous position, would it not be right for the House to consider, before adjourning, what policies should be undertaken to rescue the country from what threatens to be the most serious recession since the 1930s?
If Opposition Members wish to raise those general matters, Supply days are available.
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that when the House debates the EEC budget a Government spokesman will explain the principles to be applied in reforming the budget, particularly in view of the fact that another £150 million was added to the budget yesterday by the Finance Ministers? It appears that there are many on both sides of the House and in the European Parliamen who would wish to substitute wasteful and expensive expenditure on the regional and social funds for equally wasteful and expensive expenditure on the CAP.
Whatever may be one's views on the European Community, I believe that there is a wide consensus that the CAP needs reform. I am sure that this consideration will be present in the minds of Ministers taking part in the debate.
Is the Leader of the House aware that job losses in the textile industry are now running at four times the rate that prevailed last year? Is he also aware that the synthetic sympathy that the industry was offered at its meeting with the Prime Minister has not been followed, in any sense, by effective action to stem job losses? Why are the Government so reluctant to explain to the House their policy in relation to the industry? When can we expect a debate on the serious crisis now affecting the whole of Lancashire and Cheshire?
We have debates on this subject from time to time. I understand that the meeting at No. 10 Downing Street was very satisfactory and that a valuable exchange of views took place. Furthermore, the Government have made clear their intention of replacing the multi-fibre arrangement by other safeguards when it expires in 1981.
Will the Leader of the House provide an early opportunity to debate the functions of Standing Committees on statutory instruments, especially in the light of what happened when the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) Regulations were debated by a Standing Committee? The Committee voted against the regulations, which, none the less, promptly came into force. What conceivable purpose do these Committees serve?
I have been in correspondence with my hon. Friend on this subject. There are precedents for it. I appreciate that my hon. Friend does not find the situation satisfactory. This is a subject that would be relevant to our forthcoming debate on procedure.
Has the Minister had his attention drawn to early-day motion 526, which has 52 supporters, urging the Government to provide time for the Cruise Missile Sites Bill, particularly in view of the announcement earlier this week?
[ That this House notes that the honourable Member for Keighley on 19 March presented proposals to the House to allow persons living in the areas chosen for the siting of cruise missiles to vote on their acceptability with an 80 per cent. vote in favour being required for their approval; further notes that, though the honourable Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge interjected from a sedentary position during the 10 minute speech, neither he nor any other honourable Member opposed the Bill either by voice or vote; and therefore urges the Government to give time to the Bill and so allow a vote to take place in the relevant areas on the dangerous and provocative decision to install cruise missiles.]
The Bill would give an opportunity to people affected within a diameter of 30 miles of the sites to take part in a vote on the question whether cruise missiles should be installed in their area. In view of the serious nature of this decision, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that time should be given to the Bill? Is he aware that I am willing to accept an amendment that the referendum should be advisory to Parliament?
I have noted the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I shall consider what he said. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said in the debate on 4 March
While I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about this matter, I do not think that his remedy is relevant."Responsibility for the security of the country rests on the Government, and local ballots would be a wholly inappropriate way of deciding national defence issues … The siting of these weapons in no way affects the vulnerability or otherwise of a particular place."—[Official Report, 4 March 1980 ; Vol. 980, col. 125.]
When is the Green Paper on devolution for Northern Ireland likely to be published? Will the debate in this House be held on or before 12 July? Will the Government consider sympathetically something that the Ulster Secretary will not consider, namely, the need for the Northern Ireland Committee to meet in Northern Ireland to debate the proposals?
I hope that there will be a debate on these proposals next month. They are still being considered. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but what is much more important is that these proposals should be debated in this House, which, after all, is the Parliament for the United Kingdom.
Can the House have a debate on the education cuts and their effect in cities such as Leicester, where they are decimating the number of ancillary staff and causing enormous reductions in the number of teachers? In Leicester, the cuts are forcing the closure of the reading centre and, on the basis of wrong figures, assessed in an incorrect way, the closing of Westcotes school, in my constituency? How long will a Government who are prepared to intervene on the sale of council houses refuse to intervene while Tory county councils destroy city education?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has made his views plain on the issue. With regard to the situation in Leicestershire, the Leicestershire local educational authority considers that maintaining the present pupil-teacher ratio in its schools is of paramount importance. I would have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would agree with that. It is, therefore, effecting savings elsewhere in its education budget in order to maintain the pupil-teacher ratio.
Order, I propose to call hon. Members who have been rising from the beginning. I hope that hon. Members will co-operate, because the House is waiting to hear the statement.
Reverting to the question of how we get back our money from the EEC, what are the documents to which the Leader of the House referred as a necessary precondition for the debate? When are they likely to be ready, in order that the debate can take place?
There are a number of documents. They are coming through now. Some of them will have to be, or are being, considered by the Scrutiny Committee. I am concerned that all the major documents that are relevant to these proceedings should be available so that the debate can take place on the best-informed basis.
Will the Leader of the House, before the recess, announce time for a debate on the problems of Merseyside, in the light of a report published today by the planning officer of Merseyside county council showing that unemployment among active males in Merseyside is now 22 per cent. and that Government policies, in altering the method of giving aid to industry and refusing help to the docks or ship repairing industry in Merseyside, are likely to lead to an increase even beyond that 22 per cent. figure? Will the right hon. Gentleman announce a debate, considering that what happens in Merseyside is likely to happen in the rest of the country if Government economic policy is not altered?
The Government have always accepted that for a period there must be high unemployment, until the Government's economic policies begin to bear fruit. [Interruption.] I am not interested in what Saatchi and Saatchi may have said. I am not responsible for broadcasts. I am responsible for replies in this House. The Government are aware of the unemployment situation in Merseyside. We have taken a number of measures to improve the situation.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate at the earliest possible moment to consider the disastrous situation in the Northern region? Is he aware that the situation in Consett, mentioned by my hon. Friend, is unfortunately typical of what is happening throughout the region? Is he further aware that the Prime Minister has twice refused to meet northern Labour Members and the northern TUC? If this continues, how are we to make our expressions felt in this place? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate as a matter of urgency?
As I have already said, the Government are concerned. The Secretary of State for Industry is making an important statement on aid to certain areas this afternoon, and that is relevant.
Does the Leader of the House accept that his best and truest friend, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has some special responsibility for Merseyside, on the north side of the river? Does he accept that it would be helpful to have the opportunity to discuss the problems and opportunities on Mersey-side?
That is an interesting suggestion. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will pursue these matters on his next visit to the Duchy.
In view of the yawning gap in the law of forfeiture and the recovery of the proceeds of crime revealed by the House of Lords judgment in the Operation Julie case, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement in the House next week outlining the Government's plans to remedy the defects in the law?
I cannot promise a statement next week, but I shall certainly examine the situation and communicate with the hon. and learned Member.
Since the Government did not seem to have the courage to oppose my modest attempt to ensure that pensioners living in their own homes are given the benefit of concessionary television licence fees, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate? Why is it that although there is never any difficulty in giving money and assistance to the rich and the prosperous, the Government cannot give even a modest concession to the poorest in the community, including the large number of elderly people?
Government policy has been so to increase the pension that such aid is not necessary. The Government's record in fulfilling their election pledges to pensioners is extremely good. A Ten-Minute Bill is a means by which a subject can be discussed. Whether it is opposed or allowed does not imply any judgment on the merits of the measure.
Is the Leader of the House aware that as well as the brevity of the Ferranti debate last night its weakness was that the Government did not reveal a policy? Will he assure the House that when the Government have a policy it will be presented to the House in such a manner as to enable hon. Members to vote on it, not least Conservative Members, who made eloquent constituency speeches and then trooped loyally into the Government Lobby?
A complex and difficult problem is involved. The Government's approach of principle is clear. The situation is developing and changing. It would be foolish for the Government to approach it in a dogmatic way.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the proposals emanating from the all-party talks on the government of Scotland to be considered in the same debate as the proposals for Northern Ireland, so that we can compare what is being offered to the Province with what is being offered to the kingdom of Scotland?
The situations in Northern Ireland and Scotland are not entirely parallel. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits to see the proposals from the all-party talks as well as the proposals by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. When they are published the hon. Gentleman will be in a better position to decide whether it is suitable for them to be debated together.
Questions To Ministers
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have just been to the Table Office about the question that I tabled yesterday on trading with Russia, with specific reference to the involvement of Morgan Grenfell in the financing of two chemical factories for Russia. That question pointed out that Lord Carrington's son is one of the associate directors. In view of the Prime Minister's involvement, and Lord Carrington's involvement only the other night, in trying to stop athletes going to Russia, there is a basis for a question about any other matter, including trade.The Table Office told me that it was not prepared to accept my question because the Government have no basis for taking action in this matter. I find that strange. I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will consider this matter. It is important. We should be allowed to table questions about these issues, which are public knowledge and important to the whole argument about trading with Russia and the boycott by athletes.
I allowed the hon. Gentleman to put the whole of his case. However, the normal practice in the House is that when there is a dispute about a question being disallowed it is submitted to me in the normal course by the Table Office and I examine it on its merits. It is not our custom to raise in the House the issue of disallowed questions. If we did, we should be arguing every day with an hon. Member who felt that his question should be allowed. I consider the issue when it is submitted to me by the Table Office.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.On 11 December 1979 and 17 January this year, the British Steel Corporation announced proposals for a large reduction in manned capacity at Llanwern, Port Talbot, Consett and Scunthorpe. The Government have made it clear that they would act to alleviate the economic and social consequences of the substantial and concentrated job losses involved. Now that the prospects have been discussed with the unions, more details of the prospective job losses are available and the Government have taken the following decisions. Subject to the necessary approval of the European Commission, we propose to make the Port Talbot travel-to-work area a special development area, and the Scunthorpe TTWA and the whole of the Newport TTWA and the Cwmbran employment office area into development areas. Firms in these areas will then be eligible for the full range of regional incentives, including regional development grants and regional selective assistance under section 7 of the Industry Act 1972. Consett is, of course, already an SDA. The reductions in the coverage of the assisted areas that I announced last July should increase the relative attractiveness of Derwentside. The necessary orders will be laid following receipt of the EEC Commission's approval. I am aware of the need to complete this process before 1 August. The Government are aware of possible further redundancies in these and neighbouring areas—particularly Swansea—consequent upon the rundown at these steelworks or through related closures, and will continue to keep a careful watch on the situation relative to the rest of the United Kingdom. The Government will make available any additional resources that may be needed for increased entitlement to regional development grants. The Government also plan the following expenditure measures, which will be found from within the programme allocations for which my right hon. Friends and I are responsible. First, I deal with factory building and site development. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has already announced a two-year programme of land acquisition, derelict land clearance, site development and factory building in those areas in South Wales affected by the rundown. For Consett and Scunthorpe, the Government will provide £19 million at 1980 public expenditure survey prices to enable the English Industrial Estates Corporation to increase building over the next five years—about two-thirds to Consett and one-third to Scunthorpe. Derelict land clearance grants of up to £10 million will be available in the three to four years beginning in 1981–82 for approved reclamation schemes at Consett and, to the limited extent that they are relevant, Scunthorpe, within the framework of the new system of local authority capital expenditure controls that will operate from April next year. On manpower measures, the Government recently announced a new scheme to provide assistance towards the cost of in-plant training and this scheme will be of particular value to those areas suffering from steel redundancies. The Manpower Services Commission, in addition to its normal placing and training services, will be introducing certain new measures for steel rundown areas. They include work assessment/reorientation courses on which job finding and retraining possibilities will be expanded. Small business training courses on how to start businesses will also be expanded. Assistance will be provided through industrial training boards to help firms that take on first or second year craft apprentices made redundant by the steel industry. In the operation of the youth opportunities programme, special attention will be given to the needs of these areas. The Government are also considering the scope for extra assistance for unemployed people in these areas who move home to take up a job in another area.
There are a number of detailed points in the right hon. Gentleman's statement which the House will wish to study and we will expect a debate upon them in Government time.The remedial measuers are introduced to alleviate a problem created by the Government themselves. They do not affect the heart of the matter, which is the decline in manufacturing industry and steel production, which has now accelerated to crisis proportions. I ask the Secretary of State three questions. First, last year's Government announcement on regional policy proposed to cut down on areas of special assistance. These measures, apparently, now propose to increase the number of those areas. Is that not an admission of total failure by the Government? Secondly, I take Consett, which two of my hon. Friends mentioned during business questions, as an example. If Consett is closed unemployment in Derwentside goes up to, I believe, about 50 per cent. In this package there is no mention of the creation of a single new job. How many new jobs does the Secretary of State's Department calculate will be created and on what time scale? Thirdly, what industries does the Secretary of State think will be induced to go into these areas in the light of Government policy, in the light of Government refusal to invest, in the light of high interest rates and in the light of an—over valued pound? Would not the best remedial measure of all be the resignation of the Secretary of State?
The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first question is that successive Governments have been proved, in the event, to have over-expanded the nationalised British steel industry. The Labour Party, when in government, started, though after a long deferment, a process of reducing the manned capacity of the steel industry. We are having to face up to deferred decisions that should have been taken by the previous Labour Government.I am asked by the right hon. Gentleman how it can be right that after the announcement of a substantial reduction in the number of assisted areas new assisted areas should now be added. The whole purpose of the reduction of the number of assisted areas announced last year was that, in the view of the Government, the number of such areas was so large that help to the areas that most needed assistance was being substantially reduced. It is because we have pruned the number of those areas that the announcement of an additional few assisted areas now makes practicable the concentrated help that will be of most use to areas in need. The rate of unemployment that may occur in Consett is 20 per cent. It is not the far higher figure mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. I am asked what new jobs would be created and how new firms will come into existence in those areas. The answer is shown by the evidence in South Wales, where only this morning in the newspapers there is news of five more—admittedly relatively small—factories opening there in different industries. A number of new advance factories being built in South Wales already have tenants waiting to use them and I have no doubt that the new factories to be built at Consett and Scunthorps will, in time, be the location of new firms and new jobs.
The Secretary of State is good at answering his own questions. Would he mind answering mine? How many new jobs has his Department calculated will be created by these measures, and on what time scale?
It is impossible to give a precise figure, but we would expect that over the next few years the factories that are now being built in South Wales will provide space for about 5,000 new jobs. The land, when developed, will accommodate a further 15,000 to 20,000 new jobs.I cannot give a precise figure for Consett, but 80 acres of land will be developed for industrial purposes. That is in addition to an industrial estate already under construction in Consett.