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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 12: debated on Thursday 12 November 1981

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Butter (Intervention Stocks)

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much butter is now in intervention stores; and how many days' supply this represents.

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

On 29 October the quantity of butter in public intervention stores in the Community as a whole totalled 8,593 tonnes. This is equivalent to approximately two days' supply.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a very low level? Indeed, a week or two earlier there were only 24½ tonnes in intervention store in Britain. As this stock is running at such a low level, will he now consider the possibility of suspending the co-responsibility levy for milk producers?

It should be appreciated that the intervention stock is not a true indication of the actual stocks of butter held, because stocks are held privately as well as in the normal course of trade. Currently, in the United Kingdom trade stocks, for example, amount to about 34,000 tonnes and private stocks to about 30,000 tonnes. So there is no question of any shortage of butter.

How much subsidised butter was sold to the Soviet Union during the past 12 months?

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to put down a question on the matter, I shall answer it. But I point out that since 1 January this year there have been no export refunds on butter sold to the Soviet Union.

Does that not destroy the misleading propaganda of the anti-Community folk who say that there are always butter mountains, and so on? Is it not important to have more than a week's supply in stock for British consumers? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that at present there is not enough milk for manufacturing purposes in this country? Will he do all that he can to see that milk production is stimulated and continued so that we can produce these products?

My hon. Friend is right. The way in which intervention stocks of butter have fluctuated from a high level to virtually nothing demonstrates that agricultural produce is a highly volatile commodity, and that it is in the interests of security of supply to the consumer both in this country and in the Community at large that adequate stocks are kept. I note what my hon. Friend said about milk for manufacturing, and I pay tribute to the work of the milk marketing boards and others in this country in improving the outlets for milk for manufacturing purposes.

Sea Defences

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate for expenditure by his Department on sea defences in the current year.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

My Department's estimates for the current year include the sum of about £13 million for grant-aid towards expenditure on sea defences by water authorities, excluding the Thames tidal defences. My Department also expects to pay grants totalling just under £.1 million to local authorities for other sea defence works.

Does my hon. Friend accept that this is a matter of the utmost importance to all those whose homes or lives have been threatened or have suffered severe damage as a result of sea flooding? Does she accept that we are grateful for the high priority that the Government have attached to the maintenance of this programme? Will she assure the House that this special priority will. be maintained, particularly for all areas where lives are threatened and where property could be severely damaged?

My hon. Friend will be aware that my Department's role is to judge whether sufficient resources can be made available through the public expenditure programme to allow water authorities to carry out the sea defence work which they properly consider to be essential. I am glad to say that, since the Government took office, we have met all their demands, and no cuts have been imposed on the sea defences budget. I trust that I have reassured my hon. Friend about our priorities.

Will the hon. Lady discuss with her right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who knows the case full well, the two-year delay in providing help for Amble harbour, which has resulted from a bar that has been put down by the Department of the Environment? Does she not realise the importance of such help to the town's sea defences, to which the council is fully committed, which should receive appropriate grant-aid from the Department?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is primarily a matter for the Department of the Environment and for the local council. However, we shall watch the situation carefully in so far as it affects the responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the amount of good agricultural land that is lost every year due to erosion on the Holderness coast? Is she aware that where the land immediately behind the coastline is below sea level, there is a danger of flooding? Will she discuss with her colleagues in the Department of the Environment how the problem in rural areas can be solved, as no grants are available?

I shall certainly raise the matters to which my hon. Friend has referred with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment.

Do the funds that the Minister mentioned include emergency funds to meet the possibility of sea defences being breached and of extensive flooding taking place on parts of the coast for which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible? Will assistance be given to local authorities? If local authorities need to levy a supplementary rate to cover such damage, will they have to hold referendums?

The last question is, again, a matter for the Department of the Environment. My information is that those funds represent the amount allocated during this year. Any other sums would be subject to special consideration.

Badger Gassing

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his policy towards the gassing of badgers.

My Department will continue to deal with the difficult task of controlling bovine tuberculosis in badgers and the transmission of the disease to cattle by all means at its disposal. In certain circumstances, this will require the gassing of setts. We shall continue to operate in full consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council and the other leading bodies in the field of conservation, animal welfare, veterinary science and agriculture. To abandon the policy would be an act of total irresponsibility.

Superficial and misleading accounts of that policy have appeared in the press and on television. I deplore their inaccuracies. The attacks on the integrity of Lord Zuckerman and Ministry officials were gravely irresponsible.

I thank the Minister for that reply. How frequently has the advisory committee met in the last two years? Has it put forward any specific recommendations? If so, have those recommendations been carried out? What research has been carried out to try to stop the gassing of badgers?

The previous Labour Government set up an advisory body, whose composition includes representatives of all the main conservation and animal welfare groups. That body has reported annually on its views and attitudes and, of course, its advice has been fully taken into account. I appointed Lord Zuckerman, who is distinguished in this sphere, and he consulted whoever he wished and produced a report which the majority of those of distinction and scientific knowledge have accepted as a very fine report. I object to so-called television experts suggesting that such a man has been appointed for a whitewashing exercise.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that laymen, including politicians, are not qualified to know whether such action is right or wrong? We need proper scientific evidence, which exists. Will my right hon. Friend point out to those who take the opposite view, that it is in the interests of badgers and of their continuation—I declare an interest, as I have a badger sett opposite my front door—that badgers with tuberculosis should be destroyed?

One of the important factors in Lord Zuckerman's report is that if no action were taken in the South-West, the badger population throughout the country would be placed in jeopardy. I congratulate the previous Government on setting up a consultative panel. However, as it includes not only the British Veterinary Association, but the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, the University Federation for Animal Welfare and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, it is absurd to suggest that any Ministry would desire to gas badgers for the love of it.

During the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill we discovered that this subject was complex and that the scientific evidence was difficult to evaluate. Nevertheless, is not the Minister persuaded that there is at least some unnecessary and, perhaps, panic-stricken gassing of badgers, which is not called for?

On taking office I discovered that there was considerable public anxiety about this subject. I was aware of the consultative panel that the previous Labour Government had set up and of its distinguished members. Given the atmosphere and criticism at that time, I thought it important to appoint as distinguished a person as possible to have the freedom to look into and publicly report on the issue. Anyone who reads that report will be satisfied that the work of both the previous Government and this Government is responsible. The idea that anyone in my Ministry delights in unnecessarily gassing badgers is absurd.

Growers (Gas Subsidies)

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is now in a position to identify the specific action that he intends to take to deal with Dutch gas subsidies for growers, in view of the serious difficulties caused to British producers; and whether he will make a statement.

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends to take action in aid of the United Kingdom glasshouse industry.

We recognise the seriousness to our glasshouse growers of the continued artificially low prices being paid by Dutch growers for gas for glasshouse heating. We deplore the delay by the Commission and the Dutch Government in removing the distortion of competition.

We shall continue to maintain the greatest possible pressure on the Commission to settle the matter urgently.

Will my hon. Friend return to her office at 3.30 pm this afternoon, ring the Commissioner and say that the United Kingdom Parliament is not prepared to put up with such snail's pace progress any longer? Will she tell him that if nothing has been done by the end of the month she will dredge up some health regulation to stop the goods coming in to Britain?

I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friends have made that point again and again. We hope to see some response very shortly.

Is the hon. Lady aware that the two largest glasshouses in my constituency have closed, with a fair number of redundancies? Help is almost too late. Now that we have the Chair in Brussels, can we not impose a tariff on Dutch tomatoes? I congratulate the Minister on introducing the welcome oil subsidy, but will it continue after December? It is important to know now, because it is time for planting.

It is for the Commission, not individual States, to decide to take tariff measures. My right hon. Friend has placed the matter fairly and squarely before the Commission. However, it does not feel able to take such action because of the circumstances. We have recently heard that the Commission is willing to extend the guidelines to enable the payment of an adaptation aid for another year. The Government are urgently considering the Commission's recent communication. I cannot at present anticipate the outcome.

My right hon. Friend was seen to nod his head when the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) asked whether the subsidy would continue after 1 January. Unfortunately, such nods do not appear in Hansard. On the assumption that the Europeans will drag their feet for ever, will the Minister give us a straight "Yes" or "No" about the continuation of that subsidy after 1 January?

I am sorry, but my hon. Friend will have to accept that I am not in a court of law. I assure my hon. Friend—and I trust that he will note the example of £5·5 million during the past year—that my right hon. Friends are determined to protect our glasshouse industry.

Is the hon. Lady aware that that is not good enough? In present circumstances, growers are refusing to prepare for next year. While we are waiting for a decision from the Government, growers are going out of business. We are giving the Dutch the means to take a larger share of the market than they have already taken. Is the hon. Lady aware that in 1977 the Dutch promised equalisation of fuel costs by 1979, and that from 1979 onwards the disparity in fuel prices has increased? Will the hon. Lady confirm that the subsidy will be continued and that countervailing tariffs will be imposed, if necessary, to protect our industry from destruction?

I have heard the hon. Gentleman speak in the House on this point many times and I know of his concern. I share his concern about the intolerable delay. He accurately set out a short history of the situation. I assure him that my right hon. Friends are determined to protect our glasshouse growers. The hon. Gentleman will know that the present adaptation aid continues to the end of the year. I know that growers are concerned about making plans for next year, and my right hon. Friend is fully aware of the need for urgent action.

Has my hon. Friend been informed that the net loss per acre to tomato growers in the last season has been estimated—I believe accurately—at £19,000 and that in the same period imports of Dutch trays of tomatoes increased by over £30,000? Decisions in the industry must be taken now, at this hour. How can the Government expect any confidence to remain in that sector of the industry unless action is taken soon or some earnest of intention to do something is given? Does the Minister agree that no longer can we wait for the Commission?

I thought that my hon. Friend would take as an example of our earnest to do something the securing by my right hon. Friend of the £5·5 million adaptation this year to defend our glasshouse growers. I trust that my hon. Friend will regard that as a good example.

Does the hon. Lady accept the feelings of the whole House that her unwillingness to give a clear-cut commitment in mid-November that the subsidy will continue after 1 January is unacceptable? Is she aware that glasshouse growers in Britain cannot retain their confidence, nor can they have a bankable assurance for next season, as long as the Government delay giving that firm undertaking and making such a statement?

We have made it clear that we shall take any legal action that can be taken. The period for adaptation aids has only recently been extended by the Commission. We are urgently considering the extension.

Agricultural Land Loss

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate for the last five years for which figures are available of the average annual loss of agricultural land for urban development.

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate for the last five years for which figures are available of the average annual loss of agricultural land for urban development.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer this question and question No. 9 together.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to delay Question Time too long, but you will remember your ruling on 9 November when, in c. 307, you drew the attention of the House to questions appearing on the Order Paper in identical language. I therefore draw your attention to questions Nos. 6, 9, 10, 16 and 31, which are in identical language. The Order Paper is obviously being used blatantly for some reason by 'some" organisation. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will rule on the matter.

Order. I understand that the questions to which the right hon. Gentleman correctly draws attention were tabled before my ruling on Monday. Otherwise, I should have stood up, because it is wrong for anyone to try to corner our Order Paper or, indeed, to change its character from what it has been.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point of order by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) is not correct, because questions Nos. 10 and 16 are not the same as questions Nos. 9 and 31.

Order. I was referring to questions Nos. 6 and 9, which are identical, as the hon. Gentleman will discover. We can all read.

The average annual loss of agricultural land to urban development in England during the five-year period June 1975 to June 1980 was estimated at 8,400 hectares.

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving two answers for the price of one. Does he agree that one of the best ways of stopping the loss of agricultural land is to halt green field site development in favour of using inner city vacant land?

Yes, I agree with that. The Secretary of State for the Environment also agrees with that. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 provides for local authorities to establish the extent of under-used and derelict land in their urban areas. I hope that that will result in a greater use of that land.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to stop the use of good agricultural land beyond city boundaries and to encourage developers to use some of the 250,000 acres of vacant, dormant and derelict land which, according to the Civic Trust, is lying idle in the city areas?

Planning permissions are the ultimate responsibility of the Department of the Environment. The working relationship between my Department and the Department of the Environment is close and good. Indeed, the Department of the Environment has recently taken note of our objections to the use of good agricultural land.

Does the Minister, by chance, have the comparable figures for land lost to motorways in the same period?

When my right hon. Friend's inspectors are conducting public inquiries into the designation of land for industrial purposes, do they take into account the question that lies behind the observations from this side of the House, namely, that when there is adequate land for development within town and borough boundaries, good agricultural land should not be designated for industrial development, however convenient that land might be for such development?

The inspectors to whom my hon. Friend refers are responsible for planning. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, by the creation of the register and his attitude to planning permissions, has done more than any recent Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that good agricultural land is not lost.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) alleged that five identical questions were on the Order Paper. This is not true. There were only three identical questions on the Order Paper and only two were answered orally. There were a further two questions, Nos. 5 and 12 on the glasshouse industry, which the Minister chose to answer together. Will you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to give a ruling that no question in identical language to another should appear on the Order Paper or that the same subject should not appear twice on the Order Paper?

I thought that I had made my position perfectly clear earlier this week. I believe that there was a move which, if not checked, would have changed the Order Paper of the House. I am considered to be the guardian of the Order Paper, to the best of my ability. If a new system creeps in whereby a whole string of questions are tabled in identical language, there is nothing to stop an hon. Member from putting down 100 such questions. As we have changed the character of Prime Minister's Question Time, so we could also change the character of Question Time, which is very precious to the House. I am doing my utmost to preserve the rights of Back Benchers in the matter.

Fish (Dumping At Sea)

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether there has been an increase in the amount of fish dumped at sea during the last 12 months; and what is the size of the increase.

Fish is returned to the sea for a number of reasons. It is not possible to give the figures requested.

Is it not a scandal that, according to recent newspaper reports, as much as 1,300 tonnes of fish were dumped at sea in the past 12 months because of Common Market rules? Is that not in conflict with the generalities that the Prime Minister trotted out when she came back from the Mexico summit about looking after the starving millions in the Third world? What about that grandiose Common Market aid through which cheap food, including fish, would be used to help schools, hospitals and charities in Common Market countries?

I have previously welcomed the hon. Gentleman's interest in fishing matters, but I should be better pleased if he put his interests in the fishing industry into perspective. The known amount of fish that has had to be dumped at sea is less than 0·2 per cent. of total landings. If the hon. Gentleman knew a little about the organisation of the fishing industry, in which fishermen have to work under natural conditions and where there can be no certainty of what is to be caught or when, I should have more respect for his criticisms.

Will my right hon. Friend reread the section of the Select Committee report on the British fishing industry in which the practice of dumping is condemned, because it makes it impossible to have accurate records of the attrition rate of the fish breeding stock?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that unless fish are landed no records are kept? Does he further agree that dumping seriously pollutes the seabed and that therefore fish are not fit for human consumption when they are landed mixed up with rotten fish which have been dumped on the seabed?

I take the point, which my hon. Friend made forcefully in a Select Committee report, that where dumping takes place and causes pollution, measures must be taken—and, indeed, have been—it is difficult to obtain accurate figures, because there are many different reasons why fishermen have to discard fish. Some are not solely related to intervention. One would put an impossible bureaucratic burden on fishermen if a record had to be kept of every fish dumped.

I recognise that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has betrayed his ignorance of the fishing industry and that any proper conservation policy based upon—

Order. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will do me a favour and just shake his head when he disagrees. It would be just as effective and would be very helpful to us all.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) in the brief introduction to his question talked about betrayal. I wish to put it on record once again—

Order. That cannot be a point of order. I acted as kindly as I could to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has it not been the case for a long time that a question should refer either to the question on the Order Supplementary Paper or to the ministerial reply? The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who represents some organisation or other, began his question with a subject that had nothing to do with the question or the reply by the Minister. Therefore, it must have been out of order.

I am deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). As usual, he is absolutely right. His observations would apply to 99 per cent. of the questions.

Does the Minister recognise, even if the hon. Member for Bolsover does not, that the fishing industry is concerned about the by-catch regulations and that there is some need for the Minister to take a further look at that matter with a view to more flexible rules being made to allow by-catches to be landed and used for human consumption?

The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point, which has been debated at length both inside and outside the industry. The general view of the industry—and it has been the view of successive Governments both before and since we entered Europe—is that, in the interests of the enforcement of conservation measures—conservation measures are worthless unless they are enforced—the returning of excessive by-catches at sea is probably one of the best methods of ensuring enforcement.

How is the Minister unable to answer the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but is able to give a percentage of the fish that are actually dumped? Is not that gross duplicity? Is he not aware that, whatever the percentage, hon. Members and fishermen are concerned about dumping? From his information, will he tell us the nationality of the fishermen who dump that fish, dividing it between Scots and English?

If the hon. Gentleman had more interest in and knowledge of the fishing industry, perhaps he would have listened to my reply. While I said that it was not possible to know the totality of the fish dumped at sea, I was able to say, in reply to the supplementary question by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), what percentage of fish landed that had gone into intervention was dumped at sea. Those are two different questions. I cannot help if the hon. Gentleman fails to wash his ears.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned, as I am, at the reports of the dumping of fish on board East European vessels for cash outside the official quotas? Will he take steps to ensure that that is stopped?

My hon. Friend raises a real problem. As he knows, new measures have been taken to control mackerel fishing off the West Coast of Scotland. Policing and enforcement have been much more effective. If my hon. Friend knows of any instances of breaches, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be delighted to know about them.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on points of order being raised during Question Time. Is it not a well-established practice that points of order unnecessarily raised during Question Time have the effect of denying hon. Members the opportunity of asking a question and receiving an answer? Would you care, Mr. Speaker, to make your statement afresh on this point, referring particularly to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and your excellent suggestion that the hon. Gentleman might indicate dissent by shaking his head? Has not long experience taught all hon. Members that the hon. Member for Bolsover is unable to move his head in any direction—

Order. As the House knows, I have repeatedly said that if hon. Members feel agitated during Question Time and wish to raise a point of order, it helps if they leave it to the end of Question Time.

Fish Quotas

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take action regarding the legality of the European Commission's claims to impose fish quotas on member States; and if he will make a statement.

Her Majesty's Government reject the claims of the European Commission.

I accept that, but will the Minister of State secure a declaration from the Commission at the earliest opportunity that never again will it seek to impose quotas on member States in the way in which it attempted to do so at the July Council?

The hon. Gentleman should be clear about that matter. I have endeavoured to explain to him by letter and in the House that all that the Commission made was a claim. It has not attempted to impose it. We have rejected it and other Governments have also rejected it. As to doing anything more than that, the situation has been made absolutely plain.

Leaving aside the question of whether the claims made by either side are legal, does the Minister believe that as a result of the long, continuing close-knit connections with other Ministers in the EEC over the past few months, there is any chance of coming to a settlement, not only on this item, but on others connected with the common fisheries policy?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has been encouraged—I am sure that he has—by the fact that in a number of major areas, such as conservation, marketing and certain third country agreements, considerable progress has been made. There has been a willingness to make progress in those areas. I do not for one moment belittle the problems before us, such as those concerning quotas and access, but the fact that we have managed to narrow them down to a number of crucial issues is an element of progress, and I hope that we are supported in that.

Surely the point is that the Commission must desist from making that claim, otherwise the threat will hang over other negotiations.

The hon. Gentleman might look at progress made in meetings since that time. The Commission made that claim and that was rejected not only by us but by other Governments at the July Council. It has made no attempt to repeat it either at the September or October Councils. In those circumstances, the hon. Gentleman is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Agricultural Land Loss

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the accuracy of estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses; and if he will make a statement.

16.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the accuracy of estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses; and if he will make a statement.

The estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses are derived as a by-product of the agricultural census and within the resources available for statistical inquiries they are the most accurate that can be obtained.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. However, is he aware that the Department of the Environment estimates that in the five years to 1979 about 100,000 acres were lost as against what I believe to be 45,000 acres estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?

My hon. Friend will find that there are some discrepancies in those figures involving the inclusion of Scotland and Wales in one set of figures and not in the other.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the introduction of statutory requirements to register change of land use from agricultural to other uses? Does he agree that that would slow down the loss of agricultural land and improve the statistics as between his Department and the Department of the Environment?

I am sure that it would improve them, but at the cost of a substantial increase in bureaucracy, numbers of staff involved, the number of forms to be filled in and applications to be made. There must be a balance between the statistical information that we would like to see and the cost of obtaining it.

Is it not a fact that the Conservative Party was elected on a platform of freedom of choice and the market economy? Why should it now change its policy of allowing builders to build on meadows and chop down trees? Surely the right hon. Gentleman is denying everything that the Conservative Party stands for.

Would my right hon. Friend be surprised to learn that 90 per cent. of our residential dwellings are built on 10 per cent. of the land? Will he accept that?

Has the Minister given any consideration to the loss of land that would be occasioned by the development proposed by his Government of the airport at Stansted? Is his Department making any representations about that on the ground that good agricultural land would be lost?

On all major planning decisions, and many of the minor ones, where good agricultural land is concerned my Department always makes representations and puts its case for agricultural land.

Land Letting

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his policy towards increasing the supply of agricultural land available to let; and what proposals he is considering in this respect.

We are at present considering the package of proposals for amending the agricultural holdings legislation put to us by the presidents of the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association, which was designed, among other things, to encourage new lettings.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Does she agree that, despite the ostensible agreement by the Labour Party that much more land should be available to let and that there should be a fairer system of arbitration for fixing farm rents, its posture is entirely contradictory in that respect? Does my hon. Friend agree that now is the time for her Department to take the bull by the horns and introduce primary legislation without delay?

I agree with my hon. Friend's first comments, but I assure him that now that we have finished our detailed examination of the amendments we expect the two presidents to request an early meeting so that progress can be made, which will be welcome.

Does the hon. Lady accept that the agreement between the CLA and NFU does not make sense, as it would give rise to two different classes of agricultural tenant in England and Wales? Will she look at the agreement reached between the Scottish Landowners Federation and the NFU in Scotland, which does not include an attack on tenants' security of tenure? Would it not make sense to introduce legislation on those lines for England, Wales and Scotland?

No doubt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will consider that suggestion for Scotland. I regret that I do not know as much about landowning as does the hon. Gentleman.

Aujeszky's Disease

15.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, following the response to the questionnaire seeking the views of pig producers on the eradication policy for Aujeszky's disease in pigs, he will make a statement on what further measures will be undertaken on this matter.

In its announcement of the detailed results of the poll my Department indicated that further action would be discussed with the industry. We expect to hold a meeting shortly.

Will my hon. Friend recognise the concern among farmers in my constituency and in Warwickshire and the West Midlands generally that in Germany and Denmark greater progress has been made on this issue? Will she consider further whether we are doing enough with our veterinary services?

We agreed with the NFU about the value of its questionnaire. Our policy on the disease remains as announced on 24 June. This year to date there have been only 11 outbreaks, but we are considering with the interested bodies what further action could be taken.

Fat Sheep

17.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received over the grading regulations and seasonal scale for fat sheep.

The only specific representation on grading I have received recently is in the question tabled for answer today by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson). I have received no representations on the seasonal scale.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that I am surprised at the lack of representation, when so many farmers in Mid-Wales—an important sheep farming area—are concerned about the inequalities of the system? Will he take on board the concern over the injustice of a system that shows a lower return than the guaranteed price?

My right hon. Friend and I will be happy to receive representations on behalf of my hon. Friend's farmers. I appreciate that the grading regulations and seasonal scale can have different effects on different areas in accordance with particular circumstances.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is a great deal of disquiet about the grading systems? Will he consider half-and-half grading, which would be a much fairer system for our sheep farmers?

I ask my hon. Friend to await the answer that I shall be giving to him later, but I shall take account of his point. However, experience of grading demonstrates that his claim is not necessarily borne out by the facts. I assure him that we review the gradings from time to time.

Stubble Burning

18.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the smoke hazard to motorway transport, he will consider introducing legislation to make it illegal to burn stubble in fields after harvesting.

Can my hon. Friend assure us that she will have words with the Department of Transport with a view to introducing fog lights when stubble is burnt, to minimise serious accidents?

That is an interesting suggestion, but it is already an offence under highways Acts to light a fire within 50 ft of the centre line of a highway so as to cause damage to it or a user. Furthermore, local authorities can and do introduce byelaws with financial penalties.

Is the hon. Lady aware that in the vicinity of my constituency accidents involving damage and injury have been caused by smoke from burning stubble drifting across motorways, and that it is not good enough to continue to make excuses? Will she reconsider this matter and inquire into the claims made for stubble burning as against ploughing-in?

Cultivating straw into the soil has many disadvantages, but I recognise the concern about stubble burning. Each year my Department publicises the code of practice, which has generally proved successful. Nevertheless, MAFF officials are discussing with the NFU the scope for tightening the code.

I hope that I made it clear that there may well be scope to improve the code.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 November.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider reports in the national press to the effect that major and leading positions in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are held by card-carrying members of the Communist Party? Will she spell out to the nation that it is only by pursuing realistic policies directed towards multilateral disarmament that we are likely to bring about peace, and that that will not be brought about by policies that pursue the blind folly of unilateralism?

I saw certain newspaper reports which must give great cause for concern to many of those who joined CND and who are well-intentioned and honourable people, even though we believe that they are misguided. I wholly agree that the way to achieve peace with freedom is to pursue multilateral disarmament, so that we can retain our security at very much lesser expense to the nation.

Will the Prime Minister today discuss with the Secretary of State for Employment the appalling unemployment on Merseyside, with 130,000 or 20 per cent. of the population out of work? Is she aware that the situation will be further aggravated by 1,000 jobs being lost at the BL plant at Speke and 500 jobs going with the closure of the P and O line? Does she agree that the appointment of her right hon. Friend as Minister with responsibilities for Merseyside was purely window dressing?

I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's last contention. When my right hon. Friend went to Merseyside, morale rose. He is keen to do every single thing that he can for Merseyside. That is an extremely important factor. He has set up the equivalent of a regional office there to see what we can do to bring extra jobs to the region. He has invoked the interest of the private sector in the area in a big way. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said about the P and O Line yesterday.

Will the Prime Minister find an opportunity today to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he accepts or disowns the statement made by his Front Bench spokesman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—

Order. Although the question was appropriately worded, the right hon. Lady is not responsible for such matters. I presume that she does not want to be. She can be asked only about those things for which she is responsible.

If, during the day, my right hon. Friend could turn her mind to the subject of referendums, would she reflect on the suggestion that, if it is appropriate to ask people by that device whether they want their rates to go up, it would also be proper to invite them to verify their opinion on a subject that has consistently divided the public will and the House for the past decade, namely, the return to the statute book of capital punishment?

There is a great difference between a local poll and a national referendum. On the matter to which my hon. Friend referred, I think that national referendums have hitherto been only advisory. I do not think that a referendum on that matter would make any difference to the way in which the House voted.

Complaints Against The Police

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on her policy towards the reforming of procedures for complaints against the police.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has informed the House, we are considering, in consultation with the Police Advisory Board, what changes in the present system may be necessary. A working group under the chairmanship of my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State is expected to report back to the board shortly.

Does the Prime Minister agree that it is essential that the police have the confidence of 99 per cent. of the population? Does she further agree that if that is to be achieved there must be effective democratic control and discussion of police policy, a simple procedure whereby minor complaints may be investigated and apologies given quickly, and, finally, a full, independent inquiry into major complaints against the police?

All of those matters are the subject of consideration in reports to the Police Advisory Board. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider them all together when they arrive soon.

Is not the first aim of those who wish to revolutionise society to undermine public confidence in the police? Does the Prime Minister therefore agree that, accepting that the police are not perfect, there is a powerful duty upon the Government to give maximum support to those who stand between the population and the forceful overthrow of law and order?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I made clear in my speech to the House a few days ago, we give our unswerving and unequivocal support to the police in carrying out their vital duties to uphold law and order for all our sakes.

Does the Prime Minster also welcome the statement by the Police Federation, following the last exchanges in the House when strong views were expressed on both sides, that it now feels that it would be in the best interests of police-public relations if there were an independent system of inquiry into complaints against the police?

That is one of the matters that will have to be taken into account by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary together with a number of other reports at present in preparation, and also any recommendations that the Scarman report may make.

Will my right hon. Friend resist all suggestions for further democratic control of the police, which is merely a code word for Livingstonian interference with the police, and instead concentrate upon the real need to restore public confidence in a genuinely independent element in the police complaints procedure? Would not that best be achieved by setting up a police Ombudsman procedure?

My hon. Friend's point about an independent element in police complaints procedure is at present under consideration by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will make a decision when he has received all the reports. With regard to democratic control of the police, the police must be absolutely free of any political control in making their operational decisions.

Engagements

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 12 November.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some minutes ago.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the average family in Great Britain has had to pay an extra £12·25 per week this year in direct and indirect taxation, compared with only 69p extra in rates? Does she agree that even in Greater London her own increases in taxation have been four times the increase in Londoners' rates? Do not those figures show that her unprincipled attack on local government is no more than a smokescreen to cover the fact that she has imposed massive increases in taxation and living costs on all families in this country, in complete contradiction of her election pledges to reduce taxation?

I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman's suggestions for reductions in public expenditure on both a national and a local level, so that both national taxes and local rates may be reduced. It would be entirely dishonourable to suggest that one can increase public spending and reduce taxes at the same time. With regard to the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave, the amount of taxation paid by the average family is clearly much greater than the amount paid in rates. If the hon. Gentleman had considered the percentages, however, he would know that the percentage increase in taxes for a typical family with two children was almost exactly the same as the percentage increase in their rates—before the latest supplementary rate increases.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the consequences of the intrusion into Swedish waters of a Soviet submarine, which was clearly established to be there for the purposes of espionage and nuclear warfare? Does not this emphasise the vital importance of unity and co-operation among the countries of the Council of Europe as well as within the EEC? Will she therefore confirm that it remains Britain's policy to support and participate in the Council of Europe?

On the last point, it remains Britain's policy to participate in the Council of Europe, which we recognise performs a valuable function and which includes countries that are not members of the EEC, such as Sweden. The incident to which my hon. Friend refers highlights the need to be extremely diligent and to keep our defences on the alert.

Returning to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), do I take it that the Prime Minister has confirmed the figures that he gave? Does she not find it astonishing that the average family in this country is now paying an extra £12·25 per week in Government-imposed taxation? How does she reconcile that with her election statement that she was determined to build real incentives for all into our tax system?

I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). The percentage increase in rates and taxes for the average family was approximately the same before the latest supplementary rate demands were issued. On the right hon. Gentleman's specific question, taxation would have been very much higher under a Labour Government. I look forward once again to hearing his proposals for reducing public expenditure. Otherwise, we must conclude that the right hon. Gentleman is giving notice that he would simply print the extra money so that Britain would once again be on the way to the IMF.

I am asking the Prime Minister to confirm that under the Conservative Government taxes for the average family have risen by more than £12 per week. Does she think that that is what she told the electorate at the general election?

Taxes for the average family have indeed increased. As I have frequently explained to the right hon. Gentleman, if we are to maintain prudent and sound financial policies, we should not finance increases in public spending by printing money, as I believe that the right hon. Gentleman would. At least we have the honesty to finance them properly by taxation.

Will the Prime Minister, in the course of her busy day, find time to consider initiating four or five major capital projects to be financed by the City?

If capital projects can be financed by the City, it is naturally at liberty both to finance them and to set them up. The trouble with some of the schemes put to us is that either they require Government guarantee or they are schemes started by monopoly industries that could put up the price sufficiently to finance the borrowing. That would have a very adverse effect on the private sector.

Can the Prime Minister clear up one discrepancy between her statement about Mr. Leo Long's espionage activities and the statement of the Attorney-General? The right hon. Lady said that there was one other individual to whom inducements had been given, and the Attorney-General said that there were a few other individuals. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what are the facts and what number the Attorney-General was referring to in speaking of a "few" individuals being offered inducements to confess?

If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at both statements he will find that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General gave the numbers, a few, to whom an informal inducement had been offered. I gave the number—[Interruption.] This is extremely important and I am trying very hard to get it right in response to a question from the other side of the House. I am trying to get it accurate. He gave the number of cases, a few, in which informal inducements had been offered. I gave the number from whom a confession had come as the result of an informal inducement. The two are perfectly compatible.