Skip to main content

Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 21: debated on Thursday 1 April 1982

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

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Common Fisheries Policy

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what stage has been reached in negotiations for a European common fisheries policy; and if he will make a statement.

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

Before answering the question, I apologise to the House for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister. Hon. Members will realise that he is at the Council of Agriculture Ministers' meeting which is continuing in Brussels.

To answer the question, progress has been made on marketing, conservation and the Community's reciprocal fishing arrangements with third countries. I reaffirm that the Government intend to continue to seek a satisfactory agreement on the outstanding issues as soon as possible.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In spite of the urgency, does he agree that it is crucial to achieve an agreement that is absolutely right in the interests of fishermen, consumers and the nation? Will he bear in mind that that decision must stand on its own merits? Does he agree that that is equally true for fishing and the price review? Does he hope for a fairly early decision on both those matters, even though other problems in the Community may arise?

I agree with my hon. Friend that fishing is such an important industry in Britain that the issue must be decided on its merits. We have made considerable progress on many issues. The fact that some are still outstanding demonstrates the strong line that the Government are taking on these extremely important matters.

In view of the advantageous position that will exist for our Common Market partners if no agreement is reached by the end of the year, may I ask what incentive they have for agreeing to anything less in the meantime? If that situation arises, what arrangements has the right hon. Gentleman made for the protection of our fleets?

The right hon. Gentleman should examine article 103 of the Treaty of Accession, which lays down that there should be new arrangements about the limitation of access. It is precisely on the matter of limitation of access that we are negotiating.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be no sell-out of fishing interests to obtain a satisfactory arrangement on the budget or prices, or something of that type? When will the Council of Fisheries Ministers next meet? Will he give an unequivocal undertaking that there will be nothing less than exclusive access for Britain up to a 50-mile limit?

The hon. Gentleman might acknoledge what I said earlier. We have already made considerable progress in several areas—progress that was not made under the Labour Government.

The Government had hoped that there would be a meeting towards the end of April, but that is not certain. There may be a delay. Nevertheless, we shall negotiate as strongly as we can in the interests of our industry.

I am aware that progress has been made, but is my right hon. Friend aware that most fishermen have given up hope of obtaining a satisfactory solution to the CFP before the end of the year? What actions do the Government propose to prevent foreigners from fishing right up to our beaches in the future?

No one should give up hope of a satisfactory settlement. We shall conserve and manage fishing resources properly only if we do so internationally, applying to fishermen everywhere. It is important for Britain's industry that we reach a satisfactory arrangement. If it should happen that there is no arrangement by the end of this year, I cannot imagine any British Government tolerating fishing up to our beaches.

Has the Minister seen the front page headlines in the Fishing News in the past two weeks, saying "Walker's got it wrong" and "Ministers are out of touch"? Has he no idea of the despair in the fishing industry? Does he recognise that the minor measures to which he refers are totally inadequate to meet the situation? When will the Government stop pussyfooting about in Brussels and bring forward a national programme to support our industry?

I should have more respect for what the hon. Gentleman says if he acknowledged that the Labour Government made no progress on marketing, reciprocal fishing arrangements or the national conservation measures agreed on a Community-wide level. He is taking a sour grapes attitude because he achieved nothing. It is the hon. Member who has got it wrong yet again.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the allegation that there is no confidence among fishermen is certainly not true on the South Coast, where we have every confidence that my hon. Friend will achieve a good and satisfactory negotiation? Will he reaffirm that the 12-mile exclusive limit—an object that we applaud—is still the Government's aim?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) were more in touch with the fishermen themselves, rather than merely with the organs of the media, he might get a truer picture of the situation.

Wool Prices

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the level of support for the British Wool Marketing Board wool prices for the coming year.

My right hon. Friend announced on 23 March that the guaranteed price for wool will remain at its present level of 115p per kilogram for the next marketing year.

In view of the importance of the wool clip to certain farmers, will my right hon. Friend keep a close watch on the market with a view to increasing prices as soon as the stabilisation principle permits?

As my hon. Friend acknowledges, there is the important question of stabilisation. That is the nature of the wool guarantee. The fact that the stabilisation fund is at present in considerable deficit is clearly a factor. My right hon. Friend and I met the chairman of the Wool Marketing Board this week. We discussed the situation very fully with him and shall continue to do so.

As the Scotch blackface is the most numerous breed of sheep in Britain, will my right hon. Friend use his good offices in every possible way to promote the wool of this hardy hill breed, especially in the Italian mattress trade?

I am sure that the Wool Marketing Board will note what has been said and will ensure that the interests of the Scotch blackface breed are fully and properly taken into account.

Meat Products Regulations

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take into account the representations from the National Consumer Council as to the addition of water into meat products such as bacon, ham and tenderised steak when deciding on the new meat products regulations.

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

Yes, Sir. All representations on the proposed regulations are being very carefully considered.

In so doing, will my hon. Friend take account of the surprise felt by many people that the regulations currently allow such a high proportion of water additive to some of the meats mentioned in my question? If she wants an example of first-rate waterless meat put into sausages, may I take her out one evening and present her with a first-rate example of a sausage as it ought to be, manufactured in my constituency?

I should, of course, be delighted to join my hon. Friend, especially eating sausages, to which I am somewhat addicted.

It would perhaps be premature for me to speculate on the final contents of the regulations, but I confirm that the proposed 5 per cent. tolerance for water added to cuts and joints of meat is to be removed and all added water will have to be declared. The original proposals about burgers and sausages are being reconsidered in the light of representations.

Is the Minister aware that cooked meats are being sold, after steam cooking and flash roasting, with 25 per cent. water content? Is she further aware that bacon is being sold with a high water content and that housewives are compelled to pay bacon prices for water? Will she investigate this and take action to stop it?

I think that some of the hon. Gentleman's concern is a little exaggerated, but I assure him that proposed controls over the addition of water to cured meats are being reconsidered in consultation with enforcement authorities and manufacturers.

Wash Fisheries

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will establish a commission to carry out an independent inquiry into the potential for the Wash fisheries and to report to him on the means for exploiting that potential.

No, Sir. My fisheries scientists have only recently surveyed and reported on the mussel stocks in the Wash. Accordingly, any further general inquiry would not be justified.

Does the Minister agree that as the Wash is the largest natural shell fishery in Western Europe it is appalling that the constant reduction in catches and in the number of people employed, coupled with increasing imports from the European Community, should offer such a bleak future for the industry? Will he ask the Sea Fish Industry Authority to look again at the problem with a view to developing a programme of partnership between the Government and local industry to enable local fishermen to compete with others in the Community?

I agree that the Wash is a very important shellfish area. The hon. Gentleman must have missed my reply, as I said that we had carried out a survey of the area and scientists had examined it, which is evidence of the importance that we attach to it. The report will now be discussed with representatives of the local fishing industry and with the Eastern Sea Fisheries Committee. I hope that as a result of that we shall see further improvements for this important fishery.

Forest Lands

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the total value of the forest lands which have been or are in the process of being sold under the Forestry Act 1981.

The total value of plantations and plantable land that have been sold or were in the process of being sold at the end of February 1982 under the powers contained in the Forestry Act 1981 was £12,925,000.

Is it not a blatant example of doctrinaire asset-stripping for the Government to sell off more than 6,000 hectares of good forest land, including more than 3,500 hectares in Scotland? As the Government refuse to disclose to me and to Parliament the purchase price and the name of the purchaser of each individual property, and in the light of the recent Amersham International scandal, is there not a case for calling in the Comptroller and Auditor General to see whether Tory Ministers are selling off some of the nation's best assets to their rich friends?

I totally repudiate the hon. Gentleman's allegation. I remind him that, as my right hon. Friend explained in his reply to the hon. Gentleman on 11 February, it would be a breach of confidence to disclose the names of individual purchasers and prices. The objective is to reduce the call on the Exchequer for the management of the Commission's forestry enterprise—no more and no less.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the success of her policy in my constituency, where 2,700 acres have been sold for more than £2 million—producing not only a substantial sum of money for the Treasury but the prospect of new jobs from the development of peat resources?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I realise that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) is unlikely to be in favour of anything that reduces total State control.

Is the Minister aware of the concern among hill farmers that, whereas the Forestry Commission used to maintain fences around the plantations, that obligation will not necessarily pass to those who purchase plantations?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the purchasers enter into the contract prepared to maintain the land as forestry. If there is concern about fencing, I shall certainly make inquiries.

Does the hon. Lady accept that her predecessor said expressly in Committee that the maintenance of the fencing was excluded from the conditions of sale under the Forestry Act? Will she also tell the House what proportion of the £12·9 million has been leased back to the Forestry Commission on a management basis? How many sites of special scientific interest have been sold from public to private domain?

I ought to give the hon. Gentleman a comprehensive reply to the two latter points, so I shall write to him.

Is it not the case that the British taxpayer has been pumping money into the Forestry Commission for the past 60 years? Is it not about time that the taxpayer had a break by getting something back? Will my hon. Friend note that the taxpayer applauds the new policy?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The original purpose of the Act was to reduce the call on the Exchequer, which is what is happening. We are not in the business of dismantling the Forestry Commission.

Planning Legislation And Development Control

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that the interests of the agriculture industry are adequately served by the current planning legislation and development control procedure.

As far too many acres of good agricultural land are still being lost to various developments each year, at a time when thousands of acres of land are lying unused or under-used in our urban areas, will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is in close liaison with the Department of the Environment about such important land use matters, especially about good agricultural land on the fringes of our towns and cities?

I certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance for which he asks—that my Ministry and the Department of the Environment work closely together on such matters. My Ministry is consulted at all stages in the preparation of structure and local plans and on all planning applications affecting more than 10 acres of agricultural land that do not conform to an agreed development plan. I agree that grade 3 agricultural land is of good quality and of great importance to British agriculture.

Agricultural Marketing

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is yet in a position to announce proposals to encourage the improvement of agricultural marketing.

Improvements in agricultural marketing can be brought about by co-ordinating and strengthening existing efforts within a new central marketing organisation. My right hon. Friend has been discussing plans for this with leaders of the agriculture and food industries, and hopes to see them come to fruition before long.

I hope that my right hon. Friend is aware of the great concern felt by all the agricultural producers and food processors in Britain. Although we know that the spirit is willing, it seems that progress is slow. May we have a rather firmer date than "as soon as possible", as it is now 12 months since the original declaration of intent?

I agree that it is important that all interests in the food industry—producers, processors, distributers and retailers—should be brought into any initiative. However, it is better to wait a little longer and make sure that all those interests are working together before we come to final conclusions. I take what my hon. Friend says to heart.

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind the enormous power of some retailers, which has a difficult and adverse effect on producers and processors? Will he consider the matter, because serious problems are developing?

This again emphasises the need for all interests in the food chain to work closely together. I am sure that my hon. Friend would acknowledge that, already, with many foods, such as apples and meat, the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Cooperation is doing an enormous amount of work, which we should not minimise.

Warble Fly

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how effective the Government's scheme to eradicate warble fly has been up to date; and what further measures are being introduced.

Since the current campaign to eradicate warble fly began in the autumn of 1978, surveys show that the prevalence of infection in the national herd in Great Britain has been reduced from 38 per cent. to less than 1 per cent. Under arrangements recently announced, infestation of cattle with warble fly has been made notifiable from 15 March and additional requirements for treatment of infected herds have been introduced. We hope that the farming community will continue to co-operate in these arrangements so that the eradication programme can be completed.

I welcome that reply. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that continued vigilance will be maintained until this pest is totally eradicated from our cattle, with the consequent improvement in quality and the comfort of the animals?

Agricultural Departments can now order the treatment of all cattle on premises where infestation has occurred and restrict the movement of cattle from those premises. They can also order treatment of premises where infestation is suspected because of their proximity to infected herds or because they have received cattle from such herds. I am satisfied that those measures, together with great co-operation from the farming community, will help us to eliminate the last 1 per cent.

Can the Minister tell us the incidence of warble fly in the House of Commons?

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that there will be no move by the conservation lobby to try to protect the last warble fly?

I am not sure whether my hon Friend wishes to have a serious answer to that, but I know of no conservation measures. We are keen only to eradicate the warble fly.

Although I do not wish to get under my hon. namesake's skin, may I ask the hon. Lady whether she is aware that Opposition Members welcome the fact that the warble fly has been made notifiable? Will she also put her mind to the problem, mentioned in her publication on the increase in the incidence of notifiable disease, of enzootic bovine leukosis and reconsider the Ministry's position on that dangerous disease?

I shall examine the comments on the disease to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I know that he will appreciate that it does not concern warble fly.

Ware Potatoes

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on support measures for ware potatoes for the 1982 harvest?

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) on 23 March.

Can my right hon. Friend explain why there has been no increase in the price of potatoes for the 1982 crop? Is he aware of the problems that that will cause in restricting the income of the Potato Marketing Board?

We have discussed the matter fully, not only with the Potato Marketing Board, but with representatives of the farming organisations. In Britain we have a free market in potatoes. The help that we give on the contract buying programme and the fact that recently the price has been consistently more than the guarantee means that we now have a very different position from that of a few years ago. We should welcome that.

Port Discipline And Marketing Rules

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received from fish producers' organisations about the extension of port discipline and marketing rules.

One producers' organisation has written seeking authority to apply its marketing rules to non-members landing fish within its economic area.

Does the Minister realise how important the work of the producers' organisations is in the fishing industry? Does he further realise how impossible it is for that work to be carried out if non-members of those organisations are not bound by the marketing rules, which provide the stability from which they profit? Will he take the representations seriously and make use of the provisions that are now available to him?

I acknowledge the important role played by the fish producers' organisations and I wish them every success in their efforts. However, it raises some further issues, which I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider. Membership of the organisations is at present on a voluntary basis. If we introduce a complusory element it will raise some problems. We are prepared to discuss the matter with the organisations and hope to do so in the months ahead.

Dairy Industry

13.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the state of the dairy industry; and if he will make a statement.

I believe that both sides of the industry can look to the future with confidence. In particular, the decision that my right hon. Friend was able to take last week on the spring review of liquid milk prices demonstrates our intention to provide them with as firm a basis as possible for planning their commercial operations following the Binder Hamlyn review.

Can the Minister assure the dairy industry that there will be no further increase in the co-responsibility levy in the next few years and that, in the long term, he will abolish it?

It would be a brave Minister who gave an undertaking for the next few years. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and as my right hon. Friend made clear at the Dispatch Box in last week's debate, we are strongly opposed to the principle of co-responsibility as proposed by the Commission. It is one matter on which we are negotiating in Brussels and I am glad to know that we have the support of the House.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing concern about the imbalance between the livestock sector, including dairying, and arable areas in the United Kingdom? Will he take account of that fact when negotiating the current EEC farm price proposals?

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. One unfortunate feature of recent years has been that there has been no relative advantage for livestock producers in proposals from the Commission in Brussels. I am glad to say that in the proposals that we are considering this year we see a difference, with lower price increases for arable products.

Although I welcome the Minister's statement that the Government are opposed in principle to a co-responsibility levy, will he make it clear that in practice there is no way that they will continue to accept levies that discriminate against British dairy producers?

The worst aspect of the co-responsibility levy, as proposed, is that it discriminates against the more efficient and larger producers. We are opposing that in the negotiations, and we have the strong support of the Danish and Dutch Governments. I hope that we shall see improvements in the course of the negotiations.

Fishing Industry

14.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on the future of the fishing industry.

I am continuing to seek a settlement on a revised common fisheries policy.

What legal rights does the United Kingdom have to exclude foreign vessels from our inshore waters in the event of the CFP not being revised by the end of the year?

I answered the point earlier. I can see no way in which any British Government would allow fishing up to the beaches. As I said to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), there is provision in the Treaty of Accession that there should be arrangements before the end of 1982.

Is the Minister aware of the disquiet in the industry, following statements by the Earl of Mansfield and the right hon. Gentleman's replies, about the future aid package to the industry? May we have a categorical assurance that there will be an aid package, and will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when it will be produced?

I know of the industry's concern and have spoken to its representatives. The case put to us by the industry contains a wide variety of evidence. We wish carefully to assess it all before we come to a decision, and we are doing that.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable concern of the inshore fishing industry at Bridlington about the possibility of restrictions on fishing for cod in the North Sea in the autumn? Is he aware that if cod fishing is restricted, no other fishing is available and the fleet will have to tie up?

I am very much aware of that. In the past five days, the fishermen in my constituency have made the same representations to me. I know of the anxiety fishermen feel when fishing for a particular species is closed for whatever reason. Inshore fisherman particularly do not have the same variety of opportunities as others. It is a serious matter, which I shall consider carefully.

Is the Minister of State aware that the owner of the last two deep-sea fishing trawlers out of Hull sold them to New Zealand because, he said, of the Government's failure to arrive at an agreement on the CFP? Are we to assume that the Government have said farewell to a deep-sea fishing industry for Humberside? If so, what steps will the right hon. Gentleman take in the Community or in the Cabinet to direct investment and jobs to Hull for the people who have depended on the fishing industry?

That is a selective view of the source of the problems of the deep-sea fleet. The main source is the extension of fishing limits out to 200 miles, giving rise to the loss of Icelandic and other water. I should have much more respect for such claims if they took into account all the interests.

Of the last two years' aid of £42 million to the industry, more than £7½ million has gone to the sector of the fleet broadly represented by deep-sea vessels. That does riot exactly show a lack of concern by the Government. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that.

Poultry (Newcastle Disease)

15.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when the last case was notified to him of Newcastle disease in poultry in the United Kingdom.

The last notified outbreak of Newcastle disease occurred on a very small scale in Buckinghamshire in April 1978.

What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that we remain comparatively disease free?

The policies that we have adopted have been designed to achieve the highest possible animal health status. Under the new policy applied from September 1981, the use of vaccine is banned. A slaughter policy would be followed, with the cost of compensation met by the industry, in the event of an outbreak. Complementary import controls were introduced to minimise the risk of importing the disease.

Is there not a substantial incidence of disease in poultry in France? Does that not underline the necessity of maintaining the present policy?

Agricultural Production

16.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the gross value of agricultural production in the United Kingdom in the last year; and at what cost to the Exchequer.

In the "Annual Review of Agriculture 1982" White Paper, Crnnd. 8491, the gross output of agriculture in 1981 was estimated at £9,733 million, while public expenditure under the common agricultural policy and on national grants and subsidies amounted to £1,038·9 million, of which £769·7 million came from FEOGA receipts.

Does not the difference demonstrate clearly the ability of agriculture to show the nationalised industries just how productivity can be achieved by hard work and lack of restrictive practices? Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to encourage his colleagues to press the same approach on nationalised industries?

There are two particular records in agriculture. The first is the one to which my hon. Friend refers. The rate of increase in productivity per man is probably greater than in any of our other industries. The second is that in recent years our agriculture industry has increased our self-sufficiency in food, which is not only in the national interest but, most particularly, in the interests of consumers.

Is not much of the success of agriculture due to planning agreements whereby the Egg Marketing Board, the Milk Marketing Board and the Potato Marketing Board were set up? If planning agreements are so successful in agriculture, why is the Conservative Party against them in other industries?

The hon. Gentleman might also acknowledge the fact that agriculture probably has the greatest number of small businesses and self-employed people. That demonstrates that the industry's strength comes from that structure and enterprise.

How much has increased production and productivity benefited our balance of payments over the past 12 months.

I am delighted to say that, because of the increase in self-sufficiency over the past 12 months, through savings on imports and through exports, the saving on our balance of payments is about £1,000 million, which is very much to our benefit.

If the productivity increase has been so marked, why cannot farming give just rewards to its workers who are responsible for the increase and who are among the lowest paid in the country? Has not massive Government intervention, through grants, subsidies, other aids and training schemes developed in the post-war period, produced the success?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the industry has an independent wages board. I hope that he will also acknowledge that in recent years we have seen a marked improvement in agricultural earnings as a percentage of industrial earnings. That is a movement wholly in the right direction.

My right hon. Friend says that farming is made up of small businesses, but does he not agree that the increase in the number of huge farms has been injurious to village life? Will he make sure that small farmers and new entrants to farming are encouraged?

My hon. Friend knows that that matter is examined from time to time. It must be put into perspective. There is concern in particular areas at particular times. I agree that the proportion of large farms in the total amount of land held by agriculture, and the changes that take place, must be watched. I do not believe that one should exaggerate that matter too much.

Farm Prices

17.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects agreement of the level of European Economic Community common farm prices for 1982–83.

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the negotiations of the farm price review with the other member nations of the European Community.

The Council of Agriculture Ministers is currently considering prices for 1982–83. My right hon. Friend will make a statement to the House in due course.

May I remind the Minister that the Opposition stand four-square behind the Prime Minister's determination to achieve a satisfactory solution to Britain's budget problem? Will the Minister assure the House that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will not undermine any such settlement, if it were to be achieved, by agreeing to price increases above those proposed by the Commission, which would lead to bigger surpluses and a bigger burden on the taxpayer?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that the three elements concerned, which are regional and other policies, agriculture prices and the budget, must be dealt with in parallel. That view is taken not only by the Government but by other Governments in the Community. It is on that basis that the proposals are being discussed.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if we agree to what is likely to result from the European price review, the splendid achievement of British farmers in productivity improvement over the years may not be maintained because farming incomes will continue to drop, as they have in recent years? As the National Farmers Union has stated, there has been a 50 per cent. drop since 1976. Can productivity improvements continue, with such a drop in incomes?

I assure my hon. Friend that in the negotiations in Brussels we shall bear closely in mind the record and present position of British farmers, as well as of processors in the food industry and consumers.

Agricultural Holdings

18.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has received any recent representations from the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association concerning the interests of landlords and tenants of agricultural holdings.

We have had no recent representations from the presidents of the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association. We have, however, received a number of letters from hon. Members passing on the views of local branches of those organisations.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his endeavours to create agricultural tenancies, and so to give our young farmers the opportunity to branch out on their own, are frustrated by the blind opposition of the Labour Party? Will my right hon. Friend urge leaders of the NFU and of the CLA, in the interests of agriculture's future, to obtain from the Labour Party an agreement to those sensible proposals?

There is no doubt that the objectives that the CLA and the NFU have sought to achieve are broadly supported in the House. Good progress has been made so far. As the House knows, there are some differences of opinion. We have received a number of other representations, which we are considering. I hope that Opposition Members will have listened to what my hon. Friend has said.

If the Government favour the proposals of the CLA and NFU, why do they try to pass the responsibility for not acting on those proposals to the Opposition and not bring forward their own proposals? Is the Minister aware that the NFU now views the Government's delay as a ducking of responsibility?

The hon. Gentleman is completely incorrect in his final remark. If he were more in touch with what was happening in agriculture he would know that many different views are expressed. In the long-term interests of agriculture, whatever changes are made should be effective and long lasting. It is worth while taking a little longer to reach the right solutions.

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that the NFU must be accepted as speaking for the farmers? It is in agreement with the CLA. There is no other sphere in which the concurrence of the official Opposition is required, so why on earth should it be required in this sphere?

My hon. Friend should be aware that a number of other representations have been made. We are discussing this matter with the various interests concerned. I hope that, once the discussions are completed we can come to conclusions. There is no doubt that there is room for improvement. We wish to see sensible improvements in future.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 1 April.

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 have further meetings later today. This evening I hope to dine with Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor.

Is the Prime Minister aware that she misled the House a week ago when she said that living standards were now higher than at any time under t he Labour Government? Is she aware that the Government's figures published yesterday show that real personal disposable income, which is the right hon. Lady's definition of living standards, is lower than when the Labour Government left office? Is she further aware that the truth is that living standards under the Labour Government rose continually by 13 per cent., whereas under the Tory Government they have fallen continually by 5 per cent?

I have been looking at the figures. For the first quarter of 1979 real personal disposable income was 109·8 on the index. In the last quarter of 1981 it was 111·5.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the sudden imposition of VAT on the sale of gold coins has, in the absence of foreign exchange controls, exported that business, and that British residents will now buy gold abroad? Will she consider abolishing VAT for all gold purchases in order to bring employment in that important, profitable and influential business back to Great Britain?

As my hon. Friend knows, that announcement was made yesterday. It will take some time for the markets to settle down. We shall have to see what happens then.

Will the Prime Minister tell the Department of Education and Science to end the absurd anomaly under which any unemployed young person who studies for more than 21 hours a week is immediately refused supplementary benefit, which is directly contrary to what the Prime Minister has repeatedly said about the need for people to work harder?

I thought that the right hon. Lady would know that on the whole supplementary benefit is not meant for students. Therefore, there has to be a certain limit at which it ceases to be paid to students. That has been the rule under all Governments. The question is precisely when that limit is applied. A number of questions have been put to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and Social Services on that matter. There have been some recent modifications to the 21-hour rule. I must stress again that supplementary benefit is not for those who are more or less full-time students.

As the Liberal Party is opposed to the possession by the United Kingdom of an independent nuclear deterrent, and as the Social Democratic Party thinks that we should have one, is there not a deep split between the two parties on a matter that is of fundamental importance to the country? If by any chance those parties were to hold the balance in Parliament after the next general election, the British public would have not the faintest idea whether this country would have a nuclear deterrent.

That is but one of the things over which the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party do not agree. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that the Government, realising that an independent nuclear deterrent has served this country well for three decades, believe that we should continue it as the best way of keeping peace.

Will the Prime Minister define the circumstances in which the country ought to launch an independent nuclear retaliation when its allies did not think it right to do so?

We have been alone before. I trust that we shall never be alone again, but I think it reasonable and prudent to make proper provision for the defence of this country should that happen. Only then could we stand up to any potential aggressor. I note the hon. Gentleman's fundamental weakness.

Later—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your support and advice? For the second time the Prime Minister has misled the House by quoting the wrong figures—

Order. No one should try to use a point of order to correct arguments—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Why not?".] Because it is wrong and is not in order.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 April.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, however sincere some of the people in the peace movement might be, the peace movement by its activities can be construed by the enemies of this country as a sign of national weakness?

My hon. Friend is right that those who make the loudest public demonstrations for peace are often those whose policies would make war more likely or would induce the feeling in any potential agressor that this country lacked resolve. My generation does not forget what happened in the 1930s. I agree with my hon. Friend.

With regard to the answer that the Prime Minister has just given about national incomes, is she aware that over the same period the top 25 per cent. of income earners in this country have come to share over 50 per cent. of total national income, yet the bottom 25 per cent. of income earners share less than 10 per cent? There is no doubt, using the same figures, that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Is that in keeping with the philosophy of the Tory party?

Many statistical analyses are published, and all of them have different methods of calculating their results. There is bound to be a considerable spread of and difference in national income.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to reflect on the great benefits that would flow to this country from the institution of a scheme of national community service? Will she also consider that while such a scheme would require a great deal of political will it would find huge underlying support in the country, and that no one is better placed to provide that will than she is?

As my hon. Friend knows, there are many opportunities available for community service under the several programmes operated through the Manpower Services Commission and the Department of Employment. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed to allocate about £150 million in the last Budget, if we can get such a scheme going. He is prepared to increase it if larger numbers of people are prepared to undertake that kind of service.

It is better to go slowly than to bring in a massive scheme that would be difficult to organise.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to reflect on the fact that when there is a Tory Government and high unemployment crime always increases, as it is now doing, and as it did in the 1930s.

If the right hon. Gentleman looks, he will find no clear connection between the level of crime and that of unemployment. Even in the most prosperous countries, without high unemployment, the level of crime has increased.

If the right hon. Lady checks her facts she will find that unemployment under the Conservatives in the 1930s doubled. In the first two years of her Aministration crime figures have gone up 20 per cent., and the Home Secretary said earlier this week that there was a relationship between unemployment and the crime figures.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that it was one of many factors. If the right hon. Gentleman examines the figures he will find that crime went up during the years when unemployment was low.

If that is what the Prime Minister is saying, why did she promise in the general election campaign that her party would reduce crime?

We promised that we would put much greater emphasis on the forces of law and order. There are now 8,000 more police in England and Wales than there were. They are better paid and better equipped, and for once they have the Government wholly behind them in their work.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 April.

No doubt my right hon. Friend has today given considerable thought to the prospect of an excellent summer and an England test team that comprises the best possible cricketers available for England. Has she also found time to consider the recent MORI poll, which shows an increasing optimism about the British economy and also increasing support for the Government and for my right hon. Friend in particular? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that, with her usual vigour and determination, she will continue to fight for the best interests of the United Kingdom at home and abroad?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Long may the polls continue to go in that direction, and may the situation improve. We shall continue to bring down inflation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord President will allow us enough time to watch some cricket.

In view of the murder of five soldiers and one policeman in Northern Ireland in the past week, will the Prime Minister increase the capacity of the security forces to deal with the violence, stimulated now, as it was last November, by ill-advised political initiatives?

I think that every hon. Member is aware of the sacrifices made on our behalf by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and by the armed forces who serve in Ulster. I pay tribute to them and extend sympathy to their families who have suffered tragedy of this kind.

With regard to any future initiatives in Northern Ireland, I hope that there will be a White Paper and a statement next week.

As the Prime Minister will be aware, today we hope to hive the Third Reading of the Oil mberand Gas (Enterprise) Bill, the biggest piece of denationalisation, for 30 years. Will my right hon. Friend, at an early opportunity today, or certainly within the next few weeks, have meetings with her colleagues to produce for the next Session of Parliament an even greater measure of denationalisation?

I thank my hon. Friend. As he knows, it is our policy to press ahead with further denationalisation because we believe that that is in the best interests of the people and it is a genuine way of extending private ownership in this country.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to start polishing up her speech for the United Nations special session on disarmament? If she does, will she give serious consideration to trying to break the logjam in the peace talks, and even to break the mould by saying that she refuses to go ahead with Trident and refuses to have cruise missiles in this country, and that she will pursue a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament?

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 1 April

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), is it not encouraging that, as a result of denationalisation measures since my right hon. Friend came into office, about 75,000 employees in public industries have become worker-shareholders in their enterprises? Is this not a giant stride towards a nationwide capital-owning democracy?

Yes, it is a considerable stride towards a capital-owning democracy. I am happy to report to my hon. Friend that not 75,000 but 90,000 people have benefited in that way.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the great anxiety among the employees of the Royal ordnance factories in my constituency and those of many of my hon. Friends about the Ministry of Defence leaks in today's press that the Government are to do an Amersham International at those factories and sell them to the private sector? As this anxiety comes on top of an unprecedented number of redundancies in the Royal ordnance factories, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to tell us exactly what is the Government's policy?

The Government are considering how best to give effect to their policy objective of changing the constitution of the Royal ordnance factories to allow them to operate in a more commercial environment. I must give the hon. Gentleman news which I am afraid will be welcome to him, although not so welcome to some of my hon. Friends. The prospects for fast progress in privatising the Royal ordnance factories are not bright.