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Commons Chamber

Volume 21: debated on Thursday 1 April 1982

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House Of Commons

Thursday 1 April 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business


Read the Third time and passed.




Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Wednesday 7 April.


Order for Second Reading read.

To be Read a Second time upon Wednesday 7 April at seven o'clock.

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Common Fisheries Policy


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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)


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


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


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.


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


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



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.


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.


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.


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?


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.

Business Of The House

3.32 pm

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Francis Pym)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 5 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill and of the Reserve Forces Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 6 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 7 APRIL—Supply (17th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on the first to seventeenth reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1980–81 and the first to fifth reports in Session 1981l–82, and the relevant Government observations.

At Seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration.

THURSDAY 8 APRIL—It is proposed that the House will meet at 9.30 am, take Questions until 10.30 am, and adjourn at 3.30 pm until Monday 19 April.

Will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland be making a statement next week on the White Paper and will the Lord Privy Seal be prepared to make an oral statement next week on the observers' report on the E1 Salvador elections?

Last week during business questions my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked about the public expenditure White Paper. We are grateful for the fact that the Government have separated the Second Reading of the Finance Bill from the debate on the public expenditure White Paper. However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we would have preferred a debate on the White Paper before the Second Reading. May we have the debate before the Bill is discussed in Committee?

The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday a written answer was given by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist). The answer amounted to a major Government statement and was a departure from Government policy. In our view, it was a departure that put in jeopardy many of the services of British Rail. We must demand that an oral statement be made by the Secretary of State for Transport and that a debate should follow in due course.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to make a statement next week, and in all probability it will be on Monday.

I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on the observers' report on the E1 Salvador elections. I do not think that we had it in mind to make an oral statement, but I am prepared to consider that possibility without giving an undertaking.

It is my hope to arrange a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before the Finance Bill begins its Committee stage. At any rate, I shall seek to arrange it in that way.

The written answer to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was very much in accordance with precedent and practice on such a matter. It is true that on occasion it has been done in another way, including in this Parliament in respect of one nationalised industry, but the procedure that was followed yesterday was in accordance with precedent. It seemed to us to be the appropriate way of proceeding. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman believes that it is an important matter. It is possible for the Opposition to arrange a debate upon it if they so wish. We acted in accordance with what is normally done on such occasions.

Nevertheless, will the right hon. Gentleman kindly consider the matter again? It is one of great importance to the Opposition and, we feel, to the nation. Perhaps he will have another look at it.

Of course I am prepared to do that. I do not wish to make any promise or to give an undertaking, but I am prepared to consider the matter again.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to observe the report of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service which was published today? It is the fourth report from a Select Committee to recommend an extension of the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Exchequer and Audit Department. As we are approaching the third anniversary of the occasion when my right hon. Friend's predecessor stated that the issue would be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a matter of urgency, can my right hon. Friend tell the House when he thinks that an announcement will be made?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am conscious of the keen interest in the House on this subject, which has been debated before. I am conscious also of the Government's commitment fully to respond to the proposals that have been made and to which my right hon. Friend referred. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fully seized of the position. He is actively pursuing the matter and I hope very much that progress will be made soon.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early-Day Motion 382, which calls for support for the Northern region?

[That this House welcomes the decision announced by the Secretary of State for Wales to increase the budget of the Welsh Development Corporation by 71 per cent. from April 1982; recognises that representatives of the Northern Region of England are currently negotiating with Secretary of State for Industry about the North of England Development Council budget for 1983–84;notes that the problems in the Northern Region are at least as severe as those faced by the people of Wales; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give equal support to the people of the Northern Region.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the implications of the statement made by the Secretary of State for Wales that there should be a 71 per cent. increase in grant for the Welsh Development Corporation, which we in the Northern region welcome very much because of the needs of Wales? However, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Secretary of State for Industry makes a statement next week to draw attention to the needs of other regions and not least the Northern region, which still has the highest rate of unemployment and which would need an increase in grant of at least 71 per cent. to increase job opportunities?

There is no doubt that a number of regions have strong claims for the reason that the hon. Gentleman has explained. I shall convey his representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and consult him on the issue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this week saw the publication of the first annual report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons? There are many Members on both sides of the House who would welcome an early debate on the role of the prison service. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall have such a debate after the Easter recess?

Hon. Members could have raised this important topic in the House on a number of occasions. It is true that there is a great deal of interest in it. It is true also that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has taken positive action and made a number of substantial decisions to improve the conditions in our prisons and to build new prisons. I cannot find Government time in the near future to debate the matter. I hope that there will be other opportunities for my hon. Friend to raise the subject for debate.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the first report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons is extremely important? Is he aware that it speaks in fairly straightforward terms of the appallingly overcrowded conditions in our prisons and refers to the effect of imprisonment as being brutalising and dehumanising? Surely it is important that the House should have an early opportunity to debate the report?

Of course it is an important topic. Perhaps the decisions taken by my right hon. Friend are even more important. He has taken action to try to deal with some of the issues that have been raised I shall keep the hon. Gentleman's request in mind.

Apart from the merits of the Northern Ireland initiative, which to a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself are imperceptible, should not the statement thereon be made not next week but today or tomorrow, seeing that the whole arrangements have been published in the press? Should not we learn from Ministers of the Crown and not from newspapers and broadcasts what her Majesty's Government policy is?

I ask my hon. Friend to be patient until, I hope, Monday of next week. There were good reasons why it was not possible for the statement to be made today and why it was not practicable to make it tomorrow. It will be made at the first possible moment and thereafter we shall see what procedures may be necessary. I assure my hon. Friend that the statement will be made as soon as is practicable.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the rising volume of protest in Wales about the level of water charges? Will he arrange for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week on this difficult and vexing problem in Wales?

The Government have been reasonably generous in allocating time for debates on Welsh affairs, but I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

As the debate on the Middle East was cancelled owing to the Polish situation, as my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary has been to Israel only this week and as there has been an escalation of the problems on the West Bank, may we have an early debate on this subject and not just a statement by a Foreign Office Minister?

The House would appreciate an opportunity for a debate on foreign affairs. I cannot arrange a debate before Easter, but I would hope to arrange one between Easter and Whitsun.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread concern in Scotland about the presence in the Firth of Clyde of a Soviet nuclear submarine? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the dangers consequent on such a presence will increase if the Government deploy Trident II at Coulport? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make an early statement on this matter?

That matter does not arise in the business for next week. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall convey the request for a statement, if that seems appropriate, to my right hon. Friend. Surveillance operations for the Soviet submarine and the large Soviet intelligence-gathering surface vessel in the area were mounted, using Royal Navy frigates, Sea-King helicopters and Royal Air Force Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that at no time did the submarine or the other vessel enter territorial waters. Naturally, the matter is being kept under close review.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall have a full day's debate on the proposals for Northern Ireland before any legislation is published? In the meantime, will he be good enough to inquire why some members of the press are better informed on this subject than we are?

I cannot comment on my hon. Friend's latter point, although I shall try to inquire. Such inquiries do not normally yield much fruit. I must ask my hon. Friend to await the statement and we shall then see what the postition is.

Given the deep desire of the Leader of the House and the Government to cut wasteful Government expenditure and quangos—a desire that I support—will the right hon. Gentleman arrange next week for the Secretary for State of the Environment to confirm or deny the statement in the press today that Jennifer Jenkins is to be appointed to a £25,000 a year job? The taxpayer does not like to hear of such things, and I am sure that hon. Members would like to know what is happening.

I dare say that the hon. Gentleman has made that inquiry direct to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have no knowledge of the matter, but I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend.

Will my right hon. Friend allow time next week for a debate on yesterday's VAT order on gold coins? While I have no objection whatever to foreign coins being taxed, is it not quite without precedent, and extraordinary, that the British gold sovereign should be subject to VAT?

I am not sure whether that matter falls within the scope of the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. That may provide an opportunity for debate, but I cannot find a special occasion to enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reassure my hon. Friend.

I should like to return to the emollient answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave to the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). He used such words as "actively pursuing", "conscious of the keen interest" and "the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fully seized". What exactly do they mean in terms of the debate on the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, which advocated access to information on Public money by the public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General? This is a matter of great concern in my constituency, where the tractor line at Leyland has so far not been cannibalised. Indeed, the Comptroller and Auditor General has been refused access to the books. Do the Government understand that this is more than an academic question—

Order. Hon. Members must be fair to one another because there is a great deal of guillotined business to come later.

This is not the place to debate the merits of the issue. I was trying to assure the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and now the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, indeed, seized of the urgency and importance of the matter. Discussions are going on. I hope that we shall make progress with a matter that is very important and extremely difficult both for those hon. Members who are interested in it and for the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision made by the Cabinet this morning on Northern Ireland must have been communicated to the press immediately, because it was on the tapes, with all the details? There was even an item about it in the BBC "World at One" programme. Is it not wrong that a Cabinet decision on such an important matter should be issued first to the press and not announced to the House?

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Secretary of State for Scotland will make a statement to the House next week about the rising crime figures in the Strathclyde region which were announced last week by the chief constable? As the Home Secretary has announced increased powers of search for the police as a cure for rising crime in London, and as we already have such powers in Scotland, we need to know what action the Secretary of State intends to take to cure rising crime in Scotland.

I shall convey those representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I think it most unlikely that a statement would prove appropriate.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a motion on the Order Paper concerning the ramp or luggage workers at Heathrow airport, who include a number of my constituents? We are very worried. Will the right hon. Gentleman pass on that worry to the Secretary of State for Employment and ask him to use his influence to get talks going between the trade union officials and the management of British Airways, which seems to have acted in a high-handed manner on rosters? The dispute has been going on for weeks and threatens to spread because The Transport and General Workers Union is calling out other workers with a view to trying to close down the airport?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and others are doing everything they can and are using their best endeavours to bring the dispute to an end.

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the House to discuss the first report of the Social Security Advisory Committee 1981 which appears to show savings from the sick, injured and unemployed of £1·8 billion. The committee now states that we should return to the position of the 1979 valuation, which will cost £686 million. As the Secretary of State for Social Services said that he could not find any money to pay the 5 per cent. that has been taken from the unemployed, the House would like to know where the £1·8 billion is going.

I take note of those representations, and I shall convey them to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

I should like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early-Day Motion 387 dealing with the question of support for the Northern region.

[That this House welcomes the decision announced by the Secretary of State for Wales to increase the budget of the Welsh Development Corporation by 71 per cent. from April 1982; recognises that representatives of the Northern Region of England are currently negotiating with the Secretary of State for Industry about the North of England Development Council budget for 1983–84; notes that the problems in the Northern Region are at least as severe as those faced by the people of Wales; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give equal support to the people of the Northern Region.]

Notwithstanding what the Leader of the House said to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), and bearing in mind that unemployment in the Northern region is the highest for any region in Great Britain, does not the Leader of the House in all equity believe that Northern Members of Parliament are entitled to a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Industry?

The Government are still considering the level of financial support for the Northern region and three other regions. An announcement will be made as soon as a decision has been taken.

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on changes in the distribution of income and wealth under this Government? Will he use such a debate to brief his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the official figures from the Central Statistical Office show that the living standards index is now 111·4, although for the second quarter of 1979 it was 112·7?

That subject might be in order for debate during proceedings on the Finance Bill, but I doubt whether I can provide a special opportunity for a debate. The hon. Gentleman may be able to find other opportunities to raise the matter.

Given the article in the New Statesman which explains that MI5 is building and installing a massive computer with links to other Government Departments, will the Leader of the House, arrange for a statement to be made? The links between computer terminals have been confirmed in parliamentary answers to me. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Parliament, as a democratically elected assembly, should have some say about the safeguards for citizens which such computer storage and links threaten?

A White Paper on data protection will be published fairly soon, which will be relevant to that subject. In the fullness of time, that may provide an opportunity for the subject to be raised. However, I cannot provide time for a special debate on it in the immediate future.

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Social Services on the scandalous treatment that the Government handed out this week to the nurses? The Government have refused to increase the offer to more than 6·3 per cent. and no hon. Member has had a chance to cross-examine the Secretary of State on having agreed to that scandalous offer. If the Common Market people have their way, there will be a farm price review increase of possibly 14 per cent. Why can some people get away with 14 per cent. while the Government keep nurses' pay down to 6·3 per cent?

An offer of 6·4 per cent. was made to the nurses and that is still under negotiation. It is a great mistake and extraordinarily unhelpful for any hon. Member to comment on a matter that is now under negotiation. That is how the position lies, and we must hope that a conclusion that is satisfactory to all sides will be achieved.

Lord Butler Of Saffron Walden

On Monday next the nation will be paying tribute in Westminster Abbey to the memory of "Rab" Butler, to whom the House paid tribute recently. Exceptionally, if not uniquely, this memorial service for an outstanding parliamentarian will be held at 2..30 pm, while the House sits.

I intend, on Monday, to ask the Deputy Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, to take my place at Question Time while I attend the memorial service with the other two Deputy Speakers. I shall, of course, return to take my place in the Chair immediately after the Abbey service.

Adjournment (Easter)

I remind hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Thursday 8 April up to nine hon. Members may raise with Ministers subjects of their choice. Applications should reach my office by 10 pm on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning and the result will be made known as soon as possible thereafter.

Orders Of The Day

Oil And Gas (Enterprise) Bill


3.53 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a moment for which we have waited for more than 114 hours of serious and sometimes even tedious debate. We are now reaching the conclusion of this important part of the Government's legislative programme. We all know that it is an Opposition's privilege to be negative. Opposition Members are entitled to carp and criticise as much as they like and they can sometimes convince those—

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument a little.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have now reached the Third reading of a Bill that has detained us for many hours. We understand why the Secretary of State has not been with us on many occasions, but should he not be present now?

Throughout our deliberations the right hon. Gentleman has been extremely understanding. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has many important duties to perform—[Interruption.]—and it is appropriate that he should seize the opportunity of having the last word on the Bill when he concludes the debate. Yesterday the Opposition could not even manage double figures. It is hardly appropriate for the Opposition to criticise my right hon. Friend when their Members have absented themselves from the Chamber for hour after hour. We do not blame the Opposition. We appreciate that they have their problems.

Let us return to the much more important subject of the Bill's merits and contents and of the opportunities that it will provide. Throughout the Committee stage constructive contributions came only from Conservative Members. We heard little more than carping criticism from the Opposition and we never heard a constructive proposal from them. I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) in the Chamber. He made some useful contributions. At least he has been constructive, and that is something.

Let us consider our achievements in relation to the British National Oil Corporation. Throughout our long debates there were far too many misconceptions about the Government's plans for BNOC. Some were genuine misunderstandings, others were no more than the Opposition trying to scaremonger and create apprehension in the minds of the public. However, we are not misled or deterred in any way by such things.

I should like to put the record straight. We are not abolishing BNOC. From the outset we consistently stated that the corporation would remain in existence under State control. We said that its primary role would be to trade in participation oil. That represents an important contribution to the security of the nation's oil supplies. We are not giving up our controls or regulatory powers over the North Sea. They will be unaffected by the creation Britoil. The independent BNOC will be completely separate from Britoil. BNOC will continue in being, ensuring that the national interest is properly safeguarded.

We are not, in any way, engaged in asset-stripping. BNOC's oil-producing business will be transferred to Britoil as a going concern. There is no question of BNOC's assets being sold off individually. We are not leaving Britoil at the mercy of any creditors who may wish to take it over. The articles will contain effective safeguards for Britoil's independence.

The Opposition's pathetic attempt yesterday—after so much song and dance during the weeks before—to criticise the articles serves only to show the care that we took to provide articles that adequately cover the situation. That was highlighted by the debate on new clause 1. The articles will contain effective safeguards for Britoil's independence and the safeguards will be triggered if there is an attempt to take over voting control of the company or to control the Britoil board or its composition.

Our plans represent an imaginative approach to the problems of a public-sector oil corporation and they should command the support of all who wish to reverse the steady expansion of the State in our national life.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I asked yesterday whether the articles of association had been referred to the council of the Stock Exchange. The answer given was in the affirmative. May we have the council's comments on the articles? Are they available to the House?

The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for as long as I have. He knows perfectly well that such correspondence and exchanges of views are confidential. Such information is not available to the House.

I deal next with the Government's proposals for the British Gas Corporation. At this stage in the Bill's progress through the House it might be appropriate for me to suggest that the time is ripe for others to come to terms with the provisions that we are proposing. One can admire the putting up of a good fight, but not the bad loser—not that I would ever suggest that Labour Members would be bad losers. They cannot be looking forward to the next election with any enthusiasm—that is for sure.

We are a philosophical party. We take things as they come. We do not get all uptight in the way that Labour Members do.

No one should doubt the Government's resolve to implement their proposals for the gas industry. No one should doubt that in implementing the proposals the Government expect—they are entitled to expect—the full co-operation of those who are involved.

We have described the gas measures to the House on a number of occasions. I should hesitate to do so again were it not for the misconceived criticisms still being put about in some quarters. There are general powers of disposal in respect of the British Gas Corporation's assets. We have made it clear that in the first instance we intend to use those to privatise the British Gas Corporation's interests in offshore oilfields.

In Committee, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave the assurance that he would not direct BGC, under clause 11(1), to dispose of assets required for the performance of the corporation's statutory obligations to supply on request under schedule 4 to the Gas Act 1972. I want there to be no misunderstanding. At present the Government have no plans to require the corporation to dispose of its interests in gas fields or to dispose of its transmission and distribution pipelines.

Competition will open up new opportunities for industrial and commercial concerns, on which success our economy depends. It is the larger industrial and commercial consumers who expect to be the purchasers of the majority of private gas supplies. However, the Bill also permits private supplies to smaller consumers, with my right hon. Friend's consent. We have made it clear that the purpose of that consent requirement is to permit a check to be made on the adequacy of the proposed safety and emergency arrangements.

The Government also said in Committee that they accept the need for private gas in the British Gas Corporation's pipelines to fall within specifications which do not prevent the corporation from complying with its obligations. Those are proposals which are workable and have full regard to safety.

After yesterday, may we take it that the concept of non-premium gas has gone the way of the dodo?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can make that assumption at all. That was made perfectly clear when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke on the gas clauses yesterday.

Part 4 deals with the important subject of offshore safety. It is probably the only part of the Bill that is wholly non-political. For that reason, it probably provided us with the best debates throughout our progress in Committee. The Committee spent a considerable amount of time talking about offshore safety and the proposals that had been laid before me by Labour Members, in conjunction with the unions. The general approach was constructive and we made a lot of progress in our thinking along those lines.

I recognise that the industry has invested considerable resources in safety. However, no matter how high the standard of self-regulation by the industry, no Government can abrogate their responsibility for the safety of workers offshore. For example, it would be completely unacceptable if workers housed on accommodation units did not have the same degree of protection as they receive when on drilling and production platforms. It is that thinking that underpins the proposals in clause 23. My Department is discussing with the United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association the application to Hotels of the various regulations made under the 1971 Act and the time scale for their implementation.

The majority of the Burgoyne committee's recommendations concerned points of technical detail on a wide range of offshore operations. Nothing proposed in the Bill will prevent the recommendations from being put into effect. It may be helpful if I review briefly the position regarding the implementation of the Burgoyne recommendations which concern the House and which we have debated and exchanged views upon.

Particular interest has been expressed for the safety of those who work offshore, and that is proper and understandable. Frequent reference has been made to the proposals contained in the North Sea oil charter prepared by the joint parliamentary union offshore group. I discussed the proposals with the group in a constructive meeting on 27 January and subsequently sent the group a written commentary on the proposals contained in the charter. I stand ready to have further discussions with the group when its proposals assume definitive form. As I made clear to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prestcott) last night, I look forward to discussing the progress that has been made after the group has had consultations with other Departments.

The question has been raised of the effectiveness of the sanctions available to Ministers to deal with companies with unsatisfactory safety records. Some Labour Members have advocated having the power to ban such companies outright from operating on the United Kingdom continental shelf. Clearly, we would all seek to circumscribe the activities of cowboy companies with a proven record of failure to implement safety regulations. I am persuaded that the combined impact of the powers currently available and the major incentive to the companies themselves implicit in the existence and exercises of those powers, constitute a powerful deterrent against any such rogue companies. I am not persuaded that a total ban is necessary.

As I explained to the House last night, legislation alone cannot ensure safety in the North Sea. A considerable number of factors influence that, not least the training of personnel before they go offshore and the attitude of the companies that are operating in the North Sea. Probably the most important factor of all is the general attitude of the workers offshore—the constant awareness of he necessity for safety and the application of the guidelines that are given in every case.

Finally, hon. Members have underlined the need for the safety regime to keep abreast of technological developments. The entire saga of the North Sea has been characterised by the opening up of new technological frontiers. The application of advancing technology to safety is no exception. Indeed, successive Governments have striven to develop an effective safety regime, flexible enough to take account of new technologies and new situations. The proposals contained in the Bill are entirely consistent with that approach.

The Bill reflects the Government's total commitment. in common with that of their predecessors, to ensure that every necessary step is taken to minimise the risks attendant upon activities in the hostile offshore environment. Clearly we should not delude ourselves into thinking that activities in such an environment can be rendered entirely risk free with legislation or without legislation—certainly not merely by regulation and administration.

We have an obligation to the offshore work force to establish and maintain the best possible safety framework within which offshore oil and gas operations may be carried out, and the Bill reflects the Government's unqualified acceptance of that obligation.

I believe that the measure that we have piloted through the House will be of great benefit not only to the nation but to everyone who is prepared to participate in the resultant Britoil company.

After many hours of serious debate, perhaps I shall be permitted a moment of levity—

I shall not give way just now. It may well be that what I am about to say is not within the knowledge of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)—

Before the Minister indulges in his moment of levity, perhaps he will comment on the speech made yesterday by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), who pointed out that the underwriting fees for Amersham, British Telecom, British Aerospace and Cable and Wireless came to £21·3 million. That was not denied. Before we come to the jokes, will the Minister say whether the £21·3 million is the Government's figure?

The hon. Member has a happy knack of pouring cold water on anything. That has nothing whatever to do with the legislation that we are discussing.

I was about to comment on the Welshmen who led for the Opposition. It is unusual to have two Welshmen leading for the Opposition. It will not be lost on my Scottish Friends that those two hon. Members made no reference whatever to clause 34. That is not a particularly important clause, but is has been indelibly imprinted on the minds of Welshmen since a week last Saturday. It is a good job that the clause does not contain a subsection (18), otherwise we might well have discussed such a subsection for a long time.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), who have co-operated to the full throughout our deliberations. We now look to see whether Labour Members, in their vigorous opposition to the Bill will be able to keep this Third Reading debate going on until 7 o'clock. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.13 pm

The Bill has been with us since the Queen's Speech. We have had a pre-statement, a debate in reply to the Loyal Address, a Second Reading debate and a guillotine motion. It is an important piece of legislation affecting BNOC, gas and safety in the North Sea. It would have been better if on Third Reading the Secretary of State had opened the debate, but I believe that the right hon. Gentleman will reply. I simply make the point that it would have been better had he opened the debate—

Certain standards are involved in this, and what I have just said relates to that and nothing more.

It would have been better had the Bill been handled differently at the beginning. We suggested a Select Committee-type approach. Despite what the Minister of State has said today, it was a good Committee. We made the most of it and the Bill was treated in a sensible fashion. Apart from one occasion upstairs and one today, the Minister of State provided us with much valuable information.

On Second Reading, eight promises were made about what would happen on Report. This is not the appropriate time to deal with them, but it seems that four have not been dealt with. Perhaps we can have a letter about that.

We put forward ideas arising from the charter on safety. That was debated last night, and everyone was self-congratulatory about it. We received certain assurances and we shall return to those in the future. Above all, we shall seek to put overall responsibility for safety into the hands of the Health and Safety Commission. We shall also return to the need to control the entry of foreign workers to our rigs. I explained why last night.

We are still convinced that the Bill is misconceived in respect of BNOC. It is wrong to split the corporation into production and trading arms. An integrated company is necessary, and that view is supported by many people in the industry. Although I do not want it done at all, it would have been better to have retained an integrated industry and privatised generally rather than to have split it up in the way proposed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I am not advocating that; I am merely saying that splitting it in this way is a fundamental error.

On the production side, there is no monopoly. BNOC produces about 7 per cent. of output from the North Sea and does so successfully. We shall seek to return to an integrated company. There is need for a national company that can talk to foreign companies, and BNOC could talk from strength with such companies.

We shall also return to the role of Government directors, which we discussed yesterday, because I do not believe that any Government have got the role right.

Just as nationalisation in the 1940s was not the end of that story, neither is privatisation in the 1980s the end of this story. One reason is that the alternative economic strategy that the Opposition are developing—[Laughter.] This is a serious point. The ability of the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) is such that he would make a good director of a Government company. What is done in respect of a national investment bank or even under the 1972 Act, where Government funds go into companies, is the opposite of privatisation. It is privatisation in reverse. In my view, we must be clearer about the terms of reference of these companies and the role of Government directors.

We are intrigued with the Secretary of State's method of acting through the single share concept. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) called it the "golden share". Some people are concerned about its propriety. In any event, what a system for the future! All we shall need is an Articles of Association (Enterprise) Bill. We need only include one share that is owned by the Government, and the Government may do that whenever they wish. If that happens, I hope that the Conservative Party will not grumble, because the one-share concept is capable of being developed in other ways. Apparently the Stock Exchange did not grumble. Therefore, it would not be able to grumble if we were to do what I have suggested.

In the 1940s and 1950s, we had Morrisonian nationalisation. Who knows, perhaps we shall have Lawsonite public ownership as a result of the single share concept.

I hope that the lawyers in the other place will look at this matter carefully. The view has been expressed that there is something fundamentally wrong with the single share, given the concept of a joint stock limited liability company and the responsibilities of the firm.

For the future, although there may be some sense in the Government having shares in firms as a general principle, nothing that has been done invalidates our opposition to the breakup of BNOC. There remains a large private sector, consisting mainly of multinational oil companies, and a State company, like Statoil in Norway, is needed to play a role in the North Sea and in the other seas around our coasts.

Despite the brave words of the Secretary of State, there is concern about the methods that are to be used for the sale of BNOC. Last night we learnt that the first that we shall hear about the sale of BNOC will be outside, not in the House. There is to be no report to the House of Commons about the method. So much for parliamentary accountability. If there is to be a repeat of Amersham International, it will be an affront to the country. New methods of selling the company should be found. Last night, the Minister called in aid the sensible words of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), and said that the hon. Member's suggestions would be looked at. So perhaps the method of sale will be different from that of Amersham International. In any event, the House of Commons is not to be told about the method that is to be used. There are other aspects of the Bill, such as the sale of subsidiaries, on which again there is to be no reporting back to the House of Commons. If the Government use the same methods as they used with Amersham International, they will not be able this time to say that it was a good method, particularly as the amount of money involved in BNOC is much larger