House Of Commons
Friday 19 April 1985
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
The Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence, through illness, of MR. SPEAKER from this day's sitting.
Whereupon MR. HAROLD WALKER, THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, proceeded to the Table and, after Prayers, took the Chair, as DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.
FELIXSTOWE DOCK AND RAILWAY BILL (By Order)
GREATER LONDON COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS) BILL (By Order)
LINCOLN CITY COUNCIL BILL (By Order)
YORKSHIRE WATER AUTHORITY BILL (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday 25 April.
Oral Answers To Questions
Agriculture, Fisheries And Food
Rosemaund Experimental Husbandry Farm
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any plans to pay an official visit to the Rosemaund experimental husbandry farm in the west midlands.
I have no plans at present to visit Rosemaund in the near future.
Is my hon. Friend happy with the advice being given to farmers by ADAS on conservation generally and on the management of broadleaved woodlands on farms in particular?
Advice on forestry generally is a matter for the Forestry Commission. However, ADAS does give wide-ranging advice on conservation matters, including the management of woodlands, as part of the farm enterprise.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received about the 1985 agricultural price levels.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further consideration has been given by the European Economic Community Council to the Commission's agricultural price proposals.
My Department has received representations about the Commission's price proposals from the farmers unions in the United Kingdom, representatives of the food manufacturing industry, food retailers and consumers. The Agriculture Council discussed the proposals at its meetings on 25 and 27 March and on 1 and 2 April and discussions are expected to resume at the next meeting of the Council starting on 22 April.
Is the Minister aware that there is a desperate need to start to tackle the problem of high sale prices and the surpluses that they create, which is why both sides of the House supported the stand that he took in our debate on this issue? Will he give the House a cast-iron assurance that in no circumstances will he agree to a price-cut of anything less than the 3·6 per cent. put forward by the Commission?
I agree that it is very important that the right signals are given about cereals right across the Community. We must bear in mind that when we arrive at this year's harvest we could find 15 million or 16 million tonnes of grain still hanging over from the previous harvest.
What attitude will the Minister adopt in the Council if, as is likely, his colleagues from the other Common Market countries alter the Commission's price proposals to increase the total cost outside the scope of the financial guideline laid down by the Heads of Government and the Finance Council?
The hon. Gentleman will remember the discussions that we held on the general principles on 18 March when we expressed our opinions. He will know that if it seems likely at any stage of the negotiations that the costs of the proposals will go above the agreed ceilings, there is provision for a Joint Council with Finance Ministers at a future date to thrash out the financial problems.
Following the representations that my right hon. Friend has received, will he assure the House that he is strongly urging the European Commission on the abolition of the co-responsibility levy and also fighting to the utmost for the retention of the beef variable premium?
My hon. Friend will recall that in the debate, in which he took part, I made it clear, in regard to the beef variable premium, that it was my intention to fight for the continuation of that measure, and there was broad agreement among hon. Members on that. He will also recall the proposal of the Commission to reduce the co-responsibility levy from 3 to 2 per cent. I have been greatly heartened by the discussions; in particular, by hearing the French representative say for the first time that he believed that we should be thinking in terms of phasing out the co-responsibility levy for milk—a sentiment which I strongly support.
In view of the protracted negotiations that are taking place in Brussels on the co-responsibility levy, will the right hon. Gentleman consider introducing an interim measure, to take effect from 1 April, to reduce the levy by 1·5 per cent.? That would at least provide some aid for the hard-pressed dairy farmers, who have suffered much in the last 12 months, and such a step would riot in any way affect the price of milk to the consumer.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that because we were not able to reach agreement in the discussions the 1984–85 marketing year was extended to 28 April. Within that arrangement we already have a further 1 per cent. reduction in the milk quota. The Commission made it clear that there would be nothing to stop the backdating of the reduction of 1 per cent. in the co-responsibility levy to 1 April.
In considering the representations. will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that agricultural price levels have been declining and that farmers' real incomes have been maintained only by increasing output? Is he aware that if restraints on output are imposed many thousands of farmers will face a great dilemma, unless there is a reversal of policy at home?
I am naturally concerned about the impact of these measures on farm incomes. My hon. Friend will agree, however, bearing in mind the massive over-production and huge surpluses which overlay the Community market, that it is important to put our house in order now. Otherwise, it will be infintely more difficult to do so at a later stage.
What proposals does the Minister have with respect to livestock producers' incomes in the light of the representations that he has received?
The hon. Gentleman was present when we debated that issue on 18 March. He will remember that I said—and I repeated it today—that it was important to maintain the beef variable premium scheme. He will also recall that part of the Commission's proposals was for a move to the second stage of the introduction of the carcase classification grid for beef. I made some remarks in the debate about sheepmeat and the importance of making sure that any alterations to the sheepmeat variable premium were compensated through the annual ewe premium, or the system would be discriminatory against the United Kingdom.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cereals sector has not experienced the same income reductions as have been suffered by the livestock sector? Does he further agree that a cut in the price of cereals would help the livestock sector, as well as benefiting the consumer and helping to curb surpluses? What minimum cut in grain prices is he insisting on during the current negotiations?
My hon. Friend will recall that in the debate on 18 March I made it clear that I did not believe that the proposed 3·6 per cent. cut in cereal prices made by the Commission was adequate and that the full cut of 5 per cent., stemming from the guarantee threshold, should be applied. I have therefore been telling the Council of Ministers that, for the reasons to which my hon. Friend rightly draws attention, a 5 per cent. cut would be the correct move to make.
When the Minister has stripped all the jargonese from his remarks, will he explain whether the Government, in accordance with their philosophy, believe that market forces will apply to farms and that uneconomic farms will close? Alternatively, does he believe in continually subsidising farms, as is happening this year to the tune of about £20,000 per farm?
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman was present in the Chamber when we debated these matters on 18 March.
I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman was in his place. We do not usually forget his presence.In France, for example, there is expected to be a major reduction in the number of uneconomic dairy farms. That demonstrates that market forces are operating much more effectively within the CAP and that the level of support is being reduced. The hon. Gentleman will remember that at the Stuttgart summit there was general agreement in the Community that we could not continue to subsidise enormous surpluses of food.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that, even if we achieve a full 5 per cent. cut in cereal prices, there is still a danger that the rake's progress of increased cereal production will continue?
No one can tell, but the hon. Gentleman must remember that last year there was what amounted to a reduction in cereal prices. If we were to have another reduction, many of those who are growing what amount to surplus cereals on land which traditionally has not been used for that purpose will have to consider whether it is wise to continue to produce cereals.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what new methods of disposal of surplus European Economic Community grain have recently been considered: and if he will make a statement.
There is currently some discussion about finding new outlets for Community cereals, and the issue has been raised in this year's price fixing discussions. We would look positively at proposals into the development of any such outlets if they seemed likely to be economically viable. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case.
Is the Minister aware that certain elements in the EEC have made the appalling proposal that surplus food should be converted into plastic material? Surely that is an appalling proposition at a time when millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa are in need. Will the Minister give an undertaking that the British Government will not support the proposal and will seek positive ways in which the surplus can be used to feed people, which is the purpose for which it was grown originally?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are spending considerable sums in disposing of quite a large part of the cereal surplus as emergency food aid to the African drought countries. We intend to deliver 1·2 million tonnes from last year's harvest. However, there is still a surplus, and that is why other suggestions are being made. I have not heard the suggestion to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but there is no sense in spending vast sums to find alternative outlets. We must ensure that any such outlets are economically viable.
As opposed to what has been allocated by the EEC, how much of the surplus grain has been delivered to Ethiopia and the Sudan?
I do not have the exact figures immediately to hand. If the hon. Gentleman tables a question seeking that information, I shall answer it.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the estimated savings by his Department for 1984–85 as a result of privatisation schemes.
No functions of my Department were privatised during 1984–85. However, new savings as a result of further contracting out of services are estimated at over £200,000 in a full year.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that small firms are given sufficient opportunities to tender for these services?
Yes. My hon. Friend may like to know that tenders are open to all-comers and that contracts have been placed with firms for cleaning, security guarding, press cutting, laundry, maintenance and a number of other services, including data preparation and graphic production.
As there has been speculation about privatisation in other areas, will the Minister acknowledge that the agri-chemical and fertiliser industries would have a vested interest in becoming involved in any privatised advisory or research services and that, with the best will in the world, they would be unlikely to give advice which would reduce the sales of their own products? Therefore, does he accept the overwhelming environmental case in the public interest for retaining independent advisory and research services under the auspices of his Department?
I have no plans for the privatisation of the functions of ADAS. I have accepted in principle that it is appropriate for those who benefit from the services of ADAS to contribute to the costs, and I am pursuing the practical implications of that. The hon. Gentleman makes a mistake if he thinks that farmers are gullible. They always look to see where the advice comes from before deciding what assessment to make of it.
asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consideration he is giving to the interests of consumers and taxpayers in the farm price review negotiations; and if he will make a statement.
I have regard to all United Kingdom interests, including those of consumers and taxpayers, in the negotiations on CAP prices.
Is not the best way to dispose of Common Market and our own surpluses to lower their prices and make it possible for people to purchase them? Furthermore, with the accession of Spain and Portugal to the Common Market, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to protect our taxpayers' interests, because enormous sums of money will be needed to bring the Spanish and Portuguese agriculture and fishing industries into line wih EC regulations? Will he make sure that we do not pay more than our fair whack?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the accession of Spain and Portugal is rather wider than his question. The Government have consistently pressed for a more realistic pricing policy under the CAP. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that CAP prices were reduced in 1984 for the first time and that within the past six years consumers have had an infinitely better deal than they had under the Labour Government, when, in five years, food prices rose by 117 per cent.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the alternative means of restricting cereal production which are under consideration in his Department.
Decisions in that area are matters for the Community, but I accept the need to bring the cereals sector into a better balance. Restricting production directly could be one way of doing that. Others include developing new outlets, finding new ways of financing existing policies, or encouraging the greater operation of market forces through a restrictive price policy or by reducing the impact and coverage of support measures. I remain convinced that a sustained policy of price restraint is the best way of improving the balance of the cereals market.
Earlier it was said that there was likely to be a 16 million tonne carry-over of cereal surpluses into next year. Does the Minister accept that a marginal price cut, be it 3·6 or 5 per cent., will lead to pressure to increase production? Does he further accept that the draconian price cuts necessary to have the effect of suppressing production would have a devastating effect on smaller producers? Will he now take our advice and consult about contingency plans for cereal quotas, or has he learnt nothing from the shambles of the hastily introduced milk quotas?
The hon. Gentleman underestimates the effect that a sustained policy of price restraint could have. We have obviously been engaged in contingency planning. Our analysis of the alternatives and awareness of the difficulties and disadvantages involved in them leads us to the view that price restraint is by far the best answer, if it can be achieved.
Will my hon. Friend ensure that those contingency plans are ready to be implemented quickly, because our experience over milk quotas tends to suggest that when the Council of Ministers makes a final decision we shall not want to be caught on the hop again?
It is important to recognise that in the current price-fixing negotiations the proposal on the table is for price restraint. That is what we are discussing. The position is rather different from that of milk last year. Therefore, it is important to try to obtain a realistic answer along those lines in the negotiations.
Common Agricultural Policy
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to co-operate with the European Economic Community Commission to produce a rationalisation of the common agricultural policy.
I am willing to co-operate with all concerned to ensure that the process of putting the CAP on to a more rational basis is continued.
Does the Minister accept that if the rationalisation plans inevitably lead to reduced financial expenditure, especially in rural upland areas, the Government must have contingency plans to ensure that we do not return to the bad old days in the early 1960s of rural depopulation and unemployment?
Certainly the Community is extremely worried about those matters. I have no doubt that within the areas which the Commission has identified such matters will be of concern. In particular, one of the groups proposed by the Commission is to study agriculture in society—that is, the position of agriculture in the rural economy.
Regarding rationalisation, does my right hon. Friend appreciate that those of his hon. Friends who heard both Lord Peart and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) separately introduce expansionist White Papers when they were Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are looking to him soon to produce a general strategy document for agriculture in the light of the new restrictionist policy?
At present, when so many uncertainties and matters are in the process of coming to fruition, it would not be appropriate to produce a White Paper of that sort. However, I do not rule that out. I have an open mind about it for the future.
What induced the Minister to stand on its head the expansionist policy of his predecessor?
The answer is simple. In June 1983, within a few weeks of the general election, the European Council meeting in Stuttgart at last decided that the CAP should be brought back to reality and rationality. As a result of those sensible decisions, which should have been taken years earlier—if British advice had been followed they would have been taken years earlier—we have been able to return the CAP to a degree of realism.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British hops industry, which was strong for 60 years until two years ago, is currently in a state of great anxiety? Will he take steps to ensure that there is a greater degree of rationalisation throughout the European Community regarding hops? Will he pay a further visit to hop growers, as opposed to the Hops Marketing Board, this year?
My hon. Friend may recall that last September, besides visiting the headquarters of the Hops Marketing Board, I visited hops farms and saw the harvesting and processing of hops. I am aware of the current position, which gives rise to many difficulties. As my hon. Friend knows, we have a problem of over-supply at present. I shall most certainly keep my eye on the matter.
Livestock Farming (Financial Resources)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what shift in financial resources he has been able to make from cereals to livestock for the year 1985–86.
Discussions are currently taking place on the Commission's proposals for the 1985–86 price fixing, which would reduce the CAP support price for cereals, leave unchanged the price of beef and pigmeat and make modest increases in the price support for milk and for sheepmeat from January 1986.As my hon. Friend knows, we are committed to trying to achieve a better balance of support between the arable and livestock sectors, and we have indicated that we feel the Commission's proposals do not go far enough in reducing the price support for cereals.
Does my hon. Friend agree that much more needs to be done if lifestock farmers are to receive the same financial opportunities as cereal farmers? Can we expect an accelerating trend towards livestock farming in the coming year?
My hon. Friend will know that in view of the market position, for example, in beef, the Community beef management committee recently agreed to augment the existing programme of hindquarter intervention with a short period of private storage aids. I hope that that will help. I believe that our endeavours to retain the beef premium scheme—at present it costs £2 million to £3 million a week to help producers—will undoubtedly help. We are trying to restore the balance in all those directions. However, I also believe that the recent reduction in the breeding herd will help to restore the balance and will help livestock producers in the long run.
European Community (Portugal)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the National Farmers Union regarding the effect of Portugal's accession to the European Economic Community on British agriculture; and if he will make a statement.
I am not aware of any aspect of the terms for Portugese accession which is of substantial concern to the National Farmers Union.
What of the problems of the soft fruit farmers of the south of England?
The arrangements that we have made regarding the cost of Portuguese accession to the Community budget, in view of the major uncertainties about developments between now and the end of the 10-year transitional period, should mean that the National Farmers Union need not have immediate and serious concern on this matter.
Is my right hon. Friend not worried about the potential effect on the balance of voting in the Council of Ministers of the EC when Portugal and Spain come in and add their weight to the votes of Greece, Italy and France to swing the emphasis of CAP money to southern products, to the detriment of our farming interests?
My hon. Friend should consider the terms of the accession agreement, which awaits ratification and signature. With the transitional period that has been negotiated, I believe that British growers need not have serious worries.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason for supporting agriculture in the United Kingdom, especially in mountain areas, is the fact that, for strategic reasons, we have learnt that we must keep livestock there, and that this could be affected substantially by the enlargement of the Community?
Regardless of the fact that it is proposed that Spain and Portugal should join the Community, it is unlikely that our support for the upland areas will be eroded.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects producers to be told of their positions as far as final milk production is concerned for the year 1985–86.
The Milk Marketing Board for England and Wales will be notifying producers of their 1985–86 quotas within the next few weeks.
Obviously, that is an improvement on last year. Can the Minister say that the Government have finally decided not to pay farmers the full quota allocated to them through the claims made at the tribunals? Is that decision final, or will the Government rethink their position and inform the farmers at a later date that their quotas have been increased by extending the outgoers scheme so that the extra quota allocated can be paid in full?
I think that the hon. Gentleman has in mind farmers with development claims who are looking for secondary quota from the tribunals. As he knows, that comes out of the reserve that we held back from primary quotas. Since the tribunals awarded the amount that they did, it is necessary this year to cut the awards by about 35 per cent. We do not yet know what the final position will be for next year, but I do not expect it to be much different. As to the outgoers scheme, the hon. Gentleman will know that, as milk producers become accustomed to quotas, they are more anxious to stay in milk production. Therefore, there is still some capacity left in the outgoers scheme.
Does the Minister realise that the rough justice handed out in some cases by the quota tribunals, on their admission, as a result of the rules which they have had to operate, has meant much hardship for many farmers? Will he now confirm publicly what I understand he said privately: that he will sift through those cases to ensure that something can be done to assist such producers?
The tribunal process is a judicial one, and we made it clear from the outset that it would not be possible for us to intervene or interfere in the decisions about individual producers. That remains the case, but we knew from the outset that some difficult cases could not be covered by the regulations. We have made it clear that we are reviewing those cases, but without commitment, because it depends on having additional quota available to give to those whom we think deserve it.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a great many farmers believe that those countries in the EC which have no proper milk register are unable to operate a proper quota system? Will he tell the House which countries of the EEC have a proper overall milk register for quota system milk?
We made it very clear in the Council from the outset that the new system that has been introduced in the Community must be applied fairly and equally by all member states. We continue to insist on that, and that is why we took the decision that we did earlier about the payment of super levy. On the particular question my hon. Friend asked,I am endeavouring to get precise information on registers, but there is evidence that the vast majority of member states are now applying the quota system. It is quite significant that more than 20,000 dairy producers in France, for example, have come out of dairying in the past year.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to accept the specific recommendation m the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture that Government compensation should be given to farm workers who lose their jobs as a consequence of these quota schemes? Can he give us any reason why this second search which is now taking place for outgoers to release quota for needy cases should be any more successful than the first one?
We shall obviously give our considered reply to the Select Committee's report, but, as we have made clear frequently in the House, the outgoers scheme is not a redundancy payments scheme and was never designed to be so. There are statutory redundancy payment arrangements, as the hon. Gentleman knows. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, it is important to recognise that we set ourselves, as the objective of the outgoers scheme, the yielding of enough quota to enable us to help all cases of exceptional hardship and all small milk producers to get back to 1983 production levels. I believe that the rate of progress we are making brings us very close to achieving that
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the prospects for the beef sector of the agriculture industry.
There is at present a surplus of beef in the Community, partly due to the increased cow cullings following the introduction of milk quotas, and producers' returns are accordingly relatively low in relation to the Community's guide prices. In view of the market situation, the Community beef management committee recently agreed to augment the existing programme of hindquarter intervention with a short period of private storage aids. The need is to achieve a better balance between supply and demand in the Community.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the longer-term beef production cycle means that there has also to be commensurate longer-term confidence in the United Kingdom beef producing sector? Is he aware that his and his right hon. Friend's robust defence of the scheme is welcome, in that it does lead and will lead to the consumption of beef? Can he seek to sustain it on a longer-term basis instead of a year-by-year negotiation basis?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the scheme, and if we had been able to achieve that we would obviously have gone for it. Unfortunately, we were not responsible for the arrangement, which meant that it was on a one-yearly basis. My hon. Friend is right in the point that he makes about consumption. We estimate that if we had not had the beef variable premium scheme last year beef consumption would have been 8 per cent. or more lower than was the case. That would have led to considerable increases in intervention, which, of course, also creates considerable problems of physical storage.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, against the background of the figures which he has just given, the view of the Commission is so irrational as to border on the lunatic? Did he by any chance hear the representative of the Commission on the farming programme this morning declaring in no uncertain terms that it was going to see the end of the variable beef premium? Is that not absolute nonsense?
We have made it very clear, as my hon. Friend knows, that we shall use every endeavour to retain that scheme this year. One of the arguments is that we estimate that without the premium 75,000 to 80,000 tonnes of beef would have had to go into intervention last year to keep producer prices at roughly the same levels. It seems to me that, with the problems of physical storage, it is very much better to have the beef going on to consumers' plates than into intervention.
Does my hon. Friend accept that small, family-run farms are the backbone of the livestock industry, including the beef industry, and that in recent years the agricultural price reviews have tilted matters in favour of the large producer? This year, is it not time that the balance was tilted in favour of the small, family-run farm?
I think that it is clear from the debate that we had on the price review proposals, and from the Government's response, that we agree that it is important to get a better balance between cereals and livestock. That is our endeavour in negotiations.
Is the Minister aware that we have reached Question 17, and that every Tory Member who has asked a question has called for more Government intervention, more subsidies of one kind or another—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I did not.
I have not finished yet. We have caught Tory Members at it. Every one of them wants more subsidies. Why does the Minister not—
Order. We are talking about beef. Perhaps the Minister will try to reply to the question as far as it has gone.
Where is the beef? Will the—
Order. I have called the Minister to answer as far as the hon. Gentleman has gone.
Will the Minister convey to his colleagues that if the Cabinet is prepared to intervene in the farming industry on a massive scale, to appease all these Tory Members—
Order. I have reminded the hon. Gentleman that the question is about beef. So far he has not referred to beef. Perhaps the Minister will now reply.
Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman has not been listening, either to what my hon. Friends have been asking or to what Ministers have been saying in reply.
They have been calling for more money.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman just does not understand.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the use of funds under the common agricultural policy for conservation projects.
As I told the House on 13 March, the Commission has agreed to bring forward during 1985 proposals for a Community-funded scheme based on the new provision for grants to environmentally sensitive areas. This represents a very successful outcome to the initiative which I put forward last year. FEOGA funding is already available for conservation work undertaken as part of an agricultural improvement.
I welcome the personal initiative of my right hon. Friend in this matter. What is the value of the funds, and what proportion of the total do they represent? For the benefit of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) I assure him that I am talking about the switching of funds and not about the increasing of funds.
I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but it is not possible to isolate a figure to show how much FEOGA spends on the conservation element of agricultural improvements. It is too early to assess the cost of our new initiative. We shall be seeking primary legislation as soon as possible.
Now that the Government have effectively banned the use of the pesticide dieldrin, why do they not use some of the European money for conservation purposes to ensure that that dieldrin that still remains in the supply chain within the United Kingdom is not used? Why do they not purchase it, take it off the market and protect the environment in so doing?
That is rather wide of the question, but the hon. Gentleman will well know—I know that he is a member of the Standing Committee that is dealing with these matters—that the Government are taking positive steps to reduce any risks from the use of pesticides.
Can the Minister give us an assurance that there will be no reduction in United Kingdom funded aid for conservation when we get the money from the Community, so that we avoid the dreaded additionality problem?
The hon. Gentleman should recall that the initiative agreed during March by the Council of Ministers is, at this stage, a nationally funded scheme. We hope that, at a later stage, we can persuade the Community to embrace the scheme as one funded by Community money. We have in progress an investigation of that possibility.
Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that it is his policy, wherever possible, to conserve land for agricultural use? In view of the arguments that we hear in the House from time to time about north versus south, does he agree that it would be helpful if he and his ministerial colleagues would take on board the point that so long as we allow farming land to be eaten up for development in areas such as Dorset, we are doing everything that we should not be doing if we wish to encourage growth in the less-favoured parts of the country?
My hon. Friend will know that a great deal of the effort of my Ministry goes in giving advice about the quality of the land that is concerned in development. He will know that over the years the Government have had a policy of trying to prevent the very best land being taken by development.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the lates position regarding the Common Market price fixing negotiations; and whether he will make a statement.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) earlier today.
Now that we have a regime of milk quotas, has not the milk co-responsibility levy lost all meaning? Surely my right hon. Friend ought to start negotiations in the Common Market to try to get rid of it?
I agree very much with what my hon. Friend says. He will know that the Commission has proposed to adjust from 3 to 2 per cent. the milk co-responsibility levy. I have said consistently that if one is to try to help dairy farmers I would much rather it were done through reducing the co-responsibiliy levy than by increasing the price.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 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 this House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to attend a banquet given by President Banda.
In thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask her if she has yet had time to study the people in work figures published yesterday, which show that there were 340,000 more people in work last year? Will she also confirm that, at 65 per cent., the proportion of people in work in this country is among the highest in the major industrial nations and well above the European average?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the subject of the increasing number of people who found jobs in 1984. If one takes the period since March 1983, one sees that some 613,000 more jobs have been created. Had we said in March 1983 that it was our policy to create 600,000 more jobs by March 1985 we would not have been believed. In fact, they have been created. As my hon. Friend has said, the proportion of the population of working age in work is higher in this country than in West Germany, France or Italy, and equal to that in the United States.
Does the Prime Minister know that while she was away 39 shire counties were told that they were to receive less rate support grant than they had been promised? Does she know that the reduction in that rate support grant is the direct result of the Greater London council levying a lower rate than the Government anticipated? How does she justify penalising Kent, Lancashire and Essex because the GLC has not raised its rate as much as the Government anticipated?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is customary to give an expected rate support grant and later to correct it. In this case it was corrected because the GLC decided to agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. In fact, in spite of all its posturings it set a rate below the limit that he had specified.
That may be customary under the new system, but it is clearly absurd. I ask the Prime Minister again to explain why Lancashire should be penalised because the GLC set a lower rate than the Government anticipated. Does it not demonstrate that the present system of rate support grant is preposterous and should be abolished, and that the Secretary of State for the Environment should go with it?
No, Sir. The GLC has bent towards my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the system used in this respect, the corrective system, was also used previously.
As always, the Prime Minister has scored high marks for irrelevant stridency. But I ask again how she justifies Lancashire being penalised because the GLC has raised a lower rate than she anticipated.
Because that is the system that has applied not only under this Government but under previous Governments as well. There is —[Interruption.] It does no earthly good to get excited and hysterical about it. That is the fact. The right hon. Gentleman may not like it, but it is a fact.
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to try to understand the shadow Cabinet's shambles of a policy on mortgage relief? Can she confirm that mortgage relief is safe under the Conservatives?
I note that it is now Labour policy to abolish tax relief on mortgages. It is Conservative policy to keep tax relief on mortgages, and will continue to be.
Has the Prime Minister seen the forecast, given by her former adviser, Sir John Hoskyns, of 10,000 job losses as a result of the national insurance changes in the Budget? Will she consider a reduction in the overall rate of the employers' contribution to offset the welcome effect of the restructuring at the lower end of national insurance?
No, Sir. The restructuring of employers' national insurance contributions, taken across the board, was slightly favourable towards employers. As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, if he looks at the figures in the Red Book, the restructuring was slightly favourable overall towards employers because they received more relief at the lower end than imposition at the higher end. Of course, it will vary from employer to employer.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 April.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Is the Prime Minister aware that today's statement that the Government are to get their act together in the inner city areas will be met with utter disbelief by those who live in them? Is she unaware of what her policies have meant for the inner cities? There is massive unemployment, inadequate housing and the people there have had to mount a continuous campaign to try to keep their hospitals and local social services. If she is unaware of the result of her policies, why does she not go to those inner city areas and meet not the local Tory party officials but those who live there? Why does she not do that? No amount of dressing up Tory policies will solve our problems unless the money is provided to do that.
A statement has been put out and task forces are to be set up in certain specific city areas. No matter what the hon. Gentleman says about hospitals and the Health Service, it remains a fact that after inflation has been taken into account 20 per cent. more has been spent on the NHS under this Government——
That is a fact. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to challenge it, perhaps he should table a question. He will find that the answer to it is exactly the same as mine today.
Come to my constituency and see.
This Government have a far better record on the Health Service than the Labour Government ever had, and a far better record on building hospitals and on providing doctors and nurses than the Labour Government had. That is true, despite the hon. Gentleman's shouting and hysteria, which we have come to expect from him.
My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that the investigations into the social security system are viewed with considerable interest and that their results are also awaited with some interest. Will she give an undertaking that, when the results are considered, she and the Government will bear in mind the interaction between the social security and taxation systems, and that any reforms will be wide enough to consider including a basic income guarantee scheme, or a negative income tax scheme, or a variation thereof?
Order. Questions are becoming far too long.
As my hon. Friend is aware, the results of the social security reviews are expected to be out within about two months. I think that it is better to wait until they come out before we make further comment. With regard to my hon. Friend's specific question about the interaction between social security and taxation, it was with that in mind that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced the employees' national insurance contributions at the lower end of the income scale.
Now that the Prime Minister has returned from places where democracy and working people are not of much account, will she turn her attention to visiting places in this country —for instance, the Llandarcy refinery where 750 people who are shareholders of British Petroleum have been told that they are to lose their jobs? Will she, as the trustee of the nation's shareholding in BP, tell BP that this sacking must not take place, especially as it has been suggested that it would break European Community rules?
As the hon. Gentleman is very much aware, there is a surplus of refinery capacity over the world as a whole, as well as in this country. Nothing that either of us says can avoid that fact. I am afraid, therefore, that it is likely that corrective action will have to be taken.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 18 April.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Will the Prime Minister accept that the reason her support is crumbling is not least because everybody, apparently—except the Cabinet—sees the country crumbling all around her? The setting up this morning of city action teams to co-ordinate con tricks, without one penny of extra money going to the inner city areas, conceals a real cut in money for inner city areas of £150 million in the next three years and displays nothing but a complacent and callous attitude.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his Budget he mentioned that public expenditure was increasing, unfortunately, despite everything that we have done. If the hon. Gentleman wants more money to be spent on the particular project he specified, can he say from whom he would take it away?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the abolition of domestic rates would be one of the most popular steps that this Government could take and that her proposals to this effect are eagerly awaited in South Suffolk and by ratepayers all over the country?
It will be some time before the detailed results of rating reform come out. When they do, they will be published for consultation and discussion in the House. I hope that they will be out in time for legislation before the next general election.
Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider whether she is serious about imprisoning, surcharging or making bankrupt local councillors whose only crime is that they carried out their mandate and the wishes of the local electorate?
Local councillors are subject to the law of the land, as is everybody else, and I hope that they will duly carry it out.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to use both blades of the scissors to cut unemployment? Is not any suggestion that a return to an all-party, simplistic, Keynesian solution would cut unemployment just as fraudulent as any suggestion that one might just leave it all to the market place?
There is no simplistic solution to unemployment. If there were, it would not be found all over Europe. The solution lies in the creation of genuine jobs. I repeat that 613,000 more jobs have come into existence since March 1983, that the United Kingdom is the only major European country in which employment is currently increasing and that the proportion of the population of working age in work is higher in the United Kingdom than it is in West Germany, France and Italy.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 April.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago and I thank him for giving me notice of the supplementary question that he wishes to ask.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the great sense of outrage in the north-west of England at the decision of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries to launch a bid for Matthew Brown pubs and breweries in the north-west of England? Is she aware that Scottish and Newcastle has repeatedly refused to give undertakings about the future of jobs in the breweries in Blackburn, Carlisle and Workington or about the future of the low barrelage pubs? Will the Prime Minister now intervene personally and ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to put the matter to the Monopolies and Merger Commission, because we object to the proposed merger, and it is for the Secretary of State to use his powers to obstruct it?
That was indeed the subject of which I was given notice, although the terms in which the question was asked were a little different. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is not a matter for Cabinet decision. It is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—in the light of the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading, who I understand the hon. Gentleman has met—to decide whether the proposed merger or takeover should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. My right hon. Friend will take into account all representations, including those of the hon. Gentleman, and the decision will be made as soon as practicable.
Business Of The House
Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?
Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 22 APRIL—Opposition Day (10th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Dismantling of the Welfare State." TUESDAY 23 APRIL—Opposition Day (3rd Allotted Day) (Second Part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on trade union ballots, on a motion in the names of the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party. Second Reading of the Ports (Finance)Bill. Motions on the Foreign Limitation Periods (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Water and Sewerage Services (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order. WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL—There will be a debate on the White Paper on Financial Services in the United Kingdom, Cmnd. No. 9432, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Remaining stages of the Insurance (Fees) Bill. THURSDAY 25 APRIL—A debate on Foreign Affairs which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. FRIDAY 26 APRIL—Private Members' Bills. MONDAY 29 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
First, I welcome next Thursday's foreign affairs debate. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree to extend that debate beyond the usual time so that as many Members as possible can take part.Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman will recall that it is now more than a year since a debate was first promised on the Government's Green Paper on the long-term prospects for public expenditure. I know that this is an increasingly embarrassing topic for the Government, but will they now fulfil that promise? Finally, may we have a statement next week from the Paymaster General as to what his duties are? He said on the radio this morning that the Government had not prevented this year's GLC's elections from taking place. The House should have the opportunity to examine that statement—a statement which I fear cannot be adequately described within the rules of parliamentary language.
I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's point about the Paymaster General and convey to him the anxiety that he should make a statement in the House.As for the request for a debate on long-term public expenditure, this is clearly a matter of great interest to the House and it is the subject of an investigation being undertaken by the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. It might be a courtesy to the Select Committee for the House to be in possession of its findings before such a debate, but I shall of course consider the matter further. I welcome the importance that the right hon. Gentleman attaches to Thursday's debate on foreign affairs. I very much agree with him and think that there would be merit in extending the debate until midnight.
(Kingswood): Will my right hon. Friend enable the House to debate rate increases some time next week or the week after as they have increased by 58 per cent. under Labour in Avon as opposed to 27 per cent. under the Tories in Somerset? Should we not give the Labour party an opportunity to explain the increase in Avon, as the Leader of the Opposition is unlikely to take it when the press put that question to him when he visits my constituency tomorrow?
I appreciate that, in these delicate days ahead of 2 May, there will be a lively interest in these matters. I cannot at the moment provide what my hon. Friend asks in Government time, but I have great faith in his ability to make his case in his own way.
May we have an early statement on the Government's drastically amended Trustee Savings Bank Bill which will not undermine the independence of the Trustee Savings Banks in Scotland or the protections afforded by another place to depositors throughout the United Kingdom? Now that the Leader of the House has announced an Opposition day in our name, will he confirm that useful discussions have taken place to ensure that a fair hearing is given to issues raised from this Bench? Will he welcome the use of that time to ensure that the House debates issues which the other two parties might not want to be debated?
It is a matter of touching observation how the Liberal party now seeks solace in the behaviour of the other place, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the appropriate place for this House to consider the Trustee Savings Bank Bill is this Chamber.As for Opposition time and its distribution, I am happy to confirm that, on 13 November 1984, at the conclusion of the debate on the Loyal Address, it was said that there would be a chance to consider those arrangements. I hope that the House will have a chance fairly soon to consider revised Standing Orders. It will then be able to give its authority to what has been suggested.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we all welcome next Thursday's free-ranging debate on foreign affairs? Does he recall that the House has also called for a full and free-ranging debate on law and order? Is he aware that, until we are allowed such a debate rather than the narrow things that we have had this week, we shall go on asking as people are fed up with the state of law and order?
I note that my hon. Friend intends to keep on asking.
Is the Leader of the House aware that when, last Tuesday, the Prime Minister described next Thursday's national half day school strike as politically inspired, as the president of the campaign which has called that strike I agree with her? It was politically inspired and I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to change the order of business next Thursday because the inspiration for that national half day strike on 25 April has come from the Government's policies of using youth training schemes to massage the dole figures and to reduce young people's wages? We ought next Thursday to debate the youth trade union rights campaign demands that every youngster on a training scheme receives a minimum £55 a week—the trade union rate for the job—and is guaranteed a job at the end of the training scheme.
The hon. Gentleman has had a good run and delivered the speech that he will be unable to make because I have no reason to think that there is a general desire in the House that the debate on foreign affairs promised for Thursday should be dropped from next week's business.
In view of the massive Government majority last night on the BBC licence fee, may we have another debate on that issue so that we can learn the views of the Opposition? We do not know whether they want to increase it further or to have no licence at all. It is obvious that we should have a debate.
The proceedings of this House rest upon a delicate desire not to intrude where it appears to be unseemly.
Does the Leader of the House recognise the need for a debate about the state of the National Health Service, especially in south Manchester where decisions are being taken today that could result in the closure of many wards and the redundancy of up to 100 nurses and 200 non-nursing personnel? Does not that issue demand time within Parliament to discuss the mismanagement of the NHS by the Government?
I should have thought that Monday's debate on what is purported to be the dismantling of the welfare state would give the hon. Gentleman exactly the opportunity that he seeks.
Will my right hon. Friend, as an urgent priority, ensure that this House has an opportunity to discuss in full the implications of the Silberston report? Is he aware that the clothing and textile industry is the fourth largest employer in this country and that many of its employees are concerned at Silberston's prediction that if the report is accepted by the Government another 100,000 people will be made redundant?
My hon. Friend will be aware that there were a number of demands and requests before the Easter recess to debate the textile industry. I said then that I hoped that such a debate could be arranged at some time, but I am afraid that I cannot see that happening in the near future.
Will the Leader of the House rearrange next week's business and find time, perhaps on Wednesday, to debate the proposed closure of the special steels division at Tinsley park that will cost 1,000 jobs in an already decimated area? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a constituent of mine who works at that British Steel corporation plant has recently been awarded the British Empire medal for his work over the past 20 years? He is now facing the possible closure of that plant.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious issue for the constituencies affected by the proposed closure. I cannot alter the business set down for next Wednesday, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, after the Second Reading of the Finance Bill a week next Monday, no more controversial Government Bills will be introduced this Session? As a long period of tranquillity in legislation is needed, could the Government, for the remainder of this Parliament, manage on a three-day week, leaving the other two days to Back Benchers?
My hon. Friend has been here long enough to realise that controversiality lies in the eye of the beholder. His proposals are interesting, and I shall no doubt bear them in mind for next Session, but they could not conceivably reflect upon this Session.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in a matter that is causing undoubted concern—the future of the Royal Navy, and especially the dockyards at Rosyth and Devonport, and the implications of the proposals for those two bases on the naval base in Portsmouth? Is he aware that there is an undoubted need for a wide-ranging debate on the Royal Navy and especially on the defence industries in the Portsmouth and Devonport areas?
Siren voices below the Gangway draw my attention to the business for next Tuesday, but I would not be so cheap as to note that. No Government time can be found for the debate that the hon. Gentleman requests, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
In view of the Government's commitment, arising out of their Green Paper, to introduce legislation on the control and welfare of dogs, and while the contents of the next Queen's Speech are currently being considered, will it be possible to have an early debate in the House about an issue that affects many of our constituents and about which they are very concerned?
We are running into a rather delicate period of parliamentary life—May, June and especially July—and I would not wish to add to our postbag or to the general contentiousness by raising the issue of dogs, so dogs will, therefore, lie.
On the subject of the renewal of the multi- fibre arrangement, will the Leader of the House treat the matter with a little more urgency because some of us think that we detect a certain reluctance by the Government even to renew it? As has already been pointed out, that would mean disaster to the textile industry and the loss of up to 150,000 jobs.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to that fear. There is no complacency on the part of the Government, but I must have regard to the fact that the House will shortly have to deal with the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House, and this consideration and others must make me a little cautious as to how I answer such requests.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that many hon. Members on this side of the House will support the views expressed by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about the proposed takeover of Matthew Brown by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries? Will he therefore request that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry makes a statement next week on the issue and makes it clear that the matter will be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission?My right hon. Friend may find it surprising that I support the official Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), in requesting that the debate on foreign affairs next week should be extended beyond the normal hour of 10 o'clock to enable more hon. Members to take part.
I have already conceded the last point that my hon. Friend makes, and there is nothing surprising about him supporting the Opposition. My answer to his question about the proposed brewery takeover is that the Prime Minister set out clearly and precisely the exact legal situation, and I suggest that the House would be well advised to pause before asking for ministerial intervention to set aside what would otherwise be an administrative process.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate urgently to discuss education, bearing in mind the present dispute? I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to reply simply by telling me that we debated education and the dispute not long ago. Is he aware that in a fresh debate we might find the answer to the problem and get the Government off the hook?
I fully endorse the observation of the hon. Gentleman about the effect that the conflict is having on the education services of our counties and cities. I shall, of course, refer the point that he makes to the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
Has my right hon. Friend any further news about the Government's intention to make an announcement about the decision by the Joint Committee of both Houses on the Okehampton bypass? If not, will he urge the Secretary of State for Transport to make an announcement to remove doubt on the matter? Will my right hon. Friend also consider the seriousness of the inadequacies of the current public inquiry system affecting major roads, reservoirs and power stations and provide time for a debate on the subject so that we may initiate a new system which will speed up decisions, while providing time for the public inquiry procedure so that all the issues can be heard?
As my hon. Friend says, this is a matter of acute concern to the south-west. The issue is still under consideration by the Secretary of State for Transport, but I shall remind him of the point that my hon. Friend makes about the virtue of an early announcement of a Government decision in the matter.
Will the Leader of the House discuss with the Secretary of State for Social Services the best way in which the House can give consideration—either by way of a statement or a debate—to the important report of the Royal College of Nursing on the future of nursing education? Is he aware that that report estimates that by the end of this decade there will be a shortage of 12,000 nurses? Does he agree, therefore, that the House should give consideration to that possibility?
I take at once the importance of the point to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and will bring it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Social Services. Meanwhile, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel it appropriate in Monday's debate to adduce arguments about the future of the nursing services.
Will my right hon. Friend also accept my thanks for giving additional debating time to the alliance? Many of us are finding the greatest difficulty, especially during the current elections, in establishing exactly what the alliance's policies are on any subject. Will my right hon. Friend help the people of Southend by giving the alliance a little more time next week so that we can ascertain whether it is or is not in favour of retaining Southend's excellent grammar schools?
It is not for me to anticipate how the Chair will interpret the width of the motion on Tuesday. The issue that my hon. Friend has raised might well have to be dealt with outside the Chamber. He may well find that as a result of Tuesday's debate he will be stranded in the centre by the rightward lurch of the alliance.
I ask the Leader of the House with the utmost seriousness to approach the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education and Science for the purpose of finding time for a full-scale debate on the problems facing the teaching profession and education. I have recently returned from the conference of the National Union of Teachers and I have never before seen such unity over the years that I have attended its conferences. It is clear that these moderate people will not back down easily.Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are faced with long industrial action and that if we had a debate in which the grievances could be aired we could move possibly to a conclusion which would benefit education, the teachers, the parents and the children? That could well be the result if only the Government would take some action.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will concur with the view that in all quarters of the House there is a strong awareness of the utmost importance of the education dispute and the factors that it embodies. I shall convey his request to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Order. I shall try to call all those Members who have been rising in their places since the business statement was made, but it will be easier for me to do so if hon. Members ask brief questions.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during next Thursday's debate on foreign affairs it will be in order to raise matters concerning the space defence initiative—the so-called star wars programme, which is very much misnamed—matters affecting NATO and disarmament?
The debate will take place on a motion for the Adjournment, which is the traditional pattern for foreign affairs debates. It is recognised that such debates range widely. I am sure that the House will wish to talk about East-West relations, arms control and the Geneva talks, which will cover the very issues that my hon. Friend has in mind.
Does the Leader of the House recognise the problems that have been caused to local government by the changes that have been made to the rate support grant settlement after most councils have fixed their rates? Will he arrange time for this issue to be debated`? Would it not be appropriate to debate it before polling day in the county elections?
There are no immediate plans for such a debate, but I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and convey to him the hon. Gentleman's request.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is growing concern for the future of the motor car industry, especially because of the delay in the announcement of the BL corporate plan? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the plan as soon as possible?
I shall convey that request to my right hon. Friend.
Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to read column 202 of yesterday's edition of Hansard, in which the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, says that
Is he aware that many peace activists in Turkey are in gaol in terrible conditions and that many other activists, including many thousands of trade unionists, are on trial? Will the Government not be losing an essential lever in persuading the Turkish Government to release these activists from gaol and to abandon the trials by urging the Community to revert to a more normal relationship with Turkey? Surely the Minister who is responsible should justify a policy change before the House instead of doing so by means of a written answer."the Community should revert to a more normal relationship with Turkey, starting with the unblocking of the outstanding aid"? [Official Report, 17 April 1985, Vol. 77, c. 202.]
I recognise that many hon. Members have taken a close interest over a long period in relations between Britain and Turkey and Turkey's domestic arrangements. I think that Thursday's debate will enable the hon. Gentleman's observations to be aired.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that Monday's debate will provide both the time and the inclination for Opposition spokesmen to tell the 4 million mortgage payers in Britain whether they will abolish their tax relief?
Yes. That is why I think that it will be a standing-room-only occasion.
Will the right hon. Gentleman look at early-day motion 525 about the strike of cleaners at Exclusive Cleaning and Maintenance at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority at Risley?[That this House strongly condemns the action of Exclusive Cleaning and Maintenance at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Risley, in reducing cleaners' earnings by 21p per hour which means that wages have been cut from £25 to £22·50 per week coupled with a reduction of holidays from four weeks to one week, and the use of blackleg labour in a sensitive area who have not received security clearance, despite this having previously been a condition of employment for cleaners; calls upon the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authorityto intervene to ensure that their sub-contractors pay trade union rates and provide decent conditions, particularly in view of the high profits announced by Exclusive Cleaning; and also calls upon the Government to set up an inquiry into the commercial cleaning industry in order to protect the workers and customers from exploitation by unscupulous profiteers.] Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement to the House on why Exclusive Cleaning, an anti-trade union company, has the contract for cleaning the Houses of Parliament, particularly as it is trying to reduce the wages of 132 women by 21p an hour to £22·50 a week which has resulted in a strike that has continued for nine weeks? Will he recommend to his right hon. Friend that he should terminate that company's contract forthwith?
That is an interesting extension of the responsibilities that I am supposed to possess with regard to next week's business. I am advised that the contract between Exclusive Cleaning and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is consistent with Government guidelines on cleaning contracts, but I shall refer to the relevant Minister the points that have been made.
Notwithstanding my right hon. Friend's announcement of a foreign affairs debate next Thursday, will he arrange for a statement to be made, before the dispatch by the Polish community of Ealing and beyond of its 100th 32-tonne truck full of food and medical aid to Poland next week, upon my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary's most successful tour of iron curtain countries, particularly Poland, his excellent meeting with Cardinal Glemp, his most moving visit to the grave of Father Popieluwski and his talks with leaders of Solidarity? Those are most important and precious to the Polish community in Ealing and the rest of Britain.
My hon. Friend has made generous and justified references to the recent visit of my right hon and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to eastern Europe, and I shall draw his attention to my hon. Friend's remarks.
Is the Leader of the House aware that, while the report on the Commission for Racial Equality on immigration control procedures may be gathering dust on Home Office shelves, many people in the House and in the country think that the issues that it raises require a debate, and pretty soon? Is the right hon. Gentleman yet in a position to say whether such a debate will ever take place, and, if so, when?
I cannot really add to what I have said previously. I recognise the keen interest that there is that such a debate should take place. I am not yet in a position to provide Government time, but I shall bear in mind the interest.
A moment ago my right hon. Friend refered to his role and powers. Is he aware that he rightly enjoys on both sides of the House a reputation for protecting the interests of Back Benchers and the House? In the light of that, will he share my concern that a statement has come from the Department of Transport to the effect that airports policy, in so far as it relates to current discussions over Stansted, Manchester, Heathrow and so forth, is to be decided, not in the light of the recent debates and decision in the House, but in private quarters within the Department of Transport, and thereafter, not even referred to the House for its approval?Is not that a disgraceful situation which is a matter of concern that has nothing to do with party politics or even partisan feelings about one's constituency? In the light of what happened over the Maplin Bill 10 years ago, will my right hon. Friend do his duty as Leader of the House to ensure that the present position is reversed?
My hon. Friend's preliminary and good-natured remarks were misplaced. I am a shameless boss's nark and always will be. Unless I were prepared to do the job on those terms, I would not be standing at this Dispatch Box.My hon. Friend's second point raises a matter that I should like to look into. I shall therefore be in touch with him.
The Leader of the House, in announcing the business for next week, said that the Second Reading of the Ports (Finance) Bill would take place on Tuesday. I tried to obtain a copy of that Bill from the Vote Office but I was told that it was not there and it was not known when it was likely to be there. In view of the importance of that debate, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is a copy of the Bill in the Vote Office in the next couple of hours?
I shall look into that matter at once.
Has my right hon. Friend seen today's press announcements about the provision by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment of city action teams, and the towns that have been selected? Will he advise the House when we can expect a statement from the Secretary of State so that cities such as Leicester can be pleaded for by people such as me? The scheme appears to be good, and the House would like other cities to be considered favourably.
I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety that Leicester should also have the advantage of this recent provision, I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend to what my hon. Friend has said.
Will Tuesday's debate on trade union democracy on a motion tabled by Liberal and Social Democratic Members, be sufficiently wide for hon. Members to refer to the fact that a great deal of hypocrisy abounds from those two parties? The leader of the Liberal party refused to accept the decision of the Liberal party conference when it held a ballot about cruise missiles and said, "Stuff the ballot", and the leader of the SDP fought on one manifesto and changed sides in midstream but has not had the guts to tell his electorate in Plymouth that he had changed his mind and there should be a ballot to endorse his membership of this House. Will the debate be sufficiently wide for such matters to be raised?
The width of the debate is properly a matter for the Chair. However, I have such boundless faith in the ingenuity of the hon. Gentleman that I know that he will open up an aperture through which many other hon. Members will follow.
Earnings-Related Pension Scheme
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
The matter is specific because the clear and explicit intention of the Government is reported in the Daily Telegraph of today in an article which is clearly based on Government briefing. It states:"the Government's plan, which has just been revealed, to axe the state earnings-related pension scheme."
The decision is specific in another sense. It specifically contradicts the explicit and unequivocal pledge that was solemnly given by the Prime Minister, conveniently before the general election, in a letter of 20 May 1983 to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). She stated:"The Government has decided to scrap the SERPS."
The matter, also, specifically and in terms, contradicts the equally binding pledge given by the Secretary of State for Social Services to the House when he said:"Nor are there any plans to change the earnings-related component of the state pension."
The matter is important and, indeed, vital because it will drastically worsen the standard of living of millions of pensioners. Only the SERPS, which the Labour Government introduced in 1975, will take 2 million of the poorest pensioners above the state means-tested poverty line. The Government's alternative of private pensions will never do that. The state earning-related scheme was introduced precisely because of the failure of the private sector to provide adequate pensions in the past. The matter is also important because billions of pounds earmarked for future funding for pensioners is now to be clawed back by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide a further bonanza of tax handouts for the rich. The report states that the Government claim that the SERPS cannot be afforded. It is vitally important that the matter is fully debated, especially as that claim is directly contradicted by the Government Actuary and, as the Government's Social Security Advisory Committee recently stated:"My aim in setting up an inquiry is not to call into question the fundamental pensions structure that was established in the 1970s with all-party agreement, and to which I was a party." —[Official Report, 23 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 360.]
It is important that the matter is fully explored to expose the inconsistency between the Chancellor's projection of future growth of 3 per cent. —when the Government wish to crow about economic success —and the projection for future growth of the Secretary of State for Social Services of 1·5 per cent.—when the Government want the nation to believe that decent pensions cannot be afforded. The matter is urgent because this is the first unambiguous sign that the Government would carry through by far the most serious and damaging attack yet on pensioners in the radical dismantling of the welfare state, on which the Government are now hell-bent. The SERPS is a central arch of the welfare state. It would increasingly become the sole protector of millions of pensioners against poverty and the indignity of dependence on means tests. To destroy it now—the best deal that pensioners have ever had—would be a sin against the British people and, therefore, I earnestly request a debate at the earliest possible opportunity."At this distance of time we do not think there can be solid grounds for altering the scheme now for fear of all the worst outcomes occurring steadily for 40 years."
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, but I do not consider that the matter is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10, and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House."the Government's plan, which has just been revealed, to axe the state earnings-related pension scheme."
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you confirm that if you had ruled in favour of the Opposition's submission it would have required 40 or 50 Back-Bench Members to rise in their places, yet only 26 Labour Back-Bench Members are present?
I do not wish to consider hypothetical questions.
Mr. Secretary Ridley, supported by Mr. Secretary Younger, Mr. Secretary Edwards, Mr. Secretary King, Mr. Peter Rees, Mr. John Moore, Mr. Peter Bottomley and Mr. David Mitchell, presented (under Standing Order No. 111 (Procedure upon Bills whose main object is to create a charge upon the public revenue)) a Bill to provide for grants to be made to the National Dock Labour Board; to increase the limit on the amount of financial assistance to the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company; to make further provision relating to borrowing by and the audit of the accounts of certain harbour authorities; and to repeal section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 129.]
Orders Of The Day
Social Security Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek the recommittal to a Standing Committee of new clause 12. I understand that it is possible to recommit parts of a Bill for reconsideration by a Standing Committee.I do not wish to detain the House, but the point is important, and we must not allow it to go by default. The Government have virtually hijacked the Social Security Bill in that they have introduced substantial parts of the Budget into it, especially into new clause 12. Forty-one Government amendments and new clauses have been selected for debate today, notwithstanding the others that were also tabled for debate. That is an abuse of our procedures. There is no objection to the Government tabling proposals that derive from Committee to be properly considered on Report. However, the practice of wholesale importation and insinuation of new and substantially different proposals is out of order and a piece of procedural chicanery. As a marker for the future, we should try to dissuade the Government from future procedural chicanery of that nature. We should tell the Government that, whenever they seek to do that, we shall seek to recommit at least some of the clauses in the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having given me prior notice that he might wish to raise this question with me. I have considered the matter and have decided, in pursuance of my powers of selection under Standing Order No. 34, that I should not be prepared to accept a motion for recommittal.
New Clause 12
Calculation Of Contributions
|'(1) In subsection (1)(b) of section 4 of the Social Security Act 1975 (incidence of Class 1 contributions), the words "primary Class 1" shall be substituted for the word "such".|
|(2) The following subsections shall be substituted for subsection (6) of that section—|
|5||"(6) Subject to regulations under sections 128 to 132 below and to section 27 of the Pensions Act, the amount of a primary Class 1 contribution shall be the appropriate primary percentage of so much of the earnings paid in the week, in respect of the employment in question, as does not exceed the current upper earnings limit (or the prescribed equivalent in the case of earners paid otherwise than weekly).|
|10||(6A) The appropriate primary percentage is a percentage of the rate specified in subsection (6B) below as the appropriate rate for the primary earnings bracket (or the prescribed equivalent in the case of earners paid otherwise than weekly) into which the earner's earnings fall.|
|15||(6B) Subject to any order under this section or section 122 or 123A below, the 15 primary earnings brackets and their appropriate percentage rates shall be—|
|Bracket 1:||current lower earnings limit to £54·99||5 per cent.|
|Bracket 2:||£55·00 to £89·99||7 per cent.|
|20||Bracket 3:||£90·00 or more||9 per cent.|
|6C) Subject to regulations under subsection (7) or sections 128 to 132 below and to section 27 of the Pensions Act, the amount of a secondary Class 1 contribution shall be the appropriate secondary percentage of the earnings paid in the week in respect of the employment in question.|
|25||(6D) The appropriate secondary percentage is a percentage of the rate specified in subsection (6E) below as the appropriate rate for secondary earnings bracket (or the prescribed equivalent in the case of earners paid otherwise than weekly) into which the earner's earnings fall.|
|30||(6E) Subject to any order under this section or section 122 or 123A below, the 30 secondary earnings brackets and their appropriate percentage rates shall be—|
|Bracket 1:||current lower earnings limit to £54·99||5 per cent.|
|Bracket 2:||£55·00 to £89·99||7 per cent.|
|35||Bracket 3:||£90·00 to £129·99||9 per cent.|
|Bracket 4:||£130·00 or more||10·45 per cent.|
|(6F) The Secretary of State may by order alter the number of primary or secondary earnings brackets below the highest bracket.|
|40||(6G) An order under this section may make such amendments of any enactment as appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient in consequence of any such alteration made by it|
|(6H) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of each House of Parliament.|
|(6J) An order under this section shall be made so as to come into force—|
>(a) on a date in the tax year in which it received parliamentary approval; or
(b) on a date in the next tax year.
|(6K) Such an order shall have effect for the remainder of the tax year in which it comes into force and for any subsequent tax year (subject to the effect of any subsequent order under this section); and for this purpose the order is to be taken as receiving parliamentary approval on the date on which the draft of it is approved by the second House to approve it.".|
|50||(3) In section 7(1) of that Act (weekly rate of Class 2 contributions), "£3·50" shall be substituted for "£4·75".|
|55||(4) In section 8(1) of that Act (amount of a Class 3 contribution), "£3·40" shall be 55 substituted for "£4·65".|
|(5) The following section shall be inserted after section 123 of that Act—|
"Further power to alter certain contributions.
|123A.—(1) For the purposes of adjusting amounts payable by way of primary Class 1 contributions, the Secretary of State may at any time make an order amending section 4(6B) of this Act by altering any one or more of the following figures—|
(a) the upper weekly earnings figure specified in respect of Bracket 1;
(b) the weekly earnings figures specified in respect of Brackets 2 and 3; and
(c) the percentage rates specified as the appropriate rates for Brackets 1 and 2.
|65||(2) For the purposes of adjusting amounts payable by way of secondary Class 1 contributions, the Secretary of State may at any time make an order amending section 4(6E) of this Act by altering any one or more of the following figures—|
(a) the upper weekly earnings figure specified in respect of Bracket 1;
(b) the weekly earnings figures specified in respect of Brackets 2 to 4; and
(c) the percentage rates specified as the appropriate rates for Brackets 1 to 3.
|70||(3) No order shall be made under this section so as—|
(a) to alter either of the percentage rates specified as the appropriate rates for Brackets 1 and 2 in section 4(6B) above to a rate higher than the percentage rate which at the time the order comes into force is specified as the appropriate rate for Bracket 3 in that subsection; or
(b) to alter any of the percentage rates specified as the appropriate rates for Brackets 1 to 3 in section 4(6E) above to a rate higher than the percentage rate which at the time the order comes into force is specified as the appropriate rate for Bracket 4.
|80||(4) Without prejudice to section 120 or 122 of this Act, the Secretary of State 80 may make such order—|
(a) amending section 7(1) of this Act by altering the figure specified in that subsection as the weekly rate of Class 2 contributions;
(b) amending section 8(1) of this Act by altering the figure specified in that subsection as the amount of a Class 3 contribution,
|85||as he thinks fit in consequence of the coming into force of an order made or pro- posed to be made under subsection (1) above.|
|(5) An order under this section may make such amendments of any enactment as appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient in consequence of any alteration made by it such as mentioned in subsection (1), (2) or (4) above.|
|90||(6) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of each House of Parliament.|
|(7) An order under this section shall be made so as to come into force—|
(a) on a date in the tax year in which it received Parliamentary approval; or
(b) on a date in the next tax year.
|95||(8) Such an order shall have effect for the remainder of the tax year in which it comes into force and for any subsequent tax year (subject to the effect of any subsequent order under this section); and for this purpose the order is to be taken as receiving Parliamentary approval on the date on which the draft of it is approved by the second House to approve it.".'.—[Mr.Newton.]|
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:Amendment (a) to the new clause, in line 36, leave out `or more' and insert `£481'. Amendment (b) to the new clause, in line 63, at end insert 'and(d) the weekly earnings figures specified in respect of Bracket 4 .'. New clause 22—Upper Earnings Limit for Secondary Class I Contributions—
'(1) At the end of section 4(1) of the Social Security Act 1975 (Class I contributions—incidence) and of section 1(1) of the Social Security Pensions Act 1975 (earnings limits) there shall be added the words "except that for the purpose only of determining the maximum amount of weekly earnings in respect of which secondary Class I contributions are payable the upper earnings limits shall be as follows:
(a) £265 from 6th April 1985 to 5th October 1985 (b) £285 from 6th October 1985 to 5th April 1986 (c) £335 front 6th April 1986 to 5th April 1987 (d) £385 from 6th April 1987 onwards"
(2) In regulation 7 of the Social Security (Contributions) Regulations 1979 for the words "the lower and upper earnings limit" there shall be substituted the words "the lower earnings and except for the purpose of determining the secondary Class I contributions payable the upper earnings limit".
New clause 23 —Changes in the Upper Earnings Limit During the Year—(3) Where by virtue of subsections (1) and (2) above secondary Class I contributions are payable on an amount which exceeds the amount of the upper earnings limits for the purpose of primary Class I contributions the secondary contributions on that excess shall be the normal percentage as defined in subsection (2) of the Social Security Pensions Act 1975 (contracted-out rates of contributions and benefits) of that excess and in cases to which that section applies shall be payable in addition to the contributions specified in subsection (1) of that section.'.
'After paragraph (5) of regulation 6A of the Social Security (Contributions) Regulations 1979 there shall be inserted the following paragraph—
Government amendments Nos. 92, 93, 167, 94, 95, 96, 168, 170, 97, 98, 102 and 104.
(a) the upper earnings limit is changed in respect of secondary Class I contributions with effect from a date in the year ("the effective date") being a date other than 6th April, and (b) the earnings periods for a person fall to be determined in accordance with the provisions of paragraphs (2) to (4) abovethe earnings period in which the effective date would but for the provisions of this paragraph fall shall notwithstanding the provisions of paragraphs (2) and (4) above terminate on the day before the effective date and a new earnings period shall commence on the effective date .".'.
I shall explain the Government's purpose in proposing the new clause and the amendments as succinctly as possible and then try to pick up as fully as possible points which hon. Members on both sides of the House may wish to make during the debate.The purpose of the new clause and the associated amendments is to implement the changes announced in the Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in respect of national insurance contributions. There are three main elements in the Government's proposal. First, there is a graduated system of contribution rates. At present, there are two uniform rates of contribution: 9 per cent. for employees and 10.5 per cent. for employers, payable on all earnings if they exceed the lower earnings limit, which at present is £35.50, up as far as the upper earnings limit, which at present is £265, above which no contributions are paid. From 6 October, we propose two brackets of lower contribution rates at 5 per cent. and 7 per cent. for employees with lower earnings, and three brackets of lower rates at 5 per cent., 7 per cent., and 9 per cent. for employers in respect of their lower-paid employees. The earnings levels at which those lower rates will operate are set out in the new clause, so I shall not elaborate them in my speech. They mean that, from October, employers will pay less in contributions on all earnings under £130 a week, and employees earning less than £90 a week will similarly pay less. Secondly, we intend to abolish the upper earnings limit for employers' contributions. From 6 October, they will pay the 10·45 per cent. rate of contributions on all earnings that exceed £130.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the point he has just made raises a major issue of principle with regard to the contribution arrangements? By introducing such matters in a new clause on Report, it makes it difficult for the House to give full consideration to all the implications of what is undoubtedly a complex proposal. Had they been contained in the Finance Bill, they would have been debated in Committee. But to introduce it at this stage, when the rules of debate are extremely restricted—one can speak only once, for example—means that it is difficult to give proper consideration to what the Government propose.