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Commons Chamber

Volume 79: debated on Thursday 16 May 1985

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House Of Commons

Thursday 16 May 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business





Read the Third time, and passed.


Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 23 May at 7 o' clock.


Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Tuesday 21 May.


Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 23 May.


Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the total cost to public funds of supporting cereal prices in the current financial year.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. John MacGregor)

It is estimated that support for the cereals market will cost the Community 2,325 mecu in 1985.

Is that not a scandalous waste of public resources? Does my hon. Friend agree that, besides encouraging price restraint, it is now imperative to reduce or transfer the cost of disposing and storing the lower quality grains?

My hon. Friend will know that at present we are debating the price review negotiations for this year, and a key part of the United Kingdom's approach has been to urge the maximum application of the guarantee threshold to cereals. The reason for that is to reduce the cost of support altogether.

Instead of wasting money on cereals in this way, will the Minister seriously consider sending cereals completely free of charge to the starving nations of Africa, such as Ethiopia, and to other parts of the world where people are starving? It may cost more money, but at least it would save starving people.

The Community is embarking on a major programme of food aid in relation to cereals this year, and the British Government have been taking a lead. There was a fairly large programme last year. However, to think that that is a way of disposing of surpluses and of dealing with that problem is the wrong approach. The real need is to get the cereal support price down. Simply to dispose of all surpluses free of charge would cost a great deal more than the figure that I gave.

My hon. Friend referred to the talks going on now in Brussels. Does he agree that today's news from Brussels is absolutely disastrous, that Britain's efforts to try to bring about price cuts in cereals have gone out of the window, and that we shall merely store up bigger trouble and surpluses if the rest of the Community has its way?

We cannot say that the news is disastrous, because we do not yet know what it is. The negotiations are continuing. It is true to say that the full application of the guarantee threshold will not be negotiable this year, but price restraint is the main item on the table for dealing with cereals this year, and we have allies in our approach to getting price reductions in cereals.

What is the likely carry-over of cereals in storage in the United Kingdom this year and next year if, as many forecast, there is another bumper cereal harvest this summer? Does the Minister think that taxpayers' patience can be stretched as much as storage facilities to harbour such unwanted grain?

It is difficult to say what the carry-over will be, but there will clearly be one. The hon. Gentleman will know that the United Kingdom has had considerable success in exporting grain this year — a total of about 4·6 million tonnes. However, I do not disguise the fact that the size of the cereal surpluses is a major problem. It is one of the main discussion points — indeed, one of the main stumbling blocks— in the present negotiations.

Research And Development


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how the amount of money spent on research and development in the United Kingdom agriculture industry per £100 of income compares to other European countries.

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

Although only partial information is available, it is clear that expenditure on publicly funded agricultural research in relation to farm income in the United Kingdom compares favourably with that in other European countries.

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful reply. She will be aware of the controversy surrounding the statements on this subject in the annual review of research and development published by the Government last year. Does she agree that such uncertain comparisons are an inadequate basis for making Government decisions?

There are many alternative measures on which to base comparisons, and different bases produce different results. However, it is clear that United Kingdom agricultural R and D has been well supported and that, even after reduction, it will stand comparison with that of our competitors:

Will the Minister concede that that statement will sound extremely hollow once the Government implement the full cuts that they propose in the general research, advisory and scientific programme, especially in Scotland, where so much of the territory for farming is in less-favoured areas, such as the Highlands? As this reduction, following the reduction in capital grants, will have a severe effect on farming, will the Government rethink the policy?

The hon. Gentleman exaggerates. There is no reduction in 1985–86, and the planned expenditure for 1986–87 will be reduced by £10 million, of which the Ministry's share will be about £8·25 million, within the general research, advisory and scientific programme. We should remember that the national spend for research and development on agriculture, fisheries and food was £204 million, of which agriculture spent £160 million. That puts the reduction in perspective.

When my hon. Friend examines future spending on research, will she remember how cost-effective it can be? The National Institute of Agricultural Engineering has developed the Paraplough, the Dynodrive cultivator and the hay mower/conditioner, which have helped the turnround in our exports of agricultural engineering products. Is this not money well spent?

We have asked the Priorities Board for Research and Development in Agriculture and Food to advise us, and it will undoubtedly advise on the wise use of resources to which my hon. and learned Friend referred. It would not be helpful to speculate on the outcome of that advice.

When will the staff at the scientific and research establishments know their fate? Does the hon. Lady agree that the fact that the priorities board has not yet said where even one cut will fall is liable to cause the maximum uncertainty and, therefore, anxiety in research establishments?

The Agricultural and Food Research Council is our major contractor for commissioned work, and we are working closely in collaboration with it. It is represented on the priorities board.

Price Review


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress of the price fixing negotiations in Brussels.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the latest position regarding the Common Market price negotiations.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I are currently attending the Council of Ministers in Brussels, from which I have just returned, and where negotiations continue. That is why my right hon. Friend is unable to be here this afternoon, and he apologises to the House for his absence. They are proving to be exceptionally difficult and protracted negotiations. A main stumbling block continues to be Germany's attitude to the proposed cuts in CAP support prices for cereals.

Is not the damaging delay in reaching agreement on prices due to the fumbling ineptitude of the Government in failing to prepare the ground adequately and sufficiently in advance, and especially in failing to recognise that across-the-board institutional cuts at a level which the Government have been pursuing are unlikely to be achieved and will only alienate our Community partners? Does the Minister agree that the only hope of reducing expenditure while maintaining farm incomes equitably is through quantitative restrictions on price support for cereals, as on milk?

Obviously we would have preferred and earlier settlement, and we have urged all the way through for a settlement as quickly as possible. I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is more important to have a delayed settlement that is right than a hasty settlement that is wrong.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the United Kingdom Government have not been preparing the ground for the cereals negotiations. We have been taking the lead on many of the major issues in these negotiations, and in particular we have argued for price cuts.

I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point about alienating our Community partners. We are getting increasing support for our approach to price reductions on cereals, but we have to face the fact that many member states have a different view.

Finally, it has become clear in the debates that a considerable number of important member states are totally opposed to quotas for cereals.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the disturbing rumours from the Milk Marketing Board that the 1 per cent. cut in the co-responsibility levy might not be achieved after all? Will he assure our totally frustrated milk farmers that in these negotiations he will insist on that cut?

I assure my hon. Friend that we are battling extremely hard-for United Kingdom interests, of which this is one. One or two member states have been urging a delay in the reduction of 1 per cent. in the co-responsibility levy, but we have been resisting that strongly.

The Minister said that one of the points of contention was the price of cereals. Does he realise that artificially high prices for cereals have caused enormous environmental damage to the country? Will our negotiators do all that they can to persuade the EEC that it would be far better to devote some of the money to an integrated countryside policy than to propping up grain prices and creating surpluses that nobody can buy?

The hon. Gentleman should recall that the United Kingdom Government, initially on their own, took the lead in getting a conservation and environmental element into the Community proposals on the structure programme. We have gradually got more support.

Does my hon. Friend agree, at least in principle, that any attempt to reduce the present cereal surplus by means of price restraint alone would inevitably involve substantial reductions in price, the main burdens of which would fall upon the more marginal grain producers, such as those in Yorkshire and the south-west?

It is difficult to give the House any final sign of what is happening in the negotiations, because they shift from time to time and the package changes as the negotiations proceed. Although price reductions are the main element in what both the Commission and a considerable number of member states are urging this year, there are other ways in which cereal problems can be dealt with, including the proposal to drop the breadmaking wheat premium, which is currently being negotiated, and one or two other matters, such as changes in the carry-over payments, which would also have an effect.

What is the size of the gap between the cost of the Commission's original proposals for 1985 and the upper limit under the financial guidelines for agricultural expenditure?

For 1985, the limit, I think from memory, is 29,955 billion ecu. The current proposals are within that. There has been general agreement, very much at our insistence, that any other proposals now being considered will be financially neutral. In other words, at the end of the day we should stay within that limit.

Contrary to the views of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), will my hon. Friend accept that most of us agree that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his team are doing a first-class job in Brussels? Secondly, does he agree that if there is any one issue over which my right hon. Friend should succeed, it is maintaining the beef premium to livestock farmers in the west and the north?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will know that there are many other issues, besides surpluses, of great importance to us in these negotiations, and one of them is the beef variable premium scheme. The House knows that every year we have a problem even getting that subject on to the table. We are making considerable progress, largely because of tremendous efforts by my right hon. Friend, but it is too early to predict the outcome.

Have the Minister and his right hon. Friend accepted the compromise proposal put forward in the negotiations to allow the Republic of Ireland an additional 58,000 tonnes of milk this year as a retrospective adjustment for last year? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that many of us would not find that compromise acceptable? Will he bear in mind the serious position of Northern Ireland dairy farmers vis-àa-vis their counterparts in Great Britain?

It is difficult to comment with any finality on what is happening in Brussels. For all I know, the compromise proposals may be changing at this very minute. The Irish Government have argued that there was a statistical mistake in quotas last year and have pressed for an additional 58,000 tonnes. They appear to have the support of nearly every other member state. We have made it clear that we are very much opposed to that, but I cannot predict the outcome.

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that there is not a significant cut in cereal prices this year? Is it not patently obvious to everyone that there will not be any proper reform of the CAP, and that in those circumstances the Government would not dream of coming to the House and asking for an increase in own resources for the European Community?

It is important to bear in mind that the figure of 19,955 million ecu—not 29,955 billion ecu as I said earlier; I expect that tiredness caused me to get it wrong—is the one to which we are working in the negotiations. We are determined to ensure that the financial agreements in the package are honoured.

What are the latest proposals for the sheep variable premiums? Is the ceiling originally proposed by the Commission still being maintained, and does the Minister accept that the success or failure of the talks will be measured by what happens on cereals?

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm certain figures? On production last year, would not an 8 per cent. reduction in the guarantee threshold be justified? The Government cut the figure to 5 per cent. because of the legal limitations in the CAP. The Commission originally proposed a figure of 3·6 per cent., but its current proposal is for a cut of less than 2 per cent.—which is less than one quarter of that which would be justified by the amount of grain grown in the CAP during the past year. Would it not be a total dereliction of duty if the Council of Ministers agreed to that?

On sheepmeat, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that a number of issues are still being discussed, and that is a rather important element of the final stages of the negotiations.

The limit on the guarantee threshold for cereals was negotiated three years ago, when it was agreed to have a ceiling in any one year of 5 per cent. That is why we had to argue for 5 per cent., although 8 per cent. would have been the figure had there not been a ceiling.

We have been taking a strong position on cereals during the negotiations. However, it is necessary to have the support of a sufficient number of other member states and the Commission to achieve any given figure. I believe that our firm stance has led to the whole question of where the cereals figure ends up being still very much in debate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are member states that would like to have no reduction at all.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to allow greater freedom for United Kingdom exporters to export their products throughout the European Community.

The Government continually seek to ensure that our exporters of agricultural and food products can compete on fair terms in markets throughout the European Community.

While understanding what my hon. Friend is saying, and bearing in mind that there are problems with milk imports and disease, may I ask whether she agrees that 'it is about time we made a determined effort to have far more freedom and to stop all the restrictions on British food exports to the Community — especially the clawback on beef, and even the sheepmeat regime? Is it not about time that the subsidy that the Republic of Ireland is receiving for its exports to this country was ended?

My hon. Friend will have heard my hon. Friend the Minister of State comment on the Eire position. Exports have risen since the sheepmeat regime was introduced and they are now back to the level of the mid-1970s. I agree that the clawback still inhibits us from taking full advantage of what should be a common market, and we are continuing to press for improvements.

Liquid Milk


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects a decision from the European Court on the dispute over the importation of fresh liquid milk into the United Kingdom from the continent.

If the Commission application to the court goes ahead in accordance with its recent announcement, I would expect a decision in about a year.

Will my hon. Friend continue his heroic efforts, by every legal means open to him, to prevent this importation? Will he bear in mind, however, that the United Kingdom stands to gain more than any other member of the Community from the strict application of the rule of law within the Community? Will he remember that the doorstep delivery of milk has an importance going well beyond the dairy industry? Will he, therefore, consult his Government colleagues to ensure that our system of doorstep delivery continues, even if we eventually get imports of liquid milk?

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question is that we have told the Commission that, in our view, the best course is to seek a Community-wide solution via a directive on heat-treated milk. In the absence of such a directive, we consider that our public health controls are necessary, and we shall, therefore, be defending the case.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we are among the member states which are persistently arguing that the Community rules and regulations must be observed by all member states. Therefore, we must do the same ourselves if we are to succeed with that argument.

The best way in which doorstep delivery can be maintained is by keeping the excellent service and by our dairy industry remaining highly competitive. The House will recall that we had a considerable debate about imports of UHT and sterilised milk, when many fears were expressed about doorstep deliveries being undermined. That has proved not to be the case. Because of the competitiveness of our industry, there have been very few imports of that kind.

As the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has repeatedly informed me in recent months that there is a surplus of milk in the United Kingdom, why should there be any question of importing fresh milk into this country? I urge the Minister to bear in mind the danger, to which reference has been made, to the distribution of milk to the doorstep and the consequent danger to employees in the industry. In other words, is he aware that if fresh milk is allowed to be imported our already massive unemployment will be made that much higher?

Our concern about imports of this sort must, of course, be in relation to public health controls. However, if there is a Community-wide directive, as for all other products in the Common Market, there is free trade, provided that the public health controls are met. I repeat that the greatest strength of our dairy industry is its competitiveness, and the greatest hope for the doorstep delivery of milk is that that is what the consumer will continue to want. So far, all the fears about imports of other forms of milk have proved to be unjustified.

Is the Minister aware that, whatever the European Court may say, there will always be legitimate doubts about the health and hygiene standards of milk that may have been transported over long distances from warmer climates? May we have a categorical assurance that the Government will take all necessary steps to protect the health of our consumers, doorstep deliveries of milk and the interests of British dairy producers?

I have made it clear that we think that our controls are justified in the absence of a Community regime; and we shall do all that we can to persuade the court, if it comes to a court case.

Southall Horse Market


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any plans to visit the Southall horse market to study the implementation of his voluntary code on markets; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans at present to visit the market at Southall. However, I am kept informed of conditions there by my veterinary staff, who frequently attend to monitor and encourage compliance with the code.

Will my hon. Friend accept from me that conditions at the Southall horse market have improved considerably, but that the handling, stabling and transport of horses still often leaves much to be desired and that considerable cruelty is involved? Will she pay an unannounced visit with me to the market on some occasion?

Delighted as I would be to pay unannounced visits to anywhere with my friendly hon. Friend, I must remind him that legislation already exists to protect horses in markets, in trnasit and during loading and unloading. It is a matter for enforcement by the police and local authorities. I hope that it will be reassuring to him to know that the Farm Animal Welfare Council is considering the welfare of horses in its review of markets. We look forward to studying the council's recommendations.

Agricultural Grants


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many applications for agricultural grants in the countryside, in areas outside national parks and sites of special scientific interest, have been refused by his Department on environmental grounds for each year since 1980.

I regret that the Ministry does not keep records in a form which would readily identify the number of applications refused grant and the reasons for such refusals.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary accept that that is a major defect in any system that is geared to enhancing what she says is her Department's duty to have regard to conservation? Until local authorities and others can he prenotified—I hope the hon. Lady can say that this will be possible under the new structures regulations that are about to be implemented—conservation in the countryside will not be something that her Department can honestly say it is trying to uphold.

Obviously, we shall have to ensure that any capital grant paid is for investments compatible with good conservation in the areas which are designated as environmentally sensitive and which my right hon. Friend has ensured are in the structures programme. Prior notification is one possibility to which we shall have to give consideration.

Is my hon. Friend convinced that since 1980 no environmental damage has been done by grant-aided agricultural works, or does her reply suggest that we should move to a system of prenotification of agricultural works that attract grant-aid?

Prenotification is an enormously expensive objective. During the past few years there has been a much wider appreciation of conservation in agriculture. I trust that my hon. Friend is well aware of the initiatives in which my Department has been involved during the past months in improving conservation in agriculture. Unfortunately, I do not have sufficient time to recite those initiatives now.

Does the hon. Lady agree that, whatever the costs of prenotification-1 disagree with the costs she suggested—it will be necessary for people to be able to object to the granting of agricultural grant where damage is caused to the environment? What alternatives is the hon. Lady considering?

The extension of prior notification was recommended by the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment. The Government will publish their reponse to that report shortly. I cannot, therefore, comment at present.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will seek to establish a joint producer-Government-backed organisation to help the promotion of cereal exports.

The promotion of cereals exports already falls within the scope of Food from Britain, which is a producer-Government-backed organisation. I would be prepared to consider proposals for improvements in the existing arrangements for the promotion of cereals exports if they were practical and realistic and had wide support from the cereals sector.

Will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that the export credit arrangements are satisfactory in time for the start of exports from the 1985 grain harvest?

Last December we made consider-able improvements in the export credit arrangements. During a meeting with the trade I said that I would be happy to consider any practical ideas that could bring about further improvements. Our export growth in cereals has been substantial in recent years. That is a remarkable achievement. It is clear that a great deal of growth is taking place.

Will the Minister comment on the financial crisis suffered by Food from Britain? Does he accept that massively subsidised cereal exports to Russia and elsewhere are not only an insult to our taxpayers but an injury to our cereal-consuming industries? Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that any new export promotion initiative by the Government on cereals also benefits the British cereal-consuming industries in the livestock sector?

Food from Britain already has a funding programme from the Government. The time is not right to review where Food from Britain should go. There is a continuing programme. As the House will be aware, we are opposed to any special arrangements for the export of agricultural products to Russia. The Community has a considerable surplus of cereals and the House has been expressing anxiety about that this afternoon. It is important that we should be able to export that surplus. With regard to the livestock sector in the United Kingdom, one of the reasons why we have been urging a reduction in cereal support prices is to improve the horn-corn balance and help the livestock sector.

Veterinary Inspection Centres


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received on his proposals for closure of veterinary inspection centres.

My right hon. Friend has received 118 representations to date on his statement of 15 April about the future of the veterinary investigation service.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the important Moulton inspection centre lies in my constituency of Kettering? Has he got the message that the farmers in my constituency are worried about its possible closure? Will he therefore confirm that he will consider all sensible proposals, including the privatisation of the Moulton centre?

I am aware that the centre is in my hon. Friend's constituency, but, as the report made clear, it receives a low level of submissions and serves a relatively small catchment area. That area can easily be served by the centres at Cambridge and Sutton Bonington. My right hon. Friend is considering all the representations that have been made. He is meeting representatives of the main interested bodies and will be hoping to complete consultations within the next month or so, after which a final decision will be made.

Given that timetable, can the Minister guarantee that he will come to the House with these decisions before we rise for the summer recess?

I should like to consult my right hon. Friend on that, because some decisions must await the outcome of financial studies which are currently being undertaken and which require careful consideration. They could take a little longer than the month or so that I talked about earlier.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that part of his proposal is to close three centres that serve the south of England—including the Itchen Abbas centre which serves my constituency—and to replace them with a single, larger, central unit? Will he consider enlarging the Itchen Abbas centre, which would be simple, rather than closing it? It is ideally situated on a green field site. If it were closed, obtaining change of use planning permission would be extremely difficult. The only alternative would be to destroy it, and that would be a terrible waste of a public asset.

I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend so that they can be taken into account in the consultations in which he is now engaged.

Nutritional Food Labelling


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will invite the London Food Commission to participate in consultations on nutritional food labelling.

Our consultation document on draft guidelines for nutrition labelling of food has been circulated for comment to over 700 organisations. The London Food Commission is amongst this circulation and we shall welcome any response that it cares to make.

I accept that the Minister wants to improve the linkage between food and health, although we might disagree about the speed of action. Does she accept that the new body in London is plainly a broadly based and well funded body which will be able to contribute to making people understand the benefits of nutritional food labelling and help in the educational process? Will she involve it in the closer consultations in which she is involved with organisations such as the Consumers Association?

That organisation now has our document, and it has been invited, with the other 699 organisations, to make any comments that it wishes. I am sure that, as a responsible body, it will do that.

Will my hon. Friend explain why the nutritionists and other experts who serve on committees to do with food labelling, such as the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, are required to sign the Official Secrets Act? Is food labelling not a subject where maximum publicity is needed, not maximum security?

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I shall draw his attention to my hon. Friend's comments.

Can nutritional food labelling, valuable as it is of itself, adequately compensate the British consumer for the ever-rising cost of food products in the Common Market?

Fat labelling is a recommendation of COMA. There are other questions on the Order Paper today which may refer to food prices.

When my hon. Friend is considering these problems and the future of labelling, will she turn her attention to the unfairness of confining this to certain food products such as milk and meat? If it is successful for those products, why should it not be successful and wise for all products? Will it not have a damaging effect on the dairy industry?

Fat labelling is a recommendation of COMA and will be on all products. It is the nutritional labelling which will be voluntary. We are considering the best format which would be meaningful to the consumer. Nutritional labelling was not a recommendation of COMA whereas fat labelling was.

We welcome the Government recommendations so far as they go to achieve a healthier diet for our people. Would the Minister accept that if these recommendations are to be of any value, food labelling must be both uniform and easily comprehensible so that when consumers go to the shops they know what the code means?

We are involved in a survey, in collaboration with the National Consumer Council and the Consumers Association, to discover exactly the perception of consumers to labelling. I agree wholly with the hon. Member that the labelling must make sense to consumers if they are to accept advice.

Food Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food what proportion of food price increases since 1975 have been the result of higher real prices paid to farmers; and what proportion can be attributed to higher food processing and retailing costs.

Apportioning increases in food prices between prices paid to farmers and the costs of retailing and distribution can be done only in broad terms. In the decade since 1975, agricultural product prices have risen by 122 per cent., while retail food prices have risen by 166 per cent. Associated with this slower growth of agricultural prices, the cost of basic food raw materials now accounts for 44 per cent. of consumer spending on food compared with 50 per cent. 10 years ago.

My hon. Friend may be aware that in real terms the cost of food, taking the farmgate price received by farmers, has fallen substantially in real terms. What expectation has she that the current common agricultural policy proposed price cuts will result in substantially reduced production, for which she no doubt hopes?

I am not hoping for substantially reduced production, but clearly realism in the common agricultural programme means that we need to consider surplus production.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the moderate rise in food prices compared with the retail prices index is helped greatly by the variable beef premium? Will she encourage my right hon. Friend in no way to barter that valuable instrument in exchange for anything else?

I can only reiterate to my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends need no encouragement to defend British interests in this matter.

Surplus Food


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the latest figure for the total amount and value of surplus food stored in the United Kingdom; and what is the total amount currently stored in the European Economic Community.

On 30 April intervention stocks of beef, breadwheat, butter and skimmed milk powder in the United Kingdom were just over 321,000 tonnes, valued at some £476 million, using the buying-in prices valid at that date. The volume of Community stocks of these products and sugar at the latest available date was just over 7 million tonnes.

Would the Minister care to estimate how much of that food will eventually be consumed by human beings and how much will simply rot away? Is it not an absolute crime against humanity for the Government to support a high-price, high-waste common agricultural policy, especially at a time when literally millions of people in the Third world are in danger of starving to death?

Neither this House nor the Council of Ministers is under any illusions. It is the firm resolve of the United Kingdom Government to reduce the surpluses. Nevertheless, a considerable proportion of the surpluses will be consumed by human beings, or by animals which will ultimately be consumed by human beings. A considerable proportion will be consumed within the Community, through exports, or through the substantial programme of food aid.

While the surpluses seem large in tonnage terms, will my hon. Friend put the whole business of surpluses into perspective and tell the House exactly how many days of normal supply for the British housewife the surpluses represent?

Clearly, it varies, but for butter it is between 150 and 200 days' supply. There are some cases in which it is vital to reduce the surpluses substantially. In other cases, moderate surpluses are desirable for the safety of food stocks.

Prime Minister



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 May.

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.

Will the Prime Minister take time during a busy day to study press notices of an enterprise by Shell in the North sea involving the investment of £2·5 billion, many ancillary contracts for British firms, and jobs for 6,000 people? Will she comment on that enterprise?

I confirm what my hon. Friend said. I understand that it is an enterprise which will provide about 6,000 jobs and that the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1983 probably contributed to the decision to go ahead with this development. It is good news and I wish the enterprise well.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to look at the Hansard reports of our economic debates in the House in the past two months, from which she will find that about 25 per cent. of the contributions from the Government Benches have been critical of the Government strategy? Does not that, together with the establishment of dissident groups on her own Back Benches, indicate the total failure of the Government's policies in dealing with unemployment?

Will the Prime Minister stop carrying on thinking that there is no alternative and start—[Interruption.] Will she start to listen to the proposals that are being made by groups on her own Back Benches and by some on the alliance Benches, and drop the absurd notion that there is no alternative?

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as a proportion of the population, the number of people in work in Britain is the highest in the European Community?

The proportion of the population of working age in work is 66 per cent. in Britain. That is as high as in the United States and higher than in France and Germany. It is one of the highest percentages in Europe.



asked the Prime Minister if the Government have any intention of recognising the regime in Kampuchea.

No, Sir. We recognise the state of Cambodia, but in common with the overwhelming majority of the international community will not countenance having relations with the present regime in Phnom Penh, which depends on the Vietnamese occupation forces for its existence.

Does the Prime Minister not think that it is gratuitously offensive to the vast majority of the British people that we recognise at the United Nations the representatives of a regime which murdered 2 million of its own people? Is the bogus excuse still that the north Vietnamese or the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia? If that is the bogus excuse, is the Prime Minister aware of the United Nations 1948 convention on genocide? We cannot argue — [Interruption.] We have obligations under international law to put a stop to genocide.

The Government withdrew formal recognition from the Pol Pot regime in December 1979. In accordance with the recommendation of the United Nations General Assembly credentials committee, we continue to accept the representatives of the democratic parts of Kampuchea as representing the Cambodia seat.

While admitting that the regime we recognise in Kampuchea has a deplorable record, may I ask whether the Prime Minister agrees that the regime in Phnom Penh, backed by the Vietnamese, has committed every crime under the sun and is the enemy of our friends in that part of the world?

Yes. The Vietnamese forces are still in occupation. They have caused the flight of many refugees into Thailand. We give as much support and help as we can to those refugees. We shall not recognise the puppet regime in Phnom Penh, which is upheld only by the Vietnamese occupying forces.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 May.

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

In view of the wide divisions in her party, will the Prime Minister stop shedding crocodile tears, and will she state today that she is concerned about unemployment? In view of the formation of the new Centre Forward group—

I withdraw. In view of the formation of the Centre Forward group and the statement by Mr. lain Picton, chairman of the Tory Reform Group, will the Prime Minister now state whether the Lady is for turning, and if not, why not?

I am not sure whether I picked my way through that complicated question. The name "Centre Forward" was, of course, first coined by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, who wrote a book called "Centre Forward — a Radical Conservative Programme". Hon. Members can see that book, which I have here. It was written in 1978, and I am delighted to find that my hon. Friend has so many new supporters.

Following the good news from Shell, has my right hon. Friend had the time to reflect on the good news from British Leyland, which, in the first quarter of this year, had achieved its highest output for 10 years, with 98 per cent. availability?

I am always delighted to hear of great success in our motoring industry. I hope that it will steadily increase the proportion of the car market that is taken by firms in this country. I congratulate the company.

Why have crimes of every kind increased substantially since the Prime Minister took office in 1979? What is she going to do about it?

Crime has been going up both in this country and in other countries. This Government, unlike previous ones, have substantially increased the numbers in the police force—by some 12,000. We have also increased the amount of equipment that is available to them.

The police are not convinced by that. Who does the right hon. Lady expect to believe it?

I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman might actually be swayed by the facts on the numbers of the police.

This right hon. Gentleman and, plainly, the police are more impressed by the 30 per cent. rise in serious crime since the right hon. Lady became leader of the Government. Will she now answer the question? Why is the crime rate so much higher? What is she going to do about it?

I repeat the reply that I gave. We have increased the numbers in the police force. We have also increased, as we did during last year, the actual amount of resources available. If there should be any under-recruitment in local authorities, I urge them to come up to establishment.

Has my right hon. Friend noted that in the year to March wages rose by 9 per cent.? Does she agree that if those in work take more of the national wage bill it must be bad for the unemployed? Will she therefore re-emphasise the need for wage restraint in any sensible attack on unemployment?

Yes, I saw those figures today. On average earnings, the underlying rate is still 7½ per cent., but my hon. Friend will also have heard today the news and wisdom that has come out of Southampton docks. Six months ago those docks were not working at all. The news came today that they have realised that if they are to get back to work they must reduce the wage bill. By doing that they have turned the position around and are now very successful. As my hon. Friend has said, wage costs must not rise too high if we are to get more jobs.

Will the Prime Minister note that in yesterday's elections in Northern Ireland about 10 per cent. of those who wished lawfully to cast their votes were prevented from doing so by the terms of the Elections (Northern Ireland) Act of this Session? Does she agree with the opinion held in all quarters of the Province that that statute cannot remain unamended?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the purpose of the Elections (Northern Ireland) Act 1985 and the local elections order of 1982 was to strengthen safeguards against personation, to counter a significant increase in electoral abuse in recent years. We shall, of course, be reviewing the way in which the legislation works and, in particular, the usefulness of the various documents specified for identification. In response to the right hon. Gentleman, we shall certainly look at the way in which the Act has worked.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that recently I shared a platform with an employee of the Greater London council whose principal contribution to our discussions was to advocate riot as the only means whereby the ethnic minorities in this country could achieve their objectives? Does my right hon. Friend not think that that is one of the contributions to the rising crime rate?

I hope that almost everyone in the House accepts that the law must be obeyed, and we are all responsible for helping in its enforcement.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 May.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Will the Prime Minister reflect on the situation of my constituent E. G. Moxon, and thousands like him, who went out under the job release scheme only to find that this year his annual increase is only 60p due to favourable developments in personal tax allowances? Has not the scheme turned out to be a con trick in that those low-paid people have paid for an increase, which they were not supposed to do? Will that not be detrimental to people wishing to go out under the scheme?

I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the job release scheme was a good one, allowing people to retire early and releasing jobs for people on the unemployment register. If there is a particular difficulty or a special case in relation to tax I hope that the hon. Gentleman will write to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about it.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 May.

Has my right hon. Friend had time during her busy day to read the totally independent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General stating that the National Health Service has never been more flourishing? Does that not show that the Opposition's scurrilous rumours about the future of the Health Service are utterly dishonest?

Yes, the Opposition do a lot of the talking, but we have delivered the best National Health Service that this country has ever known, with more doctors and nurses—[HON. MEMBERS: "Use them!"]—dealing more efficiently with a greater number of patients. [Interruption.] The Opposition may shout, as they usually do, but they cannot overcome the facts. Under this Government the National Health Service is the best ever.

Has the Prime Minister had time today to read the point of order that I raised yesterday regarding early-day motion 686—

Order. The point of order was to me, so it is my responsibility and not that of the Prime Minister.

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I wondered whether the right hon. Lady had had time in her busy day to read that point of order. As Reuters has apologised to me for the inaccurate report, and as the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has graciously withdrawn the early-day motion, will the right hon. Lady now have the courtesy to apologise for, and withdraw, the remarks that she made without any justification at Question Time on Tuesday?

I said at Question Time on Tuesday:

"Those remarks must have been deeply wounding and we on these Benches reject them absolutely."—[Official Report, 14 May 1985; Vol. 79, c. 169.]
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is withdrawing the remarks—[Interruption.]

I understand that my hon. Friend has withdrawn the remark and, of course, I therefore do. I hope that the hon. Gentleman now thinks that that airstrip was a very good investment—[Interruption.]

Order. I shall take points of order only if they relate to Question Time and only if they are not an extension of Question Time.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman's point of order relates to what happened two days ago, I shall take it later.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As someone who accompanied the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) to the Falkland Islands, I can confirm that everything he has said in the House is correct and that if statements were made on Tuesday impugning his conversations in the Falkland Islands they are wrong and ought to be withdrawn.

I heard the exchanges yesterday and the points of order were addressed to me. I called the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) today. I heard exactly what the Prime Minister said, and she did withdraw.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) specifically asked the Prime Minister to read the exchanges which took place on Tuesday. She has obviously read them and must know that my hon. Friend was misreported. Will she now have the courtesy and grace to withdraw her remarks?

I thought that I had withdrawn —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then I do. I do so now—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] — and of course, I apologise.

Railway Workshops (Job Losses)

3.33 pm

(by private notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the announcement of job losses in British Rail Engineering Ltd.

At a meeting of its joint consultative committee on 15 May, the management of British Rail Engineering Ltd. informed the unions that it had reluctantly come to the conclusion that it would be necessary to make further reductions in manpower within BREL. A year ago, the management had already informed the unions at the equivalent meeting of proposed reductions. Its latest evaluation of work load, however, shows a further reduction of 13 per cent. in repair work. The company has therefore concluded that it needs to reduce manpower by a further 1,300 over the next 'two years.

It may be helpful to the House if I explain these work load projections. The demand for railway repair and maintenance has declined because of British Rail's decision to invest in new rolling stock. In particular, investment in new diesel multiple units with higher performance means that the same frequency of service can now be provided with fewer trains, and each of these fewer units requires less maintenance. Major programmes of refurbishment, particularly the stripping of asbestos from older vehicles, are also nearing completion, and this has been a significant part of the recent work load.

In the light of this reduced demand, British Rail and BREL have, with considerable regret, decided that they must propose to the unions a sizeable rundown of the Glasgow Springburn works and some further manpower reductions at other works, particularly Doncaster and Eastleigh. Most regrettably of all, they have decided, after considering the position carefully, that there is insufficient work to maintain the BREL works at Swindon after March 1986.

I know that these proposals will be a hard blow to the communities concerned, particularly to Swindon, but British Rail and BREL have considered the matter carefully and concluded that a reduction of capacity of this scale is unavoidable. There will, of course, be an opportunity for all the possibilities to be re-examined fully in the consultations with the employees which now follow BREL's announcement.

British Rail and BREL will do all that they can to find alternative work for redundant employees by offering opportunities to transfer to other works and by encouraging business development and job creation at both Swindon and Glasgow.

Is the Minister not aware that it is a disgrace to come here and make announcements that represent a drop of 18·8 per cent. in the work force by the end of March 1987 —1,000 more jobs lost than was proposed by British Rail to the unions last year—and the total closure of the Swindon works?

Why is it that, when the Ayrshire electrification programme is to be completed, the Glasgow works is to be reduced, because there is to be no more refurbishment of DMUs, to the level of a mere regional workshop? How does the Minister explain to the trained engineers who are to lose their jobs the reason for reducing the amount of maintenance that British Rail has undertaken throughout the regions since the Government came to power? Why has there been no estimate of the work load to the end of the corporate plan? Is it the intention of the Government to proceed even faster with the cuts that were proposed in the Serpell report? That appears to be the reason why there is no clear indication of how much work will be left at the end of 1987.

The Serpell report made various suggestions for BREL: that it should be forced to remain within British Rail, and not compete for work outside: that it should be privatised—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady but this is a private notice question, not the response to a statement.

I want to make it quite clear to the House that what the Government are insisting on is a rundown in the existing stock in BR. Will the Minister tell us whether it was ever made clear to the electorate in the constituencies that are to lose a highly skilled work force what the real effect of Conservative government would be on employment in BREL workshops? How does the Minister defend the fact that none of his efforts to obtain contracts overseas have been sent to British Rail, where they are desparately needed? Will he ensure that the new contracts go to BR and not to foreign workshops? If not, how dare he try to defend cuts in necessary jobs?

The hon. Lady asked whether I knew of the job losses. Yes, of course I know. I am painfully aware of the job losses and deeply concerned about them. However, the reality is that when British Rail invests in new diesel multiple units and new rolling stock, that rolling stock requires much less maintenance than the old rolling stock. For that reason, the more investment it undertakes in new rolling stock, the less work there is in the old refurbishment and maintenance work which has been going on.

I shall give the House the facts. The average replacement rate is two new vehicles for three old vehicles. Each vehicle needs 30 to 40 per cent. less annual BREL maintenance than the older ones. Therefore, overall, to have a new fleet means a 50 to 60 per cent. reduction in the maintenance work which follows. That is an inevitable consequence. Nothing that the hon. Lady can do by blustering to the House alters the fact that the work load does not warrant the maintenance of the entire system as it now stands.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, if the closure takes place, it will increase male unemployment in my constituency and the sorrounding areas by up to 50 per cent? Is he further aware that the Swindon railway works has been run down for more than 20 years, during which time there have been both Labour and Conservative Governments? Nothing has been done to reverse that trend, which was brought to an end yesterday.

In the circumstances, will my hon. Friend press British Rail to seek redeployment for as many of the work force in the railway works as can be achieved?

Will my hon. Friend press British Rail for redundancy payments on the same level as those granted this year to people in other nationalised industries? Will he press British Rail to increase the sum available through British Rail Holdings—the enterprise agency recently created in my constituency — to redeploy workers and to create new businesses there to take up the work force who will be made redundant following the announcement? Will he further press British Rail to offer the Swindon works on the open market, as a going concern with a large pool of highly skilled engineering workers who would be a proud addition to any company in the world?

Last May the forward projection showed an anticipated work force at Swindon of just under 700. Those jobs are now going as a result of yesterday's announcement. Some of the men will be relocated within BREL, as a result of natural wastage throughout the organisation. My hon. Friend will be aware that, whatever Government were in office, it would have made no difference to the need to balance the capacity and the demand within BREL.

Redundancy payments and the funds available to help create work in those areas will be pro rata to those at Horwich and Shildon. My hon. Friend asked me to press the management of British Rail to offer the works as it stands on the open market, and I shall certainly draw that suggestion to the attention of the chairman of British Rail.

I seek assurances from the Minister that British Rail will not put any orders for new locomotives overseas, and that any new stock will be built by British Rail engineering workers in my constituency and throughout the country. Will the Minister come to Springburn and see the impact that the decision has had on my community? Since the turn of the year we have had three major closures involving redundancies, yet we are only in the month of May. If the Minister seriously believes that he can find alternative employment, why was he not having discussions with the unions a year ago, and looking for alternative work then, instead of waiting until the announcement was made?

The hon. Gentleman raises the question of British Rail's purchases of locomotives, possibly from overseas. I must tell him that British Rail is in a competitive market. It has no monopoly, and is in competition with air and coach services and private cars. It must give its customers the best service and value that it can. Therefore, it must buy as competitively as it can. British Rail and I hope that it can do so from British engineering.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this evolution was almost inevitable from the steam age to the diesel age, because the carriage works were started in the early part of this century? Is it not clear that the decision had to be made one day? With the inevitability of the decision, will he ensure that every sympathetic consideration is given to the employees who will be made redundant? Will he ensure that British Rail realises how emotive the issue is and, in every case, will he bring it to the attention of the board that those employees must receive every consideration for the many years of loyal service that they have given to British Rail?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the valuable service given to British Rail, especially by the workers at Swindon, who had an especially good productivity record. I wholly support the point that he made. When the BREL works were closed at Shildon and Horwich, I explored with British Rail every way of helping to create jobs. Of course, I shall do the same for Swindon.

In view of the deplorable state of much of the rolling stock in the southern and eastern regions, where we are constantly told that, due to a lack of rolling stock, trains will have only four or eight coaches, it is hard to believe the Minister's statement. The rolling stock on the Isle of Wight goes back to 1924. Is the Minister sure that he is not destroying a railway industrial base which, in three or four years' time, we shall desperately need to produce the rolling stock that I believe is needed now? Is he sure that we will not be importing it from America?

I have to say that Swindon is net geared to the sort of work which the hon. Gentleman describes. There is no intention to close the works at Eastleigh— [Interruption.] There is absolutely no intention to close the works there. There has been a small reduction in the work force, which is deeply regretted. The precise programme for the refurbishment of Southern region's rolling stock is a matter for the management of British Rail, not for Ministers.

Does my hon. Friend recognise the excellent work that has been done at BREL and at British Rail workshops in Derby, especially the tremendous efforts made by management and men, many of whom are my constituents, to modernise the works and improve productivity? Does he agree that the action taken by BREL workers in other parts of the country—to go on strike—is exactly the wrong approach, for if we are to win more customers, we need a work force that is not only competent, but reliable?

My hon. Friend is absolutely coma. BREL can be proud of the way in which it has succeeded in recent months in winning orders in open competition. Indeed, it has just won the first competitive contract for freight wagon repairs, for which 13 companies had tendered. That fully bears out my hon. Friend's point: that BREL has become an efficient operation with an efficient work force and can compete successfully.

Can the Minister demonstrate to the House that he is not acting like a modern Pontius Pilate, and tell the House what he proposes to do and what measures he will take to help BREL to compete in the export market and to regain some of the export orders that it has lost in recent years?

It is not for politicians to undertake the work of manufacturing and exporting — that is for BREL. I have told BREL that I am available to help it in any way that I can in support of its export programme. It has had a considerable number of export inquiries for the railbus and the international coach and we shall do all that we can to help it succeed in that way.

Does my hon. Friend think that the Caley works at Springburn, Glasgow, where a number of my constituents work, will have a viable future with only 460 employees? Is he satisfied that the work load of BREL is shared fairly throughout the United Kingdom? Can he assure me that the BREL management is attaching adequate priority to the important job of winning vital export orders?

On my hon. Friend's point about the future of the Glasgow works and whether the number of employees will be viable the work fulfilled in the past at the Glasgow works is changing. However, I have every reason to believe that the numbers that have been projected will be enough for a viable future for the works. As to the share of the work, it is not a case of sharing it fairly but of allocating it within BREL's management to where it can be done most efficiently and cost-effectively.

Will the Minister acknowledge that, if British Rail places a major order for locomotives abroad, he will be coming back to the Dispatch Box to announce further redundancies and closures in BREL? Will he also acknowledge that, if such orders are placed abroad, he will be putting a large knife through the heart of some of Britain's biggest locomotive manufacturers?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point; that is why it is so necessary for the British firms that manufacture such products to do so as cost-effectively and competitively as their competitors elsewhere. On that basis, British Rail will order, and will be delighted to order, from British firms.

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is but another example of the many that we have had, and will yet have, of the private and public sectors doing away with jobs because of increased efficiency and increased technology? That is not the Government's fault, but is my hon. Friend aware that the Government must be concerned with how we re-allocate our employment resources, so that, either by reduction in hours of working or years of work, or by earlier pensions we can make up for the jobs that are being lost month by month and year by year?

My hon. Friend is correct. Increased efficiency often reduces jobs, but a huge British Rail investment programme stretches out ahead of it. In the next five years, we expect some £2,200 million to be in invested by British Rail, which will create many jobs.

Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) about the division of work? Does he not know that allegations were made to me by the trade unions at Springburn two months ago that those works did not get a fair share of the work coming from the Scottish area of British Rail, never mind the work coming from other areas? Will he look at that, because Springburn has borne an extremely heavy proportion of the redundancies involved?

The hon. Gentleman will know that there were certain difficulties at Springburn last year. I shall draw his comments to the attention of BREL management, but it must be for it to decide where it can best carry out the work that it has to do both cost-effectively and efficiently.

Why does this Minister, like the rest of those on the Tory Front Bench, glory in putting people on the dole? When will this bleeding stop? Is it not just what the railwaymen have been saying? What does one expect from this Government, with a Prime Minister who will gallivant all around the world but does not have the decency to travel on a British train?

I bitterly resent the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that I or any other Minister glories in people being put on the dole. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) will confirm that I have been as anxious as anyone to try to retain the jobs involved. It is force majeure. The hon. Gentleman should know that if there is no work available, factories cannot be kept empty.

Order. I shall call those hon. Members with a direct interest in this matter.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be common sense—I know that the Government are a little short of that—to bring about a movement of heavy freight from road to rail, thereby generating demand and doing a service to the environment and the country?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very sensible point, and I shall make two points in reply. First, the Government already give grants to seek environmental improvement by the transfer of traffic from road to rail. Secondly, nothing has given a larger boost to the movement of goods by road than what happened on the railways during the miners' strike.

Here is another sensible point. When the Minister answered my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), did he reflect whether the French railways would ever place an order for engines outside France or whether the Japanese railways would ever place an order outside Japan? What other countries can he name, which have major railway engineering industries, that place orders outside their own industries?

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have called for encouragement and help for BREL in its exporting work. If other countries manufactured everything that they wanted themselves, there would be no exports for Britain. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.

Now that the Minister has expressed his grave concern and sorrow at the predicament of the engineers at BREL, may I remind him that the recent publicity engendered through British Rail by Mr. Bob Reid about the possibility of placing orders for 1,500 locomotives abroad could mean the loss of £1·5 billion-worth of business? I have been in correspondence with the chairman on behalf of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers reminding him of the difficulties that that sort of policy would create. Does the Minister recognise that such action would not only affect the workshops that he has mentioned today, but, if we do not have a share of the orders it will affect GEC, Hawker Siddeley, Metro-Cammell and BREL? They will then come to the Minister to tell him that they have massive unemployment. What will the Minister do about it?

It is not for me to do anything about it —it is for the firms in British industry to be competitive and to win orders.

Adjournment (Debates)

I remind hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Friday, 24 May up to eight Members may raise with Ministers subjects of their own choice. Applications should reach my Office by 10 pm on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning and the result made known as soon as possible thereafter.

Business Of The House

3.59 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The business of the House for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 20 MAY — There will he a debate on a Government motion on the report of the Auld committee of inquiry into proposals to amend the Shops Acts, Command No. 9376.

TUESDAY 21 MAY AND WEDNESDAY 22 MAY —Remaining stages of the Transport Bill.

At the end on Wednesday, motion on the Royal Ordnance Factories Trading Fund (Revocation and Repeal) Order.

THURSDAY 23 MAY—A debate on the Commission for Racial Equality report on immigration control procedures on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

FRIDAY 24 MAY-It will be proposed that the House should rise for the spring Adjournment until Monday 3 June.

I appreciate that the Government have problems with their mutinous ranks, but as the debate on the Auld report next Monday clearly involves matters of personal conscience and conviction, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain why the Government are not observing the honourable convention of the House and permitting a free vote among Conservative Members on the substantive motion, as we on these Benches shall be doing? Will he discuss the matter with the Patronage Secretary and come to a more agreeable and reasonable position on Conservative Government whipping for next Monday?

As ever, ours is perfectly satisfactory. [Interruption.] I am sure that there are certain Conservative Members whom the Government wish would not turn up.

The right hon. Gentleman deserves thanks for at last arranging for a debate to take place on Thursday in prime time on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality. Is he aware that the decision to hold the debate on a motion for the Adjournment is objectionable, as it is a matter of some controversy and great importance, and that it would be far better for hon. Members on both sides for the subject to be debated on a "take note" motion, which could be subject to amendment?

Will the right hon. Gentleman speak to the Home Secretary and ensure that he speaks in the debate on Thursday, as it would be unacceptable if, on a matter of such significance, the Home Secretary was again to dodge his responsibilities?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that good and cordial relationships exist between the Patronage Secretary and myself, although the right hon. Gentleman, as a trade unionist, will know that it proceeds on a certain demarcation basis—I do not guide him on whipping and he does not guide me on a number of my responsibilities.

I will only comment—it is the bromide that one usually uses on these occasions—that my right hon. Friend will have heard what has been said.

I appreciate the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about the form of the debate on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality and the suitability of the "take note" resolution procedure. Perhaps we can discuss that further through the usual channels, as can those who will take part in the debate.

What reason have the Government for expecting that the private Member's Bill, the Rent (Amendment) Bill, which they are hoping will receive its Second Reading on the nod tomorrow, will reach the statute book this Session?

I do not know, but I will look into the matter and be in touch with the right hon. Gentleman.

When shall we have a clear and definitive statement from the Minister for Health about the latest position on getting an appeals system in place to deal with the limited list of drugs? The matter is becoming extremely urgent.

I appreciate the force of the point that my hon. Friend Makes and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

The Leader of the House knows that I speak as chairman of the Co-operative parliamentary group in the House; I declare that interest. Is he prepared actively to persuade the Patronage Secretary and his other colleagues to think again about the three-line Whip that has been imposed for Monday's debate? What representations has he had on the matter from Conservative Members?

I have cultivated a great innocence about whipping and I intend to keep it that way.

As my right hon. Friend knows, we are now into local enterprise week. Is he aware that yesterday, on an Opposition motion on business and growth, there were at times only two Labour Members in the Chamber and that at another time no members of the Liberal party or of the Social Democratic party were present? Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to organise an action replay of that debate so that Opposition Members can display some genuine credibility rather than just platitudes about the matter?

For it to be an appropriate action replay, it would have to take place in Opposition time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government's announcement today that they are to give £250,000 to the Bradford disaster appeal — an action which was urged on the Government on Tuesday by the Leader of the Opposition —will be most welcome in Bradford and throughout the country? Now that the Prime Minister has had a further opportunity for reflection and discussion, will he urge her to make an early statement, certainly before we adjourn for the recess, about what contribution the Government will give to Bradford City football club for the rebuilding of Valley Parade?

I acknowledge with gratitude what the hon. Gentleman says about the contribution of £250,000 which has been announced today. I shall look into the other point that he makes and refer it to my right hon. Friend.

Will my right hon. Friend explain why the Government have taken over a private Member's Bill to promote Sunday trading, which was defeated by the House, whereas the Government have declined facilities for the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill, which received the overwhelming support of the House?

My hon. Friend is very perceptive in political matters and I am saddened that he has overlooked the fact that on Monday we shall be debating not legislation but a report.

Following the publication of the results of the opinion poll in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, and recognising that a system of proportional representation assists parties which trail in some places, would it not be in the interests of the Leader of the House to organise an early debate to enable hon. Members to consider the reform of our electoral system based on proportional representation?

What action do the Government propose to take on the latest report of the Select Committee on Procedure, which has just been published?

As my hon. Friend reminds the House, that report has only just been published. It is important for hon. Members to have an opportunity to reflect on its interesting range of proposals, and doubtless in due course we shall have a debate.

In view of the bureaucratic nonsense that has emerged in relation to limited list prescribing and the bureaucratic tangle of the appeals procedure, will the right hon. Gentleman find time for my Generic Substitution (National Health Service) Bill, which is due for its Second Reading and which would get the Government off the hook, as it would still leave the clinical freedom of doctors to prescribe what they want to prescribe and at the same time save £200 million of National Health Service resources?

It is a beguiling invitation for the Government to adopt a piece of private legislation, but one which I believe might be controversial hi current circumstances. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to permit me to rest on the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon).

When may we have a debate on the police, particularly with reference, first, to the question of missing children—as I told my right hon. Friend last week, more than 4,100 children went missing in the Metropolitan police area last year—and, secondly, to police operational methods? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 1984, in the London area alone, there were five fatal accidents and 43 serious injuries in such accidents involving police answering emergency calls? Does he agree that it is time that we had a full debate on the police?

My hon. Friend raises a matter of considerable interest but I must be disappointing in my response and tell him that there is no immediate prospect of Government time for such a debate. However, he will have noticed that there will be no fewer than eight Adjournment debates available on 24 May.

Has the Leader of the House had time to read early-day motion 672, in which there is an overwhelming expression of feeling by hon. Members on both sides of the House that there is need for an increase in the secretarial and research allowance available to hon. Members, and particularly to Back Benchers?

[That this House believes that, in order to carry out their responsibilities to their constituents and to play a more effective role in the legislature, it has become urgently necessary for honourable Members to have, as a minimum requirement, the resources to employ a secretary and a research assistant paid direct by the Fees Office; and expects Parliament to provide these resources as a matter of urgency for every honourable Member who wishes to make use of such facilities.]
Will the right hon. Gentleman make time available for us to discuss the matter so as to take the view of the House, especially as there is such clear feeling on it among hon. Members in all parts of the House?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I am well aware of the terms of the motion and the names appended to it. I must point out, however, that the House fairly recently took a view on this matter, and there. I must rest my comments.

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time for a debate soon on the workings of the Lloyd's Act 1982, which gave powers of self-regulation to part of the London insurance market? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people are disturbed by certain features of the Lloyd's scene, including the apparent lack of zeal in pursuing frauds and lack of adequate investor protection safeguards? There is concern also about the use of the immunity clauses in the Lloyd's legislation which allows the council of Lloyds to have immunity from paying damages in lawsuits. Can we investigate these matters before a great national asset's reputation is damaged further?

My hon. Friend has made a fair point, but I must counter it with the observation that, in the near future, there is no likelihood of Government time being made available to debate the matter. I must say what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) — that there will be eight Adjournment debates on 24 May.

Will the Leader of the House be a little less flippant about the voting arrangements for the debate on Monday on Sunday trading? Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that many people want to know why the Labour Benches will have a free vote while the Tory Benches are under instructions from the Prime Minister's Office through the Chief Whip to vote in favour of Sunday trading? Does that not require some explanation? Will the right hon. Gentleman put it to the Prime Minister that she should make an open statement to the House next week so that at least the Church of England and all the bodies interested in these matters fully understand what is happening next Monday in the House of Commons?

My right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary will have heard those points.

Mr. John Stokes
(Halesowen and Stourbridge)