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Commons Chamber

Volume 79: debated on Monday 20 May 1985

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House Of Commons

Monday 20 May 1985

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Wales

Labour Statistics

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many people are unemployed in Wales and in Clwyd; what were the figures for 1979; and by what percentage each of the totals has increased.

On 11 April 1985 there were 180,031 unemployed claimants in Wales and 24,186 in Clwyd. In April 1979 the claimant-based figure for Wales was 78,383, an increase of 129·7 per cent. A comparable claimant-based figure for Clwyd is not available, but in April 1979 the number of registrants unemployed was 12,070.

My luckless constituents at P.D. Cans of Deeside lost their jobs last month and are still shocked and angry. Why did that company fold up so speedily and mysteriously ? Is it perhaps a classic case of management error and over-extension of financial resources ? Did the company use Welsh Office grants to buy another company from receivership ? Does the Secretary of State agree that the closure of a factory with a 90-strong work force is just as important in human consequences as much bigger closures ?

The company received grants. I do not believe that the amount of grant that it received can have been critical in the decision on whether it went ahead with the acquisition of another company. But it was regrettable that that company failed. I find it hard to believe that the hon. Gentleman is criticising the fact that an application for selective financial assistance at an earlier stage was granted to the company after the application had gone to the Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the serious concern of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) over unemployment is to be taken seriously, he will have to have Labour's policy document "Work for Wales" independently costed and tell us exactly how much his party will put up taxes to pay for it ?

I entirely agree. Any higher rates or taxes would be detrimental to jobs.

How many nurses, doctors and front-line staff will be made redundant in west Wales due to 90 beds being taken out of use at Llanelli, Carmarthen and Aberystwyth ? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the position of the East Dyfed health authority, and give it the extra £1·5 million required to make sure that the services remain intact ?

There are more nurses, doctors and front-line staff in the Health Service than there were when the Government came into office. Considerable funds have been allocated to the health authorities in west Wales to deal with the problem of under-funding. Recent recalculation of Dyfed's requirements shows that further attention may have to be given to its particular under-funding problem. We are considering that matter at present.

When will the Secretary of State announce a full expansion of the Welsh Development Agency programme, with the money and resources to make it possible, to deal with those appalling figures ?

The Welsh Development Agency has carried out a massive programme under the Government since May 1979. It has spent some £270 million on factory building and related activities. It has built over 200 advance factories in Clwyd alone. At the moment about 12·5 per cent. of its factory space is vacant. It is also carrying out a substantial programme to encourage investment, particularly by the private sector.

Courtaulds (Plant Closure)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he expects to complete his consideration of Delyn borough council's development strategy for Courtaulds' Greenfield plant following the announcement of the proposed closure of the plant.

4.

asked the Secretary of State for 'Wales if he will introduce further measures to alleviate the impact of job losses resulting from the closure of Courtaulds' yarn factory at Wrexham.

My officials are discussing urgently with the local authorities, the company, the Manpower Services Commission and the WDA the contribution which each can make to tackling the situation. Those discussions will cover the Delyn borough council's development plan and the county council's action response.

Will my right hon. Friend seriously consider extending the Delyn enterprise zone to include the No. 1 site at Greenfields when that site is transferred to Delyn borough council ? Is he aware that the council will have great difficulty in attracting substantial private investment to develop that site without the financial advantages of an enterprise zone, particularly the 100 per cent. capital allowances for new buildings ?

We are having detailed discussions with all the authorities about their proposals. It would be wrong to anticipate the outcome of those discussions, especially as we are also still awaiting a full response from Courtaulds about the contribution that it can make.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to consultations, but will he also bear in mind that, if the closures go ahead, the extensive public funds invested in Courtaulds over the past few years should be clawed back ? Will he see that that is done ?

Clawback is always considered in such cases and I confirm that it will be on this occasion. However, I should tell the House that Courtaulds has agreed to second a senior executive and support staff to provide management expertise for the development of local business in the Delwyn area. I welcome that proposal, but it is, of course, only one of the many aspects of the problem that we have been discussing with Courtaulds. We shall continue to hold detailed discussions with the company.

In view of the reports that the Prime Minister has intervened personally with Sir Christopher Hogg about alternative employment, will the Secretary of State also intervene personally with the chairman of BP International in order to obtain a stay of execution for Llandarcy so that the work force may be given a decent period in which to work out alternative plans, instead of a mere month ?

I will certainly draw to the attention of the senior management of BP what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, but, as I told the Welsh Grand Committee last week, BP has set a notable example to other companies, including Courtaulds, with regard to the contribution that can be made in such circumstances. BP has committed itself in a number of ways to help create future jobs. It should be congratulated on the initiatives that it has already announced.

Order. I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that the question refers to Courtaulds Greenfield plant. I am afraid that I was confused by the names of Welsh towns.

What is the Secretary of State's reaction to the decision of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs to launch an inquiry into the job losses both at Courtaulds and at BP Llandarcy ?

May I remind the Secretary of State that over 13,000 people are unemployed in the Deeside travel-to-work area and that there is a male unemployment rate of nearly 20 per cent.? The prospects for Flint, Holywell, Bagillt and Greenfield are very grim. The male unemployment rate in Flint and Holywell may approach 30 per cent. before long.

Will the right hon. Gentleman visit Mold and organise and chair a conference of county and borough leaders, together with the Welsh Development Agency and the Manpower Services Commission, with the objective of producing a rescue package.? What has the right hon. Gentleman done, with his Prime Minister, to see the chairman of Courtaulds in person in order to persuade him to retract these brutal decisions ?

As I have said before, I have seen the chairman of Courtaulds and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has corresponded with him. I have initiated with the local authorities discussions of the kind that the hon. Gentleman seems to want. What is required at present is not another meeting chaired by me, but a conclusion of the detailed discussions now in progress.

I am sure that, at least, the hon. Gentleman will welcome the significant announcements affecting the area made by Sharp and Data Magnetic in particular since the Courtaulds announcement was made.

Cynon Valley

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what new plans he has to deal with the unemployment problem in the Cynon Valley.

Within the Government's overall economic strategy, I shall continue to pay special attention to the need to sustain and develop industrial and manufacturing investment in areas such as the Cynon Valley.

Is the Secretary of State aware that Cynon Valley now has the highest male unemployment in Wales ? Is he further aware that at least two pits in my constituency are in jeopardy and that, if they close, male unemployment will be pushed up to 50 per cent.? In view of that horrific possibility, does the right hon. Gentleman intend to bring alternative employment to my besieged constituency ?

I am aware of the possibility of further pit closures in the area and of the level of unemployment there. That is why I devoted a considerable part of my speech at last Wednesday's sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee to spelling out our commitment to the valleys of Wales, including the Cynon Valley. I am sorry to say that I do not think that the hon. Lady was able to be there to hear my speech. Perhaps she will find time to read it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most damaging action for the Cynon Valley, and any other part of the country, would be espousal of the Labour party's economic policy, which includes hostility to the European Community, control of pension funds, increasing Government borrowing, renationalisation and higher personal taxation ?

And the establishment of yet another talking shop to preside over the affairs of Wales.

Cynon Valley faces serious problems, as does the valley of Ogmore and Maesteg—

Order. I shall do my best to call the hon. Gentleman on a later question on that part of Wales.

Labour Statistics

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest figures for the number of unemployed people in Gwynedd; how this compares with the corresponding figures for 1979 and 1974; within the latest figures how many have been unemployed for over 12 months; and how many are under 25 years of age.

On 11 April 1985 there were 14,494 unemployed claimants in Gwynedd. Comparable figures for the same period in 1979 and 1974 are not available because of the move to claimant-based figures. In January 1985, 5,182 claimants had been unemployed for over a year and 5,713 claimants were aged under 25 years.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his refusal to give figures for 1979 and 1974 shows how the Government are cooking the books to avoid the consequences of their policies ? Is he further aware that his statement last Wednesday in the Welsh Grand Committee about an increase in the number of people in employment has no relevance for Gwynedd, as the Government's only policy for that county appears to be to build an east-running road to take young people out of the county as quickly as possible ? When will he have a commitment to Gwynedd such as he mentioned in connection with the valleys ?

I suppose that the hon. Gentleman and members of his party must be the only people in Wales who seriously believe that the building of a modern dual carriageway across north Wales to Gwynedd is bad for jobs and not good for economic prospects of the area. I hope he will proclaim that message to his electors, because I think that most of them will dismiss it as the rubbish that it is.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the dualling of the A55 is the measure which is most likely to open up north-west Wales to greater employment prospects, just as the M4 has done for south Wales ? Does he further agree that construction work on highways is a good way in which to provide extra employment ? Will he ask our hon. Friend the Minister of State carefully to consider bypasses around the fine villages of the A5, as that would be an excellent means of producing greater employment ?

I shall do all of that. I cannot promise that we can get ahead immediately with all of the bypasses that my hon Friend requires. As he knows, we are conducting a massive road building programme for the general good of the area. I hope that he will draw the attention of local electors to the fact that Plaid Cymru believes that it should not go ahead.

This is the forgotten county. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that, as long as Clwyd is wracked by high unemployment, it will be difficult to get major job projects into Gwynedd ? What will the right hon. Gentleman do to get work to the beleaguered community at Holyhead, where male unemployment is nearly 25 per cent. ? Why does he not acknowledge that Wales needs the expansion of the Welsh Development Agency budget ?

As Holyhead is a port on a main route to Ireland, I should have thought that it would be perfectly obvious that improvement of road communications to it is about the greatest single contribution that we can make.

Juvenile Offenders

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any proposals for increasing the funding of intermediate treatment schemes for juvenile offenders in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

member, Sir. The response to the intensive intermediate treatment programme has not so far matched the funds we have set aside. The decrease in the 1985–86 provision compared with that for 1984–85 is merely a reflection of our estimate of likely take-up grant.

Is the Minister aware that the rising rate of some types of juvenile crime in Wales is causing real concern and that statistics show that detention centres, whether by short, sharp shock or otherwise, are failing to prevent youngsters from committing crime ? Is it not high time that the Government responded to the initiative of the intermediate treatment programme and provided proper funding for a real and successful alternative to custody, through intermediate treatment ?

The Government are in favour of non-custodial treatment, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows. To make the position absolutely clear, I must say that although we have allocated £724,000 since 1983–84 for this particular programme, only £190,000 has so far been taken up in Wales. Nevertheless, two applications worth £206,000 are being considered and we shall announce the result of our consideration shortly.

Is my hon. Friend aware that last Saturday I visited Holyhead mountain and the scheme run by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders in the community programme, and saw the work that is being done there ? Will he welcome the addition of 100,000 new places to the community programme, as it is an excellent way of helping ex-offenders to be rehabilitated back into society and to find work, and of finding work for the long-term unemployed in general ?

I welcome the developments to which my hon. Friend referred. It is not simply the Government who are active in this area through their intermediate treatment programme and urban programme, but local authorities. I am glad that Welsh local authorities have forecast that by 1984–85 expenditure will rise to £1 million compared with £489,000, which was committed in 1982–83.

Will the Minister request local education authorities to attach community policemen to all schools so that the relationship between schoolchildren and the police can be improved ? That could also form part of the drug abuse prevention programme.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are worried about drug abuse, and a campaign is being mounted by the health and social services departments. Regarding his point about the police and schools. on both the education and police sides a great deal is being done to prevent crime.

Building Land

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what conclusions he has reached in relation to the recently published studies by the Land Authority for Wales on the availability of building land in South Glamorgan and in West Glamorgan; and what steps he now intends to take.

. The publication of the two studies marks a successful start for the new system of housing land availability assessments introduced in the Welsh Office circular 47/84. My officials are now studying the two documents and will be discussing the findings with the Land Authority for Wales.

As the studies of the Land Authority for Wales seem to substantiate the complaints of the House-Builders Federation and other builders' organisations, does my hon. Friend consider that those complaints of shortages of available building land are without foundation, or with considerable foundation ?

The land availability studies are a great step forward in getting the balance right. The land authority conducts them in conjunction with the local authorities and builders. I am sure that a better balance can be achieved by that method.

Will the Minister be wary of special pleading in this area in favour of building on green field sites ? Will he try to ensure that wherever practicable existing sites in older industrial areas are built on ?

There is no doubt about our commitment in that respect. We wish to conserve. We have a good example in the redevelopment of south Cardiff, and I pay tribute to the redevelopment that is taking place in Swansea.

Labour Statistics

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the present level of unemployment in Newport, Gwent at the latest available date; and how this compares with the figure in May 1979.

On 11 April 1985 the number of unemployed claimants in the Newport travel-to-work area was 12,838. Comparable figures for May 1979 are not available because of changes to travel-to-work area boundaries and the move to claimant-based figures.

Bearing in mind those horrific figures, will the Secretary of State say whether there is any truth in the reports this week that the Secretary of State for Transport proposes to increase tolls on the Severn bridge by 150 per cent.? Would that not be another serious blow to the economy of Wales, and would it not be especially riduculous, since the bridge is still afflicted by all manner of delays and restrictions ?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that there has just been a public inquiry and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce his decision soon. It is ludicrous to suggest that the proposals put to that public inquiry would have the economic effect that has just been described. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares my view about the importance of the crossing, and does not agree with Plaid Cymru, which believes that it is yet another communication in Wales that should be destroyed in order to isolate the Welsh people.

Is it yet possible to estimate the number of jobs that were lost, or potential jobs that were forfeited, as a result of the miners' strike, which was so enthusiastically supported by the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) ?

I can give no estimate. It clearly caused great damage to the Welsh economy. It cost the British Steel Corporation a large sum of money and, therefore, held up decisions on the investment for which the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) keeps asking. In economic terms, there is no comparison between a small increase in the toll charge for the Severn bridge, which has not been increased since 1979, and the sort of damage encouraged by the hon. Gentleman during the miners' strike.

The Severn crossing is Wales's most important industrial artery. Has the Secretary of State fought against the proposed increase in tolls ?

I have not fought the policy. A reasonable increase in tolls for the first time since 1979 is a sensible proposal. I am pressing on—[Interruption.]

This is a Government proposal, and I do not apologise for it in any way. I am ensuring that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Transport, with me, press on speedily with the study into a possible second crossing and improvements in road communications generally in Wales, which remain a high priority.

Although, as my hon. Friend must recognise, no one in Wales will be pleased if there is any increase in tolls, does he agree that it is much more important to complete the feasibility study quickly and to provide an adequate crossing to ensure good communica-tions across the Severn ?

I assure my hon. Friend that the consultants are getting on well with the feasibility study. They have announced the first stage, and are now investigating the detailed options. It is absurd to suggest that the increases proposed for charges on the Severn bridge will have a significant effect on transport costs along the M4.

House Repair Grants

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will provide details of house repair grants paid in (a) the city of Cardiff, and (b) Wales for the financial years 1974 to 1979 and 1979 to 1985, respectively.

Between 1974–75 and 1978–79, expenditure on housing grants of all types in Cardiff totalled £2·7 million. For the period between 1979–80 and 1984–85 the figure was £23·5 million. For Wales, the equivalent figures were £58 million and £283 million. Information about repair grants alone is not held centrally in the form requested by my hon. Friend.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures improved staggeringly under the Conservative Government as compared with the Labour Government ? Does he further agree that those sums, with council house sales, represent a massive transfer of public funds into the hands of the lower economic groups in society ?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We as a Government have a marvellous housing record. I can highlight the difference, in terms of expenditure, between the Government and the Opposition. During the last three years, total local authority spending under this Government was about 60 per cent. more than it was during the last three years of the Labour Government. As my hon. Friend has said, the tremendous transfer that council house sales involve is confirmation that we are satisfying the inherent desire of the Welsh electorate to own their own homes.

Will the Minister confirm that the purpose of the new Green Paper is to reduce public expenditure on housing by three quarters ? Given the relative poverty of Wales and the quality of its housing stock, would he not say that Wales should be exempted from the suggestions contained in the Green Paper ?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Green Paper. It does not deal with the amount of housing finance that will be available in future. As I made clear, the purpose of the Green Paper is to target rather better the grant system so that more grants are made available for houses that are in need of improvement and for people who are in need. The object of the loan system is to enable people to improve their homes to a higher standard and to enable them to borrow according to the Green Paper system—that is, from authorities rather than from building societies if they are unable to command credit from the building societies or the banks.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Opposition are plagiarising not only the council house sales policy of the Conservative part but also our policy on home improvement grants ? Has my hon. Friend read the Opposition's latest policy document in which they pledge themselves to reverse their policy of running down improvement grants, a policy which they so successfully implemented when they were last in office ?

The Opposition can learn a great deal from our example. To revert to the key question which sparked off this discussion, I highlight the fact that in 1978 about 296 grants were given in Cardiff. This has to be compared with 1984, when about 2,745 grants were given in Cardiff. As for the comparative figures for Wales, 5,931 grants were made in 1978, whereas grants totalled 29,978 in 1984. Those figures speak for themselves.

Does the Minister appreciate that his means-tested loan proposals, which are outlined in the Green Paper, are not regarded as a serious attempt to tackle the deteriorating standard of housing in Wales ? It is yet another attempt to take Wales back to the 1930s. If an imaginative scheme is not produced shortly, the worst fears of the chief officers group will be realised.

I challenge the hon. Gentleman to produce a more imaginative scheme than is put forward in the Green Paper. It provides a method to deal with both dereliction and the need for improvement in Wales. As the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends know, the dereliction and the need for improvement existed long before the Government came to office. It is this Government who have taken this initiative over renovation.

Smith Houses (Defects)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the incidence and nature of defects in former council houses of the Smith type in Wales.

There are about 70 Smith houses in private ownership in Wales. All are in Cardiff. It has been known since 1948 that Smith houses could be subject to minor cracking. The Building Research Establishment recommended periodic inspection, but said that there was generally no need for urgent action so long as good structural condition was maintained.

May I quote one phrase from a letter from my constituent, Mr. Evans of Gabalfa, the owner of an affected home ? He said:

"Smith houses are now not mortgageable and will remain so until appropriate action is taken."
Will my hon. Friend give urgent and positive consideration to the request of Cardiff city council for a local dispensation under section 12 of the Housing Defects Act 1984, so that Smith houses in Cardiff can be dealt with under that Act ?

In a letter dated 14 May I told my hon. Friend how Cardiff city coucil could seek a designation under section 12. It has to give 28 days' notice that it proposes such a designation and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has two months in which to object.

If the Government's record on housing is so good, can the Minister explain why half the houses in my constituency are unfit for human habitation ?

Yes. It is because no action was taken before this Government came into office. The hon. Lady will know that, as a result of our initiative, there were about 141,000 applications for improvement grants in Wales. We know only too well that the problem existed long before we came into office in 1979.

Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) was referring to Smith houses. I call Mr. Best and I hope that he will refer to Smith houses.

I acknowledge that there are difficulties about the sale of Smith houses, but will my hon. Friend welcome the somewhat ungainly, but well-practised, posture of the Labour party in standing on its head over the sale of council houses ? Does he think that there is any possibility that the Labour party may yet become a party that champions the individual instead of always championing local authorities ?

There is always hope for Labour Members, but I understand my hon. Friend's despairing feeling.

Job Creation

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what new measures he proposes to take as a result of the continuing rise in unemployment in Wales.

Our policies for promoting industrial investment are creating significant numbers of new jobs in Wales. For example, as I reported to the Welsh Grand Committee last week, over the previous 12 months, investment decisions have been announced for Wrexham which are likely to produce some 1,500 new jobs, including the Sharp project, which was announced after the news of the Courtaulds closure.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that unemployment keeps rising. In view of the staggering job losses that Wales has had to endure in the past few weeks and the fact that local authorities have great difficulty in attracting industries to Wales and in partaking in industrial development, will the right hon. Gentleman consider seriously whether he can disregard, for target expenditure purposes, money spent by local authorities for bona fide industrial development ?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the role of local authorities. They have an important role, though he was wrong to claim that the Sharp investment was the result of an initiative by his local council, which visited Japan after I discussed the subject in October last year. I cannot hold out any prospect of a special exemption, but local authorities have a good deal of scope for investing in the new industrial estates and new building as part of their general ordering of priorities.

As the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues are always boasting about the housing programme, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many building workers in Wales are unemployed ?

If the hon. Gentleman will put down a question on that subject, I will answer it. I does not arise directly from the question on the Order Paper.

Is it not a fact that the record of the Welsh Development Agency in this area has been extremely good ? Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to assist the agency and similar bodies ?

As I have already pointed out, the agency has carried out a massive factory building programme. Its emphasis is now switching to purpose-built factories, which are more and more in demand, rather than advance factories, and to stimulating private sector investment. But yes, there are a large number of vacant WDA factories and our task is to get them fully occupied.

Will the Secretary of State admit that his policies are creating more and more unemployment in Wales ? Does he not realise that there are now 250,000 people out of work in Wales ? Does he know that today the House received a deputation from St. John's colliery in Maesteg, where 830 jobs may be lost ? We are already suffering from a male unemployment rate of 25 per cent. How can those people find jobs, given the policies that the Secretary of State is pursuing ? Last weekend my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) presented a document on jobs and industry to the Wales TUC meeting in Llandudno. The right hon. Gentleman would be wise to read it and to take a leaf out of my hon. Friend's book.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong, because there are not 250,000 people unemployed. Thankfully, I can say that the figure is 180,031. However, unemployment is, of course, a serious problem and that is why we are making so much effort to encourage new investment. I am glad to say that a very considerable part of that new investment is going to the Bridgend area and that the hon. Gentleman's constituents are benefiting from it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the WDA's current building resources are fully committed ? Will he seriously consider allocating extra funds so that it can erect more purpose-built factories and so that it can implement the plan to provide six business counsellors in different parts of the Principality ?

I have already announced that we will carefully consider the WDA's plans in the light of the Courtaulds closure. However, my hon. Friend will know that 58 units totalling 321,000 sq ft are vacant and available for letting in WDA factories in the county, and that its advance factory programme for 1985–86 includes several factory projects in the county.

If the Secretary of State believes so strongly — as he said earlier — that the A55 road improvements will have the effect of reducing unemployment in north and north-west Wales, when will he announce a north-south road route in Wales as well as an east-west route through central Wales, as that would presumably have a significant effect on reducing unemployment throughout the Principality ?

The hon. and learned Gentleman must use the route frequently, and he will agree that the new road link across to Telford represents a notable improvement in the links with the motorway network. As he knows, there are further plans to link mid-Wales into that motorway network. That must have a higher priority than the north-south road.

When the Secretary of State last attended the Welsh Grand Committee he said that several thousand jobs would be lost in the mining industry in the next year or two. Will he tell us what the figure is ? After all, there are only about 20,000 jobs left in the industry. Does that anonymous and invisible body, NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. intend to create several thousand jobs as well during the same time scale ? I should like to know what progress that organisation is making in creating jobs in our mining community.

The hon. Gentleman knows that that organisation has already started work. I understand that one new industrial concern has already been committed as a result of its operations in Blaenau Gwent, and that a significant number of first applications under the scheme have been made in Wales. Instead of criticising such a welcome initiative, I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would be praising it and would be glad that it has been established.

For several years the M4 has run through Glamorgan, yet the adjacent valleys suffer from high and increasing unemployment. Furthermore, the A55 has been modernised in many parts of Clywd, yet that area too suffers from chronic unemployment. What possible basis can there be, therefore, for assuming that the A55 alone will solve the unemployment problems of Gwynedd ? Is it not a fact that this policy is the only one that the right hon. Gentleman has, and that he is using it to camouflage his lack of a solution to the problem of unemployment ?

I am not for a moment suggesting that that road is the only factor in encouraging industrial development. However, if the hon. Gentleman took the trouble to make the slightest study of what has happened along the M4 he would know that many new, modern, high-tech industries are establishing themselves along that link. Everyone who has looked at the problem seriously recognises that the construction of modern roads can make a major contribution. The hon. Gentleman is apparently the only person to think otherwise.

Will my right hon. Friend mention to the Chancellor of the Exchequer two further measures which would help to stimulate employment in Wales ? The first is to give greater access to finance to the smallest of businesses, and the second is to build on the welcome cut made in the Budget of the cost of employing people in unemployment black spots such as Holyhead.

I shall draw those remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the measures announced in the Budget, although we have not yet seen the benefit of them. I share my hon. Friend's view.

Earlier, the Secretary of State commended BP for its local employment initiatives in the Llandarcy area. Will he consider those initiatives in the context of the record quarterly profit figures announced last week by BP ? Does he agree that those profits were made at the expense of jobs in the area ? Does he further agree that the sums involved at Llandarcy are peanuts and an insult to the local community ?

A successful company that makes profits does not do so at the expense of jobs. If companies are to continue to provide jobs they must succeed in making profits, because that permits investment. The measures already announced by BP are welcome. They are exceptional and I hope that Courtaulds and other companies will follow its example.

The Courtaulds and BP closures and the colliery redundancies are a grave development for the Welsh economy. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it was foolish of him to agree to cuts in regional aid for Wales ? Will he reconsider that policy ? Does he recognise that his policies are now in ruins and that he should come to the House with plans to help the Welsh economy ?

Our changes in regional policy concentrate help where it is most needed. The hon. Gentleman must explain how his policy document, which calls for greater selectivity and yet makes the whole of Wales a development area, can be reconciled with the needs of other areas in England and how it can avoid severe knock-on consequences which will blow his policies out of the water.

Welsh Development Agency (Building Programme)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many new factory units and how many square feet of factory space have been built by the Welsh Development Agency in the past five years.

Between April 1980 and March 1985 inclusive the Welsh Development Agency completed 928 advance factory units, 11 bespoke factory units and 45 bespoke factory extensions, totalling over 6·4 million sq ft.

Does my right hon. Friend think that sufficient factory units have been built to meet future demand ?

A delicate balance has to be found between the need to build factories in special areas where the private sector might not be involved, and the need not to destroy the attractions of building factories for the private sector. The current vacancy rate is about 121/2 per cent., which is not unreasonable at this stage in the programme. The Welsh Development Agency, sensibly, is concentrating on priority areas and on the need for purpose-built factories to meet the needs of particular companies.

Labour Statistics

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what percentage of the registered labour force in Wales were employed in coal mining, iron and steel manufacture and textiles in 1975 and in the latest year for which figures are available.

In September 981 the percentages of the civilian working population employed in coal mining, iron and steel manufacture and textiles were 2·7 per cent., 2·5 per cent. and 0·7 per cent. respectively. The corresponding figures for 1975 were 3·4 per cent., 6·2 per cent. and 1·3 per cent. Up-to-date figures from the 1984 census of employment will be published in the November Employment Gazette.

Does my right hon? Friend accept that, futile though it would be for the Government to attempt to arrest the process of conversion from traditional to more modern industries, it would be wrong for them to leave the provision of replacement jobs in the new technologies solely to market forces ?

No one can say, after hearing the figures for expenditure by the WDA, or the figures that I have given to the House frequently on selective financial assistance, that we have left such matters solely to market forces. Massive Government expenditure has taken place in Wales on building new roads, improving infrastructure and attracting inward investment. I agree that a proper balance must be struck. However, we must be careful that Government expenditure is not so high that it increases taxes and the burdens on the private sector, which creates the wealth.

Job Creation

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what specific plans he now has to reduce unemployment in the county of Dyfed, and in Ceredigion and Pembroke, North in particular; and if he will make a statement.

Prospects for the areas concerned will benefit from the continuing work of the Government and the statutory agencies in infrastructure development, from regional industrial assistance and from aid from European Community sources.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is well aware that the number of people unemployed in the Teifi Valley is the highest in percentage terms for many years. As so many people are unemployed in the Teifi Valley catchment area, will the right hon. Gentleman consider including north Pembroke down to Fishguard in the mid-Wales development area ?

On a number of occasions we have considered the extension of the mid-Wales development area — established under my predecessor — but have concluded that it would not be of benefit. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the various agencies are working together on the development of the Teifi Valley initative, which was launched last year, and work is well advanced on the provision of a business centre at Newcastle Emlyn that will involve counselling in business training. Of course, Mid-Wales Development will continue to attach priority to the needs of that area.

The Arts

Welsh Language

18.

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if the Minister for the Arts will increase the allocation in the Arts budget for Welsh language activities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. William Waldegrave)

The Welsh Arts Council and not my right hon. and noble Friend determines the distribution of the grant it receives from the Arts Council of Great Britain. That grant was increased to £7·14 million in 1985–86, an increase of 3·2 per cent. over the 1984–85 figure.

Does the Under-Secretary not realise that an increase of just over 3 per cent. is wretchedly mean ? Is he aware that the consequence is that many groups and companies wishing to perform plays in the Welsh language are now having to cut their programmes, which is causing real, widespread and justified resentment throughout Wales ?

I know that the figure is not as high as many people would like. However, I also know that the public funding of the arts should be a matter of seeking priorities and giving the money to the most valuable activities, and there is no escaping that.

Does my hon. Friend realise that a large number of monoglot English-speaking people living in Wales wish to learn the Welsh language ? Is not one of the most attractive and encouraging ways of doing that by seeing the arts performed in the Welsh language ?

Primarily the Welsh Office budget supports the Welsh language qua Welsh language, and does so generously. The principle behind support for the arts has always been that they should not be supported simply because they are in Welsh, but because they are of outstanding quality. I think that there has always been a great deal to be subsidised on that basis.

Does the Minister accept that, with inflation running at 5 or 6 per cent., an increase of only 3 per cent. means a reduction in real support for Welsh language productions ? Does he further accept that there is a universal feeling on both sides of the House that such productions are worth supporting ? Will he inquire whether more funds can be made available for that purpose ?

I shall report what the hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. and noble Friend. There is no question but that arts funding is tight. At a time when all programmes are under pressure, I think that my right hon. and noble Friend has secured a reasonable settlement this year.

Tobacco Sponsorship

19.

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts what representations the Minister for the Arts has received from tobacco product manufacturers about tobacco sponsorship of the arts; and if he will make a statement.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that he welcomes sponsorship for the arts from tobacco product manufacturers ?

The Government's decision is that the arts are entirely free to seek sponsorship from wherever they can find it. It is very welcome if public or other companies wish to support the arts, and much valuable activity is supported in that way.

Is not this begging-bowl approach to sponsoring the arts based on this Government's almost malicious contempt for culture ? Is that not to be rejected by the British people ? Why do the Government not rescind some of the tax reductions that they have given in capital transfer and capital gains tax during the past few years and channel that money into supporting the arts, thereby dealing with the contempt and disrespect for the Government felt by many people who perform and support the arts ?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman, who is a fair man, was having some difficulty in keeping a straight face as he asked that supplementary question. Labour Members often criticise the Government for not cutting taxes enough, though when it suits them they criticise us in the opposite direction. There is no contempt for culture on the part of the Government, and real term support for the arts has increased since 1979.

I suggest that there is a great deal of contempt for culture when the Minister can say that it does not matter which bodies provide money for the arts so long as money comes forward. Is it not a fact that, were it not for the cuts that the Government are imposing on the arts, and the absence of proper public funding, we should not require this additional fl million or so from cigarette and tobacco advertising ? Is it not also a fact that total public expenditure on the arts, compared with the amount coming to the arts from tobacco advertising, is as 100,000 to one ? An increase of only one hundred thousandth in public expenditure would enable us to do without such meretricious advertising.

The hon. Gentleman is taking a different position from that which he normally takes on this issue, because we are normally agreed that the search for additional sources of funds for the arts — from businesses and anywhere—represents a useful addition to the pluralistic source of funds. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that his party would make it illegal for tobacco companies or companies with interests in tobacco—which covers a wide range of companies—to support the arts, or to support other things, he should say so.

Foreign Currency Earnings

20.

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if he will estimate the amount of foreign currency earned by the performing arts both from tours abroad and from performances within the United Kingdom during the last financial year.

The information is not available. However, my right hon. and noble Friend is commission-ing a study of the economic impact of the arts by the Policy Studies Institute, which should provide a relevant assessment.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the foreign currency earnings of such tours are, in the opinion of everyone connected with the arts, very substantial indeed ? Will he do everything possible to encourage the benefits for the nation, which are both financial and cultural, from tours of the performing arts ?

Yes, and I can confirm that the great majority of such tours turn out in the end to be money-spinners as well as important cultural activities, which is their fundamental purpose. The study, which is being jointly funded with the Gulbenkian foundation, is aimed at providing some measurement of the scale of the money involved, and that will be useful.

We look forward to seeing the results of the study. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is important to bear in mind the number of tourists who come to this country — as anybody can see when queueing at box offices—to enjoy our cultural heritage ? It is vital for us to retain and advance that.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, though, as I have sometimes made myself unpopular in the House by saying, I do not believe that we should try to defend the arts primarily as a source of tourism. The same applies to any economic activity. Tourists come to see the commercial theatre just as much as the subsidised theatre. Down that route lies an argument for the withdrawal of subsidy from many minority, specialist and fringe artistic activities.

Acceptances In Lieu Of Tax

21.

asked the Parliamentary-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts whether it is policy of the Minister for the Arts to discourage tax debtors from making applications in excess of an overall token figure covering annual discharges in kind of capital transfer tax liabilities which had previously been established administratively, for the statutory provision to be brought into effect whereby pre-eminent objects may be accepted in satisfaction of such tax liabilities; and if he will make a statement.

There has been no recent change, but, as my right hon. and noble Friend said recently in another place, the Government are looking again at the arrangements whereby the cost of acceptances in lieu of tax is met from the Votes of our respective Departments.

Can the hon. Gentleman clarify the reason for so prolonged a delay ? Has his noble Friend consulted the Museums and Galleries Commission, which adminis-ters the scheme ? If not, can the Under-Secretary give an explanation for that unhappy omission ?

I will check and write to the hon. Gentleman as to exactly who has been consulted. I hope that there will not be a long delay. I believe that the studies should be completed within the next month or two. It is an important matter to get right.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his last remarks are not reassuring, because a month or two can soon become three or four ? Is he aware that it is vital that the pledge that our noble Friend gave in another place should be redeemed at the earliest possible opportunity ? Does my hon. Friend agree that as our noble Friend is also a Treasury Minister, he should be in a happy position to resolve this quite difficult problem ?

I note the remarks of my hon. Friend, who, I am sure, will wish to pay tribute to the Government for again this year finding a large sum, £25 million, for the rescue of the three great houses and for finding additional funds the year before for the support of Calke. In other words, I am sure that as well as pressing my noble Friend, he will want to give credit where credit is due.

Surely much of the tax arrangement is purely notional and has the effect of restricting the possibility of works of art passing into public hands. The time has come to stop this nonsense. The traffic in art is becoming positively obscene. Is the Minister aware that the National gallery could afford only about one third of the canvas area of the last Turner to be sold because of the level of its annual grant ? One way forward, even for this Government, would be to remove the ceiling and to alter the restrictions.

It is a new degradation of language to apply obscenity, which is often misused, to trade in works of art. We are not talking about notional money. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) argued that the cut in taxes was a disgrace. If taxes are cut by the giving of tax allowances, it is real money and not notional money that is not taken in tax.

Agriculture Council

3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting in Brussels on 13 to 16 May 1985. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I represented the United Kingdom.

The meeting was devoted entirely to negotiations on the 1985–86 agricultural prices, and an agreement was reached last Thursday covering all commodities other than cereals and rapeseed.

Decisions on prices were overdue and, while decisions on all commodities would have been preferable, I was not prepared to give in to German insistence that there should be no meaningful reduction in prices for cereals.

They felt so strongly on this issue that their Minister made it clear, using the words of the Luxembourg compromise, that very important interests were involved for his country and that the Germans were not prepared to agree to a vote. This represented a significant change in the attitude of the Federal Government towards the use of the Luxembourg compromise.

Turing to the decisions which were taken, the co-responsibility levy for milk was reduced by 1 per cent., backdated to the beginning of April. This is linked to the reduction of 1 per cent. in the national quotas. With the 1·5 per cent. increase in the support price for milk, this means an improvement of 2·5 per cent. in the level of support for milk. Now that these decisions have been made, we can go ahead and notify producers of their individual quotas for 1985–86. Letters to producers will start to be sent out later this week.

The Council agreed that supplementary levy will be collected annually at the end of the milk year. This avoids problems over quarterly or half-yearly payments which may bear unfairly on producers if they change their seasonal pattern of production.

The Council did not agree to the Irish Government demand for a permanent addition of 58,000 tonnes in their quota allocation on account of a statistical error in the Irish production figures on which the Council based its decisions last year. An adjustment was made only for 1984–85 and 1985–86.

As I foreshadowed in my statement on the implementation of the report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, I accepted that the special United Kingdom butter subsidy should be discontinued. Taken together with other adjustments affecting butter, this will mean over time a small increase in butter prices of about 1p per 250g pack.

I secured the continuation of the beef variable premium scheme in an unchanged form, against very strong opposition from most other member states. This will be welcome to producers and consumers alike, and will reduce the quantity of United Kingdom beef going into intervention. The guide price for beef will remain unchanged, but United Kingdom producers will benefit —by approximately 1 per cent. —from an increase in the intervention prices under the second stage of the carcase classification grid which was agreed last year.

For sheepmeat, there will be no price change this year. But, for the next year, when the marketing year will start on 6 January, the basic price will increase by 1 per cent. I successfully resisted pressure from the Commission and some member states for changes in the regime which would have been damaging to our interests, including a proposal to impose a ceiling on variable premium and a related bar to the recovery through the ewe premium of any money forgone. I resisted also pressure for an immediate end to the special export certification arrangements which facilitate the export of ewes from Great Britain. Instead, there will be further discussions about these arrangements over the coming months. The Commission has undertaken to bring forward proposals to enable annual premium to be paid from next year on certain sheep in especially disadvantaged mountainous areas which cannot be tupped until their third season.

I secured agreement on the modification which the farmers' unions and the trade had sought to the sheepmeat seasonal scale which will promote more orderly marketing. I secured also an extension until the end of 1987 of the exemption from clawback for our sheepmeat exports to third countries, which should enable our exporters to develop that trade with more certainty.

Agreement was reached on measures that should bring about a better balance for Mediterranean products and establish a greater control over the regimes in these sectors. In particular, significant price reductions were agreed for tomatoes, citrus fruits and some varieties of tobacco.

Overall, the changes which were agreed will have a negligible effect on food prices in our shops.

Throughout the negotiations, I have attached great importance to the Council continuing with the task, which was started last year, of bringing greater realism into the common agricultural policy within the budgetary constraints laid down. The Commission stated clearly that it would ensure that the measures agreed, with the decisions yet to be reached on cereals and rapeseed, will be financed within the budget provision recently approved for 1985 by the Budget Council. The cost of the compromise package under discussion, of which this settlement forms part, was within the financial guideline for agriculture in 1986.

The Council will meet again on 11 June to continue its discussions on cereals and oilseed rape.

This package, agreed last Thursday, meets our objectives. In particular, I was determined to resist measures which would discriminate against British interests, and that we have done. I consider it a good agreement for the United Kingdom and for the Community as a whole. I commend it to the House.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. Although it contains some good points, overall this year's endless round of meetings is probably one of the most disastrous ever for the Council of Ministers. I hope that we shall have a debate on it in the near future.

If the Secretary of State was reflecting the unanimous views of those hon. Members who participated in the recent debate on agriculture and price proposals, he must be disappointed. Because the right hon. Gentleman is the only Minister of the Council who comes before us, it is incumbent upon us to criticise the Council through him. To say that agreement has been reached when, in fact, for the first time the main component in the agreement has been removed, is like "Hamlet" without the prince.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the success or failure of these talks and the sincerity of professions to reform CAP will always depend upon the cereal settlement ? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, judged by this criterion, this meeting has been an abysmal betrayal of the people who live in the EC and who have put their faith in the Council's making this type of reform ?

Is it true that over-production of fruit and vegetables was so great that dumping or destruction caused the Community to pay out hundreds of millions of pounds ? Would this not have justified a far larger cut in the threshold of these products ? Is it true that in this and other respects the rest of the Council agreed lower cuts than would have been justified in order to help secure German agreement to cereal cuts ? Is it not true that Germany has pocketed all the benefits of these concessions without agreeing any cereal trade-off ? What will happen on 11 June. now that the German Government have refused to allow any more than a derisory 0·9 per cent. cut in cereal prices ? What will happen now that the Commission, by reaching partial agreement, has capitulated in advance to German demands ?

May I welcome very much the retention of the beef variable premium ? The Glasgow Herald —I do not know whether it is right or wrong—reports the right hon. Gentleman as saying that he has received
"a verbal assurance that it can be extended".
How bankable is that assurance ? Many of us in the House are getting pretty sick of the annual blackmail on the beef variable premium. Similarly, we also welcome the measures on sheep, including the sheep variable premium. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what his justification is for a rising butter price when there are still enormous surpluses of unwanted butter ?

I return to cereals. Has not the talk of budget discipline, which the right hon. Gentleman and others have carried on over the years, and of reforming the common agricultural policy, been shown, in the light of the fiasco that I have described, to be totally insincere ? Is it not a fact that the EC is producing far too much in the form of cereals and that even the Commission's miserable 3·6 per cent. proposed reduction, which was much lower than the Government's proposal, has been halved again during the negotiations ? What, therefore, will be the future of cereal production ? In my view, there will be no reduction of the amount of cereals. Have the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues made an assessment, on the 1·8 per cent. proposal, of the amount by which cereal production will fall ? Otherwise, we shall have to take it that we shall continue to add to the millions of tonnes of unwanted and unused cereals in store.

What about the cost ? I heard what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I have also studied what he said in the final part of his statement about it being
"within the budgetary constraints laid down."
Frankly, if that is so, it is remarkable. My understanding is that if there is only a 1·8 per cent. cut in the cereal price, we shall be spending tens of millions of pounds extra this year and hundreds of millions of pounds extra next year on account of only the cereal prices themselves.

In my view—

I am talking about the most serious part of the agricultural year — [Interruption.] To most Conservative Members, it is a matter of pocketing the difference. To millions of consumers, it is a matter of vital importance.

The millions who are offended by the spectre of unwanted cereals will regard the Council of Ministers' ducking of the major issue of this Council as arrant political cowardice. I believe that the complacency that the Council has shown now will give way to blind panic and cereal quotas. If that happens, the farming community will once more have to cope with ministerial shortcomings.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the continuation of the beef variable premium arrangements. Perhaps I can help him In his question. A date — 6 April — has been put into the agreement, but the Commissioner has giver me an undertaking that, if the marketing years are extended, the beef variable premium will be extended with that. That means that it will be extended on the same basis that it has been over many years.

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to talk about annual blackmail. The reason why we have the arrangement annually is that when it was introduced by Lord Peart back in 1975, for the next five years it was renewed only on an annual basis. Therefore, we are left with what his Government arranged during those years.

On sheepmeat, again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. With regard to the other things that he mentioned, he will understand that I heard what he said about the need for a debate. but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is in his place, and he, too, will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said.

On fruit and vegetables, the hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said earlier. There are reductions for fruit and vegetables of up to minus 3 per cent. That is a good move.

On the costs of the package, it is clear from what the Commissioner has told us that he believes that the package will be budgetarily neutral in 1985 and will come within the financial guidelines in 1986.

On cereals, I find it strange that the hon. Gentleman speaks about ducking the issue. The German delegation used the Luxembourg compromise, which meant that the debate could not be concluded but had to continue. The response of successive British Governments to that appeal by a member state, which in the past we have used ourselves, is well known. It is not fair, and shows no understanding of the situation, to speak of ducking the issue.

I understand that all compromise proposals on cereals have lapsed. We must wait and see whether the Commission comes up with new ideas before the Council meeting on 11 June. I have made my negotiating position clear in recent months. I have always believed—I told the House when we debated the matter — that the guarantee threshold for cereals should be properly implemented. I will be ready to consider the new proposals that the Commission puts before us on 11 June.

Order. I understand the importance of the statement to the House, but I have to have regard also to the fact that no fewer than 42 right hon. and hon. Members are anxious to take part in the subsequent debate. I will therefore, allow questions to continue until 4.5 pm.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the deep reentment, not only in Northern Ireland, about the special treatment once again afforded to the Irish Republic ? Is he aware that the nominally temporary nature of that treatment is regarded with some scepticism ?

The right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that I opposed the increase in the Irish quota throughout the piece, as I opposed any extra for Ireland a year ago. The difficulty this year was that, while last year I had supporters in my opposition, this year I had none. Therefore, in the end, it was impossible to resist the increase of 58,000 tonnes. However, I sternly resisted any suggestion that it should be placed on a permanent basis. That is why the increase applies only to 1985–85 and 1985–86.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition are making heavy weather of a very good agreement worked out after some 60 hours of work and only three hours sleep ? My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on what he has achieved, especially the supplementary levy that will be collected annually at the end of the year. That must be of tremendous benefit.

May I add one note of criticism ? We are getting tired of the Irish Republic getting away with it not only in the last price review but on the subsidies that it receives for exports to this country.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's generous words. I believe that the payment of the levy annually will help producers who could have found themselves in difficulty if they had altered their seasonal patterns, and so will help a number of our producers. The Irish settlement has been allowed in the belief that a statistical error was made by the Irish Government a year ago. I opposed it all the way through the piece. It is a pity that more states did not take the same view.

Now that both the United Kingdom and West Germany have invoked the Luxembourg arrangement in regard to agricultural prices, is it not clear that the EEC would work a great deal more smoothly if an element of flexibility were introduced into the common agri-cultural policy to allow national Governments to meet the unique agricultural and social needs of their countryside ?

I do not quite know what the hon. Gentleman's attitude is to use of the Luxembourg compromise, but he will know that the British Government have always taken the view that it is right for delegations and member states to have that weapon. We are all interested to observe that the West Germans have now joined the club.

I thank my right hon. Friend very much indeed for the hard work that he and his colleagues have put in on our behalf in Brussels. May I say how much we appreciate the retention of the beef premium and the sheepmeat regime and the change in the co-responsibility levy ? Will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues try in future to get some continuity so that farmers do not have to hang on until May to know what the year holds for them ?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I understand the problem of continuity. Matters have been made a good deal more difficult this year because a new Commission came into office on 1 January and it could not produce its proposals as early as usual. There were some delays in discussing the matter, which I opposed at the time. I have continually told my colleagues that we must try to settle earlier. My hon. Friend will be aware that, in the past, the settlements have had to wait until June.

As the Minister has just said, six months is too long to sort out the annual price negotiations. What can the Minister do in future negotiations to ensure that they are finalised within a few weeks ? I welcome the decision for beef producers and sheep producers, but it is only short-term. I wish that the Minister and his counterparts in Europe would discuss the long-term future of agriculture. Confidence would be restored if the industry knew that the variable beef premium and the sheepmeat regime would remain in force for the next 10 years. I should like to ask the Minister two other questions, one on quotas — [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Were quotas discussed for other products which are produced in Britain ? Finally—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Really!"]—

Order. That would be an abuse when so many other hon. Members want to get in. The hon. Gentleman has done jolly well.

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the beef and sheepmeat arrange-ments. They were difficult to achieve, but they are good. I agree that six months is too long, but I do not believe that we could have settled the sheep and beef arrangements satisfactorily at an earlier meeting. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is better to wait to get the right decision than to get the wrong one early.

As for the hon. Gentleman's question about quotas on other products, I have been worried for a long time about the possibility of quotas creeping into the cereals sector. I raised the issue with my colleagues at one stage and I can tell the House that I have been considerably heartened to hear that a good many of my ministerial colleagues on the Council strongly oppose cereal quotas. I hope that, when we discuss some of the more long-term studies in Italy next week, we shall be able to fortify that strong feeling in the Council of Ministers that cereal quotas are not the way out.

On that very point, will my right hon. Friend confirm to the cereal farmers whom I represent, who are arguably the most efficient in the world, that he will not tolerate a repetition of what developed in milk last year—when, because of agriculture ministers' failure to act on price, huge surpluses built up and draconian quotas had to be introduced at the last moment ? If necessary, will my right hon. Friend invoke the Luxembourg compromise to veto any suggestion by our Common Market partners that we should have quotas on cereals, as that would be devastating for the fertile eastern counties ?

I am afraid that I cannot anticipate the attitude that one would take to future proposals in the discussions. I can only say that if my hon. Friend had heard what I said in the Council about the possibility of cereal quotas, he might have accused me of reading his speeches.

Has the Minister considered that there would be no surplus if we sent surpluses to the Third world, where millions of people are starving ? Will he press the Commission to dispose of this awkward problem in that way ?

The hon Gentleman, who takes a great interest in these matters, knows that the Community has been extraordinarily generous with food aid. Substantial quantities of grain are supplied by the European Community and the United Kingdom, under the food aid convention. The Community is committed to providing more than 1.65 million tonnes annually. While I agree that we must be as generous as possible, the hon. Gentleman is wrong not to recognise what we have already done.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues on their success, which has been welcomed in Scotland. Is my right hon. Friend aware that beef producers in the United Kingdom suffered a considerable setback in the target price this year, which according to the National Farmers Union will amount to £45 million up to 20 April ? Can he give the House an undertaking that he will endeavour to improve the support to the beef sector, for example, by intervention, so that there will be a good back-up to the beef premium scheme ?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. I noticed that the National Farmers Union of Scotland talked about the settlement on beef and sheepmeat as good news for producers and consumers, and welcomed the British Government's stand. I am aware that, during the past few weeks, the beef market has weakened. However, I hope that as we move away from the period in which a good many cows are being slaughtered as a result of the milk quota arrangements, we shall see more stability in the beef market, and that producers' returns will be improved as we move into the second stage of the carcase classification grid, to which I referred earlier.

Is the Minister aware that the package, which he described somewhat oddly as meeting the Government's objectives, has been rejected by the president of the NFU who said that it

"does very little to help the industry with its current problems."
Does the Minister realise that, even if the Government had these extremely limited objectives, he has failed to satisfy those who are worried about the budgetary costs and the trading impact of the cereal surplus, and that if he does not end his somewhat dogmatic opposition to quotas, a system will be forced on him for which he is wholly unprepared ?

I can only say that, if the hon. Gentleman reads carefully the statement by the president of the NFU on 17 May, he will see phrases such as

"I greatly welcome the Minister's success in retaining the variable premium for beef … I also welcome the decision to reduce the milk co-responsibility levy."
The president further stated that he was "pleased to know" about the sheepmeat arrangements. That seems to me to be rather a warm response. If the hon. Gentleman is critical of the fact that we were unable to achieve what I regard as a realistic settlement on cereals, he should re-read his speech in the House on 18 March, in which he said:
"Therefore, I hope that it will not be necessary to attack cereal production too savagely in one year."—.[Official Report, 18 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 664.]
As usual, in his stumbling way, the hon. Gentleman does not know what he wants.

Is it the present position on the Luxembourg compromise that Germany can exercise a veto and we cannot ? Secondly,. what need is there for a co-responsibility levy now that the quota scheme is in operation ?

I may not understand exactly what my hon. Friend meant by his second point. We continue to have a co-responsibility levy, which is now running at 2 per cent. I have always expressed my opposition to the co-responsibility levy. I am glad that many Ministers now join me in being critical of it, and talk of the need to phase it out. My hon. Friend's first point is wrong, in that it strengthens our hand considerably to know that the German Government also believe in the use of the Luxembourg compromise. That can only strengthen the hand of other countries which believe that that weapon should be available.

Although I welcome the Minister's success in withstanding the threats to sheep and milk, It appears that he was fighting a rearguard action at the meeting. Does he accept that farmers in Wales want him to go out with positive plans to safeguard their long-term future instead of fighting such rearguard actions ? They want positive plans such as those put on behalf of Ireland — the Irish Government succeeded in part — but which we appear not to be putting forward.

The hon. Gentleman is being unreasonable by nitpicking simply because I got what I wanted at a late stage in the negotiations. A prominent farming leader in Wales jumped the gun and criticised the settlement because he imagined that we would not get some of the things that I was determined to get. He should be satisfied, and should rejoice that we got what we wanted.

On the Luxembourg, compromise, the British Government's position at least has the merit of consistency. Is it not a bizarre exhibition of political incoherence that the Federal Republic of Germany should advocate European union and then invoke the Luxembourg compromise in defence of an industry that represents 0·2 per cent. of German GNP ?

I am sure that my hon. Friend welcomes, as I do, the conversion of the German Government to the use of this device. Although it has taken them many years to come round to it, let us welcome them into the fold.

May I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing a package far better than many of us had expected ? Secondly, does he believe that the increase in prices to producers of 1 per cent., 1·5 per cent. or eventually 2·5 per cent., is reasonable at a time when inflation is nearly 7 per cent. ?

It is a difficult equation to put to dairy farmers, but all dairy farmers understand that they do not have the right to continue producing milk that is not wanted. I remind my hon. Friend that about 12 per cent. of the milk that we shall produce this year will be surplus to consumption in the European Community. Production will be about 98 million tonnes, whereas consumption will be only 86 million tonnes. Most farmers realise that we must adjust to the reality of the position, and, like it or not, that spells a difficult economic equation.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the marginal farmers in my constituency will be pleased with his success in the beef and sheepmeat regimes ? Does he accept that they will be hopping mad, as I am, that Ireland has again got away with murder ? I hope that it will not next year. As to quotas, will he beaver away to try to alter the odd formula which penalises farmers who were upgrading their herds at the relevant date ? They were penalised because they had some up-and-coming heifers in their herds at the time.

On my hon. Friend's last comment, I am aware of the problems of dairy farmers who had undertaken expansion programmes. That is one difficulty that emerges from the quota arrangements. I am grateful for her generous remarks at the beginning about our success. With her, I am not pleased with what we eventually had to agree for the Irish.

Has my right hon. Friend estimated the increased cost to be borne by the British Exchequer, the British taxpayer and the British consumer as a result of the agreement ?

My hon. Friend will understand that it is impossible to estimate an overall figure while part of the package will continue to be negotiated on 11 June. I remind him that the Commission believes that the agreement will be budgetarily neutral in 1985.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be great disappointment in the cereals trade about the inability to reach agreement, and that that will cause enormous uncertainty ? What will be the effect of the guarantee by the American Government of about S2 billion of export credit for cereals next year on his talks on 11 June and on the settlement which I hope will then be reached ?

My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point. I hope that that announcement in Washington will have a salutary effect on my colleagues, who will realise that they cannot fly in the face of economic reality for long.

Will my right hon. Friend give the Prime Minister a detailed account of the negotiations and the Federal Republic of Germany's use of the veto so that, when she goes to Milan this month and is lectured about European unity, she can draw the attention of the other member states to the realities of political life in Europe ?

Bidston Steelworks (Closure)

4.5 pm

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 proposed closure of the Bidston steelworks in Birkenhead."
My request is specific, because it relates to an announcement of closure made on Friday. It is urgent, because the closure will take place in an area where unemployment is already more than 40 per cent. It is important to have the debate, because it would allow me to illustrate how the proposed closure of Bidston steelworks is contrary to two central planks of Government policy. First, the Government say that they believe in competition, but Allied Steel is trying to buy Bidston steelworks only with the aim of closing a competitor. Secondly, the Government say that they are firmly committed to the private sector, yet Allied Steel, which is half owned by the British Steel Corporation, is using taxpayers' money to destroy jobs in Birkenhead.

Above all, I hope that my application will be successful because it will allow me to express at greater length the anger in our town following the announcement that those jobs will be snatched from our area and transferred to the south.

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the proposed closure of the Bidston steelworks in Birkenhead."
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, and I listened carefully to what he said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter which he has raised is appropriate fo discussion under Standing Order No. 10, and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Bill Presented

Unsolicited Newspapers (Limitation Of Delivery)

presented a Bill to prevent delivery of free newspapers to a dwelling where the occupier or his representative has given notice in writing to the publisher of a free newspaper that he or she no longer wishes to receive copies of that newspaper: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 June and to be printed. [Bill 148.]

Shop Hours (Auld Report)

We now come to the important debate on the Auld committee report on the Shops Act. I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I repeat that more than 42 right hon. and hon. Members have expressed their wish to take part in the debate. Therefore, I intend to limit speeches to 10 minutes between 6 pm and 7.50 pm; but if those who speak after then stick to that limit, or speak for even less time, I hope that there will be more than enough time for everyone to take part.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of your suggestion during the statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will you give an assurance, in accordance with that precedent, that no one will be allowed to speak in the debate this evening unless he or she has heard the opening speech by the Secretary of State ? It is not a bad idea, and you should stick to it through thick and thin.

4.9 pm

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Proposals to Amend the Shops Acts (Cmnd. 9376); accepts the case for the removal of legislative limitations on shop hours; and looks forward to the Government bringing forward legislation to remove such limitations.
Shop opening hours were last considered in depth by this House during the debate on the Bill introduced in 1983 by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney). By then it was clear that there was hardly anyone who considered the present state of the law satisfactory. The argument for change was put forward on a number of different bases. In the first place, it was almost universally felt that the present distinctions between what could be sold on Sunday and what could not be sold were so arbitrary and outdated as to be indefensible. It was not just a question of a few items that were on the wrong side of the dividing line. There no longer appeared to be a rational dividing line at all. Secondly, there was deep anxiety about the continued existence on the statute book of a law that was being increasingly flouted, and which many if not most local authorities were either simply not prepared to enforce effectively or were unable to do so. These objections to the present law were not seriously challenged.

But in addition, many hon. Members put the case for change in a more positive way. They felt that restrictions on shop opening hours—let us not forget that we are talking about late opening as well as Sunday opening—were an unjustifiable and outdated restriction on the basic freedom that should exist for the consumer to be able to have the choice to shop when he wanted to and for the shopkeeper to be able to assess the wishes of his customers and meet them if he wanted to do so. It was felt by many that the limitations on shop hours were contrary to the interests of the consumer, no longer reflected current social patterns and preferences and were an unjustifiable hindrance to the growth of trade, and in particular the growth of tourism.

None the less, in spite of the virtually universal condemnation of the existing law and the widespread, although by no means universal, belief in the positive merits of change, the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend did not commend itself to the House. A considerable number of hon. Members feared the impact of complete deregulation on the fundamental character of Sunday. Just how many shops would open on Sunday, and which shops would they be ? Other hon. Members were anxious about the impact of such a change on those working in shops and owning them. Would small shops close on an extensive scale, and would there be a major loss of jobs ? Others again wondered whether some compromise or half way house was feasible. Although no one had really suggested any viable new basis for deciding when shops might open during the week or which shops should be allowed to open on Sunday, would not a more careful examination of the problem yield an acceptable and defensible solution falling short of complete decontrol ?

It was because of the combination of almost universal dissatisfaction with the present state of the law, and a widespread feeling of uncertainty about the effects of change and the possible forms that it might take that I decided to accept the suggestions made from all parts of the House, that an inquiry should be appointed to look into the whole question. I accordingly appointed an independent committee of inquiry in July 1983 under the chairmanship of Mr. Robin Auld, QC. The following were the terms of reference:
"To consider what changes are needed in the Shops Acts, having regard to the interests of consumers, employers and employees and to the traditional character of Sunday, and to make recommendations as to how these should be achieved."
The House will note that the committee of inquiry was specifically required to have regard, among other factors, to the fundamental character of Sunday. The membership of the committee was deliberately small, but in order to ensure that the main groups interested could satisfy themselves that the evidence submitted to the committee was comprehensive and rigorously scrutinised, I appointed six assessors. They represented the employers — both large and small —employees, consumers, the churches and the local authorities. Their main task was to ensure that the committee obtained evidence from across the spectrum of their interests and to offer comment on that evidence. My aim was to ensure that every possible solution to the problem was put to the committee and thoroughly examined by those likely to object to it, as well as by the members of the committee themselves. I know that the committee much appreciated the specialist advice it received from its assessors, and I am grateful to them for their work.

In addition, I commissioned the Institute for Fiscal Studies to carry out an economic review, which has been published as appendix 6 of the Auld report. This was designed to meet the concern that had been expressed that there was much speculation but little hard evidence on the economic effects that increased trading hours would have.

Now that hon. Members have had a chance to read and assimilate the report of the Auld committee, I am sure that they will wish to join me in thanking Mr. Robin Auld, QC and his colleagues, Mrs. Liliana Archibald and Miss Frances Cairncross for their comprehensive study. I of course realise that their recommendations are not universally accepted, but I am sure that their thoroughness has given us a solid and informed basis on which to take decisions.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say how, exactly, he decided upon the membership of the committee ? Frances Cairncross has written an interesting article in today's edition of The Times which tries to persuade hon. Members to go further, in one sense, than the Auld report by agreeing completely that the traditional character of Sunday should be abolished. How was Frances Cairncross chosen ? Was she an independent character ? Where does she stand and where does the right hon. and learned Gentleman stand in relation to what she said ?

At the time of the appointments there was no criticism whatsoever that any of those who were appointed to the committee were other than independent. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not have the faintest idea about the views of any of the Committee members.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way ?

No, I must proceed.

As the report shows, over 300 organisations and individuals submitted evidence in response to invitations from the committee. In addition, another 7,000 people sent evidence to the committee which was able to consider it with the benefit of help from the assessors.

The report of the inquiry and the accompanying economic review place the discussion on the future of shop opening hours in an entirely different context to that when the House considered the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe. Those hon. Members who took a particular view in 1983 are fully entitled to reconsider the position, now that a report has been published exploring all the main questions which caused anxiety in 1983 and led many hon. Members to feel unable to support the change in the law being then proposed.

The committee examined the obstacles and objections, but in considering whether trading hours should be the subject of legal restriction they started from the premise that
"the law should not interfere in the conduct of human affairs unless it serves a justifiable purpose … in doing so"—
a premise which I am sure that the House would share.

The committee examined carefully the arguments for legal restrictions in the light of the interests of consumers, employers, employees and of those wanting to preserve the traditional character of Sunday.

No, not for the moment.

It came to the conclusion that none of these interests or combinations of interests justified the continuation of statutory restrictions on trading hours.

I shall in a moment.

The Committee considered very carefully all the possibilities for partial deregulation, with which I should like to deal before giving way to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), as I shall, of course, do. Just how widespread the present anomalies are was well illustrated by the article in last Saturday's Daily Telegraph which pointed out that on Sunday one can buy alcohol but not dried milk for babies, aspirin but not toothpaste or soap. Newsagents can sell sweets and newspapers but not the Bible or stationery. Grocers can sell fresh or frozen fruit but not tinned fruit. One can buy cut flowers but not plants. One cannot buy fish and chips in a fish and chip shop, but one can buy other take-away food.

The committee therefore naturally looked at various kinds of proposals for revising the schedules of goods that can be sold late at night or on Sundays. It concluded that there was no way of compiling a list which would not now or in the future be every bit as plagued with anomalies as the present legislation. It is relevant to point out the extent of those anomalies.

The Home Secretary has detailed all the further consideration that has taken place by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the Auld committee and its assessors and he invites hon. Members who voted one way on a previous occasion to reconsider their point of view. How can his hon. Friends reconsider their views if, because of the Whip, they are not allowed to exercise their own judgment and their own consciences ?

I am sure that my hon. Friends will be greatly assisted by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The Government are fully entitled to express their views and to seek to persuade my hon. Friends of the merits of those views. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it has been made clear to my hon. Friends who have deeply held conscientious views, that their views are fully respected.

Not for the moment.

I was explaining that the Auld committee looked unsuccessfully at the possibility of compiling a different list of the schedule of goods that could and could not be sold on Sundays. Members of the committee also considered proposals that Sunday trading should be limited to certain kinds of shop or to shops of a certain size, but, again, they could see no way of finding a solution that would work. What type of shop should be allowed to trade ? In these days of mixed shops, it would be hard to produce separate and distinct categories of shops that should or should not be allowed to trade.

The committee considered exemption by size of shop, exemption for self-employed retailers, exemption by area and exemption by periods of the year. It examined the call for a maximum number of hours or days per week. It looked at the possibility of an extension of the present trading hours. Chapter 5 of the report is a thorough, unprejudiced examination of all the alternatives that were put forward.

The committee no doubt felt, as do many hon. Members, that something short of complete deregulation might be more acceptable if it were viable. But the analysis is devastating. Each of the alternative limitations is shown to be either indefensible or unworkable. The conclusion, which is amply supported by a reason, is:
"In our view, all the forms of control canvassed in our Inquiry, while affording protection to some, would neglect the interests of others. More importantly, we are convinced that none of the suggestions for reform, short of complete abolition of restrictions, would work. None of them would work because they would not form the basis of a fair, simple and readily enforceable system of regulation."
The committee therefore recommended the complete abolition of all the statutory restrictions on retail trading hours, both during the week and on Sundays.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we are dealing with Sunday, which is a day when people are expressing their religious convictions in one way or another, and the arguments of the Auld committee, important though they may be, deal only with facts ? People's faith and their convictions must be considered. My right hon. and learned Friend's comments seem to take no account of that fact.

I respect what my hon. Friend has said and I shall be coming to those aspects of the matter.

Not for the moment.

The Shops Act also contains provisions relating to the conditions of work of shop workers, in particular young shop workers. The committee concluded that it would be wrong to preserve the rigid provisions of part H of the Shops Act 1950 in statutory form. It was, however, worried about the demands that might be made on shop workers in the event of deregulation and, although it was not within its terms of reference, it recommended the retention for retail workers of the machinery of wages councils.

The House knows that, since the committee reported last year, the Government have produced a consultative paper on wages councils. The question whether the machinery of wages councils should be retained is important not only to workers in the retail trade, but to all the other workers covered by wages councils legislation.

The position of shop workers, vis-á-vis shop opening hours, will be given detailed and sympathetic considera-tion in the context of the consultation that is taking place, and what is said in the debate will be taken into account as part of that process of consultation. The Government will announce their conclusions on the future of wages councils before any legislation on shop hours is put before the House.

The Home Secretary read the last paragraph of chapter 5 of the Auld committee. Does he agree that the evidence in other chapters refutes the assertion that the evidence received by the committee was conclusive ?

The evidence was carefully analysed. Whatever else may be said about the Auld committee, its capacity to analyse specific suggestions for partial methods of decontrol cannot be doubted. It was particularly well qualified to do that, and its conclusion was nothing other than a proper assessment of the evidence.

A comprehensive review of how people did their shopping was carried out by the National Consumer Council. It reported that only one respondent in 10 found existing shopping hours inconvenient. How can the Auld report support its contention in chapter 5 that there is no justification for the continued regulation of opening hours ? Surely the reverse is the case. There is no excuse for changing the law when only 10 per cent. of the population want a change.

Whether or not people find existing hours convenient is a different matter from whether the criminal law should continue to be used to enforce those hours.

I shall come later to the other safeguards for those working in shops and the impact on employment more generally. Faced with the Auld committee's conclusions about the lack of a viable halfway house, those who have anxieties about going along with the committee's decontrol recommendations have to ask themselves just what action they would now favour.

As a Minister whose primary responsibility is for law and order, I could not advise the House to let the present position remain unaltered.

In a moment.

The law is being regularly, flagrantly and publicly flouted up and down the country. Some local authorities seek to enforce it to the best of their abilities, others do so patchily and many have not the slightest wish to do so and go through the motions only when they are threatened with legal action if they fail to bring some prosecutions.

The result is inconsistency and injustice on a massive scale. Sometimes it is the small shops that are prosecuted and the large ones that get away. In other places, the reverse policy is followed. Everybody will be aware of situations where the same type of shop is prosecuted in one local authority area and escapes prosecution if it happens to be half a mile away in another district.