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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 87: debated on Thursday 21 November 1985

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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Aujeszky's Disease

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on his meetings with the National Farmers Union regarding the financing of the Aujeszky's disease eradication fund.

I met representatives of the pig disease eradication fund, including members of the NFU, on 17 June, when I repeated that the Government had agreed to undertake the Aujeszky's disease control and eradication scheme solely on the basis that the industry would meet the net costs of compensation for slaughter. I told them that I could not agree to a departure from this clearly understood arrangement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the present deficit on the fund is about £13·5 million and that hard-pressed pig producers are likely to have to shell out well into the 1990s? Will he reconsider his rejection of the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture and see whether he can do anything to help this hard-pressed industry?

I am aware of the size of the overdraft, but I point out that £3·7 million was incurred by consequential loss arrangements which the fund introduced in direct conflict with the advice of my Department.

Does the Minister accept that the ADEF has been a remarkable example of Government and industry working together to tackle a major disease afflicting agriculture? Why has he rejected the Select Committee's conclusion that the Ministry was responsible for some of the deficit? Why does he not give a handout in the way that has been suggested?

I agree that the liaison between the Government and the promoters of the fund has been successful, and I hope that soon we shall be able to announce that the disease has been stamped out altogether. After all, there were only 10 cases this year compared with 443 in 1983. A clear deal was made between the Government and the sponsors when the scheme started, and I see no reason to break that understanding and arrangement now.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that neither his Department nor those representing pig producers foresaw a run on funds and the accumulating interest payments, which are now out of control any more, than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland foresaw the need to ask for £50 million a year because of the unforeseen burden placed on Scottish ratepayers by revaluation? Therefore, will he exert the same muscle in Cabinet as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has done for his Department, and carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee?

The cases are not comparable. I remind my hon. Friend that, when the polls were begun, the Government emphasised that the original estimates had to be treated with caution and that it was not possible to determine with accuracy the extent of the disease and other factors before the eradication schemes were started.

Does the Minister agree that unless the Government make good the shortfall in the financing of the scheme the industry's confidence could be damaged, and that might affect its support for other schemes in the future?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) on his appointment and welcome him to the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that he will speak for the Opposition for many a long year.

There is another side to the story which the promoters of the scheme might do well to bear in mind. The hon. Gentleman says that the producers' confidence may have been dented. The Government's confidence in entering into another similar arrangement, however desirable, might also be dented if this type of hassle goes on afterwards to try to break the original terms of the deal.

Milk Quotas

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his policy towards the new EEC outgoers scheme.

I have received representations on the proposed Community outgoers scheme from hon. Members, interested organisations and individual farmers. These have reflected a number of concerns, including the position of tenant farmers and landlords. The Commission's proposals for the scheme have only recently been published. I am still considering the detailed provisions.

While in principle I am in favour of measures aimed at bringing supply and demand in the milk sector closer together, I am equally concerned to ensure that any such scheme operates fairly throughout the Community. It is important that the scheme should reflect the interests of all concerned, and in particular that a careful balance is struck between the interests of landlords and tenants.

I welcome that reply. I am glad that no decision has yet been reached. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the basis of his policy on this matter will be that no tenant shall be allowed to surrender or transfer his quota without his landlord's consent? Otherwise, we shall risk damaging the viability, profitability and earnings potential of farms, which will be to the detriment of the relationship between landlord and tenant—a partnership which has served this country well over the years.

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said. I believe that there is general agreement throughout the industry that in most cases both landlord and tenant have contributed to the quota. It would be right to try to ensure that a careful balance is struck so that our landlord-tenant system is not jeopardised.

Will the Minister confirm that he will not oppose a special redundancy payments scheme for dairy farm workers if the EEC decides to introduce an outgoers scheme for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The hon. Lady will be aware that I have on many occasions answered questions about redundancy arrangements. She knows as well as anyone in the House that there are already widespread redundancy arrangements and that many companies involved in agriculture have redundancy arrangements more generous than the basic state scheme.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is considerable anxiety within agriculture about the knock-on effect of a further outgoers scheme, desirable though that might be? Will he bring forward his review of United Kingdom agriculture in order to give a better sense of direction to those involved in making important decisions in that respect?

Yes, Sir. I understand what my hon. Friend says about that, and I have some sympathy with it. Even with the milk quota scheme which is in place Community production still exceeds consumption by, in broad terms, 13 per cent. Measures are necessary to bring supply more closely in line with demand. Any such measures must be applied fairly throughout the whole of the Community.

We understand the need to bring dairy surpluses under control, but is the Minister aware that quotas and outgoers payments are only part of the story? First, is there not an urgent need to provide special compensation for the thousands of farm and creamery employees who are being thrown out of work as a result of what is happening? Secondly, does he accept that there is a need for positive guidance to avoid the transfer of the land of up to 2,000 farmers into commodities such as cereals and beef, which are already in surplus? The Government treated the dairy industry disgracefully last year. Will the Minister give an undertaking that he will try to get it right in 1986?

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a new rival on the Opposition Front Bench, but there is no reason to use such extravagant language.

As I said to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), there is a redundancy arrangement which applies throughout the industry. I understand that many of our dairies, including the Milk Marketing Board, run their own redundancy schemes, which are more generous than the standard arrangement.

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many representations he has received in the last six months about milk quotas.

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

My right hon. Friend and I have received a substantial number of representations in the past six months about milk quotas from hon. Members, the industry organisations and individual producers.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Italians are still not enforcing dairy quotas at farm level and that there are suspicions that the French are not enforcing the quotas properly? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that that causes great resentment among British farmers, who have suffered greatly from the quotas?

It causes great resentment if anyone feels that the system is unfairly imposed. For that reason, we have taken every measure to ensure that these complaints are followed up rapidly. The Commission is considering them closely.

Is the Minister aware that a group of tenant farmer brothers who took over a small farm shortly before the quotas were introduced are now living on the breadline? They came to see me to tell me of their position. I wonder just how many small tenant farmers are suffering as a result of milk quotas.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows how careful we have been to try to use any extra milk that is available to provide help for those who have specific problems. If instances of specific problems had come to his notice, there were methods by which they could have been examined.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should say that it has not worked very well. The industry, as a whole, thinks that it has worked extremely well. Measures were taken on the basis of the advice that was received from the industry. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are adequate powers under the treaty of Rome for ensuring that when member states are in default in these matters action can be enforced against them? Will he make inquiries to ascertain whether we have been able to do that?

There is no doubt that we shall take any action that is open to us to ensure that these schemes are carried out properly. We need information, rather than vague reports which undermine what is otherwise an equitable scheme.

Will the Minister give a guarantee that our producers will not be penalised because there may be a shortfall in production under quota this year as a result of bad weather during the summer? We understand that we may be as much as 2 per cent. under quota. It would be atrocious if that shortfall were to be added to any overall cut in quota next year or after that.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have made it clear that we do not consider that any shortfall in quota should be taken into account in that way.

Food From Britain

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will confirm the arrangements for the likely future level of Government funding for Food From Britain.

I announced recently that for each of the three years from 1988–89 the Government will make available to Food From Britain's marketing activities £1 for every £2 contributed by industry up to a maximum of £2·5 million a year, provided that the industry contributes at least £3 million per year. This is in addition to the £14 million pump-priming grant which covered the organisation's first five years up to 1987–88.

I thank my right hon. Friend for continuing to fund Food From Britain. He will be aware that Britain's agricultural produce is the finest in the world. Is he satisfied that Food From Britain is making the most of the marketing opportunities that are available to it? Does he agree with me that much more could be done?

I agree that much more could be done. We have made more money available to allow that work to be done. Food From Britain has made an excellent start. It now has 16 commodity sectors which already bear the food mark and enable producers to guarantee quality produce for consumers. Good progress has been made also with exports. The record British presence recently at the ANUGA food fair demonstrates the marketing opportunities that exist for British exports of the excellent quality to which my hon. Friend referred.

Does the Minister agree that even the best food needs to be marketed strongly in the current situation? How does he equate the money funded for Food From Britain with the £40 million available in France for marketing its products?

We started a good deal later than some countries. The tragedy is that when the Labour party was in power it did absolutely nothing about this. It fell to this Government to found Food From Britain. We are building it up in a commendable way.

Milk Quotas

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received on the new proposals from the EEC on tenants' rights in relation to the disposal of milk quotas.

My right hon. Friend and I have received a number of representations on the proposed Community outgoers scheme from hon. Members, interested organisations and individual farmers. These have reflected a number of concerns, including the position of tenant farmers and landlords.

I listened carefully to that answer and to the answer given by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). Frankly, I remain unclear about the extent of the Government's commitment to help tenant farmers out of their present predicament. On milk quotas, do the Government now share the Commission's recognition of the rights of tenant farmers? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman press immediately to alleviate the conditions of tenant farmers in relation to milk quotas?

Recognition of rights does not necessarily result in an answer that suits our particular landlord and tenant system. We have clearly said that we recognise that, in almost every case, both tenants and landlords have contributed to production on dairy farms and that we are trying to find ways to have that position recognised. We want it recognised in the context of our situation, not someone else's.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in many cases the tenant has made the relevant capital investment and that any arrangements must take that fact into account?

We said that we would take proper cognisance of that fact and the fact that the landlord also has an interest. We want to ensure that the arrangements suit our landlord and tenant system, not just the system in other countries.

In view of the adverse summer weather experienced in the United Kingdom and the additional debts that went with it, will my right hon. Friend consider whether, under the new outgoers scheme, landlords and tenants alike may release part of the quota and take advantage of the scheme to alleviate their financial difficulties?

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have only recently received the preliminary proposals from the Commission. We have been looking at them carefully. That is one of the issues that we will have to take into account.

Food (Quality)

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to improve the quality of food.

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

There is already a comprehensive range of legislation regulating the safety, quality and labelling of food. Regulations are kept under review so as to take account of new developments.

What does the Minister intend to do about those families in receipt of family income supplement or supplementary benefit who do not have enough money to buy food that conforms with the Government's nutritional guidelines?

The issuing of nutritional guidelines is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Security, and I am certain that it is balancing those factors.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear that food in Britain is of far better quality and worth than the food that is available in many other countries? Will she also make it clear that we should not put any more labels on food, as they only distract the attention of ordinary housewives?

I wholly agree with the first comments made by my hon. Friend, but we have accepted the recommendations of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food report, ensuring that food will be labelled with its fat content. We are looking at a non-statutory format for nutritional labelling, too.

Is the Minister aware that one of the ways in which the quality of food is enhanced is through the valuable work done at Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food research centres? In the light of that, is it not a scandal that the Government are proposing to close Shardlow Hall in the east midlands by 6 March next year, all for the sake of £1·6 million, yet they can find £252 million to balance the books of the Common Market, and we find that fraud amounting to £600 million has gone on in the Common Market? If the Government can find money for that, why can they not find the money to save the jobs at the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service and make sure that the taxpayer does not have to find more money to finance the dole queue?

The hon. Gentleman knows that that matter does not arise out of this question. We have spent about £200 million on agriculture and food research, and the Government are still contributing greatly to research. However, the food industry also does a great deal in research.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the potential threat to the quality of food because of the contraction of competition, caused, among other things, by the practice of discriminatory discounting and other trading practices by the large retail chains? Will the Department take an interest in that matter, although it does not come directly under its responsibility?

I can assure my hon. Friend that my Department has taken a considerable interest in the matter, but he will be aware that the Office of Fair Trading is the organisation that looks at it. Recently, it considered exactly that point. It found that current practices are not against the public interest, but, of course, it will look at any cases that are brought before it.

Will Ministers be taking the parliamentary opportunity on Monday of explaining in detail precisely why they find it necessary to cut 27 posts in the Soil Survey of England and Wales and other agricultural research, which has its effect on the quality of food?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman added the bit about food at the end of his question. I am sure he will agree that that area of research is not wholly applicable to this question, which is about the quality of food.

Common Agricultural Policy

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in discussions with his European colleagues on the Commission's Green Paper, "Perspectives for the Common Agricultural Policy".

The Council had an initial debate on the Green Paper when it met informally in September. At its meeting this week there was discussion based on a Commission memorandum on specific ideas for the cereals sector. The Commission has given notice of its intention to issue a memorandum next month covering its wider conclusions from the "Perspectives" exercise. We shall continue to press for a realistic price policy to be adopted as a central element in tackling the problems of costly surpluses in the CAP.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Commission's proposals for cereals are likely to bear more heavily on the United Kingdom than on other parts of the Community? What steps does he propose to take to ensure that that does not happen?

Co-responsibility levies would pose real difficulties of administration and equity, as my hon. Friend said. They would distort the proper working of the market. We should remember that the levy is a revenue-raising device to provide temporary relief for the budget. Rigorous long-term action on the price level remains indispensable to bring the cereals sector into better balance. Those were all points that I raised at the Council meeting this week.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the food mountains in this country are now at record levels and that the millions of tonnes of grain that are dumped in secret stores represent a scandalous misuse of resources? Do his earlier answers mean that he recognises that the proposed co-responsibility levy on cereals will make things worse, because the farmers will see it as a forerunner for quotas and expect him to insist on cereal price cuts?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares my view about the importance of price cuts and the relative ineffectiveness of co-responsibility levies. He also referred to the large quantities of grain stored in this country. We have those tremendous surpluses throughout the Community basically because during the past seven or eight years the Council of Ministers has ignored the advice given to it by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues while his party was in power, and by my colleagues while this Government have been in power. If the Community had taken the British advice from both parties, the surpluses would be less today.

In view of that answer, will my right hon. Friend explain why there is no surplus and no wheat going into intervention in France, while we have a surplus of 6 million tonnes, which is likely to rise to 7 million tonnes? This morning the Agriculture Select Committee was told that that vast quantity of wheat was now valueless and that nobody wanted to buy it. This year we shall import 3 million tonnes of wheat from France and elsewhere for milling purposes because our wheat is, unfortunately, valueless and not wanted by our trade.

I do not accept that the wheat that we produce is valueless. That is not true. One of the matters about which we have recently been pressing the Commission is that it should have schemes to export grain of feed quality because there are markets in the world where that type of grain is needed. I hope that before long we can persuade the Commission to introduce a scheme that will in particular reduce the stocks of feed quality wheat that we have in store.

Has the Minister, in his discussions with his colleagues in the Community, considered the social and regional policy implications of a substantial shift from price support to direct income aids, which is proposed in the Green Paper?

Yes, I have considered that. I am worried about the possibility of income aids. The Commission has not yet made any proposals, and there would be difficult problems to overcome regarding income aids. They are difficult to administer, there would be problems of conflicts with existing social security schemes, and expense is a major factor. It is an area where national policies could well be far more appropriate. We could find that assistance from income aids would go disproportionately to other countries, and not to the United Kingdom.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his stand on trying to reduce cereal surpluses? Does he recognise that there is no difference between co-responsibility levies, price restraints and price cuts? In the first instance they will encourage higher production, which is the road we followed on milk, when we refused to consider milk quotas until the last moment. Will my right hon. Friend urgently change his mind and take steps to impose some form of cereal quota throughout the EC?

It is not true that there is no difference between price cuts and co-responsibility levies, because the advantage of a price cut over a levy is that it reduces the price to the livestock producer and makes the product more competitive in the export markets. I am surprised to hear my hon. Friend express support for quotas. If, for example, he wants to put our cereals industry into a straightjacket, so that we who are so efficient would not have the opportunity of increasing our share of European production, that will do a great disservice to the interests of our country, quite apart from the fact that in some parts of the Community it is almost impossible to administer cereal quotas.

In view of the importance of the document to the agriculture industries of both parts of the island of Ireland, and bearing in mind that some people in the EC will attempt to promote a common agricultural policy for the whole of that island, can the Minister tell us whether he intends to seek the advice of the Anglo-Irish ministerial council on that and other matters, where some people will advocate such a CAP?

Milk Quotas

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give his approval to the leasing of dairy quotas.

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in efforts to introduce greater flexibility into the milk quota regime.

I attach great importance to obtaining better arrangements for the transfer of quota between producers. We have been pressing the Commission to bring forward proposals on this, and shall continue to do so. In the meantime, we are exploring the scope for flexibility within the framework of the present Community rules.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an example of when Government lawyers ought to use their customary initiative? Even if it is not possible for technical reasons to indulge in quota leasing, should it not be possible to devise other methods, perhaps the pooling of quotas? In fairness to the dairy industry, must not such steps be taken fairly urgently?

I am not sure that my hon. Friend should restrict his comments to Government lawyers. All concerned might consider how flexibility can be achieved. If quotas are not to have a sterilising effect on the industry, there must be flexibility. We shall continue to press the Commission for such changes.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. There is a lot of rhubarb around here.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Commission asked for a study on quotas? Has my hon. Friend received that report from the Commission? If so, when will it be published?

We have pressed the Commission for such a study and asked it to take account of the problems in Britain that mean that flexibility is more important here than, perhaps, elsewhere. We are pressing the Commission for the results of the study and for it to take seriously the fact that we are unable to move quotas. Tight control over the system will mean that no new people will be able to enter the industry.

Severe Weather Payments

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is able to indicate into what areas the additional Government assistance will be channelled for farmers affected by recent bad weather conditions.

I have been examining the best way in which to help those worst affected in the livestock sector by the exceptionally bad weather and hope to be able to make an announcement very shortly.

In view of the catastrophic weather in the north, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland recently, will my right hon. Friend try to make his announcement just as quickly as he can? Even more important, will he make the payments this year if at all possible?

Yes, we shall make the announcement as quickly as we can. I am prepared to see how we can bring payments forward as soon as possible.

What has the Minister been doing with his time? He announced at the Conservative party conference that aid would be made available, but there has been a deafening silence since. Is he aware that about £25 million has been lost in my Scottish border constituency as a result of this summer and that there is a lack of winter fodder for upland farmers? When will he make a statement? If it is not next week, it will have been too long in coming.

We quite rightly wanted to get the full picture and have used the autumn to that end. We are now reaching the point at which we can pinpoint the areas that have had the greatest difficulty as a result of the atrocious weather. I hope that we can make a statement very soon.

Does cutting agricultural research constitute providing additional resources for farmers in the areas that have been hit by the bad weather? Why do the Government intend to introduce charges for the services offered by ADAS, payable by these very farmers—

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would relate his question to the subject, please.

The farmers in these areas are suffering and will have to pay the high charges for ADAS. Why should they not be relieved of those charges?

I do not suppose that farmers in Cumbria will read that question sympathetically. The hon. Gentleman missed the opportunity to press for the problems of Cumbria to be taken into account. Although he missed that opportunity, I can assure him that I am looking after those farmers very well.

I echo what my right hon. Friend has just said. Will he take it from me that it is essential that he takes as long as necessary to get the bad weather payments right? Will he ensure that he consults all sectors of the industry so that he may have as wide a spread of advice as possible on how the payment should be administered and to whom it should be allocated?

I pay tribute to the responsible advice that we have had from many people in trying to pinpoint the areas where the problems are greatest and where help is needed most.

When he announced the scheme at the Conservative party conference, the Minister promised that it would be in place by the end of October. This will be the longest October on record. Does he not realise that the livestock are suffering now? Will he expedite from the Treasury money as well as promises?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman made that announcement at his conference, but I do not recall giving an understanding that the scheme would be in place by the end of October. All I can say is that we want to get a full picture of the total effect of the bad weather before deciding how best to spend the money that we have available.

Frozen Foodstuffs

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received about European Community document 9402/84 on the approximation of laws relating to quick-frozen foodstuffs.

We circulated the draft proposals for a Council directive on quick-frozen foodstuffs to a wide range of interested organisations. We have received comments from representatives of frozen food manufacturers, distributors and retailers and refrigeration engineers.

Will my hon. Friend do all in her power to ensure that this ill-conceived directive is not imposed upon the people of this country, who have more experience in the frozen food industry than the rest of the Community put together?

I agree with my hon. Friend that this country has tremendous expertise in the production of frozen food. I acknowledge my hon. Friend's specialist knowledge. He will know from the debate we had earlier this year that we opposed the directive in its present form. We shall be seeking modifications to the proposals to make them sounder and more acceptable.

Ancient Monuments

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the agricultural aspects of conserving ancient monuments.

Many ancient monuments are situated on agricultural land and in these cases the main responsibility for their day-to-day protection lies with the farmer concerned. It is, of course, a criminal offence to destroy or cause damage to any protected ancient monument. Farmers can and do enter into management agreements with the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, under which payments are made to help with the cost of the positive management of ancient monuments.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I ask for her reassurance that she will continue to keep an eye on the protection of such sites and the need for proper public access to them?

In applying our agricultural policy we take acount of other interests, including the protection of ancient monuments. To that end ADAS officers can help farmers to recognise the value of archaeological sites on their land and advise them on the most appropriate farming methods in use for protection of those sites. My hon. Friend mentioned access. The agreements with the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, to which I have just referred, can provide for access but I understand that in practice very few do.

Pelagic Fisheries

13.

asked the Minister of Ariculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress of the review of restrictive licensing of pelagic vessels.

A consultative paper on the review of restrictive licensing for the pelagic fisheries was circulated to industry organisations on 4 October 1985. When all those who wish to do so have expressed their views, Fisheries Ministers hope to reach decisions on future licensing arrangements before the end of the year.

Various people in the industry will be relieved that a statement will be made before the end of the year, because the uncertainty has not been good for the industry. Will the Minister accept that if any move is made to increase the number of freezer trawlers available for the pelagic fisheries, that will be viewed with great concern by those who are interested in conservation and particularly by people in my constituency, who will be adversely affected?

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the reason why we set up this investigation was do deal with all these issues. No decisions will be made without taking very seriously all the points that he has put forward.

With regard to conservation, has my hon. Friend seen the report in this week's Fishing News that two of the constituents of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) are buying a giant purser from Norway which has capacity in its hold for 1,100 tonnes of fish? Does he agree that it is pointless to buy a huge boat such as that if the owners then try to gain access to stocks that are under pressure?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that there is considerable argument in this area, and that it was therefore sensible of the Government to make sure that we had the full facts before making our decision. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may feel that it has taken some time, but it is better to get the answer right than to get a rushed answer wrong.

Prime Minister

Klaus Barbie

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if, in the light of the recently published report "L'affreux Secret" by John Loftus, special investigator for the United States Justice Department, she will cause an investigation to be made into the connection of British Intelligence with the case of the Nazi Klaus Barbie.

I have been asked to reply.

No, Sir.

Why the secrecy in dealing with the facts of the matter? Is it not the case that Klaus Barbie was recruited by British intelligence as an agent immediately post-war, along with many other ex-SS spies who were recruited by MI6? Is it not the case that there may well be more facts to be elicited, or are we to have a cover-up such as there has been over Dr. Mengele?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is a very strong tradition of reticence on these affairs, which has applied to Governments of all parties since the war. I cannot go any further in my reply than the answers that have hitherto been given.

Engagements

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

This morning my right hon. Friend presided at a meeting of the Cabinet, and is now in Brussels for President Reagan's briefing of the NATO Council.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there will be a welcome throughout the length and breadth of the country for the achievements of the Geneva summit, particularly the agreement that arms control talks are to go ahead with vigour, that President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev are to meet again soon, and that the establishment of greater understanding and mutual trust is an essential basis for effective negotiation, with concentration on our shared hopes for the future rather than on our differences of the past?

I am sure that, in the context of high profile summitry, being a very hazardous form of diplomacy, there will be a great sense of relief at the achievements that have been secured at Geneva. My hon. Friend appropriately puts the advantages in a way that appeals to the entire House.

I warmly welcome the transformation in US-Soviet relations and hope that we may now see deep cuts in nuclear arsenals and concrete agreements in the next year and the year after. However, does the Leader of the House agree that one of the lessons for hon. Members is that the deeply damaging and divisive policies of unilateral nuclear disarmament should be abandoned by the Labour party?

Whatever measure of detente has been secured at Geneva certainly does not derive from a unilateral nuclear disarmament philosophy.

Will my right hon. Friend utterly condemn the outrageous attack on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by badly behaved hooligans who call themselves Ulster Unionists, flying in the face of a growing reality that more and more people in the Province and in the rest of Britain are wholeheartedly behind the agreement?

I deprecate, as I am sure all hon. Members will, the physical attack upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I am certain that such action damages the cause of those who perpetrate it.

Will the Lord Privy Seal ensure that the Prime Minister has brought to her attention the increasing flood of communications from the length and breadth of England, Wales and Scotland expressing indignation at the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement and at her personal part in it?

I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the observations that have just been made. Doubtless they will feature in the debate that we shall soon have.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the arrangements reached by President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev in Geneva were firmly based on hard realism? Does he agree that that spirit, not the one-sided disarmament espoused by the Labour party and by one half of the alliance, is more likely to lead to arms control and lasting peace?

Whatever success has been secured at Geneva will be in the context of realism that is both hardheaded and cautious. I am sure that it has been secured by hard negotiations unclouded by the sort of gesture politics that are implicit in the CND.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Does the Lord Privy Seal recall the presentation made to the Cabinet by the Audit Commission during the summer recess? Will he confirm that the presentation clearly revealed that local authorities were keeping their houses in order much better than were Government Departments? Will he take this opportunity to pay tribute to county and borough treasurers, who have had to bear with the Government's restrictions during the past five years?

The Audit Commission plays an admirable role in the discussion about how best to maintain prudent public spending. I notice especially its endorsement of the idea that there should be museum charges and charges for other entertainment provided by municipal authorities. In broad terms, I am happy to concur with what the hon. Gentleman said.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read reports that Mr. Ken Livingstone proposes to offer up to £5 million of GLC money to bail out the Trotskyist regime in Liverpool? Will he discuss urgently with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment ways of preventing this municipal embezzlement of London ratepayers' money?

I am happy to concur with my hon. Friend's request, but he will have observed that Mr. Livingstone's exotic gesture does not seem to have succeeded.

What does the Leader of the House suppose is the Prime Minister's attitude to the dire straits in which two more teaching hospitals in London find themselves? What advice is she likely to give to the patients who will not be admitted there and to the researchers whose work will not be finished?

Those matters are the responsibility of the North-West Thames area health authority, which will have to judge its priorities within the spending disciplines to which it is subject. But, since I am asked to relate the matter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I am sure she will observe that National Health Service spending has increased by 20 per cent. in real terms during the lifetime of this Government, that there are 58,000 more nurses and midwives and that waiting lists have decreased by 80,000 since 1979.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the efforts of Mr. Eric Hammond in persuading the TUC to accept the use of Government funds for union ballots?

Yes. I have no wish to prejudice the success of the Government's financing of strike ballots by warmly endorsing it to trade union leaders, but I suspect that there will be a growing recognition of the virtue of that legislation, just as Labour Members now realise that there is great virtue in the sale of council houses.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday, 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

If low pay leads to the creation of new jobs, why is it that in Bradford, where most people in work have always been paid low wages, there are now 35,000 men and women desperately looking for work?

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman had some compelling or demonstrable statistical information for that assertion he would have given it.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the youth training scheme is enormously well thought of, not only by those who are trained, but by the trainers and the job providers? The extension of the training period to two years is widely welcomed. However, there is some worry about the future funding of the scheme. Will my right hon. Friend use his best offices to ensure that future funding is kept to a maximum, so that the least well qualified who are currently on mode B will be affected as little as possible?

The point that my hon. Friend raises is echoed in many quarters of the House. We have designed the funding of the two-year scheme to help mode B1 providers, so that they will be generally eligible for premium grants. Many will receive special transitional help next year.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the parliamentary answer from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, which makes it clear that there will be a further cut over the next year of at least £135 million in the Government's captial allocation for housing, housebuilding and house improvement? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that just last week the Prime Minister rather glibly claimed in the Guildhall that she saw a process of renewal taking place throughout the country? Does he think a cut in housebuilding adds to or retards that process of renewal?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take account of the fact that the prospects for housebuilding relate not only to the allocations but to the local authorities' access to their own capital receipts. When these are taken in totality, it is the view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that next year will show an increase over this year.

Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman, at least, thinks that local authorities should be permitted to use more than 20 per cent. of the money raised by a variety of means that they want to dedicate to housing? Is he satisfied with the fact that we have the lowest housebuilding starts of any year since the war, that 250,000 building workers are unemployed and that young and old people are in desperate need of houses? If he is concerned about those things, will he use his influence to persuade the Government to change their policy, make those allocations, and allow local authorities to spend more on creating jobs and homes?

It is the avowed policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that decisions on allocations are taken in the context of the local authorities' access to capital receipts. There will be greater spending next year.

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to reflect on the increasing amount of damage being done to the education of our young people because of the continuing teachers' dispute? The National Union of Teachers has initiated a series of strikes in selected constituencies, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley). Does my right hon. Friend agree that such action is counter-productive and is not the right way to seek to persuade Members of Parliament to support the teachers' cause? Surely negotiation and discussion is the right way forward.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Many of the tactics being adopted will create an acrimony that will linger long after a settlement.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will the Leader of the House unreservedly condemn the stubborn and self-serving attitude of the leaders of Liverpool city council, who this morning rejected the last olive branch to save their city from municipal bankruptcy? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to make recommendations immediately to the Court of Appeal, so that the date for the hearing of an appeal against disqualification can be brought forward? Even if the councillors are determined on kamikaze tactics for themselves, at least the people of Liverpool can be bailed out and given a chance to change political direction before it is too late.

The breakdown of this morning's discussions was absolutely deplorable and can cause but further difficulties for the electors and citizens of Liverpool. The responsibility still remains with the city council to put its affairs in order, and it seems to me that the AMA and the Stonefrost reports show how that might be done. As to the possibility of the court action being accelerated, I am not clear what would be the status of my right hon. Friend in the matter, but I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's comments to him.