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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 23 April 1987

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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Hengistbury Head


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much grant-aid will be given for coastal protection work to Hengistbury Head.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Donald Thompson)

I am not yet in a position to quote precise figures, but, taking into account the grant previously approved on the first phase of the work, it seems likely that the total grant will be a little under £2·3 million when paid.

Will my hon. Friend accept the grateful thanks of my constituents and of Bournemouth borough council for this grant-aid to prevent further erosion of this important part of our coastal heritage, which is also a valuable tourist attraction? Does he agree that this kind of public expenditure has become available only as a result of the Government's prudent management of our economy? What percentage of the total cost of the coastal protection work does this grant-aid constitute?

I agree that prudent management has made about £13 million available this year for such work. The figure that I quoted for the grant for the first phase of the works represents 63 per cent. I expect that later phases will increase that percentage.

Would this be regarded as a specially-assisted general election area grant?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman has not put in for a grant for his coastline. But if he could, he would. We are spending nearly £1 million in Newbiggin in Northumberland and we hope that that will help us in the election. We are spending £4 million in Blackpool and £2 million in Whitby, and we hope that that will help as well.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the eastern exposed part of Hengistbury Head is in my constituency. Is he aware that the tidal flow around the head has long been presumed to be one of the main causes of the continuing loss of sand on Friars Cliff beach? Will he ensure that when money becomes available—as he has announced today—research into that aspect, which bothers many of my constituents, will be funded out of that or alternative sources?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have many opportunities over the years to repeat that question, and we will consider it carefully then.

Tenant Farmers


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met representatives of tenant farmers; and what subjects were discussed.

I meet tenant farmers and their representatives regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest.

When will the Minister reply to my urgent letter of six weeks ago posing questions to him about grass keep and the transfer of tenancy between father and son? Does he accept that his suggestions about planning guidelines, taken with the threat to country structure plans and the reduction of protection for agricultural lands, could leave tenants facing incontestable eviction orders, without adequate compensation?

I have a copy of the hon. Gentleman's letter. It is a long, three-page letter, to which we are trying to give him a detailed reply.

The proposed changes in planning procedures would not put tenants in a worse position than they are in now in terms of protection or compensation. All proposals for the development of agricultural land will still require planning permission. Local authorities will have to look at each case on its merits in the light of general Government guidance. Moreover, if a landlord is granted planning permission, a tenant can receive additional compensation—a sum equal to four years' rent —over and above the basic compensation. Compensation is also available for improvements and other tenant rights.

When my right hon. Friend last met the tenant farmers, did they congratulate him on the Government's policy which allowed farm rents to be charged on the earning capacity of the land?

As far as I can remember, that particular point did not come up, but I am pleased to say that the Agricultural Holdings Act 1984 has had the effect of encouraging rather more tenancies. Certainly the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers' surveys in 1985 and 1986 have suggested that there has been an increase in fresh lettings in the private sector since Parliament passed that Act.

Is the Minister not at all concerned about the fact that there are now 5 per cent. fewer tenanted farms than there were when the Government took office, partly because of the predictable failure of the legislation to which he has just referred, but also because of the deplorable conduct of Tory-controlled local authorities, and, indeed, the Scottish Office, which have been disposing of let smallholdings? Will he acknowledge that the Labour party's proposals for a land bank to make land available to let to tenant farmers is the only way in which more tenants will be able to come into the industry?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will long have the opportunity to sit on the Opposition Benches spending money, of which, mercifully, he will never have control, on various wildcat schemes that he might think are a good idea for the time. In the months that lie ahead the Labour party's agricultural policy will get just about as much support as it has always had.

Farm Incomes


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how average farm incomes in the United Kingdom for the latest available period compare with those for the other nine member states of the European Community.

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

Commission figures show that in 1984–85, the most recent year for which figures are available, farm family income in the United Kingdom was broadly twice the Community average. The United Kingdom was fourth highest in the Community, ahead of both France and Germany.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that between 1980 and 1986 the net incomes of farmers in Wales dropped by 34 per cent., while the net incomes of farmers in the United Kingdom dropped by 21 per cent.? Does the blame for that lie with the Secretary of State for Wales, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Government, or the EEC?

It is still true that the average incomes of everyone working in agriculture have risen more in Britain over the past three years than in France, Italy or Germany. That must be because of the excellent arguments of this Government, who fight for British farmers within the EC harder than any other Ministry.

Does the Minister agree with Mr. Robin Leigh-Pemberton—as he well knows, a farmer as well as the Governor of the Bank of England — who, in a reported statement last week following an address to an audience of farmers, said that in his view the outlook for farmers' incomes will get worse rather than better?

Farmers have a real future within the Community if they are efficient and sell their goods effectively, and if the Government continue in office, fighting for British farmers within the EC.

What would be the effect on net farm incomes if the scheme proposed by the leader of the Social Democratic party were put into operation — a scheme which the president of the National Farmers Union has described as a disaster, or a potential disaster?

The effect would be to increase the incomes of other countries' farmers relative to those in the United Kingdom and to depress most significantly the income off our largest producerss of grain, as well as the income of the producer of other products. The fact of the matter is that my hon. Friend is a little out of date. There have already been three agricultural policies from the alliance since that one, each worse than the previous one.

Is the Minister aware of the danger of quoting averages and of the fact that in Wales about one third of small farmers are on family income supplement? In view of that, will he state the Government's attitude towards the European Community's plan to top up farmers' incomes? Will he give an assurance that, if the scheme goes ahead, we shall not miss out in competition with France or Germany?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Averages are not always helpful, but if we are to compare countries, it is difficult to find another way to do so. The problem that he put forward is that, because the average size of farms in the rest of the Community is between a quarter and a fifth of what it is in this country, if we go ahead with the kind of scheme that is proposed it is likely that precisely what he wants will not be obtained. In other words, the majority of the money will go to other countries' farmers and not to those in this country. The Government have been seeking to ensure that, in all decisions within the Community, British farmers are dealt with fairly. That is our job and that is what we are working towards.

Alternative Farm Enterprises


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the value of the output of alternative farm enterprises from commercial holdings in the most recent year for which figures are available.

The phrase "alternative farm enterprises" covers a wide range of farm-based activities. I am afraid that no single figure for output is available.

Does the Minister accept that the recent figures announced in his programme of £25 million subsidy is pathetically small in comparison with the £2·5 billion subsidy to agriculture in general'? How will the ALURE proposals affect this policy and arise when the figures are so small and he is not able to respond to the question that I originally asked?

The hon. Gentleman's original question was suitably vague, and therefore he got a suitably vague answer. The £25 million is to be added to the whole range of grants that are available in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and other less-favoured areas, which are sometimes as high as 30 per cent.—often 15 per cent.—and for environmentally beneficial works, 60 per cent. The less-favoured area grants are well appreciated and well understood by farmers. If we add the amount that the hon. Gentleman put to the grants already available, it comes to a substantial sum.

Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever may be the potential income from alternative farming enterprises, the main income for farmers will still be derived from producing traditional crops and other foodstuffs that are produced on the farm? Does he not think that it might be appropriate at this moment to pay tribute to those who have done a marvellous job in marketing our cereal surplus during the past year, because they have halved to just under 2 million tonnes the amount of surplus cereals that we are carrying forward to next year?

It is a remarkable piece of marketing that I hope will be taken up by other parts of the industry. Marketing is most important. I agree with my hon. Friend that the main range of crops will, and must, be the basis of British farming for years to come.

Will the Minister tell us how many jobs he expects to be created as a result of the £25 million investment in alternative enteprises that was announced by his right hon. Friend last month? Will he confirm that the £25 million is new money and that he is not simply talking about money that has already been earmarked for investment in the countryside

It is new money, and it is a good initiative that saves jobs before they are lost. That is the sort of thing for which the hon. Gentleman has been looking for a long time.

Does my hon. Friend agree that despite the fact that many people claim that agriculture is being subsidised to the tune of £2·5 billion, according to our right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the net cost to the Treasury of agricultural support is only £246 million? Will he explain this inconsistency?

My hon. Friend has obviously read the White Paper and is still reading it. In fact, he has not got to the part that gives him the answer to the question about which he is coming to see me next week.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to ensure the future of the European sheepmeat regime.

The regime brings considerable benefits to British producers and consumers and is an important factor underlying our strong sheepmeat sector. I shall continue to resist firmly any changes that would discriminate against United Kingdom interests, including the introduction of two-tier pricing.

Can the Minister tell us what progress he hopes to make in the coming summer's review of the European sheepmeat regime, and can he give us some indication of the proposals that he will put to the Commission to secure the position of British sheep producers, particularly in the less-favoured areas?

The present regime has great advantages and we intend to defend those. It is the Commission that is doing this review, and no doubt we shall seek to put forward our views. The one thing that we must ensure is that there is no discrimination against the United Kingdom. That is why I again raised the question of two-tier pricing, because that is the way to ensure discrimination. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will dissociate himself from his own party's policy on this matter.

May I express the hope that in fighting for British farmers the others come off worse than my right hon. Friend?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, two-tier pricing is not the only discrimination. The current proposal by the Commission in the price negotiations is to limit the grant to flock sizes, which would be heavily discriminatory against the United Kingdom. Will he ensure that that does not get through?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right and is at one with us in fighting against that. I draw to his attention the fact that that is one of the things we find so unacceptable in the policies put forward by the alliance parties, which constantly suggest that we can have a policy in the Community that gives special help to small farmers while ignoring the fact that small farms in the Community are very much smaller than small farms in Britain. It is no good suggesting that we can have a Community policy that excludes all those small Farms but gives special help to British small farms. One can say that only if one's remarks are directed at the electorate and not at the Community as a whole.

Will the Minister address the real concerns of those who are raising sheep in the hills and uplands, namely that measures to constrain production of cereals on lowland ground will lead to the expansion and proliferation of sheep flocks in these areas, to the detriment of the store breeders in the hills and uplands?

That is why, in the proposals by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the suggestions for set aside will not allow payment to be made for those who move into grass and use that grass in competition with those on the hillsides. When any of the hon. Gentleman's constituents raise these concerns, he is able to defend the policies of the Government in protecting their interests. I hope that he will also tell his constituents the truth about his policy, which would harm them very considerably.

Milk Quotas


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next intends to have discussions with the European Community Council of Ministers about the operation of milk quotas.

The next meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers will start on 27 April, but the operation of milk quotas is not on the agenda for that day.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep resentment felt by many British dairy farmers over the fact that New Zealand imports are included in the British national quota? Does he think that this is fair, particularly when one third of the butter consumed in this country comes from New Zealand?

My hon. Friend will remember that when we joined the Community, part of the negotiation was that part of our butter market should be available to New Zealand. My hon. Friend will also recall that the importation of New Zealand butter has halved since we joined the Community, and each year imports are on a descending scale. This matter will come up for review again next year, and no doubt the comments of my hon. Friend will be heard and noted by the Commission at that time.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, since New Zealand has reneged on her defence commitments, she has no further claim to part of our market for agricultural produce?

I hear what my hon. Friend had to say. I think he knows, as I do, that many farmers in Britain have expressed similar views. However, it is not a matter for immediate negotiation. It will come up again next year.

Is the Minister aware that when I recently attended my regular meeting with the Cumnock branch of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, the right hon. Gentleman was about as unpopular there as at the annual meeting of the National Farmers Union of England? One of the questions asked by my constituents in the farming industry related to reductions in milk quotas. Can the Minister say what compensation will be given to farmers who are compulsorily required to reduce their milk quotas? Will it be in any way similar to that given to those taking part in the outgoers scheme?

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first comment, I can only say that these are not happy times to be a Minister of Agriculture anywhere in Europe. At least I have not been burnt in effigy, as my German colleague has been on a number of occasions—[Interruption.]

Compensation for reductions in milk quotas is to be made at the same rate as in the previous outgoers scheme—27·5p per litre will be paid over seven years. The temporary suspension of quota will be compensated at 6·5p a litre. Bearing in mind that the average profit on a litre of milk is between 3p and 4p, the hon. Gentleman will surely agree that the second of those levels is generous.

My right hon. Friend has presented the House with a great temptation this afternoon, but will he reconsider the very relevant question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox)? Is it fair, when my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on the Front Bench make great play of the contribution to dairy surpluses made by the United Kingdom dairy industry, that we should have to accept about 76,000 tonnes of New Zealand butter, when that is the reason for our contribution to the surplus? Will my right hon. Friend say now that he thinks it wrong that United Kingdom dairy farmers' income and future should be placed in jeopardy because we in the United Kingdom take sole responsibility for New Zealand butter in the EEC?

Yes, but many hon. Members at the time of our accession to the EEC were insistent that adequate steps be taken to preserve the position and to look after New Zealand. If my hon. Friend would be good enough to look at the figures, he would see that the amount of butter that is manufactured in this country and put into intervention is larger than the amount that is imported from New Zealand.

Does the Minister accept that, even after the recent rise in the outgoers scheme price, it is almost certain — as market prices are running ahead of the 27·5p a litre that he mentioned — that that will be the flop that its predecessor was? Will he reconsider the position or does he think it just and fair that those awarded hardship quota by the tribunals are still receiving only 50 per cent. of that quota?

The reason why hardship cases last year were not able to receive their full quota was the lack of milk available to be allocated to them. We could have allocated 100 per cent. to the hardship cases, but that would have meant finding the milk from the others who had set quotas. Unfortunately, we cannot produce spare quota from thin air.

When my right hon. Friend read the recent Court of Auditors report, did he notice that the cost of cold storage for butter stocks alone exceeded the entire revenue that was raised by the milk co-responsibility levy? Does that not show what nonsense has been made of CAP economics, and does it not point to the need for further sensible reform that is fair to the United Kingdom dairy sector?

Yes. My hon. Friend will know that I have been making that point for a very long time. He will agree that the ultimate nonsense is that half the total costs of running the European Community relate to the storage and disposal of surplus foodstuffs.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next meet the president of the National Farmers Union to discuss the beef sector of the agriculture industry.

I meet the president of the National Farmers Union frequently. On 1 April we discussed a number of matters, including the state of the beef sector.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the president of the National Farmers Union, will he discuss with him the very real anxieties of the hard-pressed beef producers in this country, and in particular the anxiety about the effect on the market of the cow cull that will result from the implementation of the outgoers scheme? Is he aware that there is some confusion about the existence of some 430 million ecu, apparently to help to stabilise the market, and will he be so kind as to explain this to the House?

Yes, I am glad to explain to my hon. Friend that the Commission recognises that measures taken in the milk sector will have an impact on beef producers. It estimated that the cost of the dairy package that would fall on the beef budget would be 435 million ecu in 1987 and 1988. That figure, which was confirmed by the Commission on 27 March, is an estimate of the extra expenditure on aid for private storage and export refunds that could arise as a result of the extra cow beef coming on to the market.

Republic Of Ireland (Beef)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the level of import of beef from the Republic of Ireland.

Imports of beef from the Irish Republic totalled 122,000 tonnes in 1986. The green rate change secured in December has reduced the UK MCA and eliminated the advantage which Irish exporters gained last summer. Imports in the first two months of 1987 were 15,656 tonnes.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the only reason why imports of Irish beef in recent months have fallen below the 10,000 tonnes a month that were being imported at the end of 1986 is that the Irish seem temporarily to have run out of cattle to send here? Is there not a very serious threat of a new surge of imports following the clampdown on intervention buying in the Republic of Ireland earlier this month, and will he take urgent action, either through a further adjustment of the green pound or through any other mechanism that is available to him, to protect the interests of British producers against unfair competition from Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman must, I think, accept that that is not the only reason. Part of the reason is the effect of the change in the green pound that we have already secured, but he is perfectly right in saying that the green pound differential adds to the difficulties and provides opportunities for the Irish in our market. It is a traditional market for the Irish, and the hon. Gentleman is quite right that many British farmers very rightly feel aggrieved that they are being undercut in their own market. However, I would remind him that this is partly also one of the inevitable effects of the beef variable premium arrangements, which were put into operation by his own right hon. Friend. Those arrangements mean that the beef variable premium is payable on Irish products that are sold in this country. In order to put that right, a series of measures will have to be taken. In our negotiations we are very conscious of the needs of the beef industry and of the way that it is affected by our near neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.

My right hon. Friend must be aware that in 1986 beef imports to the United Kingdom from Ireland were 48 per cent. above those of the previous year, and the 6 per cent. reduction in the green pound was certainly not adequate for United Kingdom beef producers. Will he therefore ensure in the negotiations that whatever reduction there may be in the green pound, it will not disadvantage United Kingdom beef producers? They cannot cope with a reduction in the green pound if the same kind of reduction is given to the Irish. The Irish should not be allowed unfairly to compete against United Kingdom producers.

My hon. Friend ought to remember that during the negotiations, and finally almost the fisticuffs, to ensure that the green pound devaluation for beef in this country was equal to that in the Republic of Ireland, we made the point that he has made, namely, that changes in the green pound for Ireland inevitably demand a similar change in the green pound for the United Kingdom if there is not to be a further distortion in relations between the two countries.

Price Fixing


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

At the meeting of the Agriculture Council on 30–31 March Ministers set out their initial reaction to the Commission's price and agrimonetary proposals. I expect negotiations to start again at the meeting of the Council next week on 27–28 April.

What was the Minister's initial reaction to the ludicrous proposal from the Commission on the devaluation of the green pound?

I have told the Commissioner that we are looking very carefully at that situation. If the hon. Gentleman is a little patient he will find that I have some more to say about that at the beginning of the debate this afternoon, provided that I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Commission to discuss the price review, will he reassure the House that he will not accept proposals for a fats and oils tax?

Again, I say to my hon. Friend that I shall be saying more about that later this afternoon. Our opposition to that proposal is exactly the same as it has been in the past. We are wholly opposed to it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that his opposition to such a tax will receive total support from all sections of the House? This is not a partisan issue in the House. The whole of the British people are opposed to any such tax on oils and fats.

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Gentleman. No doubt he was as pleased as I was to note that the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament yesterday voted decisively against that tax. That fortifies me very much for the discussions next week.

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that cutting prices will not solve surplus production, that in the past eight years the price of cereals has fallen by about 33 per cent., and that during that same period production has doubled?

On many occasions I have told my hon. Friend that I am aware that cutting prices alone will not deal with the cereals surplus. That is why I proposed last year to the Council of Ministers — when it met in the United Kingdom — that we should go for a land diversion scheme for cereals. I am glad about the decision that was taken a few weeks ago in Brussels in agreeing the socio-structural package and that we now have a door that is wider open to a scheme of the sort that I have been proposing to deal with the cereals sector. I hope that that will be further encouraged in the course of the weeks and months ahead.

Food Aid


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest information as to the costs incurred by charities in the operation of the European Economic Community food aid scheme.

Community funds cover the costs for charities of packaging free food and transporting it to their own distribution points; and claims for a total of £1·8 million have so far been received by the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce. Onward distribution costs were for the charities themselves.

Does the Minister accept that if any such scheme is discussed in future with the Commission, strong representations should be made to it so that charities can be properly compensated for their loss of time, use of premises and expenses under such a scheme?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should learn lessons from the scheme. I hope he will not say that it was a complete loss. Most of the charities to whose representatives I have spoken have welcomed the opportunities that the scheme gave them. It has enabled them to reach people in certain areas whom they would not otherwise have reached. If the subject is raised again, perhaps the way to tackle it would be to make the scheme more efficient, but I do not know whether it will be raised.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last month the Public Accounts Committee was told that 9,000 tonnes of butter had been given away under the scheme, but that stocks in this country remained at 237,000 tonnes? If he uses the scheme again to give some of those massive quantities away, will he ensure that the details are more accurately thought out first?

My hon. Friend must accept that it was never seen as a means of getting rid of surpluses. It was seen as a means of helping people who had been particularly hard hit by the bad weather. However detailed the organisation may have been, if we had held it up we would probably have got rid of less in this country, given the timing that was arranged. In the end, people can use only a certain amount of butter. We have given away 54 million packets of butter and over 8 million portions of beef. Some of us ought to say how good that is and support the charities for the work that they have done.

Should not the Government accept their responsibilities and properly cover the cost of the distribution of the food, rather than sponge off charities such as the Salvation Army and War on Want in such a disgraceful way?

To my knowledge War on Want has not been involved in this. The Salvation Army and the other charities that have been involved have all accepted the terms on which it was run with great enthusiasm. I am sorry to say to the hon. Gentleman, who I know does not mean his comments in this way, that the only people who are making the sort of comment that he is making are the politically motivated Members on the Opposition Benches.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people in the country believe that this scheme was a very good one and that it provided an advantage for the charities involved to do good work, which is what they are there to do? In future, will he see that the scheme is extended rather than diminished?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it has provided great opportunities and I very much commend the sort of comments that have been made by people such as the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the heads of the Salvation Army and other charities about their pleasure at being able to take part in such an important scheme. Of course we must still learn from it. We are not complacent about it, but the nasty party political backbiting that we have heard from the Labour party is something that we should eschew.

Dairy Quotas And Beef Subsidies


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further representations he has received concerning the current changes to dairy quotas and beef subsidies; and if he will make a statement.

I frequently receive representations on these matters from farmers and industry representatives.

If more dairy cows are to be culled as a result of quota restrictions, can the Minister tell us what the effect will be on the price of beef in the short-term and the longer term?

I think the hon. Lady would probably agree that in the longer term — 18 months or so — the likelihood is that the beef market will firm up considerably because of the smaller dairy herd and the need to bring more forward from specialist beef producers. In the meantime, there is a wide range of views, some of them from independent sources, suggesting that it will not have a major effect. We are certainly going to spend a good deal of money trying to take beef off the market into third markets to try to help. If the hon. Lady will cast her mind back to the original imposition of quotas, the truth was that the effect upon the beef market was very much less than had been feared. The hon. Lady must watch carefully, but my own view is that things will not be as bad as some fear and that in the medium term there is a good future for the beef industry.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure the continuation of the milk quota leasing system, which worked well last year and brought a welcome degree of flexibility to the system? Can he explain why it has been stopped, and say whether he will reinstitute it as a matter of urgency.

We are doing everything possible to defend the flexibility in the system which the milk quota leasing opportunities give. We are the country most concerned with that flexibility. We are opposed by other countries in the Community and I am afraid that the Commission has not always found it possible to support us, although it does look as if it is being a little more supportive now. I hope very much that we will be able to continue that for as long as we have quotas, because flexibility is the name of the game if we are to ensure that the milk industry is open to others and is not just closed on those who are in it at the moment.

May I revert to the figure of 435 million ecus mentioned by the Minister as being the effect of cow culls on the beef industry? Will he now confirm that that is nowhere in the EEC budgets for the coming year, despite the Commission's obvious sympathy, which was mentioned by the Minister?

I have to say that exactly what my right hon. Friend the Minister and I have said in the House has been confirmed by the Commission. There is no doubt about it. The money is there for that purpose. It is there clearly in the budgets and was taken into account when the budgets were drawn up. It is there in the additions. If the hon. Gentleman would like to do the addition he will find that there is an extra sum for that purpose.

Will the Minister tell the House why he supports the Irish beef producers so that they can make a profit while beef producers in the United Kingdom make a loss?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bruit abroad that I was attacked violently in the Irish Dail for my opposition to the Irish subsidy—[Interruption.] My current state is not entirely the result of that. I do not think that anybody could accuse me of being other than extremely strongly opposed to any special treatment for the Irish. The Irish have been treated in a way that is not acceptable, particularly in the original allocation of dairy quotas. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister had a major success in ensuring that on this occasion the Irish got the same treatment as everyone else.

Prime Minister

Cereal Production (Balance Of Payments)


asked the Prime Minister by how much the balance of payments in relation to cereal production has grown since 1979; and if she will list those industries, services or sectors where the balance of payments has grown by an equivalent or greater sum.

In 1979 the cereal sector had a deficit on its crude trade balance of nearly £500 million; for the 12 months to September 1986 it returned a surplus of nearly £100 million. Similar improvements have occurred in some other sectors, including organic chemicals, aerospace equipment, insurance, banking and other financial services, oil and natural gas extraction.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that her reply is, in itself, a tribute to the efficiency and enterprise of agriculture and of the cereals sector in particular?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that farmers have made an outstanding contribution to the economy. They and we know that some things, including cereals, are now in surplus. We have to try to deal with those surpluses because they are taking far too much of the total European budget. We shall try to do so at a rate with which the farmers can cope.

What does the Prime Minister intend to do for those sectors that have not done quite as well as the cereal sector—for example, electrical machinery, textiles and vehicles? In those sectors, a combined surplus of £1,400 million has turned into a combined deficit of £6,400 million under this Government. What will she do for those important industries?

Textiles, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, have made a tremendous comeback and monthly improvements are being made, both in the amount produced and in the excellent textile designs for clothing and furnishings. It sounds to me as though the hon. Gentleman is proposing a good deal of protectionism, which, of course, we reject. We have a multi-fibre arrangement. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Opposition Members frequently ask for more aid for Third world countries while denying them trade.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be a disaster for cereal farmers if their agricultural buildings were rated, as the Labour party wants, or if their products suffered a two-tier price structure, which is what the alliance wants? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Conservative party is implacably opposed to the rating of agricultural properties and to a two-tier price structure?

Yes. We are totally opposed to the rating of agricultural property, which would not only have a disastrous effect on farming but would put up prices for the consumer.

Does the Prime Minister accept that, had the coal or textile industries received the same degree of protection that has been afforded to the cereal producers of Europe, their performance might have been rather better?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the textile industry has a multi-fibre arrangement, through the European Community, which is renewed each time that it runs out. The hon. Gentleman is aware of the difficulties of negotiations that we have with it. He is also aware of the massive subsidies that continue to go to the coal industry each year.



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 April.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today.

During her busy day, will my right hon, Friend find time to consider supporting the Leader of the Opposition in his plea to teachers to desist from strike action, not for the selfish reason of trying to preserve the Labour vote in the election, but for the much more genuine reason that it will do grave damage to pupils and will affect the reputation of their profession?

I believe that parents have no sympathy whatsoever with teachers who disrupt their children's education and deliberately set out to damage their children's educational prospects. Most of us want teachers to be regarded with high prestige and as a profession. Professional people do not set out to damage the education of children in their care.

Has the Prime Minister yet ascertained what message was intended to be conveyed to her by the recent spate of letter bombs?

I am not quite certain what the right hon. Gentleman intends, but I personally find his question rather offensive.

Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay), will my right hon. Friend send a message of encouragement to those teachers in my consitituency and elsewhere who are not taking industrial action? Is not the latest attitude of the appropriately named NUT a classic case of being willing to wound but afraid to strike?

I firmly believe, with my hon. Friend, that most teachers do not go on strike and will not go on strike. They appreciate the enormous increase in pay and the new salaries structure that has been granted to them. They wish to get on with the job of giving a good education to children. Those teachers deserve all our support and recognition.

In view of the various studies that have been undertaken under the Government's auspices into systems of welfare benefit payment, will the Prime Minister tell us whether she is opposed to any scheme that would make payment of full benefit to the unemployed or the families of the unemployed conditional upon their undertaking compulsory work or training?

We have no proposals for compulsory work or training. There are countries that have what is known as a workfare scheme. Such schemes vary enormously from state to state in the United States. At the moment we have the community programme in which people can engage, and we hope that they will engage in it. At the moment we have no proposals for compulsory work as a condition of receiving benefit. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have already put through the House legislation that shows the general structure of our future welfare benefits.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the widespread concern there will be at the use of her phrase "at the moment"? I address the question to her again: is she in favour of forced labour, required as a condition of unemployment benefit, or is she not in favour of such forced labour? That is a very direct question. There must be a very direct answer.

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am trying to answer in a reasonable and reasoned way. The Opposition are not used to that. I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman: young people from 16 to 18 can stay on at school, can stay on in further education, can undertake a youth training scheme—they have a guarantee that they can do that—or they can do a job. I think that we shall very soon be putting to the electorate whether young people who neither stay on at school, nor stay on in education, nor take training, nor take a job, are entitled to receive supplementary benefit.

Can the Prime Minister explain to the House and to the country why, if youngsters are rich and indolent, tax concessions must be offered to get them to work, but if youngsters are poor and despondent, they are punished and have to take compulsory schemes?

The right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. These young people about whom we are talking have the chance of education, training and education through technical colleges, a youth training scheme for which they receive an allowance, or in many cases a job. They may choose to refuse all four, but it is not the Government to whom they then look to pay them. Any benefit they get then is found by working people, and many of us think that they are not entitled to call upon their neighbours to keep them under those circumstances.

Did my right hon. Friend hear or see the news last evening when one of the teachers' union leaders said that they hoped that pupils taking examinations would not be affected? Is this position not totally unacceptable? Will she ensure through the Secretary of State for Education that any teacher who withdraws his labour from pupils taking examinations will be dismissed, and furthermore that the union that encourages that will be prosecuted?

Teachers, if they wish children to do their level best in examinations, will not disrupt the education of those children, but will do everything to stay at their posts and help children study and pass their examinations. As far as dismissals are concerned, teachers are employed, not by Government, but by local educational authorities, and that is a matter for their decision.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 April.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware of the great sense of injustice among Scottish universities in general. and Aberdeen and Dundee universities in particular, at the latest round of cuts in funding? Does she not accept that it is almost impossible for universities to get on with the job of attracting research and teaching students when they are faced with cuts that threaten their very viability?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, total funding to universities this year through the Universities Grants Committee was increased by 10 per cent. How that is distributed is a matter for the University Grants Committee, on criteria that it publishes. Some of it goes according to the excellence of research institutions in universities. The total amount is increased. Distribution is a matter for that committee.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of teachers in my constituency have written to me enclosing their ballot papers for the NUT-NAS ballot, complaining bitterly that the ballot is not secret and that they have to return these forms, with their name and the address of their school open, to their union representative? In these circumstances, they feel that pressure is being quite unfairly brought upon them.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend has brought up that point. I agree with her that undue pressure is being put upon them. It is not surprising that many teachers are leaving both the NUT and the NASUWT, when these matters are occurring.

As there has been great difficulty in retaining both nurses and midwives, and in some parts of the country great difficulty in recruitment, will the Prime Minister accept that it would not be acceptable, for the third year running, not to implement the independent pay review body awards in full, and that it should not be stage? It is of particular importance, if we are to persuade teachers to go for an independent pay review procedure, that they should have confidence in the capacity of the Government to accept independent pay review awards.

As the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, a written question is being answered this afternoon, within about half an hour, on the results of the Government's consideration of the review body reports. I am rather surprised therefore that he chose to ask that question.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 April.

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman must make his question relevant to the Prime Minister's responsibility.

They all want to know about the teachers over there, so I am going to tell them. I repeat the question. Will the Prime Minister agree with me that one of the fundamental principles that divides democracy from dictatorship is the right of working people freely to negotiate with their employers without any pressure from the Government such as to destroy their negotiating power? Now that the right hon. Lady and the most hated Secretary of State for Education and Science that there has ever been — [Interruption] — have totally disrupted our children's education, and intend to continue doing so, will she have a good talk to him? The Prime Minister has only to order the right hon. Gentleman to reinstitute negotiating rights for teachers for all children to be back at school being educated properly.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Burnham committee had not been working for quite some time. It did not work through the most recent negotiations and the teachers' unions could not agree on what they would have. It was because the committee did not work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science had to take the action that he took. He has given teachers the best pay deal that they have ever had in history, including a good teaching structure, and many teachers are grateful for it——

It is something to do with money if they do not get it or if they have not got it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the present negotiating position is temporary. There are many who say that they want a new negotiating position, and so do we. It is difficult, however, to get them to agree on what would be appropriate in the circumstances. We shall use the coming years to secure a new negotiating arrangement, which we want just as much as does the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman referred to matters that had taken place this week. I do not think that the teaching profession has enhanced its status by the performance this week that was seen on television.