House Of Commons
Thursday 9 June 1988
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
London Regional Transport Bill (By Order)
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [10 December], That the Bill he now considered
Debate further adjourned till Thursday 16 June
Teignmouth Quay Company Bill (By Order)
York City Council Bill Lords (By Order)
Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill (By Order)
Falmouth Container Terminal Bill (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday 16 June.
North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Wednesday 15 June at Seven o'clock.
Newcastle Upon Tyne Town Moor Bill Lords (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday 16 June.
Associated British Ports (No 2) Bill (By Order)
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [11 May], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Debate further adjourned till Thursday 16 June.
Oral Answers To Questions
Agriculture, Fisheries And Food
National Pig Breeders Association
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the president of the National Pig Breeders Association; and what matters were discussed.
My ministerial colleagues and I keep in regular touch with representatives of pig producers, including the National Pig Breeders Association, on a wide range of issues.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the serious state of the pig industry, with a large number of pig breeders going out of business? Will he bear in mind the need to continue his pressure in Europe for the abolition of MCAs? Will he examine allegations that some EEC countries are illegally subsidising their pig industries? That practice is unfair competition.
Yes, I am aware of the position of the pig industry. Although prices recently stabilised, as my hon. Friend knows, we are in the classic situation of supply outstripping demand, which is the basic cause of the problem. There is a strong case for the abolition of pigmeat MCAs, and I have been making that case in the Council. As always, it is one of the most hotly contested issues in any Council discussion, with several member states taking different views. It is not easy to get the required majority for any line of action.On my hon. Friend's point about unfair state aids, the Commission is investigating an Italian state aid, which I think will be found to be illegal. It is also investigating French state aids. We are always assiduous in drawing such matters to the Council's attention.
Is the Minister aware that, according to the latest figures from the National Pig Breeders Association, in the year to April, the prices that breeders were paid for pig products dropped by 12 per cent., yet the increase in supermarket prices was 2 per cent.? Can the Minister explain that? Could the reason be that a cartel is being run by the major superstores in this country?
They are matters for commercial consideration. The basic reason why pig prices have fallen is that supply and demand are currently out of balance; supply is greater than demand. However, although the price to pig producers has fallen, the average ex-farm price of feed wheat is now nearly £17 per tonne lower and hat feed barley is about £5 per tonne lower than they were at this time last year. That is undoubtedly helping margins.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the serious position of the pig industry in Northern Ireland, which is on the periphery of the United Kingdom? Can he give the House any inkling about how his negotiations are going and what is being done to rid us of MCAs?
:Ever since price-fixing discussions began I have been pressing pigment MCA as one of my main issues, and I shall continue to do so. I have again done so this week. We shall return to the Council on Monday of next week, when it is hoped that we shall start to reach conclusions. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall again press the matter then.
In his discussions with the National Pig Breeders Association, did the Minister discuss the implications for the pigmeat trade of the freeing of the market in 1992? Can he guarantee that the health of the British public will remain protected against infected imported meats?
Obviously I bear the move to 1992 very much in mind when arguing for the elimination of pigmeat MCAs. However, I believe that that case is already very strong because the current position is out of kilter with the original reason for setting pigmeat MCAs, so I should like them to be eliminated now. Certainly it should be done by 1992.We are moving towards harmonisation with regard to protection against disease within the Community. However, it is very important that we have guarantees from countries that are swine fever free that their Governments are as assiduous as we are in ensuring that those areas remain disease free.
National Farmers Union
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the president of the National Farmers Union; and what matters were discussed.
I last met the president of the National Farmers Union formally on 16 May when we discussed the Commission's 1988℃89 farm price proposals. I have met him informally on a number of occasions since.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the president, will he make clear to him the importance of the sugar beet sector to Norfolk farmers, particularly bearing in mind the despondency in agriculture at the moment? Sugar beet is one of the few bright lights on the horizon. Will he assure the House that no sugar beet package will be agreed at Monday's Council meeting that puts the United Kingdom at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis Italy and France? Will he do all that he can to persuade the Community to prevent Italy and France from renewing national aid to their sugar beet production sectors?
My hon. Friend will know that I am extremely well aware of the importance of sugar beet to Norfolk farmers. I can, therefore, assure him that I will endeavour to achieve what he asks. At the moment the Commission's proposal is for a price freeze which would not affect the competitive position of the United Kingdom industry. An attempt was made during the lead-up to the summit reforms to undermine our position through the sugar supplementary levy and we successfully fought that off. With regard to the aids in France and Italy, there is no Commission proposal to that effect in the price fixing at the moment.
Does the Minister agree with the statement made by the president of the National Farmers Union today that up to 30 per cent. of support to sheep farmers will be cut under the present proposals of the EEC policy for sheepmeat?
That will not happen under the proposals before us on stabilizers—which is the issue that we have already decided—unlessthere is a massive increase in sheepmeat production which would cause the stabiliser to be triggered in a substantial way. I do not envisage that happening. I have not seen the statement, but I imagine that the president had in mind the future of the sheepmeat regime as a whole. We have not yet embarked on discussions on that, so it is not possible to predict the outcome.
On his next visit to the National Farmers Union, will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to raise the problems raised with me by the Devon branch of the Women's Farmers Union about the continuing and upgraded use of bovine somatotropin in the production of milk? The Women's Farming Union believes that the lack of labelling of milk produced by that method will have a still further depressing effect on the sale of Dorset milk.
There is a question later on the Order Paper about product licensing and that is what will determine whether we see a big expansion, or any expansion, in BST milk. I will answer that question when we come to it and we will have to look at the question of labelling. If there is consumer concern about BST, labelling may be the way to tackle it. However, that raises many commercial considerations which will have to be discussed widely.
In view of the comments of the Select Committee on the Environment on the NFU's sanguine view and the Department's complacent attitude towards agricultural pollution, when the Minister next meets the president of the NFU will he draw his attention to the fact that farm pollution incidents are at their highest recorded level? Will he also tell him that enough really is enough?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not take a sanguine view of farm pollution. He will have seen the comments of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State earlier this week when the latest report was published. We take the matter very seriously and I am anxious to reduce substantially the number of farm pollution incidents. We are not sanguine about the matter.
Milk Marketing Board
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board; and what subjects he proposes to discuss.
My right hon. Friend expects to meet the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board later today to discuss various issues affecting the dairy industry.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board to discuss New Zealand butter, will he confirm that the purpose of the transitional period, which started 15 years ago, was to enable New Zealand to seek alternative markets for its dairy products but that it still has one third of the United Kingdom packed butter market? Is not there evidence that New Zealand can benefit from world markets by the increase in the price of dairy products in those markets? In the last four years alone, that has enabled New Zealand to benefit to the tune of an additional £180 million.
New Zealand's agricultural interests have been active in putting their case throughout Europe and the world. It will be for the Commission to devise any new arrangements with the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand butter industry. New Zealand butter is not part of our quota arrangements.
Is not the European Economic Community a cynical con which makes people suffer, especially small farmers and working-class individuals? Would it not be better if we were honest enough to face the fact that Britain suffers in many ways because of the EEC and that it would be far better to withdraw from it instead of kidding people that the EEC matters? It matters only to rich farmers and to people in big business. That is a fact.
It is not a fact that all classes of people in Britain suffer from this country being in the EEC. The contrary is true.
Is my hon. Friend fully satisfied that the Milk Marketing Board has taken every opportunity to develop innovatory products to counter the flow of foreign-produced dairy products on to our supermarket shelves?
The Milk Marketing Board, together with Dairy Crest, is alive to the competition that it faces on the supermarket shelves. That competition will expand if people continue to buy foreign goods. I am sure that the M MB is looking at every possible way of adding value to milk, thus competing by producing import substitutes, and that it will also do everything it possibly can to find markets for its exports.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects the first arable land to he set aside under his new proposals.
I shall be making an anouncement shortly on the implementation in the United Kingdom of the Community set-aside scheme in order to enable it to go ahead in time for this autumn's planting.
The Minister has a tight timetable. He has to have a scheme in place by 14 July. Does he intend to allow the option of extensive grazing to be used? If so, what type of payment will be involved? If the Minister intends to permit that option to be used, will it not create other problems for agriculture?
Those matters will have to await the announcement, but the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that there is a tight time schedule. We have been working very hard and we are in the final stages of preparation. I am anxious to make an announcement to the House as soon as possible. I know of the widespread interest in the matter and I want to make sure that farmers are able to take details of the scheme into account in their plans for the forthcoming year's planting. As for the hon. Gentleman's last point, I have been listening carefully to all that has been said about grazed fallow, including the views of hon. Members.
Is it intended that when the scheme has been produced, less grain should be grown or that the same amount of grain should be grown on less land?
The primary objective is to deal with the problem of surpluses in cereals, but the scheme has other objectives. When farmers have to set aside 20 per cent. or more of their arable land, it will have a considerable impact on their cereal production. It may not be a full 20 per cent. in every case, but it will have a considerable impact, and less grain is the main objective.
Is it not a sad state of affairs, with one third of the world's population wanting food, that the Common Market and the Minister are getting together to set land aside and leave it fallow? Has the Minister taken into account the fact that after a few years, when some of the land has been lying fallow for a while, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment may come along and say, "As that land has not been used for arable purposes for several years, we can make a further incursion and use it for development"?
The hon. Gentleman's last point does not arise, because normal planning considerations will apply to all land, whether it is set aside or otherwise. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have a substantial food aid programme, but it is not the answer to the problems of agriculture in developing countries and those that are short of food. Those countries' leaders themselves make it clear that they believe that the development of their own agriculture is the important requirement. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would share our concern about the cost to the taxpayer of disposing of the surpluses; hence this measure as well as others.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received about fish farming in England and Wales.
I have recently received a request from the British Trout Association to create a development council for the trout industry and this is now being considered. I am also aware of a number of reports concerning the development of marine fish farming in Scotland.
Is anything to be done about the effluent and disease problem?
We believe it to be an important part of any consideration to ensure that effluent and disease are taken fully into account. Obviously, one cannot buy increased production at an unacceptable cost. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has to take that into account, as it is particularly true of the sort of fish farming for which he is responsible.
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to pay credit to the fish farming industry, which now produces 14,000 tonnes of fish a year worth £30 million and caters for 90 per cent. of the home market, which is no mean achievement? Will he also bear in mind the interests of the 3·5 million anglers in the country who are concerned about water pollution and assure the House that before the water authorities are privatised there is a legal obligation on fish farmers, who might pollute waters, to obtain water abstraction licences before further development?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the tremendous advances in fish farming and to the fact that the price of farmed fish has brought within the reach of large numbers of people products that used to be denied to them. This is a great industry and one which we want to support. I am also concerned about the effect of pollution on rivers and we have already announced that the licensing of water abstraction is to be extended to all fish farms in England and Wales. That will be part of the legislation that comes before the House.
Is the Minister aware that a considerable, if not the greater, part of research work into fish farming in this country is done at the Torry research centre in my constituency? Yesterday he sent me a letter refusing a request for the all-party group of Members with constituency interests in the fishing industry to visit the Torry research centre. Will he advise the House and those hon. Members who wish to visit the centre what exactly is going on at Torry that he wants to prevent them from seeing.
The hon. Gentleman tells only half the story. He does not mention that I gave him specific permission to visit Torry, to meet anybody whom he wanted to meet and to ask any questions that he wanted to ask. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that I am hiding something is wholly unacceptable.
Will my right hon. Friend find time today to read the excellent report of the Freshwater Biological Association and the Wessex water authority on fish stocks in the river Avon in my constituency, which has over 20 fish farms in its catchment area? Will he consider carefully their request and their recommendation for substantial further research into fish farming and the impact of pollution on that industry and the environment?
I shall certainly consider that question. I know that much of the work done is of great importance I also agree with my hon. Friend that the industry has to be taken extremely seriously not only in terms of its contributions to the British economy and its substitution for what would otherwise be imports but for its export potential.
I am deeply concerned about the answer that the Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran). I intend to visit the Torry research station this month. I sincerely hope that I shall have the Minister's agreement to that visit.An effluent causing great concern is that associated with the use of Nuvan 500 EC on fish farms. What information has the Minister about its use on English fish farms and, if it is used, under what regulations is it used? Will he give serious consideration to banning the use of that pesticide on fish farms?
The hon. Gentleman has asked a serious question about Nuvan. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is looking at the issue. As far as we know, there is practically no use of that pesticide on English fish farms. I say "practically" because I do not want to say that there is no use, because it may be used℄although we cannot find any evidence of it. We are looking at the issue because it must be taken seriously.The hon. Gentleman's comment about his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) was the wrong way round. I went to great trouble to ensure that his hon. Friend could have every possible access, for the right reason that it is his constituency. When it was asked what facilities should be made available, I said that all facilities should be made available, because the centre is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I have never refused any sort of co-operation in any such circumstances to Opposition Front Bench Members as I am sure that the right hon. and hon. Friends of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) will agree. It is not normal for any of our institutions to be available to any group of hon. Members who happen to wish to visit them, but I try to make such institutions as available as possible. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South would have done the House a courtesy if he had admitted what I have done for him.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the average annual increase in the price of a loaf of bread (a) between 1974 and 1979 and (b) between 1979 and 1988.
The price of bread rose on average by 14 per cent. per annum between February 1974 and May 1979. The rate of increase between May 1979 and April 1988 was 6·9 per cent.℄less than half the rate during the previous shorter period.
Does my hon. Friend recall that 10 years ago the price of a loaf of bread was a major political issue as it rose inexorably year in, year out, notwithstanding Canute-like food subsidies? From the figures that my hon. Friend has given, will not most people now be able to see which side their bread is buttered and continue to vote for the party of low price inflation?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The price of bread has increased by 30 per cent. since 1960 compared with the price of milk which has increased by 53 per cent. and the price of a pint of beer which has increased by 87 per cent.
Does the Minister agree that much of the top-quality grain used in bread production has been imported and is not home grown, because the bulk of the cereal grain grown in Britain is of poor quality and goes into intervention stores and attracts the subsidies that go with that?
:Because of the climate, the bulk of the grain grown in Britain is of a different quality, not an inferior quality. It is used for different purposes.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made with attempts to devalue the green pound, following the recent meeting of the Agriculture Council.
Discussions are still continuing. I have made it clear to the Agriculture Council that in my view it would be right to take a measured step in the current price-fixing towards the elimination of MCAs from all products by 1992, and to remove them immediately from the pigmeat sector.
My right hon. Friend is aware that I represent a typically inner-city constituency, but, by way of explanation, I should say that even that constituency has three splendid farms on its southern border. On behalf of that tiny minority, may I ask whether the negotiations will ensure that my three constituents and the rest of the farming community will have a fair deal? For the less initiated, how will it affect the cost of our food?
I assure my hon. Friend that I am seeking a fair deal for the United Kingdom farmer at the price-fixing negotiations. I made clear my intentions about the green pound from the outset of the Council discussions. This will, however, he one of the trickiest parts of the negotiations, and we have not yet seriously debated it. My hon. Friend's second point depends on whether there is devaluation and the extent of it. The impact on the retail prices index of a 1 per cent. green pound devaluation is minute.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the 500 farmers in my constituency that his efforts on green pound devaluation, MCA abolition and to prevent unfair subsidies abroad will result in a common agricultural policy that is truly free and fair? Our farmers are the most efficient in Europe, but they demand a free market, not a cheats' market.
I assure my hon. Friend that that is my objective. I think that he used the words "cheats' market" at the end of his question. That is a separate issue, but he will be aware that I am one of the Ministers taking a lead in Europe in the drive against fraud in the CAP.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, pursuant to his answer of 5 May, Official Report, column 588, he will take steps to increase the use of horses as agricultural animals.
It is up to individual farmers to decide how they shall use their horses as agricultural animals. I recently addressed a conference to promote what I think is a very important aspect of farming.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Britain is the only EEC country not to recognise the horse as an agricultural animal? Is he further aware of the damage that that does to racing, breeding, bloodstock, riding and driving in this country? What animal could be more agricultural than a horse?
I do not think so.Will my right hon. Friend take steps to have the horse recognised as an agricultural animal, as it will be in 1992?
My hon. Friend must accept that a horse is an agricultural animal when it is an agricultural animal. When it is running in the Derby, it clearly is not an agricultural animal, and we intend to keep it so.
Pig Movements (Cheshire)
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received regarding Cheshire county council's charges for pig movements.
Representations have been received from a number of individuals and organisations, including the National Farmers Union and the National Pig Breeders Association. All have expressed opposition to these charges.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Cheshire county council is continuing to charge for pig movements, and that that does not have legal status? What action does he propose to take to stop that procedure?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's anxiety about this matter. He has been good enough to write to me about it, but I must reiterate the advice that I gave. This is a county council matter. It is for local Members of Parliament to put pressure on locally elected councillors who, all too often in this matter as in others, are ready to hide behind the Government.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to be in a position to announce the final results of the testing of bovine somatotropin; and if he will make a statement.
Results of trials authorised under animal test certificates are normally submitted to the licensing authority as part of any application for a product licence. They are assessed., together with all other information submitted in support of the application, in accordance with the provisions of the Medicines Act 1968. I cannot forecast at this stage what the outcome of any application in relation to bovine somatotropin would be.
Will the Minister assure the House that when the information is available he will speedily pass it on to the public so that they are aware of BST'? Will he ensure℄I believe that there is cross-party support for this℄that BST-treated milk is labelled as such?
Labelling is a separate question and depends on the outcome of applications for product licences. Two companies have applied for product licences, but the applications must be rigorously scrutinised. The difficulty about publishing the results of the trials is that all data supplied by companies in support of applications made under the Medicines Act are kept in strict confidence. The Medicines Act, under which that takes place, prohibits disclosure of the information.
Is my right hon. Friend's Department paying for, or otherwise supporting, any research into establishing reliable tests to show whether this hormone has been used? Surely without the existence of any such reliable tests it is quite pointless to talk about any control mechanism.
There is a distinction between the animal test certificate and the product licence and before issuing an animal test certificate the licensing authority, advised by the veterinary products committee, has to be satisfied that there is no risk to human health. The authority was so satisfied in the case of the applications for animal test certificates. That is why the test trials are going on. There is no scientific reason to impose conditions on the disposal of milk because we have been advised by the veterinary products committee that there is no risk to human health. That has been the outcome of tests that have so far taken place. Wider tests are now taking place in relation to animal test certificates and in due course we shall have to take a view about applications for product licences.
Raw Sugar Refining
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent proposals made by the European Economic Community Commission have been accepted for assistance in the refining in the United Kingdom of raw sugar imported from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the European Community Commission recognises any special circumstances surrounding the refining, in the United Kingdom, of raw sugar imported from the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries; what proposals have been made to the Council of Ministers; and if he will make a statement.
In this year's price fixing the Commission has proposed a Community-funded aid of about 52p per tonne which will be available to all Community pure cane refineries and which could be adjusted to take account of changes in the storage levy and in Community prices. It has also proposed authorisation for a national aid of up to about £3·28 per tonne, 25 per cent. Community funded, on ACP sugar refined in the United Kingdom.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are willing to pay in full whatever percentage of the special refining aid the Commission stipulates should be at the discretion of the United Kingdom Government?
At present we are concentrating our efforts on persuading the Council to adopt the Commission's proposals which provide for this maximum rate of national aid. We shall review our stance in the light of the decisions reached by the Council.
As it has been about two years since the EC agreed to review this sugar cane refining margin, would my hon. Friend like to make a statement to the House about whether the increases will be backdated to 1 July 1987 as was originally proposed?
Under the Commission's proposals, not yet accepted by the Council, the suggestion is that both refining aids would be backdated to 1 July 1987.
Will the Minister confirm that, whatever the outcome of any price negotiations in any year, the commitment to 1·3 million tonnes of cane sugar is fulfillable only if the price permits the exporting Third world countres to cover their transport and refining costs in this country? Is it not therefore important that any price should enable the EC to discharge its moral commitment to those Third world countries with which it is in association?
I know of the great interest of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) in this matter and the employment implications. I agree with all that the hon. Gentleman has said.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether the cost of this extra sugar refining margin will be borne by the sugar producers or directly by the Government? Can he tell us whether we shall simply spend the money of the European Community to which we contribute 20 per cent.?
The Community will contribute 25 per cent. and the Government will contribute the remainer.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with consumer and similar groups about the import and export of irradiated food since the Chernobyl disaster.
As regards exports for which I have responsibility my officials have had contact not only with a great many individual consumers, producers and exporters but with a wide range of trade associations, producer and marketing groups, and trades unions.
In the light of that reply, will the Minister reveal whether one of those organisations is the Asian regional office of the International Organisation of Consumer Unions, which claims that there has been deliberate dumping by Europe of contaminated food in the Third world? Will he set up an inquiry to ensure that Britain is not one of the responsible countries?
I will look into the matter that the hon. Lady has raised. Obviously, dumping of that kind would be completely unacceptable.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what discussions he or his Department have had with other EC countries to try to establish a standard of irradiation for all food stocks when there has been an accident such as Chernobyl?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have had a number of discussions. We have a system which will operate should any such accident take place in the future. However, we have not come to the kind of final decision that many hon. Members would like to see. I hope that the United Kingdom will continue to press for decisions based on the best scientific evidence and for proper protection for the consumer rather than rely on arguments which are sometimes merely emotional.
Will the Minister accept that sheep farmers and farmers generally in Britain played a vital part in minimising the amount of contaminated irradiated food that was produced? In those circumstances, two years after Chernobyl, is it not ridiculous that there are dozens of farmers who have been affected by Chernobyl who still have not had adequate compensation for the trouble that they took at the time?
The hon. Gentleman fails to mention that £5·3 million has been paid out in compensation. The compensation arrangements were worked out step by step with the various unions and farmers were, in fact, considerably compensated. The only cases remaining are those which have specific objections to the rules laid down in agreement with the farming unions. It really is not fair to blame the Government for what has been a generous scheme.
Has my right hon. Friend had his attention drawn to research from Bristol university on the effects of post-Chernobyl radiation on sheep in Somerset and Devon? Is he aware of the urgent need to reassure farmers and consumers in that area on that matter before the subject is exploited by irresponsible people?
I am happy to tell farmers and consumers in the whole of the United Kingdom that there is no danger to human health as a result of Chernobyl. The sheepmeat that has been on sale in the United Kingdom has been wholly safe. At that time I was happy that my pregnant wife was busy eating lamb.
Does the Minister not agree that the research unit at Bristol discovered the new contaminated hot spots, not so much by judgment as by luck? Is it not time that there was thorough research throughout the country to ensure that there are no other hot spots of irradiated land as a result of Chernobyl?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has understood how the system works. He does considerable damage to cast doubt on the safety of the food that is produced in this country. I say again that no lamb has been sold in this country which could possibly he a danger to human health. We stand by that.
Home Grown Cereals Authority
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the chairman of the Home Grown Cereals Authority; and what matters were discussed.
The last time I met the chairman of the HGCA was on 13 April when he and other senior figures from levy-funded bodies came to discuss the industry funding of research in agriculture, fisheries and food.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In those discussions did he raise with the HGCA the possibility of the use of that research for low-cost, low-input, limited output varieties that will reduce the technological pressure on the CAP rather than exacerbate them?
No, because we were not discussing individual items of research. However, I know that research into that matter is going on and a good deal of it will be longer-term. Basically, we were discussing possibilities for more industry funding of near market research, to ensure that the taxpayer was getting value for money and that there were proper priorities in any Government funded research. We also want to ensure proper commercial exploitation of the research that we do. That is what the discussion was concentrating on.
Horticultural Produce (Dumping)
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he takes to prevent the dumping of horticultural produce on the British market.
The horticultural market in the Community is protected from dumping from third countries by the reference price system for major products and by provisions in the treaty and in Community regulations which enable the European Commission to take action to control imports.
Is my hon. Friend aware that strawberries from Holland have been on sale in the Bristol and Liverpool markets at 25p per lb, which is well below the cost of production? Will my hon. Friend act to prevent that dumping by using the same Common Market procedure that was successfully used a year ago by the French Government to reduce imports of Spanish strawberries in similar circumstances?
My hon. Friend is quite correct about the disappearance of the threat of Spanish strawberries to our market. I shall look carefully at what he has told me about Dutch strawberries being imported into this country at a price which he alleges is below the production price.
To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 June.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the President of Tanzania.
Does the Prime Minister accept that many young people are becoming homeless to escape violence, sexual abuse, overcrowding or because of leaving care? Will she explain how, particularly in low-paid Bradford, young people can get together the £100, plus four weeks' rent in advance, which is required by most landlords? Will she explain to Sean Coles, who is 17 years of age, receives £19·40 per week and lives and sleeps in a rubbish skip, how he is to survive in her society? Are squatting or robbing the only alternatives?
Undoubtedly some young people do leave home for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave, but by no means all: many leave home voluntarily. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that there have been changes in the way in which homeless teenagers are provided for financially. Under the old system, they used to get money in advance; now they get it in arrears. It is a new system. Local offices have taken special steps to inform landlords and hostels in their areas about the changes. Claimants are provided with evidence of having made a claim to help them to secure accommodation. The early indications are that landlords are beginning to adjust to the new rules.
To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 June.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome today's decision by the French Government to follow our lead in dealing with sub-Saharan debt? Does she agree that it is a pity that they did not respond more positively to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's initiative a whole year ago?
Yes. A number of proposals have been received about how to deal with the debt problem. They all have one thing in common. They follow the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer of nearly a year ago. I agree that it would have been better if we had had a better response at that time. I hope that we shall deal with the matter effectively at Toronto. In the meantime, I make it clear that this country has already written off £1 billion-worth of debt.
In the light of today's reports from the Low Pay Unit and the Child Poverty Action Group, does the Prime Minister still believe that everyone has benefited from increased prosperity during the past eight years?
I have seen briefly the summaries of those reports. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the figures that were published in May, the low-income families statistics, which are the latest statistics and cover 1981, 1983 and 1985, confirm that people at all levels of income have been getting better off. They show that those on lower incomes have done better than the population in general and that there are fewer pensioners, in proportional terms, in the lower income bracket.
That answer, as anticipated, dealt with the period up to 1986. Will the Prime Minister now bring her own figures up to date? Will she confirm that this year more than one million families and households are worse off by more than £3 a week as a result of the combined impact of the Budget and social security changes? Will she confirm that a total of seven million households are about to suffer a fall in their standard of living?
I believe that the Child Poverty Action Group figures referred at the latest to 1985; of course ours go beyond that. The Child Poverty Action Group figures are related strictly to the outdated method of supplementary benefit, whereas we are on a wholly new benefit system now. With regard to the new benefits, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, some 88 per cent. of people are on either the same or an improved rate of benefit—[Interruption.] Yes some others are on a lower rate.
That answer may or may not be accurate. [Interruption.] It suffers from the minor deficiency of being the answer to a quite different question to that which I asked. So I ask her again, will she tell us yes or no, whether the very large number of families I quoted will be worse off as a result of the Budget? If she goes on waffling with this answer as she did with the previous one, it will reflect not only on her compassion but on her integrity as Prime Minister.
No, I will not confirm the right hon. Gentleman's figures. The Budget was an excellent one. It has helped many people on lower pay because it has increased the allowances by twice the amount of inflation. It has also reduced the standard rate of tax which, at the time when the right hon. Gentleman was in power was 33p in the pound, and is now down to 25p in the pound.
Given our long-standing commitment to the independent nuclear deterrent, our recently announced support for the European fighter aircraft programme and our continuing full implementation of the armed forces pay review body recommendations, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's defence policies are intellectually well founded, firm and consistent, unlike the increasingly divided, indecisive and floundering policies of the Opposition?
Yes, our defence policies effectively safeguard the defence of this country and ensure that we are staunch allies of NATO, including its vital nuclear deterrent policy. I have not been able to make out the Opposition's policy. I do not believe that it has changed from having absolutely unilateral nuclear disarmament and no nuclear deterrent.
Does the Prime Minister share my concern for the welfare for the fishermen from the County Down coast who have suffered substantial losses of tackle, catches and equipment because of submarine activity in the Irish sea? Does she also share my concern about the unhelpful response from the Ministry of Defence, which said that such losses are due to natural underwater obstacles which have the unnatural ability to drag trawlers backwards at considerable speed? Will she take some action to alleviate their plight?
Of course I am concerned about the plight of fishermen, but I do not think that I am going to get involved in this one. The hon. Gentleman must take it up with the Ministry of Defence, in which I have the greatest possible confidence.
The Prime Minister will have seen the immensely disturbing reports this morning that Cuban forces are massing on the frontier of Angola and that the South African Government are calling up reserves. In view of the immense importance to the West of South Africa as a stable country, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say precisely where we stand on this matter?
Yes, of course we have seen the reports that there are a comparatively large number of Cuban forces near the Namibian border and comparatively near a very important dam. I think it is important that talks which began in London about the Angolan position are taken further. There is some dispute about where the next round of talks should take place. I think it is important that the two sides should get together and resolve that problem. I think that the Soviet Union too is anxious for it to be solved.
To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 June.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
The Prime Minister will be aware that the Welsh Office has consulted on the need for a new Welsh language Act and that the period of consultation ended in March 1987. Two thousand responded to the call for evidence and more than 90 per cent. were in favour. Does she now think that because of the obvious demand for greater status for the Welsh language in Wales an announcement should be made? If an announcement is to he made, will it include a commitment to legislate at an early date?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the original responses were varied, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales decided to take further soundings. My right hon. Friend and the Minister of State are now considering measures to promote and protect the Welsh language, details of which will be announced shortly. There is, of course, no commitment to legislate.
To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 June.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the report of the tragic incident at a Manchester school in which an Asian boy was killed? Does she agree that that confirms that so-called anti-racist policies only strengthen race prejudice? Is it not now time for us to abandon policies which emphasise the differences between British citizens and to concentrate instead on those which promote the unity of this nation and pride in our achievements, irrespective of class, sex or race?
I agree with my hon. Friend that everyone who settles here permanently has the same rights and responsibilities, and I welcome all genuine efforts to remove discrimination and racism.
To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 June.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Was it the Prime Minister's decision to send the SAS assassination squad to Gibraltar?
We never discuss matters concerning security forces in this House.
To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 June.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that unemployment in my constituency of Beverley in the north of England has fallen by 22 per cent. in the past year? Is she further aware that male manual earnings in Humberside are higher than the United Kingdom average? Does that not suggest to her, that her economic policy works for the north of England as well as the south?
Yes, unemployment is falling in all regions, including Humberside which is now doing well. I agree with my hon. Friend that the overall policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are returning enterprise to all parts.
Has the Prime Minister had time to read today the report of the committee on medical aspects of radiation in the environment, which points to a direct link between Dounreay and an increased incidence of leukaemia, and recommends that increased monitoring, including full body monitoring, should be carried out? Will she confirm that this increased monitoring will apply not just to Dounreay but to every nuclear establishment in Britain?
The committee on medical aspects of radiation in the environment has completed its consideration of the incidence of leukaemia in under 25-year-olds living near the Dounreay nuclear plant in Caithness and its report is published today. As my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for health in Scotland said yesterday, the Government have accepted the report and are now considering how best to implement the recommendations contained in it. The report identifies a number of possible explanations for there being six cases of leukaemia where only one would have been expected. It does not point to any particular explanation and therefore considers that all possible explanations require to be investigated further. Recommendations for these further investigations are made and are accepted.
To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 June.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that her welcome and support for the success of the summit last week has been widely echoed throughout the country? Will she confirm that further rapid progress in the improvement of relations between East and West will be made possible if there is rapid success in the negotiations relating to the elimination of chemical weapons and to the reduction of the imbalance in conventional forces in central Europe?
I agree with my hon. Friend in welcoming the ratification of the intermediate-range nuclear weapons agreement. The next step should he to complete the negotiations on reducing United States and Soviet strategic nuclear weapons by 50 per cent. After that. as my hon. Friend pointed out, we must get on with the negotiations preferably to abolish chemical weapons and those on conventional weapons, and we now have a mandate to do that.
Business Of The House
Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?
Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 13 JUNE—Until Seven o'clock, private Members' motions. Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill. Ways and Means resolutions relating to the Finance (No. 2) Bill. Progress on remaining stages of the Housing Bill. TUESDAY 14 JUNE—Progress on remaining stages of the Housing Bill. Motion to take note of EC documents on the limitation of the emission of pollutants from large combustion plants. Details will be given in the Official Report. Motions on the Building Societies (Commercial Assets and Services) and the Building Societies (Limits on Commercial Assets) Orders. WEDNESDAY 15 JUNE—Completion of remaining stages of the Housing Bill. The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at Seven o'clock. THURSDAY 16 JUNE—Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill [Lords]. Motion to take note of EC document on weights and dimensions of certain road vehicles. Details will be given in the Official Report. Motion to take note of EC documents on proposals to extend roadworthiness testing. Details will be given in the Official Report. FRIDAY 17 JUNE—There will be a debate on the growth of the tourism industry on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. MONDAY 20 JUNE—Completion of remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill [Lords].[Debate on Tuesday 14 June 1988. Relevant European Community Documents: (a) 11642/83, (b) 5124/85, (c) unnumbered, air pollution from large combustion plants.Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 78-xxvii (1983–84) para 4; (b) HC 5-xviii (1984–85) para 2.Debates on Thursday 16 June 1988. First Debate. Relevant European Community Document: unnumbered, commercial vehicles: weights.Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee: HC 43-xxvi (1987–88) para 2.Second Debate. Relevant European Community Documents: ( a) 6878186, (b) 7946/87, roadworthiness tests for motor vehicles and trailers.Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 21-xxiii (1985–86) para 5 and HC 21-xxvii (1985–86) para 4; (b) HC 43-iii (1987–88) para 2.]
I thank the Lord President for telling us what the business is.I think that the whole House recognises that the Minister for Housing and Planning is having great difficulty in producing a Housing Bill that makes sense even of his own proposals. Will the Lord President accept that the intention to complete the Commons consideration of this measure next week will put an intolerable burden on the House and is likely to result in an even shabbier than normal Act of Parliament? Does he not accept that, with the Government having tabled no fewer than 183 new clauses and amendments, there is no possibility of their being properly considered? Will he seriously consider our request that further time be devoted to this Bill, even if it is only to make sure that the Bill is eventually a workable piece of legislation? Having said all that, I must ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can tell us when we are to have the opportunity to consider the proposals on short speeches. Turning from short speeches to the Short money, when can we expect to debate the proposals for uprating the funding of Opposition parties? The Lord President will be aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has long been promising something that he refers to as the Welsh valley initiative. Can he give us an undertaking that that will be announced in the House before it is announced anywhere else? When can we expect the oft-promised general debate on foreign affairs? Finally, the Lord President will recall that last week I asked him if he would look into the police restrictions placed on access by right hon. and hon. Members to Downing street. I wonder whether he is in a position to make a statement on that now.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) asked me six questions about the business for next week and I shall seek to answer them in the order in which he asked them.I understand that the Opposition are in some difficulty in respect of the Housing Bill. I believe that the time allocated is adequate, but I recognise that there is some concern. I am prepared to have discussions through the usual channels to see whether any assistance can be provided. As to short speeches, I regret that the motion that I originally tabled could not be debated at the time that I intended. I hope to bring forward that motion again in the near future. With regard to the Short money, the financial assistance to opposition parties, I hope that it may be possible to make an announcement about the timing of that debate in my next business statement. I confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales hopes to make a statement in the House on the valleys initiative in the very near future. It is my intention to have a debate on foreign affairs in the very near future, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the precise timing is best left for discussion through the usual channels. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, he raised last week the question—as did one of his hon. Friends—of Members' access to Downing street. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department explained in a written answer on 7 June to his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)
It was most unfortunate that some right hon. and hon. Members were mistakenly prevented from entering Downing street to present a petition. I hope that the House will accept that that was a genuine misunderstanding and nothing more. The Metropolitan police restrict access generally to Downing street in pursuance of their common law duty to prevent crime and disorder, but it has never been the intention to prevent hon. Members from pursuing their parliamentary duties."Fresh instructions have been issued by the police to make it clear that, as hitherto, no restrictions should be placed on the number of hon. Members who need to enter Downing street in the course of their parliamentary duties."—[Official Report, 7 June 1988; Vol. 134, c. 448.]
Order. As we have been away for a week, I will repeat a statement that I made earlier this Session. The purpose of business questions is not to make a speech about a subject of an hon. Member's choice, but to ask for a debate. In order that I may be as generous as possible in calling Members to put supplementary questions, I ask hon. Members to confine themselves to one question and not to make a speech or to expect a detailed reply.
In view of the firm undertaking last night by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) to renationalise the Rover Group, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on the state of the privatisation programme so that those people who work for privatised companies, or for companies which are to be privatised, may be very clear about their fate under any future Labour Government?
Enough was said in yesterday's debate to cause people concern about what might happen should there unfortunately be a change of Government at any future time. I should like to arrange such a debate, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the immediate future.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread concern on both sides of the House, and outside it, at the delay in implementing the fair labelling order by his hon. Friend the Minister for Trade? Is he aware that there is widespread support for that measure, and will he give a guarantee that the order will be laid before the summer recess?
Consultations and discussions are going on at the moment. I shall certainly refer the hon. Gentleman's concern to my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade.
In view of the serious deterioration in security in Northern Ireland, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we have a full debate soon, keeping' in mind that not one person has been made amenable to the law for the terrible massacre in Enniskillen, the 11 murders in South Down and the 17 murders in Castlederg? Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that Members from Northern Ireland can take part in debates on and move amendments to English legislation but cannot move amendments to Northern Ireland legislation?
Of course I recognise the concern of the hon. Gentleman on security in Northern Ireland, the grave and continuing difficulties and the need for a debate. I also recognise the concern about the way in which legislation for Northern Ireland is dealt with. Any changes in that system would be best considered in the wider context of progress towards devolved government. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman an early debate, but I recognise the strength of what he has said and I will bear the matter in mind.
I am sure that the Leader of the House accepts that the report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment on leukaemia clusters requires careful consideration because it raises important and serious issues. Will the House have an opportunity to discuss the report?Will the Leader of the House also consider early-day motion 1185 in the names of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends?[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Government ( Direct Labour Organisations) (Competition) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1988 (S.I. 1988, No. 956), dated 22nd May 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th June, be annulled.] Will we have an opportunity to debate it, in the House or in Committee?
The second point on local government regulations in Scotland can best be discussed through the usual channels.I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the COMARE report which has recently been published. I believe that there should be time for consideration. I cannot promise an early debate but I shall certainly bear the matter in mind.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that an early debate on defence policy would give those of us who favour multilateral rather than unilateral disarmament the opportunity to hail the unexpected but none the less welcome arrival in our ranks of the Leader of the Opposition, even if very few of his hon. Friends appear willing to follow him at this stage?
A debate on defence is an important part of the parliamentary year. We shall have a debate on defence, but the White Paper has only recently been published. I understand that the Select Committee on Defence is in the course of preparing a report on it. I want to have discussions as to the best time for that debate.
Has the Lord President of the Council seen early-day motion 1183 about the tragic crash of an RAF Meteor jet aircraft in Coven try on Monday 30 May and the heroism of the RAF pilot who gave his life to avoid crashing into the houses and the social club in Coventry, South-East?[That this House notes with regret the fatal crash in Coventry of an RAF Meteor T7 jet aircraft during the Warwickshire Air Pageant on Monday 30th May; recognises that the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Peter Stacey, was a hero to give his life by crashing his plane on the only available space of open ground, between a school and two adjacent housing estates, thus avoiding turning a tragedy into a potential civil disaster; recognises that whilst air displays are a popular family entertainment, no entertainment is worth this risk to the lives of people, such as the constituents of the honourable Member for Coventry, South East who had large pieces of debris scattered onto their houses and grounds, which thankfully caused only minor damage; demands that the future organisation of such air displays be modified to ensure areas of dense population aresafe from potential accidents; regards the offer by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Armed Forces, in a letter to the honourable Member for Coventry, South East on 6th June, to send an advance copy of a summary of the findings of the Royal Air Force Board of Enquiry into the Meteor crash, as inadequate; and believes that for the peace of mind of the people of Coventry and the relatives of Flight Lieutenant Stacey, the investigation report should be published.] Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Secretary of State for Defence has not yet made a statement to the House on the crash? Air displays such as the Warwickshire air pageant, during which the crash took place, are popular family entertainment, but no entertainment is worth such a risk to the lives of my constituents who had large pieces of wreckage scattered on their homes and gardens.
I am sure the whole House will share the hon. Gentleman's regret at this tragic accident. A thorough investigation is being undertaken and the results will be made public in accordance with normal practice. I am sure that is the best way to proceed, and that all of us would want to express our sympathy to the relatives of the brave pilot who was killed.
My right hon. Friend's announcement of a debate on tourism will be welcome, but tourists need roads. When will we have a debate on motorway policy so that the north-east can be exploited to the full by tourists, who would love to get there if only the motorways were adequate? There is unanimous support for an adequate motorway system to the north-east from everyone, it would appear, except "Pimply" Heller of The Daily Telegraph and those who advise the Minister.
I have answered previous questions on roads from my hon. Friend. I recognise the connection between roads and tourism. I should have thought that my hon. Friend, with his customary skill, would be able to relate the two in the debate on Friday 17 June.
The Leader of the House will have seen last week's report on riots in Crowborough in Sussex. In recent years, there have been many such occurrences in more affluent parts of the country. Today, the Association of Chief Police Officers, is publishing a report about the new phenomenon of riots in so-called affluent areas. Will the Leader of the House made sure that we get a sight of the report? Will he arrange for it to be placed in the Library? We should debate the matter, if not next week, then soon, so that we can get away from the idea that the problem arises only in inner cities.
I recognise the strength of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, in view of the offices that he has held and his great experience in these matters. I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and see how best to meet the hon. Gentleman's request.
Although it was good of my right hon. Friend to agree to draw the attention of the relevant Minister to the question of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) about the labelling of furs, I remind him of my early-day motion 978.[That this House, noting the intention of the Department of Trade and Industry to introduce a labelling Order to cover the furs of animals caught in leghold traps, a device made illegal in the United Kingdom following the report of the 1951 Scott Henderson Committee, which describes it as a diabolical instrument which causes an incalculable amount of suffering, congratulates the Minister for Trade on taking this valuable step, which will allow the consumer to exercise freedom of choice as to whether or not to purchase garments the production of which will have involved extreme cruelty to animals; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to include in the Order the furs of badger, beaver, bobcat, coyote, cross fox, ermine, fisher, gray fox, lynx, marten, muskrat, opossum, otter, racoon, red fox and wolf, all of which are frequently caught in leghold traps.] My motion has attracted close to 100 signatures from hon. Members. We should get a move on so that people can exercise real consumer freedom of choice.
I have seen my hon. Friend's early-day motion, and I recognise the support that it has attracted. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade wants to get on with it as quickly as he can. He is in the process of negotiations, and I shall urge him to get on with them as fast as possible.
In view of the huge question mark involving alleged financial irregularities hanging over the proposed sale of the National Engineering laboratory at East Kilbride, is the Leader of the House prepared to make time available to debate that vital issue?
I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman time to debate the issue. If he has evidence of financial irregularities, I am sure that he knows the right way to deal with them.
Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the answer that he gave a moment ago, when he referred to progress towards devolved government in Northern Ireland? Will he explain why it is the Government's policy that there should be no devolved administration in Scotland or Wales but that there should be devolved administration in Northern Ireland?
My job is to answer questions about business for next week. I shall not indulge in a debate with my hon. Friend about that issue at present, although there are answers that can be given at the right time.
What proportion of the legislation that the right hon. Gentleman today announced will be proceeded with next week has any application to Northern Ireland?
I cannot give the answer to that question without notice.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the alarming rise in the offence of violence against the police, that 90 per cent. of it is alcohol-related and it is rising fastest in counties like Hampshire, where the police are thinly distributed—widely distributed—over a large area? Dos he not think that this is such an alarming trend in crime that it deserves an urgent debate?
Yes, of course, these are important matters. I stated to the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), that I shall discuss the matter with the Home Secretary. I confirm that I shall do that.
As the Prime Minister has condemned trial by media, surely we should have a special debate to consider the role of press barons, bearing in mind the sort of stories that are repeatedly pumped out about public figures, including hon. Members.
I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman any Government time for such a debate. Perhaps he would like to have a word with his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed the growing number of parliamentary questions relating to pollution of the atmosphere, the earth, and the waters around our coast? Will he find time in the reasonably near future for a debate on pollution throughout the United Kingdom?
I noted my hon. Friend's success in obtaining the 17 May Adjournment debate on the subject of marine pollution. The Government are considering the points that he raised. It is not possible in the immediate future to have a debate on the wider issues. I shall certainly bear the matter in mind.
May we have an urgent debate next week on the Government's flagrant abuse of parliamentary procedures? The Leader of the House will be aware that the Committee considering the Housing Bill finished its consideration on 15 March. As late as last night, new clauses and new amendments, including the "White Paper", were tabled by the Government. The Government are not giving the Opposition a chance fairly to reflect our role in the House by critically examining the Government's proposals. We do not have Report stages any more; we have new Bills on Report. We need an urgent debate on the flagrant abuse of the Government's position.
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I recognise the concern. As I said to the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), I am perfectly prepared to have discussions through the usual channels on matters that are causing concern.
In view of the proposals by Power, Water and Waste Ltd. to import millions of tonnes of festering American domestic waste into the north-west and south-west of England, will my right hon. Friend grant a debate so that hon. Members on both sides of the House can express their opposition to those proposals?
Of course I recognise my hon. Friend's concern. This is primarily a matter for the waste disposal authorities which are responsible for ensuring that any waste disposed of in their areas is dealt with properly and safely. I suggest that my hon. Friend gets in touch with them, but I will bear in mind what he has said.
In view of the widespread concern about apparent unfettered exploitation by loan sharks, when are the Government going to take some initiatives to bring recommendations to the House to tighten up the laws against loan sharks?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has any particular case in mind. If he has, I suggest that he either gives me details or makes details available to the Department of Trade and Industry or 'to the appropriate authority. With regard to matters of financial irregularity generally, I believe that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry acts properly and swiftly in accordance with the law, which we have very much strengthened in recent years.
Earlier this week a teenage girl was killed in my constituency by a heavy goods vehicle. I believe that that was the fourth such incident in Kent this year and it throws into stark relief the importance of a debate on the whole question of road provision in Kent following the building of the Channel tunnel. Will my right hon. Friend grant a debate on that subject?
I am very distressed to hear what my hon. Friend has said about events in Kent. Of course, the subject of roads and the Channel tunnel is a suitable one for debate, and I wish that I could offer my hon. Friend an early date for such a debate. He will recognise the substantial increased resources that the Government have found for the road programme.
Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that in the Scottish Grand Committee this morning we received an extremely unsatisfactory reply from the Minister of State? In particular, he could not assure the Committee that there would be a separate Scottish Bill for the privatisation of electricity. Will the Leader of the House assure the House that there will be a separate Scottish Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it is an important matter. In view of the obscure replies from the Minister of State in relation to the imports of coal for power stations in Scotland, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy to clarify the matter and give some clear sign of the state of negotiations between the South of Scotland electricity board and British Coal?
I have not had an opportunity to read the report of the debates upstairs and I am not sure whether I should comment on it if I had. However, I will take the opportunity to do so, and will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy if I think that he should take any action.
Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time for an early debate on the impartiality of the BBC? Is he not particularly worried that this coming Saturday some 10 hours of air time is to be given over to an organisation that supports terrorism?
These are primarily matters for the BBC. The Anti-Apartheid Movement concert is not a matter for the Government. However, I should tell my hon. Friend that the Government are considering representations received in Pretoria this morning in connection with the matter.
With his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, will the Leader of the House find time, not least in view of the unusually forthright condemnation of racial discrimination by the Prime Minister a few minutes ago, to arrange an urgent debate on racial harassment, in view of the report that was issued only yesterday by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that shows an alarming increase in London alone of 26 per cent. in this particularly unpleasant form of crime?
I recognise the concern and the force of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I cannot promise a debate in the near future.
Will not my right hon. Friend reconsider the question of the BBC's charter and its use of public money? Does he not share the widespread concern, at least on this side of the House, about the fact that the BBC is prepared to spend a large amount of its, and therefore its licence payers', money and a lot of air time on praising somebody who has been convicted of terrorism and who refuses to renounce violence?
I recognise my hon. Friend's concern. There will be an opportunity before too long for a debate on broadcasting, but I cannot promise one immediately.
In the time allocated next Wednesday to the discussion of a private Bill, will the Leader of the House assure us that the Bill that will be discussed will be a private Bill and that he will not be party to a meeting such as that between the Secretary of State for Transport and the outside promoter of the private Bill which became the Associated British Ports Act? We found out later that there had been collusion between the Secretary of State for Transport and that promoter. Will it really be a private Bill or will it, once again, be a front for the Government?
I reject entirely the hon. Gentleman's allegations in respect of my right hon. Friend. The question of private Bills is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. I am quite sure that he will see to it that all proper matters are dealt with.
Will my right hon. Friend find time during the next week, or before the summer recess, for an additional Opposition day, bearing in mind the almost total lack of interest in yesterday's debate, with only 12 Labour Members of Parliament being present for the wind-up after the Rowntree debate and even fewer than that for the wind-up after the following debate?
I am glad to be able to assist my hon. Friend. I am sure that I shall be able to find time for an Opposition day before the summer recess, but I am not responsible for what they choose to debate or for how many Opposition Members decide to come and listen. That is a matter for them.
Could we have a debate next week, or at an early opportunity, on the National Audit Commission's report on the Property Services Agency? Then we could debate that organisation's autocratic and bureaucratic decision to stop the cross-Bradford rail link that would have been a boost for Bradford and Bradford railway services. The local passenger transport authority and the local authority want a cross-Bradford rail link to link the interchange and Bradford Forster square. A debate on the National Audit Commission's report would provide an opportunity for an investigation.
I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate next week on that matter, but I have no doubt that with his customary ingenuity he will find a way to raise matters that he believes to be of concern.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing number of problems that face civil aviation, one of Britain's most successful industries from air safety to airport capacity, from the deregulation of European air services to the computer reservation systems that are currently being studied by the Select Committee on Transport? He will no doubt be aware of the fact that many decisions on these problems will be taken by Ministers and the Civil Aviation Authority before the end of the year, without any need for primary legislation. Is it not very important, therefore, for the House to have an opportunity to debate civil aviation before the summer recess?
I recognise that considerable changes are taking place in the civil aviation industry and that it would be appropriate for the House to debate them. At this time of the year it is difficult to find days for additional debates. I am sorry that I cannot be more forthcoming about when that time can be provided.
Reverting to the Housing Bill that is to be considered on three days next week, is the Leader of the House aware that not only were four important new clauses tabled last night but that one of them, new clause 47, has the novelty of being applicable, after Royal Assent, as from today? Is this not an unusual procedure? As the Leader of the House has said that there will be discussions with the usual channels, will he withdraw his decision that consideration will be completed next Wednesday?
No, I cannot undertake to do that at all. I thought that I was being helpful. The time allocated for the Bill is quite substantial. I recognise that there are some difficulties, and I have undertaken to have further discussions about those difficulties. However, I cannot undertake to say in advance what the conclusions of those discussions will be.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has seen the announcement in today's papers about the intention of the Murdoch group, News International, to flood the country with satellite television by next year. Does he agree that the House should consider this matter and, in particular, how reasonable standards of decency and morality can be achieved and maintained when this happens, in a very short time?
I have seen the announcement. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would welcome the increased competition and consumer choice that the services will provide; indeed, he may well do so. As I said before, I hope that we shall be able to arrange a debate on broadcasting in general before too long, when no doubt some of these issues will be highly relevant.
May we have a debate soon on the way in which many building societies and banks are blatantly in breach of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 in publishing misleading and confusing advertisements about mortgage interest rates? As that result of the mortgage war is wholly unacceptable, will the right hon. Gentleman refer the matter to the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs and seek from him an urgent statement to the House?
As I understand it, there are codes of practice and codes of conduct in these matters. If the hon. and learned Gentleman considers that he has evidence of improper practice perhaps he will let me have the information and I shall certainly see to it that my right hon. Friend considers it.
Having taken time to read the speech by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Trade and Industry yesterday in the Rowntree debate, will the Leader of the House invite the Attorney-General to come before the House? The Chancellor of the Duchy said that he had played the Rowntree takeover completely straight and that he certainly had not asked the Treasury Solicitor to approach the trustees of the Rowntree Trust. Someone must have done; somebody interfered. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Attorney-General to come before the House and explain who exactly put the Treasury Solicitor up to interfering in the takeover bid?
I do not think that I can add anything to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy said yesterday. I shall draw to his attention the point made by the hon. Gentleman and leave it to him to decide how best to deal with the matter.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that issues concerning the implementation of the Single European Act in 1992 are now being discussed in the EEC, including the questions of monetary union and a central bank? Is he further aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday sent to the Select Committee on European Legislation a discussion paper on those matters that should have been debated but which he intends to agree in the Council of Ministers before the House has had any chance to consider the underlying issues at stake? Does not my right hon. Friend consider that it is becoming more and more urgent that the House reconsider the way in which it examines European legislation?
I recognise that there has been some concern in the House about the way in which legislation has sometimes not been considered as it was intended to be considered. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) have been to see me about these matters. A number of EC issues are to be debated next week. I am trying to improve the situation and I shall look into the matter to which my hon. Friend refers.
Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 478, which deals with the hunting of deer by packs of dogs?[That this House deplores the increasing frequency of incidents and damage arising from the hunting of deer with packs of dogs; notes the overwhelming public opinion insupport of the abolition of, 'his unnecessary practice; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce early legislation to give deer the same basic protection from cruelty as domestic and captive animals currently receive under the terms of the Protection of Animals Act 1911.] We seek the introduction of legislation to ensure that deer are dealt with in the same way as captive and domestic animals and to give them the same rights. The early-day motion has broad support in the House and carries 132 signatures. As well as signatures of representatives of the two major political parties, it carries signatures from one of the two alliance parties—if that is not a contradiction in terms—and from the two nationalist and three Ulster Unionist parties. Will time be provided for a debate?
Wild deer are already protected by the provisions of the Deer Acts 1963 and 1980, which provide safeguards against abuse by poachers and against unnecessary suffering. We have no plans to introduce further legislation.
May I, too, refer my right hon. Friend to the Prime Minister's excellent and stirring answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), in which she said in absolute terms that our citizens ought to be treated equally, irrespective of their class, sex or race? Will my right hon. Friend allow time urgently for a debate to allow the Prime Minister to explain how she squares that with the doctrine of positive discrimination enforced by her Government in the teaching of ethnic languages in schools, the allocation of building contracts in the public sector in inner-city areas and her proposals for employment in Northern Ireland?
When my right hon. Friend made her statement, I think that she was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I have no plans for a debate on that matter next week.
May I press the Leader of the House on the subject of the promised debate on foreign affairs? May I ask that the motion be drafted to allow the House a debate about recent events in Pakistan so that we may call on President Zia to hold elections to the national assembly before 29 August and warn him that the reintroduction of powers would have serious implications and create serious difficulties in relationships between the United Kingdom and Pakistan? Will the Leader of the House give such an assurance?
I certainly give an assurance that I shall have discussions through the usual channels about the form of the debate so that widespread agreement can be reached as to its basis. If we have a wide debate, no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able then to raise the points that concern him.
Before the recess, will my right hon. Friend arrange a further debate on the Civil Service to enable hon. Members such as myself whose constituencies are under threat from excessive development to urge the Government to show a lead with a massive relocation of civil servants away from Whitehall? That would benefit the economy in the south-east and in the regions and would offer better value for money to the taxpayer, who funds the Civil Service.
I recognise that this is a big issue of concern to a number of my hon. Friends. I cannot promise an early debate, but I note that the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, who is responsible for the Civil Service, will be answering questions on Monday and it may be possible for my hon. Friend to raise the matter then.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the distribution of butter and beef which is surplus to requirements in the EEC, especially in view of the failure of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to issue tenders for the distribution and packaging of both those commodities?Will the right hon. Gentleman sponsor my Bill to make the code of practice for publicans and tenants statutory so that Scottish and Newcastle Breweries does not evict 35 tenants in my constituency over the next few weeks?
The hon. Gentleman is a persuasive arguer, but he has not persuaded me that I should necessarily sponsor his Bill. I shall refer the other matter to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the widespread admiration of President Reagan's work for peace and for Anglo-American relations? May we have an early opportunity to discuss a suitable high honour for him?
I am not sure how best the House should proceed in these matters. I certainly recognise the President's contribution to world peace and I shall perhaps talk to my hon. Friend about what he has in mind.
Has the Leader of the House noted the large number of early-day motions dealing with badger protection—in particular early-day motions 843, 1091 and 1173?[That this House notes with concern that Her Majesty's Government has no plans at present to legislate for the protection of badger setts; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to initiate suitable amendments to the Badger Act 1973 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1987 so as to afford protection to badger setts as a matter of urgency.][That this House condemns the practice of badger baiting in Britain; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, to protect their setts.][That this House condemns the abhorrent practice of badger baiting, as recently depicted on the Central Television programme, The Cook Report, and calls on the Government to amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, to protect badger setts, increase magistrates' courts' powers to impose heavier fines on convicted offenders, consider increasing the maximum prison sentences for the offence from six months to two years for persistent offenders and make liable those landowners whose employees in pursuit of their employment deliberately kill badgers or disturb setts on their land.] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a recent television programme dealing with the matter showed quite clearly that this abhorrent practice regularly occurs in Britain? Will he find time for a debate on this practice so that we may see an end to it as quickly as possible?
The Government share the abhorrence expressed in early-day motion 1173 but doubt whether additional measures could reasonably be taken that would significantly increase the protection already afforded to badgers under the existing law.
May I respectfully request the Leader of the House to reconsider his answers to my hon. Friends about the Housing Bill? That Bill was considered for a long time in Committee, longer than the poll tax Bill and longer than the Education Reform Bill but, at the eleventh hour, over 160 Government amendments have been tabled. Yesterday, guidelines were published transferring local authority housing to the private sector, which undercut provisions in the Bill.The impression is being created that the Bill is being marginalised in terms of the debate in the House by being put on at the tail-end of Monday's business and, as a result, there will not be sufficient time properly to consider the provisions that the Government have now brought before the House. May I ask the Leader of the House at least to reconsider the timetable, or preferably withdraw the Bill, even at this late stage, until the Government have a coherent policy?
I told the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends that I would have further discussions. I hope that he does not want me to reconsider that, because I would have thought that that was a helpful response. That is the way forward, and there is nothing more that I can add to what I have already said.