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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 134: debated on Thursday 9 June 1988

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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

National Pig Breeders Association

1.

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

3.

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

4.

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.

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

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.

Set-Aside

5.

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.

Fish Farming

6.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received about fish farming in England and Wales.

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

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.

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.

Bread Prices

7.

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.

Green Pound

8.

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.

Horses

9.

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)

10

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.

Bovine Somatotropin

11.

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

12.

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.

15.

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.

Irradiated Food

13.

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

14.

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)

17.

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.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

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.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 June.

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

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.

Q3.

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.

Q4.

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.

Q5.

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.

Q6.

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.