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Commons Chamber

Volume 170: debated on Thursday 19 April 1990

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House Of Commons

Thursday 19 April 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Private Business

Birmingham City Council (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [26 February],

That the Bill be now considered.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 26 April.

River Tees Barrage And Crossing Bill Lords (By Order)

Read a Second time, and committed.

As the next 13 Bills set down for Second Reading have blocking motions, with the leave of the House I shall put them as a single group.

Adelphi Estate Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [27 February],

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 26 April.










Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 26 April.

Exmouth Docks Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [29 March],

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 26 April.



Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 26 April.

Oral Answers To Questions

Oral Answers To Questions

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. By opting to go to Sandringham this afternoon rather than being in his place for Agriculture Question Time in the House of Commons, has not the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food got his priorities wrong? I admire much of the work of Prince Charles, and I have been a staunch supporter in difficult times of the European Community, but does the House agree that it is deeply unhelpful that the heir to the throne and a European Commissioner should consider that their business, however interesting and praiseworthy, should take precedence over a Minister's duty to be in the House of Commons for his own Question Time?

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was going to explain in answer to the first question the reasons for my right hon. Friend's absence. As the House will recall, this Question Time was originally fixed for 5 April and my right hon. Friend, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and two European Commissioners— for agriculture and for environmental affairs—had a long-standing engagement today. My right hon. Friend hopes that the House will understand the importance of his keeping that engagement to deal with extremely important matters.

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Beef Industry


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the present state of the beef industry.

The beef breeding herd is at its highest level for a decade. Last year there was a rise of 9 per cent. over 1988.

Under European Community rules, the Government could pay up to £71·37 per cow in hill livestock compensatory allowance. At the moment they are paying merely £54·50. Why will not the Government support hill farmers to the hilt when their incomes are depressed largely as a result of Government policy?

The Government support hill livestock producers very substantially. We recently increased the hill livestock compensatory allowance for sheep producers and we judged that that was the best place to put a limited resource. The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that last year we increased the suckler cow premium by 42 per cent. and extended it to smaller farmers. That particularly affects beet producers, 60 per cent. of whom are in less-favoured areas. We direct £50 million a year in HLCAs to beef producers in the uplands. So we have nothing to apologise for in our support of the beef industry.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the increase in the suckler cow subsidy does much to improve confidence in the beef industry? As rearing hill calves is a long-term project, will he give as early warning as possible about the future of the HLCAs for next year so that farmers can plan with confidence?

I take heed of my hon. Friend's comments. The fact that we have to negotiate in Brussels means that sometimes we cannot give as much warning as we should like because negotiations are delayed. It is certainly true that we have at heart the welfare of those beef producers.

As the issue dominating the beef industry is mad cow disease, why do the Government refuse to implement the recommendation of their own Tyrrell working party and undertake a random sample of dead cows at slaughterhouses to ascertain the extent of mad cow disease in the British herd?

The reason is that the measures that we have taken are more effective. We maintain extremely effective controls, and many of our actions have gone beyond the recommendations of our scientific advisers. We believe that the precautionary approach is right. We have done everything possible to safeguard public health and have gone beyond many of the recommendations made in that respect.

Food Hygiene


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the hygiene standards of British food resulting from the Food Safety Bill and those of food from other European Community countries.

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

The Food Safety Bill is a joint initiative between my Department and the Department of Health.

Once the Bill and various subsidiary regulations are in place, we will have a comprehensive and flexible framework in controls, equal to the very best in the world.

My hon. Friend and the whole House will be aware that the Food Safety Bill creates a framework for a mass of secondary legislation in the form of regulations on food safety. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will consult widely and thoroughly on all the regulations before they and the Bill become law to ensure that British food continues to be as safe and wholesome as any in the world?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Bill allows us to consult on a wide variety of regulations and I can give the House the assurance that he seeks. We will consult widely on the regulations that will be required as the Bill becomes law. We shall conduct those negotiations and consultations during the summer. I thank the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for his kind comments about the Bill in an article in the Financial Times last week.

If food hygiene standards in Britain are as high as the Minister says, why has food poisoning increased fivefold since the Government took office?

It is strange for the hon. Gentleman suddenly to attribute food poisoning to the Government taking office. That is quite bogus and the correlation cannot be made. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is so.

Sugar Beet


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the future of the United Kingdom sugar beet industry.

The United Kingdom sugar beet industry grows and processes about half the United Kingdom's sugar requirements. We will seek to ensure that British sugar interests are defended in the forthcoming review of the Community's support arrangements.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is in the British interest that British Sugar should remain a British-owned company? Does he agree that foreign acquisition of it would be bad for employment and bad for British sugar beet growers?

The ownership of British Sugar is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Office of Fair Trading. My function is to ensure that the interests of British beet farmers and British beet production are safeguarded. I shall pay close attention to that in the negotiations.

Has the Minister discussed the representations concerning the future of the British sugar beet industry with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture?

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government intend to continue to import the present tonnages of cane sugar?

Yes, I can give that assurance. The importation of 1·3 million tonnes of cane sugar from the developing countries is important to the United Kingdom. It constitutes half our supply and a major outlet for cane producers. Next month, I shall address the ministerial meeting of the African, Caribbean and Pacific producers on precisely that subject.



To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has met poultry farmers to discuss the problem of salmonella poisoning during the last six months.

Ministers and officials at my Department have, on a number of occasions, met and corresponded with individual poultry farmers and organisations on matters relating to salmonella.

Is the Minister fully aware of the serious anxiety and vulnerability of most egg producers? Is not their critical position compounded by the importation of foreign eggs, which may be dumped? Although they are subject to testing, is he aware that the rest of the batch of eggs not taken for testing will have been eaten long before the results of the test are known? Is not that ridiculous?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as has been stated many times in the House, we do not have the power to ban the importation of foreign eggs. Nevertheless, we have followed—and are keen to follow—the Select Committee's advice that we should redouble our efforts in the EC to achieve EC-wide salmonella controls. I am pleased to tell the House that those negotiations are proceeding apace. We expect to hear proposals from the Commission in May with a view to their being completed this year. That is the best safeguard that we can give to our producers and consumers.

Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's excellent efforts to achieve EC-wide safeguards against salmonella, will he bear in mind the fact that other European countries have a far lower standard of overall hygiene than we have? Will he ensure that nothing in the harmonisation process weakens the effects of the Food Safety Bill or the ability of the Government to safeguard our people against food poisoning?

The criticism at present is that we are making too strenuous efforts to control aspects of food poisoning. We do not intend to weaken our efforts to protect our consumers, irrespective of what products they are eating. We shall be stressing in Europe the need for Europewide controls to be placed as effectively in other EC countries as they are placed here.

What is the point of testing the eggs if the vast majority have already been eaten?

Because we can take up the matter immediately with the Government of the egg-producing country concerned—as we did when we found salmonella in eight consignments of eggs—and that Government can take the necessary action. That is the extent of what we can do under existing salmonella controls and that is why we want better ones. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that in the first two months of this year egg imports represented only 4 per cent. of eggs consumed. That is a small proportion of our egg supply.

Will the Minister reassure me that rare breeds of hens will be safeguarded? They may require a special regulation. Their gene banks are very important.

I am delighted to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. There is no question of a special rare breed of bird being exterminated. However, I also give the House the assurance that anyone who sells eggs to the public for profit, whether those eggs come from rare brids or others, cannot expect to be exempt from the salmonella controls or from our public health measures.

Fishing Industry


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received from representatives of the west coast of Scotland fishing industry.

In response to concerns expressed by west coast fishermen, we have issued a consultation document on fisheries management on the west coast.

May I ask the Minister specifically about the proposal to allow the aggregation of licences? Will he take on board the concern expressed by west coast fishermen that that will simply mean that larger operations, usually on the east coast of Scotland, will buy up the smaller boats of the west coast? That will mean a loss of livelihood for west coast fishermen and will harm conservation in the long run.

I wish to get the terminology straight. The proposals that we have just announced are for the aggregation of capacity, not licences. Even if we then proceed to adopt a consultation document on the aggregation of entitlements, it will not concern licences as such. We are a long way from a transferable licence, although, as I have always made clear, it is an option. The aggregation of capacity is a limited measure which aims to get fishermen away from the tight straitjacket of being unable to increase tonnage or horsepower at all. Fishermen can now buy a bigger boat and obtain the catching capacity entitlement that goes with a boat of that size. Fishing entitlement aggregation would be a more radical measure and would push more in the direction of the rationalisation of the fleet. However, we are committed to consulting widely before introducing such a measure.

Does the Minister understand that thousands of fish processing workers in the west of, and throughout, Scotland face a wage freeze in the current year? Does he appreciate that they are among the lowest-paid industrial workers in the country, in most cases earning £100 or less for a full week's work, at a time when inflation is pushing towards double digits? How long will it be before the Minister and his colleagues snap out of their complacency and introduce a crisis package of measures to stabilise the fortunes of the industry, onshore and offshore?

What the hon. Gentleman means by crisis package of measures to stabilise the industry is that we should simply give it more money; that is his familiar theme. The action that we plan to take is, first, to make management more effective, with the series of measures that I outlined to the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) and, secondly, to tackle seriously the question of conservation. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that workers in the west coast processing industry would be much worse off if we did not manage our fisheries to ensure that there was fish to catch in the future.



To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has received any representations about the competitive position of bakers using north American grain in preference to European grain; and if he will make a statement.

I have received no representations, but I am arguing for a reduction of the high levy imposed on north American wheat in the current price negotiations. The bread-making quality of home-produced wheat has improved to such an extent that we now use less than a tenth of the amount of imported grain that we were using 10 years ago.

Will my hon. Friend do his utmost to achieve a reduction in agriculture tariffs at the forthcoming GATT talks so that quality bakers, such as Warburtons in my constituency, no longer have to pay a levy of £100 a tonne on imported north American high protein grains?

We shall press to get levies down and the GATT talks will almost certainly result in a phased programme of cuts sustained over a number of years. Without that, I do not think that the GATT talks would succeed at all. I remind my hon. Friend that the stabiliser has produced three years of cuts in grain prices and that farmers are feeling the pinch. It is only fair to say that if we obtain the green pound devaluation for which we are aiming—in the United Kingdom, at least—grain prices will rise, which will put farmers on more equal terms with their competitors overseas.

Does the Minister accept that the major problem affecting competition with European grain producers is the enormous burden and disadvantage imposed on the home industry as a consequence of the gap between the green pound and sterling? Does he accept that the original proposal to cut the gap by one third is inadequate in relation to those commodities for which the difference is well over 10 per cent.?

The hon. Gentleman will see from the arrangements that were on the table when the price-fixing negotiations broke up a few weeks ago that the devaluation of one third had rather passed into history. We very much hope that when the negotiations resume, it will stay part of history.

As British millers and bakers are buying wheat at 30 per cent. less in real terms than they were five years ago, does my hon. Friend agree that it is about time they passed on some of their good fortune to their customers?

It is certainly true that the price of grain as a raw material for the bread maker has not increased recently. It is also true that we must strike a balance—that is what most politics is about—between the interests of the producer and the interests of the consumer. At the moment, it is the producers who believe that they face an injustice, and we are trying to correct that.

Eastern Europe


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of his discussions following his recent visits to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria.

The principal purpose of my right hon. Friend's visits to Poland, Czeckoslovakia and Bulgaria was to support political and economic reform in those countries and to seek export opportunities for British business men.

As he is one of the foremost defenders of British fishing interests, will my hon. Friend allow me to congratulate him on organising a three-month course on fisheries management at Hull for Polish fisheries managers, at a cost to the British taxpayer of £133,000? Does my hon. Friend agree that, in view of the size of the eastern bloc fishing fleet and as trawlers no longer have to eavesdrop on boring ministerial conversations and can concentrate instead on fishing, it is important that Britain leads the way in showing the eastern bloc fleet how to conserve its stocks rather than continue to plunder them recklessly?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The project that he mentioned is an example of the carefully targeted aid that we envisage for eastern Europe. On eastern European fisheries capacity, EC resources are shared out according to track record and there is no case for allowing east European vessels to fish Community waters. I have made it clear at a number of Fisheries Councils that we will not allow Soviet, Polish or other vessels into the North sea.

The West German fleet underfishes by about one third of its capacity and there is room for East Germany to take some of that quota without seeking any general allocation at European level. Of course, some eastern European waters might be available for western fisheries if East Germany joins the European Community.

However, I completely agree with my hon. Friend; we are not in the business of giving away a scarce resource, particularly to those who might not be most attentive to its conservation.

Will the Minister give assurances that measures to help east European farmers will cause minimum disruption to the home industry, for example with regard to the bulk import of cheap fruit pulp? If the object of the exercise is to increase finance for east European farmers, would not it be more sensible to do that by fixing cross-border prices rather than by using the tariff system, which can cause great disruption to the home industry?

When proposals were made to give concessions under the generalised system of preferences to Poland and Hungary, the United Kingdom argued that they should be restricted. We have since had close discussions about careful monitoring of the price arrangements. We can sustain imports provided that the prices are genuine and not dumping prices. We are in touch with the Commission and we will ensure that aid is specific and limited, that it will not damage our industry and that we do not make a greater contribution than anyone else to the necessary process of liberalisation in eastern Europe.

During my right hon. Friend the Minister's extremely successful visit to eastern Europe, did he detect any enthusisam to revert to the old-fashioned and failed economic policies of socialism and communism, or did he find an enthusiasm to embrace many of the economic policies that our Government were the first to introduce in this country over the past 10 years?

I understand that when Belisarius reconquered Italy, he coined the phrase, "If you seek a desert, look around you". I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister looked around eastern Europe and saw that 40 years of socialism had had the same effect. He gained no impression of an anxiety to revert to communism, but of a considerable anxiety to learn some of the elements of capitalism.

Farm Animal Welfare Council


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what reports he is expecting from the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council has just started studies of the welfare of broiler chickens and of animals kept in extensive husbandry systems. I look forward to receiving the council's advice when this work has been completed.

The Minister will be aware that the main recommendation of the February 1990 report from the council was that recommendations in earlier reports, which are still outstanding, should be implemented. He has not implemented those recommendations. Will he ignore the February 1990 report like he ignored all the others? Will he continue to allow animals to be subjected to misery?

The hon. Gentleman's remarks are unfair and wrong. We received two reports in February which we are currently consulting on and studying. We have accepted the overwhelming majority of FAWC recommendations and many of them have already been put into legislative effect. I hope to lay before the House shortly detailed regulations on the slaughter of red meat animals and later this year regulations on the welfare of horses at markets. The hon. Gentleman must be careful before he makes erroneous comments to the effect that we have ignored FAWC reports.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the acceptance of many FAWC recommendations has helped to ensure that this country has one of the best records on farm animal welfare in the European Community? In future changes in the welfare codes, will my hon. Friend try to ensure that those practices are extended, not just in this country, but throughout the European Community so that we do not export unacceptable husbandry practices?

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. When we consider welfare in this country and the excellent FAWC reports, we accept that it is becoming increasingly important to extend those provisions to other EC countries. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister took a welfare initiative in the EC. We sent EC Commissioners a host of recommendations on animal welfare that we would like to be extended across the Community. If we like animals and believe in their welfare, it is not good enough simply to improve their lot in Britain and these islands; the morality must extend overseas, too.

Will the Minister confirm that FAWC has the right to inspect and to report on puppy farms which, in certain instances, have been the cause of considerable abuse? What is the Government's latest thinking on that matter and what do they intend to do to tighten controls in that area?

The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about welfare on puppy farms. This is a matter for the Home Office, and I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is currently considering what action can be taken. I shall certainly pass on to him the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

Further to the previous question, will my hon. Friend take this issue seriously? There have been strong reports about puppy farming in west Wales and we have seen horrific photographs of emaciated dogs being cruelly treated. The matter causes great concern to my constituents and we need Government action immediately.

Those of us who like animals, and especially those of us who love dogs, agree with my hon. Friend that action is required. That is why my hon. Friend at the Home Office is considering what action can be taken. Having heard the views expressed in the House today, I shall be pleased to confirm to my hon. Friend that the House wants action on this matter.

May I remind the Minister that the February report on enforcement specifically recommended that the number of vets in the state veterinary service should be increased to allow them to discharge properly their responsibilities on animal welfare? Given that during the past 10 years the Government have reduced the number of vets in the state veterinary service by 25 per cent., yet, despite that, the Government still apparently have a commitment to animal welfare, will the Minister now undertake to accept that specific and direct recommendation in the FAWC enforcement report and ensure that the number of vets in the state veterinary service is increased?

I have made it clear that, having just received those reports, we are currently considering all the recommendations and are consulting widely on them. The hon. Gentleman should not be obsessed merely with the numbers employed in the state veterinary service. He should be more concerned about how effectively and efficiently it is carrying out its work. I am delighted to be able to tell him that its efficiency and effectiveness has improved considerably. I am proud of the excellent job that it does in all aspects of animal welfare and in enforcing the regulations.

Sheep Fanners


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to ensure that the cash flow of sheep farmers is improved in the next 12 months.

Our plans to pay two advances of sheep annual premium to producers in both less-favoured areas and other parts of the United Kingdom will help the cash flow of sheep farmers.

That reply was welcome, as was my hon. Friend's recent visit to my constituency, where he gave an excellent speech to a conference organised by the Exmoor Society and when he made the valid point that no honest Government could guarantee the income of every farmer, irrespective of the circumstances. Will he confirm that his Department gives the highest priority to providing incentives to farmers to remain on the uplands, because farmers are our best conservationists?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct and I am grateful for his kind remarks, despite the fact that it was raining heavily in his constituency at that time. The Government put considerable resources into the uplands, but we cannot guarantee the livelihoods of all farmers there. However, it is clear that society is putting a higher and higher price on conservation of the countryside, and it is in our interests to encourage farmers to take advantage of that and to add to their fundamental role as food producers, the role of being the guardians of the countryside, as we all appreciate.

Does the Minister agree that the incomes of many sheep farmers are still being reduced because of the loss of stock and the worrying of stock by dogs? What is the Government's most recent estimate of the number of animals that are worried to death by dogs and how much does that cost farmers? Is not it high time that we had a proper dog registration scheme to encourage responsible dog owners and to stop some of the waste of animals' lives as a result of sheep worrying?

Most sheep farmers in my constituency have a clear formula for dealing with dogs that worry sheep.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Buckinghamshire there has been an outbreak of caseous lymphadenitis and that the disease affects sheep? Will he take this opportunity to reassure the House and all sheep farmers that his Ministry is taking all necessary precautions to make sure that the disease does not spread elsewhere?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. The disease has been found in goats, but it has not yet spread to sheep. We have taken strict precautions to ensure that there is no risk to human health.

Is the Minister aware that the announcement that he made earlier about the advance payments is welcome as far as it goes? However, does he accept that a serious cash flow problem faces sheep producers in the uplands, particularly in areas such as the Scottish borders? Does he further accept that one of the best ways to solve cash flow problems faced by sheep producers is to take advantage of the flexibility that he still has within the hill livestock compensatory allowance mechanism, which at present affords a payment of only £7·50 per ewe, whereas the European Economic Community would allow a payment of £10·70 per breeding animal? Will the Government use that flexibility to eliminate some of the cash flow problems facing sheep producers?

I am afraid that there is a Catch-22 in what the hon. Gentleman says. If we were to pay the full amount, the number of animals that would be eligible for the full payment under the headage limit would be reduced. We used the resources at our disposal to increase the HLCAs. We also argued for maximum flexibility in the European regulations. The hon. Gentleman must understand that our resources are limited. We shall always put them where they are most effective.

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 subjects were discussed.

My right hon. Friend last met the president of the National Farmers Union on 4 April, to discuss how the United Kingdom agriculture and food industry could best respond to recent developments in eastern Europe.

When my hon. Friend next meets the NFU, will he assure it of the Government's continuing and strenuous efforts to achieve a substantial devaluation in the green pound? Does he agree that when farmers in south Suffolk and elsewhere call for such a devaluation, they are merely asking for a chance to compete on equal and level ground with their continental counterparts?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we are seeking not to give British farmers an advantage but simply to curb some of the disadvantages that they suffer because of the problem with the green pound. At the same time, farmers should be realistic. Demands that we should devalue the green pound in one go are unrealistic. We shall do the best that we can, taking into account all the facts that must be considered.

Did the Minister discuss with the president his predecessor's abolition last year of the guaranteed price for wool, which will have a disastrous effect on the economy of the hill farming areas? At this late stage, will he have another consultation with the chairman of the Wool Marketing Board to discuss the continuation of the scheme, which has operated so successfully in this country for the past 30 years?

Of course, we have discussed the issue extensively with wool producers and, indeed, with the board. The measures that we propose command broad consensus. We are discussing what the guarantee should be for the current year and hope to decide it shortly. When we eventually introduce the legislation to abolish the guarantee, we expect that it will have broad support in the House.

When my hon. Friend next meets the president of the NFU, will he be able to tell him when European Community Ministers will get round to agreeing not only a devaluation of the green pound, but the final instalment of this year's ewe premium, which is eagerly awaited in this country?

I hope that I shall be able to do that. The premium is fixed by the management committee. At a meeting yesterday it was taken off the agenda by the Commission, as it was the previous month. We are pressing that the decision should be taken quickly so that we can pay the final instalment. I undertake to make sure that once agreement is reached we shall make the final payment within a month to the best of our abilities.

Will the Minister say something about the impact of penal interest rates on the rural economy when he next meets the president of the NFU? Now that interest rate payments from the farming industry have reached a crippling £1,000 million a year and its level of indebtedness has increased threefold to £10,000 million since the Government came to power, does he think that the Conservative party will get any more credit from rural voters?

I am disappointed to see that the hon. Gentleman has not used his recess to think of some new questions. I discuss a large number of matters with the president of the NFU, but few of his comments or the matters that I discuss with my farmers lead me to suspect that they are about to vote Labour. [Interruption.]

Order. The House may remember that just before the recess complaints were made about private conversations during Question Time. I hope that that will not happen now.



To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on measures available to protect horses and other equines from abuse; and if he will make a statement.

There are numerous measures that protect equines on common land, on farm, during transit and at export. We hope to introduce specific controls on horse markets in the next few months, and will press in the Community to retain controls on export of horses for slaughter.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the horse is man's oldest and most faithful friend and that our history and prosperity have been borne on his back, but that horses will suffer severe and cruel deaths in the knackers' yards of Europe after 1992, unless suitable action is taken to replace British legislation on minimum values? Will he ensure that the Government will somehow get into place right across Europe proper legislation to safeguard horses, especially British horses, from cruel deaths?

I should think that only my two dogs would disagree with the first part of my hon. Friend's assertion about man's best friend. I can give him the absolute assurance that we are determined to fight as strongly as we can for the unique British system of minimum values for horses, because we are all aware of the strength of feeling that horses should be protected better than the present EC proposal suggests.

What are the Government doing to improve the EEC standards? Does the Minister accept that many people are worried about live animals exported for slaughter, because standards of care for animals throughout the Common Market vary and are often lower than United Kingdom standards? Is not it about time that the Government stood up to the EEC Commission and told it to get on with the job of improving standards, instead of capitulating on every occasion?

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends must decide which tack to take. Previously they have accused us of resisting too many EC proposals that we think are disadvantageous to the interests of this country. Now the hon. Gentleman's line is that we are capitulating. We shall not capitulate on animal welfare. We shall fight strenuously for our animals and their welfare at slaughter. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister recently took an initiative in the EC to extend the excellent British system throughout the EC. We shall argue for that.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is nationwide anxiety that when our horses and ponies finish their useful lives they should not be allowed to be exported live for slaughter, with all the misery that that may entail? Does he think it intolerable that our European partners should force us to reduce our standards in any way? Will he please do his best to ensure that that does not happen?

I am delighted to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I urge him and our hon. Friends to lobby in the European Parliament and the European Commission, to show the extent of feeling in Britain for our unique system of minimum values. My hon. Friends and I are doing our bit, arguing to maintain the system, but we need the support of welfare organisations in this country and Europe to convince everyone that minimum values are good and should stay.



To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he has taken as a result of the hon. Member for Linlithgow's meeting with the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson), on the import of parrots.

New measures on the import of exotic birds were announced last December following our publication of a detailed study of mortalities among imported birds on arrival and in quarantine.

Is not man's best friend the parrot? In view of the fact that the 13 per cent. bird mortality in quarantine and on arrival is a fraction of the overall mortality, can we have an immediate ban imports pending the negotiations now taking place? Does the Prime Minister think that present Ministers are as active or energetic as the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson)?

The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson), who met him in his office and took the initial initiative. If hon. Members read the speech before Christmas of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and my reply to it at 4 o'clock in the morning, I should have thought that they would conclude that I was the hon. Gentleman's best friend. We are taking strenuous measures to control the importation of exotic birds and all the measures that I outlined in the debate in December are being pursued at this very moment.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 April.

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

Will the right hon. Lady explain why she thinks that it is fair that Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher of Dulwich will save £1,700 in poll tax as against rates this year when Mr. and Mrs. Donovan of Greater Manchester— Mr. Donovan is a retired laboratory technician and they are pensioners—will pay £531 more than they would have done, including transitional relief?

I think that we should all be better off if we lived in good Tory authorities such as Westminster. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall not be any net better off when I finish giving the extra away, nor shall I be any better off than I am now by not having taken something like £120,000 to which I am entitled on my salary.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 April.

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

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those who deliberately break the law by refusing to pay their community charge, leaving others to pick up the bill? Is not it deplorable that there are Members of the House who also practise that unlawful conduct? Surely such people are encouraged by the pop star antics and clenched fist salutes of the Leader of the Opposition.

Everyone should obey the laws that have properly been passed through Parliament, as that is what the rule of law and democracy is about. Anyone who does not is setting a deplorable example, is also putting great burdens on others and is not in any way being democratic or observing the rule of law. Everyone should condemn such behaviour.

Will the Prime Minister explain why the party of defence and law and order, which never believes that a single Labour soldier fought in the last war, now cannot even recognise a gun barrel?

I should like to say first to the hon. Gentleman that everyone is grateful to all those who fought in the last war; without them we should not now be free. So far there has never been a gun barrel made with an aperture of I m wide, which is the diameter of the proposed Iraqi pipe.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 April.

Does my right hon. Friend share my view that Ford's investment of £400 million in south Wales is a sign of investors' confidence in Britain under her Government? Does she further agree that the fact that Ford is spending some of its investment abroad because of previous trade union intransigence is a clear sign that investors are worried about the future and of what investors would do if this country were ever again to be dominated by the Labour party's trade union paymasters?

We do indeed welcome Ford's investment at Bridgend and Swansea, phase 1 of the Zeta project, which will help to sustain employment in south Wales. We very much regret that Ford chose to take the second part of that project to Cologne because, in the words of its press release,

"Another factor in reaching the decision … has been the need to ensure continuity of supply to our continental plants."
As Ford could not ensure continuity of supply from south Wales because of the activities of the unions, it was not prepared to put another factory there. The unions have driven Ford away twice—once from Dundee and once from the Zeta 2 project in south Wales.

Will the Prime Minister say why there has been no effective response from any part of the Government to the inquiries made since 1988 about the Iraqi gun contract by Sheffield Forgemasters, Walter Somers and her hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller)?

The point remains that at no time did either firm apply for an export licence for a gun or other military application. If the firms had done so, the application would have been refused.

That is not an adequate answer on such an issue. As Head of the Government, will the Prime Minister say whom she holds responsible for this shambles over the Iraqi gun contract? Which Minister must bear the blame?

Any company wanting to export something that requires an export licence has a duty to apply for that licence. At no time did either firm apply for an export licence for a gun or other military application. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said yesterday, the enormous lm wide pipes that the firms were making were described in a totally different fashion and at no time did they apply for an export licence for a gun or other military equipment. Had they done so, the application would have been refused. It is their duty to apply if they are exporting something that needs a licence.

That is the most devious evasion. The testimony of the right hon. Lady's hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove has shattered the idea that the Government did not know about this during the past two years. I repeat: which Minister is to blame?

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman ever listens to replies. If a company wishes to export something that needs an export licence—military equipment does—it is its duty accurately to describe it and to apply for an export licence for what it is exporting. No such application came for a gun or other military application. That is the fault of the companies seeking to export the product.

In forming her policies towards South Africa and the African National Congress, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that less than two years ago the ANC publicly announced that it would accept funds from the IRA? Will she personally look into reports coming from Northern Ireland that on Wednesday 4 April two members of the ANC named Sabblae and Karoo were in Downpatrick, County Down, meeting the head of the IRA in South Down and other members?

I am certain that my hon. Friend will have checked the facts that he gives. He knows that we never, never support armed struggle, no matter by whomsoever it is proposed, and the ANC stands for armed struggle and continues to do so. In our view it is time to get down, not to rhetoric but to the nitty gritty of negotiations, and to do that in South Africa with the existing South African Government.

Will the Prime Minister list for the House her reasons for opposing local income tax, raised through the revenue system, as a replacement for poll tax? Does not she realise that it would be easier, fairer, simpler and cheaper to raise than the poll tax, and just as accountable, and that it operates in many countries with full public support? Does not she see that local income tax as a replacement for poll tax is a way out of her and Britain's poll tax nightmare?

There are several reasons why local income tax would not work. First, it is usually dealt with not where a person lives, but where he works, which, for many people, is a different place. PAYE is done in the firm for which a person works, which may be different from the place in which he lives.

Secondly, many people would not wish to divulge all their affairs again to local authorities, and they would have to do so. Those are two good reasons for not having a local income tax.

Ec Budget


To ask the Prime Minister if she will raise at the next meeting of the European Council the size of the United Kingdom's net contribution to the European Community budget; and if she will make a statement.

I have at present no plans to do so. The Fontainebleau 1984 mechanism remains wholly intact. Our cumulative benefit from it will be some £7·5 billion by the end of 1990.

As last year's record contribution of £2 billion, or £3 a week for each British family, was outrageous, will my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear that had she not battled so furiously for rebates in 1984, that amount would have been at least 50 per cent. higher—and this at a time when she was accused of being negative, unhelpful and unenthusiastic about Europe?

As almost everyone seems to be having a go at her these days, will my right hon. Friend also make it abundantly clear that she will maintain her courageous battle for Britain against socialist nonsense and overspending in the EEC? Will she totally ignore the views of the wimps and Euro-nuts among the Opposition—and even among the Conservative party—who are seeking to blow her off course?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. We fought staunchly for Britain's rebate. We started off, to coin a phrase, by being isolated and we came back with £7·5 billion for Britain.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that in addition to financial matters, she and the Foreign Secretary will discuss the Belgian proposals for European union with other Ministers from the Common Market when they meet in Dublin over the next two weekends? Does she agree that these issues render the prerogative an increasingly outdated idea, and accordingly, will she tell Mr. Haughey when she meets him tomorrow that she is not prepared to give any view on, still less any commitment to, that paper unless it has been debated in this House? Does not she think that anything less than that represents an unacceptable democratic deficit in the United Kingdom?

There are now two matters: one is European monetary and economic union; another has been proposed informally by Chancellor Kohl and concerns political union. Neither matter is properly defined, but in so far as economic and monetary union was defined in the Delors paper, in stages 2 and 3, this House has already made its view clear: we could not possibly accept stage 2 or stage 3 of Delors as they stand, although we accept stage 1. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] We accept stage I and its completion and we are well ahead with completing it in this country.

In our view there are plenty of other matters to discuss in Dublin—the consequences of German unification, completing the single market in 1992, bringing the Uruguay round to a successful conclusion, especially on agriculture, completing the EEC-European Free Trade Association negotiations, and devising new forms of association for the countries of eastern Europe. If we got down to discussing those matters, that would be far better than discussing more esoteric issues that do not need to be addressed now.



To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 April.

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

Is my right hon. Friend aware that today is Primrose day, the anniversary of the death of Benjamin Disraeli, that great Conservative statesman? Does she recollect that he used to say that one of the principal aims of the Tory party was to improve the condition of the people? Is not that precisely what my right hon. Friend and the Government are doing?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In terms of net take-home pay, for every £3 that the average family had under Labour, it has £4 under the Conservatives. Britain has a higher rate of employment and a far better Health Service and environment than ever before. That would have suited Disraeli and I am glad to pay tribute to him on Primrose day.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Sir Geoffrey Howe)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 23 APRIL AND TUESDAY 24 APRIL— Consideration in Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords] (1st and 2nd Allotted Days).

WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL—Opposition day (11th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The poll tax, the uniform business rate and local government services".

Remaining stages of the War Crimes Bill.

THURSDAY 26 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Bill.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to the automobile industry. Details will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 27 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 3o APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

[Thursday 26 April: Relevant European Community Document: 10971/89 Single Motor Vehicle Market Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee: HC 11-xii (1989–90) para 2.]

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his proposal that the House should take the remaining stages of the War Crimes Bill after 10 pm? It is not usual for us to consider primary legislation after 10 pm in the House. We regard that as an unacceptable proposal, and I hope that he will take it away and think again about it.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give the House some more explanation about the likely course of events when we come to consider the amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill on Tuesday night? Is he aware that it appears that the House will be asked to vote on perhaps 14 consecutive amendments, taking four or more hours of voting time during the night? Is it reasonable or rational to ask the House of Commons to determine such important, controversial and sensitive issues in that way? I hope that we can have some explanation from the Leader of the House of why the House is being placed in that position.

Is not Parliament entitled to some clarification from the Secretary of State for rade and Industry following his statement yesterday about the Iraqi gun fiasco? Should not we have some urgent and candid answers from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence to the many unanswered questions which remain following the exchanges in the House yesterday?

For example, who will explain the widely differing versions of events given by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir. H. Miller)? I hope that the Leader of the House will soon provide Government time for a debate so that we can have proper answers to those questions to make up for the pathetically inadequate performance given by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the Chamber yesterday.

Of course I understand why the Gentleman raises his first point. However, it is important for the House to get ahead with the business at convenient opportunities. The House had a full day's debate on the general principles of the War Crimes Bill on Second Reading on 19 March. No amendments have been made to the Bill in Committee, and no Government amendments are proposed on Report. In those circumstances, what I have proposed should be reasonable.

I understand why the hon. Gentleman raised his point about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, but he will know that there has been extensive consultation about the handling of the Bill, both through the usual channels and with a wide range of other representatives. I do not expect to have commanded universal assent to that, but I believe that I have arrived at conclusions that are the best practicable arrangements.

It is important for us to tackle the central questions in an orderly fashion, and together. Again, we have considered through the usual channels and in other ways the possibility of separating them, but that has given rise to anxiety that hon. Members might vote on one part of the debate and not remain closely involved to vote on the other part. We have arrived at the conclusion that this is the best way to do it. I appreciate that considerable time may be spent on voting, but if we address the matter sensibly we should be able to reduce the number of contested votes. I believe that it will be regarded in the end as more satisfactory to do that than to spend a great deal of time debating without reaching a conclusion, as has happened so often in the past.

As for the questions about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, he made a statement to the House yesterday describing all that was then known about the matter. The components in question were apprehended as a result of alertness once the matter became known. It is in the nature of things that exports of that type take place against a background of subterfuge and concealment, not least on the part of the orderers, and those concerned with supply are not always fully informed of what is happening or how they should be handling the matter. The Government have apprehended the components, and further investigations must take place. If it is thought right to tell the House any more about the matter at any future stage, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider doing so.

Order. May I point out that no fewer than 49 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to take part in the subsequent Hong Kong debate? I hope that hon. Members will put only one question each to the Leader of the House, and confine it to next week's business.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome his decision on dealing with the abortion question next Tuesday night? At last there will be a decision without obstruction. It is worth voting, if necessary for four hours, to clear the matter up.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; that is the other side of the argument.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that there is a prayer concerning the Criminal Damage (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1990. Will he find time for a full debate on the matter? The regulations have been with us for a long while, and it is about time that the House explored the matter once more to come to conclusions on certain inequities that are beginning to show up.

I cannot say more than that I will examine the matter closely in the light of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

In next Wednesday's debate initiated by the Opposition on the community charge and the uniform business rate, will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for the the Secretary of State for the Environment to remind the House that, of the totality of local government expenditure, a sizeable amount is met through national taxation, and that therefore ability to pay—a matter widely referred to in the press and in the House recently—is already a matter carefully taken into account by Her Majesty's Government?

I shall certainly draw that important point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Did the Leader of the House watch the programme on television last night in the "Inside Story" series called, "Our Reactor is on Fire"? If he or those in his Department did not see it, I offer him a copy of the programme and ask him to look at it and take note of how the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of the day were duped by the nuclear industry and how the Black inquiry, which was set up specifically to look into health problems of that community on the Cumbrian coast, was deliberately kept in ignorance. If he cannot initiate a debate next week in Government time, will the Leader of the House allow the House an early opportunity to discuss the degree of mendacity that the nuclear industry visited on what appears to have been a supine Government in the past?

I do not accept the judgment that the hon. Gentleman makes on the entire industry, nor, I suspect, does the shadow Leader of the House. The safety of the industry, and of Sellafield in particular, has been subject to continuous scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive authorities and the Government.

While I accept that next Wednesday's debate on local government finance and the community charge arises on an Opposition motion, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that during that debate, the powers that be in the Government produce proposals to remove the inadequacy of the current rebate scheme and the transitional relief scheme and to raise the £3,000 limit at which the taper begins to make what is in principle a good change in local government finance acceptable to the people?

I hope that my hon. Friend will take the opportunity offered by the debate to make those points. He might also take the opportunity to comment on the fact that the Opposition are now apparently dedicated to maintaining the community charge for the foreseeable future.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the Iraqi gun incident and the answers that were given yesterday by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has developed a new doctrine that Ministers can refuse to answer a question because there may be a case pending in the courts? You, Mr. Speaker, were right to say that it was not a matter for you, but it is a matter for Members of Parliament, as that would mean that. in future any Minister in any Government could refuse to answer a question because there might be a court case pending. Therefore, it is a matter for the House of Commons, and we should be debating it. I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider his answer and to provide a early debate on that aspect of the matter as well as the particular incident.

I do not think that the matter spreads as widely as the hon. Gentleman suggests. One can well imagine that in other circumstances, a Minister would be unable to comment on every aspect of a matter that is still the subject of inquiry for a variety of reasons including the possibility of criminal proceedings. In those circumstances, there must be some inhibition, but, as I have said already, if a suitable means arises, I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend will be prepared to came back to the House.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, at Question Time yesterday, the Minister for Industry made a significant statement about the huge increase in Britain's car manufacturing capacity? In the circumstances, despite what is happening at Ford, does he agree that we should have a debate on the industry soon, as one of the great success stories of recent years?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The continuing expansion of our automobile manufacturing capability is an important achievement of the past 10 years.

Happily, the Government have now accepted the intention of my Bill, supported by right hon. and hon. Members of all parties in the House, to give the peoplp of Australia one of the two original copies of their Constitution Act. While I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House for their most helpful discussions with me on the legislation, is there anything that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can tell us today about the timing of its passage through the House? Could we possibly mark ANZAC day on 25 April by completing in this House at least one stage of the Bill?

I have seen that suggestion made, although on a rather more ambitious basis. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the timing proposals for that Bill; nor would I want to raise any expectations of the kind that he has identified. I shall certainly see whether it is possible.

When my right hon. and learned Friend is discussing next Wednesday's debate with the Secretary of State for the Environment, will he ask him to deal at length with transferring the whole cost of education, or at least teachers' salaries, from local authorities to the central Exchequer? Will he also deal with the plight of village shops, which is a very real one?

I will draw both points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but I cannot resist the opportunity to say yet again to my hon. Friend what I said during the Easter Adjournment debate: merely transferring the financing of this or that aspect of any activity to central Government amounts to no more than a book-keeping transaction.

Will the Leader of the House arrange a further debate following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller)? The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that, yesterday, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that his Department was not aware of the gun contract with Iraq. He will be further aware that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller), a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, did not agree with him. He said that he had informed the Department twice about the gun but that he had had to go elsewhere to get some action.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that this matter needs clearing up for the benefit of the House and of the country, to decide who is telling the truth and who is lying?

There are clearly matters that can be further examined, but I do not honestly think that it is sensible for us to do so across the Floor of the House.

May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)? Almost everyone agrees that the principle of the community charge is right, that everyone should pay something, but most people will agree that at the least, the first year's implementation has been unfortunate. Will my right hon. and learned Friend insist on the Secretary of State for the Environment—the Government realise the need for this—announcing proposals in his speech next week for reform and change, because it is time that they were debated?

I am more ready to endorse my hon. Friend's warm welcome for the principle of the community charge than the rest of his remarks, but I shall bring his observations to the attention of the Secretary of State.

As the Leader of the House has found himself unable to arrange debates on some of the many outstanding statutory instruments that are the subject of prayers on the Order Paper, will he give the House an undertaking that important issues such as the Police (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations—police officers have been considerably financially prejudiced as a result of the poll tax regulations—and the National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) (Amendment) Regulations will be debated in Committee next week?

I cannot give a specific undertaking in respect of either of those matters—certainly not for next week. I understand that there is widespread interest in the police regulations and I shall seek through the usual channels to find an opportunity for them to be discussed in due course.

May we have a debate on Lithuania? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the widespread concern about the reaction of the Soviet authorities? Is he further aware of the feeling that the EEC and the Government must come up with some initiatives for aid? May we have a debate in the near future?

The whole House will understand my hon. Friend's expression of concern. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will discuss the matter with his colleagues in the Twelve during their meeting this weekend.

Following the extremely important question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller), and as this matter affects the rights of the House against the Executive, will the Leader of the House, first, say when the Solicitor-General or the Attorney-General will make a statement on the legal aspects of the matter? Secondly, will he give an absolute guarantee that the Minister concerned will appear before the House if there is to be no legal case, because he took refuge in the fact that there would be one? We think that it was quite improper that he should have done so, but if he is to proceed, he must explain himself to the House.

I am not sure whether the Law Officers would be the most appropriate Ministers to respond on a matter that is the subject of possible proceedings by the Customs and Excise rather than by the Law Officers' Department. The matter is still under investigation in that way. The right hon. Gentleman should not conclude that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is taking refuge in the prospect of a prosecution. He is merely saying that certain matters are subject to investigation for a possible prosecution, about which it would not be sensible to comment at this stage.

Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) about Lithuania, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that the Foreign Secretary, in a statement after the weekend EC meeting, makes it perfectly clear that the Government endorse the view of the United States President that Lithuania enjoys an unequivocal right to self-determination, and that the western European powers will provide practical assistance in every reasonable way?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is here, and will have listened to that point. He will certainly consider with me the possibility of a statement about the matter next week, and he certainly bears in mind my hon. Friend's points of argument.

When we have a debate on the Iraqi gun, as the Leader of the House implied that we should, will it be in order to point out that the reasons why we have this shambles are the free market philosophy operated by the Government and the fact that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has gone on record on many occasions as saying that he wants to see the Department of Trade and Industry completely abolished? It is because he has not been keeping his eye on things that we have this mess now.

There were two misunderstandings in that short observation. First, I gave no suggestion of a prospect of a debate on the matter. Secondly, it is foolish to contend that the possibility of promoting the supply of arms to any customer is greater or lesser under any given pattern of economic organisation. By definition, such activities take place covertly and such people set out to find arms wherever they can. It is always the task of the Government to try to detect that, but it is by no means easy.

Could my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on tourism? Some months ago, a decision was made to exempt people who run bed-and-breakfast businesses from the uniform business rate for up to 100 days a year. That has created a major burden for others in the industry, especially in my constituency. We have not had a tourism debate for a considerable time, so will my right hon. and learned Friend please find time for a debate as soon as possible?

I am not sure about the prospect of a debate on tourism. However, my hon. Friend will see that the uniform business rate is one of the subjects selected by the Opposition for debate next Wednesday.

Bearing in mind the fact that virtually every newspaper today carries comments by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) that someone in Whitehall has been lying about the export order for Iraq, is not it essential that we have a statement early next week from the Secretary of State for Defence or the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? The statement should tell us precisely what the responsibilities of those Departments were when the hon. Member for Bromsgrove made representations on behalf of a firm in the west midlands and when that firm said that the pipes might well not be pipes, but parts of a gun. Surely the House of Commons is entitled to know about those matters. Why is there this cover-up, evasion and deceit from Ministers and everyone else on this matter?

The hon. Gentleman should not dramatise the matter in that way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made a statement to the House yesterday. The possibility of a criminal offence is being investigated in the light of some of his observations. It is entirely proper that that should happen.

Order. In view of the pressure on time today, I ask hon. Members not to ask questions that have already been asked and answered, but to ask about business next week.

Is not it a little quixotic that the House found a whole day to debate the breach of some informal rules by one Conservative Member, but is still unable to find time to debate the conduct of 31 Labour Members who are breaking the law? Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that the inaction of the Leader of the Opposition—

The inaction of the Leader of the Opposition on the subject is incredible.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The important point that he raises has been raised frequently in the House, and rightly so.

Will the Home Secretary be making a statement next week on some of the recent decisions in courts in the Irish Republic—particularly the decision in the Dublin criminal court which was reported in a Dublin newspaper on 1 April, in which a person who was up for a stabbing offence was told that he must go to England to take a job immediately? Is there a "sin bin" here? Are our immigration laws so open that people can come here to escape justice?

The matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not one of the more familiar cases in the Irish jurisdiction, but I shall certainly bring it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, following the Opposition's choice of the community charge as the subject for debate next Wednesday, it is high time that the Government found time for a time for a debate on the future of local government organisation, as it is becoming increasingly clear that two tiers of local government are unnecessarily wasteful and that the present system causes confusion, with district councils being blamed for overspending by county councils?

I understand my hon. Friend's point. The present arrangements certainly can give rise to such misunderstandings, but I would hesitate to conclude that that in itself is sufficient to persuade us to embark on the wholesale reform of local government.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the poll tax of £297 set by my council, Calderdale, was 34th from the bottom of the league and that, when the charge is capped, it will be fourth from the bottom? May we have a full day's debate on the matter, so that the Secretary of State for the Environment can explain how he arrived at the ludicrous decision to cap Calderdale council?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained, his approach was founded on the principles that he set out to the House when he made his statement. The hon. Lady will be able to raise the matter in next week's debate.

My right hon. and learned Friend will remember that, on 29 March, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) called for a debate on Barnet's housing policy, claiming that the chief solicitor had said that Barnet council was liable for prosecution under the Race Relations Act 1976. May we have such a debate soon, as the head of legal services of Barnet council claims that he said no such thing? Is not it disgraceful that the hon. Member for Brent, East should make such misleading statements?

I confess that I do not have the details of the matter at my fingertips to quite the same extent as my hon. Friend, but I am grateful to him for reminding me of the subject.

Can we have a debate on no-strike agreements? Does the Leader of the House think that it is fair that those who provide cheap labour in the dining rooms and elsewhere in the Refreshment Department of the House should be prevented from taking industrial action? Is that fair, given that they earn so little?

That matter, so often raised by the hon. Gentleman, will be considered by the House of Commons Commission shortly.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that this year is Tidy Britain Year. May we have an early debate on tidiness and keeping litter off our streets, especially as I am sorry to have to report that I have received a complaint from her worship the mayor of Weymouth and Portland that she has seen the House with litter strewn all over its floors? Should not we be setting an example? I should be most grateful if we could have a debate on this subject.

I know that, over the centuries, many people have had some sympathy with that view, but I fear that the House's deplorable habit of occasionally leaving paper behind could not be corrected very quickly.

Has the Leader of the House had time to look at the 14 private Bills set down for consideration today and again deferred until next Thursday? Does he recall that, about six months ago, he told the House that he would be urgently considering the whole question of private business? Is not it time that he reported back to the House and told us what progress he has made in that investigation?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to remind me of the matter. He knows that I am engaged in discussions about it, and I hope to report to the House before long.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me that, now that the Russians have admitted to the massacre of 15,000 Polish officers in Katyn Wood, it would be right for the House to have a debate on the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, and that the best memorial that the British taxpayer could erect to those gallant murdered officers would be to provide financial aid to Polish people who settled in this country and who now wish to return to their native land?

I have not had an opportunity to consider that proposal. I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friends for further consideration.

Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Defence next week before Operation Elder Forest begins? That operation will subject many areas, especially the north-east of Scotland, to further bouts of low-flying aircraft. Does the Leader of the House understand that, next week, Scottish schoolchildren will be taking certificate examinations and that next Wednesday they will sit the English exam, one of the most popular exams, when the exercise will be at its height?

Will the Secretary of State for Defence explain why the exercise has been arranged for such an inconvenient time and also tell us who was responsible for organising it for next week?

I can only draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and I will do so.

Since some of the issues are outwith the Select Committee on Members' Interests, and since he phoned me asking for an apology about a question that I had asked on American complaints about him, before it festers any further, could the position of the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) be clarified by a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence about the complaints received—or not—by the Ministry of Defence?

As I understand it, those matters are being investigated by the two Select Committees concerned. However, I will bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Will the Leader of the House clarify the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) earlier about the debate on Tuesday? Many of us have heard rumours about how the Leader of the House particularly intends to address the voting patterns. It seems to some of us that, if those rumours are true, in addition to giving way to pressure to include that matter—which many of us believe is far outwith the terms of the Bill—the Leader of the House is in fact giving way to other pressures so that the House will not be able to approach the issue in a fair and open-minded way, but would have a strong bias built into it.

The hon. Lady will know that the way in which that matter is being handled has, as I have said already, been the subject of the widest possible consultation. Decisions about management will be taken by the Chair and by the Business Committee. It is my impression that the approach that I have so far outlined has the support of the majority of hon. Members.

As was implicitly recognised in a written answer just before the Easter recess, the Prime Minister and other Ministers have inadvertently misled the House on a number of occasions because of the poverty statistics with which they have been provided. Ministers have been provided with statistics that appear to show that the poorest people in our communities have become more prosperous at twice the rate of the community as a whole. The Government now tell us that that is almost diametrically opposite the truth, and that their rate of increased prosperity has actually been less than that in the country as a whole. As Government policy has presumably been predicated on the false assumption that the statistics provided by the Prime Minister were correct, may we have a statement on the whole affair?

I doubt whether that is an appropriate question for business questions, but I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. The Government set out the matter quite clearly in the written answer to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as a former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, share the concern of friends and families, including Jill Morrell, of British hostages? While supporting a policy of no deals, they are nevertheless concerned about the urgency that they believe the Government attach to solving the problem. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his capacity as Leader of the House, offer an early opportunity for the Government at least to give an indication that they attach urgency and priority to reaching a conclusion to that serious problem—in spite of the delicacy of the matter, which the House will accept?

I fully understand why the friends and families of people who have been hostages for a long time feel continuous anxiety of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I must reassure him and them that that topic is almost never absent from the minds of Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Office Ministers. It is a matter of great and continuing anxiety to see whether there is anything further that can be done to explore possibilities. For reasons that the hon. Gentleman will understand, it is not always sensible to advertise that continuing concern with the matter. He can assure all those concerned that the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers share their anxiety.

Statutory Instruments, &C


That the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Amendment) Order 1990 (S.I., 1990, No. 758) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Darrell.]

Points Of Order

4.5 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point of order relates to the Procedure (Debate on Matters Awaiting Judicial Decision) resolution, which the House passed on 23 July 1963. You may recall that yesterday the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said:

"I cannot answer detailed questions without prejudicing the rights of people who may be on trial."—[Official Report, 18 April 1990; Vol. 170, c. 1429.]
In spite of that, this morning, the Yorkshire Post reported that Customs and Excise are "not actively considering prosecutions".

However, this is not a matter for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry because, on the date to which I have referred, the House passed, without Division, a resolution setting out the circumstances in which matters awaiting judicial decision can be referred to. It states:
"matters awaiting or under adjudication in all courts exercising a criminal jurisdiction …should not be referred to … from the time that the case has been set down for trial or otherwise brought before the court".
Therefore, there is a clear definition, The resolution also states:
"such matters may be referred to before such date unless it appears to the Chair that there is a real and substantial danger of prejudice to the trial of the case."

There therefore seems to be a responsibility on you Mr. Speaker, where a Minister tries to abuse the resolution and to escape the accountability of the House over matters that are his responsibility, that you should make it clear whether it appears to you
"that there is a real and substantial danger of prejudice to the trial of the case"
if a Minister attempts to seek that excuse. However, as there is no case and no trial, no Minister could possibly use that excuse. Surely, therefore, it is incumbent on the Chair to ensure that the terms of that resolution are properly carried out and that a Minister does not try to evade his responsibilities.

There is no question of that matter being sub judice. That was not raised with me yesterday. The hon. Gentleman has quoted Hansard to me, but he will also note that I said at column 1437 that

"I understood that it was the judgment of the Secretary of State himself"
that he could not answer those questions. I never said that it was sub judice.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are in danger of creating an unwelcome precedent in the House as a result of the conduct yesterday of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who abused the procedures of the House to avoid answering very important questions, to which hon. Members of all parties are entitled to candid, frank and urgent answers. The conduct of the Secretary of State yesterday has been described in one prominent newspaper today as either incompetent or dishonest.

As these matters go right to the heart of the integrity of this Government when answering for their actions in he House of Commons, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will not simply let this matter slip away, so that such a precedent will have been established. We should have the ability, without an artificial hindrance placed before us by Ministers, to obtain answers to such important questions.

The whole House knows—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) got it right—that I said yesterday that, provided what Ministers or any other hon. Members say is in order it is not a matter for me. It is not for me to say if the Secretary of State's judgment was correct. I never said that the matter was sub judice, and it is not.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you give the House your guidance on the second motion relating to the main business of the day, the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill? You will note that the Order Paper contains a motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition:

"That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House."
Wholly different, separate and important considerations attach to that motion and hon. Members might take a different view on it than on the Second Reading motion. Will there be opportunities for a separate debate on the second motion?

No. The hon. Gentleman has been here a long time and he has often seen these motions on the Order Paper. It is not debatable, but it is certainly votable. I will now take Mr. Skinner. I hope that his point of order will not delay an important debate. The position has marginally improved. Now, only 48 hon. Members wish to take part.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and subsequently to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and the Shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), you said that it was not your responsibility, notwithstanding the points that have been made, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South. It is pretty clear to Opposition Members that yesterday we had a Minister present who used the opportunity to cloud the issue and wriggle away from his responsibilities. If in future you spot that and realise that a Minister is trying to use the sub judice rule wrongly, perhaps you could consider giving extra time to hon. Members who want to grill the Minister, instead of allowing him to escape his responsibilities.

I know what the hon. Member is trying to return to—the question of how long I allowed the statement to run yesterday. I hope that some of his hon. Friends who could not speak in the subsequent debate yesterday as a result of points of order had a word with him.

Orders Of The Day

British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Before I call the Secretary of State, I repeat that there is great pressure to take part in the debate today. In the interests of equity, I proposed to give some precedence to hon. Members who were not called when we last debated this matter in July. I hope that Privy Councillors will understand that they may suffer thereby by being called later on the list. I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock, but I hope that those who are called before that time will bear that limit in mind in the interests of their colleagues in the House.

4.12 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I hardly need remind the House that, although since the second world war Britain has granted independence to many former colonies, rarely have we had to make plans for handing over a territory to a foreign power, and never to a communist one. I certainly do not have to remind the House that the remarkable story of Hong Kong's economic success is one in which our own country has been and is intimately involved. Quite apart from what many, if not most, of us might regard as our moral duty to maintain the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong up to 1997 and to secure a smooth changeover in that year, Britain has an enormous stake, in terms of trade, investment and jobs, in Hong Kong's continuing success. This is a case, if ever there was one, where duty and the national interest march hand in hand.

It is with Britain that responsibility for Hong Kong rests over the next seven years. We must do our best to see that as long as we remain responsible for the territory, its prosperity and stability are maintained. That is what this Bill is about. I emphasise that our proposals, far from contravening the joint declaration signed in 1984, are designed to carry out the agreement's central purpose, which is to maintain Hong Kong's prosperity and stability in the run-up to 1997.

The Bill addresses a real and present threat to that objective. There are plenty of people who still want to go and live in Hong Kong—largely people without skills wanting to reap the economic benefits of making their homes there—but there are also many people leaving, who include professional, managerial and technical personnel in proportions far in excess of their numbers in the population. Indeed, 24 per cent. of all emigrants come within those categories, but represent only 5·5 per cent. of Hong Kong's population. Thirteen per cent. of Hong Kong's information science professionals—a classification which includes computer experts—have been leaving each year. Hong Kong's economy and stability cannot indefinitely survive such a haemorrhage of talent and enterprise.

The rationale for the proposals now before the House remains as set out by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his statement on 20 December. First, current rates of emigration and reduced confidence pose a real threat to Hong Kong's stability in the period before 1997. Secondly, most of those who are emigrating do so reluctantly, because it is the only means of acquiring the assurance of a foreign passport. Thirdly, most of them would remain if such an assurance were available without the need to leave Hong Kong.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance to my constituents, most of whom must live in an already overbuilt area and are under severe pressure from Ealing council to build on such green land as remains? Can the Home Secretary assure me that overbuilt areas such as mine will not be pressed into taking even greater populations than they already have to bear and that provision will be made elsewhere?

I shall develop that theme later. First and foremost, this is not an immigration Bill, but a nationality Bill which is designed to anchor people to Hong Kong rather than to encourage them to come here. I certainly assure my hon. Friend that if the people selected were to come here they would have superior skills and be far less likely to concentrate in large numbers in city centres than, perhaps, people with lesser skills.

My right hon. and learned Friend has correctly said that the Government's objective is to make it possible for people to stay in Hong Kong. I ask him to put himself in the position of a Hong Kong business man aged between 35 and 40 who has the great good fortune to get a British passport. Such a man, having heard what is being said in communist China now, may feel that that may be a black mark against him when the communist Chinese take over in 1997. Would he not feel disposed to leave Hong Kong early so that he can re-establish his business, his family and his fortune?

I disagree with my hon. Friend. Once a person in a good, well-paid job in Hong Kong has the assurance of a British passport, there is no urgency for him to leave. We must not assume that the worst will happen. Under the joint declaration those who are in Hong Kong after 1997 will have the right to work, the right of abode and the right to travel to and from Hong Kong.

I fully recognise that the remedy which the Bill offers represents an unprecedented departure from the normal principles of our nationality law. We considered carefully whether a scheme leading to entry clearance rather than full citizenship would suffice, but we concluded that such a scheme would not resolve the problem. It would have precisely the opposite effect to that intended and would draw to the United Kingdom the people who were given guarantees. They would be anxious to get their children into Britain while the children were still under age and qualified for entry under the immigration rules. They would be determined to establish the residential qualification for citizenship as soon as possible.

The governor of Hong Kong is convinced that the assurances of citizenship provided in the Bill are the only effective way of restoring confidence and maintaining prosperity, and all the evidence emerging from Hong Kong supports that.

Clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to register up to 50,000 persons recommended by the governor under a scheme approved by Parliament and also to register their spouses and minor children. Clause 3(3) provides for a committee to advise the governor on the operation of the scheme. Obviously in arriving at the figure of 50,000 the governor—rather than the Government—has had to make a difficult judgment, but discussions—