Home Page

Column 857

House of Commmons

Thursday 1 December 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


City of Glasgow District Council Order Confirmation

Mr. Secretary Rifkind presented a Bill, under section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936 to confirm a Provisional Order relating to City of Glasgow District Council ; And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be considered upon Wednesday 7 December and to be printed. [Bill 11.]

Oral Answers to Questions


Food Surpluses

1. Mr. Baldry : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress that has been made in eliminating agricultural surpluses within the European Community.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor) : European Community intervention stocks of most commodities have fallen significantly as a result of recent common agricultural policy reforms. For example, butter stocks have been reduced by 80 per cent. over the past year and stocks of skimmed milk powder are now almost negligible.

Mr. Baldry : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the United Kingdom butter mountain is melting and that skimmed milk powder surpluses have almost vanished proves that CAP reforms are beginning to work and that it is possible to reform the CAP in such a way as to provide a firm basis for the future prosperity of our farmers?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. A main criticism of the CAP in recent years has been the amount of money that has gone into the storage and disposal of surplus stocks. The fact that those surplus stocks are decreasing substantially is a good sign for the future stability of our farmers. We must do other things to achieve complete CAP reform, but we should acknowledge how much has been done already.

Mr. Tony Banks : I understand that we have a large and growing cheese mountain as a result of EC surpluses. Of course, we expect to get nothing but hard cheese from the Government-- [Interruption.] It will do for 2.36 pm. As I assume that some of that cheese will be in intervention

Column 858

stores in my constituency--there is probably some good Greek feta cheese knocking about--is there any chance of the pensioners of Newham eating some of that feta cheese, with a pint or two of ouzo, at Christmas?

Mr. MacGregor : That was a rather belaboured remark. It is important to get the matter in context. The increase in cheese stocks is small, as is the total stock. The major expense lay in the butter mountain stocks, and they have been decreasing. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, we took advantage of the EC free food scheme in relation to butter, but the decrease in butter stocks means that we shall have much less, or nothing, to do on that front in the future. That is not the best way to deal with the surplus. The best way is not to have a surplus in the first place.

Mr. Marland : As the agricultural surpluses are coming under control, will my right hon. Friend consider easing the

co-responsibility levies on dairy products and cereals? They have always been iniquitous taxes and have had no effect on surpluses. Will he use his best offices to reduce that tax?

Mr. MacGregor : It is right to emphasise the fact that surpluses are decreasing and the mountains vanishing. The public at large and many pundits have not yet got hold of that fact. But we must still undertake further reforms, not least in the subsidised disposal of dairy products that are not in intervention stores. With other factors, that means that the dairy sector is still an expensive regime.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the co-responsibility levies on milk and cereals are the wrong way to tackle the problem, and I shall continue to battle to get rid of them. But the regimes are still expensive, and until we get them more under control I may be unable to persuade all my fellow Council Ministers to accept my view.

Dr. David Clark : Will the Minister confirm that it has cost the European taxpayer £4.5 billion to remove the post-1987 food mountain and thus reduce the amount in storage? Will he assure the House that, to stop those mountains being rebuilt, not even one quarter of that amount has been spent in 1988?

Mr. MacGregor : It is rather complicated to give exact figures on what it costs to get rid of surplus products, as costs are spread over several years. Perhaps I can write to the hon. Gentleman about that. He is right to say that the figure has been high for storage and disposal of stocks. Last year, the actual figure for the Community was £12.5 billion. It is important that we ensure that stocks do not increase again and that we do not face such costs. That is what the thrust of the policies is about.

Mr. Paice : Does my right hon. Friend agree that cereal farmers have taken an almighty beating in the cereal price that they received as part of the effort to reform the CAP and reduce surpluses? There has been a 42 per cent. reduction in their prices in the past 10 years. Would he say to cereal farmers in his and my constituencies that he understands their problems and that he will do everything that he can to ensure that they do not lead to widespread deprivation of vast areas of East Anglia?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. I understand entirely the difficulties that many cereal farmers in this country are experiencing as a result of the

Column 859

adjustment process that we have had to undertake, coupled also with two years of bad weather in East Anglia, which has certainly exacerbated our difficulties.

I do not wish to minimise the matter ; I entirely understand the pressures. However, my hon. Friend will agree that there was no stable basis for our cereal farmers as worldwide and Community surpluses went on rising, at ever -increasing cost to the taxpayer. The best guarantee of a prosperous future is to tackle the problem of the surpluses, and taking marginal cereal land out of production helps with that, which is, of course, the purpose of the set-aside scheme.


2. Mr. Hardy : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement with regard to the destruction of countryside hedgerows during the last five years.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Richard Ryder) : There have been hedgerow removals in recent years as a result of changing agricultural circumstances and development such as road schemes and housing. There are no clear details on the extent of those removals.

Countryside hedgerows provide a wide variety of benefits to the environment and agriculture. I am very keen to discourage their removal or deterioration. Their value depends on positive action and sympathetic management to keep them in good condition. My Department provides capital grants at favourable rates for the laying of hedges and planting of new ones, as well as advice to farmers on hedgerow management.

Mr. Hardy : Can the Minister deny that, since the Government blocked my perfectly sensible and responsible Hedgerows Bill five years ago, thousands of miles of hedgerows, much of them established and important, have been destroyed? In view of the Prime Minister's recent pronouncements on the importance and attractiveness of the British hedgerow, may I take it that when I again present the Bill next month the Government will take a different view?

Mr. Ryder : I do not believe that legislation in this sphere would be effective, because it cannot be properly policed. Nevertheless, because I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said on the subject over many years, and because, during the past month, I have twice met representatives of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, to discuss the issue, I would be more than happy to talk to him if we could get together in my office during the next week or two.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor : I was extremely glad to hear what my hon. Friend had to say about the Government's attitude to hedgerows. He knows the importance of hedgerows for wildlife, ranging from hares to partridges, to small birds and butterflies. I am not convinced that, as it exists at present, the grant system is adequate to persuade people to put in more hedgerows. Particularly in the light of the set-aside proposals, will he review the grant system and see whether something can be done to improve it?

Column 860

Mr. Ryder : Only last Monday my right hon. Friend the Minister announced a new scheme--the farm and conservation grant scheme which increases hedgerow grants from 30 to 40 per cent. in lowland areas, where losses have been the most severe. I urge as many farmers as possible to take advantage of the scheme.

Marine Mammals

3. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his Department has recently held discussions with fishermen's organisations regarding the phenomenon of the incidental capture of marine mammals.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Donald Thompson) : My Department has developed plans to seek the co-operation of fishermen to monitor more closely the extent of incidental capture of marine mammals and will be in touch with fishermen's organisations.

Mr. McAllion : Unlike Scottish Tories, grey seals are an endangered species about which the people of Scotland really care. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he agrees that everything possible should be done to try to control the activities that threaten the remaining seal population off our shores. When he meets representatives of the fishermen's organisations, will he ensure that the representatives of the appropriate scientific groups are also there, and that practical solutions to remove this threat from the seal population around our shores are found?

Mr. Thompson : It would be no good meeting fishermen's group unless both we and they were properly backed, or we would not reach any commonsense arrangement. This problem is greater in the Pacific, where the mammals swim along with the tuna, than it is in the North sea. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I should visit the Pacific to see what is being done there.

Mr. Ian Bruce : What is happening about the checking of other vessels off our shores, and particularly in the taking of catches that are not allowed by law? We have good policing arrangements in force when our fishermen dock into our ports, but what are we doing to ensure that these regulations are properly policed within our territorial waters?

Mr. Thompson : I will stick at this point on marine mammals. The Wildlife Link umbrella group will be as influential in other countries as it is in this, and I am sure that fishermen in other countries see this as great a problem there as it is here, and will be making their own arrangements.

Dr. Godman : Given that cetacea of all kinds are now covered by schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, can the Minister assure the House that he will advise fishermen that they need not fear prosecution if they report any such incidental catches?

Mr. Thompson : As the hon. Gentleman says, all whales and dolphins are given a general protection in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 against being caught. However, a fisherman accidentally taking a protected animal would not be held liable, assuming that he acts in a reasonable

Column 861

manner. This will be made clear to fishermen so that they can be reassured about reporting information for our monitoring scheme.

Bovine Somatotropin

4. Mrs. Golding : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has discussed the use of bovine somatotropin for boosting milk production with representatives of the Womens Farming Union ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor : I am well aware of the views of Womens Farming Union members on this subject, which I discussed with them last week.

Mrs. Golding : Is the Minister aware of the concern of all women about the use of BST? Is he aware that in America there are many adverse views about the use of it and about the effect that it may have on young children? Will he discuss with all farming unions, before he grants a licence, the adverse effects that it could have on the farming industry?

Mr. MacGregor : I have discussed this subject with all farming unions, and there are varying views within the unions, including within the Womens Farming Union. It is important to reassure women by saying that before the trials were approved safety was carefully assessed by the Veterinary Products Committee, as it has to be under the Medicines Act 1968. That Act lays down the criteria that it has to apply. The committee consists of experts in human and animal health and it advised that there was no risk to consumers arising from the trials. That is an important point, and the same processes would have to be followed if there were an application for a licence. It is also the case that many countries, including the United States, are allowing these trials because they too have been advised that there is no risk to human health. That is an important point to make clear to consumers.

Mr. Latham : In view of the traumas that we have had over milk quotas in the past few years, why are we talking about boosting milk production by artificial means?

Mr. MacGregor : We must be careful to distinguish several factors. Under the Medicines Act, when there is any application for a new scientific development, we have to ensure that it is assessed by the experts on safety, efficacy and quality. Safety is paramount, and that is what we have to be sure about. But one has to be careful about saying that one should inhibit new agricultural development simply because we have a surplus. I am anxious that our industry should remain highly competitive and able to take advantage of all legitimate technological developments. Otherwise, it will become uncompetitive. As to surpluses, we have a milk quota system that guarantees that we shall not have an increase in milk production as a result of the application of BST. The point about not disadvantaging our industry or research effort by banning products that are safe is important.

Mr. Geraint Howells : Will the Minister prevent the Milk Marketing Board from selling milk for human consumption from the trial cows until the findings are known?

Column 862

Mr. MacGregor : Under the Medicines Act, I have no powers to stop something if the Veterinary Products Committee guarantees that it is safe, efficacious and of quality. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it would be extremely difficult in practice to do that. We should emphasise the fact that there is no scientific evidence of risk to human health.

Mr. Churchill : Is it not time that the consumer was given the protection of the right to know precisely what is in the pint that he drinks? Is it not time that there was a proper requirement for labelling when such additives, hormones and other products are used to boost milk production?

Mr. MacGregor : It is important that the consumer should know that, according to all our expert advice, there is no risk to human health. In any case, the hormone is already present in the milk produced. I am keen to ensure that more informative labelling is available to consumers wherever possible. There are practical problems with the Milk Marketing Board with regard to this product, but I am willing to consider all possibilities for improving the information available to consumers.

Mr. Ron Davies : Does the Minister recognise, from the questions that have been put to him this afternoon and from motions on the Order Paper, that there is outright opposition, both inside and outside the House, to the proposed introduction of BST? This afternoon the Minister has taken refuge behind the Medicines Act. Does he accept that if the Medicines Act is not an adequate instrument to deal with the threat posed by BST he should review the provisions of that Act? In the interim, will he acknowledge that he has powers to ban BST under the 1968 Act? Will he now give an assurance, before he makes a decision, that he will give full consideration to banning BST, using the powers in the 1968 Act?

Mr. MacGregor : There are a wide variety of views about BST and it is important that they are based on full knowledge. With regards to the animal test certificate under the Medicines Act I have to approve any product if the Veterinary Products Committee assures me that it is safe, efficacious and of quality. As regards issuing a licence for the product, that again would go through that committee and through a European Community committee, so there would be a full process before a decision was made.

There is another important point that I should stress to the House. There is concern about ensuring proper research and development possibilities in this country. If major companies thought that their major investments would be put at risk by changing policy decisions in mid-stream without a good basis for doing so, we would be disadvantaged in this country, because that research and development would go elsewhere. That is another important consideration to be borne in mind.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

5. Mr. Tony Lloyd : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimates he has for the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy over the next six months ; and if he will make a statement.

Column 863

Mr. Donald Thompson : All the evidence available so far suggests that the disease is not spreading from animal to animal, but that the cases identified are attributable to a common source. Our knowledge is still developing and any estimate must be tentative. Based on the incidence since the disease was made notifiable, the number of cases likely to be confirmed over the next six months may be about 350 a month.

Mr. Lloyd : Will the Minister confirm that his Ministry was aware of the widespread belief that "spongy brain" is transmitted from one species to another--from sheep to cattle--and that during that period infected meat was sold for human consumption in the markets because of the lamentable failure of his Ministry to stop it? The Minister should apologise for that. What action will he take to prevent the import of infected meat? There has been no recorded outbreak of the disease outside this country, but that may simply reflect the fact that veterinary practices are not at the same standard as those in Britain.

Mr. Thompson : Far from apologising, I shall say that the response of all concerned with the disease has been exemplary. The Ministry, the farmers and the renderers have acted in concert to attack the disease at its onset. The Ministry has diverted funds to find out exactly where the disease is coming from and has found, as the hon. Gentleman said, that it may have started in sheep and been transmitted through animal feedingstuffs to other animals. Therefore, the rendering industry--renderers make protein for animal feedingstuffs--have withdrawn that protein and we have extended the withdrawal period for another year. The farmers are notifying the disease and have accepted 50 per cent. compensation. The Southwood committee has made recommendations which the Government have implemented immediately.

Mr. Robert Hicks : Is my hon. Friend aware that the incidence of outbreaks of the disease is particularly high in the south-west? Will he consider carefully the existing level of compensation for affected animals? There is, after all, a precedent in the brucellosis eradication scheme, in which the figure was higher than 50 per cent. for infected animals.

Mr. Thompson : I omitted to mention imports in my answer to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). He said that there are no notifications of the disease anywhere else. We are studying the position carefully. I know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) knows, that the disease started in the south. Nobody knows why there have been far more incidents in the south-west than in the rest of the country. [Interruption.] The south-west would not think its economy was over- heated. Compensation is at about the right level. The animal withers and dies, so is worthless even if the farmer does not notify, although we have no information that farmers are not notifying us of the disease.

Mr. Skinner : Can the Minister say whether there has been any incidence of the disease in Leicestershire, particularly in Blaby? Can he also confirm that if human beings eat large quantities of meat that has been infected by "spongy brain", the disease can be transmitted to them? Could Ministers, who go to large banquets, be infected with the disease, and can he confirm that that is why the Chancellor has tunnel vision?

Column 864

Mr. Thompson : The hon. Gentleman began well. There have been outbreaks of the disease in every county. [Interruption.] The disease does not affect meat, therefore neither I nor the Chancellor can be affected by it.

Miss Emma Nicholson : I congratulate my hon. Friend on acting so swiftly and circumspectly to contain the disease within animals--if not on the Opposition Front Bench. Has the Ministry managed to achieve proper incinerating facilities? In the south-west we are concerned about the open burning of the repulsive carcases.

Mr. Thompson : There was open burning of carcases in Cornwall, at Lean quarry, in Peasedown St. John and in Cheriton Bishop in Devon. That has now stopped. We have a perfectly adequate facility in Hertfordshire, where we are collecting carcases and taking them to the incinerator in refrigerated vehicles. That facility is in Royston and will meet our needs for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Heffer : What about heifers?

Dr. David Clark : As the BSE-type disease has jumped species from sheep to cattle and there is some evidence that it has jumped to humans, why is the Ministry withholding cash for vital research work on BSE, which obviously poses a potential threat to public health?

Mr. Thompson : The answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is that we have found the disease only in female cattle, with one exception, so he had better be careful.

The answer to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is that there is no evidence that the disease can move from cattle to human beings. Scrapie has been endemic for many years and there is no evidence that it will move from sheep to human beings. We are burning the animals and have banned the milk in order to be doubly safe. We have spent a great deal of money on this disease and its eradication. We may be accused of spending too much, but I am sure that we cannot be accused of spending too little.


6. Mr. Colin Shepherd : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when the sheepmeat regime will next be discussed in the Council of Agriculture Ministers of the European Economic Community.

Mr. MacGregor : I expect the Council to discuss the review of the sheepmeat regime again at its next meeting on 12 December.

Mr. Shepherd : Does my right hon. Friend agree that sheepmeat production is of particular importance to the west of the country, with only uplands to work, and where little else can be done with the ground? Does he agree also that the stabiliser package, as it is currently running, not only ignores imports from eastern Europe and New Zealand, but penalises United Kingdom and European production? Is there not, therefore, a case for seeking a marked reduction in imports from New Zealand under the voluntary restraints agreement below the level of 205,000, which is currently on the table, bearing in mind that at present New Zealand is putting in only about 200,000, yet this works against the interests of United Kingdom producers?

Column 865

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the sheep sector, not only in the west country uplands, but in uplands throughout the United Kingdom. I am aware of that in the negotiations on which we are embarking. The stabiliser was introduced because of the escalating cost of the sheepmeat regime, now estimated to be more than 1 billion ecu, from a much lower base only a short while ago. The stabiliser was introduced to control that and it relates entirely to increases in flocks in the European Community. My hon. Friend will know that imports from New Zealand and elsewhere are a major aspect of the review of the regime that we are undertaking. There is a draft agreement with New Zealand. The arrangements with New Zealand are GATT-bound, but we shall have to see how the negotiations go as we proceed with the review. I expect that that will take a long time.

Mr. MacDonald : Is it right that under the stabiliser proposal upland sheep farmers in less-favoured areas may face cuts in premiums because of increases in production on lower ground, particularly as a result of farmers who grow grain moving to sheep production? Can the Minister guarantee that that will not happen? If he cannot, will he look at the case for increasing the hill livestock allowances to compensate?

Mr. MacGregor : I cannot give a guarantee that that will not happen because, clearly, stabilisers are introduced in this sector, as in any other where there is a high cost in the regime, in order to control the costs of the regime. It is not possible to distinguish across the Community where the sheep receiving the benefits come from. I am aware of the importance of the sheep sector to the uplands, which is why I excluded grazed fallow from the set-aside scheme. I wanted to ensure that upland farmers were protected from what I would otherwise have seen as unfair competition. I did that because I was strongly aware of the sector's importance to the uplands.

Mr. Ralph Howell : Is my right hon. Friend aware that food prices and agricultural support are at their lowest level for 20 years? Does he realise that depressing agriculture prices is doing vast harm to the industry and to the British economy in general?

Mr. MacGregor : I do not think that that question is entirely related to the review of the sheepmeat regime, but I should like to say that it is important to ensure long-term stability for our farmers. That is what I have been keen to secure. While we have surpluses and the heavy cost of disposing of them, long-term security is on a fragile basis. I acknowledge the splendid contribution that farmers have made to food production and to keeping food prices down. I agree with my hon. Friend about that. I hope he agrees, however, that we must ensure security for the long term. Getting rid of surpluses and their cost must be part of that.

Common Agricultural Policy

7. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with European Community Agriculture Ministers about reform of the common agricultural policy ; and what agreements were reached.

Column 866

Mr. MacGregor : Discussions are continuing in the Agriculture Council on Commission proposals for reforming the CAP regimes for sheep and beef.

Mr. Jones : I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. In his negotiations with the Commission, does he share the view of the deputy director of the agriculture department of the Commission--Mr. Pooley--who said in Clwyd last week that, in his opinion, the common agricultural policy is likely to lead to farms with no sensible income that nobody but farmers would accept? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that statement?

Mr. MacGregor : I am not entirely sure that I know what that statement means. That farmers would have no sensible income? That they would have lower incomes? If that is what Mr. Pooley said--he has never said it to me--I do not agree with him. We are anxious to secure a good, stable basis for the prosperity of our farmers. In other member states in the Community, I understand that there are a lot of small, non-viable farmers with non-viable incomes--many more than in Britain. That problem will have to be tackled.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : May I refer my right hon. Friend to the future of the sheepmeat regime? Will he give a rather more positive response to the view just expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd)? Does he agree that, since punitive milk quotas were imposed on the United Kingdom, many farming areas have been suitable only for sheep, so the sheepmeat regime is of considerable importance to the United Kingdom? Is it not extraordinary that the CAP does not show where surpluses and the huge additional costs to it that arise because of the increased number of sheep. Will my right hon. Friend consider that in future discussions in the European Community?

Mr. MacGregor : I certainly will. The sheep sector is expanding rather faster here than in many other Community countries. There are very good reasons for that, one of which is that we are good at it. In negotiations on the sheepmeat regime, I am anxious to secure arrangements that allow free but fair competition, provide support at reasonable cost and enable the United Kingdom to capitalise on our natural productive advantages in the sheepmeat sector. That is what I am out to secure, and I believe that it is exactly what our sheep producers want.

I am sure my hon. Friend knows that dairy quotas now have widespread support throughout the British farming community.

Mr. Maclennan : In answer to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), the Minister sounded more concerned about New Zealand sheep producers that about sheep producers in our own hills and uplands. Why is that his objective?

Mr. MacGregor : That is certainly not the impression I intended to give. I hope that the answer I have just given shows that I am fighting for United Kingdom sheep producers in order to secure the best possible arrangements in the future regime.

Mr. Nicholas Baker : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) raised a matter of great importance for small farmers throughout the country? Will my right hon. Friend try to

Column 867

direct the energy of his fellow Ministers to reform the common agricultural policy and to protect farmers from partial and unbalanced programmes such as the BBC's "Watchdog", which made unfounded, dangerous and alarming allegations about eggs?

Mr. MacGregor : Yes, certainly. For small farmers, we must put the matter in perspective. The thrust of some policies geared towards small farmers being advocated in the Community would not be advantageous to the United Kingdom, because they are directed at the type of small farmer, that we do not have. Those are the unviable farmers, and I am not sure that those policies make sense. On the issue of salmonella in eggs, it is important that the media put across a balanced view. There have been a small number of outbreaks in relation to total egg consumption per day. There have been 26 outbreaks this year, and 30 million eggs are consumed per day. Therefore, the risks are small. Having said that, we and the industry are determined to ensure that we minimise the risks to the maximum extent possible. We are considering further measures to enable us to do so.

Farmers (Northern Region)

8. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent correspondence he has received from farmers in the northern region.

Mr. Ryder : We receive substantial correspondence from farmers in the northern region on a wide variety of issues.

Mr. Devlin : The Minister will be aware from recent correspondence that, although many farmers in the northern region have had a good harvest, they have not had a good financial year? I ask him, on behalf of the farmers in my region, what advice he has to offer them? Is he asking them to get out of agriculture altogether, should they diversify, or just soldier on regardless?

Mr. Ryder : We shall, as always, be keeping a close watch on information about farm incomes that emerges from the annual review. Work is still being done on the figures. However, it is clear that although there is pressure in some sectors, others, such as the dairy sector and farms in less-favoured areas, both of particular relevance to the north, appear to have had a better year. I am convinced that the policies we are pursuing are the best way to ensure a viable and stable farming industry in the north.

Mr. Home Robertson : Is the Minister aware that the proximity of the northern region to Scotland will be making farmers and farm workers in the north of England aware of the burdens that will result from the imposition of the poll tax on employees whose employers at present pay their rates for them? Will he seek to avoid the distress and difficulties that are presently being created for farm workers in Scotland by immediately asking the English Agricultural Wages Board to take steps to avoid that problem being created for farm workers in England and Wales in a year's time?

Mr. Ryder : I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the Labour Front Bench. Under the community charge, if an employer wishes to pay the community charge of an

Column 868

employee he is still entitled to do so. It is not for me to interfere with matters that are looked after by the Agricultural Wages Board.

Licensed Victuallers Association

9. Mr. Allen : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met representatives of the Licensed Victuallers Association.

Mr. Ryder : My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson), met representatives of the National Licensed Victuallers Association on 25 April 1988, in the company of several hon. Members, including the hon. Member, himself.

Mr. Allen : Does the Minister agree that there are now large numbers of people in the brewing industry who own pubs but who are not brewers by trade--they are property developers, speculators and so on? Is he aware that their tenants and publicans are not covered by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, nor by the voluntary code of practice to which brewers adhere? Will he meet the LVA to discuss how to tackle the problem?

Mr. Ryder : I would be pleased to meet the LVA. There are very few instances such as those raised by the hon. Gentleman, but he is right to draw attention to them. In the case of recent relatively large scale pub sales by one of the major brewers, Grand Metropolitan, to a non-brewer, Heron, the contract of sale required the buying company to respect the provisions of the code, so the tenants continue to enjoy that protection. We would expect similar arrangements to apply to other similar sales. If there are other cases which the hon. Gentleman would wish to draw to my attention, I hope that he will do so.

Mr. Colvin : May I suggest an easy solution to my hon. Friend? That is, to give statutory backing to the brewers' code of practice on tenants' security.

Mr. Ryder : That is a matter for the Brewers' Society in consultation with the LVA, and I am not convinced yet that both those organisations wish to go down the path that has been recommended by my hon. Friend.

Next Section

  Home Page