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Mr. Rogers : In the current review of the sheepmeat regime by the Council of Ministers, will Her Majesty's Government resist the abolition of the variable premium? If they fail, as is likely, will they insist on an alternative support system that will safeguard the livelihoods of upland sheep farmers?
Mr. Thompson : There are, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, complex negotiations ahead. My right hon. Friend will be doing his best to ensure that any future regime enables the industry, including that of Northern Ireland, to prosper and gain full advantage from an excellent structure and its efficiency and expertise.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). His earlier question was broader than the specific answer that I was giving. The answer to his question is that we shall also be discussing these matters in the EEC next week.
Mr. Michael Brown : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a good opportunity for the rest of Europe to appreciate the size of our ewe and lamb flock and that there are great opportunities for exporting our lamb? May we have an assurance that our industry is exploiting to the full the opportunities for lamb and mutton?
Mr. Thompson : Our sheep and lamb exports are one of the success stories of British farming in the 1980s. Exports have increased by 77 per cent. since 1980 and Welsh lamb has rightfully taken its place as one of the delicacies of continental Europe, especially in Greece.
Dr. Thomas : Proportionately, I probably represent more sheep than any other hon. Member-- [Interruption.] This is a serious matter. Will the Minister give an assurance to the sheep farmers of the hill areas throughout the United Kingdom that he understands that to them, sheepmeat and the income derived from the EEC sheepmeat regime is a regional policy which must be maintained? What is the present negotiating position of his right hon. Friend on this issue in the Community?
Mr. Thompson : It would be churlish of me to comment on the opening words used by the hon. Gentleman in that supplementary question by saying that that is why he is here. My right hon. Friend is aware of the importance of this industry in Wales and in the uplands of Britain. The hon. Gentleman was not in his place last night for the debate on the beef industry, when much was said about the need to be careful in our negotiations so as to maintain the efficiency and natural advantages that this country has in the sheep and beef industries.
Mr. Evans : Is the Minister satisfied with the quality of milk supplied to the consumer by the dairy industry? Further, what is his view about the marketing opportunities for added value products by the farmer?
Mr. Thompson : In December my hon. Friend announced that we have achieved step 2 status for the cleanliness of our raw milk for use in pasteurised, sterilised and UHT milk and in dairy products of all sorts.
Mr. Ryder : Some 1,300 applications have been received in the United Kingdom for the farm diversification capital grants that were introduced a year ago, 784 of which have been approved. The non-capital grants for enterprise feasibility studies and marketing costs, which were introduced on 1 August, have attracted 44 applications. This is an encouraging response to the scheme.
Mr. Moate : Does my hon. Friend agree that the scheme is giving new opportunities and initiatives to farmers and growers, but that much depends on a sympathetic response from the planning authorities? Is he satisfied that the planning authorities are ready and willing to respond to the spirit of the scheme? What opportunities exist for farmers and growers to obtain guidance about the planning implications of the scheme?
Mr. Ryder : My hon. Friend is correct. We have just published guidance entitled "Planning Permission and the Farmer", which is available from HMSO bookshops. We hope that it will become a standard work to help farmers overcome the problems to which my hon. Friend referred.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the Premier of Quebec.
Mr. Blunkett : Is the Prime Minister aware of the predatory bid for Bassett Foods, which produces liquorice allsorts in my constituency, and the enormous cost accruing to it and companies in a similar position? It is costing possibly £750,000 merely to fight the bid. Is she
Column 478aware of the danger for the company, the workforce and the community? Will she consider changing her mind about bringing legislation into line with the protection that exists for competitors in other countries and overcoming the shenanigans that have surrounded the GEC bid by ensuring that any companies bidding for British firms make a substantial deposit with the Department of Trade and Industry, which would be forfeited if the bid were not successful?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman has made his strong views quite clear. I think that he will be the first to understand that we must operate the law as passed by the House and as it is. A bid must therefore go before the Office of Fair Trading and then to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. There will be a big Companies Bill before the House, and I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman wishes to table amendments he will do so.
Mr. Holt : I know that my right hon. Friend has taken a keen interest in the activities of Cleveland county council in relation to child sex abuse. Were not the shameful contributions of its Labour members exacerbated this week when the police had to intervene between two councillors who were fighting in county hall? Should we not abolish--
Mr. Kinnock : Given the widespread and justifiable concern about food safety, why do the Government still refuse to prosecute companies whose processing plants have been found to be contaminated by salmonella? Why do the Government still persist in making cuts in funding for vital food research, continue to underfund and undervalue the work of environmental health officers and delay updating the regulations to take account of modern conditions and needs?
The Prime Minister : A considerable amount of research is done by the Agricultural and Food Research Council but near-market research is a matter for companies. We shall concentrate on basic research in the Agricultural and Food Research Council. With regard to salmonella and other matters, the answer given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which received a great deal of publicity, was exhaustive and well-received.
Mr. Kinnock : The statement by the Minister yesterday was welcome although he said 10 minutes ago--as I am sure he will acknowledge--that nothing he announced was new. Sadly, the announcement did not touch on any of the problems raised in my first question. That suggests that the Government are not yet prepared to give proper priority to the interests of the consumer. Why do the Government continue to fail in their essential duties of enforcement, research, local environmental health and modern regulations?
The Prime Minister : I went through the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food carefully. He put together the many steps which he has taken since the matter first arose, some of which were taken before the matter received a great deal of publicity. He also put together the steps that he has taken since December. He is concerned about the consumer, as are we all. He has taken steps to introduce codes of practice and, if need be, as he made clear, we shall put them into statutory form.
Sir Ian Lloyd : Does the Prime Minister consider that the erosion of apartheid in South Africa and its eventual abolition--an objective shared by both sides of the House--is likely to be accelerated or delayed by the attempt to use financial blackmail to prevent English Test cricketers going to that country and teaching young blacks-- [Interruption.] --yes, young blacks and youngsters of all races how to play cricket? In view of the deplorable human rights record of some countries which criticise South Africa, is it not time that the question of the Gleneagles agreement was brought back to the table?
The Prime Minister : We are signatories to the Gleneagles agreement and we have to uphold it. It is a voluntary agreement and it is for people to decide how to operate it. We must carry out our duties under it.
Mr. Ashdown : In view of his past record and comments, will the Prime Minister say what special personal qualities she had in mind when she decided to appoint the noble lord, Lord Chalfont as deputy chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority?
Mr. Ian Taylor : In the week that the National Freight Consortium announced its stock exchange plans and underlined the success that employee shareholders have had in the progress of the company, will my right hon. Friend continue the Government's policies of supporting employee share ownership by encouraging employee share ownership schemes? Will she tell the European Commission of the value of employee share ownership as a way of involving employees in their companies and tell it what to do with the rigid, German system of Mitbestimmung?
Mr. Allen : The Prime Minister's Office was made aware this morning that one of the families that did not vote in the ballot has been involved in the worst child sex abuse case on our records. It involved 16 children and their parents. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to
Column 480commend the work of Nottinghamshire county council's social services department in this particularly harrowing case? Will she also take the opportunity-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Allen : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to commend the use of the video link to ensure that evidence is given in this case? Will she speak to her colleague the Home Secretary and ensure that money is granted so that proper research can be done into child abuse and to help prevent the generation-to-generation continuation of such harrowing cases?
The Prime Minister : This was a particularly bad case of child abuse, which was reported in the newspapers this morning. It was utterly repugnant. All child abuse cases are repugnant, but this was especially so. When one of the judges heard it, he acknowledged the excellent way in which Nottingham social services department handled this difficult case and he also complimented the foster parents on the way in which they had handled matters. I am very glad to follow that. It was one of the first cases in which video links have been used to enable children to give evidence and we are very pleased that, after recent legislation, it worked extremely well. With regard to research on child sex abuse, the Department of Health has already identified research projects on this matter and has so far allocated £160,000 to those research projects. It intends to commission further research on this in the coming year and it is discussing the research programme with the Home Office.
[Interruption.] Did she have time, when reading this good news, to see the incredible level of employment that we now have? Has she reflected on the fact that that has been achieved because of the great strength in the economy and does she not think that the news should be welcomed by the whole House?
The Prime Minister : Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Had the news been otherwise, we should have been asked about it constantly by the Opposition. I am glad that unemployment continues to go down. It has gone down for 29 consecutive months. The numbers of-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : The numbers of the work force in employment are now at an all-time record and the percentage of the population of working age in work is higher in the United Kingdom than in France, Germany and Italy, and it is higher than the European average. It is a very good set of figures today.
Column 481of correspondence with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs Currie) on the latter's resignation from the Government.
Mr. Dalyell : How come the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South was treated significantly differently from Sir Leon Brittan? Was it that he was able to negotiate the wording of the resignation letter that he received because of the promise of silence about the Prime Minister's own unmentionable misbehaviour, as reported in column 657 of Hansard on 27 January 1986.
The Prime Minister : As usual, the hon. Gentleman is utterly wrong. [Interruption.] I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's assertions and I think that it was absolutely right to publish the recent letters on the egg matter.
Mr. Townend : Is my hon. Friend aware of the bitterness in the Hull area about the continued closure of the container terminal, which cost £3 million? It is another victim of the national dock labour scheme, which is causing the port of Hull to wither on the vine. When will the Government take pity on the once great port of Hull, abolish the national dock labour scheme and enable Hull to compete on equal terms in a free market with Felixstowe and other North sea ports?
The Prime Minister : I understand how strongly my hon. Friend feels about Hull and that he feels that sometimes ports outside the scheme flourish far better than those inside the scheme. I know how strongly he feels and how strongly a number of my other hon. Friends feel about it. I am sorry that I have to disappoint him, but I have nothing further to add to the statements that I have made previously on this subject.
Mr. Speaker : I understand that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has lost her voice. I propose to call her question for her and then call the hon. member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) to read her supplementary.
Given the Prime Minister's new-found enthusiasm--[ Hon. Members :-- "Reading."] Given the Prime Minister's new-found enthusiasm for having more women in public life and in the work force generally, may I ask her how she expects that to come about while women's pay still lags as far behind men's as it did 10 years ago and while the Government refuse to fund state nurseries or give financial help to working mothers? Or does the Prime Minister's advice to women simply consist of telling them to follow her example and find themselves a wealthy husband?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady's last remark is singularly offensive and, if I may say so, really rather cheap. I would point out that the fact that hon. Members have absolutely equal pay, regardless of whether they are hon. Gentlemans or hon. Ladies, does not increase the number of hon. Ladies in the House.
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