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Column 480planning authorities to take into account the new situation in agriculture and the need to diversify, but are going round the country urging them to do so.
I recommend the guide to farmers--especially Mr. Morris--because I believe that they will find that it contains a great deal of helpful advice about how to deal with the planning system, very often for the first time. With regard to the signposting, I would ask my hon. Friend to draw Mr. Morris's attention to annex D of this document.
Mr. Boswell : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the attitudes of planning authorities vary in different parts of the country? Will he and his colleagues do their best to ensure that those who are now acting as nimbys join the others that take a more positive attitude to rural diversification and similar developments?
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend and I would wish to do so. It is fair to say, however, that many planning authorities are taking a much more constructive approach than they perhaps did in the past. They recognise that--wherever the planning and environmental considerations can be met--it is highly desirable that diversification takes place in the interests of rural employment and prosperity.
Mr. Ryder : The current scheme for the distribution of surplus European Economic Community food was introduced in 1988 and is to be reviewed after two years' operation. Charitable and non-profit-making organisations were invited to participate on this basis, and they will be consulted shortly about detailed arrangements for the 1989 distribution.
Mr. Allen : Is the Minister aware of the antagonism among those pensioners who are not entitled to receive any of the surplus butter, beef or whatever? Will he ensure that any future scheme is far fairer to all pensioners so that that sort of local problem does not arise? After all, £112 million was spent on surplus food in the redistribution. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that either there is no problem, because there is no redistribution, or, if there must be redistribution, it is carried out fairly?
Mr. Ryder : About 6 million people are entitled to receive the food under this scheme and they fall mainly into three categories. They are those receiving family credit or income support, those of no fixed abode, and those living in welfare hostels. Many pensioners already fall into those three categories.
Mr. Kilfedder : Is the Minister aware that a vast number of deserving and needy pensioners in my constituency were denied the opportunity to benefit from the surplus EEC food because of the nonsensical distribution arrangements? I am sure that the Minister will ensure that this year's arrangements are fair and that pensioners will get a fair deal.
Column 481pensioners already fall into the three categories which I mentioned. In all, 6 million people are entitled to receive the food, many of whom are pensioners.
Mr. McGrady : Will the Minister take into account the fact that the distribution of surplus EEC foodstuffs in Nothern Ireland was a complete disaster? Will the Minister investigate the allegations that certain bodies --even those with political connotations--were selling that food to people who were not within the categories which the Minister mentioned?
Mr. Donald Thompson : My right hon. Friend met the chairman of the Women's Farming Union most recently at its annual general meeting on 23 November 1988, and a range of issues were discussed, including the impact of the single European market.
Mr. Bruce : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. In his discussions, did my right hon. Friend the Minister recognise the excellent role played by the Women's Farming Union in helping to diversify farmers' products and in particular introducing regional marketing for regional products and developing speciality food? Will my right hon. Friend the Minister be developing those points with the Women's Farming Union?
Mr. Thompson : I have considered that, and my right hon. Friend the Minister has also discussed the matter with the Women's Farming Union. We congratulate the union on the Fresh Taste of Britain competition which will be a schools competition and will be directed at young consumers now and in the future. That initiative will operate alongside Food from Britain.
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 President of Bangladesh.
Mr. Dunn : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the total hostility and opposition of the people of Dartford to British Rail's proposal to build a high speed rail link through north-west Kent concentrating in particular on routes 1 and 2? In case Parliament should give British Rail its private Bill, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to reaffirm the pledges already given by
Column 482Transport Ministers that the Bill will have significant environmental protection and generous compensation for the people who will be affected by the route?
The Prime Minister : I am very well aware that people in Kent are deeply concerned to know what proposal will come forward about extra rail capacity. There is general agreement that there must be increased rail capacity for the people of Kent. Both British Rail and the Government are well aware that a single firm proposal must be brought forward soon. I hope that that will ease the position. I agree that the proposal must take full account of environmental factors and be accompanied by an announcement of proper compensation arrangements.
The Prime Minister : --by methods which the right hon. Gentleman opposes. I note that the best performance of the Labour Government was 7.4 per cent. inflation, which was a low level according to their standards, which they reached for only one month. That must be compared with our best performance so far of 2.4 per cent. We have already had inflation at 3 per cent. or below for six months. The chances of our getting down to zero are good.
Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister knows that under this Government there has been no oil price hike, no major rise in commodity prices-- [Interruption.] So can the Prime Minister tell us why it is that under her Government the rate of inflation is now higher and rising faster in Britain than in any comparable industrialised country?
The Prime Minister : Under this Government there is no incomes and prices policy to keep incomes down and put prices up, as happened under the Labour Government. There have been far fewer strikes, a far better standard of living, far better manufacturing output and far better profitability-- better all round.
Mr. Lawrence : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the blistering attack yesterday by the Lord Chief Justice of England on the Government's Green Papers for law reform? Is she further aware that the result of those Green Papers will be the virtual abolition of the independent Bar, which will drive up legal costs-- [Interruption.] The Green Papers will restrict the availability of lawyers, particularly in country areas, and will reduce the quality of services. Is my right hon. Friend further aware that those recommendations are directly contrary to the proposals of the Benson Royal Commission in 1979, which the Government accepted in 1983--
The Prime Minister : I think that I heard half that question. I must point out to my hon. and learned Friend that any proposal, or set of proposals, put forward by our most distinguished Lord Chancellor is worthy of serious consideration and merits serious debate. I know that my
Column 483hon. and learned Friend has strong views, and I think that strong views will also be expressed by those who oppose his point of view when we debate this very important subject.
Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that to suggest that we should maintain the independent deterrent, but then to say that there are no circumstances in which it would be used, undermines its credibility? Does she agree that the authors of the proposal are interested not in the peace of the world but in creating an uneasy peace within their own party?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree fully with my hon. Friend. Any such suggestion betrays a total lack of understanding of nuclear deterrence, which has been the basis of NATO strategy and has kept the peace for 40 years. The proposal betrays a fundamental weakness in defence policy. This Government will maintain our defences to ensure that the defence of freedom is strong.
Mr. Churchill : Now that the last Soviet soldier has left Afghanistan, will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the Afghan people over more than nine years of occupation? Will she also express our appreciation to Pesident Gorbachev for the new- found realism in Soviet foreign policy? Does that not make possible the opening of a new and more productive chapter in the relationship between our two countries?
The Prime Minister : yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that it has been the superb courage and determination of the resistance which have meant that the occupying forces have now left Afghanistan. That is good for Afghanistan and good news for the world as a whole. We should also pay tribute to the role of Pakistan in receiving many refugees over the years and in looking after them so unselfishly. I shall certainly convey our appreciation to Mr. Gorbachev, when he comes in April. This is a new chapter and indicates a new realism. We hope that it can be used also to solve other regional problems.
Dr. Owen : As less than half of Conservative voters think that the National Health Service is safe in the hands of this Government and one third of them think that it is unsafe, is it not time that the Government withdrew the proposals to commercialise the Health Service, to introduce an open, not an internal, market and to create a two-tier Health Service?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that there are no proposals to privatise the National Health Service ; nor could there be any such proposals because one does not pay for the service at the point of use ; nor should one. The National Health Service is a great deal safer in the hands of a Conservative Government than it ever was in the right hon. Gentleman's hands when he was Minister of State for Health and than it ever was in Labour hands, when they spent only a fraction on the Health Service of what the British taxpayer is spending now.
Mr. Couchman : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that when she met the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Arens, she made it clear that there can be no peaceful settlement to the middle eastern conflict without acceptance of the principle of territory for peace?
The Prime Minister : Yes, we had a very fruitful discussion yesterday with the Israeli Foreign Minister and we made it absolutely clear that when the Arab world is negotiating, it will be territory in return for peace. That is, of course, the basis of United Nations resolution 242, which Israel accepts.
Column 485debt and poverty that induce people to sell them? Now that the British people have begun to sell organs, can the Prime Minister tell the House what she feels about the fact that more than 3 million people in Britain are in debt and more than 6 million people are living in poverty--as I hope she acknowledges? That record is the shameful and shabby result of her policies.
The Prime Minister : I made my views known on the sale of kidneys. I think that it is utterly abhorrent and even though people are poor, it does no mean that they should forfeit all the respect to which they are entitled. The right hon. Gentleman referred to poverty. Poverty, on his definition, is constantly upgraded, as far as income is concerned. In fact, there are fewer pensioners now in the bottom one fifth of income than there were under the Government that he supported.
Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that today's confirmation that unemployment has fallen below 2 million is a significant landmark in the Government's campaign to create more jobs? Is it not also significant that unemployment is falling throughout the country and that the number of job vacancies, including in the north of England, is rising?
The Prime Minister : Yes. Today's news that unemployment has fallen- -seasonally adjusted--to below 2 million was very good news. Not only has unemployment fallen, but there are now more people in employment in this country than at any time ever, and that, too, is excellent news. There has been a particularly good record since the last election. During the last election
Column 486campaign the Labour party promised that it would create 1 million jobs in two years. They would have done that by methods that would have undermined the economy, whereas we have created very nearly 1 million new jobs in under two years by methods which have reinforced our prosperity.
Mr. Nellist : During the Prime Minister's discussions with the Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Ahrens, has she raised with him the fact that in four days last month in the occupied territories eight children, one as young as 11, were killed by rubber or plastic-coated steel bullets-- some shot at close range in the head or chest? How are the Government of Israel to be censured, other than by sharp, economic direct action--if not by the Government, by the workers of this country?
The Prime Minister : We have made our views about some of the events in the West Bank very clear to Israel. The hon. Gentleman points out--it underlies his remarks--that there is a need to get negotiations going and that they need to be properly prepared on the basis of United Nations resolution 242, which deals with territory for peace. I firmly believe that the overwhelming majority of people in Israel seek a maintained peace with security behind their own border. That is also the purpose and wish of the Arabs in the region.
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