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Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

16. Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will ban the sale of those organs from all cows and sheep that are known to carry the viral agent which causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Donald Thompson) : On the advice of the Southwood working party, the carcases of cattle suspected of having BSE are destroyed as a precautionary measure. In addition, from 18 July 1988 the Government introduced a ban on the use of ruminant-based protein in feed rations for ruminants, since this is the most likely cause of the disease. Scrapie has been present in this country for at least 200 years without any evidence of a risk to humans. Neither has research identified such a risk. In the circumstances, the ban which has been suggested would not, therefore, be appropriate.

Mr. Davies : The Southwood committee, to which the Minister referred, recognised that there was a danger to human health from the consumption of infected organs. The Minister said that scrapie had been endemic in this country for 200 years. But is he aware that there have been incidents of BSE only since 1987? Given the fact that the agent responsible both for scrapie and BSE has demonstrated its capacity to cross the species barrier, does the hon. Gentleman agree that his Department is being complacent in not banning the sale for human consumption of all those organs which have the potential for holding the reservoir of this infection?

Mr. Thompson : The hon. Gentleman does well to take this mater as seriously as the Government take it. We shall not accept any charge of complacency on the issue. Indeed, the Southwod report congratulated the Government on the speed with which we acted, and I congratulate Opposition Members on the responsible way in which they have acted in relation to that report. The Southwood report concluded that it was most unlikely that BSE would

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have any implications for human health, and the measures that we are taking are precautionary only. We have now set up the Tyrrell committee, which will advise us on further measures that should be taken. We shall act as quickly on those measures as we have on those contained in the Southwood report.

Mr. Colvin : My hon. Friend's reply shows why there is a growing need for fully trained vets in the United Kingdom. Is he aware that the United Kingdom is importing one vet per day? Will he take this opportunity to turn down the recommendations of the Riley report suggesting that we close the vets colleges at Cambridge and Glasgow?

Mr. Thompson : I have listened very carefully to what my hon. Friend has said. I have answered questions which have given him the information which he has just recycled. However, the Riley committee is a matter for the Department of Education and Science, not for us.

Food Contamination

17. Mr. Buckley : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to reduce the contamination of food.

Mr. Ryder : In implementing our food safety policy my Department and the Department of Health will continue to ensure that we get the facts, that we have the best scientific assessment of them and that action is taken wherever changes are shown to be necessary.

Mr. Buckley : In view of the relevance of the statement by the Minister and the continuing increase in radioactivity in the sheep flocks in Cumberland, is it not time that we had a survey? Since the Chernobyl accident happened three years ago, why do we not have a national survey of radioactivity taken from the aerial surveys of the whole country?

Mr. Ryder : The area concerned is being surveyed and monitored all the time by Ministry officials.

Mr. Bill Walker : Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency D. B. Marshall, which is a large chicken processing plant employing over 1,000 people, is deeply concerned at the dramatic reduction in sales that has occurred following the hysteria over chickens? There has been a drop of 20 per cent. in sales of fresh chickens and of 30 per cent. in sales of frozen chickens. This puts at risk many jobs. A total of £5 million has been spent on this plant in recent years to make it the most modern and up-to- date in Europe. Consequently, we now want some sanity on this matter and some clear evidence that processors are producing chickens of the quality required.

Mr. Ryder : I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct. That is why sales of eggs are gradually recovering and sales of poultry are increasing and have been during the past few years.

Farm Woodland Scheme

18. Mr. Brazier : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made with the farm woodland scheme.

Mr. Ryder : There has been a very encouraging level of interest shown by farmers in the farm woodland scheme.

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In the first five months of the scheme over 750 farmers have applied to plant 5,300 hectares of trees throughout the United Kingdom. A high proportion of the planting will be with broadleaved trees.

Mr. Brazier : This is welcome news indeed. Can I ask my hon. Friend whether MAFF is co-operating with the Department of the Environment in its review of tree preservation orders, as this will offer an opportunity to increase protection of our broadleaved forest and expand its acreage?

Mr. Ryder : Indeed, I have had a meeting with my ministerial colleagues in the Department of the Environment to discuss this matter and their review will be taking into account for TPOs not only trees on roadsides and so forth but trees in hedgerows.

Grain Stocks

19. Mr. Ralph Howell : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many days' supply of grain he estimates will be in store at the end of July 1989 (a) in Britain and (b) in the world.

Mr. Ryder : The International Wheat Council currently forecasts closing world stocks for cereals for the 1988-89 crop year at 229 million tonnes, or around 60 days' supply. Intervention stocks of cereals in the United Kingdom currently stand at 1.1 million tonnes, or around 22 days' supply. The total quantity of cereals in store at the end of July 1989 will depend principally on the level of exports over the rest of the present marketing year and the level of commercial stocks being carried over to the next harvest.

Mr. Howell : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he think these stock levels are adequate or does he agree with FAO that they are likely to be dangerously low?

Mr. Ryder : I do not think that my hon. Friend should be lulled into the belief that there is not a surplus in Europe at the moment. The Government are getting to grips with that surplus through stabilisers and other means of reforming the CAP, which I know he supports.


22. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has received any representations from farmers who took advantage of the milk outgoers scheme who now wish to return to production following the Mulder case.

Mr. Donald Thompson : My Department has been approached by more than 400 farmers, most of whom took part in the 1977 non-marketing of milk and dairy herd conversion schemes, following the judgment of the European Court.

Mr. Nicholson : I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to listen carefully to those farmers who wish to return to production, because there is some pressure in our constituencies for that to be granted.

Mr. Thompson : We shall examine every case as carefully as possible as 600,000 tonnes of new quota is to be created, but it would be wrong for anyone to think that they can put one across with the tribunals and be included in the allocation.

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Q1. Mr. Kilfedder : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 March 1989.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Hungarian Foreign Minister. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Kilfedder : When the Prime Minister met the Foreign Minister of the Republic of South Africa yesterday, did she receive a satisfactory reply when she urged the immediate release of the long-suffering Nelson Mandela and the abolition of the obnoxious Separate Amenities Act? Given Moscow's new approach to violence and the African National Congress, did she emphasise that now is the time for South Africa to reach a rapprochement with people inside and outside the republic?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman said, I repeated once again that we wish that the South African Government would release Nelson Mandela, as then the atmosphere would change completely and it would be possible to start negotiations between the Government of South Africa, the black South Africans and other coloured people in South Africa. A number of people in very high places in South Africa take the same view, but they have not yet been able to achieve that. However, I remain optimistic that before long they will be able to do so because it is vital that voluntary negotiations get started.

Mr. Kinnock : Can the Prime Minister tell us how increases in water charges of between 10 and 43 per cent. help Britain to proceed towards zero inflation?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we shall need increases in water charges, not for privatisation, as he will say, but to provide the capital to spend on the required increased quality. We have already spent far more than any previous Government and we have got rid of much of the previous backlog of things that needed to be done. It is totally unrealistic to suggest that we can have higher quality without extra expenditure.

Mr. Kinnock : It is right to want higher quality and it is obvious that that will have to be paid for-- [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : How is that desirable objective to be assisted by the creation of private monopolies?

The Prime Minister : Because the private sector will have far greater access to investment and carries out far more research and development. It has been proved in France on many occasions that a privatised water supply is very much more efficient than a public organisation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will remember that only yesterday he was complaining that prices of certain commodities were not going up.

Q2. Mr. David Martin : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

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The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Martin : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the initiative of the South African Government to bring peace to Mozambique? Added to the agreements on Namibia and on the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola, does that not show a constructive approach to solving the problems in southern Africa?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The agreement on the United Nations resolution and the proposal to implement it and to have elections in Namibia in November, is very good news. It could not have been achieved without the overwhelming co-operation of South Africa ; nor could the Cuban troop withdrawal have come about in Angola without that co- operation.

We are also very interested to learn of a proposal for helping Mozambique to overcome some of its internal problems, particularly the problems caused by the constant activities of Renamo, which upset so much of the good work that is done there. That all augurs well for the future of Southern Africa as a whole.

Mr. Ashdown : Why is the Prime Minister's first reaction always to shoot the messenger rather than listen to the message?-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Interruptions take up a lot of time.

Mr. Ashdown : Why is the right hon. Lady's first reaction always to shoot the messenger rather than listen to the message? When will she realise that it is not so much her eight Environment Ministers but the privatisation of water that is balderdash and bunkum?

The Prime Minister : I have very good messengers and they have a very good message. The privatisation of water is a very much better deal for the consumer. Twenty-five per cent. of it is already privatised. It is far better to have regulation and production separate. For the first time we shall have a National Rivers Authority and a Director-General of Water Services. We shall get much more investment, which will lead to much more research and technology. Of course, much depends on the latest technology when dealing with water. There will be a consumers' charter. It will be very much better for the environment. That is the message.

Mr. Gow : Does my right hon. Friend recall the manifesto commitment of the Opposition that a new Labour Government would call a national economic-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member's question must relate to the Prime Minister's responsibility.

Mr. Gow : --that the Labour party would call a national economic-- [ Hon. Members :-- "No."]

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is not good enough. The hon. Member must ask a question about the Prime Minister's responsibility.

Mr. Gow : How is it that my right hon. Friend has achieved the Labour party's laudable target of reducing-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

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Q3. Mr. Cummings : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Cummings : Can the Prime Minister explain to the House and the nation why a Government with a surplus of £14 billion cannot allocate the small sums of money that are necessary for the National Health Service to stop charging for eye tests, and to enable the right hon. Lady to fulfil her pledge on full pensions for pre-1973 war widows, whose husbands made the supreme sacrifice?

The Prime Minister : The Government have allocated very much greater resources to the National Health Service than ever before-- [Interruption.] In the lifetime of the previous Labour Government it was £8 billion a year ; now it is £24 billion a year.

[Interruption.] The latest Budget has given considerable relief on national insurance contributions, of some £3 a week on average, which people will have available for other purposes. We have been able to create the prosperity that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents enjoy through Conservative policies, which have led to a higher standard of living and a higher standard of social services than we have ever known before. All poor people on income support and family credit will get free NHS eye tests. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to listen to the answers to questions.

Q4. Mr. Gill : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Gill : Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of the House on her considerable personal achievement in exporting the principles of the market economy and the enterprise culture to Communist Russia, where independence, initiative and enterprise are now being propounded by President Gorbachev as the essential nutrients of Soviet agriculture?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I think that the Soviet Union and some of the other satellite countries are learning. One cannot have the benefits of prosperity without a freer political system, backed up by economic freedom. Moreover, it is the only system that brings dignity. I wish that our friends on the Opposition Benches would also learn that lesson, for Socialism is but a pale shadow of Communism.

Q5. Mr. Mallon : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Mallon : Does the Prime Minister agree with the maxim enunciated by Lord Denning :

"Be you never so high, the law is above you"?

If she does, how does she justify the squalid and murky attempts to hide the truth about the Stalker affair? Has she any appreciation whatever of the damage that has been done to confidence in the police, in the process of justice and, above all, in a Government who have shown how low standards can apply in high places?

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The Prime Minister : The events in the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers took place more than six years ago. They have been subject to a long, painstaking and thorough series of investigations. The decision not to prosecute was taken by the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General. It then became a matter of police disciplinary procedure and 19 officers have now been disciplined. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is a highly professional police force that is dedicated to serving equally all sections of the community, and everyone should extend to the force the unqualified support that it fully deserves.

Q6. Mr. Waller : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Waller : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the anger that many people, especially in the upland areas of the north of England, would feel if untreated green top milk were banned? Does my right hon. Friend fully appreciate than many who have drunk untreated milk throughout their lives would find it quite incomprehensible if pure, untreated milk were banned, despite the fact that they prefer it and that tobacco continues to be freely available?

The Prime Minister : I am aware of the strength of feeling on this issue. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has therefore issued a consultation document to enable all views to be aired, and I know that he will take them into account. We have to weigh those views against the 1,600 cases of food poisoning associated with untreated milk that have occurred in the past five years. My hon. Friend knows that there is a difference in treatment between England and Scotland, and we must take all factors into account after the consultation is complete.

Q10. Mr. William Powell : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Powell : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the considerable anxiety in some parts of the country about the length of hospital waiting lists. Is my right hon. Friend

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aware of the restart programme's considerable success in reducing unemployment? Will she make inquiries to see whether a restart equivalent could be applied to National Health Service waiting lists?

The Prime Minister : I thank my hon. Friend. As he knows, there were special programmes to reduce the waiting lists. In one year we allocated £25 million for that specific purpose, and had the beds to try to get the number of outstanding operations down. The following year the figure was some £30 million. The modest sums that will come in from things such as eye tests and dental examinations will help us to continue to provide other programmes to cut the waiting lists.

Grain Stocks

Q12. Mr. Ralph Howell : To ask the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the current level of world stocks of grain.

The Prime Minister : World stocks of grain are expected to fall over the current year because of adverse weather conditions in 1988 in a number of countries, notably the United States and Canada. However, sowings of winter cereals in the main production areas for the 1989 harvest are well up on last year and, given favourable weather conditions, world cereals production is likely to increase significantly in 1989.

Mr. Howell : While thanking my right hon. Friend for her reply, may I ask whether she is aware that the FAO thinks that world stocks of grain are dangerously low?

The Prime Minister : I think that that is just a little at variance with the report that I have just given. Our objective is to reduce the surplus of grain so that we may have a better world price, which will be helpful to all those in the Community who grow wheat. So far, the situation looks reasonably good, but we shall know better towards the end of the year.

Mr. Yeo : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I shall take points of order after the business statement.

Mr. Yeo : It arises out of questions, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : That may well be so, but I shall still take it afterwards.

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