(No. 2) Bill--
Orders for Third Reading read.
To be read a Third time on Thursday 4 May.
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 4 May.
That the petition of the Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Lewisham, Telegraph Hill Residents opposed to the Tunnel Link (THROTTL) Association and Brockley against the Tunnel Link (BATTL) be referred back to the Court of Referees.-- [Ms. Ruddock.]
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Donald Thompson) : I am planning to visit tharea and meet local representatives of the licensed salmon netsmen soon. I have received a number of representations about this fishery. My colleagues and I will be reviewing it--and the east of Scotland net fisheries--and presenting a report to Parliament in due course, as required by the Salmon Act 1986.
Mr. Mullin : Is the Minister aware of the great hardship caused to salmon fishermen in my constituency and elsewhere by the failure to lay the T-nets order? Can he assure the House that he will do all in his power to secure the future of north-east licensed salmon netsmen against the ill- founded but well-financed angling and riparian interests?
Mr. Thompson : I know of no hardship being caused at present. However, when we review the matter in November, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends on both sides of the House will do their best to ensure that any new agreement is not destroyed or distorted, as the last one was, by people from the hon. Gentleman's own area.
Sir Hector Monro : Does my hon. Friend agree that drift netting off the Northumberland coast poses the greatest threat to salmon conservation in the United Kingdom? When will he make it illegal, as it has been for years off the Scottish coast?
Mr. Thompson : The House now sees the two clear sides of that complicated matter. The November review, which is statutorily required by the Salmon Act 1986, probably will not abolish such netting, but we shall bring it before the House as soon as possible.
Sir Michael Shaw : Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a great deal of unjustified criticism against licensed drift net fishermen, and that much of the trouble is caused not only by the increasing seal population but by unlicensed fishermen and poachers generally? Would it not be of great assistance to those in the industry and in authority if more advice were taken from the official fishing organisations on how to control unlicensed fishermen?
Mr. Thompson : Unlicensed fishermen in all sectors of fishery are a great nuisance. Given the different flavours of the views that we are hearing from all parts of the House, I am already looking forward to the debate. As my hon. Friend says, good advice should always be taken.
Column 1077Minister received from north-east fishermen included the issue of sewage sludge dumped off the River Tyne? When the hon. Gentleman meets north-east fishermen, will he reassure them that sewage sludge does not involve the risk of their contracting meningitis, herpes or AIDS, as that matter is of great concern to them?
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor) : I receive frequent representation about alternative usefor agricultural land from a wide range of interested organisations and individuals.
Dr. Clark : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many farmers are trying to find imaginative alternative uses for their land, especially in view of their low or negative farm incomes? Is he also aware that when they apply for planning consent some councils are dilatory, arbitrary and sometimes obstructive? What can he do to help?
The planning issue comes up frequently, and the responses of local authorities vary around the country. In comparison with a few years ago, many more are taking a constructive and positive approach to alternative enterprises, recognising their importance to the income of farmers and to rural areas generally. Nevertheless, there is still some way to go. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I encourage local authorities to be positive whenever possible. It is also why we recently published a booklet to assist farmers, so that they know how to approach the planning system and can put their proposals in the best possible light.
Mr. Tony Banks : Is the Minister aware that permits have been issued for the killing of Brent geese and Greenland white-fronted geese? Brent geese do not come from Brent, incidentally, so any Conservative Members who may feel enthusiastic about slaughtering them had better get that straight.
That action is being taken because the geese are allegedly damaging crops. Would it not be appropriate for the Ministry to extend compensation to farmers, so that when they are lucky enough to find the geese alighting on their land the geese can continue to crop unhindered and unslaughtered, and the farmers can continue to receive the income?
Column 1078becoming a major leisure industry? Is it not time that the Ministry recognised the horse as an agricultural animal and made diseases such as equine herpes notifiable?
Mr. MacGregor : When the horse is involved in agricultural activities, it is treated as an agricultural animal. As I believe my hon. Friend knows, the matter has been considered time and again and it is not solely a matter for me, but the Government's position has been made very clear.
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is no doubt that horse-based activities represent a growing alternative use of agricultural land, and perhaps one of the most important. I believe that a Little Neddy agricultural report recently suggested--I speak from memory--that up to 250,000 hectares might be thus employed.
3. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many officials of his Ministry have visited Brussels in the latest year for which figures are available ; and what was the total cost of the visits.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Richard Ryder) : The total number of visits undertaken by Ministers and officials in the financial year 1988-89 was 2,072. The average number of people per visit was two. The provisional cost was £825,253, some £300,000 of which is recoverable from European Community funds.
Mr. Grocott : That is an awful lot of money. Bearing in mind that the cost of the common agricultural policy to the taxpayer has doubled to £2.5 billion under the present Government, does the Minister agree that it would be better for all of us if more of those officials and Ministers stayed here, and if British food policy was determined in Britain rather than in Brussels?
Mr. Ryder : When our officials travel to Brussels, they fight hard for British interests. If they did not go when officials from other countries went, we should not secure such good deals as the one secured by my right hon. Friend last week.
Mr. Curry : Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to dispel the increasing and pernicious myth that Brussels is staffed by an enormous, predatory bureaucracy, and to point out that many decisions are made by delegates of national Governments who are barely accountable? Would it not also cost less if we had a reasonable structure for air fares in the European Community?
Mr. Ryder : My hon. Friend is right to say that the bureaucracy in Brussels is nowhere near as large as it is painted by Opposition Members. Those who work in Brussels do a magnificent job. The present British Government have been spearheading efforts to reform the CAP and the Community. Without our contribution there would be even more officials there than there are now.
Mr. Ryder : Our initial distribution was to holdings in England in the vicinity of the major nuclear installations. Large numbers of copies have also been distributed at meetings held by my officials and in response to individual requests. Distribution has been carried out principally through my Department's regional organisation and further copies remain available free of charge on request.
Mr. Home Robertson : We welcome the realistic advice in the leaflets and the acknowledgement that nuclear accidents can cause serious long-term disruption of food production. Is the Minister satisfied that the £20 million third party insurance carried by nuclear generating companies is adequate? How could a Downing street seminar advocate further nuclear power proliferation on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, which took place 1,200 miles away but is still affecting more than 400,000 acres of British farmland three years later?
Mr. Ryder : European Commission documents show conclusively that the British Government's response to the Chernobyl incident was prompter and more comprehensive than that of other Governments in western Europe. Furthermore, the excellent leaflets to which the hon. Gentleman refers have been widely welcomed not only by farmers' organisations but by all those people who live in the vicinity of a nuclear site. [Interruption.] I am pleased to say, as the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) refers to himself, that the leaflets willl soon be available in Scotland and in Wales.
Mr. Martyn Jones : May I remind the Minister that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report said that the British Government's reaction to Chernobyl was the worst of the nine countries concerned and that the Select Committee on Agriculture, of which I was a member, made the same point in its report, referred to the inadequacy of the compensation and highlighted various other matters that the Minister has neglected to recall?
Mr. Ryder : The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The Select Committee on Agriculture, of which he was a member, did not say that our response was worse than that of other countries in Europe. On the contrary, the Select Committee report showed conclusively that the British Government's response had been prompter and more comprehensive than that of most other Governments in western Europe.
5. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met representatives of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations ; and what subjects were discussed.
Mr. Donald Thompson : I last met representatives of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations when I visited the Fishing '89 exhibition in Glasgow on 14 April. A number of important issues were discussed, including total allowable catches, licensing with reference to under 10m vessels and light dues.
Mr. Michie : Does the Minister agree with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations that more action should be taken to protect marine life? If a true blue Tory party slowly turning green wishes to prove that claim, it
Column 1080must take its industrialist friends to task and ensure that they reduce the amount of industrial waste being dumped in the sea.
Mr. Thompson : The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the effective action that the Government are taking on what he calls green issues. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says that we must take effective action on green issues, she does not then say to me that she does not meant it. She means, "Double and redouble your efforts," and that is what is happening. The amount of waste being dumped into the North sea by this country is very strictly monitored and it is decreasing year by year.
Mr. Harris : Did my hon. Friend see the lead letter in The Times last Monday, headed "Fishermen, Cod Quota Development", which was written by one of my constituents, Mr. Mahon? That letter sums up the frustration and anger of many Cornish fishermen about the halt to cod fishing in the Channel. Will the Minister confirm that scientists will examine the basis of total allowable catch proportions before the next full meeting of fisheries Ministers in June to review the TACs and the cod quota?
Mr. Thompson : I fully understand the frustrations of Cornish and Channel fishermen at having their cod quota curtailed. There will be no cod fishing until later this year because the fishermen caught more than half the quota in the first six months. I have seen the letter in The Times from my hon. Friend's constituent. I have it in my hand now. My hon. Friend will remember that we increased the tonnage of cod from 22,000 tonnes to 23,900 tonnes. We are not being idle in this matter. We are discussing with various other nations quota swaps, among other possibilities, so that we can reintroduce cod fishing before July, but that is a faint hope and I cannot promise that our negotiations will be successful. Nevertheless, we are trying very hard and we are searching for ways to improve fishing opportunities for our Channel fishermen.
Dr. Godman : I, too, met members of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations in Yorkshire recently. They expressed a number of concerns, one of which centres on the need for a fair and sensible decommissioning system to meet European Community guidelines. A more pressing concern was the loss of noxious or toxic cargoes on or close to fishing grounds. Does the Minister agree that following the foundering of the motor vessel Perintis in the Channel last month, a hazardous and noxious substances convention should be set up? What is the Ministry doing about that? While the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may not be the lead Department in these matters, surely the concerns surrounding the loss of those cargoes close to fishing grounds should be discussed at the next Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels.
Mr. Thompson : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There is hardly a fishing council in Brussels or anywhere else in the world that is not concerned about pollution. The hon. Gentleman began by asking about decommissioning, which is one of the many options that we have in our armoury to ensure that we retain a prosperous fishing industry. As for the Perintis, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food pressed very hard to ensure that we used every possible means to recover the barrels from the bottom of
Column 1081the Channel. HMS Challenger successfully recovered all but four of those barrels--if my memory serves me correctly, it recovered 28 out of 32--in the past 10 days. We are now considering the other four barrels seriously. The matter is of very high priority.
Mr. MacGregor : Individual farmers' incomes depend on many factors, but aggregate farming income fell in real terms by 28 per cent. between 1987 and 1988. Real incomes increased in the hills, dairy and the other grazing livestock sectors throughout the United Kingdom. Those figures relate to family farming activities and do not take account of income from the diversified activities on or off the farm.
Mr. Colvin : To help cushion the fall in farm incomes of 28 per cent. in real terms, and further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), will my right hon. Friend have urgent talks with Ministers at the Department of the Environment who are responsible for planning, with a view to producing new guidelines for planning consents for redundant farm buildings, which can be of considerable assistance to farmers facing difficulties and are often unreasonably refused? My right hon. Friend referred to his booklet, but the booklet does no more than repeat the existing rules. We want new rules.
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of making different uses of redundant farm buildings and much is being done in that respect throughout the country. I have had regular discussions with my right hon. Friend on that matter. Guidelines have been produced and we constantly urge local authorities to be as positive as possible on the re- use of redundant farm buildings.
Mr. Martlew : When assessing farm incomes in the future, will the Minister take into account the large savings that some farmers will be making as a result of the poll tax at the expense of their employees who live in tied cottages? Will he advise the National Farmers Union of England and Wales that compensation should be paid to those employees who live in tied cottages to recompense them for the loss of earnings? Will he also recommend that the NFU does not take into account the disgusting and outrageous decision of the Scottish NFU, which was mean to say the least, that it is right to refuse to compensate those agricultural workers who lose out under the poll tax and have been badly hit by the poll tax bills coming through their doors this month?
Mr. MacGregor : As in the case of the rating system, that is a matter for discussion and negotiation between farmers and their employees. I know that in the past, many employers have been generous in the way in which they dealt with the rating system.
Mr. Hague : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one factor which helped the incomes of hill farmers in 1988 was the prompt payment of hill livestock compensatory allowance? Will he accept that there has been some delay in the payments during 1989 and can he give any assurances about that for future years?
Mr. MacGregor : There are a number of matters relating to payments and other issues affecting farmers on which Ministry officials have been hard pressed. It is a question of priorities, but I understand the problems caused by the delays and I note what my hon. Friend has said. We have no wish to delay payments longer than necessary.
Mr. Kirkwood : Will the Minister consider carefully the impact of interest rates on farm incomes? Can nothing be done to mitigate the high rate of interest that farmers have to pay? Is the Minister aware that farmers in my constituency constantly tell me that they are at a disadvantage compared with farmers in other European countries because, according to them, European farmers have systems which mitigate the level of interest rates that they have to pay?
Mr. MacGregor : With regard to other European countries, under the structures regulations it is possible to use either low interest rate schemes or grant schemes. We do the latter. More generally, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the conditions that made it right and necessary for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to raise interest rates. I have never believed that it is easily possible to find any scheme specifically to direct low, subsidised interest rates to any particular group, and it is difficult to see where to start. It is not right to look for special exemptions for the farming community.
Mr. MacGregor : As I said in the House yesterday, last week's CAP price settlement was very satisfactory. It was fully consistent with United Kingdom objectives for the CAP and expenditure, and the substantial green pound devaluation that I secured benefits United Kingdom farmers' income and competitiveness.
Mr. Boswell : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he tell the House, with all due modesty, whether he is aware of any other members states which, at the price-fixing negotiations, achieved a bigger devaluation of their green currency or a larger proportion of increase in benefits for farm incomes? Will my right hon. Friend press on with the good work to ensure the elimination of monetary discrimination altogether in 1990?
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There was one other country which did as well. That was Greece, but the condition to the Greek economy and the general requirements which made that necessary are totally different from ours. It is therefore fair to say that we undoubtedly secured the best outcome on agrimonetary matters and green currencies. I agree with my hon. Friend that that is extremely important for farmers' incomes. Of itself, it should improve them by £155 million in a full year. I also agree that it is crucial that we stay on target to see tha the real monetary gaps are reduced throughout to zero. As my hon. Friend knows, we have done well in most sectors, but we want to achieve zero throughout by 1992 so that we have a genuine single market in agriculture.
Mr. Hood : We heard the Minister express some concern yesterday about the amount of fraud in the common agricultural policy, but is the Minister aware that the Select Committee on European Legislation recently visited Luxembourg to meet the Court of Auditors and that we discussed at long length the billions of pounds involved in fraud and the efforts of the Court of Auditors to catch the people who are committing the fraud? We were also told that for the past two years the United Kingdom Government has refused to give access to the Court of Auditors--
Mr. MacGregor : I do not think that we are refusing to co-operate with the Court of Auditors' general approach to this question. On a number of occasions in the Agriculture Council in recent months, I have specifically referred to the recent Court of Auditors' report on the operation of the intervention system and specifically asked that its recommendations be followed up and agreed in our Council. As I said yesterday, we are now making considerable progress. I welcome the Court of Auditors' recent report and certainly think that we should follow it up.
Mr. Dykes : Just to get The Times newspaper beside itself for another hysterical anti-fraud headline, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Court of Auditors has solemnly reminded us all that fraud amounts to nowhere near the £6 billion figure that The Times keeps giving in its headlines, and that all the member states are equally involved in fraud, which is a serious matter, and that the Reading cold storage agency has been the least co-operative in supplying cold storage audit figures to the Court of Auditors?
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. By definition, we do not know the precise figures, but most informed observers think that £6 billion is far too high. Nevertheless, I am sure that my hon. Friend will think that something well short of that amount would also be far too high. That is why we take these matters seriously and why we wish to pursue fraud in any direction, wherever it occurs.
Mr. Home Robertson : What action is being taken to ensure that eggs imported from other European countries are up to the high health standards that are now required on British farms? How are British consumers and producers being protected against the effects of substandard imported eggs?
Mr. MacGregor : I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of this. First, we have stepped up our monitoring of imported eggs and if we find any cases of salmonella--I have had no reports of any to date--I shall, of course, be taking that matter up straight away with the Minister of the member state concerned. Secondly, we are now pursuing within the European Community the whole question of action on salmonella and all such diseases. A report is now being drawn up on this matter and I hope that it will lead to action. As always, it takes some time to reach agreement on these matters
Column 1084within the European Community, but I entirely agree about the importance of tackling this at a European Community level.
8. Mr. Gill : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the prospects for cattle, sheep and pig producers prior to the completion of the internal market, in 1992.
Mr. MacGregor : The conditions for livestock producers between now and 1992 will be affected by a number of factors, including some changes, connected with completion of the single internal market which are at an early stage of discussion. My objective remains to seek arrangements under which United Kingdom producers can compete on thoroughly equal terms with those in other Community countries.
Mr. Gill : Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of the House on his considerable and beneficial achievement in securing the partial elimination of MCAs, which will go a long way to helping British livestock producers to be more competitive? Does he accept that many British livestock producers look forward to the completion of the internal market in 1992 and will he assist them by instituting a survey to demonstrate what comparative advantage there may be in the production of sheepmeat and beef on completion of the single market?
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the first part of his question. I hope that everyone will recognise just how far we have gone in improving the position of the United Kingdom industry relative to even two years ago. In the livestock sectors to which my hon. Friend has referred, two years ago we had negative MCAs ranging from 24 to 31 points ; today, in three of the four sectors, there is no MCA and only a small one of under 2 per cent. in the other. We have therefore already made considerable progress towards the objective that we set ourselves. Indeed, we have practically reached it already in the livestock sectors.
On my hon. Friend's second question, my Department is co-sponsoring with Food from Britain, the Home-grown Cereals Authority and the Food Research Council a study to highlight, among other things, the impact which the single market will have on agriculture in the 1990s. I hope that that will give some indications in the direction that my hon. Friend seeks. I am sure that he will also agree that one of the benefits of the recent agreement on the changes in the beef sector is that clawback of exports has been removed, which should enable producers to expand their prospects within the Community in general.
Mr. Foulkes : Does the Minister realise that, if he abolishes the Potato Marketing Board, there will be a huge increase in the amount of potatoes fed to pigs and other livestock--the subject of this question? Will he therefore give me an absolute assurance that he will make no decision regarding the Potato Marketing Board until he meets my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), for East Lothian (Mr. Hume Robertson) and for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and me on 10 May at 3.45 pm?
Column 1085this question. I have received all the written consultations now and carried out a number of meetings on this question, and I look forward to meeting the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the matter on the date he mentioned. I cannot give a precise date for when we shall be making our announcement, but I am certainly listening very carefully to all the consultations.
Mr. Hill : I declare an interest in this as one of the major sheep and pig producers in Hampshire. I have to say very clearly that we are not looking forward to 1992. In fact, many of the pig producers in Hampshire are looking forward only to bankruptcy. They are not making money at this time ; we feel that MAFF has rather neglected our cause and that something should be done, certainly between now and 1992.
Mr. MacGregor : In fact, we have a single market already, because I have been able to negotiate down to zero the monetary compensatory amounts in the pigmeat sector. So the pigmeat sector is now not suffering from that disadvantage. That is one of the things that we have achieved within the last year. My hon. Friend will know that the real profitability of the pigmeat sector depends on supply and demand. That is now more sensible and we have therefore seen an improvement in returns to pig producers. I have been well aware of the difficulties they have had up to now.
Mr. Donald Thompson : We have already met with success as Korea has not pursued its intended research whaling and Japan, Iceland and Norway have all modified their programmes. We will continue to press strongly against unjustified research whaling.
Mr. Hanley : The whole House will support the initiative of my right hon. and hon. Friends in trying to reduce the often cynical and fraudulent practice of commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research. My hon. Friend will remember that recently, at the International Whaling Commission, 16 nations out of 32 followed the British Government's lead in trying to introduce a moratorium in this area. When does my hon. Friend believe that that 17th country, which would make all the difference, will follow the British Government's lead?
Mr. Thompson : My hon. Friend is well known for his constant and caring attitude on this matter. He is wrong in only one slight degree : it was not at the International Whaling Commission's convention, but on our own initiative that the United Kingdom wrote round to various countries about Japanese whaling and got only 16 votes, with four against and some abstentions. We shall continue to press this matter year by year.
Column 1086attention to the explosive expansion of research whaling by the Japanese? Will the Minister seek again to influence the Japanese to try to cut back on that huge explosion?
Mr. Thompson : It was because of this country's persistence last year that we reduced the Japanese intended catch from 825 to 241 whales. I thank the hon. Gentleman and his party for their support on this important matter.
10. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the Goat Producers Association concerning legislative control over the production of goats' milk.
Mr. Coombs : Bearing in mind the purely voluntary clean milk scheme of the Goat Producers Association, is it the case that, under the Food Act 1984, there are specific regulations for monitoring the quality of cows' milk but not goats' milk? Therefore, bearing in mind any impending food legislation, is there a strong case for extending the regulations to goats' milk? Does the Minister intend to do that?
Mr. Thompson : My hon. Friend is quite right. We have no powers. The wording of the Food Act means that detailed regulations applying to cows' milk cannot be extended to goats' milk. However, consultations on the new Food Bill have suggested that powers should be taken to enable Ministers to regulate the production of milk from other animals as well as cows.