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Mr. Thompson : The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that the National Goat Society held its annual international conference in my constituency this year. Therefore, I was able to discuss these important matters with it face to face.
Mr. Arnold : Did my hon. Friend also discuss a recent proposal to land the farming community with a further £3 billion bill for water quality improvements? Is he aware that that proposal was made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)? Does it not represent a further extension of Labour's policy of clobbering the farming community?
Mr. Ryder : My hon. Friend is quite right. Between now and the next general election, we shall return frequently to the remarks which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) made in the course of an interview last week.
Mr. Ryder : I did not discuss with the chairman the possibility of extending the number of ESAs. However, as my right hon. Friend is aware, we shall examine the matter in greater detail during the next two to three years, and I shall look forward to discussing it with the chairman of the CPRE during the next few months.
Mr. MacGregor : About 1,800 United Kingdom farmers are setting aside about 58,000 hectares of arable land in the first year of the scheme. We will be opening the scheme for further applications shortly.
Mr. Lord : I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Although no one enjoys seeing cereal farmers' difficulties, everybody in the country must be pleased to see the amount of tree planting that is now taking place. I urge my right hon. Friend to continue persuading farmers to plant trees wherever possible. Will he do his very best to reassure them about the long-term existence of such supporting schemes?
Mr. MacGregor : Yes, I will indeed. My hon. Friend will know that there is interaction between the set-aside scheme and the farm woodland scheme. He will be pleased to know that we have just received the first six months' figures for the farm woodland scheme. In the first six months, more than 800 farmers applied to plant 14, 100 acres with trees, a high proportion of which will be broadleaves. That is an extremely good response, but I certainly intend to continue to publicise the scheme. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to know also that the Norwich division has had the best response among all the Ministry divisions, with 107 cases covering 711 hectares.
Mr. Cryer : Will the Minister accept that many millions of people look askance at a scheme that pays farmers to watch trees and grass grow when their income has diminished, while the selfsame Government have frozen child benefit so that the poorest of the poor have to watch their children grow without additional help from the Government, led by the woman in blue on the Minister's left? [Interruption.]
Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong. On the question of farm woodlands, which we are discussing, he is out of touch with his party. There is widespread agreement that the encouragement of a more attractive landscape, which the farm woodland scheme is
Column 1088assisting us in doing, is of great benefit to future generations. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should consult his hon. Friends to find out how they respond to the farm woodland scheme that we introduced and that is already going so well.
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.
Mr. Malins : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important messages from yesterday's seminar on global climate is the environmental advantage of nuclear power? Does she further agree that we should all try to get that message across to the whole country?
The Prime Minister : Yes ; one of the important messages from the seminar and from many other scientific sources is that one of our greatest concerns at the moment is the sharp increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are staying there. Future policies must take account of that and try to reduce the increase. One of the best ways of doing that is to concentrate on nuclear power stations, which do not add to greenhouse gases. Nuclear power is one of the surest ways of maintaining economic development without damaging the environment.
The Prime Minister : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health has amply answered much of the false propaganda that has been put out by doctors to their patients. In fact, the doctors have done very much better under this Government, and so have the patients. When the full White Paper is in operation, it is designed to give much better service to the patients.
Mr. Kinnock : Does not the Prime Minister yet understand that the great majority of people know that the National Health Service is much safer in the hands of their GPs than it will ever be in the hands of this Government?
The Prime Minister : Under this Government, there are more GPs and they have lower lists. Therefore, they can give more attention to their patients. As the New Statesman article pointed out : "Many of those with larger practices are already queuing up to become GP budget-holders."
In the article one doctor pointed out that when the National Health Service White Paper was in operation, all that would change was that he would start, as a GP, to be paid for the extra service that he provided. He said :
"I am certainly keen to become a budget holder, which will be a natural extension of the kind of general practice I have been providing for years."
Under the proposals, the doctors with the heavier work load will get more pay. That seems right.
Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the strength of Europe lies in its members working closely together in defence of their individual freedoms, freedoms that have given this country the most improved economy in Europe and made it the most favoured choice for inward investment?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that those freedoms are backed up by an economic freedom that would be put in jeopardy if we had a Europe that tied itself and industry in bureaucratic knots. We must see that that does not happen.
Mr. Lewis : Will the right hon. Lady consult the Conservative Family Campaign, which is most concerned about the suffering of families up and down the land through premium telephone services? Will she further send for the tape shown on Independent Television News last Wednesday, view the unedited version and then take personal control of that sordid service which has been released upon families?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the Government's view very clear. The Delors report is aimed at a federal Europe, a common currency and a common economic policy, which would take many economic policies, including fiscal policy, out of the hands of the House, and that is completely unacceptable. It would also require a treaty amendment, which we do not believe would ever be passed by the House because of the lack of sovereignty that it would imply.
Mr. Banks : Is the Prime Minister aware that the Salvation Army has found it necessary to repeat General Booth's survey 100 years ago of homelessness in London? As the country approaches the anniversary of its 10 -year sentence under the right hon. Lady's leadership, what miserable excuse will she offer the House this afternoon for the doubling of poverty and homelessness in London since 1979? I do not know what gift her colleagues will buy her to commemorate her anniversary--
The Prime Minister : There are about 1.8 million more homes now than there were 10 years ago, which is quite a good record. This country has the highest standard of living that it has ever known. With regard to homelessness, there have been additional resources totalling more than £74 million since December 1987, and the gross provision for the Housing Corporation increased from £705 million in 1987-88 to £737 million in 1988-89. Some 18,000 places have been approved in the past eight years for the single homeless with special needs. Real incomes have increased throughout all income groups.
The Prime Minister : There has been a real increase in disposable income between 1979 and 1985, with an increase of 5.9 per cent. for the bottom tenth, and real take-home pay for the lowest one tenth of adult male full-time earners has risen by 13.1 per cent. over the past 10 years.
Mr. Marlow : If my right hon. Friend were the Chancellor of the West German Republic, would her main priority not be the unification of Germany and further traditional moves towards involvement with eastern Europe? What does this mean not only for NATO, but for the European Community?
The Prime Minister : That would not be my main priority. On the question of the European Community, my hon. Friend will know that goods come into the Federal Republic of Germany from East Germany without any levy being paid. Therefore, the Federal Republic of Germany receives a special bonus from Europe that is not available to anyone else.
Mr. Sillars : Is the Prime Minister aware of the indelible stain on her political reputation from the rejection of democratic fundamental demands for human rights by a small but nevertheless important group of people? I refer to the Chinese population of Hong Kong. Does she not accept -- [Interruption.]
Mr. Sillars : Does not the Prime Minister accept that it is only if they get British passports and resident rights in the United Kingdom that the people of Hong Kong will have any real bargaining power with the Chinese Government? Before she answers, will she reflect upon the paradox that the way in which human beings are being disposed of there is more akin to Stalinism than Thatcherism, which is supposed to be about fundamental human rights and libertarianism?
The Prime Minister : I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the standard of living in Hong Kong greatly exceeds anything in China, through the efforts of the people of Hong Kong. I know there is strong feeling in Hong Kong about the particular point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I believe that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is either in Hong Kong now or has recently been there and doubtless it will have something else to say upon
Column 1091this. At present the position is governed by the British Nationality Act 1981, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to suggest any amendments, I am sure that he will do so.
Mr. Jones : Will my right hon. Friend have talks with the Secretary of State for the Environment about the performance of the Labour-controlled Hertfordshire county council, which over the past four years has increased its staff by more than 2,000? Of the 300 additional staff appointed to social services, only 20 per cent. are social workers and the other 80 per cent. are administrators. Is it not surprising in those circumstances that the Labour finance chairman of Hertfordshire has
The Prime Minister : I think that we all heard what my hon. Friend said, and he carries a very important message. The 10 counties with the lowest rate poundages are all controlled by the Conservative party ; none of the 10 counties with the highest rate poundages are controlled by Conservatives.
Mr. Roberts : Is the Prime Minister aware that car exhausts make a significant and growing contribution to the greenhouse gases? [Interruption.] In April, the European Parliament, including Conservative Euro-Members of Parliament from Britain, voted in favour of imposing United States standards on car emissions in Europe. Those standards allow for four times less pollution than the current European standards. How can the Government be taken seriously if, in the Council of Ministers in Europe, they veto the proposals to have those increased standards imposed in Europe? How can their concern about global warming be taken seriously, since the Government have just massively cut programmes on energy conservation and insulation?
The Prime Minister : Now I have identified what the hon. Gentleman is asking about, may I, with the permission of the House, point out that the science on this matter has yet to be resolved? The three-way catalyst makes a car engine 10 per cent. less efficient and therefore on some interpretations can lead to more greenhouse gases. There are those who say that the lean-burn engine, especially on smaller cars, is much more efficient and, together with a lesser catalyst, would have less greenhouse effect and every bit as much control over reducing the emissions from cars. I trust that I have made myself clear.
Dr. Michael Clark : In view of the recent petrol price increases, will my right hon. Friend, during the course of her busy day, consider whether it would be appropriate to hasten the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's deliberations on the major oil companies, with a view to divesting them of their retail outlets? Is not this the way to get increased competition, and the way to prevent prices at all the pumps from being raised to the same level at the same time?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend has said, the Director General of Fair Trading referred the wholesale supply of petrol in the United Kingdom to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on 9 November 1988. I regret that the Commission's report is not expected until this November. My hon. Friend asked whether it could be speeded up. I will pass the message to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Mr. Wray : What plans do the Government have for eradicating poverty in Scotland? Does the Prime Minister realise that last year 16,000 people in Scotland had their electricity cut off? Does she realise that a European report on poverty, published today, places Great Britain sixth?
The Prime Minister : With regard to poverty in Europe, the figures that I gave earlier, in response to another question, are the correct ones because they are taken from figures that are comparable with one another. Scotland is enjoying the highest standard of living that it has ever known. The average weekly earnings for men and women are higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom, save the south-east.
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