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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the extent to which the hon. Member is moved by his recent experience of Peking. We all have recollections of our first contacts with the emergence of proper democratic institutions in that country. He is right to draw attention to the far greater scope for wise government that is available to Governments who engage in dialogue and communication with their people. We fortunately have that kind of relationship through the hon. Gentleman, and through many other hon. Members, with the people of Hong Kong, and we are able to hear and take account of their views. The tragedy of what has happened in Peking is that such an attitude of discussion and non-confrontation appeared to prevail through the early weeks of the extraordinary events there. The horror of the tragedy is that it has only been in the past few days that such profound unwisdom has seized of the minds of those who govern China.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, grave though the present

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situation is, it would be the greatest mistake to take any hasty steps towards changing the nationality law? Does my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that we have a number of years before the transfer of power in which it is quite possible that the situation will improve, as we all hope it will? Will he accept that the worst possible action would be to make concessions that would ultimately prove to be unsustainable?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My right hon. Friend draws attention to the most important point about that most important argument. We cannot and should not engage in prospective changes in the law upon the footing that they might never need to be implemented. We have to look at the matter in a long perspective with the wisdom that my right hon. Friend has suggested.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) should we not first pay particular tribute to all those who have demonstrated continuously, day and night, in the capital of China and in other cities for basic human rights? As we all know, to demonstrate under a dictatorship takes tremendous courage. Is it not a fact that foreign correspondents were constantly asked if the countries from which they came supported what the demonstrators were trying to do? On reflection, perhaps the Foreign Secretary will agree that the democracies--not only that of our country but other democracies--could have spoken out before the bloodshed started over the weekend. Are there not some people in the Chinese leadership--perhaps, the person who was general secretary of the Communist party until a few days ago, and his predecessor, whose death started the demonstrations, and in the Chinese Communist party at senior levels--who recognise that, just as in eastern Europe and Soviet Union change had to come, so it has to come in China? Stalinism is dead, and all the bullets and all the terror in the world cannot keep Stalinism going.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact, as I have already emphasised, that certainly there are voices, and voices at a high level, in the Chinese Government of sanity, democracy and of belief in the kind of standards in which we believe. We must regret the passing of some of those voices, and continue to express the hope that those who remain will prevail in the immense struggles that are no doubt now taking place. Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the British people, having watched step by step the enactment of a crime without a name against humanity and liberty in China, are confused, if not infuriated, by the somewhat nonchalant response of the Government and even more of the Opposition, who, had it been a European Government doing something on an infinitesimally smaller scale, would have been up in arms and on the streets? Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that in the meantime it is extraordinary that the Chinese Government should remain a permanent member of the Security Council, which is the alleged protector of human rights?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. and learned Friend rightly expresses his grave dismay of what has been taking place. However, I must say in the light of his judgment, that I do

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not regard him as a very well qualified judge of nonchalance. Neither the Government nor, if I may say so, the Opposition, have been disposed to treat the events of recent days with anything other than the utmost seriousness.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : What steps is the British embassy in Beijing taking to contact those British citizens who are resident outside the capital? I have a constituent, a Miss Elaine Sweeney, who is a teacher in the Situhan province in Chengdu. Her parents have been trying to contact her for the past week. I telephoned the Private Office of the Foreign Secretary at the weekend, and, although his official was very helpful and took down the details, the official did not know where the Situhan province was. Will the Foreign Secretary consider allocating additional staff to his Private Office and publishing an inquiry telephone number so that relatives can contact people readily?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tribute to the courtesy of the person to whom he spoke. I apologise for the lack of extensive geographical knowledge, which is understandable in the circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me any further details, of course I shall take account of them. The embassy and our consulate in Shanghai are making every possible effort to contact all the known British subjects within China. Almost 500 of the 860 British subjects in China are in Peking and in Shanghai. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's particular suggestions for more expeditious handling of any other inquiries.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in spite of our sympathy and concern, our principal obligation is to the people of this country? Does he recognise that the last two major immigrations into this country were not widely welcomed by the indigenous population? Does he agree that if his flexibility led to another major immigration into this country, it would be widely resented and would damage race relations here?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that factor. That is why in my statement I drew attention to the immense difficulty of contemplating a massive new immigration commitment of the kind involved in any fundamental change. My hon. Friend has underlined the importance of his warning in other contexts as well.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : Does not hindsight teach that the House was wrong to seek an agreement with China on the future of Hong Kong? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House about the Government's fallback position should the changes in the Chinese Government which he has outlined not occur? Will he open international negotiations so that Hong Kong can gain the protection of United Nations trusteeship when it ceases to be a British territory, should the people of Hong Kong wish that?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am afraid that, unusually, the hon. Gentleman is drawing the wrong conclusions from hindsight. As I have said already, it would not make sense to ignore the historical and geographical realities that are

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implicit in the fact that 92 per cent. of the territory reverts to China in 1997. Any viable future for Hong Kong must be based on co-operation and co-existence with China, not on confrontation. Any attempt to design some alternative to that, dependent upon the goodwill of almost any organisation that the hon. Gentleman cares to name, would be of little, if any, value in the absence of the right relationship with China. That is why I have no doubt about the wisdom of arriving at the joint declaration. I have no doubt about the importance of underlining its significance for the future. Our first task is to restore the substance and confidence that can be placed in it.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : Given China's tendency to isolate itself when it goes through one of these great upheavals, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) mentioned, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that he will maintain relations with the People's Republic at as high a level as possible during these difficult times so that the actions of the British Government in no sense catalyse such a turning inward? Will my right hon. and learned Friend suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that at the earliest possible date--certainly before the House rises for the summer recess--a suitable day should be set aside for a debate on Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall draw my hon. Friend's last point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. In any event, such a debate was in prospect, given the timetable of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which was presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).

My hon. Friend's first point is important also. Nothing that we do would be directed towards precipitating any increase in the isolation of the People's Republic of China. That is why we are maintaining our embassy there and other links of the kind suggested by the Opposition. That is why I shall seek any sensible opportunity that presents itself to communicate to those in authority in Peking our anxieties and wishes for the future.

Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North) : The Foreign Secretary may recall that a year ago I raised with him my opposition to the Basic Law, as it was then put forward, and its lack of provision for democratic elections in Hong Kong. Would not the best tribute to those students and workers who died in the killing streets and squares of Beijing be to announce universal suffrage in Hong Kong immediately, and the holding of elections this year? Is it not tragic that these events have had to occur before the idea of universal suffrage in Hong Kong has been raised? I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that what is taking place is a crime against humanity and--speaking as a lifelong anti-Stalinist--a crime against the ideas of Socialism, which comes ill from those in China who claim to defend the Socialist system.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall refrain from making any of the political points that might be made in the face of the hon. Gentleman's closing remarks. I confess that I do not have instant recall of his attitude to these matters 12 months ago. I repeat : we have sought throughout, and will continue, to introduce arrangements for government in Hong Kong along the lines that command the widest possible support in the territory.

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Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, now that the decrepit leadership of the People's Republic of China has murdered its way to the history books, whatever leadership emerges may welcome faster moves by my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government towards some elements of democracy in Hong Kong? Does he agree that the leaders may welcome it, first, so that they can make a success of the takeover of Hong Kong and, secondly, so that they can be seen by the world to be leading a country in a more decent way than the people from whom they took it over?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend may well be right, and one must hope so.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that those students and workers who died in their thousands when demonstrating against corruption, bribery, nepotism, the black market and the bureaucratic, Stalinist, one-party dictatorship that rules almost a third of mankind could have expected a little more praise for their heroism, bravery and self-sacrifice? Why does he not declare clear support for the political revolution which is still unfolding in China and honour the martyrs of Tiananmen square by declaring this country's full support for a Socialist workers' democracy in China and for

self-determination, free elections and full democracy in Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As always, the hon. Gentleman brings a unique vision to bear on these matters. In the eyes of the great majority of hon. Members and of the world, the heroism of the people to whom he has rightly paid tribute was exercised in revolt against the logical consequences of the most Socialist country in the world.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in these twilight years of British power in Hong Kong, there will be a need for enlightened and good public servants who are Hong Kong citizens? Does he therefore agree that, at the very least, those who are willing to serve for the next nine years should be given an understanding that, should the same kind of Government prevail, they will be treated properly, mercifully and humanely by the British people and the British Government?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : Those factors are among those that need to be taken into account in appropriate circumstances under section 4(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Is not one of the key factors that will ensure that the students and workers have not died in vain the tremendous professional skill of the broadcasters, especially the television journalists, who brought us moving pictures of what happened? Given the unfortunate comments that some of the Foreign Secretary's right hon. Friends have made in the past, will he take this opportunity in particular to congratulate by name Kate Adie, who brought to reporting the facts from China the same standards of integrity and courage that she showed in Tripoli?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman talk to the Home Secretary about his plans for broadcasting? Some people fear that, if the present plans go ahead, the quality of the news coverage by British television and broadcasting crews will decline and be threatened. That will be a very bad day for this country.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Even with the most liberal application of the rules of the House, discussion by me at this stage about the future of British broadcasting policy would be testing the patience of the House a little far.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : A moment or two ago a Conservative Member warned the Foreign Secretary of the likelihood, if these dreadful circumstances continue, of a huge number of refugees flooding into Hong Kong. What if refugees seek to leave China by way of the sea? What advice has been given to captains of British ships sailing in those waters, about dealing with such refugees? No doubt, their humanitarianism would prompt them to pick up such refugees but where would they be put ashore?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : One must hope that the matter does not escalate on anything like that scale. At the moment, the disturbances, which are grave, have been largely, though not completely, confined to the capital of Peking. Were circumstances to develop as the hon. Gentleman has in mind, sea captains have their own criteria and standards that they apply in similar circumstances.

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5.11 pm

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20 for the purposes of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely

"the crisis in the passport office."

Last week, the patience of the long-suffering staff in the passport offices across the country finally snapped. Before the action, persistent underfunding and management incompetence had led to a backlog of half a million passport applications. That was exacerbated by the applications made in bulk by private agencies which receive preferential treatment. The six offices have had application backlogs of up to 12 weeks. The action started in Liverpool on 30 May, after a secret ballot produced a vote of 87 to 2. Workers said frankly that enough was enough.

The trade unions in the Home Office, principally the Civil and Public Services Association and the National Union of Civil and Public Servants, submitted a claim for 326 extra staff on 24 June 1988. One year later, there are no extra permanent jobs and no improvements in computer systems, despite sources in the management of the passport office saying that both the hardware and software were not up to the job.

On 23 November, I tabled early-day motion 39 and predicted that the increase of more than one million applications since 1979 to a current figure of 2.6 million, which had already led to intolerable delays, backlogs of passengers and holidaymakers and immeasurable pressure being placed on staff, would not be ameliorated by the

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abuse of casual labour, by overtime or individual work measurement. That early-day motion predicted the chaos which is now ensuing. That warning of six months ago was ignored.

Last week, the National Audit Office issued a report criticising the passport department for its lack of planning and failure to predict the level of applications, or take corrective action on staffing early enough. That is an indictment of the management of the Home Office and a vindication of the trade unions' position. The crisis is also an indictment of the Government's policy of reducing civil servants and public spending and preparing, through executive agency status, the privatisation of the passport service. Privatisation is irrelevant to the need for more resources to ease the pressures on staff and the public. When negotiations resume tomorrow, an independent review of the computer system, better facilities for staff and public and the full 326 increase in staffing levels are needed. The Government know what the staff and the public want and it is about time that they delivered it.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the crisis in the passport office."

As the House knows, I have to take into account the requirements of the order and announce my decision without giving my reasons to the House. I have listened with concern to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.

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Dog Registration

5.15 pm

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the need for a dog registration scheme."

The House will have been appalled by the number of savage attacks by Rottweiler dogs on innocent people, including young children, in recent weeks. The matter is urgent because since this April, seven people have been savagely mauled by Rottweiler dogs.

The first victim was Kelly Leech, a little girl of 11 years who died after a horrifying attack by a pair of that breed, which she was taking for a walk. Today's newspapers report yet another assault by a Rottweiler. This latest victim was a man from Luton who needed stitches to his arm. The specific list of vicious calamities makes sickening reading. On 29 May, 5- year-old Jamie Walker from Birmingham was attacked by three Rottweilers and needed 21 stitches. Two days later on May 31, 75-year-old grandmother Mrs. Nellie Williams and her dog were attacked by a Rottweiler while out for a stroll in a Leicester park. The same day a man was bitten by a Rottweiler on Merseyside when he went to pat the dog. Last week a six-month-old baby, Andrew Little, was attacked in his cot by his grandparents' Rottweiler, and another man needed stitches after an attack in Manchester. Today, we have the latest grim instalment of that catalogue of injuries.

Shortly before the recess, I wrote to the Leader of the House who refused to make available Government time to debate dog registration. Given the growing list of tragic attacks, the Government must act now and make time available for an urgent debate on the matter. It is an urgent issue and the Government's unwillingness to act makes it

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more so. There are more than 500,000 dogs roaming loose in Britain every day. A total of 250,000 dog bites are treated in hopitals each year at a cost of £17 million to the NHS. Stray dogs cause 50,000 road accidents a year, and 10,000 livestock are attacked by dogs, leading to insurance claims of about £1 million a year.

We must find a solution to the problem. First, every dog should have an electronically implanted permanent identification code, or a tattoo, so that it and its owner can be identified. That would, at least, enable a lost dog and its owner to be reunited, and an irresponsible owner to be caught. Rottweilers are proving to be a menace to innocent people. The young and the frail are particularly at the mercy of these animals which have shown that they are capable of turning from family pet to barbarous creature in an instant. Secondly, a properly funded dog warden scheme is needed to enforce the system, catch the strays and educate dog owners. The Government's unwillingness to act does not match up to public expectations, and I hope that they will act.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the need for a dog registration scheme."

I have listened with care to what the hon. Member has said. As he knows, my sole duty under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether the matter should be given priority over business already set down for this evening or tomorrow. I regret that I must give the same answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised as appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.

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Points of Order

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I genuinely apologise for raising a point of order on such a busy day but, of course, if it is not raised today, the first opportunity, I shall be unable to raise it in future.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) raised a point of order on 26 May with Mr. Deputy Speaker which appears in Hansard at columns 1259 and 1260. He referred to a story that had been reported on BBC television the previous evening, 25 May, alleging the connection between the expulsion of Soviet agents from the United Kingdom and possible blackmail attempts on Labour Members.

The actual signing-off headline of the end of the television bulletin said :

"Senior British sources have been giving reasons for the expulsion of Russian spies, who were believed to be involved with middle east terrorists and blackmailing Labour MPs."

The word "possible" had disappeared when the headline was given at the end of the BBC television news. In his point of order, my right hon. Friend said that he had contacted the Foreign Secretary's Office that morning before raising his point of order, but officials there were completely unable to clarify the position.

The following day, the Foreign Secretary responded to a letter from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition making it perfectly clear that Labour Members were not, in any way, associated with the activities for which Soviet diplomats had been expelled from the United Kingdom. No denial had been made before my right hon. Friend wrote to the Foreign Secretary. The Government knew that the allegations were a tissue of lies and it is surprising that absolutely no statement and no denial was made before my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Foreign Secretary who, I agree, responded immediately.

I understand that it is not a matter for you, Mr. Speaker : I want to make that quite clear. [Interruption.] I am on a point of order. Whether the Minister of State, to whom I have given notice of this was misunderstood or misrepresented by the BBC correspondent is of no concern to you, Mr. Speaker, or for that matter to me ; I am not interested in that. My point of order simply concerns whether it is right for hon. Members to be subject to baseless allegations, whether or not such lies-- and they were lies--originated within the Government.

Although you are not responsible for statements, Mr. Speaker, I beg you to consider the matter. A large number of hon. Members--all belonging to one party--were subject to baseless allegations which the Government knew to be a tissue of lies. Would it not be right and appropriate for the Minister concerned--who is in the Chamber and to whom I have given notice, and who has denied responsibility--to make a statement to the House to clarify the position and to be questioned by hon. Members? He has a duty and responsibility to the House, as a Member of Parliament. He should stand up and make his position clear.

Mr. Speaker : Of course I deprecate any allegations made against any hon. Member of the House, from whatever quarter. I think that what the hon. Gentleman is complaining about is a report on the BBC. That is not a matter for me, and I do not think that I can deal with it.

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Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I entirely accept that what was said on the BBC is not directly a matter for you. What is a matter for you is, perhaps, to let the House know whether the Minister who, apparently inadvertently, may have been responsible for the report that was broadcast as a result of a lunchtime conversation with a BBC journalist--as he is present and received warning that the matter was to be raised--will now be honourable enough to ask to be allowed to make a personal statement making clear to the House what he has apparently said outside it.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not an astonishing proposition that the Government should make a statement every time allegations are made about members of the Opposition? It is a common experience for all of us to hear allegations against Opposition Members, and indeed against some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Minister, who is in his place, has behaved with complete honour throughout. He issued a full statement on 2 June. The matter was raised in the House on 26 May, the day on which we rose for the recess. Is it not clear that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is living up to his reputation--that of being, in the words of a former leader of the Labour party, the silliest man in the House?

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is not possible for me to comment on what has been said. I think that we must move on.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. We have a heavy day ahead of us. There is nothing that I can do about the matter. I cannot be held responsible for conversations with members of the BBC or the press : it is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You and I were parliamentary colleagues of a Northumberland miner by the name of Will Owen : you may remember him. Will Owen was broken by circumstances which--I choose my words very carefully--turned out subsequently to be rather different from what had been alleged at the time. Will Owen died a broken and, some would say, a disgraced man. I think that all of us, particularly Ministers, must be very careful indeed. The Minister of State probably did not know Will Owen, but he was a friend of mine and of some Conservative Members who privately felt as strongly as I did.

The Minister may recollect that in the case of Will Owen an injustice may have been done. I think that Ministers who were not here during Will Owen's time ought to be very careful about being reported on the subject of events of which they may not have first-hand knowledge. In a sense, Mr. Speaker, you are the custodian of departed colleagues as well. I think that for the protection of one of those colleagues you should at least invite the Minister to make some kind of statement.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that we should all be extremely careful about what we say both inside and outside the House.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order relates to a written answer given today by the Minister of State, Home Office about the introduction of visa requirements for people coming to this country from Turkey.

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On 26 May there was an Adjournment debate on the position facing Kurdish asylum-seekers. I raised a number of questions with the Minister, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). At no stage in his lengthy reply did the Minister of State say that he had already written to the Turkish Government seeking to lift the provisions of the 1960 agreement between Britain and Turkey to the effect that visas would not be required. He sent the letter to the Turkish Government on 23 May. It is now revealed, on our first day back after a short recess, that the Government are indeed seeking to impose visa restrictions from 23 June on people visiting this country from Turkey. The implications are clearly very serious. Anyone seeking political asylum from Turkey will not be able to come here, as a visa will not be made available. If they try to come here, the airline or other carrier that has brought them can be fined £1,000.

This is a serious matter, Mr. Speaker. It should not creep out in a parliamentary answer ; it ought to be the subject of a statement from the Home Secretary so that he can be questioned and opportunities for debate can be provided. I am sure that you agree that it is a serious matter, and we look to you to provide some facility for us to question the Government about their behaviour and, indeed, their treatment of the House in not revealing the information on 26 May, as they could have.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and I am sure that it has been heard by those on the Government Front Bench. I have given the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to raise the matter, and no doubt he will have other opportunities.

Mr. Winnick rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I will not take any more points of order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and we have a busy day ahead of us.

Mr. Winnick : On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has had a very good run this afternoon.


Environmental Charter

Mr. Archy Kirkwood, supported by Mr. Malcolm Bruce, Mr. Richard Livsey, Mr. James Wallace, Mr. Matthew Taylor, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. A. J. Beith and Mrs. Ray Michie, presented a Bill to establish local authority ecology working groups for the purpose of adopting an environmental charter to carry out specific measures to protect and enhance the quality of the natural environment ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 147.]



That the draft Restrictive Trade Practices (Sale and Purchase and Share Subscription Agreements) (Goods) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Restrictive Trade Practices (Services) (Amendment) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]

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Agriculture (Control of Nitrates)

5.27 pm

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to restrict the use of nitrogenous fertilisers.

In the late 17th century the satirist Jonathan Swift observed that

"whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together."

I fear that the public perception of politicians may not have changed much in the intervening centuries, but the role of farmers has changed considerably, particularly during the past decade. As a farmer's son, I would not wish to make any proposals that would penalise agriculture, which is Britain's largest and most successful industry. We can, however, assume that there is a need to curb agricultural production. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) have both introduced packages of measures with that intention. They would, I believe, be the first to pay tribute to the farming community--3 per cent. of our population who produce some 85 per cent. of our temperate foodstuffs and export a substantial amount of food each year.

Ideally, we should try to control production in a way that does not disadvantage farmers or their incomes, and combine it with the environmental advantages that would flow from less intensive farming methods. To date, we have tried controlling production both by quotas on individual commodities and by price restraint. But quotas that deal with one commodity in isolation, such as milk, have a major flaw--because if a farmer cannot produce that commodity, he must produce something else. There is then a greater and growing risk of oversupply of other foodstuffs.

Equally, mild price restraint results in greater production because that is the natural reaction of farmers who wish to preserve their living standards. Above all, there is the dreadful policy of food intervention buying and storage, thereby converting first-quality products into third- quality products, which are sold off at rock bottom prices to those living under Socialist Administrations who know no better and who can afford no better.

The National Economic Development Office's 1987 report entitled "Land Use in the 1990s" suggests that the United Kingdom needs to shed 1.5 million productive hectares or 14 per cent. of our land area by the mid-1990s. However, there is little point taking 14 per cent. of land out of production if the remaining 86 per cent. will be increasingly intensively farmed.

For all those reasons, now is the time to consider supply side control. If we are serious about controlling production, we must look at the means of production. I am pleased to note that the National Farmers Union is seriously considering these suggestions. The means of production are almost wholly good. They include better plant breeding, modern machinery, skilled labour, and most pesticides and fertilisers. However, we must carefully examine the dramatic increase in the use of nitrogenous

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