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Foreign Affairs Council

The following Question stood upon the Paper :

18. Mr. Rowlands : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what was discussed at the last meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : The Foreign Affairs Council met in Luxembourg on 12June. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I represented the United Kingdom. The Council discussed preparations for the Madrid European Council, which will take place on 26-27 June. The Council agreed the mandate for negotiation with the Soviet Union on a trade and economic co- operation agreement. It also discussed special measures for the French overseas departments, and commissioned further work.

Ministers also met in the framework of political co-operation. They expressed profound concern at the brutal action taken by the Chinese authorities against unarmed civilian demonstrators, and agreed to keep in close touch about the action which member Governments are taking in response. Statements were issued recording the concern of the Twelve at the renewal of the state of emergency in South Africa and their support for the work of the committee of three Arab Heads of State in the Lebanon. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

I also briefed our partners fully on the great problems confronting Hong Kong as a result of the growing influx of Vietnamese boat people, and warned that this was creating an intolerable situation. Ministers also had a two-hour meeting with Foreign Ministers of the front-line states covering a wide range of questions concerning southern Africa. My right hon. Friend attended a Co-operation Council with Algeria.

Mr. Rowlands : Is it not disgraceful that we have had to force this statement out of the Secretary of State? Will he give us an assurance that in future he will volunteer such statements, bearing in mind the enormous nature of the issues facing the Foreign Affairs Council? Is he aware that the communities that I represent see 1992 not only as an opportunity for development, but as a potential charter for the exploitation of workers? People know that they are behind on social insurance, maternity benefits and other benefits compared with many of our European partners. In that context, will the Secretary of State try to persuade the rest of the Government to consider their absolutely negative view about the social charter?

Mr. Howe : The first point raised by the hon. Gentleman has generally been a matter for discussion and consultation between Government and Opposition parties. Certainly I am happy to listen to representations about it. There has not been an oral statement for a couple of years. It is important to recognise that Community matters already put substantial pressure on parliamentary time. I think that we have had 13 scrutiny debates in the last five weeks. I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's point. The Council did not have as large an agenda as usual, and it is convenient for me to answer in this way because there is a question about the matter on the Order Paper.


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The hon. Gentleman asked about the social charter. There is an important and fundamental point to be understood by the House and more widely. It is that the Government acknowledge the need for social dimension to economic policy. It is our contention that one of the most important social dimensions has been our success in dealing with unemployment. The fact that we have been able to achieve the growth of more jobs in the United Kingdom than in all the other European Community countries put together is a measure of the success of the social dimension of our economic policy.

Regardless of party, hon. Members in all parts of the House would rise up in protest if it was argued that the whole range of matters now on the agenda of the social charter were to be the subject of common Community policies imposed on us by Community legislation and were no longer to be matters for discussion by the House as matters of its national competence.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Will my right hon. And learned Friend confirm that his colleagues in the Council were as well aware as he that the demonstrations in China began with a relatively small-scale demonstration asking for conversations about the future of education? Will he and they use their best endeavours to explain to the Chinese Government that there is no point in sending millions of students to university if, having aroused their intellectual curiosity, they then machine-gun them down in the streets when they ask questions of the Government? Will he and they exert every possible pressure to rescue those students who are at present in danger of their lives for having done no more than ask questions of their Government?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The insight offered by my hon. Friend is central to the arguments that will be discussed in the Community at the meeting on Monday. We deplore the brutality that is being used, particularly directed at students. We recognise that one of the most important features of what has happened in China in the last decade has been the opening of the minds of Chinese students and of those in Chinese academic institutions. That is why I have told the House this afternoon that we extend special sympathy to Chinese students in this country. The best hope for the future of China may yet spring from the extent to which a generation now rising in that country may be able to re-emerge, championing effective democracy and

self-government.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : Did any discussions take place for co-ordinated action, limited though it might be, arising out of what has happened in China? For example, one reads that there are queues outside EEC country embassies of Chinese trying to get out. Has there been co-ordinated action in that respect? Is it true that, while some embassy visa sections are open, the British visa section is closed?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The central question raised by the right hon. Gentleman was referred to in my statement, when I said that we had agreed to keep in close touch about the action that member Governments were taking in response to the matters to which he referred. We were able to express a common view on our attitude towards high-level visits, arms supplies and Chinese students in our countries. We shall seek to co-ordinate our actions, so far as we can, in that way.


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The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question about visas and applications for visas in Peking is that, as the House knows, the size of our mission was reduced at the same time as dependents were withdrawn last week. We are now giving practical consideration to the scale and pace at which that should be restored.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : While I fully support what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about the Socialist nonsenses of the social charter, may I ask him to explain how on earth he can stop them if, as seems to be the case, the majority of member states want them, and the Commission presents them as majority vote issues under the Single European Act?

As we now see a real threat to all the splendid achievements of Her Majesty's Government, will my right hon. and learned Friend be prepared to discuss with our European Community partners the possibility of developing a two-tier Europe, which would be good for us and good for them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : We shall be challenging any unjustified extension of either the role or the competence of European Community institutions along the lines I have stated. A large number of the topics foreshadowed in the draft of the social charter do not fall within the area covered by majority voting.

We shall be seeking to limit the impact of any possible social charter, so that it does not infringe upon any essential features of our own structure, because it is most important that we do that. We shall be doing that by advancing the arguments that I have been advancing in the Housing this afternoon. However, to believe that it would make sense to do that by consciously espousing the idea of a two-tier Europe, with our country setting itself in some outer tier, would be to set ourselves on a path that has been consistently rejected by the House ever since we joined the European Community in 1976.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles) : The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said that the council regretted the renewal of the state of emergency in South Africa. Bearing in mind the speed with which the British Government condemned the alleged breach by SWAPO, of the United Nation's resolution 435, will the Foreign Secretary say whether, included in that expression of regret, there was any reference to the statements--which I have here--made in Namibia that, should SWAPO win the elections in Namibia, the South African State Security Council plans to sabotage independence in that state?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not know what anonymous statements the hon. Lady may be quoting. The statement that we have tabled in the Library was to reaffirm our condemnation of the system of apartheid, and to call for the liberation of Mandela and other political leaders and the commencement of a dialogue with other political organisations. We also discussed the crucial importance of proceeding with the implementation of resolution 435 and, with the front-line states, emphasised the obligation and interest of all of us to ensure compliance with resolution 435 not merely by SWAPO but by any organisation or body under the control or command of the South African Government. We all have, and emphasise, the same objective--fair and free elections in Namibia at the earliest possible opportunity.


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Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South) : Was the trade and transit dispute between India and Nepal discussed? Both the European Community and the British Government give substantial aid to both those friendly countries, so it is of considerable concern to us all that such a dispute is continuing, when it is causing wastage of these scarce resources. Is there any hope of an early meeting between those countries with the aim of achieving a satisfactory and honourable resolution of the disputes?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand my hon. Friend's interest in the future relations between Nepal and India, both countries with which we have good and friendly relations. We share his interests in the matters to which he has referred. The topic was not discussed among Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg this week, but I am sure that all would share our interest in looking for an early resolution of these problems in the most friendly and conciliatory fashion.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : Will the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary expand somewhat on the discussion that took place at the Foreign Affairs Council on the subject of the Vietnamese refugee problem--the boat people--in Hong Kong? Is there any hope of our sister European countries accepting responsibility for this terrible and intractable problem, which is getting worse week by week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : There was not a great deal of discussion on this in the Foreign Affairs Council, but I took the opportunity to alert my colleagues to the gravity and importance of the problem. It has been more fully discussed at the conference taking place in Geneva yesterday and today. A number of them have taken, are taking and will be taking direct responsibility for the resettlement of additional numbers of refugees. That is one of the categories that the conference has been summoned to consider. I cannot remember the exact number, but some are making additional commitments in that respect. A more difficult category is that of non- refugees--economic migrants--for whom virtually everyone sees the necessity of their being relocated back in their homeland.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : My right hon. and learned Friend will no doubt acknowledge the progress that is being made towards the liberalisation of air transport within Europe. Will he give an undertaking that, when the Foreign Affairs Council next meets, the question of liberalisation within Europe will be on the agenda, as it has implications for air service agreements with third countries--most notably, the United States of America? If it will be given increasing rights to fly within the European Community, it is most important that European countries are given reciprocal rights to fly within America.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend raises an important set of related points, but they would be more appropriately discussed in due course by the Transport Council rather than by the Foreign Affairs Council. However, I shall certanly bring my hon. Friend's points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : We are all grateful to whoever is responsible for this rare if limited opportunity to question the Foreign Secretary about the top European Council of Ministers meeting. The last


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occasion on which the Government offered an oral statement on this, the most important of the European Community's Council of Ministers, despite many requests since by the Opposition, was on 17 December 1986--two and a half years and more than 30 monthly meetings ago, which is clearly unacceptable to the House.

We welcome the discussion on the events in China for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asked last week, and the opportunity that all member states had to act in unison and to condemn the cold brutality of the Chinese Government over the past two weeks. We acknowledge that the key business of the Foreign Affairs Council was to fix the agenda for the Madrid summit, but it promises that Britain will once again be on the

sidelines--isolated and marginalised by the confusions and divisions in the Government over the European monetary system and by the Government's neanderthal approach to the social dimensions of 1992. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether rumours that the Government will accept phase 1 of the Delors plan on European monetary union are true, and whether No. 10 Downing street has yet rubber-stamped that which he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are clearly cooking up? Why is it that Britain, alone of the 12 Community countries, believes that the social charter is evil, bureacratic and unnecessary--when even the Conservative Right-wing German Minister of Employment, Mr. Norbert Blu"m. believes that it is too bland and needs to be toughened up? Is it not the case that, because the Government insist on ignoring the 60 per cent. of British people who, according to this week's poll by the Daily Telegraph support the social charter, they well merit the description of themselves in today's editorial in The Independent :


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"The Conservatives have waged a wretched, negative and dishonest campaign which, far from uniting the party, has embarrassed most of its candidates"?

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that The Times has it spot on when it comments in an editorial :

"The Labour bandwagon is beginning to gather speed"?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am sure that the House is glad to acknowledge the extent to which the hon. Gentleman has broadened his newspaper reading, but we cannot pay tribute to any other aspect of his wisdom. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments about the Council's attitude to the events in China. However, when he turns to the Community's immediate agenda, he does not get it very right. As I told the House, there is a sharp distinction to be made between phase 1 as discussed in the Delors report and phases 2 and 3. That distinction has been made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in all the relevant discussions, and it will be made again at Madrid. As to the social charter, the hon. Gentleman must understand that some of its provisions represent an attempt to reimpose on this country conditions from which some of his predecessors in the Labour party tried to escape. Some of the social charter's provisions would reproduce those features that Barbara Castle and Harold Wilson tried to remove at the time of "In Place of Strife".

It would be totally foolish and negative for the Government of this country, who have achieved substantial economic progress, and record progress on unemployment, to accept obligations of that kind. The position of the Government and of those representing us in the European elections is positive, united and effective--and that unity and effectiveness will be seen when the results of tomorrow's elections are announced at the weekend.


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Food Research (Bristol)

3.49 pm

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : 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 closure announced today of the institute of food research at Bristol, given the continuing rise of food poisoning to near epidemic proportions."

This matter is specific because of the type of research which is conducted at the food laboratories in Bristol. It is important because of the public concern felt by consumers on matters of public health and dietary considerations. It is urgent because the closure was announced this morning at 11 am in Bristol. At the research laboratories in Bristol there are 80 projects-- [Interruption.] I am sorry. This is an important issue, but it is difficult to concentrate on making my application because I cannot hear myself think for the din from the Conservative Benches.

The projects conducted at Langford in the Bristol food research institute cover listeria, and cook-chill proposals are being investigated. The institute carried out research on salmonella poisoning until that was cancelled and has, in the past, conducted research on botulism. The leading authority in that subject is based at the laboratory.

The institute covers work on food safety and quality. The fat content of food is vital in a society which suffers so much from heart disease. It researches food acceptability and food processing. It is important because of the increasing risk to health from microbial contamination, the emergence of new pathogenic organisms and because consumers prefer fresh foods, which means that the traditional methods of preserving foods cannot be used. Changes in people's dietary patterns means increased hazards associated with increased consumption of some foods. A reliable Government have a duty to ensure that we can consume safe food.

This is urgent, given the context of yet another problem related to food consumption in this country. There are 120 scientists who will lose their jobs by December 1990, and much of the research will not be transferred to other institutions. This is happening at a time when France and Spain are increasing their research and recognising that it is necessary for food safety and the decent health of the consuming public. Our Government are pursuing the trend of making the consumer less safe. The food industry cannot be trusted to ensure that the correct priorities are adopted.

The closure of this institution is foolhardy, callous and, given the current environment, cavalier. It shows scant regard for the best interests of the consumers. I hope that we shall be granted an emergency debate.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) 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 she thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, "The closure announced today of the institute of food research at Bristol, given the continuing rise of food poisoning to near epidemic proportions."

I have listened with care to what the hon. Lady has said. As she knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether the


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matter should be given precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that the matter raised does not meet the criteria of Standing Order No. 20 ; therefore, I cannot submit her application to the House.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, during the exchanges on botulism, I asked the Secretary of State for Health whether the Government would now reverse the cuts in research into food safety that threatened the Bristol laboratory. In his reply the Secretary of State asserted that the laboratory was "doing no research of any kind relevant to botulism."

This morning I received a letter from the Secretary of State admitting that that was clearly a mistake. I also learned that the Bristol laboratory was one of only two centres in Britain carrying out research into botulism, and that its modelling technique to predict the growth of the organism was relevant to all foodstuffs, not just meat.

In such circumstances, Mr. Speaker, would it not be normal for the Secretary of State to make a personal statement to put the record straight for Hansard ? It is important that the record on the Bristol laboratory's work should be put straight, in view of this morning's announcement that the centre is to close and its work on botulism is to be dispersed to Reading, which will reduce the food research staff from 560 to 440. The House will want to know how the Government can justify the extraordinary timing of that decision.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : It may be helpful if I share with the House the contents of the letter that I sent to the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), with an apology for the mistake that I made on the second occasion on which the subject was raised yesterday, which has caused some confusion. The question of the research laboratory at Bristol was first raised by the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn). I answered his question accurately when I said :

"The point about the Bristol research centre to which the hon. Gentleman referred can be answered in more detail by my right hon. Friends with responsibility for that, but I am informed that that research centre is not concerned with any work on food safety relevant to this outbreak."

To the best of my knowledge, that remains accurate.

The question was raised again later by the hon. Member for Livingston. When I reached the relevant part of my reply to him, I began to be interrupted by hon. Members who speak on agricultural matters--first by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and then, I have to say, by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who was sitting behind me.

The hon. Member for Livingston has taken one phrase from what column 709 of Hansard makes it clear was an interrupted and incomplete answer. By the time the interruptions had finished, I had said :

"That must be taken up with the responsible Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will have to deal with that I remain reasonably confident--I look to my right hon. Friend for advice"--

which I was doing--

"that it is doing no research of any kind relevant to botulism."--[ Official Report, 13 June 1989 ; Vol. 154, c. 704-09.]

I said in the letter to the hon. Members for Southport and for Livingston that that was plainly a mistake and that my answer had been incomplete. I had intended to say that the centre was doing no research relevant to this outbreak. Following the restructuring that has been taking place, and on the decision of the Agricultural and Food Research


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Council, an autonomous and independent body, work is being transferred from Bristol to Norwich and Reading, and the Bristol expert Terry Roberts is transferring to one of the other centres with his team.

As I made clear yesterday, the Government have no intention of withdrawing funding from the research on botulism, which is to be transferred to one of the institute's other laboratories. On the contrary, we are strengthening and expanding the work on food safety that has hitherto been done at Bristol.

I can only say that I hope that what I have said has cleared up the confusion. Obviously I speak on behalf of the Government, although this is not my departmental responsibility. However, hon. Members who feel strongly that the work would be better done at Bristol than at Norwich or Reading should address their detailed questions either to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science or to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. We are increasing the amount of research being done, and I leave the matter of the location to those who wish to explore the matter further.

Several Hon. Members : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I will take a point of order from the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn), as he was involved in this matter yesterday.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport) : Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Further to that point of order. The Secretary of State has sent me a letter, for which I thank him. Can he confirm unreservedly that no research or experiments are now being carried out at Bristol on the present outbreak of botulism?

Mr. Clarke : A great number of inquiries are being made about the outbreak. If they throw up the need for further research into how hazelnut puree became infected, I have no doubt that that research will be financed. The decision about Bristol has been taken by the relevant research council. It has decided to transfer the work from Bristol to Norwich or Reading. There will be increased expenditure on some aspects of food safety research. The work on botulism is being transferred. A great expert on botulism, who is based at Bristol, is moving with his team to one of the other two centres. That team will wish to consider the impact on its work of the outbreak that we are suffering at the moment, which I trust will soon be abated.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : A different point of order?

Mr. Cryer : Yes, a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. It relates to statements made to the House.

The Government are clearly intent on curtailing statements. Today, we have had three instances. The statement on the Foreign Affairs Council was based on an extension of Question Time. Consequently, according to the general rules, you were unable to call the whole range of hon. Members who wished to speak. On a statement, that would have been quite normal. The exchange, therefore, was very limited. The question that has been raised now--which was raised yesterday by means of a private notice question and


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today by means of a Standing Order No. 20 application--has been answered in what can only be described as a very shifty way by the Minister. He ought to have come here and made a statement in order to allow a wide range of cross-examination. You may recall, Mr. Speaker, that all the annunciators in this House carry a message that there is to be a statement by a Minister. Many hon. Members who may not be here would have wished to be here to ask questions. It is a real denial of Members' rights to treat the House in this way. All that I seek from you, Mr. Speaker, is an assurance that you will keep the matter under review. There is a very real danger that, with their enormous majority of over 100, the Government are treating the processes of democracy with contempt and eroding the conventions of this place, which call for statements at regular intervals from Ministers so that hon. Members can have a proper opportunity --without placing a strain on you, Mr. Speaker, to curtail questions--to cross-examine Ministers, particularly when they are behaving so badly and when their methods of operation are so shoddy.

Ms. Primarolo rose --

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) rose --

Mr. Speaker : Let me deal with one point of order at a time. I do not think that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is right about what he called the statement on Question 18. It was a question from one of his hon. Friends, which might well have been reached. The fact that it was taken at the end of questions gave the House a greater opportunity to discuss it. That is a helpful procedure when matters of great importance arise. As to the hon. Gentleman's other point, the Secretary of State has today corrected some information that he gave to the House yesterday. I think that the whole House should applaud that.

Mr. Madden : May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as the guardian of the rights of hon. Members? It relates to statements. It is rumoured that tomorrow the Government intend to make a statement about the establishment of a DNA testing scheme. We have been waiting many months for the statement. It is likely to be extremely controversial, because it will dash the hopes of many families who wish to be united and reunited in this country.

I know that this is not a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, but as many hon. Members from all sides of the House will be preoccupied elsewhere tomorrow, I think that it would be quite wrong for the Government to try to slip through a very controversial statement in a House with a very slim attendance. If you are approached by the Government about the matter, could you strongly advise them to hold this statement, which has been on ice for at least nine months, until Monday, so that they can be held accountable on Monday for decisions which they are trying to slip through the House when many hon. Members will be away?

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you confirm that tomorrow is a normal sitting day for the House of Commons and that it is therefore the right of all hon. Members to attend and to put any questions that they may wish on any statement that is made? If the hon. Member


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for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) is skiving off and will not be here to speak up for his constituents, that is a problem for him, not for the Government.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : I shall deal with one matter at a time. I have no knowledge of the rumours that go around this place. As we approach July, they always seem to accelerate. I do not know anything about that matter. Friday is sometimes said to be a thin day in the House ; Thursday usually is a busy day.

Ms. Primarolo : Further to my original point of order arising out of the Minister's comments, Mr. Speaker. I believe that the Minister's statement that all the work from Bristol will be transferred to Norwich or Reading is incorrect. I ask him to take back that statement and reconsider it, to save him having to apologise to the House tomorrow and put the record straight, yet again.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect, in using points of order, hon. Members are trying to question me about a press notice issued yesterday by the Agricultural and Food Research Council--a body for which I am not responsible, as hon. Members know. In case the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) is in any doubt, I have said, on the advice of those who are responsible for this matter, that the Government have no intention of withdrawing funding from the research on botulism which is being transferred to the institute's other laboratories. Today, the Agricultural and Food Research Council said :

"more will be spent on research into Salmonella and Listeria". I advise hon. Members, in their interests as well as mine, that if they are seriously interested in questions concerning the laboratory and transfer of work from Bristol to Norwich or Reading, they should direct them to one or other of the Secretaries of State responsible for this matter. All they need do is table a question to whichever Secretary of State they wish.


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Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Secretary of State has acknowledged, there are Ministers who are responsible for the statement which was issued today about the closure of the institute of food research at Bristol. As he said, it is to them that we should address our questions. Given the uncertainty and interest in the House--which is obvious to everyone--because 120 top scientists will lose their jobs, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use your good offices to ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House later this evening so that we can cross-examine him on this important issue which affects public health and food safety. Mr. Speaker : That is not a matter for me, but I am sure that the point has been heard. Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) rose

Mr. Speaker : Final point of order, please.

Mr. Cook : Further to the original point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am afraid that the Secretary of State appears to have heaped confusion upon ignorance. We are now in some difficulty in determining who should answer our questions. In his statement yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health said that the incidence of botulism in this country was significantly less than in other countries. His colleague, however, is issuing statements saying that the food irradiation which occurs in other countries is desirable, so we should adopt it here.

I want the Secretary of State--whichever one is responsible--to bear in mind the fact that clostridium botulinum is not susceptible to irradiation, but that other bacteria--yeasts and moulds--are, and Ministers should know that the bacterium can grow much more virulently without competitors. The Secretary of State for Health should ensure that either he covers this matter or his mate does.

Mr. Speaker : I am sure that that has been heard by those who are responsible.


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Creation of Unitary Local Authorities

4.8 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to merge regional, county, borough and district councils to create unitary all purpose local authorities in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I was reminded of ten-minute Bills when I recently tried to fly a kite with my children. Much anxious preparation was followed by a few minutes of fitful flight. It fell to the ground and no one ever heard of it again. Although I have no illusions about this Bill becoming law at the end of the Session, I am confident that it or something like it will eventually become law.

Continuing the analogy of the kite, if I had left my garden and walked up a hill on top of the Lincolnshire wolds, I would have had a magnificent view and would have understood what lay behind the Bill. From the top of the Lincolnshire wolds there is a fine view of Lincoln cathedral to the south, the Grimsby dock tower to the north and the cooling tower of the Trent valley power stations. There is a fine view also of no fewer than nine local authority areas : three county councils and six district councils. If one of my constituents had been standing alongside me on the top of the Lincolnshire wolds, he would have been confused about the responsibilities of those local authorities. Even had a councillor been standing there with me, I suspect that he would have made a few mistakes. Therefore, reform is timely.

It is not good enough simply to say that local government has enough on its plate with the community charge, competitive tendering and education reform. After all, the Government began the process by creating unitary local authorities in the Greater London area and the metropolitan counties. Reform is needed.

I shall not fall into the trap of trying to impose a uniform structure throughout the country, as happened in 1974, when it was imposed in many areas without prior consultation or local justification. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is in his place. We know all about the problem in Lincolnshire. One third of it was torn away to form the unloved county of South Humberside. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) reminded me the other day that the boundary of that new county was moved 20 miles to the north following one session with the then Secretary of State, simply to appease local feeling. That is not the right way to deal with local government. Above all, my Bill proposes consultation and local options, not national uniformity. Let the people decide, if necessary through a referendum. What is right in one part of the United Kingdom is not necessarily right in another. I happen to favour unitary local authorities. They can be justified on the bases of understanding by the people, of stable and good management and, above all, of the concentration of power to create strong local government. As a former councillor, I certainly believe in that.

My area should return to what it was before 1974, when there was the Lindsey county council--there was not South Humberside or East and West Lindsey--and people knew where they stood. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government represents a Suffolk seat, and I am not lecturing him on what should be the case there. Perhaps a two-tier authority is more appropriate. In my


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