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Mr. Pike : Will the Minister confirm that cases of BSE have been reported in every county in England and Wales? Would it not be sensible, therefore, to introduce compulsory inspection by vets at slaughterhouses now rather than wait to be compelled to do so by the EEC in 1991?
Mr. MacGregor : The actions that we have properly taken--first, from the moment when we knew and could diagnose what the disease was, secondly from the moment when we thought that we knew with a fair degree of certainty what the source was, and finally from the report of the Southwood committee--are designed fully to deal with this problem and to protect the consumer. The Southwood report said that the risk to human health was extremely remote, but to be absolutely sure we have taken steps, including the one that I recently announced, to make sure that infected material does not enter the food chain. I think that that is the right way to tackle the matter.
Dr. David Clark : The Minister has acknowledged that the Southwood report admits the possibility, albeit remote, that this terrible disease could be transmitted to humans. To ensure that there is no temptation for farmers to send dubious animals to market, will the Government stop shilly- shallying and offer farmers 100 per cent. compensation for BSE-infected animals sent to slaughter?
Mr. MacGregor : It appears that there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about the compensation that we are offering. Such animals are not worth very much in the market, but the compensation is 50 per cent. of the original market value, which is well above what they would now be worth. The other important point is that the action that I have recently announced--to deal with susceptible offals and ensure that they do not enter the food chain--deals with this problem.
Mr. MacGregor : The closing date for responses to the nitrate consultation document is 30 June. It has therefore not yet been possible to assess all the responses because that date has not been reached. Replies are still being received and assessed.
Column 1103public interest and illustrates how environmentally aware the Government are. As my right hon. Friend moves towards his conclusions, will he consider consulting farmers about compensation in those cases in which restrictions go beyond good farming practice?
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's praise. It is not necessary to consult farmers on that point because we have already announced that there will be compensation for restrictions that go beyond good agricultural practice. We shall be consulting farmers on the pilot areas, which I hope to announce in the autumn. It will be then that we shall begin to get the full scheme into operation.
15. Mr. Haynes : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he intends to discuss with other European Community Fisheries Ministers the recommendations made at the 41st annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Donald Thompson : The European Community does not have competence on whaling matters as such, but those members with interests in whaling are members of the International Whaling Commission and we consult them in that forum. At the recent annual meeting of the commission, resolutions were passed calling upon Japan, Norway and Iceland to reconsider their whaling research plans, and Japan's request for its small coastal whaling boats to take 320 minke whales was rejected. I welcome those decisions.
Mr. Haynes : Is the Minister aware that I have switched my interest from my furry friends to those massive whatever they are? Is the Minister aware that Japan will kill 400 whales this year and Iceland 68 and does he accept the sham that that killing is for "research"? When will there be sanctuary for these beautiful beasts? Come on, Minister, and let us know.
Mr. Thompson : The hon. Gentleman deserves an answer. We were instrumental in persuading Iceland not to take 10 sei whales next year and we reduced the number of whales to be taken by the Japanese to 320. We are not interested in spurious scientific whaling. We shall continue to press our case and the case for the whale.
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. Canavan : Does the Prime Minister recall that only a few years ago when the Wang Corporation announced that it was bringing 700 jobs to Scotland, she tried to take much of the credit for it personally, hailing it as splendid news on her birthday and a shot in the arm for Scotland?
Column 1104If the Minister is to avoid shooting herself in the foot with £4 million of taxpayers' money being lost and, more seriously, shooting down the jobs of 240 Scottish workers, will she renew her personal interest in the case and demand an urgent meeting with company representatives with a view to discussing every possible means of Government intervention to stop the closure and to keep the jobs in Scotland where more than 250,000 people are still unemployed?
The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland answered a private notice question on Tuesday about the closure. The closure comes as a shock because it is a comparatively new factory. The company has come across great market difficulties in selling its product and it has to rationalise. The company made it clear in the closure notice that the work force in Scotland has performed excellently. It also made it clear that it would do everything possible to assist in selling the factory to another occupant perhaps, to have as many jobs continuing there as possible. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland pointed out that in 1982 we were under the Labour system of grants. We had not changed the system then, so we are not in a position to demand part of the grant back. The system of grants was changed in 1984. Had the grant been given later, we would have been in a position to get some of it back.
Mr. Bill Walker : Has my right hon. Friend been informed of the situation in the National Union of Railwaymen, where delegates attending the conference about the strike are paid £70 per day, plus expenses, while the ordinary railwaymen who are on strike are paid £2 per day? Does that not show the cynicism within that organisation, with no care for the workers and even less care for the travellers?
The Prime Minister : I think that it is utterly deplorable--the inconvenience to which the travelling public are being put by the strikes. Many people are making splendid efforts to get to work because they will not be put off by such strikes. The double tragedy is that British Rail is virtually advertising, "We will not get you to your destination." That is what a strike means for passengers and freight. More people will make other arrangements to get to work and more manufacturers will make other arrangements to transport their freight. It is a double tragedy of gross inconvenience for the public and for the future of British Rail.
Mr. Wray : Is the Prime Minister aware that of the 10 million pensioners in Britain, 6 million are living below the poverty line? Does she realise that since 1986, when pensioners had their first increase, they have had increases of 40p, 85p and £1.65p, which amounts to less than £3 in three years? Is she also aware that thousands of pensioners are losing out because of Government guidelines which mean that if their date of birth falls after the first pay day they will lose a week's pension?
The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman is aware, under this Government the basic pension has been inflation-proof, whereas the Labour Government were unable to stick to their promise to keep the pension in line with prices because when in 1976 prices went up by 21.5 per cent. the pension went up by only 15 per cent.
Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the light of the present rail strikes we should be moving towards privatisation of the rail network and the removal of legal immunities in relation to strike action, particularly in public monopoly services? My right hon. Friend has already condemned the National Union of Railwaymen for holding the travelling public to ransom. Can she give any explanation for the failure of the Leader of the Opposition to condemn the NUR?
The Prime Minister : I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will condemn the strike, which has given so much inconvenience to thousands of citizens, thousands of trade unionists and thousands of other people who seek conscientiously to get to work to carry out their duties. Privatisation is not an effective response to the situation. It is justified on its own as a policy. When the buses were on strike we saw that the privatised buses still ran. We are not yet ready to bring forward proposals for the privatisation of British Rail, which would require careful preparation, but I shall take my hon. Friend's comments on board. Privatised services are less likely to strike than public ones.
Mr. Ashdown : Has the Prime Minister noticed that last week President Gorbachev established for the Soviet Parliament just that system of scrutiny over the KGB which she refused this Parliament in relation to our secret services? [Interruption.]
Column 110663-year-old pensioner on a net income of £70.01p per week living in Southwark will pay exactly the same poll tax as a 63-year-old professional lady earning £1,000 per week who is married to a millionaire and living in Dulwich? Why does the right hon. Lady so strongly support such an unfair tax?
The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the community charge meets about 25 per cent. of local government expenditure. About another 25 per cent. is met by the business tax, and the remaining 50 per cent. is met by the taxpayer. Higher-rate taxpayers will, of course, contribute very much more to local authority expenditure than those paying a lesser rate.
Miss Nicholson : In her busy day, has my right hon. Friend had time to reflect on the current excellent provision of health care and, in particular, on the major investment in hospital building projects, 401 of which have been completed since 1979 at a cost of more than £1 milion per project, with a further 144 projects nearing completion? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that that excellent momentum will be continued?
The Prime Minister : Yes, and I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend's comments. Labour's policies would cut expenditure on hospital building, whereas ours have greatly increased it. Our policy is one of trying to improve the Health Service in places where it was not so good, by constructing excellent new hospitals. A number of right hon. and hon. Members who represent London constituencies have had to stand back while that was done elsewhere, but we look forward to having new hospitals, too, under a Conservative Government.
Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister recall saying that Britain's rate of inflation started to rise because we were following the deutschmark? During her recent visit to Madrid, did she not agree that her objective was to return to shadowing the deutschmark?
The Prime Minister : No, not shadowing the deutsch-mark, but joining the exchange rate mechanism when certain conditions are fulfilled. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that Labour holds the record for inflation this century? Under Labour, it reached 27 per cent.--more than one quarter of the value of the pound--in one year. That was Labour's record when the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of this House.
Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree with others that the standard of English in this country and the whole education of our children must be improved? Should not everyone support the Government's important reforms, which are designed to achieve that objective?
The Prime Minister : It is important that the standard of both English teaching and English education should be improved. We have set out specific curricular demands and attainment tests for that purpose. They will shortly be introduced in primary schools and then in secondary schools,to the great benefit of the children of this country.
Mr. Madden : Will the Prime Minister take urgent action today to help industry in Yorkshire? Will she ask Sir David Alliance, the chairman of Coats Viyella to keep open CV Carpets in Batley, which is now threatened with closure and the loss of 140 jobs? Will she also have a word with her hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), who is a director of Eversure Curtains where the staff are currently on strke in pursuit of trade union recognition? Will she urge him to grant recognition to that trade union and also to do something about increasing the wages of the machinists whom he employs, who are currently paid £61 for a 38- hour week?
The Prime Minister : On the hon. Gentleman's first question, no-- closures are inevitably a matter for commercial judgment. [Interruption.] Yes, of course they are. The hon. Gentleman should be the first to recognise that Alliance Coats Viyella has done a very great deal to bring the textile industry right up to the latest best possible standards, both in investment and in design. We owe a great deal to it. It would be very good if some of those who criticise industry started up something themselves and made it succeed.
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