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Mr. Livsey : What assistance will the Minister give to those sheep farmers in the less-favoured areas who this autumn have suffered a drop of at least one third in the sale value of their breeding ewes? That is a serious loss. Will the Minister therefore consider paying compensation to farmers who have sustained that loss due to changes in the transitional arrangements of the European Community sheepmeat regime?
Mr. Curry : There has been a drop in breeding ewe prices, although of late the recovery has been quite sharp. Some uncertainty played a part in that, but weather conditions resulting in lack of grass and forage also played a significant role. I am not prepared to consider compensation, but I am prepared to set out the final details of the regime so that there is certainty. The producers whom the hon. Gentleman and I represent in our constituencies will have a buoyant export market and stability to look forward to, which is far more useful to them than living in a permanent state of uncertainty with the threat of a change in their regime always imminent but never quite happening.
Mr. Holt : Does my hon. Friend agree that the British sheep industry recently suffered the grievous loss of a trans-shipment of sheep from New Zealand to a constituent of mine. They were a special strain of sheep which is gradually becoming extinct and they died as a result of the activities of customs officers at Honolulu airport. Will my hon. Friend make the strongest representations to the Americans to ensure that sheep coming to Britain in future will not have to remain for an hour and a half on the tarmac without air conditioning?
Mr. Curry : I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Commission's proposals to limit hill livestock compensatory allowances to the less-favoured areas. I can tell him categorically that we are opposed in principle to the Commission's suggestion because it discriminates against British farming.
Mr. Bill Walker : My hon. Friend will be aware that in Scotland the Highland clearances removed the people so that sheep could be put in the glens and on the mountains. Is he satisfied that the changes that have taken place in the common agricultural policy will not result in a second Highland clearance, this time of the sheep? Will he confirm the strategic need to maintain the livestock on Scotland's hills?
Mr. Curry : I certainly confirm my hon. Friend's remarks. Continuing with the previous system would have threatened that livelihood in the hills and we were under continual pressure on that. However, as I have already said, we are determined to fight for the future of the British uplands which, in many cases, is based upon sheep.
Mr. Maclean : The advisory committee on pesticides last met on 19 October when it reviewed a number of pesticides, the labelling of timber treatment products and the operation of the wildlife incident investigation scheme.
Mr. McCartney : Is the Minister aware that on Tuesday this week I introduced a Bill to ban pesticides such as lindane? Is he also aware that since then I have been inundated with telephone calls from doctors, solicitors and members of families complaining of cases in which people have suffered from illnesses similar to that produced by lindane poisoning? This is a grossly under-reported area of the market. Will the Minister meet the all-party home safety committee and appropriate Ministers from other Departments to discuss the serious matter of the poisoning of the home environment by lindane and other nasty chemicals which can still be sold in do-it-yourself stores throughout Britain?
Mr. Maclean : I took the opportunity of reading the speech that the hon. Gentleman made when he introduced his 10-minute Bill last Tuesday. The possible effects of lindane on the food chain have been reviewed by my Department's independent advisory committee on pesticides and we are satisfied that the uses of lindane in the agricultural sector are now so limited that there is no damage to the food chain. However, the Health and Safety Executive is reviewing lindane's industrial and home uses and I cannot comment on that at this stage.
Mr. Boswell : Is not the Department to be congratulated on its recently published attractive booklet on pesticide use which deals with the issues in an adult manner? Will my hon. Friend undertake to release as much information as possible within the limits of confidentiality to contribute to a full debate on this important matter?
Mr. Maclean : I thank my hon. Friend. I thought that the booklet was excellent, and I hope that it will be widely circulated among hon. Members and the community. It explains the rigorous checks that the Government apply to all pesticides, and the work of the independent academic experts who give the Government the best advice in the world.
Mr. Mallon : Is the Minister aware of the deep concern about the use of the chemical nuvan as a pesticide in fish farming, especially salmon farming? What advice has he received from the advisory committee about the damage done by that chemical to the natural life of the sea, and to the environment in general?
Mr. Maclean : My right hon. Friend the Minister has already announced a far-reaching review of straw and stubble burning, which will take account of the many representations that we have received. We hope to announce the conclusions of the review shortly.
Column 1155necessity. I commend to my hon. Friend the proposal for a proper regulated licensing scheme, which I feel would strike that happy balance.
Mr. Maclean : We shall consider every proposal put to us, including that one. I promise all hon. Members who wrote to me about the matter that we shall consider their views, and those of their constituents, very thoroughly.
Mr. Morley : Given the considerable potential for commercial and energy-based use of straw--and given that the arguments for burning it are tenuous, and that burning leads to habitat destruction, pollution and considerable nuisance for those living in rural areas--does the Minister agree that it is time that he drew up distinct proposals for an outright ban, rather than byelaws which have been shown not to work by the National Society for Clean Air?
I repeat that we shall consider carefully all representations made to us. My Department already encourages alternatives to straw burning through a variety of publicity campaigns. Those alternatives include straw incorporation and its use as a fuel, and we make grants available to assist firms wishing to develop equipment for such purposes.
Mr. Curry : We are firmly opposed in principle to Commission proposals that would discriminate against British farmers in the less- favoured areas, where they are essential to the welfare of our countryside.
Mr. Howells : Can the Minister give an assurance that any withdrawal of FEOGA funds will be made up by the Government? Can he give a further assurance that the hill compensatory allowance for this year will be increased?
Mr. Curry : We oppose the Commission's proposals in principle, and our first battle involves making certain that we impress on our negotiating partners the fact that we will not surrender a principle that is so important to us. All other issues are subsidiary to that.
12. Mr. Gregory : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the latest estimate for the volume of liquid milk available for use in the confectionery industry ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Curry : The main use of liquid milk bought by the confectionery industry is for the manufacture of chocolate crumb. The current estimate of supplies for this purpose in the period January to August 1989 is 155 million litres, which compares with 153 million litres in 1983.
Mr. Gregory : Why is the volume of liquid milk available to the United Kingdom confectionery industry consistently held back? Companies such as Rowntree of York are forced to invest millions of pounds in machinery to take powdered milk when they would prefer to use
Column 1156liquid milk. Will my hon. Friend hold urgent discussions to ensure that quotas are increased so that the industry can use this natural product?
Mr. Curry : There is a proposal to increase quotas, but we are opposed to it because we believe that there is no case for an increase across the Community as a whole. My hon. Friend will know, however, that the milk marketing board is altering its seasonal scale to encourage producers to produce milk more in the trough. I hope that that will go some way towards solving the problem.
Mr. Martlew : In view of that reply, will the Minister ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to write a letter of apology to the Dairy Trade Federation after the ridiculous and crass speech that he made yesterday to the federation? He criticised it for its inability to affect the amount of dairy imports when in reality there is not enough milk in this country for manufacture. Will the Minister ensure that his right hon. Friend sends that letter of apology and is briefed before he speaks again to the federation?
Mr. Curry : An announcement on the 1990 hill livestock compensatory allowance rates and the scheme conditions will be made as soon as possible, following completion of the autumn review of the economic conditions in the hill and upland areas.
Mr. Hague : Does my hon. Friend agree that continued livestock farming in the upland areas is indispensable to much of Britain's finest countryside, not to mention many rural communities? If so, does he agree that an increase in the HLCA payments to help hill farmers through their current difficulties would be the best value for money of any environmental expenditure?
Mr. Curry : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of hill farmers as we have neighbouring constituencies which share the same characteristics. Our first priority is to make sure that we get this right in Brussels. Then it will depend on getting it right in the United Kingdom.
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.
The Prime Minister rose -- [Interruption.]
Mr. Jones : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is an intrinsic part of Conservative philosophy to conserve our environment and our heritage? Further, does my right hon. Friend accept that all those who are concerned with preserving the rain forests will applaud the practical lead that she has given towards that end?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the Government have given a lead in tackling the problems of climate change. In particular, we have given a lead in our aid programme for conserving the forests, especially in Brazil, where, through my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for the Environment, we signed the first such agreement between an industrial country and a country with tropical forests. We have also signed one with India. I was able to announce at the United Nations the earmarking of £100 million under our tropical forest action programme. That is good news, both for developing countries and for the developed world.
Mr. Kinnock : What is the Prime Minister's answer to the question put to her and her colleagues by Brighton ambulance man Brian Murray, holder of the British Empire Medal, who asked : "Why do they have such short, ungrateful memories?"
The Prime Minister : We have great gratitude to the ambulance men. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, through the Whitley council they were offered a 6.5 per cent. increase backdated to April and in London 9.3 per cent., backdated to April, both of which would amount to quite a considerable small lump sum if it were taken now. They had also reached an agreement on 24 October about how to run the emergency services. We very much regret that that agreement is not being honoured. It was fully agreed between management and people.
Mr. Kinnock : If the Prime Minister is so confident of the case, why does she not let Mr. Murray and his colleagues go to arbitration? Does she recognise that to lavish praise on ambulance people at the time of a disaster and then to stop them going to arbitration is gross hypocrisy?
Mr. Leigh : When my right hon. Friend completed her interview with Mr. Brian Walden, did she receive any complaints from the programme staff about the fact that the Leader of the Opposition had wriggled out of giving
Column 1158his interview? When she was Leader of the Opposition, did she ever fear to have her intellectual competence questioned?
Will she kindly tell the House, in the scheme of things, what ambassadorship she would offer the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), what post she would offer the deputy leader of the Tory party, the deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), and what are her plans for the universe?
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : I thank my right hon. Friend for persuading our right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to listen to the pleas of Andrew Gorst, a 14-year-old pupil at Ripley St. Thomas in my constituency, who keeps 48 hens and has some very satisfied customers. He would have had to pay as much as someone with 10,000 hens but now he will pay at a very reduced rate. I should like to say "Thank you very much" to my right hon. Friend.
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister deserves all the compliments for listening to the case of a small farmer and taking the requisite action.
Mr. McGrady : Does the Prime Minister agree that her announcement in New York yesterday of £5.5 million for environmental research is a poor substitute for the £33 million that she withdrew from the natural environment research council in February this year? That affected 160 scientists, 41 of whom are involved in research into ozone and the glowing heat effect. Will she reinstate that budget?
The Prime Minister : The grant allocated to the natural environment research council by the advisory board for all research councils was put up, having regard to the importance of the work of the British Antarctic Survey, to the importance of the world experiment on the circulation of the oceans--we shall take part in that--and to the need to put more into satellite work on monitoring climate change.
Mr. Gale : Can my right hon. Friend think of any circumstances in which it might be proper to take industrial action against the sick, the disabled and the infirm? Can she think of any occasion on which such action has been condemned by the Leader of the Opposition?
Column 1159October with regard to accident and emergency services which is not now being operated. We must also bear in mind that nine out of 10 miles done by the ambulance service are not for accidents and emergencies but to get people to hospital, whether as in- patients or out-patients. Most of those non-emergency people are managing excellently to get themselves to hospital. But that does not alter the main point of my hon. Friend's question--that action should not be taken against the sick.
Mr. McCartney : When the chairman of the Conservative party recently said that the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), had resigned because of long-standing serious differences with the Prime Minister on economic policy, was he telling the truth?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has recently announced a number of measures to give extra help to some 500,000 disabled people and carers. These will add a further £100 million on top of the £8.3 billion a year being spent on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people in real terms. That is nearly double what was being spent in 1979.
Mr. Hannam : I thank my right hon. Friend for the recent improvements, especially the carers' allowance and the mobility allowance for deaf-blind people. Does she recall her 1979 commitment to introduce a system of cash benefits to meet the costs of disablement? Will she therefore take a personal interest in the current review of disability benefits to ensure that that promise is implemented to help the 6 million disabled people in Britain to live a life of dignity?
The Prime Minister : I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that we have honoured our pledge by increasing the amount spent on the disabled by 90 per cent. in real terms--that is, over and above inflation--since 1979. The number of people receiving help with their extra costs through mobility allowance has increased sixfold and through attendance allowance threefold over the past decade. That is a record of which the Government can be proud. I certainly assure my hon. Friend that we shall be seeking to do more to help many disabled people who at present do not receive mobility allowance or attendance allowance.
Mr. Ashley : Is the Prime Minister aware that although her figures are correct, the impression that she seeks to create is false? In the past 10 years the real value of the average male take-home pay has risen by 20 per cent. while
Column 1160the average real value of disablement benefit has risen by less than 1 per cent. That is why her boast about helping disabled people has a hollow ring.
The Prime Minister : I do not think that the many people who now receive disablement benefits but did not receive them before will find that that comes with a hollow ring. There are many people in receipt of disablement benefits who never received them before. Spending on the disabled has increased from £1.8 billion in 1978-79 to £8.3 billion in cash terms. That is an increase of £4 billion in real terms. Of that real increase, £3.5 billion is attributable to the increased number of beneficiaries--those who otherwise would not have received benefit--and £500 million to the increase in the average amounts paid.
Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to help the disabled is to target help to those who are most in need? Does she particularly welcome the new benefits of up to £65 per week for families with severely disabled babies?
The Prime Minister : Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the sum of £65 per week which is intended to help those people. I know my hon. Friend's personal record in this matter and the tremendous interest that he has taken in that aspect of disablement and we all honour him for the lead that he has given.
Mr. Nellist : Is the Prime Minister aware that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) this morning again put the Government's view that there is no compatibility between the dangers faced by firefighters and those faced by ambulance workers? Where does the Prime Minister think that ambulance workers were at King's Cross or the Brighton hotel, when she was particularly pleased to see them--waiting outside like glorified taxi drivers? When will she stop treating the women and men of the ambulance service as though they were members of her Cabinet? Why does she not pull out the Army, pay ambulance workers the money and stop risking lives?
The Prime Minister : First, the point about comparability with other emergency services was considered by the Clegg commission, which was set up by a Labour Government but whose recommendations were honoured by a Conservative Government because the Labour Government did not have the money--they just made promises. The Clegg commission did not uphold the demand for comparability between the services. The London ambulance service has been offered 9.3 per cent., backdated to April. The way to conduct the negotiations was through the Whitley council.
Column 1161it will inevitably cause serious environmental damage? As it was the Government of the day who diverted the route from the open country to the north of Winchester to the sensitive area to the south-east of Winchester, will she reassure the House that the Secretary of State for Transport will speedily be given sufficient funds to ensure that whatever route is finally selected it will be friendly to the special and historic environment around Winchester, which is a national asset?
The Prime Minister : I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this as he has been in correspondence and has been to see me about it. He knows that at the moment my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport are considering the reports of two independent inspectors, who held public inquiries into proposals for that road scheme. I cannot anticipate what their decisions will be, but I know that they fully understand the importance of environmental issues in cases such as this.
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