(By Order) Order for consideration of Lords amendments read.
To be considered on Thursday 18 January.
(By Order) Lords amendments, as amended, agreed to.
Orders for consideration of Lords amendments read.
To be considered on Wednesday 17 January at Seven o'clock.
Lords amendments agreed to.
(By Order) Read the Third time, and passed.
(By Order) Orders for consideration, as amended, read.
To be considered on Thursday 18 January.
[Lords] (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order) Orders for consideration, as amended, read.
To be considered on Monday 15 January.
[Lords] (By Order) Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 18 January.
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Monday 15 January.
1. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied that the current levels of agricultural income are adequate to sustain the long-term viability of the industry.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer) : The long-term viability of the industry can best be assured by a reformed common agricultural policy that encourages farmers to compete effectively in the market place.
Mr. Wigley : Does the Minister accept that during the past two years there has been a severe decline in farm incomes? In the livestock sector in Wales, the decline has been 20 per cent. Does the Minister further accept that the 4.1 per cent. increase in support prices is not enough to offset the livestock support amendments, let alone the 9 per cent. increase in inflation? Will he take positive steps to end the disparity between the green pound and the pound sterling to allow farmers to compete effectively?
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman is right to say that when there is a gap between the pound sterling and the green pound, British farmers are competing on an unfair basis. The Commission has made recommendations and we shall ensure, as far as possible, that we defend the interests of British farmers in the negotiations. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, as we are about to enter negotiations, we cannot promise the outcome now ; nor can I say how we can best achieve our end, which is to make a fairer Community for British farming.
Mr. Marland : I accept that agricultural incomes have risen marginally in the past year, although I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that they have fallen substantially since the early 1980s. Does he also agree that the right way forward is for farmers to seek to add value to what they produce on their farms to make it more attractive to the consumer?
Mr. Gummer : I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is much more difficult to increase one's income when there is a surplus than when there is a shortage, and all farmers must face that change. We must ensure that the battle is fair, and that Britain's farmers take more account of the need to sell their products effectively in the market place. I have tried to put that message over as widely as possible, and I thank my hon. Friend for his help.
Mr. Hood : Is the Minister aware that farmers in my constituency are worried about their long-term future because of the lack of anthrax vaccine? I raised the matter in Scottish Question Time on 20 December, and was promised a reply from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord J. Douglas-Hamilton) ; so far, however, I have received no such reply. Will the Minister have a word with his colleague and then provide me with some information, so that I can perhaps give some comfort to those worried farmers?
Column 1073Mr. Gummer : I shall be happy to take the matter up immediately with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I am sure, will give the hon. Gentleman the answer that he wishes.
Sir Hector Monro : Bearing in mind the low level of agricultural income over the past few years, will my right hon. Friend try to bring some confidence to hill farmers by assuring them that in 1991 this country will receive at least as much in hill livestock compensatory allowance as it will in the current year, and that the same will apply to the suckler cow subsidy? Both are extremely important in rural areas.
Mr. Gummer : I hope to be able to make an announcement about HLCAs very soon. My hon. Friend will know that we fought very hard against the discriminatory stand taken by the European Community against our hill livestock farmers. We won a much better result than we had expected, but we nevertheless find the Community's decision entirely discriminatory, and we shall continue to fight such decisions.
green-pound-subsidised competition from across the land frontier?
Mr. Gummer : I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I shall go to the first round of our European Community discussions very well seized of that point as it applies not only to Northern Ireland but to the rest of the United Kingdom. British farmers can do well if they compete on equal terms and our job is to ensure that we reach our 1992 goal of a level playing field reasonably and sensibly. It will be a tough battle, because other countries do not wish even the Commission's proposals to be accepted.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the severe concern among farmers in west Wales about a green pound gap of up to 19 per cent? Can he confirm that the Government still intend to abolish monetary compensation amounts by 1992?
Mr. Gummer : It is a question not of the Government's intention, but of the inevitable need for the completion of the single market. Any country that suggests that we could have a single market while maintaining a green pound system clearly does not understand what the single market is about. If one country continues to express that view, the rest of us will be forced to carry out a major conversion job very rapidly.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean) : The food and safety directorate brings together all the divisions of my Department that have responsibilities for matters relating to the safe production and handling of foodstuffs, and other consumer protection matters concerned with food. My right hon. Friend the Minister will therefore receive official advice as Minister responsible for food,
Column 1074which is separate from that given to him on the economic aspects of agriculture, food production or fishing as Minister responsible for agriculture and fisheries.
Mr. Rogers : When he set up the consumer panel, the Minister said that it would be an advisory forum for him. In view of the excessive secrecy that he enforces on all his other advisory committees, will he assure the House that members of the consumer panel will not be gagged, and that they will have access to all the information that they require to carry out their duties in the public interest?
Mr. Maclean : The hon. Gentleman is utterly wrong to imply that excessive secrecy is imposed on all the members of the independent advisory committees who advise this Department. None of the eminent scientists who advise us would be willing to serve on such committees if they were unfairly gagged in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. I can assure him that the consumers and advisers who will serve on the consumer panel will want to serve only if they have access to all the relevant information.
Mr. Flynn : Does the Minister recall an answer that he gave me shortly before Christmas? I asked how many of the turkeys and chickens that were being sold were likely to be infected by salmonella. His answer was that the last time that an examination had been carried out on a sample of a mere 100 chickens, it was found that 64 were contaminated with salmonella. I have had no answer on the number of contaminated turkeys. The Minister also said that if cooking was carried out properly, the problem would be solved. As the last investigation was carried out two years ago, will he institute a proper investigation and give further information to the public on the correct cooking of turkeys and chickens?
Mr. Maclean : I have 700 experts and scientists in my Department. Between them, they know practically all that there is to know about food safety. In view of the marvellous Christmas that we have all had, there is no question of me, or any of my experts, telling 25 million British housewives how to cook the Christmas turkey.
Dr. David Clark : Does the Minister not understand that while he is slashing research into food safety, sacking scientists by the thousand and delaying the introduction of vital regulations, the general public will have little confidence in a food safety directorate within his Department that is responsible directly to him? Why does he not show that he takes the issue seriously by establishing a food standards agency, independent of the Government, as advocated by the Labour party and many other information organisations?
Mr. Maclean : During the past few days we have announced a massive amount of research expenditure on bovine spongiform encephalopathy. That was followed by the announcement yesterday of further research expenditure into BSE. I was even asked on radio why we were spending so much on research. The Department is spending more money on research into essential food safety measures. All the staff who work in my Department
Column 1075are not paid or funded by any outside organisation--neither a trade union, nor a commercial interest, nor any other media or vested interest.
3. Mr. Trotter : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to provide for the inspection of railway freight trucks travelling to the United Kingdom from the continent after the opening of the Channel tunnel.
Mr. Gummer : Our intention will be to complete inspections of incoming rail freight as quickly as is possible, consistent with the need to safeguard human, animal, plant and fish health, but the precise arrangements will depend on decisions still to be taken in the Community.
Mr. Trotter : Does my right hon. Friend accept that it must be in the interests of the country as a whole that there should be the speediest possible transit for freight trains to Britain? Does that not require health inspections to be carried out at several locations, just as is proposed for Customs examinations? Would it not be ridiculous if all the freight wagons had to wait at Willesden, or some other spot in London, for health examinations, which would delay transit to the north and other areas?
Mr. Gummer : I am determined to do that as quickly as possible, so long as we can also safeguard animal, plant and fish health. That has always been and it continues to be our priority. That is why we are the independent protectors of the health of our nation. No one else can be.
Mr. Gummer : I am happy to discuss the animal quarantine regulations with anyone, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that first I want to find out how we are to operate the regulations on both sides of the Channel. I need to have clear information about that before I hold wider discussions. If, however, the hon. Gentleman wishes me to look into any particular matter, I shall be happy to do so.
Mr. Andy Stewart : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the methods of checking food imports proposed by the Labour party, which involve detaining the food until it goes bad, would be illegal anyway under European Community law?
Mr. Gummer : It is a great sadness that in the past week the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), the official spokesman for the Opposition, told people that he would have broken European Community law by holding up food coming into Britain until it had been tested. That is wholly contrary to European law and would do British farmers and the British farming industry great harm, because every other European country would treat our products in exactly the same way. The hon. Gentleman was among the first to attack the French when they attempted similar checks on sheepmeat.
Column 1076health is at risk? Does he further deny that
salmonella-contaminated eggs have been coming into this country from Holland and that in the four days awaiting the test results those contaminated eggs were for sale in shops in Britain? Why should there be two standards, one for British eggs and one for foreign eggs?
Mr. Gummer : Of course, British eggs are healthier because we have tougher rules here than in any other EC country. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself for misleading the British people. He knows that what he proposes would be wholly contrary to European Community law, and he should not perpetrate what is entirely wrong.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend agree that much of the inspection of inter-European traffic is necessary because health regulations in the rest of Europe do not come up to our standards? It seems wrong that British farmers have taken such stringent measures to get rid of salmonella in eggs while Dutch and other farmers do not have the same regulations.
Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is why we are encouraging a campaign for all the boxes of British eggs to be marked, "British". That is why there will be notices in almost every supermarket pointing out that the eggs sold are British and that is why we remind British farmers that, instead of complaining about imports, they should be campaigning about the advantages of British eggs, which are better protected than any others in Europe. Above all, we are fighting in the European Community to bring other countries up to our standards.
4. Mr. Hardy : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in which areas of the United Kingdom levels of radioactivity are such as to prevent or restrict local agricultural production from being used in human consumption.
Mr. Maclean : We continue to operate controls over the movement and slaughter of sheep from certain upland areas of Cumbria, Scotland, north Wales and Northern Ireland that were affected by radioactive deposition following the accident in the Soviet Union in 1986.
Mr. Hardy : Would it not be fair to describe the Government's record of response to the problem as almost furtive negligence? In the nearly four years since that accident, can the Minister honestly say that his Department and the British public have been adequately informed? Did not the Swedes carry out an aerial survey within six weeks of the disaster? When will we in Britain emulate our neighbours?
Mr. Maclean : I had always regarded the hon. Gentleman as fair until now. I do not recognise the description that he has given. No other country in the world acted as promptly or as comprehensively as the United Kingdom in taking action to protect all our food supplies. I invite the hon. Gentleman to go to the Library of the House of Commons, where the shelves are groaning under the weight of information that we have made available to the public and to the House about how we have protected the food supply. We have carried out an
Column 1077aerial survey and it has not given us any more safety information than the men on the ground looking at the soil.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that Chernobyl was a ghastly accident for the Soviet Union does not mean that our power stations are in the same category? Concordski fell out of the sky, but Concorde is still flying. We have the necessary means to monitor and to protect our people from accidents that will not occur in our power stations.
Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the technological failures of Socialism, just as in recent months we have seen its political failures. Shortly, we shall see its political failures in this country as well.
Mr. Geraint Howells : To be fair to the British farming industry for once, and that includes myself, does the Minister agree that British farmers are producing healthier food in the 1990s than they ever have in this century?
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry) : We won the best possible opportunities for British fishermen consistent with the need to conserve stocks, which is now an urgent priority.
Mr. Macdonald : Will the Minister take this opportunity to emphasise that the schemes for the sale and leasing of quotas, which he has been mooting in newspapers over recent days, are entirely speculative and not yet Government policy? Will he take on board the fact that any such scheme would have a devastating impact on the fishing industry in certain areas such as the north-west coast of Scotland, where it is vital to the local community's economic well-being and dominated by the small boat sector?
Mr. Curry : In the present very difficult circumstances for the fishing industry, the Government have a duty to examine all the options that could provide long-term stability. I have made it clear that we are examining that scheme, which is known as individual transferable quotas, in the light of the decision of New Zealand, parts of Canada and Iceland to adopt it. If it offers us some help, we shall discuss it with the industry. We certainly should not introduce anything without the consent of the industry and we should consult it fully. If the scheme offers nothing, we shall throw it away.
Mr. Mans : Does the Minister agree that, when fishing quotas are set, it is vital to ensure that they are within the scientific evidence available on the size of stocks? Will he not follow the lead given by certain fishing interests in Scotland, who suggest that we should overfish and thus not preserve our stocks for the future?
Column 1078that are consistent with scientific advice. The alternative is to fix them on the advice of politicians, which tends to be less reliable.
Mr. Salmond : Has the Minister fully considered the social and economic impact on fishing communities of the Council's decisions on quotas? Will he comment on the case of Forbes boat builders in the village of Sandhaven in my constituency, which has just laid off a quarter of its 32-strong work force? Is the Minister saying that boat-building and repairing skills, which have been present in that village for almost a century, are no longer needed? Has he ruled out any form of aid to cushion the blow on fishing communities?
Mr. Curry : As I have said many times in the House, I cannot invent fish. There is a problem with stocks ; we must get our fishing effort in line with the availability of stocks. That, of course, means that there must be contraction in the fishing industry. The skills to which the hon. Gentleman referred are certainly important. I hope that by trying to secure the long-term interests of the fishing fleet, through technical, conservation and better management measures, we shall secure the future of such jobs in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Morley : No one can deny that the fishing industry is facing one of its most severe downturns in recent years, but is that not due to appalling mismanagement over 10 years, not only by the EEC but by the Government? Is it not a fact that in the 1980s, with grants, the Government encouraged the expansion of the fishing fleet, against scientific advice? Yet they are now refusing to help to reduce the fleet with decommissioning grants. Does the Minister accept that the industry needs a strategic plan that takes into account supplies, conservation measures, technical assistance and grants? Why are the Government prepared to pay farmers not to produce crops but not prepared to help fishermen who cannot catch fish?
Mr. Curry : I have been seeking to discuss our long-term plans with the industry. That is why I have not brought forward any plans from secret committees and why I discuss our projects quite openly. If they work, we shall see whether we can adopt them and if they do not, we shall throw them away. I notice that when I start to talk a little about schemes that might be helpful, many people become alarmed.
Mr. Trotter : I thank my hon. Friend for attending the North Shields fish quay last Friday. I remind him of the concern expressed to him by the industry about the serious consequences of the cuts in quotas that have been inevitable for this year. Can he confirm that there will be recompense for the quotas that the fishermen lost last year as a result of the excessive fishing by other fishermen, especially north of the border? Will he give particular consideration to the EEC laying-up scheme, which was discussed with him on Friday?
Mr. Curry : I know that my hon. Friend takes a particular interest in this and he accompanied me on my visit to North Shields, which I enjoyed very much. He has raised two separate issues. When fishermen have suffered from over-fishing elsewhere, there is a mechanism by which they are compensated, and we shall ensure that that mechanism is observed. The laying-up scheme was designed by the Community to respond to specific
Column 1079circumstances. It does not, of course, respond to the circumstances in which one needs to achieve a significantly lower fleet and there is a long delay in payment. Were circumstances to arise in which that would be a useful instrument, we should not, of course, close any doors.
7. Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any proposals for a compensation and decommissioning scheme to allow the English fishing industry to adjust to reduced total allowable catches.
Mr. Curry : I do not believe that decommissioning would provide value for money. It would not achieve any worthwhile fish conservation objectives because it would not lead to a proportionate reduction in fishing effort.
Mr. Mitchell : I am saddened by that reply. There can be only two explanations of the Government's refusal to do justice to an industry that has been brought to the brink of ruin by the failure of the EEC to provide proper policing on conservation. The first is that they are too mean to do it and the second is that they made such a cack-handed, crackpot cock-up of the compensation scheme last time that they are now anxious to redeem their own reputation at the expense of the future of the industry. Which is it?
Mr. Curry : The answer is very simple. The hon. Gentleman reaches for someone else's wallet whenever he finds himself in a difficulty. We do not believe that that is appropriate. The sensible way to approach these matters is by putting far greater emphasis on conservation. I accept that in the past, the European Community has not given sufficient priority to that area. The second method is to produce far more intelligent management measures that are designed to secure the long-term future of the industry. We are doing that and, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman supports us as we do so.
Mr. Wallace : It appears that the Government have rejected decommissioning on the grounds, as the Minister says, that it does not give value for money and is interventionist. As the Government are obliged by the European Community to find some way of reducing fishing effort by the end of January, do they intend to impose a compulsory laying-up period for the fishing fleet for certain parts of the year and will that be done without compensation for the fishing industry? Is that any more acceptable, because it is still very interventionist?
Mr. Curry : The hon. Gentleman is referring to our commitment to reduce fishing effort for haddock by 30 per cent. We shall consult the industry fully on the proposals and we hope to be able to come up with a formula that the industry accepts as being intelligent and operable.
Mr. David Porter : Before my hon. Friend comes up with that sensible solution, will he bear in mind that the fishing industry is extremely complicated? There are many different interests to balance and he must also balance the interests of the taxpayer. Will my hon. Friend consult widely and carefully with all the different parts of the industry before he makes a statement?
Column 1080represents, regards itself as being a very special fishing port. We shall be certain to consult all industry interests fully.
8. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions there have been on the issue of access as part of the conditions for farmers receiving grants for designated evironmentally sensitive areas.
Mr. Bennett : Does the Minister accept that the payments have been a fairly successful initiative? Will he also accept that there has been considerable disappointment among those who like to enjoy the countryside that they have not had better access to it and that there is now growing alarm from farmers in the areas because the Government have refused to increase the payments in line with inflation? Could not the Minister solve both those problems by putting up the payments in line with inflation on the basis of agreeing that there should be better access for those who want to go to the countryside to enjoy peace, quiet and fresh air?
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman, whose interest in these matters is well known and respected, will accept that there is a problem in trying to balance the various interests in the countryside--even, for example, the difference between those who want additional access and those who are seeking primarily the conservation of flora and fauna. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to mix the two aspects. On payments for environmentally sensitive areas, we have found that farmers are prepared to do that job at the price that we have offered, and we believe that they will continue to do so. We will, of course, keep the payments under review, as we promised.
Mr. Donald Thompson : When my right hon. Friend considers the conservation of the countryside will he bear in mind those people who, for generations, have been concerned about the countryside, such as farmers, sportsmen and others who live in it?
Mr. Gummer : It seems a pity the some people still believe that there is a conflict between farming and conservation. Farmers have conserved the countryside throughout its history--in fact, in large measure, they have created the countryside. Farmers are the front line in conservation. I will not allow people to believe that they should be attacked for the job that they do.
9. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the feasibility of completely eradicating salmonella enteritidis from the egg production process.
Column 1081feasible. The measures that have been adopted are designed to reduce the level of infection to the minimum that can reasonably be achieved.
Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. I ask my question on behalf of the chicken farmers in my constituency who are extremely worried about Government policy on salmonella enteritidis. As we have already slaughtered over 1 million of our domestic chickens, and given that this form of salmonella is ineradicable--it is as much a part of chickens as their feathers are--when will my hon. Friend decide that enough is enough, and realise that our national flocks are threatened with total extinction and that, between Gummer and Gumbro, we will not have a chicken industry any more?
Mr. Maclean : Not unnaturally, I disagree with my hon. Friend's concluding comments. I cannot tell her when the present scheme will end. We shall consider all the scientific evidence. My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for the British chicken industry. I invite her now to use her considerable presentational talents to help to market the British egg like never before and to use that wonderful slogan which the Agriculture Select Committee has given us--"British eggs are safer than imported eggs." If she turns her attention to that, I am sure that she will do a marvellous job for the British chicken industry.
Dr. Reid : Does the Minister agree that there is little value in reducing the salmonella content of British eggs if we allow salmonella to be imported wholesale? Will he confirm the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that salmonella has been found in imported Dutch eggs but that, by the time that tests reveal the presence of salmonella, the eggs have been distributed and are adorning the breakfast plates of Britain? Why does the Minister not use the available EEC regulations on contaminated food and stop the distribution of imported eggs until they are tested and cleared?
Mr. Maclean : It is nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to talk about salmonella being imported wholesale. That is an outrageous allegation. Had he bothered to read the Select Committee report on Tuesday, he would have seen that the Agriculture Select Committee has also agreed that the incidence of salmonella in foreign eggs and the risk from them is remarkably low--the same as in this country. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is dishonest to suggest that we could use powers in this country to delay for ever and a day until they are approved imports of eggs that have no salmonella. That is not the correct approach. I agree with the approach of the Agriculture Select Committee. We will intensify our efforts in the EC to get a salmonella control order across the whole of Europe, because that is the proper and sensible solution.
Column 1082therefore worthless. Compensation of 100 per cent. is paid on animals that are slaughtered and found not to be infected.
Mr. Steen : As there are similarities between neuro-logical disease- -wasting disease in the human brain--and BSE, and as we know that diseased sheep pass that disease to cows, although we do not know whether it goes to the human brain, will the Minister explain why he is not giving farmers the incentive to expose cows in the early stages of BSE so that they do not go on to the market for sale, as is happening in North Yorkshire and Northamptonshire, with the result that it is going into the food chain, with the beginnings of BSE in the system?