(By Order) Read a Second time, and committed.
(No. 4) Bill (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order)
East Coast Main Line (Safety) Bill.-- (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 12 November.
Mr. Bruce : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that assurance. What is he doing to ensure that French farmers are not allowed to mess up the whole of the GATT round? He will know that the French people love to eat Dorset lamb but are often prevented from doing so due to unilateral action by French farmers. Will he ensure that the French Government act in a communautaire way in these matters?
Mr. Gummer : The problems that we now face arose largely because, although the European Community was willing to move substantially, it seemed impossible for the American negotiators to have enough authority to move in an equal way. I am sad that we should be in a position in which the GATT round is so in peril. I hope that it will be possible for both sides to come to a conclusion.
I pay tribute to Mr. MacSharry's work and his willingness to negotiate right to the end. I was not involved in the negotiations, but I was present nearby and was aware of what was going on from point to point. As President of the Agriculture Council, I thank him for the work that he has done.
Mr. Stevenson : Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that a serious disagreement between the United States and the European Community has been over the discredited and expensive oilseeds regime in the European Community? Will he--
Mr. Stevenson : Will the Secretary of State accept that, along with problems concerning sheep, the oilseeds regime is a big problem? Does he realise that if the European Community were to accept the GATT panel ruling relating to the oilseeds regime, progress on the GATT negotiations generally might be possible?
Mr. Gummer : I fear that the hon. Gentleman is perhaps not in as detailed connection with the oilseeds regime, or indeed with the sheep regime, as are many in the House. In negotiations of this kind, it is a mistake to undermine those
Column 395who are trying to negotiate on our behalf as part of the European Community. I believe that Mr. MacSharry sought to do that fully, in accordance with the position of the Council of Ministers, which I represented as the President of that Council. When there is a mile to go and one side goes more than half a mile, it would be helpful if others were able to meet that progress.
Sir Peter Tapsell : Is my right hon. Friend aware that if we are now to be committed to a communautaire approach to all these matters we shall have to give a more sympathetic hearing to the French farmers, who are reluctant to hand over their German market to the United States? Is he further aware that those of us who think that our GATT arrangements are of profound importance to this country are concerned lest the deeper we get drawn into this European arrangement with the Maastricht treaty, the more difficult it will be to keep our trading arrangements with the United States on the friendly basis on which we want them to be.
Mr. Gummer : If we were not deep in the European Community, I would have been nowhere near those negotiations and the United Kingdom would have had no possibility of playing a part in the GATT agreement. Britain on its own would have had to stand aside and watch the European Community make GATT arrangements with the United States of America. That is why those who voted in favour of the Maastricht treaty last night were right and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) was entirely wrong.
Mr. Ron Davies : It is in the interests of sheep producers as well as every other sector that we have a settlement at the GATT negotiations. I offer my personal support to the Minister in those negotiations. I know that he has just flown back from north America and we wish him well in achieving the settlement that he wants. Will he confirm, however, that at 3 o'clock this afternoon the Americans will announce retaliatory measures following the failure to reach agreement at the GATT round, principally on oilseed dumping by the EC? Will he also confirm that there have been two consecutive rulings by the GATT disputes panel against the EC on that issue? As Britain currently has the presidency of the Agriculture Council, will he now guarantee that he will not allow Britain's commercial interests to be prejudiced due to unfair protection by European Community farmers?
Mr. Gummer : First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the shadow Cabinet. I know that we shall have some sharp exchanges, but they will be fair and honourable and I welcome them--[ Hon. Members :-- "Resign."] To resign for being honourable and fair seems a sad attitude to take.
The truth is that the European Community has sought to meet the objections and has suggested a range of ways in which that might be done. I am determined to do everything that I can to encourage those negotiations and discussions to go on. I am sorry that there did not appear to be authority on the other side--understandably, against the background of the United States elections, and so on--to proceed as could otherwise have been done.
I shall continue to do my best to safeguard not only Britain's interests but, as President of the Agricultural Council for the time being, those of the whole of Europe.
Column 396There is no other way to deal with world trade than to get a GATT settlement, which is as important to farmers in Britain, France and the United States as anywhere else.
Mr. Gummer : The first group of ESAs were strengthened and enlarged earlier this year. Proposals for enhancement of the remaining areas have been the subject of recent public consultation and revised schemes will come into effect early next year. I also expect to make an early announcement concerning further ESA designations.
Mr. Morgan : Will the Minister confirm to the House that he has lost the battle with the Treasury for further funding for environmentally sensitive areas? He lost it when he was in the United States recently, travelling incognito and signing himself in as Wyatt Earp at the Chicago Hilton. If matters continue in that manner, he will have to travel incognito around the Hilton hotels of this country, too.
Mr. Hendry : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the gratitude of farmers in the North Peak area for the meeting that he arranged for them with officials in his Department following the letter that I wrote to him setting out their concerns? Will he assure us that, when the revised proposals for the North Peak ESA are published, there will be another opportunity for consultation so that any further concerns that they have can be taken into account?
Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend's remarks are kind. However, any Minister or Secretary of State who responded to such a question without saying that people will have to wait and see would be very silly on any subject during a public expenditure survey round. However, that does not mean that my hon. Friend should feel that what has happened in the past will not have some direction in the future.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : The Minister will be aware that there has been a considerable welcome, among both the farming community and the environmental lobby, for the latest set of environmentally sensitive area designations in England and Wales, but is he aware that there is considerable concern that the timetable seems to be slipping back? The impression given to farmers is that the areas might be sacrificed in the current round of negotiations on public spending. Will the Minister assure us that that will not happen?
Mr. Gummer : I was the Minister who took the original Bill on ESAs through Committee, and I have been committed to that legislation ever since. As Minister, I have also presented further extensions to it, so the hon. Gentleman will know that I am keen on the concept. In those circumstances, he must understand that the subject is among the range of priorities within my remit that I have been discussing. If I were to say, "This is okay" or "No, it is not", other hon. Members would present me with other
Column 397issues and ask similar questions. Therefore, I shall have to stick to saying that I will make an announcement as soon as possible.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : My right hon. Friend will be aware that farmers in my constituency are pleased that the Cotswold hills appear in the next wave of published ESAs. I am pleased at my right hon. Friend's announcement today that he expects to be able to present guidelines on that ESA early next year. Will he assure the farmers in my constituency who enter the agreement voluntarily that they will not in future be subject to further environmental guidelines to which other farmers will not be subject ?
Mr. Gummer : The concept of the ESA is that it is a voluntary agreement between farmers and the community. That understanding must be supported and continued ; otherwise, farmers will not enter into the agreements with their current alacrity and enthusiasm or voluntarily do more than they are paid for. I am impressed with the reaction of the farming community and I shall do nothing to undermine it.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nicholas Soames) : We shall continue to demand the highest possible welfare standards for all animals during transport. We are imminently expecting further proposals from the Commission.
Mr. Flynn : Why has the Minister not demanded publication of the amendments to article 13 of the European Community transport directive ? The amendments will improve the watering stops, and the feeding and resting arrangements for animals in transit, and will go a long way to ensuring that the terrible cruelty suffered by animals transported throughout the Community will be reduced. Britain is in the driving seat as it has the presidency, so why have the amendments not been published ? Is this another example of the failing British presidency of the EC ?
Mr. Soames : The hon. Gentleman should know that the directive to which he refers establishes a good framework of controls. It is incomplete as it stands and we await further proposals from the Commission, which we shall address. We are intent on demanding the same high standards abroad that we have in this country. The hon. Gentleman should know that tonight my right hon. Friend the Minister, in his capacity as President of the Agriculture Council, is attending the annual dinner of the Federation of Veterinarians in the European Community in Brussels. He will once again stress the Government's determination and commitment to achieving the very highest standards of animal welfare throughout the Community.
Column 398in this country? I recently witnessed the death of a terrified sheep which jumped off the top of a lorry on the M1 motorway and was killed. Has the Minister seen the conditions in which live poultry are crammed into crates and taken around parts of the country? Before we lecture people in Europe about their treatment of animals, should we not get our own act together in this country?
Mr. Soames : We believe that, by and large, we have high standards of animal welfare in this country. From time to time, however, there are regrettable accidents and incidents. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any such incidents he should give me the details and evidence so that I can have them investigated with great vigour forthwith.
Mr. Marland : Is my hon. Friend aware that a large number of people in this country are immensely grateful to him and to the Department for the steps that they have taken to improve animal welfare and the conditions of animals in transit? Will he use his influence to ensure that those standards spread throughout Europe? Is there any possibility under the Maastricht treaty--and the regulations whereby all member states must operate under the same conditions--of enforcing better animal welfare conditions throughout Europe?
Mr. Soames : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a most important point. The enforcement of the rules is essential to their integrity and to the confidence of people in this country and elsewhere that these high standards of animal welfare will be enforced. My hon. Friend should be aware that in the Maastricht agreement there was a valuable declaration on animal welfare which was promoted by the British Government. We very much hope that those details will be taken up by overseas Governments.
Mr. Peter Atkinson : I congratulate my hon. Friend on his robust defence of our measures of minimum value for the export of horses. Will he assure the House that he will continue to fight the threat to this important animal welfare measure in the European Community?
Mr. Morley : Does the Minister agree that it is best to slaughter animals as near as possible to the point of production and not to take them long distances? Is he not concerned about the number of abattoirs that fail to meet EC standards? At present only 98 out of 686 abattoirs in the United Kingdom meet the new EC standards, and many rural jobs are being lost as abattoirs are forced to close down. That has implications for increased animal transportation. Does the Minister agree that we need equality in Europe? While some member states are receiving grants to improve their small rural abattoirs, our small businesses are apparently not getting the support from the Government that they deserve.
Mr. Soames : The hon. Gentleman stayed well clear of the question ; I will confine myself to dealing with the part of his remarks that dealt with animal welfare. He raised an important point about abattoirs and animal welfare. There is no reason why animals should not travel, provided that they are humanely and properly handled, but an animal
Column 399that is not fit to travel should not be transported any distance at all. The question of abattoirs exercises us greatly at the moment and we are giving it a great deal of attention.
Mr. Soames : The Government have made clear the importance that they attach to the role of the knacker industry, and in forthcoming discussions with the Community we shall be negotiating with vigour to secure its longer -term future.
Mr. Thompson : Does my hon. Friend accept that well-operated knackers yards prevent serious pollution and health problems? Does he share my concern that crippling charges likely to be imposed under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 could seriously endanger the operation of knackers yards? Will he support the knacker men?
Mr. Soames : The Government stand foursquare behind the knacker men- -particularly in the light of the events of the past few days. My hon. Friend has drawn the attention of the House to an important matter which is essential to the proper and orderly running of the countryside. It is true that the knacker men are very worried about the level of fees that they will have to pay for air pollution controls under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Officials in my Department are closely liaising with those in the Department of the Environment, whose legislation it is. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall do everything that we can to minimise the possible burden of these regulations on the knacker industry.
Mr. Skinner : Last night the Government Whips were dragging Tory Members to the knackers yard and some of them have been squealing ever since. Instead of dragging those Tory Members out of one Lobby and into the other, should not the occupants of the whole Government Front Bench be sent to the knackers yard?
Mr. Wiggin : On a different aspect of the matter, in preparing his answer my hon. Friend may have studied the Select Committee report on the disposal of fallen stock and may be aware that not only is the present environmental attack on knackers yards causing that industry great difficulty, but the charges that knackers find it necessary to impose on customers have seriously damaged the industry. Will my hon. Friend look again at the Committee's recommendation that some support for the end product--perhaps paid for by the Department of the Environment--would recognise the important contribution that knackers yards make to the disposal of this disgusting material?
Mr. Soames : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Naturally we studied the report of his Committee with great care. The knacker industry is not about to disappear and we aim to ensure that it will continue to play a key role in animal waste disposal. Hunt kennels, incinerators and
Column 400burial are also currently used to dispose of carcases. As I have said, we are aware of the great importance of the knacker industry to the countryside. Although there is no question of our subsidising the industry, I assure my hon. Friend that we shall do all that we can to remove its burdens.
5. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the distribution of EC surplus foods to pensioners ; and what assessment he has made of whether sufficient quantities have been allocated to each outlet.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry) : Butter and beef worth about £17.9 million will bdistributed by designated organisations to eligible people in the United Kingdom during 1992-93. Pensioners who fall into the eligible groups will qualify for the food.
Mr. Cryer : Does the Minister agree that that amount is only a small part of the £2.5 billion per year that we contribute to the Common Market? That butter and beef is paid for by taxpayers. The arbitrary halving of allocated amounts to the various outlets because of the doubling of the number has therefore caused great concern to the voluntary organisations which, with good heart and good will, undertake distribution to pensioners and other poor people. In future, will the Minister seek to obtain more supplies for each outlet, such as Dovesdale working men's club in my constituency? Will he ensure that poor people receive a proper amount, and will he take into account the views of the voluntary organisations carrying out the distribution rather than impose arbitrary limits? Or does he not care about either category?
Mr. Curry : The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either we give greater quantities to fewer organisations or we try to make sure that there is fair distribution across the country so that those who qualify manage to receive some of the product. It is a fixed budget, there are fixed amounts, and the pressure upon me has been to designate many organisations in order to ensure as fair a distribution as possible. I have done that, and I think that it is the right course.
Mr. Hawkins : My hon. and right hon. Friends will be aware that my constituency has the highest proportion of pensioners of any constituency. They will also be aware that in recent years the distribution of that food has been of considerable benefit to those pensioners. Is there any opportunity for further distributions of surplus food? Is there a chance that the surplus mushrooms that have been grown in the Republic of Ireland will be distributed to pensioners there, rather than involve the payment of unfair subsidies which are damaging one of my most important employers, the biggest mushroom farm in the north of England?
Mr. Curry : I congratulate my hon. Friend on his dexterity in making that question comply with the rules. We shall review the scheme to see whether it is reaching the right people and in the right quantities and products. One of the matters that I shall look at is whether we should look to a scheme that is tilted more towards beef than butter because there are fewer surpluses of butter and as
Column 401we all know, there is a horrendous surplus of beef. We shall see to what extent we can correspond to the economic conditions and, above all, make sure that it is fair to those who receive it.
Mr. Ron Davies : May I press the Minister on the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)? It is outrageous that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of good quality food are consigned to surplus stores while millions of people--pensioners and others on income support--are unable to afford those products on the open market. Does the Minister acknowledge that many people in the voluntary sector would willingly give their time to distribute the food but cannot afford the petrol? Does the Minister understand that if he made small sums available to the voluntary sector a decent system could be introduced to ensure that people who are willing to give their services free could get the free food to the people who need it?
Mr. Curry : I readily pay tribute to those in the voluntary sector who organise the distribution of the food. It is by far the best system of distribution--much better than an attempt to distribute the food via supermarkets or other retail outlets.
The quantities are limited, however. If we are trying to get rid of surpluses and control production, this is one of the least efficient ways of doing so. While the food is there, I am determined that people in the United Kingdom should have their fair share ; but I should much rather look to an on-going reform of the Community that ensures that we do not generate the problem in the first place.
Mr. Butler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. It is clear when we look around the countryside that rotational set-aside has disastrous environmental effects, whereas permanent set-aside will allow environmentally beneficial projects to be undertaken on the same land. I urge my hon. Friend to announce the details of his welcome reply as swiftly as possible.
On a lighter note, may I commend to my hon. Friend for European consideration the world-famous Milton Keynes practice of decorating fallow set-aside land with concrete cows? They have the benefit of being low maintenance ; they add nothing to the greenhouse effect ; they neither suffer from nor pass on bovine spongiform encephalopathy ; they are particularly difficult to rustle ; they can be supplied with or without udders and other attachments ; and, most attractive of all, they are totally non-productive and might therefore form the basis of a new standard Euro cow. Given that they are a singularly different breed, perhaps "MacSharry" would be an appropriate name for them.
Mr. Tyler : Does the Minister agree with the estimate in The Times that his policy for set-aside will cost British taxpayers £130 million a year, without making any real difference to EC yields and without any beneficial environmental effect?
Mr. Curry : I disagree profoundly. First, Ministers can decide to vary the precentage of land put into rotational set-aside as a function of the decrease in yields that that generates. Secondly, in regard to the permanent set-aside--we have both the non-rotational and the longer-term schemes--we want the rules to permit us to incorporate two important environmental schemes : the farm woodland premium scheme, to encourage woodland, and the countryside premium scheme, to encourage habitat. If those two schemes can be married to the non-rotational scheme, we shall have an extremely effective environmental package.
Mr. Lord : I am sure that my hon. Friend will know of the general unhappiness felt by farmers about the need to set aside fertile and productive land. He will be aware also of the need to return dynamism and hope to farming. What steps is the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food taking to encourage the growing of non-food crops on set-aside land, and also the establishment of trees?
Mr. Curry : When we have the permanent and non-rotational set-aside schemes, we shall want to be able to put woodland on the sites concerned. We also wish to encourage farmers to plant crops that will yield biomass. Those two aspects relating to energy and trees will be very important. We are studying how we can target the longer-term set-aside--the 20-year permanent scheme--very specifically, to secure the best possible environmental benefits. Those could be related to amenity woodland.
Mr. Illsley : Is the Minister aware that many people consider his response to rural depopulation somewhat inadequate? Is he aware that between 1990 and 1992 British farming lost, on average, some 200 farmers and farm workers each week? Already articles are appearing in magazines such as Farmers' Weekly, comparing the state of agriculture to that of mining and forecasting huge job losses. How long can the Government continue to protect farm incomes through set-aside? Are decisions likely to be made that will be as disastrous to agriculture as decisions about the pits were to mining?
Mr. Curry : The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect : there has been an enormous structural change in agriculture over the past couple of decades--in the United Kingdom, a quarter of a million people have left agriculture, and in the Community 4 million people have left. That is as big a structural change as there has been in any other part of the economy.
We have to make sure that the surpluses and overproduction, which depress farmers' incomes, are
Column 403removed through reform. At the moment, the grain price is relatively buoyant and the sheep price is higher than it has been for many years. Because of the changes in the agrimoney system and the eventual green pound devaluation, we should put some income into the agricultural sector. That is very much needed, and we welcome it.
Mr. Lidington : Is my hon. Friend aware of the difficulties faced by farmers in areas such as the Chiltern hills and the vale of Aylesbury, where efforts at diversification often fall foul of what are necessarily strict planning controls? Will he undertake to work with his colleagues at the Department of the Environment to make sure that we have both a beautiful countryside and one that rests upon the good stewardship of farmers making their living there and not turning the countryside into a museum?
Mr. Curry : My hon. Friend will know that I represent an area with a large national park and that what is not national park is an area of outstanding natural beauty. I understand exactly the problems that he describes and we will work very closely with planning authorities to overcome them.
Mr. Harvey : Does the Minister recognise the very real problems faced by Exmoor farmers who can no longer take part in countryside stewardship schemes and programmes because they have ended in anticipation of the ESA proposals? Because of the new requirements resulting from much of Exmoor being a site of special scientific interest, there is no money to meet those obligations. With bank managers hovering over many Exmoor farmers, what reassurance can the Minister give farmers to take back to bank managers that the money for ESAs which he announced earlier this year will not be taken away from other agriculture programmes?
Mr. Gummer : I shall certainly make an announcement as soon as possible. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the ESA proposals, which began in this country, have now been taken up by the whole Community. We have been able to contribute to that process. That is why I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was one of those who did not wish us to go on being at the heart of the Community. I honour all his colleagues who stood up for their belief in Europe.
Mr. David Nicholson : With no reflection on the voting activities of the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) last night, I support his representations to my right hon. Friend. Is my right hon. Friend aware that Exmoor farmers in my constituency as well as in North Devon worked extremely hard to complete the form sent out by his Ministry in April, which, his officials may not be aware, is the lambing season on Exmoor? They were promised an early determination of this matter but are still
Column 404left high and dry. As someone who obtained votes in April on this matter of the ESA, I am extremely anxious that my right hon. Friend should keep the pledges that the Government made to those farmers and implement the ESA proposals as soon as possible.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : The Minister says that we shall have a response as soon as possible. Has he forgotten the solemn undertaking given to Exmoor, the Lake district and other national park farmers that they would receive ESA offers this year? Now that the Liberals, apart from the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey), have bailed out the Government, enabling them to cut public expenditure further and threaten the ESA programmes, has not a large hole been blown in the Government's entire approach to environmental protection?
Mr. Gummer : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what I think is his first appearance at the Dispatch Box on the Opposition Front Bench. Of all Opposition Members, I should have thought that he would be the last to congratulate his party on putting party politics before principle and to attack the Liberal Democrats, who put principle before party politics.
Mr. Soames : Implementation of the White Paper is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. However, my Department has been involved both at ministerial and official level with a number of interested parties, about various aspects of the White Paper.
Dr. Goodson-Wickes : I do not know quite how to put this to my hon. Friend delicately. I am sure that he would agree that Conservatives believe in enjoying life, and good eating is clearly part of enjoying life, but can he inform the House what efforts are being made jointly with his colleagues in the Department of Health to advise people how to eat healthily to avoid the development of coronary heart disease?
The White Paper places emphasis on reducing smoking, improving diet and sensible drinking as key factors in the prevention of coronary heart disease, strokes and cancers. Dietary targets relate to a reduction in the population's average consumption of saturated fats and total fats. However, the White Paper points to the need for a whole-diet approach.