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Mr. Colin Shepherd : May I welcome my right hon. Friend's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) in respect of the continued work being done by retailers to identify British produce. Is she aware of the independent survey done in my constituency of Hereford which showed that 64 per cent. of consumers would alter their purchasing habits if they were made more aware of the origins of the produce that they buy ? Will she step up her efforts when talking to major supermarket operators, so that they make it even more clear and follow the excellent example of the Superquin supermarkets in Dublin, which clearly identify Irish products in every shop ? Will she ensure that that kind of effort takes place in Britain so that we can buy more British produce ?
Mrs. Shephard : I will certainly continue every effort to promote British food, whether it is for consumption at home or abroad. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the Strathclyde food project which is bringing together producers, processors and retailers in promoting exactly the kind of activity that he advocates.
10. Mr. Loyden : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement on developments since the consideration of bovine somatotropin by European Standing Committee A on Wednesday 9 February.
Mr. Soames : Following the decision of the EC Council of Agriculture Ministers, which was reported to the House on 17 December 1993, we shall be carefully considering all subsequent developments, including those following last week's extensive Standing Committee debate, in coming to a final view on the future of the current BST moratorium.
Mr. Loyden : While I accept the need for the criteria to be met in full on these matters, does the Minister consider that the delays are having an adverse effect on British production and jobs and investment in my constituency ? Is not it surprising that the United States, which is considered to have very high standards with regard to regulation, has already agreed to marketing ?
Mr. Soames : The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. As he knows, the basic scientific principles of safety, quality and efficacy have already been proved in this situation. I am fully aware of the significant investment made in his constituency by Lilley which has developed a factory at Speke at a cost of £40 million and where there are 150 jobs. It is critical not only for that reason but for the reason that if the decision went against BST, it having passed all its scientific hurdles, it would send entirely the wrong signal to the rest of the European Community and those seeking to invest in the Community about the sense of urgency and understanding that the Community has of modern science. It would be a very poor decision.
Mr. Jack : I can confirm that we are already giving active support to this study by means of a £10,000 grant towards the cost of the Fresh Produce Consortium study into the future of the wholesale markets.
Mr. Carrington : Does my hon. Friend agree that the wholesale markets play a vital role in ensuring low prices for the consumer in fresh produce ? Is my hon. Friend concerned about the efficiency of those markets ? Will he ensure that they get all the assistance necessary to improve the way in which they operate for the benefit of the consumer ?
Mr. Jack : I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome, and there is universal welcome throughout the House for a question on wholesale markets. I can assure him that the study is designed to look at matters of operation and location of wholesale markets to ensure that, in future, they can serve those who put something like 40 per cent. of Britain's horticultural products on to the market through that vital outlet.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : 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. Connarty : I thank the Prime Minister for that interesting information. Is he aware that the independent living fund appears not to be working properly, and that only £500,000 out of the £4 million allocated is likely to be disbursed by the end of the financial year ? That means that £3.5 million will go back to the Treasury. If those figures continue for next year, £9.6 million out of £11 million will go back to the Treasury, and only £1.4 million will go to those who need it.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that the problem with the trigger mechanism is that a social service department must spend £200 per week on someone who is applying, and that 57 authorities have not submitted a single name ? Will he give an assurance that he will look seriously at that trigger so that the poorest and most disadvantaged in society are not denied the help that they require ?
The Prime Minister : The independent living fund exists to help people who face particular difficulties. If there is a mechanism that creates particular difficulties--I am not aware of the particular point that the hon. Gentleman raises--I will examine it, and see what the situation is.
Mr. Moss : Does my right hon. Friend agree that schemes that attract private investment for public projects are enormously valuable ? Will he join me in completely rejecting a scheme that was launched early this week which would leave all the risk on the back of the taxpayer ? Is not it typical of Labour that its scheme is unbelievable, badly thought through and fundamentally dishonest ?
The Prime Minister : I am certainly keen to see the public and the private sectors working closely together. That is desirable and attractive, and it is something which we have sought to do for some time with considerable success. It has to be made clear that if the private sector does get involved, it needs a degree of freedom and it ought not to be a way of effectively disguising what are, in reality, public expenditure increases.
Mr. John Smith : On Tuesday this week, the Prime Minister, in answering a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston), told the House that the net disposable income of people of all ranges of income had increased since 1979. The Prime Minister must know that that was not correct. Will he now withdraw that remark ?
"before housing costs, the real median income of the bottom fifth increased...between 1979 and 1990-1991".
Those figures, of course, were taken at the bottom of the recession before there was a distinct improvement in the economy and in the position of most people.
Government--which made it clear on page 1 that the real income of the bottom 10 per cent. decreased both before and after housing costs were taken into account ? Which is correct--the Prime Minister's assertions or what his own Department has published ?
The Prime Minister : I responded earlier by quoting what was actually said in "Social Trends". I will say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Since 1979, real incomes have gone up sharply for vulnerable groups ; more than 40 per cent. for pensioners ; up for the unemployed and up for those in work but on relatively low pay. There is an improvement in living standards at all levels, even among those who are the least well off.
Mr. John Smith : Can I take the Prime Minister to the precise point on which we are in dispute ? Does he maintain that the real income of the bottom 10 per cent. of the population increased between 1979 and now ?
The Prime Minister : I quoted to the right hon. and learned Gentleman-- [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] I will answer the question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman put the question in his own way. I will answer the question in my own way. I refer him to "Social Trends", which relates to the original question. The figures for the poorest 20 per cent. relate to a time when we were in recession and mortgage rates were high. I stick to the points that I made a few moments ago.
Mr. Clappison : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the recent news that output investment continued to grow in the last quarter of 1993 ? Is not that clear and compelling evidence that, despite the efforts of the Labour party to create gloom, Britain is on the road to recovery and leading the rest of Europe out of recession ?
The Prime Minister : There are very few people now who doubt the fact that the British economy has been growing for six or seven quarters, that we have a rate of growth at present larger than that of any comparable European Community country and that we are set to grow again throughout this year and through next year. Not only are we growing, but we are doing so with interest rates at a very low level--lower than they have been for very many years--and inflation also at a low level and likely to stay at a low level.
Mr. Howarth : Is the Prime Minister aware that information supplied through parliamentary answers to me on 41 quangos shows that 127 members of those bodies are associated with firms that directly finance the Tory party ? Can he tell me whether that is a highly unlikely statistical coincidence or yet another example of that lot over there getting their cronies' snouts in the trough ?
The Prime Minister : I will tell the hon. Gentleman a little something about the membership of quangos. Perhaps I might mention some of the well-known contributors to the Conservative party and Tory supporters who are members of quangos. Margaret Hodge, for example, on the Local Government Commission ; Baroness Blackstone, for example ; Baroness Jay, for example. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is also on a quango--the British Film Institute. [Interruption.]
Mrs. Roe : Has my right hon. Friend seen the figures published today that show that new car registrations are rising strongly ? Is not that further evidence of continuing economic recovery and a return of consumer confidence ?
Column 430figures for retail sales and in several other figures. The depth and spread of the recovery are certainly continuing. It is steady and I believe that it will continue to be steady and grow throughout this year.
Mr. Cryer : Does the Prime Minister accept that I am very proud to be a member of the unpaid board of governors of the British Film Institute ? Will he comment on the lack of Government action in helping to finance and develop the British film industry which is a very important industry, not only for the cultural representation of this country but because it both creates employment here by making films and develops Britain's image abroad, which cascades down to British manufacturing industry ? Will he give a guarantee that he will support the industry in the future ?
The Prime Minister : I am happy to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he does for the British film industry. [Hon. Members :- - "What about its future ?"] I shall come to that, if hon. Members will just relax. I am told that the hon. Gentleman does an excellent job on the board of the British Film Institute and that he has been appointed to it because of his personal abilities and not because of his political affiliations, as is the case with all appointments to such public bodies, without exception.
As regards the future of the British film industry, I am keen to see it thrive. One of the areas that will benefit significantly from the establishment of a lottery is the arts in general, a part of which I hope will be the British film industry. It is likely over the years that it will provide considerably more resources for the arts as a whole, and very probably the film industry as well, than even the most benevolent level of Government funding is likely to do, whatever Government we may have. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman and his fellow members of the British Film Institute will fully support it.
Sir Jim Spicer : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, all the former republics of the Soviet Union are entitled to be treated not as falling within the natural sphere of influence of Russia but as free and truly independent states ?
The Prime Minister : Yes. I can certainly confirm that that is the case. We are seeking to develop diplomatic, commercial and trading relations with a large number of them. In the past few weeks, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been here to discuss trading opportunities, and my right hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign Office and other Departments have been in contact with a number of the other new republics.
Mr. O'Brien : Will the Prime Minister, during the course of the day, read the independent report, published today, on the murder of Jonathan Zito in December 1992 ? It condemns the community care programme under which the murderer was receiving treatment and from which he was discharged because of lack of resources. It also condemns the way that the Government have underfunded the social services programme in London. Less than an hour ago, I was talking to Jayne Zito, his widow, and she
Column 431asked me to request the Prime Minister to meet her and explain to her why her husband should have been murdered because of lack of resources provided by the Government.
The Prime Minister : Everyone must be deeply sympathetic to the dreadful murder of Mr. Zito and the appalling effect that it has had on Mrs. Zito's subsequent life. No one will dispute that. [Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentlemen do me the courtesy of listening to the reply ? It was a dreadful incident and we must seek to learn what we can from it. It is significant that the report supports the principle of community care and specifically concludes that most mentally ill people, including those suffering from schizophrenia, are living safely in the community. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the principle of community care is widely accepted in each and every part of the House, and has been for a long time. He may be aware of the remarks of Professor Norman Sartorius who confirmed only yesterday that :
"Our recent developments in improving mental health services will ensure that the UK continues to lead the world in this area." I believe that to be the case, and we will continue to do that.
Column 432I will consider the hon. Gentleman's request, but it would perhaps have been better, if he were genuinely concerned, if he put the point to me privately and not in the way he has.
Mr. Ottaway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with retail sales up, productivity up and confidence in the small business sector sharply up, the last thing that British business needs is so-called "business plans", which are nothing but a failed Opposition policy that does nothing to help the British economy ?
The Prime Minister : I certainly believe that what is most needed for the health of business is to ensure that we have a low inflation economy, the right business tax structure to encourage investment, and interest rates as low as we can keep them. Those are the ingredients which will encourage investment within this country, and from abroad, which continues at a high rate.
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