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Mr. Jack : Help to improve the competitiveness of UK agricultural exports will come through our continuing support of "Food From Britain," MAFF's continental challenge, our export promotion division, and the programmes outlined in the White Paper,
"Competitiveness--Helping Business to Win".
Mr. Clappison : Does my hon. Friend agree that although the British food industry has reduced the food trade gap by half since the 1960s, many opportunities remain for the industry to close the gap still further and should not the industry receive every encouragement to do so ?
Mr. Jack : We are certainly trying to give a lot of encouragement to the food and farming industry to help close the trade gap. It is interesting to note that in the last decade the value of our exports of food, animal feed and drink has increased by 50 per cent. and the schemes that I outlined in my initial reply are all available to those in food and farming to assist with exports. We are backing this up as a ministerial team by going to some of the most rapidly expanding markets in the world, such as China and India, to promote our exports.
Mr. Grocott : Given that the Government's record in promoting trade in industrial products has been one of turning a huge surplus under Labour in 1979 to a massive deficit in the latest figures under the Tories, does the hon. Gentleman share my severe doubts about the Government's competence to do anything about agricultural exports ?
Mr. Jack : Absolutely not. The hon. Gentleman was clearly not listening to the argument that I advanced a moment ago, so I will repeat it : exports of food, animal feed and drink have increased in value over the past decade by 50 per cent. As a result of MAFF's trade promotion activities, we alone in recent years have done something like an additional £55 million worth of business by going out and pathfinding our way to new markets.
Mr. John Greenway : Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be concerned to ensure that opportunities in the United Kingdom's agricultural sector are not closed by too strict an application of quotas through the common agricultural policy ? We have the most efficient sugar regime and probably the most effective and efficient dairy regime, but our quota is less than our national consumption.
Mr. Jack : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister has continually emphasised our objective, which is to see the quotas and restrictions on production removed. We have an extremely efficient agriculture industry, especially in the spheres that my hon. Friend mentioned, and we should very much like them to have the opportunity to prove what they can do in world markets.
Mr. Soames : Trade in live animals is a commercial matter, subject to the necessary safeguards for animal welfare and health. The question of further safeguards for animals in transport was discussed at the Agriculture Council on 20 June, when the United Kingdom received an undertaking from the Commission to bring forward further proposals on journey limits.
Dr. Jones : Most people in this country will be disappointed by the Minister's reply. Why do not the Government support the proposal made by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is now apparently also advocated by Germany, to impose an eight-hour journey limit for animals and so put a stop to this evil trade ?
Mr. Soames : The hon. Lady should not make the mistake of simplifying the matter beyond what is reasonable in difficult and technical negotiations. The Government have always acknowledged that journey times have a relevant role to play, but they are not the be-all and end-all of animal transport. We are beginning to make significant progress within the Community. The Commission has come up with new plans which we believe will significantly improve the proposals that we first saw on the table at the beginning of the week. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister took absolutely the right
Column 353decision to vote with the Germans and the others, pending the proposals from the Commission which will be received early next year.
Mr. Marland : Is this not is a good opportunity to remind the House that all farmers and others in this country dealing with animals have the greatest respect for their own livestock and that problems with the transport of live animals occur not in this country but elsewhere ? Will he remind the House of our very high standards and encourage the RSPCA and others not to peddle their views with the aid of appalling photographs which were obviously taken overseas but to carry out their activities where they can do some good instead of trying to suck up to their members in this country ?
Mr. Soames : My hon. Friend is quite right. The standard of animal welfare in this country is probably the highest in the world. It is a matter of pride to the British people that they have such attitudes, and it is their wish and that of their Government that we should improve the lot of travelling animals throughout the European Union. That can happen only if there is a cultural and attitudinal change in the Community. My hon. Friend is right to say that the RSPCA and others have a great deal of work to do in Europe and we remain convinced that their task is in Europe.
Dr. Strang : Returning to the Luxembourg Council meeting this week, is it not true that last weekend Ministers were minded to vote for the Greek presidency's compromise, which would allow animals to travel for no fewer than 22 hours before being rested and fed-- [Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen to this. The Government changed their mind only on the Monday morning after the Belgian Government said at the meeting of permanent representatives that they would join Germany, Denmark and Holland and vote against it. The Government changed their mind because there would have been a blocking minority vote of 23. Does that not prove the Government's duplicity and scant regard for the welfare of animals ?
Mr. Soames : Even by the hon. Gentleman's standards of rant, that is going a bit far. [Interruption.] The Opposition have made a fine choice in the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown). Perhaps I may rehearse the truth of what actually happened. My right hon. Friend the Minister asked me to see the animal welfare bodies ahead of the Council as a courtesy, to outline to them the state of the negotiation on the paper submitted by the Greek presidency. Accordingly, at the negotiation, my right hon. Friend listened with great care to the way the negotiation was going and, seeing an opportunity to better what was on the table, and accepting the Commission's offer to develop the idea and work on journey limits, my right hon. Friend went along with what was proposed. To my mind, she took an important step forward for animal welfare. The hon. Gentleman must do better than that if he hopes to convince anyone.
This morning, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This afternoon, he is travelling to Corfu for the European Council. I understand that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is also in Corfu attending some kind of fringe meeting.
Mr. Davies : On the eve of the Corfu summit, does my right hon. Friend agree that Great Britain is leading the way in Europe in deregulation, privatisation, competitivity and growth, and, above all, the vital task of bringing down unemployment but that the Labour party would reverse all those things in very short order ?
Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Those issues are very much at the top of the Corfu agenda as a result of the British Government's efforts to advance those causes in Europe over a long period of time. I am glad to say that the forthcoming German presidency will be pursuing the British objectives of competitiveness and deregulation in its policies towards Europe.
Mr. Nicholas Brown : Given that more than a million of our fellow citizens are on national health service waiting lists, can it really be the Secretary of State for Health's vision for the future to get rid of 50,000 hospital beds ?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the effect of the Government's reforms on the health service has been greatly to increase the number of people treated and that NHS hospitals now treat 121 patients for every 100 treated before. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health drew attention to the possible continuation of those trends in future years, building on advances in treatment to treat yet more people.
Mr. Nicholas Brown : The Leader of the House has not really answered the question. Would it not be better to get rid of the waiting lists rather than getting rid of the hospital beds ? Are not the cuts being driven by the Government's failure properly to manage public finances ?
Mr. Newton : The changes are being driven by the Government's determination to get more patients treated more effectively with shorter waiting times, and the policies are succeeding ; if there is a failure, it is the failure of the Opposition to recognise the success of those policies.
Mr. Nicholas Brown : That will not do. We have had massive tax increases under the Conservatives since the last general election and the British people now face massive cuts in services. Why is it that in Tory Britain we have to pay a lot more to get a lot less ?
Mr. Newton : The Government have consistently put additional resources in real terms into Britain's national health service. The result of those increased resources is an improving service treating more and more patients more effectively with shorter waiting times.
Madam Speaker : Order. I gave a little homily only a few days ago, but I think I shall have to ask the Whips to hold weekend seminars to instruct Members on what Question Time is all about : it is to seek information on Government policies and to press for action.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether any public sector strike which would damage this country, and which has been condemned by the Government, has also been condemned by the Opposition ? If not, should not the British public remember that at the next general election ?
Mr. Newton : On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I can perhaps offer that the Whips will run a seminar on Corfu for the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) in the hope of getting from her the answer that we have conspicuously failed to get in the House.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Pickthall : Does the Leader of the House share the general pleasure that justice has been done in the case of Professor Tim Brighouse, who is to receive substantial damages from the Secretary of State for Education ? Will he assure the House that not one penny of the damages or the costs will come from the taxpayer ? Before his right hon. Friend leaves office shortly, will he urge him to apologise to all the other people involved in education whom he has gratuitously insulted over the past couple of years ?
Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend has straightforwardly apologised and agreed reparation for the remarks to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In my judgment, at least, the matter should be left there. It does not in any way affect my right hon. Friend's ability to advance the Government's very successful education policy.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the Government's most successful policies is the right to buy, which has enabled more than 1.5 million former tenants to enjoy the benefits of owner -occupation ? Is he further aware that over the past five years a further 250,000 homes have been privately let ? Would it not be an excellent long- term investment if the Prime Minister exercised the right to buy No. 10 Downing street ?
Mr. Newton : I certainly share my hon. Friend's view that the right to buy has been a hugely successful policy over more than a decade now, together with the Government's successful policies to increase the amount of rented accommodation, and to tackle the problem of rough sleepers in London. As for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I do not know about the right to buy, but I am sure that he will exercise his right to extend the lease.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Mackinlay : Will the Lord President draw to the attention of the Prime Minister the problem--indeed, the scandal--of court cheats who have been instructed by judges to compensate the victims of their crimes, but who refuse to pay ? Is he aware that about two thirds of victims who have had awards of compensation made in their favour against the criminal are not receiving a penny ? Is it not time that the Government ceased to be mealy mouthed about the problem and took action to ensure that the victims get compensation and the courts pursue the criminal ?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the general steps that the Government are taking to improve the detection of crime and the enforcement of the law. However, he made a slightly separate and very serious point, to which I shall respond appropriately. The right course is for me to invite the Home Secretary to examine the hon. Gentleman's remarks and to consider what response might be made.
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Clappison : On the subject of the pursuit of the criminal, is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been a reduction of 16 per cent. in residential burglaries in the Metropolitan police area ? Should not the good work of the police be supported by the courts handing down stiff prison sentences to house burglars ? Is that not the message that we should be sending out, rather than arguing about whether prison works as the Opposition home affairs team do ?
Mr. Newton : I whole-heartedly endorse the thoughts of my hon. Friend in terms of what needs to be done to continue and strengthen the fight against crime, not least burglaries. Happily, there are beginning to be some encouraging signs that the increase in crime is not irreversible. Alongside other things, there have been some welcome cases of a drop in the number of insurance claims--another sign of police success in the fight against crime.
I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Dr. Jones : Talking about fringe meetings, will the Lord President now answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) and give the House a categorical assurance that not one penny of taxpayers' money will go to bail out the Secretary of State for Education, although Labour Members believe in the redistribution of wealth and would have no objection to the Cabinet having a whip round for their no doubt soon to be ex-colleague ?
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Sir Michael Neubert : Should we not pause to pay tribute to the astonishing turn of events that has brought the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Russia into a partnership for peace with NATO ? Is there not a lesson to be drawn to the effect that our national security must be defended at all times by resolute and resourceful defence and that the best guarantee of that is a Conservative Government ?
Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The agreement signed in Brussels yesterday is an important step forward and symbolises, if further symbolisation were needed, the changes that have been going on in the former Soviet Union and sets a new framework for peaceful co- operation between Russia and NATO. Russia is the 21st nation to sign the partnership for peace agreement. I agree with my hon. Friend that it illustrates the rewards that have come from the resolute stance that the Government have adopted.
Mr. Loyden : Will the Leader of the House remind the Prime Minister that the letter regarding MV Derbyshire that I sent to him about three weeks ago has not yet been answered ? Does he agree that there is widespread concern in the House about the continuing absence of a Government response to questions and early-day motions on that matter ? Will he convey to the Prime Minister the urgent need for a decision to be made so that the work now started can continue and, one hopes, result in a final exposition of the reasons why the MV Derbyshire sank ?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman is probably aware of the position. As I said in business questions last week, I well understand the concern of those involved. The chief inspector of marine accidents is to request findings and results of the search from the International Transport Federation. On examination of that material, the chief inspector will advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of
Column 358State for Transport whether there is justification for reopening the investigation. That measured way is the right way in which to proceed.
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Brazier : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at a time when our regular armed forces are facing yet another round of reductions, many of us are deeply concerned that we may also be looking at a further substantial cut in the Territorial Army ? Is it not true that the last two major conflicts in which we have been involved--the Falklands and the Gulf--both came from nowhere and both happened at short notice and without any warning ? Surely the most cost-effective way of maintaining a reserve for the unexpected at a low level of cost is by maintaining strong, well-equipped and well-trained volunteer reserve forces.
Mr. Newton : The Government whole-heartedly agree with my hon. Friend about the need for increased use of the reserves and share the importance that he attaches to them. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has instituted a pilot scheme, under which he is addressing the possibility of bringing the reserve forces legislation up to date. On the wider issue, I can only repeat what my right hon. and learned Friend and others have said on a number of occasions : that the purpose of the exercise on which the Government are engaged is generally to ensure the maximum emphasis on our front-line forces, and the capabilities about which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is concerned, and to ensure that we do not spend unnecessary amounts on support services at the expense of those front-line forces.
Mr. Tony Banks : Referring back to those soon to be ex-colleagues, does the Lord President believe that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) will still be leader of the Conservative party at Christmas and that he himself will still be in the Cabinet ?
Mr. Newton : I have already referred to my expectation that my right hon. Friend will renew his lease, as I put it, on No.10 Downing street. On the other matters, I am always confident of my right hon. Friend's judgment.
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