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Sir Donald Thompson: Will my hon. Friend continue to encourage the building of the new abattoirs? Will she remind Opposition Members that if the codes of practice for the rearing and slaughter of animals were introduced across Europe there would be a great advance throughout?
Mr. Jack: The Government are contributing to that objective through their programme to improve the competitiveness of British industry and the £3.5 million that the Ministry spends annually on research and development in dairying.
Column 466milk bill. If he does, he will be aware of the rising price of milk delivered to the doorstep. Is he aware that Dairy Crest, which has a plant in my constituency, is having to close plants across the country as a direct result--this has been stated by the chief executive--of the Government's deregulation of the dairy industry? What do the Government have to say today about the number of jobs that have been lost in the dairy industry as a direct result of deregulation?
Mr. Jack: On the latter point, I remind the hon. Lady that the number of people employed in the dairying industry has been falling. In 1984 it was 89,500, and by 1991 it was 72,300, which shows that there has been a decline in the consumption of milk and cream products. As for the rise in the price of milk, my local dairyman has benefited to the tune of 1.5p per pint from a reduction in the levy that he paid because there is no milk marketing board to pay, so he is pleased with the changes. Finally, the industry was carrying a great deal of spare capacity; as a result of the removal of the milk marketing board, there is now better utilisation of existing capacity, to the long-term benefit of the industry.
Mr. O'Brien: The Minister must be aware that Milk Marque now has a monopoly of the milk industry, and that, since the abolition of the milk marketing board cheese prices have increased substantially and continue to rise well above the rate of inflation. Is he also aware that the spot market is controlled by Milk Marque, which is exporting cheap milk from mainland Britain to keep prices high? What is he doing to help dairy producers who have to meet high costs for their raw material and whose product is undercut by the abolition of the milk marketing board, thus causing job losses in the milk marketing industry?
Mr. Jack: I am disappointed that, in his enumeration of various problems, the hon. Gentleman did not also point out some of the positive aspects of the changes that were introduced. For instance, many cheese producers used to have an on-off supply under the old arrangement, but now they can have certainty of supply. The hon. Gentleman should check his facts more carefully before accusing Milk Marque of having a monopoly in the milk industry, as companies such as Northern Food Partnership, Nestle and many other purchasers of milk would fundamentally disagree.
Mr. Colvin: Is my hon. Friend aware that last year British dairy farmers were penalised in comparison with their European competitors because of the way in which the butter fat in their milk was measured, which resulted in their being well above their quota? What is he doing to level the playing field?
Mr. Jack: I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that matter, which has also been raised by a number of my local farmers. Work is under way to examine some of the variable results that have been recorded. I stress that the tests which used to be carried out by the milk marketing board and the Agricultural Development Advisory Service are both approved by the Commission.
Column 467national frontiers within the Community so that our efficient dairy farmers can obtain a higher quota and supply the milk that our processors need?
Mr. Jack: My hon. Friend, who speaks with the knowledge gained from a farming constituency, is absolutely right. We have one of the most developed markets for the movement of surplus quota, to the benefit of all our dairy farmers, and we are campaigning for a much more flexible approach to cross-Community transferability of quota. We shall continue to pursue that objective vigorously.
Dr. Strang: Will the Minister acknowledge that, as a direct result of deregulation, creameries have closed at Stranraer, Longridge and Whitland, as well as a number of small niche English cheese makers? How much capacity and how many jobs will be lost before the Government recognise the seriousness of the situation?
Mr. Jack: Sometimes the hon. Gentleman's synthetic rage overwhelms me. If he is truly concerned about the future of jobs in the dairy industry, perhaps he will join me in reviewing the claim for increased wages--above the rate of inflation--made by trade unions representing the dairy trade. They asked for two extra days holiday, a reduction in the working week, increases in weekend premiums and night rate allowances and-- believe it or not--the setting up of a pan-European social partnership committee. Is that the way to safeguard jobs in the dairy industry?
Mr. Jack: My right hon. Friend the Minister regularly meets representatives of all sides of the agriculture industry, including the president of the National Farmers Union, to discuss issues of importance to them.
Sir David Knox: Is my hon. Friend aware that farmers in my constituency-- [Interruption.] --are concerned about reports of black market trading in milk? Will he give an assurance that vigourous action will be taken against anyone indulging in such practices?
Mr. Jack: The importance of my hon. Friend's question was clearly acknowledged by cheers from the Labour Benches. I can certainly assure him that the intervention board is taking seriously the information that has come to hand about black market trading in milk. The fraud line which has been established has already received more than 100 calls on the matter. The investigations are complex, but they are being carried out with vigour.
Mr. Clapham: Is the Minister aware that, under the Milk Marque regime, a farmer who leases his quota must have his documents approved by the intervention board before they can be passed on to the quota broker and that that is currently taking two months whereas under the milk marketing boards it used to be done in a week? As it is causing a great deal of hardship for farmers, will the Minister look into the matter and see what can be done to speed up the process?
Column 468delays towards the end of last year. The only remaining documents to be processed are those related to the extension for lease transfers that we gave to the end of the year. All other matters are now up to date, and a good level of service can be expected.
Sir Anthony Grant: Is my right hon. Friend aware that since his answer in this House on Tuesday, public bewilderment and, indeed, outrage over the fate of Private Clegg has increased? Will he give the House an assurance that he and his Ministers will do all in their power to bring this injustice to a speedy end?
The Prime Minister: I set out the position in the House on Tuesday and how that should be developed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have to consider any new evidence put to him and decide first whether that is sufficient to warrant a further reference to the Court of Appeal. In the meantime, the proper procedures--which I outlined at length on Tuesday and, with my hon. Friend's permission, will not repeat --have now begun.
Mr. Blair: What does it tell us about the Prime Minister's Government when his Secretary of State for Social Security says that Ministers should be paid more-- [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members may agree with that, but precious few people in the country do. [Interruption.] There they are--the Tory yobboes. What does it tell us when the Secretary of State for Social Security says that Ministers should be paid more--
Mr. Blair: What does it tell us, when the Prime Minister's Secretary of State for Social Security says that Ministers should be paid more and that Back-Bench Members of Parliament should have more directorships and consultancies, while at the self-same time the same Social Security Minister is introducing a law that will savage mortgage protection for the unemployed?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is taking a very puritanical view, in view of the number of special interests that so many of his right hon. and hon. Friends have, including a number of his hon. Friends on
Column 469the Front Bench. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there is a proper procedure for setting ministerial salaries and the salaries of Members of this House. It is based on a widely accepted formula, it has been approved by this House and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is entirely happy with that formula.
Mr. Blair: Is it sensible to cut mortgage protection when home owners are already facing rising interest rates and cuts in mortgage tax relief? Do the Prime Minister and his party not understand that we shall never build a strong and prosperous Britain by deliberately passing laws designed to make our people weak and insecure?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has obviously forgotten the policy commitments of his own party. For example, in view of what he has just said, he may have forgotten that on MIRAS--mortgage interest relief at source--one of the Labour party's own policy groups threatened to abolish the allowance entirely. The right hon. Gentleman clearly belongs to that species of politician which believes that the facts are for bending whenever convenient. With regard to mortgages, the right hon. Gentleman should be aware that the drop in mortgages from their peak, as a result of our economic policies-- [Interruption.] The drop in costs from their peak since interest rates have been falling is £140 a week. If the policies on borrowing and spending that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind were carried out, mortgages would go straight back up by £140 a week.
Mrs. Roe: Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fairer and more reasonable approach that we shall now receive from the Child Support Act 1991, the purpose of which was never in doubt, but the application of which caused very considerable concerns?
The Prime Minister: There has never been any doubt about the principle that parents should support their own children, provided that they are able to do so. That principle is accepted widely in this House and beyond. The changes that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has now put in place will enable the agency to work in the manner that we would all wish to see.
Mr. MacShane: The Prime Minister is well known as a fan of the Commonwealth and a supporter of India. He will therefore know Gandhi's dictum that there is enough in the world for everyone's need, but not enough for
Column 470everyone's greed. I have that written here; if I give it to the Prime Minister framed, will he put it on the wall in the boardroom of No. 10 Downing street?
Mr. Luff: Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Worcester Royal Infirmary trust on the significant improvement in the health care that it is delivering in my constituency? That is a tribute to the health care reforms, to the resources that the Government are making available and to the dedication and professionalism of all the trust's staff. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to continue those improvements is by the early construction of a new district general hospital, using the private finance initiative?
The Prime Minister: I am very pleased to hear from my hon. Friend about the excellent health services provided in Worcester. That is mirrored in many places across the country. Private finance certainly offers a cost- effective way of funding new hospitals and new developments. It is entirely right to explore that.
Mr. Radice: As there is not to be a statement to the House today, will the Prime Minister confirm that the White Paper on the civil service proposes a civil service code and an independent appeals system and that it keeps open the Government's mind about whether those should be backed by statute? Does he agree that the Government's adoption of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee's constitutional agenda is a vindication of the Select Committee system?
The Prime Minister: I think that there is very wide support for the Select Committee system across the House and beyond it. The White Paper will command the very broad respect and support of hon. Members across the House on the points that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and on several others.
Mr. Colvin: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are about to place orders for support helicopters for the Royal Air Force? As the two contenders--the Boeing Chinook and the Westland EH101--meet the specifications required by the Ministry of Defence, does he agree that a mixed fleet solution would best provide for the needs of our armed forces and also be best for British industry as it would improve the already good prospects for the sale of the Westland EH101 helicopter in overseas markets both in its civil version and in the many military versions that will become available?
Column 471continuing. I hope that we will be able to make a decision as soon as possible, but all the information upon which to base that decision is not yet available. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear in the past the potential advantages of a mixed fleet to meet the Army's requirements for support helicopters. Of course, that will be borne carefully in mind when we are in a position to make a final decision.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: In so far as it is now over six months since The Sunday Times exposed the illegal activities of the so-called noble Lord Archer, Conservative peer--insider-dealing activities in Anglia shares--and in so far as it is quite clear that it is utterly impossible successfully to prosecute what we all know to be criminal activity, is there now going to be a review of the law in this area? [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the last part of his question. He must not use that language and thus associate this House and all of us with what he has just said. I must ask him to withdraw it or rephrase it, please. [Interruption.] Order. Leave it to me. Will the hon. Gentleman please rephrase what he has just said?
Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has associated all of us in this House. I heard it very clearly myself. I ask the hon. Gentleman to rephrase. I heard the words very clearly. [Interruption.] Order. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a moment to reflect. I am sure that he will do as I ask.
Madam Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make those criticisms, I must now ask him to withdraw his remarks and to put them in an orderly substantive motion. I am asking him to rephrase what he has just said; otherwise I must ask him to leave this House for the remainder of this day's sitting.
Mr. Butcher: Is my right hon. Friend prepared to widen the remit of the Nolan committee to examine sleaze in the media? Does he not find it unacceptable that three television executives, Mr. Greg Dyke, Mr. Barry Cox and Mr. Melvyn Bragg, should pretend to be objective in setting the agenda while they bankrolled the leadership campaign for the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)? As First Lord of the Treasury-- [Interruption.]
Column 472to do the same in future with any Member who behaves in that way. There are perfectly respectable ways of putting questions in this House. I will give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to do that; otherwise he must now sit down.
Madam Speaker: Order. I will determine whether there is a distinction. The hon. Gentleman can put a substantive motion on the Order Paper if he is going to assert that. Will the hon. Gentleman re-think his question, or shall I call someone else?
Mr. Butcher: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the standards now being asserted as required of Members of this House on the sleaze question should also be applied to those in the media who may seek to influence events by means which should not be in their repertoire?
Mr. Olner: Is the Prime Minister aware of the strong public feelings in regard to the animal welfare movement, especially in connection with the live transportation of animals for slaughter? Will he talk to his colleagues about giving parliamentary time to my private Member's Bill, which seeks to make the practice unlawful? Does he agree that it is far better for our excellent British livestock to be exported on the hook than to endure the treacherous and hazardous journeys on the hoof to which they are currently subjected?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will recall that I made precisely the same point about the preference for export on the hook rather than on the hoof three or four Question Times ago. Beyond that, as he will know, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is making considerable progress, especially on veal crates in Europe. I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend clearly has the hon. Gentleman's support.
Mr. Hawkins: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important thing in local government is high standards of competence? Does he also agree that the gaff has been blown on the Labour party's activities in local government by the McKinstry memorandum?
Column 473North (Mr. Radice) asked a question some time ago he said that if we wanted to know how Labour would look in government we should look at how it runs local councils.
Column 474colleagues to an interest in miscarriages of justice? Will he also join me in hoping that that interest will extend to people who are not members of the Parachute Regiment, such as the three innocent people in the 18th year of their sentences for the Carl Bridgewater murder?
The Prime Minister: I do not propose to comment on the particular case; I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that it has been examined from time to time. On a more general point, I assure him that my hon. Friends are as concerned as he is to ensure that justice is faithfully and truthfully carried out.
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