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Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): As the great majority of people in Southend-on-Sea, including my family, will be delighted that the Secretary of State has decided to restore local government independence to Southend-on-Sea, will he seek, after that excellent decision, to advise his Cabinet colleagues that there is huge merit in avoiding the centralisation of decision
Column 157making, and that one cannot obtain more efficiency and better value other than by having decisions made locally and democratically?
Mr. Gummer: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The great advantage of subsidiarity is that one does at the lowest level that which is best done there. The other part of subsidiarity, however, means that one does at other levels where things can be done what can be done only there. I am happy to say that Britain takes that view. We do at Westminster what is best done here and we do at European Union level the things that otherwise we would not be able to do at all. That is why subsidiarity is such a sensible idea.
Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West): My right hon. Friend has made it absolutely clear that he expects county councils to live up to the promises that they have given to him. His ministerial team will know that Dorset has been extremely forthcoming in saying that it would accept an external audit --tough auditing--of its functions and expenditure. Who will carry out that function? Will my right hon. Friend appoint someone with the authority to carry out that audit on a six-monthly basis to make certain that Dorset is making the right progress?
Mr. Gummer: The Audit Commission has that particular role. I shall certainly draw to its attention the point that my hon. Friend made. I should also mention to him another serious matter. The proposals that were made by county councils in regard to their intention to change their methods of operation will be codified and brought together. They promised to be more co-operative and to be more full of the spirit of subsidiarity, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir. T. Taylor) rightly raised in the House. Those lists of promises will be passed on to every parish council and district council in each county area, so they will know precisely what has been promised. I hope that, perhaps after a year or so, we shall then be able to review whether those promises have been met.
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes): Does my right hon. Friend accept that, when he looks at the borders of the new unitary authority of Brighton and Hove, he should not expand them eastwards, as there is no desire among people in my constituency suddenly to find themselves within that unitary authority? When he reconsiders that boundary, in the light of his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), will he be able to give the reassurance that many people have requested, about funding of county council services once Brighton and Hove have been extracted from the county?
Mr. Gummer: I very much hope that we shall be able to see a sensible use of money in the remaining county once Brighton and Hove are removed from it. I also hope that Brighton and Hove will be able to run themselves effectively and efficiently, particularly if they make the political decisions that I suggested earlier. I believe that the people of Telscombe will be able to rest easy in their beds, because there is no intention to change the boundaries. I promised my right hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Sir. T. Sainsbury) that when the boundary commission considers boundaries- -some boundaries need to be looked at--his question about the division of
Column 158Shoreham harbour will be considered. That is all that I have promised and I certainly do not intend to look for any wholesale change.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Is my right hon. Friend aware that prima facie evidence exists to cast doubt upon the ability of Leicester city council to manage its affairs impartially in the interests not only of its own citizens but of those in the wider county of Leicestershire? Will my right hon. Friend do nothing to alter the present system of local government throughout the area currently run by Leicestershire county council until a full judicial inquiry has been held into the evidence to which I referred?
Mr. Gummer: One has to make such decisions irrespective of the activity or the action of a particular council in a particular town at any one time. Otherwise, one would have to say about a number of places that we are considering, that the efficiency of the council is such that one must question whether a particular group can be trusted. One must accept that it is necessary to try to look at matters impartially and not deal with the people who happen to be in charge at the time. If my hon. Friend feels that there are matters relating to Leicester city council that should be given a wider airing, he will have the time to present that evidence. I do not believe that the decisions that I have announced today will be formed in law for a little time, because we need to leave Rutland with the chance to discover how it will proceed.
Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be satisfaction and relief in Staffordshire as a result of his decision? However, will he clarify the position regarding elections next year? I understand that there will obviously have to be an election for the new county authority, but must elections be repeated next year in the areas where boundaries remain the same and where elections will be held this year?
Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The elections will be conducted exactly as one would expect; they will not be repeated. The only difference will be in Stoke, where a shadow authority will be elected.
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): Under the new arrangements, South Hams in Devon will be wedged between the unitary authority of Plymouth in the west and that of Torbay in the east--both of which have well-known territorial ambitions for expansion. When my right hon. Friend meets the Conservative leaders of South Hams district council tomorrow, will he consider seriously referring back to the commission the issue of unitary authority status for South Hams? In the recent referendum, more people voted in favour of making South Hams a unitary authority than voted in favour of unitary authorities in any other part of the country where referendums were held. Will he consider that matter very seriously?
Mr. Gummer: Of course I take the matter seriously. I acknowledge what my hon. Friend said; he has been assiduous in pressing the case on behalf of both South Hams district council and, as usual, his constituents. It is one of the smallest authorities in the country.
Column 159on the basis of well-run authorities, we would not even consider the case of Norwich, for example. That is a different issue altogether.
With regard to my hon. Friend's district, I shall listen very carefully to the views of council leaders. However, I think that it is fair to say that, given the enormous strength of Devon county council, if it were better run- -I have high hopes that that will happen very soon--it could assist South Hams in resisting territorial pressure from its neighbours. I do not wish to see it become another Danzig corridor.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Despite the fact that my right hon. Friend's decision will come as a disappointment to Salisbury district council, will he take it from me that we shall do our best to work with the new unitary authority? However, does he agree that it is not helpful to imply or to state that the reorganisation will mean no change for the rest of the county outside Swindon? When a third of the population is removed from any county, those who are left in the old county must face completely new challenges and perform new tasks.
The reorganisation presents an opportunity to run the show much more effectively, efficiently and co-operatively than has occurred until now. For example, county social services departments must work more closely with district council housing authorities. Their operations can be conducted jointly. In my hon. Friend's case, I have looked very carefully at the points that the county council made in fighting for its cause and I shall expect it to carry them through to the letter and in the spirit that it suggested to both my hon. Friend's district council and the parish councils.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester): I believe that I speak also for my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer), when I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that the recreation of the historic counties of Herefordshire and Worcestershire will be very welcome in Worcestershire. However, we are disappointed that my right hon. Friend has not gone one step further and implemented the original recommendations of the Local Government Commission for two unitary authorities in Worcestershire.
Mr. Gummer: Unfortunately, that was not the commission's final recommendation and I have limited powers as to what I may or may not modify. I have some real sympathy for my hon. Friend's point, but he must accept that I am restricted by the terms decided upon by the House. I have done my best within those restrictions.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): My right hon. Friend will know that there was a fierce argument in rural Dorset outside Bournemouth and Poole as to whether there should be one council or two. The county council said that it would be much more expensive to have two. My right hon. Friend has chosen the county's second option of establishing seven councils in that area. How much extra will my constituents have to pay for those councils, or will additional Government grants pay for them?
Column 160up to now, although not the status quo, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) would remark. The change provides the opportunity for the Liberal-dominated county council to begin to run the council properly, and that will mean a good deal of change from its present activities. The county council can perfectly easily make it a cheaper alternative if it is prepared to ensure that the county council services are run in conjunction and in co-operation with the district councils concerned. I very much hope that my hon. Friend will look carefully at the promises that were made. We shall certainly do so, and perhaps together we can get even the Liberals to realise that efficiency provides money that can be used more effectively or that can reduce council tax bills. The difficulty for the Liberals in my hon. Friend's part of the world is that they promised everything and have suddenly discovered that they have to pay for it.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye): Is my right hon. Friend aware that eastern and East Sussex have a low tax base and will find it difficult to sustain two tiers of government? Is he considering any change to the standard spending assessment for Hastings and Rother, or will the council tax go up?
Mr. Gummer: I see no reason why either of those things should happen if local authorities improve their services. It will be necessary for officers to recognise that it is not a process of defending their particular empires, but one of ensuring that they are able to operate much more effectively in conjunction with the district councils, to provide better services at a lower price. My hon. Friend mentions another county council that has not had a good reputation in recent years and I shall be looking carefully to see that it provides services at the lowest possible price, with decent services provided for the people and not for the empire- building propensities of some departments.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the changes that were proposed in the original commission's document for Basildon, Brentwood and Rochford were extremely popular with people in my constituency? In view of his remarks today, will he assure them that Sir David Cooksey and possibly one of his ministerial colleagues will meet some of my constituents, so that they can explain the reasons for their decision, which were that my constituency is geographically contiguous with Rochford and Brentwood, but is separated from Basildon by a major roadway? They also face the possible prospect of being tied in with a new unitary authority, two councils in which are notorious for their high rates in the past.
Mr. Gummer: I can assure the hon. Lady that we shall of course make sure that every opportunity is given to her constituents and those in neighbouring authorities to put their points to Ministers and to the commission. As I hope she has been pleased to hear, I have already promised that those areas will be referred to the commission again. I hope that in the course of that, a solution will be found that will be beneficial to her constituents and those of her neighbours.
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester): Is my right hon. Friend aware that while many in Chester and Cheshire will be relieved that the continuing uncertainty about the future of local government is coming an end, others in the unique city of Chester are dismayed that our district is not to be included in the review? Does he
Column 161understand their disappointment at not being able to press their case, and does he agree that it is incumbent on all those who continue in two-tier systems to make those two-tier systems work more effectively, to deliver better-quality services more cost-effectively and efficiently?
Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend has honourably put forward the fact that in Chester and some parts of Cheshire, there have been significant differences of opinion on how best to proceed, but he must also be right that the purpose must now be to complete the review as rapidly as possible and to ensure that the authorities that are set up and those that remain carry forward the main purpose, which is to provide the best possible services at the most cost-effective price.
Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport): My right hon. Friend read a list of fine historic former county boroughs, but omitted one of the finest-- Southport, which as a result of a little local difficulty in 1974 was swallowed up by the metropolitan area of Merseyside. My right hon. Friend and his Ministers have been particularly helpful to me and to my constituents. In the light of his statement, I ask him to give me one further assurance this afternoon. When the Local Government Commission reviews the shire counties, will it take the opportunity to examine metropolitan areas where a strong desire has been expressed for change, so that my constituents can put their case to the commission and that once and for all, we can get out of Merseyside and back into Lancashire--where my constituency rightly belongs?
Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend will have noted that there were cries of "Greater Bootle" from Opposition Members. Perhaps my hon. Friend will make sure that his constituents recognise that in him, they have the only real bulwark against such a concept. I cannot widen my promise as he wishes, but I repeat my earlier promise to him that when the review is complete, Southport will be the first authority to be examined by the commission, so that the clear indications that he and his constituents have given may be given due weight in establishing whether Southport ought to be differently governed in future.
Column 162Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest): While I cautiously welcome confirmation of the status quo for Worcestershire, how does my right hon. Friend propose to ensure that the new Worcestershire county council, in working closely--one hopes--with district councils, slims down its operations consistent with its lessened responsibilities under the reorganisation?
Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend knows that SSAs will be reworked according to the new characteristics. We shall monitor the activities of county councils and measure them against their own promises. We shall seek to ensure that we get the best value for money, and I shall endeavour to encourage the professional organisations to recognise that it is not a satisfactory way of maintaining particular old forms, not only to insist on empire growing, but not to empire prune. In my view, there is a great need among county councils to reassess the traditional structure, to ascertain whether there are ways of improving it now that county councils are obviously meant to be enabling authorities--rather than constantly seeing themselves as doing authorities. A distinction must be drawn between policing and providing services in many areas, which county councils often forget.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on the way in which the House deals with Scottish legislation. You may be aware that the Leader of the Opposition said on Sunday:
"All Bills that affect Scotland now, I mean a lot of people don't actually know this, go through a Scottish Grand Committee. There's a separate procedure altogether for it."
Am I right in thinking that the right hon. Gentleman is completely and utterly wrong and showed amazing ignorance of how the House deals with Scottish legislation?
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to specify more stringent safety standards for heavy goods vehicles and to increase the penalties for failure to comply with those standards.
There are 400,000 lorries in this country, and the Department of Transport says that, over 10 years, 17 per cent. of those lorries have been involved in fatal crashes. In 1993, 681 out of 5,935 fatalities--more than 10 per cent--involved lorries. It is important to understand that there is a real problem throughout the United Kingdom.
I want to ensure the safety of heavy goods vehicles by asking for increased staffing in traffic area offices, in the Vehicle Inspectorate, and in the police traffic divisions responsible for much of the enforcement. I want to impose a maximum of 11 hours on each driver, with a statutory rest period of 30 minutes in every three hours worked. It is important to set up a register of HGV driver training schools, and to have a nationally approved course for lorry mechanics. I should like also to widen the procedures for appeal to the traffic commissioners, so that we may include the rights of bereaved families to appeal against the decisions of the traffic commissioner.
The reason for all this is very simple. In December 1993, near Mold, Jane Gregory was killed when a lorry crushed her car on the Queensferry bridge. The lorry plunged off the bridge into the river, where the 26-year-old lorry driver was drowned. An inquest was told that the driver had not taken his rest breaks; and over the previous 10 days, from Northern Ireland to France and back to the United Kingdom, he had gone without his weekly rest periods, and on two occasions had gone without the minimum daily rest period. For one period there were no records at all, and the accident investigator, PC Gareth Owen, said that the high visibility at the time meant that the lorry driver should have been able to avoid crashing into the car.
In July 1993, four nurses died in their car in a tragedy on the M50, when a lorry tried to jump a queue of traffic by switching lanes, and ran over their Ford Fiesta. A passenger in another car was also killed. The lorry driver was jailed for 15 months, but Hereford Crown court heard that he was running late on the day of the tragedy because he had overslept.
University lecturer Susan Williams was crushed to death when a lorry with defective brakes and steering and other dangerous parts careered out of control down a hill, toppled on to her car and crushed her to death. The company involved, H G Pheasey and Son of Bakewell, which operates three lorries, was found guilty in September, in the magistrates court, on several counts of failing to maintain the lorry and comply with the tachograph rules. Mr. Pheasey was fined £2,300, most of it payable in £20 instalments. Despite previous convictions for mechanical defects and for one of his vehicles being found unroadworthy, he was allowed by the traffic commissioner to stay in business.
I have not yet mentioned the appalling case of Sowerby Bridge where six people were killed by a lorry with defective brakes. So we do not even have to think about the need for changes of the kind that I suggest: we know that it exists.
Column 164I must make it clear that I do not assume that all road haulage firms run vehicles that are substandard or dangerous; but there are certainly a large number of vehicles on the road which constitute a considerable danger to their drivers and to anyone who should have the misfortune to cross their path.
The Department of Transport, through the Transport Research Laboratory, did some work in 1988 and 1990 and decided that 7 per cent. of lorries had mechanical defects. It also stated that one in six of the lorry drivers involved in accidents was partly to blame, and that 2 per cent. of the accidents were due to insecure loads. There have been repeated calls both from the traffic commissioners and from the industry--and often from police forces and various arms of the Department of Transport--for changes in the law. It is clear that greater punishment should be imposed, and that there should be far more frequent checks on substandard vehicles. It is even clearer that those who do this work must be fully trained and must have behind them suitable back-up services to ensure that they can find out what really is going on with heavy goods vehicles.
The reality, however, is that the Government, while paying lip service to such changes, are moving smartly in the opposite direction. Far from increasing fines, they are making it clear that they will not carry out the same checks in future. Ministers will deny that. They will say that although it is true that they are asking for a 20 per cent. cut across the Vehicle Inspectorate, including front-line services, that that will not in any way impair the ability of the Ministry to check adequately on road transport. I am afraid that no one will believe any such assertion.
Ministers will say that it is their intention to encourage the road haulage vehicle industry to produce higher quality. But they must know that, sadly, because of the competitiveness and the number of small firms that are running close to the uneconomic edge, there will be constant pressure on road haulage firms to seek to undercut one another. That will inevitably mean more pressure on drivers to drive for longer hours. There will be more cutting of corners and far less support for the responsible firms who seek in every way to run proper businesses in a responsible and intelligent manner.
There are a number of things for which the House should be asking. We should be asking the Ministry to liaise closely with the Home Office, to ensure that traffic divisions of the police forces, many of which are staffed by people who have specialised knowledge, are not run down throughout the United Kingdom. The Ministry should insist that police officers are available to carry out more spot checks, preferably six- monthly. It should insist above all that there should be no cuts in the front-line services of the Vehicle Inspectorate. The Ministry should be giving greater powers to traffic commissioners to insist on a rapid hearing of cases where fatalities or bad injuries have been involved, to take action against many of the firms concerned. I believe that the traffic commissioners are not only aware of the position, but have called increasingly for action to be taken and would welcome the support of the Ministry to ensure that that happens.
There are many simple changes for which the Ministry should be asking and which it should bring to the House to put on the statute book. In Japan, it is possible, because of a series of lights that are fixed to the front of any heavy goods vehicle, for anyone to tell the speed at which the
Column 165vehicle is travelling. Three sets of automatic lights give the onlooker a clear indication of the running speed of the vehicle. One light is illuminated if the vehicle is running at 40 kph or less; two if the vehicle is running between 40 kph and 60 kph; and three if the vehicle is travelling at more than 60 kph, which is the legitimate rate for vehicles in Japan. The speed indication lamps are quite clear--
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mr. Paul Tyler, Mr. Norman Hogg, Ms Joan Walley, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mrs. Helen Jackson, Mr. Matthew Taylor, Mr. Patrick McLoughlin, Mrs. Alice Mahon and Sir Donald Thompson.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody accordingly presented a Bill to specify more stringent safety standards for heavy goods vehicles and to increase the penalties for failure to comply with those standards: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 14 July and to be printed. [Bill 84.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): I have to announce that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the official Opposition and that there is a 10-minute restriction on speeches between the hours of 7 pm and 9 pm.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 5097/95, relating to agricultural prices for 1995-96 and related measures; congratulates the Government on its robust negotiating stance on the Common Agricultural Policy since 1979, its leading role in achieving reform of the CAP, its continuing pressure for further radical reform and its determination to ensure that EU agricultural spending is effectively restrained; welcomes the Government's key role in the negotiations which secured an effective agreement on agriculture in the GATT Uruguay Round; endorses the Government's drive to spearhead urgent and continuing efforts to combat fraud and illegal state aids throughout the EU; notes that UK farm incomes rose by 6.9 per cent. over the last year and that Government spending on hill livestock compensatory amounts and agricultural research and development has been maintained; and supports the Government's intention to negotiate an outcome on the 1995-96 price proposals which takes account of the interests of the United Kingdom, producers, consumers and taxpayers alike.
The debate has come over the years to have two separate but equally valid functions. First, the House has before it the latest proposals for the annual price fixing in the European Community, so that it can advise the Minister of its views before he or she goes to Brussels to negotiate. Secondly, the occasion fulfils the need for an annual general debate on agriculture, and gives the Minister the chance to give an account of what has happened in the past 12 months or so in this important industry. Any such report and statement of policy must inevitably deal with European agricultural policy issues wider than just the price fixing, since so much of agricultural policy is determined by the common agricultural policy, and so many of the improvements that we want involve changes to the CAP.
It is logical, then, to start by restating what we would like for British agriculture, British consumers and the British food and drink industry, and by setting out what we have been doing to enable those objectives to be met, both domestically and in Brussels.
Briefly, we believe that British farmers could do an even better job for our consumers and for the food and drink industry, which uses their raw materials, if they could compete more freely in a world in which there were fewer subsidies, fewer constraints on production and trade and more freedom for enterprise and efficiency to be rewarded. That means that we need a radical change in attitudes to agricultural trade, not just in Europe but in the United States, Japan and in many other countries, too. We want freer trade, the dismantlement of state aids and subsidies for production, and the ending of quantitative controls over farmers--set-asides, quotas and the rest--not just here but around the world.
We know perfectly well that that cannot be achieved overnight, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) rightly told the Financial Times today, and that unilateral gestures, even when they are available, do little good if they just disadvantage our people. We believe that clarity about where we are going and in what time scale
Column 167is vital if damage and disruption are to be avoided to an industry that has been led in a different direction since Labour's Agriculture Act 1947.
We also believe that there must be a growing recognition of the importance of the environmental role of farmers, and proper incentives for them in this field. We should recognise that good stewardship of the land is a valid output of our farming industry, which no one else can deliver, and that, in some cases at least, they should be paid for it.
It is these objectives, domestic, European and worldwide, that have formed our policy since 1979. In 1979, we inherited a CAP with few constraints on expenditure or on its potential to create food surpluses. Since then, very important steps have been taken to begin to get the situation under control. The super-tanker has begun to respond, very slowly, to a change in course.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): Notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, is not it a fact that we are now spending more money on the CAP than we were in 1979? To what extent does he believe that the absurdities of the CAP are undermining the whole concept of the European Union?
Mr. Waldegrave: If the hon. Gentleman waits just a moment, I shall give him some figures that might give him some pause, but I agree that sorting out agricultural policy, which must be sorted out, will do more to restore sensible support for the European Community than almost anything else.
Here are some figures. It is pretty useless nowadays, I have to say, to challenge the Labour party on its record in government. It is such a long time ago that half the population was not born when the Labour party were in government. I have woken up the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, and that may be a good thing, but it may not be entirely to his advantage.
There are some exceptions. Most of the people who brought this country to a halt in 1979 are safely grazing in lush pastures down the Corridor, in another place, mooing and lowing gently, weighed down with honours. However, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has not been allowed to escape. He was there throughout the period from 1974 to 1979 in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He has been kept in his crate and there he remains to this day. I shall not bore the House with too many figures. I have just three sets. Between 1974 and 1979 expenditure from the CAP budget--this is the point in which the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) was interested--in real terms increased by 61 per cent. or, on average, by 10 per cent. a year. From 1979 to 1994, expenditure from the same budget has increased in real terms by 38 per cent., or 2.2 per cent. a year. But far more to the point, from 1988 to 1994, expenditure has hardly increased at all--by 1 per cent. or virtually nothing in average terms each year. That represents a huge shift in policy terms. The ship is starting to change its direction.
It may be tempting for the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, hearing those figures, to defend his record by attempting one of those somersaults that have been a feature of Labour policy recently. Perhaps when he was arguing for all those subsidies all that time ago he was working for the farmers; he was the farmers' man. Unfortunately, that argument does not work. Total income
Column 168from farming in real terms fell between 1974 and 1979 by 32 per cent.--an average drop of 7.5 per cent. per annum. Since 1979, total income from farming has gone up by 10 per cent. In fact, since 1988, it has gone up by 21 per cent.
Most remarkable of all--I know that the House does not care for figures, so I simply give this third set--is the statistics on food prices. Between 1974 and 1979, food prices went up by 4 per cent. in real terms. That is, they went up that much faster than general inflation. In contrast, between 1979 and 1994, food prices have fallen by 20 per cent. in real terms. To put it another way, since we have been in power, food has become one fifth cheaper relative to other goods.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): Has not the right hon. Gentleman missed out some of the most important facts in his biased view of history? Is it not true that between 1973-74 when we joined, and 1979, we were in the transitional period of the CAP, so food prices of course went up, as did expenditure? Did not the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) take people into the Common Market without telling them clearly that we would lose control of our own agriculture, our own agricultural prices and the use of our own soil?
Mr. Waldegrave: That is correct. The Labour party took the agricultural policy and did nothing whatever about it. Through those years there were no controls on overall budget or on the growth of stockpiles and food mountains. Now, we sometimes have to listen to lessons from Opposition Members about how they would change it all overnight. They did nothing about it whatever.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West): I hope that in reviewing agricultural prices my right hon. Friend will refer to the system of quotas and area payments, which is another way of considerably benefiting the farmer. My right hon. Friend will certainly know, but the House may not know, that the milk quota is now worth something approaching £2,000 for each cow in milk, that even sheep quota is valuable, and that area payments for arable farmers are now running at about £105 an acre. Those are all ways in which the distortions of the CAP indirectly benefit the farmer to the disadvantage of the taxpayer.
Mr. Waldegrave: I am in some difficulty because my hon. Friend is making somewhat eloquently a later section of my speech. He is entirely right. We must get rid of such distortions. The best of our farmers would far rather be allowed to compete in a world market without those constraints, even if it were in exchange for lower prices.
Several hon. Members rose --
Column 169of abolishing state aid and protectionism. Is not that an argument not so much for reforming the CAP but for its abolition?
Mr. Waldegrave: No. I shall explain why in a moment. I should proceed because so many of these excellent points fit well with the structure of what I am about to say. However, I cannot resist my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Norfolk, North (Sir R. Howell).
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): My right hon. Friend was comparing the records of the previous Labour Government and this Government, but he omitted one crucial fact. To suggest that food prices rose by 4 per cent. in real terms between 1974 and 1979 obscures the huge rate of inflation during that period. Food prices in the shops rocketed then, as every housewife knows.
Sir Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North): My right hon. Friend has given us some interesting figures going back to 1974. However, would not he be able to prove his point even better if he went back to 1960, when we were spending 1 per cent. of GDP supporting agriculture, since when it has fallen. Only one quarter of 1 per cent. was spent on total support for agriculture in 1988 and even now it is less than half of 1 per cent. from both the EC and in the United Kingdom?
Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. We should remember that the concept of agricultural support was not invented with the CAP. We have had agricultural support in Britain since the beginning of the second world war. It was formulated in the Agriculture Act 1947. It is worth reminding people that we should compare the costs of that deficiency payment system with the current system if we are comparing the overall cost of things. My hon. Friend makes a fair point.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) rose --
Dr. Strang: I have a genuine inquiry. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's latter point. However, I cannot understand the figures that he quoted earlier in relation to the costs of the CAP. I mention in passing, and I shall repeat it later, that CAP spending in Britain in real terms has increased by more than 180 per cent. since 1979. I do not want to make great deal of that now, but I cannot understand why he is talking about no increase or an increase of 1 per cent. when, as he knows, the effect of the MacSharry changes was hugely to increase much of the expenditure--all the expenditure on set aside and the arable payments. The right hon. Gentleman's figure is inexplicable, unless he is referring to agriculture as a proportion of the total European Union budget, which I do not think that he is. That is quite a different figure. Other sums are going up there as well.
Column 170who said to Professor Durac that he did not understand the connection between x and y in a particular equation that Durac had written on the board and Durac continued with his lecture, thinking that that was a statement of fact which required no answer. The point is that expenditure went down in 1994. The figures are correct. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman's figures go up to only 1992 or 1993. If he looks at the latest figures which are all published-- Dr. Strang rose --