Prime Minister (Engagements)

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Services – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd April 1979.

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Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East 12:00 am, 3rd April 1979

asked the Prime Minister, if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 April.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

This morning I attended a memorial service for Sir Richard Sykes. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

In view of the promise made by the Government at the last election that Scotland would get a special share of the oil revenue, what excuse does the Prime Minister have to offer for the fact that, in the past five years, unemployment in Scotland has drastically increased and his proposals in the public expenditure White Paper show that Scotland will get a reduced share of public spending over the next five years?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Unemployment in Scotland went up after 1974, but I am glad to say that as a result of Government measures and our success in economic policy, it is going down and has been falling steadily for some time. For example, the number of school leavers out of work has declined substantially. As regards financial aid to Scotland, it is well known that Scotland has enjoyed considerable financial assistance—and the hon. Gentleman's constituency has benefited substantially.

Photo of Mr John Watkinson Mr John Watkinson , Gloucestershire West

Has my right hon. Friend noted the view of the City that, in the unlikely event of a Tory victory in the election, cuts in public expenditure will fuel a boom in the price of land and shares? Can my right hon. Friend see any merit in cuts in the social wage in order to fuel a speculators' bonanza?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

That is clearly one of the issues which will be debated substantially during the next few weeks. However, I do not think that memories are so short that people will have forgotten the property boom that was stimulated during the period of the last Conservative Government and the consequences that flowed from that, especially as the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time allowed the money supply to get uncontrollably high.

Photo of Mr David Atkinson Mr David Atkinson , Bournemouth East

Will the Prime Minister take time today to go into the Library and read page 505 of volume 6 of the "Collected Works of Marx and Engels" where he will see a list of the 10 preconditions necessary for any country to be ripe for a Communist takeover, seven of which have already been satisfied in this country, largely through his Government's policies? Will he give a pledge to the country and the House that he will support the next Conservative Government in reversing that trend?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting as far as page 505. I wish that his question had shown a more percipient understanding of the erudite conclusions reached by Karl Marx, some of which are apposite in the present state of development of our world.

Photo of Mrs Helene Hayman Mrs Helene Hayman , Welwyn and Hatfield

Will my right hon. Friend find time to send congratulations to British Aerospace on its part in the new Airbus order announced today? Will he also take the opportunity to reaffirm the Government's support for the civil airframe industry, including the Airbus and the HS 146—support that aircraft workers know only too well would not be forthcoming from a no-grants, no-subsidies, no-interference Conservative Government?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

It was a decision by the Government to maintain a high-level aircraft industry in which technological achievement should grow. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lyming- ton (Mr. Adley), who is interrupting from a sedentary position, was one of those who invited me to spend public money on this matter. It is important to the Government and myself, and, I believe, to the country, that the British aircraft industry should be sustained at a high level. The success of Rolls-Royce in the United States and British Aerospace with the Airbus in Europe are welcome manifestations of that.

Photo of Mr John Hunt Mr John Hunt , Bromley Ravensbourne

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 April.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson).

Photo of Mr John Hunt Mr John Hunt , Bromley Ravensbourne

As the Prime Minister has apparently been spending a great deal of time in the last day or two on the preparation of his election strategy, will he let us into the secret of how he proposes to persuade the British electorate that on jobs, prices and taxes, another Labour Government are likely to be any more successful than his failed and discredited Administration?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I will also explain to the British people, in the course of the short commercial break we will experience over the next few weeks, that the Conservative Opposition have fought against every effort to save jobs, that they have fought against every attempt to retain the Price Commission and to keep prices down, and that they have shown an irresponsible attitude to pay claims and to pay settlements. In the last few days, they have shown signs, through the speeches of the Shadow Foreign Secretary on the common agricultural policy, on their attitude on old-age pensions and on their attitude towards child benefit this afternoon, of becoming a "Me, too" Opposition. That is what they will remain.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Leader of the Liberal Party

Will the Prime Minister take time off today from being concerned with the Labour Party manifesto to look at the reports from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, about the incident there? Although we operate a different technology in this country, will he comment on the piecemeal approach to these issues that is pursued in Britain? Is he aware, for example, that the Secretary of State for Scotland has turned down a public inquiry into the Torness development while, at the same time, an inquiry is going on about the mining of uranium in Orkney for that development and that the same Minister who has to judge that matter is also the Minister responsible for power promotion? Will he try to end this piecemeal approach and secure a wide public and parliamentary debate on these issues?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The question of safety in nuclear installations is one that constantly concerns the Government. I have paid a considerable degree of attention to the matter. Last year, the House may recall, the Government placed two further orders for nuclear reactors, both of which were of the advance gas-cooled type—a different type from that found in Harrisburg. I believe that I can safely claim and reassure the public that the incident in Harrisburg could not take place in this country because of the different nature of the reactors. It is important that this should be understood. Indeed, we have been wise to concentrate on the safer advance gas-cooled reactors rather than the pressurised water reactors. Design studies are proceeding for the Harrisburg type of reactor, but we have not so far decided to place any orders for it. In view of the fact that we are to build two more AGRs, it will be two or three years before a decision needs to be reached.

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point about a piecemeal approach. These matters, including the problem of Torness, are considered carefully in the Cabinet. We try to take decisions that are related to safety on all occasions. We do not always succeed. I apologise to the House for taking so long to reply, but this is a serious and important matter. I think I can say that our record on safety is second to none in these matters. Although there is always the chance of the human element failing, there is no likelihood of an incident similar to that at Harrisburg.

Photo of Mr Edward Du Cann Mr Edward Du Cann , Taunton

Is the Prime Minister aware that many Members of Parliament on both sides and all the commentators I have read believe that, in the long term, the interests of good administration and the dignity of the House will be best served if the Government of the day accept the report of the next Boyle Commission on Members' salaries. There is precedent for this action in the helpful decision of this Government and the Leader of the House in relation to the eighth report of the Boyle committee on Members' pensions.

As this is the last opportunity to question the Prime Minister in this Parliament, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to spend time between now and the Dissolution consulting my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition with a view to accepting a firm commitment from the leaders of the main political parties to implement, without equivocation, the Boyle report when it comes, even if, in the interests of general Government policy, the implementation has to be phased, as the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and I have suggested?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

We must admit that increases in our own salaries are the least popular issues in public estimation, but it should be pointed out that hon. Members have not taken the full increase to which they were entitled under the last Boyle report, and the recommendations have not been implemented. The House has kept strictly within the guidelines on this matter. That point should be made plain.

I have not yet received the Boyle report on its future recommendations. It must be left to the new Government, elected to the new Parliament, to reach conclusions on that report. I would be happy, of course, to have conversations with the Leader of the Opposition, if it was thought appropriate, to see how the issue can be handled.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Hammersmith Fulham

Will my right hon. Friend give particular attention to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann)? He will be aware that the problem for many hon. Members, particularly younger Members of this House, is serious and is growing in its seriousness.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Yes, Sir. I hope that my previous answer indicated that I was aware of that. Without giving any pledge on the report, which I have not yet seen, I would certainly be ready to give full consideration to this matter. Members of Parliament should be remunerated properly, however unpopular it may be.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I meet representatives of the TUC from time to time at the National Economic Development Council and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Photo of Mr Ian Wrigglesworth Mr Ian Wrigglesworth , Teesside Thornaby

Will my right hon. Friend consult the northern regional council of the TUC about the future of regional policy and particularly the threat of the Conservative Party to dismantle regional policy should it gain office? Is he aware that an application has been made for special development area status for the whole of the Teesside area? Will he indicate how that application has progressed?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I believe a meeting is arranged between Ministers and representatives of Teesside on the question of advancing Teesside to special development area status. The area has received a great deal of assistance during the lifetime of this Government. But if, as my hon. Friend indicates, the policy enunciated by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) were to be put into effect, Teesside could kiss all that goodbye, and a lot more, too.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

Will the Prime Minister discuss with the TUC as well as the House the actual level of rate increases which are published today? Is he aware that the forecast by the Secretary of State for the Environment of a level of rate increases in single figures has turned out at something like 19·2 per cent. on average? Whom does he blame for that?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

No, I shall not be discussing that matter with the TUC. I think it is true that expectations were strong last summer and in the autumn that, if we had stuck to a 5 per cent. increase in pay, the increases in rates would have been much lower than they are. Unfortunately, we did not receive much assistance from the Leader of the Opposition on that matter. I notice that many Conservative councils are now increasing their rates.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

Is the Prime Minister aware that his reply just does not hold water? Is he aware that, for example, in inner London the rate increases m Tory councils average 2·6 per cent. and in Labour councils 26 per cent.?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

By putting up the rents.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Yes, as my hon. Friend says, one can always keep the rates down if one puts the rents up. That is exactly what has happened.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the meeting of the Council of Ministers (Agriculture) in Brussels on 29 March, at which I represented the United Kingdom.

I made it clear that any rise in the level of common prices would hurt consumers, swell the scandalous food surpluses and increase the heavy burden which the common agricultural policy imposes on the British economy. Despite opposition from some other member countries, I stated that the Government would in no circumstances agree to increases in common prices for 1979–80. Accordingly, for the time being it was agreed to extend the marketing years due to end on 31 March until 1 July, thus effectively introducing a freeze on common prices for the next three months. The Council also agreed to extend for three months the United Kingdom's current butter subsidy of about 5½p per pound.

The Council also took decisions on a number of important agri-monetary questions. It was agreed to introduce the EEC basket unit for CAP purposes for the period from 9 April to 30 June. The use of this more representative unit should reduce the upward pull on the values of common prices which has hitherto resulted from the use of the "snake" unit of account. If the positive monetary compensatory amounts of strong currencies increase, they will be subject to a reduction or franchise of one percentage point.

Devaluations of the green pound—by 5 per cent, as I had requested—and of the Irish, French and Italian green currencies were also agreed. The devaluation of the green pound will take effect on 9 April for pigmeat, beef, milk products, sugar and isoglucose, and at the begin-of the 1979–80 marketing years for most other commodities. When this devaluation, which is necessary for the wellbeing of British agriculture and to help safeguard employment in our pigmeat processing plants, has eventually worked through into prices, it is expected to increase the retail price index by about one-fifth of 1 per cent.

The Council formally endorsed the principle that the progressive reduction in existing MCAs can be accelerated at the initiative of the member State concerned. This should remove future changes in the green pound from the bargaining area. Finally, the Council took note of the Commission's intention to put to a vote in the appropriate management committees by 11 April certain reforms in the calculation of monetary compensatory amounts, including revised coefficients for bacon.

The Council also discussed compromise proposals for a common market organisation for potatoes, and some progress was made towards an outcome satisfactory to the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Is the Minister aware that some of what he said is not unwelcome, but that there are in it some large gaps and that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends regret that, on the last occasion in this Parliament when the Minister addresses us on these important subjects, he has not had a chance to explain himself more fully, and particularly to deal with the gaps? I should like to ask a number of questions.

Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate any further devaluation of the green pound this year? Is he aware that, during his tenure of office, he has not offered much either to consumer or to producer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, come on."] The snakepit is a bit lively this afternoon. I wonder whether—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. As I said to those who were here earlier at Question Time, I know that there is a general air of excitement today, but we must all try to keep to parliamentary standards as long as we are here. I never like addressing any hon. Member in the name of an animal, or whatever a snake is, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) will agree. However, he has the right to be heard, like every other hon. Member.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Mr. Peyton rose

Hon. Members:

Withdraw.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

If the sounds coming from the Government Benches below the Gangway so far misled me—

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

—as to induce me to use an improper term to describe their occupants, I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker, and I apologise to you. [Interruption.] It is difficult to make progress.

May I return to my questions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, during his term of office, for all the noise and fury that he has generated he has not brought home either to consumers or to producers the benefits that Lord Peart managed to do much more silently?

Secondly, we all know that food prices are a subject dear to the right hon. Gentleman's heart. According to his own figures, as a result of our membership of the Community, food prices have risen in this country by 12 per cent. Will he explain how the other 103 per cent. occurred? Was it just the responsibility of himself and his colleagues?

Lastly, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he has not left buried under the carpet of his office many unsolved problems which delicacy or some other emotion has inhibited him from mentioning to the House?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I shall try, in the light of that, to be as indelicate as possible. I am glad to have even a partial welcome from the right hon. Gentleman. That was not the impression that I received from a report of his speech this morning, or from what he said last week. Last week he said that everything had been handed over on a plate and this morning he said that one of the things that he would be fighting for if there were a Conservative Government would be the right to devalue the green pound at any time. It seems to have escaped his notice that I got that right last Friday.

As for devaluations—this is a good starting point—it was essential to get the basis of a country's right to devalue its green currency out of the price fixing. Otherwise, it became a bargaining factor. That is what a number of other countries were trying to make it. That would have meant that we would be unable to proceed with the freeze on common prices. We have managed to get the devaluation of green currencies out of price fixing. That means that we are free to examine the position not only at price-fixing time but at any time when its suits the national interest.

The figure of 15 per cent. which was urged by the National Farmers' Union would increase support prices by 17·6 per cent. That is excessive. The figure at present is 5 per cent. We shall keep that under review in the national interest. We shall not be forced to wait for the price fixing.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) said that I had not done well for the consumer or the producer. It is difficult to look back over the last two and a half years, but I shall try. We have introduced derating for farmers and tax averaging, which has been requested for 35 years, and many times under Conservative Governments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made some useful concessions to farmers and others in the last Budget and they were appreciated.

We have been involved in an important fight to prevent prices increasing by the appalling levels that they would have increased if we had not so fought. One of the bases was the butter subsidy in the last year of transitional prices. I recall the right hon. Member for Yeovil between the two price-fixing meetings in March and April asking me why on earth I was fighting over this fiddling amount. Those are not his exact words, but that is what he meant. It was worth it to the consumers and it continues to be worth it. It paid for the green pound devaluation.

Food prices have risen by about 110 per cent., 10 per cent. of which is entirely due to CAP prices. There is not the slightest doubt about that. Prices have also gone up in other countries. We are not alone in this.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no dust under my carpet. There is nothing like the common fisheries policy that was left to us, which meant that other countries could fish up to our own beaches. That was what was handed to us.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Wandsworth Battersea North

How does my right hon. Friend account for the general belief in Brussels that if a Tory Government were to be elected they would once again surrender all along the line in negotiations?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

There are two reasons for that. The first is that the paper "Conservatives in Europe", issued recently, states that the right method of approach in Brussels is to do everybody else a favour and treat that as a bank balance on which to draw when in trouble. Those who have worked in Brussels in the last few years know that that is the last way to operate. It is no wonder that people in Brussels think that the Opposition will be soft in the unlikely event of their coming to power again.

The second reason is that we have said that we shall freeze all food prices this year and that we shall continue to do that for four years until there are no more surpluses. I have heard not a single word from the Opposition about that. They say that they are in favour of freezing prices this year—but they do not say all prices. They have given no indication that they are prepared to freeze prices until surpluses are eliminated.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Cardigan

I welcome the Minister's short-term success in Brussels. Am I right to assume that the other Ministers in Europe will accept a price freeze only for three months? The Minister has the backing of all hon. Members for his price freeze policy.

What are the latest developments involving the co-responsibility levy for dairy farmers in Britain? Does the Minister agree that if we are to increase production from the land of Britain the green pound must be devalued by another 5 per cent. in the next few months?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The basis of the standstill on prices for three months involves the continuation of the co-responsibility levy at its present level of 0·5 per cent. and not the variable level with the exemptions in the Commission's proposals. I had to obtain that agreement from my fellow Ministers. The old basis remains until such time as it is changed.

We also managed to preserve and slightly increase the butter subsidy and to preserve the variable beef premium. My fellow Ministers in Brussels are aware that when I take the fight up again in the first week in May I shall be fighting for a total freeze.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Hammersmith Fulham

After the performance just now by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), does not the blood run cold at the prospect, however remote, of his speaking for the United Kingdom in Brussels?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

My blood does not run cold, because there is not the slightest possibility of that happening.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

Is the Minister aware that we should have been sorry for him speaking for the United Kingdom in Brussels but for the fact that he was negotiating from a weakness caused by the failure of the Government's economic policies and that he showed a determination not to try to make the best that he could out of the CAP?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman's previous swan song. It is the first swan that I have known to sing its last song twice in a week. We were operating not from weakness but from strength. One of the reasons why the Opposition will lose the election is that they do not listen to what is happening in Europe. For what we are doing we have the support of the overwhelming majority of European consumers.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South and Finsbury

Did not the chairman of the German consumers' organisation say recently that the best spokesman for consumers in Germany and throughout the Community was the British Minister of Agriculture?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

He may have said that, but thank God that the whole British Government are there to support me.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his firm attitude in the Common Market is appreciated by many people in Northern Ireland? Is he aware of the disaster that will ensue if the meat industry employment scheme is abolished, and the hardship that that will cause to pig and beef processors in Northern Ireland? Is he further aware of the difficulties that face Northern Ireland farmers as a result of the disparity between the green pound in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

These matters are much in our minds. I thank the hon. Member for-what he said.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has the congratulations and support of the entire British people, especially the housewives? May we have an assurance that on his return to office after the general election he will pursue a policy to change fundamentally the Common Market agriculture policy on the lines set out in the Labour Party manifesto?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a vital change in the whole attitude towards the CAP at the summit meeting. We intend to carry this out and we shall ensure that it is carried out.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the situation today is a great deal better than that which the incoming Labour Administration found in March 1974, when very urgent help had to be given both to the dairy industry and to pig production? In that regard, is not his information today about pig producers extremely welcome? Will he confirm that his efforts in that direction over the last four years have met with hostility from the Conservatives, who have continually complained about his not being a compliant European?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I do not think that the Opposition have mattered very much in discussions at Brussels. Of course, now that a general election is imminent their attitude is something of a difficulty in the conducting of negotiations.

Photo of Mr Edward Du Cann Mr Edward Du Cann , Taunton

However desirable and, indeed, worthy may be the aims of the CAP—and they are—is it not thoroughly unfair that the British taxpayer and many British producers who have no responsibility for the excesses that that policy creates should be paying so heavily for them? I appreciate the inhibitions that lay on the right hon. Gentleman's shoulders in negotiating in the Council of Ministers immediately before an election, but does the right hon. Gentleman not agree fundamentally that in the end tinkering with the CAP and its financial mechanisms will not do? Does he accept that sooner or later there must be fundamental proposals for its reform? What constructive proposals did he make at Brussels?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Over the many years the right hon. Gentleman and I have agreed on this point, and there is nothing new in his saying it. There is also nothing new in my having said it publicly. The Government have said it, too. But, as the right hon. Gentleman says, the root of the trouble is the creation of surpluses—of mountains of butter, sugar and cereals—to which the United Kingdom does not contribute in any way. That lies at the root of the CAP and it must be destroyed.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the NFU does not consider that the 5 per cent. devaluation of the green pound will be sufficient? If there is a cash crisis in British agriculture later this year, will the Minister say now that he would personally advocate a further devaluation of the green pound? Does he not agree that one of the best factors for our balance of payments is for British farmers to produce more British food for the British public?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

With the second part of that question I entirely agree. I believe in that approach, which is not, incidentally, accepted in Brussels as necessarily correct. The people in Brussels believe it is they who should dictate who produces what. I do not and never have accepted that. As for the devaluation, I remind the hon. Member that there would have been no possibility even to consider it between this price fixing and next year if we had not managed to get the rules altered so that it could be done at any time.

Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is entitled to the gratitude of the whole country for the valiant and violent solo stand that he made? Will he give an assurance that he will continue to battle for a freeze on common prices until the surpluses are removed? Does he also appreciate that we need him in Europe as a fixture until the CAP is reformed?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall pass his words to my right hon Friend the Prime Minister for his consideration when he forms his new Administration on 4 May.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I am sure that the Minister would not want too much to rearrange the facts. Is he aware that every member country always had, until the right hon. Gentleman very nearly lost it, the right to devalue its green currency as and when it suited it? It was only recently, while the right hon. Gentleman was in office and after the House of Commons voted last year for a 7½ per cent. devaluation, that there was a sudden shift in the rules, which at the time the right hon. Gentleman did not do very much to change.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I am afraid that, as usual, the right hon. Gentleman has it slightly wrong. Commissioner Gundelach said from the moment of taking office that he believed that all green currency changes up or down should be made in the price fixing. He regarded it as being somewhat akin to legislation. Last year he had agreed to an Italian green lira devaluation. We, at the same time, asked for a 5 per cent. green sterling devaluation. We attached it to the proposals of the Italians that were already on the table. Mr. Gundelach said that he was prepared to accept it but that it would be the last time he would allow it before a price fixing. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and some of his hon. Friends changed that 5 per cent. devaluation to 7½ per cent. It was that that the Commission, together with the other countries, said that it could not wear.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

Will my right hon. Friend ignore the surly growls from the Opposition Benches and accept that the British people welcome the stand that he has taken on their behalf in the Council of Ministers? Has he seen today's statement by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) which says that housewives must pay higher prices in the shops if Britain's food industry is to be protected? He goes on to advocate a devaluation of the green pound by 25 per cent. That will increase prices in the shops. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I think that the right hon. Member for Yeovil has changed his mind many times about the green pound devaluation. Perhaps the truth is that at this moment he is a little uncertain quite what he wants to do, but if there were to be a full devaluation of the green pound, bringing our prices right up to common prices, the difference for a family of three would be about 60p or 70p a week. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will change his mind again. We shall all welcome it when it happens, although it will not make much difference to Government policy.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Unless hon. Members are much briefer in their questions I shall be unable to call everyone who is standing. There is an enormous amount of business to be completed today.

Photo of Mr Hamish Watt Mr Hamish Watt , Banffshire

Now that the principle has been established that Governments may reduce the existing MCAs themselves, will the Government look at the policy that my party has long advocated of a gradual reduction, and not a sudden and severe reduction, in MCAs? Will he say when the Council will realise that the CAP will never work? While it is costly to the British taxpayer now, it will be much more costly when Portugal, Spain and Greece join the Market.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

That is absolutely right. The CAP is too costly, and it can and will be in any event more costly still unless we take it by the throat now and deal with it. On the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I hope that he has read "Farming and the Nation". He will see that there we speak of moderate devaluations. I agree with him that moderate devaluations at the right time are a much better proposition than very steep ones—say, of 25 per cent.—over a short period.

Photo of Mr Thomas Torney Mr Thomas Torney , Bradford South

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, largely due to the defects of the common agricultural policy, the United Kingdom makes a far greater net contribution to Common Market funds than do other member States? As that is a drag on the British economy, is he able to hold out any hope that basic changes will be made to stop that process when the Labour Government return after the election?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I repeat that the way to stop it is a freeze on common prices for four years. That we are determined to do, and only this Government can do it.

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Devon West

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this is probably the last time that we shall be able to question him? Does he accept that he has probably left more unsolved problems in British agriculture at home and in the Community than most Ministers? Will he turn his attention to the most damaging of all problems for the consumer and the producer—namely, the co-responsibility levy, about which he has said nothing?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The hon. Gentleman, who normally is fair, was not listening when I talked about the levy in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells). We have opposed the co-responsibility levy and we continue to oppose it. The freeze means that for the next three months, until 1 July, it will run at the old rate. It does not have the exemptions that feature in the new proposals. We shall have to go back and battle for what we want. I promised the hon. Member for Cardigan that I would do so. The levy is bad. I agree with the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills). He says that there are a number of unsolved questions that remain for me to solve after 3 May. I discovered the unsolved problems that the Conservative Government left behind in 1974.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) represents a lonely voice in the Conservative ranks, and that by and large the Conservative Opposition represent a soft touch in terms of the Common Market? My right hon. Friend and the Labour Government represent reality, in that they are prepared to undertake determined negotiation, with even an abrasive approach, to ensure that British housewives are not exploited by EEC bureaucrats and the CAP.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Yes. As I look around the Opposition Benches I see at least one hon. Member who holds the same view as the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann).

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

Would not it save an awful lot of time and bother if the whole thing were strangled until it were dead?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

That is a nice thought, but I am afraid that the period in which it will be strangled will be about four years. As I have said, it will need a Labour Government to do that.

Mr. McNamaira:

When my right hon. Friend was in Brussels, did he draw the attention of other Ministers to the declining consumption of certain basic foods in the United Kingdom that are in enormous surplus in the Community and are being dumped at subsidised prices outside the Community? Will he identify those foods?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

That is a matter to which I referred, and it is something that should be said again and again. The Community is exporting 270,000 tonnes of butter and the world export figure is 500,000 tonnes. That means that more than half is being exported at dumped prices. The Community has the face to criticise us because we continue to take New Zealand butter.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

If the right hon. Gentleman has been doing as well as he claims, how does he explain the 100 per cent. increase in food prices that is not attributable to the Common Market? How does he explain the 11 per cent. fall, in real terms, in farming incomes last year, when most other incomes did no worse than stagnate?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I think that the hon. Gentleman has it slightly wrong. Common agricultural policy prices are an additional 10 per cent.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Yes, they are. They have been subject to exactly the same increase plus an additional 10 per cent. The hon. Gentleman need look only at world prices to realise that that is true. For example, the world price of butter is one-quarter of the common price of butter in the Community.

I have never attempted to disguise a fall of about 11 per cent. in farmers' incomes averaged out over the whole spectrum last year. The Commission talks about a 3 per cent. fall, but I do not accept that figure; I accept 11 per cent. The bulk of that fall, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, lies in the potato sector. That has accounted for the decline.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Against the background of the direct cost of Common Market membership of £100 a year to every family in Britain, does my right hon. Friend accept that he will best serve the interests of the nation if he continues to act as a bulldog rather than a lapdog, as the Conservative Opposition want him to act in Brussels? Has the Council of Ministers made any progress in introducing tighter restrictions on the transport of live animals for slaughter?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I had hoped to refer to the transport of live animals again, but the subject was dismissed and adjourned. I am afraid that we shall not be able to return to it until the next meeting of the Council. It is important, and I hope that we shall be able to make progress.

Photo of Sir Timothy Kitson Sir Timothy Kitson , Richmond (Yorks)

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that many farmers in hill and upland areas have had severe stock losses, as well as heavy increases in food prices for their stock this winter? Will he consider their special situation?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I understand that and I have every sympathy with it. We all know that it has been an appalling winter. The hon. Gentleman referred to one of the factors that we shall need to consider in the next few weeks.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Brent South

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the housewives in my constituency will approve of his linking of subsidies that lead to food mountains with prices, and his clear, unequivocal and firm policy in that regard? Is he aware that they find it nonsensical that the price of skimmed milk has doubled in two and a half years and yet it is being fed to pigs in pigswill?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

At the summit meeting my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister drew the attention of his colleagues to surpluses. As my hon. Friend well knows, it is a matter to which we are directing our full attention. That is the whole basis of our policy.

Photo of Mr Tim Smith Mr Tim Smith , Ashfield

If the Common Market is responsible for a food price increase of 10 per cent. and the Government are responsible for a food price increase of 100 per cent., does it not follow that the failures of Britain are due in 10 parts to the Government and one to the Common Market?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads what I said earlier. His percentages are wrong.

Photo of Mr Doug Hoyle Mr Doug Hoyle , Nelson and Colne

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservative Opposition are forelock-tugging towards the Common Market? Does he accept that if they had been in power they would have caved in to the pressure to abolish the Milk Marketing Board, which would have been a loss to the British housewife and the British farmer?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Judging by their policy in the document that I quoted, which refers to Conservatives in Europe, that is not the only thing on which they would have given way.

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in some parts of the Community farmers are doing extremely well but that in others, especially in the south of Italy, parts of France and, indeed, parts of Britain, there is still a serious problem of rural depopulation and farm poverty? Does he recognise that if we want other member States to help us with our industries that have over-capacity we must show some comprehension of the agricultural problems of other member States? Will he now answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), who asked him whether he can recall one positive recommendation that he has made as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the reform of the CAP?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I have made several recommendations, starting with the common price itself, which is the most important factor. Secondly, I have asked for the freer import into the Community of commodities from outside—not only New Zealand butter and Lome sugar, but Australian beef and many other products. Thirdly, I have fought for and succeeded in keeping institutions such as the milk marketing boards, which we have had for many years and which have proved successful. Those have been my main policies and those I have carried out.

The hon. Gentleman talked about poor farmers in various areas of the Community. I entirely agree with him. However, these difficulties should be paid for not out of people's food but by national Governments as part of their social policy.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. There are conflicting views in the House, which is not surprising. Some have shouted "We have had enough". Others are anxious to continue. I propose to call two more hon. Members from the Government side and one from the Opposition side.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Coventry South West

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the essential difference for the taxpayer between the common agricultural policy and our previous system is that we used to use public money to keep food cheap? Now we are compelled to use public money to make food dearer. Does not my right hon. Friend think it is odd that the Opposition do not seem to care about that waste of public money?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

My hon. Friend has got it quite right. There is one other matter. In the old days we did not have to pay the money across the exchanges.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

Will the Minister answer the question that he ducked twice? He said earlier that under his Government food prices had gone up by 110 per cent., of which 10 per cent. was due to the CAP. To what was the remainder of the 100 per cent. due, other than the appalling record of this Government on inflation?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Let me try to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".] I am answering the question. I have been trying to answer it, but I cannot make it clear to the Opposition. Let me try. The additional or end 10 per cent. is due to the CAP. The 100 per cent. that it shares with the CAP—those prices that have gone up by the same amount—arose in the first instance as a result of the increase in oil prices. The hon. Gentleman may not have been aware of that.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. A moment ago I said that I would call one hon. Member from the Opposition. I overlooked the fact that I had indicated to an Opposition Front Bench spokesman that I would call him. I shall call him afterwards.

Photo of Mr John Watkinson Mr John Watkinson , Gloucestershire West

Does my right hon. Friend accept that dairy farmers are concerned about the massive co-responsibility levy? They welcome the defence that he put up for the dairy industry. Will he confirm that this matter will come before the Council again in three months' time? If that does happen, is my right hon. Friend prepared to protect British dairy farmers by exercising the veto over the extravagant proposals being put forward by the Commission?

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is generally believed by Government supporters—and, I suspect, by some members of the Opposition—that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who is seeking to put a question, was not present when the statement was made.

I recollect—as I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, do—that in the past you have deprecated the practice of hon. Members seeking to put questions when they have not been in the House to hear the original statement.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The hon. Gentleman is correct. I always deprecate it if right hon. and hon. Members are not present to hear a statement but still seek to ask a question. However, I am not aware of everyone who is in the Chamber when a statement is made.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

I wonder whether the Minister could explain whether, in his criticisms of the European terms, he sought to criticise the terms that were renegotiated by the Government or to complain of the way in which he has administered those terms since he has been in office?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Neither. The hon. Gentleman, as always, has got hold of totally the wrong end of the stick.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I have had notice of two points of order. I ask the hon. Members concerned to leave their points of order until I invite the hon. Member desiring to take his seat to be pleased to come to the Table.