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Commons Chamber

Volume 885: debated on Thursday 6 February 1975

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House Of Commons

Thursday 6th February 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Home Department

Probationers (Compensation Orders)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in view of the fact that those placed on probation with compensation orders to repay stolen funds are free to leave the country and thereby avoid the penalties imposed on them by the courts, whether he will propose measures designed to prevent this abuse.

No, Sir. We are always ready to consider proposals for dealing with abuses, but we know of no evidence which would justify such measures, even if they were practicable.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but will he consider a system of endorsing passports, or a system whereby bonds are placed with the courts, before people with compensation orders against them are allowed to leave the country, particularly where, as in some cases, compensation orders are made as an alternative to imprisonment?

The hon. Gentleman has kindly drawn my attention to the one case which he has in mind, but about 62,000 compensation orders were made last year, and if in each case the magistrates' clerk had to endorse the passport—in some cases there would be no passport—it might well be an excessively cumbrous procedure just to deal with one or two cases.

Prison Governors (Pay)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from the prison and borstal governors' branch of the Society of Civil Servants on pay and conditions of the governor grades in Her Majesty's Prison Service; and if he will make a statement.

The society recently asked to see me about a current pay claim but, with its agreement, the matter has been left in abeyance while negotiations proceed.

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the great concern expressed to me by representatives of the governor grades about what they feel to be a continued deterioration in their relative position? Will he see whether there can now be a reply or some reaction to a memorandum on priority problems affecting the morale and efficiency of the governor grades, which I believe was submitted to my right hon. Friend's Department in October 1973?

I shall take note of what my hon. Friend says. The conduct of the negotiations is a matter for the Civil Service Department. I hope that the negotiations will proceed as satisfactorily as possible. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the memorandum. I shall look at it and see that a reply is sent to the society.

Comprehensive Community Programme

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the progress in tackling urban deprivation; and if he will make a statement.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) on 3rd February.—[Vol. 885, c. 373–4.]

Is it still the Government's view that the co-ordinating responsibility should remain with the Home Secretary? Can the Minister say a bit more about the half dozen or so trial runs of the comprehensive community programme, because the timetable seems to be falling rather behind schedule?

We are engaged with a number of local authorities in determining whether they will be willing to co-operate in the scheme, but the overall direction of the scheme is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend.

Urban Aid

15.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department which schemes proposed by the London borough of Lambeth he has approved under the current phase of the urban aid programme.

Under Urban Programme Circulars Nos. 11 and 12, seven capital projects and 13 non-capital projects proposed by the London borough of Lambeth have recently been approved. I will, with permission, circulate details in the Official Report.

I am grateful for that reply, but is my hon. Friend aware that urban aid on an ever-increasing scale is required in deprived twilight areas like Lambeth to deal with the many causes of the terrifying increase in the juvenile crime figures which were published today, amount to 36,500 for London in 1974?

Yes, Sir. I am not at all complacent about what we do in relation to urban deprivation in any part of the country, particularly in the central London area. I accept my hon. Friend's premise. This is, as is everything else, a matter of public expenditure, and that is under stringent control.

Following is the information:

Urban programme approvals for Lambeth Borough Council, January 1975.

Circular No. 11

Capital:

£

Vauxhall youth and community centre8,360
Short-stay home for mentally handicapped children12,000
Day centre for single homeless8,000
Triangle adventure playground16,665
Hatfields car park: conversion to play space16,550

Non-capital

£ p.a.

Social worker for handicapped children2,295
Lambeth Women's Aid10,000
Coach for use with elderly and disabled5,000
(once-only)

Circular No. 12

Capital:

£

Brixton Neighbourhood Community Centre60,000
Council for Community Relations: emergency accommodation scheme22,200

Non-capital

£ p.a.

"Melting Pot" Foundation: accommodation scheme50,970
Day care scheme5,459
Group work with child-minders7,295
Tulse Hill school project: social worker2,295
After-school groups4,400
Angell day care project4,000
Extension of St. Anselm's Club10,550
Unemployment group work scheme9,000
Social work support to Health Care teams6,000

Firearms And Shotguns

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will introduce legislation to ensure that firearms and shotguns are given identical licensing qualifications.

My right hon. Friend has under consideration the question whether the present law is adequate, but he has no immediate plans for legislation.

I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. Have the police made strong representations about the growth in firearm offences, with particular reference to the use of shotguns?

The views of the police were expressed in connection with the previous Government's White Paper. The disturbing fact remains that shotguns are now used in crime more frequently than any other weapon subject to certificate control. I consider the present controls unsatisfactory in terms of shotguns.

As the present controls may not be entirely satisfactory, will my hon. Friend ensure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary does not perpetrate some of the errors which were contained in the previous Government's Green Paper? If urgent attention must be given to any aspects of firearms legislation, the need seems to be most acute in connection with the possession and handling of air weapons.

There are differences of view on this subject, and different representations have been made. It would be unrealistic to suggest that time could be found for any legislation in the present Session.

Is the Minister aware that some countries with the best firearms public safety records have the minimum of legislation controlling their ownership?

I am aware of that—and of the particular views of the hon. Gentleman on this subject.

Espionage

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied that the existing arrangements for the prevention of espionage in Great Britain are effective.

In a free society the total prevention of espionage is not possible. But I think that our arrangements for prevention are a proper response to the threat.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. Will he reassure the House that he will be prepared, for example, to set in train an investigation into the activities of the espionage and subversion organisation operating from the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square?

The report about CIA activities in this country was categorically denied by the American Embassy after it was published just over a year ago. I have no reason to think that that denial was not accurate. Certainly there would be no countenancing of any illegal activities by the agents of any Government in this country.

Film Censorship

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the Government's policy regarding film censorship.

The Government have no present plans to alter the law in this field.

Does the Minister agree that the present regulations concerning film censorship are very English and rather dotty? Is it not about time that the Home Office carried out a thorough review so that this important work can be done on a satisfactory and sensible basis?

I cannot agree that merely because something is English it is dotty. The present system entrusts ultimate responsibility to local authorities—which are representative of the wishes and needs of their particular areas—while making available to them the guidance of the British Board of Film Censors. The system is essentially flexible, but we are willing to consider any representations that may be made on ways in which its operation may be improved.

It may well be that the initiative in a matter of this sort should come from back benchers rather than from the Government. Bearing in mind the active and invaluable support which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department gave to the passage of my Theatres Bill in 1968, will he give sympathetic consideration to a change being made in the film world, similar to that which took place in the theatrical world, which would enable adults to see films that they think desirable and want to see, on the understanding that the obscenity laws as stated in the Theatres Act will continue to apply?

There is a difficult line to be drawn between censorship and the protection of the public. I appreciate that strong and sincere views are held on both sides of the question. It is necessary that any alternative to the present system should be both effective and generally acceptable.

Should there not be a national line below which local authorities ought not to fall?

That is obviously an aspect of the matter on which there are different views. That view has been expressed strongly in some quarters, but others strongly object to such an approach.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the use of censorship in relation to only one branch of the arts is likely to be an exceedingly dangerous and difficult thing to administer? Before the Home Office launches forth into this complex sphere may we hope that it will consult not only the people working in the film industry but local authorities and medical authorities?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Home Office is actively in touch with all the different bodies and people concerned with film censorship.

Immigration

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he proposes to make any change in the rate of entry of United Kingdom passport holders who are subject to immigration control; and if he will make a statement.

I have recently reviewed the arrangements for the admission of United Kingdom passport holders, in the light of our special obligation to them—an obligation which has been accepted by successive Governments and which is acknowledged in all parts of the House—and of the hardship that some of them are currently suffering in Africa because of employment and other restrictions.

I have come to the conclusion that the annual allocation of special vouchers should be increased in this year from 3,500 to 5,000.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him whether this will have any side effects on applications for entry permits from non-United Kingdom passport holders?

No, Sir; I do not think it will have that effect. Our policy dealing with entry applications is extremely strict, except in relation to United Kingdom passport holders—to whom we have a clear obligation and where I judge it right to try to discharge the obligation in a disorderly way, at a good rate, as fast as can reasonably be done—and dependants, where we have an equal obligation. Virtually no new rights of entry going beyond those categories are created.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he and the Minister of State have shown this afternoon that they completely misunderstand the climate of opinion on this subject in the densely populated reception areas? With the worsening of the unemployment situation in the Midlands, and the shortage of resources available for education and housing services, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is growing concern about the accelerating rate of immigration under this administration, and that this concern will be much greater as a result of what he has said?

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I share the representation of a city, that I am as aware of these problems as he is. In no way do I seek to discount the fact that problems are involved. I must point out that in my view it is overwhelmingly likely, at this stage, that the admissions for settlement from the Commonwealth in 1974 will be the lowest we have had for a decade. In these circumstances it is sensible to make a small contribution to dealing as expeditiously as we reasonably can with the problem of United Kingdom passport holders, to whom we have an obligation, which has not been seriously challenged in any part of the House and certainly not by the Opposition Front Bench. I am anxious to avoid the position in which my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr), found himself when he had to deal in an orderly way—and he did so courageously—with the problem of the sudden Ugandan exodus. I wish to deal with the problem so that we are not confronted with any repetition of that situation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the entitlement of these people to come here has been challenged in the House not only by me but by the then Mr. Duncan Sandys, who was Secretary of State at the relevant time? Allowing for an average number of dependants, how many people will come in on the 5,000 vouchers? Will the right hon. Gentleman estimate the number of people who, in his view, are entitled to come to this country upon this line of argument, if it is persisted in?

I am aware that the hon. and learned Gentleman has sought to challenge this view and that he has not succeeded in persuading the House. I do not wish to get involved with Lord Sandys, who has now left us but who had a considerable responsibility for the fact that the commitment exists and has to be discharged, as is recognised. There are some dependants involved, perhaps about three per person. [An HON. MEMBER: "At least."] There is no indication that the figure is higher than that. The increase I have announced to deal with a commitment that we all have and which I inherited largely from Lord Sandys, might lead to an increase of about 5,000 in this year.

In arriving at this decision—which we shall want to study carefully—did the Home Secretary consider whether compensating cuts might be made in the number of foreign workers—I am not speaking of Commonwealth workers—who are admitted to this country for work which more and more British people are becoming available to do?

That is largely a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I think he intends to make a statement on the matter in the fairly near future. I must not in any way anticipate that statement or indicate the lines it will follow. My policy and that of the Government is to maintain strict control over immigration but also to recognise that we have certain obligations—which are not seriously challenged—to United Kingdom passport holders and the dependants of those who are already here, and not to increase to any significant extent the number of those who have a right to come.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement concerning the use of his powers under paragraph 42 of the Immigration Rules in the case of Franco Caprino.

26.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the case of Franco Caprino and the application of paragraph 42 of the Immigration Rules.

I would refer my hon. Friends to the reply which I gave to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) on 27th January.—[Vol. 885, c. 5.]

I welcome the information contained in that answer and recognise that there are circumstances in which my right hon. Friend's arbitrary powers of exclusion or expulsion must be retained, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that in a case where there has been no recommendation by the court either he personally or the Minister of State considers the issue before action is taken and that it is not dealt with solely at official level?

I welcome what my hon. Friend said in the early part of his supplementary question. On the latter part, I give him without qualification the assurance for which he asks.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the provisions of this section are wide-sweeping and have given rise to fears among the immigrant community? Will my right hon. Friend consider the appointment of independent tribunals or an amendment of the section to ensure that no one is excluded for political reasons?

I assure my hon. Friend and the House that I should never contemplate excluding someone by virtue of the opinions which he holds. To that extent the political consideration does not operate. Some objections to the procedure laid down in the 1971 Act were taken by the Labour Party when in opposition, but it is perhaps a little easier to criticise the procedure—I think there is some ground for criticism—than to suggest exactly the right procedure in the very rare cases in which matters of security arise. I should find it difficult to recommend the House to give up entirely executive authority in those rare cases. I hope that if any widespread dismay exists among the immigrant community ita will be dispelled, because it is not justified by what has happened. The power has been rarely used and in the case of Caprino the matter was not proceeded with.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the widespread belief that the order was not proceeded with because the information on which it was based was found to be false? Does he recognise that one crucial difficulty of the law as it stands is that of enabling the person to whom the order is being applied to challenge information which may prove to be false?

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman without getting into the position of half disclosing to the House matters which it has never been the practice to disclose to the House. I do not regard the hon. Gentleman's premise as wholly accurate, but I assure him and the House that these matters are dealt with and will continue to be dealt with with the greatest care and with a respect for liberal values as well as the security of the State.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the shortage of jobs, homes, school places, fuel, food and foreign exchange, he will reconsider his immigration policy, particularly with a view to enabling heads of families who wish to do so to return to their own countries.

I keep immigration policy under continual review. Apart from the dependants of Commonwealth citizens settled here, who have a statutory right of entry, and United Kingdom passport holders to whom we have a special obligation which is acknowledged in all parts of the House, entry is on a very modest scale. In all but two of the last 11 years emigration from this country has exceeded immigration. For those who wish to return to their own countries assistance can be provided under Section 29 of the Immigration Act 1971, but there is no evidence of substantial demand.

Is the cause of family unity best served by adding to our own social and economic problems when we could give more help than we do to heads of families by reuniting them with their families in their native countries?

It was the Government that the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported that in 1971 gave the statutory right to any man who was settled here to bring in his wife and children. All that we are discussing in relation to the queue in the subcontinent is the fulfilment of that pledge. It does not apply to anyone who wants to return to the subcontinent. We can make arrangements for them if need be.

With reference to the dependants of immigrants who are already in this country, has my hon. Friend made any progress in his attempt to shorten the lengthy wait for interviews at British high commissions in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?

We regard the delay which we inherited as intolerable. The first steps that we have taken are to place five extra entry certificate officers at Dacca—where the delay was of the order of four years—to cope with appointments and an extra four entry certificate officers at Islamabad, where the delay was about two years. We are also hoping that the changes in the procedures will help to shorten the length of the queues.

Without implying any criticism of the voluntary body which is the Government's agency for the purposes of Section 29 of the 1971 Act, will the Government now consider whether it would not be more proper and efficient that these matters should now be directly administered by the Government?

No, I do not think so. The requests that come forward for such assistance are dealt with expeditiously by the body concerned. We have no reason to doubt its efficiency in carrying out its work. The difference lies in the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of how many people would want to avail themselves of the scheme.

Race Relations Act

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he intends to publish a Green Paper in advance of legislation to amend the Race Relations Act; at what date; and if he will make a statement.

Before any new legislation is brought before the House, I shall make known the Government's proposals so as to give all concerned a full opportunity to express their views. I would not at this stage like to commit myself as to the exact form in which we will communicate the proposals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable anxiety on this issue, particularly amongst community relations councils and community relations officers? Does he agree that it is vitally important that the Government should not make up their mind too early, particularly in view of the fact that the Select Committee on Race Relations has now decided to investigate the organisation of race relations administration in this country?

Yes, I am aware of the Select Committee's decision and I welcome it. I hope that it will be able to proceed with reasonable expedition. I do not think that my hon. Friend, or my hon. Friends generally, will wish us to lose the time scale which I have in mind for race relations amending legislation in the next Session, in which we shall also have to consider the form of the organisation of administration. I am anxious to do that. In the natural order of events that will involve my publishing to the House and the country some indication of the lines on which we wish to proceed by at any rate the late summer. I hope that the Select Committee will bear that in mind.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there are managements and unions that do not consider it necessary to give wider powers of general investigation to the Race Relations Board? Further, does the right hon. Gentleman remember that the Select Committee, which reported only last July, came firmly to the conclusion that the case for extended legislation had not been made out?

Yes, I am aware of that. I have already indicated that we must take serious account of the Select Committee's report. I have done that and I have studied its recommendations. I indicated previously that, on the whole, I do not share its view on this matter. I am open to argument from all quarters before I announce any proposals. Our proposals are not imminent, but I hope that the matter will be announced in reasonable time so as to enable us to legislate during the next Session.

As Section 6 of the Act has proved almost totally inadequate in dealing with the problem of racial incitement in the most blatant cases, will my right hon. Friend look with favour at an amendment to that section? Will he also consider the position of clubs which purport to be open to the general public?

I have already indicated that I believe that the judgment of the House of Lords raises an issue, and that we must consider how best to deal with the problem. I shall consider any proposals which are brought forward regarding Section 6. I must express a little scepticism as to whether race relations Acts can effectively deal with the right of people to express their views, however objectionable we may find them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish people dislike the present Race Relations Act? Is he aware that they feel that it discriminates against them and that they further feel that the right hon. Gentleman does not always take their feelings fully into account? Does he appreciate that they would deplore any extension of the Act?

The hon. Gentleman would be a little presumptuous to speak even for most English people. To announce quite as full a catalogue as he did is to carry presumption towards the ridiculous.

Voluntary Service Unit

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the allocation of grants by the Voluntary Service Unit.

Yes, Sir. All grants made by the Voluntary Services Unit are approved by Home Office Ministers.

Is the Minister aware that this body has lately awarded the sum of £20,000 to an organisation known as "Release"? Would he care to comment on the unwholesome paradox of his Department, which is responsible for the police, at the same time subsidising an organisation many of whose staff have criminal records, which is largely devoted to advising criminals of their rights and helping them frame counter-charges and petitions against the police? Would he not agree that this can only add to the bewilderment and sense of frustration felt by ordinary, law-abiding people who see the way in which criminals have this inverted standard applied to them, whereby they are seemingly exalted and subsidised at the expense of law-abiding people?

"Release" does an enormous amount of good work among people who are in many ways cut off from the rest of society. It may be that it is able to do so precisely because some of the people are the kind of people the hon. Gentleman has described. The money which has been given by the VSU has gone to that part of "Release" which is separately organised, which is a charitable trust and which does a good deal of work by providing comprehensive advisory services for people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are otherwise alienated from society.

Shrewsbury Pickets

12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has received a petition from the solicitors acting on behalf of the Shrewsbury pickets on certain legal matters; and if he will make a statement as to the action he proposes to take.

I have considered with care petitions on behalf of both prisoners submitted by their solicitors, but I cannot find that there are any new considerations such as would justify my recommending interference with the decisions of the courts.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread conviction that this trial was politically motivated, as borne out by the savage brutality of the sentencing? Will he say, now that he has looked at petitions, that he has also looked at the notes that have passed between previous Attorney-Generals, Home Secretaries and Directors of Public Prosecutions following the 1972 Conservative conference? Will he also say whether, to his knowledge, parts of those notes have been deliberately destroyed to get rid of the concept that this was a politically motivated trial?

I have no knowledge at all of that matter. I have not looked, or sought to look, at the working papers of the previous administration, which would in no way be in accord with our constitutional practice.

What I have to consider is that a court reached a decision on this matter and that that decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal as recently as three months ago. It is not a question of my delivering a judgment—in either my personal or my ministerial capacity—as to what I think about the sentences or, for that matter, the verdict. Were I to do that I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that I could unearth hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases on which I could take a view—as could every hon. Member—different from that which particular courts may have taken. I do not believe that it is the duty of anyone holding my office to try to do that. Were I to start on that slope I would find it a very slippery one indeed.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that there is not a shred of evidence to show that this prosecution was politically motivated in its conception, or was conducted in a political way as it went on? Will the Home Secretary accept the congratulations of the House for standing up to a vigorous campaign which was politically motivated and which is thoroughly to be deplored?

I have nothing to add to what I have already said relating to the first point of the hon. Member's supplementary question. As to congratulations, I seek no congratulations from any part of the House in the discharge of what is always a difficult duty. Nor do I make any objection to people taking political points. Any campaign is politically motivated. It is my duty to reach a decision independent of campaigns.

Whether or not the prosecution was motivated by political reasons, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has had any evidence presented to him, from whatever source, to the effect that the judicial process itself was suspect?

Holiday Camps (Fire Regulations)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with fire regulations as they affect holiday camps.

The fire risk to the public presented by holiday camps has not been considered sufficient to justify their early designation under the Fire Precautions Act 1971, but guidance is to be issued shortly about fire precautions on such premises.

As many people will be taking their holidays in holiday camps this year, will my hon. Friend urgently reconsider her reply and bring holiday camps into line with hotels and boarding houses?

Guidance is being issued before the holiday season, and those parts of holiday camps which are used for public assembly are already covered by fire precautions legislation. The risk of loss by fire in residential accommodation is not sufficient to justify an early designation of holiday camps under the Fire Precautions Act.

"Equality For Women" (White Paper)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many representations he has received following the White Paper "Equality for Women"; and whether he will make a statement.

About 180 organisations have commented on the White Paper, and the Home Office has also received about 30 letters from individuals.

Most of those commenting on the White Paper as a whole welcomed its proposals on scope and enforcement. Many have also commented on particular aspects of the proposals, and their views are being considered in the preparation of the Bill.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his general determination to proceed with his White Paper proposals as a whole, whether or not he is following the recent precedent set by the Conservative Party. What consultation has my right hon. Friend had with the TUC on the possibility of making intent rather than effect the main criterion of discrimination? What proposals has my right hon. Friend for making industrial tribunals more approachable by appointing more women to them?

I am aware of the TUC's representations, suggesting that effect is more important than intent, and I am considering them sympathetically at present. On the second point raised by my hon. Friend, I indicated in the House, or certainly at the time of the launching of the White Paper, that I regard it as very desirable that the number of women sitting on industrial tribunals should be substantially increased, certainly when they are considering cases of this nature and also as a matter of general principle. I hope that it will be rare for an industrial tribunal to consider a case under the Sex Discrimination Act—as I hope it will then be—without a woman member as part of it.

In view of the groundwork done by the Conservative Government and the fact that the Government White Paper was published last summer, is not the Bill taking an unconscionable time to appear?

Frankly, I found a little of the groundwork done by the Conservative Government faulty. I do not like to inject party political points into Home Office affairs, but since the hon. Gentleman asked me straight I shall put it to him straight. I thought it necessary substantially to extend the scope of the Bill and to make the enforcement powers more adequate. In terms of the White Paper, which was welcomed more than were the previous proposals, this required amendment of those proposals. A Bill of this nature is fairly complicated, but I hope to be able to publish it towards the end of this month.

Homosexuals

18.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will propose to reduce the age of consent for homosexuals to the same as that for heterosexuals.

My right hon. Friend has no present plans for amending the law in this respect.

Is the Minister aware that there is no evidence that homosexual acts by males over the age of 16 lead to permanent homosexuality and that the law regarding the homosexual age of consent is the only law which defines as an adult a male person over the age of 21? Does this not create a class of persons unique in attracting social penalties at a most sensitive time in their development, and is it not unjust?

I am not unaware that 21 is higher than other ages in relation to the age of consent. But when the Latey Committee proposed 18 as the age of majority, it recognised that this particular age should be left as it was. We have so far accepted that point of view. The Law Commission in its second programme recommended that it should be allowed to study the whole of the law relating to sexual offences, and in preparation for that we, in the Home Office, have initiated research into the whole range of sexual offences, including this particular problem.

Is my hon. Friend aware that even at the time when the legislation was introduced—a measure which removed sexual activities among homosexuals from the category of criminal offences—the age of 21 was considered by most people to be much too high? In view of the changed public opinion in this matter meanwhile, will my hon. Friend take active steps to reduce the figure from 21 to 18, or will he at least give further consideration to this matter and, if necessary, support any Private Member's Bill which may be brought forward to carry out this reform?

I listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) with considerable respect on this subject, but I do not accept his premise. It was not the case that most people regarded the age of 21 as too high. The Wolfenden Committee did not regard it as too high and urged that it should be kept, even though in some ways there seemed to be anomalies when set against heterosexual offences. But the House at the time accepted the situation and I have no reason to think that the matter has changed.

Pocket Bodyguard Equipment

19.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions have taken place between the Metropolitan Police and a firm whose name has been supplied to him regarding the sale of pocket bodyguard equipment; and what is the result of Scotland Yard's investigation into this matter.

The Metropolitan Police has told the firm that it is its policy to advise members of the public against carrying any form of device for protection purposes.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that where there is an increase in violence and a rise in the number of mugging cases in certain areas, people are bound to seek to carry their own personal devices to safeguard themselves? Is it not better that they should carry such devices, which are effective but reasonably safe, rather than that they should carry lethal devices which can cause bodily harm and land people in court, with disastrous results?

On the matter which the hon. Gentleman has in mind, I think it right that I should be guided by police advice, particularly when I agree with that advice. The view is that such a device could be regarded by the courts as on offensive weapon under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. There is no legal protection, because no control can be exercised over sales to prevent the devices falling into the wrong hands. The deterrent value of these devices is doubtful, and the police, who are in the best position to judge, consider that attempts to use such devices would be likely to increase the risk of violence to the user.

Tuc And Cbi

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to meet the TUC and the CBI.

Before I answer this Question, Mr. Speaker, may I ask for a moment's indulgence. In so doing I do not want to rob the House of Question Time, and perhaps in your discretion you can take account of that point.

I feel that the House would not wish to leave the events of this week without referring to the departure from his accustomed place of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

While it has not escaped the notice of the House and the country over the years that the right hon. Gentleman and I have had our differences, and that neither of us has been diffident in expressing them, those differences have been political, representing a deep divergence of political philosophies. They have not been personal.

The right hon. Gentleman has made a most notable contribution to the work of the House and has done so much to make it a more workable institution. Increasingly, there will be time to appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has done for the processes and machinery of Government, and in many and indeed fundamental areas of policy. Those are matters which history as much as his contemporaries will be called upon to judge. But, Sir, in the House of Commons setting, in this Chamber and in the conduct of business behind your Chair, whether on Privy Councillor terms or otherwise, he has been ever considerate and understanding, and always concerned to serve the best interest of this House and its Members.

There, and in other ways I can recall—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If this is not an answer to a Question, are we to have a new precedent by which the Prime Minister or others start to make statements during Question Time not in answer to any Question? If the Prime Minister wishes to make a statement or any comment, the usual time to do so is at the end of Question Time and not in the middle of it.

Further to that point of of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is in a difficulty. Can you say whether you will accept the suggestion that, since Question Time is being cut into, it should be extended?

But for the interventions I would certainly have been able to manage it, but time has been taken up by them.

There have been precedents over many years, as many hon. Members will remember. I was saying that in the conduct of business behind your Chair, Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman has always been concerned to serve the best interests of the House and its Members. There, and in other ways, I can recall many acts of individual consideration and kindness going far beyond the normal exchanges and activities of parliamentary life in our democracy.

In whatever field the right hon. Gentleman's talents and experience may be deployed, and in his continuing membership of this House, which we welcome, I know that the whole House will wish him well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) that I met representatives of the TUC, as the House knows, on 20th January, and I expect to have a further meeting with the CBI next week.

Since my right hon. Friend has referred to the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), I, too, should like to seek the indulgence of the House to say that the right hon. Gentleman has shown me very great personal kindness in times of very great trial. I endorse all that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said.

Since the social contract has been attacked by the Opposition almost as savagely as they are now attacking each other, is my right hon. Friend aware that the 75 per cent. success of the social contract is a fine achievement, in comparison with the 100 per cent. failure of policy confrontation pursued by the Opposition—not only by the former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Sidcup, but by every right hon. Gentleman on the Tory Opposition benches? As 75 per cent. is by no means good enough, however, will my right hon. Friend consider inviting the TUC and the CBI to a specially convened conference to discuss ways of implementing the social contract 100 per cent.?

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend said. Indeed, he will have seen the urgent appeals made on behalf of the TUC for further compliance with the social contract. I do not think that it would be appropriate to call a conference with the TUC and the CBI at this time. It is for them to get together in all matters affecting the future of industry. The House will have noticed that they are in fact doing so. They met earlier this week. It is for them to work out this matter. We are in touch with both the TUC and the CBI and they are in touch with each other.

Does the Prime Minister agree with the distinguished authors of "Crisis '75", many of whom are Labour supporters and nearly all of whom have said that the root of most of our problems lies in excessive trade union monopoly power with which the social contract is not strong enough to deal? What does he propose to do about it?

I have noted these comments, which carry the authority which the particular individuals expressing them exercise. However, I have not seen from them or from anyone else a suggestion of an alternative to the present policy within a democracy. The alternative supported by the hon. Gentleman a year ago was a ghastly disaster for this country.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the TUC is worried about increasing unemployment? Has he seen the front page of this month's Record, the paper of the Transport and General Workers' Union—my union—which suggests that to overcome the problem immediately there should be an expansion of State enterprise activity? Has my right hon. Friend any comment to make on that view?

Yes. We have been in close touch with the Transport and General Workers' Union and all other unions, particularly with the TUC and, of course, NEDC. For some months now my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have expressed the view that the danger of unemployment in this country and elsewhere—in America it is very much more serious than in this country—is now as great as the problem of inflation, both of which are connected. We have been taking all measures within our power, starting with my right hon. Friend's Budget in November, to help to avert the worst features of unemployment which were already endemic in this country a year ago and about which we warned at that time.

I thank the Prime Minister for what he said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

May I ask whether, in view of the latest CBI survey—published a day or two ago—which shows the most depressing trends about the likely prospects for unemployment, investment and exports, he will have urgent talks with the CBI about what can be done to help industry to overcome these trends, particularly bearing in mind the great damage that the CBI believes will be done by the Industry Bill?

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said and thank him for his opening remarks.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that two days ago I answered a Question from the Leader of the Opposition about the CBI survey and the Financial Times survey. I have nothing to add to what I said on that occasion except that, as I indicated in my original answer, I am hoping to meet the CBI next week. The CBJ suggested another meeting following the one that we had a couple of weeks ago, and I look forward to that meeting next week.

Horsted Keynes

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to Horsted Keynes.

Has the Prime Minister forgotten that Horsted Keynes is the terminus of that bastion of the private sector—the Bluebell Railway line? If he has not time to visit that enterprise, will he tell the House whether the Government are waking up, belatedly, to the immense damage that will be done to small private businesses by the capital transfer tax?

I am certainly aware of the connection with the Bluebell Line, and I am sure that we all wish it every success. If my hon. Friend—[Interruption.] I am sorry; I mean "the hon. Gentleman". I must not get too mixed up this afternoon. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Finance Bill Committee, but I am sure that he has had abundant opportunities to raise all matters affecting the Budget and the Finance Bill, including the affairs of the Bluebell Railway line. I am sure that, if he has, my right hon. Friend is considering what he said.

Economic Affairs

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will transfer to one Minister other than himself overall responsibility for economic affairs.

Does my right hon. Friend recollect the statements that he has made from time to time in support of the four Ministers responsible for industrial investment, trade, prices and wage settlements? Does he agree that now is the time to start planning the economy, that in furtherance of that idea an economic strategy should now be settled and announced, that in furtherance of that, if it is right to plan our domestic economy it must also be right to plan our external trade, and that we must now introduce selective import controls to carry out the policies to which we are committed?

My hon. Friend is right to remind me that I have given full support to my four right hon. Friends and to stress the great importance of investment, which I have done, and which the Government are doing by their actions. I shall be dealing with this matter at some length, with an industrial audience, tomorrow in Lancashire.

Concerning plans for the economy and investment, my hon. Friend will know that two successive meetings of NEDC, one of which I chaired, were specifically devoted to studying the whole problem of increasing investment in this country in both private and public industry, and that some notable advances were secured by NEDC in the discussions last Tuesday.

I believe that import controls and quantitative regulations or any other attempt to solve our problems by the restriction of imports, whether by quantitative quotas or deflation, would simply help to accelerate a downward trend in world trade, from which Britain would be the first to suffer.

If the Prime Minister found it necessary to make a transfer of that kind, may I ask to which Minister he would make the transfer?

Having already answered "No" to the Question, that was not merely a hypothetical question but a non-question.

National Economic Development Council

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister upon what general criteria he decides whether to take the chair personally at a meeting of the NEDC.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is Chairman of NEDC, but I normally expect to take the chair three or four times a year. There are no general criteria on which I base my decision to do so on any particular occasion.

Would those criteria permit the Prime Minister to chair a meeting to consider the recent horrifying report of the little NEDC for the building industry, that this year there will be a sharp fall in private housing and new construction generally?

The little NEDC and the Government have been very active on that matter. The hon. Gentleman will recall that when we took office rather less than a year ago it was clear that house building would fall to the lowest level since 1946, just after the war, at a time of chronic shortage of materials and skilled manpower. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware of the statement, since the NEDC report was drafted, made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, showing that the Government are taking the housing crisis seriously whereas our predecessors did not.

My right hon. Friend is a relatively busy man, but if he finds time away from the NEDC and all these other matters, will he take a trip to see the BBC, as a kind of non-aligned representative, regarding the carving up of the necessary television time for the ballot during the next five days? Does he share my view that, as this is International Women's Year, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) should have equal time with the other four candidates together, or does he think that it ought to be on the basis of carving it up between all of them?

The Question relates to the National Economic Development Council, and no other subject. However, even if my hon. Friend had stretched his well-known ingenuity to the limit in getting in a supplementary question, I do not think that he could have produced one which was further from the original Question, and it does not call for an answer by me.

Monkseaton

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister whether he intends to visit Monkseaton before Easter.

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he visited Monkseaton he would find a very large number of self-employed people who are very worried about attacks on their living standards under this Government? Is he aware, further, that they feel that many of these attacks are the direct result of Government policy? Does the Prime Minister regard it as fair and right to maintain the standards of the self-employed, and will he instruct the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers to amend their policies accordingly?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is sincere in what he says, but if he sincerely wants me to go to his constituency so that his dissatisfied constituents can make representations to me, it can only mean that they have a total lack of confidence in their elected representative in Parliament.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a far more serious problem affecting the people of Monkseaton and others on Tyneside and in the rest of the country is the way in which inflation is hitting at the living standards of the poor? Will he take action to ensure that whilst his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection is subsidising food his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is not putting up fuel prices, bearing in mind that fuel is equally essential to the poor?

My hon. Friend will know that I hope to visit Tyneside within two or three weeks, though I am not sure that my visit extends to Monkseaton. I have no doubt that all the manifest anxieties of the area which have arisen under successive Governments will be expressed to me. My hon. Friend will be aware that it is the policy of the Government, rightly, to subsidise food, and that is supported by the Conservative Party, according to the second of its two manifestos last year. But as regards publicly-owned industry, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that, with the continuing increase in costs in these labour-intensive industries, it is not in the interest of the country that we should continue to increase subsidies. In his Budget speech, he said that over a period of time it would be necessary to raise prices to a more economic level.

Will the Prime Minister say why it is right for the Government to subsidise food but not to subsidise fuel? Is it the Government's policy to subsidise fuel or food, or both?

Under successive Governments, fuel and other products of publicly-owned industries which are labour-intensive have been subsidised for a considerable time. The hon. Gentleman will not be unaware—his party pressed seriously on this—that there is also a problem of energy conservation which is not furthered by uneconomic prices. But because food is, like energy, and like housing, a basic necessity, especially for pensioners, lower-paid workers and others, we believed that since we were the victim of world prices it was the duty of the Government to provide some easement for the hardest-hit families by way of food subsidies. I thought that the hon. Gentleman and his party supported that policy. I must have been wrong.

I infer from what the Prime Minister said earlier that he would like permission now to answer Question Q6. Mr. Adley.

Eec (Minister's Speech)

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for Trade, about the EEC, to the Southern Regional Council of the Labour Party at Brighton on 19th January, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley) on 4th February.—[Vol. 885, c. 1138–9.]

Although I have been careful not to confuse a leak with a speech, I was greatly interested in the Prime Minster's reported remarks yesterday about the need to ensure that the forthcoming referendum provided a sufficiently large poll to encourage him and his Government to consider the result worth while. Is he aware that in the two votes in 1967 and 1971, 87 per cent. and 95 per cent. of Members of this House, respectively, voted on this issue and that in the first instance an overwhelming and in the second instance a large, clear and full-hearted majority was in favour of staying in? Will the Prime Minister give us his view of the necessary percentage that a referendum has to achieve if it is to be meaningful?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on asking a question about a speech that I did make. I sympathise with him that the main theme of his question was based on his inability to distinguish between what he called an accurate leak and an inaccurate one. I did not say yesterday—and there are 60 of my hon. Friends who will confirm it—that the Government were considering what size of percentage of vote, or what margin, was necessary. I was referring to the remarks made by my hon. Friends in a very serious discussion, and I noted that that point had been made. I did not in any way associate myself with the point. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has been misled, through no fault of his, by some rather inaccurate comments in the Press, whose representatives are a little overworked at present.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State for Trade believes in giving the true facts to the people of Britain and not in engaging in pulling the wool over the eyes of people, as has been done by so many of our big businesses and pro-Market organisations? Does not my right hon. Friend agree, further, that the Secretary of State for Trade does not believe that Britain's economic eggs should all be placed in one basket, and is not that belief witnessed by the recent excellent deal that he has concluded with Iran?

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade on the success of his talks in Iran. I shall be following up this matter with industry tomorrow.

Dealing with my hon. Friend's general question, he will be aware that on two days, last week and this, I have answered a series of questions about the speech by my right hon. Friend, and I agree with my hon. Friend that in the past some remarks on this matter have been very one-sided.

Accepting that the Prime Minister and his Government have given no thought at all to what represents a credible turnout to make the forthcoming referendum meaningful, surely the right hon. Gentleman—who, after all, has the persistence of a convert to this issue, and must have a burning enthusiasm about it—has worked out what, in his view, would represent sufficient full-hearted dissent to enable us to come out of Europe.

What I said yesterday—I thought that it was important—was that to some extent it lay in the hands of us all to ensure the biggest possible vote on this matter, in order to give additional authority to the decision made by the British people. As for what the right hon. Gentleman himself said this week, I remember him saying during the election campaign that if Labour won the election he would support a referendum—

The right hon. Gentleman was so reported. I apologise if he was misreported. It was not in a newspaper or on a broadcasting medium which supports our party. If the right hon. Gentleman denies that he said it, I accept it, of course. I shall check my records on the matter.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to me as a convert. I have taken the view all along that if the terms are good for Britain, entry is good for Britain, but that if the terms are crippling, it is not. The purpose of the negotiations is to see whether they will be good for Britain and Europe, or crippling to both.

This is a very important matter. Will the Prime Minister undertake to see, therefore, that the forthcoming White Paper specifically discusses the question of percentage polls in the referendum, and margins of majority one way or the other, and their effect on the decision?

I give that assurance. All matters raised with us will be considered, and the White Paper—which, although a White Paper, to a considerable extent will be a consultation document, because the House will want to debate it and express views on it—will make all possible suggestions. But the House will debate it, and nothing in the White Paper will be binding on the Government until we hear the views of the House. Then we shall put forward our proposals for legislation.

Does the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) wish to pursue his point of order?

If the Prime Minister invites us to believe that the statement he has made was intended to be a reply to a question from his hon. Friends, we shall take that as indicative of his usual behaviour to the House.

Business Of The House

May I ask the Leader of the House to give the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 10th February—Consideration of Private Members' motions until seven o'clock.

Second Reading of the Export Guarantees Bill.

Remaining stages of the Arbitration Bill [Lords] and of the Biological Standards Bill [Lords].

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Education Bill.

TUESDAY 11th February—Motion on EEC Documents on Energy Policy (R/446/74 and R/3333/74).

WEDNESDAY 12th February—Remaining stages of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill.

THURSDAY 13th February—Supply [10th Allotted Day]—for which the subjects have been chosen by the Liberal Party.

Until about seven o'clock, debate on a motion on "The class-based nature of British life (including reference to industrial partnership)", and afterwards, a motion on "The quality and cost of public administration".

Motion relating to the Building (Second Amendment) Regulations, 1974.

FRIDAY 14th February—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 17th February—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill and of the Safety of Sports Grounds Bill [Lords].

Perhaps the Leader of the House will help us, because all sides of the House will need some help about tomorrow's business. There is a serious point about tomorrow's business on which I think the House would like some guidance. Will the Leader of the House give some information about the motion which has appeared on the Order Paper today to set up a Select Committee to examine and report on the proposals contained in the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, which is down for Second Reading tomorrow? This is surely a rather unusual procedure. The House would like to know whether that motion will be put before the House tomorrow. Will the decision whether it goes ahead be contingent on the Bill tomorrow receiving a Second Reading?

I come to next week's business. I am disappointed that the Leader of the House has still not found time for a debate on foreign affairs. Will he give some indication how soon he will provide that time? There have been many requests for this debate, and he will no doubt know that only yesterday, following the statement on Cyprus, there was a further request from my right hon. Friend, which I think received support on both sides of the House, indicating the urgent need for a debate on that aspect of foreign affairs, as well as others.

Finally, I should like to look slightly further ahead and ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of the very important proposals and their nature, he will urgently consider providing two days for the Second Reading debate on the Industry Bill, bearing in mind the precedents that two days were given by the Conservative Government for the debates, for example on the Industrial Relations Act and the Local Government Act.

First, on the business tomorrow, perhaps I could explain this motion. The main business tomorrow is a Private Member's Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), dealing with reform of the abortion law. While I applaud their diligence and the care with which they have assembled that Bill, we feel that it is in some ways inadequate and in some ways defective and would not command general support.

On a matter of this importance, where a great many people have very deeply held views, I feel that we should try to get a generally agreed measure. I therefore felt that it would be very useful indeed to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. The Select Committee will be able to consider the Bill itself, the Lane Report and our experience with the existing Abortion Act. I hope that from that consideration there will emerge the outline of a generally agreed measure on abortion. I hope that this will commend itself to hon. Members in all parts of the House.

I certainly had considered the need for a foreign affairs debate, and I will arrange it, but I am afraid that it will not be for a week or two.

If it is the general wish of the House, I would make a second day available for the Second Reading of the Industry Bill.

While I appreciate what the Leader of the House said about tomorrow's Bill, I am still not clear whether the Select Committee will be set up irrespective of whether that Bill receives a Second Reading.

My motion will come after the Bill. I would propose that whether or not the Bill gets a Second Reading, it would be useful to send this subject to a Select Committee.

Is my right hon. Friend proposing that we should have an economic debate at an early stage, as the Government will soon have to take major decisions and the House ought to have the chance to express its views about them?

No, Sir. I have no plans in the immediate future for a general debate on economic affairs.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear that whether or not tomorrow's Bill is passed, a Select Committee will definitely be set up?

I cannot do that. That is a matter for the House. But what I do undertake is that whether or not the Bill gets a Second Reading, the motion proposing the setting up of this Select Committee will be moved and put to the House.

My right hon. Friend has confounded confusion. Will he look again at what he has said? Will he send the whole question that this Bill was supposed to cover and the Lane Report to a Select Committee but on condition that the wrecking Bill down for tomorrow's business is withdrawn? That is the only condition on which we would agree to a Select Committee.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend agrees about a Select Committee. I should have thought that that would have general support throughout the House. I am afraid that the question whether the Bill is withdrawn is entirely a matter for my hon. Friends and for its sponsors.

I am as confused as everyone else on this matter. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's logic and that it may well be a good idea to send this matter to a Select Committee. This does not affect me as I must be here anyway, but there are other hon. Members who were planning to be here only if there is to be a vote. They are therefore entitled to know whether there is likely to be a Division on the Bill tomorrow as a matter of general information. If the Leader of the House is not able to tell us, perhaps one of the sponsors would say whether it is intended to pursue the Second Reading tomorrow.

The hon. Gentleman will realise that I cannot say whether there will be a Division. I wish that I could say on what we shall be having Divisions from one day to another.

When may we have a statement as to the Government's intentions both about ridding Somerset House of its civil servants and about the future use of that building, as it is totally unsuitable for use as a British theatre museum, as has been suggested?

My hon. Friend takes a great interest in this matter. I shall certainly see whether I can get any information about it for him.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early Day Motion No. 236, in the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, asking that the Government set up a Select Committee on Agriculture? In view of the very grave difficulties which face the industry at present, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this would be a most welcome comfort? Will he give an undertaking that a statement will be made next week or a debate allowed in the early future to allow this Committee to be set up?

[ That, in view of the present problems facing the agricultural industry, of the need to study and make suitable proposals to improve the Common Agricultural Policy, and of the need to expand agricultural production, to ease balance of payments problems and to consider the detailed regulations on agricultural matters issuing from Brussels, the Government should now appoint a Standing Select Committee on Agriculture.]

No, Sir, I cannot do that. I recognise the importance of this matter, but there is a tremendously heavy load of Committee work at present, so I can give no undertaking at the moment.

Will my right hon. Friend again turn to tomorrow's business? Will he confirm that Motion No 34 on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill will be put tomorrow, or is that to come on another day?

Secondly, will he confirm that if it is to be debated there will be a possibility of three votes—one on whether the Bill should be withdrawn, one on whether the Bill should have a Second Reading, and one on whether the matter should be referred to a Select Committee—in which case all hon. Members, whatever their interest, who are concerned about the subject, should be present.

It will be a free vote and the Question will be put after the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will think about it, since the proposal will allow the whole question to be considered. It will allow the Roman Catholic Church, and anybody else who wishes to do so, to give evidence to the Committee. From that I hope that we shall achieve an agreed measure on the reform of the abortion law. I hope that that commends itself to all hon. Members.

Before the Industry Bill is debated in the House, will the Bills to introduce the Scottish Development Agency and Welsh Development Agency be published by the Government? If not, will there be a day, before too long, when we can debate that matter in its own right?

No, Sir. The Bills will not be published before that. However, the normal Second Reading debates will take place after the Bills are published.

As I understand the situation regarding tomorrow's business, whether there is a Second Reading or not the motion to appoint a Select Committee will be put forward. Does that of itself preclude the other stages of the Bill, or shall we find ourselves in the farcical situation in which a Select Committee is considering a Bill which is going through the Committee stage and Third Reading?

Certainly that will happen if the Bill is read a Second Time tomorrow. If that happens the Select Committee will go on side by side with that.

Will my right hon. Friend agree to give time for the urgent presentation of a Bill to amend and repeal the conspiracy laws which have been used so savagely against the Shrewsbury Two? Will he also accept that many of us are prepared to undertake one or more all-night sittings similar to those when we prepared to consider legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act?

The Government have been considering the conspiracy laws. I agree with my hon. Friend that they need revising.

Will the Leader of the House confirm my understanding, which is that whether the Bill set down for debate tomorrow obtains a Second Reading or not, it will largely be null and void? There will be a Select Committee. If the Minister believes that there will be agreement in that Committee, he is a cockeyed optimist. We shall lose nine to 10 months with no guarantee of legislation following the report of the Select Committee.

I am very sorry the hon. Member feels that way. I thought it would meet the general wish of the House that hon. Members on both sides should try to agree on a measure dealing with abortion. That is the purpose of the Select Committee, which will be able to send for persons, hear their evidence, and consider the Lane Report and our experience and the Bill sponsored by my hon. Friends. I hope that from that a Bill can be drafted. Therefore, this will not be a pre-legislation Committee, but very near to one.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of his hon. Friends, especially women, feel strongly on the matter of tomorrow's business and that Motion No. 34 does not tally with the statement which he made? Motion No. 34 speaks about the proposals in the Abortion (Amendment) Bill and does not mention the Lane Report. We believe that it is grossly improper that the motion should be in this form when the House has not considered the Lane Report, produced by a committee which sat for three years—and in a situation in which abortion figures are actually declining.

If my hon. Friend thinks that it is grossly improper to try to obtain agreement on a measure concerning abortion, I am afraid I do not agree with her. I am advised that this motion will enable the Committee to consider the Lane Report. I shall look at the point again. The motion says that the Committee will have power to send for persons, papers, records and so on, which is the normal form. I am advised that it will be able to consider the Lane Report and any matter concerning the working of the abortion law.

Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been drawn to the Prayer on the Order Paper on firearms licence fees? In view of the many important aspects of this order, will he arrange for time to be made available for debating that Prayer?

I cannot guarantee to give any time, but I shall look at the matter and let the right hon. Gentleman know.

My right hon. Friend stated that next week we would consider the orders dealing with European energy policy. May we be assured that we shall have much more time on that occasion than we had on a previous occasion, since this subject is of the greatest importance?

I am giving a whole day for those two orders. I make it clear that this will be one of the four whole days devoted to EEC affairs.

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time for a debate on the Finer Report on one-parent families for which hon. Members on both sides have been calling for some time? Will he draw the attention of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the all-party motion on human rights in the USSR which was tabled last night?

[ That this House expresses its hope that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secre- tary will have successful discussions with the leaders of the USSR, but believes that the cause of detente cannot be satisfactorily fostered whilst Soviet citizens are denied of basic human freedoms enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights; and draws attention in this regard to the case of Georgi Vins, a Reform Baptist Pastor, recently sentenced to five years' hard labour plus five years' exile for conducting church services for members of his faith.]

On the second point, I will certainly do so. I have a great deal of sympathy with the first point. There was one short debate on that matter. I will bear the matter in mind for when we have more time.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of my hon. Friends think that a foreign affairs debate is long overdue and that there is a considerable urgency about the need to discuss all sorts of problems under this heading? When does he propose to give us the opportunity to do that?

I am afraid that the nearest I can come to it is to say that there will be an opportunity before Easter. My right hon. Friend and I fought the last two elections on an enormous legislative programme. We have a considerable programme to get through, but I shall provide a day for a foreign affairs debate as soon as I can.

The Opposition greatly appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said about a second day for the Industry Bill, which I think is very important. Secondly, may we take it that the motion on the energy orders will be simply to take note? Thirdly, the National Consumers Council was set up this week. It has had a chequered career since the White Paper in the autumn. It was referred to later as having been set up. It has now been set up. Can we have a discussion on this subject at some time in the future?

Last, I refer to the question of the Select Committee which has just been announced by the right hon. Gentleman. He may or may not be right in his decision, but I am surprised that he did not first consult the Opposition. I wonder whether he has considered the question of precedent. Such a proposal might be extremely undesirable, even with a difficult subject such as abortion, on which I admit there is no unanimity. Surely it is wrong for Governments to seek to impose Select Committees on Private Members' Bills quite so arbitrarily as this.

The right hon. Gentleman made three points. On the first, we are still considering the form of the motion for the debate on the EEC energy policy. We have not decided that yet. On the second point, I cannot promise any time in the near future for a debate on that matter but it is an appropriate subject for one of the right hon. Gentleman's Supply Days.

On the third point, there are precedents for this action. I feel—I hope the right hon. Gentleman agrees—that we should start to involve back benchers in the framing of legislation. It seems to me an ideal subject. There were considerable experiments in the 19th century in this procedure. All the railways legislation, for example, was drafted in Select Committees. A social topic of this kind is tailor-made for a Committee of the House to draft the legislation. I hope that when hon. Members think about it, they will feel it to be a very useful innovation.

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time for a debate on the textile industry, many sections of which are in great difficulties, with many thousands of workers on short time or out of work completely, with mills closing and firms such as ICI and other fibre producers facing competition not only from the Far East but now from the United States, where companies can undercut ICI prices because the raw material, oil, is considerably cheaper there?

Certainly. As I have said before, I have a great deal of sympathy with the difficulties of the textile industry. I will certainly refer my hon. Friend's question to the Secretary of State for Trade.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is now an urgent need for a debate on the whole question of contributions to political parties and the financing of political parties? Would he look carefully at the report of debates in the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill in the early hours of this morning and realise that the Government, without any consultation with the opposition parties, have for the first time introduced a major tax on contributions to political parties, which will have a considerably greater effect on the contributions to opposition parties than on those to Government parties, and that this is a matter of great constitutional sensitivity? Will he therefore take careful note?

The hon. Member asks me to take note. Yes, I take note. On the first part of his question, the Liberal Party has a Supply Day next week which it could devote to this subject. I cannot offer any opportunity to debate this matter in the next week or fortnight, but I hope before long to reintroduce the motion that I withdrew some time ago.

On this question of contributions to political parties, which has just been raised, curiously enough, by the Liberal spokesman, will my right hon. Friend take into account the fact that there is a good deal of scepticism on these benches whether this is an appropriate thing for the House to do? Will he also take into account the fact that it would seem totally out of place if, for instance, taxpayers' money was handed over to a political party such as the Liberal Party, which already has two secret funds which are not audited or shown to the general public and are controlled by three people? In view of that, is it not a total waste—

Order. We are dealing with next week's business.

My hon. Friend should refresh his memory by re-reading "Labour's Programme for Britain". The proposal appeared in that document.

May I support the plea of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond)? Would the right hon. Gentleman pay special attention to the urgent crisis in the British textile industry, which cannot await a debate at some time in the future? Can we not have a debate at an early date, since otherwise there will be very high unemployment?

I am afraid not, but, as I promised, I will certainly draw the con- cern expressed by my hon. Friend and now by the hon. Member to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade.

Bearing in mind our experience this week in the important two-day debate on devolution, when a large proportion of the time was taken up with Front Bench winding-up speeches at the end of the first day and opening speeches at the beginning of the second, would my right hon. Friend agree that, in future two-day debates, it would be unnecessary to take up so much time in this way, and that that time should be available to back benchers?

It is worth considering whether a winding-up speech, say, is necessary on the first day. But these are debates, after all, and they must be opened and wound up. I think that my hon. Friend is being a little niggardly since I provided, exceptionally, two days to debate that subject.

May I draw the right hon. hon. Gentleman's attention to Early Day Motion No. 206, signed by more than 50 hon. Members, particularly in view of what the Prime Minister has just said about the discussion which will take place about the referendum and the percentage thereof which will be valid?

[ That this House recalls that, on 10th May 1967, Her Majesty's Government obtained a majority of 426, on an 87 per cent. poll of hon. Members, for the proposal to seek membership of the EEC; that on 28 th October 1971, Her Majesty's Government obtained a majority of 112 on a 95 per cent. poll of hon. Members, for the same proposition, notwithstanding an exhortation from Her Majesty's Opposition, against the proposition; and trusts that the full-hearted consent of Parliament thus given will not be over-ridden by half-hearted dissent or disinterest should the proposed referendum produce a low poll.]

Does he not accept that, while a general debate on the Common Market is important and welcome, this specific point is so important that we should have a debate on it in Government time at an early opportunity? Some of us believe that half-hearted dissent by the British people would be much less effective than full-hearted consent of this House.

No, Sir, I cannot promise a debate on the specific point, but the White Paper which my right hon. Friend promised will be published in about three-and-a-half weeks, at the end of this month. There will be a debate on it shortly afterwards, when the hon. Member will be able to deploy his point.

Since I have recently written a letter with many accompanying signatures to my right hon. Friend and have not yet managed to get a reply—I am sure that I shall get one—on the question of the Shrewsbury pickets, and in view of the widespread ignorance displayed on the Conservative benches about the facts of the matter, would my right hon. Friend seriously consider a debate on the Floor of the House, as that letter requested, since throughout our country an increasingly large number of people who want to defend human liberty would like this subject debated?

First, if my hon. Friend did not get a reply, I apologise. It may be that a reply was sent to the first of the 17 or so signatures. If not, I will see to that immediately. On the subject of the pickets, I cannot add anything to the answers given to a number of questions on this subject by the Home Secretary.

First, the right hon. Gentleman might suggest to his hon. Friend that the opposition, on the Government benches, uses some of its time to conduct that sort of debate. On the main point, would he accept that he is not exactly improving his reputation as the custodian of back bench liberties by the way in which he is conducting tomorrow's business? Would he not think it more appropriate, if the Government had wanted to achieve this approach, that they should have done it before this Private Member's Bill was introduced, and if they have only just thought of this approach, that they might at least wait until well beyond Second Reading until they continue it? If, further, the right hon. Gentleman thinks that a Select Committee of back benchers is the right way to get agreed legislation, why not start with a Select Committee on the Industry Bill or the National Enterprise Board Bill or whatever other piece of tomfoolery he cares to call it?

Would my right hon. Friend accept that at least a number of hon. Members welcome the Govern- ment's initiative in putting forward the proposal for a Select Committee, and that it is to be hoped that, between now and the start of tomorrow's debate, or even during the course of the debate, hon. Members will get together after having debated the matter for a whole day and then agree that the logic of the Select Committee idea is not to press the matter to a vote tomorrow but to refer it to a Select Committee with all the other documents involved and let the Committee look at it? I hope that this will find widespread support tomorrow.

I certainly agree with what my hon. Friend, one of the most experienced parliamentarians in the House, has just said. He will understand that I cannot pass any comment on what informal discussions may take place tomorrow.

Would the right hon. Gentleman nag the two distinguished Ministers on his immediate left—the Minister for Housing and Construction and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—to produce the Bill on land nationalisation as quickly as possible, so that it can be rejected by the House?

If the hon. Gentleman contains himself, the Bill will be produced before long and I hope that he will support it.

If the Private Member's Bill tomorrow is carried, could not the Select Committee and the Standing Committee be in serious conflict if they went on apace?

We must wait and see how we get on tomorrow. Of course it will turn out all right tomorrow.

Can the Leader of the House tell me when he proposes to have the Second Reading of the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill, which has just been published? Will he ask that there should be a change on the back of the Bill and that instead of its being presented by Mr. Secretary Shore, this Bill should be presented by Mr. Secretary Benn, or that at least his name should be on the Bill, because it was Mr. Secretary Benn who persuaded people to go on Court Line holidays and lose all their money? Is he not associated with the Bill?

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman has made a grossly inaccurate and unfair statement, but the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is, of course, the right name to head the list.

Would my right hon. Friend agreed that an unfortunate precedent may have been set in setting up a Select Committee on Abortion? Is he aware that it is highly unlikely that in the future he will get distinguished and expert people to serve on Committees such as the main Committee, to spend long periods of time examining the evidence and then to find that their whole work is to be resubmitted to a less expert Committee of this House?

We are most grateful to the main Committee which looked at this subject, but I do not think it follows that any Committee should have a right to have its findings accepted in toto by this House. There is no reason why it should not be possible to send for further evidence or indeed to hold debates in Committee.

On the question which so worries my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) about a low turn out in the referendum, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that if there is a low turn out it will be merely because of disillusioned pro-Marketeers?

On the business next week, could the Leader of the House say whether the Supply Day given to the Liberals is an additional Supply Day or one surrendered by a generous Conservative Front Bench? If so, will the Ulster Unionists and Scottish Nationalists also get a Supply Day or part thereof?

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am quite sure that he will do his best to ensure that there is not a low turn out. On his second point, the Supply Day given to the Liberals is, of course, an innovation. It is one of the normal 29 Supply Days conceded by the official Opposition. If other, minor or smaller parties want Supply Days they should contact the Opposition Chief Whip and try to influence him.