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Commons Chamber

Volume 887: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Tuesday 25th February 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Merseyside Metropolitan Railway Bill

Order for consideration read.

To be considered upon Tuesday next.

British Railways (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Tuesday next.

Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday next.

London Transport Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Tuesday next.

Oral Answers To Questions

Social Services

Eec Social Action Programme

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what action she has taken to implement those parts of the EEC social action programme which fall within her Department's responsibility.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security
(Mr. Brian O'Malley)

The United Kingdom has secured approval for payments from the European Social Fund towards the cost of schemes to rehabilitate handicapped persons. Commission proposals concerning other parts of the programme affecting my Department are still being discussed within the Community or are awaited.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Can he give an indication of the level of funds available at the moment for that and also what voluntary bodies in this country are working in co-operation with his Department to further these pilot schemes?

The total level of expenditure from Community funds as they are envisaged for a two-year period is £1 million. Second, there is an advisory committee which was set up directly through the EEC by a number of individuals who are in other ways connected with voluntary organisations. My Department is in contact with that advisory committee.

Apart from one's attitude to the Common Market, would my right hon. Friend agree that this is a bold and imaginative programme which is being conducted by the EEC? How can he make these support grants better known in this country? How many people are involved, particularly among the physically handicapped?

I should make it clear that the whole of this social action programme is in the very early stages. Perhaps my hon. Friend will put down a separate Question on his second point. I should want notice of it.

Haemophiliacs (Drugs)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will now consider making adequate supplies of Factor VIII (AHG) available to the National Health Service so that it is self-sufficient in this product for the benefit of those suffering from haemophilia.

I have authorised the allocation of special finance of up to £500,000, about half of which would be recurring, to increase the existing production of Factor VIII, especially in the form of anti-haemophilic globulin concentrate (AHG), within the National Health Service. The first effects of this will, I hope, be felt by the end of the year.

I welcome that reply. Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the major problems in relation to Factor VIII is that the purchase of this drug rests with the regional health authorities and that it has to compete with many other requirements within those authorities? Will he also accept that this is far and away the best treatment for haemophilia? Will he accept too that in those circumstances it might be possible for the National Health Service to purchase the drug centrally as it does with L-dopa? Will he seriously consider recommending that the drug should be available to people at home and not only in hospitals, as many people have to travel many miles either for treatment or to obtain the drug?

I confirm that in most cases I think it is the most desirable form of treatment, but one cannot avoid the fact that this is one of the many costly treatments which are competing on priorities. The present system whereby a doctor can persuade his local area health authority that his patient needs this form of treatment most is the best way of proceeding, and not by central allocation. If we were to go to all-commercial purchase of this factor, it would cost an additional £1½ million to £2 million annually.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that under-treatment of children with this drug causes unnecessary suffering and terrible disruption of family life if a young child is involved? Cannot he go a stage further and give slightly more of a lead to the regional health authorities really to do something about this?

They are aware of our concern and have had ample demonstration of it by the fact that we are prepared to divert scarce resources to make the National Health Service self-sufficient, but I concede that it will take two or three years before we are at full production. During that time I am sure that they will weigh very carefully the individual cases and will be sympathetic to the sort of hardship which can arise.

While one welcomes the extra expenditure which my hon. Friend has announced, and of which I am aware in view of the recent case I brought to his attention, may I ask whether he does not agree that we still lag behind in this matter, particularly compared with small countries such as Israel, which is doing much more than we are in this respect?

I know my hon. Friend's concern, but hon. Members must face the fact that with limited resources we have to choose, and these are very difficult choices and priorities. When confronted with an ill child, everyone wants to get the best that is available, but there are many other aspects of child care which also have priority and we are not always able to meet all the demands.

Family Allowances (Eec Countries)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the level of family allowance payable to first or only children in the nine countries of the EEC.

As the answer contains a table of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report.

As the Government's family endowment scheme was, I think, seen by many as the entry price for this country to the European league of paying a family allowance to the first child, and as that scheme now seems to have been indefinitely postponed, will the right hon. Lady consider, at the relatively meagre net cost of £11 million, extending the family allowance scheme to the first or only child of one-parent families? Would not that mean that the Government would then be accepting one of the principal recommendations of the Finer Report?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both his premises. The child endowment scheme of the Labour Party was worked out when we were in opposition as part of our total social policy, completely unrelated to any question of membership of the Common Market. After all, in the Common Market France has no automatic payment of family allowance for the first child. Therefore, it is by no means completely universal there. Nor is the hon. Gentleman right in saying that our child benefit scheme has been indefinitely postponed. An announcement on all these matters can be expected before too long.

To get a true comparison between the United Kingdom and the EEC countries when the record is available, may we be told all the ages of the children and the duration of each allowance? May we also know whether, in the various countries for which information is given, we may learn about the availability or otherwise of free milk, and, again, at what ages?

The hon. Lady is quite right that the payment of the family allowance or the level of the family allowance is not the complete index of family support. There are many other matters of great importance to the family—not least food and housing subsidies, whether there is free medical care, and the level of ante-natal and post-natal care. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about that. With regard to her request for this detailed information to be made available, I do not think that it is in the table we have prepared for publication in Hansard today, but I shall look into the matter and see whether we can extend the information for her.

Is not my right hon. Friend bewildered by Opposition Members who from time to time demand a levelling-up of social service and any other benefits to compare with those in Common Market countries but at the same time scream murder when our wage-earners, the miners who work at the coalface in particular, try to level up their wages to those paid in the Common Market?

My hon. Friend has made a valid point. But I am even more bewildered that any questions about the need to increase or extend family allowances should come from the Opposition, remembering that the Conservative Party fought the 1970 election on a promise to increase family allowances and promptly broke it.

If I may disregard the fact that in the reply the right hon. Lady overlooked our family income supplement, may I ask whether she is aware of the disappointment in many quarters of the House that she has ducked another opportunity of making her position clear about the family endowment scheme and Child Benefit Bill, which were part of the Government's proposals to bring in the family allowance for the first child? As the whole House knows from leaks, this plan has been put back beyond the intended date of April 1976. When will the right hon. Lady have the courage to come to the House and make a statement explaining why she has abandoned such an important part of the social contract and why she is ratting on a clear election commitment of the Labour Party?

The hon. Gentleman has no ground whatsoever for that assumption. I would point out to him that again, unlike our predecessors, the present Government have fulfilled their promises to increase family allowance, within a year of taking office in February 1974. Therefore we have lost no time, and we shall certainly keep our promise about a child benefit scheme.

Following is the information:

On the latest information available, the rates of family allowances payable for first or only children are as follows:

Monthly FAM

Sterling equivalent of Monthly FAM

Sterling equivalent of Weekly FAM

££
Irish Republic£2·302·30(1)0·53(1)(2)
Italy8,060 Lire5·281·22
Holland54·86 Florins9·572·21
Belgium1,026·50 BFr (3)12·392·86
Denmark132·3 Kroner10·022·31
Germany50 DM9·052·09
Luxembourg814 LFr9·822·27
FranceNo general provision (4)
United KingdomNo general provision at present
(1) Exchange rates as at 20th February 1975.
(2) Weekly rate calculated on basis of 52 week year.
(3) Plus an allowance for child aged 6 or over, according to age, of up to 548·25 BFr monthly (£6·62 monthly, £1·53 weekly)
(4) In certain circumstances, and subject to a means test, an increase of up to 242·05 Fr monthly (£23·72 monthly, £5·47 weekly) may be added to the allowance paid to a family with only one wage earner.
Comparisons of rates and coverage of family allowances are misleading unless they take account of the local cost of living (particularly that affecting the maintenance of children) and other factors which vary from country to country, such as the levels of wages and taxation, housing or food subsidies, and the extent of free education, medical care and ante and post-natal welfare and advice services.

Children In Care

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many children in care are members of one-parent families; and what proportion of all children in care they represent.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply but I am sorry that the information is not available. I find it a matter of concern that such information is not available, and I must ask her whether she agrees. Does she agree with me that the impression among those who work in the social services is that although one-parent families form only one-tenth of the community the proportion of children in care who are members of one-parent families is considerably higher than that? If my right hon. Friend agrees about that, will she accept that many of those children are in care unnecessarily and simply because our society does not provide the services and the money for their families to sustain them in the community? Will she give some hope to one-parent families, whether or not their children are in care, of greater help in the future, apart from the family endowment scheme? Although I welcome that scheme, it will not solve the problems of one-parent families.

In answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, information about children in care was collected by our predecessors and published in March 1973 in Command 5815. It was considered more important to place emphasis on identification of the circumstances in which children were placed in care than on the nature of the families from which they came. That is the information which is given in the White Paper and which is crucial for social policy. It is important to emphasise that.

With regard to my hon. Friend's other point, I should be glad to send her a copy of the speech I made on Friday to the Conference on One-Parent Families which sets out in considerable detail not only what steps we have already taken to fulfil the recommendations of the Finer Report but the other considerations we have in mind.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Opposition would very much support a full debate on the whole question of one-parent families and the Finer Report? Is she aware that the matter of children in care is only one part of the problem we are facing, that there are over 1 million children whose future is affected and that it would be quite wrong if the House could not give a full day's debate to this very important question?

The hon. Gentleman has the remedy in his own hands. We should be delighted if the Opposition were to devote one of their Supply Days to this subject.

The right hon. Lady has not been fair to the House—and I am sure she is not fair to herself—to suggest that the Government do not have time to debate the whole question of the Finer Report and then to ask my hon. Friend for a Supply Day to be used. Will the right hon. Lady say this afternoon when she will give time to help the one-parent families?

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly well aware that matters of the allocation of time for debate are not for me; they are for the Leader of the House. As far as I am concerned, however, I should welcome an opportunity of telling the House at length the steps we have already taken to fulfil the 230-odd recommendations of the Finer Report. I should also point out that my Department has a massive programme of legislation on social advance and social reform and that we need a great deal of parliamentary time to get it on to the statute book.

Community Hospitals

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many community hospitals she has authorised for the year 1975–76.

At present I am afraid that I cannot say which capital schemes will be authorised to start during 1975–76. Consultations have taken place with regional health authorities on tentative proposals for the 1975–76 programme. No final decisions will be taken until their priorities have been carefully considered. This should be very shortly.

Will the Minister say whether a new community hospital in Newbury may be in his thoughts? Will he also say what level of service community hospitals will provide and how their services will compare with those already provided by district hospitals?

No community hospital at Newbury is at present in the regional health authority programme. But the announcement of the Government's acceptance of the community hospital concept was made only last summer, and many regional health authorities will take time before they develop their programmes. The size and scope of the community hospitals will vary considerably from area to area.

Is the Minister able to assure the House that he is continuing to urge upon health authorities the desirability of retaining existing cottage hospitals where they have a future rôle as community hospitals now that there is a recognition of the place of community hospitals?

The recognition that in some rural areas the community hospital had a part to play where patients had to travel over great distances was a strong part of our announcement last summer on community hospitals. I cannot say that there will not be closures of some community hospitals, but I can reinforce the message of the White Paper that there is scope for smaller hospitals in rural areas and, in my view, in urban areas. The whole question of the size of the large district hospital is one which we shall have to call into question increasingly over the next few years.

Keighley

7.

asked the Secretary ot State for Social Services if she will pay an official visit to Keighley.

May I say how sorry I am to receive that answer? If my right hon. Friend were to visit my constituency she would receive representations from many of my pensioner constituents who are very much concerned at the injustices and anomalies regarding the allocation of free television licences. Will she assure the House that she will give urgent consideration to making free or reduced-price television licences more readily available? Finally, will my right hon. Friend prevail on her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to stop buying nuclear missiles so that the cost of my proposals can be met from defence savings?

It is obvious that my hon. Friend is anxious to keep me busy not only by visiting Keighley but by running a couple of other Government Departments as well. My hon. Friend is aware that our policy on television licence fees is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Of course, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office made clear last Friday during a discussion on this matter, we are concerned, as is everyone in the House, about the existence of anomalies which give rise to a great deal of irritation. I appreciate that point. The simple way of getting rid of the anomalies by making free television licences available to all pensioners would be extremely costly and would in a way, create its own anomalies. It would mean that families which happened to have a pensioner living with them would benefit, whatever their income, at the expense of a family living on a very low income. I repeat the assurance which my hon. Friend the Minister of State gave on Friday that the Home Department is considering providing cheap licences for black-and-white television for pensioners and getting rid of some of the anomalies.

Does the right non. Lady accept that if she made free television licences available to pensioners living on their own or with a spouse the anomaly to which she has referred would not arise? Is the right hon. Lady aware that there are many people who feel strongly that the problem of loneliness which old people now face could be reduced in this desirable way by spending a relatively small amount of money?

Of course, the Government have examined that possibility. The concentrating of help on specific cases is a very obvious course to take. I can assure the hon. Lady that the matter is not as simple as all that. Even that step would not remove the difficulties. As I have said, the Home Office has made it clear that it is considering the matter again.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has not the right hon. Lady wandered a little far from Keighley and the point which was raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer)? Do you not think, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman was treating the right hon. Lady more as a Prime Minister than as a Secretary of State by asking her to visit his constituency?

Order. I would much prefer these points of order to be made at the end of Question Time. The right hon. Lady is responsible for her answer, I am not.

Public Expenditure

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will publish a White Paper setting out in detail the effects of the latest cuts in public expenditure by her Department.

No, Sir. I am not aware of any cuts of the kind the hon. Gentleman seems to have in mind.

Does not the right hon. Lady think that it is about time she took the country into her confidence about the cuts which are being made piecemeal in such projecs as St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington and hospitals in Birmingham and Leeds? Does she not think that it is about time she joined the ranks of her colleagues who are trying to spell out to those who are responsible for much of our inflation that every fresh breach of the social contract means less money for the nation's health and welfare services?

I merely say to the hon. Gentleman that I think it ill becomes any Conservative Member to use the word "cuts" about the future prospects of my Department. That is the suggestion that is coming from supporters of the then Tory Government which instituted the cuts of December 1973 and reduced my public expenditure programme for health and personal social services by £138 million. Conservative Members have no right to try to give the impression that we are facing cuts in my Department. In the current year we have already restored £100 million worth of that reduced expenditure. Some of it has been restored in national health services. It is true that we have said—and we must continue to say—that the growth in the expenditure of my Deparment can only be modest over the years ahead if we are to get on top of our economic difficulties. None the less, it would be misleading to suggest that there was anything but growth.

Why should we have any cuts at all in public expenditure, whether in my right hon. Friend's Department or any other Department, while the Cabinet and the Government can seemingly find approximately £250,000 to satisfy the Queen?

My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that that is not within the scope either of my Department or of the Question before the House. I must tell him that I am thinking in terms of expenditure in my Department of much more than £200,000.

In real terms, has the expenditure for which the right hon. Lady's Department is responsible been maintained or reduced?

The expenditure for my Department, as the White Paper on Public Expenditure makes clear, reveals a situation of steady growth. [Interruption.] Oh yes, it is a position of real growth in real terms. This is an extremely important point. The figures I have given are based on real terms. Already this year the Government have added £600 million in Supplementary Estimates for my Department to cover the increases in pay and prices, and the inflation-proofing of the expenditure on the National Health Service which we have introduced, along with the marked improvement in the pay of the people working for the Service, has done a very great deal to restore the flagging morale of the NHS which I inherited.

Birmingham And Midland Eye Hospital

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement on the future of the Birmingham and Midland Eye Hospital.

The region's capital programme for 1975–76 is not yet finalised, but it now seems certain that it cannot include replacement of the eye hospital. The regional health authority will consider the future of the hospital during its review of priorities for 1976–77 and subsequent years.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I was awaiting it with interest having listened to the answer which my right hon. Friend gave to the previous Question. Does my hon. Friend accept that that answer will not be considered to be very satisfactory in the region, bearing in mind that the regional health authority has already spent £1½ million on laying out sewers and associated work and is now considering having to put it in an empty office block? Lastly, when can I expect a full answer to the Question which I asked on 4th February concerning this hospital?

I have a reply outstanding to my hon. Friend and I shall give it as soon as the information is available. I regret the delay. On the question of the need for the hospital there is no difference between us. This, like many other hospitals, definitely needs to be built. It is a question of the work already undertaken. The replacement of the eye hospital has been planned as about 11 weeks for ophthalmology and planned for the Queen Elizabeth site costing perhaps £20 million. That cannot be fitted into the programme for 1975–76.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his answer will strike a chill throughout the West Midlands, where the decision by his Department to close this hospital, however temporarily, is regarded as callous?

I hope that when the public expenditure Estimates are next discussed in the House the hon. and learned Gentleman will be the first to argue for greater public expenditure. It is about time that Conservative Members stopped talking with two mouths. They are always against increases in public expenditure in general but want them in their own constituencies and want them in particular. They will carry more weight and conviction in the House, in the National Health Service and outside when they support increases in public expenditure across the board.

Charges For Services

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is her policy on increasing existing charges or introducing new charges in order to expand the social services to give greater help to those in greatest need.

I do not believe that income from charges should play a larger part in financing these services than it does at present.

Does the Secretary of State recall that the present basic prescription charge was fixed in April 1971 at 20p? Does she realise that in real terms that charge would have to be fixed at 30p today to match the 1971 figure? Does she realise that as we will be short of money for the health service every possible avenue for money for the social services needs to be examined?

I am in no position to contest the hon. Gentleman's figures. He is merely proving that we are standing by our policy to phase prescription charges out of the National Health Service. That is our policy. In the same way, we refused to increase dental charges even when dental rates rose, thus continuing the policy to which we are committed. I simply disagree with the hon. Gentleman on policy.

Will the right hon. Lady explain how she will replace the revenue which at present she gets from private hospital beds?

In exchange for the phasing out of private beds from the National Health Service I shall get more National Health Service beds.

Hospital Waiting Lists (Staffordshire)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many patients are on the waiting list of the North Staffordshire hospitals; what is the average delay in receiving treatment; what are the causes of delay; and whether she will make a statement.

Four thousand, five hundred and fifty-five at 31st December 1974. Waiting times differ between specialities, and during 1974 they varied between about 11 weeks for ophthalmology and 20 weeks for ENT. These figures are broadly comparable with the latest available figures for the West Midlands Region. I know of no particular difficulties affecting the waiting lists in North Staffordshire hospitals.

Do not these figures reveal the totally unnecessary discomfort and anxiety which is caused to a very large number of people in North Staffordshire? Will my hon. Friend ensure that greater resources are allocated to North Staffordshire hospitals, which have long been neglected? In particular, will he make provision for the replacement and extension of geriatric facilities in my constituency?

The replacement of geriatric beds and the expansion of facilities, particularly acute rehabilitation services for geriatrics, stand very high in our assessment of priorities. I readily agree with my hon. Friend in that. Priorities within the region are primarily for the West Midlands Regional Authority itself.

One of the major causes of the long delays in admission to hospital is the large number of empty hospital beds. On any one day there are 75,000 beds empty. Further, there are more than 11,000 beds empty due to shortages of staff. If the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend were to pay a little more attention to staffing problems rather than attacking private practice and pay beds, we might reduce the waiting lists.

The reasons for waiting lists are very complex, as the hon. Gentleman is probably the first in the House to know. Staffing is one of the factors. The most important factor of all was shortage of nursing staff. The pay of nurses was in a most disgraceful situation when we came into office. As a result of a very substantial award, following the Halsbury Report, of over £180 million, I think there are some signs that nursing recruitment is improving and that we will be able to staff more of our wards then we have done hitherto. This will make a contribution to reducing the waiting lists.

Chester (Hospitals)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make an official visit to the hospitals in the city of Chester.

Is the Minister of State aware that we are very upset that he has no plans to come to Chester? That aside, will he tell us whether the proposed new district general hospital has been delayed or cancelled and, if the latter, whether he is prepared to make available, so as to bring up to date the existing hospitals, money which is not being spent because of the proposal for the new hospital?

In the current financial year works with a completed cost of over £¼ million have started or are planned to start for Chester hospitals. The works include a geriatric day hospital, an intensive therapy unit, and anaesthetic unit and the upgrading of a pharmacy. On the main question, the regional health authority reluctantly decided that design work on phase 2 of the West Cheshire hospital project should be suspended.

Is the Minister of State aware that if he were to go a little further east and come to Macclesfield he would find the people in that area appalled at the attitude of his Department and of the Merseyside Regional Health Authority in their total ignorance of the need for a new district general hospital in Macclesfield? This has been planned for some 10 or 15 years. I gather from information that has come to me—I hope that the Minister is aware of this—that the project has been shelved indefinitely. Will he comment?

The project in Macclesfield and that in West Cheshire were both deeply affected by the capital expenditure cuts notified to the region in November 1973. No doubt both hon. Gentlemen voted against the cuts of 20 per cent. in capital expenditure imposed by the Tory Government at that time.

Family Allowances (Increase)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will take steps to raise social security entitlements so that parents receiving supplementary allowances are enabled to benefit from the increase in family allowances which is due in April.

No, Sir. It is the aim of this Government to replace means-tested benefits by benefits as of right wherever possible, and that is one of the purposes we have in mind in increasing family allowance.

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that for those families which are receiving means-tested bene- fits and which are actually on supplementary benefit her words will seem very pious indeed? Of course we would prefer the replacement of means-tested benefits. But the increase in family allowances will not improve the situation of the poorest families unless my right hon. Friend takes the steps suggested in my Question. On behalf of the poorest in our society, including the one-parent families, many of whom are on supplementary benefit, I ask her urgently to reconsider this matter if the increase in family allowances is to be more than a hollow joke for many poor families.

I cannot agree that my hon. Friend's approach is the right one. We shall never get rid of means-tested benefits if every time we increase the benefits as of right we then say that we are going to increase the means-tested benefits on top. The correct way to deal with the problems of the families to which she refers is through proper and regular upratings of supplementary benefits. This is what we did in July. Those benefits will be uprated again this April and again later in the year. I assure my hon. Friend that she is—I am sure with the best motives in the word—leading us up a dangerous blind alley by saying that every time the family allowance rises this must be disregarded for supplementary benefit.

If the right hon. Lady really cares about family poverty, why does she refuse even to produce a Green Paper on family endowment? Is she aware that in the five-year forecasts of Government expenditure which have been referred to already this afternoon there is no provision for an increase in family allowances?

A Green Paper is not necessary. The Government's proposals will be announced very shortly.

Disabled Persons (Petrol Costs)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what evidence she has of cases where disabled people are unable to continue in employment as they are unable to afford the petrol to get to and from work.

I have no details of any case in which this has happened, although several people have written expressing concern about the possibility. If the hon. Member is aware of any such case, I hope that he will let me know.

Is the Minister aware of the special difficulty that faces disabled people who go to work in an Invacar in that they cannot engage in car-sharing schemes or in the pooling of journeys which their more able-bodied workmates can do? Does not this place those people at a disadvantage compared with workmates, and will the hon. Gentleman look into this special point?

Yes, I am very aware of the general concern about ways in which disabled people are affected by the recent increase in petrol prices. I shall bear the point very much in mind.

Will my hon. Friend give more serious thought to the suggestion which has been made to him and bear in mind that it is particularly hard for disabled people to meet the increased petrol cost? Will he also bear in mind that any increase in road tax will have an equally bad effect on disabled people who have to use larger cars than normal because they cannot drive smaller vehicles? Therefore, it will be a greater hardship for them to be able to go from A to B, to work or, indeed, to anywhere else.

I know of my hon. Friend's very close personal interest in these problems. I shall bear in mind all he has said. I am sure he will be pleased as I certainly was, that we were at least able to restore, and indeed double, the petrol allowance which was cancelled in the February 1972 announcement.

Will the Minister accept that the standard car for the disabled driver is wholly unsuitable for long-distance journeys to work or outings? Is he aware that one of my constituents has given me figures suggesting that it is more expensive for him and for the taxpayer if he uses that type of car than, say, a standard mini car?

I am familiar with this type of criticism. If the hon. Gentleman likes to contact me about the particular case, I shall be glad to look into it again with him.

National Insurance (Self-Employed Blind Persons)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she will introduce legislation to give relief from national insurance contributions for self-employed blind persons.

No, Sir. A self-employed person with low earnings is already able to obtain exception from contribution liability but it would be wrong to deprive self-employed blind persons generally of their benefit rights by relieving them of contribution liability,

Is the Minister aware that there is a grey area and that there are people who are in the same situation as one of my constituents about whom I have corresponded with him—a self-employed person making wire brushes who, out of a net income of £900 per annum, has to find £125 to pay his national insurance contributions? Is not that typical of the way in which legislation hits unfairly at the self-employed, particularly those facing hardship such as the constituent I have mentioned?

The hon. Gentleman is right in his general remarks, and we have corresponded on the particular case he mentioned. He should bear in mind that if we were to accept the apparent attraction of his proposal we should be denying to his constituents the right to retirement pension, sickness benefit, widows' benefit, maternity grant and death grant.

Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) right in saying that this is a further example of the grave hardship caused by the Government's discrimination against the self-employed? Is he not aware of the intense public feeling on this issue? Will he, at this late stage, announce a Government response to this public feeling?

May I say with great respect to the hon. Gentleman that he is showing his ignorance in this case. In the case to which the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) referred, the constituent will from next April pay no increase in contributions.

Mid-Sussex (Hospital)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she will make a statement on the possibility of a new general hospital being built in the Mid-Sussex area.

I assume that the hon. Member has in mind the needs of the new Cuckfield and Crawley health district. He will be reassured to learn that a joint working party, consisting of representatives of the regional and area health authorities and the health district's management team, is now studying this district's immediate health needs and making long-term development plans.

Is the Minister aware that discussions about the new general hospital have been continuing for 10 years and that no firm plans have been made? Is he further aware that Mid-Sussex lies in a major growth area and that, on the basis of projected population growth, 760 new hospital beds will be needed in the area by 1981? Where are those beds to come from?

I am aware that there is an expansion in the population of the area concerned. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's support for the increases in public expenditure for the hospital building programme that he seems to envisage.

Community Health Councils

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she is satisfied that sufficient publicity is given to the membership and powers of the community health councils.

Community health councils are responsible for their own publicity, and I am satisfied that those which have been in operation for any length of time are generally discharging this responsibility very actively.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, bearing in mind the urgent need for proper democratic control in our National Health Service—an opportunity which was missed in the 1973 legislation—we need to take far more positive steps to publicise the activities of community health councils, which we are likely to have to live with for a number of years, so that people are made aware of the fact that the NHS is their service and is, and should be, answerable to them?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. We intend to try to increase the democracy in the National Health Service. We believe that the community health councils have a very important part to play. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services appointed two advisers on the community health councils who have produced a valuable report. We are in process of establishing a national council to be the national voice of the community health councils, and it will be the independent voice of the patient in arguing no doubt for extra resources for the health service.

Chancellor Of The Exchequer (Broadcast)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister whether the broadcast statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 8th February about the economic situation represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Leeds on Saturday 8th February on the economic situation represents Government policy.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister whether the broadcast statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 8th February, on the relationship between trade union action and mass unemployment, represents Government policy.

Q9.

asked the Prime Minister whether the broadcast statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the social contract on 8th February represents Government policy.

Although it is difficult for the Labour benches to make constructive suggestions about the social contract because they would be exploited by an Opposition who are obsessively anti-trade unionist, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that there are only three ways of combating a runaway inflation which may destroy the country: statutory control, which is completely unworkable; mass unemployment, which is totally unforgiveable; or the social contract, which is absolutely indispensable? If my right hon. Friend agrees with that assessment of the situation, will he warn the country in general, and trade unionists and industrialists in particular, that if the social contract fails statutory control or mass unemployment is inevitable?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who obviously agrees with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As the House and the country have learned, confrontations on statutory wage control lead to national disaster. I understand that since the last election the official Opposition now reject any sort of statutory pay control, but all of us have emphasised that the alternative to the social contract is the danger of greater unemployment.

This is one of a number of speeches from Ministers lately warning of the danger of further breaches of the social contract. Will the Prime Minister say whether, in his view, the country can afford the railwaymen, power workers and now the non-industrial civil servants to be given pay rises to match that given to the miners? If not, when will the Government do something to halt the situation?

What the hon. Gentleman asks has been made clear by my right hon. Friends and myself. There were, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment said in his constituency, and as I said last week, special considerations in the case of the miners, including the question of recruitment. But if others were to regard that as an area also appropriate to them, there would be very serious consequences on the lines I have mentioned.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition are trying to give the impression that in this inflationary situation wages are the only factor? Why does he not tell them that in pure economic theory terms this is nonsense?

We have warned that this year, as opposed to last year, the problem of industrial costs arising from wages is serious, or could be serious, in relation to further moves of inflation. But when we look over the past few years, we see that the main problem which the country faces—and here I agree with my hon. Friend—is the totally inadequate provision for industrial investment, particularly in the private sector and in relation to our exporting industries.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech said that wage increases—trade union-organised wage settlements at the present level—threatened Britain with mass unemployment. Can the Prime Minister underline his right hon. Friend's sombre but realistic warning by answering in his usual straightforward manner two simple questions? First, roughly what numerical level does "mass unemployment" mean? Secondly, is it not the case that the commitment to full employment can no longer be regarded by the Government as absolute under the terms of the social contract?

No, Sir. We have emphasised the importance of keeping the expected increase in unemployment, which we inherited—those were the figures we were given—to the minimum. At that time the forecasts and prognosis were for 1 million unemployed this winter. That has not happened, and we are fighting hard to prevent any further increase. I would certainly regard that figure as the kind of thing my right hon. Friend was warning against. But I have noticed from important Opposition statements recently that there appears to be a tendency to discount the importance of unemployment, because the figures are not very accurate. We reject the approach of the Conservative Front Bench on this matter.

What the Prime Minister has not said yet is how we are to avoid the disaster which his colleagues have foretold.

First, by avoiding the disaster of 2 million unemployed, which the policies of the right hon. Gentleman's party brought last year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] There were 2 million unemployed exactly a year ago today as a result of policies that the whole Tory Front Bench then supported. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the future. He wants to forget the past—I understand that—as does his Front-Bench neighbour the Leader of the Opposition. My answer with regard to the future was set out in the statement of my right hon. Friend in the broadcast referred to and in all the policies of Her Majesty's Government within the social contract.

I welcome the refreshing realism of the Chancellor's speech, but can the Prime Minister say, against the pattern of the social contract, whether he regards the miners' settlement as being the exception or the rule to be followed in the future?

I answered that question last week, but I shall answer it again. I expressed my agreement with my right hon. Friend, and the answer is "the exception".

May we have it at the end of Questions? I have no power to direct the hon. Gentleman, but I would prefer to hear his point of order at the end of Questions.

You did not say that to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), Mr. Speaker.

Cabinet Committees

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if he will now answer Questions concerning the membership of Cabinet committees.

As the Prime Minister has referred to a Cabinet committee in a public speech outside the House, and as he has told the world at large that the purpose is to control the Secretary of State for Industry, should he not say what are its powers and who are its members, so that the world can judge whether they will be able to control the Secretary of State?

What I did in that speech was to follow precedent in a speech to a distinguished industrial audience in Liverpool representing both sides of industry. The hon. Gentleman must be responsible for his interpretation of the speech, because I said no such thing as he has suggested. I indicated, as I have done before in the House, that I was chairman of a particular committee and that the Treasury was powerfully represented. That is a perfectly normal thing to say. I did not set out all the members, and it is not the practice to do so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that anything the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) wants to know, most of us do not want to know?

Industrial Policy (Prime Minister's Speech)

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on Friday 7th February in Liverpool on the National Enterprise Board.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech in Liverpool on the Industry Bill to the Merseyside Productivity Board on 7th February.

But as Sir Don Ryder is to report to my right hon. Friend, does that mean that the National Enterprise Board will be in any way less interventionist? What did my right hon. Friend say to the Confederation of British Industry at that famous meeting of the board when the Director-General of the CBI came away saying that he felt happier?

The matter is still before Parliament, in a Bill which has only just received its Second Reading. The board will be responsible to the industrial Department concerned. What I did in that speech was to repeat what I have said many times: that the Bill, and its operation when it becomes an Act, will follow exactly the White Paper which was published before the election and which was so manifestly acceptable to the British people, as shown in the way they voted last October.

As the Prime Minister said in that speech that the effect of the Industry Bill would not be to concentrate power in the hands of the Secretary of State, will he explain why it is that under the Bill the Secretary of State has power to spend £700 million of public money to buy shares in industrial companies, without a reference to Parliament?

Despite the fact that, as I said, I went to the great trouble of putting a copy of that speech in the Library on 10th February, I am sorry to note that the hon. Gentleman has not read it. I did not say any of the things that he attributed to me. I said then that the operation set out in the White Paper will be carried out, although all expenditure voted by the House is under the control of the Treasury, not to mention that rarely mentioned Minister the First Lord of the Treasury, who happens to be involved in these matters. That is what I said. It was nothing like what the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Will my right hon. Friend send to the Merseyside Productivity Board, and then to the CBI, a copy of the third in his series of Edinburgh speeches in 1973, in which he called for the full disclosure to workers of the ownership and control of companies?

The speech to which my hon. Friend refers, which I think was made at Blackpool, is well known to all my constituents on Merseyside. Many of them have read it in full.

The Prime Minister said that the Bill will reflect the White Paper, and the White Paper says that companies can be taken over only by agreement and as a result of a full parliamentary process. What part of the Bill reflects either of those two safeguards?

Of course I have read the Bill. This is the concept of the Bill. The point raised by the hon. Gentleman is one of the matters which I discussed with the CBI and which I shall discuss again tomorrow. If there is any doubt from the drafting of the Bill whether the things I said on Merseyside and what we said in the White Paper are in question, those matters can be considered in Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] But all along I have said that this is how the Bill will operate. If the hon. Gentleman wants to spend all his time trying to pretend that it is a different Bill from what it is, we are prepared to discuss it with him.

Secretary Of State For Prices And Consumer Protection

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will dismiss the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave him on 18th February.

How much longer will the right hon. Lady be allowed to spend £550 million of taxpayers' money to advantage the average person with food subsidies of 22½p a week?

The hon. Gentleman seems to have misunderstood the facts and how much bigger last year's rapid increase in food prices would have been but for the food subsidies. The hon. Gentleman, who presumably was elected last October, will realise that he fought the last election, as did his Front Bench, on the pledge to maintain food subsidies.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the food subsidy programme is excellent and useful for the poor, it will be of little avail if the increases in electricity and gas prices remove their capacity to spend enough on food? Like most hon. Members, I am anxious that that should not be the case and that the subsidy principles being applied to food should also be applied to provide help for the poor in paying the charges of the nationalised industry sector.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, which we all share. I heard my hon. Friend speak on the subject in a meeting upstairs last week. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the Budget—this cannot be criticised by the Conservatives, because they said that they would do it more than a year ago, and never did—that we believed it right to have realistic pricing in the publicly-owned industries. No one is pressing this point more than the trade unions in those industries, because they believe that it is demoralising to have in the pricing of the publicly-owned industries the kind of situation we have had in the past. Furthermore, as I am always having party conference decisions brought to my attention—as though I did not already know them by heart—there was a decision at our last party conference in October 1973, and that resolution, which was passed unanimously, called for just what we are doing in relation to the prices of nationalised industries.

Questions To Ministers

It is your job to get order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that Question No. Q1 was identical to several other Questions on the Order Paper, including Question No. Q16 in my name. It is the custom and practice that the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, can link Questions together as he pleases, and this is a matter over which you have no control. It is the usual practice for Questions up to, say, No. Q10 to be linked in that manner, but you have said on occasions from the Chair, presumably when it has suited you—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—it obviously did not suit you today—that on these occasions if a preponderance of hon. Members on the Opposition benches asked similar Questions you would pay attention to the linking of identical Questions lower down on the Order Paper.

It crosses my mind that as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was suffering somewhat from the attacks being made upon him by the Opposition the balance was not as well adjusted as it might have been in his defence from the Government side of the House—not that that might have happened. It is import- ant when you make, not rulings but the kind of conventions that you have made from the Chair, that you should try to apply them fairly and evenly to both sides of the House irrespective of the individual hon. Member.

If the hon. Member has any allegations to make against the Chair he should do it in the appropriate manner by a motion. Otherwise, I will give his observations the attention which I think they deserve.

North Sea Oil (Petroleum Revenue Tax)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about petroleum revenue tax.

On Second Reading of the Oil Taxation Bill I indicated that any relief for marginal fields would be decided in the light of the consultations with the oil companies launched on 19th November. Following these consultations the Government have decided that safeguards for the marginal fields will be of two kinds. First, there will be a discretionary provision in the Petroleum Bill to refund royalties in whole or in part. Any refund of royalties will be free of PRT and corporation tax.

Secondly, there will be a non-discretionary provision within the tax system. In considering what form the provision should take we have paid careful attention to the various suggestions put forward by the spokesmen of the companies themselves, and our proposals follow some of those suggestions, though I do not claim that they go as far.

The non-discretionary provision will contain two elements. First, under the present PRT provisions of the Bill an uplift of 50 per cent.on capital expenditure is allowed in lieu of interest; we propose an additional 25 per cent., making a total uplift of 75 per cent., all of which can be claimed in the first year of tax liability. This will give the industry a further element of front-end loading, that is revenue free of PRT, which will help it to recover capital early in the life of the field.

Secondly, we propose an oil allowance per field of 1 million tons of oil a year, which will be free of PRT, subject to a cumulative total of 10 million tons per field. That is to say, in each chargeable period of six months, an allowance in money terms equivalent to half a million tons will be available to set against PRT liability.

These provisions will of course benefit all fields, not merely marginal fields, in exempting a substantial tranche of their revenue from PRT, and to that extent giving them a more secure prospect of return on their investment. But, since the tonnage allowance is the same for large fields and small, it will be of proportionately greater benefit to the latter, and we have had this in mind in adapting the suggestions received from the industry.

I believe that these provisions will help us to fix a rate of PRT with greater security that it will leave the companies an adequate rate of return. I am, of course, fully seized of the fact that a change in the price of oil relative to price levels generally could have a profound effect on profitability. I therefore made it clear on Second Reading, and I take this opportunity to reaffirm, that the Government will stand ready to review and adjust the incidence of PRT in the event of a sustained and significant change in the price of oil in real terms.

I have given careful thought to the representations made that there should be some more automatic protection against a fall in the oil price and a consequential reduction in revenues. We therefore propose that there should be a safeguard provision that to the extent that in any year the PRT charge reduces the return on a field before corporation tax to less than 30 per cent. of capital expenditure measured on the basis of historic cost, that charge will be cancelled. There will be a tapering provision above 30 per cent.

These non-discretionary provisions will be introduced at the Report stage of the Oil Taxation Bill.

I come now to the rate of tax. I had originally envisaged that the rate of PRT would be enacted in the spring Finance Bill. However, now that the timetable allows this, I propose that it be incorporated in the Oil Taxation Bill. In considering the rate, we have in mind two objectives. First, we must ensure that the Government, on behalf of the British people, secure sufficient overall revenue and sufficient benefit to the balance of payments from this raw material asset. Secondly, we must ensure for the companies an adequate return on capital and an adequate incentive for further development and exploration so as to ensure that the oil continues to flow. In the light of these considerations we propose a rate of PRT of 45 per cent.

It is evident that the Paymaster-General has listened with a good deal of care and understanding to the views of the industry. Is he aware that we are glad to see that he now accepts unequivocally the need both for an adequate return on capital investment and for adequate incentives for development and exploration? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the proposals in the statement, coupled with the other substantial amendments which have been made or promised, represents a considerable improvement in the Bill as it was introduced?

Is it not equally clear that the right hon. Gentleman's task in devising a variable tax on windfall profits has been made far more difficult than necessary by his clinging to the wholly inappropriate flat-rate prior charge field-by-field structure that is in the Bill?

As 1 million tons a year is equal to no more than 20,000 barrels a day, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is only the tiniest fields that are likely to be exempt from PRT under his relief? I accept that the Paymaster-General's purpose is to achieve both profitability and incentives for the industry, but is he aware that we entertain serious doubts whether his reliefs are adequate and whether they will be enough to restore confidence to an industry in which confidence has been badly shaken by the Oil Taxation Bill as originally introduced?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not say anything that will reduce confidence in the future of this country's oil industry by attaching himself to any claim, however extravagant, made by the oil companies.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we had now accepted unequivocally the argument that the oil companies must have a reasonable rate of return. We have from the beginning accepted that unequivocally. It was for that reason that on 19th November I called the oil companies into consultation, a consultation that has gone on since. The object of that was to ensure that we had the right facts on which to base our decisions.

The right hon. Member says that the task of making provision for marginal fields had been made far more difficult by the structure of the tax. That is not the case. I am sure that the provision we are making is adequate for the marginal fields. Many fields will be largely relieved of PRT, particularly the smaller fields, and in considering the problem of marginal fields one has to look to the future at least as much as to existing fields. As a result of this concession, exploration in future fields which may be smaller than some of those so far discovered will be encouraged.

The method used by my right hon. Friend in presenting his statement and the basis of the calculations he has presented to the House suggest that the price of oil will be left to free market considerations under commercial conditions. Does he accept that the Labour Party is committed to having regulated and controlled prices of oil in very strictly controlled conditions? Will he therefore now give confidence to the Labour movement rather than to the commercial oil market by saying that he is to carry out the provisions of our manifesto and insist, for as far as the future can tell, on complete regulation in oil prices?

I am sure that the manifesto is being carried out completely. Of course these decisions are based on the assumption of market prices and the safeguard provisions; and the marginal field provisions, are to take care of possible changes in real terms of market prices.

Will the Paymaster-General accept that we on this bench have consistently held the view that there should be a direct relationship between the revenue-raising potential of the oil and the funding of the Scottish Development Agency? When will the Government bring forward proposals on that score?

As the hon. Member knows, the proposals for the SDA will be brought forward shortly.

Has not Burmah taught us that the cash flow position is absolutely critical in the rate of oil exploitation? Will my right hon. Friend say precisely what he means by the recovery of capital "early in the life of a field"? What does "early in the life of a field" mean in the case of marginal fields?

In the case of marginal fields, as in other fields, 175 per cent. of the capital expenditure will be offset against revenue before PRT makes any impact on the field. In addition there will then be the oil allowance. The companies are given front-end loading, that is to say they are relieved at a very early stage of their capital liabilities before they pay PRT, and this should be of great assistance to them and also a great encouragement to future development.

If the right hon. Gentleman is not in a position to do so this afternoon, will he be kind enough to make available to the House subsequently a comparison of the net effect of tax and cost in respect of a million-barrel-a-day field sited in Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States?

I shall certainly look at the right hon. Gentleman's question and see what help I can give him.

What benefits will the regions of high unemployment in England get from the oil revenue?

I trust that one of the effects of this tax and of the discovery of these raw material resources will be to give some impetus to the British economy, with beneficial effects on employment generally.

Will the Minister accept that his statement about concessions to the international oil companies will be greeted with considerable horror and anger in Scotland—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Will he further indicate his estimate of the revenues to be expected at a production of 150 million tons at current prices on current rates of corporation tax and taking account of the rate of PRT which he has just announced?

Does he accept that the 30 per cent. guaranteed rate of return is far too high, particularly in present circumstances? The 50 per cent. uplift which was previously proposed would have led in certain fields to capital investment being repaid over two or three years' production. Does he accept that the situation has been worsened by his proposal to increase this uplift in interest to 75 per cent.?

I cannot believe that the people of Scotland will greet this announcement with horror and anger. On the contrary, the people of Scotland are as aware as people anywhere else in Britain that it is necessary that the oil should flow before we get any tax revenue out of it, and the measures I have announced today will assist that to happen.

The hon. Member asked for an estimate of revenues on the basis of certain figures of oil production in—I take it—the 1980s. He will understand that in the early years the revenue from North Sea oil will be relatively small but growing fast. In the early 1980s, at a figure of 100 million tons, it should be £2,000 million or £3,000 million. Of course, the higher the production the greater the consequent revenues. However, all figures in this respect must be treated with some caution because they depend, first, on the price of oil and, secondly, on the cost of exploration and development. I therefore suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we wait to see what we get before relying on it too much.

Is the Minister aware that whatever the reactions in Scotland, many English Members will see this as giving in to the wealthy oil companies? Is he aware that his action is similar in pattern to giving in to the office property people—ending the freeze on office rents—and to the landowners on CTT? Does he agree that this is not in keeping with the concluding paragraph in our election manifesto which talked of a great and irreversible switch from rich to poor and of greater equality in our country? I understand the pressure to which my right hon. Friend has been subjected, but we seem to be giving in all down the line, and the Labour movement must resist that.

By this tax we are trying to achieve a great and irreversible switch of profits from the oil companies to the British Government. However, it is necessary to ensure that the oil flows and we have to accept that the oil companies must make a reasonable return on their investment. That is all that we have done. We have established a reasonable sharing between the British people and the companies which are doing the work and on whose expertise we continue to rely.

Is the Minister aware that the most important thing he has said has been his reference to the necessity to get the oil flowing, and one of the main factors in delaying things in the North Sea and in other areas such as Canada has been the sheer uncertainty surrounding so much of the operation. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that every effort will be made to expedite the further negotiations with the oil companies over participation? Does he not agree that the simplest way of getting things going and of enabling the companies to raise money would be to bring forward these proposals as quickly as possible even if he is unable to drop them entirely, which is what he should do?

Every effort will be made to expedite progress on participation. The hon. Member referred to uncertainty. One of the objectives of our handling of the Oil Taxation Bill, in conducting the talks concurrently with the legislative process, has been precisely to reduce the period of uncertainty. We should now be able to complete this measure in a period of four months which I think is a considerable contribution to reducing uncertainty in this area.

Will my right hon. Friend proceed according to the earlier consultations with the oil companies and ensure that there is no further delay or dithering with regard to North Sea development? Will my right hon. Friend agree that the green light he has given is at least adequate, even though the Opposition think that the oil companies should be given even more?

We wish to see North Sea development going ahead fast. The evidence we have suggests that it is going ahead as fast as is practicable. There are many causes of delay, some of which are due to natural circumstances—such as the North Sea in which the development is going ahead. It is our objective that it should go ahead as rapidly as possible.

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember saying in Committee, during the discussions on the Oil Taxation Bill on 10th January, that marginality was not a question of petroleum revenue tax alone and that corporation tax represented a large proportion of the burden that companies would have to pay? Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement today rule out any possible change in the rules governing the disallowance of interest for corporation tax purposes, for example? Does he realise that the concessions he has announced today in an inflationary era are no substitute for the disallowance of interest, and that interest burdens increase progressively with inflation, while concessions on capital decrease progressively?

We are looking very carefully at the arguments advanced in Committee on the Oil Taxation Bill regarding interest and in respect of corporation tax. We have had further consultations with the companies on that point. We shall be coming to a decision on it in time for Report. Since marginality is not simply a matter of petroleum revenue tax, we have introduced into our scheme the possibility of a discretionary refunding of royalties free of PRT and corporation tax. I think that the discretionary power in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, in consultation with the Treasury, will suffice to help any marginal field that should be developed.

In the course of his negotiations on this subject, did my right hon. Friend make it plain to the oil companies that the Government would not go back on their commitment to 51 per cent. participation? Is he aware that Government supporters will take a much more lenient view on taxation if they know that control of the subsidies means that the revenue taxable cannot be shifted around?

There is a commitment to 51 per cent. participation, of which the oil companies are aware. The strategy we are following requires that the British people's share of the profits will be obtained by taxation. The participation negotiations are directed to securing greater control.

Does the Minister accept the proposition which the Government have put forward that the oil companies' profit will be the same on 49 per cent. participation as though they had 100 per cent. control?

In so far as we think it right to take a share of the profits—and we do—that course will be achieved by taxation. The participation negotiations are related to the control of the oil and the operation.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement today will be regarded by the Labour movement with a great deal of concern? Some would go so far as to consider that this is little short of a sell-out in response to the blackmail which has gone on for a considerable time by the oil firms both within and outside this country. Will my right hon. Friend answer this more detailed question? When we consider that the 45 per cent. will be offset by the capital allowance of 175 per cent., and then by the £1 million allocation to assist the marginal fields, overall, what will the amount of tax be in relation to those offsets, taking them into account over the period of the first five years' operation? Will the figure be much nearer 30 per cent. than 45 per cent.?

My hon. Friend says that there will be a great deal of concern. However, he must remember that in addition to PRT there will be corporation tax at 52 per cent. and royalty at 12½ per cent. As a result of the rate of PRT which I have just announced, estimating the proportion of the revenues in a field which the Government will take, and accepting that that will vary from field to field because marginal fields have a lower take while other fields have a higher take, I estimate that the average over the next 10 years will probably be of the order of 70 per cent. I do not think that that figure should lead to concern.

Is the Minister aware that the vindictive and spiteful attitude of the Scottish National Party to the oil companies does not represent the views of the people of Scotland, who will welcome the statement of the concessions he has made? Has he evidence, which I believe exists, that if the burden of taxation is unreasonably high, the oil will not flow and jobs and prosperity will disappear?

It is necessary that the burden of taxation shall not be unreasonably high. We have had that in mind in fixing the rate of tax, which, at this level, we think is right. On the basis of our estimates, founded on figures provided by the companies, we think that this leaves the companies a reasonable rate of return which will enable them to continue their development and exploration work, which is essential if the oil is to continue to flow.

Conspiracy (Amendment)

3. 57 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that the maximum sentence which may be imposed on any person convicted of conspiracy shall not exceed the maximum sentence which could have been imposed if he had committed the crime which he was charged with conspiring to commit; and for connected purposes.
I ask the House to bear with me if I stick very closely to my notes so as to avoid unnecessary delay.

The object of the Bill is to seek the authority of the House to present a measure which would reform the law of conspiracy. This is necessary and urgent, and is required to reassert the authority of Parliament.

Conspiracy is not a crime defined in any Act of Parliament. It was invented in the time of King James I by the Court of Star Chamber. Generally speaking, the law of conspiracy is in need of reform in general. It makes into a crime, very often, acts which if committed by a single individual would not be criminal. This is a matter which requires to be dealt with urgently by legislation. However, the object of the Bill, for which leave is sought to introduce, is much more limited.

The Long Title refers to the maximum sentence which may be imposed in cases of conspiracy. It seems extraordinary that an attempt to commit a crime, or even an agreement to participate in it, irrespective of whether the crime was committed or not, should be more severely punished than the crime itself, if committed.

It is an insult to the authority of Parliament that any outside body, even the judges, should be able to pass heavier sentences for attempting to commit a crime if that crime was alleged to have been part of a conspiracy, when Parliament has fixed a maximum penalty for the crime itself.

The matter has been brought to a head by the sentences passed in the so-called Shrewsbury conspiracy trial. In that trial, as in an equally important case in trade union history—that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs—the accused were sentenced for conspiracy. In the Shrewsbury case they were charged with conspring to intimidate.

Under Section 7 of the 1875 Act, intimidation is an offence for which a maximum penalty of imprisonment is laid down,
"… for a term not exceeding three months."
Once a defendant is charged under this section, not with intimidation but with conspiring to contravene the statute, he is placed entirely at the judge's mercy and could be sentenced to life imprisonment if the judge so decided. At the Shrewsbury Crown Court, one of those charged, Dennis Warren, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for conspiring to intimidate "lump" labourers, a punishment 12 times heavier than the maximum for direct intimidation provided by the statute. The object of this modest Bill is to limit the judge's power of sentencing to that which Parliament has laid down for the commission of the offence itself.

I suggest that it is illogical and absurd that if someone intimidates a worker contrary to the law, he or she, in accordance with the law laid down by this Parliament, is subject to a maximum penalty of only three months' imprisonment, whereas he or she can be sentenced to three years' imprisonment for attempting in concert with other people to carry out the same intimidation, quite irrespective of whether anyone was intimidated.

This absurdity has come prominently to light because it has affected industrial relations, but it could equally affect the most ordinary cases of trivial offences where two or more people agreed to commit them. There was such a case, Regina v. Blamires Transport Services, in which two people stopped, could not find a parking meter, and broke the Road Traffic Act by their action. They conspired together in that they agreed that they would pay the fine if a fine arose from their act. In those circumstances—this is not a hypothetical case—it was affirmed that a penalty of life imprisonment could have been imposed by the judge.

I am more concerned to examine how the Conspiracy Act has been applied and how conspiracy generally has been applied in regard to trade unions and social and political agitation generally. I remind the House that in 1872 the gas workers organised a strike and were convicted under this head because they persuaded other workers not to work. This gave rise, as we know, to the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875, which abolished the crime of criminal conspiracy in all trade disputes except where the act committed was itself criminal—that is to say, a factory was burned down or damage to property occurred.

Since that time, however, the judges, determined not to be defeated, have decided that the Act abolished only criminal conspiracy and that there remained a civil liability for conspiracy to pay damages to the employer who was injured or otherwise molested. Under this ruling, for example, in 1895 trade unions which posted up blacklists of blackleg workers who did not join a strike were made liable for conspiracy to injure. However, it is typical of the bias shown by the courts in these matters that in 1892 and 1902 the circulation of lists of strikers and troublemakers by employers' associations was held not to be a civil wrong because the employers were defending their legitimate self-interest. In the same way, in 1892 traders who undercut competitors were held not liable, and in 1942 in the famous crofters' case a similar decision was taken.

The main case against the law on conspiracy, however, is that it is not used against major conspiracy. The recent Loyalist strike in Northern Ireland was denounced by the Prime Minister himself as an attempt at intimidation, and undoubtedly important political personalities could have been indicted for conspiracy for their part in organising the intimidation and the violence which accompanied the strike in question. No such action was taken. But conspiracy remains as a weapon of the employer against the employee and of the Government whose decisions may be the source of agitation by combinations of people with different value orientations.

It is against this background that I seek the leave of the House to introduce the short Bill which I have described.

4.5 p.m.

I do, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) has attempted to blind us with legal points. He is not a lawyer, any more than I am. He was simply reading from a brief. However, I wish to put my opposing arguments in my own way.

The object of the Bill is to nullify the common law offence of conspiracy. As the hon. Gentleman said, it arises from the case of the Shrewsbury pickets and the imprisonment of Warren and Tomlinson for two and three years respectively.

What the hon. Gentleman does not realise fully is that, if the conspiracy charge had not been made and the two men had been tried on the 39 out of 42 other counts on which they were arraigned, far greater sentences could have been imposed, and probably would have been, on the grounds of intimidation and assault.

As I see it, what the hon. Gentleman is not doing is to claim the rights of pickets to go about their business peacefully. He seems to be claiming the right that they should be allowed to picket violently when the need arises, using whatever degree of force to obtain their ends. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]

As the trial judge pointed out, there is the right to picket peacefully. But other freedoms and rights are also involved. There is the right for men to work if they wish to. There is the right for them to refuse to withdraw their labour if they wish to continue doing their work. There is the right to go about their work freely without fear of intimidation—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate to raise a point of order—

Order. It is not the practice to have points of order either way during the introduction of a Ten-Minute Bill.

I am sorry to do this. It is the first time that I have done it during the 10 years that I have been a Member of this House. But this is an important point of order.

As I understand it, the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) was given leave to oppose the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne). However, the hon. Gentleman is speaking about another matter altogether. No longer is he linking his remarks to the Bill. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in order for the House to listen to the hon. Gentleman.

Certainly it is in order. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) is developing an argument against the Bill. The quality of that argument or its precise relevance are not matters for me, unless the hon. Gentleman is talking about some completely different topic which is utterly irrelevant. At the moment, I cannot rule the hon. Member for Esher out of order.

I confirm that what I was saying was absolutely on the topic of the discussion. The hon. Member for Preston, South referred specifically to the Shrewsbury pickets.

I deal with the Bill on three grounds—the ground of fact, the ground of law and the ground of motive. On the matter of fact, the offences of September 1972 are well known and hardly bear repeating. A brief repetition should be made on this occasion. This is what eye-witnesses saw:
"The men entered the sites in what was described as a mad swarm. They were shouting, 'Kill the bastards.' They also shouted, 'This is a revolution and not a strike'."
One man was threatened to have his legs broken if he resisted. Another man was pulled off his ladder, hit his head and was in hospital for eight days with severe concussion. Others were attacked with bricks, were stoned—[Interruption.]—and hit with iron bars. Buildings were smashed, huts demolished and windows broken. Equipment was broken up and overturned and—

I hesitate to rise because there have been occasions when I have strayed from the point, whatever debate I have been taking part in. I must draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that for most of the time that the hon. Member has been speaking he has been completely out of order in that he has not been speaking about the Bill. It is important that you devote your mind to that.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There has developed a welcome tradition for points of order which are sought to be raised during Question Time to be taken at the end of that period. Would it not be appropriate for those who seek to raise points of order during the debate on a Ten-Minute Bill to reserve their points of order until the conclusion of the debate?

I certainly thought that that was the convention of the House. I do not think that I have known more than one or two occasions in my 29 years here when points of order have been raised during Ten-Minute Bills. It is an undesirable practice. As the point has been raised I will try to deal with it. I have to decide on the degree of irrelevance which I think requires me to intervene. Whether the argument is strictly relevant and whether it arises out of the same matter as the Bill, is a matter for me to decide. The hon. Member has not yet gone so far that I can or will say he is out of order.

This matter needs to be put in absolutely clear and unmistakeable terms. We have the story put over by the opposite side of the House. It is time for the true facts to be given. Never in the history of picketing have such violent scenes taken place in this country.

On the matter of law, six men were tried on three counts of conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray. Tomlinson and Warren were found guilty of all three, although Tomlinson faced 30 other counts and Warren 39 other counts of assault and intimidation. On appeal the first two were upheld and the third quashed on a point of law. The conspiracy element is commonly used in such cases to accentuate the degree of criminality of the crime.

Continuing on the matter of law, the hon. Gentleman may wish to pray in aid the Law Commission's Report No. 50. It will be noted that the report is critical of conspiracy for unlawful acts and civil wrongs such as fraud and indecency. But it is not critical of conspiracy when it is a question of committing a criminal offence. In any case this was issued only as a discussion paper. If the hon. Member has this in mind he is wilfully misunderstanding the report.

I come now to the question of motive. I have to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the hon. Gentleman is well known as an extreme Left winger. He has been prominent in opposing the defence cuts and he has got into trouble—not only with his Front Bench, but also with his constituents, particularly those working for BAC. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is not on trial."] The hon. Member is also one of the leading opponents of the increases in the Civil List and is also a leading member of the "Troops Out" campaign and took—[Interruption.]—part in the IRA rally in London on 27th October, when 9 were arrested and 14 were subsequently charged with conspiracy.

I hope that the House will listen to the hon. Member quietly. When it is the other way round the noise is just as great on the other side; in either case, it is to be deprecated.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a deliberate assassination. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) is embarking on a deliberate campaign of character assassination. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is a disgrace to the House.

Order. I will not have it said in this House that it is character assassination to say of an hon. Member that he presses for defence cuts.

The hon. Member is well known for these activities, and this has to be said. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are you well known for?"] One of the hon. Member's right hon. Friends has alluded to these pickets as the "iron bar squad". These are the people the hon. Member extols. On grounds of motive alone, this Bill should go no further. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's motives are strictly correct and proper. I know that the Bill willߞ

I must call the hon. Member to order. I do not think he is entitled to impute an improper motive.

If I inadvertently did so, I withdraw. This is a question which should be decided by the Government. It

Division No. 107.]

AYES

[4.16 p.m.

Abse, LeoGraham, TedPhipps, Dr Colin
Allaun, FrankGrant, George (Morpeth)Prescott, John
Ashley, JackGrocott, BrucePrice C. (Lewisham W)
Ashton, JoeHamilton, James (Bothwell)Radice, Giles
Atkinson, NormanHamling, WilliamRichardson, Miss Jo
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Hardy, PeterRobertson, John (Paisley)
Beith, A. J.Hatton, FrankRodgers, George (Chorley)
Bennett, Andrew(Stockport N)Hayman Mrs HeleneRooker, J. W.
Bidwell, SydneyHooley, FrankRoper, John
Blenkinsop, ArthurHowells, Geraint (Cardigan)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)
Bradley, TomHuckfield, LesSandelson, Neville
Bray, Dr JeremyHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Sedgemore, Brian
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Selby, Harry
Buchan, NormanHughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Canavan, DennisHughes, Roy (Newport)Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Cant, R. B.Hunter, AdamShort, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Carter, RayIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Silverman, Julius
Clemitson, IvorJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Johnson, James (Hull West)Small, William
Cohen, StanleyJohnson, Walter (Derby S)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Colquhoun, Mrs MaureenJones, Alec (Rhondda)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Kaufman, GeraldSnape, Peter
Crawshaw, RichardKelley, RichardSpearing, Nigel
Cryer, BobKinnock, NeilSpriggs, Leslie
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)Lambie, DavidStallard, A. W.
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Lamond, JamesSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Latham, Arthur (Paddington)Stott, Roger
Dempsey, JamesLee, JohnSwain, Thomas
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Eadie, AlexLipton, MarcusThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Edelman, MauriceLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Edge, GeoffMabon, Dr J. DicksonThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)MacFarquhar, RoderickVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Madden, MaxWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
English, MichaelMarks, KennethWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Weetch, Ken
Evans, John (Newton)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Wellbeloved, James
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)White, Frank R. (Bury)
Faulds, AndrewMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Whitehead, Phillip
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Newens, StanleyWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Noble, MikeWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Forrester, JohnPalmer, ArthurWise, Mrs Audrey
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Pardoe, JohnWoodall, Alec
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Park, GeorgeWoof, Robert
Ginsburg, DavidParker, John
Golding, JohnParry, RobertTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gould, BryanPenhaligon, DavidMr. Martin Flannery and
Gourlay, HarryPerry, ErnestMr. Ian Mikardo.

NOES

Baker, KennethBraine, Sir BernardChannon, Paul
Bell, RonaldBrotherton, MichaelChurchill, W. S.
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Clark, William (Croydon S)
Benyon, W.Bryan, Sir PaulClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Berry, Hon AnthonyBuchanan-Smith, AlickClegg, Walter
Biffen, JohnBuck, AntonyCooke, Robert (Bristol W)
Biggs-Davison, JohnBurden, F. A.Cope, John
Blaker, PeterButler, Adam (Bosworth)Cormack, Patrick
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Chalker, Mrs LyndaCorrie, John

is a matter of law and is not something for us to decide here. I do not propose to divide the House today—[ Interruption.] My hon. Friends are pressing me to do so. In the circumstances it would be right for me to do so.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 ( Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at the commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 166.

Costain, A. P.King, Evelyn (South Dorset)Prior, Rt Hon James
Crouch, DavidKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)Kitson, Sir TimothyRathbone, Tim
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLamont, NormanRawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Drayson, BurnabyLane, DavidRenton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Latham, Michael (Melton)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Elliott, Sir WilliamLawrence, IvanRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fairgrieve, RussellLawson, NigelRidley, Hon Nicholas
Farr, JohnLe Marchant, SpencerRifkind, Malcolm
Fell, AnthonyLester, Jim (Beeston)Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Finsberg, GeoffreyLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)McCusker, H.Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fookes, Miss JanetMacfarlane, NeilScott-Hopkins, James
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)MacGregor, JohnShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Fox, MarcusMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fry, PeterMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Shepherd, Colin
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Silvester, Fred
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Marten, NeilSims, Roger
Glyn, Dr AlanMates, MichaelSinclair, Sir George
Goodhew, VictorMather, CarolSkeet, T. H. H.
Gorst, JohnMaude, AngusSmith, Dudley (Warwick)
Gray, HamishMaudling, Rt Hon ReginaldSpeed, Keith
Grieve, PercyMawby, RaySpence, John
Griffiths, EldonMayhew, PatrickSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Hall, Sir JohnMeyer, Sir AnthonySproat, Iain
Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Stanley, John
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Mills, PeterStokes, John
Hampson, Dr KeithMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Stradling Thomas, J.
Hannam, JohnMoate, RogerTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Molyneaux, JamesTebbit, Norman
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon MissMonro, HectorTownsend, Cyril D.
Hayhoe, BarneyMontgomery, FergusTrotter, Neville
Heseltine, MichaelMorris, Michael (Northampton S)Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Holland, PhilipMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Hordern, PeterMorrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Wall, Patrick
Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyMudd, DavidWeatherill, Bernard
Howell David (Guildford)Nelson, AnthonyWells, John
Hurd DouglasNeubert, MichaelWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Newton, TonyWiggin, Jerry
James, DavidNormanton, TomWinterton, Nicholas
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)Nott, JohnWood, Rt Hon Richard
Jessel, TobyOnslow, CranleyYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)Oppenheim, Mrs SallyYounger, Hon George
Jones, Arthur (Daventry)Osborn, John
Jopling, MichaelPage, John (Harrow West)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Kaberry Sir DonaldPage, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles and
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElainePattie, GeoffreyMr. Ivor Stanbrook.
Kershaw, AnthonyPeyton, Rt Hon John

Question accordingly negatived.

Orders Of The Day

Supply

[11TH ALLOTTED DAY],— considered.

Energy

4.28 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the salary of the Secretary of State for Energy should be reduced by the sum of £1,000.

By the time I have finished, I think that hon. Members opposite will agree that we are right.

It is almost exactly a year since the Secretary of State entered upon his high office and it is time that he was called to account. It has been a year which has seen the world price of oil forced inexorably upwards; a year in which the United Kingdom's oil deficit may have exceeded £3,500 million; a year in which most of the developed world has embarked on a major expansion of nuclear power; and a year in which in many parts of the world the prospects for oil and gas exploration have become brighter and activity has greatly intensified. Such places as Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, India, offshore Canada and the United States are attracting intensive activity. It has been a year in which the potential outlook for the United Kingdom's coal industry has been dramatically enhanced. I stress the word "potential" because the reality already looks a little shaky. It has been a year in which the world has had to begin to learn how to save energy, how to use it more rationally, how to use it more efficiently.

It has by any standards been a challenging year. How has the Government's energy policy measured up to the challenge? How does the right hon. Gentleman's balance sheet stand? Although some of my remarks will be critical of the Government and their policy, I want to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, because what we need to do is to strike a balance.

On the credit side—and I say this unhesitatingly and unstintingly—the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have taken major steps to move towards a system of rational energy pricing throughout the economy, and we support that. Indeed, it was foreshadowed by my noble Friend Lord Barber, as he now is, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in his statement in December 1973. All I ask in relation to that, addressing myself to the Government back benches, is what the Labour Party's reaction would have been if it had been a Conservative Government which had had to take these hard decisions. I should like Labour Members to examine their consciences on that.

Some hon. Members who were then on the Opposition benches opposed the previous subsidy policy introduced by the Conservative Government from the very beginning, and I was one of them.

The hon. Gentleman is right, but I wonder what the reaction of most of his hon. Friends below the Gangway would have been if we had tried to take those hard decisions.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman has taken a major step to bring justice to the sufferers of pneumoconiosis, hitherto neglected by Governments of all parties. The Bill is going through the House, and it has our support.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman took a firm and clear decision on the choice of nuclear reactors. It was an extraordinarily complex and difficult decision, and it required courage. It was, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said, an act of faith, and therefore I do not grudge the Secretary of State his due.

But whatever credit the right hon. Gentleman may claim for the successes of his energy policy, they are massively outweighed by the failures that are plain for all to see. The crumbling North Sea oil programme, the stagnating nuclear programme, the astonishingly lethargic approach to energy saving and energy research, the speed with which price rises in the coal industry have gobbled up the headroom created by the rise in oil prices—these are the chilly results of the right hon. Gentleman's year in office; it is on these that he and his policies stand condemned.

Before I catalogue the details of these charges there is one separate matter with which I must deal, and that refers to the 20 per cent. holding in BP sold by the Burmah Oil Company to the Bank of England. There are two distinct aspects of this affair which merit examination.

The first is whether Burmah shareholders are entitled to share in the profits which the Bank has made—profits which stand at more than £100 million. It is not for me to intervene between Burmah shareholders and the directors of the company—and I understand that there is a possibility of legal action—but it is very much the concern of the House and of the Opposition to see that public bodies behave honourably and fairly.

All the indications are that the Bank of England was, and remains, prepared to enter into an arrangement to share the profit with the company, and all the indications are that it was the Government who killed the idea. That was confirmed in a Written Answer on Friday in answer to a Question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter):
"The Government considered that this arrangement was fair both to the shareholders and to the taxpayer".—[Official Report, 21st February 1975; Vol. 886, c. 561.]
The right hon. Gentleman does not need me to tell him that thousands of small shareholders in the company, pension funds and institutional investors take a very different view. There is a deep sense of outrage that although the Bank is ready to recognise the harsh effect of what has happened the Government should forbid it to do anything about the situation.

It may be that the matter will be tested in the courts. Whatever the outcome—and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to be aware of this—the episode will have done lasting damage to the credibility and independence of the Bank of England as a lender of last resort.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what his attitude would have been had the stock market fallen during the subsequent period?

That is a hypothetical question, because it did not. In fact, it rose substantially.

Even more serious is the confusion about what is to happen about the BP shares. The House will know that when the shares were bought the Bank, on behalf of the Government, gave a pledge to the Takeover Panel—and I quote from the Financial Times of 24th January—that
"It is not Her Majesty's Government's intention that this transaction should change in any way the existing arrangements between the Government and BP and that, accordingly, while the stock in question remains in the Bank's hands, Her Majesty's Government will not exercise a greater proportionate voting power in relation to other shareholders than they could have exercised hitherto."
The statement went on to say that the panel had ruled that in these circumstances there need be no bid for the outstanding shares.

But what do we see? Perhaps the Sun had the best headline:
"Benn backs bid for State to grab BP."
The Home Affairs Committee of the Labour Party, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Industry is chairman, has openly challenged that ruling and has apparently sent representations to the Secretary of State for Energy and his right hon. Friends that the Bank of England should now hand over these shares to the Government. We have the bizarre spectacle of the Bank and Treasury, having given solemn undertakings to the Takeover Panel, being publicly challenged by another member of the Cabinet. This is outrageous. This can be met only by a clear and unequivocal statement by the right hon. Gentleman today that the Government stand by the undertaking which they gave to the Takeover Panel and, furthermore, that the Bank will aim to dispose of the BP shares on the market as soon as practicable.

Perhaps I may clear that matter up straight away. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry was not at the meeting to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and that report is inaccurate.

In that case, every newspaper got it wrong. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say—and I chose my words with great care—that he was not in the chair on that occasion. If the Secretary of State says that his right hon. Friend was not at the meeting at all, of course I accept this.

This matter of the disposal of the BP shares is of crucial importance. Over the years BP has succeeded in establishing credibility overseas as an independent commercial company, and that it is not a mere creature of Government. By this dangerous flirting with the idea of takeover the Government risk wrecking it all. BP has huge assets in Alaska and the United States of America, and there is already a growing volume of criticism there that their oil supplies are in the hands of a foreign Government. The stupid talk of takeover can only damage the national interest and make the company's position more vulnerable than it is now.

I now turn to the main counts in the Government's energy policy failures. The first is energy saving. The Department has truly lived up to its sobriquet as "Department of Lethargy". We had to wait until 9th December to get anything, and then we had the 12-point programme which was little more than a public relations exercise. It has been estimated that it will not save more than £10 million to £15 million of oil in a year, which is equal to, say, one to one-and-a-half days' delay in bringing ashore North Sea oil.

The advertising campaign is a dismal flop. Incidentally, who in the Department was responsible for the remarkable observation in one of the advertisements—
"Did you realise steam costs even more per ton than oil?"
I hope they did not realise that, because it is wrong by a factor of 10.

The failure stems partly from a lack of any capacity in the right hon. Gentleman's Department to deal with conservation, and partly because he appears to lack any sense of urgency about the matter. This is emerging from the evidence to the Select Committee. Sir Ieuan Maddock gave evidence last month that
"he was dismayed at the lack of feeling of crisis and high drama over the United Kingdom's energy situation."
Again, the Secretary of State's chief scientific adviser, Dr. Walter Marshall
"had some difficulty yesterday convincing the Commons Energy sub-committee that anything much was happening in his Department."
I know that we have been promised further statements, but what are the Government doing about the proposals put forward by NIFES—the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, the largest and most experienced fuel efficiency firm in Europe? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that NIFES's proposals have been sitting on his desk for about six months? Does he realise that the directors of NIFES have become so desperate at their failure to get any answers from his Department that they have now gone to the Department of Industry to see whether they can interest that Minister in what they are doing? Truly did the The Times describe the right hon. Gentleman's policy as one of
"delay and confusion in saving energy".
It is time for the right hon. Gentleman to take a grip on this, to get things moving and to inject some sense of urgency.

I will tell him what he should do. We need proper energy-saving targets for every sector of the economy. We need a crash programme to train fuel technologists. We need a proper system of energy audits in industry. We need proper incentives to invest in an energy-saving plant. The Secretary of State is fond of saying that more effective energy-saving measures could only result in misery. That simply is not true. It could result in greater efficiency and greater profitability. We need some imagination, some go, some enthusiasm. So far we have had absolutely none.

The story is the same with the nuclear programme. A courageous decision was made in July to go for heavy water reactors. What has happened since then? Virtually nothing. There has been almost total silence. The National Nuclear Corporation was to be restructured, but nothing has happened, and with what results? As The Sunday Times of 16th February said,
"Seven months after Energy Secretary Eric Varley took his dramatic decision to go firm on a series of British-designed power stations, the nuclear industry stands as demoralised and uncertain as ever it did."
There has been no announcement of revised shareholdings in NNC, no announcement of who is in charge, no announcement of contracts signed or designs approved. Last Wednesday we read in The Times,
"Statement expected today on nuclear restructuring"
but absolutely nothing happened. A few days ago we were told that an agreement on hand-over of AGR contracts was imminent, but on Thursday one read The Times headline,
"CEGB reactor agreement is deferred again".
It is an endless tale of delay and muddle. Why does not the Secretary of State knock their silly heads together, inject some urgency and get things moving? Not unnaturally, the people on the ground are getting restive. I have here a document from the Staff Side of the Joint Negotiating Panel of the TNPG. It reads:
"Staff representatives are becoming increasingly concerned at the lack of positive direction that is now evident in the nuclear industry."
They go on to blame GEC. I blame the Secretary of State. He is in charge.

There is one other matter I must raise in relation to the nuclear programme. On all sides it is agreed that it is a tiny programme—only 4,000 megawatts as compared with programmes three or four times that size by France and Germany. The CBI has argued that we need a bigger programme. The TUC is urging the right hon. Gentleman to speed up the country's nuclear energy programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), whom I am glad to see in his place, asked the right hon. Gentleman a question which perhaps I may be allowed to quote,
"Is the Secretary of State aware of the disappointment … at the Government's decision to proceed with a programme only one-third the size which the CEGB thought desirable? Will he confirm that the full programme suggested by the CEGB was unacceptable to the National Union of Mineworkers?"
To this question the right hon. Gentleman gave a very snide reply:
"I do not know what connection that supplementary question has with the matter under discussion. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take me to one side and explain precisely what he meant."—[Official Report, 10th July 1974; Vol. 876, c. 1368.]
But of course the right hon. Gentleman knows exactly what my hon. Friend meant because when he addressed the National Union of Mineworkers on 14th November 1974 he told them that the decision—that is, on the nuclear programme—
"was a decision of great importance to the coal industry. It puts faith in the British coal industry and British miners to deliver the coal needed for our power station programme … it can also be construed as an act of faith in the British coal industry and British miners to deliver the coal … needed."
It is nonsense for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he did not understand what my hon. Friend meant by his question.

So, to the charge of lethargy we have to add the charge of not being wholly frank with the House of Commons. [Interruption.] I am quoting from a Department of Energy hand-out of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The answer to my hon. Friend followed the right hon. Gentleman's statement on 10th July.

There is a disturbing rumour that work is not now to start for another two years, until the end of 1976. Is that true, and is it true that the Nuclear Inspectorate has raised a whole range of new difficulties on which it requires to be satisfied before it can give a site licence?

On coal, the Government were elected, and the right hon. Gentlemen's appointment was welcomed, because of, it was said, his ability to deal with the miners. In fact, in his first year he has suffered two major defeats. First, the union threw out the productivity scheme on which the right hon. Gentleman had placed so much importance. Secondly, the Government have been forced to accept a settlement which in the words of a leader in The Guardian of 14th February,
"only the broad-minded or the short-sighted could see … as being within the guildelines set out in the social contract."
That leader ended:
"The coalminers have not just made the prospects for unemployment this year more bleak. They may eventually find some of their own members have been priced out of work."
Hard on the heels of that judgment comes the warning from Mr. Arthur Hawkins that the colossal price increases which the miners' pay deal means for the CEGB can only lead to a sharp downturn in the demand for electricity. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) yesterday drew attention to this and to the grim consequences for the power station programme and for employment in the electric equipment industry.

I hope that in his reply the Secretary of State will give his Department's forecast for the building programme. Tens of thousands of jobs will depend upon it.

Indeed, I would ask him to go further. The tripartite examination of the coal industry was based on the assumption of a 30 per cent. headroom between coal and oil prices. Two great pay hikes in a year have eroded that headroom to the point of disappearance. The Secretary of State should now reconvene the tripartite study and re-examine the assumptions on which the Plan for Coal was based.

Finally, oil. This is the saddest, most disastrous tale of the lot, for to the charges of lethargy and lack of frankness must be added the charge of sheer, doctrinaire folly. A year ago when this Government came into office the offshore oil industry was all go. Finance was readily available, confidence was high, programmes were expanding and orders for equipment were booming. Today what do we see? We see confidence badly shaken, project finance—off-balance sheet finance—out of the question, unobtainable. United Kingdom oil is no longer a bankable proposition.

Almost every day over the last two months we have read in the Press of programmes slowing down, of rigs diverted and of investment postponed. The right hon. Gentleman should know that there have been redundancies in pipe coating mills in Leith because there has been no work. There has been labour unrest in platform yards due to lack of orders coming in for platforms. On every side there has been doubt, confusion, down-right dismay. The loss of confidence is mainly due to the Government's inept fiscal policy and doctrinaire nationalisation policy.

Today's announcement on PRT may go some way to repair the damage that has been done, but I doubt whether it will restore the incentive to explore for the small fields. The test will come over the next two years, to show how many exploration rigs there are—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may not know this, but at the moment between a half and a third of the number of oil rigs are wildcatting in the North Sea compared with those anticipated a year ago. I have read the speech that the hon. Gentleman made in Edinburgh and no doubt he will deal with that in his reply.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also confirm, as I said in Edinburgh—it is the truth—that the 28 rigs operating in the North Sea at present represent the highest proportion which has ever operated in the British sector.

But not as many as the industry had anticipated, and the great majority are now engaged in appraisal and delineation, and not in wild-catting for new discoveries. That is where future discoveries must come from.