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Commons Chamber

Volume 887: debated on Thursday 6 March 1975

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House Of Commons

Thursday 6th March 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

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

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday next at Seven o'clock.

Oral Answers To Questions

Home Department

Police (Cheshire)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the present establishment of the Cheshire police force; and to what extent it is up to strength.

On 31st January the establishment was 1,770 and the strength was 1,596.

Is the Minister aware that my constituents and I are grateful for the tremendous work done by the Cheshire Constabulary in its fight against crime? Does she agree in principle that the most effective deterrent against crime, particularly in urban areas, is to have policemen walking around on the beat, rather than driving around?

Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It is up to local police forces to make their own arrangements in that respect.

I welcome the Minister's statement about the Cheshire police force, but we are not quite so sanguine in Sussex. Is the Minister aware that the police force in Sussex, although it is under strength, is doing a magnificent job in detecting crime? What plans has the Minister for ensuring that the Sussex police force is brought up to strength, for improving the conditions of employment, and for maintaining recruitment?

Every effort is being made to increase the strength of the police service. I am glad to say that recruitment over the last few months has been very encouraging, and there has been some reduction in wastage.

Licensing Laws (Erroll Report)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is yet able to state what plans he has for implementing the recommendations of the Erroll Committee's Report.

22.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when changes may be expected in licensing hours on the lines suggested by the Erroll Committee.

There have been serious differences of opinion about a number of the recommendations in this report, and these need to be carefully weighed. My right hon. Friend is not yet in a position to make a statement.

Does the Minister consider that an extension of drinking hours up to a set total limit within any one day will hinder or help the increasing drunkenness that we can observe at and after closing time every night?

That is one of the highly controversial features of the Erroll Report. It is known that the problem of drunkenness and alcoholism, especially among young people, is substantial. The Government, therefore, have to give careful thought to any change in the law which might aggravate it.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I received an exactly similar answer to a question which I asked on 19th December last? Is she aware that the number of tied houses is increasing, the number of licensees is diminishing, exhorbitant rents are being demanded from licensees by brewers, and a growing monopoly situation is being created?

As my hon. Friend says, these problems do exist. They were all taken into consideration by the Erroll Committee and are dealt with in the report. The fact remains that there is great difference of opinion about many of the committee's recommendations.

Will the Department now emerge from the hibernation which it has endured for more than one winter, recognise that the first tourists of spring are with us, and allow the people of these islands to join them and make them welcome at any hour they wish?

I can only say that for every one person who agrees with the hon. Gentleman there are many who disagree.

I recognise that there are disagreements, but there is a large measure of agreement that the Home Secretary should introduce legislation and that the licensed trade is ready for an extension of hours, provided that a global total is chosen by the trade. Would not that action secure greater liberalisation and, at the same time, effective control? There has been a long delay, for which we are all responsible. I do not blame the Government for that.

The report was debated in the House of Lords in March 1973 and in this House in October 1973. I assure the House that the comments made by hon. Members are being carefully considered.

Is the hon. Lady aware that many of us applaud the cautious note which she has sounded this afternoon? In view of the rising trend of offences involving drunkenness and the increase in alcoholism among young people, is there not a strong case for not taking action until the full social consequences of the present trends are fully assessed?

I should inform the hon. Gentleman that in 1973 there was an increase in offences of juvenile drunkenness amounting to 32 per cent. in the male 14–17 age group.

Firearm Certificates

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the total number of firearm certificates in force in England and Wales at the latest available date; and how this compares with 1970.

The number of firearm certificates in force in England and Wales on 31st December 1974 was 185,865. The corresponding figure for 1970 is not available, but the figure for 1971 was 190,649.

I thank the hon. Lady for that information, which shows a slight decline in the number of licensed firearms. Will she say when the present review of firearm fees in the United Kingdom will be completed? Will she assure the House that any decision announced by the Government will not amount to a quadrupling of the fees required to possess firearms, as happened recently in Northern Ireland?

The firearm fees were set in January 1971 and various bodies are now being consulted about a possible increase. In the light of their comments, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will decide whether an increase is necessary.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a useful body to consult on these matters would have been a central advisory committee on the control of firearms—a body which I have suggested from time to time? Is it not more important to control the pool of illegally-held weapons, including automatic and other weapons, rather than the pool of the legitimately-held weapons, which includes only single-shot and semi-automatic weapons?

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. Every opportunity is made to tackle the problem of illegally-held weapons, but it is a difficult one. Even with certification of arms, they still get into the hands of irresponsible and unqualified people.

Shrewsbury Pickets

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the date and reasons for the transfer of the two Shrewsbury pickets, Messrs Warren and Tomlinson, from Sudbury, Derbyshire, Open Prison to closed prisons.

Mr. Warren and Mr. Tomlinson were transferred on 4th February to Lincoln and Leicester Prisons respectively because their refusal to work or wear prison clothes meant that their continued presence in an open prison was disruptive of the co-operation between prisoners and staff upon which the régime in open prisons is essentially based.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Had some of my hon. Friends been able to get there a little earlier, they may have had a profitable chat, which might have prevented these men having to be removed from the open prison. I thank my right hon. Friend for the facilities which his office is making available to my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) and Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who are to visit the Leicester and Lincoln Prisons tomorrow as a mark of solidarity. Has he noticed that the executive of the Transport and General Workers' Union—my union—yesterday unanimously asked the TUC to call a national strike in support of the campaign to obtain the release of these men?

In accordance with precedent I always allow hon. Members of this House to see prisoners who wish to see them. My hon. Friends so concerned are able to go to Lincoln and Leicester. On the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I saw the report to which he referred but I remain of the opinion, which will not surprise him or the House, that I do not believe that I should exercise my difficult judgment in these matters in response to any campaign, whether political or industrial.

Does the Home Secretary agree that, these two men having been convicted, following a proper trial, of criminal offences under the normal criminal law, and their appeal against both conviction and sentence having been dismissed, the vital thing is that they should be treated in prison in exactly the same way as is any other prisoner convicted of a criminal offence?

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that I have made my position on this matter clear.

Shoplifting

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what percentage of women who pleaded not guilty to shoplifting charges before Crown courts were acquitted by the jury concerned in the last year for which records are available.

The latest year for which detailed figures are available is 1971, when 62 per cent. of women who pleaded not guilty to charges of shoplifting at the Crown courts were acquitted. I shall provide my hon. Friend with more up-to-date information as soon as I can.

Does the Minister feel that the persistently high acquittal rate for this offence shows that the law on shoplifting is not being properly administered and that too many innocent people are being put at risk in respect of this very prevalent offence?

As a result of the recommendations of the working party in 1973, chief police officers have been consulting to see whether there should be greater uniformity in the way in which prosecutions are brought. Although my hon. Friend says that the acquittal rate is persistently high, he will note that it compares with an average of about 51 per cent. of all criminal offences in the Crown courts, and in relation to the totality of shoplifting offences only 5 per cent. of those charged with the offence are acquitted.

Does the Minister agree that the layout of many shops on the help-yourself principle is an inducement to shoplifting? Will he examine that aspect?

That aspect is rather outside the confines of the Home Office. It has been examined on earlier occasions by shopkeepers and other interested bodies. There are certain conflicts between the consideration of amenities for shoppers and the ease with which people who wish to steal can do so.

Children And Young Persons Act 1969

7.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking, and what progress is being made, to improve the working of, and to reform, the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 24th January to a Question by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith).—[Vol. 884, c. 511.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing disquiet felt throughout the country, especially in bodies such as the Magistrates' Association, at the dramatic rise in the number of crimes committed by a small but hard core of persistent juvenile offenders? Does he also agree that the juvenile courts now find themselves almost powerless to deal with this type of offender? Will he think again and consider the wisdom of setting up an interdepartmental com mittee to consider the law on this matter and its administration?

I am aware of disquiet on this matter. A couple of weeks ago I received deputations from the Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Association, and this week from a body representing a somewhat different point of view—the Social Service Officers' Association. Anybody who says he is wholly satisfied with the situation would be complacent and foolish. On the whole the fault lies in lack of resources under successive Governments more than in the failure of concept. But there is a problem relating to secure accommodation for a limited number of very difficult juveniles. I am aware of the situation and will consider the matter as constructively as I can.

Does the Minister accept that there is frustration not only among the magistracy but in a wider sphere, especially regarding the lack of secure accommodation, and that because of this there is an increasing number of certificates of unruliness issued by the courts? Does he recognise that an increasing number of young people are sent to borstal because the courts find that there is no other way in which to ensure secure accommodation for them? Does he accept that this matter must be dealt with as a matter of urgency?

Yes, I do. As I indicated in my reply to the question of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), I accept that there is a real problem here. It is sometimes easier to state the problem than to provide the exact answer to it. The old approved school system, which it is fairly generally agreed, had run its course, was not completely successful. On the whole, the change was desirable. However, there are imperfections, at the margin at any rate. I am aware of that and I shall do what I can to improve it. However, I cannot promise a magic solution.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is widespread concern at the number of young people who are spending time in adult prisons? For that reason will he hasten his plans to build the secure establishments to which he referred?

In a budgetary and other sense, the plans are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, and she has announced certain plains for improvements in this respect. Within the necessarily severe restraints on public expenditure at present, there is a limitation on what both she and I can do.

Police (Corruption Allegations)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department from what dates the five Metropolitan Police officers holding the ranks of chief inspector, inspector or sergeant have been suspended from duty in connection with allegations of corruption arising from the pornographic trade in London's West End; and if he will make a statement.

The suspensions began from dates between December 1973 and May 1974. For reasons I have already explained to my hon. Friend, it would not be appropriate for me to make a statement.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that it is precisely because some senior officers in the Metropolitan Police force were allegedly so successful in covering up their activities allegedly involving the payment of £5,000, for example, in the opening of a pornography shop, that some hon. Members are concerned that a further cover-up attempt may now be tried? Will he consider whether it would not be in the best interests of both the police and the public that this matter should be handed over to an independent inquiry, so that at least the fears of a cover-up can be allayed?

This matter is being rigorously investigated. I think that if I were to make a statement at present it would be prejudicial both to the individuals involved and also to the progress of a rigorous inquiry, which I am sure both my hon. Friend and the House are anxious to see carried forward.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is grave disquiet among the general public that every time anything involving the police occurs, the inquiry is always conducted by the police themselves? For instance, some time ago, in Sheffield, the Labour movement wanted a public inquiry into a case about pickets in which the police were concerned. However, as usual, the people were fobbed off with the idea that there would be a police inquiry into their own conduct. Does my right hon. Friend consider that this is unsatisfactory and that in future there should be some other method of inquiry in cases where the general public is involved?

My hon. Friend has raised a number of issues which go considerably wider than the original Question. As regards complaints by the public, I have indicated, following the view taken by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr), that I am in favour of the introduction of an independent element. I wish to see that done. Another Question on the Order Paper refers to this. However, as regards the investigation of certain allegations against police officers who have been suspended, I do not think that my hon. Friend is living in a real world if he thinks that the present Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is not extremely vigorous in pursuing, rooting out and disciplining such behaviour on the part of any officers.

Hotels (Fire Precautions)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make regulations requiring hotels and boarding houses to display provisional fire precautions and escape notices in bedrooms and public rooms forthwith, in premises where certification under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 has not yet been issued.

We are referring this proposal to the Joint Fire Prevention Committee of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils for England and Wales and for Scotland, which advises my right hon. Friend on matters of this kind.

I am grateful for that answer, as far as it goes, but does the Under-Secretary of State realise that people in general think that it is crazy that tens of thousands of hotels and boarding houses are not required to put up fire escape routes or other fire notices? Will she ask the committee to investigate this as a matter of urgency, and request her right hon. Friend to act on its decision as quickly as possible?

The process of fire certification is being speeded up as much as possible. However, hotels which have already provided satisfactory fire precautions voluntarily but have not yet been granted fire certificates cannot display them. The matter will certainly be considered by the advisory council.

Does my hon. Friend agree that progress in the implementation of the provisions of this Act is most unsatisfactory and that many people have suffered a most horrible form of death through lack of provision?

I agree that the rate of certification is not as fast as we would like it to be. However, everything possible is being done to speed it up.

Is the hon. Lady aware that in Greater London there is a scandal as a result of the long time taken to carry out basic inspection? What will she do to speed up the process in Greater London?

Part of the problem is the manpower shortage. There is also the problem of getting the structural alterations carried out. There are often delays on both counts.

Departmental Staff (Equality Of Opportunity)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the progress made towards equality of opportunity for staff within his departmental responsibilities.

That is satisfactory, though it may not be a good omen that all my hon. Friend's advisers in the Box today are men. Will he give an undertaking that if he is satisfied with the position in his Department he will make representations to the Department of Education to make sure that single-sex schools are phased out of the educational system, since it is quite clear from the behaviour in this House in the past week that they produce some very dubious citizens?

I am in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. I would not wish to advise him too closely upon his departmental responsibilities.

As regards equality of opportunity, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that in recent days the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has had more than his fair share of equality of opportunity?

No. I think that the House benefits from the expressions of my hon. Friend.

Police Interrogations (Mentally Handicapped Persons)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied about the admissibility before the courts of statements made by mentally handicapped adults and children during police interrogation.

We have no reason to think that the law of evidence is unsatisfactory in this respect.

That is a very disappointing answer. Is not my hon. Friend aware that ever since the Timothy Evans case there have been some disquieting cases of this kind, including the Confait case, which involved one of my constituents and which my hon. Friend is now considering? Is he aware that in recent years judges have been using their discretion to exclude evidence less and less? Will he seek to smile upon the Bill which I introduced into Parliament yesterday, provided that suitable adjustments are made to it?

I always do my best to smile on any representations which my hon. Friend makes to me, including that which he has mentioned. All I can say about his concern over this aspect of the law of evidence is that he has pointed to the protection which already exists, namely that the judge can exclude evidence or a confession which he thinks has not been acquired voluntarily. However, I do not think that it is necessary to extend the range of the law of evidence at present.

Police (Complaints)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he proposes to introduce legislation to give effect to his policy to introduce an independent system for considering complaints against the police.

As soon as the consultations, which are well advanced, are complete and parliamentary time can be found.

I am grateful for that answer, and happy to hear that the consultations are going well, but does my right hon. Friend appreciate that nothing would do more to restore and to improve confidence between the public and the police than the implementation of some system along these lines? If my right hon. Friend appreciates that, as I am sure he does, will he get on with the job as quickly as possible? It has dawdled a very long time.

In relation to the length of time that it has been under discussion, it has not dawdled for an immense time under me, though I should not wish to see it dawdle at all. There are a few points remaining to be settled in consultation. There is the problem of avoiding any question of double jeopardy—to which the Police Federation attaches great importance—while providing adequate powers to chief officers to maintain discipline over their forces and to investigate most rigorously. This bears upon the previous Question, concerning matters of discipline and possible corruption within the police. I hope that we can find a satisfactory solution. I should then wish to bring forward the legislation as quickly as is reasonably practicable. I note, as I am sure the House will, that Lord Justice Scarman, in the course of what I thought was a very distinguished report, lent his support to this view.

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that in any revised procedure for investigating complaints there is effective provision for punishing those whose complaints are shown to be not only unfounded but maliciously inspired?

Certainly we wish to discourage complaints which are unfounded. It is a little difficult to have any effective system in which someone who complains is positively punished. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman has in mind, but the implications sound a little far-reaching to me.

New Smoking Materials (Experiments)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement about his investigation into the use of dogs in experiments to develop new smoking materials.

I am not yet in a position to make a statement. My inquiries are continuing.

Does the hon. Lady appreciate that that reply will not satisfy many in this House and in the country? About 150 hon. Members of all parties have signed a motion about this, and I have been petitioned by hundreds of people. Many of us are disgusted by these tests, and we ask the Home Office to take urgent action straight away.

I recognise that there is strong feeling in the House and the country that these experiments are cruel and unnecessary. At the same time, I am aware of the view that as long as people are permitted legally to smoke, doctors, scientists and the Government have a duty to protect them as far as possible from harmful effects, even if those harmful effects are self-inflicted. This view is held by many people, and therefore all these aspects of the problem must be considered.

Meanwhile, will the hon. Lady immediately set in hand a review of the guidelines to be followed when licensing live animals for research? Will she also urge upon the Secretary of State for Education that he should give active encouragement to the Medical Research Council to give greater priority to research into alternatives to the use of live animals for this type of work?

Research into the development of alternatives to animals is, as has been said, a matter for my right hon. Friend. I am making inquiries with great urgency. They involve, as well as the Home Office, the responsibilities of other Departments, including especially the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Education and Science.

Granted that there may be a case for research to make smoking more safe, is that duty so absolute that it should be pursued by means of research involving cruelty to live animals?

That is an aspect of the problem which I am bearing in mind. I shall be making a statement as soon as possible, and I shall be writing separately to all those who have written to me.

Is the hon. Lady aware that many of us believe that the only basis upon which experiments on living animals can be accepted is that it is the only way of relieving suffering and of avoiding death? Does she recognise that in this case those principles do not apply?

Every experiment on every animal has to be considered independently for the purpose which it is being carried out. That is what is being done in this case.

In view of my hon. Friend's replies, is there not a possibility that she may have to concur with the view that those who carry out these experiments on dogs may wish to submit themselves to being bitten by dogs, in the interests of trying to find the cause of rabies?

My hon. Friend's remarks illustrate the wide ramifications of this subject.

Does the hon. Lady agree that the Act which covers experimentation on animals is 100 years old, that there were then about 366 experiments, whereas there are now 5 million every year, and that there are 16,000 people carrying out experiments but only 14 inspectors? Despite the hon. Lady's remarks in her penultimate reply, surely it is quite impossible, in view of the number of experiments being undertaken, to make sure that they help to save or to prolong human life and ease suffering? The whole situation needs examining in the light of today's circumstances.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Cruelty to Animals Act is 100 years old. But the Littlewood Committee sat with the specific object of investigating the whole subject of experiments on animals, and that committee reported in 1965.

Immigration (Indian Subcontinent)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what conclusions he has now reached about procedures for scrutinising immigration applications from dependants, in the light of the Minister of State's recent visit to the Indian subcontinent.

I gave an indication of various measures that are under consideration during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on 23rd January, but it will be some little time before we can complete our examination of these and other possibilities.

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile what he said in that debate—that no conclusions had been reached—with Press reports that a less strict system is already in operation on the subcontinent? In view of the recent increase in the quota of vouchers for United Kingdom passport holders, will he assure us that the Government will make no changes which result in a significant increase in the flow of immigrants from the subcontinent?

I cannot give that assurance. The object of the tour and the review of procedures was to see whether we could get away from the enormous suffering which is caused to individuals by the delays in the present procedure for getting entry certificates in the subcontinent. It is my hope that the rate will increase. What I said on 23rd January still obtains. But if the rate increases, that does not mean that the total number coming to this country will be any greater. Only a finite number have the right to come. They will simply come a little more quickly.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the reported attitude which he took up on his tour fed the fears of a number of people in this country, which is very bad for harmony between the races? Is he aware also that to remove such fears it would be desirable to give some indication when the flow of dependants is likely to cease, and about how many, in all, there are likely to be?

I do not think that anything that I said increased fear. I made it plain right at the beginning of the tour that we were concerned with a finite number of women and children of people already settled here, to whom the British Government gave the right to come to this country. We were concerned about the rate at which they were coming, which was so slow that it was causing too much distress. When they come, this pool of immigration will have dried up completely, and I expect that that will happen within a very few years.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is socially undesirable for immigrant males to be in this country without their families and dependants? Does he also agree that it would increase harmony and good race relations if they were allowed to have their dependants and wives and children with them in a normal family life?

It is always inhuman for any man to be separated from his family only by the rigours of bureaucracy and not for any reasons which the family itself has deemed to be essential.

Prisoners (Long-Term Sentences)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will prepare schemes for rehabilitation for the increasing proportion of prisoners serving long-term sentences.

Special attention is being given to improving opportunities for long-term prisoners to rehabilitate themselves.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem of the long-term prisoner is an increasing one and a serious one? Does he agree with the Howard League and others that there is an urgent need for research into the effects that long sentences have on prisoners? Further, does he agree that any proper rehabilitation scheme must include a greater commitment of resources towards the training of prison staff for both pre-service and in-service training?

Yes. Efforts are being made on the lines that my hon. Friend has indicated. In particular, individual plans for each prisoner are being drawn up. A programme covering work, education, welfare and preparation for realease is being drawn up for each of them.

What evidence has the Minister that there is an increase in retraining for industry, so that the men who are coming out from long-term sentences have some opportunity of getting into industry? Is that being done prison by prison?

The scope of vocational training is being widened so that the type of work available is far greater. There is also the pre-release employment scheme, under which, before release, selected prisoners go out daily to work in the community at normal rates of pay.

Voluntary Services Unit (Grants)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take steps to maintain the purchasing power of grants, in the light of current inflationary trends, which his Department makes to hybrid voluntary organisations through the Voluntary Services Unit.

In general, grants made by the Voluntary Services Unit are adjusted for inflation where the grant represents a substantial proportion of the organisation's total income.

Will the Minister issue a circular to local authorities echoing those sentiments and telling them that when they are searching for cuts they should not cut the grants of voluntary organisations first?

I am afraid that that aspect is outside the control of my Department. The hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to another Minister. The Voluntary Services Unit makes grants direct to the organisations and not through the local authorities.

Prison Rules

19.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now consider amending Rule 34(8) of the Prison Rules 1964.

28.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will seek to change Rule 34(8) of the Prison Rules 1964 which defines a prisoner's right of access to legal and other advice.

I shall give effect to the court's ruling in the Golder case, and I am actively studying the means by which this should be done.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that Rule 34(8) severely restricts the rights of prisoners to communicate with persons, including solicitors, outside prison? Does he acknowledge that as a result of the decision that he mentioned we are in breach of two articles of the Convention on Human Rights?

I note the decision of the court on three matters, which does not conflict with what my hon. Friend said. I should like to consider a little further exactly what this involves in relation to Rule 34(8). I assure my hon. Friend and the House, as I said in my first answer, that effect will be given to the court's decision.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the reasoning behind the court's decision that the right of access to a solicitor is an essential element in a fair trial applies equally to arrested persons as to prisoners? Will he consider the position of arrested persons in the light of the court's decision, bearing in mind that many of them find, because the Judges' Rules lack statutory force and are widely ignored in practice, that their right of access to a solicitor is illusory?

I shall consider carefully what my hon. Friend says, although I do not think that it arises directly out of the court's decision.

When my right hon. Friend is considering this rule will he also consider Rule 43, under which it is possible for prisoners to be in their cells for 23 hours of the day because there is said to be insufficient staff to supervise them in any form of work or recreation?

Rule 43 does not arise out of the Golder case or the judgment, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows. No shortage of staff makes it necessary for people to come under Rule 43. Despite those considerations, I shall consider carefully what my hon. Friend has said.

Wembley

Q1.

I hope that it will be possible to visit Wembley for the Rugby League Cup Final in May, Sir.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is another very important engagement at Wembley, on 24th May, when thousands of Scots will descend on that stadium to witness the superior skills of Scottish football?

I must confess that England has the disconcerting habit of scoring more goals than us and being technically declared the winners. None the less, is my right hon. Friend aware that many thousands of Scots who are steel producers and steel users will be very happy this afternoon if he will confirm the reported commitment that he made on behalf of the Government to the Scottish TUC that the Government will now insist that the British Steel Corporation commences planning for a major development at Hunterston, that construction will start well before 1982, and that we shall come on stream shortly after 1982?

My hon. Friend should not be so humble about the achievements of the Scots at Wembley. Most times I have been there the Scots have won. I was aware of the match, and I hope that I shall be able to get a ticket, although there is some threat of a conflicting engagement. I am certain that the minds of the Scots will be not exclusively on steel but also on football. As regards what I said in Scotland, I stand by the exact words that I used in the statement that I made at the Press conference and on radio and television.

If the Prime Minister visits Wembley he will have to go through my constituency. Will he allay the real concern that my constituents feel—many of them are Jewish—about Mr. Shelepin's impending visit to this country? Will he give an undertaking that neither he nor any of his Ministers will welcome Mr. Shelepin, who is the former head of an organisation in Russia which systematically tortures and has murdered many of its victims?

I do not think that this arises out of my hon. Friend's Question. Many routes to Wembley do not involve going through the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I am aware of the strong feelings on these matters. If the visit continues to be in prospect these are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Binbrook

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Binbrook.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Binbrook lies in the heart of North Lincolnshire farmland? Is he further aware that on 17th February his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made a most important statement in the House and expressed the view that the House would be able to debate agriculture in the near future? Will the Prime Minister instruct his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to do his duty, for once, and give the House a chance to debate the vital matter of agriculture?

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's constituents will appreciate what my right hon. Friend has done in Brussels by altering the whole basis of the common agricultural policy which the previous Government so tamely accepted.

The question of a debate on this subject is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is aware, as I am—but as the hon. Gentleman may not be—that over the last 20 years on nearly every occasion debates on agriculture have been held on Supply Days. That is a matter about which the hon. Gentleman might talk to his right hon. Friends.

If my right hon. Friend is unable to visit Binbrook, will he, the next time that he is in Bradford on one of his routine visits, come to my constituency and explain why Her Majesty's loyal Opposition are unconstructive, impotent and manifestly failing in their constitutional task?

That is not a matter to be discussed only in Bradford. I think one could press it more widely. Seriously, we are a party of compassion. I have long observed that little local difficulties are not the monopoly of any of our great parties—but the best of British!

World Food Conference

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Overseas Development in relation to implementing the World Food Conference pledges.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) on 16th January.—[Vol. 884, c. 147.]

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he look at the whole attitude of the Minister of Agricuture, Fisheries and Food more closely, because many people feel not only that he is failing in his duty regarding this co-ordination, but that, in other respects, he is failing the House and his party? That fact was illustrated last night, because, when we debated some of the most critical agricultural amendments to the Finance Bill and the application of capital transfer tax to that great industry, the right hon. Gentleman was not present at any time. Will the Prime Minister ask his right hon. Friend to pull his socks up?

My right hon. Friend's colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture were present. My impression was that when the House debated these matters there were some rather notable and distinguished absentees when the votes were taken.

The hon. Gentleman's question effects a number of Ministers. I know that, in view of his interest in the World Food Council project, he will be glad to know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development is this week chairing a meeting of Ministers from the whole of the Commonwealth on food production and rural development. Following the Rome Conference my right hon. Friend took the initiative in calling for a Commonwealth Conference to see what could be done.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it would probably be more appropriate for the Minister of Overseas Development than the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to represent this country on the World Food Council, since it is largely concerned with the food problems of developing countries?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I referred to my right hon. Friend because of the question which had been put. My hon. Friend will be aware that in Washington my right hon. Friend and I took the initiative with President Ford. We have pursued it since and intend to make it a major item, if we can, at the Commonwealth Conference, with the proposals that I then put forward and set out in a speech in Leeds about the world food programme to avoid cartelistic devices to restrict production, in order to give assurance to producers for a long time ahead, whatever the state of the market, and, in particular, to cover not merely food production but fertilisers and other things, some of which are in danger of falling into international cartels' hands.

Does the Prime Minister accept that whatever social or financial effects the Finance Bill may have, it must reduce the injection of private capital into agriculture and that no public substitute has been proposed? Therefore, is not the inevitable and logical result of the Bill that less food will be produced at higher cost?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said. The House is having more than adequate time this week to discuss all these matters on the Finance Bill, and the hon. Gentleman will no doubt have tried to make his point.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous support, on both sides of the House, for the initiative taken by the Minister of Overseas Development and for her part in convening the Commonwealth Food Conference? Therefore, does he not think it deplorable that only one British national newspaper gave even a line of mention to this vital conference?

It is not for me to comment on the situation. We know that newsprint is scarce and expensive. I suppose that is why so much is wasted on other things. Now that it has been mentioned in this House, I have no doubt that it will be on the front page of every newspaper. I hope that the Press will record that this is a positive achievement in Commonwealth co-operation, in fulfilment of a world idea.

Bannockburn

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will pay an official visit to Bannockburn.

Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange a visit to Bannockburn, the centre of Scottish patriotism? Will he also accompany me on a visit to the Bannockburn Miners' Welfare Club and the 1314 Inn, where I can introduce him to some true Scottish patriots who prefer Socialism to separatism? In order to demonstrate conclusively that the people of Bannockburn reflect accurately the views of all Scottish people, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider holding a referendum on the whole question of devolution so as to prove, once and for all, that the people of Scotland want Socialist devolution rather than the silly separatist policies of the Scottish National Party?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his invitation. I am not sure that it is necessary for me to visit Bannockburn to that end. Certainly, in my discussions in Scotland last week with the STUC and others I found general agreement that the solution of Scotland's economic problems lies in the context of membership of the United Kingdom. I am not in favour of a referendum on this question. I believe that the majority of Scottish people firmly wish to eschew separatism. At a suitable moment I should like to take up my hon. Friend's invitation to go to the club in Bannockburn that he mentioned.

In view of the earlier meeting between the Scots and the English at Bannockburn, at which certain satisfactory conclusions were reached, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman accepts that both his view and the view of the Lord President of the Council is much more realistic than the views of some of his backwoodsmen from Scottish constituencies, especially one with a majority of 367?

If the size of majorities were a qualification for expressing views in this House there would be some rather odd silences, including some from the Scottish National Party.

I do not think that one needs to go to Bannockburn to discuss these matters. Those were the days when there was certain evidence of divisiveness, I am too gentlemanly to refer to the Battle of Pinkie, in 1547, and what happened. They all had different conclusions. Surely we are all now working together, and no one, apart from the small minority represented by the hon. Gentleman, supports separatism.

The Prime Minister referred again to the important discussions that he had with the Scottish TUC, to which the Leader of the House referred last Monday. Do not these discussions and the documents that came forward make it all the more important that the House should be informed about them in a White Paper long before we consider any question of legislation on the subject?

The discussions were important. I shall certainly consider how these matters can be made available to the House. These documents were, in fact, published. They were very forward-looking and to a high degree represented the views expressed on both sides of the House. It is not necessary to have a White Paper, because in the debate my right hon. Friend explained the position as the Government see it.

Malta

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Malta.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will pay an official visit to Malta.

Will my right hon. Friend make plans? Does he not realise that a massive amount of British taxpayers' money has been spent on building a hospital on a neighbouring island by people who are under police investigation at the moment? Is it not highly undesirable that in a situation like that certain of those people should occupy quite prominent positions in this House? Will my right hon. Friend undertake that if local councillors are to be surcharged for alleged misbehaviour at local level, Ministers should be surcharged for misappropriation or abuse of public money in other spheres?

No, Sir. I think that in that question my hon. Friend fell below his usual high standard. He will be aware that there is no ministerial responsibility whatever for this matter. Malta is a self-governing Government.

With regard to what I suspect—I hope I am wrong—my hon. Friend was trying to imply, he must realise that the matter is subject to legal proceedings and that it would be inappropriate to comment on his question.

But is it not a fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions has asked the Fraud Squad to cease its inquiries into the possible misuse of £1·6 million in building the hospital at Gozo? Is not that action quite remarkable, in view of the statement made by the Attorney-General on 9th November 1974 when the question which he put to himself and his audience at Oxford was whether one can go on grinding at the list of 300 names? Why is it that some people in those cases can get away with it, and yet two people on the Shrewsbury picket line and the Clay Cross 11 were made subject to a different kind of law?

I think that in the latter part of his supplementary question my hon. Friend has got a long way from Malta. I have no knowledge whatsoever of the circumstances about which he purports to know in relation to a police or any other inquiry. In view of the high regard in which my hon. Friend is held in the House—[Interruption.]—at any rate on the Government side of the House; I cannot comment on the tastes of Conservative Members—I hope he will redirect his undoubted talents and energies to those very many subjects on which he speaks with great authority, and leave this one alone.

London Docks (Dispute)

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the dispute in the London Docks.

On 28th February some 9,000 London dockers stopped work. The stoppage is unofficial and followed unofficial action both by dock workers and road haulage workers.

The dispute originated with the picketing of the Dagenham Storage Company at Barking and F. J. Robertson at Millwall with the objective of securing employment there for registered dockers. Additionally, dockers began to refuse to handle vehicles which it was alleged served these and other establishments where it was claimed cargo handling work should be undertaken by dock workers. This action led to counter-picketing by road haulage workers, who endeavoured to prevent goods from reaching the docks.

At the request of the Transport and General Workers' Union and with the agreement of all the other parties, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service established an independent inquiry on 24th February into the issues at Barking and Millwall, and this inquiry is now proceeding.

The workers concerned are in the main members of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and the union has consistently urged that all industrial action in this dispute should cease. On 27th February the haulage workers accepted the advice of the union and removed their pickets. Dockers at Tilbury, however, continued to refuse to handle some vehicles, and this led to the stoppage. The union's national executive has this week urged a return to normal working, and its general secretary met all the London dock port stewards last night in an endeavour to persuade them to accept the executive's decision.

The issues involved are of long standing. They were largely responsible for the national dock strike in 1972 and have been a potent source of industrial unrest for many years. During this period there has been a substantial reduction in the employment opportunities available for registered dock workers, while at the same time changes in the ways goods moving to and from ships are handled has led to work traditional to the docks and to dock workers moving from them. Under existing legislation it has not been possible to extend the coverage of the Dock Labour Scheme to all such activities where this might be judged appropriate.

On 15th July 1974 I told the House that I proposed to begin consultations on the extension of the scheme to non-scheme ports and on possible changes in the statutory definitions which define the scope of the scheme. These consultations led me to conclude that significant changes are necessary to reflect the changes which have taken place in the industry and to ensure that satisfactory arrangements are established to deal with possible future changes. In the Queen's Speech the Government undertook to publish proposals for ensuring further safeguards for employment in the docks. I hope to publish proposals for legislation very shortly.

As the Government are shortly to begin consultations on these proposals and an independent inquiry is currently considering the particular problems at Barking and Millwall, I hope that the dockers will respond to the advice of the Transport and General Workers' Union so that normal working can be resumed and progress quickly made in establishing new arrangements to deal with the vexed problems. Any stoppage in the docks can only increase our economic difficulties and, indeed, threaten the number of jobs they provide.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether those directly involved in and affected by the dispute have submitted evidence to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service inquiry? Can he say when this inquiry will be completed, and whether it is his intention to extend the Dock Labour Scheme by legislation to be brought in during this parliamentary Session? Will the right hon. Gentleman and the T and GWU executive consider reminding those on strike that if the dispute drags on, other people's jobs will be at risk and the country's economy will be seriously affected?

I cannot say when the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service will complete its inquiry, but those concerned appreciate the need for speed, as do the different parties who are giving evidence—and evidence is being given to the inquiry. We hope that it will be able to report as soon as possible.

It is the Government's intention to introduce in this Session the legislation required to extend the scheme. How long this Session will be is another matter, but certainly we wish to proceed with the legislation as speedily as possible. I hope that very soon we shall publish the consultative document about the legislation so that people can see clearly what we propose and the parties concerned can make any representations they want.

I have already indicated my view, and the Government's strongly held view, about the whole dispute. We believe that it should be brought to an end at once. We believe that people should resume work at once. We believe that this is urgent in the interests of the dock workers themselves.

My right hon. Friend referred to another inquiry into this industry. Does he realise that it has been subject to a number of inquiries, under both Governments, which have come out with recommendations which the dockers have accepted but which have not been implemented, though the Labour Government have now said they will implement them? Is it not time to step in and take action in view of the fact that yet again the docks industry is being threatened by private employers? First it was the stevedores, and now it is the lorry driving companies which are disrupting this important industry.

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said. I was informed by some of the docks representatives whom I met yesterday at the meeting of the T and GWU executive that they had already had 17 investigations into the docks, and therefore another one would be the eighteenth. We are not proposing another investigation. We are proposing a consultative document to be put before the House as a preparation for legislation and for action on the basis of that legislation. We are not proposing another inquiry. We are proposing action to deal with the matter.

As with some other things, these are delicate matters. This is a dispute involving two branches of the same union, and it is a delicate matter for the union and also for the country. However, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Opposition do not believe that the remedies proposed by him this afternoon or by the Government are any long-term answer to the problems facing the docks and will merely add to costs and restrict our trade even more than at present? In a situation where jobs are at risk in this way one does not, in the long term, preserve them by this sort of action. Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that when he comes to discuss further the Dock Labour Scheme? In the meantime, we join him in urging a return to work, otherwise more jobs will be lost.

We are glad to see the right hon. Gentleman recovered so speedily from his unofficial absence—although many might wish that he would extend it. I cannot accept what he says about our proposals. I do not think that he should condemn them before he has seen them. I have the advantage that I know what they are. I hope that when he sees them he will bring his usual, or shall I say his unusual, objective view to bear upon the matter. Then we shall be able to discuss the matter in the House, which is the proper place to settle legislation on this issue.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that dock workers are still a vital section of the industrial labour force and that they are getting fed up with all the reports and consultative documents and so on? Does he accept that what they require is action now?

The most effective action which we believe can be taken to deal with this question must be through legislation. It cannot be done by edict. It has to be done by legislation approved by this House. The dock workers would be wise, in their own interests, to call off this action immediately, to examine the proposals we are making carefully, and to make any representations that they wish, together with other parties, about those proposals. That is the proper way to proceed in the interests of the dock workers and of the country.

As the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service is constructively engaged in this dispute, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to be encouraged by that into giving further consideration to the possibility of the service being usefully engaged in the signalmen's dispute, which is bringing continuing inconvenience to many commuters?

I have already given the reasons why the Government do not believe it is wise to intervene or for the parties in this signalmen's dispute to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. What has happened has confirmed the wisdom of what I then said. If all hon. Members in all sections of the House would back the Government in this, the prospect of bringing the signalmen's dispute to an early end would be much enhanced.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the present dispute in the docks is the culmination of the concern and fears of many dock workers? Is he aware that in London the number of dock workers has been reduced from 22,000 to 9,000 and on Merseyside from 16,000 to 8,000 with no indication that the numbers will ever be made good? Does he further appreciate that this causes real concern? Is he aware that the sooner we have the consultative documents and legislation the sooner will there be confidence about employment prospects among dock workers?

My hon. Friend has certainly shown what are the anxieties and fears of many dock workers. We are seeking to learn from these and to produce proposals which will assist in allaying these anxieties. If this action continues it can only add to the difficulties, The dockers have an interest in this but there are other parties concerned, too. That has to be taken into account in the legislation we produce.

Business Of The House

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week, please?

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

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

MONDAY 10TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill [4th ALLOTTED DAY].

TUESDAY 11TH MARCH—Debate on the White Paper on the Referendum on United Kingdom Membership of the European Community, Command No. 5925, when the rule will be suspended for two hours.

Consideration of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Bill [Lords,] and Supply Powers Bill [Lords,] and the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [Lords,] which are consolidation measures.

WEDNESDAY 12TH MARCH—Remaining stages of the Prices Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Security Benefits Bill.

Remaining stages of the Export Guarantees Amendment Bill.

Motion on the Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) (Variation) Scheme.

Motion on the EEC Document on the European Monetary Co-operation Fund (R/3594/74).

THURSDAY 13TH MARCH—Supply [12TH ALLOTTED DAY]: The Question will be put on all outstanding Supplementary Estimates.

There will be a debate on Small Businesses and the Self-Employed, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

At seven o'clock the Chairman of Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration.

Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on appropriation, selective employment premium and community relations.

FRIDAY 14TH MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 17TH MARCH—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill.

The House will wish to know that, subject to progress of business, it is hoped to propose that the House should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Thursday 27th March until Monday 7th April.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what the motion will be for the referendum debate and, in the event of a referendum being held, whether he intends to enable hon. Members to take part in the campaign by having a short recess in the final stages? Second, if he cannot tell us the date of the Budget, can he say whether there will be a debate on public expenditure or the economy before the House rises for Easter.

I am proposing that the referendum debate should arise on the motion for the Adjournment of the House. I am open to the views of hon. Members about whether there should be a short recess for the referendum period. I would like to hear hon. Members' views on that, although I have no doubt what their views will be. As I said last week, the Budget will be after Easter. I have certainly promised a debate on public expenditure at some time. I cannot say when it is likely to be.

While we can all appreciate the extreme pressure upon the time of the House, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will be able to find time for an urgent debate on the textile industry because the crisis within that industry is growing daily? If he cannot find the time, can he make overtures to the Conservative Party and suggest that it uses one of its Supply Days to discuss this important matter? Secondly, will he ask his right hon. Friends to take some action within the EEC regulations which permit corrective action to be taken to deal with excessive imports of textiles?

I will certainly pass my hon. Friend's final comments on to my right hon. Friends concerned. I have told them of other points raised over the past few weeks, and the Prime Minister answered a Question on this subject a few days ago. I cannot give any time for this subject before Easter. I have just announced the Consolidated Fund Bill debate for Monday week. That will be an appropriate occasion for a short debate on this matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable anxiety in Scotland over the future control of Scottish industry? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister concerned to make a statement about the relationship between the National Enterprise Board and the Scottish Development Agency?

I will pass that on to my right hon. Friend. I imagine that there will be opportunities to debate it when the Bill comes before the House in the near future.

Does my hon. Friend recall that last Thursday, when I asked him when we could have a debate on the decision of the European Commission to support our negotiating proposal for a regional aid policy he replied "I hope before long"? Has he anything to add to that?

Not next week, Sir. I hope that it will be possible to arrange a debate on this subject before Easter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the critical situation which has arisen at Christie Hospital in Manchester which is reported in the Daily Telegraph today? Is he further aware that this has become increasingly urgent because of the desire of NUPE to decide which cases should be admitted to this premier cancer hospital is causing outrage? Is he aware that last Saturday two cases for investigation of malignant cancer were refused admittance and were admitted only through the assistance of the nursing staff? Will he find time for a debate on this matter?

I cannot find time to debate it but I will certainly pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The debate on Monday week would be an appropriate occasion to raise this subject.

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the debate on public expenditure will at least come before the Budget and that in it hon. Members will be able to cover economic policy and the social contract?

It will be a debate on the White Paper, but I shall certainly bear in mind what my right hon. Friend has said.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when we might have the sitting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, for which we asked as far back as 13th February, to discuss the IRA cease-fire and the consequential arrangements? Is there any valid reason for delay now that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said that he has no objections?

I know of no reason for delay, but I will certainly look into the matter and communicate with the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.

After these months of failed promises and delay, what are the prospects for public lending rights legislation?

That Bill will be introduced in the very near future. There is a great pressure on the parliamentary programme, but I will do my best to have it brought in as quickly as possible.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of the extremely serious situation which has arisen throughout the whole of the National Health Service? Does he not know that, because of the intransigence of the Secretary of State for Social Services, there is now a complete breakdown in negotiations between herself and the surgeons? Would he accept that, however experienced a hospital porter is with a trolley, he cannot make diagnoses or assessment decisions on patients? Will the right hon. Gentleman not understand that both the present and the future of the NHS are now at stake and permit a proper debate—not one on the Consolidated Fund Bill—on this vital matter?

Intransigence is not confined to one quarter, I am afraid. It is found in many quarters in this matter, but it does not help in this dispute to overstate the case, as, with respect, the hon. Lady did. I shall certainly hear her points in mind and pass them on to my right hon. Friend, but this would be an appropriate subject for a Supply Day.

When can we expect a debate on the strategic plan for the North-West—a debate which is long overdue. If we could have a debate on that, it could be tied in with a debate on the position of the textile industry, which has reached crisis proportions. Hon. Members on these benches will soon be taking action.

I promised the House two or three weeks ago that I would bring forward a proposal for debating regional matters. I hope to do that in the near future. It will be a novel proposal, but I hope that it will satisfy the demands made from both sides of the House for regional debates. I realise that this is an important and valid demand.

When can the House expect to debate the Bullock Report on the use of English? This is a matter to which we on this side attach the greatest importance.

We also attach a great deal of importance to that report, which most of us think is excellent, but I cannot give any time in the near future. It is rather early yet. It is a long report, and I am sure that many hon. Members have not yet got to the end of it.

My right hon. Friend has previously promised a debate on foreign affairs before Easter. Can he reiterate that promise today? What opportunity will be given for hon. Members to debate the affairs of the rest of the world, apart from Europe? There are important questions for discussion of which this House ought to be able to set aside time?

There is a real need for this. I promised, and I reaffirm, that there will be a wide-ranging debate on foreign affairs before Easter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there has not been a debate on the Scottish economy since his party came into office? He will recall that it was his intention to hold one in the autumn. No doubt he would agree, since seeing the Scottish TUC, on the urgency of this matter. Does he not agree that, in view of the rise in unemployment and short-time working in Scotland, it is highly desirable to have such a debate as soon as possible?

This would be an appropriate subject to be debated in the Scottish Grand Committee, of course.

In the interests of all shades of opinion, not least his own, would my right hon. Friend not agree that there is an overwhelming case for a detailed and coherent White Paper on devolution? What is the trouble in announcing when it will be?

I have explained to my hon. Friend on many occasions, over and over again, that I will certainly look at this. If the preparation of a White Paper would not unduly delay preparation of the devolution Bill, I would certainly consider producing one.

When there is a debate on regional matters, may we be assured that it will include the region of Kent? We have less expenditure on our hospitals, less expenditure on our Channel Tunnel, less expenditure on our schools and less help for our agriculture and our special industry of horticulture than any other region.

Certainly the proposal that I hope to bring before the House will enable all the English regions to debate their affairs. We are at a disadvantage compared with Scotland and Wales, which have Grand Committees. I hope that we can overcome that.

Will my right hon. Friend set aside time for a debate on the situation at the Imperial Typewriter Company in the cities of Leicester and Hull, and particularly on the disgraceful refusal of Litton Industries even to pay the redundant men the money—the pay, the wages, the holiday pay—that they have earned so far?

I am afraid that I cannot promise any time before Easter, but certainly a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill would be appropriate for this. If notice were given, a Minister would be present to reply.

Would the right hon. Gentleman further consider the plea of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond)? The crisis facing the textile industry is severe. He found time, exceptionally, for a debate on Norton Villiers Triumph, where just a few thousand jobs were at stake. Would he not find time before Easter—Government time—to debate the textile industry, in which tens of thousands of jobs are at stake?

No, Sir, I cannot find time for a full debate on this matter before Easter. I do not underestimate the position. I have said several times that I realise its importance. On every occasion when these matters have been raised from either side of the House, I have referred them to my two right hon. Friends.

Is my right hon. Friend as aware as I think he is of the concern expressed to me and to him about the length of time that the Boyle Committee is taking to report? It may be that we do not want it at the same time as the Budget, but can he assure us that it will come before some later date in the year?

It will certainly come before some later date in the year. It is a fundamental review of salaries, allowances and pensions, and I am afraid that Lord Boyle will take a few months longer yet on it.

Is the Leader of the House aware that horticulture and the egg production section of agriculture are both in desperate straits, that the Opposition have provided five days of their own time in the last year for discussing agricultural matters, and that in a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill only the most junior Minister turns up to reply, not the Minister of Agriculture himself? Will he therefore allow Government time to discuss the urgent action which needs to be taken?

I have taken the trouble to check on the arithmetic in the early-day motion on this matter. I have discovered that, if we consider this Sessison, not last year, so far the Opposition have given one day. The other day was in the debate on the Address, which is a Government day—

I am talking about this Session. So far the Opposition have given one of their Supply Days and the Government have given the equivalent of three full days on agriculture, so I think that it is the turn of the Opposition.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answers he has just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)? Will he bear in mind that the crisis situation in textiles is now developing and intensifying so rapidly that a debate after Easter will be too late? What we need is not simply a debate but action.

Certainly I realise the importance of this matter. I understand the demand on all sides of the House for a debate upon it, but I am afraid that I cannot give a full day for it. I could, perhaps, consider giving a short time for a debate, but I certainly could not promise a full day because of the congestion of the programme. However, I shall certainly look at the matter.

May I—rather unusually this week—congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his acumen in perceiving that a recess during the campaign on the referendum would be wholly acceptable? We are very glad to know that he is considering it. Second, will he ensure that before we discuss in the House the Bullock Report on the use of English, he will secure its wide circulation in Whitehall? Third, may I say that I also appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said about the possibility of a debate on the textile industry, a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)? This is a matter of very great urgency.

Consolidated Fund (No 3) Bill (Debate)

For the debate on Monday 17th March on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill, hon. Members may hand in to my office by 9.30 on the morning of Thursday 13th March their names and the topics which they wish to raise. The ballot will be carried out as on the previous occasion. An hon. Member may hand in only his own name and one topic.

The main items included in the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill will be the Civil Supplementary Estimates for the current year contained in House of Commons Papers Nos. 193 and 239, and the Defence Supplementary Estimates for the current year contained in House of Commons Papers Nos. 194 and 238.

It will be in order on the Second Reading of the Bill to raise topics falling within the ambit of the expenditure proposed in these papers. I shall put out the result of the ballot later on Thursday 13th March.

Standing Committee B (Composition)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise with you, Mr. Speaker, a matter which I think should warrant the attention of the House—namely, the composition of Standing Committee B? That Standing Committee on the Lotteries Bill is due to meet for the first time on Tuesday. The composition of this Committee, which has been published this morning, bears no resemblance to the way that the voting went on Second Reading, which was 302 in favour of the Bill and 64 against. Of the 17 members of the Standing Committee, only one hon. Member voted against the Bill.

I would suggest that possibly the composition of this Committee should be referred to the Committee on Procedure to see whether it can be re-selected.

I do not think that that would be appropriate, nor do I think that it is a point of order for me. No doubt it is a matter for the Committee of Selection to consider. The hon. Member has made an observation, but I do not think that there should be any criticism of the Committee of Selection unless it is on a substantive motion.

Mr Alan Grimshaw (Select Committee's Report)

I raised with you yesterday, Mr. Speaker, a point of order on the question of the availability of documents to this House from Committees which were reported to the House and printed on the authority of the House and which were not available to hon. Members but apparently had been available to other people. I understood that you would today either have written to me or given a ruling on the issue that I raised.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had communicated with me to say that on the whole he found no reason for complaint at all. If there has been some misunderstanding, I shall look into the matter.

I understood that there had been some misunderstanding about the availability of information to the House arising from the report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries.

I found that in the Votes and Proceedings for 25th February reference is made as follows:
"Sir Donald Kaberry reported from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, That they had agreed to a Special Report which they had directed him to make to the House, and had directed him to report certain Memoranda laid before them: And the Report was brought up and read (Second Special Report).
Report to lie upon the Table; and to be printed [No. 2371."
I then found, Mr. Speaker, that in The Guardian of 27th February there was a report of the proceedings of that Committee and its recommendations. Concerning the reference of the issues that had been before that Committee to the Committee of Privileges, that was not known to the House. It was not available to Members until yesterday morning. Therefore, I think that it is a breach of the privilege of the House that information which has been the business of the Select Committee should be made available to outside sources when it was not available to hon. Members.

I shall certainly go into this matter again. I was under the impression that I had received not long ago a letter from the hon. Member rather withdrawing the suggestion that there had been a breach of privilege. However, I shall certainly go into the matter again as there is some misunderstanding about it.

Orders Of The Day

Finance Bill

[3RD ALLOTTED DAY]

Not amended in the Committee and as amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

4.8 p.m.

I should like to say something to the House at the beginning of these debates. The Division bells are being slightly temperamental at present. They have been examined by the Post Office engineers this morning and again this afternoon. If there are any occasions when a bell does not ring, perhaps notice could be given at once. There were one or two such occasions yesterday. The Post Office engineers have done their very best to ensure that the system is efficient, but if anything should go wrong again, we should like notice of it as early as possible.

Clause 20

Transfers And Chargeable Transfers

I beg to move Amendment No. 42, in page 16, line 23, at end insert:

'or at a price such as might be expected to have been freely negotiated at the time of the sale'.
This amendment honours an undertaking I gave in Standing Committee to reconsider provisions dealing with the transfers of unquoted shares. The effect of the provision was that a sale of unquoted shares for less than their full market value could not be exempted from charge as one made without donative intent and on arm's length conditions unless it were at a price freely negotiated at the time of the sale.

The amendment allows a sale to be excepted also if it were made instead at a price which might have been expected to be freely negotiated. This deals with the problem where in an unquoted company it is possible, as the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) appreciates and pointed out in Standing Committee, that there are problems in the case of the sale of unquoted shares. There may be a situation in which there could be a sale at less than the full market value but still a perfectly reasonable transaction. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that there is no problem in that respect.

I know that the Opposition have tabled Amendment No. 529, which would seek to exclude all unquoted company transactions in this respect. But I hope that the Opposition will agree that that would be to go much too wide. I think that the Government amendment would deal with the problem that was pointed out in Standing Committee.

As the Chief Secretary says, the amendment goes some way to meet problems raised in Standing Committee. The Opposition amendment, which you, Mr. Speaker, have selected—Amendment No. 529, in Page 16, line 20, leave out from 'Act' to end of line 23 and insert:

'but notwithstanding the other provisions of this subsection, this subsection shall not apply to a sale of shares or debentures not quoted on a recognised stock exchange'.—
is one we should like to press strongly but, as we are denied the time to discuss these things properly, we cannot do so. Under protest, we would not move that amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 43, in page 16, line 27, leave out '25th' and insert 26th'.

With this it will be convenient for the House to discuss Amendment No. 44, in page 16, line 27, leave out '25th March 1974' and insert '12th March 1975'.

There are a large number of other amendments that are consequential upon this amendment. This arose, as hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will recall, out of the birthday of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman).

We learned that it was her birthdaly on 26th March. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) had moved an amendment to start the tax operating from 3.30 p.m. on 26th March. I suggested that, rather than have a start ing time in the middle of a day, it might be better to start on the following day.

As the Chief Secretary says, the amendment honours an undertaking which he gave in Standing Committee. There are serious fiscal reasons, as well as romantic reasons, for the amendment. We welcome it.

We should have liked to debate our Amendment No. 44, but we are denied the time. Therefore, under protest, we shall not move it.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 22

Transfer On Death

I beg to move Amendment No. 46, in page 17, line 13, at end insert:

'(2A) Where the deceased was entitled to an interest in possession in settled property and on his death the settlor's spouse became beneficially entitled to that property, then if—
  • (a) the settlor's spouse was at the time of the death domiciled in the United Kingdom and resident (within the meaning of the Income Tax Act) in the United Kingdom in the year of assessment in which the death occurred; and
  • (b) neither the settlor nor the settlor's spouse had acquired a reversionary interest in the property for a consideration in money or money's worth;
  • the value of the settled property shall be left out of account in determining for the purposes of this Part of this Act the value of the deceased's estate immediately before his death'.
    The amendment provides exemption from the tax charged on the coming to an end of an interest in possession on death, where the property then reverts to the settlor's spouse. The amendment and its counterpart in paragraph 4 of Schedule 5—Amendment No. 172—arises from our consideration of the argument in Committee for the provision of exemption from the capital distribution charge where property reverts to the settlor from a discretionary trust.

    The amendment meets points made in the Standing Committee. We believe that it is a great improvement in the Bill. I assume that from now on the Chief Secretary will never refer to any such arrangements as a loophole for tax avoidance and something to be legislated out of existence in future legislation.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 47, in page 17, line 23, leave out '26th' and insert '27th'.

    No. 49, in page 17, line 26, leave out '26th' and insert '27th'.—[ Mr. Joel Barnett.]

    4.15 p.m.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 51, in page 18, line 7, at end insert:

    '(5A) Where any part of the property which would have been included as mentioned in subsection (4) above would, by virtue of section 40(2)(c) of the Finance Act 1969, have formed an estate by itelf, the tax chargeable under this section shall be the aggregate of—
  • (a) the tax that would have been so chargeable if that part had not been so included; and
  • (b) the tax (if any) that would have been so chargeable if that part only had formed the estate of the deceased and the deceased had made no previous chargeable transfers;
  • but in a case where (by reason of an excess over £25,000) the part referred to in paragraph (b) above would have been a fraction only of any property, the tax that would have been chargeable as mentioned in that paragraph shall be taken to be the like fraction of the tax that would have been so chargeable if the remainder of that property had also been included in the estate of the deceased'.
    It may be convenient to discuss at the same time Government Amendment No. 52, which is on the same points.

    The amendments honour an undertaking I gave in Committee to meet the point of amendments moved by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). They relate to the transitional relief from aggregation under the old estate duty law for gifts of policies of insurance effected before 20th March 1968. That relief exempts the first £25,000 of policy proceeds from aggregation with the other property chargeable on the death. There is a similar relief for Northern Ireland.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 52, in page 18, line 21, at end insert:

    'and
    (c) subsection (5A) shall have effect with the substitution of a reference to section 7(2)(c) of the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 for the reference to section 40(2)(c) of the Finance Act 1969'.—[Mr. Joel Barnett.]

    Clause 23

    Meaning Of Estate

    I beg to move Amendment No. 54 in page 18, line 35, leave out 'includes every' and insert means a'.

    With this amendment we may discuss Amendment No. 520, in page 18, line 37, at end add:

    'but excludes any power in a fiduciary capacity'.

    I am delighted to move the amendment formally, as I understand that that is agreeable to the Opposition.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 24

    Excluded Property

    I beg to move Amendment No. 502, in page 19, line 12, at end insert:

    '(4) A dwelling is excluded property if on the death of the person with an interest in possession of that said dwelling and which is occupied by him at the time of his death it passes to an ancestor or descendant, brother or sister, or spouse thereof who has lived with him for not less than two out of the three years preceding'.
    The amendment is designed to deal, so far as we can, with the fact that the new capital transfer tax designed and introduced by this Labour Government will prove to be, in a way that estate duty never was, a tax on homes, on the family and—if I may be forgiven the phrase, despite the mocking of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday—on the natural bonds of love and affection that exist within a family. The Chancellor derided that concept.

    Perhaps that is not surprising. We know that in Labour's house, or at least in those parts above stairs that are reserved for members of the Labour Cabinet, there are many mansions. Labour Ministers appear to collect houses with as much enthusiasm as commissars collect dachas. But that is not the life they visualise for the ordinary people. They have no natural sympathy with those who save, with those who own their own homes. I am sorry if the Chief Secretary feels underprivileged in having only one home when his colleagues have so many.

    It is not surprising that the tax will impose a new and growing burden on exactly those thrifty and hard-working people who own their own homes. It will impose a new and growing burden on right to keep the benefits of thrift within one's family. I am not dealing with the rich minority, on the subject of whom the Chancellor loves to dwell, and of which he is such an outstanding, if undistinguished, Member. I am dealing with that half of the families of this country who live in their own homes. Many of those homes already come near to facing the lower limit of the new tax, because it starts at £15,000. The average price of a new home in the South-East of England is now estimated at about £14,250. If inflation continues at the pace we have unfortunately come to expect under this Government, that figure will soon be reached in other parts of the country.

    It is true that the rate of tax payable on death is no higher than under estate duty, but that argument, which we have heard so often from the Chancellor, overlooks the extent to which it is a cumulative tax, assessed over the transactions effected during the lifetime of the taxpayer or his family. The tax burden must take account of the lifetime gifts of any other part of the estate of the original house-owner above £1,000, whether in the form of savings, chattels, cars or anything of that kind.

    The tax will inevitably impose a new and growing burden on dispositions within the family. Even if it did not do that, there is a good additional social reason for seeking to encourage home owership, as the amendment would. There is a good reason for seeking to encourage disposition of homes within the families of those who have saved in order to buy them.

    Moreover, there is a good reason for encouraging succession to the family home by others than just the surviving spouse, although that certainly is desirable. One acknowledges that the legislation at least has that effect, as did the provisions made by the Conservative Government in 1972. But we want also to encourage succession to the home by, for example, a child or children living with the person who wishes to pass it on at death or at any other time. Perhaps even more, we wish to encourage the possibility of a home being passed on to elderly relatives, quite often dependent relatives. There is something positively socially desirable in the transmission of homes and dwelling houses to other members of the family.

    That desirable aspect of policy has been recognised in many other parts of housing policy and taxation policy over many years. I begin by citing the remarkable example of the practice in local authority housing, where the original tenant has no continuing title, nothing resembling a freehold title to which he has contributed anything by any act of thrift on his part. I do not say that critically. In most parts of the country the members of the family living with the tenant who dies in practice have a title to succeed to the house.

    Paragraph 208 of the Cullingworth Report says:
    "So far as transfer of tenancies to adult children is concerned, a distinction is made between children who have been living in the parental household for a considerable time … and those who have been living separately … In the former case the transfer of tenancy is common; in the latter less common—though much depends on the nature of the local housing shortage."
    Even in these circumstances of local authority housing, with no title, no acquisition, no thrift and no saving, our social policy recognises the desirability of allowing the family of the original tenant to succeed, and the case is even stronger where rent-controlled property or regulated property is concerned.

    Here again we are dealing with property where the tenant has no continuing title, nothing resembling a freehold or a leasehold to the property. He has a statutory right to remain there at the expense of the owner of the freehold who is often poorer than the person who is enjoying the right to remain on. Yet even in that situation as set out in Schedule 1 of the Rent Act 1968 there is a right to the family of the original tenant to succeed to the statutory tenancy. The original tenant can pass his tenancy on to his widow who was residing with him at his death or to a person who was a member of the original tenant's family who had resided with him for six months before his death. If that first successor dies leaving his widow who was residing with him at the time of his death or a member of the family living with him for a minimum period of six months the tenancy can be transferred to them. There is therefore a statutory right to double inheritance to a tenancy which may be no more than a monthly tenancy. There again we see the extent to which social policy recognises the desirability of allowing families to continue living in their original homes.

    Although that provision is in the 1968 Act, it dates from the original rent-control legislation passed in the palmy days of Messrs. Asquith and Lloyd George during World War I. Here at least is a residual contribution by the Liberal Party to one aspect of our current social policy. More recent legislation concerning capital gains tax allows for relief in respect of owner-occupied houses. In that situation relief is allowed without limit as to the amount, and beyond that it extends to a house that is occupied rent-free by a dependent relative. In that situation the dwelling is also relieved from capital gains tax.

    That is another example of sensible social policy to adjust the impact of tax on actual social conditions. The reasons for the exemption are
    "to encourage home ownership, to avoid any feeling of resentment there might be—and I think that it would be widespread if this was subject to tax—and, also, from a social point of view, to assist greater mobility, which is an important matter from a labour point of view. The effect of it, as I say, is to make home ownership very attractive front the investment point of view".—[Official Report, 27th May 1965; Vol. 713, c. 997.]
    Those are not my reasons; they are the reasons for such an exemption from capital gains tax produced by the previous Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Mr. Niall MacDermot, as he then was. He held the office for, as far as I recollect, very many years, but thereafter advanced no further within the ranks of his party. I do not know whether that fate will befall his successor today.

    The additional relief to which I have referred, again recognising the importance of social policy and taxation policy working together, is the one granting exemp tion from capital gains tax to the dependent relative living rent free in the house. That provision was enacted in 1965 as a result of the initiative by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir J. Hall). He moved an amendment on that same day's proceedings, and he was fortunate enough, again, not merely in the identity of the Financial Secretary but in the response of that Minister to the amendment. Mr. MacDermott said
    "There is a popular fallacy that Treasury Ministers are cold and hard-hearted and never moved by an emotional appeal, and that it is only cold, remorseless logic which will make them shift at all."
    In present times that fallacy has indeed given way to fact in the case of present Ministers. Mr. MacDermott went on,
    "I would only point out