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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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)
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)
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.
In general, yes, Sir.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now consider amending Rule 34(8) of the Prison Rules 1964.
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.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Wembley.
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.
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
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.
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.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Malta.
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.