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Commons Chamber

Volume 929: debated on Thursday 7 April 1977

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House Of Commons

Thursday 7th April 1977

The House met at Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Royal Ulster Constabulary

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will clarify the rôle of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, in view of the recent statement by the Police Federation in Northern Ireland.

It remains the rôle of the RUC to maintain law and order and, in furtherance of this, to prevent and detect crime and to prosecute criminals through the courts. In the present security situation much of the work of the force is directed against the terrorists. I am pleased to report to the House that the RUC has achieved impressive results in its fight against crime, and in particular the terrorist.

Will the Minister say with rather more precision exactly what were the points on which the Police Federation differed from the Secretary of State? Will he say whether those differences have since been resolved? Secondly, will the Minister agree that, whatever labels or descriptions may be applied to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, it is absolutely essential that it should be so equipped to enable it to defeat terrorism in all its forms?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that if any equipment is required the request is made by the Chief Constable, who has the full support of the police authority and the Government. As for differences of opinion that might have existed before the meeting between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, representatives of the Police Federation and myself on 16th March, I believe that members of the federation were under wrong impressions, but those wrong impressions were removed. My right hon. Friend gave an assurance to the federation representatives that the police would not be required to accept a para-military rôle, and that the Army would always be there when required to support them in their tasks and endeavours on behalf of the people of the Province.

Is the Minister aware that the Conservative Party supports the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) in asking for further assurances on this question? The interrogation of suspects obviously must not go beyond what is permissible in a civilised society, but will the Minister speak up for the overwhelming majority of the RUC against the sweeping allegations made against it recently, and will he speed up the completion of police inquiries into accusations of brutality made against the RUC on the BBC "Tonight" programme on 2nd March?

My right hon. Friend and I will do all that we possibly can to assist police to speed up their inquiries and the investigations necessary under the law. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend and I share with others in the House a respect for the work being done by the RUC. Provided that members of the RUC act within the law, they have our utmost support.

Now that the police have been civilianised, is it not an insult to Ulster people, who have suffered eight years of terrorism, for them to find that the Government's new secret weapon against the terrorists is the use of mobile civilian searchers? These searches could be carried out by the police and the Army, and if there are not enough members of those forces to do so, their numbers should be increased. The Army is not very evident on the ground in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The civilian search unit has been in operation since 1972, and one of its tasks has been to assist the police. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman does not know anything about it. I should have thought that as a representative of the people he would know something about it. Perhaps in that regard those whom he represents should feel apprehension that he is not aware of these things. The civilian search unit is there to assist in operational requirements and it is called upon by the police and the Army. I should have thought that, in view of the requests that the hon. Gentleman has been making recently, the activities of the unit would please, not displease him.

Since my hon. Friend has been asked by the Opposition spokesman to speak up for the overwhelming majority of the RUC concerning allegations of brutality and interrogation procedures, will he take that as an admission that there is a minority in the RUC which is engaging in illegal tactics? Will he further indicate that where allegations of brutality are levelled at the RUC these should be treated as a matter of urgency, and that weeks and months should not be allowed to drag by? In a situation such as this it is imperative that a decision one way or the other should be arrived at in the shortest possible time to ease the minds of the general public.

I am not responsible for the questions that are put to me. If I answer them it should not be taken to mean that I share the opinions of those who put the questions. I believe that until inquiries are completed there should be no admission or denial.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the reputation and integrity of the RUC is second to none?

I have said that many times, but I have pleasure in saying it once more. What is happening in the RUC is a credit to everyone in the force, but that is not to deny that from time to time situations arise which cause anxiety and concern.

In spite of what the Minister of State has said, for the police to be fully effective they must be more representative of the Northern Ireland community. What help is the hon. Gentleman getting from political parties, the Churches and other bodies in Northern Ireland to ensure that more Roman Catholics are recruited into the RUC?

If we could get more of the minority population to join the RUC that would be an achievement which would create a greater degree of confidence in the population as a whole. We are doing all we can to encourage that, but we have to be assisted by the population and by those whom we urge to apply to join the force. The hon. Gentleman asked me about those who are prominent in political or business life. Some of the statements that have been made have caused anxiety in the Police Federation because some of the suggestions have been outrageous.

Terrorism

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what changes he has made in the Government's strategy for the defeat of terrorism.

The Government's strategy for the defeat of terrorism rests on the vigorous implementation of present policy. No changes are therefore necessary.

The essentials of this policy are to pursue the terrorists through the courts; to encourage the development, effectiveness and acceptance of the police so that they can still more effectively detect, arrest and charge those responsible for terrorist crimes; to foster police/Army co-operation, and to build up the rôle and full time strength of the UDR; and to maintain the Army in sufficient strength to meet the demands of the security situation.

While all must be done under the law, is it not extraordinary that the Secretary of State should say that changes to bring the masters of murder to justice are unnecessary? Is the right hon. Gentleman content with the admittedly impressive yet low level of success referred to by the Under-Secretary of State in replying to the previous Question? After so many years, can no light be shown at the end of this tunnel of terror? Has the Secretary of State studied the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) for a specially trained and regularly constituted anti-terrorist formation?

The hon. Gentleman was asking about the strategy for the defeat of terrorism. I think that the strategy is working and that it is unnecessary to change it. As for the introduction of a special anti-terrorist squad, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that there are 14,000 British troops in the Province. There are 7,500 members of the UDR, the RUC and the RUC Reserve. In addition, the SAS is operating throughout the Province and is helping with intelligence, and helping the RUC in its fight against crime. That gives a total of 31,000, a ratio of one law and order agent for every 50 of the population.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the proposal of the Alliance Party that the promotion of terrorism should be made an offence? Will the Secretary of State comment on that?

I answered that point the last time we had Northern Ireland Questions on the Floor of the House. It is unnecessary to have an offence of terrorism. Every act of handling bombs or weapons is in itself an act of terrorism in Northern Ireland. If there were a charge of terrorism it would hold a political connotation, and we want to get away from that.

Administration

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proposals he has for expediting the despatch of minor matters of administration raised by hon. Members with the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland and other Departments.

Northern Ireland Office Ministers are always concerned that hon. Members should receive a reliable and efficient service on all matters, including minor matters of administration, raised by them with Northern Ireland Departments. To this end my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has instructed Departments that where a Member of Parliament approaches a local office of a Department about an individual constituency case, the head of that office or a senior official may reply, provided the inquiry does not raise any issue of policy, in which case a ministerial reply will be given.

Bearing in mind the excellent public representative's handbook issued by the Housing Executive, will the Government consider, in order to facilitate the full effect of the Secretary of State's arrangements, issuing to Members of Parliament and possibly to others a comparable document in respect of the other services where consultation and dealings at lower administrative levels are desirable?

I am aware of the right hon. Gentleman's correspondence with the Housing Executive and the troubles that he has had with it. His suggestion sounds a good one, and we shall certainly consider it.

When a complaint is made by an hon. Member about public works that are carried out in Northern Ireland, is the investigation of such a complaint dealt with by the official who is responsible for the works in the first place?

Obviously if a complaint is made against a particular official, I, as the Minister concerned with the Department of the Environment, would not like to think that that official was dealing with the complaint. I should always try to ensure that another official carried out the investigation.

Security Forces

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his policy regarding the conclusion of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee contained in the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee to the effect that there is an urgent need, in the interests of the Army, to get force levels in Northern Ireland down, and what is being done in particular to ensure that the civil authority has sufficient resources of its own to diminish and ultimately relieve its dependence on aid from the Army without weakening the forces to combat terrorism and subversion.

Soldiers will support the civil power in Northern Ireland as long as they are needed to maintain the security of the Province. The maintenance of law and order is a police responsibility and the aim is that the RUC will progressively take over full responsibility for it. They will be recruited, trained and equipped to enable them to do so, but they will not be given tasks for which they are not fitted as a civil force. While the level of violence requires it, the Army will remain as a buttress for the police, supported as necessary by the UDR.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the prime responsibility for combating terrorism and subversion lies with the police force of the Province? That being so, will he say what special training and equipment is being made available to the RUC?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary indicated earlier that we do not wish to see the RUC develop as a para-military force, but in the present security situation it is essential that the RUC has defensive weaponry. It is being equipped with the M1 carbine. The first batch of these weapons has already arrived and tests have been carried out. Secondly, I have agreed that it should have mobile equipment up to 1,178 vehicles. Thirdly, it is to receive another 40 Land Rovers by the end of April and they will have protection around them, which will be fitted by the end of May.

Will my right hon. Friend be replying to this part of the Expenditure Committee's Report, and will he recognise that while we all believe the Army to be doing an extremely good job in Northern Ireland, the only solution to the problem there will be a political solution? Can he say what new initiatives are being taken in this regard?

I am not certain yet whether I shall be answering the Expenditure Sub-Committee myself, but no doubt the usual channels between the Secretary of State for Defence and myself will be operating to see how we can give a full and adequate reply. On the political side, perhaps my hon. Friend has not been fully conversant with the movements of recent times, but I decided three weeks ago to bring the major political parties together at a meeting with me at Stormont. I am sorry to say that there was not at that time a willingness among the political leaders to meet. There is no possible chance yet of them being prepared to come back from intransigent postures. We shall have to wait until after the local elections to see whether a greater willingness exists then.

Even if such a conference or discussion were arranged, and even if absolutely unanimous agreement were reached, what conceivable effect could that have on the level of terrorism being practised by the Provisional IRA?

It would be a signal to the terrorists in Northern Ireland—the Provisional IRA—that part of their cause had evaporated, and that the political parties themselves, across the religious divide, were prepared to work together. That would help the atmosphere, but it would not solve the terrorist problem.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the objective of the terrorists can truly be removed only if this House grants to Northern Ireland the constitutional arrangements that obtain in this part of the United Kingdom, namely, the reorganisation of local government and increased representation in this House?

On the last point, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Lord President of the Council gave an assurance that a Speaker's Conference could examine the possibility of increased representation from Northern Ireland in this House.

As regards the reorganisation of local government, the political parties in Northern Ireland are divided on what they really want. The Government's aim is devolved executive government. Some of the parties would like two or three councils to fill the yawning gap between local councils and Westminster representation. Therefore, there is no agreement coming from the parties themselves.

Security Situation

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current security situation in Northern Ireland.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a further statement about the security situation.

Since the beginning of the year 43 people have lost their lives and 347 people have been injured as a result of violence in Northern Ireland. The main features of this violence have been the attacks by the Provisional IRA against members of the security forces, some murder attempts on prominent members of the community and a much reduced number of sectarian assassinations. Appalling and tragic though this violence is, the toll of death and injury is significantly lower than during the corresponding period in previous years. In the first 74 weeks of 1976,99 people were killed and 698 were injured; in the same period in 1975—during the Provisionals' ceasefire—55 people were killed and 527 were injured; and in 1974 62 people were killed and 677 were injured. Therefore, there is a noticeable decline in deaths and injuries.

In the past three months there has been sustained activity by the security forces in the campaign against terrorism, including the call-out of five companies of the Ulster Defence Regiment. This activity has resulted in the capture of 170 firearms and 3,363 1b of explosive. In the same period 297 people have been charged with serious offences, including 18 with murder, 42 with attempted murder, 81 with firearms offences and 34 with explosives offences.

I welcome the slight improvement in the ghastly total figures that the Secretary of State has given us. Is he aware that there is growing resentment among the junior level of command in the regular security forces at the increasing restrictions—as they see them—that have been placed on them in trying to carry out the vital job of rooting out terrorism? They are getting frustrated because the permission required before they can follow up information and make searches in many cases negates their skill in getting the information quickly at first hand. Will the Secretary of State assure everyone that there will be no unnecessary restrictions on the activities of the security forces, in whatever posture the politicians may want them to operate?

I am sorry to hear that. There are no political restraints on members of the security forces. In view of what the hon. Gentleman said and his interest in defence and security matters in Northern Ireland, I shall certainly draw that matter to the attention of the GOC.

I congratulate the security forces on their good work this year. Will the Secretary of State tell us what success there has been in the campaign against the "Goldfingers" of terrorism—the men who make a fat living out of protection rackets and illegal drinking clubs?

I cannot give a progress report on that aspect of the matter, because it does not arise from the original Question. The Chief Constable is fully aware of the black taxi rackets, gaming clubs, illegal drinking clubs, and so on. He is doing his utmost, with the deployment of his resources, gradually to tighten a grip on that situation.

While acknowledging the successes of the security forces, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to pay attention to the legal position of the Provisional Sinn Fein and make a statement on this matter after the recess? Did he notice that its national organiser was sentenced at the Old Bailey yesterday under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for soliciting guns and radios for terrorism in Northern Ireland? Will he therefore consult the Home Secretary about the alleged collection of funds in London for various purposes and the possible use of that organisation in Northern Ireland as a political front for the IRA?

Anyone who watches the Irish situation, north and south, and occasionally in Great Britain, has no doubt that there is a relationship between the PSF and the Provisional IRA. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the PSF was de-proscribed in 1974 by my predecessor. Indeed, the last Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the Conservative Administration indicated in a speech at Cambridge in February 1974 that that was desirable. It was desirable because, if the Provisional IRA wanted to pursue the proper electoral processes, the PSF, still being legal, would be the outlet for it to do so.

The other point raised by the hon. Gentleman concerned talks with the Home Secretary.

Order. If the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) does not mind, I shall call him later. Mr. Neave.

Will the Secretary of State particularly investigate the circumstances of the case at the Old Bailey yesterday, where the national organiser of the Provisional Sinn Fein was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment under the Prevention of Terrorism Act? Is he satisfied that the provisions of that Act are working with regard to Provisional Sinn Fein?

Yes. This is spilling over to the Home Secretary's responsibilities. However, I shall do what the hon. Gentleman suggests and consult the Home Secretary to see what can be done about it.

Did my right hon. Friend detect the wave of absolute revulsion that swept throughout Northern Ireland this week because of the Provisional IRA's admission that it was responsible for blowing up two cafes in the centre of Belfast, in which many innocent children were badly wounded and maimed? Does he accept that everyone agrees with the Government's strategy of bringing terrorists before the courts, but that it must be seen that the courts act in a fair and impartial way? Is he aware that last week the local Press in Northern Ireland reported four sentences that were handed out to terrorists for the offence of murder? One was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment, another to 14 years' imprisonment and the other two to 10 years' imprisonment. On the face of it, that could give rise to some question whether all those convicted of murder should be given the same sentences, whether 30, 15 or 10 years.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not start to undermine the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland in the courts of justice. They have a difficult task to perform. They are terribly overworked and have a difficult job to do in present circumstances. I think that, alongside the RUC, they have managed to maintain the respect and esteem of the people of Northern Ireland. It may be that occasionally sentences are imposed that do not look satisfactory to some people, particularly the minority community.

However, I should like to add to what I said earlier, in view of the first point made by my hon. Friend. There has certainly been a considerable protest by Northern Ireland people against the cowardly and callous attacks on what might be termed soft targets in the past few weeks. Credit is due to some members of the minority community—Austin Curry, John Hume and Patrick O'Hanlon, a founder member of the SDLP—who, backed by Mr. Cosgrave and Senator Kennedy, have, for the first time, courageously spoken against the Provisional IRA. There is now a stronger wave of revulsion by the minority community, which is more outspoken than ever before, against the Provisional IRA's activities.

Does the Secretary o: State agree that one reason for the reduced figures has been the improved situation in South Armagh? Will he continue to bear in mind the strategic importance of that part of my constituency and resist any attempt to divert resources to other parts of Northern Ireland?

That is a valid point, and it would not be for me to direct the GOC or the police to lower their levels of security there. It is essential that they should be maintained.

Since terrorism is still rampant in Northern Ireland, surely there is an urgent need for the creation of an anti-terrorist force such as exists in other Common Market countries, where there are fewer terrorists and less death and destruction? When will the Government realise that Northern Ireland will not be treated as the Khyber Pass and the North-West frontier of the 1970s, providing reminiscences for Ministers and for military mess dinners?

The hon. Gentleman would appear not to have listened to what I said earlier, when I explained to the House that there are already 31,000 members of the security forces in Northern Ireland—one to every 50 of the community. That is a considerable proportion.

Secondly, the SAS is operating inside Northern Ireland Province-wide. It is aiding and abetting the police, feeding the police with intelligence and making sure that the RUC, with its regional crime squads, is successful in its arrests of the terrorists.

I welcome the Secretary of State's asurances that the Army will remain in support of the civil power for as long as is necessary in Northern Ireland, but is it not the case that it is not a question of numbers of troops so much as of suitable forces with the right skills, organisation and equipment? Will the Secretary of State not be quite so negative concerning the question put by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), and the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) for a special antiterrorist force regularly constituted? Will the Secretary of State not rush at this, but give it some thought during the recess?

I do not think that it is necessary to change the strategy. I have tried to explain during the course of Question Time that the strategy is working. The rate of attrition is improving. I do not, therefore, see any need for any other special anti-terrorist squad in Northern Ireland.

Housing Executive

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he remains satisfied with the amount of finance being made available to the Housing Executive.

Yes, Sir. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has not been hindered in its work by a lack of finance.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the many hundreds of complaints that all of us who represent Northern Ireland receive about dampness in the houses of tenants of the Housing Executive, and that they are usually fobbed off with the excuse of condensation? Will the Housing Executive do something constructive about this and try finally to get a maintenance section that actually carries out maintenance functions?

There is no real relationship between that question and the Question on the Order Paper. The hon. Member will know that we have had an investigation carried out concerning the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and I hope that some of the problems in the maintenance area to which the hon. Member referred can be resolved in some form of reorganisation in the future.

Is the Minister satisfied that taxpayers' money is no longer leaking through parts of the Housing Executive into the pockets of terrorist leaders?

Terrorist Prisoners (Release)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many persons convicted of terrorist offences have been released before the expiration of the period of the sentence apart from ordinary remission for good behaviour; and how many will be released during the remainder of the year under the same scheme.

While prison records do not separately identify persons convicted of terrorist offences, all special category prisoners have been convicted of offences connected with the civil disturbances. Since June 1972, 128 such prisoners have been released under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, which is exercised, for example, when there are exceptional compassionate or medical circumstances, or when releases would otherwise occur over the Christmas period. It is therefore impossible to forecast how many such releases there may be in future.

Is the Minister aware that the security forces, or at least some of them, are concerned about the release of terrorists before the expiration of their sentences, and that they should be allowed only the ordinary remission and not the increased period put in by his right hon. Friend's predecessor? Will he look into this? It is very worrying that all these people, perhaps hundreds, are coming back into the streets and engaging in terrorist offences.

I said that since June 1972 there have been 128 such prisoners. In most of these cases of release under the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy the period was about two weeks, or even less, over the Christmas period. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has asked the right question, and whether he is referring to this scheme or the other scheme that we have in Northern Ireland in place of the parole system.

Are the Government aware that as soon as resources and new accommodation make it possible to wind down, sooner than is anticipated at present, the mistaken special category status, that will have the full support of my hon. Friends and myself?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and all his colleagues, and also my hon. Friends, for the support that we have had concerning the ending of the special category status. It has certainly not been easy. We have been able to do it only when, logistically, it has been possible—that is, when cells have become available.

In 1968 we were running the penal system only with Crumlin Road, where we had about 600 prisoners at the most. At this moment we have a prison population of 2,700. We had only 300 prison officers in 1968. Now we have well over 2,000. This is the extent of what has happened.

Will my hon. Friend indicate the total number of persons convicted of terrorist offences who have not been given special category status, and say how many have conformed in Long Kesh, how many are not conforming, and the amount of remission that has been lost by those not conforming to the new prison regulations? How long has it been since they have received visitors from outside?

Those who are not conforming will not receive visitors. Since the ending of special category status, 300 people have been convicted through the courts. Of this number, as of yesterday, 101 were not conforming. We have, therefore, nearly 200 who are conforming. The loss of remission of those people not conforming now totals over 16 years.

Finaghy Community Centre

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give the commencement date for the renovation of Finaghy Community Centre; and what social amenities are planned for the Mount and Willowfield wards in South Belfast.

The decision as to the renovation of the Finaghy Community Centre is the direct responsibility of the Housing Executive, which has carried out a survey on the need for repairs. As for the Mount and Willowfield wards of Belfast, Belfast City Council has plans to provide a community centre in the Woodstock Road area.

I thank the Under-Secretary for that reply, but may I emphasise that the Finaghy Community Centre has been promised renovation for well over 18 months now, and that a very large part of my constituency depends on this building? The Mount and Willow-field wards, on the east side of my constituency, have very few rent or rate debtors, and expect the kind of facilities that obtain in other parts of the city.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the decision to hand over community centres in the ownership of the Housing Executive was taken last October, subject to the city authority and, indeed, other authorities agreeing on the state of repair. There is some dispute at the moment about the state of repair of the Finaghy Community Centre. We hope that it can be resolved, in which case it will be handed over to the city authority and be properly run from that point of time.

Will the Minister say whether his Department has reached any conclusion on the submission made to it by the Lisburn Borough Council concerning land for recreational purposes?

I had not expected that question, but as it has been put I shall look into it and send the hon. Member a reply.

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Pig Production

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the immediate prospects facing the British pig farmer.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. E. S. Bishop)

Domestic supplies of pigs reach a high point in the production cycle this year. There has been the usual seasonal weakening of pig prices since the end of January though the market for pigmeat generally improves somewhat in the Easter period.

Is the Minister aware of the gravity of the position facing pig farmers? My constituency in Wiltshire is no exception to this. Will the Minister say what is the current position concerning the recalculation of the mcas, and where is the sticking point in the negotiations?

We made some progress at the end of last year with the mca change of 8 per cent., which helped the position. Since then, there has been the 50p subsidy. The matter will be considered again by the Council of Ministers at its meeting on 25th and 26th April.

Will the hon. Gentleman take much more urgently the gravity of the situation in the pig industry? The slaughter of sows is increasing rapidly, and the temporary 50p subsidy introduced in January has already been overtaken by costs. Will he do something rather less complacent in order to save this very important part of our agricultural industry?

We appreciate the difficulties of the situation. There was some increase in feed costs in February, but the subsidy, although it may have been eroded, has not been overtaken. It is not for want of trying. My right hon. Friend pressed this matter strongly in the early part of the year and at the last meeting of the Council of Ministers. We intend to press it strongly at the next meeting.

Common Agricultural Policy

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made towards change of the common agricultural policy of the EEC; and if he will report on his latest discussions on the matter in Europe.

I have nothing to add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend on 30th March about the latest discussions in the Council of Agriculture Ministers.—[Vol. 929, c. 411–22.]

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the Minister will resist, with every means at his disposal, all policies that are likely to result in the creation of massive surpluses, whether of beef, butter, wine or anything else? Will he give a further assurance that the Minister will also resist any attempt to sell off such surpluses at bargain basement prices to countries outside the Community? Will he also give an assurance that the Minister will do all he can to protect the consumer from the profligate policies based on the common agricultural policy?

There is a great deal of agreement between my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) on these matters. The House has debated the proposals of 16th March and the statement of 30th March. The main objective is to reduce surpluses by setting support prices at a sensible level. We want better and less wasteful use of the Community's resources. My hon. Friend is right in implying that there should be a balance between producer and consumer, because if the consumer cannot afford to consume it affects the producer and results in the surpluses that we want to avoid.

Has the hon. Gentleman studied the responses of such nations as Canada and the United States, which have experienced large surpluses of various commodities in the past? If such a study has been carried out, what lessons have been learnt which might profitably be learnt in the Community with particular reference to our agriculture industry?

The lessons are clear in the Community already. We want to avoid surpluses, which means setting prices at a sensible level. We want to ensure that the most efficient producers are encouraged and the less efficient discouraged. We want to fashion the CAP garment to the needs of this country as well as to the Community as a whole.

Legislative Programme

14.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will make a statement on the progress made in the inter-party talks concerning the future legislative programme of Her Majesty's Government.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

I refer my hon. Friend to my answer to the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) on 28th March.

Since the consultations with the Liberal Party are running consultations, about which we know very little, will my right hon. Friend indicate what precisely is the state of play in regard to the Scotland and Wales Bill? In what form is it being agreed that it should be presented to the House again? For example, will there be the reintroduction of the guillotine motion first, or will the Bill be allowed to go forward for a further few weeks to see how we go before the guillotine motion is reintroduced?

We have had what I suppose my hon. Friend would describe as running conversations with large numbers of hon. Members about the Bill. We have had them with representatives of the Liberal Party, with many of my hon. Friends, and with different groups inside the Parliamentary Labour Party. We have had them with representatives of the Conservative Party, of the Ulster Unionists, of the Scottish National Party and of Plaid Cymru, as well as with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I think that to report on all these conversations to the House would not help matters. No decisions have been made on the points raised by my hon. Friend. They are not matters that will be settled in discussions in inter-party talks. There is no need for him to create a mystery where none exists.

Roxburgh

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make an official visit to Roxburgh.

In that case, may I remind the Prime Minister of the local heroine of Roxburgh, the Maid Lilliard, who fought against the English at Ancrim Moor?

"Upon the English loons
She laid many thumps,
And when her legs were cuttit off
She fought upon her stumps."
That is the spirit which haunts the running conversations between the Liberals and the Government on devolution. Would it not be far better for there to be talks on the very important subject of the decentralisation of government, out in the open, between all parties, in the form of a constitutional conference?

I thought that it was Admiral Benbow who, when his legs were cut off, said:

"Let a cradle now in haste
On the quarter deck be placed
That the enemy I may face till I die."
The hon. Gentleman will recollect that the Admiral's legs were cut off by chain shot while fighting the French, and it was nothing to do with the common agricultural policy. So I do not think that there is much to concern us about this. I realise that our relations with the Liberal Party seem to upset the Conservatives rather a lot, and I suppose that that is inevitable. It is, I think, just a mark of the fact that the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) takes a more objective view of the national interest than does the Tory Party.

Now that my right hon. Friend has time to spare not to go to Roxburgh, does he intend to accept an invitation to visit my borough for the Cup Final at Wembley?

Order. Fair play. Although it is nearly Easter, we must try to relate supplementary questions to the Questions on the Order Paper. I think that I had better move on.

Leader Of The Liberal Party

Q2.

I refer the hon. Member to the Reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) on 5th April,

When the Prime Minister does next meet the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), will he discuss with him the operation of the closed shop? Will he remind the right hon. Gentleman that all the Liberals voted against the Second Reading of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act?

I would be happy to discuss any of these matters at any time, even with the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). The Tory attitude towards the closed shop is fairly clear, as is the Government's. We believe that this is an industrial matter, to be settled industrially. The hon. Gentleman does not do much good to industrial relations by constantly scratching away at this point.

As my right hon. Friend is constantly being sniped at about the arrangements, will he take note that many of us on the Government Benches have had very large postbags overwhelmingly in favour of them from our own supporters, as well as from dispassionate observers of the British political scene, although we note that there is nothing in the agreement that prevents the Liberal Party from occasionally making a fool of itself?

I know that there is a continuing interest in the matter, and I draw attention to the fact that what is upsetting the Conservative Party is not the fear that the Government are going to fail but the fear that we intend to succeed, as we shall.

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he chose to visit Rox-burgh, Selkirk or Peebles, he would be warmly welcomed there during the Easter Recess? In particular, we would be very happy to discuss with him the problems, for example, of rural transport at first hand, on the ground, in advance of the Finance Bill debates. Is he further aware that one of the reasons why the Conservative Party is nervous on this sort of question is that various Tory leaders, including the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who is deputising for absent friends today, visited my constituency at the time of the by-election? While we were learning the lessons of history, I suddenly realised that James II was killed by a big gun backfiring at Roxburgh—and that happened during my by-election, as well.

I have the happiest recollections of visits to Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. They are most beautiful spots, and I would be happy to go back at any time. Indeed, I should be ready to join the right hon. Gentleman in opening some of the new advance factories which, I am glad to say, are now being built in his constituency.

Is the Prime Minister aware that what is upsetting the SNP about the Liberal-Labour pact is the fact that there is no election, because in an election the SNP will sweep the board in Scotland? May we learn just a little more about the nature of this pact? The Prime Minister will have heard the answer of the Leader of the House about running conversations, as if they were happening all over the place, but he well knows that the only running conversation that the Leader of the House had with the SNP was a request to introduce the SNP Bill, to which the right hon. Gentleman said "No". If these are running conversations, may we learn a little more—

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, when did the Prime Minister last meet the Leader of the Liberal Party? Where did he meet him, in what circumstances, when will he meet him again, and how often?

The answer to all those questions is that I do not intend to make announcements on these matters, either to the hon. Lady or to anyone else.

Does my right hon. Friend also recall that when the flying bombs descended on London in June of 1944 Dr. Goebbels announced that the whole British Government had fled in a panic to Roxburgh? Is he also aware that that report proved to be wholly unfounded?

Yes, and I hope to assure my right hon. Friend that the myth will not repeat itself, although I should hope always to see the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) here in the House of Commons.

Will the Prime Minister tell the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and his constituents that the Labour candidate in the last election in that constituency received only 8 per cent. of the votes cast? Will he explain to the other 92 per cent. of those constituents why, having voted against having a Socialist Government, they find that their Member is supporting one?

Those would be interesting reflections, but I should also want to acquaint the electors of that delectable constituency of the fact that the hon. Gentleman was dismissed from his own Government for sheer incompetence.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements during the Easter Recess.

It is not in accordance with usual practice to do so. However, if my hon. Friend has anything specific to suggest, I shall be glad to consider it.

If my right hon. Friend has time to visit Scotland during the Easter Recess, will he give an assurance that there will be no collaboration over incomes policy with his "phoney" comrades in Roxburgh or anywhere else? Will my right hon. Friend instead visit his brother trade unionists at the STUC conference in Rothesay where justified concern is likely to be expressed about the drop in workers' living standards and a justifiable demand is likely to be made for a return to free collective bargaining instead of pussyfooting around with kitty bargaining?

I have had regular meetings with Scottish trade unionists and others, and I have had discussions with them. I do not accept my hon. Friend's description of what are the best policies to follow in these matters. In view of the developments that we have had, I recognise that there must now be some changes in the next pay round. That is quite clear. But I do not accept that the whole idea of a pay agreement should be thrown overboard. That would be the surest and most certain way of returning to higher inflation in the short run and more unemployment in the medium run. Control must be kept over the money supply. I hope that my hon. Friend will reflect on these comments both on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. If he does, I believe that he will come back in a different frame of mind.

If the Prime Minister visits Rothesay, or Roxburgh, or anywhere else, will he ponder, on Good Friday, and realise that whenever he holds the election it is he who will be dismissed for sheer incompetence?

It would no doubt be possible, but I do not think it is important, for us necessarily to look ahead to the result of the next election. One day I hope to get it into the heads of Opposition Members, at least those not obsessed by elections, that the Government intend to carry through their policy of restraining inflation and overcoming unemployment by directing an export-led growth as far as we can. Despite the mutterings of the hon. Gentleman, this country has got the best possible chance that it has had for 30 years of breaking out of the cycle of decline. If we do manage to break out of it, if we get another pay agreement, and if we pursue these policies, no matter what the electoral unpopularity—and I emphasise the word "if"—this country will have a golden decade in the 1980s.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is one thing and only one thing which would prevent me from currently appearing in the witness box to testify to his competence? He may put that thing right by meeting constituents of mine who work at C. A. Parsons Ltd. during Easter and telling them why it has taken the Government over a year to come to anywhere near a decision on the electrical power plant industry. We have had planning agreements and discussions, as well as the CPRS review, but there have been continued delays with regard to a decision. Will my right hon. Friend meet my constituents during the recess and tell them what the Government are going to do about Drax B and the 2,000 jobs threatened in my constituency?

These are important matters. The whole future of both the turbine generator industry and the boiler industry is involved. There is the question whether this industry has a real future in this country, based on domestic supply, or whether we should structure it in such a way that it will be able to go for export markets. These are not decisions to be taken lightly. It would be foolish to do so. I have been engaged personally in these matters and I have learned a great deal about them during the last six months. I assure my hon. Friend that a decision will be reached based on the interests of his constituents who work in C. A. Parsons and the other major firms involved. The time for reaching a decision is close. Drax B is clearly involved in these decisions. I hope that my hon. Friend will be a little patient about this, because we are considering the future of one of Britain's biggest and most important industries.

Does the Prime Minister agree that if he is not prepared to return to free collective bargaining he has to find a way of meeting the rightful demands of skilled workers to have their differentials restored? What thought are the Government giving to such a proposal and, in particular, does the Prime Minister think that something like a relativities board might have a useful purpose?

Discussions between the Chancellor, the Secretaries of State for Employment and Industry and others of my colleagues are going on at the moment on these matters. I would prefer not to go into detail about them at present. The TUC said last year that it wanted an early beginning to a return to free collective bargaining. I understand that point. With regard to differentials and kitty bargaining, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has made some proposals. I hope that they will get more careful consideration than that given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) this morning, despite the rather silly remark of Clive Jenkins yesterday. That is no way to handle these matters. I shall see whether the Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Employment can report to the House as soon as possible.

Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

I refer my hon. Friend to the replies that I gave to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) in the exchanges following my statement to the House on 15th March.

Can my right hon. Friend now assure the House that President Amin will not be attending this conference? Is he aware of the considerable feeling in my constituency and elsewhere that the presence of this man would make a mockery of any remaining ideals of our Commonwealth?

I know the feelings that exist not only in my hon. and learned Friend's constituency but more widely, but I have nothing to add to the replies that I have given previously on this matter.

Statutory Instruments, &C

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A ( Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)

Diplomatic And International Immunities And Privileges

That the European Patent Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1977, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th March, he approved.—[ Mr. Stallard.]

Question agreed to.

Adjournment Debates

Before we begin the Adjournment debates, may I tell the House that I hope that those who have been lucky enough to have a subject for debate will keep strictly to the timetable? This is a matter of honour. If they do not keep to the timetable they will take up the time allotted to their colleagues.

Foreign Affairs (Select Committee)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Stallard.]

12.1 p.m.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for selecting me for this Adjournment debate and for this opportunity to discuss the motion urging the Government to set up a Standing Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

I am particularly grateful for this opportunity because over successive weeks I have tried at Business Question Time to persuade the Leader of the House that this is a matter that should be discussed in this House and hitherto have failed in that purpose.

I am grateful also for the opportunity that this gives me to thank colleagues on both sides of the House for the considerable support that they have given me on Early-Day Motion No. 222, which was the basis of my request for a debate.

Early-Day Motion No. 222 standing in my name and the names of my colleagues in all parts of the House is a three-part motion which begins by expressing the dissatisfaction of the House at the manner in which we discuss foreign affairs. The second part of the motion expresses the wish to improve the quality and, indeed, the frequency of our discussions of foreign affairs by the establishment of a Select Committee. The third part of the motion, which is, I suppose, the most contentious part, is that as of right the reports of such a Select Committee should be referred back to this Chamber to be debated in the Chamber within 30 days of publication.

What has surprised me is the scale and quality of the support for the motion. There are this morning 358 names on the Order Paper in support of the motion, and I confess that I have another half-dozen names in my pocket, so that I might be able to keep this motion going in the next term to see whether I can do better than I have to date.

I am informed by the Table Office that this is certainly the record for an Early-Day Motion over the past five years, during which the previous largest number in support of any Early-Day Motion was 267—about 90 fewer than I have achieved already for this motion. So far as the Table Office can recollect, there has never before been an Early-Day Motion that has had the support of more than 324 right hon. and hon. Members, so this motion represents a 10 per cent. improvement in the previously known record. That underlines the disappointment felt on both sides of the House at the infrequency of opportunities to debate foreign affairs subjects and does, I believe, indicate the extent to which there is a general will throughout the House for change.

Perhaps I can amplify that assertion by referring to the fact that the signatories to the motion include a considerable number of Privy Councillors and former Ministers. Numbered amongst them is my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson), who is a former Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means and therefore very skilled and knowledgeable in the procedures of the House, the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), who is, of course, a former Minister for Overseas Development and also a former Cabinet Minister, and the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who I am sorry cannot be in his place this afternoon, who is a former Leader of the Liberal Party.

The range of support for this motion extends right across the spectrum of party political views in this House. When one mentions the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who has a particular view of a particular Wing of the House, and contrasts him with someone like my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East, who might be thought by most to have a view substantially different from that of the hon. Gentleman, one realises the scale of the support for the motion.

To sum up the support, I think that I can assert with some certainty that nearly 80 per cent. of the Conservative Party currently in the House signed it. It has been signed by all the Liberals, except for the Leader of the Liberals, whom I have not yet asked, but he will not escape me after the Easter Recess. It has been signed by all the Ulster Unionists, including the Leader, and by the SNP, including its Leader, who is one of the top six on the motion. The motion has been signed by two-thirds of the Welsh nationalists, and that is a sum that is relatively easy for the House to understand. It has been signed by a large number of Labour Members, including the hon. Members for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson), and Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), the Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively of the Parliamentary Labour Party Foreign Affairs Committee. In addition, I have the private support of a former Prime Minister, and the private support of several former Cabinet Ministers from both the major parties in the House. In short, I think that that shows that there is overwhelming support for the motion.

I suppose that we should ask ourselves why it is that so many right hon. and hon. Members feel so strongly as to sign in such numbers. I think that we must immediately recognise that the principal reason is the infrequency of debates. It is no secret, and indeed I regard it as a scandal, that we have major debates on foreign affairs only annually, if we are lucky, and on occasions the time lag between major debates of this kind has been as much as 15 months. Clearly, the House feels that this is an unsatisfactory way in which to deal with major issues of foreign affairs.

When one adds to that fact the observation that on major occasions of this kind never more than 20 right hon. and hon. Members have the opportunity of taking part in the debate, and when one considers also that the time of such debates is overwhelmingly taken up by opening and closing speeches from the Government and Opposition Front Benches, and also the fact that Privy Councillors claim their droit de seigneur and have a favourable opportunity to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, one realises that at most a dozen Back Benchers have the opportunity of taking part in these debates. It is that reason, as much as anything else, which I believe accounts for the fact that these foreign affairs debates, rare though they are, are so badly attended. Hon. Members judge their chances of taking part to be so limited as to be not worth the bother of attending. Indeed, on foreign affairs evenings when there is no major vote many hon. Members will take the opportunity of having dinner with their wives, or of taking their wives to the cinema, which for most Members nowadays is a rare enough opportunity. That accounts for the poor attendance.

The limited possibilities for consultation on foreign affairs was in the back of the minds of right hon. and hon. Members who supported my Early-Day Motion. There was a lack of consultation, for example, when the Minister of State recently went to the Falkland Islands for a series of talks with the Islanders and came back via Argentina. The House was able to determine what went on only by the unsatisfactory and infrequent process of Question Time. That problem was touched on in the major debate that we had a few weeks ago. There was general dissatisfaction that we were not able to probe the Minister deeply in order to discover the nature of his discussions with the Falkland Islanders and the Argentinian Government. The House would have welcomed an opportunity to debate the matter subsequent to the limited exchanges that we had on that occasion. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) tabled an Early-Day Motion asking the Government for assurances about that visit to the Falkland Islands by the Minister of State.

Rhodesia is one of the major Foreign Office issues that concerns us today. In recent years we have had annual opportunities for a special debate on that subject as a result of the sanctions order that must be renewed every year. The Government have rightly provided time to debate the sanctions order each autumn. That has happened for the past 10 years and it has proved a major opportunity for hon. Members to talk about Rhodesia and the problems of Southern Africa. Apart from that, there are few opportunities for discussion. We have opportunities to discuss European legislation, and European orders from time to time and, as I mentioned earlier, we have Question Time.

However, Question Time is unsatisfactory for Back-Bench Members. Hon. Members have a chance of putting one supplementary question containing two, or three at the most, parts. If the Minister wishes to avoid answering all or part of that Question it is easy for him to do so. Unless an issue is immediately followed up by other hon. Members in other parts of the House, a chance is lost to discover information. A new opportunity does not present itself until the next Question Time several weeks later. By that time the issue will have resolved itself or the hon. Member who has a particular interest in the issue will not be fortunate in the draw at Question Time and will not have the opportunity of putting an Oral Question on the Floor of the House.

For all those reasons there is a widespread feeling that the opportunities to debate major foreign affairs matters are totally insufficient. It is particularly insufficient in this country because our dependence upon other countries is perhaps greater than that of any other country in the world. After all, we were formerly head of a vast colonial empire which enabled us to have and control commercial, political and cultural interests over a quarter of the world's surface. We are a founder member of the Commonwealth. At last we are a member of the EEC. We are a permanent member of the Security Council at the United Nations and an active member of many international conferences and bodies—probably a member of more such organisations than the majority of other countries.

In this new age of interdependence, when we no longer control as we did in the colonial days, the sources of foodstuffs, raw materials and minerals, we are particularly vulnerable to world movements. It is therefore particularly important that Britain's contact with customers and the sources of raw materials should be as good as possible.

The House seeks, and should have the opportunity, to keep an eye on the performance of successive Governments to ensure that we retain our reputation overseas in the finest working order. We now import over 80 per cent. of our raw materials and, by comparison with many other countries, we are unusually dependent upon the good will of other countries. That is easy to maintain in times of plenty when there are no strains and stresses in the world economy, but it is difficult in times of crisis.

Over recent years crises have had an immense impact on Britain. The oil crisis led us to consider seriously the need to ration petrol. It led to substantial price increases which had their impact on industry and on the consumer. The sugar crisis also directly hit the housewife's pocket. Many hon. Members would have liked to debate issues such as those more frequently than they did. They would have liked the opportunity to discuss at length the system of commodity agreements which must come if the world is to solve its food crisis. Such crises, particularly the oil crisis, led to the world recession from which all countries are now suffering. The world recession is of particular importance to us because it affects the bouyancy of markets abroad and our access to them. In turn that affects employment opportunities at home.

Any increase in the price of world commodities affects the housewife and the cost of living in this country. Major movements in world economic affairs are of special interest to us in Britain because of the high proportion of imports which we bring in from other countries, both to feed ourselves and to provide raw materials for industry. Imports give us the opportunity to manufacture products which we can sell at a profit in world markets. The buoyancy of world markets and our ability to exploit and develop them, not in a pejorative sense but in the interests of other countries as customers and of Britain as salesman, is of increasing importance.

The new situation has been recognised by the Foreign Office in recent years because it now takes a more active interest in commercial affairs. Commerce is now a prime interest—greater than it was when the Diplomatic Corps was preoccupied with politics and issues of war and peace. In the colonial days overseas trade was left to the Board of Trade which specialised in that sphere. Happily, that has changed.

For all those reasons, the time has come for the House to demand, not ask, that the Government seriously consider the need for us to have better opportunities to debate and discuss external affairs, which have such a considerable impact on what we in this country do. The question is whether a specialist committee is the right method. Other countries think so. I was interested to read in the Inter-Parliamentary Union publication "Parliaments of the World" that more than 60 out of 70 members of the IPU have specialist committees which control the discussion of foreign affairs. The major names on the list are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States. We in Britain are the only major Western modern industrial country engaging in international trade which does not have a specialist committee to discuss foreign affairs.

In the same publication one can read of the way in which committees are organised. Certain countries, such as Australia, have a joint committee on foreign affairs and defence. The Australian Senate also has a committee on foreign affairs and defence. France has a foreign affairs committee of each House. The Assembly, which is France's lower House, has a foreign affairs committee with 62 members, and the upper House, the Senate has a committee of 45 members. Even the Netherlands, a relatively small country, has a foreign affairs committee of the First Chamber, consisting of 12 members, and a foreign affairs committee of the Second Chamber, comprising 24. It is a serious matter that we alone among our EEC partners, our Alliance partners and our OECD partners for some curious reason remain without any formal committee within which we can have a proper, in-depth discussion of foreign affairs subjects.

I think that what I have said makes the case overwhelmingly for coming into line, in view of our particular interests in international affairs, and thinking seriously about establishing a specialist committee or committees.

The next question to which we must address ourselves is whether our specialist committee should be a Select Committee or otherwise. Select Committees are par- ticular in at least two ways. First, they are select—that is, their members are all selected and the committees are not open to all hon. Members. They encourage specialists with a particular interest in the subject to join them. Secondly, their nature and remit encourage them to be largely investigatory committees. We read in Redlich's The Procedure of the House of Commons:
"They are the special part of the mechanism of the House which is set in motion for the study of a subject and the devising of plans for its treatment … select committees are first and foremost committees of investigation, they … have regularly entrusted to them a group of powers which as a rule are retained for exercise by the House itself, namely, the right to require the attendance of witnesses and to examine upon oath, the power of sending for all documents, papers, and records relevant to the matters referred to them, and that of insisting upon the production of any such papers by witnesses."
Select Committees are very powerful. The process of establishing them began as long ago as 1341, when the first Committee, I think on expenditure, was set up. Select Committees have been developed over the centuries in the service of the House. The time has come for us to consider having one for foreign affairs.

Only a relatively short time ago, in 1971, a Green Paper on committees was published. Commenting on the previous record of Select Committees, the Green Paper, Cmnd. 4705, said:
"it must be conceded that when—too rarely—their reports have been debated, the degree of interest shown by other Members has sometimes been disappointingly small."
The Minister may well say that Select Committees sit and reports are produced but that they do not add much to our discussions in this Chamber. Certainly when the Green Paper was being drafted that was so, but it added:
"The influence of the Committees on the formation of new policies is … subtle and in many cases will not be visible for some time to come."
The Green Paper also said:
"it is beyond dispute that they have acquired a growing body of expertise and have brought together in their reports, for the benefit of the House and the public generally, a valuable body of fact and opinion on some important issues."
There was a recommendation that the Select Committees had a part to play, one which should be developed.

I am proud to serve on the Select Committee on Overseas Development, which I know from experience played an important part in bringing to the Executive's attention a subject which urgently needed scrutiny and consideration in depth. I refer to the Crown Agents. I do not wish to say anything in advance of the Fay Committee's report, but I can comment that it was that Select Committee that, as a result of the urging of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), took evidence and discussed the Crown Agents. When the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) left the Committee shortly afterwards to begin her second term as Minister of State for Overseas Development, the top item on her list when she went into her office was the Crown Agents. Within weeks of her return, the inquiry was set up. We await the results with interest.

That example is incontrovertible proof that Select Committees can play an important rôle in foreign affairs by supervising the Executive. In that case the Executive had not exercised the supervision over the Crown Agents that it should have exercised, in the public interest. It was the House—first, in the Chamber, and, secondly, through the Select Committee on Overseas Development—that brought the matter to light discreetly and quietly, so that the confidence of overseas principals in the Crown Agents was not damaged.

More recently the same Select Committee has issued what is generally agreed, certainly by the informed Press, to be a good report, the Second Report this Session. That report criticises the Government severely for their rôle in the international negotiations following UNCTAD in Nairobi last year and leading up to the UNCTAD discussions in Geneva which have just finished. I believe that that report, which was prepared within two or three weeks by a small committee of eight of us, contributed to discussion and understanding within the House and outside of the major issues facing the world in matters of commodity management and so on.

Of course we have a Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee. That followed the setting up of the Expenditure Committee in 1971 after a debate on the Green Paper to which I have already referred. In that particular Committee they discuss both defence and external affairs matters, but it is a very small Committee—far too small to give the kind of supervision of the running of our external affairs that I and the majority of hon. Members believe is necessary in this day and age.

In the debate on the Green Paper which resulted in Standing Order No. 80, and the establishment of the Expenditure Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) made these important comments about Select Committees. We should never forget them:
"On the one hand, I am absolutely certain that the House of Commons Chamber must remain the centre of Parliament and the main battleground of political controversy. On the other hand, I am equally certain that a sound Select Committee system is vital to the detailed probing and criticism of the executive upon which both successful Parliamentry democracy and good government depend. The Select Committee system can also be valuable to the debates in the House of Commons Chamber."
Later he suggested that following the establishment of the Expenditure Committee there should be various sub-committees, including one for defence and external affairs:
"I suggest that this will provide an opportunity for evolutionary developments within what I hope will be a reasonably stable framework."—[Official Report, 12th November 1970; Vol. 806, c. 619–21.]
A review of procedure and Select Committees is already under way by the Procedure Committee. I was very interested in reading the evidence given to that Committee so far to see the comments of two earlier witnesses. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), the Opposition Chief Whip, said in evidence that he believed that more use should be made of the Select Committee procedure. In page 84 of the evidence he said:
"Parliament does not exist or should not exist as a simple piece of machinery to translate as speedily as possible into action what a Government wants. It is my view that Parliament was invented for precisely the opposite reasons and therefore its ability to question and probe the Government and improve legislative proposals overrides everything else in importance."
I think that few hon. Members would disagree with that. Perhaps people forget it temporarily when they occupy the Treasury Bench and enjoy the fruits of office, but they soon come back to realising that we are all here because we are elected by constituents who want us to represent their interests and to play a part in ensuring that the rules and regulations that emanate from this House are sensible and contribute to improving their lives.

Another piece of evidence in which I was interested was that of the Leader of the House. I am sorry that he is not here at the moment. When we had an exchange at Business Questions 10 days ago on this subject he said that he hoped he would be here today because he had an open mind on these matters and was anxious that they should be discussed so that he could make up his mind whether time should be found for a debate at a later stage in which more hon. Members could take part. The Leader of the House said in his evidence to the Committee:
"It has always been a fallacy that, in fact, the Cabinet dictates to the House of Commons. The Government have some power over it, and some power to indicate what they want, but the idea that the legislation is not greatly altered by debate in the House of Commons and by individual back-benchers and by backbenchers in other committees influencing the legislation is entirely incorrect."
He went on—and this is important:
"Of course, in matters other than legislation back-benchers have a much bigger part than the modern theory states. I want to see that that part is preserved, and strengthened, and that the back-benchers' possibilities of having a chance of influencing what the Government does are increased."
I am very glad that the Leader of the House put that on the record, because this is the burden of my request today.

Of course I understand that the establishment of a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is not a decision that can be taken lightly. One must bear in mind that this proposal is rather different from proposals for other kinds of Select Committees, particulary pre-legislative committees which might play a more active part in legislation. The difference between the Foreign Office and other Departments of State is that the Foreign Office has little or no legislation, therefore it operates without the constraints that the House imposes through legislation, and is freer than most Departments to have its own way. For that reason it is important that we have an early decision to bring this part of Government activity under more active review in the House.

I realise that I have taken up a long time with my speech and that other hon. Members want to speak. I wind up by saying that I hope that the Leader of the House, when he reads this debate, or the Under-Secretary who will reply today, will indicate that the Government are not unfavourably disposed to considering the possibility of having a half-day debate before the Whitsun Recess when the House can have a better opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of the establishment of a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

In his earlier answers to business questions the Leader of the House said that he was not against such a debate but that finding time might be difficult. In view of the evidence given to the Select Committee on Procedure, and Early-Day Motion No. 222, which has the overwhelming support of all parts of the House, it is incumbent upon the Leader of the House to find time for a serious debate of that kind as soon as possible after the Easter Recess.

12.38 p.m.

I just wish to emphasise that I support my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler) and his motion. I have reservations about the exact procedure, but my real concern is to find some machinery for a study of foreign affairs that will maintain the bipartisan approach that is one of the most important aspects of the handling of foreign affairs in this nation. I hope that on this occasion Oxford and Cambridge will be together.

12.39 p.m.

I have no wish to detain the House or to spread about dying—I hope—'flu germs. I want to support the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler) and draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard), who occupies the position that I once held in the Foreign Office, to the fact that it was my spell at the Foreign Office more than anything that convinced me that the House needed a Select Committee to look at foreign affairs and to keep us informed about what is taking place. I think that the case for it has been made admirably this afternoon.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware that at this stage, just before a parliamentary Recess, the strength of feeling on a motion is not necessarily demonstrated by the number of hon. Members in attendance. Inter-Party political co-operation seems to be the order of the day, and there has been a great deal of party co-operation on this motion. It was not difficult to obtain signatures to it, because hon. Members were anxious to lend their support. There is a general feeling of frustration among hon. Members in all parts of the House about the way in which foreign affairs are dealt with. Therefore, I fully support all that has been said.

12.40 p.m.

I wish to add my strong support to the case for a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs so ably advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler).

The three most important points made by my hon. Friend are as follows. First, he wishes to bring our practices in this House into line with those adapted by our partners in the world who are at the same stage of economic and political development as ourselves. Secondly, he wishes to establish a more knowledgeable public within the House of Commons, at is were, when dealing with these important matters on the Floor of the House. This can be achieved only by means of an ongoing organisation which can follow these matters through and probe them deeply.

Thirdly, my hon. Friend made the point that it could be said that the establishment of such a Committee and the healthy debating of these matters on the Floor were incompatible. However, I believe that they are entirely compatible, and experience demonstrates that, if debates are well prepared by means of an investigatory body, the quality of our debates is improved. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not advance that argument, because it is a canard.

12.42 p.m.

I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler) on choosing this important subject for debate today. Questions of procedural and parliamentary reform are important to us here, and are also important to the good government of the country. We are all grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not only for making an interesting contribution but for giving us the opportunity to ensure that this important subject, relating to the conduct of business in the House, is fully aired.

The hon. Gentleman claimed, with some justification, that his proposal had wide support within the House. Indeed, he was the main instigator and organiser of the Early-Day Motion on this subject, which has now attracted nearly 360 signatures, which, I believe, is a record and certainly a considerable achievement. That amount of support demonstrates the strong body of opinion in all parts of the House and among all parties in favour of his proposition for the establishment of a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Whoever reaches a decision on this matter—and it is not only the Government who are involved—must take careful account of the opinion expressed in favour of this motion.

I must make a brief comment about my own position in case I should be caught out by anybody who may have dug up quotations of what I have said on this subject in the past. I make no secret of the fact that in the past I have been a firm supporter of such committees, and particularly a committee on foreign affairs. It is known, I believe, that that is also true of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who expressed himself in a similar sense in an article in The Guardian about three years ago. Nobody therefore could maintain that there is any undue prejudice among Foreign Office Ministers against such a proposal.

There are a number of good arguments that can be advanced for the establishment of Select Committees on specialised matters, including the subject of foreign affairs. First, such Committees have the advantage of bringing together those hon. Members who have great interest in and knowledge of a subject, and who therefore are able to discuss the matter concerned with a much greater degree of expertise than is normally the case in most discussions in the House. To some extent we pride ourselves in this House on being a body of laymen, and in many cases there may be value when discussing matters in this Chamber in advancing the view of the man in the street. However, there are also occasions when there is great advantage in undertaking a more expert discussion among those who are knowledgeable and informed and who can go into matters with a greater degree of depth than is normal on the Floor of the House.

Secondly, it can be said that such Committees make it possible to subject the Government of the day to a more real and effective scrutiny of their actions and decisions than is normally possible under our traditional procedures. Some of us pride ourselves on our system of Parliamentary Questions, but most of us when we have been here for only a little time soon come to recognise the fact that any Minister—even junior Ministers—have no difficulty whatever in giving as little information as they choose on such occasions. It might be said that a Minister who has not learned the art of talking a great deal while saying almost nothing hardly deserves to remain a Minister. I think we all recognise that fact.

A Select Committee of the kind suggested would be in a much better position to probe matters more deeply and to elicit the views and policies of the Government of the day. It could also call Ministers before it and could examine Ministers about policies in a way that is not normally possible for hon. Members in the House. I appreciate that this is an argument that will appeal much more to the Opposition than to the Government, and to Back Benchers more than Front Benchers, but anybody who is concerned about the rôle played by Parliament in our country's affairs might not be sorry to see a body set up with the power to call the Executive to account, and perhaps even to see the whole balance between the Executive and the Legislature thus tipped a little the other way.

Thirdly, the establishment of such Committees enables any subject, including that of foreign affairs, to be considered in greater depth than is normally possible. When we have occasional debates on foreign affairs today, they cover the entire globe from China to Peru, from East-West relations to North-South dialogue, from the supply of arms to the EEC butter mountain. The effect is that no single subject is adequately treated: each individual speaker deals with an individual subject, but it is impossible to cover any subject adequately. One hopes that a committee of this kind would be able to devote itself more effectively to an individual issue, to subject it to a thoroughgoing inquiry and to come up with a competent report upon it.

Fourthly, Select Committtees—and this was mentioned by the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman)—have an important rôle in educating Members of Parliament to acquire a much deeper knowledge of individual subjects. Hon. Members who have served on the Select Committees on Overseas Aid, Race Relations and Science and Technology, for example, have over the years become experts in those areas. That means that they can contribute more effectively to discussions on the Floor of the House. Members of those Committees are able to call before them all the greatest authorities in the land and can travel to other countries to discuss matters on the spot. In that way they can go into a subject with great intensity and can deepen their own level of knowledge. That is valuable not only to the Members concerned but to the House as a whole.

The arguments which I have been using so far relate to any Committee of this kind. Good arguments can be used to support the establishment of such Committees, but in the case of foreign affairs there is an additional, fifth argument which I would mention and to which we must give considerable weight. I refer to the fact, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West, that our debates on foreign affairs are lamentably few and far between. This does not give us adequate opportunity to give the subject the amount of attention which hon. Members who are particularly interested think it deserves.

We have our foreign affairs debates, but they are in many cases general debates of the kind I have just described, in which any issue can be mentioned. That means that no subject is adequately discussed. Each individual hon. Member devotes himself to a particular topic—the Middle East, East-West relations, or whatever it is in which he is passionately interested, and the next hon. Member to speak talks of something totally different, so that there is no coherent or consistent discussion. The unfortunate Front Bench speaker who has to reply seeks to undertake a vast world tour, spending five minutes in the Middle East, 10 minutes in Africa and three minutes in Latin America, finishing up with a quarter of an hour or so in Europe. This is an ineffective way of dealing with the subject of foreign affairs.

Alternatively, debates of this kind may focus on a relatively narrow subject—such as direct elections to the European Parliament, which we shall be discussing when we come back after Easter—and we may have a reasonable debate on that topic. But many other subjects which many of us regard as of considerable importance are not debated at all. If I mention one or two examples of subjects some would regard as important but to which we have not, as a House, directed any attention in several years, there is the question of nuclear proliferation, the law of the sea and the use of the deep sea bed, the United Nations generally, the question of human rights, international economic relations, even the political situation in particular parts of the world, such as Latin America or Eastern Europe, or even Southern Africa. We have not had a whole debate devoted to any of those for a considerable time.

Many of us think that such debates would be desirable. Therefore, if we are to be able to devote concentrated attention to subjects of that kind, no doubt the Committee proposed by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West would have a valuable rôle to play.

The central problem here is that the Foreign Office rarely, if ever, promotes legislation. For example, on direct elections, I have no doubt that the first signature on the Bill will be that of the Home Secretary, and we shall discuss it largely in domestic terms, though perhaps with allusions to its foreign affairs or EEC implications.

That was a point made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West: I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) was present at the time. It is true that we do not have much legislation. We have some rather unimportant legislation on foreign affairs, but not very much, and such legislation is rarely discussed in the Chamber. That is an additional argument for providing other opportunities for these important questions to be debated by hon. Members, and sometimes for reports to be made, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West has proposed, which might then be discussed in the House.

I hope that I have assured hon. Members in what I have said that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I are by no means unsympathetic to the idea put forward. Everyone must accept that there are reasonable and sound arguments to be found for establishing Committees of this kind. But I do not imagine that hon. Members will expect me now at the Dispatch Box to announce that the Government have been so convinced by the words of wisdom expressed today that they have decided that such a Committee should immediately be established.

These are important questions, and the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West is suggesting a radical change in the way in which we have conducted our business for centuries. I do not think that anyone will expect that at the drop of a hat we shall change our procedures in this way. But I can say that we are impressed by the weight of opinion among hon. Members who have given support to the Early-Day Motion and by the arguments advanced in the debate.

Many hon. Members will know that there is a Select Committee of the House which is, at present, considering all our procedures. It is supposed to be conducting a rather radical reform of the way in which the House conducts all its business. I understand that so far the Committee has devoted its discussions entirely to the question of the process of legislation, but I believe that, shortly after Easter, it will be considering the very topic raised today, that is, whether there should be more Select Committees of this type and what are the arguments for and against them.

It may well be that that Committee will eventually come up with a firm recommendation in favour of establishing Committees of this kind, and possibly in favour of one particularly concerned with Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. If that is the case, it will be an additional argument which the Government will have carefully to bear in mind, since the proposal will be supported then not only by the majority of Members of Parliament who signed the motion and by those who have spoken in the debate but by a weighty Committee of the House set up precisely to consider this question.

I ask hon. Members to be prepared to wait for the present until the Committee has considered this matter and reported. We shall carefully consider its report and, as I have said, if it were to come out strongly in favour of such a proposal, that would be an argument that we should have to take seriously.

I thank the Minister for the information he has given us. I think that we are all reassured that there is no ingrained opposition to the proposition that there should be a Select Committee, and I thank him for that. On what sort of time scale does he think the Select Committee on Procedure is likely to work? Further, does he feel that in these circumstances it might be helpful to have a debate at another time, in Government time, before Whitsun—or certainly before the Summer Recess—in which hon. Members on both sides could have a better chance to debate the merits and demerits of such a proposition? It might be helpful to the Select Committee on Procedure in arriving at its conclusions.

I was coming to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion for a debate, but I should first like to finish the point I was making. I do not know the time table for the business of the Select Committee. I do not think that the Committee knows at present. The hon. Gentleman might like to make an inquiry of the Committee or of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), its Chairman, as to what the Committee's intentions are in this respect. The Committee is making a wide-ranging inquiry, and I expect that it will be another year or so before it makes its recommendations. I accept that this is a delaying factor which may be unwelcome to some hon. Members, but it is sensible for us to wait to see what proposals the Committee will produce.

The question of a debate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. He is already aware of the requests made, and I shall transmit the requests made again today on the subject. I cannot make any commitment myself. I do not think that there is any particular opposition from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I think that it would be valuable to have a further discussion, other than the brief debate that we have had today, on the subject. But I repeat it must be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and there is a lot of other business to be discussed. I hope that it may be dealt with in that way.

I repeat, finally, that the Government have no firm opposition to this idea. They have no firm position either for or against the establishment of such a Committee. We are impressed by the weight of opinion expressed in support of the Early-Day Motion and by the views expressed in the debate. We shall carefully consider any recommendation that may be made by the Select Committee on Procedure, and we shall then reach a decision on this important matter.

With respect, my impression is that this has not been a debate at all. We have had a very polite rehearsal of all the arguments in favour, followed by almost an acquiescence in these arguments, and we are finishing with an undertaking that the Government will give serious consideration to what might emerge. At least, we could have had some indication of the reservations in the Government's mind.

This is supposed to be a discussion of a particular proposal. I have expressed certain views and arguments that are well known on this matter. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can put words into my mouth or that of the Government. The objection is, as I said earlier, that there could be a radical change in the procedures of the House. If the hon. Member has strong views he could have come to the beginning of the debate and he could then have expressed his views in the debate.

Dee Estuary (Radioactive Waste)

1.0 p.m.

I should like to raise as a matter of urgency the proposal that has been put forward by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. to discharge liquid radioactive waste into the Liverpool Bay area which lies between the Dee Estuary and the Mersey Estuary.

First, I must declare an interest in that I and my family live in Cable Road, Hoylake, which is slightly down from where this waste will be put into Liverpool Bay, but I speak on behalf of many of my constituents who are worried about the proposal. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) has already expressed to me serious worries about the fact that there should be more public consultation, and I pay tribute to County Councillor John Last and Councillor Frank Jones who have been pressing me strongly on behalf of their constituents. Therefore, I am pleased that you, Mr. Speaker, have allowed me to raise this matter.

There is considerable public concern and serious disquiet about the proposal to dispose of nuclear waste through Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council's long sea outfall pipe in Liverpool Bay off the coast of Meols. The pipe is now used for local authority sewage disposal. This proposal concerns waste from a new process involving recycled uranium from Windscale which is processed at Capenhurst. The waste is at present being put into the Wirral estuary.

Wirral Council have been advised by the Department of the Environment that the use of the Meols outfall is totally acceptable and, on the strength of the evidence presented, the council's housing and environmental services committee has decided that it has no strong objections to the proposals. The committee met on 22nd March and in a few weeks time the full council will meet to consider the committee's report. I am particularly pleased that the Minister is here and that he will have an opportunity of responding to my remarks before the full council meets to make a decision.

When the proposals became public, concern was expressed by a number of people and that concern has now considerably escalated. A number of public meeting have taken place and I have received a large number of letters. The worries of my constituents fall into two main areas—the potential danger created by the existence of the waste going through the pipe and the future of the pipe itself. Their fears are best expressed in the letters that I have received.

I have received representations from a firm of solicitors acting on behalf of a consortium of local fishermen and other interested parties. The letter deals with the second point, the future of the pipeline, and points out on behalf of the solicitor's clients:
"The amount of water available above at the point where the pipe discharges the sewage is probably insufficient in view of the fact that it is only 300 yards beyond the low water mark. If the present silting up of the area continues the discharge will be on to sand in five or so years. It should also be borne in mind that there is a period of about six hours of half ebb and half flood when any discharge would remain virtually static owing to lack of current. After half flood the current would go in an easterly direction back onto the shore, leaving any pollution on shore, locked in pools where children may play in the summer season"
—this being a well known resort. The letter adds:
"A further danger would exist if the sewer were to fracture near to the beach."
I have also received a large number of representations from individual constituents. Mr. M. J. Whittle has put forward a number of serious reservations about the proposal. His first point deals with the matter that I have just mentioned. He writes:
"the sand banks of the Hoyle Bank are moving so that, within a year or so, deposition of silt could leave the sewer high and dry at low tide. The Wirrall is an area of deposition not one of erosion. The Dee and Mersey deposit silt at an alarming rate off Dovepoint".
He refers to the danger from the waste and points out that the waste that British Nuclear Fuels' propose to put through the pipeline
"contains two uranium isotopes … both accumulative poisons, both highly dangerous. It also contains a man-made isotope, Technetium 99".
I understand that that isotope has a life of 200,000 years and accumulates in the thyroid gland. A large or a small dose can be lethal. Mr. Whittle also points out:
There is no 'safe' limit for radioactive substances … the waste also contains caustic alkalis".
He says that the route proposed by British Nuclear Fuels for the waste to be carried from Capenhurst by tanker to the sewage disposal works goes past a railway crossing. My constituents fear that there may be some accident as these tankers pass through a heavily populated area, carry radioactive caustic waste. I quote from a letter from Mr. David Highet who says:
"It is not difficult to imagine the undesirable consequences of discharging sewage into six feet of water at low tide …
Additionally, it was alleged that some of the diffusers at the end of the pipeline are not operating satisfactorily …
I have written to the North West Water Authority asking that any decision by delayed until they have carried out and made public a new survey of the outfall pipeline."
That seems to be a reasonable request.

I have also received a letter from Mr. B. Poston of Meols. He says:
"Who knows what the cumulative effect will be over the years. Can any expert categorically state that there will be no danger to public health in the long run? If not, then the whole scheme should be shelved".
I quote from a letter from Mrs. Patricia Jones who says:
"May I suggest that before a final decision is taken regarding this effluent disposal, a full probe be instigated?"
Mrs. Wisbey from Hoylake writes:
"This is the 'thin end of the wedge' i.e.: if at a, later date BNF wished to put through our sewage system other more potentially dangerous fission waste we should be in a poor positoin to object and anyway we would probably not be informed of the change."
Lastly, a Mr. McCarthy has writen to me at length on this subject. He asks what is
"the environmental behaviour of Technetium a substance insufficient knowledge is available on".
I have received many such letters expressing these fears. An active local branch of the Friends of the Earth has a chemist who says that he is worried about the possible build up of Technetium in fish. The local lifeboat coxswain, Harry Jones, has pointed out that the outfall is right into the area of the fish breeding grounds and cockle beds.

Mr. Peter Cottrial summed up the feelings of local residents in saying:
"Until more is known about the implications of this proposal, no further action should be taken to allow the discharge."
My first fear was that authorisation might have been granted already and that I was too late. The Minister has seen me on this point and I understand that a decision has been postponed thanks to my being allowed to raise the matter in this debate.

I have had a great deal of information from the Wirral Metropolitan Council, especially from Mr. Darley, the Director and Mr. Barry Porter, the Chairman, and from Mr. Taylor of BNFL. Although not all the points have been answered, some of the major ones have.

However, there is public concern and uncertainties still exist. If the case is believed by the authorities to be so overwhelming and this nuclear waste is harmless, why can we not have a public inquiry? My plea is that a public inquiry would enable all the effects to be brought before my constituents and enable them to raise their fears and allow the expert evidence on one side to be challenged by the expert evidence on the other side. That would surely be the best way of dealing with the matter.

However, I understand that there is no statutory provision for a public inquiry. This is an incredible administrative inadequacy. The House has never had the opportunity of discussing nuclear energy at length.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is regrettable that many months have passed since Sir Brian Flowers and his commission published their excellent report on this and many other matters, but the House has still not debated it? Does this not underline the inadequacies of the Government's response on this matter? We should have had time to debate the report before the White Paper in response to it is issued.

My hon. Friend is correct. He and I are signatories of a motion asking for a full-day debate on the future of nuclear energy in this country.

One of the reasons for the lack of public confidence in the disposal of nuclear waste is that there has not been adequate public discussion of the safeguards or of the subject generally.

If the Minister is going to give an authorisation, could it not be limited in some way? I still press for a public inquiry, but if that is refused or is not possible and the Minister proposes to grant an authorisation under the Act, I urge that it should be limited to a specific period, during which time the process can be carefully and independently monitored, and that there should be access to the records of BNFL.

I understand that although the nature of the radioactive constituents and their rate of discharge are carefully defined in the draft certificate as a maximum quantity on a daily, monthly and quarterly basis, there is no time limit to the operation nor a limit to the total quantity which may be discharged. These are serious defects that ought to be dealt with.

As my constituents and many other people have fears about the future of this pipe, even for sewage, is it possible for there to be a survey of the pipe before an authorisation is given?

I have spent some time researching this subject and I know that a survey was carried out under the aegis of the Department of the Environment into the pipe which was installed to remove detrimental factors in the removal of sewage that had previously been dispersed from an outfall close to the shore.

The new outfall on the North Wirral coast is situated at a point 2·7 miles east of Hibre Point and extends three miles from the sea wall into Liverpool Bay. Effluent is discharged through 10 diffusers equally spaced over the last part of the pipeline.

The Department of the Environment's report entitled "The North Wirral Long Sea Outfall. Report on Environmental and Ecological Survey" said:
"between the surveys of autumn 1973 and spring 1974 there was a substantial accumulation of sand on the east end of the East Hoyle Spit, just to the north of Spencers Spit. The research vessel grounded on this bank on surveys undertaken in March and July 1974, an evidence of a decrease in depth of about 1215 feet. This gives rise to some concern as it is feasible that the new bank, if it is permanent, may create a sheltered area to the south of the East Hoyle Spit in which sewage-derived solids can settle and accumulate, or might significantly alter the orientation and velocity of tidal currents at the discharge point".
Real fears are expressed by this highly technical survey carried out three or four years ago. The report recommends:
"In view of the evidence of substantial changes in depth at the east end of the East Hoyle Spit just to the north of Spencers Spit which could influence the orientation of tidal currents at the discharge point or could create areas for the deposition of sewage-derived solids, it is recommended that further hydro-graphic work, perhaps followed by continuing check surveys, should be carried out to determine the configuration of the sand banks in this area."
Yet some time after that report, BNF are proposing to put through the pipe radioactive nuclear waste. In the light of comments such as those contained in the Department's report, should there not be a further survey before authorisation is granted? The Secretary of State should have a full, in-depth survey of the pipe and sandbanks before allowing radioactive waste to go through the pipe.

There have been many discussions on the general question of nuclear waste recently, mainly in America. I should like to refer to the congressional record of the Senate for 21st March this year. Mr. Hart, chairman of Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works' Subcommittee on Nuclear Regulations, put into the record a report entitled "Nuclear Power Issues and Choices". That report expressed real concern about the potential health hazards of radioactive wastes and plutonium produced through reactor operation as being unique to nuclear power. Plutonium and other waste components present special problems since they decay very slowly and remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. Critics of nuclear power question the morality of creating this threat to future generations or even to future civilisations. The report says
"We are convinced that nuclear wastes and plutonium can be safely disposed of permanently in a safe manner. If properly buried deep underground in geologically stable formations, there is little chance that these materials will re-enter the environment in dangerous quantities. Even if material were somehow to escape eventually in larger quantities than seems possible, it would not constitute a major catastrophe".
The report says that despite confidence in the feasibility of permanent disposal, nuclear wastes remain a serious potential health problem until isolated from the environment.

When we have an authoritative statement like that, produced by the Ford Foundation, it is little wonder that people in my constituency are very worried at the prospect of nuclear waste going into the sea just off their coast. The issues raised by my constituents have not been raised by people who could be called local trouble-makers. They are very real fears expressed by old-age pensioners, mothers whose children play on the sand, people who bathe in the local open-air swimming pool, those who go yachting and sailing and of course local fishermen. These should be met by some assurance from the Minister this afternoon.

I also point out that the local Hoylake Pool and Community Trust has written to me. Mr. Peter Cottrial says:
"It has also become increasingly obvious, during these discussions, that the actual state of the sand-banks and tidal conditons at the end of the pipeline are not what they have been assumed to be. There has also been concern regarding the build-up of some of these wastes in the sludges that accumulate from the pump works at Meols out through the pipeline. There are also indications that the diffusers at the end of the pipeline are not all operating as they were originally designed. It seems to us, therefore, that before any other decisions are made regarding the pumping of any industrial waste, and especially the ones from this particular source, there should be a full investigation carried out … with regard to siltation, tidal flows and currents, and the efficiency of diffusers. The results of the investigations and tests should then be presented at a public inquiry on the Wirral so that the facts as they really are at that time can be presented to the people who live on the Wirral, before any further decisions are made about the use of the pipeline at Meols for discharging effluent."
Only this morning I received a letter from Mr. Alistair Gammell of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. He said that he wanted to underline the value of the estuary as
"an estuary of very high ecological importance, indeed as an estuary recognised as the fourth most important in Britain for wintering and migrating waders and waterfowl, recognised by the Nature Conservancy Council as a Grade I Site of international importance."
This is an area where it is proposed that nuclear radioactive waste should be pumped. Euripides said in 414 BC
"The sea doth wash away all human ills", but, I would add, not nuclear waste.

1.23 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to say just a few words. First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) for the very authoritative way in which he advanced the case for having a full public inquiry and the way in which he has acted so responsibly on behalf of his constituents.

As an outsider in this matter, I wish to underline two or thee points made by my hon. Friend on this issue which are of wider importance. Much of the controversy in any inquiry will inevitably hinge on arguments about the effects of the cumulative low dosage of low-level radioactive waste. In the United States there are learned professors who believe that the cumulative effect of low-level dosages can be very dangerous to health if the radiation gets back into the food chain. Others deny this, but no one knows for certain. I suggest that it is foolish to rush ahead until we know the facts.

Secondly, there is the question of public acceptability and public confidence in nuclear power. I am sure that the Minister, with all the expert back-up that he has from the fisheries laboratory in Lowestoft, which monitors these things, knows that it is not sufficient to make general statements about the safety of nuclear power and of low-level waste. The facts must be established in particular cases to allay people's suspicions. Since the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has said in another context, when talking about the safety of nuclear power, that absolute guarantees of safety are not possible and never will be, we have to recognise that we are moving in the realm of probabilities here and in the realm of the sort of risks that the public are prepared to run. The only way we shall know that for certain is if the issues are set out clearly, the risks are quantified as much as possible and the matter is dealt with in the most open and satisfactory way, such as that suggested by my hon. Friend.

The recent Opinion Research Centre poll in the New Society magazine on public acceptability of nuclear power revealed above all the degree of ignorance, myopia and apathy in public attitudes towards nuclear power, as was demonstrated in that representative sample. It was the "don't knows" who won the day in that poll. If we are to allay public concern it is vital that we should bring these facts to light in the most effective way, both for the health and safety of our children and future generations and for the health and safety of our nuclear industries, whether it is British Nuclear Fuels Limited or the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, or anyone else.

Unless we can get these things right and provide a proper basis of public acceptability, I fear that some critics will be justified in describing British Nuclear Fuels as British Nuclear Fools.

1.26 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) and Carshalton (Mr. Forman) for raising this matter of the Government's control over discharges of radioactive effluent into the marine environment. It is a most important matter, and I fuly understand the concern that the hon. Member for Wirral has expressed on behalf of his constituents. It is understandable, in view of the discussions currently taking place on the wider issues of the safety of radioactive discharges, that they should seek assurances that the proposed discharge of radioactive effluent through the North Wirral outfall will not harm the marine environment in the area, and, even more important, that it will not affect either directly or indirectly the well-being of the local people.

Reference has been made to the Flowers Report. That is a very valuable report, which was published not long ago and is now being studied. Although the report and the responsibilities to which it refers are of great interest to a number of Ministries, it is mainly a matter for the Secretary of State for Energy. I am sure that he will take note of the comments made by the hon. Gentlemen. A great deal of work is going on in studying the report so that the conclusions can be acted on accordingly.

Is not the responsibility mainly that of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture? Can the Minister of State give an assurance that the Government will give Parliament the opportunity to discuss these important issues before publication of the Government's White Paper? If Parliament is to have an effective say it needs to have a say in the shaping of policy, instead of being presented with a fait accompli.

I take note of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. This matter is of concern to a number of Ministers. I know that action on this matter is being co-ordinated. The way in which it comes before the House is not a matter for me, but I shall draw the attention of those concerned to the points that have been made.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the detailed circumstances of the case and the attitude that Ministers have towards it. Statutory responsibility for the control of discharges of radioactive effluents is shared by my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for the Environment. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friends are no less concerned than they are to ensure that there is no possible hazard to human health from the discharge, nor damage to fisheries. I hope that he will accept my assurance on that point.

I have taken a personal interest in these matters, because there have been allegations about radioactivity in other areas as well, and I have discussed these matters with the science staff at Lowestoft. I have been to Lowestoft and have been very much involved in the work that is going on. The matter is one of great importance. The point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton was also relevant, when he said that some public satisfaction should be given. It is important that the public should be assured about the dangers and safeguards, and I hope I shall have the opportunity of performing some service in that direction today.

Before I deal with the points raised by the hon. Member perhaps I may explain in more detail the specific rôle that Ministers have in this matter. Under the Radioactive Substances Act 1960, no radioactive waste may be disposed of into the sea except when authorised under the Act and in accordance with the terms of that authorisation, which is subject to prior consultation with the local authority. It is for the local authority to make whatever arrangements it deems necessary to consult local interests and to advise Ministers whether or not it objects to the proposal. If an authorisation is granted the terms and conditions of the authorisation are published. That is the principle of control which is central to this whole issue.

I take note, and I am sure that the local authority will do the same, of the comments by the hon. Member about the rôle of the authority in this matter, with particular emphasis on the public relations aspect.

In determining whether to grant an authorisation, regard is had to whether the proposed disposal is of a nature and will be carried out in a manner that might harm the marine environment or, indirectly, members of the public in either the short term or the long term. Ministers have the advice of marine radiobiologists at my Department's radiobiological laboratory. They have regard to standards of radiological protection for the public—expressed in terms of dose limits for radiation exposure—which are recommended by the relevant expert international body, the International Commission for Radiological Protection.

The whole question of the disposal of radioactive waste or of anything that might contain radioactivity is a matter for international control. The limits are laid down and the procedures are internationally agreed whereby inspection is carried out.

The standards of protection have been endorsed for use in the United Kingdom by the National Radiological Protection Board and by the Medical Research Council. Furthermore, the radiobiologists not only determine whether the proposed discharge would be radiologically safe but, if authority is granted, carry out periodical site inspections, take samples of the effluent being discharged, and verify that the quantities being discharged are within authorised limits. I contend that that is very strict control.

Furthermore, a monitoring programme is designed to verify the radiological safety of discharges and to ensure that the terms of the authorisation are being observed. The programme usually covers the examination of fish, flora, seaweed and sediment on the sea bed within the areas concerned. Each year the laboratory publishes a report on its monitoring of radioactivity in surface and coastal waters of the British Isles. This is readily and publicly available to all who may be interested in what is being done in this field. There is, therefore, the widest possible opportunity for the public to know what is happening and for it to express its views should it wish to do so.

That, briefly, is the rôle played by the authorising Departments in determining applications for the disposal of radioactive wastes into the sea. I should like to emphasise that it is an independent rôle. My right hon. Friends are not concerned with the commercial aspect of the disposal, nor, indeed, with the wider considerations of nuclear energy policy. They are concerned only with the protection of public health. The need for, and the value of their independent view has been endorsed by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in its Sixth Report, which was published last September.

I should like to turn now to the particular matter which the hon. Member for Wirral has raised. I do so against the background I have given of the international and national legislation that we operate. The hon. Member has sent me copies of letters from his constituents, which I have discussed with him. The meetings I had with him and with my officials and with Dr. Mitchell and others were helpful to me in getting even wider appraisal of the points of concern to the hon. Member and his constituents.

The letters are mostly concerned about the possibility of hazard to public health through various pathways which will arise if my right hon. Friends authorise the discharge of this radioactive effluent from British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., at Capenhurst, via the North Wirral outfall at Meols. The hon. Member's constituents want to be assured not only that it will be safe to swim and indulge in beach activities or consume fish and shellfish taken in the area but that if one of the road tankers were to be involved in an accident and spill its contents in the street the public would not be exposed to danger from radiation. I can quite categorically give the hon. Member that assurance. I shall, however, deal with these detailed matters later.

At present, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. is authorised under the Radioactive Substances Act to discharge this effluent from its Springfield works, via the Ribble estuary, into the Irish Sea. This authorisation was granted as a temporary measure while British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. sought authority under the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 for the discharge of the effluent through the North Wirral outfall direct to the Irish Sea, where advantage could be taken of the greater dilution and dispersal characteristics which are available.

When the authorising Departments received the application they carried out a very careful evaluation of the proposal and statutorily consulted the local authority. The advice of my Department to the local authority was that the level of radioactivity in the effluent from the Capenhurst works was extremely low.

What the proposal amounts to is that the authorisation under the Radioactive Substances Act shall restrict the emission of radioactivity as follows: in any one period of three consecutive calendar months, first, the sum total of millicuries of technetium shall not exceed 1,000; secondly, the sum total of millicuries of all other radionuclides, excluding uranium and its decay products and technetium, shall not exceed 10 millicuries, with not more than 1 millicurie being disposed of in any one day; thirdly, that in any one calendar month the sum total of kilograms of uranium shall not exceed 20, with not more than 2 kg. being discharged in any one day.

This is an extremely low level of radioactivity. The proposed rate of discharge is between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons per week; the average daily rate of discharge of sewage effluent is said to be 3 million gallons, and the contents of the tanker will be discharged over a period of hours. This will provide adequate dilution, and there will be further dilution and dispersion after the sewage and radioactive effluent have been discharged from the outfall. The local authority was therefore advised that there was no danger of pollution from the level of radioactivity in the discharge, nor was there any possible health hazard to the public from activities which take place within the area.

Following publicity by the local authority, the Wirral Environmental Health Committee received a number of represenations from local interests. Following discussion in the committee, a meeting was called on 1st March 1977 at which these local interests could meet representatives of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. to discuss the proposals. A specific request was made to my Department that a radiobiologist from the Ministry's laboratory should also be present who could give independent advice on the public radiation exposure levels that would occur and deal with any technical questions that might arise. It was agreed that the representatives of the council and the local interests concerned should have the benefit of this independent advice.

The radioactivity in the effluent is derived from extremely low levels of uranium and technetium. In assessing the possible dangers to the public one has to have regard to the levels in the environment to which the public will be exposed. The assessment carried out by the Fisheries Radiobiological Laboratory is that it would not expect to detect any technetium attributable to this discharge, even with the high sensitivity of detection available. This is capable of detecting many orders of magnitude below that which would carry a public health importance. As for uranium, the quantities in the effluent are so small that they would not be detectable over and above the natural level which exists in seawater and other marine materials.

The hon. Member said that there is concern about the efficiency of the pipe for the disposal of sewage effluent, because of silting, and it is alleged that there is a danger that the sewage will collect on the beaches. This danger will be exacerbated if the sewage is radioactive. I am unable to comment on this aspect, as it does not come within my direct responsibilities. I can only say that a very careful study was made before the pipeline was constructed. However, I should like to say most clearly that so long as the pipe is suitable for the disposal of sewage it is suitable for the disposal of this effluent.

I turn now to the point about the possibility of a tanker accident and the load being spilt on the public highway. The only hazard to the public in these circumstances would be from the caustic nature of the waste. The tanker would be marked with the appropriate dangerous goods code and the local police would merely have to get the fire brigade to hose down the effluent to dilute it and allow it to run into the surface water drainage system. Even in its undiluted state there is no danger from its radioactivity. Large quantities of caustic chemicals are carried daily by road tanker, and the number of such spillages is extremely low.

There is a standing action plan for dealing with such emergencies. I know that it is difficult for the layman—I am one—to accept the assurances that have been given when one talks in terms of one curie in any three months. To put this into perspective, the radiation from the effluent will be a tiny fraction of the radiation to which a person is exposed from his normal everyday surroundings.

I am pleased about some of the Minister's assurances. Because of public disquiet, will he withhold issuing authorisation until the local council has satisfied itself that it has participated in as much consultation as is necessary? Will he also consider imposing the limitations that I suggested?

I shall come to that point later.

This is the essence of the advice that has been given to my right hon. Friends and has been passed on to the local authority. I am perfectly satisfied that there is no possibility of danger to the public from this discharge. However, I assure the hon. Member that the authorisation will not be granted before the local authority has conveyed its views to me.

The granting of an authorisation is only the beginning of the control, not the end of it. As I said, the authorisation will be related to a maximum level of radioactivity that may be emitted over a period of time.

I should like to summarise the situation. The advice, which we accept, is that the public radiation exposure level is virtually nil from the levels of emissions proposed by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd.

BNFL cannot increase the amount of radioactivity discharged without making a fresh application, which will be subject to the local consultation procedures in the Radioactive Substances Act.

An authorisation will not be granted before the local authority has conveyed its views to me.

The Ministry's radiobiological inspectorate will keep the discharge under surveillance, and I shall receive periodic reports.

The effects of the discharge on the local environment will be carefully monitored to ensure the radiological safety of the discharge, and the authorisation can be withdrawn if there is any possibility of harm to the public.

It may be that the hon. Gentleman wishes to comment on some of the points that I have made, but I hope that I have given him the assurance that he seeks.

I shall not take more than half a minute, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am pleased that the Minister will not issue the authorisation until the local authority has undertaken all necessary public consultations. I am also pleased that he will consider in greater detail the points made in letters from my constituents and will allow limitations to be imposed if the authorisation is to continue.

Motor Cyclists (Training)

1.46 p.m.

I am in a happy position in this debate because concern about motor cycle training was first raised in my constituency when a number of parents expressed anxiety about the lack of training facilities. In addition, as Opposition spokesman on transport matters, it obviously comes under my responsibility. The Opposition Chief Whip has asked me to look after this business, which I gladly do, but I give an assurance to the Under-Secretary of State that I shall not endeavour to intervene twice during the debate.

In my view, motor cycling does not get anything like the attention that it deserves. Currently we are in the middle of a debate on the Government's transport consultation document. Yet in that consultation document we find only a few lines devoted to the motor cycle. It is little wonder that the motor cyclist often feels himself to be a second-class road user whose needs are frequently ignored.

That point was put to me very forcefully by a correspondent in London who wrote:
"As a minority on the road the press coverage we receive is often rather hostile. I don't suppose the attitude of the media, or some politicians, will ever change, and suffering constant references to 'Hell's Angels' or whatever is something one has to live with unfortunately. The fact that we obviously choose our means of transport mainly because we find it more enjoyable than driving a car has something to do with it I expect. The British always mistrust any minority which is enjoying itself."
I do not know about that, but over the last few years there has been a very steep rise in the popularity of two-wheeled transport. In 1971 the number of motor cycle registrations was 79,000. In 1976 it had increased to 205,000. In 1971 the number of mopeds registered was 37,000. In 1976 it had increased to 90,000. In six years registrations have almost trebled. Today, it is estimated that there are 1,100,000 riders of motor cycles and mopeds on the roads. It is also estimated that 150,000 new riders come on to the roads each year.

The message is clear. There can be no justification for regarding motor cyclists as just a small minority group. The Government must turn their attention to examining their position and policy towards the motor cyclist.

The need for wider training opportunities, which is the aim of this Adjournment debate, is emphasised by the increasing number of casualties to motor cyclists. The need to expand and improve training facilities is a matter of urgency.

Last year the estimated total casualty figures for riders and passengers of motor cycles, mopeds and scooters was 68,000. This includes over 1,000 deaths and 18,000 serious injuries. What makes those terrible figures even worse is that the heaviest casualties are among the youngest riders. Almost half the fatal and serious casualties are among 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds. That is an appalling toll of young lives.

Such figures demand action, and an essential part of that action should be wider training. Yet what is the position at the moment? The Institute of Motor Cycling tells me that at present 94 per cent. of new riders who go on to the roads for the first time go on without any training whatsoever. They buy their bikes, the shop tells them roughly how the bike works, they put on "L" plates and they are away. That is the present position. It is as stark and simple as that.

I do not claim for one moment that better training will solve the problem of casualties. Clearly it will not totally solve that problem. I also believe that motorists should be trained to look out much better for motor cyclists. Certainly with the Easter rush on the roads coming up and the likelihood of many cars being on the roads, it is an appropriate time at which to issue a warning that motorists should take it as a slogan to "Look out for the motor bike", because too many accidents are caused by motorists failing to notice the motor cycle.

But, having made every reservation, I very sincerely believe that training will help the position, and help it very substantially indeed. Our approach should be an approach of education, not regulation—in other words, we should seek to place our emphasis upon education, training the new rider to take care of his own safety, not just regulation all the time.

We are also extremely fortunate that we already have two excellent voluntary training schemes in operation. We have the RAC-ACU scheme, and we have STEP, the Schools Traffic Education Programme, as well as many local schemes in different parts of the country.

The sensible starting point for Government is to give all possible help in the expansion of these schemes. It is a common sense proposal to take, and a common sense measure which I believe would be supported by the vast majority of public opinion in this country—which cannot be said, regrettably, about every road safety measure.

With regard to the cost, both central and local government are short of funds for road safety schemes at the present time. We know that that is the position. It is, therefore, important that we should examine other means by which the resources of the Government can be supplemented. The motor cycle industry supports STEP and is now offering to put very substantial sums of extra money into motor cycling. I applaud that offer and suggest that it is a concept which can be further developed.

A few months ago I visited Germany, where there are excellent youth traffic schemes, the aim of which is to give school children practical training in traffic routine. Priority is given to practical exercises in traffic conditions, using not the roads themselves but mock-ups in school playgrounds or on permanent sites. The aim is to win and retain this interest by giving experience which is as near as possible to the real thing.

So successful has that concept been that today permanent sites exist in nearly all German cities and major towns. But the scheme was pioneered not by a federal or State Government. It was pioneered by a major oil company which used its financial resources to improve road safety. In my view, such contributions by private industry are of immense value, and I hope that more schemes of this kind of partnership between private industry and Government will be developed.

With regard to motor cycle training, therefore, we are very fortunate, because funds are available to invest in further training. From the point of view of Government, the extended scheme would cost very little indeed. What we need now is an initiative which marries together the new offer of finance with the long and immensely valuable experience that has been acquired by a number of organisations in motor cycle training. Here I pay particular tribute to the RAC-ACU scheme. It runs schemes in co-operation with local authorities and has no fewer than 250 training centres throughout the country. These are run extremely well. STEP has also run its own schemes, and makes a major contribution to the training field and thence to the whole question of safety.

But quite apart from the big national schemes there are local schemes as well. I will mention one run in Birmingham by Mr. D. A. Blower, who lives in my constituency. He runs it for a number of schools, with the valuable help of Mr. Vale Onslow, who generously provides the machines. That shows local initiative at its best, because here we have a successful voluntary scheme and the kind of improvisation which is necessary for such a scheme. It makes use of land in Birmingham which has been derelict for 30 years.

There is one other aspect that I should like to mention concerning the experience available in this country. When I first raised this question a few months ago I received a letter from a gentleman who had read about my proposals in the Daily Express. He wrote:
"I am a serving Metropolitan Police officer in the Traffic Division with 25 years' service as a Class 1 motor cyclist. My colleagues and I heartily endorse your suggestion. Young motor cyclists must be properly trained and instilled with a sense of responsibility if the appalling accident statistics are to be reduced. Several years ago, concerned at the high number of accidents I was dealing with in the course of my duty involving young motor cyclists, I submitted a report suggesting that specialist officers of the Traffic Division should give instruction to young riders on an organised basis. This idea was applauded at the time but nevertheless was rejected due to cost and manpower shortages. … Many of my colleagues and I"
—this is the important point—
"are now of retirement service or have already retired. Perhaps their skill and years of experience as professional motor cyclists, together with their police knowledge and maturity, could be used to form a national training scheme."
Again, therefore, we are fortunate in having that pool of experience to draw upon. We are in a hopeful position to make progress.

Lastly, let me spell out two of the characteristics of what I see as the scheme. First, I think that an extended scheme should be a voluntary scheme. It may be that at some stage in the future we should consider compulsory training, but at a stage when fewer than one in 10 of those going on to the road have any training at all, it would be sensible to take one step at a time. The administrative costs and the administrative difficulty of setting up a compulsory scheme are probably overwhelming at this stage. But the aim must nevertheless be to make wider voluntary facilities available. At present there are not enough facilities for training, and that means that all too many motor cyclists do not receive any proper training before they start.

Secondly, I believe very sincerely and firmly that we should build on the foundations which have already been laid. There are excellent schemes, and I have mentioned a few of these today. They should be encouraged to continue. The rôle of Government should be to encourage and promote the maximum voluntary effort—in other words, a national voluntary scheme should be the aim of Government, but with the prospect of variety within that national scheme.

Lastly, there is today a general feeling that Government and Government alone are the only agency capable of tackling the many problems of our society. The experience with motor cycle training shows that this is not the case. Schemes such as STEP and the RAC-ACU scheme demonstrate the importance of the part which can be played by non-Governmental bodies.

It is the tradition of so much in this country. In motoring, for example, we have the Institute of Advanced Motoring, to which, to the disbelief of my constituents, I now belong. That institute is entirely self-supporting. We have countless voluntary organisations on which our social services rely and without which they would be in dire straits. Therefore, the Government are not the only organisation who can take action, or on whom one should always rely to take action. For one thing, restraints on public expenditure make advances very difficult nowadays in this work.

What we can expect, however, is that the Government should not only understand the problems in various areas but use their powers to encourage solutions to them. It is not enough for the Government simply to sit back and say "We have not the money, so we can do nothing". That is my case concerning motor cycle training. The Government must now clearly show that they not only recognise the problems but also the need to expand, as a matter of urgency, the training facilities available to young motor cyclists.

Over Christmas, I wrote to the Secretary of State asking for an inquiry into this whole subject. I made the point that such an inquiry need not go on for a great deal of time. The Mountbatten inquiry for the Home Office in 1968 took only three months to complete. The response was that such an inquiry would delay progress. It was given by the Under-Secretary of State, who is to reply to this debate. That was three months ago. I hope that he will say now what progress has been made in the last three months, because the problem is urgent and of great public concern, and we must grapple with it.

2.2 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) for allowing me a few moments to speak in the debate. I welcome his initiative in raising this question and wholeheartedly support his plea for a wider and extended training scheme for moped and motor cycle riders. The figures of injury and death among them are horrifying. As Secretary of the All-Party Disablement Group, I can only draw attention to the vast cost, both in human and financial terms, of caring for people disabled as a result of such accidents.

I first became aware of the disproportionate dangers of two-wheeled motorised travl when, in 1971, I helped my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) pilot his Private Members' Bill through the House, introducing compulsory passenger insurance. It then became apparent, in discussion with the motor cycle organisations, which were concerned at the implications of the proposals, that far too many motor cycle accidents were occurring through lack of proper training and experience. The situation has worsened considerably since then.

An answer given on 12th January to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) stated that it was expected that last year's figure of motor cycle casualties would be about 69,000. That represents a serious challenge to the Government. A system that allows 16-year-old and 17-year-old youngsters to purchase mopeds and motor cycles—I find it difficult to tell the difference between various models on the road—and venture on to our crowded roads without proper training or a test is not sensible. On Saturday I opened a training course in Exeter, organised by the local authority accident prevention committee in conjunction with the STEP scheme. There were a dozen or so participants, including several women, but hardly any youngsters. Bearing in mind that the casualty rate is highest amongst the 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds, this is a worrying situation.

More and more people are being forced to give up their cars because of the high cost of motoring and increases in the petrol tax. Motor cycling, which has been increasing so dramatically, will go on increasing. Recently, I saw two youngsters in the village—quite small—in which I live sporting new mopeds. I asked them whether they had received any training or instruction at school or just after leaving school. The answer was "No—our dad is teaching us." Their dad may have been a good motor cyclist in his time, but that does not mean that he is necessarily a good instructor. It is not enough to send these youngsters out with high hopes and an L-plate but with little idea of how to cope with modern traffic conditions.

I am worried about the present situation, and I hope that the Government will take positive action to co-ordinate the existing schemes, such as the RAC-ACU scheme, STEP and other voluntary schemes, with a national training scheme with centres throughout the country and close links with local authority accident prevention committees and motor cycle retailers.

The Transport and Road Research Laboratory estimates the cost to the community of motor cycle accidents in 1975 at £82 million. That figure will probably have risen to over £100 million in 1977. But it is not just a question of cost. We are not arguing for greater Government expenditure for this work. The structure is already in existence. It needs to be strengthened into a proper system of educational and training courses. I have been particularly impressed by the case put by Mr. Williams in his "Safe Rider" proposals, calling for a three-part system of training courses. The first is a basic course of instruction for all new motor cyclists; the second is a course of instruction leading to a Department of Transport test; the third is an advanced course for existing drivers who wish to improve. I think that the priority must be for the provision of the first basic course, with special emphasis on those aged 16 to 18.

There is perhaps a certain virility symbol in many youngsters not wishing to expose what they would regard as lack of manhood—or womanhood—by taking training courses. I should like to see it a basic requirement, possibly even compulsory, that a four-hour course should be completed on the purchase of a vehicle. Possibly the insurance rates could be adjusted to that requirement. Many dedicated instructors are giving and are prepared to go on giving their services, but if their efforts and the efforts of all those concerned with accident prevention are to be made worth while, the Government should lend their extra weight to the setting up of a nation-wide training scheme, incorporating the various national and local schemes. Lives are at stake. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will take serious note of my hon. Friend's proposals.

2.7 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) for giving us the opportunity to discuss the need for wider training for motor cyclists and riders of mopeds. I agree with him that the problem does not receive and has not received the attention that it deserves. I hope that it will receive more. I intend to give it more attention than it has received from Governments in the past. I accept that people derive great enjoyment from this form of transport and that it fulfils, at a time of rising costs of travel, a real need for many people. I think that on the whole they exercise their riding skills with responsibility.

If we are to give the problem more attention, I agree that the Government must take the lead—while, I accept, not doing everything—and give it top priority among all the other things that we can do for road safety. Already I give it top priority, having devoted more attention to this aspect of road safety than to almost any other since I took office.

That is one reason why we turned down the hon. Gentleman's earlier suggestion of an inquiry. It was not simply a matter of time, although inquiries inevitably take up time. The Mountbatten inquiry was an exception. We do not want to stop advance in this matter, because there is urgent need to do something. Also, I think that an inquiry is appropriate only when the facts are unclear, and, as the hon. Gentleman himself said, the facts in this case are clear. Therefore, it is best not to go down that avenue but to begin to take decisions about what we can do.

The Government are there to take decisions, and we should take them as soon as possible. To some extent, we need to wrap these things up together. There are other issues of road safety, such as seat belts and the Blennerhassett Report, and we should treat them as a general package. We want to take decisions as early as possible in the whole general area of road safety. The size of the problem is very clear. In the last four years—

I do not think I understand the Minister's last point. Is the Minister suggesting some legislation that would incorporate the three things that he has mentioned? He referred to a "package". What precisely does he mean?

What I mean precisely is that there are a number of road safety issues bobbing around at the moment, which are linked. For instance, legislation with regard to seat belts and Blennerhassett will have implications for anything that we do about mopeds and motor cycles. Obviously, the two are not necessarily linked, but when examining particular aspects of moped and motor cycle safety we may have, for example, to think in terms of regulations, and that has legislative implications. Obviously, we as a Government must take a totally comprehensive view on safety and in that sense it may be right to link the treatment of mopeds and motor cycles to other issues.

The hon. Gentleman was also right when he talked about the dimension of the problem. I confirm the general figures that he put forward. The rise in the number of seriously injured or killed, in particular, and the proportion who are very young, is fairly well known. The hon. Gentleman gave one figure. The figure that I have is that more than half those killed or injured are under 20 years of age.

A recent study by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, which covered a selected area in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, showed that the likely-hood of being involved in an accident is highest in the first month of training. It falls off rapidly in the next two or three months and continues to decrease until after about six months, when the rider has become "experienced". The combination of youth, inexperience and powerful machine appears to be the most decisive cause of accidents. I therefore agree whole heartedly with what the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) said about that aspect of the problem.

As I said yesterday, I am sure that this is the point on which we must concentrate our efforts if we are to succeed in bringing down the number of fatal accidents. As we know, less than 10 per cent. of new riders receive any kind of training at the moment. That is the area on which we must concentrate.

The hon. Gentleman detailed the existing training facilities. The two main training schemes for motor cyclists are those run by the RAC/ACU and by STEP Management Services Limited. As the hon. Gentleman said, the RAC scheme is a long-established scheme, which has earned itself wide recognition and respect. Great tribute must be paid to the organisers and the many voluntary instructors, including some ex-policemen, who give so much time teaching others how to ride safely. The scheme has expanded in recent years. In 1972 there were 135 centres throughout the whole country and there are now about 250. Many of them are provided by local authorities in the form of school playgrounds, municipal car parks and other suitable council depots, including waste land.

This increase in the number of centres is due, in part—I am glad to pay tribute to the previous Conservative Administration—to the small capital grant given in 1972 by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) when Minister for Transport and also, in part, to the increasing support from local authorities following the Road Traffic Act 1974. That was a bipartisan measure. The scheme is financed partly by the organisation running it—the RAC/ACU—whose income may include the very modest fees paid by the trainees, and partly by Government grant. In the last financial year we paid about £36,000 to the scheme. This was made up of £13,000 capital grant towards new and replacement training machines and equipment, the remainder covering the £3 per capita grant for those who take the scheme's proficiency test having undergone a full course of training.

In addition, STEP last year introduced what it calls "two-wheel teach-in" which provides an inexpensive four-hour course of basic instruction for novice riders. That is precisely the area that concerns us. STEP is financed by the motor cycle industry and the scheme is operated through motor cycle dealers, who play an important part in encouraging new riders to be trained. It shows a responsible attitude on the part of industry and it is commendable. In fact, the dealers arrange for the new machine to be delivered to the training areas so that instruction can be given before the novice gets on to the road. STEP also has a scheme which offers instruction to teachers in secondary schools, enabling them to undertake instruction in the fundamental aspects of traffic education.

In addition to these two schemes, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has also produced guidance for schools in the form of a short course for moped riders. Again, a number of local authorities make an important contribution by conducting their own training schemes or by running schemes in conjunction with the RAC or STEP. I would also pay tribute to private initiative. The hon. Gentleman referred to Mr. Blower in his own constituency. That sort of initiative is repeated in my constituency.

We have received positive proposals for a national training scheme, which has been put forward by STEP and which was widely publicised in the booklet that the hon. Gentleman produced called "Safe Rider". The training scheme is devised to be in three stages and is to be financed mainly by the industry. At the moment the industry contributes £2 per machine to the existing scheme. That is a small amount but it is commendable. It might even be increased in the future if this sort of scheme gets under way.

I am considering this national proposal. It is certainly an attractively presented scheme and looks to be clearly related to the sort of things we need to do. But so far STEP has only limited experience in running training schemes and, for that reason, we need to look closely at its proposals, which would probably need the support and co-operation of local authorities. A large investment would be needed to provide a comprehensive network of training centres throughout the country, together with fully qualified instructors to staff them.

There is also the problem of ensuring that an adequate standard of instruction was maintained at each centres, particularly in centres serving small rural areas where demand might tend to be spasmodic. That point was also made. When we know that at the moment less than 10 per cent. of riders receive training we need to be careful how we step the thing up—sorry about the pun—to a new higher level of activity. The Government should give all the encouragement they can but have to recognise the amount of time that will be required before we can move the thing on to a much wider basis than at the moment. However, there is no point in setting up a national scheme unless the demand for it is there. At present, it is clear that there is not sufficient inducement to motor cyclists to attend a training course and take the Department's test. Much has been said about making training compulsory. The hon. Gentleman referred to that, but without making precisely clear where he stood with regard to compulsion.

That remark may be in the Minister's script, but it only indicates that he did not listen to what I said. My final point was that there should be two characteristics of a training scheme and the first characteristic should be a voluntary training scheme. There is absolutely no question of my not making clear where I stand on this. I was putting forward the idea of a voluntary training scheme. I urge the Minister to listen to the case that is being put before he makes that kind of remark.

None the less, I think the hon. Gentleman was slightly dodging the issue. If we are to have a scheme that is national, not only in concept but also in application, I believe that compulsion in some form or another is an issue that we simply cannot dodge. If we are to expect people to take training, we must offer some clear inducements for them to do so, otherwise they simply will not bother.

There is plenty of opportunity, even allowing for the small capacity of the training schemes, to provide training, but the sad fact is that the majority do not take the trouble to take a training course of any kind. If we are to tackle the problem we have to induce people to take these courses. That is why I say to the hon. Gentleman—I am not making a debating point—that we have to face the problem of how to do that, and that raises questions of compulsion.

Young people, in particular, underestimate the skills that are needed to ride a motor cycle safely in modern traffic conditions. Those for whom it is their first motor cycle may lack any sort of training or experience in roadcraft, never having been involved in any way in a traffic situation. We may need to consider more ways of inducing them to undergo training, rather than simply providing additional voluntary facilities. We may therefore need to consider—this is why I referred earlier to legislation—the part that licensing and testing requirements—which would need to be changed by regulation or legislation—could play. The two are linked, and if we are serious about this matter we must bear that in mind. That is what I am urging on the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that apart from the issues of training, of how we induce people to take training on a wider scale and of how we build up the existing voluntary schemes for use on a wider scale to give more people the opportunity of being trained, we have to look at the other methods of providing safety for the motor cyclist and the moped rider. In that respect, "conspicuity"—the extent to which the rider is seen by other road users—is important. We can take measures in that respect, though inevitably they tend to work more slowly than do some of the other more Draconian things that one can think of doing by way of training or regulation.

We must make every effort to ensure that the car driver takes account of the motor cyclist and the moped rider, as well as of the pedal cyclist and the pedestrian. Easter is with us, and this is the time of year when many people take to the road. Because of the inclement weather it is perhaps opportune to issue a warning, bearing in mind the number of accidents that occur through a motor cyclist or moped rider being knocked down by a car whose driver did not see him because of the narrow aspect that he presented to the oncoming motorist.

The hon. Gentleman is right to have raised this subject, and I am glad that he has done so because it has enabled the importance of the problem to be brought home to people once again. We are all too tolerant of a casualty rate amongst motor cyclists and moped riders that puts to shame our general record in road safety. That is why I am spending more time on this aspect of road safety than on almost any other. I believe that what is happening is wrecking our good record of road safety. The sheer size of the problem demands a fresh approach. That is why we are taking a totally fresh, ab initio look at the whole problem of how we tackle road safety amongst motor cyclists and moped riders.

It is right to recognise the enjoyment that riding motor cycles and mopeds gives to people, and not go to the limit of trying unnecessarily to exclude them from riding on our roads or of banning motor cycles and mopeds. People should have the right to use this means of transport, but, equally, they must be properly trained from the word "go". The training must start from the moment that they receive their machine. That means at age 16 for moped riders and 17 for riders of motor cycles. The point at which they receive the machine is the point at which the training should bite hardest, so that they are able to exercise their skills and enjoy their riding. The training that they receive, and the attitudes that they adopt should ensure they have a safe ride.

If we are to do that seriously, we must embark upon a new scale of training. Over the next few years this will need careful expansion from the present low base. We cannot consider going too fast, because the level of training at present available is extremely low. There is also the question how we induce people to take part in training on a sufficient scale, when at the moment there is next to no inducement to do so. At present someone can carry on using a provisional licence for a moped for ever and a day. There is, therefore, no incentive to undergo training.

We must tackle this problem. I am sure that hon. Members on the Opposition Benches recognise the need to do that, and I hope that we shall have their good will as we look seriously and urgently at this problem.

The Minister has sat down, and when the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) launched his debate he said that he would speak only once. I do not know why he said that. He may address the House again only by the leave of the House, for which he can ask.

2.28 p.m.

With the leave of the House, I shall speak for 30 seconds.

Although the Minister introduced the element of compulsory training and made a statement that was not in accordance with what I said, I think that we are at one on this issue. As I said earlier, it may be that at some stage we shall have to consider compulsory training, but at this stage I do not see how the administrative difficulties and administrative costs can be got over. I am willing to concede—and indeed I urge this upon the Minister—that it is necessary to find some ways of inducing people to take further training.

Does the hon. Gentleman mean that he does not envisage compulsory training now because the training facilities are not available on a sufficiently wide scale?

That is exactly the point. If we were to seek to have a compulsory training scheme, the cost of erecting such a scheme would be considerable and everyone would be required to undertake the training. I am seeking to put forward a system that evolves naturally, but I accept that one must seek ways of inducing people to use the increased facilities that I hope will become available over the next 12, 24 or 36 months.

What I find rather disappointing about the Minister's reply is that he went over the ground and took my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and myself with him in stating the problem. We stated the problem to the Minister and he handed it back to us, and so far we are lacking details of what he intends to do about it.

It is not unfair for me to remind the Minister that this issue was raised with him and with the Government at the end of last year, and that it was said then that the reason for failing to have an independent inquiry was that it would delay the Government in their progress. They do not seem to have made a great deal of progress. I do not want this to become a matter of contention, but I urge the Government to realise that this is an urgent matter.

We must induce as many people as possible to take up the training, but I ask the Minister not to ignore the fact that there are many people who would like to undertake training but cannot find the necessary facilities. This is shown in my postbag. This is an urgent problem. We think that the Minister has made the right noises, and we hope that he will follow them up with right action.

Homoeopathic Medicine

2.30 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of homoeopathic medicine in the North-West and North Wales. I intend to deal specifically with matters that come under the control of the Liverpool Area Health Authority. Before doing that, it might be sensible for me to speak of homoeopathic medicine and how it fits into the general picture of medicine. By that means we shall be able to understand the problems and the attitudes of the various protagonists in Liverpool.

Homoeopathic medicine is an established branch of medicine, practised for over a century, particularly on the Continent, and by a minority of doctors in this country. It enjoys royal patronage here. The doctors who practise homoeopathic medicine are properly qualified medical practitioners who have received medical education and training supplemented by special training in homoeopathic medicine. There is no element of quackery about it although some members of the medical profession are prejudiced against it. I shall give examples of that prejudice and antipathy and I shall try to explain how it has arisen. I stress the word prejudice because attitudes are often based on blind prejudice, partly as a result of ignorance and partly because of professional jealousy.

The essential difference between homoeopathic medicine and the conventional medicine of the post-war years is that of philosophy. Homoeopathy is unashamedly a therapy, a treatment of the whole patient in physical and human terms as an organic entity. For that reason it demands for success more of the doctor in medical skills and human understanding than conventional medicine. The wisdom of conventional medicine regards the patient mechanistically, as a compendium of separate parts and separate bits of machinery, each part to be dealt with separately as the need arises by the specialist appropriate to that art.

Conventional practice, as seen today in our largest hospitals, has reached in a medical sense its clinical apogee through adopting the attitudes of mind of logical positivism. In that it has much in common with many other developments in our society during the past 100 years. The approach is mechanistic, dispassionately scientific—in the shalow sense of that term—coldly clinical and narrowly specialised and it is one that even a mildly sceptical man would immediately question as being supremely the ideal, let alone the sole approach, in so subjective and intensely personal a study as the ailments of mankind.

Many consequences of that attitude have become apparent in our Health Service. For example, the enormous size of some of our hospitals can be traced directly to it. If a consultant is appointed in a narrow speciality, the catchment area to provide him with an adequate work load has to be correspondingly large. Thus was sounded the death knell of the cottage hospital and the relegation of the work of the general practitioner to the work of rudimentary diagnosis accompanied by a great deal of medical hack work. It is with satisfaction that I see public disquiet with that development beginning to assert itself Proposals for new cotttage hospitals are now being put forward by the more far-seeing health authorities.

Another interesting consequence of the trend is that the consultant physician—the doctor accomplished in general medicine—has now become an almost extinct species in our hospitals, despite their size. We have consultant dermatologists or consultant specialists in pulmonary diseases and so on. There are few consultant physicians left.

I give another exmaple of the consequences of this mechanistic and logical positivism style of approach. It is one of which I have painful memories. I under- stand that the figure of 10 per cent. is generally accepted in the medical profession as representing the proportion of patients in hospital suffering not from their original compaint but from the deleterious side effects of drugs and their massive use, which is a feature of the scientific methodology. Some doctors put that figure higher.

It is not for me to argue from a purely medical point of view—taking the term "medical" in its broader sense—the merits of these two approaches to medicine. However, as an intelligent layman who has taken more than a passing interest in medical politics, where the term clinical freedom is so frequently abused, I can claim my legitimate right to insist that the two approaches should be complementary. Neither approach should be abandoned in the National Health Service because of the actions of some members of the medical profession when there are authoritative medical opinions supporting each approach and a public demand that justifies both.

I shall speak later about the rôle of the DHSS in retaining both forms of medicine and about some recent developments in Liverpool and elsewhere. But, first, to emphasise my legitimate right, I shall explain the demand for homoeopathic medicine. I need have no fear at present of an abandonment of conventional medical practice. I find it surprising that the Department of Health tells us on the one hand that there is little demand for homoeopathic medicine and on the other confesses that it has no evidence, statistical or otherwise, from which it can make a judgment.

On 9th December 1975 I asked a number of Questions of the Minister of State about homoeopathic medicine. I asked in particular about the numbers of patients treated and about the numbers who had asked for homoeopathic treatment and failed to receive it. The broad reply to all my questions was that the information was not available. Yet, only a month later, when writing to an hon. Member who had complained about the lack of provision of homoeopathic treatment, the same Minister said,
"Clearly, in view of the small minority of patients interested in this form of treatment facilities are inevitably limited and tend to be concentrated at certain sites."
I warn the Department that there is considerable evidence of a substantial demand that is usually unmet. The Minister must not stand on the sidelines, sheltering behind the medical profession's claim to clinical freedom to determine what should and what should not form the medical provision available through the National Health Service. That is especially important when the provision so determined would cast the service irrevocably into one particular mould, thereby jeopardising another legitimate, clinically well-established form of medical provision.

Another example of the increasing demand is the rapidly increasing numbers of newly qualified doctors attending courses in homoeopathic medicine. That is despite the fact that the Department does not go out of its way to help. For example, grants are not made available for that type of training.

The Minister could not stand on the sidelines on the grounds of clinical freedom if, for example, so tangible a form of treatment as orthopaedic surgery was threatened. The Minister should take the same attitude towards homoeopathic medicine. The principle of clinical freedom applies on both sides of the argument. The minority, the qualified and legitimate minority, is as entitled to its judgment as the majority is to its judgment.

It so happens, and here I come to the situation in Liverpool, that there have been persistent attempts over the years by some of the majority—eminent, well-established practitioners, for the most part, who dislike the philosophy of the minority, with its therapeutic approach to the whole patient as a human being—to whittle away at the provision of homoeopathic medicine in the Health Service.

Perhaps I may make a Socialist point in passing, which may appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister. It will be a sorry day of Aneurin Bevan's vision of a comprehensive National Health Service if homoeopathic treatment becomes available only privately.

Developments in Liverpool over recent years, now coming to a head, illustrate the issue well. I suspect that this applies to many other places as well, and in particular to London. There were six homoeopathic hospitals in Britain a few years ago, one of which was the Hahnemann Hospital in the centre of Liverpool. Some time ago, as part of a scheme of rationalising hospital resources, a proposal was made by the Liverpool Area Health Authority to close the hospital. The Faculty of Homoeopathy, based at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital, was consulted. I wish to quote from a letter sent by the Secretary of the Faculty to the Regional Administrator of the Mersey Regional Health Authority a few weeks ago. He said:
"At the time the Faculty was able to negotiate, not without problems, the setting up of a Department of Homoeopathic Medicine at the Liverpool Clinic as a replacement for the Hahnemann Hospital and the Department now occupies the top floor of the clinic. The Department is still centrally located and outpatients are seen there while in-patients have a ward at the Mossley Hill Hospital (which is well outside the centre of Liverpool).
However, the Liverpool Clinic is itself due to be closed when the new Royal Liverpool Hospital is opened and the Area Health Authority gave an undertaking that the Department of Homoeopathic Medicine would move into this new hospital.
This undertaking was given wide publicity in the local Press following the official opening of the Department on 1st July last year by the President of the Homoeopathic Trust for Research and Education.
Since that time, however, it has slowly become evident that the original undertaking is not going to be kept. The Faculty of Homoeopathy has repeatedly asked for representation on the Commissioning Team planning the accommodation in the new Royal Liverpool Hospital but has always received evasive and non-committal replies.
Now the Division of Medicine of the Health Authority has put out plans for accommodation and consulting rooms in the new Out-patients department and no space has been allocated for the Consultant Physician and Director of the Department of Homoeopathic medicine.
If the Liverpool Clinic is closed, alternative facilities equal to those already enjoyed by the Department of Homoeopathy must be provided elsewhere. The loss of a hospital is serious enough but the provision of a Department of Medicine in its place went some way to meet this loss and its continuation is vital if Homoeopathic medicine is to survive in the North-West."
It is not simply the North-West of England that is involved, but North Wales, which includes my constituency. For that reason, I am representing the interests of some of my constituents who are obliged to travel to Liverpool for homoeopathic treatment.

The Secretary of the Faculty also said:
"The Faculty of Homoeopathy is under an obligation by Act of Parliament to do everything in its power to advance the principles and extend the practice of homoeopathy and the Minister of Health has given assurances that under the National Health Service Act homoeopathic institutions will be enabled to provide their own form of treatment and that the continuity of the characteristics of those institutions will be maintained."
For the sake of brevity, I shall not quote a great deal of what Aneurin Bevan said in 1946, when he was engaged on establishing the National Health Service, but he gave various categorical assurances. On 23rd November 1946 he said:
"If they"—
homoeopathic hospitals—
"are to be brought in it must be the obligation of the Regional Boards in establishing their Management Committee to see that these Management Committees are of a character which maintains the continuity of the characteristics of those institutions. I think that I can give that absolute guarantee, because otherwise it would be an emotional mutilation which nobody could possibly defend."
I am afraid that that guarantee has become less than absolute over the years, and I indict the Department of Health and Social Security for that.

Why do we have the crisis in Liverpool? Why is the health authority now seemingly intent on reneging on its pledges? I have here a copy of the minutes of a meeting of the Medicine Division of the Liverpool Area Health Authority, Central/Southern District, held a few weeks ago. Minute No. 236 is a remarkable piece of work. It is to do with the allocation of rooms, consulting suites and so on, in the new hospital. When it reaches the matter of homoeopathic medicine, it says that the Consultant Physician and Director of the Department of Homoeopathy was asked to withdraw from the meeting. The minute goes on:
"There then followed a discussion about possible accommodation for homoeopathy in the Royal Liverpool Hospital. The following minute was unanimously passed by the Division:
'The Division was horrified to learn that a Homoeopathy Clinic was suggested for the Royal Liverpool Hospital. They understand that this arose because of the takeover of the Hahnemann Hospital. However, since beds for homoeopathy were provided at Mossley Hill Hospital, Out-patient accommodation (including the necessary Pharmacy) should be provided there.
They insisted unanimously that undergraduates should not be exposed to any unorthodox medicine before qualification, that the very existence of such a clinic in the hospital's prospectus would cause alarm to many doctors and patients, and that the Pharmacy should not be asked to attempt to supply expensive and unusual remedies.
Finally, they knew that under no circumstances would the Departments of Medicine or Clinical Pharmacology allow any undergraduates to attend any such clinics and would not accept a Homoeopathist as a teaching hospital professional colleague'."
For sheer blind prejudice and bigotry, crass ignorance and highly questionable ethical behaviour, it would be hard to find a better example, even from the minutes of the Wapping Bargees Mutual Benefit Society, let alone a body of professional men.

I could answer each of the criticisms made by the doctors. I do not think that patients would be alarmed. I do not know what happens to the patients at Mossley Hill. They must be more robust. Many people in my constituency are alarmed at the failure to make provision rather than about its being made. There are no unusual and expensive remedies provided by pharmacists for homoeopathy. It uses less expensive and incomparably less massive dosages of drugs than does conventional medicine, with its indiscriminate poisoning of many patients. I want to give my hon. Friend time to reply, so I shall not deal now with the other criticisms.

I wish to finish by quoting from a speech I made in 1971. It is rather pleasant to quote my own speeches, which are often far-sighted and wise. When we were debating the reorganisation of the National Health Service in Wales I said—and I beg my hon. Friend to ponder on this:
"There has been no opportunity to pare away to the core of the problem. I have in mind the supreme need to restore to the patient a measure of that dignity and importance, as an individual, which he now clearly lacks …
I suspect that the general reaction of most ordinary people who are sufficiently fortunate to have only occasional contacts with the hospital service, and to a lesser extent with the general practitioner service, is one of resentful frustration, despite the often extremely high quality of medical treatment. This is frustration at what might be called the veterinary approach—the undoubted insensitivity to the needs of individuals as individuals—which has manifested itself so often in the Service and which has evoked the most persistent and continuous inception criticism of the N.H.S. since its inception.
That sort of insensitivity is typically characteristic of agencies in which the dominant managerial voice is that of men skilled in expertise for which the organisational framework acts as a support, and who gradually manipulate the structure of the organisation to the service of the expertise as an end in itself. I suspect that the N.H.S. has fallen into this error in respect of the expertise of the medical profession."—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 28th July 1971; c. 36]
The Minister has a glorious opportunity to begin correcting these fundamental failing of the Health Service. I beg him to intervene in Liverpool, to see what is happening there, and to ensure that the practice of homoeopathy continues for many years to come.

2.50 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the subject of homoeopathic medicine in the North-West and Wales in today's debate. I know that he has for a long time been concerned about the future of homoeopathic medicine in general, and in particular about its provision in Liverpool. I hope that he will find at least a measure of reassurance in my reply to this debate today, assuming that I can fit it into the 10 minutes that I have.

My hon. Friend has frequently sought confirmation, as he has today, that the provision of homoeopathic treatment under the National Health Service would be guaranteed. He has referred to the undertaking given by Aneurin Bevan when the National Health Service was started—and we have ourselves always adhered to that guarantee. I shall speak later of the responsibility for providing facilities for homoeopathic treatment and the issues of clinical freedom that are raised, but we have consistently held that homoeopathic treatment should be available under the National Health Service as long as there are practitioners who are willing to provide it and patients who wish to receive it.

My hon. Friend has often stated, in his campaign for homoeopathic treatment to be more generally available, that homoeopathy is a legitimate form of medical practice. Of course it is—otherwise it would not be justifiable to allow its provision under the National Health Service in the way that I have described. One must for this reason, if for no other, draw a contrast here between homoeopathic treatment and the various branches of so-called "fringe medicine" to which it is often compared but which are not available under the National Health Service. I readily acknowledge that the principles that underline homoeopathy have a long and honourable tradition, going far further back in the history of thought than Samuel Hahnemann, who developed the system of homoeopathy as it is known today.

But the fact that homoeopathy is a respectable form of medicine does not in itself mean that it commands universal acceptance. Indeed, it is inevitable that the majority of doctors, who practice conventional or "orthodox" medicine, will generally prefer the correspondingly conventional remedies to the homoeopathic treatments; these latter tend to use small quantities of substances that accentuate the symptoms of the ailment for which they are prescribed, so hoping to stimulate the body's own defence mechanisms to fight the illness. And it is of course for individual doctors to decide what action to take, including prescribing, in treating any patient. This is the very essence of clinical freedom.

It is for this reason that, while any doctor is free to prescribe homoeopathic treatment under the National Health Service, very few in fact choose to do so. And for the reasons that I have just mentioned it would be wholly wrong to seek to influence doctors in any way where their clinical judgment is concerned. I cannot, therefore, hold out any hope to my hon. Friend of homoeopathic treatment from doctors becoming more widely available, and he must acknowledge that, even if, as he suggests, more people are turning to homoeopathy—and he talked of a substantial demand—the number of patients seeking homoeopathic treatment can only be a very small fraction of the total who go to their doctors for treatment.

This means that the provision of homoeopathic medicine under the National Health Service is necessarily patchy, depending on where particular doctors with an interest in homoeopathy happen to practise. My hon. Friend was critical of the Department's attitude. We acknowledge that homoeopathy is respectable, but it is also, in the quite literal sense, "alternative medicine", and as such it cannot have the same claim for universal accessibility as, say, one of the obviously necessary acute specialties in medicine. Essentially, then, it is for the individual clinician, and not for my Department, to determine whether or not he wishes to treat his patients homoeopathically.

A similar argument applies to the provision of hospital facilities for homoeopathic treatment. It is open to consultants, as to other doctors, to provide such treatment, but the availability of hospital facilities is, and must remain, a matter for the responsible area health authority to determine, just as it must decide on hospital provision in general to meet local needs and priorities. Again, I admit that this has resulted in a distinctly patchy pattern of provision—hospital facilities for homoeopathy are provided in England, in London, Bristol and Tunbridge Wells—and, of course, in Liverpool. I also admit that this may result in long journeys for some patients who wish to receive homoeopathic treatment in hospital, but my hon. Friend will gather from what I have said that I regard the claims of homoeopathy as rather different from those of other branches of medicine, quite apart from the fact that it is not for my Department to intervene in health authorities' arrangements for hospital provision.

My hon. Friend has expressed his particular concern this afternoon about the provision of homoeopathic facilities in Liverpool. I know of the long-standing interest that he has taken in the Hahnemann Hospital, and I pay tribute to his concern to see that his constituents and their neighbours who wished for homoeopathic treatment should still be able to receive it. But the history of the closure of the Hahnemann Hospital and the continuation of its work is long and complex, and it would be wrong to consider it in isolation from the wider question of hospital services in South and Central Liverpool, of which it was a part.

My hon. Friend will know that the hospital services in these parts of Liverpool had more hospital beds than any area outside London, and that the need to rationalise provision has long been recognised. This was why as long ago as 1972 detailed plans were submitted to the then Secretary of State jointly by the Liverpool Regional Hospital Board and the United Liverpool Hospitals to provide balanced, comprehensive and modern facilities for the city of Liverpool over a period of 15 years. These plans included the closure of a number of older and under-used hospitals to coincide with the opening of new ones, including Fazakerly and the new Liverpool Teaching Hospital, and improvements at others. The Hahnemann Hospital, where 27 out of 50 beds were used for homoeopathy, was among those approved for closure—and I should stress that its average occupancy over the years 1972–74 was around 50 per cent.—surely a vindication of the joint plan. I must also emphasise that approval of the plan was given only after extensive consultation with local bodies.

The concern that homoeopathic facilities should not be lost when the Hahnemann closed was understandable, and indeed was taken fully into account by those responsible for the plans and their implementation. Indeed, the Faculty of Homoeopathy was involved in frequent discussions and consultations by the responsible health authorities and their successor authority—to such an extent, in fact, that the planned closure of the Hahnemann did not take place until 31st May last year—long after the original date was envisaged.

Approval of the closure was given only on the understanding that homoeopathic in-and out-patient facilities would continue to be available. My hon. Friend will no doubt know of the difficulty which the Liverpool Area Health Authority (Teaching) and the Faculty of Homoeopathy had in their discussions in deciding the best place for relocation—possible travelling difficulties and other factors all had to be taken into account. In the event, it has been agreed that out-patient facilities for homoeopathy will be provided at the Liverpool Clinic with inpatient facilities at Mossley Hill Hospital. Pharmaceutical facilities are to be available at the Ear, Nose and Throat Infirmary, next door to the Liverpool Clinic and arrangements have been made to ensure that nursing and radiological services will fit in with homoeopathic requirements.

My hon. Friend may contend that splitting facilities in this way is less than ideal. I would reply that, given local difficulties in relocation, a compromise was perhaps to be expected and that this—which has been accepted by the Faculty of Homoeopathy and the consultant physician in homoeopathy—will ensure the continued availability of hospital facilities for homoeopathic treatment in Liverpool. Nevertheless, the offer of accommodation for all homoeopathic facilities at Mossley Hill, which is still open to the Faculty of Homoeopathy, would have the advantage of concentrating all services on one site, and I hope that the Faculty will give it further serious consideration.

Neither the Liverpool AHA(T) nor my Department is aware of the Faculty ever being promised a department of Homoeopathy in the new Liverpool Teaching Hospital; the number of clinical sessions would certainly not justify this, and no such department was ever planned. I understand, however, that if facilities are to be split, the AHA(T) has indicated that it will provide out-patient facilities appropriate to the number of homoeopathic patients at the teaching hospital when the Liverpool Clinic closes.

As for the provision of homoeopathic treatment in North Wales, the prescribing of treatment given to an individual patient is, as I have said, a matter for the individual doctor, but so far as I am aware there is no pressing demand for this type of treatment from any considerable number of patients and it is not provided in the hospital service in North Wales. Nor am I aware of any family doctor there providing this form of treatment to any appreciable extent, although I understand that an occasional prescription for a homoeopathic remedy is dispensed.

I am afraid it seems unlikely that the Clwyd AHA will feel able in the foreseeable future to earmark resources for the provision of homoeopathic facilities.

The independence of clinical judgment must mean that doctors are free to practice homoeopathic medicine or not, as they wish. Similarly, the right and duty of health authorities to plan hospital provision in accordance with the perceived needs and priorities of their areas must leave them free to decide whether or not to provide hospital facilities for homoeopathic medicine. If my hon. Friend is disheartened by the unevenness of homoeopathic facilities, I hope that at least he has drawn some encouragement from my reiteration of Aneurin Bevan's undertaking and from his knowledge that the continuation of both out-patient and in-patient facilities in Liverpool from the Hahnemann Hospital has been assured.

Civil Defence

3 p.m.

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the important subject of the state of civil defence in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom civil defence policy seems to have suffered from a polarisation of public opinion as to its value and worth.

On the one hand, many regard civil defence as a farce—a Dad's Army of elderly, often overweight gentlemen who seek to extinguish nuclear bombs with stirrup pumps and buckets. On the other hand, there is the cataclysmic view of those who believe that it is the preeminent duty of Government to protect citizens, and that civil defence requirements must play a dominant rôle in Government policy. The problem lies in balancing these cries of "Wolf" against the claims of those with legitimate arguments. I believe that there is room for this middle way.

There is evidence that the United Kingdom civil defence establishment and the policies followed are run down and out of date, and that for the Home Office as regards civil defence a policy of "out of sight" has largely meant "out of mind".

Over this whole subject there has drifted a fog of officialdom. Correspondence is littered with phrases such as "not in the public interest to say", "restricted circulation", and so on. This is emphasised by the structure of civil defence organisation—to which I shall return later—which is split between national and local government and among varying major Departments of State at national level. This means that it is almost impossible to pin ultimate responsibility for anything on anybody.

I hope that when she replies the Minister will not pull an official blanket over her head but will give as much information as she can on this subject, which is of such legitimate public concern.

My personal concern about the state of the United Kingdom civil defence organisation has been heightened as a result of answers that have been given to recent Questions tabled to the Minister on this subject. Perhaps I may put these answers under three main heads: manpower, money, and training and policy.

Let me take the subject of money first. At present we appear to be spending about £20 million a year on civil defence. That sum has remained largely unchanged in the past three years. As a yardstick, that represents about 50p per head of population, or, indeed, a little less than that sum. I do not pretend that 50p is necessarily a useful yardstick, nor does it necessarily call for increased Government expenditure, nor, indeed, would the spending of more money be certain to lead to better performance in this sphere. But by any standard £20 million is not a tremendous amount to pay to defend the entire civilian population. More important, we have not been able to discover the figure of planned spending in the current year.

I am glad to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) present for this debate because he has tabled Questions asking for information on the Government's plans for civil defence spending in the current year. Unfortunately, no clear, definitive response has been forthcoming. I hope that today the Minister will give the House some idea of the intended spending by the Home Office in the current year.

Secondly, I turn to the subject of manpower. I wish to sub-divide this matter into Civil Service establishment and voluntary workers. I understand that about 400 civil servants are now employed, mainly on civil defence. I emphasise the word "mainly", because this could cover a multitude of sins. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will tell the House what the word "mainly" means. Will she say what percentage of time these personnel spend on alternative duties? At the same time, will she say whether the total includes those on the civil defence establishment employed in building up and maintaining the communications network that is so vital to the defence of the realm? Furthermore, will she say whether the figure includes those who are employed in the maintenance of the food supplies and bulk stores that, I under- stand, have been set up by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?

I turn to the subject of voluntary workers. There are two main arms—the Royal Auxiliary Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service. I was depressed to find that at 31st December last the Royal Observer Corps had an establishment of only 9,964 against an authorised establishment of 11,904—a deficit of nearly 20 per cent. That surely is cause for concern. I was even more depressed to learn that the Auxiliary Fire Service was disbanded completely in 1968. That begs the question whether the Government believe that there will be no fires in the next war.

I do not suggest that a mere increase in manpower will necessarily lead to an improvement in the situation, but, taken with the low budgetary spending, the small amount of manpower available indicates a low-key approach to civil defence policy.

I turn to the subject of training and policy in respect of civil defence forces. To take training first, I understand that the Home Office maintains only one college of civil defence training, at Easingwold, near York. I understand that in 1976 a total of only 2,187 people attended the college. That is a small number of people undergoing official training in one year when compared with the nation's population, amounting to 56 million.

More important is the question of the policies followed. When I asked the Minister about the state of affairs, I was informed that the last comprehensive policy study was carried out in 1971. I was also told that the information was available in Hansard of 5th August 1971, in volume 822, at columns 699–70. For those hon. Members who wish to rush to Hansard to see what was said on that occasion, I do not suggest that they hold their breath, because those two columns are short and bland to the point of invisibility. More important, since 1971 technology has moved on and many new ideas, devices and theories have been aired and discussed.

The weaknesses that I have described in money, manpower, training and policy individually may not be significant, but taken as a whole show that there is a considerable lack of urgency and drive in this important area.

I turn to future policies for civil defence, on which I hope the Minister will comment. Let me deal first with the question of the strategy adopted by the Home Office. The scenario that the Government believe will prevail is that the next war will follow a period of build-up of tension over several months. I understand that the tripwire doctrine is dead. During this period the Government's main task will be to allay the fears of citizens. I understand that only in the 72 hours before an impending attack will the public be told that war is imminant and in that period of time material on film, radio, television and in pamphlets will be thrown at the public. One way in which the Home Office has described this operation is by the use of the word "blitz"—a somewhat unfortunate word in the circumstances.

Will the Minister say why she is so confident that this will be the shape of events to come? If she has been misadvised, and there is not a long period of build-up in which to bring ourselves to the ready, the country and the population will pay dearly.

Will the Minister comment on the future rôle of the civil defence scientific teams? I understand that these teams have a world-wide reputation and engage in creative and original thinking on civil defence problems. Will she also say whether these teams are being run down, as part of Government expenditure cuts? Is it not arguable that they should be maintained? Is it not true that these teams, which are composed of highly skilled and professional men, could make a vital contribution to the future defence of the realm?

Even if the Minister is right and there is the slow build-up, culminating in the final period of 72 hours, it would appear to me that the strategy has major faults. First of all, I looked to see what was the Government's shelter policy. I discovered that there was none. Apparently, the Government do not intend to provide appropriate shelters for the population.

Secondly, I examined the matter of evacuation. Again, there is no evacuation policy. The Government intend to recommend the population to stay at home while bombs drop. I submit that that is totally unrealistic. If we ask people to stay at home and we cannot give them shelters, they will just disobey the instructions and literally head for the hills. The consequence of this combination of no shelters and no evacuation must be to cause the maximum possible civil disorder.

I come next to the contents of the booklet "Protect and Survive", which the Minister's Department proposes to issue during the 72-hour period. I leave aside the question whether 30 pages of fairly technical information will be absorbed in that period by all members of the population, by people of all ages and all levels of sophistication. I direct attention to the suggestion on page 13, under the heading "Food":
"Stock enough food for 14 days. Choose foods which can be eaten cold, which keep fresh, and which are tinned or well wrapped. Keep your stocks in a closed cabinet or cupboard. Provide variety. Stock sugar, jams or other sweet foods, cereals, biscuits, meats, vegetables, fruit and fruit juices."
Terrible though it may be, let us for a moment imagine the situation 72 hours before the outbreak of another war. We can all remember what happened at the time of the sugar shortage—a shortage of one inconsiderable item in the household budget. In shops and stores throughout the country, housewives literally fought over the remaining supplies. The Government's suggestion that people should go out and try to stock up food in the two days before the outbreak of war, in conditions of extreme tension, must lead literally to riots in every store and supermarket throughout the country. Ought not the Government to encourage people to stock modest amounts of food now so that such a terrible situation could be avoided?

Next, the organisation seems to be no less faulty, since it entails divided responsibilities. Within the national Government, responsibilities are divided between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. At local level, it is left to the good sense of local authorities to build up their civil defence organisation in accordance with the requirements of the Civil Defence Act 1948.

This hotch-potch of controls and requirements seems quite unsatisfactory. Is there not a case for putting everything under the Ministry of Defence, with an Inspector-General of Civil Defence, who would be a serving officer of the Crown, with responsibility to ensure, first, that national plans are kept up to date and, second, that local authorities fulfil the requirements that they are bound to meet under the Act?

There is considerable public concern that those requirements are currently being evaded at local authority level. I hope that in order to allay these fears the Minister will tell us how many local authorities have to date implemented and set up the full number of planning teams for their areas under civil defence emergency plans.

I conclude with two specific technical questions. First, in respect of emergency food supplies, may we know how many tons of food are stored, and will the Minister confirm that the reserves are being run down as part of the Government's expenditure cuts? Also, will she comment on the prevalent rumour that because the stocks of food are not being turned over frequently enough a great deal is found to be rotten and unfit for human consumption? Further, does her Department have any plans for moving the food from central storage points to the people in the streets who will need it?

Second, on the question of sirens and alarm systems, I understand that the Department has carried out a review of the system during the past 12 months. Is it true that many sirens were found to be located in positions that they occupied at the end of the Second World War? Is it true, also, that shifts of population since the end of the Second World War have meant that people are now living well away from and out of hearing of the siren system? Can the hon. Lady give details of the result of the siren survey and tell us what proportion of our population now live within hearing distance of the system?

I hope that I have demonstrated that there are legitimate grounds for concern about our civil defence arrangements. In an article on civil defence, The Times quoted George Santayana, the Spanish poet and philosopher, and said that these words provided a suitable motto for civil defence:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
I am grateful for the opportunity to jog the memory of the Home Office this afternoon.

3.14 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) on raising this vital subject, in comparison with which all the other items on the Order Paper today pale into insignificance.

I intervene briefly because I am proud that one of my constituents, Captain Feakins, is this year's Chairman of the NATO Civil Defence Committee. The Minister knows—I have told her on other occasions as well as in correspondence or at Question Time—that the NATO Committee is worried about the state of civil defence throughout NATO. Moreover, so far as the Chairman, my constituent, is concerned, Great Britain seems to be, if I may so put it, the "tail-end Charlie" in the whole exercise.

The NATO officials are only too well aware—I hope that the Minister is, too—of precisely what is going on behind the Iron Curtain in this matter. The Soviet Union has elevated its civil defence to a separate service of its Armed Forces, under a person of the rank of Deputy Defence Minister with no fewer than 600,000 personnel at his disposal. Every man, woman and child in the Soviet Union must do 20 hours of compulsory civil defence training. Moreover, the Soviet Union has a massive programme for the dispersal of industry from the cities, and the amount that it spent on civil defence in the past decade has been four times the total spent by the United States.

Knowledge of that kind should make us pause and think. One of the recommendations made by the committee under my constituent's chairmanship was that each NATO country should persuade its Minister of Defence to allocate 1 per cent. of the defence budget in order to get civil defence off the ground and really operating.

When I have tried to raise these matters in the House, when putting Questions to the Ministry of Defence I have been told that they are the responsibility of the Home Office, and in the same way I have been told by the Home Office that they are the concern of the Ministry of Defence. I have not been able to get anywhere, and I therefore wholly support what my hon. Friend has said about the need for Government co-ordination.

When I put a Question to the Minister herself, she told me that she relies on the good sense of local authorities properly to discharge their civil defence functions. Frankly, that is just not good enough. They will not do it. They do not understand what is required. They have lots of other things to do, and, as my hon. Friend said, they are probably living in the stirrup-pump-and-bucket-of-sand era. The local authorities will give this subject the importance that it deserves only if the drive and initiative come from the central Government themselves. I hope that we shall have an encouraging reply this afternoon.

3.17 p.m.

I know that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) for raising this important topic. The fact that two hon. Members have spoken and another would have been glad to do so is an indication of its importance and of the interest of hon. Members. I know that the hon. Member for Walsall, North has put down a series of Questions demonstrating his concern. In the time available, I cannot deal with all the points that he raised, but, if he wishes, I shall willingly arrange for him to discuss them with the officials concerned.

At the outset, I should make clear that successive Governments, of both parties, have over recent years pursued a remarkably consistent policy in civil defence. [Interruption.] I am sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), who was at the Home Office himself, will know that. This Government do not see any scope for significant changes of policy or in the annual level of investment that successive Governments have maintained.

As far as I am aware, although I do not think that it is mentioned in "The Right Approach", the policy of the official Opposition is no different from that of the present Government. Moreover, so far as I am aware, the views expressed by hon. Members today are their personal views, and I do not recall their having been advanced by any of their Front Bench spokesmen. Certainly, some of the suggestions made today would involve many millions of pounds of additional public expenditure, the very thing that the Conservative Party is constantly decrying. It is just not possible to do what so many Opposition Members want without a vast increase in expenditure.

As for the immediate future, the economics that have been made in this field have been relatively minor and they have had no adverse impact on the operational efficiency of our essential public services in war. The hon. Member for Walsall, North asked me about expenditure in 1977–78. Perhaps he will look at the Written Answer that was given to a Question for Oral Answer put by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir J. Hall) on 3rd March.

Next, I should make two general points. The first concerns the alerting or informing of the general public about what would be expected of them if a major war affecting the United Kingdom should ever break out. It has been suggested that the responsibility should be given to the Ministry of Defence, but I hope that the hon. Member who suggested the transfer will appreciate that we are dealing with the civilian population in this matter.

Another point concerns the information and guidance that is available to those authorities and individuals who need it. Successive Governments—and this one is no exception—have taken the view that the general public do not wish to be informed about the action that they might, and would be expected to, take in a future war, until they and the Government of the day regard that threat as more imminent than we all do today. However, any Government must be ready to inform the people at short notice. We are ready. All our basic material has been prepared and could be launched through television, radio and the Press at short notice. I can assure the House that it is in a readily comprehensible form.

The material is not suitable for regular use, unless and until there is a real and imminent threat. However, for the minority who want to take precautions now or to inform themselves now about what they may do, there is a booklet called "Nuclear Weapons", on sale at the Stationery Office, about the various and terrifying effects of these weapons. I expect to make available later this year advice on the construction of a concrete garden shelter. But I see no prospect of financing any major construction programme of public shelters. The home remains the best place to afford protection against the subsequent radiological dangers, if one has survived the initial blast, heat and fire.

Even if the country could afford a network of public underground shelters—which it cannot—successive Governments have decided that that should not be done. There are other difficulties. For instance, I am told that in Sweden there are shelter places for 5 million people out of a population of 8 million. That sort of thing just would not be possible in the United Kingdom, mainly on grounds of cost and the large numbers of people involved—quite apart from the shortage of suitable sites sufficiently close to major centres of population.

The point is sometimes made that insufficient attention is paid to the posibility of a major attack on the United Kingdom using conventional high explosives and avoiding the use of any nuclear weapons. Others suggest that chemical or even biological weapons might be used on a large scale. Generally speaking, successive Governments have largely discounted these possibilities in the past 20 years. The United Nations has achieved success in getting a convention banning biological weapons. My expert advice is that the prospect of a large-scale attack on the civil population using chemical weapons or nerve gases is not likely.

As for so-called conventional attacks, no method has yet been devised of differentiating, until the attack is over, between the nuclear warhead and ordinary high explosive. A massive conventional attack could thus trigger off a nuclear retaliation.

In all these matters, the Home Office is in consultation with the Ministry of Defence. I refer again to the question whether the whole responsibility should be given to the Ministry of Defence. I remind the House that we are here dealing with civilians and not the military. However, this matter is constantly taken into consideration. Extra money for civil defence would have to be divided between the different Departments—Environment, Health, Energy, Agriculture and the Home Office. Although the Ministry of Defence could take on the responsibility of co-ordination it could not take on the responsibility of actually spending money, because that is being spent by many different civil departments.

The Prime Minister recently indicated that he has no proposals for changes in the departmental and ministerial responsibility for civil defence. As to the extent and quality of local authority planning, I accept that in all those matters in respect of which Parliament imposes a function on local authorities, some councils are better than others. But, as I have said recently in reply to Questions from the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire and the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), the Home Secretary has no powers of inspection and report. Government officials can proceed only by persuasion—because we are dealing with civilians—and by quoting the example of the better authorities. We should not like to increase public expenditure by recruiting more civil servants to harry a few local authorities.

If the Department of Education and Science can impose comprehensive schools, cannot the Home Office impose a decent civil defence establishment on local authorities?

I really do not see the comparison between legislation passed by Parliament, on the one hand, and, on the other, asking people, in a civilian capacity, to take precautions in the event of a war that is not present with us. Local authorities are democratically elected bodies, and I have—as I hope the hon. Member has—confidence in the good sense of most local authorities to do what they can in this matter.

I should like to assure the hon. Member that the absence of a policy statement since 1971 does not imply that matters are not kept under constant review both in NATO and in London. I am sure that the hon. Member is aware of this, because of his constituent's connection. The nature of the current threat and any technological advances are carefully examined by the appropriate authority. If the hon. Member had anything specific in mind he could certainly discuss it with my officials. I shall also try, if possible, to let him have answers to his questions on food supplies and the alarm system.

As long as there are large nuclear arsenals in the world, civil defence must be mainly, if not solely, concerned with the possibility of a nuclear war. We and some of our NATO allies have nuclear weapons to deter aggression and for no other purpose. Our civil defence planning must also be directed towards deterrence. It must be sufficient to persuade any potential aggressor that, in defence of our freedom, we shall not give in to nuclear blackmail. It must not be so operationally advanced as to lead anyone to believe that war will break out tomorrow. It must have a capability to be activated at short notice to a greater state of readiness. Our warning and monitoring organisation, which is probably the best in Europe, has that capability. I have personally visited two training camps of this organisation and I was extremely impressed.

Civil defence must, if the time comes, involve the nation as a whole and every essential service. Now in 1977, as we have been doing for several years past, it must direct the attention of all those in positions of authority—in local government, in the police and in the essential services—to the importance of plans that are already prepared, that are intended to put their organisations on to a war footing and that can be implemented, when so required, by the Government of the day.

This has been the important task of Ministries and Departments in recent years. To get up to date the guidance on those matters to those who are in positions of authority has been the top priority in work. Most of that material, in the form of circulars, is available in the Library for those who are interested. The Home Defence College, near York, has helped enormously in studies and seminars to bring these people together to discuss their problems, to share knowledge and experience, and to assist them in devising solutions suitable for their own local authorities.

Given the nature of nuclear war, there is no possibility of perfection in civil defence, but I shall certainly take careful note of the criticisms that have been made. I am sure that the Opposition, in their determination to reduce public expenditure, realise that a more rapid rate of improvement must await improvements in our overall economic position. Only then will the Government be able to devote additional funds to those parts of our civil defence arrangements that require new equipment and only then may we look at possible economic concessions to those who, for example, equip their own homes or erect any buildings with suitable basement shelters.

Civil defence is in a better state now than when the Conservative Party was last in office. Restraints on expenditure make it impossible for us to increase further the annual amount being spent.

Industrial Relations (Closed Shop)

3.30 p.m.

Just over a year has passed since the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act received its Royal Assent on 25th March 1976, and whatever view one takes of the closed shop, it is a matter of the keenest public interest and it is right that the House should consider, albeit for only half an hour, what the story has been over the past year and since the 1974 Act.

Both the Act of 1974 and that of 1976 were criticised strongly from these Benches. Fears were expressed that the legalisation of the closed shop and the absence of safeguards for those who did not want to join a union would result in a serious erosion of individual liberty and a massive extension of union power.

Those fears have proved to be well founded. The debate gives the Minister a chance to give the Government's view on some of the most objectionable features of the closed shop. I say that advisedly because one of the most disquieting features of the Government's attitude is their repeated statements that their policy is one of neutrality. In an answer to me on 19th October, the Minister of State at the Department of Employment said:
"The Government maintain a neutral policy towards the closed shop. It is entirely up to employers and unions to decide whether or not they wish to operate a closed shop in any particular case"—[Official Report, 19th October 1976; Vol. 917, c. 1101.]
On Tuesday this week, in reply to another question, the hon. Gentleman said that the Government's policy on these matters was one of neutrality.

The Minister must understand that this Government passed the 1974 and 1976 Acts and have stood aside as those with deeply-held personal convictions and long years of service have had them ignored and set aside. The Government have therefore not been neutral, as they suggest, but have, in fact, been intensely partial in these matters.

Paragraph 598 of the Donovan Report says:
"In our view, the Closed Shop as it operates at present is not always in the best interests either of workers or of the community as a whole. It is liable from time to time to cause substantial injustice to individuals from which they have no effective means of redress."
I believe that that comment, made nearly 10 years ago, has been proved to be justified to the full by our experience since that report was written.

In evidence to the Donovan Commission, the former Ministry of Labour drew attention to four instances in which the closed shop might interfere unduly with the freedom of the individual. The first was where workers have conscientious reasons for not belonging to trade unions. The second was where workers, although willing to belong to a trade union, are refused admission or are expelled unreasonably. The third was where there are irregularities in the conduct of affairs of a union operating a closed shop and individaul members are adversely affected. The fourth was where a closed shop is introduced in an establishment where 100 per cent. membership does not already exist.

I wish to refer to the case of British Rail, where two of those four conditons, which were given as warnings by the former Ministry of Labour, have applied in an industry which is publicly owned and for which the Government therefore have a special responsibility.

As the Minister knows, since January 1966 there has been a pre-entry closed shop operated by British Rail. But the closed shop was also applied to existing employees of British Rail. They were exempted from the requirement to join a union only on the grounds of genuine religious belief. As a result, British Rail dismissed 31 of its employees. Of those, six had between 13 and 19 years' service, five had between 29 and 39 years' service and two had more than 39 years' service. Of those 31, six were dismissed because the regional appeal body found that the religious grounds were not sufficient and 25 were dismissed because they had other conscientious grounds for not joining a union. It is simply not good enough for the Government to say that they are neutral when 31 employees in a publicly owned industry, some of whom had given a lifetime of service, are dismissed because they do not wish to join a union, particularly where that is a new condition imposed on employees in the course of their employment.

I wrote to the Leader of the House when he was the Secretary of State for Employment on 4th December 1975. He replied on 7th January last year as follows:
"I could not accept that a condition of employment relating to union membership which has the effect of making someone decide not to take a certain job is more of an infringement of individual liberties than any other condition of employment which proves unacceptable to certain individuals—such as, for instance, that the employee should be prepared to travel or should have to contribute to a firm's pension scheme."
That is a ludicrous proposition. If an employee does not wish to travel, or does not wish to contribute to a firm's pension scheme, he can obtain another job where such preconditions do not apply. It was absurd for the Leader of the House to compare the unwillingness of a man to join a union with the unwillingness of a man to travel or contribute to a pension scheme.

On 29th October 1975 the present Secretary of State for Employment, who was then Minister of State, wrote to my right hon. Friend Lord Carr stating:
… "of course the man who claims that he objects on grounds of principle or conscience to joining a trade union is at liberty to seek alternative work where management and employees have not agreed that trade union membership should be a condition of employment."
That letter from the Secretary of State shows how out of touch the Government are with the real world. The man who objects today on grounds of principle or conscience, to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, to joining a trade union is finding it increasingly difficult to obtain employment because the closed shop is being rapidly expanded.

The closed shop is not a static concept. It is being extended all the time. If the present trend continues, if the unions have their way, and if the Government continue to act in collusion with the unions we shall find that the man without a union card will discover it impossible to get a job. If that happens we shall have a closed shop Britain.

I believe that the founding fathers of the trade union movement and of the Labour Party would be appalled that nowadays workers are being conscripted into the unions as a precondition of employment, instead of joining as volunteers. The concept devised by the founders of the trade union movement was that the unions should be there to protect those who had voluntarily sought the protection and support of the unions in securing better wages and conditions.

During the war those who objected on religious or conscience grounds to joining the Armed Forces were not compelled to do so. Thirty years later, however, workers are compelled to join a union whatever their religious or conscientious objections, or they are denied the right to work. In the nationalised industries, in the public corporations and in the Government service there is an increasing probability, fast becoming a certainty, that those who lose their jobs because they will not or are not able to join a union will have increasing difficulty in finding employment elsewhere.

It is a denial of individual liberty that an existing employee should be compelled to join a union against his will or lose his job, as happened in British Rail. Those who have strong personal convictions which make it impossible for them to join a union should be exempt from membership.

Any closed shop agreement should protect the rights of members of professions, the codes of conduct of which forbid them to take part in industrial action. There should be an independent tribunal to which those who have strong personal convictions against union membership or who are arbitrarily excluded or expelled from a union should have a right of appeal.

There are, however, even wider issues than this. Anyone who has followed the story of the National Union of Journalists will understand the real threat which is posed by the closed shop to the freedom of the Press.

Rolls-Royce (1971), which is the nationalised aero division, now insists that sub-contractors doing work at its Coventry works must employ only trade union labour. In a letter sent to all contractors and suppliers this nationalised industry wrote,
"in no circumstances is non-union labour to be utilised by sub-contractors on premises of Rolls-Royce (Coventry) Ltd. Factories".
It continues,
"It is your responsibility to ensure that in future every person employed by you or by others on your behalf are in possession of the necessary union cards."
This country alone in Western Europe is seeing a rapid extension of the closed shop. It is seeing the elevation of trade unions into a new master race.

It is understandable that Members of this House and others should say, "We do not think that it is worth standing up for the rights of that comparatively small minority of workers who do not want to join unions." But this House is deeply concerned about the rights even of a small number of citizens. Indeed, many of us believe that we were sent here partly to ensure that minorities as well as the majority have rights.

The purpose of this debate is to champion the cause of the minority, to champion the cause of individual freedom, to ask the Government to look again, in the light of the history of these past months, at the closed shop to which their own legislation has given birth and extended and to challenge the proposition that it is proper for the Government in a matter of such importance to remain neutral.

3.46 p.m.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has been very persistent in recent months in asking questions about the closed shop. It is one of the more controversial and perhaps most misunderstood subjects in industrial relations. Therefore, I welcome this opportunity to put the record straight at greater length than has been possible in the House recently and to reply to the hon. Gentleman in fuller terms than I have been able to employ previously about the closed shop and the effects of legislation.

Closed shop arrangements have been part of the industrial relations scene in the United Kingdom for many years. Contrary to popular belief, they were for many years before 1971 perfectly lawful. Indeed, contrary to the hon. Gentleman's assumption, they are widespread in other countries—even in countries where they are theoretically illegal. Like other collective agreements, they reflect what the people concerned in a particular bargaining group consider suits their circumstances.

It is foolish to believe that the law could eradicate such agreement or that in practice it would be able to do so. The Industrial Relations Act amply proved that point. The Industrial Relations Act granted employees a statutory right not to belong to a trade union and sought to outlaw the closed shop, except on certain narrowly defined circumstances. That proved totally unenforceable in practice.

An illuminating study on the effects of the Act, carried out by the University of Warwick, showed that in general, during the period when the Industrial Relations Act was in force, closed shops were maintained notwithstanding the law. Moreover, employers defended them—often almost as tenanciously as did the workers themselves.

I am glad that this point now seems to have been taken on board at least by the Opposition Front Bench. I understand that there are no proposals from that quarter for the reintroduction of such measures.

The failure of the Industrial Relations Act was not altogether surprising since, as is becoming more widely recognised, closed shop arrangements can be of advantage to both sides of industry. For trade unions, these advantages are obvious: greater solidarity and support—hence, greater bargaining power—increased membership and finance—no free riders—and a reduction in the risk of breakaways and competition.

But there can be significant advantages for employers, too: in particular, more stable collective bargaining arrangements; the avoidance of inter-union disputes; full representation of their employees in negotiations; better union discipline over members—an advantage recently well illustrated in The Times newspaper dispute—and probably more chance that agreements and established procedures will be adhered to.

The repeal of the Industrial Relations Act, which was universally welcomed, inevitably removed the statutory ban imposed by the then Tory Government. The consequences of doing so have been widely misrepresented. This afternoon I hope to clear up some of the misconceptions about it.

It is alleged that the Government favour the closed shop and have sought to encourage it. Not so. No matter how tedious the hon. Gentleman may find it, I must repeat yet again that the Government are neutral on the question of the closed shop. He and certain of his hon. Friends seem most reluctant to accept that fact. We regard a closed shop agreement simply as a kind of collective agreement which employers and trade unions may find to their mutual advantage. But it is up to the two sides of the industry in each particular instance and situation to decide for themselves whether to have a closed shop, and, if so, on what terms.

As with so much in collective bargaining, it is not a matter in which it would be appropriate or even practicable for the Government to try to interfere, and we do not do so. We are not trying to enforce closed shop agreements on anyone in either the public sector or the private sector. Moreover, not only are the Government neutral on the question, but current legislation, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, reflects that neutrality. The law leaves employers and unions free to decide for themselves whether to have a closed shop agreement.

Of course, current legislation makes specific mention of the closed shop, whereas the pre-1971 legislation did not. This, too, has been the subject of considerable misunderstanding and, I may say, wilful misinterpretation. The reason for this difference is the statutory provisions that we now have about unfair dismissals. To have failed clearly to define the effect of those provisions on the closed shop would inevitably have led to confusion and dispute, and we determined that the legislation should provide that dismissal for refusal to comply with the terms of a closed shop agreement, except in the case of religious objections, was not unfair, and that in those circumstances employers should not be liable to pay compensation.

Does not the hon. Gentleman find it faintly absurd that a man should have to appear before three lay people who will determine theologically whether his religious objections are valid? Is not that procedure more like an inquisition than a modern industrial society?

If we are to have a body that is to put to the test a matter of religious objection, I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that an industrial tribunal is inappropriate or whether he thinks it should be the Synod of the Church of England. But I will return to this point later.

I repeat that the legislative position is broadly the same as it was prior to 1971. It has been alleged that the closed shop represents an infringement of individual rights. But is the right not to belong to a trade union a fundamental freedom of the sort opponents of the closed shop suggest? I doubt it. In this and any other society, it is always necessary to balance the rights and interests of the individual against the rights and interests of other individuals and of the generality of the people.

The rules that society adopts—whether in the form of law or convention—are designed to enable that society to function effectively. They almost invariably involve restrictions on the rights and freedoms of the individual. The same applies in any smaller grouping in society. Thus, in the case of the closed shop, we doubt whether it is right that the individual should be given statutory rights to take a line which conflicts with a rule or practice which the majority see as advantageous. Surely the hon. Gentleman should not expect his point of view to be imposed on the majority by statute.

It has also been suggested that the legislation of the closed shop creates a situation in which trade unions have unwarranted power over the individual because of the power to expel him from, or refuse to admit him to, membership, and hence employment. But in my experience, it is unusual for trade unions to act in the sort of arbitrary way that is sometimes alleged and here I am entitled to draw on long experience. The trade union movement has taken pains to ensure that union rule books provide sensible safeguards for individuals facing exclusion or expulsion. Moreover, in the case of a serious dispute, the individual does have means of redress. First, he may appeal to the courts on the grounds that a union's action constitutes a breach of his rights in natural justice. This right has not been impaired by recent legislation.

Furthermore, the TUC has set up its own independent review committee, with a legally-qualified chairman, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Employment and the Chairman of ACAS, to hear complaints of this kind. The committee has now begun its work. I am convinced that these voluntary arrangements are likely to prove more effective in practice than the unnecessary and unworkable statutory safeguards of the Industrial Relations Act. I stress that. If the view I have expressed turns out to be wrong, we have made it clear on a number of occasions that we are ready to look at the matter again.

It is suggested that the legislation encourages inflexible and rigid closed shop agreements which do not take sufficient account of the particular circumstances of individuals and small groups and which result in dismissals of established staff. I doubt whether that allegation matches reality. In fact, the legislation on the statute book, following the passage of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act, was carefully and deliberately designed to provide for flexibility and to ensure that employers and unions have plenty of elbow room to negotiate closed shop agreements, or perhaps less formal agreements, which would fully take into account individual or minority circumstances.

For example, the legislation makes clear that the employer and union, or the unions, in negotiating a closed shop agreement, can agree to allow membership of another union not party to the agreement without affecting its validity. Moreover, "union membership agreements", as the Act calls them, can include exceptions based on any characterists or circumstances whatsoever. Conscientious objectors can be excluded. I would stress that we resisted a statutory "conscience clause" not only because there would have been inevitable uncertainty over what such a provision would mean in practice, and consequent industrial friction, but also because we consider that exceptions to closed shop agreements, apart from exceptions based on religious objections to union membership, need to be agreed by the parties if they are to be effective.

I am sorry. I must press on. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be most displeased if I overran the time limit.

Existing employees can be exempted, and I understand that this has been done in a number of cases. Employees who agree to pay the equivalent of union subscriptions to a charity can be exempted. I am not recommending any of these arrangements in particular. It is for the employer and unions concerned to decide if they want a closed shop and, if so, what its terms should be. But we have stated on a number of occasions that we hope that employers and unions will operate their arrangements in the reasonable and tolerant way they generally appear to have been operated before the Industrial Relations Act first sought to outlaw the closed shop and consequently turned it into such a contentious issue.

The hon. Gentleman has expressed concern at the closed shop agreement within British Rail. In the light of the Government's policy of neutrality on closed shop matters I do not think it would be right for me to say much about this particular agreement but I can, I think help to illustrate certain aspects of our policy and to make it clear that we are being consistent in our approach. First, we have never at any stage sought to influence or in any way to interfere in the conclusion or the operation of the British Rail agreement—and do not intend to start now. These are entirely matters for the management and the unions concerned. The fact that British Rail is a public sector employer does not, and should not, affect the position, and I am surprised that members of the Opposition suggest that somehow there ought to be different treatment between the public and private sectors

The hon. Gentleman says "monopoly" and feels that the Govern- ment ought to adopt a different approach and apply different provisions in the public sector. I do not think that we can have dual standards. In the case of the British Rail closed shop agreement, which incidentally is the revival of what I understand was the normal planning agreement prior to 1971, I regret that it was not possible for differences to be resolved and that dismissals took place, including some of employees with records of long service. But this does not alter our view that such matters must be left to the parties concerned and that it would not be practicable for the Government to intervene to stop such dismissals even if they wanted to.

On previous occasions the hon. Gentleman has also suggested that the Government should require notification of closed shop agreements or of dismissals resulting from the operation of a closed shop agreement. But at present no employer is required to notify the Government of collective agreements or of individual dismissals. I very much doubt whether the notification of such information could be justified in terms of the cost and inconvenience to employers or the usefulness of the information obtained. Moreover, it would imply a degree of Government interference in industrial relations which I very much doubt whether hon. Gentlemen opposite would seriously be prepared to contemplate. However, we do keep under review such information as is available to us—in particular, cases which come to us from industrial tribunals—and we are actively considering the possibility of commissioning further research into the extent, operation and effects of closed shops.

Finally, let me say a few words about one or two incidents in recent months that have disturbed me. These are cases where an industrial tribunal found that an individual dismissed for refusal to join a trade union in a closed shop had genuine religious objections to trade union membership and thus had been unfairly dismissed but where his workmates refused to accept the tribunal's award of reinstatement.

We have raised the matter with the TUC. It has an active interest in the problems that can arise in closed shops, and we have asked whether it can help. Parliament made provision to allow individuals to opt out of union membership in a closed shop situation in very limited and well-defined circumstances, to which I have referred, that is, where a person has genuine religious objections.

Ultimately, if there is doubt on such a matter there must be an independent body to make the decision about the genuineness of those religious convictions, and I think that the appropriate body is the industrial tribunal. We must expect working people to accept tribunal verdicts in cases of this kind, in the same way as they would expect employers to accept tribunal decisions. I hope that those workmates who are refusing to accept these men back will look again at their decision and at the consequences of challenging an industrial tribunal. I hope, too, that these will remain isolated cases, and that it will be possible to secure reinstatement in conformity with the tribunal's decision.

It was a pity that the hon. Gentleman invoked the Donovan Commission in aid, in view of the defiance of the Donovan Commission as embodied in so many provisions of the Industrial Relations Act. I conclude by reminding the hon. Gentleman that in spite of what he quoted from Donovan, neither the Royal Commission nor the Ministry of Labour, as it was, in its evidence suggested any law or change in the law to contain or restrict the closed shop, or any changes in the closed shop situation.

Housing (Leicester)

4.2 p.m.

Leicester is a stress housing area, and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss in the House the intolerable and disgraceful decision of the new Tory-dominated council to cut in half the provision for council house building during the next two years.

A stress housing area is one that the Government have recognised as being an area in which the need for housing is at its greatest, in which the pressures are at their most intolerable, and in which, in spite of the restrictions that have to be placed on the building of new homes because of the financial situation, houses should nevertheless be permitted to be built.

In the face of that Government decision it is difficult to understand why the Leicester council should come to the conclusion that the programme that had been planned should be hacked in half, and I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that this can only be because of the doctrinaire views of the Tories on the Leicester District Council, who dislike council housing and who are once again determined to preside over the destruction of a programme carefully built up by their Labour predecessors to provide decent homes for ordinary folk in the Leicester area.

As a constituency Member of Parliament I receive a massive mailbag, and by far the highest proportion of the letters come from people who are desperate for better housing. Some of these letters I forward to the housing manager and others my Labour colleagues on the council are good enough to deal with, but they stretch into hundreds, and they are pathetic in their entreaties for help.

Those concerned range from young married couples who have no accommodation and are forced to live with in-laws or parents, with grave social results for both; to young people anxious to marry but unable to do so because they have no home; to parents, some of whom are separated from each other and their children; to old people who want bungalow accommodation but who, at the proposed rate of building are unlikely to get any until after they are dead; to ordinary folk with large families who have left home and who want smaller homes; to people with smaller homes with large families who wish to move into larger accommodation. The whole gamut of hardship and suffering is caused in the stress areas through the absence of adequate housing.

The population of Leicester is about 300,000. According to the council's own calculations, the number of people on the housing list is 34,208. Over 10 per cent. of the people in the city are seeking to move and are actually on the housing list. That figure excludes the thousands who do not know enough to get on the waiting list or who regard it as so long that they do not bother to put their names on it. It also excludes those who have taken their names off the waiting list and others who are looking for rented homes for many reasons. There are at least 34,208 individuals, or 12,991 applications on the list.

The replies that I now send to the letters that I receive bear a close resemblance to the Government health warning on cigarette packets. I tell my constituents that their prospect of a decent home has been cut by half by the ludicrous, doctrinaire decision of the Tory council. I hope that the young people, the newly-weds, the families and the elderly who need homes will place the blame where it belongs—on to the Tory-controlled council—because the Government have said that this is an area where the planned housing programme should continue. The Tory-controlled council is now to build 500 houses a year instead of 1,000. It is to reduce by 500 a year the number of families who can move into decent housing.

I was not surprised to read a careful document prepared by the Leicester section of the National Campaign for the Homeless, which said:
"From all perspectives, … the present recommended building programme rerductions are completely without justification."
Shelter suggests that the council should try to start 1,825 homes in 1978 and 1979, and certainly not 500. The document also states:
"It should be borne in mind that Leicester has already been declared a housing stress area by the DOE, while none of the other councils in Leicestershire have been so designated. These other councils have had their already inadequate building programmes decimated by the recent DOE housing cutbacks; and yet Leicester, not faced with such central government restrictions, seems bent on emulating its county neighbours. We do not see how the citizens of Leicestershire are well served by simultaneous and dramatic reductions in the provision of all rented housing, in county and city, and both local authority and housing association."
I call in aid the words of Mrs. Irene Pollard, the Chairman of the Leicester Housing Committee, in a report in the Leicester Mercury on 10th February. The report said:
"Mrs. Irene Pollard said today that she had every confidence in a city planning department survey predicting future housing needs.
She said of the survey which forecasts that in Greater Leicester 12,200 new homes will be needed by 1981 and 41,800 by 1991. I am satisfied with the report. I think this is the paper on which we should work."
She suggests 12,200 new homes by 1981, yet the council is building only 500 a year. By what convoluted arithmetic can Mrs. Pollard conceivably hope to reach that result?

I regret that Mrs. Pollard is at present unwell, as I am sure do my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) and Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). We have long disagreed with Mrs. Pollard on policies and will doubtless continue to do so, but as is happily normal as between representatives of the major political parties in Leicester, we disagree on good personal terms. I hope that Mrs. Pollard will soon return to her usual abundant good health and spirits. When she does so, I think that she will be called upon to answer this indictment, particularly bearing in mind that people now move from council houses much morer slowly than they used to. Because of the enormous cost of buying new homes, there is less movement from existing stock, yet the doctrinaire Tories are once again seeking to reduce the stock still further by selling it off. They sell off what is there; people move less frequently, and they are now to build fewer houses. What a disgraceful lot they are!

The matter is not improved by the fact that Leicester's request for money under the "New homes for old" programme has been granted only as to one half. I fully appreciate that one does not always ask for what one expects, and that requests from all over the country have been cut down. But in view of the disgusting decision of the local Tories to cut the housing programme in half, I ask my hon. Friend to review the decision and consider whether it may be possible to grant more of the council's request for money, so that, in the light of the Tories' cutting the housing stock, at least they will have no excuse for leaving old homes in Braunstone and other areas in an unfit state for people to live in.

I also pay tribute to the Labour Group on the council and to the former Chairman of the Housing Committee, Bob Trewick, for their prodigious efforts to make good the miseries caused to Leicester citizens last time the Tories were in power, when they almost destroyed the entire housing programme, as they look all set to do once again. I hope that my hon. Friend will convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment a request which I made on behalf of my Labour colleagues on the council, to see my right hon. Friend in connection with the matters I am raising today. I realise that we cannot meet my right hon. Friend until after Easter, but I hope that he will see us then.

Housing policy, not only in Leicester but in all areas where the citizens have seen fit to put the Tories into power, is in jeopardy. The present policy is built on cracked foundations, with defective structures built to outdated standards and with tiled roofing constructed by a Thatcher. The structure should be reconstructed and rebuilt.

On 5th May the electors of Leicester will have an opportunity to show what they think. It is unfortunate that housing policy is not one of those areas that are in actual dispute at that election, but as people appreciate that one area of Tory policy reflects on another I hope that they will express their feelings in no uncertain terms, not only about this matter but about the way in which Tory councils invariably erode the rights of ordinary people, whether by cutting their housing or, as the Tories have done in Leicestershire, by removing travel concessions from the aged, the disabled, the blind and even home helps.

It is a mean and nasty régime that destroys these rights. I hope that my hon. Friend—bearing in mind that central Government can only encourage and enable, as they have done in Leicester through declaring it a stress housing area—will denounce the behaviour of the local authority and encourage it to think again. Otherwise, generations of ill-housed Leicester people will blame those who today unfortunately dominate housing policy in our great city.

4.14 p.m.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) is to be congratulated on bringing this highly topical subject before the House today. I fully support the views that he has expressed. My view of the action taken by the local Tory-dominated city council is that once again it is showing a cynical disregard for the needs of those awaiting new council homes in Leicester, who, in reality, have little prospect of getting any home other than one provided by the local authority.

Despite protestations from the Opposition Benches and from Tories throughout the country, many people in large cities are unfortunately dependent on the local authorities providing them with homes. Despite all the hogwash we hear from Tory spokesmen that still remains a fact of life.

I underline the point that my hon. and learned Friend has made already about capital loan allocation provided for under Section 105 of the Housing Act 1974. The city of Leicester applied for £2·25 million under this heading to cover rehabilitation of old houses, improvements and conversions. These moneys were required for inner city areas, areas blighted by road schemes and for improvements to older council estates. In the event, less than half that amount was allocated. Also the money was made less in value by the need for it to cover Section 101 improvements—those required on properties acquired under the municipalisation scheme. I implore the Minister to convey to the Secretary of State the need for the moneys to be increased to the level that the local authority requires.

We must face the truth, which is that we can overcome the problems in stress areas only if we look at their needs and requirements and make allocation by increasing public expenditure in these areas rather than reducing it.

4.17 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) for raising this most important issue. Leicester City—and only the area of the city—is one of the three areas in the East Midlands Region that are being regarded as stress areas for the purpose of their new house building programme.

With all the representations that my Department has had from housing authorities outside stress areas that they might be included, it is disturbing to say the least that an area designated as a stress area should deliberately restrict new house building, as we have heard this afternoon.

As a major urban centre, Leicester has most of the problems of other large towns and cities, but the city council has, in recent years, faced up to its daunting tasks extremely well. In this debate we are concerned mainly with the building of council houses, but the city council has not neglected the need to tackle existing areas of poor housing: much of the inner part of the city is in declared general improvement areas or in areas scheduled for declaration as such. One housing action area has been declared, and another is in the preparatory stages.

The city council is active in improving the dwellings it owns and has indicated that it would like to do considerably more if it were possible to let them spend more money.

Certainly I shall convey personally to the Secretary of State the request for a deputation. I shall have something to say about the new system of allocating housing capital which gives the authority the power to transfer from one section to another. This will be helpful, and the question of Section 105 allocations is under constant review in my Department.

On new housing, the council let contracts for some 850 dwellings in 1974 and almost 1,500 dwellings in 1975. Substantial progress continued to be made in 1976. Up to the Chancellor's speech on public expenditure on 22nd July the council had accepted tenders for 627 dwellings.

In July 1976 we had to introduce a measure of control over new housebuilding. Local authority housebuilding, which hitherto had been uncontrolled, showed every prospect of exceeding the public expenditue provision contained in the February 1976 White Paper by a substantial amount. Given the difficult prevailing economic circumstances, house-building had to be brought under control to prevent the budgeted level of expenditure being exceeded. But the local authorities' housebuilding programmes are still a major component of our efforts to overcome local housing problems. We expect local authorities in England to accept tenders for about 90,000 dwellings in 1977, which will still mean that tender acceptances will average 100,000 per year from 1975 to 1977 compared with 78,000 in 1973.

When the July measures were introduced, we were most anxious to avoid an indiscriminate cut-back in activity across the board. The Government made it clear from the beginning that they were concerned that the resources which were available should be concentrated more selectively than before on areas of greatest housing need. Our aim in imposing controls has therefore been to protect the programmes of the stress authorities. I think my hon. Friends will agree with me that another dimension is added to the problem by the fact that there are some areas where the total weight of the housing problem is substantially greater than elsewhere. My hon. Friends have underlined that Leicester is one of these areas.

The greatest concentration of stress will naturally be found in the inner cities, though we have recognised that local patches of stress may be found almost anywhere. We have made allowance for this fact in deciding how resources for building new houses should be allocated. In drawing up a list of authorities with a major stress we had regard to the 1971 Census data, to our assessment of comparative conditions and housebuilding performance since 1971, and to the best overall picture of local housing needs—I stress "housing needs"—that we could obtain through our regional offices. On that basis, Leicester was included in the original list of stress authorities annexed to the Department's Circular 80/76.

For the 15-month period from 1st January 1977 to 31st March 1978 Leicester City Council proposed to let contracts for 1,527 dwellings. We agreed to a programme of 1,486. Housing associations expect to let contracts for 735 dwellings. But in recent weeks, the city council has been reviewing its housing programme.

Following the council's deliberations, I understand and it has been confirmed today that Leicester has taken the view that in 1978 and 1979 there will no longer be a need to continue building at as high a rate as in the past. On the evidence produced so far there will be no reduction in the building programme approved for the city in the current calendar year, but only 45 of the 200 dwellings included in the approved programme will be taken to tender acceptance stage in the first quarter of 1978. For the whole of that year and for the following year the council has decided to limit its programme to 500 dwellings a year. It intends to review these proposals early in 1978.

My hon. and learned Friend argues that Leicester's housing conditions—he mentioned waiting lists—are such that it has been recognised, as an area of housing stress, and that to cut council house building will destroy the hopes of ordinary people to have a decent roof over their heads. My hon. and learned Friend's concern is understandable, and I share it. However, any call for the Government to exercise direct control over local authorities' decisions about their housebuilding efforts raises a fundamental issue about the relationship between central and local Government. This is because responsibility for reviewing and meeting the housing needs of an area lies in the hands of the housing authority concerned. Authorities must make the decisions and—and I would emphasise this—must justify their actions to their electorates.

In fact, we as a Government are now moving towards giving more responsibility to local authorities for deciding priorities and there are good reasons for this.

The Government will continue to give their views on housing policy and the necessary priorities. In our first policy circular, Circular 70/74, we made very clear that the first duty of a local housing authority is to ensure the adequate supply of rented dwellings. Whatever we are able to do to assist first-time buyers and those on council waiting lists who want to own their own homes, there will always by people who are completely dependent on public sector housing. Often they will be those who are in the most desperate need, and to these folk local housing authorities have an overriding responsibility. It is in this context that the facts given by my hon. Friends cause me such great anxiety.

We are playing our part in meeting real housing need by providing the means for an authority to respond more sensitivity to the needs of its area. This is relevant to the plea for extra Section 105 expenditure. In answering a Question yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State indicated the way in which housing capital allocations will be made for 1977–78. There will be four blocks of capital expenditure in which the seven main programmes of housing expenditure—new house building, slum clearance, local authority improvements, acquisitions, improvement grants to private persons, local authority mortgage lending and housing association lending—will be brought together for expenditure purposes.

Local authorities will be enabled to switch expenditure within each block at their discretion and also to switch expenditure, in or out, from one block to another, subject to a maximum of 25 per cent. There will also be the ability for authorities to carry expenditure forward to or anticipate it from the succeeding year, within defined limits.

These arrangements will, I believe, be of considerable assistance to authorities and be welcome to them. They are the first steps towards the system of housing investment programmes which will enable authorities to consider their housing situation and present coherent proposals for meeting local needs, setting out their assessment of the capital expenditure required to support that programme. We are discussing these proposals with the local authorities associations.

Meanwhile, we look to authorities to make their housing decisions so as to secure the greatest possible advance in overcoming their needs as economically and humanely as they can within their allocations. That will, I suggest, mean avoiding doctrinaire or arbitrary changes. It will, too, in many areas mean that a substantial number of new houses must be built to support and supplement programmes of rehabilitation and acquisition. It was in recognition of that fact that we gave the stress areas the bulk of the new build allocations for this year.

The change that Leicester appears to have decided upon is, indeed, a dramatic cut-back on a particular part of its overall approach to housing. I am, therefore, asking the regional office to explore with the authority the factors which it has taken into account and what other action it proposes to take to meet real housing need. But at the end of the day the decision will, by virtue of the duties which Parliament has given to local authorities, rest with Leicester. As I have said, I understand that it proposes to review its present thinking early in 1978. I hope that, in coming to its decision, it will take full account of the social impact, as well as the financial and economic impacts, of a move which, in isolation, does look as though it would slow down the pace at which housing need is met. I am sure that my hon. Friends will not be slow to make their views known in the areas that they represent.

Is it clear that my hon. Friend the Minister will be good enough to review the decision not to allow in full the request of the Leicester City Council for an allocation for improvements to its council properties? I appreciate that he cannot conceivably say here and now that he will be able to give more than the regional office has apparently decided to allocate, but, bearing in mind the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and I have put today, I should like an assurance that he will be kind enough to institute a complete review to see whether some extra help can now be given.

These matters are under constant review. I have to tell my hon. Friend that there is, as it were, no extra money in the till, although we keep a continuing review, because, as we have heard today, it is the authorities that make the decisions, and some do not take up all that they are allocated, and so on. I assure my hon. and learned Friend that these matters are under constant review, and that every word said in the debate will be read and considered again, and I shall be in touch with him to see whether he can meet some of the representations that he has made.

Mr S G Farrar

4.30 p.m.

Sir George Young
(Ealing, Acton)