House Of Commons
Tuesday 3rd May 1977
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Shrewsbury And Atcham Borough Council (Frankwell Footbridge) Bill (By Order)
Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time upon Thursday.
Greater London Council (Money) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday.
Neath Borough Council Bill Lords
Read a Second time and committed.
City Of London (Various Powers) Bill Lords (By Order)
Emu Wine Holdings Limited And Subsidiary Companies Bill Lords (By Order)
Heritable Securities And Mortgage Investment Association Limited Bill Lords (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday.
Oral Answers To Questions
Disabled Workers (Medway)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for unemployment amongst registered disabled workers in the Medway employment area; what percentage of all registered disabled workers in the area this represents; and what are the corresponding figures for general unemployment in the area.
I am advised by the Manpower Services Commission that on 14th April 1,022 or 18·4 per cent. of registered disabled people were unemployed in the Medway employment area. The corresponding figures for general unemployment in the area were 13,459 or 5·7 per cent. My hon. Friend will wish to note that the latter percentage relates to an area which includes Dartford as well as the Medway area.
Does the Minister accept that those figures reveal a disgraceful situation that is common throughout the country and that they reflect the failure of industry to meet quota obligations? Is it not now time to introduce legislation instructing the Employment Services Agency to publish the names of firms which refuse to meet their quota obligations?
The numbers of registered disabled people unemployed in the Medway area dropped between March and April, contrary to general trends.
It was not a large drop, but it is encouraging. The Employment Services Agency has accepted the need for a sheltered workshop in that area to be provided by Remploy. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was aware of that. Finally, it is not an offence to be below the quota, although I agree that that is an unsatisfactory situation.I think my hon. Friend will agree that the main effort must be to get disabled people into jobs, and the Government have been advised by the National Advisory Council for the Employment of the Disabled and by the Manpower Services Commission that they favour persuasion rather than coercion. However, there must be a more positive policy of persuasion, and to that end we have announced measures in recent weeks—the capital grants scheme and the job introduction scheme. Later this month the Manpower Services Commission will be launching an employers' guide. I hope that the measures will be effective and that my hon. Friend will support them.
Is the Minister aware that the whole House is extremely worried about unemployment rates among the disabled, particularly because the Government have not taken up their share? Can he give us any further information about the Government taking up their quota, as we all hope will happen?
It is too soon to answer the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. However, I have been in touch with all my ministerial colleagues and urged them to take up the matter in turn with the industries for which they have responsibilities and to draw attention to the situation. I have also written to the chairmen of disablement advisory committees asking them to take this matter up with local authorities, because local authorities leave much to be desired. It is too soon, however, to give any more figures that could be helpful to the House.
Did not the Minister hear the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden)? He asked the Minister to publish the names. That was the essence of the question, to which we want an answer. Is the Minister aware that the Government have no moral justification in pressing private firms to employ their quota when every Government Department except two has failed to employ its quota of 3 per cent. disabled people?
I have already replied to the latter part of that question, and I have answered the first part by pointing out that the Government, the Manpower Services Commission and the National Advisory Council are against the kind of suggestion that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden), because that would cut across the efforts that they intend to make—particularly positive efforts—to achieve greater employment for the disabled through more persuasive policies.
Is the Minister aware that a number of sheltered workshops for the disabled throughout the country are short of orders, partly because of the general economic climate and lack of industrial output but also because Government Departments are not placing orders with them? Will Government Departments and nationalised industries give orders to them?
This is under active consideration. A working party has been set up by the Manpower Services Commission in conjunction with the National Advisory Council on a priority supply scheme. I hope that we shall have some firm proposals on that in the near future.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest unemployment figures; and what is the trend revealed by these.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest unemployment figures; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the present level of unemployment.
At 14th April, 1,335,635 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. The seasonally adjusted figure is 1,269,200. These figures are provisional. Although the total number of adult unemployed has fallen by 11,506 since the last count, after seasonal factors have been taken into account the unemployment level has increased by 1,100. It has now been nearly static over the last seven months. It is, of course, still far too high.
How does the right hon. Gentleman see the longer-term trend in unemployment, bearing in mind the number of school leavers who will be seeking jobs in three months' time? Does he see unemployment rising to a figure of, say, 2 million? How can the trend be reversed without massive investment in the manufacturing of new products for which industry needs higher confidence and lower inflation than at present?
On the current discernible trends, increases in manufacturing output will not be sufficient to offset the increase in the numbers who will be seeking work, not only among school leavers but among additional numbers of women. The straight answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that the trend will not be reversed to the extent that the whole House would wish unless there is much more manufacturing investment. That is why my right hon. Friends and I attach so much importance to the development of the industrial strategy.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that these shameful and continually high figures are costing about £75 million a week when one takes into account redundancy payments, unemployment and other benefits and loss of tax? Does he not agree with many people not only in the House but outside that the arithmetic of the Budget strategy is totally wrong, and that instead of shedding crocodile tears he should get along to the Treasury and tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is time to adopt an alternative strategy and to reflate the economy?
I accept that there is a high public expenditure element in the present level of unemployment and that it is not confined to unemployment benefit. I do not believe that the Budget strategy alone can contribute much to improving the employment position by reflating the economy. The scope for that is limited and is probably within the present Budget considerations that will be before the House in the Finance Bill.It is no good having a substantial increase in demand until we can increase capacity to satisfy it. The Budget strategy has to be seen in the context of what we are able to do to support investment and increase output generally.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, since the unemployment percentage and the ratio of unemployment to vacancies have consistently been far worse in Lancaster than in Hull and Grimsby, the time is now ripe to elevate Lancaster to development area status?
The hon. Lady has two jobs.
I shall look carefully at the relative status of various areas for development, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has done recently. Without a general upturn in the economy, there will not be large numbers of foot-loose industries looking for sites. The flexible powers that the Government possess and are taking to assist areas are a better way of dealing with problems such as those faced by Lancaster.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is considerable excess capacity in British industry and that the unemployment in Britain, Western Europe, America and Japan is an indictment of the capitalist system and that only real Socialist interventionist policies can begin to deal with this serious problem?
Interventionist policies are necessary, and we need international cooperation to overcome some dimensions of the problem. However, if we are to see the problem of inflation attacked simultaneously with the problem of unemployment, we must go for a greater use of existing capacity. Running industry at well below full capacity results in higher unit costs. If we could get up to 99·9 per cent. use of capacity, we could reduce costs as well as improve the employment situation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the Welsh unemployment figures are much higher than the national average? What plans has he to give a boost to the Welsh economy in the near future?
I accept that the Welsh figures are a cause for serious concern and are higher than the national average. That is why one of the two changes in development area status affected an area of Wales. The greater flexibility of the job measures, including those that we shall have to consider as a result of the Holland Committee's report, can be particularly significant in Wales.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that employment will not come down until he makes it worth while for employers to employ people? Will he look at the position of apprentices? Is it not time that the Government put apprentices on an equal basis with students so that those who employ and train them should receive grants equivalent to those enjoyed in the case of students?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that employers do not usually employ people unless they consider it to be worth while. In present circumstances, the Government judge it right to assist employers to employ people. That is one of the major purposes behind the temporary employment subsidy and one of the reasons why we are supporting employers who are taking on thousands of apprentices and receiving the advantage of Government grants for the first year of training. We shall continue to do that, and we have recently announced that in special development areas we shall pay direct grants to small employers to increase employment in manufacturing industry.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that in these and previous figures the proportion of unemployment among the under-25s has been rising steadily and that, given the size of the age groups coming on to the market in the next few years, we have a structural problem of youth unemployment that requires long-term measures to deal with it?
That is certainly the case. We have tended to measure youth unemployment by the number of unemployed school leavers and we have addressed many special measures precisely to that area. Their great success is shown in the drop from 199,000 unemployed school leavers in July to 31,000 in March. These figures bear testimony to the success of the measures. My hon. Friend has clearly reflected the concern of the House at the fact that there is youth unemployment well above school leaver level, and we shall be addressing ourselves to the problem of the 16 to 18 age band when we consider the report and recommendations of the Manpower Services Commission in this area. I also agree that there is another dimension to the problem that can be measured by unemployment among those aged between 18 and 25.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware—
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has three jobs and gets paid for every one of them.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the new jobs that the country so desperately needs can come only from the private sector? Will he therefore pay no attention to the left wing of the Labour Party, which thinks only in terms of public expenditure and does so much to undermine the confidence of British industry on which future employment depends? Will the right hon. Gentleman continue with his policy of telling the left wing to belt up?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that those of my hon. Friends whom he describes as "left wing" are concerned about a number of elements in the private sector. They make regular representations to me about unemployment in the private sector in their constituences. I do not agree that the only way to deal with unemployment is to look to the private sector. There are significant services in the public sector which we should be seeking to improve. So far as we can do that consistent with our capacity to pay for these services, we must see that as one of the ways of dealing with unemployment.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what effect the Government's special measures have had on filling the number of skilled vacancies.
The special training measures, assisting approximately 60,000 young people with their apprentice and other long-term training by August 1977, have been designed to make sure that sufficient skilled manpower will be available in the future. My right hon. Friend announced on 3rd March that a further £46 million was to be allocated which should support an extra 41,500 training places next year. The special measures provisions have also enabled the Training Services Agency to increase the numbers trained in skilled occupations under the Training Opportunities Scheme.
I thank the Minister for those figures. Does he recognise that high unemployment still masks a grave shortage of skills in the Northern Region? Does he agree that any area depends on skill for its industrial health and strength? Will he therefore agree that a good case can be made for retaining the excellent work force employed by C.A. Parsons at Newcastle?
It is important to have as great a skilled work force as possible in the North-East. I was there last week and representations were made to me. I assure the hon. Member that the Government are very concerned about the work force of C.A. Parsons.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the shortage of apprenticeships that are available today? Does he realise that there are already indications that if and when the economy takes off there will be a grave shortage of skilled apprentices? Does he not believe that at this time we should realistically consider whether the State should take responsibility for the training of all young people between the ages of 16 and 20?
The Government are proud that they have managed to sustain the level of apprentice training during a difficult period. It is not practicable for the State to take responsibility for the training of all young people between the ages of 16 and 20. Industrial training is primarily the responsibility of employers.
Dock Work Regulation Act
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received in relation to bringing into force the Dock Work Regulation Act.
None, Sir. But in response to inquiries I have explained that the Act will be brought into force after consultations about the membership of the new board have been completed.
Is the Minister really saying that Members of the Liberal Party, who said that there would be no Socialism in our time and who opposed the Act, have not made representations that it should not be brought into force? What, then, was the point of the Lib-Lab pact for the Liberals?
The hon. Gentleman must discuss that with the Liberal Party.
Does my hon. Friend realise that there is a great deal of concern in the industry, particularly on the trade union side, about the establishment of the new board and the removal of many of the anomalies in the docks industry which can be dealt with through the Dock Work Regulation Act? May I impress upon him the need to go ahead and implement the Act as soon as possible?
The fact that we have received no representations is an indication of the important and constructive effect that the Act will have on this difficult industry. We are seeking to complete consultations as soon as possible.
Is the Minister aware that many small ports, such as Mostyn in my constituency, much as they welcome the respite that the consultations have provided, are living in an atmosphere of great uncertainty? Does he recognise that that atmosphere is worsened in my area because it is precluded from development area status? Can the Minister give an assurance that nothing in the Act will have the effect of putting small ports such as that at Mostyn out of business?
The hon. Member raises a particular problem. The situation was fully explained to him when the Act was going through the House. He knows that the classification of dock work will depend upon the recommendations of the board when it is established.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what new measures he is proposing to introduce to improve the employment prospects of school leavers.
As I informed the House on 3rd March, more funds have been allocated for the extension and expansion of the special measures introduced by the Government during the past 18 months for alleviating unemployment. A considerable proportion of this extra money will be devoted to providing additional assistance for young people currently unemployed and those school leavers who will be seeking unemployment—I am sorry; seeking employment—this summer.I have just received the report of a working party of the Manpower Services Commission on the feasibility of ensuring that all unemployed young people between the ages of 16 and 18 are given the opportunity of training or part-time further education, of participation in a job creation programme, or of work experience. This will be given careful consideration, and I will make a statement about it in due course.
Apart from the Minister's Freudian slip, does he agree that, of all forms of unemployment, unemployment among school leavers is the most shameful? Does he realise that his proposals for the inner city areas barely scratch the surface?
Of all forms of unemployment, unemployment among young people is the worst. I hope the hon. Member will acknowledge that we have already made considerable progress with that problem. In his constituency in particular there has been a significant fall in such unemployment over the last two years. I hope that a wide-ranging, constructive debate in the House and throughout the country will arise as a result of the report. I hope that we shall be able to debate how far it is possible to expand and develop and find a solution to the problem of unemployment among those who are between 16 and 18 years of age. I hope that we shall be able to co-ordinate existing methods to achieve maximum effectiveness.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that young people want work and not work experience? Does he recognise that there are likely to be many thousands of young people on Merseyside this summer who will gain no work experience? What further measures are being taken to provide employment opportunities in that area? Does he not agree that we need an emergency crash programme?
I agree that many young people want work first of all rather than work experience, additional education or specific training. I would be misleading the House if I did not indicate the judgment that there are many thousands of young people who will not obtain jobs after the school leaving day on 28th May this year unless they can be helped by additional training such as that provided under the work experience scheme. We have found that those who undertake such training find jobs more readily than they did before. I agree that a crash programme is necessary, but it must contain elements that will assist people to get work.
Does the Minister agree that the number of unemployed school leavers would still be at 200,000 if he had not spent £500 million on artificial job creation?
I accept that the 200,000 figure that we reached last year would not have fallen by anything like the amount that it did but for a number of measures, including job creation, work experience and so on. That is not an argument against using special measures to help young people in a period of recession and demographic increases in unemployment. Rather, I think that it is a reason for examining such measures as we are running, seeing how effective they are and deciding whether we want to pursue them, to develop them or to replace them by other measures. If we fail to do that, we shall be failing these young people.
Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that there is a feeling of almost total hopelessness and disillusion among school leavers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".]—at a time when their hopes should be highest? Will he also accept that the crocodile tears of the Conservative Party, which failed to invest in British industry in order to ensure jobs for school leavers, are noted on the Labour Benches? Will he also guarantee that more steps will be taken at least partially to reflate the economy—something that the Conservative Party would never dream of helping to do—in order to ensure that these young people are given jobs?
One of the things that worry me enormously is that I find in certain areas—not uniformly across the country, but in certain areas only—a sense of disillusionment among young people, and a sense of hopelessness—[An HON. MEMBER: "And among old people."]—but it is not general. I still take some comfort from the fact that the majority of youngsters leaving school still believe that they should be able to find not only some sort of a job but a job that will be satisfying to them and one in which they can deploy their own particular talents. I think that they are right to expect that, and I think that because, inevitably, youngsters cannot control all the factors that will determine whether or not they get jobs, it is up to those of us who can do something about it to respond to their particular needs.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that perhaps the worst aspect of the present unemployment situation is the growing inability to provide jobs for younger people? Will he give the figures not only for school leavers but for the number of people under, say, the age of 18 or under 25 who are today unemployed? Will he also give the House an assurance that the report of the Manpower Services Commission will be published soon and that there will be a full-scale debate on this problem very soon in the House?
Perhaps I may deal with those questions in reverse order. Certainly I shall approach my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with a view to having an early debate. I have already been in touch with the Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission regarding publication. I am expecting the report to be published this month. As regards the number of unemployed young people, including school leavers under the age of 18, the figure peaked at 268,000 in July 1976 and then declined steadily until January, when the figure was 122,000. At the next count on the age basis, I shall provide a more up-to-date figure than that.I do not accept that we are incapable of dealing with this problem. We have attacked the problem at the point of the school leaver with a very considerable measure of success. In succeeding years we have developed more effective measures in that area. What we now need to do is to go on to deal with the problem measured against the wider basis, and first of all on the 16–18 age group, which is a matter of primary importance to us now, although that would not preclude our looking at the problem again on the basis of a longer time scale later.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that any action indicated in this sphere must be initiated within the next two weeks in view of the large number of youngsters coming on to the labour market at the end of the month and the very low level of juvenile vacancies advertised in local offices? In that context, will the Government consider the possibility of allocating grants or subsidies to all those companies that are willing to employ a larger number of apprentices than is needed by their organisations, thereby guaranteeing a skilled work force when the economic miracle comes?
I am already examining as much evidence as we can find about the position of the Easter school leavers, who are the main immediate issue. It appears that about three-quarters of them have obtained jobs. We shall be dealing with a little over one-quarter—about 19,000 school leavers registered in career offices. That is one of the reasons why we have carried forward the existing measures to assist them into August this year, in advance of determining what we are to do about the Holland Report.
I very much appreciate that Scottish school leaving dates are different and that there are Christmas school leavers and May school leavers in Scotland. However, I am giving the House an indication, which is the best and latest indication I have, of what happens to young people leaving school now. The best indication comes from the English and Welsh school leavers. Of course, in England we shall also have young people leaving school on 28th May. I very much agree that we must continue, through the industrial training boards and through the Training Opportunities Scheme, to support and maintain the level of intake into vocational training.
Unfair Dismissal Procedures (Overseas Workers)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he intends to bring forward new legislative proposals for the application of unfair dismissal procedures to people whose employment takes them abroad for substantial parts of the year.
I am aware that the effect of recent case law is to deny to some people who ordinarily work part of the time abroad the right to complain of unfair dismissal. A case on this is now pending in the Court of Appeal, and the Government will consider whether legislation is necessary when the Court of Appeal's decision is known.
Is the Minister aware of the distress and difficulty that this is causing to people affected, including some in my constituency? Could we at least have an indication from him of when he expects the Court of Appeal to decide this issue? If it decides that Parliament made a mess of it the first time round, could we have an undertaking that something will be done about it in this parliamentary Session, and not the next Session?
I understand the widespread concern, which the Government share. I cannot forecast when the case will be dealt with by the Court of Appeal. It has been pending for some months. I hope that it will be high on the list. Certainly, if the Court of Appeal decision goes what would be the wrong way for the hon. Gentleman and myself, I give him the undertaking that we shall act as swiftly as possible. As he will know, there is a Private Member's Bill before the House in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), which is not yet printed. We should have to look carefully to see whether that would be a suitable vehicle. Equally, we shall have to look carefully at the implications of the judgment in relation to the form of words used in other statutes, such as the Contracts of Employment Act and the Employment Protection Act.
Does my hon. Friend recall that about 37 weeks ago some waitresses who were working for Trust Houses Forte hotels were unfairly dismissed and that they have been on strike ever since, and that as a result of the efforts that have been made by myself and some others—including some who are now Ministers—in refusing to attend any functions at these hotels, Trust Houses Forte, which employs the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) as a consultant—
and has had the freedom in the last 12 months to pay a £12,000 increase—
to the managing director of Trust Houses Forte—
Order. I call the hon. Gentleman to order. He was rude in the extreme. I want to tell him that he was quite unworthy of this House in what he has just done in refusing to acknowledge the Speaker. If others behaved in that fashion, this place would be impossible and would not be representative of the British people.
Mr. Gwilym Roberts—Question No. 11.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will raise it at the end of Question Time.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While accepting that when an altercation took place in Question Time I was regarded as unworthy by some hon. Members in this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."]—especially by those who line their pockets past and present from other jobs, particularly on the Conservative side, at a time when there are 1½ million people unemployed—
Will the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) come to his point of order?
Notwithstanding that, I am still unaware of why I was called to order by you, Mr. Speaker. At the time I was deeply engrossed in exposing Trust Houses Forte for refusing to allow pickets of the Transport and General Workers Union—
Order. I am sure the hon. Member realises that he cannot pursue now the question that he was advancing earlier. I want to know what point of order he wishes to raise with me. He must either come to the point or resume his seat.
Taking account of the fact that I was deeply engrossed in making that point, I want to know why I was called to order when Ministers had taken twice and sometimes three times as long to give their answers. Perhaps tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, you and I could examine the number of inches in Hansard to see who spoke the longest. If I was called to order on the matter of content, I want to know. Will you explain to me the reason for calling me to order, because I am unaware whether it was because of the length or because of the content?
I will explain to the hon. Member why I called him to order. It was because he refused to sit down when I rose to my feet, and he went on for several moments after I had shouted "Order". If there is no respect for the Chair in this House, democracy itself is undermined.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, too, would like clarification of this matter. I cannot understand whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was stopped for being too long or because he was making comments that obviously were not liked by some Conservative Members. It is still not clear to me whether he was stopped because he was speaking for too long. We are often stopped because we take too long. I have been stopped many times for that reason. However, I would object most strongly if I were stopped because certain Conservative Members did not like what I had said.
Order. It is not a matter of whether one side or another likes what is said. I was rising to ask the hon. Member for Bolsover to come to the point of his question. The hon. Member is quite correct—the answers were very long today; but when the Speaker rises he is entitled to expect the courtesy and support of the House.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order is not unconnected with the bellowing of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in that it relates to what I regard as an abuse of the Order Paper and the procedures of the House by the Prime Minister and the Civil Service Department over matters connected with the Trust Houses Forte dispute. It was reported three weeks ago that the Civil Service Minister had issued instructions to all Government Departments not to use any premises of Trust Houses Forte. I wrote to the Prime Minister seeking clarification—
Order. Will the hon. Member tell me the point of order so that we may move on?
I sought guidance from the Prime Minister whether that action had his approval, and all I received was an acknowledgment from No. 10 Downing Street—
Order. It would help the House if the hon. Member would come to the point of order that he wishes to raise with me, and if he would tell me what he wants me to do, if there is anything that I can do.
I placed a Question for Written Answer on the Order Paper yesterday asking the Prime Minister when he would answer my question. The answer that I received was that the answer was contained in a letter that I would receive yesterday. I have not received that letter. Then, on today's Order Paper there was clearly a planted Question tabled by the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Hatton) asking the Civil Service Department to detail the arrangements whereby Government Departments had been instructed not to use any premises of Trust Houses Forte for hospitality. What protection do Back Benchers have from the connivance of the Civil Service Department and Labour Back Benchers who are trying to prevent Opposition Back Benchers from receiving answers to Questions placed on the Order Paper some days previously?
The hon. Gentleman's point of order has been heard by those concerned as well as by myself. I shall examine the matter to see whether there is anything I can do, but I very much doubt it.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will initiate a study into methods of reducing long-term unemployment, including an examination of the effect of gradually reducing the retirement age for men and women.
Methods of reducing unemployment in the long term are among the topics which are under virtually continuous review by my Department and by the Manpower Services Commission. The question of a gradual reduction in the retirement age for men and women is primarily one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. However, as part of the series of special measures to relieve unemployment we have introduced the job release scheme, which enables older workers within a year of pension age to retire early and make way for younger unemployed people.
Does my hon. Friend accept that it is time for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to do something about it? Does he accept that a great part of our unemployment is long-term and structural? Is he aware that irrespective, almost, of investment patterns there is a long-term tendency for the average number of hours worked per individual not to be reduced, which can be countered only by reducing the working week and working life?
My hon. Friend raises a number of complex and difficult matters. He talks about retirement, the working week and reduced overtime as well as reducing the retirement age. Many of these matters require discussion in depth in an international context. In that respect a good deal is now taking place. Indeed, these matters will be discussed this week at the Standing Employment Committee in Europe between trade unionists, employers and Social Affairs Ministers throughout the Community.
Have the Department or the Government laid any plans, or considered adopting an emigration policy, to reduce unemployment in this country?
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that in spite of our heavy unemployment there are still many vacancies at the coalfields? Will he consider discussing with his Department, the Department of Energy and the National Coal Board the reduction of the retirement age and the improvement of wages and conditions so that we can attract to the coalfields the people who are so urgently required?
I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend has a Question on the Order Paper to that effect. If it is not reached, we shall undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.
Will the hon. Gentleman initiate an early study into the function of Professional and Executive Recruitment in view of its appalling record in placing people in jobs in the past three years—namely, 6 per cent., 4 per cent. and 5 per cent.? Will he use the money that is being spent by the service more usefully in other areas?
I reject the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I think that the PER has a good record.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current level of unemployment in the construction industry; and what percentage increase that figure represents over the equivalent figure for 1st March 1974.
At 10th February, the latest date for which an industrial analysis is available, 227,443 people who last worked in the construction industry were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. This figure represents an increase of 101·2 per cent. since March 1974.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that that dreadful figure of a 101 per cent. increase under his Government in any way represents a creditable or honourable record for the Administration?
I think that it is an extremely unsatisfactory figure. I believe that the Government acknowledged that in the debate last night. Through the hon. Gentleman, I ask his party's Front Bench to tell us what its policies are for the construction industry and whether it would be cutting back public expenditure in this area as savagely as it has threatened to do in other areas.
Is my hon. Friend aware that even in the construction industry unemployment is higher in some parts of the country than in others? Is he aware, for example, that of the 30,000 unemployed construction workers in the North-West over half of them are on Merseyside? Will he indicate what special and extra efforts are being made by the Government to ensure that there is extra construction work on Merseyside to begin to take up some of the unemployed skilled workers in the area and get them back to work in the industry?
I recognise the special problems of Merseyside in this respect. I must tell my hon. Friend that points of detail are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Certain measures have already been announced that will have special effect in Merseyside.
Has the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his discussions with the Secretary of State for Industry the desirability of increasing development grants for buildings and, if necessary, reducing grants for new machinery, which would give considerable encouragement for new industrial construction and would probably not result in any reduction in investment in new machinery?
That is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. We shall draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Will my hon. Friend give an indication of what the general level of unemployment would be if the Government had imposed the massive cuts in public expenditure that Conservatives have been advocating?
I should hate to speculate on that figure, but we cannot get any intelligible answers from the Opposition on these matters.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what research he has undertaken to assess the effect that legislation passed in the previous three years has had on new employment among small firms.
My Department and the Manpower Services Commission have jointly commissioned a study of the effect of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts 1974 and 1976, the Redundancy Payments Act and the Employment Protection Act upon companies' employment practices and policies. It is hoped that the results of this study will be available by the middle of next year.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware how pleased I am with that reply? Will the study aim to answer the question that is particularly relevant to the inner cities—namely, whether the Employment Protection Act is having a dragging effect on the ability of small firms to take on new labour?
Yes, I have said that it will be examining the effect of the Employment Protection Act and other legislation on small companies. I rather doubt whether it has had the effect that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. I know of no evidence to support the point of view that he has put forward.
asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the TUC.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) on 3rd February.
In view of the abysmal and worsening trend of rising prices, will the Prime Minister say why the TUC and the housewives of Great Britain should believe him for one moment when he said in Tunbridge Wells last Saturday that the battle against inflation was being won?
There is every reason to believe it, as I have explained to the House on many occasions. I can give the hon. Gentleman the facts but I cannot give him the understanding. As is well known, now that the money supply is under control and sterling is stabilised, interest rates are going down fast. There is every reason to anticipate that prices will start to turn down in the third quarter of this year. I know of no one, including the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench, who denies that that is the position.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the TUC, will he admit to it that it was right in the stand that it took over Britain and the Common Market? Does he appreciate that the ordinary people of Britain, especially those of Grimsby, realise that they were conned in the referendum campaign? This is what leads to cynicism in politics.
The people of this country decided the issue and there is not much point in continually fighting old battles. We must ensure that the European Community fits Britain's interests as well as it fits the interests of other countries. I speak in particular about the common agricultural policy, which was designed before we joined the Community. In my view, it does not best serve the interests of the British people. Therefore, we must continue our endeavours to improve and amend it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made a very good start this year.
Will the Prime Minister explain to the TUC as soon as possible that the proposed strike action of the National Union of Journalists at the end of this week seems to many as if it is designed to prevent people reading the results of the local elections in their local papers? As this would do great harm to the democratic process, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the NUJ to refrain from such action this week?
I understand that it is difficult at this stage to predict what action is to be taken on Thursday and what its effect will be. The members of the National Union of Journalists at the Press Association will be deciding tomorrow whether they will take industrial action. Of course, it would be easy to take sides in this dispute. For myself, if there are any more results like the one at Grimsby, I hope that they will not be censored in any way. [Interruption.] That was the point of the question. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Ashfield?"] I was picking out the one I liked best. The right hon. Lady need not get too disturbed. [An HON. MEMBER: "You do not disturb her, Jim."] That makes two of us, then. I should not want the National Union of Journalists or anyone else to suppress election results or anything else on Thursday. If the action were designed for that purpose, I should deplore it very much.
asked the Prime Minister if he has any plans to visit China.
I have at present no plans to do so. But I hope in due course to take up an invitation that I received from the Chinese Prime Minister some time ago.
When my right hon. Friend takes up that invitation, I am sure he will agree—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ask a question."] Will my right hon. Friend agree with me that, because of his usual commonsense approach—although we do not always see eye to eye on that—he will not make the mistake of the Leader of the Opposition when she recently visited China, of falling into the trap of taking cold war politics over there and entering an ideological battle which she will regret? I am sure that he will develop the idea of trade and friendship. May I also say to him—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—that perhaps—
Order. It is fairer to other hon. Members at Question Time if hon. Gentlemen put their questions as briefly as possible.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend could give the right hon. Lady a few lessons in diplomacy.
I am looking forward to visiting China as Prime Minister in 1978, or it could be 1979. When I do so I shall certainly look forward to doing all I can to improve relations between our two countries, as I am sure the right hon. Lady tried to do when she recently visited China. What I do not think I will emulate her in doing is in trying to draw some distinction between the Communism of China and the Communism of the Soviet Union, to the benefit of one and apparently with the consequence of embittering our relations with the other.
When he takes his flight to China over the Pole, will the Prime Minister observe the number of foreign, including EEC, vessels scooping up the fish to the north-west of Scotland? Will he back the action of the Government of Eire in demanding a 50-mile exclusive limit?
I shall certainly do that if I do not go to China by way of Peru. The question of the limitation of fishing in international waters is a very serious matter, especially for the fishermen in the areas concerned. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that they are not only from Scotland. There are also areas of England where this is true. The Government are taking every possible step to try to prevent this, and the extension of the fishing limits was a desirable step in that direction.
If my right hon. Friend is planning any trips to Asia, will he make it a first priority to plan a trip to India? Does he not consider it a disgrace that no Labour Prime Minister has ever been to India in its 30 years of independence? Does he not agree that, with the restoration of democracy there, this is an appropriate moment to go?
I should be happy to visit India as well as China, but I shall have the good fortune to meet Mr. Morarji Desai when he comes to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in June. We have indeed already begun a dialogue on various aspects of world policy, but of course I shall be happy to take up an invitation if time affords.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not wish to distinguish between the Communism of China and the Communism of the Soviet Union, but does he not feel that, as Prime Minister, he should distinguish between the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the absence, so far as we can see, of imperialist policies on the part of the Chinese People's Republic? Would he not find some common ground in discussions with the Chinese in their opposition to Soviet imperialism in Africa?
I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I have a feeling that there are evidences of perhaps rival Soviet-type imperialisms in the continent of Africa at present. However, I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman in his latest guise as a convert to Maoism.
Incomes Policy Discussions
asked the Prime Minister if he will list those categories of persons other than Ministers and Government officials whom he has met to discuss the next phase of his Government's incomes policy.
I received advice on this matter from a wide cross-section of people.
Has the right hon. Gentleman yet received the advice of the Liberal Party on this matter? If not, how does he imagine that he will keep his coalition going through these difficult waters of seeking their support?
If the Leader of the Liberal Party has any statement to make on this matter, I am sure that he will do so. However, as it is a matter of inter-party discussions, with respect to the hon. Gentleman, I would not propose to make announcements about it on the Floor of the House.
Is it not a fact that in the social contract, on which the incomes policy is based, the trade unions have always laid particular stress on the claims of the pensioners? Can my right hon. Friend say why the date and amount of the next uprating have not yet been announced, and will he give an assurance that pensioners will be fully covered against the inflation that they have suffered and will continue to suffer?
I regret that on this supplementary question, since the original Question was concerned with incomes policy, I am not in a position to give my right hon. Friend the date or the amount. However, I assure her that an announcement will be made in due course and that there will be a substantial improvement in the position of the basic pensioner. As she knows, since this Government came to the office, the married couple's pension has pretty well doubled in amount, and this is a record. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about inflation?"] It remains ahead of the increase in prices. There has been an improvement in the real standard. We shall be considering this matter with every sympathy to try to give justice to the old people.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister, if he will list his public engagements for 3rd May.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for 3rd May.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for 3rd May.
In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.
Has the right hon. Gentleman had time to consider whether the proposed visit by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Mozambique for the purposes as announced is in the best interests of a settlement in Rhodesia?
Yes, I have had time to consider this matter since I saw the reports in the newspapers, and I am convinced that it is an excellent and sensible thing to do. Indeed, a large number of our allies are sending delegations. I believe that 40 countries will be represented, including the Federal Republic of Germany, Canada, the United States and many others, as well as the United Kingdom. It is not necessary, in order to go to such a conference, to agree with all that is said there, but as Britain has to play such a large part in the settlement of these affairs it is important that the Minister of State should go to put our point of view and to make sure that it is fully understood.
Will the right hon. Gentleman be seeking an early meeting, or making arrangements today to seek an early meeting, with representatives of smaller businesses and the self-employed, or does he think that they do not have a part to play in the future well-being of the country?
That is one of those generalised questions to which one can only give a generalised reply. If the hon. Gentleman would do me the courtesy of studying my speeches, he would find a number of references to this matter. In my industrial tours and in visits to large cities I have been very concerned to find that when some of these large cities' plans take effect and small businesses, perhaps operating at cheap rents and in not very good accommodation, are cleared out, their owners take their compensation and never set up again.The place of the small business in the community is vital. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is paying particular attention to this matter. I believe that he is sending out—I had better speak carefully; I know that is he considering doing so—some fresh advice to local authorities on this matter to try to preserve the environment in which a small business can flourish.
The Prime Minister said that he would see the Queen this evening. In view of the Ashfield by-election result, will he ask her to dissolve Parliament?
If I have any announcement to make to that effect, I promise the hon. Member that I will not make it in reply to a supplementary question. In order to allay the hon. Member's anxieties, I assure him that this is the normal audience that the Prime Minister has with the Queen every week when Parliament is in session. It is of no further and no less significance than that.
When the Prime Minister studies his other papers later this evening, will he make due preparation for the meeting later this week with other world leaders? Will he give us an assurance that he will take the lead in discussions about nuclear power developments in this country and elsewhere in the world, and about the reprocessing of nuclear materials? Will he insist in these discussions that Britain has a chance to appoint the Chairman of the International Atomic Energy Authority? Should not due consideration be given to the expert committees that now exist, which are confident that there is a way in which nuclear materials can be safely reprocessed? Is it possible for us to come to a decision on the construction of the fast breeder reactor? The world needs such a reactor if we are to guarantee that the poorer peoples of the world will be fed adequately by the end of this century.
I have no doubt that the question of nuclear policy will surface at the Summit. However, there are other important questions to be discussed, including the possible rate of growth of the world economies over the next two years and unemployment. These questions are very important in the short run. We need a very careful period of discussion with the United States about the whole question of reprocessing and the proposals that it has put forward. The Government are giving urgent consideration to our policy on the fast breeder reactor and on future construction. I agree with the general drift of my hon. Friend's question, that with the growing shortage of fossil fuels over the next 20 to 30 years it would be closing our eyes entirely to ignore the development of the nuclear age. The world must be ready to move into the nuclear age if there is to be a continuation of the kind of industrial societies that we have today. But this must be done with great care because of the awful potential dangers that exist.
Will the Prime Minister assure us that when the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office goes to Mozambique he will make it clear to all those attending that conference that the Government utterly reject the use of force in settling the problems of Southern Africa? Will he tell them that the British Government want to see a stark reduction in guerrilla activity which is escalating in Southern Africa at present?
The position of the Government has never been in doubt. We have always said that we would give humanitarian and other aid to liberation movements, but we have never supported the use of arms. That is why we are doing our best to get a negotiated settlement, and we are not giving any arms assistance. The Foreign Secretary has pointed out more than once that, whatever our views may be on this matter, the guerrilla war goes on. I do not believe that any words by us will stop it. The only way it can be stopped is to get a settlement in Rhodesia that will ensure that there is majority rule for the people of that country.
Address To Her Majesty (Silver Jubilee)
I beg to move,
I am sure that the House will once more accord to you, Mr. Speaker, the traditional right which has been claimed by Speakers-in-Office to express the sentiments of this House to Her Majesty in your own words. As I believe hon. Members know informally, if not formally, Her Majesty has graciously agreed to come to West-minister Hall tomorrow at noon to receive the Address. This occasion will mark the start of the main programme of the Jubilee celebrations which will be held throughout all parts of the United Kingdom, and it is fitting that it should begin with a meeting between the Sovereign and Parliament. The range and variety of occasions already arranged, from the solemn service of thanksgiving in St. Paul's Cathedral to the innumerable children's street teas in cities, towns and villages up and down the country, will express in their own way the desire of the nation to show our appreciation and loyalty to Her Majesty. On such an occasion we think of the Throne as an institution and of the Queen as a person. In conjunction with Parliament, the Throne as an institution enables us to maintain a stability that is widely admired overseas. Together, the Sovereign and Parliament provide the instruments by which momentous changes have been, are and will continue to be reconciled with continuity in our country. The Throne, as the summit of our institutions, provides a unifying influence for our people, and no nation is better served by the summit of its institutions. But it is not to the Throne as an institution that you will deliver our Address tomorrow, Mr. Speaker; it is to Her Majesty the Queen as a person that we ask you to render our thanks. Those of us who have the privilege of meeting Her Majesty know that she has made herself the undoubted centre of a happy and united family and that its affection and support have strengthened her throughout the whole of the 25 years. In this connection I especially remember the never-failing support given to her by Prince Philip. We are fortunate as a country in our public affairs that Her Majesty is the embodiment of practical good sense, sharp perception of issues and understanding of the British people. Her wide contacts with the Commonwealth and its leaders in my judgment gives her unrivalled knowledge, exceeded by nobody. By her overseas visits and tours, especially within the Commonwealth and elsewhere, she has become a familiar figure. She has played a devoted, resolute and successful part for which this House and the nation are deeply thankful. I commend this motion to the House with confidence. I ask the House to agree that our thanks to Her Majesty should be recorded on this historic occasion in traditional historic form and that the motion should be resolved accordingly. Long may she reign.That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to congratulate Her Majesty on the occasion of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Her Accession to the Throne.
May I rise briefly and wholeheartedly to support the Prime Minister in the speech he has just made in support of the Address congratulating Her Majesty.The Crown today has its roots not only in tradition but in the affection and trust of the people. Inevitably, as the Prime Minister pointed out, we think first of the Queen in Parliament because we have the great honour and privilege of seeing the many ceremonials that attend our functions. Ceremonial plays an important part in the life of the people and it cements them together in unity in a way that no other method can achieve. Also we believe that the Queen in Parliament protects this country, as the Prime Minister said, from anybody who seeks to usurp power, so that we always know that the Queen is the guarantor of the constitutional integrity of the nation. That gives us a great stability and constancy which nothing else can provide. Whatever happens, so long as the Monarchy is there, we believe that parliamentary democracy and the rule of law will continue. As the Prime Minister pointed out, we congratulate the Queen not only as a Monarch but as a person for the wonderful way in which she and the Royal Family have carried out their duties. No institution can be separated from the character and personality of those who carry out day to day the many demands that are made on them. We have a Royal Family with whom we can identify all that is best in the family life of our country. Dignity and ceremonial will invoke admiration and respect, but it is their warmth, friendliness and humanity that endear our people to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother and other members of the Royal Family. Each year on Christmas Day we have the royal broadcast. In an age of science, constitutions and politics it is interesting that in last year's broadcast the Queen underlined the fact that it is the individual who matters. We know that the individual matters not only among people or in Parliament but in the way in which all the members of the Royal Family have carried out their duties so splendidly. May I quote one of the best and most human tributes to Her Majesty, given by Sir John Colville in his book "The Elizabethans":
We offer through you, Mr. Speaker, our congratulations to the Queen, with our admiration and affection."In an age of melting convictions and questionable needs the Queen's unassuming virtues and faultless example have stood out like a rock in a sea of troubles."
There has been a common thread running through the nation's Jubilee tributes, including those we have heard this afternoon. We not only thank Her Majesty for 25 years' devoted public service but we extend our warm greetings to the Queen and her family as individuals on this happy anniversary and acknowledge the example in contented family life that she has given to the whole nation.We know, Mr. Speaker, that in presenting the humble Address you perform one of the functions which give your office its name when you speak to the Monarch on behalf of the House of Commons. When you do so, you will be able to assure her that during the 25 years of her reign, when we have seen monarchs and presidents elsewhere come and go, she has done a great deal by her personal dedication. You will also be able to underline the advantages to the United Kingdom of a constitutional monarchy in preserving the liberties of our people and the fundamental unity of this country and of the Commonwealth. For that we are all deeply grateful.
May I associate my hon. Friends and myself briefly with the terms and intent of the Prime Minister's motion.
May I add my congratulations to Her Majesty on attaining her Silver Jubilee.Eloquent tributes have already been paid by the Prime Minister and by the Leader of the Opposition. I hope that historians will look back on this occasion and say that the great achievement of this 25-year period has been concerned both with the institution of monarchy and with the Queen herself. This has been the way in which Her Majesty, through her personality and attitude to life, has enabled the Monarchy to adapt itself to changes which have taken place during the past 25 years. This country has seen considerable changes internally in social arrangements, in our position in the world and in our joining the European Community. In common with the other six Prime Ministers who have served Her Majesty during her reign, I had the privilege of the weekly audience to which the Prime Minister referred. It is right that those matters should remain confidential. I must say that I find it difficult to reconcile my experiences on those occasions with what has been recently written about Her Majesty's attitude towards her Prime Ministers, which has been indicated as taking on more the rôle of a television interrogator than that of Her Majesty's conducting an audience with her first Minister, servant of the Crown. The experience I had was always a happy one, and I should like to pay tribute to the shrewdness of judgment of Her Majesty, both of people and of events. I think the Prime Minister used the word "pragmatic". Her Majesty's approach has been one of sound common sense, which, after a period of 25 years, becomes in matters of State the highest wisdom. For that, we are all deeply grateful to her. Her Majesty has always shown, in my experience, special concern to those who have served the State, no matter in how humble a position, particularly in the Armed Forces of the Crown, and those who have given voluntary service to the community in whatever form. Her knowledge of those concerned has to me always been a matter at which to marvel. I should like to thank Her Majesty—as I am sure my predecessor would like to do—for the kindness, consideration and courtesy which she has always shown. But the lasting impact of Her Majesty is that of her humanity. She is deeply interested in people. That is why she is the centre of a family which is so happy. At the same time, this happiness extends to her feeling for her fellow citizens. We are all deeply grateful to Her Majesty for what she has done in these 25 years, and, in particular, perhaps, those who have served her, because in meeting her she gives one an assurance—indeed, a reassurance—not from supporting this policy or that policy but merely because of the steadfastness and quality of her own personality. I, too, would like to join those who say "Long may she reign."
May I, on behalf of my colleagues, support sincerely but briefly the motion standing in the name of the Prime Minister, and may I associate with it those of Her Majesty's subjects who live in Northern Ireland.
Question put and agreed to, nemine contradicente.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to congratulate Her Majesty on the occasion of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Her Accession to the Throne.
That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the whole House.—[The Prime Minister.]
Sittings Of The House
That this House do meet to-morrow at Eleven o'clock.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]
With reference to the motion which the House has just passed, I should like to inform the House what the procedure will be tomorrow.The House will meet for Prayers at 11 o'clock, and I shall then suspend the sitting to allow right hon. and hon. Members to proceed to Westminster Hall, to be in their seats not later than 11.30 a.m. When I again take the Chair at 11.34 a.m., I shall immediately leave the Chamber in procession with the Mace and the usual Officers in attendance and enter Westminster Hall by the East Door at 11.38 a.m. On completion of the ceremony I shall return in procession to the Chamber via St. Stephen's Hall, and the sitting will be suspended until 2.30 p.m.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask this question for the convenience of any hon. Members with parties coming to the House tomorrow. Do I take it rightly that after you have given the Loyal Address to Her Majesty, the Mace will be on the Table here and that the House will be closed to visitors?
The hon. Gentleman is quite correct—I almost said "as usual". The Mace will be on the Table, and therefore the House will be closed to the public.
Statutory Instruments, &C
That the Health Services Board (Authorisation and Notification) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977 No. 644) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]
Statutory Instruments, &C
By leave of the House, and only by leave of the House, I will put the next two motions together.
That the Health Services Board (Inspectors) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977 No. 673) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Anti-Dumping Duty (No. 2) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 716) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]
I beg to move,
The problems created by drivers claiming diplomatic immunity after parking illegally, mainly on the streets of London, was a minor nuisance two years ago, is now becoming a medium-sized nuisance, and could easily become a major nuisance in the years to come. There are two aspects of this problem. First, there is the nuisance of obstruction caused by the flouting of our parking laws. Secondly, there is the loss of local revenue from the waiving of the fixed penalties. In 1974 the number of parking tickets set aside because of diplomatic immunity of the car drivers was 52,839. The parking penalty was then £2, so that the amount of money lost, mainly by the ratepayers of London, was about £100,000. By 1976 the number of £6 tickets ignored by some members of the Diplomatic Corps had risen to no less than 92,985, and therefore the cost to the ratepayers of London was more than £550,000. Over the years some embassies have acquired deplorable records of ignoring our traffic regulations. Nigeria has for many years been top of this particular black list and last year it claimed immunity for no fewer than 6,450 tickets, although one might say in mitigation here that the Greater London Council treats the High Commission of Nigeria even more harshly than it treats the ordinary motorist in London. It allocates the High Commission, I understand, only one special parking place. Second on the list after Nigeria comes Egypt, with just under 5,000 claims for immunity, and then Cuba, with just under 4,500 claims for immunity. Then, of course, there are the oil-rich States, which are some of the worst offenders of all. Last year Iran ignored 3,584 parking tickets, Saudi Arabia 2,970, and Kuwait—which must take the wooden spoon when it comes to a per diplomat or per head of population count—claimed immunity on 2,274 parking tickets. The majority of embassies and High Commissions are much better behaved than that. New Zealand last year claimed immunity on only one parking ticket, and I understand that that was because of secretarial error within the High Commission itself. Our Common Market partners usually abide very readily by the rules. Last year Holland claimed exemption on only 16 tickets, although France—not, perhaps, for the first time—was somewhat out of gear with her Common Market partners and claimed exemption on no fewer than 2,196 tickets. But France was the only member of the Community which was plainly in the wrong gear. Next, the United States of America, the country with the largest embassy and the greatest number of cars, asked for immunity in only 189 cases. What can be done about this problem? The rules governing diplomatic immunity are both ancient and complex. The provisions of the Vienna Convention are enshrined in Schedule 1 to the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964. Offenders cannot be brought to court, and diplomatic staff or buildings are not subject to normal taxation or rates. But some charges are levied on diplomatic buildings. Article 23 of the Vienna Convention lays down that missions may be charged "for specific services rendered." My Bill would lay down that, when a mission claimed immunity in respect of more than 200 parking tickets a year, the Foreign Office should add a sliding charge for specific services rendered, namely, the provision of garage space on the Queen's highway. Positive action is needed to check this growing nuisance. My Bill will require the Government to take positive action.That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate certain offences committed by drivers claiming diplomatic immunity; and for purposes connected therewith.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Philip Goodhart, Mr. Kenneth Baker, Mr. Peter Brooke, Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. David Penhaligon, Sir B. Rhys Williams and Mr. Nicholas Scott.
Mr. Philip Goodhart accordingly presented a Bill to regulate certain offences committed by drivers claiming diplomatic immunity; and for purposes connected therewith: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 17th June and to be printed. [Bill 112.]
Orders Of The Day
Criminal Law Bill Lords
Order for Second Reading read.
Before I call the Secretary of State, may I explain to the House, although the attendance of hon. Members appears somewhat depleted at the moment, that I have a very long list of names of hon. Members who are hoping to catch my eye, and several have indicated that they wish to speak both in this debate and in the two-hour debate, on a different subject, later this evening?I must advise hon. Members that, if they are fortunate enough to catch my eye in this debate and they wish also to speak in the later debate, it would be only fair if they waited until others had spoken in that later debate, although, as I say, the debates are on two separate subjects.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.It is right to say at the outset that the Bill does not have a single theme. I cannot hope during a speech of reasonable length to touch on every subject covered in the 50 clauses and 11 schedules, and I hope that the House will agree that it is more helpful to concentrate on the major subjects, describing the background to the provisions of the Bill and, where appropriate, mentioning changes that we may propose during its passage through the House. First, with regard to conspiracy, Parts I and II derive from the recommendations of the Law Commission in its report on conspiracy and criminal law reform. The Law Commission is continuing work on aspects of conspiracy, but Part I embodies the main principles of the law of conspiracy, which it identified after several years' work, including publication of a consultative working paper. Clause 1 creates a statutory offence of conspiracy in place of conspiracy at common law, which, in general, is abolished by Clause 5. In future, the offence of conspiracy will be limited to an agreement by two or more people to commit a criminal offence. As regards penalties, Clause 3 links the penalty for conspiracy to the penalty for the completed offence. At present, the penalty for conspiracy is at large, which means that a court may impose a very long sentence of imprisonment for an agreement to commit an offence which has not actually been committed, even though the offence itself attracts only a small penalty. I regard the new provision in the Bill as a great improvement in the law. Clause 1(3) re-enacts the provisions of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875, which exempts those involved in a trade dispute from the law of conspiracy if the conspiracy is to commit a summary offence for which imprisonment may not be imposed. The penalty for conspiracy in the context of a trade dispute to commit the offences under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 is limited by the Bill to three months. Strangely, Parliament seems to have intended this in 1875 in the first place but, because of a defect of drafting, the penalty was in fact left at large.
interrupt my right hon. Friend so early, but can he explain why Clause 1 does not provide what the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum claims that it provides? It does not limit conspiracy to an agreement to commit an offence; it is an agreement to pursue
an offence. May I give an example? My right hon. Friend and I are together at a meeting and he is in a hurry to go to the railway station. I say "Do you want to come in my car?" and he agrees. We have then agreed to a course of conduct. But my right hon. Friend, in this example, does not know that I have had too much to drink, which will necessarily involve an offence. My right hon. Friend does not know, but he will be guilty of conspiracy, and Clause 1(2) provides a defence only if I do not know, not if he does not know."a course of conduct…which will necessarily…involve"
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I assure him that we believe that the drafting as it stands meets the point covered in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. I should be willing to go into argument about it, but I suggest that the best time to do that will be in Committee. All I say to my hon. Friend now is that I am sure that the words on page 1 of the Bill meet what is said in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum.Part II of the Bill modernises and amends the criminal law about entering and remaining on property. Part I abolishes conspiracy to trespass. Part II abolishes the common law on forcible entry and detainer and the related statute law, which dates from 1381 and has not been changed since 1623. In place of those common law and ancient statute law offences there are five specific offences provided for in Clauses 6 to 10. They cover violent entry on to premises, a failure to leave premises at the request of the displaced residential occupier, trespass with a weapon of offence, trespass on diplomatic premises, and the obstruction of court officers executing an order for possession. These offences have already attracted considerable attention inside and outside Parliament, and they will no doubt be discussed in detail in Committee. It would be inappropriate to attempt a detailed explanation of each offence today, but I must emphasise that, in our view, many of the fears expressed about this part of the Bill have been greatly exaggerated. Clause 7—I come now to squatting—is chiefly directed at a squatter who moves into residential premises while the lawful occupier is away, for example, on holiday, We have been giving careful thought to how far an offence along the lines of that provided for in Clause 7 should be used to protect property against squatters. There were several debates on this question in another place, and we have already consulted the police and local authority representatives. Before reaching a final view we shall, of course, wish to hear the views of the House. The Government will be giving further consideration to the possible extension of Clause 7, bearing in mind the views expressed in both Houses and the possibilities of improvements in civil procedures.
The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, acknowledge that he has received strong representations from local authorities, including my authority in Brighton, about the term "displaced residential occupier". It is the view of my chief executive and town clerk that the present drafting would not enable the local council to take steps to remove squatters.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will reconsider the words I used—bearing in mind the views expressed in both Houses and the possibilities of improvements in civil procedures. We have discussed this matter with a wide variety of bodies and individuals in recent weeks. It is a difficult field.My strong view was that we should put into the Bill the recommendations we have received and that we should listen to the views of the House on various aspects of this matter. Moving too far in this area might seem a good idea, but it is an extremely complicated field. That is why I felt that, rather than put an amendment down now, we should listen to the views of the House, and that we shall do during the Committee stage.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that a good deal of the problem which can arise with regard to empty property is caused precisely because it is empty for far too long? This is a matter of housing policy and possibly needs different procedures and the better use of property.
That is one aspect of the problem that is undoubtedly true. That is another reason why I felt that we should listen to the arguments in Committee rather than rush into legislation. What I am recommending so far is what is in the Bill. I think that before going any further we ought to listen to the arguments in Committee.
I realise that possible improvements in civil procedures is not my right hon. Friend's departmental responsibility. However, can he say something more now, because he will realise that if there were not to be a speeding up of civil procedures one might take a different view of the possibility of the extension of Clause 7 than one would otherwise take? Before the Bill comes back on Report we should like to know more about the speeding up of civil procedures.
The possibility of improvements in civil procedures is a basic factor that has to be taken into account. The reason I used the word "possibility" is not that we have only just thought about it. I have been talking about it with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and we shall come back with views on it.When the Bill was introduced into Parliament the offence of obstructing a court officer in Clause 10 was limited to circumstances in which the court officer was executing an order for possession issued under the summary civil procedure introduced in 1970. An amendment was passed in another place to extend the offence to cover the execution of all orders for possession. I shall be inviting the House to restore the Bill to its original form because that power would place an unacceptable burden on the police and, in my view, would involve the police in areas in which they should not be involved. With regard to Part II in general, our approach is not unyielding or dogmatic. This is an area where the law has long been overdue for reform but there is certainly room for discussion about how best this can be done. I and my colleague, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), have had more than one discussion about the Bill with representatives of the TUC. As the Bill continues its progress through the House these discussions will be continuing. During the discussions I have been anxious to meet the concern of the TUC that the Bill should not have the unintended effect of impeding peaceful industrial action. There is general agreement that, so far as possible, the criminal law should be kept out of industrial disputes. We are considering a number of points that the TUC has made about the way the new offences might work in the context of a trade dispute. If our consideration suggests that the Bill can be improved we shall introduce amendments at a later stage. I regard the discussions we have had as of the greatest importance because, I repeat, I do not want unintended implications of changes in the law to cause even further problems as time unfolds. Before turning to Part III I ought to say a word about our decision not to give effect in this Bill to Part III of the Law Commission's report on conspiracy. We concluded that before creating further specific offences with regard to morals and decency we should take a broader look at the whole subject of obscenity. I hope shortly to be appointing a Departmental Committee to undertake a fundamental review of the laws of obscenity, indecency and censorship. That is the best way to proceed. It is a subject which excites many people one way or the other. [Interruption.] I note that the mention of the word excites some hon. Members. Be that as it may, it is one on which we ought to have further consideration. When I first became Home Secretary, and read the reports to be translated into law, I thought that this was something which needed further consideration. I shall be appointing a Departmental Committee.
Since the Law Commission made it unequivocally clear in its report, emphasising it in italics, that it was not concerned with the general law of obscenity, and the proposals it put forward did not call for any such general rule, how can my right hon. Friend say that there should be yet further postponement on a matter which has already been of concern to the Law Commissioners, apart from many people in the country, for 11 years? That concern was expressed with vigour by Lord Gardiner in another place. Why is my right hon. Friend now postponing a matter which could be dealt with in the manner which the Law Commissioners clearly indicated?
I am grateful for the report from the Law Commission but I felt that it had wider applications than the effect on the statute law. It is easy for individuals who have a particular view one way or the other to say that we should proceed. But it is a subject on which the community in general has views and I want to carry the community with me with regard to any changes that I make. I want to look at this far more widely than the Law Commission dealt with it. There are wider aspects of obscenity and decency and so on which I believe we ought to get right before we legislate. That is the reason why I have decided to act in this way.Part III of the Bill gives effect to the main recommendations contained in the report of the James Committee on the Distribution of Criminal Business between the Crown Court and Magistrates' Court which was published in November 1975. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the late Lord Justice James, whose untimely death was a blow to all who knew him. To have accomplished a review of this vast and complex area of criminal law and to have produced, all in the space of only two years, such a comprehensive and valuable report is a remarkable testimony to Sir Arthur's tireless energy as well as to that of his colleagues on the Committeee. The James Committee was set up when pressure on the Crown court resulting from increases in the crime rate had already led to lengthy delays in the hearing of cases in the higher courts to the extent that, by 1974, the number of cases awaiting trial at the Crown court was around 8,000. These pressures have since increased, despite the extra resources which the Crown court has been given. By September 1976 the figure had grown to some 12,000 cases. What does this mean in terms of waiting time for persons committed for trial? It means that in London, where, as one would expect, the problem is seen at its most acute and is the most worrying, a person who is committed for trial today is likely to have to wait on average about fifteen weeks before trial if he is in custody, and twenty-five weeks if he is on bail. That is the London situation. Elsewhere the situation is not so bad. Even so, however, it would be wrong to assume that this is only a London problem. On the South-Eastern Circuit—other than London—for example, the delay is four months, while on the Northern Circuit it is between two and three months. We cannot resolve these problems simply by building more courts and providing more judges and court staff. We must recognise that in the criminal justice system, no less than in any other area, resources are finite and cannot be expanded indefinitely. This is not merely a question of money, though, in present economic circumstances, that is obviously important. It is also a question of actual resources available. We must therefore look for other solutions, and the need to find them is now even greater than it was when the James Committee was set up.
My right hon. Friend has pointed out in detail a whole series of offences that are now to be removed from jury trial even though this is essentially a London and South-Eastern problem. Can he give figures for the waiting times in magistrates' courts? Is it not the case, particularly when cases are not heard in one day, that the waiting time in magistrates' courts in many areas is just as long as in the Crown courts? Will that not be exacerbated if further cases come before the courts should the Bill, in its present form, go through this House?
I have more to say on the nature of the changes. Meanwhile, I will try to get my hon. Friend the figures for which he has asked.After beginning its detailed examination of the subject, the James Committee quickly became aware, as it said in the report, that
It identified a total of six existing categories of offence, each carrying its own procedure. It stressed that any new scheme should be simple, easy to apply and readily understandable by all concerned. To this end, it proposed that the six categories should be reduced to three—namely, offences triable only in the Crown court, offences triable only in the magistrates' courts, and offences which should be triable either in Crown court or in the magistrates' courts in accordance with the new procedure that it recommended. Where a case was in the third category, the accused should have the right to insist on trial in the Crown court, although not to insist on trial by magistrates. That is provided for in Clause 14. The James Committee went on to consider the allocation of existing offences to each of the three new categories and to make detailed recommendations, most of which the Government have accepted. The Government agree with the Committee's view that the main criterion should be the seriousness of the offence in the eyes of society. The maximum penalty is a guide, though not an infallible one, to the seriousness which society attaches to it. The Committee did not base its conclusions either on an assumption that one mode of trial is inherently superior to another or on an assumption that magistrates and juries approach the question of guilt or innocence differently. It has sometimes been asserted that magistrates are more "establishment-minded", and therefore more likely to convict than jurors, but the figures for the offences now in issue do not bear that out at all. Details of these figures, which represent the percentage of acquittals of persons pleading not guilty to various offences in the Crown court and in magistrates' courts, were given in answer to a Parliamentary Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) on 26th January. These show that the percentage of people pleading not guilty who were acquitted was actually higher in magistrates' courts in respect of every offence which is now triable at the Crown court but which, under the Bill, will become triable solely in the magistrates' courts. To get this matter in proportion, I must stress that the James Committee's recommendations, and the provisions of the Bill, do not make any radical change in the allocation of business. In the 1975 Criminal Statistics, we find that of 2,110,000 people proceeded against, only 68,600 were committed to the Crown court for trial. If the Bill as it now stands had been in force, the Crown court would have tried about 6,000 fewer and the magistrates' courts about 6,000 more. This transfer of 6,000 cases would give material relief to the Crown court, which is heavily pressed and seriously in arrears, but even so, the transfer is small in proportion to the whole, and cannot therefore be said to affect radically the existing system. Some offences formerly in the "hybrid" category—that is to say, offences which may at present be tried either on indictment or summarily—are now placed in the category of offences which are triable only by the magistrates. Most of these, such as the offence of assaulting a constable, do not now carry any right to the accused to be tried by jury; the existing position is that the prosecutor may apply for trial on indictment, but not the accused. But there are also a few hybrid offences, such as drinking and driving, and solicitation by a man for homosexual purposes, in respect of which the accused also has at present a right to demand trial on indictment. The James Committee considered these in some detail in Chapter 2 of its report, and I do not wish, in advance of the debate, to embark on a detailed discussion of them, as that is really a matter for Committee. However, the issues were very fully canvassed and some changes were made, and I think the right balance has now been struck."the existing rules governing the distribution of business between the Crown Court and magistrates' courts are complicated, confusing and anomalous."
Did I understand the Home Secretary to say that the decision about which category in which to place each offence has been taken solely on the seriousness attached to that offence, which was basically the approach of the James Committee? Has he, however, rejected the Committee's proposal that the offence of assault on a police officer should be made triable by jury? If that is so, surely it cannot be because the right hon. Gentleman takes a less serious view of that offence than the James Committee did.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised this point during my explanation of the classifications arranged. Many people believe that a great change has been made in this respect, and I have sought to show that there has not. He has raised another important point, of which I am not unaware. Sometimes there is a disadvantage in being Home Secretary but not a lawyer. However, I think that is easily overcome, since there are plenty of lawyers around to give me advice. The question of what is serious in the eyes of society cannot always be put in a form of words to meet a legal statute. I accept that. What is regarded as serious by society at one time has changed in the eyes of society a couple of decades later.I turn now to some important changes made to the Bill since it was first published. First, after prolonged debate in another place, the provision making certain small thefts triable only by the magistrates was removed. Secondly, a clause was inserted to enable provision to be made by rules for advance disclosure to the defence of the prosecution case in magistrates' courts. A number of hon. Members spoke to me about this earlier, and the change was made in another place. A further major improvement made to the Bill in another place is the amendment of the Road Traffic Act 1972 to remove the concept of dangerous driving or cycling from the road traffic law. Clause 39 substitutes new offences of causing death by reckless driving, which will be triable only on indictment, and driving recklessly, which will be triable either way, for the offences of causing death by reckless or dangerous driving and driving recklessly or dangerously. The offence of careless driving, which is triable only summarily, remains unaltered. The concept of dangerous driving has been criticised because it can range from instances of deliberately hazarding other road users down to relatively minor faults which can scarcely be distinguished from careless driving. These provisions have found wide general acceptability from all sides. The Bill, in Clauses 28 to 32 and in Schedules 1, 5 and 6, increases and rationalises a large number of maximum fines for a range of offences following upon recommendations in the James Report. That football hooligans, vandals and others may be liable to fines of £1,000 once the Bill has been enacted has caught the headlines, and rightly so. I met the football organisations in December to discuss the problem of football hooliganism, and I am arranging a further meeting with them as soon as possible. Many of the offences with which hooligans may be charged will carry the new maximum, as will offences against the anti-rabies legislation and most of the serious offences which may be dealt with by magistrates. The maximum compensation which a magistrates' court may order is also increased to £1,000. Maximum fines alone are by no means the answer to football hooliganism or any other kind of crime, but it is our responsibility to ensure that the courts have at their disposal adequate powers to deal with those who come before them, and the Bill tries to do this.
Are we not constantly going to be in difficulty, especially in time of high inflation, in that the value of the maximum fine will be eroded by inflation? Are we not in the end going to have to get round to scale fines, where we have scale "A", "B", "C", or something like that, and scales are automatically increased, a change which could be made by Order-in-Council?
There is power to increase fines by order. We can look at the question of scale fines in general in Committee to see whether it is appropriate to bring in such a system. This is undoubtedly a serious problem, especially as parliamentary time is often short. It is certainly correct to say that the penalty of a fine is eroded by inflation.
May I call the Secretary of State's attention back to Clause 39 on the question of altering the Road Traffic Act? I apologise for doing so after he has moved on from it, but this is an important matter. What difference does he imagine that this change will make? The previous provision was that the driving was in a reckless manner or in a manner dangerous to the public. That has always been defined in law as meaning the same thing. What difference does the right hon. Gentleman think that the new definition will make?
As I understand it, there are a number of areas in the law where the existing definitions are not very clear and this is an attempt to clarify an area in which so many people become involved because so many people own motor cars these days. If the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) has views on the matter we shall be prepared to listen in CommitteeI was talking about penalty amendments. The various penalty amendments in fact go wider than merely strengthening the courts, important though this undoubtedly is. Clause 28 provides that all offences triable either way shall carry the same maximum fine on summary conviction and that the prescribed maximum shall be £1,000. This is an important simplification of the summary penalty structure and is a key element in the rationalisation of criminal business in Part III of the Bill. The present maximum fine normally available to magistrates is £400, established in 1967. The increase in the Bill takes account of inflation since then and is itself inflation-proofed. There is a power in Clause 47 to increase the maximum summary fine for offences triable either way by order if a change in the value of money is such as to justify this. This power, and the figure of £1,000, were both recommendations of the James Committee. This is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was making, but, on the question whether scale fines would be better, I shall be happy to listen to my hon. Friend's argument in Committee. Schedule 6 to the Bill increases the maximum fines for a number of purely summary offences. The schedule exemplifies a new four-point structure of summary fines, based on £1,000 as the new highest fine, by applying increases to the appropriate level. The schedule may look something of a ragbag but it contains those offences over which real concern has been exjressed, either before the Bill was introduced or in another place, about the inadequacy of the maximum fines. The package of provisions relating to penalties goes some way towards simplifying the present complicated tangle.
What consideration has been given to the effects of this massive increase in fines on the number of people who will go into custody because they fail to pay fines? With our prisons already choked and the appalling conditions inside prisons, what consideration has been given to making certain that the only people committed to prison will be those who are wilfully defying the courts, as distinct from those who are unable to pay? Does my right hon. Friend realise that what he may be doing—which I am sure is contrary to his wish—is to ensure that there are likely to be more people in prison?
My hon. Friend will know that the court has to take into account ability to pay.
That is not done.
If it is not done, that needs to be pointed out rather than corrected by altering the law.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in today's editions of the two London newspapers, the Evening News and the Evening Standard, the London Tory Party is reported as saying that it will set up vigilante groups in London if the Tories are returned to power in the Greater London Council. Does my right hon. Friend realise that setting up vigilante groups is against the interests of London? The Metropolitan Police have done a fine job in controlling law and order. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a retrograde step by the Tory Party?
First of all, on the question of vandalism, I have had a conference this week with a large number of people from all the local authority associations, probation officers and the police on the real problem of vandalism. The problem needs consideration.But on the matter of vigilantes, anyone who reads the papers today will know that if there is any question of vigilantes, it will have to be dealt with by the law. We cannot have Paisleyism in London. This is a matter for the police alone to deal with. I shall read the newspapers with interest to see what is involved. With regard to young offenders, I share the widespread concern about the prevalence of criminal conduct among those under 17 and the need to keep under review the working of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. We looked at this matter with particular care in the light of the comments of the Eleventh Report of the Expenditure Committee and set out our conclusions in the White Paper (Cmnd. 6496) published a year ago. The Bill incorporates some of the proposals made by the Expenditure Committee and adopted by the Government. Clause 35 provides for new powers of fine enforcement in respect of young offenders. Where an attendance centre is available, the courts will be empowered to make an attendance centre order for a juvenile who defaults in payment of a fine. Alternative powers available in all cases will enable the courts to bind over the parent or guardian of the defaulting child to ensure that the outstanding sum is paid, or, where in all the circumstances it is reasonable, to order the parent or guardian to pay instead of the defaulter. The Bill also increases the maximum levels of fines and compensation which may be imposed by a juvenile court. We agree with the Expenditure Committee that junior attendance centres perform a useful function for juveniles. The Bill makes a small technical change which should improve their usefulness. At present the law requires the court which made the order to deal with any breaches which occur, and it is therefore not practicable for a court in one part of the country to make an order in respect of a boy who lives elsewhere. Amendments to the Criminal Justice Act 1948 contained in Schedule 9 will enable the court for the area where the order is to be served to deal with breach proceedings. This enables us to make all the attendance centres available to all courts, wherever they are situated. We have agreed with the recommendation of the Expenditure Committee that the junior attendance centre system be extended where possible. Notwithstanding the present financial stringency, some limited resources have now been made available and consultations have been started with a view to establishing a few additional centres in the areas of the most need. The Expenditure Committee recommended that changes should be made to improve the effectiveness of supervision orders. We have consulted those concerned, and in the light of those consultations propose to put down Government amendments to the Bill for this purpose. As I announced recently in reply to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), it is our intention that, when making a supervision order, the court should have power to impose both a general requirement to be of good behaviour and any particular requirement which, having regard to the circumstances of the case, it considers necessary to prevent further offending. The court, we propose, should also have power to deal with a breach of the terms of the order by imposing a fine or, where an attendance centre is available, by making an attendance centre order. It is also our intention to encourage more effective and flexible schemes of intermediate treatment by removing the present rather complicated restrictions on the time limits, within the maximum of 90 days, for a residential requirement by the supervisor. Clause 42 brings to an end the criminal jurisdiction of the coroner, which is of very ancient date. The Brodrick Committee, which reported in 1971, came to the conclusion that this jurisdiction was incompatible with present-day concepts of justice. To complete the change recommended in this field by Brodrick it will be necessary to make changes in the coroners' rules. For this purpose I have set up a working party on the coroners' rules to complement the changes being proposed in the Bill. Clause 41 extends the powers of arrest and entry available to the police to deal with breaches of the anti-rabies controls. I should now like to refer to some of the matters on which Government amendments are likely to be introduced. The first is in regard to bomb hoaxes. I intend to move amendments to the Bill to create two new offences to deal with bomb hoaxers. At present there are several provisions which can be applied to bomb hoaxers, but there is no offence specifically directed against them. The police have told me that they encounter substantial difficulties in the prosecution of bomb hoax offenders for this reason. Some offenders can slip out of the net altogether; others can be dealt with only after a complicated task of deciding which provisions fit the circumstances of the offence most clearly; and the maximum penalties for the most widely applicable offence are too small. In my view, this is a serious defect in the law. Bomb hoaxers can be a menace to the police and to the public, especially at a time when resources are already severely stretched in dealing with a genuine bombing campaign. I have today looked—incidentally it worked out this way—at the arrangements made by the police during the bombing campaign, and they were excellent. I say that because, after the bomb at the Hilton Hotel in November 1975, the police in central London received over 200 hoax bomb calls which made their job in dealing with that horrible situation a good deal worse. Such behaviour can be a danger to the public by diverting police attention from where it is most needed. The inadequacy of the law regarding bomb hoaxes was first noted by the Law Commission when it reviewed the law on conspiracy, and I am grateful to the Law Commission for its preparatory work in this area. The first proposed offence deals with those who place or send hoax bombs, while the second is related to false reports about bombs. I shall put down amendments in Committee to introduce these two new offences. On a rather different point, I intend to move an amendment to change the penalty in Section 3 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883 for conspiracy to cause an explosion from 20 years to life imprisonment. This is in line with the penalty structure for conspiracy in the Bill and meets a point made by Mr. Justice Ackner in the course of the QE2 explosives trial at Winchester. We hope to be able to introduce amendments in Committee to allow for the service and execution of process—summonses and warrants—throughout the United Kingdom. We also hope to be able to introduce a Government amendment to give effect to a proposal by the Magistrates' Association in order to improve sentencing practice and reduce unnecessary court appearances. This involves giving a court which has convicted a person of an offence and which becomes aware that within the near future the defendant is due to be sentenced by another magistrates' court for a different offence of which he has already been convicted the power to transfer the case to the latter court, which would then proceed to sentence for both offences at the same time. This will overcome some of the disadvantages which can result from two courts imposing within a short space of time sentences which are incompatible, such as a fine followed by a sentence of imprisonment. During the passage of the Bill in another place the Government undertook to consider a proposal to make imprisonment less readily available in cases of summary convictions for the offence of unlawful possession of cannabis or cannabis resin. The position is complicated by the proceedings in the case of Goodchild, which have exposed a serious defect in the existing law. Subject to the final outcome of the proceedings in that case—which may not be before June—it may well be desirable to take the opportunity of this Bill to restore the effect of the law to its original intent. The House will appreciate that, while an issue of such substance remains to be resolved, there are difficulties in determining what further changes in penalties may be appropriate. We have to consider not only what the implications of such changes might be for our attitude and that of the courts and the enforcement authorities to the offences themselves, but how such changes might best be fitted into the more rational structure of penalties that we are seeking to achieve. These are also matters on which we wish to obtain the considered views of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs but which the time table has not yet permitted that council and its various working groups to explore in full. The council recently decided, by a majority, to recommend that imprisonment should no longer be available as a penalty for a person convicted of an offence of possession of cannabis or cannabis resin who had not previously been convicted of a drug offence, but a number of consequential decisions remain to be worked out, and the council and its working groups are pressing ahead as a matter of urgency. When the council's views are available, the Government will wish to take stock of all the inter-related issues with some care. I feel bound to advise the House, however, that there are some very substantial issues of both drugs and penal policy involved and that the resolution of these will not be easy. We do not think that it could be right to make changes which may have considerable and irreversible consequences without adequate evidence that the case for such changes is fully made out. This is a worthwhile Bill which I commend to the House.
My right hon. Friend has been helping the House by going very quickly. I regret having now interrupted him for a third time. But, on the question of cannabis, I come back to the point that I made earlier. In 1975 nearly 600 young people were imprisoned for possessing cannabis. To postpone the matter in the way suggested by my right hon. Friend, when we have the Wootton Report and, I repeat, so many alternatives to sending people to prison, seems to evade it in a way which cannot commend itself to this House any more than it appeared to commend itself to the other place.
I understand the point made by my hon. Friend and the recommendation in the Wootton Report of some years ago. I could make a judgment on this matter now, but the Government want to hear the views of the House as a whole. If we proceed too quickly, those who want reform might, if deleated, have to wait many years before there is any change. Some people want reform in this area. But, as happens with reform of this nature, often there is greater feeling against it in the country as a whole.Therefore, I suggest that, though it might appear that there is some dilatoriness, we should carry the country and the House with us and get it right. If this reform is defeated in this House, it may be a very long time before it comes forward again. I was trying to be helpful. A report on this matter is coming forward and we should consider it.
We understand that my right hon. Friend's slightly abstruse statement was meant to be helpful. However, in the opinion of many of us, merely shelving the matter again would put off a sensible decision on the matter. There is a great body of opinion in the House that would like to have a good discussion on the matter and perhaps a free vote at the end so that we can decide what the public would like to do about it. We should not just shelve it again.
I was not thinking of shelving it. I suggested June because I thought that we should almost certainly have time to consider it in Committee if not on Report. I take account of the suggestion of a free vote. I want this matter to be discussed. I want to have the report for which we have asked, which I understand is nearly ready.
Does the right hon. Gentleman's last observation mean that he expects the report to be in his hands in time for the Committee that will consider the Bill to be apprised of its contents and of the recommendations before Report?
I cannot speak for the committee working on the report, because I have no control over it. I am hoping that that will be the position. That is what I should like to see.This is a worthwhile Bill which I comment to the House. It takes us a little further along the road to a codified criminal law and it will help to relieve the pressure on the Crown courts. It would be a remarkable Bill indeed if we were not able to improve it on points of detail in Committee. That is the way in which the Government approach the Bill as it begins its passage through this House. We shall listen to what the House has to say. I hope that we shall have a useful Committee stage. This is not a party matter. We shall listen to the views expressed on both sides of the House. It is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on the skill he has displayed in going through the Bill and the pace at which he did it, because it is a complicated Bill. I also congratulate the Government on the pace with which they have brought the Bill before the House. The Law Commission reported only in March 1976 and the James Committee in November 1975, and the Bill was introduced in the other place shortly after we came back last autumn. The Secretary of State should be congratulated.I add my congratulations to the James Committee on the detailed and helpful report that it has produced, and I am sorry that Lord Justice James died without being able to attend this debate. I may have missed his saying so, but I believed that the Home Secretary did not also offer congratulations to Mr. Justice Cooke and the Law Commission on the considerable assistance that they gave us in their report. The Bill makes substantial changes in the criminal law and it has improved considerably as a result of its passage through another place. I do not want to spend too long on particular details, but I wish to make a point about penalties. We welcome the increase in fines and the methods envisaged in the Bill for enforcing them, particularly with regard to young people. I also wish to refer to the changes in the law on conspiracy in the Part I of the Bill. Conspiracy is an important weapon in the armoury of the criminal law for dealing with serious criminal cases. We must not forget that many conspiracies are much more serious than the commission of a single offence. For example, if the Bill goes through in its present form, half a dozen people planning to use violence on a number of occasions may, if caught on the first occasion—although it is clear that they were planning a whole pattern of violence?—be dealt with by only the maximum sentence for the single offence. The same applies to drug offences where there is an organised drugs ring and where the organisers either stay out of the way or are caught early on—although the more serious situation then arises than from a single substantive offence. This was dealt with by Mr. Justice Wright in "The Law of Criminal Conspiracies and Agreements" on pages 81 to 82. It is referred to by the Law Commission on page 37 of its report. The report states:
"where the agreement or concurrence of several persons in the execution of a criminal design may be a proper ground for aggravation of their punishment—
That is a good example of what the courts have found over the years—that there are occasions when the act of conspiracy itself, sometimes caught early, is much more serious than allowed for by the penalties provided for the substantice offence. I refer to those who plan the crimes and leave others to carry them out. Our view is that the Law Commission's original working paper was right, rather than its final conclusions which the Gov ernment are following today. The Law Commission originally suggested that the maximum sentence for a conspiracy should be twice the penalty for a substantive offence. We certainly hope that we shall have an opportunity in Committee to discuss this and perhaps to make amendments. It is necessary, as we can clearly see, to prosecute offences of conspiracy to corrupt public morals or outrage public decency until the gaps in the obscenity laws are filled. However, with respect to the Secretary of State, I do not understand why the Law Commission's recommendations on films should not now be followed. Of course, we all welcome the setting up of an inter-departmental committee on obscenity. The 1959 Act has been demonstrated to be inadequate on a number of occasions and there are gaps. Films are excluded, and over the years prosecuting authorities have been forced to use the rather artificial offence of conspiring to corrupt public morals. This has been so not only in respect of Soho cinemas—dens, as they really are—but in respect of one or two cases in which the British Board of Film Censors has refused a licence certificate and yet a local authority has stepped in and granted one. There was a notable case of this not long ago when the courts had to deal with the matter. The present rash of cinema sex film clubs is a disgrace to any civilised society and city and one that is, I understand, happening not only in London but in other parts of the United Kingdom. We must bear in mind the power of local authorities to grant such certificates even though a licence has been refused by the British Board of Film Censors. That leaves us in a ridiculous position and one in which this rather artificial offence must be used, but the distributor escapes. The distributor, as a result of two recent decisions, cannot be prosecuted unless the prosecution can show that the exhibitor was corrupted by the distributor when he handed him the film to show in his dirty cinema, otherwise no conviction can follow. The Law Commission spent a considerable part of its report on that and recommended that cinematograph exhibitions, whether or not held on premises licensed for that purpose, should be subject to the 1959 Act from which film shows are now excluded. The Law Commission also recommended that the distributors should also be liable. The recommendations included the keeping of the special defence of public good but excluded private dwelling-houses where such a film was shown, provided that no one under the age of 16 was present and provided no charge for entry was made. A final safeguard was that the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions should be necessary before proceedings could be taken when the film was shown at a licensed cinema. The Law Commission went further and said that live performances—which are another evil that seemed to be increasing—and displays should be brought within the Act. I fear and suspect that my fears will be justified and that when the departmental committee finally reports—which may be some time ahead—there will then be the usual problem that the Home Office finds in obtaining parliamentary time to put into effect recommendations that might meet with the approval of the House. The scandal that is currently going on with regard to such films, which are widely advertised and patronised, could be dealt with easily by accepting the Law Commission's recommendations. That could be done without in any way damaging the inquiry that is to be set up."Such would be cases in which the cooperation of several persons at different places is likely to facilitate the execution or the concealment of a crime or in which the presence of several persons together is intended to increase the means of force or to create terror, or cases of fraud in which suspicion and ordinary caution are likely to be disarmed by the increased credibility of a representation made by several persons."
Is it not clear, and should it not be emphasised, that while these recommendations may be wise, particularly as a holding operation, they are absolutely linked with the abolition of the existing offence of conspiracy to corrupt public morals or outright immorality? Is that not the reason why the Law Commissioners made explicit and clear that it would be regarded by most people as unacceptable for the provisions to come into existence without Parliament getting rid of, as the Law Commissioners emphasised, the offence of conspiracy to corrupt public morals?
I do not have the figures, but I expect that the Law Commissioners had them and that the great majority of cases in which the charge of conspiracy to corrupt public morals has been used have been dirty film cases. I should have thought that if the Act covered live shows and cinematic performances we could get rid of the anomaly of having to keep those two offences. I do not have enough facts on that, but I expect that the Home Office could provide them in Committee.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the first part of the Indecent Display Bill that we introduced in 1973 would have brought cinema clubs within the laws on indecency? Could not clauses from that Bill be included in this Bill?
The 1973 Bill was going through the House when there was a General Election. It was based on a different principle, and cinemas were to be licensed. This is a rather different, because all the cinemas would be subject to the 1959 Act. In our view it does not matter how this is effected as long as something is done now. It is absolutely ridiculous that indecent films can be shown virtually publicly all over London and elsewhere without there being any power for dealing with them save this curious offence, which has come into being only since the war.
I hesitate to interfere in the English law of conspiracy, but should we not be cautious about attempting to replace the common law of conspiracy by making it a statutory offence? From my reading of Clause 1, it is clear that any defence lawyer could, in any case, except any act from conspiracy on the basis of its definition, and I believe that there is no statutory definition that will get over that defence. The words in the clause are:
A defendant needs the difference of only the flick of an eyelid from their intentions to be not guilty."if the agreement is carried out in accordance with their intentions".
I had sought to avoid detail because this is such a wide Bill, but the point made by my hon. and learned Friend has been drawn to my attention and we shall look at it carefully in Committee. It is obviously the intention of us all to get the right answer if possible.The provisions relating to squatting will be a welcome relief to house occupiers and I am grateful to the Home Secretary for saying that the door was not closed on extending them further. Squatting is unfair because it occupies accommodation that has either been used by someone else or is often about to be taken over by a new occupier. He is excluded from the Bill even though he suffers almost, if not quite, the same amount of loss, discomfort and anguish as a current occupier. If local authority housing is excluded and squatters move into a local authority house that is being built, converted or improved before a new tenant designated by the local authority moves in, the new tenant has no protection under the Bill and tenants further down the council waiting list will suffer because he may have to be housed elsewhere and they will lose their turn in the list. Equally, those who have bought a house and intend to move in after redecorating or rewiring it are not protected.
The hon. and learned Gentleman keeps using the words "not protected" although he qualified them at one point by saying that someone was not protected by the Bill. I am told, however, that until the Kamara case this was a civil offence and protection was exercised by the civil court. Is there anything deleterious in going back to that position, as advocated by many people?
One of the problems is the time involved, and another is that if people are turned out as a result of an order from a civil court the local authority has the problem of rehousing them. There is also the loss of income to the local authority which, if squatting takes place on a large scale, can be considerable.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that houses are often kept empty for long periods either through incompetence or deliberately? Has he any views on that practice?
That may happen, but I do not know of any instances. One of the problems is the security that is given to tenants. My son has taken over the house of a friend who will be working in France for three years. The friend trusted my son to surrender the house when he returns to this country and I know that my son will do so, but there are great difficulties about letting a house if one is away for a short time.It is a problem that we shall have to consider carefully, and it is one of the reasons why houses are kept empty while owners are away for a short time.
Is not the answer to the important point raised by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) that in some, though by no means all, cases squatting is an offence against the community as a whole rather than against an individual?
Yes. The difficulty of identifying the person who would be able to bring proceedings under the Bill—the would-be occupier—instead of the immediately displaced tenant could be resolved perhaps by giving the power to ask the police to deal with the matter to the local authority or the owner at that time.One of the problems faced by the Law Commission was when contracts had been exchanged, but the conveyancing had not been completed. I am sure that there is a way round this, and we shall want to discuss it further in Committee to see whether the provisions should not be extended to those who are left out at the moment. Part III of the original Bill would have posed the biggest problem for the Home Secretary, particularly with its £20 limit in Theft Act cases. Happily, that has gone and I understand that there is no intention to replace it. I am pleased to see the Home Secretary nodding his assent. The intention of the Bill to set up three types of cases is sensible, although it is inevitable that there will be differences of opinion about the categories and they will need further discussion. For example, I still think that burglary is extremely serious and I wonder whether that is in the right category. On the other hand, in order to ensure that the proposal to make Crown courts more efficient and less overworked is effective, a number of concessions, including some on driving cases, must be made. I wonder whether the creation of the offence of causing death by reckless driving is not so near as to make no difference to the old offence of motoring manslaughter, and I wonder how the distinction will be drawn. We are also concerned with the category of homosexual importuning under Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 for the same reason as we would have opposed the £20 limit on theft cases. In cases of homosexual importuning, convictions can have devastating results. A man's career and home may be destroyed and the evidence on which he is convicted can be easily provided and misinterpreted. A wise old member of the Bar said some years ago that he would rather urinate in the street than risk being put in great difficulty by going into some public urinals that were used for importuning by homosexuals. This should be one of the offences that can be tried either way. I am grateful to the Minister of State, Home Office for his letter in reply to my request for details about convictions under Section 32 of the 1956 Act. It is difficult to say who had elected to go for trial at the Crown court because there were cases in which the prosecution could have elected to do so. On the assumption that the majority of defendants in Section 32 cases had elected to go for trial, the Minister's letter produced some interesting statistics. In 1973, 36 cases were committed to the Crown court for trial. In 1974 the figure was 42, and in 1975, it was 59. As long as the progression does not increase at a much faster rate, it is not possible to claim that the Crown courts cannot deal with these cases while benefiting from the general proposals of the Bill. In 1975, 77 per cent. of the men who pleaded not guilty to Section 32 offences were acquitted at magistrates' courts. At the Crown courts, where 17 men pleaded not guilty, 61 per cent. were acquitted. However, one should not regard comparative figures between the magistrates' courts and the Crown courts as absolutely safe. Many people believe that their cases are sufficiently sound for them to be left to the magistrates. Those who elect to go to the Crown court may know that the evidence against them is strong and they may, therefore, choose trial by jury. It may be that the cases at the Crown courts are regarded as more serious by the defendant. He may be more likely to be found guilty, so a comparison of the figures is probably unsafe. I had hoped that the Home Secretary would use the Bill to implement the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee about Section 16 of the Theft Act 1967. This involves the offence that has been described as a judicial nightmare—obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception. It has also brought into the criminal net a number of people who were not intended to be brought into it by that Act. It is also a good lesson to the House that Section 16 was added during the Bill's passage through the House. It was not part of the Criminal Law Revision Committee's original draft Bill. Perhaps we can learn from that. There has been great pressure to correct it. There are only four non-contentious clauses. They will not take much time in Committee or fundamentally delay the Bill. I hope that the Home Secretary will either table amendments or not oppose us if we table amendments to implement the Committee's recommendations. The right hon. Gentleman did not say anything about the proposal to abolish Section 3 of the 1961 Act. I hope that there will be no attempt to replace it. It is one of the most ridiculous provisions of which I have ever heard. The voting list in the House of Lords was interesting, particularly when one bears in mind those who voted for it in 1961 but who now regret doing so. I shall give the House an example of what could happen. Three young men aged 20, 21 and 22, all with bad characters, commit a number of serious offences, but not offences which, bearing in mind their background, will justify a sentence of three years or more. The three young men are identical in outlook and background. The court might think that they should get 21 months' imprisonment. But unless the 20-year-old has been to borstal he can only be sentenced to six months. In those circumstances, a humane judge would find it unreasonable to sentence the two other young men to 18 months or 21 months since that would lead to apparent injustice for the other two. It is time that that provision was ended. There are many good reasons for doing that, and judicial opinion is strong.
I understood that the Government were to put back Section 3. I hope that the Home Secretary will not allow the Opposition to run away with the idea that that suggestion will not be opposed in Committee.
I did not wish to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I am happy to confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has said.
That is sad news, but we shall put a brave face on it.There is a minor matter of long-standing injustice involving licensees or publicans who stand to be charged with the absolute offence of serving liquor to people under the age of 18. It is difficult these days to tell the age, and sometimes the sex, of a young person.
That is a sign of age.
I agree; it may be a sign of age. In such cases, knowledge or intent should be proved against the publican. How is a publican to react if a young man comes into his bar and he challenges him about his age? The young man might say that he is 19. Is the publican to ask him for his birth certificate? The young man might be 19. There are young-looking 19-year-olds and old-looking 16-year-olds. That can be shown by cases involving unlawful sexual intercourse with young girls. Sometimes girls go out on the kill with their hair-dos and make-up and look much older than they are.
In a brewers' publication circulated today there are 10 photographs of girls. One is asked to say which girl one would ban from a bar. I passed the photographs round my typing pool. I got the highest score with four right. The next highest was one, and everyone else was wrong.
That proves that we were wrong in saying that it was a sign of age.One of the problems we are facing in the courts is the misuse of the peremptory challenge. This is a right that every defendant has through his lawyer to seven challenges of members of the jury for no reason at all. I was asked recently by a friend who had been called to jury service at the Old Bailey how long he would have to be there. I said that I hoped he would not get involved in a long trial. He asked me what was the best way of getting off a trial. I told him that he should go along with a bowler hat, a stiff collar, a copy of the Daily Telegraph and a rolled umberella. When I spoke to him a few days later, he told me that he had been challenged. We should consider that problem.
Is the hon. and learned Member saying that the right of peremptory challenge should go altogether, or that it should be limited to a smaller number?