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Commons Chamber

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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House Of Commons

Monday 16th May 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Untitled Debate

At the beginning of another week, I appeal for brevity in supplementary questions and answers. Brevity is only fair to those who wish to stand a chance of being called.

Energy

Electricity Discount Scheme

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the working of the electricity discount scheme.

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many claims had been received under the electricity discount scheme at the most recent available date; what was the total value of the discounts provided; and how the take-up compares with original estimates.

In the period to 13th May, claims from about 1·2 million households to a total value of just over £8 million had been reported to Departments. These represent about 44 per cent. of the estimated eligible population of 2¾ million householders on supplementary benefit or family income supplement. But claims are still being received in considerable numbers and although nearly all relevant accounts have now been sent out eligible consumers have until the end of June to claim their discount. While I am glad that so many have already claimed this help with their electricity bills, I hope that many more of those receiving supplementary benefit or family income supplement will do so before the scheme finally ends.

I am grateful for that answer. Will the Minister consider for the future some constructive preparation for developing a really secure token system—a self-cancelling meter system for the coming winter, when we can anticipate many more families than those covered by the existing scheme being affected by the increasingly high price of fuel?

I can assure the hon. Lady that, together with the industries, we are looking very carefully at the proposition that she has made about developing a token meter scheme. It is not as simple as it at first appears. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken a very close interest in this matter and we shall report on the progress made as soon as we can.

Does the Minister agree that the people the scheme is most designed to benefit are being deprived because the supplementary benefits offices are recommending that they should claim rent rebates instead of supplementary benefit? Therefore, is it not a fact that these people lose out as a result?

I do not agree with that point. People can choose, and if they feel that it would be better to revert to supplementary benefit they are free to do so. That is a matter upon which they can make a decision.

As for knowing whether they can claim, everyone who was thought to be eligible to participate in the scheme was given a leaflet. The scheme was advertised in offices of the electricity boards and elsewhere, there has been a Press campaign, and I have been on the radio to talk about it. We have done everything we can to ensure that the people who are eligible can get this help.

Is the Minister aware that the calculation whether a person is better off with rate rebates or supplementary benefits is extremely complex? Officials of the DHSS offices themselves admit that they cannot do it, and hon. Members find it difficult. Does not the low take-up of only 44 per cent. indicate that these one-off means-tested benefits are futile, and would it not be better to increase benefits, such as pensions?

I do not accept that helping a considerable number of households with what may be very high electricity bills is a futile exercise. I do agree, however, with what my hon. Friend says about the calculations for benefits in general being complicated. If people experience difficulty in making such calculations they should seek help from the appropriate bodies. I agree that a general increase in benefits and pensions is desirable, but this is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Security.

Since the administrative costs of the scheme are £2·5 million and present claims have reached a total of £8 million, does this not mean that the scheme is one of the most expensive ever launched? Is there not considerable point behind the question raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Bar (Mr. Rooker)?

I do not accept that. The hon. Member is suggesting that the whole of the sum allocated to administering the scheme has been spent. All the evidence to date shows that we have spent less than £1 million on administering the scheme.

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will now reconsider his earlier decision not to allow mobile home owners to qualify for assistance within the provisions of the electricity discount scheme.

No. I regret that I am unable to extend the scheme to cover owners of mobile homes who do not pay for their electricity direct to an electricity board. The reasons remain as set out in my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member of 25th March.

Does the Minister agree that this attitude represents discrimination against mobile home owners, particularly as they are so often people who are living on low incomes? Is it not possible to assist them, providing that they themselves are responsible for the paper work and the collection of evidence?

We have looked very carefully at the problem to which the hon. Member has referred because it affects people in other situations as well—those who pay for their electricity to a landlord rather than direct to an electricity board—but for reasons that the Opposition know very well, we had to have a scheme that was easy to administer and avoided abuse. We had to base the scheme on some easily identifiable paper work. That is why it was restricted to those families who received a bill direct from a board. There is a tremendous proliferation of other means by which people pay their bills to landlords, and it would have been impossible to encompass them all in a scheme of this kind. We very much regret it, but that is the fact of the matter.

Is the Minister aware that it is almost entirely the least affluent members of society who are unable to take advantage of this scheme? Does he not think that he could do a little more work with a little real determination to try to find a solution to the problem?

In any event it is clearly too late to do it for the period of this scheme, but we try to help those who are generally recognised as being most in need—those in receipt of supplementary benefit and family income supplement—and because the overwhelming majority of them are eligible they will have the opportunity to benefit.

Coal Industry (Productivity Agreements)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what assessment his Department has made in conjunction with others of the effect on productivity in the mines that might be achieved through the signing of pit-by-pit productivity agreements.

A number of variations are possible and unless and until a particular scheme is agreed it is impossible to estimate what effects it might have on productivity.

Does the Minister agree that we shall need a lot more coal and nuclear power if we are to overcome the energy gap for some years to come? Will he therefore give full support to a pit-by-pit productivity deal and explain how the increase in wages of about £20 a week would be incorporated into any future pay deal?

The House has previously endorsed the Government's policies on the question that there should be more coal production in this country and that the industry has a very vital and powerful rôle to play.

We have already introduced support for an incentive scheme in the shape of the report of the tripartite inquiry in 1974, which the unions themselves agreed upon. As to a particular scheme. we have said that that is a matter for the unions to negotiate themselves, because there has been a working party meeting on the subject.

I agree that production is of great importance, but will my hon. Friend say whether he has discussed this with the inspectorate? Production may be a matter for the board and the unions, but safety is also important. If he has not met the inspectorate will he do so at an early date?

I have not met the inspectorate recently, but in my regular pit visits I meet the mines inspectors. Safety in the mining industry is of paramount importance not only to the inspectorate but to the unions and the people who work in the mining industry.

Will the hon Gentleman now consider showing to the House and to the country the profit and loss records for each mine? I believe that this would make all these matters much easier to discuss than they are at the moment.

I have not those figures, but I shall certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It may be of help to the House to know that last year, 1976–77, productivity in terms of output per man-shift, in the mines, was 43·6 cwt. Recently it has been around 46 cwt. Therefore, there has been some improvement.

Does my hon. Friend agree that while we all, miners included, want to reduce unit costs—that is to say, increase productivity—the dog-eat-dog pit against pit system, as advocated by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), could be extremely counter-productive both in terms of industrial cost and industrial safety? Does he recall that after the 1966 power loading agreement, which gave a stable wage round the country, there was an 8 per cent. increase in productivity?

I have a very personal experience in this. If putting forward an incentive scheme would mean a return to the old piece-rate system I am certain that the unions themselves would have no part in it, and neither would the men. But the proposition that has been put forward, as I understand it, is not for a return to the old piece-rate scheme; it is a different proposition entirely. Incidentally, the agreement or understanding has been reached as a result of a joint working party between the unions themselves.

Does the Minister agree that the existing scheme has been a failure, that payment has been made only on one occasion, and that if we are to raise productivity in the mining industry there has to be a solid cash incentive, which can come only from a re-drawn incentive scheme?

It is generally accepted that the existing scheme has not been very satisfactory, but the working party was set up for the purpose of discussing an incentive scheme that would be acceptable to the men and to the unions, and there would be a necessary financial reward as a consequence of it.

Oil Pollution

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his discussions with the Offshore Oil Producers Association concerning methods of preventing and controlling oil pollution in the North Sea.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what lessons have been learned by his Department, following his inspection of the scene of the recent blow-out in the Ekofisk oilfield.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied that adequate arrangements exist for the protection of British economic and environmental interests in the event of accidents in connection with offshore operations.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what plans he has for improving oil pollution control in the North Sea.

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what further action is proposed for safety improvement and to stem pollution in the North Sea following the Ekofisk blow-out.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will outline the steps being taken to prevent a blow-out in British North Sea oilfields and the action required to be taken if one should occur.

The Ekofisk blow-out has demonstrated the hazards associated with offshore oil and gas production, and the Government are urgently valuating the lessons and implications for our national interests offshore. I discussed the risks involved with the Norwegian Minister in London and Oslo before and after the blow-out and have held two meetings with the United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association. An interdepartmental study group has been set up and has reported on the immediate departmental responses to the blow out. As to the precise cause, we must await the findings of the Norwegian inquiry. We are reviewing the capacity of United Kingdom offshore operators to deal with any similar incidents on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf.

I shall call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered. Mr. Biffen.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the responsibility for oil pollution must primarily rest with the oil companies themselves? Secondly, does he agree that the oil companies should be permitted pricing policies that would enable them to generate the resources to execute the high standards of environmental protection that are generally required?

I do not think that anybody could really argue that the Government are, by their pricing policy for North Sea oil, preventing the oil companies from having proper security arrangements. We do not control the price. In fact, North Sea oil is commanding a premium price on world markets because of its low sulphur content.

With regard to the first part of the question, from examination of the matter in greater detail it would appear that the oil companies can charge the costs as operating costs and reduce the revenue to the Exchequer. I have taken this point up with them and intend to pursue it.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he did not use the services of Bristow Helicopters when he visited the scene of the Ekofisk blow out? Will he condemn those oil producers who use the services of a company that is so hostile to the trade union movement?

As the helicopters dispute is now affecting the BP refinery at Grangemouth, will he tell BP, of all people—because we still have a majority public stake in that company—that it should not be using the services of a company that attempts to use jackboot tactics against the trade union movement?

I did not go to Norway, or to see the blow-out, using helicopters from that company. I made a very clear public reference to the dispute when I spoke at the Scottish Trades Union Congress. I have called in all the oil companies to discuss with me the possible implications of the dispute. My view on this is known.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that prior to Bravo there were substantial claims that the precautionary arrangements in Norwegian waters were superior to those in any other waters? Does he agree that while jingoism in this area might be entirely inappropriate he must demonstrate that the good work that has so far been done by his Department and by the oil companies is thoroughly maintained and adequately and vigilantly supervised?

I cannot confirm my hon. Friend's suggestion that the Norwegian preparations were better advanced than ours, because, fortunately, we have not had the opportunity of testing how our reactions would have developed. But I think that there are clearly important lessons to be learned from this event. I intend to see that those lessons are learned and that necessary actions are taken in a whole range of areas, which I have already discussed twice with the operators and intend to pursue most vigorously with them.

Will the Government have full co-operation with Norway and other countries in order that they should be able to deal with such a situation if another blow-out occurred. Will the Government ensure that there is the maximum of public participation of the ownership of the oilfields in the area? Will the Minister look again at the sale of the BP shares?

As I said in my earlier answer, I discussed this matter with the Norwegian Minister in London in September. There were also discussions before the blow-out in April. On the Sunday following the blow-out I went over to discuss the matter with the Norwegians and they have proposed that a conference should be held in June, at which time there would be a further opportunity to discuss it.

Clearly, we must see that the risk is minimised and that should such a thing occur again our resources will be adequate. I am not entirely satisfied now that that is so.

Is the Minister aware that the Central Unit of Environmental Polution forecast that the East Coast of Scotland was at great risk and that the blow-out that occurred has increased the unease that exists over this? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, regardless of cost either to the companies or through lost revenue to the Government, all safety precautions will be taken to ensure that such a catastrophe will not spoil the natural and economic coastal environment of Scotland?

Not only the East Coast of Scotland but all coastlines around the North Sea could be affected. In fact, the prevailing wind drove the slick towards Norwegian waters, and that caused the greatest concern. We had not forecast what would occur, but we had anticipated a risk. I am therefore determined that the oil companies, together with the Government, should take the necessary precautions to minimise what must be a continuing risk, because no one can guarantee against human or technical accidents.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what proportion of their expenditure the oil companies devote to measures for the prevention and control of oil pollution?

I cannot answer that question without notice, but if I were to ask the oil companies about the extent of their preparations they would argue that much of their equipment that is used for general purposes, such as supply vessels and barges, would be available for dealing with a blow-out. It would be difficult to identify a particular amount and separate it from the rest of their expenditure.

In view of the vital part played by divers in the inspection of pipelines in order to avoid spillage, will the right hon. Gentleman join with me and my colleagues in trying to persuade the Treasury to reconsider its policy of no longer allowing divers to be self-employed, because that could lead to industrial action?

That is a wholly different question. I am aware of it and I have received representations about it. It is a matter for the Treasury. However, I am concerned about the loss of life among divers and about blow-outs. The most important single thing that we can now do to maintain safety standards is to ensure that there is full trade union representation on the platforms and rigs, so that safety regulations are fully carried out.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what responsibility for North Sea oil pollution will be assumed by the British National Oil Corporation in return for its interest in the oil.

The BNOC is responsible, as a licensee, in the same way as the other companies, for any liability arising from offshore oil pollution. In the case of participation oil, however, the companies have agreed to indemnify the Corporation for its liability under the various licences until such time as the Corporation may take possession of the oil.

Does that not seem a strange arrangement? Since BNOC owns 51 per cent. of the oil and since, as we have seen recently, pollution comes first and arguments start afterwards, is the right hon. Gentleman entirely satisfied that if we had a disaster there would not be arguments that would continue while pollution was spreading? Can he give us a categoric assurance that the arrangements that he has outlined really will stand?

In the event of an accident, there will be no arguments that will deflect us from getting on with stopping the trouble and clearing up the consequences. The BNOC is negotiating to become a member of the Offshore Pollution Liability Association. There are obviously commercial insurance propositions that will be attractive not only to individual private sector companies but to the BNOC itself. It is important to distinguish between the BNOC's owning 51 per cent. and intending to exercise its option, and this is a matter to be dealt with by the Corporation at the appropriate time. We have an agreement, and I think that we shall get along very well with that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Ekofisk blow-out seems to point to the desirability of establishing an organisation comprising all countries with seaboards on the North Sea? Does he further agree that if an emergency arose on any drilling rig, irrespective of who owns it, immediate emergency operations should be put into effect, and that this would require the co-operation of all nations bordering the North Sea? What direction have his inquiries taken?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The action of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in going immediately to see the Norwegian Minister after the Ekofisk blow-out is proof of our cohesion, at least with our Norwegian friends, in dealing with these matters. Other countries are less immediately involved, except with the consequences of any incident, but we hope to try to get an understanding at the June conference that was mentioned earlier by my right hon. Friend. It is arguable whether there should be a North Sea riparian agreement with a system of inter-governmental control or a system under which the companies police themselves and the States inspect the policing, but Governments and the companies all agree that we cannot allow these incidents to happen.

National Union Of Mineworkers

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers.

My right hon. Friend and I have frequent meetings with NUM leaders to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Do the Minister and the Secretary of State agree that it is high time that we got rid of this tiresome argument about the construction of Drax B? Has the Minister noticed during the last few days the propaganda—ranging from that put out by Woodrow Wyatt to that of the Financial Times—putting forward the Arnold Weinstock line, of which I thought we had heard the last, especially from the Cabinet? Must we not provide the necessary jobs and incomes and ensure a market for coal?

My hon. Friend must be aware that the matter has been considered by the House and that the Secretary of State intimated to the House, when I was present, that he had met the Central Electricity Generating Board on this matter. I am sure that my hon. Friend saw the statement by the Prime Minister on 12th May giving an assurance that the order for Drax B would be made with the minimum of delay.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the order for Drax B will be put out to competitive tender and that the tender will be discussed by the House?

My understanding is that this project will be put out to competitive tender. I cannot say whether it would be specially brought before the House.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the placing of the order for Drax B should not be dependent on the reorganisation of the industry, which is now going forward, and that the order should be placed, as the Minister has already said, without further delay? Does my hon. Friend also agree that when the reorganisation of the industry takes place we should be one of the vested interests making a noise to ensure that the industry is not dominated by one person and that there is a large public stake in the reorganised industry?

The Secretary of State for Industry is dealing with this matter and I am sure that if my hon. Friend put those questions to him my right hon. Friend would be only too pleased to explain the answers.

Will the Minister assure the House that there is Cabinet unanimity on the matter of Drax B?

Will the Minister clarify his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser)? Did he say quite categorically that the order for Drax B, if placed, would be put out to competitive tender?

I said that I understood that when such orders were placed, they were put out to competitive tender. I qualified my statement by saying that I understood it to be so. As for whether the matter would be specially brought before the House, I said that I was not in a position to answer.

Uranium (Control And Supply)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what conversations he has had with the United States Administration about the future control and supply of enriched uranium, so far as it affects the United Kingdom and consultations internationally.

My Department keeps in close touch with the United States Administration on all matters connected with fissile materials required for nuclear power programmes.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new policies of the United States Administration on nuclear fuel supplies and reprocessing must call into question some of the assumptions upon which the British nuclear power industry has operated up to now? Are these assumptions being revised, and what implications are there in this for overseas contracts for reprocessing?

My hon. Friend is right in saying that a new emphasis is being given in these matters, but it is worldwide, not just in the United States. Leadership is also being given by the United Kingdom and other countries in trying to prevent the proliferation of technologies that could lead to the spread of nuclear weapons. It is a matter with considerable international implications. It is also true that many countries are now engaged in a political review—that is, a ministerial review—of nuclear policy and the assumptions that have underlain that policy and that have, perhaps, gone unexamined for some time. This is now seen as an urgent matter all over the world.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the point made by John Nye at the Salzburg Conference recently—that, on the face of it, the American provisions for export licensing under the so-called MB 10 clause are inconsistent with the longer-term contracts of the kind envisaged by the Japanese and BNFL?

I could not answer that in detail in a reply to a supplementary question. However, it is widely agreed—and I also take this view—that the proliferation and the risk of proliferation of such technology must be dealt with on the basis of international action and by an internationally agreed and enforced proposal. There are many countries for which nuclear power plays a part in meeting their energy needs, but there is also a need to prevent the proliferation of sensitive technologies, and that must have the highest priority in the view of any sensible Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a responsible and knowledgeable nation that takes the view that if the policy of President Carter were generally applied it would in the end result in greater proliferation of processing rather than the opposite?

I am aware of the argument that if we shake confidence in the availability of materials under proper supervision it may have the opposite effect to that intended. However, it is important that those countries with a background and a trade in nuclear power, such as the United Kingdom, should make it clear that non-proliferation must be a prime purpose and that within that framework such trade as takes place should be fully and completely safeguarded.

In considering the approach of the President of the United States will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the major lead that Great Britain has in fast breeder reactors—where, for a change, the Americans are technologically and practically way behind us—is used to get a major breakthrough both for our own energy and for earning foreign income?

That is a separate but relevant and connected question. The Government policy towards the basic decision on the CFRI will be taken in the light of a number of factors. The United States Government have taken a decision on Clinch River, and I read in the newspapers, though I do not have a full account of it, that the Germans may have frozen some of the funds for their fast breeder programme. We shall look at the fast breeder decision in the light of a number of factors, including economic factors.

Gas And Electricity Prices

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement about Government policy in regard to prices charged by the gas and electricity industries and the likelihood or otherwise of further subsidies to those industries.

We believe that gas and electricity should be priced at economic levels which reflect the cost of supply, encourage the best use of national energy resources, and maintain the industries on a sound financial basis.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that despite previous mis-demeanours on the part of previous Governments we are now reformed characters on the Opposition Benches and warmly approve of his answer?

The hon. Gentleman does not have to convince us that he and his hon. Friends are reformed characters. He has to convince the electorate, and I think that that will be a marginally harder job.

Will my hon. Friend comment on the exaggerated estimates that have been made of the likely increase in electricity prices as a result of the forward ordering of the Drax B power station? Will he ask the Opposition why they never quote the figure of £45 million that would be saved in social benefits as a result of the 4,000 jobs that the order would preserve? Will he also make clear that there is no question, if the order is to save jobs, of its going out to competitive tender and new designs, and that the only option, if we are to save jobs, is for the order to be a replica of Drax A?

I can only advise my hon. Friend to table a number of those Questions to the appropriate Department. As to the figures that have been mentioned in the Press, the House should be aware that there is a fair amount of discussion, if not dissatisfaction, about many of those figures and my right hon. Friend is having the whole position thoroughly examined.

Oil Platform Orders

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the number of oil platform orders likely to be placed in 1977 and 1978, respectively.

As stated in the recent report to Parliament on Development of the Oil and Gas Resources of the United Kingdom—the Brown Book—there are reasonable prospects of four to five orders for major oil production platforms up to mid-1978, with perhaps some additional orders for smaller structures during the same period.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government would not condone the proposal by Redpath Dorman Long Ltd., of Methil, in Fife, to build a platform at a loss purely for the sake of getting the order? Will he confirm that he will not allow this subsidiary of British Steel to compete on these terms with viable profit-making yards elsewhere?

I have written a most charming letter to the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) explaining that we do not direct orders to any particular site or favour any particular company. The remarks attributed to Sir George Sharp, the Convenor of the Fife Regional Council, have been exaggerated.

May I ask, in a more useful than charming fashion, what research has been done and encouragement given to second generation platforms, say on the tension leg principle, that could be exported to oil developments in other parts of the world?

This is an important possibility. It is amazing how fashion changes in the oil industry. It has moved away from concrete platforms towards steel, but perhaps one day it will return to concrete. The sort of platform mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is under consideration by oil companies almost everywhere in the North Sea.

United States Policy

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he will next discuss with the United States Administration the implications of United States energy policy for the United Kingdom.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to meet his American counterpart, Dr. Schlesinger.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what account he is taking of the recent statements of President Carter in formulation of energy policy.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will reappraise Her Majesty's Government's policy on the reprocessing of nuclear waste, in the light of remarks of President Carter on the United States policy and its effects on the United Kingdom.

I met Dr. Schlesinger and others during my visit to the United States from 3rd to 6th April for discussions. I have no immediate plans for a further meeting with the United States Administration but I shall seek another opportunity later.

I welcome President Carter's proposed programme and particularly its emphasis on energy conservation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already stated that the Government are re-examining non-proliferation policy. The broad issues involved were, of course, among the major themes of the Heads of Government meeting on 7th and 8th May.

If the right hon. Gentleman welcomes President Carter's belief in conservation, why is it that he is not implementing any effective depletion policy for the North Sea? If the United States forecast is correct, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the demand for oil will exceed supply from 1985 onwards and that the value of oil will increase. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it stands to reason that it would be for the benefit of the community if there were a conservation programme that left more oil to be developed when scarcity values comes into effect?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's points. The hon. Gentleman is incorrect about depletion, because Parliament has granted depletion powers to Ministers that allow us to phase the development of the oil. Until self-sufficiency has been secured, there is some merit in encouraging exploration so that the option is available to us. I cannot endorse the United States forecast. The strange thing is that the world is not yet even agreed on the scale and timing of an energy gap, although a great deal of discussion concentrates on that issue.

Although the House should be able to support the Secretary of State in his determination to increase the conservation side of the energy equation, is it not rather pitiful that thus far, since the end of 1973, what has been achieved in conservation has been only a few percentage points? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that his Department urges other parts of Whitehall and British industry to do more?

A major exercise is in progress under my hon. Friend who, in the Department, is responsible for conservation with Ministers from other Departments in preparation for a greater conservation programme. As the House will appreciate, conservation falls across many Departments, not merely my own. Every Department uses energy, or is responsible for industries or operations that use energy. What has been achieved has not been bad considering that it takes some time to build up programmes. Some of it has been related to the slump, which is not entirely welcome, anyway. Over a period we shall be putting the maximum effort into conservation as expenditure in conservation may be a cheaper way of bridging the so-called energy gap than enormous expenditures on generating energy by other means.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that in Europe there is the fullest understanding of President Carter's attitudes and ideas to make sure that we have the fairest policies compatible with United Kingdom interests in Europe? It seems that there may be one law for the United Kingdom and another for other members of the Community in United Kingdom energy matters.

The House knows that I suggested at the last Energy Council that I chaired that conservation should be discussed and that at the next Energy Council nuclear policy will be discussed. At any rate, the two ingredients of American energy policy are to go before the Council of Ministers in Brussels. It is difficult to harmonise EEC energy policy, which we shall be discussing in the House tomorrow night, because there are wide differences of interest. Naturally, every country wishes to maintain control over its own energy policy. Every country in the Community sees that as being central to its national interest.

What progress has been made between the Departments of Energy and Transport in formulating transport policies that conserve energy?

The use of energy in transport is one of the major areas of interest. My hon. Friend who chairs the interdepartmental examination of these matters is closely in touch with the Department of Transport. We are involved, but every Department has a capacity to contribute towards energy conservation. It is my desire that matters should be organised so that the interdepartmental examination does just that.

Gas And Electricity Disconnections

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with present procedures in relation to disconnections.

Yes, Sir. All area electricity boards and gas regions have now instructed their staffs in the application of the code of practice on payment of gas and electricity bills. The industries are monitoring operation of the code and the Department of Energy is being kept informed.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. Despite the evidence of the Department, is he aware that there are still disconnections and that if there had been a little research—this applies especially to poor people and old-age pensioners—the disconnections or threats of disconnection would not have taken place? During the summer months will my hon. Friend try to establish better liaison between electricity and gas managements and the social service departments of local authorities?

As the code is an innovation, we recognise that there will be teething troubles. We have no evidence of any major breach of either the letter of the code or the principles behind it. If my hon. Friend knows of specific instances where he feels that the code should have protected people from disconnection but has not done so, I hope that he will refer them to me without delay.

Overseas Development

United Nations University

32.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what plans Her Majesty's Government have for British involvement in the development of the United Nations' University.

During the consultative meeting of the United Nations' University held at the Royal Society on 25th and 26th October 1976, which was opened by one of my predecessors, the rector and other senior members of the university were able to make contact with several British institutions. One such institution, the Tropical Products Institute, which is a part of my Ministry, has now entered into an agreement to accommodate United Nations' Universities fellows for studies concerning food loss and food conservation.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. How can the Government reconcile their frequent statements of sympathy for the developing countries with their refusal to give any financial support to what is both an imaginative and practical project that would be of great value to the relevant countries?

I am not aware that we have made any such refusal. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very anxious to help. The position is that the liaison most directly occurs with the universities in Great Britain and our own specialist ODM institutions of which there are several. We shall maximise cooperation in every way we can.

Government Aid

33.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she is satisfied with the level of aid given by the British Government to developing countries.

The present level of overseas aid is not as high as I would wish. Future levels will be considered in the next public expenditure review, having regard to the Government's acceptance in principle of the United Nations target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, which does not altogether surprise me. Does she agree that one way of avoiding fluctuations in the level of aid to overseas countries would be to set out immediately a plan for Britain to contribute a certain percentage of its GDP each year? Beyond that, will she tell us exactly what was agreed in terms of the common aid fund, which was left so vague at the Summit Meeting?

A number of considerable and important expressions of good will were made at the Summit Meeting at Downing Street. I am talking about expressions from other countries—for example, the United States. I think that this is important. We shall have to wait a little time to see how they express themselves in material terms. I am sure that in the public expenditure review this summer we shall be taking into account the atmosphere of the Summit Meeting at Downing Street and the precise statement that emerged from it.

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Prime Minister said that the Government were always willing to give humanitarian aid to the liberation movements of Southern Africa? How vigorously is the Department carrying out that policy? Will my right hon. Friend publish details in the Official Report?

I shall be glad to publish details in the Official Report. I think that it might help considerably to clarify some of the matters that have been in doubt. I believe that there is a Written Question to be answered later today, so I cannot go too far into detail. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Cambodia?"] If one is allowed to answer interjections, I hope to say something about the Cambodian question before long.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her original reply to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) sounded a little strange as in announcing his economic measures last December the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government were going to reduce the money available for aid by £50 million in the current financial year and by a further £50 million in the next financial year? Is that still the policy of Her Majesty's Government, or has it been altered as a result of the Downing Street Summit Conference? If it is still the Government's policy, when is the right hon. Lady planning to announce the details of where the cuts are to be made?

I have already answered questions in the House about the effect of the cuts at the end of last year. I should be delighted to welcome the hon. Member as a recruit to the cause of resisting cuts in public expenditure.

Since President Carter and all of us in the West are deeply concerned about relations with other countries, can my right hon. Friend say what aid is being given to countries such as Chile and Indonesia? Such countries have Governments not renowned for their concern for civil rights and liberties. What studies are being carried out by her Department to develop ways of assisting countries that need aid and that could also assist development areas in this country?

We give a limited amount of aid to Chile—not to the Government of Chile, but to agencies. In particular, we give aid to the Catholic Church in Chile to help oppressed and repressed people. It is a limited amount of aid. I hope to increase it. There is a later Question about that on the Order Paper.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I am instigating studies in that area at the moment. It is important that we relate our aid and development programme to the needs of British industry. I believe that it is entirely possible to integrate the two more effectively than we have achieved so far.

Alternative Energy Sources

35.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what percentage of the British aid programme is devoted to assisting developing countries in projects related to wind, wave, solar or geothermal energy.

There is no specific allocation for such projects. My Ministry is, however, very ready to help in these fields. We have undertaken geothermal exploration programmes in certain countries, and we have made a small beginning in research on wind and solar power.

I welcome the beginnings that have been made, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the oil crisis has hit a great many developing countries far more savagely than it has hit the Western world? Does she accept that it is of paramount importance for such countries to develop alternative energy policies if their economies are to take off?

I entirely agree. I hope to pursue this matter within my Department. We have a number of expert advisers who specialise in the relevant aspects. I hope to pursue this problem with them, in co-operation with the Secretary of State for Energy.

United States Proposals

36.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what study she has made of the recent proposals of the Carter Administration in the field of overseas aid and development.

Last month I had very useful talks in Washington with Governor Gilligan, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. The development aid appropriations sought by the Carter Administration for the United States fiscal year 1978, which begins on 1st October 1977, represent, on a comparable basis, an increase of 6 per cent. over the former Administration's request for that year. The United States Government, like our own, is party to the declaration of the Downing Street Summit that

"we shall work to increase the flow of aid and other real resources from the industrial to developing countries."

May the House take it from that answer that the Minister will be pressing her colleagues to do everything possible to emulate President Carter's example in this respect? In particular, will the Minister seek to ensure that there is no mismanagement and inefficiency in our existing aid programme and that we get the best value for money, to which President Carter attached great importance in his statement to Congress?

From consultations with Governor Gilligan and his staff, it is fair to say that there is no doubt that our aid programme is extremely effective and efficient. Therefore, we do not need to feel guilty in that respect, although of course we shall keep a close eye on these matters. I do not like to use such phrases, but we must ensure that we have a full, frank and free dialogue with the Carter Administration on these matters. That is what I tried to do in Washington three weeks ago. I hope that we can help each other.

During my right hon. Friend's discussions with the Carter Administration did the question arise of co-operation over the provision of aid to countries that deny elementary human rights to their citizens?

During my discussions in Washington I had conversations with Governor Gilligan and the lady whom President Carter has appointed to be responsible for human rights issues. We had considerable discussions about the problems of deciding exactly how one relates an aid programme to human rights. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are great problems in that respect. We certainly began an interesting discussion on that matter.

Would the right hon. Lady please answer my previous question? Is she going to implement the cuts in aid in the current year and the next financial year which were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last December? Alternatively, has there been a change in Government policy on aid as a result of the meetings at the Downing Street Summit?

I thought that the hon. Member was familiar with the process. The cuts announced in the last White Paper are being implemented this year. I have already indicated that although this will cause considerable difficulties in the aid programme—and I do not underrate them—we hope that we shall not have to cut any country's allocation. The hon. Member will be equally aware that in the public expenditure review that takes place this summer we shall review all future years. I should be very happy indeed if Opposition Members supported the idea of resisting cuts to the aid programme in the context of public expenditure.

Departmental Staff (Dispersal)

37.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she now expects the plans to relocate her Department in Scotland to be finally implemented.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, said in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on 25th April that he would announce a revised timetable as soon as possible. I am unable to give further information at present.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in addition to the new Department in East Kilbride, the Ministry of Overseas Development is still considering alternative office development in Scotland to provide several hundred extra jobs? Is she aware that the Central Regional Council, in my area, has proposed several sites of office development, which I should be delighted to show to her on her next visit to Scotland?

I shall be happy to take up my hon. Friend's invitation. The location for the major part of the Ministry of Overseas Development dispersal has already been settled. We are now waiting for plans. There are a number of real problems concerning the second element of the dispersal. I welcome my hon. Friend's proposition.

Is the Minister aware that the slippage in this timetable is causing concern, because people in Scotland feel that fraudulent claims have been made about jobs being redistributed to Scotland? Since part of the Ministry is to move to East Kilbride, and since Stone-house no longer exists—knowing that the Minister shares my interest in new towns—will she consider the good claims for the cartography section to be established in Cumbernauld?

I appreciate the feelings of the hon. Lady. The East Kilbride part of the dispersal is now settled. The other element is causing genuine problems. The question of siting is open to consideration.

Crown Agents (Fay Committee's Report)

39.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will publish the Report of the Fay Committee on the Crown Agents when she has received it; and if she will make a statement.

Yes, Sir. I shall certainly publish the report, and I shall make a full statement to the House when the report is published.

In the meantime, will my right hon. Friend instruct the Crown Agents, as one of the creditors of the fallen Stern group, to sue for bankruptcy, as is usual with most other people who are involved in bustups of this kind? Does the Minister think that it was wrong for the Bank of England to lean on the First National Bank of Chicago not to sue for bankruptcy against Sterns? Will she give assurances that if none of the 32 creditors is prepared to sue for bankruptcy against the William Stern £110 million property empire, she, as Minister responsible for the Crown Agents, will see that that action is carried out?

As I think my hon. Friend knows from previous exchanges, there is a lot of background to this.

The Crown Agents have been concerned to protect what they can of their own investments in this situation. However, my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the Crown Agents informed me towards the end of last week that the formal steps necessary, prior to the institution of legal proceedings that could ultimately lead to a bankruptcy petition against Stern, have now been taken.

Sugar Cane (Fiji Meeting)

38.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement concerning the outcome of the recent African, Caribbean and Pacific nations meeting in Fiji, with particular reference to the future of sugar cane imports to the United Kingdom.

With permission, I will answer Question No. 38.

The Community delegation to this second meeting of the ACP/EEC Council of Ministers was headed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, representing the presidency, and I led the British delegation. The meeting was considered to be a success by both the Community and our African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners in the Lomé Convention. There was frank discussion leading to genuine co-operation and mutually acceptable solutions for the major outstanding problems. The Community's export earnings stabilisation scheme, Stabex, was expanded to include a number of new products, and concessions were extended to Western Samoa, Tonga, Seychelles, the Comores and Lesotho.

I took the chair at a financial working group, which worked out a resolution to define the policy for financial co-operation under the Lomé Convention. The resolution conceded an ACP request for a separate ACP/EEC sub-committee to examine the special problems of the least developed, landlocked and island countries. It was also agreed that the Seychelles and Comores should be added to the list of least developed countries in Article 48 of the Lomé Convention.

On trade matters the Community agreed to consider granting more favourable treatment to certain products from the ACP States and to hold joint talks on others. The Community is to study suggestions made by the ACP about the Community's standards for maximum levels of aflatoxin in imported feeding stuffs.

In response to a request from the ACP States, the Community announced that it would restore the original sugar export quotas of certain ACP countries which had not delivered their full commitment in the preceding year and whose quotas had consequently been reduced. In reaching this decision we recognised that these countries might have encountered special difficulties in implementing the sugar protocol for the first time, and the Community made it clear that the decision should not be seen as a precedent for future years. The Council agreed to consider requests from Zambia and Liberia to accede to the sugar protocol to the Lomé Convention.

It was agreed to refer for consideration by officials an ACP proposal for the establishment of a joint ACP/EEC centre for agricultural co-operation. I have arranged for a copy of the Press communique made after the meeting to be placed in the Library, and I shall circulate further details in the Official Report.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that full reply to this most important international conference, which, I think she will agree, is more important to long-term world relations than perhaps certain appointments or non-appointments. Will she tell the House whether the future of sugar imports into the EEC and Britain is a long-term assurance, whether there is a one-way ratchet mechanism which is now operating for just one year, and whether the renegotiation of sugar in 1980–81 could threaten the future of the cane sugar industry in this country?

As my hon. Friend will recognise, before and, indeed, during the renegotiations on our entry to the Market and on the first sugar arrangements that were made, these matters are in one respect matters for the discussion within the context of the Lomé Convention and in another respect matters for discussions within the Agricultural Council of the EEC. It is true to say that nothing that was decided in Fiji bears very strongly on the discussions still to take place in the Agricultural Council.

Is it or is it not the policy of the Government to press for the continued import of cane sugar in substantial quantities from these Third World countries?

The meeting in Fiji was concerned with the operation of the agreements that have already been reached. Quite honestly, it would be better if that question were addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of some progress at Fiji there also seems to have been disappointment by the ACP countries that they have not had real success in improving the importing of products like bananas, beef and rum, which would considerably assist in their prosperity?

My hon. Friend is right in the sense that in Fiji we agreed to refer the question of bananas and rum for further study and we shall get a further report on that. But I emphasise that the results of the Fiji meeting were recognised in the communiqué by the ACP countries as being a considerable success. It is true that at the beginning of the meeting, which lasted for almost a week, there were doubts whether it would be successful but at the end of the week it was agreed that it was successful. Certain questions were referred for further study. Those are the ones to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Was there any discussion about the operation of the European Development Fund, and did the developing countries express satisfaction or dissatisfaction about its operation so far?

There was a very lengthy discussion in the working party that I chaired. That helped a great deal, because there were a number of questions from the ACP countries about the way in which the EDF was operating. The discussion that took place helped clear the air a great deal and was generally helpful.

With regard to continuing imports of cane sugar from Commonwealth developing countries, do the present Government accept the undertaking given by the previous Government, which took us into the Common Market, about bankable assurances?

Our position with regard to the need to safeguard the interests of the cane sugar producing countries in the Commonwealth stands exactly as it was. The question that now arises concerns the detailed negotiations in the Agricultural Council and how that has to be implemented.

Since there are jobs involved on Merseyside, in Scotland and elsewhere, will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that the position on the import of sugar has not worsened and that the Government are doing their best to ensure that we get further imports of cane sugar to look after the jobs of the workers concerned?

There is no doubt about that at all. Our objectives are absolutely clear. All I am trying to explain to the House is that on this question, as is so often the case within the European Community, there is more than one forum of discussion. I am trying to explain that the forum of discussion with which my hon. Friend is now concerned lies with the Agricultural Council during the course of its discussions in the near future. There is no doubt at all about our concern to protect the interests of the cane producing countries of the Commonwealth, which equally match the needs of workers in the cane processing industry in Britain.

The further details are as follows:

The Community's export earnings stabilisation scheme, Stabex, was expanded to include vanille, cloves, pyrethrum, gum arabic, ylang ylang, wool and mohair. The concession under the scheme, which grants eligibility to exports to all destinations, rather than solely the Community, was extended to Western Samoa, Tonga, Seychelles, the Comores and Lesotho. The Community also pledged that where exceptional events may distort the trade figures that are used to calculate the financial transfer the Community will seek a solution through a favourable interpretation of the existing provisions of the scheme.

On trade matters the Community agreed to consider granting more favourable treatment to tomatoes and melons from the ACP States. Joint talks with the ACP countries are to be held on the questions of rum and bananas. The Community is to study suggestions made by the ACP about the Community's standards for maximum levels of aflatoxin in imported feeding stuffs. Community aid for trade promotion is to be expanded to include improvements in the training of personnel and in the marketing of ACP products. Temporary derogations from the Rules of Origin have been granted to Kenya and Malawi for one year to enable them to use third country fish-hooks in the manufacture of artificial fishing flies to be exported to the Community. These derogations are intended to give these countries time to establish Community sources of supply. A joint working party is to be established to identify and assess the effects on ACP exports of the generalised preferences granted by the Community to the developing world as a whole.

Local Authorities (Restoration Of Works Powers) Bill (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

On Thursday last the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) made a submission that the Local Authorities (Restoration of Works Powers) Bill was a Hybrid Bill and should be referred to the Examiners. He has also sent me a letter, which I have also considered. I undertook to consider the matter and to rule on it today.

Under the Local Government Act 1972 the Secretary of State made three orders giving 25 specified local authorities permission to enter into building agreements with other local authorities for a limited period. This period has now expired, and the sole purpose of the Bill is to give the same powers to the same local authorities for an unlimited period by amending the relevant provisions in the three orders.

These orders, which were made in 1975 and 1976, were subject to annulment at the time but went unchallenged in the House.

The recent statement by the Examiners on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, which was referred to by the hon. Member, draws attention on page 5 to two rulings, one by Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown and another by Mr. Speaker King, in these words:
"The effect of both of them is that the category or class that is relevant is the one selected by the promoters of the Bill."
This selection is precisely what has been done in this case, the class formed consisting of all the local authorities which were given identical special powers by orders under the 1972 Act.

The hon. Member claimed that the list of 25 authorities contained in the orders was not exhaustive. It may be true that other authorities could have been included originally, but, as Mr. Speaker King said in 1966,
"Fortunately, it is not for me to consider the reasons why these particular criteria are chosen."—[Official Report, 25th July 1966; Vol. 732, c. 1222.]
The Bill has been drafted by reference to the orders made under the 1972 Act, and it is only those authorities and powers covered by the orders with which it is concerned. By relating the provisions of the Bill exactly to those in the orders, a recognisable class has been created, in my opinion. It is not, in my opinion, an example of "naked selection" referred to in the Examiners' Report which was quoted by the hon. Member.

I therefore rule that it does not appear that the Standing Orders relating to Private Business may be applicable to this Bill and that Standing Order No. 38 does not require it to be sent to the Examiners.

Her Majesty's Ambassador, Washington

The House will recall that last Thursday, 12th May, when I was questioned about the position of Sir Peter Ramsbotham, Her Majesty's Ambassador in Washington, I said that Sir Peter had served with distinction and that I had no criticism to make of him. I added that when I became Foreign Secretary he was on the point of taking up his post and that as incoming Foreign Secretary I confirmed him in it.

Since then, as a result of reports in the newspapers, it has been charged that a smear campaign has been launched against Sir Peter Ramsbotham, which, and I quote
"bears all the marks of being governmentally inspired".
I therefore wish to make it clear that no such campaign has been launched. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) first raised this, in a public letter to me late on Thursday evening, and I replied immediately to confirm that what I had said in the House at Question Time represented my view in all respects.

I have myself since then been able to examine the account written by the Press Association of the official briefing on Thursday morning, and this contains no offensive personal reference to Sir Peter Ramsbotham. The Press Secretary at No. 10 issued a personal statement "on the record" on Friday morning to this effect.

During the past weekend further Press reports appeared alleging that the personal remarks about Sir Peter Ramsbotham were made subsequent to the official briefing, in private conversation. By their very nature, it is impossible to prove or disprove these charges. In these circumstances, I think it right, therefore, to say to the House that I do not hold these views about Sir Peter Ramsbotham; and I should perhaps add that he himself is in no doubt about this, since I telephoned him immediately last Thursday, after the stories had appeared, in order to assure him of my confidence and to confirm that the reports I have referred to do not reflect the views of Her Majesty's Government.

Is the Prime Minister aware that we welcome his statement, the fact that he recognises Sir Peter Ramsbotham's distinguished service to this country, and the fact that he has no criticism to make of him and, therefore, totally dissociates himself from all the stories which have appeared in the Press? However, in view of what the Prime Minister subsequently said, how does he explain the remarkably similar stories written by reputable journalists appearing simultaneously in London and the provinces last Thursday afternoon?

Is it not a fact, bearing that in mind and realising that the Prime Minister knows these matters just as well as the rest of us do, that this is a sordid and disreputable affair, for which he should now, as the Head of the Government, apologise personally and have the courage to do so?

My view, having read the stories in the two evening newspapers, is that they do not coincide. What coincides is the headline. What is interesting is that the headline first appeared in one of the newspapers and then appeared in a later edition of the second newspaper, not having previously appeared in it. Whether that is coincidence or not, I do not know, but that is as far as I can go on the fact of the headlines of the stories.

As regards the particular concern of these matters, the Press Secretary at No. 10 is a reputable and honest man who stands high in the calendar of all Press secretaries. Everyone who has dealt with him knows that to be the case. I have gone as far as I can in respect of this gentleman, who is a civil servant and who has told me, as far as he can recall, exactly what happened. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is nothing to apologise for. I have given a full explanation. Sir Peter Ramsbotham knows what the facts are, and I think that we should leave it there.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that our primary concern in these matters should be the effect that they have on the Labour Party membership? Does he recall that when he defeated our right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) for the leadership of the Labour Party he was able to achieve a large degree of unanimity behind his leadership, because associated with his victory was the idea that now the Labour Party was to break from the Oxford-based intellectual elitism which has so long dominated the Labour Party and that, therefore, many of us on this side placed our trust in his leadership to take the Labour Party from that sort of intellectual grip?

Therefore, will the Prime Minister now say that he has not abandoned those original ideas of making a break from the conventional appointments of the past and that he can now give leadership to the Labour Party by saying that we shall have a more imaginative approach, that we shall search out the magnificent talent that there is, up and down the country, prepared to support the Labour Party? Will he not agree that now is the time to reach out and bring those people into government, so giving a fresh start and stimulus to this country?

I am sure that the Labour Party membership would not want an unwarranted personal slur to lie against the name of any of Her Majesty's ambassadors. That is the subject of the statement that I have made today. My hon. Friend's other questions go much wider. Perhaps we can deal with the appointment which has been made, if hon. Members wish it. I did not think that the appointment which has been made was a conventional appointment from the past. I thought that it did recognise the talent which exists up and down the country.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Press Association Political Correspondent reported at 12.23 p.m. on Thursday that Mr. Jay had got the job because the Foreign Secretary was

"… unhappy about the way in which the embassy was being run"
and that he felt that
"… it was completely out of tune with modern Britain"?
Does that accurately reflect what the Prime Minister's Press officer said at his Press briefing a few minutes earlier?

I have answered these questions as well as I can. It was the hon. Gentleman himself who named Mr. McCaffrey as the originator of the smear campaign, yet he himself has the impertinence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—to complain about attacks being made on Sir Peter Ramsbotham. Mr. McCaffrey is a civil servant, who, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, cannot complain. That is by way of preface, because the hon. Gentleman's rôle in this has not been a very honourable one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] As regards what has been reported, all I can refer to is the account given by the Chief Political Correspondent of the Press Association. Any stories that were written were based on that account. I can go no further than what I have said.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister has alleged that my rôle in this matter has not been a very honourable one. He has referred to what I said a few days ago. After I had received his letter in reply to mine on Thursday night I said:

"I regret that the Prime Minister did not repudiate"—

I said,

"I regret that the Prime Minister did not repudiate the smears against Sir Peter. I understand that they were based on a briefing given to the Press by the Prime Minister's Press Secretary."
We wish to hear what the facts were.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The letter I had from the hon. Member for Blackpool, South said that he deplored the fact that "this smear campaign"—that was the first time the word "smear" had been used—

"bears all the marks of being governmentally inspired".
Before any inquiry could be made, at the end of his letter he said,
"We are sending a copy of this letter to the Press."
He sought the publicity. He sought to implicate those who could not answer back.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that in the previous Session you ruled that it was not in order for one hon. Member to suggest that another hon. Member was not honourable or that his conduct was not honourable, and when I used the phrase in connection with the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire) you, quite rightly, asked me to withdraw it.

Order. Everyone knows that the rules of this House are that it is out of order to cast a reflection on the personal honour of any hon. Member.

What I said was that the hon. Member's rôle was not very honourable. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not want to impugn the hon. Gentleman's honour. Everybody knows his reputation in this House. I hope, too, that he will not impugn the honour of the Press Secretary at No. 10.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House and the country will have noted with interest the conversion of the Tory Opposition, who have stopped hammering and attacking the Civil Service and have now come to their aid? No doubt the Tory Party would have done exactly the same thing if the reputation of a Whitehall charwoman had been at stake. Would my right hon. Friend not agree that the statement made by the present Ambassador to the United States makes it clear that he has not shown any of the vindictiveness displayed by right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition? He has not behaved in their frenetic manner. He is a far better example of how this matter should have been handled. Would my right hon. Friend not further agree that the statement by the current Ambassador to the United States ought to be accepted by all sides so as to give the new Ambassador a fair chance to make his way in his important task?

I have known and worked with Sir Peter Ramsbotham in harmony and amity for some years. I am on close terms with him as a colleague from when we were both at the Foreign Office. He has behaved in this matter as I expected he would. He has been generous in his comments about his successor and he has refrained from embroiling anyone else. When I spoke to him on Thursday night, as soon as I saw the reports in the newspapers, which I must say distressed me very much—[Interruption.] I would not expect the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) to understand what I am trying to say. I immediately telephoned Sir Peter because although I knew that he would not have seen the papers, I wanted to assure him of the position as far as I was concerned. It is in the interests of this country in the United States that this should not become a party row.

It is our representation that matters, and Sir Peter Ramsbotham has generously indicated what he thinks about that.

Does the Prime Minister not realise that there remains a strong contrast between what he has said and what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) about the report of the Press Association? The report of the Press Association seemed quite clear, and I must say to the Prime Minister that, to all reasonable people, it did direct itself towards a Government Office and most probably to his. In the light of that, can he not please relieve the mind of the House? The House must be concerned that there has been what can only be characterised as a thoroughly bad bit of work here. The Prime Miniser has inadequately replied to the issue.

I am not sure to what further point I can reply. Of course this was directed at No. 10, and it was the No. 10 Press Office which gave the Press briefing. I have gone through the steps in sequence. I have explained that the official briefing contained no offensive personal reference. I have explained that, after the hon. Member for Blackpool, South had made his allegations, a personal statement was put out by the Press Secretary. I have explained that there were further indications given, saying that this did not take place in an offical briefing but took place in a private conversation. I have said that it is impossible to prove or disprove that. For all of those, whoever they may be, who have told the right hon. Gentleman that the reference did occur, there are others who are equally willing to say that it did not and that they heard nothing of the sort said. It is impossible to prove or disprove. That is why I came to the House to make a statement about the Government's attitude to Sir Peter Ramsbotham. I suggest, with respect, that that is the proper thing to do. I cannot explain any further than that.

Is the Prime Minister aware that we regard his statement as being what is owed to the present Ambassador and what is owed to the incoming Ambassador and that we accept it in that light? Will he accept that there is this grave disquiet about the coincidence of the reports in the two papers? While it is not unknown for papers, particularly those with flagging circulations, to be adept at picking up what other papers have printed—on the basis that they do not want to waste good "agony"—is not the coincidence of these reports extraordinary? While we accept everything that he has said about the official briefing, will he give an undertaking to the House that he will continue his investigations as to how these ideas were reported as being the thoughts of the Government while the Government deny that they ever existed?

I have not asked the editors of the newspapers how one of the papers came to change its headline in a later edition. I do not think that that is my job. I have gone as far as I can in explaining fully to the House what I know took place. I cannot pursue these matters any further than that. The Lobby system is regarded in two different ways. Some people think it works; some people think it does not. I do not think it worked very well on this occasion, I must say.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that many of us feel that both the Ambassador-designate and his distinguished predecessor are emerging with more credit out of this business than many of their so-called champions or detractors in this House the longer this silly and demeaning business goes on? Would he not further agree that there is a contrast, which we have to draw, between him speaking frankly on Thursday of last week about a somewhat agonising dilemma which he faced and the unattributed briefing upstairs? Do not these unattributed briefings, given by people who cannot be named to people who cannot answer back, inevitably lead to misunderstanding? Should we not have more of the former and fewer of the latter?

I think that after this last incident there is a case for looking at these arrangements again. I am attracted—I think that it is because of my own temperament—to having public briefings and not private briefings, because, with respect, I am not terribly ashamed or afraid of what I say on these matters and I am happy to have it published and printed. There is a longstanding convention. I know that attempts have been made to alter it in the past. Both sides had better reflect on what happened last week and see whether the system can stand up to it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in view of some of the things that he has said, no one on the Opposition side of the House is wishing in any way to make the situation more difficult, either as far—[Interruption.]—no, hon. Members will just have to listen until I have finished—concerning either the present Ambassador in Washington or the future Ambassador in Washington? Many of us on the Opposition side of the House have never commented on the position of the future Ambassador and recognise that, as a person, he may do an extremely good job there, but we are concerned with quite a different point.

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the fact that there were remarkably similar stories written both in London and in the provinces by reputable journalists. We are not going to argue against the Press Office at No. 10, but the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the whole Government. There has been a mistake. There has been a very sad and unhappy episode. Does the right hon. Gentleman not owe it to the House and the country personally to take responsibility for it and to apologise for it?

I am not clear as to the particular point about which the right hon. Gentleman wants the apology. [Interruption.] However, as far as I am concerned, I am ready to accept, and I have accepted full responsibility for it. I cannot say what has taken place in private conversations, of which there are apparently two versions. I do not know, and never will be able to find out, what has taken place in those particular matters.

As far as the other matters are concerned, it seems to me that this calls into question the nature of the briefings that are given and those who receive them, and it is to this that I think that we had better direct our attention in the future. Last Thursday I came to the House and gave my spontaneous reaction to a question that I was asked. This afternoon I have given as much information as I can about the events that have transpired since. I cannot give more.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the phoney fury over this appointment illustrates something that we all know too well—that we should believe less and less of what we read in the newspapers?

I think that it depends how much I know of the story how much I believe, on the whole. But, no, I would not want to destroy faith in the newspapers. Some of them have printed the accounts very fairly and without much prejudice, but certainly one on Saturday morning distinguished itself by the way in which it got down in the gutter about the Press Secretary at No. 10.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while we are pleased that it has been stated that no Minister has said anything or directed anyone to say anything derogatory about Sir Peter Ramsbotham, many of us who have benefited from the wisdom and advice of Sir Peter in both Iran and Washington, will deeply regret that his considerable talents are now to be confined to Bermuda?

Yes, I understand that, but, as was said at the time when the change was made, it was thought that there was a case, after three years, for a new approach in Washington. That has been the Government's case, and that is the Government's case as it stands. All Governments are entitled to take that view and to present a different picture at the time. There was no reflection on Sir Peter at all, and he is going to a very important post.

Police (Pay And Conditions)

4.4 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House, appreciating the genuine grievances of the police forces over their pay and conditions of service, urges Her Majesty's Government to settle the current dispute fairly and quickly; and calls upon the Home Secretary to set up without delay an independent inquiry into the Police Council and the future method of assessing a fair and just wages structure for the police forces.
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel that it is timely that we should be debating the police today, for we have reached a point at which no one is happy. I do not believe that the Home Secretary, Ministers in the Home Office or the Government can be happy to be in dispute with our police forces. We of the Opposition are certainly not happy about the sequence of events which has led to this dispute; the Police Federation, the negotiating body for the vast majority of policemen, is also most unhappy; and, most important of all, the rank-and-file members of the police force believe that the current situation is intolerable. I hope, therefore, that with a constructive discussion today we can go some way towards resolving a most difficult and potentially dangerous situation.

The current position is that the Government are in a state of deadlock with the police. Talks have broken down, the Government's pay offer is considered to be unsatisfactory by the Police Federation, and the Federation has left the Police Council where these discussions take place. Clearly, some way must be found out of this impasse with honour and with fairness for all.

Of course, this situation has come about because of the Government's pay policies. There is no point in my mincing any words over this. But it is not because our police forces are suffering the same equality of misery which is common to the entire work force of the country as a result of the social contract that I have raised this matter today. It is because I believe that the grievances of the police are genuine and that their situation has not been considered in a fair and just manner that I have put down the motion on the Order Paper.

Perhaps I could start by commenting briefly about "special cases". I am not sure that this phrase does not by now qualify as one of the most overworked phrases in our industrial vocabulary. Every section of industry considers itself to be a special case when it comes to a pay claim. Perhaps the furthest back that I can remember is the nurses in the early 1960s, followed in almost endless succession by the dockers, the miners, the engineering workers, the electricity workers, the toolmakers, the seamen and so on right through the industrial vocabulary. Let me say that I do not believe that in this particular context the police are a special case, because that is to confuse the issue. What I am certain of is that they are a different case from all the others I have mentioned, and I shall try in a few words to explain why.

It has always been accepted that our democratic society must be protected. For our society to remain free, those whom we charge with our protection must not only be, but must be seen to be, independent, in so far as it is possible, of political interference. Thus, our Armed Forces which protect us from external threat have always been prevented, as a condition of their service, from taking part in industrial or political associations, so that it is clear to our people that they are impartial and totally subject to the authority of the democratic Government of the day. But the consequence of this is that, if they are to be independent of industrial associations, no one can exert industrial pressure on their behalf, nor can they do so themselves. I do not think that there are more than one or two people in the House who would wish it otherwise.

On the other hand, we have a complex system of industrial bargaining headed by powerful trade unions which negotiate with Governments and within industries for the living standards of their workers. In between these two quite easily-defined extremes lie such services as the police. But here is the first fault of the system. Neither are they taken care of and protected as far as their pay and conditions of service are concerned, as the Armed Services are by the Government of the day, nor can they freely negotiate their pay and conditions of service in the industrial market place, as can those who are affiliated to the trade union movement.

Since it is inconceivable to me, and, I suspect, to many of my hon. Friends, that we could still maintain the atmosphere of a democratically sensitive police force if policemen were to compete at the same time in the industrial jungle, it seems clear that they must, as an alternative, be given the same, or roughly similar, independent and fair treatment as we accord to our Armed Services.

The price we must be prepared to pay to maintain independent and politically neutral police forces is a guarantee to those who serve in them that their pay and conditions of service will be independently assessed without recourse to the industrial struggle of the moment which exists, and rightly so, as part of the free collective bargaining element of the trade union movement.

Surely, no right hon. or hon. Member could contemplate other than with utter horror the prospect of industrial action by our police forces. Indeed, the only right hon. Gentleman who has so far said that he could do so—the Lord President of the Council—left the Chamber, not insignificantly, a moment ago.

We have shown that as a nation we can, if necessary, survive without coal, without heat, without transport and without many of the other services which we consider to be essential but which, under hardship, can be forgotten. But one thing is clear to me. We cannot survive without the protection of the law, and neither can we survive in the domocracy which we now know without both a stable and a politically impartial police force. Lack of coal or lack of heat merely makes us uncomfortable. Lack of law and order destroys the very fabric of our democracy and is a totally unacceptable prospect.

In trying to analyse how the present state of affairs has come about, I realise that the factors which make up a policeman's pay are complex, as are the values to be placed on the various aspects of a police officer's service. Indeed, not only are they complex in themselves but they impinge to an extent—to a minor extent, but nevertheless materially—on other organisations as well, since such ancillary police forces as exist throughout the United Kingdom, in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man as well as within the Ministry of Defence, will have any settlement of theirs consequent upon whatever settlement is reached for the regular police forces of our country.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has referred to the Ministry of Defence Police, because among all our police forces there can be no other group of officers who can claim with justification to have been more unjustly and unfairly treated. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Ministry of Defence Police have had their claim outstanding since June 1975, before the introduction of the present pay policy? Their claim was based on a letter to them by the Civil Service Department as long ago as spring 1974; yet still the Government have not lived up to the commitment which was made to them about pay.

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in this matter, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will pass his remarks on to her colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. I know that it is a very serious matter.

My hon. Friend has reinforced my argument. To analyse the matter more fully would take more expert knowledge and experience than I possess, so I do not intend to wade through the small print of the pay claim, although I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will have more to say in detail about the justice of the police pay claim if he catches the eye of the Chair. Suffice it to make one important point and then to put some flesh on the bare bones of the argument by giving some examples that I have obtained at first hand from policemen with whom I have talked.

When the Royal Commission on the Police reported, it set the average wage of a constable at 4 per cent. above the average earnings of an adult male in industry. When police pay was restructured, it was done on the basis that the average policeman's wage should be 104 per cent. that of the national average.

One of the chief complaints that brought about the current dispute is that the pay of the police has fallen behind that of everyone else, and the situation is no longer tolerable. It is now a fact—I assume that it is a fact, because the Government do not deny it and it has been stated often enough—that the average police constable now receives 82 per cent. of average male earnings. The Minister still does not deny that, which reinforces my belief that it is a fact.

Whether we are talking about a pay pause or about phase 1 or 2, surely no Government can tolerate such a comparative lowering of standards for their public servants. It hardly needs to be said that no trade union leader would be able to tolerate such a situation and still keep his job. If our policemen are now receiving nearly 20 per cent. less than the average wage, and the public are made more aware of this, surely any adjustment that has to be made to correct this imbalance will have the full support of the vast majority of our people.

During a series of meetings that I have held with groups of policemen in my constituency, they have shown me their pay slips. Whatever figures are bandied about by one side or another, I can only report that a constable who lives near me, who is married, with two children, and has seven years' service, is taking home just under £40 a week.

From pay slips provided by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), I have the following examples. A single man, an ex-cadet, 19 years of age, is taking home £149·21 a month. A married man with two children, 36 years old, with six years of police service, has take-home pay of £180·87 a month. A single man, 26 years old, with only 15 months' police service, has take-home pay of £119·82 a month—that is, just under £27 a week.

One policeman told me rather ruefully that were it not for his £1 a week bicycle allowance that he receives as a village bobby he would qualify to apply for family income supplement. Here I must draw attention to a most extraordinary remark made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on 5th May in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw):
"But I do not think that anybody should be ashamed of claiming family income supplement. It is not a matter either of pride or of shame."
Indeed, there is no shame to a police officer who has to claim it. The shame belongs totally to Ministers who still tolerate a pay level at which police officers have to resort to such claims because they are so badly paid.

I have one more example which gives even more cause for alarm than the others I have given. It concerns another village policeman living in a village five miles from where I live. On his day off, when he was in his garden, the telephone rang. The caller, someone in the village, told him that there had been a break-in and that about £5,000 worth of goods had been stolen and asked the police to come. The policeman, because he was off duty, was under no obligation to do anything, but he telephoned to his headquarters in Aldershot, reported that there had been a theft and said that police assistance was required. He then went back to his garden.

Half an hour later the caller rang again to repeat his request and asked where the police were. The policeman again contacted his headquarters in Aldershot and asked why no police had arrived. He was told that there was only one panda car on duty in the entire rural area. The officer at headquarters said "I am afraid that I cannot get the constable on the radio because he is inside a council house attending to a family dispute."

One hour after the crime, the citizen rang again. The policeman changed out of his gardening clothes, put on his uniform, went on his motor cycle to the scene of the burglary and stayed there until police reinforcements arrived. At the end of the affair he reported the matter to his headquarters, as he was in duty bound to do, and stated that he had done three hours' overtime. Not only was he not paid any overtime but he was admonished for having gone along on his motor cycle while off duty and he was warned that if he had been involved in an accident he would not have been covered by insurance.

That is a true story. At the end of relating it, the police officer asked "What am I to do the next time this happens?" I said "What will you do next time?" and he replied "Of course, I shall turn out. I am the village policeman, and it is my duty."

The reason why he could not be paid is that overtime in the Hampshire force is limited to half an hour per man per month. That has been caused by financial cut-backs. When overtime is cut back in other industries, those who want to supplement their earnings because they have to take a loss are free to take an evening or weekend job—moonlighting, it is generally called.

Has not the situation been aggravated by the Government deliberately fiddling Government funds adversely to rural areas in favour of certain large conurbations, plus Wales?

I am making not cheap points but real live points. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the points I am making are cheap, let him stand up and say why.

I was referring not to the hon. Gentleman but to his hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop).

To come back to the question of supplementing reduced pay, workers in other industries can do it but the police are forbidden to do it. This was pointed out by a police constable who showed me an advertisement in a local paper for casual agricultural labour putting up hop wires and poles for the coming season. He would not have been too proud to do it in his off-duty hours to earn a little bit extra, but he is not allowed to—rightly, in my view—nor should he be in a financial position in which he needs to take on casual work to eke out his income. The point was not lost on him that the advertisement offered £1·35 an hour for this casual labour and that his basic hourly rate as a regular constable is £1·33. Somewhere our priorities are very wrong.

Where do we go from here? I believe that the most pressing need is to restore the confidence of our police force and to ensure that the police understand that no Government will stand by and accept that their loyalty and devotion to duty are to go unrewarded. That must be the first priority, because I believe it is generally considered that the morale of our police forces is lower now than it has ever been, at a time when crime is at its highest-ever level.

The Home Secretary can go a long way in restoring morale simply by carrying out his pledge to set up an independent inquiry to examine both the structure of the Police Council and the whole question of police pay and terms of service. I can think of no reason why the Home Secretary has not done that, because it is a gesture that would cost him nothing and would be proof of his good faith. There cannot be a shortage of people of calibre, good will and independent mind who would be prepared to carry out this task quickly and effectively.

Secondly, the Home Secretary must come up with a formula for an increase for the police which, if it does not satisfy them totally—and I think we must accept that—will at least prevent them from feeling, as they do now, that they have been treated worse than any other sector of our society during the past two years.

There must be ways in which that can be brought about, because we have seen how the Government have managed to produce formulae which they have found to be acceptable within their own pay policy. If arrangements could be found whereby the extra allowances for the seamen were not contravening phase 2, and they were taken with firm promises for phase 3, given the Government's good intention surely such a formula can be found for the police.

In this respect I add one note of caution. This is a purely personal view, but I hold it strongly. There has been talk of a special element of pay being awarded as "danger money". I feel that in the long term we should regret such a special payment. It is not impossible that many people will take the view that when the police were suffering assaults in their attempts to uphold the law such sufferings could be described as "that is what the police are paid for".

We all remember the infamous photograph of the policeman being kicked in the face during the riots in Red Lion Square. To acknowledge that we accept that the police are subject to such painful, dangerous and outrageous assaults by "paying" them for such assaults would not, I believe, be a helpful ingredient in the attitude and relationship with the general public that any benevolent police service seeks to achieve—and in which ours excels. That is not to say that physical hazard cannot be included together with other elements as part of the service that we accept from our police officers, and for which we are prepared to pay them, but I do not believe that danger money as a separate element is in essence a good solution.

I hope that by the end of this debate we can hear that the Government have resolved to assure our police forces of their good faith. I hope we can hear that the Home Secretary will delay no longer in setting up an independent inquiry and putting it to work. I hope we can hear that Ministers will spare no effort to devise some formula to bring justice to the police in phase 2 and promise them compensation for the hardship they have already suffered when we come to phase 3. I hope that in return the Police Federation will be prepared to return to the negotiating table, because it will have made its point, and all parties to this dispute, including the Police Federation, will need to show magnanimity and good will to resolve it.

If those four simple aims can come about, I feel that today's motion will have been worth putting on the Order Paper.

Before calling the next hon. Member I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker desires me to remind hon. Members that this debate may continue until 7 o'clock. The matter is in the hands of hon. and right hon. Members, because there is a considerable number of hon. Members who wish to speak.

4.26 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) both on the subject that he chose for today's debate and on the reasonable and eloquent terms in which he proposed the motion.

I understand that the Home Secretary has another important engagement this afternoon and will not be present in the Chamber. I regret that particularly because it means that the Government will have nothing of any importance to say. I have a feeling that if the Government had something important to say this afternoon in reply to the debate the Home Secretary would have been here.

I regret the absence of the Home Secretary because the country is witnessing what is happening to an important element in our society where there has been a considerable loss of morale, a considerable feeling of grievance which many people looking at the position objectively feel is justified.

The position statistically would be shown to be very much worse were it not for a number of factors. The first factor is that although when one looks at the establishment of the police and compares it with the numbers serving in the police forces throughout the country one finds that in many areas the difference between those serving and the establishment strength does not look too great, one of the main reasons for that is that many establishments have not been revised to the degree that they should have been.

In West Mercia, where there has been a considerable shift of population into the area, there has been no increase in the establishment of that force. If one were to bring the establishment up to a sensible and real figure, the present position would show a real deficiency.

What is alarming—and it should be alarming to the Home Secretary and the Government—is that the areas in which recruitment is worst are those where crime is at its worst. It is of little use the Government constantly talking about their intentions to assist the inner city areas, when in nearly all the major inner city areas where crime is prevalent the police force is remarkably under establishment. The duty to soilve the problem lies heavily upon the Government, but there is no indication at the present time that they have tthe will and enthusiasm to solve it.

The other factor which conceals the true position is the very high level of unemployment. If we were living through the traditional full employment pattern which operates in Britain in a post-war era and were treating the police as shabbily as we are now, the loss in numbers of police officers to other industries would be substantial and there would be a marked lack of recruitment.

Therefore, we have the remarkable side of a Labour Government relying to some extent upon their success in creating record post-war unemployment to ensure that the manner in which they have treated the police does not have such detrimental effects as it would normally have had in our post-war society.

Right hon. and hon. Members will know that basically I have been a supporter of this Government and the previous Government, in present economic circumstances, having to pursue an incomes policy. There is some excuse, if an incomes policy is introduced in an emergency and sterling crisis, for the first phase of the policy to be unfair and unreasonable and to create all sorts of mistakes and hardships. If the Government then decide to continue with an incomes policy for a second year, they have plenty of time to consider the areas where they—the Government—have a measure of responsibility. They must consider the Armed Services, the health services, the country's key industries and, above almost everything else, perhaps, with the exception of the Armed Services, the police forces and law and order.

By having gone through phase 1 and a year later agreeing to a phase 2 that could not and would not deal with the genuine grievances of the police, the Government have much to answer for, and they must be found guilty of doing much damage to the police.

The Government appear to be approaching a phase 3 of the incomes policy, and the fact that they have not made abundantly clear the way in which they intend to deal with a vital sector—the police—is a further criticism of their lack of recognition of the gravity of the problem.

Morale in the police forces is very low. In spite of high unemployment elsewhere, we are losing some of our best officers. We are in a period, not just of high crime, but when crime amongst the younger element in society is at a staggering peak. Teenage crime in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow is at such levels that we must have the full establishment in the police forces in the areas concerned and have police of very high calibre and quality.

I deeply regret that the Government have lingered as they have over this issue and that the absence of the Home Secretary today indicates that they will linger a little longer.

4.33 p.m.

There can be no doubt about the extent and strength of the discontent which exists amongst many members of police forces. For policemen in places often far removed from industrial disputes such as my own county of Northumberland, including policemen in rural areas, to take part in ballots and to register votes to the effect that they would be prepared to consider strike action and would like the power to do so indicates a state of feeling that should not exist in police forces. This is action taken by policemen who have no wish to strike and who would not have wished to create a situation which allowed them to do so if they had not felt deeply that they have been treated badly and have not received their fair due.

In a situation where feelings are runing so high, it is very important to be absolutely clear about the facts and that everybody concerned is in a position to know them. I am not sure that that is the case so far. That is why I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) for bringing this subject before the House today. That is also why I support his demand for an inquiry into future procedures surrounding police pay. However, I believe that a more impartial and objective inquiry into the present situation, as well as the future position, is called for.

There are so many confusions. The Police Council has stated that the average weekly pay of a police constable is £80. The Police Federation has stated that the average weekly pay is £70. The position is further complicated because some insist on talking about net, take-home pay, whereas others talk about gross pay. The Police Council has stated that the average weekly pay of all ranks from constable to chief inspector is £90 a week. The Police Federation says that the average weekly pay of those ranks is £75 a week. Which of those is correct? Much confusion exists. The situation has been aggravated by the reduction in overtime which has occurred throughout the country. This has had a marked effect, although more on uniformed men than on detectives.

About one thing there is no doubt. In 1974, police pay had fallen substantially below average industrial earnings. The working party which then considered the matter reached the conclusion that a catching-up operation should take place. Before it was implemented, the first phase of the pay policy limiting increases to £6 a week came into effect. The policy pay award was specifically exempted from the White Paper. It is around the implications of this that the whole current issue centres.

The Home Office argument is that, instead of their being limited to £6 a week, police officers were given a very much larger rise. The Police Federation's case is that police officers were entitled to the rise as a catching-up operation and that they should have been given the £6 a week in addition and, after that, an award under phase 2.

Was anything agreed at that time? That is surely a crucial question. Was anything said by the Home Office, publicly or privately, which could have led the Police Federation properly to conclude that police officers were not entitled to an increase of £6 a week? Or rather, was the Federation entitled to assume that it could claim on behalf of police officers a £6 a week increase in addition to the catching-up amount?

That fact should be brought out. If it cannot be brought out today, it will strengthen the case for an impartial inquiry. It is clear that the leaders of the Police Federation have genuinely proceeded to argue on the assumption that they were entitled to make the £6 a week claim and that such a claim was not affected and should not have been affected by the effects of the working party's findings.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a very large number of police authorities appropriated the £6 to police pay?

I am aware of that. It underlines the confusion which arises amongst people who are well familiar with police negotiations and who would be expected to know all there was to know. It leads one to suppose that there was no understanding, no suggestion, nothing that the Police Federation should have taken into account in its discussions with the Government at the time.

The onus is on the Government to say whether they came to any agreement which would limit the powers of the Police Federation to negotiate under stage 1. If not, the case of the Police Federation seems to me to be very well backed and strengthened.

The suggestion of the Home Office is that the whole matter can be adequately dealt with by generous negotiation under phase 3. As we do not know what stage 3 of the pay policy will involve, it is rather difficult to ask the police to rest their faith in that statement and at the same time to give up a principle. The onus is on the Government to state reasons why the police should be obliged to do that. What happened in 1975 is obviously important.

To sum up the position as I see it, first there is no doubt about the deep sense of grievance and about the pressure which the leadership of the Police Federation is under from its members to get the matter resolved. It is based on a feeling that they have been cheated of what they should have. It is compounded by the reduction in overtime. Of course, the fact that no stage 2 increase is in the pockets of individual policemen because of the line the Federation has felt it necessary to take adds further to the sense of grievance and the practical difficulties of ordinary policemen and their families.

Clearly, there is real doubt—"disagreement" would be a better word—about what was said or agreed in 1975, This is at the centre of the issue.

There is a feeling among the police that to wait until stage 3 would be to give up a principle and to risk losing out financially. The Government are asking a lot if they are expecting the police to act on that assumption. There is great danger of the tradition of loyalty and service within the police being shaken, and that tradition is something that the Government, the official side and the Police Federation's negotiators must all seek to defend by avoiding anything misleading. For these reasons, it is particularly important to get the facts of the situation clear.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Home Office being misleading. Where has it ever been alleged, and where has the hon. Gentleman his authority for saying so, that the Police Federation was misled by some assurance, given at the time of the 1974 negotiations, that the police would ultimately get the £6 in the following year?

The hon. Gentleman is no doubt in a better position to know what the Home Office thought at that time. There is no doubt of what the Police Federation thinks. It thinks that it was free, having dealt with the earlier falling back in the position of the police, to proceed under stage I of the pay policy. The hon. Gentleman may argue that it was not free to think that that was so, but it is claimed that the Police Federation had no reason to believe that it would not be able to proceed under stage 1. If I am mistaken in this supposition, the Government should say so.

I am not saying that the Police Federation has not taken that view from an early stage in the negotiations for the £6 limit. It did take that view. But where has it ever claimed that it was told that, in addition to the 30 per cent. increase, the police would in the subsequent year be entitled to claim £6 a week? Where and when was that assurance given?

Why should the Police Federation have had to receive any such assurance to adopt that negotiating stance? In the discussions in the previous years it had assumed, as everyone did, that the proceedings of the working party were unrelated to stage 1 of the pay policy. It was the Government who, by the dating of the pay policy, found themselves in the position that the working party report was caught in the dated period. The onus is on the Government to give a reason why the Police Federation should not have assumed that it was entitled to make a claim for the police for the £6 a week. That was the Police Federation's reasonable assumption.

I ask the Government to do their best to clear up this part of the situation. It does no service to the police to have working police officers thinking that they have been cheated and deprived of something to which they are entitled. If there was no agreement, or if there is anything which undermines the police claim, let us get it clear now, but so far nothing seems to have emerged to undermine it.

What I say now is in no way directed to the hon. Member for Petersfield, whose remarks were directed towards finding a solution to the dispute. There will be danger if we ever try to make this matter into a party issue, and I hope that we can avoid doing so. All Governments run the risk of disagreement with the Police Federation, and all Opposition parties would like to be seen to be the policeman's only friend. But it is in the interests of all of us that the police should continue to enjoy their untarnished reputation as impartial upholders of law and order under any Government that democracy produces and that they should be ready to serve the elected authorities, whoever they may be. We sometimes forget that and we forget it at our peril.

4.43 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) on initiating the debate. I had thought for a moment that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) would be called ahead of me. I do not always agree with him, but I respect his sincerity. It is unfortunate that there are not many hon. Members behind the Under-Secretary of State to support her. I am sure that that will be noted in the places where it matters. The Chair has appealed to those hon. Members who are called in the debate to make reasonably short speeches, and I shall attempt to keep mine brief.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield that morale in the police force is perhaps at an all-time low. There are great feelings of bitterness amongst officers at the inept way in which the Home Office and the former Police Council have handled the issue of police pay. My hon. Friend related some of the history of the matter.

In 1974 the Police Council set up a working party on police pay. The outcome, published in March 1975, was that there should be an award averaging £10 a week for all between the ranks of constable and chief inspector. Here we come to the crunch in the present difficulties. It was between the negotiation of this award, on 4th June 1975, and its starting date of 1st September 1975 that the Government instituted phase 1 of the current incomes policy, which limited wage increases to £6 a week with effect from 1st August 1975.

The police at the time believed that the £10 award was to bring them into line and to correct the way in which police pay had fallen below average industrial earnings over the previous years. Therefore, it was with a great deal of astonishment that the police found that their application for £6 a week rise under phase 1 was rejected completely out of hand and they were told bluntly that the £10 award that they had received was a special concession and they were not entitled to any more. I believe it is from that situation that the present bitterness has arisen, because the police are comparing their plight with what has happened to other groups in the public sector. For example, the mine-workers, the power workers, railwaymen and teachers all received substantial increases during 1974 and 1975 but also got the £6 a week under phase 1.

So the dispute has continued. In March last the Police Federation went to see the Prime Minister. I think that it hoped for some understanding from him, because it is not so many years ago that he was political adviser to the Federation. He held that position for some years. One would have assumed, therefore, that he would know a great deal about the problems of the police. If the reports about it are correct, the outcome of the meeting was that he said we had the best police force in the world but that its members could not insulate themselves from the national economy.

It should be made clear that the police are not asking for privileged treatment. They are only asking for fairness compared with other workers. We have to cast our minds back to the 1960s. The Willink Commission concluded that the average pay of a police constable should be about 4 per cent. above the then average earnings of an adult male in industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield mentioned that by 1974 the ratio had fallen, so that the average pay of a constable was about 83 per cent. of average male industrial earnings. Then the award that the police got brought it up to 93 per cent. But by October 1976, the ratio was back down to 82 per cent.

I have had examples in my area of the take-home pay that policemen receive. A policeman aged 26 with two children under school age and just under two years' service has a take-home pay of £144·33 per calendar month. A policeman who has been in the force for 15 years, four of them as a sergeant, takes home £219 per calendar month. We have to remember, too, that police officers have special conditions of service. They work unsocial hours. They do shift work. All this has an effect on their family life. They are not allowed to do another job in order to augment their income—"moonlighting", as it is called. If they are caught doing so, they are immediately put on a disciplinary charge. They must not engage in any activities that might prejudice their impartial performance of their duties. They must play no part in politics.

On 5th May my wife was elected as a Conservative to a county council. There was nothing unusual in that—who was not elected that day as a Conservative? She told me that when she was out canvassing she met a number of policemen and their wives, and was impressed by the incredible bitterness that they felt at the way in which they had been treated.

One of the most enthusiastic people canvassed by my wife left her in no doubt that he would vote for her. She asked him to put a poster in his window but he apologised and said that as he was a police officer he was not allowed to have political views.

The police are constantly on standby duty—they always have to be available should the need arise. This obviously must cause disruption to their family lives. All uniformed officers in Manchester have had their next Sunday's leave stopped. The man who, having been told that he was off next Sunday, intended to take his family away for the day now has to disappoint them and go on duty because Manchester United is returning to Old Trafford—hopefully with the FA Cup—and all policemen must be on duty to look after the crowds that will assemble. It is a combination of social factors and conditions of service that make a policeman's position unique.

No one can doubt the danger of the policeman's job. Last year there were 12,000 violent assaults against policemen, many inflicting serious injury and disfigurement.

The difficulties that police officers face in the course of their duty are underlined by the figures showing the enormous increase in crime. In 1976 there were more than 2 million indictable crimes, compared with 500,000 in 1960 and 250,000 in 1939. No one doubts that the police have played their part in the battle against crime.

I am particularly concerned about the growing militancy among policemen in this country. Recently eight of the country's 43 police forces balloted their members on the right to strike. They voted 3 to 1 in favour, which is a drastic switch from as recently as 1973, when Dr. Reiner, lecturer in sociology at Bristol University, conducted research on police attitudes. At that stage only 20 per cent. of uniformed constables supported the right to strike. Greater militancy reflects the view that in the absence of the right to strike police are very much in the lap of the authorities.

I hope that the day will never come when the police will go on strike. That would be regretted by practically everybody—though there may be one or two exceptions. The Lord President, for example, has promised legislation next Session to give Post Office workers the unfettered legal right to go on strike. What would his opinion be if police officers went on strike in protest against his Government's incomes policy?

The consequences of the present impasse on police pay are several. Recruitment has dropped, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) pointed out. Unemployment in this country is particularly high, and at a time of high unemployment one would suppose that a lot of people would be anxious to join the police force. But recruits of the right calibre are not coming forward in the right numbers Also, there is the serious problem of wastage. This is not a question of young men and women going into the police force, staying a short time and deciding they do not like it; the wastage goes right across the line. Men of considerable service are now leaving the police force purely and simply because they can earn more and can get better conditions in other jobs.

Job satisfaction is vitally important, but it does not pay the rent, the mortgage or the food bill. It is necessary, if law and order in this country are to be maintained, to have a strong and contented police force. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies she will give an undertaking that the Government will look sympathetically at police pay.

I reiterate that the police are not attempting to break the incomes policy. They want the same entitlement under phases 1 and 2 as has been given to other groups of workers.

4.56 p.m.

On many occasions I have met deputations from the police and sometimes I have not entirely agreed with them. Sometimes they have pressed me for the re-establishment of capital punishment or, in some individual cases, corporal punishment as well. On those occasions I have said openly, honestly, bluntly and fairly that I must agree to disagree with them. But I have also met deputations on police pay, and I have to tell my Front Bench quite bluntly that I feel that the police have a very good case.

I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that it would be regrettable if there were an attempt to make this a political argument. Our police, like everyone else, vote for differing political parties. I remember in one General Election campaign I jumped into my car and dashed out into a road. A police car followed me and stopped me. I did not notice whether I was speeding, but I thought that the incident would be all over the Liverpool papers the next day. Instead, the policeman got out of his car and asked me whether I had any posters so that his wife could put some up in her window.

Maybe not, but they could then. That is an indication that not all our policemen adhere to the Conservative Party or any other party. It is important to look at the question of police pay on a strictly industrial basis.

I took note of the statements by the Prime Minister's office following the meeting with the Police Federation. That statement said that the police could not insulate themselves from the national economy and that any settlement would have to be within phase 2, which had been accepted already by almost 5 million workers. That is absolutely correct. The only thing is that the Police Federation is not a member of the TUC and it had no voice—by vote or otherwise—at the Trade Union Congress on whether the incomes policy should be accepted. Therefore, as the Police Federation does not have a voice in determining policy it is a bit difficult to tell it that, because 5 million organised workers—and it is now more like 11 million—in the trade union movement have accepted the pay policy, the Federation must as well.

Many younger policemen, apart from arguing for the right to strike, have argued for the right to affiliate with the TUC. Personally, I would not object to that. I think that it would be very good and useful. As with certain Civil Service unions, it would not mean adherence to a party or paying the political levy. This desire will grow—there is no question about that.

Anyone who talks to the police at grass roots level will know that there is a very strong feeling about pay and conditions. They cannot tolerate the situation much longer without taking some positive industrial action. We must recognise this feeling. I am not suggesting for one moment that any section should go beyond what has been agreed by the trade union movement, but I feel that the police have an important case, and I ask my hon. Friend to consider their problems very carefully. I do not go quite all the way with the motion, but I agree that the matter must be settled as quickly and as fairly as possible.

The wording is

"to set up without delay an independent inquiry into the Police Council"
and so on. I am not certain whether that would be right or wrong, and I am open to conviction either way. But I agree that it is necessary to settle the current dispute fairly and quickly. I totally endorse that part of the motion and the sentiments contained in that part of it.

I do not intend to make a long speech but I should like to refer to something that was said by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). There is no doubt that in areas of high unemployment crime has increased. There is no doubt that crime in the inner cities has increased, particularly among young people, because they have no jobs, there is nothing for them to do, and they have not the income they ought to be having. In any case, there is very little for people living in that sort of cultural desert. It is a major problem and it will not be answered purely by strengthening the police force. There is a great deal more than that to be done. I found the section of the right hon. Gentleman's book dealing with the inner cities and so on a very interesting and very useful contribution to the discussion of the problem of the inner cities. I mentioned it in the House on Friday. I hope this does not make him blush, coming from me.

We have the problem of increasing crime and vandalism on the council estates. We go to the chief constable or to the local people concerned and ask for the number of patrols to be increased. But then there are complaints from constituents living in the area, who say that some of their children are being picked up unnecessarily. There is pressure, therefore, from both sides, and that is the difficulty with which we are faced. We have to try to eliminate the need for extra patrols, and that means eliminating the growth in vandalism and petty crime—sometimes it is rather serious crime—in these areas.

I believe that unless and until this issue is settled, there will be a growth of militancy among policemen. It is perfectly understandable. They are ordinary flesh and bone, the same as anyone else. If they see other workers fighting for their rights in an organised industrial way, it is natural that the police should want to follow the same pattern. There were police strikes in this country at the end of the First World War. It was a very serious business while it lasted and it could well be that unless we settle this matter we shall be moving very quickly into a similar situation.

I urge the Government to have another look at the matter. I know that we are tied by the difficult problem of phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3, but I feel that the police have a case, as have many other sections of workers—it is not just the police. Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me, having often urged support for the claims of other workers, not to say that I believe that the police, too, have a good case, particularly in relation to their pay and conditions.

5.5 p.m.

:I was very glad that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) brought the police into the context of the various places in which they find themselves, for I also believe that their work would be lightened and made easier if we were able to deal with certain of the problems that cause them so much difficulty. I refer to the problems of violence and the abuse of alcohol which are particularly noticeable in certain areas in Scotland. I believe that if we find remedies for these problems we shall certainly do something to help the police in their duties.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that there was always a tendency for parties in opposition to want to parade themselves as the policeman's best friend. Since I learned to drive a motor car my great ambition has been that the policeman should be my best friend.

I took the opportunity, a couple of hours ago, to speak to my own chief constable. Almost before I had finished saying why I wanted to have a word with him, he said "I can tell you of a case in my force where a constable with 13 years' service is leaving the force next month in order to take up a job on a farm." This constable has an excellent record of service, and from his years of service is obviously half way towards his pension, yet he has decided to leave the force at this point because in his new job he will find better conditions of employment and, in his opinion, more in his pay packet at the end of the week.

When I was a boy it was certainly not true that policemen moved out of the force into farm work because they could find better conditions there. But it is happening today, and we are all bound to ask ourselves the reason for these changes.

It is not happening just in the cities. After all, the force in Dumfries and Galloway is largely a rural one, and one would think that police constables would be happier with their lot there than they would be in the large cities, yet here we have a case in a rural force that has been drawn to my notice today.

I know from personal experience in watching the police at their work that it involves personal stress and strain. They are often involved in danger. Since I became a Member of this House what has struck me most in having to deal with police cases is their immense patience with the general public, even when the general public is being at its most unhelpful. In situations in which I should certainly be very much inclined to lose my temper, they do not appear to do so. They require the support not merely of this House but of society, so that their morale may be built up to and maintained at a high level.

One of the elements in building up police morale must in these days be their salaries. I just managed to scrape through higher mathematics many years ago and do not propose to go into the realm of statistics, because when I do so I always feel that my feet will very rapidly slip into the morass of figures and that I shall be fished up by some kind Minister who perhaps has a better statistician than myself behind him. But it seems to me that the police have a very strong case. I am not suggesting that they should be considered as an exception to the rules applying at the moment, but I feel that they have a case that should be reconsidered.

It will be known to hon. Members that at the moment there are differences in the moods of the police forces as between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Police Federation has not left the Police Council, and has continued talking. This seems to me to be a sensible and level-headed attitude to take.

I must add at once that I must not be understood to be criticising the other Federation, because I do not know about the conditions under which its members work. Other hon. Members will put forward its case, and many hon. Members have already done so this afternoon. I hope that the Government will not simply assume that because the Scottish Police Federation has not yet become so militant they can therefore ignore or neglect the Scottish police. It may indeed be that it is because the Scottish Police Federation is less militant than the others—

Does the hon. Member agree that recent reports show that there is definitely an increasing number of militants in the Scottish police force?

I thank the hon. Member for reminding me of that. Certainly the Government have no reason for complacence on this subject.

When the Government reach a solution they will have the backing of my party in implementing it. I ask them to seek a solution as rapidly as they reasonably can, because we, as a society, ought to be willing to pay for a good and efficient police force.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths
(Bury St. Edmunds)