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Commons Chamber

Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1977

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 18th May 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Oral Answers To Questions

Order. May I remind the House that brevity in questions and answers is a blessing for us all?

Environment

House Building

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the latest housing figures, public and private; if he is satisfied with them; and if he will make a statement.

The figures for March show that, in Great Britain, there were 12,100 starts and 14,500 completions in the public sector; private sector starts were 10,300, with 10,500 completions. These figures are an improvement on the low February figures and I hope that that improvement will continue.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order to get an even greater improvement we shall need to renegotiate the cuts that were agreed with the IMF, especially the so-called £300 million cut which is due to take effect in the next financial year? Does he accept that we must also look again at the cuts of last July, which are now affecting house building, especially in the public sector? Does he agree that pressure should be put on the building societies to reduce mortgage interest rates in order that in the private sector, too, there can be a surge of house building in order that we can have as many—

Order. If everyone takes as long as that we shall be lucky to reach Question No. 6.

There seem to be six questions incorporated in that one, but I shall do my best to answer them. On the public sector side, I favour increased allocation of resources for house building and other housing investment as soon as the economy permits. As for the current situation, while the moratorium imposed as a result of last July's controls has caused a slow-down in the number of starts coming through for approval on tender, that of itself would not account for the recent slow-down in the figures, a slow-down about which my right hon. Friend and I have expressed concern in the House before.

I hope that the provision that we have made, which will allow for about 150,000 housing starts in the public sector, will be implemented by the local authorities which have immediate responsibility in this area.

Does the Minister think that the greater availability of mortgages will lead to an increase in the number of houses in the private sector, and is not that greater availability being made possible largely because the building societies have not brought down their interest rates further?

The hon. Member puts his finger on a rather delicate point of balance concerning the timing of changes in interest rates in relation to the inflow of moneys to building societies which enables them to maintain their outflow. I hesitate to give a full reply about the direct effects of this factor on the rate of new building in the private sector. It is important to consider profit margins, the state of the market and price levels of all new building as well as the outflow of moneys for general lending purposes.

What pressure is my right hon. Friend putting on local authorities to get the correct mix of dwellings? Is he aware that it is no good building vast numbers of houses, for example in Birmingham, if the mix is wrong? There, elderly couples are destined to live the rest of their lives in three- or four-bed-roomed houses that they cannot look after and that the council will not repair. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential to get the correct mix of dwellings, so that such people may be more suitably housed?

This is an important point, to which we have given a great deal of attention in the last two or three years. We have had results, but they are not sufficiently good yet. There needs to be a switch in emphasis, in the public and private sectors, in the type of housing being provided. Far too many three-bedroomed houses are being provided when there is a much greater need for small units. We are using our best endeavours to influence a change in that direction, and with some success.

What does my right hon. Friend say about a Tory-dominated council, such as that in Leicester, which has an acute housing shortage in an area regarded as a stress housing area but where the council, with absolute disregard of the needs of the population, has sliced the housing programme in half?

I can only express the hope that there will be a change of view in Leicester and that the local authority will change its policy on house building. On the general point, it is particularly important in areas with stress, such as the one my hon. and learned Friend referred to, that an overall strategy and programme be developed which will relate not just to new building generally but to new building for down-market occupation and other aspects of housing such as rehabilitation, conversion and the provision of the right mix of dwellings referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker).

Will the Minister confirm that the target that has been reduced in Leicester was a figure that was clutched from the air by the previous Socialist Administration? Does he not wish the local authority in Leicester to use its own judgment about priorities in housing and how the money should be spent? This is in conformity with the latest declaration by the Secretary of State about independence in local housing?

I have no evidence whatever to support the hon. Gentleman's claim, and I suspect that he does not have any, either. Leicester, like a number of other authorities, has been included as a stress or priority area in housing. We expect such authorities to use their judgment with honesty, and to study and analyse the situation. We expect them to use their judgment in preparing an overall strategy for housing problems. If Leicester has welcomed and accepted its listing as a stress authority—as no doubt it has—it should proceed with investment in house building.

Greater London (Population)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he has had about reducing the population of Greater London.

Will the Secretary of State talk to the Minister for the Civil Service about this matter? For years London has been steadily losing jobs. Therefore, it does not make sense to press ahead and spend £500 million or more on moving thousands of civil servants out of Greater London, with all the resulting domestic and administrative upheavals. Will he think again about this matter?

I understand the hon. Member's point, but I have been trying to give emphasis to inner city revival in examining the dispersal plans. These plans can play a very important part because, while I am concerned about the inner city areas in London, I am also concerned about the inner city areas in other parts of the country. It would be wrong to lose sight of the balance that needs to be struck. It is relevant to look at the time scale over which these planned dispersals are designed to take effect.

Is the Secretary of State aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) does not need to worry too much about this problem? I received an answer to a parliamentary Question which showed that the sum total of Government activity on the Hardman Report was that 0·001 per cent. of civil servants were being moved to development areas.

The hon. Member has made the point that I was making about the time scale being very relevant to this issue.

Is the Secretary of State saying that he wants civil servants living on the outskirts of London to have their jobs moved to deprived areas of the country so that they can live in inner cities there?

We want to strike a balance in the distribution of office and Government employment in different parts of the country. We are acutely aware of the present problems in London, but we must look at this situation over a considerable period of time and adjust the balance, which in the past has been heavily centred on London.

Housing Policy Review

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will set out in full in the Official Report, giving references and dates in each case, every official forecast made in the House by either the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State or other Ministers at the Department of the Environment on the publication date of the Housing Finance Review, subsequently renamed the Housing Policy Review, since that review was first announced, including his current forecast.

Yes. The Green Paper on the Housing Policy Review is to be published just as soon as it is ready.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there has been an extraordinary delay over this report, for which house builders have been asking for some time because it affects their policies? Can he give a firm indication instead of a waffle answer?

The first part of the hon. Member's question discourages me on this occasion from giving too precise an answer. That is why I carefully couched my answer in the terms I did. I do not accept that there has been an unnecessary delay. On the contrary, it indicates the considerable importance that we attach to getting the housing policy right.

If the hon. Member reflects on two of the major housing White Papers and Acts that were produced by his own party in the post-war period—the 1957 Rent Act and the 1972 Housing Finance Act—he will be bound to conclude that the case against being over-hasty is immense.

When the review is published, will the Secretary of State resist the Conservative clamour to slash council house building and subsidies, thereby increasing rents? When rents are increased, trade unionists regard it as a reduction in their real wages. Will the improved financial situation encourage the Secretary of State to restore the cuts that have been made in housing?

The second question is one on which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has just commented—the possibility, as the situation improves, of doing more in house building. On rents, it is my hope that in terms of the Housing Policy Review, when the whole matter will be laid before the House, we shall be able to bring forward proposals that are seen to be sensible and fair.

Will the Secretary of State explain why he has totally failed to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), requiring references and dates of repeated promises of publication of the Housing Policy Review? This is not a question of being over-hasty. The fact is that the conclusions of all the experts are incompatible with and unacceptable to this Government. That is why the review has not been published.

We shall see how unacceptable the conclusions are. We shall see—I hope it will not be long—just how right or wrong the alleged experts are. I counsel the hon. Member to be more patient. In relation to the dates, I was asked to put an answer in the Official Report and I am doing so.

Following is the information:

The following list contains references to statements made in the House on the publication date of the Housing Policy Review.
  • 15 January 1975: Secretary of State (the former right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland)), Vol. 884, col. 100 (Written Answer).
  • 12 November 1975: Minister for Housing and Construction (the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson)), Vol. 899, col. 703 (Written Answer).
  • 14 January 1976: Secretary of State, Vol. 903, col. 371.
  • 15 March 1976: Minister for Housing and Construction, Vol. 907, col. 382 (Written Answer).
  • 30 June 1976: Minister for Housing and Construction, Vol. 914, col. 168 (Written Answer).
  • 14 July 1976: Secretary of State (the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore)), Vol. 915, cols. 634–5.
  • 4 August 1976: Secretary of State, Vol. 916, col. 1693.
  • 3 November 1976: Secretary of State, Vol. 918, col. 1391.
  • 9 November 1976: Minister for Housing and Construction, Vol 919, cols. 105–6 (Written Answer).
  • 8 December 1976: Secretary of State, Vol. 922, cols. 431–3.
  • 19 January 1977; Secretary of State, Vol. 924, cols. 314–6.
  • 27 January 1977: Prime Minister, Vol. 924, col. 1697.
  • 16 March 1977: Secretary of State, Vol. 928, cols. 189–90 (Written Answer).

Council Houses (Cost)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the current average cost of a newly-built council house, including land, in England and Wales.

The current average cost of a newly-built local authority dwelling, including land, is £13,000.

In view of the size of that figure, does the Minister accept that it would be far cheaper for the Government to help less-well-paid families to buy their own houses—which they would prefer—than to build more council houses for them?

I would not accept that allegation. The truth is that a great number of people do not wish to buy their own homes and there are others who cannot afford to do so. Each local authority has a duty to see that these people are adequately housed.

Will the Minister explain why Conservatives so often bash council houses, ignoring the all-party role which in the past regarded assisted housing as the most important of all social services, basic to all other social expenditure?

I would not dream of trying to explain the philosophy of the Opposition. That is not my job, thank goodness. Housing is a great social need which calls for a community responsibility as well as an individual responsibility.

Can the Minister tell the House what the average cost of £13,000 represents in terms of annual subsidy from ratepayers and taxpayers? Inas much as the figure is an average one, what are the minimum and maximum figures for council house building costs in the country at the moment?

If the hon. Member wants details—and he has every right to them—he should table a Question. I shall then answer it. The average subsidy from the central Government rate fund for council dwellings is running at £212 and the average tax relief and mortgage subsidy per mortgagor is £214.

Will the Under-Secretary answer the question? What is the subsidy on new council house building in the £13,000 average cost?

If the hon Gentleman thinks he knows more than the experts, I suggest that he tables a Question, when I shall given him a detailed answer.

Commission For The New Towns

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the current capital value of (a) the commercial assets and (b) the industrial assets of the Commission for the New Towns.

Regular revaluation of the commercial and industrial assets of the Commission for the New Towns does not take place, but a provisional estimate by the Commission of their capital value is of the order of £100 million. This figure does not take account of reversionary values and should be treated with considerable reserve. The true figure is likely to be higher.

I recognise the Minister's carefully chosen words, but he will recognise that current values are substantially in excess of historic valuations. If my memory serves me right in regard to the resources available for inner city areas, the Secretary of State was prepared to consider the sale of new town assets. I see that the right hon. Gentleman assents to that remark. Is the Minister prepared to make a statement and to let us know what progress has been made in this respect?

My right hon. Friend said that he was considering the matter, but the House must bear in mind that these assets appreciate in value and represent a sound investment of public money. Such consideration is taking place on that basis.

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he has not lost sight of the fact that the Labour Party conference went on record in favour of the transfer not merely of housing assets but of industrial and commercial assets, subject to conditions to preserve the national investment, to appropriate local authorities? Will he give an assurance that we shall not regard the early wind-up of development corporations, the transfer of assets to the Commission, and, thereafter, their possible sale, as being of advantage in terms of local democracy?

I know that my hon. Friend recognises that these assets have been financed by the Exchequer, and ultimately by the taxpayer. He will also know that my right hon. Friend has undertaken to examine whether in due course local authorities should be able to acquire these assets if they have the resources to manage them. Those matters are being carefully considered, but I am well aware of the Labour Party view and policy on this matter.

Is the Minister aware that in the new towns there exist over 96 million sq. ft. of industrial space, over 12 million sq. ft. of office space, and 12½ million sq. ft. of shop space? Will he accept that the figure he gave the House is a gross underestimate of the current market value of that space, which amounts in total to 120 million sq. ft.? Does he not accept that the real value is more like £1,000 million? Therefore, will he obtain an early valuation of these assets?

The hon. Gentleman is inviting me, as are other Conservative Members, to indulge in unnecessary expenditure. It would be an expensive job to undertake a full revaluation of assets. The purpose of revaluing them presumably is to sell them. That is not the Government's present intention. Therefore, I do not see the purpose in proposing it.

Will my hon. Friend tell the Secretary of State for the Environment, if he needs telling, that it would be a classic example of muddle-headedness even to consider flogging off profit-making public enterprise in the new towns? Will he also consider the fact that if these industrial and commercial assets are to continue to be controlled by the Commission for the New Towns a directly elected element should be put into local committees, which as now appointed are accountable to nobody?

I can only repeat that this is a sound investment of public money. In that respect I would be totally opposed to the sale of such sound investments.

On the other point, I am very well aware of demands for people in the new towns to have a full democratic say in the future of these assets. Obviously we are considering the way in which this might be achieved.

Before I call the next Question, I wish to point out that a number of hon. Members have now come into the Chamber who did not hear my earlier appeal for brief questions and answers.

Heathrow (Fourth Terminal)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will cause a public inquiry to be held into the proposal of the British Airports Authority to establish a fourth terminal at Heathrow Airport.

In the light of the views being received from the local authorities which have been consulted, my right hon. Friend is urgently considering whether it would be expedient for him to make or approve a direction to make the BAA's present proposal the subject of normal planning control. This would be an essential first step towards any statutory public planning inquiry.

But an Article 4 direction does not necessarily produce a planning inquiry, does it? It is not the necessary preliminary to a planning inquiry, is it? Therefore, will the Minister use his inherent authority to order a public inquiry, or will he employ his statutory authority, following an Article 4 direction, to ensure that there is a public inquiry into a development of this magnitude, which has aroused such strong reservations in all the surrounding areas?

I beg to differ with the hon. and learned Gentleman. The possibility of building a fourth terminal lies within the general development area of the British Airports Authority, but it is open to any of the local authorities—of which there are a number involved—to make an Article 4 direction, or it is open to my right hon. Friend to do so. But before my right hon. Friend determines whether to make an Article 4 direction, we must see that each local authority concerned is properly consulted. We are expecting to take in those views shortly. On that basis, and on that basis alone can the question of a public inquiry arise. At that stage, it becomes part of the normal planning process.

The Minister talks of local authorities having to be properly consulted. Is he aware that there is grave concern about the fourth terminal in Outer London, and that no consultation whatever has taken place with the London borough of Richmond upon Thames? Will he explain why that has not occurred?

There are a number of local authorities whose planning powers are directly involved. Those are the planning authorities which have been consulted. I wish to make clear that two of those authorities are the Greater London Council and Surrey.

Further to the supplementary question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), is the Minister aware that the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, which includes Twickenham, is very near to Heathrow but does not touch it? If the purpose of planning consultation is to ascertain whether people will be adversely affected by any development, it must be right that people who will be heavily overflown by additional aircraft that might result from the fourth terminal should be consulted through their local authority? Will he bear that in mind in deciding whether to hold a public inquiry?

The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that we are talking of an Article 4 direction. It is open to certain authorities to make such a direction. That is the reason why, pre-eminently, they are being consulted. The boroughs to which reference has been made obviously can make their views known through the GLC.

Will the Minister assure the House that the Secretary of State will reach his decision on this matter by the end of June?

I am not my right hon. Friend, but I am sure that he will make his decision as expeditiously as he can.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, Mr. Speaker, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

Local Authorities (Direct Labour)

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he proposes to introduce new legislation on local authority direct works.

The Local Authorities (Restoration of Works Powers) Bill was given a Second Reading yesterday. Unfortunately, comprehensive legislation on local authority direct labour organisations is not possible at present.

As the Government agreed to emasculate the original Bill in return for Liberal support, and as most Liberal Members did not bother to turn up last night to vote for the Liberal version of the Bill, does it not mean that the Liberals have broken their side of the bargain? Does this not justify the Government in telling the Liberals "We have had enough of any pact with you"? Is it not time to return to our original Socialist commitment and to tell the Liberals that they are a bunch of skivers?

We have not gone back on any commitment. The Government are committed, and in due time will bring in legislation to enable efficient direct labour organisations to expand. That will be done. As for the hon. Gentleman's comment about the Liberals, that matter is not within my responsibility.

Has the Parliamentary Secretary had a chance to reflect, since last night's discussion, on the extraordinary statement that was made from the Treasury Bench that the Government agreed with the CIPFA recommendations—as, indeed, does the whole House—but refuse to include them in the Bill?

The hon. Gentleman, who was present throughout yesterday's debate, must have heard it stated categorically that bringing in the CIPFA recommendations for those 25 authorities with which the Bill is solely concerned was not a practical proposition.

Why, then, did the Government not bring in the CIPFA regulations for all direct labour training? That would have been perfectly acceptable to both sides of the House.

If the hon. Gentleman had not approached our proposals for direct labour organisations in such a biased way, and if he had read them carefully and made an objective appraisal of the situation, he might have been in favour of the original Bill.

Urban Blight

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what resources he plans to make available for relieving urban blight in areas other than those included in the partnership arrangement.

As I said in my statement on 6th April, outside the partnership arrangements authorities will be able to prepare inner area programmes, and the Government will consider linking urban grants to those programmes, though necessarily on a modest scale in the early years.

While not in any way wishing to increase public expenditure, may I ask whether the Minister is satisfied that he has the policy right within existing proposals? If one takes London as an example, is the Minister aware that I could take him to half a dozen areas in which there is greater deprivation than in Lambeth? How far have the Government viewed the recommendations of the Community Development Project—which cost about £5 million—in formulating this limited and unfair policy?

I note what the hon. Gentleman said about public expenditure, and that is welcome. He seems to have joined the growing ranks of converts on both sides of the House. In reply to the first part of his question, I must point out that so far we have made only a preliminary determination. The areas that we have announced are firm, but I have made it clear that we shall be discussing with local authorities the possibility of including a limited number of additional areas in the partnership arrangements.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the scheme is gaining support among local authorities, particularly in the areas already referred to? Does he further agree that the degree of flexibility that is being applied to the problem in some areas offers exciting possibilities of co-operation. Will he pursue this line in the areas that have been designated for these purposes?

Yes. On the whole, the response has been good and local authorities have certainly been attracted by the number of proposals that we have been able to make so far. I hope that as we work out the ideas in partnership and through the other arrangements there will be a possibility of achieving something of great benefit to the people of inner cities throughout the country.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the reception of the proposals in Newcastle upon Tyne was bad? Will he take it from me that the exclusion of that great city from the list of those in the partnership agreement was badly received locally, and will he seek to rectify the omission?

I understand the feeling there. Indeed, it has been indicated to me by a number of hon. Members who represent that city. I have said that I am willing to receive a deputation from Newcastle to discuss the scheme with them, and I hope to do so soon.

Will my right hon. Friend utterly and decisively reject any proposal to divert money from Lambeth to Harrow?

I understand the limitation on resources, but does the Secretary of State recognise that there is genuine concern about the criteria that the Government have used in establishing priorities? Will he particularly remember that there are decayed areas in outer areas of cities, as well as blighted regions, in the Black Country and Midland towns and in the industrial areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire, that will not share in the arrangements? Does he realise that these areas feel neglected?

I understand that, but the House must face this problem realistically. I am prepared to broaden the criteria as soon as the House as a whole is prepared to give me more money to spend to deal with the problem of urban decay. To the best of my ability, I am applying to the areas of greatest need the inevitably limited resources now available.

Local Authorities (Partnership Schemes)

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the implications for the local authorities concerned of the partnership arrangements recently announced by the Government.

The partnerships will involve local authorities, Government Departments and agencies in drawing up and implementing joint programmes of action. Extra help will be available through main programmes and from the enlarged urban programme. I hope to discuss in the near future the arrangements with the authorities for the areas announced in my 6th April statement.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the local authorities concerned are worried that the Government will spend the £100 million that has been granted purely on building new houses, while the local authorities feel that most of the money should go on refurbishing and renovating existing houses in order to preserve intact the character and the communities of the inner areas?

I should be surprised if there were genuine anxiety. There ought not to be any, because the areas that I have already designated as partnership areas are ones of housing stress. There will be no interruption in their new building programmes. As for the allocation of the money, I am most anxious to hear the views of the local authorities on that matter. I shall not impose on them any preconceived ideas about how the money could best be spent.

In his consultations with the partnership areas, will the Minister not forget those small urban areas that are not included in the scheme? Will he instruct his officials to look sympathetically at the relatively small demands for housing and other such relief of urban deprivation that may be requested by such areas—especially in view of the fact that towns such as Swadlin-cote, in my constituency, do not have the advantages of the big cities but have just as much urban deprivation?

I understand the concern about this, but I shall not forget about the smaller urban areas. Following the transfer of the original urban programme to my Department, I shall be looking at that programme to see how far I can help other areas as well.

Will the Secretary of State say whether the partnership arrangement for the London docklands will be with the local authorities or the joint committee? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the arrangements are made separately with the local authorities the chances of effective action will be diminished?

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. There is a special arrangement in dockland and I hope shortly to discuss with dockland representatives the appropriate arrangement for partnership in that area and with the special organisation.

Does the Secretary of State realise that he could help in a major way in the inner city areas without spending a penny of Government money? Is he aware that in these areas there are vast amounts of disused dockland and railway land, some of which has not been used for 10 to 20 years and the current use value of which is nil, in spite of which the local authorities are being asked £20,000 or more an acre for this desperately needed land?

I agree that there is much disused land in inner city areas, particularly land that is no longer needed for port operations that have ceased. I am most anxious that such land should be released. However, one must take account of the authorities that hold that land. For some of them it is important collateral for their own financial arrangements, but I shall be anxious to encourage them to release at an early date land that they do not need.

In view of the Secretary of State's answers to this question and a previous one, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the need for a rapid and urgent programme for the sale of commercial and industrial assets in the new towns so that resources may be speedily released to help deal with these serious problems?

I must warn the hon. Gentleman that he is exaggerating this possibility. I was asked whether it would be possible to raise money on some of the assets of the Commission for the New Towns and whether we could use those resources for other public expenditure purposes in inner city revival, and so on. I said that I am prepared to look at the possibility, and I shall do so.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to publish his White Paper on partnership schemes for inner city areas.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement that £17 million will be available for investment in the London docklands has been welcomed in East London? Bearing in mind his announcement today that he will seek discussions with the Docklands Joint Committee on the body through which that money should be spent, can he indicate the nature of the items on which it could be spent and the time scale involved, assuming that the discussions are satisfactory and quick?

Now that the £17 million has been allocated to docklands, it is for the dockland authorities to establish their priorities for expenditure. They can start spending the money as soon as they have agreed on what they wish to spend it. As the authorities are linked in the dock-lands arrangement, I think that they will wish to consult each other and, as far as possible, make the spending proposals fit into the general context of the dock-land strategy.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make plain in the White Paper what steps he is taking to ensure that inner city areas are making use of their increased rate support grant that has been taken from county areas? Since the county areas have suffered this deprivation, may we be satisfied that the money is not being used just to hold down the rates, but is actually doing something for these inner city areas?

I certainly hope that the inner city areas that are partnership areas will look at the extra resources available to them, not only through the enhanced inner city grant but through the rate support grant. It would be irresponsible if the authorities regarded cutting back the rates as an alternative to getting on with inner urban reconstruction.

As it seems that we shall not reach Question No. 21, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman—?

I was just making the point, Mr. Speaker. Will the White Paper on inner city areas cover the problem of empty properties? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at a recent public inquiry two inner London areas, one of which was Lambeth, were shown to have more than 4,000 empty properties? Should not local authorities be encouraged to co-operate with housing associations to get these properties occupied?

I do not have details of the authorities to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, but better use and improvement of the housing stock in inner city areas is an important part of our general strategy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the initiative taken in the London borough of Brent, where my council recently called a conference on unemployment and has this week held a conference on the development of the Park Royal estate? Will my right hon. Friend consider, in the White Paper, giving encouragement to local and other authorities that are trying to participate with the Government, business and trade unions to secure solutions to the inner city problems?

I am pleased to hear of the initiative being taken in Brent and I believe that initiatives have been taken by many other authorities in the last two years. I hope that the White Paper will be completed fairly shortly and I hope to indicate in detail what we meant by extending the powers of local authorities to give assistance to firms in their areas.

As the right hon. Gentleman continually stresses how little money, relative to the problem, is available for inner urban development, why did his Under-Secretary say earlier that the Government were not even prepared to undertake a valuation of new town assets so that the House could have a real dialogue on whether priority should be given to the sale of those assets and their rolling over into inner urban areas?

I do not see any contradiction between what my hon. Friend has said and what I said a short time ago. I said that I had received a proposal from the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), who, as we know, puts forward proposals in a most serious way. I have replied by saying that I shall consider it. I am not prepared to take the matter any further than that at present.

Improvement Grants

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will increase the eligible cost limits for improvement grants.

I have no plans for an immediate general increase in eligibile cost limits for improvement grants, but I shall consider increasing the limits in particular areas to enable essential rehabilitation to proceed. I shall consider, too, the case for increases in the rateable value limits in areas where rateable values are particularly high.

Is the right hon, Gentleman aware that his answer will be profoundly disappointing to many thousands of occupiers of older properties? Is he aware that it is more than two and a half years since the limits were increased and that during that time of Socialist Government the cost of living and the cost of building have increased by more than half? Does he realise that his refusal to increase the eligible limits must be damaging the programme of rehabilitation?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my answer. He must have come prepared with a supplementary question to an answer that he did not get. I said that we had no immediate plans for a general increase, but in the meantime I shall be prepared to consider increasing the limits in particular areas to enable essential rehabilitation to proceed and to consider the case for increases in rateable value limits in areas where those values are particularly high. I should have thought that that was a helpful answer. We shall consider the general question at another time.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer will be very welcome, particularly if, as I hope he will ensure, it is applied to Liverpool? Is he aware that I hope that it will be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity in areas such as Liverpool, because it will help the many thousands of construction workers who are now unemployed? Will he consider a limit of more than 75 per cent. in some cases and up to 90 per cent-in special cases? I realise that there would then have to be arrangements about rents.

I should clarify one point made by my hon. Friend. I shall consider applications from Liverpool and elsewhere along the lines that I have indicated, but my answer related not to the percentage of grant aid but to actual cash limits. Grant aid is already running at 75 per cent. in housing action areas and 60 per cent. in general improvement areas. As to future developments and the possibility of assisting repair work and the installation of amenities, I should prefer to await the outcome of our Housing Policy Review, because this matter is being looked at in the review.

Why did the right hon. Gentleman's answer refer only to particular areas? Do these particular areas include Dorset? If not, why not? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are getting increasingly suspicious of references to "particular areas", because rural areas are always left out when that phrase is used?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman is incorporated in my original reply. I said that I shall consider the possibility of increasing the limits in particular areas to enable essential rehabilitation to proceed. That related to the original question about the costs incurred in those areas being somewhat higher—and sometimes sharply higher—than elsewhere. Similarly, rateable values are much higher in some areas than in others. We are prepared to look at individual applications, but we are not making a list of areas. We are awaiting applications and we shall consider them.

As this is a matter of great interest to the House and great anxiety outside, can the right hon. Gentleman indicate when he will be able to make a positive statement on the limits to which he has referred? Will he stop coming to the House every six months and saying that another six months are required before the housing policy review can be completed?

The hon. Gentleman has got the import of my answer a little wrong. I said that we shall be prepared to consider applications along the lines indicated in my original reply. It is not a question of my coming here to make a statement listing a number of authorities that will be included. Individual requests will come to us and we shall have to look at them carefully because we are operating under tight public expenditure constraints. We shall receive the applications and, on the basis of the information given to us, we shall make our judgments. Some people will be disappointed, but I hope that we shall be able to help others.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

European Community Regulations

16.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many EEC regulations and directives have been imposed upon the areas of work covered by his Department since 1973.

The Council has adopted 21 directives and regulations on matters for which my Department has a major responsibility.

What is the cost of implementing these regulations and directives, and how many extra public employees are involved? Does the right hon. Gentle man agree that it is important to watch the breeding capacity of the Brussels apparatchik in over-creating further civil servants in this country?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's attention to this aspect of Community affairs as they affect this country, and especially my Department. Without notice, I cannot give him a detailed answer on cost. However, I can assure him that I am conscious of the general tendency to extend Community competence and the dangers that this may pose for us in terms of additional costs and burdens and the diminution of our legislative authority. We look upon all such proposals most carefully and critically.

On balance, does my right hon. Friend think that the regulations and directives have done any good?

In my area they are, by definition, of a somewhat different character. They are concerned mainly with environmental pollution. In that area, where increasingly the problems of pollution cross national frontiers, there is the possibility of coming to commonsense agreements and arrangements that we would have wished to conclude whether or not we had joined the Community.

How many of these regulations has the right hon. Gentleman initiated, and how many have been initiated in Europe and imposed upon the United Kingdom as part of the process of standardisation?

I am not aware of having initiated any, but I am aware of having been caught, as it were, in the onward flow of proposals that emanate from Brussels. I have done my best to cope with that flow and to ensure that no proposals are accepted unless they accord with the interests of this country and with the general rule of common sense.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you to rule that Question No. 18 is hypocritical or ironic, in view of the fact that it comes from a member of the Opposition.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is guilty of the sin for which he is confounding others.

Local Authority Mortgages

18.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he or one of his Ministers will make arrangements to visit the Royal borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in order to discuss the effects of the reduction in money available for local authority mortgage loans.

No, Sir. I am aware of the difficulties that many local authorities are experiencing as a result of the further reduction in their mortgage lending quotas, but the additional funds that the building societies are making available under the support arrangements will enable the Royal borough to maintain its lending broadly at the 1976–77 level. In addition, the new arrangements, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 6th April, will enable it, if it wishes, to switch up to £500,000 to lending from other programmes.

I am grateful to the Minister for that full answer. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a real problem—namely, that building societies are reluctant to lend money on older property? Does he appreciate that the reduction from £2·4 million in 1975 to £620,000 in 1977–78 is having a real impact on those who wish to buy older property? That is reflected by the amount of money that the building societies are prepared to advance.

I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman has said. We have indicated to local authorities and building societies that we want the money to be allocated to the special priority categories, which include the very ones that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Has my hon. Friend calculated the amount of money that is being spent by building societies in Windsor and Maidenhead on decorations for the Silver Jubilee? They are spending a great deal of money on such decorations—money that could be devoted to more useful purposes.

No. I am afraid that I have not spent time undertaking that calculation.

Building Societies Association

19.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has had recent discussions with the Building Societies Association.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next proposes to meet representatives of the Building Societies Association.

I met the chairman and the chairman-designate of the Building Societies Association on 6th May. I am ready to meet the new chairman again whenever the need arises, and my Department maintains continuing contact with the association.

Is it not now clear that if the building societies had yielded to Government pressure three months ago to reduce their lending rates to the level likely to prevail after next month, the amount of money available for new mortgagees this summer would be substantially less than it is now likely to be? In those circumstances, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the building societies must keep a balance between investors, existing borrowers and new borrowers? Is that not an indication that less Government pressure on the building societies in future would be welcome?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right, in that there is clearly a need for a balance of considerations in the building societies' policy on mortgage interest rates. I do not know where he gets the idea of the building societies yielding or not yielding to Government pressure. I take the opportunity of making plain my own view. I believe that mortgage interest rates should be determined, and are bound to be determined, by the building societies. I cannot do that. However, my wish is to see determined as quickly as possible the lowest level of rates consistent with a flow of funds sufficient to meet the demand for mortgages in the foreseeable future.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that good enough liaison machinery exists between the building societies, the monetary authorities and himself to ensure that building society rates do not get too far out of line for too long? In that context, what advice is he now giving building societies about interest rates for the next six months?

Views are exchanged on these matters. The building societies are conscious when they are out of line with competing monetary rates. If they are out of line one way, they suffer a considerable loss in the inflow of funds. If they are out of line the other way, they have a considerable influx. They take account of both those situations in determining their interest policy.

Does my right hon Friend agree that the wide discrepancy between general interest rates and mortgage rates, which adversely affects many of those who want to buy a house, indicates clearly that the crazy system that the building societies operate should make way for a nationalised system in which local authorities, or Government agencies, may lend the money on a more equitable and reasonable basis?

I did not really follow my hon. Friend's argument, which inevitably was advanced in a terse form, as it was put in a supplementary question. I am not clear in which respect he thinks that the system is insane. As long as housing finance rests largely on one group lending money and another group borrowing it, clearly interest rates will have to take account of the interests of both. That is what building societies do. We can argue about the practices of building societies, and we have had many such exchanges. The House knows that I am anxious to get the building societies to take a more positive view, especially in helping those with lower incomes and avoiding the practice of red-lining.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the practices of the building societies are totally influenced by the climate of the Government's financial performance? Is he aware that there have been about 52 changes in minimum lending rate in the past four years? Does he accept that earlier this year the Government were offering 8·78 per cent. net of tax interest, which took about £150 million that otherwise would have gone to the building societies?

I am not sure that I can confirm that. Obviously we want to encourage a certain stability in the building societies' lending policies, both in terms of the quantity of money that they have available to lend and the interest rates that they are charging. That is a different consideration from the inevitably shorter-term movements of MLR.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the principal fault of the building societies is that they are always reluctant to reduce rates when interest rates are down and only too willing to raise them when they are on the way up? Does he also agree with the criticism of many hon. Members who represent inner city areas that the building societies are reluctant to lend money on older properties?

I understand and agree entirely with my hon. Friend on the second point.

On the first point, the House should remember that in 1973, under the mismanagement of the Conservative Government, the building societies suffered from a serious mortgage famine, which was far more disruptive to would-be owner-occupiers and, indeed, to the house construction industry than if they had pursued a policy that maintained their lending rate in a more orderly way, even though interest rates have had to go up.

European Community (Council Of Agriculture Ministers)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to report to the House on the discussions in the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 16th–17th May, at which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office—my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown)—represented the United Kingdom for the discussions on fisheries. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary represented the United Kingdom for the discussions on agriculture.

The Council considered a proposal by the Commission for a regulation to govern fishing for herring in the waters of member States in the period 1st June to 31st December 1977. The United Kingdom supported the Commission's proposals for a continuation of the temporary ban in the North Sea until the end of the year and for a system of quotas for the West of Scotland stock under which the United Kingdom would receive over 70 per cent. of the total allocations. The majority of delegations, however, despite the scientific evidence, favoured the allocation of quotas in the North Sea for the remainder of the year. This was not acceptable to Her Majesty's Government.

Eventually it was agreed to extend the North Sea ban until the end of June, except for a small special quota for the Netherlands to enable her to meet the requirements of her traditional June festival. It was also agreed to introduce a ban on herring fishing off the West of Scotland for the month of June. The latter measure will not affect United Kingdom fishermen since they normally do not start fishing for herring off the West of Scotland until the late summer.

The Council agreed to meet in Luxembourg on 27th June to decide on herring conservation measures for the period after the end of June and to consider all aspects of the internal fisheries régime. The Government are determined that real progress should be made then towards the adoption of definitive arrangements that adequately reflect the importance of the fishing industry to the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend told the Council that the calculation of monetary compensatory amounts on pigmeat must be adjusted to remove the difficulties to which they give rise. The Commission has now tabled a proposal which, if agreed, would allow the Commission to reduce MCAs on certain products, including pigmeat. It is intended that the implications of this proposal should be clarified urgently at official level with a view to the Council taking a decision on it at its next meeting on 20th-21st June.

The Council agreed to a directive on pure-bred cattle. This will remove obstacles to intra-Community trade, subject to the necessary animal health rules. I am confident that, as a result, our exports of pure-bred cattle will be benefited in due course.

The Council also discussed measures on wine, and on the so-called butter ships, operating mainly from North German ports, which offer cheap butter to their passengers, but final decisions were deferred until the next meeting.

In view of criticisms that had been made against him by some Ministers earlier in the meeting, Commissioner Tugendhat approached me and asked me to allow him to make a statement to the Council and to answer questions. I acceded to his request and I gave him the opportunity to make an opening statement, to hear criticisms, and to reply.

Is the Minister aware that the Opposition give him their whole-hearted support for the robust attitude that he has taken in favour of conservation? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is a serious matter, despite the levity displayed by Labour Members. We believe that if greedy policies on the fishing grounds are allowed to continue, we shall be left with nothing to argue about tomorrow.

Is the Minister further aware that we support him in rejecting unenforceable quota arrangements? These are totally unsatisfactory. We also support his determination that progress be made towards arrangements for a sensible definitive régime which recognises this country's interests.

My last point relates to pigmeat. I am pleased that the Commission has at last awakened to the seriousness of the problem and has put forward proposals. Is the Minister yet in a position to tell us whether the Commission's proposals carry some promise of substantial relief to this hard-pressed industry?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support for the stand that we have taken on fishing. This is absolutely vital. Like him, I have for some time taken the view—perhaps a little longer than the right hon. Gentleman, because I was occupying this position before he adopted his Shadow rôle—that we were the best judges of what conservation measures were necessary in our own waters.

The House must remember that I tabled the proposals about pigmeat to the Commission within the first week of becoming Minister in September. This was the first time that the Commission had laid them on the table for discussion by the Council. A number of technical matters need to be settled. Many countries, while in principle supporting the Commission, want to look more clearly at the implications from their point of view. Needless to say, some countries were not perhaps as happy with the Commission's proposals as we were. In principle, we are very much in favour of these proposals. The details are being worked out. I wish that I could tell the House at this stage exactly how they will work out, but this is rather novel.

I appreciate the positive aspects which have so far come out of the fisheries discussions. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the industry is facing a serious future? Does he accept that death by a thousand meetings is totally unacceptable? When are we to get firm action on a secure future for the industry?

I am aware of these facts, and I am as keen as my hon. Friend to see that we get the right answer, and get it soon. That was why I pressed strongly, and eventually—it did not happen immediately—got the Council to accept that we should have a separate day for fisheries matters—27th June—on which we would discuss the definitive regime. Unfortunately, because the herring ban is only temporary, we shall have to discuss that matter as well. No doubt we shall discuss that within the main context, which seems to be the basic principle that we have to satisfy.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear on 27th June that if this nonsense is not ended soon, there is support on both sides of the House for unilateral action on a 50-mile limit?

If I had not made it clear, there were about 120 people, led by a piper of distinction—I am not an expert in judging how well he was playing, but I am sure that he was playing well—who would have drawn it to the attention of the Council and the Commission. Of course, there were hon. Members from all parties also present on that occasion.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in order to gain the confidence not only of the anti-Marketeers but of the whole fishing industry—

I often feel like saying that myself. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), should let his hon. Friend proceed.

If the Minister is to get the total confidence of us all he must see that there are no loopholes. The Danes, for example, are being allowed, under this herring agreement, to fish in extenso off the Kattegat and Skagerrak. In view of the Danes' record of industrial fishing, how does the Minister feel about that?

That is one of the issues that must be settled at the 27th June meeting. My purpose at this stage was to see that there was a ban in the North Sea and, as far as possible, a ban off the West Coast of Scotland. The House should remember that a ban has been achieved off the West Coast of Scotland at a time when our own fishermen do not fish there.

In view of the slowness and the obduracy of the Council and the Commission in understanding, let alone meeting, the minimum requirements of the British fishing industry, would it not now be perfectly fair and reasonable that we should withdraw the compromise proposals of a fishing limit of up to 50 miles which we put forward in expectation of genuine negotiations and table our minimum requirement, which is a 50-mile limit all around our coasts?

Those questions will come up on 27th June. We have told the Commission that we are going to make new proposals. They are not so much proposals as a list of matters to be discussed. Undoubtedly the whole question will come up at that time. By then I shall have had to put a definitive view to my partners on this matter.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Norway, having stayed out of the EEC, has obtained a 200-mile exclusive zone? Since we have gratuitously thrown that away, thanks to the Opposition, can the Minister assure us that he will stand firm on the 50-mile zone, at least, for this country and, if necessary, enforce it unilaterally?

I have believed for some time that this is one of the difficulties of my hon. Friend's variable belt scheme which was intended to show where all the fish were but did not quite do so. Fifty miles is a more sensible allocation, because everybody knows what 50 miles or 80 kilometres is. The important question is not necessarily exclusivity of fishing, because one will want to do some trade-off on fishing, for example with the Norwegians, who fish in our waters. We are talking of exclusivity of control.

Am I correct in saying that the more pressure that is put on, the better the Minister is satisfied? Does he accept that part of that pressure comes from the Scottish fishing industry, 112 members of which went to Brussels this week to demand a 50-mile—and not a millimetre less—exclusive zone? The Scottish Under-Secretary in charge of fishing made a reassuring statement in a meeting which I attended. He said that if there was not to be justice for the industry we could be assured that the Government would not hesitate to take unilateral action. Does that include the unilateral declaration of a 50-mile limit, or is it just talk?

The hon. Lady is right. I need the support not only of hon. Members on this side of the House—although I know that I have their support—but of all those who are concerned with fisheries. We have shown our good faith. The Government made it clear during the speedy passage of the Fisheries Limit Act when I or my hon. Friend pointed out that we have that right within the Bill.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is pleasing to see that the Opposition now realise that the fault in the pig industry lies with the Common Market and not with the British Government? Can he assure us that action will be taken to renegotiate or reorganise the common agricultural policy, because it is of no use to the British farmer or the British consumer?

The pigmeat situation is a little more complicated than my hon. Friend implied. The fact remains that measures that clearly are legal, or were legal in the United Kingdom before we joined the Community, can at least now be questioned. Let us put it no higher than that. I am bound to tell the House that I do not regard the CAP as the best policy that has ever been evolved for agriculture.

Does the Minister appreciate that the salmon stocks in this country now need the same protection as he is giving to herring? Will he draw the attention of the EEC to the need for it to preserve a ban on drift netting for salmon? Will he put our own house in order by asking the British inspectorate to ban the landing at our ports of salmon which have been caught in drift nets, which is illegal?

I should be grateful for more information on that subject. All the conservation questions are bound to come up at the meeting.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the most alarming reports that the Council is turning itself into a Star Chamber and that Commissioner Tugendhat is having to face charges of being a Left-wing extremist? Is this likely to continue? If it is, is the heretic, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), also to be summoned to explain his objections to the CAP?

I cannot answer for the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). He must answer for himself. That is precisely the way in which I thought Commissioner Tugendhat might care to arrange matters. He was not harangued, as has been reported in the Press. He asked me whether he could make a statement. I told him "By all means. You can hear the criticisms and answer them at the end. "I do not believe that it was for me to answer for the former hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South about whether he is a Left-wing extremist. I am in agreement with some of his statements but there are a number with which I do not agree. I do not believe that the matter deserved as much moment and importance as it appeared to get.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British fishermen have no confidence that the system of quotas either has been or can be properly enforced? What steps are being taken to ensure that the small derogation granted to the Netherlands is absolutely accurately observed? Would this not be a test case for someone to prove whether a quota system can be operated effectively?

I accept that a quota system alone is not effective. There is something in what the hon. Member says. This is intended to be a token amount. The Under-Secretary at the Scottish Office, who was at that time leading the United Kingdom Government delegation, suggested to the Netherlands delegation that it might transfer to haggis rather than herring, but that was not accepted.

The House will have been intrigued about these butter ships. Will my right hon. Friend say whether they float upon lakes of wine, and whether they are likely to be wrecked upon submerged reefs of beef? As this is an interesting sort of precedent, is it possible that Her Majesty's Fleet, which is in mothballs, might be taken out, and that we could have one big jamboree to celebrate Jubilee Year outside the zones, buying cheap beef, butter, milk powder, wine and all the other surpluses?

The second part of that question would be more properly addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

The first part of the question arises in this way. There are ships which sail outside the territorial waters, mainly of Germany, and which come into harbour and pick up hungry housewives complete with shopping baskets, who then buy butter off the ship very much cheaper than they can buy it inside their own countries. The reason why they buy it is that it is Eastern European butter. I leave the House to consider what the cycle may be on this occasion.

Was the important matter of a regulation on sheepmeat discussed, and did the Minister fight for it?

Will my right hon. Friend accept from us our thanks for his gallant efforts? Nevertheless, is not the position that we, as a Government, make a firm stand, we are then pressurised by our European partners, we then reach a compromise, and the British are worse off as a result just because we are in the Common Market? Is it not time to say to our partners that we are ending the CAP commitment from right now?

Let us see how we go. It looks to me as though we have not made a bad start in making some rather important improvements. We have a long, long way to go. About that I totally agree with my hon. Friend.

Is the Minister aware that some pig farmers in my constituency have gone bankrupt in recent weeks and that others are in grave difficulty? Did anything come out of his meeting which would lead him to advise such farmers to seek further credit from their bank managers or, indeed, their bank managers to grant such credit?

I think that I made the position fairly clear. It is that although my proposals were tabled early in September, this was the first time that they were discussed in the Council. The proposals were sent urgently to officials for official discussion of the details of them, and they will come back at the next Council meeting. I should have thought that any decisions that need to be taken would perhaps best be considered in the light of what might arise out of that. I cannot say what will come out of that Council meeting. I can only say that this is the first time that there has been some move.

My right hon. Friend may have seen reports in the Press about the statement by Commissioner Tugendhat to the effect that the cost of the agricultural package is now much greater than was originally thought. Can my right hon. Friend give the cost which is now given by Commissioner Tugendhat, and say whether any agriculture Ministers other than himself also represent the interests of the consumer in the Council of Ministers?

As to the second half of my hon. Friend's question, I believe that I am the only Minister there for agriculture, fisheries and food, but I suppose that all of my partners would say that in one way or another they represented the consumers as well. As to the first part of the question, I cannot give the cost without notice, but I certainly shall do so.

When the Minister atend the June meeting, will he take the oportunity not merely to criticise the CAP, which certainly needs reform—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—but to put forward some specific, practicable and acceptable proposals for its reform?

Yes, Sir. On a number of occasions I have made such suggestions. I have made them in the House. If the hon. Gentleman cares to consider them, I shall send him the references in due course. However, I quite agree that what is needed is to take this issue head-on. One of the proposals that I have for when my European colleagues come over here—they will be doing so next week when I shall be their host—is to suggest to them how we might arrange for such a discussion.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there are still real problems in respect of pigs? Despite his undoubted achievement, not least in educating the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) to the fact that the trouble lies with the formula for the MCAs, will my right hon. Friend make it clear when he renegotiates that there are those of us in the House who fully supported him when he took his unilateral stand, for which he will be going to court, and who will apply pressure for him to be in exactly the same position and will back him to the hilt if we again take arbitrary action to look after our pig industry?

Although I do not think that I can yet claim to represent the majority of Opposition Members as regards the Common Market, will the Minister realise that if he sticks firmly to a 50-mile limit and no compromise, he will have the support of the great majority of Opposition Members? Secondly, is there any relationship between that 50-mile fishing limit and what might be on the bed of the sea? Has it any subsequent follow-through to wider negotiations?

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. As to the wider negotiations, I should not have thought so. It arises out of a common fisheries policy which, frankly, the Six agreed very hurriedly and speedily before we made our application. I am glad, as always, of the hon. Gentleman's support in this matter.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that every time he comes to the House and delivers another load of this Continental nonsense, there seem to be fewer and fewer people who can be clearly identified as pro-Market? As a result of the robust attitude that he has taken in the Common Market, it can now be perceived that the Opposition on the Front Bench, and indeed the Liberals, are now trying to steal my right hon. Friend's anti-Market clothes. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that there is only one way for him now to travel, and that is to get closer and closer towards those who have taken a strong anti-Market position and to declare himself along with the idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), and to argue the case for getting out of the Common Market?

Putting the matter in perspective, what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said was that we should scrap the CAP. I do not think that he went quite so far as to say that we should go any further than that at this stage.

Concerning the CAP, I think that I have from time to time noticed a certain shift in opinion, not only on the part of the public but even in this House.

As Mr. Gundelach has failed in his negotiations on our behalf with Iceland, has failed in his negotiations on our behalf with the Faroes and appears to be failing in his negotiations on our behalf with Norway, does not the Minister consider that it is time that he adopted the saying in the Scottish bothy ballad which says,

"Never trust the middle man,
But do your work yourself"?

I have been trying to do a little work myself for the past few months—not always, incidentally, with the full support of the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), judging by some of the speeches he has made about the CAP, but perhaps he can discuss that from time to time with his right hon. Friend. However, I think that we shall keep to the line that the House recognises, and the fishing industry recognises, is the right line to take.

Did Commissioner Tugendhat's statement to the Council of Ministers include any hope of the abolition of the levy on isoglucose, which at present is costing jobs in Tilbury and Greenwich?

As the right hon. Gentleman has specifically asked again for support from the Opposition side of the House for his valiant efforts in Brussels, may I ask whether he has drawn to the attention of his colleagues there the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), which would impose a 50-mile limit? May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we on the Liberal Bench will support his efforts to get that limit and that our support will be implacable?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. Liberal support these days is very unusual, and I know that my hon. Friends and I very much appreciate it, particularly as we happen to be in the right on the fisheries question.

Noting the statement "clarification at official level" regarding MCAs, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that such clarification will also include the NFUs and other such bodies? Is he aware that half of Scotland's pig production comes from the North-East? Will the voice of those pig producers be heard in such discussions?

It will indirectly, but the truth of the matter is that when I referred to official discussions I meant the official committees, such as the Special Committee on Agriculture, and, where it comes into it, the Committee of Permanent Representatives.

Council House Tenants (Security Of Tenure)

4.0 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide security of tenure for council house tenants; and for connected purposes.
The first point that needs to be made is that council house tenants are the most significant group of occupiers in our society who do not have security of tenure. The owner-occupier has always enjoyed a large measure of security. Parliament has extended that security to tenants of furnished and unfurnished accommodation and recently extended it to those living in agricultural tied cottages.

It is not as if council house tenants were a small minority in our community. There are more than 6 million tenants in council houses, and many more if one includes their families. As the law stands, these tenants can do little to resist an application from a council for eviction.

I do not think that it is necessary to deploy general arguments to justify the need for security of tenure. It is basic to any civilised society that people should feel secure in their own homes. The drive for home ownership and the struggle in Parliament for the extension of security of tenure bear adequate testimony to the need for security in home occupation. The time is ripe to extend security to council house tenants.

It has been and will be objected that council tenants are not in the same precarious position as tenants in the private sector formerly were. It can be argued that in fact tenants already have security of tenure in so far as councils rarely use their power of eviction unfairly, and if they do so, they run the risk of a blaze of adverse publicity. But such orders are not as rare as some people believe. Last year more than 30,000 such applications for possession of council property were considered in the county courts.

The vast majority of these cases stem from rent arrears. Other causes arise, such as nuisance or under-occupation, but the principal problem is that of rent arrears. I do not wish to belittle this problem. I emphasise that in bringing forward the Bill I am not offering a charter for rent avoiders. Security of tenure would be on the same basis as exists in furnished and unfurnished tenancies, and thus non-payment of rent would be a ground for eviction.

But at the same time I urge on the House the need for a deeper consideration of the whole question of rent arrears. It is as well to remember that in many instances of rent arrears we are dealing with the poorest of the poor. It is a question not only of rent arrears but of failure to take up benefits to which people are entitled.

The basic requirement is to adopt systems which can help to identify the non-payer and take early action before the debt becomes too large and eviction is ordered. Fortunately, we have moved on from the time when an order for possession could be made in the magistrates' court at the drop of a hat. Now county court proceedings have to be taken. But the brute fact is that in law a council can seek an order for possession and, ultimately, the court has no option but to grant it. This situation should be changed.

A measure to extend security to council tenants is timely and warranted for the following reasons. First, it will limit the unfettered power of councils to obtain eviction orders. It will not stop their getting an order if a case can be made out, but it will mean that the tenant can put his case and know that there is a genuine option available to the court. At present courts are largely enforcers in this sphere, and anyone who has seen, as I have, the sausage machine of eviction orders in the county court knows that the present procedures are unsatisfactory.

Secondly, the measure should force the Government and local authorities to reconsider the problems surrounding rent arrears and the issuing of notices to quit. Notice to quit must remain, but it is vital that tenants be given the clearest indication of the consequences of their actions.

Thirdly, extension of security of tenure could lead to a more productive relationship between tenants and councils. It should remove what seems to me to be a nineteenth-century relationship, and I hope that it will produce a more equal partnership between councils and tenants. It should lead to a review of the sometimes bizarre and humiliating conditions that council tenants have to accept and breach of which could technically lead to eviction. Too many of these agreements contain, as Lord Denning has said in the Court of Appeal, paragraph after paragraph of the obligations on council tenants and not a word about the responsibilities of the councils themselves.

Fourthly, it will answer a call that is coming increasingly loudly from tenants' associations. Indeed, at a recent meeting in London of the National Tenants' Conference the delegates placed security of tenure as the first of their goals.

Fifthly, by this measure we shall protect people from unfair and unwarranted eviction. I do not claim that councils use their powers in a punitive manner—far from it—but there are instances of unfair eviction, and Parliament has always sought to protect the weak against the strong.

In bringing forward this measure I know that I am knocking at an open door as far as the Government are concerned. It could hardly be otherwise when one considers that this commitment was entered into in the 1974 manifesto. I hope that that commitment will be inserted in the long-awaited housing policy review.

The Bill is a reminder and a goad to the Government to follow through the undertaking given to the electorate in 1974. It has the added attraction that it should not cost a great deal of money.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Watkinson, Mr. George Cunningham, Mr. Robin Corbett, Mr. J. W. Rooker, Mr. Bruce George, Mr. Peter Hardy, Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth and Mr. Arthur Latham.

Council House Tenants (Security Of Tenure)

Mr. John Watkinson accordingly presented a Bill to provide security of tenure for council house tenants; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15th July and to be printed. [Bill 121.]

Orders Of The Day

Supply

[18th ALLOTTED DAY]— considered

Helsinki Final Act (Belgrade Meeting)

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

4.8 p.m.

The Opposition have decided to use one of their Supply Days today to bring forward on a motion for the Adjournment consideration of the Belgrade Review Conference on the Helsinki Final Act. They do so in the belief that there are many in the House who would like to express their views on a wide variety of matters arising from the conference, views which may go wider than the specific meeting which is to take place from 15th June. If we were to limit ourselves to that meeting, the debate in the House would necessarily be narrow, and that is certainly not the Opposition's wish.

The truth is that the framework of the Helsinki Final Act embraces, implicitly or explicitly an extremely wide variety of matters concerning the relationships between the West and the East. The Opposition believe that there should be the opportunity for these to be fully ventilated today by all those who are interested in so doing before the preparatory work begins.

It is realised, of course, that the meetings on 15th June represent a preparatory phase and that the discussion and representation will no doubt be at a relatively low level, but later in the year, in October, it is expected that, as a result of the preparatory work at a ministerial level, the conference will be resumed and will then turn its attention to the real implementation of the Helsinki Final Act and look at what has happened in the intervening period. On that basis, therefore, I should like to treat this debate as a focus for all aspects of confrontation or tension which may exist in the East-West relationship.

Drawing from the broad paragraphs of the Final Act itself, I believe that that review can best concentrate on three separate sections. The first is the humanitarian aspects of our relationships. The second is the commercial aspects. I refer particularly to the fact that the European Community is clearly involved in defining a joint approach by the member States to his wide range of considerations.

The final section is the political and military aspects of these relationships. However, I know that the Final Act itself made specific reference to the fact that the military relationship was primarily the concern of the discussions of mutual and balanced force reductions and that therefore the military aspect of the Final Act was somewhat restricted in its range.

I turn first to the humanitarian issues. Largely through the efforts of President Carter, the human rights aspects of that wide range of humanitarian considerations have been thrown into highlight. In his address to the United Nations on 17th March, the President said:
"No member of the United Nations can claim that the mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business."
That is an important declaration that will obviously affect the whole context of our discussions of these matters with the Soviet Union and other countries.

Today of all days, when we have been confronted by the awe-inspiring contents of the report by the International Commission of Jurists on what has happened in Uganda, one cannot but be struck by the appositeness and topicality of President Carter's remarks. It would therefore be wrong not to make it abundantly clear that we on this side—the Foreign Secretary has already said this for his side—stand beside and behind President Carter's remarks in this relationship.

Of course, there is a strong Soviet counter-argument—that one of the basic principles of the Helsinki Conference was that intervention in the internal affairs of member States should not be a matter of consideration. But the Carter declaration has largely answered and rejected that argument as it affects human rights of citizens and the general concern that we must all have about the treatment of people as individuals, worldwide, without discrimination and without double standards, even about ourselves.

It is not only a question of what President Carter has said. It is clear from the terms of the Final Act itself that the argument for the insistence on the observance of human rights in other signatories is not contrary to the principle declared in the Act of non-intervention in the affairs within their domestic jurisdiction, because the parties have all contracted inter se. It is a reciprocal obligation, which is enforceable throughout.

I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. That is a clarification which can only be useful in the circumstances. My particular reference to President Carter's remarks relates to the fact that his insistence upon it so recently underlines the very undertakings given at the time of Helsinki.

I therefore believe that the question allows us, as a result of the conclusion of the Helsinki Final Act, to regard it as a matter of world concern on every individual country and Government not only to be concerned with the maltreatment, perhaps, of individuals, the lack of consideration of their interests, which may be prevalent in other countries, but to look searchingly at the treatment of their own citizens, so far as that may equally give rise to concern.

However, when one comes to the overt handling of the issues, it is inevitable that the individual countries will deal with these matters differently. It is normal to imagine that the very difficult judgment to be arrived at, as to whether a specific and overt method of handling complaints and disagreements with the treatment of individual citizens exists, may be regarded by some countries differently from others.

An evident case in point is the problem that the Federal Republic of Germany has in relation to the German Democratic Republic and the problems of securing the best interests of the respective citizens of those two countries. Therefore, although the principle is undeniable, the application is subject to specific considerations of individual countries.

It was not only human rights issues which arose in the humanitarian field of consideration. There were other and very important ones, relating to such matters as cultural exchange and particularly the communication of ideas among countries. As one looks back over the period since the Helsinki Conference and the signature of the Final Act, one sees that there is room on all accounts to express real anxiety and concern about what has happened.

Do not let us forget that it was a European initiative that promoted this area of concern into consideration at Helsinki. It was picked up subsequently by other States, notably the United States of America, but it was primarily a European initiative that promoted that proposition. Looking at the matter with European eyes, we must register the fact that on all those counts the performance on the other side has been manifestly inadequate in comparison with the reasonable expectations arising from the signatories involved.

We must, therefore, charge those who now move into the discussions at Belgrade at their various levels with expressing the degree of concern we have about that slow movement and inadequate development in these fields and demand that the examination of implementation should very much demand and seek a much more determined application of the principles to which we all subscribe.

I turn next to the commercial area of concern. I happen to believe that the extension and development of commercial relationships between ourselves and the Western countries generally and the Soviet Union and the other Eastern countries is a desirable development. It is a hard issue to argue. It is very difficult to find compelling reasons to substantiate my feeling on the subject, but, having been engaged over 12 or 13 years now in intensive discussions in this area, particularly with the Soviet Union but also with other countries, I feel that the maintenance and development of these commercial relationships are a profound and important factor in the lessening of the causes of tension and the lessening of the real remoteness which otherwise creeps into the relationships and damages the possibility of lessening those tensions.

However, there has to be a great balance of judgment about these matters. To some degree, that balance of judgment is provided for within the provisions of the COCOM arrangements, whereby specifically the transfer of capabilities which would be damaging to the security of the West is already put aside.

But the matter goes much deeper. When I visited Moscow some years ago, it was explained to me by the planning organisation how the system was worked out whereby a substantial number of individual and major projects were set aside in the planning activity within Gosplan to see whether they could be realised without a call upon the Soviet resources themselves. They were not authorised to be developed, that is to say, until they could be shown to be developed without a call on Soviet resources within the five-year planning period.

The very fact that that kind of consideration is given to the development of such very major projects quite clearly makes it evident that, if they are proceeded with without a call being made on the resources of the Soviet Union, they represent a specific improvement of its total resources at no cost to itself, at least in the short term. We have to give very serious consideration to the wisdom in times of great difficulty of sustaining the resource development of the Eastern countries in this way.

This equally applies, I believe, in the whole area of the transfer of technology, out with the questions covered by COCOM. The fact is that we have to watch and keep very carefully under appraisal the wisdom of transferring technology which at times may indeed represent such a deliberate accretion to the capability of the Soviet Union as to be something of a danger to ourselves.

There are, of course, counterparts to this. I have frequently observed in the development of major projects in the Soviet Union that the inserting of a technology developed in the West automatically tends to lead to the continuation of the up-dating of that technology as time goes on. This obviously has advantages in terms of the broad commercial relationships to which I have referred.

Equally, we have to be very concerned about credits. It is hardly rational to believe that for a country in our particular economic circumstances to raise money on international markets at high rates of interest and then to accord enormous credits to the Soviet Union at very low rates of interest is a particularly intelligent thing to do. One has therefore to call into question whether the commercial advantage of ourselves and the West generally is served by such arrangements.

The same consideration applies equally to what are called compensation deals. We have seen today in the newspapers the announcement of two massive new methanol plants to be installed in the Soviet Union at very high cost, with a compensating factor in terms of the supply of the material produced by the plant as the method of payment for the plants themselves. Here, again, it may be that the advantages lies in so doing, but they must be the subject of very careful reappraisal.

While agreeing to the broad concept of the improvement and extension of our commercial relationships, I believe that our ability in this country on our own, but more generally in the West as a whole, to reappraise from time to time the direction in which we are going, the extent to which we are committing ourselves, and the advantage we are conferring, should be very much more acutely watched than is currently the case.

As to the military and political aspects of the problem, I have been on record several times, notably in this House, as expressing very grave anxiety concerning the fragmentation of the military dialogue. It seems to me extraordinarily unwise for the strategic arms limitations talks to be conducted without very careful interlocking with the discussions on mutual and balanced force reductions, and equally with the whole question of the manoeuvre of notifications which are implicit in the Hensinki Final Act. I believe that our present capability of seeing that the best general advantage in terms of our military balance with the East is secured is not adequately assured by the means of co-operation and co-ordination which currently exist.

I believe that we must pursue the question of détente as a whole. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has quite recently visited China, where undoubtedly the view is that the whole idea of detente is in itself an illusion and that we are dealing with a body which cannot in any sense wish to respond to our desire to lessen tension, except in the sense of taking advantage of our concessionary attitude in order to try to out manoeuvre us. We do not believe that that can be the attitude for this country to adopt. With all the difficulties, we believe that it is essential to find areas of improvement in any of these fields and in others.

Was not the philosophy that the right hon. Gentleman has just outlined exactly the same philosophy as the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition used in her speech at the very time that the Helsinki Final Act was being signed?

No. I do not think so. If the hon. Gentleman will look at my right hon. Friend's speech and compare it with what she said most recently when she was in Peking, he will find a very great similarity between the two. My right hon. Friend underlines the very real areas of disagreement and tension which exist between the two sides, but she clearly maintains the need to seek rational, fair, and balanced improvements. That has been very clearly her view, and I entirely endorse it. I believe that it represents a contrast with the view she found in China, but I sustain very strongly the need to find such areas of detente as may exist.

I return to the belief that the whole question of détente is in itself indivisible. The Foreign Secretary has reiterated that view in a recent speech in this House, and I hope that he will say the same again today.

In my own rather particular dealings with the Soviet Union I have been faced with areas in which the inter-relationships of issues arising in totally different fields of consideration are none the less enormously co-ordinated in the Soviet Union with a view to securing maximum advantage. I remember very well, as will many hon. Members, the period in 1972 when it was found necessary to call for the departure from this country of a certain number of accredited representatives of the Soviet Union. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that that determined action called into being a restriction on the trading relationships between Britain and the Soviet Union of a quite definite character. I am certain that this restriction existed, and I am equally certain that it has taken a very long time to override it.

Another perhaps less evident case, but nevertheless one of great importance, is the approach of the Soviet Union to the use of apparently purely commercial issues in support of major methods of affecting—damagingly at times—the interests of the Western economy. I refer to the development of the commercial marine in the Soviet Union on a basis of use outside the normal transport requirements of that country and at rates of freight which are clearly damaging to the conduct of the normal marine operations in the Western countries. The same can be said of the use of the Soviet Union land mass as a land bridge for the conveyance of goods between Western Europe and the Far East.

In the Soviet Union it is a matter of normal policy to try to draw maximum advantage from the inter-relationship of quite separate issues which may be under consideration. That has been my personal experience. There is a general strategy in relation to the Soviet Union's total undertakings and discussions with the Western world, all of which is centred upon the major purpose of securing the balance of advantage to the Soviet Union as between the various issues concerned.

This is very much part of the whole framework of what is referred to by the Soviet Union as the ideological struggle. The truth is that the ideological struggle is the centre of the Soviet Union's purpose. It has a system which it wishes to see dominating the system of the West.

It seeks that domination by every means that it can find within the compass of its manifold activities and relationships with the Western world. My great concern is that we on our side have no such capability. I see that, for instance, in the way in which we have been so deeply concerned in this House recently, and will continue to be, with regard to the intervention of the Soviet Union—a kind of devolved intervention through the media of Cuban forces, guerrillas, or whoever it may be—in the affairs of Southern Africa. That is part of a concerted planning system which seeks to draw advantages in general from the disinterest of our own side.

The same is true of the subversion activities that we have seen in many countries. They are justified in the broad belief that whatever one may say in the Helsinki Final Act, or whatever one may agree in the broad principles to which one adheres, the basis of the ideological struggle and the supremacy of the Soviet system and its need to be implanted is the primary concern, which will not be abandoned on any account.

I have little belief in the bringing about of a head-on conflict with the West by the Soviet Union. The means of achieving the ends not through a head-on conflict is something with which we have to be deeply concerned. I do not see any evidence of a wish to compromise. On the contrary, I see evidence of a wish to assert a basic purpose pursued with relentless determination with which we have very little capacity to compete. Indeed, I see on our side a very fragmented response to that concerted effort.

If there is any real improvement that has to be considered at this stage with our allies and friends throughout the world it is the need to take a total view of our relationships with the Eastern countries. We have failed to do so. It seems to me that the corollary to President Carter's call last week to NATO for a greater effort and a more concerted view of the requirements and the reasons for NATO is to be found in the absolutely essential need to find some method of bringing together the totality of these relationships and examining them with the same ruthless determination not to concede our interests which the other side has deployed in order to seek the interests of the Eastern countries.

Unfortunately, the detonators which could lead to explosions are widening all the time. The truth is that the territorial limits of NATO were set without adequate regard to the areas from which the dangers to the very purposes it seeks to achieve might arise. These undoubtedly are greatly widening.

We have to aspire to the will to prevail over what is a continuously expanding infiltration of the Western social order. The Foreign Secretary's remarks the other day in the debate on foreign and Commonwealth affairs left me with some cause for concern. He seemed to be admitting too readily that the presence of the Soviet Union in Africa was entirely and acceptably a reasonable purpose. I find that a worrying concept simply because it adds still further force to this tendency to compromise away our interests.

I simply hope that the purpose of this debate will be served in trying to underline the essential need to move to a much better co-ordinated method of handling what otherwise could be a grave threat to our interests for ourselves and for our children.

4.37 p.m.

In less than a month's time, on 15th June, representatives of 35 nations will assemble in Belgrade in order to discuss the preparations for a meeting later in the year to follow up the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which was concluded by the signature of its Final Act in Helsinki in August 1975. The purpose of the meeting, to quote the Final Act, will be

"to continue the multilateral process initiated by the Conference…by proceeding to a thorough exchange of views both on the implementation of the provisions of the Final Act and of the tasks defined by the Conference, as well as, in the context of the questions dealt with by the latter, on the deepening of their mutual relations, the improvement of security and the development of co-operation in Europe, and the development of the process of detente in the future."
I admit that is quite a mouthful. Like most multilateral documents, the Final Act can hardly be distinguished by the crispness or by the clarity of its prose. But there can be no doubt as to the importance of the Belgrade meeting.

Its task of assessing the progress which has been made along the road which was charted at Helsinki is vital. The Government greatly welcome this opportunity for a full debate on the United Kingdom's approach to this very significant and important European occasion.

I also pay tribute to the fact that the Sub-Committee on Defence and External Affairs of the Expenditure Committee—I am glad to see the Chairman of that Committee, the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), present—has examined this very subject. Its report is coming out very shortly and I hope that this, as well as the debate, will help us in forming views for this important conference.

I greatly welcome the fact that the Select Committee has examined this area. I hope that the Committee feels that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given it all the help that it can in evidence. I am glad to see that the Committee took its evidence from a wide range of opinion.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister himself attended the final stage of the CSCE at Helsinki together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), who was one of the 35 Heads of Government who put their names to the Final Act. I do not share, and have never shared, the doubts which from time to time have been expressed in this House as to the potential value of that document.

How can my right hon. Friend reconcile his support for détente with yesterday's dismaying agreement at NATO to aim for a 3 per cent. increase in spending? Will that not deliberately heighten international hostility? Does not my right hon. Friend think that this will cast doubt on the sincerity and the professions of the NATO leaders to secure agreement? I warn my right hon. Friend that this will be bitterly opposed by Labour Members, and Labour men outside, particularly at a time when the Government are cutting arms expenditure and when negotiations are taking place to stop this. It is going in the opposite direction.

I have made my views on defence expenditure perfectly clear in this House and they remain the same. I believe that no one wishes to keep up the current level of defence expenditure unnecessarily or to keep it if there is a real chance of reducing it. But the fact has to be faced, and my hon. Friend has to face it, that throughout the last few years there has been a constant increase in the percentage of GNP devoted by the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries to defence expenditure. I wish I knew the reason for that very remarkable increase over the last few years. As my hon. Friend knows, I am dedicated to trying to get serious progress on disarmament. I look to a serious agreement at the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and, certainly, I look for real progress at MBFR, which have taken a long time. I shall deal with some of the other aspects. But it is a one-sided coin to look only at our defence expenditure. It must be compared in fairness to the substantial increase that has gone on over the last few years by the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.

I was talking about the potential value of the Final Act. I stress the word "potential" because the CSCE Final Act is and will be of value only to the extent that its provisions are implemented.

The Government look to Belgrade not in any spirit of false optimism but with the firm intention of using this follow-up meeting to make a clear and honest assessment of the progress that has been achieved so far and to do what we can to develop and build upon the undertakings given at Helsinki. We shall, of course, not be satisfied until all the provisions of the Final Act have been put into effect by all the States which subscribed to it. We intend to play a full and active part in reminding all its signatories of the commitments into which they have entered, and of their duty to fulfil them, and I note the interpretation of the Final Act by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies).

The CSCE was and remains a product of détente, not its origin or mainspring. It remains true that the original source, and continuing test, of détente lies in the effort to avoid nuclear confrontation and to reduce the armaments which make such a confrontation more likely. But the conference of 35 European and North American nations in Geneva and Helsinki was part of a wider trend in East-West relations which resulted from the general recognition of the dangers of confrontation and of the possibilities for co-operation in a world in which mutual interests were coming increasingly to be recognised.

Elements of confrontation between East and West of course remain, as they are bound to do between two political systems professing philosophies which are in many respects irreconcilable. But, as a result of policies pursued by the Governments of both East and West, the areas of co-operation have been enlarged and, especially in Europe, contacts of all kinds and at all levels between Communist and non-Communist societies have been very substantially increased during the past decade.

In these circumstances, it proved possible for 35 nations to discuss and, after a long and extremely difficult negotiation, to agree upon a code of behaviour which would be appropriate to the new political climate in Europe, and to which they could all subscribe. This code of behaviour and the specific results which should flow from it are set out in detail in the Final Act. As I have said, the Act itself does not make exciting reading, but the aspirations which are embedded in its wordy and convoluted clauses are exciting since they delineate the more secure, more tolerant and more humane Europe towards which its signatories are committed to work.

These aspirations could not be brought to life in the form of concrete results simply by the act of signing the Helsinki document. What the 35 Governments did was to commit themselves to observing certain ground rules in all their policies, both internal and external, and to implement the many specific provisions which go to make up the document.

It was clear from the start that some participants would have much further to travel than others in giving full effect to the Final Act's provisions. I do not think that any participant could honestly sit back and say that he had no distance to travel at all, and no Government have so far been accused of doing so. But it is obvious that such provisions in the Final Act as those which affect freedom of movement and the free exchange of information require a greater degree of change from those societies which have placed and continue to place restrictions on such freedoms than from those which do not.

Even before the signature of the Final Act, Pravda could be bought on the Charing Cross Road. The number of Western newspapers freely available for sale in Moscow remain pitifully small, but since 1975 the Soviet authorities, I am glad to say, have permitted the import of 18 Western newspapers which were previously excluded. What we shall be looking for at Belgrade is sufficient evidence of progress in these areas, as in all areas covered by the Final Act, to establish the sincerity of the Governments concerned in committing themselves to its provisions. In many areas—and here I agree with the right hon. Member for Knutsford—progress has been painfully slow: in some, it has been non-existent. But there has been some indication of movement and change. Our task at Belgrade will be to maintain its momentum and to increase its tempo.

We and other Western Governments have been accused by the East of adopting an unbalanced or one-sided approach to the implementation of the Final Act. It is said that we stress the importance of Basket III—that part of the Act which concerns co-operation in humanitarian and other fields—to the exclusion of everything else.

This is not the case. It is of course natural that the part of the Final Act which has the most direct bearing on the lives of ordinary individuals should attract keener interest on the part of public opinion in the West than those parts of the Final Act—Baskets I and II—which are of greater direct concern in the first instance to Governments, institutions and companies. It is also natural, both prior to Belgrade and at the Belgrade meeting itself, that those parts of the Final Act in the implementation of which there has been the least progress should demand the most attention and discussion. The Government, nevertheless, see the Final Act as a unified whole and intend, at Belgrade, to review its implementation in this spirit. That is my response to the quite correct claim by the right hon. Member for Knutsford that the process of detenté is indivisible.

We shall be concerned, in the area covered by Basket I, to work towards a clearer agreed interpretation of the principles which are set out in that part of the Act. It is worth recalling, incidentally, that the most important reference to
"human rights and fundamental freedoms"
to be found in the Final Act occurs not in Basket III but in Basket I in the seventh principle.

We shall be concerned to rebut any arguments to the effect that any one of the 10 principles, such as that concerning "non-intervention in internal affairs", can be invoked to override or cancel out another, such as that for
"respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms".
Since the Act states that all the 10 principles it sets out are all of the first importance and must be equally applied, there can be no question of any one principle overriding any of the others. It may be necessary at Belgrade vigorously to reassert this truth.

The Government also attach importance to another item in the first basket, namely "confidence building measures". We shall be concerned to review the progress which has been made in applying these and actively to consider, with our partners and allies, the possibility of developing them further. We believe that the growth of confidence across the frontiers of the two European alliances, on which European security must in the last resort depend, can only gain from the more active application not only of the letter but also of the spirit of confidence-building measures concerning, for example, the notification of military manoeuvres and the exchange of observers, and we shall press for this. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) that it is these sorts of measure which can create a climate for genuine disarmament.

The Government will be concerned to review at Belgrade progress in the implementation of the provisions of Basket II of the Final Act, which concerns co-operation in the economic field. Economic co-operation and the normalisation of East-West trade are I agree with the right hon. Member for Knutsford, important ingredients of détente in Europe, and the Government are concerned to make a reality of the Final Act's provisions for the improvement of facilities for foreign business men—particularly for those representing one economic system on the territory of another—and for improving the availability and exchange of economic and commercial information.

Again, some progress has been made but we wish to see more. With our partners, we have played and will continue to play an active part in the work of the Economic Commission for Europe which, as the Final Act recognises, is the appropriate forum for multilateral efforts to promote and deepen economic co-operation in Europe as a whole.

As I have said, parliamentary and public opinion in the West has very largely been focused on the provisions of the third basket of the Final Act since the signature of the Act nearly two years ago. We should not forget the Acts other important provisions which I have mentioned. The Final Act firmly placed on the international agenda, for the first time, important issues affecting the daily lives of ordinary people which, although they are in this Government's view an essential element in détente, had not previously been given the parity with the more traditional elements of the inter-State relations which they deserve.

The Final Act accords such parity to issues such as freedom of movement, the reunification of families, the free availability and exchange of information, the improvement of working conditions for journalists and greater individual as well as institutional contacts in the fields of culture and the sciences. All these are now legitimate and proper items on the international agenda, and this Government propose to keep them there.

As to humanitarian cases, since the signature of the Final Act, the Government have been especially concerned to press for the implementation of the Act's provisions on family reunification and marriage cases. Our persistent approaches to the Soviet and East European authorities on these matters have produced some limited results; in the case of Romania, where such problems until recently existed on a considerable scale, I would describe the results as encouraging. But in general there has not been nearly as much progress as we should have wished.

We shall continue to emphasise to the Governments concerned, both bilaterally and at Belgrade, the strength of feeling that exists in the United Kingdom about cases of this kind, and to stress our view that detente will not be credible or complete while families remain divided, or young people are prevented from marrying, by political or national frontiers.

It remains the Government's view that progress in resolving cases of this kind is more likely to result from confidential negotiation and discussion than from public remonstrance and recrimination. Public expressions of feeling and concern, whether by groups or individuals, and in or outside Parliament, have an important and legitimate role to play. Societies must express and defend their values freely, forcefully and openly. The role of Governments, however, must sometimes be less spectacular if practical results are to be achieved; but a difference of approach by no means implies any difference of objective.

The signatories of the Final Act have promised to facilitate wider travel by their citizens and in particular to simplify and to administer flexibly the procedures for exit and entry. They have promised to respect the freedom of religion or belief. They have promised to respect the right of persons belonging to national minorities to equality before the law. The relevance of these provisions to religious and ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union, such as Jews and Baptists, is clear.

I am very interested in what the Foreign Secretary is saying. Recently I wrote to the Soviet ambassador making what I would call "soft" representations about the treatment of certain Jews and families of Jews in the Soviet Union. I said that I was sure the Soviet Union did not wish to be misunderstood by the world for the way in which it is treating these citizens. I received a reply from the ambassador saying that the Soviet Union did not require me to tell it how to manage its internal affairs. How does this accord with the Helsinki Conference?

My hon. Friend was lucky to get a reply at all.

My hon. Friend has raised a serious and important issue, but I think that we can draw some encouragement from the fact that a large number of Jews have been permitted to emigrate from the Soviet Union during the past few years. Although the rate of emigration has dropped, which causes concern, I understand that it has still been averaging about one thousand departures a month over the past year.

Nevertheless, it is right that we should be deeply concerned about those Soviet Jews whose applications to leave have been denied and—perhaps more important—about those who, in present circumstances, have not felt able to incur the risks involved by applying. The present situation of Jews in the Soviet Union is a matter on which many Members of this House feel deep anxiety, as the signature by 143 hon. Members of a letter in The Times on 8th May testifies. I met some of those Members privately on 24th March: they will know that it is a question to which I have been paying close attention.

Since December a Jewish Cultural Symposium has been suppressed; serious allegations have been made against well-known Jews in a television film and in newspaper articles; and two of these leading Jews were arrested in March, though they have yet to be brought to trial.

It is understandable that these and other events should have caused alarm within the Soviet Union and abroad. I think everyone would agree that we must, in view of past history, be extremely vigilant. But after a careful assessment, I do not believe that the present evidence justifies assertions that the Soviet Government are mounting a deliberate and broad anti-Semitic campaign, which some have compared with the events of the 1930s. The individuals against whom action has been taken have taken a strong and courageous stance on a matter of great sensitivity; but the moves which have been taken against them do not so far appear to constitute a campaign on a mass scale directed by the Government against all Jews.

I am loath to interrupt my right hon. Friend but I was particularly interested in this point. I have just received a letter today from the son of an elderly Jewish man, aged 77, who, together with his wife, was given permission by the Soviet Union to leave on a date between 1st April and 22nd April this year to join his son and family in Israel. The elderly man's name is Boris B. Gutman. After permission had been given and Mr. Gutman had been retired for two years from the Pulp and Paper Institute of the Soviet Union, he made arrangements and began to dispose of his assets and to acquire the money to go to Israel. He told his son that he was about to come. On 8th April he received a telephone call to say that permission had been withdrawn owing to some technical objection from the Pulp and Paper Institute. This denies what my right hon. Friend has just said. The Soviet Union does not act merely against those who take a positive stance. Elderly, inoffensive people are also subjected to this kind of treatment.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I said that the rate of emigration had dropped recently and that this was causing concern. It is important that in the way in which we handle these issues I should not comment on individual cases. I shall help my hon. Friend in any way in this particular case, and I am ready to discuss it with her.

As I was saying, these individuals have been singled out not because they are Jews but because they are activists. It is part of their tradition of radicalism that many Jews are activists on these very issues, and this is one of the reasons why they are very greatly respected in this country. I shall continue to watch developments with care and concern and shall not hesitate to speak out if I see any evidence of a deliberate campaign. But, as I have said, I do not see such evidence at present.

At Belgrade it will be right for the Government to bear in mind that the area covered by Basket III of the Final Act is—since it calls for the progressive modification of internal regulations and practices—one of the most sensitive aspects of détente. Understandably, it arouses stronger emotions—on both sides—than the more institutional or technical aspects of relationships between countries. By adopting a balanced approach between the legitimate expectations of public opinion on the one hand, and the potential dangers of confrontational polemics on the other, we hope to use Belgrade to ensure that the very modest progress so far achieved in the field of human rights and of Basket III is carried forward at a more encouraging tempo in the future.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way. He has been very patient and courteous and the House is in his debt. We do not want Belgrade to break down into a series of recriminations or, on the other hand, to be just a series of platitudes. Some of us are horrified that the committee set up under Professor Orlov to monitor the working of the Helsinki Agreement in Moscow has been virtually disbanded by exile for some of its members and imprisonment for others. Is this the sort of question that the Government feel they have a duty to raise?

I have told the House that there are cases which cause concern, and the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has highlighted one of them. I think the individual way in which we deal with cases will have to be decided in the period immediately prior to the Belgrade Conference. I do not wish to take a firm position. I wish to strike a balance—it is a difficult thing to do—between not making recriminations and not just talking platitudes. It is a hard task. I see this as part of a process which not only will take place in Belgrade but which will be carried on continuously so that we may make progress as rapidly as hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish.

If I may take up the point mentioned in the intervention by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), the House might wish to know that the all-party Human Rights Parliamentary Committee wished to send an observer to Professor Orlov's trial and that I have been asked to attend. In view of the commitment to greater movement among people within the Soviet Union and other countries, will my right hon. Friend do something to persuade the Soviet Union to permit the lawyers and observers to monitor and attend Soviet trials? When seeking to attend such trials for Amnesty and other organisations I have been refused such requests three times. I cannot get into one Soviet trial. Since that action contravenes the spirit of Helsinki, and the wording too, will the Foreign Secretary seek to raise that matter?

I am trying scrupulously to avoid being drawn into individual cases. However, I shall bear in mind what my hon. and learned Friend has said and I shall speak to him about the matter.

Headlines on the front pages, however, gratifying politically, are not necessarily best calculated to assist the fortunes of the uncelebrated individual people—or even the celebrated—whose happiness we are seeking to promote. We shall not hesitate to speak out at Belgrade in identifying shortcomings and calling for their remedy. But if we are to achieve results from the Belgrade meeting, our approach in these matters must be seen to be constructive even when it is critical. We must seek to achieve a balance in these matters and it is a constant task.

It will be clear from what I have said that the Government see the review meeting at Belgrade as only the first checkpoint along what will inevitably be the long road towards realising the vision of Europe which the Final Act contains. As the Final Act requires us to do, we shall be looking to the future as well as to the success or failures of the past. The agenda for the meeting will include not only evaluation of the implementation of the Final Act—an evaluation which we are determined to make both comprehensive and honest—but also possible new ways of improving security and developing co-operation. The Final Act also require us to consider the possibility of further similar meetings, or of a new conference.

We must use Belgrade as an opportunity to inject new life and momentum into the CSCE process. For this, new ideas will be needed. But we must be careful not to be distracted by new proposals which could either distort the careful balance of the Final Act or divert attention from it. The Final Act must remain the centre and focus of multilateral co-operation throughout Europe; and the new proposals put forward at Belgrade which this Government are most likely to sponsor or to welcome will be those designed to secure more effective implementation of the Final Act. We shall listen carefully to suggestions made in this debate directed towards implementation of the Final Act. We shall consider carefully whether we can take them up.

So far as further meetings are concerned, we hope that the experiences of the 35 Governments at Belgrade will be such as to encourage them to establish a second such checkpoint, perhaps in about two years' time. But this time, if the Belgrade meeting meets our expectations, we should perhaps consider whether it should be at Foreign Minister level. I must admit that it came as some surprise to me to find that I am not able myself to attend Belgrade. But my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, the Minister of State, will attend.

I made at the outside a brief reference to the preparatory discussions which are to open in Belgrade on 15th June. I think it is important to see these discussions in the right perspective. The Final Act lays it down that the purpose of this preparatory meeting is to
"decide on the date, duration, agenda and other modalities"
of the main meeting which is to follow. There can be no doubt that these apparently purely procedural issues are issues of real political importance if the main meeting is to be a success.

But we shall continue to resist suggestions, which have been advanced by some Communist Governments, that the task of the preparatory meeting should be to construct a political framework for the main meeting by laying down, for example, understandings on the "atmosphere" in which the main meeting is to be conducted. There is no reason why the preparatory discussions should stray into issues of political substance. We see no need whatever for the elaboration of any "political concept" of the main meeting going beyond the perfectly clear provisions of the Final Act on follow up.

One of the most heartening features of the process both of negotiating and following up the Final Act of the CSCE has been the proof which it has given of the effectiveness of political co-operation and consultation between Western Governments. I am confident that my colleagues in the Nine and in NATO would agree with what I have said to the House today. I am confident because these matters have been discussed a great deal. This gives us firm grounds for confidence in our approach to Belgrade. Far from weakening and dividing the West, the CSCE has had the contrary effect. The close co-operation of the Nine and of the members of the NATO alliance, which was one of the dominant features of the CSCE in Geneva and Helsinki, has been maintained at the same high level since the signature of the Final Act.

We have also engaged in a great many discussions on CSCE with the neutral and non-aligned countries, both bilaterally and in the Council of Europe, as well as with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe. I have enjoyed my meetings with Foreign Ministers from Eastern European countries. We have played a full part in the multilateral CSCE follow-up which has been taking place in UNESCO and the Economic Commission for Europe. When all this is taken together, Belgrade must have a good claim to be considered one of the best-prepared meetings in history.

But this domestic success, in Western terms, must not blind us to the essential limitations of the CSCE process. We must remind ourselves of the signal lack of progress towards making Europe a safer continent. The Soviet Government's recent tendency to combine professions of eagerness to talk about peace and disarmament with its assiduous improvement in the quality and quantity of the armaments at its disposal has been and remains deeply disquieting.

The confidence-building measures agreed at Helsinki and enshrined in the Final Act constitute a small step in the right direction. But the Government are all too conscious of the fact that they are insignificant beside the crucial issues involved in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the MBFR negotiations in Vienna. Anything that is achieved in the CSCE context will be of strictly limited value unless parallel progress can be made in the military sphere.

We are, therefore, under no illusion about the CSCE process. It must be viewed realistically and in its proper perspective. The Final Act must still be described as having a greater potential than actual value. But its impact in European affairs so far is not negligible. The publication in the countries of Eastern Europe of the commitments into which their Governments entered at Helsinki has had a profound effect on the peoples of those countries and has inspired in them new hopes for the future.

The Belgrade meeting now offers us a valuable opportunity to give further impetus to the movement which it has set in train towards an improved quality in European relationships. This is an opportunity of which we intend to take full advantage. Our approach to Belgrade will be balanced. We shall be conscious of the need to fit it into the broader context of detente; but determined to impart new momentum and vitality to the process initiated at Helsinki nearly four years ago, on 3rd July 1973. In my view this debate will be of great help to the Government in formulating their final position.

5.18 p.m.

I am heartened by the Foreign Secretary's approach to this issue. What is supremely important about the Belgrade meeting is the mood in which the delegates assemble and the purpose for which they gather. It is of the utmost importance that they should be there determined to do all they can to make some progress, however modest. If the conference were to degenerate into a shouting match between both sides bent on securing political points, as it could easily do, it would be a disaster. The whole prospects for peace in Europe would be set back long before the conference proper began.

It is important to stress again and again the sheer practical danger of modern weapons involved in a conflict between East and West. However much we may hate many features of the Soviet system, we must learn to live with them. The alternative is to die with them. The problem is as simple as that.

Detente means essentially living with the Communist world in peace but not necessarily in agreement. The latter is too much to hope for. I feel deep concern about those who seem to want to destroy detente and to declare it folly. They want to dance on the grave of detente but they may be dancing on the grave of civilisation. Some say that Helsinki was a hand-out from the West to the East, but they are totally wrong, just as wrong as those who are inclined to say that all that has happened since Helsinki has been concessions by the West. That is not true. There have been precious few concessions on either side and in so far as there have been concessions about disarmament on our side, they have not resulted from Helsinki but from the folly of our own Government and the Government's failure to recognise how essential defence is for security and peace.

Helsinki itself obviously solved no problems. It was a precious opportunity—that we must cherish—to move ahead with the solutions that will take an enormous time to become effective. There was no cause after Helsinki to stand down a single Western soldier and no reason to expect great changes in a short time. Those who expected any rapid change in Russian attitudes were extremely naive. A vast nation does not change the whole form of its policy in the space of one year. The Russian people are remote, withdrawn and suspicious and have lived with tyranny throughout all their history. Lenin did not introduce tyranny to Russia; he merely institutionalised it on the basis of a new dynasty. We shall get nowhere by shouting at the Russians. We must exercise infinite patience and, in Sir Winston Churchill's words, "Never weary, never despair". That must be the fundamental spirit in which these negotiations and discussions must be conducted.

There are two main issues involved—that of defence against military and political aggression and that of human rights. As the Foreign Secretary rightly said, progress on disarmament will result not from Belgrade or Helsinki but from the SALT talks and MBFR, because this is basically an American-Soviet issue since disarmament now is a matter not of quantity but of quality. The whole picture has changed. The stupendous destructive power that science provided for modern weapons outstrips any number of men, tanks, aircraft or infantry. Hon. Members may have seen a story in The Guardian today about a new radiation weapon that has been developed by the Americans—a horrific and terrifying weapon. No doubt the Russians are engaged on similar research and experimentation.

In considering the balance of forces on each side, we must look not only at the quantity of arms but at the quality of their destructive power. We must achieve some balance between the two. Imbalance is the greatest danger. One is not attacked because one is strong enough to defend oneself but because one is thought to be too weak. It is imbalance that creates danger, and it is on balance that our security will continue to rest. That is the great principle in military negotiation.

The other form of aggression that must be viewed against the background of detenté is political aggression, and this is continuing. It has taken a new turn in Southern Africa—which all of us deeply deplore and find extremely worrying—but it was naïve to expect that Helsinki could mean an end to political aggression. Political aggression will stop at the end of the detenté process, not at the beginning, because it is part of the insurance that countries have against the failure of detenté. Just as Helsinki did not justify our standing down a single soldier or the disposing of a single piece of equipment by either side, nor did it justify either side in relaxing the political struggle, because that is an essential defence.

The Russians will certainly continue to take any chance offered to reduce our influence in any other part of the world, and I profoundly hope that we shall do precisely the same thing, particularly in the Middle East. Political disarmament is like military disarmament. It is a process of hard-headed negotiation—slow, persistent, and, above all, wary. Helsinki has not solved the problem but just created an opportunity. However, it is a precious opportunity because the collapse of detenté would mean goodbye to political disarmament.

One thing is certain. There can be, and should be, no truce at all in the war of ideas. We must admit no restraint at all on our freedom and will to advance the cause of freedom and democracy. However, if we justly claim that right, we must expect the Russians to demand the same freedom in advancing what they genuinely believe to be right—although we consider it to be wrong.

I come now to Basket III. I agree that developments in this have been extremely disappointing. It was in this matter of the movement of people and freedom of ideas—in which we have many hopes and to which we attach much importance—that the Russians could have done much at relatively little cost. It is profoundly disappointing that they have not made more progress. However, they have made some progress and our object must not be to deride what has not taken place but to build on what has taken place and to try to improve on it. We must remember that there are great difficulties.

The Helsinki Final Act was pretty ambivalent. I listenened with interest to the intervention that was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). It is true that the obligation to respect some principles is overriding, but so is the obligation not to interfere in other people's business, and the interpretation of those principles in any given country cannot be the subject of intervention by other Governments. That is why the Foreign Secretary was quite right in saying that the proper public expression of disapproval in this country was by strong public protest about individual cases. However, the Foreign Secretary is also probably right in saying that Government intervention is more likely to be counter-productive than effective in the long run.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) for his reference to my intervention during that speech. Surely the reconciliation of those passages in the Final Act is that while it is true that according to the Final Act there must be no intervention in matters that fall within the domestic jurisdiction of the participating State, if all the participating States respect the other declaration, if they observe human rights and fundamental freedoms—which is a reciprocal obligation contracted inter se—there would then be no question of interference arising. A State, by definition, would be observing its contractual commitments, and no intervention would be called for. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that that reconciliation explains the wording of the Helsinki Final Act.

I see some difficulties in intervention in individual cases. The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) wanted to be present at trials in the Soviet Union but could not. I have a feeling that a Soviet political presence when we were discussing Agee and Hosenball might not have been entirely acceptable to hon. Members. We must accept the technicalities in this matter. The Foreign Secretary was right in saying that public pressure about human rights is correct but that diplomatic pressure or the exercise of Government influence might not necessarily, in the long term, be in the interest of the people concerned.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that comparing such cases—which are, happily, rare—as those of Agee and Hosenball with those occurring almost daily in the Soviet Union is an absolute travesty? Is it not right that in this country—fortunately with only the rarest exceptions—our courts are open for anyone from any country to appear and listen? Is it not right that lawyers from any country are welcome to come and observe? It would be disastrous if this Government or any other took the view that intervention on behalf of individuals would do those individuals harm. The individuals concerned, including one named Josif Begun, who was put on trial today, and another called Sharansky, who has been held for two months without trial, are relying on this Government and every other Government to let the Russians know that they are watching individual cases and to demand decent treatment under the Helsinki Agreement.