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Commons Chamber

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 24th May 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

British Railways Bill

Order for consideration read.

To be considered upon Thursday next.

International Planned Parenthood Federation Bill Lords

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday next.

Oral Answers To Questions

Defence

Hms "Invincible" (Aircraft)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he intends to purchase airborne early warning aircraft to operate from HMS "Invincible".

Then is "Invincible" to be left to operate only within the range of shore-based aircraft, or is it intended that it should operate at times without any airborne early warning and thus be virtually defenceless?

No. On the second point, HMS "Invincible" will have a substantial defence capability of her own, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, the plan that I hope will be fulfilled will be for NATO to arrive at a collective airborne early warning system, which will cover the whole area of the Alliance.

Can my right hon. Friend give any estimate of the cost of going ahead with the project proposed by the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)? Is there not a very pressing need at present to seek to contain public expenditure on all these matters?

I think that it is impossible to give any figures for short takeoff and landing airborne early warning systems because the sophistication of such systems, as we have seen with the AWACS and Nimrod, requires a large aircraft, and it would be impossible for a large aircraft to take off from HMS "Invincible". I accept the need to contain public expenditure, as I have already explained many times, but at the same time I think it important to retain our contribution to the Alliance.

Royal Air Force (Command Headquarters)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the cost of each of the command headquarters in the RAF.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force
(Mr. James Wellbeloved)

The cost of each of the Command Headquarters in the RAF during 1976–77 was £12 million for HQ Strike Command, £5½ million for HQ Training Command, £4 million for HQ Support Command and £6 million for HQ RAF Germany.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which according to my quick arithmetic makes a total of about £27 million. That is a lot of money. Can my hon. Friend confirm that he is giving consideration to the merging of the Support and Training Commands and whether, in the circumstances, he will consider abolishing the Group Commands, as this would save huge sums of money without damaging our air capability?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his quick arithmetic. He was only £500,000 out. The total is £27·5 million. The Headquarters Training Command and Support Command will be amalgamated from next month, and we anticipate savings of about £1·3 million. My hon. Friend's suggestion about the possible change in the Group Commands is very interesting, and I shall look at it.

Army Officers (Training)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what aspects of United Nations peace-keeping operations are dealt with in the training of Army officers.

The principles of peace-keeping operations under United Nations auspices are taught to all Army officers.

I welcome that reply, but does my hon. Friend agree that if the Helsinki spirit and the subsequent conference at Belgrade lead to greater emphasis on detente, the importance of any international peace-keeping efforts may loom larger in the future than they do at present? Does he further agree that it is important that Britain should make an adequate contribution to this?

Fishery Protection

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are his plans for further improvement of the system of patrolling and protecting the fishing rights of the United Kingdom in coastal waters.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is now satisfied with the new Island class of vessels in the extended fishery protection rôle.

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the existing measures for fishery protection; and what further steps he proposes to improve these.

I have no reason to doubt the effectiveness of our arrangements for fishery protection, but they are kept under constant review.

Three more offshore patrol vessels of the Island class are due to be delivered to the Royal Navy before the end of the year. Our experience with the first two, HMS "Jersey" and HMS "Orkney", indicates that the class will prove to be most effective in the fishery protection rôle. Studies are in hand regarding the provision of new ships to replace the Ton class minesweepers in the Fishery Protection Squadron.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a good many people in the country think that our patrol boats are not fast enough to catch the fishing boats? If that is so, is it not rather ludicrous to have patrol boats that are not fast enough to catch the pirates? Will my hon. Friend assure us that our patrol boats can catch boats of other countries that fish in our coastal waters?

I have told the House before that the maximum speed of the Island class is 16 knots, and that that is sufficient for normal patrol duties. Contrary to popular belief, very few trawlers are capable of 16 knots, and when they are fishing they are going at only 3–5 knots. Faster ships such as frigates can be called upon at short notice to support the patrol ships if the need arises. Considering the time available for procurement, and the total cost of £17½ million, we believe that we are getting good value for money with the Island class. I spent yesterday at sea on HMS "Orkney", the second of its class, and for most of the time our speed exceeded 16 knots.

The Minister and I both agree that peace-keeping must be efficient and must be seen to be efficient. We must enforce the limits. In the first six months, how many boardings, arrests and fines have taken place?

It is an impressive record, further vindicating our judgment in putting in hand the Island class as well as providing otherwise for fisheries protection. Between 1st January and 16th May this year there have been 500 boardings of foreign fishing vessels and seven boardings of British fishing vessels, of which approximately 60 have been carried out by the new Island class. There have been four arrests resulting in convictions for contraventions of fisheries legislation within the old 12-mile limit and nine such cases in the 12-mile to 200-mile belt. Hon. Members may have noticed in the Press today that HMS "Jersey", the first of the new class, arrested a French trawler only yesterday.

Does the Minister accept that a large body of opinion believes that there should be a new class of strong, fast, tough surface vessels, but that the Government's defence cuts have in practice put that out of the question?

In so far as there is such a body of opinion, I am always anxious to register it within it the Department. I have met hon. Gentlemen, some of whom are present now, in my Department to discuss their ideas. I am prepared to meet any others. We are thinking not merely about replacing the Ton class but about our next generation of patrol ships.

Is the Minister aware that while the Island class may do well as the policemen on the beat, there is a need for a small number of fast, quick reaction vessels which will be useful to the Royal Navy armed with missiles in time of war? Will he give this matter serious consideration? We have been advancing this view now for two years.

As I have just said, our options are open. A need of the kind described by the hon. Gentleman has not arisen. HMS "Jersey" was not lacking in speed yesterday. The Island class so far has not been lacking in speed.

Royal Air Force (Careers Information Offices)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he intends to close the RAF careers information office at Lower Regent Street, London; and if he will make a statement.

The careers information office will be closed as soon as the assignment of the lease can be arranged.

I welcome that reply. Will the Minister go a little further and examine the possibility of other such offices occupying prime and expensive sites? Is there any possibility of a central office servicing the three Services at the same time and so effecting economies?

Certainly. I am continually reviewing the position in relation to careers information offices, because I am convinced that the cost of recruiting is too high. A number of studies are in hand. I hope that as a result of those studies, action will be taken fairly soon which will lead to further co-location and a substantial saving in expenditure on recruiting.

Recruiting (Advertising Costs)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total amount of money spent on advertising designed to recruit people into Her Majesty's Forces in the latest period for which figures are available.

About £3·35 million according to latest estimates for the financial year which has just ended. Most of this expenditure was borne by the Central Office of Information.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this represents a large amount of money available for Government advertising? As most people are aware of the existence of Her Majesty's Forces and as a large number of people are not aware of some of their entitlements to social benefits, will my hon. Friend consider discussing with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services how some of the money might be more usefully utilised for advertising the benefits that people are not claiming?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which it would be more appropriate to ask of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Armed Forces advertising expenditure is about right for the specialised advertising that we have to undertake to recruit the people that we need. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will hear of my hon. Friend's supplementary question.

I congratulate the Minister on the advertisement in The Times today, which illustrated luscious wages for those who enter the Army and, in particular, showed that a major is paid approximately the same as a Member of Parliament.

I am glad that that advertisement in The Times for recruiting Army officers shows that, despite the distortion that has been made in some quarters about the recent Armed Forces pay award, the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy still offer rewarding careers, great prospects and decent remuneration for those who wish to undertake such exciting and honourable careers.

It is, on average, about £600 per recruit across the three Services. I believe that that is too high. That is why the Department and myself in particular are taking urgent steps to see whether the unacceptably high level of advertising cost can be reduced.

Pensions (Commutation)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with current conditions and arrangements assisting former warrant officers and other ranks to commute part of their Service pension for business purposes; and if he will make a statement.

Will the Minister explain why, in 1977, former warrant officers and other ranks are being discriminated against in this manner compared with former serving officers who are able to commute up to 50 per cent. of their pension without too much difficulty? Is his Department totally indifferent to its former personnel, or is the Treasury being obstructive?

The hon. Gentleman will know from his previous questions on this subject—I shall not go through the list—as well as from the Adjournment debate that took place just over a year ago that my predecessor and I have acknowledged the difference in treatment. We have not defended it. Neither has any of my predecessors in previous Tory or Labour Governments. In this day and age it becomes impossible to defend such treatment. In the long term we would like to move to a situation in which Service men are given the same terms as officers. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there are real difficulties, particularly of cost, in improving the arrangements for Service men, especially in the short term.

But—if I may support my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks)—that does not stop the Minister making special cases where deserving cases exist. Is he aware that I have the same feeling as my hon. Friend, namely, that there is a blanket refusal to consider any cases? I wrote to the Minister about a constituent of mine and had the same blanket refusal. The desire to commute more pension in that case was irrefutable. Will the hon. Gentleman be a little more flexible?

My predecessors as well as myself have been flexible on this matter. We are disposed to be more flexible in the early stages—for example, where an ex-Service man wants to start a business rather than where he wants to raise capital later to strengthen an existing business. We are conscious, in the first place, that commutation is a privilege and not a right and, secondly, from my experience, we are equally conscious that ex-Service men often entertain regrets about the step that they have taken and sometimes ask the Department whether it is possible to restore the position. I am sensitive to the representations made by both hon. Gentlemen, but our experience must dispose us to a slightly different view.

Rent Rebates

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how how many private soldiers and aircraftmen are still on rent rebate after the recently announced changes in pay scales.

No figures are yet available for numbers of Service men receiving rent and rate rebate which would reflect any changes in financial circumstances resulting from the recently announced increases in Service pay. Moreover, eligibility for the rebate depends on many different factors and any change in the numbers receiving it would be only partially attributable to changes in Service pay scales.

In view of an answer that I was given on 26th April by the Minister of State, to the effect that there were 4,000 soldiers and 59 airmen receiving rent rebates, is the Secretary of State saying that he does not know whether those personnel are receiving rent rebates? Can he not be more specific, and tell us what sort of money would have to be paid in order to take all Service men out of what I would describe as the national assistance category?

The only reason we cannot give up-to-date figures is that it is only a short time since we had the report and the new pay scales and charges came into force. We shall not give up-to-date figures affecting individual circumstances until July. It is wholly wrong to view rent and rate rebates as a form of national assistance or social security. When the Government of which the hon. Member was a supporter introduced the scheme they sang a different tune about its purpose. The key element in the entitlement to it is family circumstances. While it would be possible—although it would cost a lot of money—to have a scale of pay so that it would be inconceivable that someone with even the largest possible family would be included in the scheme, it would mean that unless the payments were differentially means-tested, two soldiers serving alongside each other could be receiving different rates of pay. The problem is not as simple as the hon. Member suggests.

Is the Secretary of State aware that some Service wives go out to work in the same way as civilian wives in order to pay the righ rents, but on the other hand other Service wives abroad cannot get jobs now and therefore, unlike their civilian counterparts, they cannot help to pay the rents?

This is an important matter, and a factor at which we are looking very carefully in the Northern Ireland situation. I am glad that the hon. Member raised this, because it enables me to point out that a rent rebate depends on the income not only of the husband but also of the wife.

Will the Secretary of State do something to help soldiers who are serving in Northern Ireland and who have to pay charges for accommodation that compare very unfavourably with council rents and general circumstances in other parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in view of the fact that their wives cannot earn money?

I am very conscious of that, but there is a Question about this on the Order Paper later from the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). Without wishing to anticipate that answer, I can tell the House that we are conducting an urgent review of all these problems.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that as a result of the latest pay award the net increase for many Service men is 3p a week, or less? If that is so, will he do something to deal with this scandalous situation?

I think that the sum of 3p is an exceptionally low estimate, but I would not dissent from the argument that the net increase is small. Following the analogies for charges for accommodation and food that we inherited from the previous Government, and the pay policy that we are obliged to follow, it means that charges that the rest of the community pay separately to a council, a landlord, or a building society are separate from their pay, while in the forces these charges are deducted before the pay is received. This is why the problem arises.

I hope that the right hon. Member can correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand Opposition housing policy, the intention is to increase council rents, thus increasing the charges that Service personnel would have to pay for quarters. Any Service man who votes Conservative will be voting to put his married quarters' charges up by £3 per week.

As the Secretary of State has asked me a question I can confirm now that under a Conservative Government Service men will not suffer.

North Atlantic Council (Meeting)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what changes in British defence plans and expenditure will be made as a result of the discussions held at the last ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

As agreed at the Council meeting, we will be participating in the preparation of a long-term NATO programme to meet the changing defence needs of the 1980s and to review the manner in which the Alliance implements its defence programmes to ensure more effective follow-through.

Is the Secretary of State aware how pleased the Americans and our other NATO allies were at the informal commitment made by the Prime Minister and other Ministers at the Summit that next year's £230 million defence cuts would be drastically modified? Is he aware that if we go back on this commitment, disillusion among our allies will be complete?

I am not aware of the sources on which the hon. Member relies for his observations, but if he studies the communiqué and the text that has been released of President Carter's speech he will see there is no question of resource allocation in that speech, and there is no commitment to revise the figures. This matter will be looked at in the ordinary way in which the Government assess future defence expenditure and other public expenditure programmes. There is no commitment to increase defence expenditure as the hon. Member has suggested.

Can the Secretary of State say whether, in this consideration of the changing defence needs for the 1980s, any assessment has been made of the Soviet breakthrough in laser weapons? Will he give his own assessment of the implications of this for British defence needs in the 1980s?

The assessment will be made by a series of studies, which I hope will be placed in the hands of the NATO military authorities, and will cover all aspects. I think that the Press reports about Soviet laser technology are exaggerated, and my hon. Friend will know that President Carter has made a similar observation.

Returning the original Question, surely the excuse for cuts in defence expenditure has been the Government's attachment to the proportion of gross national product. If the GNP goes up, as we are told it will by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will defence expenditure rise in proportion?

It would be unwise to make arrangements in one part of that equation without being sure that the other part has been satisfactorily achieved. There is wide recognition among all our NATO ministerial colleagues of the very substantial contribution that we make. They realise that in our special economic circumstances we are making a significant contribution, although naturally they would want us to do more.

Does the Secretary of State agree that any acceptance of proposals to increase expenditure within NATO would make it impossible to realise the commitment made by the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he was Secretary of State for Defence to reduce the percentage of GNP that was devoted to defence? Would it not be disgraceful, at a time when so many other sectors of public expenditure are being starved of funds, to go ahead with advancing defence expenditure? Would it not also conflict with the agreement that we have made with the IMF?

There is some difficulty in understanding the time scale. The discussions in the NATO Defence Planning Committee last week were concerned with the period from 1979 onwards. I would not think that this afternoon was the appropriate time to take decisions for a period as far ahead as that.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what is the point of either him or the Prime Minister attending the NATO meetings, making agreements and signing communiques if, immediately afterwards, they refute what has been signed?

The right hon. Member has enough experience to realise that a communique is not a form of binding commitment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] Yes it is disgraceful, and I shall quote an example that occurred when the right hon. Member was a distinguished member of the previous Conservative Government. He went in a contrary direction to a communique that he had signed a little while before. If the House and the right hon. Member study the communiques issued after the London or Brussels meetings they will find nothing whatsoever in them that is contradictory to what I have told the House this afternoon.

Nato Headquarters

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will pay an official visit to NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

When the Minister has his next opportunity of meeting the NATO people will he make it clear to them that in future his Government will take seriously commitments that they make in communiques of the kind to which my right hon. Friend referred? How otherwise can our allies trust the things to which we put our name?

I think that I made that abundantly clear in the last meeting, and the communique reflected the discussion which took place and the view not of myself but of the other 14 Ministers involved.

Does the Minister realise that he cannot have it both ways? Is he saying that the communique does not bind the Government, or that it does?

The communique is a report on the discussion in the meeting. In the present case there was discussion about ministerial guidance, and a summary of that guidance was given as an annexe to the communique. I would say that that was on a different basis from a report of the discussion, but if one participates in such a discussion one goes along with the general consensus.

Is it not a fact that our allies have ample reason to trust us, since we spend a greater percentage of gross national product on defence than they do, no matter what the Opposition say? Is not our record in this direction as good as anybody's anywhere?

There is widespread recognition of the fact that we make a substantial contribution, and there will be no wish on the part of our allies for that contribution not to be made.

Does the Secretary of State accept that in the face of the mounting Soviet military threat to NATO, there is a need for the allies to increase defence expenditure?

I subscribe to the problem as it was stated in the communique issued last week, that it should be the aim of all countries—and some countries are making a much smaller contribution in terms of their relative incomes than we are—to increase their expenditure, but economic circumstances will obviously be a factor as to whether, and how, that can be done.

Aircraft (Live Bomb Loads)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence under what circumstances RAF aircraft flying over Wales are loaded with live bombs or missiles.

In general, RAF aircraft flying over Wales are not loaded with real or practice ordnance unless they are taking part in weapon training. Then, in most cases, the ordnance will be small practice bombs or inert missiles. When any ordnance is carried over the land it is in a "safe" configuration, and is not made "live" until released within the prescribed range safety area. Stringent safety precautions apply at all times.

Is the Minister aware of the very great concern in Wales arising because of the crash a few weeks ago in a reservoir in Mid-Wales of an aircraft that contained live bombs? Will he say, in view of the considerable amount of training flying over Caernarvon, that in no circumstances will any aircraft carry live bombs or missiles?

We are very mindful of the disturbance caused by training by the Royal Air Force in terms of low flying and so forth. I have assured the hon. Member, and I do so again, that all the weapons carried in our aircraft are in a "safe" condition. In the main they are practice ammunition and every safety precaution is taken. However, I cannot give an undertaking that the RAF will not train to be able to fulfil its wartime rôle, which is the defence of freedom and the defence of the people of Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Royal Marines (Buckingham Palace Guard)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will arrange for the Royal Marines to mount guard at Buckingham Palace from time to time in the same way as the RAF at present do, so that all three Services may share the honour.

May we have an indication of when the next time is likely to be, since the last time the Marines mounted guard was at the Jubilee in 1935? Is it not high time that the Senior Service took its turn with the other two?

Yes it is, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the Royal Marines are a small corps and that they have a heavy operational, training and other commitment. The earliest such opportunity that can be envisaged is May 1979.

Is the Minister aware that the Royal Marines have been drastically cut by the Government and that they are all on operations or operational training, so that there is no one left to maintain these ceremonial duties?

Not quite. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Royal Marines are necessarily a small corps—

that in any event they enjoy close links with their Sovereign, and that they have many other ways in which they can serve her.

Hms "Bulwark"

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects HMS "Bulwark" to be recommissioned.

I have nothing to add to my reply of 27th April 1976 to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall).

Is the Minister aware that that reply will be received with regret? Will he say how the Government propose to transport the Royal Marines in future bearing in mind that there is no "Bulwark" and no "Albion", and that the "Hermes" is engaged on antisubmarine duties? Do the Government intend to use British Rail ferries?

Nato Defence Ministers

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to meet other NATO Defence Ministers.

I confess that I gave the answer to this Question in error when replying to Question No. 13. The preface to the Questions is not dissimilar. The answer to Question No. 13 should have been: "I visit Brussels frequently in the normal course of business." The answer to the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) is: "At the Nuclear Planning Group meeting in Ottawa on 8th and 9th June."

Will the Secretary of State try to clear up another matter? Will he confirm that the Government accept the objectives set by the NATO Ministers last week of a 3 per cent. increase in defence spending in real terms without intending to take advantage of the let-out about economic circumstances being difficult, bearing in mind that the Prime Minister recently told the House that the economic indicators for Britain are pointing in the right direction?

In order not to fall out with the hon. Gentleman's Front Bench, I should accept the communique as it stands without seeking to amend it in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Has my right hon. Friend, along with the other NATO Defence Ministers, noticed the degree of standardisation in the Warsaw Pact countries and the efficiency that this creates? Is it beyond the wit of Ministers to agree on greater standardisation in NATO, so that we may get greater efficiency for less money?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in stressing the importance of standardisation, or, if that cannot be attained, of inter-operability. There are, of course, understandable pressures on most countries to find work for their own industries which does not make it easier to agree on completely standardised equipment for the whole Alliance.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that since the Ulster crisis began it has not been possible for us to maintain our agreed force level in Germany—a figure of 55,000? Was it not therefore grossly misleading for the Under-Secretary of State for the Army to suggests, in a television programme last Wednesday, that the number of troops now in place in Germany is 55,000 men, when it is not?

I did not have the opportunity of seeing the programme in question. It is well understood in NATO that we can, and do, withdraw only a small number of forces from the British Army of the Rhine to meet critical situations such as that in Northern Ireland. If one takes account of the RAF contingent in Germany, as well as the Army, the number is well over 55,000.

How was this magic figure of 3 per cent. arrived at? Was it plucked out of the air by some Defence Minister, was it reached by a process of bargaining, or does it represent a real appraisal of the Warsaw Pact?

Without breaching the confidentiality of the meetings—which is important if discussions are to be frank and worth while—it would be wrong to say which country made the proposal, but that figure was proposed in the discussion.

As the Secretary of State has given two utterly contradictory answers, will he now tell us whether he accepts or repudiates the NATO communiqué?

I have already clearly stated that I accept the need for the Alliance as a whole making an increase in its expenditure from 1979 onwards, provided—as was made clear in the communiqué—that there are no multilateral disarmament or arms control arrangements. However, the amount contribute by each country will depend upon the economic circumstances of that country and the present level of contribution.

Nato (Equipment Standardisation)

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what effect on employment in the United Kingdom the expansion of standardisation of defence equipment by NATO is expected to have and if he will make a statement.

I regret that I cannot give a general forecast of the sort requested by my hon. Friend, but the United Kingdom, as a country with a major capability for defence production. is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that increased standardisation within NATO should provide.

Is the Minister aware that there is a danger of a movement of defence jobs out of this country and into the European States particularly France, because of standardisation of equipment? Will the Government be taking effective steps to compensate the United Kingdom for any lost jobs that may occur as a result of standardisation?

I shall certainly be happy to look at any evidence that my hon. Friend may put before me, but I can also cite to the House such successful examples of co-operation as the Anglo-French co-operation over helicopters, and that will continue in the future.

Has not the main adverse effect on employment in the United Kingdom in connection with defence been caused by the defence cuts? What is the Government's latest estimate of the number of jobs and job opportunities that will have been lost by the time that these cuts have taken effect?

I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's question on that matter and I have nothing further to add.

Weapons Purchases

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will take steps to ensure that wherever possible weapons which have to be purchased are of British manufacture.

About 90 per cent. of our expenditure on defence equipment is currently in the United Kingdom, on either national or collaborative projects. Some types of equipment are not manufactured in the United Kingdom, or are more cheaply or more quickly available from abroad. The greater the pressures on the defence budget the less we can expect to be able to cover the whole range of defence equipment from United Kingdom sources or to ignore the potential savings in cases where it is significantly cheaper to buy from abroad.

Is the Minister aware that there have been cases where orders for equipment for which there was a British equivalent have gone abroad and that while many of my colleagues and I believe that we should cut defence expenditure wherever possible, we also think that when equipment is being purchased the contracts should be placed in this country in order to provide employment?

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is Government policy to procure equipment abroad only if there is a clear advantage in terms of operating characteristics, cost or availability.

Nato (Secretary-General)

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to meet the Secretary-General of NATO.

I have nothing to add to the answers that I gave to the hon. Members for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) and Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) earlier today.

In view of the serious warnings that have been given by NATO leaders about the growing offensive capability of the Warsaw Pact, as well as the Government's lamentable record in defence will the Minister seek urgent meetings with the Secretary-General to determine how Britain can best respond to the new situation?

I do not need special meetings with the Secretary-General, because I met him last week. He was in the chair during the ministerial meeting and I shall be seeing him again in 10 days' time.

Recruitment

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will take steps to make recruiting for the Armed Forces more efficient; and if he will make a statement.

As I told my hon. Friend on 2nd May, studies are taking place to see what economies can be made without prejudicing recruitment in the longer term.

Does the Minister agree that it is quite absurd that at this time of great unemployment it costs about £650 to recruit the average employee? Would it not be more realistic for recruitment to take place from jobcentres, as it does with every other technical job, and thus get rid of the forces recruitment offices that dominate town centres?

I am considering the possibility of the use of jobcentres for recruitment but I must tell the House that, from my preliminary studies, the prospects do not look too good. Strenuous efforts are being made to reduce the unacceptably high average cost of recruitment.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 24th May.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and attended a memorial service for Mr. Ray Gunter. Later today I shall be going to Edinburgh where I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen, and to be her guest at the banquet for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

When the Prime Minister meets the Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Press—as I understand he will—will he draw to the chairman's attention the leader in the Daily Mail last week, which called upon Lord Ryder to resign, and to resign quickly? Will my right hon. Friend also draw to the chairman's attention the fact that—as I understand it—the associate editor of the Daily Mail, Mr. Stewart Stevens has resigned, but that that is not an adequate recompense for the circumstances that have arisen as a result of that newspaper's activities last week? Is the Prime Minister aware that we want the organ grinder and not the monkey?

I read the editorial and also the presentation of the news, and both were contemptible. It was a display of political spite, both in the presentation and in the comments that were made in the editorial. Of course, Lord Ryder is suing and therefore there is no point in repeating the comments that were made by the leader writer at that time about Lord Ryder's behaviour being "sleazy", about his reputation being "irretrievably stained" or about his having "abused public trust". All that sort of thing is totally contemptible. I believe that the whole House will agree with me on that.

Perhaps the only thing that I should say now is that I hope that the Daily Mail has learned its lesson. However, perhaps it has not, because I must say I was astonished to hear that Vere Harmsworth had said this morning that he had every confidence in the editor's policy. To be proved wrong and vindictive at the same time is a remarkable combination.

If the Prime Minister meets the Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Press today, will the right hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the drivelling nonsense that was submitted in evidence by his predecessor?

I shall be raising with the Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Press the Daily Mail story that has reduced journalism to a lower level than I can remember for many years. It is to that that I shall direct my attention.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the immense and possibly irreparable damage that the disgraceful Daily Mail affair has caused to British exports and jobs? While recognising the need for a review at British Leyland, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the review is speedy, because Leyland must continue to trade in those markets?

Of course. I do not believe that the editor of the Daily Mail was concerned with jobs or people at British Leyland or the reputation of that organisation. I believe that he was concerned to try to smear the Labour Government and to bring down a nationalised industry.

Before the day is out will the Prime Minister inquire and, if possible, report to the House on why the Foreign Secretary apparently forbade Sir Peter Ramsbotham to accept an invitation to appear on television on the "Tonight" programme with Ludovic Kennedy? Was that not wholly unreasonable, in view of Sir Peter's exemplary behaviour and the fact that his replacement seems to spend much of his time on television?

No, I shall not ask the Foreign Secretary about that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to put down a Question to my right hon. Friend, he may do so.

Chief Of Defence Staff

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the Chief of the Defence Staff.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) on 25th January.

Will the Prime Minister seek an early meeting with the Chiefs of Staff, when he will hear of their grave concern at the growing scandal of financial penalties that are suffered by all Service men as a result of their service in Ulster? Will he say unequivocally that, notwithstanding the pay policy, he is not prepared to head a Government that demands of our forces repeated financial and personal sacrifices because of their enforced and continued series of duty in Northern Ireland?

It has been recognised that we could pay our forces in Northern Ireland a great deal more and they would still earn it. However, the House as a whole has accepted the pay policy—[Interruption.] In that case, some hon. Members have not accepted it, but it is Government policy and we cannot go beyond it. There would be repercussions. What about the position of the firemen and the police in Ulster? [HON. MEMBERS: "They have had a rise."] Everyone has had a rise, including the Armed Forces, within the limits of the pay policy. This is one of the difficulties of following a pay policy. I have every sympathy with those gallant men there and with the firemen and policemen, but we cannot make an exception for one without unravelling the whole pay policy.

Has my right hon. Friend noted the mature self-confidence of the President of the United States in opposing any sabre-rattling against Communist régimes? Does that not seem to be at odds with the attitude displayed by the Opposition, particularly the Leader of the Opposition?

President Carter has undoubtedly taken a very forward view of this matter. He is well aware of the arms build-up in the Soviet Union, but he is trying to get a new relationship and new approach to them. I hope that the Conservative Party will be able to follow his lead.

May I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates)? Is there not a committee sitting to consider how the present difficult position of forces serving in Northern Ireland can be alleviated? Is he saying that the Committee will not consider how to end the bitterness that is felt because our forces are severely worse off, financially, as a result of being posted to Northern Ireland? Was not the position of BAOR forces adjusted because of the exchange control problems? Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long".] It is a difficult question, on which there is a lot of bitter feeling among those doing a most hazardous job for Britain. Will the Prime Minister accept, as a general guideline, that no Service man should be worse off as a result of being posted to duties in Northern Ireland?

The Secretary of State for Defence has just told me what I was aware of before, namely, that there is a review body—[Interruption.] I wanted to check my memory. If the editor of the Daily Mail had checked his facts, he would not have made mistakes. There is a review body considering this difficult question and the Government will approach it with every sympathy and a desire to help. I went to Germany recently to see our forces there and I know that there are great difficulties caused by transfers to and from Germany and Ulster. As soon as the review body has reported—and I hope that it will be very soon—we shall do all that we can to remedy any anomalies that have occurred. In relation to what the right hon. Lady said much earlier about the police, they, like everyone alse, must operate in the background of the pay policy.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Chief of the Defence Staff, will he explain to him that increases in defence costs in line with the recent communique from NATO would be in contradiction to our promise to the electorate at the last election, and would severely damage our economy and our people, whose living standards are falling?

In order to squeeze out inflation, the living standards of our people have been depressed for the last 12 months. That has now reached an end, and I trust that from now on they will begin to rise. Of course, defence costs have had to play their part in this. I am pleased to say that this has not affected the front line, though it has affected some of the support operations.

The Prime Minister blandly asserts that our Armed Forces have received increases as great as is permitted under the Government's pay policy, but how does he explain that under phases 1 and 2 average earnings have increased by 19·9 per cent. while those of the forces have increased by only 14·4 per cent.? Does he regard that as as square deal?

The hon. Gentleman has a great capacity to use particular figures on particular occasions. The increase given to the Armed Forces was a result of the review body's report, and it has borne rather hard on them because of the offsets in respect of increased charges for accommodation, and so on. In logical terms and when talking to the soldier in the field, it is difficult to defend, but the House must look at the overall background. As I have said twice already, we shall do all that we can to try to assist the situation.

Nato (Council Meeting)

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement following the recent NATO Council meeting in which he took part.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) on 12th May.

As it is the Government's first duty to ensure the security of the nation, will the Prime Minister tell us how the Government propose to respond to the serious warnings given by President Carter and other NATO leaders about the Warsaw Pact strength and the consequent need to increase spending on NATO defence by 3 per cent.? Will he assure us that the Government will at least reverse the defence cuts in the pipeline and commit us to the 3 per cent. increase?

I cannot promise anything of the sort. The whole burden of defence is one that is borne by this country, and we are not reducing it below the level necessary to maintain an effective Western deterrent force. Our forces are not regarded in isolation. We contribute a considerable proportion of our GNP—higher than a number of other countries who are members of NATO—to the common defence. As to the future, I repeat that the proposed increases apply from 1979 and not from now. They will have to take into account the economic factors affecting individual countries. We shall be able to review the situation in 1978–79 and see what we can do.

Does that reply mean, as I hope, that the Government will not implement last week's decision by NATO to increase arms spending by 3 per cent. in real terms in each succeeding year? Would that not worsen our economic position, heighten international tension, worsen the prospects for the talks on mutual arms reduction, and conflict with the announcement that, at long last, we were to have a reduction in our arms spending?

I thought that my last answer was perfectly clear. When we get to 1978–79 we shall review total expenditure and see what the impact is. One way in which we could avoid the increases—apart from our economic situation—would be if the Soviet Union entered meaningful discussions with us on common reductions.

In view of what President Carter said about the need for the European members of NATO to play their full part, will the Prime Minister take the lead, with his colleagues in the European Community, in emphasising to the President of the United States the extreme importance of raw materials in South Africa to any major contribution to an armed force made by Western Europe as a whole?

I am sure that the President is aware of these facts and will take them fully into account. Not only the House but South Africa and the whole world should take account of the fact that President Carter does not mean to be deflected from his policy in respect of South Africa. This is one of the most hopeful signs that I have seen for the future of relations between the black and white races.

British Leyland (Newspaper Report)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Prime Minister to comment as he did during Question Time on the actions of the Daily Mail when the matter is sub judice?

What is sub judice is the question of the letter. Any references to the alleged writer of the letter are sub judice but at present the broader issue is not sub judice.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Owing to the noise during Question Time a number of us were unable to hear whether the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition was seeking to dissociate herself from the disgraceful behaviour of the Daily Mail. If she was seeking to catch your eye in order to do that, Mr. Speaker, will you allow her the opportunity now?

Order. Hon. Members must not raise points of order merely to score points.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you. Mr. Speaker, to reconsider your ruling. It may be the case that Lord Ryder and one other will be suing the Daily Mail, in which case I respectfully contend that the words of the Prime Minister might be used at a later stage to increase the damages in any defamation action.

In anticipation that this matter might be raised I have taken advice and I have a considered statement.

I understand that Mr. Barton, the alleged author of the letter in question, has this morning been remanded in custody on a charge of forgery. This is a serious criminal charge, and it has been the invariable practice of my predecessors and myself, as long as any such criminal charge is pending, not to permit any discussion in the House that might conceivably prejudice it. In this I believe that we have acted in accordance with the long-standing practice of the House and, in particular, with the resolution to which the House agreed on 23rd July.

With reference to what the hon. Gentleman said about Lord Ryder, Lord Ryder's writ, if one be issued, is not sub judice until the action is set down for trial.

Later—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the interests of lawyers who are not skilled in English law, may I ask for some clarification? In your own phrase, the matter is not sub judice until, if I quote correctly, "set down for trial". Does this mean something other than the issuing of a writ in English law? In Scots law once the writ is issued the matter is already sub judice. May I have an explanation?

The hon. Member will be aware that there is a great deal of difference between a civil writ, which is involved in the case of Lord Ryder if it is followed up, and a criminal charge, as is the other case.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With regard to the sub judice rule and its application to criminal proceedings, no doubt it will have occurred to you, Mr. Speaker, that both the editor and other members of the staff of the Daily Mail may be called as witnesses in any such criminal proceedings. That being so, it is important, is it not, that their credibility as witnesses should not be impugned by statements in the House, whether made by the Prime Minister or anyone else?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a most appalling suggestion from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that any person who might or might not be called as a witness to a trial in civil or criminal proceedings may not be referred to in this place?

Private Notice Questions (Procedure)

I wish to seek your advice, Mr. Speaker, on the criteria for asking for a Private Notice Question. I understand that application should be made at the earliest possible opportunity after the matter in question has been made public. For matters reported in the Press on a Saturday or Sunday, the earliest opportunity in this House can only be on a Monday. As the news that the European Court had made a decision on the pig industry was fully reported on Saturday, I requested a Private Notice Question yesterday, on Monday—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that references to Private Notice Questions that are not accepted are never made in the House. That is one of the accepted conventions of this place. I do not want to do the hon. Gentleman an injustice, but it appears that he is confusing privilege, which has to be raised at the earliest possible moment, with Private Notice Questions, which are a quite different category.

Pig Subsidy (European Court Ruling)

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will use the opportunity afforded by the visit to this country today of the Agriculture Ministers of the EEC and Commissioner Gundelach to consult them on measures necessary to save the United Kingdom pig industry from the total disintegration with which it is now threatened.

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

Perhaps I should explain that, in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is at this moment engaged in the two-day visit of Community Agriculture Ministers to the United Kingdom, to which reference has been made, I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend will certainly take the opportunity of the presence in this country of Commissioner Gundelach and ministerial colleagues from the other member States to press on him the need for urgent action to help our pigmeat industry, taking account of the European Court's decision of last Saturday in respect of the temporary pigmeat subsidy. Indeed, he has already had very full discussions about the implications of that decision and the future with Mr. Gundelach.

My right hon. Friend proposes to make a statement about the future of the subsidy and other relevant matters before the House goes into recess.

I welcome the last part of the Minister's statement. I understand the reason for his right hon. Friend's absence.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a situation of great gravity has been reached and that matters cannot be allowed to drift? Will he suggest to his right hon. Friend that he should ask the Commission to take action similar to that which was taken on eggs in 1975 under Article 135 of the Treaty of Accession and to reduce substantially the amount of the mcas for a period of, say, three months?

My right hon. Friend has had discussions on the situation with Mr. Gundelach. It would not be helpful to anticipate what discussions will take place, except that the comments of hon. Members will be borne in mind, as will undoubtedly the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, in the next two days.

With respect, that is not good enough. Will not the Minister of State at least agree to pass on this suggestion to his right hon. Friend with the request that he passes it on in turn to the Commissioner, who is in this country?

It would help the House if I were to say that all suggestions made here today will be conveyed to my right hon. Friend. I am not saying, however, that some of the ideas will not have been in his mind already.

Order. The House will have heard the Minister say that there will be a full statement before the end of this week. Therefore, I propose merely to take two questions from either side, because this matter will be pursued later in the week.

The Minister's statement is not good enough. Every day's delay is another nail in the coffin of the pig industry. The Government must do something. Will the Minister bear in mind that the Government have got the pig industry into this mess? He must take some action now and save the industry before it is too late.

The House will be aware that the Minister has not been found lacking. After all, we secured an 8 per cent. change in the mcas at the end of last year. We have made a change in the green pound, which helps. We have given a subsidy, which has landed the Minister before the European Court. This is not a matter that we take lightly. There is every indication that the Government have done their utmost, even to the point of the court decision, to help the industry. It is fortuitous that we shall have the opportunity today and tomorrow to impress upon other Ministers from the Community the seriousness of the position of our own industry.

Does the Minister agree that it is unprecedented for the court to back the Commission in an interim judgment of this kind? If that is so, may I ask who is running the Community—the Council of Ministers or the Commission? Secondly, will my hon. Friend keep in mind that any resistance offered to this judicial attempt to prevent us from handling our own industry in our own way and any other attempts by his right hon. Friend and himself will be backed by the people of this country and the farming community?

I assure my hon. Friend that note will be taken of this point. Anyone who knows the track record of my right hon. Friend to date in these matters will know that he will lose no opportunity to ensure that the pig industry is safeguarded as far as we are able.

Will the Minister accept that my own constituents, who were given a promise through me by his right hon. Friend that he would level with them about any further discussions about pig farmers, will be extremely disappointed by his statement? Will he say whether there are other factions in the British industry that he is prepared to sell out for the sake of EEC bureaucracy?

I have two observations to make. One is that the Minister will be making a statement to the House before we go into recess, which is only a matter of days, when he will be able to report on any progress made with the Ministers here this week. Secondly, I ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to note that the Ministers have been invited to go to a pig farm tomorrow.

Is not my hon. Friend aware that the increasingly political decisions being taken by the European Court of Justice, particularly on agriculture, should be a simple lesson to us that the agricultural directives of the EEC should no longer be automatically applied in this country until they have been decided by the House of Commons, which, unlike some Opposition Members, has the interests of the British consumer and the British pig farmer in mind?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend and those with whom he is in contact in the Community will take due note of all these points, including those made by my hon. Friend.

I have noted those hon. Members who have been standing up. I shall remember them tomorrow or the day after when the statement is made.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The statement might be made on Friday when the tradition is that a number of us are not present as it is the last day before the recess, although I am perfectly prepared to be around if necessary. May we have an assurance from the Minister that the statement will be made on Wednesday or Thursday?

I cannot give such an assurance as it is a matter for my right hon. Friends who are concerned with the business of the House. I know that my right hon. Friend will be anxious to make the fullest possible statement to the House. I shall certainly convey the hon. Gentleman's comments to him.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you whether my punishment will be over when the statement is made for daring to question the fact that I was refused a Private Notice Question?

Order. The hon. Gentleman does himself and me an injustice. He should not think that that was in my mind at all. If it was, I would never have confessed it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In no way do I seek to challenge your judgment, but it is necessary for those on the Back Benches to understand something of your reasoning. I understand from the exchange that we have just had that, although the form of the Private Notice Question accepted from the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was different in terms from that submitted by my hon. Friend, nevertheless it was about the pig industry.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying far beyond the points of order to try to argue the basis on which I accept Private Notice Questions. The House itself has given Mr. Speaker this responsibility and it is not open to question and answer in this way.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, all I am seeking is guidance for when I am moved to put down a Private Notice Question on when I may expect to feel resentful and when I may not. In other words, what I am doing is seeking information so that hon. Members may know how to avoid falling into the trap of my hon. Friend and being reproved by him for not listening to the wisdom of the Chair. I do not wish to be in that position, but I find it difficult not to have sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) in this instance.

Later—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. About a quarter of an hour ago you were good enough to give the House your guidance about the scope for debate when civil proceedings—indeed, also criminal proceedings—are under way in our courts. You have given us an indication of the point at which matters become sub judice. May we be clear that your ruling does not extend to the deliberations, or to the proceedings leading up to deliberations, in the courts of the Community? You will appreciate that many of us may wish to discuss at considerable length the effect of the Community courts ruling on both pigmeat and Irish agriculture. I expect other matters will similarly arise. Would you be good enough to tell us what the position is?

Certainly. I have just found out. It is not a domestic court and, therefore, our rule does not apply.

European Community (Council Of Ministers' Meetings)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about business to be taken in the Council of Ministers of the European Community during June. The monthly forecast for June was deposited yesterday.

The Heads of Government of the Member States will meet in London on 29th and 30th June. It is too soon to forecast what subjects are likely to be discussed.

At present, nine meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for June. Foreign Ministers will meet on the 21st; Energy Ministers on the 14th; Environment Ministers on the 14th; Development Ministers on the 16th; Finance Ministers on the 20th; Agriculture Ministers on the 20th, 21st and 27th; Social Affairs Ministers on the 28th; and Transport Ministers on the 28th and 29th June. There will also be a tripartite conference on 27th June of the Community with both sides of industry.

At the Foreign Affairs Council on the 21st June Ministers will discuss preparations for the European Council; relations with the Council for mutual economic assistance, Spain, Cyprus and Malta; and fisheries matters.

It is expected that Energy Council Ministers will discuss the general energy situation, including nuclear matters; coal, in particular import surveillance and encouragement of coal use in power stations; proposals for energy conservation; oil, including crisis measures and problems of the Community refining industry; and promotion and protection of Community energy investment.

At the Environment Council, Ministers will consider directives on the quality of drinking water, wastes from the titanium dioxide and paper pulp industries, toxic and dangerous wastes, and a decision on exchange of information on the quality of surface water.

Ministers at the Development Council will discuss EEC financial and technical aid to non-associated developing countries, food aid and a Commission paper on rural development, agriculture and food production in the developing world.

Ministers at the Finance Council will discuss preparations for the tripartite conference. They will also consider a draft banking co-ordination directive.

Agriculture Ministers will meet on 20th and 21st June to discuss proposals for introducing more flexibility into the calculation of monetary compensatory amounts, the labelling of milk products, and matters affecting the balance of the Community wine market. They will also hold a special meeting on 27th June on the future internal fisheries policy and to decide on herring conservation measures after the end of June.

At the Social Affairs Council the main subjects for discussion will be the review of the European Social Fund, and proposed directives on the education of migrant workers' children, illegal immigration and illegal employment and the harmonisation of safety signs at work. The Council will also receive a progress report on other items in the social affairs programme.

At the Transport Council, the main items on the agenda are likely to be the social regulation on drivers' hours and whole vehicle type approval. Ministers will also have a general policy discussion on transport issues.

The tripartite conference on 27th June will have as its theme growth, stability and employment: stocktaking and prospects.

On the meeting about fisheries which the Minister mentioned, have the Government yet had time to consider the judgment of the European Court on the Irish fisheries case? Does that not strengthen their hand considerably in trying to get a 50-mile limit for our own fishermen, and will they use their judgment accordingly in the meeting which the Minister has announced? As regards the Summit meeting at the end of June, may we be assured that before then the House will be able to see, and to debate the Second Reading of, a Bill on direct elections to the European Parliament? Is it not increasingly scandalous that month after month slides by and the Cabinet seems to be paralysed on this matter, so that the House has not yet been able to decide whether the Government's international commitment to a little more democracy in Europe should be honoured?

On the first point, there are some similarities between our position and that of Ireland on fisheries matters. No two countries are, potentially, contributing more than us to a common fisheries policy, in terms of stocks and coastal waters. We are watching the case closely to see what implications there may be for us. As for the Summit, I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister has already said. The timing of debates, of course, is a matter for the Leader of the House.

Will the Minister undertake that on the agenda of the Energy Ministers, the Environment Ministers and, indeed, the political Ministers there could be some consideration of the extraordinary affair, back in 1968, as to how 200 tons of uranium oxide on its way between Antwerp and Genoa should suddenly disappear? Are Ministers aware that this is not only a question of historical curiosity but one of considerable contemporary relevance as to the safeguards not only of uranium oxide but, more relevantly, of plutonium, and that many people have listened to Commissioner Brunner, Mr. Schleicher and other officials with increasing disbelief and unease? Should we not be told the whole story?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the responsible way in which he has raised that point. I fully share that concern, as do the Government as a whole; it is an issue on which we need to be as fully satisfied as it is possible to be satisfied.

With regard to the so-called tripartite conference, who will appoint the representatives of what are called "both sides of industry"?

The right hon. Gentleman should know that both sides of industry will be responsible for these appointments. The employers will appoint their representatives and the trade unions will appoint theirs.

When the Agriculture Ministers meet, will my hon. Friend convey to them the fact that there is a large body of opinion in this country, represented in this House, who would pay scant regard to these Continental laws? Will he tell them that, so far as we are concerned, they can get stuffed with all their regulations about pigmeat and so on? Will he also make some inquiries about the meeting last weekend at Leeds Castle? Since we contribute nearly 20 per cent. of the total income of the Common Market, I want to know what I am getting for my money. I want to know what took place at that meeting. Why did the Commissioners hold their meeting in secret at that castle? What were they talking about? It is all right for the Minister to come here and trot out a few remarks about odd meetings about nothing in the Common Market, but what is happening at Leeds Castle and at Bilderberg Conferences and the like?

I shall certainly bring my hon. Friend's concern on the last point to the attention of my right hon. Friend. On the first point, thanks to the very forceful performance on behalf of British food producers and consumers by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, I think that the Commission and all our colleagues in Europe are well aware of the concerns of the British people.

Will the Minister acknowledge that, if pig farmers have to wait until the meeting on 27th June for the discussion of mcas, many, especially those who are solely dependent on pig production, will be facing bankruptcy by then? Will he explain to some of his hon. Friends that the problem arises because of the disparity in currencies, which is the result of this Government's mismanagement of the economy and not a result of the policies of the Common Market?

The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait as long as that. He has already heard that there will be a statement later this week.

Will my hon. Friend make arrangements with the Agriculture Ministers to place on the agenda the fundamental reform of the common agriculture policy? Is he aware that we should not be subjected to the great difficulties that we have at the moment in the pigmeat industry and in bacon curing and so on if it were not for the stupidity of the CAP? If my hon. Friend will do what I am suggesting he will do a great service to pig producers, bacon curers and the British housewife.

I know that the indignation which my hon. Friend expresses about the imperfections of the CAP is shared by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I repeat that, as a result of the strenuous and effective efforts of the Minister of Agriculture, the position in this country is, I believe, better understood than ever before in the Common Market as a whole. We do not want to see money wasted on unnecessary surpluses. We believe that the rights of consumers should be as fully reflected in the CAP as the rights of producers.

As the Minister now has evidence that all parties in the House are united in favouring the 50-mile exclusive limit, as he is aware that all sectors of the fishing industry in all parts of the United Kingdom are united in favour of it, as he had a demonstration on behalf of all sectors of the Scottish industry when 112 representatives recently visited Brussels, can he hold out any hope, since Commissioner Gundelach is visiting the North-East of Scotland on 24th June, that his mind is still open on the matter? Will Her Majesty's Government say that they insist on this 50-mile exclusive limit and that, if necessary, we shall take unilateral action?

I can assure the hon. Lady that the concern that exists in all parts of the House about the possibility of achieving a 50-mile exclusive fisheries zone has been expressed by me to my colleagues in the European community. Commissioner Gundelach, who is in this country, discussed with me this morning the extent of feeling in the House on this matter.

As the Minister cannot forecast what subjects will be raised at the Heads of Government meeting, can he range his imagination more widely and consider the possibility of direct elections coming on the agenda? If that were so, would the Government have made a statement of their intentions? Would legislation have been introduced and would there have been a debate and vote? In short, what progress does the Minister think that we shall report to that meeting?

I am fully aware of the right hon. Gentleman's passionate concern about and interest in this matter. However, I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister has already said.

What hope can we give to the pig industry when it has been paralysed by an interim injunction from a court before the result of the case is known? The result might be the other way round and we might come out on top. What hope has the pig industry in that situation?

I am certain that my right hon. Friend will deal with points of that kind later this week.

At the meeting of Heads of Government will the Minister emphatically deny the important rumour—which he would not seek to evade—that the British Government will now be seeking a derogation or delay in direct elections to the European Parliament, which would allow other member States to proceed and us to follow later?

I am glad to assure the hon. Member that we do not proceed on the basis of rumour.

On the question of the meeting of the Social Affairs Ministers and the education of migrant children, is the Minister aware that when this subject was debated in another place and in the House last year—alas, without a decision—a clear distinction was drawn between migrant children of EEC parents and those living in this country on a more permanent basis? To which category do these regulations apply?

Discussion on the draft directive was deferred from the last Council meeting. Regulations will be based on the revised compromise text of the directive annexed to an explanatory memorandum of the Department of Education and Science, which was deposited in Parliament on 16th February.

Would it not be a good idea to explain to those who have questioned the Minister about pigs and who blame the fall in the green pound that if we were not in the Common Market there would not be a green pound and we should have a national agriculture policy? As this is the last month of the British presidency, may we have a round-up of what has been achieved? To some of us there seems to have been a step backwards rather than forwards.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has frequently made plain the Government's position on the green pound. We always make full statements to the House after meetings of the Council of Ministers. I hope that that gives hon. Members an adequate opportunity of probing Ministers.

Will the Minister clear up one matter that he has raised today? If the Social Affairs Committee takes a decision on the whole directive on illegal immigration and illegal employment, that will create a new crime in British legal history that will have considerable implications for the immigrant community and for employers. Can my hon. Friend assure us that no decision will be taken without a full debate in the House?

I fully respect my hon. Friend's concern. I shall bring the matter to the attention of my colleagues.

May we have a commitment that no catching of herring for industrial purposes by Danish fishermen will be allowed? May we have an assurance that any herring that is caught will be used first for Scotland? When discussing transport and drivers' hours, will the Government pay particular attention to the special needs of the rural areas in the North of Scotland?

I shall certainly take account of the hon. Member's last point. On his first question, he will know that the Minister has already dealt with that. It is no secret that we would have preferred to see the ban extended for longer than one month, but we were not able to achieve collective agreement on that.

Since it is unlikely that the Fisheries Ministers will be able to reach a conclusion on the herring industry or, indeed, a common fisheries policy, can my hon. Friend undertake to have a contingency plan available for use during further discussions?

I take my hon. Friend's point. It is fairly and squarely on the record that we want to make as rapid progress as possible towards an effective common fisheries policy. The relationship between internal and external policies is of such importance that it is not possible to continue a logical and sensible external policy without a clear internal policy.

May we have an assurance that at each of the long list of meetings that the Minister has described British representatives will raise the subject of the growing volume of paper that is pouring out from the Commission, most of it unreadable and much not worth reading?

I have sympathy with the hon. Member. We want to see the right type of communication between the Commission and the various Parliaments and Ministers. It is on that basis that we shall ensure that the spirit of democracy is alive.

What steps are being taken to hold meetings of the Council of Ministers in public? Public meetings would ensure that hon. Members and the people knew what was being discussed and on what terms.

Various initiatives have been taken in that direction. We have made clear that we want to see more open meetings so that more people may be more aware of what is being done in their names.

To what extent will Energy Ministers be reviewing the attitude of other countries to the Minister of Agriculture and his policies and what impact these will have on the JET decision? Will that be on the agenda? What further discussions of the Carter documents will take place, bearing in mind that there must be a balance between the growth of the use of coal in this country and the fast breeder reactor programme and reprocessing at Windscale and elsewhere?

Our position on JET remains unchanged. We should like to see JET at Culham. We want to see a balanced energy policy in the Community. There is a difference of emphasis between those countries that are producers of energy and those that are mainly consumers of energy. Those distinctions have to be borne in mind.

British Leyland (Newspaper Report)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the action of the Daily Mail in publishing a letter purporting to implicate the Secretary of State for Industry and the National Enterprise Board in allegations of bribery by British Leyland."
I make this application quite deliberately on the day after the matter was raised by another hon. Member because of additional information about the urgency of this matter. I also want to bring into consideration the argument of the intentions of those who frame our rules concerning concurrent developments in other places.

First of all, the main burden of my argument is that great damage has been done and is currently being done to the standing of Great Britain as an exporting nation. I know, of course, Mr. Speaker, as you know, that I must not now produce the evidence that I intend to produce if a debate on the Adjournment were to be granted. I must not now submit to the House the actual proof of the contention that I have just made.

Suffice it to say at this stage that 1 was first made aware of the allegation through a foreign broadcast in a major industrial country on the Continent of Europe on the eve of its first publication in the Daily Mail. Before the people of this country had seen the article in the Daily Mail, there had already been a categorical report on the North-West German radio service the previous night making the allegation that was started here in the Daily Mail.

Since then there is a great deal of evidence from abroad that the position of the Secretary of State for Industry, particularly, continues to be impugned, and there are articles published and black question marks. We know that certain denials have been made, but is the Secretary of State really not involved?

That is my first and more important argument—that the position of this country is being gravely damaged.

Secondly, on other concurrent developments—which, of course, I shall not discuss at all—as I have always understood the Standing Order, it is to prevent an atmosphere of prejudice arising concerning the interests of any citizen who may be involved in any criminal proceedings in court; hence the decision of the House, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on such occasions to refrain from having a discussion.

However, what we are facing here, with the necessary delays of the law—which are equally required to protect the interests of the same person against whom a crime may be alleged—is the fact that this will take time. During all that period of time the slur over the head of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry remains in the mistaken view of a good many people. I submit that it cannot have been the intention of those who framed the rule and those of your predecessors who applied it, Mr. Speaker, that we should allow no discussion whatsoever to clear the position of an innocent man—a Minister in this case—against whom no allegations are being made, because we are all in agreement that no atmosphere must be created against someone against whom a crime has been alleged.

The consequence of this rule would be for the House to seek to debate matters not directly concerned with the indictment that may have taken place, cautiously and in such a way that the position of the country can be fully defended, at home and in respect of international opinion, very often in countries competing with us in the export markets. I say in passing that when allegations were recently made about Lockheed and other scandals with great political consequences it was a matter of congratulation for all of us that British Ministers were not involved. The eagerness of some of the international organs of the Press to put question marks after the name of the Secretary of State for Industry may be explained in part by their original disappointment that British Ministers were not involved in those other scandals. Secondly, if many months were to pass, it would be most unfair and most unjust that the House should not have an opportunity, whilst the matter is urgent, to put it before the people who sent us here.

It is on those grounds that I am saying, first, that a debate in the autumn might be obtained with difficulty and, secondly, that the Standing Order—this is my last point in this submission—is designed to allow a speedy and urgent discussion of a matter that is in the public mind. This matter is now more in the public mind than any other issue. Whatever we decide now in application of the rules here, we should remember that the nation is discussing this issue and that it would surely be absurd for the nation to be discussing it whilst its central political forum is not allowed to do so.

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) did me the courtesy of giving me notice this morning that he proposed to seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the action of the Daily Mail in publishing a letter purporting to implicate the Secretary of State for Industry and the National Enterprise Board in allegations of bribery by British Leyland."
As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order, but to give no reasons for my decision. I remind the House, again, that I am not deciding whether this matter shall be debated. That is not my decision. That responsibility lies elsewhere. I am deciding only whether it should be debated tonight or tomorrow. I do not control the order of business in the House.

I have given careful consideration to the matters which the hon. Member has raised. I have, however, to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.

Question Of Privilege

I am sure that neither the House nor you yourself, Mr. Speaker, will wish to be wearied at length after the recent exchanges. However, I seek to raise a matter of privilege which I submit is a threat to the parliamentary independence of six hon. Members in that their trade union has threatened to withdraw its sponsorship of them unless they take certain specified parliamentary action.

The information came to me via the Press Association tape at 1.30 p.m. today. Therefore, I think you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that this is the first opportunity that I have had to raise this issue.

It affects the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) and the hon. Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) and Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), all of whom are sponsored members of the National Union of Public Employees.

The quotation on the tape to which I seek to draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, is as follows:
"Six Labour Members of Parliament face losing their union sponsorship unless they agree to stop supporting public spending cuts. Delegates at the National Union of Public Employees conference in Brighton decided today to demand assurances from the six that they will ' refrain from supporting the Government's policy of cuts in public expenditure '. The union executive was instructed to withdraw NUPE sponsorship of the Members of Parliament if the pledges were not made."
The loss of union sponsorship for these six Members would be tantamount to their losing their nomination as Labour candidates in their parliamentary constituencies, and thus their membership of this House. This, I submit, is a direct and, indeed, a naked threat in respect of their voting behaviour in this House.

This is not a new position. I realise that the six Members themselves would find it exceedingly embarrassing, if not impossible, to raise this matter. However, recent events in the relationship between certain members of trade unions and Members of Parliament and recent events in certain parliamentary constituencies concerning the method by which certain Members of Parliament are nominated as Labour candidates have resulted in extremely unfortunate situations, as we have seen in Newham, Hayes and Harlington and, now, Liverpool, Edge Hill.

I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the time has come to reconsider the implications of this sponsorship situation, not in the light of parliamentary circumstances or national circumstances as they existed in the 1940s or the 1950s—as I believe have been quoted by your predecessors on occasions when this situation has been raised in previous years—but in the light of the political circumstances of 1977 and of a country in which 54 per cent. of the people believe that Mr. Jack Jones is more powerful than the Prime Minister.

I therefore ask you to consider the implications for these six Members in the light of what has happened, giving due precedence in your own mind as to the current political circumstances and not just relating to precedents.

Following the custom of recent years, I shall take 24 hours to consider what the hon. Gentleman has said and give my advice to the House tomorrow.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As there have been quite a few occasions in the last few years when matters of this kind have been raised, I wonder whether you would look at the matter in a much wider context and take into account the fact that many right hon. and hon. Members, particularly on the Opposition side of the House—but not necessarily confined to the other side—are in the employ of or sponsored by firms of one kind or another. I draw your attention to the fact that there may be occasions when the firms or sponsors decide to withdraw secretly the moneys available not to the constituency party but to the hon. Members themselves.

If, for instance, in the case of the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) Holiday Inns, or the hotel and catering trades, decided to withdraw any money paid to the hon. Gentleman secretly, that might be a matter of privilege, although it would be difficult for hon. Members such as the hon. Gentleman to raise the issue. Therefore, if you will look at this matter in its wider context, perhaps you will reach a conclusion that will satisfy everyone.

I shall of course give serious consideration to what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said.

I am always grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for mentioning my association with Holiday Inns—I do not seek to advertise it too much at this point—but surely the serious po