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Commons Chamber

Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 25 May 1977

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 25th May 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Oral Answers To Questions

Before we begin, I should like, with every respect, to ask for the mercy of brief questions and answers.


Glasgow East End Project


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is yet in a position to make a progress report on the Glasgow East End Project.

The organisational planning has been completed and the participating authorities—that is, the regional and district councils, the Scottish Development Agency and the Scottish Special Housing Association-have agreed the priorities for early action. The first work on site, involving new house building and tenement rehabilitation, will start in June and other early projects will follow quickly.

Can the Minister assure the House that the new administration in Glasgow will not fold up that project? Does he recall that many thousands of people went without good houses because a previous administration changed, and is he aware that that danger still exists.

I cannot give my hon. Friend that categorical assurance but, as far as I know, the new administration has made no declaration or attempt to change the policy on East End. I should certainly regret it if that happened. The new administration has given no indication that it will do other than support the constructive attempts of the previous administration in relation to East End.

Is my hon. Friend aware—in spite of the answer he has just given—of the experience in 1968–70, when there was a similar council, that is, a Conservative one supported by the Scottish National Party, and when the number of houses built in Glasgow dropped to zero? Does he realise that it has taken us many years to recover from that situation?

I am aware of the disastrous housing policies of the Tories when they were in power in Glasgow before, but it is only fair to point out that the housing problems in Glasgow have changed. There have been enormous improvements during the last 10 years, and we can only wait and see what the new administration will attempt to do.

Does the Minister agree that his hon. Friends have been talking rubbish, and will he indicate the total number of housing completions in Glasgow last year when there was a Labour council and a Labour Government?

The hon. Gentleman is an expert on rubbish. I must add, in the light of what I have just said, that nobody on the Government Benches is playing the numbers game. The quality and availability of the right houses in the right place are more important factors in framing a housing policy.

Unemployed Persons


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further plans he has for reducing unemployment in Scotland.

I believe the economic policies that we are pursuing offer the best prospects of reducing unemployment. At the same time, we have recently announced the allocation of substantial additional resources to our programme of special employment and training measures designed to limit the impact of unemployment in the coming months. Such measures have already helped more than 54,000 people in Scotland.

Does the Minister realise that whatever measures the Government take they are pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom? Has he any comment to make on the position of Beattie's biscuit factory in Glasgow, which is a subsidiary of Rank Hovis McDougall, because that factory is closing with a loss of 250 jobs? Why did the Government refuse to give temporary employment subsidy to keep that company going?

On the first part of that question, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be as encouraged as I have been by the fact that unemployment fell by 6,000 during the past month. One does not want to jump over the moon about such figures, but a cautious optimism is worth while.

As for Beattie's, that factory has sustained a substantial loss for many years. I have seen the management there and the people concerned, but no application was made to the Scottish Office for temporary employment subsidy. Such an application would have been made to the Department of Employment. We were ready to give any assistance required, but any decision taken must be one of purely commercial judgment for the company itself.

Are the Government yet in a position to give an assessment of Strathclyde Regional Council's prediction that the West of Scotland will lose 70,000 jobs in manufacturing industry between 1976 and 1983?

We have already indicated our response to Strathclyde Regional Council. That is a rather pessimistic outlook, allowing for the fact that we have been doing rather better in the manufacturing sectors and exports. I hope that that will continue.

We appreciate the extension of special development area status to Arbroath, but does not the Minister consider that it should be extended to Brechin, which, as the Minister knows and has fairly acknowledged, will face difficult employment prospects in the months ahead?

I appreciate the hon. Member's concern about Brechin. He and others have spoken to me about it. But no doubt he will also appreciate that with our limited resources we cannot make every area in the country a development area or a special development area. That would negate the fundamental aim of the regional policy and the initiatives that come from it. I hope that the visit that I have promised to Brechin and the work that has already been done will go some way to ameliorate the difficult conditions in that area.

What assessment has the Scottish Office made of the effect on unemployment of the withdrawal of the regional employment premium?

It has been explained to the right hon. Gentleman on numerous occasions that one of the reasons why we decided to withdraw the premium was so that we could spend the resources thereby released on other things, such as increasing the money available to the Scottish Development Agency and the work creation programme.

Will there be a Government statement soon on the proposals now before the Scottish Development Department for a foundry in Central Scotland to serve not only the motor industry but other industries as well?

Any application for a foundry would come to the Scottish Office. My hon. Friend knows that foundry developments have taken place in two major plants in the past year. Any further announcement will be made in the normal way.

Is it not deeply disappointing that after three years of Socialist administration we have the highest ever level of unemployment and no improvement in the seasonal figure for the latest month? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that it is the view of almost all commentators that this situation is due to the Government's policy of knocking the stuffing out of British industry and preventing it from providing more jobs in Scotland? Will he pay some attention to this point?

The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that most commentators on both sides of industry agree that we are in the midst of an international recession and that conditions in the United Kingdom are little different from those in other parts of the world. The measures that we have put forward recently to improve employment prospects in Scotland, including our proposals for British Leyland, Chrysler and the Scottish Development Agency, have not been supported by the Opposition. Indeed, there has been total opposition from the Conservatives to the initiatives that the Government have taken.

A29, A929/A94 (Detrunking)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will announce his decision on the proposals to detrunk route A92 from Dundee to Stonehaven and to trunk routes A929/A94 from Dundee to Forfar and Stonehaven; and if he will make a statement.

The City of Dundee District Council has objected to the order and consequently a public local inquiry is being arranged in accordance with the statutory requirements. Unless the objection is withdrawn, my right hon. Friend cannot reach a decision until he has considered the report of the inquiry.

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there are still a number of improvements to carry out on the A92, the current trunk road, including the provision of the Montrose relief road? Can he give an assurance that if the detrunking scheme goes ahead—and the Tayside Regional Council has given its approval—the proposal will be supported and helped as soon as possible?

It will be for the Tayside Regional Council to maintain the road in a suitable condition if it is detrunked. I have no plans for major improvements of this road in the short term.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his plans will put extra pressure on the already inadequate Dundee-Arbroath road, especially at the village of Muirdrum, which is an accident black spot where three children under the age of 10 have been knocked down in the past three years? May I convey to him the anger felt by the villagers that no improvements are planned and that the bypass, which has been promised since the last war, is still no nearer?

This may be a matter for the local public inquiry if the Dundee District Council does not withdraw its objection. My noble Friend who looks after day-to-day matters concerning roads will be discussing this problem with the district council.

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.



asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total amount of fines imposed in Scottish courts which has been written off as irrecoverable debts since the introduction of payments of fines by instalments; and if he will make a statement.

Since 1971, when the Scottish Courts Administration was set up, the total amount of fines which has been written off in the sheriff courts as irrecoverable three years after their imposition is £88,424. The total amount of fines imposed during that period was nearly £11½million. The amount written off, therefore, represents less than 1 per cent. of this figure. Corresponding information about burgh and justice of the peace courts, and the district courts that replaced them on 16th May 1975, is not available.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that if figures from other courts were available and were added to the figures that he has quoted, they would produce a substantial sum of money? Does this not indicate that hooligans, ruffians, thugs and other undesirables are getting off scot-free after committing offences against society and decent people? Is it not about time that we examined alternative means of making guilty persons pay?

No one claims a monopoly of concern for law enforcement. We are all deeply concerned about it, and that includes concern about fines enforcement. My hon. Friend should bear in mind that the courts, to which no information is available, have only a limited ability to apply fines, so even if the information were available it would not produce the result that my hon. Friend forecasts.

The subject of fines enforcement was considered by the Scottish Council on Crime and the Thompson Committee. We are looking at it in our consideration of possible legislative measures on criminal procedure.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the largest irrecoverable debt that he owes in Scotland is to the police force, which brings the criminals to justice? Is he not greatly concerned about reports of very low morale and the number of resignations from the police force in Scotland?

I can claim with some justification and pride that no junior Minister has given more time and attention to the needs and requests of the police in Scotland than I. I have worked hard over the past three years to establish the good relationship that the Government have with the Scottish Police Federation. I see no evidence of low morale. Too many people are trying to talk down the police force. The police do not enjoy that, and all the evidence is that the morale of the police in Scotland is high.

Kessock Bridge


asked the Secretary of State for Scotand what is the latest estimate of the time scale in the construction of the Kessock Bridge; and if he will make his promised statement.

I have nothing to add to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) on 28th April.

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that it is about time that he had something to add? Will he confirm or deny that the tenders that have been received for the Kessock Bridge two years after they were originally asked for appear to be £10 million lower than the original offers? Does this not indicate a gross lack of management by his Department of the criteria on which it asked for offers originally?

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is a lot of nonsense. He said at a previous Question Time that this matter was decided in 1971 and he knows which party was in power then. In the three years between 1971 and 1974 the Government of the day did nothing. We have gone as far as getting tenders, and we expect to choose a contractor once we have considered the tenders in great detail, possibly in about two months' time.

Will my hon. Friend try to ensure that the design of the bridge is more aesthetically pleasing than was the bridge built at Ballachulish?

It is recognised that previous tenders and designs were unacceptable. We now have positive tenders and they are being examined as quickly as possible. I cannot comment on the aesthetic quality of designs. I think that the desire of the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) and many others in the area is to get the bridge started as quickly as possible.

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

South Angus


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to South Angus.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the gallant fight by local parents who wish to retain the Panbride Primary School as the rural primary school? Is he aware that the school is being closed because of the meanness of the pathetic Tory-controlled regional council in what is purely an accountancy exercise? When does the hon. Gentleman expect to make an announcement about the school?

I can agree with one comment—Tory authorities are mean. The problem raised by the hon. Member is one that must be dealt with initially by the regional authorities. If the hon. Member asks a specific Question about that, I shall be happy to deal with it.

If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ever proposes to pay a visit to Angus, will he give a solemn undertaking that there will be no command broadcast on Scottish television to celebrate his action?

As I have said, my right hon. Friend has at present no plans to visit South Angus. If he had, I doubt whether he would be put on a Royal Command show. I understand that the Scottish National Party is holding its conference this weekend. I am sure that if my hon. Friend watches that he will find it highly entertaining.

Glasgow, Springburn

8. Mr.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to visit the Glasgow, Springburn, constituency.

I hope that my hon. Friend appreciates that that reply will be regarded as disappointing in my constituency. Is he aware that if he, or any of his colleagues, visited Springburn he would find some of the best industrial and housing sites in the West of Scotland? In view of the limits imposed on public expenditure, will my hon. Friend use his good offices to encourage investment from other sources to allow redevelopment of Springburn to proceed as planned?

I visit Springburn every weekend. My mother-in-law lives there and I visit her regularly. I am conscious of the problems of the Spring-burn area—not in connection with my mother-in-law, but the industrial difficulties that my hon. Friend has mentioned. The Scottish Development Agency has made substantial progress at Cowlairs, for example. We shall be happy to do all we can to encourage further industrial development.

Notwithstanding his mother-in-law's blandishments, will my hon. Friend accept that his recent visit to Hugh Smith (Glasgow) Ltd. was welcome? Can he give an assurance that he will have early discussions with the Scottish Development Agency about the growing demand for small factories of between 2,000 and 5,000 sq. ft.?

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said about my recent visit to his constituency. We are in constant discussion with the Scottish Development Agency about a variety of factors. The provision of small manufacturing and service units, for which there is a demand, is being borne in mind by the Agency.

Football Match (Chile)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many protests from organisations he has received in a recent period concerning the forthcoming football match in Chile, in which a representative Scottish team may participate at Santiago Stadium.

Since December 1976, when the Scottish Football Association announced the details of the South American tour, my right hon. Friend has received representations from 29 organisations expressing concern about the proposed match in the Santiago Stadium.

May I assure my hon. Friend that my English and non-English constituents, of whom there are many, have nothing but the most warm-hearted appreciation of the historic record of the Scottish people in their dedication to the principles of democracy, human freedom and liberty? Is my hon. Friend aware that there is much dismay that the Scottish Football Association has not announced that it is to call off plans to stage a football match in this blood soaked Santiago Stadium? Will my hon. Friend press the Football Association to call off the match? Is he aware that some trade unionists, including many in the trade union that I represent, are planning to do their level best to ensure that the match does not take place and that the football team does not travel?

I am grateful for those kind comments about the Scottish people by my English colleague. But I must tell him that the Government cannot interfere in sporting affairs. I have expressed my deep concern to the SFA about the proposed match. I hope that even at this eleventh hour it will reconsider its proposal to play at the stadium.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable support in Scotland for the SFA from people who do not necessarily support the Government of Chile but who are sickened by the hypocrisy of the Labour Party and Left-wing Members who never seem to complain when Scottish teams and others play Communist dictatorships, such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which in some cases are soaked in blood? Will the Minister dissociate himself from that hypocritical attitude which adopts double standards?

Not for the first time, the hon. Member talks about hypocrisy and double standards. But he knows that from time to time I have called him the ace of double standards. My constituency is next to his. When one hears him speaking of the Pakistani population in Glasgow and one knows his attitude towards race, Rhodesia and other questions, one can understand what hypocrisy means.

I have made my answer clear. I sit on a working party with the SFA. I have made it known, although I have deep respect for the officials of the SFA, that I deeply regret their misjudgment in deciding to accept an invitation to play in this stadium, where there have been some terrible incidents. I hope that there will be a change of attitude and that the match will not go ahead.

I appreciate that my hon. Friend cannot tell the Scottish Football Association what it must do. However, could he ask the association at least to take into account the feelings of the Scottish footballers? Does he agree that if they were given the facts, they might have some say in what is to happen about the proposed tour?

I must be frank and honest with my hon. Friend. I have to tell him that a poll organised by the Scottish Professional Footballers' Association resulted in 70 per cent. of the membership saying "Yes" to the game in Chile. I must be fair and honest about that. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that perhaps the players did not get all the facts of the situation. I am still hoping—and I repeat this—that the SFA will reconsider the decision to play in the Santiago Stadium.

Would it not be better if politicians stuck to politics and allowed sportsmen to get on with the game?

Sometimes when I see the hon. Member's antics I do not know whether he is a sportsman or a politician. I do not intend to change my attitude. I do not wish to repeat what I have said.

I thank my hon. Friend for the strong statement of disapproval that he has made today and previously. I also thank the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Is it not the case that the SFA asked for a judgment from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before going ahead and that that judgment was given against the match? Is it not shameful that the SFA should ignore the wishes of the Government and the people?

May I remind the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that when so-called Left-wingers protest against oppression, bloodshed and tryanny they do so irrespective of the régime concerned and whether it is in the East or the West? There is blood on the ground of the stadium upon which the hon. Member is asking our young Scottish football players to perform.

My hon. Friend has played a notable part in the campaign. He is correct about the Foreign Office and its advice. I can only repeat that I hope that the SFA will still change its mind, even at this eleventh hour.

Does the Minister ever express disapproval of Scottish football teams playing behind the Iron Curtain, where there is a universal denial of human rights?

I think that the hon. Member does not follow football as much as some of us do. He may well remember the courageous stand by the Glasgow Celtic Football Club, a stand which most of us on the Government side of the House supported. I say for the benefit of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that I have taken a stand against Russia concerning the Jews and I have expressed my disapproval in writing and in speeches. It is not a one-sided stand as far as I am concerned.

Council House Sales


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many applications he has had from housing authorities to sell council houses since October 1974; how many of these applications have been granted; and what was the average time taken by his Department to give substantive replies to these applications.

Since July 1974, when general consent was withdrawn, until 30th April 1977, 565 applications were received and 330 granted. Elapsed time between proposals and replies varied between two and 10 weeks, according to the form of the proposals and the complexities which they raised.

Is the Minister aware that in the recent district elections Scotland showed perfectly clearly that it felt that people ought to have a right to buy the home in which they live? Will he assure the House that it will be no part of the present Government's policy to frustrate the legitimate aims of properly elected councils in this matter?

I think that it is stretching it a bit to suggest that that was the only issue, or, indeed, the main issue, that inflenced people's voting patterns in the recent district elections. We shall be looking at this topic in the context of any possible changes that might follow the review of housing policy that will be dealt with in our Green Paper. There will be adequate time to discuss future housing plans, but I can give an assurance now that there will be no blanket approval for the indiscriminate wholesale selling of council houses.

Does my hon. Friend know of any man who has honey on his hands and does not want to lick it off at the earliest possible moment? My response to the style of the Question is that I anticipate a wholesale selling of houses in Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Easter house.

If I understand my hon. Friend's question, I think that what he was asking was whether there is any evidence, in the three largest housing schemes in Scotland, of a widespread demand to buy houses. The answer is a definite "No".

We have all heard of inflation, but does the hon. Gentleman regard it as reasonable that the price of a local authority house that was offered for sale at £5,800 in 1974 should have risen now to £10,000?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wasting Question Time. [Interruption.] We are now dealing with Question No. 10. The hon. Gentleman is wasting Question Time when he asks me a hypothetical question about a house about which I have no knowledge.

Common Agricultural Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimates of the fall in production in agriculture have been made owing to the CAP prices recently announced.

The decisions on farm support prices and related arrangements assure our farmers of a fair return for their labours and should encourage them to produce more food at prices the consumer can afford.

Is the Minister aware that that is not my experience from talking to at least my local farmers? They are now much concerned about the future, because costs in farming are rapidly overhauling whatever increase there is in prices. There is grave concern about the future, which will undoubtedly end in a fall in production. Will the Minister continue the efforts in Brussels to get some amendments to the CAP, so that these factors are taken into account?

I do not think that the future of agriculture depends entirely on what happens in Brussels, although obviously that plays a large part in influencing the future of the industry. I have confidence in the industry. It is too important an industry for any Government to disregard its contribution. However, what I have noticed is that sometimes farmers tell one things that are slightly different from the accounts that they show at the end of the year.

Given the state of consumers and given the state of farmers—and they are both in a bad state—is it not the situation that neither can afford a continuation of the CAP?

The farmers are not in a bad state. By exaggeration the hon. Gentleman does no credit to the genuine problems that face farmers. It is equally untrue to suggest that the rise in prices over the past six months has been entirely due to the CAP. In fact, the products covered by the CAP represent a very small proportion of the retail price index for food.

If the Minister is so happy with Scottish agriculture at present, will he say which sectors of Scottish agriculture are up to the target set in the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources" and which are not? Is he aware of the growing financial discrepancy between returns for crops and returns for livestock? Is he satisfied with these trends?

No. I am certainly concerned about the fall in production. Given reasonable circumstances this year, I think that we should see improvements. Obviously, when there is a fall in production we must make every effort in the sectors where that is evident—though it is not as significant or as widespread in all sections of the industry. However, certainly I am disappointed. I hope that we shall get back on target this year and in succeeding years.

Is my hon. Friend aware that among farmers in the Kilmarnock area there is much more concern about the savage increases in rents by the local landowner, Kilmarnock Estates, owned by Lord Howard de Walden, than there is about the CAP prices? There is a limit to what we can do about the CAP, but surely we can do something about these rent increases at home.

I quite agree. My right hon. Friend highlights one of the indicators that suggest that there is still a large degree of confidence in agriculture, such as the applications for capital grants for replacement stock, and there is no shortage of applicants when any farm becomes vacant.

Did the hon. Gentleman say that he thought that prices reflected a fair return to producers? If so, will he enlarge upon that statement and relate that to the prices being paid to pig producers?

I do not remember what I said about that. I do not think that what I said was said in the way in which the hon. Gentleman put it.

I recognise, frankly, that pig production is the one section of the industry that is going through an extremely difficult situation at present. As the hon. Gentleman knows—because he was present here yesterday—a statement will be made this week, or the House will be informed by my right hon. Friend, of what action is being taken through the efforts of my right hon. Friend and Commissioner Gundelach.

Bridge Of Earn


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to Bridge of Earn.

Is the rundown of the Bridge of Earn Hospital symptomatic of the general Scottish Office thinking that small hospitals serving local communities should be closed? If that is so, does the Minister agree that to phase out small hospitals serving local communities is a scandalous and retrograde step?

Certainly it is not the policy of the Scottish Office to phase out small hospitals just because they happen to be small hospitals. As I understand it, an overall plan for health services in the Tayside area has envisaged the eventual replacement of the Bridge of Earn Hospital by a new district general hospital at Perth, which we think will serve a wider area.

Is the Minister aware that there is a serious worry in Tayside, not only in Bridge of Earn but in Brechin, about Stracathro Hospital in particular, that the building and development of Nine Wells Hospital, in Dundee, is causing excessive centralisation and leading to lengthening waiting lists for patients in a large district, and is causing people to think that the hospital board and the Government are more concerned with statistics and less concerned with individuals, as patients, who have to be treated as human beings?

It is the policy that all patients should certainly be treated as human beings and, indeed, cared for appropriately. In regard to the whole question of centralisation and the hospital at Dundee, if my memory serves me rightly, that was not one of the initiatives taken by the present Government, or by an Administration of this colour of days past. However, the hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood my reply to the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) a few moments ago, when I said that plans are now afoot for a hospital at Perth, which indicate that not all the hospital facilities are to be centred in the Dundee area.

One must consider, of course, that it is very important that patients should be looked upon and treated as human beings, but it is also very important that patients should have the best treatment that is available. That treatment, with the highest scientific and technological advance, can be provided only in a place that has a large catchment area, otherwise the skills are not available. Nice as cottage hospitals may be from the romantic point of view, and though they have a part to play, they cannot take the place of hospitals to which the skills are drawn if the area is a large catchment area.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. It is right that there is a place for small hospitals, but I think that we all understand that a concentration of skills is extremely valuable for those who have serious illnesses.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that it was while the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) was at the Scottish Office that Nine Wells was started upon—

and the first tenders were taken in? Does my hon. Friend agree that all the facts about centralisation were known when the Tory Government started on the project?

My right hon. Friend backs up what I said earlier. What my right hon. Friend has just said is my recollection of what happened some years ago.

Geriatric Patients


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his policy towards the continued use of older non-purpose built buildings as old folk's homes and geriatric hospitals.

Each case must be considered on its merits, taking account of the condition and location of the building, the availability of finance for new buildings, and other priorities. These are matters for the local authority or health board and where my right hon. Friend's approval is necessary in respect of the proposed closure of a hospital in an old building he would take the same factors into account. Generally, however, a purpose-designed home or geriatric hospital can provide better and safer conditions for both patients and staff.

Does the Minister agree that there might be some case for establishing some guidelines? It seems that the better facilities and greater safety produced by closing an older building and spending a lot of money on a new building result in a margin of difference not all that great. Sometimes that margin does not justify the expenditure of limited resources that can be used in other and more productive ways.

One of the difficulties is that when an old building has to be brought up to standard to meet fire safety regulations and all the other relevant standards the cost involved is quite substantial. The cost for one hospital that I have in mind would be between £160,000 and £170,000. We have to measure whether it is worth spending that sort of money when for about £350,000 we can get a purpose-built unit with 30 beds, which would obviously last a great deal longer. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. His comments will be given consideration in any decision that we have to make.

Economic Situation


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the economic prospects in Scotland.

As in the United Kingdom as a whole, economic growth in Scotland is expected to be concentrated in manufacturing industry with exports and investment providing the main impetus. It is therefore encouraging to note that the April CBI survey for Scotland showed a sharp improvement in investment intentions from January, and also a buoyant export prospect.

When does the Minister expect seasonally adjusted unemployment to improve? Will he take into account some of the island areas, where the economies are being severely eroded by recent increases in freight costs? On a more topical note, it is likely that power supplies in Scotland for industry and domestic users will be disrupted because of the present strikes.

The economies of the Islands were considered by the House not so many weeks ago when we discussed the charges of the Scottish Transport Group. In discussing these charges it is important to bear in mind the contribution that the Government have made and the consideration that the Scottish Transport Group gave to the carrying of freight to the Islands. It is also important to remember the substantial contribution that the Highlands and Islands Development Board is making in the Highlands and Islands and the number of important initiatives that it has announced over the past few years.

It would be wrong for me to make any public comment about the dispute now taking place. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that the Government are conscious of the problem, as are the agencies involved in bringing the dispute to a successful conclusion.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the economy in Aberdeen is buoyant because of oil-related industry, but that there is a structural decline in non-oil-related industry in Aberdeen and the surrounding areas? Is my hon. Friend aware that he will come under increasing pressure to change his mind and to keep Aberdeen a development area? In the meantime, will he give an assurance that any application for assistance that comes forward will be acted upon speedily and that there will be no delay?

I know how disappointed my hon. Friend was about our decision. However, I hope that he will appreciate that if we were to make every area within the country a development area, or a special development area, such status would be of no value. We decided to downgrade Aberdeen in the hope that by so doing we should be able to upgrade, for example, Dundee, Cumnock, Arbroath and Kilbirnie. Aberdeen still enjoys the considerable benefits that flow from intermediate status. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that any application that comes to me for selective financial assistance will be considered quickly and favourably.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a strong currency is to be preferred to a weak currency in terms of economic growth? Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the economic growth of Scotland would be better promoted by a strong Scots pound and a self-governing Scotland than by being tied to the weak United Kingdom pound?

I have heard this notion floated by the hon. Gentleman on previous occasions and I have heard it quoted by a number of his hon. Friends. With great respect, I have never thought of the hon. Gentleman as an expert on banking matters. I have listened with considerable care to the attitude of the Scottish banks. To put not too fine a point on it, they regard the hon. Gentleman's essays into this area as a load of rubbish.

Has my hon. Friend noticed that, far from the hon. Gentleman being regarded as a financial expert, the banks and every other financial institution regard the hon. Gentleman's views with contempt? They hailed as proof of their case the most recent publication entitled "Scotland 1980", which, they claim, has blown a complete hole in the SNP's case.

To revert to more serious matters, is my hon. Friend aware that there is still great anxiety in my area about the future of Drax B? Now that the promise has been given by the Prime Minister that the order for the Drax B power station will take place, will my hon. Friend stress to my right hon. Friend that it is speed that is now required if we are to avoid any lay-offs?

I know of my hon. Friend's concern about Drax B. He has come with other to see me about it on a number of occasions during the past few months. I can assure him that the Government are giving it the speediest consideration. I think that my hon. Friend knows that there are difficulties. However, we still hope to make an announcement as quickly as possible.

When will the Government take a lesson from Norway and insist that a decent percentage of oil-related jobs and orders come to Scottish manufacturers?

There are already between 55,000 and 65,000 people employed in Scotland, either directly or indirectly, in the exploration and exploitation of the oil in the North Sea. In Glasgow, which, for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, is in Scotland, we have the Offshore Supplies Office, which indicates to all concerned the advantages of using Scottish firms wherever possible.

Are we to understand from the answer to Question No. 2 that the proposals and discussions on the foundry in Central Scotland have not reached Ministers' desks and have not been discussed by Ministers?

If the hon. Gentleman has a particular point in mind, I shall be happy to consider it if he writes to me or tables a Question.

Royal Hospital For Sick Children


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is now in a position to publish the results of his inquiries into the construction deficiencies at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children; and if he will ensure full public disclosure of these deficiencies.

Substantial progress has been made in establishing the causes of the various building defects which have come to light at this hospital. These investigations, which are being carried out by the Greater Glasgow Health Board with the help of independent consultants, will continue concurrently with the extensive remedial works which have still to be undertaken and for which the relevant tender documents are now being instructed or are in course of preparation.

Since it is certain that the defects will be the subject of arbitration or litigation, it would be inappropriate to publish at this juncture the results of the board's investigations to date.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is now over seven months since he gave me almost the same reply? The building work at this hospital is an absolute disgrace and brings no credit to the building industry, from the youngest apprentice to the most senior architect and engineer. How long does the sub judice rule keep facts such as these from the public, who are entitled to know?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the time that has been taken to resolve this matter. In the past week I have given the issue the closest possible consideration. In view of the possibility of the matter going to litigation, it is essential that the Greater Glasgow Health Board establishes the facts to the best of its ability to strengthen its case when the time comes.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Scottish Law Commission


asked the Lord Advocate when he proposes to meet the Chairman of the Scottish Law Commission.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. and learned Friend met the Chairman of the Scottish Law Commission on 28th April of this year. I understand that he expects to meet the chairman and the other members of the Commission early in July.

I am grateful to the Minister for answering this Question. The Lord Advocate did me the courtesy of advising me that he had to be in Edinburgh today, and I accept the situation. When the next meeting takes place, will the Lord Advocate ask the chairman whether he is satisfied with the way in which the law is at present operating regarding the information that has to be disclosed by companies that are registered outwith the United Kingdom when they take an active part in land transactions within the United Kingdom? Is he aware of the considerable concern in my constituency, where a sandbank off Easter Ross has appreciated in value by no less than 1,200 per cent. in 14 months—the value rising from £50,000 to £600,000—at a time when it seems almost impossible to detemine who controls the companies in question?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern but I do not think that this is a matter to be discussed by my right hon. and learned Friend when he meets the Chairman of the Law Commission. It falls within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman cares to pursue the matter with me, I shall be happy to answer the question.

Will the Minister ask the Lord Advocate, when he next meets the Chairman of the Law Commission, to discuss the effects of the law of libel as it impinges on distributors of magazines? Although certain safeguards have been introduced into the law, it still seems that distributors may be liable for libels that they could not detect. Will he look into that matter again?

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a little surprising that the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) should express concern about what is a perfectly legitimate and integral part of capitalist land speculation? Since the Minister has said that the matter is really one for the Secretary of State rather than the Lord Advocate, will he take the obvious remedy and nationalise the land, thus putting an end to this kind of speculation?

Will the Minister ask the Lord Advocate to put on the agenda of the Law Commission the newly-developing question of the jurisdiction of Scots law on North Sea oil development contracts, bearing in mind that it appears that some companies—even those controlled by the Government, or at least with a Government interest—are opting out of Scots law jurisdiction? Could not that be a matter that the Lord Advocate would wish the Law Commission to look at?

Without prior notice of that question it is very difficult for me to give a direct reply. However, I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. and learned Friend.

Will the Minister reconsider his reply to our hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) about the public ownership of land? Would that not be the most effective way of dealing with the problem of Lord Howard de Walden, who was mentioned by our right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and whose favourite slogan at the last election was "It's Scotland's soil"? Is that not precisely the problem—that it is not Scotland's soil?

I do not think that I can change the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes).




asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has had from private owners of housing property urging him to advise regional councils' highway authorities to bring some of the older roads in such housing areas into the programme of roads and have them added to the regional list of highways.

None. My right hon. Friend is not aware that this is a problem causing general concern.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in some of the streets or roads that I have in mind, not one of the original owners is in possession? Is he also aware that the regional road authorities expect the present owners to bring their roads up to regulation standards? This cannot be done unless they get on to the list of highways. Since that would also mean great cost—sometimes tens of thousands of pounds—for groups of owners, such people cannot bear the burden. Will he bring in some form of road improvement scheme?

I have a certain sympathy with my hon. Friend's views, but only the regional council can assess the situation properly. It would be wrong for the Secretary of State to intervene in such local matters.



asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to Lossiemouth.

Is that not a pity, considering that Lossiemouth was the home of a famous Labour Prime Minister, whose daughter, who votes for the Labour Party, still lives there? Is the Minister aware that Lossiemouth fishermen were part of the contingent that visited Brussels, dedicated to the principle that without a 50-mile exclusive limit Lossiemouth would become a ghost town? [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish. Although the right to veto on the EEC fishing policy was given away by the Conservative Party and not renegotiated by his own party, does the Minister not consider that the time has come to threaten a right of veto on some other matter if we do not get a 50-mile limit for our fishemen?

If my right hon. Friend visited all the places that he is asked to visit these days, he would never be able to come to the House at all. [Interruption.] I know that some Opposition Members would like that. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of Stale who deals with fishing matters is here and will have noted what the hon. Lady has said. The Government's position on this question has been stated clearly on numerous occasions both by the Secretary of State for Scotland and by the Minister of Agriculture. I have heard about the demonstration last week and the impact made by some of the Scottish representatives.

Will the Minister encourage his right hon. Friend to spend some of the Whitsun Recess visiting Lossiemouth and other centres of the fishing industry? Is he aware that every party in the House supports the stand that the Government are taking over the common fisheries policy? Would it not therefore be valuable if the Secretary of State went around the fishing communities so as to ensure that every possible argument is presented at the next meeting, and so that our friends in Europe will come to see the exclusive control of our own 50-mile limits as an essential national interest?

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Minister of Agriculture told the House last week that he would again be meeting Fisheries Ministers on 27th June. During the recess my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be visiting a number of fishing areas and having discussions with these people. Those views will be expressed at the meeting to which I referred.

School Leavers


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the prospects of employment for school leavers in the summer.

Long-term prospects will depend largely upon the successful development of the Government's economic policies, which must in turn be related to world economic conditions. In the shorter term we have introduced a wide programme of measures designed to lessen the impact of unemployment on particularly hard-hit groups, such as the young, and we are urgently considering the proposals for additional assistance on an even more far-reaching scale which are contained in the recently published report of the Manpower Services Commission on Young People and Work.

In view of the dire prospects facing school leavers this summer, will not the Minister accept the view of the House that the empty statement that he has just made is devoid of policy content? As a representative of the interim Government of Scotland, can he not come up with some specific policies to deal with the real human problems that will face those who are about to leave school in the industrial areas of Scotland?

My statement was not an empty statement, nor did it imply any complacency on my part. I can speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that we are genuinely and sincerely concerned about prospects for young people who will be leaving school in June. However, we have already taken a number of measures, such as job creation programmes, youth employment subsidies and job release schemes, which make and have made a substantial contribution to providing employment for young people.

Secondly, much work has been done and will continue to be done in providing training for young people. As I said, we hope to respond quickly to the report prepared for our guidance by the Manpower Services Commission. I should add that the Manpower Services Commission's functions in Scotland will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland on 1st July, and we shall have our own response to make in that regard.

Why does the Minister constantly import international dimensions into the arguments about employment? The construction industry is not affected by international consequences of the IMF. Why do the Government not give a massive boost to the construction industry and employ a very large number of young people in the productive side of this industry and, at the same time, increase the number of apprentices and journeymen that we shall require in the next five or six years?

Before people decide to build factories they have to have something to produce in them. This is where the international scene is involved. Recently the Chancellor made a number of announcements relating to assistance for the construction industry. We hope that these will make a valuable contribution to employment in this area.

When does the Minister expect to have the seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for Scotland? Is he not ashamed that after three years of Labour Government we have such an appallingly high rate of unemployment?

I, and everyone else on the Government side of the House, regard the present unemployment figures as totally unsatisfactory. The Government have pursued a number of initiatives and we trust that these will reduce the unacceptable level in the future. I shall not make any guesses; I shall leave that to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). That is a problem for him, not for me.

Social Security Benefits

I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement about increases in social security benefits.

In accordance with Section 125 of the Social Security Act 1975, I reviewed the present level of benefits before the end of the 1976–77 financial year and formally determined that they needed to be increased. Increases will be paid from the week beginning 14th November, which is one year after the last uprating.

Under the Act, pensions and other long-term benefits must go up in line with the rise in earnings or prices, whichever is greater, and short-term benefits must rise in line with prices. During the 12 months to November 1977 prices are expected to rise faster than earnings, so the increase in prices will be the benchmark both for long and for short-term benefits.

In the Financial Statement published at the time of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Budget, prices were forecast to rise by 13 per cent. between the last quarter of 1976 and the last quarter of this year. Having given full consideration to all relevant matters, I am satisfied that this forecast represents the most reliable guide available to me of the likely movement of prices between last November and this November. I expect the rate of inflation to fall during the next six months well below the year-on-year rate represented by the April monthly figure that was published last week. The factors that gave rise to that rate were foreseen and fully taken into account in the forecast I have mentioned.

When this Government came to office in February 1974 pensions stood at £7·75 and £12·50. I have decided that from this November the single pension will go up to £17·50 and the married couples' pension to £28, cash increases of £2·20 and £3·50 over the present rates. This is an increase of nearly 14½ per cent.; and for married couples it equals the biggest cash rise ever—the one we made shortly after returning to power in 1974. The increases will also apply to the standard rate of widow's pensions and to invalidity pensions.

By November we shall have far more than doubled pensions compared with the rates paid by the previous Government. Even after allowing for inflation, by last November this Government had increased the real value of pensions and other benefits by 15 per cent. This November's increase should cover inflation since the last uprating and provide a further increase in real purchasing power.

Many pensioners will also be glad to know that this year, for the first time, the uprating order will change the earnings rule limit, in accordance with the recent Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. The limit will go up from £35 to £40.

Short-term benefits for sickness and unemployment will go up by £1·80, from £12·90 to £14·70, for a single person, and for a married couple they will rise by £2·90, from £20·90 to £23·80. Maternity allowance and injury benefit will go up by the same amounts. Injury benefit will become £17·45 a week for the single person and £26·55 for the married man with a dependent wife.

War and industrial injuries disablement and widow's pensions will go up in line with long-term benefits. For example, the 100 per cent. rate of pension for war disablement or for work injury will go up from £25 to £28·60. There will be comparable increases in the additional allowances which can be paid with these pensions.

I now turn to the civilian disabled. The therapeutic earnings limit, which is applicable to all the incapacity benefits, will go up from £9 to £10 a week.

I am glad to confirm that, from the week beginning 14th November, disabled married women unable to go out to work and unable to do their housework will be eligible for the non-contributory invalidity pension. There will be more details on this later.

The House will also recall that I have already announced an increase of £2 in the mobility allowance with effect from November.

For supplementary benefit, the cash increases in the main scale rates will be the same as those in the related national insurance benefits, and they will come into force at the same time. For the present, at least, there will continue to be five separate children's supplementary benefit rates, related to age. The proposal we have had under consideration to reduce the number of these rates will be studied further as part of the review of the supplementary benefits scheme.

Also in November, the Supplementary Benefits Commission will increase the discretionary additions for extra heating from 70p to 80p, from £1·40 to £1·60, and from £2·10 to £2·40. The discretionary addition for special dietary needs will go up from 75p to 90p, and from £1·75 to £2·10.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has it in mind to make appropriate adjustments in the needs allowances for the rent and rate rebate and rent allowance schemes. He will be consulting his Advisory Committee on Rent Rebates and Rent Allowances.

The full-year cost of the whole of this uprating, including the increase in supplementary benefits and in heating and dietary additions, is just under £1,500 million. Nearly £1,250 million of this will fall on the National Insurance Fund and will be taken into account in the annual review of contributions in the autumn. Any changes in contribution rates for 1978–79 resulting from that review will of course require the approval of Parliament.

For the convenience of the House, full details of all the new rates of benefit are available in the Vote Office and will be circulated in the Official Report. I shall be laying the necessary draft uprating order, under Section 124 of the Social Security Act, after the recess. The order will be accompanied by a Government Actuary's report in the normal way.

I am sure the whole House will welcome these further measures to protect the position of pensioners and other beneficiaries in these difficult times.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the whole House will give a general welcome to his announcement, with its prospect of much-needed help for the most hard-pressed in the community because of the present dreadful rate of inflation.

Is the Secretary of State aware that most people will compare his 14p in the pound pension increase with the 17½p in the pound price increase that has taken place since a year ago? Is he further aware that in the last five months since the last uprating took place, the increase in prices has been almost 9p in the pound? Is he seriously expecting a rise of only just over 5p in the pound between now and next November? Does he realise that, if that is achieved, it will mean an annual rate of inflation over that period of almost exactly 8·4 per cent.? Does he not recognise that the country will view that figure with some scepticism?

Perhaps the key question is what he will do if it turns out that the rate of inflation is higher than that and if the amount which he has just announced is not enough to comply with the statutory requirement in Section 125 of the Social Security Act. Will he bring forward legislation to change the statutory obligation or is he advised that the Act does not impose on him an obligation to keep the pension in line with prices or earnings?

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's opening words of welcome. I shall try to deal carefully with his questions.

I forecast a 13 per cent. figure November-on-November. The right hon. Gentleman asked how this related to 17·5 per cent., the April-on-April figure. The up-rating of benefits is related to inflation from November to November, not from April to April. The April-on-April figure is no guide to the inflation which we can expect in the second half of this year. It included the price rises due to the Budget—cigarettes, petrol, vehicle excise duty—and increases in rates. Thirdly, the April year-on-year figure is not out of line with our expectations.

The inflation figures are expected to fall sharply later in the year. By November the effect of last year's drought and the falling exchange rate will have completely worked themselves through. The turnabout in the balance of payments means that we have a stable exchange rate. The money supply is firmly under crontrol, and there are other good signs as well. Interest rates are coming down, which has already led to a 1 per cent. fall in mortgage rates, and a further fall is in prospect. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed to withhold the increase in petrol duty.

For all these reasons, I believe that a figure of 13 per cent. is a realistic forecast, and the House will have noted that the present Government have set out to better the position of pensioners and not simply to tie it to an assessment of the rate of inflation.

Judging by the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, may I ask whether the Opposition think that we have done too much or too little? If they believe that we have done too much, pensioners will know where they stand in regard to the Opposition. If the Opposition think that we have done too little, how do they square this with their desire for swingeing cuts in public expenditure? Our record on pensions and other benefits is very much better than that of preceding Conservative Governments, and the Opposition know it.

Is not my right hon. Friend gambling on reductions in the rate of inflation in the next seven months of next year compared with the first five months? Does not the difficulty and danger of doing this show how much wiser it would have been for the Government to revert to the original method of uprating—the historical method which, in this uprating, would have given an increase of 16·7 per cent.?

Will my right hon. Friend please answer the question: what will the Government do if the rate of inflation is not halved and if there is a short-fall on his statutory obligations?

I have confidence in the figures I have given and believe that it will not be necessary to make any such adjustment. Therefore, I do not believe that this is a gamble. There have been a number of forecasts of the likely annual inflation rate in November. Several of them have been below the figure which I gave. The general forecast is that the figure which I have given, with all the expectations we have of strengthening the economy, is likely to be the right one.

I ask the House to recognise what one newspaper refers to today as a spectacular turn-round in the nation's financial health in the past six months. The pound is stable, there is a new confidence in industry and commerce, unemployment is down, the balance of payments is steadily improving, reserves are at a record height, and interest rates are down. In this situation I believe that I am entitled to be optimistic about future price movements.

I, too, welcome the increase in cash benefits, but if the Government are wrong in estimating the rate of inflation year-on-year as no more than 14·5 per cent., what the right hon. Gentleman has announced this afternoon is a reduction in the standard of living of pensioners and other beneficiaries. Has any advance been made on the age-old problem of announcing an increase in May and not being able to pay it before November?

It would be easier for me to answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question if the Opposition would say whether they are suggesting that I should have given a higher figure and therefore caused higher public expenditure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I have answered the question. I have said that I have confidence, and I am required by statute to satisfy myself, that the figure I have prophesied is at least adequate to cover prices. If unforeseen circumstances arise, it will be for the Government to decide whether any further measures need to be taken. Nobody can ever foresee these things, least of all my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), who was my predecessor in this office. She knows, as does the rest of the House, that this Government have never let down the pensioners, the sick, the disabled or the unemployed.

My right hon. Friend announced increases in unemployment benefits and sickness benefits which were lower than those for longer-term benefits. Will he express those figures in percentage terms? Will he say whether the Government's objective is to see that those short-term benefits do not increase more than the Government's prices and incomes objective—namely, as I understand it, a maximum rise of 10 per cent.? Are the Government anticipating a growth or a reduction in the number of people who after November will be better off on benefits than if they are at work?

I have no reason to believe that there will be any such increase. As my right hon. Friend knows, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recently given substantial tax reliefs to those in work and, on top of that, they will receive pay increases in the coming year. Furthermore, there will be increases in family income supplement for low earners.

If my right hon. Friend is concerned about whether my announcement is likely to increase the very small number of people who could be better off receiving benefits than if they were in work, it is most unlikely—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I am answering the question. The part of the question which I have not yet answered is that 14 per cent. is the figure for short-term benefits and 14·4 per cent. is the figure for long-term benefits. There is a small gap between the two, which is a slight reversal of the situation announced a year ago.

Since the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was able to increase the purchasing power of the pensioner in July 1974 by some 30 per cent. is it not the case that since the right hon. Gentleman took office the increase in real terms has fallen to 15 per cent.? Is that not the reason why pensioners feel that they are falling behind in their standard of living?

That is simply not true. When we look back over the years we can see that pensioners are not falling back in their standard of living. Up to November last year, at the time of the last increase, pensioners were 16 per cent. better off in real terms since we came into office compared with the situation which we inherited from our predecessors. I believe that the announcement which has been made today will be a further step in the improvement, in real terms, of the position of pensioners in this country.

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question about the timing of the measures that he has just announced? While he is obviously entitled to point to the positive factors developing in the economy, and to the good record of the Government in looking after pensioners and other people entitled to such social payments, he has nonetheless an obligation to the House and to pensioners to answer this question. If his calculations on inflation prove to be wrong, the effect will be seen as early as July or the beginning of August. Will he give an undertaking that if that unfortunately proves to be so, he will bring forward the increase, otherwise there will be a long gap during which pensioners and other beneficiaries will suffer if the pensions increase is delayed until November?

I do not share my hon. Friend's pessimism. I assure him that it is not possible, as Conservative Members who have been in Government know, to bring forward the uprating. The minimum period that is required for an uprating—we are, after all, dealing with a total of 80 million beneficiaries—is 20 weeks. In any case my hon. Friend's assessment does not stand up because the Government's assessment is that in the next two or three months we shall see a higher rate of inflation—considerably higher than that which I have prophesied for November—but that from the summer we shall see a sharp decrease.

Of course, if the time comes and we find that this assessment has been wrong, the Government—as any previous Government would have to do, or as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn would have done—will have to look at this situation. But I have confidence both in the assessment that I have made and in the fact that pensioners will have a real increase when November comes.

Was the Secretary of State's attention drawn to the fact that people who were born before 1895 get only half the burial grant of those born since? That is now a miserable figure of £15. Why have the Labour Government not increased this grant, which was introduced by a Conservative Government?

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman asked himself why his own Government never increased the death grant. It is a very small figure. As the hon. Gentleman—I was about to say "knows" but it is possible that he does not know, but as most hon. Members would know, the Supplementary Benefits Commission can give a great deal of assistance to those in difficulty at the time of death. It is certainly not the intention of this Government, any more than it was the intention of the previous Government, to increase the death grant. We believe it much more important to ensure that a proper increase for pensioners is paid across the board, and this the Government are doing.

While appreciating my right hon. Friend's announcement today and understanding the real benefits which will accrue to retirement pensioners generally, may I ask my right hon. Friend to give an indication of how soon he considers that it will be possible to move retirement pensions closer to average wages? When will it be possible to have pensions which are 50 per cent. of average wages in industry and which are index protected thereafter? Despite the carping criticism from Conservative Members about the 15½per cent. increase, does my right hon. Friend accept that in the present phase 3 negotiations on incomes policy there are many trade unionists who would be happy to settle within a ceiling of 15½ per cent.?

I believe that on the whole trade unionists will welcome this decision because they not only believe in the general strength of the economy but have shown a deep concern for the welfare of pensioners. I think they will recognise this Government to be as concerned about pensioners. With regard to relating pensions to average earnings, we are already in a situation where the single pensioner is getting about one-third of average net earnings and a couple is getting about half of average net earnings. The only other point I would add is that in 1978 we shall move to the new pensions scheme, which is of tremendous importance for all of us who will be retiring after 1978. That scheme guarantees a very much higher level of benefit than now.

I propose to call the three hon. Members on either side who have been standing up.

Can my right hon. Friend give a figure for the surplus that there is likely to be in the National Insurance Fund at the end of the present fiscal year? Does he agree that the increases in short-term benefits that he has announced make it all the more necessary, urgently but very calmly, to consider the question of the relationship between tax and short-term social security benefits?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support for the decision that I have announced today. With regard to the National Insurance Fund, in December 1976 the Government Actuary estimated that the fund would show an operational surplus of £880 million in 1977–78. The effect of the uprating alone will be to reduce the expected surplus to about£680 million, but a further report from the Government Actuary will be available when the uprating order has been laid.

As has been said on previous occasions, tax and short-term benefits is a matter which is under review. There are some very serious administrative problems, which both Governments have recognised, but the matter is being considered at present.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that for the second year running this percentage increase is substantially larger than the percentage increase in the tax allowances for retired people? Therefore, a large number of pensioners will lose a lot of this increase in extra tax. Can the right hon. Gentleman give a figure to compare with the £100 million which was clawed back from retired people and widows last year?

No, I cannot give a figure. The hon. Gentleman might ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He seems to have failed to recognise the considerable number of pensioners and other people with very small incomes who will be taken out of the tax bracket. The measures announced by the Chancellor in his Budget are of benefit not only to pensioners but also to those on low incomes.

Does my right hon. Friend understand that all these thousands, indeed millions of people who are taken out of the tax bracket every year, will be clawed back into it the following year? It is the same people coming in and out all the time. Does he not accept that this is a poor response to the call made by the TUC last October for £35 a week for a married couple? In view of the massive price increases emanating from the Common Market and the two transitions which will have to take place this year and with the price of tea now at 32p a quarter and coffee at £1·70 a jar, percentages may sound OK but the £2·20 increase will not go far set against the massive price increases that are taking place. My right hon. Friend ought to be considering taking charge of this administrative muddle and bringing the increase forward to July.

I believe that pensioner couples—I agree that they look at cash more than at percentages—

will see the £3·50 increase, bringing them to a total of £28, as the largest cash increase there has ever been. I believe that they will recognise this as a very fair measure undertaken by the Government at a time of economic difficulties. All of us, of course, out of the warmth of our hearts, would like to add an extra £1, but I have to tell my hon. Friend that each extra £1 which we add on the pension adds £500 million to total public expenditure. If I were to accept the sort of package which my hon. Friend has put forward, it would multiply by two or three times the total cost to public expenditure of what I have announced.

Perhaps my hon. Friend would pay his share, but I very much doubt whether across the country people would want to pay for that in increased taxes instead of having the reduced taxes which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced.

If pensioners are so much better off under this Labour Government, how does the Secretary of State explain the fact that so many of them have recently been threatened with having their electricity cut off because they were unable to pay for it, and the Government had to intervene with the Central Electricity Generating Board in order to make special arrangements so that that should not happen?

The hon. Gentleman will know that a new code of conduct has been published which was worked out between the Government and the Central Electricity Generating Board in order to prevent precisely the circumstances which he is now laughing about. Moreover, because we have fully recognised the problems which elderly people have in regard to heating, we have not only substantially increased the heating allowance available to those who need additional heat but we have also ensured that the number able to obtain it has substantially increased. In fact, it is just over 1 million people. That is one way by which this Government can help those who are in special need.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that we recognise that the Government have taken at least some measures to try to prevent people's electricity from being cut off—which is more than the Opposition would do—and will he accept also that we recognise that pensioners are better off as a result of the Government's measures, even though we may still not be satisfied? However, may I urge my right hon. Friend to consider the question of uprating child benefit in November, since it cannot be said that people with families are better off and some of us are seriously concerned about this? Will he uprate child benefit in November and accept the principle of an annual uprating thereafter?

I thank my hon. Friend for what she said in her first two questions. It is true that the Conservative Government took no action whatever to deal with the problems of the elderly, the sick and the disabled who might have their electricity cut off. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Hon. Members who say that that is rubbish can write to me and explain what their Government did.

Of course, it is true, as my hon. Friend said, that pensioners are better off under this Government than ever before. However, although I should like to say that it would be possible to increase child benefit in November, I have to tell my hon. Friend that it would not be possible.

the following are the new rates:
Existing Weekly RateProposed Weekly Rate
Standard rate of invalidity, widow's and Category A retirement* pensions; Category B retirement pension at the higher rate* and widowed mother's allowance15·3017·50
Increase of invalidity pension and Category A retirement pension for wife or other adult dependant; Category B retirement pension at the lower rate*9·2010·50
Earnings limit for retirement pensioners and wives of retirement and invalidity pensioners35·0040·00
Standard rate of unemployment and sickness benefits:
Higher rate12·9014·70
Increase for wife or other adult dependant8·009·10
Lower rate9·2010·50
Widow's allowance (first 26 weeks of widowhood)21·4024·50
Maternity allowance12·9014·70

We have to decide what the level of child benefit will be in April next year, when we come to the second phase of the transfer into the full child benefit scheme. I am under an obligation to review the effect on child benefit of any changes in the value of money. I cannot give my hon. Friend the guarantee for which she asks, but I assure her that my colleagues and I in the Government are anxious to take any measures we can to show our absolute commitment not only to the principle but to the practice of the child benefit scheme.

Cannot the Secretary of State understand that his smug satisfaction with what he calls the largest cash increases ever is nothing less than an indictment of the Government's whole economic policy, because of the fall of the value of money under this Administration? Does he not realise that it is clear to all of us here listening to him that what he appears to be promising pensioners is jam tomorrow on bread which they cannot afford today?

I am fulfilling—indeed, more than fulfilling—an absolute obligation to ensure that pensioners are protected from rises in the cost of living, and I am doing it by November. I notice that the hon. Gentleman has not sought to answer the question which I put earlier about whether he or his right hon. and hon. Friends are suggesting that I have done too little or have done too much. He made no attempt to answer that, and I do not think that he would qualify for a place on his Front Bench.

Following is the information:

Existing Weekly Rate

Proposed Weekly Rate

Invalidity allowance payable with invalidity pension, when incapacity began before age:
60 for men or 55 for women1·001·15
Attendance allowance:
Higher rate12·2014·00
Lower rate8·159·30
Retirement pension for persons over pensionable age on 5th July 1948 and for persons over 80†:
Higher rate9·2010·50
Lower rate5·606·30
Non-contributory invalidity pension9·2010·50
Invalid care allowance9·2010·50
Increase of non-contributory invalidity pension and invalid care allowance for wife or other adult dependant5·606·30
Mobility allowance5·007·00
Guardian's allowance6·457·40
Child's special allowance; increases for children of widows, invalidity, non-contributory invalidity and retirement pensioners, and invalid care allowance beneficiaries:
First child6·457·40
Any other5·956·90
Increases for children of all other beneficiaries:
First child3·053·50
Any other2·553·00

* An age addition of 25p is payable to retirement pensioners who are aged 80 or over.

† Excluding the 25p age addition.


Existing Weekly Rate

Proposed Weekly Rate

Injury Benefit*15·6517·45
Disablement benefit (100 per cent. assessment)*25·0028·60
Unemployability supplement‡:15·3017·50
Special hardship allowance (maximum)10·0011·44
Constant attendance allowance (normal maximum)10·0011·40
Exceptionally severe disablement allowance10·0011·40
Industrial death benefit:
Widow's pension during first 26 weeks of widowhood21·4024·50
Widow's pension now payable at £15·85 rate15·8518·05
Widow's pension now payable at £4·59 rate4·595·25

* The rates for beneficiaries not over the age of 18 will also be increased.

† Increases for adult dependants and children will be the same as those payable with unemployment and sickness benefits.
‡ Invalidity allowances and increases for adult dependants and children will be the same as those payable with invalidity pensions.

All ranks receive the same increases, officers' rates being expressed in pounds per annum.

Existing Weekly Rate

Proposed weekly Rate

Disablement pension for private at 100 per cent. rate25·0028·60
Unemployability allowances*:
Personal allowance16·3018·60
Increase for wife or other adult dependant9·2010·50
Comforts allowance:
Higher rate4·304·90
Lower rate2·152·45
Allowance for lower standard of occupation (maximum)10·0011·44
Constant attendance allowance:
Special maximum20·0022·80
Special intermediate15·0017·10

Existing Weekly Rate

Proposed Weekly Rate

Normal maximum10·0011·40
Half and quarter day5·005·70
Age allowance with assessments of:
40 and 50 per cent.1·802·00
Over 50 and not exceeding 70 per cent.2·753·10
Over 70 and not exceeding 90 per cent.3·904·40
Over 90 per cent.5·506·20
Exceptionally severe disablement allowance10·0011·40
Severe disablement occupational allowance5·005·70

Existing annual Rate

Proposed Annual Rate

Clothing allowance:
Higher rate36·0040·00
Lower rate23·0025·00

* Invalidity allowances and increases for children will be the same as those payable with invalidity pensions.


Existing Weekly Rate

Proposed Weekly Rate

Widow's pension—private's widow:
Standard rate19·8022·70
Childless widow under 404·595·25
Rent allowance7·508·60
Age allowance for elderly widows:
Between age 65 and 701·952·20
Over age 703·904·40
Widower's pension19·8022·70
Adult orphans15·3017·50


Existing Ordinary Rate

Existing Long-Term Rate


Proposed Ordinary Weekly Rate

Proposed Long-Term Weekly Rate


Ordinary scale:
Husband and wife20·6524·8523·5528·35
Person living alone12·7015·7014·5017·90
Any other person aged:
Not less than 1810·1512·6011·6014·35
Less than 18 but not less than 167·808·90
Less than 16 but not less than 136·507·40
Less than 13 but not less than 115·356·10
Less than 11 but not less than 54·354·95
Less than 53·604·10
Blind scale:
Husband and wife:
If one of them is blind21·9026·1024·8029·60
If both of them are blind22·7026·9025·6030·40
Any other blind person aged:
Not less than 1813·9516·9515·7519·15
Less than 18 but not less than 168·709·80
Less than 16 but not less than 136·507·40
Less than 13 but not less than 115·356·10
Less than 11 but not less than 54·354·95
Less than 53·604·10

Existing Weekly Rate

Proposed Weekly Rate

Non-householder rent allowance1·201·45
Attendance requirements:
Higher rate12·2014·00

Existing Weekly Rate

Proposed Weekly Rate

Lower rate8·159·30
Discretionary additions to supplementary benefit:
Heating additions0·700·80
Central Heating additions0·350·40
Dietary additions0·750·90

* Where the claimant or a dependant is aged 80 or over a further 25p is added to these long-term rates.

Question Of Privilege (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

I have a privilege ruling to give to the House. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) raised a complaint of privilege in regard to a news item published on the Press Association tape referring to union sponsorship. It is this complaint, and this alone, which I regard as being one for my decision.

I have considered this matter carefully, and I am satisfied that it is a proper case for me to allow a motion relating to it to have precedence over the Orders of the Day.

It was pointed out by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) that the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington raised certain other issues of a peripheral nature. I could not in any event allow precedence to these other matters since they were not raised at the earliest opportunity.

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

In view of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I beg to move,

That the matter of the complaint made by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington be referred to the Committee of Privileges.
perhaps I may add that the Committee of Privileges has been considering the whole question of privilege and is preparing a report on the matter for the House which would alter—and, as I believe, would greatly improve—the procedures which we should follow for dealing with these matters. In my view, the sooner we can bring those changes into operation the better it will be for the House as a whole and the less it will be necessary for the time of the House to be taken on these matters and for me to move such a motion as I have now moved.

I very much hope that we shall bring that report to the House speedily, that we shall get it passed speedily, and that we shall be able to adopt an improved method for dealing with the whole question of privileges.

This must come as a remarkable occasion, since I agree with every word just said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. In that circumstance, I hope that the House will proceed on the basis which he has proposed. I am, with the right hon. Gentleman, a member of the Committee of Privileges, and I entirely agree with what he said on the other matter.

As I reminded the House yesterday, Mr. Speaker, this is a very narrow question. Invariably, when these matters arise they deal with trade union sponsorships. However, we all know that there are many right hon. and hon. Members, mainly on the Opposition Benches, and a few on these—I say a few, but there may be a few more—who get involved in sponsorships, directorships of one kind and another, consultancies and so on with firms of all descriptions.

In fact, there is a lot of shady business which is contracted to Members of Parliament, as one can see if one turns to the Register of Members' Interests and tries to examine more fully precisely what these Members of Parliament are supposed to do for the sums of money which they are getting from the firms in question. I had to deal with this matter in the Standing Committee on a Bill recently but, despite all my researches, I was not then able to uncover all the aspects relating to certain matters.

However, of one thing I am certain. Whereas, when a trade union—for instance, the one referred to yesterday—takes a decision in an open democratic fashion and decides on a resolution, it is there for all the world to see, I have no doubt that at the same time there are bound to be instances of firms which may well be uncertain and dissatisfied with the way in which Members of Parliament, especially on the Opposition Benches, are carrying out the sponsorships for which they are paid.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, trade unions by and large pay substantial amounts of money not to the Members concerned but mainly to the constituency parties. But I assume that in nearly all circumstances directorship fees go into the pockets of the Members concerned.

There are bound to be occasions when firms are so dissatisfied with the performance of their Members of Parliament, as seemingly is the case with trade unions on occasions, that they secretly, not openly, decide to stop the sponsorship or the money. In those circumstances, Members cannot raise the issue with you, Mr. Speaker. For example, the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), who raised the issue, may not know that Holiday Inns has decided that the Member concerned is not fulfilling the object for which he is paid—namely, to assist Holiday Inns as a Member of Parliament.

Again, the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) is paid as a consultant to Trust Houses Forte. That company is engaged in trying to prevent its staff from becoming trade unionists. As you know, Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman has recently been engaged in a phoney campaign to encourage Tory members engaged in various industries and firms to join trade unions. Let us suppose that Trust Houses Forte directors—Lord Thorneycroft and a few others, including the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas)—got together and said "Let us stop this man's money because he is not pulling his weight. He is acting against the best interests of Trust Houses Forte." The money could be stopped. That might sound somewhat hilarious.

We know for a fact that it has not happened, but in certain circumstances a firm could decide that it has an idle Tory Member of Parliament, or perhaps one of those Labour Members of Parliament who are engaged in these matters, or even one of the Liberal Members of Parliament who are engaged in a multitude of matters of this kind, and therefore stops the payment of the fee. The net result would be that, as I explained, no Member of Parliament would be in a position to raise the matter.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was absolutely right when he said that this was a very wide question. Yesterday I asked you, Mr. Speaker, to look at this matter in a broader context. I know that you have difficulties because of various Committee decisions and past precedents. However, I think that it is high time that the House, and particularly people outside, understood that many Members are fed up to the back teeth with having to listen to taunts being made against trade union sponsored Members of Parliament whilst the rest of that crowd opposite seem to go unchallenged.

I hope that when my right hon. Friend made his rather abstract general remarks he was really saying—[Interruption.] I did not think that he was being very specific. He has not been all that specific since he got that job. We all do a bit of generalising at times, but when one gets on the Treasury Front Bench one has to do a lot of it. I think that you do as well, Mr. Speaker.

If my right hon. Friend deals with the matter in the manner that I have described, we shall perhaps change this business which has occurred so often in the past. We shall not in future tolerate one section of Members of Parliament who are carrying out sponsorship duties—[Interruption.] Well, some are. I have been disagreeing with the National Union of Mineworkers currently over pay policy since we have had a Labour Government. It seems that only in Opposition do I support its view. But we are sponsored Members of Parliament acting in the interests not only of our constituents but of our trade unions on occasions. It is time that those who represent firms and have consultancies of one kind and another were treated in like manner so that we can dispose of this matter once and for all and stop the business of Members coming here and making remarks of the kind which were made on this occasion.

I support the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but with rather more enthusiasm for it than he displayed in his remarks.

This is a unique and much more serious situation than we might have assumed from the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The resolution passed at the NUPE conference yesterday, if allowed to prevail and become a precedent, would be a dangerous intervention in the normal democratic traditions of this country.

I speak as someone who was a sponsored trade union Member of Parliament for many years. I resigned from the panel of the Transport and General Workers' Union last year because I no longer believed that the system was good or that it was relevant to modern needs.

During the years when I was a sponsored trade union Member of Parliament, I frequently disagreed, as did other members of the TGWU panel, with the union's current policy. I recall strongly disagreeing with its policy over nuclear disarmament, incomes policy, the Common Market and other issues. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said that he frequently disagreed with the NUM's policy.

If a sponsored Member of Parliament has a difference of view with the union sponsoring him—I agree that this principle should apply to those who work for private companies—his duty as a Member of Parliament is to speak out. Any union or firm which tries to put pressure on a sponsored Member not to speak out is conducting itself in a very dangerous way.

The motion passed yesterday purported to instruct six Members of this House to act in a way which was not in accordance with their convictions or to lose trade union sponsorship. I have the greatest respect for those six Members. I welcome the fact that they have publicly made clear that they will accept no such instruction. It is right that the issue should go to the Committee of Privileges. We should take this matter seriously. Trade unions and other vested interests in this country should be made to recognise that Members of Parliament are not to be bought or sold.

I wish to join my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in opposing the motion.

There was an occasion in the 1966–70 Parliament when a former Member for Luton, Mr. Will Howie, found himself in conflict with his trade union because he took a different point of view from the union. Mr. Will Howie, being an honourable man, rather than go on receiving money from a trade union with which he was at variance, had the constitutional propriety to resign his sponsorship. There could be no complaint on either side when that happened. The union was not paying out money to a Member of Parliament to carry out duties contrary to its policy and the Member concerned preserved his freedom of action.

However, it cannot be regarded as tolerable for a Member of Parliament to accept financial sponsorship from a union, knowing the union's policy, and then to behave contrary to it. One cannot accept remuneration to carry out one brief and then take up the opposite side of the court.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover was absolutely right. I shall certainly challenge this matter to a Division if he does not.

I hope that I shall say nothing which will lose me the support of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), having gained it so uniquely by what I said earlier. I shall do my best to avoid losing his support and that of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I think that the best course to secure that support is for me to comment as briefly as possible on what has been said.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) illustrated the difficulty of the House having a debate in these circumstances before it has looked at the precedents and the facts, which the Committee of Privileges would do. That is the reason why I moved this motion.

I repeat that many of us believe—I am sure that I have the support of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, and this accords with some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—that the method by which the House has dealt with privilege has not been the best in the interests not only of the House but of retaining the privileges which are genuinely justified. Therefore, we believe that this cumbrous procedure should be overhauled and that some different method of dealing with most cases should be fashioned.

That suggestion has been considered by the Committee of Privileges. It makes recommendations to the House, and the House considers whether those fresh recommendations should be put into operation. If that were to happen, it would prevent the House embarking on discussions of privilege in circumstances where we do not have the facts and it would also ensure that less time of the House was wasted on these matters. It would also mean that hon. Members would be making clear to the public that they are not thin-skinned in their readiness to accept criticism and that when criticisms are made, and the matters raised, those criticisms should not always be referred to the Committee of Privileges for adjudication—even if they involve a breach of privilege.

For all those reasons I hope that the House will agree that we should refer this matter to the Committee of Privileges. I understand that some of my hon. Friends have a different point of view, and they can put that view in the Division Lobby

Division No. 148]


[4.22 p.m.

Abse, LeoCooke, Robert (Bristol W)Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Adley, RobertCope, JohnGeorge, Bruce
Aitken, JonathanCostain, A. P.Gorst, John
Archer, PeterCox, Thomas (Tooting)Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Arnold, TomCrawshaw, RichardGraham, Ted
Bagler, Gordon A. T.Crouch, DavidGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Bates, AltCrowder, F. P.Gray, Hamish
Belth, A. J.Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Grieve, Percy
Bell, RonaldCunningham, G. (Islington S)Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Berry, Hon AnthonyDavies, Denzil (Llanelli)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Biffen, JohnDavis, Clinton (Hackney C)Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Boscawen, Hon RobertDean, Paul (N Somerset)Hampson, Dr Keith
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Dempsey, JamesHarrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Doig, PeterHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Bradley, TomDurant, TonyHeath, Rt Hon Edward
Braine, Sir BernardEden, Rt Hon Sir JohnHiggins, Terence L.
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Hooson, Emlyn
Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)English, MichaelHordern, Peter
Buchanan, RichardEvans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Buck, AntonyEvans, loan (Aberdare)Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)
Budgen, NickEwing, Harry (Stirling)Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Burden, P. A.Eyre, ReginaldHunt, John (Bromley)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Faulds, AndrewHunter, Adam
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)Finsberg, GeoffreyIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)
Cant, R. B.Fisher, Sir NigelJanner, Greville
Carlisle, MarkFletcher-Cooke, CharlesJohn, Brynmor
Cartwright, JohnFoot, Rt Hon MichaelJohnson, James (Hull West)
Chalker, Mrs LyndaForman, NigelJohnson Smith, G. (E Grlnstead)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Forrester, JohnJones, Alec (Rhondda)
Cockcroft, JohnFox, MarcusJones, Arthur (Daventry)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Freud, ClementJones, Barry (East Flint)
Coleman, DonaldFry, PeterKaberry, Sir Donald
Conlan, BernardGardner, Edward (S Fylde)Kimball, Marcus

if they wish. However, I must point out to those hon. Members who are critical in these matters—as I have been on many occasions—that we wish to get the whole matter overhauled and the recommendations of the new Committee of Privileges into operation as speedily as we can. Certainly the Government will bring that recommendation before the House as soon as possible, and I hope that this will be the last occasion upon which a Leader of the House must move such a motion in these circumstances.

Question put:

The House proceeded to a Division

On a point of order. To assist the House, Mr. Speaker, will you indicate who should be allowed to vote in this Division and the necessity of declaring interests before voting? Would it be the case that all trade union sponsored hon. Members should be ineligible to vote?

All hon. Members are free to vote and they take responsibility for their own interests. I cannot stop any hon. Member from voting.

The House having divided: Aves 203. Noes 45.

Kitson, Sir TimothyNewton, TonySteel, Rt Hon David
Knight, Mrs JillNormanton, TomSteen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Knox, DavidNolt, JohnStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnO'Halloran, MichaelStoddart, David
Lawson, NigelOnslow, CranleyTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Le Marchant, SpencerPage, John (Harrow West)Tebbit, Norman
Lester, Jim (Beeston)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Palmer, ArthurThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Park, GeorgeThorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Lloyd, IanParker, JohnTinn, James
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)Parkinson, CecilTownsend, Cyril D.
McAdden, Sir StephenPrentice, Rt Hon RegTrotter, Neville
McCartney, HughPrice, William (Rugby)Urwin, T. W.
McCrindle, RobertRathbone, TimVaughan, Dr Gerard
McElhone, FrankRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Macfarlane, NeilRenlon, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)Wakeham, John
MacFarquhar, RoderickRhodes James, R.Walder, David (Clitheroe)
MacKenzie, GregorRidley, Hon NicholasWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Mackintosh, John P.Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Wall, Patrick
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Warren, Kenneth
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Roper, JohnWeatherill, Bernard
McNair-Wllson, M. (Newbury)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Wells, John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)Whitehead, Phillip
Marten, NellRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinSainsbury, TimWhitlock, William
Mayhew, PatrickShaw, Arnold (llford South)Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Meyer, Sir AnthonyShaw, Giles (Pudsey)Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Mills, PeterShelton, William (Streatham)Winterton, Nicholas
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Shersby, MichaelWoodall, Alec
Montgomery, FergusSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Woof, Robert
Moonman, EricSims, RogerYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Moore, John (Croydon C)Sinclair, Sir GeorgeYounger, Hon George
Morgan, GeraintSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Spence, JohnMr. Joseph Harper and
Nelson, AnthonyStalnton, KeithMr. A. W. Stallard.
Neubert, Michael


Allaun, FrankHatton, FrankPrescott, John
Atkinson, NormanHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Richardson, Miss Jo
Bidwell, SydneyHughes, Roy (Newport)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Buchan, NormanKelley, RichardRodgers, George (Chorley)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Lamond, JamesRooker, J. W.
Carter-Jones, LewisLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Rose, Paul B.
Castle, Rt Hon BarbaraLee, JohnSedgemore, Brian
Clemitson, IvorLipton, MarcusShort, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Loyden, EddieSpriggs, Leslie
Edge, GeoHLyon, Alexander (York)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)McDonald, Dr OonaghWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Madden, MaxWise, Mrs Audrey
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Flannery, MartinMaynard, Miss JoanTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Mr. Russell Kerr and
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Ovenden, JohnMr. Dennis Skinner.
Grocott, Bruce

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the matter of the complaint made by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Sub Judice Rule (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

I rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you notice. I wish to refer to your ruling yesterday on the sub judice rule. In your ruling, which I welcomed, you said:

"This is a serious criminal charge, and if 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."—[Official Report, 24th May 1977; Vol. 932, c. 1189.]
I stress the words "might conceivably". They have a wide application and they remind us that we cannot anticipate the way in which a criminal trial might proceed.

I suggest that we ought not to discuss matters which, if discussed, "might conceivably" prevent its being a fair trial. One way of discussing matters that could have that result would be for us to attack the character or credibility of witnesses or probable witnesses, whether called by the prosecution or the defence.

I must be careful not to infringe the sub judice rule myself by discussing how the trial in question might proceed, but I believe that I am in order in pointing out that the essence of a charge of forgery is that it alleges intent to defraud. On that issue the prosecution would be at liberty to call the editor, a sub-editor, or any other member of the staff of the newspaper concerned in order to try to establish intent to defraud. Equally, the defence would be entitled to call any of them to rebut any such allegation, especially if the prosecution had not already done so.

If, meanwhile, we in the House attacked any such witness, he would go into court with his reputation already impugned in the minds of the jury, who would have read about the attack, seen it on television, or heard about it on the radio. The witness's evidence would then carry less weight and a miscarriage of justice could occur as a result.

There is the further consideration that, although the civil action is not yet sub judice, its outcome could be influenced by the result of the criminal proceedings and by the way in which witnesses in those proceedings emerge from them. I mention this merely as a further reason for caution in the matter and not as the main foundation of my case.

For the reasons that I have given, perhaps all too briefly—and I am sure that those hon. Members who are awaiting the exciting debate on the Patents Bill will excuse me for entering upon the matter at all—and because further discussion in the House of this matter, which is already sub judice, "might conceivably" prejudice a fair trial of the criminal charge I submit that no further discussion of the criminal case or of the personalities at the centre of it should be allowed in the House until the case is over.

Order. I have a considered reply to give. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to continue with his point of order?

The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), with characteristic courtesy and lack of polemic, has raised some important matters. I think that the Chair should consider—

Order. All that the hon. Gentleman may do is to put his point of order to me. He must not argue his case now.

I am coming to the point to order by making a point that I hope will be helpful to the Chair. If the line that can be inferred from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said were followed, great difficulties could arise in the discussion of many matters over a very long period.

May I quote a precedent to the contrary? You will recollect the Profumo affair in 1963, Mr. Speaker, and also recollect that there was an extensive debate of the security aspects of that affair even though the trials of Stephen Ward and Christine Keeler were pending before the Central Criminal Court and other criminal matters and proceedings took place, including the inquiry under the present Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning.

That seems to suggest that the point raised by the right hon. and learned Member, although seemingly reasonable, is at variance with the practice of the House, and I submit that it would be most undesirable if the House were constrained in its discussions for what must inevitably be a long and indefinite period. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, the civil proceedings have not yet advanced very far and further proceedings may be forthcoming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) has tabled a Question to the Attorney-General asking whether proceedings for criminal libel are to be taken against one of the persons concerned in this matter. If, Mr. Speaker, you were to rule in the restrictive way suggested, it is logical that the Attorney-General would be unable to answer that Question. I am sure that the House must agree that it is desirable that he should be questioned about that matter.

I am obliged to the hon. Member and to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), who did me the courtesy of giving me notice of the point of order. Indeed, he came to see me and submitted his point of view in writing. This has been a great help to me and I am deeply grateful to him.

The House has long taken the view that legal proceedings should not be prejudiced by observations made in debate. It confirmed this view on 20th June 1963 by agreeing to a report on the matter which had been recently issued from the Procedure Committee.

In paragraph 11 of that report the Committee made clear that in its opinion the word "prejudice" covered the possible effect on the members of the court, the jury, the witnesses and the parties to any action. In doing so, however, the Committee defined such possible effects as those by which:
"The minds of magistrates, assessors, members of a jury and of witnesses might be influenced by reading in the newspapers comment made in the House prejudicial to the accused in a criminal case".
This falls far short of ruling out of order all unfavourable comment on the behaviour of someone other than the accused who may hypothetically at some future stage become involved in a criminal case under adjudication.

While, therefore, I see no reason to modify in any way the considered ruling that I gave yesterday—and, indeed, I am grateful to the House for observing it so scrupulously once I had given it—I do not think that it would have been right for me to try to inhibit the House from discussing such aspects of this important matter, which has aroused great interest outside, as do not directly and recognisably relate to the proceedings which are pending. I need hardly add, however, that any comment on the behaviour of the editor, or, indeed, that of any other person in specific relation to the alleged forgery itself would be entirely out of order under the sub judice rule.

Standing Order No 9 (Procedure)

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) gave me notice at 1.40 p.m. that he wished to make an application under Standing Order No. 9. I fear that he is not able to do that, because Standing Orders make it perfectly clear that notice must be given before 12 o'clock if the information is available at that time. In this case it appeared in the morning papers.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is an hon. Member allowed to make an application in spite of the application not being notified to you before 12 o'clock? Is it not true, Mr. Speaker, that, although an application may be less favourably received if you have not had notice of it before 12 o'clock, if you take the view on the substance of the application that you wish to allow it, you may still grant it?

The Standing Orders are more rigid and clear than the hon. Member appears to believe. They say:

"A Member intending to propose to move the adjournment of the House under the provisions of this order shall give notice to Mr. Speaker by twelve o'clock, if the urgency of the matter is known at that hour".
The hon. Member acknowledges that the information was in the morning papers.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The difficulty is that the House is not able to judge that point. Although you and I, Mr. Speaker, know the subject of the application under Standing Order No. 9, the House is not party to the secret between us. Since the matter concerns the decision yesterday by the Police Federation in favour of the right to strike, the House—

Order. The hon. Member must not pursue the matter. I was going to give the subject myself if the hon. Member had not done so. I intended to do that at an earlier stage.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 17Th June

Members successful in the Ballot were:

  • Mr. Ralph Howell
  • Mr. John Farr
  • Mr. George Rodgers.

Bill Presented

Local Authority Works (Scotland) Bill

Mr. Secretary Millan presented a Bill to enable certain local authorities in Scotland to carry out within their area works on behalf of other local authorities: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 128.]

Limitation Of Legislation

4.46 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to limit the volume of legislation in force; and for connected purposes.
I have always had a great deal of sympathy with that prayer uttered in the face of all the tempting temptations of the flesh: "God, make me good—but not yet." I am therefore not ashamed to stand here and ask the leave of the House to introduce a Bill to stop others from introducing Bills.

The proposition underlying the Bill is one that has general assent throughout the country if not in the House. It is that we have too much legislation, too many laws and too many regulations

I have referred outside the House to the legislative incontinence of this Parliament. Upon reflection, I realise that that was not an expression that I should have used. Incontinence implies an unwilling or unintended dribble. This Parliament is no unintentional dribbler of legislation. It pours out the stuff—presumably by intent—year after year. To be fair to the Lord President, he seems to be a reformed character in that respect. But I do not believe that he is permanently reformed. If circumstances changed, he might return to his bad old ways.

Since the end of the last war 2,000 Public General Acts have been passed in this House. That contrasts remarkably with the Ten Commandments which at one time were held to suffice.

We have had a number of Acts to control prices, for example. Now it appears that we are all agreed about those. We all agree that those Acts have not been unduly effective. Perhaps before long those Acts will fade into the mists of the past as unwanted legislation. Perhaps we could all find Acts for which we voted—let alone those that we opposed—that might have been better lost in the litter of lost legislation.

Yes, there have been 2,000 Public General Acts. It is appropriate to quote the wise words of the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation which was chaired by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). The report was published as Command Paper No. 6053. Paragraph 1.10 of that report states:
"We must add that little can be done to improve the quality of legislation unless those concerned in the process are willing to modify some of their most cherished habits. We have particularly in mind the tendency of all Governments to rush to much weighty legislation through Parliament in too short a time with or without the connivance of Parliament, and the inclination of Members of Parliament to press for too much detail in Bills. Parliamentarians cannot have it both ways. If they really want legislation to be simple and clear they must accept Bills shorn of unnecessary detail and elaboration."
My Bill would certainly concentrate the minds of parliamentary draftsmen and us parliamentarians, too.

Of course, since that report was published we have had the extraordinary affair of the Acts of Parliament (Correction of Mistakes) Bill. That mistake was corrected at an early stage when the Lord President or someone else consigned it to the dustbin before it got any further. However, as the House knows, it was a Bill designed to allow Ministers to correct mistakes in rotten legislation that had been rushed through the House. I am not sure whether one should laugh or cry at either its appearance or its demise.

Acts of Parliament spawn more and more secondary legislation. Almost every general Act in this respect is like an oilfield blow-out, gushing Statutory Instruments, with no blow-out valve anywhere in the system. Statutory Instruments come gushing out at over 2,000 a year. Indeed, par for the course now seems to have settled at about 2,250. Some of them are never discussed at all.

Some enjoy the 90-minute farce upstairs—a sort of parliamentary "Just a 90-minute" parlour game. It can be played only for fun, as sometimes the vote is for the motion under discussion and sometimes it is against the motion under discussion—but it makes no difference whatsoever: the Statutory Instrument still comes into force. Therefore, it does not seem a very effective way of regulating our business.

I need hardly mention in this House the problem of dealing with European legislation—although in passing I remind the Lord President that my Bill should get his support, because it would give him the perfect excuse not to present the Bill on direct elections, not to mention, of course, the devolution Bill.

As one looks at legislation that has been enacted and at the Statutory Instruments, which are counted not by the page but by the foot of bookshelf space that they occupy, one can have no wonder that the law is in disrepute. Thousands of people break the law without even knowing it. The cascade—perhaps "shower" is a better word—of legislation overwhelms the citizen as regulation follows regulation upon regulation with bewildering and often incomprehensible effect upon his life.

Unlike the Lord President, I do not believe that the judiciary brings the law into disrepute. I think that it would be truer to say that bad laws and excessive laws passed by this House bring the law into disrepute.

We are, I think, the worst-paid legislature in the developed free world. As it happens, we also have the worst economic performance in the developed free world. I am not sure whether there is a correlation there. But certainly one other record that we have is that there is no other legislature that produces so much legislation. This is the only productivity record of the whole world that Britain undoubtedly holds—the productivity of Members of this House in putting words of legislation—whether understood or not, or whether even considered properly or not—on the statute book.

Therefore, my Bill is short and simple. It would require that from the day of enactment there should be no increase in the number of words in force upon the statute book, nor any increase in the number of words of Statutory Instruments and regulations in force. To bring in a new Bill would require the repeal of an existing Act. To make a new regulation would require the rescinding of one already in force. The Bill is based upon the assumption that we have enough legislation. There could be arguments about whether it is the right legislation, but we certainly have too much.

I have already commented upon the irony of producing a Bill to stop other people producing new Bills. Such legislative abstinence from those who have become addicted to legislating would come hard, and, of course, I would be prepared to consider in Committee some amendment to allow a trickle of new legislation, should a case be made for it—but I would want to see the statute book somewhat cleaned up first.

This House won power over the Executive not by legislating but by controlling money, by withholding taxation and by stopping kings and queens—and Prime Ministers, too—from spending. We in this House have lost control of the Executive, and we have become a bunch of parliamentary battery hens producing cracked and addled legislation night and day. It is time that we stopped legislating and started to defend the people against the Executive instead of defending the Executive against the people. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Norman Tebbit, Mr. Nicholas Ridley and Mr. Ian Gow.

Limitation Of Legislation

Mr. Norman Tebbit accordingly presented a Bill to limit the volume of legislation in force; 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 130.]

Orders Of The Day

Patents Bill Lords

Order for Second Reading read.

4.56 p.m.

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

I have to inform the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

4.57 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

After listening to the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), I feel a little sensitive about moving the Second Reading of the Bill. However, this is an important and timely Bill, very much desired by industry, and it deals comprehensively with the patent system.

For me and, I am sure, for many others, the subject of patents and inventions is something of a journey into the unknown, filled with mystery and even eccentricity. One recalls how an inventor is described in "Gulliver's Travels", in one instance, as having been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials, hermetically sealed and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. The patent world is not of course, exactly like that. However, one thinks of the multitude of inventions which pass through the Patent Office which have brought a great deal of benefit and, in some cases, pain, to mankind.

British inventions have had a substantial part to play in all this—the development of the magnetron, polyester fibres, the hovercraft and disc brakes, to name just a few. I know not whether the ladies' high heel was a British invention, but I think that it must have been invented by a lady who had been kissed on the forehead. However, when one looks at some of the patents, one finds that it is a very remarkable sort of product.

I have nothing but admiration for those who are engaged in these activities. The patent system was born of the desire to introduce new manufacture into this country. It has its roots in the Statute of Monopolies of 1623, which excepted from the general abolition of private monopoly rights those which are necessary for the encouragement of innovation and investment in industry. It is well recorded by Dickens, in "A Poor Man's Tale of a Patent", that obtaining a patent in days long ago was a very chancy and expensive business.

It is interesting to reflect—at the same time, it is appalling to think about it—that at one time, each patent applied for was to be the subject of debate in this House. On 14th May 1712 a petition of John Hutchinson was presented to the House and read, setting forth,
"That the petitioner having invented and brought into practice a portable movement to measure time; which, instead of the several cross motions, hollow wheels with teeth, parallel to their axes, used in former movements, hath all the axes parallel and straight; all the wheels, plates and the balance, parallel and flat; all the teeth straight in the lines of the diameters of the wheels; the axis or spindle of the balance, moved by two wheels alternately, and traversing equal distance in equal time, without pause, in such sort, that none of its moving parts can move nearer to, or farther from, each other; whereby, in the opinion of the greatest mathematicians and best judges of such movements, it is capable of moving more equally, and less liable to be disturbed by external motion; so that it may be of great use to the public for finding the longitude and in several other aspects; and praying leave to bring in a Bill to secure these inventions, and the improvements therein, to the Petitioner."
It was ordered that leave be given to bring in such a Bill. I hesitate to think what the hon. Member for Chingford would have thought if he he had been in the House at that time.

Since Dickens' days, there have been very many developments in the inevitable progress of the patents system. It was put on a firm base by an Act of 1883, which established the Patent Office, and this Act has been followed by a succession of amending Acts, each of which introduced some special features into the system. Today the patent system is based on the Patents Act 1949 and there is, I believe, general agreement that this has served the country well.

However, the Patents Act 1949 retains several concepts which are now outmoded and there is a need for substantial reform of our patent system as the 1975 White Paper clearly established. This is required for two main reasons. First, there is the need to give effect to new ideas and to provide a system which is more attuned to the present-day requirements of industry and inventors. Secondly, there is the need to take fully into account the results of the largest upsurge in international activity that the patents world has ever experienced. The British Government have played a highly significant part in this activity, in the realisation that there is obvious benefit to our industry and our inventors in simplifying the task of obtaining patent protection for their inventions in the different countries of the world.

These aims were strongly endorsed by a committee which, under the able chairmanship of Sir Maurice Banks, carried out a complete appraisal of our patent system in 1967–70. The Bill gives effect to these aims. It is designed to serve both those who are not concerned to use one of the new international routes to protection and those who are anxious to do so. It not only provides a radical reform of our domestic law and procedure but grafts on to the new domestic system the legal framework necessary for patents obtained by one or other of the international arrangements that will, in the near future, become available for use by export conscious British industry.

I do not doubt that hon. Members will find that this is a long and highly technical Bill. I find that myself. I can do no more at this stage than lightly sketch in its main features.

Parts I and III set out the new domestic code, while Part II gives effect to our obligations under international agreements. I shall mention all these later, but for now I shall refer only to the European Patent Convention, which defines a European patent law and procedure. It will enable an applicant to obtain through the European Patent Office, and by means of a single application, a European patent having effect as a national patent in as many of the contracting States as he desires. This Convention rationalises the method of obtaining patent protection in Europe and should provide significant advantage to our industry and our inventors. It is a most important development, and it was with a view to becoming a founder member, when, as expected, the Convention enters into force in the summer months, that, in March this year, the Government ratified the Convention with the approbation of all parties.

In formulating the new code, the Government were concerned to align it as closely as possible with the European Patent Convention. This is necessary in order to avoid any duality of standards as between British patents, on the one hand, and on the other, European patents which will be effective here, thereby avoiding confusion as to the patent situation and inhibiting commercial activity. This, we feel, is a strong reason for following European law. But there is yet another reason for doing this, because it will obviously assist practitioners to adopt substantially the same practice whether they are seeking a British patent, a European patent or some other patent under one of the other international agreements that we intend to ratify. Because of these needs the Government have responded to several requests in another place to produce closer alignment between the provisions of the Bill and the Convention and, to this end, a number of useful amendments have now been incorporated in the Bill.

In Part I of the Bill, basic patent law concepts are, ind