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Schedule 7

Volume 951: debated on Friday 9 June 1978

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1.45 p.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 16, in page 127, line 53, column 3, leave out '4' and insert '14'.

I can be very much briefer on this occasion. The purpose of the amendment is to correct a printing error.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 135, leave out lines 33 to 35.

I shall not detain the House long. I put down three amendments to suggest alterations in the Schedule. For some unknown reason—perhaps a mere quirk of selection by the Chairman of Committees—my amendments to delete the whole of the Act of Union and the Government of Ireland Act 1920 from the Schedule were not chosen for debate.

I will explain to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) that the selection was mine. The hon. Gentleman's amendment would have affected the whole Bill, whereas Amendment No. 18 is dealing with a limited part of the Bill. His other amendment, therefore, was strictly out of order.

I had not imagined for one moment that any considerations other than good order would have governed your decision, Mr. Speaker. The amendments were put down not in a lighthearted vein completely but in order to draw attention to a point that I tried to make in the dying seconds of our proceedings in Committee.

I wanted to draw attention also to what I have always felt has been a weakness in the way in which we produce our Bills. In the space of a couple of hours in Committee we passed a Bill of about 140 pages and 120 clauses and seven schedules. We considered amending or repealing 202 pieces of legislation. Forty whole Acts of the United Kigdom Parliament were repealed, and 96 parts. Eight Acts of the old Irish Parliament were repealed completely and 10 partially repealed. Of the Stormont Parliament, 35 Acts were partially repealed. Three Orders in Council were wholly repealed and 10 were partially repealed. All this was done, Mr. Speaker, in almost the twinkling of an eye.

It has always seemed to me in regard to matters such as this, particularly when there are schedules, that the presentation and the purpose of the Bill deserve a better explanation. This is a point that I have made in the past, when very heavy consolidation measures have been going through the House. This is a point which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers Department has taken on board since that time.

I am sure that the whole House regrets that Chapter 2 of the Statute of Edward III, made at Westminster in the Fourth Year of his reign after the Conquest, will no longer apply to Northern Ireland. We weep for it but we should have liked to know to what that chapter applies.

Wait a minute. There is a strange Act of the Irish Parliament called the Demise of the Crown Act (Ireland) 1634. There we have a degree of future scanning which was very prescient, perhaps, at least in 26 parts of it.

My general point is that there should be better presentation of Bills, particularly when we have enormous schedules of repeals, which draw attention not only to what is being repealed but to the relevant parts of the measures. Had I been in order, Mr. Speaker, I should have been delighted to debate those statutes at length.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. The hon. Gentleman referred to his comments in the dying seconds of the Committee stage. I ask him to address his mind to the comment he made then, when he stated that it was a crying shame that there was not one Northern Ireland Member present. If the hon. Gentleman will try to recall that occasion, I think he will agree that there was one such Member present. I have tried to have the record rectified. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will take steps to do that or—

I would certainly say that at least there was only one Northern Ireland Member present. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) was actually there when I made my comments, but if he was of course I withdraw them.

That proves that I am the most broadminded Speaker that this House has ever known.

It was a matter of relief to me, Mr. Speaker, that you felt unable to select my hon. Friend's amendment proposing to delete, at a stroke, the whole of the Government of Ireland Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) has, with his usual perspicacity, grasped the fact that the schedule we are debating is really a consolidation schedule. It is an attempt to produce a briefer and tidier statute book. The way in which we deal with consolidation measures in the House might sometimes be a little clearer, but I assure my hon. Friend that I will make sure that what he has said is passed on to the appropriate authorities.

I am not sure whether he really wants a reply to the amendment that he has proposed—

My hon. Friend shakes his head, therefore, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment on the basis of the assurance I have given.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 19, in page 137, column 3, leave out lines 52 to 54.

No. 20, in page 138, leave out line 31 and insert—

'Section 137(b) and (c).
Section 138.'.—[The Solicitor-General.]

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 139, leave out line 37 and insert—

'In section 23—
  • (a) subsection (3);
  • (b) in subsection (7) the words "or (3)" and "and fees";
  • (c) subsections (8) and (9).'.
  • This amendment is designed to repeal two small parts of a statutory section which is consequent on other provisions in the Bill.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 22, in page 142, line 35, after '1964', insert

    Schedule 2 to the Children and Young Persons Act (Northern Ireland) 1968'.

    No. 23, in page 142, line 44, leave out from '1959' to end of line 46 and insert

    the Magistrates' Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 and the Children and Young Persons Act (Northern Ireland) 1968'.

    No. 24, in page 143, line 12, after '49', insert ', 57( d)'.—[ The Solicitor-General.]

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    1.55 p.m.

    I do not want to detain the House very long at this stage, but I wish to return to three points which have been touched upon at various stages in the course of the passage of the Bill.

    The first concerns Clause 9 and the eligibility of solicitors who have served for a period of 10 years and who, after three years as deputy county court judges, still do not qualify to be appointed to the High Court. The Solicitor-General was very kind in replying to this point of detail in correspondence. In that correspondence he stated that the situation obtained not only in Northern Ireland, but in this part of the Kingdom as well and therefore it would be a matter for consideration in the Royal Commission report.

    I appreciate the length at which the Solicitor-General replied. I ask him to confirm this afternoon that the Royal Commission will address itself to this matter. It is so easy in a large report, if there has been a very large remit, for one or two specific matters to be overlooked. I ask him to call the attention of the Commission to this point because it has aroused very strong feeling in Northern Ireland among solicitors who believe that a solicitor who has qualified as a county court judge should be eligible for appointment to the High Court.

    There are reasons why this should not be the case. Some people contend that as a solicitor's job is confined by definition to courts other than the High Court this is a reason for not making them eligible. Having said that, I must point out that there is a strong argument against creating two classes of county court judge in Northern Ireland as a result of this legislation.

    I also wish to raise the point relating to Clause 69, which deals with the creation of the Court Service. On Second Reading and in Committee we raised points which showed that there could be disruption in redeployment. We said that the Government should look at the possibility of impairment of career prospects in the new Court Service. Again, the Solicitor-General was kind enough to write to me. There is one important suggestion which might be made, even at this late stage in the Bill's proceedings. Those in the Court Service who may be affected by the question of mobility, who may be disrupted or redeployed, or whose career prospects may be impaired should have recourse to some kind of arbitration.

    The present staff of the county courts and petty sessions have no right of access to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. If that is to remain the case, many members of the new Court Service will feel that they must have an impartial arbiter to consider their grievances. This is the case in many grades of the Civil Service. If those in the new Court Service had an arbiter to whom they could have recourse on unresolved disputes, they could be sure that the disputes would be looked at impartially This is a very important matter.

    There is also the point about the rights of the existing staff appointed under the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. That point was not met in correspondence. We felt on Second Reading that they might forgo rights that they acquired when they were appointed under the Lord Chief Justice. If the Solicitor-General would comment on this matter. I should be very grateful.

    The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), with his usual lucidity, argued his case very well. What he did not disclose, in spite of indulging in his usual semantics, was his political philosophy on Ireland, which is that it should be a matter not of devolution but of total separation. In all honesty, he must accept that. Therefore, I do not think that we should spend too much time discussing this Damascus road change for the Lord Chancellor about which he complains, particularly as the hon. Member's underlying philosophy is the complete separation of Northern Ireland, and indeed of the whole island of Ireland from the United Kingdom.

    2.0 p.m.

    I have listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) has just said. I shall return to it in a moment. However, despite my own fears about parts of the philosophy of the changes that have taken place in the Bill, this must be recognised as being one of the most important Northern Ireland measures to have gone through this House, certainly since I have been a Member, apart from the controversies that we have had with regard to direct rule and so on.

    It is an important measure because it seeks to aim to reorganise the whole of the system of the administration of justice. That should be recognised. We should also recognise the considerable work of the distinguished Northern Ireland purists who have done the preparatory work and produced the preparatory reports which led to the introduction of the Bill. It is an enormous and important Bill and it should be recognised as such. It is something which will be tinkered with and perhaps altered from time to time. But, while the Six Counties remain the Six Counties, it will be the major piece of legislation governing the administration of the courts there. Therefore, we should salute those people outside this House who not only drafted the Bill but produced all the various reports necessary to produce it. That ought to be understood, accepted and acknowledged.

    I turn to the point made with regard to conversion. I am now even more confused and confounded. It was said that conversion was from darkness to light From what I have heard from the Solicitor-General, it is not so much darkness and light as encircling gloom. The situation now appears doubly contradictory. Not only did we in opposition support the administration being in the hands of the Secretary of State, but when the former Secretary of State wrote to the Chairman of the Constitutional Convention he said that we were reserving the administration. Subsequently my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, in another place, said that we were not reserving it but giving it to the Secretary of State. A fortnight later he changed his mind. This is very strange.

    The Solicitor-General has been confusing a number of things. He sought to suggest that we did not appreciate the role which the Lord Chancellor played in the appointment of people to the judiciary in Northern Ireland both before and after direct rule. Who had control of the administration of the courts? The administration of all the lower courts, certainly the county courts and below, was in the hands of the administration in the Six Counties. By this Bill we have established a very important institutionalised Government Department—the Northern Ireland Court Service—which I hope will be staffed with men and women of integrity. I hope that it will do a good job. It is a new and important Government Department within the Six Counties which will come under the possible control of an indigenous Minister from the Lord Chancellor's Department. I think that that is wrong.

    The hon. Member for Belfast, South accused me of not revealing my hand with regard to what I consider should be the future of the Six Counties and the island of Ireland. I must admit that I have some prejudices about what should be the best course for this Government, and future Governments, to take. In the past errors have been made, not least because of the powerful persuasion of some of the hon. Gentleman's predecessors who went to the extent of armed rebellion before the 1914–18 war to force the hand of a democratically elected British Government. Be that as it may, I should like to see a united Ireland. I do not think that we shall get it tomorrow, but equally I do not think that we should do anything whatever in the Six Counties which either takes them nearer to the United Kingdom or further away. We should leave the situation as it is. In terms of the domestic legislation of the Six Counties, I believe that nothing should be done in this House until such times as the people of the Six Counties are prepared to accept a devolved government on the basis of the terms laid down in the White Papers of different Governments.

    That has always been my attitude. I thought that that would have been recognised by the hon. Member for Belfast, South, without my having to comment upon it.

    Does the hon. Gentleman include any possible legislation for the reorganisation of secondary education in the Province in his principle that there should be no such domestic legislation in advance of devolution?

    The hon. Gentleman is seeking to embarrass me on the question of comprehensivisation being introduced in the Six Counties. I believe that it should be introduced. However, I believe that it should be done by agreement and consultation among the people involved. If not, it should not be gone ahead with because that is something which people should work out themselves.

    I return to the Bill. Despite my reservations, and despite what I have said about this being creeping integration, there is no doubt that the Bill is important. It will soon go on to the statute book. We must ensure that both in terms of the Administration and of the judiciary we have the same quality and calibre of men who in difficult times have seen to the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. I am sure that we shall get that.

    2.7 p.m.

    The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) underlined the importance of this measure. It needed to be underlined. It is a very important measure. I agree with some of his criticisms about the way in which this House has to deal with this legislation. I regret that today there is not a fuller turnout of Northern Ireland Members. I believe that Northern Ireland Members are a little grieved—I could perhaps use a stronger word—that Friday is always the day when Northern Ireland business is debated.

    Nothern Ireland Members perhaps live further from this House than any other hon. Members. Friday is usually a day when a Member of Parliament likes to be at home in his constituency. Incidentally, there were four hon. Members from Northern Ireland present at the beginning of the debate rather than two. I am sure the House is delighted that those four hon. Members did not take part. I am sure that the officials of the House were also delighted, because I have learned that Friday is not a popular day.

    This is an important measure because we are introducing a new system and a new court. We are also changing procedures. We are dealing with many matters that have been under consideration for a very long time. I believe that the Bill now has overwhelming support in Northern Ireland. Even the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central, who has reservations—we all have reservations—would agree that this measure will have a good effect upon the future of the judiciary in Northern Ireland and upon the administration of justice.

    I understand where the hon. Gentleman stands on these matters, but one's viewpoint of the interpretation of history tends to colour a person's outlook. The hon. Gentleman pleaded guilty to having prejudices. I never knew he would make such a confession. The armed rebellion he mentioned resulted from a shoddy political deal between nationalists in this House who wanted to leave the United Kingdom and who were not a bit concerned about the future of this part of the United Kingdom and did a deal to get this Act on the statute book. Perhaps I should not digress, Mr. Speaker.

    I know that the hon. and reverend Gentleman is fond of quoting St. Paul. I was going to put forward the view "Let brotherly love continue" and ask the House to drop that subject.

    Perhaps that quotation is not too appropriate, Mr. Speaker. I can think of other quotations such as "From such turn away". I shall now turn away from that subject.

    I believe that justice in Northern Ireland needs to be done and to be seen to be done. The system proposed in this Bill appeals to all sections of the community. Everybody feels that this is a good Bill and that the law we seek to enact is a good one which will be helpful to all the citizens of Northern Ireland.

    I trust that when the new Court Service is set up the difficulties outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) will be considered. I trust that there will be some form of appeal. I trust that those who are employed in the Court Service will have an opportunity of appealing if they find themselves in difficulty, or if they consider that they are being discriminated against in employment or in job advancement. I hope that the Solicitor-General will consider that matter and will satisfy us upon it.

    The judges, magistrates and court officials in Northern Ireland have a difficult job to do, but we hope and pray that normality will eventually reign. If the system that is now being set up weathers the severe storm, no doubt those difficulties will pass. When we reach better days, that system will be found to be tried and proved, and will be of great advantage to the citizens of Northern Ireland.

    I wish to put on record the fact that the next time the Government—whatever Government it may be—introduce a Bill on Northern Ireland and refer it to a Committee upstairs, they will ensure that it contains adequate representation from Northern Ireland. It is unfair that only one hon. Member from Northern Ireland had the advantage of being present at the deliberations on the Bill.

    I believe that the provisions of this Bill will do good and that we are on the right lines. Despite the Lord Chancellor's conversion or perversion, I thought that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central intended to say that the light was so dazzling that it blinded him. However, I believe that this Bill, when enacted, will set up a system that will be of advantage to all the citizens of Northern Ireland. That is its objective, and I believe that that goal can be achieved.

    2.15 p.m.

    Taking to heart your text, Mr. Speaker, "Let brotherly love continue", I wish to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for the care, clarity and courtesy with which he has helped the House and, on an earlier occasion, the Committee.

    As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and others have said, the Bill when enacted will bring about a beneficial reform of a profound character of the judicial system that took shape, when there was one Ireland, united under the Crown. I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) graciously mentioned those who prepared the legislation. The traditionally minded, like the hon. Gentleman, who regrets the repeal of medieval statutes and the legislation of Ascendency Parliaments, may sigh for the passing into history of such ancient institutions as the assize. There were those who were sad when the Crown court took its place on this side of the water. However that may be, it is a matter of satisfaction to all who cherish the Union, as we do on this side, that the courts of Northern Ireland should follow a pattern similar to that of England and Wales.

    The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central swallowed the bulk of the Bill, but jibbed at the responsibility for the new Northern Ireland Court Service being entrusted to the Lord Chancellor. I shall not rehearse the argument on the amendments both upstairs and downstairs, but we are glad that the Government, having heard the representations of those who are most knowledgeable and concerned and the opinion of the Opposition as expressed by noble Lords in another place, and opinions also expressed in this House, have agreed with us that it is more appropriate that the control should rest with the Lord Chancellor than with the Secretary of State. Both, I may say in passing, are English Ministers.

    Surely nothing should be left undone by the Legislature to assure, to buttress and to demonstrate the independence of the Northern Ireland judiciary. That confidence it receives—and this despite the regrettable necessity of the Diplock procedure.

    The Solicitor-General ackowledged that the fairness of the judges in Northern Ireland is generally recognised, and their integrity was commended by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Cen- tral. This short debate enables this House to salute the courage of the judges, magistrates and all who serve the courts in Northern Ireland. Justice is impartially administered there, despite cruel threats and savage attacks.

    I conclude by echoing the tribute paid by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) to the two late president magistrates. Mr. Staunton and Mr. McBirney, and Judge Rory Conaghan. Let them be remembered with honour.

    2.18 p.m.

    The text you suggested, Mr. Speaker, commends itself to me above some others which have been ventilated in this debate, because it has the advantage of being so clear that it requires no exegesis. It has been applied in these debates, and it is a sad reflection that the way in which it has been applied here cannot always be reflected in the Province.

    I begin by expressing double appreciation to the House for the forbearance with which it has received a substantial number of Government amendments, both in Committee and today on Report. Those amendments proved necessary partly because of a substantial amendment in another place, and partly because inevitably there has been a reaction to the suggestions made. I hope that we have reacted in a way that suggests we have been prepared to polish the Bill as we go along.

    Secondly, I am grateful to the House for the welcome which has been accorded to the Bill and for the co-operation of all who have participated in the debates. I bear in mind what was said by the hon. and reverend Gentleman the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that those who have abstained from contributing have also made their contribution.

    The Bill will not satisfy everyone in all its detail. Indeed, it has not wholly satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). I appreciate his reasons and I am grateful for what he said, that, despite the defects he thinks it has, he believes that it is still an important Bill which has a contribution to make to the future of the Province. I do not claim—unhappily it is all too obvious—that it will solve all the problems of the Province. Some of the issues that have arisen today will remain unresolved even after the Bill is on the statute book.

    I was asked by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) for answers to certain questions which have been ventilated during our debates. I am not sure whether I can carry very much further what was said in Committee and what I attempted to set out when I wrote to him.

    As regards the eligibility of solicitors for appointment to the High Court, a matter which I know has concerned from time to time my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade—

    No—Under-Secretary of State.

    If I said Secretary of State, that was a prophecy. However, I am sure that if I were in danger of forgetting the problem my hon. Friend would ensure that I did not do so.

    I cannot give any undertaking on what matters the Royal Commission will consider. It is only honest for me to point out that the appointment of the judiciary is not within its terms of reference. When I referred to the report of the Royal Commission I had in mind that there is likely to be a great deal in what it reports about the relations between the two branches of the profession which may affect the decisions that we make about these matters. Meanwhile, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not have overlooked Clause 107, which makes a move in that direction and provides that where someone moves over from one branch of the profession to the other his service in the one branch will count in computing his qualifications for judicial office.

    Secondly, the hon. Member for Belfast, South and the hon. Member for Antrim, North mentioned that not all the rules of service as regards the new Court Service have yet been evolved. They are being discussed. I am sure that what has been said in our debates will be borne very much in mind. I cannot give an undertaking that any form of appeal to some sort of impartial arbitrator will be incorporated. I think that we all hope that the need for it will not often arise.

    There will not be a mass redeployment of people from the jobs which they are already doing. I shall ensure that what the hon. Member for Belfast, South said is passed on to those who are dealing with these matters. I think that that is the only comment that I can make on his third point. I trust that he will forgive me if I do not attempt to elaborate in a vacuous manner when I have little to say about it at this stage.

    The Bill has had a fair wind from all parts of the House. I hope that that is a good omen for the future of the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. I believe that it will encourage everyone concerned in Northern Ireland to accord under the new dispensation the high level of confidence that they have shown so far to those involved in the administration of justice. What I am about to say by way of tribute cannot be said too often. I reiterate the tributes paid to all those involved at every stage in the administration of justice in the Province. They have carried out their duties in conditions which I am sure history will recognise perhaps more clearly than some of our contemporaries.

    This is an important Bill. I echo the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central to all who have played their part in producing it both in the course of consultation and in the course of official and administrative duties. To many of them I am personally deeply indebted. Without their aid I should never have understood some of the things that in the course of our debates I came to understand. I believe that the Bill will enhance the administration of justice in the Province and through it the protection of individuals from unlawful activities and from injustices alike.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

    European Community (State Liner Fleets)

    2.24 p.m.

    I beg to move,

    That this House takes note of EEC Document No. R/829/78 on the activities of certain state trading countries in cargo liner shipping.
    The document is to be debated at the EEC Transport Council on Monday and it will be of value to me, as the Minister representing the United Kingdom, to hear the views of hon. Members who desire to speak on what is undoubtedly an important topic. The Commission document has been submitted for parliamentary scrutiny and the Scrutiny Committee has recommended that it should be considered by the House.

    At the outset I congratulate the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) on his maiden appearance on the Opposition Front Bench. I wish him many happy years on that Front Bench. I am sure that he will bring it an almost unique distinction.

    As I have said, this is an extremely important issue. In the liner trades the United Kingdom flag is fifth in the world. In containerised tonnage we are second. The United Kingdom fleet is modern, well equipped and well managed. It has done well in maintaining its competitive presence in world trades in the changing circumstances of the past few years.

    Unquestionably, the activities of the Soviet merchant fleet have certainly given rise to difficult problems and represent a serious threat to Western merchant shipping interests. I know that, as is not uncommon, the USSR will complain that this is to engage in just another fashionable anti-Soviet diatribe, that we are exaggerating, and that all this is borne out of a desire to give undue protection to our shipping interests. It is none of these things, as I hope I can establish by identifying and illustrating some of the main problems and effects.

    First, today the Soviet merchant fleet is the sixth largest in the world, containing some 3 per cent. of the world's tonnage. It has quadrupled since 1960. Much of the fleet expansion took place between 1960 and 1970, motivated by a surge in Soviet seaborne foreign trade beginning in 1969, which increased the Soviet Union's dependence on foreign ships for transport. After a temporary cutback in 1971–72, the Soviet Union resumed its vigorous acquisition of merchant ships, adding about 1 million tons to its fleet each year. Since 1975, in the liner fleet the Soviet Union has put prime emphasis on the build-up of its roll-on roll-off capacity.

    In 1977, the rate of additions to the Soviet merchant fleet appeared to be keeping up to the pace set in recent years. The amount of new tonnage added in 1977 was approximately 1·2 million tons. The rate of acquisitions, which was kept high by additions of bulk and combination carriers, was all the more striking in the face of a general cutback in world ship construction. During the current five-year plan we can expect the Soviet fleet to increase considerably, and I shall refer to that later.

    Secondly, the great majority of Soviet cross-trading takes place outside scheduled liner services. Although, up to the present, Western interests have not been unduly concerned about Soviet bulk-trading or tanker activities there is, most certainly, acute anxiety about Soviet carriage in the liner cross-trades. Despite the fact that, within the total Soviet cross-trading activity, this is still small in tonnage terms, between 1965 and 1976 it has increased ten-fold and considerable trade has been captured from certain world shipping conferences, and notably from the East African conference and the North Atlantic and trans-Pacific trades. If pressed I could provide the House with further and better particulars of these basic facts.

    Thirdly, the Soviet Union unquestionably has a problem in filling its ships. The reason is that, in volume terms, Soviet exports greatly exceed imports and, therefore, if ships were used solely to carry the Soviet's own bilateral trade a large number of them would be unladen, or only partly laden, on their return voyages. Thus, there are obvious attractions for them in picking up third party cargoes, and even greater attractions if payment is made in convertible currency for a country which desperately seeks to earn foreign exchange. Indeed, it is that which leads directly to the Soviet predatory rate cutting.

    The fourth point relates to the means of competition in which the Soviet Union engages. Undercutting by Soviet liners is supported, among other things, by subsidy, direct or indirect; by policies determined by central planning authorities which only in part relate to commercial factors; by amortising capital costs of ships over 25 years instead of 15 or even less, as is usual in the West; by the State covering hull and cargo insurance and the cost of training crews; and, not least, by Soviet foreign trade organisations buying fob and selling cif.

    The fifth point is that Soviet expansion is beginning to take effect in the carriage of containerised cargo, as I indicated earlier. Our estimate is that the USSR will have a total container capacity of 30,000 units in 1981, of which at least 19,000 units will be used on international trade routes. This sector of shipping will have the largest growth rate and represents the major competitive threat to western liner operators.

    The sixth point is that the issues of penetration into the liner trades must be viewed in the light not only of direct loss of revenue to Western carriers because of rate cuting, but of countervailing rate cutting by Western carriers which has to be done to match Soviet competition.

    Since a number of liner conference carriers may operate on a small margin of profit, even a limited incursion into the market by an outsider results in lost revenues and leads to a lowering of rates to keep vital business. This can be vividly illustrated by the Europe-East African Conference, where some $35 million to $40 million was lost in countering the Soviet rates, which were some 30 per cent. lower. Now fair competition is one thing, and can be said to keep conference shipping on its toes, but low rates, buttressed by hugh subsidies, is quite another matter.

    The seventh point is that another increasingly important element in this is the Trans-Siberian land bridge. Although Western shipping companies do not appear to have suffered too adversely up to the present, there is no room for complacency, because this represents the largest potential threat of all. There is strong evidence that the Soviet Union is seeking to attract cargoes by offering rate advantages of 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. on some goods —for example electrical goods westbound for Japan. The only fortunate feature is that the efficiency of the operation leaves considerable room for improvement. But I think that will improve. Therefore, we can certainly expect this threat to grow.

    The eighth point is that one cannot dismiss from these considerations the longer-term strategic value of all these developments to the Soviet Union—the auxiliary support for the Soviet Navy on a global scale and the wider support for Soviet political ambitions.

    I recognise that the Soviet Union denies that it has any expansionist role in shipping. I have from time to time read a number of speeches by Mr. Guzhenko, the Soviet Minister concerned. I know that the Soviet Union asserts that the growth of its fleet is related only to its cargo-generating capacity, on both its domestic and foreign trades. Frankly, this is just a smokescreen. The evidence is overwhelmingly the other way.

    These are some of the salient facts which provide the back-cloth to this debate.

    We appreciate that the Soviet Union, as a major world Power, is entitled to have a substantial merchant fleet. No one can possibly object to that. We do not fear genuine competition. Our objection is to its grossly unfair shipping practices.

    Notwithstanding that, I believe that it is better to try to resolve these difficulties amicably. Thus, over the course of the last 18 months it has been made manifestly clear to the Soviet Union by the United Kingdom, at both ministerial and official level, that our objective is to seek not a confrontation with the Soviet Union but a policy of accommodation if —I underline the word "if"—the Soviet side is prepared to meet problems of genuine concern to us.

    I made that plain to Minister Guzhenko when I met him in London in June 1977. I said that I hoped that, by the time that I saw him again in Moscow in October 1977, to which city he had invited me, some real progress in achieving an equitable solution could have been made.

    It is true that, even before June, the Soviet Union had conceded that in our bilateral trades British ships should be able to acquire a fairer share of carryings. At the June meeting Minister Guzhenko went further and said that he would support a movement towards parity in this regard. Welcome though this was, it dealt only with a peripheral problem. The fundamental question affected Soviet rate cutting on the liner trades, and here, regrettably, there had been no real progress at all.

    It has always seemed to me, having been involved in this dialogue for some little time, to be profitless to debate with the Soviet Union its contentions that its shipping companies are operated profitably with no element of subsidy. We do not speak the same language in assessing "profitability". There is no starting point of understanding. Therefore, the debate on those grounds is rather meaningless. Facts are what they are, not what some might pretend they are. Soviet depredations have been and are practised in the liner field. Their rates cannot be justified on commercial grounds and they are injurious to Western shipping. That is the view not only of the Government but of the employers and the unions, too, with whom the Government have consulted closely.

    It must be said that at the June meeting the Soviet Minister asserted that he, too, wanted to arrive at a fair accommodation and to establish a reasonable modus vivendi for Soviet liners either within or outside the conferences, and it was agreed that Britain and the Soviet Union would try to work out a draft of acceptable guidelines for participation in maritime trades which would be acceptable to the Soviet side and to the West. I stated, however, that it was useless just to talk of principles and that we required proof that progress could be made at the same time in individual problem cases. I considered that the negotiations between the East African Conference and Besta Line represented the best test of Soviet intentions, since it was here, albeit on a limited scale and, indeed, because of that, that the USSR could most easily demonstrate a clear willingness to reach a rapprochement.

    In the intervening period, before my visit to Moscow in October, efforts were made to produce draft guidelines. The finest principles were enunciated, but these, I regret, were unaccompanied by any movement on the Soviet side. Therefore, when I was in Moscow, I decided, because of that lack of progress, to put the guidelines exercise into cold storage.

    At the EEC Transport Council in October 1977, I warmly welcomed the decision to call for a proposal for a programme of defensive measures on a Community basis. That decision in October 1977 on the part of EEC Ministers was unanimous. It was recognised by all that effective preparation of our defences against the Soviet Union would have to be co-ordinated internationally. In broad terms, we welcome the Commission's proposals which have been prepared in response to this remit from Ministers. We believe this to be a sensible approach.

    My understanding is that next Monday we shall be asked to endorse a framework decision which will institute a community-wide monitoring system designed to obtain and record information on all maritime practices deemed to be detrimental to the shipping interests of member States, whatever their source, for example, presumably, flags of convenience. This would be accompanied by provision for the Council to decide on a joint application by member States using their national powers of appropriate countervailing measures to deal with identified threats. This would be accompanied by a specific decision immediately bringing the monitoring system into effect vis-à-vis the liner shipping activities of the Soviet merchant fleet.

    These are pretty modest proposals. It surprises me that they may not have found general favour with all member States—something that I would deeply regret. I believe that a weakening of resolve will be damaging in the long term not only to shipping interests but to those of shippers, too. The conflict of interests that some claim to exist between shippers and the shipping industry is illusory.

    Eventually an erosion of Western shipping interests in consequence of Soviet depredations can only put shippers under the dominion of those who act in this way. This is well understood by the British Shippers Council. It fully recognises that the Soviet Union is not the Freddie Laker of international shipping. But it surprises me that this simple point is not starkly evident to all our colleagues in Europe.

    Accordingly, at the Council of Ministers we shall continue to press for the sort of measures proposed by the Commission. We must be prepared to defend our legitimate maritime interests. If this is the position of the nations of the EEC, it also provides the best assurance of achieving that accommodation which we have always sought. I believe that the Soviet Union would be concerned to arrive at an agreement if the EEC showed itself to be united and resolute.

    There is a possibility that other member States will seek to place action against the Soviet threat in a broader context, which would involve giving the Community, as I touched on a moment ago, the ability to monitor all maritime practices deemed to be detrimental to the shipping interests of member States, whatever their source. I have mentioned briefly flags of convenience as an example.

    I say at once that we shall look sympathetically at any such proposals, but is it not absurd to suggest, as some might, that the two matters are mutually exclusive? Is there not more urgency about one than the other? It would be absolutely wrong for us to be deflected from our contention that the immediate focus of Community concern should be the Soviet maritime threat, both actual and potential. Inaction now could well result in this threat being extended to the bulk trades, since we are convinced that there is an avowed Soviet intent to continue to build up its shipping behind a curtain of preference and subsidy.

    I do not conceal from the House the fact that if, despite all our efforts, member States are unable to demonstrate a concerted will to act, this will represent a serious setback to the interests of shipping, of shippers and of wider interests in Europe. For this reason I hope that the hon. Member for Wirral, who will speak for the Conservative Party in this matter, will support the line that I have outlined.

    Only a few days ago Mr. Guzhenko said in a long speech about shipping that the Soviet merchant marine interests would never agree to inequitable relations. I think that he is looking at the matter from a somewhat jaundiced point of view. I am not looking for inequitable relations with the Soviet Union. I want the situation to be rendered fair and just. There should be accommodation, but it has to be on reasonable terms. If the Soviet Union decides that it is not prepared to reach that form of accommodation, I believe unhesitatingly that it is the job of the EEC to demonstrate its determination fully to take the matter into account.

    2.45 p.m.

    I appreciate the Minister's kind and generous words at the start of his speech, as I also applaud his new-found aggression, to which I shall return in a minute. I must however point out that the Conservative Party protests at the short notice given by the Government of this vital debate on the Soviet maritime threat. Document R 829/78 was included by the Lord President in his announcement of business on 25th May, but only by reference to a debate on liner conferences. It was only yesterday, after Opposition protests, that the Government seemed to realise that they had misunderstood the subject matter and announced a separate debate.

    Even the hot line which seems to exist between the Minister's Department and Lloyd's List seems to have failed, because in yesterday's edition mention was made of this debate taking place some time before the end of July. For a subject as vital as this, we should have had a debate much earlier and on a more important day, when I know a number of my colleagues would have wished to participate.

    We in the Conservative Party have been growing increasingly impatient with the Government's lack of action to counter the economic and strategic threat posed by the Soviet maritime expansion. We therefore welcome the new-found aggression of the Minister this afternoon. However, on any assessment, his attitude and the Government's attitude until now have been feeble and weak.

    Since the early 1960s, and in particular since the early 1970s, there has been a rapid expansion of the cargo liner fleets of the State trading countries of Eastern Europe and of Russia in particular. It has been a matter of deep concern to the shipping industry for at least four years. It is now over two years since the General Council of British Shipping published "Red Ensign versus Red Flag"—a very informed leaflet which pointed out the potential consequences of Soviet expansion.

    The Minister recognised today that even since then there has been a continued dramatic increase in the Russian merchant fleet. He mentioned that the Russians have concentrated on roll-on roll-off ships in service. The indications are that they will have 40 by the end of 1980. Already, as he admitted, it is the sixth largest world fleet. All the signs are that in their next five-year plan the Russians will be seeking a further substantial increase in their fleet. We have too much to lose to delay any longer.

    The Minister has at last mentioned the substantial contribution of British shipping. The industry contributes in gross earnings £2,500 million to our balance of payments, with gross import savings of just under £500 million. The Soviet maritime expansion therefore poses a major threat to our economy.

    One aspect with which the Minister did not spend much time dealing is that the threat is not simply economic. It represents a serious strategic threat. Those who study Soviet expansion can see a clear political motive of seeking to control important shipping routes with an apparent objective of destroying the economic health of Western shipping lines.

    Most Soviet merchant ships are equipped with advanced naval equipment with interchangeable crews. The Soviets have therefore been devoting vast resources to the creation of a large modern ocean-going fleet with considerable military potential. They have in fact gone so far as to admit that their goal is to
    "utilise the World oceans in the interests of building Communism".
    I was very glad to hear from the Minister his recognition of the danger commercially and strategically of the increase in traffic using the Trans-Siberian land bridge. With an annual carrying capacity which has now reached 150,000 containers, this will increase to 300,000 by the end of 1980 and could double again by the end of 1985. The land bridge is, of course, under full Soviet physical control and is no doubt an important part of what appears to be a clear plan to gain a stranglehold on world shipping.

    The Russians have already met with considerable success. Already in the bilateral trade Soviet shipping carries 85 per cent. of imports and exports between this country and the USSR. However, the major anxiety is over the activities of the Russians in the cross trades where our shipping industry is so strong. The Russians have been concentrating on the main trade routes by undercutting freight rates charged by the liner conferences by up to 30 per cent.

    For instance, in the conference traffic in sectors of North Atlantic trades the Russians have already been extremely successful and carry up to 28 per cent. eastbound and 25 per cent. westbound. COMECON liners have captured a market share of 35 per cent. already of the cargo transported between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. In the important United Kingdom-East African trade, the losses in which were mentioned by the Minister, the Russians have already pushed up their share to 20 per cent. from nothing a comparatively short time ago, which share is over and above the liner conference share of the Poles and the East Germans.

    I return to my initial question. What have the Government been doing while all this has been going on? My answer is—too little. It was 12 months ago that the Minister said when answering Questions:
    "We have made it plain to the Soviet Union that we prefer a policy of accommodation rather than confrontation. Nevertheless, as the Soviet Minister well knows, there is provision in Part III of the Merchant Shipping Act 1974 for us to introduce countervailing measures … the picture is not always as bleak as the hon. Gentleman suggests. There has been some improvement in the bilateral trades in that the Soviet Union has agreed that an additional ship should be available to serve those particular interests. Of course that is not enough, but it is a sign of improvement."
    A little later my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) asked:
    "It is correct that there are to be two further meetings on this matter in August? Are not all the facts known about Russian activities in this matter? What are these further meetings intended to discuss? Is it perhaps time that the Government showed a little of their muscle in this matter?"—[Official Report, 27th June 1977; Vol. 934, c. 25–6.]
    The Government have shown as much muscle, unfortunately, as a jaded blancmange, until today.

    I welcome the brave words, the real response and the pugnacious attitude of the Minister.

    The hon. Gentleman is going on a bit with this nonsense. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to read all my speeches. That would be too much to expect of anybody. However, I must point out that there is nothing at all new in the way in which I have been speaking about this issue. Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that it was precisely this point that I and my German colleague at the EEC rammed home in October of last year? Is he not aware that there has been the most constant discussion with the GCBS and the unions to get an identity of view on this and that what must be done is to get concerted action? This has been our ambition. It would be appropriate, if the hon. Gentleman would be a little more fair.

    I am, perhaps, not as critical as the Minister is about his speeches, but I think it is fair of us on this side to expect action and not words. He refers to a debate in the Council last October. We would say that the indications were already there long before October and the Government should have adopted a more aggressive attitude much earlier.

    Instead, what did the Government do? Nothing. Instead they have done a great deal to damage our shipping industry. They proceeded to enter into shipping deals with Poland and started the damaging practice of providing our competitors with ships on highly favourable terms and even giving ships away, thus making our industry even more vulnerable in this highly competitive world. We have tried to point out to the Government the error of their ways. At the end of last year, at last—I pay tribute to the Minister for this; perhaps he should have waited for these kind words—the Government seemed to wake up to the situation, prompted very much by the General Council of British Shipping, and they asked for action to be taken by the European Community, a request which, as I have said, should have been made much earlier.

    In his comments to me just now the Minister mentioned the West Germans. In an article in the Financial Times on 23rd February 1977 it was reported that
    "West Geman shipowners have called for cargoes to he allocated on a quota basis to East European merchant fleets unless they take 'a fairer line'."
    Those are very strong words, but there was no response from the Government until October.

    There is at last this EEC proposal which is to be discussed on Monday by the Transport Minister. We must make the best of a bad job and do now wish the Minister every success in the discussions. The proposal is, however, only for a monitoring system to be instituted with information to be forwarded by each member State every six months. We believe that this is just not good enough. Surely we already have sufficient information on the activities of the Soviet fleet to take the necessary decisions now. We need a promise of tough action within a specific time limit unless the Russians are prepared to stop their non-commercial practices and compete on a basis of fair competition.

    As I have said already, we recognise that this proposition is at least a step in the right direction. However, we now learn with regret from what the Minister said today, that there is some new-found reluctance on the part of some members of the Community to endorse even this proposal. This is very difficult to understand, bearing in mind the unanimous initiative of the Council of Ministers when it asked last October for practical proposals to be prepared
    "for dealing with the situation arising from the increasing non-commercial activity of certain State trading country liner fleets."
    This draft proposal has unanimous support from Community shipowners and European shippers' councils. It is also supported by the European Parliament. Apparently, in the face of this firm European line, some member States, especially France, wish to widen the debate to cover flags of convenience and other issues. The Minister confirmed this today, and I agree with him that there is no fundamental objection to wider discussions at another time and in another place.

    But such issues must not be allowed to weaken our resistance to the Soviet maritime threat. The Soviet Union seems to believe—and the Government have done nothing to dissuade it from its view—that the West will not take any serious action to protect its shipping in the present political climate, and, consequently, it sees no advantage in controlling the activities of its lines. The Russians will respect only strength, and within the Community we must show that we are prepared to def end our legitimate interests in world-wide seaborne trade against these practices of a noncommercial and aggressive kind.

    Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the position which my hon. Friend has outlined would require possibly greater response then purely that from the EEC? One thinks, for example, of Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand which have very strong shipping interests. Would not this be better done on a wider than EEC basis? Will he also say what measures he thinks should be taken, whether or not they are provocative in his view, other than the monitoring which is now suggested?

    I am grateful for that intervention from the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who has considerable experience in European debates. The Opposition believe that this country must set an example by taking the initiative and leading other countries to a much more definite approach. One way to do this would be to consider the call of the West German shipowners. We could announce that, within a certain specific time limit, quotas and penalties will be imposed on the Soviet Fleet unless they agree to seek accommodation. We believe that we should take that sort of initiative within the Community and ask the Community to follow us.

    I accept that there may be a wish on the part of some Community countries first to have a monitoring system. My objection to that, which I have already tried to outline, is that I believe that we already have sufficient information. But what I am proposing now is, I believe, what the Minister is proposing once that monitoring has taken place if there is no Russian response. I am proposing that a clear, decisive attitude should be taken to show the Russians that we mean business and that we are determined to protect the interests of the free world in this important matter. The Russians respect only strength, and we have to show that strength now.

    I give every support to the Minister to go from this debate to the Council on Monday and provide that clear and strong leadership I have advocated so that the Community will demonstrate that it has the necessary political will to take concerted action in this vital area. If a little is achieved on Monday, there will, rightly, be strong pressure on the United Kingdom and other nations to take combined action outside the Community. That would be a sad and regrettable step back from the move towards a European shipping policy.

    I am afraid that the Government have done little to promote our shipping industry—in fact, rather the opposite. They have failed to bring forward the Merchant Shipping Bill, they have failed to introduce a proper rationalisation of the shipbuilding industry, taxation policies harm shipping interests, and there are many other examples of similar damage. British shipping represents the finest form of free enterprise. Our shipping industry thrives on competition, but only on fair competition.

    Let the Government and the Community wake up to the existing dangers and remove the threat to the industry which represents and provides a vital economic lifeline not just for us in this country but also for the Community as a whole. Let the Minister fight hard on Monday for the European action which is so urgently needed by the European shipping industry before it becomes too late to impose any meaningful control on Soviet maritime expansion.

    3.4 p.m.

    With the leave of the House, perhaps I may say a few words in response to the undoubtedly aggressive speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt). I know the difficulties which he is undergoing from the leader of his party. He is under very firm instructions on anything to do with the Soviet Union, and he has to make the right sort of aggressive noises. But unfortunately, if he becomes too agressive, he, and his party, will tend to lose sight of a more sensible way of trying to achieve the sort of constructive goals that I sought to set out in my speech at the beginning of the debate.

    Time and again, the hon. Gentleman—I suppose that it must have taken up at least half of his speech—asserted that the Government were guilty of inaction or doing too little. "Why had we not taken action before October 1977?": that was the sort of question that came during the whole theme of his speech. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman some of the facts of life.

    It was not in October 1977 that the Government began to react to this situation. I myself and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited virtually every shipping Minister amongst our allies in Western Europe in order to try to obtain a concerted cohesive point of view about dealing with the threat.

    The hon. Member is essentially a very reasonable and liberal Member and, therefore, perhaps he is an uncharacteristic member of his party. He will recognise that it is no good shouting out this sort of thing from the housetops, particularly if one is not successful in getting that concerted and cohesive approach.

    Unhappily, up to shortly before the October Transport Minister's meeting, there was very little interest on the part of others in Europe. It is true that the West German ship owners had indicated their consternation. It was later that the West German Government, in perhaps a more reasonable way than the West German shipowners, echoed a similar point of view. They were not first in the field, by any manner of means. Therefore, I believe that it was right to see whether we could achieve a consensual approach, even though, as I say, in the long run, up to about October 1977, it appeared not to work.

    Then the situation changed. There seemed to be more concern on the part of the European nations about the threat. They seemed to be more alive to the isssue. It was in response to that position that at the October meeting the Commission was instructed to deal with the position along the lines that it has done. Therefore, what I say to the hon. Gentleman is that fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

    I do not want in any way to appear to be patronising—that is not my intention—but I genuinely believe that when one is dealing with these matters on a day-to-day basis and trying to achieve a certain goal it is no good shouting out from the housetops in a way that an Opposition is free to do.

    It would be a great help to the Opposition in understanding the extent of the action that the Minister has been taking if he would indicate when he first made approaches to other Community Governments. When did he first invite them to take concerted action against the Soviet maritime threat?

    What I was doing was undertaking bilateral meetings in the first place to try to drum up support for this cohesive action. I think that it was about two years ago that I first saw my opposite numbers. I cannot specifically recall who it was, but, as I say, I visited virtually every shipping Minister—other than the shipping Minister in Italy, because at the material time it was very difficult to determine who he was. However, I think that I saw virtually every other Minister from time to time.

    I know that at that time and throughout that period French Ministers have been reluctant to engage in this exercise, but in October nobody dissented from the proposition; so we thought that we were making progress at that time. Having said that, I repudiate the charge of inactivity and inertia that the hon. Gentleman has made—albeit in a most attractive speech.

    May I pursue with my hon. Friend the point that I pursued with the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt)? Is it not a fact that, because of Britain's maritime history and strength, the United Kingdom perhaps of all the members of the EEC is the one most properly sensitive to this situation and that it is right that my hon. Friend should have been taking the lead that he has described? But is it not a matter for the countries I mentioned — particularly India, New Zealand, Australia and possibly shipping and Government interests in Japan in respect of the land bridge? What proposals do the Government have in those connections, as well as in the rather more limited but similar ones within the EEC?

    The best is the enemy of the good. One has to aim at a step-by-step process. It looks as if it will be difficult enough getting these fairly modest proposals through, let alone the highly ambitious ones that my hon. Friend was hinting at.

    The hon. Member for Wirral said, following up the point I have just made, that he wanted more radical steps undertaken within Europe, but I repeat that it is no good just fancifully thinking about this. One has to be able to carry others with one. Unless that can be done, radical steps cannot be taken. Although we have certain powers in the Merchant Shipping Act 1974, the Commission and most other people, including the whole of our industry, are realistic and understand that it is no use taking a unilateral line. If we were to do so, Soviet ships would simply not use our ports; but they would have plenty of others to use. So I do not think that is a very positive line of approach.

    The hon. Member went on to say—I think wrongly—that this Government have given little help to the shipping industry. What he was saying was not that the shipping industry wanted more help, because he did not identify the sort of help it wanted; it was a negative that he was asserting. He was saying, in effect, that the Government should not have entered into the Polish deal.

    I see that that is the proposition that he affirms. I must tell him that there is little doubt that the Poles would have bought elsewhere on very similar terms and in those circumstances it would have been manifestly irresponsible for the Government to deprive our shipyards of this deal at this specifically critical time and our shipyard workers of the many jobs that were available as a result. The threat would have remained, so it made no difference. I believe, therefore, that the Government were right to proceed.

    I want to put a question to the hon. Member. If he is so emphatic about giving the shipping industry this unspecific aid, how does he square that with the assertion made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph)—I hope I am not doing the right hon. Gentleman an injustice because I am trying to remember his words off the top of my head—that all subsidies and aid to industry are harmful? Would he then have taken the action which my right hon. Friend announced to assist certain shipping com- panies only two or three weeks ago? I suspect the answer would be in the negative; that would have been a grossly irresponsible attitude to have taken.

    We seem, with respect, to have got somewhat sidetracked. Certainly, the aid to which the Minister refers was normal financial practice on the part of good banking houses—to extend or to announce a moratorium on loans. The Minister sought to defend the Polish deal and would, no doubt, seek to defend the new Polish deal for at least five ships. Does he defend the Indian deal whereby ships were given as part of the foreign aid programme—a deal which was immensely damaging to the British shipping industry?

    I am glad that, though belatedly, the hon. Gentleman has applauded what the Government have done in relation to our own domestic shipping industry. I think that those are the first such words uttered in the House, but belated acknowledgement is better than none at all. As to the wider issues of other deals, one has to look at each case on its merits. One has to see the nature of the threat. In any case, we are not in this debate talking about India or any other countries. We are talking about the situation in relation to the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.

    As I said a little time ago, I believe that it is still right to seek an accommodation with the Soviet Union, but speaking from a position of realism and strength. I did not hear whether the hon. Gentleman also, from the Opposition's point of view, felt that in the long term an accommodation was more desirable than confrontation, but I shall assume that that is what he wants, too.

    Therefore, welcoming that assertion on the hon. Gentleman's part and the support that he offers, I shall do everything I can on Monday to try to carry my colleagues with me. Things may not go right. I hope that others will recognise the longterm problems here, but I cannot be sure. But that does not mean that we should not go on striving, and we have to strive on the basis of concerted action. I think that that is the will of the Opposition behind the peripheral debating points. I believe that that is their will, and it is most certainly, and has been for some considerable time, the will of this Government.

    Order No. 3, "Liner Shipping". The Question is—

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This confusion raises exactly the point which I made earlier, to which the Minister did not respond, namely, that the subject matter of the first debate was never appreciated —or seemed never to be appreciated—by the Government, and this has undoubtedly misled many of my hon. Friends who would have wished to speak on the subject with which we have just dealt.

    On the Order Paper, Motion No. 3 is entitled "Liner Shipping", and Motion No. 4 also is entitled "Liner Shipping".

    Question put and agreed to.


    That this House takes note of EEC Document No. R/829/78 on the activities of certain state trading countries in cargo liner shipping.

    European Community (United Nations Liner Code)

    3.18 p.m.

    I beg to move,

    That this House takes note of EEC Document No. R/3245/77 on accession to the United Nations Convention on the Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences.
    It seems that I am speaking almost incessantly, and, no doubt, I shall have made four speeches in a very short time, which will be a record for almost everyone.

    This Commission document was submitted for parliamentary scrutiny, and at the outset I express my thanks to the Scrutiny Committee for its valuable contribution to consideration of this issue in its report, which has been made available in advance of the debate. The report sets out the essential elements of the code and the conditions required for its coming into effect. I do not, therefore, think it necessary for me to rehearse these matters to the House today.

    I want, as briefly as possible, to describe to the House something of the background which has given rise to the emergence of this matter, because this is another issue which is extremely vital to the future wellbeing of our highly significant merchant fleet.

    The United Kingdom in 1974—indeed, we still adhere to this position today—was in favour of a universally acceptable code for liner conferences which would give recognition to the asperations of the developing countries to carry a reasonable part of their foreign trade, and also to provide a stable framework for the development of liner trades. But much of the current support for the United Nations code derives from the desire of certain developed countries to increase their share of liner trades by cargo reservation, since it appears that they cannot win a greater share by commercial means. I see no reason why we should encourage any move at all in this direction.

    However, we had certain serious reservations about the code when it was drawn up in 1974. Frankly, we still have reservations. We considered it to be unwieldy and bureaucratic, and that its adoption on a worldwide basis would lead to disruption of the international conference system, which worked generally to the benefit of shippers and in which the United Kingdom lines had won, through competitive means, a major stake.

    In addition to our objections to the cargo reservation provisions, we also had major doubts about the element of interference in the setting of freight rates, the extremely cumbersome procedures for the settlement of disputes, and, indeed, the general obscurity of the text of the convention. These constituted the reasons for our voting against the code in 1974.

    Should our views be fundamentally changed by events ensuing since that time? At the present moment the shares of cargo carried by individual lines within conferences reflect, in general, the competitiveness and cost effectiveness of particular carriers. In some trades, foreign Governments—notable in the developing world—have sought, though through unilateral measures of cargo reservation, to disturb commercial arrangements and to direct a greater share to their own lines.

    I think it is right to say that our lines have shown considerable commercial flare in reacting pragmatically to this situation. However, having said that, we have not complacently sat back in the hope that the issue would go away or disappear from the international agenda so that there would be no need for us to give profound consideration to the matter.

    The Government have, in fact, completed a wide-ranging review of United Kingdom interests in the light of the code. We have conducted this jointly with the General Council of British Shipping and with the maritime unions who, I am delighted to say, have, over the course of the last four years, been encouraged in every way to contribute to debates on international shipping policy. I believe that there is a remarkable degree of unanimity in our joint thinking.

    It is clear to us that the adoption of this code on a universal basis could be seriously prejudicial to the United Kingdom, to its liner trades, and to our jobs. On the other hand, we have to recognise that the code enjoys some degree of support, and that a number of Governments, particularly those in developing countries, have sought to impose arrangements along codist lines. We understand and sympathise with the desire of these countries to get a better deal in carrying their liner trade.

    We should, if it proved possible, like to obtain a solution to the code question on a Community basis. Indeed, we believe that the Community's general commitment to the maintenance of free trade could be usefully deployed in avoiding wholesale changes in the present pattern of liner shipping. Nevertheless, we share the view of the Scrutiny Committee that the current Commission proposals leave a number of important questions unanswered. These concern both the role of the EEC's competition rules, to which the Committee specifically refers, and the real intentions behind the proposed cargo-sharing regime within the OECD.

    As I have said, we should still like to develop a liner policy within the Community, but the essential aspect from our point of view is that cargo sharing and the other objectionable features of the code, to which I have already alluded, should not be applied to conferences trading between developed countries.

    As I have said, the idea that certain developed countries should seek artificially to benefit from the United Nations code, which was specifically drawn up to meet the concerns of the developing countries, is, in our view, indefensible.

    On behalf of the Government, I shall ask the Community in Luxembourg next Monday to undertake further work towards achieving a Community position, which would meet our essential concerns while taking account of the interests of other member States.

    I hope that the House will agree that it would not be appropriate for me to reveal here and now the precise contents of the Government's presentation, but I hope that we will be able to find the basis for progress towards mutually acceptable arrangements within the Community. At the same time I shall leave my Community partners in no doubt that we have major interests at stake here and we cannot subscribe to the view that we must be subordinate to purely Brussels considerations simply for the sake of achieving a consensus.

    3.27 p.m.

    Like many people outside the House, I had an opportunity to read the Minister's speech in advance in Lloyd's List. It was rather premature because it was published on 22nd May in expectation that this debate would take place on 25th May. Nevertheless, I welcome very much—as I did then—the Minister's remarks.

    This document represents a brave and ingenious attempt on the part of the Commission to bridge the unbridgeable. The fundamental objections to the UN Code of Conduct which were made by this country in 1974 are still valid, and there are further difficulties created by this compromise solution.

    There is little progress that we can make until we have had the opportunity to discuss the Commission's further proposals on a competition policy for sea transport. These are crucial to the whole subject of liner conferences. There is no draft formula as yet, although indications have been given of some kind of blanket exemption for conference activity from the Treaty of Rome. There is also some speculation whether a system of filing tariff agreements for information only will be introduced, or some mechanism for disputes machinery.

    This is merely rumour and it is impossible to reach a proper conclusion in this debate until we have firm proposals on the application of the EEC rules of competition to international liner shipping. Likewise, with the continuing discussions within the OECD.

    The objections to the UN Code of Conduct are stated in the evidence to the Select Committee on European Legislation. I join the Minister in thanking the Scrutiny Committee. The code was pushed through at the eleventh hour in April 1974 when there was no scrutiny by any proper legal committee. As a result, it is contradictory in many places, with imprecise drafting, and the important objections still remain. It is right for the House to rehearse briefly the major objections to the code.

    The first is that the code is too rigid in respect of cargo sharing. It is difficult to apply a 40-20-20 ratio in practice because this would introduce an unacceptable degree of regulation into commercial operations. What of the position of way ports? How can they fit into an overall mechanism designed to provide an efficient regular service encompassing a range of ports in different countries at one end with a range of ports in different countries at the other?

    There are of course international consortia which operate in many areas as a result of the substantial investment required in container services and how can they fit into a rigid formula. How is this 40 per cent. to be divided between national companies? There are other similar questions.

    Secondly, the code lays down exceptionally cumbersome procedures for establishing freight rates and settling disputes. These procedures are very obscure and most unsatisfactory, particularly in respect of the 15-month period between variation of freight rates.

    Thirdly, and perhaps this is most important, the code is questionable on judicial grounds. Disputes are to be settled between parties if possible. If not, there is eventually to be international mandatory conciliation. The outcome of conciliation is, however, only by acceptance and the code is silent as to what occurs if the conciliation judgment is ignored. There are no penalties and no indication whether it is mandatory or just a recommendation. We believe that this situation could lead to a most complicated and unhelpful position.

    Fourthly, there is the veto power of the national line at one end to override any agreement at all. That is objectionable. Fifthly, and lastly, there is no provision for control over outsiders, no control over flags of convenience and the code does nothing to prevent unfair competition from State trading countries, which we discussed in the last debate. It does not take account of the United States attitude on anti-trust legislation and so on. There are many other important objections.

    I agree with the Minister that it is preferable for there to be a universally acceptable code of conduct of some kind, but not as set out in the UN code, even this version as revised by the Community.

    The hon. Gentleman said he agreed with my hon. Friend on one point. Would he also agree that some developing countries have a case in respect of conference traffic, because just as conference arrangements can be of advantage, they can also be a disadvantage if applied in a particular way? Is it the opinion of the Conservative Opposition that there is a case here, even although the way in which it is tackled may not be to the hon. Gentleman's own writing?

    I am very grateful indeed to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. I should like to deal with it at some length because it is very important indeed. The Minister rehearsed the question "What is the purpose of the code?" He gave one reason. I would give two. First, to help developing countries' shipping in order to allow them easier entry into world shipping markets. Secondly—having read through most of the proceedings of UNCTAD I believe this to be a profound reason—to meet the great suspicion of developing countries that they are not getting a fair deal from the old established countries of the developed world.

    I was very sorry that the Minister did not seek more adequately to defend the liner conference system, because I believe that there is a great deal of misunderstanding over its importance. Liner conferences are certainly the subject of varying misconceptions. There are now about 350 conferences or rate agreements covering world trade routes. I believe that the conference system is indispensable because it provides shippers with regular, efficient services at stable rates which are set at a level which will encourage cargo to move. There have been many inquiries into the system of liner conferences and they have all concluded that the liner conference system does provide the necessary self-regulation to restrain unrestricted and destructive competition. They provide a stabilising influence with considerable expertise in establishing economic rates combined with the highest possible standards. I am sure that in the future the conference system will continue to be indispensable.

    In fact, I did refer to this, perhaps tersely, because it is widely accepted in this House and outside that the liner conference system does have the sort of values to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I want to make it abundantly plain that I am in no way resiling from the arguments in favour of the liner conference system. But every system has room for improvement, including the liner conference system.

    I accept and welcome what the Minister says, and I now wish to deal with the second part of the hon. Member's question.

    When we examine the development of liner conferences we see immediately that they do not seek to exclude developing countries, but very much the opposite. Let us take, for example, the United Kingdom-West Africa Lines Joint Service, which is the United Kingdom liner conference to and from parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland and ports in West Africa. That conference contains three British lines, one Norwegian line and also, with an important part to play three African lines consisting of Black Star Ghana, Nigerian National Shipping Line and Compagnie Maritime Zairoise.

    Another good example of a case in which developing countries are not excluded, but very much the opposite, is the liner conference system to the Indian sub-continent where national lines in the developing countries have at least 40 per cent. of the trade. This is very much as a result of past developments going back long before the United Nations Liner Code became a practical issue. For instance, in Brazil, Argentina, and to some degree Indonesia, in the last 20 years, Governments have encouraged national lines to claim from conferences shares gradually escalating as far as 50 per cent. It is a paradox that some of those developing countries are worried about the 40-40-20 formula because it will mean a diminution in their share of the trade. There is already some opposition to the code as nations realise the extent of the value of existing shares in liner conferences.

    I shall then probably be asked by the hon. Member, "What about the other cases where national lines do not have as much as 40 per cent.?" In most of those cases, if not all, the national lines have insufficient capacity to carry 40 per cent. of the trade. There is no serious problem in that respect because established lines in conferences are gradually yielding more and more of the trade as a State's national line developes its capacity. Although I recognise that there is a need to assimilate the emerging ambitions of developing countries, I believe that we can set the record straight by appreciating that liner conferences have recognised that need for many years and have already been catering for it.

    The second part of the argument must lead us to accept what the Minister said and to recognise that there is a need for a universal code. But we do not accept this incomprehensible and bureaucratic code. We welcome what has been said by the Minister in this debate and urge him, in consultation within the EEC, to find a more effective solution.

    Question put and agreed to.


    That this House takes note of EEC Document No. R/3245/77 on accession to the United Nations Convention on the Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences.

    Church Of England (Miscellaneous Provisions)

    3.38 p.m.

    I beg to move,

    That the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.
    When I bring Church measures to this House, they are usually concerned with one major subject that affects the Church—worship and doctrine, endowments and glebe, parish registers and so on. But occasionally the General Synod produces a miscellaneous provisions measure which, in common with the measure before us today, picks up a number of smaller matters, none of which would merit a separate measure all to itself. The present measure consists of 13 clauses. I shall not weary the House by going in great detail through the clauses. I shall try to mention the main points contained therein.

    Clause 1 is the most important clause in the measure. Under the Worship and Doctrine Measure, which the House approved in 1974, the General Synod may approve a new service only if there is a two-thirds majority in favour of it in each of the three houses of the Synod—that is, bishops, clergy and laity. If, however, the General Synod wishes to alter the service in the Book of Common Prayer it has to come to Parliament with a measure. As the law stands, such a measure could come to Parliament even if it had a majority of only one in the General Synod. That surely is not enough for a measure that would alter the Prayer Book services of Baptism, Holy Communion and Ordination. Accordingly, the clause extends to measures which alter services the two-thirds majority principle that applies to the authorisation of services.

    I give the House an example. If ever the General Synod wished to enable women to be ordained in the Church of England, it would be necessary to bring a measure to Parliament that would, among other things, alter the Prayer Book Ordination service. Clause 1 would ensure that such a measure could come to Parliament only if there were a two-thirds majority.

    Clause 2 protects a clergyman who was appointed to his living before 1976, in a case where that living is subsequently affected by pastoral reorganisation. The 1975 measure, which laid down that clergyman must retire from their livings at 70 years, was not retrospective, and so the clergyman appointed before 1st January 1976 is exempted from the rule of retirement at 70. However, if his benefice is included in a pastoral reorganisation scheme, it is doubtful whether he retains his exemption. The clause ensures that he does.

    I do not think that Clauses 3, 4 and 5 need much explanation from me. Clause 3 allows the Church Commissioners to alter their financial year to the calendar year. Clause 4 makes some minor changes in the Commissioner's constitution. Clause 5 seeks to ensure that whoever represents a diocese on the Central Board of Finance of the Church of England should also be a member of his own diocese board of finance in his own diocese.

    Clause 6 implements an undertaking that I gave to the House when the Parochial Registers and Records Measure was before Parliament. It sets a ceiling to the search fee that may be charged when parish registers are deposited in an independent repository, namely, a records office that is not under the control of a local authority. We gave an undertaking that that would be done at the time of the passing of the measure.

    Clauses 7 and 8 deal with rather obscure matters. Clause 7 enables the Church to sell land which it does not need but which under the tightly drawn provisions of the New Parishes Measure 1943 is at present inalienable. Clause 8 enables the Church to comply with a compulsory purchase order in respect of land vested in an incumbent even if the benefice is vacant.

    Clause 9 widens the scope of the Inspection of Churches Measure 1955. It enables the bishop to direct that buildings that are licensed for public worship but have not been consecrated shall be liable to inspection by the diocesan architect every five years on exactly the same basis as consecrated buildings.

    Clause 10 concerns the honorary canons of Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford. The cathedral is outside the general provisions of the Cathedrals Measure because of its special relationship with the College and with the University of Oxford. In most other cathedrals honorary canons are required by the cathedral statutes to vacate their canonaries on retiring from full time ministry or on reaching the age of 70. In Oxford there has hitherto been an exception in the case of canons who continue to reside in the Oxford diocese when they retire. In practice, so many of the Oxford honorary canons have continued to live in the diocese after retirement that the Bishop of Oxford has found himself with fewer opportunities than other diocesan bishops to confer honorary canonaries on clergymen actively involved in the full-time ministry of the Church.

    The clause, which will not apply to existing honorary canons, will bring Oxford into line with other dioceses in this matter. It is, of course, customary for an honorary canon who retires to have the title of canon emeritus conferred upon him, and this practice will be followed in Oxford when the clause takes effect.

    Clause 11 makes a couple of technical corrections in the Endowment and Glebe Measure 1976, and Clause 12 relieves the Church Commissioners of a quite outdated requirement to have certain property transactions enrolled in the High Court.

    This is an unexciting and, I believe, quite uncontroversial measure. When it was given final approval in the General Synod, 38 bishops, 124 clergy and 124 lay people voted in favour of it. Only one vote—that of a member of the House of Laity—was recorded against it. I hope that the House will see fit to give this modest but useful measure an affirmative resolution.

    Question put and agreed to.


    That the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.

    Miss Sarah Dixon

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

    3.47 p.m.

    I am grateful for what is the second opportunity in 23 years as an Essex Member of raising on the Adjournment the plight of a constituent. In so doing, I declare my interest as the father of an autistic child in the care of the National Health Service. It happens that my daughter shares the same christian name as Sarah Dixon, the multiply-handicapped girl who is the subject of my Adjournment motion. Moreover, my wife and I have experienced some of the difficulties encountered by the parents of Sarah Dixon, of Stewards Green, Epping. We, too, have had to balance the needs of a handicapped child with the needs of the rest of the family.

    Sarah Dixon is now getting on for eight. She was one of twins. The other was stillborn. Sarah was born with brain damage which was not immediately diagnosed but required an operation at Great Ormond Street before she was three. Sarah is spastic, mentally retarded and registered as blind. She has the size and strength of a normal seven-year old and is difficult to carry and exercise. Everything has to be done for her.

    The House may imagine the burden upon her mother and family. I should like to salute their patient and heroic devotion and to pay tribute to the physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, teachers and others who have striven on Sarah's behalf in conjunction with her parents.

    In a restrained and sensible letter to me dated 14th March, Mrs. Dixon writes:
    "Although one feels one should be accustomed to this after 73- years, I find we all get very much on edge, possibly because as a family we have to be on duty 24 hours out of 24, whereas in a unit obviously the staff would have periods of duty of about eight hours only, and, of course, they would not be as emotionally involved as we are."
    The parents had to consider, rightly, the heart-breaking decision that many of us have had to make and look for a residential place for their child away from home. That was in June of last year. The only place then offered was Essex Hall, in Colchester, some 40 miles away. Sarah went there for two three-week periods of short-term care. Essex Hall is now closed to children of a serious category. Although the embargo on the admission of older children has been lifted, the hall is overcrowded and short of staff.

    Since I sought to raise the case in the House, the Harlow district administrator, Mr. Webb, whose ready assistance I acknowledge, mentioned two holiday places then available, at Great West Hatch, Chigwell, and on 19th May Mr. Dixon told me that he and his wife had gratefully accepted an offer of short-stay care at Hargrave House, Stansted.

    We also appreciate the interest of the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children which said that a place might be found for Sarah at its home in Norfolk. The society is the first to acknowledge that it is far away for visits and short holidays. For Sarah and those in her position there is no permanent residential unit within reasonable distance of their parents.

    There is no disagreement between the two sides of the House that specialised mental illness hospitals should in time give way to psychiatric units forming part of district general hospitals, to day centres and to residential accommodation different from the old hospitals, one of which I know from my own family experience.

    The aim is sound. Surely, it is right to rely as much as possible on the loving family, on home care sustained and relieved by day centres, and places of short stay to give respite to the parents and others.

    I understand that a hospital for the mentally handicapped is planned and it is intended to site it near Epping. But building will not begin until some time between 1981 and 1986. I am not quite clear how such a hospital would accord with the new aim that I have summarised. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to say precisely what is intended. Will the right hon. Gentleman also assure me that what is planned for North-West Essex—this new unit—will receive priority no lower than will the unit being considered for the City and East London area?

    For a layman such as myself the scene is bewildering. I am uncertain whether the needs of North-West Essex have yet been clearly defined and whether, despite a plethora of joint consultative committees and so on, decisions have been reached on the future siting and financing of the long stay, the short stay, and assessment units and of holiday services for the mentally handicapped of all ages. Is there yet a precise definition of responsibility of health, education and other services and local authorities? It may be that I am not adequately informed, and that is part of the reason for raising this subject this afternoon.

    In general, in the National Health Service—I say this because I do not want to be accused of being one of those Members of Parliament who are desirous of curtailing public expenditure but who ask for more public expenditure because of their particular constituency interests—waste abounds. There is misdirection of resources. There is a loss of revenue to the National Health Service of between £30 million and £40 million from the ideological extravagance of closing pay beds and turning consultants into whole-time State employees. That administration, as distinct from treatment and care-of patients, is excessive—

    I should hate the hon. Gentleman to go down a wrong track. There has been little loss of income to the NHS as a result of the withdrawal of pay beds because most of the pay beds withdrawn up to now have been beds which have been authorised but have not been used. There is no intention of turning consultants into full-time State employees, because they are entitled to carry out any private practice that they can outside the NHS.

    I am obliged to the Minister. I merely want to raise the matter lest anyone should say that Conservative Members of Parliament are asking for more expenditure when they are not concerned with the proper economy of the resources available. I do not think that the figure I have mentioned is necessarily the wrong figure. The Minister has not said that it is wrong.

    In that case, I will pursue this matter—which is slightly extraneous—in another way, perhaps by means of a Parliamentary Question or by letter to the Minister.

    That there is waste and misdirection of resources is not just the impression of outsiders such as the hon. Member for Epping Forest. It is the complaint of workers of all grades within the services and, indeed, of union representatives. The Minister of State might like to have a look at the white elephant of Witham. I believe that the Royal Commission has already made an interim criticism of the top-heavy and over-elaborate management system. This is something for which I do not wish to blame the Minister of State or his administration, but I hope that he will be able to tell the House of clear, firm decisions that can be given to parents such as my constituents who have nowhere within reach to which they can send children who have become too heavy a charge upon their energies and emotions.

    3.55 p.m.

    There is a point upon which the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and myself can agree. I am very pleased that he has raised the case of Sarah Dixon in the House this afternoon and the difficulties her parents are experiencing, because it enables me to talk about her case and the prospects of solving it and the needs of severely handicapped children in the country generally and in Essex in particular.

    I am prepared to agree with the hon. Gentleman that in many respects there is a misdirection of resources in the Health Service. This has been going on for 30 years, since the service was founded, and possibly even before then. The acute services have always attracted the great bulk of medical, nursing and health interest and, therefore, the great bulk of Health Service financing. Therefore, throughout the country, services for the mentally ill and mentally handicapped have been neglected and over most of the country are out of date and possibly inadequate because they are out of date.

    It is our intention to redirect resources to the sectors of mental illness and mental handicap. Services for looking after the elderly, which often involve the psycho- geriatric elderly, the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, are top priorities in the allocation of Health Service resources.

    The circumstances of Sarah Dixon have been the concern of the Essex social services department and of the health services since about 1972 when attention was first drawn to the implications of the severity of Sarah's handicaps, both mental and physical. The lack of a comprehensive mental handicap service in the Harlow district means that patients and relatives must rely on a service from Essex Hall, Colchester. This is unsatisfactory.

    The social services department has maintained close collaboration between the various voluntary and statutory services to ensure that appropriate help and guidance has been made available to Mr. and Mrs. Dixon in addition to regular social work support. Short stay periods of care at the Spastics Society Family Help Centre at Bury St. Edmunds were suggested, eventually tried and subsequently accepted by the family as being beneficial. However, the few specialised long-term centres that do exist in the country would inevitably take Sarah further away from her family. That is one of the major criticisms of Essex Hall. However, should a suitable vacancy occur in any such registered home which the family may choose, the county council would undertake to accept financial responsibility.

    Mr. and Mrs. Dixon naturally wish to ensure the most congenial therapeutic environment for Sarah, because she will be leaving a home environment which is obviously highly caring and they wish to provide the closest substitute for the family home life which Sarah has been enjoying up to now.

    I am entirely with the hon. Member in his wish to see children such as Sarah receiving the best possible care. It must be admitted, however, that our services for these children are far from satisfactory and, although the present situation is a great improvement on the position in the past, both my right hon. Friend and I—

    It being Four o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

    Both my right hon. Friend and I have consistently stressed the need to improve services for these children. The speed with which these improvements can be made is limited, of course, by a number of factors, but we have stressed again the priority which local authorities should place on residential accommodation for mentally handicapped children.

    We issued planning guidelines to health authorities this March and we stressed the need to plan for improved supportive facilities to families. As well as issuing guidance, we have also made available joint financing moneys to local authorities. These are National Health Service moneys, but we are willing to see them used for local authority purposes which will assist the NHS in the discharge of its responsibilities, and this includes provision for children in the community.

    The amount of money available has risen from £8 million in 1976–77 to about £32 million in this financial year, and it is aimed to level off at about £43 million per year by 1981–82 at today's prices. A large proportion of these moneys have in fact been spent on mentally handicapped children and their provision.

    Turning to the Harlow health district, the voluntary association WISH, which stands for "We're Involved with the Severely Handicapped", manages a special care unit at the Great West Hatch Adult Mental Handicap Hospital at Chigwell with the help of some joint finance money, and this unit will shortly be moved to St. Margaret's Hospital, Epping to cater for a larger number of severely handicapped in an improved setting.

    Harlow health district is financing the cost of the conversion of that building, and the revenue costs will be shared between the voluntary association, the health authority and the social services, using some of the joint finance money. In the longer term, therefore, if Mr. and Mrs. Dixon find it possible to keep their daughter at home, day facilities will be available in the Harlow district to support them.

    But we also want to improve the hospital services for these children. Here we want to aim at giving them the specialist services that they need and an environment which furthers their development in every way.

    I wish to pay tribute to the work of the staff in children's wards of mental handicap hospitals, and I take this opportunity of doing so publicly. None of the observations which I am about to make about our mental handicap hospitals should be taken as a criticism of the invaluable work performed by the staff in these hospitals. But they are working under several different sorts of constraint. First, all our efforts and the efforts of staff at bringing about improvements are made considerably more difficult by the legacy of huge, isolated hospitals, of which Essex has quite a number, with which we have been left by our predecessors. Hospital communities of 800, 900 and more than 1,000 are unnaturally large, and it is very difficult in those circumstances to create a homelike environment for residents and, equally important, an environment which attracts staff to work in the service.

    In the long term, therefore, there is a need for locally based hospitals for the mentally handicapped where they can be in contact with their communities and their relatives. In the case of children needing hospital care, they should wherever possible be accommodated near their own homes in small domestic units separate from adult units and with close links wherever possible with the children's department of the district general hospital. Together, all these local units should form a comprehensive district service for mentally handicapped people.

    In our guidelines which we have issued to authorities, we say that buildings should be designed with the needs of individual residents in mind and for domestic small group living. Children should be looked after in small family-size groups in homelike environments, and their daily lives should be as near to those of non-handicapped, non-hospitalised people as possible. Obviously this will all take a great deal of time.

    It was largely with the residual problem of the large hospitals in mind that my right hon. Friend and I asked the National Development Group for the Mentally Handicapped to give us a report on how to improve the existing services in the mental handicap hospitals. After about 12 months of work, it is hoped that the group's report will be shortly presented to my right hon. Friend. This will make recommendations about hospital services for all mentally handicapped people, but the group will be particularly concerned about services for children. I gather that it has devoted a section of its report to them.

    Besides this, the Development Team for the Mentally Handicapped has been specially set up by my right hon. Friend to give advice to health and local authorities on a whole range of services for mentally handicapped people. It has been asked by the Secretary of State to pay particular attention to the needs of children, and its panel includes specialists in child care. Its individual reports to authorities normally contain a special section on children's services. The team has completed two years of activity. Its first report of the work that it has been doing is due to be published this month.

    Of course, all the good buildings in the world and the proper layout are of no good unless there is adequate staff to provide the services. There is a severe shortage of some of the types that Sarah might need. Physiotherapists, speech therapists and other paramedical staff are in particularly short supply, but this is a national matter and is not necessarily confined to mental handicap. But we wish particular attention to be paid to the development of the rehabilitation services in general.

    We are very concerned, too, about the poor staffing ratios that still exist. Some hospitals have still not achieved the modest ratio laid down in the 1969 minimum standards for mental handicap hospitals, but, on the other hand, the number of nursing staff in those hospitals has increased from about 15,000 in 1969 to 23,000 in 1976, whilst the number of in-patients has fallen by about 10 per cent. It is possible that some definite improvement has been taking place, although I readily concede that the patients remaining in hospital probably represent a heavier burden of nursing care than the patients used to represent in days gone by, because, obviously, the patients that have been discharged to the community are the ones who are more capable of looking after themselves and were in times past capable of making a contribution to the running of the hospital.

    We shall have a report this year from the Jay Committee of Inquiry into Mental Handicap Nursing and Care. This will give advice on the work of staff who provide residential care for the mentally handicapped, including children, and on the training that they need.

    My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has set aside £50 million for the National Health Service in 1978–79, in addition to the moneys that we already knew we would be getting this year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has told authorities that he is very concerned to see that it is used for the improvement of staffing ratios and amenities in mental handicap hospitals and units. Here is an example of action taken by the Government to use additional resources as may become available for priority needs such as services for the mentally handicapped.

    The North-East Thames Regional Health Authority received, as a result of this, £1,390,000 extra, and has decided that 50 per cent. of that sum, about £695,000, will be devoted to the improvement of staffing ratios and amenities in mental illness, mental handicap, geriatric hospitals and other similar units, and of this sum the Essex health authority's share will be £284,000.

    One of the problems facing Essex is the need to maintain its existing very large mental handicap hospitals, which were originally built to serve very wide catchment areas, including many patients from London.

    I hope that these facts and figures will show the hon. Gentleman that, on one of his concerns, not only is Essex receiving the same priority as the City and East of London Health Authority but that in the current financial year it is receiving a much greater priority than that area from the regional health authority.

    The long-term strategy of Essex is to provide local facilities. To this end it plans the provision of a unit to serve the Harlow health district; it currently relies on the Essex Hall hospital, which has not been found entirely suitable for the Dixon family. This unit would provide not only long term care but also assessment and short-stay facilities to relieve families.

    The area health authority's proposals are therefore to seek to provide in the Harlow district the services that Sarah requires. I understand that short-term care is being considered at Hargrave House, Stansted, which is a hostel for mentally handicapped children run by the Essex social services department and that there will be short-term care, possibly, at Essex Hall. I hope that, with continuing liaison between the health and social services, it will be possible to provide the necessary support to Mr. and Mrs. Dixon until the health authority's proposed unit becomes available.

    We are actively seeking to improve the services required for severely handicapped children nationally. In particular, the Essex AHA is aware of the shortcomings of the services in the Harlow district and is taking steps to provide the facilities to which children such as Sarah are entitled.

    I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the system of administration of the National Health Service as a result of the 1973 Act leaves much to be desired. That is common ground between us and that is why we appointed the Royal Commission, which we hope will report at the beginning of next year—I hope in January. Then we shall be able to see what improvements can be made in the organisation of the Health Service to ensure a more rapid and flexible response to situations.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at twelve minutes past Four o'clock.