Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 959: debated on Thursday 30 November 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Thursday 30th November 1978

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers Toquestions

Home Department

Police Medal Awards

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officers are still waiting to receive the police long service and good conduct medal due to them.

On 20th November, 1,788. Of these, 1,342 are officers who have been awarded medals since June this year.

Can the Under-Secretary of State confirm that many police officers have had to wait over two years for these medals? Is it not a remarkable comment on the current administration of the home office that after 22 years' notice it still cannot produce a medal on time?

There has been a delay in delivery of these medals which has been due to production problems. These have now been overcome and delivery is being speeded up.

Radio Reception (Birmingham)

asked the Secretrary of state for the Home Department what steps are being taken to widen and improve the reception of BBC Radio Birmingham.

There is no intention to extend the area over which the BBC's local radio station in Birmingham can be received.

Service in most of the area is good, but possible solutions to the problems of re- ception in certain parts of Birmingham are being considered by the Home Office working party on local radio.

How can the Minister say that reception generally is good when 25 per cent. of the area covered by that radio station cannot receive it at all? Nearly £400,000 a year is being spent.

The hon. Member was making a statement about how many can receive the broadcasts from the station.

I was about to ask how the Minister can claim that reception is good and how she can justify spending £400,000 when that station cannot be heard over such a large area.

As I said earlier, it is important to study Birmingham in relation to other parts of the country which also wish to have local radio. Birmingham is not the only place with local radio. The whole country's needs for local radio and frequencies must be considered. That is what is being done by the Home Office working party on local radio.

Is my hon. Friend aware that her answer is almost precisely the same as that which I received three and a half years ago to the same question? Does she agree that the study to which she has referred is taking rather a long time, even by Home Office standards?

I cannot believe that it is three and a half years since this specific problem was examined. After all, local radio stations are still being set up. A further 18 were announced recently. I can assure all hon. Members who are interested in local radio generally that their areas are being considered by the Home Office working party in the context of a national system of local radio.

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that her reply was disappointing because reception on the south side of Birmingham is very poor? Will she reverse the decision of the noble Lord, the Minister of State, and agree to receive a deputation from Birmingham? The council of the Birmingham BBC local radio is frustrated and its members are considering resignation. I urge the Minister to agree to that request.

Certainly, I shall be pleased to receive a deputation from Birmingham or anywhere else. It would be helpful if hon. Members waited for the working party to report. At that time we shall have more evidence to discuss.

Is the Minister aware that BBC Radio Birmingham was set up eight years ago? Is she further aware that during that time we have not been able to receive Radio Birmingham clearly? Is she aware that her answer today will be regarded as a mere fob off, as have all answers in the past eight years?

I am aware that hon. Members in all parts of the House have their individual problems with particular parts of their areas. That is exactly what is being examined.

Prison Service (Inquiry)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if the proceedings of the committee of inquiry into the prison service will be held in public.

I understand that, because principally of the pace of the inquiry, it is unlikely to conduct its proceedings in public. However, the chairman has already indicated that the inquiry will welcome representatives, and would hope that as many as possible of those submitting evidence will arrange to publish it.

Does not the Home Secretary accept that the public have a right to know some of the central details of the issues involved here, such as the number of mentally sick people who are in prison and not receiving treatment? Since the right hon. Gentleman preaches about open government, should he not practise it with regard to this inquiry?

I could give the hon. Member now the figure he seeks. Sometimes I think that the information sought is already available but that people who want it do not listen when it is given. That is not the nature of this inquiry, but all the information will be published, so there is not the slightest question of hiding it.

Will the inquiry be able to consider any aspect of the administration of drugs in prisons? If not, what measures has the Home Office taken to inquire into this matter in the light of the articles in the Prison Medical Journal? I thank my right hon. Friend for having placed that journal in the Library.

I would not prevent the matter from being examined, although I do not know whether it is germane to the investigation into administration. I am concerned about the subject and I have received a great deal of information about it. I want to make as much information as possible available on the matter so that there can be a proper discussion.

Are the terms of reference of the inquiry now available, and have they been made known to prison officers generally?

The terms of reference have been announced in a parliamentary answer. I do not know whether prison officers read those. They are, however, available. I have discussed the whole matter with prison officers, as I have with all those who participated.

Since it is highly probable that the inquiry will make recommendations about working conditions for prison officers and about the conditions under which far too many prisoners are kept, especially in the old prisons, will my right hon. Friend say what he intends to do about those recommendations? Will he bear in mind that he has received similar recommendations over a period of years from Select Committees drawing attention to the appalling conditions for prisoners and prison officers? Will he get the money to put these defects right?

I believe that £20 million will be spent this year in that direction. Let me explain my concern. I visited a new prison last week, and I know of a number of prisons which have been extended. I am concerned to see whether existing resources are being used properly. That is what the inquiry is all about.

Now that a month has been lost in bringing together the inquiry team for the prison inquiry, does the right hon. Gentleman still think that it will be possible to meet the March target date for the report?

The hon. Member should know better than most that these matters do not involve just telephoning a number of people. No time has been lost. Work started two or three weeks ago on the inquiry's support team. I still think that it is possible to meet that date, and that is what I have said publicly.

Vandalism

4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what fresh initiatives to deal with the problem of vandalism he proposes to take following his conference on the subject.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further action he is taking to reduce crimes of vandalism.

I held a conference last month bringing together representatives of Government Departments, local authority associations, the police and other interested bodie. We agreed that measures to counter vandalism are best planned and organised locally. The role of the Home Office is to provide support to local efforts through research, information and publicity. I and other Ministers propose to issue guidelines on good practice.

I am grateful for the Home Secretary's reply. Is he aware that, in contrast to some of the woolly thinking on the role of punishment in dealing with vandals, there is a general welcome for his own important statement that he has never been against the sharply administered wallop in dealing with this problem? Does he accept that this realistic approach is warmly welcome? Does it indicate some change in Government policy?

I was asked whether I had ever administered a wallop to any of my three sons. This was nothing to do with vandalism. The answer is"Yes ". I kept it quiet, and I am sorry that it was made so public because all three are now capable of giving me a good wallop.

Can the Home Secretary persuade the courts to make more use of short sharp detention sentences, and to fine the parents of young offenders?

I would not interfere with the courts in any way, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not indicating that he would. The judiciary is not controlled by the Home Office, and neither should it be.

Will my right hon. Friend consider a more constructive proposal than is being made by the Opposition? Will he consider extending a variant of the community service order to vandals so that they can put something constructive back into the community?

It is for the courts to decide how to deal with vandals who appear before them. However, we have discovered two things in different parts of the country. There may be a lot of talk about vandalism in an area, but, when I ask about its extent, I find that only in a few places does anyone know with any accuracy. Second, many local authorities do not have centres at which vandalism can be reported, evaluated, or discussed with the education authority. The best local authorities are doing just that, in association with the police. I saw that in Halifax last week. The scheme is being carried out very well there, and other local authorities should copy it.

As it is obvious that many different methods need to be applied, as the right hon. Gentleman has stated publicly, in dealing with the matter, is it not ludicrous for the Secretary of State for Social Services, in discussing these matters, to describe any policy of firmer regimes in detention centres as

"consciously recruiting sadists and bullies to staff …prisons for children "?

A large number of the people who commit vandalism do not end up in prison, and the nature of their offence does not mean that they should. I agree with the CPRS report on this matter. The subject is complicated, and it is far too easy to say that vandalism will be solved by a short sharp shock. In some areas it needs a bit of thought on the part of the local authorities to do something about it.

In view of my right hon. Friend's welcome comment, will he give an early reply to the fifteenth report of the Education, Arts and Home Office Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee which deals specifically with the short, sharp shock, and shows on strong evidence from prison governors and prison officers that it is futile and self-defeating?

I shall certainly reply to that point, but we are discussing vandalism which presents a wide social problem. Although in one or two cases the solution to vandalism may be the short, sharp shock, it is much more complicated than that.

Animals (Experiments)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will now introduce a licence and registration system for dealers in live animals for experiments.

There is already a voluntary accreditation and recognition scheme run by the Medical Research Council which covers both the breeding and supply for sale of animals for experimental purposes. However, the need for a statutory scheme and its practicability are under consideration.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will she assure the House that this matter will be pursued with vigour, given the attention devoted to it in the Daily Mirror? Is she aware that these grubby little animal snatchers are going around picking up otherwise unwanted pets and flogging them by the back door to otherwise reputable research establishments such as the St. George's medical school?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I have every sympathy for owners who wish to dispose of their pets but are worried about where they will eventually go. While we are looking at this matter, I advise them to seek the advice of the RSPCA or a veterinary surgeon.

Is it not time that we had proper legislation on the subject of animal experiments, as the existing legislation is now more than 100 years out of date?

Although this matter is not relevant to the original Question, the subject of experiments on animals is being examined, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Question Time recently.

Equal Opportunities Commission

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

I have no immediate plans to do so. I met Lady Lockwood to discuss EOC matters last month.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange to meet the chairman to discuss with her plans to ensure that the Government refuse contracts to employers who fail to comply with the Sex Discrimination Act, as has already happened with the Race Relations Act, thus showing that the Government take sex discrimination as seriously as they take racial discrimination?

When the Home Secretary meets the chairman of the EOC, will he ask her to write to those chief constables who operate differential height requirements governing the entry of men and women into the police force in order to ensure a common standard?

The subject of height standards for the police is a matter for each chief constable. I am not sure that I want to add to my powers in this respect. I imagine it is considered that in handling some of the work carried out by the police, the size of a woman is not as important as the size of a man.

Nationality Law

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects the White Paper on the nationality law.

I cannot yet say when we will be ready to publish a White Paper, but we hope to do so as soon as our consideration of the many issues involved has been completed.

I am grateful for that reply, but, in view of the fears expressed following publication of the Green Paper, and since there is still some time before the publication of the White Paper, will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to make clear that the Government do not intend to tamper through this intended legislation with the civic rights either of Commonwealth citizens who are settled here or of their children who are born here?

Will the Minister understand that the House is getting a little tired of the dilatory manner in which the Home Office deals with most matters—whether involving local radio, taxicabs or nationality? How much longer must the House wait for the Government's views on nationality?

Representations about this important and complex matter are still coming in. However dilatory we have been, we have not been as dilatory as has the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) in producing what he said was a draft Bill which was on the stocks when the Tory Government left office in 1974.

Police (Allegations And Complaints)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will set up a judical inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, into allegations and complaints that the police in areas of London, the West Midlands and Wolverhampton are infiltrated by Fascists.

Does the Home Secretary agree that these grave allegations, which were made at the Labour Party conference, are of concern to the whole nation, and that the nation will be able to decide the truth of these allegations only if the evidence is considered in public?

In reply to the suggestion that the police force is infiltrated by Fascist sympathisers, I must tell the House that there are means of investigating such matters which are quite expeditious. [HON. MEMBERS:"How? "] It is done under legislation passed by this House. That is the way in which these matters should be investigated.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) is referring to what I said at the Labour Party conference when replying to a debate on immigration and racialism? However, my right hon. Friend will be aware that I did not say what the hon. Gentleman has implied. I did not say that the Wolverhampton police were infiltrated by Fascists. What I said was that it is not acceptable that the police should be infiltrated by Fascist sympathisers. Surely hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that to be the case, although it appears that the hon. Gentleman does not.

Licensing Laws

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to introduce measures to implement the Erroll committee's report on liquor licensing.

I see no prospect of Government legislation on this subject during the present Session.

As it is now six years since the Erroll committee reported, why have not the Government implemented its findings? If it was right to implement the findings of the Clayson committee on Scottish licensing laws, surely it is also right to implement similar proposals relating to the English licensing laws. There is plenty of time this Session.

I believe that since the Erroll report, the position has changed in that offences of drunkenness have increased and there is greater public concern over the problem of alcoholism. Furthermore, we have had the report of the Government's advisory committee on alcoholism and also the report of the Expenditure Committee on preventive medicine. Both those reports recommended against the implementation of the Erroll committee recommendations.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the implementation of the Blennerhassett report is far more important than the implementation of Erroll?

Is the hon. Lady aware that alcohol is an established common factor in the rising tide of violent crime, death and injury on the road and violence within the family, and that we are also faced, as she has already admitted, with a distressing increase in the illness of alcoholism? Will she continue to resist most strongly any suggestion that the Erroll committee's recommendations to tinker about with the licensing laws should be implemented? Will she also confirm, for the benefit of the House and the nation, that in general the police, the magistrates and the licensing trade are opposed to such tinkering?

The hon. Gentleman has reminded the House of certain facts which are important in considering this matter. I think that I can leave it to him to convert his hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox).

Television Licences

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has plans to abolish television licences.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the licence fee as it now stands imposes a heavy burden on low income groups? Is it not true that, if BBC revenue were collected through direct taxation, State pensioners would not have to pay any contribution at all? Will he now look to a redistribution of wealth in this fashion?

There are a number of factors to be considered. There is strong resistance to this idea in the BBC, which genuinely believes that it would be under far more control by the Government. Furthermore, such a proposal would take £300 million in total public expenditure. I do not believe that we could erect a system under which every year in the PESC discussions we would be looking for a sum of £20 million out of revenue to be put elsewhere. All these factors have to be considered. I am prepared to consider the suggestion, but it is not an easy matter.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider a partial refund in respect of unexpired licences, provided that it is fully costed so that no extra expense is put on public funds?

I have examined that suggestion once or twice in the past three or four years. However, the extra cost involved, given the necessary computerisation, is large. Such a suggestion may look attractive when seen from outside, but the imposition of substantial extra cost must be considered. I am prepared to show the hon. Gentleman the results of the investigations into this proposal.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the external services of the BBC already receive a grant-in-aid and that they are not told what to do by the Foreign Office? Furthermore, we do not tell the Arts Council or the Queen how to spend their money. If the will exists, this proposal can be implemented. Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement last week of a 20 per cent. increase in the television licence fee—far greater than the increase at Ford's—did not satisfy the BBC, the unions, the viewers or many Members of this House?

I think that the BBC would have settled for a Ford-type increase over the past three years compared wth what it has received. My hon. Friend might like to see a scheme which has been carried out by the local authority in the city of Wakefield. It is an excellent scheme, and all our problems would be ended if local authorities carried out such schemes throughout the country.

In regard to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about preserving the freedom of the BBC, is that not a bogus idea when we consider that the BBC's application for an increase in the fee is rejected by the Government and is fixed at a different figure by the Government? Is he aware that there is resentment among many elderly people who recognise that some people in certain types of accommodation are given rebate when others in different types of accommodation are not, and especially when it is known that those who do not receive rebate are the loneliest people who are most in need of television? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider carefully the step he is taking?

I shall certainly consider the right hon. Gentleman's comments. I hope that he has taken into account what about 65 local authorities are doing already. I cannot accept that the argument is bogus. It may be one with which the right hon. Gentleman disagrees. I disagree with him about the nature of the silly local government reform which he carried out. But I do not regard that as bogus—I just regard it as daft.

My right hon. Friend should consider making statutory provision to help old-age pensioners and people on low incomes with their licence fees, but does he agree that the licence fee is vital if the BBC is to remain independent? Is he aware that if a Government, of whatever political complexion, sought to exercise control over, or undue influence upon, the BBC we should be well on the way to the totalitarian State? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that we must maintain the freedom of the BBC and the broadcasting authorities generally from any form of Government influence?

I do not regard my hon. Friend's argument as bogus. I accept that many people disagree with him.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there are many people who would agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), not least the Annan committee, which made it perfectly clear that the licence fee was the best method of financing the BBC? Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that any system which in any way removed the independence of the BBC would be extremely dangerous for the whole of the operations of the BBC?

It is dangerous. I believe that the scheme operated by some local authorities would deal with the problem about which many of us are concerned.

Television (X Certificate Films)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to introduce legislation to prohibit the exhibition on television of films certified in the X category as unsuit- able for exhibition to persons under the age of 18 years in cinemas.

No, Sir. Legislation of the kind my hon. Friend envisages would conflict with the Government's declared policy that the provision and content of programmes should be the responsibility of the broadcasting authorities.

What is the sense of prohibiting the showing of X films to teenagers under 18 in cinemas yet allowing them to see the same films on television in their homes? Is she aware that it is no answer to say that these films are not screened until 10.30 p.m. because, as she knows, kids of 17 do not go to bed at 10.30 p.m.? If my hon. Friend will not go all the way with me, will she at least adopt the recommendations of paragraphs 104 and 116 of the Annan report, rather than treat us to the unconvincing explanation in paragraph 106 of the White Paper?

I am sure that my hon. Friend and the House would not want to interfere with the content of programmes. I am sure that they would not wish to see legislation which provided for Government intervention, which is what my hon. Friend is asking for. On the other hand, the White Paper recognises that the IBA and the BBC have a responsibility for programme standards. We are suggesting a broadcasting complaints commission and more accountability, via such organisations, to the public.

Will the hon. Lady discuss with the broadcasting authorities the possibility of giving some protection and guidance to parents and children by reproducing the rating given to a film by the British Board of Film Censors in the radio and television periodicals and in newspaper summaries of programmes?

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will bring that very good suggestion to the notice of the BBC and the IBA. I hope that other hon. Members with similar suggestions will do the same.

Will my hon. Friend resist any suggestion that what we can watch on television should be geared to the needs of 12-year-olds? Will she make it clear that the Government will not force all of us to watch"Blue Peter " all night just because some people do not send their kids to bed at the right time?

This discussion illustrates that there is a variety of opinion and taste among hon. Members as to what they want to see. It is up to the IBA and the BBC to decide what it is best to do, in the light of recommendations.

Parole Board

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will now seek to change the rules so that the Parole Board can give its reasons for refusing an application for parole.

Before reaching a decision on the desirability of giving reasons, about which we shall need to enter into various consultations, we are awaiting the results of a feasibility experiment by a number of local review committees. This is necessary because the majority of parole refusals result from recommendations of local review committees, not from those of the Parole Board.

Could not the prison governor have the prisoner in his office to explain the reasons why parole—however the decision is arrived at—is being refused, so that the prisoner will know what he can do better if he is doing something wrong?

I appreciate that there is a strong argument for giving reasons. The problem is that the Parole Board does not always find it very easy to itemise the reasons in a clear and concise way. That is what we are looking into.

What safeguard is there against prisoners having parole refused because wrong information has become attached to their files?

If my hon. Friend can give me an example of this happening I shall be pleased to look into it.

Will the Minister institute an inquiry into the entire parole system, as recommended by the Expenditure Committee report on prisons, which committee reported almost three months ago? Is the Minister aware that we are eagerly awaiting an answer to this report?

We are looking at the report now. There will be an answer as soon as possible.

Will my hon. Friend say when the consultations with the local review bodies are likely to be completed and whether the results of those consultations will be published? Can she give a clear idea of what form this feasibility study is taking?

The local review committee inquiry will, we hope, be able to report to the Home Office early in the new year. Following that, we shall need to have consultations with the Parole Board to see whether it is possible to set up a parole system in which reasons are given.

Crimes

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the total number of crimes committed during the past 12 months for which figures are available (a) against the person and (b) against property in the whole of the United Kingdom and the North-West.

Since regional breakdowns of criminal statistics are published only for the calendar year, the latest readily available 12-month figures are for 1977. In that year the police in England and Wales recorded 103,503 indictable offences against the person and 2,533,014 against property. The corresponding figures for the North-West region were 12,966 and 360,518 respectively.

Is the Minister aware that in the years since the last war—during which time the major parties in this House have shared power equally—indictable offences under Socialist Administrations have risen twice as fast as under Conservative Administrations? Does he accept that this is because the creed of Socialism does not believe in a property-owning democracy or in the rights of responsible and civilised individuals?

For the first time I now know who writes the"Peter Simple"column. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that in the past year offences against the person in Cheshire went down by 1 per cent. Is that not a great triumph for the Labour Government?

Is my hon. Friend encouraged in his work by the fact that the crime rate in the greater Manchester area has fallen sharply, particularly in respect of the number of murders?

The figures for crime fluctuate wildly from year to year. I do not believe that there are any simple solutions to this problem, nor any easy and cheap triumphs to be got. The rate of increase in the crime figures in the past year has been very small.

Is the Minister aware that, according to figures published by his own Department, 83 per cent. of reported burglaries in the London area are never cleared up? [AN HON. MEMBER:"Those areas are Tory-controlled."] Perhaps I should add that this figure has been about the same for the past 10 years. Although it might not be right to say, on the basis of those figures, that there has been a breakdown of law and order, was it not absolutely right of Sir Robert Mark to draw attention to these grave matters?

To draw attention to the matter is one thing, but Sir Robert's opinion of the facts that he disclosed was contradicted by the present Commissioner. The average clear-up rate in England and Wales is 78 per cent. for offences against the person and 37 per cent. for offences against property. In the North-West, which featured in the original Question, the figures are 82 per cent. and 42 per cent. respectively.

Will my hon. Friend resist the erroneous argument that has been presented by the Opposition—namely, that the reason for increasing crime rates lies in whether control is in Labour or Conservative hands? Does he agree that the correlation between crime and unemployment, bad housing conditions and bad environments is a more important factor? We should be tackling the solutions to these problems to reduce crime in the areas so affected.

I need no encouragement from my hon. Friend to dismiss as con- temptible the argument that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winter-ton) tried to put forward. It is too reminiscent of Saatchi amp; Saatchi to be true. The various conditions to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) referred play a part in the crime rate. However, I should be chary of placing all the blame for the crime rate on unemployment. It is my experience that a number of those who have advantageous material conditions are nevertheless prone to crime.

Chilean Refugees

15.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about aid for Chilean refugees in the United Kingdom.

Representations have been received from the British Council for Aid to Refugees and the Joint Working Group for Aid to Refugees from Chile in Britain about the level of grant paid to the latter. In addition, 15 letters, to similar effect, have been received from various organisations and individuals.

Will my hon. Friend help to ensure that adequate provision is made for the 3,000 Chilean refugees in this country by increasing the grant from the Voluntary Services Unit to the Joint Working Group for Refugees, especially in view of Government statements to the effect that the refugee programme is one of the most important elements in our support for human rights in Chile and the rest of Latin America?

I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that the grant has increased from 1974 when it was £27,000. It has increased annually and for the present year it is £137,500. There are continual meetings with the organisation concerned and there may be some scope for a small additional grant. That is now being examined.

Will the Under-Secretary of State be prepared to be similarly generous to refugees from the Soviet Union or other Communist regimes?

Our record of giving aid to refugees from wherever they come is extremely creditable both in financial terms and in general assistance.

Age Of Criminal Responsibility

16.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to lower the age of criminal responsibility.

No, Sir. It would, in my view, be a retrograde step to lower the present age of 10 years, fixed by the Children and Young Persons Act 1963, below which it is conclusively presumed in law that a child cannot be guilty of any offence.

Is the Minister aware that in the Metropolitan Police area alone during 1977, 675 under 10-yearolds were arrested for offences of violence and taking and driving away, apart from all other offences? What possible justification is there for treating a 9-year-old differently from a 10-year-old?

The younger the child the less he is presumed to know the consequences of his act. If a child under 10 years of age is in that position, care and control proceedings may be taken. I have not yet heard from those who advocate the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to what age they would take their own limit. Would they imprison children of 5 and 6?

Will my hon. Friend be prepared to examine instances where it appears that children under the age of criminal responsibility are being manipulated by those who are above that age? A serious problem is being created for the police.

The police are dealing with that problem. If the children concerned are beyond parental control, they may be brought before the courts as in need of care and control.

Firemen

17.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the recruitment of part-time firemen.

Under the Fire Services Act 1947, the recruitment of firemen is a matter for individual fire authorities, which decide on the number of whole-time or part-time firemen they need to recruit to discharge their statutory responsibilities.

Will the hon. Lady give a categorical assurance that regardless of representations from the Fire Brigades Union the Government will do nothing to interfere with the rights of local authorities to recruit firemen full-time or part-time as they, the local authorities, see fit?

Yes, I can give that assurance. It is entirely a matter for the fire authorities.

Tuc

Q1.

I meet representatives of the TUC from time to time, at NEDC and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Is the Prime Minister aware that on Tuesday the Secretary of State for Employment said that there were no sanctions available to the Government against the TUC despite that organisation's 21 per cent. pay rise? Is he aware that the Government pay the TUC £1 million a year to train shop stewards—I suppose to start strikes at Fords—and that the general council of the TUC has 180 quango posts between it? Why not axe that lot?

I am aware of those factors, but I still do not think that it would be sensible to take action in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes—[HON. MEMBERS:"Why not? "]—As I understand it, the Opposition are interested in why not. That is because I make my point and the Government take their action to control inflation, whereas the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) presses his case merely to make a political point.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the closure of Times Newspapers Limited from midnight tonight is a matter of grave concern to the TUC printing industries committee? Is he prepared to make a direct approach to the management to persuade it to lift the closure threat and to allow full negotiations to proceed in a proper fashion?

I know that my hon. Friend has been making a number of representations in his anxiety to try to get the closure stopped. I am grateful to him for the letter that he wrote. I have consulted the Secretary of State for Employment to ascertain whether any intervention would be valuable. As far as my right hon. Friend can, he will be reporting to the House later this afternoon in the emergency debate that has been arranged.

Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister has already decided to impose sanctions on the Ford 17 per cent. settlement and that British Leyland workers are today voting on a wage offer of 17 per cent., will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he proposes to treat the two companies in the same way?

Yes, of course the two companies will be treated the same. I am not sure that the headlines contained in the newspapers exactly represent the offer. I do not know whether it has occurred to the right hon. Lady, in her anxiety about the matter, that it has always been part of the White Paper provisions that genuine productivity deals are allowed. I understand from the proposals that have been put forward and that will be examined that the offer made by Leyland's contains a substantial and important productivity element.

The Prime Minister will recollect that that was the argument on the part of Fords. Is the right hon. Gentleman still saying that with two major car companies each settling at 17 per cent. he proposes to treat them dif-and in the other case he advised Government Departments not to buy cars because the company settled at 17 per cent. and in the other cases he advises Government Departments to buy cars because the other company settled at 17 per cent.

The right hon. Lady's questions show how important it is for her to be extremely careful about the facts before she stirs up unnecessary industrial trouble. If she examines the make-up of the pay claims she will see that there are a number of elements in the Leyland settlement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will consider. The treatment will be exactly the same. I suggest that at some time when the right hon. Lady asks a question she indicates that she is in favour of Government action to try to keep prices down. When she says that she will be more in tune with the views of the British people.

I entirely agree that we require Government action to keep prices down. Indeed, I regard 8 per cent. inflation as a disgrace. One of the reasons that we cannot go into Europe is that the Prime Minister is not prepared to take the requisite action to get it down further, as some of our partners in Europe are.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Lady for echoing the words that I have used, although do not think that I have ever used the word"disgrace ". I think that 8 per cent. is too high. I am very glad indeed to see that the right hon. Lady is a sinner come to repentance. I recall that when she and her Administration left office, inflation was twice as high and was going up. Now it has come down.

Vienna

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to pay an official visit to Vienna.

But has the Prime Minister studied the recent Austrian referendum on nuclear power? Will he take this opportunity to reiterate the Government's promise that a public inquiry will be held into a fast-breeder reactor if an application to build another one is made? Furthermore, will he extend that public relations exercise to a genuine one—

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) must relate his question to Vienna. We are not on the broad issue of policy here. Open questions come later. This Question is about a visit to Vienna.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Austrians held a referendum on the question of nuclear power.

The hon. Member for Truro was referring to something in this country, I believe.

May I say to the hon. Member for Truro, if it will help him, that I shall be very glad indeed to pay an official visit to Vienna. He might care to come with me and see what success a Labour Government have in that country.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the proposals tabled by the Soviet Union at the Vienna talks on 8th June of this year have not yet been replied to? Since the Foreign Office described them as very constructive two or three months ago, does not my right hon. Friend think that it is time we took some initiative, especially as he spoke so strongly about the necessity to advance these talks, when speaking at the Special Session of the United Nations?

There, is unfortunately, always a long interval between the replies that Governments make to each other at these international conferences. The Soviet Union took rather a long time to reply to the propositions that the West had put forward. One of the basic difficulties here is that the Soviet Union insists that in the central area of Europe manpower is roughly the same on both sides. That proposition is not accepted by the West. We believe that Soviet armed manpower is far larger than that of the West, and we have to try to get the data right before we can get further on negotiations.

Prime Minister(Engagements)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 30th November.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time today to study the question of the declining trend in this country's perinatal mortality rates over the past 25 years in relation to other European nations? Will he look at what can be done to reverse this disturbing trend, particularly in relation to improving neo-natal services within the National Health Service?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for informing me of a matter in which she is particularly interested. The perinatal mortality rate has come down substantially in this country. It varies against the rate in a number of European countries. It is higher than some but lower than others. The Minister could give my hon. Friend a table if she wished to see it.

The most worrying factor is the discrepancy between the regions of this country. Mortality seems to be highest in the areas of great industrial conurbations and lowest in the more rural areas. This undoubtedly reflects differences in the environment, and it is to that, as well as to diet and other matters, that we must pay attention.

Reverting to the question of sanctions and Ford's, will the Prime Minister explain why it was, in the words of Ministers, not appropriate to have sanctions on Ford 12 months ago, whereas it is appropriate now? Could it be related to the Bridgend factory?

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is a smear that is hardly worthy of him. But I suppose the real answer must be that the reason we started on it this year is that we were converted by the complaints of the Opposition last year that we had not taken action against Ford's.

Reverting to the question of perinatal mortality, will my right hon. Friend seek to co-ordinate the efforts in the inner city areas and the efforts of the Department of Health and Social Services in areas where there are large ethnic minorities, in order to assist what is now being done concerning languages to help the mothers concerned?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has sent to the regional chairmen of the health authorities details of the perinatal mortality rates in their areas. He has asked them to continue to look at these matters with a view to putting forward specific policies for improvement in the areas which are worst affected. This is a serious issue. We are not doing as well as some other countries, although we have had a substantial improvement. We should certainly ask the health authorities to make this a priority matter.

Will one of the ministerial colleagues that the Prime Minister says he will be meeting today be the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? If so, will the Prime Minister assure that gentleman that he is firmly behind him in his stand to make sure that the fishermen get a decent deal from the EEC?

Yes. I fortunately met my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the Cabinet meeting this morning. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Minister is in good and rude health.

Reverting once again to the question of perinatal mortality rates, will the Prime Minister be very chary about accepting statistics in this respect? We in this country are very accurate in the statistics that we put forward, and other countries might not be making comparisons on exactly the same basis as ourselves.

This is one of the things that I was warned about. I was informed that the league table approach to national performance is somewhat misleading. But at least it is a guide. I think that the best guide for us, for which we can at least claim some credit, is that since the introduction of the Health Service in 1948—and all our statistics are prepared on the same basis—the number of deaths per 1,000 live and still births has gone down from 38.5 per 1,000 to 17 per 1,000. That is a tribute to the work of the Health Service.

The Prime Minister has spoken of the importance of productivity deals. Will he say what steps he and his Administration are taking to monitor existing productivity deals, and in particular in the case of the miners? As the Prime Minister well knows, this year the miners received a 36.5 per cent. pay increase. Will he explain what action he proposes to take in the light of the fact that less than one-tenth of that sum has been earned in increased productivity?

I do not propose to go into this matter myself. If the hon. Gentleman has any questions to put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, no doubt he will do so. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue the vendetta of his family against the miners—[Interruption.]—at Tonypandy for the third generation.

Order. Mr. Noble.—[Interruption.] Order. Mr. Mike Noble, next Question.

Order. Will the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) wait until after Questions? [Interruption.] Order. It will not be long. We shall return to it after Questions. Mr. Mike Noble—next Question.

The Prime Minister rose—[Interruption.]

Order. I have already said that the hon. Member for Stretford will have an opportunity to raise a point of order after Questions. The Prime Minister.

Order. Even when hon. Members feel indignant, they must—[HON. MEMBERS:"Dishonourable."] Order. We must try to keep to the rules of order. The Prime Minister will answer this Question and then we shall have points of order after the supplementary question. [Interruption.] Order. It is impossible to conduct our affairs if hon. Members do not listen to the Chair when I make a request. We shall come back to that matter shortly.

Later

Mr. Speaker, would it be in order for the Prime Minister to withdraw his wholly false smear accusation against my late grandfather, whose vendetta was against not the miners, but the Nazis?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think, on reflection, that it would be sensible and wise to withdraw a cheap and totally unnecessary slur?

The actions of the late Sir Winston Churchill in Tonypandy are a matter of historical dispute. I take one side of the quarrel. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman takes another side of that quarrel. I can only tell him what we in South Wales feel about the actions that were taken on that occasion.

I hope that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) will not pursue a vendetta against the miners.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. That was not what I said. The hon. Gentleman knows very well what I said. I am asking the hon. Gentleman not to pursue a vendetta against the miners of South Wales or anywhere else, and by the nature of his questions he appears to be doing so.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister is seeking to advance a hoary old chestnut of Socialism by suggesting that the late Sir Winston Churchill sent troops to Tonypandy when the right hon. Gentleman should very well know that it was Sir Winston Churchill who detrained them at Didcot and sent instead policemen from the Metropolis. It was completely unjustifiable for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that the late Sir Winston Churchill sent troops, which was the implication behind his remarks.

Order. I am not taking any further points of order on that matter. The hon. Member for Stretford has had the last word.

Order. If those who seek to raise points of order after I have already said that I do not propose to take further points of order on this matter feel that they can be helpful and not stir up trouble—[Interruption.] Order. I know that it is a matter of judgment. I do not want us to have a slanging match without coming to any conclusion.

Order. The hon. Member for Stretford made his reply to the Prime Minister. I do not know whether the Prime Minister wishes to say anything more. I shall call him if he does.

I hope that this will be a helpful point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have heard it said before, and the Prime Minister will have heard it said, that slurs on people who are dead are not advisable in the House. That has frequently been said before. Does the Prime Minister agree that a slur of this nature on someone who is dead is unfortunate and that he should realise it and not go on with it?

If I had thought that the remark was untruthful, I would not have made it. The record of the late Sir Winston Churchill in that dispute is a matter which is and continues to be deeply felt in South Wales. [Interruption.] There is no need for Opposition Members to try to make up to the hon. Member for Stretford for having voted against him in the defence committee.

As regards Sir Winston Churchill's record, there is no need for me to add any words to what I am known to feel about him or his services to the country. That is well known. I have said it myself on previous occasions and I have no hesitation in saying it again. However, there is a particular issue here which is unresolved at the bar of history, even now.

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. Obviously you wish us to be helpful. I assure you that I wish to be nothing but helpful. This is an entirely different point of order, but it is true to say that it may arise out of circumstances that we have just witnessed.

After my right hon. Friend had made a statement and there had also been a statement by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), a great baying noise came from the Opposition and you, Mr. Speaker, drew this fact to the attention of Labour Members. I found that very strange indeed.

I ask that in future you ask the 73 per cent. of public schoolboys on the Opposition side of the House to behave not like street corner boys but to behave —[Interruption.]

Order. This is an unexpected contribution. The House should listen to the hon. Member.

I should like Opposition Members to behave—I shall finish on this point, Mr. Speaker—on the basis of the type of education that they have received.

Does the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) also want to be helpful? He nods his head. I shall make an act of faith.

As long as you do not expect me, Mr. Speaker, to make an act of contrition. I wish to say, on an entirely helpful point of order, how much I admire your great dispassion, Mr. Speaker, as I know that you come from Tonypandy. Secondy, there have been certain inaccuracies perpetrated, and as the House must make a judgment on these things—as, indeed, you do, Mr. Speaker—it might be as well to correct one or two misapprehensions.

Order. That is the point at which the hon. Gentleman ceases to be helpful.

Order. The hon. Gentleman can rise only to a further point of order. We do not want a recital of history—from anyone.

I fully appreciate that, Mr. Speaker—except that we have had one version of history this afternoon.

Order. I gave the hon. Gentleman a fair chance. The House is waiting to move on to a very important debate. I call the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James). I hope that he will be helpful as well.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The events of 1910 and 1911 are indeed a matter of controversy, but I hope that this House and you, Mr. Speaker, will recognise that the actions taken by the then Home Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS:"Oh."]—were matters of great restraint. [Interruption.]

Order. This is pursuing the argument.

I suggest to the House that we leave the matter. I never thought that the day would come when a pupil of Tonypandy grammar school would have the last word between both sides of this place on such a matter. I believe that it is to the mutual advantage of this House to leave the matter there.

Cbi

Q5.

I meet representatives of the CBI from time to time, at NEDC and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Will my right hon. Friend ignore the synthetic anger of the official Opposition about the Ford situation? When he next meets representatives of the CBI, will he take them on a guided tour of the House of Commons car parks where they will be able to count the number of foreign cars owned by Opposition Members? [Interruption.] A substantial minority, if not an absolute majority, have imported cars from abroad.

I well understand my hon. Friend's point, but I do not think that I shall take that particular course. When I meet CBI representatives I shall be very anxious to discuss with them the points which they put to me in a letter which I received today in which they say that, as far as they know, half a million workers have settled within the Government's 5 per cent. guidelines. But they wish to discuss with me—[An HON. MEMBER:"That is not true."] If it is not true, the hon. Gentleman must take it up with the CBI. I do not want to fan any more quarrels between the CBI and the Opposition. I wish them well. The CBI wishes to discuss with me some better arrangements for settling pay in the long term. In its letter it also states that it is fully behind the Government in their plans, progress and determination to keep down inflation.

Business Of The House

May I ask the Lord President to state the business for next week, please?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 4TH DECEMBER—Supply [2nd Allotted Day]: debate on a motion to take note of the 1st to 10th reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1977-78, and the related Treasury minute and the Northern Ireland memorandum.

Motions on the European Assembly constituencies orders for England, Wales and for Scotland.

TUESDAY 5TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Education Bill.

Motions on the Social Security (Contribution, Re-rating) Order and on the (Earnings Limits) Amendment Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 6TH DECEMBER—Remaining stages of the Public Lending Right Bill.

Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) (No. 2) Order.

THURSDAY 7TH DECEMBER—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]: the House will be asked to agree the Civil and Defence Votes on Account and the Winter Supplementary Estimates.

There will be a debate on the unjust and arbitrary use of sanctions on industry, on a motion for the Adjournment.

FRIDAY 8TH DECEMBER—Pri Vale Members' motions.

MONDAY 11TH DECEMBER—Private Members' motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, motions on the Appropriation (No. 4) (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Shops (Northern Ireland) Order.

The Lord President will be aware that we used to have the public expenditure White Paper published before Christmas. As it is rather important this year, may we expect to have it before Christmas?

We shall do our best, but I cannot make an absolute promise. I am not at all sure that it will be before Christmas, but I shall look at the point and discuss the matter with the right hon. Lady.

Did my right hon. Friend see the report in The Times on Monday to the effect that the House would be rising on 15th December? How is it that The Times knows this before hon. Members? Or is it a case of guessing again, rather like the General Election of October this year that never was?

I would not wish, on such a day, to say anything derogatory of The Times I regard the closure of The Times as a most tragic event. But The Times does not always get its facts right. There has been no decision yet about the time at which we shall rise for the Christmas Recess. I hope that we shall not have to go into the week starting on 18th December, but I cannot be sure.

In view of the decline in the Scottish economy and the vast number of redundancies which are threatened in Scotland, in Massey-Ferguson and in Marathon and the shipbuilding industry in general, will the Leader of the House now set his mind to reconvening the Scottish Select Committee to look at the Scottish economy, since that Committee has not met at any stage since he became Leader of the House?

I shall look at that question, although I am not sure that that is the best way to deal with the problem.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be inappropriate for a much longer time to elapse before the House has a major and proper opportunity to consider energy policy? May we have a debate in the fairly near future?

I certainly cannot promise it before the Christmas Recess, but I shall bear it in mind amongst the other general topics for which there is strong competition.

Will the Leader of the House give the Opposition Front Bench an opportunity to reconsider the arrangements for Thursday's debate on Ford sanctions so that we could have a motion before the House setting out some alternative policies rather than have a debate on the Adjournment, in which we can all interpret the vote as we choose?

It may be—though I hope not—that the hon. Gentleman's influence with the Opposition Front Bench is greater than mine.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on his decision to make rapid progress with the Public Lending Right Bill. Will he consider providing time for a debate before Christmas on early-day motion no. 52 and, in particular, the amendment thereto standing in my name, which is about Maplin Sands and the question of aircraft noise?

[That this House, noting how the operation of the four existing London airports imposes a heavy burden of noise disturbance upon the centres of popula-tion in or near which they are situated, and that every intensification of their use imposes an additional burden upon that population, deeply regrets that Her Majesty's Government should be proposing yet further expansion of these airports; and declares that there is no acceptable solution of the problem of aircraft noise, in spite of all technical advances and procedural mitigations, except the development of a coastal airport for London.]

I cannot give a promise on the second matter, but I am happy to accept the congratulations on the first.

In relation to the question of Thursday's business, which has been raised from the Liberal Bench, if the official Opposition table a motion on Thursday may I have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that he will allow us to debate and vote on that motion and will not attempt to amend it?

No such innocent request has ever been put from that Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Kinnoek