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Commons Chamber

Volume 960: debated on Friday 15 December 1978

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House Of Commons

Friday 15th December 1978

The House met at Eleven o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Rhodesia (Oil Sanctionsinquiry)

With permission Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about Rhodesian oil sanctions, in the light of the debate on the Bingham report on 7th and 8th November.

The Government have concluded that the exceptional nature of the events covered by the Bingham report and the importance of the questions raised by hon. Members call for a further inquiry. Such an inquiry will largely be a matter of political judgment, and the Government have taken into account that its form should be fair to those concerned and should not damage the processes of government or the United Kingdom's interests abroad.

We shall be recommending to both Houses of Parliament, after the recess, the setting up, by joint resolution of both Houses of Parliament, of a Special Commission of Inquiry. It would comprise eight members drawn from both Houses sitting under the chairmanship of a Lord of Appeal. It would have the following terms of reference:
" To consider, following the Report of the Bingham Inquiry, the part played by those concerned in the development and application of the policy of oil sanctions against Rhodesia with a view to determining whether Parliament or Ministers were misled, intentionally or otherwise, and to report."
The resolution that we shall put before the House will provide that this Special Commission will have powers to send for persons, papers and records ; it will also have power, if it judges it necessary, to hear counsel and to call upon the assistance of the Attorney-General ; and it will sit in private. It will publish its finding but not its evidence.

It would be unprecedented to make Cabinet papers available in this way.

Nevertheless, given the special circumstances, the Government are prepared to make Cabinet papers available, subject to certain conditions. Provided I have the agreement of the former Prime Ministers concerned, I shall be ready to recommend to the Queen that Cabinet papers, as well as other Government papers, should be made available through the Chairman of the Special Commission. He, if necessary in consultation with the other members of the Commission, and with the assistance of the Treasury Solicitor, will judge which of the great volume of papers relating to Rhodesia should be seen by the members of the Commission or by witnesses appearing before them, and these papers will be made available. He will similarly be free to decide whether it is essential to publish or refer to any of these papers in the report of the inquiry.

Thus the test of relevance of a Cabinet paper to the Commission's inquiry will be applied not by the Government themselves but by the Chairman of the Commission, who, as I have said, would be a Lord of Appeal.

The Government will table the resolutions immediately after the recess and will arrange for an early debate.

The Prime Minister has made a very serious statement, upon which we shall reserve our judgment. We shall consider it in detail before reaching a conclusion on the proposal which I understand the right hon. Gentleman will put on the Order Paper.

In the meantime, there are just two points that I should like to put to the Prime Minister. We very much agree that any further inquiry should not, in his own words, damage either the United Kingdom's interests abroad or the processes of government.

May I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman, first, whether he is satisfied that the form of inquiry that he is proposing is capable of reaching effective and speedy conclusions? Many of us feel very strongly that any further inquiry should not drift on halfway through another Parliament. If were to do so, that would damage the interests of this country. We feel that conclusions should be reached speedily, and we would hope that anything that the House agreed would be capable of reaching such a conclusion, so that we can have done with this matter.

Secondly, we note what the Prime Minister said about Cabinet papers, but is he aware that many of us are deeply and gravely concerned at any breach of the 30-year rule with regard to these papers? We feel that it may set a precedent and that it could affect both the proceedings and the way in which the minutes are recorded in the future. So we shall need, likewise, to reserve our judgment upon that for further consideration.

I am obliged to the right hon. Lady. As she recognises, this is a very difficult question. It is essential in the Government's view that those who are so ready to allege that there are attempts to cover up matters which are regarded as disreputable should be shown either to be right or should be disproved totally. This is the purpose of such a Commission. It has its implications not only domestically in this country but also abroad, especially in the continent of Africa. I agree absolutely with the right hon. Lady that there should be no damage, but we want the inquiry to reach an effective and speedy conclusion. If the House agrees to the Special Commission being set up, I hop: that it will take note of what the right hon. Lady has said, which I think will receive general support.

There is a further factor here. Some of those concerned, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), have been, in my view, attacked rather spitefully. My right hon. Friend has been attacked for his conduct in this matter. In fairness to him, I believe that the matter should be disposed of speedily. He is the one against whom the principal allegations have been made. So I agree entirely with the right hon. Lady about that.

As regards the production of Cabinet papers, here again I am in agreement with the right hon. Lady. We considered this matter very long and very seriously. I should not be prepared to advise Her Majesty to make me free to disclose Cabinet papers, except under the very rigid conditions which will be laid down in the resolution which will be placed before the House in due course.

One of the reasons why we have come down in favour of this Special Commission, as opposed to a Select Committee of inquiry of both Houses, is that it is virtually unprecedented. The last occasion on which there was such a Special Commission was on the conduct of the Government in the Dardanelles campaign over 60 years ago. If we use this procedure, and with the very careful safeguard that I have announced today—that a Lord of Appeal should see these papers—I think that that will be adequate to make sure that we do not breach the rule to which the right hon. Lady and I attach equal importance.

Like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I believe that this is a very complex matter, and I am grateful to the Prime Minister for saying that we shall have a full debate on it when the House returns in the new year. As the Prime Minister is aware, I have already made known in the House my view that Bingham was a very thorough inquiry and that, following it, there should be a political decision on what that inquiry reported. The Prime Minister now says, as regards this one, that such an inquiry will be largely a matter of political judgment, and in my view it is a matter now for the House of Lords and the House of Commons to make their political judgment on the Bingham report.

May I put to the Prime Minister one question about the proposals which he has made? Is not what he is putting forward the equivalent of an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, with a judge in the chair, with other members who will be chosen only from the House of Lords and the House of Commons, with the right of counsel to appear on behalf of people who are appearing before it, with people who can be called upon from any of the companies involved, from the Civil Service, from either House of Parliament and from former Departments, and with the right also to ask other people to make inquiries for it? The only difference is that it is to be held without the public being present. It will then report without publishing the evidence on which it reaches its conclusions.

I suggest to the Prime Minister that this is the worst of all possible worlds. Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Salmon report exposed the weaknesses of the 1921 tribunal, but at least it was held in public and people could judge for themselves on the results and on the evidence whether its conclusions were justified? In this case, they will not be able to do that.

Is not it the case that, although it is to be held in private, there will be nothing binding those who appear, whether they be counsel, witnesses or those involved, to secrecy once they leave the inquiry? Therefore, we shall have bits passed out of this Commission, at any time during the day after it has been sitting, informing the press what the people appearing before it believe went on. I ask the Prime Minister to consider whether in deciding to have an inquiry, which, in my view, is not necessary, he has not reached the worst of all possible forms of inquiry for dealing with this matter.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's view, which he has expressed before, that it is not necessary to have an inquiry. I think that that is a matter to be debated when the resolution appears on the Order Paper. I can only say that, in my view, if we do not have an inquiry, those who wish to believe the worst of us will go on alleging that there is some kind of Watergate here that has to be covered up and that we and Parliament are attempting to protect all those with whom we work, and the rest of it. All the smears would do greater damage to democracy, because they will linger on in the minds of those who do not care much for this place or its reputation, and we shall never be able to dispose of them.

The right hon. Member has correctly exposed a number of weaknesses in the procedure. That is one reason why we have taken so long. We consulted many people before reaching a conclusion. I do not pretend that any solution is free from difficulty. However, I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's view that this is the worst of all possible inquiries. For one thing, the fact that it is not to be held in public gives protection, against the alternative of a 1921 tribunal where people's reputations can be ruined by allegations made in public which can be corrected only after a very long interval, whereas I hope this will be a private inquiry held by people of considerable integrity where people's reputations will not be improperly traduced, as I think is the tendency. That is one reason why, although it has difficulties, this is as good a form of inquiry as we can have.

However, there is an overriding reason, apart from that, and that is the production of Cabinet papers. I should not wish to be accused of hiding Cabinet papers or Cabinet decisions under any Administration of which I was a part from a reputable Lord of Appeal who, in consultation with the Commission, should decide what papers he wished to see. But I should not be willing to recommend to the Queen that we should produce such Cabinet papers to a tribunal of inquiry held in public. There must be a basis of trust here. If the House wishes to go ahead with this inquiry, it must say that it is ready to trust those selected to conduct it in this manner. We are responding to a view which was widely expressed on both sides of the House, and we have tried to find our way through a very difficult position. I know that the right hon. Gentleman did not hold this view, but many others did, and they expressed it on both sides of the House.

Thirdly, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not hold the view—which he expressed—that if people are not bound to secrecy because they are not Privy Councillors or whatever, bits will be passed to the press. I hope that our colleagues who serve on such a Commission—those who are chosen and agree to do so—will use the discretion—l

It is not the whole point, with respect, because witnesses will be present only for the matters in which they are concerned. These are difficulties, and the House will have to make up its mind when it sees the resolution whether it believes that the difficulties are so great that they override the need for a further inquiry. Government supporters will have a free vote on this matter, and hon. Members must then decide what they think is the best way to proceed.

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that we on the Liberal Bench accept that the Government have responded to the views of the House in the debate that we had and that it is not because he has found a respectable Liberal precedent for this that, in the Christmas spirit, I welcome the form of inquiry on which he has settled? Will he confirm that, as against a tribunal of inquiry, it has the two superior qualities of speed and access to these papers, which only a private inquiry could have, and that it is considerably more powerful than a normal Select Committee would be? Therefore, this rather unusual procedure is probably about right, at any rate in our judgment.

May I ask the Prime Minister two questions? Since the evidence itself is not to be published—there was a reference in his statement to the publication of bits of the evidence in the course of the Commission reporting its conclusions —will he accept from me that we consider that the choice of those matters to be published should be for the Commission as a whole and not just the judgment of the Chairman, although, of course, a Commission of this kind would be guided considerably by the Chairman?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman say what staff or other expertise will be made available? As I said in the earlier debate, it is important that, unlike a Select Committee, this Commission should have sufficient staff to enable it to do an important job in a fairly speedy manner.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I think that the inquiry will have the advantage of speed and, of course, of access. That, I believe, makes it the best kind of inquiry, even with all the disadvantages which attach to it. As to the choice of what should be published, I think we must rely to a large extent on what the Lord of Appeal decides is relevant. A lot of material is only marginally relevant to the inquiry. Some of it is still currently sensitive in our relations with other countries, especially in Africa. Therefore, I should hope that the House would not press too far and would be ready to rely upon the discretion of the Chairman.

Can my right hon. Friend say precisely when the resolution will be taken, because time is of the essence in this matter? Will the House be given adequate time to debate and amend the proposals? Will it be able to amend the composition as between Privy Councillors and Back Benchers? The general view in the debate was that there should be a predominance of non-Privy Council Back Benchers of this House.

Further, does my right hon. Friend find it acceptable that the findings of the Commission but not the evidence will be published? Would it not be better to leave it to the discretion of the Chairman and the Commission to decide what evidence should be published and what should not? Does he accept the view that a great number of Back Bench Members feel that this matter—not to rescind or completely ignore the 30-year rule—is sufficiently important that the Commission, if it wished to have documents which might infringe that rule, should have the discretion to say that it should have access to them and not be overruled by the Government? I hope that my right hon. Friend realises the importance of that in Africa, apart from the reactions in this country.

The Leader of the House is of the opinion that we would hope to put down the resolution as soon as we come back. Indeed, it can appear on the first Order Paper which is printed and perhaps be debated the week after we come back. So it could be as early as could be expected. Of course, it will be in a form that can be amended, particularly as regards composition, although I would not propose to insert the names in such a resolution at that stage. The question of names would have to come a little later because there is the matter of procedure as between another place and this House. Secondly, we would wish to know whether the Opposition would want to nominate and what they might want to do. I think it would be preferable to leave that until after the main resolution had been passed.

On the question of amendment, however, I want to say this—and I hope that my hon. Friend will understand the basis on which I say it. We have very carefully considered the circumstances in which I am ready to recommend to Her Majesty that Cabinet papers should be released. If there were any amendment to that procedure, as distinct from composition or something of that sort, I would not be ready to go ahead with the inquiry in the sense of being willing to release Cabinet papers, because this is the only safeguard. I put that to my hon. Friend and hope that he will understand the basis on which I am putting it.

The question of publishing the findings but not the evidence, is, I think, a matter for debate. I would not want to express a final view except to say that we believe that our proposal is the better one.

As regards the production of Cabinet papers, on the basis of the resolution that we are drawing up, it would not be the Government who would overrule their production. The Chairman of the Special Commission, the Lord of Appeal, in conjunction with the Treasury Solicitor, will sift this huge volume of papers and decide, together with the Treasury solicitor, what should be produced. So there is no question of the Government overruling the production of any papers. That is why we must be careful, and why I insist on what the circumstances will be in which we would release such papers.

Order. I will call those hon. Members who have been standing up to be called. There will be a further debate after the recess. Adjournment debates are due for the rest of the morning.

Will not the verdict of history be that the British Government are fiddling with Bingham while Rhodesia burns? Is not the Government's preoccupation with sanctions becoming almost masochistic on several fronts? Will the Prime Minister confirm that, taking into account all the expenditure involved, including Government Departments and witnesses, an inquiry of this kind will probably cost not much less than £1 million? Does he believe that the taxpayers of this country wish to spend £1 million in clearing whoever might be responsible, on either side of the House or anywhere else, of a range of actions which are bound to follow from impossible and impractical policies? Should we not be applying all our energies, in Government Departments and elsewhere, to considering what might be done to salvage the situation in Southern Africa instead of merely trying to salvage reputations? Ought we not to be considering the realities of the gravity of this situation and, however much it might be—

Order. We are not discussing the broad question of Southern Africa. We are discussing the inquiry about oil sanctions. The hon. Gentleman should confine his question to that.

I shall certainly confine my question to the inquiry, but I want to ask the Prime Minister whether he thinks that such an inquiry can do any good to anyone at this stage. How much more will it disclose than any sensible or intelligent person can already conclude from Bingham?

That is a view which the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be putting in the debate—indeed, he seems to have made his speech already. We were pressed heavily by the House—though not by the hon. Gentleman, who is only one Member of the House—to come forward with proposals. When we bring them forward, we are told that we are fiddling with Bingham when we should be doing something else. It hardly seems to me to be a censure on the Government. It may be a censure on those who pressed us in the House.

The House itself will decide this matter. If £1 million is to be spent, the House will decide that and not the Government. The Government have put forward their proposals and have attempted to respond to the House. It is now for the House to take a decision when the matter is debated.

Will the Government need to await the outcome of this inquiry before it takes further steps to take effective control of BP? Are the Government aware that the Bingham report showed quite clearly that BP treated its major shareholder in a way that no ordinary company would ever have done'' It was gross contempt, and therefore it is vitally necessary that, at the end of this inquiry or before, the Government should take complete control of their relationship with that company.

With respect, that question is separate from the matter that I am discussing this morning though there is another view of the matter than that which my hon. Friend has expressed. Whether the Bradbury letter should be amended in the changed circumstances of BP is a separate question which involves not only our relations with that company but our international relations, including BP's holdings overseas and in the United States. It is not something that I can deal with this morning in a supplementary answer.

While welcoming on behalf of my colleagues in the SNP the announcement of the inquiry and the general form of it, may I make a plea to the Prime Minister on the lines already made that the evidence should be given in public? Presumably, since the Chairman is to be a distinguished judge, there will be protection against any irrelevant slander of innocent people, and the Cabinet documents could be discussed by the court in camera. Does the Prime Minister accept that a number of us in the House regard it as just as important to salvage reputations, if that is the way it turns out, as it is to name the guilty.

I dare say that naming the guilty is important, but on the whole we believe in this country that it is equally important, if not more important, to protect the innocent. There could be a disposition to hound the guilty without caring over-much about what happens to the innocent. There is, I believe, a decline in society when that happens. Whether the evidence should be given in public, with the Special Commission sitting in private when necessary, is a matter for debate. We believe that it would be better for the Special Commission to sit in private, but no doubt this matter can be raised. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his general response.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that this will be the first time that Cabinet papers have been made available and that the Dardanelles inquiry did not have such papers? Does he accept that, if Cabinet papers are to be made available, all the members of the Commission ought to be Privy Councillors and bound by the Privy Councillors' oath?

What will be the balance of the Commission? Will it be half Commons and half Lords, and how does the Prime Minister envisage that the selection will take place? An important point to bear in mind is that, when we had the debate on Members' interests, certain accusations were made which the hon. Members concerned had no opportunity to answer. If accusations are made against hon. Members or others in this case, will they have the opportunity to be told in advance and to answer to the Commission before the evidence is produced here?

I do not this morning have the answers to all the hon. Gentleman's questions. I hope that he will be good enough to await the motion and the debate when the Attorney-General and the Leader of the House will be happy to answer some of his questions. I understand that this will be the first time that Cabinet papers have been produced, and there is a stringent basis on which I am prepared to advise Her Majesty. I must also have the permission of former Prime Ministers, at least by convention, before I make such a submission. I would not do so unless I had their agreement. That would be exceeding the bounds of propriety. The balance of the Commission must be a matter for further discussion between us before we reach a final conclusion.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the circle of interest in this matter is very small and that the public is completely indifferent to it? Will he also bear in mind that the progress of the inquiry and the report will probably do more harm to the reputation of public life in Britain than would be the case if we did not have an inquiry? Equally, if the Commons or the Lords rejected the motion on a free vote, it would be detrimental to the reputation of our public life.

Will the Prime Minister therefore feel himself not committed by his statement but open to reconsideration during the recess in the light of representations that he might receive from hon. Members that he should not proceed with his proposal when the House returns?

That would be treating, the House with contempt. We were asked strongly to put proposals before the House, which must now accept its own responsibilities. We are bringing forward the proposal which we think best, and the hon. and learned Gentleman should not try to dodge his responsibility in the matter by saying that it would be improper for the House to set up an inquiry or that it would lead to misrepresentation if the House rejected our motion on a free vote or on any other basis. He has a responsibility and must cast his vote accordingly.

Whatever public opinion in this country may be, I can promise the hon. and learned Gentleman that public opinion in Africa is not indifferent on this matter. The hon. and learned Gentleman may shrug that aside, but our relations with Africa are important to us and we should not neglect them, though I do not say that that should be the only consideration.

I do not accept that not coming forward with the motion would help our reputation or that it will harm our reputation if we have an inquiry. That is a very elitist view. I promise the hon. and learned Gentleman that, if things have been wrong and people have misconducted themselves, democracy will he stronger if that is exposed than if there is a belief that Parliament is trying to cover up matters. I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman very strongly that Parliament would be wrong to turn down our proposal at this stage. We should have an unnecessary smear upon ourselves which would do democracy no good. Despite what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, I shall recommend to the House that we go ahead with the inquiry.

Is the Prime Minister aware that not the least objection to the form of inquiry that he is proposing is that it would be giving to two individuals —a Law Lord and a civil servant—power and a position unprecedented in our law, constitution and history? We have never before conferred any such power on anyone, however worthy, and it is not even being conferred, apparently, on Privy Councillors. Should not the Government reconsider the significance and constitutional implications of what the Prime Minister is doing?

The power is inherent in the Lord of Appeal, and it will be for the House of Commons to decide whether that power should be exercised. The fact that it is unprecedented does not make it intolerable. If the House does not wish to proceed in this way, it will not do so. I see no reason, when all the considerations are balanced, for us not to proceed in the manner that I have suggested. I believe that it will be in the best interests of the House if we do so.

House Of Commonscommission


That Mr. Robert Cooke and Mr. Cledwyn Hughes be appointed members of the House of Commons Commission under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978.—[Mr. Graham.]

Mackerel Industry(Cornwall)

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

We are starting on the Adjournment 35 minutes later than expected. Each of the first four debates must therefore be 10 minutes shorter than it would otherwise have been, in order that we may be fair to those who follow.

11.36 a.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the mackerel industry in Cornwall. I must make a slight apology, because the title of my subject is the mackerel industry in Cornwall, but the essence of my complaint is that the mackerel industry is everywhere but in Cornwall and that the industry that has suddenly grown around us is having very little effect on some of the substantial economic difficulties of my county.

It is worth spending a few moments to spell out how the present situation has arisen. I am more than aware that mackerel have always been available off the Cornish coast. As a Cornishman, I was brought up on mackerel, among other things, and can clearly recollect the fish being sold door-to-door, at less than one penny each, by local fishermen who had often caught them in their leisure time. It was often said locally that the essence of the trouble with the mackerel industry was that, for good or bad reasons, the English would not eat the fish, though it had been a useful part of the Cornish diet for a long time.

A decade or so ago, a considerable amount of initiative by local business people gradually built up contacts in Europe and the mackerel industry began to take off. In the village of Flushing, in my constituency, there was a substantial growth in the number of boats using the harbour. I well recollect the arguments and vested interests of local residents and fishermen as the industry started to grow in the village.

Suddenly, things started to happen much more quickly. The British fishing industry went through an experience of considerable trauma. Within a few months, certainly less than two years, it found itself excluded, virtually totally, from the Icelandic waters and Norway, and logic was at long last brought to the fore in herring fishing when sensible conservation plans were implemented, which meant, for a period, a total ban on fishing for herring. The net result was that the great British fishing fleet faced a massive reduction in the number of fish available for catching.

Much to the surprise of myself and a number of other people locally, the one bit of good news at that time was that it appeared that the Soviet bloc had agreed to stop fishing off Cornwall. Some of us thought, for a whole week, that that was the end of the Soviet bloc. Much to our amazement, a large number of Soviet bloc fishing factories suddenly started using Falmouth harbour, and on the last occasion that I did a count I saw 24 in the vicinity.

That is the background to my argument. I should like to raise three points in particular—the question of conservation, the question how the mackerel industry is or, indeed, is not affecting the economy of Cornwall and the general question of environmental control of the sudden growth of this industry.

According to some of the documents I have read, a total allowable catch of mackerel approaching 400,000 tons would appear to be quite possible. I realise that not all of this is to be caught off Cornwall, but I can discover no one locally who believes that catching on that scale can possibly be maintained. I have had a substantial amount of correspendence with the Minister which has outlined how the research is done. I must admit that some of the documents are impressive. But the simple truth is that no one locally believes the conclusions.

It is true that there has been a poor summer for mackerel and that the fishermen have been catching smaller fish. I should like to know how much fish has been caught off Cornwall this year. What is the total allowable catch immediately off Cornwall, and what will the Minister do when and if that limit should be reached?

I can think of no greater insanity than catching fish before they mature. Catching small mackerel must be the first and prime nonsense of all. I seriously put to the Minister the proposition that there should be a close season in Cornwall, at least within the 12-mile limit, although I recognise the difficulties outside that distance, by banning the catching of mackerel with nets. The suggested dates have been 1st March to 1st November. But those fishermen to whom I have spoken are reasonably flexible and would accept a close season plus or minus a few weeks on either side of those dates. There is no doubt that there is a clear desire locally to stop the catching of what are believed to be immature fish, and I would have thought that the logic of that was absolutely overwhelming.

We are told that there are a lot of fish off the south-west of the Isles of Scilly. Clearly, the netting regulations would be somewhat difficult to apply to that area, since it is a considerable distance outside the 12-mile limit. The fish stocks off the Isles of Scilly are extremely important, and I believe that they should probably be used more than they are at present. I am told that they are already extensively fished by the Dutch. People locally certainly take the view that in the next few months there will be a great build-up in the number of boats fishing this area.

Can the Minister say how much fish has been caught in that area? What confidence does he have in his figures? After all, much of that fish is landed at Continental ports and never comes through the United Kingdom at all. If the total allowable catch is to have any meaning whatever, it seems important that the statistics for this area are as accurate as, if not more accurate than, those for the smaller fishing grounds immediately in the vicinity of the coast of Cornwall.

It would be unfair to criticise the Government for having done nothing with regard to the conservation of the mackerel stocks. Essentially, the scheme that they have proposed and implemented is that there should be restrictions on the basis of tons per day per man. The limit has varied between 5 tons and 3½ tons. Certainly a limit of 5 tons is regarded locally as no limit in reality. There is a secondary point that worries people a great deal. There is a feeling that people go out with their purse-seiners and once they catch the fish they think that perhaps they are not very good, that there might be better fish elsewhere, so they go off and catch those as well. Those of the lowest quality out of the two lots are then thrown back into the sea. It is believed that some of the purse-seiners catch vastly in excess of their allowable catch, but in order to keep within the regulations the excess fish are thrown over the side.

My fishermen who know the coast and the rocks of the sea intimately, because they have been involved there all their lives, tell me that there is either sudden volcanic action off the coast of Cornwall or that large heaps of dead and decaying mackerel are being seen on their radar. There is no doubt that this should be stopped. Clearly, the throwing back of dead fish is even greater nonsense than the catching of immature fish. I should like to know what the Minister intends to do about that.

It is my view that the technique of purse-seining should be banned. I have long taken the view that this is a super sophisticated way of catching fish, which, it must be remembered, is a finite resource. I just do not believe that those two things marry in a sensible way. I have long been an opponent of purse-seining, and I shall be interested to learn what the Minister has to say. More important, I should like to know his views about the slippage of fish. What happens to the excess which is caught on any particular day.

There is a feeling locally that Cornwall has been asked to solve the entire problems of the United Kingdom fishing fleet. Clearly, the local people have recognised the problems. The feeling is that the one stock of fish left—the mackerel off Cornwall—is being regarded as potentially solving the entire problems of the United Kingdom fishing fleet. No one believes that this situation can possibly be maintained, and it is widely believed that the Government only allow this to be maintained in order to build up large historic quotas in order to argue the case with the EEC in the difficult negotiations which are clearly taking place.

How does this affect the economy of Cornwall? The Minister may think that this is not his direct responsibility, but he is certainly involved in relation to Cornwall. Cornwall has 12 per cent. male unemployment. It is a statistical fact that the lowest average wages are earned in Cornwall. The county is so far from the centre of commerce that I believe we can overcome our difficulties only by building up industries which are natural to the county. We have some industrial background. We have agriculture and mining—a substantial industry—not just china clay. That industry is mostly within my constituency. We also have tourism. These industries are natural to the county of Cornwall. Now we have fishing.

As an indication of what contribution fishing could make to the county, if 300,000 tons of mackerel are caught off the Cornish coast this year, and the average price for mackerel is £80 a ton, that means that we are talking about a £24-million-a-year industry. That represents 3,000 tons of tin or one-quarter of the total exports of china clay from my county. The fishing industry could quite clearly solve Cornwall's economic problems if we had the entire mackerel industry to ourselves—I recognise that that is an impossible request—but the economic problems of Cornwall would be largely solved.

It is said that, in the fishing industry generally, for each man fishing eight are employed on the shore. But Cornwall must have the only fishing industry in Britain which employs more fishermen than those employed on the shore. There is very little land-based fish-related industry in Cornwall. Fishing is not unique in this respect, because we do not have a land-based industry as a result of the mining of tin or china clay. Indeed, many feel that we are just an area of raw materials to supply the economy of the rest of the country.

There is an overwhelming case that the fishing industry, which is obviously natural to the county of Cornwall, should be allowed to solve some of the economic difficulties which have been besetting the county for about the last 10 years. Worse than that in some way, we must consider how this situation affects the local fishermen. The traditional men are in danger of being squeezed out. I do not think anyone would deny that. The permitted tons-per-day catch, the exemption from licensing and the three-mile limit have all made a useful contribution towards preserving the local industry. But the long-liners and hand-liners represent a labour-intensive method of fishing of the first order.

It is worth explaining what hand-lining is. It virtually consists of a piece of nylon, containing perhaps 20 or 30 hooks, which is thrown over the back of the boat. Fortunately, mackerel are such stupid fish that they will snap at anything that glistens in the light of the sun. Long-lining is labour-intensive and is the absolute ultimate conservation method of fishing. When the fish come on board, the line is pulled over the side so that each fish can be individually inspected. A decision is than made whether to toss it back in the ocean or put it in the box. It is labour-intensive and a good inspection system.

Even if every Cornishman went out fishing for mackerel, I do not think one would ruin the stocks as effectively as two or three dozen purse-seiners could. The market, which has been searched for and built up over a number of years, is in danger of being squashed. Because of landings in a French harbour, for example, the market provided by my local co-operative was overwhelmed.

I believe that there is an overwhelming case for a six-mile limit for local fishermen. I do not suggest that we should exclude fishermen from Hull or Grimsby. There are plenty of fish off the Isles of Scilly. The boats used by fishermen from Hull and Grimsby were designed for deep-sea trawling. They are now virtually fishing in my county's back garden, three miles or so off the coast. However, there would be no problem if they caught their mackerel off the Isles of Scilly. However, my constituents, with their small boats and tiny engines, would be foolish to go that distance to catch mackerel.

The Dutch are in the area, and I am told that they are subsidised by their Government. I am always doubtful about advocating subsidies for fishing. The industry has got into its present state because of the effect of subsidies, but I believe that pressure must be applied so that our large boats can go out into the ocean to catch the mackerel in those areas which are the natural and sensible places to catch them.

At present, at a distance of between two and four miles off the coast, there is a mixture of every kind of fishing boat. The fish are harassed and chased from one side of that area to the other. This week, in the Cornishman—I will send the Minister a copy—there is a photograph of a large freezer vessel surrounded by small local boats. There is a great worry locally that one of these days there will be a tragic accident. Some of these large vessels have been seen to sail right through the middle of the local small vessels, which respect the laws of the sea and obviously, having regard to their own size, can do nothing but get out of the way. The trawler, however, turns round, puts down its fishing tackle, goes back through the shoal and scoops up a large proportion of the fish. That regularly happens at distances between two and four miles off the Cornish coast. There have been and will be incidents, and there are fears that there will be accidents. In all justice, the Cornish proportion of local jobs should not just be maintained it should be seen gradually to increase. We are not claiming exclusive rights to the mackerel off Cornwall, but we claim considerable moral justification. Certainly our economic difficulties suggest that we should take a larger proportion of those fish than is now the case. If the necessary investment is to take place in Cornwall, it is essential that confidence should be brought back to the industry. Clearly that confidence has been shattered in the last couple of years.

I wish to deal with planning and general environmental difficulties. It is staggering in terms of United Kingdom law that if the people of St. Mawes wanted to build a factory outside the town they would have to apply to the local authority for planning permission. This would mean the intervention of environmental and health officials and the whole mish-mash of legislation that we have dreamt up in this place over, the last two or three hundred years. It would take a long time to obtain approval, even if it were sought. Controls dealing with sewage, noise and many other matters connected with present legislation would apply.

That is what would have to happen if the factory were built on land. But if a factory of exactly the same size happens to float on water and is the same distance from St. Mawes, but is on the seaward side as opposed to the landward side, it appears that no regulations exist. Any number of boats can come into the area, anchor in Falmouth bay and start working as factories.

We have had as many as 24 of these vessels in this harbour. Last year I decided to invite myself on board one of them. I made inquiries in the harbour, found a captain who could speak English, and went aboard a Bulgarian fishing factory ship. I must admit that at that moment I wondered whether I was wise. However, I spoke to the captain, who showed me round that vessel. I did not realise that such vessels existed. There were 80 people on board working the factory.

Let me tell the House what those workers were doing. The mackerel had been bought by the ton, largely from the British fishing fleets which have arrived in our area. When the fish arrive on board, they are filleted—which means that the flesh is taken from each side of the mackerel. The filleted mackerel are then put in a great refrigerated cabinet and frozen. At intervals a large conveyor vessel arrives from one of the Soviet countries, fills up from these boats and takes the fish back to the home port.

That earlier process probably does not cause much trouble, but it is what happens from then on that causes all the difficulty. The rest of the fish is then ground, boiled, squeezed and dried. These boats were designed for work in the middle of the Atlantic, miles from anywhere. The Soviet Union and its satellites do not have a great record for considering people's welfare. These Soviet vessels are noisy, and they stink. That is the only word I can use to describe them. The amount of smell that affects residents very much depends on weather conditions.

The situation has improved marginally. We were told that there was no power to get the boats out of the harbour. But then, suddenly, largely because of protests by oyster fishermen, a whole host of boats disappeared out of Falmouth harbour to anchor just off the main coast. In my view, that is where they should stay if we are to have them at all.

I wish to express my concern about the exact situation affecting those boats. When will they come back in the harbour, and under what conditions?

Neither I nor anybody else would wish to insist that in certain weather conditions those boats should stay out in the ocean. However, I suggest that within the harbour vessels working as factories within half a mile of communities in my constituency should not be allowed. I find it difficult to accept the argument that Britain does not have legislation to control such activities within a harbour within hundreds of yards or a mile of residential areas.

That is the case that I wish to present. We wish to have a close season during which netting is banned. We wish to have a six-mile local exclusive limit in respect of small boats. I do not envisage pushing other boats outside the area altogether. They can still go to the Scilly Isles and fish there, because that is where they should be.

We believe that our economic difficulties should bring us some of the wealth that is being produced from the fishing around our coasts. Turnovers of about £20 million a year are suddenly happening as a result of fishing off the coast of Cornwall.

Cornwall deserves part of the action. It requires part of the action. If we are ever going to put the economy of Cornwall on a strong footing, it has just got to have part of the action. Much as I commend and praise various efforts of the Government at industrial development in Cornwall, the simple fact is that the distance from the House of Commons to my home, via the roads which have been built, is 301 miles, and it is extremely difficult to overcome that problem while running some industries. It is one of the things for which one cannot blame the present Government or any other, but that is the distance involved. Therefore, the county of Cornwall must be given the opportunity and encouragement to develop what is natural.

That is the case from Cornwall for the mackerel industry—concern over conservation and concern over planning regulations—and Cornwall wants some of the action that has been created.

Before I call the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), may I tell the House that this debate must conclude at 12.25 p.m., the second debate must conclude at 1.15 p.m., and the third debate at 1.50 p.m. Then we shall be back to normal.

12.1 p.m.

I say straight away that I understand the problems advanced by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) and sympathise very much with his point of view. Indeed, anyone who has read Fishing News of 17th November this year—" Looking South-West "—will understand not only the depth of the problem but the very strong feeling that exists in the South-West.

I particularly agreed with the hon. Member when he talked about the question of immature fish being caught and then thrown back into the sea, where they foul the fishing grounds and are a nuisance. I agree with him that that must be stopped. He also raised the question of vessels evading the quota. That is wholly wrong and must also be stopped.

However, I think that it is only right—I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me—that from the point of view of the industry and of the House we must agree that there are two sides to every story. Very briefly, I ought to put the other side of the story just to get it on the record.

The hon. Member for Truro has already referred to the problems of the distant water industry. Perhaps I may mention some figures from Hull. The operational fleet from Hull in January 1975 totalled 91 vessels. The following year there were 71; in 1977 there were 63; in 1978 there were 53; and in August of this year there were 42, which is more than a 50 per cent. reduction in those years. Given those figures, there are today 13 freshers and 10 freezers laid up in the port.

The reason, of course, is the extension to 200 miles of the exclusive economic zone of other countries and the failure to reach an agreement on the common fisheries policy, which means that the EEC has not been able to arrange a swap deal with Norway, Iceland, the USSR and other countries. Therefore, our distant water vessels have not been able to fish in their traditional waters, so they have—one says this very openly—gone to fish off the South-West coast of this country.

The hon. Member for Truro mentioned unemployment. I merely say to him that unemployment may be bad in the South-West but I can assure him that it is equally bad in the port of Hull. I have little doubt that the same applies to Grimsby, and certainly to Fleetwood, and possibly also to Aberdeen. In Hull there is also very little alternative employment.

I turn specifically to the mackerel problem. Seventeen out of the existing 36 freezer trawlers from Hull are now fishing for mackerel. They are not all off the hon. Gentleman's constituency waters, but are mostly off that part of the country. The catch of the Hull vessels since 1975 has fallen by 30·6 per cent. Based on last year's catch, 1977–78. 37,000 tons, valued at £7 million, or 35 per cent. of the total catch of all Hull vessels, comes from mackerel fishing. I say that to put it on record, to show that this is the other side of a very difficult question and to emphasise the importance of the South-West fisheries to the distant water ports.

There have been proposals—the hon. Member for Truro mentioned one of them —that the three-mile limit for vessels over 60 ft should be extended to six miles. There have also been proposals from the South-West that there should be no transhipment in coastal waters. All I can say is that if this was ever seriously considered by the Government it would be disastrous, and perhaps the last blow to the distant water industry.

I know that the Minister of State, who will be replying to this debate, has this matter very much in mind, because he said, in a debate that we had on 22nd November in a Statutory Instruments Committee:
" We are very conscious of the pleas which have been made for a six-mile belt off the south-west coast. Here we have a fishery for which several conflicting United Kingdom interests are competing "
—and this is the point:
" We can well understand the point of view of the local fishermen. On the other hand, these are United Kingdom waters and there are other sections of our fleet which, for a variety of reasons, have lost fishing opportunities elsewhere."
The Minister went on to say:
" Most of the United Kingdom catch is in practice taken within three to six miles of the coast. Although mackerel can be caught further out, catch rates are rather uncertain. United Kingdom vessels excluded from fishing within six miles of the coast might find it difficult to maintain an economic fishery for mackerel."—[Official Report, Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., 22nd November 1978 ; c. 24.]
That is the point that I am trying to make.

The British Fishing Federation makes the same point even more strongly. It says that if either of the two measures that I have mentioned were introduced, it would radically lower catches, reduce the quantity of fish frozen at sea and considerably disrupt, as well as diminish, the exporting arrangements by the virtual destruction of the distant water industry. It also says
" It is difficult to overstate either the crucial nature of the fishery or the devastating effect on the Hull fishing industry should any moves be implemented to restrict the profitability of the one and only viable fishery of any significance now remaining open to the displaced distant water fleet."
That is the other side of the story and it presents a dilemma, as the Minister said in the debate which I mentioned. There are competing interests and they are both British interests. One has to reach some kind of compromise. There is already a three-mile limit. There are already certain quotas, as the hon. Member for Truro mentioned. The point that he made was that we must not over-fish mackerel. That is the key, the most important matter of all. We have over-fished the North Sea, and many of the fishing grounds have been over-fished. This must not happen off the South-West coast.

I would just mention that in Fishing News of 24th November there was a report from the Lowestoft Fisheries Laboratory, which said:
" Mackerel stocks are not in danger provided fishermen do not exceed the current total allowable catch. This is the conclusion of a report just published by the Lowestoft Fisheries Laboratory."

The same report also said that most of the mackerel were in fact about 60 miles off the Isles of Scilly. Why do not the hon. Gentleman's deep water friends go out there and fish for them?

I am quite certain that they do and they will, but if they were excluded from the three-to-six-mile limit, as the Minister of State has made quite clear, it would adversely affect the whole of the remaining economy of the distant water industry. As the hon. Member will know, in a constituency adjacent to his own, the harbour master for Falmouth, when talking about these matters and the transference of mackerel from distant water vessels to Russian and other foreign factory ships, said:

" This port will, of its own volition, do everything to encourage trade and the full utilisation of its waters—whether by commercial vessels or pleasure craft."
So the area is certainly receiving some benefits from this trade.

I conclude by saying that I really do sympathise with and understand the hon. Gentleman's problems, but I am sure that he, in turn, understands the problems of the distant water vessels. There are still, thank heavens, many of them. It is a very important section of the industry. Therefore, I would say that a compromise is necessary.

I believe that it can be achieved. There have already been talks between representatives of the fishing industries in the South-West and the British Fishing Federation representing the distant water section. I believe that some form of compromise, possibly some form of close season based on conservation, might be an answer. I urge the Minister that he really must not go so far as to increase the limits, but I emphasise that we should do everything possible to reach an amicable agreement between two very important sides of the industry which, unfortunately, due to reasons absolutely beyond their control—international reasons —are now competing in certain restricted waters.

12.9 p.m.

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

I am very pleased to take part in this debate. I commend the contributions made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) and the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall).

I am aware, of course, of the significant representations that have been made to the Government by the hon. Member for Truro in relation to the local problem. I listened with great interest to his eloquent speech. I am sorry that I shall have only a short time in which to respond, but I shall do my best to cover all the points that he raised. I know that his concern is genuinely felt. I assure him that that concern is shared by the Government.

We have devoted a great deal of time and thought to the problems of the mackerel fishery. I have also visited the Cornwall area and other parts of the coast, and I am aware of the problem. We are faced with a very difficult problem, with a number of competing and conflicting United Kingdom interests, as was made apparent by the hon. Member for Haltemprice. This is for a variety of reasons, well known to the House.

The fishing fleet has been facing major changes in its fishing opportunities, including reductions in its opportunities in waters outside the United Kingdom limits. The western mackerel fishery has played a crucial part in the redeployment of our fleet. We now catch more mackerel than any other fish, and the south-western mackerel fishery is of major importance to fishermen from Humberside and elsewhere throughout the United Kingdom.

At the same time, the Government fully recognise the interests and needs of the local south-western fishermen. In seeking to regulate the mackerel fishery, we have had very much in mind not only the general needs of conservation but also the particular interests of the different groups of fishermen involved.

We first introduced licensing controls on United Kingdom fishing for mackerel in September 1977. We did so because there seemed to be a risk of over-fishing by our fleet. From November 1977 until the beginning of November this year, landings and transhipments by licensed United Kingdom fishing vessels have been subject to a daily quota control.

From 5th November this year we introduced revised licensing arrangements. Again, before introducing these arrangements, we had full consultations with representatives of both catching and processing interests. The new arrangements restrict quantities of mackerel which licensed United Kingdom vessels may land or tranship on a weekly rather than a daily basis. The weekly quotas are equivalent to up to 15 tonnes per man per week in the case of vessels with relatively large crews, rising to 20 tonnes per man per week in the case of the smallest licensed trawlers. In the case of the vessels with relatively large crews, these quotas represent a considerable reduction compared to the daily quotas previously permitted.

Under the new licensing arrangements vessels of under 40 ft. and all hand-liners are exempted altogether from the need for a licence and from the licensing controls. In addition, the new licensing arrangements reinforce the local byelaws of the south-western sea fisheries committees and prohibit vessels of over 60 ft. fishing for mackerel within three miles of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The inclusion of this provision in the licensing arrangements means that vessels of over 60 ft. which break this rule are now liable on summary conviction to fines of up to £50,000 and the suspension of their licences.

That is an indication of the way in which we are trying to enforce the quotas and also to protect the stock generally. Our fishery protection forces are making a special effort to police the new arrangements. We have increased the resources from our own inspectorate involved in monitoring the fishing in the South-West. We also have at least one and often two fishery protection vessels patrolling the area and paying particular attention to ensuring that the three-mile limit is respected. Air cover, including helicopters, is also being employed.

Fortunately, in considering conservation requirements, we have the benefit of advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Under the council's auspices, a lot of important work has been done to improve the scientific assessment of the western mackerel stock. United Kingdom scientists have played an active and important part in this work. As a result of this work, the council has significantly revised its recommended total allowable catch for this stock.

I can understand the concern that not too much of the resources should be taken. Whereas last year the recommended 1978 total allowable catch was 250,000 tonnes, the final recommendation was 450,000 tonnes and for next year the recommended total allowable catch is 435,000 tonnes.

These increases in the recommended total allowable catch have led to some understandable concern. I recommend anyone interested in the reasons for these increases to read a booklet recently published by our Lowestoft laboratory. I am arranging for a copy of the booklet to be placed in the Library, and I will see that the hon. Member for Truro has a copy. It was written by Dr. Stephen Lockwood, of the laboratory, and is entitled "Mackerel: A Problem In Fish Stock Assessment ". It described in some detail the thorough and thoughtful work which lay behind the council's revisions of the total allowable catches. The booklet also makes clear the scientists' cautious approach and the fact that, when in doubt, they have inclined to be more prudent in the interpretation of the data.

The United Kingdom mackerel catch has certainly increased in recent years. In 1975 and 1976, the total international catch reported to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea was some 500,000 tonnes. However, in 1977 the total international catch was 315,000 tonnes—nearly 40 per cent. less than in either 1975 or 1976. Although the United Kingdom catch last year increased, that increase was much less than the reduction in Eastern bloc catches, following the exclusion of Eastern bloc vessels during that year from fishing within the fishery limits of EEC member States. These facts help to put into better perspective some of the anxieties that have been expressed.

I turn briefly to another important point. It is often thought that if foreign and other vessels are found in an area they must be fishing, but that is not necessarily the case. No foreign fishing for mackerel is permitted within 12 miles of the South-West. Our fishery protection forces keep this fishing under surveillance, and, apart from those from Norway and the Faroes, no non-EEC vessels are permitted to fish for mackerel within our 200-mile fishing limits.

The local pressure for a six-mile belt off the South-West from which vessels of over 80 ft. would be barred is understandable. However, this is a point that brings us straight up against the problem of reconciling the legitimate interests of the various competing fishing interests involved. As I said, this fishing is important to a number of sections of the United Kingdom fleet. Most of our mackerel catch off the South-West has in practice been taken within six miles of the coast. Mackerel can be caught further out, but catch rates are uncertain.

United Kingdom vessels excluded from fishing within six miles might find it difficult to maintain an economic fishery. If we excluded all United Kingdom vesssels of over 80 ft., our exploitation of the stock could be significantly reduced. It still seems that we are striking as fair a balance as we can with the present licensing arrangements, including vigorous enforcement of the three-mile limit.

The hon. Gentleman referred to dumping at sea, to the slipping of the catch. I learnt when I visited the South-West, and Cornwall in particular, how strongly fishermen feel about this. It was a point raised by the Expenditure Committee recently, and the Government have given a reply. I am very sorry to see the recent reports of dumped mackerel being found dead on the sea bed. But the Department's Fisheries Inspectorate has been following up these reports and making contact with the fishermen concerned.

Unfortunately, it would be virtually impossible to enforce effectively a ban on dumping at sea. This is one of the technical difficulties which we have considered in great depth. However, I believe that we can look for co-operation by the fishermen to try to avoid further incidents of the sort complained of. Fishermen generally will realise the problems of trying to enforce a ban, but dumping is a practice to be deprecated, and I hope that local fishermen will cooperate in making reports where concern exists.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the problems of noise, smell and pollution caused by vessels in Falmouth harbour. He has been in touch with me on the matter, and we have been in touch with other Departments concerned. There have been complaints about noise, smell and other problems caused by the transhipment and processing operations at Falmouth.

Most of these matters are primarily for the local authorities, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment recently met a local authority deputation, and officials of my Department and of the Department of the Environment are to visit the area next week to see the problem at first hand and hold further discussion with local authorities and other local interests.

A number of the processing vessels have been moved out of Carrick Roads into Falmouth bay, and my Department's scientists are keeping a close watch on the situation with a view to assessing possible effects on the oyster beds and other fishing. I know the importance of the oyster beds in that area.

While not in any way condoning pollution of any sort, I must make the point that transhipment to these processing vessels represents a valuable export outlet for the mackerel caught by the United Kingdom fishermen. Almost all the fish goes for human consumption, and if this export outlet was not available the fish concerned probably would be manufactured into fish meal. This would give those catching the fish a significantly lower return.

I stress that the amount transhipped counts against the quota and there is very strict enforcement with the notification of the agents who get in touch with the vessels wanting to tranship. Therefore, we have a pretty accurate record of what goes on. The transhipment must take place in sheltered waters to ensure the safety of the vessels involved, and to enable the Department's fisheries inspectorate to maintain proper control and to monitor the operation.

Progress has been made in looking at some of the resources of the South-West. The hon. Member for Truro referred to other economic factors outside the fishing industry. He will be aware that in 1977 at my Department's suggestion the South-West Economic Planning Council established a working party to report on the fishing industry in the South-West. Its provisional conclusion was that Falmouth appeared to be the most suitable location in the region for establishing a major fish complex.

However, the national and international uncertainties surrounding the development of the industry have made it impossible to take the matter further. The most significant uncertainty is the outcome of the negotiations on the common fisheries policy. I am afraid that I have been giving this kind of reply for some time, but until we get that problem resolved—and I hope that we can make progress soon—some of these factors will remain uncertain. On the local question, I am asking the planning council to look again at the matter, making some assumptions about the outcome of the negotiations.

Those are the main points. The hon. Member referred to the trawling and pursing for mackerel off the South-West. He suggested that it should be permitted for a limited period with a closed season. There have been further discussions about this idea between the various interests concerned and it is a possibility which we shall consider further with the industry in the light of the development of the United Kingdom mackerel catches this winter. There does not appear to be a conservation case for a general closed season off the South-West applying to all fishing for mackerel, but in certain circumstances there might be a case for some sort of limited closure. This matter can be kept under review.

I have found this debate very useful. There are a number of factors which have been dealt with in correspondence and contact with the hon. Member and between our officials in the South-West and the local industry. I am sure that we will be in contact again on some of the matters that the hon. Member has raised today.

I am afraid there are no easy solutions to the problems. I can, however, assure the House that we keep the situation in this fishery under constant review. If we feel that further control measures are called for or that changes are needed in the measures that we have already introduced, we stand ready to take the necessary action. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Turo and the hon. Member for Haltemprice who have taken part in these matters. Fishing is of great concern to a lot of people around our coasts, and in view of the fact that we contribute so much to the resources of the Community it is in our interests to ensure that the outcome of the common fisheries policy reflects for the future good of the industry.

Vietnamese Refugees

12.25 p.m.

I am grateful for the chance to discuss a different sort of boat problem in a different part of the world. A year ago I had the opportunity of raising the question of the Indo-Chinese refugees during the Christmas Adjournment debate. Sadly, in the 12 months separating those two debates the situation has deteriorated dramatically.

Obviously we cannot tell how many refugees tried to escape from Vietnam last year or how many have tried this year. Last year one distinguished expert on the problem, Mr. Ian Ward of The Daily Telegraph, estimated that one in six of those trying to escape actually reached safety. The rest were turned back by coastal guards, died of exposure, or drowned when their small cockle shell boats sank in the China Sea.

In 1977 it was comparatively rare for the number of refugees who reached safety by boat to exceed 1,500 a month. In 1978 the number of boat people who reached some form of safety reached 6,000 a month, and recently the figure was running at more than 12,000 a month. No one can tell how many more are still waiting to come.

When Vietnam was divided in 1954, 800,000 Vietnamese, many of them Christians, moved from the Communist North to the South. Then it was easy to flee. Now it is comparatively difficult. In the past three and a half years almost 300.000 have fled from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and there are no signs of the flow stopping.

Vast numbers of people put up with extreme danger and extraordinary discomfort. Some flee because of social and economic pressures. They may have been connected with the old regime and face re-education. They may have faced transfer from the overcrowded towns to the rigours of the new economic zones in Vietnam where life is arduous, primitive and bleak. Some were from the Buddhist and Christian communities and they took to the boats because of religious persecution. The high proportion of Chinese in the latest exodus is a clear indication of the mounting ethnic discrimination against the Chinese in Vietnam since relations between Hanoi and Peking became so acrimonious.

How many would like to follow the 300,000 who have fled? Is it 1 million or perhaps 2 million? It is plain that the Vietnamese authorities are tacitly encouraging those whom they call the "dissident consumer-oriented elements" to get out. However embarrassing that is for us, it is a rather better attitude than that of the East Germans, who deploy barbed wire, land mines, savage dogs and armed sentries to prevent their people from fleeing.

Last month, along with millions of others, I sat comfortably in front of a television set while 2,500 refugees were tossed about off the shores of Malaysia on the 1,500-ton steamer the "Hai Hong ". The refugees were accused of having paid for their passage. One unsympathetic official said that they should be treated as unwelcome tourists, not refugees. If that were true, we saw on our television sets one of the most crowded cruises in the history of travel.

To experience equally unpleasant conditions every man, woman and child in my constituency would have to put to sea for a fortnight in an undermanned, under-provisioned and under-crewed "Ark Royal ".

One can understand the concern of the countries that are in the front line when it comes to receiving refugees. In the first 11 months of the year Malaysia, which is not a rich country and which has a delicately internal racial balance, played host to 52,336 boat people from Vietnam, of whom 39,0000 are not classified as refugees. They have acquired a type of floating squatter status.

The other front-line State, Thailand, is also poor and has its fair share of ethnic problems. It received 58,509 refugees in the first 11 months of the year. Most of them are Laotians who have swarmed across the Mekong river for much the same reasons as the thousands of Vietnamese who have taken to the sea.

The official refugee population in Thailand has now reached 130,000. In recent months the Thais have made desperate efforts to appear as inhospitable as possible. There are two reasons why this flood of refugees has curdled the natural kindliness and humanity of the Malaysian and Thai administrators. The first reason is that they fear that a friendly reception will encourage more people to go there. Nobody can tell for certain how many potential refugees there are. In the past it was thought that a chilly reception might deter some potential refugees from setting off at all. Plainly, this inhibition has been overcome by the knowledge that the complacency of the Vietnamese authorities might not last for ever.

Secondly, there is a natural fear that any Government who sympathetically bent over to pick up the baby might be left holding it for a long time. Each country in the area knows, or believes, that if it throws open its frontiers and ports the rich nations of the West will heave a sigh of relief and turn away from the problem.

What is needed? We need money, organisation and imagination. The organisation for dealing with the refugee problem in the Far East is provided mainly by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who now has a staff of 50 in Malaysia alone.

In the past I have been critical of the work of some United Nations agencies. I expect that I shall be critical of them in the future. But I am not critical of the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I have seen some of the camps in Thailand. The programme seems to be well run and well organised by men with a sense of mission.

Money should be forthcoming. I understand that the High Commissioner wants £30 million this year to maintain the refugees. He should get it. At long last Japan is making a major contribution.

Two years ago Britain contributed nothing to this refugee programme. I condemned the Government in the House. Perhaps the Minister will remember some of the acrimonious arguments that we had. It seemed to be wrong that we should turn our backs. But today our financial contribution is one of the best. I am glad to see that we appear to have increased that contribution by £1 million in the past six weeks. A contribution of £500,000 was announced in November. I understand that another £500,000 contribution was announced at the Geneva conference last week. Our contribution has more than doubled in the past year.

Last week the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called a special conference at Geneva to discuss this problem. It was at that conference that our Government announced that they were to increase their contribution. I understand that the Americans also announced that they would absorb 50,000 Vietnamese refugees a year—an increase from the 25,000 that they have taken in the past. The French, who have been taking 1,000 refugees a month, have slightly increased their quota.

The conference considered a proposal to set up special centres on isolated islands in the Pacific where the refugees and displaced persons would be processed for resettlement in an orderly way within a specific time and against guarantees that there would be no residual problem. It was said rather guardedly at the conference that the proposal should be further elaborated and studied by Governments.

For two years I have urged that reception centres of this kind should be set up in the South-East Asian area so that we shall not experience agonised heart searching about the fate of each boat. The Daily Telegraph today reports that another four small boats, carrying 360 refugees, have been towed out to sea.

I am glad to see that Malaysia, understandably, supports this proposal. But the Americans remain unconvinced. Until they are converted, it is difficult to see that much will happen. I hope that these studies will be pressed actively and that the Americans will change their minds.

There has also been limited progress in persuading other countries to take more refugees. Much of the moral pressure has fallen on Western European countries. I am not sure that that is wise.

Many of the Indo-Chinese refugees are immensely adaptable. But many are not. I do not believe that there is much point in moving large numbers of Vietnamese fishermen or Laotian farming families into the cold and perlexing environment of Beckenham, Birmingham, Beaconsfield or Brussels. I am surprised that no con- certed effort appears to have been made to find a haven for a large number of refugees in climatically more compatible areas. I am thinking of Southern and Central America where there are still empty lands and where the climate is similar to that in Indo-China. I note that the French are introducing a pilot scheme to resettle 500 Laotian farmers in French Guyana where the climate and conditions are similar to those in Laos. I hope that this experiment will go well and that it will be expanded sharply.

Meanwhile, 366—or 367 because a child has just been born—who were picked up in the South China sea by the steamer "Wellpark" are now established in an old Army barracks off Kensington Church Street, half a mile from my home. Today the first group of five families are moving to permanent homes in Peterborough. Tomorrow 11 refugees are due to arrive in the barracks.

The centre seems to be run admirably under the general direction of the British Council for Aid to Refugees. The British taxpayer is footing most of the Bill through the Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office. Hundreds of local residents have been helpful. The Inner London Education Authority—another organisation which I do not praise often—has been particularly helpful in providing admirable teaching for the whole range of age groups.

The refugees themselves seem to be adapting quickly to British ways. I understand that the only major fight that has occurred in the hostel followed an argument about changing channels on a television set. But the barracks in Kensington are meant to be only a temporary home. In theory, it will become a youth hostel again at the end of March, for the authorities seem to believe that the majority of the 232 refugees who have applied for resettlement in Australia, Canada or, most often, the United States will soon be on their way to those countries. I believe that that is an overoptimistic forecast.

Given the number of refugee boats still drifting about in the China seas, I cannot believe that the Americans or the Canadians will give any priority to the Vietnamese who have found a haven in this country. We have rightly said that we will accept here any refugees picked up by a British ship. There is perhaps an overall commitment to help the 4,000 refugees now finding shelter in Hong Kong.

Given the nature of the problem, it is difficult to be precise. But it looks as though the Government, in practice, are committed to taking between 500 and 1,000 refugees into this country each year so long as the flood of people from Vietnam continues. If that is right, the sooner that voluntary agencies such as the British Council for Aid to Refugees, the Save the Children Fund or the Ockendon Venture get some Government guidance, the better. Their help is essential, but they have very little idea of what plans to make for the future.

The party heading for Peterborough today is going largely, I understand, on the initiative of one man, Councillor Swift. I understand that the party which will be heading for Swindon in the new year will be going there because of the initiative of an old friend of mine, the Rev. Andrew Hake. This sort of personal commitment is wholly admirable when one is dealing with a few clusters of families. More formal arrangements will be needed if the Government are thinking in terms of taking in 500 to 1,000 refugees a year.

I believe that the Western world has a substantial moral obligation to the thousands of refugees who will be spending Christmas in austere camps or in cramped, dangerous boats. We should not turn wearily away at this time of the year while little children are left to drown.

12.45 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) has done a service to the House in raising the difficult problem of the refugees from Indo-China. I do not imagine that there is any easy or entirely satisfactory solution.

I wish only to refer to some aspects which have a particular British significance. My hon. Friend will understand that I strongly resist any suggestion that a substantial number of refugees from another source should come to this country. I recognise very well the human- itarian considerations which arise, but we have to start from where we are.

The House is familiar with the inflows from overseas into this country over the past 20 to 25 years resulting in an immigrant population, or an immigrant-descended population, of a magnitude that is debatable but that is between 3 million and 4 million people. That is a formidable ingestion in a period of less than one generation. It has transformed some parts of our country, and it has all happened in a most haphazard and unplanned way.

It would never have happened if it had been planned. The people of this country would never have consented to the creation, in less than one generation, of an immigrant population numbering between 3 million and 4 million. I am talking simply of an immigrant population from the tropical areas of the world. That figure does not include the inflow of people from the temperate areas of the world, which is also massive.

In the central areas of London—Westminster, Kensington, Chelsea, Earl's Court, Haringey and places like that —more than half the babies are born to mothers who were not themselves born in any part of the United Kingdom. This shows the context in which we have to consider the points that my hon. Friend has so ably put before the House.

We are in danger not merely of so diversifying our population as to destroy its sense of identity but also of turning ourselves into a human ant-heap. If one takes a typical area, say, Earl's Court, one find that the density of population is about 60,000 to the square mile. That means that 100 people per acre live there. It is, I suppose, about seven times the density of Hong Kong. An almost fantastic position has developed in London since the war. We must have this in mind.

I yield to no one in my sympathy for those who either have escaped from or are living in these Indo-Chinese territories—not just Vietnam—where appalling things have been happening. But we should also consider the humanitarian aspects of our own life. We have to be humanitarian to the British people, for whose life and future we in this House have a direct and special—indeed overriding—responsibility.

A problem of course exists in Indo-China. It is the result of savage Communist-inspired and supported insurrections. The refugees whom we are considering are overwhelmingly Chinese. Why should they not go to China? This never seems to be suggested. But they are Chinese: they have migrated to many parts of Indo-China—Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. All those place have substantial Chinese populations, which are migrant in the sense that they are ethnically derived from somewhere else, and migrant also in another sense, in that they are fairly footloose.

They are not by any means as footloose as the Indians in East Africa, who moved up and down the coast as conditions changed. But India never denied its responsibility for accepting the East African Indian traders. That point was never sufficiently realised in this country, but I never criticised India. India never refused to accept any of the people from Uganda or Kenya—provided that they had not first elected to come here. If they had, India said that it had been disowned. That was how the "shuttlecock" cases arose. Otherwise, India would take any of the so-called United Kingdom passport holders—a nonsensical term—and any of the East African traders could always go to India. If they came here, it was because they preferred England to Bombay.

The same should be true—I do not know whether it is, and I hope that the Minister will say—of China. China is the ethnic home of these people. Almost by definition it has those climatic characteristics that my hon. Friend said are obviously desirable for these people. What is more, China, either on its own or in concert with Russia, has the ultimate responsibility for the terrible plight in which these people now find themselves. It is no good a country such as China or Russia washing its hands of what it has done. That is where the responsibility lies.

I hope that we shall not be chivalrously unrealistic and say that wherever in the world persecution or population pressure or migration pressure arises, this country is the appointed terminus of the migration flow. That is what has happened. I am sure that the Minister will remember, after the war, the tremendous population pressure that had been bottled up during the war—caused mainly, I suppose, by the use of DDT, if we are to be frank. As soon as the shipping shortage was over, they started flooding out of the West Indies and such places to all sorts of destinations.

The doors were quickly shut, and we had them—not because of empire but, characteristically, because we were the very last to shut the door. Ours was the last door that remained open. That is why they came here. The United States' contribution to population pressures in the West Indies was an agreement to take, I think, 13 a year.

I do not want that to happen again, with all others shutting their doors because of the magnitude of the efflux. My hon. Friend has shown the magnitudes that we are talking about—currently running at about 12,000 a month. I do not want that to happen again. We have no specific responsibility towards South-East Asia, either of history or of geography, and I hope that the interests of the British people will be carefully borne in mind when other interests are weighed in the balance.

12.55 p.m.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on launching a debate on this important subject. He has kept up a sustained interest in the subject and, as he said, about a year ago he had an Adjournment debate on the matter. I recently paid a visit to both Hong Kong and Thailand, which certainly brought home to me the scale of the refugee problem in the Indo-China area.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) implied, we need reminding of the background to this refugee problem, of the great crime—one can describe it as no less—committed in the various Communist Indo-China countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos against human beings, the gross abuse of the individual rights of human beings by regimes, one of which, the Vietnamese, is supported and encouraged by the Soviet Union. Inevitably, that poses a threat to peace and stability in the area.

I will not develop that point at the moment We know from all the evidence the gross internal repression of the last two or three years in these countries. My hon. Friend talked of the size of the refugee problem and gave various figures. I have read perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that about 700,000 people have been uprooted and left the three Indo-Chinese countries since 1975. There are different ethnic groups, such as the Meo hill tribesmen of Laos, the ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, and the boat people from Vietnam, many of whom are by background middle-class professional people who have made a contribution to their country. We have heard terrible stories of their plight at sea as they struggle to seek freedom from the repression of their own country.

We are witnessing the consequences of repressive Communist regimes. The evidence is there for the whole world to see that life in a Communist country is not, as they promise, heaven on earth but hell on earth. The evidence is there and there are many lessons for us.

I hope that the Minister will make a report upon the recent meeting of 40 countries—I believe that he attended on behalf of the British Government—at Geneva for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. I hope that he will clarify the British Government's position.

Of course, I accept that there is a requirement for Britain in its total approach to see this problem in a humane and practical way—in concert with other nations. The United Kingdom has made substantial financial contributions to the work of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, but we must acknowledge the remarkable contribution of voluntary bodies, such as the Save the Children Fund, which I saw in Thailand —bodies which are raising money from the British people, who feel that those organisations can make a contribution.

We are in a special position because of the density of our population and the recent immigration problems from which we have suffered. In my discussions in the Far East I found a clear acceptance that we face particular difficulties. Although we have had a reputation over many centuries for receiving refugees, we face intense problems. I do not think that there is any great pressure on us to accept a substantial number of refugees. We have made a token gesture.

I believe that Britain can help in other ways, and I hope that I am right in saying that that is generally accepted by the international community. We recognise that Thailand and Malaysia have particular problems and cannot be expected to absorb all the refugees.

I ask the Minister to clarify Government thinking, having regard to certain considerations. It is to be hoped that there will not be a repeat of the Palestine refugee problem, with all the consequent problems to which it has given rise since the war. My hon. Friend said that there should be proper transit facilities, staging post facilities, and that every assistance should be given to their provision. I hope that the Minister will comment and answer my hon. Friend's question whether it is possible to find in some part of the world an area of land or an island where the refugees can be helped.

There is also the question of dispersal. Some countries in particular Australia, the United States and France—have made an effort to take in some of the refugees. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield highlighted the fact that many of them are ethnically Chinese, and said that consideration should be given to China's taking on a substantial responsibility. I hope that the Minister will say what discussions there were in Geneva about that.

I come to the need for an allied effort. Britain should take a leading role, not only with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees but elsewhere. After all, we are a member of the Commonwealth, and Malaysia and Hong Kong face problems. There should be a Commonwealth approach to their problems. With the Association of South East Asian Nations partners now growing in strength, we have important ties with them. The European Community has just had a discussion with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers, and I hope that the matter can be seen in that context as well.

Our long-term objective must be to persuade the Indo-China regimes, through international effort, to create conditions in which there is once again respect for individual rights, for the freedom of the individual, with a view to enabling the refugees to return to their own countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should play a leading part in assisting in that process. In the meantime, we should expose the nature of the existing regimes and vigorously proclaim the right of their peoples to live in freedom from tyranny. Britain should play a leading role in that.

1.4 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on raising a vital topic, perhaps one of the most serious and difficult of all the refugee problems in the world today. It is a situation of great tragedy, of which British public opinion is beginning to be aware. The debate is also timely, because earlier this week there was a United Nations conference on the problem, which I attended. In replying to the debate, I shall try to make use of the experience I gained there.

One can trace the long-term origin of the problem to the terrible war that raged in Vietnam and throughout Indo-China for 30 years, and the fact that the war reflected a division of society within Vietnam—indeed, a division between two separate societies, two different ways of life, two different political philosophies and, perhaps above all, two different kinds of economy.

The conquest of one side by the other meant that one of those political philosophies, one way of life and one type of economy were imposed on the whole country. It is perhaps not altogether surprising that some of those who were used to an entirely different way of life, an entirely different belief in how life should be lived and an entirely different economy no longer found their existence worth while in the new society.

In addition, there has been great poverty, much greater in the south of Vietnam than previously existed. There has been the movement of population out of the big cities, out of Saigon—Ho Chi-Minh City, as it now is—into the countryside. Many other factors, including the general human rights position, made many people wish to leave. That movement has been going on for about three years. The figure given by the hon. Gentleman of about 700,000 refugees over that period is probably about right. It is a reflection of the dissatisfaction of many people with life in Vietnam as it is today.

We come across a difficult problem here. I do not think that any of us would wish the Government of Vietnam to apply the kind of policies that have been applied by the Soviet Union, East Germany and other countries of forcibly preventing people who wished to leave from doing so. But we cannot fail to recognise that the present position is creating not merely a tremendous burden on other countries but huge hardship and in many cases loss of life, which it must be our aim to prevent.

Some of the refugees—unfortunately, only a small proportion—leave in an orderly manner. Some go by air from Ho Chi-Minh City to Hong Kong. They are mainly the dependants of people who have already left. As we all know from television and newspapers, many others leave in appallingly dangerous circumstances, in small boats that are often un-seaworthy. They have hazardous journeys, and may finally arrive in countries that do not want to receive them.

What can we do? That was the problem confronted by the conference that I attended earlier this week, and it is confronted by the entire international community. I should like to deal first with the most immediate problem and then go on to the more general, long-term problem.

What can we do to prevent the loss of life of people at sea, which is perhaps the most tragic feature of the whole situation? It is particularly appalling when we read of Western ships passing small boats carrying refugees, or small islands where refugees are situated, and doing nothing to assist them because of the problems that may occur for the masters of the ships, or the countries to which they belong, over resettlement.

Three things can be done. First, the Governments of Western countries can urge the masters of their ships to pick up refugees wherever they find them on the seas. We have already done this. We first did it a year ago and we officially reiterated our request recently. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the secretary-general of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation have issued a joint appeal of the same kind to the masters of all ships.

Secondly, it is important that the Governments of the countries from which the ships come should be ready in the final resort to accept refugees picked up in that way. We have said that if such refugees are not resettled within three months we shall allow them to stay here. Quite a large proportion of those whom we are now receiving come to us in that way.

I shall come to that a little later. I agree that it would be the ideal solution.

Thirdly, the Governments of the countries to which such ships next go, the port States, should allow the refugees to land at the next port of call and not demand a guarantee that they have acceptance elsewhere in order to do so. We have been doing that, and the Government of Hong Kong have done it for a considerable period. The Government of Japan have at last agreed to do it. Not all Governments do, and that is the cause of some of our difficulties. It is important that such an undertaking should be given. Otherwise, captains will be unwilling to pick up refugees, as they clearly should.

I come now to the second and more general problem, which is the next stage when these people are able to land and settle in particular countries. Those countries are principally Thailand and Malaysia, which are at present undertaking a quite inequitable burden on behalf of the entire international community. It is unfair that they have to do that when the problem is not one of their making. They are becoming—I can report this from the conference—increasingly resentful about having to take on the burden, and increasingly insistent that other countries, particularly but not only Western countries, should undertake to accept some of the refugees.

It is totally disproportionate for Thailand to have 140,000 refugees and Malaysia 40,000. Fortunately, these countries do not have to shoulder much of the financial burden. Most of the financial cost is undertaken by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But there is a considerable political problem for them, particularly for Malaysia, in that, whether these refugees are of Chinese of Vietnamese stock, they add to the racial tensions. It is therefore important that other countries should agree to take refugees. That was the major single topic that was discussed at the Geneva conference earlier this week. The United Nations High Commissioner was most anxious to secure additional offers of this kind, and a substantial number of offers was made.

Representatives at the conference, mainly from the United States, Australia, France and other Western countries, mentioned offers of about 80,000 places in their territories. Some of these have been made before, and I believe that there were only about 5,000 totally new offers. However, in itself that was quite satisfactory.

I regret that we were not able to make a specific offer, but I was able to report to the conference that we are at present urgently and sympathetically considering what we can do to help. However, we already have a substantial problem. About 70,000 immigrants come to this country each year, of whom over 20,000 are from Asia. There are a few from other parts of the New Commonwealth. I do not want to go into the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). He grossly exaggerated the present extent of immigration into this country ; he almost doubled the total number of immigrants in this country. I do not want to get involved in that discussion because it is totally irrelevant to our debate.

We have these responsibilities, however, and I believe that there was considerable understanding at the conference of our special difficulties and problems. There is, of course, the hope that we will be able to do more. I hope that we shall, as does the United States. However, we have already made something of a commitment by saying that we shall take on all of those who are picked up by British ships, if it is necessary to take them on. That could add up certainly to several hundred or possibly, as the hon. Member for Beckenham said, a thousand in a year.

The conference was also concerned about offers of financial assistance. Fairly substantial offers were made. I think that $12 million of new money was offered at the conference. We offered an additional $1 million. It is not the case that we have been suddenly converted to the idea of giving financial help to the High Commissioner. We have been doing it consistently since at least 1976. In that year we gave £350,000 to the High Commissioner's general programme plus £2 million in relief and humanitarian assistance for the various United Nations and other programmes for Indo-China.

Last year we gave £1 million to the general programme. This year so far we have pledged, including the £500,000 that I offered this week, £2 million for the United Nations High Commissioner for him to use for Indo-Chinese refugees plus £3·5 million for the general programme. It cannot therefore be said that we have not made fairly substantial and generous offers of financial assistance to the United Nations High Commissioner. That is perhaps one of the most important things that we can do, although I hope that we shall be able to offer more places, too.

I turn finally to the more general problem. I agree with the hon. Members for Beckenham and Shoreham (Mr. Luce) about this. First, we must recognise the magnitude of the problem. The flow has increased dramatically over the last two Dr three months. I heard today from what I think is a well-informed source that it may have eased off quite a lot in the last week or two. I hope that it has. The belief was that perhaps the Vietnamese Government had taken account of the urgent appeals made to them about the problem. However, the problem is a major one and we have to think of alternative countries that would be willing to receive the refugees.

I agree that Latin American countries appear to be a likely source of offers. We know that these countries are looking for more immigrants. I know that Indo-Chinese immigrants are generally regarded as being satisfactory in that they are hardworking and quickly find themselves jobs and housing.

Several hon. Members have suggested that China might be asked to take a larger number of refugees. China has, however, already taken a substantial number. It has taken 170,000 refugees from the north of Vietnam in the fairly recent past. The important point about this suggestion is that in refugee programmes it is important that account is taken of what the refugees want and where they want to go. A large proportion of these people have left Vietnam because they do not like life in that kind of society. They therefore do not necessarily want to live in China where the society, although displaying great political differences from Vietnam, is in some way similar. If most of the refugees now in Thailand and Malaysia were asked whether they would like to go to China, I do not think that many of them would say "Yes ". I wish that they would, because it is an obvious potential answer to the problem.

As I said at the conference, the real long-term solution is that one should hope that the ultimate cause of their being refugees should be removed. In other words, we should hope that conditions in Vietnam which created the problem will he changed. Above all, one should certainly hope to see an end to the situation which has been reported recently in which Government or local officials in Vietnam have been taking payment to allow the exodus.

I and the Australian delegate at the conference asked that Vietnam should seek to secure a more orderly flow or to do something to ensure that people are not in grave danger of losing their lives by leaving the country. I should like to think that there will be such changes in Vietnamese society that many refugees would like to go back.

There was talk at the conference this week about voluntary repatriation to Vietnam. I am not sure whether that is always practicable. In some cases the refugees would not want to go back to that type of society or regime. In other cases they would like to have the chance of resettlement in a country of a much higher standard of living.

There may be other reasons. For example, there may be Chinese who do not want to go back to Vietnam just because they are Chinese. I entirely agree that one must hope that the ultimate long-term solution to the problem is that the reasons that have caused this terrible flow of refugees out of Vietnam and this terrible problem will cease to exist.

Prisons (Drugs)

1.20 p.m.

In raising the subject of the administration of drugs in our prisons, I want at the outset to pay tribute to all those who work in the prison medical service—the doctors and the nursing officers—and to make it clear that my remarks are in no way directed against them. I must also acknowledge quite freely that there is a severe shortage of doctors in the prison medical service, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to say how it is intended to make up for that shortage.

The problem that we face is that there has been a steady and persistent flow of allegations by former prisoners that drugs are used in our prisons not only to cure people and to help them in a medical sense but also for control and disciplinary purposes. The only way that these allegations can be rebutted properly, assuming that they are unfounded, is for the Home Office to be enormously forthcoming in providing information both to this House and to the public about the facts.

As I have had cause to say in this House on many occasions, the record of the Home Office in prisons, as in other areas, is that it is one of the most reluctant Departments to tell anyone anything. One of the difficulties is that it is not at all clear what the scope of the problem is, and it is very difficult to get any facts out of the Home Office.

Next week, an article is to be published in "Mind Out ", the magazine of the National Association for Mental Health, by Dr. Tony Whitehead. It analyses some figures which the Scottish Office, unlike the Home Office, has provided about the quantities and types of drugs prescribed in one prison. I do not intend to make any exact comparisons, but I think that the figures which will be published next week in "Mind Out" indicate that in one women's prison in Scotland at any rate about one in three of the inmates is permanently on psycho-tropic drugs. That is the only conclusion that one can draw from the admitted volume of drugs being consumed in that prison. I shall not go into the details, but they give some indication of what is happening in one prison which I agree at once is outside the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I ask, first, whether we can have some indication, perhaps from a number of prisons in the United Kingdom, so that we may form a view of the extent of the problem.

I acknowledge readily that the Home Office has been a great deal more helpful in the past six months than it has in the past six years. Recently Lord Harris wrote to me saying that the Government had decided at last to issue information to the public about the amount of drugs dispensed in prisons in categories of psychotropic drugs—drugs which change the personality—and other drugs. I take it from the rather convoluted third paragraph of his letter that he intends to do this not just on a national basis but prison by prison. He writes:
" We have decided that the information should take the form of the number of doses of medication issued at estabilshments divided in broad classifications according to the type of drug."
What it does not say is "establishments respectively" or "establishments collectively ", and I hope that my hon. Friend will make clear which of those the Home Office has decided the letter means or, if the Home Office has not yet decided which it means, when it will decide. I and a number of my hon. Friends who have discussed the matter feel that the figures will not be of use unless they indicate how much of how may drugs is used in each prison.

The basic problem is that the prison medical service alone of public sector medical services in Britain is not amenable to any of the framework of accountability built into the National Health Service. Community health councils, regional health authorities and area health authorities have no access. The prison medical service stands on its own, and it is very difficult for us to get any information about it. For example, it is very difficult to discover to whom doctors in the prison medical service are answerable. I have had some helpful discussions with my hon. Friend's officials, but every time I have raised this matter I have been given one of two answers" No, they are doctors and they are not accountable to anyone ", or "Yes, they are fully accountable to us."

One's fears are increased by a recent article in the Prison Medical Journal. I welcomed the response of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to a Question of mine in putting this periodical in the Library of the House of Commons. But that was only after The Sunday Times had got hold of a copy and revealed that what Dr. McCleery called an experiment but which I understand is not acknowledged to be an experiment was taking place in Albany involving the use of a psychotropic drug, Depixol. I agree that it was only a small experiment or whatever it might be called, but I should like to hear from my hon. Friend what is the procedure in the prison medical service when a doctor wishes to conduct an experiment, especially one using these psychotropic drugs which can very severely alter the personality of an individual, sometimes to the enormous distress of his relatives and to the endangerment of his health.

I know that the problem is not entirely one-sided. There are allegations of prisoners being given injections of medication against their will by prison nursing officers. There is also the quite serious problem of prisoners badgering doctors for drugs—sometimes mild drugs such as Valium and Librium—to counter the regime in the prison and that that produces a problem of addiction. It will be interesting to know how my hon. Friend sees the problem of addiction to some of these drugs in our prisons.

I come to the central accusation which is made. It is that a number of psycho-tropic drugs, especially Largactil, are used persistently on prisoners who in no way need hospital treatment, for disciplinary rather than medical objectives.

If any hon. Member had ever seen a patient who had been given a large dose of Largactil, especially before the administration of the counter-effect drug which is meant to be given simultaneously, he would know the appalling state in which it puts people. If the dose is large enough, the head cannot be moved to the right or to the left, and it creates in the individual a zombie-like state which is humiliating to the individual. In the view of an increasing number of doctors, it is injurious to health if given in overlarge doses. Anyone who reads the report of Mr. Inskip, QC, on St. Augustine's hospital, Canterbury, about the effect of the persistent adminstering of large doses of psychotropic drugs will know the danger to people who are subjected to them.

My plea to my hon. Friend is for a complete change in the Home Office attitude towards openness in this context. The flow of information is held up by three things. The first is the traditional reluctance of the Home Office to say anything. The second is the fact that the Official Secrets Act theoretically applies to everything that happens inside our prisons, including the number of drugs administered. Though I willingly agree that there would be no prosecutions under the Act, the Act remains an inhibition. Thirdly, the flow of information is held up by the supposed professional theory that doctors can never say anything to laymen lest they get the wrong end of the stick. The combination of these three inhibitions means that it is very difficult to get any information on this subject from the Home Office.

I welcome the publication of statistics, but there is, and there will continue to be, greater demands to find out more about the true state of affairs. I understand that the BBC is presently making a programme to be transmitted after Christmas and it is finding it enormously difficult to go into prison and to take the kind of shots it considers essential to put this drugs problem before the country.

If one takes an over-secretive attitude towards a matter like this, it only increases the number of accusations and the amount of suspicion that the Home Office has something to hide. It also increases the number of letters that my hon. Friend will have to write to me. So I plead that when newspapers or responsible television authorities such as the BBC want to examine this problem in detail, and to show both sides of the question, the Home Office should respond rather more openly than it has done in the past.

The scope of the problem becomes clear when we consider the very large number of people in prison who ought not to be there but who ought to be in hospital. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree with that. The Home Office has done the House a service by answering the Question on 20th November—in column 416 of Hansard—when it set out the fact that 581 people are in prison who are considered to be suffering from a mental disorder of a nature or degree warranting detention in hospital. I shall do all I can, and hon. Members on both sides of the House should do what they can, to persuade the people working in the hospital service that they have a responsibility, on grounds of sheer humanity, to get these people suffering in prison into the hospitals where they ought to be, and allow some of the secure units to be built.

The problem we are talking about concerns not the 581 prisoners but four, five, six or seven times that number who are receiving psychotropic drugs. In some cases—which I do not want to go into, though my hon. Friend might want to say a word or two about them—it has never been suggested for one moment that the people concerned need the drugs for mental disorder. There is great controversy, even in the hospital service, about the use of psychotropic drugs. Although they are widely used in the hospital service, and in the community, many doctors feel that these drugs are too widely used and, indeed, abused.

In the community outside prison, consent to treatment means something. The legal right to refuse treatment does not mean very much for a person in prison, with all the pressures that can be put upon him there. I make a strong plea to my hon. Friend to publish more information about this matter and to strengthen safeguards so that prisoners can refuse these drugs if they so wish. I am quite sure that, if such information is published, in a few years the Home Office will emerge with a much better reputation than it has had in the past.

I remind the House that this debate will finish at 10 minutes to 2 o'clock.

1.35 p.m.

Because of that fact, Mr. Speaker, I shall take only a minute or two, though I could go on for a long time on this subject. It is clear that notwithstanding the barrier to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) referred, put up by the Home Office against anyone finding out anything concerning this delicate subject, there is an enormous amount of evidence that the use of drugs in prisons has increased very rapidly indeed. It might be argued that one reason for that is that people have learned more about the use of drugs. But all the information about the use of drugs in prisons has come from those countries —most of them with very unsavoury regimes—which have been doing this for very many years and doing it in an extremely wicked way.

There is also the fact that on those rare occasions when it is possible to get an independent medical opinion, in my experience almost invariably, that opinion is contrary to that of the prison medical service. One of my constituents, George Ince, whose case I have raised more than once in this House, was given large lumps of Largactil in Gartree prison. When he fell ill they had to call in a distinguished consultant from Leicester Royal infirmary. He took one look at the chap and said "Get him out of here ".

Order. I understand that the case of Mr. Ince is sub judice [SEVERAL HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, that is the advice that I have been given. The hon. Member has been in this House as long as I have, so he will know how to get around it.

You must go by the advice that you have been given, Mr. Speaker, but I beg you to believe that it is mistaken, because I have my finger on the pulse of this case very closely indeed. No legal action of any sort is pending. When Mr. Ince fell ill the consultant took him to Leicester Royal infirmary and was horrified by the treatment that he had been given. And in another case which I have had, quite different—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman—I will allow him a minute extra because of it—but I am advised that the case is sub judice, and we had better act on that basis.

I shall, of course, obey your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I will not refer to that case again. However, I shall have to have it out with your advisers afterwards, because I know better than they do what is going on with George Ince—a lot better. May I refer to a quite different case—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a question that affects the House and, with great respect, not the hon. Member or the case of Mr. Ince. If it is sub judice we know that we cannot raise the matter. But, as I understand the situation, Mr. Ince is in prison. He has been sentenced and has gone through various legal procedures, and the only question at issue is whether or not he can or cannot be granted parole.

I understand that he wants to come out. I do not think that there is any legal case pending. May we have an authoritative statement on the question whether there is an appeal pending in the courts?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct to raise the matter with me. If the position is as he states and there is no legal action pending, the case would not be sub judice. I am advised that there is a case pending, but if notice has not been given, it is not sub judice.

I have just been advised that no date has been set. I shall therefore follow the precedent of my predecessor in such matters and allow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) to proceed.

I had said all that I wanted to say anyway. Let me refer to another case that cannot be sub judice because the poor young fellow whom it concerns is dead and the independent examination was made by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, whose report is highly critical of the way in which the young man was treated by the prison medical service. Moreover, the distinguished physician who treated the young man all his life before he was taken to prison was utterly horrified at the way he was treated.

It is the secrecy that arouses suspicion. I have visited many prisons and seen sharp, acute, bright, intelligent men turned into near zombies. I have seen one prisoner who, having refused Largactil, was given Mogadon in doses that horrified me. I take Mogadon when I have a restless night. I am a pretty tough old bird, but one tablet knocks me flat for four or five hours. I have known prisoners to be given doses of several Mogadon tablets at a time, at intervals of an hour or so. That is utterly indefensible, in my view, but if there is a defence, let us hear it. The Home Office ought to come clean.

I inform the Minister that the debate can go on until five minutes to two o'clock.

1.42 p.m.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) has initiated this debate and I thank him for giving me notice of some of the points that he raised. I have noted the problems that he mentioned about the administration of drugs to prisoners and his concern to have statistics relating to their use. My hon. Friend has corresponded with my noble Friend on this matter and will know that the Home Office gives full and careful consideration to these questions. Indeed, he has had discussions with the director of the prison medical service.

The call for the introduction of a means of monitoring the use of drugs in prisons is based largely on allegations of their misuse. In the past year or more, criticism has been levelled at the prison medical service. It has been persistently accused of treating prisoners against their will, using them for clinical trials of new drugs, failing to provide them with proper care and treatment, secrecy, and so on.

Criticism based on a rational interpretation of the facts can be helpful and constructive, but much of the criticism has been ill-founded and based on a distortion of the facts. I therefore welcome this opportunity to set out again the principles governing the medical treatment of prisoners.

Drugs are prescribed for prisoners only when, in the clinical judgment of prison medical officers or other registered medical practitioners, such treatment is justified for the restoration of health or the relief of symptoms. All prison medical officers are bound by the same ethical code of practice, as are doctors in the National Health Service, and neither the Home Office nor prison staff tells medical officers how to treat their patients, or what, if any, drugs to prescribe. Those are matters solely for the doctors' clinical judgment. Drugs are not administered without consent, except in emergencies, when treatment without consent is defensible in common law—when, otherwise, life would be endangered, serious harm to the prisoner or others would be likely, or there would be irreversible deterioration in his condition.

It has been suggested again recently that drugs are used without medical justification to control prisoners or as a disciplinary measure. There is, of course, an ambiguity about the word "control ". Obviously drugs have an effect on symptoms and, in that sense, control behaviour. Otherwise there would be no point in prescribing them. I refer, of course, to an article in The Sunday Times which claimed that prison doctors were misusing drugs. Of the two examples quoted in that article, one was based on an article in the Prison Medical Journal, which had been misinterpreted, and the other was based on allegations that were completely without foundation. Prison doctors have not, and would not, practise the use of drugs as an aid to discipline or to control behaviour.

I am also convinced that none of the doctors who work in the prison medical service would respond to being asked by other prison staff to prescribe drugs for these or any other purposes. To do so would not only be contrary to the ethics of the medical profession in this country ; the doctor concerned, who is personally responsible for each of his clinical decisions, would possibly lay himself open to legal action in the courts. As I stated earlier, a prison medical officer will prescribe medication to a prisoner only when, in his clinical judgment, it is necessary for the restoration of health or the relief of symptoms.

There have also been suggestions that prisoners are being used as subjects for the clinical trials of new drugs. These allegations are without foundation. Medical officers do not conduct trials on prisoners, because of the difficulty of being sure that the consent is valid, owing to the constraints of the environment.

My hon. Friend will be aware of a number of newspaper reports that have appeared in recent weeks on the use of hormone treatment on sexual offenders. The stories have suggested that prisoners are receiving that form of treatment without consent and without a full explana- tion of its effects and possible side effects, and that it is being administered on a large scale. There is no question of prisoners being compelled to receive hormone or other drug treatments to help them control their sexual urges.

I have already mentioned the principles that govern the administration of medical treatment to prisoners. Those principles apply to the provision of hormone treatment. The decision whether to offer that type of treatment is one for the clinical judgment of the doctor concerned, who will wish to satisfy himself that the prisoner has a genuine desire to be helped in that way to control his sexual urges and that it is the most appropriate form of treatment in the individual case.

Hormone therapy is by no means the universal panacea for deviant sexual behaviour, as is sometimes suggested. All doctors who practise in prisons know that, and are well aware of the uncertainties about the outcome of such treatment—because much depends on the motivation of the patients—and are also well aware of the possible side effects. For those reasons, doctors are very cautious about the use of such treatment. It has, however, helped some people and has, therefore, been offered by doctors, on that basis, for those who are willing to undergo the treatment.

It is a basic principle that the Secretary of State should not attempt to give the doctor directions on the way in which he should exercise his clinical judgment or interfere with decisions about treatment. We are naturally concerned that before such treatment is given to any prisoner, its effects should be properly explained to him and it should be made clear that acceptance of treatment cannot guarantee his release on licence. That is just one of the many factors that the Parole Board has to consider. Our inquiries suggest that hormone treatment has been used on a very small number of prisoners in a few establishments and that synthetic oestrogens have been used only on a small proportion of those offered treatment.

If any allegation of improper medical treatment is made, it is carefully investigated, but, so far, no evidence has emerged to suggest that prison doctors are behaving improperly in any way. They have a difficult job to do and I think that they deserve a much better press. Far from forcing drugs on unwilling prisoners, they are constantly asked to prescribe drugs of various kinds, including tranquillisers, by prisoners who are used to them outside or are even dependent on them. That is precisely what happened in one of the cases mentioned in the article in The Sunday Times. Medical officers deal with such requests on the basis of their clinical duty towards their patients and not of the convenience of other prison staff.

In case there should be any misunderstanding about consent to treatment, particularly in the case of the mentally disordered, I must make it clear that prison medical staff are in a different position from staff dealing with hospital patients. Hospital staff may treat compulsorily detained patients without consent, and the recent White Paper reviewing the Mental Health Act 1959 proposes certain limitations on their freedom to do so. Prison medical officers are not empowered to treat without consent, and in the case of a person committed to prison, who had previously been subject to a hospital order, the position is no different—as a prison is not a hospital within the meaning of the 1959 Act.

My hon. Friend suggested that there was a need for an independent body to act as inspectors and to deal with complaints from prisoners about their medical treatment. In fact, in some ways prison medical officers are more accountable than are their NHS colleagues. Inmates are able to take up complaints internally with the governor or with the board of visitors, which is an independent body, and, where necessary, by petitioning the Secretary of State. They can then write to their Member of Parliament, have their case taken up by a Parliamentary Commissioner, the European Commission of Human Rights, or even the civil courts. Also, establishments are subject to regular inspection, and a senior member of the pirson medical service is usually on the team. The regional principal medical officer visits all establishments in his region, and there is close supervision of prison doctors by their seniors.

It has also been alleged that prison medical officers are not as good as general practitioners, but I do not know how this assessment is arrived at. The suggestion that NHS doctors have nothing to do with prisons is also unfounded, when there are at present about 100 part-time medical officers, all general practitioners from the local community, holding surgeries in prison. There are also many specialists visiting prisons on a regular basis, most of whom hold appointments in the NHS. Prison doctors are bound by exactly the same code of professional ethics as are their NHS colleagues, and although prison rule 17 provides that the medical officer of a prison shall have regard to the care of the mental and physical health of its prisoners, there is, and could be, no set of instructions to medical officers on how to treat their patients, or what would constitute a reasonable action in an emergency. Nevertheless, it is by no means uncommon for a medical officer to call in an outside consultant to examine a patient and for a course of treatment to be prescribed by the consultant. Also, medical officers are entitled to call another doctor into consultation when this might help to reduce a prisoner's anxiety about his health or medical treatment.

I should also like to make clear that a prison hospital officer administers treatment only on the express instructions of the medical officer. Hospital officers are trained to provide basic nursing care and to assist medical officers in the treatment of patients. As most prison hospitals are used only to provide treatment, which outside would not normally require admission to hospital, they do not need to be more highly qualified. The qualified nursing staff are mainly concentrated in the four establishments with surgical units and in those for women.

It is against this background that the case for the collection of detailed statistics has to be considered. Those who express concern about this matter appear to want sufficient information to enable them to comment, at least in broad terms, on doctors' clinical decisions. Not only would this require elaborate recording arrangements, but it would go beyond the monitoring to which other doctors are subjected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) appears to have disappeared—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend did send a message apologising for his absence.

I thank my hon. Friend for that message, which I had not received.

The fact that the estimated expenditure on medicines and drugs of all kinds, which my hon. Friend mentioned, has risen from £131,000 in 1971–72 to £379,000 in 1977–78 does not support a conclusion that drugs are now being over-prescribed. When one takes account of the effect of inflation on costs, the increase in the prison population as a whole over the period and the increase in the number of offenders entering prison suffering from mental disorder, the rise in this expenditure is quite understandable. However, as my hon. Friend knows, medical supplies are not accounted for in such a way as to be able to single out drugs. This expenditure includes not only drugs of all kinds, such as aspirin and laxatives, as well as medical and psychiatric drugs, but dressings, ointments, disinfectants and medical sundries.

I know that my hon. Friend would like to see the collection of statistics relating to the use of drugs by the prison medical service, but, apart from the practical problems involved in attempting a subdivision of costs by precise type of drug, information about cost would be of little value in monitoring the use of drugs. Price changes, differences in purchasing practices and arrangements under which one establishment purchases on behalf of several others would make interpretation of such information difficult. There would therefore be serious practical difficulties in analysing the cost of drugs, and the result would not be very informative.

Similarly, to analyse quantities of drugs taken into stock at a prison would not only be a formidable administrative task ; as substances taken into stock are not necessarily in the same form as those issued, and most drugs for inmates are presented in a liquid form for security reasons, the resulting information would be of no management significance or practical use.

The collection of statistics on the basis of the number of prescriptions issued would not be practicable, as there are no prescription forms in the prison service. The medical officers' orders for drug treatment are recorded in a number of different forms, depending on the occasion. As in outside hospitals, where there are no prescriptions as such, the doctor sometimes orders medication on an "if required" basis, and the hospital officer or nurse will not issue the medication if the patient does not require it. There would, therefore, be difficulties about counting the number of orders for drug treatments, and apart from the task of the counting needed to be undertaken by the hard-pressed hospital officers, it is not likely to provide information which is meaningful or comparable with the number of prescriptions issued outside prisons.

To attempt any kind of analysis of doctors' clinical decisions would require drugs to be itemised individually, taking account of the strength of doses and the number of patients actually treated in any given period. This would be a formidable task, involving considerable recording of detail at administrative expense. That would not be justified.

We are, of course, aware of the concern to have some data on the use of drugs. As my hon. Friend knows, we have agreed to collect information that would provide an overall picture—I think that this is what my hon. Friend really wants—and possibly provide a comparison between prisons on standards of health and health care. At the same time it would be collected through our pharmacy services, which would avoid some work for the staff directly involved in patient care.

This information will take the form of the number of doses of medication issued at establishments, divided in broad classifications according to the type of drug. There will be a separate classification for psychotropic drugs. Arrangements have been made for this information to be collected from the beginning of next year, and the necessary instructions have been issued. Inevitably, this is something of a pilot study, but the information that it yields should be interesting and useful. We shall see how the arrangements work out before considering an extension of the scheme. We shall then be able to decide whether to provide further resources for a larger examination of drug supplies.

Police Constable Turner(Merseyside)

2 p.m.

Before we adjourn for the Christmas Recess, I think that it is appropriate to raise a matter which I believe to be of considerable public interest and great importance. It is a matter that affects the country and the way in which we, as a civilised nation, treat those whose task it is to protect us in everyday life and help to enforce the law.

I refer in particular to the police force, although what I have to say is as relevant to those working in other public services, such as firemen, whose job constantly puts lives at risk. I ask the Minister to see established the principle that those who protect the public should not be penalised if injured in the course of duty when such duty involves danger to their own life.

My principal task this afternoon is to consider the plight of one young policeman, which illustrates the problem well. It concerns ex-police constable Turner, who lives in Liverpool and who was living in my constituency.

In 1974, at the age of 25, after six years in the force, he was on duty in Liverpool, standing on the pavement, when he saw a stolen car being driven towards him, pursued by a police vehicle with a blue flashing light. He was about to throw his truncheon through the windscreen of the car when it swerved and drove right at him, mowing him down. The driver was later arrested, found guilty at the Crown court and sentenced to five years' imprisonment. The driver of the car was a dangerous criminal, and was subsequently convicted of a manslaughter charge involving a 3-year-old boy, resulting in a prison sentence of 15 years.

Ex-police constable Turner was badly injured. He spent 18 months in hospital, but he has made a miraculous recovery. All that he now suffers from is a gammy knee. His police colleagues visited him regularly in hospital. The Merseyside police force did all they could to make his life comfortable, including ensuring that he was kept on full pay for 14 months after the accident.

When ex-police constable Turner left hospital he was medically examined by the force, declared unfit for duty, and discharged from the force. As a result of his discharge, he now receives an annual pension—a pension he will receive for life. His pension from the police and the DHSS works out at about £1,200 per annum. That is little compensation for a young man who risked his life when seeking to apprehend a dangerous criminal. It is little compensation for a young man whose lifelong dream to serve in the police force now lies shattered.

I am told that the police regulations state that, once a policeman is discharged as medically unfit, he cannot be reconsidered for police duties even if the work offered is of a sedentary, clerical or administrative nature. Even if the job is in police headquarters, the kind of work attracts civilian status and not police status, and is paid accordingly.

This is one of the areas which need to be changed. I shall ask the Minister to examine the matter. Surely there should be a duty on the police force, if at all possible, to find a job for the policeman who is injured rather than to allow him to be downgraded to civilian status.

As Turner was anxious to return to work with his police colleagues, after considerable effort—and we should not underestimate how difficult it was for him to get back into the police force—a job was found for him in a civilian capacity. He was employed as a clerk in the criminal record division. From being a police constable, with all the status and prestige which that brought, he suddenly found himself demoted and put in the position of a clerk in local authority employment. But, worse than that, his pay was reduced initially by £2,500. That was bridged by the pension. As police pay increases, it is likely that that gap will also increase.

Ex-police constable Turner has been very much worse off ever since the accident, even though he has worked very hard as a clerk and has been promoted. He has passed a number of examinations which he took to improve his position and pay, and he must be commended.

As a result of promotion, Turner has now moved out of the records office and has little to do with the police force at all. That is an aspect which he very much regrets. He was trained in the force and from the age of 19 to 25 has had six years' experience. He finds it difficult to understand why he cannot be used to advantage in the police force—if not on the beat, certainly in an administrative capacity. He cannot understand why a gammy knee is a reason for his not being reinstated as a police constable. Mr. Turner is quite mobile. He came down by train today and managed to travel by Underground to the House to hear this debate. He can walk round this building, but his knee is not strong enough to enable him to perform the ordinary duties of a police constable.

I am told that there are a number of obstacles. Once a policeman is discharged medically, he cannot work as a policeman again. If he draws his pension, he cannot get a policeman's wage as well. Turner does not want the pension and would be happy to give it up—provided that he can get back into the force as a policeman.

It has been suggested that one of the problems facing Mr. Turner is that it would create a precedent if he were brought back into the force. There are 50 such cases—some worse and some better than Mr. Turner's—in Merseyside alone. This is a national problem because hundreds of policemen are injured every year. If Turner is brought back into the force, it is said that this would create difficulties within the civilian component because the unions may well argue that, when a qualified policeman carries out his civilian job, he is taking a job from another civilian.

There is also the argument that every policeman must be 100 per cent. fit. He must be available for any duties at any time, and if the police force employed policemen who were regarded as medically unfit it would place the public at risk.

I am not suggesting that Mr. Turner should be a police driver or put on traffic patrol, but the Minister must appreciate that there are a great number of jobs which trained policemen who have performed acts of gallantry and been injured in the process could surely undertake without losing money and status. The money consideration could possibly be covered by some form of industrial insurance, and perhaps the Minister will say whether there are plans for improving that arrangement. An important matter which should not be underestimated is the loss of status and also the loss of future opportunity.

Perhaps the Minister will tell the House that she is as concerned as I am about this case. I hope that she will say that she will try to find a way round this bureaucratic rule so that the principle is not defeated. Those whose job it is to defend our society and protect the public should not be discriminated against if they suffer the misfortune of being injured in the course of their duty.

We live in a throw-away society in which in many ways the individual has become less important. The way in which ex-police-constable Turner has been treated, the fact that he was dispensed with that easily, and the fact that it has been necessary to raise this matter in the House highlight the problem. Rules and regulations must help the individual and not militate against him.

I have discussed this matter with the chief constable of Merseyside. He shares my concern for injured policemen, but he is also concerned that his force and others should not be manned by an increasing number of unfit men. He is right to be concerned, and I pay tribute to him for the interest he has taken in this case.

In the analysis, our country owes a debt of gratitude to ex-police constable Turner and others like him. I hope that the Minister will tell the House this afternoon that she will look personally at this case and will consider ways in which the regulations might be changed and improved.

If the Minister is uneasy about imposing a duty on chief constables to reinstate injured policemen, she could at least give them a greater discretion and a directive from the Government that they are concerned that those who embark upon acts of bravery do not get a raw deal. If the Minister cannot do that, she must realise the consequences, because some of those now engaged in public duties which entail risk of life and limb may well take the view that they do not get adequate compensation and do not know that if they are injured they will be properly looked after.

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether the Police Federation has taken up the case of Mr. Turner? Does he not think that that is a line that ought to be pursued?

I am glad to tell the House that the Police Federation has been concerned in this case. The need to bring this matter to the Floor of the House arises because the Police Federation has not been able to override the rule that once a policeman has been discharged he can be brought back into the force only as a a civilian, which necessitates a completely different wage and promotion structure. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that point to the attention of the House.

The Minister must realise that if she does not say something today about those engaged on public duty which involves risk to life and limb, and cannot tell the House that adequate compensation is available, we may well see a time when very few of our policemen and firemen are prepared to risk their lives in discharging their duty of protecting society.

The case of ex-police constable Turner well illustrates the ease with which our society dismisses acts of gallantry, sheltering, in this case, under bureaucratic rules and seemingly forgetting compassion. The country will be very interested in what the Minister has to say.

2.12 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) for giving the House the opportunity to debate the issues arising from this sad case, which illustrates in a particularly unhappy way the dangers to which all police officers are inevitably subject by the very nature of their job.

I hope that the House will bear with me if I take a little time to give the full background to the case and add to what the hon. Member has said. I think it is important that hon. Members should be aware of all the details of the sympathetic consideration shown to Mr. Turner following his tragic accident. The considerable efforts which the Merseyside police force and the police committee made to look after Mr. Turner's short-term and long-term needs give a good illustration of the care and concern of the police service as a whole for the well- being of those who serve us as police officers.

Mr. Turner joined the then Liverpool and Bootle constabulary as a police constable on 2nd August 1968 and served until 3rd December 1972, when he resigned to take up unemployment outside the police service. On 16th April 1974, he rejoined the police in the Merseyside police force, which had by that time taken over the area previously policed by the Liverpool and Bootle constabulary.

It was only a short time after his reappointment that, in the early hours of 19th June 1974, the accident which eventually ended his career took place. As has been said, Mr. Turner showed the highest sence of duty that we have come to expect of our police officers when, with no thought of his own safety, he attempted to stop a stolen vehicle that was being pursued by a police car. The vehicle was driven at him and knocked him down, causing serious injuries, which necessitated a seven-week stay in hospital. The driver of the stolen vehicle was later arrested, and was sentenced to a total of five years' imprisonment.

During the year that followed the accident, Mr. Turner remained off duty and was examined on a number of occasions by the medical officer. During this time he received full pay and allowances. By the time of the last examination in June 1975, it had become evident that because of the seriousness of his injuries he would never regain the high standard of fitness demanded of all police officers.

At this point I should explain in some detail why chief constables must demand the highest degree of fitness of anyone who wishes to become a police officer. With the increasing use of civilians in the police service on clerical and administrative jobs previously done by police officers, it has been possible over the last few years to employ the skills of police officers on those duties which they alone can do. We have seen the trend moving away from, for example, the village police station manned by a station sergeant and several police constables, moving to systems where, to a large extent, police officers are engaged in work with a more demanding and satisfying operational flavour, and the duties requiring purely clerical and administrative skills are carried out by civilian workers.

It is true that some police officers are still engaged in jobs which do not require a great deal of demanding physical activity, but it is important to remember that every police officer is expected to, and, indeed, must be prepared to, carry out any of the duties of the job whenever circumstances make it necessary. It is possible to accept that an officer who is temporarily below the standard of fitness required could be employed in a post involving only a limited variety of duties, but it would be wrong to retain on that work an officer who was never likely to be able to carry out the full duties of a constable.

It is not difficult to envisage a situation —in fact, we have had two very good illustrations within the last week—in which the safety, perhaps even the lives, of a police officer, the officer's colleagues and members of the public depend on his reactions to the set of circumstances in which he finds himself. I refer for convenience to a male officer, but in the modern police force it is quite likely that a female officer may find herself in the same situation.

It is one of the more regrettable aspects of the age in which we live that the modern-day criminal is sufficiently sophisticated and ruthless to recognise and capitalise upon any weakness that he may spot in anyone who stands between him and his freedom. To place an officer who is not totally fit in a situation in which his own or other lives could depend upon the speed of his physical reactions would be a risk which no chief constable would be right in taking. For these reasons the chief constable of Merseyside had to accept that Mr. Turner was regrettably unlikely to be able to recover the standard of fitness necessary.

Mr. Turner was therefore seen in July 1975 by the assistant chief constable of the force responsible for personnel matters and the medical opinion concerning his case was explained to him as sympathetically as possible. In addition, various aspects of his future were discussed in detail, both on this occasion and on a number of subsequent occasions when the force welfare officer visited him.

The Merseyside police committee met on 29th July 1975, shortly after Mr. Turner's interview with the assistant chief constable, and, in accepting the medical officer's recommendation, set Mr. Turner's retirement date for 27th October to allow him plenty of time to seek a new career before his retirement.

The Minister has somewhat glossed over the point that I was trying to make. Accepting that more jobs of a clerical and administrative nature are being done by civilians, and accepting that the police on the beat have to be 100 per cent. fit, does she not agree that there needs to be the one exception, that where policemen are injured in acts of gallantry of this kind they should be reinstated in the kind of jobs that are now being done by civilians, but as part of the police force?

That is what is really being argued in these special cases, because they are so very few. The number of very young men injured in this way must be comparatively few. I understand that probably a great number of policemen are injured in the course of their duties throughout the country, but I ask the Minister to appreciate that this kind of case is slightly different. That has not been quite apprehended by her in her answer so far.

I see that the hon. Member wants an exception made to the general rule. He accepts the logic of the general rule, but he wants that rule to be put aside in the very few cases such as this.

I was going to say at the end that I shall ask my right hon. Friend to consider the very point that the hon. Member has made, which I think he was implying would require action from the Minister if any change were to be made. It would obviously require the acceptance of chief constables. I am not sure of the exact effect that it would have, but I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the hon. Member's speech, with that point in mind.

Mr. Turner had initially wished to explore the possibility of a career unconnected with the police service. His efforts in this direction did not bear fruit, and after he contacted the force, its senior civilian member offered to help him in finding a job as a civilian in an area connected with police work. At this time a post as a clerical officer grade II was available in the Merseyside criminal records office. In agreement with the National Association of Local Government Officers, posts at this level must normally be advertised, and this was done. When the senior civilian representative of the Merseyside police discussed the details of Mr. Turner's case with them, NALGO representatives agreed that in view of the exceptional circumstances of the case Mr. Turner could be employed in this higher grade without application in the normal way. Mr. Turner took up his post in the Merseyside criminal records office on 27th October, that is, on the day that his service as a police officer ended, and worked on duties in this job, in which the experience he had gained while he was a police officer was of great use.

I think it would be helpful if I were to explain in some detail the philosophy behind the award of police pensions to officers such as Mr. Turner who have been obliged to retire on medical grounds.

The police pensions regulations provide that where a regular policeman is found to be permanently disabled for the performance of his duty he may be required to retire on a date determined by the police authority. He will receive the ill-health pension granted to officers who are required to retire on this ground. In addition, if his disablement has been caused by an injury received on duty, he receives an injury pension supplemented by a lump sum. He may commute up to one-quarter of the ill-health pension for an additional lump sum.

Perhaps I may give some information concerning Mr. Turner's situation. Police pensions are governed by the police pensions regulations which are made by the Home Secretary after consultation with the Police Council on which local authorities and staff associations are represented. Any award under the regulations is a matter entirely for the police authority concerned and the Home Secretary has no authority to intervene. His only function in the matter of a medical discharge is to appoint a medical referee to decide an appeal, when one is made, either against discharge or, in the case of an injury, against the degree of disability as assessed by the police surgeon.

Mr. Turner has not appealed against discharge or against the degree of his disability, which has been assessed at 40 per cent.

We have checked with the police authority that Mr. Turner's award has been correctly based. He receives an ill-health pension and an injury pension, which have been increased annually since award. In addition he receives a national insurance disablement pension and a special hardship allowance. On retirement he also received two lum sum payments under the police pensions regulations. One was an injury gratuity and the other was part of his ill-health pension. He has also received an award from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

A police pension is not reduced on account of any pay received from civilian employment. The combination of Mr. Turner's salary in his new civilian post and the pension received from the police service meant that Mr. Turner suffered no loss of salary because of his changed circumstances.

I must challenge that statement, because according to the former police constable he has lost financially. That is a point that I should like to press upon the Minister. He has not only lost financially—although he has been very well looked after ; he is not complaining —he will lose more and more as the opportunities that would have been open to him as a policeman no longer exist for him in the future. One cannot compensate for that. That is why it is being argued that if the man was brought into the police service in some capacity, at least he would have the status, if not the finance. If he were a police constable he could rise to the heights at the top of the police service. If he is going to be incapacitated by his injured knee, he is unlikely to rise very high, but at least he would have the status of a police officer. That is a point which should not be passed over, because of the financial aspects. It is a question of the status as well as the finance.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the financial aspects as I have, but I have not gone into figures, notwithstanding the fact that I have before me a very full set of figures. I have not specifically mentioned them, partly because this is a public debate and partly because the matter is very complicated. However, I shall certainly send the hon. Gentleman figures to support the point I made that Mr. Turner suffered no loss of salary because of his changed circumstances.

However, now the hon. Gentleman is mentioning the other point about status. All civilians in posts connected with the police service are employed by the police authority or by the local council and there are opportunities for all police civilians to gain promotion within the local government service. The senior civilian in the Merseyside police had interested Mr. Turner in the career prospects in local government and arranged for him to take a correspondence course in the subject. I understand that Mr. Turner has recently been promoted and has taken up another post within the local government service.

I hope that I have shown that the financial arrangements that the police service makes for those of its officers who are unfortunate enough to have to retire on account of injury on duty are very fair. There is obviously nothing which can adequately compensate for Mr. Turner's lost career, as the hon. Gentleman is emphasising. I hope, however, that the hon. Member will agree that the care and sympathetic consideration shown by the police service for officers injured in the course of duty stands well in comparison with any other profession or industry.

Olympic Games 1980

2.27 p.m.

A remarkable ceremony took place this morning, at 10 o'clock, when letters were handed over from the bishop of Croydon and the bishop of Tonbridge indicating their concern about the question of human rights in the Soviet Union and urging that the Government make strong representations to the Government of that nation. These letters were handed to the hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill). He feels, as I do, that this is a very important attempt by the Church and by those who were involved in the ceremony this morning—a group of youngsters had jogged all the way from Croydon—to show concern and commitment to the very subject which I wish to raise in this debate.

In my view, the Olympic Games should not be held in Moscow. I think that the British Government should do everything in their power to ensure a change of venue. If the venue is not changed, the Government should make clear their opposition to a British team competing in those Olympics.

Let me be clear about this. I am opposed to the staging of international sporting events in any country where the rights of individuals are threatened and where, as Amnesty International has shown, there is a consistent policy of suppression and harassment of its people.

The majority of those who express concern about human rights would not tolerate the holding of a major sporting event in South Africa. Indeed, with a few exceptions, such as New Zealand, South Africa's racial politics have resulted in almost complete isolation in sport. That is as it should be. But why is it right to cut off sporting links with South Africa but to keep them with the Soviet Union?

South Africa's transgressions against human rights centre around its racial policies. Soviet Russia's offences against human rights reach into many other areas. But Russia is racist. Jews in Russia are second-class citizens, prevented from following their religion, forbidden to speak their own language, and prevented from seeking freedom in other countries. Soviet Russia rejects the right to form free trade unions and if those who seek to better their working conditions are not able to accept this they are expelled from the State unions and thus denied the right to work.

Nor does the USSR's infringement of basic human rights end with the denial of basic freedoms. The punishments visited on those who seek to dissent in any way from the State line—by professing a religious faith, by wanting to leave the country, by wanting to improve their working conditions, or even by showing too great an interest in the Western world —are very cruel and inhuman. The mass executions of Stalin's days may be a thing of the past, but the labour camps go on, and, worse, there is incarceration in mental institutions.

I am chairman of the all-party mental health committee, and my colleagues and I believe that there is a joint feeling in the House on this question. Many institutions in the Soviet Union are still operating like a Victorian lunatic asylum, with none of the advances in the care of the mentally sick which our own hospitals exhibit. In these institutions are placed dissidents, often with serious disturbed and violent patients. Frequently they are forcibly administered psychotropic drugs, resulting in disorientation, so that it becomes difficult to keep a grip on sanity. If anyone does not already know about the way in which human rights are suppressed by the psychiatric hospital treatment, I urge him to read the book by Bloch and Reddaway, or Vladimir Bukovsky's own account of his experiences as a dissenter in Russia.

Yet the Soviet Union has signed the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and has subscribed to the Helsinki convention. Those who have dared to monitor the adherence to the Helsinki convention have been the most recent victims of the Soviet suppression of freedom. I wonder whether hon. Members know that more than 20 of those who formed monitoring committees associated with the Helsinki agreement are now in prison. We have heard of Yuri Orlov, Alexander Ginsburg and Anatoli Shcharansky. There is also Ida Nudel, a friend of my own family, and Vladmir Slepak, who have been exiled to Siberia because they wanted to leave Russia. There is also Alexander Podrabinek, who spoke against the pyschiatric abuse. He, too, is now in Siberia. There is also Joseph Bondarenka, a Latvian Baptist now in a labour camp for preaching in a recognised chapel.

We must not turn a blind eye to what is happening in the Soviet Union. For too long we have been operating double standards. It is against this background that I want to relate the situation to the Olympic Games. For too long we have looked the other way, not only in our attitude towards sport but in the councils of the world. It has happened in the International Labour Organisation, but I believe that that organisation is waking up.

It has happened in the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, which in its 30 years of operation has probably covered up more human rights violations than it has exposed because of its Power bloc line-up. The organisation itself is concerned only with South Africa, Israel and, more recently, Chile. Yet more than 100,000 complaints from individuals and organisations about human rights viola- tions have been totally ignored in the last seven years alone. Amnesty International has documented many cases for submission to the Commission, but, like thousands of individual cries for help that the Commission receives each year, these have disappeared into the hands of the secret delaying bureaucracy that the Commission operates.

But why make the Olympic Games the occasion for our protest? My right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport has said—

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the denial of basic human rights in Communist countries and other dictatorships, and agree that we in the free world have a responsibility to encourage the persecuted members of such societies, but will he attempt to equate the Moscow Olympic Games with the perhaps similar circumstances of the games held in Germany in 1936, for example? Does he not accept that the presence of many thousands of spectators, media men and participants from the free world in Moscow will lead to widespread communication with the Russian people, notwithstanding the attempts by the Soviet authorities to try to reduce such communication?

It is as a result of such communication that people will be encouraged to press for greater freedom for themselves, and there is evidence from the recent European games in Prague that such a trend was promoted. I ask the hon. Gentleman, therefore, whether he agrees that having the games in Moscow is an opportunity not to be missed—

Order. So far, so good. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) may be able to catch my eye and make a speech, but not in the middle of someone else's speech.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and I will deal with them. I was about to develop the question of how far this canvas of suppression of human rights in the Soviet Union relates to sporting activities. My right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport has said that, regardless of the fact that in some countries sport and politics are indivisible, we must not follow suit. I am sure that he will not mind if I quote recent correspondence that we have exchanged. He said:

" It would put us in the same category as those whose actions we now deplore and prevent us from trying to persuade them to see the error of their ways. We should find ourselves on a spiral of using sport for broad political purposes and end up by not playing anyone at anything."
That is not very different from the point raised by the hon. Member for Bourne-mouth, East (Mr. Atkinson).

I believe that this is a misguided view of the impact that spectators can make when visiting a country, which the sheer power and propaganda of the host country can exploit, and visitors are inevitably lost when the scale and the operation of something like the Olympics takes place.

I think that what I object to most is perhaps that last sentence of my right hon. Friend's letter. I think that it is unfair and nonsense, and I suspect, as we are close colleagues, that he knows it. We are talking about fundamental human rights and not childish games. It is absolutely right to sever all sporting links with South Africa. Few have done more than my right hon. Friend has in this regard. But it is surely right also to say that we will not take part in Olympics held in Moscow. Part of the case that he must answer is why it is possible that we can have the enthusiasm and the energy to isolate one nation—for which I have little time and much contempt because of the way it has handled the problems of human rights but for some other reason are prepared to say that such conditions are totally acceptable in the Soviet Union.

I am not the only person asking this question. I suspect that between now and 1980 many people will be asking the same question throughout the world. My right hon. Friend seems to think that we have a choice in the matter, as if the majority of nations do not regard international sport as part of their political image. Surely he is wrong.

Part of the justification for this argument is that we should not let politics affect sport and that sport is something quite different. But I argue that it is happening. I wonder whether hon. Members read Robert Whymant's remarkable report in The Guardian last weekend. He talked about the Asian games. He said:
" The Asian Games, which begin here today, have shown how much international tournaments have almost become an extension of warfare. The sports events have been overshadowed by the uproar about the exclusion of Israel. The Chinese have tried to score propaganda points by ' inviting ' Taiwanese athletes to attend. Cambodia and Vietnam, locked in a bitter border war, are using the occasion to canvass support for their cause."
I could go on to mention a whole series of other incidents involving other countries. I find it difficult to believe that as professional politicians we cannot accept that the idea that sport and politics are separate, isolated from each other, each going its separate way, does not in any way impress the public and is naïve.

It was the Soviet bloc that was initially responsible for attempting to get this tremendous event to Moscow when it decided that the games would make a wonderful showcase for the athletically-superior product of the Soviet system—a product that is as battery-produced as a frozen chicken—to dazzle the eyes of those outside. No wonder Russian sport is in the hands of the department of agitation and propaganda of the Communist Party central committee. Getting the Olympics to Moscow is that department's greatest triumph. The Russians have been trying for several years, and eventually the International Olympic Committee succumbed to the dazzle. It is up to the free Governments of the world to bring it down to earth.

The importance of the Moscow Olympics to the Russians can be better understood if we recall the 1936 Olympics in Germany. The same argument was used then as we heard a moment ago from the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East. It was argued that there would be a large number of visitors who would influence the mood of the country. No such thing took place. That event has been very well documented. Walter Leclair has written a brilliant piece about it, and there are many other books in our Library that show that the people who went to Munich were able to see the sport but did not make any impact, and nor were they expected to.

The Nazis made it clear that sport was an integral part of Nazi ideology and practice, and in 1936 that made sense and it made propaganda. It was designed to show the superiority of the Third Reich over the decadent West. The games were a triumph for the Nazis. German athletes did well. The young men marched through the streets demonstrating joy, peace and discipline. Visitors were dazzled by a Berlin dressed up to receive them. They forgot the terror behind the acceptable face of Fascism. Hitler was able to believe he had duped the world. It was the high point of appeasement.

I am surprised and saddened that any Member of this House should imagine that we can run that reel again. We must not again be duped into supporting the window dressing of tyranny.

It has been argued that the presence of so many foreigners in Moscow will have a liberalising influence. Does anyone believe that ordinary Muscovites will have free access to the games and the visitors without proof positive of their loyalty beforehand? The human rights trials show that the Russians are trying to clear dissidents away before they can speak to visitors. Are politicians in this House so naive that they can even begin to proffer that advice? I believe that the answer is "No."

The only honourable response to the situation in Russia is for the Government to light its own Olympic torch and, remembering the spirit of the Olympic Games, declare itself for truth and human rights. We must begin by making an approach to other nations. Once we have declared ourselves, others will follow in rejecting Moscow as a suitable host city. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made a similar point last August. I wonder what has happened since then, because this has not been followed up.

It is defeatist to say that there is not time to arrange a new venue. If the will is there, it can be done. There are other cities with adequate facilities where the staging of the games would not make a mockery of the assumption behind the granting of the games—that peace and order reign in that country.

I conclude by quoting the words of Vladimir Bukovsky, a man who knows what it is to have to resist. He said that the removal of the Olympic Games,
" so far from damaging the Olympic movement, is the only course that can save it and light a flame which instead of burning in Lenin's stadium for 15 days will burn throughout the world for all posterity."
I have much in common with the Minister. We have worked together on many campaigns, and I recognise his passionate concern for sport. But can he sit comfortably, if he goes to Moscow, watching men perform feats, however magnificent and superb, knowing that within a few miles there are people who have been mistreated and wrongly confined? This is not propaganda it is documented. If he can, I find it remarkable. I could not sit in that stadium knowing that whatever the pageant and superb athleticism there were people nearby who were not able to fulfil their human dignity. That is the challenge.

2.44 p.m.

The whole House will deeply appreciate and admire the initiative of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) in launching this debate. It is a fitting end to this part of this Session of Parliament. We are here on the eve of Christmas, when we think once more of justice, good will and humanity all round the world. I endorse with enthusiasm what the hon. Member said.

It is important that this Parliament, which represents the quintessential system of justice and human rights, should strike this note again and remind the Soviet Union that we will not leave this issue alone until we have a much more satisfactory answer, not only from the Minister but from others who can influence this decision. I hope that it will be possible for the Olympics that are scheduled to take place in Moscow to be relocated elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman was modest, moderate and restrained in his words. We do not wish to interfere with the international affairs of the Soviet Union. But because those affairs have been externalised since the Russians signed all the international declarations on human rights, freedom and justice, we insist that justice be done. We ask them—and Ambassador Lunkov—to read these words in Hansard. We must remember that there are not just thousands but millions imprisoned in the Soviet Union for civil rights or so-called political crimes. Those millions need us to strike a chord repeatedly for them until an alternative location is found.

2.46 p.m.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) and the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) raised this matter. I applaud them for doing so, but I do not share their conclusion although I share their concern. I cannot sit easily anywhere if a human being is being denigrated anywhere in the world, whether at a sporting event in Moscow, a concert in Argentina, or a debate in this House. Our concern must be all-embracing. That is the difference between us.

It is difficult to single out one event in the calendar of human relationships between us and the rest of the world and the Soviet Union and say that it is unique —and I agree that the Olympics are unique—and it is there that we should focus our protest. I do not share that view.

I thank the hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill), who has handed me a copy of this message as a result of the jog. May I say how much I respect the young people, the bishops and others involved in this who thought it right to make that protest.

It is important to understand the British position on sport. The Prime Minister has made it clear that it is for British sportsmen to decide where they go. It is for the British Olympic Association, the governing bodies of British sport and individual sportsmen and sportswomen to decide. We apply that concept even in South Africa. I am usually asked why I say that we should not go to South Africa if I say that we should go elsewhere. In South Africa it was the International Olympic Committee that was the first body in the world to take South Africa out because of racial discrimination within sport. To the best of my knowledge, in the Soviet Union, unlike South Africa where there is discrimination against people because of the colour of their skin, there is no discrimination against any of its citizens participating in sport. I believe that is the reason why the IOC draws a distinction.

The position of the British Government has been supported by the Ministers of the Council of Europe who were here in April, and we have been supported not least on the stand we have taken in UNESCO, where there was an attempt to bring international sport under political control. We successfully resisted this.

British sportsmen and sportswomen are just as concerned about human rights as is anybody else. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon did not seek to question their motives in wishing to go there. That is right, because sport is a free expression of individual free will and personality. That is what it is all about. Those qualities are expressed more magnificently in sport than almost anywhere else.

I accept the sincerity of people who say that we should break up all these international relationships. I do not agree with it, but I accept it. We must also look at the other side of the case—the contribution that sport makes to helping the political, social and racial problems of the world. This must not be discounted. For example, the Olympic Games for six weeks once every four years is the only place where the youth of the world come together, irrespective of their colour, religion, creed or the character of their Governments, and mix freely in the Olympic village.

This is something of supreme importance, not only in sporting but in political terms and in terms of human relationships. I should be very loth to see that sacrificed. The Olympic Games is an extremely important event in the world. This kind of thing does not happen in the arts, politics or education. It happens only in sport, and it is something to be treasured.

I have told my opposite numbers in the Soviet Union that the reason why I am in favour of the games being held in Moscow is that Moscow will never be the same again. It must make a difference if all the citizens from the free world go there and assert their traditional values.

I know the problem of the Jews in the Soviet Union and have every possible sympathy. There is the question of Israel. As far as I know, I am the only Minister of Sport in the world to make a forthright declaration about the disgraceful treatment that Israel has received in international sport. Not only have I asserted that in public discussion in this country ; I have written to Lord Killanin about it.

I have praised the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which is trying to do something about this problem in the Asian Games.

The Soviet Union has been asked by the International Olympic Committee to give an undertaking that Israeli athletes will be in Moscow in 1980 on the same terms as everyone else. Without that undertaking there could be no Olympic Games. But the Russians have given that undertaking. That is of profound importance to the people whose cause my hon. Friend has at heart. I advise him to think about it and not to throw over that right of Israel to be present in international sport on equal terms with everyone else. My hon. Friend will agree that he and I are both trying to assert the same values and principles—

Does that declaration apply to all other countries?

It applies to all member countries of the IOC. They must give that undertaking. I have had correspondence and talks with Lord Killanin, and we agree that this most forthright declaration is something we must value, sustain and defend.

I have the greatest possible sympathy with the human rights campaign. I am the president of a trade union and we had the same dilemma in that union—APEX. We have a relationship with a trade union in the Soviet Union—the light engineering union. We had to decide whether we should break off relations with that union and not invite its delegates, or whether we should ask them here—which we did—and whether, when they got here, we should serve notice that we would discuss these matters with them. In private discussion and at an official dinner we vigorously asserted in the most unambiguous language our beliefs about the treatment of free trade unionists and others in the Soviet Union. I judge for myself the effect of having done it in that way. I think that the effect was more profound and lasting on members of that delegation than had we sent them a letter telling them not to come. I think that our decision was right.

Sportsmen, and particularly British sportsmen, believe that they have been asked to fight all the political battles of the world through sport. Quite frankly, they do not like it. That is not to say that sport and politics are not intertwined. They are. Every day of the week I face decisions about South Africa, about Argentina, about the European Games in Czechoslovakia, and I know that these decisions affect sport, politics and human relations. One cannot divorce one from the other at the end of the day. All one can do is to try to weave one's way through this quagmire, assert certain basic principles and see that they are maintained.

I was right to say to my hon. Friend in that letter which he read out that some sportsmen do not see why they should be subjected to this campaign when the same things are not said about visiting musicians and artists, industry and trade delegations and others coming from the Soviet Union. That view must be respected.

The logic of my hon. Friend's case is that we break off all relationships with countries whose records in these affairs we disapprove of. That is an argument, but it is not the way which assures us of achieving our ends. After all, there was not this campaign in anything like this form about the World Cup finals in Argentina, where there are just as much, if not more, suppression of human rights and more unacceptable things going on than in some other countries.

The hon. Member for Harrow, East may be able to draw a distinction between the Soviet Union and Argentina in matters such as the denial of human rights and terror campaigns, but I cannot. Whenever one citizen is denied his human rights anywhere in the world, it undermines all the values that we seek to assert.

I went to the world swimming championships in Berlin when this campaign was starting. If the campaign was valid at all, the time for the protest was when the Olympic Games were awarded to Moscow six years ago, not now. Nothing much has changed in human rights terms in that time. Also, it is impossible to imagine that several hundred million pounds' worth of sporting activity could be staged somewhere else with only a year or so to go to the games. That is not on.

When I was at the international swimming championships, the first question our young people asked me was why was everyone trying to stop them from competing in the Olympic Games. I should point out that the Olympic Village and all the Olympic venues are international territory for purposes of the games. That is absolutely central to the ideals and aims of the Olympic movement.

Our youngsters pointed out that the Olympic Games presented the one opportunity they had in four years to represent their country in such a sporting event. They have trained hard for four years and made sacrifices. They feel very strongly that they should be allowed to compete in the greatest sporting event in the world. We should not lightly demand that they withdraw. I understand the anxiety and the arguments. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon for raising the subject.

My right hon. Friend has said that things will never be quite the same in Moscow if the Olympic Games are held there. What evidence is there for that extraordinary optimism? Was it in Munich? Where did it happen? Did it happen in Argentina? Did we get any reaction from the Argentinians?

I have a greater confidence in my fellow citizens from the free world who assert their values in Moscow than does my hon. Friend. I refuse to write off all the representatives of the free world in Moscow. I do not believe that they will go there without concern and without asserting their views.

We are 40 years from then. My hon. Friend is not right about that. Everybody remembers Jesse Owens in 1936 and what his personality asserted. Everybody remembers that he was a coloured man who won medals and caused Hitler to storm out. I do not place that incident on a high pedestal but it cannot be ignored.

Sport is about the expression of individual personality and the free association of people and fair contests between them. In Moscow in 1980 there will be the finest representation of the world's youth. Sadly, many will come from countries with oppressive regimes and countries whose record in human rights leaves everything to be desired. However, for a short time they will live and compete with people of merit whom I value and who will express their own views. Those competitors, who have the privilege of representing the free democracies of the world, will have a happy association with competitors from less fortunate countries in the village and elsewhere.

The hope of those who are involved in British sport is that by these concepts and through these friendships they will serve not only sport but the cause of peace and human rights throughout the world. That is the hope that joins hon. Members who have taken part in the debate.

Driving Tests (Yorkshire)

3.1 p.m.

I must press the Government about a situation which affects the entire country. It is particularly serious in Yorkshire, in London and in parts of the Home Counties and the Government are wholly responsible. Jobs are being lost, family life is being needlessly upset and road safety is threatened because of the huge recent increase in waiting time for driving tests. In Huddersfield, for example, which has the only driving test centre for the whole of the metropolitan borough of Kirklees, the delay is over seven months. The Government have admitted that. For the 53 per cent. of applicants who pass the test on the second attempt, this means that they must wait 15 months.

On 10th November the average delay in Yorkshire was 26 weeks. In August 1977 the delay was only nine weeks. I hope that the Minister will make a clear statement about what his Department is doing to check the sudden increase in this delay which is deplorable and need not have happened.

A long-established driving school in Huddersfield told me last week that it has 100 pupils who urgently need a test because of their work. Those people need to be able to drive either to get to work in an area where public transport is deplorable or to perform their work.

Another driving school, the Honley school of motoring, wrote to me on 12th December. It stated
" If pupils are unfortunate enough to fail their test they would have to wait one month before they receive another appointment card plus another seven months for their next test, therefore these pupils will have waited a total of 1 year 3 months from receiving their first test appointment card…it is particularly hard on the young people who find it necessary to be able to drive for their job."
Long-established driving schools could contribute a great deal of information to the Government if the Department of Transport established proper and continuous liaison with them. They could have given the Government information about the trend of applications and we might have avoided the sudden increase in delay.

Driving tuition programmes are being disrupted because not many people can afford to pay for driving lessons throughout the seven months. Much of the effort that has been put into improving the standard of driving tuition is being thrown away because of the delays. The average learner driver is forced back after a few driving lessons onto the traditionally risky business of taking lessons from husband, wife or boy friend. This is a practice which is risky not only to other road users but to domestic bliss as well.

It should be understood by the Department that it is extremely important from the point of view of road safety that the delay in getting an appointment for a driving test should be phased with the average period of tuition needed to approach a test with confidence. It is now completely out of phase.

Some learner drivers panic because of the long delay and apply for a test long before they are likely to be fit to take it. Those who undergo driving tuition and reach an understanding of what is required then apply for a test but find that all their skills fall away when they have to wait a few months before taking the test. This is extremely hard on people of limited means who cannot afford continually to pay for refresher lessons from driving schools.

It has been reported that the whole system is inflexible and that there is no reserve, for instance, from which to provide a substitute examiner when one or two fall ill, as quite often happens in Huddersfield. In those circumstances, the applicant is simply told to go away and fill in a lot of forms to get his fee back. If there are to be these tragic delays, the Department ought at least to ensure through its regional office that there is a reasonably flexible scheme in operation and that a whole week's appointments do not suddenly have to be cancelled just because one examiner falls ill or, as I am afraid is increasingly the case, has an accident in the course of a test.

The Royal Automobile Club reported last week that the situation has never been more serious. It went on to point out that demands for tests will further increase this spring as people traditionally prepare for motoring holidays and want to be equipped for the road for the summer.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to offer some hope of a rapid improvement. It seems that during the last 12 months the Government have seriously failed to assess the likely demand for tests, have ignored the increasing number of private cars being licensed, have ignored the enormous apparatus of social surveys which Governments now sponsor, have not kept in touch with driving schools, and have not listened to the repeated warnings from the Civil and Public Services Association, to which so many examiners belong. Proper foresight of demand for tests is a most important duty for the Department to fulfil.

I turn now to the recruiting of examiners. What is the Minister planning to reduce the present rigid minimum age of 28 years for examiners? That age may have been all right when the Department could comfortably rely upon a continuous flow of recruits in their forties leaving the Armed Forces or possibly the police with a gratuity or some other financial backing, people who were glad to have a job even at £70 a week as a driving examiner. This flow, however, is drying up, and the situation needs to be assessed in the light of the current labour market.

I should have thought that the Department would angle its terms and conditions of work so as to recruit examiners from the depressingly large number of unemployed, particularly in Yorkshire. I understand that the wastage rate is relatively high among examiners. That is not surprising when one considers the hazardous nature of the work and how much stress is involved in taking applicants out on to the road, testing them for emergency stops and so on. I understand also that there is so much tension now with test applicants who have been waiting for many months for a test and are highly worked up about the appalling delays that will arise should they fail that examiners are not even free from the risk of assault. The Minister should consider whether this hazardous and stressful work is worth more pay, certainly as much as that received by people of similar standards of ability working comfortably at desks.

There is also the question of the bottleneck in the final examiner training process at Cardington, Bedfordshire. I do not understand why the Cardington centre relies so heavily on withdrawing examiners from their work in the field in order to act as trainers. Nor do I understand why the centre appears to have a maximum capacity for 40 trainees if the Ministry is planning, as I hope, greater recruitment of examiners.

In view of the mounting danger and inconvenience to the public, I should have hoped that the Secretary of State would have started making a few visits to his regional centres on which the whole of this system depends. In a recent parliamentary reply, the Secretary of State admitted to me that during the past 12 months he had not visited a single one of his regional headquarters. I believe that some of these regional headquarters may be taking advantage of the boss's apparent indifference and simply making bland and insubstantial promises.

I quote a Mr. Walters, described in theHuddersfield Daily Examiner at the beginning of this month as the press officer in Leeds for the Department of Transport. He revealed that the waiting time in Huddersfield was 29 weeks. All he could say to the newspaper, when asked the obvious question about what was to be done to remedy this disgraceful state of affairs, was "There is a recruitment drive at present, and we are hoping to get about 30 additional examiners in Yorkshire to cut down the delays."

I hope that the Minister will be frank and forthcoming, as he usually is, and tell the House how many examiners nationwide have so far been obtained through this nationwide recruiting drive. My information, which has been gleaned unofficially, is that over the whole country the number of additional examiners recruited in recent weeks, as a result of this drive, is less than Mr. Walters was hoping might be available to Yorkshire alone.

We frequently hear the complaint that Back Benchers, especially among the Opposition, are continually asking for more benefits without admitting the demands that these impose on the taxpayer. I think I can be acquitted of that charge. Driving tests are not a social service or a great burden on public funds. The test fee is £7.·30. It was doubled a year or two ago. In his normal stint, the average examiner is earning the Department of Transport about £300 a week. I support the charging of a proper fee. It is right that the tests should pay their way as far as possible.

In return for a fee of that size, however, the citizen is entitled to an appointment within a couple of months, especially if he needs a vehicle for travelling to work. To have to wait six or seven months is intolerable. This matter has been neglected. It requires a new and up-to-date approach, given the state of the labour market. I hope that the Minister will not put me off by the promise of yet another unsuccessful recruiting drive.

3.15 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) for drawing attention, in his usual pungent style, to the delays in providing driving tests. I know from my own postbag, quite apart from what the hon. Gentleman has said, that there is a great deal of concern. I accept that there are special problems in Yorkshire, which is one of the worst hit places in the country.

The time between the making of an application and the appointment is longest in the Yorkshire traffic area—it is now about 27 weeks—but the situation there is not significantly different from the Metropolitan area and the South-East area, where the waiting time is 26 weeks and 25 weeks respectively. Indeed, the interval is much longer everywhere than we would wish it to be.

I should like to start by setting out the background. In 1976, over 2 million applications for driving tests were received. A substantial number were accounted for by the rush to beat the increase in the fee, which was made on 1st August 1976. That rush resulted in an average waiting period of 19 weeks, and it rose dramatically as we approached the end of the period. Good progress was made in reducing that long interval: before the end of 1977, the average wait was back to 12 weeks.

We were able to do that because during 1977 there were only 1·65 million new applications, as opposed to 2 million in 1976. That was almost exactly the level of demand that we had experienced before the 1976 peak. That poses a problem in making an accurate forecast. There was a fairly stable level of demand for tests and then a sudden peak associated with a particular fee increase. After that the peak seemed to go down again for a sustained period to the previous levels. It therefore seemed right to bring the number of examiners into line with the policy of manpower constraint in the public sector.

There is a general desire to contain the size of the Civil Service, and I do not think that any hon. Member would have expected us to employ more of these civil servants than we had reason to suppose would be needed. Given the trend that we could see, we honestly did not expect more during 1977.

Surely the Department of Transport and other Departments draw a distinction between what in common parlance are called bureaucrats or desk workers, employed entirely out of public funds, and people doing a necessary operational job in return for an individual fee for every job they do. There is a distinction. I do not think that the general public regards driving examiners as bureaucrats or civil servants in the normal sense of the term.

It is not as simple as that. They are nevertheless civil servants. If one is talking about general restraint in the Civil Service, they come under that umbrella. Nevertheless, I take the point and the hon. Gentleman will see that we have recognised it in our proposals to remedy the situation.

Despite the fact that the norm was 1·.6 million or 1·7 million applications during 1977, that trend did not continue. There has been a marked upsurge in demand this year—an increase over 1977 of about 17 per cent. As a result, the backlog of tests has begun to rise again to new and higher levels. The position will not improve, as the hon. Member agreed, until the Department can select and train upwards of, we reckon, 250 additional examiners who are needed to keep pace with the backlog and overtake it.

Despite the policy of manpower restraint, we have relaxed it in this area and are now recruiting examiners as hard as we can. Hon. Members may well feel that it should not be difficult to find expert driving examiners and to put them quickly into test centres. I am afraid that it is not as simple as that. We need men and women of real calibre. They must have a certain presence and be competent writers of reports. They need to have substantial driving experience and they must pass a stiff driving test. Then we must train them. It takes a month of intensive full-time residential tuition to bring every new entrant to the very highest standard of driving competence and to instruct him how to recognise and assess the importance of driving faults. In addition, each new examiner is taught exactly how to conduct driving tests.

All of this is very important. It is the foundation of our high-standard test—probably the highest in Europe—and it is a guarantee, as far as one can ever be given, that test candidates receive the same treatment and are judged against the same criteria wherever in the country they take their tests.

This is the point about Cardington. The fact that we have such centralised control and a centralised tuition period means that people throughout the country are judged against the same standards. I am sure that that is right, because we need to think in the long term about people's confidence in the whole examination process and not merely about our present difficulties. We do not want to lapse into erratic and short-sighted moves just for the sake of dealing with this problem. We must maintain standards, despite trying to do something about the inevitable delays. Therefore, there is no room for short cuts.

We are stepping up the campaign that we launched this year. We started in February a recruitment campaign to make up the wastage that occurs in any one year, and that campaign was substantially increased in September and October, when a full-scale recruitment campaign was mounted.

At present about 18 people are at Cardington coming off the assembly line, if I may so describe it. Probably a further 20 or so will pass the test and be available in January. The number will rise to 40 in February. The trend of people becoming available for the whole country is steadily increasing with numbers of that sort. The hon. Gentleman can see what is happening as a result of the recruitment drive that we have already had.

None the less, we are further stepping up the campaign and hope to attract applicants with the required qualities at an even faster rate in the next 12 months.

My right hon. Friend has made exactly the point that I was coming to next, which is that, although we are looking for examiners for the whole country, because the problem is nationwide, we need 30 at centres in Yorkshire to staff up the Yorkshire complement to its proper level. At present there are about 93 examiners in the Yorkshire area, and we need a further 30.

I have described the national position and what we are doing to remedy the problem. It will take a little time, but I have indicated what is already happening at Cardington and the number of people who will become available very shortly.

In addition, we are aware that the position is particularly bad in Yorkshire. In two or three other areas it is nearly as bad. We are trying to help those areas by moving examiners from the better placed areas, which in all conscience are not very well placed, to areas such as Yorkshire. We have done that in a number of instances to augment the number of examiners available in Yorkshire for the particularly bad backlog there to be reduced.

The hon. Gentleman went on at some length, quite fairly, about the effect on employment. In a letter to me, which I have not yet had the opportunity to answer but which I shall answer shortly, he said:
" The delay in Yorkshire is outstandingly unfortunate. You will realise that in cases where an applicant for a job is required to indicate his chances of getting a permanent driving licence a job applicant from Yorkshire is under an additional three months' handicap compared with a job applicant from the northern or the eastern regions, where the situation is not quite so bad."
I cannot accept that in the way that the hon. Gentleman puts it baldly. If someone indicates that he has a pressing appointment for a job opportunity, he is given every advantage in terms of jumping the queue. We try to make any cancellations which become available open to him and to fix him up as soon as possible. If the applicant makes it clear to us that he has a pressing employment opportunity of the sort about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, we take that into account.

Surely the Minister realises that the longer the period of delay, the larger the army of queue jumpers. I anticipated this point, and I have made inquiries in Kirklees, where I am told that there are now so many people wanting to jump the queue —100 in the case of one school in Huddersfield—that there are not enough cancellations to go round.

That is not my information. Cancellations become available in Yorkshire on roughly the same scale as they do elsewhere. My understanding is that there are very few people now who are in desperate need for this reason whose need cannot be met. In other words, if there is a compelling need for anyone to take the test, there are very few places where that need cannot be met fairly speedily. Therefore, it is not quite fair to say that anyone in Yorkshire faces a further three months' delay in taking up a job opportunity than people elsewhere in the country. It really is not as black and white as that. Every effort is made to help people in this position and, by and large, they can be tested within a reasonable time. Naturally enough, if such people jump the queue, others have to wait. However, special needs of this kind are being recognised, and that is as true of Yorkshire as it is of anywhere else.

In addition to the point about employment opportunities, we are considering another matter which the hon. Member raised, namely, the age at which a person qualifies to become a driving examiner. The hon. Member said that the age was now 28. We are considering lowering that perhaps by two or three years to take account of the special problem that we face and because we think that it may be right to do that in the long run, anyway. We are considering that, though obviously we do not want to go too far because it is a job which requires someone with experience and a certain maturity. None the less, we have taken on board the hon. Member's point.

In passing, I ought to pay tribute to the service being offered by our driving examiners. At the moment, I am sure that they are having to cope with a great deal of irritation and annoyance from people and having to put up with rather more than their fair share than they would normally. What is more, the job has its difficulties and dangers. It is not often realised that a driving examiner has to take physical action in an average of one in nine failed tests to prevent danger to the public. That is a clear indication of the position in which they find themselves in their daily work, and it cannot be easy to go through the present period of pressure preserving their unflappable approach to all situations.

That is a fair point. We have been telling the Treasury a great deal about this over the last few months, and we have made some progress. I want to thank our examiners publicly for their efforts in normal conditions and to thank them once again for putting up with this period of strain, through no fault of theirs. This is as true in Yorkshire as it is anywhere else, and I am sure that the hon. Member will agree with me.

None the less, we have put in hand these measures to deal with the situation. I have referred to the person with a job opportunity for which he requires to show that he will take or has taken a test. I regret that for the ordinary person the delays will continue for a period. It will be some time before the flow of driving examiners can be augmented. We cannot expect any improvement over the next few months. However, I hope that after this peak has been passed, perhaps towards the middle or end of next year, we shall be able to move back to a more normal waiting period for tests.

The public have the right to feel that this system is being operated in a simple and competent manner, and obviously at the moment the waiting lists are too long. Incidentally, I also think that the public themselves could help a little. The failure rate is 54 per cent., which indicates that a lot of people are presenting themselves for test when they are inadequately prepared. I recognise that people on low incomes will not be able to take refresher courses and that, having allowed what they thought was a reasonable time, they find themselves in some difficulty when tests are postponed. That aside, if people presented themselves more properly trained for the test, we could help everyone—even the Treasury—by making the failure rate much lower, thereby enabling more people to be dealt with by the existing complement of examiners.

We have taken the measure which we thought wise in the public interest. I can offer no immediate improvement, but a real improvement is likely to be made in the foreseeable future.

North Circular Road,Ealing

3.30 p.m.

After a quiet week at Westminster it is appropriate that we should end on a high note of excitement by addressing ourselves to the problem of the North Circular Road in Ealing. It is particularly fitting that I should raise this subject at a time approaching 4 pm on Friday afternoon, as the traffic there will now be at a virtual standstill and motorists will be asking themselves when on earth someone is going to do something to relieve this bottleneck.

I see from a recent edition of the Evening News that this stretch of the road has hit the headlines. Mr. K. D. Kirkham, of Enfield, Middlesex, wrote to the newspaper as follows:
" Reader J. C. Buck (November 28th) asked what is the worst black spot that needs improving on London's roads. Surely it must be that section of the North Circular between Hanger Lane and Ealing Common. It is single lane for some two miles on this, the capital's main orbital road. To allow such conditions in this day and age is beyond comprehension ".
It is on behalf of Mr. Kirkham, other motorists and my constituents that I raise the problem this afternoon. The North Circular Road is a trunk road for which the Department of Transport is the highway authority. That section of it in my constituency provides a vital link in London's main road network, carrying traffic from the M4, A4, and A30 trunk roads at Chiswick, and from south and southwest London via Kew Bridge to north and north-west London and the A40, M1 and A1 trunk roads. It is London's principal orbital road and, additionally, it is an important local road for my constituents, who, for example, use it to get to work at Park Royal from either Acton or Ealing and use it to get out of London.

To discharge its important functions, for most of its route the North Circular Road is dual three-lanes and where this is not the case it is either dual two-lanes or single four-lanes, with one or two stretches of single three-lanes. Additionally, along most of the route junctions are either grade-separated or there are roundabouts. However, that section of the road which is in my constituency—about 2·3 miles—is single two-lanes for all but a small section on Hanger Hill, where it is one-lane one way and two-lanes the other way. The only other section of the North Circular Road that is two-lanes each way is from East End Road to High Road Finchley, which is a much shorter stretch, and the other side of the M1 and A1 junctions.

So, traffic coming into Ealing from the South or from the North has to compress itself from three lanes into one. The comparison is with sand passing through an hour-glass, the narrow passage through which the sand passes being the North Circular Road in Ealing. Additionally, at the main junction with the Uxbridge Road there are traffic lights, and this, combined with the narrow road on either side, is at the root of the problem.

The capacity is totally inadequate, and there is intolerable congestion. The average southbound queue extends quite regularly from the Uxbridge Road all the way up Hanger Hill to Western Avenue, and the northbound queue at Uxbridge Road regularly extends all the way south to the Chiswick roundabout. These delays add between 10 and 30 minutes to the journey time between Western Avenue and Chiswick roundabout, and vice versa. When a lorry breaks down the situation becomes quite chaotic.

The problem that really concerns me is that adjacent residential areas have increasingly been subjected to significant volumes of traffic diverting off the main road and seeking short cuts to their destinations, often at high speed. These include the Hanger Hill estate—principally Ashbourne Road, Corringway, Princes Gardens and Monk's Drive, and elsewhere, Lynwood Road, Baronsmede, Birkdale Road, Hillcrest Road, Ascott Avenue and Lionel Road. Those roads are simply not able to cope, and the situation is becoming very dangerous. It is not only cars ; heavy commercial vehicles are also using these short cuts.

Public pressure from my constituents has grown in recent years as their patience has become exhausted. Residents' groups, such as the Hanger Hill East residents' association, are actively pressing their claims for relief. They would like extraneous traffic removed from their roads, but this simply is not possible while the capacity of the North Circular Road is so restricted. An improvement of the trunk road is the only way to reconcile these interests. Of course, the problems of this road have attracted the interest of the GLC and the Department of Transport for some time. Alas, it has attracted no action.

In March, 1972, the Department of the Environment published a scheme for the improvement of the North Circular Road, between Western Avenue and Popes Lane. It was a truly mammoth scheme, which would have caused considerable loss of amenity and, even if it had been acceptable on planning grounds, the subsequent cut-backs in finance for urban roads and the reversal of GLC policy on inner urban motorways would have killed it in any case. That scheme was dropped in 1973 and since then there has been no improvement to the road. There are now no concrete plans to rectify the problems that I have talked about. It still remains a one-lane road each way, and the situation grows daily worse.

On 12th December I received an invitation from the Minister's private secretary to an exhibition at the Abbey hotel, at which proposals for the improvement of the North Circular Road were to be displayed. I was delighted that this debate had produced such an immediate response, but to my annoyance I found that the section of the road that he proposes to improve is to the north, between Hanger Lane and Harrow Road, where the road is already a two-lane road each way. What is the object of ensuring that traffic arrives even more quickly in my constituency? I wonder whether the Department of Transport has its priorities right in widening other sections of the road first while leaving the principal bottleneck untouched.

I do not want to be entirely negative, and I know that road widening is never popular, but if the Minister decided to widen the North Circular Road to two lanes each way from Western Avenue to Uxbridge Road he would have my wholehearted support and, I believe, the support of those whom I represent. The route has already been safeguarded and relatively few people would be affected.

The route from Uxbridge Road down to Popes Lane is slightly more difficult, but my preferred solution is to cut and cover across Ealing Common, to go through St. Paul's playing fields, where the route has been safeguarded, and to rejoin the North Circular Road. I believe that that solution would also have the support of most of my constituents.

Resistance from residents is not the obstruction in this case ; it is lack of action by the Department of Transport. Going through my files, I found a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment dated 8th June 1976. He said:
" As you know, the Department has been reviewing this scheme to see how it can be modified to meet the objections made when it was first published. Also we must now await the results of the joint DOE/GLC reappraisal of traffic requirements along the North Circular Road. Until these investigations have been completed we cannot proceed with the usual statutory processes and therefore I am unable at this stage to give any indication as to when final decisions will be taken."
That letter was written three years after the scheme to which I have referred was withdrawn. A further two and a half years have elapsed and we still have no firm scheme for that part of the road.

I turn to the questions that I have for the Minister. I am sure that he is in a festive mood and will respond favourably. First, does he accept that this stretch of the North Circular Road is the worst and that a solution is urgently needed?

Secondly, when will he publish his alternative schemes and how long does he propose to allow for consultation? Thirdly, when does he—or, as is more likely, his Conservative successor—anticipate coming to a conclusion about which scheme to implement? Finally, when will little men with pickaxes actually turn up on the North Circular Road and start widening it?

I see from the document "Policy for Roads ; England 1978 that the Minister has earmarked £9 million for the improvement of this stretch of the road and that it will be started in 1981–83. I hope that that means 1981 and not 1983, in light of the lack of progress so far.

What we really want in Ealing is more information about what the Department of Transport is doing and some evidence that it attaches a high priority to widening the road through Ealing and is determined to arrive at a solution as soon as possible.

This is the final contribution from the Conservative Benches before Christmas and I therefore wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your colleagues in the Chair and the staff of the whole House, who have not had an easy time in the past three or four days, a very happy Christmas and all the best for 1979.

3.39 p.m.

I join the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) in wishing you a happy Christmas, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was also in the perhaps unfortunate position of wishing you a good summer holiday earlier this year since I was also the last speaker from the Government side before the Summer Recess. It seems to be my unfortunate lot always to have to reply to Adjournment debates immediately before recesses, but my good wishes are heartfelt.

Despite those remarks, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an opportunity to discuss what is a very important, but difficult, trunk road which allows orbital movement in north London. The importance of the road can be judged by the fact that improvement schemes on the road, and its proposed extension to the A13, account for most of the outstanding trunk road programme in London. Apart from the proposed extension, there are 13 improvement schemes programmed, and three of these lie wholly or in part within the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I am not sure whether that is a cause for congratulation, but, from the general tone of his remarks, I think it is.

I should like first to remind the House of the context in which schemes on the North Circular Road are being planned. The North Circular Road became a trunk road under the Trunk Roads Act 1946, and following a review of conditions on the road in 1961 it was decided that it should be improved to higher capacity standards with free-flow conditions at important junctions. The underlying purpose of this policy was to enable traffic to travel across the north of London from one radial route to another with the minimum of delay.

As an interim measure, some of the most congested junctions were improved at ground level, but the intention was that grade separation should be provided at all major intersections, that the road should be widened to dual three-lane standards and direct access to the road limited as far as possible. I think that was the scheme to which the hon. Gentleman referred. However, in 1974 the Greater London Council took the view that the standards proposed by the Department would provide more capacity and a higher level of service than was necessary, having regard to the environmental effects. I take it that the hon. Gentleman concurs with that general view. Accordingly, a joint Greater London Council—Department of Transport study was set up to consider this problem.

In November of last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced his acceptance of the recommendations made by the officials who carried out that study. They recommended that the general aim should be to provide dual two-lane carriageways without frontage access, that is to say, with service roads provided, or where frontage development makes it more appropriate, dual three-lane carriageways with frontage access, that is to say, without service roads. They pointed out, however, that, exceptionally, traffic projections may indicate, and environmental considerations may permit, or even require, dual-three lane carriageways without frontage access. Conversely, environmental or route continuity considerations may indicate, exceptionally, dual two-lane carriageways with frontage access. They also recommended that the capacities at junctions should be in balance with the capacities of links between them. That is a very important point on which the hon. Gentleman touched.

Since acceptance of those recommendations, officials have been reviewing the individual proposals for improvements, including those for which schemes had already been published. Because of the large number and complexity of the individual schemes, and the limited staff available for the purpose both in my Department and in County Hall, this review will take a little time. At present eight schemes are under study and the first two public exhibitions, one of which the hon. Gentleman has received an invitation to, will be held next month. At these, the public will be asked to give their views on alternative designs for improvements in the vicinity of Regents Park Road and for the length of road between Hanger Lane and Harrow Road. This latter scheme lies in part in Acton, and I have already written to the hon. Gentleman informing him about the public exhibition on 9th January.

I have a rather splendid map which I was about to make available to the hon. Gentleman, had not the preceding debate collapsed, to show exactly what was intended, and in order to let him have a personal copy of the proposals that we are putting forward for public consultation.

Another scheme which lies within his constituency is that dealing with the length from Popes Lane to Hanger Lane. This is the greatest single length of the North Circular Road which is not yet dual carriageway. It is also the narrowest and is one of the lengths most in need of improvement. Indeed, the need has been evident for many years, and as long ago as 1971 draft highway orders for an improvement to this section of road were published and a large number of objections were received.

The current review of this scheme in the light of the joint study recommendations has taken these objections into account and is well advanced. We hope to put alternatives before the public in the late spring or early summer. Therefore, we are talking about a very tiny delay between that scheme, which the hon. Gentleman wants to be advanced as rapidly as possible, and the one which will go to public consultation next month.

In reply to the question put to me by the hon. Gentleman at the end of his remarks, may I say that we accept that a solution of the kind we envisage is now necessary in the interests not only of general traffic movement but of residents in the area. We have put these alternatives to the public, and we shall listen to their comments when drawing up our preferred route.

As regards the next stage after that, we hope in the case of the scheme I have mentioned, for which we shall go into public consultation next month, that there will be an inquiry at the end of 1980. We shall begin inviting the little men with pickaxes to start work early in 1983. We hope to complete that work in 1985. That may sound a little disappointing to the hon. Gentleman, because we are talking about a period six years hence, but it is quite fast compared with the time scale in respect of most roadway constructions. Inevitably, it is determined by the time it takes to go through the statutory procedures when there will be a considerable number of objections, particularly when building a road in a densely populated area of this kind.

In some respects the length of the North Circular Road between the A40 and Chiswick warrants rather different treatment from the rest of the road because the purpose-built road comes to an end there and the route considerations which I have mentioned come into play. In view of the southbound movement, it will be appreciated that on arrival at the Chiswick roundabout on an improved North Circular Road traffic will be impeded by lack of capacity whichever direction is followed.

There is little prospect of providing additional capacity in the A4-M4 corridor, either eastwards or westwards, and the Greater London Council has no plans for any material increase in capacity on the South Circular Road. In this latter respect, the situation differs from that envisaged when our proposals were published in 1971 when Ringway 2 in the south was planned. Consequently the schemes that we intend to put forward for this length of the North Circular Road will provide for a gradually diminishing level of service between the A40 and Chiswick rather than the higher uniform level of service that we hope to achieve north and east of the A40. This would make it even more difficult to justify a very expensive proposal, such as the scheme completely in tunnel which has been suggested.

Furthermore, there are many lengths of trunk road in London where the residents could claim with equal force that the traffic should be put underground. Unfortunately, meeting their wishes would mean that, for financial reasons, many of the other schemes in London would have to be postponed indefinitely. This is not to say that in some places a short length of tunnel may be justified. I am sympathetic to that kind of approach, which has clear environmental advantages. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reserve judgment until he has studied our alternatives in the schemes that will shortly go to public consultation.

I mentioned that there were three schemes directly affecting Acton. The third is the new gyratory system that is now under construction at the junction of the A40 with the North Circular Road. That will reduce delays for North Circular Road traffic. With that system started and the two other major schemes nearing public consultation stage, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that in respect of North Circular Road schemes his constituency has received high priority since the joint study conclusions were announced.

I appreciate that there have been one or two delays on the way. I also appreciate what he said about the feelings of residents who live in surrounding areas, particularly on estates, who have to put up with traffic conditions and difficulties arising from the activities of those who seek alternative routes, in view of the undoubted congestion on the North Circular Road.

In order to make the best possible use of limited road space and junction capacity, it has been necessary to introduce traffic management measures such as the banning of turns at the Popes Lane junction, with consequential adverse effects on Gunnersbury Drive which the hon. Gentleman brought to my attention recently. Since reinstatement of the banned turns would obviously impede the progress of traffic along the trunk road still further, any interim alleviation of this problem pending implementation of the major scheme must be achieved, if possible, by other measures.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is difficult to achieve the right sort of rapid progress in this area, but I have indicated that, in view of the fact that the scheme is due to go to public consultation next year, with the statutory procedures that will then unfold, and with the implementation of the schemes beginning roughly in 1983, we can achieve a measure of improvement in the foreseeable future. This will help to alleviate the problems which people in the area have had to put up with to an increasing extent for a long time.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Four o'clock till Monday 15th January, pursuant to the Resolution of tire House of 12th December.